The Power of Feelings

There’s been a trend in much of United States more liberal or “emotionally-tuned” in culture to lift up and celebrate the importance of feelings. The standard line goes something like this: “There’s no such thing as an invalid feeling. All feelings are valid.” The reason for this pushback, of course, is that there has been a tendency in our culture to invalidate people’s feelings, to ignore them, pretend they aren’t there, or actively require people to invalidate them. And the pushback is good; invalidating and ignoring our feelings is absolutely unhealthy. Feeling, naming, and being present to our feelings, and the having the ability and a safe space to share our feelings with others – all of these are an important part of a healthy human experience. I’m not so sure about the second part of that statement though, “All feelings are valid.” I’m not so sure, for example, that shame is a “valid” feeling – at least not one that should be honored and accepted just the way it is. Shame, of course, is feeling bad about who are as a human being, that there is something wrong with the essence of you. Guilt on the other hand is feeling bad about a behavior or a choice we’ve made. It’s the difference between saying to a misbehaving canine, “bad dog” and “no, don’t do that.” Or in human terms, between saying “I’m stupid, I’m such an idiot,” versus “I made a mistake.” Shame addresses the essence of who we are,
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Metaphors of Power

I have a problem with the concept of power. When I think of power, I think first of power exercised over vulnerable individuals and populations. It seems that “power” too often means power over, the power to intimidate, to bully, to take advantage, in short, to hurt and to harm. What immediately comes to my mind is the power of child abusers over their victims, legislatures denying basic human rights to LGBTQ persons, of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un using the threat of nuclear missiles to bully South Korea and attempt to bully the rest of the world, of government officials wielding hateful power over immigrants and native peoples and promising to cut services that have enhanced the quality of life for many people. And the list goes on. I know there are other metaphors of power out there. So, in a sense, this column is an attempt to call to my own mind some of those more life-giving, more spiritually healthy metaphors. I invite you to come along with me, to read these slowly and thoughtfully, and to reflect on how they might inform your own relationship to power. Does any of them hold the potential to help heal whatever wounds you may carry from having been the victim of abusive power? And if you are not wounded individually, consider that you may be an ally or member of a group that is being singled out. The metaphors that are most meaningful to me often come from the natural world:

What Does It Mean to Belong?

Belonging means to be accepted some place for who you are, whereas fitting in means you have to change who you are in some way to be accepted. In a sense then, belonging is the feeling we get when we are the recipients of unconditional love – when we are loved just for who we are. That belonging feeling can also happen under other conditions though, such as when we’re in a gathering or community that values us for just the way we are. Whether it’s through unconditional love, an accepting community or some other way, feeling like we belong is a powerful experience. My hometown Unitarian Universalist congregation was probably the place where I felt like I most belonged when I was a kid. I would roam the halls before and after the service, playing with my church best friend, the Director of Religious Education’s daughter, Megan McDonald. Church was a safe place, a place where I could be myself, a place where I was unconditionally loved and supported by an amazing community. Which is a good thing, because I sure didn’t feel like I belonged at school. And I even had a hard time feeling like I belonged as a young adult, after college. I had a great group of friends when I lived in Philadelphia, and I certainly belonged with them to a large degree. And I was a member of and belonged to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia when I lived there. But the place where
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Belonging in a BSU Stairwell

I’d met a friend on campus for lunch. I’d parked in the Emens Auditorium parking structure because it was close to where we were meeting. My emeriti faculty hangtag doesn’t allow me to park there unless I park as a visitor. On this crowded day, that meant parking on the very top deck. When I was ready to leave, that, in turn, meant walking up four flights of stairs. I later learned that there is an elevator, but I didn’t know that at the time. I’ve been moving quite slowly and with great difficulty of late due to a worse than usual time with chronic hip and leg problems. As I began to make my way up the stairs one slow step at a time, I became aware of a young woman behind me. I turned and smiled at her, and invited her to go around me. What happened next surprised me. She declined, willingly keeping pace with my slowness. We had an absolutely delightful conversation all the way up the stairs, and parted with warm wishes and smiling hearts when we reached the top. We both belonged in that brief encounter. I’ve been thinking a lot about what being able-bodied, or not, means in our culture. Rich Harris, who worked with what I believe was then called “disabled student development” before his retirement from Ball State, often said that we are all “TABS,” his acronym for “temporarily able-bodied.” I’ve clearly lost my TAB status, and that’s had me reflecting on the
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We Must Fight

The aftermath of November 8th is still ringing through our lives – it’s still ringing through my heart – and so I sit here wondering: how did this happen? What, dear god, is going happen to people of color, Muslims, Jews, women, the LGBTQ community, and so many other minority populations now that we've effectively given permission to hate groups to be part of the mainstream? And what do we do now? While we'll be analyzing and debating the "how?' question for a while, the "what do we need to do now?" question is in some ways easier, at least in the big picture. While specifics have yet to come into focus, the overall needed response is crystal clear: we must fight. We must fight for what is right. We must fight to protect the rights and safety of all in our country. We must fight for justice. Now, if you’re aware that our theme for September is Peace, and that I’m supposedly writing this article on that topic, you might be wondering how fighting is compatible with peace. For that, we’ll turn to the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote (in our hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, #584):
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love
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Life in the Time of Warfare

I was born in 1945. My daughter was born in 1968. My two older grandchildren were born in 1995 and 1999. The younger three came along in 2012, 2014 and 2016. This means that neither me, nor my daughter, nor my grandchildren have ever known a time when the United States was not at war. Some were major wars that involved coalitions of many nations—World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and the current war on ISIL. Others involved only the US and one other country. Some, we said we “won.” Others, well… Most were military engagements that involved US troops and firepower with or against other nations. There was also the Cold War – that persistent state of tension between the Western Bloc, the US and its allies, and the Eastern Bloc, composed of the USSR and its allies – that followed WWII. While military historians disagree on its exact dates, 1947-1991 is typically accepted. What I personally remember most about the Cold War Era is huddling in a terrified ball underneath my classroom desk in grade school when the sirens howled and we had air raid drills. I was certain that the images I had seen on jerky black and white newsreels of Nagasaki and Hiroshima would soon be images of the small town where I lived. Not necessarily logical, but kids’ fears often aren’t logical. A recent report indicated that tensions between the United States and Russia are now at a level not seen since the Cold
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Happy Thanksgiving!

As we prepare to spend time with friends, family and loved ones over the long weekend, this brief reflection from Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. David Schwartz reminds us to ask - who is freedom for?  During this season of gratitude and thanksgiving, his words of wisdom about the nature of the Thanksgiving holiday offer some powerful "food for thought," if you would.   Enjoy your weekend!

"Who Is Freedom For?" by Rev. David Schwartz

We gather at Thanksgiving, in some sense, to retell the creation myth of our country. In this myth is our very best and our very worst: a boldness; a care for the common good; a wish to say we before I. Yet from even before the first Thanksgiving feast, it’s a story of theft and violence, and a ruthlessly narrow definition of who “we” really means. The colonists had come seeking freedom, and in that we identify with them. But it was freedom only for themselves. In every generation forward, from that day to this, the people living in this land that became America struggled always with the question: Who is freedom for? Black persons were taken from their native Africa to become slaves. Immigration laws were written explicitly to prohibit non-Western Europeans. Women could not vote even a century ago. In many states right now, gays and lesbians can be legally fired or evicted merely for not being straight. Refugees knock and, in response, voices call to bar the door. The Universalist minister Clarence Skinner wrote, a century ago: "The fight for freedom is never
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Would You Pass the Marshmallow Test?

The experiment is simple.  Leave a five year-old in a room with a marshmallow sitting on the table in front of him or her, with the following instructions: “I’m going to leave the room for fifteen minutes.  If you eat the marshmallow while I’m gone, that’s the only marshmallow you’ll get.  If you can wait the whole fifteen minutes, and don’t eat the marshmallow until I get back, you’ll get a second marshmallow.”  While this sounds quaint, and perhaps even a little trite, this experiment was indeed run in a highly scientific manner by Stanford professor Walter Mischel in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The focus of the experiment, of course, is to measure individual children’s ability to employ delayed gratification, and the long-term follow up was to see how predictive their behavior was of long-term success in life.  The results were startling. A person’s five year-old response to the experiment, the level of delayed gratification they were able to demonstrate even back then, was a higher predictor of future success in life than any other measure, including IQ tests, SAT test, and anything else.  For all the fancy results and analysis those and other tests provide us, they are less predictive of success in life than whether your five year-old self can successfully delay gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow. This experiment, and others like it, speak to the power and importance of emotional intelligence.  For a very long time in our country, our focus was strictly intellectual
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Embrace the Joy

One of the privileges of ministry is that I get to officiate for weddings. Recently I had the honor and pleasure of officiating for the wedding of a couple, both of whom are in their 70s. Both had previous spouses who had died from cancer. My husband Tom and I are in the same situation, both of us having lost spouses to death. One man who attended the wedding mentioned to me that he and his wife had also married late in life following the deaths of earlier spouses. As the chalice lighting I used for the wedding says, the light of the chalice reminds us that “love is a living thing, dancing like a flame, waiting within each of us for an awakening touch.” Marriage is always a daring step, a committing of ourselves to the mystery of life itself, a leap into an unknown in which there are, and can be, no guarantees. It calls on us to risk what is for the sake of what can yet be. Late in life marriages are even more so. Those of us who marry, or marry again in the autumn or winter of our lives do so knowing perhaps more clearly than do the young that it won’t always be smooth sailing. We are keenly aware that there will be both unbounded joy, and sorrow that will threaten to shrivel our souls. And we choose to embrace the joy, to forge ahead into that mysterious unknown, to entrust ourselves to each
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The Hunt for Humility

An English teacher of mine, at some point in my schooling, asked our class a great question – “what is the definition of irony?”  She asked this in follow up after checking to see if we all understood what irony was, and the whole class had nodded yes, we did understand.  And yet when she posed this question, none of us could come up with a definition of irony in the moment.  We could name ironic moments or experiences, but we couldn’t actually come up with a workable definition.  Her point to us was that we don’t truly know what a word means until we can articulate its definition.  And I’ll admit, I still can’t define irony off the top of my head – I had to go look its meaning up again just now.  My teacher’s question though returned to me as I’ve been thinking about this October’s theme of Humility – what does humility actually mean? I’m not the only one to struggle with this question.  In the introduction to his book, Humility: The Quite Virtue, Everett L. Worthington, Jr. notes: “writing a book on humility is fraught with difficulties… I cannot tell you a definitive description of humility revealed by science… I can only invite you to consider people you know.  Who are your heroes of humility?”  He suggests that instead of a definition, the best way to understand humility is to list the characteristics of people you know who you think are humble. Figuring it was worth a
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