Reflections on the Ravi Zacharias Findings – A Follow-Up

Preface: The following is me processing some of the responses to my take on Ravi Zacharias. If you found it triggering, please exercise care in reading this. I’m processing my own errors and problematic reads of the situation, which hopefully will benefit people in a similar place. But it’s my primary wish that I do no further harm, hence this warning.

The TL;DR is that some parts of my take were insufficiently clearly targeted, are problematic, and I’m sorry that that caused harm to some readers. One person spoke up, but I assume I have other harmed friends that did not.


I recently wrote my thoughts about the Ravi Zacharias findings, where basically everything awful he was accused of was true, and it was in some cases even worse. I had a specific audience in mind for that piece, though I don’t think I was explicitly clear about that. I was thinking about people who had received beneficial spiritual formation from the hands of toxic or problematic people and/or organizations. While Zacharias was not a meaningful part of my spiritual formation in any direct way, he probably was through the people he influenced. But for me, it was an arms-length problem.

I can tell you who I was not thinking about directly, and that’s survivors of abuse. 

Rachael Denhollander, a well-known survivor who also works with organizations to root out abuse culture, and who is in fact working with RZIM, had this to say about the many thinkpieces being produced:

She goes on in the thread to talk about the Monday morning quarterbacks out there who applaud the right steps being taken but had nothing to say while women were being harmed, or worse, sided with the abuser.

I thought that this was concerning and wondered if my comments would be considered that way. So I quoted her tweet with this:

I checked in with my emotions and didn’t feel defensive, but was a little concerned. Still, I went by the old Southern maxim “a hit dog’ll holler”, so I figured if I didn’t want to holler, I was okay.

My piece was generally well-received. Several women I know read it positively and said so. I even had a man with similar experiences to me contact me privately and say it was helpful to them in processing their own experiences with spiritual abuse. I felt good about that.

Then, another friend challenged me on the Facebook page where I had posted the original piece. Facebook is a notoriously difficult medium to read emotion, but she sounded angry and upset to me, and described how she thought my recommendations about the ways that we should process these findings were problematic and contributed to abuse culture. I responded to clarify, but it seemed to make it worse. She even took words I had written the same day about how the Republican Party’s fealty to Trump makes me not trust people who call themselves Republican and align with party leadership but say they have my interests at heart and threw them back in my face, essentially saying I no longer felt like a safe person.

I’m a peacemaker by nature, which when undeveloped becomes people-pleasing. I don’t like to make people upset, and I like to find common ground. So I sat with the horrible feeling in my stomach from hurting my friend and tried to separate my own prideful indignation at being challenged and being accused of being a friend to people like Zacharias, my desire for her to not be mad at me, and my desire to understand whether I had legitimately gotten something wrong. 

I do racial reconciliation work with the administrative team at Be The Bridge. We recognize that our white participants have a steep hill to climb, coming from a society that for generations has unreasonably centered them, coddled their whims, and stunted their empathy. Seeing that work up close has caused me to have more empathy for white people who are in that process, though I do not excuse failure to try to get better or to humbly receive correction.

As a cishet Christian man, in conversations about spiritual abuse, especially those with a sexual component, I’m the white person. I’m the one who has had my sinful behavior ignored or encouraged and had my empathy stunted. So when people tell me that my words are problematic, I try to listen. I know that no matter what I say, I will not please everyone, and that’s the hard part. As my friend was the first to say, “we can disagree”. But people who are on the lower end of the power dynamics axis get a lot of say about whether something is problematic. 

I want to quote Louis C.K. here and say “if someone says you hurt them, you don’t get to tell them you didn’t.” But, well, you know.

In my reflection, I asked my wife to help me understand what about my post is problematic, or at least what could be read that way. She mentioned some comments I made about allowing his books to stand in response to a “what’s next” question as possibly giving the impression that I thought his legacy should stand. I agree that that was a problematic take. The most challenging part of my post, about holding the good and the evil people have done in quantum superposition, was meant to be challenging, but not to survivors. It was meant to challenge the people that throw the whole church away over that kind of corruption, or those that were spiritually formed in positive ways by his work and don’t want to fully acknowledge the evil of the person that produced it, or process what that means they have to change in themselves to decouple themselves from it. I’m not a person that’s going to tell you to try to remember the great work Hitler did with the trains. But, I have found that that quantum holding, as I describe it, allows me to remember my own humanity and how I am not above anything evil a human has done, and thus better guard against it. It also helps me process perpetrators of harm who are themselves survivors of harm, which is important but not relevant in this particular context.

I think speaking into the American evangelical context sympathetically causes people to make assumptions about the theological underpinnings of where I’m coming from. That context is sadly known for preservation of power and marginalization of voices. So let me say a few things to clarify:

  • I believe forgiveness, repentance, and repair are distinct processes. Forgiveness does not mean re-entry into relationship with a harmful person, and it does not mean that you are okay with what they have done. And you can be heartily sorry about something you did and yet do nothing to make sure something like that never happens again.
  • I believe women can be called to serve the church in any capacity, including leadership or head of household.
  • I do not believe survivors are obligated to view things any particular way beyond what they need to heal and find wholeness.
  • I am not asserting that we “love the sinner” and “hate the sin”. Causing earthly harm demands earthly consequences and those consequences should be paid. If we are talking about radical love of people, it is unloving to deprive someone of consequences for their actions and thus allow them to fall further away. Put more simply, God’s grace doesn’t give you a get out of jail free card.
  • I do not know the consequences of an unrepentant life in the afterlife, but I believe there are some. My understanding of God leads me to believe those consequences, while painful, would be on a path to restoration rather than damnation, but that’s for the unrepentant sinner and God to work out, not me. My job is to not be that person when I die.
  • I do not believe we need to hold up the good someone has done in a public conversation about the evil they have done.
  • I do not believe we need to preserve the work of Ravi Zacharias and continue to teach or share it.

In the paragraph that was problematic, I was trying to find a way to help people reconcile the beneficial spiritual formation they’ve received with the behavior of the person they received it from. I do see how that challenge to hold tension could be read as insisting survivors forgive the perpetrators of violence against them, or otherwise engage in work that they are not obligated to do. I also see how someone could read my comments as a call to keep the work he did and throw out the person. That is how that read, but that is not what I intended to say. My wife gave me a useful metric: how would you process this in the secular world? Thinking about the cases of Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, how would you tell people to process their work? 

In answering that question, I had to admit that I feel differently about R. Kelly than I do about Bill Cosby. R. Kelly was so blatant and contemptuous in his predatory actions that I “canceled” him a long time ago before that was a phenomenon, when he released The Chocolate Factory and called himself the Pied Piper of R&B, from the fairy tale about the man who leads the children of Hamelin to ruin. Cosby however, was a trickier case for me. I believed the women who spoke out. I think he should be in jail. But I wasn’t super excited about them canceling syndication of his show. It was, in fact, spiritually formative for a lot of us. 

So what does that mean? Am I okay with predators who move in secret and have the “decency” to not throw it in our faces?

As I was preparing for bed, I was jokingly singing an old 90s rap in a mid-century American musical songbook style (I know, I’m a weirdo). I stopped myself when I realized that the lyric I was about to say was also the title of the song. “Bitches Ain’t Shit”.

Men, yes, even us “good” ones, are so thoroughly indoctrinated in our hatred of and disregard for women that it feels like breathing. When I contemplate where I actually am standing and look up, the well seems so deep that I am not sure how I’m going to climb out. I don’t think my empathy and care muscles are completely atrophied. I may even be reasonably well-developed, but that’s only comparatively speaking. That’s not an assessment based on what we need to get out of the well. This internalized, pervasive misogyny is a bigger problem than what’s going on in the church, and I frankly don’t know what to do about it other than continuing to stumble, be corrected, and trying to become the kind of person that does not cause such harm anymore. My responsibility, my obligation is to keep grabbing the slippery, mossy stones, and to press upward toward the light until the day I die, even if I never make it out.

It’s hard, though. I learned these songs when I was 15-17 years old. I got fed imagery and behavior through multiple modes of media from much younger than that. I was raised to love my mother and sister, to respect women. And there are a lot of white people out there who were raised to speak kindly to Black people as well and treat the ones in their lives well. It doesn’t mean you are clear. It will show up in who you acknowledge first when they come into a room, in your assumption of who’s in charge, in your mentoring a young man, but merely managing your attraction to a young woman that you aren’t even practically interested in.  This is the work for the “good ones”: to realize you’re not so good and not to rest complacently in the truth that “everyone’s a sinner”, but to press toward the mark of treating all the image bearers of God, male, female, non-binary, with the dignity, respect, and care that is warranted by their very existence.

I am sorry that insufficient care in my analysis led to harm for some readers. I will exercise more care in the future when touching on subjects involving abuse and survivors.

Reflections on The Ravi Zacharias Findings

Photo by Julia Volk from Pexels

NOTE: I also wrote a follow-up post that you should read after this one for further clarification.

I’m thinking about the complete mess that is the Ravi Zacharias situation. Quick primer for the non-aware: Zacharias was a Christian apologist, a formal philosophical and theological argument maker of the first degree, who recently died. Some accusations late in his life that were originally treated as slanderous have subsequently been proven true, and his ministry is taking steps to repent and repair. The answers for what to do are simple to find and hard to live out.

Believe women and other marginalized people.

Ask why the church is marginalizing so many people.

Set up mutual accountability and frameworks to allow parishioners to challenge power without power closing ranks to protect itself and slander earnest complaint.

I believe in primus inter pares complementarianism, where there is a first among equals, a chair of the joint chiefs. Someone’s got to make the call in a two-person decision. But that lead should be based on skills and gifts. My wife is better at reading people, so I defer to her on those decisions. I’m better than her at procedural thinking, so she defers to me on that. But we’ve earned that from each other through trust building and sometimes through our mistakes. I can only lead well by recognizing and engaging the full capabilities of my partner. Leadership is a service role, not a dominance role.

There is a deep theological shift, however, that needs to happen in our Christian understanding of women and their role in the human story that we assert God is supervising and allowing us to co-write. Too many strains of Christianity have women as second-class, valued for childbearing and holding up mighty men of God, but otherwise useless as productive citizens. The hardcore complementarians among you will dispute this and say that women’s roles are Very Important. And yes, child rearing and supportive marital roles are critical. Women who have the desire and gift to do those things should do them with joy and pride. (There is a whole other conversation beyond the scope of this discussion about how the dissolution of the extended family and village model combined with our brand of corporate capitalism and history of sexism has created the need for the harried homemaker who does it all alone, because it doesn’t have to be that way either.) But what happens when the desires and gifts the women in our lives receive are not designed to be part of a man’s story? What if they prophesy, or exhort, or shepherd, or strategize better than anyone we know?

We are fools if we throw half of God’s bounty away because we don’t like the container God shipped it in.

No one, not me, not you, is immune to the selfishness that causes what Christians call sin and everyone calls wrong. Zacharias may have had his sin play out in a different way if he had come to prominence in a different kind of Christian culture. Or maybe his particular temptations wouldn’t have fired. We can’t know.

What we do know is that the kinds of things he was accused of that have now been validated are individual manifestations of systemic problems. Purity culture creates a poor theology of the body that makes us hate our bodies and our desires yet gives us no place to put them into context. As a result, our desires leak out in perverse ways. Sexist teachings encourage and reinforce a secular objectification and devaluing of women so they are not heard or believed. And we end up here.

There is one more thing to say, and this is in defense of Zacharias’s contributions, even though I am not convinced I agree with him theologically. The man can have done all of the horrible things he did, for which he should face the full consequence to his reputation and ministry, and still have contributed to the faith. Whether churched, unchurched, or dechurched, we tend to operate in a kind of dualism, where the evil one does negates the good, or where the good one does blinds us to the evil. There is not a scorecard that can be balanced. All the good is there, and all the evil, occupying the same space in a kind of metaphysical quantum superposition. And we have to hold both, uncomfortably, and together. That holding, that opening opens us to other possibilities and more expansive, whole ways of being.

I am thankful that the organization he founded expressed a commitment to unqualified repentance, cultural analysis and change, and actual, meaningful repair and restitution to the harmed people. That is all that can be done for what has passed. For the future, all we can hope is that they become the kind of entity that does not allow this to happen anymore. May that be so, and may God tear it down if it is not.

And as Ravi Zacharias’s soul flies on to wherever is next, I hope he finds repentance, repair, and wholeness, even as he faces whatever unknown cosmic consequences there are for our unresolved sins in this life.

The Epiphany The Lie, and The Feces

Image from Twitter user @walterdellinger

I keep thinking about the feces.

Last week, angry Trumpists stormed the United States Capitol building. The police were overwhelmed and were not given additional support. (It’s beyond the scope of this post to speculate about their heroism, complicity, or the reasons for the lack of support.) Once inside, the insurgents posed with statues, stole artifacts, and smeared feces on the walls of our chief legislative federal institution.

The smearing and throwing of feces is a symbol of defilement and disrespect that probably pre-dates humanity, as any scientist who studies ape social behavior can tell you. I cannot think of a more disrespectful thing to do that doesn’t involve violation of a body or destruction. But the feces was merely a footnote in this story.

I think of a man with a lucrative and promising career who lost it all for having the unmitigated gall to kneel before our flag instead of standing for it, as a protest against police brutality that still showed respect for soliders, as he was asked to by his military friend. I think of the off-duty police in the mob who showed their badges to the Capitol Police, saying “We’re doing this for you,” as they pushed past them to get their mayhem and defilement campaign going. I think of the bombings of 1921 and 1985, in Tulsa and Philadelphia, where domestic perceived threats in Black skin were bombed away. I am not aware of other domestic bombing initiated by government entities, though I am aware of ones initiated by domestic terrorists and insurgents.

All I can see is The Lie, naked and brazen, shameless and flamboyant.

When a Black person is harmed or is killed by a police officer or a self-appointed deputy, we are told that they should have behaved in an orderly and compliant way and they wouldn’t have gotten hurt. And it’s important to talk about harm, whether that’s actual physical injury or psychological terror. We center our language around those who have been killed and have no language to talk about the persistent humiliation and fear cultivated in boys and girls growing up in overpoliced and underresourced neighborhoods. We are tracking the spending of our dollars but not our cents, and the bills add up.

Before anything, Black Lives Matter is first a call for empathy. “Can’t you see that my life also has meaning? Can’t you see that I’m a full human, too? Can’t you see that your callous treatment of my life and well-being is hurtful?” We are somehow, as a society, always able to find this empathy for a rural white farmer or factory worker. We can even find this empathy for the disaffected Trumpists who masquerade as salt of the earth but are actually petit bourgeoisie with second homes and sport boats or pickup trucks. We ponder how we can help them be less sad about the election as they take leisure time from their small businesses, steady union jobs, or comfortable white collar jobs to storm the United States Capitol with weapons and hostage-taking materials. We’re even able to find this empathy for rioters who tear up their cities after sports victories, surely a matter of the least significance to the state of the nation.

Yet, here we are again, facing The Lie and the shards it produces as its fragile frame disintegrates all over the floor. 

We pretend that there is a logic to this. We pretend that the rules are evenly applied and that what we care about is compliance and order. We pretend that there is equal justice in this country despite reams of data to the contrary. We pretend that any differences in outcomes have nothing to do with compound interest dividends on injustice and everything to do with cultural or individual failings. And then, when Black bodies get unruly, we meet them with overwhelming force, and if necessary, smear them across the pavement.

White men are killing themselves at higher rates than any other group in the country, and researchers can’t seem to figure out why. We talk about our increasingly impersonal society and the decline of religion as possible causes. They can’t figure out why Black people, with the stressors they have and the discrimination they face, don’t have higher numbers. While causes are complex, I posit that one major contribution to this disparity is that the people of African descent who were enslaved and made into “Black people” always have known The Lie was The Lie, so while we have fought generation after generation for a better truth, we haven’t placed our hope in the lie that things were fine and that no significant introspection or reconstruction needed to be done. Because of the numbing and confusing influence of The Lie, the people of European descent that were made into “white people” have been left in the wake of The Lie’s demise with a truth that they cannot face.

This January 6, this Epiphany, there was no hiding from the awful, horrid truth. Blue Lives Matter, until they get in the way of white supremacy. All voices are welcome, until they get in the way of white supremacy. Compliance, law, and order matter, until they get in the way of white supremacy. Our institutions of power matter and should not be tampered with, until they get in the way of white supremacy.

The American flag matters, until it gets in the way of white supremacy. 

The only animating force or principle to this movement is the preservation of white dominance through the tools of white supremacy. This is why Pence can be a hero one day and Public Enemy Number One the next for choosing his Constitutional authority over the whims of the mob. This is why even their icon, Trump, can be seen as a betrayer for choosing to comply with the demands of the legislators and administrators that keep a check on his power. The political cults that have risen move the goalposts freely and change the rules at will, because whatever they say they care about is a lie. Dominance and control are their only desires. The spirit of the evil age when the truth was able to move freely and without shame fights to live, and it carries on in our unexamined hearts and in our unreformed institutions.

The truth remains silent, but it persists, smeared across the halls of justice of our country, smeared on our neighbors’ homes, in our banks, on our streets. The truth is smeared across our pulpits and pews, obscuring passages in our holy texts, sticking the pages together so that context becomes impossible to glean. The truth defiles the values we say we hold dear and ruins the complex interwoven fabric of the tapestry that is our nation at its best. 

The truth stinks.

Nobel Laureate Louise Glück and The Persistence of Memory

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Louise Glück, the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, identified the two pieces of writing that formed her as a child as William Blake’s “The Little Black Boy” and Stephen Foster’s minstrel song “Old Folks At Home”, colloquially known as “Swanee River”. “The Little Black Boy” begins:

My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child: 
But I am black as if bereav’d of light.

As for “Old Folks At Home”, I don’t need to explain why a minstrel song is problematic. But here are a few lines, shown in the original slave dialect as imagined by a white man, just so you get what’s happening:

All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.

All de world am sad and dreary,
Eb-rywhere I roam;
Oh, darkeys, how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home! 

Blake’s poem is a work of its time. Fine. Blake is an important author nonetheless. Fine. These are things that we have to learn to hold in tension. We still hold Aristotle as a model of thinking because of his contributions to logic and his general right direction on biology, though he believed some now-obviously-wrong things like heavy objects fall faster, or that women are a degenerate state of men, with men as the natural ideal.

However, when we teach Aristotle, we teach his wrong beliefs as primitive misunderstandings, at least, even if we don’t explore the implications on the people in the society as much as we should. But we at least acknowledge them. When we teach Blake, especially to high schoolers, we often present his work uncritically and don’t unpack the “primitive” beliefs he carries. And we generally try to pretend that things like Foster’s song simply didn’t happen, which is hard to do when you also make it the state song of Florida and don’t even change the words until 2008. 

I want to go back to that Blake poem. It’s very clear that the subject of the poem aspires to nothing more than to first, have God make him as white in spirit as the English child he speaks of, and then on a great future day, to protect the white child and have his unrequited admiration and love finally returned. This imagined English child did not work or pray for this purity and beauty, it was his birthright, an inherent whiteness. And this American woman, born in 1943, who was only 22 years old when the Civil Rights Act was passed, was shaped and set on her course as a girl by those words.

I have not read Glück before today, and while I do write poetry, I am not a poetry critic. I have little to say about her work. The few pieces I’ve seen are familiarly modern; laconic free verse with line breaks and metaphors that conjure images of spirits moving across hazy wild scenes, diffuse colors and light. Like anyone who has received much recognition, she’s loved and hated. 

I keep wondering, though, how a woman who at 5 or 6 years old was shaped by minstrel songs and images, and was so unaware of the implications that she shared that fact uncritically at her Nobel Lecture, performed as a professor. What poems did she lift up from her students? What challenges did she swat down? Did she even have ears to hear poetry that rubbed against those comfortable narratives that are so pervasive in the American consciousness?

This is the danger of teaching “the greats” without the correct tension. We watch shows like “The Man In The High Castle” and are completely unaware of the parallels in our actual life. At one point in the series, the Nazis that control the Eastern United States start a Jahr Null (German for Year Zero) campaign, where they plan to completely erase American history and replace it with propaganda that suited their aims of control and indoctrination. 

We shudder at that idea, while living in the results of a successful Jahr Null campaign right here — the Lost Cause. I won’t recap the full details of how it came to be, but the wives and daughters of Confederate veterans built a retelling of the Civil War that cast their husbands and fathers as noble but doomed warriors of legend, fighting for a beautiful way of life. There’s no mention of the mass enslavement or the unimaginable brutality, or how many white people were living only slightly better than slaves themselves, yet could take comfort in their caste position. Worst of all, this narrative actually won, which we can see when a sitting President in 2020, regardless of who they are, is willing to threaten to withhold military funding if we do not keep Confederate names on our military bases. Can you imagine if we insisted on having General Cornwallis or Benedict Arnold’s name on our military bases? 

I am not advocating for the “cancellation” that the Christian right perfected and of which the left is now so often accused (and sometimes guilty). I am advocating instead for contextualization. We can’t pull at every thread, but we can provide some interdisciplinary context. What era was Blake writing in? What social stratum as he in? How would that shape how he viewed people? Which of his views are outdated? Which outdated views do we still hold on to? I know the best professors are already doing this already. But learning to simultaneously admire great talent and refuse to accept the worldview through which it was filtered is the skill we must acquire as students.

I talk about “living history” a lot. The past reaches constantly into our present, grabs the edges, pulls the frame into a shape that it recognizes, unless we actively work to reframe for our time. And here, in a far future age, Blake’s hands still are shaping white imaginations, thrilling them with the fantasy that the highest aspiration in a Black life is to shelter and protect a luminous white soul, and in return receive a beatific smile of appreciation. 

The Big Blue Runoff – Georgia 2020

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

By now, you’ve heard the news. Democratic organizers and the people of Georgia have turned the state into a full battleground that Biden currently seems likely to win. And Georgia has not one, but two Senate races. If Democrats win both these races, the Senate will be 50/50, and the tie-breaking vote will likely be Kamala Harris in the Vice-President’s presiding role over the Senate.

People from outside of Georgia have asked me for information on ways they can help, and so I wanted to put a few different ways to help into one place so that people can easily share it. What are some ways you can help?

TL;DR – Show Them The Money

Here are direct links to action if you don’t feel like reading my whole analysis.

Volunteer with the Georgia Democratic Party

Donate to Warnock For Senate
Donate To Ossoff For Senate
Donate to the DPG
Donate to DeKalb Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Fulton Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Gwinnett Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Cobb Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Henry Democrats (ATL)
Donate to Douglas Democrats (ATL)

Candidates

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both have put together formidable campaign organizations, and donations to candidates are always appreciated and well received. What do candidate donations go to? Well, one way to think of it is that you’re funding a startup that has one product — a candidate — and one mission — get that candidate into office (or keep them there). There are professionals that know how to run aspects of the marketing campaign, manage the field organization, or keep up with the finances, and those people have to be paid. There is literature to print, ads to run, signs to post. Candidates do not get to use the money for living expenses or anything not directly related to getting their message out.

You can donate up to the Federal limits (currently $2,800) as an individual to a Senate campaign.

Donate to Warnock For Senate
Donate To Ossoff For Senate

Voters and Dates

If you will be 18 years old on Election Day, January 5, 2021, you can register to vote until December 7. If you missed this election, you can still vote in the runoff. If you are not registered to vote, you can register to vote and vote in this runoff. There’s no such thing as too late.

Here are the key dates:

December 7 – Voter Registration Deadline
December 14 – Early Voting opens in Georgia
January 5 – Election Day

County and State Parties

Every state in the Union, including Georgia, has a State Democratic Party. The parties organize volunteers, set the policy platform that the Democrats in that state will advocate for, and get the word out about endorsed candidates. In Georgia, each county has a state party committee which operates as an entire organization with executive leadership, subcommittees, and voting members, that we colloquially refer to as “the county party”.

It’s not commonly understood why the party will endorse some candidates and not others, particularly in races like the one Warnock just went through. The party’s objective is to elect Democrats who support the party’s platform to office and keep them in office. As such, the party must take a neutral stance on any race where there are multiple qualified and declared Democrats. There was several in Warnock’s race due to its nature as a special election. Ossoff went through a traditional primary process and so emerged as the single qualified Democrat, which allowed the party to act on his behalf. While you may see encouragement to vote for a Democrat in a multi-player race, the party was not free to endorse Warnock until he emerged as the leading Democrat and thus the only Democrat entering the runoff.

The county party is where the action is if you are interested in volunteering. I’m going to link several party pages, and each one will have both Donate links and Volunteer links. Unlike the campaigns themselves, the state and county parties have no limits on the donations they can receive. You can give $1,000 or $10,000, or more. What do the parties use that money for? Two words: ground game.

I’m a post seat holder chair (which is a fancy way to say I’m a voting member of my County Committee and am responsible for organizing efforts in my state house district) in DeKalb, a suburban county that contains the eastern bit of the city of Atlanta and several communities of various socioeconomic strata.

I can tell you, when DeKalb Democrats get a dollar, they stretch it. We can create flyers and marketing materials for candidates to help their dollars go further, use our extensive field organization and volunteer base to canvass, phone bank, text bank, or do lit drops door to door. The precinct captains and volunteers can use their deep and personal relationships to get turnout going on an intimate, one-to-one basis. What’s more, county and state party members serve as poll workers, poll observers, and even work to count and judge ballots alongside Republican and non-partisan counters.

You can and should donate to the state party. Donations to the state party support county efforts and statewide initiatives such as voter protection. County donations are used directly in the districts the county covers.

Democratic Party of Georgia
Donate to the DPG

County Links

Here are links to county sites for the Atlanta metro area, where more than half of Georgia’s population lives.


DeKalb County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 759,297

Biden % in 2020 Election: 83.1%

Donate to DeKalb Democrats

Clayton County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 292,256

Biden % in 2020 Election: 85.0%

Fulton County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 1,063,937

Biden % in 2020 Election: 72.6%

Donate to Fulton Democrats

Gwinnett County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 936,250

Biden % in 2020 Election: 58.4%

Donate to Gwinnett Democrats

Cobb County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 760,141

Biden % in 2020 Election: 56.3%

Donate to Cobb Democrats

Henry County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 234,561

Biden % in 2020 Election: 59.7%

Donate to Henry Democrats

Douglas County (Atlanta Metro)

Estimated Total Population (2019): 146,343
Biden % in 2020 Election: 62.0%

Donate to Douglas Democrats


Mobilize

Many activities are also organized through Mobilize, a site that organizers use to publish volunteer opportunities. All the phone banks that the Democratic Party of Georgia and the counties will be putting on will be listed here. You can use the filter button to put in a Georgia ZIP code and find opportunities to phonebank, text bank, or if you live close enough, to get into the field.

I encourage you to donate to the candidates and if you have more money or time you wish to give, please give it to the counties. I know DeKalb firsthand and I know my county will steward your resources well and turn out more Democrats for the coming runoff.

“Big” Rest and “Little” Rest

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

A couple of weeks ago, I reached a breaking point. The news has been too stressful. The constant deluge of madness coming from the White House has been becoming increasingly cult-like. The ongoing strain of the pandemic is keeping us stretched as we frantically try to maintain a pre-pandemic pace that no longer makes sense.

I have been listening to Black women who have encouraged a practice of rest as resistance. I decided to follow their advice and take at least one of my daily social media posts to reflect or pre-reflect on my day. I talk a little bit about what I plan to do and where I plan to do something for myself, and then ask: “What are you doing today to rest and increase your sense of personal peace?

I’ve found this ritual quite comforting. It doesn’t take any effort because I was probably going to talk about myself or my feelings at some point in the day on social media anyway, so it doesn’t take much to actually think about how I’d like the day to go. And people seem to appreciate the gentle reminder to do the same for themselves. It’s a pleasant little moment we share each day across the wire.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we define rest. As I look at the times in my life I’ve succeeded and failed at finding it, I have noticed there are two types of rest I’ve experienced. I started out with something like “performative rest” and “conscious mindfulness”, but besides being a mouthful, the terms carry the wrong implication that one is better than the other. So I settled on “Big Rest” and “Little Rest”.

Big Rest is a self-directed activity that increases your capacity. It may require effort or discipline, but you come out of it able to do more than you could before. Examples of this are things like an exercise, yoga, or meditation practice. Another example might be a hard boundary you draw between work or social activities and productive downtime, like scheduling time to read or draw or play music.

Little Rest is an activity that refills your tank. It typically doesn’t require substantial effort or discipline, though it may require a little conscious effort to actually execute. This can be something like getting up from your desk to get a little sunshine on your face, deciding to play video games for a set amount of time, or spontaneously spending a little time with a friend or a good book.

Big Rest is important for our personal development. But it can be stressful for people who already feel overwhelmed. In our relentless grind culture, it can make us feel like we have yet another thing to check off and do. When we approach our rest activities with that accomplishment mindset, we can find they become not restful at all.

Little Rest, though, is what keeps our pace of life manageable. “In These Trying Times”, Little Rest is what is helping us hold our sanity and sense of self together. It can feel indulgent sometimes, but it’s critical that we find some Little Rest task each day. Just like the habit gurus tell you, the smallest steps matter. Committing to a little move like standing outside for a moment and getting fresh air, or letting yourself take a nap when you’re tired midday and don’t have any meetings coming up, can refuel you in ways that you may not anticipate.

If Big Rest tasks in your life stress you out, there are two things you can do. First, find some Little Rest tasks to do instead and see how you feel. Second, spend some time either with yourself or with a professional to examine how you are viewing those Big Rest tasks.

I struggle with Big Rest tasks, and for me it’s rooted in an irrational desire to be “productive”, with a hidden implication that I don’t see time spent on myself as productive. I generally struggle with consistency on tasks that have any element of drudgery in them at all. I have to experiment with different framings to hold things together. I currently am viewing exercise as medicine I have to take for my health, and that seems to make me more serious about it.

Little Rest tasks have been easier for me to take on. My front yard and sunshine are only a few steps away. When I’m tired, I take a nap. Those sound simple, but when you stop and listen to your inner voices that guide and sometimes limit you, you may hear yourself saying “I don’t have time for this,” or, “I haven’t earned this.” These voices are the ones you must be most attentive to and address. What does it mean to “earn”? Who gets to decide the value of what you have done? The heaviest lift of all may be giving yourself that permission to rest in the first place.

I’ve had to take a posture of radical forgiveness to change my mindset. We have a tendency to beat ourselves up for having trouble keeping up with those tasks that we know will benefit us in the long run. I’ve had to instead be completely forgiving of myself, and just look at what I intend to do today. There is a reason why mindfulness practices focus on the present. Peace is found in the current moment, not in rehashing the past or anticipating the future. I remind myself that at the end of each day I’ve done the best I possibly could on that day. I can look at what kept me from doing more, but I had the capacity I had. My focus for the new day is on evaluating and addressing those limits without judgment rather than being upset with myself for meeting an arbitrary standard I was not capable of meeting in that moment.

However you approach this process, whether you use self-managed lists, accountability partners, or professional support from therapists, I strongly encourage you to not become performative. The purpose of rest is healing and restoration, not to have another set of things to check off that you’ve accomplished. If you find yourself tracking to the accomplishment and not to the good feeling, stop and try something else. Little Rest should feel good and be its own reward. Little Rest should also help you have enough in your tank to take on Big Rest tasks that expand your capacity.

Think about how you would like your life to be. Not the end goals and accomplishments, and not a fictional future where you have everything you ever wanted and don’t need to work anymore. Think about how you can have days that you enjoy as they are. Imagine a day where you wake up with a smile, you engage with people you care about, and you felt present in a number of moments. Imagine being still enough to enjoy the small things like a cool breeze or the way the light falls on the ground this time of year. Even in your work, imagine being focused and flowing more than distracted and unhappy so that you can make the most of your hours.

You can have those moments, even if you have a busy job or a full house. The voice telling you you can’t is the voice telling you to stay on the treadmill, to run just a bit further, when it in fact has no idea what you’re running for or running to. The voice cares about you. It’s scared, and trying to protect you from disappointment or loss, but the voice is wrong. You can. Whatever you’re holding on to is not so important that you can’t take a moment, literally a few seconds, for yourself, every single day. And once you take a few seconds and find that your world didn’t crumble around you, it becomes easier to take a few more.

Find ways to inject Little Rest into those days to make each day a bit more enjoyable, and to take stock of where you are. This will create space for the Big Rest that will help you grow into the person you want to be.

Bobo not coming back

Bobo not coming back
he mississippi mud covered
he in money and he broke

Bobo not coming back
we not gonna play no more cards
we not dancing cool, fire hydrant fresh
we not gonna race to the store for more candy

Bobo not coming back
y’all not gonna put nobody in jail?
y’all got to shoot up his sign like that?
y’all gonna let sleeping lies dog?
y’all call this great again?

Bobo not coming back
i’ma tell the truth and shame the devil
i’ma carry Bobo inside me
i’ma eat candy on the corner and remember him
i’ma ride my bike and feel the wind on my face
i’ma get to know free

-C. G. Brown
29 September 2020

Inspired by a line from “Lovecraft Country” S1E7

A Rest Manifesto – For Breonna Taylor, and Those That Hoped

I’m enraged, too.

I’m saddened, too.

I’m still looking outward, looking for the helpers, looking to be a helper.

I was reading the mission of Black Dream Escape and I saw these lines:

“We educate individuals and the wider ethos about the overdue sleep and rest debt that Black and Indigenous people have been forced to accumulate.”

I also think of Toni Morrison’s quote:

“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

The lines echoed in my mind when I first heard them. Forced to accumulate. We have been abused and brutalized, generation after generation. The ones of us who were fortunate enough to be born into slightly better days have been gaslighted. There was never a problem. Comply and you won’t get hurt. Keep your eyes down. What did you say to me, boy? You made me do this.

We have had our rest, our peace of mind taken from us. And then we were told that it was our fault.

Well, I’m tired of being tired. I’ll work as hard as I am able that day, each day, at my job. I will support justice fighters. I will seek truth in conversations, the way that I know how. I will build what bridges I can and walk away when I must.

Then I will rest. I will enjoy what there is to be grateful for. And I will not apologize or be ashamed.

We lovingly say to our elder heroes when they die, “Take your rest.” Well, I say it as a revolutionary call as loud as “Black Lives Matter”.

“Take Your Rest!”

Take it! You have earned it by reaching the end of this day. You have earned the right to rest by being a human being. And we will fight until we have a society that recognizes the humanity of all of us enough to allow us that healthy, human cycle of unblocked work and uninterrupted rest.

I will not wait to die to take my rest. I’m going to listen to the Black women that have held this thing together for us and for the rest of y’all. That delightfully unbothered woman smoking a cigarette in front of a brutal racist cop. That face that is short on wrinkles and stress. That’s not just confidence or melanin. That’s a concerted and deliberate decision. That’s understanding how to carry only a weight that belongs to you, not one put on your back by someone else. That’s a damn way of life.

And I know it is far, far from easy. Don’t misread me. The work required and too often the suffering required to learn that is not a just thing, not something to be celebrated or perversely admired. But from having had more on my plate than I could possibly handle for decades, I understand something about what it is to do what you can, and surrender the rest to God. And in that surrender lies our rest.

Reclaiming. My. Time.

A “Critical” Jesus

Photo by Patricia McCarty from Pexels


The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.


Luke 4:18-19

This pitting Critical Race Theory against the Gospel is just tiring to me. I do not specifically subscribe to CRT as a coherent belief system, but some of the base ideas underpinning it around how power is constructed and used have helped me name issues in and make sense of this world. At the same time, the Gospel gives me hope in a universal love that is powerful enough to overcome what seems to be impossible odds. 

The Jesus I see in the Gospels is a critical Jesus. He is critical of the order of the day, how the poor are disregarded and the sick uncared for, how people are incarcerated and not rehabilitated, how people groan under the yoke of oppression. I doubt Jesus would subscribe to CRT either, but don’t let binary thinking cause you to believe he would be simply against it. He’d probably have some parable that seemed to have nothing to do with it as a response, but would completely answer the question for those who had ears to hear. 

Speaking of which, when you sit with the parables of Jesus without a dualistic mind, you come out with neither the Supply-Side Jesus preferred by American Evangelicalism nor a Social Justice Jesus that liberal American Christians like to imagine. Read The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). Why would people not come to a great banquet put on by the king? Why would they abuse and harm his messengers? Why would the king say “screw it, invite whoever you find on the street”? And why would the guest at the end get thrown out for not being dressed for the wedding? 

Supply-Side Jesus followers see “many are invited, but few are chosen” and think the sinners and critical race theorists are getting thrown into the outer darkness. Social Justice Jesus followers see a banquet full of people gathered from the highways and byways, good and bad, and think that the smiting and exclusion of the powerful is just. Neither have answers for why the “bad” people were let in in the first place though, though I’m sure there’s disagreement about who the bad people were. While I do think Jesus was particularly concerned about the vulnerable, as evidenced by many of the passages where he was speaking plainly, that is not the entire extent of the scope of the Kingdom of God.

I think Jesus is inviting us to contemplate something more mysterious. I’m not even particularly deeply studied, so I won’t posit what that is. But I do think that whatever Jesus is trying to tell us, it’s not as simple as “The Gospel negates the need to be concerned about the world or to act for justice in the world.” This is something that is perfectly well understood by people who say this when it seems that “Christian values” are under threat around LGBTQ+ issues or abortion. It’s less well understood by them when the eye of the society is on the vulnerable, then “God is in control” and we shouldn’t do anything about it as a society. 

If it’s not directly tied to the two great commandments (love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself), I tend to be suspicious of any “obvious” Gospel answers anywhere on the political continuum.

An Ordinary American Healthcare Billing Story

I will preface this by saying two things:

  1. This story generally ends well.
  2. Its unremarkability should be the portion of most concern.

My wife had an unexpected surgery in April. She woke up feeling fine one Wednesday morning, but by late morning was experiencing severe abdominal pain, and by the afternoon was in the ER. It turns out she had a benign tumor that we already knew about, but that had died and in the process put her into sepsis. We were blessed with an excellent surgeon, and by Friday, the problem was removed. She made it home the following Tuesday and recovered as well and quickly as one could expect.

We live in the state of Georgia in the United States of America. Georgia, like most Southern states, is pretty weak on consumer or labor protection. We have great insurance by American standards through United Healthcare (UHC) that I pay for through a small business group plan. (I’ve been in the “open” “healthcare” “market” for 18 years, so I saw the positive changes ACA brought without being insulated by my employer’s choices.) For just around $12,000-$14000 a year (and climbing annually), we get to pay negotiated rates for health care and get to have very expensive things covered.

That’s good news for us, because the base hospital bill was about $125,000. That didn’t include the ER visit, the follow-up ER visit for pleurisy, the separate charges for the surgeon’s services, pathology, or the lab work. Each of those showed up as separate claims on separate bills. In the classic American fashion, we just ignored the first bills and waited for the insurance company to work everything out.

Eventually, we got some bills that had numbers that looked right. A few hundred here, a couple thousand there. By then, the businesses who wished to be paid were becoming impatient and were sending “Past Due” and “Final Notice” alerts. We paid some of them and were about to pay another one tonight when I said to myself, “wait a minute”.

I noticed that one final notice bill in particular seemed off, the one for the original ER visit that got her admitted. It was full price, yet I know that something should have been covered. I went to UHC’s web site and tracked down the claim. Sure enough, United had never paid. I decided to get on the phone and give the billing department a piece of my mind.

When I called, they connected me with a “billing advocate”, who appeared to be someone who worked to explain the billing labyrinth of our particular system to the consumer. What I found out made me more convinced that we’re being ripped off at a trillion dollar scale by a system that has all the bureaucracy, twists, and turns that Republicans promise you government will provide, while at the same time providing none of the efficiencies that private businesses should have.

I took the 2 inch high stack of bills and picked the ones I needed the most guidance on. The billing advocate helpfully explained to me each claim I had questions about. I learned that there were four distinct patterns of payment happening:

  1. You visit an in-network provider. If you’ve met your deductible, then just about everything is covered, though you may be responsible for the euphemistically-named “coinsurance” up to your out-of-pocket maximum. These bills work the way that insurance promises. They negotiate a steep discount to the rack rate, they send a check for part of it straight to the provider, you get a bill for whatever’s left, you pay it.
  2. You visit an out-of-network provider, like a physical therapist or specialist you like that doesn’t take your insurance. The insurance company recommends an amount they think the service is worth and counts that toward your out-of-network deductible, tallied separately from your in-network one. In states with consumer protection, the provider must charge this amount to you. In states without it, providers can do what’s called “balance billing” and charge the rack rate. If you’ve met your deductible, some really nice plans pay about 70% above that with no out-of-pocket maxium. That deductible for me is $10,000, but for others could be as high as $45,000.
  3. You visit an in-network provider, but the insurance company needs documentation to prove the claim. The provider is supposed to hold the bill until the case is closed and the documentation they are contractually obligated to provide is sent, but they may choose to bill you anyway. If you don’t pay, it can get sent to collections and mar your credit score.
  4. You visit an in-network provider, and the insurance company pays, but the A/R and A/P departments don’t talk to each other properly. The provider bills you for the full amount. Just as in scenario #3, your choices are pay or get your credit damaged.

Most of the bills I received were scenario #1. We paid small or medium balances, and sometimes, after we met our deductible, everything was covered.

One bill we paid, for pathology, was scenario #2. Here’s the catch, though: patients don’t choose their pathologist. The surgeon does. And if you’ve ever asked a surgeon, you’ve found that are focused on how to do their job and heal people and have no idea how any of the billing processes work. The choice of internal medical providers at a hospital is affected by our patchwork insurance coverage system, so it’s tantamount to trying to pick a business based on who’s related to your spouse’s cousin without asking your spouse or your spouse’s cousin. If you get it wrong, you don’t get the discount. So we ended up paying over $1,400 because the pathologist that happened to receive my wife’s specimens wasn’t contracted with UHC.

The bill I was suspicious about was scenario #3. They did not provide the documents to the insurer, and they were not supposed to bill us, but they did anyway. Like any reasonably fiscally sound household, nothing puts us on notice like a Final Notice. I was prepared to pay the entire amount, over $1,200, just to get them off of my backs. It turns out we don’t owe them a penny, at least not yet.

The bill was for the surgeons was scenario #4. The surgeons were in-network, and that bill was a little over $9,000 before discounts and insurance payments. There was a mixup with the documentation, and so there was a delay in payment. UHC eventually settled with them for a little over $5,000, which was intended to cover the entire amount owed for that particular bill. Despite this, the physicians group charged us a little over $2,000, with about 15% off for paying all at once. So now we have to call them and figure out how to get our money back.

There are people who have lost their credit, their homes, or been driven to self-destruction over health care in our country. So why does this particular story matter, where a person with the means to absorb a couple of four-figure shocks to their bottom line is deeply inconvenienced, but not severely damaged?

It matters because my story is completely unremarkable. I’m just a regular, middle-class person earning a decent income in technology, and I pay five figures a year after taxes just to keep my health insurance discount plan. When a crisis like this happens, the resulting bill resolution is harder than doing my taxes, and I have two LLCs to report for. We are at the mercy of organizations that have no financial incentive to help us or to fix the arms race of service pricing that leads to a six-day hospital visit costing over $100,000.

What I didn’t talk about is how we wait in the ER with people we love, not for a medical provider with reassurance that your loved one will be healed, but for a billing coordinator who tries to see if they can get some money out of you that day, while your loved one is still writhing in pain, before they know if they can help. I didn’t talk about the food that was not only poor tasting and built off of what seemed to be a 1940s food pyramid, but also the opposite of what someone needs to heal. Fried pork chops for back surgery patients with a history of high blood pressure, like my father. Creamy dairy-based soups and low-quality ice cream for abdominal surgery patients, like my wife. I also didn’t talk about how I send my wife into hospitals in my Princeton University paraphernalia so that they will look twice and not dismiss her in her Blackness or in her womanhood, or how I’m sure to call all the drugs by their technical names when I’m talking with the doctors. These tricks are derided by people who think it’s about trying to achieve respectability. No, it’s about reminding medical professionals that we are people and not stereotypes, that we feel pain to the same degree as them, that we matter. It’s about survival.

None of this has to do with the thousands upon thousands of dedicated nurses, doctors, medical professionals, and support staff that genuinely do their best to do no harm and to help where they can. They did not set up the Byzantine billing systems or the complex rate tables. They did not pass the policies that leave your quality of care up to your ability to find a generous company or to create a company with multiple employees. They are not the ones that watch the rest of the industrialized world produce better health outcomes and longer lifespans on half of the budget we spend, even with public and private systems existing in tandem, and don’t lift a finger or a Congressional bill to do anything about it.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to unpack the reasons why we in the US are so satisfied with a system that produces objectively worse outcomes in many areas at a much higher cost. But with the generosity of employers wearing thin and laws in many states providing less and less protection to workers and patients, we’ve got to do something about this. Whatever your politics are, if you are of ordinary means and satisfied with the costs and processes of our health care system as it is, I can assure you it’s because you’ve never properly exercised it.