Quote of the Week — #LaquanMcDonald

Brought to you by…

John Stothers

I watched the video yesterday of the murder of Laquan McDonald.  I wasn’t sure if I should watch it.  Viewer discretion was advised and I hesitated.  I don’t watch the news on TV.   Partly because we don’t have a TV in an area of the house where we can watch it casually.  And partly because I don’t want to.

But I decided that I had to watch the video released yesterday for a couple reasons.  First, I think that White people have a responsibility to watch it.  The White police officer opened fire and shot 16 rounds into a 17-year-old kid within six seconds of getting out of his squad car.  Laquan McDonald wasn’t charging him.  He wasn’t threatening him.  He was walking away from him.  White folks are culpable for this.   We are an inextricable part of the system and the culture that creates the space for this sort of thing to happen.

Second, I watched it for my Black friends.  In the words of Sue Monk Kidd, “There’s no pain on earth that doesn’t crave a benevolent witness.”   I can’t do much but I can be a benevolent witness.


Yesterday our Community Group read about God changing Jacob’s name to Israel in We Make the Road By Walking by Brian McLaren.  We discussed some of the people in the Bible who were down-trodden, overwhelmed by their circumstances and under the foot of an oppressor.  And McLaren points out that “…God keeps showing up, not in the victors who have defeated or exploited or rejected a weaker rival, but in the weaker ones who have been defeated or rejected.”

Our conversation reminded me of a song that we sang in chapel my first year in college.  It was by John Stothers (I think).  It was called I Will Change Your Name and it is one of the most memorable things from my first semester away from home.  I was lonely and scared and I remember it was such a balm to sing.

Today the song was running through my head and I prayed it over the Black community.  As a lonely and scared 18-year-old I saw the song as for myself.  And it was for me, I guess.  But now I see it also, and much more so, for a people who have been exploited and rejected for centuries in this country; a people who don’t need to see the video to know what’s on it; a people whose kids can be shot 16 times in less than 16 seconds and then made to watch while the White folks scramble around erasing videos and trying to cover it up.

I will change your name
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, Outcast, Lonely or Afraid

I will change your name
your new name shall be
Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One
Faithfulness, Friend of God, One Who Seeks My Face

Past Quotes

Last week
And the week before that



Quote of the Week

Brought to you by…

Oliver Willis & Shaun King (again)

I feel like I’ve been watching the debate this week about the Syrian refugees from afar, as though I’m peering through a window but not willing to walk inside.  I’m particularly dispirited at the response of Christians.  Wow, team.   I know that this is scary.  No question.  I watched the news unfold from Paris last week like everybody else and terror truly gripped my heart.

I get it.  I really do.  The desire to shut out what is scary and unknown in favor of what feels safe.  That’s intuitive, right?  But as followers of the Prince of Peace we are called to do what is counter-intuitive.  To love our enemy.  To care for those in need.  To extend ourselves when all we want to do is look out for me and mine.


I read this short piece by Shaun King over on New York Daily News and I was struck by how selective we are in terms of what we find acceptable and safe!

This is what our country does. When bad men from Saudi Arabia hijack our planes, we attack Iraq. When bad men from France attack France, we penalize desperate refugees from a far away country who are actually fleeing terrorism.

In 1995, two white men made homemade bombs and blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City. Even though Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people, wounded 680 others, and did over $680 million in damage, their heinous actions were not seen as an indictment of bitter white men in any way.

In 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took machine guns, bombs and 99 explosive devices to Columbine High School in Colorado, killed 12 people and injured 21 others, people who looked like them weren’t restricted or profiled moving forward.

In 2012, James Holmes, a white PhD student, took automatic weapons into an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and slaughtered 12 people and injured 70 others. In spite of this, the next day, all over America, white men were free to go see whatever movie they chose without even a hint of suspicion.

In December 2012, Adam Lanza, a white 20-year-old, killed 20 elementary school students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was the most American children killed in one attack since the Oklahoma City bombing.

And why are we so blatantly ignoring two core components of the Christian life?

  1. Do not be afraid
  2. Care for the widows/orphans/strangers

This tweet pretty much sums it up.

Quote of the Week

Brought to you by…

Shaun King (and Gryffin!)

Today I’m home with the boys and we’re watching The Lion King as I type.  I’m watching-notwatching because I sat through it last week with Gryffin when he was home sick from school.   We’re only about 20 minutes in and as we the boys watched the first scene with Scar, Gryffin asked me suddenly,

“Mama, why does Scar have a black mane?   Why is his mane different from all the other lions?”

I had never noticed it before he asked.  And I considered launching into a discussion about socializing and how/why we’ve come to associate dark things with evil/bad/scary but decided to save it for later this afternoon when he and his brother are less distracted.  It’s hard to hold their attention when you’re competing with “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.”

But we’ll definitely be discussing why Mufasa, the benevolent and much-beloved king is portrayed with a lighter body and a ginger mane while his cold, evil, despised brother is depicted with darker fur and a black mane.   Especially in light of what I read on Shaun King’s timeline this morning.


2015 is not what we thought it was. The deadliest hate crime against Black folk in the past 75 years happened THIS YEAR in Charleston.

More unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.

Never, in the history of modern America, have we seen Black students in elementary, middle, and high school handcuffed and assaulted by police IN SCHOOL like we have seen this year.

Black students, who pay tuition are leaving the University of Missouri campus right now because of active death threats against their lives.

If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.

I’m aware that a conversation about Mufasa and Scar seems like splitting hairs.  I do.  But it’s also how socializing works. It’s subtle.  No big thing.  Just a coincidence, right?  I get it.

But when I consider the repetition principle, which tells us that if something happens often enough, we will eventually be persuaded, and I realize how often these seemingly inconsequential scenes play out in our movies, our books, the billboards as we go over the bridge, the magazines that arrive in the mail, and countless places and spaces we don’t even notice, I know that I have to talk about it with my kids.  I have to point out the ways that they are being socialized by our media, our culture, and even something as innocuous as our movie choice about the lions at Pride Rock.  Just as I eagerly point out the blazing leaves in September and the sunrise in the morning, I have to help them see what they might otherwise miss.


Past Quotes

Last week (by Ta-Nehisi Coates)
And the week before that (by Glennon Doyle Melton)


Quote of the Week

Brought to you by…

Ta-Nehisi Coates (again, I know)

This Fall has been the season for lectures.  So far I’ve heard Elizabeth Gilbert, Dr. Willie James Jennings and, as of last Thursday, Ta-Nehisi Coates.  All 3 speaking engagements have enlivened my mind in a way akin to college and they have made me eager to keep my eye on the… what?  Seattle Cool Speaker/Author/Theologian circuit?   Whatever it is, I’m on the watch for it!


The evening with Coates was set up as an interview/conversation between Coates & a local icon/advocate in the arts here in Seattle, whose name I’m blanking on at the moment.  It was a powerful conversation and I’m still ruminating on many aspects of it.

I especially enjoyed how Coates sugarcoated NOTHING.  I’m used to having conversations about race within the context of the Christian Church and, as such, there is typically a lot of tip-toeing around each other and taking great care not to offend or speak out of turn, which has its place, but I liked that Coates has no such qualms or concerns.   Two things in particular are still on my mind, a week later, so here they are…

When discussing race in America, Coates pointed out that Black folks, generally speaking, have two things.  There is race, which we know to be a social construct that is foisted upon them as a means of keeping them not-White.  And then there is culture, which can include various things, depending on the community.  So you can take away race yet still have culture.  White folks, on the other hand, don’t have that in the U.S.   So when the conversation came around to the subject of mass incarceration, he said:

“So, we’ve got our stuff, right?  Our dancing, our music, our whatever.  We don’t need over-incarceration to have those things.  But you DO need over-incarceration…to be White.” 

And when asked what White folks should do, he simply said:

“I don’t know.  That’s your burden” (insert awkward seat shuffling by the progressive White Seattle-ites).

At that point, Jason turned to me with his eyes all big and whispered, “Daaang!  Dude is BRINGING it!”   Like I said: no sugarcoating.  It was like throwing wide the window that usually only eeks open degree by painful degree.   I was fretting as we walked into McCaw Hall last Thursday, wondering if this admired writer would be knocked back a couple notches once I actually saw and heard him in person, but it turns I needn’t have worried.   Dude was definitely bringing it.

Quote of the Week

Brought to you by…

Glennon Doyle Melton

Yesterday I spent some time in Gryffin’s First Grade classroom helping with a project.  Walking into the school, though, I felt the urge to keep my head down and my eyes on the ground.  I couldn’t make eye contact with the other parents.  I had just seen the video below, which was already viral, and I know the statistics that go along with it.  Black girls are subject to discipline that is harsher and more frequent than that of their white counterparts, not to mention that they are are six times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white girls.

I imagine that the trauma of seeing that video as the parent of a Black child is profound and when I stood in the classroom yesterday morning and gazed at the girls that Gryffin plays “sticky fingers” and “dodge the shadows”  with at recess, I had to look away.

I heard a lecture a couple weeks ago by Dr. Willie James Jennings and he talked about a place that many of us occupy known as “the fictive middle.”  I have not been able to find any further information on it via Google but if I understood him correctly, the fictive middle is neither too far left nor too far right.  We think, as Christians in particular, that this is where we ought to be.  We aren’t racists but we keep a level head and fight for ALL lives in a misguided attempt to be impartial.   We think we can stand in the middle.  In reality, though, the fictive middle is just that.  It’s fiction.  Believing that we occupy this so-called neutral middle ground and allowing ourselves to be shaped by the story that we somehow stand in the middle simply maintains the status quo and conceals reality.

I was in the fictive middle in college.   And, as Jennings pointed out, it actually takes significant energy to stay in the fictive middle once we have started paying attention.  Glennon Doyle Melton has long been one of my favorite bloggers.  I like her vulnerability, her wit and her willingness to pay attention to hard things.   She’s been on a journey out of the fictive middle (my interpretation!) and she posted this blog about it this morning.

Melton’s audience is vast and wide and quite White.  I like how she is able to gently take her reader’s hand and say, Come, look at this with me.  And I think her metaphor about the canary in a coal mine is particularly helpful for a White audience.


We are raised by our families, but we are also raised by our culture.

I am a feminist. At my heart, I am a fierce, bold advocate for women. But I was raised in a sexist culture. I was raised in a world that tried to convince me through media, through certain religious organizations, through inadequate history books and through the beauty industry – that female bodies are worth less than male bodies- and that certain types of female bodies (thin, tall young) are worth more than other types of female bodies.

The daily deluge of images of women’s bodies for sale and the onslaught of emaciated women’s bodies held up as the pinnacle of female achievement and the pervasive message that women exist to please men was the air I breathed decade after decade. I was a radiation canary living in a mine and the toxins were misogyny. I got sick from it. Not because I’m a bad, sexist person but because I was just breathing sexist air.


Listen. We can be good, kind, justice loving, anti-racist people in our hearts and minds – but if we’re living here – we’re still canaries raised in a racist mine. We’ve still been breathing the air- and we’ve been conditioned. So our knee jerk  reaction to a black man approaching us might be fear. Our subconscious might kick in before our mind and heart can catch up. And we might pull that trigger faster than we would if the body approaching us was white. And that black girl not responding to our request to stand up – well  we might take her down faster than we’d ever take down a white body. Because our subconscious has been trained to believe she’s belligerent, disrespectful, dangerous and dispensable.

You can be anti-racist and still have prejudice running through your veins. You can be one thing and your subconscious can be another thing.

You can read her full post here.



Past Quotes

Last week — Christian Wiman
And the week before that — Annie Dillard




The Opposite of Poverty isn’t Wealth

I recently started reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  I was about 1/3 of the way through it when I realized that I kinda sorta already knew the ending.  Somehow, somewhere I read the story of Walter McMillian, the man on death row around whom Stevenson bases the book.   Something about it felt familiar from the start and when I realized that I actually knew quite a bit of the basic story line, I put it down in order to finish some other books with more pressing deadlines at the library.

That said, I do think I will go back and finish it.  It’s a compelling read and I’ve already returned to it a couple times for certain quotes and passages.

Bryan Stevenson at TED2012: Full Spectrum, February 27 - March 2, 2012. Long Beach, CA. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Ted Talk

Yesterday I watched his Ted Talk from a few years ago and it was so, so good!  Full of facts and information, yes, but also full of stories and inspiration.  It’s definitely worth a watch and even more than the book, it encouraged me to pay attention to my ballot and the measures that impact incarceration.

Truth & Reconciliation

I had never heard about the “truth & reconciliation” process he mentions that was essential in Rwanda after the genocide of the Tutsi people and in South Africa following apartheid.  The US had nothing like it following slavery and segregation and Jim Crow.  The part where Stevenson says, “We don’t understand what it means to have done what we did” is still echoing in my head as I process some of the numbers he shared…

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.  Our incarceration rates are astronomical yet violent crime has remained steady over the years.  It hasn’t gone up!  What’s gone up are policies like “3 Strikes” which puts people in jail for life for stealing a bicycle.

In the U.S, rich & guilty > poor & innocent.  Wealth, not culpability, is what shapes outcomes in the US.  You are 22x more likely to get the death penalty if you are Black and your victim is White.  Stevenson says the opposite of poverty is not wealth.  It’s justice.  And as a culture, he says, we need to care as much about policies that embrace compassion, human dignity and caring for the poor as we do about technology, innovation and entertainment.


As I sit here this week marveling over the FitBit given to me as a gift from my sister-in-law and secretly dreaming of a better phone with a better camera, I’m particularly convicted by his words to “keep my eyes on the prize” and I’m on the lookout for ways to care more about the poor and the policies that affect them than about the latest innovations for my wrist or my workouts.

Can’t swing the 17-minute Ted Talk?  I feel ya. I had the Ted Talk up in my browser for almost 2 weeks. Check out this 2.5 minute video instead.


Quote of the Week

Brought to you by…

Christian Wiman (again)

I’ve been thinking about life lately.  Big picture.  “You only have one life” kind of thing.  Maybe it’s encroaching middle age?  Or just having too much time to think now that the boys are both in school?  Either way it’s giving (gifting?) me a sense of urgency in my day-to-day existence.  Annie Dillard says that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives and I definitely don’t want to spend my life  browsing Facebook and buying stuff off Amazon Prime.

I’ve also been wrestling with a sense of the absurd when I go to church on Sundays and feeling the spiny edges of doubt spidering over the rims of the dykes I’ve built to keep disbelief at bay.

Whenever I feel edgy and prone to existential angst of this sort, I turn to Christian Wiman.  This quote, from My Bright Abyss, manages to speak to both of these things — life and faith, or lack of each.

“What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit,
not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent in the lives
we are not quite living, 
God dormant in the world
to which we are not quite giving our best selves.”



Past Quotes

Last week — Annie Dillard
And the week before that — Elizabeth Gilbert

Totally Flex

Remember how I used to get all hot and bothered when someone would spring last minute plans on me?  Remember how I plan all the things?  Well, I’ve come a long way, folks.  I am so super cool with stuff like that now.  We got a message from a friend at 9:15am Saturday morning that said,

Hey, we’re heading to the pumpkin patch with some friends at 10… want to come with?

Now, the Nance of old would have scoffed.  She would have laughed and said, AHAHAHAHA  NO.  But now I’m so completely down with last minute plans.  I can roll with it.  Even though I was just tucking in with some waffles and a latte, wearing what we’ll call my casual Saturday morning outfit, I pulled it off.  I even remembered to grab my festive orange coat and wipe the syrup off Isaiah’s cheeks before gulping down my last bite of breakfast and shoving the kids running out the door.

I mean, seriously, check us out…


I do not even know who that gal on the right is but hey! Pumpkin Patch!






Now, it’s possible that the night before I had pondered if this would be a good weekend for a run to the pumpkin patch.  It’s possible that I even mapped a route for us and had mentally picked out some outfit options that would work well for the inevitable photo op.  Yes, it’s possible that I had been planning it all along.   HOWEVER, we totally went to a different pumpkin patch than I had been planning and I didn’t say a word only mentioned it once!  Maybe twice.


Quote of the Week

Brought to you by…

Annie Dillard

I am somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 finished with the first draft of a novel.  It’s been both daunting and exhilarating in equal measure and I vacillate between being utterly impatient with the project (writing a book takes a LONG time — this is a far cry from blogging, that’s for sure) and completely delighted in the process.

I mentioned earlier that I feel like I’m so, so late to the writing party, having only started in earnest a couple years ago and I’ve been reading and listening to everything I can get my hands on.  It’s not so much that I’m learning to write in some new way but that I’m finding words given to the process I’m already experiencing first hand and finding encouragement and solidarity there.

I read The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (thanks, Pal!) earlier this year and I’ve returned to it this week.  This is a section that I found particularly interesting with regard to writing and the last two lines are applicable to all of life, I think.


“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.  Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.  The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now.  Something more will arise for later, something better.  

These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.  Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive.  

Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
You open your safe and find ashes.”


Get Close

I’ve been thinking lately about the purpose and the point of learning about big, hard things that I am absolutely impotent to change or fix.  Things like mass incarceration in the United States or the Syrian refugee crisis.  What’s the point?  Why bother if we are unable to help?  And is it possible to learn and educate myself while still “protecting a tender place inside of me,” as I’ve learned to value from David James Duncan.

I’m still sorting it out but I read this line from the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson a couple days ago and it gave me more to ponder on the subject.  It’s something he heard from his grandmother growing up.

You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan.  You have to get close.”

Our neighborhood has a huge number of refugees.  And thus a significant percentage of the students at the boys’ school come from refugee families.  I saw that image of the 3-year-old Syrian boy a few weeks ago but I just couldn’t.  It was too much.  I turned away.   I’m trying to turn back toward it now– to get close, in small ways, so that I can better understand the experience of the families in our neighborhood and at the school where I’m volunteering in the boys’ classrooms.

These images and small pieces of peoples’ stories featured last month by Brandon with Humans of New York have been a good place to start.    He highlighted the stories of refugees for a few weeks and they were powerful.  And hard.   I’m not sure if I’m better for it but I’m definitely more curious to hear the stories of our neighbors and I do feel achingly drawn to the people in the pictures.

Here are a few that stood out for me:


My husband and I sold everything we had to afford the journey. We worked 15 hours a day in Turkey until we had enough money to leave. The smuggler put 152 of us on a boat. Once we saw the boat, many of us wanted to go back, but he told us that anyone who turned back would not get a refund. We had no choice. Both the lower compartment and the deck were filled with people. Waves began to come into the boat so the captain told everyone to throw their baggage into the sea. In the ocean we hit a rock, but the captain told us not to worry. Water began to come into the boat, but again he told us not to worry. We were in the lower compartment and it began to fill with water. It was too tight to move. Everyone began to scream. We were the last ones to get out alive. My husband pulled me out of the window. In the ocean, he took off his life jacket and gave it to a woman. We swam for as long as possible. After several hours he told me he that he was too tired to swim and that he was going to float on his back and rest. It was so dark we could not see. The waves were high. I could hear him calling me but he got further and further away. Eventually a boat found me. They never found my husband.” (Kos, Greece)


I studied to be a teacher, but I’m young, so I knew I’d be forced to fight. I don’t like fighting. I don’t like blood. But I was the only one working so I couldn’t leave or my family would go hungry. But my mother begged me to leave. She kissed my feet. She said she wouldn’t mind starving if she knew that I was safe. I hired a smuggler but he took all my money and left me at the border. He told me that he’d call me when the passage was safe, but then he turned off his phone. I was all alone and stuck without money. I called my mother and she said that she’d pray for God to send someone to help me. Then I met this man. I told him my story and he loaned me the money I needed to get to Europe. He treated me like one of his family. I’ll pay him back when I get to Germany, but until then I’m trying to return the favor by helping him carry his children.” (Vienna, Austria)


There is no security in Baghdad. We lived in constant fear. We started receiving text messages one day. They said: ‘Give us money, or we will burn down your house. If you tell the police, we will kill you.’ We had nobody to turn to. We are poor people. We have no powerful friends. We don’t know anyone in the government. The text messages continued every day. We were so afraid that we could not sleep. We had no money to give them. We could barely afford to feed ourselves. So we said to ourselves: ‘Maybe they are lying. Maybe they will do nothing.’ Then one night we woke up and our house was on fire. We barely escaped with the children. The next day we received a text message. It said: ‘Give us money, or this time you will die.’ I replied that we’d pay them soon. We sold everything we owned, and we left. We thought we’d rather die in a plastic boat than die there.” (Lesvos, Greece)

If you want to see more, click here to go to the Humans of New York site and scroll to late September / early October.