There have been a lot of things said over the past several days in regards to the turmoil in St. Louis, and the controversy surrounding the ruling not to indict Darren Wilson. I found the words of Benjamin Watson, a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, to be really truthful, in the midst of it all. Worth a read.
From Benjamin Watson's Facebook page:
"At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope."
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love to talk about the Myers-Briggs test, and those who love to hate on it. (And, I suppose, those who have never heard of it. But there are less of those.) I’ve known people who began by loving it later come to hate it, because the test has taken over their circles of friends, and because there are individuals who begin to see life decisions through the lens of the test (“Should I date that boy? No! I’m an ISFJ and he’s an ENFP. It would never work.”) A quick google search will come up with countless dating websites that explain in detail what each personality type would be like as a spouse, and how to interact with them. Obviously, the world of Myers-Briggs has gotten out of hand.
What makes the situation even more humorous is the fact that very few people actually take the real test; since you’d have to pay around $50 to take the official test, most people take a knock-off internet test that approximates the real one. So when someone looks a friend in the eye and says she understand everything about that friend’s soul based on a fake Myers-Briggs score, I can see why people have started to get jaded about the world of personality testing.
However, I am writing in defense of the Myers-Briggs test, and other personality tests. With some caveats, of course. While the test has the potential to become a self-centered exploration of all the various and fascinating aspects of YOU, I have also known friends who have found genuine healing in the discoveries they’ve made about themselves through the introspection and perspective the test provides. One of my friends grew up in an environment where people constantly told her to “Stop being so shy!” and rewarded her peers for being assertive. She struggled to understand why she couldn’t force herself to become comfortable being outspokenly friendly, until in her twenties she took the test, in an environment where her friends were also taking it, and discovered that lots of people have introverted tendencies, enjoy being alone, and aren’t naturally comfortable meeting new people or being outspoken. Learning this about herself allowed her a lot of freedom to grow and become more comfortable with the way she operates.
In my own life, the test has taught me quite a bit about accepting the differences between my friends and myself. I used to spend a lot of time being frustrated and hurt when friends bailed on me and flaked on plans (and of course I still am to a certain extent—that will never totally change). But when I discovered the difference between people with the J initial—who, by and large, are punctual, dependable planners—and the P initial—who tend to prefer keeping their options open and going with the flow—a world of understanding emerged for me. I don’t have to take it so personally if my Friend the P bails, because the more I understand about the way she operates, the more I realize that she can love me dearly and be a flakey person at the same time (not that it will be any less annoying in the moment.)
Like anything, the Myers-Briggs test can and has been taken too far. But it’s also a great way to begin to understand and empathize with friends, uncover more about the way you yourself operate, and build community. Just make sure you follow these simple rules:
1. Never think that a person is the sum of their Myers-Briggs test results. You’ll never know everything there is to know about a person, and you can’t put people in a box!
2. Never limit your work/friendship/dating options based on your Myers-Briggs test results. Especially if you haven’t taken the real test. That’s just silly.
3. Don’t get self-obsessed. The test is not an excuse for you to talk or think about yourself for hours. It’s just one way of identifying your tendencies.
And most importantly:
4. If you begin talking about the Myers-Briggs test and one (or all) or your companions doesn’t want to talk about it—STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.
Nicholas Nixon began taking photos of his wife and her three sisters in 1975, and has taken a photo every year since. The result is incredible.
"Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it." -Susan Minot, writing for the New York Times
This photography project is one of the simplest and most beautiful I have seen in a long time. As we click through these photos, we see, gently and gradually, what it means to be a woman, a sister, a human. As the lines on these women's faces slowly deepen, it's tempting to read into them--to wonder what experiences have shaped them, how each sister differs from the others, and the story of each photograph. But while the four women have allowed us a glimpse of their faces each year, that is all they have allowed us. Their openness--close bed-fellows with their privacy--makes this project remarkable, poignant, and beautiful.
Check out the photos and New York Times article here.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m getting older, or if there’s something specific to the way NYC has been shaping me, but I’ve recently been thinking a lot about being able to just be who I am. At this point, while I will always continue to change and grow, I am settling into the woman I am and the way I’ve been shaped. The process of questioning myself doesn’t end, but there are some things I know, and I want to have the ability to just be.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about this in relation to art, and to being a Christian. I am much less worried about being a Christian than I have ever been before in my life, and that strikes me as encouraging and also kind of embarrassing. This is who I am, and yet for most of my life (and there are still many moments) I’ve been worried about how people will treat me, or what they’ll think, or how they might misperceive my beliefs. But I’m starting to believe deep in my core that it’s okay to just be. I am a Christian. It’s who I am. It’s okay.
And I am an artist. This post is about why I am starting to question the label “Christian artist.” This is not the first time I’ve questioned it, but it’s the first time I’m putting it into words. Questions about it have crossed my mind several times recently, most recently when I came across this article about Switchfoot and their contention of the label “Christian band.” (I know this is an old article. But hey, I’ve been busy.) When asked if they are a Christian band, their lead singer, Jon Foreman, says:
"To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds. The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed."
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling oneself a Christian artist. But I agree with Foreman that there are certain unfair expectations that arise with the label. Like erroneously expecting a pastor to be more pure than his congregation, expecting an artist who is a Christian to only ever create art specifically referencing Christ is severely limiting. Would you expect a bank teller to make a Jesus reference to every customer who comes up to his booth? Or a journalist to work a Biblical narrative into each byline? And yet Christians who are artists are often unfairly expected to reference Christ in every piece of work they create.
The genesis of this, I believe, is complicated. I would argue that it is partly cultural, and partly theological. Culturally speaking, it’s closely tied to the fact that in many parts of the West, and certainly in the United States, the cultural consciousness surrounding art is unhealthy. I’ve written about this before, but because art is considered a luxury, only as good as its entertainment value, and primarily an industry--not as a way to share stories and therefore an integral part of life--artists tend to feel the need to heavily justify their decisions to be artists, whether in a monetary sense or otherwise.
Theologically, the matter is complicated by the fact that most art in the West during the Middle Ages revolved around the church. In addition, during the Reformation Christians developed the idea that any kind of art during worship needed to be heavily justified, and as art became more important outside of the church, this trickled down into art outside of worship as well. Today, these cultural and theological pressures often take the shape of artists telling their Christian friends that they are pursuing art so that they can either “bear witness in a secular industry,” or use their art as a platform for proclaiming the name of Jesus. Neither of which is a bad thing. But, I would argue, neither of which should be the primary goal in being an artist.
As Christians, we are called to bear witness first and foremost in every aspect of our lives. That is certain. But that is true for every Christian, no matter what profession, and it does not always take the form of explicitly naming the name. In some fields, like my father’s field as a physicist, it never does. The great thing about art is that it can take that form. But it doesn’t have to.
There is no need to justify a career in the arts any more than to justify a career in plumbing. Art is inherent to humans, and storytelling begins as soon as speech does. As Christians, sometimes we speak in our daily life about how much we love Jesus, and sometimes we speak about how much we love coffee. Artists should be free to speak about either as well. And really, there is a lot of laziness that has come about because of the concept of “Christian artists.” There are many beautiful pieces of sacred art, or stories about Christian experiences that are heartfelt and important. The Biblical narrative is woven through all of us, as Christians, and it should come out of our pores. But there are also plenty of pieces of horribly lazy art and stories with the name of Jesus plastered on simply because there is a market for it.
Artists who are Christians cannot be lazy. They cannot rely on a market, as many have. It’s much more difficult to tell a diversity of stories, some of which specifically name Jesus, and some of which don’t, and it’s difficult to interact at all times with a world that holds different beliefs and values and find ways to create and converse with artists outside the Christian faith. But it’s important. It’s a command, to all believers.
In the same way, Christians who are not artists must refuse to be lazy as well. It’s much easier to rely on a Christian label or art industry to provide entertainment and enjoyment, for us and for our kids. But we are called to engage in the world, and to feel the pulse of its heart. Doing the work of evaluating art--by artists who are both Christian and not--is important. Some of it you’ll have to throw away. Some of it will touch you deeply. And that’s good.
The bottom line is that we are Christians first, and that changes the way we think, speak and breathe. But once it gets into our blood and marrow, we as artists don’t need to be constantly questioning our profession. We fix our eyes on Jesus, and trust in the process of sanctification. Sometimes that means we’ll create art that speaks intimately of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and sometimes it means we’ll write a comedy sketch about the bus stop. Whatever project we’re working on, let’s not be afraid to just be.
*My brother Daniel recommended a book called Art and the Bible by Francis Shaeffer to me recently, which apparently speaks directly to this. Worth checking out!
Friday is moaning
and Sunday is laughing,
but Saturday is silence.
I breathe the deep stillness of both
the cross and the empty tomb,
but the disciples and the women
knew only the pit of having had Him
and being left with nothing, and silence
weightier than existence,
that broke the earth
and rewrote it backwards and forwards.
Silence that fills lower and higher--
pouring out of a sepulcher
that calls forth my adoring wonder.
(Last two lines inspired by The Valley of Vision)
This is the kind of post that is addressed explicitly to Christians, and will be confusing and strange for many of my friends who are not Christians. So, secular friends, if you keep reading, you are about to get an intimate glimpse into one aspect of Christianity. And Christian friends: grace. Grace all around.
I was having drinks with a friend of mine the other night, and she shared with me that when she was growing up, her mom never once talked about sex with her. The extent of their conversation about the topic came down to her mother saying, “I hope you’ll stay pure until marriage.” My friend, who is a mature, grown woman, laughed. “What does that even mean?” she said.
But I sensed her frustration, and our conversation turned to the topic of the sex-talk--or lack thereof--in Christian families. Most people don’t spend a lot of time discussing sex with their parents, Christian or not. But as we talked I felt my own frustration growing at the lack of guidance and information provided to most Christian children. Girls in particular.
On this site, my sister and I post about issues relating to women, and one very important issue is sexuality, sex, and the body. This huge topic, this intimate topic, is one that many Christians don’t want to talk about. But that does not mean it is not important, and it does not mean it will just go away.
Christian women grow up with a lot of myths. Many of them are not told explicitly to us, but are prevalent nonetheless. I think there is none more insidious than the myth of purity, that is often barely explained but strongly upheld. Girls are taught that they are the boundary-setters, that they are princesses, that they don’t need sexual brokenness counseling. They are taught to automatically associate the word “masturbation” with “male,” because it is assumed that Christian women are never interested in exploring their own bodies. Like Edith Wharton, confused and scared on her wedding night, Christian women don’t often get a clear picture of what sex should be, and are taught not to ask questions.
None of these myths are spoken outright, because it’s tough to speak about sex. Here, I want to extend some grace. I doubt that most Christian parents want their daughters to imbibe these ideas. I am sure that many parents have their own sexual brokenness, and find it difficult to discuss these things with their children. But I know for sure that not talking about these issues will not keep a girl “pure.” It will only cause her to seek out answers elsewhere, to grow confused about the difference between what her body and Christian culture are telling her, and to be deeply ashamed when she realizes she cannot measure up to these standards of purity.
There are many Christian writers who urge parents to talk about sex with their children, but their tone often takes this quality: “If you don’t talk to your kids about sex, someone else will!” Which is essentially saying that parents are responsible for getting inside their children’s heads before they become polluted by the outside culture. But I would flip that on its head. If you don’t talk about sex with your kids, you won’t get to. You’ll miss out on the conversations you could be having. You’ll completely ignore a fundamental part of who your child is, and how she was created. You don’t have to have conversations about sex with your daughter. You get to.
We are, whether we like it or not, sexual beings. We live in a culture that has taken this beautiful part of ourselves and stretched it as far as it can go and reveled in it, and this has led to brokenness and subjugation and pain. But Christians are responsible for walking the middle road--for not running to extremes--and as difficult and uncomfortable as that is, we are charged not to be lazy. We have a responsibility to uphold the blend of spirit and body and not give into the oftentimes very gnostic ideas of sexuality that dominate western Christianity. We are a community of people who are all on different trajectories, but one of the things that unites us is that we have all been created with beautiful bodies.
Refusing to talk about sex with our children means that, yes, they will go find out about it elsewhere--but it also means that we are missing the opportunity to delight in the messiness and the fearfulness of our created beings. Like any truth in the Bible, we can’t just point to a verse and charge each other to obey it. We have the responsibility of tracking it throughout the scriptures and understanding what God is saying in the entirety of his Word. The story of sexuality is an especially beautiful one. God has so much to say about the proper place for sex and the amazing expression our bodies have, and if we don’t take the time to understand this for ourselves and to share it with those we love most, we are denying a fundamentally beautiful truth.
There is no blueprint for how this can be done. Every parent has a history, every child responds differently, every situation is unique. And there is absolutely a proper place for sexual discussion, and an acknowledgment that it is only a part of who we are as humans. But I know too many women who have been sexually broken and had no one to turn to, because Christian women are supposed to be the pure ones. We are none of us pure. We are every bit as gritty and vulnerable as men. Until the church, and Christian families, can lift the taboo off the sex-talk and truly embrace both the beauty and the brokenness, girls and boys will continue to grow into themselves piece-meal, without truly understanding the purpose, danger and beauty of their sexuality.
I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, since January, I have been giving a lot of attention to the cynicism present in my heart and my mind. At first, I was startled by its very presence. I have always considered myself an optimist, attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others. There should be no room for cynicism in my heart, especially as I continue to grow deeper in my faith.
But of course, this is not the case. As I have been observing, my heart is steeped in cynicism and fear. Over the past few months I have noted this with dismay, marking the crippling outworking of it in my life. I tell myself that whatever it is that I want, I won’t receive it or it won’t come to pass, because good things just don’t happen to me. I don’t walk in the rosy light that so many seem to walk in. I struggle.
Even a snapshot look at my life should reveal to me how ridiculous this is, but it doesn’t. Today my pastor preached on greed, and Matthew 25, speaking to us about money. Such a touchy subject, but one that Christians have to hear, and I felt my recent convictions about cynicism stirring in my heart, because I think my cynicism is often just a mask for selfishness. Especially when it comes to money, but really in everything, I truly own nothing. Everything has been given to me, and yet in my heart I deeply believe that I am entitled to what I think I need. On my birthday, a few weeks ago, I jokingly told my family that this was my name-it-and-claim-it year. As I get older, and figure out what I want, I want to know that what I want will happen. That I’ll be taken care of.
I don’t want to be rich. I’ve never wanted to be rich. I just want to be comfortable. I don’t want the best job. I just want a job with health insurance, where I feel that I’m using my talents and skills. I don’t need a month in the Mediterranean every year. I just want a few weeks to dip my toes into the ocean. And these are not bad desires. Comfort and security often lead people to a place where they can be loving and useful to others, and where their skills are truly used for good.
But my absurd cynicism rears its head and makes these desires more important than they should be. My cynicism is born out of selfishness, but it’s also born out of fear. It’s a way of buffering my heart against failures. If I care too deeply, or want something too badly, I will be hurt when it’s not given to me. But if I cynically tell myself not to get my hopes up, I won’t feel the sting when it doesn’t pan out. I live in my crippled shell of fear, with selfishness textured in, because I don’t understand that every moment of breath is a gift.
My pastor described God as a billionaire taking fistfuls of money out of his pockets and throwing it at people. We live in the midst of the incredible gifts thrown at us--and I don’t mean the money or the comfort or the security. I mean the way the train runs around a bend and comes to a stop in front of me, and the yellow daffodils nodding at me on the kitchen table, and the glancing eye-contact I shared with a woman I passed on the street yesterday, and the heavenly smell of coffee brewed on a rainy morning. We live among splendor, every moment of it rubbing up against pain, and the tension of holding the sorrow of the world in one hand has to be balanced by the joy of holding the beauty of it in the other.
I don’t want to imprison myself in a shell of cynicism. I don’t want to be afraid to trust, and to love, and to risk. I want to give generously, of my money, and my time, and my prayers, and my love, even if it’s not reciprocated, as hard as that is. God has given me common sense so that I don’t squander my gifts, but he’s also given me a world to explore and to love, and to help. He has given me so many good things, and there is no time for selfishness or fear or cynicism.
My acting teacher Mark Lewis used to say: “Everyone should have their heart broken, and break someone else’s heart. At least once.” We are obsessed with safety, especially the safety of our hearts. We pack ourselves in so tightly that we can only ever look forward to the next thing, because maybe it will be more satisfying than the hollow isolation of the present. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t make us any safer, and it’s certainly not Biblical. So this year I am resolved to continue to watch my heart, to pray that my cynicism is slowly carved out of it, and to open my eyes to the momentary blessing of each day.
Whatever your stance on the issue, this post by my friend Courtney is worth reading. She's not interested in yelling or arguing. She just shares her honest, beautiful story of anorexia, pregnancy, and, ultimately, love.
Take a look at Courtney's eloquent words.
Thank you for the curve of my legs--
I like them.
Also thank you for my ingrown hairs,
even though they’re gross.
Thank you for fingers that have wrinkles on them--
nobody else’s wrinkles,
and I can slap and eat and touch with them.
Thank you for my round eyes
and my achy inner ears,
and the bump on my nose.
Thank you for my hair,
because it’s beautiful--
and even when it’s not,
Thank you for the jagged, fisted cramps
that keep me awake once a month,
not just because they remind me
how good notpain is,
but because they are mine,
and only mine,
and this whole body is mine alone:
Given to me mine,
mine as a mystery:
body, mind, soul.
And when I’m gasping or retching or bitching
Here I am
in the body, and the mind, and the soul
that was created as me.
Once, during my time at Wheaton, I went downtown to Chicago to observe tech at Lookingglass, a prominent theater in the city. As I walked through the streets, I noticed for perhaps the first time that my shell was growing tougher--my face was set in a rock hard expression that was unrecognizable as the woman I really was. I texted a friend and asked, “How do you walk around a city with an open heart, and not as if you own it?”
“What else is love?” he texted back.
I was amazed at the complexity held in that simple response. And since that day, I have thought back to his words and wondered at my own idea of love. Can it be so large? Can it be carried on the hips, and held in the fingers, so that people on the street can be witness to it?
Since my decision to move to New York City to pursue a masters degree in theater, there have been a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head. And the memory of that big city’s--well, bigness--has come back to me. The swinging hips and turned up nose feeling. The feeling that I am somehow less than everyone else, and I have to overcompensate for that. The feeling of being scared.
My acting teacher in college used to say, “If something scares you, it’s worth doing.” (Within reason, obviously.) In the context of acting classes, that usually meant taking a risk on a scene; wearing something you wouldn’t normally, or choosing to reveal something about yourself that was personal. But what I began to realize, through those small risks, is how much of my life was ruled by fear. How many situations I flee because I don’t have the right category to file them under. How many conversations I cut short because I’m afraid of where they might go.
My teacher also used to tell us, during class, to have “soft eyes.” My immediate response to this was emotional--having soft eyes, at the time, meant being open hearted and ready to take what came. And somehow, these two ideas--that of doing things that scare me, and that of having soft eyes and an open heart--became wrapped up into one single choice. The choice to live my life with these ideas as a reality.
My time in Pittsburgh, these last two years, has been almost like a rest--a quiet period of growth and settling. Looking back on it, I can see how everything I have done has been useful, and good, and has helped me grow deeper into myself and my faith. But Pittsburgh, for me, has not been a place that has challenged me to combine fear with softness.
My sense is that New York will be just such a place. First of all, because I am scared to go. Much less scared than I would have been two years ago, but scared nonetheless. Scared, rightly so. The city--and especially the theater scene--is one of the fastest and smartest in the world. I am a girl who finds it challenging to attend a new church by herself. The world of networking and connections will be crazy hard for me. But I can't help thinking that what's important is not being fearless--it's recognizing fear and being okay with it. Understanding what scares you, and doing it anyway.
And I know this: God has provided this opportunity, and he has been preparing me. I also know the truth that if something scares me--with that wholesome, slightly thrilling fear--it’s worth doing. But how am I going to walk around a city that frightens me, and still keep my eyes soft and my heart open?
If the answer was easy, it wouldn’t be worth discovering. And my story is my own, and no one else’s. There is beautiful comfort in that thought, because it means that even if I move to New York and hate every second of my time there, the pieces of my life will still add up to a story worth telling. But I suspect that if I’m honest about my fear, and own it, and reveal it, and keep my eyes soft and my heart open, I will find things to give and to take during my time of studying and creating and breathing stale city air.
Because really, what else is love?
~ Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, ND Wilson
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
~ On the Incarnation, Athanasius of Alexandria