Review: I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers

Without a doubt, we live in a divided climate here in the United States. Churches are making decisions about inclusion and who can participate; business are reckoning with gaps in pay; and our political parties seem more extreme than ever. I’m not sure if this is actually true––America has been divided before to the point of going to war and literally fighting neighbors. But there is no doubt that our divisive opinions have framed the current narrative.

Cover: "I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening)" by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers.
The top half of the book is blue with a coffee drink showing the image of a donkey in the foam. The bottom half of the book is red with a coffee drink showing the image of an elephant in the foam.

In I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), Sarah Stewart Holland, a Democrat, and Beth Silvers, a Republican, talk about their journey toward understanding. Politically different but with numerous similarities, these two started a political podcast to talk about current issues with perspectives from “the other side.”

I don’t listen to Pantsuit Politics so can’t comment on the tone of the show but as I read this book, I kept thinking that it would be more appropriate in conversation form. The topics are rooted in headlines of the past year or two. Even the format of co-authoring seems better suited to an audio conversation.

The book has practical and applicable advice on how to start your own political journey. Holland and Silvers give concrete examples and steps to remembering that the other side isn’t as evil or as different as you may think.

Perhaps that’s the point. Holland and Silvers may align with different political parties but for all other categories, they are the same: white, (upper?) middle-class, Christian, mothers, living in Kentucky. My guess is that both of them are more in the center of their parties so it is very easy to find commonality. I have a feeling that for the majority of us, this is true about those we disagree with––there are far more similarities than differences.

I wasn’t looking for a fighting book but I kept thinking about Desmond Tutu’s observation, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I think it’s important to see the humanity in all people but I don’t think it’s important to simply “agree to disagree” or to let “you do you.” There are policies and points of view that cause actual harm to large swaths of our population. Part of aligning with a political party is supporting the tension of keeping systems in check and holding people and institutions accountable.

If you’re at a loss for how to have an enjoyable dinner with friends or family from “the other side,” this book may offer helpful advice. If you’re looking for perspectives on policies and politics from opposing points of view, this is a lukewarm offering.

Do you find it difficult to engage with “the other side”? How do you have political conversations? (Or do you avoid them?)

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Stretching My Thinking

As an avid reader, I entered eighth grade with most of the language arts curriculum already read. Luckily for me, I had a teacher and a librarian who recognized the fact that I was a self-motivated learner. So, while the rest of the class read The Diary of a Young Girl, I went to the library and read The Giver.

51UsRhmuBkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What I loved about this exercise was reading these books in tandem. In order to skip class, I wrote a paper on totalitarianism in relation to both books. This was the first time I remember pairing books to create a deeper level of thinking. It changed the way I viewed reading and learning.

The Giver was also the book that helped me think critically about the government. It was one of the first dystopian novels I remember reading and I realized that, without political awareness, governments can become unsafe. I don’t remember thinking that this could actually happen in America but I do remember realizing that political involvement was nonnegotiable.

I know a lot of people compare our current political climate to dystopian novels and there are many days I completely understand. But I think the bigger reminder for me in this is to read books that stretch your thinking. Read stories with characters that make you uncomfortable. Read novels and memoirs and essays that help push back against your own status quo.

While The Giver is a fairly entry-level dystopian novel, I’m thankful for my teacher who put it in my hands and trusted me to make connections beyond the text. (Though, I’ve heard recently that it’s actually the first in a series. I may need to go back and read the others.) Now, I look at my reading habits and I’m often reading companion books that give me multifaceted views on a variety of topics. Because of that experience, I’ve learned to push my thinking and use books as a way to keep me on my toes and thinking critically.

What books helped you become more politically aware? Do you read to push your thinking?

A (1)This post is Day 8 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Recalibrating Expectations

One of Bea’s favorite books is Good Night, Philadelphia. It’s part of that series of board books that focuses on a city and greets the famous landmarks: Good morning, Museum of Art. Good afternoon, Betsy Ross House and Old Glory. Hello, Reading Terminal Market and cheesesteaks. For a solid year, we read it multiple times per day. Even now that the love has ebbed a bit, I still have it memorized. One of the benefits of knowing it so well is that when we visit Philly, Bea has an idea of what she wants to do on the day we go into the city.

IMG_8964A couple years ago, she really wanted to see The Liberty Bell. We took the train from the suburbs into Reading Terminal Market and walked toward Independence Hall. We walked through modern glass doorways of Independence National Park and through the crowds of middle school students toward the Liberty Bell.

When Bea saw it, she started to cry. It could be that she saw an older boy put in “time out” by one of the park rangers for messing around. Or that she had expectations of ringing it herself. Whatever the reason, we walked around this large, old bell, roped off from small hands and then we were done. Besides the museum and history videos, there wasn’t much else to do with a 3-year-old.

We quickly remedied the problem with a carriage ride around Independence Square and back to Reading Terminal Market for cheesesteaks and ice cream.

I had seen Bea’s type of reaction before, most notably by da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris. Tourists would flock to this portrait expecting a gigantic painting, only to be disappointed by its small scale. I often remind people that few of us have larger-than-life-sized paintings of ourselves in our homes. Why would this be any different?

I think about times when I’ve built up an experience or event to the point that any reality will be disappointing. Whenever I envision the perfect date night or an incredible dinner or even a clean house for more than a minute, I am quickly reminded that I live with other humans and our reality is sweet but far from perfect.

This week’s Lenten theme is expectation and I have been thinking about this tendency in relation to these weeks leading up to Easter. What am I hoping from this Lenten practice? Are my expectations realistic?

And, more importantly, are my expectations within this practice drawing me closer to the redemption of Easter? Because, Lent isn’t about giving something up for the sake of fasting for 40 days. It’s about remembering the celebration; about being mindful that we actually don’t have to earn this grace.

I’ve been learning a lot these past two weeks and yet, I’ve been trying to keep my expectations tempered. I’m remembering that this practice isn’t to change my mind or anyone else’s about politics and those elected. It’s about loving my neighbor and remembering to pray for our government. It can be easy to get bogged down in the details of the exercise, forgetting the ultimate purpose.

So, with another month to go and 30 more politicians to pray for, I’m remembering my own expectations and realigning them with a much larger purpose than any 40 day practice will produce.

How do you keep your expectations realistic? Have you ever been disappointed by something famous?

Balancing Solitude with Engagement

When Frank and I were first married, we went on a weekend backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Never Summer Range. One of the most amazing things about this western side of the park is that there are far fewer tourists and hikers. During our entire excursion, we saw one other couple descending into the parking lot just as we started out on the trail.

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One of the scariest parts about this side of the park is that there are far fewer hikers. When we set up camp, we were extra cautious in placing our bear canister far from our campsite. The only noises we heard were those of our hidden forest neighbors.

I had been backpacking before, but always to locations where we were near other hikers. It was rare to step out of my tent without seeing another camper close by. Even after hiking miles into the mountains, I found comfort in knowing I had neighbors.

This time, I was thankful I had Frank and wondered at the appeal of spending time all alone in the wilderness. While I love solitude and appreciate those moments alone in nature, I also desire the safety of proximity to others. Frank, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine a more wonderful way to spend his time than being completely alone in the woods. Even hiking and camping with others pales to a solo trip. (Something he hasn’t had in years…)

This first week of Lent focuses on Jesus’s time in the wilderness, where he spent 40 days fasting and praying before he started teaching. His 40 days alone in the wilderness is mirrored in these 40 days of Lenten observation.

Forty days in the Middle Eastern wilderness looks a lot different than a weekend of camping in the Colorado Rockies. We know very little about what happened during that time. Of course, the biggest event is when, after Jesus has already been gone long enough to be quite hungry, the Devil tempts him to the point that Angels need to care for him in the aftermath (Matthew 4:1-11). But what happened after? When I read the text, it seems unclear when this temptation happened. Does Jesus go back alone and spend another 15 days in the wilderness?

What this reminds me of is that, while I need to be intentional about taking time for myself in quiet and solitude, I am stronger when I am with others. The accountability of reading the Bible, of a book club, of mothering groups and texts from friends remind me that no matter what activity I’m doing or phase of life I’m in, I need others to help me along the way.

I think about Jesus in his weakened state being tempted by Satan. I want to know more. How would this have looked different if he had support around him? Would he have been as prepared to start walking and teaching without this solitude? It is a reminder of this balancing act between taking time alone with God and depending on the community that God has given me.

As I continue with my own Lenten practice of praying through President Trump’s new cabinet, I’m reminded that, while I may be taking time to research and pray for these men and women alone, I need to engage my community with what I’m learning. What is the point of these 40 days of prayer if it is only for myself? As I work through this practice, I am keeping the So What? part of Lent at the forefront of my thoughts. Where will this lead? How will I engage?

How do you combine time in the wilderness with the necessity of community? How do you intentionally engage your quiet spiritual practices with something bigger?

Finding Balance is a Gift

The windows are open, at least for a couple hours on this warm January afternoon. The backyard fountain is running, reminding me of summertime when it flows nonstop. Our new deck is finished and, with the sliding door open, I’m thinking about the next season and using this space that has been too unsound for us to enjoy since moving in.

img_3388During quiet rest, Bea curled up next to me with her pile of books while I read Rising Strong. I debated sending her into the playroom, which is our usual quiet rest custom. Both of us need time apart, time to reenergize. But I’ve been thinking about kindergarten a lot lately and how these days together are quickly coming to an end. So we snuggled and read and were just together for a while.

I’ve drafted several blog posts lately but none of them seem right. Perhaps it’s because of my helpers, never far, always talking. Perhaps it’s because when I want to write something deep and profound and yet also encouraging, I’m just too tired.

Like everyone else, the news is exhausting. I wake up in the morning wondering, what next? A friend recently wished we could return to the days when Facebook was newborns and what we ate for dinner. And while part of me wishes for that too, I also recognize the privilege I have in being able to turn it off. I don’t need to check the news all that often because the news doesn’t really directly impact me.

But I also recognize this reality and am finding this balance. Of feeling grateful that our lives continue without too much impact. And of finding ways to instill important values. How do I want my daughters to remember this time? How do I want them to view their childhood? What do I want our family story to say?

So, with these windows open and the true blessing of sitting at a big work table with my daughters working next to me, I’m thankful for our life right now. For the ability to enjoy this day and these moments. And I’m also looking into ways we can spend our money to support those who are far more equipped and qualified to fight injustice. I’m emailing organizations about volunteering our time as a family.

I’m remembering that finding the balance is a gift I’ve been given. And I don’t take that lightly at all.

How are you finding ways to balance the news and balance your outlook on life? What is your best way to practice perspective?

I Respectfully Disagree

One of the challenges of parenting that I find simultaneously most draining, most hopeful, and most constant is finding the balance of teaching respect and allowing our daughters to feel and express their emotions. And believe me, there are so many emotions to feel!

img_3228From learning to share to a project not going a certain way to simply being too tired or too hungry, a day doesn’t go by without tears from someone. (And I’m including myself in that equation.) Most of the time, I want both Bea and Elle to know that they are safe and welcome to feel those feelings. I want them to know that they will always have a safe place here to process and vent and figure out their own views on life.

But we also practice socially acceptable behaviors. We practice rephrasing feelings respectfully and how to ask in a way that helps people understand our needs. We talk a lot about how we may not agree with a choice or a decision but that we have to respect the outcome. But I also want them to know that just because I’m their parent doesn’t mean my choice is always final or right or unchangeable. It’s intensive work, creating human beings and citizens of this world.

Since November, I’ve seen many admonitions for disappointed people to respect the President. That, once the election was decided, we should put away our disappointments and anxiety, forgive the divisive comments and attitude, and throw our support fully and completely behind the president-elect.

On Inauguration Day, I saw it again – Just give him a chance; We are called to respect the office of President; God calls us to pray for our leaders. These are all statements I absolutely agree with. I do hope that our nation is guided to a place of justice and reconciliation; I do respect the office of President and am so grateful we live in a nation that practices the peaceful transfer of power; I have and will continue to pray for wisdom for our elected leaders.

But respect and disagreement aren’t exclusive. I can respect the office of President and vehemently disagree with the tone and words he uses to describe those who don’t support him. I can respect the office of President and be dismayed at the fact that he would choose to threaten arts funding (which makes up .02% of the federal budget) while likely boosting military spending to $1 trillion. I can respect the office of President and give the President a chance while remaining a bit skeptical. The cabinet nominees alone have given me little reason to celebrate unity and reconciliation.

I can respect the office of President and still believe that America has always been great; that we can move forward rather than looking backwards. I can respect the office of President and speak out against discrimination and hate.

In fact, speaking out may be the best way to show my respect. I respect this office so much that to blindly follow; to support without thinking; to not give voice to the voiceless would be the greatest disrespect I could show.

We grow and we learn from each other. We are stronger when we truly take the time to listen and understand each other’s stories.

I have a feelings these upcoming years will be a lesson in learning to find the balance I’m trying to teach my girls. To learn to feel my feelings; to respect others; and to use my voice to protect and help those who will be deeply impacted by this quest for greatness.

Hopefully, through discussion and disagreement; through debate and conversation, we’ll work together to continue making this a great country.

How do you engage with others of differing opinions? Does debate energize you or drain you?

Review: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear + Giveaway

As a child of the eighties, I have never known a time without the Religious Right. Politics and religion have always been intertwined. If you believe certain things then people assume you most likely vote a certain way. This is starting to change, as people in my generation are redefining faith and redefining political allegiance. And, like many in my demographic, I find myself wondering more and more often, How did we get here? What made this divide between ideologies so wide?

fb4In Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America, Michael Wear sets out to provide insights to those questions. A self-described conservative Democrat, Wear worked on President Obama’s initial campaign in 2008 before working within the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. His inside view into our most recent President’s faith, values, and attempts at partnering faith and politics is eye-opening.

Not only are there plenty of stories about working in the White House and the challenges of defining the nearly-impossible topic of an individual’s faith to a public policy, but Wear gives insights into the millennial view of faith and politics. We live in an era where politics is part of our everyday life. There is no separation of church and state; there is no way of separating our political values from our spiritual life.

Wear accepts this new way of interacting with politics and offers guidance and optimism to a weary population. People are tired of the divide, no matter which side of the aisle they fall on, and Wear gives hope. Not to battle each other but to recognize the significant importance of our differences and how they can honor God and offer hope to our nation.

Wear doesn’t provide the magical answer to solve all of our political problems, but he does shed light on ways we can shift our own perspectives. He introduces a new way of doing politics – not one of either/or, church/government but of a both/and approach of partnerships with the church and government. This new way forward is a big shift in thinking but one that, if we’re willing to take the journey, may be more world changing than we realize.

How does your faith reflect your politics? Are you able to separate to two? How do you support your values and your voting habits?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of Reclaiming Hope. Leave a comment about your journey in faith and politics and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, January 20, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

As part of the Reclaiming Hope launch team, I received a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions are my own.