Tag Archives | anger

Understanding & the Discomfort of Mystery

What is it about knowing, about understanding a thing or a person that is so attractive?

As a teacher I sense the hunger for certainty in my students. They want to know what they need to know to get an A (or merely pass) and move on. Tell me what I have to know (and I’ll repeat it back to you). But I teach college writing. There are a thousand—a million!—ways to write a story, a paragraph, a sentence. It’s best if your writing is specific to help your reader understand your perspective—but one right answer doesn’t exist. Welcome to the liberal arts and critical thinking!

I can relate to my students. Growing up and well into adulthood, not knowing felt shameful. Admitting my ignorance was so scary that I’d nod along AS IF I understood. Sometimes I’d even lie. Then worry I’d get caught. That felt so horrid that I decided to see what would happen if I owned the truth in a conversation, and admitted I don’t know. (This radical approach has been transformational!)

To Know & Understand

Socially, there’s a certain cachet attached to knowing. To know something, to know someone, and, BONUS, to understand a thing all adds up to success. Not knowing is, at best, a gap in learning; at worst a sign of failure, a fault, a personality flaw.

Generally, not knowing is managed by admitting I don’t know*. And then 1) deciding I don’t care or 2) I do care, so I will learn/figure this out.

But what if you can’t figure this out? What if you do care, but don’t understand something, someone? What then?

Ignorance vs. Mystery

When we don’t know something that is known and knowable we are ignorant. I am ignorant of many things: tax law, surgical procedures, how to speak Mandarin. All of the things I don’t know, but that are knowable, would fill a library the size of the Empire State Building. Many things that I don’t know, I honestly don’t care about, or care to know.

Then there’s Mystery: a different kind of not knowing. Mystery is not the same as ignorance. Mystery means we stand in wonder of something that often is not knowable right now, or perhaps ever. Mystery is not managed by education or science.



–Mystery is defined as something that is a secret, something where there is no clear explanation, something difficult to understand or explain or something unexplainable or unsolvable.

  • An example of a mystery is whether there is proof that God exists.
  • An example of a mystery is how exactly people came to be.
  • An example of a mystery is a situation where it is unclear who committed a crime, or what the purpose or point is for a work of art, an experience, someone’s motives and actions.

Mystery sits in the same room as uncertainty and ambiguity. Such and such could mean X, or Y, or perhaps even Z. And on occasion, it might mean none or all of these at once. 

Personal Anger

My father, bless him, features often in this series. I suspect this is because a major trigger for personal anger is broken trust. (Hat tip to my daughter for naming this in a recent conversation.) I feel personal anger when I trust someone close to me for something I need and they do not or cannot provide it. (I could shift focus here to managing expectations and boundaries. But that’s not where I’m going.)

My father sat at my kitchen table in 2009 and spoke the truth, “I never understood you.” Jesus said the first bit first. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

But Gloria’s follow up rings true. Truth leads to freedom, but first it leads you through anger.

My father’s admission was at once dazzlingly honest and excruciating. Suddenly, I knew shy I felt erased, invisible as a child. With his words my relationship with him, and others that I struggled to animate with mutual respect and appreciation, made sense.

With those four words I was set free from thinking I should get a lobotomy rather than have ideas and make choices that he “could not condone or approve”. For example, during my 12+ years in community theater, I asked my anxious parents to trust. “Even if you can’t trust me, can you trust the One who made me, who holds me, who led me here?” Acting, as more than a hobby, was something they didn’t understand, so they could not value it. I was asking for support, for trust, they could not give.

If you can only value and respect what you understand, what do you do with mystery? 

~ How do you relate to mystery when she is your own child? ~

My father, like my students, found not knowing, not understanding extremely unpleasant. We lived in the same house, but didn’t understand me. I didn’t match the efficient guidelines for value that made life manageable, knowable, comfortable for him. Mystery caused him distress. Because of a lifetime of emotional poverty, Dad could not find a way to navigate this discomfort. All he knew to do was diminish or dismiss what caused it. Me.

Mercy & Mystery

For 50+years I struggled to say the words that would magically make my father understand me so that he could affirm, even celebrate, who I am. But before he died, I stopped that wistful, futile, exhausting habit. Here’s my current, ongoing practice:

First, I rest. Nothing good happens when I’m tired.

Next I choose mercy. Mercy for Dad and his need to understand someone before he would appreciate or celebrate them. And mercy for myself for trusting him to give me what he could not.

Finally, I reflect. My earliest model for moving through life taught me that reflection is a choice, not a default. In a place of rest and mercy, I shift my gaze inward and wonder, How often have I raced past the discomfort of mystery? Can I respect and value what I don’t understand?

Warning: This is NOT an efficient practice. I think efficiency is great; if you’re a server at McDonalds, a clerk at the DMV, or a light bulb. It works for anything that isn’t related to deep relationships with others or your Self. This practice involves curiosity. (Never efficient.) What if I am guided by the Spirit? What if, instead of dismissing the discomfort, I sit with my mystery? What if sitting with mystery and being uncomfortable is how I will grow?

Mercy for my own Mystery

This fall I have a chance to find out. I return to school. Again. I’ll be a full-time student pursuing my MFA in Studio Art. (Yes! This totally ROCKS!!!!!!!) I have NO idea what my area/s of focus will be. Not One Clue. Nor do I have a clear vision of how I’ll use my degree when I’m done. What the hell am I doing!? Three years! More student loans!

But—I feel called to this: To sit (even dance) with the discomfort of Mystery. I stand here because of mercy. I got here by grace.

Mercy for YOUR Mystery

You are welcome to use these questions yourself, if you want. See above Warning! This is not easy work. It is totally inefficient and there won’t be one right answer. But when you let yourself keep patient company with the discomfort of mystery, grace and mercy show up too.

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No one talked about consent

Grief fatigue. It’s a real thing. Trump’s election. Favorite son moving far away. Trump’s inauguration. Finding a dear friend dead. Helping pack up her house and participate in the memorial. Juggling the work of teaching and student-ing with all of that. So, yeah. It’s been a while. The last time we met here was November. For over a month I’ve scribbled lists of ideas, thinking of ways to continue the Personal Anger series with all the transparency and grace I can muster. There was the reminder of rebirth and resurrection with Easter. I’m swimming again. I watch satire. Favorite son moved back to the area. It all helped.

Then May 4th happened. The Affordable Care Act was repealed by the House. And along with taking health care from a few million people, the current bill will also allow states to permit insurance companies to deny coverage, or charge some ungodly fee, to those with pre-existing conditions. In case you wonder, pre-existing condition applies to sexual assault, postpartum depression, C-sections, and victims of domestic violence. Often known as being human and female.

Stop saying the United States is a Christian nation. Please. Stop!

There is nothing Christian about a system that dialogs primarily with the influential and powerful, and privileges the very same. There is nothing Christian about labels and limits. There is nothing Christian about withholding treatment and care based on a person’s race, gender, religion, income, passport, intelligence, work ethic, or lack thereof. There is nothing Christian about a system that withholds basic human rights from the poor, ill, or marginalized. If you don’t believe me, check out the bible stories of Jesus.

This is capitalistic, marginally democratic, and totally selfish. Call it that. But STOP calling it Christian.

Personal Anger

Please. Stop! I said. He didn’t listen. He pulled me down between rotting corn stalks. Built like an athlete, he easily pinned me against the damp dirt. Stop! Don’t! No. I pleadedHe hissed “You want it!” and forced me open.

I have a pre-existing condition. I was sexually assaulted. More to the point: I was raped.

Remember how I began this series? When I met Ken I was vibrating with rage for many reasons, but especially this.

All the Personal Anger I’ve written about so far—violence in response to truth telling, breaking the cycle of emotional poverty, living in man’s world, self-betrayal, striving to belong by behavior and belief—played into accepting that relationship. The one with the guy who raped me.

Growing up in a sheltered, faith-based community, I learned that a girl should be warm and affectionate, or she’s an ice princess. A girl must also put the brakes on because men can’t control their passions. Point of Personal Anger: No one talked about consent!

No one at home, school or church talked about pleasure, desire, or sex except to say that it is taboo outside of marriage and okay after you say I do. Abstinence only, dearie. End of conversation.

Because of my beliefs, I told myself Now that he’s had sex with me, I have to marry him. According to 1 Corinthians 6:16, having sex made us one flesh. No matter that he was violent, disrespectful, and didn’t listen to me. I’d absorbed the cult of virginity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. He had taken the one thing I had of value.

But the main point of this essay is not about being raped. I’ve processed that anger and worked through recovery. (My relationship with my body today is one of tender awareness and intentional care. I’m vigilant about consent in various areas of my life.)

I’m angry about a culture that still thinks a woman gets what she deserves, that in some way she asked for it. Rape should disgust us. Full stop!

Rape should disgust us
I am angry there was no such thing as dialog about consent: 
what it is, what it is not, how to talk about it. And that instead of open and often, conversations about consent even today are pretty rare.

We must learn to name personal limits, needs and desires, and create communities where we can express them aloud in safety. When the agendas of institutions meant to protect and serve us — home, school, church, government — don’t intentionally foster this, we became predators or victims, mere ciphers.

This Cipher will not Consent

To the lawmakers who approved the list of pre-existing conditions in the May 4th bill, I am just a cipher. Other ciphers include anyone diagnosed with:

AIDS/HIV, acid reflux, acne, ADD, addiction, Alzheimer’s/Dementia, anemia, aneurysms, angioplasty, anorexia, anxiety, arrhythmia, arthritis, asthma, atrial fibrillation, autism, basal cell carcinoma, bipolar disorder, celiac disease, cerebral palsy, cervical cancer, colon cancer, polyps, congestive heart failure, COPD, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, DMD, depression, DIABETES, disabilities, down syndrome, epilepsy, glaucoma, gout, hemophilia, hepatitis, herpes, high cholesterol, hypertension, kidney stones, leukemia, lung cancer, lupus, mental health issues, migraines, MS, narcolepsy, obesity, OCD, organ transplants, osteoporosis, a pacemaker, paraplegia, Parkinson’s, pregnancy, restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder, seizures, sickle cell, skin cancer, sleep apnea + other sleep problems, stent, stroke, thyroid problems, tooth disease, tuberculosis, and ulcers; to name a few. Oh, and survivors of sexual assault/domestic abuse.

Think of all the people in your family. Now those in your workplace, school, or community. Who looks “sick”? People who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act say they shouldn’t have to pay extra to cover “sick people”. But people who look sick are such a small segment of the group affected by the current health care bill. Many of us look like we are just fine. As things stand now, having a pre-existing condition is not a medical diagnosis. It’s a societal one. It’s a way to divide, label, and exclude. Instead of health and wellness being seen as human rights, they are seen as privileges. Using labels like pre-existing condition is another way to call out “sick” people as “other”—to say they deserve what they’ve got. It’s a lot like the culture of rape.

Please! Stop! I DO NOT CONSENT. Let it go on record: I do not understand the fear and scarcity that motivates the current government. But that is what it is — fear and scarcity. I will not play by their twisted rules. I am not a cipher. You are not a cipher. You may not have one of the pre-existing conditions, but someone you know does. And one day you may too. 

Stop saying the United States is a Christian nation. Please. Stop! Or: Start acting like one. Care for the stranger like your brother, your mother, your child. Live like we are all in this together. Vote as if we belong to each other.  

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