From Genocide to Generosity

Sometimes books about issues halfway around the world have a remarkable ability to speak to us just how we need to hear it. From Genocide to Generosity is a well-written, moving book about the reconciliation efforts happening in post-genocide Rwanda. Author John Steward (who holds a PhD in soil science, of all things) goes on a mission to interview Rwandans, both Tutsi and Hutu, and try to understand how they are able to bear and process through the traumas they endured in 1994. The whole book is full of their powerful stories.

The messages we can gain from the stories and experiences are so important – especially in times like this. I can relate it to my work as a therapist, in my interactions with kids who struggle to verbalize or think about the traumas they have endured, but who need to find ways to cope with what has happened to them.

But I also relate it to issues happening in our ever-more-divided country. The distance between “sides” usually feels like it only grows bigger, and nobody is interested in really listening to the other. How can you have compassion for… them, and the vile things they believe? But as I heard on a podcast today (“We live here” is awesome btw; thanks NPR St. Louis!), racial justice advocate Amy Hunter had compassionate words for people like racists / white nationalists — they are living a broken, fragmented view of the world, and they didn’t choose this for themselves (presumably) but were formed that way from how they grew up. Oh… and Amy herself is African-American. Not afraid to call people out, but also incredibly compassionate about it.

Back to Rwanda. The book weaves tales through the complexities of trauma (especially when it is not only on an individual level, but nation-wide trauma) and the importance of actually facing one’s trauma. And it also takes a close look at some of the steps of reconciliation – how hard it is, how important it is, how complex it is.

I can’t do it justice to summarize the book, so I’ll just say… go and read it yourself!

website for From Genocide to Generosity:

genocide to generosity

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Enneagram, Election-Style

I listened to a great podcast about the Enneagram recently (it’s 2 hours long, but if you’re driving from Chicago to Indy, it really helps the time pass!). Click here: Liturgist Podcast

Then I chatted with my ever-insightful mother about the Enneagram and the presidential candidates, and was inspired to write a post about what Enneagram types I think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are.But I gotta give credit to my momma for helping me think about what they are. Thanks, Mom! ;D

Generally, Hillary is commonly typed as a ONE (Reforming / Perfectionistic), and Donald as a type EIGHT (the Asserter / Controller). I’m going to disagree with both of those. (Daring, I know!). Some other random folks on the internet are in my camp, but I’ll lay out some reasoning.

Punchline first: My hypothesis is that Donald Trump is a THREE, and that Hillary Clinton is an EIGHT.

Let’s start with Mr. Trump since he’s more entertaining. In my opinion, lots of Enneagram people automatically type him as an EIGHT because he’s noisy, belligerent, insistent on his own way, and many people don’t like him. (Unfortunately, poor 8s have gotten a bad rap for being dominating / controlling / forceful people, and lots of people who aren’t 8s, or don’t know 8s, don’t like 8s). Many Enneatypers lump Trump in with 8s without thinking too much about what’s behind an 8.
Luckily, both my mom and my boyfriend are, I suspect, 8w9s, so I have more reason to ponder 8s and think kindly of them.
What is behind an 8’s forcefulness is a need to not be controlled. They want to be independent, and fear being dominated. They secretly are quite tender on the inside, if you can get past the brusque exterior. 8s also often have a passion for justice and tend to root for the underdog.
Mom (who understandably does not want to be associated with Trump) made me recognize that doesn’t seem to be Trump’s motives.

No, what seems to motivate Trump is his image, or how he is perceived by others. This screams THREE on the Enneagram.

THREEs on the Enneagram have a lot of underlying motives related to image (how they are perceived to others) and feelings related to shame. They are generally very successful, accomplished, and driven, doing what others only dream of having the energy for. 3s need to look good to others. Because of this need, they can be charming and popular but can also be shape-shifters, changing their persona to match what the crowd/person they are working with wants to see.
At healthy levels, 3s use their energy and drive for accomplishment for good, and they inspire the rest of us. At unhealthy levels, they can demonstrate psychopathic behavior and narcissistic personality.

You may be putting the puzzle pieces together yourself, but it seems clear to me that what drives Trump is how he appears to others. Whether he’s in real estate, firing people on The Apprentice, or, say, running for president, he’s in it because of what it does for him and what it does for his image. We can imagine the thought process leading up to his run for president. What else is there for me to do? Running a country is something I haven’t done. Imagine how that would make me look!
3s at their unhealthy levels (which I would posit, Trump is at) can be grandiose, narcissistic, exploitative, and might sabotage others to preserve themselves.

I was already thinking he was a 3 when I came across this article that was the clincher for me, called “Donald Trump’s Sad, Lonely Life.” The article speaks of Trump’s lack of an emotional life or any kind of reflection capacities. 3s can become so fixated on doing and achieving that they discount emotions – emotions just get in the way of accomplishing. The article also talks about how the worst thing possible to Trump is the feeling of humiliation – and he strongly judges others when something bad happens to their image.

Enough about Trump. On to Mrs. Clinton.

Many people think of her as a ONE, the reforming, perfectionistic type. I’m not in total disagreement, but I’ve been reading a book about the Clinton marriage (Bill and Hillary: The Marriage, by Christopher Anderson) that has me thinking she is more of an 8. 8s, to remind you, are motivated by a need to not be controlled. They want to leave their mark on the world. They are often decisive, full of common sense but also vision. They fear being hurt, so they often close themselves off emotionally to others.

From an early age, her mother taught her to not show emotion, to always maintain a sense of emotional equilibrium and not let her feathers be ruffled. She intimidated the boys growing up (and in college too). She was really a force to be reckoned with, taking part in so many groups in college and law school that I get tired just thinking about it.
(She also is reminiscent of an achieving 3 in many ways, but I would say her husband embodies that more than her). She practiced law and worked for organizations defending children’s rights – that 8 passion for the vulnerable, the underdog. She was so proud to marry Bill, whom she declared to people even before he was governor of Arkansas, “He’s going to be president someday.” She believed the best way to effect change was to go big – small-time community organizing was not enough for her; politics and law were more effective. Being married to the future president of the U.S. would probably work, too.

The danger of power is that it can become corrupting. When you are willing to bend rules to achieve your own means. “Crooked Hillary” is, I think, not unfounded – I just think Donald is even more crooked and dangerous. In the dualistic world of politics, we have to pick a side or not play. Good luck for the next 4 years, ‘Murica.


Of course, no outsider can ever decisively “type” another person on the Enneagram. These are just my ponderings and my best guesses. Thinking about the Enneagram is my form of mental play. I invite dialogue!

Jihad of Jesus book review


Dave Andrews’ The Jihad of Jesus hooks the reader with a seeming paradox, as he suggests you cannot have neither Jesus without jihad, or jihad without Jesus. If you are open enough to not write him off immediately, you can quickly discover that after Andrews finishes walking us through a very sobering journey of all the terrible violence that Christians and Muslims have done to each other in the name of their religion, he is mostly playing with words and ideas to make this title feasible.

Jihad and Jesus, you say? Many Judeo-Christian Westerners are under the impression that it is inherently violent, a holy war, terrorism, killings in the name of Allah. However, Andrews re-examines the meaning of jihad and gives us another – truer – definition: jihad means “struggle” in Arabic, and has two components, the inner and outer struggle. The inner struggle is the greater jihad, and is the struggle to fulfill one’s religious duties. The outer struggle is the lesser jihad, which is a physical struggle against opponents. Some, but not all, Muslims would interpret this as “holy war,” but Andrews takes care to emphasize that there are nonviolent ways to interpret both the lesser and greater jihads.

Ah. Well, with this new definition of jihad, you can probably guess how the rest of the book goes, and if you are willing to go with this definition (as I and probably a good number of you readers are), Andrews is preaching to the interfaith choir.

I am tempted to sum up the rest of the premise of this book with two quick sentences. First, he asks if the construction of these religions is not just an excuse for the terrible violence, but the actual cause of it, a question he daringly answers with yes. Gasp! How can you say that? Well, like his reconstruction of jihad, he defines two “constructions” of religion, the word around which that first sentence pivots. My second summary sentence: One must distinguish between “closed-set” religion, which is boundaried, black-white, insiders-outsiders, right-wrong, and “open-set” religion, which is (as you could guess) open to all, seeking the heart of God and encouraging others to do so as well, instead of defining itself by rules, beliefs, and dogma.

With this wordplay, with new definitions for ideas we had preconceived notions of, jihad and Jesus can fit together much better. Jesus, through his words and actions, took on the struggle (jihad) to fulfill his religious duties, and likewise we need to, or at least can, embody the spirit of Jesus in order to fulfill our own religious duties and quest for nonviolence.

There are other interesting tidbits in this book, including some really fascinating studies about violence and the human capabilities for evil, but the main points of the book are above. I found that Andrews seemed repetitive, which grated on me by the end of the book, but his message is especially important for those not in the interfaith choir… if they are willing to pick up this book and give it some real consideration before throwing it out of their closed-set circle.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

12-25-15, Gethsemani

Full moon rising (3)

There are no words… I just turned around, and there it was. Hullo, moon. 


Now for the things that strain towards words…

12-25-15 ~ Merry Christmas

Today is a good day for hiking. But a year and half ago I hiked this same trail and fled down this hill in tears and terror when the spider webs became too numerous to avoid any longer. I felt ashamed then, my stepbrother’s voice ringing in my head, instructing my ten-year-old self to touch a fish. “Don’t be afraid; it’s part of God’s creation!” I couldn’t do it and felt so bad I was letting God down. I’m so sorry, God. I love your creation, just not with the all the critters.
Today I am not afraid. It is winter and the spiders and snakes are all gone. I am happy and at peace, yet I worry that my inner peace is only present because my outer circumstances have changed. But, I am out here on a rainy morning that floods streams and turns paths to mud, and some people would be afraid of that. And I am not.
I have to believe that each little revolution we make, each turn around the sun, also moves us forward.

Come on now, wouldn’t you be afraid of spiders if you knew ones like that might be hanging around? (Spider from Aug 2014; Muddy hill from Dec 2015)


I want to experience freedom, so I give myself three hours to get lost in the woods on Christmas morning. No one else is out here and I commune with wet leaves, dripping rain, fallen logs. I make it to a marked destination and turn off the path, wondering where I might go. I imagine I am making a very large counter-clockwise loop, and walk for a long time. Two deer bound across my path; Hello, friends! It smells like horse. Is that what deer smell like? I start to think I will never emerge from the woods – at least not in time for lunch – when I see an open field. It might be familiar. Not that way, this way, Spirit urges me. I comply and ascend a small hill. I laugh in surprise to find I am on the other side of a lake I was at two hours ago. It seems I wandered clockwise to get here. What do I know, anyway? Spirit led me home, and all I had to do was follow. It is like learning to listen to the true I, not the ego-self but the one who always is present and guiding if only we can drop our other pretenses. Spirit lead me home. Home is right here.

Curious about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Me too.

What follows is a blog post / book review I’ve written for Speakeasy, a cool book review group that I recently joined. I’ve been curious about Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a long time so I jumped at the chance to review a biography about him, called Strange Glory, by Charles Marsh. It was a great read! If you don’t have time for the book, try the blog post. 🙂

Strange Glory cover

Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As almost a total newcomer to Bonhoeffer, knowing little more than a few of his book titles and that he was part of an assassination attempt for Hitler, I was hoping that Strange Glory would help elucidate this famous yet mysterious theologian’s life for me. The book more than delivered. Marsh did an incredible amount of research – the notes and index take up 1/5 of the volume of the book! It seems that no piece of material was left uncovered, as Marsh begins with Bonhoeffer’s childhood, spent in idyllic German countrysides, and ends with his tragic early death in the Flossenburg concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer is not presented in a shallow idealized way; Marsh is straightforward and thorough in his presentation. He is known for his books like Cost of Discipleship and his Letters from Prison, but Marsh also introduces us to the lesser-known sides of Bonhoeffer. He enjoyed the finer things in life and seemed to have a measure of entitlement to such things. I found it humorous he would still mail his laundry home for his mother to wash when he was well into his adult years (296)! He believed in the importance of play, relaxation, and leisure, and was a great lover of music. However, he didn’t shelter himself from the world; he seemed to enjoy learning about other cultures, even traveling to America and experiencing black Southern churches and adventuring down to Mexico. Marsh wryly notes, “as usual, he attributed to his [American / Mexican] escape high-minded purpose” (127), that is, to engage in some ethnographic study and learn about the churches.

Bonhoeffer’s commitment to truth and learning (especially while enjoying oneself along the way) is a repeated theme in his life. He gained his doctorate early on and dialogued with famous theologians of his day, including the older Karl Barth, whom he considered his intellectual equal. This sort of confidence in himself and his thinking also seems to characterize Bonhoeffer. It is likely this trait that gave him the insight to see what was really going on with the state-enforced German church, where Hitler eventually replaced Christ, and to be a founding member of what came to be known as the Confessing Church. Interestingly, Bonhoeffer originally supported the connection between religion and Germanic pride, even promoting war and killing as appropriate for a nationalistic Christian. However, he became a committed pacifist in 1934, stating strongly that “any military service except in the ambulance corps, and any preparation for war, is forbidden” (214). He was also outspoken against the Nazi religion, able to see what disastrous consequences awaited far before many of his peers and fellow citizens.

The relationship between Bonhoeffer and his once-student, Eberhard Bethge, is well-documented but not overdramatized. Bonhoeffer and Bethge shared a special bond, even owning a joint bank account and sending Christmas letters signed together. We see from Bethge that Bonhoeffer was not always easy to be with, and in fact had an explosive temper that may have only been witnessed by Bethge. Bonhoeffer’s emotional devotion to Bethge was quite profound, and perhaps it was the passion of those emotions that carried him through many dark days that lay waiting in his future.

Learning all kinds of facets of Bonhoeffer’s life engenders an even deeper appreciation of his war- and Nazi-resistance efforts. He is not a saint or someone endowed with special abilities to suffer; Marsh creates a very human portrait of a man who had incredible courage to stand for what was right – and wrestle with the ethical dimensions of how to best do that – in a time of terror. The end of the book becomes increasingly somber as Bonhoeffer continues his resistance efforts as a double agent, is put into prison, and is eventually murdered in a concentration camp.

Something I particularly appreciated about this book was witnessing the descent of Germany into rule by Hitler. A peculiar collective consciousness takes over when nation’s fall into thinking that seems so absurd (and tragic) as an outsider, but this has incredibly important lessons for us today and with our American political climate. We can’t assume that this will never happen to us, because this thinking can be so insidious that logic, rationality, and human decency get thrown out the window in exchange for a frightening sort of group-think. Marsh does an excellent job outlining not just Bonhoeffer’s life, but the political and theological climate he was a part of.

If I have one complaint, it would be that Marsh includes seemingly every detail about Bonhoeffer’s life (okay, small exaggeration), so this book is not a quick read, though it is gripping. It helps to have something of a theological background as Marsh takes us through Bonhoeffer’s and others’ theological positions. And hey, if you don’t have the time or interest to make it through the whole book, I hope this review gives you a little taste of what you’re missing!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Extravagant grace

Just when you think the old religious metaphors don’t work for you anymore, they slap you upside the head on a quiet Sunday morning in Quaker meeting.

It’s just the story of the prodigal son, returned home to his father who welcomes him in with a new robe and a feast. The father, full of extravagant grace, never questions a bit of why he was estranged for so long or what in the world he did with his entire inheritance.

It’s just the story of the woman and the alabaster jar, who cracks open a jar of the most expensive perfume and pours it over Jesus’ feet in front of his disciples, seemingly no rhyme or reason for doing so until Jesus explains it.

It’s just the phrase, “God wants to give us extravagant grace.” The word echoes. Extravagant. Extravagant.

The word itself is extravagant, parading itself across the tongue with its arms flung wide open, tangoing its way solo across the stage. Look at me. I’m almost too much to handle!

Extravagant makes me uncomfortable with how out of proportion it seems, how nonsensical, how wasteful; how it throws care to the wind while making decisions; how it lives in the moment, in the right-now, not a care for judgment of the past or future.

Nothing was extravagant in my family growing up. We are serious, German folk; hardworking, penny-pinchers, you-get-what-you-deserve type of people. We are individualistic; we emphasize justice more than mercy. As children, we got water and a burger at Burger King going out to eat. French fries were extravagant. You don’t get things for free; you work for what you get.

It seems ironic that it was a German, Martin Luther, who helped turn the wheel of religious history toward a period where grace was no longer supposed to be earned, worked for, or paid for, but was God’s free gift to give out. Maybe my German side needs to reach far, far back to tap back into this notion of an unmerited free gift, and apply it not just to God’s love and grace for us and our wrongdoings (which can remain in the realm of the intellectual), but to all of life (which must somehow be lived, embodied, experienced). How do I experience extravagant grace in my real life?

It is very difficult to leave my anti-extravagant mindset once it has been ingrained into me. On my conscious level, I am trying to change my beliefs about humanity, about worth, about what life is all about. Consciously, I believe that every life has value, regardless of what it can contribute. Consciously, I believe we are more than human “doings”; I believe we do not have to justify our existence by what we can do or produce. Consciously, I believe that being is enough; that maybe learning how to simply be in this exact moment is everything.

Unconsciously, though, I am still captive to the cultural beliefs I grew up in. I too often measure out love and respect by what I see produced. I work hard and stay busy (or if not legitimately “busy,” at least occupied) because it is the way I know to feel good about myself. I don’t really believe in punishment, but it’s still my first inclination when someone has harmed me or another. I live in a world of proving myself, and I am afraid I judge others by what they can prove, as well.

But while this has been a secure place for me to reside in for much of my life, it does not provide ultimate satisfaction. It does not truly allow me to love: neither myself nor other people. I can say I believe in forgiveness, but until I experience the letting-go of the need to prove and diving in to all that is unmerited, I don’t think I really know forgiveness.

So like I heard a friend express recently, there are phrases and concepts in Christianity that continue to draw me in, even as I push other aspects away. Extravagant grace is a cup of water in a desert, giving me life, challenging me to walk just another mile and trust that more water might be waiting at the end. It feeds my thirsty soul and my inherent need to know that there might be more to all of this than what I can see. That there is more meaning to life than the purpose given by my cultural conditioning. I am challenged to embody just a little bit of extravagant grace, even when it feels impossible and nonsensical and maybe even risky.

cup runneth over

I’m tired of living in my merit-based world. I want to step into a world of extravagant grace, even when I am afraid to do so. And I might not know how to live this way, but I want to learn along the way.

Is anybody with me?

Enneagram Type 1 and Atonement Theory

Welcome back to my stalled series on the Enneagram and religious denominations! I wrote a post some 10 months ago about Type 9 and Quakers, which you can take a look at here. That link also offers a “crash course” on all the Enneagram types, if you are not familiar with them. Today, however, we’re going to look at Type One and the great gifts and burdens they carry with them in the religious world. Because Christianity is the context out of which I come, I will look at Ones and Christianity in particular.


Type 1: The “Reformer.” Need to be perfect, right, morally upstanding, self-controlled; can be moralizing and want to impose their superego’s standards on others. However, these needs drive them to be reformers, striving for justice and what is right, with a sense of mission to improve the world.

In Ennea-speak, their root passion is Anger, and their ego-fixation is Resentment. What does that mean in, you know, normal people language? Essentially, Ones have a deep sense that once upon a time, things were perfect. You can think of the Garden of Eden, for instance. But things are messed up now, and everything is not perfect. Because of their deeply ingrained awareness that this is not how it should be, along with their belief that they DO know how things should be, they end up getting angry. However: to actually BE angry is rather intolerable to Ones, as they are known for their self-control. So the anger is repressed and instead bubbles under the surface, and it’s not hard for that bubbling anger to turn into resentment.

Now, for my caveat: I am going to describe a certain set of beliefs within Christianity that to me, seem fitting to the beliefs and needs of the One. I am certainly not trying to say that all Ones believe this, nor that all who believe this are Ones. And in truth, we all have a little bit of every Enneagram number in us. So take what you find helpful, and argue with me about the rest! 🙂

The Christian tradition that I was raised in was big on atonement theory. (There are many sub-theories of this, but I will use the following as my working definition). Essentially, I learned about original sin, the idea that we are all inherently corrupt and sinful (at least since Adam and Eve ate that fruit). Now, we still can’t get away from it, and the only solution is to have God come down and pay the penalty for our sins through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Atonement simply refers to Jesus’s substitutionary death on the cross, offering his perfect life in exchange for the lives of all of us sinners, thereby satisfying God’s need for justice.

(If you want to get a bit nerdy, here’s a chart on various atonement theories… in this example, I am thinking of the emphasis in the Crucifixion illustrated below)


It’s a belief system that seems to be created for these Ones… or was it the Ones who really molded this particular tradition?? In a One worldview, justice, righteousness, and fairness are key words. The need for perfection is important. God is perfect. God is righteous. God is just. In many people’s eyes, God cannot just forgive a sinner with no exchange being made. I think the One strives so hard for perfection because they are deeply aware that they are never quite perfect enough. They, more than the rest of us, bear in mind that there is always more to be done, always more perfection to be had. Hence: the need for a perfect moral sacrifice to come and rescue us all — especially Ones and their abiding need to be perfect — from the ever-present threat of being not perfect enough. 

Not all Ones are legalistic, of course, but Ones can make really great legalistic Christians. They have a knack for self-discipline and control, and they thrive on the sense of mission and self-sacrifice for the sake of a higher calling. Which leads me to the other side of the One, the activist / moral duty side. I love this quote from the Enneagram Institute website:

Ones often persuade themselves that they are “head” types, rationalists who proceed only on logic and objective truth. But, the real picture is somewhat different: Ones are actually activists who are searching for an acceptable rationale for what they feel they must do.

Religion can provide a useful rationale for doing what they feel they must do, whether you are conservative or liberal, Christian or not. You can be a One and advocate passionately for either side: pro-life, pro-choice; gay rights, “traditional” family; anti-war, protecting people in other countries through military intervention. The One is driven by a feeling that they must do something, that they must help bring the world back to a place of righteousness. As we know, religious people of all stripes can find religious rationales for what they do.

Imagine with me for a moment the church-as-a-collective (or a part of it) as a One, striving for perfection, afraid of their imperfections, angry and resentful that things are not perfect. There is a deep thirst for a Redeemer to come and make things perfect. For this branch of Christianity, it would naturally be an essential part of the narrative to have a story that involves a central role of sin and grace. Ones know deep in their being that they are sinful, and they need more than anything to be told that they are okay. 


 Meet Mr. Martin Luther!

martin luther

I have heard (from Richard Rohr, in The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective) that Martin Luther is a classic example of a One. Martin Luther was a monk who wrestled over and over with this need to be perfect and righteous, never feeling worthy to stand before God. He knew what he had to do to keep the law of God, yet he always failed. One night, on his conversion experience, he realized that righteousness was a free gift given by God. Martin Luther was only released from his curse of perfectionism and quest for his own righteousness by the realization that there was nothing he could do to truly be perfect. Likewise with our Ones. They can only be released from burden of never feeling okay, never feeling good enough, by realizing that it is okay, that they don’t have to strive anymore, that their imperfections are enough for God’s love.

Paul and Jesus Paul and Jesus, having a heart-to-heart…

Paul, the writer of a good chunk of the New Testament, could also be characterized as a One (see here for a fun chart). Paul is a you-love-him-or-you-hate-him kind of guy, aggravating many with what sounds like arrogant speech to our modern ears, yet inspiring many with his poetic and passionate speech about grace and freedom. Pre-conversion, he was a Pharisee, a stickler for the law, and seemingly quite obsessed with perfection and legalistic details. Then, according to his story, he had a transforming moment with the Risen Christ that turned his whole life around. This Reformer, perfection-seeking One suddenly understood grace, that there was nothing he could possibly do to earn the love of God. The reforming One was redeemed.

To understand grace, freedom, and perfection in not being perfect releases Ones from anger and from resentment. When they can come to a place of peace and acceptance about things being the way they are, they find Holy Perfection.


Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Areas of disagreement? I’d love to hear it!

homelessness, political action, and prayer

This morning, I just wrote emails to about 25 council members on Indy’s city council to ask them to support Prop 291 and 41. The proposals are intended to help protect the rights of homeless individuals. You might think of it as a parallel to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — even if they are “supposed” to have the same rights, sometimes they need special protection to ACTUALLY be protected. The proposals are also supposed to provide support / wraparound services when they are moved from encampments (generally due to private business owners wanted to build and make some $$$).

I was doing this sort of hurriedly, copy-paste-copy-paste and change a name, trying to get through the list. Then I thought of what I was doing, and all the people behind this. Afterward, I slowed back down and went to the list of email addresses, reading each of their names and trying to spend just a moment on them.

This was harder than copy-paste-copy-paste.

And I thought of how we’re each just trying to do our best, and our firmly held political beliefs are held for a reason. I tried to be compassionate even for the people who don’t think like me (who could be anyone or no one, as I do change my mind often!). And I admit I wanted to rush through this, too.

I wondered which was more important: taking the action or taking the moment to pause, to hover mentally, maybe even prayerfully, over each name. I wondered if the question mattered.

My wish is for the best possible thing to happen, though I don’t know how it may come about. And it’s heartbreaking that people freeze and die in the meantime, and it is perplexing why it is that way, and I hope that I will do my part. I hope we will all do our parts.


more than just a sack lunch

With an almost wholly free day ahead of us to spend in Boulder, Colorado, my partner and I decided to try and make it something of a holy day, as well. The ground was covered in snow and the temperature was hovering around zero degrees, so worshiping in the great outdoors was not a very pleasant option. He suggested we put together some sack lunches to hand out to our homeless brothers and sisters, and I readily agreed.

This is not a post to make us sound like saints, though. I’ve written before about the some of my feelings on encountering the homeless (“street corner”). It is easy to feel like “what will this matter,” wondering how this little drop in the bucket will help them. I admit that I far too often use that as an excuse for inaction. Being able to do something on this bone-chilling day helps me feel better, and can maybe atone just a bit for all those times when I’ve done nothing.

So on this day, we’ve just visited friends in their cozy house and enjoyed a hot lunch that we were privileged to pay for ourselves. We hand off a lunch sack to someone who hurries into a gas station to warm up for a minute and hopefully find a restroom he can use.

We drive through town in our heated minivan full of all the things we need for a few days. Stepping out of the car, we tromp through the snow to find a man who holds most of his possessions in a large backpack. “Hope you can stay safe out here, it’s awfully cold out,” I wish him, wondering how he makes it out here and if I shouldn’t just offer him a ride around town in the heated car instead.

Later, walking down the street for a few blocks looking for a couple more people, we start to feel just how cold it is. The cold is penetrating my clothing and my toes hurt. My nostrils are freezing and my lips are starting to numb up. I think my brain would start to numb up soon, too, if I stayed out here for much longer. I am torn between finding shelter for myself and walking just a little bit further, because even if we don’t find someone, I can understand at least a little better how it feels to stand out on street corners for hours on end. I wish that by my tasting just the tiniest portion of their suffering, it might relieve their suffering a little bit.

And in the end, I wonder if the answer lies in understanding each other’s suffering and not being afraid to connect with each other despite that. I spend too much of my time closing my eyes, seeing yet not doing. A part of my soul hurts for people while I feel helpless — or simply choose not– to act. When I do nothing, I do not suffer. I go on to my next meal, my next warm place to rest or be entertained (or do some homework). I can forget about my suffering brothers and sisters until I drive past them next time… right?

What if it were not so easy? What if their suffering was truly my suffering? And moreover, what if by connecting with them for even just a moment, I was helping to heal a teeny-tiny place of brokenness in the fabric of humanity?

Because more than the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was the moment of human connection. The moment of implicit “Hey, I noticed you,” and even, “Hey, I was hoping to come across you so I made this ahead of time for you.” The brief exchange of conversation. The “Happy New Year” well-wishes. An exchange so surprisingly average for people in two very different places of life, but who share a common human bond.

I’m glad I got to do something today, but I still worry for people who have to find a way to survive in sub-zero temperatures tonight. I’m grateful for places like Boulder Bridge House that helps people during the day with meals and links for jobs, and for the Boulder Shelter that operates in winter months for overnight housing, and for Attention Homes that reaches out especially to homeless and at-risk teenagers. All these places have volunteering opportunities, if you’re interested and in the Boulder area.

I want to be able to keep my eyes open, to keep my heart soft. I want to be able to take action even when it is uncomfortable, when I am unprepared. I want to risk, but I am afraid. “Follow me,” Jesus told his disciples, and they dropped everything to follow after a vagabond rabbi. A homeless prophet, one might say.

How will I respond to a call to serve? How will I respond to a chance to stitch back together our broken human fabric?

a whole different world: stereotypes and not judging

I’ve recently had the opportunity to facilitate small groups at a local college and meet some people I probably wouldn’t have ever met otherwise. Because I am working on my degree in counseling, I have been vested with the authority of “counselor” there and, even for just 20 minutes, I am entrusted with people’s lives and stories. They have shared with me some experiences that feel worlds apart from my own.

One such time was last week, meeting with a young black man who lives in what is known as a dangerous neighborhood near where I facilitate the groups. We are so different. Yet he somehow felt comfortable sharing his experiences and some of his feelings with me. That fact alone amazed me. I was worried he wouldn’t trust me or would think it ridiculous that his program director suggested he talk to me. But he opened up right away. Given what he shared with me, it would be so easy for a person from my background to judge him. I did my best to just hear him in his story and see him as the person he is.

While we spoke, I had to focus so hard to understand him, as our dialects are so different. Sometimes it felt like he was speaking a language I only partially knew. I wonder if he ever feels the same about me, or if he had to learn “my” language at some point? He also used vocabulary I wasn’t altogether comfortable with, including the “n” word. I wonder what that means to him?

He spoke of baby mamas and the kids he already has and another on the way, different women for these kids, spoke of wanting more kids but especially a boy. Spoke of his intense desire to stay in these kids’ lives, of his efforts to continue to communicate with the mom. I thought of how easy it would be for me to judge him for impregnating all these girls and not staying with them. Of what this looks like to me, an outsider. But if I’m really trying to understand him, I can’t at the same time be judging him. If I’m really trying to hear him, I can’t have my mind be distracted by thoughts of criticism, of how he should change, of how he should become more like me and hold my values. I don’t know how the moms feel, how their families feel, how the kids feel. I don’t really understand why this is a source of pride for him, to have these kids scattered about, because that’s not really part of my culture. But he wants these kids. He wants to be in their lives. That’s something worth encouraging.

He spoke of a “package” he had to pick up after this. I wondered if that was simple code for drugs. I wondered if it was naive to not simply assume that. I am naive. I’ve never used drugs; I don’t think I’ve even seen drugs of the illegal variety [well, illegal except in Colorado]. (yep, all street cred I ever possibly had just flew out the window). But that’s my background. I don’t know for sure what the package was. If it was drugs, I don’t know if he’s a user or just a dealer. I am aware, however, of how much more lucrative it can be for people to make a living selling drugs like that than working a “normal” job. I’m also aware of racism and school-to-prison pipelines and how crack (a “black person” drug) is punished so much more harshly than the more expensive cocaine (a “white person” drug). I’m aware of the generational effect of poverty, of assuming that this is what life has in store for you because it’s what is in store for everyone around you, of the difficulties of getting ahead for people in such poor urban areas. I wonder, regardless of what’s in the package, if he’s doing the best he can, or at least what he knows to do, given his circumstances.

And through it all, I was aware of being in the presence of just another person. This young man, speaking in ways I had a hard time understanding and about topics so unfamiliar to me: he’s just a person. I felt warmly toward him, knowing that at our roots we share in basic human emotions like fear, anger, sadness, happiness. That we want to love and be loved. That we have dreams of what we might do in our future, which might be realistic and might not be. I was grateful for our 20-minute exchange, for getting a glimpse into a life so very different from mine.

And at the same time, I’m all too aware that it’s only 20 minutes, that it’s far easier to try and assume the best about someone you don’t know very well, than to try and engage in dialogue and really understand each other. My glimpse was just that: a brief and momentary glimpse. Is there a way that our cultures might collide again?

It’s become clear recently that all too many times, when these cultures collide, violence and death can result. We do not know the other. We do not understand the other. We mistrust the other. Apparently, we sometimes think that it is best if the other were to die. Maybe we feel unsafe, maybe we can find a way to “justify” it, but the end result is the same: the Other is dead and we remain. Our feelings of righteousness and and wanting to feel safe have won out over the other person’s right to their own safety and life.

This man does not deserve to die because someone else feels unsafe around him. He has feelings. Kids. A girlfriend. People who care about him. He has a right to life as much as you or I. 

So short, our time together, yet I still think about him. I wonder what it will take for us to accept that others have different ways of life, for us to listen in non-judgment for just a minute, or step over the boundary that separates us and actually engage with someone so different from us. I confess, without this opportunity, I probably wouldn’t have. But I’m grateful I had the chance to meet him. And I pray for myself, and all of us, that we have chances to encounter other worlds and people who are different from us, and take a moment to try and see.