Sunday, November 20, 2016

Across Enemy Lines

Well, well, well. Here we are again (I started writing this about 3 days after my initial post-election post, but then finals happened). This presidency got me like:


But seriously. First, I want to thank each of my friends who answered my plea for help from my first post-election post. I've said yes to everyone who wanted to talk this stuff out, even though I haven't always wanted to, and I've gained something of worth from each one. One of the most touching things was a friend of mine who voted for Trump who reached out to me (even before my initial post) and said that she wanted to understand why I was so hurt. Even though it seemed glaringly obvious to me and I was tempted to be offended that she would even have to ask that question, her gesture was more than I have ever extended to anyone who I would have categorized as a Trump supporter in the past 8 years. I did not think their hurt worth asking about, yet to have someone genuinely inquire after mine softened me immeasurably.

Another friend (not a Trump supporter) encouraged me to search for the good in Trump. The internet says that it's almost impossible (seriously, I Googled it), but I must say that that frame of mind has led me to some little floating chips of open-mindedness in the sea of lava that is my indignant soul. The verdict is still out on whether there's anything good about him as an individual to be found on the internet, but one thing that at least peaks my interest is his relationship with his children. Not all of it has been outstanding, and I understand the concerns of nepotism in having ones children as business partners and advisers, but I also don't often see parents who respect their children's council to the extent that it appears Trump might.

I've been reading my brains out, but the piece that most helped me empathize with one of the largest groups of Trump supporters was this one from Cracked about the differences between world views in the city and rural areas. I'd highly recommend it, as it is both hilarious and insightful. I could go on and on about this article (many thanks to my friend Zachary for passing it along to me!). If you don't understand how so many people could find Trump an acceptable option, make this the one article you read of all the ones I link to. I've even been reading articles that I know will make me furious because even if I can't see eye to eye with the reasoning or politics, I don't want to shut out the voices of people who feel like liberal white elites don't give a damn about them. That seems to have been largely what got us in to this mess, and I don't intend to let it happen again if there's any way I can help stop it.

The Cracked article was valuable for me because it put something that I don't understand into terms that I'm familiar with. It does a good job of explaining the economic woe as well as the liberal ridicule that Trump supporters have faced in the past 8 years. it confirms that yes, their way of life is dying. And of course that is scary and painful. It also has some excellent illustrations of how we all excuse the yuckyness in people who we feel are accomplishing "the greater good." It touches on how we can be civil, or even kind, to people who are different when they're right in front of us, but still lump "those people in that group over there" into a category that we feel free to fear or hate or ridicule. It talks about the Church as a place where people in rural areas congregate for community when there are few other options for that sort of network and support. As a Christian, I believe that the Church should be available for that purpose, but church can quickly become more about culture and agreeing with one another inside of safe walls instead of focusing on Jesus's mission, which is to take love and community outside of the church walls. That distinction is at the crux of my heartache over the Church's support of Trump.

I've told plenty of people why I'm upset about Trump, but most of them already agree with me. As a writer, but also just as a reasoning person, I ask myself, "so what if I can make people who are like me nod their heads in agreement"? If that's all that I can accomplish with my voice, why bother? Nothing will really change. Instead, progress in my own mind and heart happen when someone else is able to present an idea to me without belittling my opposing view. That's what I want to be able to do too. While my grief over Trump as president is real, pitting myself against Trump supporters won't make it all go away.

Even though I wasn't a fan of Hillary, I think that if she had won, I probably would have privately rolled my eyes at the protest of Trump supporters and gone on with thinking that America was headed in the "right" direction, in many ways. For that reason, I'm thankful for Trump's presidency. He's provided a stark reminder to fight for what is right and to genuinely care about the situation of all kinds of Americans.

I must start by confessing that I truly did not care what argument a Trump supporter might come up with in his favor prior to his win. I said as much in my first post. Although my views on politics and even ethics have not changed, I've come to see that my complete disregard for the voice of Trump supporters is basically no different than what I perceived as their complete disregard for what I held so close to my heart in this election and considered to be of utmost importance to the fabric of our nation. I contributed to this rift, and thereby Trump's triumph, and I now see that very plainly. I try so hard to be "in touch" with what's going on around me, but somehow I managed to be very, very out of touch with what a lot of people were feeling. Clearly they have felt unheard, and I was one of many who thought they were better left ignored.

As most of us do, I broke my world and this election down into very simple terms: "I'm moving in the direction of good, and it's okay to be out of touch with what is bad." I've taken pride in surrounding myself with progressive thought and input, which are to me "good" ideas. Ideas that push me in a direction that I want to see myself go, because I view the gospel as fundamentally all-inclusive, which is what I want for America too.

But I failed to remember that all-inclusive means people that I don't like, too. People that baffle me and even infuriate me. People who've ridiculed me and people who make me feel stupid or say things that hurt me. God loves them too, and he offers them grace just as much as he offers it to me. Imagine that! Also, let us pause and thank God that I am not God. Because there are a lot of people who would not receive grace from me.

I heard part of an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the heavily tattooed recovering alcoholic female pastor of the Lutheran church called House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. She's a badass. She became ordained and started this church with the express purpose of making a place for those generally left out of the Church, and it's became a truly beautiful thing. In fact, it has been so successful that she gained national media coverage and "normal" people who heard about her church on the news started attending her congregation.

She said that it upset her at first because these "normal" people were messing up her demographic of outcasts and weirdos. She even called a fellow pastor to complain about it, but her pastor friend gently reminded her that perhaps these normal people needed the message of an all-inclusive God too.

In many ways, the Trump supporter - especially the Evangelical Trump supporter - is my mission field. Not because I am better than them and therefore I need to save them with my superior understanding of the gospel, but because they are the ones that I struggle to love, and therefore the ones I am called to love.

Something that disgusts me about my preconceived notion of the Trump-base is that they lump the immigrant, they non-heterosexual, the black or brown into these giant categories that they see as standing in the way of a better life for themselves. But that is how I've viewed Trump supporters too - if we could just cleanse "those people" of their brutish and twisted generalities, then America would be good.

I've read over and over about how "people without a college degree" are much more likely to have voted for Trump. Even to me, who is the "type" to have a degree (though technically I don't), there's a not-very-subtle message that, "smart people vote liberal" and "stupid people vote for Trump." When was the last time someone calling you stupid made you want to agree with them? I've unthinkingly gone along with the idea that because my side is better educated than the other side, I'm smarter and therefore righter. It's what John Oliver calls "a liberal echo chamber". I do happen to believe I'm righter on the issue of Trump, but I no longer think that the alternative to being right is being stupid.

Let me be the first to admit that over-educated white people are the WORST. You probably didn't need me to tell you that, because we all have at least a few of them in our lives. There are few things more miserable than being talked down to by an incredibly well-read philosophy or political science major. It wreaks of privileged and pomp, and it makes me feel like this (grumpy cat). Honestly, what was that expensive education worth if no one can bear to listen to you?

I apologize if I've talked down to anyone in that way. I am very snobby about what constitutes good literature (not Twilight), and I'm quick to write off any opinion if it's not stated eloquently, properly formatted, and error-free, rather than being able to set those things aside and focus on the message that someone is trying to communicate. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever has bad grammar should not perish, but have everlasting life. Amen.

I'd also like to posit that "higher education" goes beyond book knowledge. What education does is provide us a way out of our bubbles. Exposure to new ideas and new people does help you grow, and in that sense, "more educated" can make all the difference. But you can get education like that in more than one way.

I may have actually gone a bit overboard with my quest to put myself in the shoes of the Trump supporter. I am, after all, a poor white person living in a rural area without a good job, not owning a house, on government assistance, with mostly white friends. If it were not for my childhood abroad and my elitist media leanings and my breakup with American Church culture long before this election, I might have voted for Trump.

I say this to other people all the time, and then sometimes it bites me in the butt: the easiest/best way to stop fearing or hating a category of people who aren't like you is to simply get to know one.

It's much easier to be disgusted by people I don't know and will never know than it is to completely write off someone I already have a relationship with. I confess that it was a small blow to realize that some people I know and love voted for Trump, but it immediately helped me too, because I already knew them to be loving and multi-faceted people and so I could not write them off as giant dummies without trying to understand how they could have come to this conclusion that I fundamentally disagree with. I don't want to be friends with Trump supporters, to tell you the truth, but I already am, and that's been an excellent reminder that I can and should loving toward Trump supporters.

I understand that many people have felt trapped in an America that is shifting, and perhaps it is true that America used to be Greater for some of us before we felt so much heartache or anger over issues of immigration or being reminded that there's a lot we can no longer say as white people without someone being upset and calling us racist. I feel like being reminded of those things and being pushed to change does me good, but change can also be hard and painful. I understand that many people see Trump and his lack of concern for whether he's saying "the right things" as the only path to something beside their misery and a collective sneer from progressives. My understanding doesn't change my politics, but I'm trying to let it change my heart.

The struggle is real, as they say, but we must remember that in many cases, the struggle of the immigrant and the non-heterosexual and the African American and the disabled has been even harder than the economically flattened working-class white person. So much of the what we love about America is only available to us because of the blood, sweat, and tears of immigrants who have gone before us. Actually, we owe literally all of it to immigrants, some white, some black, some brown.

I've been asking myself whether my dismay over Trump's election and his subsequent actions since the election are simply a reflection of my liberal-ish politics, but I'm convinced that there's more to it than that. I have many conservative friends and friends from various socioeconomic backgrounds who are as frustrated and confused - particularly by Evangelical support of Trump - as I am.

I've worried that maybe my public heartache will seem pathetic to people who felt relief that maybe their hardships would ease with a Trump presidency. Maybe I am being bougie for feeling so sad. But to over-empathize with Trump supporters would belittle the genuine pain and fear felt by all of my friends who are gay, Muslim, recently immigrated, and those who recoil at the support of the Evangelical church. I think moral outrage is allowed, it's just that it can be genuinely coming from both extremes at once and I've only been willing to see it as truth from my own end.

To many of us, this was a spiritual election as well as a secular one. The funny thing is that my spiritual values led me as far away from Trump as possible, and what I believe to be sincere spiritual values on the part of others led them to vote for him. Once again, only the fact that God is God and not man could account for such a thing.

I tend to fixate on the racist aspect of a vote for Trump. I read something that resonated with me, "not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn't a deal breaker." When I quoted this to a friend, he commented that "I get very hung up on the racism aspect". No shit. He further noted, "you are very saddened that many Trump voters did not think racism is a deal breaker. To a Trump supporter, they may not even see racism in the equation. To you that is inherently racist."

I would like to point out that I am right on that point (passive racism, of which I certainly take part in at times, is still racism), but I still have to wrestle with, "so what?" Ok, so someone I love (or even someone I don't know at all) is a racist. That doesn't let me off the hook for loving them as much as I love the immigrant. I don't think my bristling at passively (or openly)-condoned racism is wrong in the slightest, but I can admit that it's given me tunnel vision to the detriment of understanding the feelings (of which most are not evil) of the Trump supporter at times.

Some of these passive-racists that I truly love and even respect have tunnel vision about their own political stances. I can give you a well-reasoned rebuttal to every "Christian-valued" reason to vote for Trump (and be sure that I will froth at the bit to get them to you if you request them of me), but I realize that you probably don't care and/or don't agree. Instead, my goal is to LISTEN, and shut up about how I'm more right.

If even one of us thinks we're not a part of the problem, you, my friend, are mistaken. I'm still trying to learn to see the racism in my own ways that I've failed to recognize (I wrote a bit about this before). We must strive not to be offended when we are confronted with parts of ourselves that do not align with the gospel of our Lord.

This election and its aftermath has led to me a lot of outbursts (if mostly inward) of, "who are you to offend me?!" And it's true, I find Trump and support of Trump to be deeply offensive. But so what? My job is not to slam everyone who has offended me (ahem, Donald Trump re: cast of Hamilton). In fact, it takes a much bigger person to not only brush off the genuinely offensive, but to be humble and gracious and not plot revenge for the wrong said or done to you.

(not to put the actions of all listed above on equal footing, but simply that the people we fear the most, whether they are illegal immigrants, Donald Trump, or extremists, are all made in the image of God)

Every time I read something that calls me stupid or entitled or whiny, I want to fire back, but instead, I'm trying desperately not to feed the fire. I try and grit my teeth and understand why such and such an argument is so important to someone who thinks I'm stupid for not agreeing. And when I think that misinformation or misrepresentation is being spread (this seems to happen frequently in articles about how liberals are idiots for not seeing the frustration of the right-wing Church) I speak up as gently as I can. I urge you not to repost anything that calls people names. Don't repost things that dehumanize your opponents. Don't respond to other people's posts with "how lame" or "that doesn't matter". The more we're hurt, the less we want to listen. I've not always been guiltless on this front, but ridiculing (even in a joking way) never draws hurting people in, it only pushes them away.

Sometimes I start thinking that extending God's grace to everyone means liking everyone. But it doesn't. We can and should stand up and speak out against the wrong we see going on around us. I wish that I had spoken up more about what I disagree with about Democratic politics over the last 8 years, because then it would be a bit more balanced as I criticize Trump and his cabinet. Even though my emotion has died down slightly since the days immediately after the election, I probably will be talking and writing about life in America under Trump for at least the next 4 years. To let it go is to become comfortable in a climate (no pun intended) that may not be very threatening to me personally, but that others will have to struggle with every day for at least the next 4 years.

I want to take one more crack at what was so troubling to me about Christian support of Donald Trump. Even though I will never agree on the reasoning, I believe that some of my Christian friends who voted for Trump did so after much thought, and after coming to the conclusion that he was the lesser of two evils. It was not always in blind support of his hate speech.

From a gospel perspective, there was not a good option between Trump and Clinton. They are two sides of the same coin, as my dad says. One is careful and calculating in order to appeal to her base, the other is crass and loud in order to appeal to his base. I believe both of them are dishonest and self serving. In that light, I have to reexamine my disgust at the Church for voting so heavy handedly in favor of Trump. Would I be making the same argument if the Church had whole heartedly supported Clinton, with all her deep flaws and counter-gospel attitude? Probably not, because I lean left and her rhetoric of championing human rights appeals to me. But again, that's just politics. I realize that it is unfair to demonize Christians who thought Trump was the lesser of two bad choices. Still, not liking Clinton was not a good enough excuse to vote for Trump if we're talking in strictly moral terms. Hillary is staunchly pro-choice (which is not the same thing as "wanting to kill full-term babies", for the record) and militarily hawkish, stances that seem to me to be at odds, but incidentally both stances that I disagree with.  

What I can - and do - blame the Church for is not that they voted for Trump, but that they endorsed him and sung his praises. It's understandable to grit your teeth and make the choice you think is best (which is certainly how some people came to vote for Trump), but to sing the praises (I can come up with better "singing the praises" examples if you need them) of a demagogue who has specifically targeted groups of people that Jesus calls us to protect? THAT is anti-gospel behavior. As one reporter wrote, "I think Trump votes are the result of pain — but they’ve also created deep pain." And for the Church to cause pain without remorse is not acceptable.

The support of Evangelicals remains an issue much harder for me to digest than why the greater working-class white population voted for him. Even so, I've come here to say...

Dear Trump supporter. Dear friend, 

Forgive me for ignoring you because I thought I was so much righter that you did not even deserve my honest curiosity. Forgive me for thinking that being right meant I was excused from loving. Forgive me for always making you the butt of the joke. I pledge to learn your name instead of seeing you always as "those people", and I pledge to acknowledge your wounds. To listen to you and bite my tongue, even if I want to prove my capability of rebuffing your arguments point by point. I pledge to see you as a complicated person, not a single label.

I think I owe an apology to immigrants too. I do not know very many recent immigrants, but I use them as my battle ax against ideas that I don't like. I commiserate with their hardship for a moment, in intellectual debates, but I always put off helping them on a local level until tomorrow. As SNL and this prose piece noted, this sickness in American society was not news to the African-American community, and the fact that I'm shocked by it shows how I've failed to engage with the African American community or the immigrant almost as much as I've failed to engage with the Trump supporter.

It's funny, I always feel like I'm on firmer footing as a writer when I'm repenting instead of admonishing. It always gets a better response, too. I believe that both democracy and the kingdom of God need both me and the Trump supporter. We will reach different people and can serve in different facets. We must also challenge one another to keep our eyes on our common goal: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-3(NIV))

(artwork by Penelope Dullaghan)

Some other articles that helped me adjust my head and heart:
Why calling people racists doesn't help
Why some women voted for Trump
Empathy isn't a favor I owe white Trump voters. It has to go both ways.
A modern creed for those who can no longer call themselves Evangelical
(although I don't think "Common Good Christian" is quite the right alternative)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Let It Go, Let It Gooo!

As I wrote about in detail in my previous post, I have been a burrito of sadness this week. But I left the house with my sons today and the sun was shining and animals had no idea we have a new president and people were kind to me. I should probably turn off the news in my feed because it's a slap in the face every time I see reports of hate crimes and uncertainty and fear, but I've also seen many things that have helped tilt my chin up a bit. I haven't reposted very much at all because the internet is already overloaded with opinion and commentary right now, but if you're looking for laughs or comfort, I decided to just throw it all in here to share.

This embroidered koala

This poem, "Still I Rise" (1978) by Maya Angelou.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Like I said, animals aren't affected by this election. Beauty goes on without us. This video leaves me in awe, and I can't wait to drink this in when the full series is released. Make it full screen and turn up the volume, if you can.

Some powerful reminders:

"The path to your greatest potential is often straight through your greatest fear." Craig Groschel

"The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them." 
George Orwell "Freedom of the Park" 

Another poem. "Evil" by Langston Hughes.

Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you —
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.

Hipster Buddha

This playlist, "Ballads for Hard Times", I made of songs that comfort me. I've been adding to it for a few months and will continue to add to it. The song I've played the most in the past week is "Holy War" by Alicia Keys which has excellent lyrics, and "It's Alright to Cry" by Francis and the Lights also feels especially fitting.

This lady's protest sign (follow the link, contains minor language). Because cats and IN YOUR FACE.

My dear Bernie keeping it real. 

This rousing reminder that the pen I possess is mightier than the sword:

"If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can."

And finally, a mantra for me right now. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

My Shoulders Fall Like Teardrops

I know I have to get this out of me, but I don't know what's going to come out yet.

I think that most people who read this blog aren't excited about a President Trump, so I'm not sure that this is anything more than cathartic writing for me. I'm trying to explain to myself why I feel pain much more deeply than I expected to. I want to begin by saying that I voted third party in California (where there was no chance of Trump winning our electoral college votes), so my grief and stunned-ness is not because my candidate or my policies of choice didn't win. Please bare that in mind. 

Somewhere along the way in this life, I became more of an optimist than I can logically explain, and that part of me is in overdrive. I confront this new reality with silver linings in both fists, because without them, there is no....thing. No way forward. No hope. 

Yet, a lot of people who lost a lot more than I did in this election bounced back a lot more quickly than I have. So many people's response to being crushed and stunned has been, "more love." So quickly the sentiment of "we can do this, we can be better" poured out. I'm proud to be here, right now, surrounded by that, but it hasn't hit my own heart yet. Except for a slim, grim, feeling of willingness to at least consider opposing my own government if it allows or even commands the things that I fear it might. My response is certainly the less mature of the two, but I don't think it's invalid. 

I feel embarrassed about how stunned I feel. I want to slap myself in the face and growl "pull yourself together", but if for no other reason (and there are other reasons), it is appropriate to be brokenhearted in solidarity with people who don't have the luxury of not being *very* worried about our new president. I'm still grappling with the feel of that phrase, "our new President", in my mouth. I feel foolish. Like if I had just been smarter, I wouldn't have been blindsided. If I had just been shrewder, I wouldn't be so sad. If I hadn't been so hopeful, I wouldn't feel so helpless. I feel like I opened a door from a cozy room (my mind in a bubble) onto a precipice, where the winds are whipping and howling and lusting for blood.

Maya Angalou wrote, "my shoulders fall like tear drops" in her poem Still I Rise.
My mouth is full of cold sores and my neck and shoulders are like rocks. My kids are out of control because I've just been staring at my phone, periodically blinking at the ceiling, which is how I swallow tears. They know how to take advantage of my inability to be strong and present right now. So many wonderful people have proclaimed, "where walls are built, I will raise my children to tear them down". I'm trying to get there in my heart, because I believe in it, but I just can't yet. I don't feel fierce, I feel broken.

I do believe that God is in control. But I also believe bad and sad things happen and that it's okay to be sad, very sad, about them. Sometimes "God is in control" is used as a platitude to brush away real hurt, and it shouldn't be. The fact that God is in control does not mean that I have no fear. It means that I put one foot in front of the other in spite of that fear, keeping my eyes on him as best as I know how. Jesus himself begged his Father to spare him from the most painful experience of all, death on a cross and separation from God. I have yet to sweat blood over President Trump, but I know that Jesus does not scoff at my fears. 

Everyone should be sad today. This is not about politics for me. My fear of Trump's politics is merely the fear of the unknown. Given his wildly ranging record of policy statements, anything could happen, though I can't say I'm optimistic that the actual results will be excellent. He's been on both sides of most issues, including abortion, which I think some people chose to make the sole issue they voted on. What I fear is the sentiment and the trains of thought that have led us here. Even if you support Trump's policies, it's a sad day because he won on a platform of hatred, and that's not good for any of us. Those who feel empowered in their rightness today, could so easily have it turned on them tomorrow under the guidance of a man who refuses to condemn crimes committed in his name. There would have been things to mourn if Clinton were elected too, and I know many people who feel hugely relieved that she is not president (none of whom have cited her gender, for the record). I did not trust Hillary to tell the truth or make choices I'd personally agree with, but I'm confident that sexual assault and hate crimes within our own country would not have been condoned or ignored under her leadership. 

I am preparing myself to be brave in the face of policies and laws that conflict with my most basic sense of right and wrong. I brush a lot of things off as "the way things are", but I need to find out what the line is for me (would I allow a friend to be deported, or a family broken up? What will I do as a frail woman if I see a cross-dressed or scarved person being harmed?) and how far am I willing to go against a law that goes against God's law? I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that those questions may be in need of answer in the next few years, and I don't want to find myself unprepared to do the right thing or to know what the right thing is. I don't know whether my expectation of that possibility is blown out of proportion, but I can tell you that the concern is real and not simply a frantic, off-the-cuff one. It's NOT too dramatic to say that we're standing in the middle of history, and I want to be on the right side.

It's okay to be sad that the values you believe in got a punch to gut, no matter who you voted for, or whether that punch came for you in this election or a previous one. But this time IS different because there is more to mourn than policy. Obama wasn't always a gracious winner. He could have done much more to reach out across the aisle. He made a lot of people feel worried about our country too. But I believe he did what he thought was right and worked tirelessly to make the country a better place for many people. I do not have that faith in Trump.

This is not just politics, there are lives in the balance. Again, I know that "lives in the balance" was felt on both sides prior to the 2016 election outcome too, but I'm talking about physical life-and-death which has now become a concern for the "losers" in this election. I am mourning the fact that our leader, our elected leader, is setting a precedent of hatred, bigotry, divisiveness, and disrespect. Nothing seems sacred to him, nothing feels safe. Even for those of us who aren't immediately questioning their status in this country, validation of Trump's message feels like a huge step backward during a fragile time. So much violence has happened this year here, and I feel like it's begun to receive proper levels of outrage, protest, and I would hope, progress toward change. I fear that that progress will be erased. It feels like we've let a country that could be a safe haven slip through our fingers.

Why, oh why, did we see fit to focus on the empty promises of any politician instead of what was consistent and clear about them - their character? 

I respect the democratic process, but it is deeply disappointing to me today. I am less worried by Trump as president than I am by the fact that an unexpected number of my fellow Americans chose to put aside the cruel things he has said and promised to do, or failed to be remorseful for. I'm especially confused and disheartened by the apparent mass turn out of "white Evangelical Christians" for Trump. 

It's not for me to say whether someone is "a real Christian" or not based on anything they say or do. I've had at least one person say I couldn't be a Christian and vote the way I have in the past, and that's just not true. Still, I find myself crying, "why, sister, why?" to my fellow believers who helped Trump get to the White House. I want to understand, but I also don't want to understand. I don't want to understand what could possibly have been more important than standing up to all the things that our Lord has condemned (hating one another, in all its forms). Instead, I want to draw a line in the sand and scream, "how dare you." How dare you use the name of Jesus to marginalize and discriminate. How dare you put your political concerns ahead of the safety of others. How dare you look past this man's character. "How dare your 'strongly held religious beliefs' come before someone else's human rights". And even, how dare you choose "not to be political" when you could have stood up for the what is right, even if that meant a 3rd party. Quoting from several other sources (1, 2):
We white Christians have some explaining to do to convince our non-white brothers and sisters that our support for Trump was not support for his perceived racism, sexism or xenophobia.
The witness of the church is more important than any election, any public policy, any economic plan. And right now, many of our non-white brothers and sisters are deeply confused, and more than a little frightened. Do we really welcome them here? When 90% of black evangelicals opposed a candidate whom 80% of white evangelicals supported, can we really say the body of Christ is colorblind? 
I’m concerned for the witness of the gospel. We need to explain to our neighbors why our support for this man wasn’t a sign of our rejection of them. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what we think we look like to the alien, the widow, the orphan, the outcast. It matters what they see when they look at us 
[By voting for Trump en masse, the Evangelical movement has] 1) surrendered any claims to the moral high ground in electoral politics2) abandoned public solidarity with groups who considered Mr. Trump an existential threat to them, 3) failed to escape its partisan bias in favor of more principled and biblical stands and 4) made its evangelistic mission more difficult with many it wants to reach
That is what I'm mourning and why I can't pick myself back up just yet. Again, I know I could approach this with more maturity, but right now I simply don't want to hold hands or rally with people who can't or won't see that they've betrayed something I held to be sacred. I'm trying to be fair and loving toward those I disagree with, but that doesn't mean I'm okay with the fact that this happened. I don't want to be part of further division, but I also don't want to be part of "us" with people who don't find it necessary to answer for this uniquely brutal vote. 

I woke up on day 2 and didn't want to move. I pulled the covers to my chin and realized it was going to be another day of still-sad. Still stunned. Still wanting to turn to rubber on the floor. People going on with their lives make me mad, despite that it's the mature (only) thing to do. Day 3 is less stunned, but not less sad. 

The longer I've sat in this funk, the more I've realized that I don't believe we will come back from this. And that's why I continue to grieve instead of bounce back. I don't think this sadness is because of Trump alone, and it goes deeper than my anger and despair at the ability of so many to excuse his behavior. Since the birth of our nation, which in itself was an act of division and subversion for some, things have been going down hill. There was never some Utopian America that we've since lost. I think America has been, is, and will continue to be great in some ways, but for every issue we make progress on, a new trouble falls in line behind. That isn't something we can eventually put behind us. Instead, it's simply the essence of human interaction. Simply put, none of us make it out of this world alive, no matter how good or bad our surroundings are. If we think we'll somehow fix everything someday, we will always be disappointed because there will always be another figurative president Trump. 

I realize this sounds incredibly cynical, but I don't think that inevitable doom means that we stop standing up to it. Against all logic, fighting a loosing battle makes me fight harder, not give in. What can we strive for other than our own personal best effort?

I don't drink often or much (it doesn't make me feel better, it just makes me sleepy), but drinking just feels like the cultural ritual for when things are hard. That's probably a horrible thing, but I find myself insulating myself with ritual when I'm reeling. Like "treat yo self", apocalypse edition. Butter, sad songs, Tetris, massages, booze on the rocks, group texts full of memes and emojis and expletives, time with my encouraging, funny, unified-even-in-difference church family, complicated recipes that are soothing to labor over. I realize that my escapes are a luxury, but/so I hold to them tightly and am thankful.

I'm thankful that in the midst of feeling incredibly sad and worried, I'm psychically safe. In the broad scope of things, I have a relatively small list of attributes that Trump has attacked. Only (ha) my gender and my free speech, that I can think of. "The worst to come" is speculation for most of us, and that speaks to just how fortunate we are. In one of these comings days, I'll be ready to hand over this heavy load on my back for the easy yolk of Jesus. Soon, I'll remember that we as the body of Christ are standing on a foundation of stone in the midst of this very real storm. One day, the lion will lay down with the lamb, and won't that be a beautiful thing to behold, even if we never see it on this earth? My current sorrow is that I may not see it on this earth. 

If you don't agree with me in my reasoning or attitude, but you're better at being loving than I am, then let's talk. I need you to hold me up. 

(Images: 1, 2, 3)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Mother Mary's Islamic Robes

"There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet." This statement, refereed to as the Shahada, is not one we would equate with Christendom, but history says otherwise. This transpires in a rather round-a-bout, obscure way, but I think you'll find it as fascinating as I did. 

I'm the middle of a course on the history of Iraq, and have learned several things that have challenged my previous ideas about Muslims and Islam, which is the whole reason that I started studying the Middle East in the first place. I wanted to share this particular subject of the Virgin Mary and her Islamic robes because it has some Da Vinci Code-like elements to it and it involves art history! To be clear, I do not believe in conspiracy theories about the Bible, and the artwork and history I'm going to tell you about is real, but I still can't resist an intellectual treasure hunt that might ruffle some feathers. That said, I am trying to present this in a historical light, rather than opening up conversations about what our personal beliefs are. 

Every wacky idea out there about both Islam and Christianity is probably held to be true by at least someone, but again, my intention here is not to feed the flames of what we (assuming most of my readers are from a Christian background) think particular Muslims or Muslims in general believe. Making statements about what other people believe always gets a bit dicey, in my opinion.

So, with that out in front of us...

During the golden age of Islam (which overlapped in part with the Dark Ages), Arabs far surpassed Europeans in almost every realm of knowledge and craftsmanship - medicine, literature, philosophy, architecture, textiles.... The Muslim world had streets full of bookshops open to commoners while Christian monks hoarded 4 or 5 books total. It was Arab doctors and scientists who discovered much about what we know about the human eye today, even performing surgeries to remove cataracts. They understood the basis of germs and segregated their hospital wards by ailment. They also wove the most beautiful fabrics available at the time, which Europeans coveted.

It was these fabrics which, on occasion, found themselves draped over models (or simply used for reference) in paintings of the Virgin Mary and other holy Christian figures (even Jesus!) in European paintings. Arab artisans often embroidered text on the hems of their fabric, which is how the Shahada finds its way into Christian paintings. In most instances, the Arabic text found in paintings is more accurately referred to as psuedo-Kufic because it is an imitation of Arabic script, painted by artists who could not read or write Arabic, and thus made numerous errors, or were simply trying to emulate the style without attributing any intelligible meaning to the text. You can read more about the specific time periods and artists who used psuedo-Kufic here (sorry it's Wikipedia!)

This other wiki page explains further:
It seems that Westerners mistakenly associated 13–14th century Middle-Eastern scripts as being identical with the scripts current during Jesus's time, and thus found natural to represent early Christians in association with them:[29] "In Renaissance art, pseudo-Kufic script was used to decorate the costumes of Old Testament heroes like David".[30] Mack states another hypothesis: Perhaps they marked the imagery of a universal faith, an artistic intention consistent with the Church's contemporary international program.[31]
Interestingly enough, Jesus is widely believed to have spoken Aramaic, which was a Syrian dialect. Aramaic script isn't too different from Arabic script, especially to someone (such as myself) who can't read either.

Since I can't read Arabic, I can not tell which paintings actually include the real Shahada (admittedly, more rare than the gibberish Arabic). I first heard about "the words of the prophet sometimes appear[ing] in shocking proximity to Christendom's holiest icons" from this video (around minute 39) which shows several examples of the paintings, but does not credit them or show detail of which ones use real Arabic, and which the pseudo Arabic. The wiki pages do mention that the more talented artists could copy the Arabic text exactly. Even I can tell that many of the paintings, though beautiful (I do love my gold calligraphy!), are not in any real language. In this painting (not pictured because it's kind of ugly) Jesus is all like, "mom, do you even realize what your headdress says?!" Typical baby sass.

(this one looks especially gibberishy)

One interesting bit of background to the Shahada is that Muhammad believed that his God was the same God of the Christians and Jews. Modern Arab Christians will often say the same, and to an extent, this does not conflict with my Christian beliefs. The term "Allah" existed before the birth of Islam, so strictly speaking Allah is God. As a Christian believer, I do not believe that following the teachings of Islam is a valid way of worshiping God/Allah. I see the Qu'ran as a historical document rather than scripture, which is how many non-Christians view the Bible. 

Muhammad had great respect for Christians and Jews, and the Qu'ran talks at length about "people of the Book", which include Christians and Jews. However, Muhammad considered Jews and Christians arrogant for discounting Islam as valid form of worship/following God.
And dispute ye not with the People of the Book except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say 'We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam). Qur'an 29:45-49  Surah Al-Ankabut (The Spider) (emphasis mine)
Muhammad believed that God had simply not revealed himself through a prophet to Arabs yet, as he had done through Moses to the Jews and Jesus to the Christians. Nor did Muhammad choose to be this prophet, according to history, but rather he received messages from God (that became the Qu'ran) that he could not control. 

If we were to consider the God of Christians to be the same God of Islam, as Muhammad did, there are some Qu'ranic verses that we could point to, such as 2:112 Surah Al-Baqarah (The Heifer):
Nay whoever submits his whole self to Allah and is a doer of good he will get his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.
If you replace "Allah" with "God" (linguistically unnecessary, as I said) and interpret "submits whole self" as accepting salvation through Jesus Christ, then I believe in that statement. 

However, we quickly diverge when we come upon verses that are heretical to Christianity, such as 4:171  Surah An-Nisaa (The Women) 
O people of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an Apostle of Allah and His Word which He bestowed on Mary and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Apostles. Say not "Trinity": desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to him: (for Exalted is He) above having a son (emphasis mine)
which, to my understanding, claims that Jesus was not divine. Again in 5:17-19 Surah Al-Ma'idah (The Table Spread)
In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary. Say: "Who then hath the least power against Allah if His Will were to destroy Christ the son of Mary his mother and all everyone that is on the earth? For to Allah belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all that is between. (emphasis mine)
I wish I could track down the linguistic partial-reason for this discrepancy on the divinity of Jesus (it was explained to me via Skype, so I don't have a written record), but my rough memory of it is that there is misunderstanding over the term "son", and that Muslims will often think a Christian believes that Jesus is the result of God having had intercourse with a woman, which is blasphemous to both religions. Of course, upon explanation that the term "Son of God" is not fully literal does not wash away all differences between Christianity and Islam, but none the less, an important thing to clear up. 

Anyway, I hope you found this bit of art and religious history as interesting as I did. I think the presence of the Shahada on Christian iconography is funny, no disrespect to either religion, but I also think it opens the door to dispelling some misconceptions that we hold today, which is always valuable. 

Image credits: 1, 2, 3, 4

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Falling In Love

In his poem "Falling," which I've referenced before, Patrick Phillips writes that falling in love "happens at least a dozen times a day", but he still belongs to his spouse. 

I talk about having crushes a lot, and it makes people uncomfortable. I do not think of having a crush as cheating, I think of it as acknowledging that I'm attracted to something or someone in some way - attraction is not the same as being unfaithful. This [fascinating] article describes the common idea of falling in love as the process of meeting someone to whom you are drawn, getting to know them, getting physical, and finally getting sexual (although I think it's misleading to make sex sound like the final phase).

As a married, monogamous women, I only fall in love half way with anyone but my husband, but I think the meeting and getting to know someone part of falling in love is underestimated in its power and its beauty much of the time. And its ability to happen apart from ones spouse. Whether half falling in love is appropriate apart from one's significant other probably depends on the situation. 

I certainly don't crush on just anyone or anything, but that feeling of really clicking with someone is so wonderful, I chase it and find myself entwined. I love the excitement and the newness, and one of the greatest challenges in marriage (for me) is to cultivate a sense of mystery and desire in spite of having already gotten everything that I want. 

For me, the longing and the "getting to know someone" phase is the most intoxicating, and I want to be known just as intensely in return. It's a little shocking when this happens with someone new - I don't really have casual relationships in my life, mostly just infatuated ones (that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my drift). Since being married, I'm pretty careful not to get anything close to infatuated with any man, but I've found my capacity to be caught up with my [platonic] love for a woman to be just as powerful and almost as curious and dangerous feeling. I don't mean to say that women should stay away from friendships with men if they're married, but considering how easily I fall in love, I generally limit my relationships to women because I am heterosexual and relationships with women thereby make falling wholey in love less likely. 

I don't believe in there being only one soul mate out there for any one of us in the sense that there is literally only one person for you, and if they happen to live in Timbuktu, you've lost your chance at love. I think I could fall in love with plenty of people given the chance, and/but I'm delighted that the person who was willing to go on that journey with me ended up being Jonas.

I saw a child's shirt one time that said, "please don't talk to me, I fall in love so easily" (turns out it's a song), and that's exactly how I feel. There is something about the power and intimacy of words, particularly written words, in my case, that just sends me head over heels. To know someone's secrets is one of the most personal experiences that exist. 

The thing that got me thinking about falling in love was browsing this article right before bed (at which point I whipped out the laptop and started writing this because this entire concept so seized me). There's an often cited experiment of staring into someone's eyes for 2-4 minutes, and that act accelerating the process of falling in love. Jonas told that to me even before we were dating and we used to lock eyes. It was kind of a flirtatious game, but who knows, maybe that's what started everything...

The article includes a series of questions that is supposed to aid two strangers in falling in love. I'm a bit obsessed with asking this type of question of people that I care for. I think a lot of people I love can attest to the fact that I can be "intense." This kind of thing is to me like a shiny object is to a squirrel. In fact, I have this whole category of blog posts called "Musings" in which I just go ahead and answer this kind of personal-ish question that people don't end up actually asking in regular conversation. These are the kinds of answers that tell you so much about someone and are difficult to give a canned answer to. 

These are much harder to answer than they appear to be at first glance, even for me, who manages to have these kind of answers stashed away. As I'm reading them, it is crazy how intimate some of these answers feel, even though I consider myself to have very few, if any, secrets. There are several that I couldn't answer publicly, for sure. I wonder if those are the ones that make me fall in love...

What does falling in love feel like for you? Do you fall in love (at least halfway) with your closest friends? What draws you to someone?

Here are some of my answers to the questions from the article. I'd love to hear some of your answers too (I promise to probably not fall half-way in love with you). 

Set I
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? A Chinese friend I lost contact with. I'm afraid of actually trying to find her - I feel guilty that I haven't tried some of the more drastic things I could try, worried that I'd never find her anyway (or never go as far as I could in my attempts), and worried that if I did find her, nothing would come of it - we'd say, "hi, nice to have reconnected", and that would be it. 
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way? I think so. Not necessarily in the red-carpet sense, but I'd like to create something outstanding and have other people connect with it to the point of adoration for the work. 
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why? If I'm nervous about the conversation, I will probably rehearse it, but I communicate in writing whenever possible (which allows for the maximum amount of rehearsing!). 
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you? Something planned for me by someone who knows me extremely well - not a total surprise, because they unsettle me, but also not a highly structured series of events that I'm told about beforehand, because then I will inevitably find something that doesn't live up to the image I had of it in my head. Perfection is unplanned, stress-free, in-the-moment satisfaction. #highmaintenance 
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? I sing to myself if I have a song stuck in my head or if a song I love is playing, and I sing to my kids every night, but it's been many years since I sang with my real voice for other adults without disguising it in goofyness. I'm afraid that I won't sound as good as I think I do, and thereby humiliate myself. 
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want? It depends on what is meant by a 30-year-old mind. If we're talking about the clarity of a 30-year-old mind, I'd rather have that, but if we're talking in terms of experience and maturity of the mind, I'd rather have a body that is less  worn out and a seasoned mind. 
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? Not really. I think a plane crash is probably ideal (relatively short lived, easy and almost poetic body disposal, likely to be with a loved one, probably on the way to somewhere I'm excited to be going), but unlikely. I'm appalled at the idea that I might die in a stupid accident, like getting hit by a falling coconut or something. I hope my death is dignified in some way. 
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful? Probably my faith, which I think is kind of a curious and morphing phenomenon. 
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? I would have liked a friend who survived moving. I ended up having this in my siblings, but that didn't really happen in the way that I craved until adulthood (partly because I wouldn't let it). 
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? A desire/enjoyment/consistency to be in shape. And upon second thought, I'd like the retain emotional-knowledge from one situation (er, argument) to another so that I never have to find myself promising to do better next time while feeling like I probably can't/won't. 

Set II
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know? Probably nothing - knowing the future without being able to change it is a curse, in my opinion. If I knew that the future could be altered by changing things now, then I suppose I'd want to know what my biggest mistakes will be so that I could try to avoid them. 
16. What do you value most in a friendship? Probably attentiveness that matches mine - a comfortable mutual understanding of what the proper amount of intimacy is. I have yet to achieve this... 
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why? I would stop making excuses not to travel, and I would pay more attention to my kids instead of seeing them as getting in my way. 
20. What does friendship mean to you? Friendship is highly intentional to me. It's ideally a life-time commitment, like a family member that you get to choose, or a spouse that you're not sleeping with. Maybe this boils down to loyalty. 
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life? I think I see love and affection as the most precious thing that I have to offer, so I am both careful and extravagant with it, and also allow a lot of pain into my life because of how I choose to love or give affection (that is, deeply).
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s? I do think my childhood was happier than many, and so it confuses me that it feels so sad to look back on it sometimes. Growing up, I considered my family to be close but not warm (largely because I did not seek warmth), but I feel it is much warmer now. 
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know. I will be a giant time commitment, but I will also be the best friend you've ever had. 
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? I think it's been a few months since I cried in front of someone else, but I cried by myself last week. 
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about? Sexual assault of anyone or harm of children. 

{image credits: 1, 2, 3}

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Wedding Inspiration: A Midnight Howl

Once upon a time, I came across a wedding inspiration post for a midnight seance ritual in a graveyard type thing. It was spooky and creepy and not celebratory at all, but that's kind of the fun of doing inspiration posts: you get to make up this scene that you'd never end up using for an actual wedding, but is still interesting and creative (I in no way endorse Satanic rituals, just FYI). For the life of me, I can not figure out where I saw it though, and searching all the key words has gotten me nowhere.

I know this mystery inspiration I saw had some rad details that I've forgotten and are probably more cohesive than mine, but in case you want to do a fancy Halloween party and steal the show as Persephone or something, here's what I've got for ya...
  • A fitting venue
  • The altar should be a ring of candles, like this, but more candles closer together and maybe directly on the ground instead of in candlesticks.
  • I'm envisioning a giant and wild bouquet of dead (dried) flowers. Wouldn't that be amazing?! I imagine that it would be difficult to give a bouquet like that the illusion of movement since dried flowers are so stiff, but a creative florist could manage it, I'm sure. Two photos that are going in the right direction is this one of a smokebush (if it were dried) and this one
  • For dinner, a squid ink pasta dish is a must. And dripping piles of halved blood oranges! 
  • The soundtrack to this event must include lots of CocoRosie. (major heebiejeebies!) 

Wild hair, furs (so deadly, in this context!), men dressed like pallbearers (Gucciiiiii, hearts for eyes), antique Victorian photographs...

A few more detail photos that didn't quite fit... skull vases (succulents absolutely not allowed), snake candle holders (they just look like poo with the photos this small, sorry), black veils with headchains, snake imagery on plates and paper suites, antique calling cards as place cards ("who the devil are you"), Victorian celestial lockets. I only just thought of this, but mourning jewelry with real hair would be perfect.  

Would you ever do a themed wedding? And if you decorate for Halloween (I don't...) what are some of your favorite creative decor ideas? I loved this from the most recent Martha Stewart magazine. Spray paint all the things gold!!!

Image credits: spiderweb dress, lady in feathers (YSL 1990), black slip dress, menswear, ladies with long hair, skulls and snakes from West Elm, lotus emblem, Romani church, moon locket... I'm getting lazy. If you see one that you need the source for, lemme know, and please don't sue me. 
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