Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pep talk

I've been plagued with internal conflict. Most of the time I brush it to the corners of my mind; I am concerned with surviving, not thriving. There is a manageable but challenging to-do list before me, and I keep a brisk pace on the treadmill to just barely stay on top of everything, but in doing so I have pushed reflection to the corners of my life. It is only in the car rides (with the music blaring), and in the pre-sleep moments (with the fatigue setting in), that I catch a sliver of anemic analysis. My journal has gone neglected for many months, and my devotions are stilted by the guilt of shallowness. 

And so I've been wondering, what is right living? How do I level up? Where am I lacking? How do I love Him more? How do I love others more? (Why do I feel so shallow, empty, and dispassionate?) And, ugh, you know, boys. 

This week I went to my professor's office hours, intent on confronting him about his arbitrary grading practices. But the conversation turned out much differently than any other conversation I've ever had with a nigh stranger, I wish I could have recorded it. Instead he told me who I was. A diligent student more concerned with right answers than self-examination. An idealist who is unwilling to abandon her orientation to the world. He told me to stop worrying about my grade, and to stop "phoning in" on the homework. "You want to be a lawyer you have to learn to argue both sides," he told me. As he left he charged me: question your paradigm, challenge your own answers.

My sister frequently accuses me, "You always think you're right!" And I would respond, without irony, "No, I don't! You're wrong!" I have a healthy appetite for self-doubt. I am always asking myself, what do I think about xyz? I frequently look at my faith, or libertarianism, and wonder, could I be wrong about all this? I make a concerted effort to be intentional in my search for truth, because I believe the axiom that an unexamined life is not worth living. And yet, it's so strange, this has led me not to humility in search of wisdom, but instead to a self-righteousness and rigid justification. Why would I bother to believe something I had not examined and found to be valid? I had refused to believe my sister was right, and still my inflexible insistence proved her correct. It took an office hour with a crazy professor for me to glimpse that.

And so I asked my professor, how is it that I can come to question my own answers? What does that look like? "I couldn't tell you," he said. "Even if I knew, you have to learn it for yourself." 

This feels contrary to who I supposed I was. I am an idealist. I feel strongly and unflinchingly about the way things ought to be. I believe there is a right way to see things. I make decisions based on the peace they give me, presuming the peace that comes with rightness. I cannot abide conflict within me. Confusion and chaos is the enemy of my mental wellbeing and stability. "How do I learn to do what you're asking me to do without going crazy," I questioned my professor. "You won't go crazy," he told me. On what he bases that assessment, I just don't know. And I don't think he's asking me to let go of my idealism, but I think he is prodding me to examine the way I get there. 

Even now I feel guilty, sitting here, thinking about this. I have a mountain of school to get to. I have an even bigger mountain of laundry sitting in my room. I have people to get back to, connect with, touch base with. (And aren't people the most important thing?) I know doubt is important, and I value self-examination, but it's awfully time consuming and I wonder if I already do too much of it . . .

On the one hand, I find comfort in what Luke says: everything is not a big deal, there's no need to get worked up over the transitory. There really is no point in thinking one's self into despair, and stuff has a tendency to work itself out. Regression into the meta often ends in nihilism. Entropy may be a thing, but so is equilibrium. A heathy perspective is a balanced one. I need more of this pragmatism, and less of this solitary confinement within my own mind.

On the other hand, I also track with Josiah and what he's told me of his experience at L'Abri. Questions are not as valuable for the answering, but for the clarifying. The task is discovering and describing the "subterranean", the motivate behind the questions themselves. What is the root from which the plant grows? The deeper and more pervasive the question, the more hard-won and long-sought the answer is.

I don't know, this stuff is meant to be talked about. To be explored in community. That's the only moral-to-the-story I've got. I empathize with Georgia; I cannot bear to end with a conclusory pat answer. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Prince of Darkness - Indigo Girls

In case it hasn't come up on conversation, I have to mention that the Perspectives course is blowing my mind. In many ways it's so wasteful. Like spiritual gluttony. Like maybe my heart is not where it should be to make the most of the rich teaching I'm hearing. And maybe I should be more faithful with doing the homework. (I should be doing it right now. When I'm not blogging, I'm not procrastinating.) But last week in class the speaker mentioned in passing that Satan is not omnipresent. 

And my head snapped up from the sparse notes I was taking. What was this?! I had never heard this before, but it made such perfect sense to me! Ah, yes, just because he's spiritual doesn't mean Satan shares the same properties Jesus does. Just because I can talk to God whenever and whenever I want doesn't mean Satan is similarly summoned. He probably doesn't even know I exist. Sure, he has plenty of fallen angels at his command, and there's probably some demon keeping tabs on me, but much of the trouble I face is of my own doing, not Satan's. 

Ah, this is sobering.

And now someone's on the telephone, desperate in his pain
Someone's on the bathroom floor doing her cocaine
Someone's got his finger on the button in some room
No one can convince me we aren't gluttons for our doom

I think of genocide, nuclear war, murder and lies, addiction, broken relationships, injured hearts, sweat, hate, death, hopeless fates and victims of circumstance. We have corrupted the very ground we walk on. And we're so quick to blame it on the schemes of Satan. I hear he's a schemer, make no mistake, but much of what we would give him credit for is the outpouring of the corruption in our own hearts. One must wonder how there manages to be anything good and of worth in this world at all, so pervasive is the evil we have created and are creating. 

My place is of the sun and this place is of the dark
(By grace my sight grows stronger, grows stronger)
I do not feel the romance I do not catch the spark
(And I will not be a pawn for the Prince of Darkness any longer)

What is the place of the redeemed in all of this? I think of the four circles diagram, my favorite tool for explaining the story of creation, fall, redemption, and mission. We are sent on mission to be part of the healing of the world. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. He broke the cycle, He freed the slave, and He is the source of all that is beautiful in the world I know. But how can there be so much beauty in so much dirt? Forget the magnitude of human suffering for a moment and think small; why does my heart hurt so much? How is it that this darkness encroaches from afar into our churches, our families, our relationships, and our hearts? How can I be on mission bringing healing and spreading the message of redemption when I don't have my stuff together? 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm weary of brokenness. I am tired by the judgmental thoughts that rolodex through my mind, by the flashes of temper that color my interactions, by the shallowness and apathy that grip my stone-cold heart. I am weighted by the knowledge that the sin in me is no different than the sin that has spawned the world's greatest ills. "But I tried to make this place my place! I'll tell you, my place is of the sun and this place is of the dark." I'm restless for goodness, for perfection, for completed redemption. I'm restless for Him to come back. This place is not my place. 


One of the things I love about Perspectives is that many of the speakers are seasoned by experience. They speak not only with the depth of great theological wisdom, but also with the conviction of eyewitness testimony. They are missionaries who have known pain and sacrificed much to see His name made great among the nations. They are rabid for our Jesus to come back, and they are hungry for His glory to be magnified. And so they go, blessed to be a blessing among those who have never dreamed of praising our God. There is hurt and evil everywhere, but it is because they are restless for perfect and for His return that they embrace the brokenness. Weariness is replaced by urgency. Hurry, He is coming! 

And that's what I want. I will not be a pawn for the prince of darkness any longer. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Get Comfy

You know what's horrible about being a teenager? Angst. And I know that's so stereotypical, like everyone looks at teens with pity, and thinks of how frustrating but blessedly transient all those bothersome hormone-driven feelings are, and isn't growing up such a relief, and blah blah blah. But seriously, it's cliche but true. One of the best things about getting out of high school was leaving a lot of that angst behind. Or so I thought.

The unfortunate thing that I am learning, is that uncomfortable feelings are not just a teenager thing. Uncomfortable feelings are a human thing. 

I've been in the La-La Land of high highs and low lows. Exuberant in my car rides and conversations, melancholy in my musings and routines. Frustrated and excited by the future. Comforted by some people, pining for others. I'm engulfed by these waves of feelings; at any given time something's on my mind and it's hard to push it out. Is this not part of life? In the throes of always growing older (and hopefully also growing wiser and more like Jesus) are there not also challenging and uncomfortable situations, matters of the heart to address? A life devoid of uncomfortable feelings may well also be a life devoid of growth. Still it's troubling to try and talk it out, because I don't understand much of this churning my stomach sometimes does.

How do you explain what milk tastes like to someone who's never tasted it? You can say it's white, and creamy, and usually cold. Maybe you can talk about how it's high in fat and reminds you of how babies smell. But despite the exhaust of words available for your use, no amount of talking will enable the other person to truly understand the taste of milk. They have to taste it for themselves. 

It's kind of that way with feelings, yes? You can use common labels and descriptors, you can give examples, or scream and shout and let it all out, but feelings are not something that can be accurately translated to someone who has never experienced the same feelings. Sensations and feelings are both intensely personal, so much so that sometimes they isolate us and overwhelm us. 

But here's the thing. Your problems are not particularly special. Your angst is not unique to you. (I say you because I really mean me.) Everyone has issues. When you feel ostracized and alone because of your struggles, you miss out on the healing unity of commiseration. This is why it's so important to try to articulate the feelings that escape description, because in trying you eventually find the people who understand. Everyone struggles, no one's special, everyone feels uncomfortable things. Penelope Trunk points out that having problems does not make you exempt from dealing with life, so get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We're all in good company.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Suggestions to Incoming Collegiates

My time as an undergraduate is ticking, which seems ridiculous to me when I consider how small, ignorant, and inexperienced I feel. I'm a junior masquerading as a senior. I'm a poser. I don't know what I'm doing. Nevertheless, the paperwork has been filed, the coursework has been completed, and with a few midterms under my belt I can feel myself turning the scary corner. And while I'm reeling from the vertigo of this premature expulsion, I am also beginning to feel the steadying effect of nostalgia. It's true that I don't know much, but the suggestions below are what I did when I was a freshman, and I'm glad I did. 

Get your professor to like you. 
If your professor likes you, they will be rooting for you to succeed. It's easier to get good grades when your professor wants you to get good grades. Additionally, it's easier to work hard on your coursework when you have a relationship with your instructor. It's amazing how motivated you feel when you're trying to turn in work that's worthy of your professor's time. The student-teacher relationship is symbiotic: if you like them and they like you, everybody wins. Don't be that creepy stalker that always talks to them after class and is always sending them emails and goes to every office hour just to schmooze. Just be the student you would want to teach. They'll like you for that.

Find the resources.
Most people at my school don't know there's a lawyer on call to give out legal advice for students free of charge. Most people at my school don't know that you can borrow professional videography equipment, iPads, and voice recorders from the campus production labs. Every day, somewhere on my campus, there is free food to be had, and most students have no idea. There's great stuff out there, you just have to seek it out. When you start school you will feel alone. You won't know where to go and what to do. But believe me when I say there are offices out there that exist for the mere purpose of making your life easier! You just have to find them. They won't come to you.

Pick a side.
Educational communities are wonderful things, but bureaucracy is not. Rest assured you will face both. Bureaucracy will screw you over. They will ask you to sign forms you don't have access to, and they will refer you to offices that have no idea what you're talking about, and they will treat your reasonable request like it's the most inconvenient and outlandish request they've ever gotten. But don't back down! Bite the bullet, do what they say, find the people in the administration who will back you up, and see it through to the end. Though you are technically powerless as a student in the political cogs of the university, if you find the right advocate you can be heard. And that principle matters. Getting involved with administration politics has made my college experience ten times more interesting and is maybe even teaching me more about the real world than my classes are.

Finish your gen-eds first.
You may be gung-ho to dig right into your area of study, and your curriculum requirements may even direct it, but if at all possible force yourself to get all those 101 classes out of the way. Believe me when I say that you do not want to be the only senior in a class of 250 freshmen taking the introduction to astrophysics class. By the time you're an upperclassmen you won't care about the courses that are meant broaden your horizon. You'll love your discipline too much to waste your time on a subject you'll never use. Or worse, you'll discover a new love in a new major and wonder if you missed your calling in life. Senior year is too late to change your educational trajectory. Get it out of your system while you're still figuring out your interests.

Even if your school isn't a multi-college state research institution with 16,000 undergraduates like mine is, chances are you haven't seen everything on campus. The hallmark of freshmen is that lost and confused expression on their faces. Begin exploring and that bewildered feeling will subside. Give other freshmen directions and they'll assume you're an upperclassmen. This is the best feeling. And you'll stumble across so much cool stuff! My school has rose gardens, aquariums, simulations labs, historic documents and paintings, robots, carnivorous plants, and hallways lined with display cases of rocks, models, taxidermy animals, and artifacts. Most of your life will not be spent in an epicenter of learning. Drink it in while you can. 

There are probably lots of other things incoming freshmen should also do. Like get involved with student organizations, and go to class, and record all your new memories, and don't eat too much junk food to sate your initial feelings of freedom and loneliness, because the freshman-fifteen is really a thing. Stuff like that. There's plenty of good advice out there. My suggestions are just what worked for me. I want to remember what this setting was like, this time here at my school, what I did and what made it work for me and what I liked best. There's so much to say. I'm mentally preparing myself for the end.