Sunday, July 31, 2016

Did You Know This? ... Or That?

Trees are a great investment! They invest in our environment with long term benefits.

One large tree can supply a day's worth of oxygen for four people!

100 trees remove 53 tons of carbon dioxide and 430 pounds of other air pollutants per year!

Strategically placed trees can shade a home saving up to 56% on annual air-conditioning costs!

Each large front yard tree adds to a home's sale price!

100 mature trees catch about 139,000 gallons of rainwater per year, reducing flooding and saving the community millions of dollars!

Plant a tree!*


Trash and tire piles present the ideal living and breeding environment for rats, mice, and other rodents, in addition to ticks, flies and mosquitoes that may transmit disease.

Illegally dumped materials also present the risk of physical injury resulting from contact with broken glass, sharp metal, needles, and biological or chemical waste.

Many materials that are illegally dumped contain toxic or hazardous substances that can threaten surface or groundwater supplies. Tires that catch fire cause air pollution, may harm the health of persons exposed to the fumes, and damage the environment.

Decaying garbage and yard waste dumped in residential areas create unpleasant odors and can contribute to the impression that the entire neighborhood is in decline, thus negatively impacting property vaues. Research has shown that such conditions also lead to higher crime rates.

Open dumps along secodary roads, utility right-of-ways, water courses, abandoned lots, open fields, railroad tracks, and near construction sites are the responsibility of the property owners. Often the property owner is unaware that dumping is occurring and should be notified of their need to clear it.

Many counties have an environmental crimes task-force to investigate and deal with illegal dumping. Contact your county or community administrative offices to report open dump sites and to learn more about dealing with illegal dumping. Check out

Take responsibility for your own property and give responsibility for other property owners to take care of theirs. Each of us has a part to play in protecting our environment.

Storm drains in our streets connect directly to rivers.Pick-up trash, spills and depris to keep local waterways clean and safe.

Care for you lawn responsibly. Check out and http://www.get*

*City of Columbus, Ohio

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Are You the Real You?

Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what your want. - Margaret Young

"Be who you really are" sounds simple enough. But most of us aren't. For many of us we don't even know who we really are. And often we are afraid that who we are isn't enough so we behave as if we are someone else. 

Authenticity is not something we have or don't have. It is something we must make a conscious choice to practice, a choice of how we want to live. And it is something that we usually practice some days more than others. It is something we work toward.

It involves letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and loving who we are, every day. It is developing the courage to be imperfect, to set and maintain boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. It is knowing that all are made of strength and struggle and exercising the compassion that comes with that knowledge. It is developing the connection and sense of belonging that happens only when we believe that we are, indeed, enough just as we are. Authenticity is not for sissies. 

e.e.cummings wrote "To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day to make you everybody but yourself -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight -- and never stop fighting." 

The consequences of living as someone other than the real you are anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief. We can look around us and see the lives of people devastated by these consequences.

When you let go of being everything for everyone else, you will have more time, attention, love, and connection for the people in your life who are important to you.

In order to let go of trying to be perfect you need to nurture compassion for yourself! Yes, you have to love yourself enough to embrace your imperfect self and support your courage to be the real you. You have to allow yourself to really know who you are, what you want to do with your life, how you can best be the best you - not the perfect you.

Stop calling yourself names - "ugly", "stupid",  "bad", etc. Remind yourself that you are a worthwhile person and deserving of love and respect. Be warm and understanding toward yourself. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to believe that showing up is enough when things are tough. Remind yourself that you are a strong person who has overcome many obstacles to get to where you are today. And know that that strength will carry you through whatever comes next.

Know that you are resourceful and are developing good problem-solving skills, that you can seek help, that you can do something that will help you manage your feelings and to cope, that you have social support available to you, that you are connected with others - family, friends, community. Know that you are connected to others by a power greater than us all, and that your connection to that power and to others is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality, in whatever way fits who you really are, brings you a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to your life.

You can have hope because you know where you want to go, how to get there; you're persistent, and can tolerate disappointment and try again; you believe in yourself. You know you can do whatever you need to do, even if it is difficult, time consuming, an not enjoyable. This is your personal power.

(Note: much of this post is based on the book The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene' Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.)

So when is it the hardest for you to be authentically you?  Who are you most likely to try to impress with trying to be perfect? When are you the least kind with yourself? When do you feel the most powerless?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Share Your Imperfection

That sounds pretty scary, "Share your imperfection." We spend a lot of time and energy trying to appear perfect. So why would we want to share our imperfection?

Because it is the only way we can have real connection, honest communication, strong relationships. There have to be people in our lives with whom we can have connection. Connection is "the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance ans strength from the relationship." (1)

When you have that kind of relationship you know it is safe to share your imperfections. With this person you can share how stupid you felt because of this or that; you can share your sense of shame and be assured that you are a good person; you can share your deepest hurts and begin healing. And you can be the person who give the other assurance, affirmation, healing. Imagine a world where everyone felt safe to share their imperfection.

This deep sense of belonging, of love, is a need we all share. Yet, because we have been judged, shamed, hurt, we deny ourselves of that kind of relationship out of a fear of being hurt again. We need to draw on our self-worth, or knowing that we are worthy simply because we are who we are. And we have to begin to take the risk of connecting.

Love and belonging, basic needs of all humans. And presenting ourselves as perfect just hasn't worked. Basically, because we know we aren't perfect we end up being false and closed off from openness for fear others will find out we are imperfect. We even limit our self-love because we think we have to be more than we are. And without healthy self-love, we can't really give and receive love with others.

To love ourselves we have to treat ourselves with respect, to learn to trust ourselves to be kind and gentle with ourselves, to stop shaming ourselves, to stop being so judgmental with ourselves. When we nurture our self-love we will be better able to truly connect with others. I don't know about you, but I find that to be an ongoing challenge in a world that sets out to blame, shame, and disrespect us.
But it is definitely worth it. My most meaningful relationships have come from sharing my vulnerability with another.

So if we are going to live joyful and meaningful lives, we must talk to each other about the things that get in the way of our connecting and loving one another. We have to talk about shame and fear and vulnerability. Find at least one person you can take that risk with, and share your imperfection.

Shame is powerful, more powerful when not talked about. Shame has become the weapon of choice in this election year. Name calling, a tactic learned in grade school, has become virulent. Blaming is used to defend oneself instead to claiming responsibility. Belittling is so popular that few even complain about it any more.Bullying is everywhere now, not just in grade school yards. There is little wonder that shame has created a climate of believing we are not worthy of respect or love because we are flawed.

We need to realize that the less we talk about shame the more we have it. Secrecy, silence and judgement keep shame alive a well. Talking about our imperfection, our vulnerability, with someone empowers is to develop more courage, connectedness, and compassion.

Do you know the difference between shame and guilt? Shame = I am bad. Guilt = I did something bad. It is like the difference between secret and private. And as long as we keep our shame secret we cannot feel good about ourselves. I may share my guilty feelings with someone in private, since I may not need to share it with everyone. But I know that I can claim my guilt in public if I need to, because I am not bad because I've done a bad thing. This is important to teach our children. They need to know that some things are private but not secret. If they don't know this they will not be able or willing to tell you when someone does something bad to them. And using shame to parent teaches children they are not worthy of love.

(I found it interesting that the differences noted above were lessons that sex-offenders and other addicts  needed to learn. For without healthy self-worth they could/would continue in their harmful behaviors.)

(1) The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene' Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Am I Enough?

Off and on throughout my life I have struggled with believing I am worthy, that I am enough just the way I am. Actually, through most of my life I believed I'd never be enough. I was forever trying to prove my worth. I was never able to be good enough, smart enough, thin enough, strong enough, etc. Somehow I had learned that if I were enough then everyone would love me and my life would be grand.

No wonder I never believed I was enough. I mean, it is impossible for everyone to love me. And even if they did it couldn't guarantee that life would be grand. I had to learn through some really tough times and some wonderful counselling that I could never control what other people think, feel, or do, and that is as it is and as it should be. I can only control my own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

That learning certainly didn't come easily. I didn't even start to get it until my mid-thirties, by which time I had lost a lot and was at my lowest. It was only then that I was willing to let go of all the old false beliefs about where my value is found. I finally began to accept that I was not, and never would be, perfect. My imperfections only made me human, not worthless. And I learned that all humans are worthy.

Of course I had been told that in the past. It was preached by folks who didn't really believe it. I mean they gossiped about people and put them down because of their imperfections. So, no wonder I didn't believe it either. But as I began to accept myself, learned to love myself, I could see that it is true. No matter what, each individual is worthy of love and acceptance.

I learned that it is possible to love and accept others without condoning their behaviors. I learned that people who love themselves in their imperfection are better able to love others. They can be authentic and open in relationships. They can heal themselves and help others to heal.

The way I learned these things was by being loved and accepted by those folks. Once I opened myself to that love and acceptance it got easier and easier to love and accept myself.  That's not to say it is always easy to do. I still sometimes get to feeling low and think negative thoughts that have my self-worth spiraling downward. I still need to be around folks who value me even with my imperfections.

I am imperfect, vulnerable, and sometimes afraid. And that is where I can connect with others who know that they are like me. And we can know that we are o.k., worthy. We are enough. Actually, some of my best and dearest friendships were founded in those most vulnerable spots. Being able to open up to let someone see those parts of me made for the strongest of bonds.

That kind of opening up takes courage. Many people will not risk the possible rejection of another person.There are different kinds of courage. There is the heroic courage of putting your life on the line. For most in our culture this is the only definition of courage they accept. However, there is the "ordinary" courage of putting your vulnerability on the line. Not everyone has the opportunity to be a hero in the sense of risking one's life for a cause. However, we each have the opportunity to put our vulnerability on the line. And in doing that, we can create incredible relationships.

When we don't have the courage to let our true feelings show we cheat ourselves and the people around us from knowing who we really are. We diminish our relationships and become less and less authentic. We are no longer real to ourselves or to others. Our self-worth diminishes because we know we are not being real and we are not valuing ourselves.

But when we risk our vulnerability we have the opportunity to make ourselves better and to make those around us better. There is a ripple effect. That honesty begets honesty and people feel safer to be real themselves.

You hear me talk a lot about compassion. I believe that the better we are about accepting ourselves and others the better we are at compassion. Compassion must come from a place of equality with others. If you see yourself as "more than" or better than another you may feel sympathy, but not compassion. Compassion is feeling the same feeling the other is experiencing. It is coming together at a place of commonality, know the same pain.

Having compassion and practicing compassion includes holding people accountable for their behavior. Sometimes it is hard to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting  while holding folks accountable.The key is to separate the person from the behavior and to let them experience the logical and natural consequences. This is the best way to deal with inappropriate behaviors in people of any age. But it is especially important with children. This is how they can become responsible adults.

And it is important that we avoid thinking we must hate the person or that they deserve to feel bad. While this may seem to make it more comfortable for you to keep them accountable, it diminishes both of you. You are sliding into the blame game, where no one wins.

When we don't set boundaries or hold people accountable we feel used and mistreated.Resentment builds and we attack the person's worth. This causes problems in relationships and our well-being when we sink into shame and blame. It is impossible to practice compassion from the place of resentment. We need boundaries and accountability to live compassionately.

Shame always defines you as not enough. Addressing your shame issues is a priority for living in your worthiness. We'll look at shame more in future posts.

To-do list:

  • Remind yourself each morning and night that you are enough, just the way you are.
  • You are worthy of love.
  • Love yourself, for if you do not love yourself you cannot love others.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Help or Henderence?

The problem of poverty has only gotten worse in the last century. The welfare system is broken. And, while most of us care about other people, we don't know how to help. We donate money to groups and encourage governmental support hoping that it will help. But it hasn't. So why do we keep doing it?

Not only does the current welfare system create dependence in the recipients, it creates dependence of us all. We  have become dependent on the government  to take care of the needy rather than private citizens taking responsibility for helping those who need a hand up.

And the system has become too big for it to adequately serve those who most need and deserve help. The system of social services workers trying to help hundreds of cases each makes it impossible to even know their clients well enough to know what they really need or how best to help them.

Then there is the one-size-fits-all approach that goes through a check list, assigns food stamps and a stipend without acknowledging the need for other kinds of support. After just a few years of this kind of work a social worker quickly burns out and is even less effective.

Even the programs that require clients to find a job don't support that client in maintaining employment. They get a low paying job and their welfare is cut off. There is little or no transition for them. Often they need more than just any job. They may need job training, child care, family enrichment, motivation for changing their lives, self-respect, self-confidence, mental health or substance abuse treatment. The chronically poor need a holistic treatment program to turn their lives around. For the chronically poor they need to address "body, mind, and spirit." to make lasting change.  A one-size-fits-all approach will not adequately address their needs.

So, the system is broken. What, then, would succeed? Well, that depends  on how you define success. There is no way that every needy person in the country could be "helped" if you define that as everyone having food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. That wouldn't solve the problem of poverty in America. No one changes. It just adds to the problem.

There needs to be immediate care in the most urgent of cases, of course. Those not caught up in the cycle of chronic poverty may not need as much support. But the people who have been in the cycle of poverty need more than band-aids. They need extensive care. They need to change. And that doesn't happen easily and simply. There are a few programs here and there that work to change people's lives for their better future.

These programs are small and and few. There need to be lots more of them. They need to be small in order for the people entering the programs to be adequately diagnosed, as it were. Each person has different needs. Do they have family or community affiliations that could help them build new lives? Are they willing to work at any job offered them? Do they have good work ethics? Are they willing to learn new skills? Do they have realistic dreams and goals? Do they have physical or mental limitations? Do they need childcare? Do they know how to manage money? Do they have a place to live? Do they need life skills education? Are they drug and alcohol free? These are some of the questions that need to be explored with each individual.

All of this and more can be necessary to motivate and support people in establishing a new way of life free from the dependency cycle of the welfare system. Values clarification, decision making, stress management, interpersonal communications, self-esteem building, substance abuse treatment, a graduated level of responsibility for themselves, all play a part in their recovery. They need to develop new habits and get rid of those that keep them from succeeding.

Yes, it is very much like addictions treatment. They have become dependent on the government much like many become dependent on drugs and alcohol. And frequently those addictive substances have played a role in making them and/or keeping them poor. This kind of treatment/system is best done by religious and community organizations in the areas where the people live who need them. The staff needs to get to know the participants well, know their needs and their willingness to change.

And there needs to be the bottom line of "no work means no food". Sounds mean, doesn't it? But if the person is capable of any work it is important for their own success that they earn their way to independence and independence. There needs to be a work component to the program, even if it is "made work." How else will they develop a work ethic?

They may have to clean toilets and mop floors on their way to their new lives. If there is no other means to survive, they will choose to participate fully in the recovery program. And they will change their lives over time. And it will take time. Programs will be at least a year long for most, some will take longer. And as long as they are working their program and following the rules their basic needs would be provided.

If you can change the lives of even a dozen adults that is going to make a difference in the lives of many others. And they, then, can help make a difference in the next group of people entering the program.

So, if you define success by the sheer number of people who get off and stay off of the welfare roles, the smaller holistic programs like this will probably do better than the way the system now is run. This is because the current system only perpetrates the cycle of poverty by enabling people to stay dependent.

The current system gives a little help in one area of their life but it fails to be sustained because the demands from the rest of their life cannot support them to get independent. If you lose your welfare check when you find a low-paying job that doesn't provide enough for you to have childcare, or transportation, or medical care, or education/training for a better job. You will soon be back to where you began, if not worse. And after years in this system the drive to become independent is lost to the sense of helplessness fostered by the system. And that is not success.

The Congress need to begin phasing out federal programs and pushing states to develop ways for individuals and community-based institutions to take over poverty-fighting responsibility in programs like to this. If each church, synagogue, or religious organization in the community worked to support even one family in  their effort to become self-sufficient, financially independent, it could make an enormous difference in the community.

And the most successful programs do have a spiritual component. I don't mean religion, but spiritual enrichment. Look at the success of AA and other similar programs developed to include spiritual growth. And this compassionate outreach would be much more healing than simply taking up a collection to donate to the poor. Working directly with those in need has greater meaning and benefit to both the giver and the recipient. It seems like a natural fit.

Controversial? Yep. People resist change and they resist taking personal responsibility for making change. Easier to pay taxes, write a check, or donate used clothes, isn't it? It is uncomfortable to look into the face of those in need, to get to know them as individual human beings.Out of sight - out of mind. Us and Them. Let the government do it.

But compassion isn't always easy or comfortable. And charity that makes folks dependent is not compassion, it is sympathy. The poor don't need our sympathy.

To read more about how could work check out Renewing American Compassion by Marvin Olansky.

Aim Small?

Changing the world for the better can seem like an unreachable goal. People who even consider it often just shrug their shoulders and say "I can't make a difference." This is such a shame. We all too often tend to think of "the world" as something out in a distance and overlook the needs of those in our own community.

One person CAN made a difference. "One person committed to a cause is far more effective than a thousand who are merely interested." (William E. Brown) And when we share that commitment with passion, enlisting others, we can make an even bigger difference. There is most probably a need that you have the capacity, vision and ability to address. And if it means enlisting a few more folks to join you, then do it!

Aim small. Focus on one thing and aim for it. And if you miss that mark you will miss small! In other words, when you aim at a target you aim at the center. But if you miss the center but hit the target it makes a difference. 

There is a story of an elder teaching a young man to shoot a bow and arrow. He told the boy to shoot an arrow across the river. The young man didn't believe an arrow would go that far. Then the elder told him to shoot the moon. The boy laughed. I can never hit the moon! But the elder told him that if he aims at the moon as it rises across the river, his arrow will go farther than he can imagine. And it did. It missed the moon but it flew across the river.

Over the past weeks I've challenged you to make a difference in small ways. It is these small ways that we change the world. Identify what needs you see in your day-to-day life and make a first small change. Maybe it isn't more than smiling more. Yet it brightens the lives of all you pass. Put your pocket change into a donation box. Along with the pocket change of others, this adds up to a good deal of support for some charity or cause. Don't minimize what you can do.

Most probably there are things you can do that make greater changes than you think. Helping someone learn to read or to balance their checkbook or to cook nutritious foods can change lives.
Reading to little kids so that they learn to love reading can not only change their lives but the lives of others they will influence. 

Take seriously the particular gifts, abilities, and passions you have been given. Choose to use to benefit others. What do you love doing? What makes you feel alive? Find a way to use that to heal the brokenness you find in the world around you.

Frederick Beuchner wrote "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."(1) If this is not your profession, your job, you can find it in volunteer work or in art or the way you function in your family or at work. Everyone is not called to the mission field in some far-off country. Most of us find our calling in our surroundings, our community, our organizations. Aim small. Make a difference where you are.

For us is only the trying. The rest is not our business. Not every need we touch will be filled. It will be changed in some way, however, for the better. We are only responsible for our choices, for our deeds, and we cannot guarantee the final outcomes. But we can do our part and encourage others to do theirs.

So let's keep at it. Keep changing the world for the better.

Please share in the comments ways you have been changing the world for the better. And make suggestions of how others can make a difference where they are.

(1) Frederick Buechner, "Vocation," from  Wishful Thinking: A theological ABC.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In God's Image?

If we are created in God's image, what does that mean? Is your image of God the only image that is real? Or does your image of God depend on your religious background and beliefs and, therefore, differs from one person to another? And can we limit God? Is that the only image that God has?

If your image of God is based on physical features - human, animal, tree, etc. - how then is God's image reflected in you? We see with human eyes. Surely God sees more than we can ever see. Perhaps God's image is not at all based on physical form. 

If that is the case, then how are we like God? How do we reflect God's image? To know this we must know more about God. What non-physical characteristics do we have, or could have, that are like God? 

Most people will agree that God is the Creator. So then, we can be creators. Creativity is a characteristic that I believe exists in all of us. How that is manifested varies. Often creativity is not nurtured and supported in children and they grow up thinking that they have none. But it is there, nonetheless.

Anyone can imagine, can use their imagination. I used to have clients in my therapy groups who were sure they had no imagination. It was a simple thing to teach them that they could and did use their imagination. I'd ask them to close their eyes and see themselves getting dressed in the morning. Where were their shoes before they put them on? Which foot did they shoe first? I'd walk them through imagining their morning rituals. 

But, they'd protest, that's just memory. Yes! And memory is imagination. It obviously wasn't really happening in the now. They were imagining it. And they did that all the time. That is one reason why our memories aren't that dependably accurate. 

We also use imagination and creativity to solve problems. We consider choices and imagine the probable outcomes of each. The better we are at doing that the more successful our choices are. This was another area we worked on in therapy. We'd look at expanding awareness of choices, of possibilities. This is especially important in interpreting the behavior of others. 

When we put meaning to the behavior of others we are using our imagination. Unless the person is telling us what they mean we are imagining what their behavior means based on our own perspectives. I'd take my clients through exercises where they were challenged to imagine what else someone's behavior might mean. The lesson was to challenge them to not base their interpretations on the limited knowledge they had about that other person. We misinterpret the behavior of others and create conflict when we don't have open communication or we jump to conclusions.

So we have the God-given ability to imagine and to create. And we can use it to help or to hinder us. And using our creativity can benefit us as well as others. 

It amazed me how many men in prison discovered they could create art. But over time I realized that we all have some creative talent if we take the time to explore it. Most of us are so busy in our day to day lives that the "leisure" to create art is not even considered. However, there are many ways to encourage our creativity.

Art is everywhere and in everything if we look for it. There is more to art than the graphic arts and sculpture. The arts include music, drama, poetry, story telling. Every craft grows out of art in some way. Creating a new recipe is an art. Decorating your home involves art. Creating your flower garden is art. All creativity is art. Yes, even modern graffiti is art. 

Nurture your creativity. Explore how you use your imagination. What can you create that benefits others? How can you use your creativity to make the world a better place? Do you use creative problem solving rather than just following the same old pattern of stimulus-response?

Have you taken the time to explore your own creative talent? Have you nurtured your imagination? Have you explored how your imagination can be beneficial? We are given these talents in the image of God. Have you thought of how God wants you to use your talents?

How can you support the creativity of others? If you aren't very artistic yourself, do you support those who are? Do you encourage children to use their imaginations to help them solve problems and to develop talents? 

Visit an art museum or art show. Go to a play. Attend a classical concert. Read about various artists. Check out a folk music festival. Attend a poetry reading. Listen to storytellers. Spend time in nature and appreciate the colors and designs of plants and animals, clouds and sky. Open your awareness to colors and shapes. Participate in a craft. Support local artists of every kind. Involve kids in the arts. Donate art and craft supplies to low income schools and day care.

We can all make the world a better place by participating and supporting creativity.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Still looking for your purpose?

Are you still looking for what your life's purpose might be? Many are. Scripture may help you find your way. James 1:29 says it is "to visit widows and orphans in their affliction." That seems pretty clear. And there are lots of ways to do that.

Widows, especially the newly widowed, are often left with little or no support system. Often they have few, if any, work skills. They may be stuck in low-paying jobs. And if they are left with the need to support children as well as themselves it can be overwhelming. And the emotional trauma can leave them even more vulnerable. This is clearly "widows in their affliction."

 Lead your faith organization in developing support groups and resources for widows in, as well as outside, your congregation. Do more than carry in casseroles after a death. Follow up with resources the family may need.You may be able to provide emotional support, guidance, mentoring, career building, transportation, child care, advocacy, even financial support where needed. Help widows build networks that enable them to build healthy and strong futures for themselves and their children. Explore community organizations that may also develop support and resources that can become part of a network.

And we are to visit orphans in their affliction. I'd say that this goes beyond the technical definition of orphan - children who survive the death of both parents. I'd include children who are without care-giving parents, perhaps because the parents are deemed unfit, are in prison, or are separated due to military service or illness. There are millions of children left to social services, foster care, or bounced around between extended family members, children without a permanent or long-term home.

Caring foster parents are often in short supply. If there are not stable foster care homes available when children enter the system they end up in institutions or go to foster homes where there are multiple foster children and little care, where they are neglected or abused. Sometimes children wait years for a home, especially if they are waiting to be adopted. These children need love and support, mentoring and care. Perhaps you can find ways to help. Children should not have to remain abandoned.

Adoption is one of the best ways to rescue an orphaned or abandoned child. Support efforts to make adoption a more affordable and more visible option in your community. Perhaps your faith community could create a fund to help pay expenses of adoption. And they could encourage their members to adopt, especially older and disabled children who are harder to place. Then the members could support the family as they work through the issues of being adoptive parents.

To-do List:

  • Your organization could host a screening of the film The Dropbox. 
  • Educate yourself and others on the situation of foster care in your community and state. How many are in the foster care system? Are their enough people willing to care for needy children on short notice? Do local ministries and havens for children have enough resources?
  • Read "Twelve Ways Ordinary People Can Love Orphans." at http://www.christianalliance for
  • To be sure your helping and not hurting, read When Helping Hurts  by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.
  • Give generously to organization locally and around the world that support the health, safety, and well-being of vulnerable children.

What will you do with your life?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Forgiveness is one of the most difficult healthy acts we can do. Even loving the ones who hurt you doesn't always make it easy to forgive. And when it is someone else it is even harder.

          "How can you love those who have stolen from you, assaulted or abused you, or tried to blow             you up and completely destroy you? How can you forgive those who have kidnapped, tortured             and killed someone you love? Yet this is where reconciliation has to begin." Canon Andrew                 White (1)

If we are to have peace, personally, nationally, or internationally we must become reconciled to one another. We must forgive those who have caused us pain. For old anger and resentments eat away at peace and leave us bitter and defensive, separating ourselves from "the others."

When we fall into racism, sexism, phobias like homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. We are cutting off the possibility of reconciliation with these "others." These create pain and suffering on both sides. Much violence is done in the name of -isms and -phobias.

And if you think the church is better at forgiveness and reconciliation than laymen, have another look. Consider all the violence that is done in the name of some religion or other. These -isms and      -phobias are an assault on the image we all share as created in the image of God.

Today we don't have to look far to see this playing out in our everyday lives. Oppressive regulations, denied access to resources, discriminatory hiring practices, preferential treatment of classes of people in the justice system, political hate-mongering, are some of the more obvious. There is little wonder that we are seeing such chaos.

While the fervor we are hearing today may be distressing, it is necessary for change. For these things thrive in silence. We may not personally be the cause of these evils. However, if we perpetrate the silence, if we do not speak up, we are guilty as well. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

There is no way forward in the face of this chaos without forgiveness and reconciliation. We can't wait for "time to heal all wounds" because it doesn't. It hasn't and it won't.

The good news is that people of faith can lead us through that. Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and other faith groups are moving to heal the broken connections. We must all be part of that. We must all want healing to take the place of hating.

What about individuals? What can YOU do to bring about healing? If you are a member of a faith organization, encourage them to confront their -isms and -phobias with love. And support their efforts to reach out to "the others."

Most importantly, though, you must confront your own -isms and -phobias. Who do you need to forgive? Who might need to forgive you? It works both ways, you know. You need to make amends for the harm/hurt you have caused. You need to reach out to those you have considered "others" and get to know them as equal creations in the image of God. Share meals. Ask questions about mutual blind spots that negatively effect others.

If we are to change the world we must begin where we are, who we are. Changing the world may seem like a huge goal. But remember, every journey begins with a single step. Step out.

(1) Father Forgive: Reflections on Peacemaking by Andrew White

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Where's the Justice?

[Note: this post is a bit longer than most. So you may want to set aside a bit of time to read and ponder it.]

Our current justice system treats crime as an offense against the state rather than against the victim. This allows the offender to distance him or herself from the pain they have caused. Thus their only remorse is that they were caught.

The legal system, therefore, is adversarial - the offender against the state. And the focus is on winning more than on the needs of the victim and the obligations of the offender. It is all about punishment rather than correcting the offender's behavior and restoring the victims peace of mind.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, recognizes crime as "more than an offense against a government. it damages the security and well-being of the victim and the entire community." (1) Crime impairs our ability to experience wholeness, safety, welness, harmony, and peace. It comes from and creates even more separation of people. The distance between "us" and "them" widens and allows for less empathy on either side.

Restorative justice gives the government the role of facilitator of justice. The victim and the offender become direct parties in the justice process. They provide opportunities to meet the victim's needs and promote the offenders accountability. And it serves the community's needs for education and public safety.

Restitution to the victim comes before fines or court fees. The offender may get reduced jail time in order for them to work and pay restitution. Or, in my idea of a better correctional system, the prison may have industries that the inmates can work in with their paychecks going mostly toward restitution to the victims. This, in turn, could reduce the time they spend incarcerated - which then saves the state money.

For some crimes the restitution would include more than mere monetary restitution. For instance, there are a few sex offender programs that facilitate meetings of victims and offenders in a controlled and structured conversation. To participate, the offender must admit to his offense and agree to listen without response to what the victim wants to say. Then the victim has the opportunity to ask the offender questions and the offender is then given the opportunity to answer honestly. The meeting is moderated by a counselor who can stop the interchange at any point. This is often a turning point in the healing of both parties.

Some systems give victims the opportunity to give individual personal consequences for the offence.
For instance, the offender may be required to learn about the victim as a person of value and worth and be required to send a card to the victim or the victim's family each year on the victim's birthday  or anniversary of the offense..

The goal is to give the opportunity for healing for the victim's pain and to give the offender the opportunity to develop empathy, remorse, and healing as well. For unless the offender can acknowledge the pai they caused and can then forgive himself, he can continue to create more victims.

Restorative justice cannot ignore the "collateral damage " to the offender's family. There are millions of children with at least one parent in prison. Often these children are virtually orphaned by the incarceration of their parent, especially when that prisoner was the single custodial parent. too often these children go into foster care and have no contact with their incarcerated parent. In many systems they are not even allowed to have mail contact. No matter the quality of parenting they had received, the abandonment can be devastating and cause many problems in the future.

One program that confronts this is a program where the prisoner parent reads a children's book onto a recording and the book and the recording are sent to their kid. It is a connection that can make a world of difference to let the child know that they have not been abandoned and forgotten.

And then there are the babies born in prison when a pregnant woman is incarcerated. In nearly every instance the baby is taken from its mother and given into foster care. Sometimes this happens even if the mother has family willing to care for the child. This kind of wound to both mother and child can create scars that result in anger and acting out behavior for many years. This does not serve the community nor meet the needs of the prisoner or the child.

To reduce crime and recidivism, big changes need to happen in our criminal justice system. Just throwing every offender into jail won't solve the problems. It drains the state budgets, creates angry people who are eventually released into the communities that are then less safe than before.

No, let's not get soft on crime. But let's look at what might help prevent its recurrence. Learn about restorative justice and ask your government to make changes.

To Do List"

  • Read As We Forgive: Stories of Recosiliation from Rwanda by Catherine Larson
  • Look at the principles of restorative justice at restorative justice.
  • Sign up yur church or service organization for the Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree Program. It insures that every child in your community with an incarcerated parent receives a ift from that parent at Christmas or other gift-giving holiday.
  • Work with your local Department of Corrections to develop or support those being released from prison who may need transportation to social services or job interviews, or who may need mentoring in basic finances. Re-entry is often difficult and the challenges can result in recidivism when the offender can't navagate the system and red tape.
  • Help families with incarcerated members get job training, counseling, transportation, childcare, financial advising, or legal assistance.
  • Don't expect social services to do all these things. They are nder-funded, under-staffed, and overwhelmed. Step up to help bring justice to your community.
(1) Heather Rice-Minus, policy analyst for the Justice Fellowship.

 offender questions. Th offender is then given the opportunity to answer honestly. The meting is mod