Last week was a pretty notable week, to say the least.600x570

A well-loved celebrity passed away tragically. A heretofore unknown Midwest city exploded in unrest.

Let’s just be honest. Last week was many a blogger’s dream week. No shortage of news to comment on! A constant flood of images to post on social media! If you did not have anything to say about one story, you could surely find something to say about the other. And for those bloggers who were bored with both, we even got a Christian worship singer coming out as a lesbian. The whole blogosphere just had an epileptic seizure.

I watched the goings-on. I read story after story and blog after blog. But I wrote nothing. I read blogs that told me I was not ashamed enough of my country. Others said that by my silence, I was tacitly endorsing oppression in Ferguson. The storm of angry words tried to suck me in, tried to make me say something.

But I held my tongue, er, fingers as it were. And that was a very purposeful decision. I decided I would not write any opinions about Ferguson, about racism, about suicide, or any other topic du jour last week.

Why? Because for perhaps the first time, the events of last week proved to me one thing:

My opinions don’t count for much.

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It’s a new day, a new week, a new school year for many of us including myself.

But in many ways, I don’t know how to begin, even to begin writing this new paragraph.

My classroom, for all of the chaos that it might contain, is actually something of a retreat from the outside world. And in many ways, I needed a retreat last week more than usual. You may have felt the same way. There are times when the world just does not make a whole lot of sense.

I’m not a sociologist. But what I think I saw on display last week was a whole lot of hate being exposed. It takes a lot of hate to create a system that oppresses people. The hate that oppresses also brings out hate and anger in the oppressed. I saw a lot of people rush to judgment, to judge people they do not even know. Passing easy judgment on people feels good, and it is another kind of hate, a disdain for others, a refusal to understand them.

Sometimes, hate is so casual, so quiet, so acceptable that it doesn’t even look like hate to most of us. It happens in increments of neglect. Maybe it is layer upon layer of lazy, purposeless hate that has built up like a blanket of dust on our culture.

Here is what I do know:

I know that Jesus had to command us to love one another. He had to make that command because love is hard. It is unintuitive. As much as we want to wax poetic about our common decency, I know that if my most honest moments, I have to work to love my neighbor as myself. I love myself far more than I love my neighbor. I accept my own sins, while I hate the sins of my neighbor (something Jesus did not command.) In fact, it is easy for me to love myself and hate my neighbor, simply by not caring about my neighbor.

Worse, it is our mutual disdain for each other that keeps us in the tragic place we find ourselves. It is hate that keeps us simmering, distracted from our larger problems. Hate keeps us socially and spiritually poor and weak. And no matter how much hate and judgment we indulge ourselves in, we always have more. It doesn’t run out the more we engage in it. It only increases.

If it was Jesus’ will that we all hate each other, judge each other, neglect each other, he would never have had to say anything at all. It is almost our default mode. People have recognized this for thousands of years. Take Euripides, the Athenian playwright.

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Here is what I know. This week, it is going to take a lot of work to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is going to take work to put down our judgment, our incessant opinions of others, to love, rather than to hate.

Who is up for the challenge?

You know, it’s been one of those weeks, hasn’t it.

It’s been one of those weeks for everyone with the death of Robin Williams. And then it was made more complicated as all of the conflicting opinions about depression and suicide started washing over social media.

It has been an extra weird week living in Missouri. And even though I’m in Kansas City, four hours away from Ferguson, it’s impossible to feel like this doesn’t hit very close to home.

There has been a reason I have not commented on these events. I just cannot find the right words at just this moment, and to be honest, I feel free to not say anything just yet. We so often rush to social media and our blogs in the heat of the moment, desperately wanting to say something, if only to assert that, yes, we have an opinion. And it just makes things worse so much of the time. So for now, I just pause and try to take it all in and when I say something, I’ll try to measure my words.

All that being said, there were tons of truthful, necessary words written over the week and you’ve already read them. But just yesterday, as I was so weary at reading the news, I was reminded of this video of a couple of cops in my own town. For all of our talk of police brutality and militarization, there are at least a few who go out on the streets every day to protect and serve, not search and destroy. I haven’t been prouder of my city in a long time.

Four years ago, Cheri and I started trying to have a baby.

A lot has happened in four years. And along the way, we discovered that, far from being alone, we were in great company. In fact, we did not ever need to go looking for support groups. We already knew many couples who were secretly struggling as well.

I am so happy to finally tell you about what I have been feverishly working on this summer. It is a project over a year in the making.

It’s my new book, my second collaboration with Moody Publishers.

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What Is It?

Plus or Minus is honestly the last book I ever thought I would write! Who actually thinks they are going to write a book about infertility? But last year, I was visiting my team at Moody in Chicago, and practically as an afterthought mentioned a book about infertility on the way out the door. After that, it was months of working in fits and starts, while we were still actually struggling with infertility. (It is kind of challenging to pour your heart into a book when the events you are describing are still happening!)

What has been so exciting is that this is the first time I have been able to collaborate on a book, not just with my wife, but with other people as well. The book is part memoir - four memoirs, actually. We enlisted three other couples we knew and trusted to share their stories: stories of long years of infertility, loss, heartache, hope and triumph.

This is by far, the most personal thing I have ever written, both personal for myself and for our friends. I have spent many restless nights and shed many tears over the last few months.

Why Infertility?

This is not just an exercise in narcissism. I would not have believed it, but a ton of couples are touched by infertility, something like one in seven couples. The rest of us know at least one couple who is struggling, even if we don’t know that they are struggling.

So we’ve written this book with the aim to help both the couples who are hurting, and the people around them, their parents, friends, pastors, and everyone else who just doesn’t know what to say around that one couple who just can’t have kids.

When Can I Read It?

Right now, I am in the process of finishing the manuscript so it can go to the editor next month and we are aiming for an early 2015 release. It is the hope of all of our contributors that this book would help people, would bless couples and encourage them. We think everyone either needs the message of this book, or knows someone who does.

Of course, I’ll be telling you more about the book as that date draws near. For now, if you are in this boat, know that we are thinking about you.

I used to dread the first day of school.

I know I was not alone. I think it’s just something that all kids feel, those butterflies in their stomachs, the knowledge that the season-long weekend of summer is over, the fear of the unknown. And I was a good student too! But it did not matter. The night before the first day was hard.

The funny thing was that as soon as Day One of school got started, that fear always disappeared. Once I found my new desk and heard my new teacher’s voice, I always knew things would be okay. It was going to be a good year. And I had a lot of really good years with really good teachers. It’s hard to even think of a bad school year, honestly.

Today is another first day of school for me, but now I’m on the other side of things. Instead of just buying a new backpack and pencils, I had a list of supplies worth hundreds of dollars for my classroom. And instead of dreading Day One, I have been excited. 

I have been excited to have my routine back. I am excited to see the children again. I have been rehearsing Day One in my head for a couple of weeks now. The first day of school is probably the day I think about the most and it is the day when my words are the most rehearsed, the most carefully considered.

Teaching has this unique luxury of having this annual restart button. We get a Day One every year. No matter how last year went, we get to turn over a new leaf and start fresh.

Maybe it would be great if we all had a Day One. New Year’s Day is no good. That day is cold and gray and we hate it. Not a day to set resolutions that we are going to fail to keep. Just a day to say, it’s a new day, and it does not have to be like yesterday. Maybe your job needs a Day One. Maybe it’s your marriage or even your faith life.

So set a Day One on your calendar. Rehearse what it will look like. Make plans for it. Buy something new for it! Anticipate it.

day one

Today is a new day. And it does not have to be like yesterday.

Hey everyone!

Wow, I cannot believe my summer vacation has come to an end. I have spent (what I never really thought I’d say) a very rich and fulfilling week in teacher in-service. I know, that sounds like an oxymoron. But it goes to illustrate the quality of the people I work with.

I have spent the week doing everything from making lesson plans on the computer to cleaning on my hands and knees. In the midst of those tasks, there have been some really cool things pop in that recharged and fueled me.

In My Video Streamnoah-ritter-nepa-600

If you have not seen this kid take the mic from a local news reporter, you should take 90 seconds to do so. He is hilarious and quirky and much funnier than poor Sadie, having an existential crisis for the entertainment of millions.

In My Blog Reader

I actually had two blogs this week that all took very different angles on apologizing. Ally Vesterfelt found out she apologizes too much. Elizabeth Esther goes into detail about the difference between a real and a false apology (and, no, we do not have to accept the false ones).

Then there was this story from Jennifer Schmidt about an encounter she had with her daughter’s Instagram feed. Remember that raw popularity and “success” do not make or break quality. Weird Al’s new album is currently number one on the charts, a first for a “comedy” album since something like the 60s. Does that mean it’s really the best album right now? Does it even mean it’s a good album?

Everyone needs a break. Most of us fill our days with “adult” activities: performing jobs, paying bills, taking care of kids. What if we took a break from being grown ups like Emily Freeman?

Finally, Margaret Feinberg lists three great passages of scripture…that we love to abuse and take out of context. It’s my opinion that when we realize many of our religious assumptions are not really true, it can be a jarring experience. But the true meaning of the scriptures we have been misunderstanding is much richer than the made-up meaning.

That’s it for me, friends!  I’m off to Meet the Teacher day. What fueled you this week?