July 5, 2015 § Leave a comment
I have a terrible habit of starting books and never finishing them, even though I enjoy them, and want to finish them. With all but a few books, if I put it down where it’s not obviously in my sight, I will forget about it. For months, years even. It’s dumb, because I’m only limiting my own fun by doing that. So I arbitrarily decided (my favorite kind of decisions) to read 4 books in the month of July. Four books I haven’t read before, because there’s another one of my little problems: always rereading old favorites when there’s a mountain of literature out there, just because I know the old favorites won’t let me down.
The first book of the month was Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and honestly I really started it around June 29. Grace, people. I saw the movie several years ago on a plane, so I knew a little bit about it, but not much (somehow I never really remember the movies I watch on planes). All I remembered was 1. Depressing 2. The twist and 3. I hate Kiera Knightley’s character.
I chose to read it because a friend was writing a paper for grad school on it and asked me to read her paper. It piqued my interest in the book.
The book is not as depressing as I remember the movie to be. I think this is largely in part because of the protagonist’s narration. It’s as though she’s telling you a story, in a very winding, conversational, and casual tone. So very casual, given the premise of the book. The very casualness with which she, Kathy H, and her classmates regard their lot in life is disconcerting and agitating.
What is it? You ask. What is their lot in life?
Ha! I’m not going to tell you! Read the book! (Or watch the movie.)
I will tell you this: beginning at a school in the English countryside, Never Let Me Go is Kathy H’s recollections of her young life and her friendships with Ruth and Tommy. This little book is a myriad of philosophical and ethical questions, in an intimate, low-key package. It asks REALLY BIG questions in a really quiet way. You will enjoy learning Kathy H’s story, but you will also find yourself ruminating on little affectations, passing mentions, and character traits in order to understand the bigger picture behind her words.
Is this review vague enough for you? I’d love to go into some of my own ruminations on it, such as what Ishiguro might be commenting on with all the euphemistic language – donor, student, complete. But to do so would spoil the discovery for you, much like the movie spoiled the discovery for me. The book is still quite worth it, whether or not you’ve seen the movie. If you like philosophical books, you should read it. If you like to read books that are smart but you don’t have to slog through them, read it. If you want something poignant, read it. If you want to shut your brain off and be mindlessly entertained, watch TV.
June 24, 2015 § 1 Comment
I have several ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. I could probably count the number of ancestors from north of the Mason-Dixon line on both hands. In short, I am just about as Southern as you can get. Do I choose to represent that part of my identity with the Confederate flag?
Just because my ancestors fought for the Confederacy does not mean I choose to identify with everything it stood for. That flag stands for the oppression of whole people groups, for hatred, for death, for standing on the backs of others. Slavery was a horrible, horrible mistake, and whatever you think the Confederate flag stands for, it is still seen today by the majority as a symbol for the right to own another human being. It will never be redeemed from that identity. Until this nation crumbles to dust, that flag will forever be a reminder of evil deeds.
It doesn’t matter what your great-great-grandfather thought, whether or not he owned slaves, why he fought for the Confederacy – maybe he just did it because he was from Georgia and it was Us vs Them – the symbolism of the Confederate flag remains unchanged. The death and hatred it is steeped in remains unchanged. When you fly the Confederate flag, you are endorsing inequality, you are telling Americans that their opinions do not matter because your opinions are More Correct, you are choosing to blindly bury your ancestral shame rather than regretfully remember and move forward in freedom.
I regret that my family may have had a part in defending the enslavement of other human beings. I choose to say “They were wrong.” I don’t have to agree with my ancestors. I don’t have to carry their shame. I don’t have to fly their flag.
I think that maybe we can take a cue from our German brothers and sisters here. A legacy of hatred and death (National Socialism, aka Nazism) came out of Germany in the early-mid 20th century. However, Germans don’t have to identify with Nazism in order to call themselves German. Just like I don’t have to identify with the Confederacy in order to call myself Southern. If it’s possible to be German without being Nazi, it’s possible to be Southern without being Confederate. I would even venture to say that glorifying the Confederate flag is like glorifying the Nazi flag. It’s glorifying a symbol of hate and ignoring the pain it signifies for others.
I am proud of my Southern heritage. I am proud of the effort and toil my ancestors put forth, the generations who first farmed Georgian and Tennessean soil. Because of that, I choose respect and honor. I choose a legacy of hard work and loving God and loving people. I choose to not fly the Confederate flag.
June 18, 2015 § 3 Comments
Today I’m going to tell you about Kathy. I’m too tired, too sad, too sleepy to do anything other than what is honest and from my gut. Today I’m going to be weak and vulnerable and tell you about the person who taught me a lot about the importance of being weak and vulnerable.
I won’t pretend that my grief at losing Kathy comes anywhere near the grief my friend, her only daughter, feels, or the other family members she left behind. That is their honor and privilege for being her most precious ones. But there is undoubtedly a hole in my heart and man, I feel it today.
Today is the 2-year anniversary of the day she left. I was thinking about her earlier this week (as I often do), because I was trying to explain to a dear friend the impact Kathy had on me and how she, in her personhood, taught me a lot about how to love others and reflect the Personhood of Jesus. Kathy was full of grace for others and for herself. This is a lesson I need to learn.
In the 11 years I knew Kathy, I watched her embrace, love, and nourish other people where they were. She wasn’t blind to the faults and brokenness of others; actually, she had a keen eye for seeing and understanding people, maybe the keenest eye for it I’ve yet met. She saw people and she loved them. She saw people and she loved them. Not just passively, not merely an affection of the heart, but with actions, with word and deed and encouragement and firm little nudges.
She saw me, an idealistic perfectionist who had big dreams but too much fear of failing. Someone who was a volatile mix of melancholy and choleric. When I showed her my angsty poetry and fiction, she didn’t shake her head at my adolescent drama. She saw my dreams and loved them. She told me they were good and beautiful and important dreams. She didn’t have to love my dreams, and she didn’t have to love me. I wasn’t her kid, and I had my own mom who loved (loves) me fiercely and unconditionally and believes I am awesome and special. But Kathy loved me anyway, and she loved my mom.
I think that Kathy was able to love people so well because she understood her own brokenness and the grace of Jesus that covers it. She could see Grace over others’ imperfections because she first saw Grace over her own imperfections. Oddly enough, this is still the number one thing I struggle with. How kind and gracious is it that God gives us people who show us the parts of Himself we most need to see. And it is the keen importance of those people that makes the absence so keen when they’re gone.
Today is the 2-year anniversary of the worst day of my life so far. The day I learned well and true that death is real and wrong and not something only grandparents do. The day I learned that if we don’t have hope in Jesus we don’t have hope at all.
So cling tightly, dear ones, cling to Jesus.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:51-55
May 24, 2015 § 1 Comment
I saw a movie recently. It’s called Mad Max: Fury Road. I went to see it because, post-apocalyptic 80s grunge action with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. I think that’s a no-brainer. (Confession: I haven’t seen the originals. Yet.)
Before I went to see it, I heard there was a lot of controversy over whether it was uber-Feminist propaganda. Do you want to know the truth? Is Mad Max: Fury Road really Feminist?
No. But it is feminist. And I love it for it.
Here’s how I define Popular Feminism: Women are the equal of Men. Women can do everything that Men can, maybe even better.
Here’s how I define little-f feminism, or, as I’ll refer to it here, Real Feminism (yeah, I think I’m right so I’m going to call it “Real”): Women and Men are of equal worth and value. They have different complementary gifts and strengths.
I think Fury Road is a beautiful display of Real Feminism. Beware, Spoilers be ahead. Seriously, stop and go see the movie first.
In Fury Road, Immortan Joe is a gross old jerk who wants to control the ability to create and sustain life. He has a harem of wives whose sole purpose is to birth him little boys. He has another harem of women to do something else he can’t do: make breast milk (at which, for some reason we all say “Ew” even though every one of us thought breast milk was the bomb.com at one point in our lives).
Immortan Joe can’t create life without women, and he’s not willing to concede that weakness, so he oppresses, imprisons, and controls them. He also hoards the water supply, another symbol of his desire to control the source of life.
Joe’s wives escape and he desperately throws all his resources and destruction after getting his preggo baby-mamas back.
The wives leave Joe a message written in their chambers:
“Our babies won’t be warlords.”
Orchestrating the escape is Furiosa, a woman quite different from the wives (but maybe, in the past, she wasn’t so different?). She’s a badass warrior woman with killer driving skills and a dead aim. Her goal in rescuing in the wives is to reach the home she was stolen from, a fertile paradise, and to gain redemption (from what? We don’t know).
Along the way we catch up with some of Furiosa’s former clan, super awesome wizened warrior ladies who ride motorcycles and shoot and carry the last crop seeds in civilization.
The bearers of life.
In Fury Road, all the women risk their lives and sacrifice themselves to protect one another, to protect their children, and to protect the future of the earth and humanity. The wives carry babies in their bellies and will do anything to keep them from the destructive fate of being Immortan Joe’s war pups. Furiosa’s clan carry the only seeds left in the world, the last chance for life in a never-ending desert. Furiosa will stop at nothing to protect and defend their lives and their right to create life.
Meanwhile, they’re pursued by a host of warlords and warriors, many of whom are brainwashed to think that only destruction and death will bring them glory and eternal life.
Destruction reigns when women are powerless.
So are all the men in this movie destroyers? No. For one, there’s Max. When he first meets the escaping women, he starts by threatening them. But as he begins to work with them, he becomes protective and sacrificial, doing whatever it takes to see them survive. First, he helps them escape. Then, after convincing the women it’s both possible and necessary, he helps them take Immortan Joe’s water supply so that they can use the clan’s seeds to recreate crops and plant life.
It’s quite clear in the movie that the women would not have survived without Max.
We need each other. Women are creators, nurturers, peacemakers, makers of rest, defenders, and protectors. Men, acting as men, defend women, protect them, provide for them, and carry heavy things. Together men and women create life. They can’t do it without each other. Together they protect life. They can’t do it without each other.
Fury Road recognizes that. It celebrates women for being womanly and it warns about what happens when men don’t. And that’s why I think Mad Max: Fury Road is Real Feminism.
Real Feminism recognizes the unique, wondrous ability of women to create and sustain life. To carry it and grow it and bring it into this world. Real Feminism doesn’t try to be the same as Men, because to do that would be to diminish the worth and beauty of womanhood. Popular Feminism says, you have worth if you can do what men can do, but not if you can only do “woman” things. What the hell is that about? That sucks. No. NO.
My body gives life. I cook amazing food. I make things beautiful. I love beautiful things. I create a place of rest. I restore. I bring softness. I nurture. I teach. I protect. I defend those I love, to the death if necessary. I am Feminine. I am steel. And that is more than enough.
January 22, 2015 § 3 Comments
I’ve been on the road a lot lately – putting a lot of miles on the Batmobile. Driven through cities, back country, suburbs, thousands of miles. And I wasn’t seeking this conclusion, but I came to it anyway: America is pretty much the same, everywhere.
Before you get up in arms about the uniqueness of your little hamlet (do we even have hamlets in the US? I don’t think so – chalk another one up to homogeneity), let me expound and clarify and thus placate your offended soul.
I’m from the South, but I’ve lived and visited other places. So I can first list for you the cultural differences between South and non-South, and then I can list for you the differences between my Corner of the South and my Former Corner of the South and your Corner of the South and even go into dialectical differences from city to city.
Don’t worry: you are special and unique. Except…you’re not.
America (and I mean the United States, having never been to Canada or any South American countries) is characterized by one underlying factor: space.
Space as in room, not as in NASA (although we have that, too).
In my international travels, I’ve always noticed this one thing: other places are a lot more crowded. Higher populations + less land. That’s why you have tiny bathrooms (shoilets, affectionately) in Europe and magnificent high-rises in Asia and decent public transportation pretty much everywhere except here and Iceland.
America is farmland and sprawling cities. America is single-family homes on at least 3/4 an acre. America is enough room in the yard to park your RV and your 5th car and a have a pool. America is empty roads for miles, dotted with the occasional ramshackle mom & pop, interrupted by sudden frenzies of chain stores and restaurants – all next to each other, never stacked on top, separated by parking lots.
We are really inefficient at using space. And why should we be efficient? We have TONS of space. Our houses are huge. Our closets are huge. We build everything so far apart that we have to drive to get places. There are too few of us, spread too far apart, to make any kind of public transportation worthwhile (outside of places like NYC, DC, Chicago, etc).
You might be thinking…Well, that’s just normal, isn’t it?
It’s not! The rest of the world is, generally, not like that. At least, not the parts that I’ve seen or heard about.
So it turns out you are unique, then, you special snowflake.
When you’re roadtripping the US, you’ll notice topographical changes (Louisiana is wetter than Texas and Texas is flatter than Georgia!) but it’s all just variations on the same theme. The theme of space: we live on the frontier. Our towns and our cities are roomy frontier towns, evidence of a sparse, young population cautiously rooting itself with plenty of room to swing cats. Even our cultural nuances point to our identity as a country of frontiers, like the ubiquity of boudin along the I-10 in south Louisiana (boudin is a type of sausage originating in France).
It’s not better or worse that we’re a spacious frontier, it’s just different. It does mean that we can get a wealth of experience within the US without culture shock – but it might mean that we can’t wrap our heads around problems that other countries have.
I suck at writing meaningful conclusions, so – the end.
January 11, 2015 § 1 Comment
The whole western world rallies behind France when 20 people are murdered in a terrorist attack in France. But who bats an eye when twice as many die in a suicide bombing in Yemen on the same day?
I can definitely tell you which of the two was the top story on January 7.
Last week Boko Haram killed “thousands” in Nigeria, by Amnesty International’s count.* Just yesterday, a suicide bombing in Tripoli, Lebanon left 7 dead.** But the Charlie Hebdo attack is still the top story. After all, what’s 7 more people dead in the Middle East or Africa? Aren’t suicide bombings just normal there? Wouldn’t reporting deaths by terrorism in the Middle East be like reporting deaths by heart disease in the USA?
Sometimes I get the feeling that that’s what western news outlets think. Sometimes I get the feeling that that’s what westerners think, at the very least subconsciously.
Like most people my age, I don’t read the paper. I get my news online, specifically from Google News. I realize that what shows up on my Google News page goes through a lot of different algorithms, based on most-viewed stories, my preferred news outlets, what’s most popular where I live, what I click on most, and what other people click on most. So, even though I put a high preference on World News and I frequently click on stories from/about the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, stories about Paris and Mark Zuckerberg still shoot to the top of my feed.
I’m not going to pretend to understand algorithms, I just want to share my observations. Also, I want to make really clear that I believe what happened in Paris was truly awful. What I’m trying to emphasize is that similar deaths in Yemen, Nigeria, Lebanon, and other non-western countries are also truly awful, and often much more catastrophic, yet they garner exponentially less outcry in western media.
I understand why Charlie Hebdo is such a big story, and a scary one at that. It’s geographically and culturally closer to us. How many of us have been to Paris on vacation, or dreamed of going to Paris on vacation?
I have a sort of hypothesis that I call the tourism principle: people only actively care about what happens in places they’d conceivably go on vacation or business. We don’t have enough energy to devote grief and empathy to every horrible things that happens in the world, so we have to choose, and we choose that which most directly affects us. I know that’s partly why I care so much about what happens in the Middle East: I’ve been there. I have friends there, and I want to go back.
I don’t have a solution. This is just my way to quietly call out what I’ve observed. What do you think?
New York Times, “Car Bombing Kills Dozens at Yemeni Police Academy,” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/08/world/middleeast/sana-yemen-car-bomb.html
*USA Today, “2,000 dead: Massacre Deadliest in Nigerian History,” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/01/10/nigeria-boko-haram/21552437/
**Haaretz, “Double suicide attack on Lebanese cafe kills at least seven,” http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/middle-east-updates/1.636306