BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL  With racial tensions, protests and violence boiling over in cities like Ferguson and Charleston, some residents of Bloomington-Normal say the twin cities are not exempt from the ongoing national dialogue about race.

“We’re ‘grace away’ from being a Ferguson,” said Normal Town Council member Chemberly Cummings. “We have to be diligent as a community to make sure it does not happen.”

Cummings, who was elected as Normal’s first black Council member in 2017, expressed hope for the future, while noting there is work yet to do. “Whether it’s based off of race, age, gender, class—you need to feel like you have a place here.”

She added, “I do love the community. I feel like it has a lot of potential to do some wonderful things. It will never be perfect. No place ever is.”

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Media Representation and Christian Siblinghood

There's no denying that gender representation and diversity are having a cultural moment. For many Christians, it's natural to view this moment as another sign of hyper liberalism and feminism.

I feel it too, that reflexive, defensive wall I erect when I sense my biblical fidelity is under attack. It’s that drop in my gut when I fear that by allowing the tides even one inch of ground, I may open myself to be swept up completely.

Yet that seems a flimsy excuse to remain uncritical and uncaring, failing to take advantage of the opportunity for personal growth and sacrifice that the moment is offering me.

Lately, this opportunity has meant considering the ways I have allowed social niceties, cultural mores, and media representations to infiltrate and influence my views of male and female. I am giving thought to how they distort something as sacred as Christian siblinghood (and the devaluing of the dignity and Imago Dei of my sisters in Christ, in particular).

I’m grateful to my friend Abby Perry for taking this conversation a step forward in this wonderful piece for Christ & Pop Culture. Abby is a consistently winsome writer and deep thinker, and I am often challenged and encouraged by her. I love that I've gotten to play a part in this piece coming together.

Library Strangers

During the school year, I'm usually at the library 3 to 4 nights every week. As I'm here, I can't help but notice the same strangers who also have a regular library habit. There's the fellow tired-looking nontraditional students with their books and laptops spread out. There's the same group of retirees hunched in their computer lab seats as they rhythmically click and scroll through Facebook and Gmail and YouTube. Or the harmless homeless guys who curl up in quiet corners, reading novels while they wait for their phones to charge on the complimentary power outlets.

But my favorite library stranger is a middle-aged woman I first noticed 4 to 5 weeks ago.

She's never alone.

There's a tutor (or a friend?) with her. And she's learning how to read and speak English. They read library books together, and they listen to audio clips too. And then the tutor/friend will check for her understanding while they have English-only conversations about what they've learned. The woman is always shy and timid when she answers, but she laughs and smiles this great big smile when her friend tells her how good she's doing.

And you know what? The friend isn't just being nice. The woman really is getting so stinking good! It's inspiring to see the level of effort and discipline she's been putting into her English studies.

She's not ready for the big time yet. Her English is still broken to the point where an impatient person would probably give her a hard time. But for real, she is *light-years* beyond where she was this time a month ago. And even though I'm just a guy who's been eavesdropping on her this whole time, I feel privileged catching a glimpse into this complete stranger's life as she accomplishes this incredible goal.