Welcome Home?

After one month and two days, I feel like I can say with some authority that downtown Annapolis is perhaps the most beautiful place there is.

This morning I drove downtown to find a Starbucks and a park, and perhaps a walking path on the water. I found all that, but also so much more.

There was an impressive generational mix—grandparent types strolled hand in hand down the brick streets, while moms around my age (give or take) pushed their children around in strollers and sipped lattes. The air was calm. I saw almost no cell phones at all. I did see ample street parking, people conversing happily, and too many 30-something women and their tag-alongs to count.

I pulled into a parking spot directly in front of Starbucks. I went in and found myself—at 9am—only the second person in line. The cashier and I spoke cheerily of hummus and cucumbers, and he graciously forgave Aaron for throwing reusable Starbucks mugs on the floor. On the way out, I accidently bumped into a woman. In response to my apology she said:

“You are a magnetic person, and a wonderful child of God. Don’t apologize, be glad.”

Between that and my first pumpkin spice latte of fall, the tenor of my day was set.

I prepared to walk a mile to a playground I had passed earlier, but to my happy surprise I found a mostly fenced, well-shaded park with fantastic play structures just a block away. It was on the water and the state capital was visible on the horizon as I watched Aaron play. It was peaceful, beautiful, calm.

As is the case at almost all parks, the mom brigade began to trickle in around 10am.

At first there was only one mom, accompanied by a 3-year-old and a newborn. She was friendly. She had moved here a year ago. She was happy. We talked, and I was excited at the prospect of a park-born friendship. Sadly, as the other moms and tots strollered their way in, she drifted away towards them and they all gathered together—they were a group of women from the neighborhood. Apparently the park meeting was a regular thing.

Our children played together, and everyone was pleasant, yet… there was no overt attempt at inclusion in their group. And who could blame them? They wanted to chat about where to get the best deal on kids’ pants, how one woman’s husband would be out of town all weekend, while she had the kids, and other various things. This was their time, their very, very precious time, carved out to give them that extra boost to make it through their day.

I wasn’t disappointed in the lack of love-at-first-park-sighting. Instead, I felt hopeful. Hopeful because I live in a town with a lovely mix of generations, but with a heavy dose of married-with-kids. Hopeful because there is so much to do, parking is cheap and easy, and traffic is typically light (but don’t ask me about Friday afternoons…).

In the hot tourist-full days of summer or the freezing months of winter, I may feel differently than I do at this particular endorphin-filled moment. But for now… for now I am full of gratitude that this crazy life season may be beginning to slow down, to bear fruit, and to give a little breathing room.

Andy works late tonight, so I know this day will drain me. I will likely snap more than I mean to, and eat more chocolate than I should. But for now, I feel full: this place might just be okay.

Maybe even great.

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Seeing an Empathetic Space: The Challenge of a Christian Witness in America

Rev. Michael McBride, known simply as “Pastor Mike,” is the Director of Urban Strategies and Lifelines to Healing Campaign for the PICO National Network. The Lifelines to Healing Campaign is a national effort committed to addressing gun violence and mass incarceration of young people of color. Pastor Mike is deeply committed to empowering urban communities, families, and youth using the principles of a relevant and liberating Gospel message that transforms lives.

Lifelines’ ultimate goal is to achieve policy reform around guns and incarceration: fewer guns and less incarceration. Some would argue that more guns and more jail time is the answer to reducing violence. How is it that Christians—who share the same faith and the same Bible—can have such startling different views on guns and incarceration?

Well, let me say that our ultimate goal is to use Proclamation, Policies and Programs to create communities where people can live free from the fear of gun violence, mass incarceration and lack of opportunity. We believe the church has a unique role to play in this call, which makes your question so profound and challenging.

It should be no surprise that Christians who share the same faith and Bible have different perspectives on these matters. There has not been a monolithic expression of faith and belief in the history of the church on many matters of ultimate concern like doctrine, practices nor worship. Our Christian tradition seems to support the observation that experience and social location have just as much to do with our biblical interpretation and practice as the written text. Adding to this complexity is the recognition that we all drink from the same postmodern wells of radical individuality that deeply skew our ability to see one another rightly, as created in the image of God.

You can read the rest of today’s interview with Pastor Mike here.

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We’re Here!

Well, we’re here.

Which, of course, means we are not there, something that I am reminded of by surprise tears and news of 6.1-magnitude earthquakes.

That we arrived at all is nothing short of a miracle. Once we settled onto our first flight and the chaotic reality of our cross-country travel set in, I leaned over to Andy and said, “I should be live tweeting this.”

I didn’t, but had I chosen to, my tweets would have read something like this:

“Crawling in hole to die: AJ just Duplo-smacked the woman behind us… On purpose.”

“Ha! Andy’s finally glad he listened to me about buying Aaron his own seat. #mamaknowsbest #sanityseat”

“Turn off the seatbelt sign. TURN OFF THE SIGN.” #travelingwithtwoyearold”

“OMG, I forgot the Benadryl.”

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Overheard from one passenger who walked by and studied our little section of hell: “Ohhhhh, there are two of them. No wonder.”

No wonder what? No wonder I had to get into the overhead compartment every five minutes? No wonder we had apple sauce all over our clothes? No wonder we had eighteen pieces of luggage plus a DVD player, pop-up tent, and the largest double stroller BOB makes? No wonder we looked more frightened, traumatized, and fatigued than characters from the Hunger Games?

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But all in all, it was really quite a successful trip. No bags were lost, check-in, security, and baggage claim all went quickly, and our ride was on time and parked nearby.

And so now we’re here.

Our temporary place is nice. Small, but nice. Two bedrooms, un-child-proof-able stairs, and a gas fireplace, also un-child-proof-able. There is a rabbit in our backyard, and Rachel devises “traps” for it daily.

My priorities for settling in, in some semblance of order, are:

Finding a church
Finding childcare
Finding a Trader Joe’s (done)
Finding an NPR station (done)
Finding a salon (done)
Finding a gym

As you can see, we’re essentially working backwards.

Overall the kids are settling in okay. Not perfect, but okay. We have found Aaron standing in the bathroom sink at 2:30am, and on top of a dresser shortly thereafter, with Rachel frantically attempting to talk him down and coax him back to bed.

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Sunday we went to our first Annapolis-area church. We had spent hours researching churches from Berkeley, and then researched some more from here, Saturday night.

Me: “What about this one? Looks like they have a lot of families.”

Andy: “PCA or PCUSA?”

Me: “I don’t know. I just looked at childcare.”

Andy: “What social justice outreach programs do they have?”

Me: “I don’t know. I just looked at childcare.”

Andy: “What does it say in their statement of faith?”

Me: “I don’t know. I just looked at childcare!!”

As you can tell, knowing that I have to work from home with no daycare/preschool options in sight, one car, and a husband whose work schedule is Monday through Friday, 7am to 6:15pm has changed my way of thinking just a teeny bit.

So we checked out a church with good childcare…

and ended up leaving after twenty minutes. .

Yesterday I looked at three childcare centers, and today I looked at another. I think it will fall together more quickly than I had anticipated, but by 6:30pm yesterday, with Andy stuck in traffic and having just found a tick on Aaron’s thigh, followed almost immediately by him peeing on the floor with the dog threatening to do the same, I felt like it couldn’t happen quickly enough.

But the boxes we mailed to our temporary place (we call it our “vacation home” to keep things fun for Rachel) are slowly trickling in, and after a week (one week today), we’ve found something of a routine.

Rachel already says things like, “Don’t worry. That’s just guns because they are practicing hitting targets.” (We live next door to a military training ground, apparently). We’re waiting for her to adopt sailboat slang and start asking for crab instead of chicken nuggets.

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I do love the freedom of knowing exactly how the weather will be when I step outside in the morning—hot. No layers to put on, or sweaters to pack. The sun will burn high and hot, unless it’s raining, and even then it’s far from cold. While dressing in the morning I’ve realized that the kids have a dearth of short-sleeved shirts, and man am I pale.

Give us a couple of years, though, and we’ll be tan, flip-flopped, and hanging out with the best of the navy and sailing families, attending the “Mariners” church, cooking up soft shell, and sending the kids to Mom’s Day Out at Anchors-a-Wee (I kid you not) during the summer, and busting out the snow suits and shovels in the winter, while I curse our muddy mud room.

Because sooner or later, we won’t just be here, we’ll live here.

RandJNapTown

 

 

From New Vaccines to Capetown Townships, Discovering People Who Are of Value to Christ: An Interview with Arthur Ammann

Arthur Ammann, M.D., is a pediatric immunologist and advocate known for his research on HIV transmission in women and children and his role in the development of the first successful vaccine to prevent pneumococcal infection. Dr. Ammann is the founder of Global Strategies and is the author of three books. He’s here today to talk about his latest book, (in)Visible, which is about “how Jesus leads us to discover people who are of value to Him so that they might be transformed as better for having met us.”

In (in)Visible you write, “Christians, in particular, when confronted with issues of justice and equity, must ask themselves two questions: “For what purpose have I achieved my position of power?” and, “Could it be that the wealth I have achieved was not just for me but so others can have the same opportunities as I’ve had?”

Of course, most of us don’t perceive ourselves as “powerful” or “wealthy,” yet we are all confronted with issues of justice and equity. How might those of us who see ourselves as everyday folks use our lives to discover and transform those around us? 

How we perceive our own value depends on whether we accept a definition that is imposed on us or one that is defined by God and accepted by us. Influences that come from the outside—the media, the corporate world, education, and even religion—put before us images that would have us believe there are only a small set of individuals to address issues of justice and equity. They are the wealthy and use their wealth to invoke change or urge others to invoke them; they are the powerful and address issues of justice by means of political solutions; or they are famous and use their fame to call attention to issues of justice and equity. Individuals—“ordinary people”—are left out or made to feel that issues such as equity and justice are best left to the experts and the technocrats. The teachings of Jesus tell us otherwise. They are counterintuitive. The Beatitudes talk about weakness, mercy, peacemaking and compassion—these are the characteristics of those to whom “the earth belongs.”

The Gospels provide us with examples of individuals in the shadows, some of whom were deemed not valuable, yet they brought about change. Jesus focused on individuals because it is within an individual that the sense of justice must begin—even within ordinary individuals. There are issues of justice and equity in our everyday life, within our families and our communities, and we have the power to change them. Love, compassion, and forgiveness are not characteristic of governments or social organizations, but they are the characteristics that individuals can use to transform those who surround them. We encounter issues of justice and equity every day and see the pain and suffering that can result from the seeming indifference. We can bring about justice and equity whether it’s paying a higher wage to a day worker; going deeper into a conversation with someone who is neglected, overlooked, ignored, or trivialized; or helping someone who is facing the barriers of gender, race, education, or poverty.

You can read the rest of today’s interview here.

Following Christ as a Lunatic Grass Farmer: An Interview with Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin is a grass-farmer in Swoope, Virginia, where he and his family own and operate Polyface Farms, a multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm. Joel is the author of nine books and has been featured in Michael Pollan’s award-winning book Ominvore’s Dilemma as well as the movie Food, Inc. Often cited in conversations about and with Joel is that he describes himself as a “Christian-conservative-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic-farmer.” He’s here with us today to talk about how his work as a “lunatic grass farmer” embodies the teachings of Christ.

So, Joel, how does your work as a lunatic grass farmer embody the red letters?

Christ as Creator established numerous principles for how this grand scheme would work. He established herbivores, for example, as pruners to make sure biomass did not go into senescence, but rather stay fresh and growthy, aggressively metabolizing solar energy into decomposable plant material that breathes in carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen. The whole earth’s ecosystem runs on sunbeams converted to tangible biomass through the magnificent process of photosynthesis. As a farmer, I have the distinct privilege of participating in this grand scheme, and as a human, I can either humbly encourage it or arrogantly fight against it.

The point is that all of creation is an object lesson of spiritual truth. So what does a farm that illustrates compassion, holiness, forgiveness, abundance, faith, and order look like? Does a farm that requires more and more chemicals reflect these Biblical principles more than one that has such a great immunological function it doesn’t need veterinarian care or pesticides? I would suggest that a farm that builds soil, heightens immunological function, produces more nutrient density, and runs on real time sunshine more consistently illustrates divine attributes than one that destroys soil, produces deficient food, runs on petroleum, and reduces immunological function.

Just like a local group of believers functions better when many different gifts and talents can be exercised, a farm functions better with synergistic and symbiotic multi-speciated relationships. Mono-speciation is a direct assault on God’s relational ethics, and yet simple crop or animal farms are encouraged in the industrial paradigm.

Life is fundamentally biological, not mechanical. Appreciating the pigness of pigs creates the moral and ethical framework in how we preserve the Tomness of Tom or the Maryness of Mary. Our industrial food system views food and life as fundamentally mechanical, to be manipulated however cleverly hubris can imagine to manipulate it. So in our human cleverness, we can innovate things we can’t spiritually, physically, mentally or emotionally metabolize, like feeding dead cows to cows to create bovine spongiform encephalopathy. This kind of assault on Christ’s ecological patterns stems directly from a disrespect toward life.

If life is sacred at all, then we should be farming in such a way as to honor the distinctiveness, the created uniqueness, of the plants and animals under our care. That extends to the eaters who partake of our fare. In other words, growing it faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper must take a second seat to honoring the pigness of the pig.

You can read the rest of Joel’s interview here.

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Mythbusting for Foster Parents

As a community committed to caring for those in need, Christian families looking for ways to reach out and serve often think about foster parenting. Barna Group reports that 31 percent of Christians have seriously considered foster parenting (compared to 11 percent of non-Christians). Strikingly, only 3 percent have actually become foster parents.

Why the discrepancy between those who are interested in the opportunity and those who have actually gone on to serve in this way?

While there are many practical reasons that could prevent people from taking on foster children, negative perceptions of the foster care system—such as front-page stories of social worker neglect and the belief that most foster parents are only in it for the money—loom large in America, including among Christians.

Whether from movies, media, or word-of-mouth, people worry that they will be unable to take on the responsibility of welcoming a child into their home for foster care or will become frustrated with the demands of the system itself. The Dave Thomas Foundation, which advocates for orphan-care in the U.S., cites this negative view as the most common reason people choose not to foster.

As with most things, it helps to know the facts. We are more comfortable and more willing to commit when we are well-educated about a cause. As an attorney and advocate who has spent 14 years working for and volunteering with foster children and their families, I’d like to offer the nearly one-in-three Christians considering becoming foster parents a realistic look at the demands and benefits.

To have the top truths and myths explained and debunked, click here to read the rest of the article on Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics.

Tattoos and Cardigans

Once upon a time, I was young.

I thought all the admonishments, advice, and wisdom of my elders would not apply to my life, and I shook off their words.

I believed but didn’t always live prayerfully.

I thought through things as wisely as I could, often better than most, but youth does have its shortcomings.

I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen. A friend performed the task, in my living room, using a hollowed Bic pen, thread, India ink and a guitar string. I was in a band then (Christian punk), and each member got the same x-eyed smiley face to commemorate our commitment to one another.

Click here to read the rest of today’s post over at my friend Bronwyn’s site. I know she’d love to have you.

 

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