Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Paula Deen in Me

This is one of the controversies I didn’t realize was happening until it mostly already happened.  And despite the fact that there are better news cycles (pretty much everything done by the Supreme court, not to mention Texan state politics) going on right now it doesn’t seem to go away either.  So while I have stayed quiet I do want to ponder three thoughts that keep recurring to me with every article and post I see about Paula Deen.

Before that, one quick mention.  I’m white.  I’m male.  I come from an upper-middle class family in the Midwest.  I claim those things without shame, and yet with recognition of what that means and the ways I have unfairly benefitted from a society that overly prizes many of those characteristics.  I name that here because on the subjects of race and racism I wish to name that my own context cannot do anything but approach that conversation from a place of privilege – so take my thoughts with a huge grain of salt.  And while I name that, I also feel I have an authentic place from which to speak and so I do.

I have real trouble with the Paula Deen scandal, and it really has very little to do with Paula Deen.  I’m not a Paula fan, I have never watched her show (though I watch some cooking competitions so I know who she is) and I have absolutely no desire to defend her or her actions.  I also think such actions ought to have consequences.  But it is about the consequences, and our actions as part of them, that I have concern.  And to be fair, I have this reaction almost every time a celebrity is “taken down” for some shameful act or comment or thought.  (Paterno comes to mind, and I might say more about that later.)

So without further ado, my 3 thoughts on the subject:

1)      My first thought on seeing this “scandal” reported was, “this is why people aren’t honest.”  She confessed (albeit not really of her own will, but she could have lied) to some unkind and unjust thoughts and practices.  She isn’t alone – she comes from a culture where such thoughts and practices are the unjust norm – but she was immediately stripped of job and shamed in the public eye.  Maybe this is right… maybe it isn’t.  I’m not sure.  But my thought went back to South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. At the heart of that process was amnesty for those willing to come forward and speaking openly of the injustice, hatred, and death they had perpetrated.  It was in this arena that social and society-wide healing became possible.  It didn’t end racism.  But it strikes me that social reconciliation rather than retribution allowed that people didn’t have to hide their “sins” but a sinful people could begin to be honest about the shame they were already carrying in their hearts.  Does such a process work for all people?  Does this even apply here?  I don’t know.  But my first reaction watching this unfold was – honest confession has been given no place in a world where any crack in the armor is exploited to “take you down.”

2)      This leads me to what really bothers me about all such scandals.  The way we seem to jump on board in decrying someone else’s sin – as if we have none.  Like this article which I enjoyed, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-w-twitty/an-open-letter-to-paula-deen_b_3502048.html I’m want to quote Avenue Q, “we are all a little bit racist.”  When such moments occur as a public unveiling of ubiquitous reality (racism is everywhere, hiding beneath a veneer of… something) I always hope for an apocalyptic learning process.  We have a teachable moment.  We can choose to use this as a moment to stop and learn something about ourselves and our engagement with the world. How is racism lurking in all of us, our communities, and our society?  Such moments – to my mind – shouldn’t be about some celebrity, or local teacher, or whomever… it should be about me.   I told you I might talk about Joe Paterno, and here it goes.  That whole thing bothered me to no end.  It isn’t that I think Paterno didn’t cover up horrible things and further abusive and destructive practice in the name of winning.  It’s that I think a lot of us do in very subtle ways.  And yet rather than recognize that at the time, we just choose to maintain blindness to our own injustice by jumping on the bandwagon decrying someone else’s sin.  Does your community have clear practices in place to protect the voiceless, the abused, and the powerless?  Does your community have clear, and unavoidable, practices in place to limit the potential for abuse amongst those vested with power and authority?  These are the questions such apocalypses (revelations of truth that has been hidden from eyes) should raise in us.  Instead we so often take to the stands in the coliseum to watch another person fall.

3)      On this last one if feel like I stand on shakier ground.  This is why my confession of my context at the beginning.  A part of this conversation has gotten us to the argument that some words can be used by insiders but not outsiders (in this particular case the N-word).  It is, to quote one commenter, the phenomena that I can speak ill of my family but you may not.  Lots of opinions on that subject, some from smarter people than me and more invested in culture than a WASPy Midwesterner (it comes up briefly in the previously posted article – call his opinion the counter-testimony to my own).  I really don’t buy this argument personally, but I admit I could well be off track.  I think if something is wrong to be said, it’s wrong to be said.  And I think if there is ill to name and there are good ways to name it and bad ways to name it – that is true for insider and outside alike.  If I cannot stand to hear you speak of my family in a certain way than this should mean I shouldn’t speak of my family in that way either.  It’s more painful to hear it from an outsider – true – but such defensiveness should be teaching me something, not you.  I learned this lesson twice with my kids recently – kids are good at mirroring our own sins back at us.  Don’t blame the kid, learn about yourself through them, and then work together not to repeat our past.  I don’t want to talk about another culture’s sins either so let me take this to culture, and not family, through my own culture.  I claim a Polish heritage, I’m 50% polish (all on my dad’s side).  I carry that name, and I claim it for myself.  I even look the part.  But you know what – there are some really sucky parts of my Polish culture.  And just because it’s mine, doesn’t make it good nor should it endorse the furtherance of such hurtful ways and means.  I love my culture but not whole cloth.  And so I choose not participate in some of it while retaining from it that which I love.  Sometimes I will fail at that.  I will need you to point this out because I’m too close to it all.  So I hereby give you permission to speak ill of my family (in love), and to speak ill of my culture (in love), and to remind me when I get defensive about your speaking that I told you to do so, so that I my learn, and grow, and we might all love each other into a better reality.

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First Three “Rules” to Enjoying Life

I wrote this to a friend’s query about how to do Disney World, but it actually has some broader application so here is the edited version (my Disney examples are removed).

I will just offer my first three rules.

Rule One: as long as you remember that it’s all about being hot and miserable then you will have lots of fun.

Rule Two: less is more, your miserable factor increases exponentially with each thing you predetermine as a must do.

Rule Three: Find hidden blessings where the line is the experience. Marque items often have “cost” that more than offsets the short reward, but under the radar experiences have little cost and as much reward as you have curiosity and imagination.

Use and Abuse

In our lives we are surrounded by tools.  I don’t just mean a hammer… a bank account is a tool, medicine is a tool, cars, programs, sports, school, email, our voice and our presence, social networking, authority, power, … this list goes on and on.  We are surrounded by tools.  

Every tool can be used, and it can be abused.  Its a matter of creating and living into the discipline to ensure that we use tools without abusing them.  The discipline challenge becomes even greater once we have abused a tool (particularly in a communal/corporate setting).  Out of fear of that abuse the temptation is to deny the use of the tool.  This, in many cases, is another kind of abuse as problematic as the first (and sometimes even worse).  

To say this another way, “once down the dark path you have tread, forever will it dominate your destiny.”  But we don’t have to choose to live into such fatalism (sorry Yoda).  We can reclaim disciplined use of once abused tools – if we are willing to try and to trust.

Biblically I think money is the ultimate example of a complicated tool.  Outside of love, the Bible talks about money more than just about anything else.  (Strange then that its an almost taboo subject in churches, but that’s not our topic here.)  Does the Bible dislike money?  There are a lot of passage that speak ill of wealth, that’s certain.  But to say that writers of scripture dislike money would be forget about use and abuse.  Paul, for instance, talks a lot about raising money to use to help struggling communities.  Clearly he has no problem with money.  There are just landowners, and clever servants who use money in ways that get lifted up.  Money is a tool, and the Bible doesn’t have a problem with tools.  It has a problem with the abuse of tools, particularly when that tool has become more important than people (or when people are turned into tools).  

This is but one example.  We shouldn’t fear money, we should be disciplined about how we use it, speak of it, and what we allow it to do us and our relationships.  This is true of all tools.  Politics, sex, religion – talk about a list of taboo subjects.  The problem is not with those things, the problem is when their use becomes abuse. And when we reflect on this we must remember that to deny them altogether is just another kind of abuse (one born more of fear than lack of discipline).  

We are surrounded by tools, and we are constanttly using them – and abusing them

What tools are you abusing out of a lack of disciplined use?

What tools are you abusing by not being willing to use them at all?  

How do we restore use, in the wake of abuse?  

Gestalt, my current version, and losing the Forest for the trees.

My life is going really well right now.  In the last year… new job, new kid, new house (twice), new car.  We are quite healthy (long term wise) and happy (if I pretend not to hear the squabbling). We love the town we live in and generally love almost everything about the direction in which our lives are headed. 

So here is the rub.  Life is going really well.  But absolutely nothing is going right.  I really mean it.  Simple refrigerator part?  Repairman has been to the house twice, canceled a third appointment, and it still isn’t working yet.  This is going on four weeks waiting for it to be fixed.  Each kid has gotten their “personal illness” (all of our kids seem to be prone to different things, skin rashes, throwing up, ear infections… Danielle hasn’t declared her major yet) in the last week.  Caroline had to redo the same spreadsheet (350,000 lines of excel data.. not to mention the columns) like 3 times for things that keep needing to be formatted slightly differently.  A brand new TV needed a repairman… oh we sold a car because it couldn’t go up the driveway of the new house (destroyed the exhaust pipe discovering that and added this to the list of things to check before buying the next house).  The list… really it goes on and on (not to mention I am currently cleaning up a big coffee spill all over my desk and pants). 

Now I’m slowing down.  We are trying to tick off one thing on our to-do list at a time to manage chaos rather than let it manage us (within reason).  And we are saying no to good invites to keep some margin in our lives and recharge our batteries.  So don’t worry about me, because this is my point. We’re good.  My wife is a bit stressed out between kids and work (and she is more bothered than I by the house-chaos that is always a part of moving, not to mention 4 young kids).  But generally we are good and all that stuff while frustrating (and occasionally very frustrating… did I mention that Meredith finally decided to be three in all her terribleness?) hasn’t altered the fact that I feel really blessed and really lucky and that all is going really well.  And… this isn’t meant to be about me.  I just suddenly found myself seeing in my life (mostly while cleaning up the just mentioned coffee spill and filling out church insurance paperwork which is clearly my favorite part of my job……..) a lesson about OUR lives. 

Sometimes… we aren’t that lucky.  And I don’t mean just that sometimes all really isn’t going well.  I mean sometimes we lose the forest for the trees.  Particular annoying things make us get bogged down in negativity and all we can see is what isn’t working, and we completely lose track of all that is a blessing. 

What makes that difference?  Why sometimes can lots be going wrong but we are completely able to separate those individual occurrences from the larger – better – whole?  And why, other times, will we not allow ourselves to be blessed by good fortune just because some particular part of our life just isn’t exactly how we want it to be? 

I’m interested because I think this is an important question for us individually but also in the various groups that we belong to.  Whether it’s a family unit, a church, an organization, or even as a whole nation we go through these cycles.  Are you stuck right now in the trees?  Is your community embracing the forest and managing the individual stuff with a healthy dose of perspective?  (And do you remember to celebrate that healthy when it’s happening?)  What about your family… what about you?