this is not a drill

Last Saturday, as perhaps many have now heard, the following message went out to everyone in the state of Hawaii:

“Emergency Alert

BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

An unknown false alarm — accidentally sent after an employee “pushed the wrong button” during a routine drill run after a shift change, according to Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency — sent Hawaiians went “from paradise to panic,” said CNN.

“You’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, are we going to die?’”

Testimonies and tales from those involved are shocking and scary, even though within somewhere between 15-30 minutes, contradicting communication was mass delivered identifying the alert as an error. There was a surplus of huddles and tears and perceived last phone calls and texts, as any of us would imagine.

There were many so-called “goodbyes.”

The PGA was actually hosting an event in Honolulu at the time. Said golfer Charles Howell III,”All the alarms went off at the same time. It got everyone’s attention. I didn’t know what to do. We all stared at each other. It kind of shows you the world we live in now. Your whole life can change in a second.”

First, before I suggest anything else, let us thank the good Lord that the alarm was false. He is good indeed.

But second, it makes me wonder.

What would get our attention?

What would we choose to do if we knew our time was limited?

 What would we do if we knew our whole life was about to change in a second?

Would we keep on doing what we’re doing now?

Would we rant?

Would we rave?

Would we treat others better?

Would we reconcile?

Would we forgive?

Young NBA star, Karl-Anthony Towns, who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, said it well:

“Words cannot describe the relief my family and I feel that the alarm in Hawaii was false. My girlfriend was born and raised in Hawaii and with most of her family there, the panic was real. We should thank God for every day no matter the struggles and tell our family we love them.”

We should thank God for every day…

No matter the struggles…

And tell our family we love them.

Maybe we should start before we believe the end is imminent.

Respectfully…
AR

Photo by Patryk Grądys on Unsplash

fighting words

“Dem’s fighting words!”

… said everywhere from Bug Bunny to the New York Times’ crossword puzzle. Note the following iconic exchange between Bugs and Yosemite Sam:

Yosemite Sam: “Now, you dog-blasted, ornery, no-account, long-eared varmint!”

Bugs: “Hey, just a minute, you! Dem’s fightin’ woids!”

Yosemite Sam: “Yeah, dem’s fightin’ words!”

Bugs: “I dash ya to step across dis line.”
[traces line along edge of diving board] 

Yosemite Sam: “I’m a-stepping.”
[Sam steps across line and falls off board; rises up] 

Yosemite Sam: “I hate you.”
[falls back down] 

Witness the clear progression from fighting words to hate. One person offers an emotionally -charged insult. The next labels the insult as “fighting words.” There are then back-and-forth threats, having justified the fight. And all of a sudden persons who have more in common than they wish to realize, declare their hatred for one another.

Dare I humbly suggest, the fighting quickly runs out of control.

The current cultural fighting seems to be out of control in areas where previously there was none.

Note even the NBA game Monday night between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. The game featured the return of longtime Clippers’ star, Chris Paul, yet this time, he was an identified member of the opposition.

It was a game — a competition, if you will. Only one team could win. Things got heated. All sorts of emotions were flying. Insults accompanied the emotion.

As ESPN reported, “The final minutes of the game were filled with technical fouls, ejections, swearing, bumping — and that was just the beginning.”

After the game was over, four Rockets’ players — including former Clipper, Paul — took a back hallway that Paul knew connected with the visiting locker room with that of the home team. In an incident investigated for multiple days by league officials, the Clippers were then stunned when these professionals burst into their locker room. They were stunned, too, that the men had “come calling for them.”

Said more by the entertainment sports network, “For a few fleeting moments, several Clippers dared the Rockets to come farther into the room, sources said. Security and team officials soon converged on the Rockets, pushing them out the door and back toward the visiting locker room.”

Hence, “On a night that the Clippers organization played a video montage to honor Paul’s six seasons here, the fractured relationships that led to his departure in June percolated in the raucous fallout of the night.”

And thus, with all the emotions resulting from two teams with similar goals in perceived competition with one another, someone, somewhere concluded, “Dem’s fighting words!”

Once we conclude that the other has utilized “fighting words,” we are lured into justifying hatred. Once we justify hatred, we fail to see the more we have in common with another…

… regardless of the court.

Respectfully…
AR

vivian, michelet, immigration & more…

One of the challenges in today’s seemingly react-first culture is that we sometimes find ourselves reacting to a symptom instead of wrestling with the root. We deal with related branches of an issue, as opposed to dealing with the issue at its core.

Such seemed true again last week in regard to Pres. Trump’s disputed crass comments in regard to the countries of origin of American immigrants. While his reported words created an understandable stir, the reality is that we need to find a way to deal with the deeper issues embedded inside immigration. Those issues are part of why the immigration issue has been so challenging for administrations and legislators of both parties to fix for years.

Note that in what has been none other than a sweet blessing to me, I have long had many Haitian friends. In fact, working alongside so many as my professional career began was incredibly insightful and growth-producing. I felt God gently but firmly stretching me, learning to deeply love those seemingly different than me. I learned more about what we had in common than what we did not.

Haiti is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people with some amazing stories… without a doubt, Vivian, Michelet, Lamar, etc… They shaped and sharpened me in so many ways. Their compassion… their so obvious humility and grace… they spurred me on in my early professional years. I thank God that my relationship with them impacted far more than my profession.

I heard, too, their stories of hardness, the hard life many chose to leave. Now almost eight years exactly after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, I will never forget my friends’ poignant testimonies in regard to their struggles of everyday life… to make a living, to feed their family, to have a healthy child or a safe home. They came here to build a future. And as a wise man said in response last week, “Yes, life is hard. Though the President put it in a crass way, we can pause to ensure we haven’t become numb to suffering of our brothers and sisters.”

Let us never become numb… to any.

The existent poverty and lack of development in Haiti is accompanied by a complex history — one on which even with my friends’ insight, I have a limited perspective. Unfortunately, however, I know that much of the country’s history has been marked by corruption. That was evident in my friends’ sadness, as Haiti is has been known as one of the significantly more corrupt countries in the world.

So as I look at those who are still struggling, my question as one who loves Jesus back and thus looks to love all people well: what’s the best way to love all people well in the immigration debate?

Not being numb… but not forgetting the concerns both at home and afar…

How do we best love all people well?

Said Kent Annan, a senior fellow at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, “Our framework for immigration starts and ends with love. In between, there are hard policy questions to debate honestly and rigorously. Yes, it’s wise to consider security issues. And yes, our resources to help can be limited. In some cases, the best way to help refugees is to support them closer to their homes.”

We must be honest about constraints but motivated in our choice by love for our neighbor.”

We have to find a way to do this well, friends.

Let’s wrestle with all the angles, complex as they may be.

Let’s be honest about all the angles — and stop politicizing them, possibly in lieu of future voters.

And in the meantime, let’s stop pointing fingers at one another.

Let’s stop seeing any other as idiotic or unenlightened or something worse than we. And mostly, let’s stop fooling ourselves by thinking we are loving all people well when any of our time is spent casting stones at someone here.

Vivian, Michelet, and Lamar taught me many things. Most of all, they helped teach me how to love other people well.

Respectfully…
AR

a masterpiece

Last week was hard.
Talking about it is harder.

The President reportedly used a very insensitive, disrespectful phrase. While we don’t know all the specifics, I don’t appreciate nor condone the harsh language reported. And while different people seem to have different impressions of the word — especially over the past 25 years — I don’t find Pres. Trump’s reported expression “presidential.”

My desire is for all people to be respected…

Whether from Haiti, El Salvador….
Black or white…
Regardless of any difference or demographic…

I repeat: my desire is for all people to be respected.

The challenge is that many of us justify disrespecting someone.

Allow me to rephrase: many of us justify thinking lesser of someone due to difference. demographic, or disagreement.

The temptation to think lesser of another makes sense… it’s easier to conclude there’s something wrong with another or that we never really knew them than it is to be silent and still long enough, investing the time and doing the work necessary to truly understand the difference in another — to understand why another feels/lives/believes/behaves the way they do. It’s far easier to cast judgment, even when unknowingly done.

I can be just as guilty.

What helps me most is recognizing where we come from.

I think of who and how we were created. I have no doubt the great big God of the universe created you and me.

Not only did he create the people from Haiti and El Salvador. He created the black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc., too. That truth extends far beyond all the angles of any immigration debate.

When I humbly stand back and look at each person as one created by God, it changes how I see them. I figure he knows a little bit more than me.

I see others with purpose.
Of value.
And of equal worth as me.

Regardless of difference.

I am no better nor worse.
They are no better nor worse.

Hence, there is zero justification for looking down upon another — all differences included.

To see others clearly — and thus to not fall prey to thinking less of any other — it begins by first recognizing God’s creative hand. While we don’t always get it and sometimes seem to totally omit him from the entire equation, the reality is with God having crafted and created the entire universe, he must be bigger and wiser and more creative than any of us will ever be. He is the artist. We are thus — each — his masterpiece.

A masterpiece is revered, unique, and always recognized as beautiful.

What would it change if we saw all others that way, too?

(Note: I said “all”… regardless of difference, demographic, or disagreement…)

Respectfully…
AR

what are you known for?

I threw a statement out here last week that I still can’t seem to shake. It’s something “wrestle-worthy,” as I like to say…

Are we known more for what we are for?

Or…

For what we are against?

I think that question is vital…

… vital for our relationships…
… vital for how we are perceived…
… vital for our sphere of influence…
… and vital for the peace in our very own hearts.

For example…

Are you known more for your advocacy?
… or for your opposition?

Are you known more for the teams you root for?
… or for teams you always hope will lose?

Are you known more for your acts of charity?
… or for your thinking that another does not deserve what they already have?

Are you known more for your thankfulness for what you have?
… or for your complaints about what you do not?

Are you known more for the faith you represent?
… or for the faith practices you outspokenly hate?

Are you known more for the cause of which you’re passionate?
… or for the initiative you desire to derail?

Are you known more for your friends on Facebook?
… or for those you’ve intentionally decided to “unfriend”?

Are you known more the people you love?
… or for the people you can’t stand?

Are you known more for your words of affirmation and encouragement?
… or for your sometimes vulgar rants of putting another in their place?

Are you known more for how you service others?
… or for how others inconvenience you?

I humbly ask…

What are you known for?

And where does what you are known for need to change?

Respectfully…
AR

religious veracity

Sometimes, it seems, we are quick to criticize what we don’t know — or rather, we judge behavior in which our perspective is limited. It’s as if we feel our limited perspective is enough to cast firm and stern judgment.

Note Sunday night at the Golden Globe awards. When talented actress Elizabeth Moss accepted her award for “Best Actress in a Drama TV Series,” she utilized her allotted time by honoring “all of the women” who were “brave enough to speak out against intolerance and injustice and to fight for equality and freedom in this world.”

Almost immediately (because the secular American public has for some reason concluded that this is an acceptable way to respond), Moss was harshly hammered on social media for her perceived hypocrisy. She was criticized because the 35 year old is a practicing Scientologist, and many believe that Scientology is an unjust, abusive, especially-oppressive-of-women ideology.

But it’s easy to jump on a bandwagon — via both criticism and praise. I would simply ask this: do we know what Scientology actually is? Besides visions of Tom Cruise jumping on couches in our heads, what do Scientologists believe? What’s at the core of their thinking?

Public promotions and statements from the organization provide nice-sounding offerings such as “the way to happiness,” “increasing spiritual awareness,” and making “life-enhancing improvements.” Let us also acknowledge the root of the religion, as it is not quite as publicized.

Scientology was created by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950’s. While first publishing what he identified as a “science,” Hubbard later invoked a more religious approach, claiming to have uncovered the deep secrets of the spirit and mind. He professed to have been enlightened, and he also avowed that he had acquired knowledge that no other person has ever possessed, calling himself a “celestial mediator.”

Be aware that prior to establishing the religion, Hubbard was a career science fiction writer. Hence, among his teachings, armed with his fantasy and fictional vernacular, “Incident II” is included in the origin of Scientology.

“Incident II” is a far more ambiguous description of the actual teaching…

In knowledge gleaned only by him, Hubbard asserted that 75 million years ago, Xenu, the dictator of the “Galatic Confederacy,” brought billions of his people to “Teegeeack.” “Teegeeack” is what we now call Earth.

According to Hubbard, Xenu brought these billions in a DC-8-like spacecraft. He then stacked the people around volcanoes, and killed them all with hydrogen bombs. The immortal spirits of these aliens adhere to humans, causing spiritual harm.

This teaching is at the core of Scientology.

It’s important to look at the core teachings of any religion when attempting to discern what is good and right and true; they cannot all be good and right and true.

Who is the key religious leader?
What is the faith based upon?
How did it begin?

And key for me — especially when considering the veracity of Scientology, for example — is the onset of this religion unexplainably miraculous?

Or was it made up by man?

In order to verify any religion as good and right and true, we need to investigate the origin of a faith as opposed to simply observing the followers of a faith. Followers can be imperfect.

It’s important to comprehend the core of the thinking.

Respectfully…
AR

be brave (kind, too)

One of the Intramuralist’s primary aims is to focus on that which is good and right and true; life isn’t long enough to invest in the unhealthy. With the flip of the calendar, I’ve noticed several longtime friends encouraging the same, inspired by a recent segment on CBS News Sunday Morning.

“Think kindness,” said the segment’s initial promo. Host Jane Pauley then begins by asking, “When was the last time you even thought about kindness?”

In the current cultural state in which we are often known more for what we are against rather than what we are actually for, what if we were, so-to-speak, for kindness?

Would that not be a welcome change?

Said one-on-the-receiving-end on CBS, “Someone did something for us that we did not expect them to do.” That lack of expectation is what makes kindness so special. It intrinsically prompts genuine joy, humility, and thanksgiving. It’s also something we are all capable of doing.

“We’re genetically wired to be kind. It’s actually our deepest identity,” said featured author and former organic chemist, David Hamilton. “It’s when we’re not being kind that it’s unhealthy.”

Kindness isn’t something we just do; it’s something we need, says Hamilton. Note that kindness is the opposite of stress. Yet we live in a culture which sometimes seems to subconsciously, actually choose stress, thinking for some no doubt, non-God-honoring reason, that kindness must be earned.

Kindness doesn’t have to be any grand gesture. It could simply be a smile or an affirming word. It could be the consistency of random acts… especially in social media or in circles not known to be consistently kind.

In the news morning segment, CBS introduced a couple who set out to do one small act of kindness every day for an entire year. (Let me say that again: every day for an entire year.) They acknowledged that at first, a lot of their friends made fun of them, but they continued, and quickly began to inspire others by posting their stories on social media with the accompanying hashtag, “KeepAmericaKind.” They shared tales of filling expired parking meters with coins, baking cookies for strangers, and sending pizzas to sheriffs’ departments, for example.

They are not alone. Acknowledging the contagious aspect of kindness, many more have embraced the idea of 52 “weeks” of kindness — #kind52 — aiming for one act and thus one post each week of the year. Note the sweet act from one longtime treasured friend:

“Week 1 of 52 Weeks of kindness. I took a picture of a puzzle that a patient’s husband completed while she was doing radiation. I had the picture printed and I am putting in a picture frame to give to him. This kept his mind busy while his wife was treated. He was so proud of this and I wanted him to remember the beautiful puzzle he had completed. Can’t wait to give it to him!! #kind52.”

And from another:

“Walking into the gym and the young girl from Fry’s grocery store was out gathering grocery carts, which of course were all over the parking lot. There was one just set up on some rocks on the curb, and as she came walking over I looked at her and said I’ve got this one and I pulled it out and took it over to where her line of carts were and placed it in there… It may not be a huge act of kindness but it made somebody’s job just a little bit easier and it let her know how much she’s appreciated. #kind52” 

Oh, how I love this! And oh, how refreshing it is in place of all the rants and raves and finger pointing; the rants and and raves and finger pointing are too often not very kind.

We can do better, friends, but in order to do better, we must be intentional; we must use “the muscle,” so-to-speak. As the segment concluded, if our “kindness muscle” goes unused, it will atrophy, and the urge to be kind will go away.

So if we are going to be kind adults, it’s easier the earlier we begin to exercise the muscle. Such is the thinking of Brian Williams, the founder of “Think Kindness.” Williams goes into schools across the country, encouraging and empowering elementary and middle school children…

“Be brave. Be kind. Change the world.”

Kindness begets kindness. We have the power to change the world.

What if we were known for what we are for?

What if we were known for being kind?

Respectfully…
AR

targeting

Undisputedly in our family, there’s been an excessive amount of football filling the TV screens as of late. Between the college bowl battles and professional teams jockeying for playoff position, our gridiron vernacular has been in frequent use.

There’s one penalty, no less, that seems to draw the ire — albeit also confusion — of everyone in the room… even from the less attentive, more casual fan…

Targeting.

To target means to “select as an object of attention or attack.”

According to the official rules of the NCAA [emphasis mine]:

“No player shall target and make forcible contact against an opponent with the crown (top) of his helmet. This foul requires that there be at least one indicator of targeting (See Note 1 below). When in question, it is a foul…

Note 1: ’Targeting’ means that a player takes aim at an opponent for purposes of attacking with forcible contact that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball.”

Targeting is designed to limit dangerous hits. It is a selective assessment — a judgment call, if you will.

The penalty continues to drive fans crazy.

While few fans are thrilled with the accompanying player ejection, the controversy seems to exist because of the inconsistency in application. Remember, “when in question, it is a foul.” Different people — looking at the situation from different angles — will call different things into question.” And to be a foul, the situation only has to be questioned. The rule does not require a helmet-to-helmet hit (Intramuralist foreshadow: it doesn’t require any face-to-face, seeking-first-to-understand interaction either).

Observers are attempting to discern the motive or purpose of another. They are attempting to assess intent. And the only observation that counts in their binding assessment is what they visibly see.

In other words, we are making judgment calls based solely on what we see…

That means we are not getting to know those involved. We are not…
… asking good questions…
… asking hard questions…
… listening to all that makes that person tick…
… and we are not seeking first to understand…

We are making judgment calls instead.

We are judging purpose based on what we see, thinking that’s all that’s relevant.

What we see is relevant; but what we see is not enough. When we judge based solely on what we see, we omit unseen angles; we omit unspoken motive; we omit other important aspects, that we haven’t taken the time to understand, that take far more than intellect or experience to comprehend. We then end up making assessments that are inconsistent and potentially inaccurate, even though we feel we’re right. We’re convinced we’re right.

Why?

Because we saw it.

Face-to-face contact is necessary. Putting ourself in another’s shoes is necessary… so is listening… asking good questions… being humble, selfless and genuine in our response… resisting the temptation to judge from afar.

When we feel we can judge the purpose of another solely based on what we see, we adopt a practice which causes further controversy because it is selectively, inconsistently applied.

Respectfully…
AR

a miracle in disguise

One of the things I don’t think this world does very well is consistently honor those who think differently than we do. Even though technically after the season, the Intramuralist wishes not to miss the messages of peace on Earth and “goodwill to men” that are visible when we do honor and respect one another. Thus, as told by Morris M in “TopTenz” and Rheana Murray in the New York Daily News some 5 years ago, note just one of the practical ways we can love on one another, starting with this special season of the year…

*****

“If you’re a single mom struggling to make ends meet, getting into a car crash the week before Christmas is probably the last thing you want to do. So when Kim Kerswell rear-ended Sherene Borr on her way to get some last-minute presents, she had plenty reason to curse life out, big time. Only it turned out life was dealing her an unexpected favor…”

*****

Single mom Kim Kerswell thought getting into a pricey fender-bender was the worst thing that could have happened to her weeks before Christmas.

It turned out to be the best.

Not only did the woman she hit forgive any damages to her car, she volunteered to save Christmas for Kerswell and her family.

“You could tell she was stressed,” Sherene Borr told the Daily News on Tuesday.

Kerswell rear-ended Borr in a Milford, Mass. parking lot last week, outside the Panera Bread where Kerswell works. As the women exchanged information, Kerswell divulged she was struggling to make ends meet, and raising two kids on her own.

An accident was the last thing the 30-year-old mom needed.

“She wasn’t sure if they could even afford Christmas,” Borr said.

“I explained to her that I grew up in a single mom family, and know how difficult it is.”

Borr, 37, offered to adopt Kerswell’s family for the holiday season and make sure her children had presents under the tree.

“For me, she’s like an angel,” Kerswell told WBZ-TV.

Borr, who also has two children, enlisted friends to help purchase all the gifts — including One Direction memorabilia for Kerswell’s 12-year-old daughter and a toy truck for her 3-year-old son.

“I have a good sense of when people are really in need,” Borr said. “I could just tell. We both ended up in tears.”

Borr, who is Jewish, adopts families every Christmas season with help from her synagogue. She’s making sure Kerswell is stocked with groceries, gift cards, and toys and clothes for her kids.

Kerswell vows to pay Borr’s kindness forward when she can.

“I know things are going to get better and when they do, my daughter and I, and my son, we’re going to help another family,” Kerswell told WBZ-TV.

The moms say they’ll “absolutely” be friends well after the holidays are over.

*****

“Think about that for a second. Some people freak out if you so much as look at them the wrong way. Go smashing into their car and there’s no telling what might happen. But Borr not only didn’t get mad, she went out of her way to help this clearly stressed-out woman provide a Christmas for her kids that would have been unthinkable under normal circumstances. It just goes to show that, even in our rough-and-tumble world, people are still capable of the most heart-warming actions.”

Oh, how I love the practical ways we can show love and respect to one another. May we always be challenged to grow in this area… to value all…

Respectfully…
AR

one word in a new year

So there are certain things the Intramuralist will always advocate for…

… respect…
… humility…
… growth…
… intentionality…

… each near the top of the list.

A year ago, we introduced the new year concept of picking a word — a single word.

As blogged by the self-described “regular guy,” Mike Ashcraft, on his “MyOneWord” site (with a few select edits by moi):

“I love the time between Christmas and New Year’s. Just a couple days after one holiday and a couple of days before the next, the week between gives me a chance to think about the year that was, and the year that is lies ahead.

The wonderful chaos of Christmas is behind me and there’s the proverbial ‘calm after the storm.’

What will you do with the relative calm of the next few days before work and routine begins again?

Once the presents have all been unwrapped and company has gone home, we’re great at looking ahead to next year and all the ways we want it to be different. We’re ready for a fresh start. A new wall calendar. Maybe a gym membership. Perhaps a January cleaning or organizing spree.

But what about bringing this year to a great close?

How can you finish the journey of 2017 well?

Think about this like a journey on an airplane. You take off, reach cruising altitude a few months into the year, then you can feel free to move about the cabin a while.

Soon after Christmas you hear the captain say: ‘Flight Attendants, please prepare the cabin for final approach.’ This means your trip is almost done. The journey is about to end. You are getting ready to land. But have you prepared for landing?

If you don’t intentionally land in a plane, what do you do?

You crash.

I suspect most of us just crash at the end of the year. We’re exhausted from the speed in which the year ended, and slightly dazed from the Christmas celebrations. Engines off. No preparations made for a final approach. We just shut down and crash until the new year appears.

And in our exhaustion, we fail to make time to intentionally land the year we’ve just lived.

I want to invite you to use this week a little more intentionally — not just to prepare yourself for 2018, but to bring 2017 to a close — to finish well.

For many of us, the end of one year and the beginning of the next happen in the same moment. There is a ten second count down. There are kisses and confetti, party horns and people all around us. Fun, but not a real conducive environment for reflection and stillness.

Can I suggest you schedule time in these days between the holidays to finish well in 2017?

Make an appointment with yourself.  Carve some space over the next few days. Don’t just wait for the new year to begin — but rather land the plane before you take off again.

This time of year provides an incredible opportunity to look at the past and the future — without regret or fear. We just need to prepare to land.

You can find a great resource to guide you through a personal retreat here.

Finishing well is a critical part of starting strong. Maybe, this will become your favorite week as well!”

The days until the end of the year are nearly done. But let us start 2018 well… with respect for all… humbly, always… being intentional… and committed to individual growth.

Cheers, friends. And happy new year!

Respectfully…
AR