I Like Fall

It’s Fall out there. You can just feel it.

The air is crisper than it has been before, leaves are changing colors, the sun lacks its usual enthusiasm as it lights the world, thick scarves are beginning to seem like a functional idea–they always seem like a good idea.

This time last year I was in Scotland (https://teamchauncey.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/september-15th-%E2%80%9Ctim%E2%80%99s-birthday%E2%80%9D-or-%E2%80%9Ctwo-pence-none-the-richer%E2%80%9D/). That’s a strange thought. This time a year ago I would be about to hit the town with my friend Tim and Gavin to watch soccer and have a pint.

Tonight I’m having a couple friends over to the house and while I’m partly missing Scotland all the time–really, it’s amazing there–I’m really happy where I am. My best friend is reading this book about an evangelical housewife who is learning how to give thanks for things. The woman can write. The words that she leaves on the page are flowing, peaceful, and rich with lovely imagery. I think it’s time I figuratively take a page from her book and thank the Lord for some things.

Thank you Lord for trips to foreign countries and memories made therein.

Thank you Lord for employment.

Thank you Lord for a great house to live in and great friends.

Thank you Lord for an amazingly wonderful girlfriend and best friend.

Thank you Lord for walking with me in so many ways through all manner of storms and being willing to walk patiently with me as I move forward.

Thank you Lord for the unofficial start to yet another Fall, but moreover one in which your love for me has been more clearly laid bare than I have seen before.

Also, if you have time to help me find a good scarf Lord, I’m up for it.

Scarves are classy and I like Fall.

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The Bus Ride to Beacon Hill and My Time in School: Thoughts on Race and Being Sort of Latino

I read this article (http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/deeply-embarrassed-white-people-talk-awkwardly-about-race/Content?oid=9747101) and felt like sharing some thoughts on race, myself, and Seattle.

Last year my job included a monthly bus ride from Queen Anne to Beacon Hill. I rode the bus daily to work in the U district where I would travel with mostly white folks and arrive at a place where white folks were the minority. I then rode the bus one Friday out of the month to Beacon Hill. The bus ride was the same, but absolutely fascinating in that it was a process.

I would leave home in Queen Anne. The bus would be awash with sharply dressed professional people. They would talk on phones, read books, and generally were quite Caucasian. As I approached downtown it would be evident that one could see more and more African Americans on the bus. By the time the bus got to Pioneer Square there would be an extremely noticeable increase in the amount of African American folks on the bus. As we left Pioneer square and arrived in the International district the mix would shift to lots of Asian people. Then by the time I arrived in Beacon Hill I would notice a pretty mixed array of races, accents, and languages.

Totally fascinating. Also a fairly strong indicator of what the author of the article was talking about. Drive far enough south via Downtown and you’ll know what I mean. Get to White Center and you’ll feel a strange and definite sense of “We’re not in Ballard anymore…” as you engage with a dude from El Salvador at the bus stop.

Race has been a really interesting subject in my life. My dad is Hispanic. He grew up speaking Spanish at home and English at school. My mom is white. We were raised in a peaceful middle class suburb in Bellingham, WA. Most of our neighbors were regular working people. Some of my friends’ dads were plumbers or carpenters. My dad was a police office for 20 years. (That has been an interesting subject to think about.) I grew up in white suburbia.

Yet, all the while my father told me regularly that I was in fact Hispanic (Latino is the insider verbage for this from what I understand. I will use them interchangeably as we move forward.) This was something in my heritage that I got to own. Life indicated this as well. As I grew up my sister and brother were in High School Spanish classes (my father didn’t teach us himself to help us avoid the discrimination and prejudice he faced growing up in Texas). I heard a good deal of Spanish spoken in my home as a result from a very young age and as the years progressed it became normal for me hear mariachi music in the car on the way to school–that Pedro Infante is awesome–along with my dad’s not-asked-for interpretation of the lyrics. Tortillas happened at lunch. I grew up Lutheran in a compromise between my dad’s Catholic Upbringing and my Mom’s Presbyterian one.

As I hit school it got really interesting navigating what being Latino meant. I spent years trying to own it. Firstly, when it came to Latino culture…I was more or less clueless. I didn’t grow up eating most of  the standard foods (due to my dad’s food allergies), I don’t have an accent, I’m not Catholic or Pentecostal, my skin is olive colored–not deep brown–and I’m really tall. It didn’t seem to click for folks. My high school experience was one of my friends saying “Sure, you’re Hispanic. That means we can make racist jokes and not feel bad about them!” However, I don’t think they took it as seriously as I did. I really meant it. I wanted to own that part of me, I just didn’t exactly know how aside from trying to learn Spanish and declaring the truth of the matter.

So, in time I traveled to meet my dad’s family in Texas and for the first time I felt like an outsider. I didn’t speak Spanish and my family did. I didn’t know about Hispanic food and my family did. It was awful. It was then that I decided to be a Spanish major in college. I would learn to speak to my family.

The thing about being a Spanish major in college is that it surprisingly takes place around mostly white folks. There are a few native speakers in the major, but all things considered it doesn’t feel to foreign at all. Unless you want to try and communicate to the native speakers that you’re Hispanic. It turns out that they don’t believe you. When I finally admitted that I spoke Spanish to my official minority friends I got strange looks, doubting statements “you’re latino?”, and a general sense of not-belonging.

It took studying abroad and 11 months of working in detention center after I graduated with Hispanic youth before I had breakthrough moments of acceptance. I became fluent in Spanish, I learned about lots of the culture (lots of the awful parts too). Last week a hostess at my favorite Mexican restaurant asked me where I was from in Spanish. I finally sounded Latino enough to be accepted as a part of the team.

My experience has been one of my white folks implicitly communicating that I was one of them and Hispanic people much more directly communicating that yes, I was one of the white kids. The categories for race on both sides of the equation were very very particular. I wasn’t fitting in anyone’s definition of what it meant to be a minority. I am white, y’know? I get it. But I’m also something else too. I call my dad and we speak Spanish on the phone. I’m also Latino. I’m both…and not really either.

It’s the most frustrating thing ever to be simplified by white people or Latino people to just a white person. There’s this assumption of “I know who you are,” that comes with every conversation I’ve had that features skeptical eyebrows regarding my race/ethnicity. I truly hate it.

On the other hand it’s not comfortable to be accepted as Latino either…because despite the fact that I can now speak Spanish fluently, it doesn’t change the culture I grew up in.

My girlfriend and I have often spoken of the nature of race being a social construct. I feel that I’m a living testament to how this is true. It’s about how people accept you based on the cues you live into. It’s about acting like a white man (while not looking necessarily un-white). It’s about speaking Spanish like a Latino. These are the things that in some way form the framework that helps me participate in what race looks like. That and the fact that the framework is one that is assumed by everyone to begin with.

I’m finally accepted on both sides of who I am, but I really feel subtly estranged at moments from both cultures because I don’t feel that I truly belong anywhere.

To be a racial hybrid is to be estranged. To be a theological hybrid ridin’ the fence between Catholicism and Protestantism is to be estranged.

While I really enjoyed the above article and found it to be enlightening I started to realize that it didn’t feel written to me. I felt estranged from the topic in the same way I have felt estranged throughout life. The discussion–as much as the racial categories wielded within it– has never felt sufficiently complex enough for me.

 

The Disarmed one.

Yesterday I was absorbed by a book. Do you know what I mean? The sort of reading that steals your desire for food, for converstaion, for being on time, and almost for breathing?

The book in question was called “The Life of the Beloved.” It was written by Henri Nouwen to his friend in NYC. I found it in the church library and by the time I was done I had spent two hours hungrily reading about 100 pages of insightful, encouraging, and calm prose.

It is a strange thing to notice yourself start to cry in a sense of relief as you read, remember, and allow the door to be opened on who you are. You know the one. It’s that door that you keep shut. The one that if open would lead into a sense of confidence, trust, and hope. I think the it’s same one that is talked about here in different terms: http://therumpus.net/2011/08/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-82-the-god-of-doing-it-anyway/

See, it turns out that being who you are unashamedly is scary. The idea of boldly letting go and being you is a hard one to swallow, grasp, and let alone employ. Henri Nouwen pointed out that we are prone to and haunted by the tendency to engage with life through self-rejection. We deny ourselves the ability to be us because we are afraid. I think all of us are afraid of at least two things.

I say that because I think that for me, the fear is double sided.

I am afraid of not being loved. Aren’t you? I’m afraid of being who I am and being rejected. I’m afraid that the haunting self doubt that dwells deep inside me and in the world around me is right. That I haven’t got what it takes to be loved.

Here’s the twist. I’m also afraid of being loved. This seems silly, but real love is a bit scary. The idea that someone loves me for who I am. Each and everything I do cannot push them away, they choose me, and all of me. There’s no earning love. There’s no proving myself worth loving. I am without tools to feel worthy. I cannot say, “Ah, I’ve done____. So I deserve love in return.” I just exist and do what I do and am given love.

For me both senses of fear are only a response to unconditional love. It seems as though I take up arms against it. On one side I take up the arms of doubt and despair to protect myself against such a surely fictional thing, while I simultaneously take up weapons (strangely enough) of merit and performance to be worthy of it.

Herein I arrive at my Henri Nouwen epiphany. The life of the Child of God (i.e. the life of humanity) is the life of those who are defined by being “Beloved.” Love is given to us. Love that will–if we allow it–disarm us. We do not have to defend ourselves against the possibility of not being loved. Nor do we have to earn that which is freely given before we were ever born.

We can be ourselves. Like Sugar said to the writer in her aforementioned post we actually “must.” “There is no other way.”

I think that was the thing that made me start to cry a bit in the library. It’s nice to hear that God loves you. Not who you are becoming, not who you could be, but who you are. Now. That beautiful and broken mix of saint and sinner, of heavenly blessings and hellish woes… y’know…YOU…Me…Us…

More than that…it turns out that I have to be the person I am right now. Surprisingly, I have no other option. The person in THIS moment is the person God loves. It has always been and always will be this way.

This is the person we all must choose to allow ourselves to be. The Beloved. The Disarmed one. The receiver of the undeserved.

The Man in the Soap

I was a part of a small group last year. We meet most weeks and periodically we traded off in responsibility for preparing something for the group. It was a difficult group at points.

I would often arrive broken, worn down, despairing, and out of hope for the day. I regularly recall checking in and hating my job, wondering what God was doing, and really struggling with what was happening on a daily basis. Sometimes (most times) sleeping instead of going to small group seemed like a good idea. I didn’t always feel like the other people in the group were really able to connect to my commentary on my 40-hour a week ass-kicking of a job, but then again, maybe they did.

There was this one day where my friend Tyler showed us a page from Rob Bell’s book Drops like Stars. It depicted people (artists) taking an ordinary bar of soap and artfully carving it. What was once an ordinary object became an artistic masterpiece. The every day became the miraculous in the hands of these people.

A gleam shone in Tyler’s eye as he pulled out a series of bars of soap. We were to be given around 15 minutes to produce art that conveyed something about where we were or what we were  thinking about.

What I made still resonates with me. I knew what I would make from the get go.

I spent my time producing the nearest approximation of a person–it looked like a robot–that I could. But more than a person, it was a person who was as of yet unfinished. Partly visible, partly carved from the soap, and yet also…incomplete, in process, underway. There was a lot to be seen of the person in process, but there was more that remained unseen and hidden within the soap.

In fact it would take more effort on behalf of the artist, and shaping mixed with loss on behalf of the soap to become beautiful.

I unveiled it with excitement in my voice and heart as I told about this as the representation of myself and hopefully all of us. There was something in that idea that carried hope for me then, as well as now.

It’s the idea that God is not done with us.

I often find myself hoping for completion. Striving for that moment of arrival. The time in which I will BE. When struggles with the parts of myself that are so deeply irritating and frustrating will cease. When I will awake and say, “Ah, how good it feels to be done with that…”

Interestingly enough though, the process doesn’t end.

In one of my theology classes in college we discussed salvation in terms of two words. Justification and sanctification.

In justification we find ourselves there with Christ on the cross and the resurrection thereafter. We are redeemed. All of us and all at once.

Sanctification is different. It is the process by which we participate in our salvation. I think the word “crucible” is a good concept for grasping this. To purify metals you expose them to high heat in a crucible. We are purified in a similar way.

It takes effort, sacrifice, and time for the substance of who we are to be shown forth for others to see. It seems that it takes a long time for even the Lord Himself to help us become who we really are. He sanctifies us.

I find it funny that there are moments when I awake and realize that some piece of myself has solidified. That I have moved beyond something in the past that I once weighed so heavily on me. I get really ramped up hoping that this is it, that I’ve made it! Finally!

However, even in those moments life continues.

It really doesn’t take me very long to discover two things:

I remain the man in the soap

and

God hasn’t given up on me.

Thoughts on Doubt, Faith, and Toy Story 3

Sometimes I think that we have serious issues as Christians owning the reality of what it means to be human. I think lots of times this comes in the form of really being terrified by doubt.

I’ve been there myself (https://teamchauncey.wordpress.com/2008/11/26/two-days-at-once/). At least that was the way I remember this time…maybe this wasn’t what most people experience.

Doubt’s a scary thing, y’know. Especially when your entire life and existence is defined by the proclamation of the Risen Lord Jesus, the thought of that not being true is a deeply terrifying one.

There are lots of things that come to mind when I think of doubt.

For one thing I think everyone gives it too much space to be heavy. Doubt is a space where differing perspectives on life present their arguments contrary to whatever you may believe. I think that often times we give that scenario a sense of “I’m doubting my faith so my faith is less legitimate.” Honestly, we tend to do that a lot. I know I do. However, at some point or another I realized that we never really level the same caliber of skepticism at our doubt that we do at our faith. Maybe we do have good reasons to believe what we do, maybe the arguments for not believing are really shoddy, and maybe I do in fact know who I am?

I think it’s a strange situation in which our faith (often much more long-lasting and impactful than our doubting seasons) is quarantined while doubt is allowed to run amok. Frankly, I want to push for both of those things to be weighed realistically. Doubt shouldn’t receive the quantity of internal press that I give it and it should receive an equal share of what is typically a one-sided skepticism.

Another thought is that doubt and faith are not mutually exclusive. They both exist (arguably in everyone) at the same time. (example: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2011-08-28/Why-certainty-about-God-is-overrated/50166464/1) A person can follow Christ to the best of her/his ability and still have moments (or if you’re mother Teresa…years) where you really wonder where God is, if He’s really got your back, if He is who He says He is, and if He’s even really there at all. All the while you can actually be believing. You can actually do both.

Certainty is not the same as faith, because faith is at some level a choice. It is not an invincible empirical treatise of existence, it has no metrics, and you cannot force it to be so (cough, Richard Dawkins).  You choose to believe something. This is key. Again, if you’ve read recent posts you’re aware that I’m not very Reformed theologically. Thus, I believe that I can indeed really choose. There will always be a grand variety of arguments one way or another. People are always dreaming up ways to refute faith, Christ, and religion in general. I think that many of their arguments are poor excuses for shirking the responsibility to engage with  a complex existence, but some of them actually do carry the weight of being questions to which even the most thoughtful Christian may not have a great answer for.

Here’s the clincher, it is at this point when you/I have weighed our experiences and the options of what seems rational and what does  not (to do this we have to discount certain forms of epistemology…read this word as “how we know what we know.”) that we have to choose. We have to be honest with ourselves. Whatever our choice may be there will always be things that cannot be well-explained.  Some of our choices may seem very silly to certain people, they may scandalize others, and they may land us in the black lists of certain communities.

The fact that it is a choice does not in fact make faith illegitimate. One may still choose with intellectual honesty and integrity in the face of doubt. That’s believing. That’s faith.

At some level it chooses you, but you must choose it back. I guarantee you that God will hunt you your whole life and bless you if you try to be an atheist, on the other hand there will be moments where the Christian story seems like a fairy tale to the most faithful believers. The choice remains. Doubt happens to everyone. Even the disciples were not 100% certain post resurrection (Matthew 28:17). So inevitably we make a choice.

Intro Toy Story 3 (warning, I will spoil the ending of the movie, but for the bold of heart, read on.) This is a perfect allegory for our discussion. There’s more biblical undertones here than I can shake a stick at. I cried about 3 times during the movie and left feeling like I understood the Gospel better. Plus it was just so good.

In the film the real boy Andy is going to college. The number of toys are down to a handful of the main characters. The ones we love. A remnant. As the story progresses Andy is cleaning up his room for college and decides that he will put his toys in the attic and take Sheriff Woody to school with him. In a mix-up the toys feel that they were going to be thrown away by Andy. Woody, having seen the entire context attempts to convey that Andy does in fact want them. They choose not to believe this and decide to go to a place where kids will play with them: A daycare.

Woody goes with them at first but reminds them to whom they belong. He leaves the daycare with the belligerent toys standing by the fact that Andy abandoned them and doesn’t love them at all. Shortly thereafter, the daycare becomes a nightmare. Run by a nihilistic bear who is scarred by his past abandonment the main characters are put in the equivalent of a toy prison camp. They are forced to play with children who are far younger than their proscribed age-limitations. Woody discovers this and then comes back to stage a rescue. It works.

However, the bear, Woody and the rest of the toys fall into a garbage truck at the very moment of their victory over the bear. His thoughts on the role of toys in existence is outed as he screams “WE’RE ALL JUST TRASH WAITIN’ TO BE THROWN AWAY! THAT’S ALL A TOY IS!” At this point his toy cronies abandon him.

Woody, the bear, and Woody’s friends all end up going to the garbage dump where they are stuck on a conveyor belt that leads to an incinerator. The bear goes down and Woody decides to help him in order to save all the toys from certain destruction. The bear decides not to help them. As the toys we have grown to love move toward seemingly certain doom they all hold hands.

I honestly had no idea what would happen at this point.

But then, they’re miraculously (and logically) saved. If you’ve seen the film you get it, if you haven’t you’ll just have to take my word for it.

They get back to Andy’s house and he passes them on to a sweet little neighbor girl who loves toys. He lovingly describes each and every toy to her, it’s role in his imaginary games, and then plays all afternoon with her and the toys. They know they are loved by Andy.

The film then ends leaving me crying.

SO. You’ve sat through my summary of the film. You should still see it. It’s an incredible film. The best Pixar film I think I’ve seen. I loved it.

Where does this all tie in?

Toy Story 3 is an expose of faith, doubt, and real life in the context of the two as it relates to an owner, a life-giver, a creator, etc…

The amount of choice  involved in deciding to participate in a purpose of life is emphasized throughout the film. Three varying perspectives on faith and doubt are portrayed.

Woody as a character is the one who places his significance as a toy in the context of an ultimate purpose. Throughout the series he at one time almost chose to abandon Andy in favor of something that would mean he would never be set aside. Now, in the moment of truth (so to speak) he represents a call to the other toys to allow themselves to be defined, used, or laid aside in terms of belonging to Andy. You could think of Woody as the perspective of faith. He chooses, based on his experience and rational perspectives, to accept that come what may he is Andy’s toy.

Andy’s other toys represent throughout the film a sense of secular humanism. A sense of “Andy/God has abandoned us and never really was who he claimed/seemed to be. We have experienced the loss of our friends (other toys we knew throughout the films), the loss of our purpose for Andy, and we choose to make reality what we want it to be.” Their attempt to engage with the daycare is framed in a way of seeking purpose in what they are doing. What they feel satisfied (or not) with. They strive to feel like they’re a part of something special by choosing to be played with in whatever context they’re able.

The bear essentially represents nihilism. He chooses nothing. His stance on reality as expressed above is one that says “there is no purpose other than an inevitable end. Others can and will be thrown aside at will. Power is the only reality.”

In these characters we see the spectrum of our choices. We watch the consequences play out.

We watch as Woody proclaims a faithful (and accurate) perspective on Andy and purpose as a toy to the deaf ears and stiff necks of the other toys. We watch as the other toys drive to do something lands them in purposeless, despairing chaos. We watch as the bear’s nihilistic attitude forms him into an oppressor of others and a tormented soul.

I think realistically we see ourselves in lots of the characters. At times in all of them. We see our choices and ability to choose played out in archetypes.

The fascinating thing about faith and doubt as shown in toy story 3 is that at the end of the day our faith and our doubt don’t really change the reality of existence. At some level there’s an interesting thing that happens…we can’t make God not exist any more than we can make him exist. If God’s there as many of us believe, then He’s not going to stop being because we don’t happen to choose Him. On the other hand, if He’s not there we can’t force Him into existence by choosing Him.

Not that our choice doesn’t matter. By no means, I think that as we watch toy story 3 we’re reminded of what actually endures. That our choices while important, can be changed. That we’re all capable of being found when we’re lost, redeemed when we despair, and chosen even when we don’t always choose back. I think in watching toy story 3 none of us really want to be the bear…yet, even the bear is offered the option to not choose his own perspective. He is offered redemption at every turn.

The perspective of the writers of Toy Story 3 and of myself is that while doubt and faith are things we choose, we’re always chosen regardless. The One who gives us life offers us the opportunity each day to be a part of his People Story (ehhh…I know, I know.) We participate in and through choosing to believe. There will always be reasons to choose not to believe. The question comes down to us, what we do with our choices, and what we allow to carry weight.

We are given the choice. Our choice does not lessen faith, but matters more than we are really able to comprehend. We are loved that much.

Let me know your thoughts.