coming of age during different times

“… I found myself sitting across the booth from one of the guys who had attended the party, a local architect who is about fifteen years my senior. I don’t even remember what we were discussing, but at one point I said to him, ‘You know, Pat, I’ll bet you and I feel differently about this topic because you and I came of age during different times.

As he and I explored that thought, the other talk around the booth gradually came to a halt, as the other members of the group first listened and then wanted to weigh in on our discussion. When they did, the conversation ignited. What followed were several hours of explosive and riveting discussion, all of it coming from a point of view none of us had ever considered and knew a thing about…” — Chuck Underwood, in The Generational Imperative

Different generations have different perspectives. Each has value. No doubt we can learn from one another, as we consider angles and aspects our own experience fails to provide.

For today’s post, therefore, recognizing the contentious cultural moment, we’ve solicited some wisdom from those who’ve gone before us. I reached out to several, valuing their years of experience, diverse upbringings, and recognizing they have so much to offer and so much keen insight to share…

“Over the course of your lifetime, have you ever sensed a social/political season similar to now,” I asked. Also, “What compares to the current fractured, national, societal state — or specifically, to the fear or division?”

The answers to the above were fascinating and acute. In response to having ever witnessed such a season, “to a tee” they articulated in virtual unison: “No, not really.” “Not remotely close in my life.” “This. today. NOTHING.”

So what compares? This prompted pause. Almost all mentioned a military conflict…

  • “The first thing that came to mind were the feelings I had during the second world war… I was in single digits and had a lot of fears I could not reason out with an adult mind. I remember going to bed at night in the bedroom on the second story on the east side of the house with a hill a field away fearing that the German troops would be coming over that hill during the night. Part of the government action at that time was the order to shut all lights off including street lights so cities were dark on many occasions.” 
  • “I grew up in the Eisenhower years. Everything was black and white and very little grey. I felt safe and secure. Jobs were abundant and outside of the ‘bomb drills’ and hiding under our desks at school, life was good. Then the Cold War started and Khrushchev banging his shoe on the podium of the United Nations screaming ‘We will bury you!’ frightened me to death and gave me nightmares for years.”

So many mentioned Vietnam…

  • “There were serious divisions with sit ins and demonstrations.”
  • “There was social unrest… why are we in SE Asia? Attitudes changed when the ‘college’ kids were being drafted, I believe. Although there were those who signed up, there were protests on college campuses.”
  • “The Vietnam issue was a real splitter for me. I don’t remember it being a Democrat or Republican conflict but a certain demographic in my generation not wanting to be involved in a war which we did not think we should be involved in. The other of us just wanting to do whatever our government expected of us.”

Still more mentioned the racial tension, the harrowing assassinations, and more…

  • “Segregation hit and we took to the streets.”
  • “When news broke that MLK had been assassinated, [the city] erupted — nights of eruptions.  The city went on a curfew so all night classes were cancelled and the National Guard was called in.”
  • “I experienced 3 assassinations — JFK, MLK, Bobby Kennedy — US involvement in Vietnam, having family and friends drafted and some not coming home, political riots (Chicago ‘68), Civil Rights marches, riots, Kent State shooting of 4 students by the Ohio National Guard… Watergate… It was not political divisions as today; it was more ‘us vs. them.’”

Within that sharing, they humbly offered sobering more…

  • “I’ve seen nothing of this depth. I’m sensing people are deeply entrenched in their points of view without a sense of reality or an understanding of what are really the core issues the other side is fighting for.”
  • “I have never seen the situation in our country as we see it now. I do not feel is it only because of the pandemic. For some time there seems to be a growing erosion of values, common decency, unwillingness to listen to differing points of view, unwillingness to recognize that one has a right to his/her opinion but that could be wrong in view of facts. Therefore, much judgment seems imposed on others which then justifies one’s conduct and supports negating the value of others. It is a ‘only-me-matters’ mentality. So sad to see all this divisiveness and unwillingness which is destroying all of us in different ways.” 

What a privilege to learn from those who’ve gone before us… if we are willing… sobered and humble, too…

Respectfully…

AR

not just for them

With all the rattling in current culture, I’d like to humbly share one of my guiding life principles. But I’ll be honest. I didn’t always think this way. Like many, when I was 22/23, fresh out of college, a new job, career, and gleefully, my to-date, far biggest paycheck, I knew I didn’t know it all; but I thought all I knew was best.

To be a tiny more transparent, I thought that, too, when I was 16 and 36 and…

I used to deeply adhere to an invariable idea of individual capability. I would hear reports from those around me, those in the news, and later on Twitter, learning of sensational, outlandish misdeeds of others. Some behavior was preposterous. Opinions and beliefs, too. It was crazy. Nefarious. Even corrupt.

I would immediately think — I might even loudly proclaim — “I would never do that.”

Never would I ever. I believed I was not capable of preposterous thinking or behavior. Like the friend I ran into on my daily walk the other day, as together we lamented the fractious state of current culture, saying, “It’s not that hard to not do stupid stuff.”

Touché. That’s what I used to believe.

Truthfully, that line of thinking made me feel better. It allowed me to be more confident, assured, emboldened, angry, prideful, you name it, believing that only another was capable of the stupid or egregious. But an unfortunate thing happens when we believe we are incapable… we then find ample reason to judge, look down on another, not engage until they grow, move full speed ahead with all of our blinders on, and we also stop seeking any common ground. We start believing that there actually does not exist any common ground… because they are different than me.

I see them as different. I’m not capable. I would never do that.

But alas, there were holes in my line of thinking…

I had a couple friends I did life with back then who went through some grievous times. Unrelated to one another, each engaged in indisputably immoral behavior — one in regard to infidelity — the other a violent crime. Each would tell you now that what they did was wrong and they were responsible for their actions. They’ve repented, but also experienced sobering consequences for their choices.

When we see such scenarios in the news, clearly, it’s easier. We don’t know them. Some would conclude regarding my two friends, “Well, AR, you must not have really known them.” But that’s not true. I did know them. Not only did I know them, I also respected them and believed them to be good, wise, compassionate, gifted people. I still do. They still did stupid stuff.

That’s when it hit me… if people that I knew and respected were capable of doing such stupid stuff, what about me? …

… if I’m pushed… if I’m passionate… if the right set of circumstances existed… am I capable of the egregious?

No doubt it would be easier to stand back, being confident, assured, emboldened, angry, prideful, you name it. No doubt it would be easier to see myself as incapable. No doubt it would be easier to withhold my love and respect and see the other as different.

But what if we’re not?

When adhering to guiding life principles, Judeo-Christian ethics have been timeless and true. In fact, they are so true it would be easy to look at divine instruction like the Ten Commandments and say, “Got it, God! I don’t really struggle with these. But it’s so great you provided these for them.” In other painfully poignant words, I used to look at life’s wisest teachings and think of how much others needed it.

We do that when we see them as different.

True that the timeless teachings of an enduring faith are personal. True that they are indeed for them. But also true is that they are indeed for me. And me is who I need to focus on first. The more I look at life through that Judeo-Christian lens, the more I see not how different I am from those both in and out of the Church — but rather, the more I realize how very much we are the same…

… how much we have in common…

… how capable we each are…

… and how much we desperately need what’s timeless and true…

Respectfully…

AR

what if…

Let me first say this — and let my words be faithful but few:

The violence at the Capitol this week was horrific. All violence — save that which is based on “Just War” thinking, in my opinion — is wrong. I found the President’s incitement to be incredulous and injudicious. And while the events of this week do not compare to another, any protest that manifests itself as violence against another’s person or property is illegal and wrong.

Now… a few more somber words…

We’ve witnessed much as we’ve watched the world react. We’ve witnessed the good, bad and the ugly. We’ve seen social media be the bearer of some souls… a pulpit for others… a bully pulpit for still more.

One reaction we’ve seen from the multiples goes something like this: “With all that happened on Wednesday, that doesn’t reflect America. We’re not like this…”

“We’re not like this…”

But what if we are?

For years the way we’ve treated each other has gotten worse…

We’ve justified shame, judgment and sweeping, whole people group conclusions. We’ve been angry — and felt it not only appropriate but also necessary to call another out. We’ve done it publicly — castigating those even with whom we’ve never sat and listened and actually heard from their head and their heart. We’ve called them names. We’ve proclaimed people we’ve never known to be supporters of racism, Marxism, or God-forbid, Hitler. We’ve supported lawmakers whose rhetoric is awful. We’ve cheered. We’ve encouraged canceling. We’ve focused continuously on others’ faults. We’ve thought of them as lesser. With our passions heightened, we’ve ignored moral digression and pushed the boundaries of natural law. We’ve been mad. We’ve been arrogant. We’ve called the different “complicit.” We’ve been lured into looking at politics as a delineation between “good vs. evil.” We’ve picked a singular side. We’ve broken relationship with family and friends until they decide to change, thinking we didn’t “really know” them… also forgetting the days they stood by us at our worst… somehow lured into believing this means more. We’ve hidden behind keyboards, hitting “like” and “retweet” no matter who it hurts. We’ve huddled in tribal thinking, forgetting “where everyone thinks the same, no one really thinks.” We’ve made excuses for the sins of those likeminded because we empathize with what led to the transgression. We’ve extended grace to them and condemnation to the opposite. And we’ve been afraid — afraid that a value we hold dear — whether it be equality, liberty, life or democracy — will no longer be valued.

And so we lash out. Each escalating event gets worse. I heard one man say, “America will go on, but we aren’t ok.” No, we’re not ok.

Because… what if we really are like this?

Let me suggest that after decades of deterioration, there is no easy fix. But what I do know is that it will not be “fixed” by more of the above. It will not be fixed by us huddling in our tribes and proclaiming where everyone else needs to change. 

Fixing starts with me. This means a humbling of self, seeking a holy God — someone bigger and wiser and far more knowledgeable and powerful and in control than any person on this planet — someone in whom, absolutely each of us was made like — in his actual image — soberly pleading for healing and forgiveness.

No doubt each of us has something within in need of healing. No doubt forgiveness, too…

Humbly…

AR

20(21) questions

As is no secret, the question mark is the Intramuralist’s favorite punctuation piece. Why? It’s the only grammar notation that actually solicits a response. As we dive into the new year, therefore, my mind is swirling. Change your questions — change your life (as the apt-named, brilliant book by Dr. Marilee Adams says; this is the way I think).

Here are 20 questions (well, maybe a little more) that I’m asking as we turn our time and attention to 2021:

  1. What will a peaceful transition of power look like this year?
  2. Why do we only claim fraudulence when we lose?
  3. Will a fairly evenly-divided House and Senate govern like a fairly evenly-divided House and Senate?
  4. How will each party handle their radicals?
  5. Will each party admit they have radicals?
  6. What will a Pres. Biden be most known for?
  7. What will a former Pres. Trump do?
  8. Will Trump still tweet?
  9. How will the vaccine card be used and misused?
  10. How has isolation changed us?
  11. When will life be normal?
  12. What will never be normal?
  13. Will we hug?
  14. Will we still wear (at least physical) masks?
  15. What about the new strain of Covid?
  16. Will the Bills finally win the Super Bowl?
  17. When will fans fill stadiums?
  18. Will baseball fans ever return?
  19. Will age ever catch up to Tom Brady?
  20. How hard will the pandemic impact our debt and deficit spending?
  21. Will we address our ever-increasing national debt?
  22. Will Congress pass a budget before the fiscal year for the first time since 1996?
  23. How will the bias of the 24 hour news stations change with Pres. Trump no longer in the White House?
  24. Will they still talk about him?
  25. Who will emerge as 2024 presidential frontrunners?
  26. What will history give credit to the Trump administration for?
  27. What will history blame the Trump administration for?
  28. What will be the division of labor between a Pres. Biden and Vice Pres. Harris?
  29. What do vice presidents actually do?
  30. What do “normalized relations” mean with respect to China?
  31. Will we change how we deal with countries who continue to oppress their people or resist democracy and freedom of religion?
  32. What will happen at the border?
  33. Will there still exist such a thing as “illegal immigration”?
  34. How can we make progress in a way that cares for the refugee but is still wise and safe for all?
  35. What progress will be made in helping our friends who are persons of color feel safer and equally valued?
  36. What can we do and what should we not?
  37. Where do we need to listen more to a different perspective?
  38. Will college football expand their playoff system so other formidable teams could be seriously considered?
  39. Can Facebook last?
  40. Will people continue to mistake likes, comments and tweets as dialogue?
  41. Will government get more involved in regulating social media?
  42. Will government get more involved in regulating religion?
  43. How much respect as a nation will we continue to give God?
  44. What happens to Hollywood after the pandemic?
  45. Will movie theaters be a thing of the past?
  46. Will we continue as a country to be enamored with celebrity?
  47. How will the film, farming, food production, energy, oil, phone and television industries change?
  48. Will there still be a printed newspaper?
  49. What happens to cancel culture?
  50. Will we recognize that cancelation is the opposite of grace — even when it’s not so amazing?
  51. What will happen in regard to how we acknowledge gender and sex?
  52. What are we encouraging that’s healthy and that’s not?
  53. Will gender-specific pronouns be prohibited?
  54. What will we protest in the year ahead?
  55. Will it be peaceful?
  56. What will the long term effects of Twitter usage be on the younger generations?
  57. What will they do better than prior generations?
  58. What will they do worse?
  59. Will we as a country value both our youth and elderly more?
  60. Will Joe Biden be a healer or a divider?
  61. What does it take to be a healer?
  62. Will we still fight?
  63. How can I be part of the solution?
  64. Does being a part of the solution equate to everyone thinking more like me?
  65. Or do I recognize that I, too, will always have much to learn?

… and thus, we’ll keep asking questions…

Respectfully…

AR

setting resolutions in an achievable way

Resolutions are fairly finicky. Perhaps better put: we are fairly finicky about resolutions. It’s certainly understandable, as there’s an underlying assumption that they simply don’t work. 

According to Forbes, over 40% of us make at least one resolution, yet only 8% of those 40%+ keep those commitments until the end of the calendar year. Typically, too, our resolutions are quite boring and rote; they’re seemingly, annually the same…  I commit to losing weight… eating healthier… getting organized… saving more… exercising… and spending more time with family and friends…

Resolutions take time. Time takes work. And work is hard. Hence, resolutions often don’t work — which serves as the basis for the iconic idiom that resolutions are “in one year and out the other.”

So let’s reframe the concept of setting resolutions; let’s reframe it in a way that sounds immediately more achievable. Isn’t that significant? If in the back of my head I question whether or not I can actually accomplish the set goal, when the work gets hard, so will be my ability to drum up the necessary motivation. 

Goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. We can’t make commitments to extreme makeovers and then expect them to happen overnight.

So assisting with the desire for our goals to be achievable — continuing good practices or ebbing undesired behavior — let’s reframe the concept. Instead of setting resolutions, let’s ask a question: what would you most like to change about yourself in the year ahead? 

At the end of 2021, what area of your life would you be most disappointed in if you made no progress?

What would you most like to change?

Here are 15 goals that would be wise to set in 2021. They aren’t as measurable as I’d like, but they are specific, achievable, and poignantly relevant:

  • Be kinder on social media.
  • Limit Twitter.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Resist the tribal mentality.
  • Investigate instead of promote conspiracy.
  • Leave your comfort zone.
  • Listen to and consider diverse opinion.
  • Pray more.
  • Pray for our President.
  • Love your neighbor better.
  • Expand who qualifies as your neighbor.
  • See good in more than one party.
  • Be a wise steward of the environment.
  • Participate in mask/vaccine dialogues as opposed to debates.
  • Find ways to be grateful in a pandemic.

Great goals, no doubt. No doubt we would benefit individually, in our communities, and in our country if these were practiced better and more. But wait; we need one more, vital reframe.

A resolution — or a change, if you will — is not something we set for anyone other than self. I cannot decide or determine how “you” need to change. You cannot do so for me. Or for another. We are not even capable of that. Hear that word: capable.

All of the above are great resolutions — great changes — decided by me, for me. Others can encourage, but they cannot set. We set for self. That way, our realistic goals are achievable.

And so I ask once more, taking advantage of this fresh slate which is often referred to as the New Year…

What would you most like to change?

And…

At the end of 2021, what area of your life would you be most disappointed in if you made no progress?

We have that opportunity starting now.

Respectfully…

AR

pivoting to 2021

As we say goodbye to “this thing we keep calling 2020,” it’s time — in the words of the infamous Ross Geller — to “pivot!” … time to pivot toward 2021, turning our attention to the new year and fresh slate before us. 

Let us briefly review context. As said before, context always matters. Here’s the context — the backdrop, if you will — as we turn the proverbial page on the calendar. Last year, we walked through and weathered:

  • Impeachment proceedings
  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • The great mask debate
  • Increased racial tension and awareness
  • Ongoing protest and recurrent violence
  • Sports without fans
  • Two royals actually “quitting”
  • A fractured political state
  • A Supreme Court fight
  • A contentious, national election 

Suffice it to say: that’s a lot.

So as we consider our annual pivot, my processing centered around what we most need to address. I mean, I’m not a rocket scientist, but I don’t think we’re going out on too much of a limb here by suggesting collectively, we didn’t handle any of the above incredibly well…

… many of us talked more than we listened… sometimes we jabbed another (not even subtly) on social media… we called out those we disagree with… we refused to believe anything other than our established opinion… we tuned solely into CNN, MSNBC or FOX, which is never helpful… we broke relationships, lost friends, and made some things more important than people… 

Nope, together we didn’t handle the events of 2020 all that well.

So what would have made it different? And what would be useful to employ generously in the year ahead?

Allow me a simple word; in fact, it may be deemed too simple. I contend it might be exactly right. What would have made 2020 different and be most necessary in 2021?

Rest. Individual rest.

I’m not talking about simply ceasing physical movement. I’m not talking either about a lazy Saturday or Sunday plopped on the couch with a good book, game or even predictable, thoroughly-enjoyable Hallmark movie. A real rest is a ceasing of our mental movement. 

If I’m lounging in front of my TV but have one of those news sources listed above on, getting irritated at some other — as the station’s bias is made fully manifest — that’s not resting. If I’m quarantining, not leaving my house, but focused on and still reeling from the relationship that remains hard for me, that’s not resting. If I’m sitting there, even seemingly totally still, but crafting all my to-do lists, that’s not resting.

Resting is a mental rest. It’s different for each of us. What activities do you do that help you clear your head and gain perspective?

I’ve long found the ancient teaching to be profoundly fascinating — to be still and know God is God. Note the relationship between knowing him and stillness — resting, if you will. A mental rest means nothing else is competing for my thought and attention.

When a real rest is a regular, consistent discipline, we reflect instead of react. We think before we speak and typically listen more than talk. We also give more grace and space and ask questions about what’s hard or what we don’t understand. 

In other words, if we would have individually rested more through the great mask debate, racial tension, and contentious election, etc., for example, we would have been less reactionary. There would have been fewer jabs, less calling out, more willingness to consider other opinion, and fewer broken relationships, recognizing things are not more important than people.

Hence, as we pivot toward 2021, let me advocate we each learn a little bit more what it means to be intentional in our rest. It may be vital. It also may be what we most need to address.

Respectfully…

AR

lives & deaths from 2020 — & what we learned

As we navigate these sweet days of celebration and reflection — bookended by the birth of the Christ child and the clean slate opportunity accompanying every new year  — and how cool that those two events are tied together — let’s first take a look back. We lost several persons of significance. Knowing no life is worth more or less than another, we’ll focus on four, whose lives and deaths especially stood out to me in “this thing we keep calling 2020”…

Kobe Bryant. In a shock to the start of the year, on a Sunday morning in January, the helicopter Kobe, his talented daughter, Gianna, and seven others were riding in, crashed in the California fog. Shock may be an understatement. Here one of the greatest players to ever play the game of basketball, who had only retired four years prior, showed us there is no such thing as invincible. 

But Kobe’s death wasn’t shocking simply because of the invincibility factor. Here was a person who actually fit the oft-used idiom of being “larger than life.” He was someone we always noticed — both on and oft the hardwood. In wins and losses and even in personal struggle and very public defeat, there was a sense that Kobe was always real with us. He was passionate, fierce, and fun. As Michael Jordan eulogized, with tears streaming down his face, “Kobe gave every last ounce of himself to whatever he was doing. After basketball, he showed a creative side to himself that I didn’t think any of us knew he had. In retirement, he seemed so happy. He found new passions. And he continued to give back, as a coach, in his community. More importantly, he was an amazing dad, amazing husband, who dedicated himself to his family and who loved his daughters with all his heart. Kobe never left anything on the court. And I think that’s what he would want for us to do.”

What a person. What a shock. That day the tears streamed down my face, too.

Chadwick Boseman. Oh, how talented Chadwick Boseman was! Boseman passed away in August from colon cancer, a condition he kept fairly private, even continuing to act while struggling with the disease since 2016. Long time friend Denzel Washington said of Boseman, “He was a gentle soul and a brilliant artist, who will stay with us for eternity through his iconic performances over his short yet illustrious career. God bless Chadwick Boseman.”

Boseman’s most notable performance was playing the Black Panther superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film franchise. The character had enhanced speed and strength and was even able to absorb kinetic energy and release it as a shockwave. Yet here is a character that millions across the globe paid attention to, rooted on, and heartily cheered for. He is black. Skin color didn’t matter. In a summer when as a nation we were reeling in the pain of the racial tension that crisscrossed our country, Boseman’s death reminded us that persons of all skin colors deserve to be paid attention to, rooted on, and heartily cheered for.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This death was painful — but not so much because RGB hadn’t lived a long, fruitful, and successful life. She graduated from the top of her class at Cornell; she was one of only nine women at Harvard Law School (out of 500); and during her 27 year tenure on the Supreme Court, she became a celebrated icon for some of her noteworthy majority opinions in addition to her sharp wit and dissent. 

Yet when “The Notorious R.B.G.” passed in September, the first words out of the Intramuralist’s mouth were “oh, no.” With all due respect to the Ginsburg family, my “oh no” was not to be callous to their personal grief; my dismay was more directed at the fractured state of our country, where political passions have sadly become equated with tribal dividing lines. In the weeks before the election, this would simply be one more thing to fight about. And fight is what many did. Friends, few look their best when fighting.

When Ginsburg passed away, if we were willing to forgo the fight, we had opportunity to remember the wise words of her good friend, Justice Antonin Scalia. Passing away four years prior, he was considered as conservative as Justice Ginsburg was liberal. When questioned once why then he would give his perceived political adversary a generous gift for her birthday, asked if in any five-four case he ever received Justice Ginsburg’s vote, Scalia answered, “Some things are more important than votes.” RGB’s death reminded us that some things are more important than votes… more important than politics.

And lastly… 

Alex Trebek. There must be something special about a person we allowed to enter so many households on a nightly basis for so many years. As host of the syndicated game show Jeopardy! for 37 seasons, he was beloved by many for far more than his game show hosting ability. As current executive producer, Mike Richards, stated: “… [Alex] loved this show and everything it stood for. In fact, he taped his final episodes less than two weeks ago. He will forever be an inspiration for his constant desire to learn, his kindness, and for the love of his family.”

When Trebek passed away six days after a tumultuous election day and even more uproarious season, it felt like his death provided us pause to put life in perspective. Here was Trebek, dying from pancreatic cancer, and yet, he was always aware of others; he would oft emphasize that he was not the only person suffering from this disease. Asked then if he was afraid of dying, he said “no.” “… I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life… if it happens, why should I be afraid [of] that?… One thing they’re not going to say at my funeral, as a part of a eulogy, is ‘He was taken from us too soon.’” Trebek’s reminder of the beauty of humility, kindness, and gratitude came at the exact right time.

And so we close out “this thing we keep calling 2020,” shocked at the start of the year, aware that all people deserve to be respected and cheered for, recognizing there exists much which is far more important than politics, and encouraged to keep life in perspective. Maybe this year provided some sweet, necessary lessons after all.

Respectfully…

AR

the Christmas collision

One of the innumerable aspects I deeply appreciate about Christmas is how the holiday is clearly a contemporary collision course.

Collisions get our attention. They demand we stop where we are, shred our schedules and to-do lists, and deal with the immediate. In “this thing we keep calling 2020,” such couldn’t be any more clear.

Christmas is where the sacred and secular collide.

As Tim Keller poignantly points out in Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, “The background music in stores is moving from ‘Joy to the World’ to ‘Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas.’” We tend to sing along with both.

And while no doubt both songs have meaning and value, there is a difference in depth between “Let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing” — and — “I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer.”

Fascinatingly, when Christmas occurred, there existed rampant poverty, oppression, racial tension and political strife on this planet.

People weren’t always merry and they didn’t all get along. That was over 2,000 years ago.

Hence, in the sacred and secular, we often hear a collective crying out. They heard it 2,000 years ago; we hear it still today; we hear cries to “fix it” — fix all this tension and strife!… Some of those voices are gentle and respectful. Others are harsh and demanding. But the plea is often the same: fix it. There are many significant, dark challenges in our world.

Back to Keller…

“Years ago, I read an ad in the New York Times that said, ‘The meaning of Christmas is that love will triumph and that we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.’ In other words, we have the light within us, and so we are the ones who can dispel the darkness of the world. We can overcome poverty, injustice, violence, and evil. If we work together, we can create a ‘world of unity and peace.’ 

Can we? 

One of the most thoughtful world leaders of the late twentieth century was Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic. He had a unique vantage point from which to peer deeply into both socialism and capitalism, and he was not optimistic that either would, by itself, solve the greatest human problems. He knew that science unguided by moral principles had given us the Holocaust. He concluded that neither technology nor the state nor the market alone could save us from nuclear conflict, ethnic violence, or environmental degradation. ‘Pursuit of the good life will not help humanity save itself, nor is democracy alone enough,’ [Havel] said. ‘A turning to and seeking of . . . God, is needed.’ The human race constantly forgets, he added, that ‘he is not God.’ 

Despite the sincerity of the Times advertiser, the message of Christmas is not that ‘we will be able to put together a world of unity and peace.’”

In other words, we need more than we. Christmas reminds us of that. Note the collisions, the contrasts…

Contrast the unadorned visual of the birth of a baby boy in a stable full of hay, prophesied multiple times in centuries prior. Contrast the dirt and the hay and the zero fanfare with the majesty of a king. 

Contrast the babe’s later, adult call to love God and love his people with all the reasons we justify not loving and respecting at least someone today.

The collision is clear. 

Maybe it’s what the Grinch realized — or what Dr. Seuss realized, when he wrote: “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

Thankfully, the collision of Christmas provides the opportunity to see that “little bit more”… that we need more than we… that “pursuit of the good life” is not enough…

So I sit and reflect these days before the holiday… dealing with the immediate, wishing my family and friends unparalleled peace and tremendous goodwill, knowing this year is different, but still, daily, singing “repeat the sounding joy”… 

Over and over again.

Merry Christmas, friends… to you and yours… always…

AR

listen to what I say!

It’s that time of year — that time when the music pipes into far more than the elevators. The following song is actually, incredibly fascinating…

One of my guiding principles is never to let life become rote. I don’t want the daily rhythms of life to become so mechanical or habitual that I miss the meaning and joy that accompany those rhythms. Such is true in the above classic, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” While the carol is beloved because of its sweet, musical articulation of what the angels told the shepherds and how the shepherds may have reacted on Christmas night, I was moved even more when I learned the song’s origin…

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” was written in 1962 by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker.

But it wasn’t written so that we’d eventually have one more song in our Christmas collection for all the celebrities to remake and sing. In fact, Regney had resisted writing a Christmas song, as he was not attracted to the plethora of commercialism that has accompanied a season that means far, incredibly more.

They wrote the song in October, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This historical event — in which the Soviet Union had installed missiles only 90 miles away from the U.S. mainland — is considered the closest the Cold War ever came to escalating into nuclear war.

Regney had experienced war firsthand; he fought in World War II. He knew the danger. The death. The heartache and fear. This song, therefore, was a prayer and a dire plea for peace.

There’s a reason, no less, we’ve heard this song sung by Bing Crosby, Carrie Underwood, and Whitney Houston. There’s a reason Bob Dylan, Alicia Keys, and Johnny Cash have recorded it, as well. That doesn’t even count Mannheim Steamroller, Pentatonix, and the countless others.

This song has deep meaning; there’s nothing rote about it.

There’s a reason to be singing it now.

Respectfully…

AR

ripping off the Band-Aid

Recently stated was that I don’t believe “‘this thing we keep calling 2020’ has inserted all sorts of newness and new perspective into our lives. Rather, I believe it’s revealed — more like ‘ripped the Band-Aid off’ — of what was already there.”

Perhaps our most significant gaping wound in which the bandage has been ripped off is our lack of allowance for another to be where they are. Many feel increasingly, gratuitously empowered to be the one who declares what’s acceptable, debatable, or even allowed to be uttered and discussed.

This past week I’ve read two fantastic pieces that seem to have uncovered more of this wound.

First, from Tim Alberta, the chief political correspondent for Politico Magazine…

Alberta began writing a poignant, year long series last January, attempting to connect ordinary Americans to one another, helping us see those who are alike — and those who are not. He wanted us to hear the voices of others, the voices of our “fellow citizens far removed from stations of influence and power, who actually hold in their hands the fate of this democratic experiment.”

“From the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania to the desert wilderness of New Mexico, while sitting in the backseats of Uber vehicles and standing outside of voting precincts and touring shuttered restaurants,” Alberta aimed to help us “know what was on their minds and in their hearts.”

Alberta’s unscientific study is fascinating. In his final piece entitled “Letter to Washington: 20 Americans Who Explain the 2020 Election,” he shares from some most articulate individuals… persons of varied age, ethnicity, faith, gender, preference, etc… persons who voted for Biden and who voted for Trump… persons who were enthusiastic about their vote, “held their nose” during their vote, or were disappointed in the choice for whom to vote. This, my friends, is diversity.

In that cross-section, Alberta came to a final conclusion — and potentially the reason a wound can hurt so much…

“I detected one common feeling that binds together this deeply fractured nation: fear. Fear of violence. Fear for their livelihoods. Fear of far-left socialism or far-right authoritarianism. Fear that our best days are behind us. Fear that America is no longer capable of conquering its great challenges. Above all, fear that we are too alienated, too angry with each other, too fundamentally misunderstood by the other half of society to ever truly heal.”

How profound that what Alberta asserts we may most have in common is our fear. 

The second piece was an interview by the British Internet magazine Spiked of Chris Arnade, a liberal American photographer and the author of Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America, in which he shares his experience, traveling across the country, speaking to people in poor and working-class communities. Arnade talks about the gap between us… 

“The gap is not about how you vote – it is about how you think about the world. The elites – what I call the front row – are not really defined by class, although there is overlap. They are more defined by education and a very materialistic worldview: they generally see themselves as mobile, global, secular and morally right. And they view the back row as being lesser, stuck in provincial and outdated views about the world and themselves.

The front row is detached and completely clueless about the people it rules. Its members run the political system and business and define our cultural and economic capital. Therefore, they have an obligation to understand the people they lord over…”

Both reads are both poignant and profound. Both show the divide and the common. Each also shows where the bandage is ripped off. But what if we could stop the bleeding?

Notes Alberta in regard to those he met: “They are not a statistically perfect sample of the electorate. They will not check every box or speak to every possible viewpoint of the roughly 160 million Americans who voted this year. What they will do, both individually and collectively, is provide a depth of perspective that cannot be captured in infographic maps or exit polls or social media posts. With half of this country bewildered by the motivations and rationales of the other half, these 20 citizens can help us understand this moment in America—and maybe, just maybe, understand each other.”

Ah, a depth of perspective… a way to understand each other… Maybe there’s a way to put the Band-Aid back on…

Respectfully…

AR