My Dusty Memory Bowl

As children, we could make my baby brother cry simply by chanting the words, “Okie! Okie! Okie!” Isn’t it amazing how prejudice is learned so innocently and so early? We loved our brother but it made us feel more powerful when we teased him.

Nowadays, that kind of “naming” cruelty is called bullying and it is usually aimed at people of color. In the  decade of the Dust Bowl, desperate migrants to California were mostly blonde and blue eyed.

Watching the The Dust Bowl  documentary was fascinating for all four of us kids since we were part of that great exodus from the mid-west to the promised land. We were very young (7,6,4,and 1) when we left Oklahoma in 1939. Now we are all in our seventies and times have changed.

The Dust Bowl story was peripheral to our personal stories. My parents were not farmers although they were both born in a small Missouri town and most of their neighbors did farm.My mother’s family were the richest people in that little town and they lost everything in the Depression. My Dad was simply travelling through and the two of them continued travelling after the wedding in 1932.

Like most immigrants, they didn’t talk much about their past. I’ve never been clear about how they survived the Depression. I do know they moved a lot. The four towns – McAllen TX, Waco TX, Beaumont TX and Tulsa OK – where their four kids were born were just the tip of the iceberg.

In 1939 they piled their four kids, and my Uncle Bob in the car and drove to the land of orange trees and hope. I remember Hoover Dam but everything else is second hand. The younger kids remember nothing.

My Dad had lived in California for part of his high school years and really wanted to return. My mother wanted to be with my Dad. My handsome young uncle wanted to be a movie star.

Money was always an anxious subterranean subject so I had no idea where it came from. I do know we lived in a small house and there was enough food. I also know my uncle worked as a singing waiter in a Pasadena Hotel because we heard him and the others sing on the radio every Friday night.

If my family talked about the more destitute migrants, I don’t remember it. Were the attempts to block indigent migrants from entering the state mentioned? My memories are all mystery. For some reason, I knew that being an Okie was bad. It took me a long time to work through childhood shame and money issues.

When World War Two started, my Dad went to work as a lathe operator in a machine shop. My mother sold dresses. My uncle was drafted and fought in the South Pacific for four years.

My real memories begin when I was in sixth grade. We lived in a government housing project. Most of our neighbors were fellow immigrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi. My mother felt she was far above her neighbors and, although she was an open-hearted woman, she worried about our grammar and manners.

I grew up thinking California was the best place in the world and everyone who had good sense lived here. I still hold some of that prejudice, although I now have wider experience to back it up. California really is the land of possibility.

When I watched Ken Burn’s The Dust Bowl, I enjoyed the retrospective. I learned quite a bit about those days and it helped me review some of my old feelings. If you get a chance, I recommend it because it was an excellent work of art.

It also allowed me to look at the shame I felt as a kid about not being a California Native. I thought about where prejudice comes from and why, in this day and age, people still cover their feelings of inadequacy by seeing  the “other” as wrong or dangerous. We know that bullies are full of negative beliefs about themselves whether it is  seven year old taunting a one year old or Hitler hating the Jews.

Of course, it is a long way from simple school yard pre-judgment and bullying to out-and-out war but the line from one to the other is unbroken. The first step in any war is to see the opponent as “the other”. We must despise the enemy so we create distance by calling them  names like Okie.

The questions are not, “Why are people cruel to each other?” or, “Why is there war?”. The question is, “How do we outgrow the shame, fear, and suspicion that creates the conflict?” Whether it is a move to block the gates to California or the current mid-East border bombs, conflict can be prevented.  The first step in healing conflict is nearly always to stop looking at people on the other side of the border as “different” and “less than.”

It is not enough for you and I to condemn cruelty and war. We must find ways to establish love and peace. Whether it is global or local, our consciousness of peace and possibility is already a help. Holding the light of wisdom high is a help to all people.

One step toward opening hearts and minds up locally is to bring the arts back into the schools. Art education helps more than you can imagine even if it cannot be measured on achievement tests. I  suggest we each speak up for the importance of the arts in the schools.

I believe the arts serve an important function – they illustrate our commonalty as humans. Although we are unique, we are also universally one with God. The arts teach this better than anything. That’s what drives me nuts about the cuts in school arts programs.

Long before I found Science of Mind, it was the arts that opened my mind and heart in a very powerful way. The arts helped me feel something in common with others and also helped me dissolve the shame and prejudice about who I was and where I came from.

As a former high school teacher, I know this is a nearly-universal experience. It is so amazing to a young person who has learned to detest her grandmother’s quilts to see very similar quilts on the museum wall.

My first artistic discoveries from the Depression years were Dorthea Lange photographs in the  books I found in the in the 7th grade library. The dignity and beauty of people who travelled toward the Promised Land helped me see my past in a new way.  The books that came out of “hard times” of the Depression made me see that those hillbillies my mother feared were real people with real stories.

The music of the depression years is the backbone of our American musical heritage. Whether it is gospel, blues, bluegrass or just plain country, it is great. We are still singing many of the songs in church. Some of us learned them in elementary school. If you don’t know the music of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly or Hank Williams, you should check it out. It lives!

I love the way art helps us explore our own beauty and self-worth at the same time we discover our love for our neighbor.  Today’s school children deserve to explore the richness of their cultural heritage and to learn about other peoples special artistry.

Write to your local school officials and to your State Boards of Education. Let your views be known. Technology and facts are important. There is no conflict and the arts are what make us human. Keep the faith!

Ask Yourself

What were my first experiences with art?

Do I agree that art programs are  really important?

Is there anything I’d like to do about that?

What artistic expressions delight me these days?


Gratitude Greases Life’s Wheels

 Someone sent me a lovely gratitude letter a couple of days ago. I was thrilled, especially since it came on a day when my heart needed a hug.

The writer’s kind thoughts lifted my spirits. I was so very grateful that she was so very grateful and that is how the world turns.

Emotions are contagious. We all know about the boss whose wife yells at him at breakfast so he berates his assistant at work. Then his assistant goes home at night and snarls at his wife, who screams at their child, so the kid pulls the cat’s tail.

That’s the bad news and most of us have lived in a dysfunctional emotional wheel like that at some time in our lives. It is easy to soak up the emotional atmosphere of a toxic workplace or stay long enough in an abusive relationship to begin to believe we deserve the punishment.

The good news is that it works both ways. My surprise thank you letter not only turned my mood around, but I immediately became more generous. By the end of the day, I’d thanked several people and overtipped the waitress. No doubt those people all went on to spread their love outward.

Here’s some more good news… No matter what emotional snarl you’re entangled in, you can always switch gears. Even if your boss yells at you, you can choose to smile at your kid and be nice to the gardener. You are not really trapped in a miserable congo line as you dance through life.

Many of our emotional responses are habitual and unconscious. Some people are shy because they assume all attention will be critical.  Others criticize things they think people need to correct because they believe they are being helpful.

When I was a schoolteacher, I learned that kids responded enthusiastically to honest praise and went absolutely deaf if they heard too much criticism. One discipline expert told my faculty meeting, “Follow the student around and lie in wait until you find something you can praise”. It sounded a bit silly at the time but I tried that with an especially difficult youngster and it actually worked.

We are all hungry to know we matter in this world. We want to be seen, to be appreciated and to be loved. We might not use these words but, on a spiritual level, we long to be recognized as the Beloved.  Learning to see the good in each other, in ourselves, and in life, is a great way to fulfill our deepest needs.

Since emotions are contagious, we can break the negative patterns by choosing to focus on the positive. Start paying attention to the kind of emotions you are “catching” by talking with your friends. Is it healthy? We have a right to remain silent or switch the subject when our companions talk about the bad world news or their “awful” relationships.

You can actually make a game of moving the conversation onto higher levels when it drifts into negative stuff. When you become skillful, people will enjoy the change in the emotional weather and never even know what you did. Being able to lift the mood of another person is a fabulous talent. Why not learn to do it so easily that it is automatic?

We are in the Season of Gratitude and an honest thank you is the greatest gift we can give one another. This is a great time of the year to practice expressing appreciation for our friends and families. It should be a year round practice but the holidays are a great time to start.

I’m not talking about making it a big deal, or spending a lot of money. I’m suggesting you find a simple way to say, “Thank you for being you,” to the people you love. Make it honest. Send a note. Give a hug. Find a small gift. Spend a few minutes on the telephone. Do something nice for someone else. You will find it works well for your own emotional climate as well as the recipient.

We live in a world where many people learned, as children, to look primarily for what is wrong. There was a misguided kind of intelligence behind this because the basic intention was to diagnose and find a remedy. However, it doesn’t work that way.  For example, years of standing in front of the mirror and telling myself, “You’re fat,” made me fatter – not thinner.  I only began to lose weight when I accepted myself as I was and began to choose healthy foods I liked to eat. No more criticism. No more deprivation or punishing diets for my sins.

Paying attention to the things we think we need to improve and ignoring the good things is discouraging. It makes us depressed at best and can move us into desolation and despondency, especially this time of year. In New Thought, we learn that what we pay attention to will multiply. In other words, looking at what’s wrong will just bring on more problems.

Especially during the holidays, it is easy to let outside influences make us negative. Holidays are stressful especially if we see what’s not there instead of what is there.

For example, if your kids are scattered all over the world and you are having dinner with friends, you can choose. Do you focus on gratitude for your friends? Or misery because your kids aren’t here? Every breath brings a chance to choose gratitude.

Since happiness depends on our emotional states, let us all help each other to be jolly this season. Each of us who lifts his or her face toward the goodness of life is a link in a chain of happiness that can reach out in myriad directions.

At a very basic level, we are One. What that means is that my happiness is a perfect choice for the happiness of every other person on this planet.

That’s not sophistry, it is spiritual truth. I am the center of my world and my mental and emotional atmosphere reaches out and touches many. The same is true for you. This is your season to choose to be the Light of the World.

Happy Thanksgiving To You

Ask Yourself

What three personal and/or spiritual qualities have I enhanced this year?

What are three achievements I am grateful for this year?

Who are five people I am grateful for today?

What recent events in my life make me grateful?

Which three of my personal qualities do I admire about myself the most today?

What are five things in Nature that I am grateful for today?

What are five entertainment activities am I most happy about?

What three news events cheered me most this year?

When I write my five thank you letters to whom shall I send them?

Butterfly Kisses

 As children, we leaned close to our friend’s cheek and fluttered our eyelashes. That produced a very light, soft touch that we called a butterfly kiss. We also rubbed noses and that was called an Eskimo kiss. Of course, that was before TV.

Sometimes a soft, light touch is a wonderful expression of love. Whether it is a sweet smile, flowers, a phone call, a small gift or a thank you note, it can light up my day. Or your day. Or our day.

I received so many brief messages of love from people last week that it was as if many, many butterflies dropped by long enough to delight me with a kiss. It reminded me of being a child and feeling as though all is well and all will be well. Thank you for your kind words.

Being willing to show another person that we care for them brings a big payoff for very little expenditure of energy. It is easy for some and a true talent. Those people light up our lives without even knowing it.

Some people never seem to learn how to show that they care. They may feel love but they don’t express it with a light touch. Life would be wonderful if we all  learned to dust others with butterfly kisses.

Not only does letting others know we care about them make the recipient feel good, it also draws happiness toward the person giving the gift.

The beauty of a butterfly kiss is that it is a deft touch, both delighting and surprising the recipient. It isn’t an opening move in a bargain. Nor is it the first clause in a contract. Butterfly kisses are not promises of undying devotion, simply a sweet moment of appreciation.

When we discover that someone is thinking of us or remembering a good time we had together, we are delighted but it is a momentary pleasure. It is not a promise of lifelong commitment. It is simply an expression of love that flies in the window, lights on your shoulder for a moment and moves on.

Developing a light touch in relationships is a good idea. We cause ourselves pain when we think that love means getting to keep everyone by our sides forever. So much difficulty in life comes from having unrealistic expectations of others. Loving someone does not mean doing everything they want you to. Nor does it mean that you get to own them.

Since I have had the honor of being a Religious Science teacher for many years, I have received many butterfly kisses from people who were in my life and then moved on. I didn’t need to keep them all forever. I am always pleased to hear they are doing well. I am happy they have touched in for a moment and then flown away to their new lives.

It does not feel like loss to let them go. My ambition was never to keep them as appendages, but to help them find their own path. As any good teacher or parent knows, success is seeing the younger ones emerge from the cocoon and be their own beautiful selves.

Even happily married, long time committed couples find they must have other friendships to keep their lives open and alive. Those light and bright relationships with friends at work or church mean a lot because they allow us to find common ground with someone other than our mate.

Monogamous relationships often find it is simpler to stick with friendships between their same sex but we all need more than one good relationship. Men have bonded with each other over sports events and women have chatted in the kitchen from time immemorial. While we may not use the words love, we can still let the other people in our lives know they are appreciated.

Usually, we look for friends who allow us to express some aspect of our character that our mates don’t share. While it’s hard to imagine my son-in-law’s motorcycle club saying they love each other, they obviously enjoy the laughter and fascination with travel that they share. A good laugh or a clap on the back is a kind of butterfly kiss.

This week, ask yourself how you express your love to friends and family? Do you find ways to let people know you care for them? Do you send people articles in the news you think they will enjoy? Do you make it a point to call once in a while? How about inviting someone to do something with you? These are all expressions that are light, deft touches of love.

Take a look at your relationships. What do the words, “I love you,” mean to you? Do you have the ability to enjoy a relationship with someone else and not insist that the other person be in agreement all the time? I hope so because no one has exactly the same experiences that you have. If you only want friends who are exactly like you, that will be painful. You are unique.

Many people are heavy handed in relationships. Even simple friendships take on aspects of melodrama when you are stuck in the 7th grader behavior of “best friends”. Life is rich and full with plenty of people who can be one of your best friends if you open up to the joy of diversity.

I think sometimes we are afraid to express our pleasant, loving feelings for one another because we are afraid that too much will be expected. The art of telling someone you care for them without agreeing to be best friends forever can be developed with practice.

Begin by thinking of butterflies. They don’t sign on for a lifetime when they land on your shoulder or onto the nearest flower. They light, flutter, bring joy and love and then fly on to the next stop. That doesn’t make them shallow, it makes them beautiful creatures who bring joy for a moment and move on.

Ask Yourself

Would I like more friends?

Did I receive any butterfly kisses this week?

Shall I send a butterfly kiss to anyone today?

What new acknowledgement of my love can I express today?

I’m Back

I spent a couple of days in the hospital last week and I‘ve slept a lot since then. Thank God the bacterial infection did not go into my lungs. Now that I’m back, is it too late to tell you how happy I am about the election?

My team won and I am happy because I felt strongly about the personal freedom issues. But it turns out, I am not good at games. If my team wins, the other team loses and I love so many people who are on the other team.

Generally, my friends and I agreed on personal liberty stuff but differed on economic ideas. So, one week after the election, I am recovering and asking, “Can’t we all just get along?”  

         I believe this nation is rich because of its diversity and ability to have civil discourse. Like most Americans, I am ready to stop fighting and rebuild a cooperative government.

The good news is that the election is over. I am ready to move on and I believe resisting change is silly. Whether we want it or not, life will most certainly change. Our job is to make sure life flows in the direction of love and justice for all. We may do that in a peculiar zigzag path but we are moving ahead.

Dr. Raymond Charles Barker said that a consciousness once stretched never returns to its original shape and I think that is equally true on a personal and national level. When the edges are pushed out, they never can return to the “good old days”. Nostalgia tends to breed discomfort and disease, not solutions.

Living longer creates a sense of trust in the evolutionary process. This has been true for me personally and I believe it is also politically true. Wasn’t it fun to see the diversity in our newly elected officials?

I remember when white males absolutely ruled our political and corporate organizations. You youngsters may have enjoyed watching Mad Men, I just found it distressing de ja vu all over again.

Yes, there was a time when voter suppression was a given, not a failed scheme. There was a time when there were no women on the Supreme Court and the women who ran for president were considered eccentrics at best and probably nut cases.

In those ancient times, when I told my shrink I was working on Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign, I think he wanted to lock me up.

There was even a time when the South was totally Democratic and all African Americans (then called Negroes) who were allowed to vote, voted for the party of Lincoln. Our first Afro-American Senator, Edward Brooks, was a Republican from Massachusetts.

There was also a time when a politician’s personal life was off limits. Clinton’s life was a public soap opera but Kennedy was a real dog with the ladies and no one even mentioned it.

Those were not the good old days and I do not want to return to them. I was pleased that so many women were elected this year because I think women change things in basic ways. They learn at their mother’s knee that protecting the young is their most important duty.

It may not make me a good feminist to say this but I think women are less theoretical than men. They know that passing a law based on an abstract idea will have a direct and concrete effect on the lives of families. Men also know this, but women know it at a more cellular level. This election defined women as a spectacular voting block.

As a New Thought person, I believe that all change begins in the consciousness of the individual. When I look back at the political leaders I admire most in my life, I see many giants. Eleanor Roosevelt, Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinham, Shirley Chisholm, and John F. Kennedy are a few of the political leaders I admire.

I also admire some fascinating and inspirational spiritual leaders. They include; Ernest Holmes, RC Barker, Frank Richelieu, Valerie Seyffert, Kennedy Shultz, David Walker, Louise Hay, Sue Rubin, Nancy Anderson, Barbara Lunde, Earlene Castellaw, Arlene Bump, Carolyn McKeown , Sandy Jacobs, Maxine Kaye, Carol Carnes, and Marilyn Hall Day. These are people who were here before me and I know that I stand on their shoulders.

Perhaps the greatest leaders of all have been my students and friends who followed me into the ministry. They taught me to question and to stretch my understanding of how God works in our life.

I cannot name them all here but my dear friend and prayer partner, Jeanette Keil, has been a daily inspiration for many years. I also love my young friends, Jeff Proctor and Judy Beiter, who left the planet a lot sooner than I expected. I miss them both.

There are too many other friends to mention by name but they are all a part of my beloved spiritual family. Some of them, like Eleanor Roosevelt, opened my mind to God’s Infinite Possibilty. Though she was a remote person, she was a powerful influence for me.

Every one of my wonderful collection of influences opened me up to the power of God in my life. They were all unique and individualized expressions of God. I felt connected to them. Whether I could articulate it or not, when I watched, listened and learned from them, I felt God in action.

I am not an abstract person. I see God in the love of mother and child, in the bloom of the rose and the rise of the sun. When I am feeling the connection of oneness  and love with people, I feel the presence of God.

People are connections. They surround and love us. We cooperate in ways we don’t often notice but we have come a long way since the days of the cave people. We cooperate in amazing ways with spectacular results all the time. Our government, when it is working correctly, is God in action.

Elections matter. Whether it is a vote for the rights of same-sex marriage or a bond issue to support the schools, our decisions matter. Today, I recognize the loving connection to each other in the government and in God. God is One and we are connected to each other.

God is Infinite Opportunity, Infinite Power and Infinite/Unlimited Love. God is the Creative Energy of the Universe working in our lives. Full time. 24/7.

I am grateful to be a citizen of the United States. I am grateful for the good government we have. I am grateful for all the historic mentors who lead us into the light. I am grateful to be connected to life and to each of my individual readers. I am grateful to be to be home and recovering. All in all, it is fair to say, I am celebrating life. How about you?

Ask Yourself

Who were my early mentors?

What historical figures do I most admire?

What did I learn from these early mentors?

Who am I connected to now?

When do I feel connected to God?