Outraged Revenge Post vs. Empathy


Someone I care about recently called me a sanctimonious f’ing bitch, and suggested I share my true nature with my “Dear Readers”.

Dear Readers, in the words of St. Patrick,

I am a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many.

I am thin-skinned, usually sad, and generally, if I open my mouth on a topic, 100% right (i.e. I can be arrogant). I may forgive an unkind word or slight, but I never, ever forget. Just ask my husband.

Things I’m not 100% sure about:

  • honesty is the best policy, although I keep trying
  • no-contact the most moral way to handle a toxic mother
  • parenting
  • is anyone actually in hell
  • how the hell do I lose weight
  • marriage
  • am I sanctimonious


This is not a revenge post. I love this person who seems to hate me. I know her pains and her loneliness. While I do not share her perceptions, I understand they are hers and she believes them. I want her to be well, whole, happy and loved.

But is she right? Definitions according to Webster’s:

Sanctimonious: hypocritically pious or devout.

Hypocrite: being a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

by Fernando Botero

I try not to write about marriage too much because I’m not sure to what I owe our longevity (almost 22 years). And we still fight—passionately— about the printer not working and whose job it is to keep the wood stove lit.  I don’t write about asceticism because I’ve never met a can of Coke or turkey sandwich with a side of fries I didn’t like.

When I write about parenting, I am usually examining my failings.

I write about friendship, kindness and gratitude because I strive for these values, not because I embody them.

If you find me sanctimonious, please forgive me my trespasses. At the risk of sounding holier than thou, I quote Joan of Arc, who when asked if she believed she was in God’s grace replied:

If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there. 

May we be less outraged and more empathic. May we listen to our critics enough to remain humble. May we love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. (Matthew 5:44).












When Someone Sets Your Flowers on Fire: Emotional Withholding



Have you ever been over the moon with good news and shared it, only to be met with stone cold silence? Or worse, derision? It’s like someone wrenches a spectacular bouquet of yellow flowers from your hands, shoves them into a furnace and you stand and watch the flowers combust. Emotional withholding hurts like that.

“In its most simple definition, withholding is just that — withdrawing or holding back communication, response, feedback (particularly positive feedback), agreement, acknowledgement, acceptance, and generally giving what’s often called the silent treatment or the cold shoulder,” writes Jamie Walters in When Withholding is a Toxic Tactic.


The Apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

The latter part is easy. We bring casseroles to the homes of the grieving, attend wakes and funerals, send cards. The best among us try to take up the slack when a friend is seriously ill. We send money, help mow the lawn, listen.

But we are also called to rejoice with those who rejoice. There is mercy in that. And sometimes it’s hard.

Why do people withhold approval and praise? Sometimes envy holds us back. I remember a friend announcing her sixth pregnancy after I had lost my third, and final, child to miscarriage. Rejoice? I nearly fainted. I hope I congratulated her.  My memory is that a hot spear of pain shot through me and staked me to the ground where I stood. I hope I at least smiled.

Our own juridical disapproval may prevent us from rejoicing with those who rejoice. Upon learning of this same friend’s pregnancy, a friend close to me scoffed, “Well, I guess she doesn’t believe in over-population.”

We all have moments when we don’t know what to say, are perplexed by the circumstances, or wrestle with our own self-righteousness and we end up saying nothing or saying the wrong thing. This is normal, human frailty. But if withholding is our habit—how we engage repeatedly—that’s toxic.

Walters continues, “When withholding is used, even unconsciously (due to conditioning), as a type of punishment and/or to manipulate and control, it becomes . . .  a tactic of emotional and mental abuse, bullying, and interpersonal violence.”

How do we remedy this violence? What is the antidote to withholding our joy? I find the following words from the mystic Isaac of Syria a great catechism in love and mercy:

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others. Be crucified, but do not crucify others.

Be slandered, but do not slander others.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.

Suffer with the sick.

Be afflicted with sinners.

Exult with those who repent.

Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.

Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.

Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.

Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.

And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. – Isaac of Syria

Despite your envy, disapproval or lack of understanding, spread a cloak of mercy.

Abortion? Spread your cloak.

Transgender? Spread your cloak.

Nit-picking fault-finders? Spread your cloak.

Other side of the political aisle? Even then.

Spread your cloak over each and every one.




This Lent I will be Grateful: A Theology of Thank You Notes

We can write about values or sit in silence with our Creator, evangelize on social media and retreat to pray for the world. But it is during the daily encounter with others that we exercise morality. In “Hospitality to the Stranger,” theologian Thomas W. Ogletree writes,

The material meaning of the moral imperative emerges from the self’s participation in the lives of other selves . . . It is the self’s participation in the center of the other self and consequently an acceptance of that self and his or her particularities regardless of whether a convergence of personal characteristics is present. This, Tillich suggests, is the core meaning of agape love.

Agape love is the love of God for man and of man for God. We love when we participate in another person’s life. We love when we participate in that life regardless of a person’s particularities: the one who talks too much, the in-law who votes for the other party, that guy on that committee who challenges every decision. Flesh and blood human interaction is when our high ideals and lofty spirituality are tested. This is where a juridical, straining-of-gnats religiosity fails, and where genuine goodness and kindness are the manifestation of mercy.

We are called to acknowledge that goodness in others. The Apostle Paul wrote in Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes. 5:16 – 18)

Prayers of thanksgiving are requisite to the spiritual life. I profer that acknowledging the kindness of others is also a worthy spiritual practice.

As I’ve written before, I consider myself a grateful person, despite being plagued by a reliably intermittent black crush of depression. In the spirit of gratitude, I’m a fan of acknowledging others as often as possible via a thank you note. Creating a practice of writing thank you notes keeps me in a state of gratitude, attuned to kindness. Writing this post, all the thank you notes I need to write come to mind, for recent and not so recent thoughtfulness.

A new acquaintance gave me her comped Yo-Yo Ma tickets in December, brought by a jar of homemade Bourbon caramel sauce at Christmas and sent a sympathy card when my brother died in January. We haven’t known each other long or broken bread at one another’s kitchen tables (for me a sign that true friendship is cementing), yet she has showered me with kindness.

I play tennis with a married couple, mere acquaintances, a wife with a New England bob smooth and white as fondant and an array of tennis skirts bright as hard candy, and her gruff, dry-humored husband. They check in with me via email and when they see me in person because they are privy to a particular struggle of mine. Other people know the struggle and either out of politeness or absent mindedness don’t ask. This couple, they ask.

A friend drove over an hour to visit, and she came bearing cheese. Heavy blocks of cheese tumbled from a bag like gold bars, a robber’s bounty. There were crackers, too, and a jar of cornichons, but really, the cheese, more types of cheese, than had ever been in my house at one time. I need to thank her. And of course, not just for the cheese.

One needn’t follow a formula for writing a thank you note, but there is one:

1. Greet the giver.

2. Express gratitude. (Be specific—mention how you’ll use the gift or express particular appreciation for a kind word or gesture.)

3. Refer to the past. (This affirms the relationship.

4. Allude to the future. (A signal you’d like to continue the friendship.)

5. Sign off.

Weeks ago, I awoke at 4 a.m. worrying about the wording of a thank you note I’d sent, a note to an important person regarding a consequential situation, and it occurred to me I had skipped Step 4. See, I had run out of room on the card. But it was a formal note to a formal person—a straight-out-of-Hollywood-casting-handsome-WASPish man who—well, discretion. But he’s a person who would know which step I skipped. I am not suggesting, dear reader, you worry about such things. This is a cautionary tale. Skip the ruminating. Just write the damn note.

Of course, it’s best to write promptly, but as long as the recipient is still alive, a thank you note is never too late. To that end, this Lent, I am aiming to write a thank you note a day. (Princess Diana did it, every night.) I encourage you to write thank you notes in all circumstances.

Here’s that cheese note, all steps included.

Dear Rebekah,

I wanted to thank you for your visit last weekend, and for the abundance of cheese and the opioid contentment it induced. Never has a hostess gift been more appreciated, especially by the beagle, who had her way with the wedge of stinky blue cheese. Thank you also for graciously handling that imbroglio.

Who knew your radiant smile that cheered me in college would welcome me so warmly into a new life in upstate NY 25 years later.

I hope we’ll be eating more cheese together soon.

Your friend,


Blessed Ash Wednesday. Happy Writing.


Your Narcissistic Mother has been Elected President: Resist with Joy

It’s as if your narcissistic mother has been elected president. Your version of reality is wrong. History’s version of reality is wrong. Science’s version of reality is wrong. Facts are infuriating. The whole world is being gaslighted. The National Park Service is the black sheep in the family.

“I’m a really very intelligent person.” Credit where credit is due, Mr. President—that’s my mother’s line, often spoken when I challenged her alternate reality.  She also told me, “You’re too sensitive” or “You have a very vivid imagination”, “precious snowflake” in the current political parlance.

Triggered, anyone? To go “No Contact” from society would be socially irresponsible. How do we protect our joy?

I awoke yesterday to my house creaking and shuddering in the wind. My first thought of the day:

Seriously. I thought, “How would I know?” And you know, there’s some humor in that. And there was humor in my friend, Adam, who lives in my general region, posting links beneath the same post on Facebook to NUKE MAP, an online map for calculating the effects of a nuclear detonation and replying, “It IS a little warmer out today but (phew) we still have Internet.”

In his post, “Why are you laughing?” Theologian Randal Rauser reflects on gallows humor. “The really interesting question is whether it is ever ethically permissible and if so what is it that makes it ethically permissible.” Can we laugh when refugees have admission to the United States rescinded while 30,000 feet in the air on their way here? Can we laugh when 20 million people may lose their health insurance? And if they do, many of them will die as a result? Can we laugh when the First Amendment is under threat?

Wikipedia defines “Gallows humor”  as “witticism in the face of – and in response to – a hopeless situation. It arises from stressful, traumatic, or life-threatening situations, often in circumstances such that death is perceived as impending and unavoidable.”

Rauser says we must consider the context of dark humor, i.e., “the persons making the joke, the persons laughing at it, and the social function that it might have. In other words, what is the social utility of the joke?” The social utility of laughter is keeping our wits about us, resisting the immobilizing power of despair, and enjoying the very life and privileges that are under threat.

Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. -Wendell Berry

Stay with the facts. Call your senators and representatives. March. Vote. Protect the persecuted. Protect your brain in a post-fact world. Take breaks from social media. And keep laughing.