authoritarianism: just some things I want to say

I have come to believe that every authoritarian system is an abusive system.

If you are not in an authoritarian system, you can agree to disagree, respect one another, and go your own way without fear of repercussion.

However, if you are not allowed to offer any critique of your spouse, your parent, your pastor, or your president for fear of holy hell raining down on your head, then you're probably in an authoritarian system that's going to turn abusive the minute you stop complying.

In fact, that threat of abuse is what keeps you compliant.

And that threat, in and of itself, is abuse.

 Barred window, Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czech Republic (photo: me and my cell phone)

Barred window, Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Czech Republic (photo: me and my cell phone)

Another thing I've come to realize is this: when you’re part of an authoritarian system, participation with the dominant narrative of that system is required to remain within the system.

Even when the dominant narrative doesn't match with reality, and you know it, you still have to parrot the narrative as your ticket to remaining in the system.

If you’re in an abusive marriage, the dominant narrative might be something like:

  • He’s a great guy. He just has an anger issue.
  • He’s really sorry every time he hurts me.

If you’re in an authoritarian religious system, the dominant narrative might include:

  • The Bible clearly says X, Y, and Z. If you disagree, you are going to hell.
  • Men are always in authority. Women must always submit to men.
  • The leader is God’s representative on earth. You can’t criticize the Lord’s annointed.
  • We deal with our problems within the church. Never report anything to secular authorities.

Participating in these narrative produces cognitive dissonance, which means having thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that don't match with each other.

For example, abused women will tell me events that are clearly abusive, and then repeat elements of the narrative to me, which are clearly contrary to the events they just related.

  • “He stole all the cash I was saving for car repairs and disappeared for three days. I love him, and he really loves me.”

One of the things abused women will say to me, over and over, is that they are confused. Being confused means you're on the way to clarity, on the way to truth, on the way to facing reality--only reality is really hard, and we resist seeing what's right in front of our eyes.

Why is it so hard for us to face reality in situations like this?

Because reality is so terribly painful, and threatens everything about the life we’d hoped to have.

When you’re part of an authoritarian system, very often your entire social universe is a part of that system: family, friends, faith connections. Every single one of those individuals has to participate in the narrative of the system in order to remain.

When you stop participating in the narrative, you may lose every relationship you held dear.

This is exactly why families and faith communities employ ostracism, shunning, and excommunication as threats: THEY WORK.

Nobody wants to go through this, and so many, many, many of us will remain in toxic systems because our very survival is at stake.

Those who must remain make this choice for survival, and face incredible ongoing distress.

Those who need to leave make this choice for survival, and face incredible loss.

This threat to everything is also why people get so angry when you challenge their cognitive dissonance.

We've all tried this on social media. Somebody says something that's completely false, you respond with evidence to show the lie for what it is, and the person tells you to die and go to hell. 

Is that person just a horrible human being? Possibly.

But more likely, they are an afraid human being. Their entire world depends upon their believing the unbelievable and holding lies up as truth. When you speak the truth, that threatens their house of cards and they lash out at you.

(Don't lash back, but don't be afraid to tell the truth and let them do their own emotional work.)

Here's what I think.

We can't always control whether we start out in an authoritarian system or not. We're born into family, religious and political systems that are bigger than us. 

But when we recognize authoritarianism for what it is, that's the time to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly for ourselves, and for others being abused by those systems.

Throughout the course of our lives, we will always be required to learn and know better, to leave behind old dysfunctional ways of being and to move into healthy new ways of being.

This is the circle of life.

Those of us who leave authoritarian systems become lucky enough, as Anne Lamott says, to bear disillusion.

To face the reality of what is before us.

To rearrange everything we know about our lives.

To do the hard work of grief.

To move forward into an unknown future.

And then, someday, to find hope again.

To find community among the outcasts.

To build a new home in the wilderness, holding the light up for those coming behind us, still needing to find the way.

As the Persian poet Rumi says:

'Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.

Help someone's soul heal. 

Walk out of your house like a shepherd.'

Not an authoritarian dictator.

A good shepherd.

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to the wife who wrote me in distress, whose email came back undeliverable

This morning I received the kind of letter I often receive, from a wife whose pastor husband lost his job for sexual indiscretion.  Several recovery attempts have been made, seemingly successful each time, with failures following. 

This wife tells me a story that wives often do: she has accessed therapy for herself, set up couples' counseling, attempted to be emotionally responsble for herself and vulnerable with him, and the pattern repeats. She wonders what she is doing wrong, and what she can do to make this marriage work again.

I wrote this reply, hit send, and the email bounced back undeliverable. Since there are no identifying details in either the story or the reply, I'm publishing this here in hopes that she finds it. And because I think it can be helpful to all the other women who are experiencing this common story.

 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Lake Michigan (photo: Andy Bruner)

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Lake Michigan (photo: Andy Bruner)

I am so, so sorry for the pain you've been going through for so long.

Honestly, it sounds to me like you have done everything possible to make this work. I don't think the problem is in how you've responded or what you've done.

I think you've made a really important observation when you say: "Whenever we get relationally closer I feel like he becomes dissatisfied with me again."

Many, many men do not have the emotional skill set that they need to manage their own emotions, much less to be able to respond to their wives well in seasons of distress. 

In fact, I think this is exactly what the entire sexual addiction cycle is based upon: the man's inability to cope in healthy ways with his own emotions, his own pain, distress, anxiety, insecurity, etc.

Men have been taught to deny, repress, and ignore these emotions from their earliest moments on earth. We even speak to boy babies differently than girl babies. We tell them that "big boys don't cry." And then they are taught "boys will be boys"--that it's inevitable they will act out.  I talked about this at length on a FB Live session with Covenant Eyes  a few weeks ago, and it's up on YouTube now.

I suspect that you are observing reality when you sense his dissatisfaction at times of emotional vulnerability. I suspect that he does not feel comfortable with his own emotional vulnerability, and so when you are attempting to do the RIGHT THING for the relationship--being emotionally vulnerable--he does not know how to cope with this and so begins pushing you away.

This is actually what he does with his own emotions, I think: he pushes them away into dysfunctional sexual behaviors. He's simply doing to your emotions what he does with his own.

I think he may be successful at behavioral interventions (accountability etc) for a while, but unless he learns to cope with his own emotions, he will probably never be emotionally trustworthy for himself or for you, and he will continue to act out when he becomes emotionally overwhelmed.

According to the research of John Gottman, emotional trust is built on the capacity to turn toward your partner, rather than turning away or against. I've written about that here.  And here's a You Tube clip of Dr. Gottman talking about how to build emotional trust. I think you are experiencing that your husband turns away or against rather than toward.  And I think he has to learn to turn toward himself before he will be able to turn toward you.

I doubt that this is a problem that will be adequately addressed in marriage counseling, to be honest. I think he needs a really good, qualified Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) to help him mine into the deep sources of his addiction, before he would be ready to work on the relationship in a significant way.

You are not overreacting, at all. You are experiencing the reality that he is not emotionally capable with himself or with you, which means that he returns to dysfunctional coping skills. Unless he works on his own emotional intelligence, you'll be stuck with this same pattern, I think.

I don't mean that to sound hopeless or harsh, but to affirm that you're not crazy. And also to say that there is a real road to recovery, but it's not through the behavioral trust that we commonly think about.

It's this emotional trust-building that he really needs to learn, first for himself so that he can then extend it to you.

Maybe he would watch that Facebook Live with you? And then he might start to understand where the problem lies and where the healing has to be begin: with his own emotions.

Meanwhile, I would say, stay strong in your boundaries. You don't yet know if he is going to do the work that's required. Here's an article entitled "A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce" that you might find helpful to share with him as well. 

Trust yourself.

Boundaries.

You are strong and courageous.

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in praise of echo chambers

We hear about echo chambers and how bad they are, how they are petri dishes of confirmation bias.

We hear that we should listen to the other side, and that's it's unfriendly to unfriend.

But what do we do with the people who are mean to us online? Are we required to just sit there and take it like a man?

To this I say a hearty NO.

Your space, your boundaries.

You are not required to subject yourself to emotional abuse.

Your friends are not required to endure emotional abuse in spaces you're responsible for.

Unfollow, unfriend, block. Put them on a special list so they can only see the pictures of your puppy.

That's what those magic buttons are for.

"But won't that create an echo chamber?" folks worry.

"Are you getting your news from reputable sources?" I ask in return. 

And if the answer is yes, then don't worry about an echo chamber.

If you're getting your news from good, solid reputable sources, then you're not creating an echo chamber when you curate your social media space with care.

You're not trying to avoid reality or skew the information you receive, just to keep yourself comfortable.

You're simply having good boundaries and creating a space for yourself and your friends to breathe easy every now and again.

People who say otherwise might just be trying to cross your boundaries, but we know how to let folks like that do their own emotional work. They have their own pages that they can curate to their satisfaction.

Our space is ours. We get to decide.

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So I'd been thinking about writing this post for a while. And, unusually for me, I even had the echo-chamber-title worked out.

Then we went to the Familes Belong Together march in Dallas.

It was 100 degrees by the time we stepped off in the march (thank goodness for a bit of a breeze) and the march organizers had very wisely not sent us on a very long march. 

We just walked down the hill from City Hall, took a left by the cattle drive sculpture at Pioneer Park, walked up to this underpass, then turned around and went back.

Inside the underpass, we met our fellow marchers returning, and as we marched we called out to one another:

"Love, not hate: that's what makes America great!"

Seriously: best echo chamber ever.

I might have shed a tear or two, in fact.

We all walked out of that space remembering that we are in this together, that we won't give up, that we will continue to speak the truth to one another, that Love will win in the end.

And that's the potential, incredible value of all our echo chambers. 

When we aren't using them to isolate or deceive ourselves, they can be places of enormous encouragement, hope, and incredible spiritual energy, as we see that we are not alone.

We are not alone in our sorrow, and we are not alone in our passion for Love and justice in the world.

That's what our echo chambers can do for us.

They can be the best kind of church, the kind where you meet up with your peeps, hug each other, repeat some liturgy to remind yourself what in the heck we're here for anyway, hear some inspirational words, and go out stronger and wiser and better, ready to face the world again.

So here's to another week in our echo chambers, y'all.

Love, not hate.

Liberty and justice for all.

Kindness to immigrants and strangers.

Boundaries.

And speaking of boundaries, my friend Cindy Wang Brandt invited me onto her brand-new podcast to talk about boundaries. We got into why boundaries are so difficult to acquire in authoritarian systems, and other such interesting ideas. Here it is, hot off the press today: Parenting Forward

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why i go to protests

Why do we go to protests and rallies?

Andy and I often ask ourselves this question in the car on the way home. And as we came away from the Stand With Muslims rally in Dealy Plaza last night, we pondered that question anew.

Because you see, we've rallied and protested about the Muslim Ban before, just after the innauguration, and here we are again, still the same people, still the same issue.

Does our protesting matter? Does it make any difference?

 photo: Andy Bruner

photo: Andy Bruner

I'm reminded this morning of a massive sculpture we saw in Budapest a couple of years ago, a polished stainless steel prow breaking up the concrete in front of it.

From behind, the sculpture is a collection of rusty steel beams stuck in the ground, and only slowly do they merge together into the powerful force for change that you see from the front.

 photo: Andy Bruner

photo: Andy Bruner

Most of the time, we feel like the rusty steel beam in the back. And we are.

But that's okay.

We are part of a whole that works together for liberty and justice for ALL.

Because ALL still means ALL.

And here's what I've learned about these things: you always meet the best people at protests.

This is where you meet your people, the other steel beams who are willing to stand there and sweat, believing together in what we can't always see.

Last night, we took a cooler full of bottled water and passed it around to others. I got to hand a bottle of water to a young Muslim mom, there with her toddler. She thanked me for being there. I said, "Thank you for being here. We want you here." She told me it meant a lot to hear that from me.

I handed a bottle of water to another mom in hijab, and we locked eyes and both said, "I know you!" And we realized we'd sat together at a Poor People's Campaign meeting.

And then of course there were our friends Andrew and Karen and Jill, and our pastor Erin from our church, and Wes, a pastor from another church here in town.

All the usual suspects.

Standing together.

Part of the whole.

We always chant this: "The people, united, will never be divided."

And the more we show up for each other, the more it turns out to be true.

So: see you the next time, friends.

Always standing with you.

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67 simple sanity savers for right this minute

"I am so upset about what's happening right now that I can't sleep. I am so sad for these other families that I can barely care for my own. How in the world do we survive this?"

I've seen this question from caring people in so many forums this week, and I woke up in the middle of the night with some ideas running through my head. I couldn't go back to sleep until I got up and wrote them down.

 Rock sculpture, Mackinac Island, MI. photo: Andy Bruner

Rock sculpture, Mackinac Island, MI. photo: Andy Bruner

When we calm ourselves--body, mind, and spirit--we're not being uncaring. We are doing what needs to be done so that we can regain positive energy to release into this needy world.

The absolute best thing we can do for ourselves and our sanity is to

BREATHE.

BREATHE.

BREATHE.

Just three minutes of slow, deep breathing is enough to produce positive brain changes. 

Try it and see!

Stop right now and simply BREATHE for three minutes. (You can put on a favorite calming song to help time yourself.)

Now, read on for 67 additional actions you can take, right this minute.

  1. Laugh. You cannot be distressed while laughing, so give your body a laugh break.
  2. Watch baby goats frolic.
  3. Observe the hilarity of the back-flipping hamster.
  4. Go outside for 15 minutes of vitamin D therapy (aka sunshine).
  5. While you're out there, run through the sprinkler.
  6. Blow bubbles.
  7. Decorate your driveway with sidewalk chalk.
  8. Grab a popsicle and savor it.
  9. When you get back inside, watch a sweet, snuggly episode of Queer Eye.
  10. Phone a friend.
  11. Text "I love you" to a family member.
  12. Use a mantra, like; "This will pass through me and only I will remain."
  13. Sing a Daniel Tiger song, like: "You're big enough to think of what to do."
  14. Cue up Mr. Rogers singing, "It's you I like, everything about you."
  15. Write a thank you note.
  16. Throw yourself a one-song dance party.
  17. Get your heart above your head in Down Dog for 5 or 6 breath cycles.
  18. Roar it out with Lion's Breath.
  19. Journal for 20 minutes.
  20. List three courageous people, including someone you know personally.
  21. Sign up to volunteer.
  22. Donate to a great cause.
  23. Plan your next holiday.
  24. Reminisce about a favorite past holiday. Pull up photos and remember the good times.
  25. Bake brownies and take them to a neighbor.
  26. Paint rocks and leave them around town for others to discover.
  27. Sign up for dance lessons or a pottery class.
  28. Visit a museum and walk around in beauty for an hour.
  29. Read The Road Back to You and discover healing through the Enneagram.
  30. Color mandalas.
  31. Cross stitch some swear words.
  32. Canvass the neighborhood for your favorite candidate.
  33. Sign up for a protest rally in your area and make some signs today.
  34. Create ephemeral art in your own backyard, or in a table top sandbox.
  35. Make oobleck and let it ooze through your fingers.
  36. Plant some flowers near your front door, or put a pot of herbs by your kitchen sink.
  37. Pet your cat.
  38. Snuggle a baby.
  39. Make a "Free Hugs" sign and walk through the grocery store, giving away hugs.
  40. Hug yourself. Seriously. Put your arms around yourself. Hug.
  41. Try yoga online.
  42. Re-read a favorite childhood book.
  43. Watch The Princess Bride.
  44. Carpool karaoke with James Carden and Sir Paul McCartney. Sob along with Let It Be.
  45. Lounge in a kiddie pool with a cool drink in hand.
  46. Plan your favorite dinner.
  47. Find a therapist.
  48. Walk around the block.
  49. Join an online special interest group or support group.
  50. Choose one fun activity for yourself each day, and do it.
  51. Meditate.
  52. Name the emotion: sad, mad, scared, glad.
  53. Practice radical self-acceptance.
  54. Treat yourself like your own best friend.
  55. Make a cup of tea. Sit still and rest while you drink it.
  56. Paint your toenails rainbow colors.
  57. Sit outside in the grass.
  58. Listen to the wind blow.
  59. Sing along with Fleetwood Mac.
  60. Watch the karaoke version of Mama Mia.
  61. Put Disney songs on and sing along.
  62. Lie still on your back and breathe.
  63. Put up prayer flags and imagine them blowing peace and love everywhere.
  64. Light candles to symbolize your well-wishes for the world.
  65. Rent a tandem bike and invite a friend along for a ride.
  66. Write down three things you really like about yourself.
  67. Alternate nostril breathe.

Finally: choose the boundaries that work for you.

Take inventory of yourself, decide what is healthy for you right now, and make it happen. Others may be disappointed if you can't meet all their needs, and that's okay. They can do their own emotional work.

We can't be all things to all people all the time. We are human. We accept this about ourselves and live within our emotional and spiritual means, for the good of everyone.

Unfollow on Facebook, restrict the number of minutes that certain voices are aloud to speak in a day, turn the sound off on the news.

You are allowed to have peace and quiet. When you've got that peace and quiet inside, you can bring peace and quiet to the chaotic world.

When you feel it slipping away, stop and breathe.

Love begins with us taking care of ourselves, receiving what we need, so we're ready to share again in a minute.

Group hug, y'all!

We've got this!

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how do you have justice without hell?

Question of the day:

Doesn't Love have to include justice? And if hell doesn't exist, where is the justice for victims of rapists and murderers? Isn't it injustice to let everybody have a free pass in the end?

 Street scene, Muncie, Indiana 

Street scene, Muncie, Indiana 

A week like the one we just had, with child abuse being perpetrated from the Oval Office in America, definitely leaves us all wondering what happens in the end to people who callously treat human beings with such disregard.

Hell is certainly the easiest answer and one that makes sense when we are confronted with evil in human form, especially when we've been taught from our first breath that hell is What The Bible Clearly Says, no other options available.

But when I breathe through the rage that I feel over the needless trauma these families are enduring, I come again to this: God is not a monster.

No matter how monstrous human beings may be, God is not a monster.

Even when I want to be a monster in order to destory the other monsters, God is not a monster.

If there is a God, I have to believe that this God is better than you or I, and that God's Love is stronger, purer than anything we can imagine.

Because of Love like that, I cannot believe that the problem of human evil is solved by God perpetrating the evil of eternal conscious torment.

Torture is completely inconsistent with Love, and when we interpret the Bible as saying the God is a torturer, then we have lost the plot.

A God who would torture human beings in a fire forever is not a God of Love, but a monster, like I would like to be some days.

God is Love.

We must return to this set-point, to this True North, over and over and over again, correcting our interpretations, our beliefs, our actions until they are consistent with Love.

And I'm not making up this orientation to Love, all on my own. Jesus is the one who said that the law and all the prophets hang from Love. 

So, bearing Love always in mind, correcting always to Love, I think it's good for us to understand that when we look at victims and perpetrators and think of justice, we are often considering retributive justice as the only kind of justice possible: an eye for an eye.

Retributive justice says: "this person did this heinous thing, and they deserve heinous punishment."

Believe me when I tell you, this makes complete sense to me today and many days. Like I said, I've got a list, and my list got longer this past week.

The problem with retributive justice is this:  it's a dead end.

It's just an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye on and on and on and on, until we're all blind and bleeding.

God has to have better ideas that this: ways for true healing, true reconciliation, true justice, true mercy, for everyone.

God has to be better than we are!

In fact, Jesus told us this very thing: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

Matthew 5:38-48

I think Jesus was trying to move us beyond the ideas of retributive justice here, and to consider the possibilities of restorative justice instead.

To move us from a justice that's only "for the good people" to a justice-Love that includes ALL of us, even the ones we don't want to include (which sometimes is even ourselves).

Yes, Love absolutely focuses on the victim for healing and restoration and rest for their souls.

But to believe that healing and reconciliation and justice and mercy are only available to the victim is a scarcity paradigm, and the God of the Bible is a God of infinities, especially infinite Love. 

I believe that Love expressed in restorative justice has the capacity to heal the victim, and Love expressed in restorative justice has the capacity to bring the offender to repentance and healing as well. 

It's not a free pass in the end.

Restorative justice is healing in the end.

Restoration.

Back in 2011, CBS News aired a story about forgiveness that sheds light on what restorative justice can look like in the real world. 

Wouldn't it be awesome to see this kind of justice, where both victim and perpetrator find healing?

That is the very expression of the justice-Love of God.

Will we always see that on this earth? 

No.

We all know better than that.

I am personally okay with a great deal of mystery, and I am personally okay with believing in restorative justice even though I don't always see the end results of it. 

I am okay with the idea that a better way exists, even if I don't get to see it played out.

I can believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.

I believe that Love Wins, even though babies are suffering trauma and devastation as we speak.

I also believe that Love Wins THROUGH US, that we are the vine-and-branches, that we are the Body of Christ, that we are the presence of God on this earth, and that we are responsible for what happens here and now, that we are responsible to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly, and not just wait for death to take us all to the magic-wand-place where we can go, "Oh, when you said Body of Christ, you meant ME? Ooopsie!"

It's easy to parse out the damage that doctrinces of hell have done: us vs. them theologies, monstrosities like Westboro Baptist Church, the emotional and spiritual trauma that so many exvangelicals report from their childhood.

But I'm come to see that doctrines of heaven can be damaging too, when heaven becomes a way of avoiding responsibility to be the Body of Christ here and now. For example, lots of church folks won't look at what's going on with the environment because they're going to heaven in the end anyway. I've literally heard people say that. 

Love does not excuse us from doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly on this earth. In fact, Love empowers us to do those very things.

If you're interested in exploring all the theological theorizing about what happens when we don't see the kind of justice we'd want here on earth, and especially the alternatives to hell and eternal conscious torment, here are some great resources on the topic to get you started.

Love Wins, Rob Bell

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, Brad Jersak

Hellbound? documentary on Netflix

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prayer flags for us all

I put prayer flags up in my yard last summer, and I often watch them and think of prayers for peace, justice, mercy, kindness, and Love heading off in the direction of the prevailing wind.

It's very windy here in Dallas, so my prayers are always flying off one way or another.

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This morning, I have a gentle breeze coming from the north, lifting my prayers gently toward the south, to the border, where moms and dads and children are traumatized by the choices of our government.

But the breeze is gentle this morning, and in many moments, my prayer flags are simply wafting back and forth as though peace and justice and mercy and kindness and Love are shedding themselves just here, just for me.

My immediate thought is that I'm okay, and all the Love is needed more elsewhere in this difficult time.

But that is scarcity thinking, the kind of thinking that creates the mess on our border to begin with: that we have to pick and choose who gets what when, instead of knowing that there is Enough, always Enough and that we can build longer tables and share, rather than build higher walls to exclude.

And because there is Enough, always, of peace and justice and mercy and kindness and love, more than Enough, for all of us, it's good and right for those prayers to fall here on me too this morning, on my hurting heart.

The Gospel, the Good News, of inclusive Love includes me, too.

It includes you.

It includes every person.

So, for today: prayers of peace and justice and mercy and kindness and Love, Enough for us all.

Even me.

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i am an atheist, and a heretic, too

"Every great shift has to pass through

atheism

because that God no longer exists."

William Paul Young, author of The Shack

 Devil's Bridge, Sedona, Arizona

Devil's Bridge, Sedona, Arizona

I am an atheist to the god of fear-and-control.

I am an atheist to the god of shame.

I am an atheist to the god of hell and damnation.

I am an atheist to the god of wall-building, exclusion, ostracism, and shunning.

I am an atheist to the god of Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, any god that supports the separation of children from their parents at our southern border.

Call me an atheist all day long, because the god that supports or condones any of these things does not exist to me.

I've been told I'm a heretic, and I'll wear that badge with pride these days, too.

"The word heresy simply means that an idea or a teaching is different from what has been traditionally understood and taught." Stan Mitchell

The traditional teachings that have brought us to this place as a nation, carried on the backs of traditional "biblical" interpretations?

The traditional teachings that said white men could preside over genocide, enslavement, lynchings, and oppression with the blessing of "what the Bible clearly says"?

The same teachings that are still being used today, this minute, as an excuse to abuse children and families who come to this country for asylum?

Please, please, please understand that I am absolutely a heretic to that tradition.

If I am able to stomach anything religious in these harrowing days, it is only because I have long since been in the process of becoming an atheist and a heretic to the traditions that allow for god to be the kind of monster that encourages human beings to behave in such monstrous ways.

If I am able to be a Christian at all at this time in history, it is only because those who have long suffered oppression have been showing me the road to hope, despite the horror we see around us, created in the name of a monster-god.

That god is not true or real; it is only a naked emperor, propped up by other naked emperors.

Let us all be atheists to that god,

and heretics to the traditions that support it.

Let us turn instead to Love.

Love that is patient and kind.

Love that receives immigrants.

Love that welcomes the children.

Love that feeds the hungry.

Love that heals the hurting.

Love that works for justice and mercy.

Love that makes whips and flips tables.

Love that is true.

Love that is real, for everyone, not just for rich white men.

These puny traditions and little monster-gods will fall on the ash heap of history,

but

Love never fails.

I can love a God who Loves, but no other.

I can adhere to a tradition that Loves, but no other.

If I am able to be part of any religion these days, it is only Love.

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i am the light of the world

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  Matthew 5:13-15

This scripture struck me in a whole new way yesterday morning, as the young man giving the Gospel reading looked out over the crowd with tears in his eyes and said these words:

YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

These are the words of Jesus, recorded in that first big block of red text in the New Testament, the Sermon on the Mount:

YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

Can we sit with Jesus and agree with what he just told us, that I am the light of the world?

Can this really be true?

I am the light of the world?

Isn't that a crazy scripture?

I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

ME.

Kay Bruner.

I am the light of the world.

Doesn't it sound deliciously heretical?

And yet, this is what the Bible clearly says.

I am the light of the world.

 Cloud Gate, Chicago. photo: Andy Bruner

Cloud Gate, Chicago. photo: Andy Bruner

One of the things I love best about light is that it doesn't

control

or manipulate

or force

anything to happen.

It just shows up and shines.

I've shared before that my Enneagram Type is One with a Two wing: Reformer + Helper = Advocate.

As an Advocate, it is almost impossible for me to show up in a space and just be there with everyone else.

I do not remember a time in my life when I did not feel driven to make things better for people around me.

What happens for me is this: my spidey-senses pick up on all the pain in the room, and I feel pressured, compelled, and otherwise obligated to DO SOMETHING about the injustice before me, often injustice that no one else recognizes or cares to correct.

So not only do I have the injustice itself, I've got people who don't see the injustice and need to be awakened to the problem.

Oh, and as a woman, I'm supposed to be smiling sweetly and chit-chatting about the children, instead of noticing that the world is going to hell in a handbasket while everybody takes tea.

When all those songs about "you can make a difference, you can make a change" get played in church, I'm thinking, "I'M TRYING DAMMIT AND NOBODY WILL LISTEN!!!" 

THIS.

IS.

EXHAUSTING.

In the past few years, the discovery of contemplative practice has changed my entire inner world from constant striving to right all the wrongs of the world toward an inner calm that sees the wrong and breathes through it.

I've learned that my job is presence instead of perfection.

My job is simply to illuminate the way for those stumbling in darkness, no more.

I don't have to fix everything.

I can't, and it's not my job.

But wherever I am, I can show up and shine.

Because I am the light of the world.

Yes, me.

The Bible clearly says.

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all the places i've been lately

May has been a quiet month here at kaybruner.com, but a busy month for me in other work venues. 

 Cloud Gate, Sir Anish Kapoor; Chicago (photo: Andy Bruner)

Cloud Gate, Sir Anish Kapoor; Chicago (photo: Andy Bruner)

When I look at what I've been writing and talking about in these other venues, it's all themed around toxic systems (patriarchy, toxic masculinity, toxic work environments, abusive marriages) and the harm done to the human beings trapped in those systems.

These are not fun things to talk about, but the joy is in helping people to recognize reality as a first step on the road to freedom and healing. The joy is in believing victims, listening to their voices, helping them know that they are not alone, and demonstrating that there is a life of freedom, peace, and healing outside of toxic systems.

I love what the Persian poet Rumi says:

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.

Help someone's soul heal. 

Walk out of your house like a shepherd.

It's been a good month of walking out of my house like a shepherd.

I've had two Facebook Live interviews this month.

This first one is with Covenant Eyes exploring why porn recovery doesn't seem to "stick" with some guys. (I think it's worth watching just because I'm so alarmingly orange. All I need is a towering blue wig and I'm Marge Simpson.)

I got to say a bunch of stuff about the patriarchy and toxic masculinity in a pretty conservative space, so that was really fun.

The second live session is with Sarita Hartz, talking about toxic environments on the mission field, another fun topic. I think Sarita is going to write a blog post that includes our conversation, but meanwhile the best place to find it is on her Facebook page

I wrote at A Life Overseas on the question of "Can I leave my abusive spouse when 'the bible clearly says?'"  

I made an animation on the topic of victim blaming, which is a common defense mechanism we all use to create a sense of control over our anxiety. The question I'm addressing here is: How can we stop victim blaming, including blaming ourselves

After all that exploration of toxicity, I'm happy to say that Andy and I were able to take a long weekend away over Memorial Day to do the fastest-ever Lake Michigan Circle Drive, Chicago to Chicago, via Wisconsin, Michigan, and even the corner of Indiana in four days.

 aboard the ferry to Mackinac Island, Michigan Upper Peninsula

aboard the ferry to Mackinac Island, Michigan Upper Peninsula

We saw a lot of beautiful scenery likitysplit, and I wrote a post about it over at our new travel blog: More to Explore Travel.

If you want to keep up with travel posts, and read through the archives of many of our trips, you can follow More to Explore Travel on Facebook.

And, oops! One more project I forgot to mention: Andy and I started a secret Facebook group for folks who are faith-shifting while in ministry.

If you started out on our ministry journey conservative, and now find yourself not-so-conservative, andif you're afraid of losing your job if your church or ministry partners knew what you really believe about hell, lgbtq inclusion, the inerrancy of the bible, voting republican, etc., well, this might be the group for you.

It's secret, which means it can't be seen by anyone except members. If you want in, send me your email address via the contact form here

And now, to take a nap.

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