You can’t really wish to write someone else’s book. Reading at its best is like friendship: part of the pleasure is that the friend is not you, thinks different things, has different tastes, surprises you, does what you cannot. —Anne Norton
This last week has brought me these three quotes on presence and sustainability:
Do not internalize the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better. —David Mamet
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. —attrib. Greek proverb
You can exercise control over your actions alone,
never on the outcome of your actions.
Do not be anxious about the outcome of your actions.
Do not develop a habit of inaction either. —Ram K. Pipariya
The most common conversation around sustainability is the one that focuses on the physical environment and our impact on it. But I believe there is more to social design than managing the natural ecology. We can and until relatively recently in our history did build societies and civilizations that operated in harmony with the rest of nature.
Yet so many of those civilizations have risen and fallen and failed.
Designing for the future and living sustainably means thinking, choosing, and building now so that the generations who follow us inherit systems that they can take with them into their future. We can’t control what they might do with what we leave behind, but our offering to them is to build ideas and structures that can stand and be steady when it’s their turn to create.
The most maddening aspect of “eternity being set in the human heart” is that we’re drawn to immortality but refuse to plan for it. Can we shift this pattern?
Aren’t all colossal leaders ambivalent figures, feted by some, hated by others, & rarely understood in life or death? Former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher died today at the age of 87.
I grew up in Thatcher’s England. My family suffered under her economic policies and has never recovered. I have no love for her cabinets’ social or educational impact and my father developed a semi-permanent frowning wrinkle just for her. She coddled South Africa’s apartheid regime and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and with Chile’s tactical support, she warred with Argentina over tiny islands 8,000 miles away from England’s shores. She narrowly escaped death when the Irish Republican Army bombed her party conference hotel at an English sea resort. And she was re-elected as prime minister the year I was born.
The Iron Lady was also one of many strong female leaders in my life who showed and taught me that authority was not gendered, that sex neither qualified nor disqualified men or women for leadership, and that tradition and custom were not themselves reason to dodge significant change. Her incredible visibility when I was small cracked open realms of possibility for me and young women like me. Her clarity and tenacity modeled passage out of social prejudices and limiting expectations; even when these paths were mirages, they were mirages of the best kind and they became my muses. Because she walked ahead of me, I gained.
I expect historians to fight over Baroness Thatcher’s legacy more than any other recent Prime Minister except perhaps Tony Blair. But I won’t fight anyone about her legacy myself; I have my own memories of her and her work, and that is enough.
“Her outstanding characteristics will always be remembered by those who worked closely with her: courage and determination in politics, and humanity and generosity of spirit in private.” —Former Prime Minister Sir John Major, Thatcher’s successor
Blessings and love to the Thatcher family.
This review originally appeared at the Hillhurst Review on April 8, 2013.
Lee, Justin. (2012). Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate New York: Jericho Books.
It all started with the kid in high school who called me “God Boy.”
Justin Lee, co-founder, director, and public face of the Gay Christian Network, has been building bridges between evangelical Christians and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people since the late-1990s. Torn, his memoir, describes his work as a gay Christian to increase understanding between two communities that have clashed in churches, the media, and the courts.
As Justin explains, his goals for writing and advocacy are to elevate love, transcend too-common battles, and work with individual people. In part because of his focus on the individual—a natural focus for an evangelical whose religious tradition emphasizes personal piety—Justin doesn’t offer much comment on the systems of custom, culture, or law that nurture individuals, shape their beliefs, limit how they read their scriptures, and govern whether they feel free to accept people different from them.
During the first half of the book, Justin describes other Christians in gentle language. Whether they accept him as a peer or patronize him as a special class of sinner, he represents them as well-intentioned, misinformed, and always sincere—never “bad people.”  Not until halfway into Torn does Justin start unpacking American Christianity’s approach to human sexuality or LGBT people.
Most readers will appreciate Justin’s stories about his teen and college years and how he integrated his religious convictions and sexuality with his parents’ support. Though some might want to dismiss him as an “activist,” he is never aggressive or rabid; he is only passionate. He narrates calmly throughout, writing as mildly as he speaks. But he is sometimes so charitable that he slips into inaccuracy.
On page 10, for instance, Justin writes that American Christians have been “unwittingly instrumental” in promoting anti-gay sentiment in Uganda and other African countries. In 2009 and 2010, Uganda’s parliament introduced the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” a law that became known as the “Kill-the-Gays” bill because early drafts provided for capital punishment as well as life imprisonment.  But Christians like Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, Exodus International’s Don Schmierer, and the C-Street Congressmen have intentionally shaped Ugandan sexual politics.  As recently as November 2012, a US Seventh-day Adventist group took their “ex-gay” message to Africa: not only are these international engagements deliberate, not only do groups invite American supporters to fund them as “mission trips” and “the Lord’s work,” but they have continued to happen despite outrage outside the church and from sexual minorities in Africa. Evangelical influence on this climate is not accidental, and it’s not “unwitting.”
In Chapter 10, “Faith Assassins,” Justin turns his attention from the Church’s international issues to its internal ones. Explaining that restaurant wait staffs have come to expect after-church diners to be cheap tippers, he writes:
If our reputation can be damaged by poor tipping, how much more can it be hurt by the perception that we are actively hostile to an entire group of people!
… We Christians can say Jesus changed our hearts, but if our reputation is that of uncompassionate culture warriors, why should [non-Christians] believe us? We can say that God is loving and merciful, but if the church isn’t loving and merciful, why would we be in any sort of position to know that God is? 
The “we” orientation in this passage is consistent with Justin’s voice whenever he describes the Church: he identifies strongly with its evangelical wing and has no plans to leave it. This may be why his stories about other evangelicals all have such an authentic ring: these are the believers he knows and resonates most easily with. Even when he challenges the status quo, he’s speaking to his own.
But Justin’s comments on other branches of the Church are more one-dimensional. In one story, Justin describes a church whose preacher interpreted a gospel story without reading its supernatural elements literally. For him, the experience was foreign and unsettling; he interprets it and the wider non-literalist tradition as “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and undermining the bible’s trustworthiness. Just a page later, Christians like those in the story are advocates of “one of the earliest heresies of the church.” Lacking doctrinal clarity, they “fail to stand for anything at all,” and risk “losing the things that set them apart as Christians.” At the end of this assumption chain is a mocking chant that begins “O large Person or Persons of whatever gender or branch…”  Its source? A comedy routine.
In the context of Justin’s closing thoughts on “the way forward” (e.g. “Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement”) this section fails. It doesn’t increase understanding but does reinforce stereotypes, and it also highlights the limits of the author’s personal experience. Do the bridges between gay and Christian communities require all Christians to treat US evangelical doctrine as normative? Justin is clear that he’ll never be “spiritual but not religious” even if some gay people are,  so isn’t it curious that Truth matches evangelical beliefs (except for that gay thing!), and not, say, Orthodox or Unitarian Universalist approaches to scripture or teaching? Who set up evangelicalism as the archetype for faithful Christianity? And why would someone so dedicated to respectful dialogue be satisfied with a “heresy” slam or jokes at the expense of others?
Even though I grew up in a religious and cultural community that was as insular as Justin’s, I felt similarly uncomfortable about his descriptions of and dissociation from “gay culture.”  I didn’t know any self-identified LGBT people until I’d left home for college either, but it would be unfair of me to credit my early awkwardness with the community to others’ “lifestyle” or “culture” rather than my own limited perspective. “Egocentric carnality” and “anti-intellectual” attitudes aren’t the preserve of any demographic, and gender and sexual minorities have no more of a monolithic lifestyle or culture than heterosexuals do. I wish Justin had been much clearer about this.
Overall, I found Torn an important contribution to the gay Christian memoir genre, not only because of its content but also because its author represents a new cohort of young and fully-engaged evangelicals. Like older memoirists Mel White and John J. McNeill, Justin patiently tells his own story while sharing some basic realities that the Church needs to accept in order to be more effective. His most likely audiences are the wider evangelical community that he calls home and the LGBT people, friends, and allies that are part of the Gay Christian Network and its sister alliance-advocacy groups across denominations.
Ultimately, bridge-building doesn’t have to mean that two populations travel more to The Other Place. It only means that anyone who wants to travel across can. While I question Justin’s skill in engaging non-evangelical Christians based on how he described some of them in the book, I understand that some people are better at working out differences in person than on paper. These are yet early days in the US Church’s bridge-building movement and each community involved needs people who can address it in language they understand. Justin is one such person and I support him in his work.
 Compare this to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ reflection, “The Good, Racist People” (2013). Coates wrote: “In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist.” Similarly foggy thinking hovers over prejudice and discrimination against gender and sexual minorities.
 Versions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill circulated in 2009 and 2010. While threatening LGBT-supportive people and groups in and out of Uganda, the bill created a new crime called “aggravated homosexuality” (sex involving an HIV-positive partner, pedophilia, incest, and “serial [homosexual] offenders” in consensual relationships).
 Kapya Kaoma, The U.S. Christian Right and the Attack on Gays in Africa, 2009. Also Jeffrey Gettleman, American’s Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push, 2010.
 Torn, pp. 137-139.
 Torn, pp. 144-146.
 Torn, p. 157.
 Torn, pp. 149-151; 158-164.
 I think especially of faith-based groups like Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International, Affirmation, Dignity, Integrity, and the Believe Out Loud community. (I work with SDA Kinship.)
As well as framing NASA as the muse for our dreams and ambitions, Tyson talks about being in school and having teachers steer him away from physics toward athletics. I’m glad he persisted with physics despite his social network’s “implicit resistance” to his interests and drive. How can we encourage others to persist, and also change our culture so that we’re no longer hindering young innovators whatever disciplines they’re drawn to?
One of my favorite parts of the interview from about halfway through (14:45), on the Rubik’s Cube as a metaphor for life learning:
You could buy a book and solve [the Rubik’s Cube] rather quickly. But then you didn’t figure it out, see? So you can boast that you can solve the Rubik’s Cube for having read the book, but you won’t get to boast that you figured out how to solve it…
No matter how insurmountable a task is—if you solve it—you are in a new place intellectually and emotionally in your life. And you solve it on your own capacity to deduce steps that would lead to an answer. So much of life is shortcutted [sic] because people simply want the answer rather than embrace the solution paths that would get them there. And the richness of life, the joy of life, comes from knowing and having figured out how to do things and how to know things. That’s where you rise up over the rest of the world that simply memorizes facts. —Neil deGrasse Tyson
So awesome. Check out the rest of the interview.
My mother, a March-born soul, loves the natural world.
I’ve sent her these cardinals in honor of her birthday and hope she enjoys them.
Today I finished Hollywood SDA’s sermon series, 5 Deadly Sins of the Church. I’m grateful that the church posted them and has kept them available to those of us who aren’t local but still enjoy learning with others.
1. Patriarchy + Heterosexism (video): I was so glad to hear Trisha distinguish between loving people for who they are and loving people despite aspects of themselves. This is something I’ve been learning to teach by example, and thanks to the curves of my life and the communities around me I’ve had a lot of practice.
I’ll be happy to listen to the presentation again but do not see what some people have found so offensive about her thoughts. Given the thumbs up-to-thumbs down ratio and the wild viewing numbers for that video compared to the rest of the series, my hunch is that thumbs-downers have reacted to the topic and the implications they see in it but have not yet engaged the actual content and the people represented in it in an open, dialogic way.
2. Racism + White Privilege (video): I appreciated Jin complicating the common white/black binary. Wish he’d been able to speak more about how racism flows from sexism: it was a provocative idea. Great points on how demonizing Those People leads to fear and bigotry, and how it’s more our psychology than our reasoning that blocks intimacy with Others and is the root of social prejudice.
I nearly retweeted Jin’s line about minorities snacking on the crumbs of white privilege instead of choosing a different way to engage a dysfunctional social order (I still might tweet it!). There’s a lot to be said for an oppressed group absorbing messaging that harms them and using it to police themselves or attempt to control others. For du Bois this was linked to the “double-consciousness” of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” Freire also tackled the tie between an oppressed people and their oppressors’ values in his pedagogy books.
The last 10 minutes re. sullied reputations and crucifixion was almost prescient for the Hollywood community and I wonder how much of that foresight was conscious.
3. Nationalism + Militarism (video): My perspective on Maury’s talk is skewed in part because I’m not an American, I lean pacifist, and the Seventh-day Adventist denomination’s recent apathy about war, combat, and the attitudes that nourish them is really uncomfortable for me. I’m curious how American citizens respond to this message, and have bookmarked the book Maury suggested (Theology for a Nuclear Age).
I struggled with the “redemptive violence” frame for war, though I understand that redemptive violence is a common way of looking at, say, the crucifixion of Christ or how God might resolve “sin.” I agree with Maury that “war no more” is the target but do not see redemptive violence among men or from God as a viable way to get there.
4. Consumerism + Ecology (video): I enjoyed Ched’s comments on a rounder way to engage Sabbath. I’d never thought to consider it the 1st commandment rather than only the 4th though I knew it preceded the Sinai story. I have come to treat it as a ritual answer to our programming to grasp for more rather than live “enough.”
Something Ched can’t do from his perspective but which I hope more Adventists do from theirs is to wrestle with how the Adventist lineage can inspire more engagement with this world as it is (i.e. ecological responsibility) instead of less engagement ahead of apocalypse. If one text were enough to settle this, Revelation 11:18 might be it. But one text isn’t enough and we need a more comprehensive model: the church’s apocalyptic bias will probably not go away but it can be channeled such that it doesn’t produce fatalism or passivity.
5. Classism + Wealth Privilege (video): This is a topic I think about a lot because of where I live and my place in this society. The apostle James’ teachings on partiality are important—and I actually think they cut in both directions: they address the comparative rich (us) looking down on the comparative poor and the comparative poor (us) making assumptions about the comparative rich. I grew up and went to college in two hyper-class conscious societies, and I see how class consciousness binds everyone who participates in it, not merely the rich and not merely the poor. Income and wealth may grant us certain kinds of options, but they can also constrict our vision in other ways. I do agree that wealth grants out-sized influence in this culture but I don’t see this or any other privilege as one-dimensional.
Blessings and love to Trisha, Jin, Maury, Ched, Ryan, and the Hollywood SDA community. Thanks so much for sharing!
I enjoyed watching PBS’ Makers documentaries a few weekends ago: Women Who Make America. I also enjoyed reading other people’s reactions to it on Twitter and other sites where women activists gather.
Sometimes these historical retrospectives make me nervous because it seems that we prefer to remember great movements as clean; we like our heroes (male and female) to be simple and coherent—and they rarely are.
The 20thC women’s movement still holds the fragmentation and internecine conflicts it had at its start and we haven’t yet worked out how to advance multicolored solidarity amongst ourselves rather than monochromatic uniformity.
As much as people like Phyliss Schafly often baffle me, I realize that we all have our parts in the story. I’ve been looking at some of the young teenagers I’ve met since I moved and it makes me wonder what model of Woman they’re seeing in me. I still have crisp memories of some of the older women around me when I was their age; some of them showed me by example what not to become.
Do I consume the people around me? Do I encourage them to be as large as they are? Do I hinder them to promote myself? Would I sacrifice them to save the system? Can I recognize them as part of my community even when they don’t manifest as I expect? Do I stand up for those whose experience is absolutely not mine?
I am an instance of Woman in this world; does my instance add value?
The unfaithful witness is the one who simply transmits the conventional and familiar, unchanged and undigested. He is unfaithful, in the first place, because he is lazy. For the labor of interpretation and contemporization, the work of ‘translation,’ is grueling work and it is never done without abortive trials and breath-taking risks. . . . He who simply repeats the old phrases takes no risks; it is easy to remain orthodox and hew to the old line. But he who speaks to this hour’s need and translates the message will always be skirting the edge of heresy. He, however, is the man who is given this promise (and I really believe this promise exists): Only he who risks heresies can gain the truth. —Helmut Thielicke, The Trouble with the Church
Thanks to Ryan Bell for sharing this quote: it is equal parts inspiring and unsettling, which strikes me as the right balance to take!
There are very few things: there’s love and work and family. And this movie is so special to us because it was all three of those things. And I’d like to thank all of my families, the tribes that I come from. —Jodie Foster 
At the Golden Globes earlier this year, actor Jodie Foster sparked conversation about self-revelation, privacy, and how public figures shape their inner and outer circles. A recent post on fundraising and family imprinting pointed out that many of us grew up in families or subcultures where the most common undertones were notes of scarcity rather than abundance. And a powerful personal essay by inaugural poet Richard Blanco on family, abuse, and [not] belonging made the rounds during Inauguration Week. In it, Blanco describes absorbing, resisting, accepting, and transforming the incredibly negative messaging he received from Cuban-American relatives as he grew up.
These stories made me reflect on how much our early and adult networks influence the kinds of messages we receive, and what responsibilities fall to those with power to shape both messages and networks.
We all receive several kinds of messaging through deliberate and implicit instruction as we grow. This isn’t a nefarious process: it’s how we’re socialized, how our families and communities acculturate us to the wider world.
Adults teach us by affirmation or approval whether our successes mean that we’re intrinsically “smart” or have earned achievement through hard work; from them we learn whether and how much self-confidence, persistence, and resilience are worth developing. Girls taught that their success is due to hardwired intelligence seem to deduce that if they can’t crack a new problem or skill quickly, their failure comes from not being “bright” enough to handle it. Deductions like these can have lifelong impacts.
Are there things you decided long ago that you could never be good at? Skills you believed you would never possess? If the list is a long one, you were probably one of the Bright Girls — and your belief that you are “stuck” being exactly as you are has done more to determine the course of your life than you probably ever imagined. This would be fine, if your abilities were innate and unchangeable. Only they’re not. —Heidi Grant Halvorson
Because of structural inequity, teacher neglect, and deliberate discouragement from the gatekeepers around them, minority children also learn that some disciplines aren’t for people like them. First-generation, female, ethnic minority, and working class students build up additional barriers to progress rooted in messages about their native competence or inadequacy. The so-called Imposter Syndrome is named for these internal barriers and is surprisingly common across demographic categories. Young black men respond to cultural assumptions about their supposedly inherent violence or delinquency, either by playing down to the type or by overcompensating so as to appear as non-threatening as possible. A message like this seeps into the interpretative background even for a man who becomes POTUS, President of the United States.
Add to this mesh a multiplicity of messages about religious or non-religious identity. Layer on rules about trust and vulnerability, boundaries and intimacy, friendships and sexuality. Weave in messages about the right sort of personality, how much sociability is too much (or not enough), and how service-minded or others-centered one should be. Unwind these strands during puberty and complete the web in early adulthood. No, no… don’t struggle too much in the middle of the web. It’s supposed to be that sticky.
Quality in the Social Web
I see no single factor with more power to advance or hinder a person than their social web: their relatives, relationships, and network of acquaintances, and the quality of interactions and assumptions among them.
There’ve been a handful of pivot points in my life when I’ve reviewed my own social web. Who surrounds me when I’m learning about myself and how I fit into the world? What do they undermine or affirm about me?
And how about your web? What do your connections encourage or criticize? How do they support your efforts to learn and grow? How do they resist your next steps? What do they add to you? What do they undermine? How do they nurture you? Do they nurture you?
At forty-one I realize I’ve been sad all my life and have always written from that psychological point of view. I am inspired by the melancholy I see mirrored in others, in the world, and the ways we survive it. I strive to capture sadness and transform it through language into something meaningful, beautiful. —Richard Blanco
Blanco’s story struck me when I read it: even as gender and sexual diversity becomes more mainstream in some ways, it remains marginal in others; even as people become more visible, their standing doesn’t always rise. Marginal status shows up in the language some people use to dismiss or diminish certain classes of people (the euphemism of “lifestyle” for sexual orientation or relationship status is a common example). But marginalization also appears in the gendered frameworks that otherwise progressive writers use to discuss expectations of professional clothing and how a woman might be “fabulous.”
It’s well worth exploring how modern professional women are often evaluated based on how “feminine” others judge them to be; how “feminine,” even today, is too easily linked to “less competent”; and how “feminism” should mean that competence and perceived femininity are no longer correlated in the popular imagination. These are questions I discuss with my sisters and in our groups; I find people happy to engage this conversation when it is framed soundly.
Influence and Responsibility
But pernicious tropes just under the surface hamper the discussion: binary norms that categorize heels and sleek dresses as “feminine” clothes while treating suits and flat shoes as “not feminine” or “repressions of femininity”; the idea that a woman’s tastes and energies may be either “feminine” or “masculine” (not neither, not both); the persistent invisibility of “fabulous” gender non-conforming women, not only in the mainstream but also in left-leaning feminism.
I had a brief exchange with one author about this a few months ago and don’t believe she deployed the tropes above fully understanding what they implied about femininity or women whose femininity didn’t mirror hers. But even if she personally holds a much more complex model of individual and social gender, one that includes all women and not just some, that broadness didn’t translate in this piece. We’re both individual women, two out of millions; neither of us is single-handedly responsible for the pervasive messages I’ve identified in this article.
But whoever holds a mic gains with their platform the power to amplify the status quo or to challenge and adapt it. Those traditional constructs are not the only lectern to speak or teach from, nor the only viable sources of credibility in our time. Rightly or wrongly, my generation has a reputation for being one of the most inclusive in recent history. If that’s more truth than hype, what does it take for all of us with platforms to embed our inclusive spirit into how we define, imagine, and engage this world and its full range of people? What does it take for us to improve the quality of the messages in our web and, thereby, the quality of the web itself?
 Via Marnie Dresser’s “Dear Jodie Foster: I Got It (and it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t)” a lovely reflective analysis of Foster’s speech.