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Understanding How Others Feel

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Early on a summer evening I watched a car pull up and park in front of my home. Without reading the posted parking signs, three young adults got out and walked up the street. Thinking they were possibly visiting a neighbor, I waited a few minutes to see if they returned with a parking pass. When they did not come back, I guessed they had gone to a local restaurant.

Although it was their responsibility to read the signs, I knew how I would feel if I returned from a fun evening to find a forty-five-dollar parking ticket. Instead of having them learn the hard way, I wanted to alert them to the parking restrictions through a positive experience.

As a resident, I am able to receive a special number from the police department that allows visitors to park. I called for the number and taped it to their car’s windshield for the parking officer to see. I also left a note on the driver’s side window that said, “I did not want you to receive a ticket, since there is no parking on this street after 6:00 p.m. without a pass.” A few hours later, the car was gone. All that night and well into the next day, I had the amazing feeling that comes from performing an anonymous act of kindness.

Although we may never meet the people we help, being kind puts us in the position of understanding how others feel. Kindness is having empathy so we become enriched by another’s happiness.

Each day you and I are given countless opportunities to express our good and charitable heart. Regardless of what form it takes, the kindness and caring we give others not only helps them, it also creates positive energy that returns to us in so many different ways.

Kindness connects us to other people, reducing feelings of loneliness and emotional isolation. Caring and generous people attract giving people to them. By being considerate people, we will be liked by others.

Compassion decreases anger and depression and increases positive feelings and our general outlook on life. Being generous, affectionate, and nurturing promotes the release of endorphins that make us happy, calm, and improve our sense of well-being.

Acts of generosity and empathy keep us connected to the emotional warmth of our heart. Not only does being kind keep us heart-centered, researchers have found that kindness makes our heart healthier, too, because emotional warmth produces hormones in the brain and throughout the body which help lower blood pressure.

Today, and every day look for ways to spread kindness. Treating other people as you want to be treated is the foundation of all the world’s religions and spiritual practices. There is a very good reason compassion is so revered. The energy we put out is returned to us.

My Special Super Man

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I was raised in a strict God-fearing fundamentalist Christian church in the Southern part of the United States. I was taught God is angry, vengeful and male.

Surrounded by men who also believed God is male, I grew up hating God. If God was a man then he was a jerk too.

The men in my life often behaved like as*holes, raging and abusing their patriarchal power. At age eleven I was molested by male babysitter who threatened to “Cut off my tits,” if I ever told anyone. At seventeen I finally confessed to my parents I am gay. I was told, “You’re a business risk and you need to change.” I was sent to a physician who also molested me before helping lock me up in a psychiatric hospital.

I lost count how many men of all ages felt entitled to shout out, “Hey, Lesbo all you need is a good F*ck to straighten you out!” Or “What a waste.” Or “What the hell do you lesbians do without the goods,” while grabbing their crotch.

The women in my life reinforced door-mat gender inequality by teaching me I must bow to the wishes of men. I was told to lose at sports on purpose so that boys would feel good about themselves. I was taught boys would like me if I reinforced how much better they were than me.

It was devastating to my self-esteem and sexual identity to be programmed to believe in a male God who wanted me to find a husband, have kids, be a good, subservient wife and do what I was told.

I felt terribly alone. For this girl, who was already doomed to hell for being gay, there was no one to offer support. I was abandoned with no one to share the pain and confusion of being born into a world where even if I had been straight I’d still be considered a second-class citizen. Who I was supposed to be, according to religion, society and my peers, did not come close to who I really am.

How was I going to survive in a world where I stood out so badly?

I was well into my thirties when a big man and his little wife moved in next door and I began to see another side to the story about God, men, door-mat women and being gay.

Well over six feet tall, with hair to his waist, he was an artist who looked like a biker. Calm, collected, intelligent, he treated all women with respect, spoke to me with kindness and concern and was genuinely interested in me as a person.

He was not afraid to wear black nail polish or shave his legs for an upcoming bike race. He melted when holding a baby and was passionately devoted to his petite wife. He was strong and self-assured, but soft in his love for animals and for me.

During the next seven years he became my best friend, my super-man. The marathon hours we spent talking and sharing slowly opened my heart. I learned true intimacy has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with bearing your soul to another and having that person hold your heart safe. Especially when disagreeing.

You see, my super-man did not believe in God. Yet, he was more gentle and supportive than any man in my life who’d professed to be God-loving. No matter how much I hated God for being male, I was torn because I truly wanted to believe, to have faith in a caring power greater than myself. But that had been impossible to do because there had not been one kind, accepting and supportive male figure in my life.

Until my God-denying big man arrived and for the first time, I felt safe to share the pain of being born a gay woman in a male-dominated world filled with religiously justified hate, inequality and oppression.

He listened as I cried buckets of tears over my anger and frustration with both men and women. He encouraged discussions of why we do not appreciate, honor, and support each other as equals regardless of our sexuality or gender. He supported my view that gender and sexual inequality is in part a result of the religious labeling of supreme consciousness as male. He agreed labels separate, elevate, ostracize and judge. As soon as a label is placed on something or someone, our arrogance latches onto it. This limits us from being open to see any other possibility, even if the label perpetuates the abuse of power over others with discrimination and domination.

Although he did not believe in God he believed all relationships whether gay, straight, with family or friends should be based on acceptance, kindness and respect. He assured me being a confident gay woman did not mean I was a bi*ch. It was okay to be angry with men who abuse their power and justify the control and suppression of women. It’s also okay to be upset with women who perpetuate the idea we are less than men.

Thanks to my atheist big man who deeply loves, my attitude changed 180 degrees for the better. I went from hating the worst of men to loving the best of them.  Today my closest friends are men. I gratefully acknowledge my change of heart is the result of being deeply loved by one very special Super man.

To be Accepted for Just Being, Me

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I was born different. Weren’t we all? Some of us have green eyes, some brown. Some are light skinned, some dark. We have red hair, brown hair, kinky hair, curly hair.

Human beings are a beautiful weave of colors and cultures, different branches of the same family tree. We are unique by design, just as no two snowflakes or fingerprints are the same. And yet, we still have a difficult time accepting, honoring, and nurturing our differences.

Around age four or five, I knew I was “gay.” I don’t know how I knew, when I didn’t even understand what that meant, but I did. It was not a choice I made, but an understanding deep within my heart that growing up and finding a man to marry was just not for me. Yet from the first time I stepped into a church, I was taught to believe I was going to hell. What a lonely, depressing, and negative thing to ask someone to believe — especially a child.

Going against what was considered the norm was not some act of early-childhood rebellion on my part. There was enough schoolyard bullying, screwed-up family life, and feelings of unworthiness without adding another reason for me to feel detested. No, I did not intentionally choose to stick out in a world where I was surrounded by people who believed their God hated me for being gay, which enabled them to feel justified to hate me too.

The judgment I encountered based on one aspect of who I am didn’t make sense in my heart of hearts. Even as a young child I questioned how, when the basic message of all faith is to “treat others as you want to be treated,” could I not be worthy? How was it possible that spirituality was intended to be an exclusive, criteria-based membership, a contest of me against other people, or a practice based on fearing some unseen, angry, condemnatory presence? Wasn’t spirituality the individual quest to connect with the spark of loving kindness within my heart and behave motivated by that spark? Didn’t that mean supporting others as I wanted to be supported, loving as I wanted to be loved, accepting others as I wanted to be accepted, and being the best person possible?

No, I was not straight. But my actions were good-hearted. I once took a dying chrysanthemum from my aunt’s porch and replanted it next to her driveway, where it thrived for many years. Another time, while on vacation with my family, rather than poke around a roadside trinket shop, I spent time giving water to a donkey tied up in the hot sun.

No, I was not a girly girl waiting to meet Prince Charming. But as a little girl I asked my mom to buy shoes for a shoeless classmate, and I asked my dad for baseball equipment for the children at the orphanage.

No, I was not “right” in the eyes of those who find it easy to judge and hate difference in the name of their God. But I loved animals, flowers, the outdoors, and sports. I fantacized about being a superhero, defending the planet from evil villains bent on world domination. As a superhero, I would carry an extra sandwich to school for a friend who didn’t bring a lunch, rescue moths from spider webs, and dry off little birds that had been caught in torrential thunderstorms.

All I ever wanted was to be accepted for just being me. But no matter how well-behaved, or kind, or friendly I was, I remained doomed for not falling in line and adopting the fearful, judgmental beliefs that were being shoved on me. Attempting to accept the limited, disparaging idea that I needed to be straight caused me such anxiety, suffering, and feelings of unworthiness and shame that I lived in constant fear. It felt as if I were slowly being crushed beneath the oppressive weight of powerlessness and hopelessness. I thought life was too painful to continue, but I did not give up. Instead, I questioned why there was such hatred of my being gay. It was just not right, or loving, or Godlike.

To survive, I learned that challenging my beliefs was imperative. The people who teach us what to believe, answer our questions, and mirror society’s behaviors are passing along what they’ve been exposed to. Love, support, and acceptance are learned, as are injustice, hate, and bigotry. So just because we’ve been taught to believe something doesn’t necessarily make it true. Likewise, just because we’re taught not to believe something doesn’t necessarily make it false. One of our most important spiritual responsibilities is to courageously question beliefs that don’t align with the positive, loving, inclusive behaviors of our heart.

Only through assessment did I come to realize that being gay is not a punishment from a divine source. Doctors, psychologists, and educators have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice. Although there is no simple, single cause, research suggests that a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences determines it.

As far as religious references, I found that only six or seven of the one million–plus verses in the Bible address same-sex relationships. None of those verses refers to homosexual orientation as it is understood today. Modern scholars advise us that the biblical verses regarding same-sex relationships, as well as others throughout ancient religious texts, need to be understood within the context of the ancient societies that produced them. Science now offers tangible proof of why those antiquated beliefs no longer apply to our modern times.

Today I understand that growing up, I didn’t stick out at all. Born an average-looking, conventional, learning-challenged, jeans-wearing, gay tomboy, I was only uncomfortable being myself, as billions of us are. I, too, was brainwashed into believing I was not good enough unless I lived up to other people’s ideals and values.

The truth is, I did try to change, to be “normal.” And I suffered more. Regardless of how hard I tried to fit the mold other people had for me, I failed. Until one day I realized I’m not meant to live another person’s life. I’m only meant to live mine. That was the day I became free to simply be me.

The bottom line is that even if being gay were my choice, we must question how responsible it is to use thousand-year-old texts to rationalize the condemnation of those whose sexuality, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, or socioeconomic status are different from our own.

If we’re going to create lives of love, compassion, and purpose, we have the charge to question what we believe. It is only by asking questions of ourselves and the world that we can improve from generation to generation.

Imagine life without the vast medical advancements of the past couple hundred years. Research and evaluation are how theories and formulas are adapted, adjusted, and made more reliable and applicable or wisely abandoned.

At first we thought the atom was the smallest particle of matter. Then we discovered even smaller particles: electrons, protons, and neutrons. And with particle accelerators, we discovered smaller things yet, called quarks.

Until the mid-twentieth century, we had no idea of the vastness of outer space. Then we discovered that the Earth resides in a galaxy among billions of others.

We are part of a continuous chain of civilizations asking questions and wanting answers. We come to conclusions and pass them on to the next generation. Advancing the complexity of the questions we ask, and making positive adjustments based on our findings, are part of the natural process of change.

Everything is designed to change and progress — the seasons, our planet, nature; scientific, technological, and cosmological discoveries; even ourselves. This means our spiritual beliefs, texts, and practices are meant to change and advance as well. Spiritual advancement ensures that we bring accountability, compassion, and principled excellence to the table when addressing challenges and opportunities.

No matter what is written in ancient texts, we can change what is deemed spiritually responsible as our world changes. Pushing against the status quo is exactly what each enlightened messenger has done and continues to do. Questioning beliefs, including those that hold homosexuality as sinful, is spiritually prudent, particularly since science now provides evidence for biological and environmental causes.

Emerging on the other side of such a painful journey, I learned that the divine power I believe in manifests itself as love. Love does not judge others; not by sexual orientation, skin color, size, or any of the countless ways we are different.

What matters is how responsibly we behave as people of good, compassionate, and kind character. We honor, respect, and nurture individuality. We help make the world a better place by our being alive. We spread acceptance by treating others as we want to be treated. That is something God is very okay with, whether we are gay or not.