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Category: Culture

Shame

02

I’m embarrassed about a lot of the things I did in high school. And no, I’m not talking about the time I convinced my 4-year-old brother to climb into the clothes dryer. Or the time I turned on said clothes dryer. Or the hundreds of times I repeated the story – of how I’d convinced him, of my mother’s screams, of the thrill – over the following year.

In public.

With volume.

Granted, that incident – and quite a few like it – is one that probably should cause shame. But even now, as I’m typing, I’m also smiling. At the memory. Of how stupid I was. And I’m thinking about who hasn’t already heard that story because I’d kind of like to tell it again.

That’s part of the problem. People hear stories of the things I did –

an under-the-radar, pay-day loan service I ran during the lunch hour;
a series of letters to the Oregonian, urging editors to fire a certain columnist I didn’t like;
a faked disorder in which I semi-secretly and pseudo-obsessively consumed paper products for attention (for two years)

– and conclude that there couldn’t possibly be more.

But there is. Few people know, for instance, that I once took part in a public protest.

I was on the news.

I was standing on a street in Portland.

I was holding a sign: Abortion Kills Children.

My friends at church (assuming they read my blog) are probably starting to wonder where I’m headed with this. My other friends are probably wondering how they didn’t know I was THAT kind of Christian. Some of you just want me to get on with it already.

So there I was. At my first public protest. And I was being POLITICAL. I was making a STATEMENT. I was standing up for the TRUTH. And something funny happened.

This car came around the corner. It was moving slow. A woman leaned out the window, and as the car passed, she looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you just keep your penis in your pants?”

For some reason, I thought that maybe my fly was down. I put down the sign and checked. Nope. All good. When I looked up, the car was gone. And it dawned on me why she didn’t stick around for my reply. It was already on my sign.

I hadn’t taken any communications theory at that point. And I wasn’t skilled in cultural exchange analysis. But I knew that sign had a message. And as messages tend to be, it was aimed at someone.

Abortion Kills Children.

Sometimes my brain doesn’t work as fast as I’d like, but I realized, looking up, reading the sign, standing on that street in Portland on a Sunday afternoon, that my sign was aimed at women. What women were most likely to physically feel the sign’s message? Women who’d had an abortion. Women stuck between one bad choice and another. Women who were doing the best they knew how in a world that didn’t love them. And certainly didn’t understand.

I was holding up a sign that was intended to shame people.

Poor people.

Powerless people.

The abused.

The assaulted.

The already-ashamed.

For more than half my life now, I haven’t really thought about that time in Portland. Didn’t want to. Didn’t need to. Even now, writing about the incident, I feel a mixture of shame (I was once one of THEM) and relief (but I’ve CHANGED). The shame is real. But the relief is not. Because I’m still one of THEM. And even though I don’t take part in that kind of protest, I also fail to protest the protest (if you know what I mean). This little blog post is my relatively weak attempt to change that. By telling the moral that I learned that day:

There is no such thing as an issue. There are only people. Jesus loved people. Even people who could have killed their brothers by sticking them in clothes dryers.

I want to love people, too.

There is no such thing as an issue. There are only people. Jesus loved people.

Creativity

02

I’ve been reading about creativity, and I can guess at what you might be thinking.

They write books about that?

I used to think the same way. Either you have it. Or you don’t. What’s there to write about?

You might be surprised. Almost 38 years ago, for instance, I was born into this world as a not-creative type. But I’ve changed.

Illustration. In fifth grade, I took an admissions test for a special program that the district was offering for at-risk students. I aced the reading comprehension and numeric memory portions of the test. In fact, I earned a perfect score on the memory part – something that apparently made me kind of special. But on the section that examined creativity, I scored in the bottom quartile. My parents received a letter from the district. Out of 100 possible points, I had earned only three.

Students with low scores on this test often have trouble socializing, they’re less flexible than their peers, they struggle to break projects down into smaller tasks, to problem solve, to prioritize. They are easily overwhelmed by new situations and expectations. They struggle to express their emotions. They are considered a retention risk. At age 10, I had been identified as a potential high school dropout.

Because I wasn’t creative.

Creativity – it turns out – is important.

Fortunately, creativity can also be taught. I made it into that special program, and my teacher (whose last name reminded me of atomic number 27) helped me to do the work of creativity. I learned how to steal someone else’s idea, make a little change, and call that idea mine – a process my teacher called “piggybacking.” I learned how to use sensory prompts and word-association to quickly generate new possibilities – a process my teacher called “ideation.” I learned how to pace myself when coming up with possible solutions in order to keep from getting ahead of my ideas – a skill that my teacher said would lead to “fluency.” And I learned a lot about work.

Creativity – it turns out – is work.

Creativity, which I’ve learned to define as the process of making new connections between old ideas, seems to require the following kinds of work:

Collecting: Old ideas are everywhere. They’re in the things we do, the conversations we have, the systems and processes of our lives, our families, our communities. They’re in books and in programs and in people. Being creative requires that we collect the ideas we find. Even bad ideas.

Observing: People are constantly connecting old ideas; pay attention to what they put together, how they do it, and why.

Imagining or Experimenting: Being creative requires asking a question. What if … ? Why don’t we … ? Could I … ? Or taking a risk.

Whatever you call it, creating or connecting, what it comes down to is putting old things together in order to make new things.

So I’ve been reading about creativity. And thinking back on my childhood. And wondering … what if our community had to take that test? How would we do? And could we change?

What if our community had to take that test? How would we do? And could we change?

Change

02

When Zachariah Dicks visited Friends in Georgia in 1803, he predicted that the house in which they met – only five years old at the time – would soon stand empty. “O Bush River! Bush River! How hath thy beauty faded away and gloomy darkness eclipsed thy day.” Only five years later, what Dicks foretold had come to pass. Bush River’s member meetings in South Carolina and Georgia had been disbanded. The roughly 500 Quakers of Bush River had moved away, most of them to Ohio.

The issue was slavery.

Many early Quakers in America owned slaves, and when George Fox made his 17th-century visit to American Friends, he urged them to treat their slaves with kindness, to educate them (an open violation of the law) and to “let them go free after a considerable term of years, if they have served . . . faithfully.” William Edmundson offered Friends an additional challenge: “Many of you count it unlawful to make slaves of the Indians, and if so, then why the Negroes?” Eighty years later, traveling minister John Woolman further identified slavery as a kind of moral disease motivated by “the love of ease and gain.”

But effecting change proved difficult.

Southern Quakers argued that purchasing a slave often prevented the separation of man and wife or parent and child. In addition, Friends in North Carolina had learned from painful experience that their former slaves could be seized by their non-Quaker neighbors and once again sold into slavery. In many meetings, then, trustees were appointed to receive transfers of ownership for the slaves, giving freedom while legally binding these “ex-slaves” as property of the entire meeting. Others worked together to get slaves to the North, where they could be free.

Every step closer to abolition of slavery made southern Quakers a nuisance to their neighbors. So when Zachariah Dicks visited Bush River, he found an audience that Errol Elliott describes as “tired and largely hopeless. They had stood firm, but uprisings and violence” in the region had convinced them that war was imminent.

So they left, sold their property and resettled in Ohio, where they helped build up towns like Salem and Springboro – stops on the Underground Railroad.

Many early Quakers in America owned slaves, and when George Fox made his 17th-century visit to American Friends, he urged them to treat their slaves with kindness

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