Tag Archives: fear

Spinning Out of Control

IMG_5410With the world apparently spinning out of control, I thought I might as well join the dizzying ride on an indoor bicycle.

My wife is a spin class veteran and certified instructor, and until recently, I was a conscientious objector.  By that I mean that my conscience told me that I would probably throw up should I ever try spinning, and I object to throwing up.  But as any good husband I listen to my wife more than I do my conscience, so recently I suppressed my fears and went to spin class.

It was actually pretty good.  Not only did I survive, but after several weeks now, I sort of like spinning.  No throwing up (yet), so that helps.  The workout is good, and the music is fun, and best of all it is great to do this with my sweet wife.  She is way better than me at spinning, but she is kind and does not rub it in.

I do have one complaint.  I am one of few men in the class, and although my wife claims that the seat of a spin bike is not friendly to the female anatomy either, it is quite clear that it is designed to inflict the ultimate degree of discomfort to members of the male species.  I am given two messages in response, neither of which is comforting.  The first is not to sit down very often, but no one has given this message to our instructor, Ashley, who is fond of the “up two, down two” maneuver that is the absolute worst for someone trying to avoid the sitting procedure.  And second, I am told that you get tougher “down there” with time.  I will preserve the anonymity of a male friend who responded to such a statement by saying that he has no interest in getting “tougher” in such a region.  I concur.

But I am returning week after week and plan to keep doing so.  I enjoy being amazed by my wife and doing my best to respond to Ashley’s pleading face encouraging us to climb those imaginary hills.  And who knows, maybe someday I will recognize the difference between Imagine Dragons and Bruno Mars and possibly even get “tough” enough for that blasted seat.

It turns out that my original fears were unfounded.  They so often are.

 

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Peace on Earth

img_4126Thanks to our friend, John, and the Pacifica Institute, we recently hosted Muslim families for a Christmas dinner at our house.  That’s right, Muslim families for a Christmas dinner.  It was wonderful.  The stated purpose of the dinner was to build bridges of respect, understanding, and friendship between Muslims and Christians—and it sure worked.  We instantly have new friends and were honored to accept a return offer to visit their homes in the new year.

All of our guests came to the United States from Turkey, and as we talked over dinner it was sobering to sense the sadness in their hearts when they spoke of conditions related to terrorism in their home country.  And it was even more sobering to sense the fears they live with in this country when the actions of religious extremists lead others to associate such terrible violence with the religion they practice and love.

Possibly my favorite moment of the evening came when one of our guests slipped money to our youngest daughter when she shared about her work in Kenya last summer with street kids from Nairobi slums.  It seems that our guest has a soft spot in his heart for poor African children, and he couldn’t help but give money to support the Christian organization when he heard about the good work it is doing.

I shared with our guests the story from Kenya at this time last year when the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, commandeered a bus that held Christian and Muslim passengers.  The terrorists demanded that the passengers separate by religion so they could execute the Christians, and the Muslim passengers, mostly women, led the refusal to answer by saying that if they would execute one they would have to execute all.  They were neighbors after all.  Miraculously, no one was killed.

Our guests had not heard the story and were visibly encouraged by it.  One of our new friends said that such reactions should be the standard response.

I sense that many are wary of the concept of interfaith dialogue, thinking that it means a dilution of religious conviction—a sort of “I’m-okay-you’re okay” approach to religious belief.  If you spend much time with any religious belief system you’ll realize that would be sort of silly.  Instead, I have to wonder what is terribly wrong with moving toward a world where we have “join us for dinner” relationships across all sorts of lines that purport to divide us.

Sharing dinner in our homes with new friends would sure go a long way toward a world where the scene that occurred on that Kenyan bus will be the standard response to those who deal in violence.  Not uniformity or watered-down beliefs, but neighborliness and solidarity for peace on earth and good will toward all.  I am a Christian, and at this time of year we remember an angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds about such things.  This particular dinner sure felt like a step in that direction.

Love Down in Early Trading

11I’m not sure that I met the height requirement for this American roller coaster, but I am apparently strapped in and here we go.

Let me just say that I believe love wins in the end.  But right now love is getting clobbered.  It’s like love is the Cleveland Browns.

The unique American experiment used the language of equality at its inception, which was absurdly false.  With time, various social justice movements emerged that brought differing measures of hope and progress to those beaten down or discredited due to their skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.  Such progress occurred through acts of love by courageous advocates who put their lives on the line for their brothers and sisters.  However, one category was rarely on the list of people to love, and that was a love for the people doing the beating or discrediting (i.e., “the enemy”).

But who in their right mind would propose loving an enemy when it is undeserved, especially when hate, resentment, and rage all feel so darn good?  Well, there was Dr. King, but he was a rare bird.  My Christian faith calls for a love of enemies, but it seems that Harriet Beecher Stowe summed it up in this little exchange in Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

“Don’t the Bible say we must love everybody?”

“Oh, the Bible!  To be sure, it says a great many such things; but then, nobody ever thinks of doing them…”

Regardless, we have spiraled into an awful mess.  “I don’t love you because you are a certain category.”  “Then I don’t love you because you are a terrible person because you don’t love people because they are in a certain category.”  “Well, now I don’t love you either because you say I am a terrible person.”  “Well then…”

It is a spiral leading nowhere good.  Specifically, it led to this presidential election, and from what I see, there is no sign of this train slowing down on either side.

It is telling that this presidential campaign produced two “anyone but” movements (i.e., “anyone but Trump” and “anyone but Hillary”).  Both meant exactly what they said.  Both emerged because our (un)civil war led the two sides to offer candidates representing the ultimate middle finger to their sworn enemy: “We propose the worst person you can imagine to be the most powerful person on the planet.”

One side won.  The other is apoplectic.  It was inevitable either way.

Let me be specific.  First, I am from Arkansas.  Second, I voted for Secretary Clinton.  It stings to hear what some friends say about “anyone who would vote for Hillary.”  It is hard to imagine that someone can say such things and love me at the same time.  Simultaneously, it stings to hear what some friends say about “anyone who would vote for Trump”—e.g., when entire swaths of my friends and family are referred to as uneducated, ignorant, redneck, and so on.  It is hard to imagine that someone can say such things and love those I love at the same time.

Love is just getting trounced.  Who knows, maybe it is game over, and if so, hopefully someone will learn a lesson from us someday after we are finished annihilating ourselves.  But I choose love anyway.  Even when it seems impossible, I continue to believe that love wins in the end.

To my friends on both sides who are understandably afraid, I humbly suggest that your fear may be misplaced.  Instead of being afraid of those you believe look down on you or those you love—and maybe they really do look down on you or those you love—I suggest (to quote a president) that the true enemy is fear itself.  And the antidote is love.  Learning to love an enemy is incredibly difficult, but I believe it is the hope of the world.

So how might one attempt to do such a radical thing as love someone you have good reasons to hate?  Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers this: “To love our enemy is impossible.  The moment we understand our enemy we feel compassion towards him or her, and he or she is no longer our enemy.”

I say it is worth a shot.  Categorically dismissing others is getting uglier all the time.

Taunting Fear

11

“The enemy is fear.  We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” – Gandhi

I think Halloween is fun.  My wife thinks it is the best day of the year.  I prefer to sit outside munching on fun-size candy bars while families wander by in goofy costumes.  My wife likes to purchase skeletons that frighten the neighborhood children.  That isn’t disturbing at all, right honey?  (Awkward nervous laughter.)

I may not like Halloween as much as my wife, but I do enjoy it.  To promote the candy industry, sure, but more importantly, I like the idea of poking fun at things that scare us.  Not because our fears aren’t real or sufficiently serious—I don’t advocate dismissing fears.  Instead, I vote for conquering them.  My parents have been taken away by that ultimate fear we call death, and I don’t seem to be getting any younger myself, but I have decided that fear and death will not have its way with my life. I fully intend to live a life that isn’t ruled by fear.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.”

Don’t be a timid adventurer.

My friend, Danny, says it this way: Fear is a punk.  I’ll be celebrating that tonight with a bowl full of Kit Kats and Mr. Goodbars.

#PrayForOrlando

[Note: I’m taking a blog vacation for a couple of weeks and anticipate returning to action at the first of July.]

I will travel to Kenya this week with family and friends to spend the last half of June with an inspiring organization called Made in the Streets.  The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for those traveling to Kenya, potential violence, terrorism, and whatnot.  I very much take such warnings seriously, and yet, in Santa Monica, California, this morning, fifteen miles from my house, a man was caught with chemicals, assault weapons, and ammunition on his way to terrorize a gay pride parade—just hours after the deadliest mass shooting in American history occurred at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  Where exactly are the safe places in the world right now?

For reasons specific to my personal belief system, I am neither shocked by nor afraid of the violence that currently dominates the headlines, but I do find it terribly sad, and my heart goes out to the victims and those who love them.  I join the chorus that urges everyone to #PrayForOrlando.

There are things that should be done, and we (however defined) should do them, but there is no easy fix in this world for hatred and violence.  I continue to believe that the complicated solution is a revolution of indiscriminate love and maintain my commitment to such a revolutionary practice.

I really do believe that love, eventually, wins.

The Greatest

ALIDAYS1

My dad was a boxing fan, which made sense for a member of what Tom Brokaw termed “the greatest generation.”  Boxing was the American sport when he was a boy in the 1920s and 1930s, and I remember his tales of the great Jack Dempsey as we watched fights together a half century later.  I somehow failed to inherit his love for the sport, but the combination of his love and the golden age of heavyweight boxing that coincided with my childhood unleashed personal memories when Muhammad Ali’s passing was announced last Friday.  Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Muhammad Ali—those were the names that seemed larger than life to this little boy in small-town Arkansas.  Now, all three are gone.

That Ali is a popular American hero is fascinating.  I doubt that his outspoken racial pride and conversion to Islam in the 1960s endeared him to all who now mourn his passing.  I doubt that his refusal to accept military service makes him a hero to all patriotic Americans.  And his brash, in your face, “I am the greatest” trash talking is not typically the personality that leads to universal love and admiration, the Donald Trump phenomenon notwithstanding.

Maybe America just likes a winner?  I don’t buy it.  Call me crazy, but I’m guessing that Barry Bonds, Bill Belichick, and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. will not be universally adored when they ultimately move on from this life.

So, why did Muhammad Ali die an American hero?  Some say it is his social activism, his willingness to stand up for what he believed in.  Maybe so.  That has to be a part of it.  But I suggest there is something more to Ali’s universal appeal.

Muhammad Ali embraced life.

He was fun and funny and full of joy.  He lived without fear.  Think about it: the religious conversion, the brash statements in an era of racial violence, the thumbing his nose at the government’s draft, and the claims of boxing greatness all displayed that he was not afraid of any threat.

More importantly, he lost in the boxing ring multiple times—but came back for more with a smile.  Over time, in what seemed to be the cruelty of fate, the powerful and eloquent athlete lost his famed strength and good health and bold voice—but he came out in public with a smile.

Check it out: Muhammad Ali was not afraid of any threat, but he was also not afraid of any consequence.

I believe that is why we loved him so.  We want to live without fear, too.  We want to face both the goods and bads of life with unshakable joy.

Wouldn’t that be the Greatest?

Discovering Diversity

I participated in a “privilege beads” exercise at a diversity conference a year ago that involved reading statements and taking applicable beads to create a privilege bracelet.  As a white, straight, Christian, highly-educated, American male who lives in Malibu, I made a privilege hula-hoop.  It was embarrassing.  It was particularly embarrassing because one of my primary self-identifiers has always been growing up poor (read: underprivileged).  I am all about sticking it to the Man, ironically, and standing up for the little guy, i.e., my people.  Imagine my surprise.

But discovering diversity has been, for me, a humiliating pathway to joy.  The world is a big and beautiful place, and leaving the startling homogeneity of my hometown, though filled with wonderful people, has been an indescribable blessing.  I have learned so much, mainly that I know so little, and what I don’t know is fascinating without fail.  More importantly, I now have relationships with people who represent ethnicity, identities, faiths, interests, and nationalities that I never even heard of as a child.  That is my real privilege.  I am better for knowing these good souls, sure, but more importantly, the world is better for knowing them, too.

I returned to the same conference this year hoping for no privilege beads but anticipating new and deeper relationships and was not disappointed on any count.  One of the many things I learned at this year’s conference is that the majority of the United States will be non-white by 2044 and that 2011 already marked the first year that more non-white babies were born in the United States than white babies.  Significant change is occurring as to several of my privileges, some far more quickly than others.  My Facebook feed reminds me that many find such changes to be frightening.  Since diversity has been a great blessing in my life, I see it with different eyes.  To co-opt the famous FDR quote, the only frightening thing I see is the fear itself.

Decide, Then Do

“Workouts are like brushing my teeth. I don’t think about them. I just do them. The decision has already been made.” – Patti Sue Plumer

I love resolutions and make them at any time of year, so yes, I have a new set for 2016. Three of them involve running:

#1: Set a half-marathon PR (under 1:37:10). I will go for it on Super Bowl Sunday alongside seventeen thousand new friends on a reportedly flat and spectacular course at Surf City in Huntington Beach.

#2: Enter the lottery for a chance to run the New York City Marathon. I have never entered a marathon, and if it is going to happen, it might as well be in the world’s largest marathon (fifty thousand runners!). (Running Resolution 2b: If I actually get in, complete the NYC Marathon without a corresponding hospital stay.)

#3: Run in Kenya with Kenyans. This is so incredibly awesome. My wife and I are part of a team headed to Kenya in June to work alongside a beautiful ministry that rescues children from the slums, and the chance to run with Kenyans in Kenya will be the highlight of the year. And if we are chased by a lion, then my ultimate fantasy of actually outrunning a Kenyan will also come true.

Resolutions are famously easy to make—and even keep for the first three days of the year give or take. Resolutions are famously difficult to keep past January, which is why this essay’s epigraph from Olympic distance runner, Patti Sue Plumer, is so curious in its simplicity. You simply decide and then just do? If it was only that easy . . .

What if it is that easy?

We give ourselves far too little credit. Listen closely: You (yes, you) and I (yes, me, too) possess the power to have true resolve. We really do. That resolutions are standing jokes is scandalous.

Marianne Williamson (often mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I know it better from the movie, Coach Carter) famously wrote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Do not miscalculate your strength: You are stronger than you think. Do not be afraid of failure: Your battle is the fear, not the failure.

Decide.

Then, do. Simply because the decision has already been made.

End of discussion.

Your Very Best

It is final exam season at Pepperdine University School of Law, and you can cut the tension with a knife (except we are a weapons-free campus, so I suggest doing your best with a spork). I am almost embarrassed to admit that I kind of like the feeling of stress in the air because it reminds me of the fluttery feelings associated with the big game or big performance, but there is a particular weirdness to law school final exam stress brought on by a forced curve, a brilliant set of students, and a solitary grade for an entire course. Admittedly, that kind of stress feels more like an unexpected phone call from your doctor than a piano recital.

As a law student, I discovered that worrying about finals was not particularly helpful, although I sure gave it a good try. The better approach consists of a good strategy, discipline, and the many hours that follow.

My law school days came later than most and happened to coincide with my youngest daughter’s matriculation to middle school. It was nice to go school shopping for pencils together. I remember a day when my daughter received an uncharacteristic poor grade on a school assignment, and in my best attempt at being “dad,” I asked if she had truly done her best. When she said that she had, I told her not to worry about it: that her very best was all anyone could expect, and that’s all she has to give anyway. I was proud of my good advice—and then went back to sulking about my prospects of doing poorly in law school.

Thankfully, two seconds later, it occurred to me that I should heed my own advice: Give it my very best, and be satisfied. For the most part, I did, and I was.

Fear is the enemy of life, and fear of failure is troublesome because popular definitions of success are such that so much is out of our control. But what if success and failure were based on doing your very best with what you have been given?

I’m spreading that word in a law school, on social media, and in my own little brain: Reach for the stars. Take what you get. Learn from it. Reach for the stars again.

The Heroic Life

We have grown weary of recounting where we were on September 11, 2001. There may come a day when new generations ask us to remember, and we most assuredly will for the memories are too strong to fade. But the jury is still out on whether the lessons will endure.

There is one image-turned-lesson that I have pledged never to let fade: Firefighters racing up the stairwells of the World Trade Center as the buildings crumbled. They were simply doing what they were trained to do, which was to be heroic. I want to live like that, too—racing toward danger and not away from it—so it stands to reason that I also want to die that way. That is neither thrill-seeking nor pushing limits nor adrenaline addiction; instead, it is a compelling desire to make the world better for those in great need, which I remain convinced requires leaving safety and venturing toward danger.

Years ago, I read a couplet that captures this goal and have shared it often:

Some want to live within sound of church and steeple bell.
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.

That.

Looking back, the times in life when I felt most alive were those spent at the Hellside Rescue Shop. In that shop, there must be a portrait of a New York City firefighter racing up those steps. The firefighter is young and brave and determined and has so much to live for, which is exactly what you find in that image—someone living for so much. Today, I spend extra time looking at that inspiring image.

I invite others to consider such a life, one that acknowledges fear but meets it head on. Living for others is preferable to living for self-indulgence, self-preservation, and self-promotion, and the lines to get in are way shorter.