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Tuesday, August 31, 2010's one life, so you better like what’s in your closet…

It takes a lifetime to become the best that we can be, we have not the time or the right to judge each other, one life, so you better like what’s in your closet!- Gloria Gaynor in the spoken forword to the song “I am what I am” (not shown in the video lonk above). The song was also used in the Broadway musical "La Cage Aux Folles."

This is the first in a series (three postings) about the closet. In today’s I want to focus on the traditional understanding of the closet for gay people as a way of referring to those people who do not disclose that they are gay. Then in second posting, I will talk about what it means to be closeted spiritually and in the third I will explore using the of the closet metaphor (and a few other images) as a basic way of understanding human life and personality for everyone.

I want to start with original understanding of the closet as it applies to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) people. The clooset is a place where things can be hidden behind a closed door where no one will see it. When I think of this image I often think of a place where all the crap you have can be shoved behind a door where no one can see it. The closet always seems like that the undesirable, the dirty, the evil secret. Thinking of horror movies, closets are mysterious places where dangerous things hide that, if released, could destroy everything..

There are many ways to understand the closet. Part of what inspired me to do this blog was realizing that when you really look at things up close, they are more complex than our first snap judgment might indicate. In different places and at different times, the closet has been a place safety for many people. In recent times, this country has become a safer place for LGBT people in general, but there still many places where being out of the closet can mean you are at huge risk for your safety. If you are child or teen and your parents are homophobic, the closet is a means of survival. LGBT teens make up a GIANT part of homeless teenagers and of teen suicides. If you are in college and your homophobic parents pay the bills, you might lose your chance at a college education if you come out. In this great country you can still legally be denied a job or lose a job for being a LBGT person. Outside the US there are places you can legally be imprisoned, tortured or even killed for being LGBT and being closeted means living to see another day.

The closet is a place where all LGBT people have been in at some point. Let’s face it, we are all pretty much raised with the assumption that we are straight. I think that is changing, but for the most part it is still true. At some point nearly LGBT person has to say to someone else that they are not straight and “come out.” Except in cases where the closet person is working against LGBT people politically, religiously, etc. I don’t believe someone should be pulled out of the closet. This is a highly personal and individual process. I remember a graduate school professor once telling me that a therapist should take care not to go around ripping away people's security/safety banket suddenly, people's defenses have to be respected before the client and therapist can build an alliance to help the walls come down..People need to do things in their own time, often with help from friends, loved ones and good therapists.

All that being said, that does not change the fact that I think the closet is a psychologically, politically and spiritually a very dark and negative space. We need less closets in our lives for the sake of our health, the well being of our loved ones and justice in our world. Psychologically, the consequences of staying in the closet over the long haul are gravely damaging to the individuals involved, their families and friends, and society as a whole.

We all have closets, things about ourselves that we hide from other people; that is simply a fact of life. However, hiding one’s sexual identity is fundamentally unique and different from hiding other secrets. I believe that our sexual identity, whatever it may be, something at the core of what makes us human. My philosophy of psychology is based on relationships. I believe our relationships with others are basis of who we are as people. I believe we are who we are because of how relate to others, from the day we born onward. While I do not believe all relationships are based in sexuality, our sexuality is at the very base of our humanity.

Our sexual identity, straight, LGBT, etc. isn’t about sex as much as it about the type of person you can love in a way you can love no one else. No matter how hard a gay man tries, he can never fall in love with woman in the same way he can with a man, it is simply isn’t part of his nature. A snake may want to fly, but it never will.

Being in the closet is a heavy burden for the closeted person. It is like someone who has a beautifully wrapped birthday present but who refuses unwrap it because the wrapping is so beautiful. Yes, the box stays pretty, but the potential, the very reason it is a gift, is buried.The closet requires hiding, lying, and constant monitoring one's self. It is living  a life that never feels completely safe, totally authentic or the ability to feel emotional truly close to the people in our lives. It is also a burden for the families and friends around the person. By its nature, the closet creates an unknown, an elephant in the room. A family with a closeted member will always be limited in how close people in that family can become to one another. When a basic truth about how someone loves is hidden, it is not destroyed, it lingers, hanging in the air and it changes every relationship around it.  In world of the closet, the relationships between the closeted person and those they care about are always less than they were meant to be.

The closeted person at some level knows why their relationships with their family and friends always has some degree of a shallow, shadow-like quality that never quite feels real , but it is even sadder for those around the closeted person. They feel an emptiness and distance, but never know exactly why. The closet prevents a real closeness between even the closest family and friends. The closet creates a false sense of peace and calm that tries to take the place of depth and authenticity, but never can. Avoiding conflict takes priority over connectedness. Being closeted means remaining fragmented in your relationships, never feeling quite whole and being unable to make deep real connections to others. It also means that you condemn those you love the most from ever being close to you or to one another.

Politically, the more people stay in the closet, the harder it is for people to understand that gay people are human and deserving of human rights. Within the community of out gay people, the closet is often thought expression of oppression. Closeted people are often thought of negatively among “out” LGBT people. They are thought of as, at best oppressed, and at worse, suspect. Closeted people are seen as either not doing their part in the noble struggle for LGBT rights or they are seen as working against LGBT people in order to protect themselves. Out LBGT people see that the more people stay in the closet the harder it is for people to see that we are not evil, immoral, or all that much different from straight people.

It is one thing to think about “gay rights” and “gay people” it is another to have to deal with gay father, mother, sister or brother. It is easy to be against same sex people getting married, it is quite another to not believe your sister should have the right to marry the person she loves. People in the closet keep up the myth that gay people are “other” people.

Finally, spiritually, I believe that humanity and the divinity are images of one another, or to put it another way, we are all created in God’s image. What I love about that idea, is how many ways we are created, different races, genders, bodies, temperaments, etc. I believe we come into this world as an expression of the divine and our lives are meant to unfold in ways to uncover truths about the humaniity and divinity for the world to see. Christians talk about “Christ consciousness” and the Buddhists talk about our “Buddha nature” as ways of understanding how we live our lives are icons, our experiences as living examples pointing to the nature of God. I believe that coming into this world as a LGBT person means to be a specific face of God. Living our lives with honesty, openness and integrity and exploring the potential for love is the life we were meant to live. We are meant, by our creator, to be whole, happy healthy people, living that kind of life is a prayer, a way of showing the world something of God.

Coming out of the closet is risky, difficult, and not without very serious consequences for many people. This essay is a call for all of us to build a world where being in the closet is a relic of an oppressive past. This is a NOT condemnation of individual people who are closeted, but call to all of us to be constantly working to build a better world all the time. If we create a world without closeted LGBT people we make this world a place where people are less psychologically fragmented and healthier relationships with the people they love, where politically we are clear that justice for all is really justice for all. We are clear that LGBT people are made in the image and likeness of God and without their openness, the picture of God and of human nature is painfully incomplete. We are all meant to shine our light, to shine our love through the lives we live...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Love Continued...

So, did the last posting leave you all in the blogosphere thinking I had given up on romantic love?

Well, I didn’t.

I still believe in love, but I believe differently. Brace yourself for the metaphors…

I believe that love is an invitation. I had a therapist once tell me love was inviting someone to dance. I have never forgotten that; think it quite a beautiful idea.

I think that love is a signal, an invitation, a sign, perhaps even an icon. It is a map to a destination, but having the map is no guarantee you get to the goal.

Love is first most important ingredient in a recipe, but it isn’t the only one. If goal is the cake of happiness in a happy healthy relationship, then love is the flour in the recipe. It is essential, perhaps the most essential, ingredient, but alone it isn’t enough make a cake. (Yes, I know, very McArthur Park)

So I no longer believe that if people are really truly in love it means that they will definitely have great relationship in the future. For love to lead to a happy relationship, love needs a lot help. There are so many other factors that aren’t about love, but are about human relationships. People have to be committed to working hard over the long haul. People have to be willing to deal with the ebbs and flows of sexual attraction over time. People have to know that the person they love will definitely change, sometimes in unpredictable ways. People have to willing to share with one another the most deeply personal, difficult and embarrassing parts of life. People have to be willing to pay the price that can come when being in a romantic relationship someone changes other relationships in their lives.

I think that far too many people get into long term committed relationships too quickly.

I think people need to really take the time to get to know someone before committing to them. I think marrying/partnering at young age in our post-modern world in is simply silly. I think people should experience a good long period as a single adult, before committing to someone else. Get to know yourself before you commit to someone else! Get to know someone before you commit to him/her!

As for the old standard of not having sex before marriage I think it beyond ridiculous. It was an old, very sexist, custom that has ALWAYS applied to women more than men (few people have ever been upset that a man wasn’t a virgin on his wedding night!) and was clearly about men being sure that his property was “new” and that any children were HIS offspring.

In today’s world the notion that ANYONE would make a commitment to another person before having a sexual life with them is foolhardy. If you committing to a life with someone and sex is part of that life, isn’t important to know if you are sexual compatible? I say people should LOTS of sex before marriage so you know this is person you would like to have LOTS of sex with in the future! Sex is not the only, or even the most important part of love, but it is a part of love and should not be easily dismissed. No one should put up with a bad sex life. As stated above, sex ebbs and flows between people, but it is always something people will revisit again and again.

I think that too many people get married/enter a committed relationship in general. Is it so wrong to live your life without a partner? Is it so wrong to know that being in a long term relationship isn’t right for you?

At 44, I would honestly still LOVE to be in a long term loving relationship, but I have no regrets. I have loved my life as I have lived it and I am not sure there is much I would change. I want to be with one special person, and yet, if it doesn’t happen I attend live, love and enjoy my life just as much as if I sharing with one special someone. There other kinds of love, friends, family, pets (hey Sammy, you finally made the blog!) that have always filled my life with joy and I hope always will.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What is Love anyway?

Those of who Loved the 80’s understand the title and the picture, wisdom from the Howard Jones…

I wondered what would happen if I really combined my psychological and theological perspectives and my experiences as a middle aged man on my own ideas of romantic Love. I don’t think my ideas (ideals?) are that much different from most Americans.

I was originally going to call this “I don’t believe in Love anymore, is that so wrong?” but then I decided it was too harsh and actually not really true.

What is true is that my particular mid-life crisis seems to really be focus on the meaning of romantic Love. At mid-life a lot of us get reflective, perhaps philosophical, perhaps wise, perhaps depressed. In the middle of our lives, many of us feel compelled to put the experiences of half of a lifetime in contrast with our long held concepts, ideas and values. Sometime people write great books or bad poetry, some change their religious or spiritual beliefs, some people find new, more satisfying careers, others have meaningless affairs or buy sports cars. It is an opportunity for great insight and wisdom, though honestly sometimes it just feels like the rug is being pulled out from under us with nothing to hold on to…

For most of my life I was sure… really sure… that when I really fell in Love, when any two people really connected, everything would work out…it would have to, it was party of “the plan.” I believed Love had a magical power you count on that made everything just right. It could easily be said I had a faith in Love that was VERY similar to religious faith.

Over the years, when that belief didn’t pan out, I could always explain it away. When I first came out, I was sure I would fall in Love soon and live happily ever after. When that didn’t happen I was just sure I hadn’t met the right guy “yet.” Love required patience. Then a couple I knew, who seems perfect for each other admitted infidelity I was shaken. I was very disillusioned, but still believe it was an aberration, and Love would find away. When I first met a couple who had an open relationship and that shook me, but still I believed in Love. While personally I have always known myself to be pretty much a one guy guy, I came to believe that monogamy and non-monogamy are choices in relationships that are less about morality and more about the personal nature of the people involved. Anyway, I came to see that either option could find Love and Love would make everything OK, and real Love would still win out and change everything

I really believed (and I think a lot of Americans still do believe) that once you found true Love, your life would make perfect sense. As if by magic, true Love would transform everything and everyone would live happily ever after. I believed that once you really made that connection, it would be the beginning of eternal happiness and you would either understand the meaning of life, or would stop caring about it.

But, then slowly, as the years went on and on the doubts crept in more and more and got harder to shake off. When my father and my friend Rob died within a about a year of one another, I was devastated. Afterlife or not, I was not prepared for how real their losses would be to me, how real the sense of never seeing them in the flesh would feel. I really shook me, gave me doubt about what Love was, and how exactly Love was “eternal.”

Then there was watching the relationships of people in my life. No offense to any of you reading this, but over time, I came find fewer and fewer relationships I really envied. I watched relationships I knew (gay and straight) turn bitter, anger or empty over time. Some of those relationships ended, some did not…frankly I am not sure whether I am sadder about the relationships that ended, or the ones that stayed together. Found myself looking at some of these relationships and being disillusioned that the people in them weren’t willing to work harder to stay together. Looking at others, I thought how much happier everyone could be if both parties just moved on and left each other. I have seen people cling to a relationship because the idea of being alone or causing any conflict were too much to bear. I have seen people given up on partner too easily, with no patience, strength or willingness to weather a storm.

Then there are my broken romances. I won’t give too many details, to protect myself and both the innocent and the guilty. Needless to say, I have felt like I was in Love probably 3-4 times in my life (that number changes depending on how my selective memory works on a given day and how deeply I am willing to look back) and believe I have actually been really been in Love, exactly once. Whatever has been true in my romantic life, Love did not make everything better, clearer or easier and here I sit, a single, yet not totally unfulfilled, 44 year old man.

So what do all these reflections leave me thinking about the nature of romantic Love…stay tuned for the next posting…


Friday, August 20, 2010

Do Liberals have any morals?

One charge that conservatives will often level against liberals is that we don’t have morals. Many conservatives believe that anything goes for liberals. Liberals are often charged with being totally relativistic.

While I don’t agree with that charge, I can understand where it comes from. At our worse, liberals are too nice, too careful not to offend and too anxious to include everyone. The reality of life means that we make choices and people get left out. I also believe that the word “non-judgmental.” is over used. Life is about making good healthy judgments and decisions and we should not be shy about it

I also think we liberals have given up (or perhaps been robbed of) the moral high ground. Conservatives have been successfully able to paint themselves as “the real Americans.” (I have started working on a future posting about how we American have become totally polarized in our thinking, stay tuned.)

If liberals are ever going to fight this, we have to be wiling to talk about morality and not be ashamed or allow ourselves to feel “less than” the conservatives.

Here are a few places I recommend we start:

• Strongly clear laws and punishments for rape and sexual assault.-This country is a mishmash of laws and enforce on rape and no one seems to get anger about this, it is time someone did!

• Domestic violence- Still in 2010, in places all over America, domestic violence is viewed as a “family” issue and not prosecuted anywhere near as much as it should be. Liberals should be pushing for strong enforcement of laws that protect women and children especially. I am definitely of the school that because someone has given birth to or fathered a child, it doesn’t make them a parent.

• Gay rights- LGBT people should have full and complete access to marriage and adoption of children. We have to stop settling of separate but equal and the state by state bullshit. It is wrong that adult Americans anywhere in this country can’t marry the person they love…period. Gay people are good parents to children study after study has shown, and it is not a social experiment!

On the below two liberals should call conservative to the table and demand they acknowledge the problems, and then work together toward solutions.

• A frank discussion on race and class in this country- The reality is that poor and working class people, and members ethnic and racial minorities are arrested for more crimes, go to prison more often and for long sentences than white wealthier people, but we are often afraid to ask why and what can be done. I think liberals have to force conservatives to address this issue. Conservatives have been very good at stirring up fear and hate by throwing out words like “quotas” and “entitlements.” I don’t have solutions but I want conservatives to acknowledge these statistical facts. I want to hear their “solutions.” Given that statistics show that in few short years more Americans will be non-white than white, this is an especially important discussion.

• Every child in America is entitled (yes entitled!) to a good quality public education regardless of where they live, who their parents are and how much money their parents have. Inter-city Black and Hispanic kids should not have to sit in over-full classrooms with few resources because of where they live. Just like the above, I don’t have a solution, but I want conservatives to acknowledge the problem and if they have solutions propose them then HOLD them accountable to see if they work.

I think the biggest problem is that liberals have allowed conservatives to set all the questions and liberals have only responded. It is time liberals asked some of the questions and demanded conservatives respond to them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Love, sex and too many channels and nothing’s on.…

When I started this blog I said I wanted it to be about human relationships. I really meant that broadly, from family to friends to co-workers to lovers and to all those relationships we have that don’t easily fit into a category. However, if I am really honest, love and sex are the things that fascinate me the most about the human condition. I don’t think I am not alone.

More and more I hear stories or simply know people who are in some kind of romantic partnership/relationship that isn’t exactly the fairy tale loving supportive totally monogamous cultural idea we have in our culture.

There are all kinds of open relationships and polyamorous relationships and each with many different rules/versions. There are long term monogamous relationships. There are long term relationships that either were always sexless or became sexless. There are non-romantic life partners, people who share a life, become family to one another, but sex isn’t part of the equation. There are relationships where one partner has sex with other people and the other partner has no idea. There are relationships where one or both parties have sex outside the relationship and have an arrangement without ever saying a word. There are relationships that stay together for the security and stability (“stay together for the kids” or “I don’t want to be alone” or “I can’t disrupt the family”) even though the parties involved don’t love each other. I could go on and on. There are people who have stopping loving their partners, but can’t bear the thought of being alone or the loss of security so they stay together.

I really work hard not let my prejudices and cultural baggage cause me to judge relationships that seem odd to me or that I would never be part because of my own personal likes and dislikes. I have always maintained that if people are open and honest with one another and no one is hurt, how people arrange their romantic life is no one’s business. Of course some of the configurations I describe above don’t involve being honest. That seems to present moral and ethical problems, and yet I have met people in these situations. Sometime their situations are just as dysfunctional and crazy as they seem to be and other times there are circumstances than make the morality much more complicated.

One trend I see, and I am not sure if I view it as psychologically healthy or not, is people no longer assuming, looking for and even trying to be, with one person for a lifetime. Some have more than one life partner. Others have split the functions of a relationship over several people, one for sex, one for romance, one for friendship, etc. I heard someone referred to as a secondary partner the other day. I thought to myself, would being a secondary partner be satisfying? Some people say it perfect for them, they keep their independence and have someone they like and respect in their lives. But what is like to choose to be with someone for whom you are always number two?

So, it is all the variation healthy? Are we as a society only beginning to explore the broad range of relationships and this is the beginning of that exploration? Or, thinking psychologically, have people just become more and more fragmented and healthy boundaries so rare that they have to spread their needs out over a broad range of people because the pain, the risk, the vulnerability of working on being more than one thing to another person is too much? Have people learned, in a rapidly changing world and sky high divorce rates that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket? Is it healthy to realize your partner can be all things or do we sell our relationship short by finding ways out rather than working hard on them? Do some people stay in unhealthy relationships far too long than they should?

It seems to me people give up on each other easily this days. If the sex isn’t good, open the relationship, if the relationship isn’t good but the sex is, stop thinking of your partner as a support one and turn to someone else for emotional support.

This isn’t primarily about sex for me, is about honestly, depth and intimacy, very hard tasks in any relationship. The health of a relationship isn’t based on the “sex rules” but good communication and an intimate connection. There are healthy monogamous relationships, healthy open ones and healthy polyamorous relationships and unhealthy versions of the each.

Relationships obviously have ebbs and flows, so I don’t believe in perfect ones, have we become a culture with so many options that we forget that there are people attached to those options? Is in the relationship equivalent of “so many channels and nothing’s on TV?”

The sad thing is people do too many things in relationship to stop the pain but not deal with hurt behind the pain. It is like putting Novocain on a big open wound, nothing gets better, but the pain goes away for awhile.

I have no answers here only lots and of lots of more questions. Do people give up on each other too easily? Do people stay in unhealthy relationship too long? Do people turn to others to avoid turning to one another when relationship get tough?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dear Mother of God, my hair!

Today’s posting is inspired by two facebook posting I saw today. I think these two are related, but for now (so I don’t spend all of this beautiful day in the house at the computer!) I am just writing about both of them, if anyone wants to comment on possible connections, I would love to hear it!

The first posting that inspired me today (re: pushed my buttons!) was a friend posting about her son having to cut off his mohawk so he could be serve as a altar boy. Someone else commented on her post “ …. learned a valuable lesson, a mohawk or serving at church. He made his decision and I applaud it.” I then posted “Jesus weeps- I hear tell that about two thousand years ago the follows of some radical teacher were these dirty unkempt fisherman and these women of questionable reputation that people didn't want to sit next to in the little things have changed. I thought church was about worshiping God and understanding the teachings of Jesus, not worrying if one is dressing appropriately so as not to offend someone else's sensibility of how people are supposed to look on the altar.”

Apparently, if you want to be part of this church there are rules about your hair, and I am guessing your clothing. I can hear my father’s voice raging about the hypocrites in church and how church was just another place where people went to make judgments about others. I remember trying to convince my Dad that the spirituality the church should be leading us to was so much more than these things. While I hope that is true, Dad’s observation is also true.

About ten years ago I used to wear an earring. During that time, I spent one summer working for the Episcopal Church in Panama. I was invited to preach one Sunday, but I was asked to first remove my earring. (That same church seemed VERY uncomfortable with asking the female students in our group to preach on the altar…I don’t think these are unrelated.) Somehow, my appearance, my self-expression has not compatible with preaching. Even though I never once talked about being gay with anyone in the church in Panama, one of the priests made in clear that the earring would push the “gay” button with some people in the congregation. They never once asked me what the message of my sermon was, but they were very concerned with how I would look to the congregation. It is just me, or were their priorities turned upside down?

At churches, mosques, synagogues, Hindu temples and other places of worship around the globe people spend so much time looking at each other or what the people leading the worship look like that they forget they are there to look upward to the divine and inward into their own heart. Don’t get me wrong, I think people coming together reflect on divinity and explore the ways to healthy, morally upright relationships with the other people is a very good thing. However, being upset or judging how the others look or choose to present themselves in worship/meditation/reflection not only seems to miss the point, it actually seem to spoil the whole reason for coming together in the first place.

I understand a little better why Dad stopped doing to church….

The second posting was by a former employee of mine reminding folks that for many Orthodox Christians today is the feast of Dormition of the Theotokos. I won’t explain the details of this feast in huge detail here, but feel free look it up; Wikipedia has an interesting summary,

This feast is a different version of story Roman Catholics tell in the feast of the Assumption of Mary. It is about the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her relationship to the divine. I LOVE the way my friend put it on her facebook page, “Happy Theotokos day everyone! We are all called to be mothers of God for God is always needing to be born!” That statement both talks about the relationship of all woman (and I believe by extension all people) to God and also calls to mind the idea that these feasts are only references to one event several thousand years ago, but can windows, icons, pointing to a reflection on the nature of our ongoing relationship to God.

In Catholic and Orthodox theology, Mary isn’t simply the human mother of Jesus, but she is referred to as “the Mother of God (Theotokos.)” This has historically has been at the annoyance of some more protestant Christians, who think seeing Mary as any other than the human mother of God is heresy.

Yet the idea of “Mother of God” is very very ancient. The feminine in the nature of God was very common around the world and definitely in ancient Middle East and in Judaism. If you want to know more, check out Merlin Stone’s very important book When God Was a Woman or spend a few minutes on the internet and you find many more resources.

For me, this is one interesting way of seeing something of the feminine in the understanding of God that exists within the Christian and Jewish traditions. Unfortunately, these concepts have been twisted by history and culture to convince women at their ONLY scared place is in the home as mothers. How limited, how sad! To me this is disrespectful to women and to the idea of motherhood. Fortunately, these concepts are so full and rich that we can look beyond (Above? Below? Underneath?) the sexism imbedded in such a limited interpretations.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What's in a name?

I have recently been in a variety of situations that have me thinking about titles and power and how people and organizations use them.

Let me say, I have never been a fan formality for formality sake. I have always been Chris, not Christopher. Coming from very blue collar roots, I am almost instinctively distrustful of people who insist on being addressed by their titles. I like calling my doctor Kevin and generally find places of worship that address their worship leader by title (Mother, Father, Rabbi, Imam, etc.) are less warm and out forth a more disconnected sense in their community life than ones where the leader and the members of that community are on a first name basis. The role of leader is just that, a role, a function. The leader works for the community, but s/he is no better, no closer to the divine, than anyone else. Imagine the possible differences in the community life and in how people view and treat one another,  in a church where the leader is interoduced as “Kevin who is our priest" vs.  "This is Fr. O’Malley."
I recently shopped at 2 different computer stores, an Apple store and one small local computer chain. The Apple store was filled with neat, but casually dressed, friendly helpful staff, the other had sales people in ties or dressed who looked and felt, to me as a consumer, as old fashioned, stiff and formal. I felt much more at ease and at home with Apple folks, who looked bright, comfortable and energetic.  I am much more likely to return the Apple store to do my shopping in the future.

While I am definitely someone who strongly values importance of good boundaries, I don’t believe good boundaries are about formality and titles. Good Boundaries are about appreciating individuality and creating realities where people’s best gifts come forward. When titles are very important, it is nearly always a situation where those with the most power have the “titles” and those with less power either don't have title or have smaller leser titles. In those organizations, the head of the organization is clearly “Miss. Johnson” or “Dr. Johnson” but the cleaning person always still just “Maria”

Whenever I have been in situations that are rigid about titles, power seems to be very “top down.” In my estimation, there are essential differences between being too familiar, equality, authority and good/healthy boundaries. I find, more often than not, that any institution which relies heavily on titles (Dr./Dean/Rev./Canon) or the use of Ms./Mrs./Miss/Mr. is very hierarchical. Frankly, those organizations often have the terrible boundaries because they rely on rules over a real sense of the importance of each person’s role. In those organizations there are more secrets, more hidden agendas, more “system beating” behaviors rather than sincere engagement. People in these organizations spend too much time working around the rules and less time dealing directly with the issues at hand. There are more layers of division, more bureaucracy . "Lower" level workers are far less like to bring problems they see or solutions to problems they might wish propose to the table. There also tends to be less accountabilty to the powerful people in these organizations and more rigid rules for the not-so-powerful. These organizations often depend on these surface formalities to enforce rigid divisions, top down power dynamics and a false sense of good boundaries.

A healthy community/business has good open communication lines and boundaries that are clear, with some flexibility, not because some external formality is enforced, but because everyone’s role and place in the organization/community is respected. Everyone is expected to perform their task because of its importance. Everyone in such a buiness/community acknowledges that trust and interdependence keep things running. Everyone keeps everyone else honest and on task. The rules in these places are important to provide structure and safety for all, but "enforcement" is less of an issue.

I am not suggesting that every organization should be a complete democracy, no organization, could function that way. If everyone had an equal vote in every decision, it would chaos and nothing would get done. Organizations should function in ways foster people feeling a part of something larger that has importance and value and that everyone has an important voice. Solid leadership and good representation of all replaces rigid rules and highly structured rigid goverance.
These are businesses where, for example, the CEO and the janitor are on a first name basis because each of them respects the vital role each one plays in the organization. The janitor wouldn’t expect the CEO to clean the toilets and CEO would not expect the janitor to close on a merger, however each would able to talk easily with one another. CEO could say s/he knows a better window cleaner for the bathroom mirror than the janitor is using and the janitor would feel free to bring her/his ideas about a weaknesses in the merger agreement s/he observed without either being viewed as “stepping on toes.” Janitor would know he has a voice and respect the fact that he does not have a vote in everything, but feels like a vital part of the organization. In another example, there are churches where the leader/minister/priest works with people in the congregation to develop worship styles that work for that community versus churches where the leader “educates” the people on the “right” way to worship. This doesn't discount the roles of poeple with specialize knowledge people doing what they do best in their area, but it means that the leader is not assumed or expected to do everything or make decisions in a vacuum.
Those who are given more power in an organization should see that they are entrusted with using a certain amount of power by their community to do a certain job/function. Good leaders in an organization know and use what power and privilege they have been given to benefit of the larger whole, all the while acknowledging that they are temporary holding power for the community.

In my experience, oftentimes, when organizations try to enforce very formal titles is it a signal and symptom that boundaries are poor and there is a real lack of interest in really addressing boundary issues. Such a place, unable to do the hard work of community building and setting boundaries, artificially becomes more rigid, more formal, and more rule-based as defense mechanism. People become more distant from one another; feel less attached to the organization and to one another and look for way “around” things rather than directly approaching things head on. In businesses like this, people work for a paycheck and have little investment in the organization as a whole.

Community building is hard work; it requires sincere engagement, vulnerability, transparency and a willingness to view power and responsibility as shared concepts across all groups and individuals in an organization. Yes, everyone should know that certain people have the rights and responsibility to hold power and make certain hard decisions, but all should feel that we are responsible to one another. These are difficult lines to draw, but essential ones for a healthy organization.

In my opinion, organizations that are seeking to grow and evolve should worry less about being too “familiar” or not formal enough and more about healthy boundaries and a sense of community where all people feel vital and important parts of one community. Different roles are maintained, not because of titles and rules, but out of respect for one another.

Functional healthy organizations seek consistency and look for ways to foster mutual respect. In those organizations too many rigid rules and formality get in the way. In such organizations people come to appreciate their roles and do their best work because they believe in the organization, but because of a title or a dogged adherence to a rule book.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Cheating- sin, character flaw or behavior?..and a prayer from New Zealand

Recently one of my facebook friends posted some pretty harsh stuff about people who cheat. He later acknowledged that he wasn’t just posting about cheating, but was venting. I imagine he had been cheated on, probably recently, and was in a lot of pain, and it got me thinking.
Cheating, as I think about it is the violation of the rules of a relationship, breaking a commitment and an agreement to someone you care about. It isn’t necessarily about having sex outside a relationship, because for some people that is not a violation of their agreement.

Spiritually, cheating is morally wrong because it is the violation of a relationship. By my theology, (with a nod to Carter Heyward, one of my mentors) one way understand “God” is as the force of the love in a relationship. God is the healthy, holy way we connect to other people, family, friends, lovers, etc. so anything that hurts or breaks that relationship is “sin.” So if two people have negotiated the rules of their relationship in good faith, the act of cheating means someone has violated that trust. While I believe couples always have talk about the rules and boundaries of their relationship, we all know that relationships are constantly being renegotiated and evolving, so “rules” sometimes change.

I am not sure whether it is because of having been a therapist or simply being middle aged and having a bit more life experience, but I have come to know that cheating is a bit more complex than right or wrong, sin or evil. While the act of cheating is morally reprehensible, like many things in life, it is a bad thing that good people sometimes do to one another.

About ten years ago man I was seeing cheated on me. He confessed to it immediately, took responsibility, but that didn’t make it easier. Up to that point in my life, it was the worse thing that ever had happened to me. I was devastated. The relationship lasted a little longer after that, but it was clearly the beginning of the end.

I have met all kinds of people who have “cheated” on partners in my life. Some of them very close to my heart. I don’t believe that cheating is ever right, but have come to understand that this particular wrong happens for a lot of reasons. While I absolutely think that cheaters must own up and take responsibility for their actions, I don’t think every relationship that experiences infidelity must automatically end. I also don’t think that cheating always points to a deep character flaw or an evil nature in the cheater.

I think of cheating as akin to the Christian idea of sin and/or the psychological concept of destructive behavior. Sure there are sociopathic people without consciences that are constantly destructive to those around them. While a "cheater" may be a sociopath, the fact that someone cheats doesn’t mean he or she is a sociopath.

Think of it like killing someone. Killing someone is wrong, ending a life that isn't your own is wrong, but it isn’t simple. Some people kill to defend themselves, others to defend someone else, others out of spite or jealous, and others for the perverse joy of killing. Are all of these people the same?

Cheating is an act that hurts multiple people, but there are many things we do in life that are destructive to others. A large part of life is learning to understand and deal with the hurts we experience from others in our lives. To quote the New Zealand prayer book “In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.”

From psychology we know that people in relationship with one another always disappoint one another at some point. Parents always make errors with children, partners let each down at some point in the relationship, people are not always as good friends to each other as they should be. The key in relationships is to have a strong enough, honest enough, relationship most of the time to absorb and deal the pain that is part of the nature of human relationships.

From a spiritual perspective, sins can be forgiven if someone asks and takes responsibility for their sins. Psychologically, cheating is a behavior that doesn’t mean anything in and of itself; but has individual meaning that depends on the person and the situation.

I guess like many things in life, the more you look at a thing, the nuances it has….

Speaking of the New Zealand prayer book, that prayer, a version of what is commonly called “the Lord’s Prayer” is one of the most beautiful one I have ever read and it is very much a part of my spiritual life, here is it.

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, August 12, 2010 it begins...

I have been thinking about blogging for a long time. I have had this title, spirit and flesh, in mind for a very long time as well. To anyone who knows me, this should be no surprise. I have been a passionate student of these topics for a long time. I am absolutely fascinated by the ways human being relate to one another in relationships with themselves and each other (flesh) and the way we relate to the divine  (spirit.) I am absolutely convinced that these two are locked in a dance that says everything about what it means to be a human being.

I guess have enough self esteem (and maybe a little hubris?) to believe my education and my life experience might be interesting reading in the blogosphere.  I have some knowledge and experience that I hope will be interesting and useful to others. My father often work long night at a textile mills where he monitored heavy equipment and sometimes had long stretches of time alone, which I actual believe he enjoyed. He used to poetry and long essays on all kinds of topics. He was especially interested how people looked the roles of woman, historically, psychologically and sociologically. I would like to think my father would be thrilled I am doing this.

I guess before I start spouting my so-called wisdom (Some days it will wisdom, but know other days it may be random disconnected thoughts) I should say I little about me, the writer.

I am a 44 year old gay white man of Portuguese ancestry with Irish and Caribbean sprinkled around the edges. I come from a very working class background in Southeastern MA. I am a second generation American on my father's side and a first generation American on my mother's side. I am politically and proudly on the very left end of the spectrum. I love hiking, good movies (especially independents, foreign films and off the wall documentaries), novels that take you to new and interesting places and trying new foods. My friends and family mean everything to me and I don't draw a sharp line on who is family and who are friends. I am one of two children raised in family with a mother and father who were happily married 48 years until my father's death. I currently work at a very proudly left of center Christian seminary and I beginning to explore starting a private psychotherapy practice (I have many years of agency experience.)

Spiritually, I was raised Roman Catholic and now think of myself as a spiritual freelancer who has significant ties to Buddhism and Christianity. I blend Christianity and Buddhism and ways I am finding increasing common. I also find much wisdom and a deep sense of spirituality in earth-based native and pagan traditions, and would like to know more about them.

I love learning as much as possible about the multiple ways human beings explore their spiritual sides, from organized religion, to philosophy to other "freelancers." I practice yoga and meditation (not nearly as regularly as I wish I did) and I attend church services occasionally. I also welcome the chance explore new and different forms of spirituality all the time. As I get older I am more and disheartened, disappointed, angry and skeptical about all organized religion, another thing I share with my late father.

My interest in human relationships branches in three directions:

1.) Professional/Academic: This is rooted in my training as a psychotherapist and my education. I have a very long interest in psychology, especially in its psychodynamic/psychoanalytic forms. I am especially interested in newer forms of these theories that bring in critiques based on class, culture, gender and human sexuality to create something new take the best from the past and helping it evolve far beyond its roots. I think of psychotherapy as wonderful lens to help understand the human condition and the meaning of meaning, but it is only one tool and like any tool can be powerfully misused. I also found the psychological concept of boundaries one that is endlessly fascinating.

2.) Personal/Relational: As a gay man, and a member of a marginalized sexual minority in this culture, I have personally found I have had to explore and examine my sexuality in ways that the so-called majority heterosexual culture has not had too, necessarily. Yet, since I believe all human sexuality is HUMAN sexuality I think much of what I have learned (and am learning) about myself says a lot about being a sexual human being and isn't limited to being gay or being a biological male.

3.) Political/Cultural: I am fascinated by the ways we as human beings discriminate, legislate, theologize and otherwise marginalize one another based on spirituality sexuality and gender.  What makes one belief a religion and another a cult? Can church and state be separated and should they always? How have different religions gone from being at the margins of society to being at the center? How did they change when they did? What spiritual belief or practices are viewed as valid and others as either strange or dangerous? Why are men and women treated so differently by religions faiths, countries and cultures? What are the punishment for backing the rules of gender or in some cases the laws around how gender can be expressed? What is male and what is female? Why are some sexual behaviors taboo and others considered "normal?" How have marriage laws and norms operated in different cultures and subcultures? How have these rules operated in the past, how do they operate now and how might they change in the future?

Well, if any of these topic interest you I hope you will follow along, to quote Bette Davis in All About Eve "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."