Dee's Blog
Thu 08/07/2008
Worshipping Other Images
Topic: spirituality

The depth of Thomas Doyle's address just continues to unfold as I meditate on what he said in a few moments in the final address at SNAP.  One expansion to my thinking about "worshipping graven images" came when he suggested that we fail to arrive at a place of liberation when we worship someone else's image of God rather than our own.

In man-made religions, that's exactly what happens.  We give our allegiance to others' images of God, we fail to develop our own ability to discern who God is on our own--something that I believe any mature person is capable of doing by filtering out what obviously doesn't contribute to spiritual health.  Obvious to those with common sense, anyway.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Wed 08/06/2008
Advocates Must Sort Out Feelings to be Effective
Topic: Making Changes

Guilt, depression, and anger aren't just stuff for emotionally unstable persons.  Yet the "Christian" way of seeing these feelings often leads us to view them as bad.

Doyle reminded us at this year's SNAP conference that guilt, depression, and anger are a part of the journey of an advocate, too.  Feelings he's experienced many times as he's been a trail  blazer in the Catholic Church.

While the system may want us to see that being docile and obedient, not challenging the aristocracy, keeping the rules are all qualities to be regarded highly, people who transcend the system look at it differently. 

Transcendence allows us to sort out the mandates of the system and to examine our own rules that may be formed because of the system.  Or perhaps formed because of our own emotional instability.  Either way, the sorting out allows us to develop a healthy sense of guilt, to be temporarily depressed over things as we are sorting them out (without developing a clinical depression) and to get angry at a level that is appropriate to the situation at hand. 

When we bring the negative feelings into check, the impact of the changes that follow can be profound.  Not just the impact on others.  Mostly, the impact on ourselves.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wed 08/06/2008 7:03 PM CDT
Tue 08/05/2008
Seeing our Failures as Gifts
Topic: music

Sometimes I have piano students who are really uptight about their errors.  I can be that way, when the errors are just noise--the errors that turn the word "piano" into "pain-o!" as I want to reach for my ears.

Yet a lot of errors I see as beautiful and try to monopolize on them.  When I make an error in public, I've become very skilled at turning many of them into gifts that enhance the music.  Right on the spot!  So I end up fooling my audience if I'm needing to impress more than to just clown around.  Even in clowning around, the errors can be fun.

The trick is to smooth over the errors so we turn them into blessings, even if they aren't what we intended to do.  Or maybe not the ideal way of making music.

Students who "beat themselves up" in the middle of playing a piece have to learn that a lot of errors aren't really errors at all--just variations from the way the writer intended for the piece to be played.  Theoretically, they are errors.  Musically, they may fit right into the chord or make a slightly different rhythm that doesn't effect the pleasant sound of the piece. 

When a student makes an error like that, I often point out the problem in retrospect.  I call it an error that can be turned into a beautiful mistake.  Much like a cook varies a recipe, by accident, and improves on it.  Or finds ways to learn from it. 

Sometimes the student discovers an even better way of playing the piece.  Or at least one that is more preferred to that student's ear than the way the writer wrote the piece to be played! 

That's when they are truly making music, not just playing it.

Same goes for life.  We have fun figuring out new ways of seeing things that may be unique, even as they change the music of our lives and smooth out the rough places.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Mon 08/04/2008
Liberation from a Wounded Spirit
Since waking up from spiritual assault is painful, the cure for the wounded spirit is to find ways to think about the injury so that the pain is all but annihilated.  That means finding new ways to think about self, too.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Sun 08/03/2008
Spiritual Assault
Topic: spirituality
"Waking up is painful," Tom Doyle tells us.  "Being fully awake is liberating."  Especially when one is recovering from what he calls a "spiritual assault."

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wed 07/30/2008 10:00 AM CDT
Sat 08/02/2008
Forgiving Ourselves
Topic: coping

Tom Doyle says that the person he's found hardest to forgive is himself.  For keeping his own pain alive.

That raises the questions:  "How do I kill the pain that comes to all, from not living in 'paradise' or from, psychologically, 'living in the paradise of denial' without medicating it or acting compulsively?"

"How do I accept pain as a part of life and realize that it doesn't really have to be totally annihilated?"

"How do I learn to use the pain as a warning sign?"

"How do I not allow dysfunctional pain--which physiologically comes from an old injury that really makes the pain useless and senseless today--to take over my life?"  Perhaps that means finding a way to "cut the nerve," which is a method used by neurologists in some situation.  The problem is that cutting a nerve leaves some section numb, so that it cannot feel some pleasant sensations, as well. 

I think the answers to these questions are as many as the people in this world.  We do not stop pain until we no longer are drawing oxygen into our lungs.  We learn to manage it.  In a world where everyone we meet is struggling with invisible pain over some issue. 

When I look at it like that, I realize just how complicated "bearing one another's burdens" can be.  As complicated as bearing our own!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Thu 07/31/2008
No Longer Blind
Topic: music

Yesterday afternoon I taught a second-grade boy to play "Amazing Grace."  Not in the way he had it in his head exactly, from growing up hearing it at church.  For often, with familiar tunes, we've heard them butchered in everyday life to the point that we memorize slightly impaired rhythms.  This hymn, like so many songs, only comes alive, musically, when the musician looks at the music on paper and really studies it.  For those of you who are musicians, you'll understand why I told Adam that I want to hear those "nice, crisp eighth notes."  In just a few minutes, we were both smiling at the beauty produced by this little child.

If we are half asleep--and that's what religion often does when it teaches us to "trust" what we "know" without questioning--we automatically assume that people who act inappropriately or say inappropriate things, yet wear a title (or a collar), deserve our awe and respect automatically.

In a world where children do not stay close to the home fires for as long as they did in previous generations, they must learn very early the lessons of not trusting automatically.  I wish it were as easy as it is with piano, to know that we have succeeded in teaching them all of the important rules.  So they can enjoy the music of life with the confidence that they are precisely making the right decisions, at just the right time.

Music is complicated, when analyzed.  So is life, though the latter is a lot trickier and filled with more dangers than messing up the music.  We don't want to over-analyze either music nor life, however--even when we feel that our failure to do so at some point has taken us to places, psychologically and spiritually, that we did not intend to go. 

Perhaps the trick is learning that it's okay to sometimes risk going places we did not intend to be.  While forgiving ourselves for the "wrong notes" we've played.  After all, isn't that where little children often learn best? 

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Wed 07/30/2008
Giving Up Childhood
Topic: Making Changes

In talking about the culture of the priesthood, Doyle stated (regarding people who believe the myths that create the aura):  "They do not want to give up their childhood." 

The same could be said about all of us at times.  I would prefer to live in idealism.  Or in the other ditch, where I see monsters in everything and try to figure out how to avoid them.  It's just too complicated to think that I have to be responsible while constantly sorting out what I need to do in order to act responsibly. 

In a sense, we have to be "like little children," as Jesus spoke of.  Living with enough faith to keep pressing on to higher things, with a sense of wonder at what is new.  Welcoming the new into our lives and having the courage to keep exploring.

All while having the wisdom to trust ourselves to find the resources that we need, within ourselves or in our world, to make decisions in a responsible way.  I believe that's the recipe for living in faith, peace, and joy.  As a growing piece of creation.  Regardless of our age.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Tue 07/29/2008
Tolerance--the Other Side of the Church Challenge
Topic: spirituality

I'm sure you heard about the horror in Knoxville on Sunday.  When a deranged man entered a Universalist Unitarian church with about 200 people and opened fire! 

It's still under investigation, of course.  Yet I heard this morning that this guy had a low tolerance for people who have a high tolerance for those of other beliefs.  Ironic, isn't it? 

Raises the question of how we can be tolerant and manage to keep the dangerous people or very immature ones from taking over. 

To kick out all of the people who act like children, we'd all probably have to exit the church at times.  And those who are in the most need would be so persistently like children that there would be no possibility of them coming at all.

Church, like life, can be very messy.  For it's just a cross-section of society if we do act in tolerance.

Problem comes, as I see it, when we do not expect the professionals and elected leaders to be adults with very hgh standards.  With clear boundaries in many areas.  It's a monumental challenge.

At SNAP, Thomas Doyle reminded us that we do no need to have all the answers if we are comfortable within ourselves.  That pertains to all areas of violence in church, no matter how uncomfortable we are about what we've witnessed--personally, as well as on national news.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Mon 07/28/2008
Growing Up Means Thinking for Yourself
Topic: Power

The way things are set up in the current institutional church, there is often a sense of an earthly kingdom.  Not in all congregations, though.  Some pastors seem to set it up so that they are the playmates, rather than the leaders, of their flock.  No boundaries to speak of.  "Just have a good time."  That's one ditch that can be as deep, in these modern times, as the one that brings me to the other side of the road today.

In traditional ways of doing church, it is a kingdom.  Not a heavenly Kingdom, though, where there would be no kings.  I'm not sure we've gotten a clear picture of what the Kingdom that Jesus was describing would even be like.  I see it as a group where everyone is a grown-up and the leaders just make some suggestions and play roles.   More like when our adult children come into the kitchen with Ron and I and help get things back in order.  "You want to wash while I put the food away?"  Everyone just figures things out and takes a role as we concentrate on conversation that, hopefully, is on a higher plane than maintaining the kitchen. 

Now, when the grandchildren "help"--and the older ones do at times--that's a different scene.  We expect to give them more direction, for we are teaching them how to be adults.

The problem with our thinking about church is that we don't see it as a community of adults who work together.   Maybe that's because so many adults act like children.  Or leave when they grow up because they get sick of the "children" who are over-grown in size. 

We may see it as if we are all children--except for the Almighty leader, who might himself prefer that we see it that way.  He (occasionally she) is the only "adult."  He gets to veto all of our ideas or uses a delegation to help him decide whether to veto or not.

If that's been your idea of how church operates.  If it's still how your church operates, get out!!  Immediately!  You are likely an adult if you are reading this column, and it's time you and everyone else recognizes that. 

Those who want you to stay on a child's level do not deserve to have a relationship with you.  They definitely do not deserve to have power over you.  They will, however, as long as you either act like a child or allow others to do so.   We all have a right to expect others to act like adults, and sometimes the only way to deal with immaturity is to simply cut off a relationship entirely. Or to cut down on the intensity or frequency of interaction.

It's painful to wake up.  It's painful to grow up.  Yet it's what we are all called to do.  And that will change everything!!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Thu 07/24/2008 1:06 PM CDT

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