Correcting Cultural Concerns

I have to brag a bit; our youngest daughter has been named banquet chef at a large Missouri hotel/casino. Landing the job was very difficult, not because she isn’t capable, but because she’s a woman. The gender bias and discriminatory comments and innuendos she had to get past were remarkable for only one reason: most of the time, the people saying the offensive things had no idea they were uttering improper verbiage. True! Questions about her size, (petite), appearance, (she’s quite a beauty, but not an imposing presence when you first meet her), and strength, (she had been actually doing the job for quite some time and was physically capable of everything required by the job), regularly came up in conversation.

Sadly, this was not the first job in which she had encountered these problems, and the comments had always come from men. The whole process took months longer than it should have, and at one point she called me to say she was going to pull her name from consideration for the job and look elsewhere for employment. I understood her position, but I told her she absolutely had to see this thing through to the end, simply because she is a woman, and a very capable woman. If she bowed to the pressure of discrimination, where would that leave other women who were capable of becoming chefs in that company? She needed to be the example that overcame the obstacles, I told her.

Evidently my counsel took root, because our daughter’s wife got sick of hearing the daily tales of woe and told our daughter to just quit. To which our daughter replied that she couldn’t, because of the other women. She had to stick it out. (She probably apologized for complaining so much.)

After our daughter was finally named the banquet chef, I asked her if the discriminatory remarks subsided. “Well, for the most part,” she said. “But when someone does say something inappropriate, I just look them in the eye and say, ‘You really can’t say that to me,’ or ‘You can’t legally ask me that question.’ They always get funny looks on their faces, but they are beginning to understand what gender discrimination is.” We both agreed that most of the time, the men had no idea that there was a problem with what they said.

I think this is true with a lot of discrimination. We don’t realize we’re doing it, it’s a cultural thing we’ve grown up with. Look at the bullying issue. The whole world has seen a lot of it at the national level in my country. The world recognizes it because it seems so out of place in that office. But the rest of the USA sort of understands, because that’s the stuff our culture puts up with all the time. We try to make students understand that it is inappropriate at school, but if it is allowed at home and on the streets, what difference does school make? (none) TV sitcoms regularly address the issue, and have for years, but the reality of what’s being said goes right over most people’s heads, and they just think it is funny. They adopt the inflammatory language into their regular bullying style and the problems just get worse.

Our daughter had to wait until she was in a position as an equal to be able to address the problems. What if we didn’t wait, though? What if, whenever we witness or are confronted with inappropriate comments or questions, what if we name it as inappropriate right then? What if we stand up for ourselves and the other victims of abuse, (nicely, of course)? Dealing with an issue right when it happens is usually more powerful than waiting.

I’m obviously proud of our daughter, and I’m hoping that the example she has set will make a real difference in the place she works. I’m hoping that in that male-dominated business, people will come to respect each other as people, not depend upon the stereotype attitudes they’ve grown up with. What is your situation? Is there a place you can begin to make a difference?

We, Also, Are Guilty

We all do what we can to protect ourselves and those we love, right? Maybe WRONG!

I hope last Sunday’s mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX shocked you, but more for what didn’t happen than what actually occurred. News coverage has been rather thorough, as usual. Support is flowing in from across the country. The political right is suggesting that people begin openly carrying loaded guns to church (since concealed carry is illegal in churches in Texas). The left is demanding, again, that gun control legislation be enacted. And while we are debating and reporting, while relief efforts and prayers continue, the real problem just keeps growing and growing and growing.

Remember the story about the master who demanded an accounting of his servants at the end of their employment? To one group he said, “You never missed an opportunity to visit me, to care about me, and to be kind to me.” To the other group he said, “Why didn’t you visit me, care for me, or be kind to me? Why didn’t you even notice me?” The first group shook their heads and said, “Sorry? We don’t remember ever doing things like that for you. Are you sure you’ve got the right people?” But the second group declared, “Lord, if we’d seen you, we would gladly have done all that, and more! Where were you hiding?” To all of them the master replied, “Whatever you have done to the least, the last, and the lost, you have done to me.”

And therein lies our problem, the one that helped create the horror in Sutherland Springs, in our youth who are radicalized into terror groups, and in so many more events yet to come. We are so busy creating our own safe environments that we don’t even notice people! We make sure our politics excludes people who get abortions, people who don’t go to church, people who are sexually different from us, people who aren’t smart, or attractive, or financially successful, people who don’t have the right social pedigree, in short, people who bother us. But research has shown over and over and over again, that people who commit these horrific crimes against humanity share one thing in common: they experienced trouble at home and school as a child.

I was a public school teacher, I also taught in a prison, and now drive foster children. I have seen evidence of this every single day in all across my career. I have never been surprised to see my former students’ names in the paper in the court listings; I could have told you years ago that this is where they would end up. Why? Because I watched people shun and isolate them until the only people who would pay attention to them were those who would drag them into the unhappiness they lived with – abuse, drugs, crime… But every once in a while, the cycle was broken. Sometimes, someone would notice the hurting child and accept him into a circle of compassionate friendship where positive living was the norm.

I am fully aware that most of us cannot barge into children’s homes and fix problems of abuse, poverty, hunger, and neglect. But we can notice them and include them in our own lives. Yes, their language and social manners may be offensive, but most kids are willing to change those things in situations where they know they are accepted, even loved, if they are asked to. (It sometimes took constant reminders, but when I asked my students to make these changes, they always did, because they knew I loved them either way.)

I implore you, if you are tired of our flags flying at half-mast all the time, do something about it! Seek out the least, the lost, the last – even in your own families. Pay positive attention to them. Welcome them. Find things to enjoy about them. Treat them with the same respect you treat your best friends. Include them. Do things with them (instead of for them). You won’t stop every crime, but you will make a huge difference in your community – one that could save lives in the future. This isn’t about committees, or legislation, or even morals. This is about YOU.

Let Your Battery Run Down (once in a while)

You know how they always tell you that it’s not a good idea to keep your laptop batteries charged at 100% all the time? I think that might be a good idea in life, too. I think that once in a while we need to let our battery run down to around 7%, not completely dead, but close. Why? Well, here’s my story to illustrate the why.

I drive for a living now. Some days I drive about 3 hours, others as many as 13. Last week I drove more hours than usual, and had three days of very long hours. I was exhausted. Our youngest daughter, who is an apartment-dwelling chef in Kansas City, had asked me to grow sweet potatoes for her this year. I did, but had to dig them last week when the temperature dipped to freezing. I don’t have the facilities to cure sweet potatoes so that they store well, so I needed to get them to our daughter quickly. As luck would have it, even though I was overly tired from driving, this weekend also required much of my time at church, draining most of my remaining energy. BUT, yesterday was a day that both our daughter and I had off. Now, our daughter lives almost 200 miles away, so it was going to be a long drive to deliver the sweet potatoes. Knowing full well how tired I was, I dithered about making the trip, but decided it was now or never.

After I got home from a relatively short drive for work yesterday, I threw a sleeping bag and pillow in the car and headed for Kansas City. I knew I could spend the night if I wanted to. As I drove east of Manhattan, KS, I began to see that the bridges and overpasses had been treated against freezing rain and snow. The entire length of I-70 running through Topeka had been sprayed. Not a good sign!

When I arrived in Kansas City, our daughter and I sat on top of her 5-foot high entertainment center, looking out over the river and surrounding city, just relaxing and catching up with each other’s lives. We got to talking about recipes, found one that looked good, and made it – just for fun. I had brought her the last of the parsley from my garden, so she used it in the puttanesca she made for supper. Delicious! Even better, our daughter’s wife got home earlier than usual from work and joined us for supper. After dinner we checked the weather forecast, and were dismayed to see that rain was to begin in Topeka at 3 AM and temperatures were to continue dropping after that, reaching 27° F. I did not want to be driving in traffic on icy roads in the morning, so I made the decision to drive home immediately.

I remained very alert and energized, taking joy in the visit, the food, and just relaxing with our daughter and her wife – until the last hour and a half of my journey. From there, it was a struggle to stay awake, much less alert. I should have pulled over and slept a while, but I didn’t.

Yes, I made it home, but today I kind of feel as if I met a semi-truck head-on last night. Headache, fatigue, thinking isn’t easy, that kind of thing. BUT, yes, I know, another but…today is the last day of the month and bills had to be paid today. And my time clock punches at work got all messed up and had to be sorted out today. And that nap that I’ve wanted all day? I never got it. Things just kept having to be taken care of now.

Why did I say that it is good to get this tired once in a while? Because when your personal battery is blinking and sending you messages saying you have 7% left, you make different choices, you prioritize. When there is only so much energy left, you put aside the things that don’t have to be done, (like baking the Halloween treats we usually take to people on this last day of October, the laundry, other cooking, reading), and you focus on the things that absolutely must be done.

I don’t like being this tired, but it makes me realize that a lot of what I do is frivolous. I need times like this to remind me to focus on the main things in life and not get caught up in the little details that, while I enjoy them, often use up more of my energy than they are worth. And, now that I’ve done the last thing that absolutely has to be done today, (writing to you), I’m going to get that sleep I really, really need. ZZZZzzzzzzz

Preparing for Peace

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create peace even in stressful situations? I think we can – if we prepare for it.

And, always, smile. Smiles are magical.

If you’ve laid the groundwork, peace can be almost tangible even in highly stressful situations. As you’ve guessed, peace has a lot to do with attitudes. Attitudes can be contagious, and if practiced, they become a way of life. Creating peace requires constant practice because of all the negative influences around us. I think it is worth the effort, and I hope you do, too.

I Could Possibly Be Wrong…

Quote

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and new ways of working with old ideas, so National Public Radio is one of my favorite hangouts. A recent broadcast of TechNation featured Ray Dalio, author of Principles: Life and Work. He talked a lot about relationships, which surprised me, because what he is known for is building the largest and most successful hedge fund company in the world. Yet, Mr. Dalio insisted that relationships are what make his company work.

“A lot of people mind mistakes too much,” he said, but “a lot of learning comes from making mistakes.” Dalio also stressed that in order for a relationship to function well, we have to “let the best ideas win out. Don’t be attached to just your own [ideas].” I was intrigued by the three principles Dalio uses to figure out the best idea:

  1. Put your honest thoughts on the table for everybody to see. I think this and you think that. How do we look at this so we at least know what the other person is thinking as we go through this?
  2. Understand the art of thoughtful disagreement. You might be right and you might be wrong. If there is disagreement, somebody must be wrong. How do you know that wrong person isn’t you? In thoughtful disagreement, you listen and understand other points of view so you all can eventually get to a workable solution.
  3. Know how to get past disagreements, if they remain, to get to the best solution for the circumstance. In order to avoid one person making the decision, or each person having one vote, Dalio asks everyone to decide which possible solution is the most believable, in other words, which solution will be most likely to solve the problem.

The longer I listened, the more I understood what I need to fix in my relational problem solving.

  1. Let go of emotion, emotional language, and body language.
  2. State honestly and openly what I feel the problem is.
  3. Let the other person(s) state her assessment of the problem without any comment or interruption from me (or anyone else).
  4. Assume that I could possibly be wrong, and consider all offered solutions.
  5. Work with the other person to determine not only a believable solution, but also a means of implementation, and make plans to avoid this particular problem in the future.
  6. Before I start any of this, picture myself actually doing steps 1-5. Imagine what it will feel like to let go of emotion and turn a highly charged situation into a step-by-step problem solving exercise.
  7. Make this a habit. I get way too caught up in other people’s mistakes, and I get angry when my mistakes are pointed out, especially in public. If I want peaceful relationships, the peace needs to start somewhere. It would be easiest if it started with me. (Ahhhh, to let go of ego…)

TechNation podcast of Ray Dalio interview https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/technation/episodes/2017-10-12T10_16_48-07_00

I’ll Wait With You

What do you say to someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness? I’m so sorry? Gee, that’s too bad? Do you tell them about your uncle who had the same type of cancer? Do you tell them you’ll pray for them? Do you tell them that it could be worse? Or that everybody will die sometime? Any of the above most often produce more loneliness in the sick person than no comment at all.

I think I’ve committed most of those errors, thinking I was saying the right thing by at least saying something, until just recently. A friend was diagnosed with cancer, but surgery was not an option because her heart is too frail. When she shared this news, I asked her what she was going to do. “Wait to die, I guess,” she said. I was rather shocked by what fell out of my mouth: “I’ll wait with you.” As soon as I said it, though, I knew it was the right thing to say. My friend is in her late 80s, has outlived three husbands and has no children. She has friends, but they don’t get around much better than she. Loneliness is real. She knows her doctors will do all they can to keep her as comfortable as possible, but they can’t heal the loneliness.

I can. I can wait with her. She doesn’t need me to try to cheer her up, she doesn’t need me to do things for her. She just needs me to be with her.

I think that many of life’s woes would be better if each of us would make a point to be intentionally present in other people’s lives more often. Not for advice, not for cheering them up, not for doing things for them, just to be with them. We’ve gotten so used to doing things that we’ve forgotten how to be present. We donate money, we volunteer for this and that, we make food for the sick, the shut-ins, and the homeless, we rake lawns and paint houses for those who can’t, and we feel we have really helped people. Perhaps we have. But we have also separated our lives from theirs. We go home after we’ve done our bit. They are still stuck inside the same four walls, or under the bridge, or in the nursing home.

I hope none of your friends are terminally ill, or going through a messy divorce, or have lost their job, or have kids or spouses in jail, or suffer from deep depression. But chances are good that you know quite a few people like these. Try not to engage in meaningless chatter or busy yourself with “helpful” tasks. Just be with them. It’s what they need most.

A Beast of a Decision

“[Do not] be deceived by outward appearances, for beauty is found within.” Disney got it right in the prologue to Beauty and the Beast. Outward appearances, what we can see, touch, smell, and hear, can be very deceiving, sometimes on purpose.

Last week I wrote about my need to be prepared in case a decisive vote regarding the validity of leadership among those who are other-than-heterosexual goes against what I have come to believe. There’s a lot of hype and hate out there, and the media fuels it through any means possible. There’s the Matthew Shepherd story from Laramie, WY, and there’s Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS that pickets all over the country at anything that might be remotely connected to homosexuality. People refuse service to gays, and get media coverage for their efforts, and conservative Christian (and mostly white) religious leaders denounce homosexuality from their pulpits.

In my experience, the people who proclaim other people’s faults are usually the real beasts – guilty of intolerance, self-righteousness, and power mongering. They try to protect themselves from worldly stains while making sure that everyone knows that their way is the only way. I have lived with judgmental people all my life, and though they dress beautifully and speak lovingly when people are watching, I have never once met one who is beautiful on the inside. Yes, they back up their opinions with all kinds of “data,” but they also pontificate from ivory towers, not from having lived life among the people they malign.

I think it would be useful to “walk a mile in the other person’s shoes” before committing to a hard and fast opinion about any issue. If you cannot back up your feelings or opinions with hard evidence, go live among the people in question. Get to know them as people, rather than by the label society has plastered over them. Discover their who they really are so that your opinion will be based on more than your (or someone else’s) external observations. Then, and only then, make your decision.

Going Beyond Opinions

I’ve known for a couple of years that an organization to which I belong is heading for a showdown over the issue of other-than-hetero-sexuality inclusion or exclusion in its hierarchy. I know how I feel, but I also know that I have come to this understanding over time. I am only too well aware that other people do not share my views, and that they feel they have excellent reasons for their own opinions.

As I was thinking about this yesterday, I realized that I need to be prepared for the possibility that the final vote on the issue will not go the way I think it should. Actually, I was rather shocked by the thought. I wondered how I will react – Will I be angry? Will I be sad? Will I be understanding? Will I think of it as a cultural issue that will eventually, say in 100 years or so, resolve itself over time? I could resign my membership in the organization, but I could have done that several years ago when this issue became a hot topic. I didn’t choose to do that.

I also wondered whether or not I should do some advocacy work in the meantime. But what can I say or do? I came to my understanding on this issue through circumstances that directly involved me. That won’t be the case for most of the voting population in this organization. For most of them, what you tolerate from others, (or just plain ignore), and what you personally believe may be two completely different things. And just because the media seems to endorse all kinds of sexuality inclusion does not mean that those who vote in power feel the same way, especially when we’re talking about hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years of tradition.

I am in a quandary. It would be easiest to do nothing and let whatever is going to happen just happen. But would that be morally right? Would it be ethical? Would it be responsible? I don’t think it would be right for me to hound others with my views and opinions, because those would be just my opinions, which are worth no more than the next person’s opinions. Somehow, I need to be involved in leadership opportunities with people of mixed sexual orientation in ways that demonstrate their leadership abilities and their commitment to the goals of the organization. I don’t know how to do this, as of this writing, but I’m going to look for opportunities. I am not called to be a judge, and for those who are, they, like I, are also called to love. May we all learn to love, respect, honor, and value people.

If Only…We’d Have Peace

Every family has at least one thorn in its side. Mine is no exception. For years we have silently thought that if certain things happened, we would all have peace. Well, those things did finally fall into place. But we were so wrong. We didn’t get peace, we got worse! Just this afternoon I was trying to shut my mind to the turmoil, and found myself thinking, could we please just have peace, even for a while?

And then it dawned on me – peace isn’t an external condition. Peace, real peace, is internal. There will always be external conflict and strife. That’s just a given in life, right along with death and taxes. We can work toward alleviating external tension, but we won’t ever completely resolve it.

What we can do, though, is to practice personal peace. This is so hard, especially for those of us who are worry-warts and control freaks. We try to talk people into doing things that bring peace. We try to help them. We try to manipulate situations in order to achieve peace. But in the end, we usually live with more disappointment and ulcers than peace.

If we want peace, we have to make room for it in our lives. We have to let go of the grudges, the fears, the disappointment, anger, sense of betrayal, feelings of rejection, and hate. Real peace is what the ancient Hebrew word shalom is about. It is a centering, a letting go of the external things we can’t control, and just being.

Through being at peace, our priorities are reordered. Our heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns become more normal. Our physical bodies begin to relax, and we find we enjoy life more. Smiling is once again spontaneous. But we have to practice, practice, practice being at peace, because old habits die hard!

I’m not a meditator – I can’t sit still that long! I’m not an exercise freak that works out all my worries. But I am a thinker, a wonderer, and a dreamer. I know that I cannot create personal peace for anyone else in my family, but I am going to try to be personally peaceful for them, so that through me they can sense peace and rest, quiet and calm when the going gets rough.

It Is What You Make It

I love to study, to think, to learn. I tend to be passionate about what I’m studying, and sometimes that makes me a bit of a snob, (or maybe a lot).

Our church promotes the idea of small groups as a way to grow and connect, and I totally agree with this. I wasn’t able to participate much in small groups while I was teaching, because music teaching involves so many evenings and weekends that I could never commit on a regular basis. So, when I retired from teaching last spring, I decided to join a six-week Bible study.

At the first meeting, I seriously considered dropping out. The hot topic of conversation that evening was why it is a bad idea to allow people to bring coffee and hot chocolate into the sanctuary during worship services. I kept thinking to myself that these were some very small-minded people. But the video that went along with our study was rather good, so I did the required reading at home – and then I read the entire story straight from the Bible for added background and context.

At the next meeting, conversation was a bit more topic-related, but I was still miles ahead of the rest of the participants. You see, I have a fairly good Bible background. My dad was a pastor, and while he didn’t ever pontificate at home, I was always in church and actually listened to his sermons. I have done my own Bible reading for years, and have enjoyed reading the writing of major theologians from time to time. So, yes, I was on a completely different level from the rest of the class. But, I was learning so much about Moses from the required reading and the videos, that I committed to read the entire books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy because those were the story of Moses in the Christian Bible. I confess that I thoroughly enjoyed this!

Lo and behold, the same thing began happening in our Sunday school class. I felt so frustrated! I wished there was somewhere else I could serve on Sundays, instead of suffering through Sunday school. But I have learned that it is best not to take matters into my own hands, at least not right away; give things time to play out. So, I’m still in Sunday school class.

I have, however, discovered that I don’t have to think and work at the same level as others in my class. I can do outside reading (and thinking). Yes, sometimes I have to bite my tongue and just be silent in class, but other times I can offer significant comments that enhance the discussion. Even though I am not getting much out of the actual class, I am there in support of the other class members. And, I am learning so much outside of class, that I am able to put my Bible learning into much better context. That makes me happy.

Continual learning and small group participation are important to me, so this is my way of coping with these situations that frustrate me. So often, life is what we make it. This is just one way I am choosing to make mine tolerable and rewarding at the same time.

(Please understand that I am NOT trying to proselyte.)