Category Archives: Society

We Should Offer Universal Empathy Instead of Relational Empathy

Today I was reading the quick book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (it’s actually a great little parenting guide), and came across this line:

“Teach her to question men who can have empathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than as individual equal humans. Men who, when discussion rape, will always say something like ‘if it were my daughter or wife or sister.’ Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of crime as a brother or son in order to feel empathy.” (29)

This sort of response happened over and over again in reaction to Donald Trump’s “pussy grabbing” comments last year. Men (politicians in particular) were outraged on behalf of wives, daughters, mothers.

Somehow they couldn’t just be outraged. Their outrage only mattered if it had a relational component.

I know others made similar criticisms at the time, but Adichie summed it up very succinctly.

All people are human beings and worthy of dignity and respect. It’s sad and frustrating that we’re more willing to give empathy when we connect to people. I suppose that’s only practical.

But it cheapens our humanity.

It means we can withhold empathy when we hold people at an arm’s length. It’s how we justify lynching and genocide, or simpler things like ignoring homeless people.

In talking about racism and #BlackLivesMatter, I’ve been tempted to use my son as an example. But I realized I’m doing the same thing: I’m asking people to be empathetic because it’s my son, when empathy should be extended regardless.

We should care about injustice to black people because it is injustice, not because it could happen to my son.

We should fight “pussy grabbing” because it is always wrong, not because it could happen to our wives or daughters or mothers.

We need to learn how to practice universal empathy.

It’s Time to Join the Hard Work of Fighting Racism

The news out of Charlottesville and around the country in the past week has been bewildering. It’s bizarre to watch a president struggle to condemn racist hate. It’s encouraging to see people come together and condemn this hate, but at the same time I can’t help wondering how we got here in the first place.

We’ve overlooked too much, sat by in uncomfortable silence, allowed injustice to go unchecked for too long.

All this talk of taking down statues is helpful, but we need to be careful that we don’t see taking down statues and condemning groups that should obviously be condemned as enough.

Ta-Nehisi Coates said it this way:

“I will say that there is some danger if it simply stops at taking down statues. … I support the removal of the statues, but I just want to make sure that we’re not skipping over a conversation, you know, by taking down symbols and saying, ‘OK, that’s nice. That’s over.'”

We face a real danger if we whitewash our public spaces of any potential signs of racism, but refuse to do the deeper work of ridding our hearts of racism.

It’s easy to condemn slavery and Jim Crow, to look down on the South and the Confederate flag. But racism thrived (and still thrives) outside of the South. When it was founded, Oregon banned black people from the entire state. The 1951 riot in Cicero, Ill., showed that Jim Crow existed outside the South. Even today, Minnesota has the worst racial disparities in the nation.

We have work to do.

We can’t breathe easy just because we stopped some Nazis.

I think Austin Channing Brown said it powerfully:

Its time, Beloved. Its time to commit yourselves to learning. Its time to commit yourselves to speaking. Its time to commit yourselves to writing. Its time to commit yourselves to organizing. Its time to commit yourselves to preaching. Its time to commit yourselves to teaching. Its time to commit to understanding American history. Its time to commit yourselves to the work of racial justice. Its time to commit yourselves to love- whatever that looks like at the intersection of your giftedness and influence.

But when I say love, Im not talking meaningless, polite niceties. You can keep that. Im talking about a love that takes risks. A love that requires sacrifice. A love that protests hate.

Its time to unequivocally protest the hate embedded in white supremacy- not just in the events of Charlottesville but around the dinner table, in the pews, in the classroom, in the neighborhood, in the board meetings, in the curriculum, in the books, movies, and media in your house, and most of all from within your own heart, mind and spirit.

Go read her entire post. It’s good stuff. Continue reading It’s Time to Join the Hard Work of Fighting Racism

Minimizing Terrorism by Integrating Muslims

Recently on The Daily Show, journalist Sebastian Junger and producer Nick Quested discussed their documentary Hell on Earth about the ongoing civil war in Syria. They made an intriguing comment about why ISIS terror attacks haven’t happened in the U.S. as much as they have in Europe:

“Thank God this country has been spared most of the kinds of attacks Europe has been suffering the last few years. The theory for why that is, is that the Muslim population in America has been really successfully integrated into our economy, our culture, our society. In Europe it has not. And I think the lesson for America is let’s make sure that we are as inclusive a society as possible, because that is actually what protects us from the kinds of violence, the tragedies we’ve been seeing almost every week in Europe on the news.” -Sebastian Junger, The Daily Show, June 7, 2017

Continue reading Minimizing Terrorism by Integrating Muslims

Muslims & Christians Coming Together for #LoveSomalia

The first weekend in June, more than 15,000 people came together in downtown St. Paul to pack meals for the famine in Somalia. The nonprofit Feed My Starving Children organized the mobile packing event, setting up their warehouse in the RiverCentre.

At the end of the #LoveSomalia event, nearly 5 million meals had been packed. My family attended for a shift on Sunday, doing our small part to pack a few boxes.

What’s amazing about this story is that Somali Muslims approached an unapologetically Christian organization to ask what they could do. Feed My Starving Children responded by setting up this emergency event in eight weeks.  Continue reading Muslims & Christians Coming Together for #LoveSomalia

West St. Paul Nonprofits You Can Support: Let’s Do Some Good

This election has been a little crazy-making. But no matter who wins, life goes on. Great things will continue to happen in our community, and we should support them. So let’s talk about West St. Paul nonprofits.

I’ve been especially vocal about some local races here in West St. Paul, so in the interest of supporting local community, I want to encourage people to support some West St. Paul nonprofits.

Nov. 17 is Give to the Max Day, where donations can be multiplied with all kinds of incentives and matching gifts. It’s a great opportunity to rally together to support nonprofits, and you don’t even have to wait until Nov. 17—every donation between now and then will count toward Give to the Max Day.

So let’s support local organizations that work to make our community a better place. Continue reading West St. Paul Nonprofits You Can Support: Let’s Do Some Good

How Do We Overcome Our Bi-Partisan Ignorance?

Ignorance stalks us wherever we go. Stupidity too—it’s easy to lash out in anger or dismissiveness. And maybe arrogance as well, to think that none of these apply to us. To me. We—I—live a great contradiction.

It’s so prominent in the political debate in this country right now—filibusters and sit-ins over gun rights, refusing to consider Supreme Court nominees, etc.. One side decries the other side’s actions, even though the first side has used the exact same tactic in the past. Both sides do it.

And so it goes. And that’s just in politics.

I read a lot. Some might say too much. In that reading I come across portrayals of overwhelming ignorance. Just this morning, in a matter of pages I read about The Colored Motorist’s Guide that told black people in the first half of the twentieth century “where they could and could not sleep, in what towns the citizens would shoot them if they stayed after dark,” and then that “deaf schools banished sign language, declared it backward and a threat to the wholesome spoken word, subscribed to the theory that sign language would encourage the deaf to marry only each other and create a perpetuating race of non-hearers, and swaddled the hands of their most defiant students in thick cotton mittens.” Continue reading How Do We Overcome Our Bi-Partisan Ignorance?

Can We Have a Little Compassion?

I shared this article on Facebook last week, but I think it’s important enough that I’m going to share it again:

There’s a lot of freaking out happening right now over gender issues. I think much of it comes down to misunderstanding. Transgender is a weird issue and a lot of us don’t understand it.

If we say that we love people, then we need to try to understand it and have some compassion. That article is a start.

Because you may not know it yet, but you probably know a transgender person. I didn’t know anyone personally—until today. We need to listen. We need to [try to] understand. We need some compassion.

And we’re going to ask dumb questions or say offensive things. And we’ll need grace.

I came across this passage in the book I’m reading right now, Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. The main character, Pat, has some kind of mental health issues and he just read the very depressing The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Pat asks his therapist why kids in school should have to read it:

“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life is.”

“Why?”

“So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s head.”

Some of us have life easier than others (another way to describe privilege). And so before we judge people based on that or apply our theology or political ideology to it, I think we need to have some compassion.

What other response should we have to hurting people?

Transgender: Love or Legislate?

There’s no epidemic of bathroom assaults in this country. You know what there is? A rash of suicide among trans people—41%.

Love > Fear.

I really don’t want to get into some online debate about this. I dread it. But when I see people spewing hate and pretending it’s reasonable, I can’t keep quiet.

Trans people are more likely to be harassed, bullied, abused and rejected. It’s no wonder they’re trying to kill themselves at staggering numbers.

That should break our hearts.

But instead of loving, we’re legislating.

Let’s be honest: the transgender experience is weird and complicated and confusing. Most of us don’t understand it. Imagine trying to live it.

Yet instead of compassion, too many react in fear. We refuse to consider their actual experience and assume we know better. When will we stop trying to inflict our morality on hurting people?

Look: I don’t care about the theology or morality or whatever surrounding the transgender issue. All that sermonizing doesn’t mean anything when kids put knives to their wrists.

You either care about that person or you don’t. You either love them like Jesus did—right or wrong, accident or choice, sin or something else—or what the hell are you doing?

We hate one another too easily. That’s not the gospel I believe. Sometimes I think we’ve forgotten the Good Samaritan.

Want to understand this issue better? Try talking to a trans person. The next best thing: Try reading their experience. It’s a start.

 

  • Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
  • Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews
  • Young adult fiction: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills
  • Middle grade fiction: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

 

Have some compassion, even if you don’t understand or disagree. These are people too.

Nekima Levy-Pounds on Racial Justice in Minnesota

I went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Luther Seminary today to hear Nekima Levy-Pounds speak. She preached.

Powerful words like hers are so needed today and every day.

  • We are part of the solution or we are part of the problem. Our silence makes us culpable.
  • We’re living off the legacy of Hubert Humphrey, but we haven’t done the work.
  • Instead of compassion we’re taught to look the other way and focus on self preservation.
  • We’re told to trust the law, to rely on the system. But the law gave us slavery. The system gave us Jim Crow. It gives us mass incarceration today.
  • Public policy changes incrementally or not at all. Sometimes you need direct action to disrupt and get attention.
  • People are not going to be Minnesota nice when their brother is killed.
  • We need to personalize these injustices.

So many thoughts.

I think our problem today, especially here in Minnesota, is that we fall back on a lot of excuses instead of engaging in the hard work of racial justice.

We talk about the importance of supporting our police officers instead of acknowledging the disparities in our criminal justice system.

We complain about the disruption of protests and plea for tactics that will bring people together, when those disruptive protests are the only effective way to bring attention to the issues. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” was a response to white pastors urging King to find less disruptive tactics.

The reality is that there is very real and justifiable rage in our communities of color. If you don’t know that or understand why that rage is happening, you need to listen and start understanding instead of constantly dismissing.

Many of these protests that some people bemoan and dismiss are the only reason Minneapolis isn’t burning to the ground. These protests are offering productive ways to channel that rage. The 4th Precinct Shutdown protest in Minneapolis after the police shooting of Jamar Clark is a perfect example.

This work of racial justice is hard. It’s not going to be a simple conversation on social media or a blog post. It’s going to take personal investment instead of self preservation and defense.

My favorite story that Nekima Levy-Pounds shared is from the 4th Precinct protest when they were going to shutdown I-94. She was talking about it with her 10-year-old son.

“I might be arrested tonight, are you OK with that?” Nekima asked.

Her son responded, “Can I be arrested too?”

Suicide on the High Bridge

You know what sucks? Having to explain to your kids why there are ribbons decorating the High Bridge in St. Paul. It’s not exactly a festive occasion—it’s because of the high rate of suicides.

Lots of people are jumping off the bridge to kill themselves, and the ribbons are an attempt at suicide prevention.

Another person jumped today.

In 2008 the City Pages called the bridge a “suicide hot spot,” and offers the chilling detail that some of the people who jump from the bridge actually survive.

In terms of statistics, the most common method of suicide is firearms. But the public nature of jumping seems to capture the public conscience.

If you are thinking about committing suicide, please talk to someone. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 to get help.