Category Archives: Politics and Culture

Ten for Tuesday: Concerned Citizen Edition

Last week’s Tuesday Ten was lighter than this one. Feel free to peruse it again if that’s what you need.

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.


2. Four Ways to Withstand Chaos in 2017 and Beyond, via the Improvised Life website. I’ll save you a click and say they are gardening, letter-writing, conversations and music. But the post also quotes Seth Godin’s “more-less” list, which is worth checking out. Write your own!


3. “Home” by Warsan Shire. This poem has been shared widely during the Syrian refugee crisis:

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

Those lines are probably the most famous, but read the whole thing. Poetry, like all good art, builds empathy.


4. Mohsen Omrani’s tweet-thread about a woman who helped him during the incredible chaos that unfolded during last Friday’s travel ban.

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Click the link for more.

Be like Barbara.


5. When Muslims Got Blocked at American Airports, US Veterans Rushed to Help.

“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.”

7. Life Lessons You Can Learn from Improv. This isn’t related to politics at all, but improv is and will be a powerful tool for navigating an uncertain and quickly-changing landscape.


8. A Shy Person’s Guide to Calling Representatives. Very helpful for those of us who hate the phone.

Bonus link: How to call your reps when you have social anxiety. And this one’s illustrated!

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9. Breathe: A Poem by Unitarian Minister Lynn Unger. This poem kicked off a conference call for faith leaders I attended last week. I don’t want to excerpt it, so click and read the whole thing.


10. 105 Oddball Holidays to Celebrate with Kids (or Anyone). Because life is still beautiful and joy is subversive:


P.S. Our team’s fundraiser for Planned Parenthood is going strong and we’d love your support. Learn more here.


Monday Runday: For My Health, For Women’s Health

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.

IMG_2409I’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 invite you to cheer us on with your dollars, which will support high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people.

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.)

Here is a link to Kelly’s public post on Facebook, in which she says, “Be pro-living. Be pro-Planned Parenthood.”

Our team has set a goal of $1500, and my personal goal is $250. I reserve the right to raise my goal as you guys respond, and I know you will, because you’ve come through to support my running before!

Go to our page to learn more about our fundraiser, read some stats about Planned Parenthood’s work, and show your support today. Thank you.

A Warrior Against Fear: Patty Wetterling

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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.

She says:

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. 

Wetterling concludes:

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. 

And that’s what I intend to do.

On Social Media Arguments in the Trump Era

What an interesting time to be alive.

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.

jackson-im-just-here-to-read-the-comments-72I 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.”

80bAnyway, 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?

Rogue One’s Jyn Erso: Improviser

This post contains Rogue One spoilers.

star-warsPeople ask me how I got hooked on improv. Sometimes they mistakenly assume that as a pastor, my interest has something to do bringing more creativity to worship, or perhaps wanting to introduce more humor and lightness into a denomination that is often too somber and reserved.

Those things are important–they don’t call Presbyterians the frozen chosen for nothing–but that’s not what drives me. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact.

My passion for improv actually stems from walking with individuals and families as they endured profound crises and heartbreaks. Navigating tumultuous waters requires us to hold our own plans lightly, to see life realistically as it unfolds, and to bring our best response to each moment, even if we can’t see several steps down the road. In other words, improv.

Health crises in particular are full of improvised moments. As I see it, and saw it, medical personnel are guided by a few simple questions:
What is the present reality we’re dealing with?
How do we respond to what this disease is handing us TODAY?
What is the best YES possible for our patient? 

Even when the prognosis is poor, those questions don’t really change. What would “healing” look like in this situation? Healing doesn’t always mean a successful cure, sadly. Sometimes it means managing someone’s pain, or allowing them to die with dignity at home.

If you’ve seen the movie Rogue One, you’ve seen improv in action. Jyn Erso makes a resounding speech to the rebel council in trying to convince them to go after the plans for the Death Star. She’s ultimately unsuccessful at convincing them to take the risk. But I was more struck by her speech to the ragtag group of rebels who do take on the job. She says:

“We’ll take the next chance, and the next, until we win… or the chances are spent.”

It’s a brilliant summary of an improvised life. If we go into the unknown banking on success, we’ll either get too scared to start, or we’ll be so focused on the future that we’ll lose our eye for the present moment, which is essential to moving us forward. We must keep our vision trained on what’s in front of us–the next chance, the next conversation, the next move. Improvisers talk a lot about Yes-And as the foundation for good improv, but having a sharpened vision for what’s happening around you is at least as important.

And the ending! I asked in my post on Tuesday, how can a movie in which everyone dies be so uplifting? Well, part of that is seeing what they died for: Hope, in Leia’s words. And hope is so much more enduring than a little band of rebels. It’s also inspiring to see everyone do their part in making this stunning data-heist possible.

When we last see Jyn and Cassian, they know they are about to be consumed by the destructive incinerating power of the Death Star. Cassian says to Jyn, “Your father would have been proud of you,” and they embrace.

They know they are doomed. They know there’s no escape. Cassian didn’t need to say that to Jyn. But even in his last moment, there is still an opportunity to find a Yes. It’s a smaller Yes than we might have wanted for these heroic, fascinating characters. But it’s the best Yes possible in that moment.

Have you seen Rogue One? (I hope you have if you’re reading this!) What did you think?


Reminder: I’m doing another workbook/playbook for 2016/2017Subscribe to my email newsletter to get this year’s copy, which should arrive next week.