Resources / Further Reading: Boundaries

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I was born with a Default No.

I do say yes to lots of things, of course.  But if I’m tired, or overwhelmed, or don’t feel I have enough information to make a good decision, then if you need an answer RIGHT NOW, I can pretty much guarantee my answer will be ‘No.’ 

Doesn’t matter if it’s helping you move bodies, or spending a week at your Hawaiian beach house: when the pressure’s on, my default is NO.

I didn’t think much about this until I started meeting  people with a Default Yes. These folks, when pushed, will almost without fail say ‘Yes’ to whatever it is you’re trying to rope them into.

Either default has its benefits and liabilities, of course, but I’ve come to think that I got the better deal on this one.

Because my Default Yes friends and colleagues find themselves perpetually drowning in activities and obligations. And in resentment.

Which brings me to one of my favourite books – Boundaries.

Written by two brilliant Christian psychologists, Henry Cloud and John Townsend, whom I have come to adore, Boundaries’ subtitle is When to say YES, When to say NO to take control of your life, and that pretty well sums it up.

Drs. Cloud and Townsend do a great job of explaining why we need boundaries in our lives, [note]  Hint: Boundaries define our responsibilities vs  other peoples’ responsibilities, help us to keep our legitimate commitments as well as our sanity, make relationships work better, reduce  stress, and allow us to stop running the world and everything in it so we can get a decent night’s sleep. (Among other things).[/note] and include helpful examples from their years of counselling and coaching. They have a fun and accessible writing style that makes the book enjoyable to read.

For those who struggle with a Default Yes, Boundaries demonstrates why saying yes to everything isn’t actually the best way to live life, and (more importantly for a lot of folks) why it isn’t required to be a good, or loving, or  worthwhile human being.

For Christians – in particular those who have been taught that being a ‘good Christian’ means doing everything anyone asks of you all the time – Boundaries makes the important case that this is not a correct view of God’s design for us, nor will it allow us to live godly lives.

Boundaries are critical to an authentic life, and to an abundant one.

Drs. Cloud and Townsend define the topics of being real, being honest, speaking truth in love, from the perspective of our responsibilities as followers of Christ. For many of my Default Yes friends, this has been quite the revelation.

Boundaries clarified things that had always kind of peripherally confused me. I finally ‘got it’ that saying ‘No’ is as completely abnormal to some folks as running naked through the mall would be to me.

And, since I come by strong boundaries naturally and had never realised that not everyone does, I was prone to bulldoze right over people.

While bulldozing is efficient, it is probably not the best way to be. Boundaries didn’t immediately transform me into a model friend, but it has definitely smoothed off some rough edges, and Drs. Cloud and Townsend continue to shape my perspective.

Now, if you’re not a Christian, the clear Christian perspective of this book might be distracting, or even disturbing.

But for now it’s the best I’ve got, by far, so if you find your life hampered by saying yes to too much, or to things you really want to say ‘no’ to, or basically anything related to people pleasing, give Boundaries a shot.  Get it from the library to start, then if the Christian thing is too much you’re not out anything but a little time!

Drs. Cloud and Townsend, both together and separately, have written quite a few books, some more of which I’ll profile when I get a chance. You really can’t go wrong with any of their books! They also have pod casts, videos, and a host of helpful material on their website: http://www.cloudtownsend.com/resources/

 

 

Faith

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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 

 

Sound familiar? (If not, that’s Hebrews 11:1.) It has an inspirational feel to it, don’t you think?

But what exactly does it mean?!?

What IS faith? Believing that God exists? The Bible says that the demons accomplish that much, and that they are a good deal more impressed by it than we are. As with many important things, it’s easier to know what faith is than to define it.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. But from time to time it becomes important to me to really understand it. In other words, to actually be able to define it.

For my own use, for myself. I’m not about settling eternal questions for all of humanity. But for my own understanding, when the storms come and hell in a hand-basket doesn’t sound so amusingly distant, what does it mean to have faith?

It does, of course, mean that I genuinely believe in God. So I know I’m at least up with the demons in the faith department.

And beyond believing IN God, I found that it meant to BELIEVE God, which is a different thing: to take him at his word.

I was always really good at faith. That’s not a point of pride; absolutely not an accomplishment for which I put forth heroic effort. It was just a fact. As a result of my upbringing, my personality, my understanding of God, faith was simply an inborn talent.  A gift. Something I just did well, with little effort.

Then it wasn’t.

For most of my life, when the storms came, my faith buffered them and saw me through them, so I assumed that I had all the pieces I needed.

And maybe I did. I think faith can be built incorrectly, not having all the pieces to start, but now I also wonder if faith can be damaged in the storms. In the swirl of all the hell, with the hand-basket long since splintered and scattered to the wind.

I’m still not sure if faith can be injured or if injury just points up the areas where my foundation was weak, but I know that two storms in my life – by no means the biggest, or the longest, or the hardest, ironically –  left me with some water intrusion and a handful of shingles missing on my previously rock solid faith. Clearly I needed a better understanding than I had.

I’ve had to really go back through my thoughts and views on God, my relationship to him, my understanding of him, my views on how he leads me – the whole shebang.

In the midst of that I happened upon a definition of faith in the Amplified Bible that really struck a cord. Ye old Amplified defined faith as “an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God.”

Hmmm….

The power of God was never a question for me.

And wisdom? When you are omniscient, I’m content to throw in wisdom as a given.

But according to the Amplified, faith also, inherently, included the goodness of God. Not the greatness. Not the righteousness, or the justice, or the perfection. But the goodness.

Did I believe God was GOOD?

Well of course I did! How could I not!?! What kind of Christian would not think God is GOOD?!??! 

One of the big inconveniences of being a scientist is that you feel compelled to look for some evidence behind your assertions.

And the evidence showed a girl who, somewhere along the way, had gotten a bit shaky on the goodness of God. Talk about a blow to my pride! Now I had broken faith AND broken pride! There’s a mess for you.

I did actually still accept that God WAS good, intellectually. But to do so I had to transform my definition of good so profoundly that it ignored all the ways God defines good. Could God be good and cruel? Of course! God is God, so if he’s cruel that must be ‘good’. Could God be good and compassionless? Of course! God is God, so if he’s compassionless that must be ‘good’.

But that isn’t what God calls good.¹

Conundrum. A conundrum, it turned out, of faithlessness.  A conundrum that therefore had to be resolved.

Because Hebrews has other things to say about faith too, like, without it, it is IMPOSSIBLE to please God. That one is a little less nebulous than ’substance of things hoped for’. And a little more intimidating, when you come to really think about it.

So, I’ve been pondering faith, and me, and God, for a while now, trying to dig myself out of the mess that got me here, as well as the mess that ‘here’ is. And I found that searching more deeply into who God is, regaining a perspective on what ‘goodness’ is from God’s commentary on it, is bringing some clarity.

Make no mistake, I don’t think that God being good means that everything that he allows or does in my life is going to be an unremitting delight. I understand that pain, hardship, distress are natural parts of life, and that God is not a genie in a bottle whisking it all away. But knowing that God permits, and uses painful and difficult circumstances is very, very different from coming to think that God is not trustworthy, and that harm and trouble are his will and intention for me.

So I’ve been studying how he says he treats and thinks of us. The promises he makes. The attitudes he displays, and the attitudes he requires of us. And this little amplification on faith has come to be a real help in my journey.

Faith is an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God.

That sure fits with the end of Hebrews 11:6 “…for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

So try these babies out with that perspective on faith:

Hebrews 11:6  “And without an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

Or

Hebrews 11:1 “Now an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Or how about this little gem: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom, and goodness of God…”

It adds a little richness, don’t you think?

I like it anyway. I find it challenging, but also clarifying. Faith seems a little less nebulous, a little more defined.

One of the things that always used to confuse me was times Jesus praises people’s ‘faith’. The examples range from dogged persistence to down right insolence, but they were never what I thought of as faith. They begin to make more sense if I define faith this way.

If I have an inherent trust, and enduring confidence in the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God, I’m going to be pretty darn persistent about getting to him with my need. I’m going to be pretty bold about seeking his help and direction.

And while I’ll always be cautious, not wanting to treat the God of the universe like a cosmic gum-ball machine, I think that as long as I define faith this way I’ll stay more real about what good is, and I’ll look a lot more closely, when I start doubting God’s goodness, to find what is really going on.

Now, when I hear the frightened, confused ‘Well, God must be good, even if he doesn’t act like it’, I have a little alarm telling me that my faith might need some attention. And it points me in the direction of what faith really is, so that I can more clearly see where that attention is needed.

It’s a new path for me, but it seems to be healing so far, and I hope to be able to make the big important changes I’m seeking a lot more effectively through it.

 

If you happen to celebrate Passover, which begins this evening, or Earth Day, which will be in full swing at the time this posts, may they be blessed. 

 

 

Be well. 

 

¹Mostly. I’m still working my way through some Bible stories that I wish weren’t there, but for now I’m going with the most prevalent expressions of God and of ‘good’ as defined by him throughout the whole cannon.

 

Why I’m voting for Bernie Sanders

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Ah, election time… The circus-like atmosphere! The lies! The intrigue!

Had I mentioned that my native cynicism and pessimism reach their peak when it comes to politics?

Choosing a candidate to support is inevitably stressful, and usually depressing. I mainly try to identify the one whose record indicates he or she is least likely to sabotage those things I most highly prioritise.

Not exactly an exercise in enthusiastic citizenship.

This year though, I find myself in an interesting position: There is a person running for President who actually has a record of standing by his convictions. Unheard of! And what’s more, many of his convictions echo my own! So:

Why I’m voting for Bernie Sanders in 10,000 words or less.

(Assuming he doesn’t do anything really stupid or reprehensible before then.)

In brief –

I want some important transformation, and I think that Bernie Sanders is the presidential candidate most likely to help achieve that transformation.

More specifically, I believe that Senator Sanders is the only choice who is going to fight meaningfully for what I feel is most important right now:

I want more people to be able to own small businesses. 

There are a number of practical reasons for this, my favourites being:

  1. Small businesses create most of the jobs in this country.
  2. Small local businesses tend to contribute to their communities in different ways than large non-local employers – more cash in the system, more taxes staying nearby, stronger commitment to the community, more loyalty to employees … the list goes on.
  3. Also, if you have 1000 small businesses employing most of the people in your town and one of them fails, that is a problem, and it hurts people, but it hurts a few people. If you have one giant corporation employing most of the people in your town, and it fails, or just decides it can get a better deal in China, that is a problem that hurts just about everyone.

Communities as a whole benefit from having more people realistically believe that they can succeed with a business. Right now the deck is stacked against them, but it doesn’t have to be.

And I’d like Americans to be well educated. 

And let me say that this doesn’t happen to be an altruistic desire! This is about wanting, dare I say needing, the people who come after me in the workforce having the capacity to keep America prosperous.

I want the workforce of the future to be intelligent and creative, have the ability to think critically, and have a reasonable base of knowledge and skill. Especially when I’m on Social Security! And it’s about my interest in the United States being able to compete in in the global economy.

This is not going to happen if we consistently underfund primary, elementary, and secondary education, and make college education unreachably expensive.

I REALLY want us to have less expensive, more effective, more preventative, health care. 

I have degrees in biology and public health, so you can imagine I have some interest in health. I also work in an international organisation, so I’ve had a little opportunity to look at health, and health care, in a number of different places and systems.

Our system compares poorly to those of most of the rest of the developed countries, and frighteningly, even some undeveloped countries! Now, if it was just that we don’t care about health, and don’t invest in it, maybe that would be less disturbing, but our healthcare system is the most expensive by far! That’s just bad math, friends.

More importantly, I see fixing our health care system as critical to other very important goals like entrepreneurs creating more small businesses, and parents staying home with their kids.

Creating an American single-payer system would give Americans a freedom we can’t have if our ability to pay medical bills is tied to a specific job. I want that freedom for us.

And I do believe more parents should have the option to stay home with their kids. 

Note that I did not say mothers. If mom has a great job that supports the family well, and dad is home with the kids – more power to you.

But more American families need to have the option to live decently on one person’s income so that they can devote more time to raising and shaping their children.

And that is going to be available to a far larger pool of people if

  1. jobs are available here in the United States,
  2. they pay a living wage,and
  3. decent health care is affordable regardless of where you work.

A more useful prison system is loooong overdue.

Currently, I pay taxes to support more and more prisoners each year, and most prisons do nothing effective to return prisoners to being productive – dare I say, tax paying – members of society.

Does this make sense to someone else? Because it’s not computing for me. So, I want prisons, which are DARN expensive, to be providing a bit more benefit for that money. Benefit calculated as reduced recidivism works very well for me.

And the right kind of support for military is critical. 

Another thing that is not computing here is that while our government spends appalling amounts of money on the hardware of military, we do not support our soldiers, or our veterans, at anything like the levels they deserve after putting their lives on the line to defend us.

That we have both veterans and active duty service men and women needing food stamps and other services to survive, or feed their families, is shameful. That veterans do not have adequate healthcare, and many are sleeping on the streets, is appalling.

I also appreciate that Senator Sanders sees military intervention as a last, not a first, resort in international affairs. Military action involves American men and woman dying. Being permanently disabled. The loss of parents, husbands, and wives. That isn’t something to be taken lightly from a distant position of authority.

And military intervention is expensive – not for the President or the multinational corporation, or the lobbyist, but for methe tax payer. When war is necessary, I am happy to pay my share, but I want a commander in chief who makes responsible decisions about how and when it’s needed.

Finally, I want to be part of a thoughtful, functioning democracy within this democratic republic. 

I would not vote for Senator Sanders if I did not agree with a great many of his goals, but the thing I am most hopeful about is his position on HOW he will accomplish his goals.

I saw an interviewer ask him how he planned to get 90 senators to vote for his proposals. Senator Sanders’ response was that HE wasn’t going to do that.

He would take the issues to the people who elected all of them, and work with us to hold our elected representatives responsible for doing what the people who elected them want done.

That was the first time that Senator Sanders’ campaign seemed revolutionary to me.

 

Now, the above are the biggies. My soap box issues. There are a scattering of other things:

  1. He is a crabby old man. (I have a dreadful weakness for crabby old men.)
  2. Despite that, he has been courteous in all the interactions I’ve seen him have. He has pointedly sidestepped some beautiful opportunities to take low blows against his opponents, electing to focus on the issues instead. This may not be the best choice politically, but it makes him someone I can respect. And I don’t get to say that about many politicians.
  3. He sticks to his guns. Despite being courteous, Senator Sanders doesn’t give in to special interests or change his stand every time the wind shifts.
  4. And speaking of guns, he has the most sensible position on guns and gun control I’ve ever heard issue from the mouth of a high-level politician.
  5. He is a Jew, who lost family in the Holocaust, who even did his youthful pilgrimage to work on a Kibutz in Israel, who is completely rational and sensible about Islam and Israel-Palestine.
  6. He agrees that GMOs should be labelled and Corporations are not people. (These actually are two of my big soap box issues, but the post is already long enough.)
  7. It’s a small thing, but I also like that although Senator Sanders appears to be life-long pro-choice, when he and his own girlfriend found themselves with a presumably unexpected pregnancy, they not only did not choose abortion, but Senator Sanders appears to have raised the child as a single parent. And done a done a darn good job of it at that.

Q&A 

Will a President Sanders accomplish all that, in 4, or 8 years? 

No. The President is one cog in the governing wheel of our country and change takes time. But he will take us closer to it, rather than farther away, which is the only direction that helps.

AND the process he claims he intends to use will go a long way toward bringing us back to life as an electorate, so that after his time in office maybe WE will make more of the changes that we want in our country.

Would a President Sanders perfectly represent my every interest and goal? 

Goodness, no. He, like any other government official, should represent the people of the United States, of which I am only one. But he is more likely to represent me than he is to represent the corporations and insanely wealthy families and individuals that pay for the campaigns of most politicians at his level, and that’s a good start.

Do I think Senator Sanders is right on everything?

Are you kidding? I still struggle to think GOD is right on everything! A mere human being? NEVER.

Will a President Sanders save us all from sin and error and present us faultless before God?

No again. Like any other Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders is applying for the job of President, not Messiah. There is a distinction between the two. It is an important distinction.

Wouldn’t Hillary Clinton do just as well?

I don’t believe so. Secretary Clinton, like most politicians right or left, is too tied to the established norms and big money to effect real change. She supports more of the things I support than, say, Donald Trump, but in the end I feel she is going to be business as usual. Some tougher than President Obama, perhaps, but no real change.

So then if Bernie Sanders isn’t an option will I take my football and go home?

A final no. I’m voting for the issues that matter most to me. And to refuse to vote for the next best candidate on those issues is, effectively, to vote for the candidate I consider worst.

So, I will do everything within my power to see the candidate I prefer win, then if that option isn’t available, I’ll do the best I can to vet the remaining options and pick the next best choice.

 

Some Related Reading:

Bernie Sanders’ plan to pay for his proposals

Sanders’ on how to work with congress for change

Capitalism or Socialism? There’s an Even Better Option  – Dave Korten says everything better than I ever will, and I think his article here does a good job of describing the concerns I hope to see addressed by this election.

A nice example of political discourse can look like

Why do we pay so much for healthcare and get such poor results? I’ll do a whole post on healthcare some day, but in the meantime, this is a good discussion on why it’s such a key concern for me.