Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Making Volkswagens in Chattanooga...

...and making dreams come true.

Humbling, awe-inspiring moments of pure gratitude come at the oddest times and from the least likely sources.

I was shopping in a local Goodwill store today when the news broke that Chattanooga had been chosen as the site for a new Volkswagen plant. The facility is expected to provide about 2,000 new jobs between now and when the first sedans roll out sometime in 2011. All the employees of the store cheered - loud, happy, "Praise Jesus!" cheers - at the news. One woman was literally running toward the back to tell other employees, her face lit up like Christmas. You could feel the energy in the room change almost immediately. The whole place was suddenly full of potential, of possibilities, of hope.

I have a good job, one that pays me well and offers me all kinds of opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment. I forget just how wonderful that is sometimes. Seeing the excitement on those folks' faces and feeling the fresh hope wash over them humbled me, inspired me, and filled me with gratitude for my work and the opportunities I've had.

Chattanooga offers lots of jobs in information-based industries, call centers, insurance companies, hospitals, and the like. If you have those skills you can usually work and, while the salary may not be the greatest, you'll likely have access to decent benefits. But if you lack the education and skills for those opportunities, your choices are pretty limited. Hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and retail offer limited hours at incredibly low wages, usually with few, if any, benefits. When benefits are offered, they often end up being out of reach for some of the people who need them most. Could you support yourself and your family on seven dollars an hour? What if you had to pay a health insurance premium out of that? The prospect of 2,000 good paying jobs with decent benefits is a shining beacon of hope for those whose skills aren't likely to land them jobs at Unum or Cigna.

I'm glad Chattanooga got the Volkswagen contract. I'm glad that a couple thousand Chattanoogans will have a chance at a better life. I'm happy that some of those who remain in low-paying jobs in the service, retail, and hospitality sectors will benefit from the overall economic boost all those new jobs will bring. Most of all, I'm grateful for the reminder of just how good I have it.

Thanks. A lot. Again.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Diversity, tolerance, and heads in the sand...

Originally published on Chattanooga-Pagans Yahoo! Group, December 7, 2007:

In my opinion, our culture is missing a big opportunity. We've gotten heavily focused on handling diverstity by trying to pretend it doesn't exist. I've heard people at work, mostly atheists, agnostics, and pagans (rarely Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.), say that religion should be a private matter and people have no business bringing it into the workplace. While there are always those who take things to inappropriate extremes, in general I can't see how this can be true. If our spiritual paths, our religions, are central to our lives, part of our daily walk, how can we leave them at home? How can we effectively bring our whole selves to the task at hand when we have to leave part of ourselves on a shelf somewhere? Perhaps a better focus would be to focus on the inappropriate behavior of some individuals. If a co-worker shares his or her faith with me in an appropriate way - meaning they don't interfere with my work or my personal time or refuse to stop when I tell them to - I'm not harmed in any way. If I believe the person is crossing the line, I have the responsibility to say so, directly to them, respectfully but clearly. If they don't respect my wishes at that point, I've got a gripe. But the gripe is with that behavior, not with the fact that the person displays their religion at work. The same with prayer; if a group of people share a prayer in my presence, so what? Prayer is a highly personal thing. Maybe I can use that time to say a prayer of my own, or even join in theirs.

I have heard the phrase, "Freedom of religion is absolute." I don't know exactly what the originator of the phrase was thinking, but I know what that means to me. I am the person absolutely and finally responsible for my own spiritual walk and my relationship to Diety. No one can take that responsibility from me. No one can take away my right to exercise that responsibility as I believe appropriate. They can make it difficult by attempting to control my outward behavior, even to the point of killing me if I don't comply. But I always have the right to continue if doing so is more important to me than the consequences of my actions. Martyrs of every walk ever walked have proven this over and over. No matter what everyone around me is doing, I have all the power of choice at my command. It's a lot harder for me to become offended by the actions of those around me when I think of it this way. It also forces me to look at my feelings about my choices. If I feel uncomfortable about the choice I make (to leave a room when a devotional is disturbing to me, for instance), whose fault is it? It was my choice; I guess I'll have to shoulder the blame for how I feel about it.

It's time we all revisited the idea of cultural and religious diversity. We make a big fuss about "tolerance," but we're not tolerating something if we have to pretend it doesn't exist.

The community that keeps you...

Ok...so I'm repurposing a lot of content here, and I make no apology! Thoughts come unbidden most of the time, and often when I'm least prepared to blog. The only fair thing to do is to help them eventually migrate to this blog and into your waiting mind.

Mostly, I want to know what you think? What is "the community that keeps you?" How do you build and strengthen your community? Here's what I was thinking at the time...originally posted on Chattanooga-Pagans (local Yahoo! Group):

April 22, 2008 - I'm in Santa Rosa, California right now, attending a communications and social media conference. One of the speakers, Joe Jaffe, made a statement tonight that struck me as profound and particularly appropriate to the recent thread about community. Without going into the entire context, he said, "You are the community that keeps you."

Within the discussion context, the community that keeps me is at once one and many communities. It starts with my family. It includes the extended family of spiritual brothers and sisters I celebrate and work with. It's a group of women who come together for occasional "goddess weekends" and stay in touch as we can. I count people I love but see infrequently in the list, too. It's the temporary community created at CPCG and other gatherings. It's the recurrent community that attends PNO. It's individual friends that join me and make a community of two or more for the myriad of reasons friends come together. It's the ever-changing community made up of whoever happens to be in Spiralady's when I drop by. And it certainly includes this list and, within it, even more subsets.

Each of those individual communities and more make up the larger community. Actually, I like Mel's word - web - better. If I could graph my community as I described it above, it would indeed look like a big web. When I am pulled hard in any one direction, it's the web that keeps me from going too far. When I'm strong and full and whole, my strength reinforces the web and keeps someone else from falling. With or without a defined structure, with all the flaws inherent in an ungoverned, borderless community, that web sustains, nourishes, and supports me and gives me an avenue through which to sustain, nourish, and support others.

When I think, then, about "community," I think about micro and macro. Every interaction I have is either community building or community demolition. I can't separate my personal relationships from my relationship with the larger community. Those personal relationships ARE the larger community. The stronger each point on the web becomes, the stronger the web becomes.

I build community one person, one group, and one interraction at a time, and I know others who are doing the same. None of us can claim perfection; we've had to repair the web more than once and there's almost always another hole that needs mending. Fortunately, a good mend is often stronger than the original knot, especially when accompanied by a heartfelt, "Well, that sucked. What can we do better next time?"

If you're reading this, you're part of my web, part of the community that keeps me. Thank you. Keep strengthening your own connections and I'll keep working on mine. Together, we're amazing.

Describe your life painting...

Raventalker (www.raventalker.com) came up with a brilliant question on an email group I belong to: If you were to create a painting of your life .. your whole life … what would it be?

My answer is below...but I'm more interested in yours. What would your life painting be?

I don't know exactly what form it would take, but often I've visualized my life as a movie...a bright, glowing sphere...dancing around, moving from thought to fantasy to song to dance to love...then gradually being enclosed in a darker sphere, one that never extinguished the light, but that captured it and forced it into a more even "flow"...straight, often downward...sometimes staying close the the ground for long periods of time. The dark sphere gets thicker and more opaque so that the light inside becomes almost invisible, but not quite. Then comes the day when the light begins to grow brighter, becoming a physical force pushing at the walls of the sphere...there's a lot of turmoil and commotion and the dark sphere flies low and slow, but all the while the light is struggling and pushing and growing...until, finally, the light begins to break through the sphere in cracks and holes...streaming free for the first time in years. You can hear the dark sphere screaming as it breaks up...clinging to its own life...but the light won't stop, can't stop...and finally the last shards of the sphere break apart and fall away. The light is free! At first, the light floods the world, spread everywhere, only gradually beginning to once again coalesce into its own natural form, the beautiful, glowing sphere...shinning, bouncing, dancing, singing, loving...

If my movie had any subtitles, it would be Kahlil Gibran, "Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. "

What is forgiveness?

Something brought this to mind recently and I decided to look it up and republish it. This was written in response to someone who was hurting and asked, "What is forgiveness?" I still think it's as true as anything I've ever written and worth repeating from time to time.

Have you ever heard someone talking about "forgiving a debt?" A lender who forgives a debt does not require repayment. If they're still lending to that borrower, they stop. They don't deny that the money was borrowed. They simply do not enforce their right to repayment.

I think that defines forgiveness pretty well. When we've been hurt, abused, molested, neglected, accused unjustly...all the painful, damaging things that hurt so bad, it's like the abusers are taking bits of us. In many cases we actually participate in the process in one way or another, though rarely do we recognize it at the time. We become lenders and borrowers and, in essence, a huge debt is created. Even after we're removed from the situation and no longer being abused, molested, etc., we're left with this aching place, a painful, raw emotional wound, because the debt that was created isn't paid. Sometimes all it would really take is a heartfelt apology. Sometimes the debt is bigger than an apology can cover. But until we get something that feels like repayment, we're left with the debt and the misery that goes with it.

That's where forgiveness comes in. We can choose to forgive the debt. We're not saying "it's okay" because you're right - it will never be ok. We're not denying that it happened, that it was wrong, that it was horrible and it sucked and it carved out part of our life when it was happening. Instead, we can recognize that, as horrible as the abuse was, it's no more horrible than the pain and misery of carrying the anger and the resentment and the feeling of unresolved debt around with us, eating away at what should be growing healthy again. If we're still in the situation - the relationship, the circumstances - we have to get out, just like that lender has to stop lending money to the borrower who won't or can't repay. And then we make a deal with ourselves - NOT with our abusers. The deal is this: I will move forward today, right now, with this person out of my life forever. I forgive the debt I am owed by them, knowing that the Universe will hold them accountable without my help. For me, I sever those ties, cut my losses, and walk away from that life for good.

That, in my opinion, is forgiveness. And with time and intent, if we're truly blessed, we may be able to move from forgiveness to compassion, wherein we realize that even people who hurt us are people who've taken some seriously wrong turns and are lost, probably without realizing it. That's when you know you're truly free. And forgiveness is the first step.

Forgive the debt...the repayment can never, ever equal what was actually taken from you. The best thing you can possibly do for yourself is to set yourself free of it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fertility Engineer? Maybe...

...or maybe it's just Nature's way of getting things done.

This guy was in the garden this morning, busily moving from flower to flower. By the time I spotted him, he was so laden with pollen it's a wonder he could still fly!

Thanks, little buddy, for getting the work done. Hope you enjoyed your feast. We sure do appreciate the results.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

After the rain...

...the sun comes shining through.

We watched a summer storm from the front porch a few days ago. What a beautiful thing! It was one of those delicious summer rains - big, fat rain drops falling straight down, thunder rumbling in the distance, trees dancing freestyle in the wind. As the rain began winding down, the sun broke through and streamed down through the rain.

After the rain ended, the whole yard lit up with twinkling lights - the sun glinting off the droplets of rain on every tree.
Isn't that the way of it? It rains sometimes...but even in troubled times, the light is still there if you look for it. When the rain stops, everything is washed clean...new...and just enough rain clings to the surfaces to catch the sun and reflect it back.

Attitude is everything.