What the Locusts Have Eaten

FIRST: A CHRISTMAS PET PEEVE OF MINE. The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days following the holiday, not preceding. December 25th is the first day of Christmas. Every time someone talks about the twelve days leading up to Christmas, I die a little. Anyway. The more you know.

SECOND: I accidentally talked a lot about Good King Wenceslas again in this post. I’m not sorry about it.

THIRD: Last one before actually getting to the post: cat gallery.

Screenshot_20181205-130617~2

Nora

And you thought ‘gallery’ was an exaggeration. All the cats this week.

So. Last week’s post was a bit of a tough time. Understandably. And it’s hard to follow up something like that. I think, however, I can draw upon the inspiration of a few Advent things that I’ve encountered this week to offer some small encouragement.

There is a passage in Joel that I recently contemplated as I read this little reflection. It is describing a time that will come after–perhaps long after–a great calamity, where God will make things right. This is just a bit after we are entreated to rend our hearts and not our garments ( a phrase I have always found deeply moving). God declares,

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.

All that has been lost will be restored. It will not be–cannot be–erased, our wounds and the wounds of the world will not simply disappear. But there will be a truer restoration than anything we have heretofore known. The true peace. More than not-war, more than inner calm; true peace is deep and abiding relational harmony. As in positive peace, the correcting of systemic violence (which is injustice in any form).

That, at least, was the theme of the sermon at church this past week. That the peace so many seek comes less from within and more from doing right by one another. To paraphrase loosely, we do peace by taking care of those around us, in large and small ways. As I have said before, and the lyricist of Good King Wenceslas said before even that, “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.” As a matter of fact, rereading that post, I am just impressed with how well it’s held up. It’s a good one and it explains what I like about that song really well, if I do say so myself. Which I do.

Anyway. The point is this: in the midst of the despair of pain and death and things literally called ‘crimes against humanity,’ there is something else as well. Something, as Samwise would say, worth fighting for. And it is in the fighting that we fan the ember of hope into flame.

There is precious little we can do about the enormity of the problems facing our world. But, I believe, we are called to face them nonetheless. It is not said, ‘Blessed are the peaceful.’ It is said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’

May we all make peace as we can.

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Again. And Again. And Again.

This is a very depressing post. It is, in basically every way, inadequate to the task it undertakes. It is not an exhaustive treatise either on my thoughts and knowledge or the subject area at large. It is a plaintive cry into the internet, where such cries are about as useful as they are satisfying. Nevertheless, I can only hope and pray that speaking is better than silence. And hope and pray for a better world

In the season following Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to say a few words. Not directly about that holiday–the misrepresentations and illegitimacy of which is discussed here, among a number of other places. While the spirit of the holiday seems innocuous enough to me, a white American, and I think the concept of thanks-giving is worth celebrating, the day is plagued by a kind of rose-colored and deliberate ignorance. It’s not exactly what I’m here to talk about but it’s relevant and I encourage you to educate yourself.

The summer after my senior year of high school, I spent two weeks on a mission trip in Kigali, Rwanda. My senior capstone course for undergrad was called “Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing.” For graduate school, I completed a program in Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict. All this to say that the definition of genocide is one of those things that I have memorized because of course.

…intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such…

Sometimes people are like, “That’s genocide” and I’m like, probably not, actually. Other times, people are like, “That’s a bad thing” and I’m like it’s genocide. You get into things like “acts of genocide” and ethnic cleansing. There’s a lot to unpack and this is not really the place. All the same, I just want to say something about it because it has been weighing on me.

Something you hear a lot, usually in reference to the Holocaust, is “never again.” Something you see a lot if you spend any amount of time looking at the world around you is again. And again. And again. Historically, whether you look at native peoples in the Americas, the Herero in German Southwest Africa, Armenia around the First World War, or the Nazis and Japanese in the Second. Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar right now. Certainly acts of the Islamic State. Possibly the Uighur detentions in China and the war in Yemen. So many places, so many people.

I don’t know, exactly, what can be done. Would I support committing money and lives to a military intervention? I don’t know, possibly. Do I feel powerless? Yes. Do I think that anything I might do would have negligible effect, if any? Probably. Should something be done even so? Yes.

And so here we are. This may not be a particularly Christmasy topic but I’ve felt for a while that I ought to say something. These words probably don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. My readers, I don’t imagine, walk international halls of power with authority to respond to anything I say. I don’t know that I really expect you to do anything about it, other than perhaps read world news a little more often.

I guess in all my learning in the subject area, I have two general knowledge take-aways for you. First, do not think that the Holocaust is somehow unique in the story of human history. While it has many unique aspects, it follows naturally from a long chain of events. Second, do not think that it could not happen again. Do not think that it could not happen here. Do not think that ‘never again’ was a promise the world ever expected to keep.

And, because I firmly believe in hope: let us all work toward a world in which such crimes never happen again.

Cessation of Hostilities is Not Peace

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, one hundred years ago, something ended and something began.

The peace after the first World War was hard-won but it was also half-hearted. Fighting stopped but many issues remained either unresolved or resolved poorly. It could have been a time of great hope and instead proved to be the intermezzo between two conflagrations.

In my studies of international relations, the term negative peace is generally used to refer to the absence of war, while positive peace indicates the presence of just, peaceful, and equitable systems. Clearly, the latter is as elusive as unicorns in Sunday bonnets because I’m going to go out on a limb and say that positive peace has never been a reality on this good earth.

I don’t really know what else to say about this upcoming anniversary. In my experience, the topic of the war and ensuing events tends to get short shrift in the US. During my time at Exeter, I took a class on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and the first-hand readings for that class repeatedly made me weep. The first day of the Somme– 1 July, 1916–was and remains the bloodiest day in British military history.

And, in my current context, that makes me think of the US. The day when the most Americans died in war was the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Americans fighting Americans.

I will tell you, I am not happy with the results of the US election this week. My fears were not realized but my hopes were disappointed. It could have been worse but it could have been so much better. In Washington, they supported some gun and public safety measures but rejected the carbon fee. In Michigan, I supported all three initiatives and all three passed, but my district’s Republican Congressional representative was reelected. Political mixed bags are rather par for the course but still.

Lots of exciting ground was broken nationally–for LGBTQ+ candidates, women, people of color. Lots of things happening and there are good things among them, so there’s that, at least.

I was going to write this whole post about the anniversary of the armistice, but here we are. In many ways, though, it’s a similar kind of feeling. No war ended, of course. But there was an opportunity for some structural change and I feel like most of that opportunity was squandered.

This is all just kind of processing. These are just my initial thoughts and feelings. I don’t really consider myself a huge politico or policy wonk (or whatever bizarre term you prefer) but over the past few years I’ve gotten a great deal more into it. Simply put, I’ve recognized that all of these things effect me. They impact me.

On Facebook, I’ve seen a little saying going around. “You can’t say you love someone and then vote for people who will hurt them.” And I don’t have much else to say at this juncture.

A Weltanschauung of Joie de Vivre

My students the other day thought that there was a mistake on their vocab list, someone had forgotten to translate a French phrase into English, though the Korean was given–it was déjà vu. When I told them it was just a French phrase that we use in English, they weren’t particularly happy. Anyway, I couldn’t not have a title in English, French, and German when the French and German are also just used in English sometimes. If you need a translation, the title is A Worldview of Joy of Life.

So I had a lovely Christmas weekend. Saturday started with serving at a homeless kitchen-type ministry with some coworkers and finished back at the Kelsey’s for our work-friends Christmas party. We had a great time making pomander balls, playing games, making cookies, and doing Disney karaoke. They’re just really great ❤ On Sunday, I went to church and had a white elephant party with them afterwards, it was a lot of fun.

On Christmas day, I essentially did nothing, which was exactly what I wanted. I called my family and chatted with them for a while, and that’s really it. I mostly stayed in bed; I read, watched Netflix, and played Pokémon. Not exactly how I like to spend Christmas generally, but exactly how I wanted to spend it this year.

Going back to work on Tuesday was less than ideal, but I managed. This week is just another pretty much normal work week, and next week will be too, though we also have the incredible gift of having next Monday off too! Speaking of which, I have some meh-level New Year musings for you.

I think I’m slowly becoming aware of a shift in my worldview that’s taken place over the past few years. I’ve given up not just on changing the world (in any big, big ways) but also on just expecting the world to be a good place. The world is a pretty unpleasant place. Yes, of course there is loads of good in it as well, and many things are better than they were in the past (though we must never confuse ‘better’ with ‘good’). Let me be clear: I still hope for good in the world, I still hope for change. But I’m done thinking that things will improve, that people will learn from their mistakes, that knowledge and kindness and compassion will  increase and someday prevail. They might. Maybe.

All I have is me. I can expect things from myself; I can certainly expect failure, but also growth. I can educate myself–about current events, racism, ancient Egypt, different varieties of dogwoods, how to make pancakes from scratch. I can attempt, with perhaps childish naïveté and diligence, to suffuse my life with a Weltanschauung of joie de vivre that does not derive joy from the world because it is joyous, per se, but because the world exists at all and every moment of that existence is a literal miracle.

I can teach myself to be kinder; to rescind hurtful words with genuine apologies, to think critically while watching movies, to sincerely care when other people tell me things that give them pain.

I can involve myself with the world; I can serve, I can donate, I can educate, I can listen respectfully even when others are not being respectful, I can have compassion on those who have no compassion for me.

I can be myself; stay home as much as possible, read voraciously, watch good and bad Netflix with equanimity, thoroughly enjoy food even if it’s boring, be awkward and laugh about it, be gay and fabulous, wear bowties on Tuesdays ect. ect. ect.

There’s a certain joie de vivre (if you’ll excuse the phrase) in the exultation of releasing my expectations about the world. It’s like that old line about accepting things I cannot change. When I’m free from all the weight of the world, I can deliciously and leisurely enjoy the simple pleasures of each moment and find it in myself to compassionately and earnestly become involved in bettering the world.

The above may have ended up sounding super self-centered, which is counterproductive so please bear in mind, if it sounded like that, I didn’t mean it to. Anyway. You know that I’m not much one for resolutions because a. we should resolve any and every time not just New Year’s b. people don’t generally keep them anyway c. they’re pretty lame. So let me be clear.

I want to be better, and I will work hard to become so. I want the world to be better, and I will work hard to make it so. I have few illusions about the success I will meet with, so I’ll start small.

And as for all the rest, I’ll act in hope without expectation.

Can Robots be Orphans?

Okay, you may know that most of like junior year of high school I thought I was going to major in linguistics. Specifically, historical and comparative linguistics (like, I sort of really had things planned out). Obviously, that didn’t pan out. But I remain generally fascinated by language and I love learning little quirks and things (and I’m still trying to become at least proficient in a second language, but that’s another story).

Anyway, near the beginning of first semester Russian, we learned the verb работать (raBOtat’) which means to work. My professor told us that it comes from the same Slavic root as a similar Czech word meaning forced labor that was used by the Čapek brothers, particularly but possibly not originally by Karel, in the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). They invented the word robot. So that’s pretty cool.

Additionally, the proto-Indo-European (the term to describe the theoretical language spoken by basically everyone from Ireland to India before languages diverged) basis for robota/работа is also the root, meaning to change from one state to another, for orphan. You can read more about it here. Thus the question posed at the beginning: can robots be orphans? Probably not, at least in the strictest sense, because of the whole they’re not alive and so don’t have parents thing. But I guess if their makers abandoned them, they’d be sad about it too. And who’s to say whether or not they dream of electric sheep.

All this has basically been to say: I have a job! It’s just a part-time seasonal position in retail, but money’s money so I’m not complaining. My job could 100% be performed by a robot, and I feel like it might be in some parts of the world, but I don’t mind the work and I’m finished about the time most other people’s jobs are beginning so I still feel like I  have a lot of free time. I may be job shadowing or something in the mid-future, we’ll see. Just trying to keep occupied to have things to say if ever I get an interview for a job in my actual field.

So that’s the news of the week, I started last Friday and, you know, it’s been a big thrill. Not much else has been going on in my life,  but I’m kind of okay with that. I’d love to be getting a move on, but while I’m here I’ll echo what I said when I arrived in Ireland: bloom where you’re planted. Other things are things (coughtheelectioncough) and they’re not terribly uplifting and they certainly don’t tend to inspire great confidence. I just watched V for Vendetta for the first time on Tuesday and wow. Firstly, I really liked it. Secondly, how terrifyingly topical. Wow, I tell you what, wow. Fascism is the worst.

The Wikipedia page on R.U.R., after describing the plot which involves a hostile robot takeover and the extinction of humanity, says that the play is “dark, but not without hope.” That is a direct quote. I haven’t read/seen the play, but if the extinction of humanity can be portrayed as dark, but not without hope, maybe there’s something to be said for humans after all. Maybe, just maybe, we’re a little better off than sad orphan robots (if it’s possible for them to exist).

Maybe hope is for the dark times anyway.