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