On being right with God

There is this sign in the town where I lived for many years saying, “Americans Need to Get Right with God”. It may surprise you when I say that I agree with this. Hold off on the torches and pitchforks for a minute and let me explain.

First, let me explain what I think this person means with the sign and say that I do not agree with that. This person likely means that we should be a ‘Christian’ nation, return to ‘traditional’ marriage, and kick all the LGBT people out of the country. I think this person doesn’t understand what being right with God actually means. Hint, it isn’t hate and oppression.

What does God ask of us?  To treat others with respect. I know it sounds odd, but there are lots of times when that is what they, very explicitly, tell people they want. As way of an example, I’m going to try an update to the Good Samaritan. Sadly, it is horribly misunderstood. Anyway, here goes.

You’re driving along 81 and suddenly your car doesn’t feel right and is making an odd sound. You pull off to the side of the road and get out. Your rear driver-side tire is flat. You have no spare and no Fix-a-Flat. Your phone, you remember, is sitting on your kitchen table, so you try to flag someone down. There’s not a lot of traffic, but you see a Mercedes coming up fast. You try to flag it down, but the congress critter driving it doesn’t care and speeds on by. You wait a few minutes and you spot another car coming. The driver is wearing a dog collar, so your hopes rise. Surely, a priest will aide you, and you try to flag him down. And, he speeds on by. A few more minutes go by and another car is coming. You flag the driver down and to your shock and horror, a young black man wearing a hoodie steps out. He calls for a tow truck and pays for the tow and a new tire and runs off before you can pay him.

Now, which one of these guys acted most in accord with God’s will?  I think we’d all agree that it’s the modern Samaritan, the young black man. Why?  Because, even though he is looked down upon by most, he stops and helps his neighbor. You see this in both the Old and New Testaments. God elevates those who are poor, hated, or unwell because they take the time to help others. Kindness, even that done by non Jews, is rewarded. Reminds me a bit of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. The reason these cities are destroyed isn’t because they are filled with gay men. And it doesn’t have to do with the angels being angels. It is all about how foreigners were treated. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were know to treat foreigners poorly. The reason they wanted to rape the angels was to show power over them and humiliate them.

So, with all this said, what do I think it means to get right with God?  It means speaking out about any and all kinds of oppression. Working towards justice for all. Treat everyone with respect and kindness. Help one another without counting the cost.

On being trans and suffering from mental illness

This one is going to be a bit long and may be triggering. I’m going to talk about the shooting in Tunkhannock, trans issues, and mental health.

Somewhat recently in Tunkhannock, there was a shooting at a Weis. This is terrible in and of itself and will make the lives of those struggling with mental illness harder. Those who do this sort of thing often have struggled with mental illness themselves. They also don’t receive treatment. Why don’t they seek treatment?  I can only speculate about why, but the stigma surrounding mental illness, the cost of treatment, and the lack of therapists and psychiatrists are the most likely reasons.

It can be very hard to find a therapist and even harder to find one that clicks with you. Much harder to find than that is a good psychiatrist. They are all expensive if you lack insurance, anywhere from $80/hour and up. I’ve personally seen up to about $300/hour. Even if you have insurance, there are copays and deductibles that can make treatment unaffordable. My good insurance covered all of my mental health care without any copays, but I had to hit the deductible of $250 first.  But the biggest reason, without a doubt, is the stigma around mental illness. We are thought to be stupid, unreliable, and dangerous.

While we can be unreliable, we aren’t stupid and are only very rarely dangerous. I tend to over commit myself when I’m feeling good and then crash and have trouble keeping my commitments. For the most part though, I am able to do what I say I will. And most people with mental illness are smart, creative, and productive. Most importantly, we aren’t any more dangerous than anyone else. Yet, we get treated like we’re about to kill everyone around us all the time. If we could be treated like everyone else, that would go a long way to dropping this stigma and making it easier for people to admit they need help. And if we could make treatment easier to get, well, that’d be near paradise.

Unfortunately, this shooting will also come down hard on trans people. It seems that this individual was trans and couldn’t deal with it. Could be because we are treated worse than dirt by many, many people. Could be that the American ideal of masculinity is toxic to everyone. Could be because people think we are mentally ill or trying to trick people. Yet again, it is down to stigma and stereotypes.

I absolutely hate trans jokes. Why?  Because they are all the same. The joke is always about how trans women aren’t women. Which leads me to the stories that get told about us. We are the villain or the victim, never the hero. There is always so much fuss made about being trans when all it needs to be is a detail. These stories, both about trans people and those of us suffering from mental illness, need to change. Once the stories change, we’ll change. People are quick to think that words and stories are minor things. They are both magic and the most powerful sort we have. Don’t believe me, what does a therapist use to heal mental illness?  Words and stories. The way you heal is often changing the story you tell about yourself. Words and stories influence the way we think.

There is this odd idea that trans people are simply having delusions. What most people don’t know is that being transgender was once treated like having delusions and not one treatment changed anyone from being trans. Just like conversion therapy. You can’t torture us into not being who we are. Being trans is a piece of who and what we are and that can’t be changed. You can’t make a left handed person right handed, no matter how hard you try.

Trans people do deal with mental illness at rates higher than cisgender people. Why might that be?  We are demeaned, demonized, and bullied almost constantly. We have to face violence and the threat of violence everyday. We get kicked out of homes, jobs, and groups because we are trans. We are verbally and physically attacked simply because of who we are. To avoid all of this, many try to stay hidden, to be someone else. All of this takes a toll on our well-being.

We have trouble getting any kind of trans related healthcare. I have to drive to Harrisburg twice a year. Insurance rarely covers trans healthcare. We have to worry about what will happen if our other healthcare providers find out we are trans.

So, now that I’m done with all the doom and gloom, what can we do about it?  One, we can start trying to change the stories told about trans people and those suffering from mental illness. Mostly, though, don’t be so quick to judge us. Maybe speak out for us when you see someone trying to put us down or hurt us. Seek help yourself, if you think you might be dealing with mental illness. Trust me, treatment helps. Same goes for being trans. Try to find some of us and talk with us. Most of us are nice people. Simply treat us as normal people, because we aren’t much different from you.

I’ll leave you a line or two from Hank Williams, from ‘Men with Broken Hearts’:

You have no right to be the judge, to criticize and condemn.
Just think but for the grace of God it would be you instead of him.

Piety

Hey y’all!  Sorry about the month without posts. I’d like to blame it on something, but I was simply being lazy. Anyway, this week’s post is the last of the nine Virtues of the ADF.

I debated whether to have piety or fertility as the last one in this series. I chose piety because I think it rather neatly finishes off the Virtues. Also, piety is more interesting and difficult. To really understand what piety means in this context, it’s important to start with how Ár nDraíocht Féin, also known as A Druid Fellowship, views the gods. They are hard polytheists, that is, they believe that the gods are real and each is it’s own separate entity and they each have their own desires. That’s one of the things I love about the ADF, they don’t water down what they believe to get more members. And, they are orthopraxic, which means that they don’t care what you believe, only how you worship if you are doing an ADF ritual.

Let’s see what our friends Merriam and Webster have to say about piety:

1: the quality of state of being pious

a: fidelity to natural obligations

b: dutifulness in religion

2: an act inspired by piety

3: a conventional belief or standard

They also list reverence, virtuous, dutiful, and devout. I think I’ll start using a different dictionary since this one loves to define words using the word you want defined.

What is piety?  I like piety as reverence. If you aren’t revering something, you can’t be pious. Virtuous also seems right. Having a set of virtues to follow and following them is pious. Piety should not be confused for following what someone tells you to do. To really have piety, you must have your own relationship with who or what you worship or revere.

Piety sounds a bit like hospitality, doesn’t it?  They both revolve around relationships and honour. Hospitality is more about being there for others, including the gods, and treating them with respect. Piety, on the other hand, is more about how you live your life and is about your relationships with your deities or values.

Doing ritual right is also a large part of piety. In the ADF’s case, it is using their ritual outline when performing an ADF ritual. In other cases, it depends the particular faith. For many, this means attending some sort of ritual on a regular basis. But it could be anything from communing with nature to meditation.

I hope this trip was interesting for you as it was for me. Soon, I will start in on the Ten Commandments. See you next week!