name calling (in honor of martin luther king, jr. day)

I caution everyone who reads this to be careful what you wish for. This, of course, is not original to me. People say it all the time with varying levels of sincerity and differing intonations. I say it, today, from my own experience of having wished, for the last year, for something that has brought me to a place of tenderness that is surprising even to me. Let me explain. For the last year I have dedicated myself to deepening my contemplative experience in order to feed a hoped-for growth in my ability to greet the world with non judgmental awareness and radical acceptance. There are many motivators of this quest for me. Some are deeply personal and others professional. Some are related to my faith and spirituality and others simply to my humanity. I fail often in my efforts. In fact, for every inch of forward movement toward these goals I face ways in which I am entirely failing. Sometimes it can be discouraging. 

There are a few outward markers of mu journey. I try to write, now, with capital letters because I have come to know that it makes reading easier for people who are dyslexic. My language has (mostly) changed to (hopefully) reflect my attempts to listen better and not let my bias’ render me deaf. Mostly, however, the reality of what I’ve wished for has changed me deeply inside. This is not without cost. I’ve had to ask for a lot of forgiveness for things I’ve said or done in the past. I’ve also had to ask for a lot of grace as I try to learn and catch up and listen. I’ve developed a keen ability to bite my tongue and excuse myself to catch a breath before responding and, possibly more than anything else, I’ve become incredibly sensitive to name calling and stereotyping. Everywhere I look I see these behaviors in spades. In mass media, on Facebook, in tweets, from pulpits and street corners and stages. Certainly in presidential debates. Name calling and stereotyping are some of our best skills as Americans, it seems. 

Recently, a friend recounted an encounter he had with a person who launched a conversation with “I don’t know why poor people don’t...” My friend was perplexed and disappointed. Lumping a massive demographic into a title like “poor people” and then stereotyping their choices doesn’t leave much space for empathic connection. And yet we do it every. single. day. over. and. over. and. over. “How can those stupid liberals...?” “Why don’t those entitled millennials...” 

A billboard near my house says, “If you know the answer, ask bigger questions.” I had a gazillion questions I would have liked to have posed to the person my friend was talking with. Do you mean poor in relation to money? Are there other forms of poverty in your world view? Can you direct me to some sources that inform your claims about this group of humans? Do you know anyone personally who is part of this group you are speculating about? Can you help me understand where you’re coming from?

Whenever we refer to people in terms of their association with a named group we reduce them to whatever our own knowledge or stereotype of that group is. I know about this because I’ve lived from this space. Like so many of us, I emerged from my childhood with some deeply destructive and horribly divisive beliefs about several groups of people that weren’t like me. These beliefs lead to fear which caused me to stay away from meaningful interactions that would have the power to break through my lump them and judge them mentality. As I moved through life and pushed past my fear I began to find my way to the complicated reality that my own privilege and bias’ had prevented me from seeing the inaccuracies of my assumptions. In the more recent past I have come to see the many ways that I do this even today. I assume that my values are the most important ones and judge others accordingly. I am attached to my own world views and find it easy to write off those that disagree as ill-informed, poorly intentioned, or worse. These are the patterns I am wishing to change and this wish is deeply reforming me. While it is incredibly disruptive to consider people and their ideas in an open-hearted, respect- worthy, and love-read way, I believe that the disruption is worth it. Seeing others (especially those others that I most disagree with or who are least like me) for the beautiful and vulnerable souls that they are makes for a messy, deep, meaningful, rich existence. 

In the fall I had the distinct privilege of spending a day in Ferguson, Missouri with my friend Chris. Chris grew up in Ferguson and returned to nearby St Louis after college. He is a person whom I love and also one I admire. He works for justice and peace even when it is costly and uncomfortable. Chris has spent the last year investing a huge bulk of his time in his community, working to raise awareness of the injustices and oppression faced by the black community there. As we walked through the city I was deeply undone by the reality of the racial and economic divides I witnessed and by the utter care he communicated for everyone we encountered (and we met up with people from all sides of the issues). As a gay, white man raised in the Southern Baptist tradition he has every reason in the world to feel entitled to judge and rail. To lump and judge. To name call and react. He, himself, has been stereotyped. He has been called names and been judged and responded to as a member of a “group.” Instead, he simply pushes forward, committed to loving and to working for others to be freed from the oppression they experience at the hands of those who have conveniently compartmentalized them out of their awareness. The way he loves is by asking bigger questions and by pushing into uncomfortable spaces. 

Later, Chris encouraged me to visit Creative Reaction Lab's IMPTXDESIGN, an interactive exhibit in St. Louis where the themes of oppression, segregation, violence, stereotypes, and fear were explored. Creative Reaction Lab is a social impact design collaborative whose mission is cultivating creative leadership to improve the human experience. In one particularly powerful installation, cookie cutter people forms filled a blackboard. Instructions were given to use chalk to demarkate your own person, listing first “3 ways in which you are stereotyped” followed by “3 things that are true about you.” The stories told in those images and words were profound. While all kinds of assertions filled the fist set of lines the second set was filled with emotional realities. Fear, sadness, insecurity, confidence, wishes, dreams, and more. The stereotypes shut down awareness and the truths opened them up.

I am inspired by this. It’s the opposite of name calling. When we reduce someone to a simple name or assumption about them (often prescribed in impulsive or less-than-thought-through ways), it is frighteningly easy to turn and walk away from them. We call them a name, declare that status as “other” than ourselves, and run. “I’m not like them.” “People like that are all alike.” “Those (fill in the name of the group) are all (fill in the name calling).” When they are so easily dismissed, we are so profoundly let off the hook of doing the hard work of making the world a more connected and, therefore, peaceful place.

The easiest way to live is one wherein our assumptions rule our sense of truth. We assume that everyone is well treated. That everyone has the same opportunities and simply stewards them well or not. That all people have access to the same resources that we do financially, socially, emotionally, and more. It’s simple if we imagine that racial bias doesn’t exist, that privilege applies to all regardless of skin color, political or religious ideation, or sexual orientation, and that every person receives fair treatment in all circumstances, no matter what. The world seems equally simple when we imagine that all members of certain groups are exactly the same. It’s easier to relate to others based on who we stereotype them to be than to see them as the real and complex individuals that they are, facing all manner of difficulties that we have never even considered. From this perch we can decide whether they are all in or all out. ‘Nuf said.

The other day I happened upon a difficult and painful story from a major, trusted news outlet. It was an incredibly well presented assemblage of stories about how Muslim parents talk with their children about violence. It was deep and rich and thought provoking. It set off in me a deep (and inconvenient) sadness for all parents who have to find ways of talking about the many horrific complexities that exist in our world with children who deserve peaceful communities and spacious love. I found myself wishing that everyone on earth would read this piece and mull on it, letting it break through any stereotypes it could for the purpose of greater respect of the complexity of life. This article cut through the kinds of stereotypes which end up keeping us from having to think and stretch, from needing to work at respecting others for the full global siblings that they are to us. Name calling, and the compartmentalizing it leads to, keeps us from every having to think past our selves and stretch into healthier co-existence. Exposing ourselves to new truths about those we have compartmentalized does the opposite.

To grow into the mature people we wish to be we may need to risk the uncomfortable spaces of not being so sure. It may sound ridiculous, but it’s important that we face that not all blondes are dumb. Not all skiers hate snow boarders. Not all engineers are recluses. Not all gun owners are ill informed. Not all police officers use unneccessary force. Not all Christians are loving nor are all Muslims violent. There is no such thing as a “female” or “male” brain. All families whose stories include divorce are not “broken.” The person you consider overweight is likely not lazy. Some artists are not flighty. A person’s affiliation with a political party does not define their intellect, faith, or integrity. In reality, no person can be reduced to their identification with a group or the names we are tempted to assign to them. When we allow space for these truths, and all the others like them, we can no longer live from an “I am right/good” and “They are wrong/bad” mentality. Instead, we open the door to a wider consideration of our shared humanity with the very people we are tempted to reduce to names and/or stereotyped groups. It’s harder to dismiss someone out of hand when we actually stop and realize that, underneath our assumptions about them, lies a person with a beating heart, a complexity or spirit, and a mother. A person who, ultimately, needs love and connection and grace.

On a day where we, in America, honor the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., what might it be like for us to commit to moving past name calling?  To stop judging others and to, instead, start asking more questions? I came across a tweet once that stated “Would the day be different if I said, ‘Look, Here comes an Image Bearer’ about every person I meet?” Said another way: How might our day be different if we said, “Look, YOU are a person, worthy of respect! We are both humans in need of connection and grace” to every person that we meet? What if, instead of assuming we have the answers, we ask bigger questions. Big enough questions to grow us and our chances for getting past our judgments and moving toward peace-leaning openness with our local and global neighbors.

When you hear yourself saying “Such and such is an idiot!” “So and so is clueless!” “All ‘people that are part of X community’ are completely ridiculous!” or “There is no space for those people at my table!” take a moment and ask yourself the following questions:

What has this person said or done that stirred a response in me?

What leads to the intensity of this response in me? What is my history with this topic or person?

What are my stereotypes about this person and the categories or groups of people to which he or she belongs?

What have I done to ascertain whether my stereotypes or ideas about this person are accurate and/or inaccurate? Have these efforts to understand been undertaken with an openness or a pre existing certainty that I am right?

How might I respond to this person or speak about them in ways that resist name calling and stereotyping? If I feel a strong leading to engage this person, how can I do so in such a way that i maintain respectful treatment of both myself and them?


in a (wal)nut shell

i was part way through a long walk this evening when i passed a walnut shell. it was a perfect half, clean cut where the seam had been and hollowed out pristinely. i was instantly taken back to my childhood when my mom would take me to the hobby store and let me choose tiny trinkets to put in walnut shell halves. i’d build little worlds (hearts and cupids drowning in elmer’s glue for valentine’s day, deer and tiny trees amongst moss for winter, chicks and eggs in grass for spring...you get the idea) in the nut shells then attach ribbons to the outside and tie them above so we could hang them off hooks in the house. my favorite walnut shell world consisted of a blue satin fabric scrap, tucked tightly in the shell and holding a teeny tiny naked baby. i gave it to one of our family friends at her baby shower and felt proud every year when she hung it on her christmas tree.

the hardest part of making these creations was fastening the ribbon so the shell world would hang right side up. when i didn’t master this element, the tiny universes became utterly precarious. sometimes, if i hadn’t attached things well enough, we’d find deer and chicks and cupids lying on the floor below. when this happened, i’d find myself worrying about the baby.

for some reason, as i walked by that shell tonight, the thought hit me that we all feel as though life is precarious from time to time. no matter the size or toughness or gender or whatever other identifier of the human, everyone faces the fears and realities of falling at times. we don’t always feel securely attached, grounded, or certain of our standing. life is challenging and we are aware of the instability of our places upon the earth.

yes, there are soft surroundings and safe landings. yes, there is beauty in the actual precariousness that is life. yes, there are things we can do to make sure that we are growing in healthy, attached, secure ways. there are Higher Powers and Love that hold us tight no matter what. these things are not, however, what i want to point us to today.

what i want to direct us to is the fragility that we all face as humans. regardless of our awareness or expression of it, there are times when each of us feels afraid, untethered, and vulnerable. like that baby in the walnut shell hanging on my friend’s tree, we face times where we know that all it would take is one person to brush the branch in the wrong way and it’s game over. while it’s important not to treat our selves or others more gingerly than is called for, there are times when nothing relieving and grace giving than naming the precarious nature of the branches that we all sit upon.

i received a beautiful etsy order today. the artist threw in a gift to compensate for the double shipping i had unwittingly paid. “be courageous - be kind” is the message hand scripted on the card. receiving this felt like further reinforcement of the message the walnut shell reminded me of. it takes courage to be kind. to be bossy, certain, right-every-time, or indifferent in relation to others is easy. it takes bravery, however, to extend open interest to another, to own that we have absolutely no idea what kinds of difficulties others have faced, and that the burdens others bear may be completely invisible to us. kindness says, “because we are human i know that we are both ‘sitting in a walnut shell and hanging by a string,’ so to speak. due to this precarious reality, i will do my best to treat both my self and your self with care. we may not agree or sit together with ease, but we each have a place and that place is held best when we are all right side up and intact, with no one having fallen, left alone on the ground.”

as we live into a year of politics and self promotion, virtual landscapes offering real relationship and social networks that can harbor love or interpersonal violence may we keep close at heart the shared fragility of our neighbors and friends. may we relate to all out of mutual respect, remembering to be courageous and, mostly, kind.

* check out the prints i ordered herehere, and the card she included here. thanks, laura, from youdolldesigns!


sufferingcelebrating in december

blaring from my speakers right now: “it’s the holiday season, with the whoop de doo, and hickory dock...”  here’s what i want to know: what the heck is hickory dock and why in the world do we associate whoop de doo with this month of dark, short, waiting days and expectations that are, frequently, seriously out of touch with reality.

this is not an easy month for many. lots of thirty day periods of time are hard, but this one is difficult on steroids. everywhere we look we see depictions of boxes wrapped with perfect bows, families gathered around tables heaping with food, or trees anchored by piles of gifts. whether we celebrate hanukkah, christmas, kwanza, or no religious or cultural holidays at all, it’s impossible to escape the pictures of shiny happy people all around us. in addition, we face expectations. whether from our selves or our communities, there are matters that we are expected to attend to. year end giving, the “tipping” of those that serve us, hostess gifts to plan for, concerts to attend, holiday gift exchanges, ugly sweater contests, and the sending and receiving of cards that nearly takes us out emotionally every. single. year. on top of all this, the traffic is worse than ever and everyone’s nerves are shot. at times it barely feels worth it to leave the house.

at the same time, however, even in our most private of residences, we have our insides to attend to. december doesn’t pull us away from our sadnesses, stressors, or circumstances any more than a wedding ring assures that we’ll never be lonely. life is just not that simple. my buddhist friends have a mantra that i absolutely love. “may all beings be free from unnecessary suffering.” if only i (or the calendar) could make this happen.

while it is impossible for me to discern necessary from unnecessary suffering, it is easy for me to know that suffering of all kinds feels especially weighty to the person who feels heavy while the rest of the world appears to be feeling whoop de doo and hickory dockish. as this person it is easy to feel like the “debbie downer” (please accept my apology all of you debbie’s out there...the colloquialism is unfair but so effective. i’ll work on coming up with a new one soon). it’s easy to assume that you are alone and that everyone else feels exactly how they look: happy. i promise you that this is not true.

so, what are we to do? how can we honor the needs and wishes of all people this month? how can we make space for celebration and suffering at our communal tables? perhaps we can do this by examining our own expectations, making intentional choices about how to spend our selves (with our resources of time, energy, and tangible “things”), and to support and respect the same process in others. 

i have come to believe that our expectations of our selves and others have much to do with how content or discontent we feel in life. often these suppositions have come to be over time and live largely outside of our awareness. our family did things this way so we must keep that going. our calendar reflects many commitments so we must keep them. and on and on and on. even still, these expectations dictate our assessments and assumptions of how we (and others) are doing. we expect ourselves to be competent and successful by standards we may not even be consciously aware of or in full agreement with. we expect a month filled with gloom or overflowing joy. we expect public spaces to be miserable or transporting. we expect others to forget/overlook us or to honor us. we expect, we expect, we expect.

these expectations must be brought into our conscious awareness in order for us to live intentional lives. when they are not part of our consciousness, suppositions end up running the show and operate outside of coordination with reality in any way.  c.s. lewis addressed this well when he said, “it comes the very moment you wake up each morning. all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. and the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” 

to live well through this month of strugglecelebration we must let that other larger, stronger, quieter part of our life come flowing in. we must make space to get still and let our expectations surface. we must be willing and able to say to our selves, “i wish this and yet reality is this.” “i hoped for this and another thing is what i am really living with.” this provides a new opportunity to make conscious choices about whether we live toward expectations or put them aside. it also allows us to welcome our honest selves which live with complexity regarding the nature of both our suffering and our celebrating and to care for our selves with a keen eye to what is healthy over what is expected. suffering and celebration can both exist together. one does not negate the other. in fact, the two together make for a much more beautiful picture. when we accept this our suffering no longer presents a threat to our celebrating. when we follow our self examination with a curiosity about the expectations of others we no longer have to feel threatened by their suffering or celebration either. this is true grace and community where there is space for each person where ever they are emotionally. at this kind of table there is also space for movement and change and flex between states of being.

the phrase “comfort and joy” has become synonymous with the month of december in many parts of the world. my thinking is that the need for comfort implies that some sort of discomfort has been experienced. could it be that the deepest joy can only be experienced when one has known the loneliness of the lack of it in themselves or others? perhaps a gift of suffering is that it might eventually lead us to joy. for many this month it’s the “eventually” part that is so isolating and difficult.

mixed in with my holiday music this year i have included a song (click here to hear it) that was introduced to me on a particularly excruciating week this fall. it takes a well known stanza about joy and turns it on its side and resonated deeply with the pain that i was experiencing when i first heard it. i believe that this is the pain of many. i have the song in my play list because i want to remember that suffering is a part of this month of celebrating for all of us humans. i want this close to my mind and heart so that i can do all that i can to be aware of my own places of suffering, do what i need to seek comfort, and allow in whatever joy i can (if i can) and to offer space for this process to others. 

in closing i offer you my mantra for the next two weeks and invite you to join me in using it:
may we all make space for suffering as it is necessary and for joy as it is possible.
may we offer this same kind of space to those we encounter.
may we never give up searching for peace, love, joy, and goodness (which includes pains of many kinds and the intentional choosing of what to expect of ourselves). (click here to get the “peace, love, joy, and goodness” mantra stuck beautifully in your head)

the work of aaron strumpel has been deeply meaningful to me for quite some time. he recently released a holiday e.p. with a collaborating artist and, to my absolute glee, this artist (latifah phillips of page cxvi) is the musician who recorded the arrangement of “joy” that has been the soundtrack of my fall. i cannot recommend their work more excitedly. please check out their individual “presences” and their holiday e.p., titled “heck ya, the halls” here.

if you’re looking for a new christmas (and i know that some of you do not celebrate christmas so hope you’ll look beyond the references to the deeper meanings i’m suggesting above) recording i also want to recommend eclectic christmas (click here). i attended their show last night and was blown away by their sensitivity to the pain and suffering that exists for many this time of year. way to go nate, aaron, nolan, nathaniel, missy, and frank!


perspective (because we really really need it)

A few weeks back, several people were having a lively conversation in the entry way of my home. This space is flanked by a hallway on one side and the kitchen and family room on the other and is anchored by well loved hard wood floors. While we chatted, my daughter Kaija laid down on the floor to stretch. Any of you who know Kaija know that this is not unusual. Kaija is her own (wonderful) person and doesn’t conform to conventions. She’s a free spirit and can converse just as confidently sitting, standing (on her feet or hands or head), from the ground or the top of a tree, independent of others or (preferably) wrapped around them. This evening, she found the floor and stretched out upon it. It was not a warm evening and she was dressed in fur lined slipper boots and a warm puffy jacket. While engaged fully in the conversation occurring around her, she began to stretch out. At one point, her slippers and her stretch worked together to catapult her backward across the floor. Smiling, she continued the motion. Next we all knew, she was carrying on with us while “scootching” herself, on her back, down the hall, back through the entry way, into the kitchen, around the island, through the family room and back again. We all just kept talking. After a while she acknowledged, and we agreed, that this was a wildly bizarre and totally fun way to engage. 

I’ve thought a lot, since then, about the fact that what we see in this world is largely determined by the posture from which we view it. By moving through our home on her back, Kaija took in entirely new images of her familiar childhood home and gained an appreciation for our scuffed and well-worn floor. These new perspectives might be gifts to me if I simply took the time to pursue them. From the ground up, the view of home would be uncluttered, spacious, and new. The floors would feel sure and stable and “right.” It would be helpful to have access to these views when I feel mired by the clutter and crumb of daily life in an open and widely accessed home. If I felt overwhelmed by a mess I could simply look up to realize the space and calm that exists in my home just above the disarray.

There is plenty of research that shows a relationship between posture and mood (highlighted this week in this New York Times article). The way we hold our physical selves impacts our mood, behaviors, and, even, memory. When we fold our selves in around the small devices in our hands it appears that we are more prone to act in submissive ways and feel poorly about our selves. While these findings are of importance, my bigger concern is that we rarely take time to move out of our familiar postures to see how the world might look from a different perspective.

The issue, as I see it, is primarily twofold. First, humans have a propensity to assume that other people have and value the same things that they themselves have and value. This isn’t necessarily an evil tendency, it’s simply human nature. Since we are the center of our own experiences, most of us do not automatically consider the vast differences that exist between people. Even the most empathic person can find places where their own bias and/or assumptions have led them to have blind spots about how they treat others and interact in the world. Second, the more time we spend in digital spaces, the more we “teach” our devices our preferences, leading them to feed us a never ending supply of self-centric data. We have a certain political leaning, our “clicks” regarding that leaning are tracked and logged, which leads our devices to feed us more of that which we will agree with. The same can be said of our intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and monetary preferences and leanings. Over time we begin to internalize this as evidence that our views and preferences really are those of everyone since it’s all we ever encounter. From this place it’s easy to see our own views, values, and preferences as “right” and “normal.” 

I like walking on my feet so I experience the world from the perspective of a 5 foot 1 inch white female person. Without even thinking about it, it would be easy to unconsciously assume that everyone else experiences the world in this same way. If I did this I might assume that everyone can fit easily into an airplane seat, that strangers will usually be kind and open, that math is impossible and, therefore, “stupid,” and that relationships are the most valuable thing in the universe to everyone. I would also be horribly wrong. 

When Kaija scooted through the house on her back I was reminded of how inaccurate the unconscious assumption that others are just like us is. It is important that I remember this. I certainly caught sight of this when I spent a day in Ferguson, Missouri, and then, later, St. Louis, this fall. I believe to my core that the world not only LOOKS different based upon the socio economic class, ethnic and/or racial background, and many more traits of the eyes doing the looking, but also that it IS different based upon those things. Kaija’s reality was different as she roamed the house on her back than mine was as I walked upright. The truth is, however, that walking isn’t better than scootching, it’s simply different. Might you read that again, more slowly this time? 

Walking isn’t better than scootching, it’s simply different.

I’ve written, in the past, about the marginalized who serve in professions that benefit us all but whom are often treated as “less than” by the general public. The people who clean the bathrooms we use at Target, the individuals who harvest our produce, the folks who collect our garbage, and more. These are just some of the people who I imagine might benefit from our seeing the world from their perspective for a day (or more). The reality is, WE would benefit as well. Our worlds and perspectives would become wider and our thinking more complex. This is never, in my opinion, a bad thing.

It’s easy to know of our own stressors, automatic to know our own values. It’s effortless to identify our challenges and sometimes difficult to see our privilege. If we have plenty of community and family and warmth and cheer this month, it’s easy to assume others do as well. It’s uncomfortable to realize this may not be true. It takes work to be authentic as one’s self and still stretch to understand and empathize with who others truly are. This is, however, work worth doing.

This is a time of year (the hurried holiday season) and the point in an election cycle (in the U.S.) where assumptions, automatic thoughts, attributions, and feelings run high. If we are to live in harmony with our neighbors, in peace with our communities, or even just tolerate those who we perceive to be different, we must keep this tendency in check. Every once in a while it would do us good to stretch into new perspectives from which to view the world. To ask more questions and to listen better. To be willing to lay down our confident postures in deference to being warm and open and non judgemental. To be willing to tolerate the floor scootchers in a world of upright walkers or, if we’re brave enough, to join them on the ground for a glimpse of the world from their perspective...and a bit of the adventure of doing something new.


hard things (like violence) vs soft round objects

It was a work day for me which means that I get to sit with courageous people whose are journeying and growing. This is meaningful work and I do not take it lightly. It is also work that makes for days of depth and lots of boxes of Kleenex. Days like this don’t have much space for checking twitter for news of the goings on in the world nor do they offer many opportunities for chit chat with my office mates. 

Today, however, there were shootings. Again. Too many of them to think about. And I’m only referring to those that happened on the West Coast and made it into the news. So many people died today by bullets. I understand that there is room for guns in this world. I just hate when they are used to cause violent death.

Between sessions, three of us well-seasoned and hard-to-shock psychologists stood in our little shared area and stared into each other's wide eyes, shook our heads, and acknowledged the terror that was playing out in California. “In a place for people who should be protected,” said one of us. And, “I know.” said another. Then, as we all began to walk to our offices one said, “Next time around I want a different planet. Maybe one with only soft round objects.” 

As his words sunk into me, I wanted to cry. Not just for those people impacted by today’s violence in Southern California, but for all people hurt by the sharp pointy edges of hatred and violence.

When I was young my brother and I had a favorite picture book about a little Brute family. Mama and Papa Brute banged pots and pans and the little Brutes pulled each other’s hair and scowled at one another. One day the tiniest Brute found a little wandering lost good feeling in a field and brought it home. The little feeling floated from his hand and hovered over the table and everyone was caught off guard. Mama and Papa began to smile and the entire family found themselves saying “Please” and “Thank you” and, in my imagination, “I love you. I really really love you.” Suddenly their meals tasted better, the corners of their mouths turned upward, and they shared softness where harshness had previously lived.

What if we were able somehow, amidst all of the competition and fear and segregation and power struggles that exist in this world, to find (or create) little wandering lost good feelings to share? What if our world really was filled with soft round objects that padded our way and that for softer landings? Could our own words and actions (fed by good intentioned feelings) serve as soft objects of sorts? Might even our tiniest expressions of love and peace make a difference for those we share them with? I have to believe that they will. I have to. 

It is the silliest thing ever to do in the wake of such sadness and violence today but I am stopping by the store on the way to my meeting tonight to buy cotton balls. They are the roundest, softest objects I can think of to help me speak Love to hate. I will give each of my Wednesday night group members a cotton ball and tell them that it is my little wandering lost good feeling. I will look them in the eye and tell them that I care about them and ask them to pass a piece of that care on in the hopes that we can, in our own places and spaces, initiate waves of peace and comfort among the ocean of complexity that we humans swim in.

May we all seek and find every wandering lost good feeling, hold them close until they warm our hearts, and then send them, with intention to those who need it most and may we all know that we are Loved. Really, really Loved.


how to respond to hatred and violence (especially in the wake of terrorism)

i was on a layover in los angeles when i heard about yesterday’s terrorist attacks in france. my husband, knowing my deep and pained response to violence, texted me so that i wouldn’t be caught off guard and rendered a puddle of tears as i raced through the airport. regardless of how the news was delivered, however, it made me feel sick, as i am guessing it did many others.

news of tragedies and terror acts capture our attention in complex ways. they raise our heart rate, activate our brains and endocrine systems, and create a weird soup of repulsion and interest. this heightened physiological response which sits alongside strong emotions and a sense of helplessness in the face of such personal, political, and national wreckage cause us to go into a sort of reactive state. for some of us this involves denial, for others anger/sadness/profound helplessness/fear, and, for others, an obsessive need to watch the news.

last week, while lecturing at a southern liberal arts college, i met with a group of media and journalism students for a conversation over lunch. one of the topics that emerged centered around what images are ethical to broadcast when covering a violent occurrence. the consensus was that the display of images that would compromise the dignity of a victim or sensationalize an abhorant event should not be displayed for public consumption. i agree with this and take it further to say that our every day exposure to simulated violence makes us overly comfortable with blurring the line regarding what is shown after actual traumas.

as someone who has given a bulk of time to determining how i choose to respond to violence and hatred in life and in the media, i offer my own response to how to live in the days following a traumatic event. i recognize that we are all different (we are all soooooooooooo different) and that each of us must discern our own best way of getting by and through. with that in mind, i humbly offer the following.

1 once you know what has happened, what is happening in response, and have educated yourself about the basic framework of the motivation behind the incident, walk away from the screens. while it is important to understand international politics, dynamics, and the tensions that exist, the days following a traumatic incident are not filled with high quality educational data. you can get that later (or now) from sources that are not presented in reaction and sensationalistic response mode. these first few days are filled with high emotion reactivity that will serve to stir you up and leave you over stimulated. this kind of human state does little to promote healthy response or action.

2 when taking in mainstream sources of news, heed mr. roger’s advice and look for the helpers. let their actions inspire you to go out and perform heroic deeds of love and peace making. similarly, when considering the victims, work to honor their lives more than remembering them in their deaths. this places the attention where it should be...on their dignity as fellow humans who were making their way through life in the ways only they could.

3 consider in prayer, intention, or deed those who are suffering losses, those who are required to take strong action, and those who will be deeply impacted by their associations with the perpetrators who would have, in no way, condoned their actions. practicing this kind of loving kindness helps balance out the anger, confusion, and tendency to want to stay stuck on the powerlessness that is understandable in relation to our thoughts and feelings toward the individuals who have perpetuated the terror. 

4 find places of beauty and hopefulness to soothe yourself in. for the world to become filled with more harmony and peaceful co-existence we will all be needed to respond to the pockets of hatred and systems of oppression that exist around us. for this reason, filling our minds with violence and the reactive information available right after an event uses up our energy in less than helpful ways. we can educate ourselves well and find potent ways of helping in the days to come but simply watching the news does not accomplish this. today we can find regulation and get to work on the number 5 suggestion below so that, tomorrow (or a week from now) we will be ready to dig in to the kind of education we really need to respond well and in a balanced way.

5 do something loving and kind. be it small or large, find a way to promote peace and friendship by getting active. write someone a note of encouragement, make a contribution to a ministry or non profit that promotes healthy relationships, bring cookies to the local fire station or emergency room staff or bring donuts to the responders at your local suicide hot line. get out your side walk chalk and write notes of gratitude outside your neighbor’s homes. go buy a large package of socks and fill your thermos with hot chocolate and walk through downtown giving the opportunity for warmth of feet and bellies to those without roofs over their heads. call a retirement center near you to see if you might join a resident without family nearby for dinner. donate to your local food bank. to really push the loving kindness, visit an ethnic market in your neighborhood and consider yourself an ambassador of friendliness. smile at those you encounter, purchase something you’ve never tasted, wish the sales clerk well and pray for/intend blessings for their business. if radicalism is your thing, forgive someone you’ve held a grudge against.

responding with dazed, blank stares, hopeless angry feelings, and fear does little to make the world a better place. intentionally chosen, wisely lived out responses to traumatic events, however, can create a readiness within us to respond in pro-active, community building ways. may we all, in as much as it depends upon us, choose love and peace and friendship and inspire these traits in others as well.


thoughts on guns, violence, and getting through

today there were shootings at two universities in the southern united states. two people were killed and four injured. on a campus in kentucky there was a threat of an active shooter. just last week, nine people were killed and nine injured at umpqua community college in roseburg oregon. within the past month i have consulted with a school community close to my heart about credible threats to it’s teachers, administration, and students that resulted in an fbi investigation and arrest. this is all on the heels of having visited ferguson missouri where i came face to face with the real problem of racial and socio-economic inequality in a way that undid me.

since i have written on topics related to the murder of children, how to handle processing violence, my own grappling with children’s gun play, my own experience with homicide, and the depiction of murder in entertainment (part 1 and part 2), i have been flooded with questions this past week relating to the current climate around guns, violence, and more.

to be honest, i am at a loss for words and, mostly, i just cry a lot. i’m not kidding. often, these days, i am sort of undone by the massive hurt that exists in this world. the fact that this deep hurt ends up leading people to intentionally or unintentionally act with the kind of violence that kills and wounds is almost beyond what i can currently sit with with enough rationality to form words into paragraphs that make sense. complicating matters, every possible discussion around the topics of guns or violence is amplified by people’s (strong) opinions, the fact that we are in the lead up to an election year, and world views and values. whether these world views, values, and opinions have been explored, examined, and intentionally chosen is a whole other issue.

even with my current loss for words, i have a few thoughts i would like to share.

thought 1) there is a particular kind of complexity to the grief of a person whose loved one dies as a result of violence. the person who is killed is somehow inextricably linked with a heinous act which creates a horrible reality for those left behind. it is important to place emphasis on the life that was lived more than on the death that was suffered and to do this over and over and over and over again. the media will repeat the death. we must hold out the life.

thought 2) an effective way of speaking out against the violence in this world is to live from a place of compassion and loving kindness toward every person we meet. we cannot change a system of oppression and violence as individuals acting alone. we can, however, begin to make ripples that can build to waves by acting with grace, love, and respect toward self and others. make no mistake, the kind of compassion i am referring to is not a simple smile and nod to those we pass. while that would, of course, be a good start, i am referring to an intentional way of living where we listen more than we speak and where we relate to others more often as our teachers than as our students. it is easy to think that our opinions are the right ones or that our worldview is the most sensical. what is difficult is to adopt a stance of flexible groundedness where our confidence comes from honest, examined, informed, and humble self awareness that doesn’t need to convince others but, rather, can welcome connection to everyone we meet without threat.

thought 3: the best time for a conversation is rarely when we are hot and bothered. when our emotions are high we tend to be reactive and dis-regulated. fight, flight, or freeze mechanisms in our bodies are triggered at these moments and it would be best for us to take some deep breaths, a run around the block (or city), or to remove ourselves from the situation for a while before we respond. i recently broke a tooth while enjoying some finely pureed and very soft lentil dip. come to find out, i hadn’t picked through the lentils carefully enough and had left a rock that my vita mix couldn’t grind. if i only would have paused a bit longer to examine my colander of dried lentils i could have avoided a lot of pain. when we speak out too quickly and passionately, without picking through all that is behind our personal response or position, we can cause undue and unintentional pain to others and put ourselves in the way of all manner of personal discomfort. giving our selves time to process and think and get clear with our selves and work off some of the heat of our initial reactions will almost always make us more effective and empathic communicators.

thought 4: in situations where violence and murder are involved, there is simply nothing simple. very few people enjoy sitting with complex, unsolvable puzzles. our brains and guts yearn to have things clear and understandable. we want a good guy and a bad guy, some black and some white, a wrap up. the reality is, however, that where death and violence is concerned there is simply complexity and pain and un-answerable questions. the night that my sister in law and three nieces were murdered a well meaning pastor came to our home. in his time of prayer with us he asked God to enable us to forgive the murderer (our brother in law). while we have, in time, worked to make peace with this person who has since died, that day was not the time to instruct us in this way. from outside of the situation, it may have seemed clear but i will tell you, from inside, there was only raw pain. the same is true in most situations. as you hold, from where ever you are, the many involved parties in the Light or in your mind or even in your physical presence, always do so lightly and with empathy, knowing that their reality is complex beyond what can be imagined. this goes for all parties from the victim’s families to the leaders who are entrusted with information we may never know and given the responsibility to set policy as a result.

thought 5: we are humans and, as such, mortal. it is important to invest your “breaths and blinks” (stolen lovingly from my daughter’s lexicon of amazing phrases) with both great care and wild abandon. now is the time to love boldly and well, to risk wisely and widely, to invest your self in things that matter and are lovely and worthwhile and fun. it is time to live a rich and thoughtful and complicated and bold life bound closely to the heartbeat of God within you and to inspire this in those you encounter. in so doing we speak out and act up against the power of violence and spread seeds of health, respect, and love.