My Mom’s Pumpkin Bread

March 27, 2014

When my dad was in law school, he spent his second summer interning with a firm in Cleveland, Ohio. I was four years old and my brother Zach was two. When we were leaving, one of our neighbors gave my mom her church cookbook as a going away gift. The original recipe called for 2/3 cup margarine, but my mom uses oil now instead. She also uses “heaping” measurements of ground spices to add more flavor. Enjoy!

Mom Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Locust Effect CoverDo you go to work without wondering whether your boss is going to physically beat you? Do you send your daughter to school without fearing she will be raped? Do you go to sleep without worrying that looters will seize your land in the middle of the night?

“If you are reading this book in a state of reasonable security and peace without fear of being enslaved, imprisoned, beaten, raped, or robbed,” Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros write in The Locust Effect, “it is either the case that you are in a place of isolation far away from human beings, or you are the beneficiary of a system that is protecting you from the violent impulses of human beings that are around you.”

Haugen, founder of the International Justice Mission (IJM), and Boutros, federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice, think that violence is at the core of what it means to be poor. In fact, they argue, until we end “the common, everyday, predatory violence” that thrives among the global poor, even our best economic and humanitarian efforts to alleviate extreme poverty will come to naught.

Beneath the Surface 

The first part of the book—chapters 1 and 2—is emotionally challenging. It includes accounts of real victims of rape, forced labor, land seizure, and abusive police. Although these stories are not for the fainthearted, they provide a glimpse into “the vast, subterranean world of violence where the poor move and have their being.”

Haugen and Boutros say that we often miss this “terror beneath the surface” because it’s intentionally hidden. Violence has behind it “an intelligent, willful perpetrator who is working hard—frequently very hard—to hide it. Indeed, the actual act of violence is almost never seen by outsiders.” It’s not just the perpetrators, however, who conceal it; it’s the victims, too. Since their experiences are uniquely traumatic, they often feel ashamed, humiliated, violated, and degraded. “Paradoxically,” the co-authors lament, “the perpetrator and the victim end up sharing a powerful, reflexive inclination: They both want to hide it.”

Locust Effect 

Having shown their readers glimpses of violence, Haugen and Boutros begin the middle section of the book—chapters 3 through 9—with a history lesson. In 1875, a massive swarm of locusts attacked more than 200,000 square miles across the Midwest. They devoured entire fields of crops, leaving animals and people to die of starvation. The farmers’ work, the government’s grants, the neighbors’ assistance—none of these mattered when the locusts came. Talk of help from outsiders “seemed like a mocking.” The co-authors draw a parallel: “Likewise in our era, efforts to spur economic development and alleviate poverty among the poor in the developing world without addressing the forces of violence that destroy and rob them can ‘seem like a mocking.’”

In this middle section, Haugen and Boutros show how violence seeps into the broken parts of the justice system to poison even our best efforts at alleviating poverty. For example, many organizations are committed to building schools for girls. This is great, but girls in many parts of the developing world—even where there are school buildings—simply avoid school altogether because it’s “the most common place where sexual violence occurs.” Moreover, if a young girl is raped, there’s almost no chance her rapist will be prosecuted—either he will pay off the police, the prosecutor, or the judge, or the court will lack evidence to prosecute because, in many places, approved medical examiners are so rare that a victim cannot find one in time to administer a valid rape kit.

Glimpses of Hope 

The final part of the book—chapters 10 and 11—offers hope that something can be done. Although Haugen and Boutros admit that “building effective public justice systems in the developing world is costly, difficult, dangerous, and unlikely,” they give us glimpses of places that have already experienced major transitions in their justice systems. Also, they share stories where they have seen hints of success with IJM’s method of “structural transformation” through “collaborative casework.”

Haugen doesn’t mention that he “personally came to the human rights struggle out of a Christian conscience” until the last chapter. As a former political appointee at the Department of State, I think this approach is eminently wise and strategic. When I was at State, most of my colleagues did not share my Christian commitment, and if I had given them an unsolicited book about the gospel, it would have been professionally inappropriate. The Locust Effect, however, is materially different from many other books written by evangelicals. It’s both a high-quality professional resource and also a beautiful window into God’s heart. I wouldn’t have hesitated to give this book as a gift to all of my colleagues.

Also, as director of TGC’s Every Square Inch, I find this final section particularly compelling because it challenges the assumption that our work is divided into sacred and secular callings. By virtue of their unique access and specialized training, those involved in the law enforcement pipeline—lawyers, police officers, judges, wardens, parole officers—have unique opportunities to bear God’s image of love and justice in ways that others cannot. Their work points to the work of Christ, who was anointed to “proclaim good news to the poor” and “set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:16–21). For billions of the global poor, these are not metaphorical words. They are real and, by the grace of God through the work of abolitionists like Haugen and Boutros, they are possible.

To the Point 

I’ve been a supporter of IJM for years. In 2007, when I was in law school, I considered doing an internship in one of their field offices. Last year, I was on the benefit committee for their New York City gala. I’ve contributed financially to IJM, and I recently became a monthly donor.

Yet it almost seems silly to write a book review for The Locust Effect. Yes, it satisfies all the qualities of a great book—it’s well written, researched, organized, and so forth. To me, though, it’s more than a book. It’s an awakening, a call, a responsibility. It’s one of those things that you can’t just read; you have to do something. Because now you know.

Editors’ note: Not only do all author royalties for The Locust Effect go directly to the work of IJM, a generous donor has pledged to give $20 to IJM for each book purchased this week. You can order from Amazon or Hearts & Minds Bookstore (for a 20 percent discount).

[Note: This review was originally published here.]

No Happy Harmony?

November 19, 2013

In October, Baylor Professor Elizabeth Corey published an article in First Things, in which she argued that career and motherhood have “no happy harmony.” She invited me to write a response for the December issue, which you can read here.

Any thoughts?

Does it make a difference how I live? Does it make a difference if I am a good, honest, faithful, compassionate person? It does not seem to make a difference to my bank account, or my chances for fame and fortune. But sooner or later, we learn … that those are not the things that really matter. It matters if we are true to ourselves, to our innate human nature that requires things like honesty and kindness and grows flabby and distorted if we neglect them. It matters if we learn how to share our lives with others, making them and their world different, rather than try to hoard life for ourselves. It matters if we learn to recognize the pleasures of every day, food and work and love and friendship, as encounters with the divine, encounters that teach us not only that God is real but that we are real too. Those things make all the difference.

Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough

Kahling Book Cover

THE BASICS

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
by Mindy Kaling, 222 pages, 2011 by Three Rivers Press

One-Liner: The writer and actor best known for her roles on The Office and The Mindy Project shares observations on everything from her hatred of dieting to her rise in comedic success.

HATM Grade: B- … because it is laugh-out-loud funny and honest, but she skips over her deeper feelings and struggles in favor of lightweight anecdotes.

Related Books: Bossypants by Tina Fey

MY REVIEW

I’m away on sabbatical and working on my book project, Having All That Matters, which is a faith-based contribution to the Lean In discussion. Since I’m reading loads of books on “women, work and women’s work”, I decided to organize my thoughts and entertain my friends with reviews.

I started with Mindy Kaling because I think all things, especially sabbaticals, are best when they begin with laughter. Plus, I wanted my first book to be one that I actually finished and she promises, “This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink. If you’re reading this book every night for months, something is not right.” Success? Check.

This book will take you two days to read.
Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink.

Best Friends Rights and Responsibilities

It’s obvious that Mindy is a great friend. She’s so honest about her own embarrassments and failures that you feel like you could share anything with her and she wouldn’t judge you. Also, like most of us, she struggles with her weight, but unlike most of us, she’s winsome about it: “Being called fat is not like being called stupid or unfunny, which is the worst thing you could ever say to me.” In high school, she started out with a clique of four girlfriends, but ended up finding one truly great friend named Mavis. She reflected:

One friend with whom you have a lot in common is better than three with whom you struggle to find things to talk about.

In college, Mindy found several best friends and lived with them for 8 years in either a dorm room at Dartmouth or a small Brooklyn apartment. In order to avoid any knock-down-drag-out fights, they came up with best friend rights and responsibilities, which included things like, “I can borrow all your clothes,” “I will try to like your boyfriend five times,” and “It’s okay to take me for granted.”

HATM reflection: Why do we find women writing about their strong and deep relationships with their female social friends and also women writing about their unnecessarily competitive and hurtful relationships with their female professional colleagues? Where does the breakdown happen?

Day Jobs: I Work for a TV Psychic

Like many up-and-coming NYC artists, Mindy had day jobs while trying to get into comedy. She nannied for a “crazy loaded family” in Brooklyn Heights and worked for a TV psychic in Queens. Her boss at the TV show loved to talk about how stressed out she was. But Mindy did not: “A note about me: I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway. No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, ‘Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories about stress, but this just takes the cake.’ This is entirely because my parents are immigrant professionals, and talking about one’s stress level was just totally outlandish to them.”

I do not think stress is a legitimate topic of conversation, in public anyway.

HATM reflection: What drives our temptation to talk about our stress? Last year in the NYT, Tim Kreider argued that busyness was “a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness” (here). Agree? Disagree?

Types of Women in Romantic Comedies Who Are Not Real 

Mindy “sheepishly” admits her love for romantic comedies. In this genre of movies, which she regards as a “subgenre of sci-fi” because it has “different rules than her regular human world”, she says that there are “specimens of women who I do not think exist in real life”.

  • The Klutz: “This 100-percent-perfect-looking female is perfect in every way, except that she constantly falls down.”
  • The Ethereal Weirdo: “This girl can’t be pinned down and may or may not show up when you make concrete plans.”
  • The Forty-Two-Year-Old Mother of the Thirty-Year-Old Male Lead: “the young mom phenomenon”
  • The Skinny Woman Who Is Beautiful and Toned But Also Gluttonous and Disgusting: “The gorgeous and skinny heroine who is also a disgusting pig when it comes to food.”
  • The Woman Who Works in an Art Gallery: “How many freakin’ art galleries are out there? Are people buying visual art on a daily basis? This posh, smart, classy Profession is my favorite in movies. It’s in the same realm as kindergarten teacher or children’s book illustrator in terms of accessibility: guys don’t really get it, but it is likable and non-threatening.”

Interestingly, besides the Art Gallery Owner, there’s only one other type of professional woman in romantic comedies:

  • The Woman Who Is Obsessed with Her Career and Is No Fun At All: “I, Mindy Kaling, basically have two full-time jobs. I regularly work sixteen hours a day. But like most other people I know who are similarly busy, I think I’m a pleasant, pretty normal person. I am slightly offended by the way busy working women my age are presented in film. I’m not, like, always barking orders into my hands-free phone device and telling people constantly, ‘I have no time for this!’ I didn’t completely forget how to be nice or feminine because I have a career. Also, since when does having a job necessitate women having their hair pulled back in a severe, tight bun? Often this uptight woman has to ‘re-learn’ how to seduce a man because her estrogen leaked out of her from leading so many board meetings, and she has to do all sorts of crazy, unnecessary crap, like eat a hot dog in a libidinous way or something. Having a challenging job in movies means the compassionate, warm, or sexy side of your brain has fallen out.”

I am slightly offended by the way busy working women my age are presented in film. I’m not, like, always barking orders into my hands-free device and telling people constantly, “I have no time for this!” I didn’t completely forget how to be nice or feminine because I have a career.

HATM reflection: How much are our thoughts about what is in/appropriate for women influenced by how media portrays them? How discerning are we when we watch certain genres of movies?

Non-Traumatic Things That Have Made Me Cry: Depressing Zeitgeisty Magazine Articles About Relationships

“Every couple months or so, some boundary-breaking article comes out in a nationally published magazine. The article makes a big thesis statement about relationships, like, say, how women don’t need men anymore, or how if you’re a woman over thirty-five you should just settle with whatever guy is halfway nice to you, or how monogamy is not feasible or plausible or enjoyable for any human and we should all be swingers, or a study is released that says you don’t have to love your kids anymore or something. They’re the kind of articles that are emailed everywhere, and I get them forwarded to me about eight times.

“I’ll read one of these articles, and immediately after I’m so swept up in it that I can’t help but think, Yes, yes, that is 100 percent right. Finally! Someone has confirmed that little voice in the back of my mind that has always not loved my kids! Or I’m so happy I’m this much closer to that swinging lifestyle I’ve been secretly craving! I’m normal! And now it’s a national discussion, so others agree, and I can feel normal now. But then, a week later, I’m thinking, I hate this. I feel awful. This wretched little magazine article has helped convince more open-minded liberal arts graduates that the nuclear family doesn’t exist without some hideous twist, like the dad is allowed to go to an S&M dungeon once a week or something. It makes me cry because it means that fewer and fewer people are believing it’s cool to want what I want, which is to be married and have kids and love each other in a monogamous, long-lasting relationship.”

It makes me cry because it means that fewer and fewer people are believing it’s cool to want what I want, which is to be married and have kids and love each other in a monogamous, long-lasting relationship.

HATM reflection: I wonder whether it is actually “fewer and fewer people” or “fewer and fewer editors” who want what she wants. Since it is editors who have control over what articles get written and published, they can give the impression that fewer people want what she wants when, in fact, it may just be those in power. Then I wonder how much this plays into the “lean in” and “having it all” discussion – that is, are those types of articles revealing unchanging truths about our common human condition or just creating passing fads about what powerful people want?

Are Women Funny or Not?

At the end, Mindy answers random questions that she anticipates some of her readers will ask, e.g., “Why didn’t you talk about whether women are funny or not?” She answers, “I just felt that by commenting on that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn’t. It would be the same as addressing the issue of ‘Should dogs and cats be able to care for our children? They’re in the house anyway.’ I try not to make it a habit to seriously discuss nonsensical hot-button issues.”

I try not to make it a habit to seriously discuss nonsensical hot-button issues.

HATM reflection: This is what I want to say when people ask me whether I am going to address whether women should be working outside the home at all.

This is really about human sexuality and relational fulfillment.

Last Saturday, Trinity Grace Church in Tribeca hosted Dale Kuehne, author of Sex and the iWorld, to talk about human sexuality in the modern age. Dale opened his talk by re-framing the issue. “At its heart,” he said, “the sexual revolution is not about homosexuality or same-sex marriage, but about human sexuality and relational fulfillment. It is about what it means to be human and about sexuality as a subset of that.”

The quality of our lives is guided by the quality of our relationships.

Since some of us may not think the Christian teaching on sexuality is “good news”, however, he began by referencing the teachings of Aristotle, not the Bible. Aristotle argued that humans are made for relationship and, therefore, the quality of our lives is guided by the quality of our relationships. According to Aristotle, Dale said, the relational matrix has four parts: family, neighborhood, city and friends. The first three are relationships of obligation, but the last one – friendship – is voluntary. Family may be irreplaceable, but friendship is the only relationship that can answer the question: if you really know me and have no obligation to love me, would you?

Yet we live in an age of relational hurt.

Although relationships have the potential to give us vibrancy and fulfillment, we live in an age of relational hurt – divorce, rejection, abandonment, transience. In our pain, we are tempted to live independently – by ourselves and for ourselves. In spite of our best efforts, however, loneliness persists. What can be done?

The pursuit of the transcendent will fulfill us.

Aristotle argued that neither objects nor people can fulfill us. In modern terms, think about your dream apartment. Give it three years – new models come out, the neighborhood changes, your family grows. It’s no longer your dream apartment. The same thing happens with people. You may marry your dream spouse, but after a few years, new “models” come out, your spouse changes, your circumstances change. They are no longer your dream spouse. What will fulfill us? Pursuit of the transcendent, said Aristotle. We will be fulfilled when we spend our lives trying to know the not-fully-knowable and search for the not-fully-searchable.

Sex is an appetite; the more you feed it, the more you want it.

What about sex? Aristotle lived in Greek culture, which celebrated sexual exploration. Yet he argued that sex should be confined to marriage. He said that sex was an appetite and, the more you feed it, the more you want it. If sex happens outside of marriage, then it happens between friends and sex between friends does not enhance the friendship; it detracts from it.

The best and deepest relationships do not have to be sexual.

The idea that sexuality is key to having deep relationships does not really come about until the 1960s with the sexual revolution. The best and deepest relationships do not have to be sexual. The New Testament has no sense that you have to be married or having sex to be fulfilled. At Pentecost (Acts 2), God is basically saying, “I am filling you. This is relationship on steroids.” The Church becomes the fundamental fulfilling relationship – whether you are married or not. We may live in an age that has lost faith in love and relationships, but we have the opportunity to show that there is something more, that Church is better than sex.

To be continued (more to come on relational consequences, challenges and opportunities) …

How small of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.

Samuel Johnson