Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Racist in Us All

Martin Luther King Jr. would be ninety years old this month, which means he was only thirty-nine when he was assassinated in 1963. That’s not a lot of time to accomplish all he did, not only for African-Americans, but for Native Americans as well.

The United States will commemorate Martin Luther King Day on January 21.

I had never read the full text of King’s famous speech, made just before the civil rights march he led on Washington in 1963. I decided to look it up and do more than merely skim it. I expected to find most moving the lines we’ve all heard, the oft-repeated ones like “I have a dream” or “let freedom ring.” Instead, what struck me most was this bit from somewhere near the middle of the speech:

“…many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

Nearly sixty years have passed since King delivered those powerful words. But, while many things have improved, racism still runs rampant—on our streets and in our hearts. It’s easy for us here in Portage la Prairie to shake our heads at our neighbors to the south and wonder how they could be so blind. So misguided. So ignorant. Meanwhile, Indigenous Canadians continue to experience prejudice every day in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. New Canadians understand what it’s like to be viewed as less-than. To take jobs for which they are overqualified because it’s all they can get.

Racism hurts a country. It maims a town. It destroys communities. And it resides in every one of our hearts on some level, if we’re honest. Whatever color your skin.

Our community, I’m told, is approximately one-third First Nations people. So wouldn’t it seem logical that when I attend a fundraiser, when I observe a Council meeting, when I go to church, when I hear a youth choir, when I show up at my community theater group’s regular meetings, when I watch a sporting event—wouldn’t it seem logical that one third of the people participating in that community event would be First Nations?

Logical, but far from true.

I’m grateful our City hired an Indigenous Community Coordinator whose role is to help give the First Nations citizens of Portage la Prairie a voice. I’m thankful my country opens its doors to immigrants. I’m pleased our government decided to honor Viola Desmond by making her the first Canadian woman to appear on a bank note…and sad that she’s not around to see it. I’m glad my church made one of its key goals and prayers to become one-third First Nations.

Why has Prairie Alliance Church made this so specific? Because not only do we desire to accurately reflect our larger community, we want to help bring God’s Kingdom to earth, like Jesus taught us to pray. The book of Revelation gives us some pretty colorful images of what God’s Kingdom looks like:

“I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing: ‘Salvation to our God on his Throne!’”

The bottom line is, I know my heart needs to soften and grow. And that can’t happen when I close myself off from people of different backgrounds. My destiny is tied up with their destiny. My freedom is inextricably bound to their freedom.

And so is yours.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Don't Tell Anyone, But...

Years ago, in the days when voicemail was called an answering machine, I came home one day and listened to a message on ours. I have no memory of what the caller said in their intended message, but I vividly recall what they said after they thought the call was disconnected. This person had called from the home of another person we both knew, and as they continued to discuss me and my family, our machine continued to record the whole thing. I couldn’t believe my ears. I listened to it again to make sure I heard correctly, then deleted it, knowing it would feel especially hurtful to one of my children.

That didn’t stop it from hurting me.

I was angry. The nerve! It’s none of your business! And if it is your business, why don’t you talk about it to me instead of someone else whose business it also isn’t? I stewed about it for far too long, and—obviously—still remember it years later although the hurt and anger are gone.

Has this ever happened to you?

What eventually helped me let it go was to ask myself how often I’ve said things about others that would embarrass me to death if I found out I’d said them into their answering machine. Could I honestly say I was innocent? Can you?

Will Rogers said, “The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.”

He was right. We do like it. Have you had someone come to you and say, “I’m not one to gossip, but…” or “You didn’t hear this from me, but…”

Suddenly we’re all ears, aren’t we? Why is it so hard to end the conversation right there? We tell ourselves, “If I tell him to keep it to himself, he’ll feel judged by me and I’ll lose a friend.”

You might. Or, he may respect you more—in the long run—and take his stories elsewhere in the future. Better yet, keep them to himself.

What if 2019 were the year we made a habit of ending conversations that aim to tear others down, or are simply none of our business?

Here are a few better responses we could practise, hopefully without wounding the other person.
They ask, “Can you keep a secret?”
You say, “Only if it’s about you.”

They ask, “Did you hear about Jane?”
You say, “No, but if it’s any of my business, I’m sure Jane will tell me when she’s ready.”

They ask, “So, what’s going on with Jane?”
You say, “You’ll need to ask Jane. It’s not my story to tell.”

They say, “You won’t believe what Jane did now.”
You say, “Have you voiced your concern directly to Jane?”

Or, if they start in with no prelude, you can jump in with “I’m sorry to hear that, and I’m uncomfortable discussing it, since Jane isn’t here and it’s really none of my business.”

Or how about this: “You know, I’m really trying to work on not saying negative things about others, and I need all the help I can get. So can you please not share that with me?”

The sad truth is gossiping projects your own insecurities and makes you an unsafe person.
The Bible says a few things about it, too. Proverbs 16:28 “…a gossip separates close friends.” 

Ephesians 4:29-30, “Blessed are those who whisper not secrets about friends, nor murmur rumors about acquaintances, nor shout lies about foes. But they delight in building others up…”

I need your help with this. But please don’t tell anyone.

Friday, January 4, 2019

It's Habit Forming!

New Year’s resolutions, I’m told, are merely a to-do list for the first week of January. 

I’ve got plans for 2019. For example, I am seriously considering turning sixty years old, just for kicks. In fact, I’ve already booked myself in at a writers’ retreat in Florida as a present to myself and an investment in the next decade. 

I’m also looking forward to retiring from my day job this spring, although I try to look at it not so much like retiring as changing jobs. I want to see what will happen if I devote that time and mental energy to my writing world instead of the municipal world I’ve been part of for the past ten years. This, of course, will require self-discipline by the bucketful, because no one but me will be setting my hours.

And frankly, that’s scary.

I’ve started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and will probably be harping on it for a while. He says, “Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.”

I know this is true. Ten years ago, I began writing 500 words a day. I’ve missed the mark many, many days. But 455 blog posts and three novels later, the habit has amounted to nearly half a million words—none of which would have happened had I not made it a small, daily habit. Or if I had declared myself a failure and quit the first time I skipped a day.

James Clear knows it’s easy to think those small, everyday habits don’t make a difference. He says, “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”

He says to focus on your process, not on goals. Our efforts to develop desirable habits often go sideways because we buy into an all or nothing philosophy. A “go big or go home” way of thinking (which has never worked for me, because going home is my favorite thing.) The end goal is, in many ways, out of your hands. But the daily habit is totally within your grasp. My advice is two-fold.

1.     Go Small.
Start with one tiny, sustainable habit and don’t worry about the rest. Instead of trying to go completely sugar-free, can you learn to drink coffee or tea without sugar? Rather than organizing the whole house and failing, how about one drawer or shelf? If you ever learned to walk, you started with baby steps. And you fell a lot. Which leads to my second point…

2.     Start Again.
Don’t write the whole project off because you missed a day or even a week. Pick it up again tomorrow and don’t overthink it.

More on habits next week. Happy New Year!