Sunday, December 30, 2007

In Saving Our Hope

On November 30, 2007 Pope Benedict issued a new encyclical entitled "Spe Salvi"; "SPE SALVI facti sumus—in hope we were saved." I have been reading through the encyclical with fascination, especially after having taken a college course entitled "Women and Religion". This course ended up being a great spiritual gift for me. On the last day of class our instructor asked us to share anything we may have gained from taking the course. My personal response was that before I'd taken the class I had known things instinctively, but didn't know WHY. After having taken the course, I now understood the logic behind my instincts and felt stronger for having solid fact to back up my opinions and beliefs.

As a recanted Roman Catholic I have no trouble viewing the edicts of the Church with a critical eye. In fact, I think I was born for it. I come from a long line of almost fanatical catholics and as the darling of the family (first grandchild/great grandchild!) I was expected to reflect that religious zeal and be a shining example to my siblings and cousins. For some reason it never worked. I remember questioning everything from a very early age. I know that every child is famous for going through a "why" phase, but I seem to have been born asking, "why?" Furthermore, unlike other children, it is a habit I have never outgrown.

So here I am, reading the Spe Salvi, and every sentence therein I want to debate! I have only read a portion of it, but here are my thoughts thus far:

On "Introduction" 1 and 2:
Pope Benedict supports, recycles and glorifies the same old Christian message, which is that the promise of salvation, which is our goal (I use "our" loosely), transcends the physical reality of the present. He states that faith equals hope and that if you don't have one then you can't have the other. In other words, unless you believe in the Christian God you cannot know the concept of hope. WHY not? WHY can't you know hope without God? WHY can't you hope for a better world with peace and love and understanding? By making such a statement, the Pope creates a monopoly on hope, turning it into an exclusive right rather than an inclusive offering.

Furthermore, he calls Christian faith a "trustworthy hope". Which leads me to ask, "WHY would you trust a God who is historically (and I use the word "historically" quite liberally), particularly in the Old Testament, jealous, wrathful, and in so many other ways akin to a petulant, spoiled child?"

He goes on to discuss Paul's experience with the Ephesians. The Pope does a little magic trick here. He uses wording that leads the reader into unconscious notions that aren't supported by fact. (Is this an example of why we must have faith?) He states that the Ephesians "...had had gods... had had a religion..." as if the facts were past tense and the Ephesians were without religion when Paul met them. Now I realize this is semantics, but is it necessary? Certainly for the Pope's agenda it is! But I must ask, WHY? WHY did he have to state it that way? What was his motive?

Here's where the Pope becomes the pot and calls the kettle black: he states about the Ephesians that "their god had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths." Here I am at semantics again! If they "had had gods... had had a religion" (PAST TENSE) then how could they be struggling with the concept of a questionable god and contradictory myths? I know I'm being nit-picky here, but I just can't let it go. Yet here is my main point: since when has the Christian god not proven questionable (why, he's questioned several times in the Old Testament alone, nevermind the questioning he receives in broad scope in our modern world!), and since when have the Christian myths not been contradictory in their own right? Consider the Ten Commandments, then go through the Bible and count how many times they are disregarded through some loophole or other. Then again, maybe I'm completely wrong to question this issue. After all, maybe all the Pope is suggesting is that it is okay to worship a questionable God and believe in contradictory myths as long as the religion offers hope. So WHY is it okay?

Sheesh. I'm already tired of this now. I have more to write, but I'll add it later. In the meantime you can ponder my "why" questions and maybe even offer some informative answers. Just do me a favor: if you have a response please offer it respectfully. If you can't be Christ-like then don't call yourself a Christian and don't patronize me with your contradictory nature. Save the contradictions for God and the Pope.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Three Lefts Make Me Right, and the Self-Righteous One is Wrong

An update about "Small Change":

In the past week I have talked to my marriage counselor AND my youngest son's psychologist (he-my son- has a learning disability- one day I'll write more about this). They both agree with me about making the children more responsible and the benefits of this for the family and to the children's futures. The psychologist even helped me to put together a game-plan with which to ease the children into the change with minimal stress and trauma.

How strange and maddening it is to harbor doubts about your convictions, to wonder if you're just being a bitch. It's so rewarding to hear from professionals on the subject that you are NOT. It's certainly a relief, but it also causes me to wonder:
Do I worry about being a bitch because of my personal background, because of my interaction with my husband, or because of the way our society portrays women who stand up for themselves? I'm suspecting it's a combination of all three... And possibly some other factors that I'm just not illuminated enough to have realized. Yet.

I Got Scared Because I Was Happy

I ordered "War of the Roses" on-demand the other day. I remember watching it when it first came out (my God, I was nineteen!) and thinking that it was a funny dark-comedy. Supposedly, the story is about a married couple who fall out of love after (about) twenty years of marriage. The wife asks for a divorce, and from there on the two spouses become petty and begin an escalating war of vengeance upon each other that culminates in their deaths. With my new perspective (critical analyzation and feminist perspective), I viewed the movie with an eye for detail. I took note of the deeper messages and symbology and the only incriminating evidence I could find toward the wife's "bad" behavior was that she refused to give up the house! She was honest with her husband in her feelings and in return he was cruel and petty to her. All of the rotten things she did to him were in retaliation to the rotten things he pulled on her first. In fact, he was quite emotionally abusive to her. I think she should have let the house go, but considering her history I could see why she'd have an unreasonable attachment to it- it had become a part of her identity.

I wrote down one quote from the movie to discuss with my husband. It was from the scene where she explains why she didn't go to the hospital when he had a heart attack. She explains that she started thinking about life without him, a life on her own, and she got scared. He pats her on the leg and says, "Oh, honey, it's okay, I'm here now and I'm okay." (I'm paraphrasing.) Then she says, (and this is what I wrote down), "I got scared because I was happy." Sooooo Kate Chopin a la "The Story of An Hour"!!! I wanted to discuss this perspective with my husband. I thought it would make for great intellectual discourse, the importance of women developing their own independent identity aside from being wives and mothers. Yet, when I broached the subject he became very defensive and couldn't seem to grasp the concept. Somehow, he took an intellectual conversation and turned it into something personaI. This really surprised me, since I think I've always tried very hard to openly declare myself as an individual beyond and aside from being a mother and a wife. Which leads me to wonder, is he just too sensitive? Is he insecure? Is he incapable of critical analyzation and symbolic interpretation? Or is he, deep in his heart, just another patriarchally brain-washed person?

Because I can't say it any better myself ponder this:
"Those who define themselves forever in terms of mother or wife? Those whose sense of self-worth is defined only in terms of their relation to others (or more exactly, in terms of other’s relation to them) and not in a sense of their own personhood? You know them. They are the women who become bitter and nasty and envious or play the martyr. I asked my students that day, when I so clumsily attempted to describe non-being, if they had read Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Have you read it? Then I told them that the end of that story is about non-being. The character has come to the realization that she is a non-being and the despair she feels is only matched by the inability to even begin to know how to create one.

I fear that I have just risked being enormously misunderstood. How DARE I debunk the myth and mystique of motherhood by suggesting that it alone is not enough for any woman? How dare I demythologize the fabled “happily ever after” that is promised with the kiss of the Prince? I do so only in the firmest conviction, grounded in experience, that no one; no child and/or no man can “make” another happy or fulfilled. These are only to be found within a free human being who seeks after them for herself." ~ Louise Doire (Doire Musings)

Anyway, I wrote Barbara Rose's quote ("I got scared...") on a sticky-note and stuck it to a cabinet in the kitchen. My husband asked, "WHY?" and I replied, "To remind myself to take care of my identity." It's possible that I'm displaying a form of passive-aggression in retaliation to my perception of his emotional abuse, but we won't know for sure until you find us both dead in the chandelier.

See the movie for yourself:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Small Change

Today I realized that I am annoyed by so many little things in my life that if you summed them all up it would be one big issue. I analyzed these annoyances just enough to understand that they are almost all the cause of the same thing: wrong behavior. As a college student with two teenage children, one husband, three cats, a puppy, and a home to care for, I must economize my time if I am to have any quality in my life. The annoyances are mostly related to things other people in my home do... or DON'T do, as the case may be. I shouldn't have to turn off lights all the time, sort laundry (or even put it IN the basket which I already provided!), pick up dirty dishes, clean up messes, put the computer on hibernate, clean the entire house, etc, etc, etc. (I am getting tired just writing this!) Not only should the people who create these messes and issues clean up after themselves, they should do more around the house toward contributing to the better living environment of the entire family. Thirteen year old boys should be able to take out the garbage without being asked. Fifteen year old boys should be able to mow the lawn. Forty-four year old men should be able to vacuum properly, to INCLUDE the stairs.

I brought this issue up with my husband, expecting to discuss it and come up with a game plan for improvement. The conversation, naturally, did not go in the direction I desired. Somehow, in my addressing the situation, it has been brought to my attention that if things bother me then they are MY problem and no one else's. Hmmmm! Let's see how they like it after they run out of underwear! He also informed me that I expect too much (I'm sorry, but I think my grandfather's generation would be terribly disgusted in us!) from my children, and that I would do better to be like him- resolved to the way things are. Well, certainly the path of least resistance is less... resistant, but shouldn't we BE the change we'd like to see in the world? Aaaah! Here I am again, at resistance. Do I sense a theme? Ha!

I look at my husband and I see a man resolved to never enjoy the things in life he already has. I see a man resolved to believe that the world is generally evil and that there is nothing we can do about it. I see a man resolved to putter through his days with no great lust for life, no Joie de vive. If that is resolve then I'll have none of it, thank you very much. My family may resist me, and there is only so much you can do to re-train a forty-four year old man, but I intend to make my children a lot more autonomous and definitely a lot more helpful from now on. I believe that in doing so they will not become so overwhelmed in the future nor feel so helpless to enjoy life to it's fullest. They will know how to care for themselves, they will not be afraid of hard work, and they will have the motivation to be the change they wish to see in the world.

I told you resistance wasn't futile!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Note About Resistence

Just in case anyone gets silly notions about my last post:

This is NOT Star Trek.

There is no Borg.

Resistence is NEVER futile.

: D


Last night I went running.

For the past three to five years I've been very sick. Before that I was a physical dynamo. I was always energetic, always optimistic, always looking for a challenge, always ready to break barriers. I played inter-mural volleyball on my college team. Don't laugh. I could spike that ball with violent intent. I wasn't afraid to dive to my knees if it meant being victorious. I had (and still have!) a wicked serve for which I am famous... or is that infamous? I rode my bicycle everywhere. Everywhere. I lifted weights, I took aerobics classes, I went mountain hiking, I went dancing every Friday night until the sun came up Saturday morning.

Then about four years ago I started getting twinges in my right hip. I didn't realize how bad these "twinges" had become until one day I became aware that going up and down stairs filled me with dread, getting in and out of my car was a miserable event, and even walking two blocks down the street seemed like an impossibility. By this time I had fallen off my physical activities. I became a tortured lump that lived on my sofa. By this time the pain had travelled to my right shoulder, my right elbow, my right wrist, my right knee, my right ankle. It was as if everything that was right about me was in indeed WRONG.

When this had gone on for about a year I realized I wasn't going to heal on my own, so I limped my way in to my family practitioner. She found my condition perplexing. She said that there is no reason that I should suffer pain on only one side of my body. She ran a battery of tests and took much of my blood. The tests revealed that my immune system was compromised, but not by any virus or bacteria or genetic disorder that could be detected. She sent me to a rheumatologist, who poked, prodded, and took more blood. He poked and prodded in places that made me scream in agony. His response to my protests of pain was, "Don't be a baby. Everybody suffers some sort of pain. I have eighty year old clients who don't even whimper." So I tried not to whimper, but as I laid there in agony it occurred to me that I didn't give a flying fuck how the eighty year old people dealt with their pain. Pain is not measurable, pain shouldn't have to be justified. And my pain shouldn't be quantified, qualified, compared, or related to anyone else's pain. So the next time he prodded me in a particularly sore spot I slapped him. Apparently slapping him was the thing to do, for at this point he said, "Now I really believe you MUST be in a lot of pain. Let's do some more tests." If you're ever in such desparation that you are unconcerned about the risk of a lawsuit or a restraining order I highly recommend you slap your doctor to get his attention.

Further testing revealed that I had inflamed joints. Arthritis at thirty-five years of age! And arthritis on only one side of my body at that. This is the part the doctors still found perplexing. Finally it was revealed that the source of my arthritis was a faulty immune system that wants to attack innocent body parts for shits and giggles. It's not Lupus, but it's Lupus-like. The cause of all this pain? Eighteen years of suffering. Eighteen years of sustained flight-or-fight stimulation has effected my body, probably permanently. Oh, I am an anomaly for sure! I grew up in a violent household, an opera of grotesque and majestic proportions. I am an anomaly because only ten percent of children who grow up in such a household end up leading (mentally) healthy lives. The other ninety percent either turn out like their abusive parent(s), turn in to prostitutes, die of drug overdoses/addictions, and/or any combination of these things.

Ten percent. If I had known those odds as a child, or even as a young adult, I may have just thrown in the towel and lit up my crack pipe (or whatever it is you do with a crack pipe). But I didn't know. And somewhere deep inside I always instinctively knew that I deserved equality, safety, dignity, and hope. Instinctively I was a fighter. So I fought, I grew, and every day that I survived I became a little bit stronger. I imagined myself as my very own freedom fighter, my own little patriot, my own little rebel force. For a little girl, there was nothing little about these attitudes. I never gave in, I never gave up, I never waivered. I stood, I stayed, and when I could leave I left.

Nearly fifteen years later I have learned that despite my psychological health (O that great Anomaly!), it is my physical health that has been compromised. Eighteen years of flight-or-fight stimulation causes irreparable changes to the brain. This translates into odd symptoms of the body, like an auto-immune disorder that causes your own body to attack itself. Which means that despite being an anomaly, I still ended up being a statistic.

For the past three years I have experimented with several different medications to alleviate the pain. I've been on muscle relaxers, relafin, celebrex, ibuprofin, sleeping pills, and prescribed narcotics. I've had cortisone injections (I'd rather shoot myself in the leg than do that again!). I've taken vitamins galore. But here's what really helped: a change of attitude. I put my armor back on (a clothing style I hadn't used since I moved out of my parents' house), donned my weapons, and "girded my loins". Ha ha. Only this time, instead of battling people who's intent it is to destroy me physically, psychologically, and spiritually, I was ready to battle my own demons. I stopped making excuses. I accepted that the pain was there (by God, if an eighty year old person doesn't whimper then I want to be an eighty year old woman!). I decided to take command of my body and make it work for me rather than against me. First I started walking. That was a year ago. Now I am running. First I could barely walk a mile. Now I run 1.5 miles and I walk 1.5 miles. My goal is to run 3 miles non-stop (after that, there will be new goals). First I dreaded walking/running. The pain was immense, the effort exhausting, and I felt like I was pulling myself uphill by a tenuous rope. Now I live for running. I love the endorphin rush; there is no pain, and I finally feel as if I am being pushed from behind rather than pulling myself along. I feel strong, happy, healthy, and alive. The pain is still there, but I ignore it. I think of it as a remnant of my parents' cruelty which I refuse to acknowledge in any way. To do so is to give it power, and they will not have that power over me anymore.

I went running last night. As I bulletted through the rain I began thinking of my children. I thought of them when they were little. I remembered how I would take one in each hand and walk with them. They always pulled against me. I was like the bow of a boat, plowing through resistent water while my kids were the waves, split and curling on each side of me. They dragged behind me and I pulled them along. One day I realized I was weary of always leaning forward, pulling my kids along. So I let go of their hands and to my surprise they didn't fall away, they stayed right behind me, flanking me at each side. Which made me wonder: what does it take to recognize resistence, our own and/or that of others against us? At what point should we stop resisting? What does it take for us to let go and move WITH life, rather than against it? I thought of this as I ran blissfully through the rain.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Something amazing has happened to me in the past year. I am waking up. I started school about a year and a half ago. (Was it that long ago? Seems like yesterday!) Since then I have come to understand so much about myself that wasn’t readily apparent in the past. Let me rephrase that: it was readily apparent; I just didn’t have the tools or the will to see it.
I am excited to be waking up, excited to realize all that I have been previously ignorant to. Yet the experience is taking me into dangerous territory, the territory of Change. Change is always a good thing if it helps you to realize your full potential, to fully be whom and what you are meant to be; but Change can destroy all the constructs of the past, the comfort of what you thought you knew, the false comfort of familiarity.

Last night I was watching television with my husband. We were watching a news report that was covering a “pay-it-forward” phenomenon in which a person at a Starbucks drive-through had paid for the coffee of the person in line behind him. This action caused an unintended trend that continued all day, in which each customer who found out their drink had already been paid for was inspired to pay for the drink of the customer behind them. When the man who instigated the movement was interviewed he said he didn’t do it as a “pay-it-forward” gesture. He did it because the man in line behind him had been hurling insults and honking his horn impatiently. He said he’d made the gesture because he was trying to be Zen-like, to balance the negativity around him with goodness, and to bring awareness to the impatient man behind him. I thought this was noble and selfless and stated my sentiments to my husband. He just snickered. I told him that this news piece was ironic for me because earlier that same day I’d been researching “Zen” on the Internet and thought I’d like to know more about it. In response to this, my husband started cracking jokes about tea. I asked him to stop, I let him know he was hurting my feelings, but he pretended to be oblivious and kept cracking jokes about tea. I put up my hand, shook my head, and walked out of the room while saying, “I can’t talk to you about this.” He acted perplexed and amused at my “hotheadedness”.
I have thought about this exchange, and in retrospect I realize he was NOT oblivious to my feeling insulted, and that he was blaming the victim (me) by suggesting that the only thing wrong with our interaction was my “hotheadedness”. I didn’t even get an apology! Instead, I’m to believe I’m too sensitive and that the problem lies within ME.
Coincidentally enough, this is certainly a situation that calls for Zen-like introspection.

So the Change has begun. I am beginning to see behavior patterns that are unhealthy in my relationships and in myself. I am beginning to see how I truly wish- no, I demand- to be treated. I am beginning to realize that it’s okay not to feel guilt over a lack of willingness to self-sacrifice anymore. I am beginning to realize that self-development was denied to me, but it’s not too late to begin.

I am beginning.