Archives for February 2018

How to Make a Difference without a Platform, a Pulpit, or Political Office

Last term, I had my writing class listen to a speech given by Elie Wiesel called The Perils of Indifference, which he gave as part of the Millennium Lecture series at the White House. While some students nodded off to the hypnotic sound of Wiesel’s  voice, he held me captive as he recounted what it felt like to lose hope as a victim of the Holocaust, to feel less than human, to feel God and the world had turned their back on his suffering.

In the speech, he speaks of his time in a concentration camp, saying,

“…we felt abandoned, forgotten. All of us did. And our only miserable consolation was that we believed that Auschwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets; that the leaders of the free world did not know what was going on behind those black gates and barbed wire…”

He goes on to say that the Jews later discovered how many people in power and of privilege knew about the atrocities and did nothing. It was this doing nothing, this indifference to the pain of others, that helped perpetuate the wickedness of the Holocaust.

Wiesel says, “Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred…Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.”

Indifference is not a response.

Indifference is evil’s accomplice: it dehumanizes and extinguishes hope when the suffering need it most.

Sitting in a stuffy classroom filled with sleepy-eyed students, this speech acted as a mirror to my own half-hearted approach to suffering. When I held it up to myself, I saw that I am guilty of indifference in so many areas of my life. It’s easy to abhor the evil present in the obvious–in the Holocaust or the Rohingyan genocide or any number of vile and violent crimes we see on our tv screens daily. I’ve convinced myself I would never be an active participant in obvious evil.

And yet, after listening to Wiesel’s speech, I had to ask myself, what am I supporting through my indifference? How am I allowing racism to take root or misogyny to flourish? Where am I lacking in compassion to the other, the immigrant, the poor? How am I hurting rather than helping?

Compassion is the antidote to indifference. It compels us to take action.

I’ve taken a hard look at my own lack of action and wondered where to begin. Over the last year, I’ve felt a sense of increasing urgency to resist the systems and places of power that perpetuate anything that is antithetical to the life of Jesus. This has been an uncomfortable unveiling of my own soul and also my illusions about the western church and my own country.

Where to begin?

I am tired of the pervasive evil I see on the news. I am tired of the endless debates on social media. I am tired of my own indifference. And yet, I’m not a natural crusader or eloquent speaker or political powerhouse. I’m a mom, a writer, a teacher, an introvert. I am, at times, timid. Can you relate? I don’t think I’m alone in wondering where I can make a difference.

I don’t have the “right” answers, but I do have a few steps that may help you take your first steps out of timidity and silence and into action.

Recognize our indifference

Listen to Wiesel’s speech. Hold it up like a mirror, and ask yourself hard questions about who stares back at you.

Lead with compassion

Compassion compels us to action. We need only look at the life of Jesus to know this is true.

Identify one area in which you’d like to move from indifference to action

What stirs you to tears? What makes anger rise up like a flame? Let these lead you. You can’t and won’t change the world overnight. What is one area of injustice you would like to see change? Take a step in the direction of your tears and anger. Like arrows, they will point you.

Start with small steps towards change

The weight of other’s suffering can keep us in a state of inertia. It feels overwhelming when faced with the magnitude of the problem. Rather than focusing on the problem as a whole, focus on what you can do. What small step can you take this month to invite change? Could you make a phone call? Sign a petition? Donate your pocket change? Could you tell a like-minded friend and ask them to help you discern your next small step? Could you have a difficult conversation? Write a letter? Create?

For those of us who won’t hold political office or stand in a pulpit or write a newspaper expose, let’s value the quiet, consistent work of compassion. We make a difference when we recognize the structure of systemic injustice, and we set about to dismantle it pebble by pebble, brick by brick.

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New Art for Your Everyday Enjoyment: iola magazine

***This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for reading!***

In my twenties, my husband and I rented a furnished terraced home in southwest London. We slept in someone else’s bed, ate dinner at their long refectory table, and pretended we enjoyed their unusual taste in art. After two years spent living in a home designed for someone else, I was entirely over it. We had a pre-schooler and a baby on the way, and my nesting game was strong. I wanted to make our nest feel like more than a temporary stay in someone else’s house–I wanted it to feel like our home.

Around this time, a dear friend and fellow American was returning to the States for good. Her home in London had been the most unique, quirky place I visited, filled with vintage treasure she collected throughout her years overseas. In the middle of her packing frenzy, she arrived at my home one day with two grocery bags filled with British home decor magazines. She’d amassed a gorgeous collection of magazines filled with bright, beautiful photographs.

These were the days before pinterest, houzz, and instagram, when one boiled a pot of tea and sat down for the tactile pleasure of turning glossy pages filled with promise. I’d never purchased a single home issue before then, and I stacked the thirty or so magazines in a pile next to my bed, and began to flip through them page by page. It was nothing short of a revelation.

I mark that time as the beginning of a love affair with creating beauty in my home. It was as if my friend had left open a secret door and I’d stepped into another world–one where I could escape and dream and let my imagination run wild with the pleasures of cast iron tubs and vintage treasures and English gardens manicured just short of wild. I had never seen anything like it before, and after I finished with my stack, I saved my pocket money to buy as many magazines a month as I could afford.

As digital content has taken over, and life has become busier and more distracted, I miss the simple pleasures of brewing a pot of tea and flipping through the pages of magazine. I miss stories printed on thick paper, accompanied by carefully curated photos. I love a good blog post or instagram feed, but there is something missing in the physical connection, in the ability to place a thumbed-through work of art on the coffee table and return to it as often as the mood strikes me.

I no longer save pocket change for magazines, but when I heard my friend, artist (and Brit!), Abi Partridge was creating a new magazine called iola, I felt that old thrill again at the thought of holding art in my hands. When she offered me the chance to contribute to the first issue, it was a sweet surprise, a wink from heaven. Only God and my husband knew that I’d secretly hoped to find my photographs and writing in-between the pages of a women’s magazine someday.

The inaugural issue of iola is filled with inspiration, photographs, stories and poetry. It’s printed on thick stock, and is one of the loveliest magazines I’ve held in ages. I’d love for you to enjoy it as much as I have, and perhaps to read my piece on books for the armchair traveler. To celebrate, I’m giving away two copies of this issue, fresh off the presses.

If you’d like to enter your name to win a copy, please leave a comment below and tell me the name of your favorite periodical before the internet took over. (Mine was the British version of Country Living Magazine. Swoon) I’ll choose two winners at random. The giveaway ends on Tuesday, February 13th.

If you prefer to purchase your own copy, you may do so here.

Read more about the magazine and the contributors here, or listen to the iola playlist whilst reading here. There is also a free phone wallpaper of the front cover image for you here.

If you find yourself with a copy, will you let me know what you think? I’d love to hear the feedback from readers.

I’m off to set the kettle boiling. Happy Reading!

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What Do You Want Me to Know About You?

“What do you want me to know about you?”

I slipped this question into a string of far easier ones. What’s your name, do you have a laptop, what are you into, then I asked them the question that unzips their chest, the one that reveals something of the heart beneath.

I asked the question after completing a semester in which one student repeatedly lied to me about his absences, another dealt with a recurring illness, and another sat buried under the weight of financial problems. Unaware, I scribbled grades in my ledger and shook my head at what appeared to be a lack of commitment. In reality, these students carried more than books into the classroom, they carried their secret lives and personal struggles in with them too.

I am good at making assumptions. In fact, I’m so good at it, I could teach a class on how to place my life experience like a mask over the face of everyone I meet. I forget that my privileged, white, well-loved existence is not the norm for many, many people. It’s easy to dismiss the hidden pain in others when I keep my own pain hidden so well, even I must take a pick axe to my soul to find it.

I rifled through the sheaf of papers, and the answers to “What do you want me to know about you?” fluttered about and landed on my desk. At eighteen, some kids carry more than I ever imagined. And these are just the answers they were willing to share with me. I know there are buried things. I know because I have buried things too.

As I read the answers, I felt like Saul after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul, when blindness shuttered the light, but after the scales fell from his eyes, he was left with second sight. Revelation entered and he took on a new name, a new purpose, a new sight.

It takes second sight to see through the surface to the life pulsing beneath. I have found that the best way to peel the scales from my own eyes is to ask good questions, and listen for what is both spoken and unspoken in the answers. This is easier in the controlled environment of a classroom, I’m still learning how to ask good questions and leave space for the answers wherever my feet take me.

It seems like such a small thing: to ask the best and not assume the worst of other people. But, when I turn the question around to myself, I see I am an iceberg floating in still waters. To the untrained eye, I am serenity above, but so much of my life is submerged beneath the surface. What does it take for me to tell the truth and say, “This is what you need to know about me.” ?

It takes faith, and it takes good questions. This is a skill I am still perfecting, but when the scales of assumption and judgement fall from my eyes, I see clearly what was once invisible. I see we’re all waiting for someone to deep dive below the surface, and look on our submerged selves with kindness.

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