I can’t fix it…

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I’m a “fixer.” I don’t like it when people are hurting–whether it’s as a result of their own actions or something else. I don’t like to see people in conflict. I want everything to go well for everyone.

But I’ve also come to realize that I can’t fix everything or everyone.

Sometimes it’s just not possible. The situation may be so complex that it takes more than simply my efforts to untangle it. Or death may have made it impossible for there to be reconciliation. Or…sometimes…people don’t want to be fixed. They’re comfortable in their victimhood.

I do understand that. I went through a time in which I felt un-listened to…felt devalued…and felt that my legitimate concerns were not listened to. And in a rather perverse way, it felt comfortable to complain loudly about all the ways in which that was happening.

I eventually changed–not because anyone “fixed” me, but because I got hit over the head with a metaphorical 2×4 and realized that if I didn’t change, I would not longer be able to provide a ministry that I wanted to.

But during that time, there was someone who was “there.” She didn’t try to fix me; she was just present. She let me know that she cared–and she gently probed behind the quick and facile answers I gave others who asked about me.

And so I’ve come to realize that instead of trying to be a “fixer,” my responsibility is to be a companion…to be present with those who are hurting. That’s not easy–I still sometimes find myself wanting to fix situations that aren’t working for people I care about. But I can’t.

All I can do is walk with them…

Building bridges

bridge building

There’s a story my dad used to use in some of his sermons. It goes something like this:

A young man was on a hike when he came to a gorge. There seemed to be no way across and he was going to have to turn around to find another way. But then he heard noises and went to investigate. He found an old man, busy building a bridge across the gorge. He laughed and commented to the old man, “Old man, what are you doing that for? You’ll be too old to cross the bridge by the time you get it finished.” Without missing a beat, the old man said, “I’m not building it for myself. I’m building it for those who come after me.”

I’ve thought a lot about that recently.

There are so many chasms and gorges between us. We seem to delight in finding ways to separate ourselves from each other!

And I’ve been seeing my ministry as trying to build bridges.

Sometimes that’s felt like an impossible task. Sometimes I’ve wondered if there’s any use…or if those bridges will ever be used.

But then this story from my father came to mind…and it gives me strength to go back to the task.

Some may not choose to ever cross the bridge I build. Some may not even think that I’m trying to build bridges. Some may delight in trying to tear the bridges down.

But that doesn’t change my call to ministry.

It’s not easy to build bridges. Sometimes it means biting my tongue on things I would like to say. Often it means being misunderstood–by people on both sides of the divide.

But if none of us try to build bridges, then the divisions will only get bigger and bigger and more difficult to bring back together.

Not all the bridge building comes from my side of the divide. There are people on the other side also trying to bridge the gap. If we can find each other–and work towards each other–then there is still hope.

“[We] build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Joseph Fort Newton

May we start understanding the importance of tearing down walls–and then using that material to start building bridges.

Talking with–or at?–each other

As I’ve listened to–and read–what passes for conversation today on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering if we’re trying to talk with each other or if we’re simply content to talk at each other.

What do I mean?

We may use the same words with each other–but it’s becoming more and more obvious that we often attach different meanings to them. It’s like a humorous saying I’ve heard about America and Britain–that we are two countries separated by a common language!

Part of the difficulty comes because we often approach our conversations from completely different foundations. Several years ago, the Smithsonian published an article from the relatively new field of political neuroscience suggesting that our political differences may have some biological basis. A key takeaway (at least for me) from the article is this:

Andrea Kuszewski, a researcher who has written about political neuroscience, would rather put a positive spin on what it could mean for politics. She says this kind of knowledge could help open up communication, or at least ease hostility between the country’s two major political parties.

“Each side is going to have to recognize that not everyone thinks like them, processes information like them, or values the same types of things…With the state our country is in right now, I don’t think we have any choice but to cowboy up and do whatever needs to be done in order to reach some common ground.”

A current article from Yahoo! News shows how difficult these conversations are going to be. What do we hear when we listen to each other? Or are we really listening? or just figuring out how we’re going to respond to what we think we hear?

Common ground seems to be really hard to find right now. But unless we are willing to do the hard work to try to find it, we are going to continue to become more and more divided–and instead of conversations that can help us find solutions, we will end up talking at (and past) each other!

Seeing people, not colors

It’s 2018…and in too many ways, too many of us are still living back in 1868…shortly after the Civil War, when many white people saw free blacks as people to fear…as people who needed to be “kept in their place”…as people who did not have the ability, intelligence or education to do or be anything other than servants to whites.

And why am I saying this?

Because just this last week, a black security guard stopped an armed shooter at a nightclub and held him until police were able to come–and then was himself shot and killed by the police, even though bystanders were calling out that he was security.

Because the election in Georgia was finally decided in favor of a white candidate, even though there have been serious questions raised about voter suppression (including loss of polling places that required people of color to travel significant distances to try to vote…in areas where public transportation is minimal)…and the man running for governor was also the same man responsible for overseeing the election.

Because Georgia’s First Lady made a comment widely seen as a racist reference towards Stacey Abrams, a black woman who was running for governor, saying that “I really want a family in the mansion to take good care of it.” Really? Does anyone really believe she would have made that comment if Abrams was a white unmarried woman running for governor?

Because last Wednesday a former Air Force veteran who was working as a supervisor for a court-ordered visitation between a parent and child–and who was sitting quietly in a yogurt shop while the parent and child were visiting–made workers uncomfortable enough that they called the police…who asked the veteran to move on. He did, in order to keep the situation from escalating. And did I mention that he was black? and the workers who called were white?

Because a county commissioner in Kansas, in response to a presentation by a black woman in a county meeting, said that he was rejecting the proposal, but it wasn’t anything personal towards her, just that he was a member of “the master race.”

I thought we were long past this. I thought we were past just seeing color.

I thought–and hoped–that yes, we would see and acknowledge color, but only as one aspect of an individual…that we would see them as people with gifts and skills that benefit everyone.

And yet…

Obviously the Civil Rights movement is not finished. And just as obviously, those of us who have the privilege of white skin and who do not fear for our lives or who are not insulted just because of who we are have a responsibility to say “Enough is enough.”

RIP

Two men died yesterday. One was a friend; the other I never met. But both had a profound impact on many people who may not have even known their names.

Stan Lee

Stan Lee 1922-2018

Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Man…and so many more. Superheroes…but with a twist. Many of them became superheroes because of an unexpected event in their lives. They had human flaws, characteristics that allowed us to identify with them. They raised moral questions…they deal with society as it is…as it may be…as we might like it to be. They were many colors, sizes, genders…

With Stan Lee’s death, Marvel Comics has lost a creative genius who allowed kids to have role models who looked like them…to encourage them in their dreams.

Dale Jones

Dale Jones 1951-2018

For a couple of months every year, my friend went by the name of Santa. He ate breakfast with kids…he saw them at the mall. He loved them…made them feel valued…and encouraged them to be the best they could be.

Many who saw him in his red suit at the mall or in other Christmas settings never knew that his “other” name was Dale Jones…or that he was a gifted musician and minister. They didn’t know that he had a family and friends who loved him. They just knew that he made them feel special.

So…as we move into the season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I want to give thanks for these two men who have touched so many lives…as well as the many, many other individuals who touch lives in ways they may never know.

Rest in peace.

Who Am I?

I keep reading and hearing posts about how “all these Democrats” and “liberals” are ruining the country…are anti-God…are anti-patriotic…who hate anyone who disagrees with them…want to take away everybody’s guns…and on and on. You know the kind of language I’m talking about.

Well, I’m not sure who all these Democrats and liberals are that are being talked about. While I am a registered Independent, I tend to vote Democratic, and I would consider myself liberal. But I tend to get lumped into that group.

You might be interested to know that I am an ordained minister who believes in God’s love for all people. And while Christianity is the path that I have chosen, I have also enjoyed sharing with friends and family members who have followed different spiritual paths (or none).

I love the country of America. I lived for a few years of my childhood in another country, but America is my home, and I love it.

I have a number of friends I disagree with politically and theologically–but I don’t hate them. Disagreement doesn’t equal hate; it just means I disagree with you.

While I don’t want a gun in my home, I’m not trying to take away everybody else’s guns. My daughter has a concealed carry permit. I have family who hunt. I’m fine with folks having guns for target practice…for hunting…and even for self-protection if that is their choice. But I think it’s well past time for some common sense gun control so that we don’t keep having to send “thoughts and prayers” to the families of people killed by someone who thinks they have a right to carry a weapon whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible.

I believe that climate change is real, that we–as human beings–are major contributors to it, and that we must make major changes to try to reverse it before it is too late. I don’t believe we have much time, and I am concerned that a refusal to acknowledge it is far too prevalent today.

I believe that education is more than merely indoctrination…that it should challenge some of our understandings rather than merely confirm us in our prejudices. I want teachers to be allowed to teach, to encourage thinking in our children rather than helping them prepare for test after test after test.

And yes, I support legal abortion. I remember back alley abortions, and I don’t want to go back to that time. There are a lot of reasons why a woman might choose to have an abortion, and I believe those decisions should be made by her in consultation with her doctor, her significant other, and a minister (again, if that is her choice).

I also support equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t always…but I have grown in my understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation, and I can no longer deny individuals the same rights and protection that I have.

Although, as I indicated above, I am an ordained minister, I believe there should be a wall of separation between church and state so that all individuals can worship in safety, without the government breathing down their necks.

I believe that women should be able to feel safe when they walk down the street–and that their experiences should be believed. Yes, I know there are sometimes false accusations, but those are few and far between. It’s far more likely that a woman will not share an experience of sexual assault because of how she has seen other women attacked and demeaned while reliving a traumatic experience.

I also believe that there has to be a better way of working out our differences with other governments than going to war. However, I appreciate those individuals who choose to join the armed services as their way of helping to protect this country that I love. My husband served in Vietnam, and two of my grandsons also served in the military. One was a Marine who served in Iraq and who died far too young. The other was in the army and served in Afghanistan.

I would love for us to return to a time of civility with each other…with a willingness to engage in true conversation with each other as we search to find common ground. I would love to see lawmakers be willing to reach across the aisle to work together…to understand that “compromise” is not a dirty word.

I do also see some posts and comments making similar comments about “Republicans” and “conservatives”…so this issue is not one-sided. We are all guilty.

But can’t we please start seeing each other as individuals? Complex individuals with whom we may agree on some issues and disagree on others? Can’t we please start focusing on finding common ground…some places where we can work together?

We have to, before it’s too late. Before this country becomes so terribly divided that we cannot find our way back together. I just hope it’s not too late…

 

 

Creating a place where people want to work…

There’s a weekly column in our area Sunday paper that I’ve read with interest for a number of years. Its focus is on job-related issues, but much of what is discussed there can relate to any situation / organization in which two or more people are involved.

Sometimes the topic has been in an area of interest to me; sometimes it’s not.

But I’ve sometimes thought about what I would write–if I were ever asked to write a guest column. The chances of that happening are pretty slim, so I decided I’d do it myself!

From the perspective of a couple of different work-related experiences I’ve had, here’s what I think I would say:

Have you ever looked at those articles that list “the best places to work”? and wondered what it would take for yours to be listed there? It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money. Money is nice, but it doesn’t solve the issues I’ve experienced.

Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Treat everyone with respect. That means everyone, from the person who is highest on the totem pole to the lowest.
  • Listen to your employees. You may not be able to do what they would like to see done, but they often have good ideas. Don’t dismiss them out of hand because you (as a supervisor) “know better.” Your employees are often the first line of contact with your customers, and they often have a really good grasp of issues and concerns that need to be taken care of.
  • Share with your employees. Yes, I know, there is sometimes information that cannot be shared; I don’t know of any employee who doesn’t understand that. But sharing as much as possible helps employees buy-in to what you are wanting (and / or needing) to do.
  • Acknowledge the work that your employees do. Yes, a monetary bonus is always nice. But when that’s not possible, there are other ways of acknowledging how important your employees are. Perhaps an extra day off…a public acknowledgement in the company newsletter…a personal letter (not a template with the name filled in)…a certificate of appreciation…
  • Work to create an environment where all are seen as essential. Too often there’s an “us / them” attitude. It can be described as “bosses / peons”, “that end of the hall / everyone else”, “us / them”…or any one of a number of ways. If that’s the feeling in your workplace, you’re missing out on relationships that can enhance your company.

There’s a lot more that could be said. But it’s not really important. It’s really kind of like what happened when someone came to Jesus and asked him what the most important religious law was. There were a lot of them that Jesus could have picked from. But he only chose two: (1) to love God with all one’s being, and (2) to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Two of the Gospels says that he continued by saying that all the rest of the law and prophets hung on those two.

My feeling is that if you look at my suggestions and work to create them in your company, you don’t need a thick employee handbook full of rules and regulations. They’ll pretty much take care of themselves.