I’m back from vacation in the Florida Keys with Robert and the kids. The last time all five of us got away together for an entire week was summer 2015, when I was chaplain at the Presbyterian House in Chautauqua. Which was a bit of a busman’s holiday. This was a true vacation, and much needed. And as often happens during these getaways, I got tremendous clarity on some vocational things, including what my next book will be about. Sabbath time is powerful that way!
Ten for Tuesday was on hiatus last week, so I’ve been sitting on these links for a while. They’re still good though!
1. Turtles!! A highlight of last week’s trip to the Keys was touring the Turtle Hospital, which has been rescuing, rehabbing and returning sea turtles for decades. I’ve always loved turtles, and these animals were truly special. Some had survived being hit by boats AND being attacked by sharks. Most of them are returned to their natural habitats, but five turtles are permanent residents, one of which we “adopted” in honor of Easter and in lieu of big Easter baskets.
2. José M. Hernández’s journey to space lasted over two decades. The son of Mexican migrant workers was rejected 11 times by NASA before becoming a part of the 19th class of astronauts in 2004:
3. Teaching Our Children to ‘Stay Soft’ in a World that Wants to Toughen Them Up
This hits close to home. When I went to pick up our cats from boarding yesterday, James opted not to go with me, because it makes him sad to hear them meowing in their carriers on the way home.
Many quibbles with this list: What makes a book “famous”? Shouldn’t Texas’s choice be Terms of Endearment? And can’t North Carolina do better than a Nicholas Sparks novel? Still, lots to add to your reading list! A 50-states reading goal would be fun.
When I speak to groups about Sabbath, I sometimes include a module entitled “Why Sabbath is Good for Children.” This article is along those lines.
As a parent, I get it–unstructured play can be messy; there are conflicts; kids can get bumps and bruises. And with so many two-parent households, structured, supervised activities become a child-care necessity. Still–get out of your kids’ business as much as you can and let them play!
The Julie Dorrington winner: Intraocular lens ‘iris clip’ This image shows how an iris clip, also known as an artificial intraocular lens (IOL), is fitted onto the eye. An iris clip is used to treat conditions such as myopia (nearsightedness) and cataracts (cloudiness of the lens). This particular patient, a 70-year-old man, regained almost full vision following his surgery. Mark Bartley, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust/Wellcome Images
NPR: When you really want something, you start to focus on it obsessively. When you’re hungry, it’s hard to think of anything other than food, when you’re desperately poor, you constantly worry about making ends meet. Scarcity produces a kind of tunnel vision, and it explains why, when we’re in a hole, we often lose sight of long-term priorities and dig ourselves even deeper. Here’s Sendhil.
MULLAINATHAN: What if it’s not that poor people are somehow deficient but that poverty makes everyone less capable, that it’s the – that it’s you and I tomorrow, were we to become poor, would all of a sudden have the same effect, that poverty is in some sense changing our minds?
VEDANTAM: Of course, if this hypothesis is true, then…
MULLAINATHAN: The same person, when they’re poor, should have very different cognitive capacity than when they’re rich.
So critical for empathy. Also helpful to understand as we discuss policy solutions to poverty.
Several animals profiled here! I’d never given much thought to what happens when animals emerge from hibernation.
Arctic ground squirrels hibernate farther north than any other animal. They enter torpor in August or September, and stay in suspended animation underground for up to 270 days, reducing their metabolism by well over 90 percent to survive.
To achieve this, males shrink their testes and stop testosterone production, which means they must experience puberty every spring. When they awaken in mid-March, they live off a cache of seeds, berries, mushrooms and willow leaves while sexually maturing and bulking up.
The article profiles Marcus Bullock, the chief executive of Flikshop, an app that helps people in prison connect with friends and family. He also leads apprenticeship programs for former inmates through the nonprofit Free Minds Book Club.
He got the idea for the app when he himself was in prison. For me the key insight is here:
Do you have any regrets?
No. Because my failure has been my tutor my entire career. And the thing is, I never would be able to be in the markets I am, with this technology, had I never gone to prison. Obviously, I wouldn’t, you know, give anyone advice to go to prison so you can come home with a good idea. [Laughs.] But what I will say is I was able to somehow take the adversity of a situation and really build out the next steps of my life.
I think it’s OK for people to feel regret. But what he’s describing is improv, people. Yes-and.
You’ve probably picked up the fact that I love running. It has given so much to my life, mentally as much as physically. Click the link for a whole collection of articles to help you get started. I’d love to cheer you on!
Pro-tips (from me, but many of them echoed in the article)
get fitted for shoes at a running store
start slow and easy–slower and easier than you think you should
listen to your body–pain does not equal gain, especially in the beginning
don’t believe the hype that running ruins your knees–that’s been debunked.)
if running really doesn’t work for you after giving it a decent effort, move. Do something.
The article is poignant and important, but I especially want to highlight one of the comments on the article. (Side note: the reader- and NYT-curated comments are a worthy exception to the rule never to read the comments. They are frequently insightful.)
Read the article, but here’s the comment:
A few years ago I inherited papers from some German relatives, whom I had come to know as gentle and lovely people. The elder relatives claimed they were never Nazis. I did not argue with them but also did not believe them. I assumed they were among the so-called ordinary Germans, who later re-wrote their own role. I asked a student of mine to please translate the papers, and that is how I made an incredibly moving discovery. Buried in those papers was a letter they had received from the Nazi party, upbraiding them for failing to do their duty and join the party. The letter was obviously a form letter sent to anyone who had not joined. The letter concluded with a line that chilled me to my center–it said something like this: “You will be judged in the future by what you fail to do today”. The letter’s intent, obviously, was to shame recipients into joining with a triumphant cause. Instead, a great granddaughter wept as she read a letter confirming the fact that some Germans indeed did refuse, as long as possible, to allow shame to shape their actions. Just as the courageous author of this op ed shows, our seemingly innocuous decisions in the midst of confusing times may haunt or profoundly influence our descendants. Today’s actions matter not just for today.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Or for good people to gradually, incrementally, go along with terrible things.
I continue to appreciate Ana Marie Cox’s podcast about difficult conversations. A description of this week’s episode:
Disagreeing about facts is one thing, what if you disagree about reality? Adam Savage (“Mythbusters,” Tested.com) joins to help a WFLT listener whose sister has embraced right-wing conspiracy theories. MTV’s Ezekiel Kweku comes by to discuss how America’s dystopian future could be based on its dystopian past.
Our family looooooooves Adam Savage and misses Mythbusters every Sunday night during our basement pizza picnic when we watch a show together. He was very wise on this episode, and Kweku was also insightful in explaining the appeal of conspiracy theories–on both sides.
I’m now reading his memoir, Born a Crime, about growing up colored in apartheid-era South Africa. The book is light, winsome, and heartbreaking at equal turns. I’m learning a lot about what life was really like for people under apartheid, and Noah is a likable, capable narrator.
Noah went to Catholic school, one of only a few colored students in a sea of black and white, and a non-Catholic. As a poor child of a single mother, he didn’t have much to eat, and it always bothered him that he couldn’t even partake of the bread and juice in the sacrament. This bit made me laugh, then took my breath away.
“Only Catholics can eat Jesus’s body and drink Jesus’s blood, right?”
“But Jesus wasn’t Catholic.”
“Jesus was Jewish.”
“So you’re telling me that if Jesus walked into your church right now, Jesus would not be allowed to have the body and blood of Jesus?”
They never had a satisfactory reply.
One morning before mass I decided, I’m going to get me some Jesus blood and Jesus body. I snuck behind the altar and I drank the entire bottle of grape juice and I ate the entire bag of Eucharist to make up for all the other times that I couldn’t.
In my mind, I wasn’t breaking the rules, because the rules didn’t make any sense. And I got caught only because they broke their own rules. Another kid ratted me out in confession, and the priest turned me in.
“No, no,” I protested. “You’ve broken the rules. That’s confidential information. The priest isn’t supposed to repeat what you say in confession.”
They didn’t care. The school could break whatever rules it wanted. The principal laid into me.
“What kind of a sick person would eat all of Jesus’s body and drink all of Jesus’s blood?”
“A hungry person.”
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
This month at the NEXT Church blog, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Here’s my contribution–cross-posted here. Check out the whole series!
I have a lot of friends these days who are reading books about the rise of fascism in Germany. I will leave it to the reader to consider the reason for consuming such reading material, and any resonances between that time period and our modern day. (For now, I am content with occasional binges of The Man in the High Castle on Netflix, which imagines a world in which the Allies lost World War II, and a small band of dissidents imagines a better, more peaceful and compassionate world. They call themselves the Resistance.)
Rather than fill my Kindle and nightstand with the history of Nazism, I’ve decided to focus my heavy reading on the civil rights era in America. At the beginning of the year I resolved to read Taylor Branch’s three-volume series, beginning with the 1,000-page Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963.
Some time after undertaking this project, a friend informed me that there’s a summary book that condenses this history into one volume. But I’ve committed at this point. As for how long it will take me to read almost three thousand pages? I can only promise that it will be less time than the 14 years that comprise the movement Branch chronicles.
At last year’s NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta, I heard loud and clear our call as an 89% white denomination to undertake conversations about race and racism, however uncomfortable these conversations may be, and however much some may push back at us for “dwelling on the past rather than moving on.” As I read Branch’s careful accounting of the ills of white supremacy, I consider today’s travel bans and border walls, and Iowa Congressman Steve King’s odious comment that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Meanwhile many of us carry signs and risk arrest, and we rejoice when the judicial branch puts a check on bigotry through legislative executive order. And I marvel at the truth of the words, attributed to William Faulkner, that the past isn’t dead — indeed it isn’t even past.
Like many of us, I knew much of this history only in the most cursory way. We studied civil rights in school, and I remember my AP Government teacher arranged for after-school showings of the magnificent documentary Eyes on the Prize. (He felt it so important for a bunch of white suburban smartypants to see it that he offered two additional points on our entire semester grade if we watched the whole thing. In retrospect, it was so wrenching and transforming I would have done it for free.)
I did not know, or perhaps didn’t remember, that Martin Luther King Jr.’s first major troubles with the law came when the state of Alabama tried to get him on charges of felony tax evasion related to his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. What ultimately saved him was his incredibly meticulous record-keeping; attorneys and accountants working on his behalf were stunned at the painstaking way he kept track of his expenses. I think about my haphazard financial records and how they would not hold up to such scrutiny. And I recall how African-American friends talk about learning from a young age that they must always, always “be better.”
I also offer my own confession, prompted by a section about the 1957 Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Eisenhower. The bill was watered down as to be almost useless (though that didn’t stop Strom Thurmond from filibustering it for some 24 hours). Many civil rights leaders refused to support it because it was so weak. Yet King and other civil rights leaders ultimately signed on. As Roy Wilkins put it, “If you are digging a ditch with a teaspoon and a man comes along and offers you a spade,” he said, “there is something wrong with your head if you don’t take it because he didn’t offer you a bulldozer.”
As I read this section, I remembered King’s injunction that justice delayed is justice denied — and yet here he was, putting his stamp of approval on an almost useless bill. Here is the confession: I felt welling up in me a sense of self-righteous “gotcha-ism”: See! Even a civil rights icon acknowledges that progress is slow, and sometimes you take what you can get rather than hold out for real justice. Take that, Letter from a Birmingham Jail!
Except there’s a big difference at work here: I am white, and King was black. Yes, in the struggle for civil rights, sometimes the progress is slow. But there’s no way for me as a white person to push for baby steps and partial measures without getting tangled up in my own motivations: Am I really on the side of the angels, or am I trying to preserve my own sense of comfort? As an ally, it is my call to listen to the voices of people of color and follow their lead in terms of strategy. When they say it’s time to turn up the heat, we do. When incremental change is called for, they alone drive that, not my desire to placate white America.
When my kids come home from school every January with photocopied handouts about Martin Luther King Jr., I like to ask them if they knew what his profession was. The older ones are used to it by now, and sigh as they say, “He was a preacher, Mom, like you.” In my defense, I want them to know that the struggle for civil rights — whether it’s justice for the descendants of enslaved Africans, or the right of transgender people to use the bathroom with which they identity — is work we do in light of our Christian faith, not independent of it. But it’s also a sinful pride, I admit: a desire to hitch my wagon to one of the great heroes of the 20th century simply because we share a common vocation.
Reading Branch’s book, I catch a glimpse of King’s frail humanity as well as his gifts for ministry (prodigious beyond my own though they were). He soared and he struggled. He felt a strong sense of God’s call, and he wasn’t always sure which strategy was best. In that way, he resembled all of us who have had heavy hands laid on our head and shoulders, who try to do God’s will yet often muddle our way through.
The struggles of 2017 are different, yet frustratingly similar. King was a pastor, like me. But that also means I am a pastor, like King. And it’s time for me — for all of us who lead Christ’s church — to make that real.
That church is St. Paul’s Episcopal in Richmond, where I am preaching all week as part of their mid-day Lenten series, a 120-year old tradition. (Wow!) It’s been lovely to get to know these people, and as it turns out, they are featured in Sojourners Magazine this very month about their efforts to come to terms with their past. Article link is above; below is a short video:
The alumni magazine of Rice University had a great story about how Rice professors and students have helped saved the lives of preemies in Malawi through a cheap, sturdy CPAP machine made from a simple aquarium pump. Improv at its life-saving best! Proud of my alma mater.
“Easter Sonata” — a complex four-movement piano composition from 19th century Germany — could only have been written by Felix Mendelssohn.
Or so thought many of the archivists, scholars and musicians who encountered it. The sonata was “masculine,” “violent” and “ambitious,” all the hallmarks of the celebrated Romantic era composer.
Written in 1829, the manuscript of “Easter Sonata” was considered “lost” for more than 140 years, until the original turned up in a French book shop bearing the signature “F Mendelssohn.” The collector who bought it concluded the “F” stood for Felix.
It took yet another four decades and a lot of clever musicological sleuthing, but in 2010 a Duke University graduate student revealed what some had suspected all along: “Easter Sonata” was not written by Felix Mendelssohn, but by his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn, herself a musical prodigy.
Fantastic! Now let’s work on identifying all those “Anonymous” works…
Last week’s NEXT Church National Gathering was as wonderful as it is every year. Many of us were captivated by one of the closing readings, a prayer that turned out to be written by a friend, Shelli Latham. So potent for these days:
Creator of All,
of the mountains that cut jagged and purple against an infinite sky,
of the forests that pulse like a heartbeat with an immeasurable collection
of wiggles and squiggles and colors and calls.
Creator of us – Imago Dei . . . made in the image of God.
And so we busy ourselves with creating too . . .
constructing, building, branding, barricading,
policing the sacred with a limited imagination for you unlimited grace.
And so we pray,
that you might overturn our misguided architecture.
For every barrier that should be a bridge,
for every wall that should be a table,
we pray, O God,
when we build them up,
won’t you knock them down?
Click the link above for the whole thing. Turns out confession really is good for the soul.