I hope your week started off superbly. And if not superbly, I hope it was at least decent, and if not that — well, I hope you survived and can now go home and put on your PJ’s and pour yourself some Pinot Grigio or eat a sugar cookie and stare at your dog like I do, or watch “How To Get Away With Murder” — which I have a lot to say about but will spare you of by only saying this: Viola Davis knows how to own a role better than most actresses on TV right now and commands the freaking room in this show. So watch it. It’s terrific.
In other news…
I am knee-deep in paperwork and to-do lists and packed boxes and am doing my best to not mentally lose it and hide-out in my car in the dark in a Taco Bell parking lot while listening to Simon & Garfunkel until this week (and our move) is over. I truly hate the entire process of moving. There are not many other things in life that are as stressful for me. And I think this is because I don’t like instability or having to press the pause button on other areas of my life (like writing, work, and my relationships) to have to pack DVD’s and winter-clothes and scrub shower floors until I can no longer feel my elbows from the labor. It’s just not my thing. But it is one of those unavoidable parts of being a grown-up and not one that any of us can get around or out of.
In the meantime, please excuse the inconsistent posting here — once we are all settled into our new place I will be back to it. I did want to share a great bit of advice that was posted on Facebook last week by one of my favorite writers — Mary Karr. She is a special kind of inspiration for me, having come from a background of poverty, abuse, and addiction. So whether you’re a writer or not, I think these words are good to consider for life in general, though she does specifically address writers and her own University students, I think her point is worth noting no matter who you are or what you do.
Here it is:
You imagine there’s a secret to your publishing woes–this subject is fashionable or that approach always wins the prize. Tis true that fashion permits medium-sh*tty work to worm its way into print. Then in an eyeblink, history and good taste gobbles up the crap and its writers. Poof they’re gone. The ‘fashionable’ win for a day. Long term, they enter oblivion.
So many students ask me about ‘packaging themselves’. The truly deluded imagine they have a brand and devote vain hours to their selfies. Maybe such talk distracts them from the reasonable terror that haunts anybody who dares to face a blank screen with a blinking cursor: How can you find language to capture for a reader all that’s burning inside you?
Trust that the nature of your particular talents and passions can take shape in words to tell the stories and poems you’re burning to tell. Only when you let who you really are–whether it’s fashionable or not–onto the page can you start the journey.
That doesn’t mean any easy sashay down literary lane btw–it means revision. Could Carmelo land a jump shot or Beethoven compose a symphony without thousands of hours at their separate enterprises? Vain, futile hours, they may seem to be.
If you’re uncomfortable, and you feel like you’re failing, that means you’re running with the big dogs. Discomfort=making hard choices.
The answer is revision. Every great writer I’ve ever read starts dumb and refines it. (Teaching drafts of Yeats and Eliot this term, I thrill at how sh*tty many are.) Then read old prizewinner lists–the forgotten names got there being fashionable. George Saunders writes maybe one or two stories per year.
If you learn how to write well enough, the publishing will take care of itself. Of the hundreds–thousands–of rejections I’ve received in my life, not one seems like a mistake. Every editor saved me from public embarrassment.”
‘You ask the secret.
It has just one name: again.’–Miroslav Holub
Until next time, dear readers…
It has happened. It has happened at last!
The dog days of summer are over. The hot, sticky hours of sunshine have surrendered themselves to cooler, earlier and more enchantingly quiet and crisp evenings colored by the crimson, amber, and blood orange hues of a brand new autumn. And as it happens every year when the seasons change, with that new beginning comes an invitation to start over, to live and move with life against the backdrop of a different palette of colors and smells and sensations. And after a long, sweltering summer that seemed to never want to end, I can finally exhale and rest in the beauty of nature’s new birth and the feast that accompanies it. For it is a feast I look forward to all year long. A feast of cinnamon-stick smells and home-made pie crusts and five o’clock sunsets that dye the autumn sky with shades of scarlet, champagne, and saffron that draw the last of summer’s heat from the air and make me want to slip on my favorite boots and sip cider under the sky.
I love this time of year for the same reasons that most do. Saturdays with the windows open, football Sundays where a warm blanket on the couch with a pumpkin beer is almost better than the game itself, one-size-too-big hoodies that feel and smell like college in September, cool nights that beg you to light a fire or roast a marshmallow or sink into your sweats with a bowl of bubbly chili, and spice and maple and pumpkin flavored cakes that feel more like a right rather than a choice in the middle of October. I love it all. Because for me, autumn has always been a reminder of the impermanence of the external things of life and an invitation to sit down at a table that offers a new kind of feast – a feast that asks nothing of us but the reverence of our hearts and the attention of our senses.
It is bittersweet for me as I sit here, with the back sliding door open to welcome in the breeze. It is hard to grip the truth of another year coming to it’s end. And while we Californians have yet to experience a notable dip in temperature or the browning, changing colors of the leaves, it most certainly feels, formally and officially, like fall.
And I agree with F. Scott Fitzgerald that life “starts over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” Because while the air outside is still kissed with the last licks of the syrupy-warmth of summer, I can feel the pumpkin-pie-promises of autumn’s peak fastly approaching. I felt it today as I walked into my favorite local sandwich shop for a hot veggie sub – there was a new aroma in the air that reminded me of the smell of Tide on my clothes. It’s a scent that is crisp, clean, new, and all yours.
My hope for this autumn is that I would look to the external changes and novelties of nature for refreshment when the internal things going on in my life get too messy or hard. I hope I can take solace in the magic of a cool October evening and find peace in the pleasure of painting or carving a big, fat pumpkin to put outside by the front door. And finally, I hope that I accept the invitation to partake in nature’s new feast as the green leaves turn into garnet and gold and fall to the ground in surrender to what author Carol Bishop Hipps calls the “mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”
I’m ready and hungry for it all. So grab your sweaters and position your dinner plates and appetites to receive all that is to come in the jubilant, candy-corn and caramel colored feast of the fall.
Until next time…
“Don’t do it, too controversial.”
“You’ll make a lot of people mad and start arguments, why would you want to do that?”
“You could be accused of being sympathetic towards terrorists, nobody will get it.”
These are the three recurring thoughts that have come to mind as I have considered writing this post. And they are the three things that I am scared of the most as I pen these words.
But every day and week that has passed with me grappling with these “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” dilemmas has left me more desirous to take the plunge and do it. So consider this the plunge. And consider this as me taking it.
Here we go.
On June 10, a radical Islamist group that call themselves “ISIS” which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or “ISIL,” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized control of Mosul — a key city in Iraq. (I will refer to the group as “ISIS” here). Since then, members of the extremist group have gained momentum in rising up as one of the most feared terrorist groups in the world, and become synonymous with images of armed men cloaked in black hoods and masks, waving a black-and-white flag with the words “La ‘ilaha ‘illa-llah” written across the top which translates to: “There is no God but God.” This image is accurate to how ISIS members present themselves. To associate a member within this terrorist group with the disturbing picture of a man draped in black boasting an M-16 assault rifle, standing next to a hostage on their knees in an orange jumpsuit in a desert, as shown in the execution videos circulating around the internet in which two journalists and an aid worker were beheaded, is not inaccurate. Whether pictured on the news proudly waving their flag of allegiance, or speaking words of warning and hate to the world from behind the lens of a camera, ISIS is on a mission — a mission to create a caliphate, or political-religious Islamic state under strict Muslim dominion – and to call this mission evil and abhorrent would be no exaggeration.
However, to associate any and every Muslim with this mission is terribly inaccurate, ignorant, and wrong.
Since that day in June when ISIS catapulted itself into the public eye and subsequently became a buzzword and hot button political topic, I have grown more and more shocked, saddened, and disillusioned by the response I have seen from some churches and followers of Christ in regards to how we should respond to and treat ISIS — and more pointedly, Muslims in general.
Yes, this is being directed towards Christians. But in no way am I accusing all Christians of being unloving and wrong. I recognize not all believers have this attitude. And as a Christian myself, I’m aware that this makes me a target of criticism and a potential conduit for controversy. But I’ll take the risk. What I have to say needs to be said. And that is this:
If you claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, you must love Muslims. You must treat them with grace, compassion, and humility. To do anything less than this is to muddy and totally miss the point of the Christian gospel.
One more time: if you claim to follow Jesus, you must love Muslims. This includes extremist radicals like ISIS, as well as peaceful followers who reject and condemn the ways of the radicals. We are to love them not because we want to or because it is suggested of us, but because Jesus commands it. And in this commandment, He doesn’t say we can choose who is exempt from that love. Because there are no exceptions.
What else does He command of us? That we love Him. And this is not to be mistaken for or equated with loving America or the Constitution or deeming yourself “a patriot” for the cause of defending “God’s country.” Or loving the idea of killing people who don’t love the God of the Christian Bible — like Muslims. Loving God is living in relationship with Him and living a life of constant surrender to the mission of the gospel of Christ. And from what I understand of the gospel, it’s primary goal is to show the love of Christ to a broken world.
Since the massacres of non-Muslims began in the Middle East when ISIS first made headlines this year, I have seen the following picture posted and promoted by several “Christian” friends and acquaintances on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest:
My first thoughts when I saw this:
Is that real? Probably not.
I support the Marines because my brother served as one for many years. I don’t want to think they would advertise this.
Why are Christians sharing this?
I checked and found that this billboard is in fact, fake. But the message is not. It can be found on t-shirts and bumper stickers here.
Why would I let a fake billboard get to me? Well first, it’s not about the billboard. It’s about the idea of professed Christians supporting this message (and others like it) so much so that they would splash it across various social media platforms. And in the instances that I saw, they received a chorus of applause in the form of “likes” and comments and “shares.”
For the life of me, I can not understand how anyone who has given their life to the gospel of Jesus can reconcile such an ignorant and hateful message with what they have read in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
I simply can’t.
If you say you follow Christ, you can not ignore His clear and direct command to love others. Especially your enemies and those who persecute you. He doesn’t say we should murder or wage war with them. He doesn’t say we should judge them and call them names and support dropping bombs on their cities and villages. He says we are to love them.
Even terrorist groups like ISIS.
How can we do this?
I don’t know all of the answers. But I think it starts with not falsely labeling all Muslims as being bad people who want to kill Christians and implement Sharia law in America. Because the truth is, most Muslims are peaceful, hospitable, and gentle people who reject the goals of militant groups like ISIS. And to label every follower of Islam as being evil and bloodthirsty is more of a reflection of fear and prejudice than it is of truth.
Now if you are a Christian, imagine this: you tell someone you are a Christian and go on to discover later that that person lost respect for you because of your religious beliefs and thinks you’re crazy, evil, and might be better off dead. They believe this because of a group called the “Klu Klux Klan,” who believes in white supremacy and ethnic cleansing in the name of Jesus Christ and justifies their racism, hatred, and murder of African Americans with scripture.
How would that make you feel?
Personally, it makes me feel sad, angry, and embarrassed. The KKK does not follow the gospel that I follow. But because they commit their acts of evil and hate in the name of God, those who don’t know any better might associate me with them. The same can be said of slavery. Many slaveowners in the South justified their use of slave labor with scripture. They saw it as their Biblical right to purchase a human and use and abuse and torture them for their own monetary and economical gain. This means that technically, Christians could be associated with and accused of supporting slavery and the ideology of the KKK. Pretty ludicrous and ignorant, right? The same line of logic is what is being employed when we falsely accuse all Muslims of being evil people who support terrorism and genocide. It is unfair, untrue, and unloving.
If we look at what is going on in the Middle East through the lens of the Christian gospel and what Jesus commands His followers to do, we would be foolish to believe that His message is one that is anything less than that of love, sacrifice, and compassion.
We are called to love Muslims and pray for them and hope that they come to know Jesus. Is it not true that Saul hated Christians and murdered them before he became Paul? Is it not true that Jesus Himself was rooted in middle eastern culture and would become a victim of terrorism and hate and persecution, yet preached to turn the other cheek and pray for your enemies and go so far as to offer to give them the coat off your back? And if we are to get into more complicated logistics, the issue of the U.S.-supplied assault rifles and ammunition, along with other various heavy weapons that ISIS has seized for use in combat, must be addressed. We may oppose them, but we can’t ignore the fact that America has played a key role in arming them with much of their weaponry. That fact is worth considering if Christians are to understand the crisis in the big picture and take responsibility for their allegiance to a country that, whether or not it is being broadcasted, has aided ISIS in their mission.
All of this said, my hope is to see a shift in how Christians perceive, talk about, and treat Muslims in light of the current events unfolding in the Middle East. And that in this shift, the message of Christ would be illustrated and acted out. Because if we say we love Jesus and follow His teachings, we can’t ignore what He commands of us, which is opposite of what the fake USMC billboard I shared here promotes, or what Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson wants to do — “convert ‘em or kill ‘em.” Neither of those messages capture the ways of Jesus. They stand in direct opposition to it. For when Jesus says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” and “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” I think He means it. And I think He means it because we live in a world that needs that kind of love. Uncomfortable, nonsensical, relentless love — a love that would offer the coat off of their back to their enemy and a love that rejects violence and bombs and wars because of the One who came to establish a different way. A way of peace and compassion and sacrificial love. Whether it be ISIS, American Muslims, or the guy at the grocery store that looks different from us, there are no qualifiers for who deserves to be loved with the love of Jesus.
He commands we demonstrate His Love to all nations, ISIS-controlled or not. There are no qualifiers or exceptions to this. And if we can accept that, perhaps we can fulfill His calling to overcome evils like ISIS with good, which may seem impossible and impractical, but a large part of the Christian faith is understanding that nothing about what Jesus calls us to is meant to always be practical or make sense. Choosing to follow Him despite that is what counts, and what will ultimately make a difference to a broken, hurting world in desperate need of a love that doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t stop demonstrating compassion and peace. No matter how scary and dangerous our enemies may seem. If we can accomplish this, as peacemakers, Jesus says in Romans that we will be blessed and called children of God.
And I can think of nothing more noble, in times such as these, than that.
Good evening my lovely readers.
I hope this past week was a kind one and didn’t threaten to reduce you to a pile of no-good-grumpiness as it did to me on more than one occasion. And I hope you did something nice for yourself if work was chaos and stress bogged you down and left you in the dumps. I am thankful the week has come to an end and we can all breathe, have a cupcake, and say “it’s the weekend.”
Can I get an amen?
A brief life update on my end: we are moving in like…ten days. Not relocating, just moving from our current apartment to another due to our lease coming to an end. I have nothing packed. I have no plan for how I will pack up all of my stuff in ten days. I also literally don’t know where we are going to live in ten days. As someone who suffers from anxiety, this is not a good thing. But a big, huge chunk of the adulthood experience is sometimes not knowing where the heck you might be in a matter of days, months, or years, and being okay with that. You do the best you can and try and make wise choices and remember stuff your parents used to tell you about being responsible and you just…go with it. Put one foot in front of the other and go. Even if you don’t have boxes yet to pack up your stuff or any inkling as to where you might be waking up in a couple of weeks…you still have to get up and keep moving with life. The alternative is sitting and moping and wasting time being stubborn and mad. That’s usually not the best option, though. Take it from someone who is a champion at it.
If you think of it, maybe send some prayers and positive vibes my way as we go about finding a new home and moving. I get nauseous every time I look at my unorganized, sloppy closet littered with wrinkled clothes and mismatched shoes and imagine having to pack it all up before October 1. I know it can be done and will get done, it’s just a lot to throw into the mix of a heavy workload and the approaching holidays.
Now that that is out of the way, I thought I would share two semi-humorous/ quirky/ silly things that happened to me this week.
On Wednesday at work, I stepped into the restroom while leaving my office for a meeting with a client, (context in case you didn’t know: I work with adults with physical/ developmental handicaps). I asked my client to wait outside and she did this willingly. So after closing the stall door in the bathroom, I suddenly heard her shouting something at people in the hallway. At first, I thought nothing of it. But then I listened closer and heard her exclaiming loudly to passerbys the following:
Jamie’s in there using the litter box!
Needless to say, I finished my business as fast as I could and zipped out the door to tell her to that wasn’t appropriate. Even though it was really, really hilarious and I laughed about it later.
Today while driving through the suburbs en route to a meeting for work, I saw a little boy riding his bike in the street. Nothing out of the ordinary about that. There weren’t any cars around but mine so I slowed down and waited for him to see me and move away from the middle of the road. He made eye contact with me and stopped on his bike and stared. I waved and stopped, assuming he’d move. I look over to my right and see what appears to be his mom on her phone – caught up in a conversation and not paying attention. The boy started riding away towards her and so I hit the gas pedal. But right as I did so, he made a sharp turn that put him right in front of my car which made me slam on my brakes and yell things I can’t write here in case my mom reads this. The boy laughed and rode away toward his mom who finally looked up from her phone. She made eye contact with me and started to yell. I rolled down my window and this is what I heard:
“You trying to kill my kid! Imma kill you! You wanna get out of that car and take this inside? I’m a black belt you *(expletive)*! Come around here again and I’ll punch your face off!”
My thought at that moment: Dear God, please don’t let this woman have a gun in her back pocket and shoot me right now. Please. I promise I won’t do bad things anymore. I DON’T WANT TO DIE.
Without engaging her, I slowly drove away to avoid conflict. And before turning onto the next road, I looked back in my rear-view window and there was the mom…standing in middle of the road with her middle finger raised up in the air. She was flicking me off. And also, still on her phone. I turned the corner and sped away as fast as I could.
And with that…
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”