“Do All Lives Matter? The Issues We Can No Longer Ignore and the Solutions We All Long For” by Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins

Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins have written a timely and important book for the church (evangelicals in particular), in which they aim to address issues of racial reconciliation within the framework of the current racial violence and responses in our country.

This is not a very long book at all (92 pages) — it could easily be read in one or two evenings. In many places it attempts to skim and summarize important issues that probably all of us should pursue further reading on. Still, if you have found yourself wondering why we need the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” why the phrase “All lives matter” rings hollow to many, and what role the church can/should play in all this, this book is well worth reading.

The authors bring many decades’ worth of experience to the table: John M. Perkins has been fighting for civil rights his entire life, and has been on the receiving end of terrible violence and injustice, as some of his other books describe more thoroughly. Wayne Gordon felt called to move to a high-crime area of Chicago and pastor a church there, and has been ministering there for forty years. Both men have worked in multicultural environments for a long time.

I’m going to just provide summaries and a few observations on each of the chapters:

1: This chapter introduces some of the reasons why “all lives matter” has not been achieved in our country, highlighting some of the cases of police brutality that saw a lot of media attention within the past few years, and emphasizing that simply saying “all lives matter” in some contexts comes across as a denial of reality.

2: John M. Perkins tells the short version of his life story here, emphasizing the need to listen to other people’s perspectives if we truly want to understand what is important to them and why.

“So where do we go from here?” he asks at the end. “The apostle Paul said ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ’ (Gal.6:2). Somehow, it all comes down to mutual love and respect for one another. Period. We must have enough love to reach out and feel the pain of others, bear it in ourselves, and look to Christ for resolution. As the called-out ones–the body of Christ, the church–we should be the model for that.”

3: Here the authors provide a brief overview of the many ways that our country has, throughout its past, not just once or twice but systematically, oppressed and marginalized entire groups of people. We have made an awful lot of progress and come a long way, but there is still far to go. They emphasize that it is not “unpatriotic” to critically analyze our country’s past–in fact, it is necessarily if we truly want to understand “where we’re at” today.

4: It is not surprising that “big things” like acts of violence communicate to people that their lives don’t matter. But there are other ways that happens too–when African Americans are ignored, or treated like their contributions are not as important as others’. This may not always be intentional, but it still has a cumulative effect nonetheless.

5: This chapter tells the story of how several churches came together to find common ground after feeling the demoralizing effects of violence. To someone like me from a rural, northern, predominantly white Baptist church, the idea of a church participating in a protest that blocked traffic and praying for peace in their district seems hard to identify with. I don’t know many churchgoers who’ve felt the need to participate in a protest, unless it was against abortion, so this section was particularly eye-opening to me–a great picture of how churches can engage the pertinent issues in their communities, and inspiring when the police officers who could have arrested them instead joined them in prayer.

6: Here the authors contend that most of the primary objectives of the Black Lives Matter movement are not at odds with Christianity–that we all want more peaceful communities, and we all want to be treated like our lives matter.

7: Wayne Gordon shares the role that grief and empathy can play in entering in to the pain of others.

8: This chapter gives some practical advice for ways to “sow love,” and “demonstrate the conviction that all lives matter,” both individually and as a community. #1 is praying the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which I thought was a wonderful idea. There are suggestions for movies and further reading that can help us see from other perspectives (including some of the authors’ previous books, as well as “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, which I also recommend).

9: This chapter encourages us to hold on to hope in whatever we do.

Like I said, this book is short and tries to cover a lot of topics while sharing personal stories, all in a short space. I think it does a good job speaking to what it set out to, but I think it works best as a gateway to other reading.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa….

“Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win” by John M. Perkins

I had never heard of John Perkins until my husband read a book of his last year, and recommended it to me: With Justice for All. It contained a bit of his general life story, but focused on his work on community development in Mississippi. His vision for Christian reconciliation and community development was strong and compelling — I could hear his devotion and determination in his words. But I found myself thinking “This book was written thirty years ago. What would John Perkins say about things now — have we made any progress?” So of course, I jumped at the chance to review this book when I saw it was coming out.

For a bit of background, John Perkins is an African American sharecropper’s son from Mississippi. He witnessed his older brother being shot and killed by a police officer, and eventually went out to California. No one would have blamed him for staying as far away as he could from the segregated South. But after he became a Christian there, he felt God’s call to go back to his home town and help the people of Mississippi. He worked tirelessly for civil rights and was arrested, and at one point beaten and tortured by white police officers in the 70s. After all the injustice he experienced over the course of his eighty-six years, it is no wonder that he has spent his life fighting for justice. But he believes that the church should be leading that fight, and that is what I found so compelling in his vision.

Growing up a “white evangelical,” I often saw social justice as something that was left to others, more specifically those on the “left,” unless it involved abortion. I’m so grateful for John Perkins’ voice, to exhort and encourage the church to be more than it has been–to care about our neighbors enough to be intentional about reaching out and helping them. He doesn’t even have to say that he is a peacemaker and a bridge builder — I can hear it in his writing.

“You have to be a bit of a dreamer to imagine a world where love trumps hate–but I don’t think being a dreamer is all that bad. Joel prophesied that God would “pour out [His] Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). I’m an old man, and this is one of my dreams: that my descendants will one day live in a land where people are quick to confess their wrongdoing and forgive the wrongdoing of others and are eager to build something beautiful together.” (p. 171)

He admits that he is first and foremost a Bible teacher–we see a lot of that here as he digs into scripture to present the many passages and messages that address reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. He reminds us what we’re here for.

I love how carefully and deftly he handles the tension between both loving the church and calling the church out. He is honest enough to admit that he is often disappointed with the church and the ways we go about trying to change things (or not bothering to at all). He even admits that sometimes he isn’t very optimistic. But he always has hope and dreams that God is still working. The theme of “dream with me” is so prevalent here, even in the midst of gentle rebuke. He is inviting the church to come alongside him in his vision for not only racial reconciliation, but much broader confession, repentance, and forgiveness–being reconciled to each other and God, which he believes is at the heart of the gospel.

If you’ve read John Perkins before, you will probably notice some repeated information and ideas here, but I didn’t mind. He devotes a chapter to his “Three Rs” principle of community development: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution (which has to do with stewardship, not socialism).

He laments that “It has often been said that church on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America today,” (p. 45) and encourages churches to be intentional about becoming more multi-ethnic — being willing to reach across the table and compromise, rather than settling for “not excluding.”

He devotes a chapter to the life and heartbreaking death (from a heart attack in his 40s) of his firstborn son, Spencer.

I appreciate his straightforwardness and honesty, even when it comes to asking hard questions of his own life. He led the efforts to desegregate schools where he was living, and felt that it would be hypocritical to encourage others to do it without sending his own children, and so he did. Now he does not say he regrets it necessarily, but is willing to ask hard questions about how much social justice advocates can and should ask of their children — where the line is when it comes to protecting them vs. engaging them in fighting society’s ills.

John Perkins has influenced so many people, including authors Philip Yancey and Randy Alcorn (who wrote the foreword), and Jon Foreman of the band Switchfoot, who wrote a song called “The Sound (John M. Perkins’ Blues).” Some lyrics:

This is the sound
Of a heartbeat
This is the sound
From the discontented mouths
Of a haunted nation

We are the voice of breaking down
Can you hear me?

This is the sound
Of the desperation bound
By our own collision
We are the voice of breaking down

The static comes alive
Beneath the broken skies
John Perkins said it right
Love is the final fight

Let it rise above
Rise above
There is no song
Louder than love

John Perkins has wrestled with the tension between love and justice, but confidently affirms that love is “the final fight.” If you are a Christian and have never read Perkins before, this book is a great place to start.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa….

“Discipline That Connects with Your Child’s Heart” by Jim and Lynne Jackson

I’ve pretty much avoided reading parenting books up to this point (aside from a couple baby books), which was only partially intentional. Partly because nothing’s jumped out at me or been handed to me, but there is also a part of me that is wary of trying to fix something when I’m not yet sure which areas it’s broken in. Or rather (since we’re all broken) to try to press myself into a formula or “philosophy” or model of thinking without first discovering what exactly I most need help with.

But obviously (after four years) the time has come, because this book title jumped out at me — discipline methods is something I’ve been wrestling with lately. I’m sure I’m not alone in that… I don’t know many parents who actually enjoy this part! So often I find myself taking an authoritarian approach just out of instinct. I resort so quickly to threats, and “If you don’t ______, then ______” statements, because it’s what I know. So that’s where I (and many others) approached this from, and I think with a foundation like that, this can be a very helpful book.

The authors are both Christian therapists, and it sounds like they’ve had quite a lot of experience, not just with their own children and church, but working with many other families around the country. They sound like a very down-to-earth couple, the kind of people any parent would love to have coffee and chat with.

They acknowledge the inherent difficulties of discipline, but also encourage us to see it as an opportunity because, as mentioned on page 27, “Discipline puts to the test what we most deeply believe. Is Christ’s love longer, wider, higher, and deeper than our children’s (and our) misbehavior? Is God’s mercy present in our ugly conflicts, ultimately drawing our hearts back together — and to Him?”

They present four basic “Discipline That Connects” principles that are arranged like a pyramid, which represent four ideas that we should be aiming to communicate to our children when we discipline them:

First (and the foundation) is “You are safe with me.” This encourages us to face our own fears, histories, and hang-ups as parents, and make sure we are showing our children that we are for them and not against them. Sometimes our discipline is based more on how the child’s misbehavior makes us look rather than what it will do for them.

I loved one of the visuals in this chapter, of a parent approaching conflict as a quarterback taking a snap. They know they have to move the ball forward, but in order to do that they have to take a step back to survey the field and find the best way to go. This is an analogy about how charging into discipline angry doesn’t usually work, and much more forward progress is made when the parent first takes a step back.

Next is “You are loved no matter what.” Bad behavior is often so filled with shame because children know they’ve done wrong and are often waiting for the other shoe to drop. Discipline is one of the times children need love the most, but it can be one of the hardest times to show it.

Next is “You are called and capable.” This emphasizes each child’s unique status as an image-bearer of God and affirms the gifts that he has given them. It means believing in kids, that they can do the right thing, rather than just simply punishing the wrong. One of the sections I found most interesting is when they discuss “gifts gone awry.” I think it’s another way of telling us to look for the best — that even in the messiest and most aggravating situations, our children have gifts that God has given them — they are just using them for the wrong purposes and in the wrong ways. One job of a parent is to recognize this and help them to channel that gift from hurting others and themselves to serving others and honoring God — rather than just building shame over misbehavior.

Last is “You are responsible for your actions.” This encourages children to own their mistakes and, when possible, make restitution. This includes lots of parental guidance, but to the point where children are eventually able to solve their own disagreements with only minimal help from a parent. They emphasize that this takes a LOT of work, and may often seem like it’s getting nowhere, but that the effort is worth it in the long run.

I appreciated the emphasis throughout the book on the big picture. Discipline is often such a snap judgment that we’re looking only to stop a certain behavior or restore order, or something like that, and lose sight of the ultimate goal. So by developing a clearer picture of what we’re hoping to actually accomplish and communicate, beforehand, we are more likely to move in that direction when the pressure is on.

There are several chapters on each of the main points, and at the end are a few appendices that deal with specific advice on how to apply these principles to real-life situations — daily routines, whining, tantrums, lying, sass, and a host of other common behavioral problems. That was very helpful.

Theology: It’s interesting how some topics can be approached from such different ways and still use scripture to support the view. Like I said, coming at this from an emphasis on authoritarianism, parenting philosophies (whether actually articulated or simply assumed) tended to put a lot of focus on authority and power. Theologically, these views would emphasize sin, and often use God/man analogies alongside parent/child ones, in which parents are encouraged to hold constant authority, take no crap, and even break a child’s will. It is often portrayed as a battle of wills in which a parent must come out “the winner.” It makes me realize how much our view of God influences our parenting style, and perhaps vice versa as well.

This book is definitely focused on promoting a “connected” view rather than necessarily coming out against a more authoritarian approach, but does find opportunity to contrast and gently question some of these views and their possible results, which I found useful, even if I wasn’t 100% convinced (which may be just as much due to my inexperience as anything else).

Ultimately, I think this book’s specific scriptural basis makes sense for the approach it is advocating. There is a focus on grace, repentance, and reconciliation, but not an inordinate emphasis on authority and power. There are scriptural examples of God and Jesus dealing gently and compassionately with those they are teaching, and a belief that this is the aspect of Christ’s ministry that we are most called to emulate, and that this calling should absolutely extend to our treatment of our children.

Quibbles? I don’t have many, and they are not major. Like I said, I think some of the theological approaches may have other sides to them that are both valuable. I found times when some of the example conversations in the book sounded a bit too much like “therapist-speak,” but they’re just examples, not scripts. One thing I would have appreciated is a little more detail on the concept of a “do-over,” as well as a way to emphasize to children that while “do-overs” can be useful ways to practice respectful communication, we won’t always get do-overs in the real world. And even if we do, harsh words still hurt. They can’t be taken back. I feel maybe a bit more balance is needed there.

Overall I appreciated this book’s approach and copious examples very much. Even though there is a four-part “philosophy” of sorts, it is not presented like a formula, and the authors are quick to emphasize that the actual application will look different for different families, and that we should take what works best for us. I appreciate Jim & Lynne’s willingness to be upfront about their own failings and missteps, and to model redemption and grace in their determination to choose to do the right thing in spite of the cost and difficulty involved.

Because that’s one of the scary parts about choosing “connectedness” over simple behavior modification, is that you know you’re going to fail, and it all seems overwhelming at first. It’s a whole lot easier to give a child a time out or send them to their room and call it good. But if it’s true that this is a picture of how Jesus reached out to us, then it is a direction I want to go, and I appreciate the encouragement.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa….

“Seeking Refuge,” by Stephan Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir

This is a book that World Relief (a Christian relief organization) has put together to help Christians understand more about the current refugee crisis, and what parts we as individuals and as a nation can play in this situation.

The book begins with a brief overview of the statistics of the crisis (more than 60 million people displaced worldwide, about 20 million of them fleeing their home countries — half of whom are children). It’s hard to wrap our minds around numbers like these, which is all the more reason to read a book about it!

There are three primary authors of this book: Stephan Bauman, president of World Relief, Matthew Soerens, a World Relief worker, and Dr. Issam Smeir, a professional counselor who was born in Jordan and is the son of a refugee — he currently works with refugees who are healing from trauma. Each author briefly shares their story and describes the circumstances that led them to do the work they are currently doing.

They acknowledge the conflict many Christians feel about trying to balance national security with helping others, but contend that:

“We need not and ought not choose between caring for refugees locally and caring for refugees overseas, because how we respond here directly impacts what happens there. The world is watching how we in the United States respond to the relatively few refugees who reach our shores, and our government’s encouragement to other nations to protect those fleeing persecution lacks credibility if we do not do our part.” (p 17)

The authors implore Christians to think biblically about migration. They note that, while we will be quick to say that the Bible is our primary authority on life topics, immigration is one area where that doesn’t seem to be the case. They say that:

“For many evangelical Christians … refugees and immigration are thought of as political, economic, and cultural issues, rather than as a biblical concern. A recent LifeWay Research survey of American evangelical Christians found that just 12 percent said that they think about immigration issues primarily from the perspective of the Bible. In fact, when asked what most influenced their thinking on this topic, the Bible, the local church, and national Christian leaders combined were reported less often than the media.” (p 29)

They assert that while there are many current cultural issues that the Bible doesn’t speak directly about (taxation rates, gun control), “as we examine the question of how to treat refugees and other immigrants, the Bible actually has a lot to say.” (p 30)

Jesus was a refugee, and the authors look to many other biblical examples of refugees, as well as Jesus’s teachings about loving our neighbors and how we see other people. We are also told the personal stories of several different refugees, whose countries, religions, and backgrounds all vary, but who found themselves on the run and in need of safety. This helps us to put a human face on this crisis, and not just see these people as statistics or scapegoats.

The authors address several common concerns and misconceptions they often hear about refugees — from economic concerns (refugees provide a net gain to our economy — and refugee men are more likely to be employed than US citizen men), to confusing refugees with “illegals,” (refugees are, by definition, in the country legally), questions about religion (I did not realize that Christians make up a much larger percentage of refugees, over the past few years, than any other religion), and fears of terrorism. Ultimately, they make the case that we love and welcome refugees because God loves them (and us), and though there will always be legitimate reasons to fear, we choose not to let that fear overcome our love.

Other chapters detail the refugee resettlement process, and touch on other displaced peoples too — from those who are internally displaced (and not considered refugees), to those who are asylum seekers — this helped me to understand the difference between refugees, asylum seekers, and those who are undocumented. These terms are often thrown around in reference to the wrong people and can become confusing.

The authors then give practical suggestions and opportunities to respond to this crisis. They give stories of how some situations have unfolded in various parts of the US, and advice on how we can serve refugees without hurting. We’re given information about PTSD and the effect that can often have on those who have lived through trauma — at least 39 percent of refugees experience PTSD, compared to just one percent of the general population.

We are also encouraged to consider and respond to the larger issues that compel people to become refugees in the first place:

“What people believe and value matter because they drive their behaviors, whether good or bad. As we think about how we can most effectively bring positive change to any culture, including our own, we must understand the relationship between behaviors, values, and beliefs. Change that yields results without a corresponding change in values and beliefs will be superficial and often temporary.” (p 156)

“The global refugee crisis is indeed global. It isn’t a question of whether we should respond here (in the West) or there (at the crisis’ points of origin), nor if we should address immediate needs or root causes. We can and must do all of the above.” (p 164)

The authors then discuss how we can interact with the politics and policies of our government to help justice be done, and how we can practically advocate for refugees and others who are vulnerable.

There were many stories told in this book, both sad ones and encouraging ones, but one of the ones I found most convicting was the overview of the events surrounding the SS St. Louis, which was a ship of German Jewish asylum seekers that was turned away from the US in 1939. Over 200 people aboard were later killed in the Holocaust.

“That same year, a bipartisan bill in Congress to allow twenty thousand Jewish refugee children from Germany was introduced … [the] wife of the US Commissioner of Immigration fretted that ’20,000 charming children would all too soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults,’ reflecting the sentiment of many Americans at the time. Her cousin, President Roosevelt, did not support the bill, which ultimately was defeated. In 1941, the Roosevelt administration tightened restrictions on Jewish refugees, worried that some could be — or could become — Nazi spies.” (p 167)

They summarize with “These stories are an important illustration of why refugee policy matters: the decisions of elected officials directly impact people made by God, whose lives we believe are precious.” (p 168)

This has been and still is a big (and sometimes subconscious) challenge to me, to come to terms with the fact that because everyone is valuable to God, my behavior toward them should reflect that. Being from America or looking like me does not change any of these facts.

It can be hard to process when the problems of the world seem so large and the statistics are so overwhelming. There is fear generated everywhere, and in my mind the only way to overcome that is to realize that there is someone more powerful than that fear. To truly believe that perfect love casts out fear.

The question on the back of this book, “What will rule our hearts: Fear or compassion?” has been a challenge to me as I try to honestly answer this question for myself, and may get a different answer at any given moment! I know that, if left to my own gut reactions, I’m just as likely as anyone else to have an inherent fear of those who are different or foreign to me, and that’s why I need to continually remind myself of things like this.

This book is short and covers a lot of topics that it is only able to cover briefly — much more could be said in more detail about peacemaking, Islam and ISIS, loving our neighbors, US public policy, and refugees themselves. But I found it a good start, and a useful, timely challenge.

I’ll end with one more quote from the end of the book:

“Our ultimate hope for this book is that the church would shine its light through the refugee crisis. As we access the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, we pray God’s people would rise up as never before to welcome strangers, each doing what God has called all of us to do:
To bind up the brokenhearted.
To love our neighbors.
To do justice.
To love mercy.
To pray without ceasing.
To practice hospitality, and to learn to receive hospitality of others.
Maybe just to take a plate of cookies across the street, trusting that a smile can overcome a language barrier.” (p 184)

“Loving My Actual Life” by Alexandra Kuykendall

This is a book about an experiment done by a busy mom who found herself dissatisfied and hurried, and needed to find a way to appreciate what was right in front of her. She knew that even though she loved her family and her life, it was so easy to lose focus on what was important, and she also knew that earth-shattering changes were unlikely and would not fix things. And so she found a different theme each month for nine months, and used practical applications to try and bring that theme to life in small ways. Some of the concepts explored were quiet, creativity, health, and home organization.

My life is not quite as fast-paced as hers since I have half the children and none in school yet, but I can still relate to the feeling that I’m just not getting enough done. Since everyone is different, I’m sure moms from all walks of life could find something here to relate to, even if not all of the themes are things they need to work on right now.

I appreciated the author’s down-to-earth approach, and her emphasis on an “outward” as well as inward focus — that’s something I need to be reminded of when I get too focused on my own family. She seems to be confident enough to assess herself and her situation without preaching or condescending to others. She is clear that she is living her own life, not someone else’s, and not a fantasy she’s made up, which is so important to be reminded of before trying to implement changes. I can see how this intentional focus on one thing at a time can help remind us of what we need to work on in our own lives

Sometimes the descriptions of daily life and life decisions got a bit tedious to read, but I did find this book inspiring (in a good way). So many mommy blogs and “parenting gurus” come from a place of self-righteousness, which, while it purports to “inspire,” really just adds guilt. But I didn’t get that vibe from her, and I may try and implement some of these concepts in my own life in some of the ways she’s described.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa….

“One Dress. One Year.” by Bethany Winz

As much as I enjoyed “Julie and Julia,” I sometimes get wary of “stunt blogging.” The idea of trying to do some strange or unusual thing (and documenting it the whole way) in order to make a statement about something. Things get even more complicated when this is combined with social justice. It can be difficult to tell sometimes what the “awareness” is actually being raised towards (e. g., ice bucket challenge).

But I appreciate Bethany Winz’s (pre-ice-bucket-challenge) take on this, because she at least had the maturity to admit that the conflict is there. When she was 16, she decided to wear the same dress every day for a year, in order to raise awareness (and funds) for victims of human trafficking. The idea being that victims do not have choices, and this project would, in some small way, show her and others what it’s like to let go of one of the choices we get every day.

This is a quick read, and most of the book involves the things she did during this challenge–speaking about it to different groups, finding accessories to vary her look, enduring health problems, growth pains, and insecurities. In some ways it is a refreshingly honest look at doing a “challenge” like this. This book would probably appeal very well to teenage homeschoolers like her, especially those who also liked the book “Do Hard Things.”

One of my favorite quotes came as she summed up her project at the end:

“I now realize that taking a stand for justice doesn’t have to involve a big, dramatic, gesture intended to change the entire world. Maybe it’s something much smaller–righting wrongs one relationship at a time. I’ve found that discovering who I am has much less to do with impressing people and much more to do with living a life of faithfulness wherever God has placed me.”

I think this is a very valuable lesson to take away from this, especially in our image-obsessed society, and I appreciate her willingness to be honest.

I also appreciated the tidbits and facts shared about human trafficking and the different organizations that are doing something about it.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa….

Valentine Favors

I decided to put together some favors for my daughter’s first birthday party. Since it’s so close to Valentine’s Day, and we’re in a cold climate, I thought “lips” was a good theme for favors.

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I just used little fold-top sandwich baggies and filled them with candy, then stuck the top through the hole in the chapstick’s cardboard backing, before tying it off. Then we had fun putting “lip” stickers on the bags!

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I got many different varieties of Burt’s Bees’ chapsticks–my favorite so far is coconut pear.

A Classic Rock Soundtrack for Those with Young Children

I’m sure we’ve all, at one time or another, pretended our life was a movie. Whether for the sake of wondering which actors would be cast in such a thing, or wishing for a quick tie-up to all the day’s loose ends. Sometimes I have wondered what it would sound like if my daily life had its own soundtrack, just like a movie. Something happens, and then a loud musical tidbit is thrown in between scenes or during a montage that perfectly expresses the reality of the situation.

Most of my days involve caring for my two young children, and so there seems to be a lot of repetition. I find myself thinking of the same songs over and over again, and occasionally singing them at my children too (hey, it beats screaming at them).

Of course, since most of these are actually about romantic relationships, I may change a word or two, but the choruses are mostly on target. If the more dramatic moments of my daily interactions with my kids had a soundtrack, it would probably go something like this.

Song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
By: The Rolling Stones
When: When you won’t buy the frosted sugar-infused sugarberry cereal while grocery shopping. When the toddler wants to put the steak knives away during dishwasher unloading time. When he really really wanted to close the door but didn’t tell you until right after you did it. When you won’t let them bounce on Daddy’s guitar case while he’s at work.

And sometimes, it’s something I sing to myself, when I can’t afford an “extra,” or a new recipe turns out terribly, or a potential night out turns into a “night in,” etc. etc. Even at the end of most frustrating or exhausting days, we still have what we need. If I’m not careful, this may become my life anthem. My kids will be so excited to hear me sing this to them when they’re teens!

Song: “One Way or Another”
By: Blondie
When: I try to be patient, but no matter how many options are available in the average day, there are times when it comes down to the wire and there are really only two choices. “We have to leave now. Either you can walk to the car, or I can carry you.” Or “It’s time to put on your pajamas. You can do it yourself, or I can do it for you.” And that’s when I (mentally, mostly) pull off my best Debbie Harry impression and out comes “One WAAAAAY or another, we’re gonna do this…”

Song: “Running on Empty”
By: Jackson Browne
When: Right before (the kids’) bedtime. ‘Nuff said.

Song: “Let It Be”
By: The Beatles
When: Now, I’m not mother Mary, but I like to think I speak words of wisdom when I tell my children not to manhandle things in the cereal aisle… in the produce section… on my desk… on Daddy’s desk…. Eventually you say it enough that you might as well break out into song just to change things up a little… “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it BEEE-ee-eeee… speaking words of wisdom: LET IT BE.” It’s better than yelling, right?

Song: “Beast of Burden”
By: The Rolling Stones
When: Ironically, this one usually doesn’t come to mind until I’m already strapped down with my purse, the diaper bag, my son’s jacket, my daughter’s jacket and hat, at least one sippy cup and water bottle, a toy or two, and someone’s shoes. And maybe even a child in the baby carrier. So I can sing it all I want, but we all know that “never be your beast of burden” means “Yeah, right now I totally am.”

Song: “Take It Easy”
By: The Eagles
When: When he breathes in her space. When she touches his airplane. When one won’t stop poking the other. It’s a nice soothing melody to smooth over the shrillness of the moment. Or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking. Either way, when I sing it, it’s sometimes more to myself than to them. (“Don’t let the sound of your own children drive you crazy…”)

Song: “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
By: Guns N Roses
When: Yeah, I know it’s about a girlfriend, but the chorus just hits me sometimes… especially when I see the “Child of Mine” brand name on an article of baby clothing. But also when my child does something exceptionally sweet or touching, or their childlike exuberance comes through so beautifully that I can’t help but smiling and wishing it would always be this way.

Song: “Walk This Way”
By: Aerosmith
When: At the grocery store, the zoo, the doctor’s office, the park, the parking lot, any building with a hallway and/or interesting things along the way. Young children are distraction magnets. We aren’t always in a hurry, but when we are, the chorus to this song plays in my head.

Song: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”
By: R.E.M.
When: Well, when the teddy bear won’t fit into the matchbox car. When the blue cup is in the dishwasher. When I can’t make it snow on command. When this is the last book before bed. Sometimes the most seemingly unusual thing can trigger an end-of-the-world meltdown. But honestly, we adults aren’t always much better—our perspectives get skewed too—when my phone battery dies in the middle of a text. When I forget a key item at the grocery store. When I put all the clothes in the washer but forget to run it all day. I sing this to remind myself, and possibly my kids, that daily annoyances are not really the end of the world.

Song: “O-o-h Child”
By: The Five Stairsteps
When: When the baby is crying and crying and can’t tell me what’s wrong. When the toddler can’t express their frustration except in loud wails. When he scrapes his knee, when she topples over on unsteady legs. It pays to remind them and myself that “this too shall pass.” It’s not to minimize the bad moments, but to remind them that they are not alone in the midst of them.

Confronting Our Americhristianity

I don’t know who coined the term “Americhristianity.” I’ve seen it mentioned here and there on other blogs, and it seems to refer to a general conflation of “American values” with Christianity.

I have grown up in conservative Christianity, and while the “conservative” label is no longer important to me (though it probably still applies in many areas), “Christian” is. I’ve also grown up under a good deal of patriotism. This includes things like listening to patriotic music as a child, attending Memorial Day parades, Independence Day fireworks, and other things. All good things in their way.

But I think Americhristianity goes deeper than that. It is subtle and largely unnoticed, which is why it’s a term that is so rarely used. I would define it as a fundamental understanding of American loyalty and allegiance as being an inherent aspect of Christian faith, though I’m sure there are as many definitions as people who try to talk about it. I also doubt it is limited to conservatives, but that is the only “side” I can speak from experience on.

It seems to me that a lot of the principles that I and many others have subtly understood as falling under both the “American” and “Christian” umbrellas are based on a few faulty premises, including this one:

America was founded on Christian values, and therefore is a Christian nation.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this said or implied. I am less clear on which Christian principles, specifically, this is referring to. Surely it couldn’t be the principle of rebelling against the God-ordained king of England. I don’t remember reading anything in our constitution about our sinfulness and need for a savior, or about Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection. I assume it is making reference to the numerous mentions of “God” or “the creator” in America’s founding documents, but in that case, it seems just about any other theistic religion could fit the bill.

But when you internalize this idea that America has some degree of inherent Christianity about it, sometimes it’s easy to confuse the two, or to forget where one begins and the other ends.

Let’s consider the pledge of allegiance:

I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the republic
for which it stands,
one nation,
under God,
indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all

I didn’t have to look up those words. I recited them every morning of every school day for many years, despite the fact that I didn’t set foot in a public school until I took the PSAT as a junior in high school.

I have recited these words aloud more often than any Bible verse, nursery rhyme, tagline, or other phrase that I can recall. I’ve recited them far more often in Christian homes, churches, and camps than in any government-run facility.

Look at the parts in bold. The allegiance we repeatedly pledge is being described as to a flag, and then to a republic. God is given lip service in the version that most of us still say (though “under God” was only added in 1954), but he is certainly not the one being pledged to. It seems to imply that by expressing our allegiance to the American republic, we are by default pledging to God too, since it is “under” him.

As a child, I remember many instances of uproar and panic among conservative Christians when anyone threatened to remove “under God” from the pledge (or from our money, or any other thing it was inscribed on). I still remember the controversy over the apparent omission of this phrase from the post-9/11 Dr. Pepper cans.

Why do we place so much importance on an American pledge, as if it’s a sacred document vital to our faith? As if the removal (or addition) of the “under God” phrase has any actual bearing on a person’s Christian faith? As if proclaiming our allegiance to a political entity (on church grounds, no less) is sanctioned by God simply because we throw his name in there?

(To clarify, I am not against the pledge itself–I would have less of a problem saying it at a government-overseen place or event–my issue is mixing it with church teachings.)

Right now, the world is in an uproar, and rightfully so, over attacks carried out by radical Muslims in Paris, Beirut, and other parts of the globe. This uproar is channeling itself into fear as millions of refugees from the Middle East make their way west, with some hopefully to be resettled in America.

As I look at this situation, and read the words people are expressing, I’m again struggling with my own Americhristianity, and sense others are too. I have come to realize that when faced with a question, sometimes the “political answer” and the “Christian answer” are different. For a long time, I was under the mistaken impression that the American political answer was the Christian answer–the two were so closely intertwined in my mind, because if this truly was a Christian nation blessed by God, then we must protect it (and therefore, ourselves) at all costs, right?

I am torn because I know that I owe a debt of gratitude to millions of American soldiers who fought for my freedom and still continue to do so today. And Jesus said that “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:3)

I am torn because we are wired for self-preservation, and even, to a certain extent, stereotypes. If a certain “type” of person hurts us, we remember things about them to help prevent it from happening again.

I am torn because in addition to protecting ourselves, we must protect our loved ones. I want my children to be safe, just like any other parent. Just like the millions of refugee parents making their way west, traveling through dangerous territories, not knowing where their children will sleep on any given night.

I am torn because I know Christians are and should be in American politics, and how do they weigh making decisions based on personal, faith-based convictions vs. protecting their own country? When does even well-meaning “protection” become an idol? I can decide to help feed and clothe and care for others, but how much power should the average person have to legislate others to do the same?

Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). He told us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), setting up a stark contrast to the way the political systems, including our American one, operate. He told us to do to others as we would have done to us (Luke 6:31).

He also said:
“If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6: 34-36)

So many of my long-held American principles seem directly at odds with those words.

I am having to learn to ask myself difficult, honest questions: “Is my attitude being formed more by my Christianity, or by my American heritage?”

And if my American heritage and my Christianity give different answers to the same question, then which one wins? Which attitude should trump the other?

Am I a Christian American or an American Christian?

If an American political candidate says they are a devout Christian, and opposes resettling Syrian refugees in our country due to safety concerns, do I still support them? What would I do in that situation? How do I best attempt to imitate the Christ who identified so strongly with “the least of these,” who said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”? (Matthew 25:40) How does a Christian politician decide which of Jesus’s commands should be legislated to the population at large, and which should be merely individual (and is there such a thing?)?

When do safety concerns become excuses? When does our desire to save our own lives become a refusal to lose it for Jesus’s sake? (Luke 9:24)

These are hard questions, and I’m certainly not wise enough to know the answers to all of them.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop asking.

Chocolate Black Bean Muffins

One carryover from having gestational diabetes twice is that I have become at least somewhat more aware of how many carbohydrates I’m consuming in my regular diet. Carbs aren’t inherently bad, of course, but the GD diet emphasizes combining a moderate amount of carbs with protein to help control blood sugar. For example, banana and peanut butter, an egg and toast, crackers and cheese, etc.

While I’m glad I don’t have to follow a strict diet right now (and certainly am not averse to indulging now and then!), I wanted to find a way to incorporate more protein into my diet, especially when it comes to snacking. When hungry, I’m quick to just grab a handful of something, and that something tends to be all carbs. It seems a lot of protein sources are messier (peanut butter, cheese), need to be cooked first (meat, eggs), require refrigeration (meat, cheese, eggs), and are just generally a bigger hassle when you want something quick and/or portable.

Well, I can’t claim to solve all of those problems with one recipe, but I will say that I have been looking for a good, reasonably healthy muffin recipe for a while now, something both my toddler and I liked, and so far this has been my favorite. The fact that they’re very chocolatey doesn’t hurt either! According to my calculations, each muffin contains about 5 grams of protein, and 2+ of fiber.

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Some people may be weirded out at the idea of bean muffins, but I really can’t taste the beans, especially with all the chocolate in there. The texture is a bit different, but I like it.

Being grain-free, these muffins would work great if you’re avoiding wheat, gluten, or just grains in general. Or if you’re just someone like me, who isn’t, but thinks they’re healthy and delicious, and loves chocolate. They’re also very portable for snacking on the go.

Ingredients:
1 15.5-ounce can of black beans, drained
1 banana
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sugar or other sweetener*
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp guar gum or xanthan gum**

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the drained beans, banana, peanut butter, and vanilla extract in a food processor, and blend until smooth. (Truth be told, my food processor is too small to fit the peanut butter too, so I just blend it in with the mixer later. It still works.)

Transfer the bean mixture to a bowl, and add cocoa powder, baking powder, sugar (or other sweetener), salt, eggs, and guar or xanthan gum, blending well with an electric mixer. Once everything is well blended, spoon batter into a greased muffin tin until all 12 cups are filled about halfway. The batter will be fairly thick. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I usually do 22 or 23.

I find these keep best in the fridge.

* – I have only tested this with white and brown sugar, but I’m sure there are other sweeteners that would work. I have never made these for any kind of diabetes diet, but I imagine it would work well with Truvia. If you try it, let me know how much works for you. :-)

** – If you regularly do gluten-free baking, you probably have either guar or xanthan gum (or both) on hand. If you don’t, you probably don’t need to go out and get some just for this recipe, but the muffins will definitely be more crumbly without it. Vital wheat gluten may work as well, but I haven’t tested that.