Christmas 2020

Immanuel, God with Us

I’m no theologian, nor an expert in Biblical context or contemporary commentary. But I wanted to do a Christmas post that connected the birth of Jesus to our present reality: taking the reality of what things were like at the time of Jesus’ birth and connecting them to our political, economic, social, and theological present.

My research was far from exhaustive, as it started with the four Gospels and then moved to various Google searches. But, in that work, I found 6 main points that connect Jesus’ birth with our present. They are as follows:

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1. Economics

2. Unplanned Pregnancy

3. Empire

4. Systemic Violence

5. Immigration

6. Immanuel

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Here are those 6 points explained.

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Economics

Jesus was born into poverty, into a 3rd World context. That simple fact raises some really important questions for us: How does Jesus’ poverty influence our understanding of and reaction to those in need in our own communities? How does it influence our thinking on the widening wealth gap in America? How does it influence our next steps in light of the severe economic impact of the pandemic on those that are most vulnerable in our country – let alone its impact on the vulnerable around the world? Jesus was born into 3rd World poverty. Does our faith cause us to empathize with and act for those in a similar situation?

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Unplanned Pregnancy

A teenage Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit prior to marrying Joseph. Of course we know that the pregnancy was initiated by the Holy Spirit, but that’s easy for us to say in hindsight. Joseph was ready to quietly end their engagement once he found out she was pregnant – as he knew the baby wasn’t his. It took an ANGEL OF THE LORD to convince Joseph to stay with Mary and, together, raise the Savior of the world. Can you imagine all the gossip among Mary and Joseph’s community as everyone watched the unwed teenager’s baby bump grow? Yet, we now know her as the Virgin Mary, the one who gave birth to the Son of God, the mother of the Savior of the world. In her pregnancy, she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). What does this say about how we should view 1) unplanned pregnancies, 2) abortion, adoption, and the sacredness of life, 3) gossip, and 4) purity culture?

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Empire

Jesus was born into a military dictatorship, and the only reason why Mary and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem was due to a census of the entire Roman world called for by Caesar Augustus. Which raises questions about our own present-day empire. We are the most powerful country in the world – militarily, politically, economically, and more. The tentacles of the American empire reach to every corner of the globe. Thankfully, we are a democracy, not a military dictatorship. But when Congress passes an almost $800 billion defense bill in December 2020 while, at the same time, not being able to pass a bill that supports working Americans amidst a pandemic – we are far from a perfect union. Moreover, our foreign policy is far from perfect as well. How does Jesus’ birth into a military dictatorship influence our understanding of America’s role as the leading superpower in the world? Shouldn’t we challenge our political leadership to lead “not with the example of our power, but [by] the power of our example?”

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Systemic Violence

Upon hearing about the supposed birth of the “King of the Jews,” Herod King of Judea killed all the boys of Bethlehem under the age of 2 – an attempt to ward off a challenge to his power. Jesus’ birth in the face of systemic violence brings us face to face with our country’s own systemic violence. We have our history of slavery and Jim Crow, and we have our present realities of mass incarceration of and police brutality towards people of color. How does the systemic violence carried out by Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth influence our thinking and actions related to Black Lives Matter, the broader fight for the civil rights of people of color, the recent state-sanctioned execution of Brandon Bernard, the current movement to abolish the Death Penalty, and, generally, our systemic inequalities?

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Immigration

As soon as Jesus was born, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus immediately became refugees as they fled the violence of the Herod regime. Mary and Joseph were prompted BY AN ANGEL NO LESS to flee to Egypt. That is to say, God told Mary and Joseph to leave their homeland and live as refugees in Egypt until they could safely return after Herod’s death. How does Jesus’ early life as a refugee affect our thoughts on immigration? What would have happened if Egypt had not accepted this young family of refugees due to policies driven by xenophobia, nationalism, and protectionism? What if Egypt had turned the blessed family away because they didn’t want Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to be a drain on the nation’s safety nets? Or worse, what if they stuck them in detention centers at the border, and separated Jesus from his parents while in detention – only to give the family back to Herod? It is not enough to say that God is for and with refugees. It must be said that God Himself has been a refugee – which should greatly affect our understanding of immigration in this country.

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Immanuel

God is with us, especially amidst really hard times. Jesus’ birth is God becoming human, the Creator embodying the flesh and blood of His creation as a means of calling all of humanity to Himself. And it all occurs amidst really difficult times for the people of God. Hundreds of years of seeming silence from God for the Jews. Occupation by a foreign empire, accompanied by strict, power-hungry religious authorities bent on control through religious rules. And yet, God arrives as Baby Jesus, and sets the precedent for the rest of human history: that even amidst hard times, God knows our suffering and is with us through it all. Immanuel, God is with us, even as we suffer through the darkest days of the COVID pandemic here in Christmas 2020 (with case numbers and daily deaths at their highest levels). Jesus was “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17), including, as an adult, weeping with us (John 11). And, most amazingly, he brought eternal life to all of humanity through his life, death, and resurrection. This is Immanuel, “God with us,” especially amidst trying times.

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These are the 6 points that, for me, connect Jesus’ birth to our present day. Christmas is about Immanuel, “God with us,” amidst our hard times and the imperfections in our society.

In closing, I hope Christmas is a safe and wonderful time for you and your loved ones. Amidst Shelter in Place and masks and social distancing, God is with us. What an incredible gift in these crazy times. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

-KGC

Books November 2020

November was another good month for books. I finally read Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-bestseller Eat, Pray, Love (the Pray section was my favorite), and I also read my first Jon Meachum book on US history to help me better understand our history, 2020, BLM, and the election. Last was another Katherine Applegate middle grade book. All three were good reads. Reviews are below.

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Soul of America by Jon Meachum

wishtree by Katherine Applegate

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The rest of my reading month was getting started on Barack Obama’s new book A Promised Land, which is amazing so far – but it’s also over 750 pages long, so that’s gonna take some time.

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Hope you find a good book here for your list!

 

Meditations 11.29.20

What I’m praying over these days.

MLK Jr.

Old and New Testament Scripture

RHE

Ryan Holiday

Elizabeth Gilbert

Toni Morrison

Louie Giglio

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“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality […] And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12-16, 21 NIV)

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“The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough.” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)

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“‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’” (Matthew 6:34 NIV)

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”Replace fear with process.” (Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way)

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“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)

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“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

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“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

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“Christmas is a story of longing fulfilled. That’s why it gives us reason to celebrate the goodness and nearness of God in the midst of our waiting seasons.” (Louie Giglio, Waiting Here for You)

Thanksgiving+

Thanksgiving 2020. There is so much to be thankful for as we get into the holidays, and yet it seems like every reason to be thankful is also accompanied with an “and yet” or a “+.” All of our wonderful traditions that bring us joy year in and year out are, this year, accompanied by acute stressors that we have to navigate together. Pandemic + economic uncertainty + system inequality + climate crisis + a raucous election season – and more. 2020 is a lot, that’s for sure.

So, this year is Thanksgiving+ for us in the Carey household. Thankful, “and yet.” And that’s just the way it’s going to have to be this year: doing our best to celebrate the goods, while being very cognizant of the bads that continue to cloud over us.

So here is my Thanksgiving+

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I am thankful for my health and the health of my family, and yet I know that COVID cases are climbing in our community and our country – alarmingly so. I’m thankful for the recent good news on vaccines, but still shell-shocked at the devastation and uncertainty COVID has caused and is still causing.

I’m thankful for the leadership change in our government, and yet I’m saddened by the division, the systemic inequalities, the outright bigotry, and the political insulation that characterize our democracy currently.

I’m thankful for my job – my leadership team and colleagues who amaze me with their efforts every day – and yet I ache for friends and family that are facing hardships with the job market. I know financial security is not a given in this pandemic season (or any season, really), so I’m thankful for what I do have while also being sober about the prevailing economic uncertainty that accompanies us all today.

I’m super thankful for Dana, for being the best partner in life a man could ask for and for being the best mother for our boys – and yet I know it’s not easy juggling two strong-willed, active little boys (and a husband!) while also working and taking care of family responsibilities. You really are the best @mrsdanacarey.

I’m thankful for my boys who bring energy and smiles and hugs and laughter and fun to our household, and yet I worry intensely about their COVID risk, about quarantine’s effect on them, and about the general uncertainty associated with Hanes’ schooling due to the pandemic.

I’m thankful for our extended family who continue to show love and affection to our boys as well as strength and determination in their own lives as they battle the shifting sands of this pandemic year. And yet I know this year has been a hard year for our extended family. I just so admire our family for hanging in there in this season. You guys are so loved and admired from our end.

I’m thankful for our church that we started attending a year ago here in El Dorado Hills, and yet I know this year hasn’t been easy for church life. Church is complicated for Dana and I (as it is for most in our generation), but, in Rollings Hills, we found a church that proclaims the grace of God while constantly showing what love really looks like by working hard to meet needs within our community – and for that I’m super thankful.

And, lastly, I’m so thankful for our community of friends – and yet I know so many of us have had to deal with major life changes in the last year. Dana and I have the best collection of people that we get to call friends, but I know that 2020 has forced so many in our circle to make significant adjustments to their lives – or more, deal with harsh new realities that no one could have planned for.

In all, this Thanksgiving reminds me of a New Testament Scripture from my faith tradition that says:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12-16, 21 NIV, my emphasis added)

Thanksgiving+. Thankful, “and yet.”

We can rejoice and mourn together as we do our best to navigate the end of 2020. Just know that we send our prayers to you, your loved ones, and your colleagues for a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

-KGC

Books October 2020

October was a fun, productive, and thought-provoking month when it came to my books. A mega best-selling memoir, a book on theology and the church, Pulitzer Prize winning fiction, a recently released international best-seller, and a theological reread on Heaven, Hell, and eternity.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Love Wins by Rob Bell

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Michelle Obama’s book was fantastic. My second Rachel Held Evans book was a theologically progressive breath of fresh air. The Overstory was a grind but still amazing. The Midnight Library was a really great fable, a kind of It’s a Wonderful Life for 2020. And Rob Bell’s Love Wins was a great reread, reminding me of how wide the gates of my faith tradition can open.

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All in all, it was a great month. Reviews are in the pictures below, and in my Instagram Stories Highlights. Hope you find a book to add to your list!

Devastated. But not hopeless.

Life and hope and the Dodgers.

Last night’s World Series game was one of the most heartbreaking sporting events of my life. I kept waking up in the middle of the night replaying that final play in my mind: that final debacle where grown men, professionals, who have spent their whole lives playing baseball, suddenly forget how to do basic things amidst crushing pressure. To be a Dodger fan is to intimately know heartbreak.

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But, if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that, no matter how devastating yesterday was, we’ve got to pick ourselves back up and try again. To keep at it. To not give up. Today is a new day with an infinite number of possibilities. Brand new mercies. A chance to write a new chapter filled with hope and wonder and goodness in the face of despair.

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I know it’s a bit melodramatic to say all this. After all, baseball is just a game. But, at the same time, sports can be that place where we relearn that hope and perseverance and character and determination and resilience are available to us – if we just choose them. We get to choose how we respond to hardship, devastation, and failure. We get to choose how we respond to the worst of life, the hardest parts of it all. We get to choose: goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, empathy, courage. We get those choices. Every moment. Every game. Every day.

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So it’s Kershaw today for the Dodgers, in Game 5 of this crazy World Series. A pitcher who seems at times to crash and burn amidst postseason pressure. The best regular season pitcher of his generation, but, some would say, a failure in the playoffs. BUT: he was dominant in Game 1 of this World Series. He’s got it in him to be dominant again today. Talk about a mind game. Talk about having to get up each day and keep trying for the best. Talk about facing the unknown with determination. He’s taking the mound today, and who knows how it will go.

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But today could be an amazing day. Kershaw could win today. The Dodgers could come back from devastation and take a commanding 3-2 lead in this Series. An infinite number of possibilities await. It’s true: sports are a metaphor for life. And life waits for us to give it our all every day.

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So here is our hope. Hope amidst devastation. Perseverance amidst 9th inning flukes and a global pandemic and systemic inequalities. To just keep going amidst hardship. To not give up. To not give in. To try again and again and again. Not certain of the outcome, but certain of our effort, our heart, our courage.

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Let’s do this. Go Dodgers.

Our Proposal – 10.21.13

October 21, 2013. 💍 A day that was just magic.

I had told @mrsdanacarey that we had a work dinner to go to, and she was not happy about it. But I persuaded her to dress up and come with me, and we drove to Blackhawk Plaza – me all full of adrenaline and excitement, hoping my plan would work out.

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We got out of the car and I said to Dana, “Hey, I want you to listen to something I’ve been working on. Let’s listen while we walk to the restaurant!” 😏

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So I grabbed my iPhone, we each shared an EarPod, and I pressed play on our song. This song. Then I led her through the plaza, to the waterfall at its center.

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Our song played through its verses, and when the lyrics came to “Would you be ok with a diamond ring and spend your life with me?” I got down on one knee. 💍

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Magic.

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Thank you so much to our friends and family that made this day so special. Having you there to surprise Dana was just the best. And thanks Jared Casstevens for capturing these moments.

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Love you so much @mrsdanacarey! It was the best decision of my life to ask you to marry me, and I’m so thankful for the life we’ve created together. YTB. ❤️

14 Years: Some thoughts on my journey with mental illness

#WorldMentalHealthDay

10.10.20

“Kevin, your Bi-Polar is in remission,” she says.

It is Monday, October 7, 2019. The first few minutes of a 45-minute, afternoon appointment with my knowledgeable, thoughtful Kaiser psychiatrist. The appointment is a yearly requirement to continue receiving the medications that keep my brain from spinning out of control with thoughts of grandeur or despair – the same medications that help me sleep each night and help stem the deluge of anxiety that comes relentlessly, every day. The medications that have kept me stable, without a major episode, since 2006. The medications that, in all honesty, keep me alive.

“I didn’t know there was such a thing as remission for a mental illness,” I say in response.

It’s a plain office in the Kaiser Mental Health Department, and I hope that what my doctor says is true. Or at least that it could be true some day. Remission. Remission. But I also silently commit, in no uncertain terms, to not. change. a. thing. about my mental health routine with this remission possibility.

I will continue on as I have done for the last 14 years: a regiment of a regular sleep/wake schedule, daily strenuous exercise, a mindfulness practice via the Headspace app, moderation in my consumption of alcohol, a healthy diet, journaling, repetition of passages from important texts (from the Bible and other readings), being honest with my loved ones about how I’m holding up amidst the ups and downs of life, checking in with my doctors whenever a need arises, prayer, and always, always staying on my meds.

Maybe it’s the memory of my descent into darkness – one that took place over my final quarter at UCLA – that keeps me so focused on this life-saving routine I’ve constructed with the help of my Kaiser team and my family. Maybe it was spending my graduation day from UCLA in a mental hospital in Oakland – being diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder after trying to take my own life – that keeps me from fully embracing my doctor’s remission possibility. It’s been 14 years without an episode. But 2006 still haunts me.

What I know for sure is that living for more than a decade with a mental illness takes work. And it will continue to take work as long as I live. In the beginning, it took humility to listen to the doctors as they prescribed a new way of living – for me, a life without the hard-driving, high-achieving mania that had been my bread and butter up to that point. It took reading everything I could get my hands on about my mental illness so I could know what was coming and what I, my family and friends, and my doctors could do to manage it.

It meant that mental health became my #1 priority, through the ups and downs that hit all of us, because I knew that if I wasn’t able to be mentally healthy, my mental un-health would upend my work life, destroy the relationships closest to me, and/or even end my life.

Today, October 10, 2020 is #WorldMentalHealthDay. With the ok from my family and colleagues, I wanted to share some of my story as a way of grafting my experience into today’s larger discussion of mental health across our various platforms. The diagnosis of a mental illness is devastating. Living with a mental illness can be extremely difficult and isolating. But I know, from my myriad conversations over the years, that mental health is a topic that affects everyone. Nobody is immune to the realities of Depression, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia, severe Anxiety, Postpartum, or any number of mental health challenges. Mental illness touches us all, and COVID has only exacerbated that reality.

I just hope today, as you read this, that you know you are not alone as you do your best to stay mentally healthy. Mental illness is a hard road, especially in 2020. It takes humility and work, and it is sometimes two steps forward, one step back. But you are not alone in this fight.

You.

are.

not.

alone.

in.

this.

Maybe #WorldMentalHealthDay can be a day where we link arms and practice mental health awareness – while working to end the stigma of mental illness. That’s my hope, anyway.

Take care of yourself and each other today. We all need the support in this and every season.

-KGC

Books September 2020

This month was a really productive month of reading: a Christian take on the pandemic, joining Oprah’s Book Club in a selection about race in America, the fantastic sequel to The One and Only Ivan, a reread of a Brene Brown classic about perfectionism, and my first foray into Jewish spirituality.

Hope you find one in this group that you can add to your reading list!

Books August 2020

I spent the first part of the month getting my book ready for its next steps, and then read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and the new Hunger Games prequel.

Meditations was a great follow up to @ryanholiday’s The Obstacle is the Way, and I’ll continue to dive deeper into Stoic thought in the months to come.

The Hunger Games prequel was engaging, and, although it was a bit long, it was fun to be back in the Hunger Games world. Thanks James Cooper for the recommendation!

Looking forward to September, where I’ll work on my own book and also join @oprahsbookclub in reading Caste by @isabelwilkerson .