I believe

The Boston Globe published an article this week about how climate change is already being felt in New England. ”

“I tell my students that they’re going to be able to tell their children, ‘I remember when it used to snow in Boston,’ ” said Ray Bradley, an author of the study and director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts. “We’ll have occasional snow, but we won’t have weeks and weeks of snow on the ground.”

I’ve wrestled a lot lately with how – and why – people can vehemently believe something is true when the facts and evidence point to the opposite conclusion. The science has been saying for 30 years that our planet is warming. Walking around in a fifty degree January – the second year that’s been possible. Last year we had 11 straight months of “the hottest year on record”. This graph shows just how fast the change has been occurring, compared to geological normal shifts in temperature. It’s hard to look at these facts and understand how you can reasonably deny that the world is warming. Even if you find it in your heart to say this is totally a coincidence and has nothing to do with human causes (also a real stretch), we can *see* how the climate is changing. It’s literally cracking apart the Antarctic ice shelf. But even people in a position to know otherwise, such as our president-elect, claim that this shift isn’t taking place.

Why? If you don’t realize what’s coming, you can’t plan for it. If you pretend this isn’t happening, and oh, build huge buildings whose foundations are likely to be under water in 20 years, you may lose a lot of money. I get that it may be very expensive to cut CO2 levels, and that some current economic powerhouses will suffer. But it’s another thing altogether to decide not to plan for the inevitable outcome of that decision.

The vehemence with which people *don’t believe this* confuses me. I was thinking about it, and I realized I was missing a critical element. People think that what you believe changes the truth. I wonder if there’s some unspoken conviction that if we all BELIEVE the world isn’t warming, then in fact the world will not be warming. From that perspective, the persistent voices of climate scientists saying otherwise is a threat. They’re disrupting the concerted belief required to make global warming untrue. By disrupting the belief, they’re actually making global warming happen. If we just all believed together it wasn’t happening, it wouldn’t happen.

This explains both the solution they have (prevent global warming by believing it isn’t happening with the assumption that what is believed is true) and why they’re so vitriolic to opposing voices.

As a Christian, I think I understand where this mind set might come from. Christianity is rife with the power of belief. In the Gospel of Mark chapter 9, the very mindset I lay out above is preached:

23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark is at it again in Chapter 11:

22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Let’s not forget walking on water. Peter does the impossible because of the strength of his belief.

But there are some things are, or are not, regardless of your belief in them. God does not require our belief in order to exist (and therefore unbelievers aren’t a threat to God – would you really want to believe in a God who needed us to exist?). This universe does not need to be believed in to keep spinning in its glorious order and chaos. Gravity operated unobserved for millions of years before we believed in it. Believing really hard will not make false things true. And failing to believe – even the most willful denial – will not make unwanted things go away. We need to be more careful in our thinking about where belief matters, and where the world is uncaring about what we believe to be true.

I was about ready to stop my thinking there, when Martin Luther King Day happened. My son came home with a copy of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Was this iconic, inspiring speech the exact same thing, only on the other side of the belief divide? I read it carefully for the word “belief”. And I discovered something remarkable – the difference I would invite you to embrace. What Dr. King believed was that it was possible for this post-racial environment to exist. He dreamed of a day when his four little children would live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He did not believe we lived in that world already, or that such a world was an inevitable one. He only dreamed that it was possible.

And that difference – between believing that what you want is possible, and believing that wanting it will make it true.

So, let’s believe that it’s possible for us to decide whether to make the sacrifices necessary to not warm our planet any further … or to plan for living in a much warmer planet. But whenever you get angry at someone for not believing the way you do, ask where your anger comes from. If it comes from a conviction that belief will change the outcome, ask yourself if that is really true.


Thoughts? Where are some of the other places in our society where the belief itself is important? What are some things that really do change based on whether you believe? What am I misunderstanding here?

2016 retrospective

I had a very productive close to the year – lots of important work got done on both the home front and the work front. But I didn’t get around to writing my “Christmas letter” blog before the calendar flipped over to a prime number. So in this last day before the real world whirs back up to it’s usual frenetic pace, here’s a look back at the year I had.

2016 was a hard, hard year for many people around me. The loss of seminal artists to our generation was heavy and unrelenting. The division along political lines was hurtful and scary to many. The sense that we’re all in this together fractured. It may never have been true, but it now certainly does not feel true. The future feels unusually unknown and uncertain. Some of the tragedies felt extra close to home to me. Our pastor died of brain cancer. A firefighter was killed on my street when he and a buddy were goofing off with a gun. I watched the ambulances and fire trucks pass. A colleague of mine was brutally murdered. The killer remains at large.

But most of the sorrows and tragedies of the world happened outside my home, my friends, my family. And many of them are tragedies in potentia (obviously not all). It’s fear, not yet fact. So we’ll work to prevent those fears from coming true. And on the whole, 2016 was a good year for me and for my family.

Johnstones in Yosemite
Johnstones in Yosemite

The first big milestone of the year came in February, when my grandmother died after a long and loved life. My family has an odd (and I think healthy) attitude towards death. While we miss grandma, her time had come. If ever anyone had the hope of the resurrection in God’s time, she would. I’ve known very few people of such faith as she was. So when we came together for her funeral, we didn’t mourn as much as we celebrated. I was reminded what a neat family I’m so lucky to have. Does everyone have a blast at a funeral? I sure did! I also got to sneak in my “West Coast Mountain” fix. I had a conference in LA the same week, and got to spend some time in Yosemite with my family, take a weekend to myself in Sequoia (a new one for me!). It was pretty glorious.

Adam had a big year. When I was pregnant with Thane, he started a new job. (I remember particularly because he renovated “the nursery” in his 2 weeks off between the jobs.) Thane is in second grade, and Adam just switched to a company. (The company is curing cancer. He’s writing internal systems for it. I’m trying to convince him that basically means he’s curing cancer!) This has had a huge impact on our family. The work is much faster-paced and intense, and he’s learning a lot. On the personal front, he’s been doing a lot more with wood-working. Ask him about the joint-cutting work he’s doing! For someone who works mostly with their mind, producing something you can feel and touch is intensely satisfying!

Adam and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary this year. It also marks 20 years that we’ve been “an item”. We celebrated by going to Ashland Oregon and catching the Shakespeare Festival. Highlights included Timon of Athens and the Japanese Spa.

Crazy, and awesome
Crazy, and awesome

The boys are crazy. And awesome. Or maybe crazy awesome. Something like that. Grey started Middle School this year. (I KNOW. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN!) He’s doing very well, although still working on the concept of just how badly a 0 for not turning in your homework affects your GPA. (I totally support learning this lesson in 5th grade, when it really does feel like just practice.) The Middle School transition has gone more easily than I expected, frankly!

Thane is in Second Grade and doing a good job there. He’s funny and independent and incredibly loving. Also, his penmanship has improved remarkably. He still enjoys math, although he’s declined to take extra classes to learn more. He reads a lot (mostly at school when he’s supposed to do other things). He’s revisited some prior loves – namely Legos and Scooby Doo.

My kid in a nutshell
My kid in a nutshell

We’ve switched up our childcare situation. After YEARS of going to the Stoneham Y, we switched to a different afterschool situation. The kids have a little more autonomy there, and it’s awesome, but it’s also a lot less controlled. It’s been going really well so far! It feels like a huge deal in the daily life of the family, and like a marker in the “wow, they’re really growing up aren’t they?” page. One change is that childcare isn’t available for the break weeks – like winter break, Feb break and April break. We just worked from home this last week (or took the kids into the office!). We’ll ship them out to Washington in February, and import Meme for the April break!

Christmas Eve Congregation
Christmas Eve Congregation

This was a huge and hard year in the life of my church. Last Christmas Eve was the last time our Interim Minister worshiped with us. We’re coming up on the 1 year anniversary of his diagnosis with glioblastoma. He was gone by Easter. We scrambled to keep things running, and I’m proud of how well we have stuck together. We finished the Mission Study (a process I ran). We finally have started the Pastor Nominating Committee (which I’m chairing). I’m also on Session (our leadership board) right now. Adam is chairing Trustees (the “let’s keep the building and finances in one piece” group). It’s a lot of work in a hard time for the congregation. But it’s meaningful work, and it’s with people I care deeply about.

Still a very serious person
Still a very serious person

For me, this was a good year. I am still obnoxiously happy with my job. I got to travel all over the place this year (which actually gets pretty tiring after a while). I went to Madrid, Chicago, Houston and LA. I am pretty sure I went more places, but I can’t remember them. I’ve continued my faithful once-a-week updating of this blog (although the readership has declined prodigiously, which makes me sad). A new thing for me this year was running. I started running in April, and have gone on 44 runs since then totaling 113 miles. I generally run about a 5k on my runs. I’m slow, but it’s one small fight against entropy.

We have continued many of the rich and wonderful things we usually do. We went camping 3 times this year. We hosted Piemas and Mocksgiving, and added in Flynns Fiery Feast as the third event of the year. We played tons of board games at 9 pm when the kids were finally in bed. We went on hikes. We watched movies. We took trips and had adventures. We visited Quebec City in April, spent Thanksgiving hitting museums in DC, and took the boys to their first gaming convention. We played Pokemon Go. We spent time with our neighbors, fund-raised for a service dog, and stuffed Easter Eggs together around the fireplace. We learned we loved roller coasters and that the kids have absolutely 0 fear of heights.

It was a joyful year. I can only hope that 2017 is also a joyful year – not just for my family, but for yours. May our worst fears evaporate and our greatest hopes come to pass. May the next year find us more peaceful, more joyful and with a bounty of love and sufficiency spread across all humanity!


Here’s a highlight album of some of my favorite pictures from 2016!

Christmas Cards

The picture which made it on the Christmas Cards this year
The picture which made it on the Christmas Cards this year

Christmas Cards are a big deal to me. The process starts in the summer with the question: should I get a professional to take our pictures? Every four years it’s a no-brainer. We have a professional picture taken ever four years for our family portrait wall (usually by Coe). This year was one of the four. The pictures came out fantastically!

Sometime around Thanksgiving, often Thanksgiving proper, I go onto Shutterfly and craft my cards. (Their site is annoying, but improving, and their production values are excellent.) I usually make a calendar for the grandparent-set at the same time, so it’s a lovingly laborious process of going through all the pictures I’ve taken all year, spotting the highlights, uploading them, fixing them, etc. I place the order, and curse myself for not doing this two weeks ago so I could WRITE the cards during Thanksgiving, because I won’t end up having enough time to do them justice. (Please note: this happens EVERY YEAR.) Fall is my busiest time, so I really don’t have time to do this two weeks earlier, to my regret.

So there I am, on the 9th of December, with 100 cards and envelopes staring me in the face. And I begin.

I have two sets of addresses – my personal address list and the church list. The first list is about 60 addresses long, and then I send out all the remaining to my church brothers and sisters. This process probably takes me 20 – 30 hours over the coming weeks. I spend big amounts of time on weekends, and nearly every free weeknight. It takes me far more time than baking, shopping or decorating do.

Why do I do it? And why does it take so long?

Happily, the act of writing all these cards gives me a lengthy chance to think on that investment. And year after year I have come to the same conclusion: this time is not only worthwhile, but precious.

You see, I address the outside of the envelope, and then I write to the person I care about. Some people actually get a full sized letter in their Christmas card. There are a couple correspondents I have where our only communication is annually, at Christmas. For example, one of my college classmates died of Muscular Dystrophy a few years after graduation. We had been good friends in college, and I’d known his mother who had moved heaven and earth to give him a “normal college experience” even though he was very motion constrained. So I wrote his mother a sympathy card, letting her know what he’d meant to me. She asked me to keep in touch, saying it was nice to follow what his life might have been like if he’d been healthy. So, every year I send her a Christmas Card with an update on my life. (And of course, every year I remember my friend in doing so.) And every year she writes back with an update on hers. So the updates are huge – a baby born, a wedding, a big job shift, a move, a death in the family.

And that shows what’s precious to me about this whole laborious process. I take time to really think about the people who matter to me. I stop from my busy day and try to tell them how I really feel about them. Almost every year, there’s a name I take off my list. This year, I didn’t send a card to Grandma Jones because she is gone where no Christmas Card can reach. This sorrowful moment is also a reminder that I have no guarantees that this isn’t the last Christmas card I’ll ever send to the friend in question.

So, if this was the last card I ever send to this person, what would I want to say? If this was my last chance to tell them what they mean to me, how would the card be different? And then I try to write THAT card. (Note – this isn’t perfect. Sometimes inspiration fails, and sometimes I just get tired.)

Christmas is a time of counting blessings. We get and receive gifts. We connect to family and friends we don’t see as often. We lay down our busy lives and pick up our slower ones. We think about the year behind and plan for the year ahead. We think of what is meaningful to us.

There is nothing more meaningful, more precious to me, than you my friends. There’s no gift under the Christmas tree more dear to me than the ones that fill my mailbox this time of year.

Merry Christmas to you, my friends, and a joyful new year.

These are a few of my favorite things
These are a few of my favorite things

A place of my own

When I was 9, I had a hideout. It was under the stairs in the garage downstairs – a place no one came because no one had any reason to. It was cold and concrete and entirely mine. Tragically, my parents converted that hideaway to a bedroom for my sister (some tripe about her not wanting to live in a drafty room entirely made up of windows). I’ve had many “places of my own” through life. There was the concrete bunker by the river. The abandoned tree house. The best of them was my dorm room in college. Since I married straight out of college, that was the only time in my life I’ve been the single occupant of my residence.

Now I own a house. It’s a nice house, with 4 bedrooms and practically all new appliances. (Latest update – the battery in our car died while we were pumping gas yesterday. I’m debating whether that counts or not.) You would think that this house I own is really “a space of my own” from basement to attic. I mean, I bought the couch. I organized the glassware. I water the plants. It should be the ultimate fulfillment of that impulse, right?

After putting our attic renovation plans on hold (due to being twice as expensive as I reckoned + needing a new furnace), we had to reconstruct our living space up there. The attic as it is has four spaces: a landing, a completely unheated bedroom (no closet, so just a bonus room) with the best view in the house, a partially climate controlled room with a sink (I know – weird) and an unfinished storage area with particularly lethal looking nails.

In our previous iteration, the small room was our guest room (or Chez Gospel when he was living here). The bigger partially heated room was our office. This came from a period in time, now lost to the fog of history, when computers were stationary and couldn’t be moved around easily. I know this sounds crazy now, but you needed a room where you could leave them set up all the time, and they took a significant amount of space. So when we moved in, we prioritized that space (which we’d used constantly in our prior house) and deprioritized the guest space. In her October visit, my mother in law had… ideas on how this could be improved upon.

So I decided to make the larger/warmer room with the sink our guest bedroom, and turn the (coldly) beautiful room with the view into an office. Since we do still intend to eventually do the attic project, one doesn’t want to buy much in order to do this. For the guest bedroom, we will need a new bed, my brother having taken his with him. But the office had everything I needed.

Over the course of a day or so, I put it together. And it scratched an itch that I’d had so long, I hadn’t even realized it was an itch. It was like taking off boots I’d worn for a long hike. It felt… amazing to have my own room again. And although my family is welcome there and Adam also works there, it feels very much like my own secret spot. It’s made me unreasonably happier than it should.

The view as you walk in
The view as you walk in

img_20161217_133553

img_20161217_133558

The new best reading spot in the house
The new best reading spot in the house
My favorite view in the house
My favorite view in the house
The workdesk - primarily for computing but also for scrapbooking/stamping
The workdesk – primarily for computing but also for scrapbooking/stamping
The music alcove - the first time I've had all my instruments and music in one spot
The music alcove – the first time I’ve had all my instruments and music in one spot

What about you? Do you have a place that is just yours? Is it something you long for?

Peace & the Second Sunday in Advent

Today is the second Sunday in Advent. The four advent candles, for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, stand for hope, peace, joy and love. Every week in this season of waiting we light another candle. The world gets a little brighter and we think on these things: what it is to hope, what a hope of peace looks like, how it is to feel joy, and the great love we believe God showed us in becoming human to be one of us.

Candles & LEDS - the oldest and newest light sources
Candles & LEDS – the oldest and newest light sources

This weekend my family prepared ourselves for Christmas. We selected the tree. We brought down the boxes of ornaments. We hung one advent calendar and filled a second one with Hershey’s Kisses. We played The Kingston Trio’s “Last Month of the Year” and Roger Whittaker’s Christmas Album. We told the children the stories of the ornaments as we hung them: the sad stories, the funny stories, the happy stories. We discussed optimal ornament hanging strategies, and enjoyed the new LED lights we got with purple instead of pink making the tree significantly less orangy this year than last year. We watched Scooby Doo in a fit of nostalgia brought on by Thane’s Scooby Doo ornament, and the children were shocked to discover that it is actually pretty good.

Decorator and decoratee
Decorator and decoratee

Our halls decked, Adam and I decamped to my holiday Christmas party where I got to sing on the stage at the House of Blues, which was something I didn’t know was on my bucket list until I was standing under the bright lights singing.

All dressed up with somewhere to go
All dressed up with somewhere to go

I love this time of year so much. And I think what I love most about it is that it’s a joyous contradiction. It’s the season of lights, but instead of bright 100 watt bulbs we light our homes with, with have tiny 13 lumen candleflames. It’s the season of warmth as we turn up collars and look to the first snow-commute-disaster of the year. (Tomorrow, according to one report I read!) It’s a time busy with parties and cookies and cards and caroling and…. but it’s also a time of year when we slow down a little. We sit a little and look at the lights. This year I’m feeling the magic of the season in full force. Perhaps it’s because this year for the first time my children are full collaborators in the creation and appreciation of the time apart. We shall see.

Peace is a rare commodity in this world. The world keeps throwing up sorrows. Just this week, one of my friends was dead for two hours when his heart stopped Thanksgiving night. And blocks from my work, in the blink of an eye sixty people became homeless as their Christmas trees went up in a grand conflagration. In Aleppo, the last voices of the crushed citizens are going silent. Where is the peace? And if I find it in the walls of my own house, with my family and my tree and my Christmas music, well… should I? What right do I have to peace when so many live without it?

But then we come back to that first candle. I still cannot believe that despite two hours without a pulse, my friend was saved. (He just posted a hilarious status update “In my defense, I was dead at the time.”) Through a miracle past knowing, no one was killed or seriously injured in a fire that called firefighters from 20 neighboring towns. There’s no silver lining for Aleppo, but there is a sliver of hope at Standing Rock, where the Army Corps has decided to find a safer route.

The peace we have comes from the hope, not from the existing perfection. And we look forward to joy – the rarest of emotions – and to love, the foundation stone for our lives.