Our Societal Diagnosis, IMHO: True Compassion is Missing

This is perhaps the hardest post I have ever written. By hardest, I refer to the amount of time I have spent thinking about how to formulate my words in such a way that honor the feelings I have, while also calling my readers to contemplate and react.

In the weeks since the Grand Jury decision in the Michael Brown case, followed all-too-closely with the lack of prosecution in the death of Eric Garner, and now the tragic killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, I have been been so confused and upset about how we, as a collective society, have handled our thoughts. Even in saying “our collective society” is borderline inappropriate, because I believe that PART of the issue is the spectrum on which reactions have existed.

My argument today, (which I will attempt to explain, defend, and credit) is that while there are many very real factors and problems at play (which will be discussed), the greatest and most applicable of these is a lack of true compassion amongst the general public in our country.

Now before I explain my “True Compassion is Missing” assertion, I will mention a few points:

Firstly, I completely honor each and everyone’s personal feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, victimization, racial profiling, (insert any other feeling that you may have). I wasn’t there when Michael Brown lost his life. I don’t know if Ferguson Police acted appropriately or not. Moreover, I choose to not judge what is right and wrong in a situation that I had no business in. However, those who feel as though the incident was racially charged are just as “right,” in my opinion, as those who feel like Officer Darren Wilson was acting in self-defense and was justified. Herein lies the problem: no matter what belief you hold or whatever group you identify with, you are suffering. Inherently, when a divisive issue comes to light, there is suffering on each side. The problem arises when violence and news coverage and rumors and overall misinformation try to minimize or reject the validity of the other group’s opinion. This is what I see as so very sad.

Secondly, I want it to be said that I don’t believe reactionary violence solves any problems, and rather only perpetuates them. While I don’t condemn those who have become violent, I do pray that they are able to contemplate and process their feelings in a way that healthily expresses the troubles they are facing.

True compassion lies in the ability to see that when one is suffering, we are all unable to be fully whole. As a fellow human being, if you are not able to participate in this life in a content, free nature, then by association, neither am I. Is the way you experience your suffering different than mine? Of course! However, this does not illegitimate the point. This quote is what helped me formulate my feelings around this entire issue, as well as this post: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

While it originally refers to the idea of false charity and aid workers coming in to third world countries employing a “reach down and help people up” method rather than affirming each person’s inherent human dignity, I believe that it applies today. I hold the belief that those in the black community who are crying out to be heard and whose injustices are running rampant have important points to make! Does this mean, that as a white person, I am racist? Or does it mean that I believe most white people are? No. However, I do stand in unity to say that due to the suffering of many, I am in part suffering with them. The liberation of those who feel persecuted is “bound up” with my own, and therefore regardless of my personal experience in the matter, I have a personal connection to the end result: liberation for all. This is why we MUST work together.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, S.J., author of one of my most favorite books, “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” chronicles his involvement and immersion into the gang-infested communities of Los Angeles and all that he has learned through his relationships with members of his community. He says, “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.” The important thing that Boyle does in this quote, besides convict readers to contemplate their own “lurking suspicions” is to consider that this lack of compassion is a FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGE. This means that it is something that lies at the basis of all other challenges. So if this suspicion that some lives matter less than others is our base-line thought, then it should be utterly un-surprising (note that I do not say excusable) that societal misunderstandings and injustice plague our communities: in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and beyond.

Perhaps it’s also important to mention that in this time of unrest and dispute, there is real grief that is being faced. True compassion calls us to recognize this. Fr. Boyle again sums it up beautifully (sub out “poor” for “your fellow human”): “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

Recognize that in his story, he is discussing those who are living in extreme poverty and so that is his context. But it should apply to all of us: We should aim to have compassion coursing through us so strongly in a way that compels us to stand in awe at all that someone has to face, rather than in judgement of how they choose to face it. This is a lofty but beautiful goal.

In these times of grief, sadness, anger, dispute, and injustices, I hope that we can ALL take a step back. Try to look at our society from a birds eye view. All over, we are suffering. Though our thoughts, feelings, and actions are all different, collectively, we are suffering. If we weren’t, then we wouldn’t be seeing online posts that claim extreme and “radical” opinions, or protests taking over city highways and small-towns from coast to coast. Until we as a society can recognize that healing has to happen for each person, then there is no way that we will overcome. Until we acknowledge and work toward compassion for ALL, then we will continue to be stuck in this web of hurt.

My prayer is that we, as a country of talented, beautiful, diverse, passionate, incredible people, can soon come to a place where we realize that our liberation is bound up in each other’s; and that to reach that fulfillment, we must drop our guards, gain some courage, and walk together toward this common goal.

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comfort for My people

You know those days where you just have really good church? Whether it’s a song that plays and just touches your soul, or the words from the priest are exactly what you need,maybe it’s your favorite reading…whatever it is, you know it when you feel it. Walking out of church, you just know you got served up some classic, organic, GOOD church. This Sunday was one of those days for me. It was too good not to share.

In the wake of absolute craziness surrounding American communities “from sea to shining sea” and having injustices splattered across nearly every news headline, I was exhausted emotionally. The irony of the joy of the holiday season mixed with my own feelings of uneasiness about the celebration of the season (even before lives were shattered by the events in MO and NY), in addition to the impression that things across the country were falling apart, I had had enough. I was/am tired of seeing extremes juxtaposed together, namely:

– people with such wealth & privilege, laden with shopping bags and expensive items — BUT walking blindly past those who are literally freezing to death on my city’s street corners
– rampant racial injustice — BUT some people still asserting that it’s “just a problem with criminals, not race” [ie: the false view of “If I don’t personally experience racism personally, it does not exist”]
– the proclaimed joy of the holiday season – BUT feelings of loneliness and false happiness

Needless to say, I was ready for some good church. So when I walked in and heard the beautiful words of Isaiah 40:1, “Be comforted, be comforted, my people – says Your God.” I leaned back in the pew, unable to breathe for a second. The words took the wind out of me in a beautiful way and I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling the weight of so much slide off of my shoulders.

The priest went on to discuss this exact theme: how we, as a society, are just in need of some good news for once. It was a beautiful period of reflection; a time to really sit back and ponder the state of our country, of our community, and most scary perhaps, our own hearts.

I think that sometimes church/(or whatever your worship space looks like) can serve as the most accurate mirror for you. It gives you an inviting chance to see yourself as you are – to come as you are – and be right where you are. To be in both a physical and figurative space where you can let your guard down is a blessing that I don’t often take enough time to think of.

So as I go through this week, my prayers for myself, the community, and really our whole country/world center around the idea of comfort. How can I comfort those around me? How can I bring comfort to my own heart, for whatever reason it may be feeling unrest? How can the actions that I take positively affect the overall vibe of the streets that I walk on, the people I interact with, and the city that I call ‘home’?

I hope and pray that these words instilled something in you tonight. Even if it just served as a moment to think about the comfort that can come when you take time to reflect (regardless of any formal religious belief you may or may not have), then I believe I have been successful. Blessings.

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hopping back on the train

I’m probably (hoping) speaking to an understanding audience when I say that it’s easy to get busy and lose touch with the things that really matter. The days fly by, meaning so do the weeks and months…and suddenly you open your eyes and it’s almost 2015. I don’t say this to condemn myself or you, but I do realize that I’ve been away from writing, something that is so dear to me. I think of it often…this blog is on my Favorites Bar as a tab on every window I open. I see it lurking there. I ignore it until I feel so compelled to write, just like I ignore my electric bill until it’s almost too late. The problem is, there’s no fee if I miss a post. I don’t miss my bills because at that last second, I get myself together. So, now is my time to get back on the writing train.

Perhaps the most distressing part of being away from writing is that it is my most intimate connection to myself and God. When I write, I feel the words flowing out of me, and in these moments, I feel as though God could be sitting inches from my chair. This probably has contributed to my hesitation to get back in to writing. It makes sense, right? When you fall off the train, it’s almost easier to stay on the side of the tracks than to make the jump again. I run into this with my relationship with God more times than I’d like to admit. I get in the habit of praying regularly, going to church, writing in my blog – whatever it might be – and it feels good. I feel whole; connected to myself, the people around me, and my God. But when those habits fade, I feel a sense of “I’m too far gone” and it holds me back from returning my relationship with Him.

So, however humble this move may be, I am hopping back on the train. At a time in the year where we are all called to reflect on the graces and blessings that God has given us, I am making an intentional re-commitment to being present to myself and God. Only then can my eyes be fully open to the blessings. Only then can I work better to radiate the love of God to those around me. Only then. Pray for me?

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A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships were built for.

After a long, long period of silence (too long, I know), I have returned to the cyber world of my beloved blog. I am in the process of embarking now on yet another new adventure. Recently hired as an Associate Director for CCS, a consulting firm for nonprofits out of Chicago, I will be sent on projects throughout the central US. I am excited, humbled, and oh yeah, terrified! For months now, I have been hoping and waiting and praying for a company to take a chance and hire this bright-eyed girl. And that time has come. So I guess it’s normal to feel a mix of emotions.

I saw a quote the other day posted on Facebook and really loved it — it’s sure ringing true to me now: “She packed up her potential and all she had learned, grabbed a cute pair of shoes, and headed out to change a few things.”

I think that this past year and this full-time job of trying to FIND a job has taught me so incredibly much – but more than anything, it has made me so grateful. I am so thankful to my wonderful parents who have supported me and guided me this entire way, and now send me off with all the love in the world. It’s selfless – I know that it’s hard for them to send their baby girl across the country to plant roots somewhere other than in Portland. Yet all I hear from them is “We’re so proud of you,” and “We’re so excited for this adventure.” And best yet, “Get ready! We’re going to visit.”

It’s made me appreciate my “little” brother all the more. Being able to experience him in this soon-to-be high schooler mode is a blessing. Spending late nights chatting over buffalo wings, discussing what high school looks like, and giving my best sisterly advice are times I treasure.

All in all, being at home was exactly what I needed. “Somebody told me that this is the place where everything’s better and everything’s safe.” Cliche, you may say. But the sign from Karen’s Cafe in the CW show “One Tree Hill” is an accurate description of my hometown. It probably is true of yours.

I think my biggest realization of this time off from my “year off” (haha, right) is that while home may be the place where things are safe, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the place that is best for you. Don’t get me wrong. I am OBSESSED with Portland. And she has served me well. Raised me, nurtured me, and loved me. But now a quote from my Mom comes in (and the title of this post): “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” I think that it’s my time to figure things out on my own, to try a new job that will challenge me and push me in new ways, to put on my big girl clothes and be a working professional. I’m excited, and I hope you’ll follow me on this journey.

But don’t fret – you can take the girl out of Maine, but you can’t take Maine out of the girl.

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enjoying discomfort.

I feel like the title of this post could be misleading for, well, many reasons. I’ll explain before you have the chance to daydream. I graduated college just over 7 months ago, with a smile on my face, a hole in my pocket, and a diploma in hand. I moved to one of the greatest cities in the world with the idea of serving a year and figuring out what I want to do with this life of mine. Now, 6 months into my journey, I am realizing how far I still have yet to travel. For many, this is where panic exists. For some reason, while I do recognize the all-too-real sense of societal pressure to conform, I am enjoying the fact that my dreams are hazy and that I don’t know exactly what is next for me.

In fact, I take comfort in knowing that my passions have been added to, divided, toyed with, and confused. I appreciate that the experience of working with those who lack many “necessary” things have made me aware of my own materialism. I do admit that I sit here scared of what these convictions may lead me to, knowing that I have loans to pay off and the need to support myself in the near future. However, how lucky am I! It is such a blessing that I have come to love so many missions, be devoted to so many different avenues of living, and have meaningful relationships with so many extraordinary people.

In my application essay to Mercy Works volunteer program, I was asked what I was nervous for, if anything. I actually said in the essay (which I recently went back and re-read): When I come out of this year, I want to feel uncomfortable with my old way of living. I want to not be able to become complacent in having excess, but rather seek to find ways to make my life simple so others may live too.” I said later in the essay, (in regards to what I was studying in school): “I am interested to see how far I can stretch a journalism degree into other fields that aren’t traditionally related. To think about what good I can do in the world through the scope of my career is an exciting and daunting thought process; one in which I am continually discerning.”

I honestly didn’t realize how dead-on I would be about this potential fear. I didn’t realize how much I would experience it, how much it would make me question EVERYTHING about how I live, and how much I would come to appreciate the awareness it has given me. Gaining a more accurate worldview may be scary, but – and I can tell you from experience – the light is so much more glorious than the dark.

So I have a degree in Journalism, with a focus in Public Relations and Advertising. I have a minor in Theology. And I just edited my resume, and I seem to have some random experience in a lot of areas. I’ve waited tables, written columns, tutored students, read to the elderly, granted wishes with Make-A-Wish, grilled steaks, marketed basketball games, planned events, and supervised teens in a residential facility. But what I have come to realize and appreciate more recently, is that I have DRIVE, (even though I might not have a specific destination just yet); I have PASSION, (even though that may be undefined and unfinished); and I have LOVE to give. I refuse to be put in a box; to believe that what I have been is what I must be. I refuse to set limits on what I can do by what I have done. And I refuse to be someone society expects me to be just because “they” say it. So whether that leads me to a job in corporate PR and events, a nonprofit development job, a continuing career in youth advocacy and social justice, or if I pursue a love that I haven’t even met yet, I know that all will be well.

“All will be well, even after all the promises you’ve broken to yourself,
All will be well, you can ask me how but only time will tell.
All will be well, even though sometimes this is hard to tell –
and the fight is just as frustrating as hell…all will be well.”

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in the midst of all the inspiring stories, one simple thought: be grateful.

I write this as I sit on the floor next to my bed. The bed that I am not sleeping in all this week for my community’s Simple Living Challenge. Each week, one of the 16 community members chooses a challenge for everyone to attempt for the next week. Each challenge is focused around simple living, and therefore we have struggled through weeks of 5-minute showers, no dishwashers, no food waste, redefining pieces of recycling, and other odd challenges that invite us to take a further look at how we live…but this week, we were brought to a whole new level. We were challenged to live in solidarity with those who do not have a bed to sleep in. This means find a spot on the floor and call it home. We didn’t go as extreme as to say no pillows, or sleeping outside. Yet the issues and stresses that revolve around the lack of privacy, comfort, and security around where you will sleep at night is magnified all the more when there are 16 people living together doing this challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I am not writing this post to gain the attention of people to praise me, nor to complain about how uncomfortable it is to sleep on the floor – especially when I know my bed is just inches away. On the contrary, this week has been one of much learning for me. I have grown immensely in my gratitude for the things that I take for granted each day. To look longingly at my bed at night, knowing that I am doing this as a week-long challenge, made me take pause at the reality that so many face each night.

Even one of my youth that I directly work with does not have a bed at home to call his own. He sleeps on a couch so that his female family members do not have to. Many of our youth at Mercy Home find themselves with a bed for the first time. This challenge has put my heart even closer to the people that I interact with daily who are forced – not invited – to live life like this. And to think that I have trouble with doing the challenge for a week!

The challenge has also invited me to see the everyday graces even more. There have been countless times since moving to Chicago and working with these remarkable youth that I have realized how blessed I am. Yet it is easy to get into the swing of going to work, putting in my time, being there for my guys, and then going home to the comforts of my life outside of Mercy. So every now and then, it’s refreshing to have a wake-up call like this. The challenge has served as a huge blast of reality hitting me that I expect will linger long after my body can rest in a bed again.

It has called me to question so much about three specific areas:
– realizing the countless ways I have been blessed
– acknowledging how much I unintentionally take these things for granted
– discerning how best to cut out some of the luxuries/share with those in need

As is expected, I obviously don’t have full answers or details about these areas of thought that have been ignited in me this week, but I do have a few thoughts in regards to them. As per usual, they’re spotty, mildly random, and so I will share them in the same way. Here goes.

1) In thinking about the ways I have been blessed, it’s good to realize that I shouldn’t feel guilty. However, because I have been given great things, it gives others the right to expect great things out of me. I find this to be a compelling challenge and invitation in life. I believe it gives me the ability to recognize the countless “little things” that I am blessed to be a part of or have in my life.

2) I believe that many of these blessings, if not all, are pretty damn undeserved. And they’re random. I was blessed to be born into a family that can pay for our way of life. When I came home from school with a permission slip for a field trip that had an associated fee, I didn’t think twice in handing it over to my Mom. I knew she would sign it in her beautiful, loopy script, (not to mention I knew she could literally read the words and had the ability to understand it) and that there would be a check made out to my school and leave it for me to take back to school the next day. I was able to apply for college with the understanding that it was financially possible for me to go there. I was able to live my entire childhood without once knowing how much money my parents made in their jobs, or about how much groceries were going to cost us this week (and what we would have to do without in order to get through.) These “simple” things are struggles that so many families face each day – and this directly affects kids. This means that it easily could have been me. The stars align and kids are born into families – we have no control. I heard it put beautifully when someone said (in regards to giving a homeless man money who had lost his job), “That could be me. In the same way that he could be where I am, I could be where he is.” I did not do ONE thing that made me deserving of the blessings that I take for granted each day. This leads me to my next point.

3) I don’t want to take things for granted anymore. Woah, dream big, I know. This is obviously not completely possible, of course. But as I have written about before, “What if you were to wake up tomorrow with only the things that you thanked God for yesterday?” is one of the scariest questions. Before this week, I probably would never have thought to thank God for a mattress that I don’t have to share with anyone else. I probably would have forgotten to thank God for the fact that when I want to be warm, I put on another layer of clothes from a myriad of choices in my closet, in a room that is mine. On that note, I wouldn’t have thanked God for the expectation of privacy that I so luckily have. All of these things are like chain mail thank yous, because they never end. One thing leads to another, and by the time you’re done, your computer (or brain) has crashed. All I can say is, my thank you list would never end.

I think that I’ve probably overwhelmed you if you’ve actually gotten to this point, so I’ll stop when I’m already behind and just be grateful that you’ve made it this far. Thank you for reading – I hope this fired something inside you tonight….Let me know if it did.

I’ll leave you with this, a beautiful verse from a hymn at church last week: “In the quiet of the evening, at the close of the day, We will rest in our journey, to The Lord we will pray. May we thank God for blessings, for the moments we shared, as we seek for tomorrow, our God will be there.”

~

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living life…simpler: an update

So I feel a little bit invisible, and a lot bit out of the loop, but I also feel….refreshed. Life without Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has been very interesting, to say the least. However, I find myself being so much more present to the moments I am in, rather than ones I am trying to preserve via social media documentation.

Through this Facebook/Twitter/Instagram hiatus, I have been able to spend more quality time keeping in touch with friends and family over the phone or Skype instead of just seeing what they “like,” retweet, or have for lunch. (There’s no offense there at all, but I mean it. I have really enjoyed the deeper conversations that my schedule has allowed for.)

There have been a few times that I wished I was on Facebook, like when my friend got engaged and I wanted to see all of the posts, or when I was discussing chopping all of my hair off and I wanted to show my roommate a picture of myself from when I had done it previously.

But what gains have I noticed? I started to think of how much time I spent scrolling aimlessly through my news feed on my phone, or feeling the need to post an Insta picture, just because.

I guess what I am coming to realize is social media is like junk food. It’s not going to kill you if you eat it (use it), but it will if you over-do it. It may sound extreme to say Facebook/Twitter/Instagram will kill you – my point remains that if you live in cyberspace too often and fail to participate in the world around you, then are you really living? Each person has a different answer to that question, I presume. But as for me, I’d rather participate in what I am doing with the people around me. Luckily, these social media tools exist as a way to keep in touch with loved ones who are far away and outside the bounds of my local area.

Perhaps the last perk of it is the fact that I am in solidarity with the youth I work with. They are not allowed to access social media sites while at Mercy – so when they see staff screwing around on FB, it doesn’t send a message of equality. I have openly told my guys that I am taking a break from it all to see how much time I save (even if it’s just the aimless scrolling at night time to get sleepy!) Who knows if it means anything to them, but it seems like another good reason to continue this challenge.

Let me know what you guys think…would you be able to try it too?

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