Nobel Laureate Louise Glück and The Persistence of Memory

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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

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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)


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


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

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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

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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.

“Grown Woman Theology” and the Sexual Miseducation of the Church

Photo by Anna Shvets

It’s Sunday, so let’s talk Christianity and sex.

My official theological position on most things sexual in the church is “uncertain”. I’ve not read enough or sat with the base text enough to assert a strong stance on non-marital sex of any kind or spiritual covenants not involving one man and one woman. As such, I don’t really get into whether I think a particular behavior between two or more consenting people is a sin. At some future date I might make those determinations, but it is very low on my list of priorities. What is high on my list of priorities is affirming real love when I see it and supporting the flourishing of the people around me. I’m sure if I miss a judgment, God will have it covered, and if I’ve failed to call something out that I should have, I’m prepared for God to deal with me.

I was raised in the modern Black Baptist church, which wasn’t “purity ring” level, but did frown on pre-marital sex and was pretty hush-hush about LGBTQ+. I attended a church for many years that took a modern Evangelical stance, though to their credit, they didn’t seem quite as obsessive about it in the way I’ve seen some churches be. (I am of course describing my experience as a cis-, straight man there, so apply appropriate grains of salt.)

The problem many churches are facing today is how they live purity culture out. Adolescents with raging hormones are not taught how to cope with them and that their feelings are healthy and natural, but that it is their flesh overcoming their spirit. Only through asceticism and staunch devotional work might they be able to turn the tide and once again live a life pleasing to Jesus. Men who fail to meet this standard are reprimanded and shepherded, but women who fail to meet this standard are more often publicly shamed, divested of responsibility, and humiliated.

In either case, the demands of this asceticism drive many from the church. Some reject conservative teaching, while others entirely reject a faith that they associate with shame, self-hatred, and an endless pressure to perform. For those who stay, there’s a pressure to “marry rather than burn with passion,” as Paul said. Two people who are raised thinking sex is bad (not all conservative churches teach this, but most teach it badly) get together and unsurprisingly have bad sex. Each may turn to less healthy outlets, and in a patriarchal context where women’s value is in pleasing and serving men, the women feel more shame about and disconnection from their physical bodies.

Brittney Cooper, in an excerpt from her book Eloquent Rage, tackles this subject in “Grown Woman Theology“, exploring Christian sexuality through conversation with her grandmother. Her grandmother’s theology seems to indicate a non-dual holding of the life of the body and life of the spirit that was known in her time but that we have lost as we have bought in to generation after generation of facades rather than absorbing a whole story. I’m not certain how much sex we “should” be having and with whom prior to marriage. But I can say:

  • I am suspicious of any teaching that does not allow women the full range of human responsibilities. Men and women are different, but if a woman has the capacity to lead a company, she has the capacity to lead a church. Don’t pick this apart and assume I’m saying that no spiritual gifting is required. What I’m saying is that there is no spiritual gifting that is only given to men because they are men. Whatever our differences are, they do not extend to women having less than a full measure of the image of God.
  • We have to teach both in and outside of church an integrative model of sexuality that helps people understand and accept their desires as healthy. We also need to provide better tooling so that people can assess what they’re ready for and make wise decisions for themselves, always with appropriate physical and psychological safety precautions. There might be an 18 year old who is ready to get out there, and a 23 year old who still needs more time.
  • As I’ve learned from my women friends in various conversations, we will have to address and dismantle the patriarchal and social constructs that produce much of the needless shame and confusion. As an example: imagine a man having 4 encounters with 4 women in a month. No tricks, lies, or strings attached, just fun. Now, imagine a woman having 4 encounters with 4 men in a month, same rules. You may think both are permissible or neither is permissible, but any difference between those in your mind in terms of how you view the man versus the woman is the societal construct that we need to address. And of course if you think one is permissible and the other isn’t, you’ve got some substantial work to do.
  • For churches that continue on a conservative path, they will need to take a hard look at where they have failed to serve women, support women, or allow them to develop into the fullness of their gifts, either by stifling their leadership potential and gift expression or by placing them under pressure to meet an uneven standard that men are not held to.

For men in general, we are also going to have to evaluate how we view women’s existence and relevance to us. Are they autonomous and equal beings, with their own desires, visions, and plans just like our male friends? Or are they only defined in terms of our needs, including but not limited to sexual ones?

When I originally posted this to social media, a friend commented:

“Freedom for women requires men give up [the idea of] woman as a fulfillment of man’s need.”

Just as women have to shake free of these ideas of their value being in their wifely and motherly work, men will have to shake free of some ideas as well. If we are not here to gain possession of a “good woman” and provide for a family, what are we as cishet men in the church doing? How can single men live a healthy existence in the church where they are at peace and not always on the prowl or being matched by concerned couples? And how do men in relationships navigate those with respect for their partner and allowance for their partner to bring their full self to the relationship rather than a truncated, traditionalized version? This requires that men engage in our own process of seeking an identity that is not dependent on control or dominance of women or even other men, but stands alone in one’s vocational purpose and leaves room for their partners to walk in theirs.

An Apology To Those Navigating The Straits

Image by Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏 from Pixabay 

“Do you want to vote for the person that killed your mom, or do you want to vote for the person that beat your dad within an inch of his life?

Go on, choose. If you’re having trouble deciding, then you have a problem.”

Mathematically, I’m a binary choice voter. Essentially, all votes that will produce electors this election will fall into one of two buckets. Setting aside the unnecessary complexity of the electors for a moment, the bucket that has more votes in it will win. “More votes” is based on a difference in votes between the buckets. Removing a vote from one bucket increases the difference, even if I cast the vote on the ground rather than placing it in the other bucket, or place it into a third bucket.

I very much want the incumbent President to be unseated, so I’ve been lobbying pretty hard for a Presidential candidate I’m not particularly enthusiastic about and a Vice-Presidential candidate that I don’t know much about other than the historic nature of her appointment. However, I read a tweet thread from Kaitlyn Greenidge (@surlybassey on Twitter) that changed my mind about how I’ve been approaching discussions on this.
In the thread, rather than rolling her eyes at the browbeating binary choice voters out there or listing Biden and Harris’s foibles, she asks some questions.

“Am I listening to what the other person is saying?”

“Am I really sitting with the inequities / contradictions / sadness / grief / rage / impatience that they are expressing?”

“Am I able to recognize that the offices of the president and vice president of the US have perpetuated real violence in this country and abroad, that is even more hurtful and insidious because we never discuss it as a nation?”

“Am I willing to devote the same level of scrutiny I did to Mueller’s every breath and Trump’s every spelling mistake to the policies coming out of the next admin around policing, education, debt relief, drug policy and mass incarceration?”

Her questions shook me in a way a hundred “crimes” and failures of candidates could not. I realized that my response is mathematically accurate but completely lacking in empathy. I’m asking people to choose a new roommate, with the choices being the person that killed their mother and the one that maimed their father. Worse, I’m annoyed with them for agonizing over the choice and taking so long to make it.

To my progressive friends, to my trans friends, my Native friends, to others who have seen the system fail, willfully neglect, or actively harm them, and who have reached a point where they can no longer hold their noses, I apologize. In my zeal to end the specificity of the nightmare of the current regime, I have not sat with the contradictions, sadness, grief, rage, or impatience you have expressed. As a cis-, straight, tall, able-bodied, probably neurotypical, middle-class Black man who is a US citizen, I have my Blackness to deal with in our nation, which is not a small thing. But most of the other axes of power and privilege broke my way. I have not sat with your pain and with my contradictions because I have not been substantially or obviously harmed by their policies. This is the exact thing that we challenge white people to get right in matters of race — to start with empathy rather than cold reason, to weep with those who weep rather than tell them to dry their eyes because things are not so bad. I missed the mark.

I continue to believe that actively voting for Biden/Harris will create a larger platform from which to move progressive values forward, even if neither of them prove to be particularly progressively inclined. Women wiser and more progressive than me share this belief, such as Angela Davis, without defending the problematic choices these candidates have made in the past. We are fighting a game of inches, and the inches matter. As my friend Christina Springer says, rather than focusing on the highest levels, we should “look down, lift up”. We have local and state level candidates who express an inclination toward the radically humane and progressive values many of us are seeking. We can focus on those candidates, who will have more impact on our daily lives anyway, while at the same time working with the pieces available to create a better platform.

But if you just can’t do it anymore, I understand. I just ask that you don’t descend into apathetic despair or nihilistic attacks on the whole process. Find someone and something local to believe in and work on. If it’s not a political campaign, it can be a community organization, or a local school. The world is broken and corrupted in many ways, but at the one on one level, or the 100 person level, or 1000 person level, there is much good that can still be done. If we are all working on something we can genuinely feel good about, things will get better, even if the candidates at the highest levels are problematic on all sides.

It’s still stinky water vs. sulfuric acid to me. But for someone else, maybe all the choices burn and destroy, and I need to respect that truth.

Finding Our Way Back: A Christian Response To The Search For Justice

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“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Isaiah 5:20

Right now, people of faith are wrestling with a simple question. Is God happy with our institutions and personal practices around human equality and justice or not?

I think the hold the church has taken of Critical Race Theory and Marxism as cudgels with which to beat such a simple idea is the most disheartening thing I’ve seen in a while coming from that institution, and it might be why I’ve been a little sterner with the church than usual lately.

A basic understanding of American history shows that every time over the last century people have advocated for greater inclusion and integration, it’s been derided as Marxism, socialism, communism. Go ahead, look up who has historically leveled the accusations at civil rights rallies and LGBT+ protests and women’s suffrage events and see if you want to be counted among that number. Critical Race Theory is just a handy way to dismiss justice as an idea sprouted from the eggheads of academic elites with a desire to destroy the church. There’s an increasingly popular notion that academic knowledge is useless, and it’s faith that tells us the real practical truth. As important as faith is, that’s not how faith works.

Faith is inherently impractical. It’s “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith grounds us and connects us with the incomprehensible infinite. But faith is not a golden umbilical cord going from our navel to the heavens that we are meant to gaze at raptly for all our days instead of looking around us. Faith is meant to give us eyes to look at a broken, fallen world and see what is possible, to see the spark of the Divine in the profane, and clear away that which obscures it. Faith is meant to help us see our neighbor as God sees them. When you look through those lenses, justice is an inevitable byproduct.

If you would love to see Black people, or LGBTQ+ people, or women treated better, but you just can’t get with all this Marxist, socialist claptrap, ask yourself this. Why does the idea of radical love for your neighbor feel evil to you? Why do you follow a God-man who walked primarily with the outsiders and who loved radically and with reckless disregard for appearances, but who was despised by the institutions of power, and yet find your comfort and peace in the descendants of those same institutions of power that protect you and destroy others? How do you profess to believe in the exceptional power of the American engine, and never bother to look under its wheels to see who is being ground up and slowing its progress?

Why is it easy to believe that the Founding Fathers’ positive values held from nearly 250 years ago, unshaken in the face of laws and customs that made a mockery of them, and yet the values of inequality and hatred that we just reluctantly shed over the past 50 dissipated immediately?

Authoritarian socialism, which is only one kind, but one we have great familiarity with through our years with the Soviet Union, is a response to extreme, unfettered inequality. Like a pendulum swing, the backlash is only as extreme as the initial state. The remedy is not to gaze harder at your golden umbilicus or tug it in hopes that a few stray blessings trickle down to the people around you. The remedy is to create a culture of compassion for our neighbors and to cultivate a distaste for the injustice and evil required to give us so much prosperity and comfort.

These are big sweeping proclamations that are hard to act on, so what do we do? Pick a thing that increases justice in the world and that moves you, and work on that. And I don’t mean “thing that makes people more Christian” so we get justice by osmosis. I mean daily bread level justice. Volunteering or contributing to food banks. Getting involved with local housing policy. Helping one particular neighbor (with their consent and interest).

And for us Christians in particular, here’s the catch. Do it for nothing. You can and should always be honest about your “why” if it comes up. But this isn’t about you having a chance to add a point to your “Share the Gospel” scoreboard. This isn’t about making a disciple. This is about giving of yourself to make someone else’s way a bit easier, because God told us to love our neighbor as ourselves second only to loving God Godself.

These small, incremental gifts of ourselves, multiplied by the millions of us that there are, are the way back to the Christians being known as a peculiar people, marked by their radical love, as opposed to a domineering and callous people, full of themselves.