October 5, 2012 Redux in 2016

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Oct. 5 ~ Civility supports the dignity of all persons by allowing all to be heard. #civility

*It’s easy to try to shout over someone. It’s easy to judge someone as not worthy of being heard. Give the gift of hearing someone out. Dignity is a mutual possession, we cannot deny it to one and save it for another.

There is a difference between allowing someone to speak, and listening to them. We have all been in situations where we had a voice, but no one else had ears. A great measure of dignity is afforded to both the speaker and listener when a person is given the gift of being heard.

Letting people speak is a good thing… it is respectful and civil. And it is usually for the most part passive. When we really listen we move from passive to active. Look at the other person, make eye contact, set aside distractions.

Don’t just try to think of the quickest, strongest retort while someone speaks. Instead, listen and let their words be fully spoken, fully heard, and then have a moment to their own. Taking time like this can help both the speaker and listener understand what was said. It’s also amazing how an active, attentive listener can help the speaker focus on their words for greater clarity and efficacy.

We’re talking about actual communication happening! That’s a good thing! It’s a great thing! It’s an affirming partnership even in disagreement.

October 3, 2012 Redux in 2016

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Oct. 3 ~ Civility requires more of us than just winning… it requires connection with the other. #civility

And I don’t mean that quite as mystical as it might sound. I mean really, we are required to connect with the other person. It may be more fun to ridicule them or label them in ways that create distance between you, but that is not civil, not what brings ideas together, and certainly not what facilitates sharing and creation of new options and innovations.

Incivility says, “He’s Un-American!” or “She’s a Socialist!” Incivility believes that winning an argument at the cost of someone’s dignity is acceptable. Incivility divides so that we alone are good and right, and the other is evil and wrong.

Every four years in America we face “the most crucial election of our time.” Why do people speak like that? It’s simple. They want you afraid and prepared to win at all costs. When you are afraid that our society and civilization teeters every four years on the brink of destruction, then civil discourse sounds a bit passe and requires too much time to pursue. Instead, just rip and tear, and do what it takes to win.

That kind of thinking denies that you  have anything in common with “the other,” the other person, the other party, the other idea, the other side. It takes a bit of effort, but we can step right over that kind of thinking. We can step right past it and realize vital connections that bring us together in ways that create friendship, collaboration and better options for our society. We are far more alike and connected than incivility can tolerate.

Three Reasons I LOVE This Video

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You’ve maybe seen this gem floating around Facebook…

I love this video. Really. I LOVE it, and I have three reasons why I think it’s great.


I love this video because it truthfully expresses that a woman should not bear the burden of any man’s unwanted attention or sexual aggression. Period. A man at no time or in any place has the right to force his unwanted sexual attention upon a woman. Coercive and aggressive behavior that causes fear or anxiety is wrong and should be stopped. We need to be saying this loudly and often and in every way possible, and the video is a wonderful example of saying it loud and clear.


Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 9.41.12 AMI love this video because it correctly references and relates to all religions and their concern for women. All religions are found steeped in and in conflict with their host cultures. I love that the video appropriately makes room for all of us to engage this important topic. Too often we use important issues like this to score points for our own group and condemn another group. This issue of responding to sexual aggression belongs to all. And before anyone from my group gets too tweaked over the video’s tagline that “Every religion protects women, protecting women is religion” allow me me remind you that such sentiments come straight from our scriptures. James 1:27 in the NLT, Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. And Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Caring for one another and loving our neighbor means protecting women from sexual violence, fear and aggression. Such truly is religion.


batmanI love this video because it doesn’t advocate violence. We are so addicted to violent responses. We all want to be Batman, kicking butts and taking names. It’s sad that so many of us grew up only seeing violent responses modeled in media and life. I love loVE LOVE that image of the nonviolent circle of protection created around the woman in this video. Powerful stuff! We don’t need to fight one another. We need to stand together.

AMDG, Todd

Ferguson: The Need to Listen

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Before Ferguson becomes old news in the wake of a more recent death or similar narrative to the sad loss of Michael Brown’s life, I want to ask just one thing of my beloved friends and neighbors who are not African American: Please, start listening and validating your African American neighbors’ stories, fears and feelings.

civility oct 6 2012

It’s time for us to fully hear and validate the narratives from our African American sisters and brothers across this country. We have to listen, to hear the fear and to hear the pain, and we must accept it. It can be such a blessing to be heard, and such a hurt to be ignored.

When something like the death of Michael Brown occurs, the fatal police shooting of an unarmed young African American male, we begin to hear the multitude of voices saying that this is status quo for their neighborhood. They say that this just part of being black in America, that it’s their fear for their own children, and that it’s just another white man killing a black man. We need to listen to these voices.

I resist listening because to do so is painful. Another armed white man has killed an another unarmed black man, and won’t face any charges, because that’s just the way it is in America. As a white man I cringe and want to look away, to “listen away” if only I could. I want it to not be true. I want it to be wrong. I want to deny the voices. But to deny the words, to ignore the words or to argue against the reality of my neighbor’s fear, pain and frustration, is to add insult to their injury. In fact, it’s worse than insult. It’s further injury.

It’s painful to validate the pain of my neighbor because I must then help carry it. I will sometimes do this for people I know and love, say the people in my family or my closest friends… but to carry the pain of a stranger? To carry the pain of a stranger, a pain that is also an indictment of me and the so near and present history that has been a huge part of me being who I am, and where I am, and what I have? That’s hard for me, a white man.

And yet, listening is exactly what I need to do. I have to listen and believe in the person speaking. I have to validate their story. I must value and give dignity to the experience of my hurting neighbor. If I cannot hear and value my neighbor, then I cannot speak to and journey with my neighbor. I will have already taken from them the value of their presence.

We all need to be heard and validated. When our African American neighbors speak, they must be heard. When their stories are told, we must welcome them to share. And when we are shamed by their words and begin to feel the hurt they are sharing, we must carry it with them. This is the only road to the future.

When our African American neighbors speak of their fear of raising children and the specter of death from police shooting, we must listen. When they speak of fearing the police, we must listen. When they speak of being misunderstood and harassed by white law enforcement, we must listen. When their story is painful to us, we must pay the price of listening.

There’s no way forward other than giving the dignity of thoughtful listening, and the validating worth of being heard. We cannot simply choose a side and hunker down with our arguments in our better neighborhoods and hope for compelling distractions to ease our disquiet… at least until the next shooting.

There are many narratives, and they must be equally heard. The Ferguson narrative is not the only African American narrative of contemporary America, but it is an authentic and valuable narrative that needs to stand alongside the other stories of being an American today.

There are also streams of experience that cut across the many narratives. We won’t begin to find a way forward between communities and their police forces as long as we ignore the real fear, the real pain and the real distrust engendered by histories of abuse, injustice and neglect.

A new narrative comes from our collective pain over the past and present, our redressing of wrongs and our belief in one another. When white Americans quote “black-on-black” crime statistics and point to the background looting that so often accompanies the peaceful voices begging to be heard, we do a deep injustice to the future, theirs and our own.

We cannot just say that we want to move forward. We have to be fully present now. We must trustworthy listeners. Although there is a goodness in attempting to be “color blind,” I’m afraid the weakness of that idea exists in it’s refusal to validate the divergent stories and experiences of different colors.

black like meSo, I’m trying harder than ever to listen, and I ask you to as well. Seek out the stories. Let the voices have their say and be heard. I ask you to want to better understand. Toward that goal, I’m reading Black Like Me at the moment. What the heck, I grew up in Texas and didn’t read this in school!? I grew up a few miles from the author’s home town and never heard of John Howard Griffin!!! Come on, Texas! I only know of him now because my dear friend David Gerard, who is African American, mentioned him in a poem I’m going to share in this post. David is also a musician, a poet and a gracious soul.

wanna hollerYears ago I was affected by reading Nathan McCall‘s  Makes Me Wanna Holler, a book of pain that forced me to hear someone’s story that was so very different from my own. It was hard to read and I wanted to argue at times, but his story needs to be heard and understood.

Maybe you have heard of “the talk,” the talk given to young black men by their parents who fear for them? This is a real part of growing up in America for many families, and we should all own that shame and want a better future.

I ask you, to hear my friend David’s poem, and to love him as I do. I’m going to reproduce the poem here and try to get his arrangement as visually true to his pdf he sent me as possible…


when I try to tell my friends
what it’s like to be a black man in America
they evoke a patronizing empathy

when I try to tell my friends
that there is one standard for me
and a double standard between us
they seek refuge in their denial

when I try to tell my friends
how every black man ever stopped by the Police
wonders if he’ll be shot to death
they say I’m just being melodramatic

when I tell them that i’m nothing
in the eyes of authority
and that my life is easily expendable
they try to change the subject

when I tell my friends
that every black teen from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown
is six feet under due to prejudice and brutality
they ask me to look at “the other side” of things

when I tell my friends
to go undercover, as John Howard Griffin did
and notice the difference in how they are treated
they accuse me of “playing the race card”

when I was twenty-two,
I was talking with a friend
in the lobby of a moviehouse
when a bunch of cops came in

in search of a suspect
they pinned me to the wall and frisked me
because they were looking for a black man

when the victim saw me
and said to them, “That’s not him”
they took their hands off me and left
without apology

when I try to tell my friends
the humiliation and shame I felt
and their casual disregard
they say, “they were just doing their job”

when I try to tell my friends
they will never know what it is
to walk a mile in a black man’s shoes
they just don’t get it

my friends accuse me of playing “the race card”
but that hand was already dealt to me
the day I was born.

18 August, 2014

I thank David for telling his story. I pray that we listen better,  and that together we all can make a way forward, a way that tells and values our stories, and writes a better one for tomorrow.

AMDG, Todd


Recommitting to All People’s Dignity

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Just a quick note!

equals human first runAs I’m doing my whirlwind of usual Sunday morning stuff to get ready for our worship gathering and fellowship time, I’m struck by the intersection of two news stories coming across my desk… the first is of Pope Francis throwing in on peace in the Middle East, and the second is of a conference of atheists in “Bible Belt.”

Of course, the Middle East won’t have peace just because the Pope encourages them to have peace. And the article about atheists in the South probably has a lot of hyperbole and exaggeration.

But it’s undeniably powerful when a Pope speaks of everyone’s dignity, especially the value and dignity of Jewish and Muslim neighbors. And a little hyperbole doesn’t change the fact that many people in communities across America fear the reactions of their Christian neighbors and coworkers to their chosen lack of faith.

Today, let’s recommit ourselves

to upholding the dignity

of all our neighbors.

Let’s be people who sow peace instead of fear. Let’s be people who live grace instead of just singing about it. Let’s be people who transform the world by simple kindness and sincere friendship. This is again our day to shine. This is again our day to commit to salting the earth with joy and with love.

AMDG, Todd

Nov. 23, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture

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value othersNovember 23, Civility is a reflection of humility.

Proverbs 3:34, “He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.”

There is an undeniable stream of thought in scripture that highlights the thrill God feels in elevating the poor and disenfranchised, often at the cost of the rich and un-empathetic who have prospered while their neighbors suffer. It’s not a stream of thought that supports a hatred of rich people or a disdain for wealth, but certainly does remind us that God doesn’t judge our value based on our financial bottom lines. In contrasting generosity and greed Jesus famously said, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

So the Proverb above warns us against a pride which isolates us from God’s favor. God prefers a person to live in humility instead of an inflated idea of self. God favors the oppressed. I think it reflects on God’s character that the joy of the Divine is found in favoring the least able and most needful. God doesn’t sit back and revel in one person’s great accumulation of wealth and pride in self, but in the opportunity to lift another from despair or to reveal that person’s hidden and less known value and worth. I get a strong sense that humility is actually the inner wealth we carry and live, while pride is an infection that can grow from the accumulation of material wealth. I said “can,” not must.

God mocks the mockers. Among the lessons for civility we find in scripture, this one rings loud and clear. A prideful, disdainful attitude that mocks and decreases another’s value is not in line with the movement or favor of God. God isn’t laughing with you when you tear another person down. But a humility that reveals the worth of the other person is joining God in the Divine disposition.

I think civility will be a natural outgrowth of choosing to reveal and support the other person’s value and dignity. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with everyone, but I sure better not value myself over them. I can disagree with someone while still protecting the inherent value of their life, opinions and aspirations. It’s not just that God loves an under dog, God loves to fill gaps of inequity and oppression. Civility, and the humility from which it grows, will create fewer of those gaps by affirming and revealing the value and dignity of others.

AMDG, Todd

Selling each other short…

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I am more than a little heart-sick at this story. And I’m keep the Clementi family in my prayers. Have you seen the story? The shameful treatment of a college student leads him to take his own life.

Ya know, I understand the drive to have the next big viral video. I see people everyday online trying to capture that magic, that big laugh. Some achieve a certain amount of online notoriety, and some simply tear their own dignity to shreds while hurting others in the attempt.

Think for a second about the news stories asking about the rightness of parents who post pics and vids of their toddlers with bong pipes and firearms… why? Because they want a laugh. Never caught those stories? Google it.

And amid all the grotesque stories of cyber-bullying, we have this one… a college roommate and his friend hide a camera to live stream a young man’s love life. That young man then commits suicide in shame. And it’s just all too easy. It’s too easy to plant that camera, to laugh at a friend, to Tweet and post and stream a friend for a few laughs, a few glorious moments of viral power. Tyler Clementi was sold short… his life, he himself. He was worth so very much more than the few laughs his antagonists sought.

I hope at least one person with a webcam and a stupid idea for catching an online laugh will stop and ask… “Am I trading my neighbor off for a selfish grab at a laugh or a few more views? What is my fellow human being worth?” And beyond hoping, I pray that when that person looks inside and gropes around for the answers to those questions, they’ll find love.

Oh, God! Help us love each other!
Break our hearts and teach us mercy!
Teach to pursue each other with grace!

And when we’re done praying? Well, then we have to speak and act for love! Speak and act the value and dignity of our neighbors! We have to be love, be the value and be the dignity of everyone around us! For such things our Christ has suffered the cross!

And here’s just a flashback for you 80’s fans… a song I have often sung along with and admired for it’s honest and good questioning of our need to hate…

"People Are People"
- Martin Gore, Depeche Mode

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully

So we're different colours
And we're different creeds
And different people have different needs
It's obvious you hate me
Though I've done nothing wrong
I've never ever met you so what could I have done

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand

People are people...

Help me understand
Help me understand

Now you're punching
And you're kicking
And you're shouting at me
I'm relying on your common decency
So far it hasn't surfaced
But I'm sure it exists
It just takes a while to travel
From your head to your fists

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand