an atrocity. the extreme.

(Part 2 of our discussion from David French’s Divided We Fall, although bear with me; it will take us an intentional minute to get there…)

Last fall I witnessed a horrendous outcome. No doubt an unmistakable atrocity. It was such a gross injustice, in fact, I actually looked on Twitter to see what was trending; maybe there was more we could do.

It was November 20th — feeling like just one more crushing blow in an ongoing, crushing year.

We were in Minneapolis — or at least watching events unfold there on TV.

My beloved Boilermakers were playing the Golden Gophers from the University of Minnesota on the gridiron. It was a Friday night, and we had fallen behind early; it was seemingly one of those death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts kind of games, where we just couldn’t seem to make any progress. Whatever we did, we were still behind; they played better. There was mistake after mistake. That is, until the game’s climactic conclusion. Redemption was near.

Down 11 at the half, our young men persevered in enemy territory. We continued to close the gap. With less than a mere minute to go, we were driving; we had a sweet set up. QB Jack Plummer throws a perfect strike to tight end Payne Durham. Durham reels it in — “TOUCHDOWN!” The Purdue celebration begins!

And then came the flag. With no visible contact on live television, while one official emphatically signaled the score, another threw that crappy yellow flag for offensive pass interference. The touchdown was wiped off the board. Plummer threw an interception on the next play. Game over. Purdue loses. Horrendous, indeed. 

One of my favorite pastimes is watching Purdue sports. It doesn’t matter which sport or which season — football, basketball, volleyball, you-name-it. Any team’s torso adorned with “Purdue Pete,” the “Boilermaker Special,” or the historic griffin (affectionately referred to on campus as  “the flying chicken”) is the immediate object of my affection, attention, and adoration. And no doubt, the absolute, undeniable best way to watch Purdue sports is to watch with Purdue fans. [Insert special shout out to each of you here.]

We share the same passion. We get the way each other thinks. We cheer — and jeer — in unison. But there’s one more thing…

We share a perspective. We share a bias. No matter how physically different we may be, we share — as referenced in Chapter 5 by David French’s excellent book, Divided We Fall — what’s called a “predeliberation tendency” in regard to Purdue University.

To “deliberate” means to engage in long and careful consideration. It means to carefully weigh or cautiously consider. It is marked by a slow decision-making process. A predeliberation tendency is different; such means prior to any actual consideration, we’re already inclined to lean a certain way or believe a certain thing. Objectivity is decreased. The comfort and convenience of watching the Purdue game with Purdue fans, therefore, is that I don’t have to seriously consider any other angle as credible or worthy of weighing. I don’t have to even interact with the holder of those angles, thinking I know enough — that my fellow Purdue fans are enough. Predeliberation thus omits the care and the caution that prudent deliberation requires.

But there’s one more aspect to a predeliberation tendency which may be the reason French suggests that “if you read only one chapter in this book, this is the chapter to read.” Utilizing the research of former University of Chicago law professor and Obama administration official, Cass Sunstein, French discusses how group deliberation with persons of varied perspective actually sharpens us and leads to better outcomes. And — and this is what’s concerning about what we’ve been witnessing play out in front of us for years — when we fail to deliberate extensively with those of varied perspective, the “deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments.” In other words, deliberation absent varied perspective leads to the extreme. There are indeed extreme perspectives being pushed today — incredulously guised as normal and acceptable — by intelligent people on both the left and the right.

Disagree? As always, the Intramuralist welcomes constructive, respectful disagreement. But first note my words above…

… a horrendous outcome… an unmistakable atrocity… such a gross injustice… in enemy territory, for God’s sake!

That describes a game. Just a game.

Understand that I still believe my conclusion from that game was accurate. I believe, too, that the result had consequences and was unfair. However, without sincerely weighing ample, other perspective, my reaction becomes exaggerated and extreme.

Deliberating with only the likeminded, friends, increases our indignation. It also makes us worse at what we do and less sensible in how we react. Hence, as we continue to advocate for unity, justice, and liberty for all, we need to avoid the extreme, as the extreme perspective is challenged to see how wise unity, justice, and liberty for all actually are. 

Respectfully…

AR

understanding the narratives in play

As COVID continues, one of the best things about the extended, isolated time in our homes is the opportunity for (A) taking more much-anticipated naps, (B) eagerly anticipating the next Netflix series upon which to binge, and (C) making major dents in books you’ve longed to read. This weekend, I chose option (C).  

Know now that this post will be incomplete. As is oft my hope from this humble hobby, my desire is rarely for a blog post to stand alone, be a mic drop moment, or serve as some sort of contemplative cessation. We aim to spark increased dialogue and thought, prompting continued processing.

I picked up the latest literary offering from David French, entitled “Divided We Fall.” French is not a Republican nor a Democrat. He calls himself “a man without a party.” His aim is not to “adjudicate the competing narratives of the left and the right”; it is instead to understand them — and warn against  “the product of their inexorable and relentless spread through the American body politic.” His book is thus sobering. Hence, barring any unforeseen events, we will wrestle more with the sobering in our next post. For now, let’s listen well, and attempt to understand the two distinct, authentic narratives…

“… The two competing narratives began to take clear shape. The left looks at the GOP and offers a critique that flows from the racial conflicts and racial divisiveness of the worst days in American history. From this perspective, a shrinking white Christian population, steeped in historical privilege, is lashing out as America becomes more racially and religiously diverse. The very man who most denied the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president now leads a coalition of voters that is at best indifferent to racial justice and at worst outright racist. His own explicitly racist comments only seem to anchor his support in an angry white community.

In this narrative, these same voters are granted out-sized power by the quirks of America’s white-supremacy-stained constitutional past. Thanks to the Electoral College and the Senate, an angry minority governs from the White House. An angry minority has a hammerlock on the Senate. In states across the nation, they use temporary gerrymandering and voter suppression. Thus, even if a majority of Americans demand change, they cannot obtain it, and as the GOP opposition to Merrick Garland demonstrated, not even a clean and clear presidential victory could guarantee the president’s Supreme Court nominee so much as a hearing.

Even worse, continues the left’s narrative, the angry white minority is inflicting cruelty as policy. How could a party that fashions itself as pro-life and pro-family endorse policies that led to mandatory family separation at the border? How could they look at themselves in the mirror as agents of the state ripped children from their mothers’ arms?

Right-wing intolerance breeds cruelty, and it also breeds violence. Anger at necessary social change is spilling over into outright racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia online and in political rhetoric. And in some cases angry men are taking their rage into the real world, massacring worshippers in South Carolina and Pittsburgh, gunning down Latinos in an El Paso Walmart, committing a terror attack in Charlottesville, and inflicting silent hate on racial, religious, and sexual minorities in communities from coast to coast.

Compounding it all, the left’s argument continues, the angry right elected an angry man, and then stubbornly defended him even as he was caught, time and again, in overt lies and obvious abuses of power. The same party that once impeached a many for lying about sex locked arms to defend a man who orchestrated a criminal scheme to pay hush money to a porn star, ran a political campaign that eagerly sought help from a hostile foreign power, and then — once in office — tried to force a desperate and dependent ally, the vulnerable nation of Ukraine, to engage in a politically motivated investigation of one of the president’s chief domestic political opponents.

If you see these facts, the narrative concludes, how can you not be alarmed? Isn’t it necessary to view your political opponents as dangerous? Isn’t it foolish to believe they mean well?

The right has a competing narrative, one rooted in faith, history, and the nature of the American founding. It begins simply: They hate us, they lie about us, and they use all the instruments of their power to deprive us of our rights and even deprive us of our jobs and economic opportunities. The left’s message is clear — conform or lose your livelihood.

Even worse, in the name of social justice and so-called reproductive freedom, they have legalized killing on a mass scale. In the years since the unelected Supreme Court read a right to abortion into a Constitution that’s utterly silent about the topic, tens of millions of innocent children have died in the womb. And leftists are fanatics about ‘the right to choose,’ resisting even the most modest attempts to restrict the deadly practice and even sometimes using their economic power to sanction states that resist.

According to the right’s narrative, the left tramples individual liberty. In the name of ‘tolerance,’ they restrict free speech. In the name of ‘justice,’ they limit due process. In the name of ‘peace,’ they seek to limit the fundamental human and constitutional right of self-defense.

They will use any means necessary to accomplish their goals. If they have a social media account, they’ll shame and humiliate you online. If they own a company, they’ll impose economic punishments on states, cities and towns — even as they’re happy to do business with truly oppressive regimes like China or Saudi Arabia. If they run a university, they’ll openly discriminate against conservative and Christian students and faculty. They’ll harass people in restaurants. They’ll harass people at movie theaters. They’ll harass people at home.

Leftist anger breeds violence, continues this narrative. Remember the flames in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charlotte? Remember the police officers ambushed in Dallas and Baton Rouge? Did you see antifa beating journalists? And who can forget the angry leftist who almost changed history with his attempted massacre of Republican congressmen on a Virginia baseball field?

And now they disrespect the constitutional order. They abused the counterintelligence surveillance powers to obtain a warrant against a former campaign aide, they used a fake dossier full of Russian disinformation to spread conspiracy theories and undermine public trust in the president, and then they rushed to impeach that same president for — at worst — a minor diplomatic mistake, one that was ultimately corrected before any harm was done. Oh, and they rushed to impeach after years before locking arms to defend a Democratic president after he was caught red-handed committing the federal crime of perjury and the federal crime of obstruction of justice. If it weren’t for double standards, they’d have no standards at all.

If you see these facts, the right’s narrative concludes, how can you not be alarmed? Isn’t it necessary to view your political opponents as dangerous? Isn’t it foolish to believe they mean well?”

Fascinating. Note the existence of two distinct, authentic narratives. Alarming?

Let’s keep talking. Let’s listen and learn more first…

Respectfully…

AR

dear Joe

Dear Joe,

Congratulations, Joe, on being elected the 46th President of the United States of America. I know the fanfare of the congratulations is tempered by the sobering responsibility before you, as it’s hard to fathom the enormity of the task. You’ve been tapped to be the Chief Executive of our Federal Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. There are over 326 million of us living here. You’ve been charged to lead us. 

I write to you this day as a mere one of those millions. I write to you not as a Democrat, Republican, or even independent. I write to you also not as one who voted for you or did not. It does not matter; you are still my President. I write to you as one you’ve been humbly charged to lead.

Excuse me for a moment — I suppose I should have asked first: “Is it ok to call you ‘Joe’?” I don’t remember any presidents in my lifetime who went primarily by their first name. 43 was often referred to by his middle initial; the last two presidents were called all sorts of names; and well, maybe Pres. Reagan, although “Ronnie” always seemed like something reserved solely for his beloved Nancy.

So allow me to share a few short statements…

One, I’m rooting for you. Two, I’m praying for you. And three, I won’t always agree with you, but that’s ok. 

I root for you because if you succeed, we succeed. Your success will be tied to the oath you take this day, solemnly swearing to the best of your ability, to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” As you attempt to faithfully execute that oath, as a country we are again reminded as to what you are actually affirming — the prioritizing of unity, justice, liberty, and more. Not just for some. Not just for the majority, minority nor the marginalized. Not for a singular party. For all lives. They matter.

I pray for you because let’s face it: this is hard work. In addition to the solemnity of your oath, you will face additional obstacles. Some will be expected; some will not. Some will come from the opposing political party; some will come from within your own. Voices will attempt to sway you in ways inconsistent with your oath — as if unity, justice, etc. are not necessary for all. I am encouraged, therefore, by your recent pledge, vowing to unite us… “I pledge to be a president who does not seek to divide, but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, but only sees the United States,” you promised. No doubt that won’t be easy; we’re a weary people. We’ve justified judgment and partisanship. We’ve fallen prey to decades of labeling those we disagree with — making snap, incomplete assessments as if we know the entirety of a whole people group’s heart. When we label, no doubt, we dehumanize. And unity cannot be found amidst dehumanization. This won’t be easy, Joe. And I know you know that. 

In fact, you have long said, your Christian faith has been the “bedrock foundation” of your life. It has been “a constant reminder of the fundamental dignity and humanity that God has bestowed upon all of us.” I appreciate how you thus see all people created in God’s image. I think we forget that some days, believing that some were somehow not privy to such masterful crafting. Oh, how that truthful awareness would change how we see others… how we treat them, too. Hence, I will pray for your divine strength and discernment. You’ll need that; we all do, as self-reliance is perhaps one of humankind’s most enticing, accepted sins.

And lastly, I won’t always agree with you, but that’s ok. It seems in this country, we’ve made a major mistake here. We’ve fabricated this idea that we must agree, and if we don’t, “you are bad.” With all your years in the Senate — evidenced by your enduring friendships with Senators McConnell and McCain, for example — I know you know this; it doesn’t make sense. I have yet to find a person (just ask my spouse) that I agree with 100% of the time. But we simply seem to have lost the art of vocalizing disagreement respectfully. We’ve reframed the argument to suggest that disagreement equates to a gross violation of virtue (… because when it’s about virtue, we don’t have to even entertain the idea of respectful, constructive dialogue). We thus are limiting ourselves in finding the best solutions, dismissing what another’s differences bring to the table. Unfortunately, Democrats and Republicans alike have led us poorly here. We need help.

My wish for you, no less, is that your tenure will be marked by humility, integrity and God-honoring respect and compassion for all humankind. May your tenure resist the lures of partiality, partisanship and self-promotion. And may you lead wisely and well, remembering who and Whom you serve.

Thanks, Joe. Thanks for letting us call you that, too.

Respectfully…

AR

coming of age during different times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many mentioned Vietnam…

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

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

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

Within that sharing, they humbly offered sobering more…

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

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

Respectfully…

AR

not just for them

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

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

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

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

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

Touché. That’s what I used to believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what if we’re not?

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

We do that when we see them as different.

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

… how much we have in common…

… how capable we each are…

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

Respectfully…

AR

what if…

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

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

Now… a few more somber words…

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

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

“We’re not like this…”

But what if we are?

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

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

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

Because… what if we really are like this?

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

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

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

Humbly…

AR

20(21) questions

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

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

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

… and thus, we’ll keep asking questions…

Respectfully…

AR

setting resolutions in an achievable way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you most like to change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you most like to change?

And…

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

We have that opportunity starting now.

Respectfully…

AR

pivoting to 2021

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

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

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

Suffice it to say: that’s a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

Rest. Individual rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully…

AR

lives & deaths from 2020 — & what we learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And lastly… 

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

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

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

Respectfully…

AR