No One Braver

Because sometimes, you just need to have a post titled after lyrics from Hercules. If you can’t immediately summon up the line I’m referencing first, shame on you, second, listen to the whole thing. What a great song from a great soundtrack. Fun fact about me that you can use if ever you want to woo me: my favorite line from that song is “Is he sweet? Our favorite flavor.” I just think it’s so cute. I’d love to be someone’s favorite flavor.

First things first, after Hercules apparently, I have not been doing anything much at all this week. I truly have nothing of note to report. I tried to help start a batch of pretzel buns for my sister and added approximately one-third of the appropriate amount of yeast. It was remedied adequately but yes, I continue to be a yikes baker.

After that thrilling accounting of my week, we have our little gallery of kitties. I had so many excellent pictures, it was a challenge to narrow it down at all, but here are my top two from the week. I just want you to know, since I’ve been with them pretty much all day every day for a week, they really are this cute pretty much non-stop. It’s wild.

 

Anyway. Some of you may be aware that, while Anastasia is my favorite animated film of all time and is now technically owned by Disney, it is not one of my favorite Disney movies. Buying the rights doesn’t really make it yours, you Disney scum. My favorite Disney movie is a tie between Hercules because of course, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Both have incredible music and great stories but let me tell you, Hunchback is what we need right now.

I was trying to make this a silly, upbeat post about fun Disney sing-alongs. They’re fun and silly and why not. But then, having started this, I saw a friend on Facebook post a gif from Hunchback— the moment at the festival when Frollo commands “Silence!” and Esmerelda responds “Justice!” Absolutely iconic. There’s bravery in defeating a hydra but golly if there isn’t more in standing up to injustice.

I could almost have a Sorcerer’s Stone moment here and don’t even get me started on God Help the Outcasts. Maybe I should’ve titled this post “I Thought We All Were the Children of God” but I’ll leave it as is because I originally intended to go the lighter-hearted route. Alas, I’ve gotten sidetracked by social justice, as one does.

Fun transition: I’ve always felt weird about Facebook fundraisers. I do not know why; it hasn’t stopped me from donating to other people’s on occasion but I have never done one myself. But I started one on 4 July because I couldn’t not. It’s in support of RAICES which, from all I have read, is a pretty great organization. I don’t really know what else to do but at least I can say that I’m trying.  I recommend donating to them and/or organizations like them, and making it a recurring donation if you’re able.

The state of the country such a thing, you know, I couldn’t not say something about it. I still don’t really know what to say, exactly, I get that outrage fatigue is a real thing. I’m not at Hercules level brave, and certainly not at Esmeralda level. But I hope and pray that I will always be one who says Justice when the powerful say Silence.

 

Advertisements

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.

Being Good Ancestors

This post has a few different threads going on and it might jump among them in such a way as to make for awkward reading. As it contains no life updates, you may be tempted to give this post a miss. I ask you, forbear.

Today, I have many thoughts for you. Thoughts for a time when the world, it seems, is in great peril. Thoughts for you and for me, when it feels like we’re failing in all of our efforts to be the change in the story of our earth. The story is already written, I’m afraid, but it is not yet complete. Ruminate a moment, then, not on the change you want to see in your life or in the world as we see it. Cast yourself a hundred years–a thousand years–into a future built as you might wish it for a beloved posterity.

I was reading an article some time ago, nothing particularly moving or anything but the author used a phrase that I found very arresting. I don’t know if it’s common parlance in environmentalist circles or what, but it’s really something. The author said we were not, and encouraged us to become, good ancestors.

Ancestor, for me, has two main connotations: ancestor veneration (typically in the East Asian sense) and like neanderthal/cave man/Australopithecus whatever (as in last common ancestor, obviously I’m not a science person). I don’t typically apply it to myself. Though I don’t anticipate having children (who knows, life is mysterious) I will, regardless, be the ancestor of some people. I already have a niece. How are they going to think of me? Or even in a general sense: what will people think of my generation, several generations hence?

I also heard an interesting analogy the other day and I think it’s relevant. They were talking about police brutality and such, and a defender of police said that a couple of bad apples shouldn’t make you hate the whole profession. The person responded by saying that they don’t hate the whole profession but it doesn’t matter if every single apple is a good apple if the barrel itself is rotten. In other words, our system doesn’t fail–it’s meant to operate in an imperfect, categorically unjust way. We need a whole new barrel.

Relating to ancestors. It’s not enough to raise good children–give them a moral compass, a backbone, the milk of human kindness–if the world we leave them sucks. This applies to the environment because of course. But it also applies to the systems of our society. I think it entirely misses the point to try to plant courage in the coming generations so that they can face challenges well. Of course we should do that, but we should also mitigate the challenges they will face as much as possible!

It makes me think of Harry Potter. Surprise. A lot of people have noted how the series has set up a generation of activists. Ideas like Dumbledore’s Army and the failed Ministry of Magic planted the impetus to incite young people to take control of crises instead of just taking the world as it is. Consider this: Harry’s parents and the original Order of the Phoenix, essentially lost. Voldemort would have continued a reign of terror if he hadn’t unexpectedly died (kind of). In the wake of his disappearance, did society change at all? Did people become more accepting of people with mixed magical heritage? Were systems put in place to ensure that someone else could not come along with the same ideas again? Did human society reconcile with house elves, centaurs, and other magical creatures?

Obviously, it’s heroic to fight evil forces. But, while Voldemort was evil in and of himself, he also represented a strain of evil present in society at large. And it seems to me that those older characters just let it lie. Brought up their children to be kind, but didn’t really fight systemic injustice. Hermione (because she is incredible) makes this her life’s work in the epilogue. Because conquering a villain, in some ways, is the easy part. Building a new world is hard. But if we want to be good ancestors, it’s necessary.

We mustn’t fight a villain and then rest on our laurels. In the words of the Constitution of the United States, we ought to build a new world “for ourselves and our Posterity.”

All these thoughts were compounded by another article I read just this week whose main thrust was this: if we look at the likely span of future humanity, there are literal quadrillions of people who have yet to be born and, it stands to reason, those lives are a significantly weightier moral object than present day existence. Bearing that in mind, everyday acts of altruism, the writer argues, can and do make a difference in forming and reforming the structure of our world.

I want to live life in such a way as to have a positive impact on the quadrillions whom I will never see. I want other people to want that, too. I want people to vote, organize, protest, and work hard for justice. I want people to protect those who need protecting, to advocate for the rights of all, to refuse to be part of a system that systematically dispossesses and abuses and denies humanity to those who are most vulnerable.

Basically: be good, do good, change the world. May the light of history shine kindly on our efforts in the ages to come.

Ethical Quandary sans Quandary

Happy October, everyone. It’s no November but I guess it’s a decent month even so.

So this week is parent conferences, big thrills. The ones I’m involved with are tomorrow, we’ll see how that goes. But then it’s October Break! Because apparently that’s a thing here. A week off. I don’t feel like I’m really in need of a vacation and I suppose that’s a good thing, but I’m definitely not complaining. I have some plans but I’ll elaborate mostly after the fact next week. Should be nice.

And here’s an update on the princess, looking very regal with her arms crossed.

Camaro2018-10-1

Last week, I noted that I didn’t really have any musings for you and it looks like I’m making up for that by having some substantial space dedicated to it in this post. Prepare yourselves. Or don’t, you do you.

There’s a fabulous moment in the show Psych when the main character is naming the first books of the Bible. You know: Genesis, Exorcist, Leviathan, Doo… the Right Thing. It’s relevant, I promise.

When I studied abroad in Exeter, one of the classes I took was political philosophy. It remains the only philosophy class I’ve ever taken but it was super interesting. The format of the class was this: we examined one contemporary political philosopher (John Rawls) and responses to his major works. According to the professor (who was Scottish and had a lovely accent), the primary concern of political philosophy in the contemporary era was the question of justice. What is justice and how can it happen in the world.

To start with, we read a lot about how modern philosophers conceived of the creation of the state; its purposes and how those inform its operations. We talked about socialist critiques, libertarian theories, gender, multicultural lenses– all kinds of things.

One thing that I still remember pretty clearly was talking about this main libertarian guy. I won’t explain his who conception of the state and justice and all that, but basically it boiled down to a system that was very simple but absolutely impossible to bring into reality. And the professor asked us this: is his conception of justice wrong or just hard? It couldn’t happen in the world, problems with land ownership after colonialism and stuff like that. But the question still stands. Even if it’s impossible, it can still have merit.

So often and so easily, people and ideas are dismissed for being unrealistic. Certainly, there are good reasons for that sometimes. However, if ideas that weren’t readily applicable were never heard, there would only be the status quo forever. History is a varied fabric of the unthinkable coming to pass. Sometimes in terrible, unimagined darkness. Other times bringing fantastical, innovative light.

The sermon at church this past week was on ethics, how to think about them and how to live with them. In essence: it’s hard, but do good. It does not matter how many times we drive off the ethical road; the line it traces on the map does not change just because we are no longer following it. Some–many, even– ethical choices are hard. That’s why there’s a whole branch of academia devoted to thinking about it. The underlying motives, values, and beliefs don’t have to be.

It’s one thing to think ‘It’s hard to tell what the right thing is in this situation.’ It’s entirely different to think ‘I don’t care what the right thing is.’

img_20180928_195640977-effects

One element of the sermon’s description of ethics was thinking about how our actions benefit or harm those around us. Very utilitarian, though it was only one consideration among many. But I think we can agree that lust for personal power is generally unethical. Even when those people do good things. It’s like in The Good Place, it’s not enough to do good things, you should be doing them for good reasons. And apparently, we’ve abdicated our national social responsibility to hold people to that. Which is unfortunate.

I wanted to finish with some questions, as I am often wont to do here. Struggling to think of them, since I’m pretty medium at ethics. Do you think about ‘right’ when you make important decisions? When you make decisions that don’t seem that important? What’s the difference between nice and good? What role do you play in preserving harmful status quo by the operation of your ethics or lack thereof?

The world is a complicated place for ethical thinkers. As The Good Place amusingly depicts, constantly worrying about the morality of everyday choices will make you a nervous, incoherent wreck. I know I want to be more deliberate about thinking through the implications of my decisions–not just their consequences but their meaning, if that makes sense. But I’m also lazy and don’t want to go insane.

Hmm. Work in progress.

More Than This

Surprise! It’s Thursday (or is, at least, when this is published). This very much caught me off guard because I’ve lost track of the days in the short time I’ve been officially resident in Michigan. Because, guess what, I live in Michigan now. I really wanted to talk about the last part of my drive and first impressions but apparently it wasn’t to be.

Suffice to say, for the moment, that I have arrived safely, am settling into my school apartment, and things seem generally to be looking up. I feel like I have some valid feelings about things but 10/10 it all seems at the very least livable and twenty times better than Korea (though work training stuff doesn’t start until next week).

Ugh, there’s so much I wanted to say but because I try to post these at mostly the same time, even being in the eastern time zone I’m running late today. Luckily (or not, I’ll let you be the judge), I have something that’s been hanging out in my drafts for a sec. It’s long-ish, thoughtful, maybe controversial, and I’m not sure that a) I express myself well or b) I know exactly what I’m trying to express. But it’s a thing so here you go. Good luck.

I was reading an article about Queer Eye a while ago (because how else was I, a temporarily unemployed gay man, supposed to spend my time). I didn’t agree with everything that was said but overall it was quite remarkable, chock full of immensely insightful and quotable lines. One particular bit really shouted at me and I’ve continued to think about it. The author had been talking about comfort zones for different groups of people, and how it felt to live your life entirely outside of the majority’s zone. She said,

Many political roadblocks would be more navigable if the general public did not so often mistake their comfort zone for the moral high ground.

What would it be like to consider for a moment, not only that your way of life isn’t the only one, not only that it may not be the best one, but that it may not even be a good one? To realize that other people’s perspectives have more than just heartwarming value-added witticisms but an entirely new and sometimes better way of doing things? I want to challenge you, even as I strive to challenge myself, to simply be mindful of the thoughts we have and the decisions we make and the reasons we make them.

What have you done lately to listen to someone very different from yourself? Have you critically evaluated your worldview, tested its assumptions, and investigated alternatives? Do you believe that you are living by the best possible system of values? If you believe that your values are the best, how closely do you adhere to them–in deed and not just in word? When you are confronted with someone living outside of your comfort zone, are you willing to consider their actions and motives in a generous, loving, compassionate way?

I have two thoughts about this, the first has been clear to me but the second has taken more time for me to really recognize. First, learning from the lives of oppressed people helps those people secure themselves in a society where they were previously marginalized. For example, as LGBTQ+ people become more accepted, they can live out of the closet more comfortably (there’s a lot to this but you get the gist I’m going for, I hope).

The second, though, isn’t about the marginalized group at all. When you learn about other ways of life, you’ll inevitably encounter some things that strike you as better than what you’re doing. You come to identify the harmful and oppressive mechanisms in your own system that you had previously not noticed because you were simply accustomed to them. For example, the more straight cis people engage with not-straight and not-cis people, the more clearly they can see the hurt done by cleaving to strict and unattainable standards for gendered behavior.

When you willingly relinquish the power that comes from living in the comfort zone of the majority, you will learn–I hope–that sometimes the seaweed is actually greener in somebody else’s lake. Giving up your privilege and power doesn’t mean you become oppressed, it just means you take a step toward the place where the rest of us live–outside a comfort zone that we didn’t construct. As someone who still resides in a multitude of privileges, I can only tell you this about stepping out: finding that you have more to learn about living a good life is scary but also invigorating. The status quo isn’t as good as it gets. There is more than this life you’re living.

Listen. Be open. Learn. Mostly, love.

Hearing Voices

Getting political this week, I’d like to present just a couple (insufficient) thoughts on the repugnant things happening around the US border. I’m definitely the kind of person who rarely clicks on hyperlinks in the things I read but I think that these are truly worthwhile. I say that the thoughts I offer are insufficient and so I present the words of others and I encourage you to read them as well.

(As a side note, this executive order does not help those already separated and the zero-tolerance prosecutorial attitude remains.)

First and most obvious, separating innocent children from their innocent parents, and then to keep them in unacceptable circumstances, is awful in every way. Children. Not migrants, not illegals, not criminals–human beings.

No human is illegal and beyond that, offering asylum is a very straightforward way to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. I do not think God cares one iota for obeying earthly laws; I’m pretty sure the Bible is clear that he cares about administering true justice and expressing infinite mercy.

You may wish to become better acquainted with the facts of the situation here, here, and here (and lots more besides), or with the history of this very American practice here.

If you feel like you want to take some direct action on this incredibly pressing issue, I can recommend contacting your congressional representatives here. You may also wish to contribute directly by looking at links here, here, and here. I don’t really know what to do to really make change happen but surely something is better than nothing and there are lots of different ways to give support.

If you do decide to donate, I would also urge you to consider donating monthly or annually, if you’re able, since these organizations will continue to need help far into the foreseeable future. Having a secure funding stream independent of the news cycle is often critical for organizations like these.

To say that this singular issue is symptomatic of a larger social and political ill is woefully inadequate. There is neither mercy nor justice in the actions of this administration and, unfortunately, it is not confined to this country. It does not take much time abroad, or looking at international news, to see this quite clearly.

Though I feel like on the scale of history, we are moving in the direction of diversity and freedom, the short term sure seems to have a different idea. As people, communities, and nations turn inward, I am hereby reminding us (myself included) that all people have inherent dignity and worth. It is in giving that we receive. As churchy people sometimes say, love the last, the lost, and the least.

Also, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My place is pretty much exclusively to love people compassionately. That’s really what God’s about. It is also important to remember that loving oppressed and marginalized people tends to mean standing with them, rather than for them. Lending expertise or means as necessary, but mostly just amplifying their calls for justice.

Indian author Arundhati Roy put it well when she said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

Let us, then, hear their voices and be moved to action.