Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What If I Lose My Mind?

    I'm starting grad school, and in between the excitement of new friends and teaching for the first time in my life, and the stress of not getting lost or forgetting what to do and when to do it, there's a shadow lurking in my heart.
   It beats harder and darker whenever I acknowledge it. I'm scared of this secret, so maybe if I sure it here, it will lose some of its power?
   I'm scared I'll lose my mind.
   Look, it's been what? Eight months since I started recovering from extreme depression and anxiety? I'm blown away and so grateful to my therapists, family and friends when I think of all that's happened since. I'm not the same avoidant, voiceless personality I was a year ago.
    But there's still that memory that haunts me, a wisp of a timid girl horror-struck by dangerous life. She shows up when I'm tired and hungry, when I have headaches or am overwhelmed at the disorienting orientations. And she locks me in my old habits, hijacks me in the fear that she's back and what if she returns for good?
    Now, recovery takes time, maybe a lifetime. That's helpful to know, sure, but it doesn't make the relapses any more tolerable.
    And now I'm entering the reportedly stressful first year of a PhD program in the compelling but dizzying subject of organic chemistry.
    I'd be lying to say I'm not terrified of screwing up. Not so much in terms of schoolwork - that'll happen, it happens to everyone - but in terms of personal issues. Will I return to my paralyzing fears, like a dog to its vomit?
    Probably. Not all of it is my choice, after all. Some is instinct.
    I suppose climbing back up, returning and trying to do better rather than accepting the status quo are what I have to aim for. Because aiming for perfection sucks. But aiming for recovery, that I think I can do.
    I follow a God who loves resurrection, after all. I honestly don't think I'd follow Him if He didn't.
    Obviously, I love the idea of resurrection.
    But practicing resurrection: it's hard. It's freaking hard to get back up when you've slipped and smashed around on the ground before everyone you know.
    Resurrection says pride has to go. Yes, I have a problem. I've crashed and burned, and now I rise by the power and love of God and the people in my life.
    Resurrection says it's time to escape the hiding habits I've developed (food and isolation and lying),; it's time to walk out of those tombs; it's time to show I'm alive.
    Resurrection says I love you so much I will conquer even the inevitable death for you.
    In the concrete, resurrection means walking up to the grad student I froze in front of and smiling.

    There's a song I listen to every August, when the first dry air and cool mornings appear and feel almost like hope. The quiet mornings, before the day heats back up, that tantalize the approach of autumn. Autumn, when the new begins and the school year resurrects.
    So I listen to The Rend Collective's Experiments "Desert Soul."
    I'm lost without Your create spark in me
    I'm dead inside unless Your resurrection speaks.

    Have a listen, if you wish. And whatever needs resurrection in your life, I pray it for you, reader and friend.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Down with the Progressive Police.

    For all the progressive talks of "inclusivity," progressives are often as exclusive as the conservatives they like to demonize.
You shall not pass because I'm assuming you have bad intent. 
    I realize I'm probably going to take some heat for this. And my title is pretty combative, for which...I'm not sorry.

    I've had it with the progressive hypocrisy. I'll only apologize if I've failed to consider a perspective, so if I go wrong here, let me know how and why you're concerned.
    I'm writing this because I'm growing very troubled by the progressive policing I see happening on the blogosphere and on Twitter.


    You can't be a feminist if you're a man (why? Because they can't fully understand what it's like to be discriminated against? Do we really want to draw discriminatory lines like this? If they actually, truly respect a woman as fully human - none of that "equal but different roles balderdash - I want them to call themselves a feminist. The label "feminist" has been too much maligned as is).

    You can't be a feminist if you're pro-life (Because if one acknowledges a woman as fully human, they must suddenly realize that pro-choice is their only option. There's no room for growth. You believe XYZ so you must believe ABC, or you don't believe XYZ. Yeah, no).

    You can't talk about race if you're white (This one is kinda true. You don't get to say you know how it feels to be a racial minority or discriminated against. You better shut up and listen to people of color before opening your mouth. But you can humbly participate in raising the voices of those who've been oppressed by racism, which is, I suppose, technically talking about race, just in a different manner).

    It's not my job to educate you on LGBTQ/woman's/race issues (so how do others find out about this stuff, hmm?).

    Don't tell me to be nice. That's tone policing! (Ah, because kindness has nothing to do with love. Funny how those supposedly narrow conservatives advocating "love the sinner, hate the sin" use the exact same reasoning).

    Progressive Christians in particular love to talk about inclusivity. "The kingdom of God is controversial in whom it lets in" and all.

    Too bad the more progressive/post-evangelical Christians (which includes myself, I suppose) are incredibly hypocritical here.
    We love to cast down the sexists/racists/bigots. Good. Ain't no place for that in God's kingdom.
    And then we kick them when they are down. Eh, I don't think that's in God's kingdom either.
    But, for examples, see:

    1). Exultations over Mark Driscoll's demise, which, though he deserved to be reprimanded/removed for his horrific bigotry, he did not need many people who don't know him offering their opinions, judgements, and castigations. Discussing the systems that allowed his problems to continue is completely different than personal attacks and speculations.

    2). People shaming pacifist Brian Zhand's initial comments on Ferguson. Rather than expressing caution about the implications of what he said, people immediately assumed he wanted to silence the outrage and decided Twitter was the loving, Jesusy means to demonize him.

    I'm worried that Christians arguing for more inclusivity are, in fact, becoming as hostile as those they claimed to be different from. Except they're trading focus on personal sins like lust for fashionable, systematic sins like bigotry.
    We will be known as his disciples by our love. That's it. Love! Don't you see?
Yes, the Beatles had it right. All you need is love...
    Love involves calling out stupid shit. Love involves keeping out harmful ideas. But love doesn't involve public shaming techniques that only serve to draw more barriers to exclude more people.
    Please, for the love of God himself, see people as the very image of God around you. Please, for the love of God himself, try to assume good intent when you're inquiring about a questionable statement.

    I'm just as guilty of this as then next person. We all need to stop.
    I really am starting to suspect that  assuming malevolence is pure evil. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I was mean in this article; I don't know. I was definitely more direct and harsh than normal.
    Where do we go from here? How do we stop judging and start loving? Am I missing something here, being judgmental myself, or just plain wrong?
    Let me know.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Racism Can Be Passive, Too, You Know

    Okay, so I've refrained from writing about Ferguson all week. Why? Well, I'd rather those who have something important to say (See Osheta Moore, Stacia Brown, and Sarah Bessey for examples) have the platform to say it. someone who grew up barely thinking about race, I do now have one thing I'd like to say:
    Just because you don't chant around a burning cross, lynch or shave your head, doesn't mean you're not a racist.
    Passive racism exists.
    Let me explain.
    I don't hate black people. I have dear, dear friends of color. I grew up in a community that claimed race didn't matter at all (which is a well-intentioned but dismissive and over-simplified view, honestly).
    So imagine my surprise (and revulsion, and denial) when I took Harvard's Implicit Test and found out I have slightly negative connotations regarding people of color.
    I'm not a racist, I thought in horror. Never! I've never treated or felt differently about my black friends, Asian friends, Indian friends, white friends. But...when it came to strangers on the street...
    Too bad my opinion of myself didn't line up with my results.
    At first I dismissed the results. Inaccurate, biased. I am not a racist.
    But then I began noticing problems. Specifically, why did I feel a bit more antsy when a young black dude with dreadlocks and sagging pants passed me than a white guy with messy brown hair and stains on his grey T-shirt?
    Then I started reading about how women with black sons are terrified of them getting shot.
    At first I bristled at that. Why are you so angry? You have equal rights!
    Eventually it hit me: racism can be active, obviously. But racism, like the sexism I know so much about, is also a systematic, passive beast.
    You can say black people have equal rights, I don't hate them, I have black friends, all you want. You're right, in theory. And then you also complain that it's their culture to get pregnant young and cheat welfare. You complain that they're in poverty because they don't work hard. You use the Bible to say they're under the "curse of Ham."
    Might I suggest that when the majority of impoverished city people are people of color, there is something else going on: a systematic racism.
    If you have negative connotations about black people that you wouldn't have about white or Asian or whatever, you are a racist whether you hate or not. 
    The first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem. So deal with it.
    I don't know exactly what happened in regard to Mike Brown. But I will guess that Darren Wilson, like the majority of Americans, doesn't consider himself a racist. Yet when multiple witnesses describe him shooting a kid who had his hands raised, something iffy probably happened.
    Maybe over-reactors like Chief Jackson and news commentators like Bill O'Reilly and everyone else heightening claims of looting above the fact that someone was needlessly killed don't consider themselves racists, too. But, again, if you have negative connotations about black people that you wouldn't have about other races, you are a racist whether you hate or not. 
    Maybe you haven't had to confront your racism because you're the majority. Fine. Start confronting it now. Everyone is made equal, unique, imago dei.
    Start acknowledging your participation in this system, educate yourself, and for God's sake start caring.
    Caring will hurt. I'm kind if sickened at my own participation in this system via simple white privilege. But it's necessary for change, so more innocents aren't killed for holding a toy gun in Walmart or jaywalking.
    Passive racism is still racism, and it needed to end before it existed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is Suicide Cowardly?

*Trigger warning for self-harm and colorful language used to depict said mindset.
Do you see me?
    Is suicide cowardly?
    No. Please.
    If you commit suicide, you are not a coward.
    You are not selfish.
    You are not stupid, fucked up, broken beyond repair.
    I know you think you're a piece of shit or whatever shaming name you've adopted for yourself. You're not.
    You probably know things will get better. But you also know you can't hang on until that happens.    
    Listen to me, please: you are awesome, worthwhile, special, unique. I know people say you're not special because they're afraid of narcissism, but I intensely disagree. After all, the very image of God is in you.
    I wish you could believe me. I know it's hard to believe, maybe impossible right now.
    I've been there. I've held scissors to my wrists and wrapped a wire around my neck and cursed the high railings on bridges, and it still scares me to admit that. You're not alone, in the midst of your depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or PTSD or OCD or whatever illness you have that makes you want to stop your life.
    You have an illness. Something went wrong in our brains. Might be triggered by guilt or genes or abuse or whatever, but it's not going to be cured by the strength to choose happy thoughts or exorcism or conversion. Cowardice and selfishness and weakness don't cause mental illness, and you are not at fault.
    You're not useless. If society says we have no need of you, if society wants to cling to its prejudices to make itself feel better, well, they're wrong and screw their prejudices all the way to the fire.
    You're actually incredibly valuable. You demonstrate, every day, your bravery to keep struggling through this pain and suffering many people can't imagine. And illnesses =/= selfishness. (Good heavens, even by thinking of suicide, by agonizing whether you're selfish for staying alive or for dying, you further demonstrate that you're not selfish).
    You are strong because you struggle on even when everything and everyone, including yourself, seems to tell you to quit.
    You're okay. Your situation, it's not okay, I know. But you're okay. God made you, He loves you, and I love you, too. You're never without love even when you can't feel it.
    You're worth life.
    Speak up. Tell someone you're in pain. Maybe a counselor. Maybe a friend or family member. Maybe even a stranger (like me or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). Let them listen and tell them everything. Keep voicing your struggles. Don't lock yourself inside until you implode all over yourself. Really - it's not selfish or cowardly to say I need help.
    Remember that your brain is sick and it might just be telling you things that aren't accurate.
    And, here's a hug or good wishes if you don't like hugs.
    You're okay. And you are loved, friend.

Much love, and take care,

Monday, August 11, 2014

Be Nice. No, Seriously: BE NICE.

   "Did you know 'nice' used to mean 'stupid?'"
   "God doesn't call us to be nice."
    "Jesus wasn't being nice when he overturned tables in the temple."
   Being nice obviously gets a bad rap, in both religious and secular circles, but frankly? I don't think it's entirely fair.
    The American English Oxford Dictionary defines "nice" as "pleasant, agreeable, good natured, kind."

    How absolutely awful.
    Okay, okay. Ahem. There are certainly times when acting pleasant, agreeable, good natured, or kind certainly doesn't seem helpful. After all, the world around us - scarred by wars and disease and death - isn't nice.
    But those things should not be. Saying that we shouldn't be nice because not-nice things happen isn't logically sound. If not-nice things happen, and they suck, that's exactly why we should be nice.
    However, it's damn easy to say "be nice" when you're talking in abstractions. When you delve into specifics, it's quite hard.
    Conform to superficial social graces.
    Pretend our family's perfect.
    Don't call out abuse.
    Ick. How frightening.
    But wait a second - are we really talking "nice" here, or are we confusing "nice" to mean something that's pleasant and agreeable to a specific group of people who are oppressing someone else? Are we confusing "nice" with obligations to perform and conform and ignore?
    Because there are always people on the receiving end of being not nice.
    There's the abuse victim. There's the moneychanger's cheaters clients. There's someone stifled and dying beneath expectations they weren't made to fulfill. These are people for whom being agreeable or pleasant or kind might involve you helping to stop their oppression.
    Is it nice to allow your imperfections to grow until they seriously damage either yourself or someone else? Is it nice to fit into a superficial society's image? Is it nice to let abuse continue?
    If someone is oppressing another person, they're not being nice. Isn't it actually nice to call them out on it, so 1) their victim is freed, and 2) perhaps they have the opportunity to learn, as well?
    Maybe what we really have to look at the difference between perception and being. For instance, helping the abused might not be perceived as nice to the abuser. But you're sure being nice to someone else. Perceptions can change; being doesn't.
   Moreover, the claim "we don't have to be nice" is often used as an excuse for 1) being a jerk, or b) dismissing others. For an example of b, I've often heard: well, they're gay or they don't believe the earth is 6000 years old, so it doesn't matter if they are nice: they're drifting from God. But since the definition of nice holds a Fruit of the Spirit (kindness), I must disagree.
    Niceness isn't everything, obviously. But I do think nice matters.
    Thoughts? Am I overlooking something here?


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Question of the Week: Demon Possession or Mental Illness?

   I'm curious about the relationship between whatever is mental and whatever is spiritual.
   It seems to me that a lot of mental processes are often attributed to the spiritual. For example, maybe I have a subconscious desire to do something. I could easily interpret that desire to be God telling me to do something, when in actuality it's just me.
   Or, I could feel angry for no reason. I could then attribute my anger to spiritual warfare, when in actuality, maybe I'm just having side effects from medication. And I guess this question troubles me because, um, attributing our mental processes to the spiritual can certainly give an easier answer than looking within ourselves.
   So: I suppose I see why it's easy for people to dismiss the mentally ill as influenced by demons. Our brains aren't really diseased, we're not really weak - it's forces we didn't create and can't contain.
   Of course, I don't believe this. My depression was caused by anxiety, which in turn was caused by untreated wounds from my past. Not demons.
    Yet in the Bible, God is said to have sent a spirit to afflict King Saul with depression.
    Moreover, the New Testament if rife with people who seem to display symptoms of epilepsy or schizophrenia, yet in the Bible they're called "demon-possessed."
    Naturally, this raises a mountain of questions that can only be answered with speculations. Ick.
    Oh, right, I love those questions.
    First and foremost, I'd love to ask: were these people actually possessed/afflicted by the spiritual realm, or was misunderstood mental illness the cause of their suffering?
    Some people stick to the demon interpretation, pointing to the fact that the "demon-possessed" people in the New Testament seemed to have knowledge of things they should not have known, such as the serving girl who knew that Paul proclaimed Jesus as God or the young man who could apparently discern those who truly believed in Jesus and those who didn't. They claim that most mentally ill today are probably suffering from a legitimate mental, and not spiritual, disorder.
     I suppose my objection to this theory is simply that, well, aside from suprerior knowledge, the descriptions seem nearly identical to mental health issues. And why would demons inhabit children, like the epileptic child?
     A second interpretation assumes that the Biblical writers simply attributed mental illness to demons because they lacked sufficient knowledge of mental processes. Jesus either just didn't bother to correct people, or, since he was in a human form himself, was limited in His knowledge (I think C.S. Lewis once said that he saw no incoherency between Jesus' deity and limits to his knowledge in human form, so please don't kill me for saying this).
    I suppose my main objection to this theory is, if Jesus knew, why didn't He say something? You know, a lot of mentally ill have been treated like crap throughout history due to misunderstandings like this (in fact, they still are). Maybe He could have helped us! And if He just didn't know, what do we make of His seemingly psychic abilities with the woman at the well?
    So: I'm in a bit of a conundrum. Problems abound with either answer, I think.
    Like I said at the beginning of this post, I don't think it's possible to find a definite answer to this question.
    I suppose the answer of Jesus to the mentally ill - love, compassion, yes I'll help you - is the real takeaway, the more pressing question from these stories, be the culprit demons or a troubled brain.

     Still, I would love, lovelovelovelovelove, to hear your perspectives on this. Pretty please?
Love you all,

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blogging Update and Why Two Cats are Better than One

    Okay, I've kinda neglected this poor blog the last two weeks.
    In my defense, I've been moving, getting ready for graduate school, seeing my family, and adopting a second cat.
    Well, yes, thanks for asking. Given my soon to be busy nature, I have adopted a playmate for Sushi. His name is Myshkin, after Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky's The Idiot (which, if you haven't read, I highly recommend it).
"Wait, am I on the Internets?"
    He's now Sushi's best friend, providing ample support in their never-ending quest for food and mischief.
"I love you, Sushi friend."
    Seriously. Every night they race around, pounce on each other, and wreak havoc. I just moved into this apartment, but they seem determined to redo my decor (in their defense, I'm not much of a decorator).
"We are the Face of Mischief."
    For instance, I have no idea how this toy ended up on my pillow in the morning:

    I have also awoken to find my glasses on the floor and pawns from my chess set scattered under the bed.
    That being said, this is not primarily a cat blog (yet). However, I do have half a dozen half-finished posts, more ideas, and that review of God and the Gay Christian to write.
    I shall be blogging regularly again soon, my friends. Although perhaps not as often once graduate school starts. Well, we'll see. I'll let you know.
    Much love to all of you.