Can School (and Work) Be Like Play?

In a recent article, Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray argues that children today are “suffering from a severe deficit of play” that corresponds to their general loss of freedom. This stems from a variety of reasons: children increasingly attend school—or something structured a lot like school—at earlier ages and for longer hours. Adult-led activities have largely replaced child-led ones: organized sports teams, not pickup games; art lessons, not unstructured hours spent with sketchbooks and pencils or canvas and paint.

Furthermore, dangers both real and perceived—as well as changing social dynamics—keep kids under closer supervision than decades before. In New York City in the 1960s, my parents grew up with the kind of freedom that today might be considered verging on criminally negligent. My mom, at 10 or so, took the subway by herself to go to her dentist appointment; my dad spent long days playing all over the neighborhood, everyone’s parents keeping an eye on everyone’s kids, and mealtimes being the only things on the schedule.

Gray argues that there’s a connection between these losses of freedom—which collectively reduce children’s opportunities for play—and the startling increase in mental illnesses in children. The rates of generalized anxiety disorder and major depression among children are five to eight times more prevalent than they were in the 1950s using the same diagnostic tools, and the suicide rate for children under 15 has quadrupled. What’s the connection between play and these frightening outcomes?

While proving causation is difficult and fraught, Gray points out that anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are frequently connected to feelings of hopelessness and of being out of control of one’s destiny and actions—in a word, trapped.

{This is a small taste of my most recent post for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics blog. Continue reading here, if you like, and consider sharing if you know someone who needs to hear it.}

And if you’re really interested in the topic, I highly recommend checking out Peter Gray’s book, Free to Learn.


God Has Given You Good Gifts. Learn to Love Them Well.

While I do realize that it might be taken as a teensy bit self-serving to share emails from readers, this one was so good that I begged the good person who sent it to me to allow me to share it, which she graciously allowed me to do.

(Identifying details have been removed.)

I’m a pastor in a poor, rural church, and I am going to be preaching on the topic of food. During seminary, through the influence of Robert Capon, Wendell Berry, Albert Borgman, as well as some good friends, and classes examining capitalism and technology I came to see my eating choices as directly flowing from my love of God and love of neighbor.

Because I’m interested in the topic and have been actively reforming my own habits, I was excited to be given this opportunity to speak to my congregants, but I was struggling with how to approach the subject without increasing shame for many of the overweight members of our church, and the poor members who struggle to afford to eat well, even in an agricultural community. 

I was so grateful to find your book that reframed the conversation for me. I had seen food as a mix of invitation to grace, through delight, and a call to obedience and love, but your book, with your emphasis on joy, helped me to see that all of the ethical points that I would like to make can all come out of the invitation to grace.  They flow out of love for God as we receive his gifts, and learn to love in the way that he loves. It is grace all the way down.

…It was such a relief to me to come to see that, instead of saying, “you all need to make better choices for the sake of God and neighbor,” I could say, “God loves you and has given you good gifts. Learn to love them well, to receive them from God’s hand, and everything else will fall into place, from health to justice.”

Much like, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will be given to you as well.”

The sermon went well, thanks in large part to your writing. When I sat down a woman from the congregation, who has struggled with her weight, and who I often hear disparage herself about what she eats, whispered to me, “That was so great because you invited us into a better place without all the negative.”

Can I tell you truthfully that this means more to me than sales figures, endorsements from famous writers, and suchlike? My book is not perfect by any means, but I wrote it in hope and faith that it would sprout little wings and scatter seeds of hope and joy in the world. When I get to hear of one of those seeds sprouting into something lovely and beautiful, I am so, so, so grateful.

{To read more about why you might want to read my book, click here. And then here.}

{Regarding books and what they can do for us, THIS SHORT FILM! Watch it!}

Guest Post + Book Giveaway: Bearing One Another’s Burdens Doesn’t Mean Living All Of Their Emotions

{I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Cunningham to the blog today. Sarah has a new book out, and her publisher is generously giving away THREE copies of her book, The Well-Balanced World Changer. Read and comment by November 7 for your chance to win.}

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I learned just about everything you could possibly learn in church growing up. I learned about God and Jesus and, of course, the Holy Spirit, who I envisioned appeared kind of like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Only holier.

I learned to spell the word Christianity. And to spell it with superhero speed, thanks to that I-am-a-C, I-am-a-Ch song.

I learned how to lead a Sunday School class and how to facilitate a small group (which turned out to be suspiciously similar).

But there was one thing I didn’t learn in church. One incredibly significant thing that had huge implications on how I internalized and lived out my faith. How to manage my own emotions.

And the older I got, the more important this question seemed to be: If Christ was abiding in a person, what would their emotional rhythms look like? How would they show anger? How would they commit to making peace? How would they show emotional generosity? Authenticity? Restraint?

Since crossing from childhood to adulthood, my life has of course provided many, often messy opportunities to fill in those spiritual emotional blanks from my childhood.

Often, even though I learned the hard way, finding good emotional health just required a bit of fairly simple re-framing.

For example, along the way, I picked up this mantra: Insist on taking responsibility for yourself and insist on not taking responsibility for others.

I know. I know. It doesn’t sound incredibly profound, but the way it plays out can gift your life with so much freedom.


Perhaps, for example, you are a wife or a husband, a boyfriend or a girlfriend. And perhaps your life is hooked to a partner or even a friend who experiences a wide range of emotion. Who is even a little bit, dare I say it, moody.

At first you may take each of this person’s bad moods on with genuine seriousness. You might talk to them about it, you might make them dinner, you might encourage them to rest. You might feel so sincerely plagued by their state of be- ing that you carry their unhappiness around with you all day.

You might stay up late thinking about it, lose sleep and appetite over it, even cry tears over it!

But the older you get, the more you realize that choosing to do this is insane. Yes, encourage them. Send them cards. Make their favorite dessert. Wish them well! Laugh when they laugh, mourn when they mourn, and help them bear their burdens.


But for goodness’ sake, don’t replace your own identity or emotional state with theirs. What good does it do the world if you ship out your steadiness, your good feeling, your sanity in exchange for someone else’s rockiness, their bad feeling, their ill state of mind? Is the planet better off after you’ve added yet another unhappy person to it?

And how unfair and disproportionate is this! Is this really what God wants? That you must not only deal with your own bad days, but that you must also take on someone else’s? So you must have twice as many bad days as the next guy? If this is the case, I hope you don’t make too many close friends or your family doesn’t ever grow too large. You could get so busy living other people’s bad days that you would never have any unoccupied days left to be good!

Really? Is this what God wants? Instead of just mom being burdened by frustration or overcome with grief, now it is mom and dad struggling under the weight of it? Two parents out of commission? Is this what is best for your children?

Don’t mishear me. I am not saying don’t help others bear their burdens. I’m saying don’t give up your right to manage their burdens differently than they choose to! No rule says that when you bear their burdens you can’t be smarter or wiser about how you hold them. No rule says you have to mourn as they do, that you must let their grief consume your life. Bearing someone else’s burden does not mean handling your

emotions just like they do. It does not cancel out your charge to employ what you know.

You are not responsible for how they manage your emotions, but you are still responsible for how you manage yours. You have been called to rejoice—to set your mind on whatever is noble. To trust that God will work out with them what is between him and them and that the one mediator needed in this scenario is not you.

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This excerpt was taken from Sarah Cunningham’s most recent book, The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide To Staying Sane While Doing Good, which is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold. Sarah is an author, idea junkie and Chief Servant to a four year old Emperor and his one year old Chief of Staff. She does freelance work organizing conferences and supporting publishers while drinking chai in Michigan.  You can also find great shareable content at her book’s Pinterest page or contribute your own life lessons on social media using the hashtag #worldchangerbook.

Books (And Authors) You Can’t Get Out Of Your Mind

I have a long history of becoming pretty obsessed with a particular story or book. I am only slightly embarrassed to confess that I collapsed dramatically on the carpet of the bedroom of my high school years weeping when Fantine died in my first reading of Les Miserables. It is slightly more embarrassing to confess that I really enjoyed the drama of collapsing and weeping over a book. Months later, when my mother and I went to see the musical on Broadway on my 16th birthday, we wept dramatically together on the train ride home. The next day I went to a record store (remember those?) to use my birthday money to buy the Original Broadway Cast recording of the show, so that I could do more listening and weeping.

This week (and last) the book I’ve been obsessing and crying over is Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, and the author is David Rakoff.

Rakoff said that as a child he was “tiny, articulate, and vibrating with anxiety and fear,” which also describes the child version of me pretty well. I was actually quite easygoing much of the time, except I would lie awake poking at my abdomen and thinking that my intestines were cancerous growths. Also, once, I read some really scary junk mail from some crazy group which said  the Holocaust was nothing in comparison with what the Bible predicted would one day happen to Jews (like me, because Hitler didn’t care if you were baptized or if you had a goyische father as I was and I did), and that kept me over-alert, waiting for the sound of goosestepping, for months. (I think I was seven). All that to say: I can really relate to so much of Rakoff’s writing.

This week on my blog, I want to introduce you to some of my favorite bits of David Rakoff’s work: nothing like a formal review here (but look for that elsewhere–I’ll tell you when), just some tidbits. I’m aware that he’s not for everyone; his language and subject matter is not always ‘family friendly,’ shall we say, but there is so much good in Rakoff that I feel compelled to share.

Here are some of my favorite quotations from his first book of essays, Fraud:

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On his strange lack of memory surrounding his cancer treatment at age 22:

“What remains of your past if you didn’t allow yourself to feel it when it happened? If you don’t have your experiences in the moment, if you gloss them over with jokes or zoom past them, you end up with curiously dispassionate memories. Procedural and depopulated. It’s as if a neutron bomb went off and all you’re left with are hospital corridors, where you’re scanning the walls for familiar photographs.”

On the curiously peaceful and un-cranky atmosphere in the new Princess Margaret hospital where he was treated:

“When medicine is socialized, when you have true universal health care, when everyone’s treatment is the same regardless of socioeconomic station, those strong-arming attitudes of entitlement just aren’t part of the vocabulary. This atrium, this lovely space in a hospital with a world-class reputation, is actually the equivalent of a state hospital. That American sense that someone somewhere else is getting what you’re not, and the attendant demands that go along with that perceived injustice, well, it’s just not in the equation here.”

And on the necessity of a sense of humor:

“Not being funny doesn’t make you a bad person. Not having a sense of humor does.”


Wait, Why Is Canning Your Own Jam Suddenly ‘Cool’?

I have a review of Emily Matchar’s new book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity up at Christianity Today.

If you’ve ever wondered how and why knitting, canning, and quilting are ‘cool’ again, even–especially?–among urban twentysomethings, you’ll want to check it out.


My mother doesn’t knit or sew (much) and her mother didn’t either. My grandmother Charlotte was an editorial assistant in New York City in the 1960s and a self-described feminist; she owned a first-edition copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Boiling frozen Green Giant vegetables and broiling steaks were about the extent of her domestic work, and she reveled in fashionable clothes and in knowing at least a little something about the books “everyone” was talking about. When I was in second grade, we guffawed together over an illustration of a grandmother in a picture book I’d taken home from school. The grandmother was white-haired (my grandmother dyed hers until she died) and sitting in a recliner with a cat in her lap (my grandmother was violently allergic) while knitting something from garish colors of yarn (my grandmother never picked up a needle in her life unless she’d been forced to). “You’re not that kind of grandma, are you, Grandma?” I’d asked. “No, dearie. I’m not.”

If you think it strange that the granddaughter of a 60s urban feminist and anti-domestic relishes home cooking and sewing quilts and knitting sweaters for new babies, and, yes, gardening and preserving my own foods, think again. Americans are increasingly turning toward what writer Emily Matchar, in her new book Homeward Bound, calls the “New Domesticity.” It’s marked by an almost militant commitment to all things DIY (do-it-yourself); by a resurgence in interest in handcrafts like knitting, sewing, and embroidery; concern about food safety and environmental sustainability that expresses itself in a mania for home-grown, home-preserved, from-scratch cooking; a distrust of government and corporations that leads to things like homebirth, vaccine refusal, and homeschooling; and a disillusionment and dissatisfaction with contemporary work culture that leads people to “opt out,” filling their days instead with the kinds of homesteading work I’ve described along with a demanding style of parenting known as “attachment” parenting.

{Continue reading…}