Another Week Ends

Grace in Tragedies, Playful Education, Teaching Prisoners, Bluey (Again), and Christian Justice Work

Todd Brewer / 5.12.23

1. Leading off this week is a jaw-dropping (and, at times, stomach-turning) story of grace and forgiveness in Salon by Lindsey Rogers-Seitz. Married to her husband Kyle at the youthful age of 21, Rogers-Seitz would be diagnosed with manic depression only a year into marital bliss. Several hospitalizations later (and a frightful trip to the hospital against her will), Lindsey pled with her husband, “Please help me. Please don’t leave. Love all of me” to which Kyle responded, “I do. Love all of you. Always and forever.”

One might think this story of grace would end here, but the years that followed were worse. Kyle went to work one day, later returning to his car to find his son dead, left in the backseat all day in the heat. Soon, Kyle and Lindsey were spinning off in different directions. Kyle checked out altogether. Lindsey turned to drug and alcohol abuse. As Lindsey tells it:

My state of addiction always came with anger, even at those I loved, yet I could not understand it was really anger toward my life and what it was not. Eventually, something had to change. I would either find love and learn to lean on forgiveness, leave, or remain in a constant state of numbness. […]

With all of my battle wounds, today I find myself contemplating the meaning of love again. I have come to understand that my soul is connected to Ben (who will always be with me) and also to Kyle. Since our early days of innocent and light-hearted love, my struggles with manic depression, and even after our tragedy, we have been soul partners. Our energy is bound together throughout time to support and love each other during and beyond the worst life can offer, teaching each other lessons we need to evolve and grow.

As Kyle and I sat on the patio one evening, tears formed as I told him that sometimes I wonder why God made me as I am, in ways that may cause him pain, and I was oftentimes sorry for being me. He grabbed my shoulders and said, “Lindsey, I love all of you, just as you are and always have. There is no regret. There is just life.” I believe soul partners encompass love in its various iterations, which are ever-changing. True love need not be wild and tempestuous, or light and effervescent. Sometimes it is quiet and gentle, but it is always unconditional. Our love is God’s grace to forgive and a commitment to see it through day in and day out, in the best and worst of times. Quite possibly, our commitment is to save each other over and over again, as many times as it takes, teaching each other the lessons that can only be found through unconditional love and radical forgiveness. We have shown each other that together we can survive the impossible.

The statistics on marriages after the death of a child don’t lie. That Lindsey and Kyle found a way to stay together — somehow stronger — is a utter miracle of grace in practice.

2. 2024 prediction: both parties will try to outflank the other to show they aren’t ‘soft on crime.’ But it’s not yet 2024, so perhaps there’s space to ponder criminal justice before we’re inundated with slogans and ready-made wedge issues. Writing for ABC Religion, Lucas Thompson asks, “Should We Be Educating or Punishing Prisoners?”  The contrast he outlines, to my mind, echoes the difference between grace and law in a way that acutely exposes some of the underlying beliefs of punishment. Punishment does not “teach a lesson they won’t forget,” but the opposite:

When we imprison someone for the wrongs they have done, we are throwing up our hands in despair. We are placing our usual assumptions about the power of education — to instruct, to enlarge, to inculcate virtue — to one side, and saying that here, in this particular case, we have no faith that education would have any effect whatsoever. It is powerless to change or reform — let alone redeem — the wrongdoer. Instead, we must instead reach for a more extreme solution.

In so doing, we give up on the idea that wrongdoers could be educated in a way that would allow them to comprehend the seriousness of their crime and to make amends for their actions. Or that they could come to see more clearly the forces that led them to commit a particular crime, and how to address those underlying causes. We reject the idea that they could learn to live a different kind of life. The message we send is that we simply do not have the time or the resources to educate wrongdoers, and are not even sure that the most lengthy, costly education would achieve anything worthwhile. […]

Punishment often justifies itself by aping the language of education, but this appropriation is blatantly self-serving, a smokescreen for practices that have nothing to do with true learning. Invoking educational language to justify punishment is a familiar strategy that is nonetheless misleading and disingenuous. The proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing comes to mind.

Lest one think Thompson is just talking about incarceration, he draws a parallel to parenting:

It is telling, too, that certain accounts of parenting operate on the same logic. It’s fine to reason with a child and to treat them — up to a point — with respect and equality, but some lessons can only be learned through corporal punishment. If you really want to teach them a lesson they won’t forget, or show what happens when they misbehave, or let them really learn about consequences, you will have to hit them. Or so the theory holds.

For Thompson, punishment doesn’t reform in any genuine sense. The closest it comes is wrongdoers being “scared into submission” — like how a lion tamer’s whip can marvel a circus audience. While Thompson’s faith in education hedges a bit too closely to the naivety of the Enlightenment, I’d welcome any alternative to the current inhumanity of prisons. Books, libraries, instructors, free accredited degrees, whatever it takes. Education may not be grace with a captital “G,” but there is a mercy in regarding criminals as something other than their worst mistakes.

3. Your “low anthropology” news item for the week comes from the Wall Street Journal: “Young Workers Value Work-Life Balance. They’re Just Bad at It.”

The youngest people in the office say the peers they most admire carve out personal time and live life on their own terms. Fancy titles and fat salaries are far less impressive, according to Deloitte’s annual survey of millennials and Gen Zers, shared with the Wall Street Journal ahead of next week’s release.

Yet those young professionals are roughly twice as likely to say their jobs are important to their own sense of identity as they are to define themselves by hobbies, volunteering or exercise. They applaud friends and co-workers who prioritize self-care or take that backpacking sabbatical to Europe, résumé gap be damned. Then they answer another weekend email while their Peloton gathers dust.

Ain’t that the truth?

4. Lots of humor this week:

As the fans were shouting encouraging comments, Aiden Johnson (who was playing second base) thought for a moment the cheers were for him. Likewise, Braiden Padget (in left field) was initially emboldened by the vocal fan support. At third base, Cayden Jenkins thought for sure the cheers were for him until he realized his own father was, in fact, cheering for Jayden.

At publishing time, the boys had all come to a mutual agreement to all feel encouraged by any cheering that rhymes with their names, including their unathletic friend, Hayden Gretz, who has never made it off the bench.

5. This next one is technically humor, but after the many articles on here lauding the kid’s show, Bluey, it’s worth it’s own spot. Writing in the New Yorker’s “Daily Shouts,” Ellis Rosen has had enough of all the praise for Bandit, the dad in show: “Bluey’s Dad Thinks He’s So Great.”

Life just comes easy for him. You know what would happen if I took my kids to the creek? I’ll tell you right now, it wouldn’t be some gorgeously animated life lesson about overcoming fears and appreciating the natural beauty of the world. There would be a lot more trash, and I would have to make sure that my kids didn’t put the trash in their mouths, which makes me the bad guy, so now they’re in a bad mood, and I cave and just let them play with my phone. […]

At the end of the day, I simply do not have the bandwidth to pretend to be a robot, or a pirate, or one of the million bits that Bandit can somehow fully commit to. I’m sorry that I don’t have a team of writers making sure that everything I say is charming and witty, or a musical virtuoso composing gorgeous melodies to heighten each and every wonderful moment of my life. I guess you’ll just have to accept the fact that I’m an irritable, imperfect father who lets his kids use the phone too much. But you know what? I try my best. So where’s my goddam Thanksgiving-parade balloon?

The honesty here is funny, but I’d insert an eyeroll emoji here if I could. I get it: Bandit is an insanely good dad, parenting is hard, and the show never depicts him dealing with, say, a two-year-old screaming their head off because they are too tired to sleep. But knocking down idealized father figures to feel better about one’s own failures is the kind of thing you do when forgiveness is off the table as a viable option. Also … it’s a kid’s show? If you’re that bothered by Bandit, then you’re probably a good enough parent to not take Bandit’s perfection so personally.

6. On the subject of parenting (and education, see above), Plough’s Leah Boden encourages parents to have as light an influence on their kids as possible in order that God might instruct their kids. Parents, she commends, should get out of the way of God. Call it a free range pedagogy under the watchful eye of a Farmer. Boden highlights the writing of 19th century educator Charlotte Mason, whose:

whole life mission was to communicate to whomever would listen that God is the divine educator, that educators ought to use books and resources that don’t get in the way of that natural and divine process, and that adults need to step well out of the way to let children glean their ideas from God, not from us. […]

In science, art, and literature, as well as the practicalities of life, God instructs and teaches us. Mason stresses that God teaches each child uniquely: “The divine spirit does not work with nouns of multitude, but with each single child.” In her books she often reiterates that good ideas come from God, and that ideas are what the intellect grows upon. There is no subject exempt from this; if “God, the Holy Spirit, is Himself, personally, the Imparter of knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius.” […]

Charlotte Mason used the phrase “masterly inactivity” to help us understand the cooperation of the parent’s leading and guiding of children, which appropriately preserves the space for God to inspire and bestow knowledge on the learning child. Mason encouraged parents to stand back, allowing the process of the divine to do its natural work amid education without unnecessary interruptions and overwork on the part of the parent. Masterly inactivity allows for intentional thought, planning, and guidance on the part of the parent, as long as it doesn’t obstruct children’s freedom to learn and explore for themselves.

[Narrator’s voice] “Did Mason start a Montessori school?”

Mason here spells out the links between the spirit of play and freedom, God’s own joyful, playful instruction. Applying this to parents, though, is far from how most see their role. It’s the Good Book that says to, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” right? That’s a far cry, however, from finishing a child’s science project or signing them up for the kind of extra-curriculars that will one day look good on a college application. And “training up a child” probably has far more to do with the gospel than the pressure-cooker of career advancement.

7. In closing, I’ll leave you with this profile of Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission, recently published by the Atlantic.

After undergrad, Haugen began his career working to end apartheid in South Africa, where he witnessed a “critique [of apartheid] embedded within the Christian tradition itself and by the sacrificial witness of the faithful who were no longer afraid.” Haugen then returned to study international civil rights law in Chicago before heading to Manilla, to the Rwandan genocide, and beyond.

Where’d it all begin? For Haugen, it was the faith he found in undergrad that would inform his life’s mission.

There was something very profound about God because he was in all of the places of human suffering. The story of Jesus is about coming and being in the midst of human suffering and being crucified himself. And so I definitely felt like I really wanted to know God deeply, but I would not know God deeply as long as I was somewhat removed from human suffering. What matters most is knowing the God who made you — and I don’t think you can know the God who made you unless you know something quite deeply about what God knows about, which is human suffering and hurt.


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One response to “May 6-12”

  1. Vincent says:

    I can’t click on any of the humour links and its killing me!!

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