Division and Unity

Standard

It was the stark division of color that struck me.

As we watched the map turn from neutral to red or blue last night, the analysts’ monologues were all about urban and rural. I flashed back to an article I read earlier in the election season, which talked about rural voters’ support for Trump as a reaction to losing their way of life–not that they think they’re losing it, but that they are. (Well worth reading, but–language alert.)

Watching that sea of red develop in every state they zoomed in upon, with these pockets of blue concentrated around metro areas, was heartbreaking. It underscored the fact that we have lost the willingness, if not the ability, to empathize with the pain of the Other. For quite a while, I’ve been coming down pretty hard on people unwilling to consider or empathize with the problems faced by urban dwellers. In the past year, I’ve heard a lot of rural people refuse to give credence to the protests of those who experience racial injustice, for instance.

But looking at that map last night underscored that I’ve heard big fat crickets from urban people on the topics of concern to rural voters, too. Except guns, of course. Nobody’s allowed to ignore the NRA. But the truth is, we can’t even get a regular acknowledgment in our churches’ weekly prayers of the needs of the farmers who fill our tables. And that’s here in mid-Missouri, where the combines and grain elevators are only a ten-minute drive away. In the major urban centers, where thousands of people have never heard of a combine, let alone seen one, it’s surely worse.

It’s been a horrible election cycle, crowning a decade or two of increasingly horrible election cycles. We can say what we want about the nastiness of the rhetoric in the campaigns, but the rhetoric is at least as bad in our own conversations and social media comments. And when, at 3:30a.m., I knew there would be no more sleeping for me this night, I realized the only thing to do was to pray. Pray that the ascendance of this incredibly divisive new president will act as catalyst for a real change in our country. Not a change of policy at the national level–those will forever wax and wane–but a change of heart for each and every one of us. I pray that this will shock us all into realizing what we have done by refusing to be open to each other–by refusing to recognize the pain of the Other and make it our own.

Then, and only then, will we again be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Related:

Mercy (or the lack of it) on the road to the White House

It’s Not Just What You Say–It’s How You Say It

Walking The Fine Line

Advertisements

Ten Simple Ways To Model Mercy For Your Kids

Standard

cedar-berriesAs the Year of Mercy winds down, I thought I’d bring things down to a practical level. As parents, we have primary responsibility for forming our kids’ view of and approach to the world. Providing a good example alone isn’t enough—we do have to teach—but it’s a darned good start. Here are ten simple ways to model mercy in the mist of your everyday life.

1. Take a deep breath and say a prayer before reacting to whining, breakage, spillage, or fighting. It doesn’t have to be fancy or particularly eloquent. I think the most fervent prayer I ever pray is: “Lord, help!” (I use that one a lot. Ahem.)

2. Measure your words when discussing political candidates, work associates, and others who upset you. For many of us, speech is where mercy disappears first.

3. Lead the way in mending hurts. You may have to send your kid to his room when he’s behaving badly, but go in and offer love—cuddles for little ones, gentle words for older ones—as soon as you’ve calmed down.

4. Banish “It’s okay” from conflict resolution—because if there truly was an offense, then it isn’t okay. Instead, take a deep breath and embrace the difficult words “I forgive you.”

5. Instead of trying to resell your kids’ outgrown clothes (or yours, for that matter), donate them. School nurses always need clothes. So do shelters for abused kids and battered women. There’s also Goodwill, and USAgain bins (for usable clothing) and PlanetAid (for holey socks and threadbare shirts).

6. Keep protein bars, water bottles, or jars of peanut butter and sleeves of crackers in the car so you have something nonperishable to give to the homeless who beg at major intersections.

7. Make a family charity jar. Give your kids the chance to do small chores, and afterward let them put $.25-.50 in the jar. When it’s full, choose a charity as a family.

8. Donate blood. (You don’t even have to take your kids along. Because you know if they see the tape around your arm they’ll ask about it!)

9. Help with funerals in your local community.

10. Offer child care, kid transportation, adult transportation, grocery shopping services, or lawn care to an individual or family facing illness.

Practicing mercy doesn’t have to be dramatic or time-consuming. Small, simple, and realistic beats grand gestures every time.

How do you model mercy in your home?

Mercy Monday small

Related Posts:

Mercy On A Monday

When you are completely blank…

Standard

leaves…you lead with a big congratulations to the Cubs and their devoted fans!

It’s been harder and harder to come up with blog posts lately, because I’m trying to figure out what I have to say that people actually want to hear. It’s become such a block for me that last Thursday, I forgot about blogging altogether until 4:30 in the afternoon, at which point I just had to wince and say I’ve missed my first deadline…ever.

It’s not that I’m not writing–I’m about to finish a first draft of a brand new novel, one that got written in about 5 weeks, as a matter of fact. (It’ll be two or three more major revisions before it’s ready, but getting the skeleton is always the most stressful part for me, and this one actually has some meat on it already, which is a pretty amazing feeling.) I have a magazine article I’m working on, and a column deadline tomorrow, and I wrote the start of three new songs earlier this week.

I’ve been writing a lot, in other words–but all my energy has gone to those, and I’m finding there’s little in real life worth talking about. No, that’s not true. There’s just not very much in real life that anyone will be interested in reading. (A few weeks ago I got to talk to some women in my parish about writing and the creative process. It was such a high: to talk writing to people who actually WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT? Even my husband’s eyes glaze over instantly.)

I am frequently too jazzed up to sleep after choir practice; last night was notable only because it was really hot in the house–78 degrees felt comfortable in shorts and a tank top during the day as long as I didn’t process the fact that it was NOVEMBER THE SECOND, but it was too warm for sleeping, even with the help of a melatonin tablet. And then there were the texts from family members watching the crazy game, and then the storm came up and I had to give my place in the bed to Miss Julianna. The couch was not friendly to me last night. And when I did finally sleep, I was awakened by the sound of the kids’ toilet running and running and running…so I had to get up and fix that. And then I laid awake for what I feared was turning into the rest of the night, trying to figure out what to blog about this morning.

You can see how well that turned out. Ahem.

How about sharing the other fruits of my labor: the fall portraits? They were all on Facebook already, but I haven’t posted them here. Maybe by Monday I’ll have something interesting to say again…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The Problem Of Teaching A Child The Faith

Standard

It’s got to be tough to be the kid who has two musical parents who are extremely involved in their church. He has a set of gifts that are his birthright—a great ear, the ability to pick out tunes in multiple keys and sometimes even harmonize them, plus a blossoming skill on the piano and the ability to sing. But when he hits a certain age, singing becomes uncomfortable.

And as for the rest, well, when your parents are the poster children for liturgical music, is it any wonder you want to stay as far away from that particular brand of involvement as humanly possible? Everyone expects it. What if you aren’t that good at it? And anyway, why should you HAVE to do something just because you CAN and your parents DO?

church-monkey-business

What preteen wouldn’t be proud to be the child of these two? Chomping at the bit to be JUST LIKE THEM? (Don’t answer that.)

I can sympathize.

The problem is, none of that changes the fact that our primary responsibility as parents is to raise holy and happy individuals, and I know by my own experience that the best chance of that is through helping him develop an authentic, real-world faith. But an authentic, real-world faith requires sustenance that comes through community worship. And you only “get out of” community worship what you put into it. In other words, you’ve got to participate.

So when I see my child standing in church, somewhat glazed-eyed, his lips moving, but barely, I get twisted into knots. It’s my job to help him find his way into a mature, healthy faith. But I’ve seen myself how pushing too hard can cause a child to push back and reject what he most needs. On the other hand, if we don’t take a proactive role, he’ll fall away anyway, because people don’t just fall into a mature, healthy faith by accident. They need guidance. Mentoring. Others can and will provide those to him in the years to come, but the fact is the primary responsibility is ours; it’s one we took on when we had him baptized.

I just don’t know how to do it right. Punitive measures are clearly ill-advised. What kid is going to respond to “You may not have the XBox unless I can hear you sing at church” with a healthy faith? Um, nobody.

On the other hand, smiling & cajoling doesn’t work, and anyway, it turns into nagging almost instantly.

I think I need to have a heart to heart with him, involve him in the process, and attempt to awaken the sense of the Other inside him, the “there is, in fact, something bigger than me out there.” But I’m not sure of the right way to do that.

I would like to hear from older parents—those with grown kids who have stuck with the faith and made it their own. What wisdom can you offer to those of us in the trenches?

#Boycottpolitics2016

Standard
2468251960_5acb8fc5b9

Image by twicepix, via Flickr

For weeks, I’ve been debating stepping into the online political fray. I have a lot of opinions, and I’ve been driving around town distilling them into a collection of pithy one-liners that, as a Catholic rather than a Democrat or a Republican, would be certain to offend virtually every single person I know.

Conventional wisdom for writers says “If your professional thing isn’t politics, then shut up about politics. You’ll only shoot yourself in the foot.”

But if we don’t talk about the most important subjects, how can the world ever become a better place?

I began planning my post, and simultaneously praying whether or not I should go forward with it.

On the first day the Spirit reminded me of the importance of quiet.

On the second day, a fiction writing friend told us she was going offline until after the election.

On the third day I read a post, titled “I’m Pro-Life, and I Don’t Care About The Supreme Court“, and made the mistake of continuing on into the comments, where I found multiple examples like this:

“You just want an excuse to continue the racist and genocidal America Holocaust to include partial birth and full birth infanticide and the sale of lucrative murdered baby parts. Give Mrs. Clinton her money back.”

This man signed off with, “God bless, (name),” as if he hadn’t just spewed a mouthful of anything BUT blessing. Worse, he didn’t even seem to recognize the inherent contradiction, or the fact that he was giving the entire prolife movement a bad name.

At the end of Day Three, I got involved in a Facebook conversation preceded by the instructions “be polite and reasonable, please,” in which a particular individual lit into me for what I was saying without even stopping to read it carefully enough to hear what I was, yanno…saying.

And I realized:

It’s time to bow out of this crap.

Since the primary season, I’ve been following, reading, listening, and interacting, and it has done nothing except impoverish my spirit. I am far more anxious; I am constantly grieving the state of humanity. This political season has made it very difficult to cling to my belief in the ability of humanity to approach the world with reason, honesty, good intentions, and empathy.

I still believe that at heart, human beings are good. But we are not showing ourselves to be so this year. Actually, any time politics comes up, the worst parts of ourselves come out to play. But it’s so much worse this year. And it helps nothing, all this vitriol, all this angry, half-thought-out, buy-into-and-regurgitate-whatever-half-truth-mostly-lie-suits-your-political-color. It only hurts our ability to be what we were called to be. It doesn’t just damage the human dignity of the people we’re ripping to shreds. It damages ours, too.

I will vote, of course, although there’s little satisfaction in it this year. But I’m done being a political consumer. Nor will I be adding my collection of pithy one-liners to the fray. It’s bad for me as a human being, and being a good human being is what I am supposed to be doing.

Care to join me? #Boycottpolitics2016

The Courage To Be Still

Standard
sunrise-arms

Image via Pixabay

There are 553 books on my Goodreads “to read” list.

 

I have at least three more flute pieces to write, and I have four novel ideas, one awaiting another major revision, and one that is 3/4 drafted.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, we have two kids out of the house at 6:45 a.m. to get to band; every Wednesday it’s three of them at 7 a.m. for choir; and on Fridays, it’s 6:45 a.m. again for Julianna’s physical therapy. Michael goes to school for three hours in the afternoon, but too many of those hours are chiseled away by appointments and busy work.

All this to say I don’t have time anymore: to scrapbook, to garden, to practice my flute. Sometimes my kids are raiding the clean clothes pile for socks and underwear for almost two weeks before I have time to fold it.

My heart feels frantic. If I opt out of the nasty election news (and there’s plenty of that, isn’t there?), I feel remiss in my duty to be an educated voter and an informed citizen of Planet Earth.. But listening to it undermines my hope in the possibility of a better world. I turn on the radio in the car and I listen and listen and listen as my insides wind tighter and tighter.

And into this smoldering, writhing mass of not-peace drops a headline:

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

I don’t even click through, because I remember reading it before. We need to be still. It’s not just for introverts and aspiring contemplatives. It makes our brains grow, it makes us better people, more cognizant of ourselves and our place in the world. Seeing the headline pop up on my Facebook feed is the road sign from God I didn’t know I was waiting for.

How long has it been since I took time to “come away”? Weeks? Months? I’ve been oh so productive, but I’m feeling disconnected from my life, scrabbling at its messy edges instead of living gut deep.

But the longer I wait to shut down my brain, the harder it is to do so. I get antsy with the quiet in the car. I long to fill it. Nervous with the silence. I play games: I can turn the radio on at the next stoplight. When I turn it on, my addiction to stimulus kicks in and go, “ooh, that’s  niiiiice…” for about three seconds, until I realize they’re arguing about something they have no control over at all. I think, “How is this enriching their lives or mine?”

And so, finally, I grit my teeth and summon the courage to enter the stillness for real.

It takes a full day to relax into the silence in the van. A full day for my brain to figure out what to talk about with my ride-along little man, whose last year of small childhood I’ve been so recklessly squandering with all that productivity and serenity-shredding noise.

3131377968_7029f8daf3

Image by revmrb, via Flickr

And today, I sit at the edge of a creek, watching the leaves fall: twirling like helicopters, tumbling end over end, dive-bombing the limestone or landing noiselessly on the surface of the water, where they embark on an unhurried journey downstream. Watching them drift out of the shadows and into the sunlight and back again, until they catch on a submerged log or get waterlogged and sink to the bottom to become next year’s silt. Watching the play of sunlight on golden trees and the red-brown carpet of fallen leaves on the steep slope across the way. Pausing to write, and then, again, to summon the courage to be still.

We are made for more than this, but we are also made for this.

Carrying The Future

Standard
2350677633_a07ce4cc58

Photo by John Vetterli, via Flickr

I know I’m not saying anything revolutionary here, but the world is really screwed up.

 

I’m also aware that this is nothing unique to this particular era, this particular election cycle. The world has always been a screwed up place.

Maybe this is maturity—spiritual or otherwise—finally allowing me to reserve a piece of my mental and emotional energy for the suffering of someone besides myself. (We can hope, anyway.) One way or the other, I’m finally beginning to understand where the term “bleeding heart” came from, and although it’s been a term of derision my entire life (almost always followed by the dreaded “L” word—”liberal”), I finally recognize it and embrace it, because I see it in the mirror.

As I laid awake tonight, tossing and turning, all too aware of the headache and the sting in my scratched eye, a song kept going round and round my head. It’s a song I heard a concert at a pastoral music conference a number of years ago. It goes, “Please break my heart, O God, with what breaks your heart, O God.”

This is the top of the list of things breaking my heart these days.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My good friend Kelley is doing something amazing in a couple of weeks. She’s going to Greece with an organization called Carry the Future. They provide “baby boxes” that help refugee mothers take care of their children. Mosquito nets, diapers, clothing, blankets, baby carrier, cleaning supplies for Mom, to help her stay healthy so she can safely carry her piece of the future.

And then there’s this telling line on the “baby boxes” page:

“The baby boxes also include a plastic bin and legs to protect and elevate the baby box from hazards at camps such as snakes and flooding.”

Just imagine trying to raise your children in those circumstances. It puts all our fears about kidnappings and head injuries into perspective, doesn’t it?

I’m envious of Kelley for the opportunity to put the works of mercy into action—and I stand in awe of her family’s willingness to shoulder the logistical difficulties associated with the extended absence of its primary caregiver.

My family and I are not that bold, but I can support her efforts, and I can urge those who read this page to donate to Carry The Future, as I am doing today. It should be obvious by now that holing up on our side of the Atlantic cannot protect us from the violence taking place elsewhere. For better and for worse (and it really is both), we are an interconnected world now, and we need to recognize that and start participating in finding solutions. War probably isn’t the answer. Diplomacy might not work, either. But mercy? Mercy just might put a dent in the carnage.

The world is screwed up; our $10 or $20 isn’t going to change that. But as St. Mother Teresa put it: “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.”

**Note: if you do decide to donate, will you comment here, so we can see if a little blog post from one of the least influential bloggers out there can make a difference?

Mercy Monday small