Another, Again

I wrote this post sometime in 2016. I didn’t post it because some things are better discussed in person. But I also know that “writing” is a thing that I do, even if just in blog form. Words keep me up at night if I don’t say them. They spill out of me onto “paper.” (Does anyone write on paper anymore?) I delete a lot of the posts I write here, or never publish them. I understand that sometimes people don’t want to hear my words. But I wrote all these words down, and then left them in a Word document for months. Some of the comments are a little outdated, as a result. But I wrote these words. And I could never bring myself to delete them. It’s a lot of words, y’all. I looked it over a few times this morning, made sure they were firey enough, laughy enough, and humble enough.

—–

The older I get, the more the news upsets me. When 9/11 happened, it did not even phase me. I felt no emotion. Something bad happened to strangers in another city, and had no discernible effect on my daily life. I was in high school, so calm down before you call me a narcissistic psychopath. Teenagers generally lack empathy. It’s like a scientific fact. A scientific brain fact.

But now when I see pictures of refugees in Syria, or a mass shooting somewhere, or violence – it upsets me. I understand these are people and lives on the line. I have a brain now. I think about how I would feel if someone in my family was a victim of violence. I can’t even imagine the sorrow.

I think that “oh my goodness, this is so horrible, I feel so bad for that family” is the appropriate gut reaction to a news story about someone’s death. Any someone’s death.

I am so disturbed by all of the “police brutality” stories on the news. I don’t mean that in a political way. I don’t mean that I’m angry at the police or think they are the scum of the earth. It’s just that each time a new story comes on the news, with another face and another name, it bothers me. I’m not sure what I thought when I heard these stories 10 years ago. Maybe I was one of the people who said,

“Oh great. Another black family complaining about the police shooting someone. Here we go again. Maybe if they stay out of trouble it wouldn’t happen.”

Without delving too much into ALL THAT IS WRONG with that reaction (because, I can’t even), I want to ask you to take a moment to think about the words

“Another”

and

“Again”

It is those words that tell the story. Those words explain the frustration and outrage you see on the news when another black man gets shot by the police again. Hear those words. Another. Again.

If anyone in my family got stopped by the police for something routine – rolling through a stop sign, having a broken light, running a red light – and ended up dead

I would not rest until I had answers. It is unacceptable. U.n.a.c.c.e.p.t.a.b.l.e. I do not accept it. There is no justification. It doesn’t matter if that person technically broke a rule by rolling through a stop sign. That does not justify death. It does not even come close to explaining why they are dead now. “Well if they hadn’t done that, it never would have happened.”

NOPE. Just no. Absolutely not. Not for my family. Not for yours.

I think I had this idea my whole life that my generation was the one that had risen above racism, and had it all figured out. We are the enlightened ones who don’t enslave people or make them sit in the back of the bus. Slavery was a long time ago. The civil rights era seemed like a long time ago to me, because it all went down before I was born. I’d learn about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. in school and think “They were heroes. I’m glad they were so brave, because now we all get to live in a world where those problems are gone.” I have never known anyone who spoke a cruel word about any non-white people. I must have just assumed the whole world was like my family and friends. I thought to myself that there were probably some ignorant racist people out in the country, or far away from me. I wasn’t foolish enough to think there was no racism anywhere, ever. I just thought for the most part, it was over and done with.

I think that’s because if I had defined racism when I was growing up, I would have said that being racist means you think people of another color are inferior. I can’t name one person in my social sphere who thinks people of another color are inferior. It’s unfathomable to me. Like, no way. So by that narrow definition, I’m not racist! And neither is anyone I know! Great!

I had my head in the sand.

I knew there were some forms of “institutional racism” that existed. I understood this to mean that since I was born to white middle-class parents, I had a leg up in the world. They were able to help me some with college tuition, and that’s an opportunity that some people don’t have. I’ll probably never live in poverty, but maybe some people always will because they weren’t born to white middle-class parents. I can’t change my parents and neither can anyone else. And I do believe that no matter how hard some people work, the system is stacked against them. I hoped that it would not always be so. I moved into a more urban part of the city, so that even if there were gaps between us I could do nothing about (like the wealth of our parents), at least there wouldn’t be relational gaps. At least we could be part of the same community. It turns out I’m awful at forming relationships with any humans, regardless of color. I’m not the awesome neighbor that I daydreamed I would be.

I’m coming to understand that I live in a generation where we have more than just problems with economic inequality. There are some things need to be protested, because people are being treated unfairly and not just by “the system.” I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I live in a period of time where things need to be protested. Protests are just in history books. Not here, not now. (And just to be clear, I am only a supporter of non-violent protest…)

I used to live in a neighborhood where there were sometimes gunshots in the middle of the night. And if I’m being totally honest, when I imagine who is shooting a gun – I imagine a black man. I’m ashamed of this. That little image that forms in my mind without my permission, for just a second, is a kind of racism.

It’s the same kind of racism that some police officers might experience when they encounter black men. If they see a black man reaching into his pocket, their first thought might be that it’s for a gun – not an ID, or car registration. If I got pulled over and reached in my pocket, no one would shoot me. They wouldn’t shoot me if I resisted arrest. They wouldn’t shoot me if I argued with them. They wouldn’t shoot me if I ran away. There’s this unspoken assumption that black men are aggressive and guilty, and that assumption is what makes people angry. The terrorist from the New York bomb situation the other day was arrested without being fatally shot, and they already knew for a fact that he was violent – he had just set off bombs. It is possible arrest people (even if they are aggressive) without deadly force, so I understand why the black community is frustrated and angry that so many of their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers are being killed by the police. It does not justify violence or retaliation in response. It is possible to acknowledge that anger and frustration and also respect the men and women who serve in the police force, simultaneously. I can do both. (Although, if I am being honest, I’m not really one for “hero worship” – there is currently no law that says police officers are gods that require my devotion and fealty without question…I happen to believe that people in positions of power have signed up for more scrutiny and accountability than the rest of us, and should be questioned, but my post on secrecy and transparency shall wait for another day).

I think when I am bothered by these stories, it is because I have come to understand that this darkness is not far away from me. It is sometimes found in my own heart. When gunshots wake me up in the middle of the night and I roll my eyes and think some black people are shooting some other black people again, that racism is right there inside of me.

The stories on the news make me upset that lives are lost, but I am also upset because I had my head in the sand. I brushed off the stories a decade ago because there weren’t smart phones recording all of it. I can’t believe I brushed it off and disregarded the cries of my black neighbors just because they didn’t have video evidence. How arrogant of me. I am so deeply sorry for this. I am so sorry that it took such a horrifying number of hashtags to change my perception of what happens.

The following statements are true:

The police put their lives on the line for the community, and deserve our respect and support

The police have a problem that needs to be addressed

Both are true at once.

50-100 years ago you could say “the police put their lives on the line! They deserve our respect.” That has always been true about the police in America. But in the past, those police have also allowed citizens to be lynched or beaten. There were people saying “The police put their lives on the line, they deserve our respect” while the police were allowing people to be lynched, or while the police themselves were beating people. Statement one does not negate statement two. Statement two does not negate statement one.

If a police officer pulls someone over with his 3-year-old daughter in the backseat, tells him to get his ID, and then shoots him dead as he reaches for it – that’s not okay. And that is a thing that happened. That police officer decided he felt threatened. Threatened enough to shoot a man (for doing what he was told) while a 3-year-old watched.

The police were not given a badge and a gun primarily to protect themselves.

Even one of those hashtags about a white person would have resulted in shock (probably even outrage) by white people in Franklin, TN or Kingwood, TX (where I grew up). If you think I’m delusional, um, JonBenet. Apparently the death of a cute white girl captivates us for twenty years, but suggesting the death of someone at the hands of a police officer warrants an investigation is preposterous.

I don’t know what the answer is. It’s not possible for police to be wrong in every case, and it’s not possible for the victims’ families to be wrong in every case – it just wouldn’t be rational for me to suggest that one side is always wrong, without question. So maybe what I am suggesting is that we just allow people the space to have questions, and grief, and even anger – without rolling our eyes. Because if even one of the deaths was a police error (and it is rational to say that at least one of them was, due to the sheer volume of cases), then anger is appropriate. Expressing that anger with violence is not, but the anger and grief is. Asking questions about how it happened, is appropriate. Investigating what happened is right. It is not crazy.

I believe that Jesus Christ has been so unspeakably good to me. He has shown me so much grace. My cup is so overflowing with grace and mercy that I have received from Him, that there will never be enough days or words to thank Him. Because I have been shown grace and mercy, the very least I can do is not shake my head at people or roll my eyes, even if I don’t understand their perspective. At the very least, if I am too much of a pansy to actually join in a protest, I can choose to not look down on another person’s anger or grief following the loss of their loved one. At the very least.

(I can also acknowledge that writing about racism, as a white woman, is maybe the dumbest thing I have ever done, and it’s possible I said a bunch of ignorant nonsense in this post that I am unaware of because of the head-in-the-sand situation. I am open to hearing about that, if that is the case. Be gentle, internet.)

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Now You Know What I’ve Been Doing For A Year

I can’t help blogging the list of books I read this year, even though it’s the most boring blog post anyone can ever write, and the reason people make fun of blogs. This is the kind of blog post that I make fun of, actually. But here is the list anyway. I re-read a lot of books, went through a Dan Brown phase, read my first Wendell Berry (where has he been all my life?), read books by comedians, books for nerds, books for space nerds, books that preached the gospel of the Kingdom, and books that preached the gospel for me specifically. If you want to skip down, I picked just a handful of books to quote if you’re in the mood for a little substance.

1. The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien (re-read)

2. The Martian – Andy Weir

3. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

4. Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

5. 101 Hymn Stories – Kenneth W. Osbeck

6. Palimpsest – Matthew Battles

7. Digital Fortress – Dan Brown

8. The Holcroft Covenant – Robert Ludlum

9. A Hope In the Unseen – Ron Suskind (re-read)

10. The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis (re-read)

11. The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis (re-read)

12. The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis (re-read)

13. The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander

14. A Severe Mercy – Sheldon Vanauken (re-read)

15. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

16. Executing Grace – Shane Claiborne

17. Bossypants – Tina Fey (re-read)

18. Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (re-read)

19. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins (re-read)

20. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins (re-read)

21. The Davinci Code – Dan Brown (re-read)

22. Deception Point – Dan Brown

23. The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown

24. Inferno – Dan Brown

25. The Street Lawyer – John Grisham

26. Angels and Demons – Dan Brown (re-read)

27. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari

28. How to Survive a Shipwreck – Jonathan Martin

29. Out of Sorts – Sarah Bessey

30. Searching for Sunday – Rachel Held Evans

31. Spiritual Sobriety – Elizabeth Esther

32. The Witch of Portobello – Paulo Coelho

33. Dreams and Visions – Tom Doyle

34. Leavings – Wendell Berry

35. Bittersweet – Shauna Niequist

36. – Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

37. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

38. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

39. Crime and Punishment – Fyoder Dostoevsky

40. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and someone else?

41. Swords Into Plowshares – Ron Paul

Quotes from “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander

People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”

African Americans are not significantly more likely to use or sell prohibited drugs than whites, but they are made criminals at drastically higher rates for precisely the same conduct.”

The absence of black fathers from families across America is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity, or too much time watching Sports Center. Thousands of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.”

Okay that’s a little heavy, so here is a quote from “The Martian” – perhaps the funniest book I have ever read:

Astronauts are all inherently insane. And really noble.”

Some quotes from a book called “Executing Grace” by Shane Claiborne. It is a book about one of the things that makes America as uncivilized and barbaric as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and North Korea – the death penalty. (I know, right? Me and my opinions…)

“One landmark study showed that over half of the death sentences since 1976 came from 2 percent of the counties in the United States…We often say, ‘The United States practices the death penalty.’ But rather than referring to the country as a whole, it would be more accurate to say, ‘Texas has the death penalty. And Oklahoma, and Missouri…’ Or, to be even more precise…we might say just, ‘Harris County has the death penalty. And Dallas County. And Oklahoma County.'”

“…our churches would be empty if we killed everyone who deserved to die according to Old testament law.”

“Any Christian inclined to favor execution has what Brother Dale Recinella calls ‘the nagging problem of Jesus’ to deal with.”

Okay, another quote from the Martian to cleanse your palate…

All my brilliant plans foiled by thermodynamics. Damn you, entropy!”

This next book hit me at the right place and the right time, and I have not the words. It reminded me that Jesus is so Good with a capital G. So lovely, and so right and true and perfect in all His ways. “How to Survive a Shipwreck” by Jonathan Martin. It’s a little intense, so I promise to quote the Martian again when I’m done. (I’m working off the assumption that all of us are space nerds at heart?)

It does not really matter how you got here and why; and it doesn’t really matter if it was God or the devil or yourself or some ancient chaos that spilled up from the bottom of the sea. What matters now is that you are drowning, and the world you loved before is not your world any longer. The questions of why and how are less pressing than the reality that is your lungs filling with water now. Philosophy and theology won’t help you much here, because what you believe existentially about storms or oceans or drowning won’t make you stop drowning. Religion won’t do you much good down here, because beliefs can’t keep you warm when you’re twenty thousand leagues beneath the sea.”

Deep breath people, inhale…

This is the life hidden with Christ in God, where almost anything can happen at the top of things without disrupting the grace that lies in the bottom of the sea in you.”

PAUSE. Wipe your tears. RESUME.

This is the place in the depths where you can be cut off from your very self (as you understood it), and from the name your father gave you, and from the place where you grew up, and from the tribe that gave you language, and from the story that gave you meaning – only to find that nothing can separate you from the love of God.”

EXHALE.

The storms that come will test us all, and it is entirely possible one comes to you that will end in your failure before the wind and waves recede. But the Spirit in the wind whispers the words of Jesus again, inserting your own name for Simon’s: ‘I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail – and even when you do…that your faith may even grow stronger through your failure.’”

And, as promised, more from The Martian to close us out:

As with most of life’s problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”

Life is amazingly tenacious.”

Hmm. I wonder if “How to Survive a Shipwreck” and “The Martian” are actually the same story told two different ways.

On Decision Making

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

An Open Letter To My Sister For Her 30th Birthday

To My Sister On Her 30th Birthday

There are many people who can tell you that the 30’s are significantly better than the 20’s. Most of those people probably have all of their student loans paid off. I love being older than 29, for other reasons. I do occasionally panic about how I’m going to afford retirement (the internet says I need a million dollars), but overall it’s nice. One advantage I have is that I don’t live in Texas where it’s weird to be 30ish and single. It’s not weird in other places. Since you’re living in a zone where people might not understand that you’re not weird and there’s nothing wrong with you, I wanted to speak to that.

I am the only person in our family who has gone before you into the territory of being 30 and single. In the same way that Sarah or Mom can speak more meaningfully about parenting, I can tell you all about this.

Sometimes people give well-meaning but slightly misguided advice to single people that is rooted in a deep misunderstanding of the person of Jesus Christ, and the way He loves us.

They might tell you that if you are content, a spouse will magically appear before your eyes – right in that moment when you are able to be perfectly content. Aside from the fact that being perfectly content is not even a thing this side of Heaven, I wonder if these people might be bigger fans of Buddha than they are of Jesus. You can’t manipulate Jesus into giving you a husband. You can’t earn a husband (or anything) from Jesus by performing a task – even if the task is a good one, like being content. Being content is great, but not because you are trying to earn something else from Jesus. We can’t earn anything from Jesus. Remember the cross? That was Jesus, taking care of the fact that we can’t earn anything or do anything right. We can’t trick Him into giving us what we want by obeying Him. He loves us and gives to us freely, no matter what we do. He lavishes us with love while we are stuck in the darkest, most sinful moments of our lives. So if you desire to be married, please trust me when I say that your desire for marriage is not keeping you from being married. Jesus isn’t playing games with you. He doesn’t command you to stop wanting to be married, so that He can give you a spouse. He’s not insane. He gives bread, not stones. He is bread.

You might have also heard that if you become the kind of person you want to be married to, then you can/should/will get married. How very zen. Does this mean that people who are married have “become” someone good, but single people haven’t? Yikes. This seems like the same kind of faulty mindset: If you do ______, then you will be rewarded with ______. This is so contrary to the gospel, I have not the words. Anytime someone tells you that you need to “become better” or “improve” in order to obtain anything from Jesus, run as far and as fast as you can in the other direction. You’ll be running into the presence, rest, and peace of Jesus. If He ends up telling you to make improvements, it’s not because He’s dangling a carrot in front of your eyes for some other prize that you want. He doesn’t treat us like animals. He doesn’t play games. He’s not holding anything back from you. The prize for any change that takes place in your heart – is Jesus. He has given you everything, because He has given you Himself.

Someone once implied to me that married people are more mature than single people. It was super cute. She was young and newly married. Insert epic eyeroll here. I just wondered: if I was 90 and unmarried, would this adorable newlywed be claiming to have more maturity than me? Married people are not inherently more mature than single people. Consider the Kardashians. Marriage is not the only thing that breeds maturity, although it does. The single life is full of opportunities to become a mature adult. I still cry when I have car problems, but I take care of them by myself. I pay my bills by myself. I come home from stressful days of work, shake it off, and deal with it – by myself. I don’t have a husband to talk through the day with. No one else to take out the trash, change the oil in my car, or fix my computer problems. No tasks are divided. They’re all mine. No second income to pay the rent/mortgage/loans. No one else has the same stakes in my life decisions as I do. These things develop maturity in a gal. Jesus has given us everything we need to follow Him, everything we need for life and godliness. He’s not delaying your growth and development until you get married. Your maturity comes from only one source: Jesus Christ.

Are you sensing a theme? Have I exalted Him too high? Given Jesus too much credit?

When people scour the Bible for an example of a godly marriage, they go straight for Ruth and Boaz. It’s a simple, easy story. No offense to Ruth and Boaz. They’re totes amazeballs. But it’s the milk and cookies version of a marriage story in the Bible. You can read it to five year olds, and they won’t ask uncomfortable followup questions. (Mom, what is a kinsman redeemer?) If you want some meat, I encourage you to read the story of Hosea and Gomer. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute. (Dad, what is a whore?) Over and over again, Gomer was faithless. No redeeming qualities. But God told Hosea to pursue her and love her, to not give up on her, to be faithful. This is the gospel. It is the story of how much Jesus loves the Church, His bride. This is the story that marriage was designed to tell us. You can’t read Hosea and then tell single people that self-improvement is the way to marriage, or the way to anything. Jesus Christ, in all things, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

There will be days when you love being single and 30. The days when no kids are rubbing their snot on your clothes. There will be days when it’s hard to be single, like when you have to fill out your tax return and can’t make someone else do it.

The answer to any kind of sadness you feel is not found in a mindset within yourself – not in being content, self-improvement, or maturity. The medicine, the answer, the hope – it is all found in the person of Jesus Christ alone. Marriage and the family unit are not the cornerstone and savior of society or you, Jesus Christ is. Alone. Period. Look nowhere else. He is so good to us. Every day, every trial, every victory, every longing, He is so good to us. He ordains marriage for some people, because He is so good. You are single, because He is so good. Trust me, because I am two years older than you so this means I know everything.

Other relevant life advice:

– Consider not voting for Donald Trump. Third parties are real candidates. Not voting is a type of vote. You have options, okay?

– Eat fish once a week, for your brain. Alzheimer’s runs in the family and this is supposed to help. You should also brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, and do word puzzles.

– But don’t eat fish more than twice a week. Something about mercury.

– Go to the bathroom every two to three hours, even if you don’t feel like it. But you will feel like it, because your bladder starts shrinking when you turn 30.

– Drink more water. This probably goes without saying, but I’m just saying.

– Go on vacation with me to New York. This is not advice. It’s just something we should do.

– Look at NASA’s “astronomy picture of the day” every now and then for some perspective, if you aren’t prone to existential crises’. It’s a good way to spend all that free time you have on your hands as a single person. It will make you want to be an astronaut, but it’s too late. You can’t be. I am nothing if not realistic.

– Organic meat is not worth the price. Just accept the fact that you are going to die one day, and buy your ground beef at Kroger anyway.

Happy birthday!!! Enjoy another trip around the sun.

I’m A Little Late to the Party

The Mumford & Sons party.

When I was younger, listening to music was not something that happened in the background. I used to sit down with music the way someone might sit down with a book, or watch a movie. I didn’t just turn it on. I read the lyrics while songs were playing, or sang along. I haven’t been like that in a long time. But I discovered Spotify (I’m also late to that party). I don’t know what made me do it. But the lyrics (not just this song) made me stop and follow along again. Because, whooooaaaaa.

THE CAVE

It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you’ve left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

‘Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I’ll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s hand

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

‘Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

Whoa.

Mumford & Sons, y’all. This is why I listen to music.

And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
On my knees and out of luck,
I look up.
Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won’t rot, I won’t rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won’t rot.
And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.
But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.