Category Archives: Society

The Voice From The Whirlwind: Some thoughts on Faith, Tragedy, and Politics

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Seriously?

I’ve been reading a lot of Facebook posts and articles calling for change in the wake of the Sandy Hook murders.  Many of them revolve around the need for changes in mental healthcare and gun laws (both ends of the spectrum, from banning guns to supplying all teachers with conceal-and-carry permits).  Some of them are about our culture of violence, some of them revolve around the race, class, and sex of spree killers, some of them are about putting up protections everywhere. I hope these conversations continue and lead to lasting reform.  But there’s one conversation I really wish would stop: blaming disasters or tragedies on the quality of peoples’ faith in God.

These talks pop up every single time something horrible happens- no matter if the cause is natural or man made.  And they’ve been happening in some form for thousands of years, from the earthquake/tsunami in Japan to the Salem Witch Trials to the Crusades and on backward.  Misfortune is the fault of witches, or secularism, or Jews, or gays, or whatever scapegoat the religious majority is afraid of.  I’m no theologian or archaeologist, but I think it’s safe to say this goes back to the birth of the concept of religion.  I guess this means my post won’t make many waves, but I might as well throw in my two cents.  This post is going to (obviously) focus on religion and my own journey, so no judgement if you don’t want to continue.  This post is also more raw and of-the-moment.  I want to speak before I chicken out, so my prose isn’t going to be as eloquent as I’d like. Oh yeah, and I refer to God as “He” for purposes of this discussion, but my personal belief is that God is beyond concepts like gender.  But that discussion is for another day. Anyway, enough excuses and explanations.  Here goes:

Around my senior year of High School my English class read The Book of Job, and it really disturbed me.  The Job story confused me as a younger kid, but it wasn’t until I was made to sit and reflect on it for hours per day that this story wheedled its way into my subconscious.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, Job is an Old Testament story about a prosperous and pious man named Job who is seemingly punished by God.  He loses his possessions and children in a deadly accident, and he and his wife are struck with illness and sores.   After debating with his wife and his friends about who is really at fault for this tragedy Job  breaks down and yells his anger to God.  God quickly responds through the voice of a whirlwind, chastising Job for questioning him, then gives Job more children and more wealth.  As a kid with a strong sense of fairness and justice, this didn’t jibe with me.  The God I believed in was kind and merciful; sure he was angry and would smite people, but those people had done something wrong and God either needed to wipe the slate clean and start over (like the tower of Babel, or Sodom and Gomorrah  or the people in Noah’s time period) or he provided harsh lessons to teach them (like Jonah).  But to destroy someone’s life for no reason, to yell at someone who had the nerve to break down and ask why he suffered?  And to then give him another wealth store and different children, and treat it as if this makes up for all his previous pain?  That wasn’t the God I thought I knew.  That wasn’t a God I wanted to be around.

This was around the start of a rough period in my life- multiple close family members became very ill; some of them died. The day before my aunt died I remember praying to God, asking if her sickness was punishment for people taking her for granted. “Okay, God.” I said. “I think we understand now. You can fix her.” But God doesn’t work like that. I saw my parents suffering and prayed: “OK, God. I’ll be a better kid for them. Will that win your favor and stop their pain?” But God doesn’t work that way. My depression and anxiety, at that time undiagnosed, became harder and harder to manage.  I was growing up and learning more and more about how hard life was for many people, how hard life would be for me as a woman of color with little money or clout.  During this period I prayed, I sang to God, I begged Him to smite me and spare the ones I loved, I got angry and shouted at Him,  I thought about leaving school, leaving Catholicism, thought about killing myself.  I couldn’t understand why God would hurt such good people; why he would cause such pain and suffering to fall upon others while I remained physically whole but emotionally scarred. We patched up our relationship after I was diagnosed with bipolar II, but I was still wary.  After I moved to New York my faith was shaken again (I’d rather not talk about that part), and while I love God and talk to him regularly, some part of me still hasn’t made peace with my religion and my politics.  But during all that time, during the times when I sobbed in my friends’ arms and yelled at how angry I was at God, do you think He ever left my side for a minute?  The God who makes the rain, the grass, the animals and the elements?  He who makes every atom and quark; He who makes all genders and sexualities and hearts and minds? He, my heavenly Father?  No- my God never left me, just as my mother and father would never leave me, even if (and when) I’m angry at them or forget to call.  Even when I make them angry, they are still my parents and they still love me no matter what happens to me.

There are some places where I might not want to pray aloud- that’s fine, I know how to pray silently or in a quiet moment I take for myself.  Does the Christian God require over-loud worship as long as whatever worship we provide is sincere?  Does He abandon our children because of the perceived or actual sins of society?  Does he always allow or cause disaster to punish us? People all over the world pray in mosques synagogues and temples and churches – some
devote their entire lives to helping the poor or sick, or to serving a higher power. And yet some of them-yes, pious traditional Christians too- are cut down before their prime in horrific ways in their very houses of peace and worship.  I mean, Job was pretty perfect and look what happened to him.

Here is God’s response to Job, taken from the KJV.  It’s beautiful, and powerful, and very very long, and the first time I read it I thought  God was avoiding Job’s questions, basically pulling a “Because I’m your dad and I can do all this stuff you can’t imagine, and also because I said so!”  Which, I admit, he kind of is.  After I moved to New York, though, my reading of the text changed.  It happened after I went to my friend’s performance of Song of Job 9:11, a musical convocation by Danny Ashkenasi.  It combines true stories and voices from the World Trade Center bombings with the biblical story of Job, and it’s all on youtube if you want to listen (my friend Holland Hamilton and her mom Anita Hollander are the gorgeous ladies immediately right of center).  Before that concert I didn’t fully grasp both the immense trauma of 9/11 victims, nor did I grasp the story of Job in anything but a negative light.  But listening to the musical arrangement of God’s words to Job I was filled with emotion, and I understood:  God was providing comfort to Job, and to all who suffer.  God names all of the creatures and things he takes care of, asks Job who is he to question God, his power, or plan.  God reminds Job “yo, I’m God.  I got all this- you think I ain’t got you too?  You don’t comprehend it, but I got everything, babe.”

Sometimes we don’t know why bad things happen.  Sometimes we will never know.  We can ask ourselves what God asked Job: who are we to question God?  Job’s friends and wife are quick to point fingers at either Job’s misdeeds or to God, but God will have none of it.  In times of misfortune and strife, the people who are saying that God has deserted us or punished us are acting the same way.  Who are we to say these things?  Were we around to know the big plan?  Can we understand every action and reason there are obstacles and potholes in our path?

There is a way to make change, however.  God provides it to us, just as he provided it to Job:

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold. 12So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning:   

Job 42:11-12  (forgive me if my biblical citation skills suck)

In times like I ask everyone to gather around the sufferers, just as Job’s family gathered around him.   We should comfort them, help them, and thus we shall increase their fortunes.  Nothing we can do can bring back the dead- not placing blame, not social change, not religious squabbling.  The best we can do is to help our fellow humans, in this way we can bless the latter end of our time on earth more than our beginning.  The debates on gun control and mental healthcare and society and public saftey are some of the many ways we can do that.  Blaming abortion, prayer in schools, or LGBTQ people for indirectly causing God to turn his back on the slaughter of 20 kids and 7 adults?  Not a good way to do that.  Not to mention a bit victim-blamey.

There, that’s my two cents.  You can put yours in the comments below, but please note that while I encourage discussion I’ll delete any hate-speech, or comments putting down others’ religions or lack thereof.

Aside
Sew your forked tongues into one
and open, fingers clenched and numb.
Unwrap your bitter, strangled throats
and let the mourning come.
 
Break down the dams that hold us
strange to sorrow!  Let us knit this thrum
of loss into a cradling shroud
and let the mourning come.
 
We close our eyes
and hold our hands
and fall and weep.
as we succumb
we beat our breasts
and rend our skin
and let the mourning come.
 
No words–Life’s blush has left these cheeks–
No words!  a moratorium:
 
 
 
 
 
 
Return their loaned souls to the sky
and let the mourning come.
 

Of Loss: a poem in response to the deaths of children

The Cheesecake Express: Mieko “Reads” Fiddey Shades!

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50 Shades was originally a Twilight fanfic, but even Kristen Stewart can’t believe it.

Ok, so I love love love reading cheesecake books.

I used to read submissions to a publishing agency, and I once bought The Legend of Rah and the Muggles (That book that one lady sued JK Rowling over) just so I could laugh at it.  Many a high school night was spent giggling over the 25 cent novels my best friend lent me.

Lately I’ve been lusting after the libre-du-jour by E.L James, 50 Shades of Grey (The little fanfic that could), but as a responsible adult with a budget and reputation I can’t bring myself to buy it, and the local library has a waiting list over 1,000 patrons long.  Luckily I have found this- Kyle reads Fifty Shades of Grey- in which a brave soul reads all chapters  aloud for your youtubing pleasure (at your youtubing liesure).

I have chosen to undertake this task for you, dear readers.  Along the way I will discuss such things as:

  • How could E.L. James make one-million dollars per week?
  • Why does this outsell Harry Potter in UK paperback???
  • What is Christian Grey’s appeal?
  • What parallels can we draw between this and Twilight, as well as other works of classic fiction?
  • Is it feminist?

….Or at least we’ll be able to properly snark.

Why I love Avatar Korra (and you should too): An Introduction

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I have a new love in my life- and her name is Avatar Korra.

For those of you who don’t know, here’s a snip from wikipedia:

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar: The Legend of Aang in Europe) is an American animated television series that aired for three seasons onNickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. The series was created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who served as executive producers along with Aaron EhaszAvatar: The Last Airbender is set in an Asian-influenced world[1] wherein some are able to manipulate theclassical elements by use of psychokinetic variants of Chinese martial arts known as “bending.” The show combined the styles of anime andAmerican cartoons, and relied for imagery upon various East-Asian, Inuit, Indian and South-American societies.[2]

And the background on the sequel:

 Reincarnating in turn among the world’s four nations, [the Avatar] is responsible for maintaining the balance in the world. Korra, the series’ 17-year-old protagonist, is the incarnation of the Avatar after the death of Aang of Avatar: The Last Airbender.[7] Set seventy years after the first series in Republic City, a metropolis that recalls a fictionalized 1920s Manhattan and Shanghai,[8] the series follows Korra as she learns airbending and faces an anti-bender revolutionary group, the “Equalists”, led by the masked Amon.[7]

The season is done for now, and sadly won’t return until next year, but you can watch all the episodes online either at nick.com or elsewhere if you’re internet savvy.

The original Avatar series is near and dear to me; the controversy surrounding the whitewash of the film led me to the social justice blogosphere, which is how I procrastinate   spend most of my time these days.  The creators of the original series have been praised for their creative world building, their sophisticated and complex character and plot-lines, and their cross-generational humor as well as their ability to take cultures not their own and appropriate them respectfully.

This new series continues in the vein of the first Avatar but features a hero who is a strong, intelligent, brown woman- something you really don’t see in US media.  The show deals with relationships, revolution, familial ties, geopolitics.  It’s feminist, anti-racist, and thought provoking, yet somehow while it’s popular among children and many sets of the nerd community the social justice blogosphere has been pretty quiet.  If I’m wrong please let me know, but coverage pales in comparison to the praise of Hunger Games or Brave – both of which have strong heroines and are geared towards children.

I don’t know if you guys can tell by now, but for me Avatar Korra is the greatest thing since Harry Potter.  And I love Harry Potter with a fiery hot passion, you best believe.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be geeking out exploring the awesomeness that is the Korra series, specifically how the show is groundbreaking in its race, color, gender, and sociopolitical discussion.  This will, of course, be peppered with my favorite Korra gifs.

Let’s get this party started.

She-Hulkin’ out

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Mie-hulk SMASH!!!!

After a demoralizing 2 month battle, I was turned down for food stamps because of an error on their part.  I am hungry and tired and I don’t know whether to she-hulk or belly-up.

This loooong saga began with an online application—one that was not advertised on their website, making it very hard to find.

After the app, I was sent a letter in the mail 2 days later telling me my phone interview time.  I waited by the phone at the specific time, but they didn’t call back until 3 1/2 hours later- when I was in the middle of work.  I called back during my break- however, because I did not answer the phone when they decided to call me my application was thrown out.

I applied again.  The letter came the day before my scheduled interview this time.  They called 2 hours later- this time I answered, made them call me back at an appropriate time for me, and completed the interview.  The man on the phone said I had 10 days to turn in the required documentation, and referred me to the checklist that had come with my letter.

After gathering all my documents I picked a free day and headed to the office, expecting to be out within 2 hours.  2 1/2 hours later I reach the front of the line and am told that I went to the wrong office–I have to head to a specific office to process my paperwork.  This office’s number is printed in tiny letters at the top of my checklist, with no mention that I was to answer to that place specifically.  According to google maps, there is no food stamp office at that address.

Oh- and all offices close in 20 minutes.

I run approximately 1.6 miles up a hill in sandals to get to the office.  I make it just in time, and the lady at the front desk takes pity on me.  However, I still have to run up and down the stairs collecting paperwork they forgot to give me in order to do procedures no one told me I had to do.  When I finally make it to a caseworker to turn in my papers, he asks me if I have 4 paystubs; yet seeing as the checklist I was provided only asked for the most recent stub and I had only been employed for 3 weeks at that time, I didn’t have it.  He told me to come back when I had four.

2 weeks later I come back, stand in line to turn in my paystubs.  I try to call ahead, the answering machines are full.  this is at least the 6th time I have tried to call only to end up with the same message.  The seventh time I call, a woman answers and snaps at me for asking if I am still eligible to turn in my paperwork.  She treats me as if I’m a stupid, annoying child and hangs up on me.

I take a number, wait in line for about 4 hours while my caseworker wanders around the building and laughs about how he’s going to leave early.  He calls 8 numbers the entire time.  Finally, a group of his fed-up coworkers mobilize to help the stranded.  They breeze us through in 15 minutes.  My paperwork is processed.  All I have to do is wait -in 30 days or less I will have my decision.

My envelope came in the mail today.  The message said that I was rejected because I “did not keep my promise” to attend an interview.  Which I did.  Over the phone.  Weeks ago.

I have three options: 1) admit defeat.  Make due with what I have.   2)Re-apply.  Wash. Rinse. Repeat.  3)Appeal–and prepare for another battle

But to be honest with you all, I’m tired.

I went through a similar, more frightening experience with healthcare and trying to get my doctor’s appointments and medicine.  And I’m tired of being treated like my body, my time, my safety is worth less because of the amount of money I have in my bank account.

I swear, living this life is turning me socialist.

<3 In honor of Loving Day, a mixed race kid’s e-collage <3

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<3 In honor of Loving Day, a mixed race kid’s e-collage <3

[
Mildred and Richard Loving

The “Loving” side of the U.S. Supreme Court case consisted of Mildred and Richard Loving. They first met when she was 11 and he was 17. He was a family friend and over the years they started courting. After she became pregnant, they got married in Washington in 1958, when she was 18. Reportedly, Mildred didn’t realize interracial marriage was illegal, and they were arrested a few weeks after they returned to their hometown north of Richmond. They pleaded guilty to charges of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth,” and avoided jail time by agreeing to leave Virginia. They moved to Washington, D.C. and began legal action by writing to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred the case to the American Civil Liberties Union. After the Warren Court unanimously ruled in favor of the young couple, they returned to Virginia, where they lived with their three children. Mildred Loving died May 5, 2008 at the age of 68. Richard Loving died about thirty-three years earlier in a car accident. Each June 12, the anniversary of the ruling, Loving Day events around the country mark the advances of mixed-race couples. (from Wikipedia)

Watch BBC’s Loving Documentary on Youtube: Part 1Part 2Part 3!

From the original judge’s decision: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

——————————————————

From my honors thesis:

Anti-miscegination laws have existed in the U.S. as early as 1641, and were declared unconstitutional in 1967.  My father, the child of a Black and Native American maid and a Spanish-Mexican immigrant, was seventeen.  My mother, the child of a Japanese (Okinawa) immigrant and a Black and Native American Army serviceman, was thirteen.

Officially, the policy demanding mixed race children claim the race of the non-white parent was abolished in 1989-incidentally, the year I was born.  In practice, as well as in the minds of some people however, the one-drop rule still exists, as do rules of blood quantum (in which members to a specific group must have above a certain amount of racial heritage to qualify as a member of said group).

In the year 2000, the U.S. Census bureau finally allowed people to check than more than one box pertaining to race, thereby officially recognizing multiracial individuals.   Seven million people (2.4% of U.S. population) identified as mixed race that year.

I was eleven years old at the time, and remember how excited my parents were to legally check multiple boxes for both themselves and their children.  My parents are proud of their mixed heritage, and would either rotate which race they checked each year or check all their boxes whether it was legal or not.

(a selection from) Loving for All

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007, The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement
By Mildred Loving

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

Tani, Sybil, Mom, Hanako, Me, and Dad (David took the picture)
Thank you, Loving family- for making our family legal
To learn more, or figure out how you can hold your own Loving Day celebration, please visit Lovingday.org