Dear friends,

Today I’m pondering the various understandings we have of “belonging,” and how that can change throughout our lives.

I think there are two kinds of belonging:  The kind where you’re craving acceptance and longing to “fit in,” and the kind you can relax into, knowing that you are accepted for who you are.

In the first kind of belonging (shall we call it “belonging one?”), we are willing to change ourselves in order to be accepted into the “mainstream,” whatever that might be.  Most of us remember behaving this way in our school years – we had to wear the right thing, use the right slang, hang out with the right people in order to “belong.”  In “belonging one,” you dare not show your true self, for fear of rejection.  It’s an act, and doesn’t bring real peace, even though it seems like it should.

Image result for robert palmer simply irresistible

In time, many of us mature into “belonging two” –  we still long for a sense of community with others, but we’re not willing to sacrifice our own uniqueness.  Instead, we long for our uniqueness to be embraced, even celebrated, by a few select others who understand us on a deep level.  “Belonging two” is a comfortable place, where we are free to be authentic without fear of rejection for superficial things.

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When you truly belong to someone, they also belong to you.  It’s not about possessing someone else, but rather, recognizing that we are part of one another, and assuring each other that we are safe.  You don’t have to give up anything, any part of who you are.  You can bring it all to the party.  You’re worthy as you are, right now.

This kind of belonging is hard, until it becomes easy.  I think we have to get “belonging one” out of our systems before we can truly enjoy a life of “belonging two.”  It doesn’t happen for everyone, but I hope it happens for you, and that you can gather a tribe around yourself that gives you a safe place to land, even when you aren’t perfect.

Especially when you aren’t perfect.


Winnie and the Professor

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Life at the moment 4-12-19

Dear friends,

As we approach the end of the semester, life here at the university gets crazy-busy.

Right now, I have a couple of hundred of papers to grade, three grad students and one undergrad honors student going through thesis defenses, along with events and meetings galore.  Next week is the last week of classes, the week after that is finals.  Then the summer session starts (and I’m teaching then, too).

I’m also writing a book that’s long overdue to the publisher, so I’m plugging away on that.

Last week’s conference set me back a bit, but was a hugely rewarding experience.

What’s going on in your life at the moment?



Image may contain: Annette Hamel, smiling, eyeglasses and indoor

Moments of pride and excitement

Dear friends,

This morning, our School of Communication celebrated our annual awards ceremony and Lambda Pi Eta induction.  It was my privilege to be a speaker at this event, and to read out the names of the students being honored.

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The students received honor cords to wear at graduation, along with pins, certificates, hugs, handshakes, and good wishes.  Many invited their families as well, and we got to meet parents and grandparents.

My heart is filled with love and pride for these young people, and great expectations for what lies ahead for each of them.  They’re off to do amazing things!



Book review: Tell Me Three Things

Dear friends,

Here’s a cute and fluffy Young-Adult story that will make you smile:


Tell Me Three Things is the story of Jessie, a high school student.  Her mom has recently passed away, her dad has remarried, and she finds herself living in a new town under the roof of a stepmother she doesn’t understand, and a stepbrother she doesn’t like.  On top of all these life changes, she is trying to get used to a new school with its usual contingent of “mean girls.”

It’s tough being friendless, but one day Jessie receives a message online from someone calling himself “Somebody/Nobody” (thereafter referred to as “S/N.”)  S/N reveals himself to be a boy from her school, but wants to remain anonymous.  He says he’s writing because he knows she’s new and struggling to fit in, and he wanted to reach out and offer friendship and advice – if there’s anything Jessie wants to know about the social landscape at school, S/N would be happy to tell her.

At first Jessie is skeptical (could S/N be one of the “mean girls” playing a trick on her?), but her feelings of loneliness and isolation eventually drive her to respond.  In time, Jessie and S/N begin playing a game of “tell me three things” – you tell me three things about yourself, and I’ll tell you three things about me.  Sometimes these things are trivial (favorite foods or music), and sometimes they’re deeply personal.

Jessie spends most of the story trying to guess the identity of S/N, as there are a number of likely candidates.  Eventually they meet in person, so Jessie (and you, the reader) discover who he really is.

I figured out S/N’s identity pretty early, but it was still fun to see his relationship with Jessie unfold through their back-and-forth messages, and to see her try to solve the mystery.

Cute and fun, recommended for a light and enjoyable read.



It was always an ideal

Dear friends,

Scroll through your social media accounts these days, and you’ll see a lot of despair.  America isn’t what it claims to be, people are saying, and it never was.  Hatred and divisiveness never seem to die, and our forefathers did so many things that fly in the face of the freedom and justice they talked about, wrote about, supposedly fought wars about.


And it’s true.  The history of our country is filled with events that make our patriotism, our songs of freedom ringing from every mountainside, seem like the worst hypocrisy.  How, we ask, could our founding fathers write about liberty while owning slaves themselves?  How could they argue about property rights while, at the same time, forcibly take property away from aboriginal peoples who had been here for millennia?  How could they talk about equality while counting a black man as 3/5 of a person?  How could they honestly, deep in their hearts, believe in manifest destiny?

Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find a lot of despair over America not living up to its promise.  Hatred seems to have made a comeback (newsflash: it was always there).  We see images on the news of parents and children being forcibly separated.  We’re hearing words that we thought were long obsolete, like “concentration camps” and “internment.”


So what’s our calling?  What do we do?  Do we throw up our hands and walk away in despair, crushed by the realization that we’re not living up to our ideals, and that we never have?  Or do we revive those ideals, talk about them, and renegotiate their meaning?

If you believe, as I do, that our ideals should be reconciliation, healing, justice, dignity, and life in community, you must not give in to despair.  Our belief, our enduring hope in those ideals is all that stands between us and the future we fear.  Our problems are too big for any one person to solve, so we must stop looking for someone to step in and save us.  We have to save ourselves.  But how?


We must reject the notion of securing our personal freedom and comfort at the expense of others.  We must recognize that the feeling of “I’m sorry for them, but thank God it’s not me” is coming from a privileged position.  We must accept that while we can’t do everything, we can do something.  We can come out of hiding.  We can confront the fear.

We can say no, this is not who we are, and I’m going to do something today to prove it.

And then we engage.  We write, we talk, we pray, we connect.  We enter the world as people who embody those lofty ideals we profess to embrace.  We use our positions, whatever they may be – teacher, parent, business person, laborer, leader, follower – to positively influence those around us.

Do what you can, right now, today, wherever you are.  And don’t ever, ever give up.  The “shining city on the hill” won’t build itself – we have to do it, you and I, brick by brick, and if someone knocks it down, we must begin again.




Book review: Matchmaking for Beginners

Dear friends,

This one is light, romantic, and lots of fun!


Matchmaking for Beginners centers around two women:  Marnie, who at the start of the book is about to marry Noah, and Blix, Noah’s quirky great-aunt.  At the party celebrating Marnie and Noah’s engagement, Marnie gets caught up in a strange and magical bond with Aunt Blix, a bond that will last through many life changes.

Aunt Blix is a self-styled matchmaker, who can see colors and auras around people who are destined to be together, and she gets a “read” on the Marnie/Noah relationship right from the start.  Marnie herself has seen colors and auras around others, but has never understood what they meant.  Through Blix, Marnie learns that perhaps she, too, is meant to be a matchmaker.

With the help of Blix’s odd friends and unusual neighbors, Marnie begins to see that her life could take a new direction, much different from the one she’s planned.  Her life with Noah is destined to be buttoned-up and upper class, whereas Blix’s world is bohemian and strange and very intriguing.  Marnie ultimately finds herself at a crossroads where she must make a choice between the life she’s planned, and the new direction that’s tugging at her heart and imagination.

A great read!



For my students – A career or a job?

Dear students,

In the Intercultural class, we’ve been discussing the cultural trope of “you are what you do,” i.e., our sense of personal identity is closely related to the kind of work we do.  We often take the privileged standpoint of believing that work should be personally (spiritually) fulfilling, as well as paying the bills.

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Perhaps we’ve lost sight of the differences between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation.  Perhaps we’ve fallen for the (unrealistic) cultural expectation that everyone *has* a vocation, and if you haven’t identified yours, it’s some kind of a character flaw.

Look, hobbies make you happy, and are an enjoyable way to spend your time, but they won’t necessarily pay the bills.  A job *will* pay the bills, if nothing else.  You might not like your job, but you are trading your time and labor for money, and that money will (presumably) enable you to do other things that you like better.  A career is a job or series of related jobs that you find fulfilling enough to make sacrifices for.  You might relocate for a career, or get additional education in order to advance.

Then there’s the idea of a vocation – that one form of work that’s like a holy calling.  The thing you would do, whether or not you get paid.  The work you’d build your life around.(I’m one of the fortunate ones – for me, teaching is a vocation, and I’ve sacrificed a lot to be here).

I encourage you to read this interview with author Elizabeth Gilbert:

Elizabeth Gilbert on the best career advice we’ve ever heard

You know I wish all the best, most wonderful things for you, and I want you to have a rich and fulfilling life.


Dr. Hamel