Sticking with love.

My day is starting with a cross-continental flight, Louisville to San Diego, two vastly differently spots if there ever were.

Dear friends, trusted colleagues, good work and even a visit with family I have not seen in far too long are on tap this week, and I’m thankful for the opportunity (and for my parents, who are holding down the fort at home). For some reason, flying tens of thousands of feet above land always makes me want to write. Perspective or something I guess.

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day in the United States, and I am struck by that in an entirely different way this year. This country feel so raw and angry and divided right now and yet here we are, a day off for much of the work force, and special celebrations in honor of someone who was first and foremost about finding a way to heal that which has been divided. He wasn’t perfect. None of us are, including our heroes. It’s a very gray world we live in. But the man said a whole lot we need to listen to and did a whole lot we need to pay attention to and gave his life to his fellow Americans in such a way that it is important to remember.

Today, though, I’m struck by this one thing he said, the bit about deciding to stick with love, because hate is too great a burden.

God it would have been easy for him to hate.

It’s easier to hate, you know. To cast assumptions and point fingers and judge another for their actions. And when such assumptions and blame and judgment seem warranted, well, it’s even easier. And this is usually when we’ve been hurt, or feel anxious and insecure, or are very angry at a person or situation.

It’s easier to take sides, declare everyone else wrong or misguided or unenlightened or whatever else we want to say, and then back up into our own corners and wrap our certainty around ourselves the way a boxer’s trainer drapes a cape around his prize fighter.

Hate is easier because we refuse to listen. We shut the door on compassion and let our own life stories, our own struggles, our own baggage become the only narrative we’re willing to work with.

We are very good, in these United States, at hate. At anger. At division. At dehumanizing one another to such a level that we forget…if we every really knew at all…that we are all so much more alike than we are different.

Just in case it isn’t clear, let me make it so: I am speaking to both sides of that aisle, both corners of the ring, both sets of bleachers on the field, and both ends of the court. And I am not condemning anyone for holding fast to what you believe. And I certainly have my own lines in the sand I’m willing to draw. But dear lord, y’all. We’ve got to stop with the direction we’re headed.

Deciding to stick with love—it is a brave and difficult choice. Not easy by a long shot. And yet I believe with all that I am that it is, in fact, the only way.

A few days ago someone (who disagrees with me pretty strongly on many things political) said to me, “I don’t care about you because of whatever vote you did or didn’t cast in the ballot box. I care about your heart.”

Huh.

 I had to let that one sink in. Big time.

Because voting aside, there are plenty of other issues I have with people in my life, that, if I’m being brutally honest, mean that I don’t particularly care if I ever see this person or that person again (this is a point of confession, y’all, not one of pride).

The work of truly loving is so, so hard. Maybe the hardest thing we learn to do. And we fail at it all the time. Miserably. (At least I do—maybe you’ve got it down pat.) And the real work of it isn’t about just being with those we like, or who are easy to love. The real work of it isn’t about Hallmark or even your best mountaintop experience.

The real work of it is day-to-day. In the trenches. Dirty and ugly sometimes, and wanting desperately to just give up because it can feel so awfully hard, loving this world and its people. The real work of it means admitting when we’ve not done so at all, and so have to set about the task of forgiveness (ourselves, included). The real work of love has nothing to do with certainty and everything to do with hope. The real work of love is gritty. Uncomfortable. Vulnerable. And it can mean setting aside every bias we have in an effort to listen to what someone else’s life has been like.

See what I mean? Hate. Easier.

But sticking with love…. Sheesh. It is not at all for the faint-hearted. And I’ve got no pointers for how to do it. Because I’m not even sure myself most days. But I know, in my gut, that the sticking is worth it. And, in the end, not nearly so heavy and awful as bearing the weight of hate.

This life we live can be heavy and awful enough all on its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrie Fisher.

Please don’t yell at me, Star Wars people, because I’ve now redeemed myself, but, until last week, the girl child had not seen The Force Awakens.

I know…I know. But, like I said, I’ve redeemed myself. Thanks to a fabulous snow day and some equally fabulous friends, my oversight has been corrected and she’s all caught up.

Just like her mama (and all of her mama’s friends of a certain generation), she was thrilled to see Chewie and C3PO and R2 all make their appearance…but y’all. Y’all. The look on her face when Leia walked off that ship and onto the ground…. It was priceless.

Eyes wide. Mouth dropped open, until a huge grin broke and she stage-whispered, “Princess Leia!”

And I said, quietly, “No baby. That’s General Leia Organa.” She looked at me kinda funny, and I smiled, assured her I’d explain later, and told her to keep watching.

Later that night, talking about how much we’d enjoyed the day, she asked what I’d meant about calling Leia “General,” and as we talked, I found myself really reflecting the woman who brought Leia to life. Carrie Fisher had died a week earlier, and I’ll admit, I teared up at the news. And not just because of Leia. I’ve been in awe of Ms. Fisher for years now, as she’s waged her own personal campaign about the way we judge those who struggle with mental illness. About how the industry she’d given her life to tends to treat women after they’ve gone from cover girl-ready, lithe, 20-somethings to…well, not so much. About how messy and difficult and awful life can be, but how possible it is to find strength and beauty in the midst of it all.

And so I told my sweet girl something along these lines: That yes, Leia had been a princess. And a mighty, fierce one at that. A warrior. Strong and courageous and determined. (This is where I could digress about how we’ve made the title “Princess” a negative thing when it does not need to be, but I’ll save that for another time….) I talked about how she was one of the first “girl power” role models out there, right alongside Wonder Woman, when I was a kid, and how awesome I thought she was. I talked about how she’d become a General, in charge of the very resistance that had raised her, that had given her a family and a way of being. I said she was amazing, and that I was glad my girl had gotten to know the character, and said she’d see her again in other Star Wars movies.

Curly Girl took all this in. Smiled. And I was reminded again how important imagination is. How crucial stories are. How much it matters that we have in our lives characters that help us dream and grow and become.

In my estimation, Carrie Fisher’s brokenness made her bold. Brassy. Unafraid of what others might think of or say about her. It made her more of who she was capable of being. And this was obvious in the lines on her face, the care in her voice, the deep heartache in her eyes as General Organa asks her beloved Han to please, go and find their son and bring him home.

This is what I want for my daughter–to be able to see that this life we’ve been given…it is not perfect. And it’s full of so much that terrifies and breaks us. And often we fall apart, sometimes by our own awful choices, sometimes by no fault at all.

But if we’re lucky…very, very lucky…we’ve got folks who can help put us back together again. Who can be with us while we pick up the pieces of what’s shattered and simply say, “I’m with you. And this will be okay.” And then stay with us until we emerge on the other side, not the way we once were, but…somehow…okay. And capable of funneling all the heartache and messiness into a way of being that seeks to make the world a little less scary and a little more hopeful.

At the end of The Force Awakens (spoiler alert if you somehow have not seen it…), a heartbroken Rey walks off her own ship, and into General Organa’s arms, the two of them clinging to one another in their grief over Han. And you know, in that moment, that just as has happened before, nothing will ever be the same for either of them again. Everything has changed. And they stare in to each other’s eyes. And they lift their chins. And they decide (in my imagination anyway), “We will get through this. We will not let this destroy us.”

Carrie Fisher was much more than Leia. But the gift she gave us in bringing Leia to life is a pretty great thing. I’m grateful to her for that. And for the ways she sought, on screen and off, to resist that which would destroy and seek life on the other side.

 

 

 

December 31st

It’s always been an odd thing to me, how the hours between December 31st and January 1st feel like the longest of them…as if time has turned the corner on another year and so it’s slowing down, taking stock, not rushing just yet into that final stretch and what lies ahead. It’s really a day just like any other day. But not since I have memory has it felt that way. There’s a different pace, a different sense in the air, a palpable yet unseen feeling that things are changing. That tomorrow won’t be the same.

Which of course is always true. Things are always changing. And there’s never even a guarantee of tomorrow, much less one identical to today. Still…this day…it’s different.

There are no words for how glad I will be to see 2016 usher itself out and into history. It has held the absolute worst of what’s possible in this life for so many people I know–and certainly for those I don’t. The ugliest sides of humanity. The most horrifying examples of greed, anger, pain, violence, heartache and grief. On both personal and global levels, it has wreaked havoc, and honestly, I feel like most folks I know are just holding on, doing their best to get through this wild ride to something that feels less hostile, less vicious, less like something we must constantly be on guard against. There is a collective anxiety in the communities and families I know, and it can be crippling.

Bye, 2016. We’re done.

…except…

Except that joy and pain do not exist without one another, and though I’ve believed that to be true my whole life, I now know it to be true…deep in my bones. Do not confuse joy with happiness; these are two different things. Peppermint mochas and Bon Jovi on the radio make me happy. Joy is my beautiful Curly Girl laughing…skipping…singing…dancing…loving…even as her precious nine year-old heart has known more pain than any child’s ever should.

Pain is only possible because such joy exists at all.

Joy is in relationship. In holding on to one another, no matter what, expecting nothing but an understanding that our only hope lies in life together…in walking with one another through the absolute worst life that life can mete out, and into the goodness that is possible when grace pours down and mercy reigns. Joy is knowing that none of us are perfect, and that we are capable of such awfulness in our humanity, but knowing also that in our brokenness lies the possibility of truly learning what it means to be whole.

Life hurts, and that’s all there is to it. I can tell you story after story of folks I care about who have lived through all sorts of madness this last year–job losses, financial challenges, illness, family struggles, damaging gossip, divorce, death, broken relationships…and all this on a very personal level, yet cast against the backdrop of a world that seems to have tilted into a terrible sort of chaos, leaving us all gasping for breath and desperate for hope.

My friend Tiffany is the mother of three beautiful children. Only two of them are now living. Her middle son was stillborn. And this week would have been his 8th birthday. I asked if I could tell her story here, because I know few people able to hold pain and joy in beautiful tension as she and her husband Drew do. On their sweet Britton’s birthday, Tiffany wrote:

Today we celebrate the life of a little boy that changed our lives forever. While his heart never beat on Earth, when he left us it shattered our hearts into a million pieces. He’s taught us a lot in the past 8 years, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is LOVE. From the moment we heard the news, our hearts have been stitched back together – from the nurses who stood by our bedside, our pastor who left the beach to come pray for us to family and friends who came running, sent cards, fed us, and listen to the tears fall. Even to this day, we are surrounded by loved ones who listen to his story, offer encouraging words and remind us that they will never forget him either. I don’t know how we would have made it through the dark days without the love we have experienced from each of you. That blonde-haired, chunky-cheeked baby boy reminds me everyday to love and be loved. I can only hope and pray that I have shown the kind of love you all have shown us. 

As I read Tiffany’s words, I marveled at her ability to say so well something so difficult to explain. And then I realized, “This is how I feel. About life. About this last year. About the pain in the lives of those I love. About the heartache this world keeps heaping upon itself. This is how I feel. About all of it.”

Which is to say, I feel the greatest lesson we’re collectively learning, or perhaps just need to learn, is LOVE. Real, true, unconditional, all-encompassing, life-changing LOVE. Love that says yes, your life matters to me. Love that says yes, you’re worth it. Love that says yes, I’ll make a sacrifice so that someone else can get a shot at a better life. Love that says yes, you’ve really made a giant cluster of a mess at things…and it will be hard to find your way out…but all is not lost. And somehow redemption is possible. And there is, on the other side of this awful pain, the promise of something good.

This isn’t possible in a vacuum. This isn’t possible solely on our own. This isn’t possible unless we are willing to be in the muck and mess with each other. This isn’t possible without pushing aside what we’ve known and trying our damnedest to see through to the other side. Good lord it’s difficult. But it isn’t impossible. Not at all.

I do not, for one second, believe that pain comes solely to teach us a lesson. Hear me when I say that. But…hear me again…I do believe that in our deepest pain is also our greatest potential for becoming more of who we are meant to be. I cannot explain that…I just know it to be true. And I know that when I have let the pain do its work, I’ve found myself more capable of learning those lessons of LOVE I just wrote about.

Another hour has passed of this December 31st as I’ve written. And so we’re closer to January 1st. My prayer for you…for me…for this whole wide world…is a prayer that speaks first, LOVE.

In all things. In all places. To all people.

Happy New Year…may you know LOVE as 2016 fades away and 2017 is born. 

 

 

 

 

Aleppo Matters

I’ll never forget it.

We were walking down the sidewalk toward the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 15 teenagers and a few adults. We’d been in the nation’s capital for a couple of days studying various issues of faith and history. That morning, we’d spent a few hours at the Holocaust Museum–a first for most of us at the time. A trip to the zoo seemed the perfect place to process and shake off the horror we’d just seen.

One of the girls on the trip, a newly graduated high school senior, had purchased a copy of Eli Wiesel’s Night in the Holocaust Museum’s gift shop, and she’d been reading it as we walked along, all of us quiet and absorbed in heavy thought. Just as we began the turn into the main zoo entrance, she caught up to me, grabbed my elbow and said, “Julie…wait.”

I stopped, sensing it was important, and waved the others on ahead. When I turned to look full at her I realized she was crying, and before I could ask why, she held up the copy of Night, lifted her tearstained face to me, and said, “Julie, please, tell me…how did this happen?”

How did this happen? How were millions of men, women and children slaughtered at the order of Adolf Hitler? 

I had no answer for her. Only a shoulder for her to cry on. For us both to cry on.

The most awful thing about this memory is that I feel like I’m living it again these days as I read and watch reports from Aleppo. I have no answer. Because how is this happening? How are men and women and children once again being indiscriminately and brutally slaughtered? And how can no one stop it?

A “complete meltdown of humanity” it has been described as. And in the midst of a time when Christians all over the world retell the story of a Middle Eastern refugee baby come to save the world (of all the cruel irony…).

And so I pray desperately for our “better angels” to somehow prevail (h/t President Lincoln).

Our better angels. Do we even know how to heed them anymore? In the midst of the political cluster that is the United States government these days…. In the midst of native Americans having to defend their land and their lives against money and power…. In the midst of a heroin nightmare across our nation…. In the midst of…FILL IN THE BLANK. Never mind our own personal devastations, heartbreaks and crises.

Is this really how we want to go out as humanity? This utter and vicious chaos we seem to be living in?

Meanwhile the children of Aleppo beg for our mercy. Cry out for help. Nurse their tender wounds and cling to one another as those lost and forgotten.

#NeverAgain we quip about the Holocaust. And Rwanda. And Myanmar. And…. #NeverAgain we say about such complete destruction of God’s children. And yet…. Again. And again. And again.

There are people and organizations trying their damnedest to ease the hell of it all. I know this. And I celebrate their efforts, even as I wonder what it is about us humans that leads us to such wanton death and destruction in the first place.

What I know is this: those “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln once spoke of…they’re our only hope.

Please do not for one second think that I mean this in some sort of paltry, winged seraphim, Hallmark card sort of way. Not even a little.

I mean our real and true better angels…the parts of our humanity that still remember we were created first and foremost by Love. The faraway places of our soul that are capable of realizing what a complete mess we’ve made of things and so want desperately to make it right. The corners of our hearts that might still believe in a “grace that keeps this world” (as my fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry says).

Our better angels. The best of our humanity.

I have no answer. No real words of hope for such terror. But I know this–Aleppo matters. And perhaps the first thing we can do…today…is be reminded of that. Remember that just because it is happening worlds away doesn’t make it inconsequential to our daily lives. It matters. Aleppo’s people matter. And if we cannot see this, it’s our own feet we’re shooting in our ignorance. What happens to one, somehow, eventually, happens to all. We do not live these lives of ours in a vacuum…and we when we behave as if we do, disaster reigns.

Aleppo matters. Speak this. Breathe it. Pray it if you’re the praying kind. Live your life in that truth. Even if it brings you to your knees in despair for the world we live in–because it is only by acknowledging the despair that we have any hope of something better. Demons must be faced before angels can prevail. This I believe.

Aleppo matters. And our commitment to this is the only way that one day we’ll be able to truly say, #NeverAgain.

December 1st

December. 

Of the soft, grey, gentle skies. Of the bare trees etched against those skies like the finest of pen and ink drawings. Of the dark evenings that, unlike later in winter, have always seemed more like graceful benedictions to our days than cold/black/suffocating. Of the geese searching for food on frozen ground. Of the church songs I love, deep in my being. Of lights and bells and the sound of my daughter’s laugh as she watches Elf for the 89th time. Of the story of a girl, because that’s what Mary was, just a girl, chosen for reasons beyond her comprehension to be the bearer (literally) of a story and a life that had (has) the potential to change the world.

December. 

I even love the way the word sounds, like a blessing the way it rolls off the tongue. And I love finding just the right gift for the dear ones I love most. And I love baking cookies. And the being together of it all.

December.

Today is the first day of this most treasured month of mine. But instead of waking up joyful at the realization, I woke up mad/sad/heartbroken at…all of it. At all the world. At the way this godawful 2016 has loosed its wrath in a thousand vicious ways, as if mercy was forgotten long ago and hate and fear have now taken up permanent residence in the space it once filled.

We can be so damn cruel to each other, y’all. And we especially like to do this behind the supposed mighty fortress of social media. We like to summon the cruelty too, when we’re hurting ourselves, using it as a poor defense mechanism against whatever or whoever has caused us pain. “Hurting people hurt others,” I once heard a colleague say. And she’s right.

We’re angry, y’all. Collectively so anxious and strung out we can’t even be civil to one another.

Meanwhile the Smoky Mountains are on fire. And people’s lives and homes and livelihoods are wrecked in the flames. Meanwhile native Americans desperate to be heard are singularly and even violently ignored. Meanwhile we can’t figure out a way for every American to have decent and affordable healthcare. Meanwhile we continue to demonize, stereotype and assume the worst about both police officers and young black men.

And we paint into a selective corner anyone who disagrees with us politically or theologically. And we lock up young adults in prison instead of investing in treatment and therapy. And we pledge allegiance to the red, white and blue and then treat her bravest sons and daughters like they don’t even matter when they come home from war. And we point fingers. And place blame. And judge the whole rainbow of God’s children for everything from our parenting choices to who we choose to love to the color of our skin to our political persuasions to our houses of worship.

December. 

Meanwhile, there’s a baby trying to be born. Into the madness. Into the chaos. Into the utter rage of our lives. A baby who simply wants his life to bear witness to the truth that Love matters and that we can do better than this.

Meanwhile, my precious Curly Girl, despite what life has handed her, smiles and loves and sings and declares that that same life is still good.

Meanwhile, the story of my own faith speaks first, forgiveness. First, mercy. First, grace. Over and above any and all other things.

Meanwhile…

December.

And with it the tiniest glimmer of hope. Persistent and determined and fierce. Gritty in its insistence. Perfect in its possibility. 

The smallest sliver of hope. That all will, in fact, be well. Somehow. In the blessed fullness of time. All will, in fact, be well.

And so maybe the right response to this first day of December is to hold on to what hope we have available. And act out of it, even when it seems futile. And live out of it, even when it seems insane to do so. And speak out of it, even when words are hard to find. And trust that out of the mess we’ve either made or found ourselves in there is something good to be claimed from the wreckage. Something whole. Something true.

Something that will lead us into the graceful and holy light of a quiet December morning. To simply be made new.

Break my heart.

(Disclosure for my non-churchy friends: this is pretty churchy. I know you’ll understand and forgive me.)

For as long as I have memory, I have sung in church.

First as a preschooler, perched on someone’s lap and, at that point in my life, a capella, as was the tradition of the Church of Christ we attended. Then in children’s musicals and church choirs and occasionally for funerals and weddings or other special services and sometimes in college as a substitute second soprano at St. Peter’s Episcopal in Rome, Georgia.

These days, I’m singing with a great group of vocalists and musicians that comprise the worship band at my church–it isn’t always my kind of music (they know I’m a pipe organ and Bach girl from way back), but I still love it. I love being part of the worship service that way. I love being able to offer that bit of myself to everyone else. I love being engaged enough in the moment to help (hopefully) the other people in the sanctuary feel a part of things.

Sometimes it gets to me. Sometimes what we’re singing strikes such a chord in me that I have to fight to stay focused on what I’m doing. Sometimes the lyrics mean so much to me that a lump rises in my throat and I have to swallow it back so notes can come out.

Such a thing happened yesterday. With these words, “Break my heart for what breaks yours….” I’ve sung the song the words come from a hundred times at least. And I have never been particularly crazy about it. But yesterday…man…yesterday those words burrowed right under my skin and took up residence.

Break my heart for what breaks yours.

In other words, make my heart ache, God, the way yours does–over all the things.

All the things. 

The men and women and children living in tents just a few miles from my own warm, safe, well-cared for home. The families struggling so hard to make ends meet, especially as the holiday season comes rushing in with its expectations, its commercialism, its insistence on perfection. The children mourning the death of a mother or father. The children living the pure hell of war in places like Syria and Uganda. The children learning the new normal of mom and dad divorced. The children who won’t have enough to eat over the holiday break from school, because they depend on school for breakfast and lunch. The children who go to bed every night praying that tomorrow angry fists won’t land on them in fits of rage. The children… The children… All the children.

All the things.

The ways we continue to use the blessing/curse of social media in this country as a way for us snipe and snark and pick at each other in a million ways and with seemingly no thought for the ways our words can destroy another. The refusal to listen to each other. The insistence on our way/truth/understanding being the only way/truth/understanding. The gun violence. The heroin. The lack of decent and accessible and affordable health care for so many.

All the things. 

The things personal. The things communal. The things spoken. The things unspoken.

All the things. Break my heart for all the things, God (or Love, or Creator, or Allah, or YHWH, or whatever/whoever…), that break yours.

Some of my dearest friends are adoptive parents. And one family in particular, has two (of their four) sons adopted from Ethiopia. And they tell me that this song I’m speaking of, this, “break my heart for what breaks yours,” was an important song for them when they were making the decision to adopt their second son. They felt it was a call. On their hearts. To do what they had the strength and resources to do. And so they offered a new life and a new family to a little boy who desperately needed both. They’d be the first to tell you they are not heroes…they’re just people who listened when life spoke to them, and acted on what they’d heard.

And that’s the thing, y’all. It’s that simple. What’s the thing that breaks your heart wide open for the world? What sadness or suffering or unfairness leaves you awake at night? What digs into your heart and stays there, demanding that you pay attention to it?

Excuse me while I make like Oprah for a second, but the one thing I know for sure is this–it is possible, that out of brokenness–even the most painful and hellish and unimaginable brokenness–something good and true can be given birth. This does not make the brokenness go away. Nor does it make it desired. But when the brokenness has happened, it is possible, in ways I don’t even begin to understand, for something good to be given life. 

I stake my life on this.

And so whatever it is that is breaking your heart apart, chances are it is breaking God’s or the universe’s too. And chances are it’s awful. And it hurts in ways you can’t describe. And it leaves you incapable some days of hoping for anything, any moment, any day, that will be better.

But what if in the depths of our broken hearts, lies the the very thing that could bring us all into the light again? What if in the midst of all that is wrong with the world we found a way to shed light on all that is right? Because it’s true that, as Leonard Cohen (rest in peace, you brilliant man) wrote, “there’s a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.”

I want very much for 2016 to be over. To be put to blessed rest. It has been the worst of years for so many I love, and for our country, too. But I also don’t want to miss these last days of it. Because maybe there’s something to learn about how terrible it’s all been but also about how good it might be again one day. Maybe there’s hope to be found in trusting that the way things are now is not the way they will always be. Maybe there is room for healing in our broken hearts–enough for all.

All the things. Break my heart for all the things. So that in the midst of the brokenness there might be made room for all the things to be made new…and whole…and full of grace and love. 

 

 

 

Post-election: Just. Breathe.

 

It’s been a week in these United States, am I right?

I’m right.

And let me just say right up front, if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time at all, or know me even a little bit, you can probably guess (and you’d be correct) that I did not vote for the President-elect. And I very much wish things had gone a different way. But—he is the President. For better or for worse. And when my candidate did win in 2008 and 2012, I asked my friends who had voted the other way to please respect the office, even in their anger and disappointment. And so I’m going to do my damndest to do the same.

Hear me out, liberal friends, I can already feel you getting riled…hear me out. Please.

I know that I speak from a point of white middle-class privilege. I know that I speak as someone who has never in her life felt disenfranchised. And I know that I speak as a woman who has never been a victim of sexual assault (though like all of us I certainly know what it is to feel as if I’ve been made an object of).

Still, I have a voice in this, and, as per usual, I’m going to use it. Right here—with these reasons that I believe we all—Democrats, Republicans, Independents—need to take a deep breath and figure out how we’re going to move forward. Preferably together (or it won’t make a bit of difference).

  • I have family and friends—people I care about deeply—who have been disenfranchised, who have been threatened because of the color of their skin, who have been told they aren’t worth anything because they are gay or transgender, who are black or Muslim or Latino, who live life every day knowing that at any moment their well-being might be threatened simply because of who they are. I have more girlfriends than I can even accurately count who have been victims of cruel harassment or sexual assault.This is not even remotely okay. And it is not at all what God intended for us upon creation. We were made for relationship. For life together. No qualifications or strings attached. And when we act otherwise, we fail at being the humans we were created to be. But y’all? We treated each other like crap before this President was elected. And his election doesn’t give us license to reduce one another to—as my colleague Josh Baird so eloquently said in a Facebook post—“racists or sore losers.” It’s simply not that black-and-white.
  • I also care deeply about some people who I know voted for this President. And I’m not going to lie, I struggle with that. Mightily. But because I know and care for these people I also know this: They are not racists in the true sense and meaning of the word. They are not misogynists. They are not people filled with hate or judgment. They are men and women just like me who love their kids and fear for our country, who know something has to change, and who just have a different idea of how that change should happen. And it’s crucial that those of us who call ourselves liberals or progressives find a way to listen to those who don’t think like we do. Really listen. Because as one such friend said to me this week, “Jules, it’s not like any of them really care about me or my family anyway—so why does it matter?”
  • This one isn’t easy, but I believe it, and so I’m going to say it. We liberal progressives can be so very arrogant. We like to talk about lofty ideas and we use rhetoric that is often highbrow and theoretical. Meanwhile the promises we make about food and clothing and shelter and equality for all are not easy promises to keep, and when we fail at keeping them, our words turn empty. We talk about equality and inclusivity in theory, but far too often that theory does not include our conservative brothers and sisters, and so we come off as those who think we “know better” in the worst possible way. We label those who don’t think like us “uneducated” or “redneck” and in doing so make any further conversation impossible. We can be our own worst enemy, and so let’s cease with blaming everyone but ourselves for how we got to where we are.
  • This also isn’t easy, but, again…. I adore snark (sarcasm) as a defense mechanism. So much that a friend once said to me, “You’re so good at it, Julie, that it can be really intimidating when someone is trying to have a serious conversation with you.” That humbled me somewhat, and I try these days to reign in the snark outside my closest circle of friends—because the truth is, in terms of public discourse it doesn’t help. Rachel Maddow does not aid the fight for unity (even if she makes some of us feel better in a cathartic way), any more than Rush Limbaugh.
  • And in this same vein—y’all, please quit using social media as your plumb line for public discourse (says the woman writing a blog post that will be posted across social media!). Seriously. Consider this a gentle reminder that just because the Internet says it, that doesn’t mean it’s true. And also a caution that our ability to post, tweet and insta our every thought and feeling does not mean we should. I have seen the absolute worst of humanity on the Internet these last few days. From all sides. And have been unbelievably disappointed at the vitriol coming from those who claim peace and justice for all.
  • I believe racism and sexism played a role in this election–but I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by pinning the entire fiasco on those two things alone. Played a role? Yes, as they do every day in our country. The driving force behind the whole thing? No. What I do believe is that, per Cool Hand Luke,”What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” And I mean that in the most profound of ways–I’m not being flippant. We literally have no idea how to just talk to each other in this country–really talk. And really listen. And really try–try our hardest, no matter how uncomfortable it gets–to walk in another’s shoes.

Y’all. There’s a lot at stake. And these are scary and uncertain times. But in the democracy that is the United States, no one person can define us. Even if that person is the President. And when folks act in hate or anger in that President’s name, it’s our job to combat that with an equal-plus measure of love and grace. I’ve no illusions that this will be easy. But I’m willing to try. Because where we are as a nation is on all of us, in some form or fashion, and it will take all of us to get to a better place.

No one party, theology, or ideology gets the main stage. We all play a part. And it seems to me our best bet is to start playing our part well.

ICYMI, the Cubs won the World Series a couple weeks back. And my dad told me a story he heard about an exchange between a rookie Cub and the soon-to-be retired David Ross. The young Cub was anxious. Wound up. All agog with the World Series and how to manage the excitement and stress of it, and he asked Ross how to get through it. And Ross said, simply, “Just breathe.”

So y’all…just breathe. We have it in us to get past the ways this election has exposed our worst behaviors and divisions as a country. We have it in us to be better than this. So…just breathe. This is just one part of our story as a nation…one part. And it will not on its own equal the sum total of who we are. So…just breathe.

We might even–all of us, on every side–be surprised by something good in the process.