Sunday, February 24, 2013

John 1:16

It's all broken. It's all rough and jagged, it's unpleasant and repulsive. It sticks to your skin like sweat, it cloys in your lungs like a cloud of poison. You want to put it far away, and shut it up, and block it out. It's hard, so hard that it cuts. Slicing through comfort and contentment and security. It disturbs and unsettles. You cannot evade its effects.

And that moment you realize it's inside of you, it wrecks you. 

But what does He say? "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." And so He gives, grace upon grace, upon grace upon grace.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


I must confess, I'm sometimes a judgmental snob. The guys I work with are lucky they don't care what I think, otherwise they'd never be able to endure my eye-rolling at the massive amounts of soda they consume. I feel justified in judging here: sugar-sweetened beverages are an incorrigible waste of caloric intake. There's not much else I judge "nonbelievers" on, because if they haven't seen the light, how can they hate the darkness? But Christians, I feel like they should know better. And this has been a huge area of sin in my life, so let me just confess . . . I judge Christians who have fish on their cars.

I wanted to be Catholic for a while. Especially when I was doing more pro-life advocacy stuff, that's where I saw a lot of Catholics walking the talk. Christians who are big on grace find ways to live apathetically, but all the Catholics I met put great stock in the power of action. Also, Portsmouth Abbey is beautiful and I can't say being a nun doesn't sound attractive at this phase in my life.

But all that changed when I was driving to church one day. There's a huge Catholic church between my house and my church, and their parking lot is always packed. There are cars on both sides of the road, on both corners. And on this fateful morning, as I was driving by, minding my own business, a car with a fish on their bumper pulled out of this Catholic church and cut me off. I ceased wanting to be a Catholic that day. They were not as perfect as I hoped they could be.

Do not presume me to be hypocritical. I used this ridiculous non-story to make a point. I cut people off sometimes. I'm not good at depth perception or acting quickly or making left-hand turns. I'm a woman, doesn't that mean I'm genetically predisposed to being a terrible driver? But guys, seriously, I don't have a fish on my car. And I exercise extreme caution pulling in and out of my church's parking lot. Because I know the community's watching. And I don't want to be that jerk driver who selfishly asserts herself on the road while representing Jesus to the other drivers around. I know I can't live up to that. 

(Parenthetically, this is why I also never applied the decal my school sent me when I was accepted. The members of the rural community surround my school are not super fond of URI and their reckless boozing ways. I don't want my poor driving skills to make the neighbors even more hostile. If such a thing were even possible.)

I do a lot of driving. Usually around 80 miles a day, five days a week. And almost every day I see someone with a fish on their car. You know what? The driver of that car is usually talking on their cell phone, or pulled out too far into the intersection, or tailgating someone, or running a red light, or driving slowly in the passing lane, or some other such obnoxious and rude driving activity. Of course, this is Rhode Island. This driving behavior is not abnormal or out of the ordinary. But Christians are supposed to be different. Our love for Jesus is supposed to make us responsible and courteous drivers. 

Whenever people flash me the finger for driving too slowly or turning too quickly I thank heavens I don't have a fish on my car. Better they blame me than blame me and Jesus.

A caveat thought here: I know someone who works with a professing Christian who is universally disliked by everyone else in the department. It makes me wonder about testimony, and how to find a balance between living a genuine life and being a good example of the difference Jesus makes. Christians aren't perfect. If anything, we're more sick than most. How do we bring glory to His name without also sullying it? How vocal ought we to be?

Monday, February 11, 2013

In search of clarity

At night I think straight.
I know what I want, what I feel, and how to explain it.
At night I'm opinionated.
I know what I think, and I understand that I don't know anything.
I see clearly at night.
I put to rest all the little things that chafe inside me through the day.
I think my thoughts in circles until I fall asleep.
I imagine the future, and smirk at what I see.
At night I know how silly I am.
I don't take myself too seriously.
I'm self-absorbed but I don't mind.
At night it's the darkness and silence of just God and me.
I can light upon peace and cling to it.
Thank You Lord that Your mercies are new every morning.
. . . so let me wake before dawn.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Exhausted Argument

As part of my last semester at my degree-granting institution, one of my 400-level senior seminars is a class on conflict intervention. Our final paper is a twelve-page dissemination of a conflict we've experienced or witnessed in the context of the theories we're learning, and heeding the advice of the professor I want to please, I'm thinking about what to write on. The trouble is, I have experienced very few conflicts in my short life. I attribute this to three different factors:

1) I am oblivious. There was this one time one of my friends felt incredibly hurt and neglected by me, and years passed before I realized how she felt. I'm sure I've actually been in the middle of countless conflicts, but was too obtuse to realize it.

2) I am a conflict avoider. It makes me feel physically ill to confront others, and I am squeamish about bad feelings. I often see conflict as a lose-lose, where all parties involve wallow in bad feelings and nobody comes out whole.

3) I mostly know mature and awesome people who are easy to put up with and who put up with a lot from me. With quality friends like these, you won't encounter too many blow-up, drag-out fights. Sure, conflict is inevitable and unavoidable, but with the right group of people conflict can often be less frequent.

When I was the administrator of the NCFCA Region 10 forum, I got my first exposure at mediating conflict. The arguments we had were an interesting mix of behavioral and ideological. It was a forensics forum, and so of course, debate was bound to happen. And as young people are wont to do, there was plenty of pontification on tension points that escalated into idealistic frustration. While I would frequently rebuke other members for what I perceived to be their uncompassionate and imprudent views (you have no idea how deep the self-righteous streak runs, folks!), there was also plenty of peacekeeping to be done in terms of "playing nice." The key was always never being above admitting fault, and the solution was nearly always compromise. 

Resolution is a bit cloudier these days. A particular conflict I see illustrated up-close and personal inside the walls of my house follows a pattern that seems to obscure a silver-bullet solution. Outlawed behavior causes confrontation, which often escalates with rebuttal and analysis. These conflicts reach a kind of resolution, but it's a hollow one because no one holds naive expectations that the outlawed behavior will cease to occur. The cycle persists, sometimes altered on the content level but usually consistent in its subterranean qualities. We all know the conflict's not hopeless, but when change is so imperceptible it's hard to keep up the expectation that the cycle will cease. 

Similarly, these past few months I've been burdened over a conflict that I can't seem to shake. And unlike the conflicts of my strident days on the forum, or the arguments that happen out in the open in my house, this tension is subversive and full of question marks. All that is unspoken fuels my anger and hurt, and yet, talking about it seems to do no good either. I can't understand it, I can't fix it, but I'm having trouble coping with it, too. "Get over it," is what I tell myself, but I often counter with "how?" There's so much I just don't understand.

So through these three examples is where my conflict intervention class comes into play. We just finished up psychological theories of conflict, which focus on individual mental processes that play into conflict. Two theories in particular, verbal aggression & argumentativeness theory and trained incapacities theory, seek to explain patterns of and consistent responses to conflict. And that's where I get hope from. Knowing why people do what they do. When the angry forum private messages ended up in my inbox I remembered dual perspective. When my sister's words cut at my heart I remember her desire to know her value. And when my car rides are consumed with analyzing this recent conflict, I think that maybe, if I devote all my brain power and all these theories to explaining the broken thing weighing on me, maybe I can understand it, and maybe I can stop feeling miserable.

I love Anne Shirley. "But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice." And how badly I want that to be true of me! Nothing frustrates me more than cycles, of hitting the same wall over and over. I get so tired of being the same, of feeling the same feelings and talking about the same topics. This is what makes me a bit of a cynic, because I know ours is a world of systems and circles, that we are beings of order and often we sign away our own freedom, unwittingly chaining ourselves to these cycles that make us miserable. That's the whole idea behind verbal aggression, that it's a personality trait that challenging to tame. Or trained incapacities, which are ingrained maladaptive responses that are difficult to uproot. 

Breaking the cycle is not easy. But staying in the cycle is exhausting. I want out.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I have nothing to say, and I am saying it

I was complimented on my writing today, and it was nice but fleeting. Now that one of my professors begins each class with asking us what we read in the news the day before, I'm becoming more attuned to the exasperated advice my father regaled me with: you learn a lot about the world from reading the Review & Outlook section of the Wall Street Journal. Another professor commended to my perusal Slate Magazine's Double-X section, admitting that though the content is fiercely cynical, there was wit to be imitated in the style. Relevant, Penelope Trunk, The ResurgenceThe Altucher Confidential, and the insightful words of those dear people I am privileged to know personally, all of it, I eat it up. So I've been reading more, fascinating things about the commerce clause and the foundations of interpersonal communication research, and the more I read what others have written, the more I think about writing. I want to write. 

But I just have nothing to say.

And part of this is because I've partly choked my gut within me. A weighted sadness has settled in me. I can be cheerful and chipper, and prefer to be, in the presence of others. I look forward to going to work, where I can answer phones and be helpful and laugh with my coworkers about Nicholas Cage movies. I love giggling in the student senate office, and having pool noodle fights after InterVarsity large group meetings. I am privileged to sit in bed reading Curious George aloud, cuddling with an adorable and cheeky little girl. And there's no better reward for a day spent in activity than a few episodes of LOST with my sisters. Each day is a full one, and while these days brim with good stuff, the sadness is always present in my thinking. Always the thinking. The welling existential questions of my soul, my relationships, and my future. Am I taking enough care about the person I'm becoming? 

When my professor complimented my writing, he told me, "It's a God-given skill you have." And hearing those words coming out of the mouth of a stranger in a secular institution gave them new life to me. It is not that I am the smartest. I am not always right, or even accurate. I have no delusions of grandeur. But I can string words together, and I have a lilt that is my own, and maybe I can even purport that writing is something I'm good at. 

So then what? What am I to do with my God-given skill? 

I'm not used to being good at things, and that's the pity when it comes to all the resources that have been poured into me my whole life. I have been ill-practiced in making the most of them. All this opportunity and privilege, but for what? My stewardship is deplorable. The emptiness is dwarfing me.

What good is being able to say something when you have nothing to say? I feel for you, John Cage.