Thoughts from September 18-22, 2017

As many of you know, I stopped blogging two years ago, mostly because blogging consumed the time that I had for writing, and I chose to write books instead of blog posts. But I still enjoy sharing thoughts with readers in a more immediate way, so I have been using my Facebook author Page to share book recommendations, reflections on culture, stories from our family, and updates about the books I’m working on. For those of you who don’t use Facebook, or who don’t want to check the page daily, I’m going to start posting a weekly compilation of those thoughts here on my website. I hope you enjoy and read some of these suggestions!


Friday, September 22, 2017

For your reading pleasure… (I may say more about some of these next week, but for now, I invite you to read these thought-provoking and helpful articles):
1. “Donald Trump is the First White President” by Ta Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic. This article came out a few weeks ago, but I just had the chance to read Coates’ argument that Donald Trump won because of identity politics, which is to say the politics of whiteness.
2. “Facing Our Legacy of Lynching” by D.L. Mayfield in Christianity Today. I read these two articles one after the other and was grateful to have Mayfield’s honest look at the harsh reality of white and even Christian racism within the context of hope and even redemption. She leans on Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy (a book I also highly recommend), to talk about the Christian possibilities for repentance and transformation.
3. “When Life Asks for Everything” by David Brooks in the New York Times. Brooks argues that we don’t want individualism as much as we think we do. What we want is a self that gives to others in such a way that we find ourselves in a larger whole–in a marriage, a family, a friendship, even in a church, a nation, etc. Again, I read it with hope that we can indeed find ourselves by giving ourselves to others.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Earthquakes and hurricanes have brought many of us back to the age-old questions about how a loving and powerful God could stand by and not prevent so much human suffering. Especially for people who believe that God is “in control” or who believe in the “providence” of God, how can we explain any devastation?
Without getting into the many arguments around these questions, I was grateful to read this passage from John Swinton’s book Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness, and Gentle Discipleship: Rather than providence being a “way of describing God’s involvement in every incident that occurs in the world–a perspective that makes God responsible for the most terrible events–Bader-Saye proposes providence is the way we come to ‘name our conviction that our futures can be trusted to God’s care, even when we cannot believe that God is the direct cause of all that happens.’ . . . Providence provides a powerful narrative that ensures that in the midst of the fallenness, brokenness and confusion or God’s creation, God’s story is not lost.”
In the midst of earthquakes, hurricanes, war, and all the more individual suffering people are experiencing right now, God’s story is not lost.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Penny has started middle school and that I was experiencing far more anxiety about it than she ever did. She is holding steady, and her confidence, maturity, and poise as she navigates remembering which six of her nine classes will meet each day, whether or not she’s choosing the hot lunch option, meeting new friends, and learning new material. She is happy, and stable, and we are grateful.
I know this isn’t the way the story always goes for kids in middle school, for kids with disabilities in particular, and I can’t assume it will stay smooth forever. But I was thinking back to the questions I was asking years ago about who Penny would become. I used to feel sadness and fear when I thought about Penny’s future, and here we are–grateful and peaceful instead.
In A Good and Perfect Gift, I wrote, “After weeks of thinking about Penny and about what was not good in her, I finally realized that there was just as much–no, there was more–that was not good in me. All the pettiness, all the judgment, all the bias. Over and over again, I had thought about who she might have been if that extra chromosome hadn’t gotten stuck in that first moment of conception. I couldn’t escape wondering about the ‘real’ Penny, my daughter who seemed hidden behind her diagnosis. I had wanted to be able to change her instead of receiving change myself.
“Penny and I might never talk about literature together. But I had to trust that we would continue to communicate love to each other. That the way she nestled against my chest and calmed under my touch would one day translate into words that said the same. And I had to trust that she would keep growing up and become even more who she was: bright, delightful, a joy. I had to trust that I, too, would keep growing up. It wasn’t hard to believe that love would keep changing me.”
I just noticed that A Good and Perfect Gift is currently for sale at $2.99 as an ebook, and I thought I should mention it is also available for one credit on Audible. I’m so grateful, seven years after those words were first published, to be able to say that Penny and I have continued to grow up and yes, love has kept changing me.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

As a white person who grew up in neighborhoods with very little crime, the police and the court system seemed utterly trustworthy. Sure, mistakes were made sometimes but that’s just human, I thought.
When I was in college, I signed up to be a pen pal with a woman in prison. I corresponded with one woman for about a year, but we fell out of touch when she was moved from one prison to another and I couldn’t obtain her new address. Truth be told, I felt uncomfortable when she wrote about how she had been imprisoned unjustly. She described the situation behind her arrest, which came down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her story didn’t shake my view of the courts or police work. I just assumed she was lying.
I signed up to correspond with another prisoner in my early twenties, and we established a longer friendship. She was a mom already, so she had wisdom and comfort to offer me when Penny was born and she loved telling me about her own teenage daughter’s accomplishments. She, too, described the details of her imprisonment in terms that made no sense to me. She admitted what seemed to me a very minor drug infraction. I knew plenty of people who had used drugs in high school and college. I even knew some who had sold them. None of them had ever gone to jail. Certainly not for a decade. The crime she described seemed parallel to those friends’, nothing worthy of all that time behind bars, all that time away from her daughter. Nothing worthy of naming her a felon for life. In this situation, because of the friendship that had developed, and because I had begun to learn a little more about how our criminal justice system can bend in unjust directions, I felt uncomfortable with the story not because I thought she was lying but because I thought she might be telling the truth.
For her to be telling the truth–that possessing a small amount of an illegal substance would take her away from her daughter and put her behind bars for a decade–didn’t just make my heart heavy for my friend. It disrupted my view of the world. Where was the justice in the incarceration of a young mom who screwed up? And what if there were hundreds and thousands of other women (and men) like my friend, who had committed crimes and yet were experiencing punishments that far outweighed the severity of the crime? Meanwhile, my friends from college who had done similar things were working in investment banks and going to law school. My college friends were white. My friend in prison was black.
But then she got out of prison. Her daughter graduated from high school with honors. They moved. We fell out of touch. And I buried my distrust of the system, needing to believe that this nation I love is really and truly a nation of liberty, a nation of justice, a nation for all.
I still very much believe in the principles of our nation, and I still believe we can live into those principles. But I also believe that the brokenness in our system is very real and amounts to real injustice disproportionately directed towards men and women of color. The book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander was probably the most helpful read (though I have also heard that James Foreman’s Locking Up Our Own is worth reading and if you are a more visual person Ava Duverney’s film 13th summarizes a lot of The New Jim Crow but just can’t provide the same depth due to time constraints). Alexander details story after story that parallel my friend’s experience. For a shorter introduction to some of the problems with the system you can also check out an article from the Atlantic regarding plea bargains.
I still feel pretty paralyzed as a white person who enjoys the protections of the law and the courts. I don’t worry about minor infractions like driving over the speed limit. I am grateful for the sacrificial service so many men and women in uniform and in the legal profession offer to my fellow Americans. And yet I also deeply long for the same protections I enjoy to be distributed among communities of color. I long for people like my friend who was in prison to be given a second chance instead of being branded a felon for the rest of her life.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Do you put any intentional limits on your use of technology? Do you have an age when your kids get their own device?
We’ve been talking about it in our family–is it 12? 14? Is it a phone without internet connectivity? An iPad that can text but not call? I don’t bring my phone to the dinner table, and our kids have permission to call us out when we (too often) allow ourselves the distraction of “just quickly responding” to a text or email. When I try to be disciplined about putting away the phone for a time, and I find that we want to play music or check the weather or use the timer on it. I am contemplating a “rule” of ten hours in airplane mode–from 10pm to 6am–as a self-imposed limit since I find myself checking the New York Times website, Facebook, and email habitually before I turn out the light and (this is hard to admit) before I even turn on the light in the morning.
Over the weekend, I read an article about the Amish and how they are navigating some of the same waters and asking questions about how much, if any, they should allow the use of cell phones and computers in their workplaces (they seem pretty clear that these devices don’t belong at home, which is a lesson to me in itself). What struck me most in reading the article, however, was not the questions or even the different conclusions different Amish people reached. Rather, I was struck by the way they thought about their lives. One man, when talking about driving a horse and buggy instead of a car, said, “Not using cars is a way of keeping us together.” In other words, I don’t have anything against cars, per se. I just am committed to our community more than the efficiency that cars would allow. We don’t use cars because of what we are for, not because of what we are against.
Even though I plan to keep driving my car and using my cell phone, it was a good reminder to do so through the lens of what I am for: thoughtfulness, rest, peace, joy, family, friendship, contemplation, among other things. Then I can consider if/how technology serves those purposes.
(On a related note, if you haven’t read the widely read article from last month’s Atlantic “Have Cell Phones Destroyed a Generation?”, it’s worth reading right now. The bottom line is that higher rates of phone usage correlate in a remarkable way with unhappiness.)
All of these leads me to conclude that we will keep pushing back the time when our kids get their own personal devices, and that I need to implement a nighttime airplane mode on my phone. I am not against technology but I am for relationships.

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