Many hellos in America

I know there aren’t a lot of Top Chef watchers reading here, let alone Top Chef watchers who also follow it on Television Without Pity. Call me a coward for not posting there, I suppose. Mostly, I just want to see if I’m the only person bothered by a habit that seems ubiquitous on the forum boards, which I believe has even slipped into the official Bravo blogs at points.

The contestants this year are almost all American, but one of them, Elia, grew up in Mexico. She speaks English fluently, though with a Spanish accent. Frankly, though some contestants (Mia comes to mind) work to link their cultural/ethnic/regional origins with their cooking style, Elia very rarely does so; she was trained in France and tends to show the most culinary influences from there.

However, when people talk about Elia, positively or negatively – but especially negatively – they parody her accent. One typical example: “In the first episode, she wouldn’t shut up about the “deeleecous” American cheese (aka “thees funky product that shouldn’t exeest”).” Not everyone does it, but it’s a consistent feature when people quote her, and nobody seems bothered by the habit.

It’s a bit like, oh, for example, electing the first Democratic Speaker of the House in over ten years, and rightly celebrating the fact that the highest echelons of political power are no longer closed to women, then filling your newspaper articles and photo captions with descriptions of her clothing. It’s not cute. It’s demeaning. It’s a reminder in her moment of triumph and achievement that she is still different, a curiosity, a reluctantly-admitted guest.

I’m forced to conclude, from the online silence on this subject, that I may be reading too much into the common online tendency toward caricature. Feel free to tell me so. However, it does disturb me to see the assumption that, as long as we’re not saying that a trait is bad, it’s okay to consistently paint it as other. If reality-show fans transcribed black contestants with an exaggerated, phonetically-spelled AAVE dialect, we would rightly protest; why should a Latina be treated differently?


Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope

As some of you may know, I’ve been spending the holidays with the boyfriend, in Birmingham. After a lunch of Alabama bar-b-que ribs – the first I’ve had in ages, and boy are they different from Texas’s – his parents asked if I’d wanted to see anything else in Birmingham. I commented that I’d heard good things about the Civil Rights museum, so we stopped in there.

The experience felt . . . different. In a certain sense, it reminded me of a more hopeful Holocaust museum: documenting the horrors of the past so that the world won’t forget, but showing the power of a steadfast commitment to justice. I’m glad I went.

The museum evoked some of the same thoughts that I felt reading Martin & Malcolm & America recently, particularly the parts of the book on Malcolm X. As a Christian, and really as a human, I’m clearly called to fight injustice and defend the oppressed. But how do I react to situations where that’s not possible – when the battleground has shifted (race may still be a dividing line in America, but in different ways), or when I’m inextricably part of the enemy (as Malcolm X saw it)? The answer, of course, is to take courage from the past and apply it to the needs of the present. The problem is understanding what those needs are.

I look at the not-too-distant past and almost envy those protesters, with the clarity of their anger. The civil rights movement, perhaps more than any other twentieth-century social movement, had deep roots in the Church, and theirs is the faith I crave: a faith unashamed to proclaim Christ’s love through their words and deeds. Of course, to those suffering injustice, the battlefield on which to fight is clear. For me, though, a white educated American, I have the luxury of choosing my battlefield. And I’m still genuinely uncertain of the best place to stake my flag.

It’s clear to me that the Big Issue of these times is globalism and all its related questions: the rise of extremist religious groups, the pressures of limited resources on expanding populations, the control that powerful international entities have over the lives of the less powerful, the complexities of “humanitarian intervention” in a world where we really can see genocide happening before our eyes. It’s why I sometimes find myself feeling callous toward problems in our own country. See, while I’m the last person to dismiss the real hurdles faced in America by minorities, low-income families, immigrants, LGBT people, women, persons with disabilities, and more, those problems pale in comparison to the 40% of the world’s people who don’t have toilets, let alone access to any opportunity for economic and personal flourishing.

I’m sounding negative, most likely, but today I don’t feel it. Rather, I feel excited about my generation’s opportunities to speak against those injustices. Someday, when they make museums to document the horrors happening today in this world, I want my name to be on the list of those who didn’t stay silent.

Have a wonderful new year, everyone.

The consummation of the swallow’s wings

I had trouble focusing my attention during church today. It wasn’t the fault of the singing, which was heavenly – the moment the choir broke out into a glorious rising Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, I could feel my breath swept away – or the fault of the sermon, which was much-needed and well-delivered. Sometimes these days just happen; I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or I’m too focused on everything I’ll be doing that afternoon and week, and my attention keeps drifting from God. I confessed my sins and took communion, then returned to my seat for the blessings and the organ voluntary.

The organist began playing the first familiar notes of “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme”, and I couldn’t think of anything else. Nothing. The same melody, constant and unchangeable, wove through and around itself in an eternal golden braid, so beautiful that even its beauty disappeared into its perfection. This is sacred music, I thought to myself afterward, and imagined what it would have been like to enter a church as a peasant at the time it was written, too poor for the luxuries of daily devotions or written scriptures.

Perhaps the experience would be a bit like when I first listened to Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, sitting on a bumpy bus weaving through the hill country near Jerusalem. I felt torn between the desire to close my eyes and listen to the music forever, and the desire to share that perfect experience with everyone I knew. That’s what I want my response to God to be – not an evangelism driven by fear or compulsion or obligation, but an outpouring of radiant joy, joy so pure it drives out all pride and fear.

If God contains all perfections and all truth, I don’t doubt that it’s echoes of God I hear in music this perfect and true.

Love and Marriage: Goes Together Like a Horse and Carriage?

Link of the day:

Stand By Your Man: The strange liaison of Sartre and Beauvoir, by Louis Menand. Over a year old, but worthwhile for those interested in Sarte, Beauvoir, existentialism, sexual ethics, feminism, and/or polyamory.

I was “linked” to the article from Margaret Farley’s new book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, which was recommended several times in the course of researching my ethics paper. The title is somewhat misleading; it’s “love shaped by justice,” not “merely love,” and really it’s not about love as much as it is about how we bring the ideals of love and justice to bear on questions of sex.

It’s an excellent book, thoughtful and well-researched, and it brings up a lot of aspects of sexual ethics that are frequently under-discussed, from the role of cultural bias in “modern” studies of global sexual behavior to the relevance of a theological understanding of mind/body division/unity to moral norms. She acknowledges and addresses the concerns of conservative Christianity, progressive feminism, sociological studies, minority groups within the queer community, and more. While it doesn’t relate as directly as I’d hoped to the subject of my term paper, I’d recommend it to anyone examining Christian sexual ethics, or even Christian ethics in general.

Also, despite deep temptation otherwise, the title of this post will not be the title of my paper.

All you need is love?

I want to cry. Maybe if I close my eyes and wish very hard, I will not have heard the following (paraphrased) argument from an Ivy League graduate:

“Because everybody has to buy food, we have grocery stores targeted at both poor and rich people, so every income level has a place to shop. Right now, lower-middle-class people have poor to no health care, but there aren’t enough of them to make it worthwhile for insurance companies to cater to them. If we eliminated government-provided health care to the poor, then insurance companies would see that there was a big market, and they would make insurance packages catering to every income level, so everyone could afford some kind of insurance. Oh, and if people couldn’t afford insurance that covered their illness, they’d just die, whoops. Oh, and for those too poor to buy any insurance, charities would hopefully cover them, except that this coverage wouldn’t have the same anti-free-market effect as government coverage would.”

I really, really want to cry. Partly because I’m starting to give credence to the possibility that Ann Coulter is not, in fact, a comedienne sitting in her bedroom, laughing hysterically at the people who take her seriously.

On a serious note, things like this are a test of the fact that altruistically-justified pride and anger are often the worst temptations of the liberal intellectual. I need the humility to remind myself that when I hate people for their perceived lack of charity or logic, I’m on no more solid ground than they are.

Unmaking worlds.

After three seasons of murder, child abuse, incest, rape, and more, today’s Veronica Mars disturbed me more than any other episode has, although “Plan B” came close. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to say anything spoilery.)

A friend once called me “incurably able to find exonerating circumstances and forgive others.” It’s true in some circumstances, I suppose, but I think that much of the time, it boils down to near-naivete in the face of evil. It’s so disturbing to me, on a deep physical and emotional level, that a human could intentionally hurt another human, that I’d rather justify it with excuses of environment and ignorance and selfish self-deception. I tell myself to search for the plank in my own eye, to use the other as a mirror of my own follies.

Most of the time, I suppose it’s a good instinct to judge not lest I be judged, but too often I become too timid to judge at all. Even when the wrong being done is so unambiguous that I can’t explain it away, it’s easier to close my eyes than to stop it. And right now, God’s reminding me of what that entails.

For example: while researching cycling PSAs today, I came upon this video of a newspaper intern who stole his own bike in public seven times, and wasn’t stopped once. And it’s not just that it’s painfully easy for us to ignore what’s in front of us; the really disturbing thing is how easy it is to perpetuate it, given an excuse. (Be warned that the latter article is rather disturbing. Also note that the alleged perpetrator was a corrections officer.)

I’m not sure what the point of this entry is, really. Perhaps I’m just giving voice to my longstanding conflict between understanding the motivations behind evil and insisting that they don’t erase personal responsibility. The problem is that evil and excuses so often coincide; for every widely-publicized serial killer, you have hundreds of people systematically destroying human psyches and bodies because they can justify it as obeying authority. It’s easy to confront the former; it’s much more difficult, on a philosophical and psychological level, to confront the latter. And I’m not sure if I know how to do it yet.