You can’t act with courage in the face of fear if you don’t admit you’re scared, not only to yourself but to the people who are counting on you. Admitting fear isn’t the same as running on it, and running from fear isn’t a long-term strategy.

We’re going to weather it. Being honest about what we’re afraid of is how.


What I Told My Students About Why We Didn’t Have Bagels for Them Last Sunday

It’s not that you should fear getting really sick yourself, but that you have a role to play in preventing others more vulnerable than you from getting sick.

I am feeling a persistent anxiety about our capacity as a culture to pull in the same direction in order to protect vulnerable populations. Offering an explanation to teenagers about why we’re not setting out boxes of bagels and tubs of cream cheese for them feels like a constructive thing to do with that anxiety, more constructive than stockpiling Purell.

Seriously, stop stockpiling Purell.



I grudgingly posted an album cover to Facebook in compliance with a high school teammate’s nomination for a “10 Influential Albums in 10 Days” exercise, but I’m up to six now and thinking seriously about my remaining four choices.

I’m agonizing over each selection, like “I really like this album, but can I call it ‘influential?'” I feel like I have to justify each selection with an illustration of the where and why of its influence. Meredith thinks I’m overthinking it.

She’s doing it , too, this albums exercise, and she pointed out that we think about influence differently. For her, the influence of music is on her life; she is sharing albums that she says defined seasons of her experience. I’m thinking of influence more in terms of a footpath–stones laid down in a winding line that lead a traveler along. Each stone influences the next step.

For me, influence is about the next step on the path–and the step after that. For Meredith, influence isn’t about the steps at all, but rather about how the stone you’re standing on shapes your experience of the surrounding trees and brush.



Maybe it’s true that the moment needs youthful energy and ambitious ideas to drive experimental initiatives. Why, in an era of rapid change and intensifying division and unprecedented challenges like climate change and Big Data, would we ask a person to lead whose career began six decades ago, practically in another world?

Maybe that’s a mistake. If age is a serious consideration and, we are convinced, a liability, and if white hair bespeaks accumulated privilege above all else, then the only choice for leadership is youth.

We don’t have to see age that way, though. We can seek leaders who can be relied upon to employ the privilege their age has afforded them to elevate those to whom it has been denied. Instead of a liability, we can view long years of work as an accumulation of expertise (gathered as much from failures as from wins), trust, and (critically) maturity. Those assets seem to be as much under assault in this era as any progressive conviction.

An old leader doesn’t bother me.



Last night I canvassed for my Alderman. He was only elected last spring, so he’s not running for reelection as Alderman yet, but for the Democratic Committeeperson. In Illinois, the political parties elect representatives for this role apart from another elected office, and though most committeepersons are also their ward’s alderman, they have to be separately elected.

It’s second time I’ve volunteered, because the Alderman himself showed up at my door one December evening and I felt a rush of civic responsibility. I don’t know him well, and I’m not certain the other person running (who seemed very pleasant when I met her at our neighborhood festival last October) wouldn’t be better. But he showed up and asked, and I couldn’t think of a compelling reason to say no.

The first time I volunteered, I spent two hours calling other volunteers, scheduling them for future shifts. I didn’t want to do that again, and I was not disappointed. I was the only volunteer in the office with a single staff person. He had me making calls to voters for the first 20 minutes or so, but because there was only one computer to work from (the calls come up on a screen one at a time), he asked, “Have you ever canvassed?”

“No.” He wrinkled his face a little. He clearly needed something else to do with me.

“Do you want to?”


Campaigns seem to be the kinds of operations where, if you’re game to try something new and minimally competent, you can be of use. So out I went with a map of a neighborhood and a newly-installed app on my phone. I spent two hours pressing apartment building buzzers and tapping “not home” on my phone screen. And to the few people who came to the door and spoke with me, I was with the Alderman’s campaign–no training, no zealous conviction, just a few hours free on a weeknight and an inflated sense of capability.

It seems a serious requirement for political engagement is a willingness to publicly claim belief and warrant for things you’re actually under-qualified to claim.

Viva democracy.



Listening is a kind of speaking. When we listen well we communicate interest and curiosity, and we lift up those who are speaking to have a dignified space in a meaningful conversation. We all can listen more and listen better, especially to folks who’ve been shut out of meaningful decision making conversations.

Conversations pitched as not “for you,” due to something about you, are beneath you. Go find a better one.

Earnest, compassionate, wise people know what to say and where and when to say it; they don’t need to be told that their gender or their age or their race disqualifies them. The best ones know that already and self-select out in favor of others, yet they remain ready to contribute if invited.

Be one of those. Find communities that support diverse voices, and bring yours. Listen. Wait to be invited. Then make your contribution.


High School Dinner Party

We made dinner together and played dinner party games. It was a three hour Friday night youth ministry experiment with high school students who only ever see each other on Sunday mornings or for the odd annual weekend retreat. They’re so busy. They live so far apart. But a lot of them have most Friday nights free. So we put it on the calendar and sent out invites. We got about 10 students and we got two additional leaders. The three hours flew by.

Brick by brick.


In Defense of Facebook Groups

Last night Meredith met up with some women from the neighborhood she didn’t know. She’s part of a Facebook group for moms, and last week somebody posted a kind of general invitation for group members to meet up during Lent. My sense is that it was really positive.

In all the hand-wringing over social media’s effect on the social fabric (and it is serious), we risk missing this kind of thing. This is how to use Facebook–to facilitate in-person connection, both with people you already know and with those you don’t. With those you don’t, the function of an online group is partly to help you screen for affinities, which lowers the barriers to in-person connection.

It’s three years now since Meredith and her merry band of rabble-rousers welcomed a family of refugees from Syria during the swirling turmoil of the travel ban. What followed was at least a year’s worth of intense collaboration to help that family get situated, much of which was facilitated through the Facebook group. Two years on, those connections are still there, and it turns out that one of the women at the meetup last night was the one in charge of the refugee welcome project.

Facebook groups can do good. Rather, enterprising and brave people like Meredith and her friends can use Facebook groups to do good.



Eitan Hersh wants people to stop confusing news consumption for meaningful civic engagement.

He’s won me over.

Not my sixth grader’s Social Studies teacher, though, because Kiddo is still required, once a week, to consumes some news artifact and summarizes it in writing for a Current Events grade.

Confusing news consumption with important work is taught.


Ash Wednesday

This post originally appeared in March, 2014.

I waited in the church parking lot for Barbara and Bill to return for Barbara’s purse, which she had left in the sanctuary after the service. Well, not left it really–she thought she had lost it, and, after about 10 minutes of turning over pew cushions to find it, she and Bill fled the Ash Wednesday worship–only just beginning–to find it.

I had noticed her searching, had heard the first rumbling of trouble before the quake, when she asked (as if to anyone within earshot), “Where’s my purse?” She was only in the second row. I was in the first, along with the three high school students and one Youth Intern who were leading worship. Several searching turns of the head did not produce the purse, and by the Call To Worship Barbara was in a panic. She stooped to scan the undersides of pews. She darted to the side aisle to pace the length of the sanctuary, back to front, broadcasting a desperate search. And then she was gone, so the contemplative peace of youth reading prayers and smudging ashes could resume as I’d planned it.

The purse showed itself from the opposing front pew shortly after the sanctuary had emptied. I put away the microphones, cleaned up the little dishes that had held our ashes, turned out the lights, and then scooped up the purse and proceeded to the office, where I called Barbara at home. As soon as I announced myself into the phone, she announced, “You have my purse! I’ll be there in 20 minutes!” She hung up instantly.

I drove a worshiper home who lived less than a mile down the street and then returned to the church to wait for Barbara and Bill. The night was warm and clear and quiet, and thoughts or inconvenience or irritation troubled me not at all. I was grateful for an unscripted interlude to stare dumbly at passing cars and sing “Come And Fill Our Hearts” to the moon. I was sad when it ended, when searching headlights found me and made straight for me.

I heard the tale then of the confusion surrounding the purse’s disappearance and of how Barabara and Bill had retraced the evening’s steps, from Target to Burger King, and had eventually used Bill’s phone to call and disable Barbara’s cell phone. They were moments from calling the bank about her credit cards when they got my call. Barbara was apologetic. She regretted the disruption to the service. I assured her it was no disruption (which was true; hadn’t the service continued anyway? Can worship be so easily derailed?). Then I excused myself, wished them a good night, and climbed back into my car as Barbara exhorted me to go home and play with my daughter.

“I will,” I said. Then, through the closed passenger side window, I added, “She wants me to bring her home some ashes.” There was an uncovered dish of them right there in the cup holder.

“Ashes!” Barbara exclaimed, testifying to just how far away from the night’s occasion she had chased her purse. “We didn’t get any of those.”

It was the most reflexive thing I have ever done to grab the dish in my right hand, open the driver side door with my left, and round the trunk to stand at Barbara’s window. She hadn’t noticed my approach and only saw my when she turned around to begin backing out of her parking space. When she did, she quietly rolled down the window and lowered her head in observation. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Then Bill leaned over from the passenger seat and received his ashes and his incantation.

“Have a good night,” I said and once again returned to my car.

“You too,” Barbara answered. And then, “We love you.”

“I love you too” I shouted as they backed away, staring forward across the church lawn through a streaky windshield. I paused one more moment to listen, then drove home in silence.