An Anabaptist Jólabókaflóð: Graphic Novels, Comics, and Illustrated Books

Artist Jesse Graber is the perfect candidate to share books with great pictures. A freelance illustrator living in Kansas City, Kansas, he has illustrated for McGraw-Hill, Scholastic, Oxford University Press, and Highlights for Children. He recently collaborated with Bethel College emeritus professor of physics Don Lemmons to illustrate Drawing Physics: 2,600 Years of Discovery from Thales to Higgs from MIT Press, which reviewers have called “a gem,” “delightful,” and “brilliant.” In addition to being a gifted artist, Jesse plays the fiddle and banjo (as you might be able to guess from some of his selections).

Jesse kicks off our month-long series of book recommendations from friends who read, write, illustrate, edit, publish, and promote literacy as part of their work.

Here is what Jesse is recommending and reading right now:

Drawing Is Magic by John Hendrix
A sketchbook with incredibly fun and compelling prompts. Good for a lifelong artist or someone who wants to start drawing. Beautiful to look at before and after you draw in it.

What it Is by Lynda Barry
This profoundly changed how I think about creativity, art, and inspiration, and is just about the most amazing thing ever. I’ve given this to lots of people.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1-6 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
“I’m here to eat nuts and kick butts, and we’re all out of nuts.” More often than not, she just talks it out with super villains, but there is plenty of butt kicking. Wonderful storytelling for all ages. Just get it already.

Sundays With Walt & Skeezix by Frank King
Huge and expensive and beautiful. Gasoline Alley started as a wonderful midwest slice of life comic, not ha ha funny, but quiet, gentle humor and reflections on life. This collects Sunday strips from the 20s and 30s and prints them at their original size (BIG!) which allowed for some amazing layout and design that modern newspaper comics don’t have space for. It won’t fit anywhere in anyone’s house.

The Skeleton Keys by Spencer and Rains
This is a booklet with a CD of 17 traditional tunes and songs played by Tricia Spencer and Howard Rains. Each tune has a history and an illustration by Rains. Old-time music, not bluegrass. Any music lover would appreciate this, unless they’re a monster.

Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen
This is a sad one, folks. Give it to someone who’s heart you would like to break. Also funny and beautiful and life affirming.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
A middle school girl coming of age story done so perfectly. All of her books are great for middle grade kids.

The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb
Straightforward comics adaptation of that crazy first book of the Bible by one of our greatest pen and ink artists. As it says on the cover: “Adult supervision recommended for minors!”

Saga Book One: Deluxe Edition by Brian Vaughan and‎ Fiona Staples
Space fantasy for adults is an inadequate way to put it, but that’s what I’m going with.

How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green
Holy cow. Ridiculously charming and delightfully poignant children’s book for all ages.

Fowl Language: The Struggle is Real by Brian Gordan
Super funny and sweet and explicit comic about being a parent, but ducks.

Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
A rare gem of a book dealing with the loss/absence of a parent. You wouldn’t think a beaver could make you cry, but you’d be wrong.

Above, Jesse’s suggested books. If you’ve read them, tell us what you think!


Unreasonable, Unbelievable, Unconscionable: The 2018 Tax Bill

Hi Joel,

Like a lot of us, I imagine, I’ve been wrung out these last few weeks following (or trying to follow) tax bills in Congress. Since no one really knows what the Senate bill contains, it’s not possible to offer commentary confidently, but that itself is a fact worth talking about: We have a Congress that is so disrespectful of us that it refuses to let us read the laws that will govern us.

In the viciousness, cruelty, and disdain for everyday people and hostility to the democratic process we saw over the weekend, there might be some reasons to feel hope.

The middle-of-the-night GOP vote is an act of cowardice, and cowards are people who know that they will lose in a fair fight. This is also why the GOP suppresses votes and gerrymanders. Their bad ideas can’t win unless Republicans cheat. They know it. We can make them stop cheating.

Secondly, the GOP had no reason to compromise. Sure, there were lots of good ideas for tax reform that could have been supported by people of both parties, but the GOP went for none of them, and it pursued a process dismissive of constituents. This is because Congressional Republicans don’t answer to voters. (They hate voters, because voters do not chose their bad ideas. This is why some of them call for a repeal of the 17th amendment.) They answer to donors. At the midterm elections, the anti-Republican wave is going to be strong, as this past November’s statewide elections suggested. A reasonable tax bill would not persuade those voting for Democrats to stay home, but it would have angered donors. In other words, the GOP is on the run, and the only place it can go is into the pocket of rich donors.

Those of us who respect democracy need to change the narrative about who the GOP is for. Wealthy people are smart to vote for the GOP, in the sense that their own short-term interests are best served by GOP policies (that is, if they don’t mind, long-term, living in nation in which the future isn’t educated or employed or has roads or fire stations or advancement in medical treatments or all the other things taxes fund). But for those poor and middle class people whose Trump votes continue to confound common sense, we can remind them of the real life consequences for them. Indeed, their H & R Block consultant soon will.

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Above, Mitch McConnell wears a shit eating grin. 

I don’t want to overstate the case, particularly because white people will self-inflict a lot of wounds in order to protect their whiteness. But I think more public discussion, especially at the state level, can help. Local and state Republicans will have to explain how the national party’s choice to end the state tax exemption hurts people they have to look at face to face. In Kansas, that’s about 26% of voters; in Utah, it’s 35.4%.

Whatever is in that piece of garbage that the Senate passed this weekend will eventually have to be explained, and, in all likelihood, it’s unbelievable.

Like, literally. In the 2012 election when a PAC supporting Obama’s re-election campaign explained to the proposed Romney-Ryan budget plan that would dramatically reshape (and reduce) Medicaid in order to give tax cuts to the rich, people didn’t believe it. Why would a politician seek to serve the interests of the rich, who don’t need help, at the expense of the most vulnerable?

Yeah, like our incredible wealth gap, it’s unbelievable, except that it’s true.

The Republican plan is such an assault on the basic American value that people who work hard should get ahead and those who are already head don’t need extra help that everyday Republicans just can’t believe it. So they don’t.  Democrats need to remind them that, no, this is true.

It’s also unconscionable. The Wex Legal Dictionary defines unconscionability this way:

A defense against the enforcement of a contract or portion of a contract.  If a contract is unfair or oppressive to one party in a way that suggests abuses during its formation, a court may find it unconscionable and refuse to enforce it.  A contract is most likely to be found unconscionable if both unfair bargaining and unfair substantive terms are shown.  An absence of meaningful choice by the disadvantaged party is often used to prove unfair bargaining.

What Congress did these last few weeks was abusive of the process of democracy; the formation of the tax bill in the Senate, in particular, occurred under unfair bargaining terms.

It’s unreasonable, unbelievable, unconscionable. Here’s hoping that Republican voters will figure that out sooner than later.








An Anabaptist Jólabókaflóð

Dear Readers,

We’ve got a special series happening at Sixoh6 this month: guest posts by poets, historians, memoir writers, and other book lovers sharing their recommendations for you.  It’s on our kind of Jólabókaflóð–the Icelandic tradition of a year-end “book flood” in which people buy books to enjoy over winter.

All our guests have some connection to the Anabaptist tradition, though their recommendations vary widely. We hope you take some time to learn about our friends who are sharing their ideas and find some some great reads for yourself or to give as gifts this holiday season.

Painting of the Week: 42

Above, Pietro Rotari’s Girl With Book

Rebecca and Joel



Can Congress be held in contempt of the American people?

Hi Joel,

As when they chose their candidate for the fall 2016 election, Republicans early this morning chose to follow extreme bipartisanship and polarization rather than seek consensus on a tax bill. Why? Because they are not concerned about representing their constituents. (Maine Senator Angus King (R) said that calls to his office about the matter were 50:1 opposed to it. He said calling the process of the vote a circus would be an “insult to circuses.” And he voted for it yesterday.) They are not concerned about caring for the average American, and they actively despise poorer Americans. Budget and tax plans are outlines of our priorities, and they, unlike Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, do not lie. The Senate had to pass its bill in a hurry, writing it as they voted on it, because they know it is an accurate snapshot of their values, and they don’t want anyone else to know it. As Kansas governor Sam Brownback said about the tax plan that has gutted Kansas: it worked for the people it was intended to work for.

Here is my own Senator, Mike Lee, a Republican, explaining why it’s wrong to vote on massive bills that restructure financial life for lots of Americans:

“[T]he thieves in Washington… seem to think that if they steal from the American people at night while they are sleeping that they will get away with it…. I ask you to help me shine a light on what Washington has tried to hide from you in the darkness of night….Just remember, a vote… in the middle of the night in a desperate attempt…. It is a sign of weakness.”

Lee said that in October 2015 in response to a middle-of-the-night vote on Social Security. Last night, he voted with almost every other member of the despicable, cowardly GOP to pass financial ruin on to millions of Americans now and even more in the future.

Lee’s actions tell us he is one of the many thieves who aren’t just stealing money–they are showing utter contempt for the democratic process and the American people. But, in his words from 2015, we might find some encouragement:

“As someone who has been fighting for years to reform our broken government in Washington, I know it is exhausting, I sympathize with your frustration, and I understand your impatience. But don’t give up. Washington wants you to give up.”

Above, a pitchfork. You can’t wear shirts or buttons promoting a particular candidate when you enter the voting booth. Can you carry a pitchfork, though?

Congressional Republicans want us to give up, and when we don’t, they try to suppress votes and gerrymander their way to power. The idea that good ideas and solutions to our common problems could be found through collaborative, democratic efforts is odious to them. If that weren’t the case, they would have an open debate and allow their readers to read their legislation. They don’t serve, and they don’t deserve to be in office.




The lesser of two evils is still evil, right?

What does Flight 93 have to do with this? Click the link below.

Dear Rebecca:

It’s unseemly of me to promote my writing from other venues, but my column at THE WEEK this week gets at some of the themes we deal with here: Conscience, compromise, and politics.

I have a lot of friends who dismiss the idea of, well, standards when it comes to politics. The other side is so nasty, they tell me, that to refuse to get down in the mid is tantamount to disarmament. I’ve disagreed with that, but particularly in the Trump Era, I find I don’t get many takers for my views.

The recent spate of sexual harassment stories has offered us a chance to see this dynamic in action. Unsurprisingly, in politics, there are folks who are ready to give guys on “their” side a pass.

The problem, as I see it, is we’re so used to seeing the other side as the Ultimate Representation of Evil — sometimes with reason, sometimes because we don’t do the hard work of trying to see how the world looks to them — that we can justify anything.

The problem is that there are never any end of reasons to defer principles for the sake of power. When that happens, the end result is precisely the same as if we had no principles at all — we fill Congress with lecherous old men whose values and actions we despise, and then we convince ourselves we did it for reasons both realistic and noble.

Which means, ultimately, that “The Flight 93 Election” logic is self-fulfilling. Treat every election, every political decision, as if civilization-ending disaster is imminent, and you can justify all kinds of bad actions. That confirms to the other side that we really are as bad as they think we are. And that, in turn, lets them justify actions that we despise. Round and round we go in a never-ending spiral, until pluralism dies and the disaster we were trying to avoid finally arrives

I’m reading Stephen Carter’s 1998 book “Civility” right now. Which has related themes. I’ll be writing more about that soon.

Be well,

Who Should be Time’s “Person of the Year”?

Dear Joel,

It’s barely news any more, but Donald Trump told a totally unnecessary, easy-to-disprove lie in order to bolster his own esteem and denigrate a reputable journalistic outlet. He claimed that Time was interested in naming him the magazine’s “Person of the Year” for the second year in a row. Had this lie been true, it would have put him in company with Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, FDR, Eisenhower, LBJ, Reagan, Nixon, Winston Churchill, and Mikhail Gorbachev (and Stalin). Without family money, someone as stupid  and untalented as Trump wouldn’t have made Sales Team Leader at your local Chevrolet dealership, but, alas, in a living argument for an estate tax of 100%, here we are.  In terms of making an impact “on the events of the year” (the magazine’s criteria for selection), Trump has done very little except hurt people, which was why he was elected. Thankfully, his ineptitude, a public hostility toward the Republican majority in Congress, and the thoughtfulness of our judges have kept him from enacting major policy changes.

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Above, responding to Trump’s lie that Time contacted him to tell him that he was “probably” going to be Person of the Year, politely calls Trump “incorrect.” 

Which doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. He is, and we should interpret his lie as mere vanity. Trump is undermining the First Amendment and journalism as key parts of democracy. True dictator behavior. We need to keep a careful eye on Trump’s interference in Rupert Murdoch’s apparent attempt to buy CNN and the Koch brothers’ effort to get Time,* a magazine that Trump is weirdly obsessed with, especially given that the only reason most people I know read Time is because their dentist is running late.

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Above, Trump makes it clear in a tweet dated November 25 that he expects US news organizations to serve as propaganda outlets. CNN corrected him with the reminder that it is HIS job to represent the US to the world, not theirs. Imagine what our politics will look like if net neutrality isn’t protected and ownership of CNN is transferred to Rupert Murdoch. 

So, if it’s not going to be Trump, who should be Time’s Person of the Year? Some suggestions:

  • Rose McGowan, for her persistence in calling out sexual abusers in Hollywood
  • Leila de Lima, a human rights lawyer and a Filippino Senator now in prison for her critique of President Rodrigo Duterte
  • Jordan Peele, for forwarding the genre of the social horror
  • Doug Jones, who helped bring one of the bombers in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing to justice and is calling for a new vision of Southern politics
  • Sally Yates, whose integrity gives me hope for politics
  • Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, whose work there has saved lives
  • Heather Heyer. Tear down every statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest and raise one of Heyer in its place.

Who is on your list?




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.

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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.