Racism and Radical Compassion

How’s everyone doing?

It’s been a rough few weeks. It’s been a rough few months. Aw, seriously, let’s just call it – what the heck with 2020? For all the jokes about this being a year of clear vision, we’ve never more clearly seen the mess we’re in.

I suspect that the pandemic oddly prepared us to be able to rightly see the wrongness of racism, individually and systemically. I’m not sure how or why, but it seems like in this already strange time our country has responded with renewed vigor to something that has been happening in our midst forever.

Personally, I’ve been feeling sad and overwhelmed. I’m listening, through social media and interviews and reading, to the stories of BIPOC. And it’s hard not just because the stories range from ridiculous to outrageous but also because – and this feels incredibly selfish and vulnerable to admit – it’s not about me. I feel like I don’t have a right to feel all the feelings. I’m late to the show and I want to cry but that centers me and my job in this is to center others.

It’s a lot.

Just over a week ago our small NorCal town held a peaceful gathering mostly led by high school students. I didn’t go (pandemic) but I talked to a friend who went. She said it gave her hope that real change is in the pipeline, new diversity committees for teens and adults and new curriculum offerings in the schools. And the teenagers who are willing to speak about the way they’ve been treated and all those willing to listen to their stories.

Hope. Yes. Amen!

Less than 24 hours later, a video surfaced of three high school students spewing racist garbage. Obviously drunk, in a car with a dad who responds with next to nothing, the girls laugh as they say the most egregious things as if it’s one giant joke.

My stomach flipped. How dare they? And what about that dad – why didn’t he pull over the car and set them straight? At least take the phone and delete the video?

From The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton, this was May 1974:

Now, a senior in high school, not a day went by that I didn’t hear someone yelling “N*!” [abbreviated because it’s not my word to share] in my direction. It didn’t matter if I was just walking down the road or standing at my locker or even if I was playing baseball and helping the team win. I was about to graduate, and what I’d learned most in four years besides biology and arithmetic was just how much people can hate you because of the color of your skin. People can want to hurt you for no good reason other than you look different or talk different or live different. Oh, I got an education by going to the white school, just not the kind of education the politicians and lawmakers had planned on. (19)

Not enough has changed. Has anything changed?

Cue all the online chatter in every local forum, ranging from wanting to lynch the girls (deliberate reference) to excusing them with a “kids will be kids”… Cue the conversations with my own kids, who know or know of these girls, who tell me their own stories as young white men growing up in a predominantly white entitled community and, as adolescents, need to argue with Mom because it’s kind of their job to argue all sides of everything.

I hate that hate seems so normal to their experience, that they hear racial slurs and don’t actually hear them. It’s startling to see white male privilege so clearly in my own sons. I know I’ve taught them better, and yet they also breathe toxic air. I can’t rid society of all its pollution, but I can do my best to purify the air in my own home. In my own heart.

A few days later, we went for a long hike and along the way crossed paths with neighbors, one in tears being consoled by others. Her daughter was in the video. She cried like someone had died, grieving for her daughter.

The video was taken years ago. An anonymous someone shared it to publicly shame girls who have literally shed every skin cell since that night. That doesn’t at all excuse what they said, and it’s a super scary lesson in the permanence of anything posted online, and consequences will make a heavy load. And a mama’s tears revealed more of the story.

Oh, I get the anger toward these girls, the disgust at what they said. I suspect there’s also fear around the edges, and guilt because these girls are our girls, growing up in our community, and they surely must have known better and still did wrong.

Sadness weighs heavy on our town like the coastal fog that seeps over our hills and settles in our valley. Sadness for the victims and the perpetrators of racism. We all need to know and do better.

A few weeks ago I posted about guilt versus shame. Guilt: I did bad. Shame: I am bad. Related, but different. Guilt can be confessed, but shame hides in the dark. Compassion is necessary to shine light and love and make change.

I was struck by this quote from Alice Walker included in Radical Compassion by Tara Brach:

In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered.
All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.
The tribal ceremony often lasts several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.

Obviously this would be easier done in a tribal culture with set rituals than in a small, individually-minded town. Not that it would be easy; likely it’s never easy; forgiveness is usually effort-full.

Obviously, we’re not ready for anything like this. And yes, my fingers shake as I recognize that I am a white woman suggesting radical compassion for white girls and maybe that’s out of line. Can compassion ever be out of line, though? If grace had to be earned, even the best among us would be doomed.

It seems to me that change will best happen in compassionate dialogue. When we look one another in the eyes and listen well. When we take shame out of the equation and spread compassion.

At least, I hope change will happen through compassionate dialogue. I imagine these girls set in a circle of community, loved ones and acquaintances, all willing to speak compassion their way. Not because they deserve it but in truth because they blew it big time and still they are human beings, living and hopefully learning and in need of love. How far would that go to redeem their guilt and alleviate their shame? How would they then, having received compassion, be better able to extend compassion?

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Lent 2020: We Need Him a Lot

…the people God uses don’t have to know a lot of things, or have a lot of things–they just have to need him a lot.
Jesus called out to them, “Let’s go!”

My creative collaborator and I created a day-by-day prayer card to guide our church and unify our prayers during Lent. Of course we had no idea how the world would change from the time we created it to its actual season of use. I’ve been struck repeatedly at how God directed the choice of prayer prompts to specific days. For example, our first week of shelter-in-place included praying for patience, trust, hope, joy, love, and faith; the second week began with perseverance and also included kindness, humility, and flexibility—all qualities we need heaping doses of these days.

I tucked the prayer card into my Jesus Storybook Bible as a bookmark/prayer reminder. Today while I read, I couldn’t help hearing my working-from-home pastor-husband on a call discussing the numbers of people in our church and community who need help as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and how our church is preparing to mobilize in response. The conversation moved on to our local and global mission partners struggling to meet the needs of those they serve, and who quite sadly may be unable to continue by the time the pandemic has run its course.

Today’s prayer prompt is to pray for those who need help…

Jesus, we all need help. We all need you a lot, now more than ever. Help the helpers, Lord, and be extra-especially present to all those who need help in body and soul. Amen.

Now come on, helpers. Let’s go do what we can do!

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

What the World Needs Now

On Monday before the mandatory shelter-in-place began, I had to run a few errands that included picking up a prescription at the pharmacy. Surprisingly, the line was short, with two people already being helped at the counter and one person ahead of me. She was covered head to foot: a colorful rag-style hat on her head, sunglasses, long pants and jacket with a buff pulled up over her mouth and nose. She didn’t make eye contact.

I arrived just in time, apparently, because suddenly there were several people behind me. An older lady two behind me leaned forward and called: “Hey, I really like your hat. It’s so colorful it’s making me smile.” Hat gal turned, lowered her sunglasses and buff and smiled as she said thanks, adding that we all need to find opportunities to smile in these uncertain times. We resumed our line-standing.

After a beat, I turned to thank the woman who offered the compliment, adding that we all need a huge dose of human kindness as everyone feels the weight of stress. My simple comment led to a line-long conversation: how we can be kind to one another; what shelter-in-place will mean and what constitutes “essential services;” price-gouging and TP alternatives; the beautiful art we might expect as a result of people in quarantine expressing their feelings; and “at least I can walk my dogs,” which led to a discussion about pets.

As each person left, they waved goodbye to our little crowd, wishing us well. In a matter of moments, having acknowledged our shared experience and at least a few of our feelings about it, we became a community. Neighbors rather than strangers.

It was an example of how uncertainty can unite people in beautiful ways. We may be alone in our own homes, but we’re in this together. Let’s find creative ways to care for ourselves and others, to share kindness that will unite us when this eventually passes.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.
–lyrics by Jackie DeShannon

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

Leap Day

Four years ago on Leap Day, I put out a box of colored cards and envelopes and a mix of markers. I asked my family to write a letter to themselves four years hence describing what they hoped their life would be like. They did it willingly, writing themselves short missives, and the whole process only took about five minutes.

They expressed doubt that I would remember where I’d put the letters. Oh, they of little faith! I knew exactly where they were. I’d seen them often during the years in their tucked away but obvious-to-me spot. I’d never so looked forward to Leap Day.

The guys, however, were confused, having completely forgotten the whole exercise.

I felt just a little disappointed at the generic note I sent myself. My hopes had to do with creativity, energy (health and wellness), and relationships—all good, and all things I work on regularly. One line stood out: that I would feel slightly uncomfortable taking on creative challenges. Nailed it.

The guys’ cards read true to their personalities: Guy’s cheered him on for a job well done; C21’s card was light, funny, relationally-focused; Q15 encouraged himself to be wise, faithful, and truthful—my sweet, old soul.

On the back of my card I’d written… Wise words: “Insist on yourself.” No idea where those words originated or why I thought that was what I’d need to hear now, but again, spot on. I haven’t been good about it, and I am done with that nonsense. I am again insisting on myself: getting strong and healthy, growing, taking risks, looking for opportunities. Not forcing things that aren’t meant to be, but trying to live authentically, with open eyes and hands to receive the present moment and its gifts.

This week I will again pass out cards, envelopes, and markers. It will be interesting to see who we become four years from now and what wisdom we will share with ourselves.

Reconnect

I graduated from a small, private, liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, California, in the early 90’s. During those college years and for a while after, I lived with a fantastic group of gals. This weekend, for the first getaway since graduation, nine of us gathered in Santa Cruz, California, to reconnect.

In so many ways, we picked up right where we left off. It helped that some of us have kept in better touch than others, but our essential personalities and ways of interacting were established long ago. 3 decades x 9 women = a lot of ground to cover. We may only have scratched the surface, but we went deep fast.

We shared stories of marriage and divorce, birth and kids, jobs and pursuits, loss and death, home and travel, where and how we’ve found meaning in life, and lighter topics such as favorite books and movies and Saturday Night Live skits. Tears were shed, but we enjoyed way more laughter.

My family asked, “What did you do?” Simple: walked on the beach and talked. Ate and drank and talked. Walked and talked some more. Mostly we talked. We slept a little.

Though we are the same age, our children range in age from 4 to almost 25 years old. We are mostly married, some divorced, some blended families. One child is married and another engaged, a couple more in significant relationships.

I’m impressed with these gals, what they’ve done with their lives, the families they’ve grown, how they’ve invested in society, and how they’ve handled life’s inevitable challenges. I’m amazed we coordinated nine schedules to get time away, and I’m grateful for the chance to listen, to exchange ideas, to encourage one another.

My heart is full, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Exact

The one-word writing prompt—exact—reminds me that I am not one for exact-ness. Numbers require precision, and I am a Word Girl who prefers not to deal with numbers. Even when I’m looking for just the right word(s), I could be convinced of any number of synonyms that would carry the meaning and lend a nuance. When I dabble in art, I try to stay open to the creative process which almost never looks exactly like what I had in mind. It’s part of the joy.

And yet, there’s one Exact in my life for which I am forever grateful: my Guy. I have the exact right husband for me. He’s it, my one and only.

He’s been my Valentine for 30 years. We had our first date a few days before Valentine’s Day. Thirty years ago, he gave me three yellow roses and one red. A nice guy, he gave a few yellow roses to other friends as well, but I was the only one who received a red rose. He’s been bringing me flowers ever since.

Today I received a delivery of 50 red roses.

He’s not perfect, but obviously neither am I. Still, we compliment each other in all the necessary ways. He’s an extrovert and I’m an introvert. He engages with everyone, and I remember their names. He gets me out, and I keep him grounded.

We share the same interests (animals, the outdoors, stories) and values (God, family, friends). We expand each other’s perspectives in important ways. We make each other laugh and dry each other’s tears. We’re best friends and we hold each other close.

I cannot imagine having done life with anyone else. My exactly right for me, darling Valentine.

Surprise

Some surprises you do not want. The extreme opposite of entering a darkened room to discover it filled with expectant people ready to shower you with love, my friend returned to her car after a fun night out to find someone had broken the window and made off with her valuables. Invasion. Destruction. Hassle on so many levels.

We cancelled a long-planned get-together for the next day, which we made up last night. With a grimace, she showed me her car window. I had a Sharpie. I asked for permission…

…and I drew little hearts all around the window tape. Maybe it seems silly, but I wanted to do something to help redeem the wrong. The broken window reminded her of disaster, one she has to deal with, but I know her heart sinks each time she sees it. My hope was that my little hearts would remind her that she is not alone. That she is loved. That she can choose to respond with grace and love.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. —1 Corinthians 13:6-7

They Made It

Two weeks ago today my Guy, Son (C21), and Brother-in-Law (BIL) returned from their adventure in Tanzania, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and enjoying a safari through the Ngorongoro Crater.

They made it to the summit, 19,341 feet above sea level. It took six and a half days up and a day and a half down.

Guy said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done, physically and mentally. The key word is polepole, Swahili for slowly. You go up slowly, one foot in front of the other, allowing your body time to acclimate. Guy said he never felt the physical exertion one experiences on a typical hike, where you move quickly to cover mileage and get to your goal. This hike wasn’t about the sweat. It was all about reaching the summit.

Their group of 12 hikers had 49 porters, carrying not only their backpacks but also sleeping and dining tents, tables and chairs, food and cooking supplies, and a port-a-potty (pity the guy who carried that). As they got closer to the summit and met up with other groups ascending along different trails, camp held as many as 500 people. Apparently, this hike is more popular than most of us reckon.

Summit day begins at midnight and hikers climb through the dark to reach the top at dawn. While hiking in the dark seems counter intuitive, apparently reasons include limiting the time spent at extreme altitude, the incredible dawn view from such a great height, and the possibility of storms at the peak later in the day.

By far the most difficult leg of the trip, Guy said it required more mental than physical strength. He stumbled several times. He had hot tea and caffeinated snacks and forced himself to sip or nibble every few steps. Fatigue and altitude working in tandem to shut down his brain, he wasn’t sure he’d make it. Yet he did. Their whole team made it to the summit.

And then, the best souvenir beyond achievement itself: group pictures at the summit.

After all the hard work, the remainder of the trip makes for a satisfying reward.

They trained for and achieved a personal high. They shared the experience with family and made new friends. They’ve experienced a part of the world they’d never seen before. They returned with greater self-confidence and a richer sense of what it means to be alive. Their lives have changed. Guy is ready to go back. C21 think he’s done with Kili, but talks about what else he might do.

Those of us who stayed behind feel solidly convinced that the only part of this adventure we’d choose would be the safari. However, we’re having conversations about what might be next. Challenged by their achievements, I have my own goals, physical, mental, professional. Guy and Q15 may take on a Scouting high adventure trek this summer. We all may take on shared endurance efforts of some sort.

We inhabit a great, big, wide world. Let’s explore!

Creative Collaboration

One of the great joys of my professional life over the last many years has been my ongoing partnership with my friend Nancy, aka The Creative Resource. I write/edit words and she makes them pretty. I hatch ideas and she makes them real and, in most cases, even better than I imagined. She is a fabulous photographer, graphic designer, artist, hand lettering extraordinaire; she is also a woman of deep faith with a kind heart of gold. And she loves dogs and coffee, which makes her an all-around terrific friend.

We have both moved on from our side-by-side week-in-and-out roles; in fact, she moved more than an hour away. But that didn’t stop us from continuing our collaboration.

Last year we created a set of devotional cards—her hand lettering art on one side with a Bible verse and a prayer written by me on the reverse. We sold them at our church craft fair and book shop to great response. People appreciated them as attractive countertop reminders to pause in each day and remember what’s important. They also make great stocking stuffers.

So we decided to produce another set: To Do Cards take two.

This set is so fun (if I do say so myself)… Each card features two words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Nancy did a beautiful job hand lettering them in on-trend black and white, an classy fit with any decor. Though they are currently arranged in the order they appear in Mark’s Gospel, you can use them in any order as they strike a note in your heart. They are numbered but not dated, though if you start with Day 1 on December 1 (this Sunday! How in the world did we get to December already?), you’ll begin the month—and Advent—by making preparations and end on Christmas Day by asking Jesus to stay with you, an Advent calendar of sorts designed to fill your heart with love rather than your mouth with chocolate.

To Do Cards take two are available to you as a FREE download. All you have to do is give us your email. We promise not to spam you; we’ll email you just a few times a year about other inspirational creative projects we’ve cooked up. Please feel free to share this post so others can get in on the fun as well.

Merry Christmas already!

What Thumper’s Father Said

In the classic Disney movie, Bambi, Thumper comments on Bambi’s clumsy first steps, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?”

Thumper’s mother jumps in: “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”

A chastened Thumper—and a chastened me, when my mom reminded me of this scene throughout my childhood—quotes:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Good advice, wisdom I passed down to my own kids.

Except sometimes life isn’t all that nice, and on those occasions you may have an obligation to call it as you see it: messy, ugly, unjust. Which might mean saying some not nice things. Important things, on important issues, things that need to be said.

Still, for the most part, I try to be mindful of the words bouncing around in my brain before they fall tripping off my tongue. When I practice speaking compassionate words to myself, I feel better. When I give others the benefit of the doubt, when I hold them in my mind with compassion rather than smacking them down with all the words I might feel like saying, I’m happier still.

I recently read about a study where two groups of college students were sent out individually to wander around campus. One group received instructions to notice physical traits of people they passed; the other group was told to silently offer people a blessing, something like, “May you be happy and well.” At the end of 20 minutes, the group that offered blessings felt noticeably happier than they had at the beginning and happier than their counterparts who focused on appearances.

As Jesus reminds us, our words originate in the heart. The words I speak reflect whatever I’m mulling over, the thoughts and feelings I allow, or better yet cultivate, internally. So choosing to meditate on nice words, kindness and compassion for myself and others, should result in nice words.

Our Thanksgiving week will be a quiet one. We’re staying put since we just returned from NYC and the guys have another big trip coming up in January. I am conscious, however, of those who will be traveling and interacting with others—from harried staff and travelers in airports, railway stations, and interstates, to extended family and neighbors, some of whom you’re overjoyed to see and others you’d prefer to have seated out of reach. And I hope it may help to think of Thumper’s father’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

May you be happy and well this Thanksgiving, and all through the holidays!

 

Cover image: Simona Robová from Pixabay