Honoring 9/11

Scrolling through Facebook on this fateful anniversary, I see a mirror for the schisms in our country. We cannot seem to embrace the diversity of ways that people honor this particular fraught anniversary. There is a spirit of competition as some people post photos of the World Trade Center towers on fire and say “Never forget.” Others focus on people–survivors, first responders, memorials to civilians who died that day. I posted the Budweiser ad that according to Jim Brooks who originated the post, they only aired once so as not to make money on this tragedy.


Since it is also Sunday, our church at St John’s Lutheran in Sacramento held a Serve Day. We all worshipped together in our jeans and t-shirts and were graced with an amazing sermon from Rev. Dr. Stephen Bourman, who served as Lutheran Bishop of New York on 9/11/01. We then went out in small groups to accomplish projects in the neighborhood. Our group of 6 picked up trash for a couple of hours–a challenge after a second Saturday in Midtown.

These various expressions of remembrance and service are not surprising as they reflect the various cliques of people who emphasize some values over others. Social media facilitates this in a way that the traditional media never has. Traditional media likes to find one narrative for “the country”. There is competition for the narrative right after the event and then most of the media adopt this as “the narrative.” Social media allows us all to find kindred spirits who see things like we do in all of its diversity. Now we compete for “Team First Amendment” or “Team America First”.

When a quarterback decides to take a knee during the national anthem, there are groups who feel everything from support for the racial conflict in the USA, to his right to express his views but they’ll refuse to watch the 49ers play, to people burning his jersey. It often feels like football rivalries.

I wish instead of reacting with anger and competitive spirit, we could all take a breath and get curious. What moves this quarterback so deeply that he’s willing to risk his career and popularity to make a statement? Is there something we can learn from this perspective? If his statements trigger supercharged emotions in us, then what can we learn about our own values?

And I wish the media could continue to do more of what they did after 9/11 when they found many, many stories of personal heroism and tragedy and shared those with us. At least at first the narrative was allowed to include how we all pulled together to help one another grieve and regroup. Before it became the war on terror.

I personally do not to see a photo of the towers with billowing smoke as that image is forever etched in my mind; but I’ll do my best to stay curious about why others do. Mostly I want to remember that it was a time when the world was united behind the USA, when we all shared a tragic experience and looked for ways to help others–from volunteering at ground zero to giving blood. Finally, to search within myself to find that community spirit and act in ways that keep it alive.




Inspired by the Idea of Sufficiency

Nature provides ample evidence of abundance. Consider the lilies of the field..

My church St John’s Lutheran is helping to bring Lynne Twist, author of the Soul of Money to Sacramento on October 5. I attended a dinner and musical evening to raise the funds for her fee. It piqued my interest in her book. I may have read it before a few years ago but it resonated in a much deeper way this time. Sometimes the timing is finally right to think about a subject more deeply. I am at a bit of a crossroads as to the ways I am earning a living. I was ready to be inspired by the idea of sufficiency.

I am all too familiar with the idea of scarcity. Our western economy depends on the idea that we live in a zero-sum game where only the most competitive win. “This mantra of not enough carries the day and becomes a kind of default setting for our thinking about everything, from the cash in our project to the people we love or the value of our own lives.”

“In the mind-set of scarcity, our relationship with money is an expression of fear; a fear that drives us in an endless and unfulfilling chase for more, or into compromises that promise a way out of the chase or discomfort around money.”

“Scarcity is a lie. Independent of any actual amount of resources. It is an unexamined and false system of assumptions, opinions, and beliefs from which we view the world as a place where we are in constant danger of having our needs unmet.”

I have been caught up in these 3 toxic myths: 1) There’s not enough. 2) More is better. 3) That’s just the way it is. It is exhausting. I have had glimpses my whole life of another way but I have not been able to completely embrace it. I did not have a vocabulary for the other way. The way of sufficiency.

“Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough… When we live in the context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete.”

“I suggest that if you are willing to let go, let go of the chase to acquire or accumulate always more and let go of that way of perceiving the world, then you can take all that energy and attention and invest it in what you have. When you do that you will find unimagined treasures, and wealth of surprising and even stunning depth and diversity.”

Enough is a place you can arrive at and dwell in.”IMG_0561

“True abundance does exist; it flows from sufficiency, in an experience of the beauty and wholeness of what is. Abundance is a fact of nature. It is a fundamental law of nature, that there is enough and it is finite. Its finiteness is no threat; it creates a more accurate relationship that commands respect, reverence, and managing those resources with the knowledge that they are precious and in ways that do the most good for the most people.”

The book is long on concept and short on practical steps. I look forward to attending the Impact Foundry’s conference on October 5 to learn more.

“When your attention is on what’s lacking and scarce–in our life, in your work, in your family, in your town–then that becomes what you’re about. That’s the song you sing, the vision you generate. You engage in lack and longing and what’s missing, and you call others to that same experience. If your attention is on the problems and breakdowns with money, or scarcity thinking that says there isn’t enough, more is better or that’s just the way it is, then that is where your consciousness resides. Those thoughts and fears grow from the attention you give them and can take over your life. No matter how much money you have, it won’t be enough. No amount of money will buy you genuine peace of mind. You expand the presence and the power of scarcity and tighten its grip on your world.

“If your attention is on the our capacity you have to sustain yourself and your family, and contribute in a meaningful way to the well-being of others, then your experience of what you have is nourished and it grows. Even in adversity, if you can appreciate your capacity to meet it, learn, and grow from it, then you create value where no one would have imagined it possible. in the light of your appreciation, your experience of prosperity grows.”

CTI Leadership instilled in me a belief in collaboration and cooperation based on the 10 month program experience. “A you-and-me world is full of collaborators, partners, sharing and reciprocity… Respected evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris notes that Nature fosters collaboration and reciprocity. Competition in Nature exists, she says, but it has limits, and the true law of survival is ultimately cooperation.” This is the reality I know exists and now I want to lean into it more fully.





Pacing Myself Until Election Day

high five
High five photo from bbc.com

I have felt like the world was off kilter before, but perhaps not as much as in 2016. Reading news articles increasingly feels like there are two alternate realities competing in this election. Of course I am convinced that mine is the realest reality and when I read news stories about the “crazy” things others are saying it is upsetting.

There are two narratives competing and if it wasn’t blatantly obvious before, there was no denying it after the national party conventions. Lots of column inches are being written calling us to choose either a white-dominated isolationist worldview or a more inclusive global view. In fact I counted over a dozen distinct stories on Facebook and Twitter that I could read just this morning alone. The question is how to stay tuned in until November 8 without wearing out.

This morning I read a very helpful op ed in the Los Angeles Times by Christopher Cokinos, “How to stay sane in the time of Trump.” After almost falling off a ladder reacting to another of Trump’s whoppers, he set limits on his consumption of television news. He listens to Miranda Lambert when Trump comes on the radio. The best advice is his 5/5 rule: consume only 5 election stories a day and no news after 5 p.m.

A little while later I finished reading Lynne Twist’s The Soul of Money and she had further helpful advice. After the 1987 stock market crash, she and her husband faced a familiar choice: “We could go into that whole swirl, the swirl that was everywhere we were looking that day, but we looked at each other and made a vow, a little deal, that we wouldn’t do that. We would use the situation with the stock market to as an opportunity to count our blessings and reconnect with the nonmaterial assets that were the foundation and core of our true wealth, our life, and our joy.”

This faith restoring conversation helps us to disconnect from the fear and the anger and reconnect with our true values. As Twist points out, “The conversation we have with ourselves and with others–the thoughts that grip our attention–has enormous power over how we feel, what we experience, and how we see the world in that moment.” Let’s not cede that power to someone else.

There is a profound choice to make this election: what conversation are we going to be a part of? Are we going to feed the conversation of scarcity and us or them? Or shall we be a part of the conversation of enough and them and us? Are we going to press “angry face” to dozens of stories a day on social media, or head out the door to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity or register someone to vote? Are we going to yell at the television or radio, or turn it off and listen to uplifting music that helps us to see that right now, right here, everything is all right.

Evening of Dancing Words

Billy Collins
Billy Collins reading a poem as Aimee Mann looks on.

Tonight was a evening to celebrate language. The full house in Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus were gathered because they were fans of the poet Billy Collins or the singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, or both. People are drawn to these artists because they respect language and are committed craftsmen. Or in the case of Billy Collins, I love his dry wit and the humor in his poetry. I can relate to poems such as “Forgetfulness”:

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of your brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

First two stanzas from “Forgetfulness” from Billy Collins’ Sailing Alone Around the Room

I have one album by Aimee Mann. She has a beautiful voice, but her songs are all a little too melancholy for a steady diet. She was joined by a bass guitarist who also sang backup. She introduced him and then I forgot his name and he is not in the program. It made for a nice tryptic on stage.

Aimee Mann
Aimee Mann performs as poet Billy Collins looks on.

Aimee Mann and Billy Collins took turns performing and in between they bantered about their experience participating in a workshop for young poets at the White House. It is where they met and where they started what appears to be an on-going discussion of poetry and art.

Are song lyrics poetry? Sometimes they can be, although Aimee admitted that her job is easier because she has the music or melody to help her. Billy only has blank pages.

I bought the tickets for this performance in August. I thought the book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies prompted me to buy the tickets. In my January 11 blog post, I committed to memorizing poetry. Apparently I was already thinking about poetry because I bought these tickets in the summer. Until recently I did not realize it was Billy Collins performing with Aimee Mann. I was all about the poetry. Aimee was a definite bonus.

Billy Collins shared with the students at the White House workshop the importance of form in poetry. It is not enough to express yourself. There needs to be some discipline and structure. Form pushes back at you and does not allow you to get away with everything.

Collins also told the students (and us) a good poet also has to tell a little lie: that you care more about poetry than yourself. Then you can create a poem that intrigues the reader and can serve something other than the author’s ego. Aimee agreed and said her husband (Michael Penn) says, “you have to give a shit.”

Truth for all meaningful work.



Responsible Communication: Choosing Our Words

Our choices make up the sum of our leadership. A mature person realizes they are always “in choice.” This includes responsible speech.

Snarky business owner's sign.
Snarky business owner’s sign at the AMGEN Tour of California 2015 City of Lodi finish.

There is much confusion about free speech in the USA, especially during this election cycle, what with money being called speech and lies that would have ended campaigns drawing nothing but headlines. Leaders usually are held to a higher standard than the entitlement to say whatever they like. Leaders exercise responsibility when they act and are careful with their words. Oh where are the leaders today?

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s thesis in her excellent book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, is “if language is to retain its power to nourish and sustain our common life, we have to care for it in something like the way good farmers care for the soil.” (p 3) Years of hyperbolic advertising, yellow journalism, misrepresentations in political speech and fraud in business has depleted and polluted the English language. As English is the dominant language of the internet (80% of information is in English) and business, it is urgent to address the decline in literacy and commitment to truth.

She makes the case that to be good stewards of our language we need to do three things: 1) deepen and sharpen our reading skills; 2) cultivate habits of speaking and listening that foster precision and clarity; and 3) practice poesis–be makers and doers of the word. (p 9-10)

McEntyre gives 12 strategies to steward the English language:

  1. Love words.
  2. Tell the truth.
  3. Don’t tolerate lies.
  4. Read well.
  5. Stay in conversation.
  6. Share stories.
  7. Love the long sentence.
  8. Practice poetry.
  9. Attend to translation.
  10. Play.
  11. Pray.
  12. Cherish silence.

It has inspired me to make my word for the year: truth. I intend to focus on reducing my own tendency to hyperbolic enthusiasm, to take a Great Course on crafting better sentences, and to memorize poetry. It is a start.

There is an urgency that I hope you share with me. I just watched The Big Short at the movie theater. It can only be described as a comedy if you like black humor. High levels of deceit (and greed) in the world’s banking system led to a complete meltdown in 2008. The complicity of the regulatory and government agencies resulted in no one being held accountable and nothing enacted to avoid a repetition of the same calamity. The stakes are high on so many fronts.

Tone Communicates Volumes

photo by jafitzgerald.ca
photo by jafitzgerald.ca

Tone of voice can communicate volumes, or completely confuse. For example, today I was cycling home from a work meeting. I am waiting at the light on K Street. I look across the street and a car has pulled into the right lane facing me. He plans to turn as though he is on a one way street, although it is two-way. I am very worried someone will turn left off of 15th Street and into him. I am grimacing every time a car on 15th approaches the intersection. I cannot tell if the person realizes what they are doing wrong.

The light changes at last and I wait for the car going the wrong way to turn. although since I am going straight I technically have the right of way, there is literally nowhere to safely ride. The car in the correct lane of oncoming traffic rolls down their window. I slow to make sure they are not also turning. The driver yells at me, “Thanks for obeying the traffic laws.”

Now, just looking at the surface events I would accept the compliment and realize that the other driver’s behavior stressed him out too. Except the driver’s tone had the opposite impact. First he’s shouting. Also he sounds snide, almost drippy sarcastic. I have to think through the situation and assure myself that I was abiding by traffic laws.

If the driver intended to praise me, his tone undercut his intentions. This happens to me a lot more often than I would like. I can tell that the way a comment landed that it did not have the desired intention. Most often it is because the tone did not match my message, thus taking on a completely different meaning.  The best I can do is to quickly repair with an explanation and an apology or clarification.

In my example, it is literally a “drive-by’ comment. I will never see this person again. I will never know for sure what the driver’s intentions were. I can only shake off the stress and remind myself to be impeccable with my words, including my tone.