Town Hall Meeting on Sexual Assault: Part 2


Facts About Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

1.The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.

2.The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.

3.The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.

Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.


The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

It is helpful for the victim to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. The victim should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available.

When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, EEOC looks at the whole record: the circumstances, such as the nature of the sexual advances, and the context in which the alleged incidents occurred. A determination on the allegations is made from the facts on a case-by-case basis.

Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring. They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on sex or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.

•Among those filing complaints, at least 1/3 say they were demoted, moved to lousy shift, fired, further harassed after the complaint

•People who file a complaint are much more likely to lose their jobs than those who say nothing

More than one-third of the world’s countries do not have any laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work—leaving nearly 235 million working women vulnerable in the workplace.


Research has shown that women in male-dominated occupations,especially those in male-dominated work contexts, are sexually harassed more than women in balanced or in female-dominated ones.

Source: Berdahl, JL. (2007). The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women (p. 427).

Sexual harassment is pervasive across industries, but especially in low-wage service jobs. For example, more than 25% of sexual harassment charges filed with the EEOC in the last decade came from industries with service-sector workers.




•Examples of what is/is not acceptable
•Empower bystander intervention
•Explain procedure for reporting
•Identify consequences
•Identify internal and external resources
•Informed by climate survey


The Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks 144 countries regarding their progress on gender parity via four main themes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. There's also data around the dynamics of gender gaps across industry talent pools and occupations.

Unfortunately, data shows that the gender gap is widening, so there desperately needs to be new ways of thinking if the world is to close the gender gap. Progress is regressing and moving backwards. Instead of taking 170 years to close the gap at the current rate of progress, it is estimated that gender parity across the world will take over two centuries, 217 years to be exact.

The proportion of female leaders increasing by an average of just over 2 per cent across 12 industries studied by the World Economic Forum (WEF). WEF's data shows that when women are more present and participating in leadership roles, more women are hired right across the board at all levels.


Special Thanks to our Panelists and Volunteers for helping make this event a successful one!

And, also Thanks to our Refreshment Donations by: 


Town Hall Meeting on Sexual Assault


It is almost impossible these days to turn on the television, the radio or open a newspaper and not hear or see a report of sexual assault or harassment. The #MeToo movement and Times Up have put a new spotlight on this historical problem. And as a result, people, some for the first time in their lives, are feeling safe and empowered to share their experiences of sexual trauma and abuse. Sexual assault and sexual harassment effect us all in one way or another and they intersect with mental health and mental illness in so many ways that the Mental Illness Task Force decided this should be the focus of our next town hall. Thank you for being here to participate in this important Community Conversation.

We are at a watershed moment. Our social discourse is in the middle of a drastic change, and we need to seize this opportunity to create a new paradigm. A paradigm of equality and respect and appropriate boundaries. The onus is on us to transform a culture of sexual harassment and assault for ourselves and for future generations.

In response to allegations made against him, Harvey Weinstein said that he grew up when “all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” In fact, that perspective is still infused in our culture today.


Weinstein’s comments force us to confront sexism as a primary contributing factor in sexual assault and sexual harrassment. Indeed, 1 in 6 women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape during their lifetime.

To put that into context, let’s start with this quote:

 That is NOT to say that only women are victims. In fact, 1 out of 10 rape victims is a man. And let me add that it’s even more terrifying to realize that most rapes and other forms of sexual abuse are not committed by strangers on the street, but by people we know, interact with, live with and trust.  

That is NOT to say that only women are victims. In fact, 1 out of 10 rape victims is a man. And let me add that it’s even more terrifying to realize that most rapes and other forms of sexual abuse are not committed by strangers on the street, but by people we know, interact with, live with and trust.  


And rape is not the only form of sexual assault. In fact in the United States, someone is the victim of sexual assault every 98 seconds. That means by the end of our town hall tonight, almost 100 more people will have been sexually assaulted.

Today we all live in a highly sexualized society, but by and large we are not given the tools to deal with sexuality in a healthy manner. The average age of exposure to internet pornography is now 11 years old. Rap music insults women and calls us ‘whores’; mainstream advertising celebrates gang rape; and societal pressures, especially in women’s magazines, induce young women to starve themselves to attain some imaginary ideal body. Meanwhile, we continue to confuse our young men by glorifying male sexual conquests as a way to prove one’s manhood. We are all caught up in a system that seeks to dehumanize and objectify us and we are all suffering as a result.


We need to recognize that everything we do has a consequence. This diagram comes from NOW NYC and The Service Fund. And it helps clearly illustrate why derogatory and sexual comments are not harmless comic relief.

Jokes become part of our language. Language shows up in images. Images justify disrespect. Disrespect leads to verbal abuse. And verbal abuse escalates to rape. Objectifying language is not only offensive, it is dangerous.


Like many of you in this room, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and workplace harassment. I am grateful for the #MeToo and the Times Up movements that are unmasking this horror, freeing us from shame, and exposing the way in which our stigmatizing of victims – both women and men – has shielded us from addressing this long standing, life altering abuse. Today we continue to unpack the messages we carry, to find places of safety to share our experience, to reject stigma, and to craft a common language and understanding about what it is to treat each other with respect; to refuse to reduce any human being to an object.


We have an incredible panel today so I’m going to turn things over to the people who work in this area day in and day out, who see its tragic outcomes, and who appreciate, understand and offer paths to recovery and healing. I also want you to know that we do have therapists in the room tonight so if you find the community conversation overwhelming and need to talk to someone about your own experience, there is someone here who can talk to you tonight.

Now let me turn to our panelists.

To Be Continued...

Inspire! Topic: Celebrating ALL Love

February 17, 2018
Inspire! Celebrating ALL Love

 Lao Tzu said “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives your courage.”     We have certainly seen such love in action lately.

Lao Tzu said “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives your courage.”


We have certainly seen such love in action lately.

There was this Instagram post by Free-skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon, the first two openly gay men to represent the U.S. in the Olympics, posed for a picture at the opening ceremony. These men are breaking barriers and letting their position be known on an international stage while calling out the leader of the US delegation at the ceremony, Vice President Mike Pense: “The #OpeningCeremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way! I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I'm so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence. #TeamUSA #TeamUSGay"

On Tuesday Hallmark reminded us to celebrate our love.

And late that day, our hearts were broken when we learned of yet another tragic school shooting. Since then...

And we learned of the kind of courage love inspires in times of terror in order to protect others.

Love in all of its many forms is what gives our life meaning and substance. And so it is that we are here today to Celebrate ALL Love.

Just two years ago in the decision in United States v. Windsor, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy wrote, "For same-sex couples who wished to be married, the State acted to give their lawful conduct a lawful status ... worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages.” He concluded that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which required the federal government to treat married same-sex couples as though they were not legally married, “(imposed) a disadvantage, a separate status, and a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States,” and therefore violated the Constitution.

To say that this was a profound decision is to grossly understate things!

Last month our topic was racism. And those of us who are white had the opportunity to really think about our white privilege. It seems like a good idea to return today to the concept of privilege.

In the United States, privilege is granted to people who have membership in one or more of these social identity groups:

•  White people;
•  Able-bodied people;
•  Heterosexuals;
•  Males;
•  Christians;
•  Middle class people;
•  Middle-aged people;
•  English-speaking people

I live as a privileged human being in our society. I am privileged because I am straight and I am cis-gendered, meaning that I identify with the gender that my physical body presents. My heterosexual and cis-gender privilege started before I was even born.

As a heterosexual, I had the privilege of never having to justify my love for my partner. That love was never reduced to a sexual act or labeled sinful and unclean. I never had to “come out” to anyone. I never had to fight for my right to have the bakery of my choice create the wedding cake that would celebrate my commitment to the one I love. 

In December, the Supreme Court heard almost 90 minutes of oral arguments in the case of the Colorado Gay Wedding Cake. The justices appear to be equally divided along ideological lines about the case. A ruling is expected by June 2018. David Mullins, who has brought this suit says, “This case has never been about cakes. It’s about the rights of gay people to receive equal service in businesses and not be afraid of being turned away because of who they are. It’s about basic access to public life.”

Whatever their final decision, it will have a real and lasting impact on millions of people. And that importance cannot be overstated. This fight has been going on since the 1960s. Despite the extraordinary progress that has been made, this case is a grim reminder that any real progress will continue to be challenged by those who seek to dictate love and to determine which couples are deserving of fair and equal treatment under the law, and which aren’t.


And any time love is stifled, subdued, or silenced-we suffer for it. I just returned from Kenya, where I had the great honor of meeting and visiting with MamaSarah – President Barack Obama’s grandmother. When asked what advice she had for us, her words were simple and straight forward: Love one another.  It shouldn’t be that hard to do. To love one another and to celebrate the love we have for each other wherever it’s found.


Inspire! Topic: Racism

Laying Down My Privilege

This is my family. I grew up on the other side of the drawbridge. My mother came from Muskegon Heights and my father from Muskegon. Both of my parents families moved. Yes, I am a child of white flight. And I am a child of privilege.


In the United States, privilege is granted to people who have membership in one or more of these social identity groups:

•  White people;
•  Able-bodied people;
•  Heterosexuals;
•  Males;
•  Christians;
•  Middle class people;
•  Middle-aged people;
•  English-speaking people


Privilege is usually invisible to the people who have it. People in dominant groups often believe that they have earned the privileges that they enjoy or that everyone can have these privileges if they work hard enough. But privilege is unearned and it is granted to people in dominant groups whether they want that privilege or not.


Talking about racism is not about placing blame or feeling shame. Shame never changes anybody or anything.


It is about talking to others and trying to understand THEIR experience. It is about identifying the beliefs we carry unconsciously within us and unpacking them so that we can decide consciously whether we want to continue carrying them or not. And so we can identify the way in which systems operate to perpetuate privilege in ways that can be far more dangerous than an individual prejudice. Because racism is not just a bad attitude. Racism is an evil that dehumanizes people and causes immeasurable suffering.


In fact, racism strips us all of our humanity. It tells me that I am a white person with rights and privileges I never asked for. And in that identity, it seeks to separate me from my place in the family of common humanity. A family where when any one is excluded, the entire family suffers for it.


Those of us with privilege, need to acknowledge our privilege. We have to stand up to institutional barriers. We have to examine our own thoughts, words and actions. And we have to create safe places for honest conversations so that we can address people’s fears and misunderstandings in ways that educate without shaming. And we have to be willing to really listen and to learn from other people, to understand that good intentions aren’t enough so that we can lay aside our assumptions of both privilege and oppression to ask each other what living in this society is really like for  each other.  


Helpful Tips for the Holidays

How to Plan an Anxiety-Free Holiday Party

Holiday parties are a cherished tradition among many families, no matter what holidays they celebrate. It’s a time to celebrate with your loved ones, and this celebration typically involves a great deal of planning. You have to plan the menu and decorations. Then you have to actually prepare the meal and decorate your home for the holiday event. The time spent on all the important details can make even the calmest person feel ready to pull her hair out. So how can you plan and host a holiday party without letting anxiety get in the way? Read on for some simple tips on how to do just that.


Plan in Advance

Whatever you do, don’t wait till the last minute to plan your holiday party. Waiting until a week or two before the big shindig will only cause you unnecessary stress. Instead, a few months in advance, make a to-do-list, writing down everything that needs to be done for the party. This list should include the food menu, required decorations, holiday music you intend to use and anything else in between. Use a calendar to write down when each task should be completed. This will prevent the day from creeping up on you when you least expect it.


Keep it Simple

Who says your holiday party has to be an elaborate affair? To avoid unnecessary stress, keep it as simple as possible. You don’t need tons of decorations to make your party festive. Choose a few focal points like beautiful candles or greenery and pinecones as table centerpieces. Keep your menu simple too. You don’t want to be slaving away in the kitchen all day while everyone else is enjoying the party. And there’s no shame in using disposable plates, cups and utensils for the meal. You can always buy fancy plastic plates, cups and utensils at your local party supply store. Besides, who wants to spend the entire day washing dishes?



Although you’re the party host or hostess, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Enlist family and friends to help you with the cooking, cleaning and other preparations. They’ll feel more involved with the event, and you’ll avoid the exhaustion of trying to do everything solo. Delegating responsibility may be difficult for some personalities, but if you relinquish control on some aspects of the planning and you’ll thank yourself later. For example, ask a few party guests to take care of the desserts. You can also buy some desserts from a local bakery.


Typical Holiday Hosting Mistakes

If you’re planning a holiday a party, be wary of typical hosting mistakes. Don’t forget about guests with dietary restrictions. For example, if you have people with diabetes on the guest list, make sure you have meals and desserts that are sugar free. If you have guests that need to eat gluten-free meals, keep this in mind as well. Some people are recovering alcoholics or don’t drink alcohol for personal reasons. Provide appropriate beverage choices for them to avoid any embarrassing situations.


Don’t make the mistake of becoming so overwhelmed with the food and drink preparations that you don’t spend time relaxing and enjoying interacting with your guests. Just because you’re hosting the party doesn’t mean you should spend all your time in the kitchen.


Newbie Party Host

You’ve always been a guest at a holiday party. You’ve never hosted one before, and you’re just a little bit terrified. Go on sites like Pinterest to get some simple decorating ideas. Plan enough place settings for your guests too. Never cooked a turkey or ham before? Enlist help from a family member or friend. Search for turkey cooking tutorials online to help you successfully tackle the task.


Written by: Jennifer Scott

Photo via Pixabay

Inspire! Veteran's Issues


The first thing we have to do is separate war from the people who fight in them. Of course, we don’t want war. War is painful and bloody and terrifying. No one knows that better than our military veterans. And those are the people, who serve our country in times of war and in times of peace, who deserve a special place in our heart and our undying gratitude.

I would be surprised if we didn’t all want to see the end of war. I continue to believe peace is possible – because if I don’t at least believe it can happen then it certainly never can.


War is caused by the primal fear of not surviving and it usually arises out of a sense of competition for territory, food, resources, and other items needed for survival. We easily exaggerate threats because if we underestimate a threat that means that our lifestyles will be radically changed, if everyone isn’t wiped out first. But to overestimate a threat leaves people dead and injured. Not just any people – particularly our military personnel.


And most often our military personnel are still men – a demographic that Warren Farrell has called the disposable gender.  In his book The Myth of Male Power, he points out that only 18-year-old boys have to register for the draft and he offers these insights:

Adults take longer to pick up boy infants when they cry.

Boys more often participate in violent sports while girls cheer them on.

Adult men and peers taunt boys by poking at their perceived weaknesses and challenging them to “take it like a man.” 

In TV and movies, 200 men are killed for every 1 women killed.

Through war stories, we unconsciously teach young boys that they will get positive attention by putting their lives at risk.

On the other hand, those same war stories also serve a critical role in helping veterans recover and heal. War stories become a safe way for men to process feelings, reframe horror, and experience self-therapy (and group therapy).


And it isn’t only our men who are struggling as veterans. Today, hundreds of thousands of service men and women are recent military veterans who have in one way or another experienced combat. Many have been shot at, seen their friends killed, or witnessed death up close and far too personal. These are types of events that can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD.

Mike Baauw from the Muskegon County Department of Veterans Affairs was instrumental in planning this Inspire! event and he generously shared his slides with me and his definition of PTSD.

 The brain is one of the most complex systems to understand. You have the Thinking Brain, which is the cortex, the top layer of the brain. This part of the brain is where critical thinking takes place. The Thinking Brain is where the ability to stay organized, stay on task, analyze, and think things through is happening. This part of the brain has the ability to inhibit or control our impulses.  Underneath the Thinking Brain is the limbic system or the Emotional Brain. The limbic system controls many of the complex emotional behaviors we think of as instinct. Limbic system structures are involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival. Different areas of the limbic system have a strong control over emotions such as pleasure, pain, anger, fear, sadness, sexual feelings, and affection.

The brain is one of the most complex systems to understand. You have the Thinking Brain, which is the cortex, the top layer of the brain. This part of the brain is where critical thinking takes place. The Thinking Brain is where the ability to stay organized, stay on task, analyze, and think things through is happening. This part of the brain has the ability to inhibit or control our impulses.

Underneath the Thinking Brain is the limbic system or the Emotional Brain. The limbic system controls many of the complex emotional behaviors we think of as instinct. Limbic system structures are involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival. Different areas of the limbic system have a strong control over emotions such as pleasure, pain, anger, fear, sadness, sexual feelings, and affection.

 Two structures of the Emotional Brain that play an important role in PTSD are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory forming, organizing, connecting emotions and senses–such as smell and sound–to memories, and storing this information away in long term memory for later use.  The amygdala activates the body’s alarm system (the fight or flight response). The amygdala has the unique ability to scan all signals–sights, sounds, smells, etc. It performs threat assessment and say’s either “there’s danger” or “it’s safe. The amygdala is a hair trigger that makes rapid judgments about a situation.

Two structures of the Emotional Brain that play an important role in PTSD are the amygdala and the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory forming, organizing, connecting emotions and senses–such as smell and sound–to memories, and storing this information away in long term memory for later use.

The amygdala activates the body’s alarm system (the fight or flight response). The amygdala has the unique ability to scan all signals–sights, sounds, smells, etc. It performs threat assessment and say’s either “there’s danger” or “it’s safe. The amygdala is a hair trigger that makes rapid judgments about a situation.


Under normal circumstances, the amygdala and hippocampus communicate with one another and the brain functions smoothly. However, traumatic stress disrupts the communication between these different areas. The Thinking Brain cannot get the message through to the amygdala that the danger is over and it’s okay to relax. The hippocampus cannot take the emotional information and store it away as a long term memory. So your memories of trauma stay with you all the time, and you continue to feel as if you are in constant danger.


This explains why a veteran who experienced traumatic events in combat may suffer a surge of anxiety years later when a helicopter flies over head. That helicopter was associated with a traumatic experience. So when your brain hears it, it sends warning signals that danger may be near. The biggest problem is this part of the brain cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat. So now you have the brain in a state where everything is an emergency, and it runs in crises mode all the time.

20171216 Inspire! Veterans slides1.jpg

Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories. Specific symptoms can vary in severity.

1.  Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be so vivid that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes.

2.  Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories.

3.  Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others such as, “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.

4.  Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping.


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts:

Almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans

10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans

11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan

20 percent of Iraqi war veterans

 But PTSD isn’t the only problem. A Pew Research Center survey found that 44 percent of veterans in the post 9/11 period struggle with adjusting to civilian life.

But PTSD isn’t the only problem. A Pew Research Center survey found that 44 percent of veterans in the post 9/11 period struggle with adjusting to civilian life.


And a startling 22 veterans take their own lives through suicide every single day in our country.

Re-entry can be a shock after training and experiences that have made our service members anything but civilians.


For starters, the military takes care of soldiers’ basic needs so they can focus on more pressing matters, such as winning wars. The military supplies food, housing, dental and medical care, and a guaranteed paycheck every month. Returning to all those responsibilities in the civilian world can present a bit of culture shock.

Furthermore,  once troops leave their regimented environment and enter one with seemingly endless options and possibilities, the mental fatigue starts to set in. And with it comes stress. But there are steps that can be taken to control that stress.


Most importantly, our vets need to focus on self-care. Veterans don’t normally share their stories of difficulty adjusting to civilian life because they’ve been trained not to. In the military, talking about feelings is taboo, and displaying openness and vulnerability is viewed as a sign of weakness.

It’s important to recognize that the emotional journey back to civilian life will take longer than the physical journey. Though plenty of rest and good nutrition are key, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being are just as important.


Another important step is for vets to find a community of other vets. The important thing isn’t necessarily talking about war and trauma, but having access to someone else who knows what it’s like to be a vet, someone who can shore things up when times get tough.

Finally, veterans should be able to wear their service with pride, knowing that regardless of their experiences in the military, they are deeply respected. All of the veterans here today need to know that we are proud of your service and you should be, too.


In fact, we owe a special debt of gratitude to you. And as a veteran, you can help us by educating us and telling us how we can help. You can remind us to be patient and allow you the time, space and relationships you need.


And in the greater scheme of things, we can all work to alleviate the fear and suffering that leads to war. We have to stop glamorizing war and violence while supporting our veterans and veteran re-entry programs.

Ultimately, it is up to us to examine the causes of war, ask what is the part we play, stop exaggerating threats, and find alternatives to war. Because no one, no man, no woman, no soldier, no one is ever disposable.




Religious Diversity

How do we nurture religious diversity? Here's some steps everyone can take...
1) Love one another
2) Encourage hospitality - invite others into your home and accept invitations into other's homes
3) Tour the Hindu Temple in Grand Rapids
4) Tour the Mosque in Grand Rapids
5) Visit C3 in Grand Haven
6) Visit Spring Lake Presbyterian Church
7) Contact the Speaker's Bureau at the Interfaith Dialogue Association
8) Attend the Interfaith Allies "None" Panel at the Herrick Library in Holland on January 28 at 6pm
9) Recognize the holy dates of other religions on Facebook and with your friends who identify with those religions
10) Challenge Assumptions! Don't assume you know the religion - or lack of religion - of anyone you meet. 
11) Be willing to talk about your own spiritual path. 
12) Call out religious discrimination!

Inspire! Religious Diversity

Dalai Lama: As a Buddhist monk, I believe all major religious traditions can help people find inner peace. They may employ different approaches and techniques, but each of them has the potential to help us become better human beings. Therefore, it’s important that there is harmony and respect among them.

A Case for Heresy

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a heretic is someone who believes or teaches something that goes against accepted or official beliefs. A heretic is someone with a controversial opinion. A non-conformer. A dissenter. A freethinker. Someone who does not accept the words that are held as dogma and doctrine by others. I suspect there are more than a couple heretics here this morning!


I began my own heretical journey when I was welcomed into this world by Lutheran parents. Parents who brought me to church to be baptized at one week of age because the pastor was leaving and they wanted to slip me in quick before he drove away.


When I grew older I attended public school. For a while I thought I was incredibly fortunate. Here I was living in the best place in the whole wide world learning the one true religion in the whole world. I was amazingly blessed.


But by the time I was in third grade I started wondering about things. Here I was being told at school about those terrible Russians that I was supposed to be afraid of. And for some inexplicable reason it started to dawn on me that Russian kids right at that same moment were in school being taught how terrible and frightening I was.


Then I started to think about those kids who lived in the most remote parts of China, who didn’t know about Jesus and would die without ever knowing Jesus. How come I was so lucky and they were not? What weird twist of universal fate left me in the most envious position in all the world and left others consigned to hell?


I didn’t even know the words yet, but that was when I became a heretic and a pluralist. I realized that those kids were being raised in another tradition and that I had no more right to tell them they were wrong and try to take that away from them than they had to try to take my beliefs and understandings away from me.


I still feel the same way. I haven’t met anyone yet who shares my exact same concept of reality, my version of Truth as best I have crafted it to date. And hopefully, neither have you. Because if you have then chances are one of you has not done their own thinking.


I am very proud to be a heretic and I like to be in the company of other heretics. Because I believe that without our own heretical insights and impulses our spiritual journey becomes stiff and halted, if not stagnant and dead. 


If we are truly caught up in the mystery then we have to discover at some point that no one can give us the answers, because the answers are always inside of us. Truth can be pointed to, suggested, guessed at, but we cannot for all of our attempts ever fully find the words to express the great mystery of our existence. And so we speak in parable and metaphor, not in doctrinal certainties.

How liberating to find those places in which people can bring and share their heresies – not in order to convince everybody that they are the sole holder of truth, but so that we can all admit that the questions are still open and that mystery still remains.

Rev Paul.png

Back when I was a Lutheran pastor, I got to spend time with Reverend Paul Rajashaker. Paul was raised in a Hindu home and became a Christian later in life. He suggested that the church’s approach to other traditions has been to embrace a “Theology of Hostility.”


Now as we seek to articulate our beliefs and our heresies, we also have to be wary of falling into the trap of a Philosophy of Hostility. Instead of explaining ourselves in contrast to others, as superior, better or above others, we must begin articulating who we are in a way that makes sense to the other and invites them in rather than shutting them out. And today we get to model that. We are so fortunate to have on our panel a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian and an Atheist. If I have to label myself these days, I explain that I’m a Christian Mystic Taoist. There are others here, following other spiritual paths.


And here we all are ready to show by example that if we are going to nurture religious diversity we have to begin by approaching people of other traditions and with other beliefs with genuine humility, eager to share not what we have been taught but what we have experienced to be true. We need to ask people who they are and be genuinely interested in the answers. And we must be willing to be changed by the witness they bring to us.


Because heresy does have a shadow side. It does tend to want to establish its own right thinking – declaring itself right and above reproach. When we end up thinking we are right and everybody else is wrong, we only perpetuate an ideology of hostility, pitting one set of human understandings against another.


The spiritual journey is not the practice of mindlessly repeating everything we have been taught. Nor is it the practice of disagreeing with everything for the sake of disagreement. The spiritual journey is about opening ourselves up to truth we do not yet have the words to describe or the language to share. Until finally we can move beyond this silly state of us vs. them and arrive together arrive at a spiritual reality that transcends barriers, boxes and boundaries.



To see a video of our Inspire! Religious Diversity, check out this Youtube link:

Inspire! Aging, Death & Dying- How to take Action!

Aging, Death and Dying


What we can do to combat ageism…

-Speak Up
-Own Your Age
-Separate Age as a Number from Age as an Attitude
-Consume media that embraces aging
-Read: This Chair Rocks and Being Mortal (buy them at the Bookman)
-Intergenerational book clubs and other activities
-Address the greater prevalence of ageism against women
-Embrace modern technology the best we can


What can we do to age more gracefully…

-Get rid of the clothes that don’t fit
-Exercise regularly, including Tai Chi, meditation, etc
-Keep in touch with friends and make new friends – stay social
-Do things for others
-Focus on living
-Get situated with your plans – wills, directives, powers
-Learn something every day
-Listen to your body
-Ignore the pressure to be young
-Accept signs of age as rewards
-Be your own true self
-Do something nice for yourself every day
-Pursue the experience

Learn about aging, death and dying in order to get rid of the fear


Highlights of Inspire! Aging, Death & Dying

Key Takeaways:

  • Issues of aging, death, and dying impact our community in many ways including, but not limited to:

    • Aging in place and affordable housing;

    • Isolation of the elderly population;

    • Ageism in hiring practices of employers;

    • The cost of long-term care and rehabilitative care; and

    • The long-term impact of death on surviving family members.


  • Resources are available through organizations like Senior Resources to assist the elderly to age in-place as well as to provide respite and resources for family members and caregivers.


  • To address concerns surrounding aging, death, and dying, we can, among other things:

    • Plan for our future by developing an estate plan, a long-term care plan, and expressing our “5 Wishes”;

    • Develop your own spirituality and heal relationships; and

    • Make concerted efforts to engage the elderly in the community.


  1. Topic Overview by Barbara Lee Vanhorssen

  • Aging, death, and dying are topics that are rarely discussed openly and honestly. Open discussion can allow us to celebrate the wisdom, experience, and value of elders and help us realize how inter-connected we are as people.

  • Death is natural and our elders should be celebrated for their wisdom and experience.

  1. Speaker Highlights

  • Tammy Garza – Administrator Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation

    • Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation provides in-patient skilled therapy and nursing services.

    • It is incredibly helpful to caregivers for patients to complete a “5 Wishes” packet (similar to a Living Will), which describes how the patient wants to be cared for in the event they become incompetent to make medical decisions, and directions for funeral arrangements.

    • An Advanced Directive is also very important, it states wishes regarding extreme medical intervention (resuscitation).

    • Forms for a Living Will and Advanced Directive can be found online, but an attorney can prepare these documents for you as well.

  • John Sytsema – Sytsema Funeral Home

    • There are multiple stages of death for the elderly or those suffering from terminal illness. The pre-active stage during which the person is lethargic and may be in pain. The pre-active stage may last for a period of weeks, months, or a year. The active stage of death is marked by unresponsiveness, and inability of one to eat or drink.

    • Advanced plans can be made for a funeral. Creating advanced plans may relieve some of the stress for surviving family members. Advanced plans may be made any time, but are generally made during the pre-active death stage.

    • Funeral homes will make its best efforts to honor the wishes pre-arranged by the decedent, but it is important to understand when making such plans that the funeral is truly for the survivors. It is encouraged to talk openly about funeral plans so that everything goes smoothly when the time comes.

    • Sytsema Funeral Home has a grief counselor and holds support groups as well.


  • Dr. VanderHeide – Director of Hospice and Palliative Care at North Ottawa Community Hospital

    • Palliative care is about pain management and quality of life. It may be used for terminal or non-terminal illnesses.

    • Hospice care is generally used for patients with terminal diagnosis, although in some cases people end up having long and full lives.

    • As a society we view death as a failure and try to avoid it at all social and economic costs; this sometimes comes at the expense of quality of life.

    • It is important to have a Durable Power of Attorney (i.e. appoint a health care advocate) to make important decisions on your behalf when you are unable to.


  • Deb Tober – Senior Resources

    • Aging in place and in-home care is much more beneficial to the patient and can be more affordable than living in a nursing home.

    • The “My-Choice” waiver provides in-home services for qualified Ottawa County residents.

    • Senior Resources provides care-giver support groups and respite for caregivers.

    • The Medicare Assistance Program (MAP) office provides assistance with Medicare and Medicaid enrollment.

    • Companion Care Program provides companionship (not nursing care) to the elderly.


Inspire! Aging, Death & Dying

I remember the day I turned 50 years old. I was at an Interfaith Conference in Detroit when it happened. Two days earlier I was working in my room when the cold rain gave way to a hot front. Then it moved through and things chilled again. I marveled at the unusual weather. It happened again the next day. Once I returned home, I realized this unusual weather pattern had followed me home. It was the next day when it finally hit me – this must be what a Hot Flash feels like!  


In ancient days, people never dreamt of living as long as we do now. Life was harsh from the very first breath. Many died in infancy, most died in their 30s and 40s. That meant that those who survived into their elder years had a special place of honor because they had outlasted most of the people of their own generation. They had actually lived with people and through events that others had only heard about. They were valued for their wisdom and their ability to teach and guide the young.


Today elders are still the best choice for helping youngsters - not because of what they have lost but because of all they have gained.  As we age, we gain experience. We gain wisdom. We gain insight and understanding. Aging can bring with it new ways of thinking and new interests. All of these gains are things we can offer to our families, our loved ones and our society.


But in our culture, there was no space created for celebrating elders. In fact, we have actively tried to move people out of the mainstream as they age, and in doing so we have created ageism in our society. Like racism and sexism, ageism marginalizes people, encourages stereotypes and leads to discrimination.

Ageism teaches us to fight the aging process -- to deny it and to do all that we can to prevent it. Rather than honoring older people as the holders of faith, wisdom and culture, ageism consigns the elderly to oblivion and dismisses their experience and wisdom as out dated. As a result, older people are often seen as a burden, a problem to be dealt with - rather than a channel of grace for us and for society. No wonder we’re afraid of aging. And the damnable thing about it is that it keeps us from looking forward to aging, to savoring our experiences, to growing old gracefully.


The world’s holy books have another message to share. Ecclesiastes counters the claim that pleasure is the meaning of life. The spokesman is someone like King Solomon who had all the wealth, wisdom and power he needed to fulfill any dream he wished. But after pursuing all his desires, the king laments again and again that everything amounts to a passing breath. 

The Tao Te Ching contains similar sentiments in its passages: If you want to become full, let yourself be empty. If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up. 

Buddhism teaches that our increasingly fragile and infirm bodies and minds are sacred, and worthy of the greatest kindness and care. To respect our aging at every stage is the greatest kindness we can offer to ourselves and those we love.


As we age, we are nudged to let go. Letting go of our things, letting go of our youth, even letting go of control, depending more and more on others to do what we once did can make us angry and bitter. Or it can become an opportunity to appreciate our reliance on others, to finally accept that we are all interdependent and fully connected. 


Finally, to let go of life, is to embrace the unknown realm of death.

Death is certainly a common theme in our culture. All of us can probably think of a song, a movie, a television show or a play where death plays a prominent role. But our society – including most of our religious expressions – has continually moved further away from regarding death as a natural culmination of life and an occasion to be marked with rich rituals of remembrance, grief and passage.

The fears, hopes and approaches that people have toward death are learned. Cultures can be death-accepting, death-denying or even death-defying. Here, in the death-defying West, it is a reality we desperately try to evade or ignore. But in other times and in other cultures, preparing for death was seen as an important spiritual task – perhaps the most important task of one’s life. 

So how do we embark on such a task? How do we age gracefully and how do we die gracefully?


We begin by living in the now. The past is important; it has shaped us and brought us to where we are. But it is in the present moment that we encounter the transcendent realities of our life.


Next, we engage in memory work. Good memories help give us a sense of well-being and help us validate our life. Painful memories remind us that there is still work to do. And grace also tells us that there is only so much we can accomplish and that completion is finally the work of the unfolding Universe.


Finally, we take stock of our legacy. What have we accomplished and what will we leave behind? The later years are a time for reflection and gratitude for all of the experiences that have shaped us and for acknowledging all of the ways our presence has shaped those around us.


I have decided I don’t need to stay young forever. There are always young people to fill that role! And frankly, they need people like me to be the old people. There are many signs of despair in our society. Young people need to be able to look to us old folks for grace and hope and joy. When we age gracefully, we become role models and proof that life really is worth living.




Connecting Across Cultures

Ours is a world of wonder. Its sights, its sounds, its smells, its creatures. There is nothing like being in a new place to renew the spirit of awe and wonder within our souls. Nothing so sparks in us an awareness of the richness of this creation or the wonderful diversity it contains.

Every destination holds within it a unique beauty and an opportunity to delight. Customs, traditions, folk tales, dance, art, language, nourishment. And every destination holds within it its own spirit, its soul, its way of understanding, its place in eternity.

There are many ways we can travel in this world. Vacations offer us exotic locations and respite from the demands of our daily life. But too often we are only observers as we move from place to place, seeing the sights that attract the tourists, protected from the harsher realities and the deeper spirituality of the lands in which we move.

Mission trips offer us an important opportunity to serve and to work side by side and hand in hand with brothers and sisters of a different culture. We move beyond the shelter of resorts in order to be exposed to the harsher realities of the lands we visit. But these trips usually limit our experience to one particular place and consume our time with one particular task. Often they set us to work before giving us an opportunity to listen and to learn what the true needs of an area are and where we can most be helpful.    

A Cultural Immersion Experience, in contrast, seeks to walk the middle road. It is an opportunity to visit a variety of places and to meet with and learn from local residents at each destination. In the process we become participants in the culture we are exploring, rather than onlookers or do-gooders. We take the time to be fully present in our surroundings and to contemplate what meaning we might discover as each situation unfolds before us.   

An integral Cultural Immersion Experience does just that, it immerses us completely. Our body is engaged through movement and sensory experiences of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.

Our brain is stimulated as we seek to understand the history and current climate of the places we visit so that we might put our experience in context, gain knowledge, and be able to draw comparisons with our own culture.

As we allow ourselves to be totally present in whatever situation we are experiencing, our spirit is free to develop insight and wisdom that connects with our personal, unique vision.

Our psychodynamic self grows as we learn to see life and living from a new perspective. A true immersive experience changes us, deepens our understanding and empathy, and shapes us in ways that nothing else can.

We learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes. And then we begin to see the lens through which we see the world ourselves.

We all have such a lens. Through it we see a world that makes sense to us, that matches our expectations of reality. Our lens is made up of our values and our basic assumptions. It includes our ideas about personhood, family, interpersonal relationships, sexuality, race, religion, economy, education, and so on. Those views become more powerful and rigid when they remain unnoticed and unnamed.

But when we are able to start seeing the lens itself, we can start to put our experiences and the experiences of others into their own unique context. We develop empathy, compassion and understanding. We move beyond tolerance to a kind of admiration and deep respect for others.

Whenever we enter unknown territory, we have the rare opportunity to see our own construction of reality in a way that the barriers come down and we realize that we are no different from the people with whom we are interacting. All that is different are the situations and conditions surrounding our lives.

We return changed. And with that change comes the responsibility to share our experience, to tell another people’s story, to become agents of peace and goodwill in a world that too often fails to celebrate the beauty and the value of diversity.  

We all return from Cultural Immersion Experiences touched in different ways, moved by different experiences. But every one of us who is willing to open our eyes to new realities is changed. We see the lens of our own cultural upbringing and that allows us to recognize that it is time to break old patterns and redefine relationships.

Too often we Westerners have tried to “help” a people by telling them that what they need and then giving it to them, knowing all along that what they need most is to be like “us.” They don’t need to be like us. It’s time to engage in a different dialogue. Let’s start by asking what is needed of us. Then there is an even more important question for us to ask. We need to approach our brothers and sisters from other cultures and say with all humility: I’m on a journey in this life – will you walk with me – will you help me find my way?

Inspire! Immigration

Deportee by Arlo Guthrie

The crops are all in And the peaches are rotting
The oranges piled up In their creosote dumps
You're flying 'em back To the Mexican border
To spend all their money To wade back again
Good bye to my Juan
Goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos Jesus why Maria
You won't have a name
Good bye to my Juan
Goodbye Rosalita
Adios mis amigos Jesus why Maria
You won't have a name
When you ride the big airplane
All they will call you
Will be "deportees"
Some of us are illegal And others not wanted
Our work contract's up And we have to move on
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border
They chase us like outlaws Like rustlers, like thieves

Good bye to my Juan

Goodbye Rosalita

Adios mis amigos Jesus why Maria

You won't have a name

When you ride the big airplane

All they will call you Will be "deportees“

The skyplane caught fire

Over Los… 

The Immigrant by Neil Sedaka

Harbors opened their arms to the young searching foreigner
Come to live in the light of the beacon of liberty
Planes and open skies, billboards would advertise
Was it anything like that when you arrived
Dreamboats carry the future to the heart of America
People were waiting in line for a place by the river

It was a time when strangers were welcome here
Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room that people could come from everywhere

Now he arrives with his hopes and his heart set on miracles
Come to marry his fortune with a hand full of promises
To find they've closed the door, they don't want him anymore
Isn't anymore to go around
Turning away he remembers he once heard
A legend that spoke of a mystical magical land called America

There was a time when strangers were welcome here, Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room that people could come from everywhere
There was a time when strangers were welcome here, Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear…There was a time when strangers were welcome here Music would play, they tell me the days were sweet and clear


Inspire! Immigration


I’d like to introduce you to Wilmer and Martir.

Last October, I lead a group from Grand Haven to Honduras for a Coffee and Culture Immersion experience. One of our local guides was Martir. At the end of our trip, Martir brought us to his home for dinner. That was when I met Wilmer.

Honduras is a story telling culture and after dinner we were gifted with one of the most chilling stories I have ever heard. Wilmer spoke for an hour and half about his illegal immigration to the United States of America.

He started at the beginning. His parents roof was leaking and he had no means to repair it. He tried to find work all over Honduras and there was no work to be had. So with great difficulty he crossed into Guatemala. Again, he could find no work. So he made the decision to enter our country. His plan was clear. He would travel to the US where he would work and earn money for 7 years. And then he would go home.

I am not going to tell you his harrowing story because I can’t begin to do justice to it. After listening to him, I am left not with a narrative to remember, but a series of pictures I cannot forget. Pictures of men hiding in barns and on top of trains, pictures of women injured and being left behind to die in the dessert, pictures of people being shot in cold blood. Pictures of terror and fear and somehow, woven through it all, the power and force of the sheer will to survive.

When Wilmer finally arrived in the US, the people who were supposed to meet him never appeared. Somehow he was able to make his way to the East where he connected with people who had shared many of his own experiences. And where he learned that the image he had of the US wasn’t exactly accurate.

He explained that Honduras has a culture that promotes the façade of success. While our own culture might leave us wanting to talk about the horrors we had overcome, the people he knew who had come to the US, sent stories to the homeland that glorified their travel. They never spoke of difficulty or hardship. And more. They would speak of the money they were earning – but never about the cost of living – of rent and food and electricity and clothes. He explained that it’s common for men from Honduras to go into a clothing store, try on an expensive outfit that they cannot afford to buy, and take a picture of themselves to send home.

Wilmer had no idea how intimate his relationship to death and suffering would become when he left home for the land of opportunity.

True to his word, he worked for 7 years and then he went home. Wilmer repaired and improved his parents home and built a home for himself – but then he traded homes with his brother Martir so that he could live further away from the community. Physical and emotional scars remain.

Immigration Helps the US Financially*

•Add $2 trillion to the US Gross Domestic Product

•Contribute to Social Security and Medicare

•Paid $13 billion to Social Security, received $1 billion in services

•Paid $35 billion more to Medicare than they used

•Paid almost $12 billion in state and local taxes

*Center for American Progress

The Center on American Progress have posted their Immigration Fact Sheet for 2017. They point out that immigrants like Wilmer support the growth and vitality of the U.S. economy.

•In fact, immigrants added an estimated $2 trillion to the U.S. GDP in 2016. Immigrants are overrepresented in the labor force and also boost productivity through innovation and entrepreneurship.

•Unauthorized immigrants contribute significantly to Social Security and Medicare. Contributing far more than they ever receive. In 2010, unauthorized immigrants paid $13 billion into Social Security and received only $1 billion in services—a net contribution of $12 billion. Further, from 2000 to 2011, unauthorized immigrants paid $35.1 billion more into Medicare than they withdrew.

•Unauthorized immigrants pay an estimated $11.7 billion a year in state and local taxes. Immigrants—even legal immigrants—pay to support many of the benefits they are statutorily barred from receiving.



Immigrants and refugees are entrepreneurs, job creators, taxpayers, and consumers. And their economic importance will only increase as America’s baby boomers retire, spurring labor demand and placing an unprecedented burden on our social safety net. We could benefit even more if we would modernize our immigration system and provide unauthorized immigrants in the country today with a path to citizenship.

But that is not the strategy our current administration is pursuing. Instead, the environment has shifted to increased restrictions for immigrants and refugees. Increasing detentions and deportations not only costs taxpayers billions of dollars but also breaks apart families and place vulnerable individuals—such as survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States, as well as women and children fleeing violence in their homelands—in peril.

Foreign-Born People in the US*

*Center for American Progress


So what kind of numbers are we talking about?

Approximately 43.3 million foreign-born people live in the United States: 20.7 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 22.6 million noncitizens. Of the noncitizens, approximately 13.1 million are lawful permanent residents, 11.1 million are unauthorized migrants, and 1.7 million hold temporary visas.

Today more Mexican immigrants are returning home than arriving in the United States.

Fewer than 1 in 5 immigrants live in poverty.

Compared with all Americans, U.S.-born children of immigrants are more likely to go to college, less likely to live in poverty, and equally likely to be homeowners.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population.

Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population.

Unauthorized immigrants are increasingly entering the United States legally and overstaying visas rather than crossing the border. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the largest source country of visa overstayers is…

…Canada – followed by Mexico and Brazil.

3 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country and face lengthy barriers of 3 to 10 years to re-entry if they leave.

3 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for a green card but cannot adjust their status from within the country and face lengthy barriers of 3 to 10 years to re-entry if they leave. So, of course, they stay.


Some individuals come into the US like Wilmer, looking for an opportunity to get ahead, with no desire to stay permanently in our country. More often, they are like Basel Alyasin one of the 18000 refugees from Syria who have settled in the US. You might have seen the letter he wrote on Facebook. Basel owned and operated Restore Electronics in Zeeland. He wrote…


I am heartbroken at this too appropriate indictment of our country. Basel’s letter highlights the fear that is gripping our immigrant community. Not surprisingly, this fear is especially acute among undocumented immigrants. Now imagine the panic of parents who immigrated illegally to the United States and now fear deportation.


About five million children under the age of 18 are living with at least one parent who is in the country illegally and now those parents are inundating immigration advocates with requests for help in securing care for their children in the event they are expelled from the country. And in the meantime, they are writing letters to their children – telling them what to do if mom or dad doesn’t come home. Should they stay or leave? Where should they go and how would they get there? What should they do about food? What do they need to know to be safe? Can you even imagine what that must be like? Well, you’ll get a chance to do just that in a moment.

In the end, immigration is more than a numbers game. It’s about more than a percent of population or the dollars added or subtracted from our financial bottom line. This is about Wilmer and Basel and millions of children. It is a matter of recognizing genuine human need and the need to respond with genuine human compassion.  




Neurodiversity and the Power of Names

My son Alex came home all excited one day from school. He was 5 or 6 six years old. He said, “Mom, I just found out that me and Alex Jones and Alex Smith all have the same middle name!” “Really?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “Xander.”

There is something else about Alex that is not as cute and funny. He, like nearly 1 in every 4 Americans is struggling with mental illness. That’s the politically correct name – mental illness. And it’s better than many of the common pejorative names we toss around haphazardly like psycho, schizo and freak. But today I want to introduce what might be a new name in your vocabulary: Neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is a movement to destigmatize mental illness and to recognize that brains are every bit as diverse as any other aspect of life. Our words are basically placeholders for ideas and concepts. Names are a special kind of word because they contain a whole collection of ideas and concepts. Names lead us to making assumptions about people – some of which are clearly true and some of which are undoubtedly false.

I like the term neurodiversity because it suggests that people are not diseased or broken – they are different. When we approach mental illness and developmental disabilities as evidence of neurodiversity, we create an entirely different perspective that challenges us to see the intrinsic worth of every human being and every human brain.

Neurodiversity proponents say that schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric conditions may have given our ancestors an evolutionary advantage because they allowed a few people to think outside of the box. When no one else could come up with an answer, it may have been these creative thinkers that pointed to another way. This theory, which emerged about a decade ago, challenges us to celebrate the differences between our brains and moves us away from our almost instinctive focus on problems and deficits.

When we look at the whole make up of humanity, we see a range of different thinking that’s made our progress in science and the creative arts possible.  Picture a bell curve of humanity. To neurodiversity proponents, people who are disabled are not sick or broken, they are merely at the edges of the bell curve.

This approach strikes at the heart of the medical model that focuses on defects and deficits. Neurodiversity doesn’t ignore the struggles many people have to live functional lives, but it says we need to give at least equal attention to the assets, advantages and abilities of people who are simply wired differently.

The name “neurodiverse” tears down the false wall of separation that divides the “normal” from the not “normal” and calls into question the idea of normalcy itself. It allows us to see different ways of thinking and processing the world as natural variations instead of seeing people as bad, broken or in need of repair. To proponents of neurodiversity, the idea of a “cure” can actually feel like an attack on their being. This is particularly true in the autistic community where advocates believe autism is part of who they naturally are and who reject the idea that there is some other hidden self within. One autistic man writes that trying to cure him of autism is as detestable an effort as trying to cure someone of being gay.

Those of us who work with marginalized populations are not in the business of fixing people or changing them into something else. We are in the business of identifying strengths and finding ways people can use those strengths to succeed in society. We are also in the business of identifying accommodations that society needs to make to help them achieve that success. 

Now none of this is to romanticize the functional limitations of people on the edges of the Bell curve. I don’t propose stopping treatment or research in the field. But I am suggesting we stop looking at people as diagnoses that need to be fixed and start looking at how as a culture we can make accommodations so that everyone can survive and even find a place to thrive without having to be made into some imagined social ideal of normal.

When we name people as defective, disordered and ill, we build a wall that implicitly states that the rest of us are normal or whole, ignoring the fact that we are all flawed and imperfect. We make people into “them” and “other” in a way that might sound sympathetic and compassionate, but that also reinforces judgment and fear.

We ignore the reality that we all struggle with deficiencies and we all have aspects of our lives that we are working to improve or overcome.   

The real value of the neurodiversity movement may be in reminding us that we all experience joy and sorrow, pain and hardship, challenges and opportunities and that a humanizing society is one in which we are all given the chance to make the best of what we have been dealt.

Renaming mental illness as Neurodiversity. A change of name and our entire outlook and set of assumptions can change – because it forces us to change our perspective. A change of name can open us up to see and explore other truths that are out there just waiting to be discovered – and waiting to be shared.  


Scars of Love/ Not Going Anywhere By: Shingi Mavima

Scars of Love/ Not Going Anywhere
By: Shingi Mavima


She said…

“I’m not going anywhere

This house, this bed, this life, this is all I’ve known

These flowers, these children are mine, mine to watch them grow

These tears will surely dry so honey don’t be deceived

It will take a lot more than slaps across the face to get me to leave”

He is home, he’s drunk again

When he’s drunk there’s no restrain

Barely a shadow of the beautiful soul she loved in the past

And with every punch she gasps, each gulp of air painful yet cherished,

     for it very well might be her last


And he says

“You’re not going anywhere

Who’s gonna take you in, you’re old, broken and worthless

And I slap you around now and then, I’m sure you know you deserve it

What more do you ask for, don’t I protect you and feed you?

Come on woman, clean yourself up, dry your eyes, you know I need you”

Need you… need you?

Words more painful than the physical, emotional yet

Disrespectful rhetoric perfectly weighted to manipulate even angels

Leaving her blind to self-worth

An object sent for the sole purpose to give birth


Birth… Kids.  Kids


And the kids say

Mother, please don’t go anywhere

You brought us into it, see us through it, and don’t leave this weight upon our shoulders”

They surround her and hold her, “Momma don’t let our lives get any colder”

The dilemma, the vices of virtue of love and life unforgiving

She has to leave to live, but if she leaves, she leaves behind her reasons for living


Dear God… God…



But the church said

“You’re not going anywhere

Fight the good fight, you’ll rejoice when the battle is won

Virtuous women stand behind their husbands, haven’t you read Proverbs 31

But even Christ himself bade farewell to Mary

When both she and he had reached the limit of physical torment he would carry


Tears on Monday, parents say “Don’t you leave him, pull through the flame

Don’t you dare disgrace our family name”

Crushed spirit on Tuesday, society screams, “Stay put”

Black eyes on Wednesday, her boss tells her to dress up, “Scars don’t make good business, now

clean that mess up!

Thursday it’s the screams, Friday broken dreams

And on Saturday they were all right

She wasn’t going anywhere…


They found her body; face down in a pool of blood

Another casualty of domestic brutality

But more so, victim of a societal system that ignores infliction when it is right there

And you wonder why… We’re not going anywhere