Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Is Happening to Social Media?

Every time I'm puzzling over something in my life, I find myself asking, "is this a real thing, or simply a product of my age (as in the amount of time I've been alive)?" It's no secret that I enjoy and frequently use social media, but the entire foundation seems to be shifting, and so is my attitude toward it. 

I've been a huge fan of Facebook from the beginning because it lends itself to the written word, and that is where I am most comfortable. For a long time, that's where the majority of my friends and acquaintances went to engage on the internet. I was too young (or too not-hip) for MySpace, no one I knew used Twitter, and I found Snapchat to be incredibly confusing (and redundant). I've been blogging for over a decade now, but "blogging has been dead" for at least half that time, according to plenty of people. I was very excited to join Instagram when I finally got a smartphone (circa 2013) and I've enjoyed it ever since, but in my circle of friends, IG is used infrequently, at best. 

In the past several months, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, InStyle Magazine, and Vogue have all undergone facelifts, ranging from minor to major, but mostly major. I've liked some of the changes - InStyle's layout is sleeker, and even though it's a total ripoff of Snapchat, I love IG stories because it helps personalize Instagram and it virtually eliminates the need for Snapchat. IG stories also provide some of the day-to-day sounding off that I enjoy about Facebook. (artwork by Sofia Bonati)

On the other hand, Instagram's new algorithm is *POOP EMOJI*, particularly for my business accounts on Instagram, as is Facebook's latest algorithm, which I've heard unbelievably little about considering how poorly thought out it is. I've been pretty much fine with every other change Facebook has made - new layouts take a few days to get the hang of, but that's never tripped me up in the past. Similarly, I've rarely been against algorithms. I understand that it's unsettling to some people to have the internet get "smart" about who you are and what you like and then market to you accordingly, but I'd rather see ads for things I'm interested in than random ads if I have to see ads at all (which you pretty much do, unless you're paying extra not to see any). What I don't like about algorithms (I think everyone agrees on this) is not having control over what I like because a computer thinks it knows better than I do. 

This brings me to the latest Facebook algorithm which is stunningly bad, in my opinion. I had heard snippets about "seeing more friends and less news" which I support, if we're talking about promoted posts and stuff like that, but I actually used Facebook as my newsfeed for friends AND actual news. I follow a lot of news outlets and businesses that I want to keep up with because they either have no other platform on which they operate (Instagram is rough for non-visual businesses) or else I don't want to go searching the web every day or go to individual websites - I just can't remember all of that from day to day. Facebook allowed me to have most everything I intake online (which is a lot) in one place (that place not being my email spam folder - p.s. who even uses email any more?!) and I'm very disgruntled that that has been taken away from me. 

I do like seeing what my friends are up to on Facebook (mostly), but the new algorithm is completely wacky. I know you all have experienced this because I asked about it on Facebook (lol), but what is going on with seeing the same handful of posts at the top of your feed for 1-2 days? It only took me 5 seconds to read it, so why does it need to stay in view? 

So, am I just getting old and pining after "the way things used to be", or is social media really in a rut right now?  What is this obsession with constantly reinventing social media? Is it simply to stay competitive with other social media? The result I'm seeing is that people, including myself, are using social media less because of it, and that makes me panic as a friend and a communicator. 

I love the internet because it allows me to keep in touch with people I know who are literally all over the world, but what's the point if none of my friends actually use social media? As a sometimes-writer and general generator/sharer of stuff, I slump at the reality that how hard I work to promote my work is meaningless when up against algorithms. A computer is deciding whether my words and thoughts matter enough to be seen by others instead of other people getting to decide whether or not what I write is interesting to them. 

This makes me sad and anxious and I don't know what to do about it. 
That's really all I have to say... 
If you work in Silicon Valley, please fix this. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Instagrammies 7/28

More of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow, without further ado:

@introvertdoodles The name says it all. If you are an introvert, you will find your people on this account. I always went to bed before the other girls at sleepovers and asked to sleep in a different room.

@psychedeliccoven I'm very into psychedelic art for the foreseeable eternity. My one complaint
with this account is that they don't cite their sources/artists, which is kind of a massive downside, but I still begrudgingly love basically every photo.

I wish I was one of the @70sbabes. That is all.

Husband and wife painting duo (met via IG!) @kit_king and @oda.paints (also at @oda_and_king) amaze me. I follow all three accounts, but this one from Corey Oda really grabbed me.

Stacey Bendet is the lady behind the fashion label Alice + Olivia @aliceandolivia. I don't know a ton about the label, but her personal style is crazy good. Bonus: she does insane yoga.

@elizabethpawle has me won over to this whole yarn textile craze that I'm otherwise hesitant about (can we stop knitting white tassel triangles and using a stick to hang it on the wall now?). Her work reminds me of adult coloring books (also getting annoying) but with more commitment.

@antolpo is an account of beautifully made COOKIES. Yes, this is a cookie. I would never eat it, I would just stick it under a glass dome and stare at it. I'm especially fond of all the Japanese themes going on in this feed.

So much going on at @tunabake and I love it ALL. She's an illustrator with great personal style as well as a myriad of fantastic creative projects she's working on. What you'll see most of is her illustration-a-day, each of a women from history (mini history lesson included) - this one is of Dorothy Hodgkin. I can't wait to see the one she does on my birthday! I think I'm on the verge of worshiping this woman...

@chubbychinesegirleats is a handle to rival the best of them (in China, being chubby is traditionally a good thing) , and she happens to be a very impressive hashtagger too. Best of all, she posts the most amazing pictures of food of the variety I want to eat (creative, often asian). I follow a lot of food accounts, and this one always stops me in my tracks. This picture was captioned: "Chubby Mama's shanghainese fried dough stuffed "meatball" #homecooking Steamed with soy sauce. A burst of juicy umami."

And finally, what's an instagram roundup without some hippie shibori with a compound brand name? ;) I want all the things from @serpentandbow. I also learned from their account that you can use loquat leaves to dye stuff pink! I'll probably never utilize that info, but I'm still pretty stoked about it. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

15 Ways that Millennials are Killing It (In a Good Way)

I haven't been able to avoid the general feeling that 2016 is a pretty heavy year so far. As some funny person on Twitter said, "has anyone tried unplugging this year for 10 seconds and plugging it back in?" I've joined the ranks of doomsday predictors when it comes to American politics. But I can't change the fact that this is the time I live in, and I do have the opportunity to find the advantages to that. When things get harder, the treasure hunt is more rewarding, you feel me?

 (not everything is amazing, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a lot of stuff is)

I understand why people might deduce, from a steady diet of Beiber and Miley and the Jenners, that millennials are lazy, self absorbed, and whatever else people think of us. But I would love it if people stopped painting an entire generation with such a broad brush. As my dad said the other day, how would Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers feel if kids were always coming up to them and saying stuff like, "woah, you have a phone? I thought you were too old and dumb to know how to use that". It's rude.

Growing up right now makes plenty of people feel the urge to go into hiding, but it also empowers some of us to be innovative. It would be helpful if millennial-bashers recognized that "innovation", by definition, means that the way we come at the world will be different than the way the past generation (or 2) saw things when they were 25.

We have a lot to overcome, and a lot of it is in need of overcoming thanks to mistakes made by previous generations, so it's pretty frustrating to be told we're trying to fix it "wrong" all the time. Extreme times require extreme ideas, so I don't think we're a particularly gentle or passive bunch. Gun violence and extremism are normal for us. Life is increasingly expensive (except when the USPS dropped stamped prices recently, WUTT?!) and opportunity itself has become expensive. Rampant social inequality is normal, as is extreme weather. It feels disheartening much of the time.

If anything, I have a respect complex where I think older people are right-er than me by virtue of age alone, but today I've gotta say, if you can't help, just stop hindering. Apologies if quoting Bob Dylan is a massive cliche, but I just can't believe how relevant this song feels right now (all the verses!).

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

I watched this amazing talk by Adam Conover a while back, and if you want to understand the Millennial world (he even addresses that awful TIME article from 2013 that I also ranted about a few years ago), please watch it. The main take away is that Millennials don't exist. I exist, you exist, but "Millennial" is just a label slapped on to a vague bracket of years. I get it, we want to put labels on stuff. I love labeling stuff (especially with that little machine that makes stickers). It helps us divide up our lives and it's EASIER than not labeling stuff. But not at the cost of dehumanizing people who will eventually control your future. Shouldn't we be encouraging our rising leaders instead of trying to crush them at every turn? Even so, I'm going to continue using the label to point out positives if others insist on using it negatively.

I'm especially tired of hearing millennials be the subject of cautionary tales from the pulpit. Way to engage "the godless generation".... A big reason that millennials aren't particularly engaged in the Church is that the Church feels largely irrelevant to the issues we're facing. Jesus is by no means irrelevant, but the Church has lost touch in many ways, and if millennials are anything, they're very sensitive to what matters and passionate about what is real. I would like to clarify, in the words of Pope Francis, "The Church must say it is sorry for not having behaved as it should many times — when I say 'the Church,' I mean we Christians because the Church is holy; we are the sinners."

Technically, the window for Millennials has closed. Kids being born today are a part of a new label. I'm pretty squarely in the middle of the Millennials, but I'm less and less sure that I have my finger on the pulse of the main things that characterize what's hip and "now". Even so, I decided to make a list of all things that millennials do better or things I love about being in my mid-20s in this era.

Resourcefulness. Gardens on rooftops and bee farms in the middle of cities, apps that let you buy dinner from a good cook in your building, platforms for buying and selling secondhand clothing, building houses out of shipping containers. Uncertain economic times aren't always comfy, but they do make for a sturdy generation of people.

The comeback of Radio. Radio has had a major revival in the past 5 years. I largely equate radio with podcasts, but NPR is still going strong on the actual radio too. There's been a lot of innovation with the return of live drama on the radio like We Are Alive, in depth investigation on the radio like Serial, and public story telling like the Moth or This American Life. The quality of the information is often superior to news on TV, and you can access it almost anywhere in the country with the simplest of technology. I love the fact that being on the radio is a dream job for some people again.

A new brand of missionary. This one is obviously specific to believers and I don't have a great sense of all the facets of it, but I do know more and more people who are missionaries in a very different sense than missionaries of the past century. I think the idea that we're all missionaries no matter where we are is growing, and young Americans who are believers see the US as their mission field just as much as a foreign country. Missions seems less focused on Westernization and more focused on serving. I'm sure that is somewhat unfair to previous generations who did wonderful things for missions, but I feel much more attuned to wherever this new kind of missions work is headed.

Vintage revival. There's a Death Cab for Cutie song that starts, "she may be young, but she only likes old things". I don't know if it's just because I deal in vintage, but there seems to be this yearning for old stuff these days, partly because it seemed like a more honest time of manufacturing in both labor (in some regards) and product value. I think it's wonderful to recycle and cherish old things instead of consuming more new things. Nostalgia is both a respectful nod to the past and a promise to leave a lighter footprint on the future.

The rebellious spirit. I don't think any millennials are comfortable. And that's a good thing for everyone. We are entrepreneurs, questioners, dissenters, and rabble rousers. Some of us (so far not me) are willing to leave our homes and get in the street for causes we care about. I actually think we're a very compassionate generation, and it makes us a little volatile. Social media allows us to wear our hearts on our sleeve, and plenty of us do. Sure, we say some stupid stuff online, but at least we're not afraid to have conversations that matter with anyone who is willing to listen.

Long live print. They said print was dead, but millennials love nothing better than proving the Man wrong. There has been a resurgence of niche print publications, and many of them thrive! I mean, they cost like $17 an issue (not exaggerating) but people buy them, because the content is valuable and the pages feel wonderful and the photos are taken with love and careful attention. It's so nice to have that sort of media in a world of clanging symbols and gongs and immediate access to gossip and horror online.

Appreciation of food, nature, gardening, ruggedness, etc. This might be related the DIY movement? I'm pretty bad at DIY stuff when it comes to crafts or building stuff, but I am proud to have lots of hobbies that I'm good at. I can cook my own food, I can grow my own plants, I can identify a lot of plants in the wild, etc. Some of the millennial love for food, yoga, and homesteading borders on idolization, but I think the roots of this movement are solid. Food IS beautiful and I love to see it treated as artwork and elevated beyond a basic need. I think millennials are good at celebrating the things we love, and that is an excellent trait.

Community building, online and in person. For all the craptastic people mouthing off on the internet, there are some real winners as well. The internet lets you find people you identify with, no matter where you are in the world or what you're into, and it also puts you in touch with people who may be very different than you that you would never have run across otherwise. Millennials don't have stranger danger, which can go badly sometimes, but for the most part, I think it's a plus. Some of the smartest, coolest people I know are people I met online, and when it comes to parenting, online communities are probably the single greatest resource and confidence booster/teacher I've found. When it comes to in-person community, I think there's this huge trend (out of necessity and desire, both) toward drawing on one another's strengths and helping one another with weaknesses. Don't get me wrong, living with other people is hard, but sharing food, sharing space, and sharing bills stretches and strengthens us in ways that highly independent people don't benefit from.

The strengthening of families. Real families are messy, and they also take a lot of attention to properly nourish. There are a lot of broken families in this world, but I think we're also seeing this resurgence of young people placing a really high priority on the well-being of the family unit. Single parents adopting, stay-at-home dads, involved grandparents, close sibling relationships in adulthood - not all of these things are specific to millennials, but family is very important to us and statistically, we spend more time with our kids than the previous generation. One of my favorite things is the increasingly normalcy of dads caring for children and sharing more of the parenting burdens, whether that means supporting working moms or doing more housework or taking charge of their kid's schedules. It's about time we saw a generation of present, responsible dads. I'm confident that we'll be the generation that makes sure that mothers and fathers get adequate leave after a baby is born and starts treating parents like invaluable members of society instead of burdens.

Celebration of the offbeat. Being funky or different is encouraged (to an extent). Modern times are a nerd paradise. Every imaginable random mash-up of niche interests can come true, like Golden Girls Legos. If it doesn't already exist, you can probably have it custom made. Some people consider the hipster hallmark of glorifying obscurity to be obnoxious, but that's only true if you're snobby about it and get upset if other people try and like the same thing you like. Having bizarre hobbies and then being able to realistically pursue them is awesome.

Efficiency. Millennials don't want to wait for things. There are downsides to this trait, of course, with patience being a virtue and all, but think of all the apps and services that are available now that allow us to cut down on time doing mundane stuff so that we have more time to do important stuff. And by important stuff, I largely mean things like investing in relationships or recreation. I think we get caught up in busyness easily, but we also have the option to optimize our time spent on responsibilities such that we have time to relax and enjoy the things around us. Multi-tasking is so easy to do well these days - we can talk to friends or listen to books or the news while we drive or cook or clean. We can remote control our sprinklers and our door locks and every other imaginable thing. I'm just waiting for this trait to take care of traffic in LA...

Crowd Sourcing. I'm not very confident about Democracy anymore, but I do believe in crowd sourcing. We already have amazing opportunities to pay producers of goods or services directly for what we want or what we would like them to invent. I love the hive-mentality of millennials and the idea that if you don't have what you need, someone else does and you need only ask for it. Kickstarter and Fiverr come to mind, but can you imagine how it would be if we could crowd source politics? On the one hand, terrifying, because Donald Trump. On the other hand, we could prioritize our social programs by choosing where our taxes went. Don't like how much the military spends destroying other countries but wish your kid's school had art classes or the road to work wasn't full of potholes? Pay the same percentage of taxes, but make it go to places that you care about.

We are really funny. I love to laugh, and laughs are always available in this day and age. Granted, there are plenty of bad jokes or jokes made too soon in situations that are serious, but good humor helps us see the absurdity of life in the midst of challenges and it's good at pointing out truths or half-truths that we may not be able to see on our own. It's a pretty non-threatening way to challenge social inequality and other genuinely sad and wrong parts of life. I think that joking is more a part of American identity than we realize, and it fascinates me to note the differences or lack of humor in some other cultures.

(we found this especially funny after a recent possum sighting in our yard)

Long-distance education. We have access to pretty much any knowledge from anywhere in the world. I love a face-to-face classroom, but it hasn't really been a practical in my life thus far. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to study at night from home. Like I said, there are some parts of in-person school that I think can't be replaced, but online education is relatively affordable and easy access to education can only be a good thing for all of us. It drives me crazy as much as I love it, knowing that I don't know the half of what is available to me. There are vast libraries accessible online, free lectures from Ivy League schools, archives of many magazines and newspapers, TED Talks for day, etc. etc. Also, Youtube, which I have barely utilized so far and my cousin's employer, Again, I don't really know how to use it yet, but just knowing that I have access to most of humanity's knowledge is pretty fantastic. It almost takes the sting out of losing the Library of Alexandria. Almost. Just wait until we hook up virtual reality with education.

Excellent TV. Movies have been alright, but we are in a golden age of Television right now. There is way, way more quality story-telling going on than I have time to consume, and I assume the same is true for everyone else. There's something for everyone on right now, and it's very easy to access. I think there are still improvements to be made in TV culture, but diversity and experimentation and boundary pushing is gaining a toehold and I think it enriches our lives, honestly. I view television and movies as the modern equivalent of sitting around the fire handing down legends way back in the day. Think about it: TV is something that we can all talk about together and we get to live through all of these characters vicariously. Good TV makes us question aspects of ourselves and I find that a well-told story (in this case, a visual one) transports me into this whole other universe and has the power to shift my emotional state. It makes me excited to have the ability to manipulate words and tell stories because it's the power to change minds and hearts in a way that we're open to. Stories are harmless on the surface, but they very much weave themselves into our cultural fabric. Some of my favorite shows recently: Peaky Blinders, Newsroom, Orange is the New Black, Hannibal, Parts Unknown, Mind of a Chef, Call the Midwife, Master of None. Shows I'd really like to watch: [the new] Roots, Vinyl, Masters of Sex, the Knick, Penny Dreadful, the forthcoming Baz Luhrman show that's a take on West Side Story (!!!), and loads of others.

Bonus points: Our Pope is more legit. What an unexpected breath of fresh of air.

Are you a Millennial? A parent of a Millennial? A Millennial with children who are also Millennials? Tell me, what are the advantages that you see? 

Monday, June 20, 2016

An American Nightmare

I feel this storm brewing inside me, but it's lopsided, like a scatter-brained tornado. It starts to gather force and bare down, only to switch courses, dissipate into several little dust devils, and try again another day. So much in my life feels unstable right now, but I can't always put my finger on what aspect most needs attention such that all the others will begin to settle as well. 

My mom is a social worker and recently described a client of hers as having "existential depression". I'm plenty familiar with what depression is, but I asked her what the existential distinction meant, and she described this person as viewing Life as a game which he has lost. In order to avoid losing this game, he decides not to play. Man, I feel you. (image)

I hate reading articles about depression, because I never want to realize that I might have been going through a stretch without realizing it. LIKE I ALWAYS DO. I am what you might call a high-functioning occasionally depressed person, which makes it feel like lying or whining to say that "I can't see past the darkness, and I can't fix it". I even saw a headline that said "depressed mothers are almost never able to put their children first" and something inside me wanted to scream. I can not afford to drown in my own life or even the sorrows of the world at large when I have two precious and vulnerable people to love. Get behind me, Satan.

I have flicked my tongue in the ice cream bowl of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and found that it has no bottom. I'm sickened with awareness of all the truths I have no access to, tomorrow's shooting that I can't predict, and the hopelessness of pinning justice on culprits. I feel my desire for this knowledge and this justice stabbing in the dark, hoping to touch something solid. I am mummied by my smallness in the grand scheme of everything.

A big factor in this instability I've been feeling is a result of a history class I recently finished. I read about several historical events that I considered to be of major impact concerning the integrity of the United States as a nation that I'd never heard spoken of before in text books or classrooms or conversations. Apart from the invasion of Iraq, I would guess that 90% of my peers have never heard of these events or the US's handling of them either. I'm sure that part of this is because many things happened before I was born, but I'm also coming to grips with the realization that this country may never have been Great in the way that I thought it was, even though I have been more skeptical than most from the beginning. 

I feel that I have fallen captive to my own station, age, and place in life. I can't see anything other than what my outlook presents to me, and even when I can break through once in a strawberry moon, it only serves to make me schizophrenicly aware of how little I know. Sometimes truths flit across my screen or occur before me in broad daylight and I think, "this is too sad or obvious not to be news already" or "making a big deal of this makes me a loud nuisance" or "believing that this is real shapes me into a conspiracy theorist", so I move along to something clearer, sharper, bigger.

I can't carry the weight of every secret, but my keen awareness of the existence of ruinous secrets that I can't access makes it harder for me to trust anything. I know that I need not trust anything or anyone but my Savior, but I'm refusing to stop playing this Life game that I can never win. We are called to be in the world and not of it, but how can I even be in this world if I don't know what it is that I'm "in" anymore? Reality feels like a corridor of funhouse distortion mirrors. 

It has been very difficult for me to believe that politicians (and people in general) lie as much as I'm told they do. When I've heard, "well, he/she is a politician, afterall..." or "you can't believe anything you hear from the media", etc., I've always thought that was incredibly cynical. As humans, it is impossible to be completely objective in all circumstances, even if we witness something with our own eyes. 

Yet, there's a level of corruption in our media and our government that up until now, I've just refused to believe is anything but an occasional fluke. I thought critics of the response to Benghazi were just picking a fight, I thought Chris Christy and his staff closing that bridge was too ridiculous to be true, I thought there was something that must be missing to the story that would make a 6-month jail sentence for Brock Turner make sense. Instead, people in charge really do lie and really are petty and really do try and cover their own bums to progress in their careers. None of us are perfect, but even one lie tears a big hole, and there are more holes than fabric left in my worldview. 

Part of the ringing in my ears has to do with the futility of cutting through all the noise we/the media make on a daily basis, on top of scandals themselves. "The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking 'Is this relevant?' or 'Do we really need to cover this live?' in the rush toward ratings bonanzas....And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic." (source)

I feel this so acutely, but the alternative to ignoring the news and the internet is to stop playing Life. Instead, I have to run faster and faster to stay in the game, and I'm more and more confused by what the rules are. Perhaps it's not that the trivial things in the news are not true, just that it becomes impossible to weigh and intake what important truths are, which gives one a sense of mistrust which is only compounded by the fact that many of the things we read - or parts of things we read -  are untrue, and it's very difficult to verify the facts.

Did you know that the US has been at war for 222 of its 239 years (counting from 1776)? That fact on its own is not inherently bad, though to me it suggests that we've been swift to arms for our entire life as a country. In the case of our recent war with Iraq, the US invaded Iraq in the name of deposing Saddam Husayn, which I'm sure was a genuine objective of the invasion, but Iraq had recently annexed Kuwait, and the tension threatened to cut off access to oil in the region which would have been economically disastrous for the US. 

I find that to be a despicable reason to wage war, but even if we overlook that, the US bombed Iraq for days and days and days, despite having wiped out the Iraqi military's capacity to retaliate on the first day. Instead of killing Saddam (which I would dispute the right of the US to do in the first place), they laid waste to an entire country, which ended ordinary life for the entire population of Iraq and severely impacted the refugee crisis that was already going on in the region.

I wouldn't quote textbooks at you if I didn't think it was really important. Since my entire point is that it's really difficult to decipher what is true, I'm trying to cite someone more authoritative than myself to provide as close to factual truth as I can manage. This is some more detail about what I described above, written by William Cleveland.
Throughout the Arab world, the Gulf crisis generated anxiety and ambivalence. Although Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait was generally condemned, the arrival of a major US military force to reverse the occupation was extremely unpopular. The US intervention tapped a deep source of Arab resentment that focused on the United States’ double standard in the Middle East. Arabs noted that though Washington was quick to enforce UN resolutions against Iraq, it had not tried to compel Israel to obey UN resolutions pertaining to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 
By concentrating on the figure of Husayn, the US administration gained popular support for military action directed against a ruthless individual ruler without having to explain the possible impact of such a war on the people of Iraq. Behind the rhetoric about the liberation of Kuwait and the cruelty of Husayn lay a more practical motive for military action. The rulers of the Arab Gulf states provided the United States and Europe with dependable access to reasonably priced oil. From the perspective of the Western oil-consuming nations, the stability of the Arab Gulf monarchies and their continued willingness to sell oil to the West were essential to Western economic well-being. Moreover, the Gulf rulers’ practice of reinvesting their oil profits in the West was vital to the health of the Western economies. 
Evidence released after the war revealed that US reports grossly inflated the size and the abilities of the Iraqi military in order to justify the massive force deployed against Iraq. The Iraqi conscript troops who had managed to survive the bombings were poorly supplied and thoroughly demoralized.

Beyond getting into things for dishonorable reasons, the US has a less-than-well-publicized record of making a massive mess and then not cleaning it up or apologizing. Two examples are nuclear testing in Micronesia and Iran Air flight 665

In the first example, the US detonated a H-bomb for testing purposes during the Cold War on an island called Bikini Atoll, from which they evacuated about 170 indigenous islanders beforehand. However, they did not warn surrounding islands, which woke up to 2 inches of radioactive dust on all surfaces, including sources of drinking water. Within hours, children and adults were experiencing extreme signs of radiation exposure, but it took the US government 2 days to begin treating and evacuating people. The islands have been uninhabitable ever since, and the islanders were ferried from one temporary camp to another, often with inadequate food and water provided. In the 1970s, the residents of Bikini Atoll were permitted to return home after being told that their land and crops were safe again, but the land certainly was not safe, and the entire process of radiation poisoning and evacuation was repeated. Admittedly, the strength of the bomb was not understood upon its detonation (which is an easy argument for why it should not have been detonated in the first place) and none of this destruction was intended, but none the less, great damage was inflicted and then aftermath handled shamefully by the US. The former residents of Bikini Atoll remain displaced today. (image)

In the case of Iran Air flight 665, I linked to the Wikipedia page, which provides a summary of the event, but I initially read about it in this book (which I highly recommend as a tool to see US international conduct more objectively). In one sentence, what happened was that a US Naval ship mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian airplane, killing 290 people. Here are the highlights from Wikipedia that explain how the accident was grossly mishandled by the US. 
When questioned in a 2000 BBC documentary, the U.S. government stated in a written answer that they believed the incident may have been caused by a simultaneous psychological condition amongst the 18 bridge crew of Vincennes called 'scenario fulfillment', which is said to occur when persons are under pressure. In such a situation, the men will carry out a training scenario, believing it to be reality while ignoring sensory information that contradicts the scenario. In the case of this incident, the scenario was an attack by a lone military aircraft.
"Contrary to the accounts of various USS Vincennes crew members, the shipboard Aegis Combat System aboard Vincennes recorded that the Iranian airliner was climbing at the time and its radio transmitter was "squawking" on the Mode III civilian code only, rather than on military Mode II.
After receiving no response to multiple radio challenges, USS Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles at the airliner. One of the missiles hit the airliner, which exploded and fell in fragments into the water. Everyone on board was killed.
Even if the plane had been an Iranian F-14, Iran argued that the U.S. would not have had the right to shoot it down, as it was flying within Iranian airspace and did not follow a path that could be considered an attack profile, nor did it illuminate Vincennes with radar.Prior to the incident,Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters, and was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched its missiles. Even if the crew of IR 655 had made mistakes, the U.S. Government remained responsible for the actions of the crew of Vincennes, under international law.
Three years after the incident, Admiral William J. Crowe admitted on American television show Nightline that Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched the missiles. This contradicted earlier Navy statements.   
George H. W. Bush, at the time vice president of the United States in the Reagan administration, defended his country at the United Nations by arguing that the U.S. attack had been a wartime incident and that the crew of Vincennes had acted appropriately to the situation. 
The U.S. government issued notes of regret for the loss of human lives, but never apologized or acknowledged wrongdoing. George H. W. Bush, the vice president of the United States at the time commented on a separate occasion, speaking to a group of Republican ethnic leaders (7 Aug 1988) said: "I will never apologize for the United States — I don't care what the facts are... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy." The quote, although unrelated to the downing of the Iranian air liner, has been attributed as such.
Despite the mistakes made in the downing of the plane, the men of the Vincennes were awarded Combat Action Ribbons for completion of their tours in a combat zone. The air-warfare coordinator on duty received the Navy Commendation Medal, but The Washington Post reported in 1990 that the awards were for his entire tour from 1984 to 1988 and for his actions relating to the surface engagement with Iranian gunboats. In 1990, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989." The award was given for his service as the commanding officer of the Vincennesfrom April 1987 to May 1989. The citation made no mention of the downing of Iran Air 655.
As you can see, the US handled the situation both dishonestly and uncompassionately. It is a great wonder to me why many Americans think that Middle Eastern nations harbor anger against the US for "no good reason", especially when our leaders publicly state that we never apologize for our actions. It's an entirely separate story, but did you know that the US removed a democratically elected prime minister in Iran without the consent of the people? Anyway, I do not believe that the US conspired to kill Iranian civilians in the airbus shooting, but consider that if the tables had been turned and Iran had accidentally/hastily shot down a US airline, the US military would most likely have bombed Iran to smithereens in retaliation

I understand that there's no need to flog ourselves continuously over past mistakes, but I'm appalled that I felt that these acts on the behalf of a government I have trusted and supported and spoke up for were not only swept under the rug, but never even owned up to as problems in the first place.

Now I want to pivot to what's currently happening in the US, and how it has affected my view of this country. I think we can all agree that whatever is happening is about as complicated as that pile of wires for electronic goods that you may or may not still own, but are afraid to get rid of in case you might need one of them someday. You know the one I'm talking about. I'm not going to be figuring anything out in any solid terms here, but I am trying to offer some critically considered avenues of thought, none-the-less. 

We can't talk about this American ball of wires without talking about Donald Trump. Strangely, he doesn't scare me as much as he did initially (once he became an apparently real option, that is). He's even said a few things I like. However, he doesn't represent me as an American, and that has really led me to question what being American means if I'm unable to align myself with anything that my country stands for. Ultimately, I think this 2016 election is less about the candidates and more about what We the People have become, and why. I don't really know what America is right now, and not knowing what it is or where it's going makes me wonder what is used to be, and where my place was and is and will be in it. 

This little bit (also from Revolutionary Iran) from Ernest Gellner from 1995 struck me, and I've read it over and over trying to fully grasp it: 
"A collectivity united in a belief is a culture. That is what the term means. More particularly, a collectivity united in a false belief is a culture. Truths, especially demonstrable truths, are available to all and sundry, and do not define any continuity of faith. But errors, especially dramatic errors, are culture-specific. They do tend to be the badges of community and loyalty. Assent to an absurdity is an intellectual rite de passage, a gateway to the community defined by that commitment to that conviction."
What I think that means is that we, as a culture, are defined by our collective beliefs (which are separate from Truth itself), and we are especially knit together by our dramatically erroneous collective beliefs.  Once again, I feel trapped in time and space and the probability that being part of the group called Americans makes me unable to see our collective errors at times. At the same time - and maybe this is a beauty of being American - I think the essence of American culture is being able to say, "no, I see the way this is going, and even if I'm the only one, I'm going to be a different kind of American." As of right now, that is still legal in this country, and that's something I'm proud of. The statement may come from weak and exhausted lips, but it's being spoken none the less.

Even more encouraging, I'm far from the only one who is trying to fall out with whatever the collective course of error is. I don't want to go back to the way things were - they used to be worse in terms of poverty and racial injustices in this country. I want to move FORWARD, just in a different direction than we seem to be headed. 

My brother-in-law shared this loooong but excellent article (by Andrew Sullivan), that simultaneously helped me understand how Trump has garnered so much legitimate support (for so long I wondered, who are these people who like him?) and made me more concerned of the possibility of him as President than ever. 

The article talks a lot about Plato having predicted an arc of democracy and how, rather than democracy crumbling and giving way to a leader like Trump, it's democracy on steroids (literally everyone's opinion matters, and the emotions of the people - many of them idiots - take over in the place of reason) that leads to Trump. Sullivan notes, "It’s as if [Trump] were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities....And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment...The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force".(Sullivan). Oddly, this is a very similar thought to what Michael Axworthy (Revolutionary Iran) puts forth, "In a revolution, new leaders emerge from unexpected directions, surprising those who were too quick to think themselves the masters, or proprietors."

In the past year or two, I have begun to question whether democracy is as worth promoting as I once thought it was. I'm embarrassed that the US pushes democracy on others in light of where ours has led us. I would rather be under a decent king than in the hands of a Trump-loving democratic mob.

I've been thinking a lot about revolution after reading about the Iranian revolution of 1979 and finding so many parallels to what is happening in the US right now. If you think that something like the Iranian revolution and its aftermath (generally thought of in the US as the epitome of oppressive societies) can't happen in the United States in the next five years, if not this very year, you are wrong.
"Mass movements, he notes (as did Tocqueville centuries before him), rarely arise when oppression or misery is at its worst (say, 2009); they tend to appear when the worst is behind us but the future seems not so much better (say, 2016)....When those who helped create the last recession face no consequences but renewed fabulous wealth, the anger reaches a crescendo."    
Sullivan goes into more (very helpful) detail about who Trump supporters are and why, but suffice to say:
"For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome."  
"The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet."
Don't get your panties in a wad when I say this, but I tentatively admire resistance groups like the Black Panthers (here's their 10-point agenda) and the Muslim Brotherhood, which were born out of a desire to retake pride and control from political power figures gone sour. Both groups are known for their periods of violence, but neither sought to be characterized by it. Both groups offered social benefits to people that the government was not providing. I must stress that I have merely surface-level knowledge of both groups (I know more about the Muslim Brotherhood), but I find it very interesting to study them as I ponder what my role is in an over-ripe democracy.

I'm contemplating what civil disobedience might look like under a President Trump. I can think of several things that he has suggested making into law which I would unabashedly disobey, even at the cost of going to jail or perhaps even harsher punishment. I would rather my children see me punished for breaking an unjust law than see me ignore injustice. (image source)

Sullivan's breakdown of Trump's character is very helpful, but also terrifying. I said before that I'm not afraid of Trump, and that is mostly true. I am more afraid of the atmosphere that has allowed him to gain prominence, and the possibility that that atmosphere will continue to encourage tyrannical leaders to rise up. As in Iran, even a democratically elected anti-establishment resistance leader can (and certainly does) seize control when trusted and that may well be the end of democracy as we know it. More than Trump as an individual, his rhetoric about shutting down the press (he's already banned the Washington Post from being in his presence) and threatening military and government leaders who oppose him signal something far scarier than a questionable individual for President. 
(Sullivan quoting Plato) A tyrant is a man “not having control of himself [who] attempts to rule others”; a man flooded with fear and love and passion, while having little or no ability to restrain or moderate them; a “real slave to the greatest fawning,” a man who “throughout his entire life ... is full of fear, overflowing with convulsions and pains.”....To call this fascism doesn’t do justice to fascism. Fascism had, in some measure, an ideology and occasional coherence that Trump utterly lacks. 
No modern politician who has come this close to the presidency has championed violence in this way. It would be disqualifying if our hyper­democracy hadn’t already abolished disqualifications....[He's] giving legitimacy to the most hysterical and ugly of human impulses.... It remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.
I'm not entirely sure how to sum up all the main points of this post. Perhaps I can just say that I want my children to grow up thinking that being the President is a cool job, worthy of respect as it is meant to be a position of servant leadership. I'd like to see the return of dual-party tickets. I'd like to see Kasich or Bernie win and share his ticket with the other, instead of a candidate being investigated for varying degrees of law-breakage (pick your party...). I'd like to see millennial women and first generation immigrants in the President's cabinet. But maybe this is the beginning of the end after all, and maybe there is an upside to that. Maybe I will figure out what it is and write another really long, some-what disjointed post about it. 

When I was a kid and we lived in China, our home was in a concrete block of apartments on the 5th floor. My parents never drove in China, so when our family was out past bedtime, a taxi would take us all the way to our building, and then if we were asleep, my dad would pick us up and carry us up all those stairs (no elevator) and into bed. I was rarely 100% asleep, but I still played dead so that I could be carried. I remembered how safe it felt to be in my dad's arms, knowing I didn't have to do anything but rest in that space and have everything I needed taken care of.

I was praying somewhat dejectedly in the midst of the mental and emotional exhaustion I feel from everything mentioned above (plus debilitating sickness in our home and multiple mass shootings, stabbings, and assassinations in the news this week) when that memory came out of nowhere. I had this intense desire to be taken care of in the eye of this storm, and to relinquish my burdens (Matthew 11:28-30). I'll get back to you if I figure out what being American means anymore, but in the mean time, I'm googling "can white people join the Black Panthers" (mostly kidding, but did you know that there was a BPP endorsed White Panther Party?!) and trying to rest in the thought that Jesus has already won Life, even if I never do. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Paradise Found

California is significantly more expensive than most of the rest of the country, but so far, I can't bring myself to consider living in another state. I would rather be in a tiny place somewhere here than in a mansion somewhere else (usually...). One thing I love about living in California is the weather and the sub-tropical foliage. We spend almost all of summertime reading, playing, and eating outside. The Central Coast gets chilly at night, or else we might sleep outside too. Few things are more wonderful than warm summer evenings, the smell of fresh fruit, warm water to wade in, the smell of night blooming jasmine, cold lemonade in your hand. 

When I daydream about my dream home, the backyard is always one of the clearest places in my mind's eye. There are a few key components that I'd love to have, which I'll detail below, along with pictures, of course.

First of all, constructed walls and flooring give the air of an intentional oasis. I like wild greenery, but I can go out into the wilderness or something if I want to be dirty (can you tell I never do? haha). I prefer contained wildness in my dream yard. So, there will be tiled floors and high, solid walls. I think the proper word may be "courtyard". If this yard were ever to become a reality, I wonder if brick or stained concrete would be more affordable and tile could be used as accents. Whitewashed brick for walls (1, 2) is a look I like that's appropriately non-pristine, but in looking at pictures, I might also need some patches of lattice bricks. The second picture below is my favorite flooring. This tile gets honorable mention too. (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

The second thing this oasis needs is a body of water. I'm not much into swimming, so a wading pool or a reflection pool would be perfect. It provides coolness without taking up a lot of room. Of course, the boys would love a pool and Jonas would love a pond, but for now, I get to make my dream rules up. ;) (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

A daybed is a duh, and it needs to be shaded because heatstroke = not cool. Naturally, this begins to remind me that ideally, this yard also includes a Victorian greenhouse/sunroom/conservatory and a studio (1. 2. 3. 4, 5). 

If you're not sleeping outside, you should be lounging or eating outside. A long table would be best for dinner parties, don't you think? There are some beautiful outdoor or semi-outdoor restaurants that are inspiring too, like Hartwood or Commissary at the Line. Anything with a glass ceiling seems to draw my attention. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Outdoor showers are so luxurious, I definitely want one. At this point, with a bed, a table, and a shower outside, do I even need a house? Of all the yard fantasies I've had, I think the outdoor shower was the first. There is really a wealth of outdoor shower ideas on the internet, most of these source links have pictures of a bunch more. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Most of my other dream yard details are decor or plant specifics. I'd love to have some rugs in various places, a beautiful door or gate separating different areas of the yard, and some overhead plant cover in some areas. Stained glass is beautiful outdoors as well. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Last but not least, I really enjoy plants in their own right. There's nothing better than a garden that is that is both beautiful and functional. I am partial to tropical plants and fruits, but most plants are welcome in my yard. ;) Making whatever-is-growing bouquets is one of my favorite things to do, and picking stuff and eating it is pretty awesome too. Also, I generally don't believe in mowing grass. Some specific trees I'd like: Mangoes, limes/keffir limes/finger limes, pink bananas, mountain apples (tropical), passion fruit, mangosteen. Flowers I'll need: jasmine, bougainvillea, orchids, wild roses, wisteria, chinese lantern flowers, bird of paradise, passionfruit vines, black magic elephant ears, ferns, moonlight caladiumRavenala madagascariensis, tapioca plantand lotuses. Not to mention herbs, veggies, berries, etc. 

I like this collage (on the right, above) of my 3 favorite pictures from this post. I think it gives a good sense of the vibe I'd most like to have in my yard.  Most of these pictures are saved on my Pinterest board called "Dream Yard". Lots more gorgeous stuff pinned over there if you want to look through it! What would you add to your dream yard? 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Scandinavian Potato Salad

There are about as many ways to make potato salad as there are households in the United States, but a lot of them are pretty yucky. I don't like the overly gooey, overly sweet, under-flavored kinds, and in general, I don't like eggs in anything, although I have had a few potato salads where the eggs were small and tasteless enough to be ignored. 

I'm not the best at making up recipes from scratch, but I'm on a life-long quest to perfect several staples of the American diet (spaghetti sauce, pasta salad, etc.) and in these cases, I do feel more comfortable making it up as I go along or adjusting based on other people's recipes that I do or do not like. 

So, if you ask me to make potato salad, this is what you're getting. It's pretty delicious, and not conventional. 

Time: 45 minutes (ish)  

Yield: A potluck-sized bowl 

What You'll Need:

  • 10 small potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold 
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 sprigs of fresh dill weed, chopped
  • 1 clove of minced garlic (see step 3 for note on this) 
  • Juice from half a small lemon 
  • 1/2 cup of chopped smoked salmon 
  • 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard (I prefer the less horseradish-y kinds. I didn't use the mustard pictured, that was just the only mustard we had in the house) 
  • 1/2 to 1 Tbsp. of cracked black pepper
  • Dash of sugar (you can't taste it, I just imagine that it rounds out the other flavors nicely) 
All of these measurements are rough. I adjust according to preference and taste on everything. 

1. Bring a large pot of SALTED water to boil, then boil potatoes for 15-20 min depending on the firmness you like. 15 minutes leaves some bits partly crunchy, which I like. 

2. Drain potatoes and run cold water over them until you can handle them painlessly. Dice into small/medium cubes. If you want to remove the skin, they peel off easily at this stage. 

3. Add potatoes to a large bowl, and mix in remaining ingredients. Taste, and adjust according to your preference. The raw garlic gives this salad quite a bite, so if you're not a fan, consider adding less. 

4. By the time you've diced and mixed all of this, it's usually about room temperature, but you can also chill the salad until you're ready to eat. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


I'm so flattered when people notice that I haven't blogged in a while. You guys are great.
I haven't been writing because my classes are getting more intense and I've been buried in reading. I also had/am having a pretty rough patch as a mom (maybe I'll write about it eventually, who knows...) and I've been venting to my sister on the phone when she calls, so I get it out of my system. But it's only a matter of time before I get riled up enough about something that I can't focus on my homework AT ALL and I have to write it out. You know, cause the internet really deserves for me to put it in its place.

I draw a lot of what I write about from actual conversations I have with people (as opposed to, say, lizards ;)). You never know what you might say that gets gears whirring in my head, and within the next few days, I'll have spun it together with a few other comments and timely articles I read and voila, I go into what I call "videogame power mode". You know, that look where the character pauses, raises their head and hands, opens their mouth and eyes wide, and fire comes out and stuff? Jonas tells me this is called a "powerup", and it's actually from a show. Whatever. I think ya'll know what I'm talking about:

So here goes... I got powered up about feminism.
DON'T GO AWAY. I don't even know quite where I'm going with this yet or what all I might have to say about it, so I hope that means it won't sound canned.

I'm pulling from several posts by Rachel Held Evans in addition to my own thoughts, and trust me, the parts that I quote of hers are going to be the strongest. Sometimes I'm blinded by the fire coming out of my eyes when I PowerUp and I need help articulating why I feel so strongly. The articles I'll cite are parts A and D in a series she wrote where she breaks down specific questions that come up about women in the church (women teaching, women breadwinning, etc.). I love it when I stumble upon a community or movement that I identify with but previously did not know existed, and I'm drawing so much confidence from Evan's counter points to stricter, [culturally] traditional Christianity.

I don't really have time to brush up on when and why feminism became a bad word in society. Some feminists make that label their defining characteristic, and it is a little tiresome to hear anyone constantly bring up that one issue of theirs that they just have to weave into every conversation, telling you how hard their life is because of this or that. I get that that's annoying. For me, that thing is probably parenting. Parenting is ridiculously hard, and so far, it doesn't really get easier, so yeah, I think and talk about it a lot.

I don't feel particularly oppressed as a woman. I do think that being a woman makes some parts of life more difficult, but there are some things that are probably harder by virtue of being a man, too. The church should be the torchbearer of women's equality, but instead, it seems to focus on all the things that make women and men different, and many times, how women can be properly subordinate to men.

Feminism in the church, tends to a) NEVER gets talked about or b) be thought of as an unholy menace. This has much more to do with our cultural norms, religious and secular, than it has to do with the Bible. Not surprisingly, most (all?) men I know don't seem super worried about women's rights. I don't say this in a condescending way, but I know that I don't understand some parts of life that go along with being a man, and the guys in my life just don't have the same view on my life as a woman as I do. Duh. What I find much more surprising is that many women I know don't seem to be interested in women's rights. It really makes me wonder if I'm a mega complainer for pointing out (and being angry about) some aspects of my life that I view as being negatively affected due to my gender.

As a side note, I have this weird thing about the word "rights". I don't believe in rights, only privileges. I don't like the idea that anyone is entitled to anything, only that we fight for what we think is right and good. Perhaps that is naive, but since it is important to me, I just wanted to point out that when I talk about women's "rights", I don't think that men or women deserve anything in particular, only that men generally have more parts of society working in their favor and I'd like to see women have equal opportunities.

I'm not anti-men. I'm not even anti-respect for men. In fact, I'm not even of the mind that men and woman can do all the same things exactly the same way, or that they should. Google defines feminism as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men". That's really not all that provocative anymore. And yet, alarmingly difficult to achieve

More than people (including women in the church) being blatantly anti-women or unconcerned with fair opportunities and treatment for women in all realms of life, I think we become accustomed to norms such that we don't even realize when women are getting the short end of the stick.  

I know this is duplicitous, but at the same time as wanting to be empowered and bold and regal as a women, I don't like being defined by the fact that I am a women. Perhaps my idea of successful feminism is that I'm just seen and treated as a person of worth, not simply as a woman, for good or bad. Put more eloquently, Evans quoted, "Femininity does not define me; as a woman created in the image of God, I define it, in community with my sisters." The church - as I see it - does not grasp this nuance particularly well, at least in terms of its rhetoric.

I have many wonderful women in my life, spanning many ages and skill sets and lifestyles. I really enjoy talking and hanging out with other women, but does that mean that we're doing "women things"? I don't think so. It means we're doing things, JUST THINGS, together, and we happen to be women. Why do we have to compartmentalize things further than that? I don't want to go to Women's Bible Studies and Women's Retreats and read Women's Books. I just want good fellowship and good books.

I grew up with a lot of Christian literature and voices saying, "you're a princess, we're the bride of Christ, you're a precious daughter", blah blah blah. Those things are actually true, but what's with all the girl language? Can I only be reached by the Word of God as girl in need of a self-worth boost at every possible opportunity? No. THAT image, of women as extra fragile, helpless, emotional jellyfish is a social construct that we buy into so much that we think the only thing that can help is these special messages "for women". It's a marketing ploy to make money off people who want to feel special because of their gender and it separates us from the true identity of a child of God - one where labels do not add or detract from our worth. Male or female, slave or free - these are labels that we use to define ourselves, not labels that God uses to parse out love or worth.

I don't think that the church should 100% mirror society or anything, and there's no denying that we're marketed to based on gender in many circumstances in the "real world", but Jesus didn't relate to people based on their gender alone. Jesus didn't write books for women and books for men. So why, then, do we find the need to approach men and women in the church separately?

I used to help decorate at my church and sometimes men in charge (both of whom I love and admire) would tell women who were doing most of the work that "it needed to be more masculine so that the church was inviting for men". I admit to being too easily riled up at times, but that infuriated me. I genuinely am sad that many men don't want to be part of the church, but let me tell you, that's a heart thing, not a decor thing. I hate it when church culture gets caught up in petty details like that. I want church to be inviting for people, but no amount of masculine or feminine or neutral decor contains the gospel message. Sorry to fling out stereotypes, but most men probably won't notice the decor anyway.

Church culture also gets very tied up in gender roles as they pertain to relationships in dating and marriage. An example from Evans that sounds all too familiar: "I remember countless conversations in the dorm rooms of my conservative Christian college about how to defer to a guy as the 'spiritual leader' in a relationship, an ideal that far too often resulted in women deliberately diminishing their own gifts, ideas, and dreams in an effort to better play second fiddle."

Most of you know that Jonas and I married very young - I was 20 and he was 21. I have always been a strong personality, bent on dictatorship, and Jonas is a much gentler, more thoughtful and introspective person. He does not sing in church because he prefers to take in the music as he worships (I used to be embarrassed that he wasn't "participating"), and he doesn't offer to pray out loud. We've been married long enough now that I respect that we have different approaches to many things, but when we first got married, I had this idea that Jonas was really going to need to "step up" and be a spiritual leader so that I didn't overpower him. My idea of him being a spiritual leader was him prompting me to have a morning Bible study with him every day, despite the fact that that is SO not either of our personalities. Jonas does lead in his own way, but it's not patriarchal. He is often the one who makes me step back and evaluate my runaway mouth or my un-Christlike behavior, and he's always the one who loves me unconditionally (I don't use that word lightly, as I am not a great unconditional lover), and this is pretty darn Christ-like.

As a wife, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm respecting or submitting to Jonas. Sometimes I feel guilty about this, but mostly I don't think about it at all. We interact human to human, not man to woman. We interact as Karissa and Jonas, whose communication styles do not always mesh. Sometimes I do or say something disrespectful, and sometimes so does he. I tell him when I think he's wrong, and I don't always agree with him. If we argue and argue and can't come to a consensus, sometimes we just go our own ways with it. We also try and say sorry when we know we've been disrespectful to one another. This is a much more liberating and practical arrangement than worrying about whether I'm fulfilling a woman's proper role. Who decided on proper? In my experience, what church culture calls proper is usually not what Jesus actually said.

Evans: "I’ve sat through women’s Bible’s studies in which I was taught how to convince my husband that something is his idea, even if it isn’t, in order to keep the hierarchy intact while still getting my way. (I think manipulation is an unintended consequence of hierarchical marriages, which perhaps should be the subject of separate post.)"

I absolutely fall in to that trap (not unique to the church) where I say "let's" do this or that instead of "please do this for me" so as to "soften" my real meaning. I think diplomacy in speech is a good skill to have, but I hate that women collectively feel the need to (and are trained to) be non-confrontational. Most of the time when I suggest, "let's clean the car", I have no intention of being part of that chore (because I'm doing other chores, mind you), but I still say "let's" because I don't want to be a wife who orders her husband around. Contrary to popular belief, I do not like TELLING people what to do. In the words of Deadpool, "I'd learn to change the oil on our car with you, but I don't want to". Jonas doesn't dislike me for my candor or my "softened" requests, but I cut that "let's" BS out whenever I catch myself doing it, and as a result many people tell me "I'm so direct" [especially for a women]. Nuance and time-and-place considerations are good, but manipulation is not. {image}

Evans: "You see this sort of language a lot in complementarian literature: 'real men,' 'real women,' 'real marriage,' 'hardwired,' 'programmed,' 'blueprint'—as if masculinity and femininity are rigid, set-in-stone ideals to which we must ascribe, rather than fluid expressions of our unique selves."

The term "complementarian" is new to me, and I'm always secretly proud when I didn't realize that something had a name, because it means that I haven't spent gross amounts of time fighting over churchy technicalities. When people start throwing out terms like "complementarian" in daily conversation when they're upset, you know they've been in the church a long damn time. Get thee to a bar or something, seriously.

But since it came up, the definition of Complementarianism is: "a theological view held by some in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere". I agree with this on the surface, because as I said before, I do think that there are general differences between men and women. But if I dig a little deeper, that premise mucks up so much of what I love about marriage, in particular. My favorite moments of being married are not when I'm cooking dinner and Jonas is walking in the door from work. I actually love cooking and I'm thankful that he works hard to provide for us, but those roles are circumstantial in our family, not identifiers. The moments where I feel most alive and most "together" as a couple involve sharing an experience or a conversation that we find equally enjoyable, stimulating, exciting, or mind-bending (get your mind out of the gutter right meow). 

We do compliment each other, but I don't see gender as the primary factor in that. I have many personality traits that are more masculine and Jonas has many that are stereotypically feminine. We still manage to compliment each other (and bug the heck out of each other) because we're different people, but that complimenting is not solely (or even primarily) gender based. We are probably better suited to non-traditional family roles, but for the time being, we happen to fulfill fairly classic gender roles in our family. It's still very difficult for me to be confident about a non-traditional approach to gender roles in our lives, but it hardly takes any thought at all (on my part, at least), to realize that classic complementarianism is not the best - or even a Godly - approach for us. 

I know I've been harping on church culture a lot lately. It's hurt me a lot, and ingrained some serious character flaws in me that have and will continue to take me years to uproot. I'm resentful about that. But, I think that my church (and many churches) have many wonderful, Biblical, helpful things to say and teach as well. I want to be ever more like Jesus, not evermore like human's interpretations of Jesus, and that's why I get so angry when I believe something false that I learn from church culture. I don't think that very many people in the church set out to twist the gospel, but it's really easy to do. I'm positive that I've done it myself. Nothing makes me more upset than realizing that I'm going along with something that I consider to be "good" and Christian, only to realize that it's a lie. That's the main reason why I'm so critical of what I garner from Christian circles and so noisy about the things that I think it gets wrong. 

Now, let us return to feminism. Like I said before, I think what people find offputting about feminists is that they always seem to have an ax to grind. But why are you (hypothetical person) annoyed or silent when I point out how a situation is degrading or unequal for women? I'm sorry (#notsorry) that it makes you uncomfortable or that you didn't think that through before speaking. I'm not trying to shame people most of the time when I bring up how a situation pertains to women's rights - I'm simply trying to bring awareness to the fact that there is actually a problem that we often fail to see because no one [at church] talks about it!

There's been some recent backlash against being "politically correct" (thank you, Donald Trump...). I don't really get it. I understand that it's a little bit harder to think about everything you say so that you don't offend people, but that's actually kind of a good thing. It's a good thing for you just to keep your mouth shut sometimes or to go out of your way not to belittle or demean someone else. I'm not sorry it annoys you when I point out your offensive comments or actions. It's difficult to decipher what's a joke and what's actually demeaning sometimes (they're often one and the same), and I make some non-PC jokes, but I also really care about being respectful of everyone I can think of. I feel bad when I blunder, and I try and take it into account the next time I hear or see someone being mistreated. "Why can't I just be me in private?" Because "me" needs to cut the racist crap, that's why. Why is not being a bully all of a sudden uncool?

I kind of hate this quote because it makes me think about all the world's problems that I genuinely can't give my energy to, but seeing that gender roles affect all of us, every single day, I think I can use it here effectively and say, "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor". I do have a bit of an ax to grind when it comes to how "the system" handicaps women in the workplace and essentially punishes parents, but I will give you a real world example of how men and women can learn to recognize and combat unfair treatment of women in society. Granted, this is kind of a first world problem example, but I think it's subtle and probably quite common.

I worked for a previous employer for about 5 years, up until I had Ira. I did not like my job, but I was good at it and I was respectful and a very low-maintenance employee. There was a man who joined the department I worked for toward the end of my time there, and he was not good at his job and he was disrespectful to his coworkers and immediate boss as well. He did, however, have an [unrelated] college degree (so I assume he made much more than I did) and he was full-time compared to my part-time. At the time, I was asking for additional and more complicated projects. Mind you, I had 5 years of this job under my belt and I had long since mastered the tasks that I already did. Instead of giving the new project to me (even when I offered to take work home or work remotely so that my schedule could accommodate the project), they gave it to him. I wasn't happy about it, but I didn't throw a fit, either.

Then, I mentioned it to my dad, who said that they probably chose him because he wasn't pregnant. That's what really set me off about the whole thing. From an employer's standpoint, I understand that maybe my life was less predictable than his, but considering that I had come back to work after my first child (before my maternity leave was even up, in fact) and the other reasons I already mentioned that I would have done the job better than my co-worker, I was furious at the thought that my womanhood had gotten in the way of my life. Actually, I wasn't furious about my womanhood, I was furious that I wasn't given an equal opportunity in light of it. That situation was a big part of my decision to quit that job, and that guy even got fired later for not being good at his job. It would mean a great deal (and not cost you much) to say something if you see women discriminated against on the basis of their gender in your workplace.

Also, don't freaking tell me I can't do something because I'm a girl. Even (especially?) if it's a role in the church. Evans has some excellent points in her blog posts about how women led in the church and society in both the new and old testament, and men didn't say, "we can't listen to them because they don't have any authority." Short of it having to do with higher levels of testosterone, it's probably not true that a girl can't do something. And hello, people can take testosterone if they're that worried about not being as buff, or whatever. Like I said before, I do think that men and women are different and there are some basic *general* characteristics that go along with a person's gender (there is something extra about having carried your child in your own body), but since the heck when is "is your husband coming" a good question about how qualified I (ME, not him!) am to complete a task. Are you kitten me right meow? Das rude.

I'm not just angry-writing here. I write posts over several days or weeks, so it's *somewhat* meditated upon. But it's okay to be angry about injustice. Jesus was publicly angry at times.  One more time, I want to reiterate that for me, being a Christian feminist doesn't mean that I'm angry at men. Maybe a few specific men at times, but I also get angry at specific women at times. Anyone who thinks feminism doesn't concern them is in danger of being an "oppressor by virtue of being neutral in situations of injustice". So go on, get mad. Pay attention to injustice, and don't stand aside and let it happen in front of you. Rip off your shirt (okay, not really), clench your fists, and get all anime on un-Biblical attitudes toward women in the church.

And now, I'm going to PowerDown....

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