TED Talk from Sharon Brous: It’s time to reclaim and reinvent religion

Sharon Brous powerful TED Talk is a great part of the global conversation that needs to happen to heal the brokenness in our world. It fits perfectly with my message of optimistic realism. You can watch her video and/or read some of the highlights below.

 

4 Principles of Religion

Wakefulness. Our world is on fire, and it is our job to keep our hearts and our eyes open, and to recognize that it’s our responsibility to help put out the flames. We suffer from psychic numbing: The more we learn about what’s broken in our world, the less likely we are to do anything. We shut down at a certain point. Somewhere along the way, our religious leaders forgot that it’s our job to make people uncomfortable. It’s our job to wake people up, to pull them out of their apathy and into the anguish, and to insist that we do what we don’t want to do and see what we do not want to see. Because we know that social change only happens when we are awake enough to see that the house is on fire.

Hope. Hope is not naïve, and hope is not an opiate. Hope may be the single greatest act of defiance against a politics of pessimism and against a culture of despair. Because what hope does for us is it lifts us out of the container that holds us and constrains us from the outside, and says, “You can dream and think expansively again.”

This is what religion is supposed to be about: It’s supposed to be about giving people back a sense of purpose, a sense of hope, a sense that they and their dreams fundamentally matter in this world that tells them that they don’t matter at all.

Mightiness. It is true that I can’t do everything, but I can surely do something. I can forgive. I can love. I can show up. I can protest. I can be a part of this conversation. “I am strong, I am mighty, and I am worthy.” In a world that conspires to make us believe that we are invisible and that we are impotent, religious communities and religious ritual can remind us that for whatever amount of time we have here on this earth, whatever gifts and blessings we were given, whatever resources we have, we can and we must use them to try to make the world a little bit more just and a little bit more loving.

Inter-connectedness. It’s so hard for us to remember how interconnected we all are as human beings. And yet, we know that it is systems of oppression that benefit the most from the lie of radical individualism. Phobias and racism of any type are all of our problems. Emma Lazarus was right when she said until all of us are free, we are none of us free. We are all in this together.

Our hearts hurt from the failed religion of extremism, and we deserve more than the failed religion of routine-ism. It is time for religious leaders and religious communities to take the lead in the spiritual and cultural shift that this country and the world so desperately needs—a shift toward love, toward justice, toward equality and toward dignity for all. Our children deserve no less than that.

Guest Blogger: The Sober Route

As a college writing teacher, I have the pleasure of helping my students  discover their writing voice and their passions in life. Every once and a while I will read an essay that I need to post on my blog because it lines up with my goals, which is to help people find their own healthy path in life through optimistic realism. Tommy’s essay on sobriety fits well with that mission. I have known too many people who have been affected by addiction, their own or a loved one’s; so I’m hoping this post will find the people who need that push to take the first steps.

By Tommy Costa

Do you find yourself drinking more than you wish? Do you drive while intoxicated? Have you ever been arrested while intoxicated? Do you consistently blackout while drinking or using drugs? Do you spend most of your days thinking about the next drink or drug? Do you spend most days drunk or high? Have you ever drank or used drugs even though the night before you swore it off forever? Maybe your family or friends are concerned about the way you drink or drug. If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you are probably an alcoholic/addict.

If you have even an inkling of desire to stop drinking and/or using drugs, then you will definitely need help. The first task to accomplish is simply admitting it. Another is realizing that alcoholism and addiction are one in the same, which means a problem with drugs is also a problem with alcohol. The next big step is getting sober. What makes getting sober so difficult is the fact that addiction is a three-fold illness: body, mind, and spirit. Getting sober is not easy, but it is well worth all the effort.

12 stepsThe first step to beating any addiction is to cure the physical condition. That means you need to put the plug in the jug. Stop drinking. Stop using. Dump the alcohol and chuck the drugs. Physically sobering up can be difficult, even dangerous, so it is completely acceptable to seek medical attention. Many times the best place to detoxify your body is at a detox unit or drug rehabilitation center. Unfortunately, beds are not always readily available. It is absolutely necessary to consistently call any and all facilities in your state daily. A bed can open up at any time, and the waiting lists are long, so making it known you are serious about getting sober is vital. Your next step is to find a self-help group to attend. You have many groups to choose from be it Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, or any other self-help group. The important part is being able to identify with what other people are talking about within the group. One of the biggest hang-ups a newcomer can have is comparing rather than identifying, which means looking at how you are different from other people rather than how you are the same. The most assured way to stay sober is by working with another alcoholic or addict. Thankfully today it is quite easy to find a meeting to attend; all you have to do is look one up online. You are bound to have meetings in your area; just pick a day and time, then go.

The type of meeting you choose is not as important as making it known that you are new. Most meetings have a moment for newcomers to introduce themselves, which is an opportunity for you to ask for help. Raising your hand to introduce yourself in a crowded room can be quite daunting, but willingness is extremely vital to the process of getting and staying sober. Once you have made yourself known as a newcomer, people will introduce themselves to you. This is the perfect chance to get phone numbers and make new friends. More than likely, all of your old friends drink or use, so having new ones is extremely important. Another good move is deleting contacts from your phone of people who will hinder your sobriety. Whether it is people you were drinking with or your dealer, it is best to delete them from your phone. In some cases, you may have to block phone numbers or outright change your own number. A great suggestion for any newcomer is to go to ninety meetings in ninety days.

Unfortunately, simply going to meetings will not keep you sober. There are twenty-four hours in a day and a meeting will only take away one of those hours; the best way to fill the rest of your day is with fellowship. Fellowship is quite simply spending time with a fellow sober alcoholic or addict. Fellowship can easily chew up the other twenty-three mind-boggling hours of the day. Any alcoholic/addict in recovery, new or old, can attest to how insane the alcoholic/addict mind is shortly after removing the only solution known to him or her, which is alcohol and drugs. Spending plenty of time with fellow alcoholics/addicts in recovery can help you keep away from another drink or drug.

Meetings and fellowship will only help you with curing the body. The insatiable desire to drink or use will not fade in the short time it takes to cure the body of the physical portion of alcoholism/addiction. Alcoholism is a disease of the body, mind, and spirit, so all three must be brought into balance before one can truly be seen as recovered. Curing your mind will require working the program. The alcoholic mind has a curious mental obsession that allows for blind spots when relating to alcohol and drugs. Alleviating the obsession comes with a bit of time and plenty of hard work. Any knowledgeable alcoholic/addict can attest to the fact that simply knowing of the disease will not keep you from the next drink or drug. In order to successfully work the program, it is best you follow the suggestions of others and get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who is willing to guide you through the work and assist you in staying sober. Generally, a sponsor is someone of the same gender who has already done the work. During meetings, there is a point where people willing to sponsor announce themselves; the simplest advice is to ask someone who has what you want. The first person you pick to be your sponsor may not be the right fit for you, but it is always okay to change sponsors until you find the right one. You do have to ask yourself why you want to change sponsors though, because changing sponsors in order to avoid the work is a wrong choice. Whomever you decide to have as a sponsor, it is simply their job to walk you through the work; your sponsor is not in charge of your sobriety. Keep in mind that doing the work, which are the twelve steps laid out in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, is exactly what will relieve you of any mental obsessions you have relating to drinking or using.

The final and most important piece to staying sober is sharing with others what has been freely given to you. Giving back is what will heal your spirit and bring about full recovery. Keep in mind that there is no returning to drinking or drugging. Once someone has crossed into the realm of alcoholism/addiction, there is no return to normal. Giving back is the easiest part of being sober; you only need to give back to those in need. Simply shaking the hand of someone new or giving your number to someone still suffering can make a great difference. Staying sober is all about turning your life from being a selfish existence into a selfless existence.

Hope Found: Lessons from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I have a confession to make: I’m suffering.

I say this not to elicit sympathy; I just want to be truthful. So please don’t think I need a pep talk, want attention, or that I’m just trying to bring other people down. My truth may not be other people’s reality, but I think there may be a few people who can identify with my suffering. Maybe we can lean on each other through this painful time.

As a writer, I also find tremendous healing through writing. It helps me to unpack my emotional baggage: When it is all out in front of me, I can decide what I can release and what I need to look at more closely, so I can heal. If I try to dismiss all my pain too soon, I will do more damage than good.

I could do this privately, but in this social media world we live in, so many of us walk through our days, seeing glimpses of those around us who seem to be living perfect lives. I don’t want to be put into that category. I know I have some great things happening in my life; I’m not trying to negate those things. But I also don’t want people to think that a few good turns erased all my pain –that it was easy for me to get over the events that crumbled my world.

Lord of the RingsRecently, I was able to re-watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy with Ian. He had never seen the movies, so I was able to enjoy a favorite journey with the innocence of a child. It spoke to me so deeply from this vantage point that I now have to use the movies’ words: They so succinctly mirror my own.

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

~The Fellowship of the Ring

What is my ring, the thing I wish never happened? There are quite a few, actually.

  1. My marriage of 23 years fell apart. It was not just because two people decided they couldn’t be married to each other anymore. It was so much more than that: I trusted completely and loved unconditionally, and I shouldn’t have. As I continue to unpack my emotions around my divorce, I’ve realized that it’s not the end of my actual marriage that brings me the most pain; it’s the end of the marriage I had hoped it would be some day that makes me suffer. I had convinced myself our marriage was so much more than it was. I placed all my hopes and dreams in my ex-husband’s hands. I wanted to grow old with him, but he was never the man I thought he was. I have to let go of that hope and create a new vision for my future. It’s not easy at my age to see a different future. I am working on it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not painful.
  2. I am now a single mother. I never wanted to navigate through this life alone; I fought it so hard that I hung on to my marriage longer than I should have. Now, every day I struggle with the things I didn’t have to worry about when there were two adults in the family. Can I pay my bills? Will I have to get another job just to survive? How can I raise my son if I am working all the time? Can I raise my son to be the man he needs to be without a man in his life? Will I have enough money to help my daughters with their weddings? I can offer them nothing — I can’t even offer an example of a successful marriage. I can only be an example of what not to do. I have failed at the one thing I truly wanted to succeed at more than anything else.
  3. I have squatters in my house. I left my house in Colorado to move out east to be closer to my family. I left, trusting that my house would sell quickly. In November, I had my first legitimate offer. Everything seemed to be going along well, until I found out I had squatters. These people told my real estate agent that they had been scammed. Someone “rented out my house” to them. I felt bad for that family, so I let them stay until after Christmas. The house was scheduled to sell in January. In the mean time, instead of that family being thankful for my compassion, they destroyed my house–so much so that the buyer rescinded the offer. Now, the squatters are holding my house hostage; they are keeping me entrenched in a past that is filled with pain.
  4. I am at war with myself. The optimism that defined me is wavering; cynicism is making headway in every part of my life. I used to trust, almost instantly, the people I met. I used to believe in the inherent goodness of all people; some just needed more help finding that goodness than others. But now I battle daily with every person I encounter–I see a person’s potential, and then I see his or her potential to hurt me. I’m keeping people at bay; it’s so much easier than allowing anyone to get close enough to hurt me again. However, this cynicism hurts as well. It goes against my core being: I want to believe in the goodness of people, but every time I trust someone, I find out I shouldn’t have. So what do I do? I know I have to develop new ways of interacting with people before the wall I’m building gets too high, if it’s not too late already.

So, yes, I am suffering.

But thankfully, my story does not end there. I have to believe that there is more at work in my life than the will of evil. Like Frodo, I have to decide what to do with the burdens I was meant to carry. I’m not ready to say that these thoughts encourage me, but they are turning me in the right direction. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has become the perfect inspiration to help me move forward.

We watched Frodo’s journey and his mythical battle of worldly proportions with awe. Ian and I cheered as the fellowship fought great battles: our hearts swelled when Boromir redeemed himself; when Aragorn defended Frodo with honor; when Pippin and Merry took up arms with courage; when Gandalf stopped the Balrog with “You shall not pass!” These mythical creatures fought against unbeatable odds. Everything was caving in around them, yet they held onto hope. I watched with fascination and then asked myself: Would I fight as bravely if I were there?

Then it hit me: I am there. I may not be fighting Sauron and Orcs, but I am fighting my own battles. I started to see Frodo’s journey, not as a mythical battle, but as the day to day suffering I must battle and overcome. There is a war waging against me–the battle of despair. Will I let despair win or will I fight it with hope?

Like Frodo, I stopped believing in myself. But Sam’s words gave me strength:

Frodo : I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam : I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

~The Two Towers

In the midst of my suffering, I have had dark days where every moment was spent either releasing or choking back sobs. However, I have to believe that this darkness is only a passing shadow. My current suffering will pass–I have to believe it will pass. I’m holding on to Sam’s words, that there is good in the world, that the sun will shine out the clearer. I will believe them because these are the things I need to believe in. Believing in them is winning half of the battle, isn’t it?

I’ve discovered it’s all about choices. It may not be the choice between good and evil, but it is about choosing to keep fighting rather than giving up, choosing to love rather than hate, choosing to hope rather than despair.

Near the end of his journey, Frodo could not carry the ring to Mount Doom to destroy it. The burden had taken its toll on him and his strength waned. But thankfully, Sam was there:

Sam: Then let us be rid of it once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!

~The Return of the King

We all need a Samwise Gamgee in our lives. Thankfully, I have had many people who were my “Sam” through this journey; people who carried me and are still carrying me to the pit of doom so I can release my burdens.

The final element to this healing path is that I have to accept that things will never be the same again, and I have to be okay with that.

Frodo: [voiceover] Thirteen months to the day since Gandalf sent us on our long journey, we found ourselves looking upon a familiar sight. We were home. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold. . . . My dear Sam, you cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be and to do. Your part in the story will go on.

~The Return of the King

If I’m strong enough to fight through this suffering, the reward will be a better life than the one I have but not without great cost. Indeed, there is no going back. I can only move forward. I also have to understand that there are some things that time cannot heal; there are some hurts that go too deep–I just have to accept that. It doesn’t mean that I cannot build a new dream with my family; I just can’t have the old one, and that has to be okay. I cannot be torn in two over this suffering. I have to find a way to become whole again for Ian, Carol Linn, Nicole, and myself.

One way I can become whole again is by finding ways to be a “Sam” for others who need help carrying their burdens.

I hope, in some small way, this post has done that.

You can judge me if you want to

You can judge me if you want to, but before you do, know that I primarily stayed in my marriage because of my son.

Ian has been through so much in his nine years: He battled a cancerous brain tumor at four-years-old with his father right by his side, giving Ian the strength and courage to fight. Ian has battled children (and some adults) calling him names because they just don’t understand why he is different. At school, as his brain slowly heals, Ian struggles to keep up with a curriculum that is moving too fast for him.

Add to that the tears and arguing that would fill our house during the past two and a half years. Even though he didn’t know the reason behind it, he knew something was wrong. Ian would beg me: “Mommy, please don’t get a divorce. That would make me really sad.” My heart crumbled. How could I add more sadness when I knew the truth would eventually cause him immeasurable pain?

So when you judge me for staying in this marriage, know that I couldn’t separate Ian from his father until the foreseeable future did it for us.

You can judge me for standing by my husband, but before you do, know that I took my vows seriously.

When I got married, I wanted it to be forever, through good times and bad. I envisioned growing old with him and weathering the inevitable storms of life together. I have forgiven much over the years because I was holding onto forever. When this came up, I merely forgave again.

You may think I’m a fool for believing in forever. You may think I’m pathetic for forgiving a man who admittedly wouldn’t have done the same if the roles were reversed. You may think that I have displayed weakness through and through.

Even though there were times I let your labels cling to me, and I felt like a weak, pathetic fool, the truth of the matter is that my choices came from strength and conviction: I wanted to do what was right by my son because of the love I have for Ian; I wanted to support a man whom everyone else abandoned, no matter how many times I wanted to run away. Staying was anything but easy. Staying challenged every moral fiber of my being. I had my moments of weakness, but, for the most part, I stayed the course, following the path of love, forgiveness, and compassion.

I knew by staying, some of you would think I was in on it, even though what he did went against every philosophy of life I have.

However, what I didn’t know is that some of you would turn your backs on me because of it–because you hated him for what he did; because it was easier to cut me out of your life than stand by me; because you didn’t want your names associated with mine in case people did to you what you are doing to me.

What I didn’t know is that some of you would turn your backs on Ian because of it–because you thought my sweet, innocent boy must be ruined because of the choices his father made; because you thought Ian must not be raised correctly in such a home as ours; because you didn’t want your children to be treated the way you are treating mine.

What I did know is that some of you would callously talk about Ian and me because it gave you something interesting to talk about–because it made you feel better about your own lives; because you’d rather talk about me than to me; because you didn’t want people adding your name to the gossip you shared about my life. That’s why I sheltered myself from your shallow presence.

All of this has just made me appreciate the few who did stand by me from the very beginning, without judgment, even more than I already did. I am truly blessed by those beautiful few and their unconditional love.

So you can judge me if you want to for making the choices I made; you can add more pain to our already difficult lives. I can’t stop you. But before you do, know that you are being judged by the same measure.

 

How do I find the words

How do I find the words to show what’s in my heart,

     When the fragments are suspended in the air?

          Grasping for air,

               for thoughts,

                    for strength…

Submerged in pain, but surrounded by hope:

     Hope for you,

          for them,

               for me,

                    for us.

I won’t give up.

     Not on you,

          Not on them,

               Not on me,

                    Not on us.