Let’s Stop Dismissing Our Young People (Our Decency May Depend Upon It)

My son recently pointed out how much I break the law. At first, I resisted what he had to say. Eventually, I surrendered to it. And, in doing so, I realized how much young people have to teach us about how far we adults have strayed from the decent, dignified lives we once aspired to, and once tried to inspire them to…

wisdom of children

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I’m driving a lot slower these days.

A month ago, my oldest son Aidan got his driver’s permit. He’s taking Driver’s Ed and he has read The Rules of the Road and he’s learning how to do this whole driving thing by the book. He’s learning about why speed limits exist, and where you should stop at a stop sign, and how to stay precisely in your lane when making a turn. Which means he’s a total pain in the butt when I’m driving.

Because I break the rules all the time.

He points out regularly that I don’t keep my hands at 10 and 2—in fact, I rarely have two hands on the wheel. I pay way too much attention to my phone. If I stop completely at a stop sign at all, it’s at least two yards ahead of it. I treat the speed limit like a speed suggestion. I treat yellow lights like commands to speed up rather than slow down. I treat my blinker like its optional.

I don’t drive according to The Rules of the Road; I drive as if I rule the road.

So, he’s been teaching me how to drive properly again and, I’ll be honest, at first, I dismissed him. At first, I appealed to my driving record—one ticket in twenty-five years and low insurance premiums. Then, I appealed to comparison—other people break the rules worse than I do and at least I don’t look at social media while I’m driving. Finally, I appealed to my age and experience and authority—“You know, Son, The Rules of the Road are one thing but the reality of the road is something else altogether.”

Fortunately, he won’t let me get away with that kind of defensive, dismissive, condescending, authoritarian, patriarchal nonsense.

So, in the end, I agreed it would be best for me to drive according to the actual rules of the road. And yesterday, while I was driving to the grocery story, I was thinking (now that I’m going the speed limit, I have a lot more time to think while driving) about how much better my driving is now that I have surrendered to what he is re-teaching me about the proper ways to drive. And it made me wonder:

How much better would my life be if I let him re-teach me about the proper ways to live?

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Can You See Yourself in All of Them?

She stands there, small as any eight year-old, hidden in the towering aisles of the toy store. She picks up the Magic 8 Ball and shakes it. It comes up Yes. She sighs with relief. The question asked by this little girl of this little toy? “Will I ever fit in this world?”

In her, I see me.

compassion

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He hobbles forward, looking bewildered, a ten-year-old searching the crowd for help. He falls into the crushed rock and shattered shells battered by time into sand. The tender underside of his foot sliced from fore to aft. Skin parted. Blood flowing. He grits his teeth and calls it the Red Sea. He’s a little wounded and a little brave.

In him, I see me.

The teenager wakes early, before the sun, before his parents. Pours a bowl of cereal for himself. He gathers his Thermos full of ice and water, his sandwich full of turkey and cheese, and his heart full of questions and peace. He heads into the fields, into the eventually burning sun. He gives his day to the earth.

In him, I see me.

The old man moves slowly, carefully. He looks at the ground as he walks, scanning the terrain for danger. He picks his way around a rock, big as a boulder to an ant, big as a boulder to a man approaching his second century. One slip and he’s bedridden for a month, for a year. For the rest of his life? Fragile, and he knows it.

In him, I see me.

The father of two is covered in wood shavings and sweat. He’s got ten minutes to finish felling the tree. Then, he must go. To take his boy to basketball camp. To make sure his daughter isn’t staring into a screen all day. To try to keep it all together. To rest his weary bones.

In him, I see me.

The woman stands on the corner, her mouth slouched to one side, her eyes too far apart, her bra straps showing, shouting at the traffic passing by, for no apparent reason. Her words are slouched like her mouth. Something is off here, perhaps a chromosome. Her hands rest on a stroller in front of her. The baby in it hollers like her mother. A different kind of sadness.

In both of them, I see me.

The disheveled man lays on the curb, on his right side, his right arm stretched out as a pillow for his head. His resting place a street corner. His home the streets. His eyes are open but not open. Looking at him, a little boy’s heart breaks. The boy looks downward at his treasured left over food, turns around, crouches down, gives away his bounty, and enters into the gift of downward mobility.

In both of them, I see me.

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How to Recognize Where You Truly Belong

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.

Or maybe, for the moment, I’m just feeling humble enough to hear the answer. Either way, on a random Sunday afternoon, I ask my oldest son, Aidan—a teenager with plenty of insights and opinions about our family—what is the most unbearable thing about having me for a father? His answer:

All the sighing.

family belonging

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My wife corroborates his report. She says I’ve been walking around sighing a lot. I know there’s some truth to it. Plenty. So, I start paying attention to myself. For the rest of the afternoon, I catch myself sighing more than a dozen times. In part, I’m trying to relax, but more often than I’d like to admit, the sighing is communicating something.

It’s communicating that I feel burdened, not by the stress inside of me, but by the stress around me.

So, here’s my son, in the midst of his adolescent search for a place to belong—a place where he is embraced, not because he is easy but because he is worthy—and hoping to find that place with his father. Instead, all too often, rather than finding belonging, he hears a sigh.

How can we recognize the places we truly belong?

We belong where our worthiness is not dependent upon our easiness. We belong where we can be a burden without feeling like a burden. We belong where we can be needy and still feel wanted. We belong where we can be messy and loved, broken and embraced, complicated and celebrated.

In other words, the place we truly belong is where our humanity is not met with a sigh.

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What to Do When the News Is All Bad

I’m standing in the dark, but I can hear the daylight.

In my neck of the woods, as autumn becomes more frail, cicadas mark the daytime—around midday, they awake and begin their daily song. Then, around sundown, they are supposed to recede, and the crickets preside over the darkness, humming until daybreak. And yet, sometimes, they overlap.

I’m standing in the dark, but I can hear the daylight.

If I listen closely, threaded throughout the din of crickets, I can hear the rebellious hum of cicadas refusing to go gently into the night. And here’s the thing: if you listen closely, a bunch of insects can teach you about how darkness and light really work:

Always, darkness and light overlap.

mindfulness

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There is, it seems, darkness everywhere right now. Charlottesville and hate, hurricanes and devastation. Earthquakes in Mexico, a massacre in Vegas, wildfires in California. The darkness of political and racial division everywhere, even on a gridiron. Data breaches and the dark web and the unfathomable darkness it harbors. Terror and trafficking and more terror.

If you read the headlines, it is easy to believe darkness reigns.

But the truth is, the news is called the news not because it is common, but because it is rare. If my kids came to me and told me they had big news and I asked what it was and they told me they’d just gone to the bathroom, I’d tell them that’s not news. News is the exception to the rule. So, when the news industry reports on the darkness, they are flooding you with outliers. That’s their job.

The truth is, there’s not enough server space in all the world to contain the very, very common light in all the world. The good news is so common, there’s not enough channels on television to contain it all. In fact, the good news is so ordinary, it’s not news at all. It’s just life. And it’s happening right here, right now, all the time, in the midst of the very sensational darkness.

Always, darkness and light overlap.

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Why We’re Lonelier Than Ever (and What to Do About It)

In Chicago, at the peak of the eclipse, you could still see about 13% of the sun. That is, I think, about how much remains of our communal life, as well. This is what I mean by that, this is the damage it is doing to us, and this is what we can do about it…

lonely

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As the eclipse began to wane, I looked to my side and saw one other person on the hillside next to me. She too was lowering her gaze and removing her eclipse glasses. Our eyes met. We smiled at the same time. No words. Just a smile. I can’t be sure what her smile meant, but I know what my smile was saying:

In this space and time, we were enjoying the same experience.

We were two people paying attention to this one thing.

We shared this.

As I walked off the hillside, I wondered why her small smile had moved me more than the vast crescent smile of the sun shining around the moon. I think it was a feeling of connectedness—a sense of unity that transcends familiarity; a sense of belonging that can happen even amongst strangers who are sharing experiences in community.

But our communal life is going extinct.

And it is making us lonelier than ever.

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What Is Christmas? (It’s When We Defiantly Choose the Light)

new year's resolution

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Last weekend, I hosted my first Christmas party as an employer.

Okay, the truth is, I didn’t host it. My business partner has the gift of hospitality, so he was in charge of organizing the party for our therapy practice. But I figured the evening’s toast would fall to me, so on the morning of the party I awoke early to write it, intending to record a few words about the beauty of the past year.

But the truth is, for each of us at the party, 2016 was not always beautiful. Mess, loss, hardship, grief, sorrow. Professionally, we’d sat with the pain of broken people for a whole year. Personally, we had been those people.

I don’t think we’re alone.

In the last month, I’ve heard countless people say they decorated early for Christmas this year because they needed a little more joy. Many of us, it seems, were deeply craving a season of lights. And of course we were—do you remember this Year of Our Lord 2016?

This was the year of Syria and Aleppo and four million bloodied and displaced refugees with no place to go; of lethal bombs in Brussels and Belgium, mass shootings in Paris and Miami, a deadly renegade truck in Nice, controversial police shootings, and countless quiet tragedies in places not important enough to make the headlines. This was the year of Zika and babies born mortally wounded; of thirteen disastrous fires in the parched state of California and a single devastating blaze in Tennessee; of hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis. This was the year that art died in the form of David Bowie and Prince and Leonard Cohen and Gene Wilder and Professor Snape, to name just a few.

This was the year of Brexit.

This was the year that hate speech and hate crimes went mainstream once again. This was the year in which a presidential election left half of a country celebrating and half of a country grieving and a whole country—the most powerful on the planet—wholly divided. This was the year even the news—that most reliable of things—became fake and questionable and untrustworthy. This was the year we tapped on our news apps and held our breath, waiting for the next tragedy.

And that is only a fraction of the heartache that happened in homes and around the globe.

Of course we need a little light.

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How to Choose Your Friends in the Aftermath of the Election

The Presidential election has tested friendships and relationships of all kinds. In the wake of such a divisive contest, there may be only one truly healing way to choose your people…

empathy

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The day after the election, I had a scheduled phone call with a long-distance friend of mine. We live in very different parts of the country, have some overlap in our spiritual beliefs and even more overlap in our commitment to fatherhood and vocation, but my guess was that he voted for the other candidate. When he picked up, instead of saying hello, I asked him who he voted for.

I’m not very good at small talk.

Indeed, he had voted differently than me. We talked for thirty minutes about the election, our reasons for voting the way we did, and then we hung up the phone. After hanging up, I made a decision about the friendship: I decided he was one of my people. Because ideology and politics is not the most important criteria for choosing a friend.

Empathy is.

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How to Talk with Family About Politics This Holiday Season

What do you get when you mix family, the holidays, and politics? Gratitude and goodwill toward all, right? Well, actually…

election

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A number of years ago—when marijuana was still illegal everywhere—I stumbled into a particularly heated marijuana debate between two acquaintances. They weren’t a couple of half-baked high school kids raging against The Man; they were two highly educated professionals. One man was aggressively in favor of legalizing marijuana, the other man violently opposed to it.

They asked for my opinion.

I remember feeling a sense of dread, like I was wading into dangerous waters, with hungry things swimming beneath the murky surface. The debate did not go well.

They rarely do, do they?

Today, we find ourselves at the end of a season of unproductive debates, and at the beginning of a new season. We have important problems to solve and differing opinions about how to do so. Differences between people create tension, tension leads to conflict, and conflict usually results in gridlock at best and violence at worst. But it doesn’t have to.

In fact, sometimes, conflict can be the beginning of authentic community…

The marijuana debate had ended and I was in the car on the way home with my wife when I finally got a glimpse beneath the surface of the ideological waters I’d been swimming in. She explained that the legalization advocate had recently watched his father die a slow and painful death from cancer, while marijuana was the only thing that relieved his father’s suffering.

The man’s grief had given rise to his opinions.

In contrast, the marijuana opponent had been raised in a family torn apart by drug addiction. His brother had gone through repeated treatments and relapses and it had devastated the entire family. His pain, too, had given rise to his opinions. There was something floating beneath the surface of that contentious debate:

Stories.

The stories of two hurting people. Stories of fear and pain and anguish and loss. Stories that formed their ideas and opinions and beliefs. Stories that gave birth to natural conclusions about the way the world works best. It turns out, a person’s ideas are never simply their ideas. Opinions and beliefs are never born in a vacuum; they are always the logical result of our experiences.

Every opinion is a story in disguise.

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A Father’s Letter to His Little Ones (In the Wee Hours of the Election)

Dear Little Ones,

You are already asleep in your beds. It’s late, and I’m going to bed. It’s been a long election day.

election results

When this day began, I woke up, and I walked to the corner coffee shop in the dim, predawn light, down streets already aglow with Christmas lights. Ordinarily, I would have been cynical about the early start to the holiday season. This morning, I was grateful for the reminder that there is light in the world and, soon, we will be celebrating it. I arrived at the coffee shop. It was more crowded than normal. Almost certainly, these were voters who had awoken earlier than usual. But for a moment, just one blessed moment, I didn’t see voters. I didn’t see politics; I saw people. Just human beings, trying to wake up to yet another day, trying in some more profound way to wake up to this one life. They weren’t, at that moment, casting votes; they were just breathing. Eating. Drinking.

Little Ones, we have far more in common than in conflict, and we would know this if, instead of seeing fear and anger and ideology, we could see beneath the surface: our beating hearts, the blood pulsing through our veins, lungs filling and emptying, joints aging and aching. This morning, for one peaceful moment, I saw all these people this way, and in that moment, the lights on the trees outside weren’t the only lights I could see in the world.

It is late, and I’m going to bed, and it’s not clear how this whole disgraceful American season is going to end. I don’t know who will be the leader of our land. I don’t know how that leader will influence the laws of our land. These are things we cannot control. But as I turn in, I can tell you what we can control: the law of our family’s land—the law of this land inside our four walls.

We will love everyone who crosses our path.

Those who are most in need, are those who are most in need of us.

Fear is fired. It doesn’t get to call the shots for us.

Anger is okay. But not when it harms, only when it redeems.

Arrogance is natural, but we will call upon something supernatural within us to put it down.

Grace is a way of seeing. It is Love seeing the beauty at the center of everything. We will see to the center.

All those things your kindergarten teacher told you to do? Be kind. Share. Include. Create……Do them. Be laughed at for doing them all the way into adulthood. Keep doing them.

Remember, each of you play an indispensable role in this family of ours. Remember, everyone plays an indispensable role in this great big family of ours called humanity.

Little Ones, like those lights on the trees of the street, and like those lights in the people in the coffee shop, there is a light inside each of you. Here is the most important law of our little land:

Let it shine.

Yours,

Daddy

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How to Dream a Better Dream Than This Nightmare We’re Living In

Have you been feeling a little more afraid than usual? You know, just a little more…uneasy? I have. So have many people I know. I couldn’t make any sense of it, though, until I started having a recurring nightmare…

black and white thinking

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I haven’t had a recurring nightmare since childhood.

Until three months ago.

It begins with me standing in our kitchen, looking out upon our front yard. Then, suddenly, a large black-and-white conversion van comes barreling recklessly up our driveway toward the house. It narrowly misses the kitchen and passes out of sight, presumably to crash directly into the office next to the kitchen. I cringe and wait for the explosion.

But I hear only silence.

I peer around the corner into the study and, magically, the black-and-white van is sitting in the middle of our house. There is no one in it. It’s hazard lights are blinking ominously. Everything is dead silent. I approach the black-and-white van and, with trepidation, throw open its two rear doors. It is empty with the exception of a large box. Somehow, I know there is an old VHS tape in the box.

Somehow, I know the contents of the tape will be terrifying.

The nightmare dissolves at this point, and then resumes with me watching the tape on an old television screen. The images on the tape are like the most horrifying horror movie ever made. Death. Destruction and pain. Tragedy to the nth degree. And intermingled with all of it, a terrifying foreboding.

I always wake up at this point.

I avoided thinking about the nightmare for months. However, like all recurring dreams, until you get the message, it is unlikely to go away. So, I spent an hour fully immersing myself in the imagery of the nightmare. When I did so, the tragic images from the videotape receded and two other images from the nightmare became more prominent.

The first was the image of the tape itself, sitting in the black-and-white van.

As I meditated upon the image of the tape, a phrase kept coming to mind: “The tapes we play in our head.” Suddenly, I knew with relative certainty the tape represented my mental thought patterns—all the habitual narratives and stories I tell myself about myself, about other people, and about the world. My nightmare was telling me I’d been rehearsing some pretty crummy narratives about life. Then I realized: the images on that television screen weren’t of a horror movie; they were of the news channels.

My nightmare was telling me it’s time to turn off the news. 

My nightmare was telling me that the news is running only images of horror and destruction, death and tragedy, and that they are fomenting my—our—fear. Because the mental tapes we play over and over become our reality, regardless of what is really happening in the world. I’ve been watching too much news, and my mental world is being filled with the fear of it, while in the meantime, the good news is written all over the actual world, and I’m missing out.

The reality is, the world is also filled with beauty and wonder and joy and love and kindness and grace and charity and compassion.

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