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One of the nearby churches has this as the title of the next sermon: If God is your co-pilot, guess who’s in the wrong seat. Amusing as it is, there’s something at the root of this statement that I find disturbing.

I’ve never liked the co-pilot analogy. My reaction upon seeing a bumpersticker with “God is my co-pilot” for the first time was: Dear Lord, how arrogant. It could be read a couple of different ways. The first: “God is my co-pilot…because I am just that awesome,” is not just egotistical and arrogant, but bears hints of a slightly delusional nature that the world must conform to the driver’s wishes. A second way the bumpersticker can be read: “God is my co-pilot…because he is my shield and my sword.” Really? So you’re using the divine presence as a tool to intimidate? Again, this is an arrogant and slightly delusional view point. The third way it could be read: “God is my co-pilot…he tells me where to go.” Of the three immediate ways I read it, this is the most disturbing to me.

Before I say why it’s the most disturbing, let me define some of my terms:
Egotistical: an exaggerated sense of self-worth
Arrogant: exaggerating or disposed to exagerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner; showing an offensive attitude of superiority
Delusional: a persistent false psychotic (i.e. loss of touch with reality) belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary

Breaking it down, the bumpersticker smacks of an inflated sense of the person’s importance and the idea that rubbing it in people’s faces is a good idea. As for the slightly delusional aspect: most people would say that making a statement does not necessarily make it a fact, yet that’s what this bumpersticker is doing. It is stating that God is manifested in the seat next to the person driving the vehicle.

I understand what they’re trying to say, but I had to think for a bit before coming to the conclusion that no, the driver of that car didn’t necessarily believe he or she was superior to everyone else on the road. What I think the bumpersticker is saying is God is an integral part of the driver’s life. Only “God is an integral part of my life” is not a catchy phrase.

So why is that third interpretation so disturbing to me? Because it sounds like the most reasonable interpretation, and is thus more likely to be true. The implications of the statement, though, is that the person driving isn’t thinking. Driving jokes aside, by “not thinking”, I mean that the driver relies on someone else to provide the answers. And that, to me, is very disturbing. It is disturbing in the sense that by relying on someone else to provide the answers, the driver may lose, or have lost, their ability to think critically about their own fundamental beliefs. (An ironic situation, because they rely on OTHERS to do that in order to bring in “converts”.)

Looking back at that sermon title (“If God is your co-pilot, guess who’s in the wrong seat.”) it seems to be the next step on that third interpretation. That is to say, if the third interpretation is more true than I could wish, this seems to escalate the message. Now instead of “God tells me what to do,” the sense is “God is driving and I have no choice.” Doubtless, some would say that’s exactly how it should be. Me, I question that answer. It seems counter to one of the central concepts believers often espouse: choice of whether to follow or not (granted not following has its…disadvantages, but the choice is there).

Personally, I’ve always liked the imagery of “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson. God as Companion. And not in an enclosed, man-made vehicle, but in a wide open vista. As with any companion, you can wander away, you can wander back, you can talk, you can be silent. A companion shares the ordeal and helps you through, provides opportunities or a supportive hand. And if necessary, will carry you when you can’t make it on your own.

Who wants a “God is my Companion” bumpersticker?

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Into That Good Night

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It’s been a very long time since I posted something. My apologies. And I’m afraid this one will probably be depressing for any readers still out there. I won’t be offended if you read no further. It’s why I’m opening with this paragraph. And if you’re the type of person who thinks sharing to work your way through a tough time is merely complaining and whining, please leave. Now.

I almost walked out of choir warm-up today. Choir, church, community, there’s supposed to be a feeling of inclusiveness, yet everything we sang, warm-up pieces or service music, emphasized and re-emphasized my apartness, aloneness, and loneliness. It is really hard to sing with your throat tight with tears.

I tried to come up with an affirmative meditation for candle lighting. I failed.

This flame is a beacon, a call, a summons
To all who can hear.
It is a flare, a warning, an alert
That all is not well.
It is the light of hope, of community, of healing
That in me has been extinguished.

4 Easy Things for Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

1. Know Your Area: If you know your area well, you’re much more likely to be able to escape an attacker. What do I mean by “know your area well”? This is not, I can find my way home from work or shopping. Know your area means knowing where the dead-ends are. It means knowing where the hiding places are. Know which neighbors you can run to for help.

2. No Doze: When traveling, or even walking to the corner store, stay awake and aware of what’s going on. Watch for people who try to remain unseen. Watch for nervousness in movements. Listen for footsteps and breathing (not your own). Look behind you using reflections from windows. Be aware of shadows.

3. Make Friends: Get to know people in your area. Your best defense is people greeting you by name. If you’re being social, you’re building up a defense network. Joe down the street may have noticed a car circling the block several times. Mary across the street may have noticed the same car stop in front of your house for several minutes before driving off. If you don’t speak with them, you might not find out someone’s scoping out your house until it’s too late.

4. Don’t Flash. Nice things are fun to have. They’re great to use for special, or at least specific, occasions. Don’t wear your nice jewelry to the mailbox. Showing off can be fun. Showing off in the wrong place can be dangerous.

4 Basic Boundaries for Legal Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

As I mentioned in a previous article, whenever there’s a fight, the police nearly always hear “self-defense” from both parties. There are, however, 4 boundaries that enclose what may legally be considered self-defense. You break any of these boundaries, and you’re likely to end up in jail for assault at the very least.

1. Physical Danger

The danger to you must be physical. This means someone slandering you or spreading libel is not a legal justification for responding physically. This also includes such provocations as: making fun of your mother/sister, spitting, or sleeping with your spouse. There are other remedies for these. Ask a lawyer.

2. Imminent Danger

Imminent danger means that the punch is on its way. This also applies to near certain probability, such as you just saw someone wipe out 5 people in sequence. Then he approaches you the same way he approached them. It would be considered a reasonable assumption that he’s coming after you next.

What is not included in “imminent danger” is the suspicion that someone is about to attack you without visual and recognizable proof (as in the example above). Somebody turning to the side and reaching inside a coat is NOT imminent danger unless you know for a FACT that he has a weapon there AND he intends to use it on you. For all you know, he may be cradling a broken rib.

3. The End is The End

If the attacker retreats from the field of battle, you may not continue the fight. Once the person is no longer an observable threat, any further attack becomes assault. Whether he turns his back to you to run, or raises his hands, he is no longer legally considered a threat. Does this mean he is ACTUALLY no longer a threat? No. Watch for a renewed attack. Be ready in case he comes back. If an observable threat manifests, you’re in a self-defense situation once more.

4. Don’t Provoke

Even if your attacker actually swings first, if you played an observable part in escalating the situation, the law will take a dim view of your assertion of self-defense. Does this mean that you should cave in to an aggressive person? No. But remember that direct confrontation is usually considered escalation to most people. If witnesses can testify that you stayed calm and tried to redirect, you have a much better chance of successfully using the “self-defense” defense.

Please note that many people will say they understand these boundaries, but when emotions are high, it is easy to become provocative. It is also very easy to misinterpret a surrendering movement for reaching for a concealed weapon. Remember: This is SELF-DEFENSE, not self-preemptive-strike.

I’m a Born Creepy Stalker

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I have a new favorite play: The Professional Eye-Opener. It hasn’t been published yet, but the playwright has had others published and won awards. We were honored to be able to do a beta-reading tonight at Readers’Theater. All I can say is: “Holy crap, that was fun to read!”

It’s a two person, one-act play. Person 1 is a woman and a high level corporate manager. Person 2 is more difficult to describe. He is essentially a trickster archetype, though plays the part of a salesman. It revolves around two main points. The first is how much personal information is actually out there to be found. The second is about social awareness of what’s going on around you and between the people in your life.

I got to read “Eric”, and wow was he creepy. All smiles and innocence except that he knows everything about Beth’s life and her place and roll in her company. There are hints that he may be supernatural in some way, but it’s never explored…just left out there to be a thunderstorm on the horizon.

Lots of compliments on my reading, (including a comment from a friend “You make a really good creepy stalker.”) and I’m not surprised. Eric is kind of like the inverse of Kevin, one of my supernatural “angel” characters that spends his time posing as an out of work actor and healing the mental and emotional trauma of rape victims. Eric is all about ripping away the protective ignorance people tend to construct around themselves. In talking about the play after the reading, I mentioned that it was something I would probably show to participants in one of my self-defense workshops.

I would dearly love to actually perform this on stage, though I suspect opportunities to be very limited. It is a very good play, has only one male and one female part, and competition for the parts is likely to be fierce.

I’m going to go, now, and bask in the memory of the awesomeness that is The Professional Eye-Opener.

The 4 Lines of Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under a different name a long time ago.*

The cry of “Self defense!” is common among those who get into trouble for fighting. Often this is heard from both parties, which makes the statement suspect. The phrase “self defense” in essence means to protect oneself from harm by striking an attack or attacker so that you are not harmed. Self defense is a complex concept. The defining the word is the easy part. In terms of cultural and legal meanings, it gets even more confusing; however, the purpose of this article is to examine what goes into self defense, rather than what comes after.

There are four major concepts within the topic of self defense: knowledge, attitude, awareness, and skills. Each concept contributes to your personal safety. If any one of them is left out, the danger to yourself increases dramatically.

Knowledge

Simply put, Knowledge is knowing what’s out there. You may see on the local news that there was a murder two blocks over. You may read in the newspaper that there have been a string of robberies targeting convenience stores. You may hear on the radio that there is a major storm approaching quickly. These are items that serve to catch the attention. You now know that they took place and that finding yourself in a dangerous situation is an increased possibility.

Beyond the attention grabbers used by the various media, look at the details of the incident (or approaching situation). The murder victim was a reclusive man. He was killed when he surprised a burglar in his house. The convenience store robberies all took place in the Westlake area between the times of 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. The approaching storm is predicted to be the worst storm the city has seen in 50 years. These details tell you that the murder was an incidental killing and not done by a serial killer, it’s probably a good idea to stay out of the Westlake area convenience stores between 9:00 in the evening and 3:00 in the morning, and that covering the windows and making sure you have enough supplies for at least a week after the storm hits is a smart idea.

Attitude

Most self defense courses and workshops will tell you that attitude is how you present yourself. Many will even tell you some basic body language to use: head up, shoulders back, relaxed gait. What is often left out is that attitude is as much internal as external, as much mental and emotional state as posture. This is not to say that such workshops ignore the internal aspect, just that they tend not to explicitly state it. In many ways it is easier and faster to fix the outward appearance. Since workshops rarely last more than half a day, the decision (a wise one in my opinion) is to spend more time teaching knowledge and skills.

The internal aspect of attitude should not be ignored, however. Confidence and mental readiness take longer to build, but will withstand more scrutiny on the streets. Most support groups have some form of the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it.” In essence, that is what one shot workshops teach in terms of attitude. By faking the appearance of confidence, you may prevent a possible predator from thinking of you as an easy target. That shell, however, is very thin. Those more observant will see the slight hesitation in the footsteps, the unusually fast breathing, the flickering eyes. With an internal framework of confidence and mental readiness, the exterior presentation is not a shell, but a natural byproduct.

Awareness

If you closed your eyes right now, could you list off all the exits to the room you’re in? Could you tell which is the closest? Could you tell which would be the fastest to get through? Awareness is knowing what’s going on around you. Of all the components of self defense, awareness is the one that uses all five senses. Perhaps more so than attitude, having an active awareness takes work. It is also one of the hardest aspects to train. Though few instructors of self defense deny the importance of awareness, almost none bother to attempt to teach it in workshops. Most of the workshops I’ve attended merely give lip service to it. “You have to be aware. Be aware of people around you. Be aware of traffic.” After that, they move on to a different topic. No advice on how to be aware. Not even a short mental checklist for when you enter a room. To most people, awareness is passive. While there is a passive element to it, effective awareness is active.

When you walk into a room, where are the exits, where are the obstacles, who are the people, and what can be used as improvised weapons in the worst case scenario? A simple four item mental checklist allows people to feel in control of the situation. A person with a sense of control has more confidence than one who does not. An active awareness affects attitude. It also lets you know when something is wrong with a situation.

Skills

The last line of self defense are your skills. By skills, I don’t just mean fighting ability. Skills are your actions. They answer the question “What are you capable of doing?” A few of the self defense workshops I’ve attended focus on three or four release type skills and spend the rest of the time on learning how not to need them. Defusing a confrontation is one of the most valuable self defense skills a person can have. Successfully defusing a situation prevents the need for fighting. Having the people skills that allows you to avoid a confrontation in the first place is even better. If you end up with violence, all your other self defense skills have failed. It is only at that point, that you need to have a strong grounding in fighting skills. Conversely, and somewhat paradoxically, by having a strong foundation of fighting skills you provide the framework on which to build your knowledge, awareness, and attitude.

As an analogy, look at a play. Knowledge sets the stage of your day to day living. Knowing what the stage looks like is vital if you don’t want to trip over the props strewn about. Awareness is understanding the plot of life’s play. Once the ebbs and flows of the plot are determined, you have the opportunity to rewrite your part. If knowledge is the stage of living and awareness is the plot, attitude is the actor. Attitude sets the patterns of thinking and behavior. Skills are the acting in a play. They are what determines what happens.

Although Shakespeare was speaking of the stages of human existence in his famous soliloquy in As You Like It, we can use it to summarize the lines of self defense.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

Knowledge, attitude, and skills are in the first three lines. Awareness, as life’s plot, is outlined in the subsequent 24 lines. To defend oneself is to prevent harm coming to you. Through knowledge and awareness, you can analyze any particular situation. Through attitude and skills you can change the situation. In all cases, self defense is very much an active, rather than reactive, event.

Transition is Difficult

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I didn’t actually get a chance to light a candle today. The choir provided the candle meditation music (“Cantique” by Faurre). But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going through the motions in my mind during the reading. Without the candle and flame directly in front of me, I had to work at the words which usually come easily. This week’s meditation is at the end of the post.

On this day of transition, I’m spending time thinking about the effort it takes to move from one state to another. Today is Easter, the day of the ultimate transition in Christianity. And yet transition is with us every day. The forming or breaking of a relationship. A drastic change of mood. A switch of careers. Transitions bring pain, and yet there is promise of a new life with each. Keep in mind, I am not talking about the simple changes that life forces upon us. I’m talking about alterations in the very foundations of character and personality.

The day my last relationship ended, I died. The period of transition was hard to work through, and yet looking back at it, I do not regret it. Change hurts, but the penalty for not changing is the death of spirit. With every transition, two forces fight within me: the transformative force wars with the impulse of stubbornness. Thus far, with every major transition, I have been able to change and accept it…though rarely without a struggle. It is that struggle that causes a transition to be so painful.

And yet after the transition, there is a sense of completeness. Not happiness or contentedness, but a feeling that something has definitively ended for good or ill. Whether that ending is positive or not, it provides a solid foundation on which to continue life. When the ending is negative, it is often extremely difficult to begin building again. It is tempting to keep that chapter open and keep writing, hoping for a happier ending. But in doing so, the foundation for continuing life remains in flux, and the impossibility of building a future is overwhelming.

Transition can be broken into three broad periods: the initiating event, the interregnum, and the resolution. Sometimes the initiating event can be predicted, sometimes it can’t. I could predict that my last relationship would end (though the timing of the actual event was a bit awkward), but the request for a divorce several years ago came as a complete surprise. I’m not sure which is worse. I don’t think I really care. In both cases, it launched a period of wailing and gnashing of teeth, which eventually led to a period of self evaluation and exploration as I sought to reestablish my foundation. In the case of my divorce, the resolution occurred after years of the interregnum; but when it came, it came suddenly, like the breaking of a fever. After the more recent relationship, the interregnum was much shorter, but the resolution came slowly, like the healing of a broken body.

I look around and see people in all three periods of transition. Given my personal history and propensities, it is no surprise that it is very easy for me to see which people are still reeling from the initiating event, or are still on the downswing of the interregnum. It takes a little more effort for me to see when people begin the upswing, but there are fewer pleasures more poignant than being with someone (or even helping them) as they reach their resolution.

I saw one person in church today who appeared to have just gone through an initiating event. I won’t use exact words, but when I asked if this person was okay, s/he thanked me for my concern but couldn’t yet say that s/he couldn’t talk about it, much less actually talk. Given what I know about this person, I have a couple of guesses I think are pretty close. In any case, my thoughts, my love, and my prayers go out to this person in transition.

Today’s Meditation:

Let this beacon burn bright.
Light it be a guiding light
To those who seek.
Let it be a shelter
For those without peace.

Let this beacon burn bright.
Let it give warmth
To those in the cold.
Let it give strength
For climbing from the valley.

Let this beacon burn bright.
Let it promise hope
To those in despair.
Let it promise life
To dying souls.

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