Month: May 2014

Maya Angelou and the Art of Not Being A Bully

It’s interesting how we fragment a person’s life into bits of wisdom (that they may or may not have actually said—I mean, come on, people have pinned quotes by Hilter attributed to Taylor Swift).

This one by Maya Angelou, though, isn’t a bad one to be remembered by: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


I read that quote, and instantly I remembered the one time I made a kid cry. Sixth grade. That lovely stage of life when my legs were too long for the rest of my body and my mouth blurted out things before my brain could awkwardly catch up. That day, I tried to make a joke that was actually pretty mean, and I didn’t realize it till after I had said the words and couldn’t take them back.

I still remember his face when he ran out of the room, and the heat and shame that rushed into mine. I still remember my teacher’s lecture about insensitivity. I still remember exactly what I said and what I wish I could have said instead (which was absolutely nothing).

I remember thinking, in complete shock, I. Am. A. Bully.

That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Maya Angelou’s quote because it was the day I learned, really learned, that my insignificant opinions, the words I say without thinking, matter.

That realization is terrifying to someone who is desperately afraid of hurting others.

So what’s an accidental bully to do? Well, let’s start with the first place I saw the Maya Angelou quote yesterday, in a comment on a picture from Humans of New York.


This was the caption on the picture: “One time I was taking him and a friend to the park, and his friend had a slight walking problem. I didn’t even notice it, so I was walking pretty fast. He ran up to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and whispered: ‘Dad, will you please slow down?’ I’ll never forget that.”

There it is. There’s the answer, little Amy. You don’t have to be a bully. How? Empathy. Empathy notices. It remembers. It does the little things. It puts you in another person’s place, just for a little while, just long enough for you to care and do something about it.

I could fill in a caption like this a hundred times over from my own life. “One time I saw you . . .

  • Offer to take everyone’s trash and throw it away.
  • Sit on the bus next to the designated Annoying Kid. (Because every summer camp has one.)
  • Make pumpkin muffins instead of brownies because you knew one person in the group had given up chocolate for Lent.
  • Pick up the board game that you didn’t even play after everyone else just left it there.
  • Intentionally stop and look at someone each time you asked, “How are you?”
  • Cry with someone when they got that phone call from home that changed everything.
  • Move to sit next to the new kid in the youth group, the one wearing a South Park T-shirt with a cuss word on it.
  • Tell the kid mocking a special needs classmate to shut up.
  • Hold open a door for a teacher carrying a load of boxes—a mean teacher—when you thought no one was watching.

I’ll never forget that.

I watch for these people, for these little things, almost obsessively, so I can steal these gestures of empathy and copy them. Kind of like what an alien might do if it came to Earth and needed to learn how to imitate humans as closely as possible. Because, let’s face it, being unselfish is an alien concept to me. It’s not my natural culture, or any of ours despite what random-acts-of-kindness ads try to tell us.

I find Romans 12 to be a handy passage when it comes to doing the little things, because it focuses on heart attitudes as much or more than specific actions.

(Significant sidenote: if you go on a well-intentioned checklist crusade and try to work up the willpower to do good things, say profound things, and always be aware of how you’re making people feel, it will not end well. Also, you will probably be miserable.)

Go back to eleven-year-old Amy, frozen, staring at the wall, face still bright red. I just made someone cry. What kind of power do I have? And how can I give it back?

You can’t, little Amy. You’re witty and good with words and impulsive and almost completely lacking in common sense, which means this could easily happen again. You also have the gift and the curse of caring deeply about others, and the more you love people, the greater your ability to hurt and disappoint them will be.

But you can learn how to control the power your words have. You can remember to stop and think about how your words will make other people feel.

The Death of a Rose

Time is not kind to roses. A week ago, this one was Valentine’s-card red, making the cup I used as a makeshift vase feel unworthy to be in its presence.

And now look at it: crackling, crumbling, stained and tattered and dry.


As I swept the wilted yellow leaves off the table and reached to throw it away, I smiled…then paused. Why? Why had I done that? There was no good reason behind my sudden urge to take a picture of the dead rose, to be happy instead of disappointed at its faded petals, to call it beautiful.

Then I remembered. Ah, but there was a reason.

It was a short little poem I read my sophomore year of high school. One that made a bored, browsing fifteen-year-old stare at the anthology and read it again. And again. (more…)

What Not to Do On Graduation Day

Ah, graduation season, a time of tearful hugs, too-hot auditoriums, funny hats, and speeches with vocabulary so consistent you could make a bingo card for them. Seeing the flood of new alumni pictures brings back fond memories of my graduation from Taylor University last year.

You know, the day I got lost in the woods.

Yep. Really.

Okay, so it wasn't fall, but this is my campus.

Okay, so it wasn’t fall, but this is my campus.

I got up early on graduation morning, around sunrise, and slipped past my sleeping roommates. (Because I live by the motto that it’s always a good idea to disappear without telling people where you’re going.) (more…)

The Problem With Black-and-White

There are certain acceptable ways to respond when you disagree with another person’s opinion. Sometimes, I do a great job of finding and executing those responses.

Other times, I don’t.

Last week, I was talking with a group about the morality of lying in less-than-clear situations (think “Are you hiding any Jews?” during Nazi Germany). I was just gearing up for a dramatic speech when the guy across from me said, “Why are we even talking about this? All lying is wrong. It’s black and white.”

And I immediately started laughing.

This, friends, in case you were not aware, is not the correct response to someone’s very serious opinion. Nope. (more…)

12 Headlines That Will Make the Bible Go Viral

Have you seen those photo galleries or human interest news stories on Facebook with headlines meant specifically to tempt you to click?

Have you clicked on any of them?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” you’re either lying or living in a severe state of denial. As annoying as these headlines can be, I’ve decided that Bible Gateway should capitalize on this trend to update Bible stories to get people to read them.

Why not do a translation with headings written this way? It could be the next big thing!

Why not do a translation with headings written this way? It could be the next big thing!

Here are a few that I think will work well for the viral generation:

These College Students Discovered One Simple Rule For Staying Healthy, Smart, and Handsome

Best Use of Public Nakedness I’ve Ever Seen!

Foreign Spies Escape Country…and a Bloodbath. You’ll Never Guess What They Left Behind!

One Normal Mom Discovers Her Son is A Zombie

The Most Embarrassing Murder of All Time! (We could hardly watch.)

Do Rock Monsters Actually Exist? You Decide!

Scandal! One Politician Turns a Victory Rally Into a Strip Dance (Wait till you hear what his wife had to say!)

Think Church is Boring? Talk to This Guy.

Avoid Snake Poisoning With This One Weird Trick.

You’ll Never Guess How This Father Reacted To His Long-Lost Son! (Verse 20 moved me to tears.)

Beauty Pageant Hottie Finally Speaks Her Mind: Find Out What She *Really* Thinks

One Insane Plan To Save the World You Never Saw Coming!


For more viral-headline entertainment, check out this comic and this video, which inspired this post.


Okay, your turn! 50 imaginary bonus points for anyone who comments with a Bible story in viral-headline form.

I Am a Flossing Legalist

I really need to start remembering that most people are normal. That way, I’d avoid a lot of strange looks.

I got one of those looks at the dentist last week. He asked the predictable litany of slightly-nosy questions: “Any medications? Allergies? Do you brush regularly?”

And then he got to the one I was dreading, “How about flossing? Do you floss on a regular basis?”Floss

“Well,” I confessed, “not this time.”

(Because dentist know, guys. Don’t you try to fool them. Not gonna work. It’s like telling you mom you didn’t sneak a cookie when you have chocolate smeared on your face and a trail of crumbs at your feet forming an arrow that points right at you.)

I could have just stopped there. But, feeling the oppressive shame of poor hygiene, I needed to justify myself. “See, the reason I didn’t floss often this time is because I didn’t tell anyone I would.” (more…)

Atheism Update!

A month or so ago, I wrote about how the movie God’s Not Dead rubbed me the wrong way because of its kinda extreme portrayal of atheists.  If you want to get caught up on that, the original post is here.

Who will you side with: the wholesome, intelligent clean-cut college student who is remarkably good with visual aides, or the bitter, hot-tempered professor who dates a student and treats her like dirt?

Here are some helpful bits of information I’ve come across so far, in case you’re interested.

First of all, Phil Vischer! If you can get over the fact that he sounds vaguely like Bob the Tomato from VeggieTales (because he is, in fact, Bob the Tomato), then his dialogue with atheist author Peter Boghossian is a great example of two people disagreeing, but civilly. And also genuinely trying to understand the other person instead of just arguing. It’s a bit long, but play it when you’re doing dishes or cooking or coloring or whatever it is you do. (Actually, any and all episodes of the Phil Vischer podcast come highly recommended.)

If you don’t have time to watch the podcast, check out the blog post that inspired it.

The book under discussion. I might actually read it now.

The book under discussion. I might actually read it now.

This article, “Top 10 Tips for Atheists This Easter” is written from a Christian perspective, clearing up some misconceptions atheists might have about Christians. I’m including it in this update mostly because I like the respectful tone, but also because the last two points are what the author considers the weakest points of Christianity: Old Testament violence and hell. I’d tend to agree with him there. Also, I’d love to find an article similar to this from an atheist perspective. If anyone knows of one, let me know.

Finally, I had a great conversation with a dozen or so people at Taylor University about what religion we would be if we weren’t Christians. (You’d be surprised at the alternative religious diversity we had…nearly all major world faiths were represented, along with a few obscure ones.) I picked agnosticism, which, to me, is the more gray-area, postmodern version of atheism.

The highlight of that discussion was probably the following exchange: “I’m making fun of your fake religion.” “I am hypothetically outraged!”

So, there’s the question of the day: if you were not a Christian, what religion might you belong to, and why? (Hint: it probably has to do with what values you have in common with that religion.)