100 Days

I often find myself saying that one of the reasons I workout as often as I do (though probably not as often as I should) is because I like cookies. And beer. And french fries. I also have grown to genuinely enjoy my workouts- even running. But I know, as I’m sure you do, that I could do a little better. A little better with the workouts; a little better with the eating; a little better with caring for my body that shockingly moved into the second third of it’s life without my permission.

In spirit that earlier this week I began a 100 day challenge with some beloved coworkers. This isn’t 100 days of deprivation or cleansing or dieting or burning out, but 100 days of doing just a little better. 100 days of walks or runs or bike rides or yoga classes. 100 days of a piece of fruit in the afternoon rather than a cookie. 100 days of seemingly small decisions. I may lose a few more of these stubborn plateau pounds– I may not. I may ride my way into my first bike race– I may not. I may run my way to a Bolder Boulder PR– I may not. But after 100 days I’m quite certain I will be glad I’ve stood with these friends and made a few better choices.

Though it’s worth admitting, starting this during the last month of the school year may have been a tactical error on our part, so if you’re looking for us, we’re stress eating clementines.

Advertisements

Try not to get in the way.

Over the last few days and certainly over the next few weeks (and hopefully longer) we will continue to hear the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida speak out in favor of stricter gun laws. They will hold rallies, they will lobby, they will march, they will tweet, they will travel, and good-Lord-willing-and-the-rest-of-us-not-get-in-the-way, they will achieve the seemingly impossible.

I’ve been thinking about all the things they have to say. I’ve been thinking about their courage to turn their grief into action. I’ve been thinking about how badly we’ve failed them. I’ve been thinking about how I too am a product of the school shooting generation- but at the old end, not theirs. I was in high school during the shooting at Columbine and graduate school during Virginia Tech. But mostly I’ve been thinking about how badly we can screw this moment up.

So I have some unsolicited advise. (It’s my blog, damnit.)

For those of us who count ourselves as activists, whether related to civil rights, gun control, women’s rights, racial inequality, immigration, LGBT issues, health care, public education, anti-war or anything in between, it will seem like we should help these well-meaning high schoolers out. After all, we have a wealth of experience in organizing and lobbying and campaigns, we should definitely offer them our expertise.

Resist that urge with every fiber of your being.

If these brave young folks want our help, they will ask for it.

I know Baby Boomers have a lot to say on this matter– hush. I know Gen Xers have been through some fights– listen. I know Millennials are the smartest people in the room– sit down.

These Floridians, and their allies across the country, are doing just fine. Let’s resist the urge to helicopter them, teach them, guide them, mentor them, or stand between them and their goal. Let’s just listen and when asked, get to work. All our lives are at stake.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

There was another shooting at a another school yesterday. This time in Florida. 17 are dead. It was 18th school shooting since January 1. There is much to say about it, almost all of which has been said before, following a previous school shooting about which nothing has been done. So instead of wondering for the 400 jillionth time why we don’t do something about the damn guns I’d like to tell you a little about the name you may be hearing for the first time: Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

If you grew up in south Florida you know her name; if you didn’t grow up here you knowB9316361636Z.1_20150223160844_000_GF9A1SLH2.1-0 her legacy. She is our patron saint. Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a real life suffragette, she was an activist, an agitator, a brilliant writer, and arguably the world’s first eco-feminist- though she didn’t know it. She started her writing career as the society columnist at the newspaper her father published that later became The Miami Herald.

She published her seminal work The Everglades: River of Grass in the 1940’s and it set the stage for what has become generations of work on restoring and honoring the Everglades. To preserve, restore, and save the Everglades she fought Big Sugar, developers, the state of Florida, the federal government, agri-business, and the Army Corps of Engineers, and along the way she turned so many Floridians into environmental activists.

Throughout her 108 year life she fought for women, for civil rights, for the environment, for education, and for farm workers. She was a tireless advocate, a fierce opponent, and a feisty spirit.

You will hear her name a lot in the coming days and it will only be associated with tragedy, but please, please, for the sake of those who are hurting right now, please remember her for the enormous good she did in our world. She would want us to fight harder; she would want us to work more diligently; she would want us to do better.

Come and Worship- even during Lent

Each weekday at noon, after chiming the hour, our chapel carillon plays two random hymns. Today as I walked across campus, carrying my lunch back to my desk to make preparations for our second of three Ash Wednesday services, I was struck by the second hymn and found myself singing along to Angels, from the Realms of Glory.

It felt more than a little subversive (my apologies to the liturgical police) to sing along with a Christmas hymn on this first day of Lent. And yet even though so many of us have packed up our Alleluias for 40 days and begun our prayerful, solemn journey toward the cross, I also found myself more than a little comforted that we’re always in Christmastide, just as we’re always in Advent, just as we’re always in Lent, just as we’re always called to live as Easter people.

We undoubtedly live in a culture that gets uncomfortable with seasons of fasting in anticipation of the feast that will surely come, and yet Lent is calling us to do exactly what the hymn that rang across campus calls us to do: come and worship. Settling into a season of Lenten fasting demands that we resist a culture of excess, a culture of greed, a culture of habit– which is no different than a hymn that cries out for shepherds abiding in their fields, for sages in the midst their contemplations, and for all of creation to join in and come, worship, and give thanks.

By all means, today is a day when we reflect on our mortality, on our brokenness, and IMG_6036that we come from ashes and to ash we shall return. But it’s also a day when we remember that the God who loves us first is the one who breathed life into that ash; and the God in whose image we are made will stand watch over that ash till the end of time; and that even in the midst of our ashiness we are called to live as beloved children of God– called to come and worship.

On Failure

It’s December 20th. There are eleven days left in 2017 and according to my New Year’s Resolution I have 819 more miles to ride this year.

It’s not going to happen.

If I’m really on my game I might swing another 150-200 bringing my total to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,350-2,400. And here’s the thing– I’m astonished and proud and tired and ready to try for 3,000 again.

This is the time of year when we are reminded that most resolutions don’t make it out of January and all the ways we set ourselves up to fail. January 1, they say, is not the time to commit to losing weight or quitting smoking or saving more for retirement or riding 3,000 miles. I knew midway through the year I wouldn’t make  my goal,

22196291_10100216428363160_4854271926740777946_naccepting I would fail– and do so spectacularly.

Because it’s simply spectacular that this year I ran a half marathon and another great year of Bolder Boulder. It’s spectacular that I willingly rode the hills of central Florida- with minimal crying. It’s spectacular that I’ve gone from barely holding on in the 20 mph Saturday group, to pulling it, to comfortably riding in the 22 mph group- even when they’re doing more like 23.5 mph. It’s spectacular that a regular week of riding is more than 100 miles. It’s spectacular that I now ride an all carbon bike and it was built for the possibility of racing. And it’s perhaps most spectacular that I’m considering entering my first bike race and hiring a triathlon coach, just to see what 2018 brings.

Failure is a funny thing. It’s easy to find it paralyzing. Easy for the possibility or even the actuality of failure to stop us in our tracks and keep us from moving forward. But here’s the thing about bikes- you can’t go backwards; forward is the only option, mile after mile.

May you find something in 2018 at which you can fail spectacularly. It’s kind of awesome.

Into the Disaster

On more than once occasion over the last few weeks I’ve joked that “Shannons drive into disasters”. I’ve said this to make light of the fact that while millions of Floridians drove north to try and get out of Hurricane Irma’s path, I drove south. I’ve said it when my sister in Colorado bought an airplane ticket to come help the recovery, practically before IMG_5382the winds had fully died down. And for anyone who knows my family even a little, the notion that Shannons drive into disasters doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary.

But what happens when the disaster you’re driving toward belongs, in part to your own family? What happens when the drone photos are your neighborhood? What happens when you turn onto the street your family has lived on for 40 years and it’s the Red Cross tents and the Rotary and FEMA and Team Rubicon and Samaritan’s Purse and on and on walking your block asking about what folks need to help dig out?

image2

It turns out what happens when it’s your disaster is the same thing as when it’s been someone else’s- you work like crazy. You take one step at a time. You throw away, lay out in the sunshine, wipe clean, pack up, and make jokes, take pictures, and tell stories along the way (and drink some beer). And you also learn to say “sure, we could use a hand” instead of the immediate “oh no, we’re fine”. You welcome total strangers into a mess you’d have never imagined letting anyone see. You get glimpses of remarkable image1generosity, grace, and kindness from friends near and far.

It turns out, when it happens to be your disaster, you drive into it, head on, knowing that recovery happens one packed box, one trash bag, one step at a time.

It’s An Extraordinary Thing

I left home to go home yesterday.

Yes, it’s that complicated. The home of my childhood, the home of my parents, the town my family has called home for four generations is my home. And St. Pete is my home. The house I own; the place where my spirit feels at rest; the place where my dearest friends and my love reside.

But as I drove north on I-75, against the flow of traffic headed south, I was completely overcome. This time with gratitude and joy.

Overcome because as I drove north, north to my relatively unscathed home in my relatively unscathed neighborhood, driving south were the convoys. Driving toward the destruction was truck after truck after truck. There were convoys of power trucks from Kansas City, Philadelphia, Oklahoma, and Indiana. There were convoys of national guard
image4000532_web1_Xcel-to-Tampa

from Florida and Ohio. There were grocery store trucks ready to replenish store shelves. There were hardware store trucks filled with tools. There were caterpillar trucks loaded down with commercial generators. There were Red Cross trucks and Salvation Army trucks and AT&T and Verizon trucks; there was a Tide mobile clothes washing truck. And into the chaos they drove. In the next few days it’ll be Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Mennonite Disaster Service and the Southern Baptist men- who are probably already cooking to feed communities across the state.

I imagine most of us have seen the Mr. Rogers quote about looking for the helpers. Yesterday as I drove from one home to another- a drive I’ll be making a lot in the coming months as my parents and community clean up- I didn’t need to look hard because truck after truck after truck was making the helpers known. These are the people who drive into the chaos and give us a leg up in our slow return to normalcy- and I’m so grateful.

Walking Away

It’s an extraordinary thing to walk away from your home. To go room by room, inventorying your things and determining what simply has to come with you, whaIMG_5317t can be protected and left, and what is just stuff.

Truthfully, it’s all just stuff. It’s clothes and shoes and books and old magazines and tools and crap I should’ve gotten rid of ages ago. Nothing makes you feel more like a hoarder than surveying your belongings and ascribing emotional value to them. Turns out, almost all of it is worthless. And yet from time to over the last few days I’ve been completely overcome by the act of walking away.

I feel like I’ve abandoned my home. I feel like she knows I didn’t trust her to make it through and so I left. I feel badly about that. But whether it’s the house or the things in it, the only thing that matters today is that the people I love more than anything are safe for now. And this house has seen far more than I can imagine. She’s a tough old bird.

 

 

Evicted

It is the custom at my school, like so many others, to ask incoming students to participate in a “Summer Read”- a common text that lays the foundation for the institution’s common/general education/freshman seminar. One of the unique things here is that we also have a senior level common seminar course that reads the same text as first year students. Half our campus participates in reading the same book and then we welcome the author to campus for public and class lectures.

FullSizeRender-2This year’s common read is “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond. To be perfectly honest, it’s gut-wrenching. In all of our cultural conversations about poverty- from food insecurity, to access to health insurance, to educational opportunities- the epidemic of eviction simply gets left out of the equation when it ought to be the starting place. Professor Desmond asserts in his epilogue, “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.” (299)

It’s worth pointing out that the snapshot of evictions he presents takes place between May and 2008 and December 2009- the heart of the housing crisis and recession. And yet it wouldn’t surprise me if little to nothing has changed; particularly amidst stagnant wages and the constant attacks on the social programs that can literally save lives.

There’s a troubling voyeuristic aspect to the book. Professor Desmond takes us into a world of pain and hardship and poverty in a way that is honest to a fault and I feel a little uncomfortable being there. Which is perhaps the point. I can’t help but be desperately aware of my privilege to simply read about it. The ease with which he describes bug infestation and drug use and prostitution and unsanitary living conditions right here in what claims to be the wealthiest nation in the world is overwhelming at times. And yet he offers a glimpse of the reality of the lives our neighbors are living and we must hear him. Additionally, he has the courage to offer a solution that isn’t out of the realm of possibility- though I can imagine what members of a certain political party would say to his recommendation.

Now to figure out how to get my students to actually read it.

Mailliot Jaune

The Yellow Jersey. It’s a gold medal, it’s a checkered flag, it’s breaking the tape, and hoisting the cup. In the Tour de France it marks the over all race leader throughout the three week event. It’s the guy who’s strong and fast and gutsy and has a great team and is a little nutso. But I’ve noticed something in watching the coverage this year: The rider wearing the yellow jersey goes from being a person and a team member with strengths and weaknesses to being an object.

Whether it’s been Geraint Thomas or Chris Froome or Fabio Aru they cease to be their names and become just the jersey. Protect the jersey; lead out the jersey; pull along the jersey; the jersey attacks. It’s been bothering me. Kind of a lot.

I asked my partner about it, as he knows quite a bit more about bike racing than I do, and he immediately said “well yeah, it’s an asset”- and it wasn’t clear whether he meant the jersey or the person. And that’s exactly what seems to happen, one goes from being a person to a thing, a teammate to an asset, an opponent to a target.

Dehumanizing happens in every aspect of our culture. It’s the print advertisements that cut off the model’s head because it simply doesn’t matter. It’s the euphemisms that have worked their way into our every day language- like collateral damage or enhanced interrogation method or illegal alien. Dehumanizing separates, divides, and even grants tacit approval for violence. It makes being racist, able-ist, and sexist that much easier.

We must live in a world that actively chooses to see one another’s humanity first and foremost; until we collectively make that commitment I’m quite certain our national and global rancor will get worse not better.

I know it’s just a jersey and just a figure of speech and just a sporting event. Except it’s far more than “just”. It’s also the ways dehumanization slips into our every day speech patterns and grants permission for us to not have to see the struggles and joys and pain and triumphs of those with whom we share our common humanity. So I will commit to saying well done Geraint Thomas, well done Fabio Aru, well done Chris Froome, wear your yellow with pride, but know that I see you for far more than just what sits on your shoulders.