Literacy Class: Learning the Language of Love

This past week, I taught my last English class for quite some time. Three years ago, I moved to my new city in the Midwest. Almost right away, I started teaching literacy to people (mostly women, mostly older, all East African refugees) who have been denied access to education.

The levels of trauma, displacement, oppression, and prejudice contained in that single educational qualifier “non-literate” are hard to explain. I taught in the corners of crowded libraries, classrooms, computer labs. I taught inside of makeshift police offices and elder housing complexes. I learned about the housing crisis in Minneapolis, I met large families who lived in homeless shelters, I learned of the cracks in the system, how gaping and wide open they turned out to be. [Read more...]

“A Pair of Silk Stockings” and Other Frivolous Pleasures of Mothers

2779657744_be3f82cd93_zAfter a harrowing weekend of yelling at my children, I decided I needed to take drastic measures. I’d been getting sleep, eating well, exercising, and, yes, praying, but I still found myself on the razor’s edge of tension, slamming utensil drawers and screaming, “Stop!” if my son so much as edged one tine of his fork into his sister’s personal breakfast space.

I proclaimed to my husband and my other spouse, Facebook, that if I could get through the rest of the week without yelling, I’d treat myself to a trip to Macy’s.

[Read more...]

Exercises for Lent

Health Club TreadmillsAn evangelical mutt, I have only in the past few years discovered the allure of the liturgical season, and I dabble in the traditions as my whims dictate.

This Lent, I told my husband, we shall be giving up all of our little indulgences: coffees and meals out and little snacks. That should set us up for being nice and spiritual, plus it will be hard enough that we feel it, but not so hard that we are actually tempted to despair.

But, despite all of my good intentions, I kept hearing a still small voice telling me to focus on my body, on what is happening within me, for the next forty days.

[Read more...]

I Belong to Jesus

Today we are happy to welcome back former Good Letters blogger Sara Zarr as a regular contributor once again.

3768063540_5c7235b957_z In the church of my childhood and adolescence, we had a tradition at church retreats and evening services of forming a circle, joining hands, and singing, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” (It was the seventies, okay?)

These retreats were held in relatively remote areas, at centers with names like Mt. Hermon and The Lord’s Land, where believers would gather in A-frame buildings to learn and share.

Though my memories of being surrounded by cool adults wearing bellbottom jeans and sporting macramé guitar straps are special for me, I eventually felt a need to put distance between those days and who I am now. [Read more...]

Monasticism In Lockdown America, Part 5: Holy Elders

blackwell'sjailportraitWith their white beards and deep lines in their faces, the older men stand out in our jail Bible study’s circle of usually-young men with either tattoos on the outsides of their arms or track marks on the insides. I’m always struck by the old men’s humility, how they don’t tell the whippersnappers to shut up. They listen. There is a sorrow about them.

Take Merle. He’s only in his late fifties, but his questions speak to this sorrow. Someone had prayed for his left leg’s chronic pain in our group Bible study, and not only did the pain go away and stay away, but the healing grew deeper into his heart. Two weeks later he glowed in his red scrubs, trying to describe to us in the circle how he’d begun praying in his cell, how he felt different.

[Read more...]


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