peace

Why We Must Prosecute Abusive Police Officers

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national march on police violenceWhy would we want to prosecute abusive police officers? Because we aren’t talking about whether all police officers are good or bad. They come in both varieties and we must prosecute the bad ones to respect and help the good ones. We need to recognize the difference so we can better appreciate the good and put an end to the bad.

I recently shared a post from Father James Martin S.J. on Facebook in which he points out that holding a bad officer responsible for abusive behavior is not to be against all officers in general, but against abuse. I’ll go a step further and say that’s it’s a necessity to hold bad officers accountable so that we further differentiate between the two. It is disrespectful in the extreme to every good upstanding police officer to let any overzealous, abusive or criminal officer get away with violence, much less with murder.

There are often stories of police officers who are amazing! I revel in those stories and I enjoy seeing and sharing them on my social media streams. I appreciate so much every officer who takes the job of policing our communities seriously and serves us with their best. Thank God for good police officers! Here are a couple of recent inspiring stories, officers who go the extra mile for people: With Food & Mercy and With Simple Courtesy.

I respect police officers so much. But I’m also going to downtown DC on Saturday to march with everyone else who gathers to protest police brutality. I don’t march because all police officers are bad. I march with families who have lost loved ones to bad policing. I march in memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose lives matter, and whose lives should not have been taken, and whose deaths are real and terrible.

~ I will march because of the lack of indictments for the officers who killed Mr. Brown and Mr. Garner (and so many others). Those missing indictments should scare every single person in this country, black, white, brown, yellow, male, female, etc etc. Can we be so dismissive of gun violence and the brutality of being choked to death that we just go on with our lives? Can two unarmed U.S. citizens be killed on our streets and our justice system simply choose not to address their deaths? Changes are needed.

~ I will march because so many of my friends here in their own country feel disrespected, disenfranchised, targeted and unsafe. Good good people are hurting because we haven’t learned to live together better than this. They carry a burden every day and every time they enter the public arena. I march on Saturday to show my solidarity with them. I march because I love them.

~ I will march because peace and a better tomorrow cannot come from simply ignoring the problems of today. We cannot dismiss this conversation away or ignore the pain and pleas of our neighbors just because it’s more sensational (or self-justifying) to focus on the rioters and looters.

~ And finally, I will march out of hope and a dream of peace, not out of anger or seeking violence. I’m not looking for a fight, but for an honest recognition that we have some real work ahead of us to bring justice to all our people. I will head downtown Saturday with a prayer on my heart and lips that God keeps the violent at bay and holds us all in check, so that voices might be easier heard than dismissed.

You don’t have to march on Saturday, but I sure wish you would. I sure wish you’d raise your voice with all the hurting people who cry for justice, for explanations, for hope for their children. I wish we’d all choose to work harder to speak for one another, seeing ourselves as our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper and the whole human family as our kin and beloved ones. We do not have separate futures in this country, but one shared and connected journey. Our children and grandchildren need us to secure the freedom, equality, safety and justice of that future in every way we can. We’ll only fully realize that hope when we work together.

AMDG, Todd

a brief hymn of peace

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a brief hymn of peaceI offer you a brief hymn of peace from my morning prayers… be blessed, today!

“some days i simply stop
and sing the old hymns
songs well worn
bells long rung
history
faith
connection
stories
fate
reflection
and i sit
with God
sinners
saints
and we are not
undone.”

 

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. 25, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture

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holy spiritNovember 25: Civility is raising the expectations.

Galatians 5:22 & 23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I have to admit that this passage from St. Paul has been a favorite of mine my whole life. It’s not that I have in some way mastered it or think that I’m a great example of it, but it reminds me to raise my expectations for myself, and even for you. I’ve been accused of having a “thin skin” when someone’s rudeness or naughty behavior will be hurt or disappoint me, but I don’t want to let my expectations slip! I’m a textbook Gen-X in some respects, and I always struggle to keep a high level of pessimism and cynicism at bay.

If you want to go and see the list that St. Paul has of the “sinful fruits” (Galatians 6:13-26) you’ll find many of the things we’ve identified and renounced as incivility throughout our exploration of scripture: rage, discord, selfishness, divisiveness. But I’ve never spent a lot of time on the sinful fruits; I know them too well. My imagination is better fed on the fruit of expecting and identifying God in action in me or in you. I want to dwell on those moments when our goodness shines. I like seeing our patience surprise someone, our kindness meet a need, our self-control end a conflict, our love warm a soul, our joy become infectious, and our peace break down barriers and make us a family.

The fruit are a strong reminder that civility is not just what we don’t say, but what we do say. Our faith and spirituality are the same in respect to renouncing some things and embracing some things. Renouncing and letting go of some things can be seen as a bit passive, simply making sure that some things are absent from our lives. Choosing to embrace other things that we wish to manifest in our lives can be a bit more active, even aggressive.

This morning I’m meditating on these on these things that I can embrace, things against which I will never find a law or an obstacle outside of my own heart. I’m going to include a photo with this blog, a six foot goose that my wife and I hand-made and painted for an arts festival a few summers ago. In Celtic spirituality the Holy Spirit is sometimes pictured as a wild goose, and I want God’s presence today in my life to be a goose, to be flamboyant and noisy, aggressive and loud. I want God’s presence in me to take flight.

AMDG, Todd

Nov. 2, 2013 Civility in Xian Scripture

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prayer for peaceNovember 2: Civility flows from valuing peace. What do I bless? 
Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
 
Jesus does many surprising things in his teaching, and the passage we call the “beatitudes” is where he kicks off a major reordering of our lives. The idea of being a peace-maker is a lost art in most discourse today, even in religious discourse. Jesus called the peacemakers “blessed.” We sometimes call them derogatory things like weak, waffling, appeasing or losers. We too often prefer “winning” and at all costs.
 
We’re usually too concerned with “winning” or “dominating” to worry about peace. In a society that is drenched in criticism and division we gravitate to what we perceive as “strength.” We too often bless the harsh. We bless the clever and the sarcastic. We bless the scathing turn of phrase. We bless the spin. We bless the winner. Today’s social media and inter-connectivity is cool, but it’s also fast and furious. I’m not sure why, but alongside our increasing ability to share, we’ve developed an increased ability and joy in criticizing and tearing down. So our sharing becomes a contest, a war of images and words to see who can score a point, defeat an opinion or win a debate.  The troll lives in each of us.
 
Jesus blesses a weird bunch of people in Matthew 5… poor, hopeless, mourning, hungry and meek to name a few. He blesses those who show mercy. He blesses those who strive for peace. As religious people and folks driven by faith, we sure spend a lot of time speaking of one another and acting toward one another in uncivil ways, peace-breaking ways. One of my favorite quotes from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” The gift of speech and language is an awesome responsibility. 
 
The beatitudes present us with a picture of a reciprocating community in which the grieving are comforted, the merciful find mercy, the heart-full seekers find God and those committed to peace are named the offspring of God. I like to think of this passage as a wheel with spokes… there’s an integrity and completeness to the design that moves it forward. Strike out a spoke and the wheel is weakened. Supplant peace with coercion, force or discord, and the wheel grinds to a halt. If we cease to bring comfort and mercy, who will bring it to us?
 
I also like the language of inheritance in the passage. Inheritance is the created wealth and legacy of one generation imparted to the next. What inheritance are we leaving? Are we leaving an example and inheritance of peace by being a people devoted to one another? Are we leaving an inheritance of a faith in ruins from our cutting remarks and judgmental criticisms that bring more grief and less peace, even as they win arguments or bolster our own position?
 
Let’s meditate on the peace in which Christ has called us. Let’s meditate on the griefs in which we have been comforted, by God and by our community of faith. Let’s prepare ourselves to strive for a peace that does not require someone’s defeat. What do I bless?
AMDG, Todd

Facebook Etiquette: An Exercise for Us All

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facebook shotEveryone should write a blog on Facebook etiquette. It just makes sense that if we are going to use a social media tool as much as we do we should be thinking about how we use it. So right away, I want to say: I’m not writing this piece as only a corrective to some naughtiness I’ve noticed in others, but also as an exercise for myself.

I’m not writing out of any pet peeves about vague posts, TMI posting or vague posting, but just a simple frustration that so many people ignore basic concepts of civility and courtesy on Facebook. The nature of social media gives us a creative and powerful platform for misbehaving.

I’ll try to distill my thoughts into a few simple ideas, “best practices” as it were. These are ideas to which I personally aspire, even if I don’t always manage to hit the target. And though they would save me loads of frustration if more people followed them (and i did a better job myself), they would also help make some generally smart people look a lot wiser than they seem when posting. So here we go…

1. You’re Never Too Old to Do Some Homework

Since the dawn of the internet it has been a home to sometimes entertaining and often frustrating urban myths, fictional anecdotes and intentional misinformation. We are human, and so we are frail and prone to screwups. We all have our blind spots and we all have our prejudices, even if we are working hard to overcome those prejudices. Too often the false stories and alarmist anecdotes that circulate Facebook and other forms of social media strike at the heart of our seen and unseen prejudices, and finding fertile soil they take root and grow into annoying shares and posts.

So when something comes along that looks like a perfect stone on which to grind your political, religious or social axe, do some homework first. Check a story out before you post it or share it. Check the sources. Check the source on Facebook, and see if you can check other sources online or offline… did someone really say what is being said they said? When someone shares a quote from our President (Republican or Democrat) in which they admit to practicing Satanism to win elections and brainwash school children into becoming Duran Duran fans, ask yourself how silly you’ll look for posting it if they didn’t actually say it. If the photo or story was originally shared on Facebook by “I’m a Communist Donut on Steroids” or “Screw All People Who Don’t Think Like Me” you might want to rethink sharing the gem. I made those names up just now, but they probably exist and will troll me next week. Oh well.

Even if it’s a heart-warming story or feel-good anecdote about human goodness, check it out before posting. I have a theory that all the fake feel-good stories that circulate and make the rounds, just to be later debunked, are just adding more cynicism to the world. Then there’s the “God did this…” stories about atheist professors and beakers or chalk and the triumphant young Christian student… all not true. Falsehood and misinformation, even if intended to inspire, will only inoculate us to sincere and meaningful engagement with the true stories of human goodness and inspiration that come our way. A great resource for this homework is Snopes.com! We also have be to careful of parody news sites. Most of know by now that The Onion is all in jest, but I’ve recently seen people expressing genuine angst over stuff from Larknews.

2. Be Happy in 3rd Place

This really goes along with the first thought… we need to slow down and stop trying to be the first to post everything. This speed and haste is just making us sloppy and discouraging us from taking the time to do the meaningful homework. Besides, some jerky friend with more followers than you will just share your story or post it without giving you credit anyway, and they’ll look like the trendsetter. =) But the peer pressure to be first and fast is real as more and more internet sites prod us to be the “first of your friends” to like, share or recommend something. And who doesn’t like to be the first among their friends to get some laughs with the latest angry cat pic?

But really, let’s slow down. One of my favorite sayings from East Africa is “Haraka haraka, haina baraka.” It translates as “Hurry hurry, no blessing” and means, “Slow down, dude… hurrying only makes trouble for you.” We need to stop and think about what we’re posting and why. Is it a post I want to live with a year from now? Is it a true post, accurate and authentic as it’s represented? This is an important question when it comes to “re-sharing” many things that roll across our Facebook feeds. It might take time to find the answers.

If you take some time, reflect on something and refine the ideas you really want to communicate, you just might find that “third place” is actually a big win. When big news hits or controversial ideas start rolling around, and people immediately begin glutting our social avenues with partial, misinformed or inflammatory responses, you might find that a day later you have an eager audience for well-thought and well-worded reflections of your own.

3. It’s Called a “Meme”, Not a “Mean”

Yeah, I was trying to make a pun with that one, but I hope you’ll keep reading anyway. And I’m pretty serious… the mean memes that just want hurt people, ridicule others and divide us into us/them pockets of angst-ridden combativeness really suck eggs IMHO. Many of the mean memes I see are pics that started funny, but someone altered or redirected them to grind a political, social or religious axe. Yuck.

Does anyone honestly believe that a mean-spirited political meme is going to score some actual influence or alter another person’s view? It’s a meme, dude. My advice is that we keep the memes light and humorous. Let’s not try to get real deep, hoping to explain global economic perspectives with a one-frame visual and less letters than a 140 character Tweet. I’m raising my hand as one guilty of tying. A good rule of thumb might be that if my meme is going to attack or mock someone, it should attack and mock me. I mean, there’s just not enough self-deprecating humor in the world, but it’s usually the funnest if not funniest because of it’s obvious rooting in the truth.

This is a matter of civility. A mean meme attacks, but doesn’t offer any chance for a rebuttal, defense or dialogue. Because of this one-sided nature a meme is typically going to be grossly unfair in it’s attack. I’ve been told that I’m maybe just a bit too “thin skinned” when I talk about this stuff and I need to “man up” and “thicken my skin.” Thanks, but I really don’t want to. Why would I thicken my skin and pitch in with one-sided attitudes of attack and point-scoring when dialogue and civil exchanges accomplish so much more? Let’s just chose our memes wisely and with a bit more whimsy. I promise that this will be my goal.

And this is no just about moving away from meanness in memes, but I would say all meanness in our postings. A noticed a friend of mine recently on Facebook had to say something like, “If you keep using comments to my posts to attack [a particular religion] with nasty statements and meanness, I’m going to delete your statements and unfriend you.” It is so heart warming that we have to police our religious conversations with such justified threats, isn’t it? No, it’s pretty sad. Meanness sucks. Meanness doesn’t score points or win big in any arena of competing ideas and ideologies… maybe one day we’ll have a “Facebook Penalty Box” where we can send our naughty friends for a few days of timeout, so we don’t have to unfriend them.

4. Use Your Powers for Good

Social media has given us all a voice. Like never before each person can broadcast their best or worst, even if our respective audiences differ. We can blog, vlog, update our status in a hundred forums, tweet, post, like and share! Indeed, my friends… we have super powers. We have new strengths of reaching out with our thoughts, opinions, beliefs and reflections. So let us remember the great medical axiom, primum non nocere“First do no harm.”

We should use our powers for good. We must seek the good, own the good and advance the good. This is the higher calling of social media, beyond the drive to be first, be humorous and even be heard. Trolls know the lessons well. I can be crass, mean and vulgar, and draw a great crowd for my antics. I can be funny, at the expense of others, and be heralded and be made a superstar. Or I can add to the world what is needed most, a voice of peace, hope and good, even when trying to be funny, honesty and true.

Beyond what might be considered “basic etiquette” lies the green fields and golden hall of Social Media Valhalla, the expanse of glory that is being a voice which builds up, carries forward and makes goodness in a world in which no end of ill words and images can be found. Even super powers require effort. It’s no wonder that meanness and crassness come easier to social media than goodness and constructive effort. Choosing the brighter road requires strength and determination. 

Trolls don’t change the world. Heroes daily raise the world from the morass of darkness. Embrace the calling in your social posting and feel the difference. Be honest, be questioning, be true to yourself and be open to others. Be a woman or a man of convictions and hopes. Let your posts show this difference. Those posts may not garner as many shares or as many likes, as when posts play to the base prejudices and fears of others, but they are more powerful for it, and the brighter posts mean more to the few than do the darker to the many.