A Thanksgiving Sermon Full of Bad News

Dear Joel,

Recently, I got to share a bit about American religious history with a local United Church of Christ congregation. The group was celebrating its 137th anniversary as a congregation. Since the UCC derives, in part, from the Congregational Churches that themselves are remnants of American Puritanism. In honor of Thanksgiving, I share an excerpt from the sermon here.


There is a risk in telling the story of American religion through those who came from England. The Pilgrims came first, in 1620, in small numbers, on the Mayflower and the Speedwell. The Puritans came ten years later, on the Arabella. Both groups were Protestants who with complaints about the Church of England. The Puritans wanted to work within the church to, as their names suggested, purify it of what they saw as Catholic influences and traditions. The Pilgrims were more radical. They sought to separate from the Church of England. They shared similar theologies, and the fact is, over time, more and more of those arriving and those being born adopted the Pilgrim perspective that they needed to separate from the Church of England. So, from the very start, 150 years before the Revolution, American Christianity was already distinguishing itself from British Christianity.

But this is not the only way to tell American religious history. We could begin with the many and diverse first nation people who were here, practicing an array of religions. We could begin with the Spanish, who brought Catholicism to the New World more than 100 years before the British arrived. We could tell the story starting in the west, with the mixing of religions in Hawai’i or the Orthodox Christianity that Russian fur traders brought to Alaska.

But because we are focusing on the foundations of the UCC faith, we’ll stick with the Pilgrims and Puritans. They landed in present-day Massachusetts, in part by accident. The Pilgrims had meant to land in the Hudson Bay Area, but they had a very tough voyage. First, one of their ships sprang a leak, so they had to return to England to fix it. They left a month late, which meant they were sailing through the North Atlantic during storm season. They were consistently blown off course. When they finally saw land, they knew that they weren’t where their charter from the English monarch had told them to go, but the sight of land was pretty appealing. What they came to call Plymouth Harbor had already been cleared by native people, whose numbers had been decimated already by European diseases. So: clear land and few people. Then there was this other factor, Puritans William Bradford and Edward Winslow later recalled:

“We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December.”

Yes, this portion of American religious history takes the shape it does because our religious forebears were lost and low on beer.

Despite their love of booze, we tend to remember the Pilgrims and Puritans mostly as not a lot of fun. They are dour, scolding, and judgmental. We get this impression through Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible or novels like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, a Newberry Honor book that I loved as a child, or I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, a fictive account of the true story of the arrest of a black woman slave who confessed to witchcraft. One of the most read (or at least most assigned) books in US high schools is The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne, who himself had an ancestor who participated in the Salem Witch Trials.

And these impressions are not entirely wrong. But I want to think about them today not as the result of a bunch of contrarian people on a desperate beer run but as people who were trying to make sense of their world as they understood it.

The Puritans who came, whether they were Pilgrims saw God as always present and all powerful. They saw God everywhere. Indeed, this led to what today we might call occultic practices, according to Charles Lippy in Being Religious American Style. The Puritans read the stars and natural disasters such as the 1638 earthquake in Boston in order to hear God speaking to them. Not surprisingly, when you see all of nature as supernatural, you also tend to see a lot of evil. And so we get the Salem Witch Trials, which resulted in the execution of 20 people, 14 of them women, 19 of them by hanging and one by “pressing”—that is, a kind of stoning. Five more, including 2 babies, died in prison, as they awaited trial. The Salem Witch Trials are part of a long history of Christian persecution of people who were different—or who were political enemies—as witches. Indeed, the Salem Witch Trials were really toward the end of such actions. In 1487, Malleus Maleficareum, or Hammer of Witches, was published. For almost TWO HUNDRED YEARS, this guidebook to recognizing, testing, and punishing witches was the second best-selling book, after the Bible. So the Puritans were part of a religious tradition themselves.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 3.45.09 PM

In an engraving from 1880s, the slave Tituba enchants little Puritan girls with her magic. 

Underneath their faith, including their belief that God is sovereign and that the natural world reflects the supernatural one, was a tremendous fear. If covenanted members of the church could be witches, it meant witches could be everywhere. If anyone could fall into Satan’s snare, that meant you could, too.

But Puritans weren’t afraid only of Satan. They were also very, very afraid of God. Puritans were Calvinists. A key feature of their faith was that people are inherently sinful—even children. Because we are sinful, God has every right to hate us. We are, in the words of the last great Puritan preacher, Jonathan Edwards, “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” God dangles us, like a spider over a fire, and has every right to toss us in. But God chose, at the start of time, for some of us to be saved. We can’t know which ones, though. And so the Puritans were always on the lookout for signs of their own salvation. Even the most righteous Puritan could not know whether he was bound for heaven or hell, and this caused tremendous mental suffering, as we see in diaries and letters and, unfortunately, suicide notes. But Puritans could look in their own lives and see evidence of God’s blessings. In this way, Puritan theology enforced the idea that material blessings were evidence of your own salvation—and created what we now call the “Protestant work ethic.”


Above, Cotton Mather is here to remind you that you’re going to die. Probably sooner than later. And you’re probably going to hell. Because you are detestable. #Sorrynotsorry. 

But the fact is that life was pretty much terrible for Puritans. Children at school learned the letter “T” by being reminded that  it stands for “Time,” which “cuts down all/Both great and small.” The great preacher Cotton Mather told them “‘Go into Burying-Place, CHILDREN; you will there see Graves as short as your selves. Yea, you may be at Play one Hour; Dead, Dead the next.” And he was right: 40% of children would not live to adulthood. One in ten children died in the first year in the healthiest regions; in Boston, it was three in ten. Mather himself had 14 children; seven died in infancy, and just one lived to age 30. Half of those who came off the Mayflower died that first winter.  In a smallpox outbreak in Boston in 1677-1678, one-fifth of the city died. The region saw the bloodiest war in American history: King Philip’s, or Metacom’s, War, which was a war with local Indians over a number of issues related to land and agriculture, primarily around the destructiveness of colonists’ pigs, which were an invasive species—and what those pigs symbolized. The death toll was, per capita, the highest in any American war, including the Civil War.


Above, an image from a Puritan primer for children. A, G, J, R, T, U. X, and Y all remind developing readers of their coming death. 

As strange as it might sound to us, seeing God as the author of bad things was a kind of comfort to the Puritans. Imagine if you didn’t understand tectonic plates or germ theory. If God was not in control of when the earth moved or when your wife, your children, or your livestock would die, then there was no order at all in the universe. Better a God who used the natural world to punish you than no explanation at all. At least this God loved some of us, which is better than nature treats us.

And still, you see under all this belief a cycle of perfection and fear. You were afraid of God, so you sought perfection—purification—but that only highlights how much you have to be afraid of. For God to bring you comfort, God had to be sovereign, but that also makes God the author of all things. Because God cannot do evil, that which is done to us must be good. Which makes the bad things in life somehow good things, too. Though it is a hopeless endeavor—because we are all innately evil, in this theology—you must keep trying to be good. This is why Puritan John Winthrop, in his speech aboard the Arabella, gave the Puritans their mission: to be a city on a hill. They would be building a New Jerusalem. And, through Barack Obama, every US president has used this phrase to refer to the United States.

If we can see the Puritans with compassion, we might see in them a people who allowed their fear to drive them. Though they held the Bible in high esteem and stressed obedience, they consistently disobeyed the most repeated order in Scripture: Be not afraid. In their dangerous world, fear made sense.

We live in a dangerous world, too. And we demonstrate some of their same impulses in response to that fear.

To separate rather than forbear

To purify rather than to welcome

To coerce those who are different into conformity

To build a theocracy that disguises our political prejudices as God’s kingdom

To shift responsibility for humanity’s failures to supernatural forces

To allow our fear of God, rather than our love for God, to drive our faith.



Staying in the hurt

Hi Joel,

In answer to your question about what men need to do right now: I have no idea. And worse: this is both men’s mess to handle AND men can’t do it without women, but we don’t owe you the help. Also, we’re not feeling particularly gracious right now.


Right now, I’m simply walking away, mid-conversation, from every man who tells me “It’s really hard to be a man right now.” That’s been three times this week, and it’s only Tuesday. And the walking away is probably a lousy, confusing way of responding to that particularly insensitive statement, but I’m worn out on it. I’m not surprised by Al Franken or Charlie Rose, and I won’t be surprised by the next decent man accused of sexual misconduct. Look: most children who are victims of sexual abuse are abused by members of their own family, so I’m never going to be surprised.

Men who are suddenly concerned that their own “good guy” image won’t protect them are perhaps getting a sense of how those women who followed the rules (don’t date, don’t drink, don’t go out after dark, dress “modestly”) and are still assaulted feel. Remember: being children, living in a nursing home, having a disability, or being in church doesn’t protect innocent people from being victimized, so looking like a decent guy should certainly not protect perpetrators of assault.

Most people who are assaulted are assaulted by people they know and trust. It’s why my own children are pretty carefully monitored, why they are never alone with a piano teacher or a math tutor, why we don’t do sleepovers, why my children are never at home when a plumber or an electrician comes to the house, and why, if other people’s children are in our home, no one else is. My thirteen-year-old isn’t allowed to have friends over to play ping pong in the basement if my five-year-old has a friend over to play Legos upstairs. I do this work so that they don’t have to, but, eventually, they will. It’s rite of passage in patriarchy: defend yourselves, kids, because it’s likely no one will believe you if a grown-up sexually assaults you. 

If that sounds like a lot of work, it’s just the little bit of work that’s required to be a woman. (And for the men reading this who think, “That’s overreacting–I don’t live my life like that,” ask your wife or your children’s teachers if they are doing the work for you.) The constant monitoring, followed by the second guessing (“Did that really happen like I think it did?”), followed by the self-recrimination for letting it happen and for not standing up for yourself, followed by the hopeless of knowing that doing so would have only increased the risk of harm–it’s a burden. So much so that I can’t bear to think of what the world has lost with all the time women have spent doing it.

After a lifetime of being wary, I don’t really care that Jeremy Piven had to endure the indignity of taking a lie detector test. Like, I care in the big picture sense, in that people shouldn’t make false accusations and waste investigatory resources and undermine the credibility of the many people who have been victimized–and also that polygraph tests are baloney. But  of the things that require my attention and deserve empathy, men fearful of being accused of rape right now doesn’t rank high.

So, since they shouldn’t be whining, what should men do?

I don’t know. I don’t know. All my advice is contradictory.

  • If you’ve hurt someone, make it right. But, for God’s sake, you don’t have a right to come back into their life. (Have you ever been on the receiving end of Step 9 of the 12 Steps? It’s terrible.)
  • Fix this without demanding help from people who have been victimized. But don’t presume to know how to fix this without their help.
  • Apologize. Mourn. Repent. But not until you’ve taken done something that demonstrates a commitment to change. Better yet, show me change first, then apologize.

There is an old, shitty object lesson from the purity movement: you give each little lamb in the youth group a small tube of toothpaste and have them squirt it on a piece of paper. Then you tell them to put it back in the tube. They can’t, of course, which is supposed to be a lesson in how you can never undo your sexual history. Or something like that. It’s a pretty awful way to talk to kids about sex.

Image result for toothpaste squeezed from tube

Above, a tube squirts out toothpaste. This had something to do with abstinence, but all I could think about was sex during this particular youth group meeting. 

But it’s a potentially useful way to talk about sexual abuse. Some things you break can never be fixed. As popular as words like “resilience” and “grit” are right now, some people don’t “get better” or “heal” or “bounce back,” and it’s mean of us to hold up exceptional survivors as a standard for behavior. Some of us aren’t “survivors.” But, even here, I don’t mean that sexual abuse makes people broken. Whatever words people use–broken or survivor or victim–, we need to listen, not ask them to use words that better fit with our preferences.

I mean that our current conversation about sexual assault is breaking something else: a code of masculinity that has men protecting men and always doubting victims. Start looking at every man like the sexual predator he’s probably not but very well could be. Then you’ll start seeing the world as women see it.

I don’t want to recover from that. Let it stay broken.




We men need a day of repentance


Nope. No, no, nope.

Dear Rebecca:

With the emergence of the Al Franken scandal, what we knew already has become manifestly clear: Sexual harassment is a bipartisan problem — a widespread problem that reaches into all corners of society. It’s not just Hollywood or Washington D.C. You know women with stories; I know women with stories. And if you think you don’t know a woman who has such stories, well, you’re probably wrong.

And if your response is “not all men,” well … fine, I guess. But I suspect the pool of men who have something to regret and make amends for — and perhaps to face a measure of justice for — is pretty damn wide, too.

Men, we need to ask ourselves: Have we always treated women with the full measure of respect they deserve.

If we’re honest, many of us — me included — will acknowledge times when we could’ve or should’ve done better.

How all this shakes out is anybody’s guess. A few people will lose their jobs and have their legacies tainted. Women, I hope, will feel more free to come forward and tell their stories. The ability of the powerful to prey on the weaker, I hope, will be mitigated.

Regardless of what else happens, let me suggest the time is right for repentance.

I’ve always liked the idea of Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, prayer, and praying for forgiveness. I think it’s what we men need right now.

It doesn’t begin to right all the wrongs that have been done. It’s not the end of the process of accountability. But it might be a place to start — where we can acknowledge to ourselves, to each other, and to those whom we’ve treated poorly that we have acted badly and can, must do better.

I’m not sure where to go from here. Have any ideas?


Should WHY you’re not buying a SodaStream cost you a job?

Dear Joel,

Thirty-seven Republicans and 13 Democrats have co-sponsored S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which is part of a larger trend of hostility toward those who support using their power as consumers to be peacemakers.

The bill seeks to amend the Export Administration Act of 1979. THAT act was a response to the Arab League’s decades-long boycott of Israel (It began as a targeted boycott of the Jewish community in Palestine before Israel was a state.) and of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) oil embargo against the US–an embargo that itself was retaliation for the US supplying Israel with weapons during the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War.

The Export Administration Act and some related laws (the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act), according to the Office of Antiboycott Compliance (OAC), “were adopted to encourage, and in specified cases, require U.S. firms to refuse to participate in foreign boycotts that the United States does not sanction.” The larger aim is to prevent US firms “from being used to implement foreign policies of other nations which run counter to U.S. policy.” The antiboycott laws are, in effect, about Israel, but they apply to “all boycotts imposed by foreign countries” that the US does not agree to.

This takes a rather specific shape: Since the Arab League states were boycotting Israel, they required US businesses doing business with them to provide evidence that those businesses were also boycotting Israel (a secondary boycott). US law prohibits US businesses from supplying that information and requires that, if boycotting nations where US businesses want to engage in commerce request it from a company, the company report the request for information to the OAC. US lawmakers very cleverly tied this to discrimination against people based on race or religion, arguing that US companies cannot provide foreign states with information about the race or religion of employees as a condition of participating in trade in nations where people of particular races or religions are despised. In this way, pro-Israel groups can call those who support BDS racists and religious bigots, even though no BDS supporters argue for that international trading partners should get to decide whether US companies get to hire or fire people based on their faith or skin color.

So, for the last 40 years, we’ve had a law that says that corporations cannot boycott nations that the US likes (which usually means that we see them as an economic or security partner) when those boycotts are “foreign” and, if asked to participate in such a boycott as a condition of doing trade in a foreign nation, US companies report it.

The current revision of that act–the one in the Senate right now–adds that US companies also can’t participate in boycotts “fostered by international governmental organizations” (The law specifies the UN and the EU but does not limit who is an “international government organization” to just these two groups.) when those boycotts target Israel. Additionally, it directs the Export-Import Bank of the US, a government agency that, depending on your perspective, either provides credit for international trade that is too risky for the open market to support or is the worst kind of crony capitalism, to oppose boycotts of Israel. S. 720 also says that it is revising the 1979 Act “for other purposes,” a vagueness that ought to make us all a little uneasy.


There is also a bit of confusion as to WHO this law applies to (and here is why Sixoh6 readers should pay attention). Though defenders of the law seem to suggest that only corporations are targeted here, the message from the OAC is a bit murkier:

“The antiboycott provisions of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) apply to the activities of U.S. persons in the interstate or foreign commerce of the United States. The term ‘U.S. person’ includes all individuals, corporations and unincorporated associations resident in the United States…”

The italics are mine there.

Even if this only applies to “corporations,” what a “corporation” is is a bit unclear. Hobby Lobby is a corporation, but as a “closely-held” one, it gets to claim the “religious freedom” not to provide insurance coverage that includes some kinds of contraception. The conservative propaganda outfit Citizens United gave us “free speech” for corporations. In a time when corporations have the right of “free speech” to dump unlimited money into political races, how do they not have the right to boycott other nations?

That, to me, is the lesser worry. The greater worry is that individuals within the US, it appears, can be punished for participating in a “foreign-led” boycott of Israel.

We already have a number of states that are punishing people for exercising their right to participate in boycotts businesses that operate in beyond the green line, the border of Israel in 1949, after the Arab-Israeli War.  Of course, no one knows if your choice not to buy a SodaStream, a Stanley Black and Decker drill, or a tub of Sabra hummus is personal or political. But US companies are already being punished by individual states where they operate for their refusal to do business with companies that they see as contributing to continued strife in the West Bank. (Again, it is unclear to me how corporation can be punished for acting on its conscience in regards to peace in the Middle East but not for its refusal to provide contraceptive insurance coverage to employees.)

And we have states denying individuals operating as independent contractors the ability to work for those state governments unless they promise under oath not to boycott Israel, which is defined in Kansas, where Esther Koontz’s case is heading to court, as “the refusal to engage in commercial relations with persons and entities engaged in business with Israel and Israeli controlled territories.” Esther is an independent contractor with the state, which is why she was asked to sign this oath. But under guidance from the OAC, it’s not clear that the law only applies to independent contractors.


Did you not buy a product that you believe contributes to human suffering in contested areas of Israel as an independent contractor or as a private citizen? Did you not buy it for your office at work, your office at home, or your kitchen counter? Did you not buy it because you are trying to influence Israeli policy or because you just don’t drink carbonated beverages or because you are too cramped for kitchen space? If for a combination of reasons, how much of them have to be “I want Israel to find peace” to count as a boycott?

Since the state can’t really know if your failure to own a product made in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, or East Jerusalem is due to a “refusal to engage in commercial relations” out of political motivation or just because you’re broke or don’t want or need those things, states are requiring a pre-emptive pledge that your reasons won’t be political.

This is an absolute burden on individual conscience. For those of us who have made a reasoned, principled decision on the matter of BDS, it’s insulting.

But for those who don’t follow the politics of US-Israel relation, it’s abusive.

Take Dickinson, Texas, where residents seeking help in the face of Hurricane Harvey last month were required to sign such an oath. Imagine it: a poor, bedraggled person has just survived one of the nation’s worst natural disasters and before they can get help, they are supposed to think through whether they should sign away their right to boycott in exchange for food?

Lie–that’s what you do when you are being asked to choose between your conscience and a meal. And it’s perfectly okay, because the state of Texas was asking people for information it has no right to have, in a situation that is coercive, and you have no obligation to provide them with accurate information. In cases in which people cannot have an informed opinion because they have not done the necessary thinking to do so, they are signing the oath without their consent–and the blame for that is not on them but on those who would withhold shelter and food. While officials backed off after public outcry and state legislators said that the application this was was a “misunderstanding,” it’s also clear that we are facing a large-scale effort to intimidate people from exercising their right to boycott.



Run, Hide, Fight: How Threats of Mass Shootings Have Changed My Life

Hi Joel,

I’m writing this on a Friday to publish it on our blog on Sunday, which will be a week since the last major mass shooting (as opposed to the run-of-the-mill mass shooting) in America, unless of course there is one between now and Sunday, which is absolutely possible.

CNN commentator Mel Robbins argued persuasively this week that we don’t “give a damn” about mass shootings because, really, they don’t affect most of us. In fact, watching them from a distance can actually convince us that we, personally, will never face one. When one happens and we aren’t the person dead or the one holding the body of a loved one but only know of it, we experience a “near miss” that confirms that we are invincible. The issue is, she says, that eventually, we all will be affected. At the rate we’re going, eventually, all of us will know someone who has a first hand experience with a mass shooter. Then we’ll care–but why wait that long? Why allow that much suffering? Why permit that much violence and injury and death? Eventually, we’ll have to stop it–or we’ll all be dead or prisoners in our own homes.


It was not my first experience with a shooter that changed how I go about my daily life, and, in fact, it was not the worst experience, by far.

It was my third time of sheltering in place. It was the eighth such event that scared or hurt or killed people I love.

By February of 2015, I had taught students who had witnessed the Columbine shooting and worked with colleagues suffering from PTSD related to Virginia Tech. My friends include physicians who served in ERs when “Code Yellow”–a mass casualty–was announced and the bodies of schoolchildren started arriving by ambulance and helicopter. I love and support pastors, coroners, and funeral home directors who do the almost impossible work of preparing a community for a dozen funerals over a few days. I teach in a town where one of the earliest school shootings–and the one committed by the youngest assailant–happened, and so I have taught and taught alongside many survivors of that experience, including people who saw their friends and teacher killed. And the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse shooting, just a few minutes walk from my own childhood church, changed the course of my research and, in no small way, my orientation toward suffering.

We had lived through an on-campus gunman the December previous. A disgruntled former student–a white man, unsurprisingly, with anti-government views–drove his truck to the middle of the green, armed and, he said, ready to blow up the vehicle. Everyone sheltered in place, including my younger son, who was asleep in the campus childcare center at the time. For some of our students, this was a reminder of the 1998 Westside School shooting. Imagine that–getting to live through two incidents. “This is the price of freedom,” as Bill O’Reilly said after the Las Vegas massacre last month. Freedom is not free, and it looks like school children and college students will be the ones to pay for it.

Thankfully, the gunman was eventually persuaded to lay down his weapon. No one was hurt–I mean, except for the students locked in a supply closet for two hours, trying to figure out when, exactly they should run, when they should hide, and when they should fight (the three keys to escaping a mass shooter). And the people who had to relive the Westside shooting in that moment. And the many of us teachers who had to worry about restraining those students in our classrooms who we suspect are armed. Oh, and the campus police officers. And… well, so, really, lots of us were harmed.

But it wasn’t even that one, when I didn’t know where on campus the shooter was and the childcare center was a reasonable guess (because poor women with angry, violent ex-husbands work in the low-wage early childhood education field), that did me in.


That February morning, I had attended church services without my family. As I was turning onto the road to our cruddy little house on campus, police cars raced by me–not one or two, but lots of them. Ahead, police lights lit up the neighborhood. I should have kept driving–Run! is the first and most effective survival strategy–, but my husband and children were at home, the older two playing in the yard. I don’t want us to go down together, but I’d prefer it to them going down without me.

By the time I pulled into the drive, everyone was inside. My oldest was in the bathtub, the safest spot in the most interior room of the house. He’d lined it with a quilt and brought in several pillows and was reading a book from a pile he’d stacked up next to the tub, just in case the house-to-house sweep took a few hours. His sister set on the floor, crammed between the wall and the toilet, coloring. I wondered if kids in Mosul or Aleppo or Kashmir were so casual. Bombing, of course, is different from firearms. Our concerns were mostly about bullets or, in a worst-case scenario, a hostage situation, not drone warfare.

When I opened the door, our youngest was in his undies. (It was Sunday, so even the undies were not guaranteed for the three-year-old.) By the time we gathered in the bathroom, he was dressed.

Like this:Captain AmericaAbove, my littlest wears his Captain America costume, complete with fake muscles.

“It’s okay, Mommy,” he assured me. “I’m brave!” And that, for me, was it–watching my preschooler put on bravery in the form of a costume.


We moved off campus shortly after that. Sooner than later, everyone in higher education will know that they know someone affected by a campus shooting. (Very likely, most of us already know someone but may not realize it.) I didn’t need to increase our odds by living on campus.

And then came the other prices of freedom.

  • I requested that more of my work duties be placed online. When being in the office is necessary, I shift my hours to the early morning or evening, when fewer people are present.
  • I don’t teach in classrooms at the top of the stairs or the first floor of the building. None of those beautiful classrooms with lovely glass walls.
  • I lock the door of my classroom so that students are able to leave but no one is able to enter. I let students know that if they must leave, they should take all their items with them and not return. I let them know that if there is an alert of a gunman on campus and they are outside the door, I will not open it.
  • I have purchased a fire extinguisher for my classrooms and my office. If you have run and have hid but now need to fight, they are a useful resource. You don’t have to have good aim, but you may be able to distract a shooter from 8-10 feet away.
  • I avoid going to campus at the same time as my academic spouse. If we must go at the same time, I try to stay in separate buildings. Sometimes he wants to each lunch together on campus. I decline. We work together in his office sometimes, but I worry the whole time. I’m somewhat reassured by its location: the end of the hall, so we’ll hear any shots that start elsewhere in the building, but there is no exit. We don’t go to the same public events on campus. If my children are going to lose a parent, they don’t have to lose both.
  • In all my classes, we review the active shooter plan: where we run, where we hide, how we fight. We talk about who has a right to have a gun on campus and what they need to think about before they draw it.
  • I monitor my students carefully, and I intervene frequently. I’m probably not going to be killed by one of my students. It’s going to be the boyfriend who gave her that black eye.
  • We don’t go to the mall. Or to Wal-Mart. Or Chuck E. Cheese, which is stressful enough without angry co-parents fighting about how Dad doesn’t give Junior his ADHD medicine during the child’s stay because he doesn’t believe in it. Netflix and Amazon Prime are acts of of self-defense.
  • I don’t just know if my children’s friends’ parents own guns. I also know how long they’ve been married or divorced and if their ex-spouses are happily resettled. Kids with messy custody arrangements can play at our house, but we won’t meet them out in public.
  • I’m always on the lookout for who doesn’t belong. The adult sitting in the McDonald’s PlayLand. The guy with a coat on in summer. Anyone with a raised voice in public. Obviously, anyone we see open carrying and anyone we see concealed carrying. Leave the cart with the groceries in it, kids. We run.
  • This year, my youngest could have entered kindergarten at the same elementary school where my daughter attends. Instead, I chose for him to attend a private kindergarten–not because it’s safer but because it distributes my children over more space. It’s a hassle to get three kids to three different schools and to invest in each of those school communities, but I’m not going to lose two of my children in the same school shooting. Captain American will start the local elementary school when his big sister enters junior high and her brother is safely in high school.

And, in the end, none of these things will necessarily save our lives.


Can Republicans connect their party’s misogyny to their candidates’ violence against women and children?

Hi Joel,

You might think me uncharitable, but I don’t believe Senator Jeff Flake’s shock that his party is supporting child molester Roy Moore. Flake wondered on Twitter today, “Is this who we are? This cannot be who we are.”

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Above, Senator Flake’s either naive or disingenuous Tweet wondering how a party that elected a man who said he likes to grab women by their genitals could possibly support a man who grabs girls by their genitals. Oh, I know that Flake sees that Trump is vile. But Flake still supports a party that codifies laws that hurt women and children, and he has benefitted from the same misogyny that got Trump into office. 

Senator Flake: This is who the Republican Party has been for a long time.

Note: I’m not saying that Dems don’t make excuses for the crimes of their own. I’m saying that, for Republicans, violence against women and children and other vulnerable people is a commitment. It’s part of their party platform. It’s the result of their policies. Why in the world would you expect them to be outraged at personal behavior that aligns with their politics, which consistently say that powerful men should have control over weaker people? In fact, according to Donald Trump says that powerful people taking advantage of weaker ones is EXACTLY how people should act.

Flake has long been invested in the idea that Trump isn’t representative of his party. And I do think that Trump has brought out the worst in conservatives. He hasn’t simply revealed how deplorable so many of them are but has also fostered hatred in them. But it wouldn’t have worked if Republicans hadn’t, since at least Nixon, been overtly waging a war on the vulnerable, and Flake has been a part of that.

Don’t believe me?

Why did a Republican-led Congress allow health insurance for America’s needy children to expire?

Why does the House’s proposed tax bill eliminate deductions that support families, like the personal exemption (which will hurt large families), the deduction for child care, and the deduction for tuition interest?

Why won’t Republican governors or legislatures ban child marriage in their states? (Hint: it’s at least in part because they justify it on religious grounds, just like Moore’s supporters in Alabama do.)

Why do we have 50,000 children in youth prisons (and even more in adult prisons) on any given day? Why do they pretend to care so much about the state of black families but incarcerate black men at such high rates?

Why do Republican-led states spend so much less on public education for children?

Why do Republicans continue to work against women’s health care? I’m not even talking about abortion–I’m talking about access to safe and reliable contraception, prenatal care, breast pumps, and maternity leave that allows women to heal from delivery and bond with their children.

Why do Republicans make excuses for rapists?

Why do they allow police officers who kill children of color to go unpunished?

Or maybe this question will suffice:

Mass shootings are clearly linked to domestic violence: entitled men who feel that they have the right to control women and who lash out when that power is threatened. Because mass shooters often target women, they occur in settings where women and children are more likely to be: schools, churches, daycare centers.

Why won’t Republicans do anything at all to stop violence that disproportionately kills women and children?

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Above, the explosion of gun manufacturing in the US over the past 8 years. And, yes, Republicans have disproportionately benefited from donations from the gun lobby and so have every little incentive to curtail the number of guns made or sold in the US. 

To be fair, Senator Flake is working to keep guns out of the hands of known abusers, which is hardly a heroic position to take if you think that men who crack their children’s skulls forfeit their right to bear arms. And, like his handwringing about conservative defenses of child molestation, it’s a little late. The number of guns manufactured in the US has doubled in the last 8 years. You simply can’t put a gun for every single person in America–including the more than 33,000 who will die by gun this year–into the marketplace and expect that violence won’t happen.

Republicans are quite willing to let those deaths happen. They–the lives of pregnant women, babies, and kindergartners–are the cost of freedom. That is, freedom for men to own guns. The costs to women–our lives, our safety, our babies–isn’t even part of their math.

If Republicans won’t protect women from mass murderers, why would we expect them to protect us from sexual assault?









Will Republicans defend a child sex abuser? Will Alabama evangelicals?

Dear Joel,

Mark it down: the day that Roy Moore and I agree on something–in this case, that people whose religion allows for pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse shouldn’t get to serve in Congress.

Let’s hope the good Christians of Alabama agree.



Moore met one of his victims when she worked as one of Santa’s elves at the local shopping mall. She was 14 at the time, though Moore did not begin to victimize her until she was 16.  My letter to St. Nicholas this year: “Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is for Republicans to stop comparing Joseph to a child molester, and also for Roy Moore to be crushed by a fallen Ten Commandments statue. And please make powerful men stop assaulting others.”