Power & Control

During university, I had a hilarious and smart friend named Muneeb who thought the lyrics to Kanye West’s hit song “Power” included a verse that purportedly said, “Power…and controoool.” Of course, it was misheard (and fantastic) but it still rings true for me. When you are a person in power, you need to know how to control it before the rapacity for it consumes you, as in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Or…can you control it? Will power just consume you ultimately?

Recently, a person in power told me, verbatim, “You cannot change the world.” This person followed this comment by telling me that I could change the world only a little, and only by changing others one at a time. (Oh, and that since I could also be a mother, this could probably contribute to my worth.) Basically, whenever I asked a question or attempted to explain my situation, I was responded to thusly:

This commentary and its flowery delivery astounded me to no end. Despite this person and their insistence that change can only happen based on groupthink, I completely and utterly disagree. Change can happen in anyone, at anytime. When one person changes, the whole world changes because of that person’s perspective. Change happens every single day because of individuals and because of groups. Change relies not on a single group or a single person, but on the singularity of purpose divulged. Basically, change goes as high as you can dream it. Is it idealistic? Yes. Is it stupid? No, I don’t think so. Is it realistic? If you can dream it, there is a way. You might fail and blunder and fall, but there is more than one way even. This world was built by dreamers and foolish thinkers who triumphed over ridiculous, some say impossible odds.

Remember when people used to think the world was square? How about when many, even scholars, believed the universe revolved around earth? Yes, the Italian Renaissance heralded in many great thinkers, one of which was Mr. Galileo Galilei who, through observation and theory, that heliocentrism existed. What was his just reward during his lifetime? Inquisition then house arrest. Under the guise of religion, groupthink extinguished someone who dared to think differently. Let’s let Galileo speak for himself, shall we? “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual” (Galileo,Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men 1859). Galileo also reasoned that a God who blessed him with intellect would probably want him to use it. I agree. I believe God gave us discernment and the ability to think for ourselves for a reason, not just to follow the crowd. The more we herd and bully each other into sharing the same old, antiquated ideas, the farther we drive ourselves into the pit of ignorance.

I’m currently reading a beautiful compilation called Small Acts of Resistance by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson. Through the many true narratives of people using their lives to change the world, I have realized how wrong that certain person of power is. Individuals, whether in a small dedicated group or as simple small numbers, have strength far beyond their frail human forms. Individuals are amazing. Sure, I’m preaching in direct contrast to the stolid, numbing disinterest in Fight Club that Tyler Durden so aptly put, “Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” I would beg to differ, beyond this millennial drift into apocalyptic dread. Perhaps we all can’t be a Galileo or a Nelson Mandela, but you can be you. No one in the history of mankind, present, past or future can ever have a perspective as unique or as genuine or as brave as your own. Of course, there must be measure in madness. Uniqueness does not guarantee safety or kindness. We need more of that. We need to teach more of that. We need more peace through attentive care of our neighbors–proximal, global or otherwise. I’d hope that our own dreams are a bit less selfish. Perhaps less about money and objects, and more about bigger things. People, education, faith. Government, society. Respect, love, honor. More of the good stuff, less of the ignorance.

I hate to differ, Mr. Durden, but I think people are pretty unique. (Image via manvsdebt.com)

I hate to differ, Mr. Durden, but I think people are pretty unique. (Image via manvsdebt.com)

Once upon a time, a smart woman stood up to a counsel of many men and changed the world. It is not a fairy tale or just a story. It is the life of Malalai Joya, who at the ripe old age of twenty-odd years faced the loya jirga constitutional assembly to defy a regime. She was one person who stood up to warlords who have been known to kill and torture. She, one person, stood up and changed the world. In Small Acts of Resistance, she is quoted as saying, “They will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower–but you cannot stop the coming of spring.” This was a response after a total of five assassination attempts at the time. She stood up in the face of everything.

The incomparable Malalai Joya. (Photograph via malalaijoya.com)

The incomparable Malalai Joya. (Photograph via malalaijoya.com)

History, of course, is never gentle to those who “dissent” or who think differently. Nelson Mandela spent decades in a prison. In the Old Testament, Joseph was a dreamer who was left for dead by his own brothers. Malala Yousafzai was shot three times by a gunman while on a school bus. Desmond Tutu fled South Africa. So the story goes, but the dreamer doesn’t stop dreaming or acting. Because every dreamer has the potential to be an activist.

I recently had the pleasure and blessing to sit in on a sermon given by Jamie Taylor, the descendant of the well-known and revered Hudson Taylor of the missionary variety. His sermon, given at Island ECC on 1 Samuel, was called “Give Me a Person.” It concluded the annual Go Conference at my Hong Kong home church, and it was wonderful. Mr. Taylor prompted action, citing the story of David and Goliath. He reminded me that missions is an invitation to “stand in the gap of God’s glory.” They are front row seats, and they are free.

So, I’m talking to you Person of Power. No more conference talks, no more snarky comments, no more commentary. I only have a few words for you and people like you.

God is living. He is working. I am going. I am, I will.

You might be Goliath, but we are David.

If you stand in my way, you have no way to block the tidal wave of change coming your way.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m going to do it with a smile on my face. Change the world that is.

-S.

33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said,“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” -1 Samuel 17 ESV

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
Nelson Mandela

Learning the ABCs Backwards

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Photograph via my mother.

Advice to my CBA 12-year-old self.

Chinese Born American.

You don’t have to apologize for it you know.
It’s not a crime, the way it sounds,
The way you sound or the way you look.

You are a walking anomaly
Some people will find fascinating and others puzzling.
Some, of course, will hate you.
And some people need to re-learn their 123’s,
Remember how to substitute some1’s ignorance for 2 listening ears,
Remember how to divide their attention to multiply their awareness,
And add a bit of <3 to the equation.
You are not just a walking anomaly.

You are. Are not.

It will be difficult walking through the Northwest Arkansas Mall
On Veteran’s Day.
The old people all think you bombed Pearl Harbor.
They will glare.

It will be difficult walking through Woodland Junior High School hallways
Where people treat you like more thing than person,
Because glasses and Asian means nerd in media and culture,
Because no one is secure in junior high school.
You’ll have no social currency, but the money doesn’t matter anyways.

It will be difficult to stand up for yourself.
Stand up anyways.
It will be difficult finding friends.
Be a friend to yourself first.
It will be difficult to love your eyes.
Love them anyways.

You are. Are not.

People think learning Chinese growing up is easy.
It’s not.
They don’t know about Saturday morning cram sessions
For Saturday afternoon Chinese school
Attended by kids who really don’t want to be there.

Or, they think it’s so “exotic.”
So exotic, in fact, that when you call them nonsense in Chinese,
The principal freaks out about foreign languages,
And makes an announcement about “No foreign curse words!” while glaring at you.
青菜頭.

You don’t always have to be right.
I’m sorry school tried to program you that way.
You don’t have to always be sorry.
Sometimes you’re not the one who has to apologize.

Don’t hate people because they cannot change.
Pity them.
Don’t hate the system for breaking down.
Change it.

Cry when you want to.
Laugh when you can.
Drown out the yelling with music,
Kill the bullies with kindness.

I haven’t got it all figured out yet, CBA.
I’m still learning my alphabet backwards,
Learning that beauty is more about soul
Than the way eyes or skin looks.
Learning that words carry so much weight
That bullets can fly.
Learning that some silences
Are louder than any debate.

If you can’t beat them, don’t join them.
If you can’t forget, at least forgive.

I have found a way home.
It is not on one shore or the other,
but somewhere far away.
Home will find you, but not on this world.
Too many see you as
Forever foreigner. Whitewashed. Yellow.
Not enough see the
Writer. Great Pretender. Lone but not lonely.

Start from CBA,
Then 1 day
Your 2 broken nations
Will play fair
in this 3-sided love.

Counting Breaths

GIF via Giphy.

GIF via Giphy.

I used to have trouble with counting. Not with math. I was pretty good at math.

Counting was my way of making things normal again. Someone made fun of my weight that day? Count the tiles backwards from the corner, skip one and start over. A “friend” said that no one would ever love me? Hold my breath until I forgot about it. How should I drown out the insults from the bully sulking in the corner? Organize eraser shreds until they made sense again. Count from ground zero.

The closet was always perfectly organized–summer, winter, fall, spring, and color-coordinated besides. My desk had to be perfectly in order, books stacked a certain way and alphabetical, of course. Pencils lined up by height, sharpness and general preference. Nothing out of place.

Life is messy. I thought I could control it by the routine of my outfits and the order of my breathing. I hated the very idea of imperfection. We usually don’t have a choice. We fail. We say things, do things at the wrong moment.

We forget to breathe as we’re counting breaths. Perfection has its cost.

There are so many things I want to complain about right now. Perhaps I just need to be a bit more creative and embrace the mess. This back ache? This back ache is me growing a backbone slowly and painfully. I’m learning how to rise up to occasions properly again. The intensity? It can be called passion.

Life is messy, but it is still life. Just last week, I saw a woman faint and fall off her scooter at a major intersection. In the middle of rush hour, in the middle of small talk, in the middle of routine. Terrifying. Miraculously, she began talking again, but there were a few terrifying instances where it looked like she might not get back up at all. Life is messy, but always beautiful.

No matter how much you get the temptation to count down on yourself, count instead on Life. Life lived to the full. Maybe, then, the things which seem so messy start to make sense again.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 ESV

Junior High ESL Teaching

Junior High in Taiwan.

Junior High in Taiwan.

To set the record straight, I am 1.5 generation Chinese-American teaching English at a Taiwanese secondary school of my own free will. I am proud of my heritage and my people–Chinese, Chinese American, people of the AAPI community, Yilaners, Fulbrighters, Chicagoans, Oak Parkites, Kansas peeps, Iowans, Marylandians, Arkansans, and more. You are all my people, people. I’m proud to be part of your community, past, present or future.

Teaching as a profession, then. Let’s talk about the last five months or so. Sometimes I love it. Other times, not so much. NPR does a great segment on what it means to be a teacher called 50 Great Teachers which sums up current theories struggling to emerge among long-set traditions perfectly well. So, why the mixed feelings? Teaching is hard. Like, drag your butt up 25 flights of stairs when the elevator is broken hard. Like… this is what running a marathon everyday feels like hard. You have to be on your game at all hours, making sure you’re getting all grading, lesson planning and classroom management sorted. However, it’s also the most rewarding and beautiful thing you will ever do. Students are quirky, witty and downright fantastic. They will make you laugh, cry, and get frustrated in the best possible of ways. Junior high in Taiwan is quite different from the States, but it’s quite the same in most cases. You have the stolid social hierarchies. Students can be mean to each other, often writing terribly condescending or crass notes to each other and even making each other cry. I saw one student get escorted off campus today in tears. In Taiwan as in the U.S., you also have the great students. Not the ones who yell “Miss Yuan!” or “Teacher!” (although who doesn’t like that?), but the ones who really listen, who want to learn and be taught. Strange but true, how on both sides of the teacher-student dichotomy, we need to do more listening. Quietly observing before jumping to conclusions. How crazy is that, right?

Anyways, recently I had an interesting issue with my students at my junior high. I invited a friend out by popular demand based on a teaching evaluation I conducted. While the whole invitational went more than splendidly, something didn’t sit right in my stomach. That gut feeling proved to be true. My students questioned my legitimacy as an English teacher because I look very Asian as opposed to my friend who looked more foreign than I did. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friend, she’s absolutely the best, and I expected the kids to love her just the same. However, I did not expect them to treat me like crap because I wasn’t her. “Teacher Sherry isn’t as cute as _____.” “I wish ____ was our teacher, not Sherry.” One student even passed the record sheets to my friend because he saw her as the main authority based on her skin color and accent. I couldn’t even muster the strength to get mad. I just went home and cried. As I told my concerned friend and boyfriend, it felt like a broken dream and a breakup. You don’t get to choose how students accept you, especially if it’s based on skin color.

However, contrary to the shame I felt, I decided to be honest to everyone involved. I told my LET how hurt I was by my student’s response. I told my friend how I was deeply saddened by my students. This week, I did my multicultural Prezi lesson with both my junior high clubs and invited them to watch the two last videos posted on my blog about foreigners abroad in China or Taiwan. To my surprise, everyone was quite supportive in the end. My friend and LET gave me nothing but love and understanding.

And the students? The students actually listened this time. They stopped talking while I was talking. They understood what they were doing, and I could tell they didn’t like it. I don’t like being a source of conflict, but at the same time I don’t want to change being Asian-American. I want to teach them. Today, this day…I think they finally got it. This last semester was all about pain, humility and honesty. I came home after junior high in tears, with headaches and many questions. How do I get through to them? How do I give everyone a voice, including myself? How do I gently rebuke? I failed, many times. However, I think this time, despite students being rude and making downright racist remarks, this time they listened. They considered what it was like to be AAPI, African-American, Mexican-American, Spanish, French or otherwise while in Asia. It was nothing but fantastic to see them stop and think.

Was the pain worth it? Was the suffering worth it? Was the endless hours spent wondering, praying and getting frustrated worth it?

Absolutely. And then some.

~S.

2014 in review

Just some review stats for this year. I’m excited to write more this coming year.

Look forward to some new posts!

~S.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Part Where I Explain Myself. (Aka: “Where are you really from?”)

I really didn’t want to write this post. Mostly because so many people back home have yelled at me for “always pulling the race card” and such. I’m sorry, did my heritage and ethnicity suddenly become your plaything? No, so no accusations, please.

Image courtesy of The Atlantic. This is…pretty much how I feel when I have to explain who I am.

I’m sure I’m not the first to say, but let me just say this– living in Luodong Township, Yilan County, Taiwan as an Asian American woman is challenging on a good day. Growing up, I always thought the U.S. was the only place I would get hated on for having an Asian face but speaking native English. Not so, it seems. I think I’ve been spoiled by large cities across the globe–whether it be Chicago, Taipei, Budapest, or Hong Kong, people are used to seeing Third Culture Kids or people with different skin colors speaking different languages. However, it appears that no matter what side of the Pacific you reside on, prejudice looks much the same. I’m too foreign for the Americans and not foreign enough for the Asians. My language is “exotic” in one location and too local or not enough exotic in the next. So, where does that leave me? Without a home. Without a voice. I’m left to translate and listen because that’s what I’m good for, right? Wrong. So very wrong. Based on the way my face looks or how I sound, I don’t “belong” to one country or the other. I belong to both. It’s not about playing dead around white privilege or blindly following any one culture’s leadership. To stand up and speak out about prejudice in either culture can set you apart in not so friendly ways.

I’m tired. Tired of answering the question, “No, where are you really from?” “Chicago.” “Well, where are your parents from?” “Mainland China.” “Oh, you’re Chinese then.” No, that’s not really the way it works, people. I’m sorry, but just…no. I wish I had the time to answer this question fully and respectfully for everyone who asks, even the woman in the orchid hothouse in Yuanshan that pointed at Barry and said, “But you have a yellow face. You’re from America?” Yes, even her.The question, “Where are you from?” says more about the person who asks the question rather than the person who answers it. It says that you care more about where a person originates, something usually entirely out of their control, instead of where they are going in life. So, what does that say about you, now? What does it say?

Pause for a moment before you utter a frustrated sigh upon reading this or attempt to justify yourself if you’ve ever done something like this. Did you ever consider how that question effects other people? Or did you just want more information? Why do you care so much? I don’t think it’s a question about genuine interest in where someone is from. Maybe, but it’s usually layered with implications and generalizations that really take away from such an innocent reason. Perhaps you want to know because you think people from Place A are so-and-so. If this person is from Place A then they must be so-and-so. They just must be. Because if you’re wrong, the world is so much more complicated than your basic world view.

I was born in China but only stayed for two years in Nanjing and Zhengzhou. Then, I lived in Manhattan, Kansas; Des Moines, Iowa; moved back to Kansas; Baltimore,Maryland; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Oak Park, Chicagoland, Illinois. Now, I live in Luodong, Taiwan. I am from all of those places. I am also not from all of those places. There are some situations and things I would not like to associate myself with because a place is not a person. I am not apologizing for my skin color or the way I enunciate. I speak English well because I grew up speaking English. I look the way I do because my parents are Chinese. So, hence the Chinese-American me.

If people were only interested, there is so much more than that though. Where am I from? I am from a place where blues and jazz runs through its veins. Chicago is the type of city that sings, not sits. I am from a land of lilting songs and hardworking people. Henan, where the Shaolin monks live. (I’m an airbender by heritage, obviously). Where am I from? I am from Ozarks and Indian summers. I am from Liberty Bridges crossing Buda and Pest. I am from blue skies and deep waters. I am from the rhythm on the dance floor, the slow, soft beat when you close your eyes and feel the creaking wood under your feet. I am not of this world, for I was knit in my mother’s womb by God. I am from all of these places.

Next time you judge someone by the color of their skin, I’d like for you to take a moment to think. Do people make assumptions, good or bad, once they know you or only once they see you? Why? Have you ever been judged for having freckles or green eyes or yellow skin? Maybe, maybe if you think about it, then you’ll understand.

It’s not really about where you’re from. It’s how you interpret it. It’s where you’re going.

So…to all my racially aware, no prejudice, and no BS-takers out there:

It is really hard, but you can do it. You are made from something tougher than you even know. You can stand up under this. You can fight things like racism, prejudice, and discrimination in the smallest of ways.

You can, and you will. No doubt about it, you can be a superhero whose superpower is NOT invisibility.

I see you. I see you. I see you.

I feel you.

~S.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 ESV

This One is for the Writers.

This one’s for the writers.

Image via hellogiggles.com

The ones whose lyrics get sung and faces never get seen.The ones who ghost write for our Presidents and our social leaders, but who never get to see the light. Presidents and leaders who don’t remember what it’s like to put pen to paper, to push words out like pushing out new life. Birth. The ones whose work has been plagiarized, and you feel like someone has taken your heart out of its place. You feel violated. Empty.

This is for you.

This one is for the ones who write and write and never get published. Because we’re too radical. Because we’re too “ugly.” Because we’re not “worthy.” This one is for anyone whose words have lifted up and received breath, but by people who never created them in the first place. This is for all the selfless editors, the painstaking men and women who wordsmith and solder for someone else’s name on the byline.

This is for you.

This is for the English professors who have to defend their life work and position everyday and do it spectacularly. This is for the high school literature teachers trying to irrigate deserts with Jhumpa Lahiri and Oscar Wilde. This is for intercity school kids, pouring out Spoken Word like the Holy Spirit, enveloping us with the Truth and the pain and the heartache. This is for anyone who has ears to hear or mouths to speak or pens to write and bleed.

This is for you.

This is for little words with big power, like “I love you.” This is for words that roll off the tongue like creme fraiche, like “ceylon green” and “Shenandoah.” This is for names that make you want to dance in fir tree forests with the smell of earth, like “Caroline,” or the ones that make you remember and say reverently, like “Jeremiah”…or jeremiad. This is for the words that made you cry not at your college commencement, but the giggling bursts said by friends in funny looking hats — the ones which roll and rumble with not Pomp but Circumstance. Chance, Happenstance. Beautiful, lovely words.

This is for you.

This is for every Anonymous who has ever penned something so beautiful, they couldn’t even sign their names because it was like God was speaking for them. (Anonymous always writes the best things). This is for every poet that has ever given heartache a sonata. This is for the ones who are scrawling on toilet paper in prison camps or scraps of milk cartons with pencil stubs, but who hold entire universes inside their souls. This is for the word warriors, the ones who battle gargantuan monsters like racism and discrimination like a strict teacher striking out bad grammar. Just another day to speak the truth in permanent, red ink. The ones who bleed poetry from the mouths and ears, who see it in the banalities of pidgeon holes.

This is for you.

But most of all, this is for You. The One who wrote not just one galaxy, but an entire universe into motion. This is for the One, the original Writer, the Creator, the Architect of words so perfect they spoke Earth. They spoke Heaven. They spoke Love first. He spoke it first, and taught it to us. Students of the Word, students of words, students of word. He made the first nouns and enacted the first verbs, writing in tongues we no longer have the ears to hear the tones. This is for the One who speaks the lull of Mandarin on the lips of an early morning, a baritone of Cantonese to a beaming dusk, Swahili whispers at sunset, Italian lullabies in a sun-dappled afternoon and Hawaiian Pidgin just because He likes it. He is the Unspoken, the Written Unwritten we all want to read. The Library of Congress is an angelic chorus of He is here. If we are doing nothing but breathing, it is still the unavoidable Truth that His grace is sufficient. We write with breath from the dust, for the One who wrote us.

This is for You.

Friends Before Facebook

If you’re waiting for a travel update, it will come. Eventually. When I’m not swamped with applications or small children reading the days of the week correctly. So…eventually but surely.

Image via Mashable.com

Do remember what friendship still sometimes, but always used to mean? Not just the people in college willing to play Settlers of Catan at 2am on a Thursday because you want to, but the kind of friend who will sit next to you in a bathroom after you’ve just tried to commit suicide. The type of friend that wants to know how you’re doing and won’t settle for your BS cheerful smile when you’re tearing up. Do you remember them? It seems this valuable population is getting smaller these days, while our Facebook friends are bursting at the seams. Tell me, out of those 2,000 people on that little blue and white platform, how many do you actually talk to? In person? How many do you actually trust? Most of all, how many are your actual friends?

Today, society’s buzz word is virality. I’m one to talk, since this blog, upon publishing, will be shared with a dozen other of my social networks. It’s thrilling, but when you think about it, kind of strange. Why do I want someone who has no idea about my life know about my travels and innermost thoughts? Why do I want such internet intimacy? Perhaps we lack real friendship and intimacy in our real lives. We care about how we look in that newest selfie, the cousin-of-a-friend’s Newsfeed, and the top Buzzfeed news of the day, but we forget to care about real, everyday, perfectly imperfect people. I’ll be the first to say I’ve failed many times at making friends, but nothing beats the feeling of making a genuine friend In Real Life, not just clicking a little blue square to “add” someone. It’s not about clicking, it’s about loving. Are you willing to love someone outside of the network and off the grid? Then, maybe you’re ready for a real friend.

It’s almost the Christmas season, and homesickness has hit me full in the face. I miss everything I ever took for granted during Chicago polar vortex winters–the Yuan family awkward Christmas photo of the year (honestly, I always look weird in those), YALG dinners, CBCOP church services, and meet-ups with old friends. I even miss the hectic holiday season of too many finals, too much coffee, not enough sleep, praying at ungodly (but godly) hours and those hard-hitting CFC holiday sermons. I miss it all, and honestly, I want it all back. Why? It was so much pain, heartache and endless mistakes. I failed so many people so many times in so many ways. However…it was in college and in CFC that I learned how to love. Not just the sappy sort of aggressive lust you see in rom-com movies, not really, no. I’m talking about the kind of painful, sacrificial love the father character has in Most. I’m talking about hard love, that kind of love that makes us want to lay down our lives for somebody else. It makes absolutely no sense and all the sense in the world.

I’ve shared before about my past with bullies and Regina Georges. If I was as self-righteous as I used to be, I would hate everyone and have no friends. It was true for me once. However, I think C.S. Lewis describes it best when it comes to Eustace Scrubb and his transformation into (and out of) a monster.

“Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”

Hate and anguish, whether directed inwards or outwards, can only destroy. It shouts and tears and rends apart, but it does not heal. Healing is something humans are not capable until we think higher. We always seem to have time to complain or curse at people (at least, I know I have), but when was the last time we actually, earnestly cared for someone? Made the time to pray for them or meet with them? When was the last time you were actually a friend? When was the last time you behaved like one?

Last week, I made a lot of apologies. I offended many people. But, something I know I did right was to be honest and speak in truth. Now, I just really need to learn how to speak the truth in love. I hope, starting today, you remember what it means to be a friend.

14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. -Ephesians 4:14-16 ESV

Cheers & Merry Christmas,

S.

Interstellar Love

*WARNING: SPOILERS (Please do not read until you’ve seen the film)*

The following is one Christian’s interpretation of the blockbuster 2014 Christopher and Jonathan Nolan film Interstellar. All thoughts expressed are my own. 

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” –Cooper, Interstellar, IMDB

STAY

STAY (gif via Tumblr)

Let’s get one thing straight. Interstellar is not a perfect movie, just an incredibly smart, innovative one. While I personally would opt for a more diverse cast to represent the whole of America (for a moment in the theater, I gave a slight fist pump, mistakenly thinking Dr. Mann was Cantonese based on the sound of his last name.), the gracefully written extended metaphors rang true for me. In Interstellar, our distant, dystopic future seems bleak. The world back tracks into corn farming, seemingly letting go of technological advancement to merely pursue basic survival in the midst of starvation. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) plays the part of the bold, brazen NASA astronaut turned farmer out to protect his two children. However, the now underground NASA scientists, in a turn of strange events involving a ghost, recruit Coop as the pilot for their interstellar Lazarus mission headed by the Dr. Brand (Michael Caine).

Alright, enough of the plot summary. What was it about this particular sci-fi film that distinguished itself from other deep space odysseys? I would have to say the profound awareness of love as something tangible and not of this world, yet somehow slightly outside of our complete understanding. As someone who identifies as a Christian, this is the Gospel for me. Tangible, steadfast love seen through often inexplicable series of events. Love that is so fine and gossamer that it cannot possibly be made from rough human hands (though we try, imperfectly to replicate it), but from somewhere else. Despite all of our examination and study of human emotion, do we fully grasp what on earth true love is?

I believe, in many ways, Interstellar not only crosses galaxies, but also crosses minds as a depiction of love so pure we cannot help but pay attention. It relays a love that crosses galaxies. I think for me, that’s who God is. A Father, somewhere in the 5th or even 9th dimension that many other people do not see or believe, but who is, as Murph says, “my ghost.” He’s my Ghost. I was never afraid of Him, just curious and trying to read the signs so mysterious to earthly hands. Strange circumstances, often seen as tribulation or pain, but rising to the surface as another lead in the right direction. Granted, God is not stuck in a bookcase somewhere or put there by “Bolt Beings”…He just was, is, is to come. Perhaps His form of communication is more through Scripture, just one book (but what a book it is). Interstellar convinces us that one finite moment in time can connect in a beautiful, tapestry-like stream woven together by a determined father. For me, this is a beautiful metaphor about how God cares about us. However, God is a perfect version to Coop’s flawed human one, even sacrificing His own Son to change the world. Some might say that Coop is a metaphorical representation of this sacrifice, leaving behind his two children in order to save all of mankind, an anomaly that hurtles through time-space for love. God cries for us, He laughs with us, He misses us. In the middle of hardships, I’m trying to remember that God is a God who cares across time and space. He sees us, even when we feel like He doesn’t.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” -1 John 3:1 ESV

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A father’s love. e(gif via Tumblr)

Wrapped into that sacrificial parent-child bond, the film revels in creating a sense and longing for home. Interstellar may journey into the great unknown, but it is also a journey to find our way back. Like its namesake, the Lazarus project aims to bring people back from the brink of death to find a home among the stars. Dr. Mann, brought back to life from his extended hyper-sleep only to be dead to his humanity. Lazarus, who came back from the dead a verse before the plot to kill Jesus is revealed in the Bible (John 11). These aforementioned examples all express a desire to rise, to come back, to begin again. As humans, we want to start over all the time. Christianity believes just that, that the living God allows us to rise again through His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s not a love that stops searching, but continues to draw us back home, to an interstellar God. If you’re into metaphors, God created a wormhole into heaven by sacrificing His Son. It is a means for us to return home.

“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.”-Matthew 28:6 ESV

As in any great film worth its salt, Interstellar explores the depth and depravity of mankind. We feel the heartache and springs of joy with the crew of the Endurance. The same way, we experience the utter disgust and loathing for Matt Damon’s character, so hell-bent on his own survival and self. Fear is a power all its own (as Nolan covers in Batman), but it is a selfish love that warps human relationships. Mann admits to his cowardice and his weakness, but does nothing to combat it, destroying everyone in his wake (or at least trying to). As much as I detest this character (I actually yelled, “Die, Matt Damon!” in the Luodong theater. My bad, Matt Damon.), I think when I try to operate without God, I end up behaving exactly like him. I fight for my own desires and wants, never acknowledging what it is to love someone else more than myself. In the impenetrable depths of hyper-sleep on a lonely cold planet, living next to “the literal heart of darkness” (Doyle, Interstellar), I sink into selfishness. It’s the easier, human nature choice. I can’t bear my own pain, so why not choose to stop it and cause more for others? I think our natural inclination is not to love God or people, but ourselves. Cooper embodies the exact opposite, “the best of humanity.” (Insert comment about mainstream media and diversity/equality here…but that’s another story). He will do just about anything for his children, even when time passes differently. Love defines us, refines us, and makes us that much more like God…willing to give it all up for the sake of someone else’s salvation.

Image via ghantaguy.wordpress.com

Image via ghantaguy.wordpress.com

I could write about Interstellar for ages because it’s one of those movies that sticks to your ribs, something hardy and worthwhile. To be honest, it really strengthened my Christian faith. I felt like Murph growing up. I didn’t know my Father, and I desperately searched for Him. In the eleventh hour, I called out, and He answered. You might vehemently disagree, but I can’t explain this kind of love that crash landed into my life…something with gravity, with weight.

He’s my (Holy)Ghost.

cooper

Image via Tumblr, Muukalaiskana.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”–John 8:32 ESV

Ode To Chicago (A Culture Shock and Home Sick Piece)

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I miss you city of wind and wild things,

City of cold steel and crystal clear mornings.

I miss your Midwestern hugs,

so tight they knock the soul right back into you,

Airplanes bustling in and out of O’Hare,

the sound of never-sleeping, but always coming home.

I miss your pizza.

None of this thin crust papery nonsense,

but layers of polish sausage, extra Malnati’s sauce on the side,

heavy on the butter crust,

leaving me feeling like a pizza can really love you.

I miss you, Chicago.

Smooth city, some kind of troubled city,

city with the Sears Tower, never Willis.

You are the beating of a rocket-fueled heart,

Your polar vortexes a reminder to slow down and stay awhile,

somewhere warm where love lives.

I love your coldness,

the way your icicles glint and shimmer,

making garages look like kingdoms.

I miss you for your “polite” drivers,

no scooter driving on sidewalks, at least,

speed like sweet breeze and the drone of the AC,

radio blasting as if tomorrow needed a wake-up call.

I am that jade jazz giant,

halfway between home and somewhere not-so,

Not knowing who exactly I can be, but singing the blues all the way

  home.

So, remember me.

Like Oak Park block parties and “Oh, Lord” neighbors,

Like biking my Scwhinn down Green St. racing the sunlight,

Like “through the garden” Chicago dogs eaten at Wrigley,

memories so sweet I have a heartache.

Remember,

Remember,

Remember that I love you, Chicago.

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All photos are my own.

~S.

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