Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Discomfort with Dismantling

A few years ago, my husband and I began exploring the possibility of moving into a new home. Having done a bit of research, we identified neighborhoods and entered our preferences into an online search bar, along with our price limits. We were disappointed by how few homes met our qualifications, but were excited to find a single, promising, slightly suspicious possibility: a spacious home, in a top-notch school district, priced inexplicably lower than comparable properties.

We planned a visit and considered all the possible explanations for this anomaly, but could not have anticipated what we found. The house was lovely: nice curb appeal, modern updates, and convenient amenities. Yet it took only 30 seconds and a walk across the front room for me to see it ... or rather, feel it. The house was crooked.

"The Magical Leaning House," I quickly named it as I began to observe how everything in the house was, not so subtly, pitched to one side. Now, having been familiar with the "settling" that can occur in older homes, it was not the leaning phenomenon that fascinated me most. Rather, I was baffled by how intentionally the previous owner had embraced this characteristic. The window frames were custom-made rhombuses, made to perfectly fit the off-kilter openings. The wood trim and molding was custom cut at precise angles to adjust for the tricky way the corners came together. Everything was modified to embrace the imbalance.

Yet a visit to the lower level revealed evidence of numerous attempts to seal and fill cracks in the basement floor. It was simultaneously impressive and troubling. I could not imagine why someone would go to such great lengths to aesthetically and superficially accommodate what was quite obviously a foundational issue.

Clearly, the owner did not tune in to home improvement reality television. There is something about making old things new and wrong things right that scratches a primal itch for viewers, including me. We can also all agree that there is no worse discovery for a new homeowner than learning there's a problem with the foundation. How badly we want for the renovation budget to be used for a beautiful new front porch, a clawfoot tub, or a custom kitchen island. But no matter the sacrifice, there is never a question—at least for the professionals—about what is actually the priority.

Whether the house needs to be hoisted up, reinforced, or even torn down, foundation work is backbreaking. It's time-consuming and often looks and feel destructive; torn-up landscaping, broken tiles, sledge-hammered concrete. It seems to halt all other progress. It costs.

But what is the alternative to foundation repair? I suppose it's "The Magical Leaning House." How problematic could it be to live in a house that leans? A rolling baseball and an uneven freshly-baked cake seem like small inconveniences in comparison to the colossal cost of breaking up and relaying a new foundation. Not so, say the experts. To the contrary, the longer a homeowner delays fixing the foundation, the more uneven it gets, the more damaged the structure of the house becomes, and the more will be required to repair it.

Many, at least publicly, agree that our United States was built on an uneven foundation. The land and everything on it was created to benefit some inhabitants more than others. Despite this history, and perhaps due to the great sacrifices and perseverance of individuals and groups, many attempts have been made to correct the injustices and assuage the legacy of our broken beginnings. But repairing broken foundations is colossal work, and it's become apparent to some (and remained painfully obvious to others) that the work that's been done is much like that in "The Magical Leaning House"—several crack repairs, but mostly aesthetic and superficial modifications to distract us from a structure that actually continues to be unstable and imbalanced.

For a great many, the unwillingness to deal with the foundational work has been intentional and self-serving. Their lives have been spent ordering custom rhombus windows and cutting precise angles so that all appears tidy and purposeful. It may seem that they benefit from this particular pitch, but they fail to realize that our collective dwelling is still rapidly sinking.

For others, "The Magical Leaning House" has become home. These residents have lived so long on an incline that it now feels mostly comfortable as their bodies and gaits have redistributed and modified to adjust to this constant state. For them, it no longer feels like a lean, but feels normal—even right. Not only would foundation repair be loud and disruptive to their environment, but it would create discomfort for their own physical bodies. So without clear knowledge of impending structural failure, foundation work feels not only unnecessary but detrimental.

Yet there are still others who, through personal investigation or the intervention of a visiting neighbor, have begun see the tilt and identify it as destructive. They lean closer, even as they wince at the reality that it is, indeed, worse than they thought. They seek input, get opinions, ask questions, do research. The closer they look, the more problems they find. The renovation budget seems to climb to insurmountable heights. They are regularly tempted to simply deal with the superficial, order custom windows, and get back to the joy of picking accent colors. But they have seen the truth and cannot unsee it, and the only lasting satisfaction they can now have is in pushing up their sleeves, grabbing a hard hat and a sledgehammer, and asking the foreman how they can help demo.

The institutions of our time are the houses we live in and the structures we build upon. May we not settle for the cheap praise that comes with fresh coats of paint and new wall art, but look closer and dig deeper to identify the brokenness that has kept us perpetually off-kilter. Let us lean into the discomfort of dismantling the systems that compromise our collective ability to flourish. The work will be far from easy, but there is no doubt that it will be worth it. The greatest peace and satisfaction will be most palpably experienced by those who have seen the foundation's crumbling condition, recognized the past and potential harm, but sacrificed control and comfort to ensure lasting security to all who pass through its doors.

Join in. There's enough work for all of us.

Written by Sabrine Rhodes

How is it where you live? What are the things that can be done to uplift and fortify your neighborhood and community? How can we see to it that compromised foundations (both local and national) are addressed rather than ignored and built over?

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Virtue

Honesty. Truthfulness. Purity. Kindness. Forgiveness. Courage. Humility. Peace. Obedience. Integrity. Faithfulness. Trustworthiness. Mercy. Compassion. Hope. Perseverance. Love. Forgiveness. Responsibility. Cheerfulness. Strength. Loyalty.

This is a partial list of what we refer to as virtues-that is, qualities that are good, desirable, and beautiful in people. Some of these virtues come from lists in the Bible. Others come from classical antiquity or from cultures around the world. It doesn't really matter-the human race seems to have general agreement on what it means to be truly good-to be the way God meant us to be.

These virtues are goals we aspire to-things we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. And they shine all the more brightly in the world we live in now-a world where so many powerful leaders openly lie, cheat, steal, and grab for what they want, with no concern for the needs of those weaker than themselves. And they have many imitators-possibly including a boss, a neighbor, or even a family member you live with. In dark times, virtue shines brightly. They attract us to themselves.

The Bible understands this desire. The prophet Micah references the virtues when he says, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8) If we could actually do this-twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without messing up-actually living as the whole, healthy people God means us to be-how awesome that would be? It would be wonderful.

But of course, we don't manage it-not all the time, and not whole-heartedly. Which is why Micah was talking about it in the first place-he was talking to people who lived in a society just as messed up as ours is. They abused the poor and grabbed for money; they lived lives of excess and conspicuous consumption. Amos described them as people who "sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals-those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth" (Amos 2:6b-7a). Jesus described them as people "who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers" (Luke 20:47a). The details may have changed a bit, but the basic behavior remains-and not only in our leaders, but even at times in ourselves. Which of us does the right thing consistently-or even tries?

We need help. The virtues exist; we see them shining, sometimes, in people we admire, even in people we love and live with. We want to see them in ourselves. And for that, the Bible tells us, we need God's help. Trying harder can only take you so far. To really reach the goal God created us for-to be the people He means us to be-it takes God living in us, the Holy Spirit. As the early Christian leader Paul says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23a). These are the good things that God grows in everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ. It may take a long time-years, even a lifetime-as you doubtless know from watching Christians fail! But the virtues come in the end, because God is recreating people through His power so that they have a family resemblance to Jesus Himself. God will do this for anybody-anybody who really wants it and asks for it.

Written as a collaboration by THRED's in-house writing team

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Call Me Old-Fashioned

Call me old-fashioned, but I think technology is a little overrated. Yes, we can have pretty much anything we want delivered to us without even putting our pants on. Yes, we don't have to go through the hassle of making real friends when we can easily connect with people online. Yes, we don't even need to know where we're going before we get in the car.

But just because we have unlimited power at our fingertips, doesn't mean that we need to use it.

I learned this the hard way while spending an incredible ten days driving around southern Ireland with my fiancée.

Thanks to my stubborn (i.e. cheap) stance on not buying an international data plan, we were forced to navigate without the help of the internet.

Instead, we decided to rough it and use real a map.

What's a "real" map, you ask? Think Google Maps but analogue.

I know what you're thinking: "If this map you speak of is paper, then how does it update to let you know where you are?"

That's the beauty of it—it doesn't. No turn-by-turn directions. No continuous ETA. Just you, the open road, and a whole lot of confusion.

Confusion isn't always a bad thing. For us, it led to many surprising places and the occasional random adventure.

In our case, J.R.R. Tolkien's famous quote, "Not all those who wander are lost" couldn't have been further from the truth. We were both wandering and lost ... and it felt great.

Once we reached each city, we made it a habit to park the car and simply roam around until we came across a cafe or pub that tickled our fancy. Thanks to this (flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants) strategy, we found hidden gems, met plenty of locals, and shared serendipitous conversations.

I can't think of a better way to spend your time.

Thanks to the brutal efficiency of Google Maps and other helpful technologies, we miss these fleeting opportunities every single day.

We're too busy with our heads down in our phones to realize life is passing us by.

In much the same way, I can't help but shun the invention of the audiobook.

I am one of the few remaining humans left who hasn't listened to one, and that's because I prefer its physical counterpart.

Call me old-fashioned, but I love the smell of a brand new book freshly off the shelf. I yearn for the feeling of accomplishment that comes with turning each crisp page. Heck, I even enjoy transforming mundane items such as receipts and coupons into useful bookmarks.

I'm not completely blind to the utility of e-books. As someone who listens to podcasts at 2x speed, I understand the convenience of "reading" while in the car or at work. We're all obsessed with productivity hacks and using multitasking as a misplaced badge of honor.

The thing is, I retain what I read much better when I actually read it. I want to build the magical world of Harry Potter for myself instead of having someone else do it for me, even if it is the insanely-talented Jim Dale (look him up, seriously).

Judging by these words, you may think I'm an old curmudgeon who despises technology. Quite the opposite—I'm just like any other millennial who's addicted to Instagram and spends most of his day behind a laptop.

My only issue with technology is that many of us rely on it to get by.

We have become crippled thanks to our dependence on technology to perform basic human functions like talking to others and finding our way from point A to point B.

Instead, we should be using it to enhance our lives, not run them.

What does this look like?

Using technology to amplify our ideas instead of our gossip. Talking with others who may not share our perspectives rather than publicly crucifying them. Embracing technology in order to learn and create instead of mindlessly consuming.

When used correctly, technology is an amazing way to take giant leaps forward.

That doesn't mean we don't need it to get started.

But hey, what do I know? I'm old-fashioned.

Written by William Frazier

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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Nice vs Kind

One of the many unintended side effects of becoming a parent is that you're forced to develop a new relationship with the English language. I don't mean that you'll instantly gain an understanding of homophones, homonyms, and homographs— no such luck. What I mean is that you'll learn that "sit on the couch" can mean a multitude of different things, ranging from the traditional butt-on-seat variation, to many other more creative arrangements that could end with a butt placed in a number of surprising locations.

For example, I remember a time when I told my son to go into his room to put on a pull-up before bed. Well, he did exactly that. It wasn't until the next morning that I learned that what I should've said was "Take off your underwear, and then put on a pull-up."

When I was preparing Noah for kindergarten, I spent a lot of time talking to him about the importance of being "kind" and, of course, that required an explanation of what I meant by that. My initial explanation was probably something along the lines of "You know, like, nice or whatever ..." but when you really think about it, being nice and being kind aren't really the same thing, are they?

According to my old friend Merriam-Webster, to be nice is to be pleasant or agreeable. To me, this describes a behavior or a particular style of social interaction. Nice is something that can be turned on when you clock in at work and turned off the moment your shift ends. Nice is great for job interviews and first dates. Nice is common, but not necessarily always genuine. Politicians are (almost) always nice because being nice gets you votes.

Don't get me wrong, I want my son to be nice, but not nearly as much as I want him to be kind.

Old lady Merriam's definitions of kind include words like "helpful," "gentle," and "loving"—all words that fall right in line with the lesson I wanted to teach my son. "Nice" is a way to behave, whereas "kind" refers to the kind of person you are. Kind people aren't kind because it could possibly yield rewards, or because it's part of a job description. Kindness is a result of a genuine desire to help other people and do good. When my grandmother forces "soda money" into my pocket before I leave her home, she's doing it out of kindness.

Nice and kind are two words that are similar in definition, but far from interchangeable. Nice people aren't hard to find: go to any Starbucks or Chick-fil-A and you'll find dozens of them ready to provide you with the best dining experience possible. Truly kind people, on the other hand, are a little harder to find. These are the people who go out of their way to help others and do good, no matter the reward.

I think the best thing for all of us is to try to be at least a little bit of both. What about you?

How do you teach a child what kindness is and how to be kind? Seems like there's a lot of example giving in that one. How do you try to teach others how to be kind? How much of being kind is internal, like a personality trait?

Written by Justin Fantroy

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Lies We Tell Our Kids

It's not intentional, really. We want to believe it's true when we say that they can be and do anything they want when they grow up. We want to believe that there's some relationship between that idea, and the need for them to perform throughout their teen years as if their lives depended on it.

We want to believe that there is no conflict between our urging them to "Follow your dreams!" morphing suddenly and abruptly into "What are you going to major in?" and "How are you going to support yourself for the rest of your life doing that?"

We tell them to do all the "right" things because we don't know what else to tell them, and we can't bear to tell them nothing. Or to let them fail. Or to let them veer from the prototypical success model-who knows where that might lead?

Maybe, just maybe, it will lead them slowly, and with some requisite turbulence, to themselves.

So if we really want to help our teen and young adult children, I'm thinking we should stop telling them that who they are is a series of grades and tests scores and titles and victories that must be accrued in a deliberate time and sequence-or else-and we should start telling them the truth, which, when you step back, I believe, looks something like this:

Between the ages of 15 and 25-give or take-you're going to want to learn some things, for example:

 What you like to do, and what you're good at, and if those are the same things

 What kind of people make you happy and what kind of people seem happy to be around you

 What it feels like to love another person and the delirious grace that comes from being loved back

 Whether or not sex is going to become a defining factor in your life

 How to dig yourself out of a hole

 How to throw yourself into an idea that is bigger than yourself and seeing what happens

 How to cook a meal, do your laundry, clean your bathroom, and live with roommates

 How to look someone in the eye when you shake their hand

 What it feels like to earn a paycheck and then pay for something with money you earned

 Whether or not you can make enough money doing the things you like and are good at to live the way you want to live

 Or if money is more important to you than spending your time doing things you like or love and what that choice will cost you down the road (this usually has to be learned later)

 You'll want to know what you believe in about Big Questions like God, and compassion, and why there's evil in the world, and if you think you're contributing to it, and how you feel about that

 You'll want to know how to learn new things-some of your choosing, some not

 You'll have to decide if your word will be your bond

 And to recognize those whose word is not

 It's hard to build a good life on a wobbly foundation so you're going to want to develop some confidence-if you're lacking in that area-or some humility, if you're not

 Do you know what makes you feel confident yet?

 Do you know how to express your thoughts and feelings?

 Do you know what you were put on this Earth to be and do?

Our kids will learn these things, and others, in no particular order, and often multiple times. No one will give them a certificate or a grade or a degree or a prize for them. But when they feel they've got a handle on most of these, they'll be ready to have a really nice life. Let's remember to tell them that sometimes.

Written by Heather Choate Davis

Nobody said raising kids was easy, and if they did, they weren't too bright. Do you have any time- and experience-tested truths you can add to the above list?

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Growing up White in America

"This teenager was arrested for not giving up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama ..." The emcee at the Dr. Martin Luther King workshop paused his cadence to let the audience think of an answer. I missed the teenager clue and mentally filled in the blank with Rosa Parks, when he continued into the microphone, "...nine months before Rosa Parks."

My smug smile washed away. In my mind, Rosa Parks was an anomaly, not part of a bigger movement. A young African-American man shouted behind me and interrupted my thoughts, "Claudette Colvin!"

The crowd congratulated the young man's answer, and the emcee continued with the next quiz question, but I didn't hear it. I was lost in my own internal dialogue, weighing the newly-exposed depth of my Whiteness. Growing up White in America meant I knew relatively few names from Black history. What's more, referring to it as "Black history" is an acknowledgement that the vast majority of the history I learned is implicitly another color:

Mine.

But growing up White in America was an education that extended far beyond the classroom.

Growing up White in America meant the way I spoke at the dinner table was the same dialect I used in the classroom. I never had to learn how to code-switch if I wanted to ascend through school or business. The pastor at my church and the news anchor on TV interpreted reality for me with the same tongue I used.

Growing up White in America meant I went on road trips in college without fearing how I would be treated at a small-town gas station. The language of a green book never echoed in my car.

Growing up White in America meant I was startled when a room wasn't a White majority. Conversations with the description, "we were the only White people there" was code for dangerous. Or poor. Or uneducated. And when I was a minority in one of those dangerous hospital waiting rooms, I knew it was only temporary. The story would resolve when I returned to the safe, prosperous place which happened to be dominated by my skin color.

Growing up White in America meant I could go through my day without thinking about my race. I could wake up, drive, shop, eat, study, watch TV, and sleep without ever being reminded that I was different than the world around me. Band-Aids were always my skin type; hotel shampoos were always my hair type; food aisles were always my food type.

Growing up White in America meant that I could walk in public with four of my fellow teenaged friends without judgment. Store clerks rarely watched us judiciously. Women never switched their purse to their other arm when we walked by. Fathers never shuffled their children to stand behind them when we were close.

Growing up White in America meant that I looked like those in positions of highest influence. Scientists were overwhelmingly White like me. So were programmers. And doctors and lawyers and CEOs. White-collar professionals (pun intended) were disproportionately White like me.

I was on Mount Rushmore, not their slave ships. I was on my currency, not their auction blocks. I was on the cover of comic books, not their mug shot tabloids. I conquered. I legislated. I enforced.

Learning about Claudette Colvin didn't erase my history, nor was it redeemed. But I did grow in awareness, which is a much better meaning of growing up White in America.

Written by Chris Paavola

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

What I Didn't Know I Needed to Know

Like many others, I wasn't able to escape the craze surrounding Hamilton: An American Musical that has swept America in the last few years. Whether it's the shock and novelty of rap in a major musical, the celebration of an unsung American hero, the brilliant character development, or the themes that keep recurring in unexpected places, it seems to be finding its way into American hearts on a host of levels.

And even though I can't resist getting into a good hip-hop song, I think my favorite thing about Hamilton is the way you're invited to empathize with so many different characters. You can relate to the heroes and the villains. In fact, some might say there aren't really clear heroes or villains. There are just humans ... all of whom made some poor choices and some heroic choices. History tends to flatten these individuals as good or bad, and Hamilton brings those characters back to life and gives them dimension. Makes them all relatable. Makes you ask if you might have made the same choices in the same circumstances ... makes you question things you thought you knew about yourself.

This is really what I appreciate about any good musical, when I give myself the chance. What do I not know about the world, or myself, that I can discover by seeing through this or that character's eyes?

I've observed recently that the opportunity exists to use movies and music in the same way—to invite them to expose me to different perspectives—but I typically don't. I typically listen to music that celebrates the things I already think and feel. I typically like movies that celebrate the kind of stories I already value or paint the world in a way I already see it.

And I've realized I don't like that about myself. I am missing the chance to see the world through the eyes of the artist or director—and in doing so, to learn and to grow. To bump into ideas and experiences and perspectives I wasn't aware of. To learn things I didn't know I needed to know.

I say I don't like to spend time around ideas and people that reinforce what I already think, but I don't always act on that. Sometimes it might be that I don't know where or how to look for those artistic expressions outside the circles I already walk in. But I appreciate contemporary art in all its forms as something that can break through my current viewpoints and stretch me farther.

And I'd like to do that more—I'd like to invite more art into my life with the purpose of letting it show me things I didn't know I needed to understand.

Do you use art to expand your mind? Or to reinforce what you already think? Or do you invite art into your life for a totally different purpose?

Written by Megan Panarusky

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