Monday, December 31, 2012

Vulnerability and Communication

It's 20:05 and I'm trying to compose a text message asking this woman I really like if she'd be up for getting together to talk. I sat there nervously laughing at myself as I floundered through draft after draft of the text message, struggling to get the damn thing to say what I mean to say. It's funny because all I'm asking her to do is go out for coffee so we can talk and that's a pretty easy thing to do, right? I mean, I've gone out with her twice already so this should be a walk in the park. I can't really mess up too badly unless I peter-out and not send the text message. The worst that could happen is she says no.

Some of you are probably smirking or doing your own equivalent of the amused look at this point and I'm glad I can be a source of amusement for you, but I have bigger fish to fry. What freaks me out about talking to her is that I want to share my thoughts and feelings. Since there's no manual on how to have a great date, or at least there's not one I've seriously considered reading, I just sort talked about whatever. Family, friends, a few experiences here and there, feminism (that comes up a lot in various ways), and where we're from... That's all fine stuff to talk about and on the second date there was a little more freedom to just talk about thoughts and feelings on stuff, but it was still only surface level stuff. Now before someone sits back in their chair and says, "Well, what did you expect on the first two dates?" You're missing the point and that's partly my fault.

Communication, the real stuff that breaks past the layers of junk which normally distorts what we're saying (cynicism, sarcasm, fear, self-doubt, doubt, anxiety, anger, sadness, etc), that's a really hard thing to have. It probably has some fancy term that you'd learn if you took enough interpersonal communication classes, but instead I'm just going to call it authentic communication. The difficult thing about authentic communication is that it requires being vulnerable. It requires a level of intimacy (in-to-me-see) that I haven't had to have with people on a regular basis. I didn't even realize that I wasn't communicating without my personal filters until this summer when I spent so much time building an authentic community with five other people. We'd stay up late into the night talk through stuff and it would finally come out what I was trying to express and suddenly it donned on me that I had been talking around what I was really feeling and thinking. I've had some time since my first realization and now to practice getting to a place where I can communicate authentically.  

It's really a humbling experience to find yourself practicing what you want to say. Not like in those cute romantic comedies, but it feels more like the longer I think about what I want to say the more I realize that it would have been so much easier if I had learned how to communicate authentically since the time I could talk. Over the years I practiced talking without sharing what I'm really thinking and feeling that when I want to do just that, be open and vulnerable about what I'm thinking and feeling, it's really difficult. There's nothing funny or cute about trying to figure out what it is I'm really trying to say without any pretense or inhibition. For me being vulnerable is hard, it's scary, and yet I believe it is essential to having great relationships (and not just romantic ones).

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Church Lacks Imagination

 For several months I have been trying to articulate some thoughts I have on the Christian Church in America today and I feel like I was finally able to some of those ideas in response to something that was floating around Facebook a little over a week ago.

This came out shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that had everyone arguing over gun control. I am adamantly against guns and violence and frankly I'm quite sickened by the culture of death we have in America. You might be wondering what a culture of death is and I would point to the fact that we find it acceptable to kill a person who tries to steal a television in your house. Nevertheless, that is not what this blog entry is about so I will return to what I've purpose to write about. I wrote the following in response to this,

"I am most definitely not a conservative but I'm not a rank-and-file pro-choice advocate. I do not believe legislating against abortion will have the effect my fellow Christians think it will, but instead will widen the gap of understanding and communication between pro-life and pro-choice people. I think that if Christians want to see the end of abortion, we should try something really radical (something Jesus suggested) and knock the locks off of churches and welcome in anyone and everyone who may be seeking help. Regardless of whether they're gay, straight, pregnant out of wedlock, or what-have-you. Apostle Paul adamantly stands against using the court system as a method of doling out moral precepts on those who don't believe. For Paul that wasn't really even a consideration since during his writing the religious authorities (both pagan and Jewish) were in the process of figuring out what to do with Christians and an out-and-proud Christian was likely to be shunned by the community or worse."
I hear it all the time from the pulpit of churches that being a Christian is more than just a Sunday-Wednesday or a Christmas-Easter gig (and all the youth turn red-faced because the pastor just used "gig" to try to sound hip). I also hear that the Church is more than the building we meet in to worship together, but rather that the Church is the people who gather in the unifying name of Christ. There are quite a few more catchphrases I could spit about the church being a hospital and all that, but suffice to say they've become quite cliche.

I finished off my thoughts on that first graphic by saying this,

"The Church has failed the community outside the four walls of its cathedrals and buildings when it comes to the issue of abortion. Instead of embracing the people who may need guidance and help in figuring out what to do, Christians have slammed the gavel down and passed judgment. We have heaped loads of fear and shame on those who we should have been welcoming in. Until we change this, Christians are not in a very good position to say one way or another how to handle the issue of abortion. Until we have done everything to mend the wounds of our every hateful word and deed; until we have done everything to make ourselves available to lend a helping hand without passing judgment, we stand with powerless words. As a cis-gender male and feminist, I don't feel it is my place to tell women and trans-men what they can and cannot do with their bodies."

Folks, the message of the love of Jesus Christ was worth dying for and yet somehow the Church has been pigeonholed into a very narrow way of thinking and approaching problems. This is exactly the opposite of the way Jesus did things. When  Jesus needed to pay the temple tax, what did he do? He told Peter to go fishing and pull a coin out of the mouth of fish (Matt 17:24-27). I don't know about you, but all the times I've gone fishing have not ended in me being a dollar or two richer than before. I'm usually lucky to catch something worth eating, much less get enough money to pay the highway toll or something like that. We see it in some of the great prophets, like Elisha, who did a little CPR on a dead boy and then G-d the boy sneezed back to life (2 Kings 4:34-35). Are you getting this, my friends? G-d is far stranger, far more imaginative than we can possibly conceive but we have been given a sample of that (think of it like the trial version). G-d gave us imaginations of seemingly unlimited potential, so I ask why are we not using it to enhance the kingdom of G-d? Why do we fight with weapons of the world and play their political games? I know we're all pretty used to it, but most of us were pretty used to breast milk and as far as I know none of the people reading this are still living off of breast milk.

Do you know what breaks my heart about all of this? Many people will agree with what I'm saying, but tomorrow they will wake up and go about their day and argue about the same stuff in the same way they did yesterday. Something tells me that must be a bit like what Jesus feels when watching the modern-day disciples twist and pervert The Way into a nationalist American propaganda piece.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

From My Dead Cold Fingers

"They can ban smoking on campus when they pry my cigarettes from my DEAD cold fingers!"

I said this in exasperation when I heard that there were people on campus trying to put forth a campus-wide smoking ban. First let me say that I understand why people would want the ban. Smoking smells bad, it's a toxic air pollutant, and there are more than just a few smokers who regard the "15 feet from the building" rule with apathy and to an extent bitterness. The hostility felt towards smoking is not without merit. Smoking is a lethal habit that has taken the lives of family, friends, co-workers, employers, employees, partners, celebrities, thinkers, and so on. It doesn't just kill people, rather it maims them to the point where death might be preferable. For someone who doesn't smoke, it may be really hard to understand why smoking is still around. In Chicago, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is around $10 and may see another price spike if the tax increase proposal goes through. With all these negative consequences of smoking, I suppose it may sound insane to be a smoker.

As a smoker of three years, I have seen the hostility of those who hate smoking and I have seen the apathy of smokers who have little respect for the rules and the people who hate smoking. It's a passive-aggressive game between lobbyists for the rights of those who don't smoke and the smokers who don't appreciate being treated like second-class citizens. That may sound like a strong statement to be making, but once I explain this a little more I think it will become more clear.

Every morning when I get up I can usually go about two hours before I really need my first cigarette of the day. From the last half of October through the end of March I have to get fully dressed and throw on a coat, hat, and possibly gloves just to have this one cigarette. I stand outside and shiver, sometimes even cursing loudly if it's a bitterly cold morning. I stand in dirt and mud because standing much closer to the door- where the sidewalk is- will likely incur the wrath of someone living on the first floor of my apartment complex. In between classes I have to hurry outdoors to get a cigarette in before my next class and I may not even get that if I have to use the bathroom or drop something off at an office. Walking to and from Shimer, I get these looks from mothers and fathers who are with their kids... They're praying on the inside that their kid will never end up to be like me... A smoker. Friends, acquaintances, and even people I don't really know have no problem telling me that I smell like smoke. They remind me that's how awful the smell is, as if I wasn't aware, but in their defense I can't smell it anymore and actually enjoy the fragrance from my own cigarette. Maybe because I'm a nice guy or because I'm inculcated with guilt, I feel bad whenever someone mentions this to me. I sometimes want to leave the room to alleviate their suffering, but when that's a classroom I can't readily do that. Occasionally I'll find a place to hang my outdoor wear so as to minimize the smell.

There is of course the people who want to try to "help" me quit. I once tried to monopolize on this by starting a campaign that if someone caught me smoking they would get a dollar. Eventually I just found other places to smoke without getting caught, or caught less frequently, and when I upped the reward people made some pointed criticisms that I had inadvertently shifted the responsibility of quitting onto those who spot me. When I tell people that I'm a smoker they will actually follow my statement up with, "you should quit smoking". In my mind I'm thinking something to the effect of, "no shit, Sherlock". I try to explain to them that smoking is more addictive than heroine, how much of social life is centered around the fact that I smoke, and cite all the times and ways I've tried to quit smoking. John Cheese from Cracked wrote a great article about the problems smokers face when trying to quit called, "5 Lessons You Only Learn Through Quitting Smoking". People don't realize that telling me to quit is insulting. It's like holding the carrot on a stick in front of my face. On a bad day I have a hard time calming myself down enough to avoid an altercation.

The problem with the ban is that it won't make people stop smoking. It will just further incite hostility between smokers and non-smokers. So far the requests non-smokers have turned into legislative action have not been terribly unreasonable. As much as I hate standing outside in the cold freezing my extremities off, it's not an unreasonable request to ask smokers to take their smoking outside where the stench and pollution are less likely to harm non-smokers. This ban would solidify the feeling smokers have that the rest of the population hates us, the people who smoke. They don't care if we spend our free time volunteering, if we're really good with kids, if we care about the poor, if we're pro-gay rights, or anything like that. All that matters is that we're smokers and that is reason enough to hate us. They hate us because they hate smoking, but the distinction between disgust of smoking has not been made separate from the people who smoke.

Now that I have cooly and calmly explained the problem, I have only one more thing to add...

Peace that surpasses all understanding (hopefully this doesn't come to violence),

Smoking with match picture courtesy of Bernhard Classen/Alamy

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crisis (Why am I so anal about my jobs?)

No, I'm not in a crisis, although I wish I was sleeping better.

The other day (Saturday at 17:23 to be more precise), the power failed across half the campus. I was in my room trying to finish an entry for the Shimer Blog about getting to see my childhood hero, Bill Nye the Science Guy. I was looking at my phone and then set it down when I noticed the music stopped, but quite quickly I noticed that it wasn't just my music: my computer was totally dead. I took a step outside and looked around, a few people were standing outside just as confused as I was. I joked around with my RA for a few seconds and then informed him that I was going to the first floor to check on the Community Desk Assistant (CDA, a person who sits at the front desk of the dorm building) and make sure Public Safety had been notified.

When I got downstairs, the CDA looked at me like he had a million questions he wanted to ask me, I've seen that look before. It's the look I get every time something goes wrong in my apartment complex. Last year the fifth floor had been flooded because someone intentionally clogged the drain and put both the hot and cold on full in the utility sink. I had been talking to the CDA, you know, trying to get to know the people who sit at those desks for hours on end when I heard water pouring down the elevator shaft- guess who made the phone calls and answered all the questions about the who, what, when, where, and how; yes, that was me.

I don't do it on purpose, per se. I enjoy seeing a problem get resolved smoothly, but I'm not out looking for problems. My own shift as a CDA sometimes requires me to respond to a crisis, usually in the form of an intoxicated student who drank way more than their body can handle and needs to be transported to the hospital. I hate having to be that guy that's always enforcing the rules, but I do enjoy helping people see the practical application of certain rules we have. I enjoy seeing the rules that were established long before I got here work in my favor. I like rules, I can't deny that, although I fear for the person who tries to enforce a rule I don't like. Anyways, crisis, it's funny that I use that word because what constitutes for a crisis in my job is very minimal in comparison to things I was trained to handle.

Yeah, I was trained to handle worse. I never really thought about it, but I was drafting an e-mail to my supervisor to explain why I was so upset when I went into the office yesterday and it suddenly struck me- I am not an average CDA. For the past two years I've looked back at my days of wanting to be in the military, of participating in Civil Air Patrol - Search and Rescue, and all that with great disdain. I didn't want to remember those days, they were (and often still are) are the subject of nightmares. Those days are the reason why I take a particular interest in psychological research done on abuses of power, the Stanton Prison experiment, and Milligram's authority experiment. Nevertheless, thanks to that stuff I've been trained to handle problems under pressure... It's true, I may not have the reflexes and discipline necessary to perform under the kind of pressure I was trained for, but I doubt I'll be rendering life-saving first aid to any injured pilots any time soon.

What I do really well (by comparison to my co-workers) is see a problem in progress and think. Most of my co-workers seem to see a problem and panic, which is pretty normal. Panic, in this situation, is caused by a conflict between the recognition of the problem and the emotional response to the shock of it happening. The fact is that CDA's are very accustomed to showing up for their shift and doing homework most of the time without much incident. When something like an intoxicated student trying to get past the front desk happens, the natural tendency is to panic and then reactively let the student pass by. It's uncomfortable to try to explain to an intoxicated person, or what usually happens it that you have to explain it to their sober friend who's carrying them, that you need to contact an RA and possibly Public Safety. You don't know if the drunk student is an angry or violent drunk, you'd probably prefer to not find out, but it's all a part of the job.

It's gets a bit more tricky when you're, say, a 3rd shift clerk at a gas station. At a gas station you are not obligated to handle drunk people, at least that's what they tell you when you sign up for the job, but drunk people come into gas stations all the time. They want some snacks, they want cigarettes, or they just need to use the ATM machine to get cash for the taxi fare. Drunks, as I have said elsewhere, are not people. They are subhuman primates that are incapable of higher cognitive and complex motor skills. They will not understand why you can't sell them cigarettes without an ID or why the ATM machine swallowed their credit card when they stood there for twenty minutes staring at the advertisements on the screen. My policy has been two-fold, as long as they aren't harassing me or my co-worker and they are not driving, then they can buy their stuff and leave. As soon as they break one or both of those rules, I'm going to come down on that shit like an anvil to a fly. I also refused to tolerate the high school kids dealing dope in the parking lot. We caught them on multiple occasions, but only once did we manage to get the police involved.

It's the perfect storm, between my previous experiences and my training, I am pretty much one of the biggest hard-asses you could get. I won't take offense if the majority of you don't want to work with me from here on out. Rest assured, there are jobs where I don't take this hard-assery out on other people, but none of you are likely to work that kind of job (just kidding!).


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Some Stuff I'm Thinking About

Three cups of coffee in less than ten hours does not lend itself to a great night of sleep, nor to productivity. Upon finishing my reading for today from Between Past and Future by Hannah Arendt, I was left with my thoughts. I can't escape them no matter how hard I try. I can't pretend that I'm not at times tortured by guilt and regret over things I have done, though saying it like that may be melodramatic. Melodrama underscores the source of many of my problems. I seem to lack the foresight or the reflective powers in the moment of despair to grasp the temporal nature of my issues. While a power outage may be very inconvenient, I have the tendency to make it out as though my very existence was about to be blotted out with the loss of electricity. I'll never forget that during the Snowpocaplyse a couple years ago, they shut down the power in my residence building, but instead of just sucking it up and going to class- I began to research the legality of doing so. In the end, the power was restored before the real snow and wind hit, but 18 people died that night while I sat cozy in my computer chair acting like I was suffering.

My short-sightedness is not purely self-centered, although I think it's definitely the stronghold where all vestiges of my selfishness reside in a smoldering pit of yuck. It's also not as though I haven't turned my sense of being wronged-in-the-moment to something good. I held IIT accountable for a major foul-up that, left unchecked, could have led to a lot of people being affected; that instance does not make-up for or justify my short-sighted tendency to turn problems of the moment into a crisis. I walk around Shimer and certain people I see daily are a constant reminder of the damage that I can do with my short-sighted self-centered attitude. I've burned bridges that could have been wonderful friendships and I have no guarantee that I can ever rebuild those. I have lost countless friends in Minnesota due to my inability to ignore my feelings of being wronged and my relentless efforts to be vindicated. Pride. It's a sort of vain love of myself masked by the shifting of blame onto other people. The problem would be simple if there was a clear distinction of who is right and who is wrong, because I don't usually place blame on innocent people, but rather inundate them with guilt for small wrongs they've done to me and make myself out to be Jesus at the Cross heaping the guilt on the Roman executioners. Thing is, I profess to imitate Christ, but He was pleading for G-d to forgive His executioners- not lambasting them with guilt.

This goes beyond a simple insecurity, although I believe it feeds into insecurities about people loving me. It explains how I can be so selective about what I take offense to and why there's such extremes in my reaction. Something that people would think offends me, but doesn't wrong me personally can go on without even a mention from me. Something that speaks critically of me as a person or is perceived to be a wrong to me directly becomes an issue that won't be dismissed until I thoroughly assassinated the character of the person who wronged me.

And I say all this somewhat frustrated by the fact that I'm not sure recognizing this is a problem that exists will bring me any closer to becoming a better person who doesn't do this to people. Can I stop this indirectly self-destructive externalization of my personal demons before I lose all my friends and those I care about?


Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Very Brief Non-Anecdotal Summary of My Summer

Some people might remember my frantic and often discombobulated pleas for donations towards a non-profit mission. I was fortunate and blessed to receive enough funding to do what it is I set out do this summer, so let me tell you what I did. I'm going to avoid telling stories as much as possible because there are so many I could tell and they're all noteworthy, but this blog entry would be forever and a page long if I tried tell you all of them. Instead, I'm thinking I'll tell a few of my stories as I reflect on different issues pertaining to multiculturalism/multi-ethnic living, ethics of living in a corrupt and broken world, G-d's view of Biblical justice, and whatever else may come.

The program is called the Chicago Urban Program (CUP) and it's through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF/IV) IV then partners with churches and ministries in impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago that are willing to work with and teach college students about the realities of our broken world. In my case, it was in Austin with five other people in a two-bedroom apartment. With a CTA card of $20.00 per person for two weeks, $120.00 a week in groceries, and $5 discretionary spending money we were being asked to live as someone who ate off of what food stamps could afford and spend what little free money we had on our laundry. This wasn't even the focus of our summer "internship" rather it was the setting for immersion into the neighborhood we were living in.

I will summarize the goals of CUP in this way, that we had three primary objectives:

1. Live and learn in an intentional and authentic community within our apartment. This included creating times to share our feelings, thoughts, and where we were at spiritually. Devotionals and many dinners were done together and many other activities were done communally.

2. Live and learn in an intentional and authentic community within our neighborhood. While some teams in previous years had gone door to door or patrolled the streets like street-corner preachers, my team invested quite a bit of time in the people of our partners Circle Urban Ministries and Rock of our Salvation Evangelical Free Church.

3. Study the theological narrative and fundamental basis for justice and practical applications of a Biblical view of justice in the world today. 

Our weekly schedule looked something like this:

Monday is the start of our work week. We get up somewhere between 07:00 and 07:45 and have devotionals together at 07:50. We leave for work at 08:25. For my team, it was split between two of working with the high school and middle school students while the other four worked with children between the grades of kindergarten and sixth grade. We worked until 17:30-45 Monday through Friday and occasionally had bring home work related stuff (like in a real job).

Tuesday mornings we had inductive Bible-study on the book of Amos, which was a break from work only to be doing this intense critical analysis of the text. Wednesday nights we'd go to North Lawndale and have racial reconciliation discussions. Often times these discussions were spring-boarding off of a movie we watched over the weekend (such as Crash, Blood Diamond, or Color of Fear). Our discussions were emotional, as we began to speak honestly about the racial injustice that exists and how it affects us daily. As a white person, I found myself wondering if G-d could love white people after all we (as a people-group) have done to hurt G-d's children (although white people are G-d's children too).

The weekends weren't much of what we normally associate with a weekend. Saturday became an all-day affair trying to get laundry, groceries, and cleaning done in a the short span of a day. Sundays we went to church. Most of my team was involved in one ministry with the church or another and all but two of us were involved in young adult Sunday school. I was on the praise team providing backing vocals. After church we had our retreat of silence. The retreat of silence was a time we could spend in silent reflection, sleep (napping was almost a necessity for most of us), or just time to be by ourselves (six people in a two bed-room apartment can be a little claustrophobic).

I say all of this to say that I learned so much. I've studied a lot on Biblical narratives of justice and reconciliation, but experiencing it first hand is another thing entirely. I also learned a lot about my limits as a person. I never realized just how much I could do if I pushed myself to do it. On a more sentimental note, I feel like I also got a taste of what my parents have gone through for the past 30+ years of their lives. I actually e-mailed my mom and basically told her how sorry I was for any time that I've ever made her life more difficult than it already was. Being an adult with responsibilities is tough, not without advantages, but it's not for the faint of heart or the person looking to coast on the lazy river.

Finally, I miss my team. In person, I typically refer to them as my Austin family. Each one of them is near and dear to my heart, they are truly a unique and wonderful group of people.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

C.S.A.: Confederate States of America

The other day I watched this mockumentary which was a meta-film documentary about the history of the Civil War. In this film, the history is changed to reflect a possible outcome had the Confederates won. It even included commercial breaks and a breaking news interruption featuring products such as, "Niggerhair" cigarettes, it definitely came close to simulating a made-for-television documentary feel.

What disturbed me so much about it is that it isn't too far from what I'd imagine would happen. Often times I wonder if America, though outwardly becoming more accepting of other cultures, is actually Orson Welles 1984 and this film as an instructional manual. Sometimes I fear that the soon-to-be minority of fundamentalist Christians will be the ruling oligarchy of America and have their way with this country; ravaging freedom like Jack the Ripper having a field day in London. It's a gruesome reality that I shudder to think about, especially in knowing that I was raised as fundamentalist Christian. (In case anyone was wondering, Walt Whitman amongst others fled to Canada when he found out that slavery was far from being abolished in this alternate timeline. Harriet Tubman tried to help former-President Lincoln escape, but both were captured.) It was basically the story of how Manifest Destiny would play out if it hadn't become a subversive narrative underlying American popular culture. That's right folks, I'm saying it. Manifest Destiny is a live and well today, just not overt and openly admitted by anyone.

Want to know something else super disturbing? Many of the products featured in the commercials were actual products that existed in our real universe (See #10 and #3 for the examples that I'm referring to). I wish I could tell you to go ahead and pat yourself on the back because all of that disappeared back in the 1950's, but what about Aunt Jemima's Syrup and Uncle Ben's Instant Rice? Folks, we're not as far removed from the horrors of our past as we'd like to think. How we've handled the conflict in the Middle East is indicative of our failure to learn from past mistakes. Sure, we're no longer under the authority of that warlord psychopath Bush, but President Obama is no savior; prophet, or angel. He's just a man, perhaps a more honest man with a great sense of humor, but still a man. In some ways, electing him has given America some false hope, as if electing a black man into presidency means something. Obama was put up against McCain and you expected anything different? That old fart was no match for President Obama. McCain started out strong, but in an effort to appeal to more and more interest groups, the guy ended up being a middle ground between liberal and conservative.

There has been some significant changes since then, but we cannot become complacent in the successes of our fore bearers. Currently, I've seen some great stuff coming out of the Occupy movement. My concern is the political agenda of modern social justice movements. I've seen a lot of communists, socialist, far-left liberals, and so on all backing the Occupy movement. The problem? Everyone needs to be involved in a social justice. Another problem? Occupy is not synonymous with social justice. Just as marching with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement wouldn't necessarily make me a social justice advocate, social justice is far bigger and has more wide-reaching implications and applications than mere protest. I'm digressing from the point.

Want a good glimpse at the Manifest Destiny undertones made (ready for it?) MANIFEST? Watch this film and see what one film maker and some devoted cast and crew see as America's future had the MD narrative been allowed to flourish openly.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Thoughtful Commentary (Shimer Policy Against Exclusive Groups)


I need to start this blog by recognizing that there have been a lot of wonderfully accepting, understanding, and generously constructive criticisms to my angry rant called, "The Gaping Hole Shimer Leaves In My Heart". After I thoroughly dragged my school and peers through the mud, they responded by thoughtfully offering their consoling words and encouragement. Words cannot express the gratitude to the people who did this. To those who did not, I totally understand why you were so upset and I'm not holding anything against you for getting up-in-arms about it.

Shimer College has a policy that, as it is worded on their website states, "Sororities and fraternities and other organizations which promote exclusivity based on sex, age, national origin, economic, or academic status, or any other basis, are not permitted". One of the primary unstated other organizations is ROTC programs. To help me focus what I'm trying to say, I am going to be talking specifically about the fraternity I wish to join, but hopefully the majority of what I say applies to most of the groups not permitted by this policy.


When I first applied to attend Shimer College, I never gave it much thought that there was this policy against joining fraternities. My perception of fraternities were these weird cult-like places where the guys get drunk every night and torture their pledges. Why would anyone want to be a part of that? I came to Shimer and one of the first things I learned about the Greeks at IIT was that there was once a fraternity who did something almost unspeakable. In retaliation for losing their accreditation (the ultimate punishment for listless offenses), this house of frat guys poured cement down the water pipes in their house (which they were being kicked out of). That house was going to become the Shimer dormitory. The damages were so extensive that it was more financially efficient to destroy the building rather than try to replace all the pipes. This boiled over my already warm brew of "f- you" for fraternities.

When I joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I was absolutely shocked by how many Greeks there were. The place was crawling with them. I didn't get too close to them, but little did I know that the people I made friends with immediately were mostly Greek. I told them that I really did not like Greeks and explained what my perceptions of them were. It took several months, but I came to understand that my perception was a stereotype of Greeks that isn't true of all Greeks. Later I met a graduate student who told me the whole story behind the fraternity that sabotaged the would-be Shimer dormitory. It became clear to me that, even for a stereotypical fraternity, those guys were out of control freaks who just wanted to be destructive.

Shimer College faculty and staff, to some extent the students as well, speak of the community that Shimer has. If you heard them speak about Shimer community, you'd think we're all one big hippy family that sings kum baya around a campfire. I was really excited to see this in action. I had just left a very close-knit theatre company that had been my community for almost two years and I was not looking forward to leaving that, except at the promise of joining a new community: the Shimer community. I was so thrilled that I was being a given a chance to prove that I could excel in the right academic conditions, then to be told that Shimer has such a generous and close community was like I had just found paradise.

As weeks turned to months, I began to realize that the community that was held in such regard was more a thing of legend; a vestige of the Shimer days of yore. I had come to Shimer in the wake of the usurpation of a very misguided president. This experience had brought a certain sense of community to a select group of Shimer students who had answered the call which comes to Shimerians who want to protect the ethos of Shimer, but I was not a part of that. Also, I had come in the Spring, which meant that I was living on campus with a group of Shimerians who had already spent a semester getting to know each other. I came to Shimer with so many preconceptions about the world, I burned a lot of bridges when I got here. To my shame, I pissed off a lot of wonderful people and further alienated myself from the very people I wanted so badly to be accepted by.

When I came back in the Fall, I wouldn't say that I was completely changed, but I was definitely not the same person. I was coming into a new era of social justice-mindedness. I was suddenly more aware of the disparity between different groups of people by ethnicity, culture, political affiliation, creed, and so forth. I was living on the same floor as all these first year students and I was really stoked about it. I had met some of them from their visits in the Spring. I actually went through orientation with them just so I could try to incorporate myself into the developing community of students who I'd be living with. What came of this was a much stronger bond with these group of Shimer students than I have with anyone else. Unfortunately, I am not as close to them as I'd like to be. I'm sure that is a fault that lies with both myself and the others. I don't believe there is any malicious intent there. They are genuinely wonderful people and I love them dearly.

Over the past year, I've come to meet a certain group of guys from the Skulls (Phi Kappa Sigma). I've come to know them, respect them, and enjoy hanging out with them. I've also done a little research into the fraternity as a whole, and it turns out that these guys have done some incredible things. For example, when a southern chapter wanted to make it so that only white men could join, the rest of the chapters pretty much gave their racist brothers the finger and refused to amend the constitution. It was then that I knew that if I ever found a way to join a fraternity without completely leaving Shimer in the dust, this would be the one for me.


Now we get to the core of what I find myself frustrated with. Shimer College is a close community by virtue of its ethos of dialogue and pursuit of a shared learning experience through inquiry. At present, there is a Shimer floor in the Gunsualus dormitory building, but that is dissolving and next year Shimerians will be fully integrated into the structure IIT has for all their students who live on campus. This means that one of the main aspects of what gave me a semblance of community with my fellow Shimerians is going the way of dinosaurs and cassette tapes.

This is not a bad thing for Shimer College as a whole. It simply means that the dynamics of what makes the Shimer community is evolving the same way the College is evolving. I will still have my Shimerians who I spent the academic year of '11-12 and some of them I may even get to graduate with. There are also some Shimerians who do not live on campus that I feel close to and I will have them as well. It is not the end of the world that there will no longer be a Shimer floor, but I would humbly submit that Shimer may not be a one-stop shop for all an individual's community needs. This is only natural now that Shimer College is located on the second floor another school's building and does not have any external facilities of its own.

With this change in the dynamics of the Shimer community, the question I raise is whether Shimer can afford to sustain its reluctance to allow the students to join organizations which are deemed "exclusive". I've heard rumor of the reasons why this policy was instituted, and I have responses to all of them, but rather than combat speculation with opinion; I will rest my argument on the evolving nature of the Shimer community and what it lacks that can be filled by other organizations currently prohibited by this policy.


There will be a lot of work ahead of me if I truly want to see a change in this policy. I have heard from some who would support my efforts to, at the very least, bring about a fruitful discussion on the relevancy of this policy in modern Shimer. It's going to take some investigation into the true origins of this policy and a response to the premise on which the policy is founded.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Don't Hate Atheists, I Hate High School

I have a few atheist friends, though I admit they're more like acquaintances. I guess I'm lucky though, for the most part I think my atheist friends are smart people. Five years ago I pretty much thought all atheists were idiots and they thought I was an idiot. Thanks to the great discussions I have at Shimer College, I've come to realize what it is that really bothers me with atheists.

I should say what bothers me with certain kinds of atheists. You see, no two atheists are the same, though they may share that one commonality of not believing in any conception of G/god. One atheist could be as different from another as a Methodist is from their Pentecostal neighbor. The problem I have actually extends to all kinds of people, not just atheists- today I'm just going to talk about atheists because the examples I've seen lately were atheists. Remember high school? I know that if you are like me, you try to forget and spend many nights crying yourself to sleep over the nightmare that was those four years of pubescent insanity. The most amusing thing about high school is the groups that students form. We've got environmentalists, Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), a Bible study, anime club, sports teams, and so on. Atheists sometimes have a group, but unfortunately it varies based on where and how many students want to put their belief- or lack thereof on display.

My high school didn't really have an atheist student group, or if they did it wasn't well promoted. I certainly heard a lot from atheists though. Oh yes, I heard so much about how stupid I must be because I believe in God. In retrospect, a lot of the same people who said such nasty things to me about my faith were people who got burned by the Church in one way or another. At the time I thought all atheists were just bitter self-righteous individuals who were fixated on insulting every theist. It wasn't until very recently that I realized that those weren't atheists, those were bullies. They had to make everyone else feel miserable while bolstering themselves up as the only intelligent people to grace high school with their presence.

I can forgive the kids who were like this in high school, especially since I was no better in my high school days at representing the love and grace of Christ. What bothers me is people who call themselves atheists, but really they're just bullies. They are a disgrace to the wonderful and incredibly intelligent atheists I have had the pleasure of knowing- even for a short time. Bullies like this hide behind their "atheism" because they can hurl insults at people and claim that whatever they say is valid because they are the "free-thinking" ones. It's about as absurd as claiming that I am the most fashion-forward person because I wore the right shade of blue today.

What worse is that it isn't limited to atheists who have these bullies in their ranks. Christians can't even label themselves as such without their stereotypes being applied, especially the stereotypes created by some really insane bullies who called themselves Christians. Environmentalists, feminists, and so on and so forth. I used to think it was just because they were the most radical people of their movement, but radicalism (not to be confused with extremism) is not an excuse to be a bully. You can hold the view that people who eat meat are virtually cannibals without having to walk around calling people with a burger in their hand "savages" or something like that.

I'd just like to thank my atheist friends for showing me that one can hold the view that there is no G/god without being a complete idiot-jerk about it.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Racism: A Discussion That Needs to Happen (But Isn't)

When I was in elementary school, I thought racism was a thing of the past. We learned about the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, about the segregation of the 50's and 60's; the picture painted was that Dr. King curb-stomped racism when he marched throughout the south. I thought racism was only an issue that had existed in the south, that the north were people with some darn good common sense. Tack that in with the capitalist notion that all it takes to be successful in life is hard work, that everyone has an equal chance; racism couldn't possibly exist.

Fortunately, my parents abhorred racism and did their best to raise my siblings and me to be accepting of all people regardless of skin color. The problem that rose up was that racism was not discussed in the modern context. It wasn't portrayed as something that still occurred. Even when I was in high school, though by that time I knew that racism still existed I still had no idea how rampant and embedded it is in the American culture (if I can be permitted to express it that way). My position was solidified when I was falsely accused of making a racist comment towards a latino student at my school. I said, "is that so hard to understand?" and he heard, "do you speak English?" At the time, I was enraged that someone would have the audacity to claim that I was a racist. I felt like my entire essence was being put on trial and my value as a human being was being assessed. Ultimately, I was suspended for two days on account that I had only myself to support my side of the story while the latino guy had three black friends who said they all saw it his way. Do you see the way this story is shaping up? At the time, it seemed like the school was favoring the other guy simply because he was latino and yet it didn't matter that there might have been a conflict of interest when his three black friends stood up for him.

For years I harbored bitterness towards other ethnicities, not because they were different; I didn't really see them as being any more different than my German-Irish family is from my Scandinavian neighbors. I did not ask to be born of the privileged white male elite. I did not ask to inherit the history of an oppressive, evil, and savage stereotype. I did not enjoy looking into the eyes of a black man and feeling as though he might think I'm a racist "like all other white folks". I've grown up in a multi-ethnic church (though not necessarily multi-cultural). After the pastors' daughter married a man from Uganda and they started orphanage there, I became more and more accustomed to the differences in culture between my American self and the boys of Uganda. I actually had the privilege to spend time with some of the boys who came over here to study (and another who came over for medical procedures). Even then I was still so bitter that because I was white that I automatically must be a racist.

It wasn't until I went on a retreat with my chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IV) that God began to work on my hard heart. I began to understand that God was calling me to leave my bitterness at the foot of the Cross and begin to see with the eyes of love again. My resentment towards my own elite status of color and sex were actually causing me to be less sympathetic that there is in fact a huge disparity between races and genders. It wasn't about who was a racist and who wasn't, it was realizing that God's heart was for the oppressed and overlooked- that included those victims of racism I so neglected to acknowledge.

Enter Kony 2012 trend...

When I first watched the film there was a conflict between my rational mind and my emotions. Emotionally I was ready to jump on the Kony 2012 bandwagon and do whatever Invisible Children (IC) told me to do. Rationally, I was thinking about how things weren't adding up that the only part of me that was moved by the video was the emotional side of me. I mean, who doesn't want to help scared children who are being taken away by big scary mean warlords? I was on their website, literally about to order the geo-tracking bracelet they feature in the film and a kit of about 30 posters. Just before I put the order in I stopped and thought about it. I asked myself if this is the kind of revolutionary action Jesus would take to end such a horrible thing? Would Jesus really drop Benjamins into the hands of other warlords to kill one warlord in the spotlight?

At the same time, I still wanted to do something. I heard people complain about the IC and the Kony 2012 trend and felt as though it was an attack on me personally. I felt as though all the awful things they were saying about IC were also being said about me. At that point I broke down and posted on my Facebook wall that I was upset that no matter how genuine I tried to be in my attempts to do good work in the world, there was always a critic to point out the flaw in my work. This status inspired a few people to respond sympathetically, but at least one person wanted to discuss it openly and honestly. From this talk, I didn't come away with more answers, but it did clarify something to me. Racism is an issue and it needs to be discussed.

Not just racism, but what does it mean to be American? One of my favorite authors from last semester, W.E.B. DuBois brings up the issue of being both African and American- not wanting to sacrifice being either. What does it mean for me, of German and Irish ancestry, to be living as an American? What is my responsibility as both white and male? What about white guilt? There are so many questions and so few discussions on this and many more issues... The scary thing is that the more we ignore these discussions, the more I believe we will see things like what Jezebel reported in this article.

In short, the article highlight that's people are feeling cheated because they invested emotionally into characters from Suzanne Collins book, The Hunger Games, only to see the film version come out differently than they expected. What was different? Was it missing plot points? Was it bad acting or misrepresented characters? No, it was because the characters were faithfully portrayed as ethnically diverse, in particular the character of Rue. Let me warn you that SPOILERS are ahead. Reading the book, almost everyone falls in love with Rue. It's hard not to. She's sweet, innocent, and most people can readily identify her as the little sister-type. When people went to the movies and saw her as a young black girl, suddenly they got upset. They got upset because somehow being emotionally invested in a black girl is bad and it's Hollywood's fault for portraying her as black. This speaks volumes about the underlying racial attitudes of white people in America. It says to me that racism is still alive and thriving, only now it is unspoken. It's not in-your-face-cross-burning that was seen in the 60's.

I don't have all the answers... I don't know exactly how to begin, but I encourage everyone to start thinking about racism and the questions we have when we think about it. Maybe you've been on the receiving end of racial slurs, maybe the one spitting them out; the discussion must happen if want to see a change. Sweeping it under the rug has not solved anything.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Friday, March 9, 2012

What Feminism Means To Me

When I was younger this image would have encapsulated my understanding of what "Feminism" is. What's even worse is that my experiences with feminists has been mostly negative. It wasn't until I met a few who weren't telling me about the evils of men or how everything I do can be pointed back to patriarchy that I realized that feminism deserves a second chance. It's at this point that I believe I should admit that I have not read anything about feminism specifically, but I have read In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan as well as a few suffragist writings. The book I linked to heavily influenced my thinking and I plan to continue to learn and try to understand what this is all about. Just thought I'd give a fair warning before anyone jumps down my throat.

Feminism gets a lot of heat from conservatives, which is really unfortunate since feminism shouldn't be about conservative or liberal agendas; it should be about common sense. This wasn't clear to me until I started talking to my sister. We were brought up with conservative Christian values and as you might imagine, the thought now makes me gag, but all the same it's what we were raised with and I'm not ready to call foul-play on the people who raised us. Unfortunately, there's a rather nasty underlying implication about our upbringing that I am trying illuminate for you. Though it's never directly stated, and in fact many conservative Christians would deny it outright, but the narrative implication is that women are the lesser sex.

This is further complicated by the fact that my parent's church (but not the same church my sister went to) had a female head pastor. Our church was very unorthodox for a conservative Christian church. As a little kid I didn't know that it wasn't normal for women to be pastors, and frankly I had (and still don't have) a reason to think women can't be pastors. Still, I was taught that women do certain things, men do other things. Men lead, women follow. There's a lot of spiritual discussion that I'm leaving out of this, because this entry isn't meant to discuss theology from an egalitarian perspective. The point is that I realized that women in my life who were brought up as I was had been led to believe that they were inferior, and the most incredible thing was that they couldn't see how.

It's not like many of these conservative Christians are trying to be anti-equality. Many of them would make compelling arguments to the contrary, and I was one of them, but over the course of several conservations with my sister I began to find myself saying things like, "No, you have just as much right as anyone else to thing A and no one should make you believe otherwise." I'll use the example of dating because it's the example most forefront in my mind. For a long time and still today, many men and women of the conservative Christian camp believe that men should initiate and women can sometimes feel inhibited by this. I know that when I was high school I would tell my friends that if a girl asked me out, I would have to say no because I believed so strongly that a man should be the one to initiate. But why? Is a woman any less capable of asking me out on a date? Is she any less capable of coming up with something fun to do? Is it so wrong if she pays once in a while? Men have been painted by the conservative Christian narrative as being absolutely evil creatures who, if they don't have Christ and live according to this very narrow conservative interpretation of Scripture, are bound to cheat women out of everything they have. Women are taught that men who follow Christ are the leader, that they are to follow men down the aisle in marriage to the grave. Women are also taught that there is something wrong with them, that their body is somehow evil, and that if they don't cover every inch of it that they will cause a man to do something bad. Really? So if a woman in the nude walks past me, I will be compelled to do something to her? Don't I have say in this? Yes, yes, I do. I have a responsibility to keep my penis in my pants and my hands by my sides; a responsibility that is so much easier than my upbringing would have me believe.

The fact of the matter is that there are lot of great people who don't realize the damage done by these implications. I wouldn't be surprised if there are things I don't know about my conservative Christian upbringing that has taught me some misconceptions about women. It is my hope that more and more followers of Christ will critically analyze their beliefs about the roles men and women in our sub-culture and realize just what kind of nonsensical ideas we've been taught to believe. There's nothing wrong with wanting to treat women with respect, as it is phrased by many a conservative Christian man, but why not just treat everybody equally and then you won't have to worry about how you're treating women?

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Monday, March 5, 2012

For God, Not So Much For Country

Since I was a little kid there has been no question that God and my country were linked. I was convinced that my duty was to God and then "Uh-MER'-kuh". I truly believed that God had given this country to those who sought freedom from oppression and those oppressed people were Bible-believing Christians. I remember church services around 4th of July when we'd sing nationalist songs such as, "God Bless America" and the Star Spangled Banner. It freaked me out to see people raising their hands and worshiping the same as if we were singing Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus. When did America become God's HQ for salvation and hope for the world? And when did it become acceptable for church to look like this? For a while, I tried to understand the logic and swallowed the bitter pill of conformity. I still had that inkling that something was wrong, but under my parents' roof and at their church I felt a lot of pressure to maintain the status quo (plus, I worked overnights and was sleeping during Sunday morning service). Strangely enough, it wasn't until I found a Christian group that I agreed with- at least I thought I did, that I realized what was wrong. They call themselves, "The Christian Left" and proclaim to be the liberal contingent of Christians in America. Now, I love the folks at TCL so please don't go bashing them, because I truly believe they want to do what God has called them to do. Shortly after getting all excited about discovering them, I was reading Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, and I realized that a major problem with the American Church is that politics has corrupted and corroded our sense of purpose as followers of Jesus. TCL, for all the good that it attempts to do, is tangled in the same messy business as the fundamentalist Christians are - politics!

I'm not asking for you all to become anti-American cynics blasting Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan in your trailer at some peace-commune. Please, don't think that I'm throwing myself in with the hippy cult-like "Christian" movements that cropped up in the '60s.

There are too many negative stereotypes surrounding this image.

And frankly I think it's quite appalling if we can't be a little more creative than to go from one stereotypical image to another. If we really want to be counter-cultural Jesus followers, the counter-cultural action has to start with the heart and mind. My personal conviction (read: what I believe I should practice) is that followers of Jesus are to live in peace with the government, not getting involved in the affairs of State so long as the State does not require you to do something against the teachings of Christ and His disciples.

I've now covered my feelings on violence: personal acts, mentality and the cycle, and military service. Though I'm probably still going to go on tangents about nationalism in future blogs (which often happens when I talk about violence), this entry should cover most of my thoughts on the subject. In addition to the book mentioned aboved, I would suggest the following for further reading:

Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis

Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Image sources:
God and Country picture
Hippy picture

Thursday, February 23, 2012


A couple days ago now, I was sitting in an empty conference room waiting for people to show up for the Bible study I'm supposed to be leading (but a leader without followers is only taking a walk). One of the campus security guards walked in when he heard me listening to Roots in Stereo by P.O.D. (featuring Matisyahu). We got to talking and I found out he's a Jamaican Rasta (and that he's got an amazing singing voice). He was telling me about why he doesn't have dreads due to the fact that his employer won't let him have dreads unless he had had them before starting the job. It's a sad state of affairs for him, since his spiritual beliefs tell him he isn't supposed to cut or comb his hair. Employers don't care what your religious beliefs are, so long as you'll be a good little grunt and do what you're told. That's the way of the world. In Rasta terms, that's the way of Babylon (or Babylon mentality). For Rastas, Babylon is the world we live in and the only hope there is for the faithful is when Jah leads them to Zion.

It got me thinking about the distress I've felt the past several months. Often times I'd say to my sister that we should run away to Switzerland. I told her she should find some guy she likes, drag him with her and I'll snag someone I know here and then we'll make for the Swiss oasis. Though I was joking about taking someone with us, a part of me was quite seriously considering what I would need to do to flee to Switzerland (without being deported back to America). The problem I began realizing this week was that no matter where I go, I'm still in the world. After talking to the security guard, I came to realize that moving from America to Switzerland may be a change in scenery, but it's still Babylon. What I really need is to break free from Babylon spiritually, mentally, and in the way I live and that means following Jah, not the Rasta interpretation of who He is, obviously. Still, we've been raised in Babylon; we talk like Babylon, look like Babylon, eat the things of Babylon, yet we aren't supposed to be Babylon. Romans 12:2, John 17:15-17, and John 15:19 all talk about how followers of Christ are to be in the world, not of it. I'm not saying hole yourself up in your house and do nothing but eat, sleep, and meditate.

Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Friends, we must remember daily that we are walking in Babylon. We cannot become complacent with this knowledge. We can take refuge in Lord who is our source of all good things. Remember though, that God doesn't have to miracle your butt out of situation just to help you get through things. God works in mysterious ways, ways beyond our understanding though we may attempt as best we can to. Think of the story of the man lost in the desert. He cried out to God for help. Not more than five minutes later a man in a Jeep drove by asked if he need a ride to the nearest town. The man politely refused and said, "No thanks, my God will save me." A few hours passed and the man was thirsty and hungry so He cried out to God for help. Just a few minutes later a family drove by in their RV and asked the man if he needed help, but he refused and stated that God would save him. Late that night, the man was freezing cold when a police chopper spotted him and called for a squad car to check out what the man was doing. The man told the police he would be fine and that God would save him. He died a few hours later. The man ran to St. Peter at the gates and yelled indignantly, "Why didn't God save me?!" St. Peter looked at the man with a confusion and replied, "What on Earth are you talking about? God sent you a nice stranger, a family, and the police and you were too obstinate to take their help."

Be Jah-minded, keep your head down, keep your eyes peeled; we're no longer captives in this Babylon.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Image source:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thoughts on Violence Pt. 3: Why I Can't (Willingly) Serve

People who have known me for a while might remember just four years ago when I was convinced it was my solemn duty to serve in the military. These days I'm thanking God that I didn't get in when I tried (and tried again and again). I want to make it clear that I am not writing this to pass judgment on anyone else who serves, has served, or wants to serve. I am writing this to express my belief of why I cannot in good conscience serve in the military.

Since this blog entry is a part of a series on my thoughts about violence, I will suspend my criticisms of patriotism and focus specifically on the military specifically. The military is a force of individuals who do the bidding of their leader, but in America that is said to be for the sake of protecting the country. Now, what is required of an individual who serves in the military? There are a lot of little things (which add up to some big things) that I cannot talk about as an individual on the outside looking in, but I know a few more commonly understood things such as injuring or killing enemy combatants. This is obviously not all there is to military service, as I understand it there are four support staff working at desks for every military service member on the field. This says nothing of the kind of training one has to receive in order to be able to kill and kill efficiently without being killed.

But when I think about all the destruction that wars have brought I know I could not be a part of that, regardless of who is "right" or "wrong". I cannot be a part of an organization designed specifically for destroying life. Matthew 26:52 tells us of how Jesus handled a situation of violence and said the famous words, "They that live by the sword will die by the sword". Were it to come down to a draft, I would be a conscientious objector and the only reason I can see joining is to maneuver myself into a position that would not require me to kill anyone. I don't think I would flee the country, in part because I believe that that is not a very good solution. It puts me at odds with two countries. There are much more respectful and honest ways of taking a stand for peace and the value of life. The exception would be if there was a way to leave the country legitimately. When taking a stand for moral justice, one must be careful to abide by as many laws as possible so as to not tarnish justice with irrational haste.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Image source: "Want You to Stop War" on Minti

Monday, February 6, 2012


Reject. It's a powerful word that is used commonly to describe an outcast or the act of dismissing something. Interestingly, both uses of the word apply to Jesus. He was rejected by the religious leaders and he rejected the common interpretations of doing life God's way. Unfortunately, what was status quo religious activity isn't so different from that of today's world. This is really bad considering Christ did not just start a fashion trend, but a whole new way of doing life; yet humans seem to have a talent for turning everything into a mediocre counterfeit.

Image source: DoctorChibi - DeviantArt

Sometimes I wish it was as simple as to say XYZ is the problem, and once we fix that we can have our perfect little following of Christ and His teachings. Truth is that there is not one problem plaguing the Church. I can point out issues I see, but they're only a symptom of larger issues. Ultimately, the only cure for the disease is to put Christ back in the name of Christian. It's for this reason that I must point out something really bothersome about Christianity today (and no, I'm not talking about the magazine).

Image Source: cwgodzilla - Deviant Art

Let's face it, neither side really has the answer. We may feel passionate about specific issues which coincide incidentally with what one politician or political group purports to care about, but in the end there's so much baggage that has to go along with it. Let me use the hot topic of abortion as an example. All Christians, left and right, agree that murder is wrong. We also agree killing babies is bad, but the question comes up whether a fetus is actually baby. The Christian Right says that life starts at conception while Christian Left says it is up to the woman to decide what to do with her body. If it was really this simple, I wouldn't be writing this blog entry. The conservatives picket clinics where abortion procedures are conducted, and on the extremist end there have been bombings and murder; the very thing they supposedly want to stop. The liberals see the abortion issue as a moral decision which should be strictly up to the woman and that her right to choose is just as essential as any potential life while rejecting that a few multiplying cells in the womb constitute as being a human life.

What both sides fail to realize is that their views are politically, not Scripturally motivated. Oh, I'm sure it seems like God is ready to strike down every last abortion doctor and their whorish patients, right? Or perhaps those self-righteous Elephants need to get off their high-horse and start worrying about the hundreds of thousands dying daily from preventable causes? I've heard both sides of the argument ad nauseam. What we need to do is get back to this being about Christ, not a personal mission to legislate the government policies to fit our narrow interpretation of Scripture. The Jews at the time of Jesus were expecting political change too, you know. The Messiah they were expecting was going to liberate them from the evil Romans and restore Israel. We know the story, but we fail to apply to our own lives.

Friends, I can't tell you what to do, but I humbly submit to you that allowing your faith and following of Jesus to be manipulated by a political agenda is possibly one of the most damaging things you can do. Christians should not be fighting with each other over the politicized issues that do not concern us. Go back and read that sentence carefully before yelling at me about what concerns us (I'll wait). Things do need to change and there is lot of things wrong all around us, but if we wear political sunglasses, then we'll be unable to see the whole spectrum of problems and what is causing them. There is hope for humanity and the planet, but that hope is in Jesus and not in corrupt politicians waving flags and speaking flashy catchphrases.

With that, I leave you with this video to contemplate:

Reject the status quo and embrace the reject-Jesus.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wait, I Just Got Here!

I've already completed my first year at Shimer College. Can you believe it? Neither can I. Seems like just the other day I was frantically making phone calls to to then-Dean David Shiner while simultaneously e-mailing the registrar (some guy named Jim, anybody know him?) The truth of the matter is that while the past year of college has gone by quickly, that's not to say that it was all cake-walks and sidewalk chalk. I've made quite a few mistakes and learned a few useful lessons from the experience.

1. Don't sign up to be a part of everything, no matter how awesome it sounds or how cute the person at the table is

I can't stress this one enough. My first semester I signed up for just about anything that came my way. I wanted to do it all: GLAM (Gays, Lesbians, Allies, and More), 33rd Street Productions (Theatre), Feminists United, and many more. I had a crapton of e-mails coming from each of these organizations and no time to commit to any of them. It wasn't until last semester that I realized what I could realistically handle. I am now an employee for the Illinois Institute of Technology Residence and Greek Life department, as well as a tech assistant at Shimer, I'm a volunteer small group leader of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and I'm a full-time student. The beautiful thing about it is that I am able to easily manage my work, my one student organization, and my class obligations; leaving my second job at Shimer as a bonus activity. I work as a tech assistant which has probably the most flexible hours. I get an e-mail from my boss saying what kind of project they need doing and I say whether or not I can make it. There's no pressure for me and it really helps them out when I am available. Speaking of time management...

2. Keep an accurate calendar of things you need to do each day

This took me my entire first year of missing appointments, forgetting to do assignments, and never taking up opportunities available to me because I was to afraid to commit the time in case it conflicted with something else. This semester I keep track of my daily things such as class, work, and social engagements; I track my entire week's worth of homework in order of day it is due, and I have alarms programmed into my phone to warn me in advance of a regularly scheduled appointment such as work. So far, this has really helped me keep on track of things. I've found that I have twice as much free time now that I keep track of my daily appointments and have more time for the best recreational activity ever (codeword: sleep).

3. A Reading Is A Reading Unless It's A Shimer Reading

So you waited until the last minute to do that Aristotle reading, huh? No problem, you've got 45 minutes to cram that Posterior Analytics into your brain and hope you'll be able to pull something out of your own Posterior in class discussion, right? Right... It's unrealistic to do every reading twice, but I can say that some of our authors are not big on clarity (or your name is Joe Sachs and you should quit translating) and with this lack of clarity comes the necessity to mull it over a few times. Sure, when you're a first year student, you may be able to get away with it most of the time because you're readings aren't terribly difficult; but those of you who were/are daring enough to take an elective might have gotten a feel for what the upper class students are taking. The longer you stay at Shimer, the less you will be able to cram in the last minute (or not do at all) and still get away with. This came to my attention as I was reading The Teacher, a dialogue by Augustine. It took me twice as long because Augustine has so many layers, he's like an onion wrapped in an orange peel.

4. Forget your significant other back home

I would ask why you even needed a romantic interest in high school, but who am I to judge? I had several and besides, it seems like at least half of incoming Shimer students aren't coming straight out of high school anyway. This is not a rock-steady rule, but I really would advise against trying to maintain a relationship you started back home. I've seen it work in only a few instances where the couples were exceptionally mature about their commitments to each other. For everyone else, give yourself some room to breathe. Give yourself time to discover who you are when you're not living under Mommy and/or Daddy's roof anymore. Give yourself time to examine the things you've always held true and decide for yourself whether you believe them to still be true. Once you've done these things, or at least made some progress in doing so, you might want to consider trying the dating thing again if that's what you feel like doing.

5. Don't kill your roommate

Every dorm-dwelling Shimerian who lives in the same building and floor as I do knows that I don't always get along with my roommate. We're pretty much four years apart and that has made things all the more interesting. People might call me crazy for this, but I really wanted all the problems that have happened between my roommate and I. I could have afforded to have a room all to myself, or I could have lived with an IIT student elsewhere on campus, but I chose to face whatever problems would arise by living on the Shimer dorm floor. I wanted to challenge myself to grow in my social development. Sharing living space is one thing when you have your own bedroom to retreat to, but what do you do in a studio apartment? You can't hide in the bathroom forever. I'll tell you what you don't do, you don't kill each other. You work things out, bring someone else in on the problem if that fails, and if all else fails- request a new roommate. I sincerely believe that both my roommate and me will be better people for our experience even if it takes us ten years to actualize the lessons learned.

6. Your bed is sacred

I know it may seem comfortable to do your homework, read a book, or waste time on the Internet while snuggled in bed; don't do it. Turns out that our brains are more associative than we'd like them to be. When you study, read, or browse the web while sitting/lying in bed then what you're doing is programming your brain to think of those activities whenever you climb into bed. This is really bad when those rare times when you hop into bed because you actually want to sleep, your brain will think it's time to browse the web or read a book. I'm guilty of doing this from time to time since I have Netflix and Facebook on my phone.

7. You do not deserve a social life when you pay $25,000+/year to study

It amazes me how many fellow students I hear whine and complain about how little time they have to socialize and "have a life". In case it wasn't clear when you stepped foot on the campus, where every step you take represents about $20 you dropped into the school's bank account, you are paying too much to lose focus on your academics. Yes, it sucks that you have to work so much of the time and there are so many fun activities going on around campus. Seriously though, if not for the fact that you will learn nothing by over-emphasizing your social life, you'll be wasting thousands of dollars to do what you had all of high school to do. If you didn't take advantage of the light loads you had in high school (even my college prep with classical education was light in comparison to college) then you missed out on your opportunity to have a social life. Sorry, but college is too expensive and your future too dependent on your success for you to gripe and moan about the lack of social life. And before I get too much more into this...

8. Manage your time wisely... Which means paying close attention to steps 1-7...

Folks, it boils down to time management. I do not mean to say that I'm the master guru of time management, but I am improving considerably since my time in high school or even my first year in college. I've narrowed down the list of commitments I have to three main objectives which I will prioritize for you now in order of which gets the highest priority: class (plus the homework), work, and IVCF. In between those three I have found time to sleep, Skype video chat with my sister in Florida, call my mom, write blogs, keep a personal journal, rock out to my cooking playlist while concocting something tasty in the kitchen, spend quality time with friends on a semi-regular basis, go to church, and build Lego sets. I'm not saying you'll be able to do all these things and more the minute you attempt time management. It's a skill and like many other things it has to be developed before you can acheive what you want with it 90% of the time.

There you have, people. All these lessons I have learned the hard way in one form or another. I don't mention them to put you down if you are a person does any or all of these things, but I am hoping you'll consider what I say. If you're a Shimerian reading this, know that the facilitators are a great source of knowledge and much of what I learned about fixing my time management issues was through conversations with my facilitators plus a healthy dose of long-forgotten common sense.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Thoughts on Violence Pt. 2: The Cycle of Violence

It somewhat surprises me how few people have asked me why I chose to commit to non-violent activism. Part of the problem could be tied to my misuse of the word pacifism to describe what I am. It's my experience that there are so many preconceived notions about pacifism that many people don't feel any explanation is necessary. During the first semester when I told people I was a pacifist, they'd usually respond in good humor, "I'm sorry". I have found that the other common response is to say, "Wait, so you mean to tell me that if... [hypothetical dire situation]... You would not... [hypothetical violent response]" This latter response is frustrating for two reasons; either the hypothetical response provided was not truly violent or it would fit the description of a strawman's argument. In fact, I think the only person who actually asked me what my reasoning for choosing non-violence is my roommate and it only came out because pacifism was already the topic of conversation.

It should be no surprise to anyone by now when I say that I used to be an ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christian. I used to think everything was so black and white, cut and dry, and as clear as day was separated from night. At that time, I was a situationalist, which is really just a big word for the belief that the measure of action required is based on the situation at hand. You can read more about situational ethics here. Basically, it states that the ends justify the means. It sounds harsh when I put it that way, but understand that for someone who embraces situational ethics the desired end should always be love according to Fletcher's original theory. There are some pretty convincing scenarios provided in the link if you're having trouble conceptualizing how anyone could find this mentality at all practical. It was all so conveniently obvious to me. I'll never forget one day in fifth grade that my teacher asked us to consider the ethical dilemma of illegal immigrants crossing over the southern border to the US. After half-listening, half-mocking the answers of my classmates, I raised my hand and suggested, "Why don't we just put a wall along the border with a machine gun nest or a sniper to stop anyone who tries to cross over?"

To me, the illegal immigrants were not people, they were an obstacle preventing the desired end for me. As I saw it, they were a disruption to the harmonious society America was. They took up space, resources, and circumvented the immigration system while begging for citizenship and all the rights granted with it. I was dumbfounded when my classmates responded with shock and horror at my suggestion. It took a few moments for my teacher to settle the class down, but then he called upon someone to explain why my solution was not a good one. Keep in mind that my classmates and I were ten or eleven at the time, my classmate said, "They're just trying to have a better life here." They're just trying to have a better life here. Better than what? Don't all people in every country live as we do? You'd think that such a mind-blowing experience like that would have taught me a thing or two about global awareness, but somehow I managed to chalk the experience up to a bunch of children without the moral resolve to do what was necessary to protect God's great nation.

Are you getting a sense of how perversely intertwined my politically misguided views and my religious teaching had been? It's like Manifest Destiny was threatening to have a revival right there starting with me. By high school I was a real confused mess. I was a staunch pro-lifer, gay-hating, war celebrating, budding intellectual. I couldn't see all the inconsistencies, how the tapestry of my ideas was coming apart at every seam. I wanted to save every last unborn child while mercilessly slaughtering every Iraqi and Afghan until there were none to fire back at us. To me, the abortion issue was easily dismissed as the woman being too lazy to deal with the consequences of her actions whereas the death of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans posed no moral problem for me because it would save American lives. Add to that the narrative that Former-President Bush gave the people about God telling him to go to war, it seems to me like the war in the Middle East became the crusades all over again. I feel physically ill just thinking about all this.

Folks, that's just the intellectual and philosophical fallacies I have since come to realize about violence I used to support. The religious and political were so carefully tied together in a web of fail-safe lies: if one of the political lies failed to satisfy a question, fall back to religious lie. There's a lot more anecdotal things I could add about my personal life and how I was bullied and thus became a bully of sorts. I wanted to show, on an intellectual level, the epitome of what was wrong with all this.

Violence is a vicious cycle that does not stop until someone stops responding with violence, but even then the consequences of violence can be so far reaching that one can stop but it will be too late. Just because it may be too late to stop the repercussions of previous violent actions does not negate the necessity to stop the violence.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,