Coffee, tea, or dignity?

Surrounded by hurting people, it is easy to confuse “entitlement” with the longing to be treated like a human. This is one of the most insidious parts of injustice; people who “have” look at people who “have not” and hate them for wanting on the same level as they do. They hate them because they don’t want to be seen as equals with “those people”, therefore “those people” must have some sort of deficiency; they’re lazy, they’re slow, they’re morally inferior. The truth is that in many cases, the have-nots are ill They’re unlucky. They are dis-graced – there is no compassion for their plight, no mercy for their pain, no pity for their suffering.

So yeah, it can be annoying to watch a homeless woman bitch out those who are trying to give her coffee because she wants tea. Shouldn’t she just be grateful for anything that she gets? But you know what, you get to choose between coffee and tea all the time. Some days you might have both. Why? Because you’re superior to this woman? Nope. Because a few things have fallen into place for you that did not for her. And yes, maybe she made some choices that weren’t great. I bet you have too. I know I have. There’s nothing as dehumanizing as lacking options. That’s exactly what poverty does to people, it takes their options away… or at least their good, healthy options.

So yes, some people will rail against their lack of options. That’s not entitlement… or if it is, it is the most basic of entitlements, being entitled to human dignity. The human spirit will scream out to be noticed and acknowledged. It will demand that you recognize her worth. It will push back against your negations and it very well should. Until a person stops demanding their basic dignity, they are still alive and they still have hope.

Originally written 1/26/14 at Re:Solve Crisis Center

The art of metanoia

Questlove did this.

Ani DiFranco did this.

…then she did this.

Shia LeBeouf did this.

The creators of “How I Met Your Mother” did this.

Melissa Harris Perry did this.

All of which leads helps me to confirm something that I  have known from first hand knowledge; apologies are hard.

I apologize a lot. It is, sadly, a prerequisite for those of us who live with Chronic Bonehead Syndrome. It’s a real thing. look it up. I get a lot of apologizing practice. Perhaps my lived expertise qualify me to say what I think a good apology is and is not.

First and foremost, a good “apology” is not an “apology”. Apologia in Greek is “a speech in defense”. What Ani did originally was actually a very good apology. It was self justification at its finest. There’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s the problem: apologies don’t build relationship. Apologies are great for debate or arguments, but they’re lousy for reconciliation. Most apologies are simply a lowering of the sword to take up a shield. Shields, of course, can be both defensive and offensive. Reconciliation requires that we lower both sword and shield.

Sidebar: This is why I find Christian Apologetics so offensive and ineffective. The idea that we “win souls” by winning the argument is preposterous to me.

Anyway, what do I think makes for a good apology? Well, since I just slammed Christian apologetics, let me say that I feel like the answer to this question is also rooted some what in faith language. The English word that gets translated into “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia” which means to change direction, mind, or purpose. I think we need less apologizing and more metanoia.

“In biblical Greek, metanoeō/μετανοἐω and metanoia/μετἀνοια signify a ‘change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral.”… It was in its use in the New Testament and in writings grounded in the New Testament that the depth of metanoia increased until it came “to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.'” (Richard C. Trench in “Synonyms of the New Testament” 1880).

Radical changes of mind and heart lead to radical changes of action. Metanoia requires the humility to recognize that the way that we had thought about something may, in fact, be wrong. It requires the willingness to say “I messed up”. It requires an understanding of the injury that your previous line of thought may have caused. And it requires a willingness to adopt a new line of thinking.

The problem with our 24 hour information cycle… well, one of the many problems… is that we don’t allow enough time for the delicate process of metanoia to play out in the public sphere. Because of that, public apologies often come across more as publicity stunts than genuine changes of heart. There is a qualitative difference between apology because “I got busted” and metanoia because “I hurt someone that I care about and I don’t want to do that again”. One is a quick fix, a patch job. The other is a long journey into a new way of thinking and being. I actually wonder if genuine metanoia can be done in public. Maybe the results of it can be seen in public spheres… not sure about that one.

I’m currently in a process of metanoia. Several actually. It sucks because it requires that I acknowledge how wrong-headed some of my thinking has been over the years. It’s worth it to go through the process as to not re-injure, but it is a series of fits and starts. It is the growing pain inherent in being in relationship, I suppose.

I’ve heard several preachers ask congregations “would you rather be right or would you rather be reconciled?” The truth of the matter is that, more often than not, we’d rather be right. But, for the sake of reconciliation, I lower both my sword and my shield. I lower my defenses to make myself as vulnerable as those I have hurt and allow whatever will be to be.

Apologies are hard, y’all. Metanoia harder still.

My social media, semi-silent retreat


I’ve often been skeptical of friends who take a hiatus from social media usage. From my vantage point, social media is a communication tool. And you don’t take a break from speech… except for when you do. 

Last year I took a weekend long silent retreat at the Gethsemane Abbey in Trappist, Kentucky. I went with a group of guys who were mostly strangers to me. I thought that might fight against the instinct to talk. I am an introvert and it usually is no problem for me to sit back silently and not say a world. It’s one of more annoying traits, to some. But even in this pristine environment, with relative strangers, the desire to speak was strong. I think there is a rebellious side to me that wanted to speak because I wasn’t allowed to do so. I also think that our natural longing to connect with other people is just that strong. Being silent forces you to spend time with your own thoughts, no matter how muddled or tortured they may be. It can be painful. It can also be rejuvenating. 

It dawned on me that as everything else in my life recently has changed, my social media presence has not so much. It’s maybe decreased a bit during the workweek, but over all, I’m just as active and I’ve fit my new life into my social media life. That feels very backwards to me. I decided that I need a break to re-evaluate where I am and my birthday is usually when I institute my New Year’s resolutions, so, I’m taking a break. It’s not a full break. I will still make Facebook posts and tweets related to my work at The PIttsburgh Project. I’ll still post sermons and talks as I record them and I will share blog posts that I do. In fact, that is one of my motivations. I’m hoping that I’ll spend more time writing continuous thoughts here instead of the snippets of thoughts on Facebook and Twitter. Hopefully my writing will improve and have more substance to it. 

More writing is one of my goals. More reading is another. Thanks to my social network, I probably read a dozen or so articles every day. Articles are nice, but I haven’t read many books lately. Sustained reading to go along with my sustained writing is part of the goal. 

I should say that productivity is also part of the equation for me. Let’s be honest, social media can be a time sick if you let it. I need to create less opportunity for that.

There are “cleaner”, more professional (read “less fun”) venues for social media. Google+, linkedin… others? I’d like to do some work on developing my professional presence on those outlets.

And perhaps it goes without saying, but I hope this gives me more room to develop my “irl” social network, not always the easiest thing for us introverts, but crucial for my work and my personal relationships.

I believe this will be temporary and it in no way reflects my feelings on the utility of social media. I think these things are wonderful tools. This is just something I feel I need to do for me. I’ll still check private messages on facebook and dm’s on twitter, but won’t engage with either timeline. You can text, email, call, or write and comment on blog posts. Or invite me out to lunch. I have in mind a moving target date that I will end this, but for now it is up in the air. I’ll begin on January 15th at the latest, so you’ll have time to wish me happy birthday on my timeline.

Above all, this is about finding my authentic voice and authentic self, something that has felt obscured as of late. I’ll be writing more about that word, “authenticity”, in the coming days and weeks.

If you are reading this, the odds are pretty good that I love you.
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