Pulling Back the Curtain

 
Pulling Back the Curtain
 

Pulling Back the Curtain  

If I were to ask you if you have a favorite scene from the movie The Wizard of Oz, what would come to mind? Flying monkeys? A melting witch? The Lollipop Guild? A singing scarecrow? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my?  For me, it's the scene where Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals that the previously fear-inducing Wizard of Oz is in truth just a frightened, insecure man, who at that very moment implores Dorothy and her companions to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." 

    I love that scene because I can so easily relate to it and because I reference it so often in the work I do as a marriage and family therapist. In the context of our closest relationships, when are we most likely to treat others rudely? I know for me, it is when I am feeling most vulnerable, insecure, and unsure of myself, and am hiding those feelings behind a curtain of rudeness and false strength. When I share the image of the Wizard of Oz being exposed with clients, they almost always immediately recognize that they, too, are most prone to anger when they are feeling afraid and unsure of themselves.  

   Our Living Compass Wellness Initiative has a parent wellness program, and one of its core teachings is found in the photo meme above: "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don't say it mean." I find that the wisdom of this teaching extends well beyond parenting. 

     Many of us are familiar with the first two phrases of this teaching, but I think it is the third phrase, "Don't say it mean," that is most important, especially given the culture we live in where fear and insecurity often gives rise to "saying it mean."

     So the next time you experience someone "saying it mean"-whether that person is you, a child, a spouse, a boss, a public figure-or whomever, pause for a moment and think about Toto and the Wizard and see if that helps you to understand better what is going on. And on those occasions when that "someone" is ourselves, may we have the courage to step out from behind the curtain on our own, and overcome the fear of revealing our vulnerability to others.


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I Think You're Beautiful

 
I Think You're Beautiful
 

I Think You're Beautiful


How would you respond if someone said to you, "I am taking pictures of things that I find beautiful, and I find you beautiful, so can I please take a picture of you"?


A high school student ran a social experiment a few years ago and did this exact thing. She made a video or the reactions that the students and faculty at her high school had to hearing that they are beautiful. In the second half of the video, the student conducting the social experiment followed up her telling people she finds them beautiful, with a question, "What's one thing that you think is beautiful or unique about yourself?"  You can find the link to her video at the bottom of this piece to see the variety of responses. . 


The student running the experiment wondered why it is so uncomfortable for people to think of themselves as beautiful. After watching the video, I wonder the same thing, knowing for sure that I would respond in a way similar to many of the subjects in this experiment,


On the other hand, and this is a bit sad to say, but if someone asked me what some of my faults are and what do I think needs improvement in myself, I know that without hesitation, I could come up with a lengthy list. Here's the short version that took me 30 seconds to create: I need to be more organized. I need to get more sleep. I need to get better at sending thank you notes. I get too busy sometimes and don't take time to nurture friendships. I am more judgmental of myself and others than I would like to be. I neglect yard work and have almost zero skills in being handy around the house. I take way too many things for granted. I am always searching for "more" rather than being satisfied with how things are.


Why is it that it is so easy for us to see the faults and what needs improving in ourselves? Why is it so difficult to see and celebrate that which is beautiful about ourselves? And while the social experiment I have referenced does not address this as it applies to how we see others, it is well worth noting that it is often the case that it is easier for us to see and point out the faults we see in others, than it is to point out the beauty we see in them. Again, why is this?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do know this: if you take a few minutes and watch the video of this social experiment, you will find your heart softened and perhaps a little more willing and able to take the time to see and celebrate what is beautiful in both yourself, and others.  

Do yourself a favor, and click HERE. to watch the video.


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Muddy Resurrection

 
Muddy Resurrection
 

Muddy Resurrection

I live in Wisconsin, and for those of us who celebrate Easter, there is often a beautiful convergence of our Easter celebrations with the magnificence of spring bursting forth all around us. The symbolism of new life bursting forth from the dark days of winter here aligns perfectly with our celebration of Jesus' resurrection.  


This year is not quite like that though. If you have ever lived in the northern part of the US, especially in New England or the Midwest, you know that there are not just four seasons each year. There is actually a fifth season, one that comes between winter and spring and only lasts a few weeks. We call it mud season. If you could see my running shoes which are currently sitting outside my back door (because I made the mistake of stepping off the paved running path I was on earlier this week), you would know that this season is well named.


Part of what creates the massive amount of mud and messiness this time of year is the fact that after a long, cold winter the depth of the ground freeze is quite significant.  During the mud season, while the warming temperatures thaw the surface of the ground, the deeper ground remains frozen, and thus the melting water at the surface is unable to percolate down into the soil.  Until the deeper ground thaws, the water stays on the surface creating increasingly deeper levels of mud and mess.  


While most of us would probably prefer the blooming new life of Spring to coincide with our Easter celebrations, I am finding that there is unexpected wisdom in considering mud season as a metaphor for what resurrection sometimes feels like in our lives. This week we watched with grief and sadness the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. Before the fire was even fully extinguished there emerged signs of resurrection as so many committed to fully restoring this sacred place of worship. I believe with all my heart that  new life will occur for Notre Dame, and I also believe that it will be a long messy, muddy process before fresh spring-like expressions of new life emerge.  


I think of friends who have a new baby-could there be a better example of their overwhelming celebration of this new life occurring in the midst of a lot of sleepy, bewildered, muddy, and messy times?  


I think of when I have lost someone I love and how slowly the process of grief works. There is a long, muddy season that both proceeds and accompanies the thawing and healing, and then the gradual resurgence of new life and a new kind of normal. 


There are of course times when resurrection and new life bursts forth all at once in our lives. In my experience though, it is more often a gradual process, one that includes some muddiness and messiness, no matter the change.  


The last verse of The Green Blade Rises, one of my favorite Easter hymns, beautifully describes the process of new life, resurrection, and healing. I have no doubt that the fields that serve as the host for the new wheat described in this verse also contain their share of muddiness.  

When our hearts are saddened, grieving, or in pain, 
By Your touch You call us back to life again; 
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: 
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

(Words by John M. C. Crum)


To all our readers that celebrate this day, we wish you a Joyous Easter, even if it be the slow, messy and muddy kind.


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Holy is as Holy Does

 
Holy is as Holy Does
 

Holy is as Holy Does 

In a few days, Christians around the world will begin the observance of HolyWeek. Holy Week is the week preceding the celebration of Easter and ismarked by a range of sacred traditions and celebrations. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, continues with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, HolySaturday, and concludes with celebrations of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. Throughout history, throughout the world, and across the many expressions of Christian faith, there are countless variations of how HolyWeek is enacted, but the one common theme of all Holy Week celebrations isthat they are characterized by a wide variety of dramatic actions. Palms are blessed. Processions occur around the church, and sometimes around the neighborhood, with some even including a live donkey. The Gospel isproclaimed or sung with many joining in to portray different voices in the stories being read. Feet are washed. Bread is broken. Some of the faithful stay awake for all night prayer vigils. Hymns are sung. Flowers are arranged. Fires are lit. Trumpets are blown. Resurrection is proclaimed.

So what exactly makes Holy Week holy? There are no doubt many responses to this question, but for me, the one essential ingredient to what makes HolyWeek holy is the intentional and deep joining together of beliefs and actions. Holy is not just about what we believe, but how our beliefs become expressed in our actions. Holy is as holy does.

We can ask the same question about all aspects of our lives. What makes our work holy? What makes our relationships holy? What makes our caring for our community and our world holy? What makes our very lives holy? My answer to these questions would be similar to what I shared regarding Holy Week. When there is the intention to integrate and join our deepest faith and beliefs with our actions and behaviors, then that which we do becomes holy. When I am loving and caring to someone in need, whether a friend or stranger, I am expressing holiness in that relationship. When I seek ways to create a greater good in the world, whether through my work, or volunteer service, or some other way of giving back, I am enacting holiness in the world. When I am mindful of my own need for repentance or forgiveness and seek reconciliation with those whom I have hurt, I am both experiencing and expressing holiness in those relationships. When I take time to observe and nurture signs of new life and resurrection in the world around me, I am participating in a wholeness and a holiness that is much greater than myself.

As Christians celebrate Holy Week this week, may we all be reminded that every one of us has the opportunity celebrate holiness this week by finding ways to being more intentional about the joining together of our faith and deepest beliefs with the everyday actions of our lives.


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Serenity and Forgiveness

 
Serenity and Forgiveness
 

Serenity and Forgiveness 

 Some of the readers of this column are currently reading our Living Compass Lent booklet, "Practicing Forgiveness with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind," as well as participating in our Facebook discussion group based on the booklet. This week we all have been reflecting on and discussing practicing forgiveness within our families. Many people have commented about how challenging it can be to practice forgiveness and to seek reconciliation with people, sometimes even in their own families, who seem to have no remorse or even no idea of how hurtful their behavior has been.


The Serenity Prayer has come up often in our discussion because it serves as the perfect reminder for us to both have the courage to seek forgiveness and reconciliation when possible, and to also accept that sometimes this will not be possible-at least for the time being. In case you are not familiar with the opening lines of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, they are:

"God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."


I recently became aware of a modern day adaptation of this famous prayer, written by a Jesuit priest and popular author by the name of James Martin (he currently has close to 600,000 followers on Facebook). I'll close this week's column by sharing it with you in hopes that it may serve as a reminder for us to stay humble as we seek to practice forgiveness and work towards reconciliation within our families, and our other close relationships. 


"God, grant me the serenity

to accept the people I cannot change,

which is pretty much everyone,

since I'm clearly not you, God.

At least not the last time I checked.


And while you're at it, God,

please give me the courage

to change what I need to change about myself,

which is frankly a lot, since, once again,

I'm not you, which means I'm not perfect.

It's better for me to focus on changing myself

than to worry about changing other people,

who, as you'll no doubt remember me saying,

I can't change anyway.


Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up

whenever I think that I'm clearly smarter

than everyone else in the room,

that no one knows what they're talking about except me,

or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,

grant me the wisdom

to remember that I'm

not you."

Amen

(James Martin, S.J.)


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