Comic 1: Sibling Rivalry

Look carefully at this comic.  With whom do you most identify?

Comic Strip sq rev


A. The exasperated mother, of course! Why do kids fight over toys that are exactly the same?

B. The little girl. I hate it when someone constantly watches me or my stuff!

C. The little boy. I’m always keeping my eyes open for my opportunity to take what I want!

D. A bit with all of them.

I’m guessing that, since most of our readers are adults, and those who aren’t parents may have at least had experience babysitting, many of you will identify with the exasperated mother. I know I often do!

And when in the position of the exasperated parent (or caregiver), trying to catch a moment of relaxation (or, worse, in the middle of something very important), kids fighting, especially over something that seems completely irrational, is so incredibly frustrating. We may, like this mother, recite little platitudes trying to pacify one or more of our children. Or we may try to suggest some alternate form of play (or chore) to “redirect.” Or we may “lose it” and shout out something like “Quiet!” or “Why can’t you two [three, four, etc.] get along!” I have done all of these things, and I don’t judge anyone (including myself) for these methods of handling sibling rivalry. But none of these methods really address the issue at hand.

Perhaps some of you identified with one or the other child. Taking a moment to empathize with children is perhaps the most important step in being able to understand and resolve their conflicts (but the path is not always straight and clear!)

I know that when I first saw this comic, while I could understand the mother’s exhausted bewilderment, I was most struck by the poor little girl’s sad face at the end. It made me yearn to understand her. And when it occurred to me that I already understood the mother, and wanted to understand the girl, then I realized I also wanted to understand the little boy. He seems the only one happy at the end of the strip, but ironically, he’s also the only one without a voice at all. And as the mother of a toddler, I often feel like toddlers are the most bewildering people on the planet. I would love to understand them better!

So as I examined this comic more closely, I tried to understand it from each character’s point of view. From a Girardian perspective, the reason for the conflict is natural… and less “childish” than we might like to imagine!

Change Your View:

First, imagine you are the little boy. New to the world, you are learning what you want and what to do by watching others. You watch your big sister, see the things she likes to play with, and those things become desirable to you. More than just toys, your sister also has the pride, love, and (sometimes) attention of your parents. You have those things too, but when you see your sister receive them, you want them even more. This is natural. It is how human beings learn desire. You’re not consciously processing any of this; you just see what others close to you have, and you want those things. As you grow, you will learn to discern and discriminate, but the basics of receiving desire from those around you won’t change, they’ll just become fine-tuned.

Now, imagine that you are the little girl. You see your brother eyeing you and your things constantly. You know he wants your stuff… time and again, he has reached out and grabbed it! When you spy him looking at you, you know he’s only a step away from making his move. You try to tell your parents, but they don’t see anything wrong with his eyes staring in your direction. Then he starts to do what you do, and he’s infringing on your space. You say, “He’s copying me,” and your parents say some strange words that seem to amount to telling you that (1) you shouldn’t worry, and (2) you should be happy that he’s giving you that kind of attention. When he finally tackles you to get what he wants, you feel angry, sad, deflated.. And you’ve seen him take more than just your toys. He has also taken the attention of your parents, which is now (necessarily) more divided than it once was. You often feel misunderstood.

The objects of desire may be different, but the roots of many conflicts are the same for adults as they are for children – mutual desire. We are often in the position of the little boy without realizing it – subconsciously forming desires from what we see others having, whether it’s material goods, wealth, position, power, talent, etc. And while we may not consciously calculate how we may acquire something at someone else’s expense, often the things we seek are competitive. Landing a job, for example, often denies another the opportunity to get the same job. We may be far beyond the days of stealing a toy right out of someone’s hand, but we often acquire at someone’s expense. So when we have what we want, we are often in the position of the little girl, guarding what we have, understandably suspicious of others who eye our things, our positions, our successes.

And we may look upon conflicts from the outside bewildered, wondering why people who seem to have so much in common fight. Yet we are oblivious to the fact that our own conflicts also arise from mutual desires and that we almost always have more in common with our adversaries than we would like to admit.

The children fighting in this comic are, in some ways, kids being kids. But they are also humans being humans, and rather than dismiss their fighting as just “what kids do,” it behooves us to understand the roots of their conflicts – and our own!

Change Your Actions:

When we see our children in rivalry, it is tempting to try to ignore it (if it’s not at a screaming or physically violent stage), to try to quell it right away (through bribery or warning of punishment), or to otherwise handle it without really resolving it. But here are some things we can do when we recognize that there is a logic behind their conflict similar to the logic behind our own.

  1. Acknowledge the feelings and desires of your children. You could ask them to explain the conflict in their own words (if they are old enough) so that they know they are being listened to. If you have younger children who struggle with words, you could say things like [to the little girl] “It’s frustrating when your brother wants your things, isn’t it?” and [to the little boy] “Your sister’s toys do look like fun, but so do these toys over here…” I’ve recently found that naming emotions helps even my toddler feel understood.
  2. Explain beyond platitudes. Tell the older child that the younger child is learning who s/he wants to be by watching and listening to her/his older sibling. Acknowledge that while that can be frustrating, it is also an honor, and a responsibility, to be a model.
  3. Model sharing and cooperation. Conflicts often arise over things that we do not know how to share. Some things cannot be shared, but many things can be. I have noticed that my toddler has learned from seeing children and adults rolling a ball. From running to grab the ball out of its path to another child to (sometimes) sitting and waiting for the ball to be rolled to her, my little one is showing signs of learning how to share. It’s a long process!
  4. Ask for ideas from friends. (Readers, I’m talking to you!)

With some modification, these ideas can be applied to our own conflicts as well. I admit that they are more easily said than done, but if we constantly remind ourselves to see the mutual desire at the heart of a conflict and redirect the resolution of that desire from competition to cooperation, we can more clearly help our children to do the same, and thereby build a more peaceful world.

Image: Special thanks to Susan Drawbaugh, who created this and other comics for the Raven Foundation.

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Suzanne Montessori

Mimi, Cry!: The Desire Game

My granddaughter Grace recently taught me a new game that I call, “Mimi, cry!” I’m Mimi and in the game she invites me to play with a toy she’s holding and then when I reach for it she says, “No! It’s mine. Cry, Mimi, cry.” So I cry and beg for a turn with the toy and she, with a great deal of satisfaction, refuses. Where did she learn to send such a mixed message, you might well wonder? Well, that is how children experience the messages we send them. Adults are irresistible to children; we are their supreme models for everything they want to do and be. In this video I explain why the child’s “absorbent mind”, as Montessori called it, can lead children to desire things that adults desire, even things that adults then forbid them to have or do. In mimetic theory, it’s called the model-obstacle problem and it applies to adult desire as well as to children. If you’ve ever wondered why you constantly have to say “No!” to your toddler or even why you always seem to want the things you can’t have, this video will provide the answer.


Hillary Clinton’s Emails, Donald Trump, and Moving through Scandal

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay claims that the Justice Department is preparing to file charges against Hillary Clinton for mishandling of classified information in her emails. Delay said in an interview, “I have friends who are in the FBI and they tell me they’re ready to indict.”

I don’t know the veracity of Delay’s statement. Nothing would surprise me during this political season. His statement could be a complete fabrication made to cause more drama in a presidential election season already filled with enough drama, or an indictment could happen tomorrow.

Clinton’s email scandal isn’t going away any time soon because Republicans will keep bringing it up. Delay guaranteed as much, claiming that if the attorney general doesn’t move forward with an indictment, she will be put on trial. “One way or another, either she’s going to be indicted and that process begins, or we try her in the public eye with her campaign. One way or another, she’s going to have to face these charges.”

I don’t want to scapegoat Republicans for bringing up the scandal. Democrats have called for similar indictments of their Republican counterparts. Many have insisted that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and former CIA directors be charged with crimes against humanity. Hillary may have her email problems, but the Bush/Cheney administration is plagued by torture reports.

Whether it’s emails or war crimes, both sides are scandalized by the other. What we often fail to see, however, is that scandals have a paradoxical nature to them. We may despise or condemn those who we think cause scandals, like committing war crimes or being sloppy with allegedly classified information, but deep inside we are also attracted to them.

René Girard has a helpful way of explaining the term scandal. In his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Girard states that the more a scandal “repels us, the more it attracts us.”

In other words, the more we hate our political rivals, the more we are attracted to them. What attracts us to them? They have the things that we want – success, power, and prestige. The very things we want is what they have, and because they have the things that we want, they seek to prevent us from taking those things away from them.

Republicans are both repelled and attracted to Hillary Clinton because she has the successful political career that they want. Scandal is driven by this form of rivalry and resentment. Underneath the obsession with Clinton’s email is a resentful feeling of superiority – that where she failed, we could have succeeded. As Jeremiah Alberg points out, “… what drives scandal is the secret thought, ‘I could have done it better.’”

And so we find ourselves trying to outdo our rivals, competing for the same prize. We tend to deny that we have anything in common with our enemies, but underneath our denial, our mutual desire for power and prestige makes us the same. But we aren’t just the same in our desires, we also become the same in our actions.

That Democrats and Republicans seek to indict one another is a good example of becoming similar in our actions, but the scandal that is Donald Trump is another good example. Trump has scandalized not just the United States, but many throughout the world. In response to Trump’s suggestion that we ban all Muslims from the United States, Great Britain responded with perfect imitation as politicians suggested that they should place a ban on Trump. They were repelled by Trump, something they openly admitted, but as loud as they denounced his policy suggestions, they could not see that, in fact, they were mirroring the very thing they condemned. In fact, they were so attracted to Trump that they perfectly imitated him in the desire to banish people from their country.

There’s an ancient proverb that says, “Like a dog returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” That’s a good description of scandals. It’s inevitable that we will return to scandals like a dog returns to its vomit. Of course, we don’t just return to political scandals, but we return to scandals with family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends. When we become scandalized, we drive a wedge between ourselves and others by refusing to admit how alike we are. Scandals may be inevitable, but the good news is that we can learn to manage them in three healthy ways:

First, when scandals come your way, don’t deny them. Don’t deny that you are repelled and attracted to the one who is causing scandal. Try not to blame them. Instead, ask yourself why you are repelled and attracted to this person. What is it about them that you want to have or to be? What do you admire about him or her?

Second, remind yourself that it’s okay to be repelled and attracted by your scandalous rival. Don’t beat yourself up for falling into a scandal. It’s okay. In fact, it’s human.

Third, find the good in your rival. Find ways to verbally affirm the good things that they are doing and seek to work together to accomplish those good things. Working with them builds a trustful rapport and the possibility for working together on the good things that you want to accomplish, too. Even more important, since we are more like our rival than we generally like to admit, finding the good in them means that we will also find the good in ourselves.

Jesus said that, “It is impossible that scandals should not come.” So, expect scandals to come. Instead of denying them or getting stuck in them, by following these three steps we can move through them. As we move through scandals, we find ourselves less scandalized, more forgiving of ourselves and others, and better able to work with others for a better future.

*Photo: Flicker, Marc Nozell, Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH, Creative Commons License, some changes made.


Trump, Biden And The Search For Authenticity

The nascent race for the U.S. Presidency is a great case study in desire. Voters are looking for “authenticity” in the candidates, or so the pundits say. Donald Trump and potential candidate Joe Biden are very popular right now because they seem to be genuine, passionate and unscripted. Everyone is tired of the highly scripted, tightly controlled candidate who doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been vetted, polled and tested with focus groups. The public face of such politicians is clearly false and constructed by others. What we long for is to glimpse the real self behind the façade, and we praise anyone who allows us a peek behind the mask. The inner self, we believe, is the true self that resists all that meddling by others.

This false view of the self is what James Alison, in his educational series Jesus The Forgiving Victim, calls the “blob and arrow” model. The blob represents me, what is thought to be my true self. The arrows are my desires which originate with me and are directed towards things in the world that I want, such as a job, a mate, or a political office. James explains:

Part of the self-understanding of the “blob” is that is has a defensive role, protecting and hiding the “real me” and my “real desire” which is always under a certain amount of threat from the fundamentally “flaky” public world, the world of commerce, of business, of politics and of war, in which no forms of discourse are really truth-bearing. So, what I say in public, how I act in public, and what I say I want in public, are always a certain form of dissimulation, since it is only the private ‘self’ which is real. (400-401)

Authentically Dependent on Others

This way of thinking about ourselves can be very flattering. It identifies us as the good guys pitted against the flaky world out there. But unfortunately for our egos, it just isn’t true!  Our desires are not stable, unchangeable things that originate deep inside of us. Our desires are given to us by the world around us through our highly developed capacity for imitation. In other words, each and every one of us is the product of a script that predates our existence. We are formed, shaped, brought into being by the cultural script into which we were born. There is no “true inner self” that exists somehow separate from and unmoved by our “public self”. Our inner self is the result of being in an extraordinarily powerful and fluid feedback loop with the world around us. Unless we can understand that the ground of being in which we live, move and desire is the culture around us, what James calls the “social other”, we will forever misunderstand that our “authentic self” is the product of our social interactions.

The truth is that our “authentic” selves are much less stable than we normally understand. We are constantly courting the attention and approval of others, without which our “sense of self” erodes. We feel insecure, ashamed, and we lose confidence in ourselves without that approval. Politicians and celebrities, people who rely on the approval of others, are no different than we are. They are just more public about it! Their dependence on our votes or our wallets is no secret at all.

And like these public figures, we should not be ashamed of our need for approval. Jesus knows that being human means that our selves are constructed in and through relationships. The question is, which relationships are forming us? Some relationships have our best interests at heart; others are abusive and manipulative. James explains that Jesus is inviting us to become aware of just how dependent we are on the “social other”, which is not always good for us. He wants us to enter a kind of detox program so that we can free ourselves from its grip.

A Detox Program

That detox program is prayer. When we read Matthew 6:5-6 with this understanding of the self and desire, what do we find?

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When we pray in public and put our piety (or authenticity!) on display, our “reward” is the approval of others. Jesus warns us to beware of that reward. Instead he urges us to withdraw from the social other, to shut ourselves away from their glances so that we can begin to receive ourselves from a different source. James writes:

[Jesus] is saying, “You are addicted to being who you are in the eyes of your adoring public, or your execrating public, it doesn’t matter which, since crowd love and crowd hate give identity in just the same dangerous way. So, go into a place where you are forcibly in detox from the regard of those who give you identity so that your Father, who alone is not part of that give and take, can have a chance to call your identity into being.” (412)

The truth is that an authentic self can be called into being by relationships that mirror God’s unconditional love. But crowd love or hate cannot call forth an authentic self! It will only shape a “self” in its image. As James explains, we too easily become a puppet of the crowd, forever doing its bidding in order to keep the feedback coming. When we praise politicians’ for being “authentic”, we need to realize that our praise is coming toward them from the crowd of which we are willing members. Perhaps such politicians are not dependent on us for their identity, but perhaps they are too dependent on us without realizing it.

As we analyze the presidential candidates with this in mind, we might ask ourselves the same question: Are we bolstering our own sense of self by aligning with a particular candidate? Group belonging is a sure way to feel good about ourselves over against those “baddies” in the other camp. Perhaps our longing for authenticity in our candidates reflects our desire for a more stable, authentic identity for ourselves. Maybe we all need a little time in detox.

This article is a modified version of an article I wrote for my blog series  inspired by Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice by James Alison. This series can be found on the Patheos Progressive Christian Teaching Nonviolent Atonement page. For other parts in this series, see:

Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Huh?

Listening for the Unheard Voice

Authentically Boring: The Case for Praying by Rote

If Jesus is the Forgiving Victim, Then What Am I?

The One Thing: God, Faith, and a City Slicker

Image: Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photos: Flickr, DonkeyHotey, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Creative Commons License, some changes made.)



The Imitation Game: US-Iran Relations

We now have an agreement with Iran to restrain their pursuit of nuclear weapons, but just how good a deal is it? President Obama, congress, presidential contenders, and political commentators are debating that right now. Sojourners offers clear-eyed support for the deal as “better than the alternatives” and clearly better than military strikes which “would be, at best, premature, as well as highly unpredictable and morally irresponsible in creating yet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.”

Even so, Sojourner’s President Jim Wallis has written that he has no doubt that Iran is “an enemy of America, an enemy of Israel, and an enemy of peace.” But as a Christian, he also believes that “you need to find ways to make peace with your enemies.” This deal, for Jim Wallis anyway, seems to be a way to do that. But how do you make peace with a nation that is not just our enemy, but an enemy of peace itself?

Just what is an enemy? We don’t often ask that question because we think the answer is obvious: enemies are bad guys who hate us for no good reason. An enemy is so unlike us that we compare ourselves to them in terms of opposites: rational/ irrational, nonviolent/ violent, law abiding/ criminal, and just/ unjust. We believe that we and our enemy have absolutely nothing in common except perhaps a shared desire to defeat the other.

The Terrible Twos: A Parable

But I think that way of thinking about enemies is just plain wrong. The cause of the mistake is a basic misunderstanding of human psychology, specifically the psychology of desire. Our enemies are not our opposites; they are the mirror image of our desires. In this way, “an enemy” is not someone separate and distinct from us, rather they are a product of our relationship with them. The best way I know of illustrating this is with a story about desire in my 2-year-old granddaughter, Grace.

Grace is at that “terrible” age when her desires often seem at odds with the adults around her. But mostly she’s not as terrible as just annoying. Like when she won’t eat her own food but devours what’s on her mom’s plate or when she wants to “help” fold the clothes. Like all terrible twos, Grace is an imitator on steroids. Whatever we do, that’s what she wants to do, too. Which is how she learns to do things, of course. Grace is learning how to be a grown-up by imitating grown-ups. Which is natural and good, not terrible at all.

The terrible kicks in when Grace seems to be determined to do the opposite of what we want. For example, when we try to do something we think she needs help with, like pour her milk, she screams, which is her wordless version of, “You’re not the boss of me!” If we insist on pouring the milk for her, it leads to the dreaded power struggle. Hey, what parent hasn’t gotten into a tug of war over pouring milk or bedtime or what to wear to school, and lost?! Our kids seem determined to defy us just for the sport of it and it’s hard not to feel that our sweet two-year-old has turned into a demon child.

But here’s the catch: Grace’s defiance is also an act of imitation except that she’s imitating something we want to keep sole possession of: the power to decide things for ourselves. Get it? When mom displays her own ability to make decisions and impose her will on Grace, Grace will have none of it. She wants to be just like mommy in everything, including being the boss of herself! In fact, the more we refuse to share the privilege of being her boss, the more desirable it becomes to her. We would never call Grace our enemy, but boy oh boy, it sure does feel like it sometimes!

The Psychology of Desire

This is just basic desire psychology. The thing we won’t share is the thing we most value and that will provoke desire in others. So what does this have to do with Iran, the so-called enemy of the U.S.? Iran may be our enemy, but her desire for nuclear weapons is, in fact, a perfect imitation of our own. I am not discounting the dangers to U.S. security if nuclear weapons get into the wrong hands. No hands could be more wrong than those of an enemy, especially one that is also an “enemy of peace”. But the U.S. may risk becoming an enemy of peace as well when it blames others for desires they learned from us.

Let me be clear: Iran is no more a child than we are. We are equals, mirror images of each other’s desires for nuclear weapons and global respect. I’m no expert in diplomacy or nuclear policy, but I do know that conflict begins with shared desires. Ironically, so does friendship. The difference between enemies and friends is that friends enjoying sharing desires and enemies deny it’s happening. Remember, if Iran refuses to relinquish their desire for nuclear weapons, it’s not defiance; it’s imitation. And yet it may be easier than we think to follow Jim Wallis’ advice to find a way to make peace with this particular enemy. The path is obvious and available to us: we can renounce our desire for a nuclear arsenal. That’s a desire worth sharing and enjoying with friends.


Image: Copyright: David Carillet via

Copyright: kagenmi / 123RF Stock Photo

The Iran Deal and American Self-Deception

Politicians and pundits on both sides of the American political divide are debating the merits of President Obama’s deal with Iran. While Obama claims he has forestalled an Iranian nuclear weapon for at least another 10 years with unprecedented weapons inspection, Republicans state that the deal will only encourage the world’s most dangerous sponsor of terrorism.

Only time will tell us about the merits of the deal. For now, I’m interested in the response from our Republican presidential candidates.

The Republican candidates are swirling around, trying to point the finger at the greatest enemy of the United States. Is it the dreaded Mexican immigrants? (Gasp!) Or is it the terrorism that Iran threatens to unleash upon the globe? (Double gasp!)

American Terrorism

Forgive me if it looks like I’m picking on the Republicans. After all, this is American politics per usual. And maybe it’s just human politics. But Republican candidates in particular are trying to convince us that there is an extremely dangerous enemy out there that threatens our freedom. But that’s not all. They are also trying to convince us that the Democrats are enabling our enemies. And so we should vote for Republicans because they will be tough on our enemies.

This response from the Republicans is an act of American self-deception. They, and we the American people, should know better.

The United States has met our greatest enemy that leads the world in global terrorism. And it is us.

To prove my criticism of violent American foreign policy is bipartisan, I’ll point out that the Obama Administration’s indiscriminate drone strikes are terrorist crimes against humanity. While the Obama administration rightly criticizes al-Qaeda’s practice of attacking enemies during a funeral as morally heinous acts of terrorist monsters, nothing stops Obama from using drones to kill our “enemies” as they attend funerals.

I put “enemies” in quotes because they ended being regular civilians, many even children. You know, “casualties of war.” Aka, “Oops!”

And Iran is the most dangerous supporter of state terrorism in the world?

No, we are. And Republicans are trying to gain our vote by criticizing Obama’s terrorist policies and promising that they will be far better terrorists. Which, our politicians claim, will keep us safe.

A Relationship of Fear and Desire for Peace

The fact is that Iran wants to be just like the U.S. We fear Iran and Iran fears us. A relationship of fear is a recipe for disaster. But the U.S. and Iran want the same thing. Iran has a fearful political regime that just wants peace. Iran feels threatened, and it has learned from the U.S. how to respond to threats – by mimicking those violent threats with violent threats of its own.

We are enemy twins, who, even in negotiations, won’t take violence off the table.

The way that the U.S. can free ourselves from this relationship of violence is through honest self-criticism. Instead of accusing Iran of being a great threat to global security, we would do well to have the courage to admit our own terrorist acts of foreign policy.

American Honesty and Genuine Peace

It is the height of American self-deception to claim that we are completely innocent and Iran is completely guilty. Just look at our modern history with Iran. In 1953, the U.S. orchestrated a coup to topple the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh. Why? So that the U.S. would have “a major ownership in the strategic and highly lucrative trade of Iranian oil … with the additional bonus of a pliable client state in the heart of the Middle East.”

In 1985, the U.S. secretly shipped weapons to Iran and sent profits to Nicaraguan rebels. In 1988, the U.S. warship Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airplane. The U.S. says it mistook the Airbus A300 for an Iranian fighter jet.

Our greatest enemy is not Iran. It’s not Russia. Nor is it China. Our greatest enemy is ourselves. We have modeled for the world how to gain temporary peace through violence, which is a pattern that will only ensure a future of apocalyptic destruction.

The only alternative is to model a different method to achieve peace. American politicians must have the courage to stop deceiving the American people about our perceived innocence. Rather, we need our politicians to be honest about American involvement in terrorism and lead us in repenting of our violence. Modeling that honesty and repentance to other nations is the only possible way that the U.S. can help foster genuine peace in the world.

Photo Copyright: kagenmi / 123RF Stock Photo

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Eid: A Promise Of Hope And A Celebration Of Empathy

Editor’s Note: This article is a modified and updated version of last year’s Eid al-Fitr message.

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, Eid Mubarak from the Raven Foundation to all of our dear Muslim sisters and brothers! The holy month has drawn to a close, and all around the world, the ummah, or Islamic community, is celebrating the culmination of 30 days of fasting. Long daylight hours, at least in the northern hemisphere, have made this Ramadan among the most challenging in decades, with faithful Muslims refraining from food, drink and sexual intercourse while the sun is up – about 17 hours a day here in Chicago and similarly long hours around the world!

The hunger in the belly, the dryness of throat during the heat of the day, the restraint against urges of desire, are all meant to invite the soul into deeper relationship with God and neighbor and train the heart in the ways of compassion and civility toward friends and adversaries. In recent years, the sacred intentions of Ramadan have been further challenged by the heartbreaking violence raging throughout the world and devastating Muslim communities in particular. This violence is ravaging places like Afghanistan, where our 14-year-old war has all but been forgotten by media, Iraq, where ISIS is hypocritically and violently undermining the spirit of Islam in the name of Islam, Libya and Syria, where ISIS also has strong footholds, and Gaza, where the rubble from Israel’s latest bombing campaign one year ago, which killed over 2000 people, still has yet to be cleared, and none of the 17,000 homes destroyed have been rebuilt. These are just a few examples of the violence and aftermath of violence devastating predominantly Muslim countries around the world. For many, this day of celebration must instead be a day of mourning. So in the midst of this devastation and chaos, it is important to remember the promise of hope that is Eid al-Fitr (literally, “the lesser holiday,” the holiday after the fast).

Let us first ponder the meaning of Ramadan, the 30-day fast meant to tune the heart, mind, and soul toward God and break down walls and build bridges of compassion and solidarity between the wealthy and the poor. Muslims believe that it was during the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was first revealed from God through the angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an describes itself as a mercy and a guidance, and just like our world today and all times and places throughout history, mercy and guidance were desperately needed! My friend Adam Ericksen explains the world of pre-Islamic Arabia, the Jahiliyya, or Age of Ignorance, as a time when “fate” was thought to determine the rich from the poor, the winners from the losers, leaving little incentive for compassion or generosity. It was a world in which tribal gods were invoked in violent raids of conquest, and the wealth of a few created a world of desperation and misery for the poor, particularly the widow and the orphan. Sadly, this sounds very much like our world today. But it was in the midst of this violent and bleak hopelessness that Muhammad, tuning his heart and his mind to the needs of the poor and vulnerable, was able to hear the message of God: a message of ultimate peace, which is the meaning of Islam.

So it is appropriate that the month in which the Qur’an was revealed is a month of fasting, a time when the faithful enter into solidarity with the poor and hungry. As stomachs growl, those who are normally well-fed get a taste of the hunger 1 in 8 people worldwide experience (according to the 2013 statistics of the World Hunger Education Service). This voluntary material poverty is reminiscent of the world of Jahiliyyah into which the Qur’an was revealed, as faithful Muslims share the experience of the poor and suffering. Nothing dispels ignorance more than the active empathy that Ramadan requires.

This year, beyond connecting with the hungry, another profound way that active empathy was displayed was through a tremendous gesture undertaken by a coalition of Muslim networks working together to raise money for at least 8 African American churches that burned in the wake of the Charleston massacre. At a time when worship is brought into even sharper focus for Muslims, when spiritual connection and brother and sisterly solidarity is even more greatly pronounced, Muslims felt a desire to reach across faith boundaries. The burning of African American churches is an attack on the last, most sacrosanct refuge of the black Christian community, but Muslims reached out with an empathy deeply rooted in their faith experience and augmented by the holy month of Ramadan and raised over $30,000. In an interview for Al Jazeera America, spokesperson Linda Sarsour elaborated on the solidarity between Muslims and African Americans. This solidarity exists not only because the Muslim community includes African Americans, but also because Muslim Americans of all races are subjected to distrust and profiling on account of religion and the state of permanent US warfare in the Middle East. As Sarsour says,

We’re working on a lot of solidarity issues, including working against police violence, surveillance of political movements, building solidarity across the country. There’s so much more we can do together, and we’ve been able to do that in the past few years and it’s been remarkable.

The building of interfaith solidarity in the midst of the holy month is a powerful living example of Islam’s profound respect for the Abrahamic traditions and its tradition of peaceful interfaith relations. While the violence in Muslim countries gets a disproportionate amount of media attention, positive interfaith relations especially among the Abrahamic traditions are integral to Islam. This year, Ramadan has been a connection to those in times of struggle and turmoil, a time to build people up and provide a refuge of compassion and love – not just for fellow Muslims, but across religious lines.

Furthermore, in this month of spiritual renewal, desires are reoriented from human concerns to divine will. As Muslims find themselves sustained throughout the day not by food but by the loving God and supportive community, they liberate themselves from things that society tells us we need. Negative mimetic desires for material possessions, which can lead to envy and conflict, are tuned out as Muslims become models for one-another of positive mimesis. Turning away from selfish desire to following the desire of God, whose will is for all to love one-another, Muslims during Ramadan find mutual support as they strive through the day to renounce wants masquerading as needs, instead focusing their hearts, minds, time, and resources on those most in need. As food intake decreases, prayer, charity and compassion increase, and the empathy born from this experience extends past the imposed 30 days. The hope is that after the fast comes to an end, Muslims will continue to choose to spend fewer resources on themselves and more in the way of charity toward the poor and vulnerable, relying always on God’s abundant providence.

Eid is a festival of this abundance. It is a holiday that symbolizes that the mercy of God’s message, lived out among the faithful, dispels ignorance. It is a reminder that the same God who sustains us through hunger and poverty generously provides us with a rich and beautiful world to enjoy and share.  Eid is the promise of light after darkness, fulfillment after hunger, celebration after tribulation.

So many people worldwide, not only Muslims but people of all faiths and people who have lost all faith, are still in the midst of this tribulation and losing hope. Some have no food for a feast; some have no home to gather inside; some must bury their family instead of celebrate with them. May they be on the hearts and minds of all of those who can enjoy the feast today, and indeed all of us regardless of religion. As Muslims around the world come together today to celebrate the triumph of God’s mercy, abundance, and love, I pray that all of us may learn the lessons of Ramadan – empathy for the victims of violence and greed – so that we may all work toward a future Eid in which we invite all to the table – rich and poor, friend and foe, Palestinian and Israeli – to share the rich feast of God’s boundless love.

Image Credit: This image was generously created by ihsaniye and labeled for reuse.


Repent For Lent: Renewing Our Minds With Mimetic Theory — Family

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Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. – Jesus (Luke 14:26)

Well, let’s jump right in, shall we? For the rest of my “Repent for Lent” series, I aim to wrestle, like Jacob in the Jabbok, a blessing from some of the most difficult scriptures in the Gospels. This week I chose Jesus’s shocking words on family, ironically, on behalf of my husband. As I was talking to him about this series, saying that I wanted to approach some of the scary and seemingly violent sayings of Jesus from a pacifist, Girardian perspective, I asked if he could think of any sayings of Jesus that made him uncomfortable. Immediately, he replied, “Yes! What was that thing about hating your family? That seems to go against all that nonviolent stuff you talk about!”

It does, doesn’t it? What in the world are pacifists supposed to do with these blunt and uncompromising words? How could the one who tells us to love our neighbors and enemies, who preached against divorce and said “let the children come to me,” ask us to hate our families? Clearly, there must be something more going on here. After reading the scripture in context, considering other sayings of Jesus, and researching the work of friends Michael Hardin at Preaching Peace and Paul Nuechterlein at the Girardian Lectionary, I think I have found an abundance of blessings in the midst of some very difficult challenges.


I have heard priests claim Jesus does not actually tell us to hate our families, but simply to prefer him over them. This explanation calls to mind another time the word “hate” (or actually, in this case, “despise”) was used – in Genesis 25, when Esau sells his birthright for a lentil stew. The passage ends, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” He didn’t “despise” it in the sense that we understand the word, but he was willing to give it up.

Are we willing to give up – or risk losing – our families to follow Christ? One could rightly ask, “Why would we have to? What kind of God makes us choose against our families?” But in the context of his life and ministry, following Jesus was not without consequence. Jesus is warning us to consider the risk and inviting us to count the cost.

To declare Jesus Lord was to renounce the Pax Romana for the peace of Christ. And for first century Jews, to be a follower of Jesus was not only to deny Roman authority, but also to adopt an interpretation of Torah that went against popular understanding, ultimately leading to a view of the Messiah and even God that would appear upside-down to the dominant culture. What did it mean to declare a poor itinerant preacher – who touched lepers and ate with sinners and taught forgiveness of enemies – the Messiah? It meant breaking rules taught to you from childhood. It meant “hanging out” with the crowds your parents warned you about. And it meant relinquishing a faith that might have sustained your family through generations – faith in liberation through violent revolution under the protection of a warrior God. Jesus knew that all of this could lead to alienation from family, and that a reluctance to take such risks might stem from family loyalty. Jesus honestly admits that those who follow him run the risk of losing their families and even their lives.

But what risks do we take today to follow Jesus? Likely, far fewer than we should. To reach out to the outcast is still to risk being shunned. To forego vengeance is to risk being accused of weakness. To take a stand for peace against weapons and war is to risk insult, arrest, and even death depending on how much you are willing to cross the line. To actively love our enemies is to be liable for treason. While worshipping Jesus is popular, following him, by and large, is not. And when we honestly assess how far we would go to follow Jesus, are we willing to risk the strange glances of our families? Are we willing to speak truth not only to power, but to loved ones who might not want to hear it? And even if we have all the familial support we desire, are we willing to risk hurting them by putting ourselves at the risk for the sake of Christ’s peace?

When we ponder the costs we are willing to incur for the sake of Christ, we might admit that any risks we take on ourselves may also affect our loved ones. Acknowledging the truth of this might help us make sense of this verse, but it is still uncomfortable. “Hate” is still such a strong word. Is there more to Jesus’s use of it? I think so.


One key to understanding the word “hate” is to juxtapose it against the way we understand “love.” If “hate” means “being willing to give up” (as we saw in the reference to Jacob and Esau), then “love” could mean “desiring to acquire.”

Mimetic theory has a lot to say about acquisitive desire. It tells us that we desire according to the desires of others, that as imitative creatures, we learn what we want as we perceive others wanting it. This kind of “love” seeks to build up the self in relation to others, often against or in rivalry with others. This imitative phenomenon is usually unconscious; unless we really examine ourselves, we think our desires are entirely our own. Moreover, the things we love – even if we may love them because of years of conditioning, advertising, social pressure, etc. – are part of our self-understanding, part of our identity. This is even more true of the people we love; we need them to be who we are. There are wonderful things about this relational love, being formed through relationship with others. But there is also a scary and pernicious side to this love if it makes us jealous, possessive, or controlling. When we want to make someone our own to gratify our desires, love can become stifling. If obsessive, possessive love is what the world understands, perhaps Jesus needs to use shocking language to make us understand how we love our families, and what “loving” our families at the expense of self-giving love for all (manifested in Jesus) looks like.

Or to put it another way, consider the great hymn in Philippians 2.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Jesus’s self-giving love stands in stark contrast to the possessive love that too often drives our desires. In Paul’s testimony to Jesus’s humility, he says that Jesus “emptied” himself. Did he despise his identity as one who was in the form of God? Not at all, and yet is that not how it appeared to those who understood God’s holiness as being set apart from the Gentiles, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the unclean? Did he not appear to be a blasphemer and sinner by claiming to love those God was thought to hate? Jesus’s identity as God’s beloved Son is denied by those who crucify him in the name of the God they believe to be on their side.

Jesus loses everything for love of everyone. His love is not one that grasps but one that lets go. He went without wealth, home, or status. Even his identity, though secure in God, was turned upside-down in the eyes of the world. Though I can only guess, I wonder if losing his loved ones hurt most of all. For he is betrayed, denied and abandoned by those to whom he was closest, with a few notable exceptions. In the end, he must look down on those he loves from the cross as they endure the pain of letting him go.


I’m thinking now in particular of his mother, Mary. If the model of self-emptying love in Jesus seems too hard to follow, it may help to consider his mother, whom Emmanuel McCarthy of The Center for Christian Nonviolence has called “The Lamb’s Lamb.”

She loved her son, but with a love that had to let him go. I wonder what she must have thought as she heard of him hanging out with the “wrong” crowds, angering authorities, overturning the sacrificial system of the Temple. I am sure she was proud of him. But as she saw him get into deeper and deeper trouble until the weight of the law came down against him and crushed him, what must she have felt? Did she ever try to steer him away from his radical and subversive way of love, for the sake of his own safety?

When does protective love become possessive love? It can be a fine line. We do not know from scripture if Mary’s love ever straddled that line. But we do know what Jesus said to Peter when he decried the notion of Jesus being put to death: “Get behind me, Satan!”

The truth is, we will not only be hindered from fully following Jesus by our families, but we will also be tempted to hinder our family members from fully following Jesus. There are times when protecting is the most loving thing we can do. But when we are tempted to protect ourselves or our loved ones from the ridicule, burden, and danger that following Jesus may incur, dare we trust in a love far greater than our own to provide a deeper security? Ultimately, Jesus had to trust in this love from his Abba. I believe Mary trusted in this love too. She trusted it when she said “yes” to the Holy Spirit and bore Jesus in her womb, and she trusted it throughout his lifetime as she anticipated the “sword that would pierce her own soul.”


This risky, costly, self-emptying love will not leave us unfulfilled. As Jesus looked upon his mother and his beloved disciple from the cross, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” and to his disciple, “Behold, your mother!” Thus he mediated a new family for those who loved him, tenderly and intimately beginning to fulfill what he promised to his disciples:

Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  (Mark 10:29-30)

To those of us anxious about losing loved ones to follow Christ, these words may be poor reassurance. Our families are irreplaceable. But for those shunned by their families, such a promise of belonging is a blessing. A family can be the ultimate “in crowd,” except for those who are cast out. But Jesus ever calls us to reach beyond the margins.

Jesus deconstructs the traditional family, with its exclusive boundaries, and rebuilds a family around himself, around unconditional love, that reaches out through the arms of the church (his body on earth) to include all of humanity. Risking our relationships with our family to follow Jesus will eventually bring us back to them as we expand our definition of “family” from our immediate loved ones to the children of God – that is, the whole world.











Getting Ready for Valentine’s Day with the Wicked Truth About Love: Part 6, Custodian

Custodian, illustration by Susan Drawbaugh

Custodian, illustration by Susan Drawbaugh

I’d like to end my series on the obstacles to love with a few last thoughts about what love is. We’ve been talking about obstacles to love as tangled patterns of desire and then trying to get ourselves untangled by learning that desire itself is triangular (we learn what to desire by imitating the desires of others).  We looked at five different patterns of desire to better understand how the triangle of desire operates in our relationships: Best Friend Forever, Celebrity Chef, Super Hero, Rock Star and Sidekick. In this last post of the series, I will focus on the last two chapters of my book which are devoted to freeing ourselves from the tangled rope by realizing that real, honest to goodness love is a gift with no strings attached. In fact, love is not just a gift, it is Gift itself.

Competitive Gift Giving: Not Love!

What does that mean? Well, a gift is something we give one another that somehow or other seems to tie us into an obligation to give something back. Think of whom you exchange birthday presents with. It’s always someone who gives you a gift on your birthday and if someone outside of that circle happens to give you a gift, don’t you feel obligated to find out when their birthday is and return the giving? A gift always involves a reciprocal obligation. What happens when the person you gave a $15 wall plaque to that said, “You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose but you can’t pick your friend’s nose” and on your next birthday they give you a pair of tickets to a concert worth $150? Don’t you feel embarrassed and very much in debt to them? The expensive gift feels a bit like one-upmanship with you on the bottom and your friend gloating over you in his generosity. You can’t wait till his birthday to make things right by giving him a $200 cashmere sweater with his initials embroidered on it. A gift has turned into a game of “can you top this” and it’s all about making sure your gift earns you more prestige points than your friend’s earned him.

Giving With No Strings Attached: Love!

Okay, that is NOT what love is. Love is Gift, not a gift. Gift is giving without any expectation of getting something in return. It is simply the giving itself with no strings attached. When you give that way, you form a different type of relationship with the person you are giving to. With a gift, it’s a competitive relationship disguised as generosity that creates tensions and resentments. To avoid this, friends and family will often put a spending limit on gifts or decide together that the gifts must all be home-made or better yet, dispense with the gift giving and just spend some time together. That at least avoids the risk that someone will get caught up in the game of competitive gift giving. Love is giving non-competitively.

Love Creates Something New: Relationship

When two people engage in this kind of giving, something remarkable happens. They begin to build something, actually create something new that did not exist before. Often we call this thing the “relationship” though it’s different than the competitive type of relationships we usually have. The love relationship is bigger than the sum of the parts, as the saying goes. When you find someone whom you decide to love, which means you will be giving the gift of yourself to them with no strings attached and they will be giving the gift of themselves to you with no strings attached for the rest of your lives (that part is important), you begin to build this “relationship” which is the two of you and more than the two of you. I like to think of it as a safe place where you can just be and no one is going to judge you, or hold anything against you, or keep tabs on who has been giving more or less than the other person.

How Deep is Your Love?

Now this kind of thing requires a great deal of trust, which is why you can’t enter into it thinking that it has the shelf life of ripe avocados. No, this thing you are entering into together better last longer than Twinkies® or there’s no way you’d be that open, that vulnerable, that giving with someone. Love is making yourself as open to another human being as you can be, and if you can’t trust that they will love you no matter what they see behind your carefully groomed facade, then the experiment is doomed to failure and the “relationship” will be a sham. The only way it can work is if the both of you decide that the “relationship” is a treasure that is more valuable to you than any earthly treasure you can imagine, even greater than any earthly treasure you possess which you willingly give to your lover with no strings attached (that means no pre-nups). Even worth more to you than finding relief from the hard work and pain of self-discovery that being in a relationship inflicts on you from time to time.

In this video, Adam Ericksen and I discuss love as gift and I share a time early in my marriage when things were so bad no one would have blamed my husband Keith for leaving me. And if you follow this link you will find a wonderful description of the Custodian pattern, the one we are all striving for in our love relationships, along with a video dramatization of a Custodian couple (the couple is played by two actors who just happened to be in love!).

Take The Wicked Truth About Love quiz to find out if you fall into the Custodian, Sidekick, Rock, Star, Super Hero, Celebrity Chef, Best Friend Forever or one of the other patterns. Whatever is getting you tangled up on the way to love, learning about the triangular nature of desire is sure to help you back on your feet again – romantically speaking!

The Wicked Truth About Love: The Tangles of Desire contains a full discussion of the triangular nature of desire and all the tangles, including advice on how to get untangled and back on the path to love. Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Getting Ready for Valentine’s Day with the Wicked Truth About Love: Part 5, Sidekick

Sidekick, illustration by Susan Drawbaugh

Sidekick, illustration by Susan Drawbaugh

In my book, “The Wicked Truth About Love: The Tangles of Desire”, I identified 5 obstacles or “tangles” that trip us in our love relationships. In previous blogs, I’ve given an overview of the Best Friend Forever, Celebrity Chef, Super Hero and Rock Star tangles. Today’s article is about the last tangle in my book. On Friday, the day before Valentine’s Day, I’ll explore what it looks like to get untangled and back on track to healthy, happy relationships of love.


Did you ever hear the expression, “Love hurts”? It sure makes sense when someone you love lets you down or breaks your heart. Then there’s this one:  “We only hurt the ones we love”. At least we can only be hurt by someone we love, because if we don’t care what other people say or do or think about us, how can they hurt us?

Somehow Sidekicks have made a tragic mistake about this relationship between love and being in pain. They think they are the same thing. For Sidekicks, the sure sign of being in love is that they have to work really hard at it. They think their lover should make lots of demands or be extraordinarily needy and consume all their time, energy and emotion. If their lover exhausts them, Sidekicks are sure they’ve found the real thing.

Sidekicks have enormous hearts and are incredibly intuitive about what other people need. They live to serve and get real joy out of helping those around them be successful. They don’t need the spotlight, but celebrate when the spotlight shines on their family or friends. Their favorite phrase is, “Please, let me help.”  Here’s the essence of the Sidekick tangle: Sidekicks need to be needed more than they need to be loved. Being needed and making sacrifices may cause them suffering, but the suffering lets Sidekicks know that they have done something extraordinary for someone else and that makes them feel necessary, as if that other person couldn’t get on without them.

There is a certain kind of suffering that Sidekicks cannot endure, however. It’s the suffering that comes from “tough love”. If the sacrifice that is required to help someone is to say no to them in some way (like “No, you can’t have another drink and the keys to the car” or “No, you can’t use my head as a punching bag even though it makes you feel better”), they can’t bring themselves to do it. Because then they are sacrificing their sense of themselves as endlessly giving. And more importantly, they run the risk of severing that dependency that is so essential to them, the sense that they are needed by someone else. In its worst manifestations, the Sidekick is the enabler to an addicted person. If you say no to someone, they might just say “To heck with you, then. I don’t need you anymore” and that’s the Sidekick’s worst nightmare.

For Sidekicks, love really does hurt all the time. These sweet people have to be very careful that they do not fall into abusive relationships. If you fall into the Sidekick pattern, your path to true love will open up when you learn to recognize the difference between self-sacrifice in a healthy relationship and suffering that is unnecessary and unjust. Choose lovers who will not only accept your sacrifices with a spirit of gratitude, but will offer their own sacrifices in return.

Take The Wicked Truth About Love quiz to find out if you fall into the Sidekick, Rock, Star, Super Hero, Celebrity Chef, Best Friend Forever or one of the other patterns. Whatever is getting you tangled up on the way to love, learning about the triangular nature of desire is sure to help you back on your feet again – romantically speaking!

The Wicked Truth About Love: The Tangles of Desire contains a full discussion of the triangular nature of desire and all the tangles, including advice on how to get untangled and back on the path to love. Just in time for Valentine’s Day!