Everyone hurts. Some have external signs they are hurting. They may have an obvious physical wound that creates pain. They may have physical limitations that make it painful to do daily tasks. They may have been injured and their body is bleeding. They may have signs of pain on their face that communicates to those around them. 

But the hurt of others may be deeply buried. A childhood abuse—the death of love—the shattered dream. Some may have deep wounds of rejection or so ridiculed as children that they feel unable to make it socially. Some may live such lonely and desperate lives with such a smile that no one around them can believe they have very little desire to continue.

Whether the hurt is obvious or hidden, it exists. And I try to remember that when I am engaged with others. Our souls are repositories of painful events and those events generally shape our reactions to what is going on around us.

Because I believe this, there are a couple of things that I try do. One is to give others the benefit of the doubt. When someone flips me off when I inadvertently cut in front of them in the car, I try to remember that they may have had a terrible day.  When someone responds angrily at something that I say or do, I try to remember that they may be speaking out of a pain about which I know  nothing.

And because I believe everyone hurts, I try to be patient with others when they are impatient with me. Their hurt may be so deep that it causes them to fear something that I say or some action that I might take. They may react rather than respond. If I am patient, I may be able to help them speak their fear and then I can approach them with tenderness are care.

When we assume that everyone hurts, being patient and giving the benefit of the doubt is a kind thing to do.


Nicholas Zeppos is Chancellor of Vanderbilt University. He is a US citizen. He is a lawyer. He is a professor. He is a man of letters.

His grandfather was not. He was a man of few letters. He was illiterate. He was not a US citizen.  At least not originally.

But, in 1926 he petitioned for citizenship. And when he did, John Zeppos signed with an X. It was witnessed by two men, Arthur Schiefelbein  and George Lang, a merchant and a molder.  They testified that Mr Zeppos was a person of character and should become a US citizen.

In his speech to 2900 graduates and their families, Chancellor Zeppos reasoned that 

he would not likely now be chancellor of Vanderbilt university if Schiefelbein and Lang had not vouched for his grandfather back in 1926.

“I finally came to realize that I am here because I am educated,” he said. “And I don’t simply mean ‘hear’ today as your chancellor and as a professor at Vanderbilt. I mean ‘here’ today unburdened from worry about the basic necessities of life, able to educate my children, to have good health care, to drink clean water, unafraid to vote, free to experience a broader, more diverse world.”

And what lesson was the class of 2016 to take from the story?

“Do whatever you can to lift others up,” Zeppos said. “Who knows? Someday  you  may do nothing more than affix your name to a document in support of someone who needs your help.  And while it may take eight decades, someone, someday, may just become a college president out of this act of kindness and generosity.” (Vanderbilt Magazine, Summer, 2016)

Most of us are like Schiefelbein and Lang. We will never know what our signature will mean to someone else. That’s why we should always lift others up. Doing the right thing for people who need help is never the wrong thing. Someday, long after we are gone, someone’s grandchild might make an impact that we could have never imagined.


Sometimes I hear something that I think is worth repeating.

Laurie Anderson, performance artist, composer and musician, was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.  She shared that she and her husband Lou Reed, lived by three simple rules:

  • Be afraid of no person.
  • Get and develop a good BS detector—and learn how to use it.
  • Be very, very tender.

I really like these three rules. Fear is the fundamental barrier to living life awake. Fear blocks our curiosity and causes us to hide from the strange and the new. Our energy for living increases as we navigate the space between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the known and the unknown. If we can “be not afraid” we will be open to the rich complexity of our created reality.

Develop a BS detector! Much of what we hear and see is really BS. When we are vulnerable to every smooth talking charlatan we are constantly being manipulated by their words and our emotional responses to them. We live in a time and culture where we are so inundated with the thoughts and opinions of others that it is almost impossible to sort out what is real and what is BS. Sorting that out helps us remember what really matters and we can live more focused and purposeful lives.

And “be very, very tender.” Kindness really does matter. Tenderness is respecting the life experiences of others. It is knowing that everyone struggles to love and be loved, to belong and to find meaning. Tenderness is the best room in which to find what we long for. Tenderness gives people the benefit of the doubt. It is giving ourselves mercy and grace. It is discovering joy in a gracious glance, a simple touch, a soft word.

So, I think I will see if these three simple rules bring me more joy and meaning. I think they might.


I hate it when something I love gets hijacked and taken hostage for political reasons.

I love language and in this (and every) political season, it seems language loses it’s complex and interesting meaning and gets simplified for political gain. I want to rescue a phrase that I think has been hijacked. The phrase is “traditional family values.”

Now I come from a family that might be categorized as traditional (although I always thought everyone else’s families were more normal).  Mother, father and five children. We lived in a small town and played little league and the piano. We went to church, sometimes 2 or 3 times on Sunday and again on Wednesday.

And these are the traditional family values I learned: kindness; love; sharing; generosity; forgiveness; welcoming strangers; keeping promises; conserving resources; recycling clothes, paper and anything else that could be used till it unraveled; telling the truth; doing justice; showing mercy; being humble; making commitments; loving in sickness and health; caring for orphans and widows; equal opportunity; open mindedness.

And I know people who are in families that some in the political world would not call traditional (although statistics show that there are more of these kinds of families now than the kind I grew up in). These are families with a single parent; with two fathers; with two mothers; no parents; children raised in extended families with aunts and uncles; grandparents raising grandchildren; one biological parent and one step-parent; adopted parents and children, etc. And the values I learned are being taught in these families. These social groupings are the laboratories where we learn how to live with others and how to create complex and caring societies.

So, I want the phrase back. In my family, the values I learned create a compassionate and merciful society for all. They help form a generous place of grace and equality.  I want these values in the society for my children and grandchildren—and for your children and grandchildren (whoever you are and however you structure your family.)


I preached at a congregation this morning.  Two services.  In the service there was time to share joys and concerns.  In the first service one of the members asked for prayers for a family with three young children whose father had committed suicide.  In the second service, a young person asked for prayers for the family of one of her classmates who had committed suicide.

I listened with an aching heart. I had read of children who were being bullied via the internet. I was struck by the life that people live and how little we know about the deep struggles of their souls. And I am aware of how often we are critical of others without being aware of what they are going through.

There are many joys for people to share in life, and we give thanks for those. But, there are many kids (young children and adults whose child cries out for love and attention) who are troubled and struggle with a sense of self worth. There are many whose pain seems overwhelming.  We never know.  

So, because we don't know, opt for kindness.  When you look into the eyes of any human who is priviledged to share life with you, think "be kind." Let your first impulse be to "be kind." 

My guess is that most of the time that act of kindness will touch the chid's heart much more deeply than a judgment or a criticism. Know that pain hides behind masks of bravado and charm. Even if you don't know what the pain is, if your first impulse is to "be kind" you can't go wrong.