at this table

As we continue to prepare our hearts for all the meaning and merry of the season, I must confess, Christmas music is continually playing in my household. True — and don’t lose too much respect for me here — but I have been known to sing Christmas songs all year long. (How can “Hark!” not  put a person in a most awesome mood??)

I have a new album added to this year’s seasonal Spotify playlist — Idina Menzel’s most excellent “Christmas: A Season of Love.” 

But on that album one song stands out to me. It’s how I think… and so much of what the Intramuralist attempts to articulate…

“At This Table” by Idina Menzel

At this table, everyone is welcome

At this table, everyone is seen

At this table, everybody matters

No one falls between

At this table, you can say whatever

At this table, you can speak your mind

At this table, everything’s forgiven

There’s enough for everyone

So come as you are

Remember that the door is always open

Yes, come as you are

The perfect gift that you can bring is your heart

So, come, come as you are

At this table, there will be no judgment

At this table, mercy has a seat

At this table, we’re all sons and daughters

There’s no place I’d rather be

So come as you are

Remember that the door is always open

Come as you are

The perfect gift that you can bring is your heart

Come

Come as you are

Come as you are, oh

At this table, everyone is welcome

At this table, everybody cares

At this table, everybody matters

So, come, pull up a chair.

Pull up a chair, friends. Join the conversation. Extend love, kindness, compassion, and respect to all.

No judgment. Generous mercy and grace.

All are welcome.

That’s the beauty of the Christmas season…

And — dare I say — one of the joys of singing these songs all year long.

Respectfully…

AR

an interpretation at the heart of our divide

Earlier this week, a respected friend and I engaged in one of our many, excellent exchanges. We don’t always approach things from the same angle, but the way we talk issues — with logic and respect — allows us to actually, interactively talk about them.

Elliot and I are both concerned about the current “national divide.” He would tell you he’s been concerned for some time, believing the divide has long existed but has risen to the forefront these past three years. In fact, significant childhood moments shed light on his initial awareness…

At only eight years old, growing up in Miami, there were two, distinct water fountains at the supermarket. Which one a person was to utilize was determined by the color of their skin.

In high school in ’68, a young black friend asked a white young lady to Homecoming. The couple received actual death threats! Elliot was outraged, and ended up double-dating with the pair in a sweet show of solidarity.

From an early age, through varied circumstances, we’ve been subtly and not so subtly encouraged to see people as different, based upon far more than skin color.

With that perspective — and as ones who wish to mend as opposed to fuel any divide — Elliot humbly shares the following with us. I find it wise to think through and resist focusing on another, but wrestle with what’s inside of self…

“This is an interesting exercise. Allow me to share with you a simple parable. After reading it, I encourage each of you to stop, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and interpret the meaning…

The forest was shrinking

but the trees kept voting for the axe. 

For the axe was clever and convinced the trees

that because his handle was wood, he was one of them…’

What’s your interpretation? In other words…

  1. Who are the axes?
  2. Who are the trees?
  3. Does your tribal inclination (Left vs. Right) have anything to do with how you perceive this?

I cannot imagine each of your answers to the first two questions. But I can surmise that everyone answered question #3 affirmatively.

This, I believe, is at the very heart of our national divide.

Many questions emerge from this parable… Why is the forest shrinking? Is it the fact that axes are used to chop down trees the reason? Is a shrinking forest bad or good? Can the chopping down of trees actually be healthy for the forest of the future? Will the shrinking of the forest make handles more expensive and reduce the number of axes made?

The answer to these questions and more may depend not only on the precise words but on what you understand the words to mean.”

I appreciate the self-reflection. I appreciate wrestling with my own interpretation. Note that I also asked Elliot what more we could do to help mend this divide. He minced no words. “Get off social media and talk to each other in person.”

Talk to each other. Remember: the way we talk matters.

Respectfully…

AR… and Elliot

our person of the year

Why not? We, too, can name a “Person of the Year” (POY). But if we did, what would be the criteria? Who fits our agenda? What well-known person, involved in current events, supports a slant we wish to promote?

When I initially wrestled with today’s content, the slant became obvious… Who has offered and employed respect in situations where disrespect would have been easier? Who has maintained their passion and purpose without disrespecting someone else in their pursuit? What virtues have we witnessed?

Hence, in alphabetical order — if we made a selection — here’s our shortlist for 2019…

Tony Bennett…In 2018, this University of Virginia basketball coach’s team did the unthinkable. As the highest ranked team in the land, they stunningly lost to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the first round of the men’s NCAA tournament. At no time in the history of the 79 year old tournament had a #1 seed lost to a #16 seed. What was Bennett’s response? In his obvious, deep disappointment, he saw a beauty counter to one fallacy of current culture. “We’ll grow from the struggle,” Bennett said. He didn’t run from the pain. Instead, he turned the despair into an opportunity for hope. “Hills and Valleys” was a theme song — “You’re never alone in the hills or the valleys” — which provided perspective and helped propel Virginia to the championship title in 2019.

Simone Biles…  No doubt the current best gymnast in the world — and arguably the best ever — Biles earned her 24th and 25th gold World Championship medals in October of this year. As she continues to prepare for next year’s summer Olympics in Tokyo, she’s at the top of her game. But when at the top of one’s game, one is often also a top target for criticism. Note that Biles’s passion — accompanying her personal athletic achievement — is to inspire young girls to become the best at what they do. For some of us, the encouragement of one gender often includes an oppression of the other. Not Biles. She remains a hopeful, humble, positive athlete, thereby encouraging us all.

George W. Bush…One angle that offers insight into the character of a politician is how they behave once out of office. Do we hear more from them? Less from them? Are they respectful of those who follow? I have appreciated that when this former President speaks, it is typically about his passion for helping wounded warriors get the help they need, his love for reading, baseball, or all things Texas.

Joe Burrow…  Named last night the winner of the 2019 Heisman Trophy — awarded annually to college football’s most outstanding player — this 23 year old plays for Louisiana State University, and had what multiple college football analysts have called one of the greatest years ever for a college QB. And yet, until now, until his many tears last night, we’ve heard little from him. What’s that like? For someone to be the best, be in the weekly spotlight, still be confident, but spare the weekly boasts? How refreshing, no doubt.

Ellen DeGeneres…The Intramuralist absolutely loved when this talented comedian took in a Dallas Cowboys game with George W. Bush in October. She was ridiculed and mocked by many for having spent and even enjoyed her time with the former President, with whom politically, she has some varied views. DeGeneres did not let the criticism nor views detract her from what’s most important — loving and respecting someone different than you. (And a P.S. for this POY shortlister… are you watching Ellen’s “12 Days of Christmas Giveaways 2019”? Oh, my… the joy-filled tears have been flowing in our household…)

Eli Manning…Eli is an NFL quarterback. A future Hall-of-Famer, he’s actually been named the Super Bowl MVP once more than his more decorated, older brother. But this year, in the constant eyes and publicity of New York City, Manning was benched for a rookie QB, Daniel Jones. Not only was he benched for Jones, the way NFL depth charts work, Manning was tasked — if he chose to accept it — with teaching and mentoring both his protégé and thus replacement. I can only imagine all the emotion that comes with a demotion with all eyes upon you. And perhaps this is for one year only. But Manning hasn’t demanded attention on self; we don’t hear him complaining nor playing “poor me.” He has instead poured into Jones, helping him be even better.

Michelle Obama…  The former First Lady has been busy in the year behind. Promoting her memoir and speaking at multiple public events, she has resisted the lure to insult those of different political standing. She has spoken much, especially recently, about her enduring friendship with George W. Bush, which began when her husband was inaugurated. “I personally, and I think so many of us, miss a time where people who have different opinions get along. And I yearn for that. I want my kids to realize that we live in a world when people think tons of different things and we treat everybody with respect and kindness.”

So if we actually did choose a “Person of the Year,” that person would be known for their respect, kindness, humility, selflessness, and grace. In a culture that so often honors and encourages the opposite, these timeless virtues remain good and right and true.

Respectfully…

AR

a problem with them

So allow me to share at the immediate onset of this post that one really should avoid tackling a tough topic in a singular, mere thousand word post, assuming a subject to be so simple. It errs a wee bit on the side of ridiculous. Allow me to also aver that one should avoid a discussion about only a half-read book. Both, no less, are what we attempt at our pernicious peril this day… 

On my current nightstand sits Switch, the New York Times bestseller with the subtitle, “How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” — a book with a marker, yes, that sits halfway through.

The reality for each of us is we are a part of some things we don’t like — circumstances and scenarios we wish were somehow different, we wish would change. For example…

  • an increasingly dysfunctional family or relationship
  • a lack of satisfaction with one’s current health
  • a work set up that is no longer rewarding
  • an ugly, political national state
  • an infighting around a community conflict

Want any of the above to be different?

Want to make changes in your own life?

… individual, organizational, or societal change?

… changes in the areas you influence or lead?

Perhaps the naiveté from a half-read perspective provides a bit of a backdrop for too much positivity. But with the drain and strain of all of the above and more, I’d venture to say that positivity is a welcomed approach!

Switch authors Chip and Dan Heath empower the reader to make more changes by instilling a practical confidence that is contrary to current culture. They simplify the process. They start with the notion that change can actually be made. To be clear, the brothers Heath do not promise that they can make change easy; their goal is to help the reader see we can make it easier.

Often, however, we stop before we start. We camp out on our sides and stances in all of the above, and we never even attempt to make authentic, healthy change. We make it way too hard…

“People don’t change… they’ll always be like that… touché… it is what it is… it’s impossible… it’s not worth the effort… it’s not worth the time… it will take too long… it’s the way I am… they’re so stubborn… I’m too stubborn…”

We allow perceived resistance — either in society or self — to extinguish any initial effort.

But what if — as the Heaths claim — what looks like resistance is instead a lack of clarity? What if we’re not seeing things accurately?

The basis for Switch is to provide a framework for making change simpler. Imagine what would change — how our confidence and efforts would alter — if some of these major life challenges weren’t seen from the onset as just so stinkin’ hard?

The Heath brothers discuss the two independent systems of our brain that are at work at all times — the emotional and the rational side. And to make change, we have to:

  1. Direct the rational side.
  2. Motivate the emotional side. And,
  3. Shape the path — that is, the situation.

Key point, friends: “what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem,” say the brothers. 

When we see a problem as a people problem, we tend to blame others, acquit self, and be increasingly more generous with our insult and offense. Fascinatingly, we then actually never solve the problem.

So what if we simply changed our perspective this day, from looking at all things as a “people problem”? … what if we quit looking at a conflict as a problem with “them”?

I know. I hear you. I am being way too simple. I need another few thousand words. But wouldn’t it be refreshing if all the leaders and influencers in the above situations gathered in a room, identified what was most important, honored the rationale and emotion in each person, and actually solved the situation? Could we be a more perfect union?

Friends, take solely the current ugly, political, national state. It’s not going to get better if we ignore or invalidate the rationale and emotion in another side; there’s a reason each of us thinks and feels the way we do. We need to thus change the way we respond, change the way we evaluate, change the way we solve. As the Heaths say, “For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.”

So could we try acting differently?

Could we try something more positive?

Could we focus on the situation and not the people?

(Me? Well, I’ll start by reading the rest of the book…)

Respectfully…

AR

impeachment questions

As oft asserted via the Intramuralist, we talk about what people are talking about. It can be deep, shallow, silly, sentimental, controversial or intense; our goal is to converse respectfully, especially, always of the one who feels differently than we do. In 2019’s America, such can be incredibly difficult; it takes work; it takes intentionality; it takes sincere respect of all people. Such doesn’t make it any lesser of a goal.

My sense, therefore, is we should talk about impeachment. However, many people are actually not talking about impeachment. Why? Perhaps because it’s too argumentative… or perhaps because too many unanswered questions are in play. With all due respect — and with the recognition that all respectful opinion is welcome…

  1. What did Pres. Trump do?
  2. When did the idea of impeachment begin?
  3. How many people made up their minds on what Pres. Trump did before the impeachment process ever began?
  4. How many people made up their minds without hearing all the evidence?
  5. Have we heard all the evidence?
  6. Do we need to hear from more who claim to have relevant information?
  7. What’s the basis for the current timetable?
  8. Are those on the left and right being honest and transparent about their basis for the current timetable?
  9. How partisan is the process?
  10. Does that matter?
  11. Is the process fair?
  12. How much has partisanship mattered historically in the impeachment process?
  13. Was the process partisan and/or fair during Pres. Clinton’s impeachment hearings 21 years ago?
  14. If older, are each of us responding the same or differently than we did 21 years ago?
  15. Is a different response justifiable or no?
  16. Is there any undetected hypocrisy in ourselves?
  17. How much do policy differences play into impeachment opinions?
  18. How much does a soaring economy affect our perspective?
  19. How many people’s opinions are based upon who they voted for in the 2016 election?
  20. How many people’s opinions are based upon Pres. Trump’s personality?
  21. How many people’s opinions are based upon where they get their news?
  22. How limited is our perspective?
  23. How objective is the media?
  24. Does the media have an agenda?
  25. Are there no Republicans who support impeachment?
  26. Are there no Democrats who oppose impeachment?
  27. Is their support or opposition to impeachment based more on evidence or polling data?
  28. Are there Republicans who would support impeachment if they didn’t fear retaliation by Pres. Trump?
  29. Should polling data matter?
  30. How much does the next election matter?
  31. Who is faking objectivity?
  32. Is the media handling this similar to the processes involved with Presidents Nixon and Clinton?
  33. Are we aware that the House has impeached 19 federal officers since 1789, initiating impeachment proceedings 62 times?
  34. Is it relevant that the Washington Post published “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump Has Begun” on January 20, 2017?
  35. Are there any current questionable activities that were accepted in the Obama and Bush administrations?
  36. Was military aid intentionally withheld from the Ukrainians pending investigation of the Bidens?
  37. When Pres. Trump referred to the Biden’s, was it in reference to the 2016 or 2020 election?
  38. How much military aid was given to Ukraine under previous presidents?
  39. Do Pres. Trump’s activities constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors”?
  40. What exactly is the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors”?
  41. Are all/some/or none of Pres. Trump’s activities impeachable?
  42. What will the Articles of Impeachment include?
  43. How do we objectively qualify and quantify “abuse of office”?
  44. If the withholding of evidence from Congress is an impeachable offense, does it matter that Pres. Obama admitted intentionally withholding evidence from Congress in regard to the
    Fast and Furious” investigation?
  45. Does the motive to damage Pres. Trump politically prior to the 2020 campaign exist?
  46. How does this all affect the 2020 election?
  47. Does Pres. Trump have an organized strategy in all this, or is he rhetorically flying by the seat of his pants (and his Twitter account)?
  48. Does the impartiality of the whistleblower matter?
  49. Does his contact with Rep. Adam Schiff’s office matter, which occurred prior to making his complaint public?
  50. Why did Rep. Schiff wrongly claim there was no prior contact with the whistleblower?
  51. Are the overseas activities of Hunter Biden relevant?
  52. Is a focus on Hunter Biden simply a decoy to defer blame?
  53. How much should Hunter Biden’s character reflect upon Joe?
  54. What is the role of Rudy Giuliani? 
  55. If it’s unlikely that Pres. Trump will be removed the Senate, what is the purpose of impeachment?
  56. Were Republicans motivated by the same measure when the House impeached Pres. Clinton?
  57. How do we react to Rep. Al Green’s disgust that not one person of color was called upon among the impeachment experts in the House hearings?
  58. Does Michael Bloomberg’s recent entry into the presidential race have anything to do with the current impeachment focus?
  59. Why are Rep. Schiff’s eyes always opened really big?
  60. Why does Rep. Jim Jordan not wear a jacket?
  61. Why does Pres. Trump seemingly taunt Congress, saying this week, “Do it now, fast”?
  62. When Speaker Pelosi said this week, “Politics is not even a consideration in this,” was she telling the truth?
  63. Does it matter if our elect are telling the truth?
  64. How much is Pres. Trump manipulating the Constitution for his own purposes?
  65. How much is Congress manipulating the Constitution for their own purposes?
  66. What’s next?
  67. If Pres. Trump is removed from office, will Congress support a President Pence?
  68. Will the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice influence the process?
  69. What precedent are we setting for future impeachments?
  70. Does what the public wants matter?
  71. How do we heal?
  72. How should we pray?
  73. Do a majority in the country see how each of us contributes to the divisiveness?
  74. Is the majority silent?
  75. What are we de-emphasizing in order to hold the opinion that we do?

Ugh. Insert sigh here. With all those questions, I get it; it can be exhausting. Too many valid questions are going unanswered. 

Respectfully…

AR

survived Thanksgiving… on to Christmas?

Wow… fascinating the plethora of advice we find via the almighty search engine, especially most recently in regard to how to “survive Thanksgiving,” noting all the different personalities and opinions that sit at one’s table. One editorial, no less, stood out to me. Why? Because its wisdom went well beyond a singular holiday. It encourages what’s good and right and true — and how for each of us, kindness gets easier with practice. Written by Donna Cameron in the Washington Post, with Intramuralist emphasis added…

“On Thanksgiving, most of us gather around the table with people we’re related to or who have become kin through friendship. For many of us, that table is also a minefield — just waiting to be detonated by political opinions.

In our national political climate, nastiness has become an art form and escalating attacks on the opposition are celebrated. It’s unlikely that the politicians will lead a call for civility. So, it is up to us to begin restoring courtesy and respect, not just in politics, but also in our everyday lives…

Science has determined that both incivility and kindness are contagious. Like a virus, they’re transmitted from one person to the next. If we experience rudeness or kindness — even if we only witness them — we will tend toward that behavior in our next encounters. So, we have a choice of which contagion we want to spread. It seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of factors can get in the way.

Button-pushing

Sometimes, someone speaks rudely to us and our immediate response is to throw shade back at them. After all, it’s the people who know us best who know exactly which of our buttons to push.

Other times, we’re caught up in our own heads. We may be absorbed in our devices or our own internal drama, or maybe we’re just zoned out. We don’t see the person with arms full who is struggling to open a door, the car attempting to change lanes or the child who craves our attention. Maybe we think extending a kindness will take too much time or effort, and we’re already feeling overloaded and overwhelmed…

Does kindness make us weak?  

Each time we extend a kindness, we’re moving the needle toward a behavior that others might follow. Sometimes it comes easily — we pay attention and put forth a little effort. We hold a door, smile at a stranger, express interest in someone’s life. Each one makes the next time easier.

But sometimes it’s hard. Responding with kindness to a brother-in-law’s insulting remark may feel like handing over power to him. We wonder whether responding to unkindness with kindness just rewards the unkind person, or whether they’ll see us as weak and think they can take advantage of us. Is it better to give them a taste of their own medicine? Most unkind or dishonest people assume everyone is just as unkind and dishonest as they are. When we treat them as they treated us, we reinforce that notion.

While our kind gesture or ability to absorb an insult without lobbing it back may not change the unkind person, it doesn’t mean we’re conceding the playing field to them. We’re playing by our rules and being our best selves. We don’t withhold kindness until people deserve it. We’re kind because of who we are, not who the other person is.

How to avoid detonating the room 

In anticipation of family gatherings — the coming holidays, for example — imagine scenarios in which someone speaks rudely to you or disrespectfully to someone else. Think about how you might respond in a way that upholds your values and doesn’t detonate the room. Imagine not only the words you will use, but also the tone of your voice and how you might stand. Then stand that way. Speak those words. Learn what it feels like, and develop a comfort in that space. Knowing in advance how you want to respond makes it easier.

Another strategy is to be curious. Ponder why Aunt Sylvia acted that way. Maybe she’s stressed by something you’re unaware of — a friend’s illness or money problems. Maybe this is her response to fear or vulnerability. Maybe she regretted her words as soon as they were spoken. Can you offer her the benefit of the doubt? As soon as we acknowledge that we may not know everything, it’s easier to respond in a way we won’t regret.

What if the person really is a complete jerk?

That’s still no reason for us to act like one. In fact, if we do, doesn’t the jerk win? Just because someone else is acting badly doesn’t mean we have to. It’s hard. Offensive behavior may make bullies feel stronger or superior, but they are neither. They lack the courage or understanding to be kind. Something has taught them that kindness doesn’t matter and they need always to appear to have the upper hand. That’s their problem. Our job is to live our values and to be our best self.

Try to seek the safest subject you can (weather, movies, sports) or excuse yourself and seek less contentious companionship elsewhere. Strategic moments alone are a holiday gift: helping in the kitchen, taking a walk around the block, scanning the host’s bookcase, engaging in child’s play. All are good ways to avoid the button-pushers and loudmouths.

Being kind doesn’t mean being a pushover. If we encounter someone who’s clearly malevolent or entrenched in hate or bigotry, the kind response may be to exit stage left. Arguing with your relatives who deny the Holocaust or, say, what happened at Sandy Hook just fuels them. You’re not going to change their minds — not with logic, not with data or proof. You’ll just be feeding their craving for attention and their desire to spread hate and divisiveness. Say something if you wish, but it’s perfectly fine to just turn and walk away.

Most of our relatives aren’t that way, though. That’s something to be thankful for.

Think of the upcoming holiday as a precursor to a challenging year. One in which we might make mistakes, say the wrong things or occasionally lose our cool. We just need to remind ourselves that we’re a work in progress and that we’ll try to learn from each slip. We’re working toward kindness because we want to and it’s better for our own health. It gets easier with practice.”

Wow… fascinating, once more…
Kindness. Better for our own health. Duly noted.

Respectfully…

AR

it’s not Thanksgiving any more

My youngest son called when I was out yesterday. If you’re a longtime Intramuralist reader, you’ll know we are often taught much through the simple; we are often taught much through the simple, wise words of this astute young man. Downs is not a definer for him; it simply is one of the lenses through which he sees the world.

He was checking on a few items when he called. When finished, as is typical of our multiple, daily conversations, I told him I loved him. I then added:

“I’m thankful for you.”

He chuckled on the other end of the phone. Something in him found this funny. “Mom, it’s not Thanksgiving any more.”

“I know. I’m still thankful for you.”

Josh often mirrors manifestations of the mature in a more uncomplicated form. I love it! … no doubt intellect is clearly often an adult obstacle. In so many moments and opportunities to glean wisdom, we seem to have trouble wrapping our brains around the potential learning because we aren’t certain… we can’t figure it out… or it doesn’t make sense to “we”

In other words, “we” get in the way. 

Thankfulness — gratitude — is a fantastic example of such.

Long ago I was impressed with the wisdom that thanksgiving is a practice; it’s not simply a singular holiday in which the turkey is carved, carbs are flowing, and everyone dives into a celebratory piece of pumpkin pie. (And sorry — but acknowledging my clear, polarizing bias — if pumpkin pie was so good, why aren’t we eating it throughout the rest of the year??) 🙂

As averred earlier last week, “whatever we pay attention to grows.” Gratitude is clearly a virtue, value and practice that the more we pay attention to it, the more frequently it swells up in us — the more we do it, think it, and engage in it.

And the reason that’s key is because gratitude is directed at someone other than self. 

We thank another person…

We thank our country…

We thank our Creator…

That intentional stepping outside of ourselves and the subsequent giving of thanks, keeps us more humble. It also assists us from becoming so self-absorbed and therefore futile in our own thinking.

The reason I thus love Josh’s response is because I find him wrestling with these virtues, values, and practices right in front of me; more often than me — definitely faster than me — he takes advantage of the daily opportunities in front of him to glean wisdom. He doesn’t need to read the lengthier (and wise) words of M. J. Ryan in Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life (1999):

“When you are grateful, it is impossible to also be hateful, angry, or fearful.”

Read that again, friends… what a beautiful, selfless thing… 

“When you are grateful, it is impossible to also be hateful, angry, or fearful.”

So as Josh reminded me…

“Mom, it’s not Thanksgiving any more.”

“I know. I’m still thankful for you.”

To which — taking advantage of the opportunity — he responded with a renewed, obvious glee in his voice…

“I’m thankful for you, too.”

Respectfully…

AR

a proclamation of thanks

(Originally published on the Intramuralist 3 years ago… a fantastic reminder today…)

It was 1863…

January first brought us The Second Battle of Galveston. Three companies of Union forces under the command of Col. Isaac S. Burrell were captured or killed both on land and by sea by the armies of Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder. Magruder had prioritized the re-seizing of the city. 26 people were killed. 117 were wounded.

January later brought us The Second Battle of Springfield. Confederate General John Marmaduke attempted to overtake a Union supply point in Springfield, Missouri. It was unique battle in that it was an urban battle, fought house-to-house. It is estimated that 70-80 persons were killed and over 200 were wounded.

February was The Battle of Dover — March included battles at Brentwood, Thompson’s Station, Vaught’s Hill, and many more. April was the first fight in Charleston, South Carolina.

Look at the fighting… states, houses, peoples all attempting to harm one another. And the battles didn’t cease as the year went on. Suffolk, Vermillion, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg… these were fierce fights. In fact, the war was ongoing the entire year. It did not end until Pres. Andrew Johnson’s formal declaration on August 20, 1866 — over two years later.

And yet, on Thanksgiving in 1863, then Pres. Abraham Lincoln wrote this:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…”

In a year filled with unprecedented battle, Lincoln exhorted that we dare not miss the blessing… a blessing that is always present, always available… no matter the struggle… no matter the suffering… no matter what.

The giving of thanks is a beautiful thing… It takes the focus off of self; it reminds us of the source from which our blessings and bounties come; and it softens the individual heart.

Lincoln continued… 

“… I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

Lincoln acknowledged a day set apart, encouraging all to think of far more than self, to think especially of those who have suffered greatly — the widows, orphans, mourners, and more. Yes, there is much strife in this world. This is not — nor should it ever be mistaken for — heaven.

The great beauty of Lincoln’s proclamation is that in a year of unprecedented struggle and strife, he calls on all people to come together, kneel in both reverence and humility, and fervently ask the Almighty to heal our nation’s wounds.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. May we spur one another on to good things. May we love our neighbor well, do our part in building unity, and may we sincerely embrace the restoration and full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union in our land.

Respectfully… with Thanksgiving…

AR 

100 things

A wise friend poured into me years ago that “whatever we pay attention to grows.” My strong sense is that we pay attention to too many undeserving things.

“Those people who say things” — as we often joke in our household — always say that gratitude has to be practiced. The more we practice or pay attention, the more routine it becomes; the more it also rubs off on those around us.

So starting this holiday week off right, let’s pay attention to what deserves it. Let’s be a grateful people… practicing gratitude… starting with the words shared by many…

  1. I’m thankful for my family.
  2. I’m thankful for my fam and my homies.
  3. I’m thankful for 2019.
  4. I’m thankful for the coming new year.
  5. I’m thankful for my dog.
  6. I’m thankful for my cat.
  7. I’m thankful for health.
  8. I’m thankful for the good health and happiness of my six children and three grandchildren.
  9. I’m thankful for healing.
  10. I’m thankful for healing relationships.
  11. I’m thankful for hot sauce.
  12. I’m thankful for Costco.
  13. I’m thankful for Uber.
  14. I’m thankful for my parents.
  15. I’m thankful for my kids.
  16. I’m thankful for Keto.
  17. I’m thankful for keyboard shortcuts.
  18. I’m thankful for a good new book and being motivated more to read.
  19. I’m thankful for awesome neighbors and fantastic community!
  20. I’m thankful for the diversity of my neighborhood and learning from each other.
  21. I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve others and help those in need.
  22. I’m thankful for humility.
  23. I’m thankful for my wife.
  24. I’m thankful that pitchers and catchers report in 79 days.
  25. I’m thankful for Purdue.
  26. I’m thankful for Ohio State.
  27. I’m thankful for the Buckeyes winning!
  28. I’m thankful for what I have as opposed to what I don’t.
  29. I’m thankful for a job that I enjoy doing and coworkers and children who make me laugh.
  30. I’m thankful for a job that lines up with my talents.
  31. I’m thankful for my son’s diagnosis of Autism. It opened so many resources for us that were not available before!
  32. I’m thankful to live in a country that gives us freedom.
  33. I’m thankful for the freedom to vote.
  34. I’m thankful for the snooze button.
  35. I’m thankful for the mute button.
  36. I’m thankful for people who turn the volume down when I walk in the room.
  37. I’m thankful for C-SPAN.
  38. I’m thankful for Netflix.
  39. I’m thankful for meaningful conversation.
  40. I’m thankful for give-and-take conversation and being able to agree to disagree.
  41. I’m thankful for “Frozen.”
  42. I’m thankful for food on my table and increased awareness to help others.
  43. I’m thankful for my boyfriend.
  44. I’m thankful the injury wasn’t worse.
  45. I’m thankful for the hope that God can make beauty from ashes and can remake us into better versions of ourselves through pain and stripping away toxic relationships.
  46. I’m thankful I can still laugh.
  47. I’m thankful to give back to the Ronald McDonald House today.
  48. I’m thankful for social media. Most days. Some days.
  49. I’m thankful for the setbacks that have made me stronger.
  50. I’m thankful for College Game Day!
  51. I’m thankful for Jesus!
  52. I’m thankful for my new pair of jeans.
  53. I’m thankful a fresh bar of soap in the shower and no more small sliver.
  54. I’m thankful for my salvation.
  55. I’m thankful for sunshine.
  56. I’m thankful that the beach is always beautiful even if it’s cold.
  57. I’m thankful for living in Florida!
  58. I’m thankful for Florida in the winter.
  59. I’m thankful for the changing seasons.
  60. I’m thankful for snow — at least the first time in winter!
  61. I’m thankful for Thanksgiving and all that it means.
  62. I’m thankful for green bean casserole!
  63. I’m thankful for my mom and grandma passing down recipes.
  64. I’m thankful when my family gathers and how we still feel about each other when we can’t.
  65. I’m thankful for planes, trains, and automobiles.
  66. I’m thankful for my faith in God!
  67. I’m thankful for lifelong friends.
  68. I am thankful for warrior princess friends.
  69. I am thankful for my dear friends and their kindness to me.
  70. I’m thankful for laughter!
  71. I’m thankful for forgiveness, both the receiving and the giving.
  72. I’m thankful for the smell of Christmas trees.
  73. I’m thankful for Christmas and how everyone comes together.
  74. I’m thankful for coffee and wine.
  75. I’m thankful the kids will be home.
  76. I’m thankful for my kid’s brutal honesty.
  77. I’m thankful for doing work that matters.
  78. I’m thankful for grace and recognizing more how much I need it. It makes me a better person.
  79. I’m thankful for Black Friday and especially online shopping.
  80. I’m thankful for the love of family and friends that lights my way in the darkest of days.
  81. I’m thankful for the kindness of some people I’ve never met before.
  82. I’m thankful my cancer is gone!
  83. I’m thankful for what I’ve learned through cancer.
  84. I’m thankful that 11 years later — left side — I’m still here.
  85. I’m thankful that I can keep in touch with family and friends far away so much easier now!
  86. I’m thankful for 80’s music.
  87. I’m thankful for wise mentors.
  88. I’m thankful for awesome teachers.
  89. I’m thankful to learn from young and old alike.
  90. I’m thankful for the new Mr. Rogers movie!
  91. I’m thankful for the new giraffe born at the zoo!
  92. I’m thankful for a free birthday drink at Starbucks.
  93. I’m thankful for finding forgotten money in my purse.
  94. I’m thankful for Sunday football on my sofa.
  95. I’m thankful for making a difference.
  96. I’m thankful for you!
  97. I’m thankful for lots of things.
  98. I’m thankful for blessings each day.
  99. I’m thankful for another day.
  100. I’m thankful to be more thankful.

The reality is there is always something to be grateful for — always. And whatever we pay attention to grows. 

So let’s start this week off right, paying attention to being grateful.

Respectfully…

AR

what’s the minimum required of me?

We hear much from many about the equality of all people, encouraging the treatment of all people with dignity and respect, helping each to reach their God-given potential. From stump speeches to cinematic productions (see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” to be released on Friday), the encouragement is frequent and broad.

The encouragement always receives a rousing amen from the Intramuralist, whether referencing our national Declaration or the timeless Golden Rule… Do unto others as you would have them do unto you… Treat people the way you want to be treated… Repeatedly, we are wisely spurred on to love our neighbor as ourself, recognizing all as equal. 

And yet, while we seem to say that over and over again, a quandary still exists. Many of us who call for that acceptance and dignity and respect still intentionally withhold it from someone. It’s made me wrestle with the following, brilliant question from a wise friend:

Who is my neighbor?

Isn’t that a crazy question??

I mean, if I can see someone as not qualifying as my neighbor, then I can withhold all the good I know I otherwise ought to do. 

Hence, who is my neighbor?

Allow me to rephrase the question in a respectful, little more painful, still accurate way…

What is the minimum required of me in how I’m supposed to treat another?

Ouch. 

Is that not the essence of the question? Isn’t that what we’re really asking? If I can see someone as actually not my neighbor, then I do not have to love them. I do not have to treat them with dignity and respect. I do not have to accept them. I do not have to see them as created equal. And I certainly don’t have to pay any attention to them nor wrestle with what they believe…

It’s what allows me to think my MAGA hat wearing friends are delusional.
It’s what allows me to think my “Bernie 2020” friends have fallen off the deep end.
It’s what allows me to totally avoid and look down upon any who don’t look, think, act, believe or vote like me.

Not my neighbor? Great. I don’t have to treat you with any semblance of respect. I don’t even have to fake it.

So it takes us back to the root of the question. Who actually is our neighbor?

Fascinatingly, from those who follow Jesus and those who do not, with great respect for all, many respond to the preceding question with the account of the Good Samaritan. It’s a parable which transcends culture and all organized religion, showing up often in medieval art, later in the works of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, even in English law and colloquial metaphors. We all know a “good Samaritan” as a charitable person, one who helps another in need, even a stranger.

As the parable is told, a man had been stripped and beaten by robbers, left at the side of the road for dead. Multiple people walked by and avoided the man. Then a Samaritan walked by — and understand that Samaritans were pretty much seen as the total low life of society at the time — never ever close to the slightest hero — and yet, a Samaritan stops and helps. Not only did he help the poor man, he also took him to a place where the victim could get further care, and then paid two days’ wages to cover it. Why? 

Why in the world would someone be so unselfish and compassionate to a stranger, for heaven’s sake?

Note, also, that highly likely in this case is the probability that the man left for dead did not look, think, act, believe or vote like the Samaritan. And yet, he stopped and helped.

The Samaritan didn’t look at the man in need and see a problem; he saw a person. Seeing him as a person, he was able to recognize the needy as his “neighbor.”

Friends, each of us is each other’s neighbor. Who are you not seeing as a person? Who are you treating lesser? And from whom, then, are you withholding your compassion and respect?

Respectfully… always…

AR