Marriage Equality: We All Have the Right To Love, Be Loved & Commit To That Love Publicly & Legally

As human beings, it is in our make up to want to love and be loved. We seek to belong to a family, to create a family. We work to become a part of the community we live in, to participate, celebrate, and work together to make a better environment for all.

As human beings we deserve to be able to do this freely, without fear, without discrimination. The test is not how others judge the outcome of our best efforts. For every family that succeeds spectacularly, and for every family whose best efforts may fail, there are many families living happy lives, doing their best and creating memories.

The fears that allow one human being to feel they should dictate to another who they should love have been part of every society throughout time. While the fears span a wide range of categories – including race, religion, nationality,  and gender – they all  are based on one word:  different. Even within more narrow parameters where most of the big “issues” are seemingly okay, there are still family members and friends withholding support for personal reasons. If we seek to regulate marriage based on tacit approval of everyone in the couple’s lives no one would ever get married.

I am proud to be a straight ally. People in my life whom I love very much do not have the same rights that I have, that is unacceptable to me. Our children were raised to treat each and every person with kindness and compassion, they were encouraged to give service to others. They were not given messages, overtly or covertly, that some groups are less than, and therefore open targets for prejudice, ridicule or scorn. I am incredibly proud that they have grown into people who see this debate as a no brainer, who actively work to break down these barriers and who are wise enough not to confuse spirituality and faith with rules made by a group of human beings to lessen or exert control upon another group of human beings. People on both sides of the debate point to faith issues, and in some instances tend to paint with a broad stroke. The Jesus I know was pure love and acceptance. In many instances Jesus aligned himself with those who were considered outside acceptable society. He most likely would not be popular, considered highly electable or welcomed into many of the homes of those supporting prejudice in His name. Again, this is the Jesus that I know.

Today is an opportunity for us to move forward as a country whose freedoms and rights are extended to all. Just as decisions that have previously been made regarding civil rights and equality issues were volatile and fought against in their time, this decision is highly contentious right now. I am hopeful that today is one of significant change, and one that we will be able to look back on as a high point in American history.


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A New Way To Look At Love On Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day – many people have negative feelings about this wonderful holiday because they confuse it with the crass, commercialism it has become known for. Like many other days that have the potential to add so much to our lives, jewelers and card stores have convinced us that it’s the dollar value of love, and not the true feelings, that matter. How many carats do you love me? How many dozen roses do you love me? Do you love me Russel Stover, Godiva or Vosges?

St. Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II for aiding Christians, and for marrying Christian couples. This was during a time of persecution when being Christian was a crime. Claudius took a liking to Valentine, and considered saving him, until Valentine tried to convert Claudius – Valentine died on February 14th.  This bit of history is often debated, but it is this version that leads to the day we celebrate now. Some say that Valentine’s Day first is noted in the fourteenth century by Geoffrey Chaucer and his peers as a day to celebrate romantic love, others say it was put forth to supersede pagan celebrations of the times.  In the eighteenth century Valentine’s Day was embraced in a more secular way for secret admirers to communicate their desires, and for those in love to acknowledge each other.  This is the time where the first notions of what we recognize as Valentines are seen – bits of lace, poetic words and posies are sent hoping for a kind return of sentiment. Flowers at this time were especially sent for their meanings – the flower, its color and the arrangement spoke volumes to the recipient.

Valentine’s Day right now is promoted as a day to impress, make grand gestures and show your love in dollar signs.  Prices go up, reservations get scarce and the pressure is on. Roses, chocolate, jewelry and champagne are used to measure the depths of love. This is the Olympics of relationships, it’s time to go big or go home. Many very happy couples can take a hit if the message of love is interpreted as a message of “I forgot and I now give you the best CVS had to offer at 7PM tonight”.

I offer a different approach to the big day of celebrating love – in all the forms it takes in our lives.  Perhaps my way of looking at Valentine’s Day is why it truly is and always has been one of my favorite, if not my favorite, holiday. It can truly be a day of giving love, celebrating love and showing love without it necessarily being about romantic love. This allows the celebration to include all of us, young and old, as participants in a world wide love-in. It’s a day to be thankful for the love in our lives from partners as well as children, parents, pets, friends, neighbors and kind strangers. Yes – the strangers that smile at us, hold doors and connect with us, and look us in the eye.

If we choose to we can make this day about showing love. Taking the time to communicate why you love someone rather than the garbled, drive-by “loveyou” we have all adapted as shorthand on the way out of a room, out the door, or on the phone. Spending time in a way you know is meaningful, rather than spending money in a way you know is bartering. Showing love to others through service and kindness rather than checking off cards and chocolate on a “to do” list. In each instance we not only have the capacity to bring more meaningful love into the world, but we have the opportunity to expand our own hearts and drive away the cynical thoughts we may have given in to.

It is said it takes twenty one days to form a habit. Imagine if you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day my way, and you really liked it?  Imagine if you decided this was a great way to be everyday? Imagine how amazing your life might be by March 6th???

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!  Go out and spread some love!! xo


jim dine heart

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Families Dealing With Tragedy: How To Try To Make Sense of the Senseless

I received an email last night from a mom asking for help in dealing with the news of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. She was devastated herself, and didn’t know how to answer her young children’s questions about what happened or address their fears. How do you make sense of the senseless? How do you explain the presence of God in such a Godless act? I have been trying for over twenty four hours to find the words that might be of some help, to be present to my families in a meaningful way. There are no words, there is no simple way to process this tragedy and make it okay.

What follows is the lesson I would share if The Family Program were able to meet today. I hope it is helpful and comforting. As always this is my attempt to model for parents ideas of how to teach their children. Each family is unique and I believe parents have within them the gift to know what is best for their children. In my search for wisdom, the most meaningful words for me come from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.” Speak from the heart, speak with love and your words will be the right ones.

These families in a small Connecticut town most likely never imagined that such violence would ever visit them. Sandy Hook Elementary School seemed to be a wonderful environment for learning, staffed by caring people who had as recently as this year instituted new parameters for safety at their schools and were in a state of compliance and readiness. To some degree these factors intensify the anxiety of parents, of human beings, even more so. When you are doing everything right, when you work as a community to provide the best resources for your children to learn in a nurturing, safe environment how can things go so terribly wrong.

Over the past two days I have listened to many professionals in law, psychology and religious studies offer their best advice about how to address the attack on an elementary school in a seemingly idyllic setting. The consensus of this group is to answer only what is asked, let the child lead the discussion, and reassure that this is a singular event. As a generalization, these suggestions are fine and appropriate; however, no one who is in the position of trying to comprehend this atrocity and answer children’s questions about it finds these suggestions sufficient. As a trained marriage and family therapist I know these are the clinically correct responses, as a person and a parent it is not enough. The challenge and heartbreak is that there are no correct answers, there are no words that will ever make this okay, and there is no way to make sense of the senseless.  If we cannot wrap our own minds around what has happened in Newtown, how can we process it, explain it and make it okay for our children? If this horror shakes us at our very core and awakens every anxiety we have about safety personally,for our families, and those we love and care about how can we possibly find a way to communicate that everything is fine?

The questions that seem to be top of mind are as follows:

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why did that man want to kill those people?
  • Why did God let this happen?
  • Did this happen because those children/people were bad?
  • Can this happen to me?
  • Can this happen at my school/workplace?

While I defy anyone to answer any of these questions with absolute certainty, I can offer some suggestions as to how to best approach this conversation. I will try my best to offer advice as to how to speak with your children about tragedies that they are confronted with, keep in mind that these approaches are also often helpful in trying to process events ourselves. The first two points the professionals make are valid in that you should try to give short, specific answers to what the child is asking. Sometimes we over explain in the hope that we are covering all of the bases and giving the best information – when we do this we run the risk of providing too much information and perhaps adding to the stress and anxiety the child is feeling by introducing factors they were not previously considering.  We need to let the children lead the conversation in that often they need to take a small amount of information and process it before they can ask another question or take in more information. We can also guide the conversation to this singular event and use reminders that this is a unique situation and not one that should be expected in their own lives/schools/families. That being said, we are truly not addressing some of the larger questions, and by avoiding those questions we are avoiding an opportunity to share the comfort that faith can provide. For the very best definition of faith is to believe in something we cannot see, feel or prove but yet know to be true. In moments such as this when we are challenged to make sense of the senseless, faith may be our way to move forward.

  • Why did this happen? – While we can never understand something this horrible we do know that humans can make very bad choices. Sometimes because they are sick, sometimes because they are not loved, sometimes because they are so angry and hurt that they cannot see clearly. This act of violence had nothing to do with the victims, but had everything to do with the horrors inside this young man. All tragedies that happen when someone exerts violence on someone else comes from that place inside them where these factors exist and never, ever are the fault of the victim. Often the person who does such a thing doesn’t know the person they hurt, nothing the victim did or didn’t do made this happen.
  • Why did that man want to kill those people? – We honestly don’t know, and may never know the answer to this question. This young man had anger, hurt, rage and confusion inside him and it came out in this very horrible way. When people are in that place they act without thinking – he acted out because of what was inside him and not because of anything those children or adults did or didn’t do.
  • Why did God let this happen? – One of the hardest things that children and adults struggle with is the idea of free will, that we in our humanity are capable of making choices on our own regardless of the impact on ourselves or others. If we could understand this clearly as adults, perhaps it might be easier to explain to children. The basic concept that God created all and allows all to exist, rightly or wrongly, directed by their own free will is a higher thinking, abstract theory. It calls us to move beyond what many often blame on God, or use God to support their own beliefs and prejudices and asks us to take responsibility for our own actions. On a higher thinking level we believe in God, or an all encompassing being of creation, and accept that there have been lessons for us to follow to be good, kind, compassionate people who live in service to others. This is the faith I know, this is the faith I teach. This faith allows for acceptance of all, respect for all and forgiveness without expectation. If we can find a way to accept this in our hearts, we can then explain in a simple way that God creates and loves, but allows humans to make their own choices. When these choices are bad or evil, God does not stop them in the same way that God does not take credit for the good and brave choices people make. We are all offered the same choices and lessons, what we do with them is essentially up to us.
  • Did this happen because those children/people were bad? – These children and adults were not killed because they were bad or did anything wrong. Their families were not bad or did anything wrong. This happened because of the anger, illness, hurt and confusion within one young man.
  • Can this happen to me?  Can this happen at my school/workplace? – People die when they are very old, very sick or when there is a terrible accident/incident. The reason why this is so very horrible because it is so very rare to hear about someone doing this. We shouldn’t expect that this will happen to us, to our school or to someone we know and love. We may be afraid thinking about this, and it is normal to have fear and anxiety about the “what ifs”, but in time we will begin to trust that the people in our lives are doing all they can to keep us safe. Children can’t really grasp statistical data, and when adults are faced with tragedies such as this it is hard to distance the reality enough to be analytical. The true answer to this question is yes, it can happen to any of us. The reality is that the probability of it happening is very small. Right now the hurt, fear and sadness is too palpable and too fresh for us not to be fearful. Time and ritual are two healing factors that allow us to begin to lessen fear and anxiety. This week will be a rough one, hold each other close and allow one another to know that despite the fear there is love and faith that things will be okay. As humans that is really all we have in terms of guarantees.

While we feel the need to hold on tight and not let each other out of sight, healing begins by moving forward. Fear is lessened by being brave despite what you know. Acting on behalf of change, of making things better, of changing laws and standing up to ingnorance allows us to become strong again. Most importantly we need to express our love for each other, be kind to each other and be forgiving towards each other. Realizing that every day is a gift and believing that each of our lives, regardless of how long we live, is our time on earth to make a difference will allow us begin to live again not in fear but in love and purpose.





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