TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE ASAP
Please send this to others.
Elizabeth Shephard ingeniously blends key concepts in
“Controlling People” with the story of the “Burning Bush.”
She presented her view as a sermon at her church.
I hope that people throughout
the country will also hear it. I invite you to send “The
Burning Bush” URL to any minister, priest, rabbi, spiritual
or religious leader with whom you have contact. He or she
has permission to present it in any talk or sermon.
Whatever your beliefs, I hope
you find this account of the Burning Bush fascinating. It
is a remarkable portrayal of people’s desire to understand
their experience, to feel connected and to build
relationships. —Patricia Evans
BURNING BUSH—by Elizabeth Shephard
“On August 5th, 2011, NASA launched the first completely
solar-powered space probe on a 6-year journey to orbit
Jupiter. The purpose of this launch is to research
Jupiter’s gaseous cloud tops where scientists believe
reside the secrets to the birth of our solar system.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our galaxy, 318 x the size
of earth and 2.5 times the size of everything else in our
solar system put together. In its first 3 weeks, this
completely solar-powered probe, traveling at speeds up to
160,000 miles per hour, traveled 6.2 million miles from
Earth – just one small step on its six-year journey. Over
10,000 people showed up to see something launch into space
without it even having any people on it.
Now I know we are a diverse bunch – that 10,000 people show
up to events every day, whether it be horse racing, a Phish
concert, or American Idol—but I believe that each of us can
relate to the awe of space—especially something launching
into space that will travel all the way to Jupiter
completely powered by the sun. Each of us can relate to the
desire to know—the desire to understand the origin of our
solar system—a part of God’s work that is no more and no
less than each of our own individual births. It is this
same sense of wonder that perhaps would lead each of us to
take a second look at a burning bush.
In scripture, God calls out to Moses in one of the most
miraculous of ways. And Moses responds to God’s signal by
saying, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight,
and see why the bush is not burned up…” I must turn
aside…and see...One could argue that one of the most
compelling forces in the world is this desire for
connection—a desire to understand our relationship to the
world around us. A desire to make sense of a burning bush,
a shooting star, and the origin of life itself.
Yet, sometimes things go wrong—despite their desire to
discover connection to the world, some people may find
themselves estranged, disconnected, pushing people miles
and miles away—losing a relationship with a friend or a
partner—only to realize they’ve lost that which they seek
most. They are left wondering, ‘what happened?’ I sometimes
wonder if Pharaoh after his people revolted and escaped,
wondered, ‘how did this happen? How was this possible? This
wasn’t the way this was supposed to turn out.’
In her book Controlling People: How to Recognize,
Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You,
Patricia Evans explains that if we aren’t aware of our own
and other’s separateness and individuality, we are not able
to form healthy and authentic connections to others. It is
only through inner connection—our connection to
ourselves—that we can be interconnected to each other. She
explains that if we understand our own unique experience,
it then becomes senseless to try to define or control
someone else’s experience. It becomes clearer to us that
defining, abusing, or trying to control others is simply
In scripture, the Egyptians defined the Israelites as
slaves. The King of Egypt built his connection to other
people by “pretending” to know what they were and then
controlling them—forcing them into difficult labor—to make
them be who he said they were, slaves. He went so far to
maintain his control that he asked all midwives to kill any
baby boy born in the City who might eventually threaten his
power. But the midwives – despite all that was at stake,
let the boys live. They did not let Pharaoh define their
behavior. They listened to their own inner-voice, even
while risking great punishment.
Most of us have experienced someone trying to define,
belittle, tease, ridicule, or ignore our very being. [This
is verbal abuse.] Most of us have experienced being “put in
a box” by statements like: “You don’t know what you’re
talking about,” or “That’s not what you think,” or even,
“You’ll never amount to anything.” Most of us have
experienced being ridiculed for even the smallest of
mistakes: “He can’t even count, much less be an
accountant!” Most of us experienced someone ignoring our
feelings, “Stop crying. Get over it. Move on.”
Even society can oppress a person by phrases or norms such
as “A woman’s place is in the home.” Sometimes these false
connections are so strong that it is as if we are under a
spell, where our entire sense of security is built from a
prescription outside of our control. We are hypnotized to
the rules of something outside of us seeking power and
control over our lives. Maybe it’s our parents, society, a
dictator, or a bully at school, or maybe it’s our own best
friend. Instead of our souls being nurtured and liberated,
we forget ourselves and who God has made us to be. We let
others define us. We get stuck in Egypt.
When people don’t ask but tell us who we are or what we do,
they are practicing a kind of dangerous sorcery. They don’t
have the power to see into our minds, our hearts, and our
souls. Only God can do that. Yet, some, in this way, take
the name of God in vain. By defining others, they are not
only disrespecting God, but also disrespecting another
person’s freedom of expression, which can lead to
depression, anger, confusion, and broken relationships—the
opposite of true connection and love.
So if controlling others gets people the opposite of what
they really want, why do they do it? Perhaps the only way
controllers know how to connect is not through love—heart
to heart, but by making up a connection, by forcing the
other to be what the controller has made up in their mind.
While our ability to feel, experience our own sensations,
have intuition, and reason is given to each of us by God
from our births, we can be traumatized to the extent that
we lose these precious internal radar systems.
“Controlling People” describes a damaging parenting style.
For example, in response to a child, Joe, who falls and
skins his knee, a parent tells Joe that he has nothing to
cry about; He’s not hurt and is causing a scene, and
wasting time. Thus, Joe’s personal experience of feeling
pain is rejected, and perhaps Joe thinks to himself, “I
guess I’m not hurt.” Growing up, Joe loses his feelings,
some of himself and projects that lost self in another, who
must be the rest of him, be it his slave, his adoring
partner or his scapegoat. Joe makes controlling connections
with those around him. He is centered, not in himself, but
in others. People often find Joe very controlling.
On the other hand, in a different family, a boy also named
Joe falls and skins his knee and his parents respond with
“Are you ok? Are you hurt? Are you hungry? What can I do to
help?” Joe can say, “Yes, I am hurt.” Joe can validate his
own feelings and connect to his own self. Joe grows up
understanding that other people’s feelings are their own –
that he cannot control what other people say and do. I
believe these examples tell a story about individuals who’s
self-definition is either rejected or nurtured by their
surrounding environment. Regardless of whether you are a
parent, we each can decide if we will play a role of
nurturing freedom of expression or if we will try to define
and control others.
In the biblical account of the burning bush, I believe God
provides us with a powerful lesson that emphasizes the
importance of nurturing self-discovery. When Moses
witnesses the burning bush, he says “I must turn aside and
look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not
burned up” Moses does not make any assumptions about the
burning bush -- but looks to it for answers. I don’t know
about you, but if I saw a burning bush, I’d probably yell
fire! Call 911 and then do what my schoolteachers always
taught me: Stop, Drop, and Roll!
But, perhaps, if I wasn’t hurried, if I was really
listening to myself, if I wasn’t on automatic pilot, I
would notice, as Moses did, that the bush was burning, but
not consumed—that something else was going on—something
deeper than what my eyes could see. It is when Moses takes
the time to turn and examine the bush, that God speaks out
“When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God
called out to him out of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” And
Moses responds: “Here I am.” “Here I am.” The small voice
inside you, the gut check, the conscience you hear when
making a decision—that’s what makes you you. That’s your
unique soul—your spirit. Do you feel it? Some believe that
what we call intuition is simply a channel to speak to God.
Unfortunately, many of us become disconnected from our
inner selves. Instead of being aware of our own internal
voice, we listen to someone else; Our self-esteem is
directed completely externally—we feel good by following
rules, equations, norms—and we feel lost when we make
mistakes – when we are simply experiencing life in the
But God calls to us to know what is real, and what is not.
What is pretend and what is not. Who you are and who you
are not. God asks Moses to bring the Israelites out of
Egypt – to a “good and broad land, a land flowing with milk
and honey…” When Moses doubts himself and questions, “Who
am I that I should go?” God reminds Moses and reminds us,
“I will be with you.”
God is literally with us. Whether you want to call it your
gut or your spirit, God is connected to each and every one
of us. At times, when you doubt yourself, when you feel
lost, turn inward to find your strength. In fact, the word
religion comes from the word religere- which means to turn
inward—build spiritual connections from the inside out—not
the outside in.
At the end of the scripture, Moses asks God “what shall I
tell the people is the name of God?” And God says tell them
“I am who I am” has sent me. This phrase can also be
translated as: I shall be that I shall be, or I am the
Existing One. This powerful statement “I am who I am”
resonates with the concept that God is All – yet a
distinguished being, just as we are both connected and
“Controlling People” explores the control of cult leaders.
Patricia Evans interviewed a woman who escaped a cult she
was born into. She asked the woman how she was able to
break free. The woman was born into a world where her
talents were carefully put down and ridiculed, where she
was told that if she followed every rule in the cult, she
would be most spiritually free—yet she found herself in a
spiritual prison, where everyone was to look at the Cult
leader for direction, and all feelings were not to be
recognized. One day, after hearing a confession of another
member of the cult who was sexually abused by the cult
leader, she snuck out at night and “sat in the dark in
nature.” She described her experience as “having a sense of
unity with something real.” This empowered her. That
something real, I believe, is God’s presence—God’s Truth
speaking to us.
I believe that if we have the ability to go all the way to
Jupiter, we have the ability to launch an expedition to
discover the depths of our own souls. We can learn to carry
God’s great voice saying “I Am that I am.” I am hurt. I am
joyful. I am warned. I am called upon. Listening to
ourselves doesn’t mean that we always do what we want. It
means that we hear God’s voice within us while knowing that
our experience is shared among all people. Being able to
focus on our internal connection doesn’t mean we are
selfish, it means that we are living life on the edge – in
the most full and complete way. It means that we can shoot
for the moon.
Wherever you may be in your own experience of inner and
interconnection —wherever you may be with your own issues
of control—remember the story of Pharaoh. Choose
consciously what you will or will not accept, what you like
and don’t like, who you are and who you are not. Take a
second look at the burning bush. Get out of Egypt. Wake up
to your experiences. It is only when we can walk in our
Truth that we can discover the greatest love of all.
Let us pray,
Help us to remember that being an individual is a process
of Creation. Instead of dividing our lives into successes
and failures, help us see life as a series of learning
experiences. Remind us that real power emerges organically
from being who we are and knowing how connected we are to
You. Help us stand for love when others are afraid. Help us
stand behind those who are attacked, diminished, and
defined so that we may empower Your creation to grow and
evolve as you intended it. Help us bond for, not against
other people’s experiences. With your guidance may we bring
peace to our world by loving ourselves as we are, and
loving all people as they are, as members of One.
arms we rest in peace,
—Elizabeth Shephard is a Lay Leader at Rayne Memorial
Methodist Church in New Orleans. She also is the Founder
and President of LifeCity, LLC, a start-up company.
LifeCity helps businesses become more socially and
environmentally responsible, certifies them, and connects
these companies to conscious consumers. Learn more
expresses the fear that angry verbal abuse generates.
When my name turns
sour in his mouth,
when he comes riding toward
me foaming and churning,
I am swept out,
He is multiplied
He is too many.
—Melissa McIntosh Brown
One might wonder, could anyone do to someone to generate so
much anger that he would rage at his partner. It only takes
one thing, she moved, walked, talked, expressed a thought,
or simply existed in a way that didn’t match his mind....
So he lost it. Read Controlling People for all the details.
Melissa contributed another poem for that book. I am so
glad because I see her as a great, great poet.
COMPASSION FOR SURVIVORS OF VERBAL ABUSE
This is a powerful perspective on why some women stay, at
least for a
while, with a verbal abuser who will not leave nor do the
hard work of change. Of course, there are other reasons;
most commonly, it is to protect a child or children from
being alone with an angry and unpredictable parent.
[Previously published in a past newsletter]
The story that follows adds so much to understanding the
fear people have in the presence of irrational behavior—
A beautiful young woman, not yet thirty called me crying
from fear. "Does being so afraid to leave mean that I am
really, really abused?" she asked.
She was about to brave the freezing winter winds and
eminent snow to get away while her abusive husband was not
around. This was her window of opportunity. After talking
with her a few minutes, I realized the verbal abuse she
endured was truly horrific. To just call it extreme would
be downplaying her experience. In those few minutes, I also
realized how very smart, articulate and amazing she was. I
asked her, "Would you someday, send me a note about what
you just told me? I know it will help others to understand
the fear the craziness generates. In the middle of that
very same night, safely ensconced in a cozy and secret
place, she sent me the following email, to help others.
"For those who compare living with a verbal abuser to being
a Prisoner of War, I can tell you that it's not even close.
Being a Prisoner of War is actually easier. At least, when
you are a Prisoner of War, you are taken against your will.
You KNOW that you are living with the enemy. You KNOW that
they are lying to you. You KNOW that they are feeding you
propaganda, and you can mentally fight it. Verbal abusers
are far more sinister because they befriend you, win your
heart, and gain your trust.
I have never been a P.O.W., but I have been to war. I have
fallen asleep to the sound of machine gun fire each night.
I have worked in buildings peppered with holes from mortar
rounds. I have walked through mine fields. I have been
trained to keep my wits during terrorist attacks. But,
leaving the man, that I believed was my soul-mate, is BY
FAR the scariest thing that I have ever done!—Veteran, US
Yes, she had been in the Air Force, had slept under fire,
and she is
quite brave. I'll always remember that everyone has his or
her own time to stay or go. Sharing this message is one way
to promote understanding throughout the world.