Esprit

Engaging the spirit, challenging the mind.

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Joyful Vulnerability – Connections Forged in Meaningful Celebration

Vulnerability is seen not only in our struggles, but also in our triumphs. We seek not only those who will weep with us as we weep, but also those who will rejoice with us as we rejoice. We seek empathy, that act of entering into our experience without the other attempting to prescribe, fix, or resolve; and without envy, judgment, or discouragement from the other.

I have had the privilege of knowing a few pastors who exude joyful vulnerability. One in particular is the most joyful person I have ever met. They are easy to relate to, open to connectedness, and not above sharing what makes them afraid or frustrated.

I see vulnerability as simply being–not attempting to appear any particular way other than what one simply is, not to project an image of strength or to elicit pity through projecting an image of weakness. But like a pane of stained glass though which light beam, the light parts are light and the dark parts dark, and it simply is.

The Social Excellence Project

by Tina VanSteenbergen

joy2Sitting by the pool of my hotel on a sunny San Diego afternoon, I had plugged in for a nice long writing session. Just as I put my headphones and the Vitamin String Quartet into my ears, a man walked into the pool area. He looked at me and asked, “Is the water cold?” We chatted for a few minutes about the weather not being warm enough to necessitate a dip in the pool before we came to the all-too-familiar awkward pause of a conversation reaching its end. I picked up my buds to get back to work, right before he stuck his hand out and said, “Hi, I’m Brandon. What’s your name?”

I shook his hand and introduced myself, shamefully preparing for the standard small talk that occurs more often than not: “Where do you live? What do you do? Any fun plans for the weekend?”…

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Ban Bossy? Not So Fast.

My problem with the “ban bossy” campaign is that bossiness is, one, a real trait, and two, an undesirable one. To be bossy is to overstep your rightful authority and impose your will upon others. Bossy people think that they know best and that it is acceptable to pressure others into complying with their wishes or deferring to their judgments. Bossy people do not realize they are bossy because they are convinced that they have authority in an area when in reality they do not.

Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In told a story of how she used to organize the activities of her classmates on the playground. She used this as an example of leadership skills. Clearly she had a well developed personality and the potential to become a good leader. But I’m sure at least some of her classmates found her overbearing. She may have had great ideas about what games they could play, but it wasn’t her place to decide for her peers how they should be using their free time.

Further, bossy crosses gender boundaries. Men and boys can most definitely be bossy. I used to tell my younger brother all the time to stop being bossy. I remember when he was five years old, my sister came downstairs, dressed and ready to go out. She wore a top that exposed one of her shoulders. My brother immediately began scolding her for the shirt she was wearing, climbed onto one of the kitchen chairs so he could be eye level with her, and told her that she needed to go upstairs and “put some clothes on” and she was not going to leave the house wearing that. I can only guess he was mimicking something he had seen on TV. It was a funny situation and I was charmed by his precocity, but at the same time he deserved the reprimand he received from our mother because it certainly was not his place to tell my sister what she could or could not wear.

Bossiness is not leadership. Bossiness depends upon pressure, coercion, and directives which disregard the will of the person receiving them. Leadership by contrast requires consent to be led, people buying into your vision, and individuals accepting your authority over them. Leaders arise informally when people grant those things without being asked. Leaders function in organizations when they act within their sphere of authority among people who have agreed to submit to the organizational structure in place. Bossy people undermine their own leadership potential in informal settings by being unable to respect the will and independence of others and in formal settings by being unable to recognize the appropriate sphere of their authority.

Essentially, true leaders do not have to be bossy because their authority has been granted, acknowledged, and accepted. I don’t know about banning bossy, but we should definitely ban bossiness.

Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect”

coldhearted scientist وداد

Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. It was a matter of misplaced self-respect.

I had not been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. This failure could scarcely have been more predictable or less ambiguous (I simply did not have the grades), but I was unnerved by it; I had somehow thought myself a kind of academic Raskolnikov, curiously exempt from the cause-effect relationships which hampered others. Although even the humorless nineteen-year-old that I was must have recognized that the situation lacked real tragic stature, the day that I did not…

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Re-Blog: My Dad Is a Right-Wing A-Hole (or, the problem with “Us vs. Them” thinking)

A friend posted this and it was surprisingly not at all what I expected to read.  It nevertheless embodies much of what I feel about political differences and the animus that people have about those on the “wrong” side of an ideological divide.  Just wanted to share.  Enjoy.  (Note: the language is PG-13).
 

Ask Andrew W.K.: My Dad Is a Right-Wing Asshole

 
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Photo by Douglas Anson

[Editor’s note: Every Wednesday New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]

Hi Andrew,

I’m writing because I just can’t deal with my father anymore. He’s a 65-year-old super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total asshole intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics. I’m more or less a liberal democrat with very progressive values and I know that people like my dad are going to destroy us all. I don’t have any good times with him anymore. All we do is argue. When I try to spend time with him without talking politics or discussing any current events, there’s still an underlying tension that makes it really uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I love him no matter what, but how do I explain to him that his politics are turning him into a monster, destroying the environment, and pushing away the people who care about him?

Thanks for your help,
Son of A Right-Winger


See also: Ask Andrew W.K.: My Boyfriend Treats Me Badly

Dear Son of A Right-Winger,

Go back and read the opening sentences of your letter. Read them again. Then read the rest of your letter. Then read it again. Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. And you don’t consider your dad a person of his own standing — he’s just “your dad.” You’ve also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that’s left in its place is an argument that can never really be won. And even if one side did win, it probably wouldn’t satisfy the deeper desire to be in a state of inflamed passionate conflict.

The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen.

When we lump people into groups, quickly label them, and assume we know everything about them and their life based on a perceived world view, how they look, where they come from, etc., we are not behaving as full human beings. When we truly believe that some people are monsters, that they fundamentally are less human than we are, and that they deserve to have less than we do, we ourselves become the monsters. When we allow our emotions to be hypnotized by the excitement of petty bickering about seemingly important topics, we drift further and further away from the fragile and crucial human bond holding everything together. When we anticipate with ferocious glee the next chance we have to prove someone “wrong” and ourselves “right,” all the while disregarding the vast complexity of almost every subject — not to mention the universe as a whole — we are reducing the beauty and magic of life to a “side” or a “type,” or worst of all, an “answer.” This is the power of politics at it’s most sinister.

At its best, politics is able to organize extremely complex world views into manageable and communicable systems so they can be grappled with and studied abstractly. But even the most noble efforts to organize the world are essentially futile. The best we can usually achieve is a crude and messy map of life from one particular vantage point, featuring a few grids, bullet points, and sketches of its various aspects and landmarks. Anything as infinitely complex as life, reality, and the human experience can never be summed up or organized in a definitive system, especially one based on “left or right,” “A or B,” “us or them.” This is the fatal flaw of binary thinking in general. However, this flaw isn’t just ignored, it’s also embraced, amplified, and deliberately used as a weapon on the very people who think it’s benefiting their way of thinking.

Human beings crave order and simplicity. We cling to the hope that some day, if we really refine our world view and beliefs, we can actually find the fully correct way to think — the absolute truth and final side to stand on. People and systems craving power take advantage of this desire and pit us against each other using a “this or that” mentality. The point is to create unrest, disagreement, resentment, and anger — a population constantly at war with itself, each side deeply believing that the other is not just wrong, but also a sincere threat to their very way of life and survival. This creates constant anxiety and distraction — the perfect conditions for oppression. The goal of this sort of politics is to keep people held down and mesmerized by a persistent parade of seemingly life-or-death debates, each one worth all of our emotional energy and primal passion.

But the truth is, the world has always been and always will be on the brink of destruction. And what keeps it from actually imploding is our love for life and our deep-seeded desire not to die. Our love for our own life is inextricably connected to our love of all life and the miracle of this phenomenon we call “the world.” We must give all of ourselves credit every day for keeping things going. It’s an incredible achievement to exist at all.

So we must protect and respect each other, no matter how hard it feels. No matter how wrong someone else may seem to us, they are still human. No matter how bad someone may appear, they are truly no worse than us. Our beliefs and behavior don’t make us fundamentally better than others, no matter how satisfying it is to believe otherwise. We must be tireless in our efforts to see things from the point of view we most disagree with. We must make endless efforts to try and understand the people we least relate to. And we must at all times force ourselves to love the people we dislike the most. Not because it’s nice or because they deserve it, but because our own sanity and survival depends on it. And if we do find ourselves pushed into a corner where we must kill others in order to survive, we must fully accept that we are killing people just as fully human as ourselves, and not some evil abstract creatures.

Love your dad because he’s your father, because he made you, because he thinks for himself, and most of all because he is a person. Have the strength to doubt and question what you believe as easily as you’re so quick to doubt his beliefs. Live with a truly open mind — the kind of open mind that even questions the idea of an open mind. Don’t feel the need to always pick a side. And if you do pick a side, pick the side of love. It remains our only real hope for survival and has more power to save us than any other belief we could ever cling to.

Your friend,
Andrew W.K.

Random Musings on Distributism

After taking a handful of economics courses, my ultimate conclusion was two-fold: 1) Control of the means of production by a few is inherently unjust, and 2) Profits arising from the production of goods and services should remain with the producers of those goods and services. As we are told, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” (2 Timothy 2:6) Though I’ve held this view for several years now, I never knew that this perspective has a name: Distributism.  And apparently I’m in good company, as G.K. Chesterton was a proponent of it.

Before I delve into distributism as a theory, let’s talk about what the means of production are in a capitalist society and their significance. In a capitalist system, profit is earned by producing goods and services and selling them for more than it costs to produce them. The means of producing goods and services are: Land (and other natural resources), Labor, and Capital. The first two are self-explanatory, and the third refers not to money, but to things like tools and machines that are used to create goods and deliver services.  Entrepreneurs then use these three two create an enterprise that will generate profit.  

Capitalism, it seems, is in the interest of the State as a means of ensuring the most efficient, productive uses of the means of production.  By permitting the means of production to be controlled by those with the most access and the most resources, the incentive of earning profit ensures that land, labor and capital will be utilized for the most profitable outcome.  More goods and services are produced and distributed more widely, elevating the quality of life overall.  There is something to be said for the fact that poverty in the developed world is in an entirely different dimension than poverty in the third world. I tend to think that the problem of poverty in the developed world is much more a problem of socio-cultural alienation than material lack, but that is another post entirely. For the purposes of this post, it is enough to say that it is unlikely that distributism would be as economically efficient as a capitalist system, and therefore would not be as productive.

But efficiency is a quantitative good.  Whether capitalism creates a qualitative good is a moral question.  In my view, the problem with capitalism is not with the economic inequality it produces.  It is in the way it changes our priorities, encourages consumerism, discourages responsibility for our own futures, and promotes individualism in order to more efficiently use the individual as a cog in the wheel and as a consumer.

What I see as the main economic problem today that distributism addresses:
–In Western society, unless one owns fertile land, which itself is expensive, one is completely unable to labor to support oneself unless and until someone with access to land and capital chooses to enlist you as a laborer. This is highly problematic because, as we see with the current dilemma of extended unemployment and the constant political rallying cry of “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!” people are more often than not completely dependent upon the business priorities of others in order to make a living. If everyone at least had land, some timber and water, they could at the very least eek out a subsistence living as indigenous peoples did and do, and as the rural poor globally did and do.  But the urban poor cannot even do that.  Those decrying the welfare state would do well to look at the unemployment rate and ask what the alternative is. When the means of production become controlled by increasingly few people, the ability to create productive work for oneself becomes that much more difficult.

Nevertheless, now that I have read more about this theory, I do see vulnerabilities vis a vis capitalism.  Most notably, I’m not sure that distributism would actually solve the inequality that seems to be the most problematic for people.  

1) Evenly distributing the means of production is no guarantee whatsoever that any individual or group of individuals will actually be productive. While doing so at least provides greater opportunity, opportunities must be seized and made into something good.  Whether through lack of will or ability, the quality and quantity of goods and services produced will vary widely from person to person, family to family, community to community. Ancient Israel, which seemed to deal with this issue through the Year of Jubilee, nevertheless had lazies in its midst, as the Preacher observes: “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:30-34, ESV) In our society today, I do believe that the poor in general are often mislabeled as lazy (see above comment) when the fact is that there are simply not enough opportunities for work. However, it is true of human nature that laziness is a common vice.  Even if distributism is a more just system in principle, we would still encounter the inevitable rise of inequality of outcomes as a result of differences in the amount of effort exerted.

We also can’t assume that everyone even wants more than they currently have.  I am reminded of my first job when the receptionist mentioned that she’d passed up opportunities to move into other departments with more responsibility because she just wasn’t interested.  She was perfectly happy where she was.  I know others–different ages, races, stages of life–who more or less said the same thing.  (It was clear that things would not work out with an incredibly smart date in college when he shared that his post-college dream was to become a wandering hobo).  And my experience with the homeless population in the U.S. has shown me that there are plenty of people who have no particular inclination to become “productive members of society.”  And they are not necessarily sad about their situations, either.  That’s not a judgment; it’s a recognition that different people have different desires for their lives.  Most everyone can enjoy more material comforts if those comforts are offered, but not everyone wants more work in order to have more material comforts or even for the challenge of it.  And in those cases, it’s not about laziness, it’s about desire.  “The lazy man desires but does not have…” but the one who does not desire more than he has is content.

Then there is inequality that arises due to inherent ability rather than effort.  While I definitely do not believe that those who are wealthy are necessarily smarter or harder working than most, and there are plenty of diligent tortoises that beat out the hares, I do believe that the development of those goods and services that really add value to our society (think the invention  of the automobile, the rise of PCs, Apple, and the internet), are the result of knowledge and creativity, which fall under the category “human capital”.  While there is definitely a significant educational component to developing such traits, the brilliance required to really innovate can only be nurtured, not taught. Thus, this form of capital–brilliance–is as unevenly distributed throughout the population as fertile land, forests, and freshwater are across the planet.  Not everyone has equal access to them.  Because of this, distributism seems slightly outdated.  We are now, and increasingly so, in a knowledge economy based largely on technological innovation.  Apple has reached #5 on the Fortune 500 list not because it is controlling the means of production, but because Steve Jobs and company came up with a great concept and honed it into products services that millions around the world are willing to pay top dollar to use.  And in that case, it is consumers who are transferring money (potential capital) up the economic chain–giving Apple $500 of their hard-earned money in exchange for the benefit of having an iPhone.  This leaves the consumer with less and Apple with more.  Apple will then use this money to invest in more capital and become even more productive.  The consumer will simply enjoy his phone.  The consumer could have bought a “dumb phone” and invested the remainder of the money in stocks or saved up to start a business that would ultimately bring him profit.  But once again, human behavior interferes with an ideal economic system.  

So, insofar as distributism is an attempt to correct inequality of outcomes, it’s a lost cause.  Zippy Catholic has been writing about modernity’s misguided attempt to make freedom a political objective.  It seems that there is a corollary to economic equality.  A variety of problems arise when resources are tightly controlled by only a handful, but it is unlikely that there is a system that will itself prevent inequality.  The path of justice never rests with a system, as human actions will always reap fruit according to the action taken, whether good or bad, regardless of the context.  Rather, justice rests with virtuous men and women choosing what is good.  

 

 

 

 …

 

Nothing New Under the Sun

Is there really anything new under the sun?  The Preacher would tell us “No.”  From complaints about shamelessness to frumpiness in women, I think we’ve seen it all before.  Here’s a perspective on the ills of the young women who came of age in the early 1920s:

flappersThoughtful-minded people have deplored the chaotic conditions which came as an aftermath of the Great War.  In no respect were these conditions more deplorable than as they found expression the ‘flapper,’ with her seeming disregard of all the social conventions that her elders had held sacred.  She was the target for anathema, ridicule and reprehension from press, pulpit and private individuals.  Her flippancy, her immodesty of speech, dress and deportment, her sacrilegious and supercilious disrespect have all been decried, and yet—

There is more than room for doubt that the average girl of today is different at heart from her mother at sixteen to twenty-odd.  Her flippancy and seeming immodesty is mostly pose—the result of wrong teaching or wrong thinking.  Wrong thinking, arising from the cataclysmic overturning of conventions by experiences growing out of the Great War—wrong thinking, resulting from the positive urge of wrong teaching, upon the one hand, and the absence of positive instructions in the right way upon the other—these and not anything inherent in the modern girl herself, are principally to blame for whatever is repulsive in the social atmosphere of the day.  In her heart of hearts, the ‘flapper’ is as sweetly feminine as was her predecessor of a generation ago.  In her heart she is quite as clean, quite as lovable and desirous of being really loved.

And then—there is the modest girl who does not know how to use her own powers.  A hint here, a caution there—and this demure little wren is transformed into a bewitching mocking-bird, luxuriating in the sunshine of popular favor because she has attained the ability to be her real self and to let it be seen that she is. 

[This book] points out, in no uncertain terms, how the superficial errors of the generation may be avoided.  It tells how the real attractiveness of genuine womanhood may be cultivated and expressed.

Fascinating Womanhood (note: *not* Hannah Andelin’s book)–Harvard University – Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America / Fascinating womanhood, or, The art of attracting men. St. Louis : Psychology
Press, c1922

Domestic Skills: How to Grow M&M’s in Your Garden

The Hunger Games–Love in a Time of War

the-hunger-games-trilogy-1920x1200I finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy this week and wanted to share a few thoughts about some of its themes.  I liked the books very much, and contrary to what they might seem, believe that they provide a healthy contrast to many of the messages young women are being sent today.  Mrs. Judgy provides a nice perspective on why Katniss is a good example for young women (language warning).  Many of the nuances of why that is come out in the book in a way that would be impossible to include in the movies, so if you liked the movies, the books will be that much better.  If you’ve neither seen nor read The Hunger Games trilogy, this post will completely spoil it, all the way to the end.  I would hate for that to happen, so you should read the trilogy and come back and share your thoughts.

There is a theme that comes out in my writings and comments about ideal life vs. real life.  When we have discussions about what roles women should ideally take on and how a family should ideally be structured, we can easily overlook the fact that many people–men and women alike–were not born into ideal circumstances, and many encounter situations in life that can throw a wrench into that ideal life if they ever had it at all.  Katniss finds herself in an extreme version of a non-ideal life for reasons beyond her control:  born into a deeply unjust and morally defunct society, losing her father and family breadwinner at a young age, having a mother who descended into lifeless catatonia, experiencing constant hunger and deprivation, and finally, being sent into an arena in which her only choices are to kill or be killed.  It is in light of these circumstances that Katniss’ toughness and her anger are put into context, not as examples of having something to prove, but of doing what it takes to survive.

It is interesting to note that Katniss’ mother was born into a relatively privileged life and is one who could not cope with the hardship she and her daughters faced after the passing of her husband, allowing young Katniss to bear the responsibility for making things turn out right.  Even in the end, when Katniss is sent back to her home district in a state of virtual madness, it is her mentor Haymitch who accompanies her rather than her mother, as her mother could not bear to return to the place where she would be reminded of her lost husband and daughter, Prim.  These were also significant losses for Katniss, but Katniss has the strength to eventually confront her pain and grief and move forward.

There is a theme in the book of those who are not used to suffering being unable to withstand adversity when it arrives.  Aside from Mrs. Everdeen, the contrast between the character of the citizens of the Capitol and those of the Districts is another example, of whom it is said of the former, “They don’t know how to go hungry.”  Virtue in The Hunger Games is often wrought through hardship, through deprivation, and through an unending barrage of situations that force individuals to choose the best act to produce the best outcome in dire circumstances.

And so in light of this theme, we see Katniss’ greatest virtue, present from the start:  She rises to meet whatever challenge is required to survive and protect those she loves, which remains her central motivation throughout the series. Her love is not self-indulgent in that it is often, if not always, self-sacrificial. And she does so with no sense of entitlement to anyone’s love, protection or provision.  Examples include her continually risking serious legal reprimand to feed her family and friends, going into the games in place of her sister without any reason to think that she would survive, being genuinely concerned about Rue’s safety and genuinely grieving for her and her family during the games and afterward, making a deal with Haymitch to save Peeta rather than herself, protecting Gale from being whipped, and so forth. Her love is really without limit or condition in that respect. But it is a practical love and not particularly emotional. Having lived a life of constant deprivation and survival, her love takes the form of sacrificing herself so that those she loves can survive.  And even then, she understands how to depend on others for help, as seen in the strength of her friendship with Gale, her relationships with those in District 12, her brief alliance with Rue, and her eventual reliance upon Peeta to help her see and realize the possibility of rebirth and renewal of life.

One of the main things that I liked about Katniss was that, although she maintains deep bonds with others, she is not consumed with ideas of being loved nor with the expectation that others will do for her.  Although two desirable young men openly vie for her affection, she is not taken with the idea of herself being the object of their desire.  If anything, she seems to view the pressure to choose between them as a distraction from her more pressing task of saving those she cares about.  She remains a faithful friend to both and gives of herself for their good, but is not overly concerned about what she will receive from them.  I think that this is an important aspect of Katniss’ character because it reflects the fact that she is not preoccupied by thoughts of her own happiness and fulfillment.  Rather, her consuming focus is on protecting those she loves, which include both Peeta and Gale, though in different ways.  When it comes to the future, she lights up when her sister Prim tells her that she is training to become a doctor.  It is Katniss’ hope for Prim’s future that makes the world seem brighter rather than hope for her own.  Peeta highlights this aspect of Katniss’ character when he asks her to share a happy memory and when she has finished, tells her that he knew that one of her happiest memories would be of giving a gift to someone else.

A central story arc of the novel concerns the relationships between Katniss, Peeta and Gale.  The presence of a bonafide love triangle might scream “teenage angst” to some, and perhaps fairly.  But it works in this story, one, because of Katniss’ outward focus, and two, because there’s a purity in their loves that comes from the other being seen as an end in themselves rather than as a means of personal satisfaction and gratification.  In fact, their selflessness is almost unrealistic, but is perhaps likely in light of how strongly the character of District citizens is portrayed.

The Boy with the Bread

     In their first meeting, Peeta, the baker’s son, intentionally burns bread and takes a beating from his mother in order to sneak bread to a starving Katniss, who is only a girl he likes from school at that point.  Much later, Peeta’s apology to Katniss after they win the first Hunger Games is another example of his unselfish love for her.  Rather than giving into bitter thoughts of being led on, he acknowledges that he knew Gale was in the picture before the games and that Katniss did what she felt was necessary for them both to survive.  When they discover that Katniss will definitely be sent into the arena once again, and that either he or Haymitch will be sent with her, he volunteers in Haymitch’s place to go and prepares to sacrifice himself for her survival, secretly insisting to Haymitch that he must work as their mentor to save her rather than himself.  In the arena, once Peeta realizes that Katniss has also made a deal with Haymitch, but to save him rather than herself, he attempts to persuade her that she still has the possibility of a good life with Gale and her family.  After he is “hijacked” and tortured, and comes to see the worst interpretation of Katniss’ actions without the veneer of romantic love, he ultimately chooses to allow memories of the goodness shared between them to form the basis of renewed trust and closeness with her.  And finally, after Katniss is sent back to District 12 with Haymitch, Peeta comes as soon as he is allowed, with flowers to honor Katniss’ sister Prim, and then bread for them to share.  Peeta repeatedly chooses to love Katniss, even when he could easily justify doing otherwise.

The Hunter

Gale’s love for Katniss comes primarily in the form of his provision for her and her family.  He shows her how to make snares and become a better hunter for her family.  He provides companionship in her lonely struggle to survive.  He is willing to follow through with a plan to escape together into the woods with their families, to relieve their suffering in the District.  And when she is in the arena, he takes over her responsibility for bringing food for Prim and Mrs. Everdeen.  During the rebellion, when they decide that it’s necessary to rescue Peeta, Gale volunteers to go on this life-threatening mission to save Peeta–his romantic rival–likely because he knows how much Peeta means to Katniss.  But when Peeta becomes a danger to Katniss, he is ever ready to protect her from him.  He wakes up multiple times in the night just to make sure she is OK.

Gale and Peeta even share a conversation about their interest in Katniss that is interesting if only because they express no animosity toward one another.  Eavesdropping, Katniss notes that Gale has brought Peeta a drink of water and they are talking as if they are friends.  They even laugh about the situation and acknowledge that Katniss has a choice to make between the two, but both seem important to her.  They speculate about what will ultimately happen, but don’t allow their own pride or desire to put pressure on Katniss or to mistreat the other.

Both Peeta and Gale show their love for Katniss without entitlement, just as she does.  Their love for her is not contingent upon her fulfilling their wishes; but rather is a choice based on their desire for her good.  They know her worst traits, but believe the good is still worthwhile.  The romantic nature of their love is seen in their desire to be in an intimate relationship with her; but she remains in their eyes an end in and of herself, without respect to whether their desire for her is fulfilled.  This is what fundamentally distinguishes romantic love from lust.

As admirable as Gale and Peeta’s loves are, I am somewhat conflicted as to whether they set expectations too high for young women regarding what they should expect from men, or whether they simply provide a distilled and concentrated version of the type of love everyone ought to seek in a spouse.  I lean toward the latter, which I hope to explore in another post soon.   

But even our loves can be come a hindrance.  All protagonists must have a central flaw.  And insofar as their central virtue is their selfless love, their central flaw is that both Katniss and Peeta love with shortsighted vision; with their beloved as the utmost consideration.  Katniss initially thinking only of Peeta’s fate instead of seeing the big picture of the resistance.  Peeta initially giving an interview with Caesar asking the rebels for a ceasefire in order to protect Katniss.  Both of their attitudes and actions were misguided on those points, and I could only think of Richard Lovelace’s poem, To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”:

Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,

That from the nunnery

Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind       

To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,

         The first foe in the field;

And with a stronger faith embrace

         A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such

         As you too shall adore;

I could not love thee (Dear) so much,

         Lov’d I not Honour more.

Written from the perspective of a soldier leaving his beloved to fight in battle, the line “I could not love thee (Dear) so much / Lov’d I not Honour more” expresses the soldier’s conviction that he has more transcendent ideals to pursue than the creaturely love between himself and his love; and not only that, but that it is his embrace of those ideals (namely honor) that enables him to love her as much as he does.  An aspect of the dystopian nature of The Hunger Games is that the characters generally have no hope beyond what is immediately in front of them, with the constant fear that what little they do have might be stripped away at any moment.  And so, the people Katniss loves become the beginning and end of her hope and reason for being.  Peeta also admits to Katniss that she is all he has to live for.  It is not until Katniss believes that Peeta is lost to her that she begins to focus on the importance of the rebellion.  And then, considering him lost to his hijacked and tortured self, her love for him is trampled under her own survival instinct.  Haymitch has to reproach her and help her to see love as something that transcends survival and protection in the present moment.  And in finding a more transcendent love, Katniss learns to love Peeta again in a better and deeper way.

Gale does not fall so easily into this trap.  Rather, his love is more like that of the soldier bidding farewell to his beloved Lucasta.  When Katniss runs to him, finally wanting to run away, but mentions that some of the districts have already begun to rebel against the Capitol, all his previous thoughts of fleeing leave him.  Gale cannot consider fleeing, not even to save himself and Katniss from President Snow’s threats, when the possibility of working to fight against the oppression that has created their predicament presents itself.  In his conversation with Peeta, Gale wonders whether he had not sacrificed enough for Katniss, saying to Peeta “No, you won her over.  Gave up everything for her.  Maybe that’s the only way to convince her you love her…I should have volunteered to take your place in the first Games.  Protected her then.”  Though Peeta reassures him that Gale showed his love in taking care of her family [and Gale also had to take care of his own], implicit in Gale’s speculation is an acknowledgment that Katniss was not his all-consuming focus.  At the end, when Gale realizes that she will never be able to look at him without wondering whether he was (indirectly) responsible for her sister’s death, he expresses regret but picks himself up and moves on with his purpose in life–working to help build a new society.  This is in contrast to Peeta, of whom it is unclear what purpose he would have outside of a life with Katniss.  I do not believe that any of this indicates that Peeta loves Katniss more, nor that Gale loved Katniss less (and Katniss never makes such a comparison) only that Gale’s love was kept in broader perspective, with other responsibilities to fulfill and higher ideals to live for than Katniss Everdeen.

Nevertheless, despite Peeta’s shortsighted vision, it is ultimately his virtue that wins in pointing Katniss to the possibility of goodness and life in spite of everything that they suffered.  Peeta was not deeply loved by his family, lost everything, almost died multiple times, and was tortured terribly, but continued to see the good and to act for goodness and peace and love.  Peeta always held himself above the constant manipulation of the game makers and the Capitol to be self-seeking, cruel, murderous; he always held himself above their insistence that he had to play the game on their terms.  This is reflected in his exchange with Katniss before their first games:

“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only…I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?” he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.”

I bite my lip, feeling inferior. While I’ve been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self. “Do you mean you won’t kill anyone?” I ask.

“No, when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll kill just like everybody else. I can’t go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games,” says Peeta. 

Katniss also recognizes that it is not only herself that can see that Peeta is “truly, deep-down, better than the rest of us.”  Others, particularly Katniss and Gale, give themselves to vengeance and the self-protective instinct to immediately go for the kill without thinking of other options.  When Katniss and Haymitch agree to a final Hunger Games to enact revenge on the Capitol citizens, Peeta is furiously adamant that such a course of action is wrong.  Peeta’s continual refusal to stoop to that level is a significant part of what makes Katniss ultimately recognize her need of him and his ability to bring renewal to her life beset by grief, fear and anger.  The ending of the trilogy is incredibly wise in that respect and true to life.  Katniss and Peeta have broken bodies and broken hearts, but work day by day to allow spring to replace their winter.  As I mentioned in my post “Where Has the Coming of Age Tale Gone?”  this lesson is one of the most valuable we can learn.

Reflections on Phariseeism: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

A post I read today reminded me of the importance of understanding and being wary of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  The roots of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit begin with rejecting the authentic work of God as a work of evil.  We see this illustrated clearly in the Gospel of Matthew:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul,by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, butwhoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.  (Matt. 12:22-32, ESV)

Theologians and the Christian Tradition more broadly have summed up blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as a refusal to accept salvation through Christ.  We see in the passage above where such a refusal begins.  It began with the religious leaders of the day seeing the works of Jesus and the ostensible power of God, and refusing to acknowledge it as such.  And beyond simply being unable to recognize it as the power of God, they actually attributed the works to the power of Satan.  It was obvious that *something* significant had occurred, but the explanation they reached for was that the power was evil rather than good.  Jesus confronts their thinking, saying that the works that He did were good works, meaning that they worked toward a godly end.  How could those works be done of Satan if they are promoting the Kingdom of God?  Satan does not cast out demons or bring people into closer communion with God.  If he did so, he would be undermining his own purposes.

We cannot both have faith in Christ, and at the same time, call the work of Christ the work of Satan.  We cannot both claim Christ’s name and at the same time deride the works done in His name.  For it is those very works which testify of Him.

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The post I referenced above focused on the testimony of the couple in the video below.

http://vimeo.com/70885566

It is the story of Raeul and Susan, a married couple that speaks of growing distant and cold over the years and of affairs had both by Susan and Raeul.  Wanting to survive as a married couple, they sought help through counseling and became involved in the Re|Engage marriage ministry at their church.  Highlights from what they shared:

Raeul:  “Re|Engage was just a pivotal point for me in that the Bible just came alive…[W]e would come in and we would have issues; and there was always a biblical principle there for us; there was always something there that God had that we could hold onto.”

Susan:  “As we really began to do that and to vertically align ourselves with Christ…horizontally the marriage began to heal.”

Raeul:  “We are in the best place that we have ever been in our marriage.”

Susan:  “Oftentimes when we think about what Re|Engage really is, we think about the three components: God’s word, God’s people, and God’s Spirit.”

Raeul:  “Re|Engage brought to us the urgent need for us to follow Christ.  It put our marriage in a place where it talks about oneness in Genesis, that we’re not out for each other, but that we’re out for us together.”

Their testimony is derided as being of the “Book of Oprah.”  Some would have us believe that this couple overcame mutual infidelity and distance to be closer than they have ever been, to feel an urgent need to follow Christ, and to express a dependence upon Scripture through Oprah-principles.  Oprah does not teach people to follow Christ.  She does not teach people to depend upon Scripture, and she does not encourage people to submit to accountability within a Christian community.  Those things promote the Kingdom of God and the Lordship of Christ.  I would be extremely wary of deriding someone who testifies of their decision to follow Christ in obedience and the healing they experienced thereby.  It comes very close to blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.  

The Pharisees hated Jesus and the works He did because He did not do it according to the prescribed order of the law (as they understood it) and it didn’t come through their authority.   When they saw His power, they hated it, even when He performed miracles for people and tremendously changed their lives for the better.  Why did they hate Jesus even when He was obviously doing a great work for people?  Because He wasn’t doing it their way.  The manosphere posits a lot of ideas about how men and women are supposed to relate to one another.  This couple bucks their advice and ideology and is successful in doing so.  But it seems that some would rather hear the husband say “I gamed my wife until she finally bent down to lick my boots,” than they would rejoice to hear, “We chose to obey Christ more faithfully and He has done an amazing work between us because of it.”

 

What Does Blogging Anonymity Mean to You?

Most bloggers choose to blog under a handle other than their actual name.  Most keep specific details about their location and work private.  As I prepare to publish something that is a little weightier than my usual fare, I wondered whether I ought not attach my actual name to it.  The reason is that I’ve always believed that people ought to have the courage of their convictions.  A truth that you claim to believe in but will not publicly attach your name to seems to be a truth that you don’t believe in enough to be openly identified with.  To be honest, the HBD supporters seem to be a prime example of this.  Many claim that the public simply cannot handle such “politically incorrect” truth.  But politicians, ideologues, and intellectual pundits argue with one another all the time publicly.  And throughout history, many people on all sides of the political spectrum have fought, bled and died for what they believed to be the truth in light of extreme opposition.

When we insist on anonymity, are we attempting to sway others to a position without being openly seen as doing so?  Are we dodging valid scrutiny and criticism?  Are we trying to give ourselves cover and permission to say something we would not otherwise say, in a manner that we would not otherwise say it?  Do we not want the people in our lives to know the things we write and our real feelings?  Are we really concerned about someone from the internet harassing us, when plenty of strangers and casual acquaintances in our day to day lives can ascertain just as many details about us?

There was a hilarious comic I came across on another blog:

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Everyone has thoughts and ideas that they have an intuitive sense are not quite right.  A person’s deep-seated prejudice against certain members of society would be an easy example.  They may mention it at the dinner table or whisper about it to a friend, but will nevertheless put on the friendliest face if they ever encounter such a person.  Those feelings and impulses that come from the id, which have not been refined by a conscious reasoning process and the choice to be a better person are feelings and impulses that, in polite company, we would know to restrain.  And we restrain them because we know within ourselves that they don’t come from a good place.  But the anonymity of the internet allows people to indulge their id, and find others who will normalize and support those hidden thoughts and feelings.  Internet anonymity ends up meaning that every idea, every thought, and every feeling whatsoever gets a voice and a platform and a support group.  

And so I ask myself why I blog anonymously, and why I was so irritated with Google for forcing Google+ on everyone, and why I don’t want my YouTube account to carry my real name, and why I attempt to keep my professional circles separate from my online identities.

I’m genuinely curious to know what other bloggers think about anonymity and why they choose it (or don’t choose it).