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The Suburban Christian

The thoughts and musings of a suburban Christian on life, books, Christianity and culture.

Updated: 2017-10-11T05:39:37.358-05:00


Was Jesus really forsaken on the cross?


What did it mean when Jesus said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Was he really forsaken by God, or was something else going on? My take on this has been posted online at Christianity Today here:'s Calling For Elijah! Why We Still Mishear Jesus"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me" was a cry of vindication, not despair.Al Hsu | posted 4/04/2012 09:28AMWhen the Jesus film is screened in cultures that have never heard of Jesus, the viewers often love the movie and get completely wrapped up in the story. But the crucifixion comes as an utter shock. Many audiences jump up and cry out in protest. This can't be. This is not how the story should end.The crucifixion of Jesus has always been profoundly disturbing.For me, what's most troubling is not the unjust trial, how the crowd turns against Jesus, or how his disciples abandon him. The most troubling part is one line. Mark 15, verse 34: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?")This line horrifies me. It calls into question the very nature of God. Is God the kind of God that turns his back on his Son? Does God abandon those who cry out to him? How could God forsake the perfect God-man, the only one who has ever served him perfectly? Because if Jesus was truly forsaken by God, what's preventing God from forsaking any of us? How could we ever trust him to be good?The Apologetic ChallengeThese have always been important questions, addressed at various lengths since the early church. But now it has become a serious apologetic emergency. In a more rationalist era, people believed in Christianity on the basis of truth. We proved the reliability of the Gospels, gave evidence for the resurrection, argued that Christianity was historically verifiable. Believe in Jesus, we said, because Christianity is true.But then culture shifted. Many people didn't accept absolute truth claims anymore. So we turned to pragmatic appeals. Believe in Jesus, we said, because Christianity works. Come to Jesus because he'll change your life. The proof is in the pudding. Christians are happier, healthier, live longer, and so on. But the appeal has its limits. Christians are not immune to all the troubles and trials of life. Christians get divorced at only a marginally lower rate than their neighbors.So we shifted our appeal again, proclaiming that Christianity is real. It's not fake, it's not artificial. For people sick of being marketed to and being presented with a pre-packaged religion, we could offer the authentic Jesus, not religion. This strategy especially resonated with Gen Xers in the '90s, who blanched at "victory in Jesus" sermons and songs that omitted any sense of pain. A generation that experienced broken families, broken relationships, and broken lives needed to know that God could understand. Jesus suffered and died. As John Stott said in his classic book The Cross of Christ, "I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?" So Christianity is real because Jesus is real. He lived in the real world, and he really suffered and died.But today, that's not enough. The cultural questions have shifted once again. Today's young adults have come of age in a world of terrorism, a clash of civilizations, religiously motivated violence, and new extremisms. Now the question is whether religion of any kind is of any good. Does it just incite crusades and inquisitions, holy war and jihad? It's not just if Christianity is true, works, or is real. Is it good? Is Christianity good for the world? Is the God of Christianity a good God?Is the Cross Divine Child Abuse?This brings us back to Jesus' cry on the cross. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? One of the major objections that today's new atheists have about Christianity is that the Christian God is not worth believing in. They argue that Christianity is a primitive backwards religion [...]

Rene Padilla on the Cape Town Lausanne Congress


Rene Padilla blogged about the Cape Town Lausanne Congress, appraising the future of the movement and offering significant critiques. Very helpful analysis. (The original post is in Spanish, so here's a Google-translated English version.)The future of the Lausanne MovementC. Rene PadillaThe figures relating to the Third International Congress on World Evangelization held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 17 to 24 October under the theme "In Christ God was reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19) are impressive. There were more than 4,000 participants from 198 countries. In addition, there were about 650 Web sites connected with the Congress in 91 countries and 100,000 "hits" from 185 countries. This means that many thousands of people around the world were able to attend meetings via the Internet. Doug Birdsall, Executive Chairman of the Lausanne Movement, probably right in saying that Cape Town 2010 was "the most representative global evangelical meeting in history." Without doubt, this achievement was largely the result of his long effort to make that happen.Equally impressive were the many practical arrangements were made before Congress. Besides the difficult process of selecting the speakers for the plenary and for "multiplexes" (elective seminar) and the dialogue sessions, translators and participants from each country represented, there were two tasks that must have involved a lot of work before Congress : The Global Conversation Lausanne to enable people around the world make their comments and interact with others taking advantage of contemporary technological advances, and the drafting of the first part (the theological) of Cape Town Commitment prepared by the Working Group Lausanne Theological directed by Christopher Wright.A positive assessment of Lausanne IIIThe best way to check the value of a conference like Lausanne III to analyze the concrete results it produces later in connection with the life and mission of the church. For this reason, this assessment of the conference just held in Cape Town has to be considered merely as a preliminary assessment.Each of the six-day program (with one day off between the third and fourth) had a theme:1) Monday: Truth: check the truth of Christ in a pluralistic world of globalization.2) Tuesday: Reconciliation: Building Peace of Christ in our broken and divided world.3) Wednesday: World Religions: bearing witness to the love of Christ to people of other religions.4) Friday: Priorities: discerning the will of God for evangelizing in our century.5) Saturday: Integrity, call the church to return to humility, integrity and simplicity.6) Sunday: Partnership: co-participation in the Body of Christ for a new global balance.Each of these key issues, described as "the greatest challenges to the church in the next decade," was the theme of Bible study and theological reflection each day in the morning. The biblical text that was used in the series entitled "Celebrating the Bible" was the letter to the Ephesians. One of the most positive aspects of the program was the inductive study of the passage of the day in groups, each consisting of six members sitting around a table. This provided the group members the opportunity to learn together and pray for each other, develop new friendships and build alliances for the future. Bible study group was followed by exposure of the Ephesians passage selected for that day. Without minimizing the importance of music, drama, visual arts, stories and performances of "multimedia", a high percentage of participants felt that the time devoted to "Celebrating the Arts" could have been reduced to allow more time "Celebrating the Bible", an activity greatly appreciated.Special mention should be made of several of the witnesses who gave the plenary sessions in the morning some people whose life experience clearly illustrated the theme of the day. Who that has been there will ever forget, for example, the young Palestinian and Jewish youth who spoke together about the meaning of reconciliation in Christ above r[...]

My Facebook statuses from Cape Town 2010


I was a delegate at the Cape Town 2010 Lausanne Congress. Here are my compiled Facebook statuses from the Congress from Oct. 16-26: After 27+ hours of travel time (including 16 hours sitting next to Ron Sider), I'm finally in Cape Town. Whew.worshipped at St. George's Cathedral, where Desmond Tutu was Archbishop and the site of the 1989 Peace March. A beautiful service in English, isiXhosa and Afrikaans.heard that part of the reason the Chinese government restricted the Lausanne delegates is because of the Nobel Prize being given to a Chinese dissident. But about 30 Chinese delegates made it to Cape Town, mostly by traveling through other countries.just experienced the opening ceremonies for the Cape Town Congress, with a welcome from the African church, letters from Billy Graham and John Stott, a celebration of the history of Christianity, singing "Crown Him with Many Crowns" in commemoration of the Edinburgh 1910 conference. A bit overwhelmed at all of this - it feels like a combination of Urbana and the Olympics.My small group, which includes folks from Malaysia, India, Ethiopia and the UK, has one Al and two Alans.Singing "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Urdu and Zulu.Ajith Fernando on Ephesians 1: "The gospel is cosmic in scope and involves everything, the whole universe. Most people come to Christ to meet a personal need, but they stay with Christ when they know that he is the truth. Our challenge is to present God not just as a god who meets needs, but who has a cosmic plan for all of creation."From US delegates gathering: The gospel has always been spread by exiles, refugees, slaves and immigrants. The dramatic numbers of predominantly Christian immigrants coming to the US may well be God's way of bringing renewal to the North American church.Tonight's plenary focus: Asia and the persecuted church. Moved to tears by prayers for our Chinese delegates and the testimony of an 18-year-old Korean student who lost her mother to leukemia and her father to imprisonment but still wants to return to bring the gospel and human rights to North Korea.Ruth Padilla DeBorst on Ephesians 2: Where does God live? God's dwelling place is the church, the transnational, transethnic community woven together into a new humanity.Hearing from Robert Duncan, archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, on how the Anglicans of the global south brought renewal to North American Anglicanism."We're learning how to plant churches the way Nigerians and Ugandans do."‎"Ours is not an American triumph. It is a story of the global church at its best."Evening regional focus: The Middle East. In Saudi Arabia 100 years ago, there were 50 known Christians; today there are over a million. In Iran, when Christians are imprisoned, other prisoners become Christians.Evening topical focus: brokenness, trafficking, HIV/AIDS. Testimony given by my author Princess Kasune Zulu, author of Warrior Princess. Her prayer: that the church would erase stigma, advocate for the HIV-positive, eliminate newborn infection and give hope, love and life to the dying.John Piper on Ephesians 3: If God had people on other planets, they would have been invited to Lausanne. Because we are not just a global congress on world evangelization - we are a global congress for the cosmic manifestation of the glory of God.Libby Little, widow of medical worker Tom Little killed in Afghanistan two months ago, shared Tom's last devotional thoughts retrieved from his blood-stained notes: Eph. 2:8-10, we are God's workmanship, created to do good works, and 2 Cor. 2:15, we are the aroma of Christ.Report from an Indian Christian: 50 members of his family have become Christian and now follow Jesus as their guru. "Jesus died for our karma."Benjamin Kwashi, archbishop in Jos, Nigeria, repeatedly threatened with death threats, mobs: "Some day I will die. But until then, I have a gospel worth living for, and I have a gospel worth dying for."Testimony from a Muslim background believer about th[...]

Evangelical Tribalism: The Big Sort or The Breakfast Club?

2010-08-02T17:06:19.422-05:00 is running a series on the Future of Evangelicalism with a variety of contributors. Here's my essay.Evangelical Tribalism: The Big Sort or The Breakfast Club?by Al HsuJournalist Bill Bishop and sociologist Robert Cushing's 2008 book The Big Sort describes how people organize themselves geographically to live near politically like-minded people. Conservatives tend to live near other conservatives, and liberals near other liberals. These generally homogeneous communities provide social networks and plausibility structures that reinforce certain worldview perspectives and not others. This self-sorting results in echo chambers where conservatives become more conservative and liberals more liberal, since neither side receives the moderating influence of the other.Evangelicals may be experiencing a "big sort" of their own, if not geographically then theologically, sociologically, and psychographically, as they gather with like-minded tribes at specific conferences. In April 2010, evangelical Christian institutions or organizations sponsored six separate national conferences: Together for the Gospel, the Wheaton Theology Conference, Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing, North Park University's 4 Days 4 Justice, the new church conference Exponential 10 in Orlando, and the Fermi Project's Q Gathering in Chicago. These six conferences provide a window into how contemporary evangelical Christianity is fragmented and tribalized into distinct subcultures.Finding Our TribeLike-minded people and structures reinforce our subcultural identity. The more we read certain blogs or books by certain authors in a certain community, the more radically invested we become in that tribal identity. Attending conferences with like-minded individuals is a powerful reinforcer of tribal commitments. Since travel and conference costs are a significant investment, conferences serve as external markers of one's dedication to the community. The attendees are not casual dilettantes; they are the true believers. Such conferences reinforce the message: You are not alone in your convictions and your identity. This is your tribe.The aforementioned six conferences were not the only options available that spring, or even that month. Every year, dozens of conferences are scattered across the evangelical landscape. Some have been held for decades, such as Urbana or the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA); others are relatively new, like Catalyst, Story, or Origins. Most have a particular focus, like Renovare's emphasis on spiritual formation or Passion's focus on worship. A distinctive "brand identity" sets each conference apart from the others.When individual evangelicals attend conferences such as the ones held in April 2010, they see a larger corporate vision of Christian community. But are such conferences truly a comprehensive picture of the kingdom of God, or only a narrow picture of a particular tribal subculture?Parallel UniversesConsider the speakers at each of these conferences, the most visible "heroes" and spokespeople for each tribe. Together for the Gospel's speakers included John Piper, Mark Dever, R. C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, and Joshua Harris. The Wheaton Theology Conference featured N. T. Wright (whose work was the focus of the conference), Kevin Vanhoozer, Jeremy Begbie, Edith Humphrey, Richard Hays, and Markus Bockmuehl. The Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing highlighted Mary Karr, Eugene Peterson, Kate DiCamillo, Stephen Carter, Parker Palmer, Luci Shaw, and Sara Miles. Headlining 4 Days 4 Justice were Soong-Chan Rah, Lisa Sharon Harper, Richard Twiss, Mimi Haddad, Terry LeBlanc, Andrea Smith, and Peter Heltzel. Exponential's speakers included Dave Ferguson, Ken Blanchard, Alan Hirsch, Efrem Smith, Shane Claiborne, Brenda Salter-McNeil, and Francis Chan. On the platform at Q were Tim Keller, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Scot McKnight, Richard Florida, Soledad O'Brie[...]

What 'Lost' Taught Us about Dying Well


[My take on the Lost finale and the whole series was posted online at Christianity Today's website.]What 'Lost' Taught Us about Dying WellThe meaning behind "live together, die alone."Al Hsu | posted 5/26/2010 12:08PMThree episodes before the series finale of Lost, after witnessing the deaths of three beloved main characters, I thought to myself, "Oh, no—they're all going to die." At this point, so few original survivors of Oceanic 815 remained that the hope of anybody leaving the island alive seemed implausible.I was glad that the finale didn't play out quite the way I had feared. But I was still sort of right: Everybody was going to die. Sometime, whether we saw it on screen or not.I'm realizing that the entire series can be seen as a six-year meditation on how human beings approach death. In the pilot, death struck unexpectedly with a plane crash on a Pacific island. And every episode to follow dealt in some way with desperate efforts to live and avoid death.At the beginning, the primary needs were survival. Food, water, shelter. Jack, Kate, Locke, Sawyer, and all the rest worked together to take care of the wounded and to help one another survive the island's threats. The goal was to avoid death and to get home.Even though many unnamed redshirts and minor characters died in season 1, it wasn't until the first main cast death that viewers realized that not all of these survivors were going to make it off the island. And the Grim Reaper has steadily cut his way through the cast members each season. Some deaths were foreshadowed, like a looming terminal illness. But others came suddenly, without warning. Death is unpredictable.As the series progressed, we as viewers reacted with all of the common responses of grief. I often found myself in denial. After the heart-wrenching season three finale, I kept hoping, "Maybe he isn't really dead. He survived somehow. We'll find out next season that he's okay." Many fans bargained with the directors to bring back beloved characters (which they did, in post-mortem appearances and flash-sideways).As the death toll rose, a sense of resignation and inevitability came. The funerals on the beach happened more frequently. Again we'd see someone digging a grave, and again we'd see Hurley's downcast face. At first, there were brief ceremonies of remembrance, a few words spoken. After a while, not many remaining survivors were even left to pay tribute to those who had died.By the end, all of us, characters and viewers alike, came to some degree of resignation and acceptance. One of the key lines in the finale that made sense of the whole series was "Everybody dies sometime." Death is inevitable. And while we can fight it and stave it off as long as we can, at some point, we recognize that there is nothing we can do to avoid it.Rob Moll's new book The Art of Dying argues that over the last century or so, Christians have lost the practice of dying well. Christians used to have intentional ways to prepare for one's death, to number one's days. Christians approached death purposefully, making things right between them and God and others. These days, death has been medicalized and partitioned off from everyday life, leaving most of us without the resources to prepare adequately for death, whether one's own or a loved one's. We don't know what to do when death comes.So a show like Lost can actually help us grapple with the reality of death. The characters' stories have often centered around "unfinished business" from their pre-island lives that needed to be resolved in some way. Moll notes that when Christians practice the art of dying, we learn to reconcile ourselves to God and others before death, saying important things like "Please forgive me," "I forgive you," "Thank you," and "I love you." Some of these very phrases were used in Lost (before and after characters' deaths), as a model to us for our own relationships. Some bloggers commented after the finale that the show had prompt[...]

Attention Christian conference-goers: Looking for survey respondents


I just finished a class on sociology of religion, and I'm now working on a final paper about evangelical Christian conferences. Looking for people's impressions of several specific conferences held in April 2010. If you attended last month's Wheaton Theology Conference, Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing, Together for the Gospel, 4 Days 4 Justice, Exponential 10 or Q Conference, please take this survey!

The God Who Recycles


This morning I took out our recycling and set it out on the curb. Last week our pastor mentioned that taking out the garbage each week can be an analogy for confessing our sin and trash, which is particularly appropriate during this season of Lent. That reminded me of this devotional I wrote a few years ago for My Heart--Christ's Home Through the Year:

The God Who Recycles

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Revelation 21:5

Every Wednesday morning, I take trash cans and recycling bins out to the curb. I feel like I'm purging my home of all its impurities, and I come away feeling cleansed.

There's a lot of garbage in our lives. I'm grateful that God will take away my trash if only I am willing to bring it to him. He forgives my sins, no questions asked, and the trash is taken away as far as the east is from the west.

But I'm even more excited about the recycling. It's somehow thrilling to think about cans, bottles, cereal boxes and newspapers being remade and finding new use. God is the Great Recycler. There are times when I feel used up and worn out. I feel useless, like I'm good for nothing. But God can renew me and restore me and use me for service in surprising ways.

Pray: Spend some time in confession the next time you take out the garbage. And when you take out the recycling, give thanks for the opportunity to begin again.

Al Hsu

Philip Yancey on Christian writing


Some thoughts from Philip Yancey in his book Open Windows (1982), in an essay called "Pitfalls of Christian Writing":

. . . Christian authors tend to give only the ideas and thoughts, without tracing the personalities involved and the context of how those thoughts developed. Too often religious books are organized and written like sermons, with an outlined structure superimposed on the content.

Many successful evangelical authors are not authors at all; they are speakers who make their living by speaking at churches and conferences. One can hardly blame them for organizing their written material in the same way as their spoken material, and often it sells well. But speakers who write books in the same style defy the basic rules of communication. Writers cannot merely list facts and hope to penetrate readers’ brains. They must take readers on an emotional journey to hold their attention. People do not read the same way they listen, and a book-speech is effective only among an audience previously committed to agree with the material. It cannot reach out to a noncaptive audience such as a world skeptical of Christian ideas. That requires books created according to the rules of written communication.

An author cannot captivate an audience with his or her own personal magnetism as a speaker can. Authors must use such techniques as a gripping narrative style, well-placed anecdotes, suspense, and a structure that compels a reader to follow the train of thought. To a diverse audience, ideas come across best when they are embodied and live within a visual, imaginable context.

At Urbana 09


I'm at the Urbana 09 student missions convention in St. Louis, and there's a lot of great stuff going on both in the program and in the bookstore. If you want to watch, you can see many of the plenary sessions online at the free webcast page of the Urbana 09 website. Check out the amazing 15-minute Welcome to Urbana tap dance/spoken word presentation of John 1, Ruth Padilla DeBorst's talk on the movement of peoples, York Moore's abolitionist testimony, the Rahab dramatic monologue and the video clips on the state of Christianity and on human trafficking. Powerful, moving stuff.

My job this Urbana, as at previous conventions in 03 and 06, is to manage the book info booths in our bookstore. That means I roam the floor in a bright orange Home Depot-like vest answering questions and helping people find the books they're looking for (and didn't know they were looking for). We get questions like "Do you have books by Paul Bunyan?" or "What is the best book ever?" or "Um, I have a friend who is wondering if you have any books about how to meet girls." What's always so exciting is to see hundreds and thousands of college students with armfuls of IVP books. Urbana delegates are some of the most motivated, activist, missional, globally minded Christians, and it's fun to see them recommending books to one another and hear them talk about how certain books have changed their lives.

New this year is that we're having author signings in the bookstore and author interviews at our morning bookstore team meetings. Yesterday we heard from Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice, and this morning we chatted with Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor, authors of Global Mission Handbook. So far we've had signings with Scott Bessenecker (How to Inherit the Earth), Andy Marin (Love Is an Orientation), and we just had huge crowds for Shane Claiborne (Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers) and John Perkins (Welcoming Justice).

One of the featured books of the day is James Choung's True Story, and as they were making the book plug from the platform, James overheard a student telling her friend, "I reconverted to Christianity because of that book!" James told her, "I wrote that book!" And I was encouraged to hear that this book that I had acquired and edited had been helpful to her and many others in their spiritual journeys. Much of my work is with manuscripts and Word docs as books are being developed, so it's fun to come to conventions like these and see how our books are changing the lives of real readers.

Josiah quotes, 2009


I just discovered a Facebook app called My Year in Status that lets you make a collage out of your Facebook statuses. You can customize it to select your favorite statuses from the past year. I used it to copy and paste all my statuses into one document (over 400 in 2009!), which serves as a nice snapshot and record of my thoughts and doings over the year. And I've been meaning to collect my statuses about funny things my older son, Josiah, has said, but haven't wanted to fuss with scrolling back through my actual Facebook wall. So this app let me pull all my statuses together, and I just searched for Josiah-related ones. Here are things my 7/8-year-old son said this past calendar year:Wrote: "I, Josiah Hsu, will try to help my family by cleaning my room, help cook the food, warn them when Elijah poops all over the downstairs floor."Ellen said, "Josiah, go brush your teeth." Josiah replied, "La la la la la - I can't hear you! La la la la la - I'm not listening!"Josiah said, "I didn't mean to bump Elijah's head on the bed. I meant to drop him on the floor."Josiah and I went out for donuts yesterday morning. At bedtime last night, Josiah prayed, "I pray for donuts. Ask and you will receive."Got fettucine alfredo for dinner a few nights ago, and the pan and receipt both said "FETT." I showed Josiah, and he said, "Boba Fett pasta?"Josiah: "I wish we had a tambourine." Ellen: "We have a tambourine." Josiah: "That you can jump on?""Mommy tickles better than you do. But nice try."Al: "Free pizza! Wahoo!" Josiah said, "You shouldn't be so happy about it, Papa. Somebody had to pay for it."Al: "When I was a kid, we didn't have goody bags at birthday parties." Josiah: "Was that back in the olden days?"On 4th of July, asked Josiah, "Want to walk down to Starbucks?" Josiah said, "I think you've spent enough money for today."Al: "I got some sourdough bread from Trader Joe's for you." Josiah: "That's the kind of parent I like!"On our fridge is a guide to help kids if they ever need to call 911. It currently reads: "My name is: Josiah. My address is: stupid. I need help because: chickin on the loose."Josiah, trying to get back to sleep: "Sheep have no effect."Josiah's letter from history camp: "I feel crazy being in the army. I'm only doing this for money. We played baseball and screeeaaamed. See you in a few days. Bye!"It's Wave Wednesday of Hawaiian Week at Josiah's day camp, so we suggested that he wear a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. He said, "No way. I am definitely not wearing those dorky shorts."Josiah: "Either I need to get fatter or I need a belt."Josiah: "Can we get some of the sizzling grape juice?"Asked Josiah, "Did they talk about September 11th at school today?" He said, "Yes, it's a sad holiday. Two planes crashed into the Sears Tower and another one hit the Hexagon Tower."Josiah said, "My rib hurts. Maybe I'm having a girl."Josiah went to the mailbox in anticipation of getting a new video game. While opening the package, he said, "It better not be a book."Told Josiah that Rio got the Olympics instead of Chicago. He asked, "Can we move to South America?"Was playing ping pong with Josiah at a friends' house. He was retrieving a ball and bonked his head on a bar. I asked, "Are you okay?" Josiah responded, "I think I'm going to live."Gave Josiah applesauce and goldfish crackers (in two separate bowls). After a while, he said, "I don't want applesauce anymore. I keep dipping my fingers in there when I want goldfish."Josiah, talking about his Narnia videogame: "There's a phonics attack." Me: "What's a phonics attack?" Josiah: "You know, a phonics. The bird that breathes fire."Josiah: "I want to make a flip book of a chicken dying." Ellen: "How about a butterfly flying?" Josiah: "Okay, a butterfly flying into a window and dying."Ellen brought back German, Swiss and Russian chocolate. Josia[...]

If Facebook statuses were really honest


A lot of Facebook statuses are fairly innocuous – observations about life, work, daily activities, current events. Most folks are self-conscious and careful about not disclosing things that are too personal, especially anything that casts them in a negative light. There’s rarely any confession of wrongdoing other than “Jenny is stealing her kids’ Halloween candy.” But what if people really said what was really going on? Then instead of a status like “Mark is hiking the Appalachian Trail” you’d see “Mark is ditching his family and job to rendezvous with his Argentinian soulmate.”

A few years ago I heard about the concept of the Johari window, which organizes people's interpersonal interactions in different categories of people’s self-perceptions and perceptions by others. One category is the “arena,” that which is known to oneself and publicly made known to others, that we see and that others also see. Most Facebook statuses probably fall into this category, stuff that people feel comfortable making public about themselves.

Another category is the “facade” – that which we know about ourselves but is not seen by others. We are selective about what we disclose and edit out the naughty bits. So if we were to pull back the facade, our statuses might say things like “Wally is looking at porn,” "Eliot is visiting a prostitute" or “Carrie just slapped her daughter.”

Even more interesting is the category of the “blind spot” – that which others know about us but that we don’t know about ourselves. It’s hard for us to get clued in on things in this category unless we have trusted friends that let us know what's going on, but this might be something like "Michael is offending coworkers left and right" or "Dwight is totally staring at Pam's chest and is completely creeping her out."

The fourth category is "mystery," that which is unknown to both ourselves and others around us. This might be something like "Britney is acting out because of childhood issues" or "Ted is in serious denial about being gay."

It's interesting to think about Facebook statuses through the lens of the Johari window. Is that status really real or just a facade? What's not being said in a status that might reflect a blind spot or an area of mystery? Integrity, many have said, is who you are when no one's looking. In an age of Facebook, integrity might be having your Facebook status really reflect who you are and not just how you want people to think about you.

(P.S. Just found an interactive Johari window online, but I'm scared to try it.)

Encouragement for aspiring writers


Yesterday morning I was at Wheaton College to talk to English majors and writing students about editing and publishing work. Had a great time interacting with folks and answering questions about the writing and publishing process. One of the handouts I distributed contained the following quotes:

“First of all, if you want to write, write. And second, don’t do it. It’s the loneliest, most depressing work you can do.” Walker Percy

“Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” Gene Fowler

“Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.” Jessamyn West

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Red Smith

“It should surprise no one that the life of the writer – such as it is – is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author’s childhood. A writer’s childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience.” Annie Dillard

“In general, very little happens to a writer. Now do you understand why we put so much emphasis on artificial reality? Our actual reality is insufferably dull. A Federal Express delivery is far and away the most dramatic event in my day.” Philip Yancey

“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.” Philip Roth

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” Joseph Heller

“The first draft of anything is [poop].” Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen and not a shadow of an idea of what you’re going to say.” Francoise Sagan

“Writing is no trouble: you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself – it is the occurring which is difficult.” Stephen Leacock

“Writing is a form of therapy. Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.” Graham Greene

“The secret of good writing is to say an old thing a new way or to say a new thing an old way.” Richard Harding Davis

Win a free mission trip to Haiti


IVP is cosponsoring a contest to win a free mission trip to Haiti with Kent Annan, codirector of Haiti Partners and author of the new book Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously. Six people will be chosen to receive an all-expenses-paid 5-day mission trip to Haiti from May 20-24, 2010. To enter, answer this question:

How are you personally challenged by Jesus' invitation to live more fully and love dangerously, and how could this trip be part of that?

with either a 300-400-word essay or a 2-to-3-minute video posted to YouTube. Entries must be submitted by Feb. 15, 2010. The first 50 entries will win a free copy of the book. See contest rules and entry form.

Deadly Viper authors and publisher retract book


In the past few weeks, Asian American Christians have been protesting the release of the Zondervan book Deadly Viper Character Assassins for its insensitive use and stereotypical appropriation of Asian and Asian American images and themes. The charge has been led by several of my authors, primarily Soong-Chan Rah (see key posts here, here and here) as well as Kathy Khang and Ken Fong, and many others (Asian and not) have been involved. I have weighed in here and there but have not said anything yet on this blog because as an editor at another publishing house, I did not want to be seen as taking potshots at a competitor. However, I am thrilled that I can now pass along the official news that Zondervan has issued a public apology and is pulling the Deadly Viper book from publication and distribution. Reposted from Soong-Chan Rah's blog:Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About “Deadly Viper: Character Assassins” From Moe Girkins, President and CEO Hello and thanks for your patience. On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins. It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ. This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message. There is no need for debate on this subject. We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently. We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart. In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products. He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity. Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God. We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth. And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates. It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message. We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side. This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts. Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion. We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom. Warmly, MoeAnd the authors of Deadly Viper have removed all previous materials from their website and posted this apology:To our Friends and Family: Due to an unfortunate conflict that arose around our use of Asian American themes, we have decided to close this chapter of Deadly Viper Character Assassins. This decision has been a very difficult one for us and one that we did not take lightly.For the past 2 years we have had the honor to be part of an incredible movement of advocating for radical integrity and grace. We have been deeply humbled hearing your stories of how Deadly Viper has impacted your life, family, and relationships.We and our team will continue to commit our lives to the message of integrity, grace, and most of all becoming People Of The [...]

Find Work That Fits You


[This is part of an article I wrote for that was posted a few months ago.]

My high school friends were a microcosm of school society. Eric was a photographer and yearbook editor. Ann was a leader in the marching band. Bill was the lead actor in theatre productions. Laura was in the dance line. Jeff was co-captain of the track team. Carol was co-captain of volleyball and synchronized swimming. Dan was in speech and debate.

Me? I lettered in debate and theatre, and I ran track for a while. I also participated in things like academic decathlon and science olympiad. But my senior year, my primary involvement and identity was as an editor for the school newspaper. I had published a poem back in first grade in our school district's poetry compendium, and I had always loved reading and writing. So the school paper became my niche.

Why did my friends and I gravitate to certain interests and not others?

Some of it was parental influence. Teachers and coaches may have encouraged us to try out for certain activities. And, of course, peers had something to do with it. I never would have run track if my friends had not also been on the team. But to a large extent, we all had certain gifts and talents that geared us in some directions rather than others.

Some people distinguish between gifts and talents. They say that gifts are those natural, innate, God-given abilities to excel in certain areas, whether intellectual, artistic, or athletic. And talents might be thought of as skills that can be acquired and learned, regardless of inherent ability. I'm not sure it's quite that clear cut, but I do recognize that people have different gifts and talents.

This seems to have been the case from the very beginning. Genesis 4:2 says that Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a tiller of the ground. We don't know why they differentiated as they did; perhaps Adam and Eve assigned them these tasks arbitrarily, and they learned to do them. Or maybe as children Abel always loved animals, while Cain was a budding agriculturalist. We have no idea. But either way, they were shaped and formed to particular vocations.

[Continue reading the article here.]

On checking Amazon sales rankings


"...he found himself checking Amazon every ten minutes or so to see how his crossword books were selling. They always had depressing numbers like 673,082 or 822,457. Once his latest had made it up to 9,326. It had given him a happy afternoon, until he logged on before going to bed and found it at 787,333." - Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry, p. 49

"The Day We Let Our Son Live"


My wife, Ellen, wrote a blog entry about our son, Elijah, that has been reposted on Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog. (The opening paragraphs below are by editor Katelyn Beaty; Ellen's material follows.)The Day We Let Our Son Live It ended up being the most important day of my life. Ellen Hsu, guest blogger When it comes to the chance for those with genetic defects to live, the news has not been good on either side of the Atlantic. Last week’s Telegraph reported that of all women in the U.K. who find out through prenatal testing that their baby will have Down syndrome, about 90 percent choose to have an abortion. And yesterday, ABC News reported a near-identical rate among women in the U.S.: 92 percent of those who find out their child will have the chromosomal defect decide to abort. One geneticist at Children’s Hospital Boston found that, without prenatal testing, the number of Down syndrome births would have increased by 34 percent between 1989 and 2005. Instead, the number of Down syndrome births has dropped by 15 percent over that time. Upon hearing such news, I remembered Ellen and Al Hsu (pronounced shee), a Christian couple who works at InterVarsity Press in Downers Grove, Illinois, and who faced the same situation as the women above. This is Ellen’s story of Elijah, their 4-year-old with Down syndrome, as originally told on their family blog, Team Hsu. --/ I gazed in wonder at the blurry form on the screen. “Hi, Baby,” I whispered. The image of our baby was much clearer on the level-two ultrasound. The technician rolled the ultrasound wand over my growing abdomen, and I marveled as I watched our son squirm and suck his thumb. A new life forming within me. Our OB/GYN had referred us for a level-two ultrasound after he noticed choroid plexus cysts on our baby’s brain during the standard 20-week ultrasound. I was anxious about what the maternal health specialist might find. We knew a couple whose ultrasound also had showed choroids plexus cysts, but whose baby was perfectly fine when he was born. We had spent the past week praying for our baby and hoping for the best. Al walked into the exam room as the technician was finishing up. She hadn’t said much and explained that the doctor would be in to take a look for himself and to explain what he found. Al and I chatted quietly while we waited. I was relieved that he had made it before the doctor came in. Little did I know how much I would need him. The doctor came in and began his exam. I was delighted at the chance to see more images of our baby. But my world was shaken when the doctor finally began explaining what he saw. “Something is very wrong with this baby.” He continued to roll the wand over my tummy as he pointed to various spots on the screen and began listing all the “abnormalities”: larger than usual nuchal folds; clenched fists; possible club feet; something wrong with the liver; enlarged ventricles in the brain; possibly no stomach. My tears flowed as his list grew longer. My delight at the new life within me turned to icy fear, and I clutched Al’s hand tightly. The doctor suspected a chromosomal problem, possibly Trisomy 13 or 18, birth defects caused by an extra 13th or 18th chromosome. He explained that both of these conditions are generally “incompatible with life.” We were told that if our baby was born alive, he was likely to die within a day. If we were lucky, he might survive for 6 to 12 months. We wondered if we should begin preparing for death instead of life. Continue reading The Day We Let Our Son Live...[...]

Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh


Now that I've gotten some books off to the printer, I have a little more breathing space to announce books that have just been published. One that I'm excited about is Adam McHugh's Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. (You can download free PDFs of the introduction and the first chapter.) I'm not an introvert myself, but I'm married to one, and I've found myself becoming somewhat more introverted in my rhythms over the years. Adam's book is a groundbreaking work that validates introverts' identity and temperament and lifts out the value and place of introverts' contributions to Christian life and community.

Adam wrote the book because much of the contemporary evangelical church tends to be extroverted in temperament and style, leaving less place for introverts as well as for practices like contemplation and reflection. So the book is a healthy corrective that highlights how the church needs introverts and extroverts alike to fully be the body God intends it to be. (I've thought for years that every wacky extroverted youth pastor out there needs to partner with introverted youth workers that can connect with the quiet kids who would never open up to the extrovert.) Adam has some fascinating insights into how the introverted mind and temperament work. Neuroscience shows that introverts' brains are wired differently and process information differently. I was particularly interested to learn that introverts tend to need more sleep in order to recover from a full day of interaction.

The book suggests practical ways for introverts to navigate extroverted Christian subcultures and to practice introvert-friendly ways of doing community, spirituality, leadership, evangelism, worship, preaching and more. If you've ever left church early to avoid the coffee fellowship time, this book is for you. If you have ever been frustrated with church culture that seems to equate being more extroverted with being more spiritual, this book is for you. And if you are an extrovert who wants to better understand the introverts in your life or welcome introverts to your church, you must read this book.

It was fun to get some nice endorsements for the book from introverts like Dan Kimball, Don Everts and Lauren Winner, who says, "Introverts, take heart! As an introvert myself--an off-the-chart 'I' on the Myers-Briggs--I find certain aspects of church life, like speaking to other human beings every Sunday, really taxing. McHugh thoughtfully explores the gifts introverts bring to the church, and he considers both how introverts can live well in the church and how churches can be more hospitable to us."

Adam blogs at, and you can become a fan of his book on Facebook here.

Ted Ward, Groundhog Day and cultural impact


As part of my PhD program, I have the opportunity to meet with veteran educator Ted Ward, who played a key role in developing Trinity's PhD programs in educational studies and intercultural studies. Over lunch today, he told our group of doctoral students that back in the 1930s his father was a publicist for the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Many towns in the area also featured groundhogs, but Ward's father helped establish their town as the groundhog capital. The result is what we know today as Groundhog Day.

This was fascinating to me because any of those Pennsylvania towns could have done something with groundhogs, but Ward's father did something intentional to brand their town and create a cultural phenomenon with lasting impact. This seems analogous to Ted Ward's own influence in educating a generation of leaders in missiology and Christian education. Many current professors and church leaders did their doctoral work under Ted, including Compassion International president Wesley Stafford, TEDS president Craig Williford, Wheaton missions prof Evvy Campbell, Biola prof Klaus Issler, and several of my IVP authors, including Duane Elmer, Steve Hoke (coauthor of the recently released Global Mission Handbook) and Jim Plueddemann, whose new book Leading Across Cultures just came in from the printer yesterday.

Every February 2, and every time someone watches the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day, we experience something of the cultural legacy of Ted Ward's father. And every student or reader of Ted Ward's students continues to experience the effects of Ted's educational thinking and influence, even two or three generations afterward. I'm grateful for the chance to learn from Ted and have him speak into my thinking, and I'm challenged to contribute to the shaping of lives in ways that will influence not just the present but also generations to come.

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose


A couple of years ago I read A. J. Jacobs's book The Year of Living Biblically, which I enjoyed but critiqued as being a rather individualistic exercise rather than rooted in actual communities of spiritual practice. Well, I just read a book that follows Jacobs's lead but ups the ante. Kevin Roose, who was a research assistant for Jacobs on Year of Living Biblically, left his liberal Ivy League college to spend a semester at the fundamentalist/evangelical Liberty University, exploring how life is lived and faith is practiced at Jerry Falwell's school. The result is The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. I loved this book. It was a delight to read, laugh-out-loud hilarious at points, poignant and thought-provoking at others. A nominal Quaker who does not self-identify as "born again," Roose is tremendously fair to the folks at Liberty, as he finds himself slowly becoming acculturated to the conservative Christian subculture. He discovers that students at Liberty are not all the religious wingnut stereotypes many outsiders imagine them to be; they're just people, with all of the complexities and foibles that mark the human condition. What's fascinating is that Roose enters into regular rhythms of Christian practice such as prayer, reading Scripture, participating in worship services and sharing in small groups. The result is that he starts to see things from the point of view of his Liberty classmates, so much so that when he visits his secular relatives he feels odd not praying before dinner and wonders if people he sees are saved or not. He becomes far more understanding of Christian belief and even becomes sympathetic to Falwell himself, despite disagreeing strongly with him on many issues. Roose is a model of civility, and his participant-observer exercise in undercover journalism should help believers and unbelievers alike understand each other better. I have been noticing in recent years that most arguments in religion or theology, as well as many attempts in evangelism and witness, go nowhere because people on different sides have different "plausibility structures" that make certain beliefs possible or impossible. In many ways, we are socialized into or out of our beliefs; we find ourselves in communities that support or reject our thinking, and we find new ideas more plausible when we are in subcultures or contexts where such beliefs are the norm. Kevin Roose dared to leave his previous context to immerse himself in a conservative evangelical world that his friends and families thought outrageous and even dangerous. The result was a certain degree of change in belief. It wasn't a dramatic Damascus-road conversion from 1 to 10, but perhaps more of a subtle shift from maybe a 3 to a 5 or 6.I don't consider Liberty or Falwell my particular tribe; I find them to be more conservative than the moderate evangelical circles I usually move in. But Roose's book helped me see the Liberty community as real people and not just caricatures. And Roose himself is honest about his own doubts, objections and questions, giving Christian readers keen insights into how non-evangelicals hear and perceive evangelicals. This would be a great book for Christian and non-Christian friends to read and discuss together.Part of me thinks this book should be made into a movie, though another part of me thinks that a Hollywood treatment would probably ruin the experience. Reading this book was an engrossing, immersive experience, one that evoked memories of my own undergrad years at a conservative Ch[...]

The Urbana experience


This December 27-31 is Urbana 09, InterVarsity's 22nd student missions conference. So right now I'm in the midst of sending a slew of Urbana-related books to the printer and helping to plan things for the onsite bookstore. If you're thinking of attending, registration fees bump up on Oct. 17, so now is a good time to register. Urbana is an amazing, life-changing experience. Below is a testimony I shared with my IVP colleagues in 2003 in anticipation of Urbana 03, reflecting on my experiences at Urbana 93:I went to Urbana 93 as a senior in college, and it was a defining experience in my life. I got scholarships from my InterVarsity chapter, college and church, which combined was enough to cover all the convention fees and travel costs! So I knew God wanted me there.Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry for Monday, Dec. 27, 1993: “The auditorium was packed to the hilt with over 18,000 students singing ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.’ The worship experience brought me to tears. The theme for this year’s Urbana is ‘God So Loves the World,’ with the focus being on God’s extravagant love for us. And wow, I was overwhelmed with a tangible sense of the power of God’s ultimate, infinite love. All of the thousands of us joined hands in prayer for us to know the love of God, for it to be infused into our lives, and for it to empower us to minister to this world. It was just awesome.” And then I note, “Afterward I picked up a packet of books.”The next day I discovered the IVP bookstore. I was already an IVP Book Club member and literature coordinator for my IV chapter, so I already had lots of IVP books. But a whole store of IVP books! And all these bargains and specials and packages! Kid in a candy store. My journal entry from Dec. 28 says, “After lunch I journeyed to the Armory, where exhibits of mission agencies and organizations were set up, and the awesome coolest thing was a huge IVP bookstore with thousands upon thousands of IVP books on dozens of shelves. I was in IVP heaven. I bought over 30 IVP books for $93.50. I just went nuts and hauled back a huge box full of IVP books. It was awesome cool.” And my journal says that I didn’t make it to any seminars that day because I spent all afternoon in the Armory. And that was just the first day. The bookstore was selling the BSTs with the old covers at clearance prices. I bought them all. I bought every bargain book available. And this was the year that the books of the day were these shrink-wrapped packages with four books and a video. I bought every package. You know how they say that Urbana is like drinking from a firehose? In my case, it was a firehose that was spewing IVP books. All the money that the scholarships saved me? It went to IVP.Then there was the convention program itself. Several things hit me during the plenary sessions. First, a tentmaking missionary in China talked about how she had gone to the most isolated village in China. They had gone as far as the train would go, then by car as far as the road would go, then on foot as far as they could go to this totally remote place. When they got to this village, the kids came running up and said, “Americans! Are you Americans? Do you have Coca-Cola?” And they said, “No, we don’t have Coca-Cola. We’re here to tell you about Jesus. Do you know who Jesus is?” They shook their heads and said no, we don’t know who Jesus is. Then the missionary said, we were in the remotest part of the world, and people had heard the name of Coca-Cola, but[...]

Reflections of a Chicago 2016 volunteer


I've loved the Olympics ever since I was a kid. I had a knit cap with the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games logo, and I remember watching the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, especially a closing montage set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." My grandfather lived in LA at the time, and he went to the Olympics and brought me my first Olympic pins and flags and other memorabilia. I've wanted to attend an Olympics ever since. But they've always seemed so geographically and economically out of reach. Until I heard that Chicago was a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Games. A chance to have the Olympics in my metropolitan backyard!So over the last year or so, I've been an occasional volunteer for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. My son and I held up signs and flags in the rain during an IOC evaluation visit and handed out wristbands at pro soccer games. I distributed literature and helped out with some demos of Olympic and Paralympic sports at events. I've been an enthusiastic backer of the bid, even though I'm fully aware of the financial and infrastructure challenges they would likely bring to the region. My sense was that they'd be a mixed bag of pros and cons, but on the whole I felt like it would be a net benefit to the Chicagoland area. I liked volunteering for the 2016 bid in that it got me outside of my usual circles and activities and let me be part of a larger community with a common vision and interest.Like many Chicagoans, I was disappointed with the news this morning that Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting. But that's okay - Chicagoans are used to disappointment, as any Cubs fan will say. On the other hand, I'm thrilled for Rio de Janeiro and for what the decision represents. It's the first time the Olympics will be held in South America. Brazil was the only country of the top ten global economies never to have hosted a Games. This selection seems to be another indicator of the spotlight shifting away from the U.S. and toward the global south. North Americans should get used to this shift. The future of international business, geopolitics and the church is increasingly globalizing. The global south, the BRIC countries, the emerging economies of the world are no longer just potential consumers of Western goods or the objects of North American missionaries; they are subjects in their own right and mutual partners in global commerce and mission.As I wrote in a CT column last year, I love the Olympics for its peaceful international celebration and cooperation, which seems to me a sign of the kingdom of God. Of course, the actual preparations for the Games are fraught with potential problems and injustices, such as the displacement of the poor. Julie Clawson, author of our new book Everyday Justice, blogged a while ago that Chicago may have been less problematic than the other candidate cities and that death squads in Rio may be used to clear out unwanted populations. Here's to hoping that Rio will take the 2016 Games as an opportunity to protect its people and to develop a more just society.And in the meantime, I will recalibrate my own hopes of seeing an Olympics in person someday. Now Vancouver 2010 feels a little closer and doable than London 2012 or Sochi 2014, but still much more difficult to get to than a Chicago Olympics would have been. My wife, who works with Brazilian publishers, would love to go to Rio 2016. We can always dream, but if not, we'll at least get to watch the Games on TV.[...]

William Safire's rules for writing


In memory of William Safire, I'm reposting his famous rules for writing:

  • Remember to never split an infinitive.
  • The passive voice should never be used.
  • Do not put statements in the negative form.
  • Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  • Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  • If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  • A writer must not shift your point of view.
  • And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
  • Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  • Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more, to their antecedents.
  • Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  • If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  • Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  • Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  • Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  • Always pick on the correct idiom.
  • The adverb always follows the verb.
  • Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
  • Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  • Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  • Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  • Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

Kids don't walk because parents drive


Our sons usually take the bus to and from school, but last week my wife and I picked our older son up at the end of the school day for an event. Ellen said that we should get there about ten, fifteen minutes early to get a good place in line; otherwise we'd have to wait a long time to get out. I thought that was odd, but we did, and we were the third car in line. Pretty soon there were several dozen cars lined up behind us, clogging up the parking lot. I said to Ellen, "I don't remember so many parents picking up their kids like this when I was in elementary school. Everybody walked or took the bus."

Well, a recent New York Times article describes how kids no longer walk to school because parents usually drive them. A major factor: fear of abduction, heightened again by the Jaycee Dugard case. As a result, parents sit with their kids in cars at the end of driveways before the bus comes, and parents drive kids to school two blocks away. But those fears seem to be vastly disproportionate. The article reports that about 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, while 250,000 kids are injured in car accidents. Which is the greater danger - walking or driving?

Also: In 1969, 41 percent of children either walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent still did. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose from 20 percent to 55 percent. More than half! No wonder my kids' buses seem so empty.

The result? Kids don't get as much exercise, there's more traffic clogging school areas (with the increased risk of car accidents) and we use way more gas than we used to. Protective parents don't let kids play unsupervised, even in their own neighborhoods. And kids lose out on certain aspects of unstructured, exploratory play.

It seems to have become a cultural expectation that kids should not walk alone. The article mentions a 10-year-old who was walking to soccer practice (about a mile), and people who saw him walking alone called 911. A policeman picked him up, drove him the rest of the way, and reprimanded the mother.

I think this article highlights how much commuter culture has shaped our modern practices. The geography of our neighborhoods, especially in the suburbs, is designed for cars, so our default setting is to drive everywhere. We don't even think of walking anymore. Now it has become a countercultural act to let our kids to walk to school.

Kids and race awareness, and why parents don't talk about it


The cover story of this week's issue of Newsweek is "See Baby Discriminate: Kids as young as 6 months judge others based on skin color. What's a parent to do?" The article highlights that kids are aware of racial differences far earlier than most parents think, and parents generally don't know how to talk about them. Some key points:

- While most parents think of themselves as multicultural and colorblind, their kids pick up on unspoken racial attitudes. When asked "Do your parents like black people?" 14 percent said, "No, my parents don't like black people" and 38 percent said "I don't know."

- Parents avoid talking about race because they don't know what to say and are worried about saying the wrong thing. Parents worry that calling attention to race, even with a positive statement ("It's wonderful that a black person can be president") still encourages a child to see divisions within society.

- In a 2007 study of 17,000 families with kindergartners, nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents; 75 percent of white parents never or almost never talk about race.

- Kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism. Four- and five-year-olds randomly given red and blue T-shirts didn't segregate by behavior, but when asked which color team was better or might win a race, they chose their own color. When Reds were asked how many Reds were nice, they'd answer, "All of us." Asked how many Blues were nice, they'd answer, "Some."

- Three-year-olds shown pictures of other kids were asked to choose whom they'd like to have as friends. 86 percent of white kids picked whites. At ages 5 and 6, the kids were asked to sort cards into two piles however they wanted. Only 16 percent sorted by gender; 68 percent sorted by race.

- Researchers have found that the more diverse the environment, the more kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity, and the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down.

- In junior high and high school, kids in diverse schools experience two completely contrasting situations: many students have a friend of another race, but more kids just like to hang with their own.

- The odds of a white high-schooler in America having a best friend of another race is only 8 percent. 85 percent of black kids' best friends are also black.

- Parents are generally very comfortable talking about gender stereotypes ("Mommies can be doctors just like daddies"), and this can be a model for how parents talk about race.

This article was quite insightful and thought-provoking, and it reminded me of times like when my older son mentioned classmate who was "dark," and I didn't know quite how to explain terminology like "black" or "African American." Because our kids are biracial, we have occasion to talk about ethnic identity and cultural distinctives. When at buffet restaurants with self-serve ice cream machines, we've used the analogy of the twist cone - there's vanilla, there's chocolate, and there's both. It's hard to tell how much they understand or care at this point, but we're working on it.