Category Archives: Society

Love Runs

Love RunsI love it when things come together. When different concepts merge into a brilliant idea and when overlapping people start working together toward the same goal. That’s good stuff.

That’s what is happening with Love Runs. It’s a remote 5K that’s happening on Saturday to raise money to build a classroom in Uganda. What’s a remote 5K? It means you can do it anywhere. You don’t have to be part of any official run.

I’ve been running lately. Some days it’s horrible and I hate it and (less frequently) it’s awesome and I love it. But every time I feel good. Even when my feet hurt or my knee is acting up or I’m just exhausted, it feels good. So I keep doing it.

Then Allison Vesterfelt comes along and wants to celebrate her 30th birthday by raising $30,000 to build a classroom in Uganda. That’s the kind of crazy thinking I like. Allison has been kind enough to support my recent book by letting me write for her blog and for Prodigal Magazine. I kind of owe her. I wanted to support her effort, but I wasn’t sure how. Then I saw she was doing Love Runs.

Things come together.

Now I can do my run and support a good cause. Plus I can help out a friend. Plus, the school in Uganda that Allison is helping is supported by Bob Goff, the author of Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, a book that’s been on my reading list for a while. I saw Bob speak last fall and he’s the kind of ridiculous guy who puts his phone number in his book and urges people to call him. (He genuinely wants to talk to you. So of course his phone rang while he was speaking. Awesome.) It should come as no surprise that when Bob saw I was doing the run he thanked me on Twitter. When I responded and mentioned that I needed to read his book before Saturday, he offered to send me a copy. The guy’s got heart. So yesterday I picked up Love Does from the library (yes, I should probably buy it—it’s good stuff) and I’ll probably have it done before the run on Saturday. I get bored with nonfiction books, but this one is captivating. Bob loves people so much that he’s just crazy. I think that’s kind of the point.

Things come together.

So Saturday I’m doing this run for all the reasons I just said. Want to join me?

It’s a remote run, so you’re welcome to take part. Pony up some money to Allison’s cause and let’s do this. Strap on your shoes and go! You can walk if you want. 5K sounds like a lot, but it’s only 3.1 miles. Go 1.55 miles from your house, turn around and go home. Done. Take a picture and let’s celebrate with Allison.

If you don’t want to run (or walk) but still want to support Allison’s birthday project, you can make a donation here.

Things come together.

Support Homeless Documentary & Game

I’ve been a big support of Mark Horvath and his work with InvisiblePeople.tv for a while. His passion and resolve to fight homelessness is inspirational.

Mark always has cool stuff up his sleeve. Now there’s an Indiegogo project to fund a documentary about Mark’s work and a social game to help fight homelessness. It’s a cool concept and more than just a movie about Mark, there’s a smartphone game that can get people involved and push them towards real activism.

They’re trying to raise $100,000 in 37 days, which seems like a tall order. They’ll need to raise $2,700 a day. Yesterday they raised $396. So they need your help.

It’s also backed by a nonprofit, so it’s tax deductible.

Check it out and consider supporting the @home campaign:

One Act of Thanksgiving When Things Go Wrong

What kind of people are we when all we ever do is complain?

Not good people. Not friendly people. Not the kind of people you want to be around.

I feel like that’s what we’ve descended to. We complain about the cashier. We whine about the business that we think screwed us over. We rant about not getting the kind of service we think we deserve. We scream about the idiot politician.

Sometimes I think social media just magnifies it all.

That’s not the kind of person I want to be. I’m tired of being the person who complains that the express cashier at Target is going so slow because he insists on scanning every item before bagging, a process that involves juggling the items on the tiny counter space he has because it was freakin’ designed for him to immediately bag each item after scanning it. Clearly the holiday help is not as well trained or as well practiced.

I seriously stood there getting so annoyed at this poor Target cashier. I’m tired of being negative all the time.

If I’m that negative over something stupid, what happens when it’s something that matters?

“One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.” -John of the Cross

Those words came to Madeleine L’Engle when her granddaughter was hit by a truck. L’Engle was across the country and opened her prayer book before bed. Two things fell out. One was a picture of her granddaughter from a few weeks before, the other was a card with those challenging words from John of the Cross. L’Engle confesses in Walking on Water that she had to make that act of thanksgiving.

I wonder what she was thankful for?

It was 10 days before L’Engle’s granddaughter regained consciousness and they knew she would recover.

I want to be the kind of person who is thankful, not just when life is good and it’s easy to be thankful, but also when life is dumping on us and it’s so very, very hard.

  • I’m thankful for a giant white dome that went up in my city this year and enabled me to go running in the middle of January, which is not an easy thing in Minnesota.
  • I’m thankful that today is Pajama Day and Lexi is so excited.
  • I’m thankful that after a minor fever and a day at home, Lexi’s temperature went back down and she was beyond excited to go back to school.
  • I’m thankful that Milo still takes a nap.
  • I’m thankful that Milo can turn almost anything into a dragon, give it a name and decide what breed it is.
  • I’m thankful for a stack of good books from the library.
  • I’m thankful for the Star Wars socks I got for Christmas that allow me to put laundry off one more day.

Embracing Mistakes, Pain & Failure

Lexi BikingNobody likes to make mistakes, feel pain or experience failure. But that’s how we learn, grow and succeed. It’s something we’re losing today.

A 2004 article in Psychology Today explores this phenomena, and if anything it seems more relevant today. The article bemoans the way parents over-protect their children, keeping them from experiencing the mistakes, pain and failure that will teach them important life lessons. Kids are coached through play and never learn how to skin their knee and get back up again. Parents swoop in to resolve every playground conflict and kids never learn to handle their own disputes. Parents fight with teachers, trying to gain every advantage for their child. In the end, kids learn how to work the system instead of how to overcome challenges.

If allowed to, learning how to get along with others would actually make kids smarter: “Social engagement actually improves intellectual skills. It fosters decision-making, memory and thinking, speed of mental processing”

The article points to college as the time when the “emotional training wheels come off,” but now kids totter and crash. Relationship problems used to be the biggest issue for college students, a developmentally appropriate concern. But since 1996, anxiety has overtaken relationship woes. Now 15% of college students nationwide are depressed. Those relationship woes haven’t gone away, but worsened, with stalking on the rise. Anorexia and bulimia now effect 40% of women at some point in their college career. Binge drinking is a steadily growing problem.

Yikes. College students don’t know how to cope. And in some ways colleges have caved. At one point 94% of seniors at Harvard were graduating with honors. It reminds me of one of the conflicts in the Pixar super-hero film The Incredibles: If everyone is special, then no one is special.

It’s not just college students either. Adolescence has extended into the 30s.

“Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”

Get Up Again
It’s a hard thing. Nobody wants to see their kids hurt.

I think about teaching Lexi how to ride her bike last summer. Failure seemed to shut her down. But more than failure, the fear was the most crippling. Fear of falling down, certainly, but also the fear of failure more than the failure itself. I realized more than anything I had to teach Lexi how to get up and try again. I let her “crash” into the grass at one point, proving that she could dust her self off and try again. She almost didn’t.

I’m hardly an over-protective parent. But even in a simple example like learning how to ride a bike I see these difficulties in coping with mistakes, pain and failure.

Somehow, we need to learn to embrace them. Only then can we rise above them.

Thank You Bruises
As Dallas Clayton says in An Awesome Book of Thanks, “Thank you to… those bumps and bruises that turn ‘couldn’ts’ to ‘coulds.’ Thank you to those for they make us all stronger. They make us all smarter. They make us last longer.”

“If you want to double your success rate you need to triple your failure rate.” That’s the mantra of an off-the-grid, quasi homeless character in Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema who learns to maximize his panhandling to the point that he does it to help the truly homeless and destitute rather than himself.

We can’t be so afraid of failure, because failure is what leads to success. You have to try, try and try again. As much as I hate to admit it, Yoda was wrong.

Finally, writer Neil Gaiman says it like this in his New Year’s wishes from last year:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Donate to Clean Water, Get a Free Book

Clean Water for EliroseClean Water for Elirose is a great little children’s book explaining the problem of dirty water around the world. I plugged the book before when it was a Kickstarter project and now the author, Twin Citizen Ariah Fine, is working hard to fund a clean water well. He’s trying to raise $5,000 through charity: water, a task I know well, and he’s offering to give a copy of Clean Water for Elirose for donating any amount to his charity: water project.

That’s a great deal: Give clean water, get a free book.

If you already have a copy (like me!) or don’t need one, Ariah will give your free copy to a classroom.

You can check out the book and read the entire thing online.

Consider making a donation. charity: water does amazing work and it’s always worthwhile supporting them. Plus: good book. Book projects like this definitely need to be supported and generous souls like Ariah who put so much sweat and tears into a project and then give it all away deserve your support.

Here’s a great video of Ariah’s kids getting ready to give away some books:

Reframing the Story of Ethiopia

The usual story we hear about Ethiopia is one steeped in poverty and despair. We hear stories of famine and political unrest. That’s the common narrative. It’s unfortunate because stories are powerful. But it’s not the whole story.

There are also Ethiopians doing amazing things. Not just marathon runners, but business leaders, doctors, activists, writers, musicians and more. Flowers of Today, Seeds of Tomorrow is a coffee table book to tell those stories. They’re currently doing a Kickstarter project to fund publishing the book. It’s about 85 percent written, and you can see some of the incredible stories and layouts on the Kickstarter page.

This is an opportunity to reframe the story of Ethiopia.

Doing Good in Ethiopia
I don’t want to contribute to the narrative of despair. I’m wary of providing the kind of international aid that’s merely drops of water on a wildfire. While famine, poverty and despair need to be stopped, I want to address those issues in ways that offer hope and empowerment, not empty charity.

Just last week we celebrated a new well in Ethiopia. I love that the local people in Segalu built their own wall around that well to protect it and are raising their own money to support and maintain that well. I hope this is a project that empowers them, freeing up their time and energy to pursue more productive efforts.

Likewise, I think Flowers of Today, Seeds of Tomorrow is a book that can empower a people. It reframes their story and shifts the focus from nostalgia for the past or despair for the failures of today to a hope in the promise of tomorrow. These are stories of Ethiopian heroes who have overcome that past to find success today.

We need those stories. We need those heroes.

Bring It Home
Four years ago today my son Milo was born in Ethiopia. I wouldn’t see his picture for six weeks and I wouldn’t hold him in my arms for five months. He no longer lives in Ethiopia, but it will always be a part of him, a part of me. These are his stories, and as you can imagine, I have a vested interested in seeing stories of hope and not despair.

Ethiopians, like all of us, are not bound by poverty and famine. They are not limited to political unrest. They have heroes and champions. It’s time for a book that tells those stories. I know my family needs one in our library.

Consider backing this Kickstarter campaign and helping this project come to life. I know it’s a lot of money, but the $50 reward gets you a hardcover version of the book and they’ll donate two softcover Amharic versions to libraries in Ethiopia through Ethiopia Reads. That’s a great way to share these stories with your family and with the people of Ethiopia.

Let’s tell the story of hope.

Chernobyl: Life After Disaster

I’ve always had a slight obsession with the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. I remember in middle school singing my own version of Little Bunny Foo Foo that involved the sudden nuclear accident and a mutated bunny. Of course mutated animals have never been found in the disaster zone, either because such mutations just don’t happen or because such horribly compromised animals didn’t last long and their evidence was never found.

Chernobyl fictions (and nuclear ones in general) persist. Back in 2004 stories of a motorcycle riding girl speeding through the radioactive zones spread across the net (myself included). Chernobyl tour guides accuse the author, Elena Filatova, of fabricating the motorcycle rides. Apparently she went on a regular tour with a motorcycle helmet in hand and posed for pictures. It’s also highly questionable that anyone would risk racing a motorcycle across the broken and poorly maintained asphalt in the exclusion zone.

Anyway, much of my new found interest comes from reading the book Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl by Mary Mycio. It’s an in-depth account of the aftermath of Chernobyl, focusing on the natural impact on plants, animals, waterways and more. Sometimes the scientific details were a little too in-depth.

But I did learn one major thing from the book: Life goes on after a disaster. We find ways to carry on, reasons to continue, in spite of incredible odds.

The primary example is the wildlife that’s now exploding in the 30-mile exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Endangered species are thriving. A nearly extinct species of wild horse now has several herds in the zone. It’s a migratory stopover for birds and creating viable habitat for all kinds of animals: elk, moose, roe deer, wolves, boar, foxes, beaver, horses and more.

Many of them are highly radioactive. Which means hunting and fishing are prohibited. And that’s giving some of these animals a better chance than they’ve had before. Nobody knows the extend of radiation damage on these animals, but in the big picture radiation is far less of a threat than humanity. In the exclusion zone where people are limited and vast stretches of open reserve land are available to the animals, nature is thriving. Despite the risk of radiation.

Perhaps a less encouraging example of life carrying on after a disaster is the fact that the Chernobyl power plant itself didn’t just shut down after the 1986 accident when the fourth reactor exploded. I never knew this, but apparently reactors 1-3 remained in use until they were decommissioned in 2000. Chernobyl was generating a huge chunk of energy for the Soviet Union and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) afford to shut it down. When faced with getting their energy from fossil fuel sources, the Ukraine government balked and allowed the three remaining reactors to keep on running.

Sometimes our reasons for carrying on in the face of disaster are a little less inspiring.

But life finds a way.

(Photo by VOA Photo / D. Markosian)

Kim Kardashian & Gay Marriage

Next year Minnesota will be voting on a constitutional amendment to define marriage as only between one man and one woman (and if you can’t guess, we’re deeply divided).

Sigh.

That means in addition to the typical presidential year politics, Minnesota will be having a knock down, drag out fight over gay marriage. I’m not looking forward to this one.

It means we’ll be hearing all sorts of arguments that seem to have nothing to do with one another. Gay marriage advocates will argue for civil rights. Traditional marriage proponents will argue to preserve marriage and the family. And you’re left scratching your head, wondering what civil rights has to do with the sanctity of marriage. Both sides will the think the other is crazy and our already polarized society will get even further apart.

Which brings us to Kim Kardashian and her 72-day marriage (Sidebar: I love it when Kardashian appears on How I Met Your Mother and Marshall makes a comment about how his wife keeps telling him why Kardashian is famous, but he can’t remember). Perhaps part of why the gay marriage debate depresses me is because we sit around and argue about whether or not gay people who love each other and are committed can get married, how that act is somehow going to ruin other peoples’ marriage, how marriage is supposedly all about children—and in the midst of all that half of marriages end in divorce and the celebrity spectacle machine celebrates a sham of a marriage that couldn’t even last three months.

Marriage is certainly under fire. But it has little to do with homosexuality.

Whatever side of this debate you’re on you probably value the idea of marriage. Maybe instead of clubbing each other for the next year, we should support that idea of marriage. Maybe we should help couples figure out if they’re really ready for marriage. Maybe we should help married couples in trouble navigate the relational rocks that lead to divorce. I have no delusions that divorce isn’t necessary, but I think most people would agree that fewer divorces would be better.

Mudula Mamas Raise $50K for Clean Water

On Sunday the Mudula Mamas competed in a triathlon in Dallas and raised more than $50,000 for clean water in Mudula, Ethiopia. All three of the Mudula Mamas are mothers of children born in Mudula and the money will provide one-third of the total funding needed for the Mudula Water project.

I was pushing the project hard last week, including a special push for matching funds on the Ethiopian holiday of Meskel (which we easily secured).

You can see pictures and learn more about the Mudula Mamas on the Facebook page, which thanks to this effort went from something like a few dozen fans to more than 800 (it sure helps when some kind souls offer to donate $1 per ‘like’).

Thanks to everybody who donated and helped spread the word. I’ve been a little too busy to really get behind some charity efforts in the past year or so, and while I didn’t even do that much for this effort, it’s encouraging to see people give in support of clean water in Ethiopia.

When Milo gets older and starts asking questions about Ethiopia I want him to know that we still care about his homeland. That’s why I get involved in projects like this.