solving the conflict…

This week I had an unfortunate conflict with a client. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of conflict; however, learning to work through conflict in a healthy way is a necessary life skill.

Allow me to first share some brief background, which will aid in reaching the main point of today’s further-reaching post…

I work with a highly respected counseling group. While not a licensed professional counselor, my role is to connect an excellent, counseling team with organizations which desire to offer increased professional care for the mental health of persons in their purview. It is a sweet, privileged process to be able to help persons get the care they need.

Last week I had a man call who was very angry. Through a series of steps and conversations with others, he had come to believe something about a friend’s care that was untrue. Let me be respectfully clear: the man passionately believed that his perspective was completely accurate. As the one who administers the program, I can tell you his perspective was incorrect. But by this time, the conflict had brewed for a bit, and the man was mad. He was loud. He believed absolutely everything he was saying.

I’ve had some time since to reflect upon the conflict, and because I desire to grow in what is good, I’ve also asked myself: where else does this apply?

I look at our country and culture, seeing them attempt to work through conflict. With all due respect, our country stinks at it.

I look at the current shutdown. We stink at solving that, too.

I hear you. “If Trump would only quit demanding he get his way, demanding he get the money to build his campaign-promised wall…” Or… “If Pelosi and Schumer would only recognize how hypocritical they are, as when Obama was in office, they wholeheartedly supported such a barrier…”

Yes, please don’t attempt to tell me how one side is more moral or consistent. They are arguing about 0.0998% of the total federal budget; both sides seem most about political posturing. My personal hope is that the President’s stab at compromise over the weekend is sincere and will be fruitful — leading to a solution to the shutdown and to more bipartisan talks as to how we can efficiently, effectively and compassionately overhaul the current broken immigration system going forward.

But the problem with conflict is we get stuck in this unhealthy pattern, thinking that there exist only two ways to solve a problem… You/me. Black/white. Republican/Democrat. Yada/Yada. Then we only fight for and listen to a singular side.

Friends, there are far more ways than two to solve almost every problem.

When the loud, angry man called me last week, I can’t say I was thrilled. In fact, I immediately said an extra prayer for patience in hopes that I could listen well.

I listened to the man who shared his story. I asked questions about what I didn’t understand. I didn’t point out any perceived wrongful thinking. The purpose of my question asking was to understand why he felt the way he did.

Fascinating what happened next…

The angry man felt heard by my listening. He softened. Giving him space, grace, and time to communicate as he desired, he then was willing to hear my perspective, too. I shared with him some things he didn’t know. And by me listening to him first, he was willing to wrestle with what he previously misunderstood. He even offered that maybe he was part of the miscommunication.

 So after our initial, mutual respectful round of listening, I asked, “Sir, can I share with you my end game? My priority is the person gets the care they need. With that in mind, let’s work back from there.”

If our branches of government would first listen to one another — then recognize that they want the same thing — effective border security, which minimizes crime but allows responsible others to enter — and if they would work back from there — perhaps they would realize there exist more than solely two approaches.

Perhaps they would also realize our government would serve us better, too.

Did I mention that learning to work through conflict in a healthy way is a necessary life skill?

Respectfully…
AR

 

today’s questions…

If you’ve been a longtime reader of the Intramuralist, you’ll know that the question mark is my favorite punctuation piece. Why?

Because no other mark invites a response.

Let us thus discuss the events of the today via questions — 20, in fact. Some are mine, some are not… but all are respectfully — albeit some playfully — asked…

  1. Who leads in a government shut down?
  2. How long can this last?
  3. Why do members of the Executive and Legislative Branches still get paid during a shut down?
  4. How will Broadway star Carol Channing be remembered?
  5. What is “toxic masculinity”?
  6. Is there such a thing as “toxic femininity”?
  7. Does not everyone know that the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacy” are offensive?
  8. Why do some choose to be anti-Semitic?
  9. Can we please restore (and model) compromise and civility?
  10. Is the “Notorious RBG” ok?
  11. What could we all learn from the sweet friendship of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the late Antonin Scalia?
  12. Has anyone noticed Netflix is going to raise our rates?
  13. Does Sen. Bernie Sanders own a comb?
  14. What does yesterday’s vote rejecting the Prime Minister of England’s plan to exit the European Union actually mean?
  15. Who will win between the Chiefs/Patriots and Saints/Rams this weekend?
  16. How long can Tom Brady and Drew Brees actually play?
  17. Exactly how many people will run for President?
  18. How much economic experience is required?
  19. Will the best people actually run?
  20. And, what more questions should we be asking, which would spur on more dialogue, which is always better than shouting opinions at one another?

Yes, just asking questions, friends.

It is the only punctuation piece that invites a response.

Respectfully…

AR

intellectual humility

Warning: this might be my least popular blog post. Ever. It also is relevant and true.

I therefore encourage you to proceed with caution. Read at your own risk. I have zero intent to disrespect.

We’ve come to 2019, where our world continues to clunkily seek its way of relating and operating in a crazy culture… a society in which the lack of humility seems totally glaring in our highest levels of leadership and in those who offer vocal opposition or support. People are justifying judgment.

Judgment is fueled by the absence of humility. When we don’t know what we don’t know, we tend to get puffed up. As Brian Resnick, a science reporter at Vox.com, wrote in a brilliant editorial last week, “It’s so hard to see our own ignorance.”

Quoting the work of Julia Rohrer, a personality psychologist and Life Fellow at Deutshes Institut Für Wirtschaftforschung, Berlin:

“I do think it’s a cultural issue that people are not willing to admit mistakes.”

Resnick wrestles with the profound, phenomenal virtue: intellectual humility.  

Intellectual humility is the self-awareness that some things you believe might be wrong.

Writes Resnick [Note: all emphasis mine]…

“… Don’t confuse it with overall humility or bashfulness. It’s not about being a pushover; it’s not about lacking confidence, or self-esteem. The intellectually humble don’t cave every time their thoughts are challenged.

Instead, it’s a method of thinking. It’s about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others. Intellectual humility is about being actively curious about your blind spots. One illustration is in the ideal of the scientific method, where a scientist actively works against her own hypothesis, attempting to rule out any other alternative explanations for a phenomenon before settling on a conclusion. It’s about asking: What am I missing here?

It doesn’t require a high IQ or a particular skill set. It does, however, require making a habit of thinking about your limits, which can be painful. ‘It’s a process of monitoring your own confidence.’”

Unfortunately, too many are unaware of their limits — perhaps feeling as if they have few or none — either precisely because of their intelligence or experience or because they allow opinion-based analysis to serve as their primary news source.

Pick your issue. Pick your passion. Pick the budget shutdown, the Supreme Court, or the 2016 election, for example. We each have an opinion. The biased sources such as CNN, FOX, and MSNBC feed it. We then conclude we are right; we don’t know what we don’t know; we don’t recognize the limits to our knowledge; and we are not encouraged by the likeminded to monitor our own confidence.

Resnick surmises three main challenges on this wiser path to humility: 

  1. In order for us to acquire more intellectual humility, we all, even the smartest among us, need to better appreciate our cognitive blind spots. Our minds are more imperfect and imprecise than we’d often like to admit. Our ignorance can be invisible.
  2. Even when we overcome that immense challenge and figure out our errors, we need to remember we won’t necessarily be punished for saying, ‘I was wrong.’ And we need to be braver about saying it. We need a culture that celebrates those words.
  3. We’ll never achieve perfect intellectual humility. So we need to choose our convictions thoughtfully.

I have long averred that intelligence and wisdom are not the same. Of the two, wisdom is the only virtue; intelligence often gets in the way. 

Intelligence often impedes our want and willingness to listen and learn from the different, recognizing the immense value in the different. Intelligence can thus cloud the reality that there are limits to what we know and can possibly know.

Let me be clear: intellectual humility is not easy to attain, but in a world that increasingly justifies judgment, arrogance, and blatant disrespect — especially from the intelligent — it is a virtue worth striving for.

What, my friends, don’t you know?

Where might you be wrong?

Respectfully…

AR

compromise?

While we were focused on the meaning and merry of recent holidays and resolutions, the federal government quit working efficiently and effectively. 

Oh, wait… allow me to insert a total opinion here… the federal government quit working efficiently and effectively years ago. (These past few weeks it’s just a little more, uh, obvious.)

All said, I’ve wrestled with a proper approach to respectfully acknowledge the state of current affairs. I’ve pondered if taking one side or another is wise. The temptation, however, is quickly doused when we find multiple public statements in which those now involved once said the exact opposite thing.

Hence in attempt to focus on something bigger, there is one aspect within that strikes me as a significant loss for our culture: we have become numb to the value of compromise.

Granted, like the millions of one-time Steven Covey students, I, too, heeded his call to be highly effective. Highly effective people work well with the masses — not simply a percentage-points majority. Highly effective people know Habit #4 — “Think Win-Win” — and habit #6 — “Synergize!” — each especially relevant here…

To “win-win,” a person prioritizes doing what’s best for everyone involved. How can everyone in the room “win,” so-to-speak? 

Interactions are mindful of relationship, with an earnest desire to craft mutually beneficial solutions. A “‘win’ for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten their way” — or one small percentage had gotten their way. It isn’t about being nice nor finding some quick fix. It’s about basing “human interaction and collaboration” on value and respect.

“Synergize!” recognizes the great good of teamwork. This habit certainly challenges us in regard to working with and even honoring the differences of those around us. As the “12min Blog” reviews: “Synergy makes you assimilate new points of view and achieve positive results by working together.”

Synergy doesn’t mean we all agree nor that we should even have to. Synergy instead creates “a unique solution that combines the best of the parts.”

Note that neither of the two above, highly effective habits embrace compromise. In fact, adherent to Solomon’s ancient wisdom decrying the absurdity of splitting one wanted baby in two, in rare times compromise is both foolish and impossible. 

But my sense is that far too many have taken that too far. They perceive and promote simply the prospect of compromise as foolish and impossible. They convince themselves that they are more moral… more wise… more something. And just like that they dismiss — and disrespect — all others in the room.

Is there room for compromise in the current federal government standoff?

Of course there is. 

Hence…

Mr. President, Congressmen/women, Spokespeople and Leaders of both parties…

Respect us more by showing more respect for one another.

Think “win-win” — not ensuring the ethically-lesser “no-win-for-them.”

And synergize!

Compromise is not foolish. It’s also not impossible.

Respectfully…

AR

why we talk about Tyler Trent

I have a few things here I’ve been waiting ’til the new year to say — some reflections on the year behind and encouragement for the year ahead. But as a proud alumnus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, I wish to first expand upon the powerful example of fellow Boilermaker, Tyler Trent. His story has gone viral. His inspiration has been deep. 

By now many have heard of Tyler… the smart young man diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 15 — after throwing a frisbee and breaking his arm. When his cancer was in remission, Tyler finished high school and was awarded a prestigious Presidential Scholarship to Purdue. Shortly thereafter, however, his cancer aggressively returned. 

No matter the setback, Tyler was an enthusiastic, devoted Purdue fan. Head football coach Jeff Brohm noticed Tyler, got to know him, and made him an honorary captain his freshman year. His sophomore year, his cancer progressed, and he would have to drop out of school. Even so, Tyler maintained an active presence when physically possible, culminating in being wheeled in on the sidelines during ESPN’s featured Ohio State/Purdue football broadcast. Tyler had predicted a victory for his beloved, huge-underdog Purdue — and Purdue promptly, surprisingly played arguably their best game of the season, blowing out the #2 team in the country.

But the kind of person Tyler was, fans of all teams began to cheer him on — “Tyler Strong” was the frequent refrain. Tyler gained increasingly more attention as his so obvious humble spirit attracted more than an ego ever could. Fascinatingly, Tyler prayed a year ago that he would live to tell his story. And he did.

Tyler passed away in the dawn of New Year’s Day.

“Tyler Trent is the spirit of Purdue,” wrote Travis Miller, the Site Manager of “Hammer & Rails,” a Purdue-focused website. Wrote Miller:

“… When Purdue stunned Ohio State in October it was Tyler’s night. He nearly did not make it to that game, but I am convinced that the energy of that night lifted him these last two and a half months. It sustained him past what his doctors thought. Unfortunately, cancer sucks. Hard. Tyler fought, but now his fight is over.

In the last 15 months the nation has gotten to know Tyler. What amazed me throughout was that it was never about his own fight. When Tyler would tweet it would rarely be about his condition. He only gave updates when they were major, like when he was forced to withdraw from school. Instead, he wrote about about what he could do for others. Here was a young man that knew his time was limited, but he spent every second doing what he could for others. He inspired others. He encouraged others. He strengthened them. His upcoming book is about pulling off an upset of cancer even though it will not physically benefit him. He spoke of how he was encouraged that samples of his tumor might lead to a cure someday, ignoring that meant there was no cure yet for him.

I was always in awe of his humility and his desire to serve.

Mark 10:45 says: ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ This is the example we are called to follow, and Tyler knew what it meant to serve…”

I think that’s what stands out to me about Tyler and why I wished to pause briefly and focus on him today.

It’s not just that the world felt sorry for this young man, dying in his perceived prime; it’s not that his story was so strikingly different than anyone else who has struggled with this awful disease. It’s that Tyler Trent maintained his humility; he embraced his faith; and he encouraged others all the while, never allowing his condition to compromise his conviction.

So many of us/me, we become self-focused… complaining or indignant when something doesn’t go our way… pointing fingers when we’re irritated, offended or when life just doesn’t go right. And yet here was Tyler, who had far more reason than most of us to be all of the above, but never allowed the focus to be about him. He never saw himself as a victim.

When given the Disney Spirit Award at the ESPN’S College Football awards in December and welcomed with an extended standing ovation, Tyler was asked what the moment meant to him. He mustered, “Moment undeserved.” 

Asked then, also, what his message was to the millions who’ve been moved by his story, Tyler shared, “At the end of the day, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. As long as you rely on your faith, things will work out.”

That was only a few short weeks before he died.

So how do we honor Tyler Trent? How do we learn and grow from his example?

Let’s be humbler. Let’s be less self-focused. Let’s be more faithful.

And may we always remember what’s most important. 

Respectfully… RIP Tyler…

AR

the solution in 2019

As we prepare for a new slate of respectful dialogue in 2019 and an earnest desire to be a promoter of efficient, effective and compassionate solution, allow me to share a concern echoed from the year behind, as editorialized by CNN and multiple outgoing senators… [all emphasis mine]…

“As departing senators said their goodbyes to Washington, a number of Democrats and Republicans took the opportunity to express concern about the state of the Senate and the political climate.

‘All the evidence points to an unsettling truth: The Senate as an institution is in crisis,’ retiring Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah lamented in his farewell speech delivered on the Senate floor.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was defeated in the November midterm elections, echoed that idea when she delivered her own farewell speech. ‘I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was worried about this place,’ she said. ‘It just doesn’t work as well as it used to.’

‘Something is broken,’ the Missouri Democrat went on to say. ‘If we don’t have the strength to look in the mirror and fix it, the American people are going to grow more and more cynical.’

As senators who were either ousted in the elections or decided to retire and not seek another term reflected on their time in Congress, many expressed dismay at how divided Washington has become as lawmakers retreat to entrenched partisan positions that leave little room for compromise or common ground

But while departing senators had unique messages to impart, the overarching idea that there’s a problem with the current state of politics was a consistent theme.

‘What in the world has happened to civility and to humility in our nation’s public discourse?’ Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who lost his seat in the midterms, asked in his farewell speech.

‘Tribalism is our problem, and if not corrected, it’s going to take our country down,’ he warned…

As departing senators outlined concerns in their farewell speeches, many described what they believe has contributed to the highly divisive political climate and what they think needs to change.

McCaskill urged lawmakers to have the courage to take ‘tough votes.’

‘Solving the toughest problems will not happen without tough votes,” she said. ‘We can talk about the toughest problems… we can argue about them, we can campaign on them, but we’re not going to solve them without tough votes.’

Nelson and outgoing Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who also lost his seat in the midterms, suggested that an influx of big money in politics has had a corrosive effect, making an argument common to the Democratic Party…

Hatch, meanwhile, decried “identity politics,” a concept often invoked critically by Republicans, who frequently accuse Democrats of subscribing to it… ‘identity politics is nothing more than dressed-up tribalism’…

In their farewell speeches, departing senators also reflected on fond memories of their time in Congress, and some expressed optimism for the future despite their concerns…”

I believe, too, there exists reason for optimism. However, it starts with:

  1. looking in the mirror
  2. allowing room for compromise or common ground; and…
  3. valuing civility and humility in our discourse.

Here’s to the Intramuralist in 2019. May we always be part of the solution.

Respectfully…

AR 

hope

[Borrowed and edited once more from a blog by Justin Taylor, Crossway Sr. VP & publisher, because the story behind the song blows me away and puts life in perspective…]

In March of 1863, 18-year-old Charles Appleton Longfellow walked out of his family’s home on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and—unbeknownst to his family—boarded a train bound for Washington, DC., over 400 miles away, in order to join President Lincoln’s Union army to fight in the Civil War.  Charles was the oldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet. Charles had five younger siblings: a brother (aged 17) and three sisters (ages 13, 10, 8—another one had died as an infant).

Less than two years earlier, Charles’s mother Fannie had died from a tragic accident when her dress caught on fire. Her husband, awoken from a nap, tried to extinguish the flames as best he could, first with a rug and then his own body, but she had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning, and Henry Longfellow’s facial burns were severe enough that he was unable even to attend his own wife’s funeral. He would grow a beard to hide his burned face and at times feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

When Charley (as he was called) arrived in Washington D.C. he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Captain W. H. McCartney, commander of Battery A, wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a solider. HWL (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote to his friends [Sen.] Charles Sumner, [Gov.] John Andrew, and Edward Dalton (medical inspector of the Sixth Army Corps) to lobby for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills, and on March 27, 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, assigned to Company “G.”

After participating on the fringe of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (April 30-May 6, 1863), Charley fell ill with typhoid fever and was sent home to recover. He rejoined his unit on August 15, 1863, having missed the Battle of Gettysburg.

While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.

He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.

On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He hears the Christmas bells and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) but observes the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truth of this statement. The theme of listening recurs throughout the poem, leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair…

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Respectfully… with hope… always…

AR

what Christmas is all about

From the 1965 animated TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” based on the comic strip Peanuts, there’s a great message thanks to Charles M. Schulz…

The 25 minute special begins with the Peanuts gang skating on the pond together, singing gleefully “Christmas Time Is Here.” Yet Charlie Brown has little joy in the moment — instead, seemingly disturbed and depressed. 

He tells his buddy Linus he’s not sure as to why, to which Linus casually dismisses Charlie’s perceived typical attitude, quoting their friend Lucy: “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.”

As the special continues, so does Charlie’s depression. He seems increasingly disturbed at all the commercialism around him… the focus on the money… the focus on gifts… cards… Santa… even the focus on a Christmas decor lighting contest (congrats, Snoopy). 

Charlie wanders, wondering if we really understand the meaning of the season — and all the things that potentially get in the way… that is, unless we are intentional in our pause, recognizing why we share in the happiness of the holidays, the greetings of the season, and the available peace, even when life isn’t easy.

Finally near the show’s end, cumulating in a Christmas play in which the gang is dancing with great joy once again, Charlie Brown cries out:

“Isn’t there anyone, who knows what Christmas is all about?!”

To which his pal Linus, humbly, sincerely answers once more…

“Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights please?

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. 

And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. 

And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ 

And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.’

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Merry Christmas, friends. 

Amidst all the joy and cheer — even and maybe especially, on the days when it is not the actual holiday — may we remember and be encouraged by what Christmas is all about.

Blessings… always…

AR

the Hymn of Joy

“The Hymn of Joy” was a poem written in 1907 by Henry van Dyke. Intended to be musically set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” we know it better as the song, “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

Mindful of the current season, allow us to share the original poem in its brief entirety. There is one line I wish to emphasize…

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee

God of glory, Lord of love

Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee

Op’ning to the Sun above

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness

drive the dark of doubt away

Giver of immortal gladness

fill us with the light of day

All Thy works with joy surround Thee

Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays

Stars and angels sing around Thee

center of unbroken praise

Field and forest, vale and mountain

Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea

chanting bird and flowing fountain

call us to rejoice in Thee

Thou art giving and forgiving

ever blessing, ever blest

well-spring of the joy of living

ocean-depth of happy rest

Thou the Father, Christ our Brother—

all who live in love are Thine

Teach us how to love each other

lift us to the Joy Divine

Mortals join the mighty chorus

which the morning stars began

Father-love is reigning o’er us

brother-love binds man to man.

Ever singing, march we onward

victors in the midst of strife

joyful music lifts us sunward

in the triumph song of life

Van Dyke himself considered this “a hymn of trust and joy and hope.” Perhaps it’s due to that one line — a line most challenging in current culture… 

“Teach us how to love each other.”

Note that there is no self focus. There is no shutting down of another. There is no lack of listening nor insinuation that we are the ones who are always right.

Instead there is a focus on others — learning to love and respect them… no matter what. Maybe that’s the secret to the increased joy.

What a fantastic time of year to join in van Dyke’s call…

Learning how to love and value one another, no matter how alike… no matter how not… 

Respectfully…

AR

an (un)natural Christmas act

Ten years and one day ago, I penned the edited post below. For some reason, Christmastime makes us think of what is virtuous, what is good. Some of what is good feels a little unnatural…

_____

There’s something about this time of year that makes us all think a little more about virtues… like gratitude and charity, peace and love, faith and goodwill toward men. But there’s one virtue to me, that trumps all others, even though I rarely see it mentioned on any sparkling Christmas, Hanukkah, or even Kwanzaa card.

Forgiveness. Grace and forgiveness.

This is not a one-blog discussion [as we’ve acknowledged these past ten years]. Not everyone believes in grace and forgiveness, and even those of us who do, have trouble offering such both liberally and consistently. I’ve seen Christians and non-Christians extend it. I’ve seen Christians and non-Christians withhold it – unfortunately but often understandably, usually in the name of self-protection. My guess is that old song about “knowing we are Christians by our love” might serve us better if people knew “we were Christians by our grace.” Offering grace – and not in reference to any pre-meal activity – is a seemingly unnatural act.

Today let me simply borrow from one of my favorite books, What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. I read it several years ago, and it changed the way I think. Here is Yancey’s insight as to the challenge of extending forgiveness:

“I and the public know

What all school children learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

W.H. Auden, who wrote those lines, understood that the law of nature admits no forgiveness. Do squirrels forgive cats for chasing them up trees or dolphins forgive sharks for eating their playmates? It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, not dog-forgive-dog. As for the human species, our major institutions – financial, political, even athletic – run on the same unrelenting principle. An umpire never announces, ‘You were really out, but because of your exemplary spirit I’ll call you safe.’ Or what nation responds to its belligerent neighbors with the proclamation, ‘You are right, we violated your borders. Will you please forgive us?’

The very taste of forgiveness seems somehow wrong. Even when we have committed a wrong, we want to earn our way back into the injured party’s good graces. We prefer to crawl on our knees, to wallow, to do penance, to kill a lamb – and religion often obliges us. When the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV decided to seek the pardon of Pope Gregory VII in 1077, he stood barefoot for three days in the snow outside the papal quarters in Italy. Probably, Henry went away with a self-satisfied feeling, wearing frostbite scars as the stigmata of forgiveness.

‘Despite a hundred sermons on forgiveness, we do not forgive easily, nor find ourselves easily forgiven. Forgiveness, we discover, is always harder than the sermons make it out to be,’ writes Elizabeth O’Connor. We nurse sores, go to elaborate lengths to rationalize our behavior, perpetuate family feuds, punish ourselves, punish others – all to avoid this most unnatural act.”

This is tough. At a time of year when a focus on virtues is both apparent and appropriate, have we taken time to ask ourselves: 

Is there anyone out there I need to forgive? 

Are there any situations in which I have justified withholding forgiveness? 

And is there anything for which I am punishing myself?

Today’s conversation is merely a beginning point in the dialogue. One blog [nor ten years of blogs] will not change the world nor those financial, political, even athletic institutions. Our hearts, however, can be changed… through the blessing that comes via a powerful, unnatural act.

Respectfully…  

AR