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Author: Amelia Richardson Dress

5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Violence

5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Violence

Here we are again, with another weekend news cycle focused on stories of violence and questions about domestic terrorism. Yesterday, a friend cried, “Are we safe anywhere anymore?” Another said, “How am I supposed to raise children in a world like this?” And several others asked, “What am I supposed to tell my kids?” I’m still pondering the first two questions, which are very hard and hurt the heart, but I have some thoughts about the third. 

Here are five principles I use to guide conversations with kids about violence:

  1. Limit exposure to media stories about acts of violence. The 24 hour TV news cycle and constant access to information online means that we’re bombarded with news of tragedy here and around the world. This can be overwhelming even for adults. “I feel like I’m on edge all the time,” a parent said recently. “I want to be informed but I get anxious every time I turn on the news. Even worse, I find that I’m scared of everyday situations, like going to a movie theater or attending a concert, because of shootings that have happened.”

          Children and teens can have the same reaction. The best way to protect them is by not letting them see news stories about violence. Kids in early elementary school and younger should have very limited access to media coverage. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Restaurants, airports and even stores often have TVs showing 24 hour news shows like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Still, any steps that are taken to reduce exposure are helpful for preventing overload. For tweens and teens, explain the symptoms of media overload and ask them to help you set times when access to phones, TV and computers isn’t allowed. This “unplugged” time is crucial for our brains to process information and our souls to regain balance in uncertain times. 

          2. Find out what your child or teen knows. Even when families take steps to reduce media exposure, kids hear about tragic events from other sources. If you’re concerned about a particular event, start by asking your child what they know about it. For example, “There was some hard news about a shooting in Chicago, did you hear about that?”

          Once you know how much they’ve heard, you can decide how much to share yourself. Trust yourself. You know your child, their maturity level and how much they need to know. Leave plenty of room for them to talk at their own pace. They may not have much to say at first but you’re laying the foundation for them to be able to talk to you in the future.

         3. Put news stories in perspective. As hard as it is to believe sometimes, violence is not the norm. Remind your child (and yourself) that acts of hatred and violence are the exception. That’s why they make the news. As tragic and awful as it is when even one act of violence occurs, we can remember that most people are kind and the world is mostly safe.

         4. Talk about the ways you keep your family safe. Security is a primary need for both children and adults. However, children are dependent on the adults around them to provide that safety. If kids are becoming fearful of violence, help them by explaining the steps that you take to keep them safe and telling them where they can turn to for help if they need it. Show them how you lock the doors each night, how you only take them to safe places and that you only leave them with people you trust. Let them know who the safe people in their lives are. “If you ever feel scared at school, you can tell your teacher.” For older kids and teens, this may also mean identifying a safe neighbor they can turn to. “If you need help and I’m not home, you can always go to the neighbor’s house or call grandma.”  

         5. Provide a spiritual anchor. When I was growing up, my family said the Prayer for Protection and the Lord’s Prayer each night before bed. This practice has stuck with me. Even as an adult, the Prayer for Protection is the prayer I turn to when I’m anxious. Several friends of mine rely on Psalm 23 or another inspiring word of scripture. This is the gift of tradition: it gives us the  words to say when we’re too scared or lonely to say them ourselves. The key is to build in a spiritual practice before it’s needed. In a moment of fear, we need something comforting and  familiar to turn to. The good news is that this is as simple as adding a prayer, reading or spiritual song to your bedtime routine. As you repeat this throughout the years, your children will grow up with a practice that can guide them through life’s hard times.

                            Prayer for Protection:

                            The light of God surrounds us;
                            The love of God enfolds us;
                            The power of God protects us;
                            The presence of God watches over us;
                            Wherever we are, God is!

That One Time, When I Was A Mess

That One Time, When I Was A Mess

The fact that I was at a MOPS meeting was a complete surprise to me.  I drove there and signed myself in, of course, but it was so removed from my normal behavior that it felt of an out-of-body experience.  Even now, that memory is tinged with a hazy yellow, like someone has overlaid the “halcyon days” filter. 

I went because my neighbor invited me.  She seemed nice and fairly normal. I was new to the area and desperate for friends.  Peering through my front windows anxiously waiting for a neighbor to emerge so I could “just happen” to wander outside is a slow way to make friends.  Even so, I wasn’t really expecting much.  “I’ll go for a meeting or two,” I told my husband. My experience of people who were in MOPS was that they were out of my league, with their 5 kids and their memorized scriptures and their adorable crafts.  Clearly, it wasn’t a group I’d join, with my progressive Jesus, my 1 kid and my lack of scrapbooking ability. 

This is not the first time that I have done something out of character in the wake of a move.  Moves throw me off balance.  While some people eagerly welcome the chance to delve deep into a new place, I like my home and my identity to stay intact.  Changing places makes me feel like I don’t belong, which causes me to rush for safety like a moth seeking the light of a flame. 

If you’ve avoided MOPS your whole life, let me tell you that a central part of the meeting experience is “joys and challenges.”  This is the time when everyone writes down a joy and a challenge from their week.  The idea filled me with dread.  Share details from my life with 7 strangers?  Nope.  But of course it’s sort of a “thing” and I couldn’t really get out of doing it.    

“I’m happy that my daughter is settling in well at school.  My challenge is that I’m new to the area and still feeling unsettled.” I said cheerily. Everyone smiled and nodded.

I got by with variations of that theme for the next couple weeks until a crisis hit my extended family. That night at our meeting, without even meaning to, I blurted out the entire story.  Then I cried.  Then I left and felt like an idiot.  The old me would never have shared this kind of info with people I was just meeting.  This new me, the one I was becoming in this place, wasn’t someone I wanted to know.  She was out of control, a complete mess and kind of a downer.

It’s taken me nearly two years to write about this experience because I still don’t like the memory. Good heavens, it was bad enough to live through once; I don’t want to have it widely known that I once broke down in public with strangers. 

Fitness instructors are fond of pointing out that your body only changes when you push past your comfortable limits.  You need to shake things up.  Work harder, work faster or try another sport if you’ve plateaued in your pursuit of the perfect weight.  We need to shatter our myths about ourselves in order to become a deeper version of who we already… Click To Tweet

Maybe the same is true for our souls.  We need to experience change—and the real, messy uncertainty that goes along with it—in order to grow.  We need to shatter our myths about ourselves in order to become a deeper version of who we already are.  We need to discover that the world doesn’t fall apart just because we do. 

I received many gifts from that MOPS group. New friends, professional contacts, interesting workshops and two amazing mentor moms. But what I remember most is that time I fell apart, with near- strangers, and was still invited back. Soul-stretched, imperfect and all wrong–but welcomed anyway.

Why God Doesn’t Care About Your Career

Why God Doesn’t Care About Your Career

It’s back to school time, which means we’re all pumping the children in our life for information about “what they want to do when they grow up.” High schoolers get the worst of this treatment. By junior year, the pressure is on them to know what college they want to attend. To know that, they need to know what they plan to major in. And to know that, they need to know the shape of their entire career path.

It’s a great deal of pressure to place on someone whose frontal lobe isn’t even fully formed yet.

It’s not  even enough that our young people have career plans. Their career plans must also be part of a bigger scheme to “live with purpose,” “make a difference,” or “follow God’s call.”

We mean well, we really do. But somewhere we’ve confused the whole idea of having a job with having a purpose. These are not the same, nor should they be.

I’ve spent a great deal of energy pondering my purpose in life. On any given day, I am likely to be having doubts about what I do and whether it makes a difference. And I spend enough time talking to others to know that I’m not alone in this. We are a restless generation, always feeling like there must be something more.

The spiritually minded among us feel this pressure as through the lens of faith. We are ever-searching for God’s vision in our lives. “Should I take this job? Or does God want me to take that one? And how are we supposed to know?”

It is the knowing that seems to be hardest. We all have visions of disappointing a demanding trail-guide. “I clearly marked the path for you but you ventured off on your own. Your punishment is self-inflicted. You will never find your calling; no matter what you do, you will find yourself yearning for the road not taken.”

This is not God’s way. Story after story attests to this. The God of the Bible is constantly calling God’s people back to the path—even when they’ve strayed horribly, far more horribly than taking the wrong job at the wrong time. Or turning down a service opportunity. Or saying “no” to a church ministry team.

In fact, I’m beginning to think that God is less concerned about any of this than we might think. Not because God doesn’t care about how we do good in the world, but because God cares too much to let it be determined by something as arbitrary as a career choice.

Many years ago, Fredrick Buechner’s now-famous formula for determining the purpose of life crossed my path. “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

This was a balm to my soul. All I have to do is find my passion, plug in the world’s need, and voila. And for a while, it was that easy. Then I realized that the framework breaks down at a certain point. Our passions are going to intersect with the world’s needs in far too many places. We’ll never be able to address them all.

The solution is perhaps surprising. In a world that is ever asking us to narrow down our expertise, I think the answer is to remember that when it comes to purpose, God is a generalist. What do I mean by this? Simply that God cares less about any particular Big Deal Choice than we might think.

God doesn’t deal in grand life plans but in the day-to-day choices of our lives. The question isn’t “how will I live out God’s call tomorrow?” but “how will I live out God’s call today?” Will we treat others in a spirit of grace and love in this moment? Or will we become too preoccupied by grand designs to live as God’s people here and now?

I grow more convinced that our life’s purpose isn’t laid out on a trail from point A to point B, where every big decision brings with it the possibility of venturing off-track. Instead, it is more likely a national park of interweaving paths, all of them leading to great beauty and discovery. Whether we achieve our purpose has less to do with what trail we take and more to do with how we walk it.

Doing a New Thing Again: A Back-to-School Prayer Time for Families

Doing a New Thing Again: A Back-to-School Prayer Time for Families

The idea for this family prayer time comes from several muses. First, I’m doing a blessing of the backpacks this week as kids in our area are heading back to school. Second, I’m always on the lookout for ways to incorporate prayer and Bible reading at home. (To mixed results. Please do not think that this goes perfectly!) Third, Cindy Brandt shared this liturgy from David R. Henson and I was inspired by his reminder that we need to honor both the joys and the difficulties of going back to school.

So I’m offering this up for you to use however you see fit. Say the prayers in your own words. Choose different Bible readings. Ask different questions. There is no right way to pray, be family, or “do church.”

Supplies:

  • Candle, campfire or backyard firepit
  • Bible, if you prefer your own version or want different verses
  • Conversation sticks (below)
  • Ingredients for s’mores

Ahead of time, create conversation sticks. Use popsicle sticks and write one question on each:

  • What are you looking forward to this year?
  • What are you nervous about right now?
  • What were you most proud of last school year?
  • What goals (personal, academic, sports, home) do you have for this year?
  • What would make this year easier for you?
  • What friends are you looking forward to seeing?
  • What have you heard about _____ grade? (fill in with entering grade level)
  • What is your favorite memory from this summer?

c

Begin by lighting a candle or gathering around the fire.

Read Isaiah 65:17-19:

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

Say, “The book of Isaiah is about God’s promise to the Israelites, who were living in exile. They had been conquered and didn’t have a land of their own to live in. God promises them that they will be returned to their land. Even though we don’t live in that time, we still read this passage to remember that God is always working.”

Have each family member (even adults) draw a conversation stick from the jar and share their answer. If needed, remind everyone that all answers are good answers.

Pray:

“God of new beginnings, you know that every new adventure comes with both excitement and fear. Tonight we lift up all of our joy and our anxiety to you. Guide our path this year. Bless us with new friends, joyful learning, kind teachers and wise parents.  And when times get tough, when we’re overwhelmed by tests and homework, our friends are unfriendly or our parents impatient remind us that you are with us. Amen.”

Say, “No matter what happens this year, remember this promise from Romans 8:37-38. ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We can trust that God is with us all as you go back to school this year. Amen.”

Finish with s’mores.

 

The Simple Prayer That Changed My Life

The Simple Prayer That Changed My Life

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam

Even before we learned the alphabet in my seminary Hebrew class, we learned this. 

We wondered aloud what it meant the same way you might taste your way through a dish at a neighborhood potluck. We rolled the words around in our mouths and picked apart the ingredients. Adonai: Lord, a substitute for the unspoken name for God. Someone pulled this from an Amy Grant song. Melek: king. Someone else pulled this from an obscure hymn they knew.

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, king of the universe.” Our professor aided our translation until we arrived at the right one.

And because we’d heard it first in a tantalizing foreign tongue, this sentence registered as equally poetic, its rhythm marching a gentle beat across the room as we repeated the words back to her.

This ritual formed the beginning and end of our class together. We learned to complete the prayer in traditional fashion, offering praise for the many delights of our day. I knew I had learned Hebrew when I began dreaming it and I knew it had changed me when this prayer surfaced equally mysteriously throughout the day.

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, ruler of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth.”

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, ruler of the universe who makes the sun rise in the East.”

“Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, ruler of the universe who sends rain on the just and unjust alike.”

picture of cairn

 

The following summer, I taught the prayer to a group of middle schoolers I took to camp. I printed the Hebrew and English words on large poster board, holding it up in the dewy morning light of our outdoor chapel. It framed our numbered days the same way it had for me a year earlier. I stopped using the prayer after that. This wasn’t a conscious decision, just something that gradually happens, the same way a favorite shirt eventually gets pushed to the back of the closet, loved but largely forgotten.

I was reminded of it recently at a writer’s conference where rabbi and blogger Rebecca Einstein Schorr* mentioned the Jewish practice of saying 100 blessings a day. It’s a practice meant to recognize God’s presence in even the most everyday details.

I haven’t yet worked up to 100 blessings a day. Honestly, I probably average about 3, which I usually squeeze in between waking up and having my first cup of tea, then forget about in the hustle of whatever comes next. I murmur thanks over lunch, if I stop long enough to actually sit. Sometimes I pause when I prepare a lesson for Sunday, or  later when I survey the refrigerator for dinner.

Wednesday, though, I sat at the pool chatting with a friend and watching our kids play and five tumbled out–heartfelt silent thank yous for the sun, for friendship, for healthy kids, for teenage lifeguards, for water that flows abundantly enough that we just play in it.

And just like that, the ordinary suburban life–lugging kids, coolers, swimming suits and sunscreen to the pool became a holy in-breaking of God’s grace.

This, I suppose, is the point. If we parcel out our thank yous, carefully noting them to be sure we’ve reached our quota, we’ll never reach 100. But when we let the the practice guide us, attuning our hearts to the goodness all around, we might just breathe 1000 prayers in one precious, sacred, ordinary moment.

Blessed are you, Oh LORD our God, whose requirements bring light and life.


*A caveat for inconsistent memories: My friend Susan attributes this lesson to Jamie Coats, who is also taught us amazing things and is equally capable of saying it. So many wise, wonderful teachers.

The Weird Power of Blessing: My Struggle with a Strange Tradition

The Weird Power of Blessing: My Struggle with a Strange Tradition

My daughter was four years old the year our church started doing a Blessing of the Bikes. I wrestled her pink and black bike into the back of my silver Toyota Camry, twisting the handlebars and tires into just the right shape until I could slam the trunk closed. My own mountain bike had been recently purchased. It took an equal amount of contortion—and considerably more upper body strength—to load it onto my also-new bike rack.

As I loaded the car, my mind was also working overtime. I wasn’t sure what to think about this whole business of blessing bikes. In the Bible, there are countless examples of people being blessed. Sometimes directly from God, sometimes mediated by a person. In Deuteronomy 28, the people are promised a blessing for obedience:

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

Blessings, here, are a transaction. If you do what God says, you’ll have riches, children and land, as the passage goes on to describe.

In an earlier, passage, the people themselves are given the power to bless and curse:

When the LORD your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.
(Deut. 11:29)

And of course we have the favorite story of Jesus blessing the children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.” (Mark 10:13, also Matt. 19:14 and Luke 18:15)

The examples go on and on but from my rational, modern perspective the whole idea is a little murky.

Blessing from Numbers 6:24-26

In the ancient tradition represented in the Bible, it’s clear that words have power. God speaks and the world is created. The first people are given stewardship over the earth, represented by their command to name the animals. Jesus himself is called the Word made flesh. In that context, blessing (and cursing) make sense. By speaking over something, we are creating a future for it. The words themselves bring our intention alive.

In today’s context, that sounds an awful lot like magic. The right words, said at the right time, make something happen. Abracadabra and all that.

This was why, when my mother-in-law laughingly asked whether the blessing had “worked,” I had no answer. What standard are we supposed to measure these simple words by? Were we now safer as we tooled around the cul de sac? More Christian? Were are bikes now holy modes of transportation? I suspect the answer is “no.”

So I’m a little bit self-conscious as I admit that I’m strangely awed by the act of blessing. In a worship service, my favorite part has always been the benediction. That moment when the minister’s hands go up and the people are sent out in God’s power—it makes my spine tingle, whether I’m on the giving or receiving end of the blessing.

It turns out that there is power in words. When we bless one another, we aren’t changing our fate. We’re claiming our reality. The goal isn’t to say the right words and therefore make something holy. “Abracadabra, this bike is now holy!” That puts too much pressure on the right words and actions of the one giving the blessing. No, the point of blessing is to claim—out loud and with witnesses—that even the most mundane parts of our lives can be sacred. It is to remind ourselves that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and everything in it should be put to God’s purpose.

Giving a blessing reminds ourselves that we belong to God, the world belongs to God, and… Click To Tweet

My bike no longer bears the ribbon we tied on our handlebars that morning. It quickly became tattered and dirty, then fell off after a couple seasons. But my heart still holds the reminder that each morning bike ride is an act of faith. Or that each family ride to the ice cream shop is love lived out in holy community.

So this year I’m picking up the mantle. We’re doing a blessing of the backpacks at church before school starts this year. I’m also thinking about doing more blessings here at home, although I’m not quite sure how that will look. And I’d be curious to hear from any of you: what’s your experience of blessing and being blessed? Is it part of your family life? Your church experience?

5 Powerful Phrases for an Election Year

5 Powerful Phrases for an Election Year

I used to love this picture:

optical illusion election

I loved how I my eyes would slightly glaze over as I switched back and forth between seeing the old lady and young woman. I would give myself a headache looking at that picture.

“It’s a young woman!”
“No, it’s an old lady!”

The answer, of course, was that it’s both. This is so obvious, it seems silly to say.  But that was the miracle of the illusion—some amazing artist had created a picture in which two contradictory things could be true at the same time.

Now imagine that camps formed around the different viewpoints. “It’s an old woman!” “It’s a young woman!” The argument might become more and more heated, each side gradually losing its ability to see the other’s point of view. Insults would be hurled, families would sit in “pro-old” and “pro-young” areas at Thanksgiving, friendships would struggle to bridge the divide.

We’re living in a moment in which these kinds of arguments rage on. We could name them, right? It takes two seconds to march right down the list of party platforms and see the places where we are fighting over “either/or” when the obvious answer is “both/and.”

This rhetoric has grown especially tense around the topic of race. Last night, a friend shared a hateful video rant against the Black Lives Matter movement. (Disclaimer: it wasn’t his.) You don’t need to watch it—just imagine the worst. As crass and violent as this video is, it’s gaining attention because people are rightfully upset about the deaths of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

For some reason, we seem to be asking the question, “Do black lives matter or do police lives matter?

The answer, of course, is that it’s both. This is so obvious, it seems silly to say.

I’m not saying anything that you haven’t thought already. My friends have been saying this for weeks now. In fact, I think most people know this.

My point isn’t to astonish you with some new truth but to encourage you to stay situated there. Unfortunately, this is going to get worse before it gets better. Election years don’t lend themselves to careful public dialog and this year is a particular kind of mess, with issues of race, gender and safety at forefront.

Those of us who are able to see the picture from both angles have an important, if frustrating, job to do. Keep pointing others to the both/and. I don’t mean that we have to become wishy-washy. The last thing the world needs right now is people who sit on the fence, leaning toward one side or the other depending on which way the wind is blowing. No, the world need bridges. It needs people who are willing to chime in with passion and clarity but still see the goodness in the folks on the other side.

The world needs people willing to listen for love instead of for hate.The world needs people willing to listen for love instead of for hate. Click To Tweet

Living in this gray area will actually be harder than fighting for any one position. It will mean learning a new vocabulary and then using it. It may mean calling out those who benefit by promoting a language of hate, or gently guiding those who have lost their ability to look from another angle. It will mean saying things like:

Do we really have to choose?
Can it be both?
I see it two ways.
I think this is a false dichotomy.
I think that’s true and I think this is true, too.

In case you think this is too simplistic, I’d remind you that culture change happens from the inside out. Every social shift has started small. The good news is this one already has momentum. We just have to keep it rolling.

Talking About Race with Children (The Worst Advice I Ever Gave)

Talking About Race with Children (The Worst Advice I Ever Gave)

Several years ago, as a newly-hired education consultant working for the Department of Human Services, a preschool teacher approached me with a question.

“How do I talk to kids about race and tolerance?”

Being completely unschooled in this topic, I answered this:

“With preschoolers, I wouldn’t worry too much about direct teaching. I would focus more on making it a non-issue. Little kids are so open and accepting naturally. We don’t have to teach them to be non-prejudiced, we just need to provide an environment that keeps them that way.”

My approach here was the “colorblind” approach. The theory goes like this: if we don’t draw attention to race, children won’t either. They’ll grow up accepting difference rather than being afraid of it.

Anyone out there who knows anything about race and prejudice is cringing right now. I know. I cringe just remembering it. Worst. Advice. Ever. Unfortunately, it’s common. A Washington Post article highlights the prevalence of this:

“In a recent study of more than 100 parents, 70 percent fell into this “colorblind” or “colormute” category, and one of the main reasons for choosing this approach was that they did not want their children to pay attention to race and develop biases. More than half of the parents also indicated that they did not perceive a need to discuss race because it had never been an issue.”

Let’s deconstruct a bit.

First, the underlying assumption isn’t bad. Kids are naturally open and accepting. They are actually drawn to differences because their curious little minds are seeking out every bit of information they can find. They are scientists, collecting data about the world.

You know what this looks like. It’s the white 4 year old standing in the grocery store loudly asking, “Mom! Why did that person paint himself?” (A true quote.) Or the black little girl petting a white little girls hair, muttering, “It feels so flat.” (Another true story.)

These are mortifying for parents as we rush to explain that people come in all kinds of skin tones, or that hair comes in all kinds of textures. But overall, they are valuable teaching moments. We make a quick comment about “all people are different and that’s ok.” And we are grateful for our sweet little innocent children who aren’t bothered by these differences at all.

This was the image in my mind as I gave my advice: give children room to be curious, don’t be prejudiced yourself, and kids won’t have to be taught about equality later. Instead, they’ll be reaffirmed in what they already know.

The fallacy is the assumption that this was the only message children would receive. Who knows, maybe this would work in culture that was both diverse and equal. But that’s not our culture–yet.

The truth is, we’re receiving countless, subtle messages each and every day. We see a disproportionate number of minorities working in lower paying jobs. We see more news stories involving people of color in crime. We see more whites in positions of leadership. And our rational, scientific, colorblind-trained brains make the logical leap: this is right. Only the leap is more of a short hop. It’s so subtle, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Somewhere along the way, though, we begin to internalize a message that minorities are somehow “less than” whites.

It doesn’t stop there. We’re fooling ourselves if we think our children aren’t hearing overtly racist viewpoints. They are. As much as I want the age of racism to be over, it’s not. There are still people out there holding genuinely racist views. If I’ve heard it, you know my daughter’s heard it–or will soon. It doesn’t matter if it’s coming from cooky uncle Max, or that old church member we’ve never trusted anyway. Kids will hear these messages. And if we don’t offer an alternative view, the message of discrimination will be the only message they get.

Our silence on the topic of race won’t promote unity.
Instead, it will be taken as assent to the message that’s already being received, sometimes subtly and sometimes loudly: racial differences should be feared and inequality is justified.

It all boils down to this: we have to talk to our kids about race, prejudice and discrimination.

Last February, my daughter came home from school so excited about a lesson they’d had on Rosa Parks. Her eyes lit up as she told me the story.

“Can you believe that Black people used to be treated that way? That’s not fair, Mama. I’m so glad that doesn’t happen any more.”

And her trusting, excited little 8 year old eyes made it even harder to say what I had to say next.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it? And the Montgomery Bus Boycott was so brave, and so important. You’ll get to learn about more things people did to change our laws. (deep breath) But you know what, we still don’t treat people fairly all the time. (I swear to you, her little face fell and I felt like I’d just betrayed Santa Claus.) A lot of times, people with different skin colors are still discriminated against. It’s really, really hard. And really important that we keep working to stop it.”

This was hard, this brief little comment. Harder than it should have been. It was hard for me to overcome my natural tendency toward the “colorblind approach.” It was hard for me to dash her little hopes. It was actually even hard for me to talk about race in modern America, which just proves how ingrained all of this is.

We’re fooling ourselves, though, if we think we can avoid these issues for our children. The truth is, they will have to confront them sooner or later. Either now, under our guidance, or as part of some hard inner work when they’re adults.

I remind myself of this when I’m tempted to avoid these hard conversations. They have to be had sometime–either with me or with someone else. And it’s too important to leave to someone else.

Loving Loud after Orlando

Loving Loud after Orlando

We just finished the last Harry Potter book when I heard about Orlando. We’d been listening to it in the car and then stayed up late on Sunday night to listen to the last 30 minutes. When it ended, my daughter cried and said, “NOW what are we going to listen to?”

Then I checked the news and wanted to cry again because I wished so badly to be in a Harry Potter book, where the bad guy was defeated and Good won and the world was put back together. Because this real world that I’d come harshly back into is broken.

And I don’t mean one person–as in, “that shooter was broken.” I mean us. We are broken. We are broken because we continue to allow this to happen. Because we sit back and debate policies without offering alternative solutions while other people’s children are shot like pop-up characters at a carnival shooting gallery, again and again and again. It’s broken because our response is to lash out at the victims: they were out late, none of them had their own gun to shoot back, no one tackled the shooter, the club should have had better guards.

We’re not immune, none of us. Sociologically speaking, it’s our human response. When we’re scared, we resort to blaming the victim because it gives us the illusion of safety. If we can somehow qualify what happened, then we can continue to pretend that it can’t happen to us. We can tell our children, “It’s ok, that doesn’t happen here.” We don’t have to face the fact that it does happen here, and it could happen to us—that it could even happen to them.

Then, sometimes, we do something equally human, and equally wrong: we’re silent. We’re silent because we’re too far removed. We’re silent because this act of horror happened in a nightclub at 2:00 a.m. and we’ve never even seen the inside of a bar at that time of night. We’re silent because it was Latino night, and we’re not Latino. We’re silent because it was a gay club and we’re not LGBTQ.

We reacted intensely to Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and Aurora, and Paris because we can imagine ourselves in those places. We go to movies, we go to work, we were children once and some of us have children now. We were outraged and grief-stricken because it could have been us. But this—this is outside of our experience. As someone commented, “I’m sad but I’m not horrified the way I should be.”

I have no judgment of this. In fact, I’m in awe of this generous soul who could recognize his numbness as a spiritual failing. Friends, this is exactly why we have engage.  If we “weep with those who weep” only when the dead look like us, then we’re failing. If we only love our neighbors only when our neighbor loves like us, then we’re failing. If we sit back and let minorities bear the brunt of changing a world that oppresses, marginalizes and endangers them, then we’re not followers of Christ in anything more than name.

Over that past two days, I’ve had the immense privilege—and it is a privilege—of hearing the stories of some of my LGBTQ friends and I am emerging a changed person. I didn’t understand all of this: the taunts, the looks, the bullying, the unacceptance, the fear of openly being yourself. And I had to hear these stories in order to understand why they are shaken to the core. Every single day they have faced fear while doing the things that straight folks do without thinking twice. Things I do without thinking twice. Holding hands at the movie theater, renting an apartment, grocery shopping as a family. And now they know how right they were to be afraid.

These stories of fear are also stories of courage and bravery. Above all, I hear that. But strong and brave as they might be, they shouldn’t have to bear this burden alone.

By the time you actually read this post you will have already read many other blogs and articles on the topic. This is the blessing of the information age. And perhaps in doing so, you will have begun to feel saturated, or hopeless, or resigned. Perhaps, like me, you will even feel like it’s not worth jumping in at this point—all the words have been spoken, all the ideas have been shared, all the caring has been done.

You would be wrong.

This isn’t the time to fall silent, trusting that others have spoken already. This is the time to be loud. It’s the time to be redundant. It’s the time to say over and over and over again that we are a people of love. Because as long as the voices of love are willing to be meek and humble, the voices of hate will drown us out.

So do something today, anything. Call your local LGBTQ outreach center and find out what they need. Tweet, Facebook or Instagram a message of love. Call your Congressperson and demand a bi-partisan solution to gun violence epidemic. (Honestly, I don’t care whether you think we need more guns or less guns, I care if you act in a real, tangible way to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Research, maybe, would be a good place to start.) Listen to an LGTBQ person. Teach your children about love, acceptance and differences. Do it today and then do it again next week.

Whatever you do, don’t do the easy thing. Don’t remain silent. Because like the old camp song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love” and love doesn’t retreat. Love is loud.

On Gardening, Play and Getting Back Online

On Gardening, Play and Getting Back Online

Around the first of the year, I choose my #oneword365–play. The goal was simple: to be more open, more creative and more centered in the moment. As I saw it, these were all elements that could be addressed with an attitude of playfulness.

So, almost six months in, how’s that going?

Oddly enough, the answer to this question ties perfectly well into another question I’ve been asked lately–”why aren’t you blogging as much?”

Here’s the answer to both: summer.

I don’t mean this in the frenzied, “oh my gosh, it’s summer, the kids are home from school and my life is so busy” way. No, I mean exactly the opposite. For several weeks I have done nothing in my spare time except soaking in every possible moment outdoors. Mainly, I wander around my small garden beds, eyeing plants and pondering where I can plant more.

As is the nature of time, spending all of it on outdoor stuff meant spending none of it on indoor stuff. Honestly, I was worried, a bit as I crept out of the house at 5:30 to pull weeds and inspect plants that the urge to write may never come back. In the winter, these early morning hours are filled with a cup of tea and a writing pad. I crave these moments. (Although I don’t get up at 5:30 in the winter! That’s for really devoted people.) In the summer, though, the sun’s gravitational pull becomes personal, calling me outdoors before I’ve even brushed my hair. The cup of tea cools on the patio table while I check on the plants, whispering to the zucchini who are popping up, noticing the bloom on a new-to-me flower and pondering whether we’ll get raspberries this year. (The birds tend to get them first.)

The love for gardening is closely tied to a love for mystery and creativity. While I suspect there are gardeners who thrive because they approach their plots with precision and control, I don’t know any. All of the gardeners I know thrive because they feel a creative burst and a willingness to experiment. Working in the garden is the closest I’ll ever come to doing magic. It’s a special game of give and take, an improv of wonder. It’s no surprise that paradise is often depicted as a garden, a place where God might leave secret messages in the leaves and every flower is a love note.

So this is the idea I’ve been pondering in my early morning forays to pull weeds or adjust the sprinkler just right–the idea that we might play with God. This is a surprising thought. I am more comfortable with revering God, serving God or even resting in God. But As I call my daughter over to inspect this multi-colored dianthus nestled in within a patch of bachelor’s buttons, or we laugh as we survey the patches of sunflowers the squirrels planted for us last fall, it’s possible to imagine that God the Creator may be joining in this laughter. I am filled, suddenly, with the understanding of a God who created not in an orderly 7 days, to-do list in hand, but in a cacophony of sights and sounds that morphed and changed over millennia.

So that’s my goal for the summer–to let the garden inspire me at play in other areas of my life. Work, prayer, parenting. And whether gardening is your thing or not, I hope you’ll find time to play too.


Thanks to the great #wholemama crowd for giving me this writing prompt on play. I’m looking forward to blogging through the summer with them!