Tucson: What Have We Learned?

In the wake of the horrifying shooting spree that took place outside a Tucson supermarket last weekend, the airwaves have been clogged with talk that mostly centers around two things:  the details of what actually happened and who we should blame.

While those are both pressing and important concerns (especially the details that help us to celebrate the lives of those who were killed or wounded), we would be remiss if we did not take some time to think about what we’ve learned since Saturday morning.  As a society, we’ve got a bit of a problem when it comes to difficult and/or catastrophic events: we rarely take time to truly process, grieve, learn.  We jump straight from calamity to blame to action, and rarely look back (until, of course, it is too late and our reactionary measures have helped to cause another catastrophe).

So, let’s take some time to practice together.  What are we learning in the wake of the Tucson shooting?

My learnings include the following:

  • Words matter. It’s not about blaming one person for an event.  It’s not even about blaming an entire movement or group of people for an event.  It’s about acknowledging that words have both creative and destructive power and should be used in thought-full and care-full ways (something that most all of us seem to have forgotten).  If we Church folk really do believe that God’s creative power is/was exercised through Word, if we really take seriously the belief that Jesus is the Divine Word, the Logos, then we have to be more intentional with our use of language – and be willing to be held accountable when the words we choose are destructive.
  • Guns still kill people. Yes, you’ve got to have someone deranged or serious or desperate or enraged enough to pull the trigger… but guns still make it a heck of a lot easier to do so.  Does this mean we should ditch those 2nd amendment rights?  I don’t know.   But I do know that our love affair with guns is wedded to our love affair with violence.  Eventually, if we truly yearn for peace, we’re going to have to start talking about that with honesty and transparency.
  • Mental health care is crucial. You’d think that this would be obvious by now (what with suicides on the rise amongst both military personnel and civilians alike, depression rates climbing, etc.) and yet so many people who need help never receive it – even when their words or behavior cry out for it.  In a society where mental illness is considered weakness, it is little wonder that people don’t get help…  We must do better than this – and church folk can begin by talking openly about mental illness.  We’ve helped to create the stigma by propagating ideas like “depression is just a lack of faith”, so now we must repent of that petty judgment and fearfulness by working for the wholeness of those with mental illness.  If one is wounded, so is the whole Body.
  • Good leadership requires humility. So, when we leaders make mistakes, we need to own up to them.  It can be difficult and painful to do this, and sometimes we need to set boundaries as we are held accountable (for example, while some politicians are absolutely guilty of using violent rhetoric they should not be held personally accountable for the shooting in Tucson), but we DO need to own up to our errors in judgment or intention.  If we don’t, we are poor leaders.  And if we try to shift the blame onto others or make the situation about us instead of those who are hurt, we are abusing the power others have entrusted to us.  Period.

    I’m hoping that this will become a conversation of sorts and that, together, we might begin to shift the dialogue taking place towards mutual learning and relationship.  So, tell me, what have YOU learned this week?

    Beyond Avoidance – #reverb10



    December 20 – Beyond Avoidance.

    What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?) (Author: Jake Nickell)



    This year I ignored and otherwise avoided every possible opportunity to improve my relationship with my own body – a fact that is incredibly ironic given the amount of time, words and reflection I have focused on issues of embodiment and incarnation.

    It would be overly simplistic to call myself a hypocrite and move on to something else. Though I am inclined towards hypocrisy as much as the next person (I’ve noticed that while most of us dislike other hypocrites, we regularly hold ourselves to different standards on an issue here or there), I can also say with utter honesty that reclaiming the body in Christian thought and life is one of my great passions. I believe that it needs to be done. I believe that it is important. I know in my heart of hearts that bodies matter, including my own. Sometimes it’s just easier to think about things than it is to actually live them.

    This year fell into that “sometimes” category quite nicely.

    So here I am, looking at how I’ve treated my incarnate self over the past twelve months…and I’m stuck with the reality that I haven’t treated myself particularly well at all.  It’s not that I’ve been mean or intentionally harsh – it’s that I haven’t approached this Lara-in-the-flesh with any intentionality at all. The mind has been cultivated: I’ve read and written and meditated and discerned. The heart has been watered and given room to grow. But the body? Well, the body’s been given a couch and a bag of Cheetos and told to quiet down.

    But she hasn’t been quiet. Instead, this body’s been nudging me in a desperate grab for attention: wrists and fingers on fire when I write too much, hands that throb and lose their grip for no good reason, glistening white hair sneaking in like the first snow of the season… Every sign she gives points an unwavering finger towards the reality that if this body of mine is going to be my friend in life, I need to start paying attention to her NOW.

    And so it is.  I can either ignore her for another year, or I can do right by her starting now. Vegetables, exercise, nurture, consistency, discipline – It’s really a frightening thing, this realization that I’ve got so much work to do. Frightening enough that what I really want is a cookie. Or some fudge. Or those magical and comforting french fries. You know, to soothe the fear…

    Maybe a manicure and pedicure are in order: a zero-calorie treat for hands and feet that are about to get a whole lot more use. It’s not a cookie (or a jog in the park), but it will do – it’s definitely a start!



    Creator God,

    You who knit us together in our mother’s wombs –

    be with us as we unravel old habits

    and stitch together new garments more fitting for the journey towards wholeness.

    Give us humor as we try new things (and sometimes stink at them).

    Give us tenacity as we work towards endurance.

    Give us gentleness as we learn to love our precious selves-in-flesh.


    Words that Reveal – Words that Conceal

    Words have always fascinated me – just as much for what they cover up as for what they reveal.

    For example, there are lots of words that some Christian folk use for ideas and people who challenge their traditions or beliefs.  I’ve read some of these words recently in the comments left on Amazon about the books of the Where’s the Faith? series as well as in the comments section of friends’ and colleagues’ blogs.  Words like “unChristian” and “unBiblical”.  Phrases like “slippery slope” and “lukewarm”.  In a comment about our Oh God! book, one “reader” (I use scare quotes primarily because I am skeptical about whether or not the commentator actually read more than the introduction to the book) went as far as to state that we had produced a “good handbook for incurring the wrath of God.”

    Well, damn.

    Statements like that hurt, and for a time I found myself grieving the fact that anyone would rub the wrath of God in our faces – we who had come together to write a book that was honest and real and raw and faithful.  I mean, we knew that our approach to sexuality would tick some people off, but comments like that wounded nonetheless. Yet, now that the hurt has worn off a bit, I find myself wondering what those comments are really about.  Are they words that reveal?  Or, are they words that conceal?

    I’m inclined to think that they are the latter.

    If this is indeed the case, what in the world could such hateful and hurtful statements be hiding?  On the face, they seem designed for the primary purpose of revealing our sinfulness (with a secondary purpose: hurting the god-less authors and putting us in our place).  But as I have sat with these words, listening to them echo off the surfaces of my mind, I’ve noticed something at work that is akin to sonar: as the words bounce and reverberate, they provide valuable information about what exists hidden in the darkness (both within ourselves/myself and within our accusers).

    If we listen carefully, these words betray the presence of the very things they are designed to conceal:  fear and pride.

    This is not to say that any one of us (myself very much included) isn’t periodically off course  and in need of someone to help us find our way back.  Sometimes we are blazing a new trail that seems inconceivable to those who have come before us (or who cannot see beyond their own context), and other times we are simply wrong.  But regardless of which position we may find ourselves, the fact remains that someone who wants to help us back on track doesn’t do so by insulting or hurting us.

    Those who hurl epithets and judgment like bricks, those who almost gleefully lash out and brand others with a searing “H” for heresy, those who post scathing blog comments or send sanctimonious letters have no desire for the wholeness of the other – those of us who do this to one another are mostly trying to hide our own uncertainty, our own fear that we might not be as thoroughly right (or righteous) as we pretend to be.

    Instead of engaging the ideas and the people who challenge us, so often we give in to the temptation to lash out.  It is far easier to boldly pronounce “blasphemy” than it is to enter into that vulnerable, risky space where dialogue happens.  Dialogue is sometimes perceived as “dangerous” because it always contains the possibility for change.  The other folks in the conversation might give us new insights or help us to see that we’ve been holding onto a faulty assumption.  They might sway us with their logic or convince us that we don’t yet have it all figured out.  Rather than take this chance, sometimes we reject dialogue outright and insist that our way is the only way (and then commence with destroying those who are different from us).

    That may very well be pride at its worst.  When we look down our noses and wish damnation on our neighbors or enemies (or when we revel in our certainty that they are hell-bound, ignorant, unenlightened, etc.) our own pride has pushed us so far from all things Christlike that the ways we are “right” no longer amount to much.  For even though we may be correct on the finer points of doctrine or the meaning of a portion of Scripture, when we prance about without humility or love for neighbor and enemy, we have missed the point.

    I’m still working out what all this means.   I don’t have all the answers by any means.  But I want to shed my fear and my pride.  I want to be in dialogue with you, even if you think I am lukewarm, unBiblical and unChristian.  I want to be in dialogue with you, even if I think you are ignorant and mean-spirited.  Chances are good that we are far more (and far better) than our biased opinions of one another.  We may never change each others’ minds, but we can love each other and pray together that God will make us whole.  And part of that relationship, part of that process requires using words that reveal instead of conceal.

    May the light of Christ shine upon and within us as we learn to love each other more deeply, differences and all.

    Morning Revelation

    Today something very strange happened:  I woke up at 5:30 in the morning.

    I am not a morning person.  In fact, I generally loathe mornings and communicate mostly via snarl any time prior to about 9 AM.  This grouchy state of being is only accentuated if I don’t have easy access to coffee (and having to make it myself does not count as “easy access” prior to 9 am).

    But today was different.  At six, when it became apparent that I would not be falling back to sleep, I crept out of the bedroom and down the stairs as silently as the hardwood would allow.  Kitchen lights – on!  Coffee pot – on!  Dishwasher – loaded!  Looking at the clock, I realized that it was barely 6:30 but most of my morning routine (usually accomplished while staggering and grumbling) had been accomplished – and on top of that, I was feeling positively chipper!   So, I fixed a cup of coffee, grabbed a mechanical pencil and a study of Revelation (for a youth Bible study coming up later this month), put my feet up and started to read.

    What a morning!   As it turns out, I read very well in those hours I’ve rarely spent awake.  Writing will likely always be an afternoon and evening ritual, but there is something about the quiet and the stillness of our house in the morning that lends itself to engaged, contemplative reading.  I fear that I may have to suck it up and become a morning reader…

    Creativity… #reverb10

    PROMPT:  December 6 – Make.

    What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

    (Author: Gretchen Rubin)


    I’ve never considered myself a creative person.  That was always my sister’s gift.  While growing up, she was praised for her creativity:  painting, creating a distinctive and unique style of dress, responding to a school project prompt (make up your own product and create advertisements for it) by selling the Pope…  Ultimately, she majored in Art History and minored in Art Performance.  This led to a masters degree in Art History and a career in the wide world of museums, digital photography, image digitization & acquisitions and the like.  On top of the career, she also knits and crochets the most incredible yarn art, is a printmaking diva,  crafts stunning jewelry and basically oozes creative energy.  I’m incredibly proud of her and hope to build a collection of her artwork throughout our lives.

    In comparison, words were always my gift.  I was praised for my ability to string words together in compelling ways: giving persuasive speeches in class, convincing others to take particular routes as we sought to address a problem, writing essays and stories…  In high school, our student activities director (who passionately disliked me primarily because I have a mouthy-streak) let me go on a student council trip despite our shared dislike of one another because “you’re the best bull-$*&#er I’ve got.”  Ultimately, I majored in Religion and minored in History.  This led to a masters degree in Theology and a career in the wide world of ministry and writing/editing.  As far as I can tell, my sister is similarly proud of me and owns at least one of the books I’ve worked on.

    She is the creative one and I am the “words” one.  This has been a huge part of the framework in which I have understood the both of us over the course of the past decade or two.  And while there is truth woven into this framework, I’m beginning to see that there is also unnecessary limitation.  By understanding us within these boundaries, I’ve essentially said that she can’t craft words well and I’m not creative.  Neither of these things is true.

    This realization was ignited this year as I unlocked a very creative space within myself.  It wasn’t an intentional thing – it first began as a part of the Lenten studies we had at our church.  Each Wednesday we met together and joined in an experiential form of prayer:  praying in color, creating and praying with prayer beads, creating and contemplating crosses made from “found objects” (junk).  During this process, I discovered that I thrive in opportunities for creativity.

    Most recently, two creative practices have emerged through this unlocked door:

    • creating gifts via crochet.  My husband’s side of our family made a decision to celebrate Christmas by making gifts for one another using our own skill sets and talents.  For the first time in my life, I have followed crochet patterns – and have discovered that while I can’t knit worth a damn, I crochet rather well.  The practice turns out to be quite meditative, and it is thrilling to watch simple yarn turn into beautiful and purposeful objects.  (I would post photographs, but then the family would know what they’re getting!).
    • writing daily.  I’m a fairly smart cookie, but it had never occurred to me that writing was my primary creative activity.  I suppose that in my mind I wasn’t engaged in “creative writing” because I don’t write fiction.  Whatever the reason, I have always thought of my word-smithing as something practical rather than creative (as if creativity can’t be practical!).  Anyhow, as I continue in this discipline of writing every single day, I am discovering that the creative parts of my brain/spirit are energized as words flow from mind through fingers to keyboard.

    In 2011, I’d like to take this newly understood creativity for a spin.  Using words as my medium, I would like to paint a picture of challenge and hope for the Church.  I’m still working out the particular topics and themes of such a project, but I know that I want to create a full-length book throughout the course of the next twelve months.  And, as I continue the process of understanding my own creative impulses and gifts, I would like to spend much of 2011 talking with my sister about her gifts (including her words).

    Writing vs. Worry – #Reverb10


    THE PROMPT: December 2 – Writing.

    What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?
    (Author: Leo Babauta)



    When I first read this prompt, I thought that it was asking me to think about what keeps me from writing each day.  Consequently, I started to contemplate the rabbit hole that is facebook and the way I get sucked in to Twitter for longer than is probably advisable…  But as I look at the prompt again, I realize that it is asking something very different:  what do I do that does not CONTRIBUTE to my writing?  That’s a different can of worms entirely.

    Social media doesn’t make this list, because the community of faithful rogues that has begun to gel there (especially on Twitter) really informs my writing.  Beyond that, the information sharing that takes place via social media helps me to discover articles, news stories, schools of thought and images that I would likely never find on my own – all of this contributes greatly to the things and the ways that I write.

    So, back to the question:  what do I do each day that does NOT contribute to my writing?

    Above all else, the most detrimental habit to my writing is worry.  When I worry, it’s as though my hands get tied behind my back and my brain begins an endless loop of what ifs.  In that state, even if I could convince myself to sit down and get some words out, it would all be incomprehensible gobblety-guk.  Worry makes “can’t” my modus operandi.

    Yet, I worry a lot (about a lot of things).  I worry about money:  can we pay the bills, can we pay off the student loans, will we ever be able to buy a house, will we have anything to live on in retirement, will we even be able to retire?  I worry about our government:  will they do what is just, do they care about the people, are their motives pure and good, will power corrupt the ones with good intentions?  I worry about the world:  will things get even worse for the poor, will we continue to be at war with one another, will the earth eventually reject us as a species for being such lousy tenants?  I worry about the Church:  will we ever learn how to love each other, will church folks stop using the Bible as a weapon, can we be a conduit of hope in a broken world?

    The more anxious I become, the more every answer to these questions seems to be negative (which ignites a new batch of anxiety).  As I worry more, writing becomes next to impossible – and since writing is my primary prayer path, I also pray less.

    Basically, worry is my kryptonite.

    But can I eliminate worry?  Is a worry-free life possible for me?  I’m not sure, but I suspect the answer lies within a particular part of my personality that has really come into play recently: I’m a “true believer”.  At my core, I truly believe that we can learn to love each other, that there are good-intentioned people out there who don’t let power get the best of them, that the people of the Way who call ourselves “Church” can channel God’s hope and wholeness out into the world.  I’m an idealist (despite my attempts to pretend otherwise).  Worry is such a problem for me because it is the flip side of this optimistic idealism.

    Taking this duality into account, I don’t think that I can ever truly eradicate worry from my life.  It will always be a part of me that roars into life at inopportune moments.  But, knowing that it is a slice of my own personal “dark side” is at least a step in the right direction.  As GI Joe used to say: Knowing is half the battle!

    One Word…

    This December I have committed to join other writers/bloggers/artists/etc. in a project called Reverb10 (www.reverb10.com).  Every day of the month each participant will receive a new prompt encouraging reflection on the past year and hope-casting for the coming year.  Participants are encouraged to reflect through writing, art, photography, etc. (I’ll be writing my reflections).  As the website proclaims:

    • “[Reverb10 is] an open online initiative that encourages participants to reflect on this year     and manifest what’s next. It’s an opportunity to retreat and consider the reverberations of your year past, and those that you’d like to create in the year ahead. We’re connected by the belief that sharing our stories has the power to change us.”

    Because I believe that shared story has transformative power (that’s part of the power and potency of the Bible and a reason that I study it), I’ve decided to try my hand at this communal reflection – and to share it each day via this blog.  Each blog will begin with the prompt for the day (as found on the Reverb10 website) and will end with my own response.  If you’ve got a hankering for reflection, I encourage you to visit the site and do the same!


    THE PROMPT:  December 1 – One Word.

    Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
    (Author: Gwen Bell)


    Context and perspective matter, so I think it best that I begin this project by reflecting on my own experience.  In the grand scheme of things, that experience seems so very small, yet it is what I have to offer – so here goes:

    I have lived out so much joy, frustration, hope, sorrow, excitement, fear and wonder in the course of 2010… but none of those words could capture the essence of the year.  The closest word I can come up with that encapsulates the past eleven months of my life is TEMPERING.

    Obviously, “tempering” can mean many things.  In this instance, I’m drawing from two of its meanings:

    1. to harden (as steel) by reheating and cooling  -or-  to make stronger and more resilient through hardship
    2. to put in tune with something

    The ups and downs of the year have had a heating and cooling effect that has strengthened both my will and my faith.  I’m not so sure I would compare myself to steel, but I have certainly learned more about myself (my hopes, fears, strengths, motivations, prejudices and gifts) than I discovered in many a year past.  And, perhaps more importantly, the realizations and insight gained through the course of 2010 have nudged me closer and closer towards a harmony with myself, with others and with God.  It is as though the stretching and straining (the alternating cycles of pain and relief) of the year have wound me like a guitar string – and though my pitch is not perfect, I’m more in tune than I once was.

    With all of this in mind, I hope that a word for 2011 might be DEEPENING (yes, I realize that I am in love with gerunds…).  If the past year has helped stretch me into tune, then I would like to see the next twelve months bring me to a point of more complex harmony.  I want to read more, love more, experience more, listen more, pray more, play more, be more – not so much in a quantitative sense but in a qualitative sense.  In fact, I envision that the act of “getting rid of” may be a part of this deepening.  Over the course of a couple decades, I’ve built up a lot of “stuff”, so with this transition to something new I pray for a year of less stuff, less worry, less fear, less bitterness and judgment and self-centered-ness, and a year of deeper and broader God-centered-ness.

    What words would you use to describe what has come to pass and what will be?

    Fools Who Keep Silent…

    Yesterday a story hit the news (or at least some popular blogging sites) displaying screen-capture photos of an Alaska high school student’s facebook wall.  The photos in question document a conversation that took place between the student and some of his peers regarding the new television show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”.  In this conversation, Willow Palin (the ex-governor’s 16 year old daughter) is shown to have joined in the debate about whether or not her mother’s show is “failing so hard right now”.

    The conversation that follows is not unlike any other heated conversation that takes place on facebook.  Many of the people involved are rude, crude and generally hateful to one another – and expletives get tossed around like they are going out of style.  There is no fear of repercussion because it’s a semi-private conversation – only their friends can read what they’ve written, so there is plenty of room to speak their minds (and plenty of friends to cheer the fight on).

    But here’s the rub:  it’s not really private at all.

    As Willow Palin discovered this week (and as an Arkansas school board member learned a few weeks ago), nothing is truly private on facebook.  You can click the boxes that say “friends only” and revisit your privacy settings every single day, but all it takes is one person in your friend list who decides it is worthwhile to share your information…and then the whole world not only knows your business, but they also know precisely how you chose to state your business.  Whether it is the racist or homophobic slurs you used against someone in an argument, a photo of that party you “never went to”, or a rant about how much you loathe your American History teacher, these things can all become public knowledge in the blink of an eye.

    So, was it their fault that these “private” conversations found their way to a national audience?  In the strictest sense, no.  In each instance I’ve noted, the decision to send a screen shot to a news agency was the decision of another individual, and the individual’s motives are not known.  It could have been about money, or fame, or causing trouble – and it could have been about exposing someone for who they really are so that others can know a truth about them.  But for our purposes the motives don’t really matter – what’s done is done.  The point is that we have the power to keep these painful public brouhahas from happening to us.  And what is this power?  It’s the power to pick and choose what we put up on the Internet – the power NOT to run our mouths.

    To begin with, racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia are not good things.  Whatever your religious values, there is simply no virtue to be found in being hateful.  If slurs and other demeaning statements are part of your day to day speech, then you should consider shutting your mouth while you ponder the roots of your hatred.  Hatred isn’t good for life – not yours, not mine, not anyone else’s – and it isn’t good for your faith, so spend your newly acquired time in silence uprooting that barren vine before it completely chokes your spirit.

    Likewise, it generally isn’t a good idea to break laws, destroy property, over-indulge in harmful or obnoxious ways, strip publicly, etc.  It also isn’t very smart to have a camera with you while engaging in any of the aforementioned behaviors.  We do all make mistakes from time to time (you’ll certainly never hear me claim perfection, unless it’s done in a VERY tongue-in-cheek way), but is it wise to post those indiscretions on our facebook walls for all our friends (and, perhaps, the world) to see?   Ummmm…no.

    The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about Wisdom (Sophia) and foolishness…and though the Internet wasn’t really a concern of the Old Testament authors, this collection of wisdom sayings speaks volumes to the issue at hand.  For example:

    “Those who guard their mouths
    preserve their lives;
    those who open wide their lips
    come to ruin.”   (Proverbs 13:3  NRSV)

    “Even fools who keep silent are
    considered wise;
    when they close their lips, they are
    deemed intelligent.”  (Proverbs 17:28  NRSV)

    It seems, even a few thousand years ago, the wise knew that while it was best not to make poor choices at all, it was also particularly inadvisable to broadcast their mistakes.  While we should all strive to be the best people we can be (the people God hopes we will be), we will mess up from time to time.  That is inevitable.  But when we do mess up, when hateful things spring up in our hearts and start edging their way towards our mouths (or our fingertips), we should make the next wisest decision available:  be silent.

    At least then, in our silence, we won’t find things we’ve said on our facebook wall in the hands of our parents, our teachers, our co-workers or displayed on the Huffington Post…

    Autumn Wonder

    The day I have impatiently waited for has finally arrived:  It is now consistently autumn here in the Kansas City metro area.  Daily highs are in the low sixties and upper fifties…the trees are slowly changing from green to gold to amber/orange and on to brown…the townie-geese are receiving their annual out-of-town visitors, many of whom will make this their residence throughout the chill of winter…  Yes, it is Autumn.  Thanks be to God!

    Autumn has always been my favorite season.  Much of it has to do with the trees – the way they put on such extravagant dress for a few brief weeks before baring it all in the name of winter.  There are so many other things that I love about the fall – and in the name of gratitude and joy-centered living, I think this is the time to list them:

    In the midst of Autumn, I love:

    • the crisp, clear quality of the air.  It is as though one can see farther and with more precision during the months of October and November.
    • pumpkins:  small, big, round, misshapen, knotted, orange, white, yellowish-green, squatty…I love them all!
    • autumn leaves, especially those from the many varieties of maple tree.  The bright burnished reds are my favorite.
    • autumn clothing:  sweaters and jeans, boots and jackets, leather and wool…all are snuggly and wonderful.  I’m also a fan of tweeds.
    • autumn colors, filled with brightness…as though the world is steeling itself for sharp austere winter with wild displays of extravagance and warmth!
    • autumn flavors:  buttery squash, nuts, pumpkin, cinnamon, chocolate, mocha, spiced apple (especially the juicy honeycrisp!)
    • soups.  All of them.
    • chili.  Any variety will do, though I particularly love the white chicken chilis of the world.
    • the way that leaves leap from the trees and swirl down towards the earth – flurries of foliage covering everything in their path.
    • the way that our dog, Shelby, seems to gain energy and puppy-ness in the fall.  She scampers and prances through the leaves, picks up the scent of squirrels and is transformed into a tracker, chases the cats with renewed vigor…
    • squirrels throwing acorns, hiding acorns, taunting the dog, peppering our windows and cars with a barrage of oaken projectiles…
    • college football, particularly glorious purple and white TCU football!  Go Frogs!
    • crisp sunny days followed by chilly nights.
    • concentrated celebrations:  Halloween, Thanksgiving and Advent all packed into a tight succession of festival joy.
    • children living out their fantasies, transformed into ninjas and heroes, princesses and rock stars, fairies and animals galore.
    • warm beverages… particularly coffee, but also cocoa, tea, hot cider, hot spiced wine – all transforming the night’s chill into something magical.

    My goal this autumn is to be present to the wonder of the season.  Many an autumn-past has slipped by without my full attention, and I have suffered for it.  Many a Fall I have been so engrossed in worry or work or worthless pursuits that I have missed out on the joy that attends this season.  So, this year, I will notice.  I will celebrate Autumn in all of her fullness, all of her transformative glory.

    This year I will let my eyes see the presence of God in the season, and I will be grateful.

    Bully Culture?

    For fairly obvious reasons, bullying has been heavy on my mind these days.  The recent suicides of several GLBTQ teens have brought the issue back to the fore in a way similar to that of the media blitzes that followed school shootings like the ones in Jonesboro and Columbine – and while both parents and pundits discuss the horrible reality of bullying at schools around the country, we have also been witness to an entire political campaign season full of bullying:  bully signs, bully pulpits, bully commercials and rhetoric…  All of these things point to an uncomfortable truth:  in all sectors of our current system/culture, bullies thrive and rise to the top.

    If it seems as though I’m exaggerating a bit, take a look at the following list of “Not-Well-Enough-Known Facts about Bullying” that comes from the work of Dan Olweus in his book, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do:

    1. Most bullies don’t suffer from low self-esteem. Some have circles of friends and may have a high status among their peers.
    2. Most bullies are not looking for attention, so ignoring the bullying is not a way to make it stop. Bullies look for control. The behavior is likely to escalate if adults ignore it.
    3. Bullying behavior isn’t something a child or young person outgrows. Research shows bullies are at much higher risk of later becoming involved in a crime, alcohol or drug abuse, or tobacco use.
    4. Victims of bullies are rarely able to stand up to bullies and deal with the situation themselves. They are usually younger or physically weaker than their tormentors. In order to withstand bullying, children need a system of supportive friendships, something victims often lack the social skills to form.
    5. Contrary to what many parents believe, most bullying does not occur off school grounds. Almost all bullying occurs at school.
    6. Bullying is not an isolated instance but rather a fact of life in a majority of schools.
    7. Most bullying takes place outside the sight of teachers. Many of those targeted are reluctant to report their harassment because they are afraid of retaliation, and most bullies deny the behavior if confronted.
    8. Many victims of bullying suffer lifelong side effects, including depression and mental health problems. Some suicides are attributed to bullying.

    While this list is clearly directed towards the bullying that occurs in educational settings, there are striking parallels between these schoolyard  exchanges and the discourse taking place in political campaigns, social networking sites and even (*gasp*) the church.  For example, how many of the politicians you’ve seen really need more attention?  They’ve got friends, family, fortune (more often than not) and fame (at least in their own particular context).  What they are looking for is power.

    Now, power in and of itself is not a negative thing – there are politicians out there who truly want to serve the greater good by using the power they have been given by the electorate.  But, regardless of the intentions of each individual politician, this campaign season has demonstrated how a desire for power and control can lead one to pick up the tools of a bully:  belittling remarks, cruel (and often racist, sexist or homophobic) jokes at another’s expense, statements that call into question not just an opponent’s positions and beliefs, but also their character, their citizenship, their patriotism, their faith, their very humanity.  Similarly, our churches all house individuals who crave control and use the bully tool belt to get what they want:  poisonous remarks lobbed with a smile like velvet-covered bricks, statements that call into question a church member’s status as a Christian, insinuations that straying from the “right way” will get you left out or ejected from the fold.

    Both our political discourse and our ways of disagreeing with one another have devolved into bullying.  What makes it different from the bullying of a schoolyard is that it takes place very publicly.  While there may only be a handful of silent bystanders in the hallway of the middle school, we are all bystanders as politicians attack one another, the supporters of their opponents, and the pundits – and we are all bystanders as church members or co-workers or family members rough people up (verbally, emotionally or physically) in order to get their way.   Unfortunately, silent bystanders are just as much a part of the problem as the bullies themselves.

    Researchers all agree that bullying is a learned behavior.  It is something we are taught (both by bullies and bystanders) and it is a behavior that doesn’t go away easily (see #3 above).  In some ways, bullying becomes an addiction – once you pop, you just can’t stop.  And while we have spoken out of one side of our mouths to bemoan the dire situation of those children and teens who fall prey to young bullies, we’ve used the other side of our mouths to participate in “adult” systems where bullying is the norm.

    Children and teens learn how to be adults by watching us.  If we want bullying to not be normative in our schools, we’ve got to step up and quit modeling it for the young people in our circles of influence.  Regardless of whether it happens at school, at work, at our place of worship, at home or during a debate, bullying is wrong and it is well past time for it to stop.  Let this change begin with us.