Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch

This is a very insightful book, filled with wisdom and practical applications about technology in the home, from a Christian perspective.

Andy Crouch is clear from the beginning that technology itself is not “bad.” It can make our lives richer and more efficient, if used correctly. But if not used in moderation, it provides an “easy everywhere” escape that can lead us to neglect the important people and tasks in our lives, short-changing us all. He uses some current research from Barna (included in this book with several pie charts and other graphs in each chapter) and gives us ten basic principles that he and his family have tried to live by (not perfectly–he is quite honest about the places they’ve fallen short as well), and why.

It’s the “why” that I think is very valuable here, because guides like this could so easily fall into legalism, or present “formulas” to simply force us to act in a certain way, but without something deeper and more powerful guiding us, simple behavior modification is not enough. Crouch says that one of the main purposes of a family is to teach wisdom and courage, and this is his first principle.

Others include:

“We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.”

This one I thought was very valuable, and it approaches “technology in moderation” from a positive perspective, focusing on developing something, rather than just cutting back on something else. He encourages families to keep musical instruments on hand–even grand pianos in their living room if they have the space and money! One of the big problems with TV and other “devices” is that they tend to reward passivity. Children (and adults) need to engage with art, cooking, music, reading, and other things that engage our whole selves.

Principle three covers the idea of a “Sabbath rest” for ourselves, but also for our devices. We have to know how to unplug and be willing to do it on a regular basis. I thought his contrast between “work and rest” vs. “labor and toil” was interesting.

Principle four, which I thought was one of the most valuable, says that “We wake up before our devices do, and they ‘go to bed’ before we do.” He encourages families to make their bedrooms into screen-free zones, and to not allow their phones to be the first thing they go for in the morning as well as the last thing they see before closing their eyes. Machines do not need rest, but we do, because we are not machines.

Another principle aims for “no screens before the age of ten” for children, which may not be very practical in families with more than one or two children, but still emphasizes, without legalism, the importance of giving children a childhood that will enrich them, engage them, build their brains, introduce them to nature, rather than bewitching them with glowing screens. I couldn’t agree more.

Other principles involve being willing to sing and making our own music rather than simply “consuming” what others play, and not automatically turning to a device the entire time we’re traveling, or waiting, or in a “pause” between one thing and another.

Principle eight deals with pornography, which is a concern of many parents. Crouch says filtering is a good idea, but shouldn’t be all we do. Here’s how he puts it:

“All addictions feed on, and are strengthened by, emptiness. When our lives are empty of relationships, porn’s relationship-free vision of sex rushes in to fill the void. When our lives are empty of meaning, porn dangles before us a sense of purpose and possibility. When our lives have few deep satisfactions, porn at least promises pleasure and release. Nearly half of teenagers who use porn, according to Barna’s research, say they do so out of boredom…

“So the best defense against porn, for every member of our family, is a full life–the kind of life that technology cannot provide on its own. This is why the most important things we will do to prevent porn from taking over our own lives and our children’s lives have nothing to do with sex. A home where wisdom and courage come first; where our central spaces are full of satisfying, demanding opportunities for creativity; where we have regular breaks from technology and opportunities for deep rest and refreshment (where devices “sleep” somewhere other than our bedrooms and where both adults and children experience the satisfactions of learning in thick, embodied ways rather than thin, technological ways); where we’ve learned to manage boredom and where even our car trips are occasions for deep and meaningful conversation–this is the kind of home that can equip all of us with an immune system strong enough to resist pornography’s foolishness. …”

This book is not a long read, but is pretty concise, and has given me a lot to consider, both in the ways we are already incorporating some of these principles, but also in the ways we might need to adjust our thinking. Definitely recommended for Christian families who use technology (which is just about all of us!)

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers 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….

“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 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….

“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 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….

“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 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….

“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 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….

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.


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!


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

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,
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.

Viral Charity

There has been an awful lot of back-and-forth about the ALS ice water challenge; some folks think it’s great and some folks think it’s awful.   I think that it’s great for ALS research, but is bad for society in the long run.

I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon of those who insist this viral charity thing should never have happened; I’m glad that a great deal of money was (apparently) raised for ALS research.  But I think it does not bode well for the future of charity and giving in our world.

There are millions  of causes that are equally worthy (and perhaps even more worthy) of our attention as ALS research.  AIDS research. IBS research.  Starving children in Haiti.  Starving children in Rwanda.  Cancer research. Homelessness in the US.  Parkinson’s research.  Education.  Orphanages.  Clean water in third world countries.  Hurricane recovery.  Alzheimer’s research.  Flood recovery.  On and on the list can go…just do a search for charitable organizations, and you’ll find just how many causes there are.  And just because someone came up with a creative idea for ALS research doesn’t mean that ALS research is a more important cause than any of the others.  If ALS “deserves” to have such a successful fundraising campaign, don’t all of these others?

Now that ALS has had such a successful viral campaign, I suspect that  many of these other organizations are thinking to themselves, “How can we get in on this and use viral social media to get more money in our coffers?”

The ALS fundraiser has taught people a lesson, and it’s not a good lesson: “I can make a difference in the world without it costing me anything.  In fact, not only did it not cost me anything, it was actually fun to make a video and post it to social media and impress my friends with my activism!”

And when the next viral charity campaign arrives, those people will say, “Alright!  I’m going to make a difference to people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome by posting a video of myself on the toilet !” (yes, this one has already started, and without any ill will toward my various friends with IBS, I sincerely hope it doesn’t catch on).

But here’s the problem: if 20% of the people who did the ALS challenge  donated to ALS, of that 20%, a certain percentage (I can’t guess how big a percentage) will say, “This is a great cause, but I just donated to ALS research, so I’m not going to donate to IBS research; I’m going to take the easy way out this time, and just post a video for all my friends to like.”

And once the IBS thing is done, and viral charity #3* comes along, even fewer people will donate to it, and we will quickly reach a point of little-to-no return for a whole lot of social activity.

Why is this a problem?  Because as viral charity continually decreases in effectiveness, what will not decrease is the number of people who repeatedly (and incorrectly) tell themselves, “I’m making a difference in the world without it costing  anything.”  (Don’t believe me?  Consider how many people were proudly convinced that they were making a difference in the world by “sharing” the Kony video back in 2012.  ’nuff said?)

(And if you’re thinking, “What Kony video?” you’re also proving a point about the fickle and shallow nature of “awareness” that social media promotes.)

Charity is costly.  But we are in the process of training an entire generation into believing that they can make a difference in the world without lifting a finger and without spending a penny.

I’m thrilled that ALS research will hopefully take a step forward as a result of the ice challenge, but I can’t in good conscience participate in it, because I don’t want to lend my own voice to the flawed notion that – in the long run – we can change the world without cost.   I also don’t want to lend my voice to the flawed notion that the charities worthy of my attention are the ones which can come up with clever, creative, viral campaigns.

If you participated in the ice challenge, rejoice in the fact that it was successful, but remind yourself that this is a flawed and doomed technique, and the next time something like this comes up, please politely decline to participate, and ask yourself if there is a worthy cause you can donate to.

And remind yourself that Doug doesn’t want to see a video of you sitting on the toilet!

Learn More about ALS

In 1994, a college professor at Brandeis University was diagnosed with ALS.  When one of his former students, Mitch Albom, heard of his diagnosis, he began a weekly pilgrimage to visit his old professor.  A pilgrimage by plane from Detroit to Massachusetts.  On his own dime.  For thirteen weeks.

In 1997, he wrote and published a book about the experiences, titled Tuesdays with Morrie.   The book topped the New York Times Bestseller List  for 22 weeks in 2000.  It was made into a TV movie and a stage play.

In 2013, 16 years after he wrote the book, I picked up a copy, because I had heard so many good things about it.  That – and not the ice challenge – was my introduction to ALS.  Imagine that – 16 years after publication, Mitch Albom’s work is still causing people to find out more about ALS.  I sincerely hope the book has been successful enough to recoup the money he spent on all those plane tickets, but the truth is, regardless of how much the book may have profited him, the difference he made to Morrie, and to others with ALS, began at cost to himself.

That’s the model of giving I want to use for myself.


* Viral Challenge #3 is “Chug a beer to stop PMS,” which points out another issue that we’re going to have to deal with: people are already not taking this seriously.  

National Poetry Writing Month

This month I received an e-mail about a month-long online writing “camp” hosted by NaNoWriMo, happening next month, which caused me to remember that April is also National Poetry Writing Month.

What a coincidental combination. I couldn’t help but wonder that perhaps the two were happening at just the right time. Camp NaNoWriMo lets you choose “flexible writing goals,” the smallest being 10,000 words, so that’s what I put. I don’t know if it’s practical to expect that I’ll write quite that much, since poetry is so different than prose, but my personal goal is to write at least one poem each day, no matter how terrible.

I came across another site called NaPoWriMo that offers poetry writing prompts each day during April, so I would like to follow that as well.

Then of course, there is also our very own Fifteen Minutes of Fiction which offers weekly writing prompts, and a writer’s page to publish writing. We are also planning to post only poetry prompts during the month of April.

I have no idea how it will turn out, I just know that I need to get back into writing, and nothing’s going to happen unless I start. As a preparation, I’ve been reading poetry from different poets that I like, such as “Rough Cradle” by Betsy Sholl, who taught my Poetry Workshop class when I was at USM. I’ve also been reading Annie Dillard lately (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Teaching a Stone to Talk), and while she’s not a poet, her writing is so evocative and image-filled that it oftentimes seems very poetic to me. I’ve read a few more by Billy Collins too, who has the wonderful ability to say so much in so little space.

And that’s one of the major traits of poetry, isn’t it? An awful lot of feeling, imagery, and meaning, all packed into a small space, often written with meter and rhyme and other literary structures to hold it together. I love this stuff. Spring is no longer the only reason I’m looking forward to April!