Norm, the millennials, and me

Growing up — and maybe I wouldn’t have called him this at the time — one of my best friends was a guy named Norm… 

… a retired Army veteran, a loyal employee as Manager of Blue and White Station No. 6, Norm had to be at work by 4 a.m. most days, managing the flow of auto care and repair. After retiring, Norm couldn’t stop working; he spent 10 more years for the newly-immigrated Indianapolis Colts in Special Projects. He’d pick up new players from the airport, take cut players back, even return women’s outfits to the appropriate retail outlet when tags weren’t removed after an elegant evening. Norm always had great stories.

While Norm’s life never looked glamorously successful, he was indeed one of the most successful men I ever knew. He was deeply respected — both by Mr. Cloud at Blue and White and by the entire Irsay family, the NFL franchise owners. I’ll never forget when Norm took me with him to training camp one summer, when 300 lb. left tackle Chris Hinton scurried toward him in the cafeteria, all smiles, high-fiving his beloved “Stormin’ Norman.” There’s an autographed football from Chris still in my room to this day. He and I both were on the cherished receiving end of our “stormin” friend’s generous love, joy, and always, respect. 

Yes, Norm was one of my best friends. 47 years older than me, he got me. In fact, he and I always had an uncomplicated deal; if I ever felt need to run away from home, it was ok… as long as I ran to him.

It would be true, therefore, to say not only that “he got me,” but also, that he worked to get me. 

So much of what we witness in the world today is a lack of trying to get. We see it often with the generations clashing, not understanding one another… not working to either.

Many have studied the issue. Such as author, speaker, and Inc.com contributor Elizabeth Dukes not long ago, in just one example of what we don’t get:

“The most popular misconception Millennials harbor of Baby Boomers is that they are resistant to technology, and (considering how inundated the workplace is with technology) this makes them difficult to work with. While they do rank the lowest in adaptability, this does not mean they resist technology. In their lifetime, Boomers witnessed life-changing breakthroughs in technologies — ATMs, the internet, cell phones — that entirely altered the way we live and work. But these improvements were released at a much slower rate than the pace at which technology evolves today. The Baby Boomer issue isn’t a refusal to use technology or a lack of enthusiasm for it, but perhaps a greater need for training/on-boarding…

The most common misconception Baby Boomers have about Millennials is that they lack a strong work ethic. It’s assumed they are too dependent on technology to think for themselves or connect humanistically with the real world, which makes them lazy and difficult to work with.

In truth, Millennials struggle with challenges no other generation has yet faced, like impossibly high debt and expensive college degrees that no longer hold the same value. These challenges have altered how Millennials prioritize work and life. But the social and professional movements Millennials have inspired is proof that ‘lazy’ is not an accurate depiction. With little hope of debt freedom, Millennials chase what makes them happy instead of what makes them wealthy… They see work and life as an integrated concept and strive to make careers of their passions…”

The above is simply one perception of generational contention. Sometimes the clash is more colloquial. On social media this week, for example, I had the unfortunate pleasure of witnessing my sororal, alumni organization argue incessantly about future recruitment approaches. For far too many, it became open disrespect of the young or the old, believing entire generations to be misguided. My strong sense is when we make sweeping conclusions about entire generations, we miss what they have to offer. And yes, each generation has much to offer.

One of the three zillion things I loved about Norm — who passed away some while ago, after 66 years of marriage to his beloved B.J. — was that as said, he worked to get me. He knew we didn’t think alike. He knew there were things important to me and perspectives I held that he was nowhere close to sharing and maybe would never share. He knew he wouldn’t always understand.

But instead of sitting back, assessing the relationship as there being something wrong with one of us, he asked questions, listened intently, let me ask him anything in return, and never once judged or discounted me. And in those places where his years indeed made him wiser, there was no rebuke; he instead made sweet, uncomplicated deals.

Today one of my greatest, life-giving professional opportunities is serving on a highly talented team comprised of multiple Millennials and those in Gen Z (colloquially known as zoomers). They are the clear majority of our team, and while sure, I have much to teach them, they have so much more to teach me. Yesterday, in fact, we had an all day team building day — one we affectionately entitled “staff summer camp.”

Let me offer a hair more insight… after hours of games, play, including dodgeball with a hilarious twist and 3 hours of all-out fun, highly competitive laser tag, sprinting through warehouse sets and a challenging, outdoor obstacle field, this bit older body is fairly sore this morn. 

No doubt Norm would have been proud.

Respectfully…

AR

what do you do with what you don’t know what to do?

Better yet: what do you do with what’s hard?

On Thursday the Randolph Board of Education in Morris County, New Jersey, a little more than an hour northwest of Manhattan, voted unanimously to remove all holidays from their academic calendar.

A month ago the board made the decision to rename Columbus Day in a motion not on the public agenda nor discussed in any depth; it was admittedly, mostly just voted on and passed. Unfortunately, their later-apologized-for hastiness offended multiple members of the school district, especially the Italian American community, for whom the discovery of the Americas by the holiday’s Italian namesake is a source of tremendous meaning and pride.

In an effort to hopefully extinguish the uproar, the board crafted a perceived solution to the controversy. As reported by their local neighborhood news source, Tap Into Randolph: 

“… A motion was made to remove the names of all holidays that mention ethnic or religious groups, to not exclude or offend any other group. Realizing that some groups are still ‘left out’ and they cannot and do not recognize everyone, the board suddenly decided to vote on removing all holiday names and simply calling them ‘Day Off’… As the vote went down the row with a unanimous ‘Yes,’ the stunned and confused public erupted once more, with some shouting at the board, ‘What just happened? What did you just do?…’” [emphasis mine]

That’s right… 

“Day off.”

Not just Columbus Day, but Christmas, New Year’s, Rosh Hashanah…

Memorial Day, Thanksgiving… even teacher convention days.

Note one board member’s explanation thereafter: “If we don’t have anything on the calendar, we don’t have to have anyone [with] hurt feelings or anything like that.”

Hence, we ask once more: what do you do with what you don’t know what to do? What do you do with what’s hard?

My sense is we have three options. One, we discuss the difficult with fact, grace, and sensitivity to all it may affect. Two, we distort the difficult — typically minimizing or maximizing for select purposes. Or three, we simply refuse to deal with it. The Randolph Board of Education chose option three.

The Intramuralist hopes to always select option number one. In fact, on most everyone else’s calendar this coming Saturday is Juneteenth. While the Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom for all those enslaved in the United States, enforcement was dependent upon Union troops, and Texas was the most remote of the slave states. Juneteenth marks the day in which freedom from slavery was proclaimed in Texas.

The hard reality of how the above played out is that there were two and a half years between when Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation became official and when the last of America’s slaves were set free. It is estimated that there were 250,000 persons still enslaved at that time.

That’s a tough reality, friends. It again reminds us that there is a good, bad, and an ugly woven throughout our nation’s history. Thankfully, however, as Sen. Tim Scott poignantly reminded us last April, “Original sin is never the end of the story.”

So let’s not distort the difficult. Let’s not minimize nor make it either all good or all bad or all good or bad now.

Let’s not rewrite history. Let’s ensure we wrestle with fact, not fiction.

And let’s not refuse to deal with it. Let’s not erase it from our calendars. When we erase it — when we tiptoe through topics, through original and recurrent sin, through hurt feelings and holidays — we miss the opportunity to learn and grow from the totality of the issue… from Juneteenth to Columbus Day… 

May we always, therefore, uncompromisingly discuss the difficult…  always with fact, grace, and sensitivity… generously so.

Respectfully…

AR

blinders, new lenses & a shiny red Volvo

Watched a poignant video this week… (and no, I refer not to professional golfer John Rahm being told he had tested positive for COVID-19 even though asymptomatic but after leading the PGA’s  Memorial tournament by 6 strokes at the end of the third day — which means he was forced to withdraw only 18 holes from a potential $1,674,000 winner’s payout. That was more painful than poignant…)

A young business professional sets off to start the day. He exits the house, shuts the door, well dressed for whatever the workday entails. 

He rushes down the steps, heads to his car, quickly jumping in, putting the car in reverse and backing out of the drive. He narrowly misses maybe a 9 year old boy going behind him on his skateboard. He hits the brake in disgust, shaking his head, when we hear him think, “That kid. Every time I’m pulling out, he’s right there. Man, somebody needs to talk to his parents… IF they’re ever home.”

The gentleman resumes his commute, soon coming to a stop due to significant congestion. “What is with the traffic today? Always, everyday. This intersection’s always crowded! I hate pulling out of here… these dumb roads.”

He passes the intersection — and more traffic — and soon spots an open, desirable parking space. At the last minute, a shiny red Volvo pulls in ahead of him. Scoffing, no doubt, we hear him again, talking to himself. “Ok, so I’m not even here. Right! Great, lady — the ‘Princess of Parking.’ Sure, take the spot.” He then glares at her vehicle on the way past. “Way to be considerate.”

Now, though, it’s time to at least grab some caffeine prior to office arrival. He opens the door to the local cafe, but is immediately repulsed once more when he sees the line of people before him. “Are you kidding me?!*^$&! Unbelievable.” This time it’s almost as if his disgust is said out loud.

4.2 minutes later he has made his way to the front of the line. “It’s about time,” he thinks to himself, well aware of the imposition all others have been on him. As he debates what he wants, a customer nudges in front of him, asking the barista to add a cookie to his order. “No problem, only guy in the world! I’m sure you need your cookie.” His head continues to emphatically shake, visible to any who are watching…

When finally able to order his tall, decaf macchiato, the barista collects his cash but also alerts him that “it might take a few minutes” due to the volume in the coffee shop today; the barista even, actually thanks the young professional for his patience. The man quietly nods, closes his eyes a bit, like “of course, I’ve been patient,” only uttering “great,” but inside his head adding, “yeah, great. Great for me. Waiting again” — and another “unbelievable.”

Then while waiting, a stranger steps near, a stranger who hands our young professional a fresh case of eyeglasses. His proximity is clearly unwelcome, but the unspoken encouragement to accept the glasses and put them on is hesitantly, eventually accepted. He puts on the glasses. And sees things anew.

Through his newfound vision, the people in the room now come with unarticulated, previous unseen captions…

Discontent with life… avoids relationships for fear of pain… struggling with sense of purpose…

The man begins to see people in a way before that he could not…

“What is that? What in the world?!” he exclaims.

He looks closer — confused by what his eyes now see…

Has never known true friendship… recently lost his job… fighting addiction…

All these descriptions of people that he couldn’t see before. He takes the glasses on and off. Is this really happening?! He can only see what’s really going on when donning the empathetic lenses. He keeps playing with them, getting his drink, and exiting the shop. He can’t take it anymore. “I’ve gotta get out of here!”

But with the glasses still on, he sees more in others outside, too…

Just needs a hug… works 2 jobs to feed her kids… grieving her best friend…

The “grieving her best friend” caption was assigned to the woman driving the shiny red Volvo.

The point of the video was that eyesight changes insight. We tend to only see what we want to see, not taking the time and discernment to recognize what’s going on in the life of others. We make the mistake of being ignorant of our own blinders… blinders that lead to impatience, disgust, and arrogance of opinion.

Lenses matter, friends. They change the way we see other people. They also alter the justification we allow for our own thinking and behavior.

Respectfully…

AR

[Note: if desired, catch entire video HERE— and how the young man interacts once more with the boy and his skateboard. 🙂 ]

no rocket scientist necessary

It’s early June which means the NBA playoffs are in full swing. Please note: this post has zero to do with professional basketball. Allow us, however, to first provide some necessary context…

In game two of the opening series between Philadelphia and Washington, a Philly fan dumped popcorn on Washington player Russell Westbrook’s head.

In the series between Atlanta and New York, a New York Knicks fan spat at Atlanta star, Trae Young.

Following game four of the Boston-Brooklyn series, a Boston Celtic fan threw a water bottle at Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving.

In game two between Memphis and Utah, Memphis star youngster, Ja Morant, was the target of racist and sexist insults from three opposing fans.

There have been additional recent incidents, but each of the above have a primary thing in common.

A person does not know how to express their emotion appropriately.

Friends, don’t let me suggest that the Intramuralist knows the right way to handle every emotion — for me or anyone else. But it doesn’t take anywhere close to a rocket scientist to discern that dumping popcorn, spitting, throwing bottles, or hurling insults is completely inappropriate. These are improper and in many cases, illegal.

Let me suggest, too, no less, that it also doesn’t take anywhere close to a rocket scientist to discern that the aggressiveness of these professional basketball fans are isolated acts. Look at the words in recent years by a group of bipartisan leaders of the land. 

“Please, get up in the face of some congress people!”

“Let’s have trial by combat.”

“‘When they go low, we go high.’ No. No. When they go low, we kick them.”

“You get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”

“Please, show me where it says protesters are supposed to be polite and peaceful.”

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

The above — not in any order — are recent words from the left and right, politicians and media personalities from prominent figures such as Cory Booker, Chris Cuomo, Rudy Giuliani, Eric Holder, Donald Trump, Maxine Waters, etc.… 

These are leading, loud voices. They think they’re speaking for us.

Of course, each justified their aggressive speech with something along the following lines:

It was hyperbole…  no reasonable person would take that literally… I deny any provoking of violence… I was making a joke… everyone in the audience understood…

And yet they didn’t.

The audience didn’t necessarily understand.

Some, dare we suggest, attended a recent NBA game.

Can we please stop the disrespectful, inappropriate speech?

On both the left and the right?

Can we also admit it’s happening on both sides?

And thus, can we quit making excuses for singular sides?

Otherwise we may soon be talking about more than professional basketball.

Respectfully… always… 

AR

how much is too much?

Put aside the partisanship. Put aside any “because I like/dislike the current President” reasoning. Dismiss party loyalty. We need serious, thoughtful discussion. How much is too much money for the federal government to spend?

No administration/Congress has reined in federal spending since Pres. Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich made intentional efforts together in the late 1990’s. Each executive/legislative branch since has simply spent more. Note the most recent patterns:

  • In the fiscal year 2019, the government spent $4.4 trillion. They brought in only $3.5 trillion.
  • The government spent $6.6 trillion In the year of Covid — aka 2020. They brought in only $3.4 trillion. 
  • Pres. Trump proposed $4.8 trillion in spending last year.
  • Last week, Pres. Biden proposed $6 trillion for the year ahead.

Each year, when the federal government spends more than it brings in, we have to borrow money to cover that annual deficit; each deficit adds to our debt. Our current national debt exceeds $28 trillion.

A key metric for analyzing the health of this practice is the public debt-to-GDP ratio. As explained concisely by The Balance (for those of us who are not professional economists):

What Is the Debt-to-GDP Ratio?

The debt-to-GDP ratio is a simple way of comparing a nation’s economic output (as measured by gross domestic output) to its debt levels. In other words, this ratio tells analysts how much money the country earns every year, and how that compares to the money that country owes. The debt is expressed as a percentage of GDP.

How Does the Debt-to-GDP Ratio Work?

The debt-to-GDP ratio indicates how strong a country’s economy is and how likely it is that it will pay off its debt. Specifically, it’s used to compare debt between countries, and to determine whether the country is headed for economic turmoil.

The debt-to-GDP ratio is a useful tool for investors, leaders, and economists. It allows them to gauge a country’s ability to pay off its debt. A high ratio means a country isn’t producing enough to pay off its debt. A low ratio means there is plenty of economic output to make the payments.

If a country were a household, GDP is like its income. Banks will give you a bigger loan if you make more money. In the same way, investors will be happy to take on a country’s debt if it has a relatively higher level of economic output. Once investors begin to worry about repayment, they will perceive a higher risk of default, which means they will demand more interest rate return for their investment. That increases the country’s cost of debt. When the cost of debt gets out of hand, it can quickly become a debt crisis.

Historically, the debt-to-GDP ratio has stayed below 40%. In the year 2000, the debt-to-GDP ratio rose to 57%. After the first quarter of 2021 alone, the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio is 127%.

Friends, this is one of the reasons the Intramuralist struggles with partisanship and/or party adherence. Parties attempt to get us to overlook something in the name of something else. With presidents GW Bush, Obama, and Trump being the three presidents with the biggest budget deficits in our nation’s history — and current trajectories suggesting Biden will easily make them a clear top four — it certainly seems we’ve become too accustomed to addressing our nation’s problems by simply spending more. With all due respect, that doesn’t make sense. Just as I did during the three previous administrations, I struggle with the lack of paying down the debt. I struggle with the always-increased spending justifications. I struggle with the clear kicking of the economic can far further down the road. By both parties.

In response to Pres. Biden’s justification for unprecedented more, note the gentle commentary from CBS News last week: “The White House argument that now is the time to spend big is predicated on low interest rates and the urgent need for better roads, bridges and jobs. What Biden administration officials don’t say outright is that Democrats currently control the White House, Senate and the House, a potentially once-in-a-generation opportunity for Democrats to implement their agenda.”

The concern, therefore, is that party agenda and political opportunity continue to take priority over what’s best for our country. While Covid understandably, dramatically affected federal spending, a 127% debt-to-GDP ratio is not best; it’s not healthy. It leads to a devalued dollar and potentially, massive levels of inflation, essentially increasingly taxing us all.

What will it take to stop this pattern? … this pattern by both parties? Will we as a public quit accepting this practice?

Many suggest “politics are downstream from culture,” meaning our politicians will govern in response to how they perceive culture to flow or to what we as a culture will accept. Let me respectfully suggest it’s time to have serious discussion about no longer accepting this.

Respectfully…

AR

is it over?

Is the pandemic over? Are we finally witnessing COVID’s imminent demise — at least in the US?

As public and private safety guidelines begin to ease, the answer seems to depend upon who you ask (…noting some descriptions are a little more colorful than others… such as…)…

… The epidemic in America is like a poisoned rat, limping, staggering, crawling, and gasping its last breaths. The poison is the vaccine now jabbed into the arms of most adults. Pandemic, thou art slain…”

“Right now, COVID-19 is still killing people all over the world — the pandemic is still viscerally real. But in the US, it doesn’t have the same sharp bite as it did six months ago. The end feels close…”

So is the pandemic over? … at least for now?

Memorial Day is here. Summer is in sight. Evidenced by traveling now nearing pre-pandemic levels — air travel increasing and car rentals being scant — the nation seems increasingly ready for normal. Whatever “normal” now is.

But before we definitively answer the end, let’s take note of the beginning…

In December of 2019, a new virus surfaced in China. A month later, China reported the first death. Still in January, now of 2020, cases were quickly confirmed in Japan, South Korea and Thailand and soon thereafter in the United States. A young man from Washington State had contracted the virus after returning from Wuhan, China.

In February, the first death was reported outside of China (in the Philippines). At least 360 people had now died. France announced the first death in Europe. The virus was spreading rapidly… Italy, Iran, Latin America, for instance. On Feb. 29th, the first person in the United States was reported to have died from Covid-19.

Still before American life shut down in March, Sen. Tom Cotton began publicly posing the possibility that the virus emerged from a research facility in Wuhan. But leading news sources immediately, staunchly refuted the potential of any likelihood. The Washington Post accused Cotton of spreading a “conspiracy theory that was already debunked.” The New York Times lead with “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins.” And proclaimed fact checker, PolitiFact, designated the possibility with their noteworthy, deceit-deserving, “pants on fire” rating… “The claim is inaccurate and ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire!”

As of Tuesday of this past week, 3,494,935 people have reportedly died from Covid worldwide, with 604,941 of those deaths occurring in the United States.

What is also now true is that Cotton’s floated possibility is now considered plausible. Maybe likely. PolitiFact has quietly retracted their claim.

Friends, please go easy on WaPo, the Times, and PolitiFact. We all get something wrong sometimes; the point is not blame. The better question is this:

Why could a dissenting possibility not even be entertained by mainstream media? Why did news sources not just disagree with Cotton’s speculation, but also attempt to squelch it and shut it down?

By no means does the Intramuralist have anywhere close to all the answers. But we are well aware of what gets in our way — not just in the discerning of truth, but also of thoughtful examination and the media’s ruinous role. Listen to the recent words of former Times science reporter Donald McNeil, who initially joined in the chorus of squelchers. “We still do not know the source of this awful pandemic. We may never know. But the argument that it could have leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology or a sister lab in Wuhan has become considerably stronger than it was a year ago, when the screaming was so loud that it drowned out serious discussion.” [Emphasis mine.]

Think of how raucous we’ve allowed our conversations to become. Think of how the media has amplified the raucous. They’ve encouraged the screaming of singular perspective. It makes us ask: what other diverse geopolitical and socioeconomic conversations are they attempting to drown out?

So thus when we attempt to determine whether or not the pandemic is now over, admittedly, that’s a bit of a loaded question. Some will say “yes.” Some will say “no.” Some will even create creative metaphors utilizing limping and staggering rats.

But in order to thoroughly, thoughtfully, and accurately answer summer’s biggest current question, the screaming needs to end. It isn’t wise, and it’s impeding serious discussion.

Respectfully…

AR

JFK, Phil, and really poor odds

A simple block of wood used to sit on the Oval Office desk, when Pres. John F. Kennedy was in office. Attached were the bronzed words from the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer, a poem by Winfred Ernest Garrison:

“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

I admit. It’s always attractive to me when one considered so knowingly powerful chooses humility. Hear that word again: chooses.

What I love about the fisherman’s prayer is not the Celtic language nor the affinity for the sea. What I love is the reference of humility… how this then sat on the President’s desk.

Humility changes things, friends.

It changes how we lead.

How we interact. 

How we voice our opinion.

How free we feel to judge.

Writes author Gavin Ortlund in a recently read book by the Intramuralist…

“Now, it’s easy to admit in principle that you have blind spots. But humility will cause this recognition to make a noticeable difference in your actual interactions with people. It will lead to more clarifying questions, more pursuit of common ground, more appreciation of rival concerns, more delay in arriving at judgments…

Humility teaches us to navigate life with sensitivity to the distinction between what we don’t know and what we don’t know that we don’t know…”

That means we approach potential disagreement with “careful listening, a willingness to learn, and openness to receiving new information or adjusting our perspective. Pride makes us stagnant; humility makes us nimble.”

What made the throngs of people surround surprising victor, Phil Mickelson, for example, as he closed the course on Sunday, wasn’t just his powerful drives nor incredible sand shots nor even the fact that he’s 50 years old. The people were prompted by how the PGA’s beloved Lefty handled himself not only Sunday but also as his career has evolved…

He didn’t stand before the mics and tell everyone how talented and great he is.

He didn’t boast that he would win the next major, too.

He also didn’t tell everyone else how wrong they were — and yes, at 200-to-1, the oddsmakers were emphatically wrong.

But Phil never shamed the oddsmakers. He never bashed a competitor; in fact, he affirmed his competitors, especially his fiercest. Phil Mickelson approached his unexpected, additional moment of fame with gratitude and humility. Humility is always attractive.

What would it change if we were to embrace that more?

… if our leaders embraced that more?

… if we forsook the temptation to boast or bemoan?

“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

May we remember the sentiment savored by JFK. May we practice it more generously, too.

Respectfully…

AR

what’s going on in the Holy Land?

Perhaps, like you, my current rhythms of life and daily routine have recently been interrupted by bits and pieces of breaking news about the latest violence in Israel. I’ve been tempted to pay brief attention to headlines and press reports to have at least some sense of what’s going on in the world — granted, that is before conveniently returning to the ease and comfort of my routine and to what I already know. Israel is some approximate 5690 miles away. Why should I care?

But I do.

The challenge immediately stems, no less, from the difficulty of obtaining knowingly accurate news. As the Intramuralist engaged with caring others this past week, one concerned friend insightfully responded, “I just wish I knew what was true. I also wish I knew where to find it.”

And there we have it. We don’t know. And suffice it to say that seemingly many others with mics in their hands and keyboards at their fingertips not only also don’t know, but, they don’t know what they don’t know. That lack of awareness makes the problem worse and more difficult to comprehend.

Too many have boldly asserted simplistic answers or edicts, presumably — semi-admirably, perhaps — to make the problem go away…

One state…

Two states…

Can the Jewish and Palestinian communities overlap?

(Or perhaps the most oft tempting response…) Could they please just stop fighting?

Others have offered input from their own, respectfully faulty filters… labeling Israel an “apartheid state,” for example, forgetting that Arabs and Jews vote and stand equal under Israeli law, which thereby contradicts the definition of “apartheid.” This is not a racist issue, friends. In fact, we serve our collective intellect poorly when we assume all can be accurately understood from a racist/anti-racist binary.

In discerning this issue, aware that we don’t know what we don’t know, the most important approach seems once again doused in humility. Humility reminds us we don’t have a perfect understanding of the issue. Humility makes us open to new information. In humility, we ask more than we declare. 

Hence — noting that the current conflict has been the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas since the 50 day, 2014 Gaza War — we offer the following, admittedly incomplete list of 15 questions…

  • What started the current conflict? Was it due to the Supreme court of Israel determining an eviction date for several current Palestinian tenants in an Israeli-owned area?   
  • Was it due to clashing demonstrations in response at a holy site for both Muslims and Jews? 
  • Was it due to the President of the State of Palestine cancelling the first elections in a generation — fearful they may lose power to Hamas — and wanting to redirect domestic attention and angst?
  • What exactly is Hamas? Is it a terrorist organization as both the United Nations and European Union have designated?
  • When Fathi Hammad, Hamas Political Bureau member and former interior minister, called on Jerusalem residents to “cut off the heads of Jews” two weeks ago — adding “the moment of destruction at your hands has arrived” — was he speaking for all of Hamas?
  • Does Israel have a right to defend themselves?
  • If Hamas huddles in hospitals and schools as Israel reports, should Israel avoid targeting those locales for destruction?
  • Are both sides equally to blame?
  • What influence — as former Pres. George W. Bush questioned this week — is Iran having here?
  • Is Iran attempting to break up alliances made in the 2020 Abraham Accords with Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)?
  • What is it about the six Arab countries that now have normalized ties with Israel that Palestine could learn from?
  • How involved does the entire Arab world need to be to solve this issue?
  • What role of the United States would be both appropriate and effective?
  • What does solution look like that honors both people groups?
  • And… does each nation/people group actually want peace?

Undoubtedly, the fighting here has gone on for eons; the solution isn’t simple. In the most recent, 100 year dispute, the fight has focused on who owns the land and who has a right to live there. There is so much history. So much to learn. And when people struggle to get along and honor one another, there is so much humility that is necessary.

Respectfully…

AR

stirring up the community!

Cultural overlaps are always fascinating to me. What are those things across diverse people groups that most people practice? What are the common values varied communities esteem?

Where are those pockets and places in which people groups we typically distinguish most by their differences, actually — maybe unknowingly, intentionally or even unintentionally — where do they actually agree? … where does commonality exist?

I stumbled across a huge one this week. As a very informal student of history, I noticed that among other books, the book of Proverbs has been quoted for centuries by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. What could be so significant? I wondered. What truths are there? Why would three distinct, diverse groups — seemingly most often identified by their differences — admire and adhere to like thinking? And not just thinking, but everyday, wise kind of living.

In my fairly awkward stumble, I found this rich nugget… “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”

Things. God. Hates. Let’s be honest; if there are things stated that the great big God of the universe actually hates, it would be wise to know what they are.

Much of the above, no doubt, makes immediate sense…

haughty | ˈhôdē | adj. – disdainfully proud; scornfully arrogant; snobbish.

lying | ˈlīiNG | adj. – telling or containing lies; deliberately untruthful; deceitful.

shed | SHed | v. – to pour out, spill (blood). 

wicked | ˈwikid | adj. – evil or morally bad in principle or practice; sinful; iniquitous.

evil | ˈēvəl | n. – profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity.

false witness | fôls | adj. – not according with truth or fact; | ˈwitnəs | n. – evidence, testimony; a person who sees an event.

And then there’s that last one…

A person who stirs up conflict in the community.

I had to pause there.

I’m not really one who wrestles with feeling evil. I am by no means perfect, and I have a zillion areas to grow and improve upon. But I know I’m God’s kid and strive to move forward in a way that honors him daily — imperfect and all.

Sure, I can be arrogant. I can even be mean or insensitive sometimes… even on a seemingly good day, although I pray for humility, knowing how incredibly wise, good, contagious and attractive that is. 

Lying? Nope. As a parent, few things get my goat more. That is unacceptable.

But a person who stirs up conflict in the community…

stir up | stər əp | v. – to cause; spread.

conflict | ˈkänˌflikt | n. – strife, contention; controversy.

community | kəˈmyo͞onədē | n. – a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common; a feeling of fellowship with others.

There lay the question I can’t ignore.

Where have I intentionally stirred up controversy? Where — in this thing that multiple cultures acknowledge — this thing that God reportedly hates — where have I justified disrupting community and spreading strife? Where, too, have I cheered on another when they did the same? In other words, where have I ignored wisdom?

Only questions this day, friends… and a few unsettling ones at that.

Respectfully…

AR

the glue a nation needs

When the Intramuralist began, I remember feeling weary at the way people spoke not only to each other but also about each other. Day one we asserted that “most people don’t know how to respect those with whom they disagree.” That was twelve and a half years ago.

With respect being not only our mantra but also our practice, I am always attracted to those who warn how a lack of respect is damaging our nation. We can’t be any “we the people,” “home of the brave” or even “united” state of America if we can’t learn to respect the different. 

Notice we speak not about agreement. We don’t have to agree; in fact, it’s preposterous to think we all would. But we do need to respect a person’s right to think, feel, and believe what they do if we are going to maintain any enduring sense of “we,” “brave” or “united.”

I believe that unity can be found amid disagreement. Unity, however, depends on respect.

Recently, The Christian Science Monitor began what they call “The Respect Project.” The goal is to “bridge the conflicts that divide us.” In race, gender, religion, and education, they offer a frank conversation about how respect is operating in our politics. Note a few of their headlines:

  • “Between religious and LGBTQ rights, what does fairness look like?”
  • “Why French Jews and Muslims are learning each other’s language”
  • “This woman bridges climate change divides, one Maine voter at a time”
  • “Asian in America: Reflections on the meaning of being American”
  • “‘Blind date’ for political rivals? TV show is breaking down barriers.”
  • “Can friendship be bipartisan? Ask the Janets.”

And…

“Respect: Is it the glue a polarized nation needs?”

It’s important to acknowledge the differences between politeness, tolerance and respect. Politeness may gloss over significant difference. Tolerance may mask the depth of individual credence. But to respect means to see another as a human being, endowed by their Creator, of unquestionable dignity and worth. It is to see them no lesser than self. And it is to see them as no lesser or worse even if they have a belief, behavior or opinion that we may consider nothing short of certifiably crazy, criminal, or iniquitous. 

Political commentator, Andrew Sullivan — who is included in the initial article in the CS Monitor’s series — says this well. “It’s my profound worry about this, that we don’t see each other as individuals. We see each other as avatars of a race or an identity or as something threatening to us, as opposed to another human being.” We need, as Sullivan continues, to refresh our commitment — “to the bedrock principles of liberal democracies, including an abiding respect for the inherent dignity and absolute worth of every human being.” 

Too much of what we are advocating and teaching, friends, starts by pitting people against one another… us vs. them… black vs. white… conservative vs. liberal… etc. vs. etc.

We are toying with a damaging tool: this pitting of one vs. another — a humanly-crafted, binary choice that only one can be good and the other must be bad or at the very least lesser. Such is nothing short of a veiled exercise encouraging deep disrespect… an exercise which is tearing our country in far more than two.

Note the following insight from “The Respect Project”:

“… Amid the nation’s political polarization and widening cultural divides are millions of Americans who have lost sight of each other, caught in reflexive rituals and simplistic clichés that dismiss, demonize, or otherwise delegitimize perceived enemies.

Respect is one vital way we heal and reestablish common civic ideals.

‘… respect helps get at something a little bit richer and deeper,’ says Ms. [Alexandra] Hudson, author of ‘Against Politeness: Why Politeness Failed America and How Civility Can Save It.’ ‘And I say both civility and respect are more of a disposition, a fundamental way of looking at the world and others as human beings first, more like us than not like us. It’s a way of reflecting on what that means for what we owe one another by virtue of our inherent dignity, our irreducible worth as human beings and as fellow members of the human community.’”

Ah… fellow members of one community…

And to see others as more like us than not…

Yes, that’s what we need.

Respectfully…

AR