The Year of Non-Fiction

I’ve always been a voracious reader, primarily of literary fiction. I’m the type to have multiple books going simultaneously via different formats. In recent years I’ve set myself a yearly book goal on Goodreads (a great site) and worked to meet it. My all time highs are 54 books read in 2012, and 48 in 2013. I used to have a book blog where I wrote just book reviews. Reading was a major way that I learned about and made sense of the world.

But ever since we moved to Atlanta, and especially since the election, I’ve had a hard time focusing enough to read a book. I can partly attribute this to the fact that I wasn’t very engaged in the last three fiction books I tried to read: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child (such a disappointment I can’t even talk about it), The Heart of the Matter and The Little Friend.  In the past I would have found a way to push through just to check a book off the list, or at least switched to something else. But this fall I just couldn’t make it through a book. And I know why.

With all the craziness going on in the world it felt somehow irresponsible to escape into fiction.

Since the election I’ve felt a responsibility to read and listen to everything I could get my hands on related to Trump, his family, his cabinet, his staffers and his shady business deals. I felt like I just had to read as much as I could so I could be appropriately knowledgeable about each new staffing change/political decision/executive order. Reading anything non-politics related felt like giving in to what was happening.

Each day I would read the news of the day, various commentaries on the news and then listen to podcasts with more commentaries on the news. Pretty quickly, however, this got to be too much. I felt emotionally exhausted keeping up with all of the bad. My tolerance level for Trump-related news was reaching its breaking point.

So I have backed off, to a point. Let’s say I’m reducing my Trump consumption for Lent (an idea I got from a blog post that I can no longer find, so sorry for no link). I’m still reading the news every day, but I’m no longer listening to news podcasts in addition. For the sake of my sanity I’m also trying not to seek out more and more and more commentary related to Trump.

I deleted my podcast app and switched back to Audible during my commute and while puttering around the house. I still don’t have a desire to read fiction. Instead, I’m reading non-fiction books on a regular basis for the first time in my life.

I’m working from a list on Goodreads called “The Post-Trump Big Questions Canon.” It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. Regular readers know that the election was earth- and faith-shaking for me, as I know it was for many. These books are helping me hone and reshape my view of the world in the new America of Trump. (Or perhaps it has belonged to people like him all along?)

In 2017 I want to come to a more nuanced understanding of history, politics, race, class, gender and the intersection between faith and all of the above. So far, I’ve read:

Getting back to reading is helping me feel like myself again. Long live books!

What are you reading these days, dear reader? And have others felt the same desire to learn more about the forces that created our current political moment?

 

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Post-Evangelical Life

Back in December, I wrote here and at Patheos about how I was having a hard time attending my evangelical church after the election. That piece struck a nerve. To date it has almost 7,500 Facebook shares, making it the most read post that I have ever written, by far. This tells me that lots of other people are feeling the same way and struggling with the same things that I was in the wake of November 8th.

I wanted to tell the rest of the story – what happened after we left that evangelical church and started going to a “mainline” one. It’s not the story of theologically weak/watered down preaching that I thought it would be. For my fellow dissatisfied evangelicals who aren’t sure about leaving: there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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image via Pixabay.com
My family is now attending a Presbyterian church (USA) about five minutes from our house. I had always thought of the PCUSAs as the “liberal” Presbyterians, and they are, in a sense. This is the first mainline church that I have personally ever attended, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was probably not alone in having a mental picture of mainline churches as being kind of like this: wishy-washy, unfamiliar, lukewarm.

But…surprise: that’s not what I found at all. Our new church feels surprisingly similar to the traditional Baptist church of my early childhood: pews, hymnals, a full choir. All the children coming to the front for a children’s message.

There are some welcome differences, however – the associate pastor, music minister and youth minister are all women, in addition to other roles that are traditionally filled by women in evangelical churches, such as the children’s minister.

The church is unapologetically formal – hymns only, from an actual hymnal, no projection screen. A pipe organ. People up on stage wearing robes. This formality has taken a little getting used to, as I have attended contemporary churches since I was eight years old. It’s growing on me. I appreciate that they don’t try to thread the needle between traditional and contemporary, as many churches do, with the awful “praise team” approach that no one ends up actually liking. While I miss singing my favorite praise choruses I’m gaining an appreciation for the deep theology in the lyrics to the old hymns.

The main thing I was worried about was that a mainline church wouldn’t actually preach the Bible. I have found this not to be true at all. The sermons are very similar to the sermons at the evangelical churches I have attended all my life.

What makes our church special is that even though my family is new, and the church is large, the pastoral staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome immediately. I mean, really: Jonah and I went to one service in early December and talked to staff members briefly on the way out the door. The following week, I got a card in the mail from the pastor, Jonah got a postcard from the children’s minister, and the pastor added me as a friend on Facebook and Instagram. On our next visit, staff members somehow remembered my name, and Jonah’s name. That’s the way it’s done, folks. I have never felt as welcome anywhere.

By way of comparison, at the last church we were visiting, the pastoral staff and their families had a special section to sit in during the service. (Maybe it’s not nice to link and put them on blast – but I think they should know how they came across, amirite?) Unless someone outside of the section went up to them, I never saw them interact with anyone besides other staff members. No staff member other than the children’s minister ever even looked at me, let alone spoke to me. Not once, over the course of three months.

Regular readers will recall that I was looking for a church that wasn’t filled with Trump voters and that would speak against him. The first Sunday we visited our new church happened to be the first Sunday of advent. The pastor spoke about the difference between happiness and joy, and mentioned that attendees might not be feeling very happy this Christmas season. Though he wasn’t explicit, I took this to be a tacit reference to the election. I’ll never forget it. I knew I was home.

Everything has not been perfect on this point. This previous Sunday I just felt sure that the pastor would mention the Muslim/refugee ban from the pulpit. When he didn’t, I was pretty disappointed. There was talk about divisions in the country and reaching out and spending time with someone whose life is radically different than yours, and a prayer for justice and against oppression, but nothing explicit.

But here’s what’s different from the past: even though I’m not a member and haven’t been there long, I felt comfortable enough to message the pastor and ask him about it. So I did. He was very thoughtful and transparent in a way that I am not used to ministers being, saying that he is attempting to minister to a diverse group of people, and while most members feel like he and I do, not everyone does. I’m going to quote him directly, as I appreciated his thoughtful response, and because this is anonymous:

“I probably missed an opportunity yesterday and I’ve struggled with that. I’m still processing the faithful response, in our community, to these days of chaos and outright hatred. I won’t always get it right, so I’m grateful for the gifts of grace and of community. I need voices like yours to speak your truth in love and challenge me to deeper faithfulness.”

I’ll take it. If things go the way they may with human rights abuses and outright evil from the Trump administration, however, I’m going to need a stronger response. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

How are you feeling about church these days?

(By the way, if any Atlantans are looking for a new church, please feel free to contact me, as I would love to share my church’s name so you can visit!)

P.S.: Please check out Dee’s comment below. She provides some excellent context about the obstacles facing pastors talking politics in a PCUSA church.

Dear Trump Enablers: This Is Your Fault

Dear Mike Pence, Congressional Republicans, Trump Aides, Evangelical Christian Leaders, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner,

I am writing to tell you that you are all spineless fools.

All of this is your fault.

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image via Pixabay.com

I am angry at you most of all because I don’t believe any of you are true believers.

You know better. You are smart. You are educated. You are well-read. Many of you claim to be people of great moral character. You are not suspected of having a personality disorder. Most of the time, you demonstrate that you know the difference between a fact and a falsehood. Several of you are such “devout Christians”  and supporters of “family values.” You allowed this to happen anyway.

You allowed Donald Trump, a man manifestly unfit for the presidency in terms of intellect, temperament, education and character, to become the leader of the free world. You knew he was unfit, but you supported him publicly. You encouraged others to vote for him.

While you publicly denounced each racist, vulgar statement, you still fell in line behind him. Even though you knew what was true, you refused to dispute his outright lies during the campaign, and you’re not disputing them now.

You have supported the orange goon, and are continuing to back him, out of absolutely shameless self-interest. You make me sick.

You’re continuing to fall in line because you’re enthralled with the power he has given to you.

You’re backing Trump’s signature proposals (even ones you had previously denounced) — the wall, the Muslim ban, the refugee ban, the deportation force. They are no longer just talk – they have been put in motion this week with your support.

You’re twisting Scripture to support his most egregious policies.

You’re even backing Trump about stupid things that everyone knows are lies, like his inauguration crowd. You’re letting Steve Bannon run things, for crying out loud. And you appear to be fine with it.

What happens next will be on you.

You enablers will not be the ones who suffer for this. No, that will be refugees, poor people, sick people, immigrants and the environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Donald Trump is a terrible person and absolutely one of the worst things that could happen to America. But I truly believe that he has a personality disorder, some type of dementia, or both. I think he is unwell.

But, enablers – you are not. Mentally you appear to be doing just fine, though I hope you are having trouble sleeping at night. You deserve it.

Rest assured, I will not forget, and I suspect many others won’t either.

Ivanka, I won’t buy your clothes or read your book. I won’t look at pictures or watch videos of your family. You, your husband and your dad use the kids as props, anyway.

Evangelical leaders, I am no longer going to an evangelical church partly because of my disgust with you.

Congressional Republicans, I promise to work every day between now and 2018/2020 to get your opponents elected.

I will resist the Trump regime every day of the next four years.

Last thing: History will not judge you kindly. Remember that.

Sincerely,

Holly Love

(Left-of-center, white, middle-class Christian public school teacher from Georgia who is mad as hell)

 

 

Why “God is Sovereign” Is Not Enough (And What You Can Do Instead)

I’m in an interesting place right now. Things are going really well for me personally, and for my immediate family, in most areas. It’s the outside world I’m worried about. It seems like it’s going to hell in the proverbial handbasket, literally being dismantled before my eyes, and that I have no power to help or do anything to prevent the collapse.

I’m speaking, of course, about the catastrophe that begins with the inauguration this Friday, and also about a work situation that I can’t be too specific about. Both of these situations are out of my control, and both are hurting people I care about. And that hurts me, very much.

I have had some iteration of the phrase, “Don’t worry, God is sovereign,” thrown at me twice in the last 24 hours, by two different people, in response to each of these issues.

Situation 1: Yesterday, in a conversation about the work issue, a person in a position of power who is not directly affected by the situation told a group that basically all we could do was pray and have faith that God has “got this.”

Situation 2: Today at school, one of my fifth graders, who has been continuously worried since November 8th about his parents being deported, was literally crying so hard he couldn’t breathe or speak. I knew that he had had trouble sleeping as we got closer and closer to the inauguration, and he said that he had been having terrible nightmares about what would happen once DJT became president. I am powerless to do anything to help beyond say how sorry I am, that I care about him, and that we would get through it together.

I posted about this on Facebook, because I feel that the least I can do at this moment is make people aware about the real children who are being affected by this incoming administration. An acquaintance commented that she wasn’t a Trump supporter but 1) my student’s fear wasn’t caused by Trump, but by his/her parents being irresponsible and sharing too much about their fear of Trump, and 2) that we shouldn’t worry because “God is sovereign and we are under his protection, not the government.”

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image via pixabay.com

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s easy to say that God is in control if a situation doesn’t affect you.

It’s easy to say that God is sovereign if you’re not worried.

It’s easy to say that God has “got this” if you have nothing to fear.

If you feel the need to make this comment to me, I will clap back pretty hard. I am OVER IT. This statement is true, but useless. If someone is a Christian, they already know it, and if they aren’t a Christian, it’s meaningless.

As I see it, it is this kind of thing that makes Christians seem so out of touch with the rest of the world. This does not make people want to be like you. It makes them run away from you. This statement, unaccompanied by any concrete action or a sincere apology for their pain, is judgmental, unhelpful and unkind.

So, I’ve been thinking about some things that people can do and say that are more helpful, even if they don’t share the same concerns. If you feel like telling someone worried about Trump (or really anything) that God is in control, try one of these things instead:

    1. Tell them you’re really sorry they’re upset. You don’t have to agree with them to do this. (To be fair, my acquaintance did eventually say this in our conversation this afternoon.)
    2. Ask: “How can I help?” Then do what they say. If they would like prayers, pray for them, but don’t say “I’ll pray for you” in a judgmental way to someone who doesn’t want to hear it.
    3. Tell them you hope their fears will prove unfounded. (Don’t say their fears aren’t valid.)
    4. About Trump specifically: Write or call your representative and ask them to hold Trump accountable to the norms of the U.S. government. You can do this even if you are not personally worried about a Trump presidency.

How do you feel about the “God is sovereign” comment? And how are you feeling about Friday?

U.S. History, the Arc of the Universe and a Trump Presidency

One of my favorite parts of this school year has been teaching social studies to my third grade ESL kids. I have this class first thing every morning. This instructional delivery method of English is what is called sheltered content instruction, meaning that I teach the grade-level content that all third grade students learn, while providing language support and extra vocabulary instruction to make the content comprehensible. (This is a little teacher-y but hang with me for a moment.) I love history, and I’ve never gotten the chance to teach it before. It’s a great way to start the day.

The third grade curriculum focuses most units of study on a historical figure. Students learn about each person in depth while learning about the surrounding historical context. It goes in chronological order, so we’ve done Paul Revere, ancient Greece and the foundations of U.S. democracy, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and next Mary McCleod Bethune. By the end of the year we will also learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez, among others.

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image via Pixabay.com

It’s so interesting to trace the story of our country for children. One thing that I’ve been reminded of this year is how much of the story is about people’s triumph over systems of oppression. My spiel at the beginning of each new unit of study goes something like this, to tie everything we’ve learned together:

“So we started the year talking about Paul Revere. Remember that Paul Revere and the American colonists wanted to be free from England because they wanted a democracy, where people could choose their leaders and everyone would be treated equally. But we’ve learned that America wasn’t free and fair for everyone. Who wasn’t treated equally? (Black people, women, etc.) The next person we’re going to learn about helped to make America a more fair country for everyone, and that person’s name is ________.”

(I’m not injecting my personal opinion here, by the way. This is literally what the standard says to teach: “Students will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy.”)

Children are so clear-eyed about what’s right and what’s wrong. These kids don’t have  much background knowledge about U.S. history, so they’re hearing everything basically for the first time. When I taught them about the institution of slavery in the United States they were a) horrified and b) surprised that it had been allowed to happen. The same for women not being allowed to vote.

History is speaking to me a lot right now as we are going into the Trump presidency. In many ways it feels like we are taking a big step backward. Unprompted by me, my students have made this connection as well. “Mrs. Love, Donald Trump doesn’t think that black people and people who speak Spanish are as good as white people like him. It’s just like it was a long time ago.”

A Trump presidency hurts partly because it disrupts the narrative that so many of us have always believed; that our current president up until now has seemed to believe. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” U.S. history seemed, until now, to show this. Gradually, painfully, slowly, our country really has become a more free and fair place for everyone. Not perfect, certainly, but better. Does that “bending toward justice” stop now? And what should our response be? As citizens? As thinking people? For me, as a teacher? A white person?

I think the big, unsettling question right now is about whether DJT is a four-year aberration or a signal of fundamental change in the arc of the universe. I don’t think anyone can know the answer yet.

It’s Hard To Go To Church In Trump’s America.

This post was also featured on Patheos’ Unfundamentalist Christians blog.

It’s hard for me to go to church these days.

It’s hard for me to give up my precious, fleeting family time to transport my toddler across town, stand in a room with people I don’t know and listen to a sermon that’s just a little too long. It’s hard to go by myself with my son when my husband is working, and it’s hard to go as a whole family on my husband’s Sundays off, when we would really rather be doing something else together. It’s hard to make the effort. Especially now.

The truth of the matter is that it’s hard for me to go to an evangelical church in the wake of Trump’s election. I don’t think I belong there anymore.

I don’t belong with a group of people that by and large believes Trump is worthy of being president.

I feel uprooted, disoriented. Homeless. The evangelical church is the body into which I was born and raised, where I was educated and how I came to faith. I’m not sure where to go next.

Knowing that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, I was interested to see how the leaders at our new church here in Atlanta would handle the election aftermath. Would they be silent about it? Call for unity? Reference it obliquely? Or speak out against Trump’s nativism, racism, mysogyny, etc.?

On the second Sunday after election day, the pastor at church preached a sermon on living out the gospel in everyday life. I was cautiously hopeful that he would reference the obvious elephant in the room, but he didn’t get any more explicit than saying something like “our current cultural context.”

He made the point that the first human occupation was gardener, not soldier, that we can’t force other people to believe the same things we do, but that we can live out our beliefs in our daily lives. All pretty basic stuff, but the phrase “gardeners, not soldiers” stuck out to me. At the time I interpreted that to mean that it is not Christians’ job to be culture warriors. And I found it vaguely reassuring.

But as I got to thinking about it later, I realized that this phrase also seems to be discouraging of Christians’ efforts to take a stand against the worst parts of this upcoming administration. Obviously, I strongly disagree.

If there was ever a time to fight like hell for things that are true and right and fair, it’s now.

Before November 8th, I already knew that I was more forward-thinking than most evangelicals, that I cared more about equity and racial justice and public education than most. But I have been absolutely shocked to discover just how far removed I am from the evangelical tribe. And even more, I am embarrassed.

I am so embarrassed that calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” wasn’t enough to get evangelicals not to vote for him. That mocking a disabled reporter wasn’t enough. Or saying that he would deport millions of people, including citizen children. Or wanting to create a Muslin registry. Or admitting to, and then being accused of, sexually assaulting women. And those are just for starters.

Because these things did not directly affect most white evangelical Christians, they were able to disregard them. And that attitude makes me feel ill. The privilege is breathtaking.

I know that evangelical ministers have a difficult task in front of them in this moment. Regardless of their personal beliefs, many are figuring out how to pastor ideologically divided congregations, what they can and cannot say to avoid offending different groups of people in their churches. But this timidity is keeping me from seeing much of Jesus at church right now.

Jesus is with the poor. Jesus is with the oppressed. He is with the marginalized. Jesus is with the groups of people that Donald Trump’s supporters mock, shame and attack, whose schools and places of worship they deface.

Instead, I am finding Jesus during restful moments at home with my family. I see him in my classroom, where children are making breakthroughs, learning to do things they never thought they could, and becoming moral people who care about others. I see him in organizations that work on behalf of the downtrodden, and those that work to protect the environment.

I’m not sure where all of this is leading me, and leading my family. For the first time in my life, I am pondering concepts like “spiritual but not religious.” I know that’s not the answer, though.

I want to belong to a body of believers, a place to study and worship and learn more about God. I just think the evangelicals have lost me, and I’m not sure what comes next.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Right Now

Sometimes I feel like the weight of all the badness in the world is crushing me.

This is unusual for me. I would characterize myself as joyful much of the time. But sometimes…it just all adds up, and I feel like I can’t breathe.

Police shootings of unresisting black men. Climate change, and scores of wild animals dying because of it. What’s happening in Syria. GOP-led voter suppression. And now Donald Trump, who I fear will make all of these things worse through some combination of malice or unconcern. And, oh yeah, the significant rise in hate crimes since he was elected president.

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I’m all up in my feelings right now. I was reading this poem to Jonah tonight, and I about lost it:

Dear Father, hear and bless

Thy beasts and singing birds.

And guard with tenderness

Small things that have no words.

I believe it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what is happening, (plus I’m a news junkie anyway) but I think reading ALL of the news coverage of Donald Trump’s transition team, Steve Bannon, etc. is starting to get to me. If I keep gorging myself on all the badness I won’t be able to function. I need to feel like I am doing something on a larger scale to help make things better.

So here’s what I’ve done so far to be productive and “fight back” post-election:

  • Donated and joined the ACLU to help protect human rights and free speech during a Trump presidency (they have a focus on immigrants’ rights)
  • Donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center to combat hate and intolerance (they also focus on immigrants’ rights)
  • Signed up to donate monthly to the World Wildlife Fund to fight climate change and protect animal habitats
  • Asked for a Slate Plus membership for Christmas to support free speech and quality, independent journalism that holds Donald Trump accountable

I should have been contributing to charity before now. We didn’t really have the resources to do so until very recently with our move to Atlanta, but really I selfishly was loath to part with what I saw as “my” hard-earned money. God forgive me.

This isn’t much, but it’s a start. Next up is writing to my representatives in Congress, as as promised. I plan to start those letters by introducing myself, and saying, “Expect to hear a lot from me over the next four years.”

What are you doing to contribute positively since the election?