On Corporal Punishment

(Column 50 – published in the Feb 14th Warroad Pioneer)

Life is heavy at times. Like the weight of the rain on top of our snow base, thickening a crust that can hold the fox and a four-year old but not the sharp-hooved deer and a Muck-booted mama.

I have emerged from my self-imposed social hibernation with short trips here and there. Sledding, skating, fishing. A weekend Kenora visit along the winding ice road.

We even scheduled a date, as many couples do, leaving the little human with the grandparents for an evening. It was pleasant to sit quietly over dinner, talking only with the man I choose to love about topics that make us smile. There was no struggle to find non-phone distractions keeping a new four year-old occupied and in her seat.

At The Angle and near-abouts, we allow her the freedom to roam and visit with strangers. Social interaction is a commodity in this lonely road’s-end home, but she is unafraid and inquisitive, and people are beautiful and interesting. Her forming sense of identity is still innocent enough to readily share what she knows of herself with them. It is a gift she can give truly, sincerely.

I hope she will always give.

So many of us go so far away from that as we age. What we call life seems mostly about “getting” and “keeping.”  Me. Mine. My family’s. My country’s. The more successful we are in “getting,” the more revered we think we are. The more “getting” we achieve, through whatever means, the more justified we feel in labeling those who have more barriers to “getting” as lazy and freeloaders. Some who are born “having” are granted the elevation the rest of us earn through hard work. They, in their unearned “wisdom,” are boosted by the people whose heads they stand on, and they climb more quickly because they started further up where the rungs are closer together.  It is comforting to put our salvation in their hands, yet it is hard to see from way down here that their hands are, in fact, NOT held open to those below them. No, their hands are white-knuckled around each rung as onward, upward they climb to see what else they can “get.”

It is understandable how we came to be this way – this selfish putting-first of everything pertaining to me and mine, this closed-eye faith in those who did a better job of “getting” and “keeping” than we. In a word: fear. I wrote in my last column that fear, in and of itself, is very simple. Just as darkness is the absence of light, fear is the absence of love.

Simple in definition, perhaps, but complex in its manifestations. As a parent, I hold many fears about my child’s future. So much seems beyond my control. In reality, what matters most is completely within my power to transform.

Most fear is taught. Studies have shown that 90% of all parents inflict physical pain as a way to teach right behavior from wrong. Fear certainly serves a useful purpose in keeping us safe from lions and tigers and bears for example, but in the case of corporal punishment, our moral decisions are then built on the fear of physical pain. As we grow, it is natural for us to go into self-protection mode when anything uncomfortable confronts us.

Me. Mine. Protect.

From the minutest example of a parent spanking a child to the grandest scale of a dictator’s deadly regime, fear of physical pain is a biological weapon used to enforce obedience.

Unquestioning subservience over time becomes blind glorification of the ties that bind.

As a result, there are billions of child-adults who logically choose Me/Mine over what is morally right. We run away from perceived fear instead of walking towards it shining our lights to examine its nothingness.  We hold close what we believe won’t hurt us. We make enemies out of the slightest possibility of pain.

Me. Mine. Get. Keep. Push. Punish. Protect. Disconnect. Demonize.

Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammad would never have struck a child, no matter what the crime. Why do we think it’s okay that we parent in a manner different from how God loves us? God doesn’t isolate us in time-outs either.

My Bible study group argued once that God in fact does punish us BECAUSE he loves us, and that is supposedly what parents spanking their children is all about. I disagree with every ounce of my being. We may perceive the consequences of our wrong actions as punishment, but the two are very different things. Consequences are natural, organic. They are our mistakes correcting themselves, our free will teaching us to be still and listen to the voice of God.

Punishment is the hell humans put each other through when we’ve stopped listening to God.

Yes, I have spanked and slapped hands in my ill-formed, ever-evolving parenting approach, but it was certainly not out of love. No punishment is born of love. Punishment is the result of plain and simple fear that the child will become the manifestation of the behavior we have judged as wrong. Spanking a child for failing to pick up toys is about our fear of them becoming irresponsible and slovenly, but more importantly, it’s about our fear of losing totalitarian control in our home, in our lives. “She didn’t listen to me, so I punished her” actually means “I am afraid of not being fully in control of what I consider ‘mine’ and of perceived disrespect towards that which I consider “me.”

So, yes, it is understandable, but it’s not OK. Spanking gets results in the short term, but I’m not raising my child short term. “I was spanked, and I turned out okay,” I might say, defensively. But did I really? Look at all the fears I hold, desperately, tightly, as if they were my Beloved.

In the game of Love – and make no mistake, that is the only game there is – none of it makes any sense. We have grown to physical adulthood and yet our spiritual maturity has been left in the smiling eyes of the four year-olds we once were.

Give, said Jesus.

Give mercy, said Mohammad.

First, practice generosity, said the Buddha.

That is the way to freedom.

Freedom is what I want, and it’s what I want for my child. Spankings and punishment become stillness and connection. Me and Mine becomes Us and Ours. Man-made borders become ribbons connecting the beauty of humanity.

We walk awkwardly through the snow. Her chatter balances my silence. I give.

Life is the crashing through the crust time and time again and yet crawling on. Because that is how I grow. That is how I gather strength and endurance for the tests ahead. For the toppling of the ladder. For forgiveness of the head-steppers. For unclenching their fear-filled fists so that we may join hands. As children would.

Family Portrait (Part 3)

(Column 45 – Published December 13, 2016 in the Warroad Pioneer)

I sat down to finish the Family Portrait series I started and have found it achingly difficult. Looking in the True mirror is, perhaps, the most difficult thing any of us will ever do. It’s why so few do it. Mine is broken into a million chards and the reflections I see are all different and all something I have painstakingly created. Like a character on a stage, I built Me out of a million little beliefs of who Kellie should be…my should chards. I started writing about one:

I was a “feminist” before I even knew that there was such a thing, and before I understood that the idea of a feminist was so misconstrued and reviled by so many.

Not a fan of labels but not sure how to get around them, it’s taken me many years to come to terms with calling myself a feminist. When I am called one by other people, they are almost always hurling it as an insult. And I always took it as such then.

But now, things are different. On the way to giving something up, first I must believe I own it. And so, right now I own being a feminist.

To use the words of someone I once respected, no, I definitely don’t know my “place” (as he defines it) as a woman and I definitely take women’s rights too far.

And I always will.

I don’t care what anyone’s religion says. Women are meant to lead. And lead we do. Though it’s not the common definition of leadership we’ve grown to abide by in this barbaric civilization. Deny it if you like; most men and some women simply fear the outright recognition of this truth and will dance themselves around it to feel better, safer, less afraid.

Women lead because we survive in the face of a masculine-dominated world that has hidden, owned, beaten, raped, and murdered us for thousands of years.

We lead because given the choice, we will almost always choose non-violence.

We lead because we know that violence gets us nowhere, despite the smirk-worthy country songs that glorify murdering an abuser.

We lead because nurturing is a law of nature and it comes more naturally to us.

We lead because if you look truly at gun violence, domestic abuse, terrorism, drug wars, sanctioned wars, and all other killing and violence in our world, the kind of person 99.9% of these incidents have in common is … men.

Now, this is where a woman-hater would accuse me of being a man-hater. But I’m not. I simply hate violence. To the point that when that person I once respected called me a “lay down and die” kind of human being, I had to agree with him.

I have unlearned how to resist. I have unlearned how to fight. (Much to my detriment and all the other peace-lovers stuck on the broken escalator.)  Maybe I’m not such a good feminist after all.

I grew up going to a church my family helped create and build…the one just west of the Ridge. We called it the Church of the New Covenant at the time, and I remember riding bikes and roller skating on the big cement pad as the volunteers readied it for framing.

I was arriving at an age when I could process some of what was said during the sermons. Sunday School was never for me. Suspending belief for the fantasy-like stories and the rote memorization of Bible verses seemed a chore that taught little more than close-minded obedience. We were taught to be afraid of what might happen if we didn’t choose these beliefs. We were taught that everyone who didn’t choose that same path were Sodom-and-Gamorrah-evil. We were not taught love and compassion and mercy in any large quantity; we were taught to believe or DIE.

But faith for fear’s sake has never sat well with me.

And when I listened well enough to understand how religion differentiates male female, masculine feminine, that was enough for me.

I was nine and I was decidedly a feminist.

That’s how deeply these chards of Self are embedded.

The ache at the core of my being comes from much more than an ego smarting to be right or being a feminist in a man’s world. No, this isn’t an ego suffering. This is a lonely soul longing to remember it all, the connection of everything, the Consciousness that is the only Truth.

I can’t yet paint myself into any portrait, even the cute little family portrait that my ego sees and that I spent two columns writing about. Sure, I could give a little elevator spiel about how my family sees me, how The Angle sees me, and maybe that’s what you want, but what good would that do anyone, the world, me?

The labor pains are starting and it’s a pain as real as any physical pain. I have to drop the million chards of glass I’ve been holding up all these years. And they’re going to cut me to ribbons on their way down. That’s their job. It’s the only way. The big ones I’m holding, the ones I thought were the clearest reflection, such as “I am a feminist,” are going to be the toughest to drop. I fear I’ll bleed out before I can let the rest fall.

But fall they must. Part of waking up is breaking the mirror. And part of waking up is also letting the mirror fall away. I can be afraid all I want, but in baby-birthing, fear only makes the labor pains worse. The same is true in this kind of birth as well. I’m no longer afraid to be a feminist. Now I have to get over my fear of NOT being a feminist, of not defining myself as such, as anything. In a nutshell, it’s facing the fear of No Self.

That is how I will be born to my family.

That is how I will see clearly enough to celebrate my own birth.

(If I lost you in all this, don’t worry. It’ll only get worse before it gets better. I’ll go quite a bit crazier before I go sane. Oh, and there are open seats on this train, by the way.)

“I’m not racist, but…”

Column 40 Published in the November 8 Warroad Pioneer

We had buried my grandpa earlier in the day and though many of us were emotionally spent, we gathered for living-room conversation of light-hearted fare, marriage, babies, the future.

An old family friend and self-made pastor was commanding the floor in his well-intended, often over-bearing comedic way. With my pregnant cousin and her hubby at the center of it, he steered the conversation from jokes about baby names to having all your babies with the same father to “those women down in the Cities who have 14 children with 14 different men” – his words.

Normally I would find a quick exit at that point. Words such as those collide with all my spinal sensory nerves, make my root chakra wince and then I flee.

But grief does funny things to filters, to nerves, to practiced patterns.

The speaker didn’t falter. “I’m not racist,” he continued loudly to the group, “buuuut…” and then, muting his voice with his hand he said glibly out of the corner of his mouth, “…but they’re almost always black.”

Without raising my voice, I quipped, “Anyone who says “I’m not racist, but…’ is most decidedly racist.” This got a laugh from my sister, who nodded her agreement. The pastor hadn’t heard me, nor, in my cowardice, had I intended him to.

He continued his tiresome schtick, but the group had quietly divided its attention. My uncle sitting near me turned and said in an exasperated tone, “I’d like to see ONE person who’s NOT racist.” We were still speaking quietly at the outskirts of the small circle, lounged comfortably on my grandpa’s worn living room furniture. Everything quickly got very uncomfortable.

It was one of those moments I wish I had practiced for; the kind that afterwards I would relive again and again, perfecting the response in my mind.

Before I could spit something out, he turned even more directly to me and asked, “What? You’re not racist?”

Though my first instinct was to blurt a vehement “No!”, I stuttered for a second, processing thoughts of all the current events and the volatile national conversation on race.

I stopped myself from a simple denial.

Absolute truth seemed infinitely more important in that moment than simply defending my moral character.

When words came, there was no righteous strength behind them. “I know I have been guilty of it,” I said slowly, cautiously. “I mean, I’m sure I’ve done things…but, I don’t think I’m better than anyone.”

My uncle turned back to face the group but he nodded to show that he was listening.

“I don’t think I’m better than anyone because of their ethnicity,” I continued quietly, “or because of where they come from.

“And I don’t think I’m better than anyone because of their sexual preference.”

I added that last part hastily after realizing that several other family members were listening, specifically one who had taken to Facebook referencing scripture in an argument against homosexuality and against marriage equality. (Note – this was all taking place in late fall of 2014, about a year after Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize gay marriage.)

In my typical passive-aggressive way of responding, I had quickly unfriended her. Now, this little verbal jab felt like vindication for having spent so much energy confused about who Christians purport to be and my perceptions of their intolerance for the very people to whom Jesus would have ministered.

The not-racist exchange ended there, and I got up pretending to be concerned about what my toddler was doing elsewhere in the house. In the moment, it had felt egotistically good to finally speak a small piece, but there was no feeling of glee or gloat, just an overwhelming sadness that compounded succinctly with the existing grief.

The thing is, these are not “bad” people, the not-racist pastor nor my extended family. They are hard-working, lower-middle class, Bible-believing people who try to lead good lives and are simply a product of their environment, just like me and just like everyone else.

Perceiving their ignorance only strengthens my own. I must forgive and I must ask for forgiveness.

But, I cannot and will not align myself with the likes of their beliefs, the limitations of their religion, nor their political candidates.

A recent funny but telling social media meme goes, “Another way to look at an election is to see who the Nazi’s and Klansmen support, and then maybe look elsewhere.”

Seriously.

November 8th, the day this paper comes out, is my 41st birthday. November 8th marks eight short month of non-drinking for Tony and me. And, November 8th will tell us if a misogynist or a feminist will take the oval office. Yep, it’ll be a big day in my house.

I grew up telling anyone who would listen that I want to be the first woman president of the United States. At the very least, I’m hoping I get to vote for one.

Back to the not-racist pastor, our old family friend … last week, in a subtly-threatening public post written directly to me on a NW Angle non-profit organization’s Facebook page, he called himself a “representative of God” said he had to love his friends’ kids, and told me I needed to get some help. On a photo of a quilt-raffle, no less.

When my flee impulse resided, I had to laugh. What else can you do?

It was the most bizarre outreach I’ve ever encountered. From a man who used to tease and tug on my baby blonde curls, sing funny songs and make me feel so special. Tony, ever the wise diplomat, said simply, “ignore him.” My decision, which clearly proves why I could never get elected to anything, is to write about it in the paper.

I don’t call myself a Christian, but I do learn from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Dear one, you interpret your Bible and I’ll interpret mine. You vote your beliefs and I’ll vote mine. We are no different, you and I. We both cling to the beliefs of fear, because that is all beliefs are. Every belief, right down to the big one about a God that exists and resides outside of ourselves, takes us further from being Truth Realized and achieving Christ-consciousness.

Clearly, your Jesus would never send messages over a private email server.

And my Jesus? Well, he would never assault women and call names, build walls and deport immigrants, defraud students and mock POWs, make fun of the handicapped and make money owning casinos and strip joints. Jesus wouldn’t sleep with the wives of other men let alone brag it, and he wouldn’t cheat on his wife. In fact, he might stand beside his spouse through a very public, very difficult time of moral failings, not unlike a certain woman candidate who did just that and for which she is now harshly judged.

There are many more comparisons, but the election is over. My breath is wasted.

You don’t believe you’re racist and you do believe you are a representative of God.

I don’t believe I’m not racist. I don’t believe anything. Or at least I’m getting there.

I just Am.