Once more, after the breach

“I’m going to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon in three movies. And then some text.”   Source: How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind

Salty language in that article, but David Wong hits on a number of important themes that will need to be addressed after Nov. 7, regardless of who wins the election.

Actually, if Hillary wins, I think these become even more important.

You might assume that the Cracked article is just another rant at rednecks and “mouth-breathers” on the alt-right who wave around white supremacy code at Trump rallies….. but it isn’t. Wong grew up in rural America, and he knows that folks in the rural areas are caught in a devastating wave of poverty and unemployment.

Unless our local, state, and national leaders work to address the grinding poverty of rural America, the tsunami of hate and ugliness that drove so much of Trump’s voting block will crash on us all over again. The rural struggle is real, and we nee to be listening.

See, rural jobs used to be based around one big local business — a factory, a coal mine, etc. When it dies, the town dies. Where I grew up, it was an oil refinery closing that did us in. I was raised in the hollowed-out shell of what the town had once been. The roof of our high school leaked when it rained. Cities can make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs with service jobs — small towns cannot. That model doesn’t work below a certain population density.

If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called “Cost of Living.” …

In a city, you can plausibly aspire to start a band, or become an actor, or get a medical degree. You can actually have dreams. In a small town, there may be no venues for performing arts aside from country music bars and churches. There may only be two doctors in town — aspiring to that job means waiting for one of them to retire or die. You open the classifieds and all of the job listings will be for fast food or convenience stores. The “downtown” is just the corpses of mom and pop stores left shattered in Walmart’s blast crater, the “suburbs” are trailer parks. There are parts of these towns that look post-apocalyptic.

I’m telling you, the hopelessness eats you alive.

And if you dare complain, some liberal elite will pull out their iPad and type up a rant about your racist white privilege. Already, someone has replied to this with a comment saying, “You should try living in a ghetto as a minority!” Exactly. To them, it seems like the plight of poor minorities is only used as a club to bat away white cries for help. Meanwhile, the rate of rural white suicides and overdoses skyrockets. Shit, at least politicians act like they care about the inner cities.

I live in South Carolina, in the suburbs of a small city. Within 10 minutes, I can be driving a country road passing trailer parks, abandoned textile mills, and patch towns where no core business exists. People talk about trying to pull in industry to SC to provide jobs, and several governors have had success at this — BMW, Fuji, Boeing, Michelin, Bosch and many others drive a manufacturing economy that employs thousands and scrapes to find enough technically skilled workers to man their factory floors. You can build the shiny factories, but that doesn’t put those jobs in reach of someone living in a town of 1,000 people 70 minutes away.

America is doing a poor job of funding worker education, adult education and retraining, and relocation programs to help people get established in a new town where jobs exist.

This breach between rural and urban will continue to drive American politics until we can develop ways to address the deep, underlying problems. Unless we resign ourselves to going once more, into the breach of ugly political division.

We all need a little more John Milton right now

I first encountered Milton’s excellent treatise in support of free speech when I was teaching British Literature, and I’ve never forgotten his stunning prediction that Truth, in an open encounter with lies, will always win.

Given the nastiness of our civil discourse these days, perhaps Milton was too optimistic. The Enlightenment guys always were a bit under appreciative of just how bad humanity can get.

But at the core, I think Milton is right. The goal of thorny discussion is not to banish the ideas we hate – though indeed, racism and misogyny and xenophobia are ugly, horrible ideas that are driving elements of the 2016 election cycle. The solution is to shine more light on those ideas, to examine them, to teach adults as well as their children to discern critically the nature of ideas, to offer explanations of complicated concepts in ways nearly everyone can understand (YouTubers! Get on this!), to listen and respond rather than shouting and screaming and walking away.

We all need a dose of Milton right now. We need his dogged determination not to fear ideas we don’t agree with, and be willing to talk about them.

Freedom of thought, freedom to pursue knowledge, and freedom of speech is a societal good, I argue, not a threat. We need to embrace the battle of ideas, not seek its regulation in new-fangled licensing laws, the like of which I had hoped were going the same way as monarchy. ‘Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions’, I wrote. ‘For opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.’ And further on, ‘Let [truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?’ You see, a free and open public sphere, in which people are able to say what they think, and print what they believe, is the best way to get at the truth of the matter. This is because the people, as free and reasoning individuals, will be able to judge for themselves the merits of opposing arguments. A bad argument is best corrected, in public, by a good argument.

Source: ‘Let Truth and Falsehood grapple’ | Free speech | spiked

Read the whole essay ^ – it’s worth your time.

In defense of Twitter

An acquaintance of mine has posted a good piece about his growing dislike of Twitter. Here – take a look.

I’ve grown to dislike Twitter. My recent experiment on Twitter even made me dislike me for a little while. I’d like to say it was the hack that did it to me. But it wasn’t. 

Source: Why Twitter Made Me Dislike it … and Me – Manhattan Minoan

[While you’re on his blog, hit the tab for Conversations – amazing vignettes of conversations he has with cabbies around the world. Some of my favorite reading.]

But, in response to Bob, I’d like to say a few words in defense of that little bird service that causes so much trouble:

I’m not here to defend Twitter; if it went away I wouldn’t really mourn, though there’s nothing quite like watching America watch something together on television via Twitter timeline. It has made the Oscars bearable (though I still question why I would devote 4 hours of my life to watching people congratulate themselves) and it’s unbeatable during the Super Bowl ad rush and these cringe-worthy presidential debates. In a world where we all scatter to our own screens to binge shows on Netflix, it’s nice to have the occasional joint viewing experience, now complete with brilliant snarky commentary crowdsourced via Twitter.

But for me, I use Twitter for these reasons:
1. It serves as a place where I can throw the hundred “oh that’s a good read! I should point this out to people!” articles that pass through my information flow each week. I don’t really care who is or isn’t watching; if I can take 30 seconds to hashtag the article appropriately, it remains a resource for anyone else doing a search on that topic (at least for the next few hours/days). And that, in turn, introduces me to other people on twitter who are reading and posting similar content.

2. It connects me with educators and thinkers in my fields of interest. I primarily focus on higher education, teaching and learning, creativity and design thinking, and consumer tech. Education is the focus of my life, and Twitter has connected educators like never before. Via hashtags like #edchat and #edreform and #edtech, those of us working on particular questions can stay informed, find comrades of mind, and toss out ideas for discussion. I don’t like trying to read or hold discussions on Twitter, but I’ve found several incredible education bloggers and writers thanks to Twitter hashtags in that field.

3. Conference commentary. Who ever looks at their notes once they come home from a conference? I always have good intentions, and then suffer a twang of guilt when I toss out that pretty conference booklet from Nashville in 2003. But I haven’t looked at it since, and few conference presentations are good enough to merit space on my permanent bookshelf. Excellent presenters make it onto my blogroll or bookshelf; the rest are nice encounters. So live-tweeting thoughts and quotes from a conference lets me feel a sense of camaraderie with the participants in the moment, and theoretically record valuable thoughts for “later” (which will never come, but at least I don’t feel guilty or anxious about it).

4. Real-time news. Nothing beats Twitter for news that’s so fresh, the journalists haven’t even gotten a chance to open a Word document and start typing. This is primarily valuable in moments of tragedy – the Paris bombing last fall, for example, or hurricane coverage. Or the Iran election a few years ago. But it’s unbeatable. You have to recognize that every eyewitness account is biased, but taken together this sea of voices from within an event, in real time, provides a view we’ve never had before. Ironically, it’s more nuanced than having a TV camera on the scene because it represents a plurality of viewpoints.

Twitter has deep problems. It’s difficult to find the content you’re looking for without more effort than the casual user is willing to invest, but without that investment Twitter can be a firehose of mediocrity, vacuous celebrity ego, and horrific racism and misogyny. It’s stunning how broken it can be — yet still provide a “public square” that exists nowhere else in our lives right now.

You can follow me on Twitter at @lorojoro where I mostly post links to whatever article caught my attention lately and retweet the best snarky comments that appear during the Super Bowl or Game of Thrones or whatever.

Civil Body Politic

Against my own good judgment, I’m going to offer a few thoughts sparked by this election cycle, which I don’t know whether to label a misery or a fascination. But a couple ideas have been nagging at me, and here they are.

1.   I’m not sure when and how voting became such a sacrament of the conscience, especially for Christians, but that perspective on selecting candidates or participating in democracy seems tailor-made to frustrate people who demand that their political candidates line up exactly with their personal ideological positions. This seems to be a new thing and it’s tying people in knots because they’re agonizing over whether to support someone they find reprehensible or throw their vote toward third-party candidates who will not win the general election. And no one feels very satisfied with a “protest vote.”

It’s not that other people feel this dilemma any less; I’m bothered though that for many conservative Christians, there’s an added weight of theological responsibility never to vote for someone who [fill in the blank with a position on an issue].  This is – to me – idealistic to the point of naiveté. Every politician who’s ever served has had to step away from his/her personal and public political standards in order to pass vital legislation that accomplishes something to benefit a genuinely greater good. Anyone who claims otherwise is an obstructionist.

I’m happy to “vote my conscience,” which I understand to mean “voting in a way that most aligns with my theological outlook, moral priorities and civic values.” I do not view voting through a theologically absolute lens — that is, I select candidates who (I believe) offer the best chance to act in ways I would consider righteous, just, and good for the community as a whole. I must consider their candidacy and platform as a whole, an outlook which pushes me away from single-issue voting or simplistic party allegiance as an outgrowth of an absolutist outlook on political values.

2. My vote represents my priorities, not my absolutes. I think that’s what’s missing in the discussion I’m seeing this cycle. Specifically, some are saying that because they hold a pro-life position as the highest absolute (for example), and because the President has significant influence over powerful positions and policies which potentially could affect abortion access, these folks are willing to vote for a misogynist, racist narcissist because he’s promised to uphold pro-life policies. I struggle to understand this. I don’t think changing laws about abortion on the federal level is worth the risk of a Trump presidency, or his horrible baggage of hatred toward immigrants, crony capitalism, or obvious ill-treatment of other humans. And if you didn’t believe that before Saturday’s evidence came to light, now I don’t really see how you have much excuse.

But even aside from that, Trump has been a terrible choice this entire time. He consistently talks as if being president is like being CEO of his company where he can make decisions and immediately implement them above the wishes or advice of anyone who works for him. Congress does not “work for” the President. The Supreme Court justices do not “work for” the President. He is supposed to be a servant of the American people, heading up the executive branch of a large government. We can argue over how large or powerful the federal government should be, but Trump clearly has zero understanding of how our government works in general, or how the actions of our chief executive can have profound repercussions across the world.

The man as an individual is reprehensible. But I’m tired of everyone just now deciding to be shocked and disgusted by what has been on display from him for years. As a candidate, at the very outset of the election cycle, he should have never been vetted for the ballot due to his total ignorance of government structures and policies, and his egotistical inability to accept that he cannot change those structures by force of his will. He could be a church saint and I wouldn’t vote for someone this uninformed about basic foreign and domestic policy.

3.  Let’s talk about this Supreme Court justices thing. It’s popular to call HRC “Killary” and then wax eloquent about how terrible she is and how both candidates are the same pile of crap and how the only thing that matters is who’s in office to appoint Supreme Court. There are too many logical fallacies in that last sentence to address so I’m going to focus on the Supreme Court argument. Yes, I care very much about those 9 justices. They do indeed “make law.” You can rail against it all you want, but the SCOTUS is never going to return to a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. That horse got out the barn decades ago during the Civil Rights movement and we’re not going to put him back in. As a woman who wasn’t even granted the right to vote until 100 years ago, I happen to support the approach that the Constitution must be interpreted in ways that acknowledge current realities, rather than shackling us to the ideas of rich white male Deists from the 1790s.

But that doesn’t mean that the Court should be stacked 6-3 in favor of either side. I believe that, given the checks and balances of Congress and the President working together to find justice candidates that both can agree on, we will end up with moderates on the Court. And I’m fine with that.

Obama’s pick for SCOTUS would have been an excellent choice for the Republicans to support had they not been such total assholes to Obama during the final year of his presidency. (Great job, guys. Way to show how you care about the nation above your own political obstructionism.)

Please do not crucify mankind on a cross of SCOTUS justices. Please do not sacrifice everything you know to be a moral priority in your life so that you can vote for a man as morally disgusting in his views as Donald Trump. Please do not feed his racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, misogynist base any further.

And for the love of Christ, please do not defend your vote of either candidate as something you do as an act of obedience to Jesus.  I have no idea whom Jesus would vote for. Let’s not presume we’re on the winning side here. 

4. One last thing –  Being pro-choice isn’t the same as being a murderer.  It’s dangerous to collapse the chain of responsibility so that you can call Hillary Clinton “Killary” and label her a baby-killer who’s directly responsible for x million abortions per year. I’m glad pro-life people are passionate about babies’ lives. That’s a good impulse and I support it. But the people who choose to abort are the women themselves, not the lawmakers. Women were getting illegal abortions before Roe v Wade brought the procedure out of dark alleys into clean hospital rooms. There are legitimate pregnancies that need to be terminated (unless you take the hardline position that not even the life of a mother is more valuable than an unborn fetus, a position I cannot support).

I am pro-life in my sentiments but pro-choice when it comes to the law. What I mean is this: I would not overturn RvW, given the chance. I do not think prohibition solves problems. It usually drives the problem underground, making it harder to deal with in the long run.

Abortion is driven by complex social and economic factors, including poverty and a woman’s feeling of economic security; the disintegration of family units so that women or couples do not feel they have the support to raise a child; and the stigma (very strong in Christian circles, let’s be honest) that premarital pregnancy is one of the worst failures of morality a young person can fall into.  Further, adoption processes can be hard to understand and emotionally painful and not something we’re willing to discuss openly as a society outside of a crisis pregnancy clinic.

With all of these factors in play, attempting to stop abortions by simply making them illegal is short-sighted. It’s an idea born from privilege, because white middle-class people with good health care and stable family networks are able to work out ways to care for even an “oops!” pregnancy of one of their relatives. They can also afford the exorbitant fees necessary to adopt children. They can absorb another person into the household without forcing all the others to go hungry. I realize that “privilege” also drives abortions, for women who simply do not want to be bothered by a pregnancy. But those women have always had access to abortion, and even if it were illegal, do you really think they would lose it? No. An abortion ban affects primarily the poor and working class. Rich people will always have access to what they want.

For those reasons, I personally discourage women from terminating healthy pregnancies (please consider adoption!) yet refuse to make abortion law a factor in my voting. Christians have been whipped into a frenzy by this issue, and have lost sight of a balance of values that should represent someone who claims allegiance to the Kingdom.

I am not willing to crucify my conscience on the cross of abortion law, by using this weak defense as a reason to support the Republican nominee.  The party had a chance — many chances! — to select a reasonable candidate. Or at least one who, while politically unreasonable (*coughs* Ted Cruz *coughs*) not morally reprehensible. And the Republican party as a whole, both in its leadership and its membership, has utterly broken apart and failed to offer any moral or civic leadership.

This post is already too long, or I’d wade into the myth that government is bad (really? defend that from Scripture and/or history, please) or the ways in which the Republican Party sowed the seeds for this disaster through its race-bating campaigns from Nixon forward.

So I’ll end with this:  Evangelicalism has been duped into becoming a stooge to empower men who have no interest in the values Evangelicals claim as primary. This past weekend has been a chilling reminder that the loudest Evangelical (male) voices don’t represent even the most basic understanding of what sexual assault means, or why their only proper response to Trump’s disgusting rape-talk should be condemnation, if these leaders wish to maintain credibility.  But elections are never about credibility; they’re about power. And ever since Jerry Falwell sold the church a bunch of pottage about the Moral Majority in 1980, the Evangelical wing has been drunk on the idea of political power.  That was a foolish, dangerous mistake, and its consequences are about to come crashing home, regardless of who wins the election on November 7th.

Is there a connection between ‘innocence’ and ‘privilege’? 

I came across this excellent piece by Shannon Gaggero about her realization that her (white, middle-class) kids experience innocence differently than children in other households may.

Put simply, maintaining children’s “innocence” is an opportunity available only to parents who are already working from a position of privilege within mainstream society, usually through a combination of sufficient financial/socio-economic standing, social “capital,” and racial identity.

Preserving my children’s innocence is an act of preserving white supremacy – A Striving Parent

Shannon describes children’s books, resources, and talking points she uses with her very young kids to help them see injustice and respond to that in appropriate ways.

Several years ago, my colleague Jack and I were asked by some VBS organizers at our church to teach the “missionary story” to a group of preschool children. [If you know anything about me, you should be chuckling right now…. the last time I worked with preschoolers, I was a high schooler helping out in my small church’s VBS and wondering what I’d done to make the universe assign me such tiny humans whom I didn’t understand at all. (My lifelong habit has been to work with post-pubescent beings.)] Jack doesn’t have kids of his own yet but he’s got a pile of nieces and nephews and seems to be better at translating toddler behavior into something understandable.

Anyway, the missionary story – for those of you who might not have been raised in VBS culture –  is that moment when a VBS worker attempts to compress a complex, nuanced story of someone’s cross-cultural ministry experiences usually in a colonial or post-colonial society into a 5 to 10 minute Golden Book of missionary fervor.

[That comes across as too harsh; I loved hearing missionary stories as a kid because they were human and interesting and a little more connected to what I could envision as day to day life than Bible stories. I’m a little worried that most of the adults in the churches I’ve gone to aren’t aware of the imperialist baggage of white missionary activity among populations in Africa, India, or Asia and how that probably hindered their work for the sake of the Gospel. But that’s a topic for a different day.]

Jack and I had been asked to share a missionary story with pre-K kids for the sake of cross-cultural education. A mission we could get behind for sure. So one of us dug out of our closet a CEF story book about Mary Slessor, the legendary Scotswoman who labored in West Africa for decades and adopted many children who would have otherwise been murdered due to the local custom of treating twins as demon-possessed.

Slessor’s story in the CEF book opens with her childhood, making mention of her upbringing in poverty with a drunken and abusive father. Jack was telling the story on this first day, softening the language into something more palatable for 4 and 5 year old ears: “Her father was a very bad man. He was mean to Mary and to Mary’s mom.”

I’ve told this story myself to groups of kids at Good News Clubs (another high school / college era activity) from a variety of backgrounds. At the time, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that some of the kids listening might know far too much about domestic violence. At least I grasped the poverty angle.

But as an adult with several years of teaching experience, I knew this was a touchy moment in the story. I also knew that it might be hard to explain to 21st century white middle-class parents why their little kids were coming home talking about domestic violence. I figured the innocence of church kids would preserve us. Most people raised in similar circles (Christian, conservative, white) don’t clue in to social justice issues until they’re far older.

I’d forgotten about the kid in the room from CHC.  CHC is a local charity, one of the very best I’ve ever known, operating group homes for foster children in our area. Despite nearly shutting down when South Carolina went through a phase of refusing to place kids in group homes in a burst of idealism that hardly matched the dire need for foster care in our state, CHC weathered the storm and – as you might expect – is running at capacity. Their kids attend church with the resident houseparents, and in this case, VBS.

I’ve forgotten his name, this beautiful little boy with curly hair and a toothless smile. He was impish – small for his age, a wicked grin, always into everything, fighting every boundary. I didn’t know his story, but every instinct told me he could be a handful.

Yes. “Handful.”That’s how we describe the children who howl or bite or rage against the dysfunction and/or drug abuse and/or sexual assault and/or generational poverty and neglect which ground up their families and spit them out into a state system that tries to provide a pale resemblance of family life and normalcy. 

This boy, I’ll call him “Mark,” was listening to Jack tell Mary Slessor’s story today. And he knew. He understood. His 4-year-old body knew what it meant in real terms when Jack said, “Mary’s father was a bad man, a mean man.” So he contributed. This was a story he could grasp. “My mommy is bad. She hit my sister on the leg.”

Later, “My mommy tried to hurt me with a knife.”

I wrote about this at the time, but I bring it up again because 7 years later, I still can’t get that moment out of my mind. I was horrified to confront in that moment a glimpse of what this child had already experienced, a sin-drenched violation of maternal instinct. And I was equally terrified that the other kids would realize what he was saying and start asking questions. And that we would soon be in the middle of a preschooler crisis and then a horde of angry parents would appear at our door with pitchforks.

That, my friends, is probably as close as I can get you to a teacher’s inner monologue. Every lesson, if you’re doing it right, teeters on the edge of incredible discovery and deep learning, but that always comes at the risk of stabbing straight into one of the questions we adults cannot answer, like why mothers of 4 year olds would try to stab them. Or why the richest nation on earth has such a drug problem. Or why South Carolina can’t seem to do anything about the generational poverty that chews up its citizens. And if your lesson crosses over into those churning waters where the real learning happens, your animal brain begins to tingle with fearful anticipation of the phone calls you’re going to get from parents or school board members when they realize your discussion of Dickens robbed children of their innocence.

Friends, I ask this in all sincerity:

How can parents know whether preserving the purity and innocence of their children – whether toddler or teen – is wisdom or idolatry?  

I’ve seen this many times in my work with teens and young adults: healing the wounds of dysfunction and pain requires interaction with healthy, functional peers and adults. So if all the healthy, functional families cocoon themselves, who’s left to walk alongside the wounded?

What can this look like, if it’s done well? Is a school community capable of this? Is it a church responsibility? Can a family accomplish this kind of ‘education’ on its own, apart from church or school?

Give me stories lest I die

I’ve lost my stories, and it’s really bothering me.

I didn’t realize until I started changing jobs that I’d come to rely on the steady diet of stories I was getting out of my teaching experiences.  And now I’m starving.

Back up, I don’t want this to sound too weird. Let me explain. 

I’m no gifted storyteller. Pretty much every one of my friends is a better joke teller than I am. I like the momentary attention of telling a funny story to a circle of close friends, but when I’m honest with myself (usually that happens at night as I’m falling asleep, or in the morning as I move from hazy dreamland to uncaffienated semi-consciousness) I know that I’m a middlin’ storyteller at best. Hearing people like my North Georgia father-in-law spin a yarn about guys named Walkin Tom and Shine go on adventures in Appalachia just reminds me of how much I stand to learn about wit, hyperbole, irony, pacing, and understatement.

So I’m not talking about those stories.

When I began teaching, in 2002, I discovered a wealth of stories. Like Boris Karloff’s Grinch, my heart great three sizes that first year, expanding again and again to wrap its arms around the children in my classroom. It was achingly hard, teaching was, but it was deep and rich and satisfying in its difficulty. Some moments were very hard, they were formative, they left deep impressions that changed who I was at my very core.

I’m not talking about those stories either, though I treasure the lives that intersected ours so hard they left skid marks.

I am talking about the daily tales that emerge from a teacher’s experience. They’re scattered throughout my digital existence now; probably not even able to find them all to put them in one place. But they each started with a line like “Today in class, So-n-So said…..” or “You won’t believe what happened in 3rd period!”…. or “I thought I was going to die of laughter but I managed to hold myself together when…..”

I stored a few student gems in my Facebook "About Me" section. I'm glad this survived the umpteenth reviewing of the FB interface. I'd forgotten many of these till I took this screen shot just now...
I stored a few student gems in my Facebook “About Me” section. I’m glad this survived the umpteenth reviewing of the FB interface. I’d forgotten many of these till I took this screen shot just now…

For 7 hours a day, we lived life together, our little learning community. We ate lunch at the same tables, swapped stories, talked about shows on TV or games we were playing or books or current events.  There were arguments in class and out of class about politics or anime or sports teams. I was exposed to a million YouTube videos and memes and songs and pop culture references that I would have otherwise missed.  (Trogdor!)

It was a wealth of stories, and I drank in every one, relishing the opportunity at the end of a day or week to fall into a chair near a co-teacher to rant for a minute, or sit at a table in McGees with a pint on a late Thursday afternoon and hear Jack launch into a story with “These kids are driving me to drink!” (He was kidding. Mostly.)

When I left teaching in 2012, I felt like Abraham heading out to a foreign land not knowing where he was going, just that he was supposed to go.  It was time to leave. I knew that.  And I finally got a job with people who fit what I was looking for in a new coworker tribe: interesting, caring, witty, creative.

But I did notice, rather quickly, the spigot of stories had slowed its output to a trickle. I came home with enough material to retell some witty banter from the day and discuss a bit of interoffice, not-very-important-so-of-course-we’ve-got-to-discuss-it drama.

But that was it.

That first year at Erskine was hard, partly because I had to wean myself off the stories. I didn’t have the rich interaction with students like I’d been used to for a decade. So I had to recalibrate my sensors to detect interest in the work we were doing as an office, in the projects we discussed, in learning to think better and listen more effectively and ask better questions.  But deep down, I still knew that nothing was replacing the stories.

Four years later – aka, now – I launched out again, this time charting a course toward academic/student support within higher education. It feels good to be back in education proper again; not that I disliked marketing and creative direction – I learned a ton and liked it a lot – but I like being able to think and write about education and not feel guilty that I wasn’t hired to think and write about it on company time.

But the past month has been hard. Very hard.  My new job came wth 5 weeks of training, mostly in isolation. I appreciate the investment of time and care; I feel very prepared for what they’re asking me to do. (Thumbs up.)  But there are very few stories to be had in this job.  I met some great people during the initial week of training, and some of their stories have become threads in my view of the world.  But my daily work is quite tactical, not narrative, not strategic.  And not rich with interpersonal interaction.

Self-reflection and self-awareness take time and effort and mostly just experience. Sometimes we discover what we need during its absence, not its abundance.

I have learned that I crave the kind of work that sends me home at night tired and occasionally annoyed but always with a handful of tales worth telling.  I’m not trying to carve out a career as Garrison Keillor or a stand-up comedian. But I’ve learned that if my work doesn’t bring me close enough to people to learn something about them and begin to overlap their worlds, I begin to starve.

Good to know.


Worth your time to read

A few good reads to kick off your week. One should never approach Monday without a good read around.

To kick off, this piece by Kutter Callaway of Fuller Seminary really hit home with me today when I read it in a back issue of Fuller Magazine that we got at work a few months ago. (Yeah, I know, I’m behind.)  He discusses the way that chronic pain distorts our view of reality, usually attacking our sense of hope the most viciously. And how Christians dealing with chronic pain gain insight into the hope offered by the Gospel. A powerful read.

Restoring Hope: Being Weak and Becoming Well – Fuller Studio

From the same issue of Fuller Magazine come two excellent pieces about Christians and hospitality. This ancient set of practices has worn very thin in our modern age, and these scholars take time to explain why Christians should pursue hospitality even more fervently now.  In fact, hospitality might create a space where Christians and Muslims can gather on common ground. 

Restoring Hospitality: A Blessing for Visitor and Host – Fuller Studio

A Moratorium on Hospitality? – Fuller Studio

Time is not just money. It’s also power.  And one of the significant discrepancies between working women and working men lies in their access to uninterrupted free time to think, create, or connect.

This article by Brigid Schulte gives a name to the fragmented craziness that women experience as they try to juggle work, parenting, and marriage:  leisure confetti.  

While many working men are able to access blocks of uninterrupted time, most women — especially mothers — get their leisure time only in snatches, and even then it’s dirtied with the mental anxiety of carpool logistics, supper planning, family scheduling, budgeting, etc.

Confetti. You can’t build or create anything or even feel like a real human being if the only time you get to yourself comes in scraps.

Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue

I never talk on the phone much now, and aside from my teenaged spurt of nightly phone sessions with my best friends (or calls home during my college days), I’ve never been a huge phone talker.  Texting was (and is) a god-send: concise communication that people can read when they’re ready, apart from the disruption of a ringing phone.

This Slate writer disagrees, and wonders if we’ve lost something…

The Death of the Telephone Call |Slate

This next one may make some folks mad…. but that’s not my intention. In fact, I’d like to post this as much to invite critique as suggest alliance.  But I think Americans need to turn a critical (in the sense of objective / evaluation) eye on football. It’s a dangerous game – one that grinds up the bodies (and brains) of players for the violent pleasure of the masses. This bothers me.

And here, this author suggests an even more troubling link – that the US military is happy to keep Americans confusing patriotism with team loyalty, to see football as  a kind of American war.

I’m not a peacenik but it doesn’t take a 60s hippie conscience to question whether Americans can tell the difference between patriotism and nationalism, between bandwagon-riding mob behavior and common sense.

How the NFL Sells – and Unabashedly Benefits From – the Inextricable Link Between Football and War |The Cauldron (Sports Illustrated)

A powerful reminder that ministry which sees the recipients as “needy” will fail to be as successful as it should be.

“Do you want to know why we love him [another missionary]? He needs us. The rest of you have never needed us.”

What’s Wrong with Western Missionaries? | DesiringGod

I may not be in a classroom any more (an experience that I genuinely miss pretty often), but I want everyone to read this wonderful piece directed to young teachers.  It’s a great reminder of why I taught, and why I want to spend my life trying to make education better.

In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer suggests that we teach who we are and thus, no matter what we teach, our students judge us as “good” or not according to how we communicate who we are.

Letter to a Young High School Teacher | Comment Magazine


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