ferguson (+ staten island + ayotzinapa)

The past two weeks have been heavy; I am exhausted in every way.  I am saddened and have been, at some points, near despairing. The pain of this world has been weighing on me; we are so, so broken.

I wrote most of this last week when the Ferguson decision came out.  Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, will not be indicted, and St. Louis has broken into a deep and raw mourning.  This week, I have attended two events:

The first was a Skype call with survivors of the mass kidnapping in Ayotzinapa, Mexico earlier this year and with mothers of the missing students.  Their story was heartbreaking: “police” involved with the cartels attacked with violent force, shot six of their friends, and kidnapped forty-three others.  They have not been seen since; I fear that they will not be recovered, since the mayor of Iguala has all but admitted his complicity in working with the cartels.

The second was a rally to protest the innocent black men and women killed by police in the United States, primarily the most recent to not receive justice: Eric Garner.  Months ago, he was put into an illegal chokehold by police and died; the medical examiner ruled it a homicide.  He was unarmed and innocent with his hands in the air, and the entire thing was caught on camera.  As Jon Stewart explains, “None of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the Staten Island case, and yet the outcome is exactly the same.”   The cop who murdered Eric Garner will not be indicted.  The only person who will be is the cameraman.  I’ll let the dystopian undertones sink in, but it’s sick. It is sick.

I haven’t posted here for months, and I hadn’t said much about these issues before; I have had a lot of moments lately when I haven’t known what to say or how to say it.  But I’m tired of staying silent.  I’m tired. Enough is enough.

Until recently I had hesitations; I have been focused on facts instead of emotions and pain, and I have not wanted to act out of incorrect motives.  The first of these I repent of; the second I stand by.  If my motivation is guilt, a desire to “be a part of history” or collect a story to tell later, I am incorrect, because all of these motivations point to one place: myself. Guilt can be a helpful motivator, but when the focus shifts to your own pain (I feel bad) instead of the pain of others (they are hurting), you take away their voices. When I say I am hurting, it’s true, but it is not my own pain, and it does not supersede theirs.  I do mourn, but it is not about me; as a white woman, privileged in education and wealth, I do not wish to stifle the voices of others.  It’s a biblical mandate to speak up for others:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

but it’s also important to listen to and encourage the voices of those most affected as well as joining with them (my friend James has some powerful words about the Ferguson decision here).

The focus must be turned back to the Ferguson community, to the families and individuals who have lost one of their own to police brutality, who are subjected every day to unfair and racist treatment.  We can’t think that what happened to Michael Brown is a one-time event that we can brush over because of the grand jury’s decision; regardless of whether you think it’s fair or not, you can’t take this as the end of an event, something that we can finally stop hearing about in the news.  There are countless others – Eric Garner, Tamir Rice (a child), John Crawford III have all been killed, unarmed, in the past few months.  Ferguson is a sign of a deeper systemic injustice, a crying out over existing pain; police have released tear gas on peaceful protests and responded to anger and pain with more fear.  The police force is not reflective of the demographic they are supposed to protect, and there is deep and understandable mistrust.

As the body of Christ, we need to be listening, empathizing, and reacting in love.  We cannot continue divided; Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to bring peace to this world, and to heal relationships, but he also spoke out against injustice and hypocrisy.

I’ve been praying a lot, and that’s what I want to ask of you as well.  As a friend of mine said at a prayer meeting last week, “Don’t think that we’re ‘just praying,’ or praying instead of doing something ‘real’ like protesting.  Prayer is powerful and effective.  It can move mountains, enact change, and transform lives and communities.”

I want to go forward with my actions as a reflection of Jesus’ truth; I want to speak out for peaceful change, to get involved in a way that Christ would want me to.  Is protesting a part of this? If we look back at the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, not a single person would say that what they were doing was not right; not a single person can look at those protesters and call their actions anything but heroic.  I have always looked back on them with inspiration, and until now I have assumed that, if I lived at that time, I would have joined them – the side of the just and righteous.  Recently I have not been so sure; my natural tendency is toward inaction, toward comfort and safety and the status quo.  It is easy to look back at history to make yourself feel good; it is hard to realize that we are living in a fishbowl, that we do not always recognize the cultural waters we swim in, and that “legal” does not always mean “right.”

I am praying that God would challenge that tendency in me in every way, that he would urge me on toward the right thing, not the comfortable thing.  I am praying that I will not act out of fear or stability but out of justice and peace and love.  I am praying that things will change, and that I will not look back with regret that I did not help change them.  I am praying that my heart will change, too, and every ounce that is not God’s would be eradicated.  This week I reached a breaking point, and standing with hundreds of students in solidarity was necessary.

The gospel is not easy, safe, or comfortable; the gospel does not allow the status quo or stem from the culture of the time.  The gospel is living and active.  The gospel makes us uncomfortable and does not allow us to stay where we want to stay.

Throughout history some of the greatest civil rights movements have been helmed by Christians, just as the greatest opposition has come from those who claim the faith but are more comfortable with the status quo.  It has always been difficult, and there have always been those who vocally and violently fight to keep things exactly the way that they are.

Things are not okay exactly the way that they are.

Lives are being lost in injustice.  The world is deeply, painfully broken; we need to see this pain.  As Christians, especially, we cannot look at this world as somewhere we’re escaping from, cloistering ourselves off until Jesus returns.  This world is our home. Christ came for every broken individual living inside it, and he came to heal and restore it.  As N.T. Wright and many others have pointed out, it’s right in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  In Jeremiah, God’s first command to the exiles is to get involved:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce… Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Jeremiah 29:4-7

We are not called to evacuate, we are called to change things; we are called to enter in, just as Christ did, to the brokenness and the horror of it all, to come alongside people, to pray for our city.  Empathy is an act of entering into someone else’s pain and shouldering it; who has done this more than our God?

Don’t mistake my language, please: I’m not saying that we should be playing savior.  It’s an imperfect metaphor.  We are not God, and we cannot save anyone – only Jesus can save, and only he can bring true salvation and healing.  All we can do is come alongside our brothers and our sisters and live with them, fight with them, love with them, mourn with them.  Our response should not be contradiction, but compassion.  It’s not easy to empathize – to share -another’s pain – but it’s necessary.  The language of solidarity reflects this (“todos somos Ayotzinapa” – we are all Ayotzinapa).

Things are broken, but we do not have an uncaring God; as my dear and wise friend, Caroline, told me the night of the grand jury decision, we have a God who weeps for us.  As Hebrews 4:15 says,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

He has also suffered in every way; he understands.  He calls us to be pained for our neighbors, to mourn those who are hurting and those who do not know him – who do not have his peace or his hope.  We do not have a God who told us to cloister ourselves off from culture, society, and the world; we have a God of empathy who has sent us out into it to go into it to make disciples and to love the broken, to acknowledge our own fallen nature and strive to be more like him.

The fact that I can even write this gives me a luxury others do not have. I pray for the courage to speak for (and with) the oppressed, to stand against injustice, and to carry out my life with deep sympathy for others.  My prayer is for transformation – in this world, in this city, in the lives of individuals, and in my own heart.

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Read this: Pastor Leonce Crump’s very salient thoughts: It’s Time to Listen: “Will White Evangelicals Ever Acknowledge Systemic Injustice?”

Why You Should Still Care about Ferguson Despite the Facts (terrible title, good article)

Think this doesn’t directly apply to you? 12 things white people can do now because Ferguson

An incredibly powerful stream of the Skype call to Iguala earlier this week, with survivors and mothers of the taken; in English here.

As usual, let me know if you want to talk about anything.  Thanks.

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why modernizations matter

I have a lot of fun with modernizations of classic novels or plays; whether it’s experiencing them or dreaming them up, I’m drawn to them exceedingly. There is nothing more entertaining than watching your favorite characters burst onto the scene of modernity – it’s like they’re entering into our world. When my brother, cousin and I watched Clueless, I don’t think anyone enjoyed seeing the updates to Austen’s Emma as much as I did (and I definitely don’t think the two of them liked me screeching out scenes from the original book). When you pitch a novel into the modern world, you lose all the trappings that distance you from its issues; it’s easy to look at costumes and old language and say, “This happened, but it was in the past, so it doesn’t really apply to my life.”

Let me talk about one of the best birthday presents I have ever received: This year, for my 21st, my family got me tickets to the Dallas Theater Center’s modern performance of Les Mis. I do not say this lightly: not only was it the best production of Les Mis that I have ever seen, but it may have been the best performance I’ve attended, period. The musical hasn’t really changed in its staging since its inception, and that tends to remove the audience; this threw us right into the issues Hugo had been trying to bring to light in the 19th century. The preface to Les Mis says it best:

“so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use.”

With this production, I was slapped in the face with the realization that these miserable things really do still plague our society. The cast was diverse, desperate and honest, conveying emotion that I didn’t realize the play had left. The prisoners wore orange and the plight of the ex-con is palpable and raw; lovely ladies was a shocking jolt. The poor pushed shopping carts and held “ex-veteran” signs, Valjean had prison tattoos, the students sipped lattes and traded their hipster scarves in for bulletproof vests and Che Guevara caps; the Thenardiers ran a seedy dive bar. The police brutality was so painful and palpable; in the final barricade scene, the faceless police officers surrounded the audience, moving in through the crowd and killing the rebels; it was so personal and awful and topical. I questioned the revolutionaries a lot more this time – in today’s world, what would drive someone to lead themselves and their friends into the mouth of death? – but Gavroche’s murder made me realize what they were fighting for.

More than anything, it did exactly what Les Mis was intended to do: it inflamed my sense of justice and my desire to try to right the societally imposed wrongs that I see in the world. In N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (confession, I haven’t finished) and several conversations with my father have helped me realize that trying to make the world better isn’t optional – as Christians, especially, we are called to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort our fellow man. It’s not a resume-building volunteerism that should propel us, but a desire to see God’s kingdom realized on earth:

“Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice and of God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice in the world but to a robust determination to oppose it.”

Moderizations are incredibly fun and entertaining, but the point should always, always be to encourage a deeper understanding of the original text by applying it to our own world. The point of so much literature is to touch on modern issues; although they might seem old-fashioned now, at the time they were written, their authors intended them as a commentary on modern society’s shortcomings.

In another vein, I saw the trailer for the upcoming adaptation of Annie last week and was blown away; I didn’t expect to be as excited as I am, but when I saw that they had made Annie a foster child, I was so struck and so glad that they updated the story. In this version, Annie is black, and although some (racist) people were upset, I could not be more glad. In the original version, Annie’s red hair marks her as belonging to a group that was marginalized (more strongly in the 19th century) – the Irish. Today, Annie’s race also places her in a racial group that is still often shown prejudice and unfair treatment; African-Americans have to fight stereotype every day.

Representation is so important; as vital as it is for everyone that all different types of people are portrayed as real characters in media, it affects children most.  When young girls and boys can see themselves in television, books, and movies, it inspires them and gives them characters to identify with. It makes them believe that they can be the heroes of their own stories: Latina girls watching Brooklyn Nine Nine can aspire to be cops, and Asian-American boys watching Up can hope to be as brave as Russell.  With the modernized Annie, thousands of African-American girls and thousands of children in foster care can see themselves on screen and say, my story is important; hopefully, the rest of us can say the same.

Hugo was right – by nature, people are broken and striving, and time will not change that. People have been the same since the beginning, and we continue to struggle between good and evil. This can seem daunting and hopeless, if we let it, but we have to keep working toward change for God’s kingdom. There will always be a story to tell or to retell; hopefully, we will continue to speak out for those who struggle to be heard.

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lady knights

I have been meaning to write this post for months, and I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to get around to it.  At the start of last term my mother called me long-distance, urgently; when I told her it was probably costing her an obscene amount of money, she said she had something spiritually vital to communicate, something that she’d gotten from others and from God over the past few days.

She sent me an illustration that she’d found of a female knight kneeling down in the armor of God – she said it struck her because she had never seen this passage illustrated with a woman, and she felt like it was supposed to be me.  “Satan is trying to attack you with untruths about yourself,” Mom said.  “You’ve got the rest of your armor on.  You’re in basic training right now, but you can slay the beast.  All you need to do is pick up your sword.” She urged me to fight with the word of God, to arm myself, and I began to cry as she spoke.

Of course, she was talking about the passage in Ephesians 6:10-20.  It’s long, but I’ll include the whole thing here, because it’s important, and because my offensive weapon is the word of God:

Exhortations for Spiritual Warfare:  Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.  For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints. Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak – that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak.”

I do struggle with so many other bits of this armor, but it’s how we stay defended.  We have to be fully equipped; each piece of the armor secures us against another of Satan’s traps.  When he tells us lies about ourselves, we can counter with the sword, backing up our worth with God’s words.  This isn’t just for us; I later stumbled upon Isaiah 59:15-17, where God himself, seeing that there is no justice in the world, takes it upon himself to work salvation:

He wears his desire for justice [or, ‘righteousness’] like body armor, [a breastplate]
and his desire to deliver is like a helmet on his head.
He puts on the garments of vengeance
and wears zeal like a robe.”

This is not the armor of God because he’s given it to us for comfort; it is His armor.  When we wear his righteousness and are crowned by his salvation, we act as his soldiers – we wear the armor of God, the armor that he himself wears.

Ever since then, I have been building up a tumblr tag, “lady knights”.  While several of them are actual women warriors, knights, or revolutionaries, many are also pioneers in science, technology, journalism, and other areas.  I am beginning to realize that this, too, is part of the fight; we are knights when we act honorably but refuse to be pushed aside, in doing the work of God and in furthering society.  There are few illustrations of women wearing the armor of God, but this fight does not depend on physical strength; I am allowed to be a warrior in it, called to be a warrior for it.

I have wondered so often about my own gender and the restrictions placed upon it in the Bible.  A deep part of me wants to chalk it up to cultural bias, wants to say that it doesn’t matter anymore, but then I see things tied in with Eve and don’t know how to feel.  My first response, of course, is to feel less, somehow incomplete and farther from God because he has made me a woman.  I think this too is a lie from the devil; I do not think God could see me as less just because of the way I have been created, because in Him there is no male or female, and he has used many women in the Bible to further his purpose.  But the insecurity is still there.

I cannot begin to express how deeply I have struggled with 1 Timothy 2:11-15.  I don’t want to remain quiet.  I want to be like Joan of Arc; if God gives me a vision I do not want to keep it to myself.  I mentioned to my father that I could never be a pastor, and he laughed, saying I’d hate the everyday detail-work of keeping everyone happy.  When I mentioned being a theologian, he said that thinking and reading and learning other languages seemed more up my alley (then sent me a chunk of N.T. Wright).  Who knows where I’ll end up; however, if the pen is mightier than the sword, this is another way for me to fight – the biggest way that I know how to fight.

I became a little obsessed with the concept, as my friends can attest.  My friend told me I was like Artemis and I grinned, and when she mentioned there needed to be a patron saint helping girls away from unwanted attention, I volunteered as fast as I could get the words out; when we brought up Joan of Arc my feelings grew.  These feelings are so tied into my prophecy feelings, and I still think it’s such a cool story, regardless of whether it’s true or not and regardless of the discomfort of making war religious; I cannot say if God did or did not use this girl.  In any case, she got an audience with the king, strategically led an army as a teenager, and died when she was nineteen, a year younger than I am now.  She was young, and she was a girl, and she did not let that stop her; she followed God’s voice to death.

Although Joan was tried for heresy, her trial was political; they labelled her cross-dressing as heresy even though she wore her male military clothing – her armor – to prevent the guards from raping her.  This brings me to the next section of this, regarding lady knights: the culture that has tried to objectify and take advantage of women.  All of it is tied up together.

I have come to realize that girls are so strong.  Girls are strong because we have to be; you don’t have to be physically strong to show that power, for there are many ways to exhibit strength.  When I started this post, I hadn’t thought about how it would or should link to current events, but I will now, after studies have shown that professors still favor men, that women are drastically underrepresented in media, and that six people, men and women, have been killed this week off the back of unhinged misogynistic rage.

I, like most of my female friends, am so deeply drawn to lady knights, badass girls, and women who know how to defend themselves because that is what we aspire to in the reality of our current society.  We live in a world where “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”; our desire is to be able to defend ourselves so completely that we do not have to fear, because we cannot guarantee that others will defend us.  We are learning to stand up for ourselves in word and deed, to demand respect and fair treatment; however, I know that this must be done out of love, keeping in mind our true opponent – Satan.  I want to be like Joan of Arc; I want to listen to the voice of God in order to bring about the justice of his will, and I want to be able to protect myself and my friends.  I want to put on the full armor of God to take my stand against the devil; I want to fight for God’s truth and justice, for I am called to a bigger battle, not against individuals but against evil.  And I want you – men and women – to fight with me.

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reading aloud

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, all: I just found this post that I’d forgotten to put up, so here you are.

When I was younger, I hated reading aloud.  I loved to read, of course – I’ve always known that stories carry magic – but I remember sitting in my second grade class as we circled around with Charlotte’s Web and I just knew that my tongue would trip over the words in a way my mind never did and my mouth would get dry and my voice do something I didn’t want it to do.  When I read to myself, I was swept up in the world of the book in a way that mimicked restfulness, and I’d look up from my book with the feeling that I’d just woken from a nap.  Reading aloud, though, scared me.  As I got better, I’m sure I became more cocky about it.

But recently, I’ve realized that there is a specific and dense magic that comes from speaking the written word, a magic that transcends what I’d expected from printed ink on a woven page of pulpy tree.

I think that children understand this magic deeply.  I always love to read aloud when I babysit (once I read a self-abridged version of A Wrinkle in Time), but this summer, something really captivating happened.  I was filling in for a family’s nanny for half a week, and the second day on the job was Homework Day.  Everyone was upset about it, obviously, moaning and half-heartedly scribbling on their math sheets.  The youngest’s only remaining homework assignment was to be read to.

I grabbed an abridged children’s copy of Treasure Island and began to read to him in a hushed voice, glancing up at him every once in a while.  When I started, he was squirming, sliding out of his chair, and rolling his eyes up at the ceiling.  Halfway through, he was looking at me.  When I stopped after the first chapter and started to put it away, he grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t stop!”  By this point, the other two weren’t doing their homework either but had started listening to the story.  One of them had crept around to look at the illustrations.  After lunch, we relocated to the couch, huddling together to read about poor Jim Hawkins.  I did some growly pirate voices and we all giggled over Ben Gunn’s cheese obsession.

We sat for more than two hours and read that whole book, cover to cover.  They never once got bored or wanted to stop.  The story had pulled them tight in a sort of magic, and even when my voice began to dry up they wrapped themselves around each word.  Treasure Island has no deep moral or spiritual truth (upon first glance, at least); it’s an adventure story, but it knows how to speak.  It understands the power of story, and so did the children.  This got them focused like nothing I had ever tried before – no sports break, homework incentive, or movie grabbed them like Treasure Island did.  It was absolutely unbelievable.

I think I finally understand the bardic tradition of the Celtic tribes, why the poets advised the kings and were revered as they were.  I understand how powerful it would have been to have everyone gathered in a castle hall for their Michaelmas celebration, shuffling quietly as they listened to the bard unfold the tale of the brave, perfection-seeking Gawain and a Knight, green from the hair of his beard to his very skin.

As Tolkien best put it, it is a “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.”

Also this summer, my grandmother, while visiting us, fell and broke her hip.  It was terrible and scary, but she did such a wonderful job recovering.  We would often come visit her to talk and chat, catching her up on everything and discussing different things.  One night, her trigeminal neuralgia was acting up badly, and she was in a lot of pain.  We headed over, and she couldn’t talk.  In half an hour, the nurse could come and give her a dose of pain medication.  I figured I would distract her.  I held her hand tightly, pulled up my story on my dad’s iPad, and began to read.

I got very quiet as I did so, for I was self-conscious of reading words that I myself had written.  I shook it off.  My grandma relaxed perceptibly and smiled at me.  The time passed.  It was crazy, the feeling that filled the dark room, a comforting sort of heaviness that blanketed us.  Before we left, though, we all prayed for her.  I was fervent and earnest, and I could feel that the words coming from my mouth were not my words, and I felt the Holy Spirit there.  It was love I was speaking, just love.  The power of prayer was tangible and suspended, and the next day, Grandma was better than we’d seen her in weeks.

I keep running into the reading aloud.  Oxford’s Keble has a chapel built into it, and it’s absolutely beautiful, with storytelling stained glass and a massive organ and echoey, cavernous ceilings.  In one of my first weeks here, at the urging of the Bursar, I crept into the empty chapel’s side-room.  There was a Bible and a list of the readings for the day, and I read them aloud in a whisper, turning from Jonah to Luke and having the privilege of letting God’s Word permeate the place through my voice.

I wrote a play for Oxford’s Cuppers competition, and that was a completely different rush, the joy of watching people speak your words in their voice and telling them how to act around them.  There would be moments when they pulled something out that was exactly right, better, inventing, embodying an imagined thing.  That’s magic, too, isn’t it?

And now we come to the vehicle of my remembrance of this post.  My Paradise Lost essay from last week was all about speech: I wrote about God creating beautiful things through speech and Satan perverting them, about a blind Milton speaking his words aloud and fashioning himself into the old recitative epic poet, and I spoke my words aloud to my tutor.

Words are important, living, and active.  God spoke the universe into existence through the force of his speech, creating the universe through a word and through the Word.  The Word has saved our people by becoming like us, by dying for us, by refusing to stay dead.  Do not discount what you speak; God’s words have power, and so do yours.

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Read this: my story (“The Mason Jar”) if you like;  Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories  (you have to)

calvinism, Christianity, and the weight of the gospel

I’m studying 14th-17th century literature right now at Keble– I can hear you all groaning.  I was wary, but it’s actually been incredibly interesting.  I’ve learned a whole lot (I hope).  Of course, you can’t talk about this time period without breaching the subject of the different Christian sects of each time.  I, honestly, have loved this: I have been able to write my essays on God’s grace and mercy.  I have been able to commune with John Donne (my love) and attend lectures on religion in the Elizabethan era.  I was assigned Augustine for reading.  But a few weeks ago, our class on Calvinism hit me like a load of bricks.

Let me first clarify.  The class was on 17th century Calvinism, and it brought up a lot of uncomfortable things.  Calvin believed that man’s free will would cheapen God’s sovereignty, and so God controls everyone; he also chooses his elect and rejects the reprobate on seemingly arbitrary whim.  Because of this, you can never really know if you’ve been saved or not, and you can never know if you’re going to heaven or to hell.  According to Calvin, God even causes the rejected to feel like they have experienced God’s grace and Spirit.

This mentality wreaked havoc on the people of the time period.  They assumed God was punishing them for sins or for their own reprobate status; people even convinced themselves that, although they believed in Christ, they were still going to hell.  I’m not saying this was Calvin’s intention; I’m just saying that regardless, this is how it was taken by people of the 17th century.

Can God fairly and justly punish someone who He controls completely? This is when I realized that my greatest fear is not a nonexistent God; my greatest fear is that the universe is ruled by a cruel and arbitrary tyrant.

Do I believe this? I don’t think so.  If God were not good then our idea of order and justice and morality would be a sham, and the fabric of the universe would unravel.  Do I wrestle with questions I will never be able to answer on this earth? Yes, constantly.

The reactions of my classmates were telling.  They responded to the cruelty of Calvinism in a way that triggered their moral outrage, their sense of right and wrong.  And perhaps we can cite this same sense as evidence of a loving and justice-seeking God.  God, of course, does not have to follow the rules we make up for him.  But my heart sank as they spoke of these concepts as nonsense and rubbish, as they conflated this with Christianity and with Christ himself.

I cannot believe they are the same thing.

The constant fear of hell that Calvin expresses is not Biblical. Romans 10:13 tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”; 1 John 3:19-20 that “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” We have assurance in Christ – John has even written: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  We are confident and assured – we know.

But I still came out of that class with a realization: regardless of Calvin, and regardless of what others believe, people will still go to hell.

It haunted me for days. It still is, honestly.  That day I sent frustrated messages to my parents as I tried to reconcile these concepts of agency and sovereignty.  I sat on my bed at the thought that my classmates, the strangers I pass on the street, the homeless man on the corner, the musicians behind each song I listen to, the friends I share my life with – that they could all be barred from heaven.  And I wept.

I think this is the proper response.  A friend told me that when we draw close to the heart of God, we become grieved for the same things He grieves for.

I don’t know how all of this works.  I hate that people have to go to hell.  I don’t understand how, if God can harden people’s hearts to keep the Israelites in slavery or soften them to accept the Holy Spirit, he can’t just do this for every human being on earth.  I have heard of dream-vision conversions, and I can’t understand why God will not send them to every living person on this earth.

But I trust him, and I think that this deep, heaving grief is also God’s response when we refuse him.  I think that free will has to exist, because without it, love cannot.  Without it, we have no choice to accept or reject.  But I trust God because I believe these things about him: that He is sovereign, and that He is good.

I trust that I cannot fathom the idea of hell as he can. I trust that he, as the ruler of the universe, knows better than I do.

I’m sorry if this feels like a cop-out.  I know it must.  But the simple truth is that I do not understand, I will not understand, and I will mourn.  And as we follow these truths out to their logical conclusions – as we struggle with these things – we act on where they take us.

We cannot simply weep over the non-Christians in our life and in our world.  We cannot mourn them as though they have already been damned.  There is hope for every human being in Christ, and we are mandated to share it: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

This is the scariest part.  There is a piece of me that does not want to post this, because if I do, I become a hypocrite if I don’t tell others of the grace and glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.  So that’s probably a good reason to put it up here.

I will confess that I feel uncomfortable telling other people about Jesus.  I’m scared they will avoid me, and I’m scared they will shy away from preaching and proselytizing.  I’m terrified.  But I can’t hold my own discomfort as more valuable than the lives of my brothers and sisters.  If you love someone – really love someone – you are compelled to show them the cure for eternal death.  Penn Jillette, an atheist, says this:

“If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

I know this is really heavy.  It’s been weighing me down.  But to forget would be folly.

My fellow Christians: hold me accountable.

My non-Christian friends:  I love you so dearly.  I do not want you to die.  I love you deeply, and that is why I tell you this:

We’re sinful.  When God gave us everything, including our very lives, we rebelled against him.  We chose death.  But God does not want us dead.  God is love itself, and God enacted this plan – he saw us in our suffering and sent us a remedy.  Jesus came to earth as God in human-skin so that he could take the penalty that we deserved.  He died – God took on the pain and death of humanity – for love of us.  We’re humans, we’re nothing compared to an eternal God – and yet he loved us.

He rose again from death, he defeated death itself.  For you.  And here’s the deal, now – we are offered grace.  We are offered redemption and future perfection and life with a wonderful and life-giving God.  If we take him up on the offer, we have to give up some of our idols and sins.  We have to serve God instead of our friends or careers or desire for money or fame or pleasure.

But it’s worth it.  I can’t express how much it is worth it, how content you can be when your worth is derived from the love God has for you instead of from your own accomplishments.

Ask me about this.  Tell me how weird this sounds, how improbable it is, tell me honestly what you think and why you cannot consider it.  I’ll tell you how much it’s worth it.

Peace, my friends.  Thanks for sticking this one out.

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being human

[being human: the presence]

In my last post, I talked about the dangerous way in which paranormal romances overemphasize the other-ness of characters who aren’t human.  This time, we’re going to look at the flip side, focusing on the way that relatable super-human characters struggle to stay human.

Because the best stories with inhuman characters remind us what it truly means to be human.

The idea really struck me as I sat in front of the biggest movie theater screen of my life, watching the newest incarnation of Superman battle it out against General Zod.  My thoughts about Man of Steel’s wasted potential are another story; I came out of it dwelling on a single thing – Clark Kent’s humanity.  I’m fully aware that Superman is about the farthest you could possibly get from a human being; however, this movie really made me realize that, at the heart of it all, Superman was raised as a human.  He might be an alien, but he grew up in Kansas.  And it’s his humanity that saves him.

This movie, and so many modern renditions of superheroes, has focused not on the powers, but on the flaws.  Modern-day superheroes can’t do everything.  As comics have progressed from the Golden Age, they’ve gotten progressively darker, more brooding, and grittier.  Our heroes become flawed.

Superman still has to save the day, but during the battle scenes, we flip back and forth between him and all of the normal human beings struggling to survive an apocalyptic scenario.  His powers do not ensure his survival – Zod has what he has physically.  The difference? Superman thinks – and feels – as a human being.  Zod wants to be a god.  Superman doesn’t, and because of this, he can become a bridge between two worlds.

The concept of a character that is at once man and another creature is not new.  I have a confession: I have watched entirely too much Teen Wolf lately.  Please shoot me a message if you need me to defend this show to you (I know it looks awful).

At its surface, Teen Wolf is a show about a high schooler who gets bitten by a werewolf and inherits all sorts of powers and problems.  As it progresses, though, you realize that the main character, Scott, isn’t the only hero (and doesn’t even become one for at least a season).  Everyone who supports him, protects him, and reminds him of his human-ness keeps the show going – especially his best friend, Stiles.

From the very start, I recognized Stiles as the true hero of the show, the way that the supportive Samwise Gamgee is the true hero of Lord of the Rings.  In a show full of supernatural creatures, werewolves, and werewolf hunters, Stiles stands at the center, fully human.  He can’t do any of the things that his friends can do – and that’s why the show needs him to keep everyone anchored.  His weapons are his sarcastic wit, his loyalty, his kindness, and his bravery.  Even though he is so much more fragile than the rest of the characters, he keeps up with his friends, reminding them of their humanity and risking his own life for their sakes.  He is the one who consistently pulls Scott back from the brink of animalistic abandon, reminding him who he is and reminding him the reason to remember to be human.  The toll it takes on him is severe as he struggles with panic attacks and massive stress.  And that really makes him braver than everyone else, because he has so much more to fear.

Our new supernatural heroes might need someone to encourage them in their power; however, more than this, they need someone to pull them back and keep them human.  We don’t want to look up to our heroes anymore; we want to relate to them.  We want to see them struggle with the power that they have and see that, beneath it all, they are a human being given a mantle.  We want to look at them and wonder, what would I do in this situation?

This is why something like Twilight has it backwards.  The whole time, Bella idolizes Edward.  She wants to love him, but more than that, she wants to be like him.  And in the end, if I’m not mistaken, she gives up her very soul­ – the most human, eternal, God-given capacity we have – to turn into a different creature entirely.  She sees nothing in human beings.  But even though we’re fallen, broken, fragile things, there is still something ultimately beautiful in being human.

I wondered for a long time if I was wrong about this.  I know that we have fallen into sin.  We work evil and tend toward selfish actions.  We’re traitors, living in darkness and choosing fear, pain, and death.  On our own, we cannot do anything at all.

All of this is true.  And yet, we have been created in the image of the eternal God.  At the start of all things, God once called us very good.  Wisdom says in Proverbs 8 that, at the creation of the world, she

“was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.”

And although we have fallen, each of us holds in our hearts the potential to be restored.  And that’s a humanity that should be protected.  Eric Metaxes explains it in his biography, Bonhoeffer:

“It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny.  It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom – that was what it was to obey God… Earthly bliss and humanity belong to God, not in any cramped ‘religious’ sense, but in the fully human sense.  Bonhoeffer was a champion of God’s idea of humanity, a humanity that He invented and, by participating in it through the incarnation, that He redeemed.”

Jesus didn’t become human just to try it out, or because of anything good that we’ve brought about.  He came to redeem us and restore us, and the rest of his creation, to its former place.  Superman was conceived of as a messianic; how much better is the way that our God has become human to save the world and bridge our way!  Our very human-ness can become something lovely when tempered to God’s plan.  We have the capacity to see beautiful things and understand that something meaningful hums beneath them.  We were created with human bodies and human souls, and God delights in us when we serve Him (more).  What a word delight is!

Being human means having to serve something.  It means being weak and unable.  To be human is to be vulnerable.  Unlike Stiles, who tries to provide for his friends out of his own strength, it means relying on something else.  I had a long talk with my dear friend after she got back from Togo, and she told me several stories that will stick with me.  Her tour guide had told her that his grandfather, like many of the people there, was an animist, worshipping different gods who gave him the power to do terrible things, like force people into the ground.  I’ve heard similar stories from people in Burma, whose relatives could see creatures or levitate objects.  That’s the thing about Satan – he makes people feel powerful when really they become enslaved by him.  and here’s the interesting part; when these people become Christians, they have to give up all that demonic power.  In Christ, they don’t have supernatural powers.  The things they do (healing, etc) are not done in their own power, but in the name of Jesus.  In Jesus, they are called to be utterly human and vulnerable, having to rely on God for their strength.

In a way, being human means being shackled down by all of our flaws, confusion, and powers that turn out to be burdens.  But it also means being given the ability to be free, the ability to search for truth and to desire real relationship and real beauty.  It means having the chance to choose rightly, and having the chance to be utterly restored by a God who created us in His own image in the first place.  We are weak; but our weakness is God’s strength.

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Read this:  Romans 8:9-11 (here)

Stories warning against playing God: Superman, Jurassic Park, Frankenstein

rest

Spring Break is finally here, and I know that it’s going to run through my fingers like water, but before that happens, I’m going to try to be nourished a little bit.  It’s good to be home, especially after the craziness of the first half of the semester.  This was the most needed break I’ve ever encountered.  I was sick for exam week last week (as I always seem to be), and after the staying up too lates and the studying for exams but not maybe enoughs and general exhaustion… I was immensely ready for Spring Break to start.  Coming from the ice to the sun was startling.

Much of the time, I use this as an excuse.  “I’m tired” is my knee-jerk response to anyone’s “Are you okay?”, even if it isn’t entirely true.  And often I justify my own laziness by telling myself that I really need the rest.

And here’s where it gets so confusing for me, because I can never quite draw that line between merited and lazy excuse.  I always have something to do.  Even if I ignore it with outward laziness and the procrastination of watching too much TV, my insides are twisted and fighting with each other.  Even if I don’t have something to do, I’ve got something to do.  School projects are queued in my head in a different line than personal ones, and there’s always a story I should be working on, a goal I shouldn’t have missed, things I should have done.

It’s a hard mental balance for me, but I’m trying to learn, and I’m trying to slide that scale somewhere in between apathetic procrastination and frustrated perfectionism; between extroversion and the life of a hermit.  What often happens is that I end up staying up much later than my body can deal with because procrastinate homework, try to keep up with my own writing (in this and in stories), and eventually do that same work.  I’m trying to limn.

We need rest.

We need to take breaks to refresh ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually.  I should have learned this long ago.  Physically speaking, I am prone to sickness, and I need more actual rest and sleep than many people.  I keep trying to push myself past that, but I need to stop and take care of myself.

Spiritually speaking, I need it even more.  The Holy Spirit will never deny you peace if you ask Him for it, but I must remember to ask.  The most common excuse for not praying or reading my Bible is “I’m too busy”.  But even Jesus went off by himself in order to pray and be renewed (Luke 5:16).

And here’s the thing.  It may take up more of your time than you think you can spare.  But there comes a moment when rest becomes the priority, because you are no good to anyone killing yourself over your work, whatever it is.  The “wasted time” that periodic rest takes up is small in comparison to what will happen if you burn yourself out.

It happens all the time, especially with artists of any sort.  The manic sort of focus on your work can be good, to a degree.  Constant desire to create is comforting and wonderful, but you have to balance it with the rest of your life.  God himself rested! And then put the Sabbath into place – not for us to follow the rules, but for us to have a set time of not working.  Sure, maybe I use my exhaustion as an excuse to be lazy sometimes.  But I think it’s better to give yourself room to breathe.  

So, no.  I probably won’t finish that play I’ve been working on this week.  And that’s okay.

On my way home, I encountered a group of guys on their way to an infinitely more needed break.  My friends and I hung out with a group of young soldiers who were all going home briefly before they headed off to their different assignments.  We talked while we waited for our delayed flights, and they told us that they were the military’s “truck drivers”.  Their group often drives over the IEDs.

And after complaining of my own tiredness for so long, this was a paradigm shift.  Talk about perspective.  I don’t know what will happen to them, and I don’t think I’ll see them again, but I will pray that they enjoy their short rest now and be able to find rest even in the midst of such hard lives.

In conclusion?  Sleep!  Rest!  Take time to step back and renew yourself for whatever you will create in the future.  I’m going to spend some time with God, my family, my friends, and my books.

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P.S.  Help, I’m still listening to Bastille… to use their wording, they’re properly mental.