Campus Tours & Cultural Racism: 50 Years Later #truthfultuesday

I’m just realizing that I was born in June of the year MLK was assassinated – 50 years ago this year. For my parent’s generation, this assassination was on the level of the Challenger Explosion or 9/11. We all remember where we were on the day when…

I remember my mom telling me that she was taking a tour of the campus at Purdue in Lafayette when the news unfolded about the assassination. I realize now that she told me this story several times over the years – it’s etched in my memory.

But I realize now she was talking about the assassination of President Kennedy – not MLK. My dad was going to Purdue for his PhD in Chemical Engineering in the early 60’s, which is why my sister was actually born in Lafayette, IN! So, mom was definitely talking about President Kennedy when she told me that story.

In fact, I don’t remember my parents ever talking about the assassination of MLK in any memorable way. And yet, they both were on the same level in terms of national and cultural significance.

That observation struck me this year for some reason. I think it’s the turning 50 thing 😉 It helped me see things I hadn’t noticed before about my cultural upbringing. It was a stark reminder that my cultural upbringing was pretty white. Most of my cultural references are therefore related to and biased towards white American history. A lot was left out in the history books, but also in the conversations we probably had around the dinner table, at Scouts or in Sunday School.

I imagine that was a difficult and confusing time for my parents – as it was indeed for a generation…indeed, much like it is today, for my generation. I know a little about the families in which my parents were raised. We had our share of colorful characters and family stories. Like it or not, they shape who we become and how we think about the world in which we live.

So let’s be truthful. We all live with prejudice and bias. I face it many times a day. Sometimes, I’m aware of it and catch myself. Most times, I’m either tired or unconsciously aware. So, the question isn’t “Do I have prejudice thoughts about another human being?” The question is, “Am I aware of my learned bias and prejudice? How do they affect my actions and decisions?”

Bias is learned. And it can be unlearned.

I’m confronted with this almost every time I interact with another person! My life experiences around gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc. affect how I think of others – which is very subjective based on my experience. The reality is my thoughts are likely not the complete – or accurate – story! If I’m not careful, it’s very easy for me to act on my preconceptions and assume things about others that are likely not true.

And we know what they say about assumptions…

I’m better off assuming that we more similar than we are different – then acting off that assumption and not my first reaction!  Not easy, but that’s what I’ve learned is important for me.

I wish I could talk with my mom more about that day when she heard the news. I think I always let her comment about being at Purdue be the end of the conversation. That’s probably because talking about topics like race makes me uncomfortable. Looking back, I regret not opening up that up for deeper discussion. There are a lot of days I’d like to ask her about…but never found the courage or time to do so. With her gone, that ship has sailed. Such is the circle of life.

My dad celebrates his 80th birthday this year. I’ll be with him on his birthday in Florida. I have lots of questions that I want to do a better job of asking now, before the experiences and memories are lost with a generation…


‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’


My Personal Thoughts on Suicide Prevention & Recovery

Today is the last day of both National Suicide Prevention Month, and National Recovery Month. The fact that these share the same month resonates with me on so many levels. I’m a survivor of an abandoned suicide attempt – and on that same December night in 2009, entered my journey of long-term recovery from addiction. I still battle with depression and anxiety – but the hopelessness that once gripped me has lifted.

This month, I rode in Indiana’s 10th Annual Recovery Ride – with close to 100 motorcycles in a police-escort around I-465, and down 38th street to a downtown park. I still get goosebumps when I see the police motorcycles whip past our stream of motorcycles to leap from exit to exit, traffic signal to traffic signal, waving cars to pull over and wait…wait…for us, a group of former addicts and alcoholics, riding past in a victory celebration of life. I go back to remember – to celebrate – to show my gratitude to those who stood by my side and have loved me through my shadows.

I lost my mother to untreated alcoholism and have attended several other funerals for those who lost their battle to hopelessness and addiction. So for me, having National Recovery Month and Suicide Prevention Month are personal reminders of the how grateful I am for my life today – for each precious day. They aren’t all peachy keen, rainbows and unicorns. But, had I not paused for that one fateful moment and reconsidered my decision to end my life on December 21, 2009, I would have become another tragic victim of addiction.

As I reflect back on my darkest days of addiction, I clearly recall the shame and stigma I felt for being a meth addict. I had a middle-management career at Eli Lilly – I “had it made,” by all external signs. But, I can remember the fear that gripped me on many occasions when I thought about getting help. I literally was worried to get treatment, because I thought insurance would then know about my addiction, and my employer would find out, and my parents would know – and that fear of rejection held me back from getting help. Sounds stupid to write today – but it was very real for me. I had already faced years of rejection and shame around being gay. For me, that paled in comparison to what people would think if I told them about by rampant and self-destructive “double life” as an addict.

I had tried to “get clean” on my own several times. I had even tried NA once – I still remember my first meeting on 30th Street at the Bethlehem House. But, in my experience, meth isn’t something you just walk away from. So, when I chose life on December 21, 2009 – I called 911, because I wanted to put into motion a series of events that I couldn’t stop. I wanted to get into Fairbanks for help – and having just turned away from ending my own life, that fear, shame, rejection from “what others would think” fell away. I made essentially what was a “call for help” – a call to a suicide prevention line. And it opened up a whole new life – a life of family, friends, community, and most importantly – hope.

I could have chosen to be Arvin – or I could have chosen life.  Thankfully, I chose life…

Since then, I’ve found nothing but an amazing outcry of support.

  • My pastor and 5 friends drove from Indianapolis to Greenfield that grateful night to meet me at the hospital and make sure that for the next step in my journey, I wasn’t alone. I shared my story at church, and received a standing ovation from the congregation at Broadway.
  • My dad and sister came and stayed with me for several weeks, overlapping to ensure that my dogs were taken care of when I was at Fairbanks, and helping me “re-enter” life after in-patient treatment. My dad even came to two IOP sessions at Fairbanks with me. I’ll never forget that gift of time he shared with me.
  • For several years, friends joined me on January 1st for the New Year’s Resolution Run/Walk in downtown Indianapolis – a tradition that helped me brave each new year with sobriety, surrounded by friends.
  • In June of this year, my fiancé came with me to pick up another year token in my long-term journey of recovery from addiction. He held my hand, put his arm around me, and kissed me on the cheek. I wasn’t alone.
  • Just this week, my sister sent me a thank you card for her birthday present – and in it, thanked for me “choosing life” that grateful night.
  • Because of that choice, I’m able to celebrate my nephew’s birthday next week. I was able to take senior photos for my niece and nephew this Labor Day. And, in June, my three siblings and I all celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday together. The last time we were all together was for my mother’s funeral in 2013 – so it was a momentous occasion of family.

None of this would have been possible if I had given up – if I didn’t somehow believe, deep down inside, that somebody else cared for me more than I did at that moment of desperation. When I couldn’t love myself, others loved me with abandon – they met me in my home, invited me to brunch, allowed me to crash at their place so I wasn’t alone. For those friendships and family ties and acts of generous compassion, I’m thankful.

I chose to write this because I wanted to do something more than copy and paste a chain letter about Suicide Prevention Month. On December 21st, that wouldn’t have made a bit of difference – if anything, it would have been insulting. “You don’t even care enough to pick up the phone, to stop by and hold my hand, to sit with me in silence as I just sob.  See, I am unloveable and useless in this world.” For me, those posts are a slap in the face to my struggle – and more importantly, to those simple acts of grace and compassion that so many have shown me over the years – the time they took to stop, to care, to show up, to be present.

Instead, I hope someone reads this and finds a little hope from their struggles – and realizes that reaching out to ask for help will bring relief. “Everything will be alright, maybe not today, but eventually.” Or maybe someone else reads this and calls their friend to ask how they are doing today – or visits their brother, just to be with him, hold his hand and listen. Do something with your time and presence to plant a seed of hope – to help us see there is no shame or stigma in whatever struggle we are going through. And the more we talk about this, as my friend Mike always says, the more we give others permission to tell their story…

I also chose to write this so on those days when I struggle with darkness, I’m reminded of the light that shines through – that bells still can ring…

Lesson in Light

Keep tellin’ the story!

Social Media Apps Are Asking The Wrong Question: Why “likes” are so dangerous in today’s times!

I’m realizing that I’ve been conditioned to think “Do I like this _______?” Fill in the blank – it starts with “post,” or “idea,” or “belief,” and in some cases, the person!  Whoa!

I think we’re asking ourselves the wrong question. “Likes” encourages us to see the world as black and white, right and wrong. “Likes” teaches us that agreeing or not agreeing is more important than listening. “Likes” wants us to judge first, instead of seeking to understand and be understood.

Life has taught me how dangerous this can be. And with the recognition of “social media bubbles,” it’s even more critical that we find ways to break out of our bubbles. Surrounding myself with ideas and people I “like” is one of the reasons we’re here as a society. President Trump isn’t the problem – he is the symptom. American society has become more and more divided over the years – and it’s that division that has helped lead to the “perfect storm” that got Trump elected. So, impeaching him or waiting until 2020 isn’t going to fix our underlying brokenness. He’s just a symptom or easy target – not the cause nor the solution.

In general, we’ve become too worried about self-preservation and taking sides that we’re shutting ourselves off from the very thing we are craving — connection, intimacy, community.

I can choose to be right, or I can choose to connect with others. I choose to connect.

How would our conversations change if, instead, we had the choice to mark “I hear you.” Or, as I learned from my friends Mike Mather and De’Amon Harges, what if the checkbox simply said “Sawubona” – I see you. (Google it 😉

All of a sudden my focus is no longer on do I agree with this person or not. It’s not about judging them as “good” or “bad” – “conservative” or “liberal.” My focus instead becomes, did I pay attention to what this person has to say – or was I figuring out first how to counter their point? Did I hear their story, and ask questions to help deepen my understanding – instead of finding ways to challenge or prove them “wrong.” Did the other person feel heard, value, and listened to? If so, then I should be able to check the box “Sawubona” – and in response, they can respond with their own check – “Sawubona.”

What a different place Facebook would be, don’t you think!?

This all came about because I was talking to a friend about the current state of our world today – but particularly about Charlottesville and North Korea and Washington DC. I had seen another mutual friend’s post, commenting on white privilege in the aftermath of Charlottesville. I wandered if my friend had seen the post – but really was curious to hear what he thought about it. In other words, was it “good” or “bad” – was my discomfort and ill-ease because the opinion expressed was “right” or was it because the person was “wrong?”

My friendly gently pointed out that I was asking the wrong question.

I don’t have to agree with you to listen to what you have to say. And these days, I think this approach would encourage more conversation, more community and more healing.

Please don’t “like” or “not like” this post ;). Just listen…to the next person you hear speaking up. Listen – and ask questions. See what happens…

And if you know anyone at Facebook or Twitter and want to help start a cultural revolution, let’s see if social media apps would remove the “like” buttons and replace them with “Sawubona.”