Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Stupid American Travels to India

Calcutta in the 80s is now Kolkata, but Howrah and Dum Dum are the same.  Uluberia you can see in the red line.
When I was 19, I decided to travel to India.  God was involved and my church and my father, but I was the one determined to go.  I was planning on going to a Christian school in India, so I filled out the long application in plenty of time and sent it off, waiting to hear if I was accepted.  In the meantime, I got my passport and shots, arranged for the finances and waited.  And waited.  It was 1985 and international mail to third world countries was just terrible.  A week before the school was supposed to start, I was still waiting.  I told my parents that I guess I wasn't going to hear back, so I wasn't going to go.  I was severely disappointed.  I was ready, really ready to go, but nothing.

You saw this coming.  Four days before the school was supposed to start, I received an acceptance letter on onion skin paper.  I paced like I've never paced before in my life.  I'm pretty sure I burned a hole in the carpet.  And I decided to go.  I packed quickly... (should I take a camera?  Absolutely.  Should I take my electric typewriter?  Of course! What about my boom box?  Oh yeah... with a set of cassettes.) Before I left I got all my money in traveler's cheques and sent a wire to the school in Calcutta when my flight was scheduled to arrive. I climbed aboard the plane and I was quite nervous (my first plane trip), but the take off was fun.  Like a rollercoaster. (Landings still bother me.) Then I was off to San Francisco.

I had to go to SF to get my visa and that was where the Indian Embassy was on the west coast of the U.S.   I landed in the SF airport, got a taxi who drove me in circles for a while before dropping me off at the embassy.  I marched in at 9 in the morning, went to the counter and said I wanted a visa.  He said, "Fine, no problem.  Just leave your passport with us and we'll get you a visa in a week."  No, you don't understand, I explained.  I need one today.  I'm supposed to go to school in just a few days.  "I'm sorry," he politely explained, "but our policy is that it takes a week."  "Why?" I said in my best pushy American accent (my normal one).  "You are here.  The stamp is here.  I'm sure you can work this out."  He said firmly, "No. It takes a week."  I thought for a moment and said, "Okay.  I understand.  Well, the next place I go to is India.  So I'll just sit here in front of you until my visa is ready."

And I sat there all day.  I had snacks in my suitcase (I had no where to put it), so I was good.  At five o clock the embassy was closing.  And they handed me my passport back with the visa in it, glad to be rid of me, I suppose.

Back on a plane, with a stop at Korea and another in Thailand. Overseas plane rides are quite long and quite dull.  Nowadays we have computers and hand held devices, but then, you read a book. I brought a collection of short stories by Saki.  You might be able to read, assuming you could focus on the book amidst the babies crying, people talking around you and (God forbid!) to you.  The food was delicious.  Really.  American flights are awful for food.  But on Thai Air, it was wonderful, and everyone was so polite and... well, it was my first flight.  If it weren't for the length, I would have loved it.

Finally, I arrived in Thailand, ready to get my next flight to Calcutta.  Unfortunately, it was monsoon season, so the Dum Dum airport (yes, that's the name of the Calcutta airport) was washed out.  So the airline would put me up in a hotel for the night.  So my first night in Asia... my first night out of North America... was in a five star hotel with a wonderful breakfast, all paid for by the airline.  Things have really changed since 1985.

The next day, caught the flight to the Dum Dum airport (how can I not say that airport name as often as possible) and arrived promptly in India. As I walked off the plane, down the runway to the airport, the humidity is what really struck me.  In the face.  Like a hard slap. I am from Southern California, so I'm used to desert heat, but this humidity is something I'd never experienced.  Completely oppressive.  I was unfazed, though, I had stuff to do.

I proudly showed immigration my brand new visa, and then went to customs.  Customs was confused as to what to do with my electronics.  They weren't sure what the electric typewriter was until I took off the cover.  They weren't impressed at all.  Instead, they explained in a strong Indian accent-- well, it wasn't strong at all, as I was later to find out, his English was excellent and quite understandable-- that if I was interested in taking these items out of India, I had to make sure that I had this receipt he was going to give me, otherwise I would have to pay a tariff on them, which was quite expensive.  I made sure to place that receipt carefully in my suitcase, next to the electronics, to make sure I had it when I left the country six months later.

Free of the lines, I looked for anyone holding a sign or looking for a blonde-haired-blue-eyed American with a funny looking hat.  I looked and waited and no one was there.  I was disappointed.  I really thought that someone would meet me.  After all, I wired them almost a week ago.  And I'm sure that they called the airport to find out the flight was delayed.  But this was the day before the school was about to start.  Perhaps they were too busy.  So I went to the taxi station.

A lot more taxis now than there used to be.
"Hello!" I called out to all the drivers in line, as if I were an older woman looking for a servant.  "Excuse me?  Could any of you take me to Uluberia?"  One driver had enough wherewithall to quickly say, "Yes, yes, I'll take you" while the others were trying to understand what I said.  "Where?"  I repeated, "Uluberia"  I showed him the school address and he took it to the other taxi drivers who gathered around discussing where this insane American wanted to be driven to.  One man seemed to know just where to go, so he explained it to my driver. "Okay," my driver says and motions me to get in the taxi.  I put my suitcase on my lap and we headed off.

Meantime, the school I was attending was in an uproar.  They had just received my wire, about the time I had climbed into that taxi.  The school was run by an American, a woman from Darjeeling and a Filipino.  Of course, they had no phone they were in a village about fifteen miles away from the city, and it would be an all day trip on the train for them to get to Calcutta and back. But one of them agreed to go the the city and look in all the main hotels to see where I was.  They had a prayer meeting where they pleaded with God for my safety.

I really appreciate those prayers because I realized that this wasn't just a trip from downtown to the suburbs.  After we got out of the city, there was only one lane per road.  So if there was any cross traffic, like, say, a bus, we had to get off the road and wait for them to pass.  It was soon dark and we were still driving.  After two hours I wondered how long this was going to really take.  And I was in a desperate state, in need of a bathroom.  Every time a bus passed us, especially when it was dark and there wasn't enough room on the side of the road to pull off, I found that I almost relieved myself there.  Frankly, there didn't seem to be any rules for driving on these roads at all.  But they still didn't drive very quickly, it seemed to me. 

Another hour later, they slowed down, rolled down their window, and asked a man "Uluberia?"  He said something, but they seemed satisfied.  They then asked him about the "Mission House" where the school was.  He shook his head no.  They asked three more people until they finally found someone who knew.  They rolled up at a gate with a sign on one side of it, "Uluberia Mission House".  I gratefully got out of the back of the car with my suitcase and stretched my legs.  The gate was closed and it took five minutes for my driver to explain what was going on to the guard at the gate.  I could imagine the conversation didn't make me look too good.

The gate eventually opened and a white face came out to meet me.  "Are you Steve Kimes?"  I said that I was.  "I can't believe it!  We were just praying for you!  Did you take a taxi here?"  Yes, I replied, from the airport.  "Really?  I don't think anyone has taken a taxi from Calcutta to Uluberia before! Why didn't you take the train?"  The answer to that was, of course, I had no idea about trains being a thing in India.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," I said breathlessly, "But I could really use a bathroom."  "Of course" the white man said and led me to his quarters and indicated a door.  On the other side of the door there was not a bathroom.  There was, however, a hole with bricks on either side of it.  I stared at it for a while.  Not sure what to do, but too desperate to  think about it too long, I sat down on the hole and relieved myself. 

Feeling much better, I went to the main room and told him, "Did you know there's no toilet paper in there?"

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Balance, 1

I have said that my goal is "balance".  Now I realize that I've never defined what I meant by that word.  That I want to walk steady?  That I want to be a gymnast?  It is my goal to be able to carry bowls of water on my head? 

Rather, I am saying that my life has gotten very focused on certain ideas, which did not allow me to have other, positive, ideas in my head at all.  I had to ignore parts of a normal human life in order to obtain the parts I was focusing on.

For instance, I had read many books about many saints and it was my goal to become one.  This is not out of the question for someone to do, as it has been attempted and accomplished by others in the past. My goal was to live for the poor, which is noble and helpful and to follow Jesus as much as possible.

My idea of balance was to care for my family at least as well as I cared for the poor.  My wife deserves some rest from community life.  My children deserve my attention to help them make the transition from teens to adults.  I should finish the work I began: withdraw from the work, close the house, transition.

Balance is a matter of health as well as life. 

I have two big questions: what does this balance look like?  What are the goals I should pursue, personally, spiritually and in community?

The other is: can I actually do this?  Is balance something I can accomplish?  Or will I lapse back to a life of extremes, seeking that martyrdom I have unintentionally evaded?  That second is beyond me, so I’ll focus on the first for a bit.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

3-12-17-- Figuring Things Out

There have been times in my life in which certain responsibilities have been lifted from me, and I have more freedom to be.  This is one of those times.

Of course, I can't leave well enough alone and just relax and say, "Hey, I can be who I am!"  No, I have to pick at my freedom like an old scab because it itches.  So I am asking myself again:

What am I supposed to do?

Who am I supposed to be?

How does it look to be "normal" for me?

I'm pretty sure the first question is that I'm supposed to prepare for the next stage in my life.  This will be to slow down on helping the homeless, give over Anawim to others, sell my house and give my wife the rest she deserves.  I'm realizing that this isn't as easy as I thought, so having a year and a half to accomplish this makes sense.  Especially because I need a different income for this preparation year, and those in my house are working on how to work and have money to pay bills.

Another thing I'm supposed to do is rest.  I spent a lot of time talking about that already.  Just to say I'm still tired, still depressed, and my body pain is increasing.  Nothing unusual given what I wrote before, and I don't feel bad about this.  I just wonder how much I should actually work.

The second question is trickier.  I had a deal with God that I would work for Him and he would pay the bills.  So even though I worried about money sometimes, it was pretty much taken care of.  Now I'm dialing back on ministry (not quitting, though) and I wonder if the bills will be paid.  The donation money has been cut back as I cut back on my work, but we still need money to keep the ministry going under other leadership.  Hmmm.  I wonder what's about that.

And there are as many opportunities to get involved in helping folks on the street as there always has been.  How much should I do?  Should I limit myself to Fridays food distribution?  Or should I get involved in other things?  Training?  What about personal connection with folks?  I guess that will work out.  And I'm still tired, so I don't feel strongly to jump into anything with both feet.

That final question is a tricky one for me.  I've lived the last 35 years striving to be a "saint", a "spiritual athlete" in the path of Jesus. I am not giving up on Jesus, but what does it mean to be a "normal citizen" for Jesus?  What is "normal"?  What is balance?  It is different for everyone, but I have no idea what that looks like for me.

I'm fine today, I have no serious worries.  Just questions that I don't think I can answer.  Maybe that's what "normal" is.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

3/2/17-- Doing Better

I have had two full months of "rest".  By which I mean that I stopped the other work, apart from distributing food, and started a new job.

I found that I had to learn how to rest, because I'm not good at it.  Frankly, rest sucks.

I'm doing a bit better working part time as a cleaner.  I haven't gotten time on my own like I wanted, because in this "training period" I have been working with others whom I feel I have to entertain (simply out of my own habit).  But I've only been working an average of 15 hours a week, so it hasn't been too onerous.

I have learned that when vacuuming long halls, the most essential thing is cord management.  I'm sure there's a spiritual principle here, but I haven't figured it out.

I have learned that those who work very well are the people you don't want training you, because all they want to do is work, not teach.


The work I'm doing is cleaning apartments, hallways and offices.  It's strange because I feel that I'm on the opposite end of disgust from my previous work.   Before, I had to learn to push down my disgust at how others were living so I could help them.  Now I am cleaning apartments so a person who would be disgusted by a eyelash in a drawer in their apartment they just rented wouldn't be offended.  It's a strange transition.

This has been the "worst winter in decades" in Portland.  So much ice and snow and cold.

I feel guilt because I wasn't there for everyone, the way I should have.

But I have nothing to feel guilty about, as well.

No, I couldn't open the day shelters, but I made sure that shelters were open during the worst times, made sure they had enough food and enough blankets.  I spent a lot of time on the phone in the worst nights and I spent a lot of time transporting goods.  And I scanned the streets looking for the homeless who might be in danger.

Then there is every Friday in which me and my friends gathered thousands of pounds of food and distributed them broadly. I have nothing to be guilty about.

But my lack of activity eats at me, still.

Stupid brain.

I guess I still have a ways to go before I can achieve any kind of balance in my life. 

A Review of Elvis' First Album

In 1956, when Rock'n'Roll was released, Elvis was already well known, as he had released a number of singles for two years.  This is a collection of some of those singles as well as his versions of other songs that were known at the time.

Some consider Elvis' first single, That's All Right, to be the first rock'n' roll song. Well, if we consider Rock 'n' Roll to be the white version of 40s and 50s rockin' soul, then I suppose so.  But Elvis' version was a toned-down rock from what Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thorton, Ike Turner, Fats Domino (although he was really doing boogie woogie) and Little Richard were already doing for years before.  Even Bill Haley and the Comets, a country band that decided for a couple years to borrow on the black sound, released Rock This Joint before Elvis hit the scene.

This album of Elvis songs was compiled a couple years after he hit the scene with his first single, but it's a good collection of his early work.  He has a great voice and his stuff is smooth to listen to.  It may have been insane to white kids in the early 50s, but it seems so tame compared to Little Richard.

I like Elvis' version of Blue Suede Shoes better than Carl Perkins, but I think that has more to do with production than performer.  Carl's version is rough and a bit hard to hear.   It's easy to see who was the favored one at Sun Records.

"I Got a Woman"   This one was written by Ray Charles based on a gospel tune "It Must Be Jesus".  In the original, it's Jesus taking down the names of the righteous and, well, Ray certainly did a makeover on that.  But Sun Records did a number on this song, changing it up from a simple big band rock to something that mixes and rocks and quiets down and really gets you going.   You can hear some early Beatles influence here as well.

"I'm Counting on You" was written for Elvis and really focuses on his vocal performance and his sultry voice.  And he's really got it here.  The lyrics aren't so great, the back up pretty simple, but his vocal work is really nice.

"You're Right, I'm Left, She's Gone"  Basic country song, influenced more by Hank Williams than the rock background.

"That's All Right"  This was written and released by Arthur Crudup ten years before this album.    The original is so very similar, Sam Phillips didn't do much of anything to change it.

"Money Honey" was written for and released by The Drifters in 1953.  In my estimation, they do a better version, but I'm a real Drifters fan. I like the echo effect they give Elvis on the chorus, though.   For Elvis' song, they up the tempo slightly and put the booogie woogie piano at the forefront-- all to good effect.

"Mystery Train"  Written by Junior Parker who recorded it with Sun Records in 1953 based on a Carter Family Celtic standard, "Worried Man Blues."    Great blues song.   Elvis' version is sped up and given some country pickin' instead of the sax.   To me, this is a perfect distillation of why Elvis' worked.

"I'm Gunna Sit Right Down and Cry" Another, less successful, blues song.   It was a pop ballad before Elvis made it his.   The Beatles did a powerful version with their sound in 1962.

"Trying to Get You"  Released by The Eagles (no, not THAT Eagles) in 1954, if you listen to that recording you can really hear Elvis' sound all put together, in a group vocal.  Great sax in that version.  Elvis' version, in comparison, is fully guitar rock, taking out the piano and putting the guitar right in front.  I like both versions.

"One Sided Love Affair" Very boogie woogie, and Elvis is really owning those vocals.  He's almost a southern preacher, here.  Originally recorded by Bill Campbell, but I couldn't find it.

"Lawdy Miss Clawdy" A Lloyd Price song that introduced the New Orleans sound that we usually associate with Fats Domino (who played the intro on Price's version).  This recording replaces the sax solo with a rough guitar solo, which is tough to choose between.  But I have to give the vocals to Lloyd Price.  He smoothly takes control of the song, while Elvis sounds like he's trying a bit too hard.  Both versions are good, though.

"Shake, Rattle and Roll" A Big Joe Turner song made famous by Bill Haley and the Comets.  Honestly, I've been a long fan of Joe Turner's version with the piano at the forefront and the sax echoing the vocals.   Elvis' version ups the tempo, but it doesn't improve the song as a whole.  It just feels noisy in comparison to Turner's version.

In general, I feel that rock n roll of this era is really a time of singles, not albums.  There are some masterful singles on this album, but some of the songs I don't care for as well.  I made a playlist of the old rock n roll of this era, and that's how it works best for me.  Hearing the best from the late 40s through the 50s and ignoring the mediocre.  Certainly this album has some of the best songs of the time-- Mystery Train, Blue Suede Shoes, I Got a Woman, and That's All Right are fantastic.  But the album as a whole doesn't work for me, because I hear all these songs in the background, some of which are better.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

2/5/17-- Changes

There is a shift happening in my world, a ‘click’ in my mind, recognizing that something is going to be different.  Not just a season of difference, but after this nothing will be the same.

Today is the last day of Forgotten Realms.  But the camp is as it always was.  Too few people in the camp helping, ready to do the work necessary.  Too few advocates ready to help, many making promises that no one delivers on.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Tomorrow, or the next day, advocates will condemn the camp, without ever having understood the work that myself and especially the leadership of the camp put into it.

Tomorrow I will begin work as a cleaner.  I don’t see this work as an end, but as a means to an end.  I will have time to explore my mind, to see where I am and where I should be. 

In a year and a half I will be preparing to move to a different place.  We will put our house on the market and I expect it to sell well.  At this point, a good chunk of the money will go for charity, housing people who otherwise cannot be housed.  And Diane and I will establish a place for her and I to live outside of community, with space for our children to visit or live, as necessary.

I wonder who I will be in a year.  I wonder if I will have learned humility at that point.  I wonder if I will still see myself as the smartest person in the room, or I will accept my fate as an older man who has done his work but can no longer keep up with the times.

I wonder if the world is a bit more compassionate because of my work.  I wonder if I have really accomplished anything.  So much that I began it seems to have fallen apart.  And the work I have done has finally caught up with me.

I have PTSD that isn’t associated with a place or an experience, but certain people.  I don’t hate these people, and I do what I can to help them, to love them, I pray for them, but every time I see them my chest tightens and I fight an urge to run.  Because if I don’t run, I will yell or scream in their face because they have hurt me so deeply.  They have torn apart the work that I associated with my being.
I wonder if after I get some rest if I would be able to forget these pains, to leave them behind.  I wonder if I would be able to meet these men, shake their hand and honestly ask how they are without the parade of emotions behind my eyes.

I would love to have my self of twenty years ago (ambitious, energetic, passionate), my current self (exhausted, weary, ready to give up), and my future self (who is a mystery), sit us all down at a table and have a conversation.  Perhaps my daughter could host a conversation between us:

“Older Steves, what would you wish the younger Steve to have done differently?”

“Young Steve, do you approve of the changes the older Steves made?”

“Youngest and Oldest Steve, do you feel the middle Steve to be a coward? A weakling? Too easy to give up? Or do you think he is brave in some way?”

“Middle Steve, do you resent the younger Steve?  Do you admire the oldest Steve?  Or the other way around?”

Perhaps all three of us would end up in some pacifist fistfight.  

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Lessons I Have Learned (2016)

When I am exhausted and I cannot endure a moment’s more compassion, a moment’s more mercy, a moment’s more sacrifice, somehow, I find a moment more.  That must come from God, for I have often come to the end of myself.

True obedience to God always leads to love.  If we do not love, our obedience is mistaken.
When I have truly loved, there is someone who will hate me for it.  I know when someone hates me that I must be loving the one who really needs it.

Love is often confused with desire.  True love looks at the undesirable and we become beautiful, majestic.  Once true love has touched, only then will others see our worth.  But love always comes first.

I often speak to a person what I see they will become, rather than who they are.  I speak the truth that I wish to be a prophecy.   They might say to me, “You don’t know who I am.”  But I do.  I know the seed that hides deep within them.

Those who only look at someone’s past and judge them by that does not know the human being.  Because human beings never stay the same.  We should judge a person by who they will be, not who they were.  Who a person will be depends upon their hope.

Some people hate themselves because they belong to a group of the hated.  We need to open their eyes to show them the love of God, who holds the hated and restores them.  The outcast should never believe society.  But society’s lies strike the heart, and beat it.

When I was young my zeal for God that I prayed, “Squeeze out my life like juice from pulp.”  When God answered my prayer I realized I had nothing left.  Then God stared to use me.

The people who tell you to slow down, to be wise, to be cautious are fools.  Unless we jump into action, we will never do anything. 

It is almost always better to ask forgiveness than permission.  (But don’t tell my kids that.)

Silence is my garden and gardens nurture my soul.  It wasn’t until I had vanquished my youthful energy that I understood this.

One of the greatest loves I have been able to give is to look into the eyes of a grieving person, listen to her sorrow and say, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry this had to happen to you.”  Yes, she will weep.  But I know it is the beginning of healing.

I am an arrogant son of a bitch (sorry, mom).  I manipulate people because I think I know what’s better for them than they do.  I am full of pride.  But I also really care about people.  I don’t know, in any given moment, if I am blessed or damned.  Probably somewhere in the middle.

I gave the poorest of the poor more than I had.  I probably gave to my children less than they deserved. I know that I often had nothing left to give to my wife.  Some call me a saint.  It is my wife who is the saint.  I’m just working.

The Cost of Freedom

I remember when Fred was staying in our house.

It was his deepest desire to just meditate and read scripture and focus on God.  He is the most natural monk I've ever known. Even today, he spends time in his room, reading the same passage, day after day, atoning for sins that only he knows.

Fred's problem is that his schizophrenia demands that he stop eating and drinking in atonement for his sins.  Not like a meal fast, or a three day fast.  His mental illness convinces him that he will recover from his mental illness if he stops eating completely.

I was able to convince his caretakers to not jump the gun, but to give Fred what he wanted.  That if he would drink and eat daily, they would allow him to not take his medication, to not force him to be committed.  Again.  But if he became ill from his lack of nutrition, then he would be committed and have to be locked up and forced to take medication.

Fred is the nicest person in the world.  Kind, extremely gentle.  But when his mental health deteriorates, he spirals.  He would strip his clothes off and walk around the house in the nude.  As the father of two daughters, I didn't care for that one.  He would walk around the block, spinning multiple times at each corner.  He would touch his Bible, then again, then again, before he would open it.

Later, he would stay out in the rain all night, soaking wet, wrapped in a blanket.  It was summer, but it didn't look healthy.  Fred, however, was content, making loud grunts with a smile on his face.  Not in a nasty way.  But we could see in his eyes that he was spiraling.

Like I said, Fred is the nicest person in the world.  Everyone loves Fred.  So when he started to lose it, others couldn't bear to see him suffer.  Mind you, Fred didn't think of his life as suffering.  Suffering was being forced to take medication.  Fred was joyful in his freedom.  But he wasn't the same.

I was screamed at by housemates for allowing Fred to spiral this far.  But I knew what the alternative was.  Still, he wasn't healthy.

For one, he wasn't sleeping.  And, it turns out, we would watch him eat and drink.  But he would go outside and spit his nutrition in the dirt.  Took a week to figure that one out.  I would threaten him with being committed and then he would eat and drink.  But he ate like a bird for forty days.  Longer perhaps.  Barely drank anything.

The point was to give freedom until freedom cost him living.  And that time came, and we called the social worker.  We all agreed that I would drive him to the hospital and have him checked in, where he would be committed.

We waited for three hours in the emergency room, where I had to convince Fred every few minutes to remain and wait.  When they saw him, they didn't believe there was anything really wrong.  Until they saw his medical record.  Then they committed him immediately.

I saw him checked into the ward.  Professional, kind people who took no backtalk.  Fred was checked into his room and offered his medicine.  He refused.  They offered again.  He refused.  So they prepared an injection, and security guards were called in and forced him down while they gave him the injection.

To see this kind man, this gentle, thin, bare man screaming as they held him down, forcing him to take medicine that he knew would destroy his soul...

It took another eight months, but a suitable place with the proper incentives were found for him to take his medicine willingly.

When I come to visit him, he is polite, but he is clear that he really wants to get back to his prayer, his scripture.  He is a content monk.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

1/29/17-- Musings

Bad day today.  Remained angry and exhausted all day.

This is because I spent the last two days with people, working and helping and training and doing orientation for my new job.

Two days?  That's all I get of energetic life?


I was offered a few entry-level jobs, and the one I pursued is cleaning.  This means I can spend time working and meditating, without people, for many hours a week.  That sounds exactly like what I need.  We'll see.

It also means that I am no longer boss of myself.  Someone else will tell me what to do.  Well, this should be interesting.


I did accounting for Anawim this last week.  I realized what I was doing for all these years-- turning cash and relationships and connections into help for the needy.  I was more a philanthropist than a pastor.  That doesn't bother me.  You could say the same thing about Jesus.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

1-4-17-- Love and Self-Love

A statement that I have always been frustrated with:

"We are taught to love others as ourselves.  This means we must develop love for ourselves enough in order to truly love others."

I don't think so.  The passage assumes that we already love ourselves, to a degree. We eat.  We sleep.  When we feel bad, we pursue activities that help us feel better.  Even if we commit suicide, it is because we can no longer live with the world or ourselves and suicide is an escape, an act of self love even though it may look like self loathing.

The moral principle is a generic foundation of ethics, repeated by every ethical teacher.  The presentation by Rabbi Hillel might be clearer: "Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself."  In other words, if something harms you, then you might guess that it harms others as well.  If you are angry at disrespect or being judged without evidence, then perhaps these are activities we shouldn't do to others.

What Jesus is not saying, when he says, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you," is to feed every sauerkraut because you like sauerkraut.  It doesn't mean that you try to convince everyone to quit their addictions the same way you did, or that everyone must follow the same religious practices that work for you.  It means that we should reflect what makes us, as a human, tick, and to help provide that for others.  Feed people who are hungry.  Get children out of war. Give everyone respect.  Listen to others' opinion. Stuff like that.

What frustrates me about the opinion above is that the person stating such is using their lack of self-love as an excuse to not help others, which not only is a piss-poor excuse, but is exactly the opposite of what we should do.

When a person says that they don't "love themselves enough", they are really saying that they don't have enough of a happiness quotient in order to help others.  In reality, those who study happiness says that two of the main habits people should have in order to develop personal happiness are gratitude and compassion.

Gratitude as a habit doesn't mean saying, "thank you" occasionally, but going out of your way and expressing your appreciation for another, or even expressing appreciation for something in the world we live in.  Compassion doesn't just mean feeling pity for someone, but acting for the direct benefit of another person in need.  Doing these two things on a regular basis are two of the steps we must do in order to achieve personal happiness.   So loving others actually develops one's self-love.

However, it is possible to go too far in this.  Unfortunately, I know.

When one is beginning a path of a lifestyle of compassion, there are some things we must do to prevent self harm.  Make sure that the person you help won't harm you, for instance.  When I started inviting people into my home to eat, I left my checkbook out and someone stole it and cashed a thousand dollars of checks.  I took that as my bad, I was foolish to leave it out.  Sure, they were at fault for taking it, but why did I offer that temptation out there?

There are things we have to do when we participate in any work.  Make sure we eat enough, sleep enough, spend time with out family, don't neglect those closest to us, take breaks, take time to enjoy oneself.  I did all these.

But it wasn't enough.  I was working with an oppressed group and everyday I was hearing stories of suffering and oppression.  I was fighting for their rights and their daily survival.  I was seeing more and more of my friends die, and I was leading their memorial services.  I heard about the burnout that people who help the homeless and needy suffer, and I knew it, I experienced it.  But I was determined to continue. I took retreats, I reduced my load.  But I still dove into darkness and brought my family with me.

I could control myself when serving others, but once I was spent I had little control over myself and I would occasionally snap, causing those around me (especially my wife) to suffer.

This is the principle I've learned: I must give myself enough self-care so that I am able to love others.

This doesn't mean pursuing happiness.  Right now, I'm on a diet regime to force myself to get better nutrition.  I meditate in order to help overcome stress.  My spiritual life is shallow, weak.  I need to start my life over again.  This is discipline, not happiness.  It is positive discipline.  It is important.  But I gain little pleasure from it all.

We need to pursue disciplines that build ourselves enough so we can love others.  We must establish boundaries so we don't get overwhelmed to the degree that we harm others in our pursuit of compassion.  This is what I am doing.

Because the most important thing we do is love.  Love is the only work that lasts.  But if I am too worn by acts of mercy to do real mercy, then I am not really pursuing love.  I am a human being (or so my wife tells me). And this means that my compassion must have limits so that I can do acts of love, not just acts that look like love.