Saturday, August 8, 2020

Don't Worry, Seek God's Kingdom

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."


Before Jesus spoke these famous words, there was a discussion about how God takes care of all the needs of the natural world as well as those in our lives. There is no need for us to worry about having the food and clothing that we need, when our heavenly Father already knows our needs before we know them. He anticipates those needs and makes arrangements for those needs before we are even aware of them.                                                            

God also knows there is a pandemic at play in the world around us. He was not taken by surprise by this virus that has spread around the world. He knew it was about to happen before China even had become aware that something bad might be happening. God knows how many will die from this virus worldwide. He knows how many will get it and survive. He knows it all. We can worry all we like, but our worrying won't change one thing about it. What will be will be. Not because God has foreordained people to die from the Coronavirus, but because we humans are constantly making decisions that impact not only our lives but also the lives of those around us. God is not surprised by our decisions, but neither does he makes us do what he wills unless we agree to abide by his will. He does, however, know whatever changes will take place because we chose to do one thing and not another. He knows who will be affected if we wear a mask as well as who will be affected if we don't, but he doesn't make us do one thing or another.                         

This is where free will and social responsibility intertwine. We get to choose, but our choices will have consequences and we will have to answer for those consequences one day.  If this virus teaches us nothing else, it should teach us how much our actions impact those around us, even if we don't find out until later. People might not drop dead on the street instantly if we don't wear a mask, but someone you interact with may pass it on to you. You may never know you were carrying it and obliviously pass it on to someone else who has a mild case that passes as nothing more than a cold, which isn't enough to make them think that they have Covid-19, so they go to work at a restaurant that has delivery only. Everyone wears a mask at work and washes their hands frequently. Only when this man with the virus is alone in the restroom, he takes off his mask while he's washing his hands, just to get some fresh air and cool off a minute. Only he suddenly sneezes without warning just before a coworker enters the bathroom, and while those droplets are still dancing across the space between them, this coworker drops his mask too just to cool off for a minute and he inhales the virus via the droplets infected with Covid. He doesn't know anything about the sneeze or his co-worker's mild cold. He thinks that since he got negative test results yesterday, he is clear and won't be any danger to his grandmother, who has been invited to his father's 60th birthday party tomorrow. He attends this birthday party and hugs his grandmother, whom he loves dearly and has gone months without seeing her in person, because she has been self-isolating just in case.  Next thing he knows, his grandmother is in the hospital and has died of Covid-19. He certainly didn't mean to kill his grandmother, but since he tested positively recently at work and his father with diabetes is also in the hospital fighting for his life, he realizes that something happened that connects him to his grandmother and his father's illnesses, even though he doesn't know why or how.                                                                                                         
This young man is puzzled how all of this transpired, yet our heavenly Father knows and understands everything. He knows that even the most innocent of actions can result in death and suffering because nothing ever happens in a vacuum. All of our actions have consequences, positive or negative. Even those actions that are not deliberate. The young man didn't murder his grandmother. She died as a result of someone else's careless actions. Someone infected with Covid-19 transmitted it to someone else because neither of them were wearing masks. Ultimately the virus reaches a vulnerable member of our population and she dies suddenly. The family is both surprised and grief stricken, yet God is not surprised because this faithful believer is welcomed by all her loved ones who have passed before her. All the worry surrounding the grandmother is wasted energy. The prayers weren't wasted because those praying drew closer to heaven by those prayers, just as they will draw closer to heaven and the family will draw closer to each other in their shared grief. This is part of the cycle of life. Eventually, the person who has been spreading the disease becomes painfully aware of the suffering all around him. Several members of his family die, several more get very sick and are impacted negatively for months. Finally, he tests and turns up with antibodies, even though he has no recollection of ever being sick.                                                        
Someone else's free will choice had repercussions in the lives of many people. Their free will choice has intertwined with social responsibility and changed the lives of many. Nothing we do is done in a vacuum. Some things we do have very few repercussions in other people's lives. Others have far-reaching consequences that reverberate throughout our home town, our families, and even our country. At few times in our history has this truth been made more real and more dire, and yet people will continue to shun masks, much as some continue to shun condoms when having sex, even though they have a sexually transmitted disease. These people view their personal freedoms as more important than the well being of those they infect.
At no time in history is it more important for us to weigh personal freedoms against social responsibility. In a day when food shortages are very real for the financially vulnerable, we have to consider our actions closely. if we have not been negatively impacted by the pandemic in the area of finances, we need to look around us and see the needs in our community around us. There are people in this rich country who are worried about food and drink and health care. We need to see how we can help. Those who need help  need to be open to receiving it from neighbors and even strangers because all help is ultimately from our Father in heaven, who knows before we do what we need. Our job is to cease worrying about it and start seeking God's kingdom first, discerning what we can do to meet the needs of others during this time of Coronavirus.              
                                                                                                                             
"25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles strive after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:25-34)                             

So while it may be difficult not to worry, try focusing instead on ways you can relieve the suffering of others. Relieving the suffering of others is always a way to follow God's righteousness. It's a way to couple free will with social responsibility. Just remember to wear a mask and maybe a face shield too. And for heaven's sake, wash your hands and the rest of your body while you're at it. Oh, and you might want to refrain from removing the speck in your brother's eye as well as the log in your own because, you know, that whole need to keep your hands away from your face, as well as someone else's face.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Human Shield, Part One

I have always had this “thing” in my life. I didn't really know where it came from, but it has always been there--beneath the surface or flashing brightly in the sun. Until now, I didn't understand why. I originally thought that it was simply a human trait. That everyone had a similar feeling, but experience screams otherwise. The "thing" to which I refer is a sense of being a human shield to those who can't defend themselves. I have always, always defended underdogs. I think that's where my soft spot for animals of all kinds arises. I think it's why I always defended kids in school who were picked on by bullies. I think it is why I still defend adults even who are bullied. I never viewed it as anything as grandiose as a hero complex. It was just a sense of needing to stand up for those could not or would not stand up for themselves. Only when I'm the one needing an advocate to stand up for me, I haven't always been there for myself.

I have come up with various analogies to try to explain this feeling of needing to be a human shield to others to myself. I have used metaphors like being a mama bear protecting her cubs, only I'm protective of anyone I perceive as an underdog. An example of this is when I was on a public bus near Seattle, and I encountered a group of teens who were picking on this grown man with a bag of groceries. The man was probably in his twenties. Apparently he was giving off a scared rabbit vibe because these teens rather blatantly swiped a bottle of wine out of his grocery bag and refused to put it back. The guy was clearly outnumbered by the teens and overwhelmed by their bully energy. I suspect he had been bullied as a child and a familiar scenario was taking over his will to stand up for himself when he was outnumbered. Had someone not stepped in to help him, I suspect he would have gone home one bottle of wine short.

That someone who stepped in was me, a thirty-something dyke, who looked more like a mom than law enforcement. Still this mom-like dyke spoke up after about a minute of their bullying behavior. I had been watching them, hoping that their better selves would override their bully selves and do the right thing by returning the bottle to its rightful owner. When that was clearly not going to happen, and no one else seemed inclined to step in, I told them to cut the crap and return the bottle they had stolen. They, in the form of a snarky teenage girl, denied that they had stolen anything. Being quite used to confronting snarky teenage girls from my years in social service, I said something like, "Come on. I saw you do it. Just give it back and leave the guy alone." Never doubting for an instant that she would comply, I kept my eye on her until she gave it back. Then she and her friends moved away from the guy and me. I guess all those years of working at an emergency shelter for teenage girls paid off. That authoritarian tone had not left me and the battle ended peacefully. The guy thanked me and that was the end of it.

It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that in this day and age, the punks could very well have had a gun or a knife and things could have ended differently, but they didn't. My angels were no doubt keeping them in line. They were just punk bullies, and someone older, with authority in her voice, and a strong mama bear energy in her aura stood up to them. It wasn't my fight, but neither was it right to sit idly by and let the bullying continue.

Related to this sense of being a human shield is the concept of being a Rescuer. To use archetypal terms, it's like being a knight in shining armor, or is my case, a knightess in shining armor, coming to the aid of damsels in distress. I'd say that at least half of my romantic relationships started out as rescues. That's not a good way begin a relationship unless you're talking about rescuing kittens. I think it was the Buddha who said that a relationship based on need will always be a needy relationship. My need to rescue and another's need to be rescued adds up to a needy relationship every time. Even when I've tried diligently to stop myself from acting out the Rescuer archetype, I seem only to postpone this scenario for a time. A few years at best. 

It has only been my shift into a role of being the one in need of rescuing that this theme of rescuing has abated somewhat. It's really hard to be both the rescued and the rescuer simultaneously, and yet I continue to try. Like the time a hawk zoomed down and snatched a squirrel from the magnolia tree in my front yard. Somehow the two of them ended up by the hedge in front of the house. Had I not been in a wheelchair, that squirrel would have lived to see another day. I would have run the hawk off and saved the squirrel. Instead, I had to sit in my wheelchair on the sidewalk and try to figure out a way to get the hawk to leave its perspective dinner alone long enough for it to escape.

I played great horned owl sounds on my phone in hopes of scaring it away by making it think that one of its few predators was nearby. Unfortunately, the sound quality was poor and it sounded too far away to be a threat. I prayed and grappled with this moral dilemma for a while, trying to scare it away by tossing an empty water bottle at it. Physics worked against me and the light as a feather empty bottle landed uselessly several feet away from the hawk. That effort yielded not even a blink of the hawk's eyes. Sadly after a half hour of being able to figure out nothing, I had to roll away and allow nature to take its course. That felt awful to me, particularly since a van full of ambulatory people sat in my driveway watching me, offering no help whatsoever. If I had been in that van and abler to walk, I would have jumped out and chased the hawk away in seconds. It was a prime example of how few people there are who will protect the underdog, or in this case, the undersquirrel.

I had to go inside  because I couldn't bear to watch as the hawk ate dinner, when dinner was a small creature, who had called the tree in my front yard home. I guess I've spent too many hours watching squirrels cavorting in the trees not to feel a kinship with them. I didn't know this particular squirrel, but neither did I know the man on the bus whose bottle of wine was stolen from him in the presence of a host of witnesses, who remained silent except for me.

There are other incidences when I stood up for kids in school, who were being bullied for one reason or another. I befriended them and sent would-be bullies on their way, mostly just with my presence. My presence at their side demonstrated that this victim was no longer alone. No longer prey to a bored bully with nothing better to do than pick on someone who was at a disadvantage because of a handicap, shyness, poverty, or some other trait that set them apart from others.

I've never understood bullying and my bully alarm goes off quite easily. Bullies make me angry. No matter what the circumstances, and I will stand up to them. The hawk was less of a bully and more just another one of God's creatures who just needed to eat to survive. No amount of discussion over the benefits of a plant-based diet was going to change that.  So I yielded to the higher intelligence of nature. That wasn't easy to do, but I had no other choice that I could see. I certainly had no intention of harming the hawk. It was simply following its hawk nature. Still I haven't forgotten the squirrel or this difficult situation, as this blog attests.

This story brings home the point that sometimes I am the only one who stands between the victim and the victimizer. I don’t try to be a hero. I am sometimes just forced into it by circumstances. I don’t particularly like the feeling of standing out there alone, being a human shield to protect someone who cannot or will not stand up for themselves. So why do I do it when I have nothing personal to gain from it? I finally reached the conclusion that it might either be something in my DNA or very early life experience. It could be both, of course, but I'll skip the debate between nature versus nurture. It just is what it is. I feel compelled to stand up to bullies to protect the victims. I'm less compelled to stand up when I'm the one being bullied but I am getting to that point too. 

Human Shield, Part Two

I am going to begin right away by explaining my theory of why I have always felt compelled to act as a human shield to people and animals, who are in need of protecting or rescuing. This theory is based on my life experience. It is based on my habit of asking hard questions of myself and others. It is based on a lot of inner work delving into my dreams and my psyche. I am not seeking to blame anyone. I am not seeking to excuse myself for shortcomings. I am seeking only to understand my experience on this planet as a human being a little bit better. 

When I was an infant, and most likely when I was still in utero, my mother was battered by my alcoholic father. My father was an intelligent and gregarious man when sober. However, when he was drunk, he turned into a violent monster. I have two older siblings, a brother and a sister, who were already sharing my mother's daily life with a man who was part human, part monster. I have no clear memories of this time with them. i was only six months old when my mom gathered her three small children and fled to a cousin's house for refuge. 

I tried a few times to ask my mother about time, but as often happens, her consciousness mercifully blanked it out. I let it be. Much later in life, I asked the angels to help me to understand what happened the day my mother walked away from the abuse. That night I had a dream, which felt more like a recalled memory because of my perspective in the dream. I was witnessing a fight between my parents. I couldn't actually see anyone. Only shadows on the wall above what must have been my crib. I didn't understand the words, only the harsh tones. I started crying. I got the feeling that what happened next was that my mother came and picked me up and held me. I felt comfort and peace for a time then suddenly I was aware of a palpable fear of violence. What followed immediately was a huge jolt. The dream ended there.

Fast forward a lot of years and a lot of looking back at relationships gone wrong. To this day, I can't stand fighting. I dislike conflict of all kinds. I want to be anywhere in the world, but in a house where someone is yelling. If ever a disagreement turns angry, it's a signal for me to disappear. I simply can't stand it. This makes some people even angrier, but I am beginning to see why I am like this and why I probably won't change any time soon, if ever. I appear to be hardwired now to avoid being in a vulnerable position where violent energy is likely to happen. I'm not talking about mere disagreements. I am talking about violent energy I can feel. I will do whatever is necessary to get myself out of a situation like that.

Although I have no distinct memories of the time when my father lived with us, I seem to have a body memory of how the atmosphere around me felt before angry energy morphed into violence, before shouting turned into physical blows. If my father ever hit me directly, I have no knowledge or memory of it. All I have is an understanding of the way anger—as words, energy, and tones—feels just before violence occurs. I have felt that energy only a few times in my life since infanthood, and I think that is because I avoid conflict if at all possible. I have no tolerance for extreme anger. I hate when it arises in myself. I hate when it arises in others. I try to resolve conflict quietly and logically. If I can't do that, I do my best to remove myself from the situation altogether. For me, it's a matter of safety.

I truly believe my sense of being a human shield is tied to this early time in my life. In talking to my mother over the years, I learned that up until the day my mom took the three of us and fled, my father had not physically struck us. I think there was enough humanity in him, even when drunk, that kept him from hurting us. As long as this ounce of humanity was present, we and my mom were relatively safe. Standing alone, my mother was a target for his angry violence. Our presence was like a protective barrier against violence perpetrated against my mother, just as her presence was a protective barrier for us. I believe that somehow my infant body absorbed this understanding of being what kept my mom relatively safe. Not because I was a threat to him in any way, but just because of my siblings’ and my presence. The day that psychological protection was lost, when my father crossed the line and threw my mother against the wall while she was nursing me, the protective spell was broken and my mother realized that her children were in danger of being battered as well. 

That was the day she walked out from under a lock of her own hair and took her children to the safety of an older cousin’s house. My father,  in trying to stop her, grabbed a fistful of her long hair. Determined to get her children to safety, she kept going, leaving that captured hair behind still entwined in his fist. This resulted in a bald spot on her head that was still there when I was a teenager. I don’t know if she ever lost that bald spot. My brother might know since he cut her hair for years. 

At any rate, I think I somehow absorbed the sense of being a human shield that, at least for a time, can protect others from being a victim to someone who is attempting to bully them. I would not be surprised to find out that my siblings carry a similar sense in their psyches. I know we are all fiercely protective of my mom, protecting her even from news, whenever possible, that would cause her pain or worry.

Thus, this sense of being a human shield to protect others is deeply ingrained in me. So is my loathing of violence and bullying. It isn’t in any way heroic. It’s more of a compulsion, and it’s something that has stayed with me even though I am now disabled and feeling vulnerable myself. Despite my disabilities, my instinct is still to protect those more vulnerable. It causes me great anguish when I can’t help them physically. When taken by surprise by human or animal suffering, I frequently burst into tears, knowing that there is no way I can rescue them from their fate. Chafing at my limitations, I have taken on the role instead of a prayer warrior who seeks to protect others via prayer. I elicit angelic help to aid and protect others in their time of need. I may not be able to help others physically, but I can pray. I can always pray.

In your time of greatest need, I pray you will reach out your hand and find the aid of beings who can physically shelter you from harm. I know now that it has always been the presence of angels who have provided protection to those in vulnerable circumstances. If my presence has helped others to feel safe and protected, it is only because I have added my angels to theirs just by being there. I am not nor ever have been a hero who can rescue others. I am but one person who understands the power and protective nature of angels, and I am willing to allow the presence of my guardian angels to team up with theirs and thus make us both safer because of it. I realize that some of you may not believe in a Divine Being or angels, but if you ever are in desperate need of help, I implore you to ask for their assistance. You don’t have to use flowery, liturgical speech. A simple “helps, angels” will suffice to summon them to your side. They are, after all, always there waiting for you to reach out to them for help. They are not restricted to one religion and appear in many faiths. They are embodiments of love. They can and do act as protective shields for the vulnerable. They are a lot more effective at that than I am, but I will continue to do all I can to comfort and protect those in my path who need it.