The Subtle Shades of Racism

subtle racism america

Photo by Frerieke

Let me be clear:  I am a privileged white woman. As such, I feel that I have a responsibility to write about what I perceive as a “white problem,” the problem of being willfully blind to the oppression and humiliation that “other people” suffer on a daily basis. By “willfully blind,” I do not mean that all white people are engaged in any kind of conscious meanness, or that white people are constitutionally incapable of behaving with humanity. No, by willful blindness, I simply mean that many people (of any color) would prefer not to examine themselves too closely, lest they discover something that they might not like. No one wants to be uncomfortable with their own psyche, and shining the light in the dark corners of the mind makes people naturally uncomfortable. But this is what we must do if we are to solve a problem that I believe is harmful to everyone, not just any one race.

I last wrote about racism in my blog “Haters,” and some of the experiences that I write about there are the sort of blatant racism that gets included in Oscar-winning Hollywood scripts. This is the sort of racism that progressive white people can view and say, “How simply horrible! I would never behave that way to my fellow man. I’m so glad we’ve moved on past those days.” And then we leave the theater and go to Starbucks.

The truth is, a lot of racism is not that blatant or that obvious—to white people, anyway. It’s more subtle, it’s unconscious, and it’s just not something we see. If we could see it, there would be greater understanding that, yes, White Privilege is a real thing, even if you’re white and poor and don’t have much.

Racism in all its forms requires an enormous amount of mental gymnastics to rationalize and maintain. My ex-husband grew up in rural Louisiana in the 1950s. His parents were unabashed racists, yet they hired a black woman to be his nanny (his mother was unusual for the day because she worked outside the home). My ex could never quite wrap his head around the idea that this supposedly “inferior” person was entrusted with his upbringing. She loved him and was probably more emotionally present for him than his own parents were. He told me that he was uncomfortable when she told him that she loved him like her own children, whom she was not able to be home with to care for. She was taking care of him, all day, after all.

My ex’s parents were also poor, and one particularly hard year when my ex was little, a family down the road brought them a Thanksgiving dinner. This was probably hard enough on his old man’s pride, but the family who brought the food was black, and that was more than his pride could bear. That must have been a rough day, because my ex never forgot it or his father’s reaction.

An old southerner’s bruised pride and anger, his debasement of the woman who worked for his family, this is “Classic Racism,” yes? This is recognizable, and it happened “back then.” But let’s fast forward to the 2000s.

I once worked for a white man who was vegetarian, recycled, drove a Diesel car with good mileage, liked yoga, and who was, by his own definition, a progressive, liberal voter, who no doubt would applaud any Oscar-winning portrayal of racism by Steven Spielberg. As head of my office, he had the final say on a number of matters, and many of his decisions reflected his own unseen biases.

When we interviewed for a new quality assurance engineer, we had about 5 candidates. One of them was a black man whose resume was just as good as the other candidates’ resumes, and who seemed to have a lovely personality. The quality of his interview and the questions asked were not the same as for the other candidates. When he left, there was never any serious discussion about considering him for the job, whereas the other candidates were discussed quite animatedly. No doubt, many people would say he was simply not as well qualified as the white candidates, but that would be false. He was marginalized from the moment he walked in the door.

Later on at this same job, I had to write scripts for a DVD that we would make for medical providers’ waiting rooms. My task was to write scripts for an “Oprah-type” show, only showcasing medical services. I wrote a number of episodes of this show, taking pains to specify minorities in many of the roles (I wrote the host as Hispanic). I particularly took pains to write a strong character for a black female in one of the scripts. Casting day came, and… my boss had changed everything. My strong black female was now white, and the sole person of color cast was now given what I considered to be the most “downtrodden” role. My boss’s casting was the worst kind of racial stereotyping. My complaints did no good, but I learned a lot from this experience.

I learned that people who think they aren’t racist can be the worst kinds of racists. I learned how pernicious racism really is, and I could see how it hung on into the 21st century, in spite of all the back-slapping and congratulating that we now live in a “post-racial society.”

I don’t think that my old boss is a “bad” person, but I do think he is an unconscious one. I think if he saw himself, truly saw himself, he might actually be horrified. Looking into the mirror and acknowledging the ugly truths about ourselves is the only way that we can begin to heal them. As a white person—as a person!—I believe that my job is to heal myself:  “Physician, heal thyself.” Healing is my gift to me. It also happens to be my gift to the world.

I invite everyone, of any color, to examine the feelings that come unbidden when you look upon another person. Are you instantly afraid? Do you instantly clutch your purse? Are you comfortable? Do you even notice the other person? Fears based on stereotypes—merely viewing the physical appearance of another—are learned and become automatic. But they can be unlearned. In order for that to happen, you have to acknowledge them. (Fears based on outward appearance are different from psychic feelings that you get when something is wrong—gut instinct. Learn to recognize the difference.)

I invite everyone to shine their light into dark places and free yourself from the tyranny of your own fears. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.

Why Do I Feel Angry?

My grandparents were angry, my parents were angry, my ex-husband was angry, and I myself sometimes feel unreasonably and even uncontrollably angry. So I get angry people. You could say I’ve made a lifelong study of it. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Anger Has 3 Primary Expressions

why do you feel angry

Kids feel angry, too

To understand anger, it’s helpful to understand how differently people can express it. Anger can be expressed in any of these ways:

  1. Violent, externalized anger
    This is what most people envision when they think about anger. This kind of anger may be characterized by yelling and screaming, maybe even hitting or verbal abuse. This kind of anger is the scariest and most upsetting, but what is really happening is that the angry person is unable to deal with whatever is troubling them, so they try to “get rid of” the bad feelings by directing them onto others.
  2. Passive-aggressive behavior
    Passive-aggressive behavior is an expression of anger, except no yelling or arguing is involved. Instead, the passive-aggressive person gives the appearance of agreeing with what you say or what your stated goals are, but then they passively undermine you by consistently doing the opposite of what you want or thought you both had agreed upon.
    Passive-aggressive behavior is the perfect mask for “stealth anger.” It is so effective that passive-aggressive people often believe—even insist—that they are not angry. They do not see their behavior for what it is and are typically unaware that they are doing it.
  3. Depression
    Depression is the opposite of #1, in that this form of anger is directed inward. Instead of directing their anger onto other people, the depressed person directs it onto themselves instead. By taking it all onto themselves, the depressed person may resent that they have effectively martyred themselves in this way (instead of communicating their anger to their loved ones in a healthy way), which may make them even more depressed over time.

Anger is Masking Deeper, Scarier Feelings

If you or someone you love frequently expresses anger in any of the ways listed above, please know that the anger itself isn’t the real problem. Anger is a symptom, which is why simply releasing the anger occasionally (by exploding, going into a dark depression, being more passive-aggressive) doesn’t work in the long run. In order for the anger to be managed, the underlying feelings have to be understood.

Anger is a defense mechanism, really. It’s an attempt to keep you emotionally and maybe even physically safe. This often doesn’t work very well, but if you approach it from that understanding, it begins to make sense. Your inner child is trying to protect you from feelings that, from his or her perspective, are even scarier than feeling angry.

So, what kinds of feelings might be behind the anger? Here are a few of them:

  • Anxiety
    Some people are naturally anxious. It may be biology, it may be upbringing (perfectionist parents, for example), or it may be some of both. We live in an increasingly complex world, and a mundane task for one person may feel completely overwhelming to another. If someone feels like they “have to” do something that makes them anxious, anger is likely to make an appearance somewhere along the way.
  • Frustration
    A frustrated person is likely to feel angry:  angry that they aren’t heard, angry that they “have to” do something that makes them uncomfortable, angry that they are faced with a scary challenge that they aren’t sure they can handle.
  • Lack of Control
    No one likes to feel like they are out of control, but of course, everyone is. Nevertheless, it’s a terribly scary feeling. Think of a child, raging against the forces trying to control or constrain his or her spirit. We all understand this, because we know somewhere inside that we are free, so what’s with all of this “behave” nonsense? The two-year-old child having a tantrum is really no different than a grown-up expressing their own frustration at being out of control.
  • Guilt
    Everyone does things they aren’t proud of, but one of the ways in which we protect ourselves is to avoid feelings of guilt for what we have done, because they make us feel bad about ourselves. Avoiding guilt doesn’t work, of course, so a guilty person will either start trying to give away their guilt to someone else in the form of anger, or they will stuff it inside and let it fester away as depression.
  • Fear
    Everyone is afraid of something, but sometimes certain fears can rule our lives. For example, the fear of failing or the fear of appearing “stupid” can make people behave in angry ways. What are you most afraid of? Be honest with yourself, and ask your inner child. He or she knows the answers.

Anger Isn’t “Bad”

Part of what makes anger so difficult to understand is the huge amount of judgment that surrounds it. People who “get angry” are judged to be “bad people.” Now, it is true that angry people sometimes do bad things. Anger puts blinders on good judgment. But many people assume that someone who is really angry has no right to be, which is the same thing as saying, “You shouldn’t feel that.” This is like telling someone whose parent just died that they shouldn’t feel sad.

All feelings are messengers, and anger is no exception. What is your anger trying to tell you? What are the underlying issues behind your anger? Discover and begin to deal with those, and you will have begun your healing.

The goal in life is not “never be angry.” This is unrealistic. You are going to be angry. Some days, you might even be really angry. It’s just a feeling. What’s important is how you deal with and express this feeling.

Learning New Ways to Cope

If anger has been the first emotional door that you open, then it’s going to take time to learn to open other doors. There are a number of strategies you can adopt to help you along the way. Knowing what lies behind your anger will help you find the right strategies for you. For example, I gradually came to understand that I’m not an angry person—I’m an anxious person. Stressful situations make me very touchy because I’m having a hard time coping. Once I understood this, I could take steps to lighten my own load. Below are some ideas for helping you manage your anger.

Reduce anxiety

When you can, avoid the things that make you feel really anxious. If you can’t avoid some of them, then at least try to minimize how many of them you have to deal with at one time. Ask for and accept help. Lighten your load! Give a voice to your anxiety. Treat yourself to some “me time.” Give yourself a gift every day. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It could be a walk, a cup of coffee, a few minutes with a video game. Just whatever makes you feel happy and relaxed.

If too many things are making you anxious, talk to your doctor. Homeopathic solutions may help, or you may need a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. There is no failure in getting help.

Say and act what you feel

This is a two-part solution. Part one is to understand how you really feel—not how you’re supposed to feel, not how you should feel, or not how you’d like to feel. How you really feel. You may not be accustomed to knowing. It’s time to find out. If no one had any expectations of you, if you had no obligations whatsoever, how would you feel about a given situation?

The second part is to speak what you feel, and wherever possible, act what you feel. In life, there may be some constraints on what you can do. You might like to take a trip around the world, but your family might need you to keep drawing a paycheck and take junior to soccer practice. Life is compromise, after all. But if you say “no” too often when you feel “yes,” or you say “yes” too often when you feel “no,” then you are making yourself miserable and breeding resentment, which makes you angry.

Make healthy changes, slowly

Make a list of the things that cause you stress, that you don’t enjoy, or that you may resent in some way. Look at the list and pick one easy thing you can change or get rid of altogether. Maybe someone else would like to pick up the gauntlet. Or maybe the world won’t end if you stop doing it. Let it go, and remove it from your to-do list.

After a few weeks, come back to this list and see if there’s something else you can change or offload. Try to work with the easy things first. Over time, you may discover that you have made incremental positive changes that make you feel happier and less stressed. By doing this slowly, you also give yourself a chance to adapt to change, which can be stress-inducing in itself. Life isn’t a contest. You don’t have to change everything overnight, and you shouldn’t try.

Take responsibility for your feelings

No one else is “making you angry.” That’s a cop out. Other people may inadvertently do things that just happen to trigger your anger, and all of the feelings underlying it, but no one else is making you angry. You are choosing to react angrily to the input or actions of others, and you’ve been doing it for so long that it’s a habit, which means it doesn’t feel like a conscious choice to you. Nevertheless, you are the one who is choosing to respond with anger. Own it.

Switching gears from anger may seem impossible at first, but it can be done. Once you realize that you are being triggered by something that makes you feel a) anxious, b) frustrated, c) controlled, d) guilty, e) fearful, f) all of the above, then you can name that trigger and you can name your historic response to it. And then you can change it.

Let’s say you your spouse asks you to do something, and you feel angry as a result. What is the real reason you are angry? Do you feel controlled? Does it feel stressful because it’s “one more thing” you have to do? Are you afraid that you won’t be able to do it well? When you can identify what’s really going on, you can give a voice to that and respond in another way.

Don’t live in the past

No doubt people in your past have betrayed you, wronged you, or even egregiously hurt you. But when you think about those events, you are effectively reliving them, which means you are reliving the pain. This only harms you, not the person who wronged you.

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
~The Buddha

When these memories and feelings come up, gently release them. Resolve to live today, in the present moment. The memories of past pain cannot harm you anymore if you do not want them to.

Forgive yourself and others

You know this already. I barely need to say it. But so often, we hear this, and we secretly think, That’s too hard, or even, That’s impossible. It is neither of these, but if you believe it is, then it will be so for you. There is huge power in simply stating to yourself that you have decided to forgive yourself and others. Just saying, “I am deciding to forgive” is huge. It may not really feel complete in a day, a month, or even a year, but it will put you much farther down the road than you think.

So much of anger is resentment. You may resent others for controlling you or putting constraints on you or even doing actual harm to you. You may also resent yourself—what else is guilt?—for something you have done or something you are. Resentment becomes hatred and hatred bubbles out in anger at some point. Let go of all resentments and guilt. If you do this, you will magically transform your relationships with others, and with yourself. You can do this. I believe in you.

Find and accept help

You do not have to heal on your own. In fact, having a catalyst will help you heal much faster. This person could be a therapist, a counselor, or a close friend. Whoever it is, it should be someone with whom you feel completely safe, and with whom you can be completely honest. A good catalyst will tell you the truth, gently, and listen with understanding and compassion.

Life is a journey, and so is healing. There is no perfect way to do either, except for the way you are doing it. Whatever path you feel you may be stumbling along is the perfect path for you. And that’s okay!

Spirituality for Kids: The Origins of Santa Claus

The children love Santa Claus, so I thought it would be fun to discuss his origins with the children. There are many good articles on the Internet, and I have relied heavily on those to create a cobbled-together, simplified, and more child-friendly take that I can read to my kids. All credit is due to the following sources for this information:

All of these posts make for fun reading for older kids and adults.

Odin

Odin riding Sleipnir by Arthur Rackham

Odin riding Sleipnir by Arthur Rackham

Once upon a time in northern Europe, the great God Odin, or Wodan, reigned over all the Norse Gods. It is from him that we have the name Wednesday, or Wodan’s day. Odin was the god of wisdom, magic, runes, poetry, and war. His name means, “The Inspired One.”

Odin could travel between the worlds like a shaman does. His two black ravens, Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory) brought him news of what was happening in the world. Odin flew overhead on his white horse Sleipnir, who had 8 legs. Odin was said to be a tall, old man with a white beard and wearing a cloak. He was beloved among his friends and followers.

Odin only had one eye because he had offered one of them in exchange for wisdom at the well of Mimir. This was given to him, and he was able to see the outer world with his good eye, and he could see the inner worlds with his black, removed eye. This ability to see both worlds made him a powerful and enlightened being.

Odin represents light and darkness, white and black, which are both part of the Oneness of all things.

In some traditions of Odin’s Yule-time ride, children would place their boots near the chimney, filled with treats for the horse Sleipnir. Odin would reward them for their kindness with food, candy, or gifts. This tradition still continues in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. In other germanic countries the practice has been replaced with hanging stockings.

The Celts and the Holly King

The Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present from Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” looks like the Holly King.

From the ancient Druids, we get a pair of kings who fight for supremacy at Yule.

The Oak King (or king of the waxing year) kills his brother, the Holly King (the king of the waning year) at the time of the Winter Solstice, or Yule. The Oak King then reigns until the Summer Solstice when the two battle again, this time with the Holly King winning the battle. Holly and mistletoe are traditional at Yule because they commemorate the battle. The holly was hung in honor of the Holly King, and the mistletoe (which grows high in the branches of oak trees) was hung in honor of the Oak King.

Although the Oak King and the Holly King are mortal enemies at Midsummer and Yule, they are two sides of a whole, and neither could exist without the other.

After the Holly King’s victory at the Summer Solstice, he begins preparations to save and maintain his people through the cold winter. In order to accomplish his mission, he travels the land to hunt, fish, and harvest. He transports these life-saving gifts in a wagon or sled pulled by eight deer (these animals were sacred to the Celtic Gods, and there were a total of 8 solar sabbats per year). He shares them with all of his people, and in exchange, the people provide care and comfort to his team of deer.

The Holly King has been depicted with a Holly wreath as a crown. He traditionally wore green garments with red accents, just like a holly tree.

The Holly King lived up north, where he could survive in the cold during the reign of his brother in the spring and summer. The Oak King, who needed the warmth to survive, lived in the warm forests of the south, and he falls asleep while his brother of the cold reigns over the world during the fall and winter months.

Other Legends

The Norse god Thor rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats.

A folk depiction of Father Christmas riding a goat. The Norse god Thor also rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats.

The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which featured big feasts with a lot of merrymaking, dancing, and the exchange of gifts. This festival was meant to celebrate the return of the sun on the shortest days of the year and to counteract the depression due to lack of sunlight.

In the Norse myths, Balder is a Sun God and the son of Frigg, a Goddess for whom Friday is named (Frigga’s Day). Frigg was a loving mother who went to earth and asked all of the animals and elements not to hurt Balder. Rocks and metal agreed that they wouldn’t form arrows and kill him, and others promised her as well. But Loki, a trickster, discovered that Frigg had not asked the lowly mistletoe not to hurt her son. So Loki made an arrow made of mistletoe and tricked the blind God of Winter to shoot it into the air. The arrow hit Balder, badly hurting him, and therefore the Sun. The Yule (Winter Solstice) was a vigil to see if the wounded Sun would live another summer.

In the 1840s, an elf from Nordic folklore named Tomte or Nisse started delivering the Christmas presents in Denmark. The Tomte was portrayed as a short, bearded man dressed in gray clothes and a red hat. He rode through the sky in a chariot draw by goats.

In many of the early legends, presents are given to children or young families to represent abundance and fertility. After all, this is the time of the rebirth of the Sun. Presents were exchanged to honor that rebirth and to give wishes or hopes for abundance and good crops in the coming year.

Saint Nicholas

A 19th-century Russian icon of St Nicholas, in the St. Nicholas Center collection

A 19th-century Russian icon of St Nicholas, in the St. Nicholas Center collection

In the 3rd and 4th centuries, a Christian bishop named Nicholas was said to have lived in Myra, Turkey. He had a reputation for goodness, benevolence, and for performing miracles for the people. Many stories are told of his generosity and caring, especially for children. In those days, the primary color for the robes of priests and other church officials was white, although the colors changed over the years, and he was often portrayed in red robes later.

It isn’t certain that Saint Nicholas was a real person. As a result, the Catholic church demoted him and removed his feast day (December 6) from their calendar.

Sinterklaas and Santa Claus

Santa gets his name from the Dutch legend of Sinterklaas or Sinter Klaas. Dutch settlers in the United States brought this legend with them, and he was popularized by writers such as Washington Irving.

This Norman Rockwell painting shows the modern Santa, but he still bears the holly in his hair.

This Norman Rockwell painting shows the modern Santa, but he still bears the holly in his hat.

Sinterklaas is an old man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape over a traditional bishop’s alb, or long white tunic.

The name “Santa Claus” was first used in the American press in 1773. By then, he had lost his bishop’s clothing and looked like a large-bellied man with a pipe in a green winter coat. In the poem Old Santeclaus in 1821, he was described as an old man on a reindeer sleigh who brought presents to children. In the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, the author Clement Clarke Moore included details such as the names of the reindeer; Santa Claus’s laughs, winks, and nods; and the method by which Saint Nicholas (whom he refers to as an elf), returns up the chimney.

One of the first modern images of Santa came in 1863 by American cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. In 1869 a color collection of Nast’s pictures were published in which Santa appears in a red suit. A poem by George Webster called Santa Claus and His Works places Santa’s home near the North Pole in the ice and snow. Over time, images of Santa in red became more popular.

Discussion

Your children will always lead the way with their own questions, but you can also use these to get the ball rolling:

  • How are these stories similar? How are they different?
  • Why do you think the image of Santa changed over the years?
  • Which of these stories did you like the best? Why?
  • What is the Spirit of Santa Claus? What does it mean to you?

Stuck in Judgment Ruts

Sarah Palin at the Chambliss rally, Dec. 1, 2008  Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing for Secretary  of State, (Department of State photo)

Sarah Palin at the Chambliss rally, Dec. 1, 2008
Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing for Secretary
of State, (Department of State photo)

The mantras of our times:  Barack Obama is a liar and a threat to our nation. George W. Bush was a liar and a threat to our nation. Sarah Palin is an ignorant Barbie doll who can’t put two words together. The police in Ferguson, Missouri are all racists. Black residents in Ferguson, Missouri are hyper-sensitive and see racism whenever white people are around.  And so it goes. We’ve lived together on this planet for millennia, and we’re still stuck in judgment ruts.

We love to focus on our differences, but what do all of the people in the preceding paragraph have in common? Simply this:  they are all acting out of their own sense of what is right. None of them wake up in the morning and think about how evil or wrong they can be that day. It doesn’t happen. They have their own perspective, certainly. They have their own prejudices, their own experiences to inform them. They make their own choices, and not all of them are good ones. But they are doing the best they can. Just like everybody else.

All people are “good,” even if they don’t act that way. Some folks are mentally ill, too, and may be a danger to themselves and others, but that doesn’t negate their inherent worth. Even nominally sane people are capable of deluding themselves and doing some very harmful things while being in denial of that fact. But everyone deludes themselves at some point. Why are we so hard on some people, but not others? Why do we single out certain people to vilify, while having compassion for others?

We are all raised with certain beliefs, emotions, and truisms that are not necessarily true, but we follow them blindly because they have left “judgment ruts” in our mind. For example, there are many kind, compassionate people who would gladly help a friend in need, support their local food bank, or perform any number of charitable acts. This same person, however, may reflexively avert their eyes from a homeless person on the street because they have a judgment rut that says, “All homeless people are either lazy or addicts.” And the corollary to this rut is, “Addicts and lazy people do not deserve my help.”

Of course, the truth is a gray area. Any given homeless person may be a veteran suffering PTSD, a sick person who lost their home because of a medical crisis, a victim of child abuse, mentally ill, or someone who just lost their housing for whatever reason. And yes, they may have addictions, but a person is more than their addiction. Does an addiction really make them unworthy of help? Does this judgment really vindicate our decision not to help them? What would a compassionate person do? What would love do?

Perfectly kind and reasonable people also make judgments on the basis of race as though it really is a black and white issue. You are a racist, or you’re not. Or, you see racism everywhere because you’re a paranoid victim; or racism, however subtle, still exists. Whichever view you prefer depends on the judgment ruts that you formed growing up.

In modern American society, we are as divided as ever. If you are a conservative, your judgment ruts may predispose you to defend Sarah Palin from unwarranted and often vicious personal attacks by the left. If you are a liberal, your judgment ruts may say that Sarah deserves what she gets. On the other hand, conservatives felt that they could attack Hillary Clinton with equal impunity, while the left defended her just as fiercely. And both sides accuse the other of misogyny. And the winner of this battle of judgments? Not a soul.

Jerry Rubin said, “Ideology is a brain disease,” and that is true, regardless of the ideology in question. You could say that ideology is determined by our judgment ruts—and we just know that they are right. The truly interesting thing about them, however, is that because of their nature, few of us have ever actually examined our reasons for our judgments. Because if we did, we would find that we don’t really know what our reasons are. This is the peril of inherited thought.

When we grow up in a given culture, we accept it as normal. We assume that this is the way the world works—the only way. But other people grow up in different cultures, with different ideas and world views. And they know just as certainly that this is how the world works. That is, until they find out otherwise.

This is why some people fear education. The Taliban love to burn down schools for precisely this reason. Becoming educated and being exposed to new ways of thinking can fill in some of those judgment ruts. It can help you to think about things from multiple perspectives. Of course, it’s not a panacea. Educated people still hold judgments. But the possibility for understanding increases. It can, if nothing else, make your judgments more flexible.

Are we doomed to judge, then? Must we always pick up a stone, knowing full well that on a different day, we might be the ones who are hit by it?

We can choose to pave over our judgment ruts, but we must recognize them, which isn’t always easy. Most judgments are unconscious. They come so naturally to us that we don’t even realize that we’re doing it. We see a person or a situation, and bang! Our thoughts are instantly moving along that same old rut, making it deeper with each passing. So, how do we begin?

The key is our emotional state. When we make judgments, we feel fear, anger, contempt, or jealousy. There is always a feeling beneath a judgment, and it’s never joy. Recognize that. Are you angry with Sarah Palin for not behaving the way you think a woman should? Are you angry with Hillary Clinton for the same reason? Do they represent something that frightens you or makes you uneasy? What are you projecting onto them? What is it about the person that reminds you of you? What is that you are not able to love about them? Whatever your feelings are, they’re not about the person. They are about you. The answers to these questions will tell you what your fears and feelings are, as well as what you need to learn to love in yourself. When you address these issues in yourself, your judgment ruts will disappear.

Every person and situation that comes into our lives is a mirror. If we love something, then it reflects back what we love in ourselves. If we dislike or hate something, then it reflects back what we dislike or hate in ourselves. This is a gift. The people we judge or don’t like are showing us what we need to heal in ourselves.

There is no right or wrong in our ideological divides. No one side has it all figured out. What we have to offer each other, however, is healing and a third road, just there—on the far side of our judgment ruts.

Spirituality for Kids: Christmas and Yule

christmas vs yuleFor my first spiritual classroom with the kids, I decided to start with something they were already extremely familiar with:  Christmas. While I had talked briefly about the various meanings of the holiday in the past, I decided we would look at 3 different perspectives:

  • The Bible nativity according to St. Luke
  • An alternative Christian nativity story
  • The First Yule, the pagan story of the birth of the Sun King

The Biblical Perspective

My bible is the Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text: George M. Lamsa’s Translation From the Aramaic of the Peshitta Revised Edition by Lamsa, George M. [1985], which is a fairly academic translation that I like. Nevertheless, the text is still a bit hard for a 6- and an 8-year-old kid to follow, so I googled to find a more kid-friendly version of the nativity as told in the book of St. Luke.

I read The Christmas Story, as told at this link.

The Other Bible

The other Bible I own is The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone. It includes a number of other texts that are contemporary with the Bible but not actually included in it, because they were considered blasphemous, or what have you. In it is a A Latin Infancy Gospel:  The Birth of Jesus, from the Christian Apocrypha. This is a medieval document, and the exact source(s) is unknown. All of the text in this book is pretty difficult, so here is a more kid-friendly summary of this short text:

A girl came a with a birthing chair, and she stopped when she saw Joseph and Mary.

“Child, where are you going with that chair?” asked Joseph.

She said, “My mistress sent me here because she was summoned to help with an unusual birth, and that a girl would give birth for the first time. So she sent me ahead with the chair.”

Joseph saw that the midwife was coming, and he greeted her and said that he sought a Hebrew midwife. The midwife asked, “Who is the young woman who is going to give birth in this cave?”

Joseph answered, “Mary, who was promised to me, who was raised in the Lord’s Temple.”

The midwife said, “She is not your wife?”

Joseph replied, “She was promised to me, but was made pregnant by the Holy Spirit.”

The midwife said, “Is this true?”

Joseph said, “Come and see.”

They went to the cave, and Joseph invited her in, but the midwife was afraid of the great light that shone in the cave. The light stayed all day and through the night.

Joseph said, “Mary, I have brought Zachel, a midwife. She is afraid to enter the cave.” Mary smiled, and Joseph ordered the midwife to attend her.

After many hours, the midwife cried, “Lord, great God, have mercy, because I have never seen or heard or dreamt of such a thing, that a baby could be born without blood or pain. This girl conceived as a virgin, gave birth as a virgin, and remained a virgin after birth.”

The midwife later related the events to Symeon, Joseph’s son:

“When I saw her, Mary held her head, listening to Heaven, and was very still. I asked her if she felt any pain, but she said nothing. As it came to be time for the birth, everything was silent. The winds stopped, and there was no motion in the trees. You couldn’t hear the sound of water, and the streams did not flow. The earth itself stopped turning, and time stopped. Everything was silent, waiting.

“When the baby was born, the light came forth, and Mary worshiped the child, who shone bright and beautiful like the sun. He appeared as peace, soothing the whole world. I heard the voices of invisible beings, who said, ‘Amen.’ The light of the child obscured the light of the sun, and the cave was filled with bright light and a sweet smell. 

“I was amazed, but after a while, the light shrank, and the baby looked just like any other child. I touched him and lifted him, and he had no weight. He also did not have any mark or blemish on him. He did not cry as newborn children often do. While I held him, he laughed at me and looked at me intently. Suddenly a great light came forth from his eyes like a great flash of lightning.”

The First Yule (A Wiccan Tale)

Christmas exists because of the pagan festival Yule, which marks the winter solstice and the birth of the Sun King. Any balanced study of Christmas should be sure to include this perspective.

The First Yule, a story for children, is at this link. 

Discussion

These stories raised a number of questions, including whether angels could actually talk to people. I explained that they could, although it might not look like they were standing next you and physically talking. I taught the children a simple meditation to learn to talk with angels and light beings, which I will share in a later blog.

Other good questions to ask include:

  • What are the similarities among these stories?
  • What are the differences?
  • Can there be multiple ways of telling a story? If so, can there be one that is more “correct” than another? Does it matter?
  • Which story did you like the best, and why?

Alternative Spiritual Instruction for Kids

spiritual studies for childrenMy daughter came home from school recently and began to ask questions about the Bible. A schoolmate had a children’s version on the bus, and had been telling her about her conservative Christian beliefs, so this made Wren curious. Her friend had said that the book was so powerful that it foretold the future, and it told how humanity and the earth was created. So we had a very animated dinner discussion about what the Bible was, what some people believed about the Bible, what we believed about the Bible, and about sacred texts in general.

We have always talked openly about spiritual matters with our children, and they understand that we believe that everything in existence is part of the one Divinity, the god/goddess/Creator, or whatever you’d like to call it. We talk about past lives easily, so none of this is new. But I knew that eventually my children would signal that they were ready for more intensive exploration of the spiritual realm, and now that time has come.

The most important thing, I tell my children, is that you know that your understanding of God can and should come from within you, and not be told to you by someone else, including me. Toward that end, we have begun our own version of “Sunday School” on the weekends, which is going to lead us down some interesting paths.

I believe it’s important for the children to understand what’s in the Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Tao Te-Ching, and the many thousands of stories that comprise human consciousness and history, whether they are Native American, African, or from the European shamanic traditions now known as Wicca.

As we go, I’ll blog about the material we’re covering, and how you can talk about it with your kids in an open, unconditional way. I expect this to evolve in wonderful ways, and I’m really excited to open these discussions with my children and to help them expand their worldview and understand the culture they live in.

The most important thing is that my children are excited to learn these things! So let the fun begin!