It’s a Dirty Job, and You Rock for Doing It

My dad is a complicated man that I don’t write about much, in part because it takes a lifetime to figure out our relationship with our family, and in part to respect his privacy. However, I know one thing. My dad works. He works long. He works hard. And working and providing is his means of showing love and commitment to a family.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has worked what’s most often called a blue collar job: as a machinist at a factory. He works 12 hour shifts, and is on his feet the majority of that time. He looks at work as  a necessary part of life, where enjoyment is not a requirement. For my dad, work has always been borne out of necessity and social and familial obligations. And without people doing jobs like his, our factories could not run, and some of the most fundamental substances in our day to day lives would cease to be made and distributed.

Conversations with him about my work woes are not unlike those I have with one of my favorite priests, another southern man of about my dad’s age. Both of them have told me a number of time over the years, “If work was fun, they wouldn’t call it work.”

I’ve been thinking about them- and people like them of their generation, who are either unwilling or unable to retire- as I consider my own generation and the predicament in which we find ourselves. There is much popular rhetoric around “doing what you love”, “following your dreams”, and “finding/following your bliss”, yet many of us are stuck with student loans, poverty, and frustrating, fruitless job searches in our field. And for lots of us, retail jobs, service industry work, and entry level jobs outside our field are the only immediate and short term solution. They are the blue collar jobs of this age: the hard work that everyone needs done, few acknowledge or praise, and even few commit to doing.

So, while we may not be working in factories and the like as often as our parents, many of us still do dirty work, even though we want/are qualified to do something else. If you are in that situation: working in a service job, or on a cubicle row, or in a retail store, in order to meet your needs, listen now and listen good.

You’re doing what needs doing for yourself and/or for your family. You are working hard to meet needs of yourself and people you love. You are meeting vital needs within your community, without which many wouldn’t have the goods, services, and conveniences they depend on. And you need never be ashamed of that.

Obviously, if your job is damaging to your health and well-being in some way, it is prudent to come up with an exit strategy that makes sense for your needs [I had to do this recently, a decision that prompted my getting serious about my mental health, for which I am very grateful]. But it’s likely that your job is just somewhere you need to be to pay the bills and get/stay out of debt, and if that’s the case, don’t lose heart. Those goals are worthwhile and accomplishing them, even if it is through something commonplace, is worthy and wonderful.

Your career is just that, nothing more. If you have a career that does not have a creative outlet, you can still make time. Your job does not make you a sell-out by default. If your career does not align with your calling, this does not mean you have replaced one with the other. There is always someone in your peer group or your community who needs help, or a group to whom you can volunteer your time. There are ways of following your bliss and finding joy that are practical and everyday. If we focus on finding them in the everyday, we can learn to truly nurture and sustain our joy, rather than injecting it for a short-term rush through a couple of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. If we look for it, we can find humility and simplicity in hard work, and that opens the door to a freedom that diversion cannot always afford us.

So, if you have ever sold me something in a store, poured me a drink, made me a coffee, served me a burger, or cleaned a home or business that I have visited: thank you for what you do. You are intelligent, valued and amazing for your hard work. You are the legs your community (and society) stands on, and I hope you know you rock for what you do. If you are a stay-at-home or single parent, your job is work and it is invaluable. If you are a student who has not been able to use your degree, your education will never lose its value, and whatever job you are working now is important.

Whatever your work is, it matters. Whatever society or your peers or anyone else tries to say to shame you into thinking your work has no value does not matter in the slightest. There’s no shame in a hard day’s work, and whatever you need to do to ensure your needs are met and you are able to share your free time with friends and family is worth doing. You are appreciated and your job, and the community you live in, wouldn’t be the same without the work you do. Thank you.

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The Chief of Sinners: Sin, Judgement, and Responsibility

“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all long-suffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” 1 Timothy 1:12-16, NKJV (emphasis added)

“I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”- Orthodox Christian prayer, recited before receiving Holy Communion (emphasis added) 

***

Who’s to blame?

Many assume when reading the oft-quoted verse from 1 Timothy (1:15) that the Apostle Paul was making a unique assertion that he is the chief of sinners, since he says so after describing his former life as a blasphemer, murderer and persecutor of Christians. Oh, look how humble he is. Isn’t it amazing? However, a closer look reveals it was already a trustworthy saying, likely being used in the liturgical life of the Church in light of our unworthiness to receive communion (as it still is now).

So in light of the prayers of the early church and the teachings of the saints who established and nurtured it, each Christian is the “chief of sinners”. He was not holding himself up as an exception, but an example of the outlook he expected his entire flock to have. If I am claiming to be a Christian, my apostolic instructions are to fully accept the truth of this in my life. Of course, this is not to suggest that it is godly or otherwise healthy to self-loathe [in the same passage, he also refers to God’s “exceedingly abundant” grace and mercy multiple times, and we should remember that same love and mercy is given to us].

To be the chief of sinners merely means that the only comparison I should be making to determine sinfulness is one: between myself and Christ. And finding the worst sinner between me and Jesus is kind of a no-brainer.

One of my recent posts was about influence vs. concern. The circle of influence is my own life and the things I can change, while the circle of concern is everything outside of what I can influence. To think of sin in those terms, the only thing I can really change is my own sin, so that is my primary responsibility. And its effects in my life are worse, more prominent, and more damaging than the sins of others.

But look what he’s doing- and we go to Church together!

Of course, if I am already comparing myself to Jesus, it will inform the way I see the sins of other Christians.  Jesus says in the Gospels that my focus should be on removing the plank from my own eye before helping my brother with the speck in his (Matt 7:1-5). Is he saying others in the Church don’t sin, or that I shouldn’t help my fellow Christians who are struggling? Of course not. But I should be making active efforts to repent and be healed of my own sins first. I shouldn’t proclaim disgust with sin only when I see it in someone else. If I do help someone I have to make sure I am mature enough to help, be careful of my motives and be willing to share in the burden of responsibility on my part (Gal 6:1-4). Long story short, no one is immune from the tendency to judge.

Okay. But really, whose fault is it? Theirs, right?

It only takes about 5 seconds logged into Facebook or in front of the TV to see the evil in the world. Every story seems to be worse than the last. It’s easy to blame the world for the condition it’s in; we chalk up the state of things to their violence, their hatred, their evil, their moral bankruptcy. If there is backlash for their choices it serves them right. If they are treated with lenience then there is no justice.

How I feel about the moral failings of others [and how I respond when sin is put on display for public comment] says a lot about the condition of my own heart and soul.

“The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”- CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Does every article about the despicable dealings of the world make me happier not to be a participant? Am I eager to share the terrible story without bothering to fact-check it? If it turns out to be false, am I grateful, or angry?

If I am self-satisfied when I see the failings of someone whose values are opposed to mine, there is something wrong with my values. If I am first in line to shame their behavior, I cannot love them. Do I get a sick sense of pleasure from how right I am or how wrong they are? If so, I am just as devilish.

In the same way I am able to make the right choices, it is very easy for me to sin. And while I may sin in different ways from someone else, it is no less bad when I do it. Furthermore, although I can help others to change, I cannot truly judge them. Not because I can’t tell the difference between right and wrong, but because I cannot be sure that my judgement would be the same one Jesus would make. Thus as his follower who is meant to reflect him to the world, my goal should be love, prayer and repentance on behalf of all. Only when I have drawn others to him through love and prayer is it possible for change and healing to take place. Without focusing on my own sin first and foremost, I cannot love. And without love, I am nothing.

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One Thing is Needed: Thoughts on Mary & Martha

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’s feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”- Luke 10:38-41

https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3908/14587866208_a4edccdcca_b.jpg

Sometimes, if we only glance at it, Jesus seems to be picking on Martha in this Gospel reading. So it is good to remember that, along with their brother Lazarus, Mary and Martha are both saints. Each was a servant to Christ and remained devoted to him throughout their lives. No doubt, he loved everyone in their family dearly and equally. Like any sisters, Mary and Martha probably had a little bit of a rivalry. But the variety in their personalities meant that each brought different strengths to the way they related to and interacted with the Lord.

Notice that Martha welcomed Jesus into their home, and was dedicated to serving him and making everything the best it could be for him as their friend and guest, as their Lord and teacher. In addition to her gift for showing hospitality, she is clearly a woman of action. Action and diligence are certainly keys to a faithful life. With all these things considered, there is much to imitate in Martha’s example.

Martha was right to want to use her talents to prepare for Jesus and his visit. Her issue was never her service. It was that she became distracted and troubled with the many things on her plate. It was that she fell into the trap of comparison. And in the midst of the blessing she had been anticipating so greatly, she had not paused to enjoy and be thankful for the present moment. And who can’t relate to Martha? I compare myself to others constantly, often miss out on the [very apparent] gifts in my life, and can hardly be awake without being anxious and troubled about many things.

So Jesus was not so much making an example of Martha as helping her gain perspective. One thing is needed. I have often puzzled over this. Mary was doing several things. She was present with Jesus. She was focused. She was listening to his words. What is the one necessary thing she was doing?

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Rather than falling into the traps of distraction, comparison, and worry, Mary had chosen friendship with Jesus. Martha certainly loved him, and no doubt she was motivated by at least in great part by her love to make the house ready for his visit. But somewhere along the way, she seemed to forget the material point: he was already there, in their midst, waiting to spend time with her and her family.

I was once  lamenting my difficult grasping a teaching of the Church related to Mary, the mother of Jesus- and I was going round and round with my priest about the hows and whys and what-ifs when he looked at me and said in his typical, matter of fact way, “She is a person, not a theological concept. Get to know her as you would a person.”

The same, of course, is true for Jesus. It’s very easy to throw around the phrase “relationship with God” or “relationship with Jesus” without actually cultivating one. Like Martha, I become so focused on my checklist, on getting to a place where I am “good enough” or “ready enough” to pray or go to Church that I forget it is possible to pray at any moment. I treat Jesus like a theological concept for me to understand the ins and outs of, without contemplating what he is like, what makes him happy, what hurts him, or the unique gifts with which he fills my life on a daily basis.

We have the friends we do not because of fear, obligation, or because we have reasoned our way to an understanding that the friendship is the correct choice. We are friends because of the bond we share with them. The love that we experience with our friends is what keeps us coming back to one another. We want to get to know them, we ask them questions, we tell them thank you, we give them the gifts of our time and attention. We are not quick to doubt them, and we are certainly not afraid that at any moment they will leave or abandon us. We trust them. And when we are having trouble with that trust, we talk through it. We don’t walk away at the first misunderstanding. And the more loyal and loving a friendship is, the more we are willing to do to grow and nurture it.

Mary had the one thing that was needed, a desire to be friends with Jesus that she put into action. Her contribution was a small one, but Jesus recognized the beauty in it. And he held it out to Martha, not to chide her, but as a gentle reminder that her company was wanted and valuable.

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Small Things/ Great Love

A couple of months ago, while talking to my priest. I was doing my usual: unpacking my laundry list of worries about life and the cosmos. And I don’t just talk about my worries, y’all. I pile them up. I stack them carefully, one on top of another, like scary, toxic Fear Pancakes:

Well, what about racism and police brutality?

What about global warming?

What about natural disasters and the end times and the future and GMOs and- and- and. . . 

You get the idea. We’ve all been there: that point where we are literally Can’t Even-ing because the Whole Entire Flip-Flappin’ World is just so Out-Of-Its Mind-Crazy. But I had stayed there in that state of mind and pitched a tent. I scrolled through (and wallowed in) the misery of the world and drank up all the injustice I saw in a medium where [more often than not- I know there are exceptions] no direct action can be taken by me to fix the problem.

For an aspiring social activist, I was pretty immobilized But that’s what happens when exposure is equated to involvement. The choir and I took turns preaching, we all shouted AMEN. I wrote the perfectly researched comments that silenced my opponents. I had become callous in the name of caring. I had replaced engaged with enraged. And I was beginning to drown. In fact, I noticed that the discourse on Social Media was simultaneously doing the following [and on a 24-hour, ever refreshing loop]:

Demanding I care passionately, constantly

Demanding I demonstrate I care in a specific way

Heavily implying [or outright stating] that to the degree I didn’t post, discuss, or engage in a public forum, I didn’t care.

Is it just me, or does the News Feed turn social causes and opinions into that horrible snob in every 80s coming of age movie? You know, the one who pressured their boyfriend or girlfriend with the words “You would if you really loved me”.  So much of the rhetoric on The Book turns everyone into That Guy [or Girl, anyone can be a jerk]. I see it happen all the time.

And if I’m being honest, I’ve been That Person often, and I’ve done so in the name of being correct, open-minded or [worst of all] theologically sound. I’ve done it for the recognition, for the praise, and to prove my own moral amazingness. And that both humbles me and grosses me out.

While it’s a great tool for fast communication and spread of good ideas and causes, Social Media and the Internet can also increase feelings of alienation, polarization [us vs. them], and snap judgement.

What- in a normal conversation- would amount to “We don’t see eye to eye on this, but I know from our other conversations and interactions that you are not, in fact, a soulless monster, but my friend” becomes “OMG U FASCIST I HATE YOUR STUPID FACE AND I HOPE YOU FALL DOWN A WELL!!!!!!!!”

So what’s changed? Am I off Facebook? [Girl, please- it’s open in the next tab.] I did- however- find a more realistic way of looking at it, and at the whole idea of social engagement.

My priest-remember him? the patient guy at the beginning of the story?- told me about something he read about that helped him not to become overwhelmed, hate everyone, and spend the rest of his life crying [paraphrasing there]. He told me about the Circle of Influence: areas we can actually change and influence vs. the Circle of Concern: the big, ever-present problems of the world.

circle-of-influence2

According to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the most effective [and/or proactive] people focus the majority of their time on their Circle of Influence, and far less on their Circle of Concern. This not only made total sense to me and struck me as a really healthy way to be,  it helped me realize that social media, and media in general, distorts things such that our Circle of Concern is either presented as identical to our Circle of Influence or vastly more important when it comes to changing our circumstances, when it’s really the other way around.

“Imagine,” Father said, “what it would be like if you took that energy for those causes you cared about and put them into action in your community and in your day to day life.” I  could write a letter to the editor, have a conversation that promotes empathy and understanding of someone different than me, treat a friend who is struggling financially to a meal, recycle, look someone in the eye and tell them they matter. The wonderful paradox is: I can do almost nothing to solve the big problems of the world, but the “small” things I can do that would truly make a difference are in fact vast, endless, and ever-evolving.

What if I- what if we all- took that approach first and foremost? Would all social problems be eliminated? Probably not. Would action be taken consistently, and would things change? Definitely. And that seems like what all us are truly after.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta changed the way the world views poverty, service, and love. She transformed the lives of countless people with her work, and continues to do so with her teachings. Yet she did not use a computer, and rarely traveled outside of the area where she lived. Would we dare say she didn’t care?

Even contemplating shifting my focus from “great things” to “small things with great love” has been immensely freeing. To do so helps me see more clearly how much I am loved. I realize more clearly what I can do for others.

I believe that thinking and acting in our sphere of influence- doing small things for our friends, enemies, neighbors, communities, opponents and compatriots- deliberately and consistently with great love will shift our connection to humankind from virtual to reality.

***

What do you feel connects us to one another? What harms that connection? What helps it?

What small things have been done for you with great love?

What small thing can you commit to doing this week for someone that you love? For someone that you don’t always agree with?

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I’m Not Dead! and Other Small Victories in Managing Mental Illness

here comes the sun

Hey, guys and dolls. I’ve been gone a while. I’m sorry. It’s been rough in patches, but I’m ready to talk about it. I think it’ll help me to do so, and maybe it’ll help somebody else.

Many of you know that writing regular blogs is not my strong suit. I cringe every time my news feed refreshes and I see that people with far busier schedules and far more demanding routines than mine are cultivating a thriving blog and stirring the social media pot with a deft hand. @#$%, I think. I can’t even remember to eat lunch every day.

Don’t worry, I’m not anti-lunch. It’s just part of how my depression and anxiety manifest themselves. Other parts of it include exhaustion or being quick to fatigue, sleeplessness, hypersensitivity and propensity to sadness, fear, or dread, and over-personalizing/taking on responsibility for problems that are beyond my reach and control. Because the depression and anxiety are clinical, it is an ongoing physical and emotional reality. But it ebbs and flows, and in an environment where anyone would be anxious, afraid or depressed, it gets turned up to eleven.

The long and short of it is that I don’t blog when I’m in a depressive low, or when I have been having a lot of panic attacks, and both of those things have been happening on what feels like a continuous loop for the past several months. Here’s part of the reason why.

When the hours at my previous  job started to decline near the beginning of this year, I began searching for something else. But being faced with  ongoing rejection and uncertainty, coupled with the stubborn reality that the hours I did have were not enough to fulfill or sustain me, the job-hunting-while-working was really taking a toll on my physical and mental well-being.

For reasons that are unclear to me, my mental health issues manifest themselves strongest after dark. So, night after night I would feel like the walls were closing in on me. I would get short of breath. I would be nauseated and curl up into the fetal position, weeping and hyperventilating and asking the Virgin Mary to comfort me. I would rage at myself, filled with hateful thoughts about how weak I was, how I was a fraud: I was not the strong, confident, happy self-advocate that so many of my friends and family were proud of. Everything seemed impossible as I lay there in the dark. I would think of job descriptions my friends and coworkers sent me, and I would feel my stomach drop and then say to myself, “I can’t do that job. I’ve forgotten what I’ve learned. The stress would be too much,” and on and on.

So, when I was finally offered something new, at a time when we were really struggling financially- I accepted, thinking I could adapt and thrive in the new environment. What I got instead was a constant spike in anxiety and panic attacks that was so debilitating I couldn’t eat or sleep, and would have to take frequent breaks from my work to avoid coming apart emotionally. So I had gone from having a job, to being under-employed, to resigning to accept a job, to quitting a job, in a relatively short time. Ever since then, it has been a constant- and I do mean constant- battle to remind myself that there is something better out there. I have been rebuilding my confidence, and taking care to measure progress in whatever metric I can.

You’re probably wondering when I’m gonna get to the progress part, because, let’s face it, I am kind of bumming you out and stuff. Don’t worry. Here it comes.

If you have never done so, please read Hyperbole and a Half (at hyperboleandahalf.com). Always hilarious, she does an amazing series of webcomics on what her depression is like and how she copes with it.

First, I had to take responsibility for where I was and who I was. I had to acknowledge that- while I can’t cure my mental illness, and while not every negative thing in the universe is my doing or my responsibility, there are things about my life that I can change, and things about my mental illness that I exacerbate when I don’t take action. There are things that I do and say- and that I neglect to do and say- when I am wallowing in my depression and anxiety, that I can easily change by acknowledging that these out of control emotions aren’t who I am, and that they don’t define me. Yes, they help explain things about me. No, they are not the sum total of all things about me.

Another major step in the right direction was the decision to go back to counseling. I have always been a big believer in getting help when you need it. I just seem to forget I need it every now and then. I was doing “okay” for quite a while there. But when it got to the point where my life was being halted and my relationships affected, I had to do something. I am still early on in my relationship with this therapist, but she has an expectation of change and growth, so I am holding myself to that standard, and have been thankful for the results so far.

I had to get spiritual direction. Therapy is great. But when religion, faith and spirituality are a part of your worldview, a qualified spiritual guide such as a priest, rabbi, etc. can give teachings and coping strategies that can bring a whole new level of peace and clarity, and my conversation with my priest was no exception.

He helped me to understand that  I had to make priorities and set boundaries regarding what I exposed myself to mentally/emotionally, and what parts of my thoughts and emotions I exposed. This meant stepping back when I really wanted to bare all on an issue or event on this site or via social media. I plan to go into greater detail on this in a future post, but the crux was that the things we feel strongly about are often things that make us feel vulnerable to share, and doing so on a public forum rarely if ever guarantees a kind response.

So all that work means I’ve been away for a while. And the fact that the work is constant, and the foe unpredictable,  means I have no idea how things will be a month or two or three or six from now, but I’m still here. And so are you. You’re worth fighting for, and I’m in your corner.

Til next time. Which will hopefully be soon.

Edit: The steps discussed are intended to provide ideas and strategies only. They are not meant to replace or usurp any treatment that has been recommended by your doctor, psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist. Please keep all helping professionals in the loop of any changes to your routine.

Also, it is possible that they may be helpful guidelines for people who are experiencing short-term sadness, stress or melancholy, and I hope that’s true. Sharing my experiences is not meant to serve as any kind of diagnosis or comprehensive list of symptoms. Mental illness, stress, depression and anxiety are different for everyone, though there is some common ground. If your systems or struggles are consistent, chronic, and long term [beyond a difficult or stressful circumstance], please seek the opinion of a qualified professional to figure out what’s best for you.

**

P.S. For those reading this post who face mental illness, I encourage you to read/bookmark a Self-Care Checklist such as the one linked here [if you want a more language-neutral one, there are plenty out there, but this one is simple and straightforward]. It might also help to show it to a friend who can hold you accountable and make sure you’re okay.

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Open for Service: an Opinion

If you are interested in one of these stickers for your business, go to openforservice.org

If you are interested in one of these stickers for your business, go to openforservice.org

I have tried writing many blog posts about this, but they have become too convoluted with legalese and political nuances. So I am going to start fresh.

It is my opinion that a refusal to serve someone on Christian principle is an oxymoron, and that it is not the most fruitful way to bear witness to the Faith. While Jesus certainly has standards that He expects people who choose to follow Him to observe, His service and love for others (from breaking bread to feed them, to healing their sons and daughters, to giving His life for them on the Cross) was never conditional on their belief.

In fact, it is likely that many of the people He fed, served, and healed were later in the crowds of onlookers screaming “Crucify Him!” Remember the 10 lepers? He healed all of them, even though He knew only one would return to thank Him. He did not withhold service or love, and did not expect His followers to do so, either.

The wedding cake scenario is being used as an example where the business owners believe that to provide a good or service is to participate or in some way sanction a marriage that is different from their own belief in what marriage is. While that decision is between them and their spiritual guide, my opinion is once again different. I would consider it a business transaction and nothing more. If sharing my understanding of marriage was a prerequisite for allowing people to buy and eat my cake, I might as well stick to putting up flyers in the fellowship hall, because the only people who share my understanding of marriage are other Orthodox Christians. But if I decided to serve the public, it would be just that, a decision to serve, without condition.

Many of the friends, family and loved ones who attended our wedding were not Christians. Some attended with their partners of the same sex.  And while I always rejoice when a friend shows interest in Orthodoxy, I fully recognize, respect and understand that their attendance of my wedding, giving of gifts, and participation in my wedding party were not statements of agreement with my theology or my understanding of marriage. They were there because of their respect, love, and friendship toward me. I am deeply grateful for this, and it carries a lot of weight in my discussions about these topics and issues.

I don’t own a business, of course. I know that decisions have a context, and actions have motives, and it’s exactly zero% my perogative to judge or condemn anyone. And I recognize that business owners are going to continue to make decisions without my input, as they have always done.

My view is admittedly simplistic, but it is essentially that businesses are civil entities. They are a part of a community, and access of all members of a community to the goods and services of a business is a civil right that should not be dependent on religious belief, sexual orientation, disability, racial/ethnic identity, and so on. (I have similar views on the right of everyone to obtain a legal, civl marriage.) For a business to claim they serve the public, but to exclude some parts of the public is discriminatory by nature. And while businesses can choose their customers, and discrimination may not be their intention, I believe that the refusal-to-serve approach will end up giving the businesses a negative reputation and doing more harm than good to their bottom line.

I think that any law that allows businesses to refuse service should also have provisions that guard against discrimination, and that  allow patrons who feel they have been discriminated against to take appropriate legal action (many RFRAs have this language, and some who do not- such as Indiana and Arkansas- are in the process of getting theirs changed).

What a business does is their business (just as the decision whether or not to support a business based on their practices is a choice I can and do make). But this debate has a lot of important questions driving it, including: what makes a business a Christian one? I would venture (perhaps with some repercussions) to suggest it is their service, and whether or not that service is provided with grace, kindness, and respect.

Every business and every owner will approach these situations differently. But in my own life? I believe I do not have the right to refuse service to anyone, but an obligation to serve, love, pray for and respect everyone.  The rest is up to God, and my neighbor. And in this I have peace.

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You Can Do This

“Be nice to yourself” is something I say all the time, both to myself on a never-ending loop, and to others. And every time I say it, I have a simultaneous cringe-and-agree-wholeheartedly response. I totally get that it sounds very self-helpy. I used to be very uncomfortable with the whole idea of self-help [they call it self-improvement now, because a lot of people hate the term self-help, and apparently those same people are also extremely gullible]. But then I realized that part of the human existence is needing help, needing improvement, and wanting to get better. And while I am a big-time advocate of getting professional and/or peer support (because the human experience is communal), I also think that leaving ourselves out of the process is not a realistic way to go about making a positive change.

One thing I have chosen to work on within self-care or self-kindness is changing the way I talk to myself. Whether internally judging our rogue eyebrow hairs while brushing our teeth, or screaming, “I’m so stupid!” when we forget something, we talk to ourselves all the time. The things we say have different sources. Here are a few I have noticed when thinking about the things I say and think (especially when forming and giving opinions about myself):

-Social norms [i.e. the daily emails spamming my inbox about how to get a flatter belly, the Facebook sidebar ads telling me about the next big company to work for, the next degree to get, the next magic bullet to buy]
-Negative past experiences with others [for some reason it is a lot easier for me to remember the negative experiences than the positive ones!]
-Comparing myself to others in terms of “what they’ve got that I haven’t got”

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Does positive self-talk work?

Yes. While scientists are not certain exactly how it works, they are sure it is effective in every area where it is practiced. Some experts think it’s because you are actually changing interactions in your brain [re-wiring it, relearning what is true about yourself], while others think it’s based on something simpler: the more often we hear something, and the more confidence with which that something is said, the more likely we are to believe it over time [Cable news, anyone?!]. Either way, it works.

Not only is audibly saying positive things to yourself really beneficial, there is a best practice for doing so. Another study about affirmation found that the best way to get positive messages to stick is to use second or third-person when making the affirmations themselves. In other words, when looking in the mirror in the morning, or preparing for the big test or meeting, it works better to say “you can do this!” than it does to say “I can do this!” The same study offered a few examples of public figures or celebrities using this tactic before making a big speech or announcing a major change in their careers.

What I like the most about this strategy is not only that it works, but that it is one of the easiest to practice and maintain. I don’t have to start out believing that I can do something in order to say I can, and doing so takes a couple of seconds. I still have a long way to go, but I can honestly say that pushing through and discarding the negative and almost exclusively false messages about myself to practice courage and positivity is off to a great start for me.

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I say practice because it’s not easy, I can’t do it perfectly, and it doesn’t come naturally, but the more it’s done, the more I will be able to see the benefits.

But why does it work better to use second or third person, even though it sounds more than a little weird? The reason is believed to be that doing so creates distance. By saying “you can do this” instead of “I can”, we are mimicking the way we would address another person who is struggling. The results of the research seem to back up what a lot of us know to be true: we are much more often a lot kinder to others than to ourselves.

This may be the only case where pretending to be someone you’re not actually has concrete psychological and emotional benefits.

So, if you battle with being unkind to yourself, there is a way to start making it happen. You can do this.

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