Lessons from the debate

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Dear friends,

The first presidential debate might have been a train-wreck in terms of procedure and process – and voters learned virtually nothing about policy – but there are still lessons to be learned from watching this debacle:

  1. True dialogue begins with a commitment to civility, to honoring the humanity of your “opponent.”
  2. As I’m always preaching to my students, listening is an active process. Shut your mouth and open your ears. Engage deeply with what the other person is saying. Process your thoughts before you respond.
  3. Politeness isn’t weakness. It’s a recognition of social norms that we have formed in order to keep emotions in check, and to facilitate a respectful exchange of ideas.
  4. Rules mean nothing if they are not observed and enforced.
  5. Aggression isn’t strength. In fact, it looks a lot like fear.

I’m thinking of my students in the Argumentation & Advocacy class, and how we discussed these things. We started with the idea that argumentation doesn’t mean quarrelling – it means building and presenting a convincing case for what you believe. What we saw on television the other night was quarrelling. It’s unproductive to participate in, and unpleasant to watch. Let’s reflect on the values of listening and hearing, and honoring each other’s humanity.

Blessings,

Annette

Christianity and Quarreling Shouldn't Go Hand in Hand – In God's Image

This actual moment

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“When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you are drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole world revolves—slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.”

– – Thich Nhat Hanh

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The fog of war

Dear friends,

It’s so easy to judge the people of the past, from atop our hill of hindsight. We reflect on historical events and ask, “How could they have believed that? How could they have let that happen? Why didn’t they know better?”

If we take a look around, we’re living in the middle of the answer.

To share some examples from my own lifetime: Let’s start with 9/11/2001. As the events of that day (and the days that followed) unfolded, we had far more questions than answers. Who had done these things, and why? Was it a criminal act, or an act of war? How should we respond? What would it mean for our country’s future?

And now there is COVID, and again we have more questions than answers. We’ve had pandemics before, but not like this one. We ask ourselves and each other: “Will there be a vaccine? A cure? When? Will life ever get back to ‘normal?’ Am I in danger myself?”

The people of the future will judge us. They will wonder why we didn’t do better, why we didn’t know better, why we made mistakes. But when you’re in the middle of things, as we are now, it’s hard to see clearly while events swirl around us. It’s hard to sort the facts from the fear when you’re in the thick of the storm. In military parlance, this is called “the fog of war.”

So how would we like to be remembered, when this is all in the past? I hope we will be remembered as people who took care of each other, who protected those weaker than ourselves, and who did our best to live in community with all of our fellow humans.

We have to navigate the fog, and when the fog lifts, I hope we’re better people.

Blessings,

Annette

Foggy Field — Kolter Gunn

Experiment and make mistakes

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“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.” 

— Anais Nin

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Chapel in the woods

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(This one is extra special to me. It was written on a plaque outside a chapel in the woods where I used to go camping).

And Nature, the old nurse, took
  The child upon her knee,
Saying: “Here is a story-book
  Thy Father has written for thee.” 

“Come, wander with me,” she said,
  “Into regions yet untrod;
And read what is still unread
  In the manuscripts of God.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (from The Fiftieth Birthday of Agassiz)

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In the long run

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“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

– Viktor E. Frankl

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Not for me to say (but I’ll miss her)

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Dear friends,

On Saturday morning, I learned that a longtime friend passed away from pancreatic cancer. She was my age. We met as coworkers at Lake Superior State University, and classmates in the MBA program there. We both later moved to other universities, but remained in touch through social media.

Tracey was such a ray of sunshine in this world, and had the most beautiful, radiant smile. She was a single mom, and her son Colin was the light of her life. They adored each other, and he’s in my thoughts a lot these past couple of days. Moving forward into life without his mom is going to be a weighty challenge.

Tracey and Colin

When someone dies before reaching old age, we often say they are “gone too soon” – and Tracey has certainly departed this earth much sooner than any of us would have liked. I will miss her. But I also believe that she was here long enough to fulfil God’s purpose for her on this earth. I believe she accomplished the task that was set for her, in the time she was given.

She was a good friend to others, and a great parent to Colin. She raised a baby boy to be a loving, responsible, accomplished man. She brought love and light to the lives around her. It’s not for me to say whether her work on this earth was finished, but God has called her home.

And I believe that God is holding her now, and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Blessings,

Annette

For Such a Time as This

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Now, all I have is now
To be faithful, to be holy
And to shine, lighting up the darkness
Right now, I really have no choice
But to be a voice to the nations
The generation looking for God
 
 
For such a time as this I was placed upon the earth
To hear the voice of God and do his will, whatever it is
For such a time as this, for now and all the days he gives
I am here, I am here, and I am his
For such a time as this
 
 
Do you ever wonder why, seems like the
grass is always greener under someone else’s sky
But right here, in this time and place
You can be a mirror of mercy
A forgiven image of grace
 
 
For such a time as this I was placed upon the earth
To hear the voice of God and do his will, whatever it is
For such a time as this, for now and all the days he gives
I am here, I am here, and I am his
For such a time as this
 
 
– “For Such a Time as This” Wayne Watson
 
 
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Desiderata

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Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

– Max Ehrmann

Be vulnerable

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“Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it. The new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.”

 – Stephen Russell

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