I have been struck recently by these two images–and the responses to them.

The one on the left is of Colin Kaepernick, a former football player who is African-American, quietly taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the systemic racism that has long been a part of American life. He took this action not because he is anti-American or anti-military. Instead, he took it to try to draw attention to the problems so many African-Americans face when they simply try to live their lives in America.

He was vilified for that action…and has not played football for a couple of years because no team has been willing to sign him. The fact that he visited with a former Navy Seal…and that they had a good discussion about the concerns and were willing to listen to each other…has been negated.

The picture on the right is a recent one of some of those who protested the stay-at-home orders of the Michigan governor. They were part of a large group who were in the Michigan legislature, many of them armed.

I can only imagine what would have happened if their skin color had been different…because it’s happened before. There would have been immediate police action…arrests…calls for them to have been locked up for years…comments about how inappropriate it was for them to have carried guns in a threatening way around legislators.

But these men were white.

They have received support…including support from the president. In many areas they have been seen as “heroes.”

It doesn’t seem to matter that the actions they are protesting have been taken in an attempt to keep people safe. They want their “freedom” to do what they want, regardless of how it impacts others.

If you are tired of hearing talk about “white privilege”…if you don’t think it exists…I ask you to simply think about how these two different protests have been viewed. If Kaepernick’s skin was white, would we have thought differently about his protest? If the Michigan protestors’ skin was dark, would we have responded with anger at their actions?

Privilege exists. It is real.

Random musings…

Like many, I watched the Super Bowl. I’m a Chiefs fan–and I love the way that they’ve never given up, even when conventional wisdom has counted them out. They believe in themselves…encourage each other…and find ways to accomplish their task.

I also watched the halftime show. There has been lots of talk about the show–pro and con. I think the show has triggered some important discussions…about sexuality…about women’s choices…about culture.

I’m not a fan of skimpy outfits on performers or cheerleaders, regardless of sex, race, or culture. But what bothers me more than the outfits (or lack thereof) are overt simulations of sex…or grinding against each other…of crotch shots.

I’m glad there was a celebration of Latino culture, and I’m grateful for those who have taken the time to provide some context and education about what was being celebrated during the show.

And then there was the State of the Union address. While I have often not agreed with an administration, I have appreciated how previous presidents have used this time to try to find ways to pull the country together.

But this did not. In fact, it seemed designed to continue to pit us against each other…to divide.

I will freely admit, I have never liked Rush Limbaugh. I think he is one of the most divisive radio personalities we have had. I am sorry for his recent diagnosis–but I do not believe that is cause to give him a medal that in the past has been a recognition of someone who has done service to the country–not spouting off misogynistic, racist, and sexually demeaning commentary.

I am also disappointed in the behavior of those who should be setting examples of civil behavior.

I wonder if we will ever be able find common cause again…if we will be able to listen to and talk with each other. Will we be able to pull together to solve the significant challenges that face not just us but our world?

Or are we doomed to deepen the divide that has been on display recently?

For the sake of the future of our children and grandchildren, I hope it’s the former.

“I threw the world away…”

hands throwing globe

Recently I was playing catch with my 6-year-old granddaughter. She was using a ball with a map of the world stamped on it.

As is often the case with youngsters, the rules of the game are flexible and quick to change, along with the number of participants. At one point, the rule became that the ball could not touch the ground as we tossed it back and forth.

When it did, Ladybug decided she was out of the game…but one of the other participants tossed the ball back to her. As it came towards her, she said, “I threw the world away…but someone threw it back to me.”

That’s a simple phrase, but it also struck me as quite a profound one.

How many times have I thrown the world away because I’ve been mad at somebody or something?

How many times have we thrown the world away…because of our lack of care for her? because we decided that what we wanted was more important? because we didn’t know better?

And how many times has someone thrown it back to us for another chance?

I’m grateful that someone has cared enough to give me another chance…has cared enough to give all of us another chance. But I also find myself wondering…how many more times can we throw the world away before someone quits throwing it back to us?



Words matter…

I remember the childhood rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I wish that were true…

Unfortunately, far too many of us have had experiences with name-calling in one of its many forms…and studies bear out the long-term impact that bullying can have on everyone involved.

When one is a child, bullying can ensure that one is seen as somehow “less than”…pushed to an outer circle. Sometimes the bullying that takes place is clear and undeniable, but sometimes it’s far more subtle, with words that poke fun–and can be (and are) easily dismissed as kids “just having fun.” But it’s not fun to the one experiencing it.

Nor is it good for the one doing the bullying. They never learn how to interact appropriately with their peers, but learn that force (whether physical or verbal) is the way for them to get what they want.

Young people who are struggling to find their own identity struggle often with words used to identify them…and sometimes believe they have no choice but to disappear.

Even into adulthood words matter.

Words create the environment we grow into…and that’s why we’ve come to recognize that words that were common years ago are no longer acceptable–words such as the “n” word or “retard” (which I remember hearing as a common insult when I was young). We’re slowly coming to understand that words that were commonly used to describe individuals whose sexual or gender identity are different from our own have consequences.

But somehow it still seems acceptable to many to shame girls/women…to see us only as sexual objects…to ignore the fact that we are individuals with desires and talents like men…to suggest in many ways that we ought to be kept barefoot and pregnant…that men ought to make all decisions for us (including decisions about our own bodies)…

Those words have helped create a culture where a young man who viciously raped an unconscious woman gets away with a slap on the wrist because “she asked for it because she was so drunk” and because he is an athletic swimmer.

Those words have helped create a culture in which a once-honored comedian found it acceptable to drug women he wanted to have sex with…and then claim it was consensual.

Those words have helped create a culture where some well-known athletes have boasted about the number of women they have had sex with.

Those words have helped create a culture in which one of the candidates for the highest office in our land feels no shame in boasting about groping and kissing women against their will…and where others who hold office see nothing wrong with what he has said.

For too many years we have been quiet, believing (or at least hoping to believe) that “words will never hurt me.”

No more.

Words have consequences. Words have power. And it’s time that we acted in ways that show we believe it.

The indomitable human spirit

I’ve been enjoying watching the 2016 Olympics. Yes, I know there are problems–sometimes very serious ones–that can be found related to the games…from the cost of creating the site to some of the training methods used. But there are also some wonderful stories of the indomitable human spirit. These are some that have impressed me.

  1. The “Final Five”…Not only have each of them been wonderful performers themselves, it’s been clear that they really like and support each other. They have been genuinely delighted when someone on their team has done well–and genuine in their hugs when someone has had a problem with a routine.
  2. Aly Raisman…To watch Aly Raisman come back come back from disappointment four years ago, determined to show that she is one of the best in the world was exciting…and her parents were as much fun to watch as she was! It was easy to sympathize with their concern and nervousness for their daughter, but they way in which they showed it made each of us wonder how we would react in the same situation.
  3. Laurie Hernandez…She just bounces! She looks like she is having so much fun in her routines.
  4. Simone Biles…Who can ignore Simone her?! Her gymnastic ability is incredible–I can’t imagine bouncing as high in the air as she does. But the support of her grandparents (now her parents) through the years is special as well. I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child lose custody of their children–much less making the decision to adopt them yourselves. But it says a lot about the special relationship they have.
  5. Ellie Downie…Her fall during her floor routine for the all-around qualifying was horrendous! I’m sure that everyone–including her sister–who saw it was scared for her and wondered what the prognosis was. But then to see her come back and insist on doing two vaults so that the team could qualify…and then to see her later do a wonderful repeat of the floor routine was wonderful.
  6. Kohei Uchimura and Oleg Verniaiev…Gymnastic decisions are often close, but the men’s all-around came down to the final performer on the final routine–and a decision of .99 point. Both competitors did wonderful routines and you sometimes wish that there didn’t have to be a winner and everyone else.
  7. 2016 Refugee Team…For the first time the Olympics acknowledged that the world is not a wonderful, peaceful place. Ten athletes are competing under the flag of the Olympics, highlighting the problems of refugees around the world. Just staying alive for some of these refugees makes them gold medal winners, even if they don’t win at the Olympics.
  8. Michael Phelps…Does anything else need to be said? I was delighted to see him come back in a better place than he was after the 2012 Olympics, and to see him delight not only in his own successes but also in the team success.
  9. Joseph Schooling…Each athlete has a hero they look up to. For this young man it was Michael Phelps. I cannot imagine how he felt when he beat Phelps out for a gold in the butterfly.
  10. Katie Ledecky…Does anything else need to be said about her? She absolutely blew everyone else away in the 400-meter freestyle…and she looks like she’s having so much fun as well.
  11. Simone Manuel…This young swimmer tied for gold with the 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle, with both of them breaking the world record in the process. She is the first African-American to win an individual event in Olympic swimming–and the background to her win informed me of some of our racist swimming history, history I had not been aware of because it had not impacted me.
  12. Mo Farah…Who? Not a runner I had ever heard anything about, but his run in the 10,000-meter race was incredible to watch. He started at the back of the pack…took a fall on the second lap…and yet came back to win.
  13. Keri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross…I used to enjoy playing volleyball at church camps, but these two women take it to a whole different level! They are so athletic and manage to pull off almost impossible saves!
  14. Ibtihaj Muhammad…When I was in college I took a class in fencing. I haven’t fenced since, but I remember what a challenge the sport is. At a time when so much hatred has been expressed against Muslims, I am pleased to see a Muslim woman representing the United States.
  15. Adilende Cornelissen…I’ve always loved horses. I don’t understand much about the sport of dressage, but I do know that it requires a close connection between the rider and the horse. Cornelissen was the reigning silver medalist, but when her horse became ill, she put his needs to recover over her own desires to win.

I know there are undoubtedly many more–and will be more before the Olympics are over.

Perhaps one of the major values of the Olympic games is to remind us of the importance of the opportunity to do one’s best…the importance of teamwork…the indomitable human spirit.