Monday, June 27, 2016

Wonder Bees

Morning Reflection
Isaiah 48:6-7
New International Version (NIV)

6 You have heard these things; look at them all.
Will you not admit them?
“From now on I will tell you of new things,
of hidden things unknown to you.
7 They are created now, and not long ago;
you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say,
‘Yes, I knew of them.’
Fear-driven contempt for not not-knowing can drive the wonder right out of a person, the humility extracted out with cruel efficiency. Discomfort with anything not known can drive one to believe that there is little that is unkonwn, that all is already known. Nothing a surprise. Nothing new. All for the sake of comfort.

The lust for certainty can constuct illusions of control that prompt delusions of power. The only change desired is controlled change, managed change, manipulated change. Such demands and requirements for certainty factor out the kind of awe-producing spontaneity that opens wide the hearts of children and unleashes unmitigated creativity and joy.

Fear of the not known, a lust for certainty, the demand to be in control not only erodes any sense of need for God, but perhaps even more devastating, it wears aways at any sense of want for God. An unneeded and unwanted God will disappear, or worse, be a god that looks remarkably like me.
Finding the not known so utterly intolerable such that all must be known, all mysteries solved, all change predicted promises that this pathway will lead to comfort, peace, and even joy when it actually leads to more discomfort, increased injustice, and the increas of suffering.

This morning, it is not a surprise that the bees are in the clover, but their flight paths, their precarious dangling on the tips of the flowers, their dance among each other tells me a little story of wonder. The math and science of the bees are lost me for the art of the bees.

I am left with the spontaneity of the experience.
I am left with the anticipation of what they will do next.
I am left with the great blessing of.
"I didn't know that would happen."

Friday, June 17, 2016

From the Soil of Fear (Ramblings On Fear as a Social Process)

Fear is a gift. Fear, as a physiological reaction to danger, is what has allowed humans to survive for thousands of years. Were it not for fear humans would have been eliminated from the face of the earth long ago. Fear is a response that is triggered from the deep part of the brain that energizes the body to run from danger, fight off threat, or try to be invisible until the environment is once again safe. In short, fear saves lives.

We should all be grateful that we have brains that, without even trying, protect us from all manner of danger with a fear response. However, if humans live only with that part of the brain funtioning, most of the brain remains neglected. The fear response is great when there is immediate danger, but what the brain has to do in order to effectively save us from danger is to turn off the rest of the brain for a while. In short, in order to have an effective fear response, thinking must be disabled. So, when the danger is gone, the brain must re-enable its thinking capacity in order to function in relation with others.

So, fear saves lives, but at the same time fear is no way to live.

Fear, once the immediate threat is gone, should also go away. Fear is simply an indicator of danger, not a way to live. Fear is an indicator to do something now and not a way operate all waking hours. Fear is no way to live as an individual. It is no way to live life in a marriage or family. It is no way to live life in a community. And it is no way to live life as a nation.

Wait a minute, what is an "immediate threat?" 

Gun to your head = immediate threat
Political views you disagree with = not immedaite threat
Grizzly bear chasing you = immediate threat
Person with different color skin = not immediate threat
Intruder in your house = immediate threat
The existance of refugees = not immediate threat
Tornado hitting your house = immediiate threat
Annoying Facebook post = not immidiate threat

Relational and communal fear as a social process rather than an individual situational necessity can debilitate a society.

Fear-based living can result in debilitating paranoia
Fear-based marriage can result in toxic suspicion, false accusationn adn endless blame
Fear-based parenting can result in parental over-protection and youth rebellion
Fear-based community life can result in isolation or rigid tribalism
Fear-based nationalism can result in soul-crushing discrimination and war

Fear in its place is good, but living in a constant fear state is possibly the most toxic way to live in relationship to oneself and to other people.

In order to live with other people there must be empathy, but fear disables empathy.
In order to live with other people there must be kindness, but fear disables kindness.
In order to live with other people there must be understanding, but fear disables understanding.
In order to  live with other people there must be vulnerability, but fear disables vulnerability.

From the soil of misplaced fear grow the poison berries of society. When fear is up and running all the time, everything looks like a threat. When fear is up and running, it is easy to be convinced that something, anything is a threat. Why? Becuase when the fear response part of the brain is up and running all it is capable of doing is 1) identifying threat and 2) shutting down all other parts of the brain that are trying to solve for other things (e.g. what is it like to be a refugee and what can I do to help?)

When the fear part of the brain is up and running, if someone says, "there is a threat," the individual is likely to agree, even if there is no logic to it. It can even feel like logic. Even if statistically the odds are almost zero, when fear is up and running, the threat claim seems plausible.

Let's be clear, it is not because the person with the fear part of the brain up and running is stupid. Instead it up because the rational part of the brain cannot run when the fear response is up and running. The fear response literally trumps the rational response.

More than any other appeal in the Bible, "Do not be afraid," is repeated over and over again. Why? It is not merely about having indiviudal peace and inner peace, although that is extremely important. "Do not be afraid" emerges from a deep wisdom about how fear plays out socially. Fear as social soil is bad soil and cannot grow anything good. "Do not be afraid" is a call to a social process as much as it is a call for inner peace.

The good news is that you do not have to be afraid. You do not HAVE to be afraid. Even when politicians, news stories, social media posts and all manner of conversation invite your fear response more than the thinking part of your brain - you do not have to be afraid.

Give that thinking part of your brain a chance to flex its muscle. Everyone will be better off for it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What About The Kids?

What About The Kids?

The terror attack in Orlando has once again demonstrated that there is violence, horrific and lethal violence in this world. It has also demonstrated that we do not know where and when this violence will erupt. Night club, school, mall, movie theater – it could be anywhere.

Tragic events such as the one in Orlando can trigger anxieties and elevate fears. For those who are parents, the anxiety and fear can be multiplied because of the love we have for our children and the responsibility we have to keep our children safe.

Certainly Orlando deserves our compassion and our concern, but does it deserve our fear? Should we lock up our kids to keep them safe from the world?

The answer is a resounding, “no!”

Here are a few things to consider when dealing with yourself and your children in light of the Orlando terror attack.

Calm Presence. First, what you need from yourself is the same thing your children need from you – a calm presence. When you are calm it demonstrates to your children that they are safe, that there is nothing to worry about. Your calm presence lets your children know that even though there are bad things that happen in this world, nothing bad is going to happen to them. Right here; right now – they are safe.

Assess Exposure. Second, determine how much of this story your children have been exposed to. Have they watched hours of television news stories? Listened to repeated loops on the radio? Do they have access to other devices and social media? How much have they talked with their friends about this? Knowing your child’s exposure level to the story can help to guide how much to engage with them. The younger the child is the less likely they have had some exposure to the story. For example, if a young child (under the age of 6) has not had any exposure to the story, then let it pass. There is no real need to bring up such terrible things to a child so young.

Engage At Their Level. Third, if your do engage your child, make sure to engage at their level. When a three year old asks, “why did this happen?” it is a very different question than a 15 year old asking the same question. All a three year old may need to know is that “sometimes there are bad things that happen in the world, but the good news is that you are safe here with me and …. (list other safe adults).” A teenager may need a deeper and more developed conversation. But no matter the age of your child, when you have a calm presence with them it communicates safety. Your calm curiosity about what they know is a good soft start up for a conversation of this kind. A good rule of thumb is to say as little as you have to and as much as you need to. Overtalking the topic gives the story more power than it deserves and can create anxiety rather than resolve it.

Assess Symptoms. Fourth, sometimes events such as these can trigger anxiety in children. What parents need to be looking for is a change in pattern of the child’s behavior, not one off instances. For example, if the child indicates being afraid one time, that calls for attending to their concerns, but is not a mental health concern. If, however, the child begins a pattern of irritability, being withdrawn or has endless worrisome thoughts that cannot be resolved with calm attention over time, then that might be something to check into. Again, overreacting at this point only makes matters worse, not better. If your calm engagement over time and maintaining the normal and everyday routine does not resolve the new pattern of behavior, a check in with a family therapist would be worthwhile (for younger children a play therapist would be good).

Some parents might find their young children introducing some parts of the Orlando story into their own play. This is actually normal, not a symptom of anxiety. A child’s mother tongue is play, not words. Thus, how a conversation functions for an adult is how play functions for a child. In most cases, the tragic topic will enter into play and then exit as quickly as it entered – just like one conversation moves to the next with adults. Only if the content of the play persists over time and gets progressively more violent and does not resolve should there be any concern.

Boundaries. Finally, managing your own concern, anxieties, and fears is essential. Your child should not serve as your conversation partner about tragedies such as these. Using your child as a sounding board or conversation partner can result in the adultification or parentification of your children. In short, what this means is that you ask your child to perform an adult role with you for your benefit, not theirs. As a parent, it is your responsibility to have adult level conversations with adults and to relieve your anxieties with another adult who can meet them head on equipped with adult maturity. Children are not equipped to do that, even if they are fully willing to enter into it.

Even though the terror attack in Orlando is tragic and terrible and deserves our compassion, it does not mean we must become afraid. In fact, the most powerful response to terror is calmness, the kind of calmness that results in peace within yourself and peace between people. Terror is designed to remove calmness; therefore, calmness in the face of terror is the most powerful and subversive response. It is also the most healthy way to parent your children.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

An Anxious Heart Can Be Many Things

An anxious heart can be many things.

It can be a call to silence.
It can be a call to prayer.
It can be a call to creativity.
It can be a call to work.
It can be a call to come clean.
It can be a call to slow.
It can be a call to organize.
It can be a call to risk.
It can be a call to forgive.
It can be a call to stand up for yourself.
It can be a call to humility.
It can be a call to surrender.
It can be a call to rise up.

Oh this anxious heart,
So honestly undone,
Speaks the way it knows,
Unignorable voice,
Anxiety, like fire to the touch,
Communicates, talks, SCREAMS like Jagger
And you cannot be the same,
With a voice like that,
Committed to you.

Try, try to quiet the voice,
Try to smother in mud,
Try to suffocate it with pill-ohs
It will scream ever louder,
Until you hear nothing else,

Oh anxious heart,
Never forsake or abandon,
For without you,
How would we know?

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

It's Just Politics

It’s Just Politics

When the ocean mocked the desert's thirst, 
When the mountain taunted the flat prairie,
When the tree dismissed the flower,
When all creation turned on itself,
In self-preservation,
The planet slowly went dark and cold,
Slowly slipping into eternal night,

And then 
          Blizzardmidnight! allatonce,
Stopping clocks,
Stopping Seraphim,
Stopping meaning,

Everyone found a way to be alone
And forgetful
And terribly busy

          Oh for a dash of purpose,
Sandpounders whimpered.
But from somewhere big,


Shouted some light,
And that was it,
But that was enough,
The Lightvoice echoed,
Like the universe was a canyon,
One word broke a hole,
In the dark.
And the dark was beyond repair.
The dark now riven, 
Gashed mercilessly by Mercy
Gushing Light of Mercy
          Gosh I needed Mercy

Can't stop blinking
We again 
Finally, we again

Chris J. Gonzalez
31 May 16