If I don't post about it, did it really happen?
I’m not posting on social media these days and honestly it feels…fine. I deleted the apps from my phone in an effort to spend less time staring at my screen in idle moments. Instead of looking at my phone I’m actually reading the books I tote around and am trying to have real conversations. I check in on Facebook and Twitter a couple of times a day, but that’s mostly it.
One rather strange consequence of this is what to do with the interesting stuff I notice, think, encounter, etc. If I look back at my Facebook memories from many years ago, I notice that I formerly communicated a lot of my experiences, feelings, and opinions in real time, rather mindlessly (i.e. 2010: “I am not ready for this exam :/”). Many of my older posts are about my daughter; now she’s old enough to do her own identity curation. I also shared a lot of things I was reading - articles and authors whose perspectives I shared.
In these last few weeks, I’ve wondered what to do with all of the things I’m not sharing. This newsletter is part of that, of course. Without realizing it, I think social media made me less present in experiences and in the things I was reading. Perhaps I was constantly evaluating them, thinking of how I might word a post or a tweet. Maybe an experience, a photo, a funny comment by my daughter, an article that I liked - maybe all of these things were diminished if they were deemed unworthy (by me) of sharing.
I think I’m probably overstating this, but it’s been fun to consider. At first it was a little strange. As in - if I don’t post about this, did it really happen? Now I read something I like and bookmark it. Or not. My daughter says something funny and I laugh, and maybe text my husband. I’m stressed about grading but instead of posting about it I say to my co-worker “I’m stressed about grading.” Things happen, and I just let them happen, and then they go away. I like it.
It might seem incongruent but I love the royal family, especially of the Sussex variety, and I enjoyed this piece on what the reaction to the birth says about racial identity and racism:
Luckily, Archie has his mom as a great role model on how black he should be, and his grandmother too, and countless other black and mixed-race people the world over he has yet to meet. Because there isn’t one way to be black, and the centuries-long belief that there is only serves to perpetuate racism and racist thinking.
Bonus: the Queen really loves cows.
Courage and critical thinking
Like so many others, I was shaken to learn of the recent death of popular Christian writer Rachel Held Evans. RHE was a courageous critical thinker who went head-to-head with the power brokers in her own tradition, advocating for those who were left out of the story. She animated the complexities of narratives often portrayed as straightforward and one-dimensional. After her death so many stories emerged of her humor, generosity and courage in taking on a culture that was so often resistant if not hostile to her critiques. Her willingness to boldly speak about theology, politics, and culture spoke to many who were disillusioned with (and alienated from) the same tradition. In short, she was greatly beloved.
To me, critical thinking is about excavation and animation. When we think critically we peel back the layers of the obvious to examine perspective, motivation, and what’s at stake. When we excavate we can see what is not always clear on the surface. We also animate - we “unflatten” the narratives, and lift them from a page to see them in all their dimensions. I engage critical thinking by asking:
Who gets to tell the story?
Who benefits from the story?
Who is left out of the story?
What is said?
What is unsaid?
In an early book, RHE addresses how biblical texts can be cited in multiple ways, to justify opposing viewpoints. This way of looking at the text misses the point, she suggests:
This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not "what does it say?", but "what am I looking for?" I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, "ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened." If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.
Critical thinking, like empathy, doesn’t always lead to action. We can develop new understandings and deepen existing perspectives without changing our behavior. But when critical thinking is brought to voice, brought to action as it was by RHE, the results are profound. May her memory be a blessing.
The stack of new books to read this summer is giant and keeps growing (here’s a great list of summer reads I just ran across yesterday). But sometimes, you just want to revisit a book. The last few weeks I re-read one of my favorites, White Teeth by Zadie Smith:
Please. Do me this one, great favor, Jones. If ever you hear anyone, when you are back home...if ever you hear anyone speak of the East," and here his voice plummeted a register, and the tone was full and sad, "hold your judgment. If you are told 'they are all this' or 'they do this' or 'their opinions are these,' withhold your judgment until all the facts are upon you. Because that land they call 'India' goes by a thousand names and is populated by millions, and if you think you have found two men the same among that multitude, then you are mistaken. It is merely a trick of the moonlight.
Reading a book you read years ago and loved is like catching up with an old friend. You’ve both changed (and so has the world), and there are new things to learn in a fresh encounter.
Another “old friend” I’m revisiting is the new edition of The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, with an excellent new introduction by Ann Patchett that you can read here. I’m reading one story every day. This book has been really important to me, and I’m happy to meet it again.
Here’s what I’ve been reading and listening to while procrastinating:
Honest, heartfelt profile of my secret husband Keanu Reeves.
Mirabai Bush on contemplation and work, from On Being.
Jenny Odell on why place is the antidote to the attention economy. I love her new book.
Singer Jason Isbell and his best friend, GQ editor-in-chief Will Welch talk about getting sober, having money, masculinity, and mental health in this episode of Death, Sex, and Money. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation.
Meditating with kittens, again
Allow the breath to settle into a natural rhythm.
See you soon - back to writing!