Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Roy Orbison, Spring, & Romance

23/04/2013 - 2:14 p.m.
Matter Of Taste Coffee Bar, Kitchener, Ontario

Today would have been Roy Orbison's 77th birthday, so I'm listening to a comprehensive collection of his work as I type this. It is a beautiful spring day here in downtown Kitchener.

Spring is a time, as the cliché says, for new beginnings. It's right of course. More sunlight, warmer temperatures lift us up from our sometimes deep depressions, if even for a few moments. We also undertake spring cleaning. In my case, I am undergoing a move in just a few days, which I'm happy about.

Spring may also be a time to try new things or to get out and meet new people; it's amazing what a coffee shop encounter can do for your spirit. Just this morning an FB friend of mine came in and we had a nice half-hour chat and it brightened my day.

Spring is also a time to be bold and scandalous, to do something that you've wanted to do for a long time but have been too afraid to try. Yes, that sounds like a horoscope or fortune cookie, but I like it anyways. It's a time to take yourself less seriously and open up the windows.

Spring may also be time for new romance, which may mean taking chances (as Celine Dion would say - oh yes, I just referenced Celine Dion). The worst she/he can say is no (actually the worse she can do is slap you in the face, but the hand-mark on your face will subside within a few minutes.) You're never too old for love.

I leave you with some Roy Orbison performing on the Tonight Show with a then up-and-coming artist, k.d. lang. What a duet!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

VIDEO: Henri Nouwen: You Are The Beloved

The following is a series of sermons given by Catholic priest and author Henri J.M. Nouwen at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California in 1992, four years before his death. Here he speaks firstly on Being The Beloved, then on Becoming The Beloved, and finally on being Disciples of the Beloved. I have taken on Henri's last name as an indication of how significant his message was and continues to be for me:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I See Your Pain, It Runs Deep

The Suffering Of Self-Exile
by John O'Donohue
excerpt from Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger To Belong

"Many people sense a yawning emptiness at the centre of their lives. This secretly terrifies them. They become afraid that if they engage the emptiness, they will lose all control over their life and identity. This fear drives them towards permanent flight from any possibility of real self-encounter. They keep conversations always on safe ground. Often they are the humourous figures who constantly joke and will not allow any question through their subtle protection shields. They labour valiantly to be accepted by others, but no-one, not even themselves, ever gets near them. A phalanx of language and movement keeps them hidden. It is as if their every word and gesture strain desperately into the safe middle distance. Yet they long all the while to enter the door of their own hearts but fear has hidden the key. This is a neglected and unattended region of suffering, the secret suffering of the permanently self-exiled. They are always circling within inches of home, yet they seem never to be able to get there. They are somehow forlorn and their presence is dislocated. The suffering here is the exile from true inner belonging. It is the voice of forlorn longing. It is as if a secret limbo has opened in that region between a person's intimate heart and all their actions and connections in the outer world. In the intense whirr of dislocation and fragmentation which assails modern consciousness, this limbo has become ever more extensive. There is a consuming loneliness which separates more and more individuals from each other and from their own inner life.
Post-modern culture is deeply lonely. This loneliness derives in large part from the intense drive to avoid suffering and pain and the repudiation of commitment. People relentlessly attempt to calm their inner turbulence by all manner of therapy and spirituality. They seek refuge in each new programme or method as if it offered final resolution. Yet so many of these programmes have no earth beneath the seductive surface. They can offer no growth, nor enable a person to identify the pain at the root of identity. Such external tamperings never manage to reach or embrace the inner loss which is a natural part of being a human person. Every heart has to manage the emptiness of its own dark. Jung suggested that neurosis was unmet suffering. This dialogue with your inner loss is slow and painful. Yet to avoid or sidestep this necessary pain only brings a slow, seeping sense of loneliness which continues to shadow and haunt your life. The Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran said: 'Suffering is the cause of consciousness. (Dostoevsky) Men belong to two categories: those who have understood this, and the others.'"

Friday, April 19, 2013

Healing Within Community

5:12 p.m.
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario

We all have those days when we have a hard time functioning, whether it be at work or with our families or in some other area of our lives. We have days when we can barely get out of bed. And it can seem that there is no easy answer, no quick fix, and we wonder if we'll ever emerge from this "funk."

I have many days like this, as I suffer from clinical depression as well as bi-polar disorder. I write "suffer from" rather than just "have" because it is a suffering. Sometimes it's like the perfect storm..without George Clooney. On days like this it seems like there's no way out. This can be extra hard if you're like me and you tend to be quite introverted as it is.

I am fortunate to have a few very close friends whom I can do coffee with or chat with during these times.  But I suggest another form of healing, and that is healing within community. Finding a community where you can be yourself and feel welcome and safe is like gold. For me it is my Unitarian Universalist congregation where I attend each week and feel surrounded by a group of people who are supportive rather than judgmental.  For others it could be their church or a service club or being part of a sports team.

Another benefit of finding healing within community is that you aren't putting the full weight of your pain on one person, or expecting "this person" or "that person" to heal your pain, which can be enormous.  When we do this, we often crush people and they flee; they end the friendship or relationship because they simply do not have it in them to be our emotional healer. And it's not their job.

Within community we can be lifted up by several understanding people without crushing any of them. Community can augment our personal friendships as well as the professional help we may need.

Peace and wellness to you today,

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Go Ahead And Feel Like Crap

17/04/2013 - 5:40pm

Today I woke up
And then I went back to bed
And then I woke up
And then I went back to bed again.

Finally I rose out of bed, and I still feel like crap. I've definitely felt worse, but I'm still kind of miserable and have a pessimistic outlook. I don't particularly feel like hearing from many people or celebrating their happiness.  And you know what, that's ok. Because I know it will pass. Eventually.

When I was younger I had every reason to be in a bad mood, suffering through a childhood that included emotional and verbal abuse by one of my parents. I felt I had to remain stoic - never yelling, almost never shedding a tear for fear that they would bring on more pain or rock the boat even further.

And we carry these ways of being into adulthood, these coping mechanisms even though we are no longer in those hurtful situations. We find ourselves tightening up or holding in the tears. Some therapists assert that now that we are adults, we have to "take in our inner child" and tell them that everything is ok. That works for a lot of people. For me, the simple knowledge that it's ok to feel like shit is most freeing.  Some religious people and churches teach that we should "pray away" negative feelings or that they are signs that our faith is not strong. But according to their own Scriptures, Jesus himself felt "negative" emotions such as extreme sorrow (Lazarus), abandonment (by Peter) and loneliness and anguish (in Gethsemane).

Jesus didn't turn to Tony Robbins or Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking), and I think it's important that we take our time in really feeling these emotions like sadness and misery when they come. I'm not advocating that we go through these times alone or without a good therapist or medication, but we should give these emotions room to breathe.

It may take a few hours or a few days to get over it, but I'll get through it. And you will too. But for now, go ahead and feel like shit.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Brennan Manning (1934~2013) - A Ragamuffin At Peace

Former Franciscan priest, author, speaker, and husband Brennan Manning has passed away at the age of 79. Manning's book "The Ragamuffin Gospel" had a major impact on me during my Bible college years. Here are my reflections, followed by a clip of Brennan.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Politics Informed By Spirituality

Me with the Unitarian Universalist chalice.

Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario
12/04/2013 - 6:00pm

Lately I've been thinking a whole lot about where politics fits into my life. I have always been interested in politics. My grandfather was a municipal politician (as well as taking a run at provincial politics), my father was always interested in politics, and I caught the bug. I would attend rallies when federal leaders were visiting a nearby town. I shook hands with Jean Chretien and Jean Charest, and went to an event with Stockwell Day.

But it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I personally became involved in politics, first as Secretary of my local New Democratic Party executive, and then serving as LGBTQ Representative as an ally on the executive.  It was a very rewarding experience, as I met new people and went to different events. 

Now I am Vice President of Kitchener Centre's New Democratic Party, and I am thinking what my role is moving forward, and furthermore, what are my reasons for doing so?  

Plain spoken, I do not want to be a politician merely for the sake of politics. I don't want to be a politician merely in order to gain power and to be able to say "I'm the King of the Castle."

No, if I am to move forward and be involved in politics, it is something that must be informed by what is at the core of my being. For me, that is my spiritual journey.  I come from a family of preachers, grew up in a small country Christian church, and now am part of a flourishing Unitarian Universalist congregation here in Kitchener.

When I think of my spirituality, I have to ask myself, "What do I want? Who do I want to be?"  The answers that keep coming back to me are, "Be a person of character," "Listen more," "Do not steer away from those who are impoverished; instead be of service to them." "Seek justice, equality, be compassionate."

I do not want to be a New Democrat merely so that I can sneer at Conservatives or Liberals. This is small-mindedness. Yes, I must stand up and be firm when the government is implementing policies which I believe are harmful to the people of this country, but I must not demonize them or dehumanize them.

I am proud to be party of a political party which has had many women and men of faith at its core. Tommy Douglas and Bill Blaikie come to mind, as well as current MP's such as Paul Dewar.

I will move forward as a New Democrat who strives to always be informed by my faith and I look forward to working with people of every faith.

Mark Andrew Nouwen
Vice-President - Kitchener Centre New Democratic Party 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rely On The Voice That Has Always Been There

Most of your life you have struggled for love that you did not receive earlier in your life. But you will get nowhere by running to and fro looking for it like a child going door to door for Hallowe'en candy. Doing so will only make you more tired and lonely. Instead, you are called to remain close to your Inner Voice, the Divine within you. It has always been with you, but you have been distracted by all that this world has to offer. The distractions grow each and every day. You must take some time to remove yourself from a world of constant e-mailing, tweeting, facebooking, and texting. Instead rely on the Voice that has always been there. Also, rely on your closest friends, those who really know you and your weaknesses. They will lovingly keep you in check and provide love and support that you need as you continue the journey. One day, perhaps when you least expect it, you will find a love that truly fulfills you and you will rest. For now, stay on the spiritual path, stay close to your Inner Voice.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

Matthew Warren, 27, son of Pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide on Friday.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase "Speak no ill of the dead." Perhaps the appendage "or their families" should be added.

This past week, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher passed away at the age of 87. While much praise has been given to her from various world leaders, others have heaped scorn and hatred upon her even before her body was cold.

One politician tweeted a picture of a champagne bottle in celebration, hundreds partied on the streets of a couple of towns, and one politician whose birthday it happened to be said, "It's the best birthday I've ever had." Outlandish former British MP George Galloway didn't mince words: "May she burn in the hellfires."

Matthew Warren, 27, was less known, but his father Pastor Rick Warren isn't. He's the author and pastor of the mega-church called Saddleback. On Friday, after a "fun-filled" night with his parents, Matthew went back to his home and shot himself to death. Matthew had suffered from depression for many many years.

While outpourings of sympathy came from across the country, foes of Matthew's father and his message took to their iPhones and blogs:

A poster to USA Today's website from Cincinnati wrote:  "Either there is no God, or God doesn't listen to Rick Warren, despite all the money Rick has made off of selling false hope to desperate people." In another comment, the same poster counsels Warren to "abandon primitive superstitions and accept the universe for what it is — a place that is utterly indifferent to us." Others assured the Warrens that there is no Heaven where Matthew would go. Still others used the occasion to get on their soap box about gay marriage (which I fully support, but that's no excuse for this). One Twitter user who describes himself as a "partnered, faithful friend" living in New York posted, "Dear Rick Warren: now U know the 'anguished grief' parents of gay teen suicides feel after listening 2 U and UR ilk's anti-gay hate speech."

My reaction to all this is: have you no compassion? Have you no mercy? Where is your humanity? You can strongly disagree with a person's views yet show them respect, especially in death. I'm sure that if I were to sift through Thatcher's record there would be a lot that I would strongly disagree with, and I know there are things I strongly disagree about with Rick Warren.

But someone has just lost a mother and a grandmother. Someone has just lost a son and a brother. Show some respect.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Dark Side Of Being Young

Rehtaeh Parsons died on Sunday. She was 17 years old.
Today as I was waiting outside the mall for the bus, it was bombs away. F*** this, F*** that, all over the place. There was talk of a fight. And of course the cigarette smoke.

And it was all coming from kids 16 and under. A few things came to mind. Mostly I was annoyed because I was having a bad day, plus I was making judgments. Then a question came to mind, "Who is parenting these kids anyway?"  It's very disturbing, and this was just a small snapshot.

Meet Rehtaeh Parsons. The Nova Scotia girl attended a small party with a friend two years ago when she was 15 years old and had a bit of vodka. Allegedly four boys began raping her and taking photographs, which would surface at her school and in her community. Classmates began calling her a slut. After a year of investigating, police laid no charges, saying it was a "he said, she said" occurrence.

The family moved, but Rehtaeh fought depression. “She was never left alone. Her friends turned against her, people harassed her, boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking asking her to have sex with them since she had had sex with their friends. It just never stopped,” said Rehtaeh's mom.

Finally, on Thursday Rehtaeh tried to kill herself, and on Sunday was taken off of life support.  Another young life snuffed out by assault and bullying.

Look. Look at that smile. Be at peace, Rehtaeh.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Listening For The "Yes"

The following is an excerpt from Henri Nouwen's personal journal, The Inner Voice of Love.

Always Come Back To The Solid Place

"You must believe in the yes that comes back when you ask, "Do you love me?" You must choose this yes even when you do not experience it.
You feel overwhelmed by distractions, fantasies, the disturbing desire to throw yourself into the world of pleasure. But you know already that you will not find there an answer to your deepest question. Nor does the answer lie in rehashing old events, or in guilt or shame. All of that makes you dissipate yourself and leave the rock on which your house is built.
You have to trust the place that is solid, the place where you can say yes to God's love even when you do not feel it. Right now you feel nothing except emptiness and the lack of strength to choose. But keep saying, 'God loves me, and God's love is enough.' You have to choose the solid place over and over again and return to it after every failure." 

Sometimes You Can't Do Anything

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
~ Elie Wiesel
A new Facebook friend of mine recently posted this quote on her timeline, and I like the quote, I really do. I agree with it. Where we see suffering and pain or injustice, we must speak up and out.

But what about the times when you're burnt out, whipped, beyond tired and you can't seem to do anything?

We must allow for these times in our lives. We must not beat ourselves up if there are days, even weeks when we are unable to be the hero, the outspoken one. There are many days when it is hard to get out of bed; we are physically, mentally, or emotionally spent - perhaps all three.

And sometimes we get the saviour complex, thinking that we must revolt against every single injustice, or that we must fix every disturbing situation or disturbed person out there. But what good will we be, how quickly will we be burnt out, if we don't take care of ourselves first?

Sometimes we must "go into hiding," where it is just us, or for those who believe in the Divine, us and the Divine. In this place, no words need to be said, no speeches need to be given, no crusade needs to be fought.

There will again come a day when you can take up the cause, but sometimes you can't do anything.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Saturday, April 6, 2013

We Can Only Give To The Extent That We Are Received

Matter of Taste Coffee Bar
Kitchener, Ontario

It feels good to give. Whether we are giving of ourselves to someone we love who is in a tough spot - say a job loss or a difficult relationship - or whether we are giving to someone we have never met before, it feels good.

But we can give to others only to the extent that we are fully received. Received by who, you may ask? Received by ourselves, and if you believe in the Divine, received by the Divine as well.

We get so bogged down by our own baggage, some of it is justified. We've been bruised and battered and our expectations of how life was going to turn out for us may have fallen through.  We need mending, we need to feel held. And to a certain degree we can be the recipient of those things from other people, but I think it needs to come from more than one person, like a religious community or social group, as well as time spent with a therapist. Because not one person can bear all of our pain, and our pain may drive them away.

But if we are on the road toward healing, we can begin to give, as we start to feel received and accepted by our inner selves, or the Divine. Otherwise we may find ourselves oozing our pain to those in need instead of helping them.

And it feels so good to give. Helping an elderly person to shovel snow from their driveway, sending a "thinking of you" card to a friend going through a hard time, or having coffee with someone who just needs a listening ear.

It is better to give than to receive, but we can only give to the extent that we have been received.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Friday, April 5, 2013

Learning To Deal With Our Own Pain

It seems these days like we have opportunities at every turn to spill our guts. I find this particularly true of Facebook and Twitter, as these are sites that I have used, but there are a multitude of others. Facebook and Twitter can be a good way to spread important information in a split second, but they can also become places where we go to bleed freely and attempt to have our wounds licked.  It seems that some people  - and I have been guilty of this in the past - immediately hit social media when something bad or something good happens to them. Today I'm thinking more about the bad.

How many of us have taken to our computers when we're really lonely and we cast the Facebook net out there hoping that we'll catch someone's eye who will fill our loneliness? How many of us tweet madly hoping that others will be impressed by the agility of our thumbs and respond in some way?  This can come in lieu of  a lost relationship, a lost job, lost faith. More than often we would do better to keep our own secrets and learn to be held by the few close people around us - friends, family, therapists, rather than walk around bleeding.  While posting everything on the web for all to see, or by sharing your innermost pain with strangers, you may feel temporary relief, but eventually you will feel desperate.

The late Catholic writer Henri Nouwen wrote a piece called "Own Your Pain" in his personal journal The Inner Voice of Love:

"The main question is 'Do you own your pain?' As long as you do not own your pain - that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world - the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself. When you speak to others about your pain without fully owning it, you expect something from them that they cannot give. As a result, you will feel frustrated , and those you wanted to help will feel confused, disappointed, or even further burdened.
But when you fully own your pain and do not expect those to whom you minister to alleviate it, you can speak about it in true freedom. Then sharing your struggle can become a service; then your openness about yourself can offer courage and hope to others.
For you to be able to share your struggle as a service, it is also essential to have people to whom you can go with your own needs. You will always need safe people to whom you can pour out your heart. You will always need people who do not need you but who can receive you and give you back to yourself. You will always need people who can help your own pain and claim your struggle."
I am being challenged today to 1) go inside to the place of pain and find healing in God instead of displaying my pain to the whole world, and 2) to be held by the certain few people in my life who will take me as I am.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reminder: You Are Loved

Sometimes we lose sight of who we want to be, or even who we really are at the core of our being. We get very pre-occupied with our jobs, or volunteerism, and our families. We spend our time playing video games or watching movies or spending time online that we lose peace and a heightened level of anxiety replaces it. Recently I was on a city bus and I looked around and probably almost half of the riders were exercising their thumbs by texting on their phones or accessing an app. We no longer look around at nature or our fellow man; instead we look down at our phones.

And we wonder why we don't have more peace in our lives; instead we are worried. We wonder why we aren't more loving and kind towards others; instead we are frustrated and impatient. We forget what solitude and silence are, because our phones are always on, 24/7.

We also forget who we are at the core of our being. We forget that we are unique creations, that there is literally no one on the face of this planet who is exactly like this. We are so far removed from that which is greater than ourselves (whether we call that God, Spirit, Love, the Universe, etc), that we forget how loved and cherished we really are. We forget that we matter.

When your husband of 25 years suddenly announces that he's leaving for a 23-year-old, you are loved.

When your boss calls you into her office and states that the company is "restructuring," you are loved.

When the doctor comes back with a devastating prognosis for you or a family member, you are loved.

So how can we get back to the place where we remember what we really want, and who we are at the core of our being. I believe it is by getting back to the place where we're seeking first the kingdom of God. Now, those words need translating for me, because both "kingdom" and "God" don't mean a lot to me anymore.  What I take this bit of scripture to mean is that if we seek out the things of God (who is Love), therefore loving others and ourselves, we will come back into understanding of what we want and who we are.  This means service to others. It means doing the little things that mean so much to our friends and neighbours. And it means being a stranger to self-rejection by being kind and loving to ourselves mentally, emotionally, and physically.

May you realize you are loved today, and may we re-commit to loving others and ourselves.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Giving & Receiving Simple Yet Powerful Love

Here is a story from Easter Sunday in Vatican City. Pope Francis continues to impress me. And I think we can all learn from this story. It is a powerful thing to give love to people who may otherwise be cast aside or deemed unlovable, and it is also powerful to receive love from these truly valuable people. May our hearts be broken so that more love can fill us.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Separation of Church & Body

Sex. Sex.
Sex. Sex. Sex.
...and a kiss.
While you're at it, throw in a hug.

Why is it that many Christian churches have so much disdain or embarrassment about the body and, well, sex?  This has been the case for many many years and I believe it has done great harm to a whole lot of people who have been sitting in the pews.

Perhaps this disdain for the body explains the foaming at the mouth vehemence that some Christians have towards homosexuality, because talking about homosexuality means talking about sexuality, period.

It is what we believe that matters, they exhort.
It is what is in our heart that matters, they preach.

Watch out for the body.

The Church's disdain for the human body and our physical needs is bad enough, but when paired by the fact that so many of us didn't receive the physical touch or attention that we needed from one parent or both while children, well that's a double whammy.

We are physical beings, and we express things with our bodies that can not be expressed in words. A hug, a caress, a simple gentle glance can speak volumes.

And perhaps at our deepest level, we are sexual beings. So many rules have been put up to ensure that we don't go all perverse. Again, we can't trust our bodies. So therefore 1) we have to be married before we share our sexual selves with someone else, 2) only one sex should be dominant and be able to ask for it (guess which one?) and 3) it should all be kept hush hush.

When it comes to the body, when it comes to sex, the Church needs to open up the windows and let the wind blow through. Expression rather than repression. We would do well to realize this for ourselves as well.