Jumping to “all lives matter”

I think we all know that person.

Whatever you’ve experienced, they’ve experienced something similar only theirs was worse. You cannot finish telling your story before they’re jumping in to one-up you. “Yeah, there was this time…”

That’s what it feels like when someone jumps into a conversation about “Black lives matter” to say, “Yeah, but all lives matter.”

Of course they do. But that’s not the needed conversation right now. I was tardy in renewing my car registration last month. I worried about getting a ticket. I didn’t worry about being killed for it.

I’m not an expert on the experience of being black in America. That’s why I need to shut my mouth and listen. I need to push myself to read things that make me uncomfortable. I need to push myself to read things that make me sad. I need to push myself to read things that make me angry because they reflect such injustice.

Sometimes we interrupt our friend’s conversation to jump to our own corresponding but worse tale of woe because it’s a distraction. It can be painful and hard simply to sit, listen and bear witness to someone else’s suffering. And yet, that is precisely what we are called to do. (In another blog post I tell the story of the power of very different people speaking and being heard.)

At the same time, we also need to listen to those charged to protect and to serve. I don’t know what it is to have to make a split second decision that can be the difference between life and death. I don’t know what it’s like to do a job that demands that I run towards danger, not away from it. I need to hear about political and budgetary issues that put police departments in situations in which they don’t want to be, because they really do want to do a good and just job.

What has heartened me in these last few days have been the stories of good, ordinary folks, black and white, who are reaching beyond their fears or our polarization to connect, hurting human to hurting human.

This week I’ve been thinking about the prayer of Saint Francis. May it be prayer for all of us:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Houston, we have a problem

In the movie Apollo 13, after Tom Hanks has uttered those famous words the guys at Mission Control finally identify the source of the problem. They abort the moon landing and reroute the capsule to get them home. The problem is that they have to make sure they have enough breathable air and part of the spacecraft that kept the air breathable was damaged.

The director of the mission gathers some of NASA’s best and brightest in a room and dumps a box full of assorted stuff on the table. “This is all they’ve got to work with,” he says, “find a way.” They are going to have to duct tape a spacecraft back home.

Houston, we have a problem.

Shootings no longer make news unless the body count is high enough or the target population is new enough. Schoolchildren are gunned down and nothing happens. Moviegoers are gunned down and nothing changes. Kindergartners are murdered by the classroom weeks before Christmas and for the rest of the country life goes on as usual. And now patrons at a club are killed by the dozens. And for the rest of us, life goes on.

Life goes on of course, after the grief and outrage and vigils and prayers and declarations that something must be done.

But it never is.

Meanwhile, toddlers have become one of the most lethal groups in the country. Over and over again they find a gun in a parents’ bedroom or at a friend’s house and someone winds up dead. That child or adult is dead, and that toddler will have to live forever with that knowing.

Something must be done.

But it never is.

Houston, we have a problem.

What we’re doing – or not doing – isn’t working. In my business, we call that the everyday definition of insanity. Doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

It’s time to do something different.

We have a lot of smart people in this country. I know we do. We have a lot of people who care deeply. I know we do. Can someone not gather in the best of them into a room and say, We have to fix this…

We need to get them in a room: People who know about guns (but not lobbyists.) Police officers who have to deal with such shootings. Experts on the constitution and our legal system, who know what can and cannot be done. Sociologists who understand culture and society. Lawmakers who are not in office and do not plan to run for office who nonetheless know how our legal system works at its best. Can we not round them up and say, “This is what we have to work with – this messy, freedom-loving, deeply divided, deeply hurting country. You have to find a way to bring us home safely.”

Perhaps – and I know I’m just dreaming here – we could study what other countries have done who have successfully reduced the amount of mass shootings. I know –we’re different. We have a different culture and history. But maybe, just maybe we could learn something from someone else in the world.

We need to clear away what we think we know. What we think we know only leads us to more rivers of blood. We need the courage to admit that it isn’t working and the resolve to do something different. Whenever a shooting happens we first cry out that something must be done but the answering echo is always all of the reasons why that something won’t work.

Can we not embrace the problem without assuming that we already know the answer and that answer being defeated before it’s begun?

Houston, we have a problem. And giving the same speech only louder isn’t going to fix it.

I’m tired of vigils.

I’m tired of prayers for survivors.

I’m tired of mass shootings having to be qualified as today’s mass shooting because you see, we have so many.

Houston, we have a problem.

 

 

What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

Trump, Clinton and Those People

Just when it becomes hard to imagine our political climate becoming more divided, along comes a presidential campaign season that seems intent mostly on fracturing our divided nation even more.

(Incidentally, right now I’m reading Joseph Ellis’ fine book The Quartet. After the Revolution the fractured collection of states threatened to go the way of divided Europe instead of becoming a united country. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Jay and James Madison stepped forward to push for a new Constitution and to create a true nation. A thought provoking book.)

change livesWhen I sat down here to drink some coffee and do some writing  I couldn’t help but overhear the people at the next table. They were of the sort who saw anti-Christian conspiracy around every corner. They agreed that our society went down the tubes when they stopped paddling kids in school.

I dug my headphones out of my computer bag even as I felt my blood pressure rising. I was thankful for the music of Hamilton downing out their conversation.

And then a pesky truth nudged me, like my dog pushing her nose between me and my book. I was ready to write them off as those people. You know those people. The people on the other side of the spectrum. The people we caricature and make fun of, whether we are conservative or liberal or somewhere in-between.

The pesky truth kept nosing its way in. These people are my brothers and sister. God loves them just as much as God loves me.

Dang.

One of the interesting things about my work as a counselor is being able to listen to the lives of such different people. The grocery store clerk. The executive. The single mom. The grandfather. The deeply conservative. The flaming liberal. The straight. The gay. The confused. Black. White. Mixed. The woman who never had a struggle until recently when things went off the rails. The guy who has scrapped and scrambled every day of his life. Like a bloodied prize fighter he stands wobbly kneed in the ring but stands nonetheless.

I don’t have to listen long before those people become just people. People who hurt and fear and hope.

It’s a tough line to walk, embracing the humility of grace that recognizes our common kin while still holding to whatever prophetic voice the times demand. But the promise I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep is never to ridicule people who are those people to me. I know if we could talk long enough they’d become just people with their own fears and hurts and hopes.

As responsible citizens, we have a duty to call candidates into question, whether it’s for the presidency or the local school board. We may challenge and debate and even argue with fellow citizens. If we are very brave, we may listen to someone with whom we disagree.

(As a time management tool I am trying to avoid comments sections for online articles and stories posted on Facebook. But more than once I’ve found myself writing, “It doesn’t work like that. None of this works like that.”)

The times call for wisdom, and wisdom resists the seduction of too easy generalizations and too neat categories. Wisdom ain’t easy, but may we be brave enough to ask for a measure of it.


 

I debated giving up anger for Lent, but the realized that it was too important.

As Christians, what are we to do with anger? Is really one of the deadly sins? Does our spirituality need it, and does anger need our spirituality?

Join me on Friday as we talk about these things in my free webinar:

Can I Be Angry? Anger, Faith and a Real Life

A replay will be available, but only for those who register for the webinar. Find out more.

If you only had faith…

It’s enough to break my heart.

worried womanMy client sits across from me and admits that they’re sure that God hates them or is angry with them or is ready to give up on them. Because they’re anxious. Because they’re depressed.

And well, if they were just a better Christian they wouldn’t feel this way.

Which, of course, is poppycock. Usually (but not always) I say it in nicer ways. It’s just not true. God doesn’t base grace on how chipper we are, which is one of the reasons that it’s called grace. As Frederick Buechner once said, we don’t have to do a blessed thing and that’s the blessedness of it.

Still, if you’re a Christian and you battle anxiety, it’s hard not to feel a little guilty for it After all, there’s that whole “the Bible says ‘Fear not’ 365 times so you have one for each day” picture on Pinterest. You know you shouldn’t feel anxious.

But you do.

We don’t help our anxiety by beating ourselves up for being anxious. If anything, that fuels the fire. We do help ourselves when we can take a step back to understand it, to pay attention to what’s going on in our spirits and in our brain. Once we understand it, we can use tools for changing it.

On Friday morning I’ll be doing a free webinar on this very thing. (It will be recorded if 10:00 am EST is too early for your time zone.) Sign up and join us for If I love Jesus why do I need Xanax? 

 

 

6 things I learned in choir

  1. Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. I am grateful for those voices beside and behind me that help me hit the right note at the right time, who remind me with their singing that I should have already come in by now.
  2. Sometimes you need to ignore the people around you and do what you know is right. (I’ve been singing in choirs since 1973, so I am not talking about YOU.) But sometimes those people around you? They’re wrong. They come in at the wrong time or sing the wrong pitch. Sometimes you just have to trust that you know what you know and ignore the rest of the noise.
  3. Some truth can only be sung. A colleague on Facebook regularly posts videos of him singing accompanied by his guitar. Not so very long ago his son wound up in ICU unexpectedly and then died, leaving behind a young family. My colleague continues to post his songs but now the words are imbued with a deeper, broken hearted meaning. It is a holy thing to witness his journey, knowing that sometimes grief is so deep that all you can do is sing.
  4. Magic still happens and sometimes we get to be a part of it. We were singing one of my favorite Christmas anthems. Something happened when we sang it in the evening service. The music took us up out of ourselves. We flowed like a river. We soared towards the tops of the arched roof, carried by notes and by spirit. It was so magical that  I nearly wept in the midst of it just for the privilege and blessedness of being part of such a thing. Sometimes we take one step and step into something bigger than us, being reminded that it’s not all up to us.
  5. The end of the story seldom looks like the beginning and the difference between those two places depends, at least in part, on us. Our minister of music starts introducing our Christmas music to us in the post Easter lull of the spring. The more difficult anthems are usually train wrecks in our first readings. But after all of the hours of work, when we sing it before the congregation it comes pretty close to something like music. Yet too often in our lives we tend to judge ourselves only by our beginnings.
  6. What we focus on becomes a part of us. Two days ago we sang two Christmas concerts.  This week as I started my workweek I’ve sung alleluias in the shower and a magnificat while making breakfast. After all the repetition of rehearsal the music is now woven into my bones, ready to bubble up to the surface. With inspiring music that’s a good thing. When we are meditating upon bitterness or upon all of the ways in which we have failed having such music in our bones ready to surface isn’t such a fine thing.

For all you choir members past and present, what have you learned?

 

The problem with toys for boys

The problem with toys for boys

I was searching online for a Christmas present for a boy who is developing a passion for things scientific. I was horrified to see on one website for science toys a listing of toys for boys… but no corresponding listing of toys for girls. My old friend Scholastic did a little better – on the toys for girls site they had toys for budding engineers. But the boys site had no toys for boys who might like kitchens or dolls.

Maybe only a very few boys will be like my friend who, as a boy, was ecstatic to get a much wanted Barbie doll. But when we designate engineering toys as the norm for boys and dolls as toys for girls, well then, they become the norm.

So what? you might ask. The problem is that if you are a girl wanting a toy from the “boy section” or heaven forbid, vice versa, you are then by definition abnormal.

football BAs you can see by my picture, I have some experience in being abnormal. While my mom wanted a girly girl who’d take ballet, I  wanted to be playing ball with my brothers. While my mother faithfully came to my basketball and softball games in high school, we both knew it was her second choice. (She also used to tell me that I shouldn’t yell so loudly at college games because it wasn’t “ladylike,” but that’s another story.”)

One web site whom I’d contacted about the issue said that they had the listing because people typed the phrase “toys for boys” into search engines. What a wonderful world it would be if typing “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” brought up the same page.

Then no one would have to be abnormal. We could just be ourselves.

 

 


 

  • Ever wonder why you keep sabotaging yourself when it comes to your goals?
  • Ever get tired of biting your tongue and not saying what you really think?
  • Is your heart heavy with what you couldn’t tell them before they died  – or wish you could tell them now? (Even if them is a beloved pet.)
  • Do you wish you had help in making an important decision?

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