Friday, September 25, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 137


My friend, Tracy Simmons, the editor and executive director of SpokaneFaVS, is the ONLY professional journalist from the Inland Northwest traveling to Philadelphia to cover Pope Francis's first visit to the United States.

Photo credit
As I wrote in this piece yesterday, I really admire the pontiff for his unwavering devotion to living the gospel of Christ and reaching out to those who may feel marginalized. I'll be hanging on Tracy's every post over the weekend, and you can too! Just check back in on this page at where we're collecting all of our Pope coverage.


And while I'm singing the praises of SpokaneFaVS, here's another thing:

SpokaneFaVS was recently awarded "Best Local Community Initiative" by the Local Media Association! This is the third national award in three years to recognize the amazing work SpokaneFaVS is doing. I'm so proud to be a part of this organization!


Common Core is a touchy subject for many, but it seems like there's as much - if not more - misinformation out there about Common Core as there is accurate information. And stuff like this annoys me. (I love the responses here and here.)

First of all, Common Core is a set of standards for each grade level meant to standardize the expectations of what students should learn by the end of a given year of schooling. Ideally, mastery of the Common Core concepts in one grade will help prepare students to naturally progress to the next. Now, not all educators agree that all of the standards are age-appropriate, especially in the youngest grades, so there's definitely room for disagreement here.

But, secondly, please note that Common Core is NOT a curriculum. Many private companies have published curriculums - some pretty good and some really not - based on the standards and are working hard to sell their curriculum to your school district. But a lousy curriculum based on the standards doesn't necessarily mean that the standards themselves are bad or wrong. By all means, go to your school district and complain about the curriculum if you don't like it, or write to your congressional representatives and complain about the standards if you disagree with them, but be clear on what you're complaining about and complain to the right person(s) about it.

Thirdly, yes, many subjects are now taught differently than they were when we were going through grade school. And yes, it's incredibly frustrating - and embarrassing - when your third grader wants help with her math homework and you're confronted with an unfamiliar methodology that you don't understand. So let go of how it used to be and how you think it should be, and spend a few minutes on google, contact your child's teacher, or ask your child to describe it the way the teacher taught it in school and I'm confident you and your child can figure it out.


Lisa Butterworth of Feminist Mormon Housewives published this beautifully humble and vulnerable piece about the relationship between faith and certainty:
...for me, certainty left no room for curiosity. My certainty was not humble, nor kind, nor was it terribly interested in truly understanding other points of view. Certainty did not allow me to hold space for the experiences of others if their beliefs did not fortify my own beliefs.
And ‘fortify’ is the exact right word come to think of it, because my belief had to live in a fortress. I had Truth, and yet Truth was so fragile that it felt like it was always under attack from anything and anyone who did not agree.
A faith that allows for uncertainty can be beautiful and empowering, even if the transition from a "certain" faith is scary at first:
This faith, this ambiguous choice to believe–fully knowing that I could be wrong– it encourages all the curiosity, all the kindness, I don’t have all the answers, I can’t possibly know the Truth, so I no longer have to defend it against anyone who disagrees or feel like it’s always under attack. This faith could not care less if you agree with my belief or not. It just is what it is. And it could look very different tomorrow because I will have new experiences and learn new things tomorrow.
And this about the paradoxes of Mormonism:
I love Mormonism because we are full of paradox up to our eyeballs. We are a peculiar people of plenteous paradox. (The paradoxes are not generally the favorite parts of the folks with certain-faith because paradox laughs in the face of certainty braw ha ha ha ha!) My favorite is obedience vs. personal revelation. The mind boggles as you try to be obedient while always trusting your own relationship with God. Eve herself had to choose between knowledge and disobedience. We celebrate her choice, we do, but . . . but . . . obedience!! The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Weakness is strength. Leaders are Servants. We must die in Christ to truly live. Finding our individual salvation only when we focus on our community. Faith vs. Works. Grace vs. Sin.
She concludes:
The point being, that we all can and do believe six impossible things before breakfast. And while there is a time and place for ruthless logic (the lab)(but even that is all about probabilities, never ever certainty). There is also time and place to take an uncomfortable leap into the unknown and to just revel in the endless curious joy to be found in the unknowable. Our brains are so tiny and limited, there are only so many things that we can know, and so vastly many more that will remain a deep mystery...I choose faith.
The whole thing is somewhat long, but worth the read.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train starts off as find-myself chick lit, but quickly morphs into a mystery thriller as well as a textbook example of the unreliable narrator technique.

Alcoholic divorcee Rachel takes the same train into London every day to conceal from her roommate the fact that she was fired months ago. Everyday she passes the same scenery, the same stops, the same homes, including the home where she used to live with her ex-husband Tom. Just a few houses down from the home now sheltering her ex, his new wife and their baby, a young married couple catches Rachel's eye. She creates a fantasy life for them in her head complete with names - Jason and Jess - jobs, vacations, and a fun, flirty and loving relationship, until the day she sees Jess kissing someone other than Jason. Outraged by the betrayal, Rachel debates confronting Jess or telling Jason until she sees Jess's face on the front page of the newspaper. She's gone missing and now Rachel worries that the unknown lover could be at fault and Jess could be in danger.

Narrating duties alternate between Rachel and Anna (Tom's new wife) in the present, and Megan (Jess's real name) in the past leading up to her disappearance. All three of the women are unreliable narrators in their own way, whether because of self-deception, willful ignorance, or substance abuse. But somehow, clarity comes through the combination of the unreliability of all three. Hawkins deftly weaves the story through the unreliability so that each narrator is absolutely true to herself and what she thinks, feels, understands, and sees, but at the same plants the elements of doubt and questioning in their narration.

Loneliness and depression are also common threads that run between the three women. All three are seeking happiness and resolution and are stymied by their own self-doubt and the men in their lives. Feelings of inadequacy and ambivalence regarding motherhood, pregnancy, and infertility complicate their quests to move forward from "playing at real life instead of actually living it."

While I personally found the ultimate resolution and "bad guy" revelation a bit predictable, it was still a creepy joy ride for a day or two, if you like that kind of thing, and I appreciate Hawkins drawing three very different and interesting female characters. I'm intrigued to see how it comes to life on the big screen.

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
ISBN: 9781594633669
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Early last year, along with all the rest of America, I was excited, dumbfounded, and a little nervous when Harper Lee announced she was publishing another novel - more than 50 years after her iconic To Kill a Mockingbird. There were rumors that the reclusive 89-year-old Lee, nearly blind and deaf and in poor health, was getting bullied into publishing an earlier draft of what, after much editing and many revisions, eventually became Mockingbird. The recent death of her sister and longtime protector, Alice, and the fortuitous "discovery" of the manuscript by a lawyer at the firm where Alice worked, added to the concerns that this wasn't necessarily in line with Harper's intents or best interests. But I tried to give the situation the benefit of the doubt and looked forward to seeing what Lee's "sophomore" effort would be.

Unfortunately, I have to say, I was not particularly impressed with Go Set a Watchman as a stand-alone novel. It raises some interesting questions, however, as an extension of and reflection on Mockingbird, Scout and Atticus.

First of all, while there are moments in Go Set a Watchman that pulled me in, I didn't feel connected to Scout - sorry, Jean Louise - or Atticus or any of the characters I knew from To Kill a Mockingbird, though I was sad about Jem's absence. Of the new characters, Henry Clinton, Jean Louise's longtime friend and sometime beau, intrigued me most with his endearingly constant pursuit of Jean Louise and his struggle to overcome his "white trash" roots.

As its own story, Watchman lacks the depth and polish that came to Mockingbird through the extensive editing process. Especially toward the end of the novel, the dialogue in Watchman turned into speeches, the action seemed rushed, life-changing epiphanies dropped left and right with little time or effort to process them between the swings of extreme emotions, and then it just ended. I wanted more. More nuance and more growth. More of Jean Louise fighting to reconcile the men she loved with their beliefs she found abhorrent, more of her internal struggle to determine how best to move forward and how their relationships should change, more of a sense of direction from her for the future.

The character development and emotional investment all happened in Mockingbird. Watchman was just kind of riding Mockingbird's coat tails. It simply doesn't work as its own story, despite having been written first.

Watchman was better as a commentary of sorts on Mockingbird. Scout's idealism and "colorblindness" runs up against her father's and Henry's resigned pragmatism and casual racism, sparking her true adulthood, her first real separation from the father she worshiped. Like Scout realizing that the father she had built up in her mind as the epitome of perfection - in a way denying both him and herself their true, nuanced humanity - was actually only human after all, we readers were faced with the unpleasant rounding of a character we had learned to idolize from our middle school English classes. It's valuable to be reminded that no one is either all good or all bad and that every single person we meet is more complicated and real than we often give them credit for, though that is also often a painful realization.

I'm all for complex characters and had little difficulty accepting the characterization of Atticus that included some of the more benign-seeming but insidious racist attitudes of the time, cloaked in a mantle of respectability and reasonableness (though I found her Uncle Jack's method of "attract[ing] her attention" and his complaint that "it takes it out of you" incredibly distasteful). But Watchman preached where Mockingbird simply showed. And Mockingbird, not Watchman, is rightfully Lee's landmark novel on race relations.

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
ISBN: 9780062409850
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 136



I love SpokaneFaVS. I donate monetarily every month and I volunteer many hours as the COO for SpokaneFaVS because I believe what we're doing is important and helps make this a better world. If you agree, now would be a GREAT time to show your support. We've had some significant and unexpected expenses this month and could really use the help! Read more and donate here. Spread the word! Every little bit helps! Thank you!


I was flat out angry when I read about 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas, and his suspension for bringing a homemade digital clock to school this past week. This situation speaks to a number of interrelated problems in our society: ignorance of science and engineering, fear of the "other" or anything and anyone who is different or we don't understand, school's zero-tolerance policies (which are fed by the aforementioned ignorance and fear), Islamophobia (which has been amply demonstrated in Irving, Texas, as of late), and racism (ignorance and fear at play here again). I believe all of these factors were in play during this insane over-reaction.

Eventually Ahmed was arrested for bringing a "hoax bomb" to school - which makes no sense since he *never* implied it was anything other than a clock and hoaxes generally require some intent to deceive and none of the authority figures acted like they thought for a moment it was a bomb. The bomb squad wasn't called, absolutely no precautions were taken to protect anyone from a possible explosive device. Everything about this incident stinks to high heaven.

(As a side note, he was interrogated by police for hours without his parents or an attorney present, despite Ahmed asking for his parents several times. How is that not a violation of his rights??)

Fortunately, the charges were dropped, he was released to his parents without being admitted to the juvenile detention center, and scientists, musicians, engineers, social media moguls, educators, and other high profile people have reached out to offer support, scholarships, invitations. I'm glad some good will come out of this, but I sincerely hope it's a wake-up call to schools, communities, and individuals everywhere to do things differently. It's happened before; it should never happen again.


Love these photos from around the world - Cameroon, Liberia, Afghanistan, India, Israel, Palestine, Yemen, Cuba, Haiti, Canada, the U.S., Venezuela, Australia, Ireland, Poland, the U.K., Ukraine, and more! - of women and girls standing up for their rights. I may not agree with every stance or method represented in the pictures, but I love their bravery and commitment. Love, love, love!


In case you've been avoiding bungee jumping because it seems too dangerous, you should know that you are at significantly higher risk of death going canoeing. Or scuba diving.

For other statistics of your chance of dying doing various activities, click here. (Since you're 1,000 times more likely to die at dance parties than playing board games, I guess we're pretty safe with our Ticket to Ride, Dominion, and Carcassone.)

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 135


I'm sure by now you've read dozens of articles about the refugee crisis in Europe (here's one that's pretty comprehensive about the situation if you're looking for more background, and here's a good graphic summary). The human stories are heart-breaking. It's easy to think that what's happening half a world away doesn't really affect us, but it's impossible to remain unmoved by these pictures. I can't bear to look at the one of the poor drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi.

We can feel helpless and throw up our hands, or we can do something. While few of us might be in a position to offer the direct help these people did, here's an article that makes several concrete suggestions. Number four on her list is to volunteer, to personally help refugees acclimate to their new homes.

Here in Spokane, a great organization called Global Neighborhood assists refugees with job placement, studying for citizenship, learning to drive and get around town, and many other essential aspects of their transition. Check in your area for groups that reach out to refugees and find ways to communicate #refugeeswelcome.


Found this fascinating TED talk the other day: "How Not to Be Ignorant About the World." Father and son team Hans and Ola Rosling present four common misconceptions about the state of the world and then their four rules of thumb for combating our tendency to assume the worst in the absence of facts.


And another TED talk, this one from the author of The Righteous Mind. My facebook feed is starting to fill up with political posts of every stripe and while it's tempting to start hiding the posts I disagree with, this talk is a good reminder to keep an open mind:
...if our goal is to understand the world, to seek a deeper understanding of the world, our general lack of moral going to make it harder. Because when people all share values, when people all share morals, they become a team, and once you engage the psychology of teams, it shuts down open-minded thinking.
Step out of the moral matrix, just try to see it as a struggle playing out, in which everybody does think they're right, and everybody, at least, has some reasons -- even if you disagree with them -- everybody has some reasons for what they're doing. Step out. And if you do that, that's the essential move to cultivate moral humility, to get yourself out of this self-righteousness, which is the normal human condition.


I canned delicious strawberry jam this weekend! It's so much better than store-bought jam, my boys can polish off a pint jar in a couple of days.

Sliced strawberries
All mashed up

A watched pot never boils...

The finished product (well, some of it - I already gave some away)


14 years. 

Life has gone on, as it has a tendency to do, but September 11, 2001, will always be one of the defining moments in my young adulthood, a rude awakening to the reality of true evil in the world and our vulnerability before it, but also evidence of the deep-seated goodness and humanity of so many across the world.

May we continue to be determined to make the world a better place for ourselves, our children, and all people of good will.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 134


Another episode in Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series was released this week!  Women as Reward has some excerpts from game footage that contains disturbing sexually explicit content and rampant objectification of women, so consider this a trigger warning.

A couple of excerpts:
We’ve coined the Women as Reward trope to describe a long-running pattern found in interactive media. It occurs when women (or more often women’s bodies) are employed as rewards for player actions in video games. The trope frames female bodies as collectible, as tractable or as consumable, and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players...The result of this incentive structure is that access to women’s bodies, women’s affection or women’s sexuality is reduced to a simple equation that guarantees delivery as long as the correct set of inputs are entered into the system. 
In this way the Women as Reward trope helps foster a sense of entitlement where players are encouraged to view women as something they’ve earned the right to by virtue of their gaming actions, skills or accomplishments.
And this:

When women are used as sexualized experience point dispensers, the sexual scenarios are themselves a reward designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players. But there’s a dual reward here: absorbing these expressions of female sexuality carries with it the ability for male characters to grow stronger, faster and more capable, reducing the women to points in a mathematical equation that directly links the flippant consumption of female sexuality to an increase in male power. 
Note that, while the consumption of women makes male characters more powerful it has nothing to do with mutual relationship building. The “relationship,” such as it is, ends with sex, or rescuing the woman. At that point, she has served her purpose. Players have reaped the benefits and her value has been depleted. Like an empty energy drink container, she is simply cast aside after being consumed.
These videos are eye-opening and enlightening, and frequently disturbing and upsetting. I admire Anita's ability to identify discrete individual examples of problematic elements in pop culture and show how they are linked not only to each other, but to overarching societal trends.

And here's a bonus article: an interview with Anita Sarkeesian calling a spade a spade, or rather, calling a "troll" an abuser.


I posted this on my personal facebook page a couple of days ago, after observing several posts from friends which not only expressed their deeply held opinions, but also vilified those who disagreed with them.

This graphic seems timely.
I have facebook friends with political, social, religious, and economic views that span a wide, wide spectrum. It's not at all uncommon for two posts expressing diametrically opposed opinions to show up right next to each other on my news feed. And having been blessed (cursed?) with the ability to see many sides of an issue, I almost always recognize elements of truth in each viewpoint.
So, PSA: Please remember that there is always another angle from which to view any issue, particularly deeply meaningful ones. Please assume goodwill even - perhaps especially - from those with whom you disagree, and seek for the common ground that exists. Please don't presume that any one person has all the answers that work in every situation across the board, or that those with different experiences are "wrong".

Please consider that you may not have all the facts, that others may have something to teach you, and that, in fact, you may even be mistaken. As fallible human beings, that possibility should always be on our radars, as should a willingness to listen and learn and grow.
The end.
By all means, hold strong and passionate beliefs and opinions. But please make sure that they are informed by facts, that you've at least heard and considered the "other side", and that you don't vilify other children of God in your expression of them.


If you have a 4th grader, you can get access to every National Park for free for a full year! Just go here and print out the pass - it's good for the whole family. We don't live close to too many National Parks, but we're going to have to try to hit at least a few before the end of next August.

This is a fabulous initiative from President Obama, whether you agree with his politics or not.


While a lot of the headlines went to Josh Duggar and Christian hypocrisy in the recent Ashley Madison scandal, I was most disheartened by this one: "Pure America: Meet the Only Three Zip Codes Without Any Ashley Madison Users."

Three zip codes. In the entire country.

And the article posits that it's really only because these three zip codes are small, rural, and have little internet access.

I have never seen a greater threat to "the sanctity of marriage" than this damning revelation of how many married people do not value fidelity, integrity, and honor.