Category Archives: Relationships

Boundaries


ImageEmotional boundaries can be tough to define.  On the one hand, we want to welcome people into our lives and keep them there.  On the other hand, we want to make sure our hearts and bodies do not become damaged by another person’s presence. To accomplish this balancing act, we create boundaries.

Sometimes, these boundaries are so loose, they don’t prevent much more than someone drowning us in a pool.  Others have parameters that are so stringent, no one has access to the person’s vulnerability.  Both of these places can be very lonely for very different reasons.  The former creates loneliness because often, we are so ashamed that we will not discuss the situation with others.  The latter is lonely because we push everyone away who wants to get close.

Boundaries are a necessity, though.  Some view the production of boundaries as an ego-based activity.  I do not happen to believe it is.  I believe that these boundaries are a healthy way of building an emotional home in which to live.

“I welcome you to speak freely to me,” means there are a lot of windows from which light can bathe the room.

“I will only discuss things with you that are spoken respectfully,” means that orderliness in the home is vital to healthy living.

“I will not tolerate physical violence,” means that no one may approach your home with a wrecking ball.

“All people in my home will be respected… always… no matter how deeply you disagree with them,”  means that your home is a safe and healthy place to be for those who value those qualities, and a place from which others must leave if they do not choose to live according to these rules.

Arguments and disagreements are understandable.  Even anger has its place; however, one must always remember that love comes first.  One must love one’s self enough to act according to one’s highest expectation of himself, and one must love the other enough to not lose control over his words or actions.

Boundaries are healthy if not too loose or too stringent.  The best tool to determine how they work is to evaluate whether one is lonely or feels overwhelmed by the presence of another.  If one feels appropriate levels of both freedom and responsibility, joy and challenges, strength and growth, then one is in a marvelous place.

A Human Quiz


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Here’s a quiz:

Please define the group about which this paragraph refers.

“I wish they would just keep to themselves.  No one wants to see them in public.  They’re not welcome here.  Good people cannot allow that type of people to live in our neighborhoods, teach in our schools, or be around children.”

Of course, few people will admit out loud or in a comment to this blog that a group immediately came to mind when they read this paragraph, which is a conglomeration of things we’ve all heard said about various groups over  the years.  We’ve heard this kind of judgmental, exclusive, and unkind language since the beginning of civilization.  Because this type of language has existed since the beginning of our human history makes it neither right nor contemporary with how we should treat others.

So, if a group did come to mind, let that be a message to your inner voice that you, along with all the rest of us, still have a little more work to do in becoming an inclusive, loving, and accepting… and perhaps, even celebrating… community of humankind.

Changing of the Guard… Again


As a small child in a tiny mountain town, I remember going to the Horsemen’s Riding Club for festivities.  Everywhere I turned, the majority of party-goers were White, straight, Christian folks.  Business owners were, with few exceptions, male.  Over the years, more Latinos, Blacks, and Asians began populating my circle of friends and community members.  Women were making their presence known in the business community.  Diversity was becoming more obvious.

As time moved forward, I began to meet more people who celebrated Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Native religious traditions.  As it was with my growing ethnic awareness, this, too, became my new normal.  I watched the upheaval in the country as each of these changes brought forth more obvious bigotry, animosity, and ugliness.  Ultimately, though, we saw more change for the better.  For me, and many more like me, this has become the norm as well.

Now, we see Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender folk integrating into the national picture as neighbors, coworkers, family members, and leaders.  Pockets of groups are trying to maintain the status quo in the country; however, it’s not working any better than when the ethnic and religious groups began claiming their rightful place as Americans.

We are awakening to the fact that what was once perceived as a White, Straight, Christian nation, is not so anymore, no matter how loudly some people yell about it.  We are a tapestry of beauty, intelligence, creativity, leadership, and dynamic spirituality.  America is slowly moving toward full awareness of our diversity, and accepting it in greater numbers every year.  We have White, Straight, Christians wearing t-shirts claiming their positions that they are Christian and believe in equality.  Our legislators include in their ranks, women, Asians, Gays, disabled people, Muslims, and others who reflect our growing diversity.  We recognize the importance of placing people in leadership positions that insist on adapting to our current culture and sense of fairness for all people.  We understand that until America celebrates, not tolerates, all its citizens, we still have work to do.  After all, this is what America really looks like.

Keeping An Eye Out


When I was a young parent, my children would go outside to play with the other neighbor children.  Although we might be inside, we would always be aware of where our children were, what they were doing, and with whom they were playing.  As they grew up, we watched them become more curious, more adventuresome, more outgoing, and even more timid in some cases.  They were forming their personalities into the people they would become as adults.  As a more mature adult, I find myself continuing to do the same thing, only with new eyes.

I started my venture into music in February 1969.  At this point, I’m an old hand in the industries of music, theater, and business.  Now, I am beginning to see the up-and-comers starting to develop.  Perhaps because I’ve crossed the 40-year mark, I am not so focused on my own success, but rather prepared to lend a hand, if invited, to those who will take my place when I retire, after creating their own place with their work.  It’s not just in music, though.  It’s also in the arena of personal growth.

The beginning of my new attention began almost imperceptibly.  Glimpses of talent, tenacity, intelligence, and creativity caught my peripheral vision.  These young upstarts started showing some real gifts.  At first, I smiled paternally at the young whippersnappers as they started showing their mettle.  Slowly, my focus changed.  I’m now taking an interest as a mentor as they become my peers, working with great alacrity in my industry.  Their sense of innovation, fearlessness, and indefatigability become a constant source of amazement.

Was I like this as a younger actor, musician, singer, conductor?  Perhaps.  I certainly did not see myself in the same way as I perceive these vital young people.   I do recall, though, those who took the time to guide me through my growth.  It appears it’s my turn to offer that support as our youthful invigorati, if you will allow me a new word, start building their curriculum vitae.  The lines in my face are like directional arrows pointing toward extended experience to which some of these newer adults gravitate.   It’s like that for everyone I suspect.

James in 1976 and 2011

So, in the same way as I did for the young ones in the neighborhood 35 years ago, I again am keeping an eye out in case I am needed by a budding musician, a neophyte writer, or simply someone who is searching for his or her identity.    I still turn to my elders for their wisdom because I’m not done yet.   I still need guidance sometimes; only now, I live on both sides of that line.  As I contemplate this topic, I believe I care for our developing success stories because once upon a time, someone else helped me achieve mine.

The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks!


Yes, I stole the title of this piece from a paraphrased quote in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but no other title fit more profoundly.  A recent study shows that self-described straight men who, by their answers to certain questions, can be identified as homophobic, respond to gay male pornography by growing increasingly tumescent.  In other words, when they look at nekkid men, their willies grow as hard as the rocks they throw at gay people.

Specifically, the abstract from the study by the University of Georgia, and published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, states,

“The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.”

If their results are correct, what can we assume by these new data?  Should we estimate the number of gays in the country by adding the number of homophobes to the count?  If so, that would make the percentage of gay folk in the United States enormous.

Of course, the last line of the study is an important one.  Those men identified as homophobic are clearly in denial of their sexuality or experience a complete lack of awareness that they are subconsciously attracted to other men.  Whether in denial or unaware, these men require our compassion because they are either deluding themselves or completely self-unaware.  Either way, it’s a challenging way to live.

So, to those men who shout at the top of their lungs epithets and derision toward gay folk,  carry  placards decrying the end of American culture because gay people can be seen in public, or excoriate homosexuals from the pulpit or political platform, just know that we hear you.  And, after this study, we hear you even more clearly now.  In a way, every time you exhibit your homophobic rants and rages, you’re coming out just a little bit more to the rest of us, aren’t you?  Welcome to our world… grrrrrl!

Two Students


When I was first hired as the vocal music teacher by Natomas Charter School in March 2001, I told the executive director that I would only commit to staying for five years at the most.  I had other adventures ahead and believed that classroom teaching was not my passion. Then, I met the children.

In August 2001, I was introduced to the seventh graders who would become “my class,” the Class of 2007.  I was assigned the role as their class advisor with the 7th grade English teacher.  During our first discussion, they said they had heard rumors that most classes had class advisors come and go throughout their time in school, and how they hoped the two of us would stay until they graduated. Seeing their wide, hopeful eyes, and getting caught up in the emotion of the moment, I promised them that I would stay until they graduated. There went any hope of leaving after five years, because they would stay at Charter for six years.  I had already completed my first school year, so this would mean I would be there at least seven years.   And stay I did.

Through difficult, major events in my life, I stayed.  Through challenges with my first line supervisor, I stayed.  Through everything, I stayed until they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.  I couldn’t have been more proud of our young people.  The person who began the journey as class advisor with me left to start a family, so there were new faces along the way with whom I shared the responsibilities and joys of these fine young people.

The truth is, I don’t know if my contribution to this class was very dynamic, but if nothing else, I was there at every class meeting, at their senior prom, at every major event in which they participated.  As their senior year came to a close, I was more than ready to leave my position, but was asked to stay another year, hoping things would get better.  I reluctantly agreed.  It was 2007, my children had graduated, and I thought my job was over.  I stayed one more year, but by the end of 2008, I could not stay any longer.  Things had changed so dramatically that I knew it was time for me to move onto another leg of my journey, so I resigned, and went into private practice as a vocal teacher.

My job with this class wasn’t over, though.  Recently, I ran into two of my students who told me that they had gotten to know each other in their senior year and now, almost five years later, they were getting married.  I was so happy for them because they are genuinely lovely individuals, and I knew they would make a marvelous couple; animated, but marvelous.  Several weeks later, I got a message from them saying the minister they had originally engaged had flaked on them.  They reflected to me that they were just as glad, because this person clearly had no appreciation for who they were as individuals.  They said they remembered that I was an ordained minister and wondered if I would do the honors of marrying them, especially since I had known them for nearly half their lives.  Needless to say, I was thrilled at the offer and jumped at the chance.

Today is their rehearsal for tomorrow’s wedding.  I will be in the presence of not just two, but six of my students who will stand on the altar as bride, groom, maid of honor, best man, and two honor attendants from the NCS Class of 2007.  Clearly, my job is not over.  The history we built together has moved beyond the classroom to their adulthood.  It seems as though I will continue to watch my young people grow up, get married, have children, perhaps even grandchildren if I live that long, remembering that first day in seventh grade when they sat looking at me with those big, hopeful eyes.  Once again, I get to see two of them with big, hopeful eyes, only this time gazing at one another seeing their future together in one another.

My students have gone to prestigious universities, begun marvelous careers in their chosen fields, and started families.  They are fully adults now at the age of 23 beginning their own adventures in life.  I am so proud of them all and hope to watch as they have their precious moments grow in quality and quantity.

Two Sides to Every Story


Over the years, as I’ve developed an understanding of my faith in God, I have regularly been confronted by fundamental religion as an extreme.  Whether it be the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or other faith, orthodoxy has alluded me.  The question that regularly rises to my mind is, “How can anyone be so sure of anything?”  I now find myself on the other end of the question, “How can anyone be so sure God doesn’t exists?”

A young man, who is like a nephew to me, recently became an atheist chaplain at a major metropolitan teaching hospital. Although this may seem like an oxymoron at first blush, after discussion with him, I, along with the head of the department for chaplains, realized this makes perfect sense. His belief in science and free-thinking is as strong as that of the orthodox individuals I know.  The fascinating part for me is that I am now the one with the belief in a god that someone else cannot imagine exists.  Agnosticism, at least, allows for the possibility for a god, as long as there is proof that this entity exists.  Atheism, however, offers no possibility for the existence of a supreme deity, and thereby a relationship with that deity is not an option.  His belief system is not my belief system; however, it is one with which I am extremely familiar.  My father was an atheist most of the time, or an agnostic, depending on when you spoke with him.  Dad and I had many animated, sometimes vitriolic, conversations about God.

As I look to my nephew, I see a peacefulness about him that I cannot understand.  To my spirit, I cannot help but question how it is possible for someone to believe in nothing smaller than a quark or lepton, neither of which I understand at all, and nothing bigger than the universe.  The only thing I know is that I love this young fellow and know that if this is the path he’s chosen, then it necessarily must be right for him. Although they never push their belief systems on me, I know my friends look at me with perplexed wonder at how a person reared as a Roman Catholic could have such an omni denominational faith.  Inasmuch as my loving fundamental Christian friends would rejoice if I said I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I know I would be happy if Noel would find a faith in something larger than space. Perhaps, though, this might not be all together true.  Would I want for him what he doesn’t want or feel he needs for himself?  No.

The spiritual universe I sense informs my awareness that we are each responsible for our own lives, accountable only to ourselves and to our creator, whomever that may be… if any, given the belief system.  So, how could I ask him to believe differently than his ethical and moral system tells him is right?  I can’t.  What I do know is that as he pursues his chaplaincy, he will encounter other systems of belief and faith that are not consistent with his own.  That is why I gave him my thanatological research regarding death and dying in many traditions to supplement his already wide breadth of knowledge.  The gifts he has as a vital part of a support system and as loving human being in the benefit of other people will be best illuminated by his knowledge of others’ traditions; even those he doesn’t espouse.  He then can speak their language while remaining true to his own convictions.  This is compassion. This in intelligence used on a personal level.  This is my nephew.

I am very proud of this bright, joyful young man.  He is a unique and very funny individual who brings rich laughter and deep thought wherever he goes.  I know those he counsels, the individuals who are ill and dying, and their families, will benefit from his presence in unimaginable ways.  They will remember his tender heart and brilliant mind, and the comfort he brings, long after their difficult journeys have passed.

Good luck, Noel.  I am very proud of you!

Sacrifices


An old man sat on a park bench.  His face had crevices like an old melon.  His eyes, as blue as a child’s marble, turned toward the ground in contemplation.  Every so often, the man would sigh with the weight of his thoughts.  As he sat quietly, an old woman dressed in a cloth coat, sensible shoes, and a black purse, casually sat on the bench next to him.  In her hand, she held a bag from a deli with what appeared to be a sandwich in it.

“Good afternoon.  I hope I’m not interrupting you by sitting here,” the lady said quite amiably.

“Not at all,” said the man.  “I was just thinking about everything I gave up for my children, and now, they don’t call very often, or visit me as regularly as I’d like.”

The lady smiled because she knew the man was not looking at her, and she would not have wanted to hurt his feelings by laughing.

“Are you unhappy that you had children?” she asked.

“No,” said the man, surprised by the odd and forward question.  “I just thought that they would have appreciated what I had done for them.  I had no idea they would allow me to be so lonely, knowing my dreams had been cast aside to make sure they had everything they needed to succeed.”

“Have they succeeded?” queried the lady, genuinely interested in the man’s answer.

“They have.”  The man brightened a bit.  He went on to tell the lady of his children’s successes, and how they overcame their challenges with wisdom and strength.

“And, what did you sacrifice to make sure they could have a good life?” asked the lady.

“I wanted to be a professional baseball player.  I wanted to win a pennant and know that I had helped my team win the big one.”  The man was both excited and wistful in his memory.

“Do you suppose that although you didn’t play baseball, you still got your dream?  You children are your team, you are their coach, and they keeping winning in their endeavors, even after you stepped back as an active, daily coach.”  The lady started to open her chicken and tomato half-sandwich wrapped in white butcher paper.  The silence between them that followed, underscored by the crinkly paper, was strangely comforting to both of the elderly visitors to the bench as they mulled over their conversation.

As she silently offered half her sandwich to the old man, the lady nearly whispered, “The only dreams you forfeited were the ones you invented.  The ones that you were meant to live seem to have come true, even though you didn’t realize it at the time.”

The man looked at her as he declined the sandwich, angry that this stranger would be arrogant enough to talk about his life when she didn’t even know him.

“And,” the old lady dared to continue, “you multiplied the dreams lived by your children by doing so.”

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the man’s craggy face softened.  His brows unfurrowed, and his frown was neutralized by his realization that he had, indeed, lived his dreams.

The lady stood up, threw away the wrapper for the sandwich.  When she was done organizing her coat and purse, she purposefully turned toward the old man.  She drew in a deep breath and spoke confidently, “Dear sir, you have lived the dream that many don’t get to experience. You’ve seen your children grow into adulthood and be happy.  Even though your children don’t call or visit as often as you prefer, it is because they are living the lives they were meant to live. Perhaps now is the time to coach little league, or write about the sports you’ve followed for so many years.”

The man smiled, embarrassed that he had spent part of his precious life feeling sorry for himself.

“Thank you, ma’am.”  The man hesitated as if he were about to say something else.  “Just… thank you.”

As the lady walked away, the cell phone that the old man’s son had given him rang. “Hello, Dad,” he heard his son say.

New York Changes the Marriage Question


Today, June 24, 2011, New York became the sixth state in the republic to provide marriage equality whether a couple is heteroamorous or homoamorous when their State Senate voted 33-29 for the bill.  Previous states that have provided marriage equality include Massachussets, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire.  The District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon also allow the same rights. The population of these original five states equals 15.63 million American citizens.  New York adds another 19.3 million people, more than doubling the number of citizens who now have complete freedom to marry the partner of their choice.

It is a momentous day because New York has shown that men and women of conscience can come together in honest debate and negotiation to structure a plan that works for all its citizens.  There were compromises on both sides of the equation, but the whole is what truly matters.  The New York legislature was wise enough to ensure that this bill did not affect religious organizations and their ability to choose the couples they would join.  This has nothing to do with religion.  It is a state issue of equality.  The small details of their compromises will barely be remembered, but the wedding day that joined Dad and Papa, or Mom and Mama, will be just as important to their children as my parents’ wedding pictures are to me.

When my mother died, I went through her photographs.  As the family historian, it fell on me to maintain these photos that included my parent’s wedding pictures from November 1956.  As I wandered through the pages of this vibrant couple’s memories, neither of whom were now here to remember them, I recognized this as the starting point toward our family.

Now, the children of LGBT couples will be able to have the same memories as straight couples do.  It is as important to them as it is to me.  My wedding pictures with my now ex-wife, Barbara, from 1977 are still as beautiful as the photos of my marriage to my husband, David, in 2006.

As we celebrate this victory for equal rights in our country, we must also ask ourselves who is next?  Which state next will take the appropriate actions to ensure that 100% of American citizens will see in their lifetimes a nation that will not leave anyone behind regarding equality.  Equality is not limited to marriage.  Equality must be pervasive in every area of our lives. If one individual does not have equal rights in our country, then none of us have equal rights.  As it stands, some people continue to be offered more freedom than others.  This cannot be what we mean by the beginning of the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence when the signateurs affirmed:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration of Independence (USHistory.org, 1776)

Since May 17, 2004, when Massachussets became the first state in the Union to finally attain freedom for all regarding marriage, our country has been on a trek toward consistency.  Eventually, marriage equality will become the law of the nation, and our descendants will raise their eyebrows when their history teachers tell them that at one time, gay people couldn’t get married.  As I’ve seen firsthand as a classroom teacher, this same response occurs when the young people are told that at one time Blacks and Whites were not allowed to marry.  We do not call marriage between mixed-race couples anything other than marriage.  That is the way it will be in the years to come about marriage for same-sex couples.  It will simply be marriage.

In many ways, our country is like a majestic redwood; no matter how much shade is in our way, we always stretch toward the light.  Today, we have stretched a little bit higher toward that light.

References

“2010 Resident Population Data” (2010) U.S. Census Bureau.  Retrieved June 24, 2011 f

USHistory.org (1999) “The Declaration of Independence.”  USHistory.org.  Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.

Sexuality vs. Love


All hearts can love.

As we continue having debates regarding rights, freedoms, and full citizenship for people in same-gender relationships, we may want to conserve our energy and make our discussions more efficient and accurately reflective of every type of relationship.

As I watched Current TV, the channel developed by former vice-president Al Gore, and Illinois senator, Al Franken (D), I heard a woman say that these debates, especially those going toward the U.S. Supreme Court, are made more challenging because the word sex is involved.   The word to which she was referring was, “Homosexuality.”

If it’s really an issue, why not use a different word?  The Latin word, “homo,” means, “same.”  “Hetero,” mean “different.” The Latin root, “amor,” means, “love.” 

Homoamorous means two people of the same gender love one another. 

Heteroamorous means two people of different genders love one another.

So, why not change the word.  It’s not as though we’re using ancient or sacred words to describe our relationships.  “Homosexuality” was coined on May 6, 1869 by Karoly Maria Benkert, a 19th Century Hungarian physician, who first broke with traditional thinking when he suggested that people are born homosexual and that it is unchangeable.  With that belief as his guide, he fought the Prussian legal code against homosexuality that he described as having “repressive laws and harsh punishments (Conrad and Angel, 2004).” 

One would suspect that Dr. Benkert would appreciate this change in lexicon so that we change our focus in this debate from sex to love.  John and Frank are not two people in sex.  They are two people in love.  Deborah and Sheila are not two women who spend their lives sexing each other, they are two women loving each other.  This is especially true because homosexuality has been demedicalized in so many ways.

If we’re going to have to have this debate in the first place, let’s speak accurately about the people involved.  We are homoamorous people.  We are two people of one gender who are in love.  Those in opposite gender relationships are heteroamorous. 

How complicated can that be?  If I were to approach someone and ask them if they’d like a slice of bread, their first question is likely, “What kind is it?”  As a people, we love clarity.  Homosexuality and heterosexuality are simply not clear enough terms for the breadth of our relationship.  Homoamorosity and heteroamorosity are clear winners when it comes to describing the relationships with which I am most familiar.

Sexuality is an important, if not a terribly time consuming part of most marriage relationships.  It helps motivate our interest in a particular person whose gender is consistent with what we prefer; however, that, too, is not always the case. 

Is it unthinkable that two people can have a relationship that is purely emotional in form, without sex, who continue to love one another nonetheless?  Ask many people who are of a certain age. 

Homoamorosity and heteroamorosity are not only options for the terms homosexuality and heterosexuality, they might even be the preferred forms given their more emotionally inclusive qualities. 

My mother used to say, when trying to get the direct truth out of me, “Jim, call a spade a spade.”  Although I never played bridge, from which this term comes, I knew what she meant.  Name something as it is.  I now get that message all the more clearly.

Thanks, Mom.

__________________________

References:

2010, Plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/homosexuality/

Conrad, P., & Angell, A. (2004). HOMOSEXUALITY AND REMEDICALIZATION. Society, 41(5), 32-39. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.