Pesky questions

On my birthday, during communion at church, I made a commitment for the coming year: Develop a better understanding of God, so I can fulfill God’s purpose for my life, discern what my values should be, and live accordingly.

My husband and I attend church almost weekly. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a shelf full of books on religion and spirituality. I’ve developed a morning meditation ritual – sitting in my recliner in front of the fireplace with a cat in my lap and a cup of coffee by my side while I journal about my priorities for the upcoming day. For years, these activities have helped center my thoughts and keep me focused on what’s important.

But lately, I have found myself journaling about the “big” or “ultimate” questions: What do I actually believe about God and why? What is God’s purpose for my life? What are my values, or what should they be? How do I live my life in a way that is consistent with my beliefs and values? Apparently, these are not questions I’ve been able to answer for myself once and for all.

When I detach myself from the daily drama of my life long enough to think about it, I realize several factors have led to this renewed questioning of beliefs I’d previously taken for granted:

My recent retirement – a major transition. I know one thing for sure. Now that I no longer punch a time clock, I want my life to mean something more than sleepwalking through my days while I rush-rush-rush to meet one deadline after another so I can spend my paycheck accumulating more stuff than the neighbors have and wind up at the top of some proverbial heap. I’m entering a new chapter of my life. What should it look like?

The increasing divisiveness and polarization in our society. Neither the liberal nor the conservative ideologies align completely with my own worldview. However, I’ve felt more and more pressured to adopt positions I don’t totally agree with on a variety of issues so I can be ideologically correct and fit in with the people around me – or at least avoid being the target of shouting and name-calling. As people on either side of the political/ideological divide – including people who are close to me – pressure me to take sides, I’ve come to realize how much my own belief system has been shaped by the people around me. Now I’m asking myself: Should I continue holding onto these beliefs and values? Should some of them be changed or discarded?

Reading the Bible from cover to cover. As I read through the entire Bible a couple of years ago, I kept encountering passages that prompted me to say, “So that’s where [Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals, fill in the blank] get their beliefs.” In some ways, this only raised more questions than answers.

Serving on my church’s Evangelism Committee. The committee’s (and congregation’s) priority seems to be attracting more young families to join our church so we can increase the number of members by a certain percentage. But are numbers and demographics the appropriate areas of focus? What is a church’s purpose, anyway? What should it be?

The “time is limited” epiphany that comes with being 60-something. While I’m back to discerning God’s will for my life, I know my purpose consists of much more than eating, sleeping, mindless Internet surfing, getting sucked into other people’s dramas and endlessly checking items off to-do lists. Lately, it seems even church has become an item to cross off the to-do list as soon as the service is over. This needs to change.

I plan to use my Morning Meditation sessions to journal about my beliefs and values, why I hold those particular values and what impact this should be having on how I conduct my life, so I can answer those questions in a way that satisfies me. I want to develop a value system that works for me, rather than simply a value system that lets me fit in chameleon-like with my surroundings.

For me, this starts with questioning a lot of things I think I know, along with values other people want me to hold – whether those other people be liberals or conservatives, Lutherans or evangelicals or some other religion that is Christian or non-Christian. I’m not interested at this point in what various philosophers or other academic “experts” think. I want to come up with answers that I can honestly believe.

To help me sort through these questions, I’ve decided to engage a spiritual director. According to Liz Budd Ellmann, M.Div., former executive director of Spiritual Directors International, spiritual direction helps us “learn how to live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.”

I must admit the idea of working with a spiritual director makes me a bit nervous. While I would encourage this person to ask the hard questions, I don’t want someone who will merely push me to adopt their own belief system. I need this person to be nonjudgmental and open to the idea that I’m questioning all kinds of dogma from the spiritual to the political to the ideological.

A couple friends of mine have gone through this process and reported that it was a positive experience for them. Since number one on my list of priorities for the coming year is to improve my relationship with God, I’m going to take a deep breath and give it a try. Wish me luck on my journey …

My priorities

In what has become an annual birthday tradition, I like to start my “personal New Year” by reviewing my priorities. Are they the same as they were last year, or has something changed?

As I sat in my recliner earlier this week, with a cat on my lap and a morning cup of coffee next to me, I started by identifying what is important to me right now:

 Developing a better understanding of God, so I can fulfill God’s purpose for my life, discern what my values should be and live accordingly.

  Staying healthy for as long as possible and helping my husband do the same.

  Staying in contact with family and friends and maintaining good relationships with them.

  Creating and maintaining a beautiful home that serves as a sanctuary for ourselves, our family and friends, and maybe even a stranger or two I can turn into friends.

  Writing – articles, essays, blog entries and, yes, at least one book.

  Using at least a portion of my time, money and talent in a way that helps others and creates positive change in the world.

  Eliminating the backlog tasks and clutter that keep my life more chaotic than it needs to be.

  Achieving serenity by practicing mindfulness and finding at least one thing each day to be grateful for.

These will be my priorities for the coming year – a personal relationship with God, self-care, family and friends, our home, my writing, service to others, elimination of needless clutter, and serenity.

Over the next few days, I’ll reflect on why each priority matters to me and set some goals. Then, about every month or so, I will check in and see how well my daily activities reflect these priorities.

For several years now, this little exercise has helped me stay focused so extraneous STUFF doesn’t crowd out what’s most important in my life.

Time for some good orderly direction!

Thoughts on turning 62

Unlike many people “of a certain age,” I still get excited about birthdays. I have always considered my birthday to be a personal holiday. My husband will play Happy Birthday to me on his dulcimer. My mother will come for a visit and take us out to my favorite restaurant. And I will meditate on what I’ve learned about life. So here are some thoughts as I embark on a bright, shiny new year:

Time is limited. Of course I’ve always known – intellectually, at least – that we’re not immortal. But in recent years, this has started to register on a deep-down level with the loss of Dad and a best friend my own age. Bottom line: Nothing’s guaranteed. I need to let family and friends know how important they are to me and how they’ve impacted my life. I need to do this now.

I survived adolescence once already, thank-you. These days, I swear I’m experiencing more bodily changes than I did as a teenager. My husband and I have acquired a new pastime – looking up medical problems on the Internet after the doctor sends us for tests based on the latest unnerving symptoms. We’re fond of joking that aging lends a whole new meaning to the term “drug salad.”

Perfection is an illusion. All my life I’ve struggled with perfectionism in areas ranging from my diet and my housekeeping to my career ambitions. But I probably need to face the fact that our home will always look like real people live here, no matter how much time I spend cleaning. There will never be a time when my house is in perfect order inside and out, including the closets, the garage and the basement.

So is eternal youth. Is 60 really the new 40, as Baby Boomers proclaim? Some say my generation is redefining old age. But truth be known, I have wrinkles. I have gray hair. There are some things I can’t do anymore – like burn the figurative candle at both ends and get away with it. Actually I wasn’t getting away with it when I was younger either. I just thought I was.

Perhaps I should say I’ve survived adolescence twice. I did have one of those midlife crises the shrinks talk about – that second adolescence complete with acne at age 45, identity struggles and acting out behaviors (red car, drastic career change). As I prepare to enter this new territory called Senior Citizenhood, I’m thinking maybe it’s time for my flaming midlife crisis to be over already! On the other hand, a friend sent me a Facebook meme that advised, “If you haven’t grown up by the time you’re 60, you don’t have to bother.” Whew! Maybe I’m off that hook.

I do not spend all my time wishing I were younger. Yes, there are days when I wish I had my 20-year-old body – especially when my arthritis flares. But only if I could keep my 62-year-old mind and all the experience and wisdom about life that I’ve accumulated. Older women tell me the 60s can be really good years. I’m old enough to know what’s important and young enough to act on it. Besides, when I am 80, I will most likely wish I still had my 62-year-old body, so I might as well appreciate it now.

 “Respect your elders!” never sounded so good. I can tell I’m getting older whenever I’m tempted to direct that admonition to 25- and 30-year-old kids. Oops! I mean colleagues and service people. On a serious note, it’s gotten more scary to encounter young adults who see their elders as people who either need to move out of the way or be thrown away rather than people to learn from and respect.

It’s time to let go of regrets. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have picked up that first cigarette. I would have spent fewer of my prime years striving and competing for that brass ring that didn’t seem so shiny once I succeeded in grabbing it. Alas, I can’t change what happened decades ago. What I can do is make better decisions in this 24 hours. When my father turned 75, he said, “I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.” I hope I can say that when I’m 75!

I have set some boundaries with the fashion world: 1. Clothes must be easy to care for. If they need dry-cleaning, forget it. 2. They must be comfortable – nothing that binds or scratches. 3. They must look good on a 60-something woman who’s never been a size 0 and never will be. 4. Since I don’t have time to constantly shop, my wardrobe must stay in fashion for longer than a month. If clothes don’t fit all these criteria, I leave them on the rack, no matter how many cute young things are wearing them! 

I’m much less materialistic than I used to be. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s more THINGS!!! If I need to be reminded of this fact, I can go to my basement and gaze upon the 64 boxes marked “miscellaneous” that make me scream when I think about sorting whatever is in them.

But there are some things I continue to want. I want to spend more time on what’s important – traveling with my husband, entertaining family and friends – and less time mindlessly surfing the Internet. I want the courage to stand up for my values and let the chips fall where they may. I want to stop worrying about what my peer group thinks. I want to stop fighting with my own body.

Yes, I still have dreams. I have never been in a better position to achieve dreams like writing a book or making a constructive contribution to our society. The time to do these things is now, not some future date when everything will have settled down and fallen into place so I can start living my life in earnest. (See “Time is Limited” above.)

I’m entering the Age of Wisdom. Or so I’m told. When I was in my 20s, I had the world figured out. But the older I got, the smarter my parents got, just as Mark Twain predicted. Now I’m convinced only God has all the answers, and it’s my job to keep asking the questions.

I have a LOT to be grateful for. I have a terrific 32-year marriage to the best man on the planet (I’m only slightly biased here). I have wonderful enduring friendships. I have a beautiful home and – for the first time in my life – some real financial stability. I’ve had a successful writing career, followed by a challenging career in human services, followed by fulfilling volunteer work. Despite minor ailments, I’m relatively healthy. And I’m thankful God has given me another year.

This is church?

As I said in my previous article (Political correctness, tone policing and censorship! Oh my!), I recently joined an invitation-only Facebook page for church people. And felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone.

From the “About This Group” description, it was clear the administrator had originally envisioned the group as an outreach and evangelism tool: “This is an approach to social media where everyone in the [denomination deleted] can meet, hang out, and share faith together,” it said by way of introduction. “Welcome to the conversation. Let’s make this a free church. May whatever confusion results be liberating, salutary, and evangelical.”

Though I suppose nothing should shock me in the current political climate, I have to admit I was more than a little taken aback as I encountered the flame wars on this site. 

The screen shots below are a small sampling, but unfortunately there were many, many more equally outrageous posts I could have chosen to include here. They are taken from a “conversation” between several liberal and conservative church folks who apparently have been mauling each other for quite a while now:

Screen grab 3

Of course, not every post contained the F bomb. Some stuck to good old-fashioned ad hominem attacks. Take, for example, this discussion on why some people might be uncomfortable with the “sharing of the peace” ritual that is part of worship services at many churches:

Passing the peace gripes edited

And then there were the na-na-na-na-na playground insults.

Screen grab 1

I have to admit a few snarky remarks came to mind as I posted these. But in the end, this leaves me more sad than anything else. So I decided to let the images speak for themselves.

The church denomination and its Facebook page shall remain mercifully unnamed in this article, and the perpetrators’ names have been blocked as well, because the point here is not to shame a particular group of people. It’s to get those of us who call ourselves Christians to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Yes, I get that Christians come to church precisely because they aren’t perfect. That church is a hospital for sinners and all that.

But there has been a lot of talk in our congregations in recent years about the increasing numbers of young people who identify as “none” when asked their religion. If we were an unchurched young person and came across something like this, would we want to come to church?


Political correctness, tone policing and censorship! Oh my!

I recently joined a Facebook group made up of church people – and felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone. Several conversation threads consisted of little more than name-calling and expletives not deleted. “You are the anti-Christ” and “shut your f–ing mouth” were just two of the lovely sentiments expressed by these self-professed Christians, some of them clergy.

When I responded to one of the nastier threads with the observation that we could all use a bit more civility, I was met with the kind of hostility one might expect if I’d suggested we all start cooking and eating puppies.

As a Christian myself, I wish I were making this up.

Implore people to stop the mean-spirited political rhetoric fracturing our society, and culture warriors of all stripes – even some church people, it seems – will shame us for daring to ask for courtesy:

“This political correctness is getting out of hand,” conservatives complain.

“Enough with the tone policing,” liberals lecture.

“Censorship!” everyone cries.

I understand political correctness, tone policing and censorship exist. But both liberals and conservatives have hopelessly twisted these concepts.

Left-of-center activists first used the term politically correct to satirize their tendency to adopt uniform opinions and causes, thus poking fun at their own rigid insistence on ideological purity. Alas, in recent years, some conservatives have hijacked this term and hurl it indiscriminately at anyone who suggests that common decency and respect for others are still virtues worth cultivating.

I’ve been told I overdosed on political correctness when I forgot to laugh at a patently offensive joke or sought to debunk a stereotype. The accusations go something like this:

Excu-u-u-u-se me if someone thought that joke was offensive. I guess nobody could accuse me of being politically correct.

Well excu-u-u-u-se me, but calling a woman a fat broad isn’t politically incorrect. It’s just plain rude.

We can’t open our mouths anymore without some member of the politically correct thought police yelling, “Racist! Sexist! Homophobic!” People are so oversensitive these days.

Hmmm. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, guess what it is? I’m not saying oversensitive people don’t exist. However, most people I know would prefer that ethnic slurs not become socially acceptable again.

But conservatives aren’t the only folks good at doing The Twist. Liberals do a pretty good dance too.

Wikipedia defines tone policing as an attempt to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the way it’s presented rather than the message itself. One example is to tell people they’re being “divisive” for merely raising issues such as discrimination in the workplace. But lately, the term gets thrown at us like a hand grenade by some liberals who feel oppressed if we fail to listen while they scream profanities at us.

A Tumblr post circulating among several progressive groups illustrates this trend:

… Hearing ‘I hate men’ shouldn’t make men stop being feminist. Hearing ‘f– white people’ shouldn’t make white people stop opposing racism. Your opposition to oppression should be moral and immovable. Your belief that all humans should be treated with equal respect shouldn’t be conditional based on whether or not individual people are nice to you.

Okay, let’s unpack this statement, a variation of which has been shouted repeatedly at people on the above-mentioned church page. I wholeheartedly agree that we should treat all human beings with equal respect, whether or not every individual in a particular group acts like a nice person. And I’m not going to stop opposing racism because one person says something hateful about white people. But if someone drops the F bomb on me, I will tell them I find this behavior abusive, regardless of their race or mine.

Here’s another example, making the rounds on Facebook:

If you use that “background color” shit, STOP! It blocks EVERYONE who relies on screen readers and/or text-to-speech programs from accessing your posts! These programs, for some reason, CANNOT read the text in those backgrounds and thus your blind/low-vision friends CANNOT find out what you have to say! This is an official “yelling at your friends to not be assholes” post.

Whoa! If someone out there really does lie awake nights thinking up ways to oppress blind people, I seriously don’t want to know them. But I’m pretty sure most people who use the background color feature on Facebook don’t even know this poses a problem, and there are far less abrasive ways to spread the news.

Regarding censorship, some people – conservatives and liberals alike – simply do not tolerate disagreement well, and will consider any overt expression of opposing views to be a violation of their free-speech rights. I’ve heard variations of the following more times than I can count:

It’s my First Amendment right to state my honest opinion of (Dumbocrats, Rethuglicans, fill in the blank). My freedom of speech trumps your hurt feelings.

These people seem to forget the same First Amendment protects our own right to say, “I don’t agree with you” or “I find your language offensive.” While the Constitution does indeed guarantee one’s right to say whatever one wants, it doesn’t force the rest of us to listen. And dissent in and of itself does not constitute censorship.

Note to conservatives: Racism is not “politically incorrect.” It’s immoral. Liberals: Refusing to listen while someone calls us names is not “tone-policing.” It’s setting a healthy boundary. Everyone: Deleting rants full of ad hominem attacks from the comments section after our blog posts is not censorship. It’s exercising our right to set standards for our own publications.

To anyone who thinks their passionate beliefs entitle them to spew hostility, here’s the deal: If you want me to listen to you, please remove your middle finger from under my nose. Then state your concern minus the name-calling and profanity. My attention span will improve dramatically.

Especially if I’m on a church site.



After my previous two articles, I’d like to clarify: I’m not saying we should retreat from the political arena, refrain from sharing opinions on issues we feel strongly about, passively accept mistreatment, look the other way in the face of injustice, forsake our favorite causes or stop working to resolve social problems.

Some would argue that even talking about politics or hot-button social issues is poor etiquette. That getting involved in causes is the province of people afraid to look too closely at their personal issues. That marches, rallies and boycotts are inherently divisive. That civil discussion is a waste of time since most of us already have our minds made up. That special interests control our government to the point where voting is futile, so why bother?

I would respectfully disagree with all of this. Participating in the political process is not only a right, but one of our responsibilities as citizens. Supporting a good cause beats sitting in front of our screens playing one video game after another. Too many problems need addressing for us to move in the direction of self-absorbed apathy and disconnection. We do need to stay engaged.

But could we please, please stop the vitriol? If we really want to change hearts and minds, we must stop the name-calling, the scapegoating and the demonizing.

The Constitution guarantees our right to petition our government for the redress of grievances, whether that involves writing letters to our representatives, attending town hall events or visiting lawmakers in their offices. But I suspect our elected officials – being human – will pay more attention to a politely-worded letter and listen more carefully to constituents who refrain from shouting them down while they’re trying to speak.

Marches and rallies are a time-honored way to call public attention to an injustice. But can we do this without violence and destruction of property? I think we can agree there is a huge difference between rioting or looting on the one hand, and a peaceful protest in which organizers have obtained all the proper permits.

If a company treats customers badly or engages in business practices we believe to be immoral, a boycott allows us to vote with our feet and our pocketbooks. But it wouldn’t hurt if we let the offending company know the reason for the boycott in a letter, email or tweet that has been edited to delete profanities.

I enjoy watching TV programs in which people discuss the issues of the day. But could our political pundits learn to speak one at a time and stop interrupting each other constantly? Recently I’ve taken to switching the channel as soon as commentators start talking over each other.

I have nothing against people wearing t-shirts and sporting bumper stickers in support of their favorite cause or candidate. But I’m with Her and Make America Great Again are one thing. Cheeto is a vulgar pig and Trump that Bitch are another.

Name-calling and other rude behavior stop genuine discussion and problem solving in their tracks. Lashing out only gives others an excuse to ignore our concerns, discount us and dismiss our issues. For those of us who claim to be people of faith, spewing snarky insults gives people ammunition to call us hypocrites and declare they want nothing to do with either us or our religion.

Being civil, on the other hand, carries strategic advantages. After all, we want people to take us seriously, right?

In my own case, I actually have changed my mind now and then over the years, even on some fairly big issues. When I did so, it was because someone presented factual information in such a way that I could listen without becoming defensive. It also helped if the other person was willing to hear my side of the story, shared their personal experience of the issue in question, or showed me how I could come around to their way of thinking without sacrificing values important to me.

But I can promise I have never, EVER changed my mind because someone called me names, insulted me or tried to convince me I was a terrible person. All yelling and character assassination ever did for me was encourage me to dig in my heels or walk away. People of all political stripes have let me know I’m not alone in this regard.

In our current environment, we are so often presented with only two alternatives – be “in-your-face” reactionary or be apathetic. I’d like to see a third option. I’d like to see all of us eliminate the name-calling, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about serious issues.

We need to replace our desire to be right with a desire to solve problems. That way, instead of Our Side winning, perhaps we can all win.

Time for a look in the mirror?

I know some will accuse me of false equivalence, but I’m going to say this anyway: People of all political and ideological persuasions have been guilty of contributing to the divisiveness tearing apart our social fabric.

During the 2016 election, I noticed most candidates for public office spent more time telling us why we should not vote for their opponents than they did telling us what they planned to do themselves if elected. This was true whether the candidate was a liberal, socialist, progressive, moderate, centrist, conservative or libertarian.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on hypocrisy. Republicans who spent eight years obstructing and filibustering former President Barack Obama at every turn now lecture Democrats to “give Trump a chance.” Meanwhile, the same Democrats who decried obstructionism now focus on how to give the Republicans a dose of their own medicine. Democrats pounced on candidate Donald Trump’s “woman problem” while conveniently forgetting or just plain denying that former President Bill Clinton was accused of similar misdeeds. Trump supporters complained that Obama issued too many executive orders, but now cheer when Trump does likewise.

Liberals who wish to vent about the election results – or find memes with which to shoot down conservatives – can join Facebook groups such as Americans Against the Republican Party, The Angry Liberal, Amending the Constitution so Corporations Can’t Buy Elections, or Teanderthal Party, which declares “Trump’s a jackass” and pledges, “I will defend my country from all enemies, both foreign and Republican.” Conservatives mad at liberals for being mad about the election can join Laughing at Stupid Things Liberals Say, Liberal Logic 101, or Occupy Dimwits, which proclaims, “Dimwits support the Occupy movement, Obama, Hillary, socialism, Marxism and communism.”

Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of promoting fake news, overt propaganda and “news” of questionable accuracy: Daily Headlines, American News, and Conservative Tribune on the Right; Occupy Democrats, Bipartisan Report, Real Time Politics and Freakout Nation on the Left. People on both sides can live entirely in their own bubble, if desired. Left-leaning folks have MSNBC, DailyKos, The Nation, Jezebel, AlterNet, Slate and Mother Jones. Those on the Right have FOX News, American Spectator, CNS News, The Federalist, The National Review and the Drudge Report. While none of these latter media qualify as “fake news,” it would be fair to say they are decidedly biased.

The comments sections that follow online news articles and blogs overflow with trash-talk of both political stripes: I’m going to say this real slowly so you un-ed-i-cated rednecks can understand it. … Keep it up and maybe you can turn being a flag-hating pansy into an Olympic sport. … I can see why you vote Dumbocrat – it’s easier than working. … Is that true or did you hear it on FAUX News? … I can’t even understand what you’re trying to say, it’s so stupid.

Finger-pointing and blaming others has proven to be an equal-opportunity pastime. Ask conservatives who or what is responsible for the problems in our society, and they’ll blame labor unions, illegal immigrants who suck our social system dry when they’re not stealing jobs from hard-working Americans, Muslims out to bring sharia law to our shores, and mothers who work outside the home while others raise their children. Ask liberals the same question, and they’ll point to corporations that bust unions, xenophobes who deny entry to this country for refugees with well-founded fears of death or persecution in their own countries, Christian extremists who would impose their own version of sharia law on America, and men who want to keep women in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant.

People on both sides seem to subscribe to the notion that if we can’t beat our opponents in an argument, we can always fall back on name-calling. Conservatives talk of Obozo, $hillary, elitist granola-munching Libtards, Welfare Queens, tree-hugging environmental wackos, woefully deluded do-gooders and snowflakes. Liberals talk of the Bloviater in Chief, Rethuglicans, racist-sexist-homophobic bigots, right-wing fanatics, extremist ideologues, the lunatic fringe, tea-baggers and alt-right fascists. Both sides fling words like idiot, moron, nut job and Nazi with abandon.  

Liberals and conservatives compete for the most in-your-face bumper stickers, t-shirts, ball caps and coffee cups. At the online Breitbart Store, conservatives can order their very own Border Wall t-shirt, Protected by 2nd Amendment doormat, RINO Hunter jumbo coffee cup or Safe Spaces Are for Snowflakes bumper sticker. Not to be outdone, the online Northern Sun store offers liberals a White House Alternative Facts t-shirt, He’s Not My President button, Putin-Trump Make Russia Great Again bumper sticker, or a refrigerator magnet which announces, “Mommy when I grow up I want to help smash the white racist, homophobic, patriarchal, bullshit paradigm too.”

Demonizing of opponents knows no ideological boundaries. People who favor gun rights accuse gun control advocates of wanting to render law-abiding citizens defenseless in the face of rampant crime. Gun control advocates portray people who favor gun rights as heartless monsters who don’t care about tragedies such as Sandy Hook. Christians portray secular humanists as hedonists out to strip society of its core values, while secular humanists accuse religions (including Christianity) of being responsible for most wars. Some Web sites seriously speculate whether Trump, Obama or even Pope Francis might be the Antichrist referred to in the Biblical Book of Revelation.

Perhaps Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich best summed up the free-floating animosity when she observed: “Everyone needs someone to loathe. … I mean some group, some class, some club, some clique, some collection of humans who can be disdained and despised simply because they wear the wrong ID badge. … We all gnaw on prejudices against groups that threaten who we’d like to be or think we are. Sometimes our prejudices explode into cruelty, even if words are the only weapons in our attack.”

Of course, if I’m completely honest with myself, I must acknowledge my own contribution to the divisiveness. No, I haven’t broken windows or set buildings on fire at a demonstration, and I don’t make a habit of spewing profanities at people. But I’ll plead guilty to passing along Facebook memes that subtly – or not so subtly – make fun of people whose opinions differ from mine. I’ll cop to sometimes feeling smarter than, and even a bit morally superior to, those poor misguided people who disagree with me on various issues. I’ve promised more than once to stop posting political memes on Facebook, only to renege a short time later. I’ve finally settled on a promise to post at least one cute animal video for each political post. Good thing there are A LOT of cute animal videos in cyberspace.

During election season, my husband and I rationalized that our candidates had to “go negative” during their campaigns because their opponents did. Thus justified, I cheered when “my” candidate got in a good zinger during a debate or attack ad. I was quick to pounce when a candidate on The Other Side said or did something “wrong,” and equally quick to make excuses when my own candidate behaved the same way.

As a Christian, I’ve even been guilty of getting snarky about other Christians. When a fellow believer expresses an opposing view, I’ve said, “Do they read the Bible they’re thumping on?” One day in Sunday School class, someone asked the group, “Do you think [well-known person] is really a Christian?” I replied with the proverbial wink-and-nudge, “By their fruits we shall know them,” and was gratified when several people laughed. I should probably deposit a $20 fine in Rachel Held Evans’ Jar of Contention for that last one.

I don’t believe it’s “false equivalence” to suggest that each of us look for our part in a problem. Admittedly this is much less fun than wallowing in the mud hole we all seem to be submerged in at the moment. On the other hand, no positive change is going to happen and no real problems are going to be addressed effectively until we all can do this.





We need to talk

Sometimes I want to stick my fingers in my ears and yell “SHUT UP!” over and over at the top of my lungs until the madness stops.

One cannot turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper or go online without getting a daily dose of the name-calling, character assassination and overall nastiness that has characterized our recently-ended demolition derby of an election campaign and its aftermath:

Herr Trump is a sociopathic demagogue, and the RepubliKKKans who support this Manbaby and Groper in Chief are a racist, misogynistic basket of deplorables. … Crooked Hillary was a nasty woman who lied every time she opened her mouth, and the Libtards who supported her are entitled whiners, sore losers, crybabies and snowflakes who only want free stuff.

One could practically see members of the news media salivating as they proclaimed the 2016 presidential election to be the ugliest mudfest in history, and the venom shows no signs of abating now that our new president has begun his term. But our current political climate did not come from nowhere. For years now, we’ve been subjected to the endless barrage of accusations, counter-accusations and demonizing that characterize the Culture Wars:

You know who’s causing all the problems in this country don’t you? It’s those feminazis intent on killing babies and destroying traditional marriage. … It’s those right-wing bigots who push hatred as a family value. … It’s those unions bankrupting businesses and the government with their outrageous demands. … It’s those greedy capitalists who stuff their pockets while robbing honest working people of their retirement funds. … It’s those lazy welfare bums with their infuriating sense of entitlement. … It’s those wealthy elites who have too much already and want more, more, more. … It’s those incompetent teachers who staff our lousy public schools. … It’s those immigrants stealing our jobs. … It’s those SUV drivers contributing to global warming. … It’s those obese gluttons who gorge on too much fat-and-sugar-laden junk food and drive up health care costs … It’s those people who own guns, those people who want to take away our guns. … It’s those fundamentalist Christians, those radical Muslims, those godless atheists, those New-Age Buddhist-Hindu-Native American-Neo Pagan navel gazers … It’s those teenagers who watch too much TV, play too many video games, listen to rap music, do drugs, drop out of school, get pregnant and join gangs. … Of course, none of this would be happening if it weren’t for those working mothers and helicopter parents who fail to teach their hopelessly coddled offspring personal responsibility!!!

Whew! Have we left anyone out?

This seething anger has seeped into the public square and manifests itself as an epidemic of rudeness. Even before the 2016 election, we’d come to regard name-calling and mudslinging as normal for political campaigns. On the cable news networks, political pundits and other guests routinely talk over each other and shout each other down while debating the latest hot-button issues. “Flaming” and “trolling” have become popular sports in the anonymous comments sections that follow news articles and blog entries.

As I’ve paid closer attention to the steady drumbeat of vitriol that makes up the background noise of our daily lives, I find myself thinking, “No wonder we’ve become a nation of people with clenched teeth and balled up fists.”

Indeed, it seems that people I encounter in my everyday life have become more surly and defensive than they used to be, and some seem to be spoiling for a fight. A car with a middle-aged driver sports a bumper sticker that tells us what we can eat if we don’t like the owner’s driving. We have Road Rage (shouting, cursing and making obscene gestures to other drivers), Airport Rage (yelling at ticket agents and flight attendants), Sidewalk Rage (acting violently because people in front of us are walking too slowly), Parking Lot Rage (engaging in an angry standoff with another driver over a parking space) and Starbucks Rage (working oneself into a ballistic frenzy over the color and design of a coffee cup).

We have Climate Wars — the folks who believe climate change is caused by human behavior vs. those who believe the former are perpetrating an elaborate hoax. We have Class Wars — the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. We have Worship Wars — should a church’s music and worship style be traditional or contemporary? We have Mommy Wars in which a mother’s decisions on everything from whether to work outside the home to whether to breast-feed or bottle-feed is scrutinized and judged by other mothers. We have Turf Wars in our social services system that keep helping professionals from working together for the common benefit of people who seek help for problems ranging from drug addiction and homelessness to domestic violence and mental health issues. We even have Autism Wars — a genuinely sad state of affairs in which adults with autism and parents of younger children or more severely affected adults are locked in an unyielding struggle over how autism should be defined and how services and research dollars should be allocated.

It would be bad enough if the tide of anger and disrespect served only to put people in a surly, antisocial mood. Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t end there. Our finger-pointing epidemic leads to everything from Congressional gridlock to violence against individuals who belong to the maligned groups. Two friends on opposite ends of the political spectrum have talked seriously about what they fear is an impending civil war. And perhaps worst of all, our children are watching us.

On a personal level, the constant conflict has left me exhausted, and apparently I am not alone. In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, 52 percent of U.S. adults said the 2016 presidential election was a “very significant” or “somewhat significant” source of stress. Republicans and Democrats were statistically equally likely to say this was true for them. The APA pointed out that arguments and hostile or inflammatory comments on social media heightened the sense of stress felt by people who took the survey.

In the meantime, our real problems go unaddressed. Raging war in the Middle East is creating hundreds of thousands of refugees. Thousands of children worldwide die each day of starvation and totally preventable diseases, and nearly a third of all children in the U.S. live in poverty. Nearly every week brings news of another mass shooting. Environmental damage threatens our planet and all of our futures.

Some well-meaning people suggest we respond to the divisive slander the same way our parents taught us to treat malicious gossip: Don’t dignify it with comment. However, I no longer think we can afford to make political issues a taboo topic in polite conversation. The stakes are too high on too many of these issues, ranging from our ability to get health care, to the quality of our children’s education, to the impact of climate change on our grandchildren’s futures. “The personal is political” didn’t get to be a cliche for no reason. And because the vitriol on all sides is so widespread and so relentless and so damaging, we must look for ways to turn down the heat.

That is why I’m starting this blog. I would like to invite responses from all sides — liberals, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, independents, centrists, people who don’t like labels. What would happen if we could all take off our political/ideological hats for just a few minutes, eliminate the name-calling, the character assassination, the trolling and the flaming, and simply have a rational discussion about the real issues?

Questions for readers: How has all the divisiveness impacted you personally, your family and friends, our society? What problems do you see going unaddressed while we rip each other apart? What do you think is behind all the divisiveness and how do we turn down the heat? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on the article itself. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below.