Speaking, Pursuing Wisdom, & Racism in America

I have thought a lot about voices this week, about the power and danger of words. If you know me, you probably know that I am a very verbal being. I love language, I love words, and I’m a verbal processor who enjoys “gaming out” information in ongoing intellectual dialogue. So the old axiom “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” has been a perpetual life-lesson. I have spoken words that I later regretted more often than I care to remember. I see the truth of Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” play out quite often.

Growing as a listener and curbing my tongue will likely be a lifelong challenge for me, if the last 33 year are any indicator. One concrete step I have tried to take is to back off using social media as a platform for declaring stances or sharing critical opinions. Maybe it’s a byproduct of witnessing the ease and impact of online bullying among my students, but I decided some time ago that posting strong opinions online often causes more damage than good. We feel safe saying things at a distance and rarely consider all those who might read what we have to say.

I also struggle with the trivializing effect that “newsfeed culture” has on serious issues. Amid the endless parade of cute kid pictures, TikTok compilations, ridiculous memes, vacation pics, at-home workout routines, baking accomplishments, haircut selfies, and clips from our favorite shows; we also find school shootings, heartbreak, and cops committing murder. The incongruence is jarring. Somehow “shares” and “reposts” have grown into a societally valid way to lend support to the causes we scroll past, but are they just a convenient Band-Aid to ease the comfort of fleeting social conviction? We see stories, we react, we scroll on. Another day, another newsfeed, another laugh, another tragedy. We are unchanged.

So, I’m a social-media-cynic trying to curb her tongue, what am I even doing here?

Well, Proverbs also says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Prov. 31: 8-9). This, too, is part of wisdom in God’s eyes.

As I read the utterly heartbreaking stories that have broken over the past weeks, the horrifying murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I have reeled in shock and internally recoiled from this sick reality. I have worried for my friends and family who are black and wondered how best to love them through this. I have grappled to try to understand what a right response looks like, and how to avoid the hypocrisy of mouthing support without backing it by some greater action? I have wondered whether a verbal show of support is even encouraging to those struggling, or just one more example of a person living in privilege usurping talk-time by making someone else’s pain somehow about themselves?

This week’s in-person conversations and contemplations on justice, personal conviction, fear, right action, responsibility, and love have left me feeling utterly uncertain. Honestly, my “plan” was to stick to my typical social-media rule, and seek wisdom by keeping my mouth shut and trying to just listen. Maybe the last thing the world needs right now is another white person trying to talk about their “struggle” in all of this when the true struggle of life or death based on the color of my skin is the farthest thing from my experience. Maybe I will regret sharing any of this later, because silence really was the better part of wisdom. I don’t know.

However, today I have decided to write because there is clearly such evil, hatred and brokenness in the world, and I cannot shake the conviction that perhaps wisdom today means opening my mouth in support of those whose voices have gone unheeded. Though I fear that my words simply add to a cacophony of voices crying out “This is wrong!”, perhaps my voice can lend itself to the chorus I hear stemming from recent injustices and help it to ring out more clearly?

To my friends and family who are black, I love you so much. I am so sorry for the fear and heartbreak and loss and pain that you experience. I know that I do not feel the cut of racism, and I cannot know what it feels like to live in fear that stems solely from the color of my skin, but I care desperately for you. I commit myself to persistently digging into my own biases and seeking to grow in love, support, and empathy. I hear the outcry that has arisen as, time and time again; injustice in its vilest forms is given a pass by the very systems meant to eradicate it. I hear the fear that permeates your life experiences, and my heart breaks wishing that I could somehow lift that from you.

Reading Dr. Marin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Burmingham Jail” anew, I am convicted afresh by his eloquent calling-out of the white moderates. He wrote, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” I am prayerfully seeking to escape from shallow understanding, and eschew the evil that is, (as King put it) “rest[ing] content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.

From the bottom of my heart, I am so sorry for any times when I have spoken from a place of privilege and acted dismissive of hard realities that you experience firsthand. I am thankful for the grace that you extend to me when I am insensitive or act thoughtlessly, and I invite you to set me straight if you see fit.

You astound me with your strength of heart amid the turbulence. I hope that you will call on me to support you however I can, whether to hug and listen, protect and defend you in any way that I am able, or to lend my voice and actions to yours. I am sorry if my previous silence left you feeling unsupported or questioning my care for you. I am also sorry if my words here were better left unsaid.

 

Whatever my lot . . .

beauty in the waves.jpgIn the darkest part of sorrow, if you hear Horatio Spafford’s well-known hymn It is Well, it can sound far-fetched. How could anyone experiencing profound pain honestly say that, though they are drowning in sorrows, it is “well” with their soul? When you look deeper into the origin of this hymn, however, you discover that Horatio Spafford’s lyrics came from a place of authenticity that few can truly fathom.

Before the 1870’s Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna led lives of abundance. Heartbreak first crept into their home when their four year old son died of Scarlet Fever. Then, in 1871, tragedy struck again, as their city was decimated by the Great Chicago Fire. Overnight, the Spafford’s saw all of their material holdings go up in flames. They clung to one another and to God as they devoted themselves to the rehabilitation of the city. After two grueling years, with Anna experiencing poor health and business finally recovering, Horatio and his family planned a trip to Europe for some much-needed respite.

On the eve of their trip, Horatio was detained, but Anna and their girls kept their booking on the steamship Ville du Havre, planning to meet Horatio when he arrived on the next ship. Then the unthinkable occured. On November 22nd, 1873, the Ville du Havre was broadsided by another ship, sinking in just minutes. Anna Spafford was found clinging to a piece of the wreckage near Wales and rescued, but the four little Spafford girls were among the 226 lives lost with the ship.

Overwhelmed with grief, Horatio left to rejoin Anna. When his ship reached the nearest calculable site of the Ville du Havre wreck, the captain informed Horatio that this was the final resting place of his daughters. In a moment of quiet, as he stared into the waters that consumed his children, Horatio took out some paper, and wrote down the verses that would become the great hymn It is Well.

Contemplating the deep, Spafford clung to the only assurance that does not waver; “that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

Horatio’s hymn points us to the truth that David proclaimed in the 42nd Psalm:“My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you . . . Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Both Spafford and King David praise God as the only remedy sufficient to treat their souls, a remedy who remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His sufficiency extends to cover every trial and sorrow. Through God’s sovereignty and the victory of Jesus, sin and death alike were defeated (Romans 5:1-5) so that we can face the worst and say with confidence that even death has no sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-57) and, in the darkest part of sorrow, “It is well, it is well with my soul!”

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-2,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Time doesn’t just fly. . .

. . . it seems to travel exclusively in warp-speed.

157 days have already passed since I casually passed through a life-checkpoint that regularly pitches scads of people into a significant existential crisis (if my anecdotal observations can be generalized). That’s right. On December 24th of 2016:

I turned 30.  

 

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For whatever reason, aside from feeling slightly more mature (in this case pronounced: MUH-TOOR )  whenever telling people my age, I seem to break the mold a bit as far as existential crises go, because I don’t feel particularly freaked out about being 30. In fact, I feel like I’ve been 30+ for a while and my age just finally clued in.

I guess I’ve always been slightly out of sync with my peers. When every girl I knew was drooling over Jonathan Taylor Thomas or young Leonardo DiCaprio, I was falling hard for Cary Grant and Gregory Peck; and I was the only 2nd grader I knew who hadn’t read any Goosebumps or Animorphs, but was a huge fan of Trixie Belden and the complete works of Andrew Lang. So it stands to reason that my experience turning-30 differs a little from my peers. Despite not experiencing the Thirties Freak Out, however, I do think I’m starting to feel a little bit more like I possess the mysterious and hitherto elusive quality called “life experience”.

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Okay, maybe not universally, but still. I think I’ve officially gotten to the point where I can say this is not my first rodeo. So, in the interest of preserving a few of the lessons that life has seen fit to teach me thus far, I have decided to return to my oft-neglected blog to list the ones that come to mind. This way, if life continues on at the hyper-speed it seems to prefer and I start to grow (more) forgetful, the bits of wisdom I’ve gathered will be stored in the cloud as backup for my soon-to-be-if-not-already-failing brain.

  1. Registering complaints does nothing to ease them.
  2. Being old does not equate being wise. Nor does it equate being boring.
  3. This too shall pass.
  4. People will relentlessly ask questions about your relationship status, weight/appearance, reproductive plans and countless other uncomfortable topics that don’t concern them. Try to forgive them for their predictable thoughtlessness (they’re usually not strong conversationalists) and find the humor in those moments. 
  5. There is no medal awarded for out-doing the emotional experiences of others.
  6. Being content to be ignorant is a serious flaw.
  7. Most people should carry a good book, band-aids, crayons, and safety pins. 
  8. You can only do what you can do. Theodore Roosevelt is credited with saying “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” I think that’s pretty phenomenal advice. 
  9. Being a good listener takes significant practice and only rarely becomes a natural character trait; be mindful of bad listening habits sneaking into your life.
  10. Associating specific accomplishments with specific times in life is often asinine.
  11. Spending time with little kids is refreshing to the world-view; when feeling glum, I highly recommend it.
  12. Being wrong about something is not as bad as refusing to admit you are wrong about something.
  13. Public Libraries are seriously under-used resources.
  14. When you encounter somebody who specializes or has significant experience in a field, it is generally advisable to defer to their expertise, unless you also specialize in that field. 
  15. It is much easier to talk about yourself than to be a good conversationalist, but they are not the same thing.
  16. When you ask for advice, you should always listen to the answer, because you asked.
  17. There is a wealth of information at the disposal of anyone seeking it; With enough perseverance and curiosity you can figure out solutions to most problems.
  18. Not everybody has the capacity to be mature; proceed accordingly.
  19. Hard work and perseverance are of incredible importance for managing life.
  20. It is far too easy to always work or always play, and far more important to strive for balance between the two.
  21. Simple skills are important to master; sew that button back on, mend the hole in your sock, separate the white from the yoke, and write that thank-you note. 
  22. There is great value in having an “unplugged” hobby (i.e. one that doesn’t require a charger for availability). 
  23. Don’t skip visits to the dentist, because it doesn’t get easier to go back.
  24. Knowing why you believe what you believe is intrinsically valuable. 
  25. When somebody is sharing a hardship or frustration or sorrow, do NOT try to solve it for them. They have trusted you with a vulnerability, and have assuredly already given it MUCH more thought than the few moments that you have. So, be supportive, offer assistance (or gentle advice) if it is solicited, but for heavens sake don’t respond by offering them your ideas for “easy” solutions or a to-do list.
  26. When it is hard to feel loving towards somebody, intentionally act lovingly towards them; this almost always helps to remedy the situation.
  27. Be sure to go outside and breath deeply from time to time; it does wonders for morale. 
  28. You should ALWAYS be kind to Cashiers, people directing traffic , Flight Attendants, janitors, and secretaries. And if you don’t know why, go work one of those jobs for a day and then come back and we’ll talk.
  29. Everyone could benefit from practice treating people as inherently valuable and worthy of respect. 
  30. Very few objectives in life can be achieved without process.

Here’s to the next 30 years of building perspective and (hopefully) increasing in wisdom. 

Who Needs Inspiration?

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Last week, I had the chance to host a very Whovian gender-reveal party for some dear friends who are expecting their first little one this summer.

Check out a few of the details!

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I tried to include as many relevant quotes as possible. . .

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Classic Whovian foods made their appearance, with toasted-coconut encrusted marshmallows taking the place of fish fingers in this classic:

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I found some incredible fanart online that combined Doctor Who with classic children’s literature like Doctor Suess. These printouts made the perfect accents for a baby-centric party!DSC_0596

DSC_0587With all the sweets that were forthcoming in our snacky-menu, I was thankful for the 5th Doctor’s appreciation of celery to cut the sweetness a bit.DSC_0595

With the adorable doctor who printouts I found on the lovely blog A Typical English Home, and some really adorable heart-shaped sugar sweets, I managed to whip up some very cute Regeneration cupcakes. . .

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. . . in red velvet AND blue velvet!DSC_0593

These little marshmallow-adipose were perfection, and just as fluffy and delightful as the Weeping Angel Food Cake you can see behind them!DSC_0592

I made my own mini-TARDIS out of a box to hold the mystery balloons that would announce the gender of the impending arrival.DSC_0591

The two hearts that kept it closed were a nod to the Doctor’s makeup, with a little River Song reminder on top.DSC_0590

The Doctor Who mobile that I made for the baby made an excellent makeshift chandelier. DSC_0589

Red and blue flowers were a nice accent to the overall red and blue decor – and the chocolate stars made a lovely favor!DSC_0582

In planning this party, I discovered that I particularly enjoy Jelly Babies myself. How apropos that they should sit next to the Adipose. DSC_0577

The white-cheddar cheese puff Lost Moons of Poosh were a hit, and made great table fodder for people who were writing their well-wishes and best parenting advice for the new family in the TARDIS book. I also thought the Mr. Potato Head Dalek was pretty great. DSC_0581

We did not forget the classic party essential: Bananas. Not to mention the Jammie Dodgers that we had in abundance next to the name-suggestion station!DSC_0598

Before the happily expectant couple “gazed into the void”, we made sure that all the invitees were properly supplied with 3D glasses, à la David Tenant. DSC_0599

Matt Smith (my first Doctor) was not overlooked, and his affinity for bow-ties proved highly useful when it came to other savory snacks!DSC_0605

We had a few Calzone “Planets”, too, just to top things off. DSC_0606

There was more. In particular, the photo booth was pretty fun, but I’ve filled this post with enough pictures for one day. To finish this all off, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t share the best part of the entire party:

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That’s right: the utter joy and excitement shared between dear friends!

“Remember the best. My friends have always been the best of me.”

Seeing Red [Starbucks Cups?]

Everybody knows “that person”. These are the people that got Kinder Eggs banned from the USA, because they were dumb enough to completely miss the entire point of Kinder eggs and, in the gluttonous haste to scarf down chocolate, choke on the toy inside. Even if you’re blissfully unaware of anyone fitting this description at present in your life, you can at least remember it from your school days, because there is always “that person” in school. You know, the one who caused so many problems with having [insert random item] in class that now NOBODY is allowed to have them? Or the one that verbally diatribes about how easy everything is for them and how they’re so smart and could really use a challenge for a change . . . so the teacher makes the test 200% harder for the entire class? Operating from a place of self-aggrandizement and absorption, these people (left unchecked) can have a terrible impact upon the world around them, skewing the image of any group to which they ascribe.

To my utter dismay, there is a group of self-proclaimed “evangelical Christians” currently acting as Exhibit A of What It Means To Be “That Person” directly in the public eye, as they raise their voices in consternation at the removal of a semi-religious symbol/words from this holiday-season’s Starbucks cup design. How is it that this silly cup-business, of all things, is the story listed among CNN’s top news links about what “Christians” are doing in this world? What a horrible testament to the God they claim to serve.

I am so disappointed at the level of attention being brought to their petulance, not only because their behavior reflects negatively on other followers of Christ, but because they have the audacity to claim that a quintessential First-World-Problem complaint is of import to their faith. In claiming outrage about such meaningless trivialities, these “Christians” are taking the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and warping them beyond recognition through the fire of self-involved entitlement until they resemble nothing but the pretext for an embarrassingly bratty temper-tantrum. While there are people who have been – and continue to be – persecuted mightily for their faith, these abrasively vocal Starbucks customers are not among them. I feel like this situation calls for an awkward parody of Matthew 7:5. . . You hypocrites! First evaluate the glaring lack of Christ in your actions, and then perhaps you can think clearly to evaluate the removal of vaguely christian symbols from your red cup.

Jesus came to earth to proclaim good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and freedom from oppression (Luke 4)! Jesus lived and died to fulfill his promises and renew our ability to be in authentic and legitimate relationship with Him. Everything in the entire narrative of the Bible points to a God who is desperate to reconcile his beloved people to himself and redeem a world that is tragically lost (Luke 19) in order to MAXIMIZE our joy (John 10). If you even BEGIN to truly understand the gospel texts, you cannot deny the beauty and magnitude of a love that could motivate an all-powerful God to sacrifice himself on behalf of his creation. I don’t claim to know everything that there is to know about faith or Christianity, but the more I study and seek and research, the more I see that focusing on oneself is the antithesis of the truly Christian walk. Jesus was ALL about social justice and transformational love. When you lose sight of this, you make God’s beauty and goodness into something self-serving and miss the entire point. Rather than seeing the love, redemption, service, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ and being motivated in turn to emulate him, people are choosing to insert him into their identity like they would slide a membership card into their wallets. Instead of seeking to be transformed into His likeness, they add distorted fragments of their perception of Him to their own likenesses and cross their fingers in hopes of club benefits. These are the people that completely miss the mark. These are the people that care about Starbucks’ branding choices more than they care about the person handing them their drink.

Rather than simply proclaiming my disgust and throwing my two cents into the online dialogue around this absurd social-media-spotlighted topic, I want to challenge myself and anyone who reads this (Christian or not, although I guess especially those who profess belief in Jesus), to talk more about issues that really DO matter. There are enough tragic needs in this world that it is shocking that people are collectively taking the time to talk extensively about some company’s seasonal branding decisions.  If anything, the sheer breadth of online dialogue has reminded me that human beings (whether they are “religious” or not) often spend their time and talk unwisely (myself very much included). In the same world where Starbucks’ new seasonal cups are solid red, hunger is the number one cause of death (x). Poverty is rampant; and while I personally spent $2.89 on my (relatively cheap) Starbucks coffee this morning, more than 1.3 billion people are living on less than $1.25 a day (x). When I pulled off the highway last night and walked my five-year-old niece into Starbucks to buy a bottle of water  and use the restroom, I did not even think about the fact that over 750 million people lack access to clean drinking water (x) or that about 1 out of every 5 deaths of children under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease from lack of proper sanitation (x). Rather than seeing some stupid branding decision splashed across our computer screens, imagine seeing ways to mobilize to make differences (even small ones) in these areas of need.

After processing my initial frustration towards the Red Cup Radicals, it is with an uncomfortable amount of conviction that I turn the microscope back on myself to evaluate the areas where I allow (or don’t allow) my faith in Jesus Christ to actively motivate my engagement with the world around me. Tonight I plan to do some more hard thinking about what things might be my proverbial “red cups”, the elements of my life that demonstrate focus that has moved away from the beautiful glory of a sovereign God and towards selfish pursuits. It is uncomfortable to realize that I can be perhaps just as wrongly focused as these face-palm-inducing Starbucks boycotters. So, here is my reminder to myself, and you, if you choose to take it. Maybe we (Christians) have a hard time consistently recognizing and remembering the point of our faith, but it is not (now or EVER) supposed to be a personal ego-booster or a step-stool for our pride. Christianity, real Christianity, is an I.V. drip of pure adrenaline-like faith that should propel us into joyful motion in the humble service, care, and love of others.

Autumnal Advice: Feeling Fall-ish?

I love Autumn. It is my favorite season and usually quite the coziest of them all. There are a few things that I love to do most ESPECIALLY in the Fall!  As this glorious season ramps up, consider doing some or all of the following:

Listen to the beautifully melancholy music of Erik Satie:

Watch leaves swirling in the blustery winds, breath deeply that crisp fall air, and let these melodies seep into your soul.

Watch the movie Arsenic and Old Lace:

You haven’t lived until you’ve watched Cary Grant slowly lose his mind when faced by his little old aunties’ murderous activities. To that, add in a serial killing Boris Karloff look-alike, his drunken henchman, a gent who thinks he is actually Teddy Roosevelt, a bumbling police officer, and a little bit of old-fashioned romance. It’s phenomenal.

Eat Squash! In soups, if possible!

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Go to Trader Joe’s and get down with some SERIOUS pumpkin-y goodness!

I stopped in at my local Trader Joe’s yesterday to pick up my usual frozen grilled peppers, edamame nuggets, and ice coffee concentrate. And, LO AND BEHOLD, what should my wond’ring eyes reveal? THE PUMPKINS HAVE ARRIVED! I left with pumpkin scones, pumpkin cornbread mix, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin pancake mix, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin mochi, aaaaaand just a classic plain old pumpkin. Tonight, after a long Monday’s work, I rolled out this year’s Pumpkin Ravioli, and it did not disappoint!

pumpkin goodness

Go buy some. Now, if possible.

What are your favorite fall treats? Any must-do items that I should add to my list? 

Caillou: A Study in What is Wrong With Society

 

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Yup. You heard me correctly. I’m talking about Caillou; that supposedly-innocuous children’s television show from Canada. I almost hesitate to write a blogpost about this, because someone has already done this subject justice. Over at howtobeadad.com there is a post called “Caillou” is French for SHUT UP which perfectly demonstrates my feelings about Caillou. However, I want there to be zero question of my strong support in the anti-Caillou movement, so I will share with you a few thoughts. 

Thought: Look at the screencap/thumbnails used to show various episodes online. . . JUST LOOK at this child’s face in each one. I would probably avoid real live children who exhibited this emotional range, so why on EARTH would I allow a child to watch and emulate The Abomination?

caillou is a brat

 

Thought: High School Students that I teach also have strong & unified Anti-Caillou feelings. After finishing their work, my students will sometimes print out a coloring page so that they can just relax and de-stress for a little bit . . . these are some of the Caillou-themed pages they gave me one year:Feed the Cat, Caillou, not the floor. GEEZ.

He would.

Charming Family. This is what they should look like.

Poor Rosie.

Conquest Caillou: Proponent of imperialism or just power-crazed toddler?

She's green because he makes her physically ill.

Gilbert has a hard lot in life.

I know my students are (in my humble opinion) often above-average, but if my high school students can see the problems intrinsic to this show, WHY CAN’T PARENTS???

Thought: All kids I have ever encountered have the tendency to copy behaviors that they see. Should ANYONE be copying this behavior? 

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Thought: It is telling that people from all different lifestyles and backgrounds are able to get solidly behind the anti-Caillou movement. Case in point: I recently returned from being out for a day to find this note from my substitute teacher . . .

it's not just me

 

These are my thoughts on Caillou.

So, the next time you wind up talking about me and somebody asks:hate caillou

 . . . you will be able to answer just like my above student!