Being human


He startled me. Looking up from my bright pink park bench I peered out of my thought cloud to see a man in a fedora taking off his suit jacket. I was thankful, though, that he had rested his bagged burrito on the bench next to me before settling his body into the same space mine was occupying. It gave me a chance to prepare myself. It reminded me of my vulnerability, of my humanity.

ImageThere we sat. Side by side, staring ahead while absorbing the sunshine. Me, finishing off my lamb gyro, him, digging into his bean and cheese burrito. All within 18 inches of each other. I had been so startled that I didn’t greet or even acknowledge him when he sat down. I had looked away, attempting to give a false sense of privacy in a situation when there was absolutely none to be had. Like in moments when people silently cram into an elevator and awkwardly pretend that they’re not standing so close together.

I was also thankful for the armrest in the middle of the bench that separated our bodies; the armrest that was probably designed so that the homeless wouldn’t be able to sleep on the bench at night. I felt a pang of guilt realizing I was benefiting from something intentionally structured to prevent others from giving into a basic need of their humanity.

The silence continued. He looked early 50’s, mixed — Asian and White perhaps? — graying hair peeking out from under his hat. Well dressed but not stylish. There was a steadiness about him, as if this was his usual lunch routine and I had interrupted it. I began to think how sad we were, abiding in the same space, participating in a common meal, but pretending as if we were in different realities.

“What has humanity come to?” I wondered, feeling the weight of my part in it as I remembered that I hadn’t initiating speaking to him. I began to think of ways to make a brief connection. Too late now to try to start a conversation, it’d be too awkward. Maybe I will wish him a good afternoon when I leave.

“What brings you to downtown?”

Startled again. I chuckled to myself. Yeah! Why do we attempt to heed these ridiculous social norms anyway?

“Oh, jury duty,” I answered, glancing at the looming building next to us.

The man with the fedora introduced himself as a judge, but one that doesn’t work with a jury. He described how essential jurors are to the judicial system and expressed his appreciation for my willingness to serve. I shared that I had already learned a lot about the process.

He asked what I did for a living and I obliged with my condensed version of I-went-to-nursing-school-but-now-work-in-Higher-Education.

“…at a private Christian institution.” I tacked on. He looked down at his burrito, half eaten. I launched into part two of my story: I-had-a-love-hate-relationship-with-nursing.

“It surprises me how many people go into nursing just for the money. I wouldn’t be able to handle that level of stress and politics just for that. I need to enjoy what I do,” I said. He perked up as I glanced over at him, wondering just how stuck he had become on the mention of Christianity.

“Yes, we always think we’ll find happiness in a retirement account or a nice car but they don’t seem to satisfy.”

“So true!” I nodded and paused, aware of the Spirit’s guidance. I took the plunge.

“What makes you happy?”

He nodded slowly, gathering his thoughts. His red tie was flung over his shoulder, out of the way of the burrito, exposing the tag for me to read. I studied his profile.

“Books. Quiet. And it sounds kind of weird, but solitude. I like to be able to just be alone with my thoughts. I’d like to travel more but it’s difficult when someone has to cover your caseload. But sometimes I just want to jump on a plane and go somewhere,” he answered. “What makes you happy?”

I chuckled. “A lot of the same things! I love to read, I love to learn. I’m beginning to appreciate solitude more as of recently.”

“I want to visit an abbey or one of those places where they don’t talk. I’m not religious but… spiritual.” He went on to say how much he would enjoy a structured experience of solitude. “They give you time to pray – I mean, you don’t have to pray – but I think I would.” He waved over a man in a suit walking by who greeted him with “Hey! Your Honor! It’s been a while!”

His Honor introduced me as a potential juror. They chatted about grabbing lunch, and the gym, and moving neighborhoods. We said goodbye to the man and I glanced at my phone, hoping I still had enough time to go through security without being late.

“Well, I should run,” I said, gathering up my purse and trash.

“Yes, I think we should to make it back in time,” he responded.

Should I call him “Your Honor”? Why are judges called that anyway? Hoping I wouldn’t offend, I decided against making reference to the authority he carries from his position and address him as I experienced him: a fellow human with whom I had made a connection.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” realizing that we hadn’t exchanged names as I stuck out my hand. “I hope you get the chance to go to an abbey sometime.”

He shook my hand and smiled, bidding me goodbye. I left him on the bright pink park bench in all his humanity, but carried away a new reflection of the image of God with me.

The gym bleachers never become more comfortable to sit on. For five years of college I sat on them twice a week and now, as a staff member, I shifted to find a comfortable position as the Gospel Choir exited the stage on the gym floor. I turned my attention to the speaker being welcomed to the position of authority: behind the podium. A White male with multiple graduate degrees and a terminal degree, he represented the most common type of speaker to be seen in chapel. The epitome of knowledge and power, the hope of the future for championing conservative family values, this man was here to challenge university students to become godlier.

As they often do, the speaker opened his talk with a joke. …Except this was a joke about abusive husbands. Laughter immediately filled the gym but trailed off as the words sunk in and students paused – “Wait, was that…okay to say?”

I sat on that wooden bleacher – knees twisted, back aching – seething. Students I knew looked at me with shocked expressions; shaking their heads they whispered to each other. I think I croaked out “Not. Appropriate.” loud enough for several rows of people around me to hear. Hardly an adequate or appropriate response. But I was mad.

How often do we idolize those with Ph.D’s and decades of work experience as having all the answers? Of being the most valuable in our communities? Of being the most like Jesus?

My mind was with the students in the room that had experienced or were currently experiencing abuse. Their stories, their lives, their pain had been trivialized and reduced to a sound bite for entertainment value.

As chapel progressed I fought back my anger and resentment towards well-educated White men that seem to be championed as the future of the Church. I can’t say that I was very successful in doing so. But I was very aware that all that simmering ugly-junk was very much boiling in me, and that it was keeping me from listening to everything else the speaker was saying.

I had a choice. To write this man off as not having anything worthwhile to say, or to acknowledge that God may still speak through him despite his massive ignorance and lack of compassion. I wrestled with myself the remainder of the chapel.

Until I could see myself in him, I didn’t want to listen. Until I could acknowledge that I’m just as broken, I tuned him out. Until I could believe that God chooses to still speak through humans the moment after we wrong him and others around us, my ears were closed and my heart was cold.

Every day we choose who to listen to, and how to listen to them. We can write others off as not being experts, as not being eloquent, and as not having common ground with us. We can give into mockery and disregard of those who aren’t adept socially. We can choose to listen more readily and give more weight to the words of those who are wealthy, White, male, extroverted, and able-bodied.

Or we can believe that God can speak truth through anyone. Even those who are offensive to us, those who have no alphabet soup behind their name, and those who we disagree with. Those who stutter, those who don’t speak up, and those who are so different than us we don’t even know how to begin to get to know them. Those who smell, those whose physical disability makes us uncomfortable, and those who can’t quite seem to read the cues that we have somewhere else to be.

The image of God is in everyone – but we can choose to treat others with dignity or not. We can choose to take uncomfortable or angering situations and humanize all who are involved. We can choose to listen for God’s voice in the voice of others.

When I saw myself as that man, my ears cracked. When I remembered all the times I’ve offended and angered others, my heart thawed. When I owned the grace God gave and gives me, I began to hear him.

When we listen, we can know. When we know, we can understand. And when we understand, we can begin to love.

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus teaches that loving our enemies brings life. Perhaps a step in this direction is to begin to listen to those we struggle with wanting to hear.

The following are a compilation of photos I’ve snapped in the day-to-day. Some looked innocent at first glance but upon further thought I found they served to perpetuate stereotypes that ‘capture’ and render us limited in our identities. Others are a glimpse into a life that can so easily be seen as ‘normal’, that is in fact, just one of many ways of seeing the world. We must acknowledge that our paradigms shape how we see the world, and the world shapes our paradigms. My intention is not to call out any person, company or organization but to call all of us to a greater level of examination of our paradigms and what shapes them.

Difficult times indeed. First world problem?

Missing: Donkey. Lost during the Modernist/Fundamentalist Split.

White men this way!

I’ve seen another (probably more recent) version of this sign that says “crew working”, utilizing gender inclusive language.

I saw this ad in an airport and literally stopped in my tracks, mouth gaping open. If we assume the astronaut is male (especially based off of the proximity and intimacy with the main child) then there is only one woman portrayed in the image as a role model, hero, or someone to look up to. And she’s a princess. Note how the color differences in their outfits point to their gender.

Those who hold privilege in society are granted the ability to assume that their experience is ‘normal’. We assume that others’ experiences are like ours. While R.A. Torrey may have intended this book to be about evangelizing both men and women, he most likely overlooked the ways the genders experience the world differently. Non-inclusive language assumes that the experience of women is the same as men.

It’s impossible not to draw conclusions between the feminine brand name of the wine and the reference to promiscuity. What does this suggest about women who drink?

I thought I may have been looking too hard for objectification in this billboard (“she” + “thing” + “beauty”) but a friend told me about another ad (below) that confirmed my suspicions.

While searching for a picture of this billboard, this one popped up. Originally the billboard has the same caption: “She is a thing of beauty.” Is it referencing the beer, the woman… or both? I think we know. What does this say to men about permission to gaze at women in this way? The Billboard Liberation Front “improved” this sign to clarify the impact that it has on its viewers. It’s also important to note that the upper or upper-middle class individuals in this photo are both White.

Perpetuating the lie that women who hold positions of power hate and are a threat to men. Of the six professionals portrayed in this billboard, five are men and all are White.

A White female jockey, wearing pink and white. Is she whipping the horse or… ?

Spotted at my local lavanderia. Congrats, women! We can now choose a laundry soap that fits with our personality! Calm, passionate, or sexy. No overlapping allowed – you must choose one.

I could sense something stirring in November. I wasn’t sure what I was anticipating, but I knew it would bring change. A major life event? Maybe an epiphany? A meaningful relationship? I waited, patiently, trying to sort out my surroundings, my environment, to see if I could deduce what was rumbling around inside my soul.

The moment of realization was smooth. Immense enough to be a climax but prolonged enough to settle into. It was one of those moments, when, upon peering over your shoulder to the past you can see the steps that lead you there, though at the time you felt like you were walking blindly.

The realization happened in timing that could be no more cliché. Arriving home on New Year’s Eve from my church’s youth retreat, I knew. I just knew. My conviction was too deep. I can’t go back now.

Damn those moments that bring your life to a new level of conscientiousness and responsibility.

The new knowingness that invaded my life was this: I have to play the game.

I have to play the game, not for myself but for my self that is all other humanity. I have to play the game, and I have to become damn good at it or else I might as well not try at all. I have to play the game, but I cannot lose myself in it.

I’ve been fighting against this for a long time.

To play the game means doing things I don’t want to do, being someone I don’t want to be, working for something I don’t always desire. To play the game means a sort of benign manipulation. Inauthentic flattery. Generous greed.

I’m mostly concerned about losing myself in the process. As an expert in numbing out and shutting down, the idea of creating a character to functionally play the game is almost appealing. But I’ve worked too hard to let myself dissolve in this process now.

Playing the game means strategy. Intentionality. Purpose. It means building myself to be exactly what is needed in order to affect change. It means living for something bigger than my life, my plans, myself. It means knowing that others will come behind me to pound on doors that were slammed to me. It means passing my momentum on to others who will carry change farther than was possible for me.

It means expanding the Kingdom. Expanding the Kingdom in the context of this world.

And in the end, it will be sweet.

 

Hallelujah by MaMuse

Every time I feel this way
This, old familiar sinking
I will lay my troubles
Down by the water
Where the river
Will never run dry

Hallelujah Hallelujah (I’m gonna let myself be lifted, I’m gonna let myself be lifted)
Hallelujah (I’m gonna let myself be lifted)
Bye and bye
I will lay my troubles down by the water
Where the river will never run dry

It’s been said and I do believe
As you ask so shall you receive
So take from me these troubles
Bring me sweet release
Where the river will never run dry

Hallelujah Hallelujah (I’m gonna let myself be lifted, I’m gonna let myself be lifted)
Hallelujah (I’m gonna let myself be lifted)
Bye and bye
I will lay my troubles down by the water
Where the river will never run dry

There is a river
In this heart of hearts
With a knowingness
Of my highest good
I am willing
I will do my part
Where the river
Will never run dry

Hallelujah Hallelujah (I’m gonna let myself be lifted, I’m gonna let myself be lifted)
Hallelujah (I’m gonna let myself be lifted)
Bye and bye
I will lay my troubles down by the water
Where the river will never run dry

Where the river
Will never run dry
This river
Will never run dry

This won’t really be a book review. More like a collection of my favorite quotes from the book Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church by Christine A. Colon and Bonnie E. Field.

I have a memory of this book being advertised a few years ago in a Biola magazine, as the authors are Biola alum. Honestly, I was not attracted to the book… I probably thought something to myself along the lines of, “Lame. Another book for single people.” At that time I wasn’t exactly interested in the concept of singleness and the depth that it encompasses. But now, happily, I am.

While attending the Christian for Biblical Equality conference in Seattle earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop session facilitated by the authors of this book. They began with their stories that were strikingly similar – as I believe still is for a lot of women attending Biola today – that they anticipated being married within a few years of graduation. But it didn’t happen. And it still hasn’t happened for them.

I appreciated the content of the workshop so much that I bought the audio recordings of both their sessions and their book. It didn’t disappoint. The book takes the reader through a brief history of celibacy in the church and in Scripture, positive and negative messages from both secular views and the Church, confronts the inadequacies of the current dialogue on singleness in the Church today, and seeks to expand our narrow definition of sexuality to be more holistic. Acknowledging that the book is not all-inclusive, the authors communicated at the conference that they desire this book to be a launching point for deeper dialogue about singleness in the Church today.

Grab a taste and see for yourself:

“We tend to refer to our singleness as a ‘season of life’: we cannot imagine it lasting forever. While Rolheiser does not try to persuade everyone to take religious vows, he does warn us of the dangers of being unable to view celibate singleness as a potentially permanent state. If we only think in temporary terms we run the risk of never fully seeing our lives as worthwhile and actually worth living.” (200)

“What would it mean, for instance, to radically reconceive our ideas of celibacy to empower Christian singles to live our lives fully for God without remaining in stunted adolescence, searching obsessively for a spouse, or wallowing in depression and self-pity?” (203)

“If you are single right now, you are called, right now, to be single – called to live a single life as robustly, and gospel-conformingly, as you possibly can.’” (quoting Lauren Winner, 209)

“What we need is another category: those who are committed to celibacy until God reveals a different plan for them.” (208)

“While we believe…that God wants us contented and fulfilled, we would argue that God wants us to be contented and fulfilled in him. If we are truly delighting ourselves in the Lord, he, not a potential mate, will be the desire of our hearts. Of course this doesn’t mean that we will necessarily stop desiring marriage, but it does mean that we will realize that a spouse will not provide true fulfillment.” (134)

“’A challenge of the contemporary Church is to claim a theology of sexuality that names, validates, and embraces the sexuality of singleness.’ One place to start is to realize that singles, like all humans, are sexual beings. Sexuality for Christian singles isn’t magically ignited when the wedding ring hits the finger.” (quoting Lisa Graham McMinn, 213)

“Sexuality, then, provides us with our drive to connect with others, for “our existence as sexual beings gives rise to the desire to enter into community, and thereby to actualize our design as human individuals. Sexuality, then, is an expression of our nature as social beings… This need to find fulfillment beyond ourselves it the dynamic that leads to the desire to develop relationships with others and ultimately with God.” When we look at it from this perspective, sexuality has a much larger purpose than simply compelling individuals to find a mate.” (213)

“As we consider the needs of single as well as married Christians, we must also recognize that there resides within all of us a need that will never be satisfied here on earth: a holy longing, as Rolheiser calls it, that ultimately should drive us to God. In contemporary American society we are used to thinking that every need that we have will be satisfied if only we work hard enough or pray hard enough, but the reality is that we all experience dissatisfaction. As Rolheiser reminds us, ‘It is no easy task to walk this earth and find peace. Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest. Desire is always stronger than satisfaction.’” (217)

“We are not asking God to remove the pain of incompleteness that we all must struggle with, but rather we are asking Him to use this pain precisely as it was intended: to draw us closer to him and to help create the empathy that allows us to be witnesses for him in the rest of the world.” (219)

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