Try something different today

“In a time full of war, be peace. In a world full of hate, be a light. . . . Yeah it’s hard to live in color when you just see black and white. In a world full of hate, be a light.” – Thomas Rhett, 2020 (listen to this and other versions on YouTube – such a great song!!)

On this day set aside to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was struck by these lyrics from Thomas Rhett. I heard them at the end of an online exercise class* and was moved by their simplicity. I think we all want to live in a world of color, of life, of glorious variety but that’s severely limited by dualistic thinking – the idea that there is only wrong or right, without any room for context or nuance. The inadequacy of either/or thinking doesn’t mean that it’s rare. Unfortunately we see it in abundance, especially in our U.S. politics. It’s enticing to label people as one group OR the other but we’re not two-dimensional. Our brains are wired to look for patterns (is that shape a circle? a square? an oval? a rectangle?) and pattern recognition is an important survival skill but if we only focus on the surface we’ll miss the fact that the circle is actually a sphere, or the square a cube. If I judge people by their age or shape or skin color I will miss a world of multi-dimensionality within each person.

How can I begin to go beyond seeing others as two-dimensional, as ‘just like me’ or ‘on my side’ versus being ‘nothing like me’ or ‘on the other side’? Thomas Rhett’s song goes on – “In a time full of noise, just listen“. Don’t add to the noise, just listen – listen for the story that will add more dimensions to the picture, listen for what makes them laugh or sing or dance. Listen for the pain hiding underneath the anger. Listen, letting any hot air blow past without you giving it resistance, for a sailboat cannot move unless the wind meets the resistance of the sail. Ask a person an open ended question (“what do you think about that?”) or invite them to reminisce with you (“tell me about an Inauguration Day that you were excited about”) and then listen. Be still and listen, and let your heart be moved if that’s what happens. Show kindness or compassion or pleasure if that’s how you are moved. Ask another question, especially if you feel defensive.

Try something different today to open yourself to a wider world of taste, smell, sound, experience, and wonder. Eat a different food, or eat a familiar food differently. Listen to a new song, read something from a different source, talk to a loved one and ask them to tell you something about themselves that they might not have told you before. Doing anything that exposes us to difference starts to stretch us beyond the deceiving simplicity of either/or, right or wrong, black or white, good or bad.

The idea of stretching gets me back to my morning exercise and an inspiring song. Being intentional about doing more exercise than walking has led me to stretch and bend and be more flexible, physically, than I’ve been in a long time! In the process I’ve heard some beautiful music and lyrics that lift me up as much as the exercise itself. I wouldn’t have heard them if I wasn’t trying something new – something that may be uncomfortable in the moment but that leads me to greater strength, flexibility, and openness. As for the song, I didn’t grow up listening to country music but over time I’ve listened to it while driving, on a visit to Nashville, and while watching Ken Burns’ amazing documentary series, Country Music. It’s given me laughter and joy, and solace at times, and encouragement to keep trying something different.

Lord, thank you for the amazing wonder and variety in your world. Help me to reflect the light that you brought into the world. Amen.

*Check out Space Love Strength, the online exercise site created by the gracious and talented Allyson Weiss.

#countrymusic #thomasrhett #bealight #MLKJr #spacelovestrength

Beware

“[The scribes and the Pharisees] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew, 23:4

Last week I was in Florida, sitting along the shore of Lake Pierce, at the Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center, an educational retreat center where I was leading a workshop for faculty members and administrators from Florida Southern College. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not humid, with a light breeze. I watched an egret on the shore and a great blue heron that was chasing the egret from place to place along what must be good fishing grounds. There were occasional splashing sounds in the reeds and water in front of the dock on which I was sitting. Those sounds made me a bit uneasy, thanks to the big sign warning about the alligator. By the time I heard the splashing and looked in its direction I couldn’t see any movement, not even ripples on the water’s surface. I wondered if the sign meant that there is one alligator to beware of and I doubted it. In this context I’m guessing that “alligator” is the plural as well as the singular, similar in an odd way to “moose.”

Beware of alligator sign

What were my “take-away” thoughts from this peaceful-although-occasionally-anxious setting?

  1. Danger is a part of life, whether we can see it or not. Depending on the kind of danger (an alligator) we can take preventive measures and be pretty confident that we will be safe. Other kinds of danger (illness, loss of income) can arise regardless of what we do or don’t do, and their unpredictability brings its own anxiety.
  2. Some people have more resources to deal with danger and its accompanying fear and anxiety than other people, depending on the form of the danger and the type of resource.

I should add here that I’m reading David K. Shipler’s book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, a very sobering account of Americans whose lives are different than my own. My parents remain married to each other (and celebrated their 63rd anniversary this year!), still are healthy, and both earned bachelor’s degrees before they had children. My dad had a steady job as a teacher and my mom was a full-time mom for my brother and me. We were well cared for and loved, got great educations, and were raised with a Christian faith that emphasized God’s love and minimized God’s judgment. I could believe in the American dream because that was my family’s experience.

Given what I’m reading, I have to acknowledge that for me to write about danger in life is like me writing about playing football – I’ve sat on the bleachers watching many games but have never played the game. So I’ll bring this essay to a close not by providing a happy, Pollyanna-type ending, but by being thankful for what I have been given in life (lots of advantages, including good health); praying for peace and justice in our country and our world; and committing to take action, in addition to prayer, for the same.

God, thank you for your loving grace, freely given and not earned. May all your children experience it every day. Give me humility and compassion, and the courage to work for justice for all. Amen.

Lake Pierce

Photo of Lake Pierce