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.   

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! 

The Truth About Joe Biden

“Joe Biden is a lecherous, bumbling, basement dwelling loser who hasn’t accomplished anything over the last 50 years!” Welcome to election 2020! Let the multi-million dollar smear campaign begin. Of course, none of those characterizations of Mr. Biden is fair or true.  This, sadly, is the state of politics in America. Instead of a campaign about ideas we are engaged in a frenzied food fight of ad hominem attacks, hasty generalizations and insults. This is not new. The Jefferson vs. Adams campaign was brutal as this pithy youtube clip demonstrates. Our hope is that we learn from the past, not repeat it.  

I’m sympathetic to how easy it is to assassinate character. It requires hard work to be informed and cognitive dissonance to navigate the complexity of our time. The easier path weakens the republic, absolves us of our responsibilities, and perpetuates hyper-partisanship. The truth is most politicians are regular people. People who had the audacity to believe that democracy isn’t a spectator sport. We see the most character assaults at the presidential level because it has the highest stakes and the most visibility. 

I’ve followed every presidential race since 1992. In 28 years, there have been two candidates who I actually thought had bad motives: Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. It was clear to me that even though the impeachment of President Clinton was motivated by political opportunism not love of country, his conduct and the cover up were unacceptable. I thought he should have resigned. I was grateful for those in his own party who had the courage and patriotism to condemn his behavior. Likewise, I am proud of Republicans who have decried Mr. Trump. I have written often about Mr. Trump. His motives are very clear and show, time and time again, he is not to be trusted and is a threat to the republic.

I have learned over the years that elections are more like public transportation than weddings. We are not committing ourselves to a soulmate. We are looking for someone who can get us as closer to our destination. So what’s this got to do with Joe Biden? Everything! The contrast between him and his opponent is stark–not just subtle differences in policy but wide chasms of moral character. Yes, I basically share Mr. Biden’s political worldview. More importantly, I believe he has the moral fortitude to help steady the ship of state that has been so badly beaten by the storms of egotism, nationalism, fear and self interest–the guiding stars of the current occupant of the White House. Joe Biden’s years of public service, and faith in God, country and his fellow citizens are even more important than his policy platforms. The truth about Joe Biden is that this election will be more about us than him. A test to see if we have the courage to choose hope over fear and patriotism over polarizing disfunction. I’m not just voting for Joe Biden (which I am proud to do). I’m voting for the future of a republic worth fighting for.