Ended up in the office of my psychiatrist on Tuesday. Hadn’t seen her in years. I had been feeling down. Anxious.
Growing up, weakness was frowned upon. Any kind of weakness. Often if you had a cold, you went to school. Or if it’s Saturday, and you had the flu, get on that tractor and shiver and till that field. If you have to vomit, get it over with and finish the job.
Weakness and laziness and illness were for pussies.
So was complaining.
Counselors were quacks. And you don’t need to quacks to whine and complain to. All that psychobabble is a bunch of bullshit.
The remedy for all aches and pains — even aches and pains of the mind or heart — was to suck it up, quit bitching, stop your whining, and get back to work.
If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Mind over matter.
“Paul, you look depressed.”
“Well, ahem, I feel okay. Er, just kind of feeling down a bit here and there.”
“Go on, tell me more.”
“Well, I can find my mind racing from time to time. I’m an INTP. We live in our heads. It’s exhausting sometimes. And I worry about my kids a lot. I think really deeply about social issues and what’s happening to Muslims and to our nation. I can’t turn the thoughts off sometimes. So I’m having trouble focusing.”
Two hours later I’m walking out of CVS with two bottles: Prozac and Ativan. She wants me to try them for a few months.
I feel weak for telling you about it.
But I committed in this blog to sharing openly.
I know Jesus won’t mind. I’m grateful for the remarkable scientists who discovered how to move little particles around our brains to help in times like this.
I will fight the voices that will scream over and over and over, “Pussy!”
* * *
My hunch is that many (mostly women) read this with compassion and no sense of judgment.
But I have another hunch that some judge me. And they’re probably men.
Because many of us men are more likely to have been nurtured in lessons of don’t cry, don’t be a pussy, don’t be weak, don’t be a girl.
One Harvard psychologist refers to The Boy Code — the indoctrination by males toward other males based in the worldview that vulnerability and crying and honesty is weakness. And weakness is the ultimate taboo.
* * *
Religious leaders talk about helping the poor. They stress the biblical mandate to advocate for the welcoming of outsiders. Speaking up for them. Raising awareness. Dignity for the most vulnerable and the most marginalized.
Because that’s what Jesus did.
He used his voice to tell the powerful a new sheriff had come to town, and the new sheriff’s agenda was to get the powerful to help the weak, to get the insiders bring in the outsiders, to get the privileged to help those lacking privilege.
Every Christian since has agreed that we called to welcome and care for the same kinds of people Jesus advocated and cared for. The outsiders: the sick, prisoners, foreigners, traitors, drunkards, disabled and diseased.
But churches usually don’t have many outsiders in their gatherings. Especially churches comprised of white Evangelicals.
It’s just a fact.
And the pastors don’t spend much time making a big deal about the most vulnerable. Yes, an announcement here and there, or some one-week trip to a far away land. And there’s always some little community project going on to give stuff to kids in need.
But if you added the time, energy and money used on caring for outsiders, it would be minuscule then compared to all the other stuff churches do.
I have a feeling I know why this is.
* * *
As I write now, an older lady wearing black sits directly in front of me. It’s 7:32 in the morning.
I feel uneasy when I look at her. Can’t describe my uneasiness. Guilt? Helplessness? Just the irony of the human condition — that it’s not so nice and pretty.
She’s not like everyone else in the room.
There’s clear contrast between her and us.
She’s asleep. We are awake.
Her head hangs in front of her. Her chin pressed against her chest. Her neck shaped like the letter C. I wonder how her neck could stretch that way. Probably lots of practice. Our heads sit securely above our necks.
She’s homeless — we’re heading home later.
I continue to study her through the corner of my eye.
These are some thoughts that automatically present themselves.
That can’t be good for the neck.
Why is she here? Was she too cold outside?
Is she somebody’s mother?
I notice a big ring on her wedding ring finger.
Is she married? Did her husband die? Is she grieving? Where does she go when she wakes up? Where does she even sleep?
Then some hopeful narratives occur in my mind.
Maybe she’s not even homeless. Maybe she lives at a local nursing facility. She wheels herself here to get away from that horrible cafeteria food and the gallons of MJB or Folgers or Yuban coffee that they make in those big urns.
Maybe she doesn’t want to use that cheap powdery “cream” for her coffee.
Some people can make us feel uneasy.
People who are different from us can make us feel uneasy.
Other: A popular word used today that refers to a certain population of people — the ones those in the majority look down on, consciously, or subconsciously.
A hate crime is an act of violence against an other simply because they are an other.
Examples of others:
The Homeless, like this lady, or the ones who beg for money on the freeway off ramp, or at the gas station.
Muslims, like the countless ones experiencing hate crimes today. Over 17% of hate crimes are against people for their religion (FBI, 2013).
Refugees, especially if they happen to come from Muslim countries. Hate crimes (49%) are based on race and, as above, 17% based on religion.
People with disabilities. They were even mocked by our current president. Nearly 2% of hate crimes are against people with disabilities.
Mexican immigrants. Sometimes you judge them when they are crossing the street, a mother and her four young children, and you might think “Don’t they even know about overpopulation and why don’t they use birth control (and, no, they don’t know about abstract social realities like overpopulation, and not they don’t understand birth control.).
They want to be loved just like you and me.
African Americans. Not too long ago they couldn’t vote and many thought they were 2/3 human. Some think, “You’re just gotta suck it up and move on with your life.”
Gays or lesbians or transgenders. When I was younger people would call them fags or queers or dikes. Over 20% of hate crimes are because of one’s sexual orientation.
Others are singled out and thought of negative terms — and many times physically assaulted or murdered — simply because of the way they LOOK, for the way they ARE.
The reason we feel uneasy with outsiders and why the majority of White Evangelical churches are comprised of people that look and believe just like them — we prefer to be around people like us.
* * *
I’ve never been an other.
I’ve never been discriminated against.
Because I’m in the majority.
Because I’m a man, not a woman. Men don’t suffer for being male. Women have suffered usually at the hands of men, who raped them, and physically abused them, and made laws prohibiting them from voting in elections.
I’m white, not dark. White people don’t suffer from being white.
I’m not black.
I’m not Muslim. Most white evangelical Christians (76% according to a recent poll by Pew Research) want them banned from entering our country.
I have no physical disability. People without physical disabilities never suffer for their fitness.
I’m educated, not uneducated. You never are looked down upon for having a UCLA degree.
I’m a white, educated, Christian living in a predominately Christian country.
I’ll never be a victim of a hate crime.
* * *
I once worked at a homeless shelter. We called our guests “clients.” Because we were there to serve them.
Many clients experienced setbacks that made it impossible escape living on the streets. Or in their cars. Or in bushes.
Like the married lady with a 7-year-old child. Who was 8 months pregnant. Who was working a full-time job. Who showed up one day after work to an empty apartment. Whose husband texted her and said he didn’t want to be married anymore.
He had drained the bank account. He moved to the east coast and changed his number.
Within a month, she was living on the streets with her two children.
Then she came to us for food.
Some would blame her.
In doing so, shame her.
A woman. A Hispanic. Uneducated. Poor.
“Well, she made choices.”
“She didn’t have to get pregnant.”
“She should have saved more money.”
Translation: It’s her fault!
It’s the voice of many Evangelical Christian Republicans — I’ve heard it with my own two ears.
Dylan: You who philosophize disgrace, and criticize fear, take the rag away from your face, now’s not the time for your tears.
* * *
On Sunday I watched the Oscars.
I listened to stars on stage — some call them liberal, progressive, immoral, Democrat.
The liberal-progressive-immoral-Democrats all talked about love, mercy, compassion, human rights, welcoming outsiders.
I asked myself why many of my fellow Evangelical Christian Republicans today fail to exude anything like this kind of unified voice.
If you are a Christian and a Republican, do not take this as a critique.
Hear me out.
I’m one of you.
Many of you give and serve and care for the poor and marginalized outsiders.
I see your good deeds.
But you won’t use your voices to speak out against racism or hate crimes or defending the poorest refugees that need our care.
You’ll stand up for them if they live in another country, but to stand up for them here you think it’s being “political.”
We wonder why many see the church as irrelevant.
We have a publicity problem
We are seen as merciless, paranoid, mean, heartless.
And I think many of us might be.
We’ve gotta stop shaming the weak.
We must do better.
A note on “Freewriting.”
Every Friday, I set my timer on my iPhone for 15 minutes. Then I start writing. I don’t stop. I write whatever pops into my mind. After 15 minutes, I go back and quickly correct all the blatant typos. Then I publish it on Paulosophia.
I started “freewriting” in the early 1990’s because I had read this short article called “Freewriting.” I was a horrible writer back then, with the most severe writers’ block. The article said you have to write WITHOUT STOPPING. For a fixed period of time. Even if you have to write the same word over and over again. Over time, you get better, and more confident.
Writing becomes as easy as talking.
I can’t count how many freewriting exercises I’ve done over the years. Thousands for sure. I still do them almost daily. My kids know them well. I hope you will, too.