Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Collateral Beauty

Posted April 13th, 2017 by Tom

This film took my breath away. Literally. I found myself short of breath toward the end. I highly recommend Collateral Beauty.

Yep, it got a score of 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was savaged by critics. It died at the box office. I don’t watch movies that receive such a horrible, cumulative score on Rotten Tomatoes. I made an exception this time because of the recommendation of a good friend whose judgment I trust when it comes to matters of the heart and spirit. Gretchen and I are both certified trainers for Infinite Possibilities, a network of people who share a program on living life deliberately; about life’s beauty and our power.

So what is it about Collateral Beauty – a film about a dad caught up in the depths of despair over the death of his 6-year old daughter – that inspired me to write such glowing praise; in contrast to pretty much every film critic on earth? Howard, the character played by Will Smith, pulled me in right from the start when he said…

We’re here to connect. Love, time, death. These three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.

This is an “Infinite Possibilities” film, if ever there was one. It illustrates that we each have the ability to shape our lives and live our dreams through understanding, and working with, our thoughts, words, attitudes, beliefs, and actions.

Just be sure to notice the collateral beauty. It’s the profound connection to everything.

Yes. That.

And this: I wrote this post because there is someone who needs to read these words. I don’t know who you are, but you do. Pay attention.

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Dear “White” People – I Am Not Your Negro

Posted March 12th, 2017 by Tom

Photo Credit (c) Bob Adleman

Dear “White” People,

For all of us who consider ourselves “white” – we who have immigrated [or our ancestors did] to the United States from Europe [primarily]. I have a hope and a request that we will watch the film, I Am Not Your Negro.

I was recently in Seattle for the Celebration of Life for Susan Hutchison, the co-founder of Coming to the Table who recently passed from this life. Coming to the Table envisions “a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past—from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.” Susan (a “white” woman) embodied this vision in her words, heart, and actions.

When I arrived in Seattle to stay with my cousin Elly Hale (from Traces of the Trade) and her husband Brad, she suggested that we go see this new documentary. How appropriate it was for us to see I Am Not Your Negro the evening before we gathered with friends and family to celebrate Susan’s wonderful life. Read the rest of this entry »

Edward Snowden and the Times in which we Live

Posted February 19th, 2017 by Tom

I watched the new Oliver Stone film Snowden a few weeks ago. It gave me the creeps. I recognize it’s a Hollywood/Stone version of a story about a guy people consider either a traitor or a hero. It still gave me the creeps. Though Stone’s version of JFK is considered by some to be a whacky, paranoid conspiracy buff’s dream, I have no doubt there was a conspiracy to murder JFK and a conspiracy to cover up the truth of who was involved. I’ve read 1984. It also gave me the creeps, along with a healthy skepticism about government and unscrupulous people with lots of power. The U.S. government has done some horrible things throughout our nation’s history, including to its own citizens. If you disagree, you may as well stop reading now and go to another website because nothing else I’m about to write will resonate with you at all.

Because I was so intrigued by the story of Edward Snowden, I went to the library and checked out CITIZENFOUR, the 2014 winner of the Oscar for Best Documentary Film. I figured it would be less “Hollywood” and more the straight stuff. It is. CITIZENFOUR was directed by Laura Poitras and features journalist Glenn Greenwald, along with Snowden. It was Poitras and Greenwald that Snowden contacted to help him make public the classified information he had chosen to release: evidence of massive, indiscriminate and illegal invasion of privacy (spying) by the U.S. government, via the National Security Agency (NSA) on virtually all its citizens… you and me. Read the rest of this entry »

Kubo and the Two Strings

Posted February 8th, 2017 by Tom

One of the byproducts of living with two young granddaughters is we tend to watch more animated films in our home than we might otherwise. One of the benefits of this reality is that many such movies are teaching some important life lessons that are often missing in what grown-ups often encounter in many adult-oriented films, not to mention the national news, political discourse, and the other stuff we encounter in everyday life.

Kubo and the Two Strings is nominated for Best Animated Feature Film in this year’s Oscars. Kubo loses his father and his mother and unleashes a couple of evil spirits determined to destroy him. He embarks on a quest, accompanied by a monkey and a giant beetle, to solve the mystery of his fallen, samurai father, and along the way, discover his own magical powers.

Particularly in these challenging times, when so many people believe there is so much going wrong in the world, Kubo reminds us of the power of sharing our stories, the power of family, and most important, of our own power.

In the event you’re a grown-up reading these words, and you think you’re too mature for animated films… trust me. You aren’t. Embrace your inner child, or snuggle up with your grandchild on the couch, and join Kubo on his grand adventure.

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What I Told My Granddaughters the Morning After the Election

Posted November 9th, 2016 by Tom

I awoke this morning to the realization that a man who has loudly and regularly proclaimed racism, sexism, xenophobia, white/male supremacy, and general intolerance has been elected President of the United States. I, along with so many others, feel various levels of shock, disbelief, and sadness. My first conscious thought as I rose from bed was of two granddaughters who were getting ready to go to school in the living room. They, ages 8 and 9, their mother, and my wife and I, have lived together for the past four years. I fully expected that I would speak with them today about the election of the first woman in the history of the United States to become President.

Instead, I walked into the living room for quite a different discussion. They understand that Donald Trump has said some very mean things; that he uses words that are on the “Bad words we should not say” list they wrote up for me a couple years ago; words their mom taught them not to use: hate, stupid, jerk, among others. They understand bullying. They get it when people are not nice. Make no mistake, children pick up on racism and intolerance.

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My granddaughters paid close attention as I told them what happened in the election. I told them even though Donald Trump will be the president, and that the president is supposed to set a good example, that it is not okay to be mean to other people or to hurt other people. It is still not okay to use bad words.

I’m scared,” said the younger of the two.

It’s okay to be scared,” I said. “Lots of people are scared. And I want you to know I am here for you. So are your Mommy and Daddy. We will protect you. And no matter what happens, it is important for us to be kind and to help and support each other and other people.”

We talked for several minutes about intolerance and kindness, about fear and love. I told them I loved them several times. Our conversation was the best I felt I could do for them in our brief time together this morning. They soon walked out the front door with their grandmother for the short walk to school.

I think often of what Frederick Douglass said,

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

There are many men and women who understandably and justifiably feel broken today. And this is nothing new. I want to repeat that for myself and others: This is nothing new. This election is a reflection of the consistent, historic foundation of systemic racism, sexism, and injustice upon which the United States was built, and sadly, continues to perpetuate. I’ve communicated overnight with many friends; people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, and women. People who are afraid because they live in the marginalized communities specifically and directly targeted during this election by the man who has been elected, and by many who supported his candidacy.

I’m also reminded today of words spoken by Dr. King:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

cttt-logoUndoing and replacing deeply embedded systems of injustice is long, hard work. The results of this election are a powerful reminder of how much work remains to be done, and the urgency of this work. The Vision and Mission of Coming to the Table, the organization I’ve been involved with for more than a decade, is needed now more than ever.

Those who feel sad and angry, go ahead and feel sad and angry. Mourn. Honor what you’re feeling and work through it. Talk about it. It is through difficult and challenging times that we often learn how strong we are. This is clearly a time to be strong and to recognize the opportunity we have: to build peace, to seek justice, to honor and practice Love. Systems will change when attitudes change. Be that change. You are needed now more than ever.

We have a responsibility to remain committed to the long arc of the moral universe.

We have a responsibility to help build strong children.

We have a responsibility to support and care for the most vulnerable among us.

We have a responsibility to be compassionate voices for equality, justice and peace.

We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren, to ourselves and each other, to remember that Love prevails over fear… always.

No matter how you voted in the election, let’s reflect on where we stand today as a nation and as individuals. Let’s support each other. Let’s work for justice and peace. Let’s embrace Love. There is nothing – nothing – stronger than the power of LOVE.

That’s what I’m telling my granddaughters today.

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A Choice Between Yoga and the Presidential Debate

Posted October 10th, 2016 by Tom

I awoke leisurely this morning; thankful for another day, for my fortunate life and my healthy body, for my family and friends. When I checked Facebook one of the first items that came up was a video of musicians playing Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I closed my eyes and listened… a lovely way to begin my day.

I checked a news site. My high spirits began slipping downward. Presidential and Senate candidates dominated the top of the page… he said… she said… I say… he’s this or that… he needs to withdraw from the campaign… she’s lying… what a debate this is going to be tonight

Like many people, I’m drawn in by the spectacle of the 2016 election; by the potential for dramatic, explosive events. Like an accident on the highway, we slow down to look. Is there blood? Is someone hurt real bad, or dead? I shake my head at others slowing down for such spectacle… and I turn my head to look just like the people ahead of me did. Read the rest of this entry »

Beethoven’s 9th – my reminder today of Oneness

Posted August 28th, 2016 by Tom

I’ve now lived more than six decades in this lifetime and am grateful to still experience things for the first time. Today, it was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Opus 125 (“Choral”). I appreciate classical music, yet I readily admit and embrace the fact that I’m a Springsteen and Dylan rock & roll kind of guy; a child of the 60’s. So this is a departure from my normal routine.

Our kids and grandkids have gone to a lake for the day to paddleboard and swim and play with frogs, leaving Lindi and me home alone in a very quiet house. I pulled out the double album featuring Beethoven’s 9th – it covers 3 sides – and placed them one by one onto my trusty turntable, cranked up the volume on the amplifier, lay on our bed, closed my eyes, and let the music take me. Read the rest of this entry »

Be Kind to Strangers

Posted August 21st, 2016 by Tom

“That’s Tom,” said my daughter from the kitchen, pointing toward me as I walked in.

A tall, thin, balding and bearded young man reached out his hand to mine. “Nice to meet you, Sir. I’m Parker.”

“He’s hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I invited him over.”

“Great!” I said. “Welcome.”

“Thank you for having me.”

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(pics from the pct)

There’s a biblical verse from Hebrews I’ve always deeply appreciated. It goes something like, “Be kind to strangers; you may be entertaining angels unawares.”

IMG_8492Our daughter Jolie has always been exceedingly kind to strangers. She met Parker while volunteering for the Bend Brewfest. Parker told us how he began hiking the PCT in early June; starting near Lake Tahoe with a goal of arriving at Cascade Locks on the border between Oregon and Washington by the end of August. He shared lots of pictures on his phone. This past week he developed shin splints and needed to take a break to recover before hiking any further. He was camped at Odell Lake, about 65 miles southwest of Bend. On Friday he hitched a ride into Bend to check out our little slice of heaven and learned he could volunteer for the Brewfest on Saturday, which he did, where he met our daughter, which in turn led to her inviting into our home for the night. Read the rest of this entry »

Glass Ceilings

Posted July 27th, 2016 by Tom

Political affiliations are irrelevant to what I am about to share. The impact of what happened last night at the Democratic National Convention goes far beyond politics. Please read on…

When Alicia Keys’ performance closed out the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia Tuesday night, her final song led into a live video feed. My 7-year old granddaughter was sitting on my lap. Together we watched my computer screen. The faces of the previous Presidents of the United States were shown one by one all the way through Barack Obama. Then the sounds and visuals of glass shattering gave way to Hillary Clinton.

“Whoa,” my granddaughter said. “That’s cool!”

“Yes it is, sweetheart. Keep watching.” Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to the Table: Now more than ever

Posted July 18th, 2016 by Tom

More people dying. More funerals. More tears. More rage. More division. More frustration.

Many of us feel numb and helpless in the wake of the recent killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by the police, and the killings of police officers Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael J. Smith, and Michael Krol in Dallas, Texas, and Montrell Jackson, Brad Garafola and Matthew Gerald in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

We struggle to figure out what we can do that will make any difference.

Our world desperately needs love, compassion, justice, truth, understanding, peace, and healing. We talk about these and other ideals every time such killings show up on social media and in the news; recorded on someone’s phone. But what can we actually DO in the face of racism, injustice, and terror? An all-too common theme heard in churches, community groups, schools, around kitchen tables, and elsewhere across the United States is a desire to have deep conversations about race that will actually make a difference but not knowing how to go about it.

In order to transform our world, we need to transform how we approach confronting the problem. Old, fear-based, us-versus-them reactions haven’t ever worked, yet we keep reverting to them. We need a fundamental shift in our approach if we are to achieve a fundamental shift in our world.

Last month, I participated in a 3-day Leadership Training Institute and 4-day National Gathering organized by Coming to the Table (CTTT), a non-profit organization I’ve been involved with since its inception ten years ago. After this week-long immersion into workshops, dialogue, and relationship-building experiences with a large group of deeply-committed people from all across the United States and Canada, I feel more strongly than ever that Coming to the Table offers valuable tools for people trying to figure out what to do. As another participant wrote,

“There are precious few forums where descendants of slaves and enslavers can engage in meaningful dialog about what the legacy of slavery has done to this country and how to move forward.”

IMG_6100CTTT has a Vision for the United States of a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past—from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned. The Mission of CTTT is to provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal these historic, traumatic wounds.

And let’s make no mistake. These recent killings – like so many before – all stem, at least in part, from the legacy of slavery in the United States; unhealed wounds around issues of racism that continue to haunt our nation.

I know from experience the Coming to the Table Approach to acknowledging, understanding, and healing these wounds can make a positive difference. It’s a practical approach that seeks to create a space where people who are serious about the work of undoing racism and oppression can feel safe-enough to participate deeply; to share their stories, listen to the stories of others, and see each other as ultimately-connected human travelers in this challenging journey of life. It’s more than creating a space for people to talk and feel better and go home. The CTTT Approach requires effort and commitment; a commitment to stay at the table when the work gets messy and hard, which it does and will.

The central framework within Coming to the Table is the STAR Program; Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience. STAR brings together theory and practices from neurobiology, conflict transformation, human security, spirituality, and restorative justice to address the needs of trauma-impacted individuals and communities. Traumatic events may have a range of harmful effects on everyone involved, including victims, perpetrators, witnesses, bystanders, health professionals, law enforcement or military, clergy, family, and friends. If the traumatic wounds are not addressed and healed, they will persist and have further harmful impacts, and be passed on to future generations.

Two resources that help create a safe-enough space for this work are Touchstones and the Circle Process. Touchstones are a set of principles people agree upon when beginning “deep dialogue” together. Some examples of such agreements might include being 100% present, listen deeply, be open to new ideas, agree not to try to “fix” or correct others, maintain confidentiality, expect non-closure. More examples can be found here. Touchstones allow groups of people to establish ways of “being” with each other; to create a “container” for the often-difficult conversations to follow.

The Circle Process is another way to create a container for participants to feel safe enough to be in the space; often with people they consider to be “the other,” and perhaps even perceiving a threat to their safety or mental or emotional well-being. As Kay Pranis writes in The Little Book of Circle Processes, this tool “draws on the ancient Native American tradition of using a talking piece, an object passed from person to person in a group and which grants the holder sole permission to speak.” Utilizing the Circle Process is a way of bringing people together in which everyone is respected, has the opportunity to speak without interruption, share their stories, and where everyone is equal. Pranis also notes that Circles can create a container strong enough to hold anger, frustration, joy, pain, truth, conflict, diverse world views, intense feelings, silence, and paradox.

The Coming to the Table Approach to achieving the above Vision and Mission involves four interrelated practices. Uncovering History includes researching, acknowledging, and sharing personal, family and community histories of race with openness and honesty; Making Connections to others within and across racial lines in order to develop and deepen relationships; Working Toward Healing is exploring how we can heal together through dialogue, reunion, ritual, ceremony, the arts, apology and other methods; and Taking Action, actively seeking to heal the wounds of racial inequality and injustice and to support racial reconciliation between individuals, within families, and in communities. For a more thorough understanding, download the free CTTT workbook, Transforming Historical Harms.

As Michelle Alexander recently wrote,

I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. On any given day, there’s always something I’d rather be doing than facing the ugly, racist underbelly of America. I know that I am not alone. But I also know that the families of the slain officers, and the families of all those who have been killed by the police, would rather not be attending funerals.”

This work of undoing and replacing racist structures and systems – in our nation and in ourselves – is hard. It takes courage and commitment. If we are to make a difference, we need a different approach. There are many organizations and individuals doing important and powerful work to confront racism and injustice. The Coming to the Table Approach offers a way in which all the other stuff we are trying to do can work better.

When we decide, as a human family, that love, compassion, justice, truth, understanding, peace, and healing are more important than skin color and ethnicity, political parties and religious affiliation, who wins and who loses, who’s right and who’s wrong, and our fear over what we might lose when we create a just and equal society, we can transform our world. If we are ever to break free from these cycles of violence we continue to find ourselves caught up in, we have the responsibility to do the work. The Coming to the Table Approach can help.

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Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry