Why I Don’t Vote Only on the Issue of Abortion

Let me begin by saying that my desire is for every baby conceived to be born healthy.

Growing up and throughout the first half of my twenties, I believed that anti-abortion legislation was the best and only significant way to do accomplish this. I also believed it was my duty as a Christian to advocate for those lives above all others. In the last six or so years, I have changed my mind on both counts. 

First, let’s talk about the effectiveness of anti-abortion legislation.

I want to thank everyone who responded to last week’s post, including those who corrected some of my errors. Your comments encouraged me to research further for this week’s post. One of the things I have learned is that the year before Roe V. Wade was passed, there were over 600,000 legal abortions in the US (not accounting for those performed by unlicensed doctors or attempted by the women themselves). The Supreme Court has had a majority of Republican justices for 49 of the past 50 years, including when Roe was decided, yet Roe has not been overturned during this time. Even if Roe was overturned, it’s estimated that it would only reduce abortions by 14% or so, and there’s no guarantee that even a full bench of Republican justices would ever choose to do this. Now, 14% of abortions is still a lot of lives. But at 14% efficacy, Roe V. Wade is not the lynchpin piece of legislation that both Republicans and Democrats portray it to be, and I also portrayed it to be last week.

Data tells us that fewer abortions are occurring now than at any point since 1973. A combination of factors are responsible, including comprehensive sex education, affordable contraceptives, widespread affordable healthcare, affordable childcare, paid maternity leave, reduced cost of adoptions, and other economic policies. These factors help reduce the number of abortions because women either don’t have an unplanned pregnancy (due to eduction and affordable contraception) or they feel financially and socially supported enough to care for the child they unexpectedly conceived (affordable healthcare and childcare, paid maternity leave). All of these factors help to significantly reduce the number of abortions, no “what ifs” of Supreme Court seats required. Yet most of these factors are not part of conservative platforms, which means a big piece of the puzzle to promoting life is left out of their anti-abortion strategies.

If you’d like to see how such factors reduced the number of abortions in 2 states, watch this clip from Skye Jethani:

Beginning at 7:37

Next, let’s talk about our responsibility to unborn lives.

A few years ago, my aunt and I were talking about the 2016 election over lunch. When I told her who I had voted for, she said “What about abortion?” I told her an abbreviated version of the above, and that I believed the Democratic party does more to reduce the number of abortions through their holistic approach than anti-abortion legislation from the Republican party. She shook her head and said, “I can’t do that. I just feel like God’s going to hold me accountable for all those unborn babies.”

I asked her to clarify: “You personally?” She said yes, then she said, “I believe God is going to hold me accountable for all those little babies who don’t have a voice.”

After a moment, I asked her, “What about the other children who don’t have a voice?” When she didn’t answer me, I said, “What about the children on a schoolbus in Yemen who were killed by a missile purchased from the US? Are you responsible for their deaths?”

She shook her head, bewildered. “I haven’t heard about that,” she said.

“Whether or not you’ve heard of it, your voting choices led to their deaths at least as directly as to the abortion of a fetus,” I said. “What about the children being kept in cages, separated from their parents, and not provided clean diapers or regular food or vaccinations? Some of them have died, and others are so traumatized that they don’t recognize their parents when they’re returned to them—are you responsible for that? They don’t have a voice, and neither do their parents because they’re in cages too.”

“Cages?” she asked, looking at me again.

“Yes,” I answered. “Cages. It’s been all over the news.” When she didn’t react, I said, “There was a little girl who was shot in the head by police officers while she was asleep on the couch in her living room. And Sandy Hook was full of children who were murdered in their classrooms. Do you believe God is going to hold you personally accountable for their deaths?”

After a minute, my aunt, a little lost sounding, said, “I haven’t thought about that.” She considered a few seconds longer, then repeated, “I’ve never thought about that.”

Maybe you haven’t either. 

Growing up, I was taught in my church that abortion is so heinous that is supersedes all other issues, which means that there was only one Christlike way to vote: for conservative candidates (Republicans) who support anti-abortion legislation. Also while I was growing up, I asked God to break my heart for what breaks God’s heart. In the years since I asked that of God, I have learned that yes, abortion breaks God’s heart, but much more breaks God’s heart than abortion alone. Many more people suffer and die than unborn children. So why would I vote as if those are the only lives God cares about? 

I’m not saying that we Christians as a whole or individually are not responsible for those unborn children who might be aborted in a clinic that remains open because of how we vote. I’m saying there are many other effective avenues for keeping a child from being aborted—more effective than what overturning Roe V. Wade (as uncertain as that possibility is) would maybe accomplish. I’m also saying that we are responsible for many other children’s deaths and traumas, too. I voted for Obama in 2012, and so I am responsible for the families harmed by the forced separation policy he enacted among immigrants. The cages and neglect, however, are new.

We as the Christian community in the United States are responsible for the children who will never be born because their mothers were forcibly sterilized while detained. We’re responsible for the children whose records were erased and their parents can no longer be found. We responsible for the children poisoned by the water in their taps. We’re responsible for the children in NYC who have lost a parent to COVID-19 (there are now more of them than there were who lost a parent on 9/11). We’re responsible for the children who have died in mass shootings. We’re responsible for children who face wildfires and rising oceans and food scarcity. 

Let’s recap. A single issue vote is intended to help elect a Republican president who may have the opportunity to appoint Supreme Court Justices, who might have a case come up which challenges Roe, and who may eventually be part of a majority that chooses to go against SCOTUS’s previous ruling to overturn Roe. As controversial as the law is, it has been federal law for 50 years. That’s a lot of “ifs” required to justify a vote based on the single issue of anti-abortion legislation. Meanwhile, a lot more can be done immediately to reduce the number of abortions through widespread access to healthcare, comprehensive sex education, and community support for crisis pregnancy centers and domestic violence shelters. Additionally, many more lives are at stake than the unborn who might be aborted. A lot more people are voiceless than just those children.

If you, like my aunt, have never considered how far your responsibility to love your neighbor as yourself reaches—how many lives you bear responsibility for—I hope you will before Nov. 3.

Is your choice the best and wisest choice to promote life, mercy, and justice, and to act out your love for God and for others? If you believe the answer is yes, go with God and vote in that way. But please, don’t cast your vote based on only one issue, on only one set of lives possibly being affected out of all those who are at risk.

What Amy Coney Barrett Would Mean for the Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett claims to be a Constitutional Originalist, which she explained as meaning she believes the Constitution should be legally interpreted in the way that the writers of the Constitution originally intended. 

For the sake of time, let’s acknowledge but not explore the fact that language and its usage changes over time, and Barrett is not a linguist or historian who focuses on late 18th century legal or political documents or language evolution. Let’s also not get into the fact that the writers of the Constitution designed it for the country they were building, not the country they could never imagine which exists now, over 250 years later. And, of course, we don’t have time to get into how many of these contributors owned slaves, even their own Black children. 

Let’s also not dwell on the well-documented hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers pushing Barrett’s nomination hearing through mere weeks before the election, despite refusing one for Merrick Garland over 200 days before the 2016 election. Or the dangers of holding these hearings when multiple committee members have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and there is little ventilation and no COVID tests on the premises.

Now then.

Barrett’s Originalist stance means that anyone who isn’t a white male who owns land should not be allowed to vote. Indeed, most of the Bill of Rights don’t apply to anyone outside of this group. It also means that Barrett believes that she herself, as a woman, should not have the right to vote. One would assume that, believing she shouldn’t have that right, she does not exercise it. Also, in 1789 women could not be judges. Therefore Barrett is living in violation of her Originalist beliefs by serving as a federal judge now. She certainly would be in violation of these by becoming a Supreme Court justice. And yet she has not refused the nomination.

It’s baffling that Barrett wants to uphold the strictest possible interpretation of the Constitution despite all the ways doing so would destroy her career.

Although, her behavior during the nomination hearing over the past three days does suggest to me that she must not want the position particularly badly. She certainly doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously. 

Let’s remember, Barrett has been nominated by the president, but it is up the Congress to decide if she is fit to serve in that position. It is the job of the Congressional Judiciary Committee to learn how she would perform in that role and if she is qualified to take it. It’s a job interview.

So why is Barrett repeatedly refusing to answer the committee members’ questions? And why does she say it would “not be appropriate” to speculate on the hypothetical legal situations they propose? Every first year law student must speculate in exactly this manner to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in applying the law to real-life situations. By refusing to speculate, Barrett is refusing to demonstrate proficiency. Law students cannot practice law or be invited to return for a second year of law school without doing so. She must be aware of this universal requirement of law students, as she herself has been a law professor at Notre Dame, which didn’t accept female students until 1972.

Barrett has been nominated to help interpret laws in the highest court in the country. She’s supposed to be doing so now as a federal judge, a position she was appointed to a scant 3 years ago, and not without complaints of misconduct from her colleagues. These hypotheticals are entirely reasonable and it’s wild that she’s just…refusing to answer. Repeatedly. If I refused to answer questions during a job interview, I wouldn’t expect to get that job. So I wonder why Barrett has bothered to show up at all. 

Someone said to me recently that they don’t actually care if Justice Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, so long as he votes on the Supreme Court in the conservative manner they want, primarily about abortion. Kavanaugh’s doing so, in their mind, will justify their voting for Trump in 2016 because of abortion, though they were deeply upset to vote that way at the time.

I have neither the time nor the energy to get into why breaking a law by assaulting another person should disqualify someone for the upholding of and interpretation of this country’s laws. Nor do I have space in this blog to discuss why doubling down on a damaging decision just to make yourself feel better is a terrible stance.

But let’s say that’s your stance too—if not about Kavanaugh then about Barrett. So long as she votes in the way you desire, against abortion for example, you don’t care if she refuses to answer questions during the hearing or claims beliefs that she clearly doesn’t live by.

What would a repeal of Roe V. Wade actually do?

As Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote, wealthy women will always have a choice regarding abortion. They can pay for the plane tickets required to get them to a state of country where abortion is legal. Poor women, marginalized women will not have that choice. And that isn’t fair.

But let’s say you don’t care that it isn’t fair. You feel completely confident that you would never, under any circumstances seek an abortion for yourself or your spouse. However, you cannot guarantee that no one you love will not suffer a miscarriage. 

One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s the reality. 

Imagine yourself, or your spouse or daughter or best friend, has just suffered a miscarriage. Perhaps this has really happened to you or a loved one before.

You have just endured a miscarriage. Perhaps you have had to go to the hospital for treatment because of it. But if both you and your family don’t perform grief enough, you could be accused of actually having had an abortion. And as that would be illegal with Roe V. Wade repealed, you could be arrested for it. Even if you aren’t convicted, you would be stripped from your family at a physically and emotionally devastating time and locked behind bars. Your family would be forced to scrape together enough cash for you to post bail. You would probably lose your job if your family couldn’t post bail within a day or two. And whether you are forced to stay in jail or not, it isn’t as though you will receive great physical or any mental health care during that time, the medical effects of which could last years.

If you think, “Oh that wouldn’t happen. No one would do that,” it’s happened already. 

It’s the ongoing reality for women in El Salvador

Brian Kemp’s 2019 “heartbeat bill” here in Georgia could put a woman in jail for up to 30 years for having a miscarriage.

And you know about Marshae Jones, don’t you? She was shot in the stomach, lost her unborn baby, and was charged with manslaughter. Her bond was $50,000. Most of us don’t have $50,000 laying around.

Marshae Jones didn’t shoot herself in the stomach, but she was charged as if she did. And if manslaughter is the charge with Roe v. Wade in place, what if it’s repealed?

What if a woman who doesn’t know she’s pregnant has a glass of wine, then suffers a miscarriage? Even if someone could find a doctor who’d testify that that glass of wine resulted in the miscarriage, should that accident result in prosecution? What if a woman doesn’t go to the doctor as soon as she learns she might be pregnant, and later has a miscarriage? She could be charged with reckless endangerment or manslaughter for not seeking prenatal care as soon as someone on a bench or behind a badge thinks she should. 

No one of childbearing years would be safe in a repeal of Roe V. Wade. But that’s what’s at stake with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. She may refuse to speculate on hypotheticals, but it is entirely reasonable, even necessary for you and I to do so.

There is another possibility for why Barrett may be refusing to answer questions or go one record regarding how she would rule in certain instances. She doesn’t think she has to. She may have been assured that so long as she doesn’t go on record against Roe V. Wade or the Affordable Care Act (which yes, people still want repealed even during a pandemic), she will still be confirmed. If this is the case, these hearings are shams, a going through of the motions before the GOP pushes through whoever the president has nominated. If that’s the case, the game is rigged. That’s court packing. That’s a challenge to the prestige and power of the Supreme Court and ultimately a threat to our democracy because of the ways in which SCOTUS is designed to check and balance the power of the other two branches of government.

Maybe the game is rigged. Maybe she’ll be confirmed no matter what. But we can’t let her nomination move forward in silence. Hers or ours.

My Wedding Anniversary and the Election

I’m looking at two big anniversaries. The first is my 2nd wedding anniversary, which is today. I’m considering how much our lives have changed in these two years, how the world has changed, and how much better Tyler and I know each other and love each other now than we did on our wedding day. 

Tonight, we plan to order takeout. Something nice like steak. And I’ll join my friend Claire’s Zoom book launch (for Lightbringer) for an hour, and then I’ll sit with Tyler and watch Atlanta play the Dodgers to try to reach the World Series. It isn’t the trip to Europe we’d hoped for, or a trip to the coast to see my family. It isn’t anything we could have anticipated two years ago on the beautiful day we hosted a big party and got married. And, thankfully, nothing happening today can take away that beautiful day.

The second is the election. I consider it an anniversary because four years ago, I was deeply anxious, waiting and wondering. And those of you who know me or have done a deep dive into my blog know that the results of the election sparked two months of the most intense and prolonged depression I’ve ever experienced. And at the end of that, when I started having some good days again after the new year, I reconnected with Tyler, and we started dating, and it was soon clear to each of us that we were going to get married. We dated for a little over a year before becoming engaged. We were engaged from March-October of 2018. And it’s been such a blessing and also so weird that I’ve experienced such immense personal joy alongside such immense pain in our country, such frustration and anxiety, both as a result of the president’s incompetence and in the GOP’s decision to roll over to all his whims, as well as to double down on behavior that would have been unthinkable prior to this administration.

I’ve learned so much in these years, particularly through conversations with friends and by listening to people share their stories and perspectives, especially on Twitter. 

NaNo is approaching, but for the first time since 2015, I’m not interested in participating. I’d like to keep up my streak, sure, and I have several in-progress drafts of books on my hard drive, and I’d like to finish one of them. But I feel no urgency to do so. 

Maybe it’s the pandemic. I lay awake a few nights ago, telling God how helpless I feel that so many are dying or dead or forever compromised in their health but I’m expected to attend baby dedications and weddings and go traveling. “You can wear a mask if you want,” they say. But I saw what the pastor posted about masks—lies so egregious that Facebook took the post down. I know most people won’t be wearing them because of the culture among those people. I know how unsafe that makes me, even if I’m wearing a mask.

Maybe it’s looking down the barrel of this election, surrounded by reckless disregard for others’ health interspersed with temper tantrums. I see the definition of court packing: refusing to approve 100 judicial nominations by Obama months ahead of the 2016 election but trying to shove through SCOTUS and federal judicial nominations mere days before this election. And I see the unconstitutional threats being shrugged off. 

Maybe these 4 years are just getting to me. 

I can’t make you recognize the insidious creep of fascism. I can’t make you see the pure evil of this administration. I can’t make you realize that people having to wait 11 hours to vote is voter suppression, and unheard of elsewhere in the world. I can’t make you believe that the planet is dying, that this year of wildfires and hurricanes may be the most stable of the next 100 years.

I can’t make you care about other people as much as you care about yourself, though that is God’s command. I can’t even convince you to act in your own best interest by voting for Biden, who takes suffering seriously, and who apologizes, and who is capable of doing this job, and who isn’t motivated by greed alone.

Writing is so hard right now. And feels useless. And takes brain power I have to put into my work and my advocacy. I don’t want to write 50,000 words this year, not when the world is on fire and there’s only more fire to come. I’d rather crochet some more cute animals and make some decorations for Christmas (I delved deeply into pumpkins during September and I regret nothing). 

Work has calmed down some for now, as have freelance work. The weird friend situation from a few months ago is more up in the air than I had wanted. I deeply appreciate everyone’s support and gentle advice and encouragement when I shared about it. I feel far less confused, and I need strong boundaries to keep it that way. Boundaries that also take energy to maintain. She’s trying to guilt me into expend extraordinary energy into convincing her that she’s wrong. She thinks she’s owed that because we’re friends. Or we were.

Do I want to keep writing books? Do I want to keep writing for this blog? I don’t know. This blog meant so much to me over the years, but I’m not afraid of it ending either. All things end eventually. It’s tempting to burrow and let my creativity renew itself, then let it push out in a new direction, no matter what this election will bring, and no matter what evils will be forced upon us in its aftermath. 

Crocheting something other than a scarf is already a stretch for me, and I’m enjoying it. I need to enjoy something. I need to fight despair so I can fight fascism and injustice and racism and the evils of selfishness. 

After a Few Weeks Off

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been taking a break from the blog. I didn’t announce this. I didn’t really even plan on it. I decided to take a week off of all social media, which was incredibly good for my brain, only getting on to share that week’s blog post. Then I decided to give myself a week off from the blog while still keeping my doomscrolling in check. And another week passed without my noticing. 

I kept writing down blog ideas on post-it notes, but I felt no urgency to write about them. I was very busy at work, writing freelance after work, and when I was done with all of that I didn’t want to write. With the boiling pot of the news, I didn’t think anyone would notice if I took a few weeks off. I read voraciously for a few weeks, and for the last couple of weeks I have crocheted voraciously. 

I’ve also been reconsidering, as I do periodically, the social media platforms I’m on and why I’m there. I’ve asked myself both what do I get out of that platform and what I’m contributing to it. I haven’t made any major decisions related to them, but I have decided to prioritize my mental health in two specific ways. 

1. Get Outside / Exercise
The weather is finally shy of abysmally hot and the past two weeks, I’ve spent significant time outside more days than not. And I feel good. And I want to be in the habit of those walks with Tyler, and my walks on days when he runs, when the weather grows colder and I don’t want to go out. I also want to be back in the habit of using my rowing machine.

2. Strict Social Media Boundaries 
I was pretty good of not getting on social media or checking for news until after breakfast, but the evenings were when I’d find myself doomscrolling, unable to look away as the constant cycle and the terrible on terrible events and news and theories went on and on. With Tyler’s encouragement, I started putting my phone away at least an hour before bed and kept my hands busy to spend less time on it during the weekends.

The ongoing pandemic, the coming election, and the coming of winter all herald warnings for my mental health. I wrote about it earlier this year, and it’s not as though 2020 has let up since then. 

I hope your brain is as healthy as it can be, and that you have found a few ways to take better care of yourself this year.

Padding the Point

When I was a senior in college, I was chosen for an abbreviated study abroad trip to Egypt for two weeks to study politics. While there, we visited an area of Cairo known as Garbage City, populated primarily by Christians. All of Cairo’s garbage comes to this neighborhood, and the residents recycle something like 98% of it. We went to a factory which employs women to wash cloth, make paper, and sew products. In the gift shop, I bought a box of blank cards made of recycled paper, each decorated with embroidery of daily life. Women carrying bundles on their heads, jumping fish, trees, camels, swooping birds. 

I believe I started with a set of 12, and I have 3 left. I gave card to my brother-in-law this year for Father’s Day, as I believed he would appreciate this connection to Christians a world away. I gave a card to my boss one year for Boss Appreciation Day. When he commented that he wished he could use the card again, it was so lovely, I made a note for myself and gave him two cards the next year, one with my thanks for his work as my supervisor and one blank for him to use as he wished. I’m not sure what happened to the others. I remember designs that are no longer in the box and I hope they blessed the person who received them. I kind of wish I’d kept a list.

I do remember the first person I gave one of these cards to. You know when you feel like you should really like a person, but somehow you just don’t? There’s nothing wrong. They’ve never been in any way hurtful to you. Everyone likes them, gets along with them. Even so, something about them doesn’t sit easily with you. Something about their presence, and how you feel in their presence, makes you shy away from instead of embrace their company. I had one such person in college. I didn’t want to be a jerk, so I did my utmost to like them. And sometimes it went fine. And sometimes I felt that all-over itch I couldn’t explain and ghosted for a while.

It was her birthday, and a very good friend of mine was best friends with this person, so my friend roped me into a joint birthday gift. She had the ideas and most of the execution, so I only had to offer polite opinions and pay for half. Then we went back to my apartment to wrap it. But we needed a card (or maybe just I did). I didn’t have any on hand, so I ran to my bedroom and found this box from Egypt, still wrapped in it’s crinkly clear plastic bag. I picked out a card of two women walking with bundles on their heads. It was one I liked, one I felt she would like. Still, this card was precious to me, and the first one I’d give away, so I felt a morsel of ungenerous unease at parting with it to her.  

I gave it anyway. I knew that morsel didn’t have a point, or a reason. This card might have even been an attempt to make up for the feelings I didn’t have for her, but felt certain I should. 

I filled the card with the story of its creation, since that was largely why the card was precious. However, I also didn’t want it to look like I didn’t know what to say to her other than Happy Birthday, not to her and not to her best friend sitting on the other side of the coffee table from me. 

Happy Birthday was all I knew to say. That was the point. But it needed padding. And I really did want her to have a good day. And, as I remember, she really did. And she was so effusive about the card that I became more generous with opening my hand to give them away.

I’ve been thinking about times when I haven’t known what to say, or how. Last week I drove to work numbering my points for an email I’d have to send when I arrived. I replayed an old conversation in my head while working in the yard, trying to come up with a better outcome. Lately, I’ve been talking myself through a conversation I’ve yet to have, wondering if it’s really best to have it at all. I’m wondering if there’s a good way it can go, wondering how I can keep to my convictions if the other person reacts badly. 

I don’t think a pretty card and a story will help in this case. But my point definitely needs padding.

Comets

For a couple more nights, the comet NEOWISE will be visible in the hours just after sunset, near the horizon to the northwest. This comet with only discovered in March, and won’t cross paths with the earth again for something like 6500 years. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for sure.

The last comet this bright to pass by the earth was the Halle-Bop comet in 1997. I remember it. I learned about it in school, and I loved astronomy. I asked my mom if she could wake me up that night so I could see it. She wasn’t happy about it. But she did it. 

I don’t remember her waking me. I remember stuffing my pajamas bottoms into my boots, pulling on a sweater, and following my mom out the side door and into the back yard. I don’t know if we carried a flashlight. We didn’t need one. The moon was bright, the ground was grey, and the sky was milky. I shivered as she brought me to the place where the tall trees along the embankment parted and we looked up at the fuzzy grey ball that I’d never seen before. I couldn’t see a tail. It looked a lot like a smudge on a photograph. 

I spent a lot of time stargazing in those days. Not that late at night, of course. But in the summers, my dad would take my brother and I out in our 12’ aluminum john boat to watch the phosphorus jump in our wake and to zoom under the stars. Those were some of my favorite times of my childhood. I’d tilt my head back and count the stars, teach myself their patterns even when I couldn’t figure out how to apply the constellation maps I’d looked up to what I was seeing. Orion was my friend, and my means of orienting myself to every other constellation I could manage. And this grey smudge was unlike anything I’d seen. It was unique. It was bright. It was a little disappointing. No bright tail, and smaller than I’d expected. And I was only going to see it once, maybe just this once in my whole life. 

And Mom had woken herself up at something like 3am in order to bring my outside to see it, and that made it brilliant, even if nothing else did. And I remember it. 

So thanks, Mom.

I’ve been sneaking looks out the window for NEOWISE for over a week. I’ve been in the yard and the driveway. One night about 10 o’clock, Tyler and I drove all over our neighborhood, looking for a high enough hill, a clear enough angle, where the street and house lights or the distant glow of a town didn’t obscure our view. I’ve been trying to figure out a way, another spot in town, but I haven’t managed to come up with one so far. Not when the comet is this close to the horizon.

I’m going to keep trying, but in case I don’t manage to see this comet, now or ever in my lifetime, I hope that you can. 

Possible COVID Exposure

I may have been exposed to COVID-19 on Friday.

The chances are rather low. The person I interacted with showed symptoms over the weekend, but on Monday she tested negative and her husband tested positive. She may not have had enough of the virus in her system yet to register, or the test was a false negative (possible 20% of the time). Or she may not have it. She’s quarantined at home with her husband regardless. 

We didn’t get closer than 6 feet. We only talked for a few minutes, but I was in the area of her office for longer. She isn’t allowed to keep her office door shut. I was wearing a mask, but she wasn’t.

(Wear a mask. They are 97% effective at keeping what you have to yourself, even if you don’t feel sick. They are only 30% effective at keeping you from getting what’s in the air. So if you both are wearing masks, you’re both 97% protected.) 

Like everyone who knows they might have been exposed, my normal health hiccups are palled by this sinister possibility. Perhaps the allergies that kept me from sleeping well Saturday night, and which have had me periodically sneezing ever since, aren’t allergies. Maybe Tyler’s stomach issues last night aren’t just a one-off incident. Maybe my slightly dry throat is the start of a dry cough. Maybe that headache on Saturday and the one on Monday weren’t just my normal headaches. Maybe they’re the portent of danger multiplying in my lungs. 

So far the person who I had contact with has very mild symptoms. Her husband’s are worse, but still mild. 

It’s hard waiting for the other shoe to drop—if it drops—when the results are going to be so devastating. 

An author I follow on Twitter recently shared the advice of her pediatrician, who said that if your children go back to school in-person, you have to accept that at some point they will come home with it. Not everyone has the option of keeping their kids at home. But this will absolutely contribute to the rapidly increasing numbers of new cases. ICU’s will be overwhelmed. And it will be more dangerous than ever to go out. If everyone—everyone—isn’t wearing a mask at all times.

Though I work at a publishing company, I’m not allowed to work from home while quarantining. To quarantine, I have to take 2 weeks of sick time, and since the person I was exposed to is a coworker, most of the people in the building would have to quarantine to be safe. Which we aren’t allowed to do. And if I take two weeks of sick time now, and don’t have COVID, that’s two weeks of sick time I can’t take the next time I need to quarantine, perhaps when the threat is greater.

It’s hard but necessary not to fixate. I oscillate between wanting to enjoy feeling well and normal in case it doesn’t last, and wanting to treat myself and Tyler with kid gloves, also in case it doesn’t last. I oscillate between not thinking about it at all and being hyperaware of the way my lungs feel, swallowing, an itch on my face I’m trying not to touch. There’s nothing else to do, really. I’ve already canceled our plans to run errands this weekend (before school starts back), and we already wear masks everywhere outside of our home. Either I have it and it’s yet to surface, or I don’t and it isn’t. 

I could get tested, and I’m still considering it. However, I’m not considered high risk. I had less contact with my coworker than others in this building. They aren’t showing symptoms and aren’t worried, and my doctor isn’t worried either. Unless I show symptoms that aren’t normal for me (not headaches or possible allergies), I’m to wait.

Perhaps she didn’t get it until after work on Friday. Perhaps she doesn’t have it at all.

I hope she doesn’t, and doesn’t get it. 

I hope her husband has an incredibly mild case. 

I hope there is no other shoe to drop. (This time.)

2020 Books, Part 1

Well, we’re half-way through 2020 and this year has really sucked. Tyler and I are struggling with not having big things to look forward to, the very slow introduction of our new cat Titus to our current cat Tara, and the weight of disappointment. 

We’re only a handful of people who are wearing masks when in public, despite huge jumps in confirmed cases. Protests are being swept under the rug and are still being met with brutality. The president rewarded Russia for putting bounties on US soldiers, and yet he’s still president. Even last week’s waffles turned out pretty badly. We miss our families, especially mine, who we haven’t seen since February. 

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we’re anticipating more likely disappointment. Between the election, my birthday, Thanksgiving, and flu season, November will be especially rough.

One thing that’s been going well for me personally so far this year is my goal to read at least as many books by authors who are diverse in some way as those who are not. I’ve read 66 books so far, and 33 have been by diverse authors.  

Here are some of my favorite books from the first half of 2020.

Here are some books I’m looking forward to reading in the rest of 2020.

Jesus Isn’t White

Before I get started, thank you all so much for reading last week’s post and providing such encouraging feedback. I feel a lot calmer and more sure of what I need to do about that relationship. However, I don’t have any updates I’m comfortable sharing right now. Thank you for clicking on this post and being willing to let me talk about something else this week.

A Facebook friend recently posed the following questions for her followers, largely White people like me, to consider: 

What kind of impact does depicting Jesus as a white man have on those who are not white? 
What harmful narrative is being upheld by depicting Jesus as white?

A lot of people who commented responded in one of two ways. First, they admitted that they think of Jesus as White, but don’t think that matters. Artists all over the world can depict Jesus as looking like them, however they look. Second, people said they always assumed that Jesus should be depicted as White because the Jewish people they know look White to them. I want to respond to both of these ideas, but first, I want to break down how Whiteness is perceived and used in the US.

First, let’s acknowledge that race is a social construct. It is a made-up label. It has no biological basis. White and Black are words people use to describe others and themselves, but they are made up. They have been assigned significant and complex meaning, but they are not real in the sense that they are not objective. Race isn’t biology. So it’s perfectly understandable if a person chooses to not use any of these made-up race labels, and thus to avoid those assigned meanings. But that’s a different blog post.

I recently read an explanation of Whiteness in the US that goes like this (paraphrased from Robert Nash’s book Moving the Equator: The Families of the Earth and the Mission of the Church). When Europeans first began coming to what would become the US, they categorized people in two ways: White and Indigenous. White meant free. Indigenous meant eradicate. This wasn’t universally true in every instance, but it was the shorthand White people developed and governed themselves on the assumption of. After 1619, there was a third category: Black, meaning enslaved. In time, White people had eradicated Indigenous people so thoroughly that they dropped off as a category (though they of course still exist) and there were only two categories: White meaning free and Black meaning enslaved. The assumption was enslavement even in the north, and White people terrorized Black communities for decades as a result (Indigo by Beverly Jenkins depicts this period well). 

Though enslavement is not technically true for Black people in this country anymore, we White people have kept to this shorthand. It was apparent in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, for example. We know he was innocent of any crimes, certainly any that would have warranted him being shot in the back by two random men. Those two White men were acting as though they had total authority over him, authority to question his behavior, to judge it unsuitable, to follow him, and then to murder him. I heard Rev. Starlette Thomas describe it on a podcast as those two White men were acting like they were “still on the plantation.” They were acting off of this old binary idea that Ahmaud is Black, therefore he isn’t free. They were acting like Black = enslaved. They were acting like plantation overseers and slave catchers.

Perhaps most insidiously, we White people have forced other races who have come here (or have been brought here in the case of Chinese railroad workers, for example) to prove themselves “not Black” in order to be considered free, contributing to anti-Blackness around the world. The existence of this binary is why Columbus has such a large role in our culture’s mythos and a holiday dedicated to him. Italian immigrants in the early 1900s were facing horrible discrimination and were trying to prove they belonged here, so they popularized this story about the Italian founder of the continent. This effort to prove Whiteness was apparent recently when Asian Americans were facing racism as the coronavirus began spreading in the US. Articles encouraged Asian Americans to present themselves as professionals, always prepared and dressed nicely, to try to combat this racism. This amounted to a demand that Asian and Asian Americans prove their Whiteness in order to not face racism, to be treated as free. It wasn’t considered enough for them to just exist, and it wasn’t enough to expect White people not to discriminate against them.

Jesus was Jewish. But we shouldn’t base our assumptions of Jesus’ physical appearance on what many Jewish people in the US look like today. It’s an understandable tendency but it ignores about 2000 years of Jewish history as well as our tendency to see people in a binary of White and Black (or White and not-White). Most Jewish people we encounter daily, who are our neighbors and coworkers and classmates, are descended from people who lived for centuries in Eastern Europe, Northwestern Europe, and Russia. And regardless of how White many Jewish people look to our biased eyes, that assignment of Whiteness is conditional. Jewish people face racism and xenophobia in xenophobic jokes from the president as well as internet mobs about public figures, and in such events as the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a white supremacists. It’s very hard for Jewish people who don’t look White to be accepted even in Jewish circles, and all Jewish people (from what I understand) remain aware and wary of how conditional that acceptance from White Western culture is. 

Remember the St. Louis: Nearly a thousand Jewish people, including families with young children, fled from anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany aboard the ship the St. Louis. But when they arrived in New York City, they were not allowed to disembark. The US was unwilling to accept them as religious refugees, and neither was any other country. Eventually, they were forced to return to Germany and most passengers were murdered in the Holocaust. This same anti-Semitic reticence to welcome Jewish people into Western countries led to Western backing for the creation of the state of Israel. 

We can’t know for sure what a Jewish man living in Palestine actually looked like in the first century, though there are a number of brown skinned, black-haired guesses. We as White Christians cannot know how painful it must be to see so many depictions of Jesus as White, blonde haired and blue eyed. How many depictions? Is it really that ubiquitous? Well, I have two questions for you.

(1) How many of you grew up seeing the below photo of Jesus in your church, or even your home? 

There’s a great article in the Washington Post about how this painting became a 1940’s Protestant advertisement and spread the image of Jesus as White around the world.

(2) How many of you have a nativity set that doesn’t depict the Holy Family as White? 

It can’t be many of you because I had the darnedest time finding one for Tyler’s and my first Christmas together. And what I often did find was a base with anglican features and bone structure and hair texture, painted over in blacks and browns.

A peach-colored crayon is not the only definition of “flesh.” And it is despicable that for 100 years, the only products Band-Aid made were shaded for White skin. That ended this month.

You may feel that what Jesus looked like while on earth has no effect on your belief and trust in him. Let’s assume you’re totally right. But how we as people portray him definitely does matter. It matters because our White Western culture is dominant and held up as the ideal (or at least influencing others’ ideals) all over the world. In Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime, he says his grandmother always wanted him to pray aloud because he could do so in English. To her, it was perfectly obvious that Jesus was White and spoke English, so a prayer in English must be more powerful. Read Noah’s full explanation below. 

If every culture simply represents Jesus as looking like them, as I’ve heard argued, we wouldn’t have beautiful black grandmothers in South Africa believing both that Jesus answers White people’s prayers in English first.

How we portray Jesus also matters because to depict Jesus as White is to depict a man born of an oppressed people as looking the way his people’s oppressors look. (The White women screaming in stores for being asked to wear a mask may think they’re being oppressed, but they aren’t. Inconvenience is not oppression.) For much of the world, White Western people have been the oppressors, the colonizers and invaders and economic overlords. So regardless of what Jesus may have looked like, we shouldn’t portray him the way we portray oppressive individuals or oppressive groups. That doesn’t represent Jesus’s humanity, family, mission, or values. In fact, that contradicts Jesus’ message of radical love and sacrifice for God and others.

An Unsafe Place

I resisted joining Instagram for a long time. I was firmly entrenched on Twitter, barely active on Facebook (you may have noticed), and eventually I found myself wanting an escape, somewhere I go to scroll and take in beauty and cute photos, things that inspire me. It’s a luxury and a privilege to expect such a place, and I haven’t been able to maintain it in the way I’d hoped.

My first posts were what I considered to be artistic: a section of my favorite dress, a plate on display in the house where I was babysitting, the light falling across the floor. In time I shared pictures of my roommate’s dog. Eventually I seemed to only be sharing photos and short videos of my cat. And they made me happy. Twitter felt chaotic and every time I logged on I was confronted with important but deeply painful videos and news. So I spent my “wind down” time on IG. I followed artists and crocheters and bakeries. I shared others’ art occasionally. I started having more conversations with people in their DM’s about what they’d posted. Again, the subjects were usually cat photos, and this place remained safe and uncomplicated for me. 

Someone followed me on IG who I had had a conflict with. His wife and I worked it out by phone, but she’d let slip that at some point her husband had felt some kind of attraction toward me, which is why he’d reacted the way he had, and why these new rules for communication they were implementing only applied to me. Despite several attempts, I was never comfortable around him again, and my husband and I decided to withdraw from him, and necessarily from his wife too. I didn’t respond when he would message me on Facebook or comment on my Instagram posts, which for a while was weekly. One day, he commented on a picture of my cat on Instagram, asking whose side of the bed the cat was laying on. From anyone else, that question would have been weird, and I probably wouldn’t have answered it, but from him it made me very uncomfortable. 

I shared a screen shot of it with Tyler, and he also found it very weird, which confirmed that I wasn’t just extra sensitive because this person was the one asking. But it was this person, and I was no longer comfortable simply ignoring him. I was no longer comfortable knowing he could see what I posted—anything that I posted. This was my platform, and I had the right to use it as I wished and to try to keep myself safe on it. So I used security features to limit what he could see of my IG posts and made him unable to contact me through that app. I set a reminder for myself, and two weeks later I unfriended him on Facebook and blocked him on Instagram altogether. I didn’t want it to look like I was responding to that comment, but I was. I didn’t want him to notice when I cut all contact with him. I dreaded getting a new message or text from him or his wife. But I didn’t. In time, I felt comfortable there again.

Eventually, I became freer about the number of cat videos, and also the depth in which I engaged on IG. There were also lots of cats to discuss. An old friend who I hadn’t spoken to in years commented on a photo of a book cover, thanking me for the recommendation. An acquaintance from years ago started liking my posts regularly and checked in with me when the pandemic reached the US. It’s one of the ways I checked in with friends, too, especially those who live alone in other cities. Recently, I started sharing social justice resources and  quotes in my stories. 

On Blackout Tuesday, a friend responded to a Black author’s post, which I’d shared on my IG stories. She wasn’t the only one who contacted me about that post, but this conversation became the only conversation. Over the course of the next several days, it grew dicey, strained, accusatory. I felt dumped upon and judged. I felt taken advantage of. I felt confused and bewildered by her accusations and insistence that she has another opinion without actually telling me what that opinion is. I listened to her share those opinions in a bewildering and draining 3-hour-long phone call. Scrolling through Instagram afterward, I was now aware that this person was watching me, watching what I posted, and my safe place no longer felt safe.

I continued to post about social justice in the way I had before, interspersed with quite a few cat pictures and videos. I was reading more than usual, news was more pervasive and insidious, so there was an uptick in the heavy content I was sharing. But before I posted anything, I analyzed why I was doing it. Was I trying to share my feelings, to put knowledge and my emotions about it out in the world, or was I hoping one person in particular would see it? I felt her presence on all my social media, since she follows me everywhere, but I told myself I was overreacting. She wasn’t paying special attention. It was silly and paranoid and maybe self-centered of me to think so. I was careful to carry on with clear motives, not to direct anything at her. I figured everything would be weird for a while, but eventually it’d relax some. And maybe once it was safe to meet up, we could have an actual conversation about this. 

Late one night, I posted photos of several pages from Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi, including two about the racist “Southern strategy” that helped elect Nixon. I highlighted sections of the page. In the same color I’d used to highlight about Nixon, I wrote “Bastards.” I questioned for a moment whether I should include the s. I didn’t want to call everyone who voted for him a bastard. The campaign had used decades of prejudice and racism to fool many voters. This strategy is employed now as well, and I know I was fooled by it while growing up and in my early twenties. Seeing it explained on that page filled me with anger and embarrassment. I’d believed an old lie, engineered to fool me, and it had worked. Lots of people were responsible for that, and for the election of Nixon and Reagan and the racist policies they enacted. The s on bastards felt appropriate. To a lesser degree, I was calling myself that too. 

The friend I’d been in conflict with commented on that post to my stories the next day, clearly angry. Essentially, she said, “Watch who you’re calling a bastard. Racists are bastards and that’s not me.” 

I wasn’t speaking to her in that post. She wasn’t alive to have been in the group specifically mentioned, even if she did identify herself in a way that connected with those groups. 

The last I had spoken to her, I had accused her of lying to me for two years about why one of her friendships had ended. I felt sure that these beliefs of hers were the reason, not the theological point she’d claimed. And though it still makes more sense to me than what she says happened, I apologized when she denied it. She pushed, laid on the guilt. I apologized again. She wanted to know why I was reacting this way, poured on the loving phrases, and invited me to open up to her about my vulnerabilities. I accused her emotionally manipulating me. She refused to acknowledge my accusation. I told her I wouldn’t be sharing my feelings with her because it did not feel safe to do so. And here she was in my Instagram DM’s two days later, furious at how I was sharing my feelings on my own platform.

I didn’t intend to hurt her, and so many Black people were hurt by Nixon’s policies that I didn’t think her anger at me was justified. After all, I had not directed this at her. She was making connections I didn’t intend and trying to brow beat me about it. 

I was ticked. I wanted to shout in all caps at her. I wanted to call her and curse her out on voicemail. But I needed to slow down, to not simply react. Social justice, which she doesn’t believe in, is a long fight. I didn’t want to react out of my first emotions. I didn’t want to cut myself off from her because we had been good friends for many years. I’m white and talking to a white friend who initiated a conversation with me about racism. I felt it was my responsibility to continue, or at least not to cut myself off. I didn’t want to say something harsh and sever all ties. If I needed to take that step, it should be a sober-minded one.

When she read my angry posts before, she knew they couldn’t be directed at her because she’d hidden her true beliefs from me. She wondered aloud during our phone call if my anger shared on social media would have been tempered had I known about her beliefs. Now she knew the answer to her question was, “No,” and it was difficult for her. She took my posts personally, and she lashed out at me.

After some counsel from my best friend, who knew about the situation, I responded, clarifying who I was calling a bastard, but not apologizing. I assured her that none of my posts are directed at her, but I wouldn’t restrict myself for her comfort either. She demanded to know if I thought she’d been duped by this racist policy if she had ever voted for a Republican. I considered myself a Republican until 2015 or so. I’m slow to change my label; My growth to the person I am now was slow, and the result of many years of listening and learning and questioning myself. So I pointed out that I have voted Republican in the past, and I told her that we should all ask ourselves if we’ve been duped by such a policy. Then I flipped my phone over and didn’t touch it again for an hour. 

When I did, I looked only at my text messages. Nothing from my husband, one thing from a friend, but it didn’t require a reply. I flipped my phone back over and when back to work. And when I wanted a break, to mindless scroll for a few minutes, I clicked on the IG app without thinking, saw the DM notification, and exited the app again. I flipped my phone back over on my desk. After another hour, I finally let myself read her response.

She implied my using of “bastards” was un-Christlike, and maybe it is. Would she have objected if I’d said “brood of vipers” instead of a more modern word with the same understanding? She seemed to feel morally superior for not ever calling anyone else names on social media, and she reprimanded me for doing so. I told her I’d consider her words, but that she had no right to chide me, considering no one on her social media actually knows what she thinks. I have been open and honest about my beliefs on my platform. And anyone can mute or unfollow me at any time.

I asked for an apology. She refused to acknowledge my request.

In the weeks of this conflict, I’d gotten into a dark place, obsessing over our discussions, her haphazardly applied logic, her application of extremes only to views she opposed, her terror of words like “Marxism” and distain for words like “intersectionality” without a nuanced understanding of them. And I obsessed over her dishonesty, her deliberately keeping this from me and from everyone for at least 4 years (by her admission).

I recalled times in our friendship, and in that past week, when I’d said “I feel this way because of what you said,” then had her say “If I made you feel that way I’m sorry.” The “if” felt insidious. I questioned her motivations over those years. I questioned why she had told me, again and again, of the ways she’d “wept” and “cried and cried and cried” related to one of our discussions. I questioned if my feelings were valid and reasonable. I questioned what I had let happen to my time and my brain. I questioned her motivations and the truthfulness of every story she’d ever told me and every time she effused honeyed sentiments about how much she loves and cares for me as her friend.

Hear again: I wondered if I was being reasonable. I wondered if my feelings were valid.

These are symptoms of gaslighting.

I reached out to a close friend, who was alarmed by my questioning of reality. Another assured me that no conversations I had with this friend would change her mind (especially since she’d been reading my social media posts for years), and it was okay to draw new boundaries on our relationship or to reinstate old ones. A third friend read my screenshots of the conversation and called her abusive, then encouraged me to cut all ties. My husband encouraged me not to dismiss my feelings, those of unease as well as those of friendship.

Slowly, I considered how many times in the 8 years of our friendships that this person had emotionally manipulated me, then denied it. How she’d clung to me for support, and how I’d instinctively shied away from sharing my vulnerabilities with her. How the amount of attention or sympathy I gave her was so often not enough to satisfy her. I recalled her dramatic appeals to our friendship and her monologues of love for me, and how they’d all obviously been shared to ensure my compliance. I recounted all the times I ended up apologizing for something she had initiated, and how graciously she accepted those apologies and power from me. I googled “emotional manipulation” and counted the number of signs she had displayed in the last two weeks, and how many more had been true over the course of our friendship.

In bed that night, not sleeping, I considered all the time I’d spent on this topic I don’t believe in. How long I’d spent reading her messages, researching and forming arguments, talking things over with Tyler, and crafting replies. Whatever else was happening with her, I didn’t want to devote that much time to it anymore. I hadn’t wanted to devote that much time to it to start with. I hadn’t felt I had a choice. Not if we were friends. Not when she was putting direct questions to me. Not when she was declaring this a necessary function of our friendship. Not when she was obviously intent on changing my mind despite her insistence that she only wants me to understand her position.

I didn’t feel I had a choice. But I know I do.

I wanted my brain back. I wanted me attention span back. I wanted to get back to writing elected officials and learning about racism and donating to charities. I wanted free time again. I wanted to be able to talk about anything else with my husband. I wanted the constant buzzing in my head to subside and the numbness in my chest and sleeplessness to go away. These are symptoms of depression, and I’ve experienced them before.

For my mental health, I knew I needed to stop obsessing. Which meant I needed distance. So I told her I needed to stop engaging with her about this. I admitted I had been in a dark place and this was best for me. She sent one more message, full of distain. Maybe she read mine that way. But I found it strange that she had no friendly concerns for my mental health now, no effusions of care and love.

I didn’t trust my interpretations, so a few paragraphs in, I handed the phone to Tyler. He read the whole email, and encouraged me to respond in as few words as possible. Once I’d also read the whole email, we talked about the lack of nuanced discussion, her frustrated tone, her lack of expressed concern for my well-being, and her attempt to prove she wasn’t racist because of the actions of her grandfather. I know she’d never say that his salvation could save her by familial association, and I wondered why she didn’t apply that to racism either. I particularly noted her use of the word “loving” to describe her grandfather’s snarky reaction to a racist person. Tyler and I decided on the two most personal and egregious claims, and I responded to those two in the lightest tone I could manage and the fewest words. Then I lay my phone, screen down, on the table. And I didn’t pick it up until morning.

The next few days, I remained jumpy and uncomfortable. I dreaded DM notifications on all my social media. My heart started racing at texts. And none came from her. I questioned again if I was being reasonable.

A few days later, I texted her a photo of my new kitten, trying to indicate that I wasn’t giving up on our friendship for good. I was also testing if she’d respect the boundary I’d put in place. She responded as she might have two months ago, talking about how cute the kitten is. Then I learned she was at a party. During a pandemic.

I didn’t ask any questions about masks or social distancing. It didn’t feel worth it. She’s a libertarian, prides herself on being “counter-cultural,” and bucks at what she thinks is people or the state trying to control people. I only learned about these beliefs few months ago, when Georgia began to reopen. She had insisted to me at that time that people would make good choices for public health once they weren’t being controlled by the government. And she was at a party.

I wondered again if I wanted to stay friends with her. 

I ordered the book Emotional Blackmail. 

I celebrated Juneteeth with donations and books by Black authors.

I sent another mask to my grandmother.

Now I’m the one hiding things from her. Like this post. And the depth of my distrust.

We are barely speaking, and all my social media feels unsafe to share my honest thoughts. I’m fighting to keep behaving as I want to on my platforms.

I’m fighting to keep this blog safe and mine.

I’m trying to do right by her, and feeling confused as to what that means.

I’m wondering if the only way I won’t feel her shadow is to block her everywhere.

I’m wondering if I’m being reasonable.

I’m still deciding.

I’m still deciding.