A Shot of Much Needed Leadership Inspiration


You may not have noticed, but I went dark for a few weeks. I fell into a deep funk after the election. Once the outrage subsided I found my motivation at a very low ebb. I gave myself permission to retreat. I am coming out it now and one of the contributing factors was witnessing my friend Mai Vang’s swearing in to the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Mai invited her family and friends to attend and about 100 people filled the boardroom to support her on this momentous occasion. Four people actually shared in administering the oath: her high school teacher and mentor, a parent from the district who inspires her, a Burbank High School student, and an elder from her Hmong community.

It was so moving to hear Mai repeat the oath to defend the US constitution and the constitution of the State of California. Here was evidence that our democracy can still function beautifully.

Mai speaking after taking the oath flanked by her grandparents.

This is Mai’s story. Her family was part of the wave of immigrants from Laos that came to the US after the Vietnam War. Mai is the oldest of 16 children and she worked hard to learn English while retaining the Hmong language to be able to respect her elders as that culture teaches. At the same time she didn’t want to remain in poverty, so she studied hard and accepted help from Ms. Crowder who helped to coach her to earn the grades to get into college and a Buck Fellowship. Mai went on to University of San Francisco and then UCLA to earn two master’s degrees. She could be earning larger salaries working in public health. She chose to return to Sacramento to organize her community. She is staff to a Sacramento City Councilmember and now a member of the school board representing a part of the school district that is challenged by low income and fewer opportunities.

As she took the oath my eyes teared up. Here is proof that if you work hard and participate in our democracy you can take a seat at the table. I only wish there were more Mai’s from her community running for office. More young people from all walks of life stepping up to leadership.

Rob Bell in Episode 122 of his RobCast “We need to talk about politics…” (October 16, 2016) He explains why politics needs to reclaimed as a good thing. The origin of the word of politics Greek is “politicos” and means citizens. It is essentially a good word and determines how we arrange our common life together. There is something sacred and holy about our shared life together. As a poli-sci nerd I don’t need to be convinced by Rob Bell that policy is also important.

We have to pay attention to actual policy to cut through the clouds of opinion in a post-truth world. We need to talk about the nuts and bolts of how things get done.

If you don’t step up, people and corporations who do not care about our common good take advantage of your cynicism or disaffection. This is OUR common good. Be part of the solution not part of the problem. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that doing nothing is anything other than being part of the problem.

Mai Vang is willing to commit a large amount of time to learn the issues facing the Sacramento City Unified School District and help to adopt policies that result in better outcomes for all students. I am digging into local housing policy to find ways to dramatically reduce people experiencing homelessness.

What are you willing to do?




I Need to Lament Right Now

rob-bellI started listening to Rob Bell’s podcast during my newscation since the election. The Lamentations mini series from May is just right for right now.

The book of Lamentations is 5 poems in the middle of the Bible that express the human experience. It was written after the devastation of Jerusalem about 500 BC.  As Rob Bell explains “When you suffer, literal language often fails you.” Lamentation poems use images to express what they are feeling.

Here are a few Bell statements from the first of five episodes:

“Lamentations is naming what is wrong–naming the pain and giving expression to the injustice.”

“If you are lamenting you are still alive. You are still in the game.”

“To lament is to refuse to be silent. Rip open your rib cage and let it out. To expose and name whatever is out of order in God’s world.”

In the US we live in a culture that denies reality. We invest in plastic surgery to deny time and aging. We keep quiet when we should blow the roof off this thing. Lamenting may disrupt things because to lament is to feel your full humanity.

In all of the people of the book faiths there are people who teach extreme quietism, that is we need not do anything but pray because God/Allah is in control. And you could interpret Lamentations as a way to pray through your anger. I respectfully disagree. Prayer is essential. And public lamentation is also important to give expression to the suffering at a societal level. This is why I support the Black Lives Matter movement, and I am spending my time and money to participate in the Women’s March on Washington to affirm women’s power.

And if you are a Christian who celebrates Advent, consider this modern Lamentation-like devotional.

Did We Overindulge in Satire?

I have heard many people say we are living in the golden age for satire. I agreed before the election, but now I am wondering if I overindulged in satire at the expense of political action. Much has been said about the echo chambers we can create for ourselves on social media. Since almost all of the satiric comedy shows are left leaning lampooners of politics, they create a similar effect. We think because John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, and Stephen Colbert all made sport of presidential candidate Trump with such gusto, it was easy to think that a kind of consensus existed about his unsuitability.


Malcolm Gladwell,  in his new podcast series Revisionist History, focused on satire in Episode 10. He begins with an interview with Harry Enfield who created a character to satirize the Thatcher administration. His Loadsamoney sketch went viral and yet seemed to do little to move political opinion or effect change.

The idea of satire is an ancient one. It gives the opportunity to speak truth to power, and by couching it in humor, give the speaker a chance to keep his head (literally in some cases). Unfortunately it may also do little more than entertain. And perhaps it leaves little space to consider issues seriously.  As Gladwell points out, some political problems can be solved and deserve more than to be laughed at.

He refers to an article by Jonathan Coe, in the London Review of Books, called “Sinking Giggling into the Sea.” He writes:

“Or perhaps we should give the final, gloomiest word on this subject to William Cowper, writing in 1785:

Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay? …
What vice has it subdued? whose heart reclaimed
By rigour, or whom laughed into reform?
Alas! Leviathan is not so tamed.

Despite all this, it always seems that successive generations of entertainers, bent on laughing people out of their follies and vices, remain optimistic about the power of anti-establishment comedy at the outset of their careers: it’s only later that reality kicks in. When Humphrey Carpenter interviewed the leading lights of the 1960s satire boom for his book That Was Satire, That Was in the late 1990s, he found that what was once youthful enthusiasm had by now curdled into disillusionment. One by one, they expressed dismay at the culture of facetious cynicism their work had spawned, their complaints coalescing into a dismal litany of regret. John Bird: ‘Everything is a branch of comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome.’ Barry Humphries: ‘Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There’s an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness.’ Christopher Booker: ‘Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea,” and I think we really are doing that now.”

Now it appears the USA is following.

I wasn’t the only one who found it intolerable to watch comedy in the aftermath of the election. E.W. in The Economist wrote in defence of comedy, and yet acknowledged: “Now the joke (of a Trump presidency) has mutated into reality. In the immediate aftermath of Mr Trump’s victory, laughter has proved difficult. Judd Apatow, a comedy behemoth involved in such films as “Anchorman”, “Knocked Up” and “Bridesmaids”, tweeted on election night: “One thing I do not want to watch right now—comedy about any of this. That’s how terrifying and disappointing this is.”

The E.W. article asserts that satire can still influence change, but must do it as an outsider. Perhaps now that the far right is controlling everything, they will regain an edge. Gladwell would probably suggest they can regain their relevancy by becoming sharper, such as Israeli satirists have done. My concern is that when you laugh at misogyny and racism you may normalize the behavior to some degree.

Rough seas ahead. Let’s not drown giggling into them.


Exercising My Particular Superpower


I am devastated by the election results. I am experiencing all of the stages of grief. This is so much more intense than 1980 and 2000. Because in this election an ugly spirit was unleashed to stoke fear and attract votes. One candidate gave people full permission to express misogyny, racism, and xenophobia both in words and actions. And now winning the electoral college (but not the popular vote) these same people are emboldened and we are seeing a lot of ugly.

I am still struggling with how to express my dismay without closing down the possibility of dialogue with people who didn’t vote or voted for Trump and are not racists. I attended a Stronger Together organizing meeting in Sacramento with over 200 people on Veteran’s Day.  I hope they follow through with the ideas of communications training and a clearer message about the Democrat’s vision for the economy. This will help in 2 years.

What can I do in the meanwhile, when so many people feel fearful and are experienced harassment or worse? I read a post by one of the women in Pantsuit Nation on Facebook where she introduced the idea of wearing a safety pin to let people know you are a safe person committed to standing with them against the threat. She read that this started in Britain after Brexit when they had a similar increase in racially-motivated violence.  As the writer said she is a little overweight, grey-haired and looks like someone’s grandma. She is invisible most of the time. Yet, she is also non-threatening to the fearful person and yet a formidable foe to a bully. This is me!

safe-with-meI can use my superpowers of invisibility. I look powerless and benign. However, I prepared to stand up or beside anyone who is threatened verbally or physically. I’ve been the person who needed someone to walk me to my car, or to sit with me while I wait at a scary train station. Now it is my turn to provide safety in numbers.

Some say that I am appeasing my white guilt and can keep my damn safety pin. I am not acting out of guilt. Yes I am privileged because of my lack of pigment, and my relative wealth. And I’m a woman so I know what it is to be made less than because of my sex. I know what it is like to stand up to bullies alone. And I have asked for help and received it. So I will put my safety pin on with intention and ask God to help me stay awake and alert to what is going on around me. I will  make eye contact and engage with all people in a friendly way. And if needed, I will respond to assist people to safety.

Coda: Good advice on having a plan if you do wear a safety pin: https://isobeldebrujah.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/so-you-want-to-wear-a-safety-pin/

Coda2: Sometimes it feels like this:


Power and Vulnerability

Grendel as imagined Betterlifethroughgrendel

In David Whyte’s book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, he takes up the story of Beowulf to illustrate power and vulnerability in the workplace. I never read the story before. It is a fascinating tale of a warrior Beowulf asked by the King of Denmark to slay Grendel, a monster coming up from the lake and dragging people from the castle to tear them limb from limb. Grendel is also a metaphor for the inner demons that keep us from living the life we were meant to live. The fears that keep us from living wholeheartedly.

Beowulf slays Grendel, but then Grendel’s mother appears even more fierce than her son. Isn’t that how it often goes? We address some surface fears only to have more difficult demons take their place? The first was a quiz, this is the final exam.

Beowulf must enter the dark lake to reach Grendel’s mother. The dark lake is so scary that a stag pursued by hunting dogs would rather die a certain violent death than enter it and be saved. The only way for Beowulf to be powerful is to be vulnerable first. Find his voice, speak out against a bad idea or injustice.

It isn’t hard to remember a time when I’ve sunk down on our haunches like that stag at the shoreline. I am human and it is not easy to face down the demons every time. There is help available if I am willing to tap into the ancient feminine wisdom found in vulnerability and self-compassion.

This is where Brene Brown so marvelously illuminated the path to becoming more vulnerable. I have read all of her books and participated in her online courses and recommend any of her books. In her most recent, Rising Strong, she explores what happens when you take a risk or enter the arena. At some point when we risk vulnerability we will slip and fall. The key is to remain wholehearted and continue to stay open.

It is a choice to continue to put my faith in the long game or eternal story because my life is at stake. “The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that if you do not come to know the deeper mythic resonances that make up your life, the mythic resonances will simply rise up and take you over. If you do not live out your place in the mythic pattern consciously, the myth will simply live you, against your will.” (Whyte)

Be the hero of your own story; not a side character, as Sara in Katrina Bivald’s novel would say.

The Importance of Being Humble

Lake Tekapo’s Church of the Good Shepherd and the Milky Way

What would our theology be if we could see these stars every night everywhere in the world?

This is the question I asked myself and my friend Sarah after wandering out to see the stars at Lake Tekapo at midnight and then again at 4:00 a.m.

We had to wait for the clouds to break for us to enjoy this sumptuous banquet of stars. Once this was a commonplace site in all parts of the world. Now with most people living in light or air polluted places, humanity does not have this nightly reminder of our place in the universe.

Not everyone looks at the stars and sees a creator amongst them. But even the humanist or scientist does gain humility from seeing all the possible galaxies and worlds. Maybe, just maybe, earth is not the only one that matters. And perhaps the concerns and emotions that can rule my existence may be seen in a proper perspective if I spend some time meditating on or admiring the cosmos.


Maybe, just maybe, the stars could be a nightly reminder of the importance of being humble.

I was going to end my ruminations here and then I thought, maybe not everyone appreciates humility as a character trait. Certainly the media gives the vast amount of attention to the braggart and the self promoter.

Micah 6:8 says: He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (King James translation)

I read an article in The Jewish Week that said humility is the difference between a professor and a sage. (Ouch!)  They also offered this definition of humility on LetItRipple.org: Thinking yourself worthless is not humility. To understand that you have gifts and blessings and yet remain modest is an achievement of character.

Sometimes it is easier to understand humility by what it is not: proud, self-willed, arrogant. Not putting ourselves ahead of others, instead the humble understand that every human matters. And if we know that every human matters, we are a long way to seeing how everyone is interconnected, and then there is no “us” and “them”. What a world that would be!


Lose Your Illusions; Save Your Life

Brilliant piece by Palmer Parker on the On Being website is a must read.

Parker Palmer

“When a friend says, “I’m so disillusioned!” about this or that, why do we say, “I’m so sorry! How can I help?” We ought to say, “Congratulations! You’ve just lost an illusion! That means you’ve moved that much closer to reality, the only place where it’s safe to stand!”

P.S. Also worth a listen: Krista Tippett’s interview with EJ Dionne and David Brooks. (available on On Being podcast or the website)

Healing Our Democracy After the Election

hart2After the last 10 days of the is election season, women who’ve been assaulted are experiencing PTSD, and many more people are experiencing anxiety. People on both sides are fearful of the outcome of the other candidate succeeding. And yet, on November 9 there will be one person with the most votes/electoral college delegates and we all need to find a way to live together peaceably.

This is all the more challenging because of the large number of people who are expressing racist and misogynistic views. People are discovering that people that they planned PTA fundraisers or studied the Bible with are expressing feelings and values that repugnant: defending sexual assault, or saying that all Muslims are a threat. As Dylan Matthews at Vox news said, “What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast changing demographics of the country.” (Vox, “Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they are actually saying,” October 15, 2016)

So I began searching for ideas for how we can begin the healing. We need to find a way to build empathy bridges over the chasm. But if you cast the other people as feminazis or racists, then this is difficult to do. Indira AR Lakshmanan’s article “Surviving an ugly campaign: Advice from the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu,” (October 13, 2016 The Boston Globe) offers the perspectives shared in their book, The Book of Joy. “…when people vote for candidates who promote fear and anger, it’s because they’re afraid, hurting and suffering…fear, anger, hatred exist in our own minds and hearts as well, not just ‘out there.” If we realize that we can have compassion for what’s underneath the vitriol.”

Her parting words are wise, “The key to finding our way back to civility may be to recognize that that anger is out there and face it, head on. Our political, spiritual, and media leaders have an obligation to speak, listen and find common ground–even with those that are slinging the last dregs of mud.” One way to do that is to find a softer way to think of people who hold white nationalist views. I’m not suggesting we tolerate hate speech, but unless we can find a name for what’s underneath the vitriol, we cannot be empathetic.

EJ Dionne offers a way to do this in his Washington Post column (October 14, 2016). The late Rev. Andrew Greeley called those who love the particular patch where they were raised or that they have adopted as their own as“neighborhood people.” Being “citizens of the world” is not high on their priority list, whereas it is a point of pride for “cosmopolitans”.

Dionne says, “I suspect that many of Trump’s backers are neighborhood people. Economic change, including globalization, is very hard on them. It can disrupt and empty out the places they revere, driving young people away and undermining the economic base a community needs to survive. Liberals and conservatives alike insufficiently appreciate what makes neighborhood people tick and why they deserve our respect. Liberals are instinctive cosmopolitans in the citizens-of-the-world sense. They often long for the freedom of big metropolitan areas. Free-market conservatives typically say that if a place can’t survive the rigors of market competition, if the factories close, the people left behind are best off if they find somewhere else to live.” And it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand how for a neighborhood person such a sentiment would feel hostile.

Finally, we are all in this democracy together. As tempting as a divorce may seem, we need to find a way to restore the respect and care for one another that makes our community at large work. I am reminded that the opposite of love is not hate it is disdain or disinterest. That is an emotion we cannot afford to indulge.


This Moral Moment

What world are we creating for my grandson Calvin?

I have been trying to process how anyone can justify voting for the Republican presidential nominee. This became even more mysterioso after the Friday tape drop. I try to “build an empathy bridge” to my Republican friends. I imagine if the Democrats had a candidate who was truly unqualified, who regularly insulted groups of people, and acted like a petulant child, and now likely committed sexual assault. Would I still vote for him/her out of party loyalty? Or because I thought the future of the supreme court was more important than the deficiencies of the candidate? It gets me part of the way (Bill Clinton springs to mind–especially the second time around) and still there is a chasm.

I marvel at both the Republicans who since Friday have claimed that are now so outraged they unendorse him, and those who, even with this latest garbage spew from the candidate, say that at least he doesn’t support abortion. (Does he or doesn’t he? Really, you believe that?) To the former I guess you can see where they might have given Trump’s public pronouncements a pass before, thinking he’s just trying to mobilize a segment of angry voters, and then once you hear that even 11 years ago (at age 59 past the point of “maturity”) he was saying vile things in private. This is a direct window into his heart. It’s ugly and it becomes the final straw.

And now I have a whole new understanding of how Germany ended up with Hitler (no I am not called the Republican nominee a Hitler–the comparison is more to their shared deep narcissism and willingness to race bait to win elections).  Especially my fellow Christians: How can you give his behavior such a complete pass just to have access to Presidential power or to maintain Anglo-Christian privilege? I continue to read on Facebook posts from Christian friends who say Trump is the only true Christian. (I guess Methodists aren’t followers of Christ??)

This is why I believe we are living in a moral moment. In her article,  “Derailed” by Kathryn Schultz in The New Yorker August 22, 2016, she suggests we do not usually recognize moral moments.

“It is to our credit if these are the Americans [Underground Railroad engineers] to whom we want to trace our moral genealogy.  But we should not confuse the fact that they took extraordinary actions with the notion that they lived in extraordinary times. One of the biases of retrospection is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own–that, had we been alive, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and insidious and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes from without but from within.”

I like to think that when there is a critical moment to make a choice with heavy moral portent that I will recognize it and make the right decision. It might be hard or come at a great cost personally or professionally, but I would be on the right side of history. I believe this election will shape our society’s moral compass for years to come.

Dan Rather agrees with me. As he said on the evening of the second Presidential debate:

For those of us who have lived long and eventful lives, we often are able to find calm in the crisis of the moment by invoking the perspective of time. You understand that history is always rough in the early making and the years and decades that follow will often smooth these jagged peaks into the gentle contours of a rolling landscape where big themes and movements hold sway over the details that overwhelm us in the here and now. But this is not always the case. There are some inflection points that explode with such violence and monstrous effect that any semblance of continuity is hopelessly disjointed.

Most often these moments are ones of violence – wars, civil unrest and assassinations. But make no mistake, what we have seen in the past few days is proof that we are living through such an instance. And the violence here has been in ripping asunder our self-confidence in our system of government and in the unity we share with our fellow Americans.

We have serious problems facing our nation, and our world. Our ship of state must be prepared to navigate the perilous shoals of our complicated world – and yet I feel tonight as if we have been hijacked into an alternate universe. This national nightmare will end one way or another and we will awaken to the same world from which we have been so disengaged. That is our challenge and it is a challenge from which none of us can opt out.

As citizens we must repudiate the hate, the bigotry, the vile character we have seen eating up the public space for the last year and VOTE for Hillary Clinton so there is no way the Republican nominee is allowed to win by any measure.

Why is truth so unpopular?


Al Gore called his mega-PowerPoint presentation on climate change An Inconvenient Truth. Seems like in this ugly season leading up to the national election that truth is more unpopular than ever.

Case in point, a family member and Facebook friend posted a picture of a baby born at 36 weeks with a caption that said “Bernie and Hillary support abortions as late as 36 weeks…” This struck me as particularly horrifying if this were true as that is considered a near term birth (full term is 39-40 weeks).  So I went to Google and Snopes.com and this story is false. At first I wrote not true, but that is not strong enough. It is misrepresenting their positions at best and I would even call it a lie.

So I messaged my relative privately instead of calling her out on Facebook. I provided her the Snopes.com link and this was her response, “I know—you don’t know what is true, I just wanted to show what a 36 week baby looked like didn’t care if either or neither said that. Be so glad when election is over!”


If she were a friend I might hide all of her posts from now on, but I want to see the grandkid photos and know when they are seeing other family members, so I will let it go. How many of us are having to do this with family or friends during this ugly election season?

It is easy to blame the media or the internet, but if you go back to Alexander Hamilton’s day and truth and elections were allergic to each other even then. Only then it was a printed pamphlet. And if we are honest with ourselves, truth is never popular. When it finally wins out people rewrite history and say they always knew or they are glad it came out. In fact, most of us spent energy avoiding the truth or actively denying it.

This is why it is one of The Four Agreements. All of the agreements seem simple, almost facile. Until you try to live them.