For me, the beauty of Sabbath—a time set apart for rest, recreation, and renewal—has been the interplay between More and Less… between Yes and No.
Sabbath provides space for us to say Yes to things we normally don’t give ourselves space or permission to do.
Sabbath also gives us license to say No to things that drain our energy or distract us from our true north… or simply things that we get enough of the rest of the week!
Anyway, Seth’s words led me to create my own “more and less” list for this season of my life:
If you need some inspiration mingled with motivation to get your butt in gear, today’s post is for you.
1. Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965: I just picked up this six-part documentary about the civil rights movement and can’t wait to watch it again. My 11th-grade AP government teacher arranged a viewing of this series after school, and he felt it was so important that anyone who watched the whole thing would get two points on their entire semester grade. I showed up for the grade. I stayed because it was riveting and heartbreaking and convicting.
“This is not what we fought for, having been in Iraq and working with these interpreters,” Buchalter said in a phone interview Sunday. When he saw an Iraqi family emerge from detention, he presented them with something he hoped would convey America’s goodwill — a Purple Heart.
The best of who we are.
6. “First They Came”: The Poem of the Protests. A lovely article about the Rev. Martin Niemoller and his poem that launched a thousand protest signs. There are many versions of the poem, which speaks to its power, but this one is displayed in the Holocaust Museum here in DC:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
[The words] quickly became popular, from there, as a lyrical argument for civil rights and collective action—and, more broadly, for simple empathy. The quote was that rarest of things: a political argument grounded in religious tradition.
In 1933, Niemöller [said], he and his fellow clergy members included in the founding documents of the Pfarrernotbund the idea that any action made against a minister of Jewish heritage would be considered an action against the collective. As he put it: “That was probably the first anti-antisemitic pronouncement coming from the Protestant Church.”
You may have heard that “Defund Planned Parenthood” protests are in the works for February 11. Planned Parenthood has asked supporters not to counter-protest, but to stand with them through donations and other shows of assistance.
I’ve gotten together with a group of friends who know one another primarily through running. We’re showing our love for Planned Parenthood by asking people to sponsor us as we run purposeful miles over the next couple of weeks. Some of us are scheduling a training run especially for this purpose. Others are doing a Valentine’s race the weekend of the protests–I’ll be doing the Love the Run You’re With 5K, and trying for a PR (because why not?).
We stand with Planned Parenthood, and we run for Planned Parenthood.
I’ll be running in honor of my friend Kelly Gregory, who has been kicking cancer’s butt for five years. She has written many times that Planned Parenthood saved her life, and that’s no exaggeration. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s a fierce dame. If I were cancer, I wouldn’t want to cross Kelly Gregory.)
I’ve been riveted to the podcast In the Dark by American Public Media. It’s a nine-episode series exploring the 1989 kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling, an eleven-year-old Minnesota boy. The case remained unsolved for 27 years for a variety of complicated and unfortunate reasons.
If you only listen to one episode, make it episode 6, Stranger Danger, which zooms out from the Wetterling case and looks at sex offender registries. Such registries didn’t even exist before Jacob was abducted; in fact, his case helped spur them:
A handful of states had offender registries already, but there was no national registry. Nor was there a requirement that all states build and keep registries. The 1994 Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act created just such a requirement. But that was only the beginning. Over the years, the notion of keeping track of sex offenders has grown into something much larger and harsher. The Wetterling Act opened the door to a nationwide crackdown.
In 1996, a new law mandated that the police go beyond tracking offenders and notify communities of their presence. In 2006, yet another law expanded the list of crimes that could land a person on a registry and required the most serious offenders to remain registered for life.
On the surface, such registries seem like a no-brainer. Parents should know who their neighbors are and whether they could be out to harm their children. But there is very little evidence that these registries actually keep children safe, and the burden on the offender can be enormous. Producer Madeleine Baran interviewed a Miami man who’d served his prison time for soliciting underage girls for sex–a crime I certainly find deplorable–but who is now forced to sleep in his car because of the restrictions on where he can live.
Again, it’s not like I have a lot of sympathy for these guys. Maybe such restrictions and labeling would seem justified if the registries did what they purported to do–keep kids safe–but they do not. In fact, such a registry would not have helped in the case of Wetterling’s son, who was abducted, assaulted and killed by Danny Heinrich–a man who was not listed on any sex offender registry.
I consider Patty Wetterling an everyday hero, simply by virtue of putting one foot in front of the other for 27 years. But I admire her for a more specific reason. Given everything she’s experienced–the most horrific nightmare a parent can endure, I’d say–nobody would blame her a bit for digging in, doubling down, and throwing her full support behind laws that are as punitive as possible for sex offenders. But even with grief as a constant companion, she is able to step back, examine her assumptions, and change her mind.
Right now we’re stuck. It’s a trap, We want people to be angry about sexual assault, and then when they’re angry about it they want to toughen it up for these people, these “bad boys” who do this, and if we can set aside the emotions, what we really want is no more victims. So how can we get there? Labeling them and not allowing them community support doesn’t work. So I’ve turned 180 from where I was.
And here’s producer Madeleine Baran:
Patty wanted her legacy to be a world that was better for kids. A safer, happier world. But she said she worries that what all those laws have actually done is made people reject that idea, and instead view the world as fundamentally violent, dark and suspicious, with danger lurking behind every corner.
Fear is really harmful. You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than get kidnapped. But the fear of sexual abuse is huge. And [parents] think that making their kids scared is going to keep them safer and that’s absolutely not true. It’s probably the opposite.
Fear is really harmful.
George Orwell wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” I admire Patty Wetterling for interrogating the evidence and her own heart. I’m not sure I could do it.
But we’d better all learn how.
I’m thinking about Patty constantly this week. This week, with all its talk of border walls, and slamming our doors to refugees, and “American carnage.” I don’t have any illusions that the world is all rainbows and light. But I’m inspired by Patty Wetterling, and people who’ve been through fearful experiences, and yet refuse to be consumed by fear.
Madeleine Baran again:
Even when Patty learned all the awful things that Danny Heinrich had done to her son, she didn’t ask people to be more vigilant, or pass tougher laws. Instead, she asked people to play with their children, to eat ice cream, to laugh, and to help their neighbors. She asked people to celebrate living in the kind of world where Jacob lived before he was kidnapped…
A world where people weren’t so scared of each other.
We’ve just been through a rancorous election, and the election of a president whom more people voted against than for—some 8 million, to be exact.
We are divided. And cranky.
In the wake of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about social media, and how we engage with one another around disagreement–or don’t.
I have friends who are frustrated by the proliferation of fake news and “alternative facts,” and who see no utility in trying to talk to people who are convinced that their version of reality is correct. Whether it’s the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd, or the reality of climate change, there’s no convincing people, so why try? Our time can be used more productively in other ways.
And I have friends who believe we still need spaces where people who don’t see eye to eye can come together and hash things out. That deep down, many of us want the same things for ourselves. That we all have our bubbles, and we need to be disciplined in breaking out of them whenever possible.
As I think about where I stand, I know there are things on which I’m not willing to concede ground in order to keep the conversation going: the full personhood of LGBT persons, for example.
With that said, however, I fall more in the latter camp. I know that like the Apostle Paul, I see through a mirror dimly. My vision is imperfect. And I’m a big believer in polarity management, which means that traditional struggles such as left v. right can never be fully resolved. Rather, the two poles need to be managed so that they inform and complement one another in a healthy way. For that reason, I don’t root for the ultimate destruction of the GOP. Rather, I root for a sane, reasonable, fact-based conservative party to emerge out of the mess we’re currently in. I resonate with the words of Jack Shephard on LOST: “If we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”
Anyway, I think about all of this as it relates to online interactions. I’m interested in engaging, and I try to enter conversations with people I disagree with from a place of good faith. The person may quickly show they’re not willing to engage in honest, thoughtful exchange, but I at least want to give them an initial chance. (And I’m sure I miss the mark on this myself sometimes–it’s soooo much easier to make assumptions and respond with snark than with authenticity.)
But many times we have to cut our losses and call it a day, either because the conversation isn’t going anywhere, or we just have other things we need to do. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do that gracefully.
Brian McLaren has suggested that one close with a simple “I see it differently.” If the person wants to pursue it, offer to have a face-to-face conversation. You’ve registered your opposition to the view being presented, but stewarded your time well enough not to get into a back-and-forth that is not going to go anywhere.
It’s a decent way of bowing out. But it has its limitations. For one thing, when someone presents a falsehood as truth, then doubles down on it, saying you “see it differently” implies that truth is in the eye of the beholder, and that there’s no way to know what’s right.
So lately I’ve been trying on this phrase:
“Thank you for helping me understand you better.”
I like it because we can understand one another without agreeing. I like it because it grounds the interaction in terms of relationship rather than rightness. I like it because, in situations in which I’ve used it, it has disarmed the person I was talking to–they felt heard. And I like it most of all because it’s a way of holding myself accountable to how I want to be online. Yes, I want to be a voice for the things I believe in, but ultimately, the only person I can ultimately change is myself, and if I’ve learned something, that’s a fruitful thing.
What do you think? How do you handle difficult conversations online?