Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: faith (page 1 of 7)

For You or Against You

In the weeks preceding her surgeries, I made several visits to see Vanessa. I’ve stored up these conversations as “treasures in my heart” as Mary did with the wise words Gabriel shared. Much like Mary, I had no idea how or when I would lean into them, I only recognized them as valuable.

One time, she shared with me how she had reacted when others didn’t see (as clearly as she did) the depth and breadth of talent hidden in her daughter. There was a play, and auditions, and significant disappointment. She shared with me that she was angry, as any parent is on behalf of a beloved. Then, she told me the lesson she took away from the experience. She began to see things with a larger view. “That director didn’t wake up that morning thinking, ‘how can I make the Barrett household miserable today’ she was only doing her job to put together the best production possible.” Vanessa said.

When faced with perceived or real unfairness and injustice, we tend to live as if everything is against us. That’s our natural reaction, perhaps simply a human one. And while it’s natural, it might not be helpful. Our perception of reality begins to shape our response, which actually has more power to change any given situation than shifting the responsibility to the rest of the world.

If you believe God, the Universe, and/or the rest of Humanity is for you, rather than against you, I promise you will experience the world and interpret its events in a dramatically different way. And you will respond to such powers and events with more grace. Similarly, if you choose to believe that this is all heading toward something good, you will see the ways in which the fabric of creation is also rooting on our fellow human, which is just as noble a cause.

You are more than welcome to believe that It Is All Against You. The world is at war with you. You are constantly fighting an uphill battle. Such posture will require you take up a sword and keep swinging. Take note, however, that constant charging may keep fellow “soldiers” a good distance away, avoiding friendly fire.

I’d welcome you to try out a stance of peacemaking. That it all works together for the good.  God is For You: this is a theme amplified through the First Testament. When Jesus starts citing the Blessed Are The’s, he puts his voice behind the idea that your situation is not an indicator that God has forgotten you or left you behind. In fact, he says, in any situation there is opportunity to feel the closeness of God.

Of course, God and the Universe on your side doesn’t imply finding the 4 bedroom house on 5 acres in the country with a brand new kitchen, and in your price range. The promise was never for perfection: just goodness. Siding with the Powers that Be simply means we will get what we need, yet not necessarily what we always want. It might even be helpful to remember that what we want may not be helpful for finding what we need.

I’ve come to integrate this very concept in my parenting. When they don’t like the direction I’m taking them, I’ll ask, “do you believe that mommy is on your side? Do you believe that mommy wants good things for you?” Yes, they answer, because they know my love. What they’re experiencing might not be their preference, but they can trust that I have an end goal in mind that is headed toward goodness.

So you can respond to Life in a myriad of ways. One is to keep fighting, hell-bent. The other is to see with a view that is more heaven-ward. We tend to find what we’re looking for, so if you want evidence of goodness, then you need to first start seeking it.

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Because They Hate Me

We keep a pretty firm rule of One Activity Per Kid around here. This year the girls narrowed it down to either dance or tumbling. Of course, one chose dance and the other chose tumbling. They happen on the same day, starting within a half an hour of each other, making my Mondays the most miserable, mini-van living day possible. I tell people, “Of course, they chose different things, because they hate me.”

When I say that, people will laugh, because I had just personalized something that had zero to do with me. The girls chose the activity they liked best. They did not say to one another, “Hey, let’s see how much time Mom can spend in a minivan just waiting on practices to begin and end!” This is clear to everyone. Even to me.

Yet, there’s a slice of worldview hidden in these dramatic phrases. This kind of humor is funny because there’s a sliver of truth brought to the surface and enlarged for all to see. I love great humorists for this reason – they can expose that which we cannot bear to talk about, making it bearable only with laughter alongside.

I’ve used the same phrase to describe the school system when it takes a professional day following a particular hairy weekend (Halloween, time change, holidays), leaving me to bear my children alone while my husband goes off to studentless work. “They decided to cancel school, because they hate me,” I laugh. It’s not true, but why is it so easy to believe it?

It’s actually an ancient framework of operating in the world. I may or may not have the hobby of reading cultural anthropology textbooks for fun (I know; I’m invited to all the best parties…) and I stumbled upon this idea that the ancient Mediterranean civilizations functioned using the concepts of honor and shame as their basic economy. Rich and poor were pretty much set conditions and while money was helpful and important, society didn’t operate from the numbers. Rather, they used honor as the currency. When you did something good, it brought you honor and honor upon your family, tribe and even nation. This is why we read so much about names and living under the name of someone  (God, King David, etc) – to be “under the name” of someone was to share in their honor, the means of mobility within culture. This is how you got to “be someone.”

In the same way our current monetary economy functions, honor was a limited good. In order to gain honor, it had to come from somewhere, specifically someone. To take a person’s honor was to shame him. So if you and I had an interaction and I came away as right, I walked away with some of your honor, and you were left with shame. Now, there were lots of rules about how this little economy worked – amendments about gender and class and who could heap shame on you and how this played out. Everything in the culture operated on this – it was how marriages were arranged, business deals closed -the basic fabric of society.

Quite literally, if misfortune came upon a household, it was believed that someone else was walking away with their good fortune. Shame had come upon them, so someone else must have taken their honor. This invisible, but critical, social good was limited, transient and shaped their lives.

As a 21st century reader, we can believe that’s an archaic and potentially even silly way of operating. Yet, we stumble into it all the time. The guy that just cut you off, the people arriving chronically late and setting your work day askew, the parent that won’t do what they’re asked: it’s easy to begin to believe that their actions come from a place of desiring to see your life worsen. We slip into this ancient pattern of “If my life is harder, someone else’s must be easier.” As if goodness is a scarce element we must horde for ourselves.

Friends, it’s simply not true. When it comes the economy of goodness, we get to make our own money. We manufacture it as much as we spend it and have an endless supply. Try it. Once you start in, I promise that you’ll be hooked. You’ll toss it around like confetti. When you start believing you can give goodness to anyone – an especially those who inconvenience you – without running out,  your life will improve significantly.

Walter Brueggeman writes that a big work of Jesus in this world was discrediting the myth of scarcity. The Kingdom of God which Jesus so often spoke of was a place of abundance growing from small amounts. When we start to actually live into those realities, you find how often Jesus was right. We do have enough – so much enough, we can give it away without fear that we’ll run out by losing it to someone else. There is always enough goodness if you choose to live into it.

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In defense of the constant questions

A few weeks ago, I lamented on Facebook:

Screenshot 2016-01-08 09.28.40

My oldest seems to be particularly inclined to ask about anything and everything. Honestly, it can be exhausting, and I do have limits. However, I’m trying to maintain an openness to their curiosity.

A while back, I read that in a particular Jewish culture, mothers (and fathers) would drop off their children to Hebrew School and encourage them, not with parting words of “behave!” or “eat your lunch!” or even “have fun!” but rather they told the kids, “ask good questions.”

The point of the article which shared this tradition directed me to the benefits of raising children with a faith that is open to the questions, as opposed to a more closed system that much of contemporary Christianity tends to portray. I liked the approach, and as I often do, adopted it as one of my own. I encourage the kids to ask questions frequently and impose my Jesus-like quality of answering a question with a question to a frustrating degree.

Beyond the impact on a person’s belief system – one that is developed over time, nurtured with curiosity, comfortable with a few unknowns, rather than simply a product of indoctrination – I believe curiosity to be immensely important in the way we engage with the world. I write because I’m curious. I read because I’m insatiably curious. I spend time on Facebook because I’m curious. I’m curious to the point of nosy (which leads to a few boundary issues, but my truest friends are so very accepting. And forgiving.)

If I were to try to limit my hopes and dreams for my children to only 5, I believe “being curious about the world” would make the list. Please, don’t ask me to list the other 4, this a challenge I don’t wish upon myself. (But, now I am curious as to how I would answer.)

Now I’m backed by scientific research. Mind/shift just posted on their NPR site another article about the effects of curiosity on learning:

“There’s this basic circuit in the brain that energizes people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding,” Ranganath explains. This circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we’re curious.

When the circuit is activated, our brains release a chemical called dopamine which gives us a high. “The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning.”

Indeed, when the researchers later tested participants on what they learned, those who were more curious were more likely to remember the right answers.

So, while I might be bald by the time the youngest graduates from pulling my hair out at the incessant questions, I will be proud. Those meanderings will lead to further pursuits, I believe. When the oldest wants to know why we “can’t build houses out of glass” it might lead to a lifetime of building or engineering or figuring out which materials will withstand life on Mars. Or when he wants to know how many bones are in the human body or why we can’t tie cords around our feet at night, it could lead to a future in medicine or curing the world of arthritis.

My children, ask away. Keep asking. When you get “I don’t know” keep asking around the issue.

And when mama hides in a dark room, just ask Siri.

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