Weighing harms…

“Which harm is most important to prevent?”

This seems to be a key question in culture these days. It is behind the vitriol in debates about free speech, discussions about LGBTQ+ rights, conversations about school choice, CRT, religious freedom, gun rights, abortion, etc. Yet this question raises more questions, like: “How do we define harm?” and “How do we measure prevention of that harm?” and “What other interests and rights are we willing to sacrifice in the process?”  The answers to those questions are often very perspective-bound, but stated as obvious absolutes, instantly marginalizing anyone who thinks differently (thereby polarizing news sources all the more because no one wants to read something that makes them feel marginalized). The answers are often then accompanied by a little self-justification like “well, I respect people who think differently, but….” (and then an under-the-breath thought ‘but those people are so stupid and uneducated.’ Or ‘but they are so corrupted and immoral’ or ‘if only they could see how unloving they are’).

As I think about it, I notice that the way the harm question is framed reflects the hyper-polarization and the moralizing language that is so popular right now. Everyone wants the moral high ground. By moving every debate into the moral realm, it allows us to feel superior, and to also frame disagreement, not as a different perspective, but rather as a corrupted and immoral outlook that must be squashed. It results in weapons of rhetoric being aimed at people rather than at ideas.

This is dangerous. It is destructive. It is like a gangrene that kills.  This moralizing also in practice often turns us into hypocrites, as we try to use the very tactics that we recently lamented and called out as manipulative and power-driven when they were used by “the other side.”  We then flatly justify our own behavior because it is in pursuit of “the good,” as defined by our perspective in our culture and in our time in history.

But is it possible that, in a pluralistic culture—as we look for a means for determining government engagement and structures—that we are asking the wrong question? Knowing that we live in a pluralistic world that we must somehow functionally and peacefully live in, we need to step away from the “everyone needs to think like me or the world will implode” mentality. I would say this applies equally to the hyper-conservative and the hyper progressive. I would also say it needs to be applied to temper the arrogance of even the moderately progressive and moderately conservative, who both roll their eyes at the extremes on both sides, but then also look down their noses at one another.

Instead of the “which harm is worse?” thinking, which means there has to be a winner and a loser, perhaps we need to instead ask “how can we treat humans with respect and engage in culture creation that values civility and human dignity?”

This does not mean we lose our beliefs or that we become wishy-washy. Do I believe in right and wrong? Yes. Do I believe that truth exists and can be pursued by humans? Yes. I actually personally believe that there is a sovereign God who created the world and humans and cares about us, knows what will lead to human flourishing, and graciously points us to it. I also believe I don’t have the authority or right to just change my beliefs to whatever I want to—I have placed the holy and gracious Creator God on the throne in my heart and life and that means I don’t get to play god. I believe making him Lord of my life is the best, most freeing decision I have ever made and that my relationship with him as my loving Father gives me peace, hope and purpose. I want more people to experience the hope and peace I have in Jesus. Yet I believe the best way to spread good news, particularly in a pluralistic community, is through love, service, and authentic dialogue. And I firmly believe I can desire good for people who think drastically differently than I do.

I think this principle is true for everyone, regardless of what their views of good news are. And I think, instead of squashing perspectives that don’t fit our notions of good, we should treat people how we want to be treated.

This then raises the age old kids’ objection: But then the other side will win because they aren’t going to play fair… My response to my children then is: “Well, lets respond instead of react: is the choice to get angry and bite back going to actually lead you to what you want, or will it just give you some momentary and fleeting feeling of ‘well, they deserve it,’ while loosing your credibility in the process?”  Individuals must choose to respect and honor other persons as a valuable human beings, even when that respect is not returned.

The immediate question that follows, however, is then “what does it mean to respect?” Some would say if you don’t agree with me, you don’t respect me. If that is our mentality, then we are right back where we started—at an impasse. I respectfully disagree; I think respecting someone is seeing them as a human, with value, and treating them the way I want to be treated. The deeper question is, “Can I care about someone, and show kindness to them, even if they don’t like me or my views, even if they would like to demean me or silence me?” Jesus says I can, and he calls me to do it. He says “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, …” (Luke 6:35). He then lived it out when he was here on earth. He lived with love and sacrifice in a culture and a time that did not embrace him. And guess what—it made a difference!

Am I Thinking of Others?

We have an obsession with individual choice in our culture. We want our individual rights. Now, it is not wrong to want to preserve rights—we in fact must commit ourselves to righting wrongs and seeking justice–, but I have noticed that a self-oriented focus on “rights” often comes at the cost of the broader community when people, simmering in frustration, cease to love and serve well. We can think, ‘if I do something for the good of the community, but other people don’t, then I will be at a disadvantage…’ We can talk ourselves into stagnation, wondering if choosing to sacrifice and serve is worth the cost to my comfort, my self-sufficiency, my power? Yet I would submit that there is real and personal long-term cost in not thinking about the broader community too!

Those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus should be the first to value the “we.” It is a critical part of Biblical teaching that we are to think of “one another” and are to count the needs of others above our own needs. We are called to care for the poor, to pursue justice, and even to love those we see as enemies. We are to display Christlike qualities of compassion, love, and grace—seeing people as made in the image of God.  We are to do this, not out of our own strength (we cannot live up to this standard on our own!), but because God has poured out his love and undeserved favor on us. He accepts us as His children even as we were still (and are still) broken and messy and sinful. We love, because he first loved us. (I Jn. 4:19).

So…why don’t we see this others-centeredness—this servant-heartedness that should characterize those who claim Jesus—in a lot of “cultural Christianity” in the United States right now? It saddens me to see anger and self-justification instead. It undermines the trust of so many young people to see the church proclaiming Jesus, but then modeling bitterness, and vitriol and “what-about-me” thinking.

We cannot escape the tension in culture right now. There is a tension of ideologies because strong beliefs that are in many ways incompatible are vying for power in our political, social, and economic spheres. I am not saying we should ignore the tension, nor should we pretend it doesn’t matter what people believe. In fact, dominant ideologies deeply affect our communities and the coming future generations. They form the foundation for policies (social, economic, environmental), governmental structures (e.g., constitutional interpretation), education, and more.  Yet, even if that is true, I don’t think we need to act like the world is ending if “our” (whichever ‘our’ you choose to align with—whether conservative, progressive, or something in between) perspective is not effectively winning in the power struggle over “X” issue.  I believe we can have love and respect for people who think differently; I believe God is God, no matter what direction the culture goes; and I firmly believe that a posture of humility is what is most deeply needed in order to transform our culture.

Walking in humility means I seek to understand, listen, and care for people I don’t agree with. It means I believe both that I might be wrong in at least some of what I am thinking, and that I can learn a lot from those I disagree with. I can love people who are radically different from me without fear of losing my identity, because my identity is not in winning; it is in Jesus. Because I know that God will ultimately reign forever as the only truly good, loving, just and compassionate king, I don’t have to fear “losing.”

Our Cru group here in Davis has the tagline that we are “A caring multicultural community helping people follow Jesus.” We want to be known as people who care, and who believe that we have much to learn from one another.  Yet our firm foundation is in Jesus and the Word of God because that is where we passionately believe that peace and life and hope are found—nowhere else.

It does not minimize the strength of my faith or convictions to listen to people who disagree with them. In fact, I can even advocate for the rights of people who disagree with me—for their right to have a voice! As an attorney who works in the area of Free Speech and Religious Freedom, I believe it is best to advocate for the rights of people of all faiths. I believe our diverse communities will be better if every religious community is able to teach and practice the tenets of their faith (of course within appropriate boundaries, such as preventing criminal activity and abuse).

Some will ask: am I in danger of “compromising” when I listen and seek to understand those with views I disagree with? No! I am in much more danger of losing myself and the message of grace and hope that is at the center of the truth claims of my faith when I allow bitterness or arrogance to poison me. “Learn and Grow” is a family phrase we use to represent the attitude and humility we want to have as we approach this journey of life.  We absolutely want to do the work of grounding ourselves in truth (and God’s Word is where I want our family to be rooted), but we also know that learning and growing in our faith tradition is about much more than knowing things. It is about living in a Christlike way–walking in grace, truth, and humility.

Struggling in “Achievementland”

Lets start with the admission, like at the beginning of an alcoholics anonymous meeting. Here it is: I am a struggling parent living in Achievementland (a.k.a. Davis). “Tell me more” you say.  Well, I thought last year was hard…I thought it could only get better. But this year is hard too! I am not saying this year is all bad, nor was last year. I know I am blessed – I have a close-knit family. My kids feel loved, they love spending time together, and I love spending time with them. We got used to a lot of together time last year. It is the externals coming in and throwing a wrench in it right now. Activities are hard. We now have 5 kids with activities, and…it is a lot. But that isn’t really what I am struggling with…

School. It feels like it has changed. Covid ruined it! [Mini rant]. Hopefully not permanently [effort at optimism…].

OK, maybe Davis ruined it before that, at least at the high school level where there is so much crazy pressure…I am new to it and, wow….  Are any other parents wondering how we ever got straight A’s?

But I also feel like Covid has affected how school is done for elementary school aged kids. It feels like stratification in the class is more evident than ever. Some kids openly talk about how advanced they are, making the kids who aren’t feel worse. So much is still on computers: sitting in the class, yes, but doing many assignments on the computer… (i-Ready’s personalized programming sounds good, but I am concerned about a lot of math being done on a computer and I don’t want my child to feel like she is behind other kids because she doesn’t “get through it” as fast). My child, who I protected from it all by homeschooling last year (focusing on normal things like “math on paper worksheets” and “writing in a journal with a pencil”), goes through emotional ups and downs, often feeling behind because she isn’t as tech-savvy, and can’t navigate all the tabs and assignments as quickly as the other kids. While we did do some typing last year, she can’t type fast. I feel like I didn’t prepare her well enough, even though I helped her gain confidence in reading and math, and improved her ability to write (she even learned cursive!).  My heart is weary, and I hate seeing my children experiencing stress! I love and respect teachers and know they are working hard (all my kids have some excellent teachers), and I know teachers are facing so many pressures and expectations that they neither chose nor designed… Yet I am concerned about school remaining screen-driven. It will change the pace, the feeling of calm, and will increase the comparison if we aren’t careful…

I am experiencing stress partly because I don’t feel like I have the bandwidth, with my job and many things I am juggling, to keep track of everything my children are doing in school. I am also struggling with the fact that I can’t fix it—I can’t homeschool right now because of my job responsibilities; I can’t make the stress go away!  I can say I love my children and that I am for them—and I am saying that every day—but I am a little concerned about how to just “get used to this” feeling of school pressure and stress for the next 12+ years that I will still have at least one child in Davis schools.

Lord, I need you! I know you are bigger than all of this [turning to prayer, which for me is not just a desperation thing, but a daily life thing…].

I want to help my children know that their value is not in their “output,” but in the fact that they are precious children, created by and loved by a compassionate, personal, caring God. I want them to learn to work diligently and hard, but to rest in the unconditional love that their parents have for them—even though we live it out imperfectly—so that they can be confident that someone is always “for” them. Health (physical, spiritual, emotional) is more important than grades, and positive relationships and play time are critical for health.  Yet it feels like swimming against the current to live with such priorities because they aren’t “resume builders.” 

I must remind myself and my children that the LORD’s way is different, and good. Psalm 18:27-28 say “For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.”

The result of creative play time

Beauty out of Chaos

I wanted to say good-bye to summer with a little reflection. I am thankful for the peaceful time at home the kids and I had this summer. Looking back now, summer feels like the calm before the storm, since Fall has started with quite the whirlwind of school, activities, and the never-ending to do list for work. Part of what makes summer good, though, is that it is different than the norm, a break of sorts (from a few aspects of busy life, anyway). It is not what we would want all the time, but it is really helpful to slow down for episodes or seasons.

Our summer involved work projects (both ministry and legal for me), house/yard projects (as recent homeowners of a fixer-upper, the list is not short), and family trips and fun. Something I have realized about house projects is that it is always more work than you initially hope it will be… You think, “lets plant a few trees” and then realize just how hard the soil is, that you have to dig out rocks and move a whole old sprinkler system before you can even begin to figure out what kind of tree to plant. You picture some improvements, and say: “lets put a retaining wall here so we can level the ground a bit and make better use of this area.”  Then you realize it will take 20 different steps and many more hours (e.g., move the rocks, dig, move the pipes, replace the pipes, dig, move more rocks and dirt, separate the rocks and dirt, buy the gravel, level the gravel, buy the bricks, move the bricks, level the bricks, glue the bricks, place seed cloth, place drainage rocks, fill with dirt, etc…). In the end, it is hopefully worth it—you have produced something beautiful, or at least advanced the beautiful long-term aesthetic plan you are now one step closer to accomplishing.

When I am hiking a lovely trail in the mountains, I often think about how much work the trail was to build. I know it is way more work than I can even imagine. Yet why do they build the trail? Not just because it is a challenge.  No—they build it so people are able to see the incredible beauty that is out there in the wilderness already; the beauty that was not made by human hands. I am in such awe of the mountains, rivers, forests, and mountain meadows. God made such amazing things—so big, majestic, awe-inspiring. I have to admit that I could barely lift the large size stone blocks we used in making our retaining wall, yet when we were camping in Lassen National Park this summer, we saw huge boulders twice as tall as me, thrown into the middle of a meadow by the power of a volcano. When we were in Yosemite, we waded in gorgeous winding rivers with wildflowers bursting out of little cracks in the granite slabs on their banks, in ways the very best landscaper could not imagine duplicating.

I am so thankful for God’s power and creativity and the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. I also really appreciate good landscaping in the yards I see. And I will continue to pursue visual beauty in my own yard, though people may have to be gracious in accepting the beauty of a welcome, a smile, and good food and conversation in the meantime.


I was reminded how beautiful poetry is as I started a little poetry unit for my children in homeschool this week. It caused me to pause.  I don’t tend to take time to stop and really see beauty as I rush through my tasks each day. I am so focused on getting things done that I seem to miss opportunities to notice the little daily blessings that God has given me.

I am burdened by the many needs, fears, and struggles I see in my community and in our world; they can seep into my emotional state and attitude, causing me to keep my eyes down and my heart preoccupied.  But beauty can break through, like a sun beam shining into a dark room through a break in the curtains.  In those moments, I suddenly glimpse it; I feel it—like a sharp intake of breath. The kind of breath that fills you up and immediately makes your eyes water because you had emotions just below the surface that you didn’t even know were there…  It is a reminder of what I already know, of what can be, of what is…  This world, which is so hard, is also beautiful. And sometimes, the solution isn’t to fix things, but to stop and see beauty, and so come back to hope.

Today I see and hear the beauty of life in the little chicks that are in a box in our family room, as they eat and grow and chatter each day. I see the beauty of love in my child’s sheepish smile when I say “Lets do a re-do” after she makes a negative comment about herself, and she knows that I am for her and with her. I see the beauty of nature as I drive past almond orchards near Woodland, CA, and as I read the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson personifying a “Brook” interacting with the landscape around it: “I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance / Among my skimming swallows; / I make the nettled sunbeam dance / Against my sandy shallows.” I see the beauty of human beings in the resilient words of Langston Hughes’ saying “I’m still here,” in the face of prejudice and injustice.

Then of course, there is the beautiful poetry of the Bible, pointing me to the beauty of God himself.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121: 1-2

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
I will thank you forever, because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.

Psalm 52:8-9

Let’s look up in the midst of our busyness. Let’s have eyes to see beauty!

Engaging with those we disagree with – Part 2: Cancel Culture

In my last post, I talked about the importance of “posture” in engaging with those we disagree with. Here, I discuss a more specific practice that prevents us from understanding people with perspectives we don’t share.

I have been fascinated in recent months by the concept of “cancel culture.” At first, I thought it was a joke when I heard about “being cancelled.” But then I realized people are very much in earnest about blacklisting and actively demeaning public figures (or even friends) if they say something the hearer deems offensive or insensitive. At the risk of stepping on toes, I will offer an observation of numerous incidents of dialogue occurring in a “Parents in my city” Facebook group. One parent posts saying she would love to see schools go back in person because it is so hard and feels harmful to children to keep going in our current state. Immediately, a barrage of self-righteous parents jump on her, labeling her as “not caring about teachers” or being “insensitive to those at risk” in the community. Of course, this can swing the other way as well, with self-righteous parents saying the “you privileged few who can work from home just don’t care about those who have no childcare options, etc.”  The problem from my view is not that there are different perspectives on this—it is incredibly complex and each side has good arguments—the problem is the way responses are personalized and attack a person’s character, instead of engaging with her ideas.

It might be helpful to know that I am a “peacemaker” type of person, so I always try to see people as multifaceted and complex. I find that there is almost always something about each person I meet or learn about that I can appreciate and that makes me interested to know more about them and where their perspectives are coming from. This is perhaps why the “cancelling” concept grates against my sense of what is right.  Immediately rejecting an entire person and all his or her creative work seems an extreme reaction to an ideological disagreement in one area.

In looking into it a bit more, I learned that “cancel culture” started in 2017 in relation to celebrities… Dictionary.com’s Pop Culture Dictionary defines it as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”

There are a variety of frameworks in which cancel culture plays out. First, there is the simple “power to dismiss” framework, which focuses on who has the bigger bullhorn or the greater following and therefore the power to demean and destroy another’s reputation. We have seen this framework play out in the hands of some of our highest political officials—I would argue resulting in the disintegration of trust and the erosion of the ability to reasonably discuss actual ideological differences.

Second, there is the “moral high-ground” framework for cancel culture, which doesn’t fare much better. It uses an argument like: “This one issue is important enough that it should be the litmus test for whether a person is a good or bad human being. If a person is on what I deem to be the wrong side of that issue, then every single viewpoint they hold (regardless of the subject or their personal experiences or level of expertise), will cease to have value and should be ignored.” 

Just step back for a moment and consider: can this be fairly and consistently applied?  I would humbly suggest some self-reflection and self-examination for a moment if this is how you think (whether you are on the right or the left ideologically—and lets be honest, we probably all have some thoughts in line with this narrow perspective from time to time).   We might bring ourselves some conviction here by asking some questions:

  1. Am I treating that person the way I want to be treated?
  2. Do I honestly think I am qualified to objectively determine which opinions are wrong, and which are right, for the whole world throughout all time? (this is deep generational and cultural arrogance).
  3. Am I willing to consider that there might be cultural elements or background perspectives that I don’t understand in that other person’s life that might give understanding or context to their views?
  4. Do I really want to establish a “thought police” or “perspective police” in my community? What if my “ideological tribe” ceases to be the majority and loses this executive power?

Cancel culture undercuts listening and tears away the possibility of understanding.  Conclusions are grounded in assumptions instead of dialogue.  In fact, cancel culture prevents authentic dialogue.  It turns disagreements into an ad hominem attack instead of seeing disagreement as an opportunity to sharpen and hone our thinking. It is almost always applied hypocritically by all sides, enabling a disingenuous victim mentality.

Don’t get me wrong—we should not be afraid to critique perspectives we disagree with. In fact, we should vigorously participate in respectful dialogue across difference. But lets engage with actual thoughts and consider arguments with intellectual honesty, and not just label the people making the arguments as “bad.”

As a Christian, I believe I am called to critique every culture’s dominant narratives, acknowledging how they conflict with what God has called good.  And let me be clear–Every culture means it includes my own. It is false and dangerous to think that my particular cultural lens is “the most Christian.” The whole Bible points to a God who loves and calls to himself people from all tribes and tongues and nations. 

As I said in the last blog post, I believe we are called to treat all people as possessing dignity because they are made in the image of God…  Therefore, lets leave room for nuance and for separating out ideas from the value of individual people. Shaming and dismissing people is contrary to God’s ways and his example.

The Bible indicates that all human beings live out both good and bad. Granted, some life choices are so corrosive that they seem to negatively impact everyone nearby. Nevertheless, I certainly don’t want to be trying to draw a line to define who is “more bad than good” or “more good than bad.” The good news of Christianity is that in Christ we are free from having to focus on whether or not we tip the scale of goodness a certain way, and can instead securely walk in relationship with God because of his grace which changes our hearts.

If we were to apply cancel culture to people in the Bible, we wouldn’t have much of anyone left to consider worthy of listening to at all (maybe Joseph and Daniel, but probably just because we don’t have enough details about them). Certainly Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be out, along with Solomon and David, not to mention the Apostle Paul, who spread hatred and oversaw murder prior to his conversion.

Why should I read the Bible at all then? Because I am supposed to walk away from reading a story about one of these “pretty-uncool-and-sometimes-totally-awful” people knowing that God is the one who is the hero of the story. I am supposed to know that it is God who keeps his promises. Yet He chooses to work with broken, messy people, while at the same time calling them to humble themselves, turn away from their evil deeds, walk in his ways and love with his love.

As I live in this complex world, I want to live with conviction, but in humility and with compassion, seeing people as complex instead of cancelling them. I hope you will extend me the same grace.

Engaging with those we disagree with – Part 1: Posture

All people have dignity and worth. I believe this because my faith teaches me that every human is made in the image of God. This means truly every human–no matter what socioeconomic status, level of influence, political party, ethnicity, age, religion or gender.  I can say I value everyone until I am blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean much if my life choices, words and actions don’t reflect that value. Beliefs are intricately and inextricably bound up with actions. If that were not true, we would not have the word “hypocrite” in our language.

So beliefs are not very meaningful if they don’t affect how you think and live in the world. If I say I care about the poor, but never actually use my money or time to bless those in need, then maybe my heart isn’t really engaged in that belief. Maybe it is one of those “I assent to the fact that is likely true” type beliefs, just not one that actually changes me. That type of belief doesn’t tend to stick around when the pressure is on.

But where can this go wrong, even with meaningful beliefs? Functionally, people sometimes think that allowing strong beliefs to affect how they think and live means that they are then justified in being mean to anyone who thinks differently. It sure seems like that is how many people have been functioning in the political realm lately—on both sides.

That is where Christianity (though maybe not reflected in certain cultural threads of it) does point to a different way. It calls us to a posture of humility and love!  The Bible teaches both to love and follow God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself (and very specifically not just the neighbor who thinks like you). These admonitions are not in conflict, and we see them lived out in Jesus’ life. He taught uncompromised truth clearly and strongly, calling people into a life-changing relationship with God, yet he showed love and compassion and hospitality to all. To put it simply, he spoke with both grace and truth.

The Bible calls Christians to do the same. Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious…” Our posture should communicate a goal of peaceful engagement, not arm twisting; not an “I am smarter or better than you” attitude. Rather, I want to have the posture of “I would love to hear your story. We are fellow imperfect travelers in this world. Let’s share where our journeys have taken us and what hope we have for the path before us…” I love talking about the hope I have!

We don’t have to think of the goal as perfect unity or agreement. After all, unity can only come when we humbly address what is preventing it from happening. So if we try to gloss over difference in order to force unity, we will find that ignoring the deeper issues underlying the disagreement leaves us at a surface level that doesn’t take much to destabilize again.  That is not real resolution.  It is better to acknowledge difference openly, recognize we do have some common ground, and have enough humility to listen and expect that we each have more to learn.

The Bible also shares the relational wisdom, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19). When we truly listen to others, we are seeking to understand them—their experiences, their perspectives, their pain, their desires.  A true listener does not have to goal of gathering just enough information to launch a comeback, label and dismiss the other. Pursuing relationships with people who think differently than me should be more like scuba diving than snorkeling. I don’t want to stay on the surface and just look down, thinking I can understand while staying distant and “safe.” I want to dive in, really seeking to see from their perspective, taking the risk of leaving behind my place of safety to enter in more deeply. There is some fear and discomfort, and the way forward is not always simple and clear when we face differences we don’t know an easy way through.

I am convinced that the most growth in relationships really does happen when we are willing to dive in, and love enough to knowingly step into some discomfort, believing that more full life and joy and hope will be on the other side.

What should I do in the face of injustice?

I have been processing this post for a while, uncertain of what I could possibly offer that hasn’t been said many times over. I want to hear from my friends of color, and want to be the listener. But I also know that I can use my voice to help draw attention to needs around me, and to invite others to join me in my journey of growth.  We are in an important cultural moment–a time full of division and confusion in many areas of life. I am not trying to address all the challenges we are facing; I am just offering a reflection on racial inequality.  I have been broken-hearted over the injustices we see in this country that are ingrained deeply into the cultural fabric. The consistent mistreatment of people of color, and the blindness to that very fact by so many.


Art by my daughter Bethany

When faced with racial inequality and injustice, my constant question is “What should I do?” Some clear principles I have learned over the years are the following. Don’t close your eyes to it; instead be a learner. Choose neither passive silence nor aggressive defensiveness; instead, listen and seek to understand. Don’t think it is just a moment that will go away in a few months; rather, decide to be part of the long-term solution.

Those principles–grounded in humility and a learning posture–have been with me and given me wisdom as I seek to love and engage with those around me. But I also want to know what to actively do. For a while, it felt like the “thing to do” was to post on Facebook and represent yourself as an ally. Breaking “white silence” is indeed very important, but my impression is that, while that is helpful and encouraging to our friends of color, it alone is not what is going to produce a long-term shift in the culture that will bring change in each of our local communities.

So what will dismantle the long-embedded, deeply rooted systems that perpetuate injustice, sometimes without even the consciousness of the majority of community members? What leads to lasting change? It is critical to learn about and listen to history and facts.  But we must do more than that. Nor is it enough to enact policies or pass legislation or win court cases. That is necessary, but it won’t by itself uproot the underlying tendrils that weave injustice into the fibers of our communities.  We must get to the heart-level—my heart, your heart, each individual’s hearts.  This is because external behavioral change tends to dissipate when the external motivation is removed. Internal change, however, works itself out into our behavior in a lasting way. It changes not just our actions, but our side comments and our daily decision-making. Ultimately, it causes long-term generational results. Only internal heart change person-by-person will make our world a better place!

I have heard of big companies making very well-stated and powerful “public statements” in response to injustices like George Floyd’s death.  But I have also seen articles by weary people of color carefully pointing out that many of those same companies have been saying they care about empowering and giving more representation to people of color in their companies for years, yet their boards of directors and almost every layer of their leadership structures are still white.  These companies have the right external posture, but have not done the hard work of internal cultural change.

The same problem can happen to us as individuals too. We can (and I know I have struggled with this) say we really care about more equal opportunities, yet then still hesitate when it means our white children might have to sacrifice part of their privilege, their opportunities, or their access to the best school districts and teachers.

Lets go back to our question: what leads to lasting, real change? Maybe you are like me and you already feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities you have in your life as it is (parenting, working from home, managing life with multiple children). When you hear about these systemic injustices, you say to yourself “wow, that is so horrible, but there is nothing I can do about it. I hope others are able to fix it…”  But if everyone says that, then we as a community largely passively ignore injustice once again.  That means we are ultimately complicit.

I don’t think we all have to be front-line activists, but I believe that if individuals (especially white people like me) all take individual steps to grow, learn, and act, it will cumulatively help to heal the fault-lines of injustice in our culture. One step then leads to another step, etc. Our communities, after all, are made up of individual people. The laws and structures are only as good as the people upholding them.   

For me, this journey started with friendship. Knowing people of different ethnicities and backgrounds makes me more sensitive to the challenges that different minority groups face. Hearing the stories of racism first-hand makes it harder to ignore or make excuses for behaviors that harm certain people groups.


Meaningful relationships, however, don’t just happen without effort. I have pursued young women of color that I began to mentor and then I ended up learning as much from them as they learned from me. I continue to learn more every year.  In addition, we started our journey of doing foster care back in 2013, which led me to know the birth families of the children we cared for. That helped to break down stereotypes that I didn’t even know I had, so that I could grow in compassion and understanding of people from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. I have also become friends with more people from different religious backgrounds and perspectives, and that has helped me to become a better First Amendment lawyer, seeking to advocate for the religious liberty of all people. Overall, my journey so far has involved listening and learning, and has led me to places of sacrifice and risk-taking.

It may take months and years to get down this road of internal change, but I guarantee it will bring lasting change! I firmly believe it is better than the most articulate post on Facebook. I believe that my engagement will look different as I walk through different stages of my life. But I commit to stay engaged!  I will continue to learn and grow, in my awareness, in my love, and in my advocacy. One step at a time.

My deep personal motivation driving me towards action is grounded in my faith. I long to help our broken communities begin to have lasting hope for healing.  My faith calls me to follow the example of my Lord and Savior, Jesus, and the words of the Apostle Paul, to look “to the interests of others” and to “in humility count others more significant” than myself (Philippians 2:3-4). Jesus calls us to live this way, not so that God accepts us (since he freely offers us acceptance through Jesus), but rather because it is the only way to true happiness – walking in love and towards unity!


It was one of those moments when your breath stops in your throat and your heart tightens in fear. You feel peaceful and at rest, and then something happens in an instant that your brain interprets and then translates (or rather explodes) into your consciousness the thought, “this might just have changed everything…”

That moment occurred on our vacation, just last week. We had a lovely day up on Mount Bachelor, near Bend, Oregon. We took the kids up the ski lift to hike around and enjoy the beautiful views. We played in the old snow—the last remnants of the never-quite-melts-all-the-way snow that you find on mountain peaks in the summer. We laughed and slid down on our jackets and made a tiny snow man. We ate our snack lunch and didn’t really think about Covid-19 or the other stresses of life except when we put on our face masks to head back down the mountain on the ski lift again.

As we prepared to head back to our car, we passed the little mountain-biking skills course, a little rectangle of practice trails for mountain bikers. Some involved huge technical jumps; others were rather banal, just a couple low jumps or a little swerving trail curving gently down the hill. It was free to use that little section, so the boys decided to grab the bikes off the bike rack on our car, sign the release, and try it out for fun. Just a few times, we said.  The girls and I watched from the platform nearby and I took a few pictures. I was enjoying watching the boys. Just one or two more times, we said…

That moment came, however, as Isaiah came down the section with two little jumps. He had done it once or twice already, taking it nice and slow. This time, he went over the first jump—no problem, a nice slow plop down onto the dirt, letting the back tire just roll down after. Then he took the second bump—the front tire came down crooked, the bike lurched, and Isaiah flipped. It was like slow motion as I watched his body fly up and come down, head and left shoulder first onto the dirt. The rest of the body followed – slam! In my head I said “Please get up. Laugh at that crazy fall. Show us all your scrapes.” Then I saw him twitch and not move. I screamed and ran. I looked at his face – white, eyes rolled up, nonresponsive.

That is when fear truly gripped me. I turned away from him and fell on my knees, crying out. I breathed a prayer – please God… The other kids say I said something about brain damage. I don’t remember. I felt like a thousand thoughts went through my mind in a moment…broken neck, concussion, brain damage, broken bones…I wrestled with my thoughts. I had to come back. I had to get help and stay calm…it couldn’t be that bad, right? I turned back to engage.

Jeremiah came running too. He put his bike on the first jump to stop anyone from coming down and ran down too. He called out for someone to call 911; to get a medic. The little Urgent Care on the mountain was literally a few hundred feet from where we were, and the Paramedics came almost immediately.  They were amazing! God was providing. Isaiah was passed out, but only for a minute or two. He came to, they checked him for spinal injuries, and he knew who he was. He was confused; he was in pain. IMG_20200813_144832868

Over the next half hour he became more confused and agitated as the paramedics talked to him and they waited for the ambulance to come. I was with the other kids outside for a while, gathering our things and taking them back to the car. I tried to comfort them, but they comforted me just as much. My 12 year old brought us together to pray.  My sweet 8 year old looked up as she hugged me and said “Mommy, lets remember the names of God.” I had been doing a family devotional with the kids on the names of God all summer, and she was reminding me of the truths of who God is. I hugged her and thanked her, and we remembered some of them together. El Shaddai—God Almighty; El Roi—the God who sees.

Once Jeremiah came out, it was my turn to go in and see Isaiah. Then the ambulance showed up. I almost cried as I saw him getting wheeled over to the ambulance. He was getting more and more upset about the fact that he was restrained and had a neck collar on.  Seeing your child in pain is such a stressful experience!

Jeremiah went with him in the ambulance, and I got into the van with the other four kids. We decided I would return to the place we were staying so that we did not all show up at the hospital. But the kids and I followed the ambulance all the way into Bend from the mountain. As I stared at the back of the ambulance and my thoughts flew to how Isaiah might be doing, I willed my mind to focus on the road and driving safely. It required more effort than normal—reminding myself: “stay here. Be fully present…”  Bethany’s sweet singing voice interrupted my thoughts as she started singing some praise songs, seeking to calm herself. She had her arms wrapped around Laticia in the back seat. I took a deep breath. She then asked me what other songs we could sing. While I don’t often sing hymns, the two songs that came to mind were “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “It is Well With My Soul.” My voice cracked as I sang “morning by morning, new mercies I see…” and “whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul…” Although I could barely sing, the music gave me hope and peace as it too reminded me who God is and that he cares for us even in the midst of hardship.

They expected the diagnosis would be a severe concussion and an injured shoulder, and this proved right. I am so thankful it wasn’t worse.

What do I do with this kind of fear? How do I not let it take over, consume me? It isn’t as simple as I wish it was. I can only speak to my own experience, but it felt like my thoughts were a bouncy ball, jumping around in my head. It was like I was trying to grab the bouncy ball and stop it, but then it would escape, keep bouncing, and I would have to grasp for it again…

My thoughts bounced to things like “we should have left earlier…if only we had….” And then to “I should have known that bike wasn’t good enough…” And then to “Jeremiah should have…” And then “why didn’t I…” I grasped at these slippery thoughts, willing them away and trying to focus on what I knew would be more helpful, more productive. I reminded myself: “No. Blame is not helpful. It is nobody’s fault. Crazy things happen…we live in a broken, messy, and difficult world…” I don’t know how many times I dragged my mind back to this thought over the next day. I couldn’t focus on much. When I opened the book I was reading, I had to read the same page several times.

In the hours after the accident, I wanted to settle my mind on trusting God…so I began to quote some old memory verses to myself. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust” (Psalm 56:3-4). And “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;/ his mercies never come to an end; / they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. / ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, / therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

Isaiah stayed in the hospital that first night as they watched him. Concussions are strange things—a bit unpredictable. His scans were clear; his shoulder showed only a hairline fracture in the clavicle; he was able to engage more in conversations and displayed his good old sense of humor in little ways.  He has been resting a lot, but now, a week later, Isaiah is doing amazingly well. Praise God!

I know many parents have experienced these same emotions kinds of emotions that I have described. I am not alone. Nor have I faced the worst by any means. But it was real. It is real every time for each parent or friend or child who goes through something similar. Human beings are so fragile and so strong—at the same time.

I don’t know how I will face the next heart-tightening moment like that. We never know in the moment how it will turn out. But I will decide to trust in God, and will ask him for strength to face each new day.

Immunity to Worry…is it possible?

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

This feels really hard right now. I am tempted to worry about many things…Covid-19, school for the kids’ this fall, the state of division in this country, etc…


I was asked recently if I am afraid of the level of anxiety in the world around me, as I think of my children moving into adulthood in the midst of this culture (my oldest is starting high school!). Anxiety comes from many sources, which often vary based upon our particular setting and communities. It can be based on fear, uncertainty, instability, a lack of safety, or even a generalized discomfort with one’s sense of self, whether internally or externally imposed.

In short, my answer was “Yes, I am afraid; but I am also hopeful.” I went on to explain that I believe there is a way to be free from anxiety’s chokehold.  I am seeking to both point my children to it and live it out, recognizing that it is a way to walk in, not a magic solution.

Let me be clear, however, that I am not talking about clinical anxiety, which may require medication and other help. I am not denying that such serious mental health issues exist. I am speaking more generally of the type of anxiety that seems to just permeate the air around us. It is the kind of anxiety that is particularly rampant in a community like the one I live in. This is a college town where a significant percentage of the adults who work here have graduate degrees and have high hopes for their children’s academic success. This is a town where the college students themselves seem trapped in a rat race towards the elusive academic record and ideal compilation of internships and research that they perceive is necessary to even be on the list to maybe get the “dream job” that they believe will bring admiration and financial stability, if not happiness.

I am also speaking of the kind of anxiety that comes when we realize that we actually don’t have control over our lives—when something like Covid-19 can come and snatch away family members, health, school, job offers, travel, activities, and even a graduation ceremony—and there is nothing we can do about it.

When I say I want to escape the grasp of this kind of creeping anxiety, what is it I want instead? In my experience, if I want to avoid something, it is most helpful to know what I want instead.  Otherwise, if I am focused on avoiding the negative thing, I tend to get drawn right back into it… So what is the opposite of anxiety? One attractive word is “peace.” I think that concept is pointing in the right direction; this is part of it…but I’m not sure it is quite enough to give me the vision I need to escape anxiety. Peace is more of a result of having gotten away from anxiety, not the way out.  My mind goes to visualizing a race and someone just sitting in the road, trying to ignore it all, breathing deeply and covering their ears…That isn’t real peace…not yet. I need something to help me get out of the road; to step out of the rat race. I want to be present and active (not disengaged), but also not trapped in the parameters of the race.

A better word for me is “freedom.” I want to be free from the race for “success” defining me. I want to be able to step out of it without the tentacles of fear grabbing my heart and causing me to believe that I have no value apart from how well I do in that race; that I have no value apart from my status, my ranking, or my estimation in the eyes of others.

So how can we possibly be free from that anxiety, if it is in the air we breathe? How can we be free from the pressure of the race, if we see no other option than to keep racing? It makes me think of one of the funny scenes of “The Princess Bride” (one of my kids’ favorite movies) when there is a “Battle of Wits” between Westley and Vizzini.  In explaining how he is still alive after drinking poisoned goblet, Westley says “they were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.”

Perhaps, like Westley, we need an immunity to anxiety. We need to be able to choose to fully participate in life in all of its complexity, but to be confident that it won’t kill us; that it can’t destroy us…

Some people try to achieve this immunity to life’s pressures by using their power and privilege. That might work in a hollow way for a while. But it by default excludes all numbers of people—based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc.  It ends up perpetuating the problem, and usually fails at some point, even for those with the most extreme levels of privilege.  The true solution must be one that is available to all people, not just the wealthy or privileged.

The first definition of “immunity” on dictionary.com is “the state of being immune from or insusceptible to a particular disease or the like.” How in the world can I be “insuceptible” to both the pressures of academic/career/parenthood performance and/or the fear of losing what I have?

The Bible gives some ideas of how to have defenses to fight these toxins—these ideas that our value is completely defined by the elusive concepts of achieving “safety” or “success.”


It uses the image of a tree with deep roots. It is a tree firmly grounded; its roots go down to deep waters that cannot be dried up. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says that it “does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Notice that its strength does not come from itself, but from an external constant source. Its hope is in something outside of itself and outside of the temporary…

The Bible also presents a central part of this immunity as being found in secure relationship.  It is in places of unconditional acceptance and love that we are able to flourish and to face hardship.  In the classic Psalm 23, verse 4 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” In Psalm 94, a Psalm weeping over injustice and clinging to the reality that God sees and cares, the Psalmist says in v. 19, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Jesus himself also adds to this picture of relationship being central. He says, in Jn 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

It is the fact that this relationship is with the Creator God who knows us, who loves us in the midst of our failings, who sacrificed himself and who conquered death to make a way for people to have relationship with the holy and powerful God, who will bring justice, and who comforts in the midst of affliction those who are waiting and trusting in Him. Our position before God is not based on status or rankings, but on relationship—being adopted and fully loved by Him. He wants us to flourish and live well in the world, but not so that we are accepted—rather because we are accepted.

It is this knowledge that frees me from worry. Therefore I will breathe in and out and remember that my roots are deep, “casting all [my] anxieties on him, because he cares for [me]” (I Peter 5:7).