Pedestals, Perfection, and Disappointment

I read an article the other day that reported the late Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche International communities for the cognitively disabled, has been accused by five adult women of sexual misconduct in that he had what they describe as coercive sexual jeanvanierrelationships. Prior to these revelations, he was considered a solid candidate for sainthood. Since the revelations, quite the opposite has happened, with organizations falling over themselves to retract awards and recognition granted him during his life for the work he had done. The author of the article said that Vanier had been a hero to him, but now he had to change his mind about Vanier’s hero status. This raises several questions for me, none of which are new.

The first question I have is, “how shall we define a hero?” I grew up thinking that a hero was someone we admire because of some example they set. If I had to gauge today’s definition of a hero, I would say that a hero is someone who is seen to be perfect, flawless not only in their area of expertise but in all areas. They must never have passed gas in church, had a relationship end badly, not kept a promise even if through no fault of their own. In short, they must be everything we are not. That is impossible for any human being, and so when we define our heroes that way and place them on a pedestal we will eventually have to take them off the pedestal and destroy that pedestal in a very painful public ceremony. I do, not believe such falls from grace serve any of us well.

I am not making excuses for sexual misconduct of any sort. I would just caution us that we all have likely made choices in our dating lives that we later elected not to repeat. I believe the vast majority of males over the age of fifty have said things to prospective partners that were acceptable in their time but by today’s standards are not. We must always err on the side of believing those who report abuse. We must also display compassion toward the accused, especially when the relationships in question did not involve minors. Adults who act out most often have been victims at some point in their lives, and if we run about chopping off heads we will behead victims as well as perpetrators.

The question I keep coming back to is, “why we find it necessary to dismiss every good thing larchesomeone did when we discover they may have done something wrong, too?” I feel that how we treat those who have transgressed depends on the nature and number of their transgressions, and so some people have clearly crossed a line from which their is no return. That being said, if our standard is to be that those we admire must be perfect then the days of admiration are long dead.

We also need to discuss how we are to deal with the work that the accused have done. If someone were to cure cancer or AIDS tomorrow and then next week be accused of some sort of sexual misconduct, would we refuse to use the treatment they discovered? I hope not, but I hold that hope with very little certainty. Surely no reasonable person would argue that the L’Arche organization should be disbanded, especially since Vanier’s alleged transgressions occurred outside that community – but that doesn’t mean some won’t call for precisely that. At what point does someone’s misdeed mean that everything they ever said or did must be discarded? I’m not sure there is a hard and fast answer to that question, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be talking about it.

Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Bigotry

Shakira-J.-Lo-Blow-Minds-at-Super-Bowl-Halftime-ShowOh, the outrage! Jennifer Lopez and Shakira have asses! Son of a bitch! What am I going to tell my teenagers – they don’t know about asses! Not only that, they had the audacity to shake their asses! Jennifer Lopez climbed a stripper pole? How do I explain that to my kids? These women were both dancing as if they were from some sort of Hispanic culture – we can’t have that! Where are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers when you need them? We can’t have these brown people running around doing the things they do, or the next thing you know our teenagers will be humping like rabbits (n.b., they already are)!

Patriots Rams Super Bowl FootballThis reminds me of last year when Adam Levine made me uncomfortable by taking off his shirt and moving his hips like a male stripper! Jesus Christ! My kids didn’t know that men had hips! My teenage boys weren’t even sure how they walked, but now I am going to have to explain it to them. Then there was the fact that I went through two Hitachi magic wands trying to get over what I saw!

Okay, ladies, let me help you out. First, there was nothing inappropriate about what either Jennifer Lopez or Shakira were doing. They were dancing, expressing themselves, and just because it wasn’t boring doesn’t mean it was wrong. As for the pole, you can take a class at the local gym or dance studio to learn pole dancing. It’s not reserved for strip clubs any longer, and hasn’t been for some time. Furthermore, if your teenagers have been to homecoming or prom, they jlohumpspolehave already been having sexual contact in the backseat of the family SUV – or have you forgotten your youth?

Here’s the real deal. I have a question for you. Why is it you are fine with your teens playing video games in which they kill other people but are upset with them watching two women old enough to be their mothers shake their asses? I will tell you why. It’s not likely because you are a prude, although your reaction proves you are a prude. It’s because somewhere in your past, in a place you don’t want to look at, you have been sexually traumatized and this is triggering you. The problem is neither Shakira nor JLo, nor both or them all lathered up. The problem is that you need to get yourself to a therapist post haste, and no amount of outrage is going to change that truth.

Pet Rabbits?

man yellingFrom the Huffington Post:

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER RESIGNS AFTER GUILTY PLEA  Duncan Hunter has submitted his resignation, about a month after pleading guilty to federal charges. The Californian Republican and his wife, Margaret Hunter, were indicted for misappropriating $250,000 in campaign donations for personal use, including luxurious family vacations, private school tuition, and airfare for pet rabbits. He also used campaign donations to fund his extramarital affairs.

Pet rabbits? As in more than one pet rabbit? I suppose they do breed like, well, rabbits, and the horse you rode in onbut seriously? This isn’t a guy who is a few bucks short and so skims ten bucks off the fund to get McDonald’s. It’s not even a guy who has always scrimped and slips up and decides to finally take the vacation to Disneyland he never could afford. This is a guy screaming at the top of his lungs at every American taxpayer: “Fuck you!”

This is what happens when wealth becomes your god. You will go to any means necessary to look like you have acquired wealth, because wealth means you are a good person. In this belief system, your behavior doesn’t really matter as long as you end up wealthy – or at least appear to be wealthy. It’s the prosperity gospel writ large and secularized. It is the antithesis of any historic understanding of morality, and it rules the day in contemporary western culture.

food bankYou might be wondering, “whom does it hurt?” It hurts everyone. Perhaps most importantly, it hurts the people who run around frantically doing whatever is necessary to grab on to the appearance of wealth and it hurts their family. It hurts the family because they are the ones who really pay the price in terms of the absence of the wealth worshipers. They are also the ones who will pay the biggest price should the family scammer get caught and do time.

Ultimately, it hurts all of us. It hurts economically, it hurts in terms of the price we pay socially for the fallout from this behavior, and it hurts because it asserts a morality that is profoundly immoral. We will be paying generations from now for the human cost of this behavior. That may be the saddest part of all of this.

How Do I Justify My Presence?

I came across a very interesting thread on Facebook over the weekend, and really feel compelled to respond to it in a longer form than is possible in a Facebook discussion. Here is the product!

To paraphrase the question raised, “how does a transgender man preaching in conservative Indiana justify his presence in the pulpit using the Gospel?” My answer: he shouldn’t try.

You see, to the extent that we continue to try to justify our very existence, no matter the reason anyone might call our existence or presence into question, we legitimize an illegitimate question. Can you see that? If someone says to me, “you have no right to be here,” and I respond to that nonsense then I make the very question of my right to be here seem legitimate. If someone said to you, “I see you have three arms,” and you started arguing that you only had two arms, you would be giving the question of how many arms you have credence. Rather than argue our arm count, most of us would either walk away or call the local mental health crisis line.

The world is full of diversity, and that diversity has threatened people since humans first crawled out of the primordial sludge. We are psychologically programmed to be suspicious of the different, to interpret it as a threat until we learn otherwise, as a basic survival instinct. Those of us who have learned to use more than our reptilian brain have learned to use reasoning to overcome those instincts when they are faulty. Our friend Bob might be profoundly unattractive, but we learn that doesn’t make him a danger. Despite this knowledge, we tend to want to keep crawling back into the sludge in the hopes that the reptilians among us will come to see that we are okay and admit that truth out loud. Guess what? It ain’t gonna happen, so it’s time to move on.

 

Sex Secret

I don’t think women do this, but I could be wrong. Women hardly ever invite me to eavesdrop on their conversations about sex. Dammit. Some men do this, however, and it’s them I would like to discuss today. You women can listen in, I don’t mind.

two men whisperingThere are two versions of this practice that break down along sexual orientation lines. Gay and bisexual men will tend to tell stories about straight, or at least publicly straight, men who tried to have sex with them, but they declined. Straight men will claim that they had sex with a woman known to those present for discussion. Perhaps Dice Clay parodied this nonsense best when he joked, “Mother Goose? I fucked her!”

Whether any of these claims are true, and I suspect most of them are not, doesn’t make adice clay bit of difference. The very fact that the claims are made reveals quite a bit about the claimant, and the revelation is not flattering. There is no healthy, mature motivation for one person to share stories of sexual conquest or continence with another. It’s even worse when the story telling occurs in a group context.

In a day in which American sexual understanding and ethics have never been worse, and it seems there is no shortage of people looking to blow up the reputations of select others on rumor alone (e.g. Rep. Katie Hill), we need to see those who recklessly share self serving accounts of their own sexual behavior for the irresponsible, immature people they are. We also need to steer clear lest we become the subject of their next set of fictions.

You should know…

You should know that you will meet many people who will purport to be your friend for precisely as long as it is to their advantage. The moment you do something they don’t like, they will disappear. They were never a friend. True friendship weathers disagreement.

Holding Hands?

God help me, if you told me years ago that I would ever write anything about Justin Timberlake, I would have been forced to surrender my man card. I’m still coming to terms with it as I write this post. For the sake of this discusison, which is an important one, I am going to lay aside my disdain for the cult of celebrity.

What constitutes intimacy? That’s really the question here, as Justin was seen holding hands with Alisha Wainwright during a night on the town in New Orleans. His wife, Jessica Biel, is understandably upset. The holding hands issue raises a larger question, especially given that in parts of Europe and the Middle East friends hold hands as they stoll along the street and not a second glance is given.

hold handsSuppose we tried to generate an “intimacy scale” that ranked behaviors in degrees of increasing intimacy. I suspect holding hands would be rather low on the scale, while knee rubbing (allegedly Wainwright rubbed Timberlake’s knee under a table at which they were sitting) might rank a bit higher. Where is kissing on that scale? How would we sort out the various sexual acts? Where in the list would an intimate but decidedly non-sexual conversation fit? I would argue that people sharing their most intimate thoughts, feelings, and beliefs may well be an even larger danger to their other romantic relationships than a one night stand.

I worked with a couple many years ago who had engaged in a threesome, and one partner was devastated by the other having kissed the third during the event – nevermind that participants one and three had unrestricted access to each other while numbers two and three, by predetermined ground rule, were to have more limited contact. For this person, kissing was obviously highest on the imtimacy list. I suspect most people who had caught their partner patronizing a prostitute in their car would beg to differ, but it points out that for each of us there is a different intimacy scale at work. I believe that scale may flex a bit from situation to situation.

Then there is the alcohol factor. Timberlake says he had “way too much to drink.” Todrunk evaluate this claim, we need to understand what alcohol does. Alcohol disinhibits us as we drink. The more we drink, the more disinhibited we become, until at some point we are disinhibited and throwing up face down on the floor. It most decidedly does not cause us to do things we would never do if sober. It does make it more likely that we will do things that we might consider doing when sober but decide not to do because we see the consequences more clearly when sober.

Some years ago, Mel Gibson tried to justify one of his drunken, antisemitic, DUI rants by appealing to the alcohol. Sorry, Mel, it doesn’t work that way. Alcohol doesn’t put ideas into our head that otherwise wouldn’t reside there, it tends to lubricate the release of those ideas through word and action. Sober Mel might have had enough sense to keep his vile beliefs to himself, drunken Mel clearly did not. Interestingly, he tried to crucify Jesus to make up for it, and his strategy failed. Let’s hope Justin’s apology will make such drastic action unneccesary.

I believe that it would have a beneficial effect on our relationships to consider what out own intimacy scale might be and discuss it with our partners. Questions such as, “what is the most intimate thing you can imagine?” would not only help us understand each other, and ourselves, more fully, they might give us some good ideas for our next date night. You might be surprised to learn that many things offered in response to that question can be done fully clothed and in public without fear of being arrested – especially if you happen to be male.

Holiday Reflections

My wife Erin and I were in a fairly significant car accident Friday night when a pickup truck ran a red light. While we are banged up pretty well, we are alive – and that’s generally not something you think much about less than a week before the holidays. Ironically, the day before that I spoke with a woman whose husband had been rear ended on his way home from work and his car totaled. My conversation partner was on her way to look for a replacement car because they had planned to drive seven hours with their children to their holiday destination. Erin and I had to cancel our holiday trip a mere five and one half hours away because we were going to be able to get our car replaced in time for our trip. What are the odds that I would encounter someone who would foreshadow our holiday turn of events just one day later?

Last week I read a blog post in which the author advised everyone to reconcile over the holidays with any family members from whom they are estranged. Their reasoning was rooted in a rather Pollyanna understanding of interpersonal behavior and a mythic understanding of the holidays. I remember thinking what an absolute load of nonsense the post was when I read it, mostly because such views give a free pass to people who abuse others. It’s one thing to look past petty disagreements. I am all for that practice. It’s quite another to slide into denial about legitimate grievances because of some pie in the sky understanding of the magic of Christmas.

What I do want to recommend in light of my accident is that you be sure to tell the people you love that you love them over the holidays, and every day, because the truth is that we don’t know if we will see each other again. Life might be taken from us at any moment, and that is also why we shouldn’t gloss over serious disagreements. When we pretend that it’s acceptable for you to have abused me, what we are really doing is saying my life isn’t worth all that much. That does everyone a disservice, and no amount of fairytale holiday bliss can justify it.

Imagine if we wished one another an authentic holiday, a holiday season in which we told the people we loved that we love them and also honored everyone’s integrity by being honest about our disagreements, too. We might also commit to be honest with one another and to value that honesty over any misguided notion that our job is to protect the feelings of others at the expense of our integrity.

Happy Holidays!

Blind Spots

We all have blind spots. Some of us have physical blind spots, but almost all of us have metaphorical blind spots. Part of the spiritual life is searching out those blind spots and working to heal them. We may well never eliminate them all, because they can pop up throughout our life. When teachers we respect suddenly reveal (most often whyblindspotsunintentionally) a blind spot, we may find ourselves making a difficult choice. It may seem we are stuck between two choices, but there are always at least three choices.

The first option is to say that the blind spot we have discovered renders everything the person may have said or offered null and void. We see people choose this option all the time, but if I am correct in asserting that we all have blind spots then this choice means that none of us have anything to offer. We will run around covering up our blind spots and other flaws for fear they will eventually render us irrelevant. In truth, those flaws render us human, not irrelevant.

The second option is to say that since we all have blind spots we will ignore the blind spots that we discover in others. We will pretend they aren’t present, and if anyone points them out we will vigorously defend our heroes by insisting they are perfect. This, too, dehumanizes them by rendering them a caricature of themselves and forcing them to run about claiming to be some distortion of a messiah figure. Denying the truth is never a healthy was forward.

The third option is to recognize that we all have blind spots. From a spiritual perspective, all people have inherent worth and value. We each have to make a decision about whether or not it is possible to have a blind spot that is so large that it destroys that inherent worth and value. I choose to take the position that there is nothing we can do to destroy that worth and value, even though there are things we can do that may necessitate our being isolated from society at large for a time. If a spiritual teacher has a long history of mistreating his or her students, we may decide that we will no longer be their student or support their organization. On the other hand, we may see that the issue at hand is a blind spot but not large enough for us to separate ourselves from them.

Can we see that if we belong to or are influenced by a tradition that says all life has intrinsic valuevalue, then we simply cannot say there are people who no longer have their basic needs met – needs for food, clothing, shelter, companionship, fresh air, and mental stimulation. A colleague I greatly respect took me to task recently when I suggested that a certain political figure had the right to have friends and human contact. In my friend’s mind, the politician in question had committed war crimes and therefore wasn’t entitled to companionship. That’s contrary to the traditions from which both of us have emerged. So how does this happen?

Emotions often cloud and complicated our decision making process. In the heat of the moment, our own blind spots may show – even in response to the blind spots of others! One of the bigger benefits of spiritual practice is that practice affords us the opportunity to work through these issues in a methodical way and at a reasonable pace – even if, in our western impatience, we want everything resolved¬†now! Rushing to judgment is always problematic, so let’s all take our time as we assess what we can and cannot accept!

Social Media and Seeking Support

There are things that are clearly out of the ordinary, beyond the pale, tragedies of great scale and scope that can set is back financially to a profound extent. I have no problem with people turning to social media for support both emotional and financial in such situations. If your home is destroyed and you lack the resources to rebuild, by all means ask for help!  At any time if you need to vent about something, I believe social media can be a great platform on which to do so. If you vent constantly I may unfollow you for my own sanity, but I will still support your right to vent.

The other day I saw an actress with a net worth of two million dollars begging for money on Social media because her child had been the victim of a crime. The reason she needed the money? To catch the criminal. Apparently she feels that law enforcement can’t do the job and she can’t liquidate enough of her assets to hire a private investigator? Are we serious?

Then there are the average people who seem to think the world should contribute for their normal, daily expenses. I struggle to understand why anyone would ask for help paying for their Kleenex when they contract a cold, or for cremation expenses for a beloved pet, or to pay for home remodeling, or any of a number of other routine expenses that are simply a part of daily life. Are we really that entitled?

Life brings with it a fair amount of adversity. Working through that adversity is how we grow and mature. At times it may feel as if you are the only one who has ever struggled with a certain kind of adversity, but I can assure you that you are not alone. Trying to make a quick profit off of daily life isn’t only unattractive, it stunts your growth.

Asking for emotional support or that a neighbor bring a casserole on a difficult day builds community. You won’t find that kind of community in the Internet. You can find it outside your front door, but you would do well to say hello to your neighbors today rather than wait for the crisis to arrive. Can we think of other, more healthy ways to seek support in our lives?