Six Things Straight Christians Can Do After Orlando

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I don’t normally blog about current events – that is what Facebook and Twitter are for – but I wrote a version of the following on my Facebook page late last night, and people are finding it helpful. And while it was written for straight Christian allies, it is pretty much good for everyone. -HH

I was out of town, with my phone turned off, this weekend, and when I turned it back on Sunday afternoon, discovered the horrors that happened Saturday night in Orlando. On the drive back home, I tried to process it all, and I spoke to some wise friends about what we white straight Christian allies can do to help.

I have come up with six things.

Check in

Sunday was an incredibly hard day for the LGBT community AND the Muslim community – today won’t be much better. If you have friends who are Muslim or who identify as LGBT, check in with them. Tell them you love them, and that they matter. If you don’t have any Muslim or LGBT friends, well, you should fix that. In the meantime, go by the Islamic Center and the LGBT Center in your town and offer to help and listen.

Speak out

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Silence is violence. Please speak out in favor of your LGBT relationships, express your love for your LGBT friends, be vocal about your position of inclusion and affirmation, be vocal in your support of Islam and our Muslim brothers and sisters. To not speak out is to do active violence against the LGBT and Muslim communities.

Curate and Amplify

Over the next few days, there will be many voices who will use this tragedy to push their harmful agendas of hatred and violence. We have an obligation to curate those voices and to refuse to amplify them. Do not share their posts, do not link to them, do not acknowledge them. They thrive on the attention – we can starve them out.

Conversely, please share, retweet, repost and otherwise amplify LGBT and Muslim voices.

Step Back

The Muslim and LGBT communities do not need our leadership or our input– they are quite capable on their own. Instead, they need our support, our love and our solidarity. Please, don’t make this about you. Be quiet, show up, and listen.

Pray with your voice, with your feet, and with your vote

By all means, pray. But then get off your knees and work for justice, build relationships, bug the crap out of your elected representatives and set about the hard, banal work of building the better world we all dream is possible – a world built by countless small decisions, each which is individually insignificant, but that collectively moves us toward a more just world.

Don’t be afraid.

And lastly – the world can seem a scary place on days like today. And while the reality is that the world is actually safer than it has ever been, the media cannot sell that story – so they sell you a story based on fear. They literally make money by making you afraid. Don’t listen to those people.

And please remember – that contrary to what the media is telling you, despite the rumors you hear and the things you see – Love does, in fact, win in the end. And if Love has not yet won, it is because it is not yet the end.

Much love,

HH

 

Six Rules to Avoid Election Fights on Facebook

~ The argument

For a lot of us, Facebook is an excruciating place to be right now. It feels like everyone has lost their minds, and everyone is angry. Virtually any comment on the election is going to stir up anger and discontent, and don’t even think about polite disagreement!

I am really active on social media, and have developed a principle and, out of that principle, six rules for my interactions on Facebook around politics (or, in fact, any controversial topic). They seem to work for me, so I thought I would share them with you.

The principle is this: There is no such thing as online relationships. There are only relationships.

So, I ask myself how I would handle this if we were face to face. We have had elections for generations – how would we handle this if there was no Facebook? If instead of a meme on your Facebook wall, you put a Sander’s sign in your yard – How would I deal with that?

And that principle has led me to developing six rules for how I strive to interact on Facebook. I don’t always get it right, but I am trying really hard.

* * *

Rule #1: Own your space

On Facebook, we all have our own profile page. When we post things, that is where they end up. I find it helpful to think of that wall as someone’s front yard.

In our front yard, we self-express. In my front yard, I have rose bushes, peach trees and wild flowers. My neighbor has mulch and rocks, and another neighbor has a broken down car. Our front yards are the “us” that we present to the world, and we decorate them in ways that tell the world who we are.

So, decorate your yard. If you support Trump, put a sign up in your front yard – it’s your right. Heck, put up 50 signs and a Trump flag. Likewise, if you love some Bernie, then post away about him – on your wall. But don’t put signs up in my yard – which leads us to…

Rule #2: Respect other people’s space.

Actually, that’s pretty good advice anytime, online or off. If Hillary is your person, there is nothing wrong with putting a Hillary sign in your yard, or a meme on your Facebook wall. But don’t put a sign in my yard, or post a meme on my wall.

And just like you wouldn’t (I hope) put graffiti all over a sign I had put on my yard, don’t go on my wall and start attacking things I post there. Because remember – the goal of posting things is self-expression. Not argument.

If we were having a cookout in my yard, grilling hotdogs and hamburgers, most of us recognize that it would be rude of you to come in my yard and start telling me all the awful things that happen to animals in the industrial food system. Because I wasn’t inviting debate – I was trying to have fun with my friends.

If I did want to educate people about the harm their eating habits cause, by far the most effective way to do that would to do it with people I have developed trust and relationship with, and who have invited me into their space. In other words, people with whom I have a relationship. So always…

Rule #3 Respect relationships

It might be my most consistent, longest held position, but people matter. Relationships matter.

Whoever get elected this fall, we are going to need each other to survive. Not because the candidates are so bad, but because we are humans, who need each other in order to survive.

So, privilege relationships. Whose yard do you feel comfortable walking into in the real world? Whose yard do you feel comfortable critiquing? People we have a relationship with.

So, if you and I don’t know each other, and you post a sign in your yard I disagree with, I am not going to jump your fence and tear it down. If I am trying to understand your position, I might ask you about it if I see you in the yard, but I seriously doubt I would put up a counter-sign in your yard. So if I don’t know you, and you post something to your wall I disagree with, I am going to just walk on by. Or if I am curious, I might ask what you meant. But I won’t start dueling memes with you.

Likewise, if we have a good relationship, and you post something to your wall that I disagree with, I might say that in the comments. But I won’t say you are a jerk, or call you a baby killer – any more than I would say that to your face, standing in your front yard if you had a bumper sticker on your car I disagreed with.

Rule #4: Ask non-judgemental questions, and listen to understand, not to respond

Any hope we have of positive change in this world is going to come about because we listen to each other. And we cannot listen to each other if we are talking.

So, if your relationship permits, or if they invite comment, ask serious, nonjudgmental questions, and really listen to the answers. There is a world of difference between telling someone Senator Clinton’s stance on Syria factored into your deciding to not support her and calling her “Killary” and saying she is a murderer on a massive scale.

Would you say that to this person if they were really in their yard? Would you say it in that tone, and ask it that way? If not, reframe it, and then listen to the answers. And thank them for sharing their thoughts. Explain yours, without attacking theirs. If they seem open to it, offer critique of ideas, without attacking people.

If they ask to not continue this, disengage. This often looks like, “I don’t want to argue about this” or “We will have to agree to disagree”. When people say they do not desire to debate you, listen to them, and step out.

And recognize you are probably not going to change their mind. And that is OK. Because it was on their wall, and you are going to respect their space. Right?

Rule #5: Remember that Facebook is an opt-in medium

If your route to work included going past a house with an ugly yard, you can always choose another route to work. In the same way

That means you get to decide what you see on Facebook. If your brother-in-law’s annoying pro-Bernie meme’s bother you, then unfollow him until after the election. If your friend from high-school you haven’t had a voice conversation with in 32 years freaks you out with her conspiracy theories, then feel free to unfriend her, or perhaps just unfollow her.

You can control your privacy settings so only your friends can see what you post. You can set it so only your friends can comment on your posts. You can delete comments on your posts that offend you.

You are in control of your experience on Facebook. If you don’t like what you are seeing there, it is up to you to change it.

Rule #6: Understand that this is what democracy looks like.

In a democracy, we each get a vote and an opinion. We get to own them, for better or worse. And we all have the right to our own. And the only way to make sure we get to exercise our right to our own opinion is to fight for the rights of others to express theirs. If they don’t have the right to express their beliefs, it isn’t democracy.

Debating ideas with people who want to debate them is good. So is leaving people alone who want to post their sign in their yard to express their support of a candidate. Both are necessary parts of the process, and both are worthwhile. By respecting the process, and by respecting each other, we make this country better.

* * *

So those are my six rules, and overall, they work for me. I get in very few Facebook arguments, and when I have, it’s because I have violated one of my rules.

How about you? How are you navigating Facebook this election season?

 

Education of an Oppressor

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One of the foundational principles in my ethical system says:

When there are two groups of people, and one group has more than the other group, the moral responsibility for fixing the disparity lies with the group with more.

More what? More of almost anything. Money. Rights. Property. Privilege. Snickers bars.

If I have food, and you do not, the right thing to do is share my food with you. It isn’t your responsibility to demand I share. If you find yourself on top, the responsibility for lifting the others up is yours.

To point out that this seldom happens and, as Fredrick Douglas tells us, power concedes nothing without demand is to point out moral failure.

It is the responsibility of the group with more to change things, including ourselves. Especially ourselves.

* * *

In the notes to this post last week, I wrote the following:

The oppressed never have an obligation to educate the oppressor, but I am grateful to those people who have been patient with me, who have taught me, who have educated me and who teach me still. Every single time, it has been a gift. 

Every single time I say that first clause (The oppressed never have an obligation to educate the oppressor) anywhere, I get push-back. It generally takes one of two forms, and almost always from people who do not fall into groups that have historically been oppressed. In other words, people who have big problems with that concept seem to be white, cisgender and usually, male.

The first form of push back is to say, “But how am I supposed to know, if they won’t explain it to me?”

It is a sign of privilege that you think that, by virtue of your asking, people you do not know have an obligation to explain their life to you. That doesn’t negate the fact that there are people who have been oppressed who desire to educate. It is the job of the oppressor to shut up and listen to them.

If you are cisgender, and you call someone “trangendered”, and they ask you to not do use that term, it isn’t your job to argue with them – it is your job to find out why that is objectionable. Say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Thank you for telling me.” And then move along, and fire up Google and educate yourself.

It may well be that they will want to explain why that was offensive. If they do, it is a gift, and you should thank them profusely. But it is not fair to expect them to tell you a list of books you should read, or explain queer theory to you. And is not fair at all to expect them to be willing to argue about it.

After all, you don’t get to decide what is offensive to other people. And if you learn something is offensive to someone, and you insist on continuing to do it, you are just being a jerk.

The second form of push-back is to say, “I’m not an oppressor.”

Ok, I will try to take this slow.

There is active oppression – like calling a Black man the N word, or catcalling women. Then there is passive oppression – like benefiting from being white when you are pulled over by the police, or that people tend to trust male-bodied people more when they are in positions of leadership.

Active oppression is mostly obvious, and while it happens, it is the easiest form to call out. But passive oppression is harder to recognize, and the form people like me – male-bodied, white, and educated – are most complicit in.

No, we didn’t create the system that puts us in the group with more – but if we do nothing to tear it down, we are just as guilty as those who built it. Perhaps even more so.

The most effective way I have found to battle systemic oppression is what I call “Downward Bias”. It is one of our core values at Love Wins Ministries, and here is what we say about it on our website:

History has taught us that when there are two groups of people, policies and decisions tend to bias upward, benefiting the group in power. The people we work among have often been on the wrong end of this power dynamic, so we seek to bias downward whenever possible. Asking ourselves, “Does this benefit the people in our community, or just the people in power?” is a useful decision-making filter.

It requires that you be alert, that you be introspective and ask yourself hard questions and, yes, that you listen to other people’s voices – specifically the voices of people in the group with less than you.

No one expects you to apologize for being white, or being educated or being male-bodied. But they do expect you to educate yourself, to listen and to change the disparities you find out about. Because you are the people group with more, and it’s your responsibility to fix that shit.

* * *

Helpful reading: Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde

My Secret Weapon to Stop the Chaos

A version of this essay was originally shared with readers of The Hughsletter – my free weekly newsletter about the pursuit of beauty as a prophylactic against the ugliness of the world – back in November of last year. I occasionally create treats just for the readers there. (You can sign up for yourself here. Unsubscribe anytime. No spam.) – HH

Afternoon Ritual

If you are a would-be world changer, then you life is more than likely, quite literally, out of control.

Those of us who would seek to change the world often find ourselves feeling that our lives are filled with chaos. We know the feeling of being pulled in many different directions by conflicting priorities, we live in the tyranny of email inboxes that never empty and phones that never stop ringing.

As a world-changer, the closer you work with people who are in crisis, the more likely it is your life is largely reactive. You show up for work, filled with plans and hope for the day, an aspirational to-do list on your phone or in your notebook. You have plans!

But like Moltke the Elder said, no plan survives its first contact with the opposition. You no more than sit at your desk and the phone rings. Someone is in crisis, and your entire plan for the day withers in front of you. You get sucked in.

You just lost control.

Many of us in the helping professions find ourselves living in a state of crisis. And you cannot be fully present for people in crisis when you yourself are in crisis.

Let me say that again: You cannot be fully present for people in crisis when you yourself are in crisis.

So, let’s focus on gaining a small bit of control.

There are many ways to do this, some of which will be the focus of other essays yet to come. But the simplest and the fastest way is the use of ritual.

Before you start conjuring up mental images of incense, chanting prayers and lighting scented candles, hear me out. I’m not talking that sort of ritual, although, if that works for you, by all means keep doing it.

Rather, I am suggesting that you mindfully and purposefully put portions of your life on autopilot and thus gain control of those parts of your life.

Why do we need ritual in our lives? Because our lives, you will remember, are out of control. We literally have lost control over our lives. It is possible, sometimes common, to come to the end of the day and feel like we accomplished nothing – like nothing we did today mattered, and all of our day was spent reacting to other people’s priorities.

That is simply exhausting.

There is a lot of talk these days about the importance of routine. I don’t discount that work, but that isn’t what I am talking about here. I am talking about ritual.

Let me show you the difference. Like many people, I wake up in the morning and make myself some coffee. Making coffee every morning is a routine – but it isn’t a ritual. But it could be,

The dictionary defines ritual as, “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.”

This is what my morning ritual looks like:

The alarm on my phone goes off at the same time almost every day. I get up, slip on some sweats, walk to the bathroom, then walk to the kitchen. If you were to measure, I walk the same path every time.

I set my phone on the counter in the same spot every morning. Then I turn on the electric kettle, get a coffee cup (one of three specific cups) out of the cabinet, get the coffee and the pour-over filter down from the other cabinet and prepare it all to make a cup of coffee. It is like a low-rent version of preparing for the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

While the water is heating, I lean against the sink with my phone, skimming the headlines to see what is going on in the world. Always against the sink. Always the same sites. Always within a minute or two of the same time every morning.

The kettle is done, so I set the phone down (in the same spot every day) on the counter beside the sink and pour the water over the coffee in the filter. When the coffee is made, I put the pour-over cone, with the dirty filter, in the sink to drain. I then get the half-and-half out of the refrigerator, add it to the coffee until is is the color of cardboard and take the coffee to the table, where I will sit at the same seat I always do and will try to write for the next hour on my laptop.

That is my morning routine, and it rarely varies by more than 30 seconds in any direction any morning. It takes about 13 minutes, start to finish. It is utterly predictable. If you ask me what I will be doing at 6:08 tomorrow morning, the answer will be, “Leaning against my sink, reading headlines while waiting for my water to heat up.”

It has all the elements of ritual – a solemn series of actions, in a prescribed order. I even have special tools.

But, I can hear you say, you already make coffee every morning, and it isn’t helping. That is because what you have isn’t a ritual, but a routine.

To be a ritual, it has to be a solemn event – you need to take it super seriously. Not to say that it has to be boring, but it needs to be serious. You have to do things in a prescribed order – meaning you have to be mindful of what you are doing. It matters if you get the cups out before you start the water, or vice versa. And the instruments matter, too – that it is one of those three cups is important. It all matters.

So why bother? Why is this important?

Because for those 13 minutes, I am in complete control, and I know exactly what to expect. And for most of my day, that isn’t something that is true.

So I put pieces of my life into ritual – creating solemn occasions of checking in with myself, islands of time in which I am in complete control of the process and the outcome, and during which time I anticipate no surprises. Approached this way, making a cup of coffee can be an act of prayer.

# # #

This isn’t about coffee – I just used that as an example that most of us could relate to. It is, however, about carving out islands of holy intentionality in your day – spaces where you get to be in control, a place where the phone and the email cannot reach you.

If you find yourself doing something often, try to develop a ritual around it. I have a shaving ritual, a coffee break ritual, a ritual for when I plan to write creatively, a ritual for when I get to work. In an average day, I have four or five of these little islands of time where I am in complete control. And because I know that whatever periods I have when I am out of control are temporary, and I know that all I have to do to feel in control again is slip into one of my rituals, it makes the times when I am out of control much easier.

Going to the coffee shop for coffee break when I feel stressed is no longer just something I do, but an exercise in mindfulness and control. I purposefully walk two blocks south and one block west, past the house with the weedy flower bed, the house with the bamboo hedge, the gym, the fig tree, the muscadine arbor. I see the flowers in bloom, watch the leaves fall off the trees, see the maple seeds helicopter down.

I cross the street and am at the coffee shop where I always order the exact same thing, always costing $3.23 after tip, always having the exact conversation:

Me: A large coffee, to go, please.
Them: Room for cream?
Me: A little room.

I add cream until my coffee is the color of cardboard and return the way from which I came, intentionally observing the difference a change in direction makes. The entire trip will take 20 minutes, barring a long line at the coffee shop. 20 minutes, grounded in the world, where I was in control.

And all I have to feel that way again is do something I would normally do anyway – like make coffee, or shave or leave the house or get dressed – that I have turned into a ritual. And because I have these signposts throughout my day – markers so I can find my way home again – the time in between can bring what it may. I am no longer afraid of the loss of control, because I now know how to go back to the place where I am in control.

I just realized I used two examples that both revolve around coffee. I might have a small addiction here, but that doesn’t make the rest of it invalid.

Here is a list, entirely off the top of my head, of things most of us do daily that could easily be turned into ritual.

  • Making your bed
  • Getting dressed
  • Making your lunch
  • Your drive to work
  • Making the kids lunch
  • Taking a bath
  • Your lunch break
  • Shaving
  • Walking the dog
  • Leaving the house
  • Coming home after work
  • Taking a bathroom break

I am sure you can think of more. I hope you find this idea helpful, and if you have rituals in your life that help you navigate the day, I would love to hear about them. You can leave them in the comments below!