Monday, December 9, 2019

Imagining Other Possibilities

The following is edited from a talk I gave at Community Christian Church on December 8, 2019. 

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When it comes to social justice, calls for accountability can feel like a threat. The idea that our own actions can harm someone else, and especially that we might be unconsciously acting out the scripts of unjust systems, doesn’t sit well in the human mind. And when people set healthy boundaries, and say, as they should, “You have to stop; you can’t do this,” the human mind can easily experience that as social rejection. What is being said is, “We are committed to creating community that is safe, supportive, and empowering for every person.” But what we, in our defensiveness, may hear, is, “We will cut you off if you don’t change, and don’t kid yourself if you think you are somehow so special or important that you can avoid the consequences of bad decisions.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Joy that Awaits Us

I delivered a presentation on October 27, 2019, as part of a gathering oriented around the question of how local communities can be more intentional about engaging with and dismantling white supremacy. My reflections were made particularly with those in positions of relative privilege and power in mind, especially other White folk. The following is an excerpt and is lightly edited.
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After reflecting on my own upbringing,noting how prevalent and casual racism was in my community in southwest Missouri, as well as how that dynamic fed into a long history of maintaining unjust systems of power and privilege: 
That it took so long for me to access that kind of learning, and that there were no people in my life growing up that both knew it and were willing to share it with me, should be shocking. But it isn’t shocking, it it? Because this kind of ignorance is part of the plan. ... Our history, and our economic power, is built on the bones (and intergenerational trauma) of enslaved Africans, displaced Native Americans, and exploited immigrants. Yet the majority of White people have, at best, remained oblivious to both the history and continued impacts of systemic racism - even while carrying, and passing on, the trauma of white supremacy. This has empowered those in power across all of US history, and not just the Trump administration, to continue on a course of exploiting the weakness of White folk for clinging to a view of the world that is not grounded at all in reality - that is, in the lived experiences of marginalized and oppressed people, especially BIPOC. (https://www.thebipocproject.org/ )


Monday, September 30, 2019

Loneliness, Listening, and the Gift of Presence

I recently offered these reflections as part of a discussion on the causes and impacts of loneliness in the United States. They are lightly edited. 
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In preparation for our discussion today, I began catching up on current research on loneliness. The largest recent study I could find was published in May 2018 by Cigna. They surveyed more than 20,000 adults in the USA and found that 46% of Americans reported to feeling lonely, and 27% “rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.” They also found that: 

  • “Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent). 
  • “One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent). 
  • “Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.” (https://www.cigna.com/newsroom/news-releases/2018/new-cigna-study-reveals-loneliness-at-epidemic-levels-in-america
These are high numbers – high enough that it is statistically likely that a significant amount of us gathered here today can find ourselves in these figures. We all have our own reasons, struggles, stories, anxieties, and fears. And more than a few of us feel isolated, cut off. We may have even tried to reach out, only to feel more misunderstood and alone. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

World Day of Migrants and Refugees

I gave the following reflection at Community Christian Church on September 29, 2019, in honor of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. It is lightly edited. 
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The World Day of Migrants and Refugees has been an annual remembrance in the Roman Catholic Church since 1914. Tragically, the exploitation of migrants and refugees has continued through these years, as our shared and ongoing reflections on the unfolding immigration and refugee crisis on the southwest border of the USA demonstrate. But it is also important to remember that this is a global tragedy. Today, there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; 25.9 million of those are refugees and 3.5 million are asylum seekers. 57% of those refugees come from three nations: Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. Nearly “1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution”. (https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

Monday, July 22, 2019

Equality Also Means Economic Equality

I delivered the following presentation on July 21, 2019, as part of a pre-conference series of talks on Vital Connections. I will be offering a workshop on Mindful Movements in August as part of this conference, but this talk tries to center the conversation around the ways that economic inequality leads to poor social health and drives the fragmentation of community. It is lightly edited. 


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CW: state-sanctioned violence, especially against immigrants and refugees; child sex abuse and predators; impacts of social and economic inequality; descriptions of ergotism (a disease)

There’s a complicated dance that we’re often doing when it comes to public speaking on topics of justice and social change. We want to be intentional about sharing important ideas and practices that can help us keep growing into the beloved community. We also want to speak from an awareness of what is happening in the world and our responsibility to act and live in a way that embodies a commitment to compassion and justice. It is not easy to choose what to leave out, and, as you know, I sometimes try to say too much. But this is one of those moments in history when important news and ongoing crises often demand a response. So I’m going off topic for a few minutes to say something more about the human rights crisis that continues to unfold along the U.S. border and in concentration camps and detention facilities across the nation.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Yes and No – Reflections on Love, Community, and Consent

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riot, which has become an enduring symbol of the persistent and insistent existence of folks with diverse sexual and gender identities. But the anniversary also reminds us of the profound need for continued progress, especially with regard to the most marginalized of us within the queer community. Beginning with this context, I then offer some reflections on relationships, especially regarding consent, that have enriched my life and made me a better person. These reflections were offered during a Pride event at Community Christian Church on June 9, 2019.  


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CW: gender and sexuality antagonisms and violence, especially transantagonsim 

I’d like to take a few minutes this morning, before getting to the topic at hand, to remember and honor the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riot. A lot has changed, or begun to change, over these years. Queer folks are not generally considered to be mentally ill anymore.(https://www.hrc.org/blog/flashbackfriday-today-in-1973-the-apa-removed-homosexuality-from-list-of-me and  https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/27/new-health-guidelines-propel-transgender-rights ) More people are acknowledging and embracing their sexuality and gender identity, both privately and publicly. (https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/record-4-5-percent-u-s-adults-identify-lgbt-gallup-n877486 ) There’s been progress in the general public’s understanding and acceptance of at least some of our identities and in at least some countries, (https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/global-lgbtq-acceptance-more-polarized-new-research-finds-n871106 ) and some progress in gaining basic rights and legal protections.(https://time.com/5554531/equality-act-lgbt-rights-trump/  ) I say ‘some,’ not because I’m ungrateful, but because I want to be honest. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Treacherous & Unintended Consequences"

The following are brief remarks given at Christian Community Church on April 28, reflecting on the recent violent acts that filled the news, including the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. They have been lightly edited.

CW: Mass and state-sanctioned violence, anti-semitism
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Last Sunday, April 21, coordinated attacks at Christian churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka killed approximately 253 people and injured more than 500 more. (https://nypost.com/2019/04/25/sri-lanka-easter-bombing-death-toll-revised-to-253/ ) The investigation is ongoing, but Sri Lankan officials announced that the attacks were carried out by a “local Islamist militant group, with suspected international assistance.” The Sri Lankan State Minister of Defense further speculated that the bombings were in retaliation for the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, last March. And, whether it is true or not, the “Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said … targeted Christians and ‘citizens of Crusader coalition states.’” (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/sri-lanka-easter-bombings-retaliation-for-christchurch-mosque-shootings-says-official/ar-BBWa1GU?ocid=spartanntp )

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Climate Change and Economic Inequality

I recently participated in a local event honoring Earth Day, featuring presentations on climate change, the IPCC report, and the Green New Deal. I delivered a brief presentation that highlighted the connections between climate change and economic justice. My remarks are lightly edited. 
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If you have a pragmatist in your life, you have no doubt heard the saying, “Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.” It’s good sense, although it breaks down when it comes to the topic of catastrophic climate change. There’s no real way we can adequately comprehend, let alone prepare for, the worst case scenario here. In fact, this is the most risky and horrifying case of brinkmanship we have ever engaged in as a species.

What’s frustratingly difficult for most of us is our relative powerlessness when it comes to actually doing something meaningful to address climate change. It is true that all of us, especially all of us in the United States, are complicit. But we have also known for years that climate change is most driven by the choices of the very rich, and it is much easier to change light bulbs and grocery bags than the decisions of the rich and powerful. Addressing climate change will necessarily require addressing economic justice; they cannot be separated.  

Monday, April 8, 2019

Social Rejection & Social Change

I delivered this reflection on April 7, 2019, at Community Christian Church. After introducing some of the growing body of research that documents the impacts of social rejection on human health, I raise some questions about how we might more strategically build community and work for social change. It is lightly edited.


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CW: Sl-t shaming, bullying, social rejection

I was finishing high school when Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States. By his impeachment trial, I was in graduate school. And by the time he left office, I was married and working at a university. So it was that Clinton’s administration provided the context for me as a person growing into an understanding of myself, the world, and humanity’s place in it. The policies and debates of that time, both good and bad, invited me to think critically about all sorts of things that remain important in my life.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Honesty and Hope

I delivered this reflection on March 10, 2019, at Community Christian Church. It is lightly edited. Also, because this topic was too big for such a brief talk, I am creating a workbook to encourage reflective practices on working with uncertainty while we work together for social change. I'll link to it here when it is completed.  


CW: Climate Change, Climate Anxiety, Topics related to Emotional Distress


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Like many of you, my own path has included a process of giving up dishonest certainty in favor of honest uncertainty. Like all humans, I’ve experienced hardship, from health conditions to traumatic experiences to economic vulnerability to marginalization and rejection. However, being honest about just how far that uncertainty extends into daily life is usually neither comfortable nor easy. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Gender Neutral Pronouns

Gender neutral pronouns are useful in general, but for many folks who identify outside the female/male gender binary, they can be an important part of self-advocacy and shifting social norms to include nonbinary gender identities

Many nonbinary folk still use binary pronouns, such as she and he. However, many of us have chosen to use gender neutral pronouns, such as they/them or xe/xir. 

1. Good news: you already know how to use them!

Even if this feels unusual to you, it is very likely that you already use gender neutral pronouns, perhaps without realizing it. For example, if you see a phone sitting on a table, you might say: 
 "I wonder who left their phone here? I hope they can get it back soon. I wonder how I can find them to give it back?" 
2. Third Person Pronouns

Please note that we are talking about third person pronouns. For example, if you are speaking to me, you would say, 
I think you will love this movie, it might be your new favorite! (second person)
If you are speaking about me, you would say, 
I think they will love this movie; it might be their new favorite! (third person)
3. Communicating Respect, Shifting Norms

Using the appropriate pronouns is a way of showing that you respect our gender identities, and that you want to be part of shifting social norms to include diverse genders. Thank you!

And don't worry - most of us are accustomed to folks making mistakes. Shifting norms takes practice! If you mess up, just pause, use the correct pronoun, and keep going. 

However, many of us experience a refusal to use our pronouns as a signal that you don't respect our identities or our efforts to create a just society. If you find yourself resistant to using the appropriate pronouns, I would invite you to spend some time reflecting on why that is, how your resistance is impacting your relationship with the person(s) involved, and how it might impact your commitment to social justice. 

4. More Information

If you are interested in learning more, here are some resources that you may find helpful:
And 
Thank you!

Monday, January 28, 2019

We Don't Have to Do This Alone (Community Responses to Sexual Abuse)

CW: childhood sexual abuse and related topics

On January 27, 2019, I took part in a panel presentation and discussion on the subject of addressing childhood sexual abuse and pedophilia in our communities. The panel included researchers, mental health providers, pastors, and community activists. I gave the concluding remarks, which appear here in a lightly edited form. 


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Pedophilia and child sexual abuse are topics that we are not used to discussing at all, let alone in public, which is why included multiple voices here today. We need all these perspectives: researchers, practitioners, pastors, parents, survivors, artists, and more. For myself, I’ve also dealt with this issue on multiple levels. I experienced sexual abuse as a child; I’ve worked with both perpetrators and victims while providing pastoral care and community programming; I’ve been a foster parent to children who experienced sexual abuse; I’ve been an artist who channeled anger, grief, healing, and hope into music and writing.