7 We Can’t Do Better Takes

7 We Can’t Do Better Takes September 27, 2019

I mean, we think we can, but we can’t because we’re sinners. So that’s too bad.

Still, keep trying, says Jesus.


The last two days I’ve watched back to back coverage of the death of Jacques Chirac, former French president for anyone who might not have been alive way back when. He suffered a stroke in the early 2000s and disappeared from public life, giving way to the era of Sarkozy and now Macron, both of whom would look like hobbits should Chirac rise out of his grave one last time before going to wherever it is he is headed.

The French this morning (my time, for them it was probably the afternoon) were transfixed by the sentiments of a small child who said that he hoped Monsieur le President was “having a nice holiday with Jesus” (translation mine). I would imagine that Jesus would be really surprised that that was the plan.

The other nice thing in the morass of all the coverage was that there was a reporter named Clovis. And there, I feel, you have the buried remains of western civilization all tucked up neatly in the graveyard of our imaginations.


My two younger girls (I’m trying not to call them The Little Girls because…well, they are 8 and almost 10. It took us something like 7 years to stop calling them The Babies, which started to be pretty humiliating for them. I can’t say The Girls, because two of The Girls are off doing other things. I need some kind of pithy way of referring to them, anyway…) and I are struggling through By the Shores of Silver Lake. Or rather, they are loving it, stopping me to shout questions every other line, which makes it slow going, and I am finding the endless references to the birds and rustling prairie grass a bit trying. Less is more is what I say (except for myself).

I’m still steamed about the removing of Wilder’s name from whichever award it was. As we’ve plodded through the books I’ve really appreciated how she’s created emotional distance within the text between her and her mother. In just a few spare lines here and there she’s shown the ugliness of her mother’s attitude, has hinted at the darkness behind western expansion, has allowed, in other words, sin to show itself on the page in all its horrifying complexity. My girls are picking it up and we’re talking about it, much more productively than if I were giving them lectures about colonialism and racism precisely because they are so emotionally invested.


That’s my problem with the current way of coping with thorny issues—climate change, racism, trans-genderism, everything—because there is no idea of sin, because everyone, apparently, is basically good, we are in a terrible confusion. We are trying to impose a black and white binary narrative over the human experience that doesn’t fit. There are no easy answers to any of these problems because people are complex, groping along with only partial sight. The only way to make progress is to join an emotional investment in another person to a commitment to telling the truth. But we can’t do that because we are sinners. We always have been sinners.


I just finished reading a book that’s about to come out—Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation—so I’ve been thinking about all this all week, and considering the solutions put forward by Latasha Morrison, who, I must say, is an excellent writer. I enjoyed the book on that score very much. I’ve just been mulling over her proposed solutions. She lays the problem out so very clearly, and so the solutions flow naturally down in their wake. But there is a lot of mud in the water, and, while I think the book is an attempt to break through the dividing wall (by building a bridge over it), I’m worried everyone will just entrench themselves along their own battling lines as usual.


Of course, stories like this make it harder to want to try. How appalling. Furthermore, heaping shame upon ruin, I think that the way this is reported is so unhelpful. Why is Karen Pence mentioned no less than four times? Why not a line or two more about the girl and how she is coping and why this is such a wrong thing to do? And why mention sexuality? That doesn’t have anything to do with what happened. The two are not connected. It’s not fair to use something really grievous and horrible, that will affect the lives of these four young people in irreversible ways, rippling out in so many painful directions, for political purposes, to tell a flat story that leaves all the categories as they are.


I will just conclude by saying that I’ve been praying the Great Litany from our new prayer book every morning. And I must say, it’s been magical—just kidding, prayer is totally not magic. It’s just been so anxiety-relieving that it feels like magic. The new Litany is so comprehensive. It covers everything. It helps me pull all the swirling grief and anxiety out of my head and put it right there on the page. I can look at the words and methodically work through every single person I’m worried about, every troubling situation that clouds my mind. Not just the little close-set ones, but the huge wars and rumors of wars ones. I can pray for Mr. Trump and for the person who sits in the back of our church with his foot propped up because it’s probably going to have to be taken away from him because of his unmanaged diabetes. I can pray for the church in all it’s different articulations, at home and abroad. Of course, I could do this before—so could all of us—but the Litany organizes it all for me beautifully, so that I don’t have to worry that I am forgetting anything.

The other nice thing is that it is made up of prayers for real things, real troubles, real sins, rather than imagined ones. That’s so helpful.


Go read more takes! You won’t regret it!

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