Murray the Kitten Teaches Me About Compassion

January 30, 2008

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So, we took in a foster cat named Murray last summer after another foster home said that he was impossible to tame. He was found on the streets of Dorchester, MA as a kitten and all the cuddling of him didn’t seem to work like it did with other kitties. He is the only kitten we’ve ever had to wear gloves with because of biting. But he has improved. He even purrs sometimes when we pet him when he is half-asleep and he ADORES our semi-outcast cat, Gustav who none of the other cats like so well.

June passes, as does July. Come Christmas, Murray is still happily living with us, only letting us touch him when he is sleeping or eating, of course making it impossible to adopt him to a permanent home.

Wolfgang says to me, “Murray is such a cute little dum-diddle-dum.” Just sort of wandering through life, not knowing how good he has it, maybe not the brightest cat ever, and with this funny little waddle where his legs sort of fly out in every which way. But he loves Gustav so much and snuggles up to him and is clearly a happy little guy, enjoying eating a lot, and taking 8 naps a day.

Come mid-January, we are saying, “Gosh, do you think something is wrong with Murray’s legs? His walk does seem to get worse.”

And come yesterday, Murray was running away from me and he legs got all tangled up and he fell. Maybe just a slip?

Then eating his breakfast this morning, his legs were slipping out from under him. The vet said it isn’t an emergency, and tomorrow will be just as fine as today so we take him in tomorrow. I’m not sure if this is because they were just too busy and figured it is so dire, what difference does a day make? (Preliminary internet searches don’t paint a promising picture of back leg problems in cats.) But we can only go to this one vet because he only charges the shelter we volunteer for half-price, so we just wait until tomorrow.

As I was trying to lure Murray out from under the bed to check on him, I realized how much he has taught me. Wolfgang and I are just so worried about him. We want to make sure he isn’t in pain. Enough to eat? Does he want to rest in the nice warm cat bed by the heater? We want everything to be okay with him and for him to live a happy, good life. And it just made me think about all the animals that have sweet little personalities just like Mr. Murray who suffer so much and never get the sort of love and kindness that Murray has been able to get – Murray brings out the love in us – the caring, the compassion, and the selflessness. No small task to bring that out in humans which, in some respects, have a spotty record of caring, compassion, and selflessness, this human included! But, Mur says, “Hey, even though you were planning on going to a class at 1:30 tomorrow, this is the only time the vet could see me so you’ll just have to not take that class.” In their own ways, animals and other dependent creatures (like human children) call us to be our best selves – to care for those who need caring for, to attend to suffering, to give love.

For me, care for Murray and care for the suffering of other animals that have the ability to suffer are such important parts of my faith and my life. I know I am not a perfect and it is just a little part I can do. But, as much as it hurts me to see Murray’s little legs, I am so happy to be able to care for him, take him to the doctor, and give him extra treats. I just feel like so often we say, “Oh, what can we do about all the suffering of the world? All the misery?” And our little animal friends are sometimes teachers to us if we are wiling to listen.

So thanks Murray for letting me love you. And thanks for reminding me to love all animals the best I can who suffer just like you do with your little legs. I hope it is nothing and the vet makes you better.

Love, Elizabeth


It’s that time again. UU Blog Awards

January 24, 2008

It is time for the UU Blog nominations and awards! How about that. First, I just want to encourage bloggers to highlight their favorite posts of the year because I went to go nominate people and then it became a huge hassle to try to go back to my favorite blogs and find favorite posts. You are doing us all a favor by highlighting your favorite posts and what categories you think you might like to be nominated for in the all-around category. Don’t be shy!

As for this little blog, I won the best seminarian blog last year for which I am very grateful! I would say that since there isn’t a best UU vegetarianism/eco-friendly living writing category, this would again be the category that I would be most happy to be nominated for this year.

And I have two favorite posts, one of which I think has no chance of winning anything.

Drumroll….

My favorite post is The Secret is Total Bunk about the ethical and theological problems with a philosophy/mindset/belief that if you believe that certain good things will happen to you, they will and if they don’t, it is because you didn’t believe enough as put forth by the best-selling book The Secret.

Second favorite is my response to the UU World Article on Ethical Eating although somehow I feel like this is not going to be a winner.

*There were also quite a few follow-up posts on this theme:

Ethical Eating in UU World – A Short Response

Sigh. I am SO trying to be such a friendly, non-judgmental vegetarian. And apparently not coming across that way.

Read Reader Responses to UU World Ethical Eating Article

Over at Trivium: More on Ethical Eating (Food Post I)

Scott Wells on Good Food (Food Post II)

Death by Veganism: A Response to the NYTimes Article (Food Post III)

Anyway, that’s about it folks. Happy nominating and blogging – and really may I take a moment to say how blessed I feel to be able to learn so much from so many wonderful UU bloggers out there. Thanks to all of you. You are a bunch of smart, thoughtful cookies. I really appreciate what the world of UU blogging has brought into my life.

Peace, E

p.s. Late addition to favorite posts of the year: On the Fluidity of Sexuality; or My Coming Out Story


When there is not a thing you can do

January 19, 2008

The mother of one of the boys I mentor has had a stroke. I have known her for 13 years. Her health has never been good, but it doesn’t make it any easier for anyone. There is no one there to be her advocate – to manage things. When someone in my family is hospitalized, there are enough of us to hold vigil – drinking coffee from the coffee vending machine, telling stories, sitting in silence together – whatever it is we do when we wait and hope together. And always someone who works closely with the doctors – explores the options, makes sure the person is comfortable, attended to. In the case this lovely woman – all of her family has children, no one else to watch the children because everyone works so much, precarious jobs, no car, no money, etc. Just getting to the hospital is an ordeal, much less staying there, going back and forth, negotiating with intimidating white doctors. I HATE living so far away and there is nothing I can do. She is in the ICU and there are blood pressure issues involved on top of the stroke. She has no minister to attend to her either. Sigh. I know that her family is doing all that they can. I know that the young man I mentor is scared and hurting. Sometimes there is just no good way to make things better. And we can only do what we can do. Which isn’t very damn much.


Get Free Books

January 17, 2008

My friend RG, honored and revered benefactor of this blog, has alerted me to a great way to get free books. It is called Book Mooch. www.bookmooch.com It is pretty simple. You list books you want to give away. You get a point for giving someone your book (they have to request it from you for you to get the point) and then you can use that point to get a free book from someone else. You also get points for rating people who give you books and for listing books. All you pay is the shipping cost for the book that people request of you, but then they pay the shipping cost when they send your book, so it works out evenly. The only downside is that the books available are very best-seller-ish. So if you want to get a specialized book – it might be there, but it might not. Still, if you like reading bestsellers or have far too many books that you’ll never read again laying (lying?) around your house, this is great. I have so far mooched two books and sent away three. You should all join because I imagine my blog readers have some books I would love to mooch!


Be an Advice Columnist for a Day

January 13, 2008

Dan Savage writes a sex-advice column. This is not an endorsement or non-endorsement of that column, but a call to wise ministers and seminarians everywhere who have read the UUMA guidelines, the MFC reading list (including Sex in the Parish), and have possibly even taken the sexual ethics seminar at Andover Newton that I plan on going to tomorrow morning assuming we are not all blizzarded in.

Savage says he is stumped by a range of questions from readers, one of which is this one:

There’s this new pastor at the church I visit. She’s gorgeous, an athlete, and can read ancient Greek. I’ve managed to get her to lunch twice, despite her schedule, and I spelled out my interest explicitly. She seemed receptive, posited that dating someone in her new congregation could possibly cause issues, but may go hiking with me this weekend. So what’s the protocol for dating a smokin’-hot priestess?

Not Very Good Xian

Savage says: I don’t have answers for these folks. If you do, gentle readers, send ’em in and we’ll run the mother of all Savage Love web extras sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Write him at mail@savagelove.net. Since you can’t write to this young minister and tell her the potential dangers that come with dating someone in your congregation and lack of setting clear boundaries with congregants, what can you at least tell the guy? Does it matter that he “visits” the church? An opportunity to educate the public on healthy ministerial relationships!


Real Live Preacher

January 13, 2008

Rather than write a slick post as to why I like www.reallivepreacher.com (which would involve further procrastination on the mind-numbingly slow paper I am writing), I thought I would just cut and paste the email I just sent to my mentor (who was my Christian youth minister back in the day) as a way to suggest this very nice blog I like.

To: Michael
From: Elizabeth
Re: a blog i think you will like

as you know, i can be somewhat christian-a-phobic with jesus this and jesus that. but this blog is a christian (gasp) that doesn’t leave me annoyed. i liked what he wrote on his jan 12 mustard seed post

Jesus once said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds, but when it is planted, it grows into a large tree and the birds of the air nest in its branches.” So it is with goodness and with evil. Seeds are planted, either in selfishness or in goodness and service. What grows from those seeds is only known to those who are there. The ones who planted the seeds often never know what good or evil comes of their actions. Further, the idea of sin suggests that all of us have planted seeds of evil from time to time. I know that I have. Grace is being forgiven for the evil I have begun in this world. Redemption involves the changing of my heart and life, so that I can be a part of goodness.Pretty simple deal really. I don’t know why we Christians have made it so complex.

it may not be quite that simple, but i still really like this guy. i wish all christians could be so unannoying.

www.reallivepreacher.com


Second Funny Thing of the Week

January 12, 2008

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10 Ways to Be a Better Cat Parent

January 10, 2008

10. Get your kitty a scratch board. Most of them come with catnip. It helps meet their need to scratch (helps your furniture, too) and they love it. Our kitties use them sort of like comfort blankets – when they are stressed or upset, they run to the scratch board, do some scratching, and then lay on it. (By the way, if you have considered declawing your cat (and thus he or she would have no need of a scratch board), this would rank very high on the list of ways to be NOT a better cat parent. You can read more here.)

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9. Take at least 10 (if not more!) minutes a day to give your little cuddle bunny your undivided attention. I find that mindless petting is appreciated, but not sufficient. Just take some time to say “You are my focus.” Rubbing, gentle combing (if they like that), playing, mixed with sweet talk (“Yes you are the queen of the household!” or “Who is the smartest cat ever?”) goes a long way and is greatly appreciated.

8. Don’t let your cat outside. It may seem like they love the outdoors and would feel restricted inside, but explain to them that cats that go outdoors have a significantly shorter lifespan than indoor cats – surely they would prefer to live longer. They may meow at the door for a while, but they’ll get used to it and appreciate that they are not hit on the street, mauled by a possum or raccoon, the object of a prank by local kids, or whisked away by a coyote. I grew up with cats I LOVED that were outdoor and if you would like to hear one of my many horror stories about the way our outdoor cats met their ends as an inspiration to keep your kitty inside, let me know.

7. New toys. The old ones get boring. I highly recommend feather sticks* and things that sparkle.

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6. If it is important to you that your kitty live as long as possible, consider feeding him or her good food. It is more expensive, but so much better than regular brand name foods that you get at the grocery store (unless you shop someplace like Whole Foods). Brands our holistic vet suggests are Pet Promise, Pet Guard, Wellness and Inova, and our cats like them all (more or less). If you buy mail order, bulk orders from places like www.petfooddirect.com can help save money. Watch out for the 22% off coupons sent to people on their email list ever few weeks and order only when you have one of those. Some people go as far as feeding their feline friends raw, fresh food, including thawed frozen mice, but this is a bit too much for us. (Note: Some people argue that cats can be healthy vegetarians. We are not convinced and not willing to risk our kitties’ health to test this out.)

5. Consider what vaccines are essential for your kitty, depending on whether or not he/she is indoor only, and is exposed to other cats. Over-vaccination has become a problem and appears to reduce lifespan and sometimes cause tumors. Ask your vet to check for antibody titers before vaccination boosters. You may not need to vaccinate as often as you think or with as many vaccinations as you think.

4. An occasional can of tuna goes a long way. Just don’t let the little monsters get too spoiled or else they won’t eat their other food.

3. Most cats like having a friend, especially if they spend a lot of time home alone. Introducing a new kitty can be tricky, but worth it. Read up on it before you do the big introduction. And, of course, always adopt from a shelter or from someone who is giving up his or her kitty – never from a breeder or pet store.

2. Keep that litter box super-clean. Cats have sensitive noses and no one likes to use the restroom while having to navigate around old poop!

1. Learn about cats. They have feelings, instincts, and ways of being that are way different than humans. Understanding them better will help you be a better cat parent.

Brought to you by Henry, the happiest cat in Washington D.C.:

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*Re: the feather sticks – I am not sure of where the feathers on these toys come from. I am guessing that birds are not raised and killed for these feathers, but I am guessing they are actually from birds. Which can’t be good. Bonus for someone who can find a feather stick with either synthetic feathers or from lovingly raised and unharmed birds. Which brings up the issue of mouse toys with real mouse fur. We have gotten these second hand from friends with kitties and the cats do like them a lot. But we don’t buy them. While I don’t love the idea of real mice fur on toys, this is not the hill I will die on. Do as your heart leads you.


On Kindness, Mindfulness, and Coping With Difficult Situations

January 4, 2008

It is no secret to my friends and family that living in the Northeast has been difficult for me. The weather doesn’t help, but the most difficult thing has been dealing with people being unkind, difficult, impatient, rude, and just downright mean. Let me be clear: I have met MANY wonderful, kind, generous, loving, selfless people here. I am not talking about the absence of amazing people. Rather, the culture of politeness, gentleness, kindness, and patience in everyday situations is just very different from what I have experienced in the Midwest and South, the areas of the country where I am from. I am talking about the general level of kindness, politeness, and respect that I encounter on a daily basis – professional situations, landlords, neighbors, random people I encounter at the store, etc.* Some people think that the kindness and friendliness people find in places like the South is fake or somehow inauthentic. Not me. Give me “fake” friendliness any day over “authentic” rudeness.

But this is not a lament about the culture of everyday politeness and warmth in the Northeast. It is about how we learn to cope with situations that we are not used to and that make us feel bad. Clearly, lots of people find the Northeast/Boston to have a perfectly fine culture of politeness and everyday friendliness and patience (my mom being one of them who is always telling me, “Gosh, I just don’t know what you are talking about, Elizabeth,”when she visits). While it is very hard, I have been trying to practice mindfulness and non-attachment related to these sorts of situations, but in the last few days, they have been accumulating. I find that all my thinking and reminding myself of how want to react to these situations and how I want to feel about these situations doesn’t quite work. My stomach still feels queasy, and it is all I can do not to burst into tears when I think about difficult situation x, y, and z involving unkindness, gruffness, lack of empathy, and selfishness. Like I told my partner today, my zen is being sapped.

What are we to do when we know how we should feel and act about a particular situation, yet we just can’t bring ourselves to feel that way? I tell myself to be mindful, non-attached, calm, to be in the moment, to realize that I cannot control how others treat me, rather only how I react to them. And, I tell myself that all I can do is show the kindness that I seek in my own life, hoping that the anger, or lack of patience, or resentment that people show me, might be gently eased by the understanding and patience I show to them. I work to practice non-attachment – letting go of my need to be treated a certain way, or letting go of my own desire to have others validate or be understanding of me (my driving habits, my work habits, my shopping habits, my mere presence, etc.).

Yet, the last few days have been a good lesson about the ongoing nature of becoming who we want to be. We must also be gentle with ourselves, understanding that we have developed structures of understanding and life-practice that have taken many years to form and, likewise, take many years to un-form. This helps me remember that just as my structures of sensitivity, desire for kindness and gentleness and understanding have developed over many years, so have the structures of impatience, anger, gruffness, and unkindness that cause people to, for instance, yell at me because they think I am putting snow on their sidewalk when shoveling out my car. Perhaps their anger and screaming is okay with them and doesn’t represent any sort of underlying pain or struggle. Or perhaps it does, but they do not yet know where that anger comes from or how to ease it. Either way, learning how to detach from these things that hurt us, and show the sort of understanding and kindness that we would like shown toward us, is a process that cannot take place overnight. It is a journey, something that we must continually be attentive to, understanding that suffering due to attachment to our desires and wants is not something we can or should totally avoid, rather something we can seek to ease with our mindfullness practices, and with time.

May we be gentle on ourselves and gentle with others as we all try to make our way in a very difficult world.

*Please understand that I know that there are plenty of problems with the Midwest and South. I am talking about one particular area that I struggle with and deal with. Of course there are mean, rude, impolite people in the South and Midwest. I am just talking about overall culture here. Also, the difficult professional situations I refer to do not, to this point, include my ministerial ones. In that area, I have been very blessed.


Polyamory on Susie Bright’s Blog

January 2, 2008

Susie Bright is known as a sex-positive feminist. I like a lot of the stuff she says and does. Not all of it, mind you, but a lot.

I know polyamory/non-monogamy/having more than one partner (there are varying opinions as to if these are different things and to what extent) is a point of contention in some Unitarian Universalist circles, and I don’t want to reignite some sort of dramatic blogosphere discussion (as happened in July). But I did want to point out a recent posting on Susie Bright’s (possibly not work safe*) blog, “Peppermint, On The Strange Credibility of Polyamory,”* which LINKS TO THIS BLOG. Susie Bright is sort of famous. And her blog links to a posting on polyamory right here on this very blog. This is almost as exciting as being mentioned in UU World!

So, if this is a topic that interests you, I suggest you read the post. And just look around her blog. Remember, I don’t agree with everything she says (please don’t post comments pointing out what you believe to be the problematic things she says and does) and you don’t have to either. But she does say a lot of important, good stuff that we need to hear in a world where sex-negative, embarrassed, sad, and shameful feelings are way too common when it comes to sexuality and our bodies.

Afterthought: While Rev. Debra Haffner (sexologist, minister, and the Director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing) and Susie Bright have quite different approaches to promoting healthy attitudes about sexuality, and likely many points of disagreement, I thought that I would point out Rev. Debra Haffner’s blog Sexuality and Religion: What’s the Connection? because Rev. Haffner also strikes me as a very sex-positive person that we are lucky to have as part of Unitarian Universalism. Take a look. Her blog is excellent.

*It really depends on how sensitive your work is about what is “work safe”. Breasts are on the page. But as Susie Bright herself points out in the comments, it isn’t anything more than you would see in Vanity Fair or Vogue.

*Correction: In my excitement about being linked to on Susie Bright’s blog, I failed to read carefully and originally thought Susie Bright wrote the post On the Strange Credibility of Polyamory, but it is in fact a reposting from another blog by another author, PepperMint. Still, it is on her blog and still worth the read.