an open letter to my students who live in a scary world

Hello there Cortina-folk.

THANK YOU for the rich discussion tonight. I think that these are issues near and dear to each one of us in different ways and I think it is important to acknowledge the frustration and fear that we might feel when we talk about them.

Mostly I want to acknowledge these feelings because there are very legitimate things to fear in our world. It is not productive to have these conversations pretending that this is not the case.

In our short lives, many of us have already felt the pain of violence & stereotyping. I think that the question we have to ask coming out of tonight is:

How do I love a scary world? Or, as Jesus put it, “love my enemies”?
(These could be physical enemies or people who pose a threat to my way of seeing the world).

The difficulty that Alex so aptly and practically brought up tonight is that there is a reality to danger. But the difficulty of always feeling this danger is that if we live in fear, we always feel the need to protect ourselves. If we always need to protect ourselves, there is no openness to anyone who is a stranger or who doesn’t live within the space of our daily interaction. If there is no openness to the stranger, there is no openness to the truth of anyone’s life that is not our own or those close to us. And often this proliferates what Jordan named for us: Confirmation bias. It is nice to have our biases confirmed; it makes us feel ideologically safer and in turn, physically safer.

Though this might be discouraging, do not lose heart! I don’t have to throw caution to the wind to love my enemy (or neighbor who I don’t know). I don’t have to leave my door unlocked at all times or run at 2am or wander aimlessly about an area I know nothing about and pretend like there is nothing dangerous about that. In fact, loving my enemies should be much more intentional than that.

Sometimes we have to start small and recognize our own biases and decide to not look everywhere to confirm them. Even that small act is an act of love. It is an act of hospitality to make room for the fact that someone may not be just who you think they are. This doesn’t mean you will get to know every person you have preconceived ideas about  or that you will invite every person you are scared of into your home, but it does allow you to engage your mind in a way that allows you to not be paralyzed by fear. Fear doesn’t allow your mind to expand, it makes it contract, shut down. FIGHT OR FLIGHT! We can’t fight or flee our whole lives. That is not conducive to living, but neither is only finding comfortable spaces where our ideas about what is good, normal, safe, or acceptable are consistently re-affirmed.

A brilliant man named Parker Palmer runs something called The Center for Courage and Renewal. In his book, To Know as We Are Known, he wrote these words that will challenge me until the day I die (and you’ll see him quoted elsewhere in my writing for this blog):

Hospitality is a central virtue of the biblical tradition itself, where God is always using the stranger to introduce us to strangeness of truth. To be inhospitable to strangers or strange ideas, however unsettling they may be, is to be hostile to the possibility of truth; hospitality is not only an ethical virtue but an epistemological one as well. Hospitality is not an end in itself. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield. A learning space needs to be hospitable not to make learning painless, but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur—things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypotheses, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought. Each of these is essential to obedience to truth. But none of them can happen in an atmosphere where people feel threatened and judged. 

How is our lack of hospitality a judgment that disallows real learning about each other and about the world? AHH. It is scary for me to think about how I do this to people all the time. Read Palmer’s passage again. You’ll see something new every time.

Yet again though, this is hard a hard truth because fear is deeply ingrained in us. For many of us it might take years of counseling to trust anyone again, to be “hospitable to the stranger” (even in our minds!). Here is my admonition:

do that work.

It is worth it. Do any work that you can to open yourself up. In opening up, we are able to not only give, but also receive love in a more full, abundant way.

It takes practice to make that space, and I am still learning to do so as well. It is equally important that we don’t assume everyone wants to get to know us or be our friends or have our “hospitality” forced on them. There is a balance. And it is hard. Have grace with yourselves, and others. That is loving ourselves and loving our enemies. And both of those seem important. If we can’t love ourselves through the scary things we see inside of our own hearts and minds, how will we do that for and with anyone whose heart and mind we don’t have direct access to?

Anyway, I just felt overwhelmed by your good questions and engagement today and I wanted to say “Thank you.” I would love to talk to any of you that would like to dig further into this & I would welcome any ideas you have about continuing one of many of the rich conversations that were begun tonight.

With gratitude,
Annie

Encountering Strangeness on Spring Break

Many members of our Creighton Community have embarked on Spring Break service trips across the country. I am actually stranded due to a snowstorm at a McDonald’s in the middle of Nebraska. But, we’ll get to Denver, never fear!

As we anticipate our time hanging out with people living on the streets of Denver, I am thinking of this quote from Parker Palmer’s “To Know as We Are Known.” It is a beautifully worded reminder to be open to everything–especially the difficult–and to respond with our lives. Travel safely friends, and know that if we encounter things well, we’ll be changed:

“Hospitality is a central virtue of the…biblical tradition itself, where God is always using the stranger to introduce us to strangeness of truth. To be inhospitable to strangers or strange ideas, however unsettling they may be, is to be hostile to the possibility of truth; hospitality is not only an ethical virtue but an epistemological one as well…Hospitality is not an end in itself. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield. A learning space needs to be hospitable not to make learning painless, but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur—things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypotheses, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought. Each of these is essential to obedience to truth. But none of them can happen in an atmosphere where people feel threatened and judged.”
-Parker J. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known

Monday Meditation: A Letter to My Heart

(This is the letter Madi read to us during community time last night)

Dear Heart,

Hi, how are ya? Sorry you might have been a little neglected lately, but I have really missed you. The big man upstairs sometimes likes to steal the show, and your patience always amazes me. Let’s catch up shall we?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately. Where I’m going, who I’ll be, who I’ll meet. It’s all really exciting, and really terrifying. What if I don’t end up where I want to go? Who will be there to catch me if I fall and I’m far from home? What happens if I change my mind or worse, you change? My dear heart, I’m trying to follow the path you lead me, but there is so much confusion in the way. I don’t want to disappoint, but sometimes what you yearn for is not what is expected of me. I’m a little scared, but I trust you.

Lovely heart, I see you beating in everyone around me. When I stop looking to the future for a moment, I see the people I am with. You beat in harmony with the people of my everyday. It’s a beautiful song when I stop long enough to hear it. And the moments when I’m really still? The times when I silence the chattering in my mind and the flurries in my stomach? Those are the moments I hear the whole symphony. I can hear the beats of the hearts in far away lands that yearn for things I yearn. I hear their humanity, I feel their pulse. It radiates through me. I feel alive in these moments, yet they are so few. Knowing this feeling though, I will never stop searching for it. I may lose sight. The eyes that blind me to real truths claim they are reality. I will question them. I will challenge the “real” and search for the true. I will do this all for you. So that you may link up to the beautiful hum of life, and flourish in every second of every day. You will be heard.

Finally heart, sometimes I look to the past. I try to recreate the melody that once was and feel saddened when I know it will never return. There have been one too many verses so that I can hardly remember the opening chords. But, in looking back, something magical happens. I see how different melodies were weaved into mine in such perfect harmony that I didn’t even notice their existence. With your help, sweet heart, let me hear those songs. Let me revel in the majesty that is the world’s inner workings. Open my ears to this wondrous work of art so that I may appreciate it in all it’s intricacies. This is my promise to you: I will no longer repress your beat and I will take time to hear the reverberations around me. I will let the music be made.

Truthfulness or Truthiness?

How do we do the HARD work of seeking justice? How do we tell stories justly in the pursuit of justice? Sam Graham-Felsen has some ideas (From Good.is):

Apple’s overseas labor practices are deplorable. America and Pakistan would both be better off if we were to build more schools there and drop fewer bombs from drones. Joseph Kony is a ruthless murderer. These things should move us. But truthiness in defense of emotional impact is no virtue. It creates a profound backlash that deepens our collective apathy: just look at the I-told-you-so glee with which Twitterers (including myself) are beating down Daisey and Russell. Perhaps this is our way of rechanneling the guilt and hopelessness we feel over the very issues they’re exposing.

Nothing is more depoliticizing than being lied to, and a close second is being condescended to. An exaggeration, oversimplification, or lie is not a persuasion tool; it’s a form of coercion. It’s a way of treating adults like children—of taking away our power to make up our minds independently. When people feel forced, they don’t want to comply; they want to rebel.
We need more people to care about sweatshops and girls’ education and human rights, and we need to tell more riveting stories that bring these urgent issues to light. But we can’t take shortcuts. We have to do the hard, draining, time-consuming work of revealing the extraordinary with facts. We need more books like Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers—a deeply researched portrait of the people living in one of Mumbai’s worst slums—which has been widely praised as novel-like. Or radio segments like the hundreds of factually sound but surprising and often deeply affecting episodes This American Life has produced.

Of course, fiction can inspire action too: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Jungle altered the course of American history. But labels matter. If Daisey had advertised his live monologue as a semi-fictional account, would the same number of people have purchased tickets and been so moved?

When we’re stirred by something that turns out not to be true, it feels a little like unrequited love—we want it to be so, but it refuses to be so. And each time our hopes are dashed, we’re less likely to risk falling in love again.

Read the whole article here.

In other words, don’t let these #hashtags apply to you.

Thoughts?