Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Arms of Jesus/I Am Lucifer (good vs evil or what is the point?)

My youngest has been influenced by his teenaged and young adult brothers and loves their music. Right now, he loves Black Sabbath. I do not like Black Sabbath and am encourage him in other musical directions, like Hendrix and Led Zep, but you know I'm mom and not nearly as cool as the other drummers in our house, especially the heavy metal playing oldest brother.

Hammy recently gave Carmac his old Ipod so Carmac goes into his room and cranks up music and plays. Which is great except that he listens to "War Pigs" and "N.I.B." and then goes around the house singing "I Am Lucifer" which is rather strange coming from a seven year old.

We had several discussions lately about what's appropriate for a seven year old to listen to and repeat and what's not and why. Carmac's understanding of things is pretty sophisticated for a young child--he knows there are some things that are ok in our home which aren't appropriate at other places because people might be offended. A child singing a song from the viewpoint of satan would definitely count in that category.

The thing that made it a little difficult is that Hammy and I don't believe in satan so we've never taught our children anything about satan. I know my mother has talked with each of them about accepting Jesus and not allowing satan to lead them to hell (against my explicit request that she never do that) but they seem to have successfully avoided internalizing any of it.

The fact that I don't believe in satan, or hell or the need to be "saved by the blood of the Lamb" is the thing that separates me from pretty much most other Christian people. What's the point of Jesus if nobody needs salvation?

Good question. For me, Jesus is the teacher, guru--my Messiah. Jesus exemplified how I should conduct my life. His teachings live because they are an eternal model for how we may live in God.

I don't believe in satan. I do believe that we all have "that of God" in us and when we ignore It and act willfully (ego) the potential for evil is created. I think the further one strays from being connected to that of God, the more harm one does oneself and the world around. I also believe we all have endless opportunities to reconnect ourselves with that of God: Redemption, Grace.

Perhaps it's easier for people to understand an entity leading them astray--snakey looking red dude with a pointed tail and horns or "devil in a blue dress" or whatever. "The devil made me do it". An external force against which we must be ever vigilant. Something that uses any tool or weapon to seduce and overpower us unless we gird ourselves with the armor of God--the Bible, hymns, prayer, baptism, communion, etc. Kind of like a moral H1N1 flu virus. Wash your spiritual hands constantly or you'll catch the evil and spread it's wickedness.

That seems, in some ways, easy. Accept Jesus into your heart to be your personal savior, follow these step-by-step rules, do what you're told and you'll be:

Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe from corroding care,
Safe from the world’s temptations, sin cannot harm me there.
Free from the blight of sorrow, free from my doubts and fears;
Only a few more trials, only a few more tears!
But accepting that model, to a large extent, absolves us of our personal responsibility in our relationship with God. If I believe that as long as I do A, B and C I will win a seat at the left hand of God when I die, I don't have to really listen to what God may be saying to me right now. If I follow the "thou shalts" and avoid satan by not doing the "thou shalt nots" I'll be in good standing and ready to meet my maker.

My brother may call it "spiritual relativism" and my mom says she'll pray that I'll return to the fold but my way I understand it is that God speaks to each of us and calls us to our own truth. We are to learn to listen to that Guide so we can live our lives as directed by God, not by a church or a preacher or a set of rules or social norms. I think satan is our own ego-driven willful nature and salvation, as shown and taught by Jesus, comes through listening to what God is actively telling us to do, by living for God and reflecting God's love for us. The gift of doing this is learning, growing into and being fully who we are--who God intends for us to be, in harmony with our true nature, our Original Face. No punishement for not doing that except the discord and disharmony of living a life disconnected from God and our true selves. When we live for God, we are able to use all of us, including our human ego, for God. That, to me, is salvation. That, to me, is living in the arms of Jesus.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pharm Fresh

I've described my brain, specifically my thought processes, as "the chihuahua that lives in my head". I began describing my mind this way shortly after I began attending Friends Meeting. To me, it seemed that everyone at meeting's minds were like big old irish setters. They'd come into meeting for worship and their brains would walk a circle a few times and then settle snugly in front of the fire to wait expectantly for Spirit (their Master). I, on the other hand, had a chihuahua for a brain and when I'd sit down in meeting for worship, the mailman would knock on the door setting off a paroxysm of yapping and barking.

I've also written about my very, very low boredom threshold and how much I need a variety of activities in a job in order to maintain interest and remain engaged.

And don't get me started on my inability to follow-through, keep anything tidy or organize my office or my clothes...

Looking back over old posts I see that it's been about a year or so since I began exploring the idea that these things are linked and maybe part of a "diagnosis". I had an inkling that there is something bigger than just personal failures to "do better". As I always do, I read a bunch of stuff and was guided to explore adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder minus the hyperactivity. The more I read on the subject, the more I was pretty sure the symptoms describe my way of relating to the world. The thing that really put it all together for me, though, was an off-hand comment made by my friend, Kit when she said that participating in a drum circle is the only time she feels adhd because her mind wanders and she has to bring it back to the moment. I was amazed at that statement because my mind never stops wandering unless I'm reading a book I find very compelling or sometimes when I'm engaged in an activity which totally absorbs me (which has happened, like, twice in my life). My mind never stops wandering. I am almost never able to fully concentrate on anything. I assumed everyone was more or less the same way so when Kit said that, I began to fully understand just how differently my brain works.

At the time I began exploring this, I was working at a job that fit me very well (except the dysfunctional and inept boss part, of course). My skill-set and talents worked really well with the duties and tasks required by the job and it was a natural and very happy fit. I was able to do most of the duties of the job well enough to feel comfortable and competent but there were still enough things to learn and grow into that I was always positively challenged. But, alas, my boss did not have the same, um, level of competency about her position and created an atmosphere of instability, insecurity, and uninformed, reactive decision making which permeated every aspect of our department and which I, being between her and our staff, bore the brunt of. By the time I was able to submit my resignation, I was pretty thoroughly beaten down.

At this point, I was offered a position in management with the university research company for which I formerly worked. Yes, I was interested! I was also, in equal measures, completely daunted by the prospect of taking a job which would require way, way more skill and ability to organize effectively than anything I'd ever attempted before.

In exploring what having undiagnosed ADHD has meant in my life, I see that I have never had any kind of expectations for myself when it comes to education or career. The books I've read talk about the ways different people cope with the problems inherent with this...let's call it...condition, disorder, whatever. It seems that a lot of people with ADHD are able to excel in some areas of life by putting inordinate amounts of energy into those areas while other areas (that most people take for granted) are not able to develop successfully because of problems with impulsivity, lack of attention or energy. I began failing in school in second grade. My brain does not process numbers and mathematical problems effectively and I have never had the interest nor the attention span to be able to overcome these problems in order to learn to compensate. Rather than trying harder, which I could never understand how or even why to do when trying at all didn't work in any way, I just put my energy into things I enjoyed and which made me feel successful. Although I've always loved learning things which interest me, I hated school and learning according to other's expectations and agendas. I decided at 12 that I would not attend school a minute longer than I had to. Nothing in the ensuing 6 years gave me any reason to change my mind so I didn't attend college and got a job and an apartment, instead.

Rather than trying to pursue a formal education or a career path, I put my energy into creating a life for myself on my terms. I was pretty clearly able to see the things that we accept as societal norms and to identify which are neutral or positive and which are negative. As a young adult, I spent a lot of time and energy rebelling against what seemed wrong to me and being a negative force for change: I defined myself by what I was against (ala the young characters in the movie "Ghostworld"). When I was 21 or so, I read the book "Spiritual Midwifery" which opened my mind to a new perspective so that when I became pregnant at 24 I could accept a new identity as a mother and begin my path toward defining myself as being for what is true rather than against what is not.

I accepted and have started this new job. I know I have the skills and knowledge to perform the individual tasks involved. It's the composite of the individual tasks that I'm worried about--the organizing, prioritizing and synthesizing of those tasks.

About two weeks ago, I met with a psychiatrist who specializes in adults with adhd. We talked and she agreed with my self-diagnosis. We discussed treatment options and settled on a 12 hour slow-release stimulant at it's lowest dosage.

At this point, I'd like to interject into this narrative my personal history of complete objection to the concept, diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit disorder. I still feel that there is something drastically wrong with a society in which a person can't be successful unless they are able to fit into the narrowly defined boxes that allow for achievement in school and gainful employment. Historically, I believe a person with the creative and convoluted thought processes experienced by those of us with adhd would have found a way to positively contribute to their communities without the requirement of drugs. But, that's not how our current society operates. I am living at this time and with this brain and I have to figure out how best to make good with it. Right now, for me, this is what seems to make the most sense.

So I began taking my drug of choice the day I began packing for my trip to Chicago. This drug works immediately--it does not need to "build up" in one's system in order to begin to be effective. At first, I didn't actively notice any difference in the way I was interacting with my world. But a couple of days into it, it occurred to me that I hadn't been dithering at all. I packed my bag for a week's trip in a couple of hours, and I didn't get impatient and cranky with my family in the process! I've joked for years that I had the capacity for only a limited number of decisions on any given day--that I would wake up able to make six decisions and once I had done that, I couldn't make any more decisions until the next day. I've always been that way. That's why my house never gets straightened up because it requires a lot more than 6 or 10 decisions to clean a room. (Work was a different story because most of the decisions I made there were based on project and departmental protocol which were clearly defined.) And now, I've been home from my trip for 16 hours and my bag is unpacked and everything is put away and the laundry is washing. That has NEVER happened before. Placebo effect or chemically enhanced brain-networking, I don't care which, something new is happening in my head and it seems a bit of a miracle to me. (and, as an added bonus, stimulants act as appetite suppressants!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010


I'm leaving in a few minutes to ride on a plane which will take me to Chicago for a week-long work training. When I return, I will hit the ground running as a field manager with 15 interviewers and 500+ cases to manage. I don't think I'll have much time to write for a while and I will sorely miss it.
Eric, I wrote a long response to your last comment which disappeared when I clicked "publish". I haven't had time to rewrite it and won't for a while. Thank you, though, for the conversation and let me say sorry, it was me and my sensitivity about some people's reactions to my background.
Be well, y'all. Walk in the Light.
Mary Linda

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thoughts on Gratitude

I'm reading the newest book by the author of "The Artist's Way", Julia Cameron; it's titled, "Faith and Will: Weathering the Storms in Our Spiritual Lives". It's very good and very comfortable but a little disconcerting because so much of what is in this book are things I've written about. I think she and I share a very similar understanding of God and express that understanding in similar ways.

I'm a salaried employee of my new employer. I'm having to do a tremendous amount of work right now and learn so much that I'm almost overwhelmed. I am no longer working an eight hour day so there's no shutting the office door at the end of the day and forgetting about it until tomorrow.

My birthday is Sunday but I'll be flying to Chicago in the morning so I won't be celebrating with my family that day. Tomorrow morning, Declan and his girlfriend, Ana, will be meeting us (Hammy, Carmac, Zed and I) at that Greek restaurant on 8th, Athens, for breakfast for my birthday meal with my family.

Carrie Newcomer played at 3rd and Lindsey last night. I've known about it for weeks and have waffled back and forth about going. I've had so much work to do lately that I had pretty well convinced myself that there was no way to justify the time away. Hammy, my dearest, insisted that I go. He said I needed time to recharge and her show was just the thing. Zed agreed to care for Carmac and get him to bed on time.

The show was lovely. Hearing her voice is like being with a dear old friend who knows me very well. Her songs have a strength and a deep spiritual awareness.

Two things yesterday provide me my mediation for today. In both the book, "Faith and Will" and in one of Carrie's songs, I was reminded of the importance of gratitude. I'm not a graspy, acquisitive person but I certainly do take for granted my life. Today, I will try to have an awareness of all this good. I will try to humbly thank God for all that I have and all that I am.

I'll begin this morning with saying how grateful I am to have this blog and the people who visit me here to share their ideas and leadings with candor and honesty. I'm also so glad to be part of the Quaker blog-o-sphere. I am challenged, nourished and taught so much by reading the blogs of others.

I'm not grateful to have to pack Carmac's school lunch--a thankless task in frustration. I am, however, inexpressibly grateful to have more than enough food to feed my children so that I never have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. I'm also grateful that we have enough to share with others.

God, thank you for who and what I am. Please use me to reflect your goodness. Your will be done.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Comfort and Challenge/Knowing and Being Known

In my blogpost, "My Discomfort is My Lack of Discomfort" I said this:
"I think too many of us want our meetings to be a place of comfort, not challenge. Too many of us hide behind our sensitivity with religion in general and don't want to be part of anything that seems might force us out of what we perceive to be safe; we don't want our spiritual life to be directed nor our motives and actions to be questioned. Our messages inspire, rarely challenge."

I was brought up in a fundamentalist, evangelical Baptist church in which the rules of right and wrong were well defined, loudly communicated and firmly censored--although there were plenty of unspoken rules, as well. When one broke a rule, one was quickly judged, perhaps with love. Some of the rules were founded on theological interpretation but others were more connected to societal norms. I was given the label of Jezebel for wearing a sleeveless blouse to church (the fact that I was a terrible flirt probably helped). One of our wonderful youth pastors was harshly criticized by a large faction of the church for wearing a beard.

My religious background is rigid and authoritarian. I left because I couldn't reconcile my idea of God loving us with the concept that God creates in us this flaw -sin- and the punishes us with eternal hell unless we accept a narrowly proscribed set of beliefs. The questions I'd always had about "What about Muslims and Jews and Hindus?" never left me. I couldn't accept the belief that they were damned nor that Grace was contingent on keeping ever vigilantly good-standing with that narrow set of beliefs.

So I left and wandered and wondered and railed and ranted. And, finally, I found my way back to God through the quiet and safe space of a Quaker meeting where I was welcomed. I found the lack of Christian-speak refreshing, accepting without question the Quaker jargon. On some levels I felt I had found my home.

But there was the issue of fitting in. Looking back I now see many unspoken rules that I didn't see when I first began attending. Almost none of these have anything to do with religious or theological interpretation; most have everything to do with class and background. Because I held this group in such high esteem and wanted to fit in, I didn't speak of my working class background and never mentioned my lack of education. Many privileges were spoken of as if they are the norm, things I will never been able to experience but I kept my mouth shut and my ears open. As I've said before, I'm very well spoken, well read and a flaming liberal so I fit in easily and passed as just like everyone else but I was troubled on many occasions because I was having to keep hidden a part of me so I could feel accepted. In other words, I was not able to be known because I felt the need to not allow myself to be known in order to be accepted.

Over time, I began to feel a great deal of agitation over this issue. The statements made by people about very obvious privileges spoken as if they are the norm upset me. The biases about less educated people began to trouble me greatly. I began, slowly, to speak out about my background; first in small groups and then to the whole meeting. Obviously, I'd already established a loving bond with my community so some people expressed surprise at my background but I was never rejected (although I have been strongly encouraged to go to school at all costs by several people). As I grew more honest about who I am, I grew in my relationship with God and with my community.

I do feel a Friends meeting should be a source of challenge but it can only be a challenge if we can be our true selves with one another and know one another in a loving and accepting way. As my church of origin exemplified for me, rules and a rigid system of right and wrong keep people in fear and separated from one another: none of us want that. But, as I experienced with my meeting (and, from reading other people's blog posts, is a common experience for people from non-middle class backgrounds who begin attending a Friends meeting), class privilege, biases about education and other things and, I would add, political affiliation, all work to keep us closed off from one another. On many occasions I have heard "it doesn't seem Quakerly" but when pressed to define "Quakerly" what is said is about culture, not spiritual understanding.

When I say "I think too many of us want our meetings to be places of comfort, not challenge" I guess what I'm saying is that we need to go deep and make them both. We need to be aware of how we welcome people, how we represent ourselves and how we accept differences. We need to be able to show our "true face" with one another in loving acceptance so that we know one another and are deeply, lovingly known. And once we reach that level of intimacy, we then may be lead to challenge one another and hold ourselves and our community accountable to reach a deeper, stronger, more immediate awareness of our connection with God. What I'm thinking is the true meaning of Eldering as I understand it. Knowing and being known and encouraging one another with the guidance of God.