Monday, May 18, 2009

Moving to a More Natural Habitat

My friends, I have enjoyed my brief sojourn on Blogger, but I have, in many ways, felt restricted. After learning about the wide-open spaces and many options available at Word Press, I have decided to change my blog site so that my neurotic need for choice can be satisfied.

Come visit at

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I Need a Hero, or If I Were a Mutant

I went to see Wolverine last week. I love superheroes movies, and if the box office for them is any indication, I’m not alone in that. But every time I watch such movies, my analytic curiosity is stirred; I wonder what is so enticing to people, male and female, old and young, about these characters and stories. On another day I might engage in a discussion of the struggle between good and evil that is at the root of humanity and, perhaps, the foundation of all stories, or laud sci-fi and fantasy genres for creating a neutral territory in which to explore difficult issues, but today I’m thinking about something else. I’m thinking about the gendering of heroes: who gets to be heroes and who is supposed to want to be a hero.

Just a quick survey of comic books should be enough to demonstrate that we associate heroism with masculinity most of the time. Sure, the tradition of comic books dates back to a time when people had more defined notions of gender roles, and sure, there are some female heroes (let me just confess here that I hate the word “heroine”). But the fact remains that female superheroes, especial those who are as capable as their male counterparts, are rare. Now, there may or may not be something wrong with this; that’s not my point. But the problem came when I realized--at about the same time as the realization that most of my favorite movies were “guy” movies--that I wasn’t supposed to want to be like the male superheroes. But I did (and still do). Something deep within me just responds to them. I want to be heroic, adventurous, and courageous.

But that’s not who I’m supposed identify with, according to our social construct and to books like Wild at Heart and Captivating (please forgive me if you disagree with my reading of these). I’m supposed to be Lois Lane. I’m supposed to be the princess in the fairy tale. But, as I recently told a friend, I don’t remember ever really wanting to be a fairy-tale princess. I liked fairy tales, and I did want to be a princess, but what I remember liking most about the fairy tales was the adventure and someone fighting on behalf of another. I’ve never wanted to just be a passenger, sentient luggage, someone to be protected. I wanted to be in the thick of it. I wanted to be the main character, not supporting cast. I want to fight my own battles (metaphorically speaking).

So where does that put me? Does my fantasy desire to be hero make me masculine? I don’t think so. I think that, instead, my resonance is with characters and character traits that I admire rather than gender; I don’t want to be Batman but I do want to be brave and assertive and unafraid of my own potential. Unfortunately, there aren’t many female characters who exhibit such traits as strongly as males do. Before I was really aware that I was outside of gendered lines, I had never questioned my femininity, and while I hope that more female characters will come along who exhibit the traits I most admire, I hope even more that we will come to a realization that gender is not the most important determining factor in who we can admire.

In closing, I would like to state two things for the record. First, I am not given to violence and don’t think I would like to be a superhero of either gender in real life. And, second but more important, if I were a mutant, I would want to have the ability to communicate with animals.

620 words, and I think you should congratulate me for my smashing editing skills. I almost had it under 500. Almost.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Standing on Promises

I just read a blurb for Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lade, Think Like a Man, his dating advice to women. If you know me, you’re probably thinking, “Shanna, why would you ever do such a thing?” I know, but the title and author combination piqued my curiosity. The publisher’s blurb indicates that this book explains to women what men think while in a relationship; according to it, Harvey claims that men will always start lining up other women if his woman won’t have sex with him enough, and apparently discusses “independent--and lonely--women.” Finally, the blurb admits, “feminists and the easily offended” are not likely to appreciate the book. And, furthermore, a customer review indicates that Harvey explains that women should keep the house clean and take care of the kids, women should give up hobbies their husbands don’t want to participate in, etc. I bet he likes to have dinner on the table when he gets home from work and a wife in peals and heals attending his every need. You can probably see by now why this is offensive (if not, save yourself from my wrath by commenting to the contrary). Of course, if you want more explanation of why I am offended by this, I’m happy to oblige.

I feel like this books is offensive because of the roles it expects women to play and because of the way it essentializes male behaviors (the “it’s just the way men are” mentality), but more than offensive, this book is damaging for both of those reasons. It says to women, “If you really want to make a relationship work, you have to ignore your own needs and desires and think and act the way your man wants you to.” Women have done that for centuries, but for the first time ever (that I’m aware of), generations of girls are growing up hearing that they can be anything they want to be. That they have options for their life that don’t necessarily end in marriage, motherhood, and household duties. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for women choosing to stay home and raise their families, but the key word is choosing. Don’t you want your daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, friends to grow up knowing that they have options? That their talents and gifts and minds are worth sharing with the whole world, just as much as boys’ are? That their ideas and opinions are just as valuable? Maybe most importantly, that their hopes and desires and dreams are worth fighting for? And for your sons, brothers, friends, nephews, don’t you hope that they’ll grow up valuing everyone and seeing women as their equals? That if they do get married some day, they’ll find wives who will challenge them to be better men? Wives who are filled with passion and possibility instead of quiet resignation? I do.

I am grateful to have been raised knowing that I am valuable, and that what I want out of life is important, but I think that many women are afraid that being independent will mean, as Harvey says, a life of loneliness and they fear loneliness more than they want their dreams. But independence and loneliness are not synonymous for a person who seeks fulfillment in Christ. Where I am independent in worldly terms, I am dependent on God, and I claim for myself the promises He makes in the Bible, that He loves me and values me and desires for me to serve Him with the talents He's given me. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” says the writer of Psalm 34:17, “and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When you allow yourself to be made whole in Christ, you find that the deepest desires of your heart, the ones that your head often misinterprets, are met in abundance. So don’t mistake my independence or aloneness for loneliness. And don't take dating advice from someone who is seeking fulfillment in all the wrong places.

667 words, no apology (it's MUCH shorter than it is in my head)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Myopia, Differing Stases, and Breaking My Pledge

In the course of conversation today, a relative confessed some of his prejudices. He said that he realizes that not everyone thinks like him and agrees with him (which, by the way, is not a recognition that he may be wrong or that there are other valid perspectives). Not everyone wants to stop smoking or doing drugs or living on welfare, he said, and they all live the same way and beat their kids and keep fighting dogs, and they don’t want to change because they’re happy that way. And before the anger had really boiled up inside of me, I calmly said, “No, I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t think anyone wants to live that way.” And to my great surprise, he payed attention to me as I spoke that one sentence, but it was the last thing I would say in the conversation as he continued and other spoke. Nothing else about the conversation was quite as inflammatory as that, but I chewed over it for the rest of the day. Why do people want to slice the world into chunks? Either people are sober, employed, good-natured folks or they’re worthless,unemployed addicts who abuse their kids and animals who like it that way, according to my relative. As if the world is that simple. Who would choose to be unstable, unhealthy, and unsure of their current and future ability to meet their most basic needs? Who would choose to become chemically dependent on a substance that completely disrupts their life? Who would want to live that way? I don’t think anyone wants that.

Now, I’m not suggesting that people are not responsible for the conditions they live in; they are, almost always. Choices that people make lead directly to the conditions in which they live. While a person may not think, “Gee, I want to become a drug addict,” the choice to use substances once can very easily lead to that result. Kids who drop out of high school probably don’t think, “After I drop out, I hope to live on welfare and never afford the things I want,” but again, the choices lead to the result. But the world that these people live in is one in which failure is standard and possibility is unheard of. They lack the social and personal resources to make their lives better. It’s not impossible--we’ve all heard stories about remarkable individuals who rose from poverty to excellence. Some of us even know people like that. But if all a person ever knows is limitation and failure, how do they know what’s possible for them? Human beings can rarely imagine a reality other than the one we live with; we can hardly perceive of the possibility of another way of thinking or being than we do and are. That’s evidenced as much by my relative’s inability to understand the complicated natures of poverty and addiction and the individuals who live in those conditions as it is by those individuals who are unable to change their circumstances.

So, as I thought about this conversation on the drive home, I was angry at people who think of the world and people in overly-simplified terms. I was constructing arguments against their myopic thinking in my head and questioning how to change a person’s stasis (which in rhetoric refers to a person’s definition of the main issues in a debate) because if you argue with a person from a different stasis, you can never come to an agreement. My relative and I were arguing from different stases; His argument was “They want to live like that,” and to counter that argument from the same stasis, I would have had to argue, “They do not want to live like that.” My argument on that stasis would be pretty weak because in many cases, it appears that people to, at some shallow level, want to live like that. Also, my relative likely would have asked, “Then why don’t they decide to live differently?” (you should know that a very strong willpower is assumed universal in this family). To this, what could I reply? “They can’t”? “They don’t know how”? No, that argument could never be convincing. I reject the stasis that this is a problem that is simply a matter of desire and will; my stasis is that poverty and addiction are complex problems that derive from complex problems and merit compassion. My relative and people of a similar mindset, I believe, would not be able to argue convincingly within that stasis. So, the question is how do I change someone’s stasis if they aren’t even aware of it? This is an important question because we as Christians are called to loving-kindness and compassion toward ALL people. Where I’m often comfortable to agree to disagree, the way we treat people is not one of those things. It matters deeply; as CS Lewis knew:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. [. . .] And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners [. . . .] Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses” (The Weight of Glory).

We must remember that everyone is more that the collection of stereotypes and facts through which we perceive and define them. But how do I convince others of that? I think that the only answer is that God does, that it is He who sees into our hearts and has the power to soften them. So I’m praying for the closed minds and hard hearts in the world tonight. Please pray with me.

982 words, with my insincere apologies.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cead Mile Failte

“A Hundred Thousand Welcomes” is how it translates from Irish Gaelic. It is commonplace in the west of Ireland as door plaques, similar to the Welcome mats you’ve wiped your feet on so many times here, but slightly more poetic. Failte means welcome, one of the most basic words in the English language. When did I learn that word? When did you? I can’t remember. Until today I had never had cause to look it up in the dictionary because the word is inextricably placed in my vocabulary. But every definition of it includes words like pleasure, glad, kindly, greeting, accept, receive, desirable. All positive. And when we feel welcome, we feel wanted, accepted, cared for, a sense of belonging. Who doesn’t want that?

More and more, I’m coming to see welcome as a type of love. It’s not always love the way we usually think of these days--something you feel for someone you know very well; instead, this love is more of an action, something we do to make someone else feel welcome, and it is often directed toward people we barely know and even total strangers. And sometimes even people we don’t like, people whose lives are odious, people who offend our sensibilities. To welcome people is to forgive all of the differences and sometimes all of the similarities, and to make people feel acceptable, receivable, desirable, and significant. To welcome people is to love them. It’s as simple as that.

And loving people is the high calling of all followers of Christ. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” Christ said when asked what the greatest commandment was. “And the second,” he continued, “is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 paraphrased). Another time, a lawyer would ask a question about this command that would echo through the ages: “Just who is my neighbor?” To this, Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan and asked at the end, “Who do you think was the injured man’s neighbor?” The lawyer answered correctly that the neighbor was “The one who showed mercy” (Luke 10:25-37 paraphrased). Through his story, Jesus turns the question inside out; the question should not be about peerage or worthiness, but rather about mercy. It’s not “Who is my neighbor?” but “To whom am I a neighbor?” To whom will I show mercy? To whom will I show love? Whom will I welcome? Christ has welcomed all and he has called us to do the same.

424 words

A Brief Word and a Half-Hearted Pledge

In truth I don't know what this blog will turn out to be, and I'm not entirely convinced that I'll keep at it. I think that the desire to blog, why so many of us do, is because we all want to feel connected to someone. We want to put words to our thoughts and feelings and how we experience the world and then lay our souls (or parts of them) bare to whoever may be wandering about the internet, hoping that someone will feel what we feel, think what we think and appreciate the microcosm of the world that we publish. Blogging is reaching out to an unknown someone, often for unknown reasons. I don't know why I'm starting a blog (a second blog, to tell the truth. I allowed the first to lose altitude and crash into a dismal stretch of barren space), but something in me longs to write and publish in this way. Really, it feels like tossing a bottled letter out to sea more than anything. But perhaps it will wash up on some beach where someone will find it an amusing curiosity.

In truth, I think that the medium will suit me as I explore some of my thoughts and attempt to impose discipline on my erratic writing behavior. I never write regularly but I always wish to, and perhaps if I trick myself into believing that people will be expecting a new post once a week, I will write that regularly. And, as a confirmed chronic over-writer, it would do me some good to impose a word limit to stay below (it's 500, by the way, but it's set with loose intentions of keeping to it). I cannot tell you what you might expect to find here. I expect to be surprised myself at times. Ray Bradbury says that he is a follower in his writing process; his stories go where they will and he follows in wonder, pen in hand. In this blog, I, too, will follow my words onto the page and hope that they will lead me to better places.

Having said all of that, I half-heartedly pledge to write less than 500 words about once a week, for now anyway.

372 Words