Today’s Classroom Model: A Rant


Can I rant a bit about today’s typical educational model? Please? Thank you.


I am talking about the typical set-up with one teacher and 18-30 children for eight hours a day, five days a week. I even have an aide, and it doesn’t help.

Here’s a glimpse into my day:

“This story is called Is This Panama? It’s the story about a bird — A, please sit belly or bottom. It’s the story — what is that in your mouth?”

“It’s gum, teacher!”

“No, it’s not gum, teacher, he’s lying.”

“Spit it out and throw it away, please. All right, now I need everyone paying attention. Look at how nicely Y is sitting. Can you all sit like Y? Oh, I love how M is sitting now. We’re just waiting on E. E. E. E. E! Hello-o. Please stop talking and look up here. So, this is the story about a bird named Sammy — “


“I’m not touching your hair.”

“F, please stop touching S’s hair.”

“I wasn’t touching her hair.”


“S, kind words. F, please sit down. Y, please stop touching my knees, for the third time. SO THIS STORY IS ABOUT A BIRD NAMED SAMMY AND HOW HE MIGRATES TO PANAMA. Can you say Panama?”


“A, what is in your mouth?

Welcome to one of the better-behaved classes academically outperforming the other K5 students.

You might wonder, why so stringent? Why can’t he lay on his back? Why can’t he mess around with the string on the carpet? Why can’t they call out comments and questions as the story progresses rather than requiring them to raise their hand?

Because we are always one wiggle away from all hell breaking loose.

With a handful of kids, it doesn’t really matter if they lay on their back or mess around with something or call out a response. With eighteen kids, it is an unstoppable tide.

It kills me, it really does, to focus so much of my energy on crowd control. This is not the education I want for them. I want an individualized education that works with their quirks and preferences. It’s exhausting and disheartening trying to squeeze little individuals into a predetermined way of learning just to keep the class together enough just so at least some kids will catch on.

I mean, never learned best sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor or sitting upright in a chair. I did history draped across the couch, with little naps here and there. I did math sprawled across my bed, with extra time to doodle scenes from the novel I was working on. And I was done with school for the day in two to three hours. To this day, I never work at a desk.

I can’t imagine spending over eight hours a day in school and on the bus, only to have homework waiting when I get back. And I’m an adult. This is what we require of kids as young as four-years-old.

To be clear, I am not opposed to children going to school. I am opposed to children going to a school with an educational model that fundamentally undermines who they are as kids and as individuals.


The problem is two-fold: there are too many kids, and there are kids who don’t work well in classes.

Of course, some kids do work well in classes. The majority of mine are whip-smart. They can focus fairly well, they can work independently, they can read, they catch on quickly, and they would do just fine if the five kids who consistently cause trouble were absent from the class. I can pull out my fun games without worrying that a fight will break out; I can pull out the multisensory activities without worrying about spending fifteen minutes cleaning up; I can read and read and read books to them and even ask a comprehension question or two without the entire class melting down.

Oh, what a glorious day it is when certain children are absent and the class size is down to a manageable fifteen and we all have fun and I go home feeling like maybe what I do is worth it!

Don’t get me wrong — I love each of my children dearly. But there’s only one teacher and eighteen of them, and it’s impossible to give them all the attention they need.

Early into teaching, a parent mentioned to me that I spent more time with her child as the teacher than she did as a parent.

That terrifies me, because filling in as a parent for eighteen young students means everybody loses.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to put one child’s needs on the backburner in order to put out larger fires. Your head hurts, babe? One second — A just stabbed S with a pencil. Your dad’s in jail? Hang on, love to talk, but J is having a meltdown over here. You think I’m the best teacher ever? You’re too kind, sorry for interrupting, but I promised M I’d get her ointment for her sore finger and this is the fifth time she’s bugged me about it.

I feel the limits of my own inadequacy every day. I see the results of my inadequacy every day. Would S still have these behavioral issues if I had the time to talk with him? Would A feel more loved if I had time to kneel down, look in her eyes, and express genuine sorrow that she bumped her knee? Am I perpetuating a cycle of poverty and crime because I don’t have the time to meet each child’s needs?

That’s not as far-fetched as it seems. One of my students, suspended multiple times, has had siblings kicked out of school and a parent in jail. This student exhibits similar deviant behavior — despite being the smartest kid in class. I can’t help but feel that the time I have with this student might make a huge difference as to whether they end up kicked out of school, in jail, or graduating college with honors.

Ironically, it’s the well-behaved kids who suffer too. I hardly know my quiet, obedient students, because they’re not screaming at me, starting conversations about sex over lunch, or refusing to fill out their worksheet. They literally, physically cling to me at recess or beg me to read them stories to compensate — and it’s only a matter of time before somebody busts their lip or busts somebody else’s and oops, sorry, we’ll have to see whether he likes green eggs and ham another day.

Ignoring kids was not what I signed up for as a teacher, but I have to do it every day just to cover all the material and keep the class unit functional.

Suggested solutions: Smaller class sizes. No more than fifteen, please. The smaller, the better. Alternatively, add more teachers and teacher’s aides. One teacher for every five or so kids. Require parental volunteering. Something. If schools are going to be parenting the kids more than the parents, we need to be able to parent more effectively. And maybe make it a bit easier for people to get educated and certified as teachers?


The other problem is, of course, that some kids don’t work well in groups of any size. I can rattle off to you all the kids in my class who would need or strongly benefit from one-on-one attention. They mostly suffer from being kids or needing lots of guidance because of their behavior issues.

I like to daydream about how I would approach a one-on-one education for some of my kids. Lots of STEM for one boy who literally never pays attention but loves dinosaurs, planes, and building things. Lots of sensory bins and active learning games for one girl who cannot sit still but loves to sing, dance, and handle animals. This girl is a spazz ordinarily, but put her with an animal, and she is the calmest, most tender, thoughtful child ever. I bet she’d love to do math with a rat in her pocket or read to a dog at the library.

Can’t we create a space for these kids? A tailored public education that gives two or three hours of individualized hands-on instruction (if even that much) and then lets them play and create for the rest of the day?

I know how idealistic all this seems, but it’s so needed. My kids and I myself would be eternally grateful for any improvements in our educational system that acknowledge the inadequacy of one teacher among 18-30 students and the uniqueness of each child whose needs buck the current system.

Rant over.

Hijacking Narratives


I finally figured out what I dislike most about fundamentalism, what I find most toxic: it cannot and will not accept other people’s experiences, claims, intentions, motives, explanations, or observations as real.

I found this out, ironically, through observing liberal arguments on Facebook. It’s standard fare. Some poor unsuspecting soul will say something like, “I want safe bathrooms for everybody. I am concerned for trans people. I am concerned for sexual assault victims who might feel unsafe with male anatomy in their bathroom too. Can we come up with a bathroom solution that protects all people?”

The response is — I guarantee it — something like this: “YOU HORRIBLE TRANSPHOBIC HATEFUL PERSON. How dare you. HOW DARE YOU. YOU HATE TRANS PEOPLE. YOU THINK THEY’RE PREDATORS. I am SICKENED by you.”

The unsuspecting soul grovels before them: “I am so sorry I offended you. I do care about trans people. I never said they were predators.”

“YES YOU DID, YOU DISGUSTING EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING. You hate trans people. You spew hate.”

“But I just said I don’t hate trans people.”


Et cetera. Another big step forward for LGBT+ rights.


I walked away from viewing this cage fight considerably shaken. It reminded me exactly of the fundamentalist mindset: the inability to allow someone who disagrees with you to mean what they say.

Since we’re on the topic, that’s why any sort of dialogue between the LGBT+ community and the conservative Christian community crashed and burned a long time ago. Gay people cannot actually mean that their love is real and healthy; their children cannot actually mean that they grew up just fine with two dads or two moms; their sexual orientation cannot actually be as unchangeable as they claim, because the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination and the heart is deceitful above all things and Rosaria Butterfield changed her sexual orientation, so there you have it.

This line of thinking may or may not be expressed in the manner seen above (i.e., you disgusting excuse for a human being), but it’s equally damaging.

This is not a strictly “conservative problem” or “liberal problem” or “internet problem” or “LGBT+ issues” problem.

It is an all-of-us problem.


A friend of mine confronted some friends, once. This friend expressed concern, hurt, and discomfort at the language they used and the jokes they told. At first, the friends were angry and offended; they thought my friend expressed herself poorly; they thought she was just stirring up the pot and throwing around devastating words.

Then — as my friend put it — “they realized the problem was different: I had meant exactly what I said.”

I meant exactly what I said. 

That. That is the realization many of us need to come to in our conversations with those who disagree with us.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to dismiss somebody’s perspective and experience because of their word choice or their emotional state.

You’re overreacting. You’re on your period, aren’t you? You just want attention. You’re a white, cisgender male. You always were dramatic.

That’s why many Christians cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of a black person or a feminist or a Christian who walked away from their faith. And many secular people cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of white people or complementarians or religious people.

Generally, we don’t want to hear anything that contradicts our narrative of the world, that disrupts our “us vs. them” ideologies, that challenges our beliefs that we want to believe are universal.


I use the word “narrative” because I think it’s more important to know why we believe the things we believe than to know what we believe. Why we believe can divide us just as much as what we believe, and what drives us to believe can unite us with others different from us. Even if we don’t share the conclusion, we share the process, we share the motives, we share the goals.

I think the key to understanding people, to loving them, to making peace between them, is understanding their narratives — and by “understanding,” I mean letting them mean what they say they mean, even if it contradicts your worldview.

As a fundamentalist Christian, I thought I knew everybody’s narratives. There were only three: those who knew God, those who didn’t, and those who “tasted the heavenly gift” and walked away.

If you knew God, it was because he predestined you, because the Holy Spirit enlightened you, because all along, he was what you were searching for.

If you didn’t know God, you were miserably unhappy and sinful, lost, desperate for escape, incapable of morality or self-control or love. There was a God-sized hole in your heart that nothing could fill.

If you walked away, it was because you hardened your heart; you were bitter and angry against God and others; you threw out the baby with the bathwater; you were deceived; you let your hurt blind you to the truth.

Those narratives dominate and subsume all alternative narratives.

Because of the narrative of those who know God, it’s difficult to be a Christian with doubt, a Christian with the testimony that God doesn’t show up when you need him and that your spiritual life is a source of struggle, not comfort.

Because of the narrative of those who don’t know God, it’s difficult to believe unbelievers who claim to be happy or good without God. “Do you feel like you’re missing anything by not believing in God?” I asked my nonreligious friend. “No,” she said. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. (I didn’t know what to make of that.)

Because of the narrative of those who walk away from God or Christianity, it’s difficult to take them seriously; it’s difficult to see how droves of Christians are abandoning ship for legitimate reasons; it’s difficult to understand how they could have been unhappy within Christianity and how they could be happier elsewhere.

So we resort to shutdown tactics: “You’re deceived. You’re not seeing the full picture. You’re overreacting. You’re just bitter. You’ll come back to the truth eventually.”

And if your worldview requires that your worldview always be right, you have to resort to shutdown tactics. You have to reimagine somebody else’s narrative. You must, or your whole worldview will crumble around your feet.


I did a lot of explaining away as a fundamentalist Christian. Lots of it.

I call that explaining away “hijacking narratives.”

When atheists help the local poor, Christians report how amazing it is that God can work through unbelievers. Hijacked narrative.

When a Christian tries to ask an honest, well-meaning question about homosexuality, secular people report how amazing it is that Christians can be so bigoted and heartless. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim that egalitarianism is a more faithful, Biblical reading than complementarianism, people jump all over you for disrespecting the inerrancy of Scripture. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim to be abused, people roll their eyes at the self-centered victimization going on in today’s youth. Hijacked narrative. 

We’re not going to get anywhere with anybody if we cannot allow people to mean what they say.


Of course, this is not a simple path to truth.

People say things all the time that they don’t mean. Not everybody is self-aware. People can be deceived, duped, swayed, and manipulated into believing things that harm themselves and others. And even when people mean something, meaning something doesn’t make it true.

I say this as someone who thought for my whole life the truth was one thing and then realized I was lying to myself. I am hyper-aware of my own ability to deceive myself, my frequent inability to be honest with myself — this, as a someone who prides herself on self-awareness, empathy, and sensitivity.

I hijacked my own narrative. That’s the worst part of fundamentalism, for me — it trains you to doubt your own observations, thoughts, and feelings on the empirical fact that we could all be wrong. And when you’ve hijacked your own narrative to keep it in line with the “truth,” it’s incredibly difficult not to hijack the narrative of somebody who grew up with different experiences or observations. It’s hard not to jump to conclusions or have concerns or questions.

This is why I beg for grace, understanding, and patience for everybody — including fundamentalist, religious, cisgender, straight, white, middle-class people, including secular, atheist, transgender, gay, colored, poor people. I beg everyone to listen. I beg everyone to allow people to mean what they say they mean. I beg everyone to meet people where they are — even if their idea of “love” includes elements of bigotry, even if their idea of “truth” includes elements of narrowmindedness, even if their sincere meaning seems out of touch with reality.

Everybody, on all sides: Give people the dignity to know their own thoughts and motives best, even if there’s evidence they don’t.

No more hijacking narratives.

Black Feminist Inspiration for #BlackHistoryMonth


My friend Stephanie was born and raised in South Africa by her American missionary parents. She works for iThemba Projects and writes about race, missions, and social justice at her blog Bridging Hope. We met at a summer camp several years ago — co-counselors for a cabin-full of girls. We went separate paths globally, but we keep reconnecting as our spiritual and social justice journeys cross paths. Here’s Steph. 

Since it’s Black History Month, I’ve been learning a lot about black women in American history and the contributions they’ve made to the feminist movement. I thought I’d share my mini-history lesson (which mostly came from Paula Giddings’ book Where and When I Enter).

Maria Stewart: The first “Jesus feminist” was black

Sarah Bessey’s popular book Jesus Feminist makes the argument that we should primarily be looking at the way Jesus treated women when forming views on the role of women today. Well, flashback to 1832, when twenty-nine year-old Maria Stewart from Connecticut — who was the first American-born woman to give public speeches and leave extant texts of her addresses—stepped into the public sphere to talk about women’s rights and the abolitionist movement. Stewart had experienced a religious conversion; today we’d probably call her an evangelical, or “born again,” person, not just a culturally religious person like so many in that time period.

At the time, there was strong cultural and religious pressure for women to refrain from speaking in public. But that didn’t stop Stewart. “What if I am a woman?” Stewart declared. “Did [God] not raise up Deborah to be a mother, and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdalene first to declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?”

Paula Giddings, in her book Where and When I Enter says, “Stewart was confident enough to challenge the exhortations of Saint Paul, whose words had long been used to justify slavery and sexism.”

Stewart, well, simply went over his head: “Saint Paul declared that it was a shame for a woman to speak in public,” she noted, “yet our great High Priest and Advocate did not condemn the woman for a more notorious offense than this….”

In any case, Paul’s words were of another time, and Stewart was convinced that if he had understood the urgency of these times, his attitude would have been different. “Did Saint Paul but know four songs and deprivations,” she said confidently, “I presume he would make no objection to our pleading in public for our rights.”

Ida B. Wells: Who says you have to choose between kids and career?

While white women (who had the economic privilege of not having to work) have throughout the centuries seen a dichotomy between having children and working, black women (by sheer necessity) have not. They’ve always balanced work and family, and their contributions to the greater society have been massive.

Even highly educated white women have throughout history shown a reluctance to engage in the larger workforce because marriage and family were seen as exclusive (and highly prized) occupations. A study of an Ivy League women’s university in the late 50’s concluded that women were “convinced that the wrongs of society will gradually right themselves with little or no intervention on the part of women college students.” A study in 1956 revealed “that 60 percent of all women college dropouts left school to marry or because they were afraid too much education would be a bar to marriage” (Giddings).

It wasn’t until the “Women’s Lib” movement of the 1970’s that white women “got woke” to the problems embedded in this idea.

But black women?

In the 1890’s, Ida B. Wells-Barnett single-handedly led an anti-lynching crusade, owned her own paper, and began investigative journalism into lynchings, which forced her exile to the North. She had her first child just before the founding meeting of the NACW (National Association of Colored Women).

But 1896 was an election year, and soon after the meeting, Wells-Barnett was asked to campaign through Illinois for the Women’s State Central Committee, a Republican political organization. She accepted the invitation on the condition that arrangements be made for a nurse for her six-month-old son, Charles. The committee agreed to provide someone to take care of him in all the cities where she was scheduled to lecture. “I honestly believe,” Wells-Barnett recalled, “that I am the only woman in the United States who ever traveled through the country with a nursing baby to make political speeches.”

She said a year later, when she was pregnant again, that she was retiring from public life. But this lasted about five months. “A brutal lynching in South Carolina compelled her to lobby the President and Congress in Washington, D.C. Again she took a nursing infant along. This was followed by her work for the Black soldiers in the Spanish-American war, activities in the Afro-American Council, her continued anti-lynching campaign, and the birth of two more children in 1901 and 1904″ (Giddings).

Unlike the white women of the 1950’s who thought social problems would go away on their own, Ida B. Wells did something about social injustice. She loved her kids— but she realized there were other families out there besides just her own, and her contributions were needed to bring justice and safety to them as well.

Speaking the Truth in Love


I like the concept of speaking the truth in love — theoretically. I like the idea that love requires hard things — theoretically. I like the idea that the truth is part of love — theoretically.

We are not always right, and sometimes we need to be corrected. That’s a fact.

Also a fact: 99-100% of the time when somebody “speaks the truth in love,” it comes across as incredibly untruthful, unloving, and even hateful.

Continuing with facts: I will not listen to anything someone says that begins with, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but…”

It’s an involuntary thing. My hackles rise, my defenses go up, and I prepare myself for hearing something irrelevant and potentially offensive. Because it’s always irrelevant and/or offensive.

And if somebody spouts harsh, hateful things and then concludes with, “Bailey, I’m saying all these things out of love. I care about you” — that will not, that absolutely will not ever feel like love to me.

And it will also never change my mind.

Isn’t it the same for you?

But we’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’ve all said something, or wanted to say something, that we thought somebody else needed to hear, and we wanted to say it because we care about them. Like I said, that’s an actual phenomenon we all face.

I’ve spent lots of time thinking about how it’s possible to to “speak the truth in love,” without actually doing more harm than good.

I think we oftentimes place too much emphasis on the importance of conveying truth when we “speak the truth in love.” “In love” just softens the blow. It’s about tone or attitude. It’s a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.

But what if we flipped it, where we focused on the “in love” part? And what if we understood “in love” not as a tone or an attitude that the critic assumes, but a relational context — a relational context that isn’t established by firstly or primarily “speaking the truth”?

We might assume that speaking the truth is the most loving thing, full stop. The truth will set them free and all that. There are people out there walking around who claim to be loving or tolerant, but the only thing they do is force their opinion on others.

I don’t think speaking the truth is always the most loving thing to do. Truth — hard truth, confrontational truth, you-need-to-think-about-this truth — needs to be given and received within a trusting, understanding relationship.

We all know how annoying it is when a random person comes into our life or onto our blogs or social media platforms and graces us with their (ahem) pearls of wisdom. Like I said, whenever somebody feels compelled to “speak truth” to us, it’s ten to one completely unhelpful and out of touch.

I can say that, because every time was that person “loving” someone else by letting them know the truth, I later found out that was off base and offensive — and I alienated them from me.

This is not the way of love. Or truth. Truth-speaking must done within a relationship. Truth-speaking must be done when you have the permission and the trust of the person to whom you’re speaking truth. Because…..

…..there is more than one way to present the truth. There are times when certain aspects need to be emphasized, and emphasized in a certain way. It all depends on where a person is at. That’s why it’s absolutely, non-negotiably imperative to know where a person is at before just spouting your opinion.

See first point re: having a relationship.

Knowing where someone is at requires understanding them — not being related to them, or being their friend, or reading all their Facebook posts that pop up in your feed. It requires actually knowing their side of the story, knowing their views, knowing where they are and where they want to go and how they do or don’t want to get there.

My friend once told me that she never gives advice that people don’t already believe themselves.

You are going to get nowhere by speaking a truth that a person doesn’t already believe. You are going to lose their trust. You are going to lose your credibility as a person capable of understanding and empathizing.

Don’t do it. Don’t be that person.

You have to give advice and encouragement that takes into account others’ assumptions, beliefs, and goals.

This doesn’t mean you don’t ever say something “they don’t want to hear.” This doesn’t mean you sit around smiling and nodding and approving everything they do. How many times have we believed something but not wanted to follow through?

Living out our beliefs often requires a cheerleader and a kick in the butt.

And that’s how I now see speaking the truth in love — not imposing my beliefs on others in a “loving way,” but loving other people, understanding them, helping them live out their convictions, and being honest with them when they stray away from what they believe.

**Caveat** I am not saying you should never share your beliefs with someone who doesn’t believe in them or express concern over what they believe — as long as you do it in a way that promotes dialogue and understanding.

A healthy, understanding relationship requires honesty and authenticity: “I hear you. I don’t believe that myself, but I hear you. I see it like this….” That is not confrontational. It allows you to share your piece without triggering their defensive mechanisms. It allows you to express concern without offense. It allows you to understand them better and ascertain how to best help.

To be honest, it is a far more winsome defense of your beliefs when you unconditionally love someone and help them where they’re at while still being frank about your own beliefs.

That’ll get me to listen up, every time.

It might even change my mind.

That’s the power of speaking the truth in love.

Forgiveness as Empathy


I wrote about how I didn’t understand forgiveness. When it comes to things as serious as major betrayal, assault, abuse, and murder, all of the cliches about forgiveness — forgive and forget, forgive but don’t forget, hate the sin but love the sinner — feel naive.

Within the context of a loving relationship, forgiveness makes sense to me. Forgiveness and reconciliation and deep love go hand in hand.

Within the context of abused and abuser — within a context where reconciliation is dangerous or not possible — forgiveness makes no sense.

A friend of mind suggested that a key component to forgiveness is empathy. It’s not reconciliation, or being an active part of your abuser’s healing, and it’s certainly not excusing or rationalizing their behavior. I guess, the way I’m thinking of it, it’s a honest awareness that humans are a mix of good and bad.

But it’s not saying, “Well, I’m a bad person too,” because the abused is not an abuser, and that’s a night and day difference. It’s not being okay with what they did. It’s not necessarily having pitying feelings. It’s not feeling guilty that you ever felt negative feelings toward them.

It’s just seeing the other person as human.

Not a demon. Not a “sinner just like me.”

A human.

To know what that mean, I think, requires knowing that you’re a human too, which is how forgiveness can be a process, and only comes after your own healing.

These are just my preliminary thoughts. What do you think?


How Sexist Men Change


I read an article sharing an experience with a male internet bully who called the author a “c***” for being liberal. Her sister jumped to her defense, calling out the irony of this man, a recent father of a daughter, calling another woman such a degrading term.

The point of the article was that by using degrading language toward a woman, he is fostering a culture of disrespect that will eventually harm his own daughter. He is, more or less, making it okay for someone to call his daughter a disgusting word.

He didn’t respond after that.

I thought that was brilliant. I’m a big fan of humanizing issues for others who fail to see people as anything more than living representations of evil beliefs.

But then, of course, someone responded with the oft-heard feminist complaint, “I’m frustrated that the author is encouraging the idea that women are only valuable as mothers or wives or sisters. Women are valuable because they’re human beings. Period.”

And sure, I get that. That’s the goal, isn’t it, of all efforts for equality — people are valuable as people, period. It doesn’t matter if they’re related to us or connected to us or connected to anybody else we value or connected to any other kind of person we value. We respect, honor, and protect them as humans. I agree with that. That is ideal.

But I disagree that comparing a woman to a man’s daughter or wife or mother is counterproductive to that end.

Sexism, prejudice, hate, and fear run deep. They’re also hypocritical and blind and lacking in empathy. They’re incapable of viewing people as people.

But love is powerful, even in a sexist, prejudiced, hateful, fearful person.

When we ask a man to think about how his sexism would affect a woman he loves, we are arousing love. We are arousing empathy. We are arousing protectiveness and anger on behalf of someone, even if it’s partially selfish because it’s “his” someone.

And we aren’t just inviting him to put the woman he loves in the place of the woman he just degraded. We’re inviting him to put himself in the shoes of the kind of man he would punch in the teeth on behalf of somebody he loves.

That’s a clarifying, powerful experience — to realize we are what we hate most, to realize we are perpetrating what we hate most, to realize that our actions contradict our deepest held beliefs.

If you haven’t grown up with sexism, you don’t realize how reasonable it sounds. You don’t realize how the world is taught to you, how your femininity or masculinity is explained to you, how sexism makes perfect sense given certain fundamental beliefs.

If you didn’t grow up with sexism, you don’t realize that sexist people, both men and women, really do believe in loving, respecting, and honoring other people as people. That’s a core Christian teaching — loving the other as human, standing up for them no matter what. But here’s where it gets twisted: if you’re taught that liberalism is evil, if you’re taught that God designed men and women to be happiest within distinct, predetermined roles, your “love for others” will look a lot like hate.

This is how we get devoted fathers calling other women “c***s.” This is how we get women lobbying against who they and their fellow women are. This is how we get demonstrably false ideas like men are inherently more capable of leadership than women. This is how loving, decent, God-fearing people perpetrate hate against others — all in the name of love.

This deception runs very, very deep, and only empathy and love can break it. Only by invoking the true love one has for others can someone see that the so-called “love” they have towards people they hate is horrific.

Perfect love really does cast out all fear.

It’s a process, a deconstruction, to recognize that that your “love” and “decency” and “logic” can be hateful, inhumane, and illogical. We’re really good at mixing up those things. All of us. Even those who lay down their lives in the name of equality. All of us do this, to varying degrees.

We must be patient with each other. We must celebrate the small victory of, for instance, a man seeing the horror of his comments to another woman by invoking his love for his daughter.

Later we can demand that he respect women as humans, period. But for now, we must celebrate this small victory of empathy, this small moment of awakening, this small act of love against hate.

That’s the only way a sexist man will change.

How I Learned to Appreciate Computer Games


It’s been quite the process to go from the know-it-all, spiritually superior girlfriend with a nominally Catholic, theologically illiterate, failure of an immature Christian man to an embarrassed, humbled, clueless wife with the faithful, Christian, decent husband.

We haven’t changed much. I just realized my superiority was all pride and bluster, and his “failures” and “immaturity” were just me being embarrassed that he didn’t live up to the perfect complementarian divinity student I’d imagined I’d always marry. But he is incredible, and his faith is incredible, and when I allow him to be himself, instead of holding him to my fundamentalist standards of holiness and maturity, our relationship is incredible too.

One of the biggest turning points with us had to do with computer games.

My husband doesn’t play first-person shooter games (thank God). He doesn’t have an Xbox. He just really loves this online, multiplayer computer game called League of Legends. It’s his hobby. He knows the lore, the characters, and the fine points of playing. He puts in a good amount of time mastering a character or skill. He follows the international championships, and he is currently hot and bothered about his fantasy team. (Yes, there is a fantasy league for an already fantasy computer game.)

This used to bother me. One, because I thought all video games involving death and fighting were evil and would more than likely produce serial killers — even a game like League, where the characters are cartoons, there is no gore, they regenerate every thirty seconds after death, and the draw of the game is strategy rather than glorying in the graphic death of your opponent.

Two, I thought only immature people cared about such frivolous things as video games. Any time a college male tried to explain the deeper purpose of video games to me, my eyes glazed over and my eyes wanted to roll so hard.

Three, it can get addictive. Games at three in the morning. Homework abandoned in favor of a five-game streak. Not being able to pause the game at will to help in an emergency — like everyday when I had my routine existential breakdown.

So I did what every responsible, godly, mature girlfriend does — I ridiculed him for it.

I argued against his love of this game from all different angles — particularly attacking his character and his maturity and his common sense. That’s always a great way to change somebody’s mind.

Instead of changing his mind, he began begging me to play with him.

Eventually, begrudgingly, I caved, watching my morality and my maturity crumble around me as a prepared to battle on Summoner’s Rift.

It actually wasn’t the worst thing ever. It was rather fun.

Instantly, I became a girlfriend hero. “You play computer games with Erich? That’s so cute! I wish my girlfriend would do that!”

Ah, yes. Look at me, the model girlfriend.

But the fights still continued into marriage. Some of them were legitimate. Sometimes he did spend too much time on League (not that I spent too much time on Facebook…). Sometimes he did procrastinate on important things in lieu of his favorite pastime (not that I was guilty in this area…).

Perhaps the biggest strain of all, though, was that I cared nothing about computer games in general or League in particular. Lego Star Wars and Mario Cart are the only games I’ve liked. But he talked so much about it. He talked to me as if I knew what he was talking about. He talked to me as if I cared.

I didn’t.

He would go on and on about League, and I would sit and nod and pretend to listen, all the while thinking of something else — normally, about how it was possible for two people to speak English and yet completely not grasp what the other person is saying.

I didn’t have a glamorous breakthrough, except that I hated pretending to listen. I hated not caring. I hated fighting him on this. I hated wishing this part of him would go away. I hated feeling embarrassed about something that brought him joy.

And so I found myself talking about League. At first, I just tried to pay attention when he talked. Then I started asking clarifying questions, like, “What does KS mean?” Then I started asking him questions about how his game was going or how his fantasy team was doing. And then I found myself as his #1 counselor regarding all things League. I was giving my opinion on things, ribbing him for not following my advice, expressing sympathy when he got frustrated with the stupid people in the bronze league, and kissing him happily when things went his way.

This makes so much of a difference in our marriage. 

Not only not judging, but actively participating in something he cares about, even when it’s decidedly not my cup of tea. Surprise, surprise, I find us liking each other more, understanding each other more, and connecting better. He seems far more interested in my hobbies and thoughts too.


(Why does it always take me so long to realize these things?)

Of course, I feel a bit self-conscious about his love of League. My friends who aren’t into video games think it’s a bit strange. He had the League world championship up on the big screen when the movers dropped off our couch, and for a second, I wanted to apologize and poke fun at him to show that am a mature, well-adjusted adult who cares nothing about frivolous games.

(Erich has just informed me that the movers exclaimed, “Oh, you have the LCS up! How’s it going? Who are you watching?” Good thing I kept my mouth shut.)

But pooh pooh to the haters.

You know what? Go ahead and judge. Go ahead and laugh. Go ahead and leave links to articles about the sad state of youth these days. We live in an odd world where people pay millions to watch people kick a ball around. We connect with each other via social media and get addicted in the process. We all have weird passions for series on Netflix and awkward hobbies like writing bad fantasy novels and too many opinions on things that don’t matter much to the fate of the world.

And so I say, embrace those crazy, allegedly immature hobbies — especially for the sake of those you love.

Child-Like Faith and the Danger of Accepting Jesus into Your Heart


It matters to me what a theological belief produces — fear or hope or peace or striving.

I used to dis paedobaptism because I thought it encouraged spiritual laziness. Kids would ride on the coattails of their parents’ faith, I thought; infant baptism would trick kids into thinking they had a relationship with God when instead they had only a relationship with the church. I thought the stereotypes of Catholics and Lutherans were true, that they based their salvation solely on the fact that a priest sprinkled water on them a week after birth.

I get the concern that paedobaptism produces apathy. For a while, that convinced me that paedobaptism was patently harmful — because I, as a kid, took my faith personally and seriously. I chalked that up to making my own profession of faith at the age of 7 and being baptized soon after.

But I’ve been thinking, recently, that there are fruits of paedobaptism that I find beautiful and relieving and holy, and aspects of credobaptism that are or can be harmful.

It boils down to this: how seriously do we understand Jesus’s command to believe as little children? 

Presbyterians always argued that the children of Christians were a unique case. Of course, they need to come into their faith as their own, and Presbyterians still require an intellectual assent via confirmation. But Christian kids grow up within the church, within the redeemed community. They are surrounded by the visible, particular graces of God. They are raised as Christians, regardless of their personal confession.

I’ve always felt that Christian kids were a unique group too — exposed to all the blessings and curses of Christianity. I remember telling my mom as a young teenager that I felt God calling me to preach the gospel to Christian kids, to church kids — kids like me, who grew up with Christianity all their life, but never understood the unconditional, accepting, gracious love of God.

We were — we are — a messed up bunch of kids, more or less. Many of us struggled with depression. Many of us were frantic and fearful — fearful of God, fearful of hell, fearful of not being enough. We were weary, psychologically strained, but we were passionate, and we cared, and we took our faith seriously.

We would find each other when someone was brave enough to say, “Hey, I doubt my salvation all the time” or “Hey, I’m not sure what I believe anymore,” and we would nod along, YES, EXACTLY, in all caps.

Our doubt didn’t come from lack of trying or rebellion. It came from bone-dry exhaustion.

And when you think of it, think of the psychological damage concepts like sin nature and damnation and hell can do when handled poorly. Think of what happens when you hear, Sunday after Sunday, that you need to make a personal decision for Jesus, that, in effect, you don’t actually believe in Jesus, even though you can’t remember a time you didn’t believe in Jesus.

Think of how horrible and twisted that would make you feel: You, little child, even though you believe Jesus, are damned to an eternity of conscious torture because you haven’t “accepted him into your heart.” You, little child, need to repent and believe, because the belief you already have as a trusting little one who sings “A little talk with Jesus makes it right” and prays every night and asks mommy deep, thoughtful questions about God, isn’t enough.

That, to me, is worthy of being drowned in a proverbial sea with a proverbial millstone around one’s neck.


I am eternally grateful to my mom who always encouraged us to make our faith personal while respecting our childlike faith.

She told me, once, of a child who asked her mother whether God hears her prayers. And the technical response, if you really believe that your child is damned until they have a personal relationship with Jesus, if you truly accept that God does not hear or honor the prayers of unredeemed sinners, that no, God does not hear or accept that child’s prayer.

My mom could not bring herself to believe that, much less tell her child that.

That stuck with me.

My adopted mom, my college mentor, also shaped my beliefs on this issue. Once, she was explaining to her girls that only people who believe in Jesus can receive communion.

“I believe in Jesus,” one of her little girls said.

This was not a come-to-Jesus moment. This was not a “profession of faith” culminating in the sinner’s prayer. This was not a walk down the aisle. This was what she had always believed, ever since she could remember.

And so my mentor allows her daughters to take communion in a Baptist church that requires that only people who believe in Jesus can partake. She honors their child-like faith.

I think those two mothers grasp the idea of faith more than the idea of pressuring a child who already believes to believe in a particular way, to express their belief in a particular way.

In the Orthodox church, infants are baptized, and infants receive communion. There isn’t even a “coming-of-age” confirmation class, or a concept that one must intellectually comprehend faith before becoming full members of the church or “Christians.” This is how it was in the beginning of the church, too.

Child-like faith was honored, because it is faith.


I’ve tucked in quite a few children who believe in Jesus without having accepted Jesus into their hearts yet. My little sister has a better prayer life than I ever maintained after I accepted Jesus as my savior. My mom made her a child’s book of prayers, a folder she has tucked between the slats of the bunkbed above her. She memorizes those prayers and prays them every night, adding her own requests. She has no fear of hell, no concept of damnation, no baggage of fear or striving. God is only love to her, and she doesn’t psychoanalyze her faith.

It brought me to tears, once, tucking in three little Presbyterian girls after babysitting them. “Dear Jesus,” they all began, screwing up their eyes. And then they rambled, as if he was there and he loved them and he heard them, but without expecting him to answer or wondering why they didn’t feel anything or doubting their worthiness.

I want a faith like that.

And then just the other day, when I finally reached the point in our Bible curriculum where I had to talk about God’s view of sin, and I said to the kindergartners, “We’re now afraid of God, now that we’re sinners, just like Adam and Eve were afraid of God. Do you ever feel afraid of God?”

“No,” they all chorused.

That’s Christian kids, for you — before they make a personal decision for Jesus.


And what of the personal decision for Jesus, accepting him in your heart?

I think there’s a huge difference between taking one’s faith seriously and personally and teaching a child to “make a personal decision for Jesus.”

The former encourages the child to grow in the faith she already has. The latter dismisses the faith the child already has.

And that has lifelong consequences.

When I accepted Jesus as my savior, I was seven years old. I was wandering around the front yard, between the fire hydrant and the crab apple tree, thinking about Jesus dying for me. It occurred to me that put Jesus there on that cross. My sins did that. My sins caused his flogging, and the blood streaming down his broken body, and the nails in his hands, and his dead weight sagging against them.

And I realized at the same time (this according to my mom, as I didn’t recall this myself) that even if I was the only sinner in the world, Jesus would have still died for me. He loved me that much.

I burst into tears, guilty and loved and broken and euphoric.

I ran into the house, told my mom, and we prayed something like the sinner’s prayer together. I was now a Christian. I was something different than I was before. I was saved.

And ironically, that’s when the fear started — the sleepless nights, the angst, the terror of God and hell and reprobation that still grips me to this day.

As I’m writing this, I can see my Orthodox priest shaking his head and repeating, “No, no, no” over and over again. “We don’t do that in Orthodoxy,” he would say. “We don’t have bloody statues of Jesus. We’re not supposed to work up our emotions or our pity or our guilt. That’s pietism, not faith. Faith is simply acknowledging the ineffable God who is.”

That makes so much sense, doesn’t it? My Christian community taught me to label a moment of pietism, of heightened emotion, as saving faith — the moment I became a Christian, when I passed from death to life. My eternal destiny, my relationship with God, all hung on that moment of faith.

But that sort of faith isn’t sustainable. My spiritual highs only resulted in existential crashes. I was chasing after a kind of faith that was untenable, and it produced nothing but guilt and striving and disappointment. It was exhausting to work up enough emotion and certainty, day in, day out.

That kind of faith has damned me, it has damned my friends, over and over again.

That is not of God. Can I just say that again? That is not of God.

The faith of the little child saying her bedtime prayers each night — that is of God.


I want to baptize my babies, for these reasons. I want to honor their faith. And I will never, ever teach them that they need to have a particular experience or a certain profession of faith to know God.

There are, certainly, people skating by on their infant baptism with zero cares about their spiritual life because “they were baptized” and that’s that. But I think I misunderstood the people who valued their infant baptism as essential to their salvation and spirituality.

I think placing so much emphasis on their infant baptism might be an acknowledgment of the faith they’ve always had, the grace they’ve always experienced, without any striving or accepting required.

That, to me, is beautiful.

When Protecting Rights Is Immoral


Trump’s travel ban.

It’s the next thing, in a long line of things, that’s getting me to think about the difference between rights and love.

As a feminist, I obviously advocate for equal rights. I think I thought that “rights” were the highest form of justice: nobody ought to cross anybody’s rights, and once rights are “equal,” the fight’s pretty much over. Taking a stand for “rights” is always the ethical position, I assumed.

But I kept bumping up against issues and situations where ensuring “rights” not only seemed inadequate but inhumane.

The first thing was listening to pro-choice arguments. I keep a wider circle now, and the entry level pro-choice argument, the aha moment for many, is this: in no other situation is a person obligated to donate their organs, bodily tissue, or the like. It’s a noble thing to donate blood for a good cause, or give up a kidney for a dying sister, but nobody can force you to do it. You have the right to refuse. In the same way, a woman has the right to refuse “donating” her body to the fetus residing in it. It’s a noble thing to carry a fetus to term, but a woman is not obligated to do so.

Since it’s convinced so many pro-lifers to go pro-choice, I try hard to understand this argument, but frankly, I don’t. There seems to be another level of ethics beyond merely ensuring “rights” — a moral obligation that obliges you even when your “rights” excuse you. For me, that is why the pro-choice rallying cry of “my body, my choice” moves me so little.

There’s a similar attitude of “rights” when it comes to the refugee debate.

One of my friends made the connection that being pro-life involves protecting both the unborn and the refugee. Someone countered with this: “The unborn have the right not only to life, but to citizenship. Refugees do not.”

I’ve seen this sentiment in various other arguments. It boils down to “we don’t have to care, because refugees don’t have any right to be here. This is a government, after all.”

I hate this attitude that as long as it isn’t people’s “right” to our care and protection, we can turn them away, we can let them suffer, we can ignore their problems, and we can feel morally justifiable in doing so.

It’s a heartless sort of morality, a cold, technical, calculating sort of morality.

It breaks my heart, these sorts of arguments. “You don’t have to carry your child to term, so murder is totally okay.” “You don’t have to welcome refugees to your country, so sending them back to the horrors of a war-torn country after potentially robbing them of their only chance of a better future is perfectly justifiable.” “You don’t have to help that person bleeding out on the side of the road, so just walk right on by.”

Obviously, things get more complicated when it’s a government acting under moral obligation rather than individual citizens, and we can debate to what extent governments as governments fall under moral obligation to welcome refugees, especially if and when it threatens the safety of its citizens.

Obviously, things are more complicated when conflicting obligations cross paths, period — like choosing between the life of the mother and the child, or stopping to pick up a hitchhiker when you’re a petite female with no self-defense skills, or any number of situations where it’s not clear what’s heroic, what’s stupid, and what’s unhelpful.

I don’t want to make an easy proscription of what to do or not do in all the complicated, conflicting ethical situations we face as a nation, as a pregnant woman, or as individuals in our day-to-day lives. I don’t want to simplify any of this.

But I do want us to think about the possibility of being morally obligated to do something even if it transgress our rights.

Our morality should be empathetic, human, and, yes, sacrificial. Our morality should protect not only people’s “rights,” but also people themselves.

We are morally obligated to protect and care for others even at the potential cost of our rights, even if they have no right to ask.

New Coping Mechanisms


I have never been good with prayer.

I feel uncomfortable with it; I always felt like I wasn’t doing it right. I never found a place between expecting God to intervene (which is trust) and expecting God to intervene (which is presumption).

I knew I shouldn’t expect a sense of calm or peace from my prayerful encounters with the Divine (our relationship with God isn’t based on emotions, after all), but I was broken, and I came to him because I was broken, and lonely, and scared, and I wanted his calming presence and his peace. I loved him, I really, truly loved him, and I wanted him there for me, like he promised. He never seemed to be.

I never knew what to make of that.

In any case, prayer became a place of wrestling, not of rest.

I needed a new coping mechanism, not only for dealing with life but for dealing with faith.

When I was a teenager, I struggled with insomnia and depression. There were nights when, I knew, sleep would not happen. There were emotions that, I knew, could not be fixed — just endured.

I turned to music as a way to calm me down and reconfigure my inner dialogue. I would be up at 3 in the morning listening to the same songs on repeat — normally Britt Nicole’s “All This Time” and Kari Jobe’s “Breathe” or “Find You On My Knees.” Some nights they helped me finally fall asleep in the morning’s wee hours, some nights they just kept me company until my mom joined me in the living room for her morning devotions.

They were the manifestation of God’s presence for me. They were my prayer life, in some ways: the words were my words, the music my heartache, but they were also God’s response, too.

All this time, from the first tear cried,
‘Til today’s sunrise,
And every single moment between,
You were there, You were always there.
It was You and I.
You’ve been walking with me all this time.

Those songs that I listened to at 3 in the morning, they still get me.

I’m not sure if I believe them anymore, but I do. Something in me does. At least, as much as I cringe at K-LOVE, I will cry if “All This Time” comes on the radio.

Well, the insomnia and the overwhelming brokenness have been coming back with a vengeance. I’ve been turning to music as a coping mechanism, an alternative to throwing things and screaming into a pillow, both of which, I learned, are not apartment-friendly or effective.

I created a sad song playlist. It’s a bit of a misnomer, because not all the songs on there are sad. In fact, I’m not even sure what unifies them. They run the gamut of anthems like Vienna Tang’s “Level up and love again” to Lawless’s “Dear God, I don’t believe in you” to Audrey Assad’s “Even unto death, I will love You.”

No, I’m not contradictory. I’m conflicted.

But whatever they say about me, these songs help.

Over Christmas, I crawled into the back seat of my car (the best place to cry), turned up the music, and sat there until I sobbed myself to peace and my bum started freezing. I felt much, much better afterward.

I need to do this more often.

What things calm you down when you’re at the end of your rope?

Psst. My favorite music: love songs, prayers, and the sad song playlist itself.