how i will honor trayvon martin

today marks the one year anniversary of the death of trayvon martin who was shot and killed while walking home from the store late at night.

i know that the sentence you just read is an oversimplification of a very complicated story. but in some ways, it’s not. isn’t every story complicated? isn’t every sentence a simplification of sorts?

when my children faced into middle school they began the arduous task of figuring out their own appearances and stylistic tastes. at the same time they made efforts to get past the externals that their peers presented in order to forge relationships that were more than skin deep.

adolescence is not a pretty time. neither is it simple.

a good friend once told me, “teenagers try on identities like we try on shirts.” that phrase has stuck with me. it is so true.

at that aforementioned middle school period i took my kids to a large bookstore. as we walked slowly through each section i suggested that they pick up a book and start reading. while they were more than happy to oblige among the harry potter and calvin and hobbes books they were less than willing to do so in the romance, history, or business sections. for the life of me i could not get them to open one of these books. 

it’s true i guess. we do judge the book by it’s cover. whether conscious or or not, our instinct tells us that there’s no way we’ll find something interesting to us in a book written by such and such, or covered in fleshy entwined bodies, or one that we find in the automotive section. we seem to be so sure of this.

the world of people and relationship are so different. 

and yet we approach them in much the same way.

we rarely linger in the “section” where we aren’t already comfortable. we don’t push ourselves past our go-to favorites to see if we might actually like science fiction, or history, or sodoku, or economics. we don’t read life of pi because it’s in the young adult section. neither do we read the wisdom of other religious traditions because we can’t find it among the shelves of our own. we assume we already know...the book’s cover informs us.

and yet it doesn’t.

trayvon martin was wearing a hoodie and was out late at night. he might even have talked tough. who knows, maybe he was trying on an identity like a shirt. adolescents are so that way. all tough and talk one minute and wanting to be tucked in the next. presenting a cover and yet secretly (or not so secretly) hoping you’ll see beyond it to who they really are and what they really need. especially since they don’t always know those things themselves.

we all pull figurative triggers everyday. we judge the inside by what we see on the outside. we are put off by what is presented so we never reach in to the insides where true connection, respect, and valuing takes place.

so today i will take risks and be warm and welcoming with the adolescents i encounter. i will not judge them by their covers. i will give them spacious benefit of the doubt and assume that they may be trying on shirts. the one that they wear tomorrow may be drastically different than the one that they wear today. i will remember that the thing that remains the same is their humanity (which i share) underneath. their bold, messy, hormonal, out of control, beautiful, brave, scared, trying-to-figure-it-all-out humanity. and i will not pull the trigger...even if their humanity scares me. for perhaps there is something to be learned by opening a book with a different kind of cover.


redeeming the screen

45 years ago today “mr. roger’s neighborhood” debuted on pbs. i was 2. while i don’t remember the actual first show, i do remember watching “the neighborhood,” in black and white, on a regular basis. when i was very young i believed that mr. rogers could hear and see me and i answered his questions with great intention and reverence. it was easy to imagine i was being heard because mr. rogers always paused after he asked a question and he always listened actively. he was engaged. he looked into the camera and held the gaze. he left space for answers. he created conversation. he didn’t need to fill the space. he fed his fish in silence and took his time doing it.

45 years later, space feels hard to find. silence is sparce. slowness has been overtaken by fast-paced constant movement and it feels like no image emanating from a screen listens. eye contact? what is that?

mr. roger’s original vision for a television program grew out of his frustration and disappointment with the seeming irreverence of his television peers in creating work for the new medium. television was overpopulated, in his opinion, with people throwing pies in one another’s faces. “smart” and respectful material was lacking and the only way he could live with himself was to take a swing at providing programming that spoke to and called out the very best in his audience. he did this by being counter cultural, by offering thoughtful discourse, and providing tools for both the intellectual and emotional needs of his audience.  he didn’t shock anyone into paying attention. he didn’t yell. he didn’t use single second visual bytes to keep his viewers from looking away.

so today, why not honor mr. rogers (and the many others like him who care about the quality and content of that which is presented on screens) by, somehow, redeeming your screen time. why not switch out a smart, point of view short film for your typical sitcom (http://www.pbs.org/pov/video/search.php?search_type=type&offset=16#film-list). or take time for a beautiful, complex, or at least authentically told, documentary when you’d typically watch the news (for instance: searching for sugarman, afghan star, paul williams still alive, bill cunningham new york, a man named pearl, or touch the sound...and if you’d like more...email me and i’ll be happy to send you a list). how about listening to a story at story corp instead of spacing out to youtube (http://storycorps.org). possibly swap a slow, quality classic for your next mindless adventure or a slapstick musical for your next romcom. or, if you want to kick it really old school, check out some of mr. rogers’ best episodes, field trips, and other highlights at http://pbskids.org/rogers/videos/index.html. becoming mindful and intentional about what you are taking in can do nothing but improve the quality of that which you see on screens.

few will argue with the reality that we are largely what we ingest. once, after a day of drinking pepto bismol, someone i know ate some oreos. when he threw up, the pink and brown told the story.

if we were to take a look at what the images we ingest create within us, what would we find? would we find respect, thoughtfulness, and love or would we find capricious lack of care, violence of every kind, and pies thrown in faces? humor doesn’t have to be base to be funny. intensity does not require beyond the pale explicitness to be communicated and intimacy does not demand skin to be effectively demonstrated. by taking responsibility for that which we watch we can change our insides which motivates external change of all sorts. and this is how movements are begun...with small acts, taken by individuals, lived out boldly into our communities and neighborhoods. where we can be still. where we can be engaged. where we can listen and hold a gaze. where we can see...and be seen.


reclaiming valentine's day

it’s that time of year again when people dread the mail. the season when people migrate from their feelings of inferiority brought on by the onslaught of holiday family letters to a sense of dread regarding what they won’t receive on valentine’s day. stores assault our senses with garish displays of scratchy lace, cheap chocolate, and tacky stuffed animals. hallmark ads provoke tears (or swearing) and everyone feels a general sense of disappointment and malaise. partnered folks feel let down by cards bought as an afterthought on the way home from work and people not in romantic relationships often experience the season as a sort of slow flow of salt poured into a large and gaping wound. or not. sometimes it isn’t pain that results from the anticipation of february 14th. sometimes it is anger, or loneliness, or panic. sometimes it’s all of the above. 

whatever your emotional reaction to the upcoming “day of love” is, i am wondering if you might consider joining me in taking the day back. valentine’s day need not be owned by card companies and florists. neither does it need to be boycotted or avoided. it can, instead, be transformed by simple acts of love performed with bold intention toward everyone in your life. not just your “lovers.”

i recently commented to an assembled group that while i am not a person who takes huge physical risks, i am someone who tends to take drastic relational ones. for some reason i don’t worry much about how an act of kindness will be received. i don’t fear looking silly (usually) when it comes to attempting to honor and love others. but i know that this is rare. just as i’d rather be poked in the eye than attempt a physical feat that i haven’t mastered, others of you would rather suffer many ill fates than reach out to someone and have that effort fall flat. or be passed over. or met with rejection. i get it. i don’t take anyone up on offers to go snowboarding or try an especially difficult rock climbing problem or play golf (or any other organized sport for that matter). there are certain ways in which i just don’t want to be exposed. or risk being exposed.

for me, valentine’s day offers the perfect opportunity for taking new relational risks in counter cultural and inspiring ways. to illuminate my point, let me offer you a glimpse into my outgoing mail today. there you would find envelopes of all shapes and sizes containing the least fancy valentines imaginable. they aren’t for my husband or kids but are rather simple tokens meant to honor the every day people in my life. one envelope is on it’s way to my friend (and if you’re my friend and your name is jen you should stop reading now and come back to this after thursday) who loves diet coke. when i emptied my last 12 pack of said beverage i cut a heart right out of the cardboard container, scribbled a quick note of gratitude for who jen is in my life and stuffed it into an envelope. today i put it in the mailbox. when she receives it i hope she feels a moment of warmth and connection and a sense of how much i deeply appreciate her. the other envelopes i’ll hand off to people on thursday are similarly crafted. none of them are particularly fancy. i didn’t spend a dime on supplies. i didn’t write rough drafts of my declarations of love and appreciation in order to get them just right. i just wrote.

an acquaintance of mine brings a rose with her to every doctor’s appointment. she gives it to the receptionist when she checks in. a friend fills his wallet with mc donald’s money to distribute to folks who ask for cash downtown. someone else brings small gifts to all the people she sees on her regular weekly errands (the grocery checker, the favorite barista, the librarian, etc) on her own birthday as an act of gratitude. all of these expressions, however, require resources of time, planning ahead, and money.

my wish is that we could move past all the expectations we place on ourselves and others regarding HOW we express our love and feelings of friendship and simply START EXPRESSING them.

so today, while you still have one sleep left before the big “v” day, how about joining me in a day of radical relational risk taking (and by radical i don’t mean jumping out of a plane in a cupid costume). i mean, instead, being radically simple. bravely resourceful. wildly affirming toward those to whom you’re connected. being lavish with words or gestures that speak the specific language of the other rather than your own native tongue. focusing on the message more than the medium. risking looking foolish in order to make another look (and feel and be) loved.


a harp on the hospital floor

several months back my uncle was in the hospital. he was on a medical floor (as opposed to a critical care unit) and it was fun to stop in on him. on one such visit a patient in an adjacent room attempted an “escape” and some large commotion in the waiting room drew four security guards and two police officers. amongst the constant in and outs of physicians, nurses, and medical residents there was a general level of “buzz” in the air throughout the unit that was palpable. no one was calm. not the staff, not the visitors, and certainly not the patients. everyone was rushing and darting and attending to things. call buttons went un-responded to and the swell of security staff roaming the hallways made for a tense atmosphere.

when my visit had commenced, i departed uncle jerry’s room into the rush of activity. emerging into the chaos, i took two steps and then i heard it. coming from a chair perched between the nurses station and the entry door to the unit were the lilting sounds of a harp. the harpist, a young woman dressed in street clothes, sat on the edge of her chair, eyes closed, lips shaped in a slight smile. the effect was mesmerizing. as people neared the music, visible changes took place in their stature and demeanor. footsteps slowed, expressions lightened, and shoulders dropped. a fragile calm seemed to hover in the five foot radius of this anomaly and began to spread.

i have thought of this experience frequently in the intervening months, wondering at the power that a simple presence had on such a frenetic setting. the sound of harp strings in the middle of chaos, urgent need, and even, possibly, danger somehow settled things. calmed them. soothed them. people could have rushed past the musician or dismissed the calm that the harp imposed but they didn’t. instead, they slowed, spoke with less harshness, and, sometimes, even stopped. they were pulled in, it seemed, by the shear unlikelihood of harp music in the middle of a hospital floor. the mellow depth of the music pulled behavior and feelings from one extreme toward a more balanced center. it felt possible, in the moments that i savored this, to be aware of both need and gift, sickness and health, urgency and calm.

i want to be a harp on the hospital floor of my every day life. when it would be easy to be swayed by gathering discontent, i would like to see beauty. when negativity threatens to take root in my speech, i want to invite hope. when my eye gravitates toward the ugly, i want to re-train it to beauty, especially in the broken. when impassioned opinion drives me to act loudly, i would like to chose the balanced, integrated calm of the harp. and when i’m not these things...please be the harp for me and bring me back to center.