Poison Control

This is tricky.

I want to stay informed, and I want to retain my humanity.

As the flood gates of global dystopian visions have opened over the past year, gazing into their maw becomes a macabre exercise. How to remain a responsible citizen, available activist, and stay sane all at once? The David Sipress cartoon has never seemed more relevant. Judging from my FB feed and the number of how-to’s and survival tips online, I am far from alone.

Here’s my wisdom, for what it’s worth.

Now more than ever we need to remember that band-aids, distractions, numbing strategies will not work. How do we know the difference between these and much needed mental health breaks? If our “distractions” do not provide at least some of the following, it will likely not be helpful toward our long-term emotional survival:

  • renewed connection with our loved ones and friends,
  • reconnection with at least a few of the following: our vulnerability, tenderness, humor, spontaneity, creativity and generosity
  • Physical exercise, rest, recuperation
  • Spiritual solace, wherever we find that in our lives. Now might be a time to renew our quest for that if it has not been a priority in the past.
  • Resisting normalization.

The latter has gotten a lot of air time lately, but the how-to’s need to be specific. There is an external component to this which is manifesting in the “resistance” movement. There’s lots of tips on how to do that. But there’s also the mundane task of filtering the toxicity of the world internally so that we don’t lose our grip. I call this poison control.

Step 1: Recognize it as poison. We are not making up the toxicity of the rhetoric and behaviors that we are seeing. It is real. To experience them as so prolific, relentless, and legitimized is an assault on our senses. If we get used to this in any way we succumb. Remind yourself on a daily basis what the definitions of cynicism, narcissism, and adolescence are. Don’t be deceived into legitimizing any of these as viable approaches to humane leadership, or remotely tolerable to our humanity.

Step 2: Recognize the poison in ourselves. In what ways is this external poison reflected in us? In what ways do we mimic the behavior we are condemning? Yeah, that. Dystopia is not created in a vacuum. We are part of the problem, and the more we deny this the more we will not only contribute to the toxicity around us, but succumb to it as well.

Step 3: Purge. Think of it as taking spiritual syrup of ipecac if you will, but hopefully more gentle. What form does this take for you? Whether it’s therapy, body work, self-reflection, up your dosage. This is not a time to coast. If we’re going to be part of the solution, we need to cultivate the place inside ourselves where that solution can emerge. We’re in for the long haul here.

As Albert Einstein allegedly claimed, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” I would add that we cannot provide a viable alternative to the toxicity outside of us if we are toxic ourselves.

Be well.






Got Religion?

[This post appeared as a letter to the editor in the Seattle Times on April 4th, 2015].

I’m both gay and Christian. I happily celebrate both free of cognitive dissonance. With Indiana stirring up a righteous brouhaha over religious “freedom,” I have a different bone to pick. It has to do with the parade of anti-religious sentiment that has sailed in on the coattails of #boycottindiana, a new hotspot in the modern pastime of unapologetic religion-bashing. While I am used to this in the Pacific Northwest, where a colleague of mine once noted it is easier to come out as gay than as Christian, I often experience this trend as an intellectual race to the bottom. Hyperbole and flummoxing statements such as “nothing good ever came from religion” are hailed as the new Enlightenment. The faithful of all stripes are painted as naive hangers-on, ignorant of our moral bankruptcy and need of conversion. Hm… sounds like trading one kind of bashing for another. I’m not fooled. It is not faith that drives corruption and bigotry; it is absolutism of any kind. To those on this particular bandwagon, rather than sweeping up the beliefs of billions of people around the world into your enlightened trash bin, I challenge you to engage in the real conversation about the exploitation of many by the few.
By the way, it’s a conversation my particular faith has been having for a couple thousand years.


When we picture a sailboat that is becalmed, bobbing with empty sails out on the deep, we often picture the sailor a hapless victim of circumstances…a person suspended between times of productivity, purpose and direction, waiting for the elements to turn again in their favor.  We rarely think of this time as a time of presence more than absence,  a time that is the point of – rather than the obstacle to – journeying at sea.  Instead of a time of slow-motion torture, we rarely consider this a long-awaited invitation to ultimate surrender and letting go (and only with favorable circumstances may the sailor have the luxury to do so).

And so it is in this land-bound state of being adrift.

I am adrift from my usual reference points and familiar places of refuge:  close proximity to family, life partner, certain career path.  Like the sailor who may find a new-found peace in the loss of a coveted landfall or rendezvous, so am I having to discover that perhaps I didn’t need all those reference points after all.   My identity as a happily and heterosexually coupled candidate for ordination in my Christian denomination is having to make room for what has yet to appear over the horizon.  Instead of easy answers to the questions of career and identity I report almost daily on the unraveling of prior direction and form.  Like the marooned sailor offshore looking for renewed purpose, I am compelled in each moment to choose between angst and liberating surrender.  It is a privilege in this life to have such a choice.

I have found it wise to make friends with both.