Back to School

Today is the first day of school. My kids are off to second grade and fifth grade (middle school!).

Pardon me while I celebrate the end of summer.

(I’m a work-at-home dad. Summer is not so easy.)

School can always be kind of crazy making. I’m 37, I’ve been out of school for… a long time, and I still have recurring nightmares about getting lost in school, unable to find my classes or remember my schedule.

This prayer seems apt:

Even when there’s not much to be nervous about—my kids have it pretty easy—they’re still nervous.

Just looking at this photo from the superintendent, the welcome wagon at high school—especially the high fives—makes me a little nervous. It’s a welcoming gesture, sure, but it feels like window dressing for the high school experience. When it comes to finding a seat in the cafeteria or sitting next to someone on the bus or just walking down the halls, will those smiles and high fives still be there?

Honestly, I feel a little bit of relief that I don’t have to deal with any of it, that the kids are off and the house is quiet again. They’re as prepared as they’re going to be, and they’ll have to face it themselves.

Godspeed.

Summer Book Club 2016

Last year I did a summer book club with Lexi. We’d read the same book, then go to the coffee shop for snacks and talk about it. This year we did it again.

And Milo joined in.

I didn’t think Milo was ready for chapter books. He’s been reading those numbered early readers (1, 2, 3) that I find brain-numbing, and I thought he was still struggling with those. But when I started the book club with Lexi, he wanted in. He’s definitely not ready for the harder middle grade books Lexi is reading, so we opted to do a separate book club with him and he totally nailed it.

As we talked about the books, it was clear Milo completely understood what he was reading. I even tested him to see what he could read, and discovered he couldn’t actually read a lot of the bigger words. But he could still figure out what was happening in the story. That’s pretty incredible. (My wife the teacher is rolling her eyes; apparently this is what all kids go through as they learn how to read.)

So I did book club with both kids. We didn’t get started until July, and reading for two different kids took more time, but we still got through three books each.

Lexi’s Book Club:

  • Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
  • I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin
  • Bird by Crystal Chan

Lexi’s favorite: I Lived on Butterfly Hill

My favorite: Every Soul a Star
(Learning about solar eclipses was pretty cool—we’re planning to check out the 2017 total solar eclipse in Nebraska next summer.)

Milo’s Book Club:

  • Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
  • Ellray Jakes Is Not Chicken by Sally Warner
  • Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker by Megan McDonald

Our favorite: Lulu and the Brontosaurus (we both liked that one best)

Since we got a late start and I couldn’t seem to keep up with both kids, it didn’t feel like we got through many books. Both kids are wanting to keep doing book club in the fall (I imagine more motivated by the chance to go get a snack than anything), so we’ll have to see. It is a fun way to engage with them.

Patwin Lawrence: Calling Out a Candidate for Inconsistencies

Patwin Lawrence is a candidate for the Minnesota Senate in District 59, and I think he may have inconsistent personal and political views that he’s not disclosing to voters.

This has been a weird national election season. I’ve learned (the hard way) that being too outspoken about politics is obnoxious. But I also think it’s important to talk about. Politics is messy, but it won’t get any better if we completely ignore it.

And as I’ve said before, local election coverage is weak at best.

So I’m diving in (gulp). I’m asking public questions of a local candidate (and acquaintance) because I think it’s important voters be informed to make their own decisions.

So full disclosure: This is an oddly personal and political blog post. Continue reading Patwin Lawrence: Calling Out a Candidate for Inconsistencies

Favorite Books So Far in 2016

So we’re halfway through 2016. How’s your book reading going?

I’m on a ridiculous pace: 104 books so far this year. Of course I read a lot. If this pace continues, I’ll beat my record of 203 books in 2014. But I don’t really care about that. While I like to talk about the numbers because they’re shocking, I’m not in it to set records. I’m in it to read good books.

I also track the racial and gender diversity in my books. So far this year I’m at 52% racial diversity (books written by or featuring main characters of color) and 54% female authors. Last year, my most diverse year to date, I managed 54% POC and 56% women.

So I’m on track there, which is encouraging. Seeking out diverse books isn’t always easy, but I’m starting to see it pay dividends as I try to understand the world around me and help my kids navigate it.

But enough about numbers. Let’s talk books.

Favorite Fiction Books So Far This Year:

  • Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.
  • Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
  • Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past by Diane Wilson
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • Roots by Alex Haley
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements

Favorite Nonfiction Books So Far This Year:

  • Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles
  • Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella
  • Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark by Addie Zierman
  • Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity by Beverly Daniel Tatum
  • Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G.I. Hart

I’ve got about 25 library books sitting in my to-read stack, so I’m excited to discover some more great books in 2016.

How Do We Overcome Our Bi-Partisan Ignorance?

Ignorance stalks us wherever we go. Stupidity too—it’s easy to lash out in anger or dismissiveness. And maybe arrogance as well, to think that none of these apply to us. To me. We—I—live a great contradiction.

It’s so prominent in the political debate in this country right now—filibusters and sit-ins over gun rights, refusing to consider Supreme Court nominees, etc.. One side decries the other side’s actions, even though the first side has used the exact same tactic in the past. Both sides do it.

And so it goes. And that’s just in politics.

I read a lot. Some might say too much. In that reading I come across portrayals of overwhelming ignorance. Just this morning, in a matter of pages I read about The Colored Motorist’s Guide that told black people in the first half of the twentieth century “where they could and could not sleep, in what towns the citizens would shoot them if they stayed after dark,” and then that “deaf schools banished sign language, declared it backward and a threat to the wholesome spoken word, subscribed to the theory that sign language would encourage the deaf to marry only each other and create a perpetuating race of non-hearers, and swaddled the hands of their most defiant students in thick cotton mittens.” Continue reading How Do We Overcome Our Bi-Partisan Ignorance?

Giving Cancer the Middle Finger

I’m excited to read the new book from Nora McInerny Purmort, It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too). You may have seen the headlines about her: she married her husband after his brain cancer diagnosis and they decided to have a child even though he was dying.

A book about cancer and death? Oh joy, right?

Yeah, Nora is freaking hilarious. I saw her speak a few months back and the whole place was laughing to tears. She’s one of these incredible people who can make us laugh in the face of cancer and death.

Sometimes we need to give cancer the ol’ middle finger.

The Pioneer Press has a great profile of Nora, and I just loved this section:

Grieving widow books are thriving, many offering some version of “God gave me strength and made me a better person.” Not Nora Purmort.

“I hate that sh–. I didn’t want to write that book,” she says. “I don’t think things happen for a reason, and it’s not nice to say this is God’s plan.”

Amen.

Can We Have a Little Compassion?

I shared this article on Facebook last week, but I think it’s important enough that I’m going to share it again:

There’s a lot of freaking out happening right now over gender issues. I think much of it comes down to misunderstanding. Transgender is a weird issue and a lot of us don’t understand it.

If we say that we love people, then we need to try to understand it and have some compassion. That article is a start.

Because you may not know it yet, but you probably know a transgender person. I didn’t know anyone personally—until today. We need to listen. We need to [try to] understand. We need some compassion.

And we’re going to ask dumb questions or say offensive things. And we’ll need grace.

I came across this passage in the book I’m reading right now, Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. The main character, Pat, has some kind of mental health issues and he just read the very depressing The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Pat asks his therapist why kids in school should have to read it:

“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life is.”

“Why?”

“So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s head.”

Some of us have life easier than others (another way to describe privilege). And so before we judge people based on that or apply our theology or political ideology to it, I think we need to have some compassion.

What other response should we have to hurting people?

Transgender: Love or Legislate?

There’s no epidemic of bathroom assaults in this country. You know what there is? A rash of suicide among trans people—41%.

Love > Fear.

I really don’t want to get into some online debate about this. I dread it. But when I see people spewing hate and pretending it’s reasonable, I can’t keep quiet.

Trans people are more likely to be harassed, bullied, abused and rejected. It’s no wonder they’re trying to kill themselves at staggering numbers.

That should break our hearts.

But instead of loving, we’re legislating.

Let’s be honest: the transgender experience is weird and complicated and confusing. Most of us don’t understand it. Imagine trying to live it.

Yet instead of compassion, too many react in fear. We refuse to consider their actual experience and assume we know better. When will we stop trying to inflict our morality on hurting people?

Look: I don’t care about the theology or morality or whatever surrounding the transgender issue. All that sermonizing doesn’t mean anything when kids put knives to their wrists.

You either care about that person or you don’t. You either love them like Jesus did—right or wrong, accident or choice, sin or something else—or what the hell are you doing?

We hate one another too easily. That’s not the gospel I believe. Sometimes I think we’ve forgotten the Good Samaritan.

Want to understand this issue better? Try talking to a trans person. The next best thing: Try reading their experience. It’s a start.

 

  • Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
  • Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews
  • Young adult fiction: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills
  • Middle grade fiction: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

 

Have some compassion, even if you don’t understand or disagree. These are people too.

Be a Quitter

That's How We've Always Done It: Is Your Church Ready to Quit? 166 Ways to Be a QuitterIt all started with Bob Goff. He quits something every Thursday. It inspired my latest book, Is Your Church Ready to Quit?: 166 Ways to Be a Quitter.

We’re afraid of failure and scared to quit. The result is that we keep doing things we shouldn’t be doing. That’s why Bob started quitting every week:

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me. But now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” -Bob Goff

I like consistency. I’ve lived in Minnesota since 1997. I’ve been blogging since 1998. Attending my church since 2001. Freelancing since 2003. Editing Church Marketing Sucks since 2004. Living in my current house since 2007. I don’t like change.

But sometimes we need change. We need to be willing to quit.

I took Bob’s encouragement to quit and shared it with freelancers through iThemes last year. I even called Bob for the article, which was kind of weird (his phone number is in his book and he encourages people to just call him; so I did).

The idea resonated, so I translated it to churches and ran a blog series on Church Marketing Sucks last August. We shared 30 things to quit. Then 30 more. The idea still resonated, so I expanded it into a list of 166 things to quit, complete with added commentary.

The result is the ebook, Is Your Church Ready to Quit?: 166 Ways to Be a Quitter. It’s a fun little project.

You can buy it at Amazon (or borrow it for free if you’ve got a Kindle) or check out a free preview.

Show Your Work: Time Travel Story

I’m trying to write a novel. Again.

Writing fiction is scary work for me. It’s hard. And I don’t think I’m very good at it. Plus there’s practically zero financial incentive.

But nobody writes books to make money.

You have to do it because you love it. Because you have a good idea inside that you can’t help but share with the world. It helps if the process of writing you occasionally find enjoyable.

I don’t know if I have a good idea or not, but it’s inside me and wants to get out. Every now and then there are times when the writing process is amazing. But especially with fiction there are long stretches when the words are wooden, the sentences flat and I wonder why I’m wasting perfectly good time that I could be doing nearly anything else.

I’ve started and stopped this latest novel a few times now. I’m trying again.

The motivation this time is that I realized the story I’m wanting to tell is a story I’d like to read to my children. I read to my kids nearly every day. We read lots of different books and now that we’re reading middle grade novels and not rhyming picture books, I really enjoy it. I love reading a book that captures my kids attention. I love reading a book that has wonderful words, spectacular phrasing and dialogue that makes me try to be a performer and not a mere reader.

I wonder if I can write that kind of book.

I probably can’t.

I’ve written three novels and have never been able to get them past a second draft to a point where I’d say they’re finished. I have a hard time following through.

It’s not that I’m lacking confidence, it’s that I’m trying to be realistic.

Yet I have this idea. It keeps working on me, spinning in the back of my head, trying to become something. It’s about a reluctant time traveler.

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.