Planet RMFO Blog

April 20, 2014

Daniel -

The Face

It was only six years ago or seven:
I don’t remember anything
except that it happened.

They still write about it.
The florid prose that drips
down to the floor, pools,
and then trickles drainward.

The why of it. Certainly the how,
but the why has never been

But that too will drown
in shiftless dunes.
The wings, the toes,
and finally the face.

by ddeboer at April 20, 2014 01:22 AM

Jeff H.

On Losing Heroes

I don’t want to go into all the lurid details, but within just the last month I’ve had more than person that I’ve looked up to been exposed for infidelity. People that I’ve respected that spoke strongly about the bonds of marriage have been exposed as liars. In my 20′s, I think this would have sent me into a bit of an existential crisis, but now that I’m in my (nearly) 40′s I don’t know what to do other than shrug. Maybe I’ve been around too long and seen too much of the human condition.

It’s been a very rough month to have heroes. I’m not one to idolize people, but I do like to draw characteristics from various people to emulate and it also helps my cynicism that maybe not everyone is a horrible person. Yet, the pattern seems the same for people around me. The idealistic twenties descend into the depressing thirties,forties, and even fifties and whatever standards existed are bent, eluded, and eventually broken in our weaker moments.

I think about my children and now that they have started becoming more aware of the world around them, I am still one of their biggest heroes. At least for now, daddy can do no wrong and that is a terrifying thought that someday that won’t be true. I’ve tried my best to be honest and answer “I don’t know” to questions that I don’t know (and I get a lot of questions, so I say “I don’t know” a lot.) but I fear one day I will exposed as a fraud, too. I’m going to fight as hard as I can to keep that from happening.

All of these thoughts come bubbling to my head on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. The disciples’ hero was dead and gone. What was there worth living for? It feels much the same as this dark time in my life and I am quietly waiting for the sun to rise when our hero, our Savior will make all things right.

by jholland at April 20, 2014 01:05 AM

April 19, 2014


holy saturday.


This morning, Atticus woke up in Florida. When we told him we were flying home later in the day, he started wailing. He does not comprehend time or understand that when good things end there are still good things ahead. All he sees is the sadness, and we let him cry because his sadness was appropriate for what he was experiencing.

The immediacy of a three-year-old on vacation is instructive on Holy Saturday. It is easy to mentally turn the page on this part of the story, jumping to Easter and hope and resurrection. We can’t recreate the fear and sorrow of that first Holy Saturday. But there are times in our lives when all we see is darkness all around, and the church has seen fit to remember that, too. There is a place in the story for despair and we can let it run its course rather than pushing it away.

“Darkness Starts” by Christian Wiman

A shadow in the shape of a house
slides out of a house
and loses its shape on the lawn.

Trees seek each other
as the wind within them dies.

Darkness starts inside of things
but keeps on going when the things are gone.

Barefoot careless in the farthest parts of the yard
children become their cries.

“The way most people talk about darkness, you would think that it came from a whole different deity, but no. To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up. To want a life with only half of these things in it is to want half a life, shutting the other half away where it will not interfere with one’s bright fantasies of the way things ought to be.” -Barbara Brown Taylor

by Kari at April 19, 2014 10:49 PM

April 18, 2014


descending theology: the crucifixion.

“Descending Theology: The Crucifixion” by Mary Karr

To be crucified is first to lie down
on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out
on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes
fix you into place.

Once the cross pops up and the pole stob
sinks vertically in an earth hole perhaps
at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt
but your own self’s burden?

You’re not the figurehead on a ship. You’re not
flying anywhere, and no one’s coming to hug you.
You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard
trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your ribcage struggles up
to breathe until you suffocate, give up the ghost.
If God permits this, one wonders how
this twirling earth

manages to navigate the gravities and star tugs.
Or if some less than loving watcher
watches us scuttle across the boneyard greens
under which worms

seethe and the front jaws of beetles
eventually clasp toward the flesh of every beloved.
The man on the cross under massed thunderheads feels
his soul leak away,

then surge. Some windy authority lures him higher
till an unseen tear in the sky’s membrane is rent,
and he’s streaming light, snatched back, drawn close,
so all loneliness ends.

by Kari at April 18, 2014 01:52 PM

April 17, 2014


what the living do.

“What the Living Do” by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

by Kari at April 17, 2014 01:20 AM

April 16, 2014

Daniel -

Last Year

Only just now am I
becoming myself,
I said, last year.

I remember last year.
There are still parts
of me left over
from it.

How little I knew
about anything,
I said, last year.

by ddeboer at April 16, 2014 09:01 PM

Gold Fillings

As always, the damage
is worse than it appeared
after it happened;

Gusts bring down those
branches left unmended.
There is no-one left
to mend them anyways.

The pruning horde appears.
It must be done.
Sacrifices must be made:

As always, the orphan, the widow,
the cripple, and the bonfire
which melts gold fillings
into coins.

by ddeboer at April 16, 2014 08:26 PM


the journey.

“The Journey” by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.


When I was pregnant with Atticus, I dutifully took a breastfeeding class but I refused to take a birthing class. Refused. Did not check out any books about childbirth. Did not look things up on the internet. I went into the hospital with contractions (that I thought were fake) and had done zero research. I was terrified about the whole experience, so I justified my lack of information by assuming that my body would take over for me and also the midwife would be there and so everything would be fine and women have been doing this for millions of years. It sounds crazy now but at the time I couldn’t deal with having to take in all the information and opinions.

I approached the half marathon in much the same way. I figured out my running plan and then got very small amounts of advice from trusted friends, but I did not do any research or buy any gear. It felt too overwhelming. There are so many things to know and way too many things to buy. I just wanted to run, not support the entire industry with the water bottles and the sunglasses and the gels. I guess I was hoping that my body would just do what I trained it to do.

You would think that I would be a person who would research to the max but apparently I am not. World’s worst librarian? It’s possible. Luckily, both times my body did just fine. An epidural would have been nice for the half marathon, though, now that you mention it.

After the race I realized how much I had responded to both of those situations from a place of fear. During pregnancy, I was afraid of motherhood and how my life was going to change. Before the race, I was afraid of failing and also afraid of the super fit people who would be running with me. I thought I would be the slowest pudgiest person in attendance. And the shortest. And that everyone would laugh at me. (I get really anxious around anything that seems like gym class.) So I did my running but didn’t open myself to the experience more than that.

What was beautiful to me about the race was that none of that mattered. It goes without saying that everyone in my section (aka the slow people) was nice and encouraging and some of them were pudgy, too. The people holding signs along the route did not jeer at me for having to walk up the hills. No one rolled their eyes at me for not having the right gear. Instead the people along the way generously offered their time and themselves as they cheered us on. One lady even offered free bloody marys. (Which seemed gross to me but was kind of her just the same.) I was too nervous to open myself to the experience, but the day opened itself to me just the same. I shared smiles and laughs and frustrations with strangers and friends, and I gratefully accepted the community around me because I needed them and was too hot and tired to let my brain object.

I shouldn’t be surprised by these kindnesses but I am, again and again. Instead of a clenched fist, there is the open hand of grace offering encouragement. On Sunday it looked like silly signs and sounded like cowbells and tasted like cold water in the hot sun. I am grateful for these small gifts that help pull me out of the dark hidden places of fear and into the light, offering hope for the journey ahead.

by Kari at April 16, 2014 01:23 AM

April 15, 2014

Daniel -

Clutched Prize

That jaw must be wearing out by now.
A slow explosion. Swallow the shrapnel.

It lies heavy in the stomach. Wormwood,
whatever that is. Medicine. Desserts.

I remember a child trying to catch
some attention, waiting for a break

that seemed to never come.
I could see the eyes drifting

like water over a rounded rock.
That rock must be gone by now.

I remember a child in the bleachers
trying to catch something.

He waited while the game, which
was for adults, was played.

He waited, chewing the inside
of his cheek sometimes.

He waited, is waiting, jaw aching,
for the slow explosion,

the puff of dust, the clutched prize.
You did it. You did it. I’m so proud.

by ddeboer at April 15, 2014 02:43 PM

April 14, 2014

Daniel -

a burn victim

her skin
sloughed off

in a jar
like that song
you just

one says
i have too much skin

one says
take mine

it is a kind
of immortality
one becoming
one becoming
two becoming
three becoming
five becoming

& so on & so on

is how we
heal the world

by ddeboer at April 14, 2014 08:49 PM


hope is the thing with feathers (meditations on emily dickinson for holy week).

This is a poem where people know the first line but not the whole thing. Be sure to read to the end.

hope is the thing with feathers by sylvaf

“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I recently encountered a Christianese discussion about the hope we have in Christ. I know it’s partly just me but when people say things like, “Our inheritance in Christ is total freedom,” I think, “But what does that mean?” This very nice lady was adamant that because we are a new creation in Christ, we (as individuals and as the communal church) should look different than the world, and she proclaimed that she doesn’t have an addiction problem and doesn’t struggle with depression because she believes she can be whole and healed by confessing her sin and believing the truth.

It sounded to me like she was saying that Real Christians™ should look different from the world and shouldn’t struggle with fear and anxiety and depression.

This is not what hope means to me. I feel comfortable saying that I struggle with anxiety and depression. I am a school librarian, I am a speed reader, I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a terrible housekeeper. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I am a follower of Christ. None of those things is at odds with the others, and to say that Christians are to look different is to encourage people to hide in shame. That message twists a beautiful true gift from God and turns it into a behavior checklist. If we are thankful enough . . . if we believe hard enough . . . if we pull ourselves away from the world’s influences . . . then we will be free.

Holy Week seems like a good time to talk about hope. I believe that radical transformation and healing are possible, but my trust is not in those things. There is no certainty that we will be healed, not from depression, not from anxiety, not from cancer. My hope is simply that I do not walk alone. The Spirit of God lives in me and a community of believers surrounds me. I have family and friends and the brain God gave me to help me make good choices. Modern medicine is not so bad, either.

There’s no catch. No requirement. No cost. It’s given freely. Not in the passive-aggressive Jesus died for you so you better live in a way that justifies his death kind of way. Instead, you can carry his message of hope and justice into the world and be an agent of change. The message of Jesus did not die on Good Friday, and it continues to be resurrected in people around the world even today. You can be swept up in this radical hope, this reckless grace, this relentless love even in the face of addiction and illness and pain and fear.

May we never offer conditionally what God has given to us for free. Hope: it springs up like a flower after the winter, it spreads like the sun across a field, it sounds (with thanks to Miss Emily Dickinson) like birdsong after a storm.

Photo credit: sylvaf found on Flickr under the Creative Commons license.

by Kari at April 14, 2014 05:54 PM

mission accomplished.

Hey, how are you? I’m good, thanks for asking. Well, yeah, I am a little sore because I ran a half marathon today.


I would like to dedicate this running to Mike, who made it possible for me to do so much training, and to Beyonce, who gives me wings.

Here are some words from Uncle Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” to celebrate today:

I am an acme of things accomplish’d, and I an encloser of things to be.

My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel’d, and still I mount and mount.

by Kari at April 14, 2014 01:06 AM

April 12, 2014


(half) marathon.

“Marathon” by E. Ethelbert Miller

it’s a strange time which finds me jogging
in early morning
the deadness of sleep alive in this world
the empty parks filled with unloved strangers
buildings grey with solitude
now near the end of another decade
i am witness to the loss of my twenties
a promise invisible
i run without purpose
far from the north star
i run with the sound of barking dogs closing in
i have lost count of the miles
i am older and nothing much matters
or has changed

(My half marathon is tomorrow. Wish me luck! I am really nervous.)

by Kari at April 12, 2014 11:57 PM

April 11, 2014

Daniel -

Some interface design I’ve been doing

I’ve designed an interface based on Google’s Card UI. I think it looks pretty good…

_design example - card-based workorder view

Feedback is of course always welcome.

by D.S. Deboer at April 11, 2014 06:10 PM


chekhov’s gun by matt rasmussen.

“Chekhov’s Gun” by Matt Rasmussen

Nothing ever absolutely has to happen. The gun
doesn’t have to be fired. When our hero sits

on the edge of his bed contemplating the pistol
on his nightstand, you have to believe he might

not use it. Then the theatre is sunk in blackness.
The audience is a log waiting to be split open. The faint

scuff of feet. Objects are picked up, shuffled away.
Other things are put down. Based on the hushed sounds

you guess: a bed, some walls, a dresser. You feel
everything shift. You sense yourself being picked up,

set down. A cone of light cracks overhead. The audience’s
eyes flicker toward you like droplets of water.

by Kari at April 11, 2014 10:35 AM

a toast by ilya kaminsky.

“A Toast” by Ilya Kaminsky

To your voice, a mysterious virtue,
to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint,
to hyacinth and bluebell lily,

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope,
to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees.

Bless each thing on earth until it sickens,
until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself

and yet I loved—and what I loved
I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels,

to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.”

by Kari at April 11, 2014 12:35 AM

April 10, 2014


unholy sonnet 11 by mark jarman

“Unholy Sonnet 11″ by Mark Jarman

Half asleep in prayer I said the right thing
And felt a sudden pleasure come into
The room or my own body. In the dark,
Charged with a change of atmosphere, at first
I couldn’t tell my body from the room.
And I was wide awake, full of this feeling,
Alert as though I’d heard a doorknob twist,
A drawer pulled, and instead of terror knew
The intrusion of an overwhelming joy.
I had said thanks and this was the response.
But how I said it or what I said it for
I still cannot recall and I have tried
All sorts of ways all hours of the night.
Once was enough to be dissatisfied.

by Kari at April 10, 2014 01:50 AM

April 09, 2014

Daniel -

Nothing, When It’s Done

Inside the supernova it
seems like anything might be possible.
Until the demands of
space and time

become clear. The ever-larger
dustbowl brooks nothing.
It expands forever into
an unminded void.

Nothing, when it’s done,
is enough.

by ddeboer at April 09, 2014 01:08 PM


muffin of sunsets by elaine equi

“Muffin of Sunsets” by Elaine Equi

The sky is melting. Me too.
Who hasn’t seen it this way?

Pink between the castlework
of buildings.

Pensive syrup
drizzled over clouds.

It is almost catastrophic how heavenly.

A million poets, at least,
have stood in this very spot,
groceries in hand, wondering:

“Can I witness the Rapture
and still make it home in time for dinner?”

by Kari at April 09, 2014 12:48 AM

April 08, 2014

Daniel -


If there are greater things to talk about
than how the rain
that rose up from
its hydrous grave
that rallied as
dense thickets
of thunderclouds
that created ozone
where the was none
that sang cannons

is now
being held back
by a few sheets of newspaper

I don’t know
or want to know
about them.

by ddeboer at April 08, 2014 01:51 PM

April 07, 2014


a letter to atticus about world vision.

When there are difficult things to talk about, I find that it’s easier if I think about what I would want to say to Atticus. So I’m breaking out the old-school letter to clarify a few things for myself. This is my attempt to explain why things have been a little quiet here the past couple of weeks.


Dear Atticus,

Yesterday we were at the NC Literary Festival and we heard Jay Bakker speak. You wanted to keep playing with Legos, but I put my foot down and insisted that it was my turn to pick something to do. So we went to see Jay Bakker. One day your dad will tell you about his family’s history with the Bakkers, but for now all you need to know is that Daddy and I take great comfort in seeing Jay doing so well.

There were a couple of points where I thought maybe it was some questionable parenting on my part, because they were talking about sexuality and h-e-double hockey sticks but you were busy drawing on yourself and the chair (sorry to the NCSU library) so you didn’t seem to notice.

I knew from the Q&A at the end that these were my people, especially when the lady behind me asked about World Vision. Quick recap: Christianity Today published an article about a change in World Vision’s hiring policy, allowing married gay and lesbian people to work for them. People got mad. Sponsorships got pulled. World Vision changed their policy back. The rest of us got mad. Now everyone is mad. Glory, hallelujah.

There is a certain segment of the world that knows about these sorts of things and takes them seriously. Maybe too seriously. Blog posts were written, lines were drawn, labels were rejected. But I confess that I had a certain amount of ambivalence to the whole thing. I was happy (and a little bit surprised) to see the policy change and disappointed (but unsurprised) to see it change back. I was disappointed (but unsurprised) to hear that people were pulling their sponsorships. It seems like the thing that Christianity is known for these days, this expression of faith through dollars and cents. Your dad and I met in a Christian bookstore. We know how that industry works.

We as a family didn’t respond financially to World Vision. We were going to, and then they changed their policy back and honestly I was kind of mad about it. I understand that they had to protect the communities where they work. I think they were probably right to do what they had to do to stop bleeding dollars. I meant it when I said that I believe that giving should be an important part of our lives. We’re not going to bail on our young man from Compassion just because the organization is more conservative than we are these days. But if I am going to start giving money to an organization, I want our dollars to go places that make sense for us as a family, and for us that includes hiring LGBT employees.

Last week, the news came out that 10,000 sponsorships had been dropped after World Vision changed their policy but before they changed it back. I think that the way that Christianity is so tied up with money is kind of sickening. I think it is worth saying that when I read the words of and about Jesus in the Bible, I don’t see a lot of justification for people who are wealthy by the standards of the world to pull support from the least of these. I hope we are teaching you that.

A coworker came in to the library right after I found out the news, and immediately asked if I was okay. I am sure I looked pale and teary, because that was how I felt. Also I thought I might throw up. That’s a lot of kids without sponsorships, and whether you think it was based in hatred for gay people or standing up for the gospel it seems like a pretty sad thing. I tried to briefly explain the whole thing to my coworker but she hadn’t even heard about the first round, let alone which ever round we were on at that point. That was a shock to me, that this nice Christian lady hadn’t even heard about this thing that we had spent so much emotional time and space on.

Oh, Atticus. I wish I lived in the segment of the world that doesn’t know about the Christian issue du jour. After I heard that number, 10,000 kids who lost sponsors, I had a fleeting thought that I didn’t want to be part of the church anymore. I just wanted to go somewhere far away from this whole mess. The truth is that I probably need to take a step back from online Christianity, especially its more conservative voices. That there are good and faithful people who still don’t know about World Vision’s policy change is a beautiful thing as far as I am concerned.

(And since we are being completely honest here, there’s probably a part of me that wishes I didn’t know about it so I didn’t have to help.)

Shortly after Jay Bakker talked about World Vision yesterday, you got your leg pinched in the seat and I had to take you out screaming. After we ascertained that your leg was not going to fall off (which you really seemed to fear), I tried to apologize to people as they left for interrupting the program. So many of them, strangers to me, were as kind as they could be. He was so good, they said. I am glad he’s okay.

To be a faithful follower of Jesus is to play the long game. We keep the big picture ideas of love and neighbor in our hearts and reject the theology of righteous indignation as much as we can. This is the church I want you to experience, Atticus. People rooting for the son of a disgraced televangelist. Kindness and generosity to a tired woman and her loud son (sorry, but you are pretty loud). Pursuing thoughtful and patient responses rather than burning up and burning out. And I’m pretty sure it can also mean donating to an organization even when you don’t agree with all of their policies because you are worried about the kids. While I was writing this, I realized that was the example I would want to set for you, so thank you, as always, for being my clarity. I designated our money to help women and girls as needed.

Here is my promise to you: I am going to be less rubbernecky about things on the internet, to take you to the park instead of reading comments that make my blood pressure rise. I am going to click unsubscribe and be okay with being left out. I am going to look for ways to be faithful with my time and my money that don’t involve knowing all the issues and seeing the dirty laundry. I want to play the long game, and I would rather play it with you and your dad than anyone else in the whole world.


Side note: The message about World Vision’s numbers was (as far as I have seen) put out through several bloggers. I personally have a few questions about the numbers that I have not seen answered, like: how many of those were big organizations (such as churches) dropping groups of sponsorships, and how many new sponsorships were picked up during that time period. So I acknowledge that that number may not tell the whole story, and it feels a little bit manipulative to me. But I also think that dropping so many sponsorships like that was a really crummy thing to do. I love what Zack Hunt says here about 10,000 chances for redemption, though without a little bit clearer sense of the numbers, I am not personally going to endorse a donation for other people. If you feel compelled to help make up the difference, he has a link on his page.

by Kari at April 07, 2014 10:48 PM

Daniel -

Benefit Cheque

the war came
back from
the far country
a world and a
half away
as a man
as a bayonet
bit of hardware
thought we’d
stopped that
who slipped
a well-rifled
past his teeth
onto his
and a bit bitter
rarely fired
and fired
no-one was surprised
except at the
pop of it
a room and a
half away
not his mother
who had had
she thought
hidden it well
or his wife
a town and a
half away
tangled in
or the bureaucrat
who came to collect
what remains
not smeared into
the carpet
the mirror
the wallpaper
not lapped
up by the cat
benefit cheque
or no benefit cheque
must be

by ddeboer at April 07, 2014 05:14 PM

Some Advice About Length

If you can’t make your point
in under 5 minutes or
5 lines or 5 whatever

isn’t pointy enough.

by ddeboer at April 07, 2014 05:01 PM


a poem and a book for the end of the world.

“The Mystery of Meteors” by Eleanor Lerman

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead
Leonid’s brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss,
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer,
open windows, find beads to string with pearls
You would not think that I had survived
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air
She has been alone, she has known danger,
and so now she watches for it always
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes.
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly,
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly,
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood,
come love, not love, millennia of portents–
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

girl at the end of the worldMy family was not big into the idea of the Rapture or Armageddon or any of those things that Christians were kind of obsessed with in the 80s and 90s. My husband’s family stocked up on supplies and even added a wood stove for Y2K, but I guess we were just going to wing it in the face of possible disaster.

Elizabeth Esther’s family, though, was Rapture-ready. They had code words and meeting places arranged in case the book of Revelation came to life. (Since I did not grow up in a Rapture-obsessed family, I was not totally sure why they thought any of them would be left behind. Wouldn’t they have been taken up with all the true believers?) I have noticed that the more concerned you are about things like the Rapture or the afterlife, the less concern you show for the people in your very real life in front of you. Everything becomes about achieving perfection and obedience, and there tend to be abusive behaviors that ensure compliance. This is the environment that Elizabeth Esther was raised in, a fundamentalist church/cult called The Assembly that was controlled by her grandparents. She tells the story of her childhood and her break from that way of life in her new book Girl at the End of the World.

I have read Elizabeth Esther’s blog but it is hard for me to visit it on a regular basis. She (understandably, given her childhood) cycles through high and low periods that are painful to watch. I was nervous that the book would be the same way, but it is actually very different. It goes much more into her background growing up in The Assembly. Her voice is clear and relatable, the story is compelling, and it’s paced steadily and evenly. She has obviously done a ton of work to be able to tell the story in this way, both emotionally and in her writing. As she found the Catholic Church, the story felt more rushed and less reflected upon, so as nice as it was to feel a certain sense of closure on some of her family’s issues, the ending did not resonate with me like the rest of the book. Faith is a constant journey, so it must be hard to know where to end a story like this. I wish the story told in this book had ended a little earlier. Recommended for: people who like reading about fundamentalist groups, people who like spiritual memoirs.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at April 07, 2014 03:53 PM

April 06, 2014


on the back porch (a poem every north carolinian should read).

Atticus and I went to the NC Literary Festival today.


Mostly the boys played with trucks.


And Legos.

But we did go to a couple of sessions. In honor of the festival, let me point you in the direction of this article in Our State about 10 poems every North Carolinian should read (preferably out loud). Here’s one for your Sunday reading pleasure.

“On the Back Porch” by Dorianne Laux

The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It’s not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there’s a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I’ve left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.

Atticus slept in the car on the way there and on the way home. Literature will wear a fellow out.

by Kari at April 06, 2014 10:19 PM

April 05, 2014


old men playing basketball (a poem for the final four).

“Old Men Playing Basketball” by B. H. Fairchild

The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,

rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone

and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love

to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing

to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,

radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy’s front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,

gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

by Kari at April 05, 2014 10:20 AM

April 04, 2014

Daniel -

April 30 @ Elsewhere In Dreams

Just in case you have noticed, I have a new 30 day project going on at Elsewhere In Dreams. I’m going to write a little something there every single day this month. Yes, even on the weekends. I’m not promising it will be good, but I am promising it will happen:

  1. “I”
  2. The Story Has Been Told
  3. The Scapegoat, Lifted High
  4. We Forgot The Kettle

You’re welcome to tag along. Comments are always appreciated. You can also +1 me on Google+ if you’re a masochist.

by D.S. Deboer at April 04, 2014 06:14 PM

Daniel -

We Forgot The Kettle

We forgot the kettle again. We act
like it’s the first time but it’s not.
It’s a pattern. But how
not to forget things?

I could write a few things down. But I
won’t because I don’t have the time.
Too much work, I say, scurrying
after forgotten things.

They scuttle under furniture. They have
minds of their own, stolen from mine,
the parts that remember the
important stuff.

So now I remember: This video about
Wes Anderson and bilateral symmetry.
What do the letters ECG stand for.
The many side-projects of Efrim Menuck.

And not: Did I turn off the stove.
What is the new PIN for my debit card.
Has the grass been watered or mowed.

Are you standing in a rainshower
waiting for me to say something
that has grown legs and hidden
behind the refrigerator.

by ddeboer at April 04, 2014 02:52 PM


into something good

“blessing the boats” by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary’s)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

I started watching The Fosters on Netflix and if you like teen ABC Family dramas then I insist you start immediately. It is lovely and sweet.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

This book tells the story of what went down at Memorial Hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina, specifically focused on the accusations of euthanizing patients and the trial that followed. I don’t see how anyone could say that Fink is unbiased, because she clearly believes that Dr. Pou did inject patients with drugs intending to kill them. And you know what, Fink convinced me. I doubt we will ever know for sure what happened, but she makes a compelling case that there was intent to kill and that public opinion was just not willing to convict a doctor who worked during Katrina. The flaw for me was that Fink had put together the book in such a way that it is incomprehensible that Dr. Pou would not be held accountable for what she did, so when Dr. Pou was allowed to go free, I wondered what information might be missing. I tried to do some reading about the other side but the main site that is offered as a rebuttal to the book reads like the ramblings of a conspiracy theory nut. Dr. Pou has not done a lot of interviews or put out much information (Fink implies this is because of her guilt).

I should also say that this book made it clear that I would never survive an apocalypse. The situation in the hospital was beyond horrible and there is no doubt that the people in the hospital were not supported like they should have been. I think everyone in America needs to read more about Katrina and its devastating effects. It has been too easy for those of us who weren’t there to move on.


A little Simon and Garfunkel to send you into the weekend.

by Kari at April 04, 2014 11:34 AM

April 03, 2014

Daniel -

The Scapegoat, Lifted High

The furred field hides bodies beneath.
This is always the way, a story
told in clotted soil tilled

Bronze, never meant to be planted,
struggles to the surface every year.
It is a reminder to be discarded:
Not fit even for ploughshares.

On the empire’s threshing floor
a king’s king stalks the circle.
Chaff enough to blind, but
this is how to make bread.

For a thousand thousand years
no-one asks the question.
Until: How does bread
break a sword?

The scapegoat lifted high answers.
Under the branches of a great tree
we rewrite, so our children
can recite:

This is always the way, a story
told in clotted soil tilled under.
The blood ever flows,
the body ever breaks,

and this is how we
feed the world.

by ddeboer at April 03, 2014 02:24 PM


scandal by lola ridge (because thursdays are for scandal).

“Scandal” by Lola Ridge

Aren’t there bigger things to talk about
Than a window in Greenwich Village
And hyacinths sprouting
Like little puce poems out of a sick soul?
Some cosmic hearsay—
As to whom—it can’t be Mars! put the moon—that way….
Or what winds do to canyons
Under the tall stars…
Or even
How that old roué, Neptune,
Cranes over his bald-head moons
At the twinkling heel of a sky-scraper.

by Kari at April 03, 2014 10:23 AM

April 02, 2014

Daniel -

The Story Has Been Told

She strips the nostalgia from it.
The sentimentality has to go, too,
and the melodrama.

What’s left is a

that might hold mixed drinks
or ashes.

What’s left is a
wingless bird in a cage
who sings songs so earnest

that the neighbours die.
But she is happy
and that’s what

The story has been told,
and that’s what

by ddeboer at April 02, 2014 09:09 PM


living with questions (a review of living the questions by david felten and jeff procter-murphy).

In my early 20s, I reveled in books and songs about the questions of faith. One book in particular that I loved was called Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends. (I was a hard-core Carolyn Arends fan, you guys. I quoted her in my valedictorian speech. Of course I bought her book.) At that time, it felt to me that being a person of faith meant that you had to have a lot of answers, so her warm and friendly book about a messy faith that includes questions was a balm to my soul.

Except for the end. Because at the end of the book, she quoted her husband saying that maybe none of these questions will matter when we get to heaven, because all we will be doing is singing Holy holy holy. I don’t know if that’s what Carolyn Arends really believes or whether the publisher made her have a nicer ending all tied up in a bow, but it was a deep blow to my heart. Apparently you can wrestle and create art from your questions, but the answer is always the same: God is awesome, God is in control, God’s ways are not our ways, God is outside of our understanding.

I pulled that book off the shelf the other day (oh, yes, I still have my copy), and it seems apparent to me that it’s about her journey living with questions, which is a little bit different. We do all have to make space in our hearts for the realization that we are not going to understand everything. I’m not here to argue with anyone who finds that a reasonably helpful answer. I’m glad it worked out for you, but I found it limiting and disempowering. It made me feel as if there was nothing I could do to be more a part of my faith. I just had to passively accept what was going on around me.


It’s been a long time since I read that book, and (despite the ending) I think it did for me what Rachel Held Evans’s Evolving in Monkeytown did for a lot of other people, making it much less lonely to engage my faith. In the years since then, I have embraced the idea that a life of faith has much less to do with having all the right beliefs and much more to do with the way that those beliefs are lived out. That’s one reason I enjoyed this other very different book with the same title, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity by David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy. Instead of being about internal wrestling, this is a book about action. It presents a progressive approach to topics as varied as the rapture, compassion, and atonement and then offers a discussion of how those beliefs might affect the ways that we choose to live. There are a lot of topics, and it’s definitely not an in-depth approach, but there’s a good bibliography if you are looking to expand on any one chapter in particular. The strength of the book is clearly in the ways that it pulls together material from many different authors, making it a book with quotes I wanted to write down on almost every page.

For a long time, I thought that I just had to figure out the right answers and then I would be set for life as a person of strong faith and belief. Thank God that we are given the gift of an understanding and expression of faith that changes and grows over time. Thank God we are given space to ask questions, to live with them, and to live them out with purpose.

I got a free copy of Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity from Speakeasy and I was not required to write anything nice about it. My church did part of the video series this summer and I didn’t go, but I heard positive things. The book, also, is perfect for a Sunday School or small group to discuss.

I paid for my copy of Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends way back in the days when I worked for a Christian bookstore and I used my employee discount. I’m not friends with Carolyn Arends but how cool would that be?! (Call me, Carolyn Arends!)

by Kari at April 02, 2014 08:57 PM

Daniel -


The train starts with “I”,
always. The least
interesting way to begin.

“You” who peer say so:
A here that is not here.
A sea that is not a sea.

The hardest mouth
bursting with another
man’s trash–

A few look on furiously
scribbling down

These are reachers
whose fingers
“we” call.

by ddeboer at April 02, 2014 05:48 PM


in praise of zig zags (a poem for the math teachers).

“In Praise of Zigzags” by Jane O. Wayne

For a Girl Failing Geometry

Maybe she does her homework
the way she does her chores.
She moves quickly when she vacuums,
forgetting corners in the living room,
repeating others,
zigzags recklessly across the carpet,
raising those pale tracks
behind her in the wool, crossing
and recrossing them. And not once
does geometry cross her mind.
Outside she wanders aimlessly
behind the lawnmower,
rolls toward the middle of the lawn
then doubles back.
For a while, she’ll follow straight lines–
the fence, the hedge, the walk–
then go off on a tangent, spiraling
around the birch or the maple.
When she finishes,
she leaves the lawnmower out, leaves
a trail of unmown strips and crisscrosses,
her scribbling on the lawn
like a line of thought that’s hard to follow.
As far as she’s concerned
the shortest distance between two points
is confining.

by Kari at April 02, 2014 10:50 AM

April 01, 2014


this world by mary oliver.

April is National Poetry Month. Get ready, y’all. I am posting a poem every day because it was so much fun last year.


“This World” by Mary Oliver

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold.

by Kari at April 01, 2014 12:25 PM

March 31, 2014


a love letter to giving.


When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of extra money for things like eating out or brand-new name-brand jeans (I had some but they came from the thrift store if you must know). My mom stayed at home when we were small and then went back to teaching (spoiler alert: teaching is not a lucrative career). My dad was an entrepreneur, and starting a small business means having big dreams but not as much cash.

And yet, throughout my childhood, my parents sponsored children through World Vision. My dad, recognizing that I was already in the habit of writing long letters to my friends (because I couldn’t pay for the long-distance calls but I could afford a stamp) (long-distance was a real thing, kids, look it up), asked me to write to one in particular, a girl who was a few years older than I. Her name was Temsemula. I studied her name with interest, wondering how to pronounce it, and wrote some awkward lines to her once or twice. Though we didn’t develop a deep relationship, I enjoyed thinking that we were connected to her. I understood that my parents were telling us that it was more important to help a kid get an education than it was for me to be dressed in head-to-toe Guess.

I thought of Temsemula last week, not for the first time. I periodically search for her on Facebook and Google but I haven’t found her yet. That is the part I find so mystifying about thousands of people cancelling their sponsorships of children last week—did they not love those children? I still think of Temsemula, someone I never met. I am able to pray for her, even now, which is such a beautiful mystery. I carry her in my heart because my family made her a priority. These days, Mike and I sponsor a boy named Stephen through Compassion because, once I got my own household, I modeled what my parents had taught me by making a regular space in our lives for giving. I don’t write to him as often as I should, but I am always excited to hear from him and to see his updates.

I don’t really care if you sponsor kids through World Vision or Compassion or the Christian Children’s Fund. Maybe you support community building through Heifer International or Watering Malawi. Maybe you like microloans through Kiva or helping classrooms through Donors Choose. Maybe you donate somewhere else – a local organization that helps feed hungry kids in your community. Or maybe you’re like my dad and sometimes you just cook up hotdogs and pass them out to people who need food. Wherever you give, whatever you do, make helping other people a priority. It can be risky to commit to giving your money to someone, let alone promising to write letters or show up face-to-face. But I think that watching my parents provide for others taught me about more than just careful budgeting. It was a gift to see them live what they believed.

When I saw my mom on Saturday, I mentioned that I had been thinking about the kids we used to sponsor and wondering if there was a way to find out what happened to them. We didn’t talk about World Vision last week while all that was going down, but I guess she was thinking about those kids, too, because she said she went and found an old picture of Temsemula and put her back up on the refrigerator. It shouldn’t be a secret, but maybe it is so I will tell you: opening our hearts to other people is a gift, one that we could all do with a little more of.

by Kari at March 31, 2014 08:43 PM

March 30, 2014


choose life.

(I can’t quite get the formatting right on this one, so click on over to see it.)

“Choose Life” by André Breton

Choose life instead of those prisms with no depth even if their colors are purer
Instead of this hour always hidden instead of these terrible vehicles of cold flame
Instead of these overripe stones
Choose this heart with its safety catch
Instead of that murmuring pool
And that white fabric singing in the air and the earth at the same time
Instead of that marriage blessing joining my forehead to total vanity’s
Choose life

Choose life with its conspiratorial sheets
Its scars from escapes
Choose life choose that rose window on my tomb
The life of being here nothing but being here
Where one voice says Are you there where another answers Are you there
I’m hardly here at all alas
And even when we might be making fun of what we kill
Choose life

Choose life choose life venerable Childhood
The ribbon coming out of a fakir
Resembles the playground slide of the world
Though the sun is only a shipwreck
Insofar as a woman’s body resembles it
You dream contemplating the whole length of its trajectory
Or only while closing your eyes on the adorable storm named your hand
Choose life

Choose life with its waiting rooms
When you know you’ll never be shown in
Choose life instead of those health spas
Where you’re served by drudges
Choose life unfavorable and long
When the books close again here on less gentle shelves
And when over there the weather would be better than better it would be free yes
Choose life

Choose life as the pit of scorn
With that head beautiful enough
Like the antidote to that perfection it summons and it fears
Life the makeup on God’s face
Life like a virgin passport
A little town like Pont-á-Mousson
And since everything’s already been said
Choose life instead

by Kari at March 30, 2014 10:25 AM

March 28, 2014

Daniel -

Smartwatches are stupid, explained with 1 amazing GIF


I mean, just look at that. Maybe we need a smart contact lens that tells you to look at your watch which tells you to look at your phone!

by D.S. Deboer at March 28, 2014 08:34 PM

March 27, 2014


what I have been reading (march edition).

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir Questlove Thompson (from the public library)

Goodreads kept suggesting this book to me and I have to be honest, I don’t know anything about The Roots except watching them on Jimmy Fallon. He knows a lot (A LOT) about music, but it mostly went over my head because I don’t listen to soul or hip hop or rap very much. Reading it made me realize that there’s this whole world I don’t know anything about, which is always a cool experience. Questlove was a pretty good guide – smart and trustworthy. Recommended for: people who like The Roots, music nerds, people from Philly.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (via NetGalley)

Basically all I have to say about this book is that it was a cute little romance. Very cute. If you need a cute fluffy teen read, this would fit the bill. I enjoyed it like cotton candy and it didn’t even make me feel bad afterwards. Recommended for: beach reading, airplane reading, bathtub reading.

New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell (via NetGalley)

Ok, first I have to say that I don’t think I ever talked about Let’s Take the Long Way Home, which was Caldwell’s story of her relationship with her best friend, Caroline, and Caroline’s subsequent death. I read it in 2012 and it has stayed with me. I highly recommend that one – beautiful story, great writing. This one did not speak to me quite as much, mostly because it was about things I’m not as interested in, namely dogs and hip replacement surgery. But credit must go to Caldwell because I enjoyed the book despite the fact that I am decidedly not a dog person, and her description of having had polio as a child (the ultimate cause of her hip replacement) was compelling. I’m afraid I’m selling it short a little bit, because the book is about loneliness and community more than it’s about dogs, and I am a big fan of Caldwell and her writing. Recommended for: dog people, people who live alone, readers of her other work.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (from the public library)

If the title doesn’t sound sad enough for you, the premise definitely will. And it’s a true story, so be warned. Will and his mom Mary Anne talk about books as a way to have conversations during her last months of life as she succumbs to pancreatic cancer. It’s less about the books and more about the conversations the books generate. Mary Anne is portrayed as a passionate, strong woman whose faith and family and work (social justice causes) are important to her, but she honestly seemed a little bit too good to be true. Because of that, the story didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it might. Recommended for: book clubs.

Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin by Nicole Hardy (via NetGalley)

I read this book with a growing sense of dread because I could sense what was coming. I wasn’t raised Mormon, but the messages that Nicole Hardy was sent about women are similar to those in evangelical Christian culture. So what is a smart single childless woman supposed to do when she is told that her worth in the church centers around the ideas of marriage and family (and, by extension, purity)? She leaves, of course. And what other choice did she have? It reminds me of some of the responses to the World Vision decision this week (and then the reversal), people realizing that there’s no longer a place for them in the faith in which they were raised. Despite the dread, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, both because I don’t know much about Mormonism and because I saw myself and some of my friends in parts of her story. The shedding of the confining rules and acceptance of herself is beautiful to behold. Recommended for: people who were raised in purity culture, people interested in Mormonism, people with single friends in their 30s, people who are single in their 30s.

I got some of these books from NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at March 27, 2014 01:30 PM

March 26, 2014

Daniel -

upon the death of an old friend part 4

i press my ear up to
the shell of you

to hear a sea
things you never said

broken half-sentences
echoes old tape recordings
crossed phone lines whispers


breathless or otherwise
it might say

i think about you sometimes
and wish you were still here
to make that joke
the one you cracked
that made the world

by ddeboer at March 26, 2014 02:02 AM

bees wasps honey

the honey of your mouth
its bees
its wasps
the blitzkrieg

whose banners are alike
too alike

whose husks autumn down

who will comb them
into piles
without honeycomb
its honey
its burst
the electricity

whose decline must be

by ddeboer at March 26, 2014 01:50 AM

March 25, 2014


the path before you.


On Palm Sunday, I am going to be running a half marathon. (I am just as surprised as you are.)

I dealt with the extremely intimidating idea of training by putting my plan into my calendar so that it would show up each morning and then just doing whatever it said. There’s a basic rhythm to the plan (short runs on Mondays and Thursdays, a medium run on Wednesday, and a long run on Saturday) but I never look ahead to see what’s coming up. If I did that, I am sure I would believe that I couldn’t do it. I would despair at the number of miles and worry about my own strength. And so, very early on, I resolved to take each number as it appeared on my phone and do that next thing.

It has also helped me to run the loop at our local park, which is about a mile and a half. I don’t have to think much about what comes next (except that the recent ice storm knocked down a lot of trees that are still blocking parts of the path), I just listen to Beyonce and put one foot in front of the other.


Running 11 miles, as I did on Saturday, is very different than walking a labyrinth, but the things that I have learned from my training are similar: don’t look too far ahead, stay in the moment, follow the path.

Perhaps that is why I recognized the echo of the labyrinth in my cousin Tara’s words before she mentioned the labyrinth in her recent post. She quoted a friend who reminded her, “Of course you are on the right path. Whose other path could you be on?” I thought about those words during my long run on Saturday, about the things that seem to take us off track. The job that didn’t work out. The friends who moved away. Cancer and infertility and death. But there is only the path before us as it unfolds, and there is always the presence of God holding us fast.


I offer these purloined words as a benediction for you as well: “Of course you are on the right path. Whose other path could you be on?” May you trust your strength and the steady love of God as you take the next step, and then the next one after that.

by Kari at March 25, 2014 04:58 PM

March 21, 2014

Daniel -

It takes time

There’s this idea that we’ll get rid of poverty by giving away food and aid. And sure, that’s part of the problem. But poverty isn’t at its root about simply not having enough food. Poverty is about institutions.

Countries with solid institutions have a much better class of poor. Being poor in Canada is very different from being poor in Mali. If we want to try fixing Mali, we need to focus on the stability of that country’s institutions. Rule of law, income equality through redistribution, sensible civil engineering, a non-corrupt police and military force, etc.

The problem is that we can give aid now, but making strong institutions takes time. Take India as an example. They should have a reasonably strong set of institutions thanks to the legacy of the British Empire (we can also say this about the Roman Empire — this isn’t to say that empire is a good thing, just that it can produce good things). But they don’t. Corruption, income inequality, and massive poverty.

It takes time and political will to get there. And in a sense this change has to come from within. Strong institutions simply can’t be imposed without a massive ongoing investment. Look at Iraq. It needs another 50 years of occupation.

This isn’t even a matter of democracy. I’m not even sure democracy makes it better. It might make institution-building worse.

Either way — it takes time.

by D.S. Deboer at March 21, 2014 04:00 PM

Here’s a way to talk about privilege


If I write somebody a letter, it gets taken seriously. The guy opening it shows it to his manager. His manager shows it to her manager. Maybe I still don’t get what I want—but I get treated well and taken seriously. My letters—even the angry ones—are unfailingly polite. I don’t need to be angry to get somebody’s attention. I just need to sign the letter “Attorney at Law.”

Being a white guy has the same relative effect. It takes negligble effort to be treated well and taken seriously.

by D.S. Deboer at March 21, 2014 03:49 PM

March 20, 2014

Jeff H.

Spring (Online) Cleaning

It’s the first day of spring and winter is thankfully, mercifully over. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, in fact you can probably find this opinion echoed a million times across social media, but I hated this past winter. This winter was awful. Good riddance winter. I was hit hard with a sinus infection between two snow storms in the middle of February and it took me weeks (weeks!) to recover to full strength. I felt rotten for several days and operated at about 80% for a couple weeks, it was the longest-lasting illness I’ve ever fought. I also had several days of caring for children (which, honestly just meant re-filling their drinks while they watched TV now that they are six) who were stuck home because school was cancelled while I tried to work at the same time. This is not a prescription for getting back to health.

Thankfully, we are done with all that, at least until next year and it is now spring. That means it’s time to do some spring cleaning. We will likely been sending the children to the grandparents for a couple of days and doing some actual deep cleaning of the house soon, but here in Internet-world I’m going to be doing some spring cleaning of over the next month or so. I’ve got a little more free time than normal, so I’d like to work on the following projects:

  • Re-architect the NIT Pick-em web site. FOR REAL. I’m using the same architecture designed and written around 2005. Every year I think I ought to redo the NIT site, but I always forget about it when the tournament is over and then by the time I think about it again I realize the tournament is upon us again and I have to go with what I have. This year I’ve got access to a couple more resources and I’d like to redo the site with a real back-end database using MySQL and rewrite the site code with something like PHP or Ruby on Rails. Then I’ll use some new front-end Javascript to make a nicer looking bracket that’s better than current ugly model. I’ll start on this soon as this tournament finishes.
  • Relaunch The Instant Family. Now that the girls are six years old, I don’t feel as comfortable sharing as much about them as when they were young. On the other hand, we do have fun events and pictures to share about them, but I’d like to do it in more of a “gated community” style, so we’ll be looking at restricting access to the blog and maybe tying it in with Flickr authentication. I’ve been using Facebook to share photos of the girls and that’s fine I guess, but I want more control over the content.
  • This blog. What should I do with it? It’s always been a hodge-podge of topics and I feel like I waste my best material on Facebook or on pithy comments on Twitter. What should I be doing here? More video links to old Cornerstone concerts? More sports commentary? I don’t go to concerts as much anymore, but I’d like to keep doing concert reviews here. Photography discussion? I’m not sure. Of the three topics here, this is the most undefined goal, but I’m thinking about how I want to improve this site.
  • So, let’s move on into spring and see how much of this actually gets done!

by jholland at March 20, 2014 05:27 PM

March 17, 2014


in the evening of life we shall be judged on love.

This is what I thought of when I heard that Fred Phelps is on his deathbed.

We have much to be judged on when he comes, slums and battlefields and insane asylums, but these are the symptoms of our illness, and the results of our failures in love. In the evening of life we shall be judged on love, and not one of us is going to come off very well, and were it not for my absolute faith in the loving forgiveness of my Lord I could not call on him to come.

But his love is greater than all our hate, and he will not rest until Judas has turned to him, until Satan has turned to him, until the dark has turned to him; until we can all, all of us without exception, freely return his look of love with love in our own eyes and hearts. And then, healed, whole, complete but not finished, we will know the joy of being co-creators with the one to whom we call.

Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus. -Madeleine L’Engle (the closing paragraphs of The Irrational Season)

I am grateful to believe that Mr. Phelps will soon be entering into a deeper understanding of the relentless love of God.

by Kari at March 17, 2014 01:12 AM

March 16, 2014


a poem for sunday

Every time I run across an Anne Porter poem I haven’t read before, I am delighted.


“An Altogether Different Language” by Anne Porter

There was a church in Umbria, Little Portion,
Already old eight hundred years ago.
It was abandoned and in disrepair
But it was called St. Mary of the Angels
For it was known to be the haunt of angels,
Often at night the country people
Could hear them singing there.

What was it like, to listen to the angels,
To hear those mountain-fresh, those simple voices
Poured out on the bare stones of Little Portion
In hymns of joy?
No one has told us.
Perhaps it needs another language
That we have still to learn,
An altogether different language.

by Kari at March 16, 2014 01:33 PM

March 14, 2014


I’m into something good.

For a while I have been semi-regularly posting on Fridays about what is saving my life this week, but I think it is time to retire that category. In its place I want to make space to share some things I am into lately that maybe don’t deserve their own posts. And it might not be on Fridays. It’s a little unformed. But here are things I am thinking about this week.


Cutie and the Boxer

My cousin edited this movie so I was of course in the bag for it already, but I was surprised at how much it spoke to me about partnership and equality in marriage. The arc of the movie shows how Cutie gains confidence as she expresses herself as an artist. I am sure that the story (which was masterfully edited, obviously) was simplified for the sake of moviemaking, but it was encouraging to me as a reminder of the importance of pursuing your interests as a wife and a mother. Watch it on Netflix!


My coworkers always talk about Scandal and I got tired of being left out so I watched all of it in about three weeks. I’m not going to say that it is good but it is fun and I am enjoying the craziness. But last night there was supposed to be something crazy in the last ten seconds and I fell asleep in the last ten minutes and I have yet to find a legal way to watch it this morning. Scandal!

Ashley Nicole

I am a little bit out of the loop on breastfeeding news these days but I consider myself a breastfeeding advocate so of course my hackles were raised when I heard that there was a recent breastfeeding photo kerfuffle. You can see the photo here that caused the controversy - she is a much more glamorous mom than I am but I think it’s sweet that she was dressed up to go out and yet she dropped everything to nurse her baby. I scrolled through her Instagram and related so much to her pictures of her pumped milk. I hate that anyone would be condemned for normalizing breastfeeding, and I have to admit that I am a little bit concerned that none of the parenting sites I follow (which are mostly by white moms) mentioned this controversy. Thanks, Ashley Nicole, for being another voice in the breastfeeding conversation! Our lives are pretty different but it is cool that we have that in common. I hope you know that lots of us support you.

Sparky! by Jenny Offill

When a little girl asks her mom for a pet, the mom promises she can get one if it doesn’t have to be walked, bathed, or fed. The school librarian helps her figure out the perfect pet – a sloth she names Sparky. The only problem is that Sparky doesn’t do much of anything. But I still kind of want a sloth of my own. How great would it be to snuggle with a sloth all day?! I could be the school librarian who carries around a sloth.

Lent Madness

I love voting! I love reading about the saints! I love silly things. Lent Madness is my favorite thing that has happened this Lent. I am still mad about Christina the Astonishing being defeated.

Ok, those are some things that I have been into lately. What about you? Any recommendations?

by Kari at March 14, 2014 02:24 PM

March 12, 2014


who can bend the ball like beckham?

Atticus had his first soccer practice on Monday night. Despite our careful preparations to build his excitement, it was kind of a disaster. I’m going to put a big part of that blame on the YMCA, because it was disorganized and our actual coach didn’t even show up. The people who were there were very nice, but didn’t seem quite prepared to work with three-year-olds. I’m mad about it but I am giving it one more week before I drop a rage bomb on anybody. Also I am scared of looking like that super intense mom who needs a perfect experience for her special snowflake when in fact I just wanted someone to notice that he kept wandering off.

Given the lack of organization and clear directions, it’s not surprising that Atticus kind of did his own thing. Sometimes that meant kicking a random ball into a random goal while everybody else was doing something else, but mostly it meant wandering off and playing in the dirt. The whole thing reminded me of the Calvin and Hobbes storyline where Calvin joins the baseball team at recess.

left field

left field 2

In the afternoon light, Atticus’s hair looks like a puffy dandelion. It’s hard not to worry that he might get trampled on the soccer field and whether he was made for somewhere a little more weedy. While he looked lost between the white lines, he was clearly thrilled, as always, to make tracks in the dirt. Honestly, I am not sure how to feel about his lack of interest. At school they say he doesn’t participate in the classroom morning dance session because it is too loud. When he plays with his friends, he likes to direct what is happening. Is he independent or is he bad at listening to other people or is it just stubbornness? (Okay, it’s definitely stubbornness. But what else is going on?)

In the spirit of enjoying every possible second of the springtime weather, we went to the park yesterday after school. Atticus played on the playground equipment for about five minutes but then spent the rest of the hour sitting in the dirt, dumping dirt on his trucks, gathering sticks, throwing sticks into the water, and picking up rocks. As we meandered home while examining all the rocks and sticks and cracks along the way, I wondered if we should sign him up for science camp instead. I want him to be challenged but I also want him to have fun. Helping him find his place and his interests is satisfying and challenging for us, but it is hard to see him flounder.

We’re crossing our fingers for a more positive experience for him on Monday, for better organization on their end and a willingness to try again on his. And if it doesn’t work out, we’re not above bribing him with fast food. I may not know if he is going to be an athlete, but I definitely know how he feels about chicken nuggets.


by Kari at March 12, 2014 02:05 PM

March 06, 2014

Daniel -

Ubercompetence & Gaze

I’ve been thinking about TV lately. It’s the defining storytelling medium of our time. At least, I think so. I think we’re going to look back at the early decades of this century as the golden years of TV. For better or for worse.

That’s all been said and done before, though. I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about the kind of heroes and anti-heroes we’re making for ourselves.

I want to talk about Breaking Bad.

Sort of.

Walter White isn’t a hero. So why do we want to watch him? He’s not a good man. He’s at best a decent man who stumbles a bit and then runs swiftly downward.

We watch him because he’s fascinating. And he’s fascinating because he’s in control. His manipulation of his family, his enemies, his friends, his circumstances…

It’s like he’s a little puppet-master. Maybe even a little god. He bends the world to his will.

I call this ubercompetence. And TV is full of ubercompetence. People who are so good at something that anything can be forgiven.

I can forgive Breaking Bad. It has some redeeming qualities, despite its protagonists focused ubercompetence.

But then there’s Suits.

The problem with labeling something like ubercompetence is you can’t stop seeing it. And when you can’t stop seeing it, it starts to get annoying really quick, unless done really well.

Suits does not do it really well.

It doesn’t really do anything really well, actually. It’s every other USA show with a slightly different location. Have you seen White Collar? You’ve seen Suits. The same can-do-no-wrong with a the same smirk.

Week after week these characters win the day through sheer manipulation. Then, at the end of the episode, or if you’re lucky, at the end of the story arc, they smirk off to victory. They’ve turned the tables.

Now there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with watching this show. Or even with enjoying a series centered around the ubercompetent man or (rarely) woman.

The problem is when you start identifying with them.

I have this theory that we become what we behold. Or let me put it a different way, one that’s a little more personal. I become like what I look at. And I mean “look” as in “gaze”. What I fix my eyes on, as it were. I gaze at something because I admire it. So in a sense, I become like what I admire.

Which athlete isn’t inspired by great athletes? Which leader isn’t inspired by great leaders?

But of course reality is at once much stranger and much more prosaic than TV could ever imagine. There are few people who can warp the world to their will. It seems like life enjoys breaking those who try.

All great people eventually fall. They fail or they die or their imperfections are exposed. Which is why we don’t build our empires or our organizations or our families around a person.

So where do we direct our gaze? Who can we admire?

I think you might know the answer.

by D.S. Deboer at March 06, 2014 09:23 PM


what I have been reading (spring please come soon edition).

sparkle jar

Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School by Andrea Raynor (via NetGalley)

I enjoyed the divinity school part of this book quite a lot but was less interested in the dating/relationship parts of her story. I have been reading a Henri Nouwen book for Sunday School, so it was fun to read about what he was like as one of her professors at Harvard. I also enjoyed reading about her work with the homeless. Overall, enjoyable and interesting story of a woman moving into her vocation. Recommended for: people who like reading books about divinity school, which is why I picked it up.

Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley (via NetGalley)

The beginning and the end were strong but the middle read mostly as a discussion of female characters and feminism in comic books rather than specifically being about Wonder Woman. I think I would have enjoyed a long piece just about Wonder Woman more. Is there just not enough to say about Wonder Woman for a whole book? That makes me sad. Recommended for: hardcore Wonder Woman fans, comic book feminists.

Notes to Boys (and Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public) by Pamela Ribon (via NetGalley)

Pam (of shares her teenage journals and notes and stories with commentary from her current self. Little Pam wrote a lot of notes to boys, and she saved all her first drafts, which are funny and sad and very very (squirm in your seat) awkward. Pam unflinchingly shares the intense feelings and words of Little Pam with great affection and gratitude for the things that she has learned since these tumultuous times, and that’s what gives the book such heart. I would love to give Notes to Boys to high school girls so that they could see that they are not alone in the intensity of their feelings and also to remind them to hang in there because life after high school is very different. I think I would have loved a book like this in high school. It’s not targeted as specifically young adult or new adult but I think it will find a lot of fans there. I also recommend it for anyone who works with teenagers or remembers their teen years as being particularly rough.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (via the public library)

I don’t think I liked this one. Overall I thought that Leonard was less crazy quirky annoying to me than Quick’s other main characters but I couldn’t get into it. (Side note: I am starting to wonder about Quick’s ability to write female characters because they never feel fleshed out to me.) About 3/4 of the way through, I felt like it should have been more than one book. As a school librarian, it was hard/scary for me to read about a kid carrying a gun in his backpack all day long, so perhaps that explains some of my resistance to the book and why I was so troubled by the ambiguous ending. I have been working my way through Quick’s books for a project and only had one (his newest, which is for adults) left to read. I ended up passing on it because I just couldn’t read another one of his after this one. He is just not my thing, unfortunately.

My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer (via NetGalley)

It must be difficult to write about sharing a life with a person from another faith without seeming insensitive. Bremer, an American, is married to Ismail, a Muslim who was born in Libya. She writes movingly about her difficulties understanding some of their cultural and religious differences. I teared up unexpectedly as she wrestled with Libyan expectations for pregnant and nursing mothers (quoting Gaddafi of all people) versus American expectations which, frankly, can wear a woman out. The end, which shows how her daughter is getting older and coming into her own identity, will stay with me for a while. My two complaints about the book are that the beginning was a bit slow and that she makes herself out to be the difficult one and her husband to be more calm and saintly (which was a problem I also noted in Saffron Cross by J. Dana Trent). Like I said, I know it must be hard to write with sensitivity about relationships that cross these cultural and religious lines, but I wished for a little bit more balance. On Goodreads I gave it four stars – I would probably have given it three except I liked the ending so much. (Check out Krista’s essay in The Sun with the same name to see if you might like this one.)

City of God by Sara Miles (via NetGalley)

I have read this twice already, and enjoyed it even more the second time. It’s the story of Sara giving “ashes to go” on Ash Wednesday in the Mission in San Francisco. As she recounts her experiences administering the ashes, she offers reflections on life and death as well as the things that living in the Mission District have taught her about the kingdom (the holy city) of God. The Mission District sounds like it has a lot of families who were originally from Mexico and South America who have Catholic influences. It made me wonder what it might be like to administer ashes here in the South where the high church rituals are less known. Recommended for: Lenten reading. (For a different take on administering ashes to go, check out my friend Gawain’s thoughts on administering ashes at the train station yesterday.)

NetGalley provided me with copies of some of these books but my opinions are my own.

by Kari at March 06, 2014 04:02 PM

March 04, 2014


as lent approaches.


Growing up, I heard a lot of talk about searching our hearts and examining our motives. We hid God’s word in our hearts to protect us from our sinful inclinations. We studied the Bible so we could learn how to live and we were encouraged to share the things that we were struggling with. If we couldn’t think of anything, we prayed for God to open our eyes to our shortcomings, because thinking that we were doing okay was surely the sin of pride. There was a lot of reflecting but, as I reflect upon it now, I think that maybe it was not a great idea for someone who was already shy and too much in her own head to get the idea that she should turn even more inside herself and seek out all the wrong things hiding there. I cycled through feeling okay and feeling wretched because I sometimes felt jealous of my classmates.

I value reflection. Right now I am writing about my feelings on the internet. But all this searching and hiding gave me the impression that a big part of Christianity was about struggle. I carried those ideas with me as I started learning about the church calendar in college, especially to the practice of Lent. I thought that Lent was to be like a flashlight that I could shine in the dark corners of my heart, rooting out my hidden transgressions. I didn’t believe that praying in the car rather than listening to music and giving up emotional eating was helping me join in the suffering of Jesus. I just hoped it was helping me get rid of myself.

Giving up something for Lent is not required of Christians, and I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way to practice it. I have done different things over the years, both adding things in and giving up habits I would like to break. At this point in my life, it is helpful to see the seasons of the church calendar as part of a long conversation that I am having with God. My spiritual practices don’t include constantly searching my heart for dark things, which paradoxically makes it easier for me to identify areas of my life where I would like to make space for change. I don’t have to worry about making that change happen all by myself (or at all), but I have to be honest with myself about the fact that my practices, good and bad, affect other people.

I like the way that Marcus Borg put it in his post here:

Ash Wednesday, Lent. Holy Week and Christianity itself are about following Jesus on the path that leads through death to resurrection. They are about dying and rising with Christ. We are to follow him to Jerusalem, the place of death and resurrection. That is what the journey of Lent is about.

That journey intrinsically involves repentance. But repentance is not primarily about feeling guilty about our sins, or about doing penance (think of the common practice of “giving up” something during Lent – whether meat or chocolate or alcohol or shopping, and so forth). The biblical meanings of repenting are primarily twofold. On the one hand, it means to “return” to God, to “reconnect” with God. On the other hand, it means “to go beyond the mind that we have” – minds shaped by our socialization and enculturation.

The result: dying to an old way of seeing and being and living and identity, and being born, raised, into a new way of seeing and being and living and identity. Ash Wednesday, as we are marked for death, is the annual ritual enactment of the beginning of that journey.

In December, I had the opportunity to read City of God by Sara Miles. Her book Take This Bread, about how feeding people connects her to the body and blood of Christ, was transformative for me, so, you know, no pressure, Sara. City of God is about her experiences over several years on Ash Wednesday, adding another layer to her ideas about embodied faith. I promised myself that I would read it again closer to Lent, so I picked it up over the weekend.

Though the Bible describes people trying to demonstrate their sorrow before God through rituals like fasting, wearing sackcloth, and pouring ashes on their heads, prophets like the ones we read aloud on Ash Wednesday insist these acts do not constitute repentance unless there’s a real change of behavior.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,” God demands, in Isaiah’s account, “one day for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Repentance means turning toward other human beings, our own flesh and blood, whenever they’re oppressed, hungry, or imprisoned; it means acting with compassion instead of indifference. It means turning away, “fasting,” from any of the little and big things that can keep us from God–drugs, religion, busy-ness, video games, lies–and accepting the divine embrace with all our hearts. Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own. -City of God by Sara Miles

This repentance, it is not meant to turn you inward. Over and over, we hear this message from the church and her practices: You cannot–should not–go it alone. As we move from this season of light into one of repentance, may your Lenten journey be one of grace rather than of struggle, and may your reflections help you to see the need around you rather than creating more need within yourself.

Readings I recommend for Lent:

-City of God by Sara Miles (copy provided by Netgalley but I am buying my own)
-The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan
-Still by Lauren Winner
-My favorite prayer books are The Divine Hours, The Book of Common Prayer, and Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro
-“For Lent, 1966″ by Madeleine L’Engle

by Kari at March 04, 2014 03:23 AM

February 28, 2014


seeking a friend for a walk to the park.


If you ask Atticus who his best friend is, he will smirk and say, “Joe Biden.” Way back during the 2012 campaign, we taught him that Joe Biden is President Obama’s best friend, and I guess we’re a little hazy on the concept of “best friend” because now he thinks that Joe Biden is everyone’s best friend. The good news is that I think Joe Biden would like it that way. (Fingerguns!)

At school, they say he plays best with people who have the same interests he does–namely pouring dirt onto trucks. He told us the other day that he doesn’t like a certain little girl in his class because she doesn’t play with trucks. I am not totally sure what to make of that, so I mildly commented that everyone has different interests and left it at that.

What surprised me the most about the report from school is that at home he plays better with friends who are different. When they both want to play trucks or act like turtles or be pirates, then someone has the better toy or someone is doing it wrong or someone doesn’t want to share the pirate sword that he just bought with a gift card from his Nana because it is too special. Mostly what works is running around outside and giggling.


Atticus is especially lucky to have a friend his age just two houses away. They play together most days, but sharing is hard, especially in the afternoons. The park is better. When the weather is nice, we trek down to the swingset and wander over to the lake. There’s usually a meltdown on the way home. I’m told that’s how it goes with three-year-olds, so we try to take it in stride.

When I say Atticus is lucky, I mean that all of us are. We feel fortunate to have people to walk with us in this stage of life. I think I will look back on these days and remember the slant of the afternoon sun as we steadily pushed our strollers in the direction of the park.


by Kari at February 28, 2014 11:02 AM

February 24, 2014


Hands Off My Red Handle

I was 12, maybe 13 years old. It was winter, and my cousins and I had spent the morning sledding. We sat in the living room, cheeks burning, clad only in our long johns and T-shirts, our jeans thumping gently in the dryer.

“Here are your clothes,” Grandma said. One cousin grabbed my pants from the top of the still-warm pile. He held them up.

“Oh my gosh, these are huge!” he said, laughing. I snatched them away and quickly pulled them on, the metal button burning hot into my soft stomach. I pawed through the pile, looking for my sweatshirt, when I felt a poke to my upper arm.

“Geez, you have hamhock arms,” he said. And in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to hit him. Make him cry. Make him feel some fragment of the pain I was feeling. But I did nothing. Simply pulled on my sweatshirt and tried to tuck myself into the corner of the rough tweed couch. Tried to be small.

I thought of that girl, that shame, recently when I read an article on National Public Radio about what writer Linda Holmes calls “red handles.”

Read the rest at the Soulation blog.3161558423_72e9402d32_b


Copyright © brandy campbell [Hands Off My Red Handle], All Right Reserved. 2014.

by Brandy at February 24, 2014 09:58 PM

February 18, 2014


the walk of shame.


When I was pregnant with Atticus, I felt close to Mother Mary, she who had walked those same steps (or rode them on a donkey, if you prefer). But I am not finding a lot of biblical models for parenting a toddler. There’s Hannah, who dropped her toddler off with Eli and went home to put her feet up. Later in life, Jesus basically runs a daycare with the slogan “let the little children come to me.” I hope these stories mean that the Bible is big on moms getting some rest.

There are no stories, though, of Jesus’ toddlerhood. Do you think that’s because there was nothing much to report or because the dudes who wrote the Bible weren’t big on childrearing? I’m just saying: That Jesus fellow seems pretty stubborn to me. Go ahead and imagine him at the age of three. Do you really think Jesus never asserted his will, causing Mary a walk of shame out of the Nazareth equivalent of a Target? Learning how to be human causes some conflict.

Speaking of the walk of shame, I had a situation this week where I had to take Atticus out of church. Let me fall all over myself to say that he was not being bad. He said that he wanted to stay in big church with me and so he was, per my request, quietly playing with his car on the floor under the pew. And then in the aisle. And then he was lying on the floor and driving it on the wall and I was a little squirmy about it but I was hanging in. But when he wanted to stand up and drive his car on the wall of the sanctuary during the deacon ordination, I had to intervene.

When I told him I needed him to sit down, he gave me that look, you know the one. The smirk that indicates that he is going to do what he wants and he does not care for your concerns regarding the deacons or the congregation and you are welcome to watch him as he defies you because it’s nap time and snacks have been eaten and go ahead, make my day, mama. (He’s an expressive fellow.)

I took him out. We went home.

And I cried about it because I don’t know how quiet I should ask him to be in church and I don’t know if I should let him drive his car on the wall even if he’s lying on the floor. I don’t want him to bother other people but I also want him to see church as a place where all of him is welcome. I cried until I decided to quit church forever. Forever, I told Mike. I am not going back. We can be a family who worships in pajamas. At our own house. Amen.
Before I fully quit church, I posted on facebook about my frustrations. You might know this already, but the question of children’s behavior in church is one where everybody has a lot of opinions. I was hoping for some good tips and for people to be gentle with me. What I did not expect was the outpouring of love and encouragement from my friends and family. There were a lot of kind words about wanting Atticus in church for the long haul which means starting now. There were some suggestions about things that worked for others in the past. And there was one comment in particular that simply said, “It is all part of the promise we all made during Atticus’s dedication.”


I have said this to other people, that their children are part of our congregation and that they are not bothering me. I have made promises at dedications and promises at baptisms and promises when people joined the church. But I have to tell you, I really needed the reminder that Mike and I are not doing this alone. We made these promises to do this together, and we have to keep showing up so we can do our part.

So, I guess I am going to return to church at some point (although I will probably be a little bit shy about it because I know for real that everybody will be watching me and my kid). We will pass snacks down the pew and draw pictures and dole out quiet toys as slowly as we can. We will be thankful for the songs because we can stand up and make a little noise. And if we don’t make it the whole service, we will reject shame and remember love because we are still learning how to do this thing.

On Sunday afternoon, after I had quit and then rejoined church, I took Atticus to our neighbors’ house. He pulled a book off their shelf, opened it up, and put it on the piano. Then he sat down and started playing just like he saw in church.

by Kari at February 18, 2014 09:22 PM

February 11, 2014


another poem for valentine’s week.

Turns out I’m kind of a romantic.

“Credo” by Matthew Rohrer

I believe there is something else

entirely going on but no single
person can ever know it,
so we fall in love.

It could also be true that what we use
everyday to open cans was something
much nobler, that we’ll never recognize.

I believe the woman sleeping beside me
doesn’t care about what’s going on
outside, and her body is warm
with trust
which is a great beginning.

by Kari at February 11, 2014 11:46 AM

February 10, 2014


faith, mama style (a review of found by micha boyett).


I pray in fits and starts these days, mostly using prayer books to guide me. This is not because I don’t believe that prayer is valuable, but because I don’t always know exactly what I am asking when I pray for people who are sick or hurting. I am still trying to figure out whether I believe in miracles. And so I stick to the words of my prayer books, a communal script that feels safe and vulnerable at the same time.

There was one night last week when I was curled on Atticus’s bed as he was falling asleep. I listened to his breathing as it slowed and steadied, and as I stroked his forehead, I felt the urge to pray for him. We say prayers with him every night, but I have never related much to the stories of mamas who spend their middle-of-the-night nursing hours in prayer for their children. I spent my middle-of-the-night nursing hours in a lot of different ways: marveling at him, reading twitter, resentful that I was not sleeping. And there were certainly ways that I felt, as I rocked my baby, that the presence of God was near and sustained me. It wasn’t prayer in any traditional sense of the word, but neither did I feel the need to spell out what I was thinking and feeling. The love in my heart and the laughter on my lips and the pain when he is acting out, these are all prayers to me.

But I felt called–no matter how uncomfortable I am with that word–to pray for him the other night, and so I tucked myself in behind him and said things to God in my heart about how much help we need and what kind and the people I hope we three can grow to be. It felt good, releasing those thoughts in a deliberate way.

found cover

The next day I started a book by Micha Boyett, whose blog I discovered when Atticus was small. At the time, she was writing about the Rule of St. Benedict and how it related to parenting, which is of course right in my wheelhouse. Her book Found is about faith and prayer and feeling lost in motherhood. She comes from a place of big questions about God and sin the meaning of life, questions I have asked myself at different points on my journey. Is God mad at me? Is it possible like the preacher said to live an entire day without sinning? Am I supposed to be doing something more important than wiping noses and butts?

When I was approaching motherhood, I was so afraid of losing myself. For me, that mostly meant I was afraid of not having time for reading and spending time with Mike. Micha was anxious that she would lose herself in motherhood because she thrives on reflective time with God (which she was too tired for) and because she was afraid of an angry God. As she struggled again and again with the difficulties of waking up early to pray, I wanted to go and force her to get back in bed, because getting up early to pray when my baby was small never crossed my mind. In those blurry days, sleeping was my prayer, and making milk, and surviving. Micha and I were in very different places spiritually, but what we have both discovered is the way that relationships, like the seasons of the church calendar, can cycle. There are times to wait and hope and times to lament and times that are ordinary. There are times for prayer books and times to call out for help from the depths of your soul. I am coming back around to spontaneous prayer, and that feels right, too. We can be found in all of those places, just as we can find God in new ways as we change and grow with the years.

This is my story, the life to which I testify. I thought I was lost, but always, I was found.

Two quick notes. First, I loved that I have read Micha’s blog for many years but that the content of this book was not recycled from those posts. Instead, it seemed like the blog was practice and research for the book. Second, and I want to phrase this carefully, it can be hard to talk about being a woman who struggles with anxiety when you come from a place of stability and comfort, but I thought Micha did a great job sharing her story without coming across as self-centered. Recommended for: new parents who struggle with anxiety, people who are considering parenthood, people who like monkish things. Pairs well with: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott and Cracking Up by Kimberlee Conway Ireton.

(Netgalley provided me with a copy of this book but my thoughts as always are my own.)

by Kari at February 10, 2014 04:11 PM

February 09, 2014


a poem for valentine’s week.

“The Promise” by Jane Hirshfield

Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,

by Kari at February 09, 2014 09:17 PM

February 05, 2014


what I have been reading (we had a lot of snow days edition).

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry (via the public library)

Goodreads suggested this to me after I read How to Be Black last year. I put it on hold over winter break and then all that stuff happened with the Romney picture and then the book came in at the library the week after. Other than that misstep, I have loved the interviews I have seen with Melissa Harris-Perry and this book was so methodical as it spelled out the ways that black women are stereotyped and shamed by our culture. My only complaint is that it is an academic book (she is one of our foremost public intellectuals, if not the foremost public intellectual) and I wish for something a little more casual to give to all my friends. Recommended for: fans of Michelle Obama (there’s a chapter on her), people who have noticed that black women in our culture don’t get a fair shake, people who think that black women in our culture do get a fair shake (you are wrong and should read this so you know why).

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (via the public library)

This is a story told in the form of documents explaining the disappearance of Bernadette Fox compiled by her daughter Bee. Is Bernadette foolish and unwise or is she flat-out crazy? The book itself is funny and sharp, but I have to say that I am a big fan of character and these characters are not easy to love. The chaos that Bernadette allows in her life was kind of stressful for me to read, so some of the things that other people found hilarious were less so to me. The book is a page-turner for sure, and I finished it quickly. Recommended for: people who like Arrested Development (the author worked on that show).

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (via the public library)

Everyone I know was watching Orange is the New Black over the summer. My friends, my coworkers, random people on the internet. So we finally watched it, too, and I loved it and had to read the book. I put myself on hold and I was number seventy something. It took four months for it to finally get to me. Worth the wait, though! It was a great read and very different from the show. Recommended for: fans of the show, people who are interested in what prison is like, people who enjoy fish out of water stories.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (via Netgalley)

I read this a couple of weeks ago and I am still thinking about it. The main character is a girl named Cadence who spends every summer with two cousins and a friend on her family’s island. They call themselves The Liars. One summer something terrible happens and nothing is ever the same again. I was hesitant to read a book about a bunch of spoiled rich kids (plus their obligatory poor friend) that sounds like seventeen things I have read before but I saw so many raves about it that I decided to give it a try. It’s more than just a book about privileged kids, and even though it wasn’t completely my cup of tea, it was definitely memorable. Recommended for: the thing is that you really should go into this book without much of an idea about it, so I don’t think I can say more than that. I predict it will be a big YA smash when it comes out in May.

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (via the public library)

I am doing a project on Matthew Quick for my YA literature seminar, so I am working my way through his books. This one is about Amber Appleton, a girl who lives with her mom on a bus because her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out. Amber’s driving force is optimism. She and her misfit friends want to do good in the world, but she is stuck in some difficult circumstances that might be too hard to overcome. I enjoyed the passage (seen below) where she talked about Jesus being a rock star and how she wanted to be like him. Overall, I thought this book was weird. I liked the group of misfits and the way that religion was treated as a serious part of a teenager’s life. But it seemed like too many things happened for one story, and after the big turn that the plot takes, the book really dragged. Recommended for: people who like Sara Zarr, fans of realistic fiction.

rock star

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (via the public library)

I probably don’t need to summarize this one because chances are you saw the movie or at least a commercial for the movie or at least you saw Jennifer Lawrence win an Oscar for her role in this movie. I did not love the movie unreservedly, and the book bugged me in some of the same ways. Recommended for: if you liked the movie you will like the book.

Boy 21 by Matthew Quick (via a high school library)

This was my favorite of Quick’s books so far (I have one more to go), although it was a little bit strange. It’s about a basketball player named Finley who is trying to escape his small town by getting a basketball scholarship. His coach asks him to look out for a new kid who is decidedly weird and calls himself Boy 21. Turns out that Finley and Boy 21 have more in common than they might have thought at first glance, and those things help them both make it through their last year of high school. Recommended for: people who like books about guy friendship, people who like books about basketball, people who remember that feeling of being trapped in high school.


The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual Lessons in Pruning, Waiting, Harvesting & Abundance by Judith Sutera (via Netgalley)

This was a sweet book about what Judith Sutera has learned about life from being a vinedresser. I liked the way that it referred to vine and vineyard imagery in Christian theology in ways that felt welcoming instead of exclusive, and the ideas she was explaining were applicable in many areas of life such as creativity and discipline. Plus, I learned a little bit about growing grapes! Recommended for: people who drink wine, people who like reading books about art, people with green thumbs.

If you made it this far, congratulations. I blame the snow days for all the reading. (Some of these books came from Netgalley but my opinions are my own.)

by Kari at February 05, 2014 11:15 AM