What The Dress Says About Us

Yesterday the primary disagreement in the world focused on a single dress and its mysterious color—white and gold or blue and black? #TheDress swept social media and took center stage over news about a potential shut down of Homeland Security, 2000 Christians kidnapped by ISIS, and net neutrality. What does this say about us? I’m afraid to answer, but also not surprised.

I get tired of hearing about how selfish our country is, the growing apathetic majority, and a decrease in civic engagement. Those things might be true, but they are also depressing. I try to be hopeful, rooting for my fellow humans and trusting that things can change. And then the Internet breaks over colors, something we all thought was a definite as black and white—or would it now be gold and blue?

The reason #TheDress caused such an uproar is because it targets our very notions of fact and truth. The United States is a culture polarized by a desire for clear answers. Things are either right or wrong, here or there, Republican or Democrat. You either believe in this, or you don’t. There are some people who try to champion the middle ground, but even that turns into its own separate platform.

In contrast, The Dress highlights the subjective nature of our world and makes us question things we thought were certain. Despite the overwhelming attempts of optometrists and graphic designers to explain the science behind it, many of us skim over those parts of the news story (I know I did). I don’t want to hear that it is “subjective” or “based on lighting” or “fluctuating between our optical rod and cones.” Technical intricacies are annoying. I want a definitive answer.

But that isn’t how the world works. During the semester I spent abroad in India, I was constantly frustrated by the pluralistic nature of things. People were so comfortable with uncertainty, every Hindu god had multiple names, and there was never an easy answer to even the most basic problems. In many eastern cultures this is the case, and people live within that conflict in a way that baffles my American mind. Now I wonder if they would even care about what color that dress is.

As silly as #TheDress phenomenon is, it points out some important things about our culture, beyond our sad obsession with news that is not really news.
  • We are easily upset by disagreement
  • We want definitive answers
  • It is hard for us to accept subjectivity

Even for those who pretend to not care, deep down you wonder how it is possible and what the truth is. Anne Lamott described this sensation well in her newest book Small Victories:
     “Redefinition is a nightmare—we think we’ve arrived, in our nice Pottery Barn boxes, and that this or that is true. Then something happens that totally sucks, and we are in a new box, and it is like changing into clothes that don’t fit, that we hate.”

Sometimes you have to redefine what you think you know for certain. In a culture that clings to absolutes of right and wrong, this truly is a nightmare. Trying to admit that The Dress is a different color than how you see it will be as uncomfortable as actually wearing it (because let’s be honest that dress isn’t the best).

In the end, the color of that dress really doesn’t make any practical difference in our world. But it matters for our sense of self, the security in what we think we know, and how sometimes we need to accept the possibility that something else might be true or someone might see it a different way.

Does uncertainty make you uncomfortable?
What can we take away from this sensational disagreement?

When You Don’t Leave the House All Day

The car, the front door, and even shoes, are being neglected by me.
 
This summer has provided me with many days where I don’t need to leave the confines of my brother’s house (where he and my sister-in-law have been kind enough to let me crash for the summer) and instead cocoon myself into its barriers. The house itself is not overly large, so a day spent inside is mostly spent between one or two rooms. I wake up at the early, but not too early, hour of 7:00 am. A shower is sometimes in order, or maybe not, and a bowl of frosted shredded wheat gives me enough fiber to support an activity level I will barely reach. I also maintain some social contact when my boyfriend, my brother, and my sister-in-law return from working hard all day. It helps to not live alone in these situations.
 
Though there may be downsides to not leaving the house as often, I have gained many glimpses into the interior world, this place where full-time writers, stay-at-home parents, and my fellow unemployed spend so much time.
 
It is both a chasm and a bridge, a trap and a doorway. Loneliness does lurk in this place, and more exercise would probably be beneficial. But the lure of time alone gives my introverted self space to simply be, something many of us neglect. We live in a culture of doing, not being, where we could all probably benefit from days where we don’t leave the house. In the wise words of April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation):
 
Staying home all day also allows me to find gems like this.

Staying home all day also allows me to find gems like this. (courtesy of Buzzfeed)

 
In the past I would never embrace such a seemingly lazy perspective. I have always been a worker bee, more comfortable with overloaded schedules, long to-do lists, and a scurrying demeanor.
 
Ironically enough, over the course of the last year I have again and again felt God pressing me and drawing me back to this message:
“BE STILL, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
 
To fill my time indoors I’ve been reading a lot, and although I love reading, I must admit that in the past few years I rarely allowed myself the indulgence. Why? For the same reasons I didn’t watch a lot of TV, kept my busy bee schedule, and never crafted as much as my Pinterest boards suggest: because relaxation is a treat.
 
If there is one thing I’m bad at, it’s relaxing. Part of my goal for this summer was to learn how to do simply that: relax. It might seem like a funny concept, the need to learn how to relax, but it doesn’t come naturally to everyone and our culture doesn’t teach it well. The word itself makes my back tense instinctively, it makes me grab for my phone to check my emails and the news and the weather and other things I’ve sanctioned as “productive.”
 
Relaxing is connected to being in the way that it requires us to release the parts of our lives that so often define who we are. What we do is what we are, or so it seems. But the truth is that I still exist, I can still be, without doing anything. What is even more amazing, is that God loves me that way. Once I remember that, I discover that by learning how to simply be, how to exist confidently in my identity as someone who is loved no matter what, my doing will gain greater strength from my being.
 
Learning to be still and relax reminds me to trust that God’s love is unconditional, it doesn’t depend on how much I do or don’t do. I think that’s the significance of the verse from Psalm 46, because being still requires us to know, not just hope or guess or question, the fact that God is truly a loving God.
 
Plus, what we often relegate to “down time” (as if it is beneath other more productive time) is more valuable than we give it credit for. One of the books I just finished, a set of essays by Jonathan Franzen, said that “the first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone.” How to be alone is related to how to just be, because when we are alone we must face our very being. The second thing reading does is illuminate what being looks like in relation to the world around us, because reading gives us compassion and empathy to understand others.
 
Spending a day entirely inside, exploring the corners of the house and the mind, I learn to appreciate the way the sun shines through the front window in the morning, the stubborn growth of a parched kitchen plant, and the elasticity of time itself. I might not have a long list of things I “accomplished” in concrete terms, but I can say that I pondered the world around me and considered my place of being within that world.
 
If it helps any of you out there still doubting the value of my staying inside all day, I also did the dishes. So there.
 
How do you feel when you don’t leave the house all day?
 
Is it hard for you to let yourself relax sometimes?

Albuquerque: 10 Things I’ve Learned So Far

Hi everyone! The last month has been a wild ride of graduating from college, driving home from Chicago to San Diego, spending a week in Yosemite, a week redoing an entire room in my parent’s house, a week spent at Disney World (more on that in my next post), and then moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico to live with my brother and sister-in-law. I still forget what time zone I’m in, but after three weeks I’m starting to feel a little more settled.

Welcome to New Mexico

Albuquerque, and New Mexico in general, is full of quirks. At least that’s the best way I’ve found to describe it so far. Here are a couple of the things I’ve learned about this mysterious place in the last few weeks:

  1. The official state nickname is “The Land of Enchantment” but it is more often known as the land of “would you like green or red chile on that?” You can also choose both, which they call “Christmas” style. Seriously, they put chiles on everything here.
  2. On that note, there is a difference between the Mexican food you get in Southern California and “New Mexican” food. Mostly it means you are safe ordering enchiladas, but a taco will look like it came from Taco Bell. They make up for it with sopapillas and honey at the end of every meal though.
  3. Hot air ballooning is not just a fun tourist outing, in Albuquerque it has long been a serious business. The International Hot Air Balloon Museum boasts treasures such as the gondola used to make the first flight across the Atlantic Ocean, a Japanese bomb that actually used unmanned hot air balloons during WWII to float incendiary bombs across the Pacific (which were surprisingly successful but the government kept it a secret to prevent panic about mainland attacks), and one of the first parachutes was invented by, what’s that?– a woman! Apparently this woman had more guts than most men of her day and invented the parachute to use for stunt jumps out of hot air balloons. You go girl.
  4. The police will fight back. I was enjoying a pleasant ride up the Sandia Tramway (the longest tramway in the world by the way) when I overheard a man talking about how the police killed an old homeless man they found camping out in the mountains because he was apparently “dangerous.” Sad story, but true. The upside is that I just moved here from Chicago, so the crime and police activity here still seems mild. That’s right I’m tough, or at least I pretend to be.
  5. Instead of air conditioning, many places use something called a “swamp cooler.” It can only be used in places with less than 30% humidity because of the magical way it uses water to cool the air (don’t ask me how, my engineer brother explained it and that is all I got out of it). One way or another, you have to flip three light switches to turn it on and it makes me feel like some kind of pilot flipping switches and making the world a better, cooler place.
  6. They are vigilant about checking your i.d. if you want a drink – so vigilant that my vertical California license might not pass in most places, at least according to the nice bartender who almost wouldn’t sell me a beer. According to Mr. Bartender, Albuquerque has such a significant problem with alcoholism that he even has to ask 80-yr old grandmas for their i.d. before selling them alcohol.
  7. Roadrunners are not mythical creatures that can survive coyote pursuits or anvil attacks, they are real life birds and yes, they run across the road.
  8. The Acoma Indians, located west of Albuquerque, are matriarchal and pass the family name through the mother’s line. We took a tour of their pueblo, and although it was sadly touristy the guide was authentic in his portrayal of the tribe’s daily life. They also make really good fry bread, which is different from Alaskan fry bread (at least that I’ve tried). Still delicious though.

    The cultural center at the Acoma Pueblo had dancers performing traditional tribal dances.

    The cultural center at the Acoma Pueblo had dancers performing traditional tribal dances.

  9. Albuquerque is also a great place for biking, with extensive trails along the canal and bike lanes across the city. However, there are these awful prickers called “goat’s heads” that seem perfectly designed to poke holes in bicycle tires, almost guaranteeing a flat tire on or after any bike ride in the area. The other anomaly to the great biking town reputation is when you see a white bicycle statue (aka “Ghost Bikes”) on the side of the road, which indicates a place where a cyclist was killed.
  10. New Mexico likes to be unique with what the rest of the country considers standard acronyms. For example, instead of getting a DUI for driving under the influence, New Mexico law designates such acts as DWI, or driving while intoxicated. Also, you would never have to deal with a long line at a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), instead you can wait in a long line at the New Mexico MVD (Motor Vehicle Division). Why these changes? Well why not?! “Why not” should also be part of New Mexico’s state motto, it does fit well with the current motto: Crescit Eundo (“It Grows as it Goes”). Supposedly this motto is supposed to represent prosperity and progress, but its nonsensical wording does make you feel like you are falling down the rabbit hole, and the city of Albuquerque has plenty of characters to support that feeling.

Along with all of these I’m also learning a lot about the challenges of post-grad life and how to structure my life outside of a school calendar. It is mostly weird, sometimes panicky and stressful, but also calming when I realize I can still breathe, in and out, in and out. So I will continue to float with the flow, enjoying days of rest in this weird, weird land.

What have your experiences been in moving to a new place?

What are some of the weird things you’ve learned about where you live?

Apathetic Attitudes: Mine, Yours, and Ours

Hello everyone, once again I’m sorry it’s been awhile. But I will get to my excuses later…

Thanks to the current election season, there has been a lot of talk concerning the apathetic attitudes of young voters, and even the majority population. Sadly it’s not hard to believe, because it is easy to see that we are more concerned with who wins The Voice, or the World Series, than with who wins the presidency. Although some might say the media has tried to turn campaigns into reality dramas themselves, there is no beating the fact that people just aren’t as interested in politics as they used to be.

I don’t blame them though, I’m pretty apathetic about politics most of the time too.

But where does this come from?
No doubt part of it is because I’ve been handed a lot of great things in life, like the right to vote, which means I don’t appreciate them as much as I should. Lately though, I’ve felt as if this apathy doesn’t just apply to my attitude towards politics, but to a lot of life in general.

Relevant Magazine even made our apathetic attitude the focus of its October Issue. But sadly, the question “Why Bother?” doesn’t only represent my attitude towards politics lately, but my attitude towards everything lately

Being in my third year of college, I’m honestly kind of over it. The enthusiasm of the first two years has died down, the classes have only gotten harder, and the real world decisions approaching are weighing me down. Doing well in class? It doesn’t matter since I can still scrape by. Fighting against injustice? I can’t really make a difference, I shouldn’t bother. Keeping up with this blog (which I have clearly been neglecting)? Well I just don’t have the time, and it isn’t impacting anything.

Even when it comes to my faith – am I boldly telling people about Christ? Well… I don’t want to offend anybody or have someone judge me.

When I read over all those excuses though, I know they are wrong. I know that doubting those things, and doubting my ability to do them, means that I am really doubting God’s ability to do them.

Continue reading

Be Still and Believe

You might have noticed that it’s been a good long while since I last posted. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’m going to halt my incessant need to apologize and be honest: I needed this break, and I’m not going to be sorry about taking it. Truthfully I’m probably speaking to myself right now more than you, because you are probably much more forgiving of my not blogging than I am of myself.

 

Either way it has been a good month for me – one filled with lots of reflection and purposefully less doing.

I read this article today on Relevant Magazine’s website titled “The Question We Should Never Let Make or Break Us,” and it spurred me back to a courage I had temporarily lost, or maybe never even had. The article centers on the issue of how we let our jobs or what we do define who we are. This is incredibly common in our culture, and it is contrary to the radical idea of letting who we are simply be a definition in itself.

The writer, Rachel Dymski, said this:
         “I find myself fighting the battle, with others and within myself, to be something. We all do. But I’m learning that the way to this being is not by constant, distracted doing. And so, one by one, I let go of these trophies of doing, and find my heart is lighter than it was when I gripped to them so tightly.  My worth, it seems, was completely independent of these trophies all along.”
 

 
My whole life has been filled with this kind of identity, where my trophies of doing defined who I was. First, I was a dancer, because for thirteen years that’s what I did day in and day out. Next, I was a leader in our student government, doing all I could to be someone who made a difference. Then, I was a college student, who was thus defined by what I did in terms of study: English and Communications major. Now, I have faced all of these things, and have still found my identity incomplete. Why?

Sleepy Dreams and Eccentric Reality

The theme this year for chapel and our University Ministries organization is “eccentric.” Pastor Judy spoke both last Sunday at collegelife and Wednesday in chapel to introduce this theme to us as students.

photo from http://www.geekologie.com – sunrise over the pacific ocean

But I need to stop before I get ahead of myself, because the truth is that my brain is not really flowing well at the moment. I honestly don’t feel like doing much but going back to sleep, which is partially why I didn’t get around to posting consistently this week. Some people struggle with temptations like lust, selfishness, greed, or gluttony. Although I am not immune to those things, my current trap lies in complacency. This is my third year at the same school, there isn’t a lot going on for me this semester, and all I want to do spiritually is nap. Why not right? I’ve worked hard the last few years, gotten through many challenges, and encountered God in all new ways. So I would be fine to rest for awhile where I am right?

Blue Like Jazz: the movie, the story, and the truth

This weekend I finally got to see the movie version of the book Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. I must say that this is one of the best book made into a movie transitions I’ve ever seen, which is funny because the essential story and plot was completely different. However I think the filmmakers captured the essence of the book and the central meaning it was trying to convey; to me that is the most important element of making books into movies.

Besides all that though, the movie inspired me in a whole new way than from when I read the book. I saw things differently and got new things out of it, which was entirely refreshing.  The best thing about this story is that it has the one quality any good book or movie really needs: relevance. The audience can see themselves in the story, understand the emotions, and be connected by the words and characters in a way that lets them know they aren’t the only ones out there feeling a certain way. Donald Miller speaks to so many dilemmas our world faces — messed up families, dealing with hypocrisy in the church, feeling abandoned by God, the shame of misrepresenting Jesus, and searching for overall meaning in our lives — that anyone can find something that speaks to them, pulling the heartstrings with a camaraderie of truth.

For me, I saw a young man who is lost in the brokenness of our world, feeling uncertain and alone. Don questions the world he grew up in by literally rebelling against it in every way, which is a familiar case to many college students these days. I too have felt this urge, but it has manifested in a different way, a way that looks to many people as if I am simply saying no to everything around me (read the last two posts to hear that story).

I have been questioning everything and seeking answers, which means I do have to say no to many things in order to better understand what I’m saying yes to. As Blue Like Jazz illustrated so well, college is the time of life that most people do this. Not to say that others don’t encounter it earlier or later, but for many of us it occurs when we are forced out of the world we grew up in and into the harsh reality of somewhere new.

However, I realized that although I technically grew up in a Christian family, that wasn’t the world I let influence me. Instead I lived in a world of superficiality, of material need, of popularity contests and tainted self-image. Then when I came to college at North Park, I was blessed to enter into a real Christian world. Thus, in a sense, I experienced the exact reverse of the Blue Like Jazz story by rebelling against the cultural world to enter into the Christian one. So questioning things has turned into my rebellion, but somehow I have been surrounded by God’s grace enough to see that it isn’t Him, or Jesus, or the church, that I have a problem with – it is the rest of the world and our culture that brought me down.

Although that seems like a nice way to do it, I know that the experiences I had to deal with in high school and before were not easy things. I certainly rebelled in different ways then, but God’s grace has allowed me to see the value of the pain in bringing me back to Him. The hard part is for us to remember not to define God by our circumstances then, but to let God define our circumstances. By doing so I have learned that God never lets our rebellions, whatever form they take, go wasted. Simply because we are broken, does not mean God isn’t taking care of us – instead he uses every hurt to bring us closer to Him.

We are all broken in different ways, and Blue Like Jazz is one of those stories that brings such brokenness to light in our lives. Understanding that we are not alone is often the first step in realizing God’s grace and love for us.

I’ve spent the last few posts wandering through my up and down emotions of where I’m at in life right now. Thank you for bearing through it with me, reminding me that I am not alone. I feel better being honest with my writing and where I’m at then trying to pretend as if everything is ok. Hopefully the truth of these ponderings is something that you too can find relevance in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of me, of yourself, and everything around you – asking questions is the only way to find answers.

Tomorrow I return to Chicago for another semester of school. Although I am in the midst of a lot of hurt and uncertainty, I am trusting God that those are not unnecessary pains. He will make all things new, and I know that I am not alone on the journey of discovering what those answers will be. Stay tuned :)

“Jazz is like life because it doesn’t resolve. But what if we’re not alone? What if all these stars are notes on a page of music, swirling in the blue like jazz?” – Donald Miller, Blue LIke Jazz