The irony of having hundreds of Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest friends, of course, is one can be immersed in a sea of thousands and still feel very much alone.
The same goes for the holiday season. We can be strung with lights and ablaze in Christmas carols, but some Silent Nights are spent grieving what we’ve lost, who is no longer with us, or who has not arrived yet.
May we all, like in Marie Osborne’s words below, find the gifts in the loneliness.
Loneliness can be extremely motivating. It can exterminate fear, pride, and embarrassment, as we search for community.
When I moved to Los Angeles, my loneliness motivated great openness with a coworker. One day over lunch, I spilled my guts. Fearlessly I went out on that limb, baring my soul. The result: I found one of the best friends I have ever and will ever have.
My loneliness has also driven me into His presence. The spiritual power of these relational dry spells has forced me to my last resort for companionship, Christ.
Read more of Marie’s post here.
I don’t know how ideas and experiences start to stick together inside of you. How you start to notice reoccurring thoughts, to recognize rising momentum, or to sense yourself begin to lean into some new compulsion to grow.
But my interior world is intense.
It’s a fiery, electric sort of atmosphere where beliefs and opinions commute and pass each other and sometimes collide on philosophical highways inside of me.
And while ideas circle at mach speed or get deadlocked in traffic inside, Outer-Me is just trying to figure out where I parked my car or to remember to press start on the dishwasher after loading it. Let alone to try to boil all this stimuli down into some actionable responses.
Nevertheless, I try.
In a recent post called The Middle Ground Ones, I voiced that I need to grow braver.
Which brings me to today, to Part 2: learning to be brave without being stupidly brave. (Because we all know there’s a difference).
The truth is I am already brave in some respects. In person, especially in the context of relationship, I lack no boldness. This is why the Saturday before last over lunch, when I announced to two of my closest friends–Jennie and Bethany–that I need to be more brave, their first reaction was to laugh. Not a mocking laugh, but the gentle laughter of dear friends who have walked alongside you a long time. Who are, in my case, used to such quirky announcements about personal growth. And who are kindly amused by the idea that an already fiercely driven person needs to be more brave.
But it’s true. I do.
I need to be more of the right kind of brave.
Because in some seasons of my public leadership life, I’ve been more walk-out-on-the-skyscraper-ledge brave. I’ve been carelessly or obliviously brave.
I’ve drawn bravery from a more self-centered place; a place that often defaulted to conclusions about how others–people, faith systems, culture–needed to change. A place that lobbied too hard for solutions that fit me and didn’t always take into account the misfit or cost to others.
Over time, in my best moments, I’ve noticed though that bravery is best paired with softer virtues. Like certain food and drink pairings make a meal more poignant, boldness is more easily savored when plated with compassion.
So the challenge is not to be just brave, but to be responsibly brave.
One strategy, of course, when you don’t want to disrespect or dismiss people, is to just not say anything brave at all. But I agree with my friend Tony and others who insist to me that silence, especially in the face of need or injustice, is irresponsible. That neutrality often assists injustice in its work and clears the path for wrong doing.
And this is why I say, then, that I must learn to hold bravery in one hand and humility in another.
Because humility, in addition to being good for the condition of my own heart, also creates a cushion around brave words. For the listener, humility humanizes the speaker, it decreases the sense of threat, it lowers the fear of harm, it beckons benefit of the doubt.
Humility creates a better chance of being able to address hate without perpetuating it. To confront injustice without wielding more of it.
So bravery. Yes. But not without humility.
Humility suggests to me that I am not wise enough to accuse the masses, not dimensioned enough to craft a single or immediate solution that can be worn by every person.
Humility suggests to me that making room for alternate voices, retracting irresponsible statements, or backing up to re-do mistakes are not signs of weakness but of strength.
Humility suggests to me that the best arguments aren’t always the best academically constructed ones, the ones that sequence point after point after point after point that drive some inarguable conclusion. Rather humility suggests the best arguments may sometimes be the ones that are worded thoughtfully enough and with enough consideration for others that that they can actually be heard.
Humility suggests I didn’t win the argument if I polarized you on my way to accept the trophy.
Because I’m not speaking just to hear myself talk or to demonstrate my own intellect. I’m speaking because I sincerely want to engage with others and because I own my own need for ongoing transformation.
Humility suggests that assumptions and condemnation don’t liberate. That the best visions invite a shared preferable future, where the world is not just a good place for me but it rises us to bring goodness to those reading and listening too.
Because help isn’t help unless…it helps…and helps other people as much as it helps me.
Humility suggests we cannot inspire people if we don’t understand them, if we don’t hear them, if we don’t want for all of us at the end to arrive well.
So I am learning to hold bravery in one hand and humility in the other.
But I get it won’t be easy. That on many days, I’ll lean more toward one (bravery?) or the other (humility?). That I won’t get the balance right. And that even when I do find a good balance, my blog posts will still land on an internet of strangers that often feels overrun with land mines where no matter which way you turn it triggers an explosive.
Still I try. I believe in expending energy toward faith, in tying myself to principle best I can, even when I’m not certain it will produce the desired outcome.
Bravery AND humility is no easy task. It’s a call to to wield compassion like a weapon, to wage good with the same commitment we might wage war.
The average person has probably never written an “open letter,” nor have they had to decide how to respond to an open letter written to them.
(If you’re the exception, congratulations on your online famousness.)
But these letters are out there in mass. Just Google “open letter to” and you’ll find plenty of reading to distract you from folding that laundry.
Sometimes they work and the public attention generated by an open letter actually prompts resolution. But sometimes the public correspondence just triggers online wars. The sender and receiver begin trading heated opinions back and forth and allies line up on both sides, resulting in more and more open letters crossing aimlessly across the web. And let’s be honest, all the controversy probably isn’t bad for their blog traffic.
I guess that is why it’s nice to see how one recent “open letter” exchange actually ended well.
Here’s the story. Kari Wagner-Peck, who is the mother of a child with Down syndrome, recently wrote an open letter to Chuck Klosterman at The New York Times, challenging him about using offensive language to reference people with intellectual disabilities.
Today people with cognitive disabilities and their allies are asking members of society to refrain from using the word “retarded” (along with all mutations of the word)… My question to you: Is it ethical to contribute to the denigration of the vulnerable? I am particularly interested because you, Chuck Klosterman, are The Ethicist for the New York Times…
Kari then went on to provide three examples of how Chuck offensively used the word “retarded” over the last 8 years which you can read here if you can stomach some offensive language.
So Kari mails the letter into cyberspace…and waits.
And here’s where the story takes an upturn. Chuck sees the letter and responds and now Kari is applauding his response on her Huffington Post blog.
She calls his response “beautifully simple.”
I have spent the last two days trying to figure out a way to properly address the issue you have raised on your website. I’ve slowly concluded the best way is to be as straightforward as possible: I was wrong. You are right.
Kari goes onto describe how Chuck then issued himself a self-imposed fine of sorts and chose to donate $25,000 to an organization that benefits those with intellectual disabilities.
Not a bad outcome, ay? It not only provided some personal amends, but it also provided a pretty snazzy example of how to gracefully respond to criticism and humbly own up to our own need for growth.
As a human being and as a writer, I hope I can minimize the damage I do with my words. But I hope in the times I fail, I can rise to the occasion like Chuck Klosterman.
And when people respond to my offenses with an olive branch, I hope I can also rise to the occasion like Kari Wagner-Peck.
Well done, people. The internet is better off because you’re part of it.
(Read more about Chuck’s response here.)
I love this photo.
Not because it’s a brilliant candid shot of a protesting factory worker and a riot officer in a standoff. Although it is.
But because, like many moments in life, the backstory is just as poignant.
Take a minute to absorb the emotion on the striker’s face.
We might assume his expression is triggered by heated emotions related to the protest. But it was more than that. This is the moment the protestor recognized that the officer with the baton was his childhood friend.
True story. Long before Jacques Gourmelen took this photo on April 6, 1972 in Saint-Brieuc (France), the worker, Guy Burmieux, and the riot policeman, Jean-Yvon Antignac, had grown up together. The two had gone to high school together. Partied together. One article called them “best friends.” Guy himself is quoted as calling them “inseparable.”
Guy recounted the moment:
“I was part of the core of rebellious workers…We spent the night there, drinking coffee upon coffee. In the morning, the atmosphere was electric. After the police officers, the anti-riot police, it was the officers of the [Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité 13] which emerged suddenly. There I found Jean-Yvon!”
Here’s how the photographer described the scene:
“Burniaux had recognized his old friend and classmate,” The photographer once described the moment, “I saw him go toward his friend and grab him by the collar. He wept with rage and told him, ‘Go ahead and hit me while you’re at it!’ The other one didn’t move a muscle.”
I study the photo more, contextualized by this back story. I see the pain mixed up in human eyes and clenched jaws. And my heart nods along.
I know this tension.
Often it is only those we truly love, who we have come to count on, who can trigger our most intense anger and disappointment.
Those we have loved long and deep often have unique power to hurt us.
But it’s not just the relatability that gets to me. It’s the aftermath of the photo.
After this landmark shot, here’s what happened. The two friends got together and had a drink every Sunday morning at the local pub. The striker, Guy, even later trained the policeman’s son to work in the factory.
That, of course, is why I love the story.
Two closely linked parties had a heated emotional clash. I suspect observers might’ve even suggested they were justified in severing their relationship. But whatever logic informed them, they decided instead to push past it, to keep meeting regularly, and to carry on as friends.
And while I know (and am often told) that such a strategy doesn’t appeal to everyone, I want to notice and collect stories like this one anyways.
Because yeah, I get that sometimes breaking relationship is justified, and I get that sometimes persevering doesn’t pay off.
But I’m making a conscious choice to bank stories like this in my heart.
Maybe someday, there will come a day when I and others (or groups of others) face off. And when that day comes, I don’t know for sure if it will help to dip into my soul’s archives to retrieve some exceptional story like this. A story about how at least once, on some rare occasion, things did work out.
But who knows? Maybe that shred of optimism will be enough to help me rise to possibility. *Maybe* being armed with hope and wielding hope is exactly what nurtures hope sometimes. Maybe on some occasional day, in my own life’s rare moments, I will help stir the exception.
I know it’s only a maybe. But for me, that’s what faith is. It’s the substance of things hoped for. It’s evidence of things unseen. It’s belief in what **may be**.
You can read more about this story here (but you’ll have to use a Google translator because it is in French).
I often first learn about my deepest longings by overhearing what comes out of my own mouth.
(Yes, I’m the picture of self-awareness that way.)
Insert me on a recent phone call with my friend Kary Oberbrunner and his Deeper Path coaching group. The beautiful people on his call are asking me questions about writing and leadership and I am shooting off the cuff or from the hip, whichever is more aimless. Which is when I hear myself say:
And Kary hears it too. And he tweets it.
I sit for a minute looking at my Twitter feed, absorbing how much of me–this stage of me at least–is captured by this one sentence.
I am learning to hold bravery in one hand and humility in the other.
I often feel like I am among those my poetic friend, John Blase, calls the “rest of us” who “walk the wide middle ground of unknowing” between Christian camps on the left and right.
Here I am, the Sleeved-With-Heart Sarah of the Middle Ground Ones …
Unwilling to entrench myself on one side,
To soldier up around the poles,
To engage warfare as if every issue has two clean and neat sides with no space in between.
Unwilling to pledge my allegiance to any party’s allegedly inerrant views about God, rather than trying to cast my allegiance farther, into the mysterious abyss beyond that where I might catch a glimpse of the inerrant God himself stirring in the waters.
The wind blows where it wills, you know, and we hear the sound of it, but we do not know whence it comes or whither it goes.
Here I am, resistant to looking for God through the narrow scope of religious artifacts–old or new, through cylinders carved by defenders of religion looking through a glass, darkly.
Here I am, trying and failing to order my interior world in a way that allows me to notice God in the faces of many; to sense his breath in their spirits; to recognize the rhythm of my muse which might also be in them.
Here I am, trying so desperately to wide-eye the panorama of God in search of everything he is willing to reveal himself to be.
Here I am, trying to hold my tongue when I’m tempted to tell God where or in whom he can show up.
I reach for more bravery with one hand…because…
My journey is valid.
I have lived in the spiritual shadowlands and been unwell.
But by the sort of deep and enduring grace that inspires sweet, old hymns to page, I am not there now.
I have been lured into rays of glittered dust particles at the place where light meets darkness.
I am on my way to whole.
And while my path may not belong to everyone,
It is fair and right to sprinkle breadcrumbs in my wake,
To invite any who are seeking, who are able, or willing to trek after my broken footprints,
To forage some of my same trails for the well-being I have found.
The redemptive threads of my life deserve to be spoken.
Not to raise some sort of imperial fist against those who struggle,
But to offer them an open hand to join their struggling journey to my own.
I reach for bravery with one hand…because…
The world is too marked by evil,
Too fragmented by shame and suffering,
Too overrun with oppression and abuse,
To stand by. Silently.
It must be a sin to spin and spiral one’s white flag through the air while casualties fall at your feet.
I reach for more bravery with one hand…because…we cannot afford to look at the deficits of our surroundings and be neutral.
I reach for more bravery with one hand…because…
Some beliefs, like those staked in the surprising and delighting Jesus,
who Sermon-on-the-Mounted his way to cultural upturnings,
Some beliefs, like those that honor the sacred worth–the deep-seated value of all the religiously-and-politically-and-otherwise-”othered” people,
Who clench their eyes shut while clinging to the coattails of the blind,
Who frantically polish the outside of institutional cups,
Who refuse to dance when the soft, breathy tones of the flute are playing,
Yes, some beliefs, these beliefs,
Are worthy of the spending–yes, even the laying down–of life.
They are worthy of being misunderstood and misperceived.
Being judged or discarded.
Worthy of walking directly into opposition,
And looking boldly into a critic’s eyes,
They are worth the unclenching of my pride.
Worth growing the way I communicate.
Worth dying to my need-to-be-right-ness.
Worth taking up cross in all the ways that first demand change of me without ever requiring wood or nails.
Perhaps, for some of us, these beliefs are worth nomad-ing between peoples, tenting in the middle ground, and having no permanent place to lay one’s head.
Of anchoring our boats to those on both poles.
And refusing to pull up the chains that loose us from either side.
I hear the drum-beating call to bravery in the words of Jesus and in the voice of my friends and it echoes deep within my heart.
And so I again reach for bravery with one hand…
But I reach for humility with the other,
Because the bravery I once knew well was often as reckless as it was right.
And it was not sistered to humility–to the virtues that magnetically draw and retract courage in service to compassion.
(More on this humility I reach for later this week.)
In 1983, a member of the KKK listened as black musician Daryl Davis performed in an all-white lounge.
The Klansman liked Daryl’s music and remarked that he’d never heard a black man who played as well as Jerry Lee Lewis (a talented white musician).
Daryl told the Klansman that Jerry Lee Lewis was a personal friend. And the truth of it was, this white guy the Klansman was so fond of had learned to play from black blues players.
Even though Daryl had doubts about how wise it was to sit around talking to a Klansman, the conversation lasted late into the night and the two became friends.
That friendship led Davis to begin a lifelong quest to befriend KKK members and, as a result, collect the robes and hoods of Klansmen who choose to leave the organization because of their friendship with him.
I know some people aren’t in a place–personally or circumstantially–where they can risk the vulnerability that Davis does. There have been stages in my life, too, where I needed freedom to honestly work through my anger rather than pressuring myself to sit down at the table with my opponents.
But Daryl’s story has massive appeal for me in this stage of life. It reminds me there is more I can do to raise my voice against injustice.
Sometimes I need to be braver. I need to be willing to more aggressively confront injustice and to try to do so in a way that calls out hate without perpetuating it.
But it also reminds me that a powerful part of our advocacy is who we are.
It’s our patience.
Our self control.
Part of our advocacy spills out in who we’re willing to endure with.
Who we’re willing to stay in conversation with.
Who we’re willing to stretch to love over the great divide of our differences.
There are many valid ways to advocate for justice. One is to fight. Another is to choose to love, even when fighting is justified, so the unjust might one day feel so loved they turn in their hoods.
Let’s collect some hoods.
You can read the rest of the article about Daryl Davis here.
I love you more than my cell phone.
This is true on the days I tuck my phone away and look deep into your eyes as you talk to me. And also true on the days when, between hmmm-ing and yesss-ing, I hear-ya-ing, that I sneak a sideways glance to see whose text message just popped onto my screen.
But perhaps if more people follow this restaurant owner’s lead, in the future, there will be less of these little diversions away from the present-people I love.
Relevant Magazine is reporting that…
One restaurant owner believes that mealtime should be free from distractions like texting and compulsively checking a smart phone. Jawdat Ibrahim is so passionate about restoring an atmosphere that fosters genuine conversations that he’s offering customers a 50% discount on their meal if they turn off their phones when they enter his establishment.
It makes me sad to think that incentivizing unplugging might be part of what helps us, like the generations before us, absorb new technology into our life rhythms without being overtaken.
I appreciate the technology and the options for connectedness it brings. But I also appreciate reminders like this that remind us to let technology supplement our lives, rather than consume them.
I suspect our generation, the one who first adopted smart phones, will have to experiment with usage for some time, but I suspect–like anything–we will find a way to manage it. That smart phones will one day be lack-luster, old-news, and as ordinary as refrigerators or radios.
People nay-sayed about how TV and land-line telephones and radios and electricity would be the fall of civilization too, you know. And somehow citizens of previous eras muddled through.
I think we will too.
Read more about this restaurant here.
Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary, made me laugh this week when she declared, “I’m not much of a hugger.”
Then she recounted her most recent misadventure in hugging.
As soon as I saw my son’s friend’s dad, my arms began to rise like a hungry zombie, “We are going to hug you, Semi-familiar-Dude-in-the-grocery-store!”, and my brain was like, “WHAT IS HAPPENING?!”. So my arms were indicating they wanted a hug but my face was implying that a hug was a really bad idea. That poor guy. I’m just so confusing, with my arms that say “hug” and my face that says “stab”. But it gets worse! Because. My mouth was going non-stop during this terrible, terrible interaction...
As I leaned in, my mouth actually said, out loud, “Oookaaay. Here we go. …We are hugging… Yup. We’re doing this. And a pat on the back. What?!.. Aaannd….DONE. *whew*!!”
That got me thinking about how many times we try to not only offer love, comfort, hope, friendliness and the like, but how many times we might feel obligated to do these things the way other people do.
Maybe your aunt was born in the kitchen and she spent every winter whipping up dozens of specialty, homemade cookies for all the neighbors. The kind that were perfectly gooey. The sort of trophy pieces of every potluck.
But you’ve always been more of the Clearance-Cookies-at-Kroger kind of girl.
Maybe your dad always hand-wrote thoughtful notes into every greeting card. Maybe his words flowed with meaning, and that exact right touch of humor, and people made a big flourish of reading them allowed and locking them away in safe deposit boxes with their other valuables.
But maybe you couldn’t write a similar piece to save your life. Maybe you have chronic writer’s block and you always end up accidentally filling your cards with cheesy phrases and overused cliches. And then you cover them with crossed out scribbles or lame stick figures.
But wouldn’t it be great if we refused to look at doing good as some sort of comparative process? Even secretly, even deep down inside? As if it helping or loving were some sort of competition won by the person who had the best vintage wrapping paper or who assigned the most lasting nicknames or who went on the longest mission trip to the farthest country?
Wouldn’t we do the world so much more good if we each loved and cared in the ways that feel natural to us? In the ways that flow out of our talents and passions?
I can’t help agreeing with Jamie’s conclusion, The world will be a better place when we can all just be who we are, hugger and non-hugger alike.