On suffering, hope and Christmas.

I’ve been collecting nativities for a number of years. Not your shiny, happy, plastic variety mind you but the kind that have a story. Or, seem to have a story.

One of my favorite nativities is from Rwanda. My dear friend and former flatmate, Laura,  gave it to me upon her return from that country, having done relief work and research amongst child-headed households that were born out of the genocide. I literally cannot fathom what it’s like to live through the kind of tragedy that country experienced; the terror  and destruction must have cut so deep that the very timbers of the land were affected. Knowing all that occurred in that nation is part of why I’m so drawn to this particular nativity. Mary, Joseph and Jesus are carved out of a block of deep, ebony-colored wood, each carrying expressions of weariness and joy. I don’t know who carved this particular piece, but I do know it was created at time when the country was engaged in formal, and informal, reconciliatory talks. I envision the wood maker fashioning the scene whilst working through issues of marrow-deep pain, hurt and anger, all the while contemplating the story of Christ’s coming to earth.

More and more, I have a hard time getting behind slap-happy Christmas songs, stories and endeavors. Don’t get me wrong, I love to be festive and have a good time. But, I think we could stand to do a better job of acknowledging  both the joyous and the difficult this time of year. Christ came to carve something new, beautiful and redemptive out of the broken and depraved places of our world and hearts. And that is something worth celebrating.



Mother’s Day Reflections

This guest blog post is from my wonderful older sister, Ashley Lassiter Googe, written on her first Mother’s Day. 

I had this thought: being a mother is both wonderful and heart wrenching. You are tethered to another person. And someday that person will leave. And it will be both wonderful and heart wrenching. Like there are times I look at Oliver and think he is so beautiful and marvelous that it makes my heart hurt. And I know that will only happen more and more.  And the thing with a child is from the moment they are conceived they are moving towards independence, away from you, to exit your body, to walk, to think, to go. It makes me think of the quote that children are born through you, not to you.

And it’s such a different love than marriage. The assumption in marriage is you are on equal footing, and the other person is capable of caring for himself. Yes there are times when you carry the other, and you are always tied to that  person. But as a parent your every breath revolves around your child. It is your job to keep them alive. To nurture them. To bring them into all they are to be. Or maybe this is just how mothers feel. I cannot speak for fathers.

Is the % a nonprofit spends on programs really an accurate indicator of their effectiveness?

When it comes to discussions I’ve had regarding the work of nonprofits, a statement such as this ultimately works its way into the conversation “Yes, but do you realize that only x% of the donations made to such and such nonprofit actually end up funding their programs?! They’re not effective, they’re using donations to pad their personal wallet, travel, etc? I only give my money to organizations that make good use of my donation.”

I get the sentiment of such a statement; the desire to be informed and make sure that our donations are being used in a way that advances actual social change and progress. No one want’s to be conned. The problem is that the metric so many of us turn to in order to determine an organization’s effectiveness, the % of donations spent on the nonprofit’s  programs, has major shortcomings.

I spent a year of grad school picking apart this and other metrics that are used to rate nonprofits. I  focused on one nonprofit as a case study, structuring my research in such a way that I was able to determine the ways in which the commonly used metrics accurately (or inaccurately) conveyed the effectiveness of the nonprofit’s work.

What I discovered was that the most widely used metrics fail to incorporate answers to important questions such as:

  • what kind of labor and subsequently pay is required to do the work at hand? (e.g. will short term, untrained volunteers suffice or are long term, trained & salaried personnel required (lawyers, doctors, accountants, geographers, etc)?)
  • Is the work being done long or short term? Is it dangerous work requiring costly equipment and/or staff to aid in the safety of the volunteers?
  • Is the travel to the region in which the work is occurring long or short term, expensive or inexpensive?
  • Is the nonprofit older or newer? (e.g. Race for the Cure doesn’t have to spend as large a % of their donations on raising awareness for their organization as a newer organization does)
  • Does the organization have a handful of donors (or a single donor) who covers all of their overhead, enabling the organization to say that all (or a large %) of the money being donated to the org. goes to programs, thus slightly skewing the metric?
You see, utilizing a one-size-fits-all metric to rate organizations with highly varied  missions and structures is futile. There has to be a better way.

As engaged and intelligent participants in the work of social justice, we absolutely should do our homework, asking the tough questions and gathering facts, metrics, etc. on the front end in order to make the most informed donation decisions possible. My caution is simply to keep in mind that the metrics most often used to make this decision are far from perfect; be slow to take the data you collect at face value and ask yourself questions such as those outlined above before making a final decision.

2011, an Ode

A pile of grain to match the pile of chaff.

Races finished. And not.

New continents. And familiar ones.

Entries brimming with exclamation points and joys. And others with ellipses and tears.

Shouting matches. And songs.

Resolve. And retreat.

Stories. And stanzas when a story simply would not suffice.

Minor notes. And major ones.

Published thoughts. And private ones.

And most of all, the trading in of an imaginary horizon for the one in front of me.

That Which We Do Not Speak Of

As the sibling of a sister who suffers from the worst form of epilepsy, I have to extend a huge thank you to NBC’s Parenthood for addressing one of our society’s unspoken issues in this week’s episode; the challenges that come with having a special needs sibling. As depicted in the clip,

Max Comes Home

What this clip touches on is true, even if you’ve done your best to navigate the unique challenges that come with having a sibling whom is subjected to extended or life-long suffering, it still can be really hard, overwhelming even, and you simply have days where you breakdown. My hope is that this clip will be a small catalyst towards the community at large acknowledging the challenges faced, primarily by the one suffering from a mental or physical challenge, and those faced by those whom are striving to love and care for them.

Words becoming Flesh

This year I opted not to set a New  Year’s resolution and instead have been operating under a theme of sorts: words becoming flesh. You see, as last year was drawing to a close, I realized I talked a big game about how I wanted to live my life  but seldom actually set about implementing those beliefs in my own day-to-day. I also realized that the friendships that have meant the most to me were those where the other person actually lived out their life ethos in-person, in the flesh, and I wanted to be more like that.

So, when a word or string of words have struck a chord with me and caused my heart to go, “yes, that’s it, that’s how I want to live, that’s how I want to love, that’s how I want to go about my day…,”  I’ve tried to sit with it for a few days, to think through the implications of those words being planted and manifested as something tangible to the world around me. Some of the words have been thrown out for I realized they weren’t actually something I believed, much less wanted to be part of my fabric. Others have taken root and begun to sprout up in all sorts of unusual and exciting ways. And others I’ve wanted to throw out all together because they’re difficult to implement, yet, I know I must carry them with me for I know them to be true, right and important.

More than anything this approach has caused me to keep my mouth shut when I otherwise wouldn’t for, “if our lips are moving, but our actions don’t match – we become a badly dubbed foreign film, without the benefit of subtitles” (Kristin Armstrong, http://bit.ly/6lATv1) and I don’t want to live life that way.