Saturday, March 18, 2017

Psalm 42:11

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The world is very hard. This week I held the hand of a man who just one week before could talk for hours and lived independently, and now aphasia has robbed him of his ability to communicate and he is too weak to feed himself. 

This week I sat across the table from a man who lost his health, his reputation, his home, and his family to violence and political strife, and now arcane laws keep him from reuniting with the family that remains in his hour of need. 

This week I watched myself, helplessly grasping at straws to honor my God with my words and my work, and I watched myself fail, fail, fail. A slave to self-gratification, struggling to wear my identity of freedom. 

I know why my soul is disturbed within me. The world is not as I imagine it should be. 

He gave us bodies of dust, but He will give us new bodies that will never decay. He allows injustice to leak like a poison into the lives of the vulnerable, but He will avenge all wrongs one day. He sees me flounder in my devotion and my faithfulness, but He will unite my heart to fear His name. 

He is my Savior and I will praise Him. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why I am single on Valentine's Day

You may be familiar with the rom-com trope: guy obsessed with girl, girl is wrapped with with some other guy--usually a jerk or otherwise unsuited for her--and therefore oblivious to our guy, girl gets her heart broken by the jerk, girl realizes she should give our guy a chance. This trope reinforces the underlying misapprehension of Gamer Gate, that girls never notice the nice guys, and that nice guys finish last. Ergo, girls need to stop being stupid and give the nice guys who are obsessed with them a chance. 

My issue is, I can't make myself like the nice guys who like me. And in my defense, it's not like I don't give them a chance. It's not like I rule those guys out because I'm fixated on vapid things like height or career. I look for sensible things like shared values and similar life trajectory. I make a good faith effort to assess the potential, and there's always a lot of potential because these guys are perfectly wonderful. But even then, when everything seems like it should click, it still doesn't click. What's with that? 

It may be as simple as, I haven't found the right guy yet. That sounds kind of cliche and a cop out; it assumes that there is one cosmically-designated person for everyone, and I just don't think that's accurate. Love isn't some mystical, magical thing. It's not a first glance dart to the heart. I told Rebecca I might only be able to find love via a rom-com meet-cute and she exclaimed sadly, "Don't say that!" because she knew as I do that that is not real life. 

So, while it is possible that my designated "soulmate" person just hasn't yet appeared, it is more likely that I am getting in my own way with romance. Primarily, I am culpable in that I am not open to making new friends and getting close to people in general, so in these generally maladaptive behaviors I block myself from building any kind of romantic connection, must less a connection with "the One." But I also wonder if there are more nefarious issues involved than mere antisocialness. It is also possible my issue is with the wooing process. 

Unfortunately, I fairly am comfortable flirting (or, just being a human, I mean) with people I have limited knowledge of and little connection with. I have an endless stream of silly crushes on random boys I have had little to no interaction with. I shoot smiles at cute strangers I see in transit with no fear, because I know I will never see them again. But being pursued is terrifying, it makes my heart race . . . not with infatuation but with anxiety. When I have already decided a guy is not for me, his continued attention and wooing makes me feel guilty for not reciprocating; unlike with normal people, it doesn't kindle any affection. I want to say that wooing just doesn't work on me, but that conclusion seems inconsistent with what it means to be human. 

Because what about the Church's Bridegroom? We love Him because He first loved us. He woos His creation faithfully, with science and art, with rain and drought, with grace on grace on grace, and it is His kindness that drew us to Him; we did not chose Him unbidden. I was drawn to Him via so many channels: a personality predisposition to seek transcendent ideals, a fear of the dark and a child's need for peace, a yearning to be perfect, and my parents' tender example. He put so many lures for me, but I confess that I wonder, am I often unmoved even by His wooing, initiation, and pursuit? 

This sobering hardness of my heart is no great mystery to me, but rather stems from my pride and independence. I know because one of those Facebook personality tests scored me the highest on the self-sufficiency metric. A once-friend was the first in my life to articulate this to me, that I didn't need anyone in the very worst way. And he wasn't necessarily wrong. I think one of the worst thing in life is asking for letters of recommendation--I die inside every time I have to ask, and one of the reasons I didn't apply to clerkships was because I couldn't take the stress of getting those letters. I hate going to other people with my problems, and my reticence to depend on other people affects my willingness to depend on my God and be moved by His care for me. 

But oh, crooked heart, I am still inexplicably pleased with my ability to take care of myself, and of this I repent, daily asking that my heart be transformed. Failure and redemption are two sides of the same coin. I am poor and needy, but the LORD takes thought for me. 

Anyway, here is a takeaway for the nice guys: if you're hung up on a girl that doesn't appreciate your feelings, maybe she has not just a few issues but the whole subscription. You will be happier with someone less complicated, but it takes time for feelings to run their course. Be angsty, or don't be, and from a crazy girl, sorry and thank you. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rogue One

If the below reads with the melodrama of a fan transported by an over-active imagination and a penchant for reckless empathy, well, that's probably because I love Star Wars. And I love movies. The subtle ways cinematography and the music score and flawless acting tease out a person's emotions and make good stories become that much more dazzling, it really is movie magic.

And the magic is not just in being transported to another time and place, it's also magical how movies pound on the struggles of our times. It was hard to watch the hubbub of Jedha and hear Kassian describe fighting with the rebels for a lifetime and not draw parallels to the war and unrest in the world today. As the slow tilt towards tyranny in my own country begins to pick up speed, Rogue One has me daydreaming about what resistance looks like and how to do it ethically.

So I think I might be a pacifist? This is the influence Michael and Rebecca and Wendell Berry have had over me in my formative years . . . It was an easy bent to have when the wars my country was involved in displaced the principle of national sovereignty in the name of protecting our monetary and political interests. It was easy to say that Americans should come home when I didn't fully understand what they were doing abroad in the first place.

Pacifism is harder when you have something you think could be worth fighting for.

In Star Wars it's not as though they're even so much fighting for some greater ideal or religious freedom; it's a matter of self-preservation. At this point the Empire already has the political power; it just wants to wipe those who dissented out. So when the Alliance doesn't want to send rebels to steal Death Star plans, Jyn tells them they don't have a choice; it's futile to surrender and plead for mercy.

And so in the name of self-preservation they do a lot of sketchy things. The first time we see Kassian he's shot a source, no hesitation, just popping caps with such nonchalance that I assumed he was a bad guy. Jyn herself is a criminal, but the rebels break her out of jail so they can use her as bait to, wait a sec, kill a rebel extremist? And then kill her father, who is also a double agent? Rogue One makes an excellent showing of how coordinating a resistance is fraught with opportunity to become the thing you're fighting.

(I'll hand it to the Imperial Army; in spite of their internal political squabbles, their strong leadership keeps them organized and on-message.)

This is how I feel about a lot of activist efforts mobilizing in my area. I am very thankful of the efforts of the ACLU and AILA and other attorneys that have provided support to those affected by the "terrorist ban" executive order. I am encouraged by the demonstrations and protests and discussions I see happening in the media and in book clubs and person to person. But the discussion is sometimes not nuanced enough, not precise enough, not careful enough to pose a truly ethical challenge to an unethical administration. We have a group of extremists (or I don't even know anymore, maybe Breitbart trolls?) at Berkeley smashing windows and starting fires. We have misinformation or exaggeration of the facts floating around. We have factious silencing of diverse viewpoints from within the "resistance" itself, alienating many potential allies and undermining fundamental American values. So, you know, democracy can be a check on power but it can also be a mob unto itself. #flawedhumanproblems

I left Rogue One thinking about the allure and glamour and horror of war; the bravery, the self-sacrifice, the purposefulness, the loss. I don't believe that a civil war is coming to our country, but I see in Rogue One the appeal of giving up everything to be the resistance, and with that appeal is also the danger that our conscience becomes obscured.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Threat of Opposition

Here is where I would like us to get as a culture, to a place where we can cease to see disagreement and opposition as threatening. 

I know that's a lot to ask; didn't Anakin strangle Padme because they wanted fundamentally different things for the Republic?

So, not being threatened by disagreement from people who oppose your ideas takes some trust that they're not going to Force Choke you if they get the chance, and that is absolutely hard.

However, I think it's better for our democracy and our sense of humanity if we can normalize that trust in our culture and give regular disagreement-driven dialogue a chance. 

This is what I loved about Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren appearing together on one show talking about the issues. Granted, it was utterly fruitless. No one changed their minds and fans of either media personality emerged convinced their side at pwned the convo. But whatever the reaction of their followers, those two individuals proved it is possible to disagree with someone over deeply emotional and value-laden issues and still be relatively blasé about it. Blasé in a good way. 

A friend of mine flipped out when she found out I believe Genesis is literal and historical. She wasn't sure she could have a close personal relationship with someone who so denied logic and science, things that to her are fundamental and non-negotiable. (For the record, I too am a fan of science and logic, but my roommate's experiences lead her to conclude they are incompatible with a literal reading of Genesis. And I disagree, but I see why she would conclude as such, and thus I do not find her perspective threatening.)

To her credit, she has since calmed down and decided that our friendship is not nullified by my crazy beliefs, but this interaction was illustrative for me of just how difficult it is to agree to disagree when the stakes are so high. 

Another friend of mine is in denial that behaviors I label as sexist are indeed a bad thing. I shared a whole spectrum of experiences I've had--being patronized in the workplace, being felt up at bars, being let off easy during traffic stops--but for each anecdote the response was the same: "It's all in your head." Or, "That's not sexism, that's life." This was difficult for me to hear, especially because I don't consider myself a passive victim. How can someone who claims to care about you also say to your that your perspective is fabricated and that you deserve the bad things that happen to you? 

But don't you know it, that person is still my friend. No, we're not as close any more, but I am also acutely aware that while there are experiences which have brought my friend to a perspective that is hostile to my own perspective, he is still a person. Though he does not appreciate that his perspective diminishes my humanity, he is still himself a human, a work in progress, an image bearer. It's not easy to have grace and trust in these disagreements, but it's worth it if it keeps both of us humble.

And I should offer the caveat that I don't necessarily believe it is a good and desirable thing for ALL people to seek harmony with those who deny their identity. I see the pain caused to my gay friends by families that tell them, "We love you but we don't support you." I feel deep offense when acquaintances express support for anti-miscegenation laws or the dissolution of native governments. I get that for many people those relationships may not be worth it. 

But I am also inspired by generations of black folks who have worked inside a system that was not structured for them, and who labored alongside ignorant white folks that did not care about their struggles, but spoke out or sought progress that their humanity would not be ignored. And when white feminists weren't there for civil rights, women of color were still there for feminism. There is so much power in that magnanimity. And there's a lot more common ground up for grabs than we realize.

Maybe I've gotten a bit astray from my original point, because in all reality, for most in my circle, the conservative/liberal friction is not one of identity but of ideology. My peeps are mostly white, middle-class, evangelical, and millennials. No one is telling that cohort that their identities don't matter. So disagreements of ideology, of liberal versus conservative, are considerably easier, to my mind. And maybe I'm a naive moderate for saying so, but I don't think conservativism and liberalism are always mutually exclusive. A car needs both gas and breaks. Americans need both freedom and equality. Our country needs both fiscal responsibility and a social safety net. 

So if I can find it in my heart to move past the misguided rhetoric, warped statistics, cherrypicked anecdotes, and fundamentally different values of the other side, I can appreciate that there must be another way to get a long. Self-righteousness is a terrible poison, and interaction through disagreement bring the antidote of humility.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

I don't want to despair (because in my Jesus I always have hope).
I don't want to condone (because where there has been wrongdoing there must be justice).
I don't want to minimize (because my own isolation from the problem does not excuse me from caring about those who are indeed affected).
I don't want to dramatize (because premature alarm levies its own form of damage upon the public conscience).

But truth be told maybe things are both worse than I think but better than I deserve.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Last First Day

A wave of anxiety overtook me last night, I'm sorry to say. I was (am!) nervous about what tomorrow would bring, my last first day of school. Will I sit for a few minutes in the completely wrong classroom? Will I get cold called and not know the answer? Or will I talk too much and get labeled a gunner? (Will I ever stop worrying about such trifling things?)

But there is the thrill of it, too. I learned so many interesting things in just the first hour of my day! Did you know, for example, that until just this past summer, the federal government had a monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes? That's right, the DEA controls a federally owned and operated facility at Ole Miss that grows, processes, and sells cannabis. Weird, right?

When this semester is through, I know that I will miss study sessions at Boston Common Coffee Co (with it's splatter-paint artwork featuring images like a cartoon unicorn-wolf hybrid with its ribs showing and the outline of Rhode Island), and looking out from the fifth floor commons over he Park Street Church steeple and the State House's golden dome, and eating that amazing combination of pickle and rye grilled cheese from the Sargent caf. I will miss being part of an academic community, for all its warts and bruises.

But I know that I will not miss having to juggle work and school and clinic, I will not miss completing meandering writing assignments and 24-hour finals, I will not miss this weird tension I still feel sometimes between wanting to be thought a smartypants by my peers and wanting to just keep my head down and get my work done. I will not miss the panic of seeing someone walk into the classroom wearing a suit and wondering what interviews are happening that I am not participating in. I will not miss FAFSA.

Law school has been so different from undergrad, and I know I will miss it less, but change is a'coming, and that's always its own thing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Takeoffs & Landings

I really loved my former apartment. It was just one stop from downtown, with the most amazing view of the skyline from across the small stretch of water. There was the new Jeffries Point Park and also Dough, La Sultana, and La Hacienda all within walking distance. But I kind of love my new apartment, too. It's across the street from a small beach that overlooks part of the airport, and I've spent a few afternoons sitting on the sand watching planes taxi down the runway and lift into the air. 

Which of course makes me think about life.

I'm a little scared. I'm scared of my schedule, which is packed to burst with school and work and extracurriculars. I'm scared of not delivering quality product to teachers and students. I'm scared of watering unhealthy habits and of growing further away from my God instead of becoming grounded in Him. Last fall was difficult. Is this fall going to be even hard? Each new thing is a takeoff. Each success is a landing.

Life is a series of these, takeoffs and landings. Most lives are a grueling marriage to a proverbial suitcase, moving from one flight to another to another, endlessly. That makes me feel tired. I watch the flight attendants who get on the train at the airport stop, with the little rolly suitcases, headed home after a few days on. (The whole top floor of our building is flight attendants.) I think about what a hard job they have.

My co-teacher told me today one of our students left his country because his parents were shot. I have a student whose parents sent him to the USA to study English to protect him from gang recruitment. I have a handful of students from Libya who are in the US biding their time for stability to come to their country so they can return. My students remind me that even the rich and the privileged experience heartache and tragedy. Because life has turbulence. 

I watch the takeoffs and landings and think of all the people sitting in chairs encased by a hunk of metal, and suddenly they are moving through the sky. It's amazing. Life is a gift. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

How Frozen keeps blessing my life

It's shocking how many monologues I've been starting lately with the phrase, "See, this reminds me of Elsa." Because isn't Elsa so relatable?

This is what I mean. Spoilers for those of you who somehow have managed to avoid seeing this precious film.
Elsa has ice powers.
Elsa and Anna play with her ice powers as children, and it's all fun and games until Anna gets hit in the head and the doctor who heals her foresees something terrible happening as a result of Elsa's powers.
Elsa and her parents misinterpret the doctor's warnings and decide the best thing is for Elsa to put on gloves and hide out in her room to keep from hurting anyone.
But at Elsa's coronation she loses control and the ice explodes all over the party.
Everyone is (understandably) freaked out, and Elsa runs away.
She sings "Let It Go", celebrating the fact that now she can let her ice powers run wild without having to worry about hurting anyone.
But that freedom is bittersweet because Anna comes to find her, and in the process ends up getting a dart of ice to the heart.
In the end, love of her sister drives her homeward, where the bad guy tries to do her in and Anna sacrifices herself to save Elsa and true love heals both frozen hearts. 
Watch it. You will laugh, you will cry, it will move you. Promise.

Hopefully the subtext here is pretty obvious. Elsa is afraid. She's afraid of a part of herself she can't control. She's afraid of her capacity to hurt other people. She isolates to avoid that fear, and when she runs away from everyone she thinks she's found freedom. And while she finally experiences the joy of being who she is, people still get hurt because she never learned to control her power. The happy ending finally comes when love trumps fear and Elsa gets her powers under control. 

Love casts out fear. I was going to get that tattooed on my chest, had the design and the parlor picked out and everything, until I realized I was too afraid of needles to go through with it. But it's a principle I would feel comfortable having permanently etched into my skin because I think I need the daily reminder: there is no fear in love.

Unfortunately, fear is perpetually present in my life. Fallen world. Sinful girl. There's a laundry list of fears floating around in my head right now, temporary and long-term, superficial and existential, stomach-fluttering and heart-sickening. It is what it is. I can't necessarily snap my fingers and be done with it, but I can dwell on love. There is a safety net. There are strong arms. There is a love with a depth and a width and a height and a length I cannot fathom. And that love is shown to me each day. When I am set on love the fear is less crippling. 

The other lesson here is to control what you can control. Fear leads to its own kind of defeatism. I trend towards laziness and I find it leagues easier to throw my hands up in the air and admit, "I'm screwed up and there's nothing I can do about it." And that's dangerous grounds because it leads to isolation. And then sometimes your greatest fears can come true. (Elsa locked herself in her room because she was afraid of hurting Anna again, and guess what, she ended up hurting Anna again. Life, amirite?)

But we're not helpless in the face of our demons. Fear doesn't win, love does. For Elsa, the love of her sister enabled her to get her ice powers under control. No longer afraid of what she could do, she harnessed them so Olaf could experience summertime in one piece. We have not only the precious love of the people who care about us, but the divine love of our God and the partnership of the Holy Spirit, who is with us reminding us that we are righteous in the eyes of the Lord and that we have a promise to one day be whole. 

You may be sick of hearing little girls belting out "Let It Go" on the streets, but dayum, it's a catchy song. We are not called the carry the guilt for the mistakes we've made; we are free and can rejoice that no burdens weigh on our shoulders any longer.