The Tragedies We Honor, and Those We Don’t

Given the run of violence and destruction at places of worship in recent weeks, I’ve been thinking again about how we react to tragedy. Not the kind we experience personally – the kind that happens to someone else, somewhere we’ve never been, perhaps somewhere we’ve never even heard of.

How closely do we follow those tragedies? How empathetic are we towards their victims? Which do we mourn, which do we honor, and which do we overlook?

Since March we’ve had the Christchurch mosque shootings, the burning of three Baptist churches in Louisiana, the fire at Notre Dame, the Sri Lanka church bombings, and the shooting at a synagogue in California. And those were just the ones I heard of.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t take all that news the same.

Christchurch and Notre Dame both touched me deeply. I cried over Christchurch, imagining the victims’ last moments and their loved ones’ angst. Oh, how much they will miss! Weddings, jobs, joys, children’s first words – each loss is a universe of possibility, gone. How could someone do such a thing? How is it possible for a person to hunt down his fellow human beings? How could you kill someone engaged in prayer? Christchurch was and continues to be a weight on my chest, pushing me down.

I worried and paced over Notre Dame, made anxious by the importance of what could be lost in that fire. History and culture, yes, but the Blessed Sacrament too. The very body of Christ dwelled there within its tabernacle, safe for who knew how long. The relics, the sacred art, the windows about which Bishop Barron has talked so much. A place that brought God to people, and people to God. That church, one of the best known and most visited in all of Christendom, seemed in that moment an integral part of what it meant to be human. It was a place I’d hoped one day to visit, and suddenly my chance was going up in smoke.

I mourned the loss of the churches in Louisiana too, but I’ll admit that I didn’t feel, or follow, that tragedy as closely. I prayed. I imagined the pain of the people who lost the places where they prayed and wed and mourned. I hated that racism looked to be the cause of their suffering. But I was busy and distracted and news comes at you fast, you know. I moved on too quickly.

On Easter Monday, when I heard about the bombings in Sri Lanka, my heart fell. I mourned, but I was not shocked, and I was not stopped. I monitored, I prayed, I moved on with my day. I revisit the tragedy; I continue to pray, but my heart does not seem to have the capacity to adequately honor any more tragedies right now.

And then the synagogue in Poway, California. Poor Poway, to follow that run, to taste that horror. I am sorry for them. I pray, again. But my heart won’t open wide.

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In the midst of such tragedies, we sometimes stop to examine ourselves and our fellows, to assess our responses and critique how unevenly we seem to value human life.

Why do we turn on the 24-hour news coverage for one tragedy but not the other? What does it take for us to flood our social media channels with links and lamentations? Why are some of our thoughts and prayers offered vocally and others in silence?

As you might guess from my characterization of my own reactions, I think one factor in how we respond to such tragedies is how distinct they seem from the news that preceded them. I don’t think it’s unnatural to tire of tragedy. Sometimes there’s only so much you can absorb.

But is it just the timing of the news cycle? The rhythm of our own personal lives?

Or does our reaction also tack to the victims involved – their race, their creed, their age, their corner of the world?

If those are indeed factors, then what drives us in our reactions? Is it some primal preference for those who feel like members of our own tribe? Is it a failure of imagination? Is it racism, either overt or underlying?

In the tragedies I listed above, we saw Muslim victims of mostly Asian origin in a mostly white, mostly Christian country. We saw African American and Jewish victims in the United States. We saw Christian, mostly Catholic victims in religiously-mixed, mostly Buddhist Sri Lanka.

There is great religious and national diversity in that list, but there is also one commonality: Nearly all of the victims were brown.

Would our reactions have been different if the Catholics attacked on Easter Sunday looked like my children? If they hailed from an affluent white suburb somewhere in the West?

I’m afraid they would. I know my reaction would have been.

Would my Facebook feed have lit up back in March if a Muslim man had attacked two churches in Christchurch, rather than a white supremacist attacking two mosques? Probably.

What of that? Even if it were 100 percent understandable for people to better honor the tragedies of those who look like them, would the difference be morally acceptable?

I don’t think so.

Now, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect people to stop living their lives every time news of a tragedy breaks. We take in more news today than people have ever, in all of human history, had to handle.

But in this historic experience, we have also had the historic opportunity to get to know people and communities across the globe. And maybe that opportunity brings with it the obligation to open our hearts a little.

We don’t live in an age where our experience of humanity is limited to the people we run into on a daily basis. Today, if we take the time to look, we will see it in places, and people, completely foreign to us.

So maybe, when news of tragedy comes to us, we should engage in a little on-the-spot self-reflection: “Do these people feel familiar to me? If not, what can I think of to connect myself to them?” (Family relationships are a great equalizer: Everyone is a son or daughter; most are mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers.) Also, “If the same misfortune had struck a community more like mine, how might I feel?”

As a Catholic, I believe we are obliged to value all human life and we are called to share in others’ suffering. We can do both by responding to the tragedies we learn of – from around the corner, or around the world – with real sadness and sympathy, with sincerely-meant prayers, and with love.

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The Everyday Brave: James Yamakawa

(Everyday Bravery, Day 9)

When the idea for this Everyday Bravery project first occurred to me, one of the most prominent things in my mind was the collection of brave people I have known in my own life. And one of the first of them I thought of was my friend James Yamakawa.

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James and I went to high school together. It’s been years since I’ve seen him in person, but I’ve enjoyed keeping tabs on him and his beautiful family via Facebook. He is a husband, a stay-at-home father of three, a martial arts instructor, a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Salisbury, Maryland, and the head organizer for the group Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva. (More on that later.)

One of the things that has stood out to me in these years of following James online is that he is a person who tries. He doesn’t seem content to sit back and let the world pass him by. Rather, in his enthusiasm for his family, his church, his work, and his community, James comes across as someone who just about dives into life.

James and I come from different religious and political backgrounds. We disagree on the substance of some important issues and, I’m sure, on aspects of any number of smaller issues too. But I love watching James go about his trying. Because in doing what he does, James seems to be engaged in a dialog with the world. He’s not somebody who will shout a slogan at you and then walk away. He’s somebody who will hold up a big, controversial poster and then pour you a cup of coffee to talk about it. (Figuratively speaking. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to know that James also does that literally.)

James is a person of good will. And I think he’s awfully brave. Below you’ll find a little interview I did with him about bravery and about his work organizing the group Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva.

(1) What is Showing Up for Racial Justice Delmarva and what prompted you to organize it?

The group is part of the larger, national SURJ movement, whose goal is to inspire white Americans to stand up and speak out to their communities about racism. A friend and I started the group shortly after attending a Martin Luther King Day rally in Annapolis this past winter. However, the process, internally speaking, probably began much earlier, as I started reading more on social media from voices of color, from a perspective that I had not really ever thought about before. I am half-Japanese, from my father’s side, but for all intents and purposes I present as “white,” and I benefit from appearing like that.

(2) What in your upbringing – in your family and/or your faith – encouraged you to be brave?

If I had to say the one thing that informs how I approach all of this, it’s my belief in a God that loves me for who I am, and that there is nothing I can do to make him love me any more or any less. For some that may be a reason for indifference, but for me it means having the freedom to take action. To decide to do what you think is right, because no matter what happens, God is there for you. It’s a freedom I have been looking for throughout a troubled childhood and a tumultuous growing up; becoming a husband, a father, and learning what it means to be a true member of a community. Not only am I free to make mistakes, but also free to be content that I’ve done at least some good. The latter is definitely the more difficult for me to grasp. And when dealing with an issue like talking about race, you have to be willing to make mistakes, because that’s the only way you can learn to do better than you are now.

(3) What does bravery feel like to you?

First off, I would like to say that I don’t think I can call myself “brave”. I think bravery is something that is ascribed to you, whether you want it or not. There’s a southern African concept of “Ubuntu” – “I am because we are.” If I am brave it’s because I’ve done something that others consider brave. Perhaps that’s just the Lutheran in me, but I never feel “brave” myself.

If I had to distill it down into a feeling though, I’d say it’s like a weird combination of calmness and dread. You know what you are about to do is going to make you different afterwards, somehow, from who you were before. And a part of you doesn’t want to do it, but you go ahead and do it anyway. But consider that what little discomfort I get out of doing this is nothing compared to that which many black Americans experience every day, without fanfare.

(4) What most threatens your bravery?

Definitely fear. There’s probably a reason that “Fear Not” is used so often in scripture!  Fear of making a choice, and getting off the fence. Putting myself out there as saying “I believe this is the right thing to do,” and then having to do that and defend that. I’m not saying I always choose the braver course of action, but I like to think I do more now than I did before. And trying to talk to my friends, my neighbors, sometimes complete strangers about tackling a culture of white supremacy from the inside, it can get scary, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You may lose a friend. There may be anger directed at you, especially online, where the worst angels of our nature tend to get the most airtime. It gets uncomfortable, at the best of times, but I don’t think God would want us to be comfortable at all with racism.

(5) Is there anything else you’d like to offer on the subject?

I’m a quote guy. I like to read and try to emulate wisdom from sources older, smarter, and definitely more eloquent than myself. One of my favorites is the poet, farmer, and theologian Wendell Berry. In his essay The Hidden Wound, he writes:

It is not, I think, a question of when and how the white people will “free” the black and the red people. It is a condescension to believe that we have the power to do that. Until we have recognized in them the full strength and grace of their distinctive humanity we will be able to set no one free, for we will not be free ourselves. When we realize that they possess a knowledge for the lack of which we are incomplete and in pain, then the wound in our history will be healed. Then they will simply be free, among us–and so will we, among ourselves for the first time, and among them.

That speaks to me, because one of the pitfalls of doing this kind of activism is a well-meaning white guy trying to “save” black people. They don’t need saving. We, “white people,” need to worry about saving ourselves. We are not the primary victims of white supremacy, not by a longshot. But in a way, it hurts us, just in different ways, because it forces us into separation from our neighbor, from that which would make us whole. It fractures community. So working towards racial justice is really an act of Atonement, “at-one-ment,” that is meant to bring us together, not to divide as so many seem to be convinced it is doing. It’s an act of love. Love of our neighbor as ourselves, and love of that from which they were created.

***

One note before we end: As my readers will know, last week I published some of my own thoughts on racism and racial justice. Though I am following that post with James’ story, I want to be clear that I am not trying, in this one interview, to be exhaustive in showing what bravery on that big, complex, divisive issue looks like. Most especially, I’m not trying to make one white man’s experience representative of the countless African Americans who work toward racial justice every day.

I just started with someone I knew. I started with a friend.

If you have an example of bravery on this issue or another – an idea of someone I might want to interview, please let me know. I’m enamored with this The Everyday Brave idea and I hope to continue it beyond my Write 31 Days project.

Thanks in advance for your ideas – and thanks especially to James for allowing me to interview him.

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This post is the ninth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

The Post I’ve Been Wanting to Write on Race

(Everyday Bravery, Day 5)

Lately I feel like every time my mind turns outwards, away from the joys and the responsibilities of life at home, it lands on race.

Sometimes it’s all I can think of.

The news, social media, encounters at church and school and the grocery store – they prompt this whirlwind of thought and memory and anxiety and love and (I hate to be dramatic, but) fear for the future of our society.

The thing that most gets under my skin about this preoccupation with race is that it should strike me now, when I’m living in the least diverse place I ever have. These days I look around at church and at school and in the grocery store, and the crowds are so white that I actually notice the few African Americans among them. I never used to notice, because I never used to run in such white crowds.

I never would have expected it, but being so surrounded by (my fellow) white people has made me feel untethered. Untethered from my past, from my previous viewpoint on the world, and, I fear, from reality.

I grew up in a pretty diverse community. (Or at least one that had a pretty decent mix of blacks and whites.) I always had black classmates. I always had black friends. I always respected and admired my black teachers and neighbors. I’ll probably guess wrong, but my best guess is that growing up, about 30-40% of the students at my schools were black.

Afterward, with the exception of the four years I spent at my small, Catholic, overwhelmingly-white liberal arts college, all the communities I lived in were at least as diverse as the one I grew up in.

Until now.

All this is to say, I feel like I’m witnessing our society’s current unrest over racial issues from a strange place:

I am white. I am privileged. (Not trying to be PC here – just telling it like it is.) I am a descendent of slaveholders. I grew up in a southern-ish place where talk of race was routinely hushed with a “we don’t talk about that.” I married a Midwesterner who has absolutely no sense of sensitivity to such things. I live in a mostly-white, middle-class, semi-rural community.

Yet I was formed in communities that were far more black than most white, middle-class, semi-rural people experience. My husband and I both come from modest-to-poor backgrounds. (i.e. It is not natural to us to feel privileged.) And through the miracle of social media, I have maintained at least slight connections to people from all phases of my life. My black childhood friends and young adult friends and work friends are thrown right in there with my white mom friends (online and in person), many of whom seem to have never had many black people in their lives.

(So: untethered. I feel untethered.)

These days people seem to misunderstand one another and mistrust one another. We don’t want to talk about it. Or we do want to talk about it, but only with those who look and think like us. We want to pit people who side with the police against those who side with the black community, as though we can escape the full weight of our country’s legacy of racial inequality and discrimination by boiling it all down to one horribly divisive issue.

My mind swirls. It is a cacophony of thoughts. I have written on this issue for hours upon hours in the last three years. I have written thousands upon thousands of words. Yet none of it adequately captures my thinking.

I can’t get it right. So here’s me not trying to get it right. Here’s me starting somewhere – throwing out a few thoughts in order to start a conversation. If you’re a friend and you want to contact me privately, if you’re a reader and you want to comment here or on Facebook – or heck, if you’re a fellow blogger and you want to post back and forth on the subject – I’m game. I’ll talk. I’ll listen.

— One —

  • I never used to see the point in encouraging diverse schools and workplaces and communities – but now I see that that’s because I was already living it. I took it for granted.
  • These days I am grateful for the diversity in which I was raised. I am grateful to have some sense of what life and history have been like for people who look different from me. I am grateful that when I encounter young African American men, I see in them glimpses of my childhood friends, my former classmates, and (now) my friends’ precious sons.

— Two —

  • It may sound hokey, but I’ve realized since moving to a less diverse area that to me, encountering black people can sometimes feel like home. I sit next to an older black woman at the store and we chat kids and discipline and recipes – and I feel the warmth of home.
  • I had the same feeling – stronger, sadder – when Dylann Roof attacked the good people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last year. In the photos of the dead, I saw my friends’ moms and grandmoms, my former teachers and colleagues. It was hard to bear.

— Three —

  • I bear no responsibility for slavery. I bear no responsibility for Jim Crow laws. I cannot claim responsibility for things that happened before I was born. I feel like that is increasingly asked of me as a white person and I resent it.
  • I can and do, however, mourn those things. I am ashamed of those injustices and the roles my ancestors played in them. I mourn the injustices that persist to this day. I think more white people should reflect on the past and its horrors and really let them sink in.

— Four —

  • I think that the inequality, injustice, prejudice, and racism experienced by the black community today is greater than most whites can imagine – greater than I can imagine.
  • Yet I think the main critiques bubbling up today will be ineffective in changing the situation. I think we need to find new, honest, humble ways to move forward.

— Five —

  • “Institutional racism” is a difficult term. It comes across to me as something outside myself – this large, faceless, clunking thing that can take the blame for millions of individual people and their millions of individual interactions. I fear it will succeed in offending many while holding few to account.

— Six —

  • I think the term “racist” itself is increasingly misused, to the detriment of those who would advance racial equality. Many who work towards racial justice attribute the term to whites wholesale, which is both unfair and unwise.
  • Racism has an incredibly negative connotation to whites – it is a term that to us requires an element of hate. Equating one’s skin color with racism is as maddeningly unfair (and racist) as equating one’s skin color with crime. It will only turn people off, push people away, and feed angst and mistrust on issues of race.
  • Calling all white people racist also minimizes the effect of calling particular white people racist. There are plenty of people out there who truly do harbor hate towards those who look different from them. There are white people who avoid or discriminate against or even physically harm people because they are black. Ascribing “racist” to all white people lets those individuals off the hook. It makes them out to be racist because they’re white, not because they’re hateful.

I really don’t know what else to do here. (Hence the style of this post.)

I see criticisms that white people shouldn’t just smile silently and move along – that we should engage. But what am I supposed to do? Should I have brought up Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights and Dallas with my black obgyn at my annual check-up a couple of months ago? Should I have stopped those guests at my cousin’s wedding to exchange more than pleasantries?

How do we make room for meaningful dialogue on race when we don’t find ourselves in the company of people who don’t look like us?

Next time I see a black person in the grocery store, should I greet him or her with an “I see that you’re black. Would you like to talk about race with me?” Of course not. I’m never going to do that. I will, however, smile warmly. And if the circumstances seem right (i.e. my children aren’t about to go berserk) I’ll strike up a friendly, if meaningless conversation.

When I find myself sitting next to another older black woman at the store, I’ll have another of those chats about kids and discipline and recipes — or whatever topics we happen to land on. I’ll be personable. I’ll be human.

If I get the opportunities, I’ll talk about more serious things too. I am willing to talk with and pray with — and heck, cook or clean or do some other kind of work alongside — people who don’t look like me.

I will try to write more on this topic.

I’ll try. I’ll try to talk, listen, pray, work, write – all to a better, more just end.

And this may be silly, but I’m going to throw a little hashtag up here to identify myself as someone who’s willing to talk and listen on issues of race. If you’re willing to do the same, maybe use this too and meet me out there on social media.

#iamwillingtotalk

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This post is the fifth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

On My Mind (Vol. 4)

This week’s round-up of my thoughts on political stuff, etc. includes Trump’s odd outreach to minorities, Hillary’s never-ending email saga, annoyance about the “burkini” kerfluffle, and… some less divisive stuff.

Apparently Donald Trump has been attempting to reach out to African Americans, though “attempting” might be a generous word for it. His statements have come across more like, “Black people, your lives are complete and total disasters, but HEY, I love you!”

What a novel idea: insult people in order to persuade them to vote for you.

Truly, though, I was flummoxed when I heard his remarks. How could he think such statements would be persuasive to black voters? It seemed to me that he wasn’t really trying to persuade them, but rather checking off a box on The Presidential Candidate’s To-Do List, which must include “reach out to minorities” right along with action items like “pretend you like babies” (whoops!) and “eat in folksy-looking diners.”

Or was he trying to persuade someone else? I heard a reporter (sorry – can’t remember who) suggest that Trump’s “outreach” to black voters might actually be aimed at suburban white women. And aahhh, yes – that made more sense. The white suburban mom demographic (and I speak from experience here) seems to be uncomfortable with Trump on a number of counts, but a big flashing neon one is his treatment of minorities. We don’t want to think of ourselves as racist, we don’t want to be associated with racists, and so we need assurances that our presidential candidates aren’t racist. I guess.

Read more at the Catholic Review.

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All I Know

What a day for the pick-pick-pick-everything-apart news shows, hm? There seems to be something for everyone in Orlando’s tragedy. Terrorism, Islam, gay rights, gun rights, gun control, mental health, politics, security, freedom, racism, persecution, division…

Grief.

My own mind swirls. I have no answers. I have no admonitions to issue. I have no suggestions for how such events can be prevented. All I know is that the problem is bigger than any one of these things. (And that anyone who tells you there’s a simple solution is mistaken.)

We are human and we hurt. We hurt others and we suffer hurts ourselves. We wrestle with evil and anxiety and anger and fear, goodness and love and service and sacrifice.

I know good and loving people who are Muslim, who denounce and abhor the terrorism committed in their faith’s name and who suffer its after-effects. I hurt for them and I pray for their safety. But I think the West should be more, not less honest about the social and religious turmoil feeding terrorism today. I think we should be more active in confronting it and I think we Christians should be brave enough to offer our alternative to a theology that takes violence and domination as its central tenants.

I know good and loving people who are gay, who struggle to feel welcome and safe and loved. I grieve for the loss their community sustained in this attack and for the fears it will kindle in them. I pray for their safety and peace of mind. But I disagree with our culture’s take on love and sexuality and marriage, including its championing of homosexuality and other lifestyles too. I don’t think I should have to agree with someone to mourn their loss or pray for their wellbeing.

I know good and loving people who own guns, who abide the law even when they disagree with it, who feel scapegoated for the terrible actions of a few. I want people to understand them. But sometimes I wonder whether it’s all worth it – whether something that is overwhelmingly enjoyed as a hobby should trump the safety of those who are the targets of terrorism and domestic violence and achingly-damaged attention seekers. I just don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what will work, what can be fixed, what we simply have to accept as members of a free society.

All I know is to plead:

Lord, help us.

Lord, be with us.

Lord, bless the souls of the departed and grant them eternal rest.

Lord, give comfort to those who mourn.

Lord, heal our brokenness.

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Afterthought:

When I went outside this afternoon to snap pictures of broken things for this post, I (obviously) chose a tree which had some of its top branches snapped off in a storm.

A few minutes later as I was walking on past, I noticed the base of a tall, strong-looking tree and stopped to admire it. The tree gave me a sense of peace, of well-being; I took comfort in how sturdy and resilient it looked.

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In a moment, I realized I was looking at the very same tree. The brokenness that had seemed its primary characteristic from one angle was insignificant from another.

I can’t help but think that maybe we — we humans, our world — maybe we are something like that tree.

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 34): He’s Not Afraid to Climb the Roof, But I’m Afraid to Ride a Bike

Seven Quick Takes Friday

—1—

Wait, what did I say about posting every day this week? Because yesterday came and went, and as far as I know, I didn’t post a thing. (Shhh…)

For those of you visiting from 7QT, here are links to Monday’s (late) 7QT post, Tuesday’s post on a man who saved 669 children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of WWII, and Wednesday’s post on my 12-week sono and thoughts about mothering all boys.

There’s more to come – I promise.

—2—

If there’s one subject that I’ll spend hours writing on and still not get it right enough to publish, it’s racism. That was my problem yesterday, and it’s been my problem many times before. Can’t… quite… get… up… the… nerve!

—3—

After a kind of foggy/dreamy Wednesday because I was living inside my head, trying (to no avail) to get that racism post right, I took a break yesterday. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and Brennan had taken off work to tackle a project (see below), so we all spent more time outside than usual. I made a stab at weeding the jungle behind our house, the baby sat in his stroller (poor guy – I don’t trust him to roam free), the boys busied themselves with sidewalk chalk and sand, and Brennan went about his work…

—4—

… which kind of terrifies me.

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Do you see the chimney at the top of that photo? Well, there are some pieces of (wooden) siding just next to it that are rotting because there used to be a leak in the roof. We had the roof replaced a couple of years ago (THAT was a PROJECT), so the leak is no longer an issue, but the rotted siding still needs to be replaced. (Or at least that’s how I understand the situation.)

Anyway, Brennan is a worker-bee kind of a guy who would rather do just about any home-repair job himself rather than pay someone else to do it. So here we are. He bought scaffolding (which he plans to use in the future to paint the entire exterior of the house), a harness and other safety equipment (thank goodness), and replacement siding, etc.

Now he’s off to the races. Yesterday he erected the scaffolding and secured it to the house. I believe today he’ll be building some sort of a platform to reach the roof. Then, hopefully, he’ll be able to complete the actual siding work.

Please pray that he does it all safely!

—5—

As I said above, we all – including both boys – spent more time outside yesterday than usual. For one child, “more than usual” ended up being a couple of hours, maybe. For the other – my lover of the great outdoors, his Daddy’s helper and shadow – “more” meant all day. It was so sweet to see: He followed Brennan back and forth between the house and the garage, he helped me weed the garden, he drew “storms” all over the brick patio, he played in the grass next to the scaffolding while Brennan worked to build it, and he even ate his lunch on a picnic blanket with a perfect view of the thing.

I love that child.

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—6—

Since I’ve got a whole “link to an article and write some commentary on it” thing going this week, I thought I ought to include at least one such piece in this 7QT. A light one, with a little personal story rather than commentary. So here’s a Wall Street Journal article on adults who never learned how to ride a bike.

Alas, I fit into this category.

In my case it wasn’t the whole “kids don’t spend much time outside anymore because of cable and videogames” thing – I spent plenty of time outside. It’s just that my outdoors time was mostly spent loading my favorite possessions into a little red wagon, trekking through the neighbor’s yard as if across the prairies, and then building forts behind his forsythia bush.

For me, it was that we lived on a pretty busy rural road, so we didn’t have a ready-made place to practice. And I needed ready-made, because I was a huge wimp about it. My brother grew up in the same house and on the same road I did, obviously, but once our dad had taught him the basics in the back yard, he took off with it. Soon enough, Eric was riding through the yards and the little streets behind our house. Later, he got into triathlons and long-distance cycling.

(Yes, he and I are very different.) When our dad taught me the basics of bicycle riding in the backyard, that’s where I stayed. To this day, I can make a bike go, but I can’t safely make it turn or stop. If I’m lucky, I’ll do a continuous loop of big, wide circles in the grass.

But really, I can only think of one time in my life when my inability to ride a bike was anything near problematic. And that would be on the campus of Stanford University in the fall of 2000. My senior year of college, I was dating a guy who had just started a master’s program at Stanford. I flew out to visit him a couple of times (which felt like a BIG DEAL) and found, to my dismay, that riding bikes around campus was the thing. My boyfriend had borrowed a bike for me to use, and he clearly intended for us to spend much of the weekend seeing the sights on two wheels.

“But I don’t know how to ride a bike.”

“What do you mean, you ‘don’t know how to ride a bike?’”

“I mean, I don’t know how to ride a bike. I never really learned. I can make one go, but that’s it – I don’t know how to control it.”

He was flummoxed and incredulous and determined that we were going to ride bikes anyway. (Clue #47 that he was not the right guy for me.) So I got on that bike and white-knuckled it across campus. I honestly don’t know how I made it. I know I was terrified, especially whenever we were near roads. I also know I was shaky and wobbly and just about at the end of my rope. On the return from our lunch (or whatever kind of outing it was), my luck ran out: I first ran into a (parked) car, throwing the bike out of the way to avoid damaging the vehicle. A few minutes later, I ran full-on into a bush. At that point, I snapped.

I do not know how to ride a bike. I will not do something I am uncomfortable with.” (Death stare in his direction. Clue #48.)

Fun fact: Just before I was due to fly out to Stanford the second time, the boyfriend dumped me. As I had already purchased the ticket (and had very little money at the time), I informed him that I would still be coming. One night I prepared he and his roommates a delicious home-made dinner that caused the roommates to gush that I was a princess and that the (ex)boyfriend should marry me at once. 😉 The other night, I made him take me out to an expensive dinner. It was overlooking the Pacific and incredibly elegant and I ordered whatever. I. wanted.

—7—

Back to my life in the here and now. (And can I just tell you, when I think back on that boyfriend, how very, very grateful I am to have ended up with Brennan?)

I forgot to include sono pictures in Wednesday’s post! So here’s our little cutie #4:

These Walls - 7QT34 - 5

These Walls - 7QT34 - 6

Have a very happy weekend, everyone! Don’t forget to stop over to Kelly’s to check out all the rest of the Quick Takes!

These Walls - 7QT34 - 7

 

Don’t Call Them Animals

Monday evening, as televisions and computer screens showed image after image of destruction in Baltimore, my Facebook newsfeed filled up with them too. Friends and family expressed anger, fear, embarrassment, regret, sadness – all very natural responses to the events taking place in “our” city.

But along with those responses came one awful word, again and again: “Animals!” “The animals.” “Those animals.” “They are animals.”

I scrolled past post after post of people calling other people animals.

(By the way, if you’re wondering whether I’m thinking of you in particular as I write this – I’m not. I saw so many posts I can’t begin to remember who wrote what.)

There are any number of things one might call the rioters. You might call them idiots. You might call them criminals. You might call their actions shameful or opportunistic or simply wrong. Baltimore’s mayor called them thugs.

But you shouldn’t deny that they’re people.

The rioters are not animals. They are people who think and feel and sin and help and hurt. They are complicated. They are capable of great love and terrible evil. Each and every one of them is made in the image and likeness of God. Each and every one is inherently valuable.

Because they are human.

When you call people animals, you buy into the lie that human life is cheap. You judge people’s worth by their utility, by their sinfulness, by their actions in a short, defined period of time.

When you call people animals, you feed anger and mistrust and hate.

And to be honest, when you call a crowd of black people animals, you hearken to a time when society really did – culturally and legally – view blacks as less than human.

So call out the rioters for the harm they’re doing to the City of Baltimore. Say that it’s unacceptable to steal and destroy. Say that it’s mind-bogglingly foolish to cut fire hoses. Say that it’s disgusting to throw bricks and cinder blocks at people.

Say you’re angry. Say they’re wrong. Say that this whole thing is a big, embarrassing mess. Debate thuggery, police violence, gang violence, and racism.

But don’t deny anyone’s humanity. Don’t call people animals.

The term is unworthy of them – and it’s unworthy of you too.