What Can I Do About the War in Ukraine?

Art work by Peter H. Reynolds, You can purchase a print proceeds go to UNICEF:

Like you, I have been worried about the war now raging in Ukraine. I am worried about what I can do to help. I have also wrestled with the fatigue that has settled in. I find when I give an important issue much of my mental and emotional energy I am increasingly anxious to either act or ignore. When I see the human tragedy unfold and feel helpless to change it I am tempted to move on. That is normal. It is difficult or even impossible to live our lives completely immersed in the things we have little control over. I do think there is a way, however, to stay engaged, informed and work for change while at the same time giving attention to the other demands of our lives. 

I have been motivated to find this balance by the words of my friend Danielle Chelom Leavitt-Quist. Danielle lived much of her life in Ukraine and it is the focus of her PhD work at Harvard.  

“Just as Ukrainians are preparing themselves for a long, protracted, increasingly cruel war, we MUST prepare ourselves to continue caring. It is so easy to care for five days, to repost sensational stuff when everyone else on our feeds is doing so. What about five months? A year? For Ukrainians this is so ludicrously far from being a fleeting social media cause. It should be for us, too..

If we intend to be allies to the millions of Ukrainians who are suffering unspeakable, unthinkable terror at the hands of the Russian state, we must do the work of keeping this relevant and urgent in our minds and in the minds of those around us. The world order is fundamentally changing as you read this. We must be on the right side of it.

We can do this. We can care! We can alter the way we live and think to support these efforts in the long haul! We can love people we don’t know!” (Danielle Chelom Leavitt-Quist Facebook post 2/28/2022 Shared with permission) 

I truly believe the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the greatest assault on democracy in more than 80 years. So, how do we stay committed to this cause while still living our lives? Here are a few suggestions I am trying to implement in my own life. 

Give this issue some space, just not all the space: I know it is not healthy to let any one thing consume my mind. I also know I can carve out time each day to focus my mental, emotional and spiritual efforts in this direction.   

Stay informed: I can invest my time in reliable sources. Here are two great resources for staying informed. The New York Times has a great free daily newsletter it comes to your inbox nightly recapping what”s happening today. If you are on Instagram @Sharonsaysso does a great job of answering questions and bringing clarity to complex issues. 

Give consistently: Donor fatigue is real. I can choose one or two great organizations and donate a regular amount instead of a one time contribution. Here is a list of a some really good organizations. 

Pray daily: I have learned for myself prayer is less about changing God’s will and more about focusing my mind and thoughts toward higher ideals and insights. When I pray I feel the courage and clarity of what actions to take. It helps focus my mind and motivate my actions. If you are not a person of faith, I have found meditation offers many of the same benefits. Praying daily for Ukraine has helped me find the balance in life and find the time and energy I have to give to this issue. Prayer has also given me direction on how to act.

I loved this insight on prayers for Ukraine from my friend Greer Bates Cordner. Greer was a missionary in Ukraine and is a divinity PhD candidate at Boston University. 

We must pray for peace in Ukraine, but we must pray for the kind of peace that accompanies justice and virtue and truth—even if that takes time and, perhaps, some fighting to secure. Let us pray that the armed conflict ceases without the destruction of Ukraine’s sovereignty…Let us pray that in the aftermath of this war, Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of our nations take hard stock of our governments, and begin (or continue) the process of rooting out corruption, self-interest, and greed…Let us pray for the stomachs to fight for hard peace instead of the absence of conflict. Oh God, give Ukraine a real, hard, just peace. And give her the courage to fight for it. Let it be in Ukraine according to the words of Thy Son: ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; *not as the world giveth,* give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’ (Greer Bates Cordner Facebook post 2/26/2022 Shared with permission) 

I have been heartsick by the suffering and inspired by the courage of the Ukrainian people. I am confident our efforts matter. We can make a difference one day at a time.   

In Awe of Lincoln

When you walk up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, it’s easy to be impressed. The size and magnificence of the edifice are designed to inspire. It’s larger than life. So, of course, is Lincoln and his legacy.

When I was in the fourth grade, I read every book my school library had about Abraham LIncoln. The librarian was impressed by my interest in him and gave me a replica of the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s handwriting. I took it and a poster of Lincoln I bought from the weekly reader book order and mounted them on poster board. Without any prompting from an adult, as a ten year old I memorized the Gettysburg Address. 

I was then, and am now, a super fan. Yes, he had his faults, yes some of his attitudes and beliefs are not congruent with my own world view or what many of us would find acceptable in 2022. There is, however, no denying, in my opinion, that Lincoln’s wisdom, courage and abilities preserved the union. Even more importantly, he helped bring an end to the evil practice of enslavement and began the national atoning of our original sin, a work that still must go on today as we strive for our more perfect union. 

In the summer of 2008, I visited the nation’s capital for the first time. My wife Jennifer was attending a conference and I tagged along. On a hot summer night was the first time I stepped foot on the memorial. It was a powerful moment for me. I took the time to read the second inaugural address etched in stone on the wall of the memorial and I have continued that practice every time I go back. It is profound, simple, aspirational, sober and an inspirational national treasure. It was given 41 days before his assianation. It is needed today as much as ever. 

“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Life lessons About Winning Losing and Bagels

We have all been disappointed when we lose the job, the scholarship, the game or some other opportunity to someone else. It’s painful! Because of these losses, we can become resentful when anything happens for good for someone else. It’s as if we believe joy has a limited supply.

My faith tradition has a beautiful scripture that explains some of promises we, as members of my faith, make to each other at baptism. 

Mosiah 18:8-9 (From the Book Of Mormon Another Testament of Jesus Christ)

 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

I love the idea and practice of comforting and caring for each other. I am not perfect at this yet but I have seen improvement over the years. 

As I have been pondering this scripture and my own efforts lately, I’ve come to recognize another important thing I need much more improvement on. It is something Paul mentions in Romans 12:15: Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. I need to be much better at rejoicing with those who rejoice. 

It is too easy for me to get caught up in the idea that life is a zero-sum game. Because often times it is. If I wait in line all morning for a bagel and you get the last oat and wheat with rosemary and honey schmear, I’m stuck with the sticky raisin bagel and plain boring cream cheese. You win, I lose. 

Life is filled with situations like this that are much more impactful than breakfast (in fairness if you’ve ever had a bagel from Bagelsaurus you’d know it’s no small matter). We have all been disappointed when we lose the job, the scholarship, the game or some other opportunity to someone else. It’s painful! Because of these losses, we can become resentful when anything happens for good for someone else. It’s as if we believe joy has a limited supply. The more someone else gets means less for us. This dangerous and damning mindset has not only made me bitter and resentful of others, it cripples my own ability to see what blessings I now enjoy. Instead focusing on my own blessings, I’m fixated on what I’m missing out on. When I shift the mindset and rejoice with you, I find my own blessings come to mind more often and my joy is magnified not diminished. 

It also helps me see people in a more positive light and in turn reminds me of the love God has for each of us. Also, when I really turn my heart to rejoicing with those who rejoice, I find my ability to mourn with those who mourn enhanced. It becomes easier to see them as a whole person, much more than the sum total of their wins and losses. I can also see their pain for what it is instead of hoping somehow I can be spared from the same pain. 

I still have a long way to go with this. Luckily, I get a chance to practice it every day. Even while waiting in line at the bagel shop.

What Yesterday’s Irish Immigrants Tell Us About Today’s Refugees

This week everything around us turns green. We are all proud to be Irish. It is hard to imagine that just over 150 years ago the Irish were refugees disdained for their poverty and their religion. If slavery is the United States’ original sin, the treatment of the Irish is the British’s. Truly past is prologue. Swift’s ‘modest proposal’ could be written today with equal parts sarcasm and horror. We would merely need to insert Muslim refugees or Refugees from our southern border as the main object of the piece. How ironic that now we celebrate the Irish who came here as desperate refugees and we turn our back on our modern plight, which is every bit as real as the ‘great hunger’ as it was called in the 19th century. The same old tired fear-mongering, religious bigotry and xenophobia used to justify punishing the Irish is used today to deny and demonize those in most need.

Approximately 1.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States between 1845 and 1855 forever changing the landscape of this country. Who now looks back on history and thinks we should have denied them from coming? But that’s exactly what we’re doing now to those who need us most. History will look back on this moment as a failure. A failure of morality, courage and human decency. Of the nearly 80 million refugees in the world, half are children. So, for those of us who will wear green and celebrate the Irish, let’s stop a moment and think about what we owe to those impoverished refugees from more than 150 years ago, and what we stand to lose if we don’t live up to our moral obligation to help those that are in such desperation today.

What Do We Say to Each Other After the Election?

No matter who wins the election millions of our fellow citizens, our family, our loved ones will be sad, distraught and perhaps angry. How we react to that will make all the difference. No matter what we feel we would do well to recognize and show empathy for what others are feeling too. We should look beyond our own emotions and use the moment to see others. 

I often hear people say “I just can’t understand why anyone would vote for that person.” That, to me, may be the greatest trouble we face. That declaration shows we don’t understand those we share the country with. The divide we feel is real. It’s damaging to human relationships. It tears apart families, communities and it’s weakening our republic. 

No matter the outcome of the election we should all resolve to do our part to understand where those who disagree with us are coming from. We simply cannot afford to avoid everyone who disagrees with us, even if we find their beliefs damaging, immoral or unconscionable.  Surely they don’t view it that way.  I’ve rarely met a person who thought they were doing the wrong thing and reveled in it. Every person’s point of view makes sense to them. We do ourselves a disservice if we don’t learn how to learn from each other.  We must do all we can to see each other, hear each other, and understand each other. This will require grace, humility and a commitment to community. 

Okay, I know what some of you were thinking: “You don’t get it, this election is different. We can’t just agree to disagree and pretend it’s okay. If the candidate I oppose wins the damage to the republic may be irreversible. Their policies, character and morals will ensure irrevocable harm. To not denounce them and their followers is in essence complicit to the harm.” 

Let’s assume that the candidate you oppose lives up to that dire assessment. What advantage will be gained by not talking to those who support them? What good will come by alienating ostracizing, avoiding, belittling or shaming them? Do you think an election defeat will show them the error of their ways? That the  morning after the election, somehow, they will be chastened and conform to your view of morality and good government? Is that how you will respond if the election goes differently than you had hoped?

We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester. If we are not brave enough, bold enough, and meek enough to have the hard conversations who is? 

Here are three suggestions that have helped me have these kinds of delicate conversations. In the coming days and weeks after the election they may be a value to you too.  

First: Reaffirm to those you disagree with that your relationship and their opinion matter to you. Affirm and reestablish your connection with them. I like this definition of connection from Brenè Brown, “Connection is energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued-when they can give and receive without judgment.” 

Second: Ensure your goal is to understand their perspective not to persuade them. Simply try to understand why they view things the way they do. I often have found myself saying “I just don’t understand why someone would think that.”  Now whenever I say that I realize it is an indictment of me. Instead when I can say “I would say you would say…” and they agree with me then I know I understand. Then, when it’s appropriate, I can articulate where we may disagree. Again, not with the intent to persuade but with the clear intent that they understand why I view things the  way I do. Often we come to realize we agree on much more than we thought we did. 

Third: You are not personally responsible for saving the republic, ensuring democracy and salvaging every relationship. Some people will not be able to have a conversation with you without being aggressive, frustrated, angry or manipulative. That’s on them not you. There are times we all need to walk away from certain exchanges. We can only do what we can do. But I do think it’s incumbent on each of us to try to do all that we can do.

Will this change the nation overnight? No. Of course not. Neither will one election. Will it change you? Yes!