Give It Silence

Yes, there are times to speak.

When error and injustice reign, we should kick up a fuss. When nuance is needed in constructive conversations, we should make our voices heard.

However, in some areas, silence is more effective.

For this reason, while I don’t willingly throw my money behind companies and causes I can’t in good faith support, I also don’t jump on public boycotting bandwagons.

Here’s why.

There’s actually good evidence that loud, social-media-fueled boycotts don’t work; in fact, they often prove counterproductive.

This is especially true in the entertainment industry.

As Andy Crouch points out in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, prominent protests actually fuel the box office by increasing visibility for controversial projects.

Boycotts generate headlines, drive publicity, and dominate the news cycle of a culture that generally doesn’t care about specific moral critiques and can easily move on to enjoy victory when such projects inevitably do well.

That’s why instead of joining boycotts, I give silence.

Silence is the death knell of creative endeavor.

Speaking as a writer, I’d much rather my work be met with hearty debate than the awkward chirping of crickets.

Silence means it wasn’t even important enough for someone to form an opinion one way or the other.

For these reasons, I encourage you to redirect your energy. Instead of boycotting, look toward boosting.

Shine a light on what matters.

When a truly good film comes out, go see it (“That’s your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes,” says Barbara Nicolosi, who terms this sort of resistance an othercott).

Post reviews of good books to help boost their visibility. Ask your library to add them to the collection. Go to live shows. Support worthy artists, speakers, and public thinkers. Back them with your words and your capital. Play good music, and play it loudly with the windows down, yodeling along as best you can. Never stop recommending your favorites.

Celebrate your local community’s arts scene, lending your support at the grass-roots level.

That’s the beauty of art and culture: everyone can be involved.

Together, we can build culture—culture that celebrates life, light, and truth.

Let’s shine a light on what matters.

Let’s give the rest our silence.


An earlier version of this essay originally posted to my former blog site in the spring of 2017.

Recently, I’ve been thinking along similar lines as this relates to online pseudo-controversies and petty personal beefs clogging my timeline, most of which are ridiculous and yet have helped certain individuals amass large platforms due to the viral nature of controversy itself.

While there’s certainly a place for defending orthodoxy or adding helpful nuance to good-faith discussions, let’s not waste time arguing with fools or amplifying attention paid to petty nonsense. In most cases, we’d be much better served simply to give it silence.


Though I don’t quote him directly, my general thoughts on these issues have been shaped by L.M. Sacasas, both in essays posted to The Frailest Thing and more recently in The Convivial Societywhich, incidentally, you should subscribe to immediately.


 

2019: My Year in Books

Total Books: 171

This year I read fewer books than in 2018, but since I invested in some truly long and/or challenging works, I guess it mostly evens out.

Total Pages: 49,427

The longest book I read this year was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, at which point my workflow exploded and my series re-read derailed. I plan to circle back in 2020 and finish up, though.

Breakdown by Category

Please enjoy some highlights from my year in books. I’ve arranged the categories in descending order according to how much time I spent in each.

Christian Theology/Spirituality

Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack by Alia Joy is both beautiful and poignant. The author has an important message, and she communicates it so skillfully and with such grace that I wish the book were twice as long. I read it early in the year, but I continue to ponder the message and will likely do so for a long time.

Soong-Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and Jackson Wu’s Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission paired so well together. Both books are keen and thoughtful, clearly underscoring just how deeply embedded in Western thinking my biblical understanding has been. Through these reads, I’m able to grasp now more than ever all the ways in which rather than allowing the Bible to impact my culture, I’ve allowed my cultural practice to inform my understanding (and therefore application) of the Bible. The past two years have been a journey for me in this particular area, a journey that will likely only continue in 2020.

Another great book pair I took in this year: Mary Beth Swetman Matthew’s Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars and Paul Harvey’s Bounds of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History. I could easily have listed these two books in my section accounting for historical reads; however, what I learned in their pages had such a deep impact on my understanding of how American history, ecclesiology, and theology have intertwined, that I name them here.

The contents of these books are prime examples of what I mentioned in the paragraph above: all too often, rather than letting theology impact culture, American churches have been guilty of letting cultural practice inform their understanding and practice of theology.

Honorable Mentions:

Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of our Identity in Christ, multiple authors, edited by Melissa Kruger

God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

General Adult Fiction

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha did a number on my emotions. As I read, I felt angry, sad, worried, grieved. The characters felt real to the bones, and I was totally hooked and invested in their stories from Chapter 1. Though this is a work of fiction, the facts align so closely with real events (that of the ’92 LA Riots) that it’s particularly unsettling. Recommended for those who can handle heavy themes.

I’ve been making up for lost time with Zora Neale Hurston, and this year marked the first time I read Their Eyes Were Watching God, at least as an adult. (I no longer consider the half-hearted read I gave it in high school because it’s clear to me now I must have understood next to nothing.) Janie is a powerful character, and I’ll be thinking about her for a long time. Incidentally, I’m currently living very close to the area where the latter half of the book plays out (Belle Glade), and that only intensified my enjoyment in this read. Hurston captures the essence of South Florida (and hurricanes!) quite accurately.

Honorable Mentions:

Silence by Shūsaku Endō

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

There There by Tommy Orange

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

This year, I devoured memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies like never before. I’m not sure why, to be honest. Much like food cravings, book genre cravings come and go seemingly of their own volition. For whatever reason, it was a wonderful and fruitful year for this category.

In June of this year, I visited the Rosa Parks museum in Montgomery, Alabama. That’s when I got the first inkling that her legacy as I’d learned it in school was partially mythologized. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis confirmed it. She’s quite different from what I’d assumed. Complex, interesting, and largely misunderstood in the mainstream historical imagination.

It was on that same trip that two friends sat across from me at a breakfast cafe and delivered an impassioned defense for Tara Westover’s Educated. Now that I’ve read the book, I understand why they couldn’t stop talking about it. Westover’s experiences are so raw and painful. I ache for her trauma. There are limits to all memoirs, and the author’s limited perspective, while fully acknowledged by her, likely runs deeper than she realizes. Several comments she makes toward the end especially drive this thought home to me. But still, this has proven one of my most memorable reads of 2019.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is another of this year’s reads that I would never have picked up on my own. Thankfully, after multiple recommendations from people whose reading taste I admire, I checked it out. I’m so glad. I knew little of Noah going in (other than that he’s a TV personality) but was instantly hooked by his engaging narrative voice and the way in which he details his relationship with his mother, whom he clearly loves deeply. The affectionate antagonism between the two was, for me, the stand-out feature of the book; but I also appreciated the depth afforded by Noah’s observations of life in South Africa, both before and after Apartheid. Compulsively readable and surprisingly poignant. I walked away wishing I could be best friends with his mom. (Also: I fail the pencil test.)

I don’t often cry over books, but I cried over Rachael Denhollander’s What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. The trauma inflicted on these women and girls, the amount of absolute mountain-moving strength and tenacity required to seek justice, and the world’s willingness to turn a blind eye–it’s all devastating. My respect for Rachael Denhollander has been high since first hearing her deliver her victim impact statement at Nassar’s sentencing; but after reading this book, it’s through the roof. I thank God for her even as I grieve that this happened to her (and to so many others). Please read this book and confront the critical question posed by the author: “What is a girl worth?”

Honorable Mentions:

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

History

My enjoyment in Michael Breen’s The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation was only heightened because I read it while preparing for (and then while on) a trip to Korea. As an English consultant and journalist who’s spent decades in Korea, Breen brings to the table a wealth of experience and insight. He also has a positively delightful turn of phrase.

Even though I’ve spent the last few years reading up on these matters, some of the details in The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby still surprised me. Tisby provides much-needed context to conversations I’ve participated in myself and watched unspooling online over the past few years. Without properly understanding history, we’re much less capable of analyzing the present. This is a great resource toward advancing the conversation by bridging that gap.

The Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War by George L. Hicks is the second book I’ve read in recent years concentrating solely on the plight of the WWII Comfort Women. The other book (Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women) was published more recently, and therefore contained updated information on government responses and moves toward reparations. However, Hick’s book did a great job of showing the big picture.

Honorable Mentions:

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, & Criminal in 19th-Century New York by Stacy Horn

Narrative Non-Fiction

Mitchell Zuckoff’s newest offering Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 is a clear, comprehensive, and compassionate account, both of individual stories and of the large-scale event. Zuckoff masterfully captures the chaos and confusion of that day. It’s just heartbreaking. I didn’t expect to have such visceral emotional reactions while reading, but between the grisly details, the overwhelming scope of the tragedy unspooling page by page, and the personal emotional resonance experienced as my own memories of that time came bubbling back up, I honestly had a hard time getting through it.

It is with great sadness that I discovered Spying on the South Travels with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land is the final book we will have from Tony Horwitz. (He died while on tour promoting it.) That said, this book is so great. Literally following in the footsteps of another writer (Olmstead) who traveled the American South pre-Civil War, Horwitz revisits the locations highlighted in Olmstead’s Cotton Kingdom, providing thoughtful and timely commentary. Truly wonderful work.

Peter Hessler‘s books never disappoint. I’ve read them all and kept loose track of his career since his River Town days. He’s only grown as a storyteller and observer since then. In The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution, Hessler outlines the lives of specific, ordinary Egyptians post-Arab Spring, framing his observations within the context of Egypt’s ancient historical roots. I toyed with listing this new one in my history section; but honestly, in keeping with his other books, he’s really only using Egyptian history as a jumping-off point to understand modern issues. I’m always eager to see what/who he will use as a framing device to shape his larger narrative and found his choices this time around particularly compelling.

Honorable Mentions:

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story f the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town by Bryan Mealer

Young Adult Fiction

After having my hair blown back last year by Angie Thomas‘s The Hate U Give, I made time for her second book, On the Come Up. I loved the relatable inner conflict of trying to be yourself in the face of people’s crushing expectations. I also loved the rhymes, and I liked the central character, Bri. Despite the fact that the plot is largely driven by her impulsive, teenagerish mistakes and tunnel-vision choices (or perhaps because of that), Bri comes across as very relatable. I found the secondary characters likable and well fleshed out. The overarching external story goal (will Bri make it as a rapper?) felt a bit less compelling than her inner journey (will she find a way to be true to herself?).

To date, I’ve adored every Stacey Lee book I’ve read, including The Secret of a Heart Note, which is a simply lovely story centering the most classic YA themes imaginable: friendship, first love, and finding yourself. In Lee’s hands, however, nothing feels worn or trite. It’s all big feelings, warm fuzzies, deep insecurities, and the occasional belly laugh.

Psychology/Sociology/Politics

Early in the year, a friend who’d read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion loaned me her copy and asked me to read it so we could discuss it together. And what a lively discussion it was, with each of us finding points of agreement and disagreement with Haidt. Haidt’s research uncovers some fascinating tendencies in human behavior, and he’s a clear and interesting writer, so despite the length of the book and the intellectual footwork necessary to keep up, I didn’t have much trouble making my way through the text in a couple of days. But though I fully engaged with the ideas in Part 1, my interest in successive sections waned. I’m glad to have engaged with this material, however, if only because it’s helped me understand just a bit better how (and why) people reach differing moral conclusions.

I wish I could make The Problem of Slavery in Christian America by Joel McDurmon required reading. I read this whole book slowly and carefully (including the appendices!) and found it incredibly helpful in informing my understanding of what went on theologically in America down through various historical periods. This is a nation that purported itself “Christian” and in favor of liberty and justice for all–yet cherished chattel slavery. How did people like Whitfield and Edwards (and so many others) justify their behavior? There’s much here to lament, as well as eye-opening parallels to how the generational repercussions of slavery are being addressed (or not) by Christians today.

Honorable Mention:

“Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity by Beverly Daniel Tatum

LitCrit/Language/Writing

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch was so, so enjoyable. Informative, witty, and observational, it’s one of the few books I read this year that actually made me SAD when I realized it was ending and the rest of the pages were notes and citations rather than more material. If you’re into analyzing language and culture, don’t let this one pass you by.

I’m rarely one to turn down a book about books, which is why Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books has been on my radar since it launched. I finally got my beady eyes on a copy and was delighted. Even the essays focusing on books and short stories I haven’t yet read were enjoyable.

In Dorian Lynskey’s The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, the author connects key events in Orwell’s life to the development of his best-known work. I found the final chapter the most enlightening, in which Lynskey underscores Orwellian thought and processes alive today; and since this is a new release, the social and political implications all feel very fresh.

Honorable Mentions:

Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life by Thomas J. Terry and J. Ryan Lister

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk/Dystopia

Most of this year was absorbed in re-reading the full Narnia series, plus restarting Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Honestly, I have no idea what prompted this, but I’m enjoying revisiting these worlds and plan to complete the latter two series in 2020.

Other than those gems, the only thing that stood out for me in this category was Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, which read as fun, geeky wish fulfillment. The story took a while to get rolling, and some of the 80s cultural references were lost on me (I’ve never been a gamer), but the overall plot kept me invested. Would have gladly traded some of the lengthy descriptions of in-game shenanigans for more character development, though.

Essays/Short Stories

I don’t read a lot of short stories, but I make an exception for Ha Jin. The stories in The Bridegroom are set in China post-Cultural Revolution, but it was hard to narrow down a more exact time frame. (No specific years are noted, but the book first released in 2000, and there’s mention of Deng Xiaoping.) As always, I find his writing beautiful but unsettling. I always want happier endings for his characters than what they get, though what they get usually feels realistic. Sometimes depressingly so.

Honorable Mentions:

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Books by Friends

This is a catchall category for actual close friends and friendly internet connections I technically haven’t met “in real life” just yet. Sort yourselves into categories: you know who you are!

If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have noticed that sometimes when I read books by friends, I forego giving star ratings. That’s because I have very complicated feelings about awarding stars to people I know in person. Hopefully in 2020, I’ll sort myself out emotionally and figure out how to do this without breaking out in hives.

Dangerous to Know by Megan Whitson Lee – One thing I love about Megan is her consistent willingness to tackle complicated topics. In Dangerous to Know, she gives us a fictionalized retelling of Lord Byron’s marriage to Annabella Milbanke. It’s difficult to watch central character Isabella Bankmill deal with her marriage to Lord Bromby, but it’s also relatable. Who among us doesn’t have at least one friend or loved one dealing with a complex relationship to a challenging spouse? I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say I’m satisfied with it from a storytelling perspective because I think it’s the most realistic scenario that could have played out under such circumstances.

The Reactionary (The Rogues #3) by Kristen Hogrefe – Book 3 had some surprises in store along with satisfying developments to wrap up the trilogy nicely. I was a bit thrown by the viewpoint shifts (a change in this installment from the first two books); but honestly, that didn’t mar my enjoyment of the trilogy as a whole. I’ve enjoyed watching Kristen’s career develop over the last few years and look forward to what she has in store for us next.

Desolate Paths by Erin Unger – As someone who doesn’t typically read romantic suspense, this read was outside the norm for me, but I did enjoy it. I especially loved the uniqueness of the concept. What a fresh setup!

Flowers from Afghanistan by Suzy Parish – This is definitely a tear-jerker, but a bittersweet story leads to a satisfying end. Aside: All the mentions of treats and coffee drinks gave me serious snack attacks. Even now as I’m typing this, I think about how this book gave me coffee cravings the entire time I was reading. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The War in Our Hearts by Eva Seyler – So much about this book was completely unexpected (which, if you know the author, is not unexpected! LOL.) It’s such a unique blend of gentle emotion and the brutality of war. I wouldn’t have picked it up if not for our personal connection, but I’m glad I read it.

A Serial Killer’s Daughter by Kerri Rawson – Exactly as the subtitle suggests, this is one woman’s journey of faith, love, and overcoming as she attempts to reconcile what she understands about the father who raised her with the man he actually was behind the mask. My heart truly goes out to Kerri.

Christian Mission: A Concise, Global History by Ed Smither – In this slim volume, Smither lays out a no-frills overview, perfect for gaining big-picture perspective.

Prophesy Hope! An Advent Reflection on Hope, Peace, Love, and Freedom by Danté Stewart – I actually got my hands on this early and read it in the days leading up to Advent. Danté draws heavily on the Black American church tradition for this rich Advent offering.

Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated by Kaley Rhea and Rhonda Rhea – This isn’t a genre I read very often, but I stumbled upon Turtles in the Road (the first book from this writing duo) last year and happily queued up for an early-release copy of their second offering. The same wit, charm, and warmth are all here in good measure. If you’re in the mood for a fun set-up, relatable characters, and great dialogue, this might be your next read.


On the lookout for your next good read?

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Join us for 2020: A Year of Books!

Each month during the next year, I’ll be sending a recommended set of titles for you to consider. No forced discussions, no homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible Christian theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Come join us!

Let’s make 2020 our best reading year ever.


Happy New Year, everyone!

May your 2020 be filled with satisfying work, enjoyable recreation, and tons of great books.

Decade Retrospective: Things That Happened, Good and Bad

We’ve reached the tail end of 2019, which also marks the close of a decade. That means instead of getting a year-in-review retrospective, you’re getting a decade in review, minus the boring bits.

All things considered, the past ten years have been a mixed bag. Witness the following accomplishments and events from the last decade, both good and bad.

Between 2010 and 2019

  • launched a writing career, publishing six books, four plays, and four sacred scripts, all while amassing an avalanche of rejections
  • started running, progressing from that first exciting 2-miler to 5k to 8k to 10k to half marathon to Ragnar Relay to this year’s full marathon (completed only after a short stint lying on my back crying at the top of a bridge)
  • lost several toenails (see above)
  • reunited with my best friend from middle school
  • sneezed my gum out of my mouth
  • survived multiple Atlantic hurricanes
  • broke a tooth
  • tried internet dating (I almost said “tried and failed” but if you’ve ever internet dated, you know surviving the experience is a win)
  • snake fell on my head
  • visited the American Southwest
  • called 911 while on a run because I thought someone was being assaulted but it was just two little kids play/scream-fighting in a hot tub
  • bee flew into my mouth
  • slowed down significantly on overseas travel, but sneaked in some visits to old haunts and new favorites: Israel, England, Scotland, France, New Zealand, Haiti, Korea
  • broke my ankle falling off a bucket (and leveraged the experience for the plot of my debut novel)
  • started wearing reading glasses
  • first international showing for one of my plays (Enter Macbeth, Dubai)
  • made the switch to half-caff coffee
  • dropped my entire dinner-on-the-grounds contribution in the church parking lot one Sunday before even getting out of the car
  • earned a master’s degree in theological studies
  • lost friends and connections to old age and sudden death
  • attended funerals
  • wrote and performed original music with a friend from church
  • woke up with half a spider stuck to my neck and the other half under the fingernails of my right hand
  • said “Okay, I love you, BYE!” at the end of a Skype lecture to a high school class
  • frog jumped on my head
  • audiobook I’d loaded on my phone started playing at full volume in the middle of church (not a sacred text)
  • intermittently treated for chronic pain, neuropathy, and inflammation
  • surprise medical tests, contemplated my own mortality
  • read nearly 2,000 books (official count started in 2011 – 1,712 as of today)
  • developed a long list of historical boyfriends (see above)
  • touched an alligator
  • stopped working with the church youth group and started teaching adult women
  • opened an umbrella in the car directly into my own face (twice)
  • finally joined Spotify (please welcome me to the twenty-first century)

2019 finds me in a place that 2010 Ruth would never have imagined. To be honest, I have mixed feelings. I’m thankful for the successes but am ever mindful of the disappointments, struggles, and pain. Life is a beautiful, ridiculous, and messy mystery.

God’s grace keeps me steady.


What’s your decade been like? What items would you include on your list?

Comment below or shoot me a message on social media. I’d love to hear points of comparison and departure in our experiences.


Coming Soon

2020: A Year of Books

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Each month during the next year, I’ll be sending a recommended set of titles for you to check out. No forced discussions, no homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible Christian theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Join us for 2020: A Year of Books!


I’ll be back next week to post my 2019 reading retrospective.

Until then, I hope you savor the last few days of 2019 and enjoy a wonderful holiday week with your family, friends, and loved ones.

Merry Christmas from me to you!

S.O.S. (Support Our Singles)

My book on singleness and the church released in November of 2017, and since then, I’ve had increased opportunity to discuss my single life.

I was able to write such a book because I’m supported by my community. My family, friends, and church family do really well at rallying round to ensure that I’m well cared for. This is partly true because I’m vocal with my needs. It’s also true that when I reach out, they reach back.

Here are a few things they do for me. Consider whether or not these practical steps would also work for the single adults in your lives.

Feed Us

In my book, I discuss why I don’t like to eat alone and how my community helps ensure that it doesn’t happen very often. I won’t cover that ground again in this post. Instead, I’ll highlight ways in which others go above and beyond when it comes to keeping me fed.

In addition to not liking to eat alone, I also don’t like cooking for one. (Who does?) It’s not rare for me get a text saying there’s a Tupperware of lasagna or a crock of soup in someone’s fridge with my name on it. All I need to do is pick it up or (depending on my schedule) wait for it to be dropped off. Honestly, few things make me feel more cared for.

Second, I have friends with whom I exchange fresh fruits and vegetables. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to eat an entire bag of tangerines by myself before some of them spoil, and most people won’t miss parting with a few shoots of green onion, a handful of carrots, or a single stalk of celery. Sometimes the exchange rate works in my favor; sometimes in theirs. That’s just how these things go! At least fresh fruits and veggies aren’t going to waste.

Surround Us

There’s a difference between inviting someone along and inviting them in. The former makes sure we’re not alone. The latter ensures we’re not lonely.

Don’t just seek to “hang out.” Surround your singles, physically as well as emotionally. Don’t just spend time with us. Invite us fully into your lives.

Pray for Us

The best way to know how to pray for your single friends is to ask individually.

If someone were to ask me today, here’s what I’d say.

  • Pray that I walk in the will of God.
  • Pray that I can maintain a chaste life.
  • Pray that my life shows off God’s glory.
  • Pray that the Word dwells richly in me.
  • Pray that God blesses my work both inside and outside the church.
  • Pray that God grants ongoing grace as certain aspects of my life run counter to my expectations and desires.

Press Love In

A friend and I were talking last week about how in the Old Testament Book of Ruth, Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi didn’t just need to be loved. Naomi needed love pressed into her, and Ruth spends much of the book doing just that.

What a wonderful picture of Christ, not to mention a perfect description of how we’re to express Christian love. Love isn’t just a passive emotion. It’s a continual, active response.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

When you press love in, it’s not possible for people to be with you and walk away feeling neglected.

Exactly what this looks like will depend a lot on your personality and how you naturally express yourself. Pressing love into someone can be tiring. It’s work. But it’s worth it.


For more information on caring for singles in your church, please see The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members.

Available now! (5)

Schrödinger’s Cancer: My Recent Biopsy and the Reality of Living Death

I’d like to share what I learned during my recent cancer scare, though perhaps I should employ a less dramatic opening, considering the results. I am, after all, perfectly fine. I do not have cancer; and although my situation requires some monitoring, I can now continue with my regularly scheduled life.

Back in October, however, I did not have the benefit of foresight. I had to go through the process one step at a time, without knowing how everything would turn out.

The Test

As I sat in my doctor’s office this fall as she told me I’d need a biopsy, cancer was just a theory.

The whole thing reminded me of Schrödinger’s Cat: you know, that thought experiment with the cat in a sealed box with a decaying radioactive substance, a hammer attached to a Geiger counter, and a flask of poison. Until you actually open the box, you can’t know for sure the fate of the cat. Until the box is unsealed, the cat is both dead and alive.

That’s how I felt. Only this time, I was both outside and inside the box. I was both waiting for a revelation and waiting to be revealed.

Schrödinger’s Cancer

During the wait, I kept thinking that no matter the outcome of the test, the truth was already real in my body. A simple test would not alter reality: it would only reveal it. Therefore while I waited to hear from the lab, I was both sick and well, healthy and ill. This was Schrödinger’s Cancer. Nothing had changed and everything had.

I wasn’t afraid—not exactly. I wasn’t losing sleep or wandering the streets in a haze or holding my breath. I was, however, evaluating my life.

If I really had cancer, why waste energy on minor annoyances? Who cares if the weather isn’t cooperating or if there’s a hair in my sandwich? It takes more than petty problems to rattle the living dead.

Living Death

If anyone is suited to endure a living death, it should be the Christian. It is, after all, our primary calling.

Though the call to follow Jesus is often framed in terms of new birth and everlasting life, the reality is more complicated than that. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The call to follow Christ has always been one of living death.

And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23)

Consider also how the Apostle Paul calls the church in Rome to understand baptism.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

Both dead and alive, alive and dead. Already declared righteous and not yet perfected. This is Schrödinger’s Catechism, if you will, and I had never been more attuned to its paradoxes.

Further Lessons

Apart from the readjusted perspectives mentioned above, I walk away from this experience with increased empathy for those in medical limbo.

While I’ve always been sympathetic and prayed with people waiting for serious test results, I’ve never been able to truly empathize. As a result, I’ve historically offered a brand of buck-up-and-hope-for-the-best and let’s-not-worry-until-we-know optimism that has likely proven unhelpful. I know better now.

I’m also moving forward with the comfort of this Scripture freshly graven on my heart:

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8)


Three quick orders of business:

First, my holiday novella Murder on Birchardville Hill is still on sale. Go snap it up!

Second, this week I’m celebrating my 40th birthday! Since I have no material wants or needs, I’m asking you to help celebrate by making contributions to the ministry of my friends Jairo and Vania. Their family will soon head to Jordan to serve displaced Sudanese refugees, and I’d love to send them off well supported. Please see here for information and to make your contribution to their ministry.

Third, remember to sign up for my 2019 Year of Books. Each month during the coming year, I’ll be sending a recommended list of titles for you to check out. No discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it. Go sign up!

Happy Monday, everyone! I’m sure it’ll be a busy week for many of you. Don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the delights of the season. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your coffees be flat white.*


*Or whatever you like. Just going for the rhyme, not commanding your coffee choices. But if you haven’t tried a flat white, you definitely should. Consider the recommendation a gift from me to you. Merry Christmas!