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UU Hurricane Relief

After two devastating hurricanes affected millions of Americans from Texas to Florida, many of us are wondering how we can help. The Unitarian Universalist Association has established two separate UU hurricane relief funds to assist UU congregations and members who were affected, as well as vulnerable populations within those communities.

Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund

The UUA joined with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) to establish the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund.

Half of all funds raised will go to at-risk populations served by UUSC partners and the other half of the funds will support Unitarian Universalist congregations and members of those congregations most affected by the storm. UUA staff are working closely with leaders in the Association’s Southern Region to learn where the need is greatest and distribute funds efficiently.

UUSC is supporting long-time partner RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), a Texas-based organization that provides direct legal services and education on the rights of immigrants. In the aftermath of Harvey, it is crucial that immigrant communities—documented and undocumented—know their rights and have access to legal services.

Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund

With Hurricane Irma—the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded—barreling across Florida after devastating parts of the Caribbean, there is likely to be significant damage similar to what Hurricane Harvey inflicted. We know that long after the initial clean-up, real recovery can take months or years.

The UUA stands with its congregations which have been impacted by these natural disasters and has established a Hurricane Irma Recovery Fund to assist congregations in repairing any damage, and to respond to the needs of their members’ and their community’s efforts to get back on its feet. UUA staff is working closely with leaders in the Association’s Southern Region, to ascertain where the need is greatest and distribute funds efficiently.

UU hurricane relief: How we can help

Over the next few weeks, Harmony UU will be collecting donations from members and friends who want to contribute to either or both funds, and send them on to the UUA. You can drop them in our donations box at the back of the fellowship hall.

If you’d prefer to donate directly, you can give online via the UUA website (Harvey or Irma). If you prefer to donate by mail, please make your check payable to the UUA with “Irma Recovery Fund” or “Harvey Recovery Fund” on the memo line, and send to UUA Gift Processing, 24 Farnsworth St, Boston, MA 02210. To support both the Irma and Harvey recovery funds, you may send one check with a note indicating how much to allocate to each fund.

Stand Up Against Hate: 5 Ways to Take Local Action

Living in the Cincinnati suburbs and want to fight white supremacy? Here are 5 ways to stand up against hate in Mason, West Chester, Landen, and more.

In the ongoing battle against racism, bigotry, and hate-fueled violence, “there is no neutrality,” wrote Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, a spiritual advisor for Standing on the Side of Love, in a recent email to campaign supporters.

Now is when we show up. To confront hate—in the form of white supremacists gatherings and the white supremacy that is in our laws, our school systems, our families, our congregations, our land. Find your frontlines.”

For those of us living in the northeast suburbs of Cincinnati—Mason, West Chester, Kings, Maineville, Loveland, Lebanon, etc.—here are five ways we can stand up against hate in our local community:

1. Let it begin with you

“The moment that we decide we aren’t part of the problem, we are the problem,” says diversity consultant Jamie Utt. He suggests undertaking a “constant process of reflection, engagement with theory, and action,” including understanding your own racial identity framework, listening to experiences of others (particularly those of different races/religions), and confronting how you may have benefited from an oppressive system. See more of his recommendations in this blog post.

Locally, we have an amazing resource for examining our personal biases at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Visit the new permanent exhibit, Open Your Mind: Understanding Implicit Bias, to better understand and recognize bias and other forms of discrimination.

Peace must first be developed within an individual. And I believe that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world.”
—The Dalai Lama

2. Open a dialogue

Have honest conversations with people you know about racism in all its ugly forms, from systemic to overt. Yes, this is hard. But not impossible, and very much needed. Teaching Tolerance offers tons of resources for discussing many subjects related to diversity, equity, and justice, including race and ethnicity.

You’re welcome to join the monthly Practical Theology Discussion Group at Harmony UU, for informal yet intellectually satisfying conversations about theology, philosophy, spirituality, and morality. Other good local resources for respectful discussions: Restoring Conversations (hosted by Ascension & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Wyoming), the Jewish Community Relations Council, the YWCA (whose mission is “eliminating racism, empowering women”), and the Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue at Xavier University.

3. Support local groups who stand up against hate

Contribute your time, money, and talent (to and ask others to join you) to organizations such as Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, Showing Up for Racial Justice (Greater Dayton), Cincinnati NAACPIntercommunity Justice and Peace Center, and Unitarian Universalist Justice Ohio.

4. Listen and learn

Get out and meet people in the community who might seem different from you. What you hear and observe may help you see things from a new perspective, and begin building bridges, not walls. A few suggestions to get you started:

  • Attend a Know Your Neighbor event at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester. These are typically held on the first Saturday of every month at 1 p.m.
  • Look for training opportunities such as the LGBT+ Ally Training workshop at Heritage UU on Oct. 28, where you can learn how to be a better ally to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or belong to some other minority (such as intersex and asexual).
  • Show up at the Franklin house in Norwood on Second Tuesdays. These ordinary folks have decided to open up their home for monthly conversations about race with “amazing people of color who make our city beautiful. We want to create a space where white people can hear narratives they are unfamiliar with: to learn about the experiences of people of color in their neighborhood.” (If Norwood is too far to drive, how about starting a Second Tuesday in your own neighborhood?)

5. Teach your children well


As Nelson Mandela continued, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Children make excellent students when it comes to the social construct of race, so let’s teach them well.

You can begin with talking around the dinner table or in the car. Take a look at EmbraceRace for tips and resources to help you “meet the challenges that race poses to our children, families, and communities.” Every 4th Tuesday, starting at 8:30 pm ET, they host free, online community conversations featuring a different topic and special guests.

Find out how your child’s school incorporates lessons of race and diversity in their curriculum and programs. Check out the Twitter hashtag #CharlottesvilleCurriculum for educators, parents and anyone else looking for resources to lead discussions with young people about the violence that erupted in Charlottesville. (This Washington Post article tells the story behind the hashtag, and is being updated to include new materials as they’re posted.)

Some local school districts have started initiatives to strengthen diversity and inclusion within the schools. Among them: Lakota’s Champions for Change program, Mason’s Diversity Council, and Loveland’s Best Buddies group. See how you can get involved in your school (either as a parent or community member) to start or grow programs for children to stand up against hate.

Practicing Loving Kindness Meditation

By Caren Galloway

I selected the topic of Loving Kindness Meditation because I wanted to share a personal experience that convinced me of the value of practicing Loving Kindness Meditation, referred to in Buddhism as metta.

First, however, I would like to provide very high level explanation of how Loving Kindness Meditation differs from “traditional” meditation.

  • Loving Kindness Meditation: Very specific and focused
  • Cultivating feelings of goodwill, kindness and warmth toward oneself, loved ones, acquaintances, adversaries, people of the world
  • Achieving peace, reducing stress, and more
  • Time commitment: 5 to 10 minutes

Loving Kindness Meditation is frequently described as one of the four types or sublime states of mind: Loving Kindness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity. Wouldn’t we all like to live with this mindset 100% of the time?

Have you tried meditation? Are you currently meditating? Would you like to meditate more frequently? Loving Kindness might help you achieve that goal.

Business meeting run amok

Picture this: Before retiring, I was a banker with a special line of business. I loved my job, but challenging meetings occurred all too frequently and were increasingly stressful… very, very stressful.

Now this image is not a representation of what my meetings actually looked like. No, no, no… we were all very professional & composed, …cool …very civil. This picture is a representation of what we were all thinking and feeling. Everyone had their own agenda; no one wanted to listen to the other, and certainly no one really wanted to cooperate with the other.

Have you even been in a situation like this? You don’t have to work in a bank, like I did, to have stress. Parenting, marriage, school, and just about any profession has lots of stress, right?

My line of business was different. My clients did not fit the mold used to develop highly technical “Treasury Management Services” for Businesses.

Quick explanation: These services utilize technology that streamlines the acceptance and processing of paper and electronic payments, and better control over payables. They also prevent fraud and consolidate financial reporting.

My clients were not businesses, though. They were government organizations. Federal, state and local governments with unique federal and state banking rules, regulations, requirements and headaches. So while their needs were similar to those of business, their functionality and expectations were different. Standard bank services and sometimes bank policy did not quite fit their requirements.

So, that was my job. As an advocate for my clients and for my line of business, my job was to ask for exceptions. Exceptions to banking policy. Modifications to banking services. It required thinking outside of the box…it required additional resources…and, just in case you were not aware…banks are really not that flexible.

So, these meetings were stressful. Exceptions are not efficient, exceptions are costly, so my objectives and those of some of my business partners were in conflict. I understood that. However, to bank with my clients, I needed the modifications. They really did not want to make modifications. Thus the conflict.

By now, you must be asking yourself what does all this have to do with Loving Kindness?

Everything! The first time I consciously used Loving Kindness Meditation in preparing for one of these meetings, the stakes were high. Present were several, senior level internal business executives, most outranking me, from compliance, from legal, and the head of Commercial Banking. I had been in these meetings before and I knew what to expect. I believed the exceptions I needed were critical to the survival of my line of business. I had done my homework, prepared my business case and I thought I was ready.

Then, right before the meeting, I learned that my adversaries had added some last-minute issues, working together to build a case against my request. My stress was escalating.

Now, previous to this, I did not consider myself a meditator. In my family, Dick was the one that studied meditation, practiced medication and had even gone to an extensive meditation retreat.

Confession: I had not been that interested in meditation. In fact, at times, Dick tried very, very hard to convince me of the benefit, and, you might say, I resisted. However, when he started talking about Loving Kindness as one type of meditation, it struck a chord. I was interested. I was intrigued. I even tried it…and I liked it.

Be kind to unkind people

Back to my meeting: I knew I had to keep my cool and be objective and convincing. So, I practiced the 10-minute version of Loving Kindness Meditation the night before, again, right before the meeting, and to a certain extent, throughout the meeting.

As the meeting progressed, the Treasury Management Executive began making his case against my request. While I knew I had the information needed to justify the cost, there was no certainty that everyone would agree. I could feel my anxiety and frustration begin to escalate. He looked a little anxious, too. He knew me. We had been through this before.

I took a deep breath, smiled, and I began to consciously send feelings of goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards him. I quickly realized, to my surprise, my feelings were genuine. I was amazed at the impact. I felt my stress begin to melt away and I felt a sense of warmth and well-being in its place.

I cannot say that he returned feelings of Loving Kindness back to me, but I could see him relax a little. The meeting progressed smoothly. No voices were raised, no tables were hammered. We were genuinely professional and objective. When the meeting ended, there as a genuine sense of peace, respect, even consensus. Yes, if you were wondering, I did accomplish my objective.

Now I cannot promise you will always win your battles if you use this technique. It was the reduction of stress, before, during, and after the meeting that I can attribute to the Loving Kindness Meditation. That is what I want to share with you.

We can all use a little less stress in our lives, can’t we? I believe there are many personal benefits to using Loving Kindness in your daily routine. It also led to a much better relationship between me and my business partners, moving forward…as long as I kept smiling.

Research-based benefits to consider

According to Dr. Emma Seppälä, who is associate director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, there are at least 18 science-based reasons to try loving-kindness meditation. Dr. Seppala cites a number of studies that have shown benefits to include:

  • Well-being
  • Healing
  • Emotional intelligence in the brain
  • Stress response
  • Social connection
  • Self-love

And it can have an immediate and long-term impact on your life.

Loving kindness meditation in practice

You can try a Loving Kindness Meditation right now. Here’s how:

Identify 4 or 5 types of people to whom you would like to radiate loving kindness.

  • Self
  • Family and dear friends
  • A neutral person—somebody you know, but have no special feelings toward (e.g.: a person who serves you in a shop)
  • A hostile person – someone you are currently having difficulty with
  • The world

Why start with Self?

If the idea of self-love bothers you, as it does some, think of it as forgiving yourself or accepting yourself. Loving Kindness works both ways. If you cannot give it to yourself, how can you give it to others? Starting with yourself helps calm the mind, opening the path to be generous with others.

Tips and tools for arousing feelings of loving-kindness:

  • Visualization – Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.
  • Reflection – Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they have done. And to yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using your own words.
  • Auditory – This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat an internalized mantra or phrase such as “loving-kindness.”
  • Formulate your own set of well-wishes, such as:
    • healthy in body, mind and spirit
    • happiness, contentment, joy
    • filled with compassion and peace

Get comfortable.

Close your eyes, relax, smile.

Repeat your affirmation for I.
Repeat for You – members of our congregation.
Repeat for the person of your choice.

This is a great meditation practice for children as well. They might choose parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, even people they may not like. (Tip: For your children at bedtime, you may want to limit the list to 3 or 4 people. Otherwise, his could become a great tool for delaying bedtime.)

Try it at home: In my experience, you can quickly return to the loving kindness mode if you have practiced even a short loving kindness meditation several times per week.

Does 5 to 10 minutes daily, or even several times a week seem achievable, for the potential benefits? I know it is for me. I hope it does for you as well.

Namaste.

This article is based on a sermon by Harmony UU member and board co-president Caren Galloway, and is published here with permission from the author.

Word Choice: Why Do UUs Use Religious Terminology?

Why do Unitarian Universalists use words like "church" and "sermon," despite how nontraditional we tend to be? Some thoughts on word choice in the UU faith.

By Paul Smith

A friend recently asked me:

“At Harmony, you have 20 minutes after every sermon when people are allowed to discuss the sermon in small groups and disagree or even offer alternative ideas. That sounds more like a philosophy or debate club. Why do you use words like ‘church’ and ‘sermon’?”

That’s not an uncommon sentiment, so I thought I’d share my response:

All good questions. Yes, there is certainly much of what goes on at Harmony that could be described as a philosophy or debate club—things like the 20-minutes of small-group discussion after every sermon, or the monthly discussion group meetings where we discuss and debate an important topic of philosophy, theology, or politics.

But there is also much that would seem more similar to a traditional church service—things like singing songs, rituals, the group recitation of a common statement of belief, the personal theology group meetings, the children’s religious exploration (i.e., “Sunday School”) classes, and the fact that one of our purposes for organization is to provide an environment for people to have a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Meaning being something that is typically provided by religion and faith.

The “truth” part in there is the part that might seem more like a philosophy or debate club, and that’s on purpose. Part of our statement of purpose includes the words, “a balance of faith and reason.”

We also have Christmas and Easter celebrations, we’ve had a Wiccan Spring celebration, we have interfaith visits where we attend services at a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue, a Buddhist temple, or a Catholic church. And we’ve had representatives of those faiths lead our sermons on occasion.

And many of our sermons are very theological in nature. Some of my favorites are ones where a single topic is discussed from the point of view of several faiths, quoting scripture from various holy books and comparing the teachings. And there are practicing Catholics, Muslims, and Jews who have and do attend our church.

Perhaps the main reason we use religious words to describe what we do (like the word “sermon”) is simply historical. The Unitarian-Universalist church came from the merger of two Christian churches (the Unitarians, Christians who asserted the Unity of God and rejected the concept of the Holy Trinity; and the Universalists, a Christian group believing that all of human kind will eventually be saved and granted access to Heaven, not just people of one faith or another).

So, we are part of an historically religious organization. And much of what we still do is religious. We just practice it in what I think is a more responsible way. That is, without any coercion to join or stay a member, and without insisting that our beliefs are somehow true of the objective world and anyone else’s beliefs are therefore objectively wrong.

Paul Smith is a member of Harmony and the best-selling author of Lead with a Story.

Mental Health in America: Why Some People Can’t Pull Themselves Up by Their Bootstraps

Why is it so hard to empathize with those struggling with mental health in America? Let's examine causes of mental illness and the associated stigma.

By Julie Gebhart

Several months ago, I received a text message from my older brother: “Nick died” was all it said. True to form, I wasn’t able to reach my brother until a few hours later to find out what happened.

Now, for a little back-story: Nick was my first crush (my first crush who was not Luke Skywalker). He was one of my brother’s only friends who saw me as a person, not just “Brian’s little sister”. He was genuinely nice to everyone. He was a varsity athlete who grew up in a middle class home in the suburbs. Nick died in an inpatient psychiatric facility. He was being treated for paranoid schizophrenia and developed a toxicity to his medication. He died in his sleep; he was 35.

Our culture is one that values work ethic, willpower, and independence. My father drove this into our heads at a very young age. My brother and I could be throwing up with a 103 fever and my dad’s response would be “get up, get moving, get a shower, and see how you feel.” In our household, a shower and a glass of juice were remedies for anything that ailed you.

So, this whole concept of overcoming an obstacle using nothing but sheer will seems particularly true with mental illness. Comments such as “What do you have to be sad about?,” “Stop worrying so much,” or “Just make yourself get out of bed and get going,” while possibly said with good intentions, are ultimately dismissive and unhelpful. It begs the question: What if we viewed physical health issues the same way we view mental health issues?

Physical vs. mental health in America

I stumbled across this cartoon (which I think popped up on my Facebook feed at some point) and it really struck me. Now, this first one regarding food poisoning—I remember on my 20th birthday, I got the worst food poisoning of my life, resulting in a popped blood vessel in my eye and a sizable cut because the toilet seat cracked my right across the bridge of my nose (you’re welcome for that image.)

If someone had told me that I just wasn’t even making an effort to get over it, I would have likely punched them in the throat. So why is it okay to tell someone with ADHD to just calm down? Would you ever really tell someone to just try harder to stop a wound from bleeding (in all fairness, my dad might have…)?

The stigma surrounding mental illness

In my research, I found a video clip that was part of Canada’s anti-stigma campaign that really touched on how we view/approach “physical health” vs. “mental health” and had some shock value, which is often a good wake up call.

This really resonated with me. Would we ever encourage someone to simply will themselves produce more insulin or chastise them for “not trying hard enough” to beat cancer?

We have increased knowledge now about contributing factors that lead to mental illness: variance in typical levels of neurotransmitters, structural differences in the brain, genetics, and environment. To give you some frame of reference, here are a few brain scans of individuals with mental health disorders:

A little disclaimer: I am not a neurologist, so I have a very basic understanding of the images on the screen. If you ask questions beyond what I have prepared, I will politely pretend to ignore you, as I will likely not know the answer.

I will be the first to admit that I think ADHD is over diagnosed and that we have pathologized typical childhood behaviors… it’s kind of a clinical pet peeve of mine. However, I will also be the first to tell you that children with true ADHD really do struggle socially and academically. We now know that children with ADHD have certain neural pathways that are slower to develop and mature, decreased grey matter and cortical thickness, and imbalances in dopamine and noradrenaline (both of which have been implicated in influencing inattention and impulsivity). Knowing this, is it fair to say that a child with ADHD just isn’t trying hard enough to sit still and pay attention?

The other brain scans are equally as compelling. Trauma impacts the brain in a profound way. The brains of individuals with PTSD show long-term dysregulation of norepinephrine and Cortisol systems, which impacts an individual’s stress response. Additionally, the hippocampus (which is responsible for emotions and memory), amygdala (which is linked to the fear response), and medial prefrontal cortex (which is thought to impact memory and decision making) are all affected by trauma. With that in mind, is it fair to ask someone who has experienced trauma to suck it up and move on?

The last two scans are of individuals with mood disorders, either depression or bipolar disorder. Let’s start by taking a look at the image of the brain of an individual with depression. People with untreated depression have fewer serotonin and opioid receptors. Additionally, the hippocampus and pre-frontal cortex may shrink or weaken during depressive episodes, whereas the amygdala becomes more active.

In contrast, the brain scan of an individual with bipolar disorder shows some shrinking of grey matter in the prefrontal and temporal regions of the brain, as well as differences in the limbic system, which controls emotion, motivation, memory and fear. With all those things in mind, is it fair to say that a person with depression just isn’t trying, or to tell an individual in the midst of a manic episode to calm down and get it together?

So, enough with the dry, academic stuff, let’s move on to a story that I am going to do my best to get through without getting emotional. Public displays of emotion make me wildly uncomfortable, so if I flee, just talk amongst yourselves.

Hedi’s story

On to Hedi’s story. Hedi and I crossed paths when she was working as a school psychologist and I was working as a counselor. We shared the same sense of humor, same political leanings, and same taste in music…all things crucial for a successful friendship. We were able to maintain contact after we parted ways professionally, which is something I suck at by the way. July 10, 2013, was the last time I saw Hedi. We had dinner at Bru River and shared this weird watermelon pale ale.

On July 21, Hedi ended her life with a gunshot. Her husband found her when he returned from his morning run. I got the phone call when I was pulling into the parking lot at work. I remember where I parked, what I was wearing. I remember yelling “I just saw her, she was fine” over and over. It didn’t add up. On the surface, Hedi had a great life: friends and family who supported her, a husband who loved her, 2 graduate degrees. I couldn’t make sense of it and I was angry and I needed answers.

And so, I started Googling her name and incessantly checking her Facebook page, because obviously, I would find some magical answer from the internet. What I did find was a sermon that was given at the Cincinnati Friends Meeting in Hedi’s honor and I found some solace in it.

Donne Hayden stated:

“From the outside, it seemed that Hedi had everything to live for—she was young, strong, bright, gifted. But because of her disease, in Hedi the will to live—the most necessary component of continued existence on planet earth—was defective. Life on earth is hard—if we weren’t programmed with an incredible capacity to seek life, most of us wouldn’t bother. The instinct for self-preservation, the essential force behind all life, the will to live, the ‘On’ switch for living—this is what keeps life alive against all odds. Depression, as I understand it, is a malfunction of the ‘on’ switch. For us to ask why and look for reasons she chose to end her life is normal, but we will find no answers in logic or reason, any more than we can find a logical explanation for why someone has heart disease or cancer.”

Shifting your point-of-view

Nick and Hedi’s stories had a huge impact on me both personally and professionally. To give you some background about me: I work as a counselor. I diagnose and treat mental health disorders for a living. I take people’s stories and symptoms and, as ethically and professionally as possible, I assign them a number: 309.81 for PTSD, 300.02 for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, 296.21 for Major Depressive Disorder.

Some of my professional experiences had left me jaded, skeptical of people’s true struggles, less empathetic than I once was, until two influential people in my life died before their time. I took pause and reflected on how I do my job. Was I guilty of doing the very thing I’m up here preaching against?

In all honesty, yes.

Stereotypes and stigma abound in this world, including the stigma associated with mental health issues, which can lead to devastating effects, including:

  • Inadequate insurance coverage for mental health services
  • Fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness and their families
  • Family and friends turning their backs on people with mental illness
  • Prejudice and discrimination

Are people with mental illness more likely to be violent?

In a world where mass shootings occur far too often, how frequently do we hear “the shooter was mentally ill” or “a mentally unstable gunman entered and began shooting”? Did these individuals have mental health issues? Most likely, yes, however this pervasive image of a crazed, dangerous, twisted individual is both damaging and inaccurate.

Despite decades of public information campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars, Americans may be as suspicious of people with mental illness as ever. Research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, finds that 68 percent of Americans do not want someone with a mental illness marrying into their family and 58 percent do not want people with mental illness in their workplaces.

Some attitudes have gotten worse over time: For instance, people are twice as likely today than they were in 1950 to believe that mentally ill people tend to be violent.

The truth is that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, however according to a 2001 study in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, individuals with a mental illness are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than members of the general population. And a study, published in February 2009 in the Archives of General Psychiatry (Vol. 66, No. 2) finds that mental illness alone does not increase the chances that a person will become violent.

Changing the conversation

So, what do we need to do to combat this stigma? It seems that the whole “mental illness is just like any other illness” thing isn’t as effective as people had hoped. Scotland, and subsequently Canada, have both started anti-stigma campaigns focusing on the contributions of individuals with mental health issues. What a novel idea? Individuals with a mental illness can and do contribute to society on a regular basis, so why not focus on that?

I have a short video I want to show you that really summarizes what I’ve been talking about.

I urge you, the next time you see someone responding to something that you or I can’t see, the next time you hear about someone who can’t leave their house due to crippling anxiety, the next time a friend confides in you about just how down they’ve really been lately, take a moment to find some empathy. After all, they are someone’s son or daughter, they are someone’s husband or wife…they are someone.

It lies within each and every one of us to choose empathy and compassion over judgment and fear. I urge you to reflect on and challenge your own beliefs and biases about individuals with mental illness; create a dialogue within your family and friends if needed. Offer support, offer a shoulder, be there for someone, and mean it. Keep in mind the true face of mental health in America.

This article is based on a sermon by Harmony UU member Julie Gebhart, and is published here with permission from the author.

Living with Grief and Helping Others Grieve

We all go through the stages of grief at various points in our lives. If you're struggling with loss, these tips for coping with grief can help.

By Dale Bodmer

Grief and suffering: These two words are always linked together. Merriam-Webster defines them thusly:

GRIEF:

  • deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death
  • a cause of deep sadness

SUFFERING:

  • pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc. : physical, mental, or emotional pain

They are also common themes in songs, poems, literature of all kinds. Perhaps this is because these feelings are some of the most visceral in human nature. Maybe they are the most feared emotions of humanity.

Death is one of the greatest fears, but these two are different in one great area.

In death, your life is final, you don’t feel the loss, the fear of every day. For grief and sorrow, you see the death, and know that you, and you alone, must take the steps, the motion forward that takes you to your “new” life. A “new” life that you didn’t want, and didn’t ask for!

So, what do we know about grief and suffering? First, that it is soul crushing, and some of the loneliest times in our lives. Second, to be blunt, it is the epitome of “do or die.” You beat it, or it beats you.

Stages of grief

In most discussions of grief, the first thing we see is the famous list of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. In her book, On Death and Dying, she broke down the basic stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

There they are, all nice and neat and orderly… and easy to read and process. This is where the big problem comes in!

The stages of grief are rarely nice and neat and orderly. They come, they go, you might think you’re past one step, and a couple days later, there it is, knocking at the door.

There is another thing that can, maybe, help in this battle.

These stages are not strangers to us. We often go through the same feelings when life is not treating us at its best. Of course, the loss of a pet, in childhood especially, brings us these feelings. The loss of love, now we’ve moved to the teen years. The end of our life, a breakup, forces so many of us to spend days, weeks, locked away to our own devices, fighting these same emotions!

And rarely in our young lives have we had to deal with such loss.

Now let’s break them down and look at them in a bit more detail.

I admit that a lot of this is from that great expert, the Internet, but having lost a wife of 28 years, plus this year’s death of my father, I will interject my own feelings at the appropriate time.

DENIAL

Denial is the first of the five stages of grief. It helps us to survive the loss.

In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense.

We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb.

We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process. You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade. But as you proceed, all the feelings you were denying begin to surface.

Denial can be a really tricky one.

I noticed, with both of my losses, that it was stronger prior to the loss. I guess when you’re actually holding the person who passes, it’s much harder to deny.

This is a big one when you get the call that someone is going, or already gone. It was a mistake, they will “snap out of it.” Something miraculous will happen, the phone will ring again, now…. Or maybe now!

ANGER

Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.

There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits.

It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this?” Underneath anger is pain, your pain.

It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger.

Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first, grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn’t attend the funeral, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who is different now that your loved one has died.

Suddenly you have a structure: your anger toward them. The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it. The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love.

BARGAINING

Before a loss, it seems like you will do anything if only your loved one would be spared. “Please God,” you bargain, “I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live.” (OK, this is a UU group, and usual UU topics. I was tempted to remove the mention of the deity, but then again, sometimes death brings us back to our traditional, younger life training. If for no other reason than a good embodiment of order that we can aim our bargaining/anger/hatred toward.)

After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream?” We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored. We want to go back in time: find the tumor sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only.

Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt.

People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.

DEPRESSION

After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever.

It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone? Why go on at all? Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of.

The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually depressing. The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. When a loss fully settles in your soul, the realization that your loved one didn’t get better this time and is not coming back is understandably depressing.

If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way. Addressing the depression as “not a sign of mental illness” line, I have battled depression for a long time now.

At one point, while my wife was sick, I was talking to my doctor, and I mentioned something about the level of anxiety I was dealing with. His response was, “Now you have a reason to be anxious, and depressed. Don’t even think about it.” (This is a very trusted member of my medical team, and while his statement might seem a bit flip, it was the right thing for him to say.)

ACCEPTANCE

Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one.

This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must try to live now in a world where our loved one is missing.

In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died. In time, they realize that change is part of moving forward.

On this note, it was kind of interesting that after 28 years of marriage, one morning I realized that I didn’t have to put everything in its designated spot. I got to re-designate! As simple as that seems, it was a revelation.

But wait, there’s more …

RELIEF

Relief is one stage I don’t see on lists, but is definitely felt by many people. Usually when there is a long battle with illness, or just the eventual “clock running down” of some older folks who seem to lose a bit more of themselves each day/week/month. It largely comes from the intense watching, and need for care.

This is definitely one that you have to be very aware of. Like all the others, it is normal, but it is also one that can make you want to beat yourself up. “How can you feel relief when part of your actual being is no longer there?”

The peace in the house, when you finally get to turn off that awful sounding “oxygenator,” is part of the calm of knowing that the pain, the suffering of your loved one is over, and they are at peace. The best way to deal with this is to treat it not as a celebration of relief, but as the end of this pain, this uncertainty of the one who has gone.

Living with grief

Coping with death is vital to your mental health. It is only natural to experience grief when a loved one dies. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to grieve.

There are many ways to cope effectively with your pain:

Seek out caring people.

Find relatives and friends who can understand your feelings of loss.

Join support groups with others who are experiencing similar losses. I can swear by support groups, having dealt with the Wellness Center in Blue Ash, for cancer, they allow caregivers equal ‘rights’ to their groups, and up to three years after the loss of a family member for the caregiver to keep taking part in their programs.

Rehab too.

Express your feelings.

Tell others how you are feeling; it will help you to work through the grieving process. This is a spot where blogging, journaling, can help (even if only for your view). All means of expressing yourself are allowed.

Take care of your health.

Maintain regular contact with your family physician and be sure to eat well and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.

This is one I am facing right now. My mother, 87, can’t eat. I know it’s counter to everything you read, but my recommendation to her is junk food! She is eating so little, that I’ve been trying to increase her caloric intake. Right now, she needs fuel much more than nutrition.

Accept that life is for the living.

It takes effort to begin to live again in the present and not dwell on the past. I found a clip for this one, but it was kind of hard to hear, and didn’t think the acoustics in this room would help.

It was the Dalai Lama talking about this point. He said that you should think of the person who has died. To think, and try to live, as they would have wanted you to go on, after their passing.

Postpone major life changes.

Try to hold off on making any major changes, such as moving, remarrying, changing jobs or having another child. You should give yourself time to adjust to your loss.

This is always my toughest one to even think about. At the time of a major loss, there is nothing facing you but major life changes: finances, housing, work, family. In my late 50’s, I felt like the kids in school, in late May, looking out the window at the kids who went to other schools and were already outside, playing! I went part-time as soon as I could work it out with my employer.

Be patient.

It can take months or even years to absorb a major loss and accept your changed life. But also, be patient with your family, your support group, they are trying to help, but sometimes they need your patience.

Think of new ways to express yourself, get out and spend time in the sunshine, the air, in nature. On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I didn’t want to go home to an empty house with a television. I went to the Loveland Bike Trail. (It was very close to where I was working at the time.) It was deserted, and I just walked, trying to look, to watch, trying not to think of just how inhuman we can be with each other. As I walked into a clearing, a flock of birds took off, flying over the river.

As they would have the day before, the week before. As they would years from that day. Centering myself in the nature of their actions, made me realize that nature would persevere. That the earth would continue, on its course without comment or consequence of what we did to each other.

Seek outside help when necessary.

If your grief seems like it is too much to bear, seek professional assistance to help work through your grief. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek help.

Helping others grieve


If someone you care about has lost a loved one, you can help them through the grieving process.

Share the sorrow.

Allow them — even encourage them — to talk about their feelings of loss and share memories of the deceased. This is not the time for the perfectly normal human reaction of, “oh yeah, you think that is bad, well one time, i had to…” You know the drill, and you need to shelve it for now.

This is also a time for physical contact. Don’t talk—hug them, hold their hands, look them in the eye, and listen to them, feel their loss.

Don’t offer false comfort.

It doesn’t help the grieving person when you say “it was for the best” or “you’ll get over it in time.” Instead, offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen.

This is one that really drove me to the brink of physical madness! I have had some very choice words for the “but God needed her more than you did,” “God has a plan” comments. Yeah, a really big, stupid plan.

Offer practical help.

Babysitting, cooking and running errands are all ways to help someone who is in the midst of grieving. An addition to this one is in helping them do these things.

Sure, it’s good for someone to pick up a few things for you, but by taking them shopping, by helping them cook, you are supporting them, while showing them that they can still do the things that they have always done.

Be patient.

Remember that it can take a long time to recover from a major loss. Make yourself available to talk. That’s what the article said, anyway.

As I mentioned before, make yourself available to listen, to support, to just sit in quiet supporting tranquility.

Encourage professional help when necessary.

Don’t hesitate to recommend professional help when you feel someone is experiencing too much pain to cope alone. This one is sometimes a hard one to bring up. There’s still a lot of stigma with seeking professional help.

 

This article is based on a sermon by Harmony UU member Dale Bodmer, and is published here with permission from the author.

Resilience: My Takeaways from Brene Brown’s “Rising Strong”

By Jen Gillum

As the deadline for this sermon loomed closer and closer, I started my writing process by asking a very normal and natural—even deeply probing—question to kick off my inquiry. I found myself asking (in somewhat of a panic), “Now, why in the hell did I sign up for this?” (I’m not sure whose life I thought I was living when I agreed to do a review of Rising Strong by Brene Brown—a book that would only be released a few days before my deadline.)

But a few calming breaths later, I started to remember how it all transpired. I blame that pesky commandment—the one I just suck at. I know you are all just chomping at the bit to start yelling out your guesses. But to spare myself that, I’ll just tell you quickly: It’s number 10. Don’t remember? Yeah, I had to look it up:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Listen, I’ll just tell you flat out: I covet.

I’m pretty good with not coveting your wives (though we could use a couple more hands some days in our house) and I’m great at not coveting your manservant or maidservant because, well, we already have one—and I love her beyond measure—so, really, you should covet mine!

It’s that word “anything” that really trips me up. There are some things I really do covet—quite a bit actually. The last time I stood up here, I told you all about our long journey through the world of infertility—a story rife with coveting.

With the heartbreaking news of my father being diagnosed with lung cancer—more coveting started to bubble up around that journey.

cov·et /ˈkəvət/: yearn to possess or have (something).

synonyms: desire, yearn for, crave, have one’s heart set on, want, wish for, long for, hanker after/for, hunger after/for, thirst for

It’s easy to know what I want and what I don’t want. It’s even easier to look at what someone else has and say, “I want that.” “I”ll have what she’s having please.”

Coveting resilience

When life gives us a giant dose of something we didn’t ask for—something completely “off the plan”—we often look around and covet what we don’t have—what we perceive (sometimes rightfully so) that another does have.

In the past, I’ve talked about letting go of expectations/desires that will never come to pass in order to find acceptance and, ultimately, peace. But there was something missing. When I really looked around, I saw a lot of courageous people in my life who had gone through some really painful things. They were more than just peaceful. They were wise. They were strong. They were resilient. And these traits (I assumed) MUST be what got them through their difficult times—and helped them come out on top—unscathed! They could BOUNCE BACK so (seemingly) quickly and easily!

Now, I believe everyone gets their share of pain—maybe in slightly varying doses. Like the Hemingway quote says, “The world breaks everyone . . .”

But I coveted that resilience I saw. I wanted to be “strong at my broken places.” If I had to go through all the crap that life was going to dish out, at the very least I wanted to be wiser for it. And I wanted to know how to handle it with more grace—if and when the next hard rain began to fall.

What does “resilience” really mean?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the physics concept of resilience as “Capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation, especially if the strain is caused by compressive stresses—called elastic resilience.” As it applies to people, the spin-off definition of resiliency is “recovery” or “bouncing back” after stress.

Patience is not my best virtue, so as I was waiting for Rising Strong to be released I got a little antsy; I ordered this book to peruse.

Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life is written in letter format from one Navy SEAL (Eric Greitens) to his comrade and brother-in-arms, Zach Walker, whom he hadn’t seen in over a decade and who was now struggling without a sense of purpose, suffering from PTSD and masking his pain with heavy drinking. It is a guidebook for building resilience in our lives.

While this is not the typical kind of “self-help” book that I gravitate to (and I’ll also admit that I have not finished it yet), it did whet my whistle on the topic of building resilience—and it debunked the myth of what resilience even is.

When we see the physics definition—we are led to believe that resilience (for humans) is about “bouncing back” after stress—or returning to who or what we were before whatever hard rain hit us and soaked us to the bone. Elastic resilience would lead me to believe that once I dried off, I’d be the same me I was before the rain fell. You know, I’d go back to “normal.” BUT what’s done, cannot be undone.

Eric Greitens states:

“Life’s reality is that we cannot bounce back. We cannot bounce back because we cannot go back in time to the people we used to be. The parent who loses a child never bounces back. The nineteen-year-old who sails for war is gone forever, even if he returns.
You know that there is no bouncing back. There is only moving through.

“What happens to us becomes a part of us. Resilient people do not bounce back from hard experiences; they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives.

“In time, people find that great calamity met with great spirit can create great strength.” (pages 22-23)

This resonated with me. Quite a bit, actually.

Hmph. Remember all of that coveting I had been doing? I may have been operating under some false premises. You see, I was thinking that these lucky duckies just got a phat dose of this born-in trait called . . . AH, ah, AH: RESILIENCE!! My story was that if I could just mimic them—do what they did—hone my skills, (you know) sort of recreate their childhoods for myself . . . I could probably be a resiliency role model and super star—just like them! Sign me up! Cuz I coveted that. I really and truly did.

But after reading just the first few opening chapters of Greiten’s book, I got an inkling that I may have been a tiny bit off base about this “resilience” thing. You see, I don’t want great calamity!! No, no, no, no, no! I don’t want the world to break me in any way, shape, or form. I just want the strength!! I want the resilience BEFORE the hard rains gonna fall again. (And did I mention I’d like it to happen quickly… and on my terms?) I would have really liked the resilience BEFORE clawing my way through a dark fertility forest. And I’m really ready to master this concept of resilience BEFORE my dad loses his battle to lung cancer. (pause)

What I had not considered. . .what I was hugely naïve about, is that actually moving through these heartbreaking and painful experiences is the biggest part of HOW we build resilience.

Be careful what you wish for …

And then Rising Strong arrived on my doorstep!

How do you strengthen your ability to bounce back from difficult experiences? Learn how to build resilience using Brene Brown's Rising Strong process.

Good thing too, because I was starting to get that sweaty, panicky feeling again!

Who is Dr. Brene Brown?

Brene Brown has become a bit of a household name here at Harmony. As a very short and simplified introduction, Dr. Brown is a qualitative researcher. She does grounded theory research. And she now proudly calls herself a “researcher-storyteller” because she believes that the most useful knowledge about human behavior is based on people’s lived experiences. In her own words, she sums up her philosophy by saying:

“ . . . you will see that I don’t believe faith and reason are natural enemies. I believe our human desire for certainty and our often-desperate need to “be right” have led to this false dichotomy. I don’t trust a theologian who dismisses the beauty of science or a scientist who doesn’t believe in the power of mystery.”

She now finds knowledge and truth in a full range of sources—from scholars to singer-songwriters—and there are many ways of knowing and many paths that lead us to better understand the human spirit. Kind of makes sense why we UUs like her stuff. Right?

Dr. Brown describes the progression of her work in this way:

  1. The Gifts of Imperfection – Be YOU.
  2. Daring Greatly – Be ALL in.
  3. Rising Strong – Fall. Get up. Try Again.

The thread that runs through all three of Dr. Brown’s books is “wholeheartedness.” Her definition of wholehearted living is:

“. . .engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, YES, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

So, as it goes, we desire to be brave enough to be true to ourselves—to be ourselves. This requires huge risk and leaning into our vulnerability. Dr. Brown calls it Daring Greatly. Going “all in.” And here’s the rub: we do this with the full knowledge that life is going to knock us on our asses. That’s right. We will fail.


We will fail. We will fall—sometimes hard. We will get our heart’s broken. We will feel deep disappointment, shame, resentment, despair, & loathing. We will panic. We will lose all hope. Heavy emotion will drown us. Dr. Brown refers to these times as our “face down in the arena” moments. These moments can be big or small or anywhere in between, but they are always times when we have shown up and allowed ourselves to be seen—allowed ourselves to risk. Times when we have leaned hard into a vulnerable space.

The Rising Strong process

So, what is this new research all about? What does it mean to “Rise Strong”? How can this book help me? In Rising Strong, Dr. Brown goes back into the data and asks:

“What happens when we are facedown? What’s going on in this moment? What do the women and men who have successfully staggered to their feet and found courage to try again have in common? What is the process of Rising Strong?”

Dr. Brown attempts in this new book to slow down the falling and rising processes: to bring into our awareness all the choices that unfurl in front of us during those moments of discomfort and hurt, and to explore the consequences of those choices. She’s giving us front row seats as well as backstage passes so that we can access the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are taking place behind the scenes during some of our darkest moments.

What are the “Rules of Engagement” for the Rising Strong process?

These 10 tenets are the basic laws of emotional physics that help us understand why courage is both transformational and rare. They are important to understand before moving on with the process (kind of like prerequisites), but don’t worry. I’m not giving away the store here. She lists them all out in chapter one. Here we go:

  1. If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall: this is the physics of vulnerability.
  2. Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back. (This is similar to Greitens’ definition of resilience. We do not “bounce back.”) Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. (This is also what I covet. I”ll have one “emotional structure transformation”—minus the pain and suffering, please. Super size it!)
  3. This journey belongs to no one but you; however, no one successfully goes it alone. Solitude and connection are necessary to the process.
  4. We’re wired for story. It’s biological. We release happy chemicals in our brain when we hear or create beginnings, middles and endings. These chemicals then help us connect, empathize and make meaning. Research shows we do this even in the absence of data. We create conspiracies and confabulations—i.e. make shit up. And our brains reward us.
  5. Creativity embeds knowledge so that it can become practice. We move what we learn from our heads to our hearts through our hands. Creativity is the ultimate act of integration—allowing our new learning to become a part of us.
  6. Rising Strong is the same process whether you are navigating personal or professional struggles.
  7. Comparative suffering is a function of fear and scarcity. Empathy is not finite and compassion is not a pizza with 8 slices. You won’t run out. In fact, sharing these qualities actually causes them to grow.
  8. You can’t engineer an emotional, vulnerable, and courageous process into an easy, one-size-fits-all formula. Rising Strong does not offer a recipe or a step-by-step guide. It’s a theory—grounded in data—that explains a basic social process. Yours will be yours; mine will be mine. But we can find trends!
  9. Courage is contagious. See, my coveting plan will work—if I can just stalk the right people.
  10. Rising Strong is a spiritual practice. You’ll find Dr. Brown’s definition of “spirituality” to go along with our Harmony principles. We must be connected to someone or something other than ourselves—as long as it brings perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.

And now for the actual process of Rising Strong—in a much contained nutshell, that is. You still have to read the book!

The GOAL:

(And all of this is directly from the book.) The goal of the process is to rise from our falls, overcome our mistakes, and face hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness into our lives.

The RECKONING: Walking Into Our Story

Recognize emotion, and get curious about our feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave.

Well, again, that sounds divine. But the first thing Dr. Brown says about Reckoning is this: “Curiosity is a shit-starter.” And the shit part is not really the choice. Shit happens. (I know, I know. I couldn’t help myself.) Hurt happens—to everyone without exception. But the “curiosity” part—now that is a choice. We cannot reckon with our emotions at all until we decide to “choose courage over comfort.” IT take courage to be curious!!

Because what is the opposite of curiosity? Disengagement. And we disengage to self-protect. When we disengage we are choosing certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability, and knowing over learning. And, yet, the hurt doesn’t go away simply because we choose not to acknowledge it. It festers. It grows. It finds other ways to be off-loaded. Ways that do not usually align with the people we want to be and lives we want to live.

Some of these common ways we off-load hurt are listed in the discussion questions. We’ve seen them before. But seeing them does not make us good at letting them go. I’m particularly skilled at NUMBING hurt—so very easy in our culture where instant relief is a drink, bite, credit card, or computer away! I am also very skilled at BOUNCING my hurt—even if I’m not directing my anger outward (which I also do), my inner ego is always ready to hustle for my worth through comparison, pleasing, perfecting—gotta do more, gotta be more approach to life.

The bottom line for Reckoning is this:

If we desire to live with our whole hearts, we have to drop our weapons of self-protection. Walk into the cave of our darkest, scariest emotions—bringing only our own light of worthiness—to find our truth. In you must go.

The RUMBLE: Owning Our Story

Get honest about the stories we are making up about our struggle, then challenge these confabulations and assumptions to determine what’s truth, what’s self-protection, and what needs to change if we want to lead more wholehearted lives.

So, this is where Dr. Brown spends the vast majority of her time. Six of the eleven chapters, actually, are spent on rumbling with some of the toughest, most destructive (and instructive) human emotions/concepts that you can imagine: grief, vulnerability, failure, forgiveness, blame and accountability, disappointment, expectations, resentment, fear, nostalgia, stereotypes and labels, boundaries, perfectionism, identity, trust, love, belonging, heartbreak, regret, need and connection, criticism, generosity, shame and integrity.

I think I gained 10 lbs. just reading it. It was painful and overwhelming to get down and dirty with other people’s stories—let alone my own! This is definitely the part in which Brene turns on some serious floodlights inside the dark cave. I mean, every ugly corner. I cannot do it justice, so you will have to read it yourself (if you are into this kind of self-torture like I am). But I will tell you this. Dr. Brown takes every good go-to emotion you’ve got and debunks the be-Jesus out of it. It’s simultaneously shocking and empowering. I loved it and hated it. Let me give you one example:

I know. Painful, right? The goal with all of Dr. Brown’s rumblings is to arrive at our key learnings that emerge from the DELTA. Now, this is a new term that I love.

DELTA = the 4th letter in the Greek alphabet—a mathematical symbol for difference. As defined by Dr. Brown: The difference between what we make up about our experiences and the truth we discover through the process of rumbling. This is where the meaning and the wisdom of this experience live. The delta holds the key learnings.

Deltas are where rivers meet the sea. They’re marshy, full of sediment, and forever changing. They are also rich and fertile areas of growth. This is where we do our work. Magic emerges in the messy middle when we are courageous enough to rumble with our go-to emotions that sometimes mask the truth of what we’re really feeling.

The REVOLUTION

Write a new ending to our story based on the key learnings from our rumble and use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live, love, parent and lead.

So, here we are at the Revolution. And I want to shoot off some fireworks. I really do. But I slugged through six chapters of rumbling and more rumbling—and I feel exhausted just from reading about them. And they were not even my stories or my emotions! I’m just trying to be honest.

I freaking covet the Revolution. I do. I want that emotional transformation. And of ANY of Brene Brown’s books—this is the one where she got into it—deeply. IT’s a how-to manual, for sure, more so than her other books. And I finally feel validated in the fact that some of these emotions are the kinds of things that make getting out of bed a monumental task. Dr. Brown does say that the Revolution, the process toward the Revolution, may be a series of incremental changes. An evolution. I might be more comfortable with this word—as there is no real end game here. And she does say that choosing authenticity and worthiness in today’s world is an absolute act of resistance. I can get behind all of that.

So, if the Rising Strong process seems overwhelming to you… just know that our good friend Brene says that the process is nowhere near as powerful as the Rising Strong practice. And that the uprising has officially started when an emotion washes over us and the first thing we think is, Why am I so pissed? What’s going on with me? I need to get out my journal, or take a walk, or take a time out and dig into this. Time to rumble. AGAIN. (And—just for clarity in case you weren’t listening—you cannot do it with a large pizza or a bottle of wine.)

The ultimate act of integration is when the Rising Strong process becomes a daily practice. When we choose not to run, not to disengage, but to walk into the cave—to wade into the brackish delta with courage and open hearts and minds—to find the wisdom in the stories of our falls. And then to fall again—and rise a bit stronger the next time.

That is how we act as agents in our own lives. That is our power. That is how we choose how our story will end.

Today, I’ll end by playing Dr. Brown’s Manifesto of the Brave & Brokenhearted. Thank you very much.

This article is based on a sermon by Harmony member Jen Gillum, and is published here with permission from the author.

The Dark Side of Lawns: How to Help the Earth with Organic Lawncare

By Kif Corcoran

Have you ever considered the absurdity of how we deal with lawncare in this country? Think about it: poison, feed, water, mow… poison, feed, water, and mow some more.

I admit, I am as guilty as the rest of you. Well, okay…I’ve never actually mowed a lawn before, so I’m slightly less sinful than the rest of you, but…I’ve digressed.

We all have lawns that are way too big, much too time consuming and entirely too environmentally costly, yet we continue to nurture and grow them because everyone else does. My family has taken small steps by following the organic lawncare tips (read on for details), but we still need to do more.

Harmful effects of lawncare products

You may be thinking since most people (including commercial lawn services) use similar pesticide and synthetic fertilizers on lawns, how bad can they really be?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 80 million U.S. households dump nearly 90 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides on lawns in a year. The average American lawn sucks up to 10,000 gallons of sprinkler water annually.

Synthetic fertilizers throughout stores nationwide, but in each bag, there are way more nutrients than the grass can use. One might assume this isn’t a concern, thinking the nutrients get absorbed into the ground somehow. But, actually, every summer in the Gulf of Mexico, an area roughly the size of Connecticut is covered in algae and plankton due in part to tons of synthetic fertilizer runoff from the Mississippi River. As the algae dies and decomposes, it uses up oxygen, making the area uninhabitable for sea life. The polluted runoff water that runs into this area comes from 31 different states.

Lawncare, the organic way

When I lived in North Liberty, Iowa, and my babies were small, I asked my neighbor, Steve, how he takes care of his organic lawn. I noticed he had the greenest, lushest lawn in the neighborhood, so I asked him about it. He explained that he believes in maintaining an organic lawn that is safe for his kids and dogs to play on.

He said it’s important to feed the microbes in the soil rather than the grass directly. Feeding grass synthetic fertilizer is like giving a person sugar. The grass gets a quick fix, but then it’s used up quickly. The grass becomes a “junkie” and has to keep getting its fix of chemical fertilizer.

Organic lawncare tips

Learn how traditional lawncare methods can be harmful to our health and the environment, and discover some earth-friendly alternatives of organic lawncare.

Steve believes feeding one’s lawn organically is like giving someone proteins and complex carbohydrates—in other words, real food. He gave me his list of favorite fertilizers: soybean meal, corn meal, alfalfa meal, and a commercial product Milorganite.

There are pros and cons to organic lawn fertilizers. I’ll start with the cons first.

Cons of organic lawn fertilizer

You have to feed your lawn much more organic feed than you would if it were synthetic feed. For instance, a synthetic lawn needs 3-4 fertilizer applications per year, using about 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1000 sq. ft. On the flip side, an organic lawn needs roughly 10-20 lbs. of organic fertilizer per 1000 sq. ft. of lawn. My neighbor uses about 4 50 lb. bags of soybean meal or 6 50 lb. bags of corn meal per feeding. Realistically, this is a lot of work, and at $8-$12 per bag, this can get quite expensive.

It takes a while to build up the organic matter in a lawn, but once the soil is in good condition, you can use less organic feed. My last bit of advice is to wear gross shoes when laying your organic fertilizer because the soybean meal ruined my summer sandals—I could never get the powder off. I know…catastrophic, right?

Pros of organic lawn fertilizer

The pros of organic feeding are plentiful. First, you will notice more birds in your lawn eating bugs, and you will have peace of mind that nothing in your yard will harm these animals. Second, you can feed a lawn organically anytime (unlike synthetics, which can burn the lawn during the summer).

You want to feed your lawn sometime in April, so it would get the organic nutrients by May (it takes about 3 weeks for the soil microbes to absorb the nutrients and then feed the grass). Also, keep the mower set on high to prevent the soil from drying out so quickly (the grass shades the roots) and this will reduce your overall water needs.

One important environmental advantage is then it cuts down on the number of weeds that will grow because the tall grass prevents the weed seeds from getting enough sunlight to germinate. You can hand pull the weeds that grow, and if a bad weed problem develops, you can spot spray with liquid weed killers.

Spot-treating weeds

Avoid treating the entire lawn with granular weed killer like most commercial lawn care services. According to Paul Tukey, author of The Organic Lawn Care Manual and spokesperson for SafeLawns.org, “No lawn is 100 percent weeds, but people are spreading harmful chemicals over the entire lawn. So if your lawn is 2 percent weeds, 98 percent of the herbicide product applied to the lawn serves no purpose, and it eventually washes into rivers and streams, leach into groundwater, or volatize into the air we breathe.” The EPA only requires that fertilizer and pesticide manufacturers list “active” ingredients, so there are mysterious ingredients that are not legally required to be included on the label.

One of the most common herbicides in weed and feed products is a chemical called 2, 4-D, which has been linked to an increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. According to the magazine Organic Gardening, a study of indoor air pollutants found 2, 4-D in 63 percent of homes. There was also increased levels of 2, 4-D in indoor air and on indoor surfaces after it was applied on lawns.

Eco-friendly alternatives to lawns

Besides starting an organic lawn program, there are more drastic alternatives that could provide us with more lasting benefits. One woman named Heather Flores from Eugene, Oregon, pioneered an urban garden movement that has gained national attention. She has de-lawned several sites in Eugene and encouraged hundreds of fellow town citizens to follow in her footsteps.

Another woman named Patty Hicks from Northern California was frustrated with her city’s water restrictions, and it motivated her to rip up her lawn and plant fruit trees. Check this out.

It makes me wonder if American society has a cultural fear of nature. Perhaps we feel we must control nature or nature will control us. Do we feel empowered somehow by conquering each round of the never-ending fight with our lawns?

Andrew V. Mason, author of And or Love, once said, “If dandelions were HARD to grow, they would be most welcome on any lawn.” Do we just like it when plants play “hard-to-get” and if they’re too easy, we don’t want them? Indeed it does seem as if “lawns are nature under totalitarian rule.”

Appreciating nature in our own backyards

When I went to France and Germany a few summers ago, these were some pictures I took of complete strangers’ backyards.

I was mesmerized by the sweet air and colorful plant life.

I walked outside for hours in Falkenstein, Germany, and the breathtaking beauty surrounding me brought me into my one and only instance of genuine, prolonged meditation. I walked around the small village for hours, feeling completely at ease I finally realized what people mean when they say that they’re living “in the moment.” I will never forget the smell of the air in Falkenstein. It smelled sweet and pure… I’m not sure why it smelled so much better there than it does here, but I can tell you one thing, no one in the village of Falkenstein had a huge manicured lawn.

The last picture I wanted to show is the backyard of my good friend Micaela who lives in San Diego.

Last year, she converted her backyard from a boring lawn into a sustainable garden, and she now donates her produce to friends, neighbors, and the local food pantry. As UUs, is this a trend we should be starting in our own neighborhoods?

This article is based on a sermon by Harmony member Kif Corcoran, and is published here with permission from the author.

Is Chivalry Dead? Should It Be?

By Paul Smith

In an age where chivalry is largely extinct, it’s sometimes helpful to remind ourselves that some of the oldest traditions are born out of respect for other people.

I learned one of my most memorable lessons on chivalry as a college student. One Saturday, my girlfriend Kelley and I were walking on a downtown sidewalk alongside bustling mid-day traffic. As we walked past a middle-aged African American man sitting on a bench, he called out to me in a respectful, but disappointed tone, “Young man, show some respect. Walk curbside of that pretty lady.”

I was instinctively embarrassed, though not immediately sure why. But I quickly switched places with her anyway. With a few minutes reflection, it occurred to me he was teaching me a valuable lesson that probably dated from decades earlier. When walking along the side of a road with a companion, the one walking closest to traffic is at higher risk of coming in contact with the cars or horses speeding by. Or less dramatically, they’re more likely to end up wearing the dust, mud or smell that regularly flies off passing vehicles. The other pedestrian is somewhat protected from those unpleasantries by their partner.

Chivalry dictates a man protect his lady by walking curbside, allowing her the safer (and cleaner) outside position. I wasn’t showing Kelley that respect. This stranger taught me how.

But I had more lessons to learn. Just knowing what to do isn’t enough. Knowing how is also important.

Proud of my newfound gallantry, the next few times Kelley and I went for a walk I made a show of my chivalrous position curbside. The first time evoked a genuine smile from her. But after 2 or 3 such instances, her polite but annoyed smile let me know my pride was overshadowing the good deed. Apparently part of being a gentleman is doing so without being boastful.

I only came to fully appreciate the value of humility in relationships many years later as a newly married man. I had of course told my wife, Lisa, that I loved her many times in our early marriage. But I asked her one evening when it was that she really knew for certain that I did. She surprised me by saying yes, and there was a very specific moment that convinced her so. I had learned Lisa had a habit of sleeping completely covered with blankets all the way up to and over her head. She left only a small opening in the covers near her mouth, which I affectionately dubbed her “breathe hole.”

She answered my question by reminding me of something I had done one evening that I wasn’t aware she ever knew about. I had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and when I returned to bed, I noticed I had disturbed the covers just enough to collapse her “breathe hole” leaving her entire head covered by the blanket. With her still asleep (or so I thought) I quietly reshaped the blanket to reconstitute a proper opening and rolled over to go back to sleep.

Apparently, although she kept her eyes closed, my movement had awakened her just enough to notice what I was doing. And while she did appreciate having her breathe hole fixed, what she appreciated more was the fact that I did so even though I thought she was still asleep and would never even know of my deed. That’s when she knew that I really loved her.

This story was featured in a recent sermon by Harmony member Paul Smith on the subject of “Respect.” It is excerpted from his book Parenting with a Story, and published here with permission from the author.

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