I’ve been pondering “sin.” Now, stay with me here …
There are many ways to define the word, but the one that resonates most with me is “a thought or action that threatens one’s connection to God.”
We are told that God is love, and that love is patient and kind, that love rejoices in justice and our community with one another. We’re aware of all the thoughts and actions that divide our community, that foster injustice, that devolve into hate – but we hesitate to call those “sin.”
Instead, we say that we’re divided, that we disagree, that we live in a polarized world. And the problem seems too big for any one of us to solve.
It’s discouraging to reflect on the size of the gap between us, the scale of the hatred. It’s easy to despair at the hugeness of it all. How can I contribute to the solution?
I can strive to put things right in my own life – to take the log out of my own eye to better see the speck in my brother’s eye. I need to reflect on myself, and to check myself when I have those thoughts or engage in those actions that make me part of the wider problem. I have to check my own anger, my rage, my prejudice, my hate. I need to repair my relationship with God.
And I have to believe that if each of us did this, kindness would reach critical mass, and peace would come on earth.
Let’s reflect today.
It’s hard to know what to say when someone is hurting. We want to acknowledge their unhappiness, and offer support, but how? Platitudes can feel insincere – phrases like “You got this!” or “Let go and let God” can ring empty when someone we love is suffering. Sending a picture of a peaceful meadow with an inspirational saying feels too shallow, too trite. We don’t want to make it worse, but we want to honor their pain.
It’s ok to say, “I don’t know what to say.” To say, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting, and I wish I could help, but I don’t know how.” To realize that people aren’t always asking for a solution, but perhaps a listening ear, or someone to dry their tears, even if we can’t “fix” their problems.
We often ask, “Is there anything I can do?” and our friend says no. That might ease our conscience and make us feel as if we’ve done all we can. But instead of asking the question, we could offer something specific – “I’d like to bring you dinner this week. What night would work best for you?” Our friend might still say no, not wanting to impose, but we can assure them it’s an open offer if they change their mind.
We can also follow up. Many acquaintances will say “Sorry to hear that, I’ll keep you in my thoughts” – but it’s rare that anyone will check back after a few days, a week, a month. It takes time to process a life challenge, a loss, and our needs will change along the way. The friend who checks in with us from time to time … that’s the friend who feels sincere, genuine.
An inspirational quote, a Bible verse, an encouraging meme … these can be offered with the best of intentions. But perhaps the most authentic way to help is to just say, “I care. I’m here. I’m thinking about you.” And then follow up.
This past Saturday, Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. And Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the birth of the Christian faith.
Both of these events were surrounded by metaphors of wind, breath, and fresh air.
In the Christian tradition, God created the first human by breathing life into that which was lifeless. And when the Holy Spirit came upon believers, she came in the form of wind and tongues of fire, breathing new life into a community that could have been tempted to give up on the future. Breath, wind, life.
In the same way, many of us look forward to spring. Here in Michigan, the winters are long, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can throw open our windows, air our homes, “spring clean” our lives. There’s nothing like the feel, and smell, of those early breezes that clear our minds to make room for the fresh and new.
On Saturday, a bride and groom said their vows. An ordinary life event in many ways, except this was a first: A “senior” member of the royal family chose a bride who is American, biracial, and a divorcee – a bride that, even a generation ago, he would have been forbidden to marry. If you watched the ceremony, you could see the love these two have for one another. Love won out (love always wins in the end), and these two are a fresh breeze blowing through an ancient institution. I expect they are going to do great things and have an extraordinary life together.
The sermon at their wedding service was preached by an African-American who was born in Chicago, educated at Yale, and began his career in the American south. The reaction shots of the British, Anglican congregation were telling. This was not the type of sermon – or preacher – they were accustomed to. Some looked uncomfortable, others looked amused, but a fresh breeze was blowing through that ancient church that day.
Let’s pray for a fresh wind to blow through our lives, our country, and our culture – a wind that will sweep out old hatreds and prejudice, and give us the breath of life.
PS – If you missed Bishop Curry’s sermon, you can find it here. It’s a fresh breeze.
AmazonEncore, Book recommendations, book reviews, books, booktube, coffee and kindness, encouragement, good books, inspiration, jen sincero, kathryn knight, kindle, kindle unlimited, motivation, nora roberts, rebekah crane, running press adult, shonda rhimes, silver lake, simon & schuster, skyscape, st martin's press, the upside of falling down, year of yes, year one, you are a badass
Here’s a roundup of some recent reads:
I didn’t expect to love this, but I really did! “The Upside of Falling Down” is a light romance, “young adult” novel that, at first, seems like it will be predictable – a young woman is the sole survivor of a plane crash, and wakes up with no memory of her life before. A young man befriends her and … you think you know the rest, but that’s where the twists and turns start coming. I found it to be a page-turner, with some really surprising revelations at the end. If you’re up for a light, fun read, this is a good one. Available for borrowing on Kindle Unlimited.
Honestly, I didn’t love this one. If you’re looking for a book that says “rah, rah, yay you!” then it’s for you. But if you have deeper issues of anxiety and depression, you may not find it helpful. To me, much of her advice has the flavor of “If you’re lonely, get out and meet people!” or “If you’re sad, look at how happy people act, and act like them!” There *were* some useful ideas about where our attitudes and mindsets come from, such as growing up in an environment where relationships are difficult, or money is scarce. But overall, I found that the advice did not account for the complexities of human emotions. It has high ratings on Amazon, though, and it’s a bestseller, so a lot of people like it.
If you’re a fan of Nora Roberts, dystopian novels, or magic/witchcraft stories (or all of the above), you’ll love this one. It starts with a common premise – a sickness has wiped out most of the human race, governments have collapsed – but the fascinating part is how the survivors find one another and come together in communities. The book is meant to be the first in a series, and I can’t wait to read the next one. Recommended!
This is a romance / “haunted house” story about a group of friends in their mid-twenties who had gone to high school together. One member of their group, Brandy, had disappeared years before and is presumed dead, but her other friends have been having mysterious dreams about her. At the request of Brandy’s mother, the friends reunite at a cottage on Silver Lake – one of their former hangouts – to see if they can piece together the clues to Brandy’s disappearance. The story? It’s ok. I found it a little predictable, but not in a bad way. It’s a light story, and for me, it was a “palate cleanser” between other books. It’s available on Kindle Unlimited to borrow.
I really enjoyed this memoir by the creator of such TV shows as Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda Rhimes is a busy woman with an overbooked schedule, so she got into the habit of saying “no” to a lot of opportunities and engagements. One Thanksgiving, as she was preparing dinner with her sister, her sister said “You never say yes to anything.” This prompted Shonda to engage in deep self-reflection. She committed to finding ways to say “yes” more in the coming year. As she came to learn, saying “yes” sometimes means saying “yes” to your own well-being, instead of other people’s requests. A great book for introverts and those who love them.
Have fun reading!
It’s finals week, and students (and their teachers) are thinking a lot about grades.
I hope that all of us – including my students – will take up this challenge. It’s not a formal assignment, and it won’t be graded (at least, not by me). Your “grade” will be reflected in your quality of life, relationships, and sense of self.
I want all of us to make a concerted effort to befriend someone different from ourselves.
If you’re a liberal, make friends with someone whose beliefs are conservative. If you’re religious, befriend someone who questions, or disbelieves, the existence of God. If you are American, make a new friend who grew up in another land.
I’m not here to tell you that we’re more alike than we are different. Sometimes our differences are vast, and we should honor them. But we need to talk to one another, and more importantly, to really listen. To see each other as companions on the journey, wherever we started from, wherever our ultimate destination.
Challenge yourself to find that new friend, and to open your mind. That’s our assignment, and I hope we all earn the highest marks.
If you love to read, and you’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate more of this pleasure into your life, this post is for you. If not, please pass it by! My intention is not to make anyone feel guilty about the time they spend in other pleasurable pursuits – but if you want to spend more time enjoying books, I’ll share some of the techniques I use to build more reading time into my busy life.
Try listening to audiobooks
If you haven’t tried audiobooks, please give them a shot. I use the Audible app on my phone, and download books for listening in the car. I love to listen to books on long trips, but also on short ones – even the drive to and from work. Sometimes it’s nice to just listen to someone read to you. Two caveats: (1) before you buy, listen to the sample. Occasionally I can’t stand the narrator’s voice, which means the listening won’t be much fun. (2) there’s a danger of “zoning out” and realizing that you missed the last few minutes of the story because you were thinking about something else. If that happens, just backtrack a bit. You can always re-listen to favorites, too.
Try using an electronic reader
I use the Kindle app on my phone and on my iPad. You can purchase electronic books on Amazon and download them directly to your device, where they are always handy. This way, when I have to wait at the doctor’s office, or I’m early for a meeting, I can enjoy some reading time. Having books on your device is also handy for the gym, if you use the treadmill or stationery bike.
Read more than one book at a time
I know a lot of people who prefer to finish one book before starting another, but I look at it this way: You watch multiple TV series, right? So you’re getting a story in “installments,” and then watching other stories before you get the next one. Yet, if you are involved in these stories, you don’t get confused or forget them. Well, reading is the same way, at least for me. I can be reading one book on Kindle, listening to another on Audible, and have a third “real” (paper) book in the bathroom to read while I soak in the tub. Maybe there’s another on my nightstand. I like to mix it up. There’s no rule that says you have to read just one at a time – unless you want to. Which leads me to my next tip:
Switch up your genres
We all have our favorites, but reading can become tedious if you always read within the same genre. So I like to switch it up. After reading a long, ponderous tome, I’ll choose a fluffy romance next. I’ll alternate fiction and non-fiction. Once in a while I’ll choose a book that’s normally “not my type,” but looks interesting. So if you find yourself in a rut of reading nothing but sci-fi, or dystopian novels, or self-help books, try something different. It may renew your joy in reading.
Never let it become a chore
Reading (unless it’s for work or school) should never feel like something you “have” to do. If you ordinarily love to read, but have come to see it as a chore, take a breather. If this pleasurable activity ceases to bring you pleasure, go ahead and do something else that lights up your soul.
It’s a question that students often ask, and I always find it frustrating. “Is this going to be on the exam?” translates to, “Do I need to pay attention to this, remember it, and reproduce it later?”
I become frustrated, because I find the material fascinating, and I want them to love learning for its own sake. I want them to be engaged in life, interested in new ideas, without the incentives of reward and punishment. I want them to become informed citizens of the world, capable of engaging in public debate from a position where they truly understand their own minds on social issues.
But then I remember: they aren’t used to that. They’re used to the exam.
When I introduce them to the idea that learning new things is an important part of their development as adults, as citizens, as members of a community … I try to remember that this might be the first time they’ve thought about that. They’re not used to being judged on their ability to articulate an argument, or to thoughtfully explain both sides of a social issue. They’re used to memorizing facts, with little concern about their deeper meanings.
So I keep trying. I don’t give up. I pray that when they leave the classroom, some of the seeds I’ve planted will germinate and struggle upward to find the sun.
And they won’t need a number two pencil for that.
book reviews, books, coffee and kindness, coming clean, crown, dutton books, eleanor oliphant, encouragement, gail honeyman, inspiration, john green, kimberly rae miller, mark haddon, motivation, new harvest, nina george, pamela dorman books, reading, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, the little paris bookshop, turtles all the way down, vintage
Here’s a roundup of some recent reads:
It’s rare when I finish a book and I’m sad when it’s over – but that’s how I felt about “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.” I LOVED it. I loved her! Eleanor is a single woman, the (seemingly) stereotypical fussy “spinster” who lives alone, talks to her mother on the phone once a week, and has a fantasy crush on a rock star. She lives a quiet life – she’s mousy and unnoticeable, and she likes it that way. Then, out of the blue, a new friend – and a secret from her own past – turn her world upside down. Can Eleanor venture outside her carefully crafted comfort zone? You must find out! (Also I hear this is soon to be a movie).
Ah, “Turtles.” See, this is one of those “Young Adult” (YA) books that I talked myself into reading, because of the hype. I know John Green has a huge fan following, but this story did nothing for me. It follows Aza, a nerdy high-schooler, and a group of her friends, as they try to solve the mystery of a local man’s disappearance. The story is told from Aza’s point of view, and much of the prose consists of narration of her unruly, spiraling thoughts as she grapples with depression and anxiety. As I suffer from those conditions myself, I’m not throwing shade about that – but rather, the fact that Aza’s very real personal issues are set against the backdrop of an implausible “Scooby Doo” mystery. But then, I’m not the target reader for this book. I’ve heard many young people say they found it life-changing. Your mileage may vary.
“Coming Clean” was much more my style. This is a memoir, written by a woman who was raised by hoarders. She tells the painful story of her childhood, when she was afraid to bring friends to her house, and how her deep love for her parents was at odds with her despair that they would ever be able to change. Coming to terms with the shame, and the fear that she would grow up to be the same way, was a long journey, and it’s a fascinating one. Miller takes a deep dive into the question of how our parents, and our childhoods, continue to define us.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was the choice of my book club (actually, I belong to two), and is not a book I would have normally read on my own. But that’s the great thing about book clubs – they introduce you to titles you would never read otherwise. The story is told from the point of view of a 15-year-old boy with autism, and provides a stunning insight into the way that people with autism think and feel as they move through the world. Our protagonist, Christopher, makes a curious discovery about his neighbor’s dog, and sets out on a personal quest to learn more. Along the way, he uncovers secrets that change lives.
Every once in a while, you finish a book and know that you will never be the same. This novel by Nina George really touched my heart. Jean Perdu is a Frenchman who owns a bookstore, and who still carries a torch for a long-lost love. He goes on a quest to find her, and in the process, finds himself. A beautiful story of loss and discovery. A must read. The author has a second book out now that’s still in hardcover. I want to read it when it comes out in paperback.
That’s it for now – more to come soon!
What are you reading? Have you read any of these? Opinions?
I love to read, and I read a lot. I usually complete a book a week, sometimes more, and I don’t have any more spare time than anyone else. I listen to audiobooks in the car, and I keep a book on my nightstand, one in the bathroom, and one in the living room next to my recliner. My tablet lives in my purse, and I have books downloaded and ready. I read every chance I get, and I also create those “chances.” Many evenings, I’ll turn off the television and just read for an hour.
I was initially excited to discover that there are Youtube channels dedicated to reading, and to publishing book reviews (a subset of Youtube that users call “Booktube”) – but as I watched more and more of these, I discovered that most of them were dedicated to “YA” (Young Adult) books, and the videos were hosted by high school and college-aged women. The channels that weren’t “YA” featured mostly specific genres like romance, or thrillers, or mass-market bestsellers.
My taste in books is a bit more eclectic.
I like the bestsellers, sure, but I also love re-reading old classics, and occasionally discovering something new. Sometimes a friend will pass a book along to me, or perhaps I find an undiscovered title by a favorite author. The book might not be “current,” but I don’t care, as long as it’s good.
I also like to read nonfiction, which seems to be unusual, at least among the reading community that posts on social media. I love memoirs too. I love learning about people’s lives, real lives. I often prefer these books to fiction.
So where can I find others who share my passion?
I’m counting on finding some of you here. In the coming days (weeks? months?) I’d like to write more about reading, and share some books that I’ve come to love. In the spirit of honesty, I may also warn you off about some bestsellers that are over hyped and not worth your time.
Will you read with me?
P.S. – If you have a favorite “Booktube” channel that’s not “YA,” please share! x