Books

The painful realities of white privilege

PP Cover 2The Painful Realities of White Privilege, an excerpt from my book is featured on The Salt Collective today… here’s a glimpse:

We were sitting at the frozen yogurt shop when my husband interrupted my yogurt induced heaven with a passionate “Did you see that?!”

“What?” I looked around but didn’t see anything unusual. Id been a little spaced out in a blissful yogurt coma and was, as usual, less than aware of my surroundings.

“That Asian lady in the yogurt store! She and her daughter were just standing there, waiting in line for the restroom, and this White guy came in and walked right in front of her.”

He paused, shaking his head in angry disbelief, “And she just let him go. She put her head down and let him push his way past her.

He paused, processing the interaction, “That’s just so privileged, and he probably doesn’t even recognize it! The problem with us is that we get all submissive and let people walk all over us.”

Confession Time: In my head, I started listing all the reasons why what he just said happened couldn’t have actually happened. Maybe he saw things wrong. Maybe the guy had to puke. Maybe he left his cell phone in the bathroom. Surely what my husband saw wasnt what actually happened.

But then I remembered what I’ve learned about race and privilege: dismissing perceptions is one of the most unhelpful responses in race conversations.

I should already know this, right?

Right.

(Except that I dont always remember it at the right times.)

Read the rest here.

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Books

Join my book launch team!

 

PP Cover 2It’s official! A newly revised and expanded version of Pondering Privilege will be published by NextStep Resources this month, and I’m looking for people to join my launch team to promote the book. As a member of the team, you’ll receive an advance version of the book. In exchange, I’m asking that you do one (or all!) of the following by June 15:

  • Post an Amazon review – good, bad, or ugly – on the print version of the book (link posted soon!). Please note: Amazon requests that you state you received an advance copy for accurate disclosure.
  • Feature the book on your own blog, church newsletter, or organizational communication.
  • Post about it on social media using #PonderingPrivilege / @jodylouise or tag friends on Facebook who would be interested.
  • Recommend it to leaders, pastors, or teachers who might use it in their organizations, churches, or classrooms.

If you’re interested being a part of spreading the word on this great resource, contact me so I can send you a copy.

 

Belief, Books, Culture & Race, Women

If Jesus was brown and non-Western, shouldn’t some of our other heroes be too?

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In search of some role models of faith for my children, I recently began looking for biographies of Christians through history. I found several highly recommended series:

  • Encounter the Saints (Seton)
  • Hero Tales (Bethany House)
  • Men and Women of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Men of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Torchlighters
  • Christian Heroes: Then & Now (YWAM)

As I researched more deeply into these series, several themes stood out:

The Good

  • There are some AMAZING  people out there. The people featured in these titles were take-your-breath-away inspiring. Their examples of sacrifice, passion, commitment, and faithfulness are models for everyone. We need more people who live like they did.
  • We need to spend time hearing stories of those who have gone before us. While many lived in different times, the challenges they faced put our modern sensibilities to shame. Learning about their lives has more to teach us about our own journeys than obsessing over Justin Bieber.

The Needs-Improved

  • The majority of ‘heroes’ were white western men. Looking through the titles, I noticed a significant lack of diversity amongst the characters featured. Most, it seemed, were white men. The current state of the book publishing industry affirms the notion that history tells the story of the ones with the most power. Out of curiosity, I compiled the titles and researched each of the characters for gender, race, nationality, and marital status. Check out some of the results:

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  • Women need more equal representation. While the female figure was higher than I expected, when incorporating marital status, only 6 of the 49 (12%) women featured as the main character of a biography were married. In contrast, 70 out of 102 (69%) men were married. Only five of the biographies I reviewed had titles about men and women together. Who were the women behind the heroes? Why weren’t they featured as prominently as the men since their lives surely included equal levels of sacrifice and commitment? 
  • The Christian world extends far beyond the US, UK, and Europe. China is poised to become the world’s largest Christian country in 15 years. The church is exploding in Africa and the middle east. There is much to learn from the faithful followers in other nations and our faith would be deepened to know more of their stories.

Why does it matter?

Our children need to see that people from any background can follow God. If Revelations tells us that people from every tribe and nation will be in heaven, surely we can write a few books about them here on earth. The message behind the message when the majority of ‘heroes’ are white men is that this status is held only for a privileged few. Until our stories reflect this truth, children will subconsciously absorb this message.

Women need to see themselves as full participants in God’s story. We were not created to hide behind men but to walk beside them as equals. When we are relegated to the woman-behind-the-man, it becomes easy to shirk our own responsibility to heed God’s call on our lives, husband or not.

We need more diverse books. A popular Twitter hashtag, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement applies in equal measure (if not more) to the Christian publishing industry. Let’s dig deep into our history and publish the stories of our brothers and sisters who have followed Christ around the world, from places of low status and persecution rather than just privilege and power. Perhaps it would give us a deeper understanding of Christ’s call to make all things new.

Books, Culture & Race

Free ebook on whiteness, race, & faith this weekend only!

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Don’t miss out on a FREE copy of the newly released version of Pondering Privilege: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Whiteness, Race, and Faith on Amazon THIS WEEKEND ONLY! It includes updated content and additional chapters.

For many white people, race can be a difficult subject to navigate. Some have never discussed the issue at all and may have no idea where to begin. Others, viewing themselves as colorblind, see no need to think about the issue at all. The topic grows even more difficult within the Christian church where it is no secret that Sunday mornings are often more racially divided more than united. Regardless of white people’s ignorance or inability to discuss racial issues, however, they are not going away.

Rooted in the concept of cultural humility, Pondering Privilege provides white people an opportunity to spend time more deeply reflecting on their personal perspective of and communal role in race relations by exploring why white people don’t talk about race, why they need to talk about race, suggestions for productive ways to discuss race, and how to deal with anger in race relations. Each chapter includes discussion and reflection questions and is ideal for personal or group use.

What people are saying about Pondering Privilege:

“I read this piece as an assignment for an education class. I, like many other people, find that conversations pertaining to race and privilege are a bit scary. As I began reading the text I was immediately captured by Jody Fernando’s honesty and her willingness to embrace cultural humility. Reading this text was liberating for me and allowed me to ponder my own privilege, which was challenging because I was so accustomed to evaluating the privilege of others. I recommend this to everyone and challenge him or her to critically process what [she] has to say.” – Alejandra
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“I originally read this material on Jody’s blog and was struck my her insight, honesty, and humility in approaching a topic which can be deeply emotional and divisive. I was thinking through ways to use it in my classroom to create discussion and help guide dialogue, so I am very excited that she’s combined it all into an easy to use resource. The reflection prompts and questions she’s added encourage the readers to dig a bit deeper and really engage with the topic on a personal level. I am looking forward to using it in my class this spring.” – Sara

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FREE thru Sunday! 

Books

Must read books for 2014

I quit going to Christian bookstores years ago because the one-sided, narrowly defined perspectives represented on their shelves were more than I could handle.  Surely the Christian faith was larger than the American religious right!  Fortunately, some of my faith in the Christian publishing market has been restored by the voice that the internet has provided to authors who might not have ever made it into the narrow box of Christian bookstores. This post features two of these voices.

As I’ve followed the writing market, one important piece I’ve learned about the industry is the importance of early sales when a book is released. While I don’t always like the realities of the current publishing market, they are what they are. One practice I’ve started as a result of learning more about these realities is purchasing books of writer-voices I value as soon as they are released because it encourages their overall promotion, distribution and sales in a wider market.

Today it’s Eugene Cho’s new book, Overrated.

My husband and I have followed Cho for years, and have grown to deeply appreciate his voice of growing humility, justice, honesty, and grace. His insight has been tremendously helpful to us and offers a unique and much needed voice in the Christian sphere today.  Based on his blog writing alone, I highly recommend this book – it’s message is one we all need to grapple with.

Check it out at http://areyouoverrated.com/.

While I’m at it, I also have to re-recommend Christena Cleveland’s book Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart. I’m halfway through it and finding its content incredibly convicting and formational. It’s a message I’ve needed to contemplate for a long time.  Throw it in on your order with Cho’s book – you won’t be disappointed!

Books, Culture & Race

What does it mean to be white? Resources on white identity development

Many white people I know haven’t ever given much thought to how their race has influenced them. When other Americans of color talk about their own cultural backgrounds, white people might sheepishly wonder, “What culture?” about their own backgrounds.

As I looked into what was out there on white identity, I was dismayed to find Jared Taylor’s book White Identity: Racial Consciousness in the 21st Century among the first and most prominent search results. Taylor essentially advocates white supremacy, segregation and racial superiority and completely dismisses the notions of white privilege.  While I generally advocate civility across differences, I found Taylor’s perspectives frightening, damaging, and outright racist.  Consequently, it was understandably disappointing to for Taylor’s work to be the primary search results of “white identity”.

A simple internet search proves that the loudest people talking about white identity are the blatant-racists and people of color. It was disappointingly tough to find any other voices in the mix. No wonder white people have such difficulty understanding ourselves!

In this spirit, I wanted to create a list of resources that speak to developing white identity from a position of cultural humility and value for understanding ourselves in light of both our history of racial oppression and a modern desire to create an equitable society for people of all backgrounds.

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Pondering Privilege: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Whiteness, Race and Faith

Pondering privilege: Toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race and faith
 

For many white people, race can be a difficult subject to navigate. Some have never discussed the issue at all and may have no idea where to begin. Others, viewing themselves as colorblind, see no need to think about the issue at all. The topic grows even more difficult within the Christian church where it is no secret that Sunday mornings are often more racially divided more than united. Regardless of white people’s ignorance or inability to discuss racial issues, however, they are not going away.

Rooted in the concept of cultural humility, Pondering Privilege provides white people an opportunity to spend time more deeply reflecting on their personal perspective of and communal role in race relations by exploring why white people don’t talk about race, why they need to talk about race, suggestions for productive ways to discuss race, and how to deal with anger in race relations. Each chapter includes discussion and reflection questions and is ideal for personal or group use.

Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships across Race
by Frances Kendall
 

From Amazon: “Racial privilege is hard to see for those who were born with access to power and resources. Yet it is very visible for those to whom it was not granted. Understanding White Privilege is written for individuals and those in organizations who grapple with race every day, as well as for those who believe they don’t need to. It is written for those who have tried to build authentic professional relationships across races but have felt unable to do so. It is written for those who believe strongly in the struggle for racial justice and need additional information to share with their friends and colleagues. Inviting readers to think personally about how race–theirs and others’–frames experiences, relationships, and the way we each see the world, Understanding White Privilege focuses squarely on white privilege and its implications by offering specific suggestions for what we each can do to bridge the racial chasm.”

White privilege: Essential readings on the other side of racism
by Paula S. Rothenberg
 

From Amazon: “Studies of racism often focus on its devastating effects on the victims of prejudice. But no discussion of race is complete without exploring the other side–the ways in which some people or groups actually benefit, deliberately or inadvertently, from racial bias. This is the subject of Paula Rothenberg’s groundbreaking anthology, White Privilege.

The new edition of White Privilege once again challenges readers to explore ideas for using the power and the concept of white privilege to help combat racism in their own lives, and includes key essays and articles by Peggy McIntosh, Richard Dyer, bell hooks, Robert Jensen, Allan G. Johnson, and others. Three additional essays add new levels of complexity to our understanding of the paradoxical nature of white privilege and the politics and economics that lie behind the social construction of whiteness, making this edition an even better choice for educators.

Brief, inexpensive, and easily integrated with other texts, this interdisciplinary collection of commonsense, non-rhetorical readings lets educators incorporate discussions of whiteness and white privilege into a variety of disciplines, including sociology, English composition, psychology, social work, women’s studies, political science, and American studies.”

Being white: Finding our place in a multiethnic world
by Paula Harris and Doug Schapp
 

From Amazon: “What does it mean to be white? When you encounter people from other races or ethnicities, you may become suddenly aware that being white means something. Those from other backgrounds may respond to you differently or suspiciously. You may feel ambivalence about your identity as a white person. Or you may feel frustrated when a friend of another ethnicity shakes his head and says, “You just don’t get it because you’re white.”

  • So, what does it mean to be white?
  • How can you overcome the mistakes of the past?
  • How can you build authentic relationships with people from other races and ethnicities?

In this groundbreaking book, Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp present a Christian model of what it means to be white. They wrestle through the history of how those in the majority have oppressed minority cultures, but they also show that whites also have a cultural and ethnic identity with its own distinctive traits and contributions. They demonstrate that white people have a key role to play in the work of racial reconciliation and the forging of a more just society. Filled with real-life stories, life-transforming insights and practical guidance, this book is for you if you are aware of racial inequality but have wondered, So what do I do? Discover here a vision for just communities where whites can partner with and empower those of other ethnicities.”

Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria and other conversations about race
by Beverly Daniel Tatum
 

From Amazon: “Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see black youth seated together in the cafeteria. Of course, it’s not just the black kids sitting together-the white, Latino, Asian Pacific, and, in some regions, American Indian youth are clustered in their own groups, too. The same phenomenon can be observed in college dining halls, faculty lounges, and corporate cafeterias. What is going on here? Is this self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support? How can we get past our reluctance to talk about racial issues to even discuss it? And what about all the other questions we and our children have about race?

Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, asserts that we do not know how to talk about our racial differences: Whites are afraid of using the wrong words and being perceived as “racist” while parents of color are afraid of exposing their children to painful racial realities too soon. Using real-life examples and the latest research, Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities-whatever they may be-is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides. We have waited far too long to begin our conversations about race. This remarkable book, infused with great wisdom and humanity, has already helped hundreds of thousands of readers figure out where to start.”

White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son
by Tim Wise
 

From Amazon:White Like Me is one-part memoir, one-part polemical essay collection. It is a personal examination of the way in which racial privilege shapes the daily lives of white Americans in every realm: employment, education, housing, criminal justice, and elsewhere.

Using stories from his own life, Tim Wise demonstrates the ways in which racism not only burdens people of color, but also benefits, in relative terms, those who are “white like him.” He discusses how racial privilege can harm whites in the long run and make progressive social change less likely. He explores the ways in which whites can challenge their unjust privileges, and explains in clear and convincing language why it is in the best interest of whites themselves to do so. Using anecdotes instead of stale statistics, Wise weaves a narrative that is at once readable and yet scholarly, analytical and yet accessible.”

for educatorsAs both a parent and a teacher, I have come to view teachers as one of the primary gatekeepers of cultural change and understanding. When teachers understand and present the value of diversity, children learn a new reality that subconsciously shapes their entire worldview.  As a result, I believe that a fundamental skill of teachers of every student at every level is both intercultural and racial understanding. The books below are written specifically to help educators develop this understanding.

Identity Development of Diverse Populations: Implications for Teaching and Administration in Higher Education
by Vasti Torres, Mary F. Howard-Hamilton, and Diane L. Cooper
 

From Amazon: “This monograph is focused on educating faculty and administrators about the developmental issues faced by students from different racial, ethnic, or other social groupings as they attempt to define themselves during the college years and the ways this information can enhance campus classrooms, programs, and policies. Although there is a growing body of work on how various racial, ethnic, gender and other social groups develop their identity, there has been limited synthesis or application of this literature to the practice of professionals in higher education. The authors have higher education administrative backgrounds, so their recommendations are grounded in experience, and each also has a solid record of scholarship in identity development. The combined scholarly and administrative experience of the three authors enhances the contribution of this book.”

Courageous conversations about race 
by Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton
Watch a video about this series here.

“Courageous conversations” has got to me one of my personal favorite sayings, and this book offers great insights on how to begin such dialogs.  The purpose of the book is to help educators work to close the racial achievement gap in public schools and it explores this through examining characteristics, foundations, and keys to anti-racist leadership.  A facilitator’s guide is also available for purchase.

We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, multiracial schools
by Gary Howard

A powerful book on the impact of white teachers in multiracial schools, Gary Howard’s book is a “Racism 101” text for teachers stepping into the racial dialogue. It’s a remarkably powerful book that chronicles Howard’s own journey toward a deeper understanding of race.

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TedxTalk: How studying privilege systems can strengthen compassion
by Peggy McIntosh
 

White privilege, racism, white denial, and the cost of inequality
by Tim Wise
 

Entering conversation about race as a white male 

Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible

This is a great documentary where white people reflect on their racial experience.  The entire film is on YouTube.

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What white people need to learn by Mary-Alice Daniel

Explaining white privilege to a broke white person by Gina Crosley-Corcoran

7 Stages of White Identity by Daniel Hill

White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

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Know of other resources on developing a healthy and humble white identity? Leave them in the comments below.

Related Posts

Belief, Books

The question that never goes away

I first read Where is God when it Hurts as a young 20-something agnostic.  Yancey’s delicate and thoughtful exploration of the reasons behind the presence of pain in the world spoke to many of the questions that had left me questioning the existence of a loving creator. Intrigued by what I read, I devoured the rest of his books, my other favorites being Disappointment with God and Soul Survivor: How my Faith Survived the Church.  Unlike other books I’d read, these were not apologetics as much as they were simple admissions of hard-questions and honest reflections on how he’d walked through them.

While I have slowly returned to faith in the years since my agnostic angst, the questions that Yancey addresses in his writing have never fully gone away. Why do horrible things happen? Is God unfair? Is he silent? Is he hidden?

These questions simmer behind every tragic headline or heart-breaking story I encounter. For awhile, I considered the fact that I couldn’t reconcile a loving God with a tragic world a distinct lack of faith. So I understandably grinned when I came across Yancey’s newest book, The Question that Never Goes Away: Why.  A sequel to Where is God when it hurts, his new book examines the questions that the recent tragedies of Newtown, the Japanese Tsunami, and the atrocities of civil war in Sarajevo raise.  Because of the relevancy of his book Where is God when it hurts, Yancey was invited to speak in the aftermath of each of these places.  

He speaks of these tragedies tenderly and gently, acknowledging with brutal honesty their unimaginable losses and heartbreaking consequences. I’m not much of a crier, but it didn’t even take me 5 pages to tear up.  These situations were unspeakably horrific, and their realities left the whole world’s souls aching.

What I appreciate most about Yancey’s writing is his commitment to brutal honesty, willingness to admit that sometimes the answers elude, and conviction that we play a piece of God’s plan to renew and restore the brokenness in our world.  He writes,

“Optimism promises that things will gradually improve, Christian hope promises that creation will be transformed. Until then, God evidently prefers not to intervene in every instance of evil or natural disaster, no matter how grievous. Rather, God has commissioned us as agents of intervention in the midst of a hostile and broken world.”

Here’s another gem that captures well his willingness to face the difficulty of pain head-on:

After spending time in Japan and Newtown, I have adopted a two-part test I keep in mind before offering counsel to a suffering person.  First, I ask myself how these words would sound to a mother who kissed her daughter goodbye as she put her on the school bus and then later that day was called to identify her bloody body.  Would my words bring comfort or compound the pain? Then I ask myself what Jesus would say to that mother.  Few theological explanations pass those tests.

Finally – someone has the guts to admit the theologians don’t always have all the answers. Drawing from a rich knowledge of literature and philosophers, Yancey wades through the muddy waters of unanswerable questions with an intense level of equal parts faith and doubt. At one point, he writes about the final question he received in an audience following the Newtown tragedy, calling it the one he most “did not want to hear”:  Will God protect my child?

His response:

“No, I’m sorry. I can’t promise that.” None of us is exempt. We all die, some old, some tragically young. God provides support and solidarity, yes, but not protection – at least not the kind of protection we desperately long for. On this cursed planet, even God suffered the loss of a son.

The questions never go away, he acknowledges.  However, in the closing chapter of the book, he explores several answers to the question ‘Where is God?’  I highly recommended spending a few hours with this tiny-pack-a-punch (and a kleenex!) book to read more about his conclusions.  They’re well worth the consideration should these questions never leave your soul either.

Books, Women

Wonder Women: Navigating the challenges of Motherhood, Career and Identity | a book review

The Barna Group recently published a new book series called “Frames“, a series of short but meaningful issues people face in modern society. Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity packs its 84 small pages full of rich statistics and ideas for women to explore.  Their logo of ‘read less, know more’ proves quite accurate.

Since I’m forever sorting out how to prioritize and balance my life responsibilities, I appreciated the pause to sit with Kate Harris, the executive director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, as she reflected more deeply on questions of how women in all stages and phases of life explore ideas like vocation, creativity, constraints, and community.

Wonder Women was a quick read (I finished it on the couch while my kids watched two episodes of Ninjago) that left me with a significant amount of both data and ideas to process.  Since I’m a visual learner, I especially enjoyed all the visual data included from the Barna group.  I also appreciated how the book addresses women in a wide variety of situations – single, married, mothers, professionals – without demonizing any of them. One of the most jarring statistics was the high percentage of how many women feel persistently lonely and long for connection with friends.

It left me thinking what a rich experience it would be to read and discuss Wonder Women with a small group of other women to learn how they work out not only the logistics, but the internal details of their lives.  It provides a thoughtful, do-able starting point for women seeking wisdom and wholeness while balancing so many things, and would beat a women’s ministry tea party any day in my book.

Be sure to check out Barna’s other titles in this series on hot topics like adoption, peace, information overload, career, church and education.

Books, Culture & Race

Why black history is for white folks, too: A reflection on Birmingham Revolution by Edward Gilbreath

While it’s no secret that I care deeply about issues of racial equity and understanding, I must admit that my personal knowledge of the historical realities of race sometimes feels inadequate.  To assuage some of the guilt over my ignorance, I occasionally blame-shift and attribute my ignorance to the fact that I was educated in a predominately white community by a high school US History teacher who carried cigarettes in his socks and did more stand-up comedy than teaching. However, in my more honest moments, I must admit that I don’t know simply because I haven’t taken time to learn.

As a result, I was admittedly eager to read Edward Gilbreath’s new book, Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr’s Epic Challenge to the Churchin an effort to continue building a stronger foundation of understanding of racial issues in America. Having spent a fair bit of time within Christian communities, I’d found tremendous insight and relief in the honesty of Gilbreath’s first book, Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside Views of White Christianity.  He put words to the experience that I have so often heard from people of color and helped me understand realities that I don’t experience as a white person in the church.

Ironically, I read Birmingham Revolution this week in the midst of the unfolding of yet another failure of the American justice system to protect the senseless and random shooting of black youth. While there has certainly been progress in the past fifty years, it also grew painfully clear that there is still so far to go. I followed the race conversation a bit extra this week, taking in the clash of painful desperation from black voices and ignorant dismissal from white ones. Consequently, the 50-year-old stories of this book hit me extra hard as I watched our nation once again stumble through the throes of racial violence, prejudice and misunderstanding.

Gilbreath’s book dives in deep to the historical details of the civil rights movement in Birmingham in 1963.  I learned about Fred Shuttlesworth, the fiery bowels of Birmingham’s movement who had both the guts and humility to inspire the fierce perseverance of the non-violent protests that characterized the movement.  I learned about the Birmingham Eight, white clergymen who sincerely thought they were ‘helping’ race relations by writing a statement urging the Negro community to be patient and work within the system.  And I learned more about the influences and realities that shaped Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement he led.  The story flows richly, and I found myself lost at times in the South of the 1960s, pondering how I might have seen things had I been part of the era.

Theirs were no easy decisions – blacks or whites.  For blacks, it was a decision to risk everything – even life itself – for change that they may or may not see in their lifetimes.  For whites, it meant letting go of power they didn’t even acknowledge they held and confronting a sin so deep it had blinded them for centuries. Neither option sounds like a walk-in-the-park to me.

In the midst of recounting historical details, Birmingham Revolution also addresses the here-and-now application of King’s letter specifically to the modern day church.  While ‘I have a dream’ makes a more dramatic sound byte, Gilbreath’s book shows how Letters from a Birmingham Jail is what we really need to be reading if we want to learn about living out the kind of reconciliation the Bible teaches.

Sit with these nuggets from MLKs letter for awhile to see which stirs you most:

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King’s words are eerily relevant to the church today, and the whole book left me feeling that, in Grace Biskie‘s words, MLK Jr. would ‘facepalm at the state of things today’. Birmingham Revolution shows just how much the white evangelical church has sided with the safety and reason of the Birmingham clergymen rather than learning from courage and tenacity of Fred Shuttlesworth.

“Race is the gigantic elephant in the American living room that some insist will disappear if only we would just ignore it,” Gilbreath asserts. “For African Americans and other people of color, however, it is difficult to ignore a six-ton pachyderm when it’s sitting on top of you.”

I’m afraid that I can’t say I see much change in white people’s fundamental view toward race today than what MLK saw at the end of his life, “Whites, it must be frankly said, are not putting in a mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance,” he wrote. “It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

As a white person, there are times when I get the distinct impression from my culture that Martin Luther King, Jr., black history, civil rights, and the like are for ‘those other folks’.  What I was reminded afresh in Birmingham Revolution is that the story is just as much about us as it is about them.  We played half of this story, and if we care at all about adressing the issue of the elephant in the room, we need to learn more about how it got there in the first place.

Further Reading

Books, Families, Children & Marriage

The gift of seeing themselves: Strengthening children’s identities through multicultural literature

It’s quite likely that I can attribute roughly 30-50% of my faith to writers, and I must also credit the same to the growth of my understanding of culture. As a result, I have a special love for the beautifully told stories in children’s picture books, so multicultural literature has naturally played a huge role in our family’s life.  (Check out some of our favorites here.)  It’s been my way of helping our children to see both stories of themselves and others reflected in their lives.

One of my very-favorite essays on the value of children reading stories in which they see themselves reflected in the stories is written by Mitali Perkins, an author of quite a few young adult fiction books on children living between worlds.  I used to read it to classes of teachers-in-training that I taught and would swallow my tears every-single-time I read it as I felt the intense emotion in her words.  It’s one of those pieces that just never leaves you, and I’m quite pleased that she’s given me permission to share it here.

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The Magic Carpet

by Mitali Perkins

I had a magic carpet once.  It used to soar to a world of monsoon storms, princesses with black braids, ferocious dragons, and talking birds.

“Ek deen chilo akta choto rajkumar,” my father would begin, and the rich, round sounds of the Bangla language took me from our cramped New York City apartment to a marble palace in ancient India.

Americans made fun of my father’s lilting accent and the strange grammatical twists his sentences took in English.  What do they know? I thought, perching happily beside him.

In Bangla, he added his own creative flourishes to classic tales by Rabindranath Tagore or Sukumar Roy. He embellished folktales told by generations of ancestors, making me chuckle or catch my breath.  “Tell another story, Dad,” I’d beg.

But then I learned to read.  Greedy for stories, I devoured books in the children’s section of the library. In those days, it was easy to conclude that any tale worth publishing originated in the so-called West, was written in English, and featured North American or European characters.

Slowly, insidiously, I began to judge my heritage by colonial eyes.  I asked my mother not to wear a sari, her traditional dress, when she visited me at school.

I avoided the sun so that the chocolate hue of my skin wouldn’t darken.  The nuances and the cadences of my father’s Bangla began to grate on my ears.  “Not THAT story again, Dad,” I’d say.  “I’m reading right now.”

My father didn’t give up easily.  He tried teaching me to read Bangla, but I wasn’t interested. Soon, I no longer came to sit beside him, and he stopped telling stories all together.

As an adult, I’ve learned to read Bangla.  I repudiate any definition of beauty linked to a certain skin color. I’ve even lived in Bangladesh to immerse myself in the culture.

These efforts help, but they can’t restore what I’ve lost. Once a child relinquishes her magic carpet, she and her descendants lose it forever.

My children, for example, speak only a word or two in Bangla.  Their grandfather half-heartedly attempts to spin a tale for them in English, and they listen politely.

“Is it ok to go play?” they ask, as soon as he’s done. I sigh and nod, and they escape, their American accents sounding foreign inside my father’s house.

“Tell another story, Dad,” I ask, pen in hand, and he obliges. My father’s tales still have the power to carry me to a faraway world. The Bangla words weave the same colorful patterns in my imagination.

My pen, however, like his own halting translation, is unable to soar with them. It scavenges in English for as evocative a phrase, as apt a metaphor, and falls short. I can understand enough Bangla to travel with my father but am not fluent enough to take English-speakers on the journey.

My decision to leave mother tongue and culture behind might have been inevitable during the adolescent passage of rebellion and self-discovery. But I wonder if things could have turned out differently.

What if I stumbled across a translation of Tagore or Roy in the library, for example? “Here’s a story my dad told me!” I imagined myself thinking, leafing through the pages. “It doesn’t sound the same in English. Maybe I should try reading it in Bangla.”

Or, what if a teacher handed me a book about a girl who ate curry with her fingers, like me? Except that this girl was in a hurry to grow up so she could wrap and tuck six yards of silk around herself, just like her mother did.

“Wear the blue sari to the parent-teacher meeting, Ma,” I might have urged.

Chocolate-colored children today have access to more stories than I did. A few tales originating in their languages have been translated, illustrated, and published.

Characters who look and dress and eat like them fill the pages of some award-winning books. But it’s not enough. Many continue to give up proficiency in their mother tongues and cultures.

“Here’s a story from YOUR world,” I want to tell them. “See how valuable you are?”

“Here’s a book in your language. See how precious it is?”

If we are convincing enough, a few of them might transport us someday to amazing destinations through the power of a well-woven tale.

swirl

This essay was originally published here.

Read more by Mitali Perkins

Books, Culture & Race

More than a tourist: Living deeply across cultures

DSC_1609When I first started to cross cultures, there was a distinctly romantic quality to every adventure – fascination with food and language and buildings and transportation and landmarks. I would inhale the smells and sights and textures with wide eyes, captured by the difference they represented. I would wrap my tongue around the words and sounds, attempting to capture some small meaning with my own mouth. Culture captivated me, and I drank it in with every cup of tea I shared.

As time has passed, however, this romantic captivation slowed, and I found that crossing cultures no longer carried the same zing it once did. In fact, it required more energy with each new encounter for I no longer entered ignorant about my own assumptions and inadequacies.  When I enter a new culture these days, it is slower, more observant, less enraptured. I walk carefully and quietly, curious but patient about the new realities I encounter. After nearly half a lifetime of loving across a culture, the exoticism of such differences is being slowly replaced by a simple expectation of normalcy and humanity.

Click here to read the rest of my guest post this week at Communicating.Across.Boundaries.

Books, Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

9 ways to help children develop global awareness

Before our kids were even born, my husband and I knew we wanted to raise our children with an awareness of global reality.  Once they actually arrived, however, we found this easier said than done – especially when living in either isolated or wealthy communities.

When our kids were old enough to process more than Cheerios and Elmo, we wanted to help them develop an understanding of concepts less prominent in American mainstream culture like community, respect for elders, simplicity and generosity that was shaped by something other than the Disney Channel and their peers. Since my husband spent half of his childhood in a developing country at war and the majority of his family still lives there, we were especially keen to help our children growing up amidst privilege understand these realities more deeply. We’ve made attempts at this in a variety of ways, hoping that a few of them will stick:

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Beatrice's GoatAn early favorite was reading Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, a true story about a girl in a village whose life changes all because of the gift of a single goat.  There is a developing genre of children’s books telling stories of empowerment instead of pity that includes other titles like One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Difference and The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough.  These books are all part of Citizen Kid, a book series designed to help children become better global citizens.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.24.12 AMProviding a glimpse into a positive view of diversity, Norah Dooley and Peter Thornton have written an absolutely fabulous series about a child who explores the world in her neighborhood by sampling the variations of foods they each enjoy.  Titles include Everybody Cooks Rice, Everybody Bakes Bread, Everybody Brings Noodles and Everybody Serves Soup.  My other all-time favorite storybooks that showcase the world are How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and Abuela.

A life like mine

Another genre of children’s books we’ve loved are illustrated non-fiction books about actual children around the world.  Our favorites include A life like mine: How children live around the worldChildren just like me: A unique celebration of how children live around the world, If the World were a Village, and The Usborne Book of People of the World.

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Having grown weary of too many depictions of a white Jesus loving on only white children, I’ve also been in search of children’s bibles that reflect the whole world God created.  My favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible, and World Vision also recently published God’s Love for You Bible Storybook.

videos header

Videos can provide a more tangible reflection of global realities than books, and watching has helped our children get a better sense of how other children live around the world.  Citizen Kid and World Vision both feature child-appropriate videos that explain concepts like the need for clean water, microenterprise and education.  MamaHope also has an excellent series of short videos called “Stop the Pity” which portray those living in poverty with dignity and respect.  Compassion International has a great site (that includes a downloadable study guide!) for kids to learn about poverty called Quest for Compassion.  I’m also a fan of fun videos like Where the Hell is Matt which show the joy and humanity that span the globe.

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My son chasing a chicken in Ecuador
My son chasing a chicken in Ecuador

While much more challenging when our kids were younger, we’re now in a stage where we can actively participate as a family in service projects.  We’ve helped serve meals for the homeless, visited nursing homes and participated in a service learning trip to Ecuador together.  (While taking toddlers to another continent was certainly a challenge, it has been helpful to embed a personal connection to other realities in their minds.)  I know other families who help at food pantries or tutoring programs.  Serving helps children see beyond themselves, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much my kids genuinely enjoy it.  I’m also a thrift store fan and enjoy talking with my kids about how this kind of shopping serves more than just our own purposes.

food header

We eat at ethnic restaurants as frequently as possible, and have worked hard to help our kids learn about other cuisines.  When we lived in an area where the closest thing to ethnic food was a Chinese/pizza buffet, I buckled down and learned a whole variety of Asian recipes to cook at home.  As a result, we eat Sri Lankan food (check out my curry recipe here) at least twice a month and Asian food about half the time at home.  While they still prefer pizza and chicken nuggets, they don’t scoff at Chinese food anymore and are willing to try a wide variety of foods.  This wasn’t a simple process (there have been a lot of ‘eeewwws’), but our insistence to always try new food is starting to pay off.  Here are some ethnic recipes to try with kids and some tips for introducing your kids to ethnic food.
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jehan horn
Entertaining aunties and uncles

We’ve also made intentional efforts to help our kids experience a bigger world, whether it be exploring the town down the highway or crossing the globe to see family.  Being an intercultural family, we wanted the world to be something that had always been a part of our children, not something new to which they would be suddenly introduced.  While they don’t remember trips they made as babies, the family we visit remembers, and it has helped our kids develop a comfort with and attachment to another side of their background.  They’ve wrestled with uncles, played cricket with cousins, and kissed aunties.

We also make it a point to visit lots of museums to help the kids can see worlds beyond their own.  My favorite find is the Association of Science and Technology Centers Passport Program which allows free entrance to over 350 museums worldwide.  We recently visited a science center in Kuala Lumpur on a layover for FREE!  For those who travel around the US at all, it’s a quite economical way to visit a lot of different museums while only paying for membership to one.
hospitality headerWhile hosting guests was less possible during the PhD and toddler years, we’ve recently been enjoying welcoming others into our home.  Whether it’s our neighbors who recently moved from China or international students I teach, hosting guests from a variety of places and backgrounds in our home helps our children put a face to the world.  Whenever the news media about a particular country (particularly the Middle East) doesn’t match with the reality of the people they know, our kids notice the discrepancies and often make comments like, “But so-and-so wasn’t like that.”

My introduction to the world began in part because my mom’s family hosted an exchange student from Thailand when she was in high school. We hosted another student from Finland when I was a teenager, and building a sisterhood across cultures proved to be one of the most cherished and foundational experiences of my life.

generosity headerWe openly talk about giving with our kids, and two of the primary means we give are World Vision and Kiva.  Both fund the empowerment of people living in poverty.  I’ll often sit down with the kids and let them pick the microloans or projects we support.  The World Vision site is great because it often includes videos that we can watch with the kids to help them understand just what it means to lack clean water or education.  Watching these videos and then donating money to the projects have opened some great conversations.

imagination headerBecause children naturally love to play and imagine, stories of other worlds  like Narnia and Harry Potter have been helpful allegories in our house.  Such stories help children begin to understand how other lands may have differing customs and realities than their own.  The power dynamics between good and evil also help us explain the comple dynamics of world politics in more kid friendly ways.

simplicity headerI am not naturally a simple person.  I love shoes, ice cream, and soft beds.  I like to shop and window browse and decorate.  However, being married to a spouse from the developing world, I’ve had many occasions to grapple with what is necessity and what is luxury.  Hence, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years sorting out my materialism, and looking for ways to simplify my life in light of how much of the world lives.

It has in now way been a perfect journey (I still have a weak spot for shoes), but as it turns out, pretty much most things are luxury past food and shelter.  As a result, we do the best we can to live within our means – no credit card debt, used furniture (my favorite chair has a big hole in the arm), simple schedules and intentional budgets.  While we live in a small house and drive old cars, we often discuss with our kids how wealthy we are because we have these things at all, regardless of whether or not they are new.  In turn, our imperfect efforts toward simplicity remind us to be grateful for the abundance we do possess, and enable us to give generously as well.

What about you?  What are ways you help your children learn about the world?

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Further Reading

Books, Families, Children & Marriage

Resources for raising a family between worlds

One of my primary reasons I began to write here in this space was for the connections it provides to others in similar life circumstances.  When we lived in the rural Midwest, we felt very culturally isolated and it was my only means of connecting to those who understood.  Having just started out in marriage, family, career, my husband and I often felt alone on the road without any role models of people walking this particular road ahead of us.

I am grateful to live in the age of Amazon.com and the internet, for it allows me to find some ways to integrate more of our family’s multi-cultural identity into our very monocultural context.  Every so often, I get an inquiry about good resources for children and resources for global families.  Since I’m an educator by profession, books are an easy and immediate way to bring the world to my family regardless of where I live.  I thought I’d point you to a few of my favorites.

  • I did a presentation several years ago on incorporating the world into daily family life.  The link is a power point with a lot of recommendations for how incorporated into our children’s lives when they were very young.  It’s a bit old, but my recommendations still stand.
  • I’ve also created a few Amazon widgets to keep on the sidebar which link to my absolute favorite multicultural children’s books and books on intercultural marriage, along with a few reasons why I like them.

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Belief, Books, Families, Children & Marriage

10 reasons I’m reading Harry Potter to my children

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, 

let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

– C.S. Lewis

hp books

I live between two constant tensions.

Tension # 1:  Our family currently lives in the US suburbs, in an environment of prosperity (materialism?) and peace (apathy?).  We come home, eat pizza for dinner and watch a movie on a comfy couch in an air-conditioned home together.   We go to movies and eat ice cream and spend an occasional day at the beach.  We have access to safe homes and good schools, healthy food and clean water.  While we know about the challenges much of the world faces, we don’t live them.  

Tension # 2:  My husband works in social work and I teach English as a Second language to adult immigrants and refugees.  We care deeply for the world in all of its chaos, in all of its wars and poverty and injustices, in part because we see daily how such tragedies impact people around us and in part because we know such brokenness is close to the heart of God.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to know how to introduce my children to such realities.  I don’t think it’s fair to shelter them completely, for even at a young age, they need to understand the realities of living in a fallen world.  But I also don’t want to overwhelm them with things they can’t understand.

While they can’t yet fully grasp the evil raging in the world around them, they do have an easier time processing the good they see. The fact that hope still makes more sense than despair may be one of the greatest gifts children give adults. For their sake and mine, I want to instill in them a thirst for goodness, hope, and friendship for the future moments in their lives when all might appear lost.

Enter: Harry Potter

I started reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to my nine-year-old daughter about a year ago.  Her seven-year-old brother was banned from listening because he was too young.  As little brothers do, he snuck outside her bedroom door and hung on every word.  By the time mama caught onto his scheme, he was captivated.

As a book-loving mama, I didn’t have the heart to turn him away, so I decided we would only read through book 3 because the darkness really starts to get thick when Lord Voldemort returns in book 4. But we finished book 3 and they begged to keep going like their lives would end if they had to wait years to learn what came of their beloved Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  So cautiously, we read on.

At first, I was a bit hesitant, wondering if the evil, the battle, the fear that rages in the story of good vs. evil would be too much for them.  But as we read, I grew more convinced that this was more than an entertaining story, it was food for their souls.

Here was a way we could dialog over issues of evil, of injustice, of fear.  Here we could explore the complex realities of relationships, emotional scars, power structures, and even political systems in ways that they could actually understand.  Mention the United Nation’s peace efforts and their eyes cross, but bring up Umbridge taking over Hogwarts and they’re suddenly rabid activists for peace and justice.

Every so often, I run across voices decrying the ‘dangers’ of the Harry Potter series and they mystify me, for I have found its themes offer a great deal of biblical, moral and spiritual training.  To counter some of these voices, I thought I’d offer my own reasons on why I’ve invested hundreds of hours enthusiastically reading Harry Potter to my kids:

1. It clearly distinguishes good and evil.  

One of the downsides of suburban America is that the lines between good and evil blur easily.  In urban contexts, darkness is much more difficult to hide.  The suburban distractions of materialism and entertainment speak much more loudly than the vices more common in urban contexts simply because evil is not as visibly present.  (Kathy Keller does a great job of exploring why darkness is easier to discern in the city in her article, “Why you should raise your kids in the city.”)  One of the basic truths I want my children to understand is the reality of good and evil that is present both in the world and in themselves.  If they don’t know how to recognize and respond to it, they are more likley to be caught unaware of the impact of their decisions.

2. It tells the (whole) truth.  

In a story primarily about the attempt of evil to overthrow the good, it’s difficult to sugarcoat much – life can be hard, scary, and disappointing.  People stumble over themselves, make mistakes, and sometimes don’t know what to do next.  Sometimes they have scars they are unable to overcome, even if they are ultimately good (Snape).  One of the disservices the modern Sunday School program indirectly teaches our children is that stories end perfectly, tied in neat little bows.  Mind you, the Bible doesn’t do this, just the Sunday Schools.  If you don’t believe me, read Genesis 9 about a naked and drunken Noah.  To my knowledge, no Sunday School teacher has ever included that part of the story in Noah’s ark.  For their faith to be lasting, children need to know that they may mess up, fall short, or have unanswered questions.  They need to see examples all around them of people failing – both real and fictional – who continue to pursue God, not perfect ones who never mess up and know all the answers.

3. It inspires wonder.

Let’s face it, flying on broomsticks playing quidditch outside a magical castle is pretty awe-inspiring to modern kids who ride around in mini-vans and play soccer all day.  I don’t want my children limited to the confines of suburban cookie-cutter worlds – I want them to forge creativity, to imagine possibilities beyond their wildest hopes and dreams, to believe in something bigger than what they can actually see.  This is how we grow better societies, and in the end, how we also find God.

4. It stirs up hope.

As the series grew more tense, my kids started getting a bit nervous about the outcome of all this evil-fighting-good business. They peeked ahead, glimpsed at next chapters and last pages, and breathed sighs of relief to find out that Harry would make it, if only for that particular book.  They’ve cheered and hoped for him – booing those who stood in his way and loving those who supported him.  In the process, I’m watching them experience what it means to hope, to long deeply for goodness to triumph when you’re not entirely sure what the outcome will be.  I want my children to be so familiar with this feeling that they are able to recognize it and act on it as their understanding of ‘real life’ increases.

5. It demonstrates courage.  

When Voldemort returned to power, my children cowered and cuddled close, concern burrowed in their little brows. My son’s had nightmares about death eaters and sometimes sleeps with the hall light on, ‘just in case’.  But when they play, they are never Voldemort or death eaters.  They are, of course, Harry, Ron, Ginny, Hermione, or Neville.  These are characters who, though terribly under-qualified and ill-equipped, demonstrate courage beyond their years to fight evil because 1) it needs to be fought and 2) they are friends who have each others’ backs.  Seeing this courage-in-action is formative to my own children’s future characters.  I don’t know what they’ll face in their lifetimes, but I want them to have a frame of reference rooted in courage to do the right thing, even in the face of great cost to themselves.

6. It values relationships.

In our modern, technological world, honest and committed relationships are struggling.  Our environment shouts for instant everything, and provides increasingly fewer models of genuine trust, endurance and perseverance.  Harry, Hermione, and Ron model an enduring, committed friendship – one in which they are each themselves and appreciated for who they are, not who they wish each other to be.  When Harry tells Ron and Hermione information that has the potential to threaten their very lives, they look at each other and gulp, but barely hesitate to declare their allegiance to him.  While there are times that Harry clearly wants to go his own way and fight the battle himself, his friends respond in no uncertain terms, “We will not let you go it alone, it’s too dangerous. We’re coming with you,” and refuse to back down.  How I long for my children to seek out these qualities in their own friends and to be this kind of friend in return.

7. It portrays strong male and female role models.  

The rigid gender stereo-typed models of warriors and princesses fall far short of what I hope for my children.  In Harry Potter, none of the girls are stereotypically frilly or ditzy and none of the boys are stereotypically macho or womanizing.  Hermione is a brilliant, hard-working rule-follower.  While Neville begins as a nervous and insecure boy, he matures into a spectacular symbol of courage.  Ron’s occasionally thick-headed but endearingly genuine. Fred and George are rebellious pranksters who end up both saving the day and sacrificing tremendously.  The characters are simply who they have been created to be.  They live their imperfect stories fiercely and well, refusing to fit the box their environment tries to put them in.

8. It teaches symbolism.

Perhaps the biggest critique the series has received is from those with concerns about the focus on witches and wizards.  Like many great stories, the witches and wizards are merely symbols to help children see truth (Narnia and Lord of the Rings also have strong magical themes and haven’t received near the kind of criticism on this front as Harry Potter). While witches and wizards can have other connotations, they don’t inherently represent the same thing.  Throughout history, symbols have been a powerful influence in the life of faith, and it’s helpful for children to learn that sometimes there are multiple meanings and layers to what they actually see – people and objects included.

9. It promotes the value of a keen mind.

Much of the conflict in the series is a battle of minds, of learning that often the most difficult battles rage within our own heads.  As a result, the primary content at Hogwarts isn’t braun, but brain. In many ways, the spells are symbols for the knowledge that the students acquire which prepares for adulthood.  However, knowledge isn’t entirely enough.  The students must also exercise discipline to develop their skills in useful ways, and discernment in knowing how and when to use these skills appropriately.

10. It’s awesome cuddle time.

In the later books, each chapter takes roughly an hour to read aloud, so we have lots of time for extended cuddles.  I’m quite aware that the remaining years of this sweet delight are dwindling quickly, and I’m savoring every snuggle while they last.

In spite of the naysayers, I believe Harry Potter is a story for the ages – particularly for Christians – and a symbol of how I want my children to live – authentic lives full of wonder, courage, hope, and commitment,  lives that overflow with goodness and stand against evil, lives that sacrifice to know and protect truth, lives that see and care for others well.

Of course, my kids don’t see any of this.  All they know is a compelling story that they can’t wait to read with me.  I’m ok with that too.  Some things they don’t need to understand completely.

Other books I love