I’ve not written a lot about our current situation in the United States purposefully.  First, I am not a political opinion writer nor am I looking to take this blog from what its intent is, a place to share my thoughts on things that usually impact my family in some way, into what becomes viewed as another place for what is already rampant, a left or right mouthpiece.  Second, the focus of this blog has been more on what I as a parent am considering or pondering, what has been laid on my heart as something that should be explored, and then when I feel the draw to write about it, I do so on topics that are quite far ranging.

It is with this latter point that I arrive here today, the morning after the Democratic convention of 2020, with a conviction to put thoughts into words as I have many times before, but on a topic that I have intentionally stayed away from here.  Last night as the last few lines of Joe Biden’s speech came forth, I heard a phrase that chilled me to my soul.  I have shared my background several times, and like any human being on this planet, what strikes me, what moves me, what captures me is impacted immensely by my individual life experiences.   My wife and my kids, while we share the same household, do not have the exact same set of experiences and thus may react differently.   My extended family, while also a source of shared experience, also have not been present in all aspects and in the same way.  Once I was married and moved out of my parents’ home, the experiences were different than that of my brother and my parents who still lived in the same household.  My in-laws have been involved in my life for coming up on a decade, but once again, not sharing living space and also having many decades of life before I met them and all the other myriad aspects that make up our perceptions of events create a unique blend.

I have a deep love of this country where I was born coupled with a deep caring for immigrants who struggle to find this place and to make a niche for themselves, for that is my family’s, and particularly, my parents story and I was raised with understanding that struggle being as close as possible generationally to those challenges.  It drove me to want to learn as much as I could about this land and its history.  My Christian upbringing layered a strong moral sense into the mix.  Being part of a group, Polish, that was maligned during my childhood as many others like Italians, Jews, disabled and homosexual, built in me a compassion and understanding of what it means to be made fun of for something you cannot control, and often has little impact on your ability to contribute and function;  something that has no real cause of “less than” but is often used for that purpose.  I was also blessed to be born on the Fourth of July, which has always added to the mystique for me of being the first generation born in this wonderful country and of having the honor of sharing my physical birthday with the political birthday of the nation I call home.  It was absolutely driven my patriotism, my insatiable desire to learn and understand, and most of all to improve the place working to be formed into “a more perfect union”. 

So it was with all this backdrop, and much more that I could not share without writing an entire novel of my life experience and how thousands of threads came together, when Joe Biden said, “May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation”, that it hit me square in the chest.  Never.  Never would I have expected someone to utter those words running for office of President of the United States, not referring to an external or fringe threat, but talking about my own country.  It chilled me to the bone, not because it was a witty turn of phrase, but because it spoke the truth to me.   It articulated in a much better way than I have been able to, exactly what I felt when we began to speed up this terrible slide over four years ago when the ugly underbelly of this nation that I want nothing to do with began to stir into the light and begin to take it over with its darkness.  I’m a big fan of fantasy like Lord of The Rings and The Wheel of Time.  It was like that moment in any of those epics when the dark master and their forces are released into the world.  From the moment Donald Trump appeared on the scene as a contender for the presidency, I wanted nothing to do with him, because I knew the man’s history.  His lack of caring for the common man, his lack of a moral compass, it was all writ large with the thousands of hours of video and thousands of words in print that we had of the man.   I watched in awe as enough people somehow got interested enough to give up their most precious piece of our country’s core, their personal vote in 2016, something they could only use once in their lifetime and never take back, and decided to give that vote to a man that, to me, with my life experience, was so clearly the worst choice we could make.  The next morning I vowed to do what any true citizen of out nation must; I gave Donald Trump the chance to show me that perhaps I did not know the man, that he could pivot, that he could become presidential as so many others who were hoping against hope were saying out loud.  Alas, there is no need to rehash the past any further; we all see that did not happen and that the man remained what he has always been.  Not a surprise, as most of us do, as changing one’s character is the hardest thing any human being can do and not one that many succeed at.

As a student of history, I retain a high level of skepticism when people use words to describe a certain time as pivotal, important, life changing.  I push back often on what I feel is overblown.  It is so rare, and also so difficult in real time, to actually see those points in history that determine the next several decades or centuries of a country.   Did those living through World War II in Europe really understand that struggle would also mean the end of their overseas empires as African and Asian nations fought for and gained their independence over the next few decades?  This is part of why I chose to write down my thoughts here.  To have a record of what I think we are living through and to be able to then look back in several decades and see if I was right or if I too had fallen victim to a time when the weight of the moment was not what I thought.  When Joe Biden said those words, it gave voice to what I was feeling but could not articulate, as I feel that this election is going to be exactly the defining moment of how the rest of this American century will go.  Will we continue to be a land that sows division and ingrain that for four more years and then likely many more as it will embolden those with similar views to seek political office, or will we strive to go towards the light, to be the city upon a hill, the beacon of the world and all the other countless references to America that have been used over the last few hundred years that we have been around?  To me, one choice gives us a chance to move to  “a more perfect union” and one totally bars it.  I do not make that statement lightly.  It is that stark.  It is honestly a choice between love and hate.  The fact that an American election has come to this saddens me to the core.  Do we, now that we have had four years to see the man in the actual position we thought or hoped he would grow into and can no longer hide behind the farce and lies we told ourselves of who he would become but now have four years of experience, actually yet again chose to go down the path where thinking of people as Polacks, kikes, wops and niggers is what we want to do as a nation or do we choose the opposite?  I believe if we choose to stay on the hatred-ridden, divisive, winner-take-all no matter the cost path this time, the world will not forgive us.  Because we will have chosen this path with full hindsight of what it means, and it will be rightfully unforgiveable.  That is what being a student of history leads me to believe.  This is a national game of “fool me once”.  If we choose to be fooled again, we show our true character as a nation, and it is horrifying to me to even imagine that as a possibility.  Talking to those in other countries they are amazed as they watch this all unfold and are aghast that Americans can still be so duped.  Yet here we stand, only seventy-five or so days away from that choice and I still lack the faith in my fellow Americans to know where we will land. 

I lack that faith because even those that are close to me, continue to confound and confuse me with what I hear.  My parents, immigrants who struggled for two years to get to this nation and who having had me become a citizen through birthright citizenship, a group who were made fun of for their stupidity because of the country of their birth rather than their actions, repeatedly argue with me that selective immigration, denigrating people of color and placing severe restrictions on citizenship is OK.  The America they seem to want would have resulted in me not having the place I do, as a grateful citizen of this nation.  That my brother, who I thought trusted science and reason, could be in the camp of COVID being no big deal and talking away deaths as misclassified and all a conspiracy that he has embraced and the president has done masterful job containing.  That my mother-in-law, who was married to a veteran, can look the other way and continue to lean towards a man who began his candidacy with a situation that caused a Gold Star parent to denounce him and has continuously discounted, denigrated and misused the military in appalling ways and turned them on peaceful citizens for a photo op for a faith he does not even practice in order to continue to fool those gullible enough to vote for him.  That fellow Christians continue to blindly support someone who shows no Christian fruit because he promises them false idols.  The arguments, though they are so very close in age the dementia or age itself should be a reason so pick one over the other, especially when one has a stutter that explains away one false aspect, while reality of 3-4 years of age being virtually unimportant explain the other.  That so many others cannot see the stark contrast, or fail to care if they do, and give excuses why it is not so bad, trouble me deeply for the future of our nation.

I have hope (yes one of those words Biden spoke, but in a time much more likely not to be overblown than when Clinton used it in the 90s), with many of the ex-Republicans like me who have begun speaking out openly and said no more.  I also have hope because Trump won with so slim a margin that it does not take a tidal wave to wash him away and make this a sad asterisk on the character of this nation.  Just as a person’s character is incredibly hard to change, I hope that a nation is the same.  I hope four years of hatred and division will not change us, however eight may.  It will become too common.  I have spent more time thinking about what this president does on a weekly basis than I have ever spent thinking about a president’s actions over the entirety of the rest of my life.  It should not be this way.  Someone who does their job well does not require constant thought.  I have not agreed with every president we have had, yet these attacks that impact the nation’s character and draw out the ugly underbelly have been things I cannot ignore. 

I have never volunteered for a campaign before.  I have never worked during an election day as a precinct official.  I am doing these things this time because I feel it is my duty as a citizen to stand up to the existential threat I feel this ideology is to our nation.  Encouraging people that voting will be a problem?  Unforgiveable.  Making the United States of America the Divided States of America?  Unforgiveable.  The last time we were truly divided we went to war over it.  That is not a part of history I want to repeat. 

I believe, just as we knew Donald Trump’s soul well before 2016, we know Joe Biden’s soul well before 2020.  The contrast is so stark I believe the vote will come down to whether a person is loving or hateful, encouraging or selfish.  I understand this statement will anger some people, but the truth often does.  There is no way that I think a person can vote this election and turn the other way and cough and say it will be OK if they knowingly choose the side of hate and selfishness.  Donald Trump has doubled down on everything over the last four years.  He will double down on this if enough of the country picks his method of leadership.  This is the one way I would say I differ a bit in Biden’s wording of another phrase, that this election is a “battle for the soul of the nation.”  As with character, I believe this is already determined.  This election will “expose the soul of this nation.”  By who wins on November 3rd we will indelibly and undeniably let the world know what drives America.  I have hope and love for this country, and I also have a fear of God and an understanding that He is in control.  Just as the nation of Israel rebelled against the will of God and faced the consequences, I think this is no less our nation’s test.  Will we go into the light, or will we continue the journey that may ultimately end up with the earth opening up beneath our feet and swallowing us whole?

A turning point in life

Posted: June 2, 2020 in Accountability, Anger

As of today, I have had it.  After days of watching, listening and most importantly trying to help our teens and young adults navigate this reality here in the US, I hit a point that I have had it, and for me that takes a LOT.

I am so fed up with the leadership at the national level of our country and the complicity and moral cowardice of all the senators and representatives who have no backbone to stand up to completely inappropriate behavior by our president that I am going to do everything I can to insure that a those who cannot display leadership against negativity, posturing and other form of self promotion are gone.  So for me that begins with a very large set of steps away from the Republican Party as it stands today.

Perhaps this is what it was like back in the 50’s and 60’s when a similar shift happened and citizens found themselves seeing a political party they sided with in the vast majority of cases contort and pervert itself into such a disgusting form that they could no longer take it.  That is literally the best way to voice what I feel for our president, his appointees and the congressional members who stand behind and continue to excuse larger and larger forms of behavior that should appeal any person who claims to have empathy for other human beings.

I have voiced my feelings and my decision to my local senator, the Republican Party at large and will communicate to others as well as it makes sense.  I do not feel it will matter to either organization the voice of one voter, but this is how our system is meant to work and simply vanishing into the void without and explanation does not allow my feedback to join the likely piles of others who feel similarly.

I am disgusted by the “law order president” persona that Trump is now donning in an attempt to fool voters in his latest wolf in sheep’s clothing move.  The contrast between empathetic and compassionate mayors and governors against our callous and self promoting president could not be more stark.  The leader we need in that position is not the leader we have by a long shot and I am so done giving this any more thought and hope.  No other Republicans are going to call him to account or work to the better angels.  They will endorse him needing a path cleared for a publicity stunt holding up a Bible in front of a church he does not attend.  He later is condemned by the bishop of that denomination for his actions and the callous nature of them and still his weak sheep in Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley and others totter behind in lock step chanting “Yes Mr. President” instead of showing any backbone at all and more importantly showing any care for fellow Americans.  They instead adopt the party like, the Trump Party, that the media is politicizing things.   No sirs, your president is politicizing things that should not be politicized.  He is taking this opportunity to deflect from his lack of leadership by trying to pretend this is how serious thinking Americans want him to lead.

I am calling his bluff and the camel’s back has been broken by this last straw.  We have a bunch of toadies following, who I believe will go down in history as one of the worst presidents this country has ever had, easily in the Top 5 if not the Top 3, into oblivion and I am done hoping against hope that the Republican Party will find its way again.  Silence is not acceptable by congressional leaders when asked if they agree with the president.  Fear of crossing Trump should be enough of a signal to them that something is deathly wrong within the Party.  You should not fear your own president or you are working with a tyrant.

Perhaps eventually the way will be found again, but I am now going to take my energy and look for people who have the good of this country instead of the good of themselves in mind.  If they are Democrats, so be it.  If they are Independents, so be it.  If they are Socialists, so be it.  The person who has the best plan and the best character is who is the best leaders.  Trump was a character vacuum from day one.  Many people I know knew it and looked past it.  I hope they are not stupid enough to do it again.  As I hug crying teenagers in my house I see the real life impact that has as the hope is sucked out of our youth because we have a raging narcissist for a president and bunch of wimps around him who will not call a spade a spade.  Four years of this soul sucking clown leadership is enough.  Anything and everything to end this, because this country can do better.  I just pray enough people are not fooled by the charlatan misdirecting them again into “he’s not so bad” land.  He is that bad.  The question is as you going to continue to be that gullible?

Will work to get back to better topics next time.

We all have been trained in elementary school of what to do if we catch on fire:  stop, drop and roll.  Now about to enter my fifth decade of life I still remember this survival training because it is so simple, shown to be so effective, and therefore seems to stick with us.  Simple, effective solutions are the best, aren’t they?

I have been mulling over this literally for about three weeks now and have decided to share with my blog readers and hope it can help out in the world at large.

This simple concept has applications in our lives right now, and as it turns out, not just with coronavirus but with the renewed interest in dealing with police brutality most recently horrifically brought back into the spotlight with the needless death of George Floyd.  It was really this dual impact that finally got me off the fence to write this post after such a long absence from the blog.  I felt the coronavirus value was good but as it continues to expand it felt too important not to voice more publicly.

First, let me provide some details about me that may not be readily apparent from everything else on the blog.  Perhaps people have discerned this already, but as I have never explicitly, as I recall, stated these things, for this post I want to leave no doubt.  I am a middle-aged, conservative, white male who lives in the suburbs and has a job I can do from home.  I share this because I believe I will say at least one thing somewhere in the rest of this post that will go against the commonly accepted understanding of what someone like that would do or think, and therefore I hope it will add some value to what I share here because you will be able to see that I am attempting to practice what I preach.  So, let’s dive in, the water’s deep and there is a lot to cover.

The first of the three instructions we have ingrained in our collective psyche is Stop.  Stop binge watching news about either subject.  Stop constantly talking with your friends and family about it.  Stop obsessing over this or any other topic that can easily steer to the heavily negative during this time when most of us are stuck at home and have much more time on out hands than we ever have because anything we used to do in “spare” time, is not or has only recently become available again.  Even what has become available, is in a new format.  For me I like to go to the movie theater, concerts, plays, church, fairs, museums, sporting events and also tend to eat out along with those things or also separately, typically once a week at least.  For the last ten weeks, none of those things have been on the table and most of them are likely off the table for the rest of this year, if I avoid (i.e. STOP) jumping on the wishful thinking express.  I was as guilty as anyone of spending too much time thinking about what I had lost in the first few weeks, than about steering my mind to more constructive pursuits about what I could actually do and making peace with that.

One of the biggest Stops is to stop thinking that opinions are facts.  If literally any one person can view something differently than you do, that is your flare in the sky, spotlight on the obvious, that you are dealing with an opinion and not a fact.  We are all entitled to our own opinions, but none of us gets our own facts.  Facts are the same for virtually everyone.  You know that rule you also learned at some point in school that always or never on a True/False test make the question false?  This is one thing, of a very short list of things, that is an exception to that rule.  A fact is ALWAYS the same for everyone, otherwise it is not a fact.  This is a truism we seem to have lost, especially in the United States, where debates and discussions get heated almost immediately because we start tossing out our opinions thinking they are facts.

Let’s use these two issues we are living with in the US and look for facts and see how few of them there are.

Coronavirus that causes COVID-19.  It exists. Like other viruses, people can get sick from it.  It has a gene sequence that has been shared with scientists.

George Floyd.  He has died.  He was a person of color.  This happened in the Minneapolis, MN area.  This was filmed from many angles.  A police officer had his knee on his neck.  George said “I can’t breathe” multiple times.

I have tried very hard in these lists to avoid anything that could be disputed (an opinion formed about), as that would not be a fact.  Likely, you feel I have not stated other obvious “facts”.  I challenge you, as I challenge myself everyday, to really determine if much else that you believe is a fact about these issues is.  Or is it an opinion you have turned into a fact in your own mind and that now drives your views and opinions of others and your interactions with them.

Stop thinking it’s all about us.  We get told this as children all the time, but as adults we are terrible at taking our own medicine.  Stop only talking with and seeking opinions of others who are just like you and on important, complex topics like global pandemics and abuse of power, seek to understand the opposing viewpoint.  One of the most valuable skills is to truly learn how to properly debate.  The best debaters in the world always prepare for what the opposing viewpoint will likely present.  The less understood, or at least less focused on, point of a debate is that debates are about opinions and not facts.  Facts may be used, but it the debaters opinion about what those facts mean that provides the material to present and for the judges or audience to then decide where they land.  Who provided the best case?  This is where facts matter again, and words matter.   If someone tells you that “the best people” said or did something, but refuses to name those people so you can fact check them for yourself, you really have nothing but a glorified and sometimes confidently and loudly stated opinion.  Why are they the best people?  Who are they?  What did they say that makes them the best?  What qualifies them to be an authority?  More importantly what other people, what “worst people” might have similar credentials and expertise but have a compelling explanation that contradicts them?  If we are truly open to hear and learn, we may find our opinions changed or at least challenged and become more humble in our firmness, but standing firm on opinions makes it very easy for us to make poor and foolish decisions with consequences that we may not have thought about and that could take years or more to unravel.

Stop letting others think for us.  As I have watched the internet and social media become more and more a core of people’s lives, I have observed a negative impact that most people seem to not know how to educate themselves on a topic.  The patience to do the work seems to have left many of us.  We are too busy, but then we get riled up when things do not change.  Who will change them?  It is always someone else.  I have never seen a study or poll done on this but I believe there would be overwhelming belief that the citizens of the Revolutionary Era were less “educated” than citizens of today.  I challenge us to think about that.  People spent a lot of time thinking about things, and did they likely have fewer facts?  Probably, because much was not known or properly understood.  Science had not learned about viruses yet.  People felt different races of people had biological differences later proven as false opinions, but they were believed as fact, and acted upon.   However, they did not have an easy way to learn about a topic around the world, and especially in a growing republic in North America, citizens took seriously their collective good and worked together to move things forward.  Today, we spend five minutes googling something and reading two or three of the top results and being content.  Learning about something has not suddenly become easier.  Finding material about it has, but the time needed to become an expert has not.  We have become complacent with outsourcing our thinking to others because in our self-absorbed importance we do not have time for that, so we let others make our decisions for us.  Is this really what we want?  If not, stop and do the hard labor to be an educated citizen of your country and then determine what action you personally will take to impact what moves you.

The next instruction we need to heed is Drop.  Drop the pretense that because we spent a few hours reading, watching or otherwise consuming material on a given topic that we are now an expert at it.  If you are not a virologist, drop believing because you have listened to a dozen virologists, you understand coronavirus.  I have watched all 16 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, but that does not make me a surgeon.  We need to understand what we are experts in, and I like the traditional benchmark of that, which is something we have spent over 10,000 hours doing, and drop the social media fueled delusion that because we spent the weekend “studying” this, we now know everything there is to know about it and can speak with authority.  Tie this to the point about facts above.  Never die on the hill of a “fact” in a topic you are not an expert about.  Realize that what you have is an opinion on a fact and then be open to having your mind changed.

Take time to understand who is saying something worth listening to.  Some curious material related to the space of George Floyd and police brutality.  John Lewis is a civil rights hero who has a clear message you can hear in an interview on MSNBC where is advice was  “to vote as we’ve never voted before”.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, in the midst of a coronavirus briefing this weekend spent over ten minutes providing more thoughtful and calm rationale for how the power of change is in “we the people” not in the leadership who are afraid to admit they are not experts on something they learned about yesterday.  Cory Booker has an interesting idea for some legislation on a national registry of police disciplinary actions.  Listen to Donald Trump’s stance and read Barack Obama’s statement and understand that they come from two vastly different life experiences and ponder what that means in how you interpret them, and most importantly do not simply dismiss the one that does not line up with your belief system.  On coronavirus, watch what is happening outside your country and work hard to know the studies are still opinions until many, many studies get the same results, so do not be too quick to jump.  We likely need a vaccine before this is over and that could take years, so understand what that means, how real progress is going, not just best case long shots.  Listen to briefings from other leaders and see what they are doing and encourage your local leaders once you form an educated opinion rather than just grumbling that they should do more.  We all want this to end, but it will take as long as it takes and poor choices from us can make it take longer.

Drop the belief that most things are black and white and realize that most are actually infinite shades of grey.  If someone does not agree with us, that does not make us right and them wrong.  That means each of us has a different opinion.  The polarization we see in many societies is largely driven, in my opinion, by the fallacy that something can only be one thing or the other.  The inability to then civilly discuss anything means we can likely never really get to the root of complex issues to make improvements or to drive positive change because far before we get to that fertile soil we have contaminated it with the dung of animosity, sarcasm, arrogance and self-righteousness.  Being “strong” on something does not mean being willing to name call, belittle, sign an executive order or send in the military.  That’s being a coward and a dictator.  If you have to force someone to do something then maybe your idea is a poor one to begin with.  Work harder on your idea, as you are likely wrong in some degree.

The final step to save ourselves from harm is to Roll.  Roll with the punches.  Everything is not personal.  We are not required to respond to everything anyone says to us as a personal affront or attack or as something that must be processed through our filter of opinions and tested for any contamination of “otherness”.  Life is hard.  If these last few months have not been hard for you in some way and likely the hardest you have had on this earth, then bless you as you are truly special.  Those who will likely emerge better on the other side will have embraced rolling with the changes and making for themselves and those important to them the best lemonade out of the mountains of lemons.  People have gone through massive events before.  We all will have our opinion about how these events compare to others

I do not want to be tone deaf to the real barriers that poverty and racial bias throw into the mix.  Even in the world of white privilege, challenges surface.  Rolling with the punches is unpleasant or many times impossible in some situations.  It runs the risk of sounding like the argument that all people of color need to do to avoid police brutality is to listen to the police.  We have an eight minute and forty six second video of horror to show that OPINION is wrong.  Facts may come out (please remember what a fact is) that show otherwise, but at this time that is a tall order given the many angles and sources of video showing no resistance at all.  So I wanted to be certain to share that I understand that for many people this last step is much harder, but it does not mean that in whatever format that is can apply, that it is not the better option.  What those of us not in that position should try to do is help when we see that situation and drive our leaders to make it better, and if there is something we can personally do to make it better for someone to do it.  Think of the story of the kid on the beach who is throwing starfish back in the ocean so they do not drown.  When the adult points out to him that what he is doing does not matter, the child states, “It matters to this one” as he tosses it back into the sea.  Do what you can and do not hide behind the “it’s someone else’s problem” when presented with an opportunity.

I believe if we do these things, to finish getting through these tough events and making the new reality that we will be in, as well as keeping this in mind for future happenings, that we have a much better chance to get to positive outcomes faster.  Just as stop, drop and roll puts out your clothes as fast as possible if you caught on fire, so this stop, drop and roll can shed the perceived panic and metaphorical fire you may feel yourself in.  The goal is to laser focus on things that are real and that you can then think about and drive positive results with.

Conspiracies are more and more in vogue and are getting much more of a voice than they deserve because people in positions of power use their megaphone to toss them out there.  We can use stop, drop and roll to see past this and uncover the facts for ourselves or we can rely on the easy road of just listening to the loudest voices who have verified it with the best people who shall remain nameless so we cannot think for ourselves.  Most conspiracies fail basic scrutiny once you understand the number of people who must all be in agreement and not say anything for them to actually exist.  Once that number gets above five or so, the chance of one of them not telling someone is almost zero.  Conspiracies such as labs fabricating viruses and impacting the world, domestic terrorists being solely responsible for all protest, and systemic racism in police forces just become easy things to latch on to rather than figuring out what is actually happening and seeking to understand the other side and coming to the table.

As we speak with our children who are learning alongside us in these two massive events, I try to continue to teach them about the importance of being a good citizen and not simply taking action for the sake of action.  You must take the time to determine what you feel is the right action.   We never have all the facts, but be open to new facts that show you were wrong and then apologize if needed and redirect.  In these two situations some of my questions to others are:  Where do we think the virus has gone that just allows us to open up and act as if we just had a three month vacation?  How could it have been a hoax and where are all the people who “died” now living to make us think they are all dead?  Again, as a conspiracy how had no one leaked this secret island or bunker or why had no one gotten fed up of living in hiding and emerged yet to tell us April Fools?  Does it make sense to focus on the most optimistic timeline when all historical evidence on projects tells us that most likely scenario is most likely for a reason and then best to plan for?  How does property damage stop police brutality?  Have you thought about all the broader impacts to your community when you slow the ability of businesses to reopen by destroying them?  Have we worked to understand how people of color feel when asked to live in a society that does not honor the social contract they are expected to abide by and then holds them accountable for violating something that rings hollow to them?  Have do we take that understanding and make policies that make sense?  When the policies we make hamper the law enforcement professionals and we find their lives are endangered, as they claim will likely happen, are
we prepared to rethink it and continuously improve?

Finally, I think a key point, especially in a democracy, is that change is slow and deliberate, not a flash in the pan.  This is what I try to share with anyone who will listen.  The Stoneman Douglas students wanted to drive change and then here we are.  Were they wrong?  Certainly not, but I believe they wanted change to happen faster than is reasonable.  Change management is hard.  Ask any project manager.  Changing a company takes months or years.  How long does changing a country with over 300 million people?  I have heard people saying businesses have insurance and can rebuild.  OK, maybe they do.  But why should they have to?  How does destroying a business have anything to do with getting change in police policies?  I have yet to hear or meet a person who was not sickened or outraged by what they saw in the George Floyd video.  This is a great time to start the change that has been tried and failed in the past.  Again, Governor Cuomo was quite eloquent in his discussion of the timing of societal change and what it takes.  Will this be the time that takes?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We’ve been here before.  But doing the wrong things and causing distractions will certainly not help and will likely set us back further as people return to their polar corner.  As Maya Angelou said, “Hate.  It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.”  Maybe those destroying things do not hate the police, but it is not likely they love them either, doing what they are doing.  My opinion is a small group of people are responsible and that most of those who are out are peaceful and just want to be part of a group that thinks like them.  Community is natural in situations where we feel helpless.  The new voting block is one of the largest we have and they can impact change in a way that works, but not at internet speed, and that patience is a lesson I hope that is learned.  I also hope they understand that not being registered to vote or not voting is a huge mistake as change happens through this process.  Not voting and then grumbling is akin to not plugging in your freezer and then stomping about that the ice cream melted.  It’s foolish.  Bring people along but do not try to push a rope.  Outrage is not how things change; it is simply a symptom of the understanding that a change is desired.  Hard work and perseverance get things changed.  Let’s focus on that.  That is some of the lessons I try to teach my children.

So STOP feeding our confirmation bias and seek out opposing viewpoints and truly understand them, DROP social media and internet fueled expertise and admit and be open to having new facts change your mind and diligently look for them to make sure they are not there before you dig in to an opinion, and ROLL with whatever comes and determine your next step in the next minute, the next day, the next week and the next year based on the reality of the now and not the nostalgia and the gnashing of teeth of what was.  The goal of this is to keep yourself in a position of relative calm from which to make your decisions rather than one of panic.  The world is on fire, and we are as well, but if you stop, drop and roll, I pray you have a more peaceful journey.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it. – John 1:5

The longer I live the more I realize our lives are cyclical.  Hills and valleys are the norm, most of us do not live on the plains.  My entire life has been spent living in places between Illinois, Tennessee and Ohio that had rolling hills.  I’ve visited places like Kearney, Nebraska, right in the center of the state and very close to the center of the USA, and seen the vast difference.  You can see for mile in Kearney, not simply because of the totally flat land but also because of the lack of a significant amount of trees.  It takes the contrast of understanding the alternative to truly appreciate the difference.  I recall being told the story when visiting a plant in Kearney of how the facility had been closed one January day because no one could get in the building because of the one inch snowfall they had had overnight.  You see because of that lack of trees or contour in the land, the wind had blown the one inch of snow from miles around and it had hit the one obstacle it could find on that prairie, the building, and covered the building to fifteen feet deep in snow, licking up over the roof.  I’ve seen much smaller versions of that when I lived in Illinois, but it was counteracted by snow fences erected along farm fields to keep the snow from blowing too far before it hit something.  The hills and valleys may add more difficulty in movement or other things but they also provide protection, which allows more trees to grow, which adds to the protection from billowing snow, for example.  I was talking to someone at a whitewater rafting company this week and asking about the scattered thunderstorms forecast for the week of our upcoming vacation and how that would impact our ability to get on the river.  She said that we’re going to be wet anyway, so they raft rain or shine, but if it does get severe enough, they pull out for fifteen minutes as the storms come over the mountains and then break up pretty fast, yet another example of the barrier providing some protection.

In another contract we have light and dark.  Have you ever been outside the city, say in someplace like Kearney, Nebraska, and been able to see the difference it makes in the night sky?   You can see so much more.  It is not the darkness that is the barrier in the big city, it is the light.  The light near us overtakes the light coming at us from out in space.  Get in a dark space however, and the light of the stars blast through.  Moving from physical light, to spiritual light, we see that God has designed the same process.  This is where more life experience and more cycles gives you a greater perspective.  Someone younger may not have much opportunity to travel and so may never see the difference from where they live.  Similarly, having been around for many decades, I’ve had some pretty dark times in my life.  It seems the darker the time the more glorious the light.  When we are downtrodden and feeling hopeless, it is then we can truly begin to understand God’s power to breakthrough and aid us.  That aid may be comfort, it may be peace, it may be new, unexpected circumstances.

Regardless of the level of darkness, it is never strong enough to stop the light.  Have you ever been in a cave?  There is no deeper physical darkness you will ever experience on earth than in a cave.  Most cave tours have you experience this at some point when they turn out all the light.   One of the best experiences I’ve ever had of this was in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  While the tour group is in the darkness, one of the guides has circled back and turns on a small light, which pierces the blackness.  As the guide with you continues to talk about the lack of light and that impact, the other guide spends those minutes walking to you.  The light never really gets bigger or any brighter, but you can see it jiggling ever so slightly as the guide walks and when they finally arrive in about five minutes the guide shares with you that that guide just walked half a mile to get to us.  That pin prick of light from a tiny handheld penlight broke through the utter darkness for half a mile and was visible by us. The darkness could not overpower it.

I have been through divorce, death of friends and family members, loss of jobs, alienation from family members, struggles with children.  Without the hope of light, I am certain the outcome would have been terrible.  I’ve seen people struggle with depression and fear.  Going back to the cave, every time I experience some flavor of the example I shared above, my thoughts go back to the early explorers, those who only had candles or oil lamps and did not have things like cell phones or battery powered flashlights that can provide a steadier, more reliable source of light.  When they got lost in the cave and their light source gave out, how would they feel?  After the initial fear, what would they do?  The longing for the light in all of us is strong.  Even for those few minutes, even though we know this is temporary and controlled, either in the cave or when they lock you in a solitary cell in Alcatraz, you still feel a bit of panic: What if something goes wrong and the light does not return?  When the storms of life surround us, and we know we are not in control, that darkness can be overbearing.

This is the brilliance of the interplay of light and dark that God has designed into the universe He created.  Whether it be physical or spiritual, even a tiny amount of light will not be overpowered by darkness.  If you find yourself in a dark place, look for the light.  Pray for God to show you the light.  God’s grace will always shine through for those who believe.  Keep that truth in your heart and no matter your circumstances, whether it be illness, deprivation, injustice or some other dark time in your life, you will find your way to the peace and comfort that God has in store for all of us.

It’s finally spring time up here in the Upper Midwest, with this weekend having a prediction of 70 degree weather this Sunday.  As I sat this morning in the front room I could hear bird outside in the sunshine and see the last vestiges of the snow that had fallen last Sunday night melting away, hopefully for good until next winter.  Soon plants will be growing and I’ll have to get outside to clean up the yard and mow for the first time.  While I hope for a bit of a reprieve, for as I get older I find I have less desire for the manual labor required to do this work, yet I know it is necessary.  Growing up my mother used to spend hours in the yard each weekend working on the flowers or the garden.  She had many rose bushes,  I remember another chore I used to hate in the fall; bringing out the giant stack of Styrofoam rose cones that were in the shed and helping Mom cover the rose bushes.  We’d carefully tuck everything in and then I placed bricks on the corners of the cones to keep the winter winds from blowing them away.  We have a large rose bush on the side of our house now, much too big to cover.

When spring came my Mom would uncover the rose bush, or my wife now goes out and the first thing that is done it to prune the rose bush.  I’ve also seen my wife do this with flower arrangements I bring home from time to time.  I just bought the thing and it is bright and shiny and new, and the first thing she does is take scissors to them to prune.  I thought, “Why?”, but was always amazed at how much better it looked afterwards.   The rose blooms were now arrayed in full splendor instead of hiding like Easter Eggs in the grass.  Some time she had also taken the one arrangement and made several out it, taking a flower or two in a vase in the window by the kitchen sink, a few more on the kitchen table and the rest on the island where I had set them originally. The effort of pruning had turned something that was already wonderful into something glorious.

I should not be surprised.  After all Jesus uses many times to explain how pruning not only takes away the dead growth, the vines that bear no fruit, but that he will even prune the vines that are bearing fruit so that they will bear even more fruit.  My Mom and my wife do this with plants all the time, but on this early spring day, my thoughts have turned more to Jesus’ example and what I can do with my life and what I see others doing as well.  What can I prune?

I think back to the many, many times I feel I know what will be said, and from my impatience, I jump in and finish a sentence.  I have justified the action in my head as showing I am listening, or I am in tune with the speaker and I am just showing them I get it.  But what if I’m not?  What if they were going to say something totally unexpected?  How many times has this action cost me something?  A better relationship?  A new view on a staid, old happening?  A chance to see a rose that was buried until someone pruned away the greenery that was hiding it?  If I prune away jumping in with my own opinions, I might hear something amazing.  More importantly I will make sure that whoever I am spending time with feels heard.  I see the reaction far too often.  The nod and statement of agreement, “Yeah, that’s right”, after I jump in, coupled with the look in the eyes that there was something else, but they’ve chosen to move on.  I vow to do better next time, but then fall into the old habit.  I have made it a goal for me to sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut more often, keep the thought in my head, and let others speak and see if they match.  In the short time I’ve been actively doing this for the last few weeks, I have been wrong more than I’ve been right, on where I thought the person was going.  How much have I missed for years because I failed to prune this behavior from me?  While I’ve had great relationships with people and had great conversations (fruit), how much more fruit could have been gained by pruning this away?  I hope to find out going forward.

I am also keeping an eye on where else I can prune over the years.  While I think my self-focus is reasonable, what if I cut back on that some more?  Would it open me to seeing how I can help others?  I’ve done a bit of that when I helped with divorce support, but with that gone now, I find I have a desire to do something else, which may turn into financial coaching, but that is still something I’ve determined by looking inward into how I think I can help.  Am I missing other gifts I have that could help others because I am looking only at what I can think of and not listening for clues people are giving, but I am missing, perhaps for the behavior above?  I want to be open to better results there.

I have been in a new job for a month now.  I no longer have a role where anyone reports to me, something that I have had for over fifteen years.  I have found that I had to prune away methods and actions in the last four weeks that I have been doing for over a decade.  I have to avoid jumping into other people’s areas of responsibility and being OK with handing the problem over to another, my part being done.  I have to let reciprocal relationships build where in the past I could have relied on positional authority to force the issue if I needed.  I’ve also exercised a lot of what I just spoke about, waiting for the other person to finish before I jump in.  I’ve not been perfect on that, as it is hard for decades of habit to get cut away in a few days, but just as my wife can quickly prune away the unneeded parts of the rose in a few seconds and uncover something great, I’m working on that too.  I consciously decided to prune away high level management responsibilities because I did not like the type of person they would drive me to be.  The stress and pressure to do the impossible was wearing on my family, my friends and my co-workers.  It was also wearing on me.  Just as unfruitful growth still saps the strength of the vine until they are removed because they still take energy to sustain, those things were sapping joy and peace away, so I decided to remove them, and it has been very pleasant.

My wife is also pursuing some pruning on her job front for some of the same reasons.  She’s returning to working with students individually through private practice rather than going to a school and having to deal with all the politics and blocking that goes on that are sapping her happiness and fulfillment.  She started out this way but without as many connections and reputational bridges as she has now, it was difficult to find enough students to help.  Now she feels that is different and she’d like to prune away the job that bore this fruit, to allow even more fruit to spring forth.  I look forward to seeing what will blossom, and I think my wife does as well.

I think I understand what this means to her, but I’m going to use my newly pruned “shut up and listen” self to hear what it really means to her, rather than making assumptions that her journey is the same as mine was.  I believe that pruning will lead to more growth in our love and respect for each other which will grow into other areas of our life and the world.  It is what we are meant to do, prune away even those things we feel may be of some good, to realize the greater good they have been hindering from springing forth.  It is also important to prune constantly, not just at set times.  I have avoided New Year’s resolutions for exactly this reason.  Why wait to prune until the turn of a year, or the turning of a season?  I happen to have been a bit more self reflective today and it tied a bit to all the changes I am going through in my job and the season happened to align, but I embraced the change rather than put it on a list to hit in nine months.  I’d encourage everyone to do the same, to strive to be a healthy vine and encourage the vines around us to do the same.