What Can I Do About the War in Ukraine?

Art work by Peter H. Reynolds, You can purchase a print proceeds go to UNICEF:
 https://www.thedotcentral.com/gifts-and-posters/peace-autographed-print-by-peter-h-reynolds

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.   

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.

I Love a Chapel

 

I love a chapel—a modern edifice or a glorious old cathedral, a log cabin in the woods or a small town, simple, little church. They all bring me a sense of peace and reflection—reflection on the faith, devotions and prayers offered there. I love to visit houses of worship and see where God’s children come to commune with the divine. If I sit still, I can almost feel the cumulative faith of countless believers who have come to petition their God—precious souls, longing for healing, understanding, acceptance and surely for forgiveness.

Places of worship are where we connect with heaven. We bring our babies. We come to unite and celebrate the union of believers in marriage. It’s also where we come to say goodbye to those who have passed on and moved back to their heavenly home. Second maybe only to the home, these edifices can be, from cradle to grave, our most important sanctuaries!

Recently, I had time before a flight and was wandering around the airport when I noticed the airport chapel. Of course, I went into the small but clean non-denominational space. It was nothing much aesthetically but like all places of worship, it had the feeling of the faithful, the sense of children reaching out to parents—the feeling of longing for home and hoping for rest. It reminded me of many of the hospital chapels I’ve visited over the years. Imagine if those walls could talk! I love sacred spaces, edifices built for worship, prayer, sacraments, religious rights and reflections.

It also led me to ponder how some of my most profound moments communing with God have been in common places. God has given me comfort and direction in classrooms, hotels, parking lots, campgrounds, crowded streets, mountain streams and definitely in the quiet of my room by my bed side.

My own faith tradition teaches me God has heard and answered prayers in the belly of a great fish, a lion’s den, a fiery furnace, ships driven and tossed by the sea, the woods behind a humble homestead and a freezing dungeon in Missouri. I have come to learn for myself that God hears us in both beautiful buildings built to honor him, and busy city busses filled with his restless, wounded children. I believe he is eager to hear from us from both the temple and the testing center, the shopping center and the synagogue.

I’m not so naive as to not recognize that harm has been done in God’s name. However, I’m confident, on balance, that those who have built buildings to worship God, and then filled those pews to that end, do so with the intent to do good. Like the buildings they built, they are trying to provide shelter, comfort, and a place to gather as a community of believers. If there are leaks in the roof or problems with the plumbing, they do all they can to fix it.

I am always a little sad when I see churches that have been abandoned, neglected or re-purposed. I hope as communities we never walk away from churches because they did not live up to our expectations. Instead, I hope we can have the faith and tenacity to help our churches become what they were intended to be and what we desperately need them to be: a place where the troubled find rest, the sinner finds hope, and we all find inspiration to love and care for one another. As Isaiah says, “And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.” Isaiah 4:6.

Calling on the Better Angels of Our Nature

I understand the fatigue of faux outrage. I am sympathetic to the frustration with the complexity of issues. The partisan tribalists shout and cry foul at nuance. The cry and din of the twenty four hour news cycle with its shrill voices bent on conflict is wearisome to say the least. To retreat from our patriotic duty to be informed and engaged is to acquiesce to those who would put party over principal and elections over people. It is easier to throw our hands up and say “it’s all corrupt a pox on all of them what can one person do I’m out.” Nothing great was ever accomplished by taking the easy way out.

However, it is our responsibility as patriots, as lovers of freedom and democracy to shift through the sophistry, malice and cartoonish self absorbed ego clutter laden mess that is our modern politics and remind ourselves of the core principles we believe in. Blaming, shaming, defaming, scapegoating and name calling does nothing to remind us of who we are and what we stand for.

Yes, it’s complex; yes, it will require us to pay a price to be informed; yes, it will alienate some who would rather yell than listen. Still, we should all strive to be listeners and not yellers.

There are moments in history when silence is complicit. On reflection we will have to ask ourself where we stood. The Japanese internment, the turning back of The St. Louis and our current treatment of global refugees and those seeking asylum at our border are just that kind of moment.

Renouncing inhumane policies of those who mostly align with you politically does not mean concession to one’s ideological beliefs. It is not a white flag of surrender to the opposition. Criticism of one’s own party is not heresy, it’s patriotism. To disagree with one’s own party does not mean you agree with the opposition party. Such partisan purity tests are morally bankrupt, intellectually week and damaging to our democracy.

Lincoln concluded his first inaugural address on the brink of civil war with these lines:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Surely the better angels of our nature implore us to rise above petty partisanship, to do right by families in crisis. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world we can find ways to protect our borders and provide for those who are in desperate circumstances. They are not mutually exclusive goals.

Matthew 25:35: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

I’m Pretty Sure Teddy Roosevelt Would Want You to Audition for The Voice

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November 1998, Election Day: I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning to make sure our yard signs had their “Vote Today” stickers on them. I stood at the intersection during the morning commute with a sign that said, “Will work for vote.” And another that said, “Honk if you voted.” I knocked doors all day and worked the phones in the evening. I remember sitting at a phone bank phoning people until the minute the polls closed. We had not just worked that hard that day but nearly every day for the six months prior to Election Day. I knocked on over 5,000 doors. I don’t remember how many forums I spoke at or events I attended. It was a full-time job. Even our three small children wore matching shirts that said, “Send Dad to Boise.” It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done–and one of the most rewarding.

 On election night, as results started to come in, I sat down on the bed in our hotel suite that was doubling as our camping headquarters for the night and fell asleep even as my amazing campaign crew were talking and laughing. I simply passed out from exhaustion. Thirty minutes later my wife woke me up and told me to watch the news. Turns out, we lost. I walked out of our hotel room and into the ballroom where the media was, thanked my opponent and conceded the race. Just like that, it was over–nothing left to do but thank my team and remove my yards signs. I remember saying to my wife that night, “Well I guess this is what defeat feels like.” A few weeks later I received a thank you note from a member of my state party with the following quote:

 The Man in the Arena 

 “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 Theodore Roosevelt April 23, 1910

 It was just what I needed. I felt bad for everyone who believed in me, donated to the campaign, volunteered, etc. I felt bad that I wouldn’t have a chance to represent them. The wise words from Theodore Roosevelt were a comforting balm. I was glad I had at least tried; that I had at least dreamed. I was glad for the experience even though disappointed by the outcome. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve failed and certainly not the last time. I’m grateful for what I have learned in both victory and defeat. I’m grateful for those with the courage to try something. The audacity to dream and the daring to achieve.

 So, if you’re wondering if you should start a business, do it! Think you might want to run for city council go for it! That book is not going to write itself, set aside some time and get to the keyboard. Worried your audition may not be good enough? Audition any way. Take a chance, take a risk, live! If you fail, learn from it, be humble enough and determined enough to keep at it! Tenacity is a greater producer of wonder than skill. Determination is more impactful than ability. I’m sure of it! You don’t want to be numbered with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. You want to be remembered among the dreamers and the doers. One of my favorite passages of scripture is second Timothy chapter 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” I’m sure he meant it! Tomorrow is a lie. Today is the day to start living you dreams.