Students

Winter is coming. Actually, many would argue it is already here. As I walked to class yesterday, I found myself shivering even though it was about 58 degrees. I guess my native Californian blood has returned in full force. Perhaps my body is also reacting to the mountain of physical and mental labor it has incurred this quarter and really, really wants winter break.

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Photo by James Baldwin on Unsplash

Last night a known Islamophobe came to Stanford’s campus. He met with a group of students and then did a question and answer session with the campus Republicans. Outside, about 300 students gathered for a rally, eventually joined by the 150 students who walked out of the talk.

The speakers at the rally were all students, representing Stanford Advocates for Immigrants, Stanford Sanctuary Now, MEChA and the Muslim Student Union, among others. Besides those who had the microphone, students started chants and mini-dialogues in between speeches. I was impressed with each speaker. They not only spoke with passion and truth, they utilized the skills this university has taught them- research, crafting a well-thought out argument, communicating their narratives.

So why did the university allow someone who disregards not only basic human decency but also any kind of intelligent, intellectual basis for crafting their platform? This isn’t new, arguments about free speech have ping-ponged for a long time. It is quite dangerous to presume that everyone has access to this “freedom.”

I’ve been writing an essay this week about St. Clare of Assisi, who was ordained by St. Francis. Female saints experienced some really heinous violence- beatings, whippings, even starvation at the hands of men. We’re kidding ourselves if we look at these texts and think “wow, THEY were so terrible.” Because women and those living on the margins right now, in this moment, experience physical violence, structural violence, and systematic approaches that aim to keep them out.

Clare is an interesting figure. According to her hagiography, she turned an entire army away from the gates of Assisi using the Blessed Sacrament, and a prayer. God spoke to her. God told her the city would be protected. Now, this army was a “Saracen” army from Sicily sent by King Frederick. As a scholar of interfaith interactions, I can’t paint a rosy picture of Muslim-Christian interaction. But one thing the story illustrates is that Clare and her sisters held vastly more power together. Which is why last night, students felt compelled to show up for their friends and classmates. We need to keep showing up.

The Stanford Daily called the rally “innocuous” and “peaceful”, diluting the power of people standing together (literally) and listening to those who rarely get public voice. Student activism has risen a striking amount since the election, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s not “innocuous,” it’s intentional, well-planned, and organized. It’s students taking their learning out of the classroom and applying it to their experiences.

Last night was the first time I felt really connected to the Stanford community, and definitely recognized again how important students are. As one of the speakers rightly stated, we have plenty of work to do, so let’s go.

 

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What We Deserve

Some amazing election milestones took place this week. The first turbaned Sikh mayor got elected in Hoboken, New Jersey. During the campaign, racist fliers circulated calling him a terrorist. The first out trans person will serve in the Virginia legislature, beating the person who sponsored an anti-trans bathroom law. Also in Virginia, the first two Latina women ever will be state representatives.* The first trans woman of color ever was elected to public office in Minneapolis. My friend and classmate from graduate school, a Somali-American woman who wears hijab, got elected to school board in Hopkins, Minnesota. The list doesn’t end here. I’d like to take a moment to congratulate everyone who played a role in these elections. Your work is working.

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Today I caught up with one of my chaplain colleagues. She has been more than a colleague- she’s been a mentor, a thought partner, and a friend when I desperately needed one. As we shared what’s happening in our worlds, she mentioned that her teenage son said something impactful. He said “people who do your work deserve therapy. You deserve therapy.”

I grew up with a mother who didn’t stigmatize therapy and counseling. She suggested it for me when I was a struggling college student trying to find my place among the vast sea of academia and university social structures. She helped me find someone that worked, someone I trusted and with whom I could see gradual change. I feel enthusiastic about my current therapist and the conversations we have, treating them as a gift and a privilege, which they certainly are. I have never considered that I deserve it, that I am worthy of this work for my mind and spirit.

Therapy is a privilege. Consider the cost, the time commitment, the need to break down preconceived notions and often to swim upstream against cultural and communal norms that demonstrate weakness or “something wrong” with those who seek it. It is not the answer for everyone, either. But everyone deserves to have an outlet. Everyone deserves to give and receive love. How do we prove that to ourselves, that we deserve this care and compassion?

The phrase “you get what you deserve” often seems threatening. Like, you got an F because you didn’t study. Our actions or lack thereof warrant consequences. I want to suggest that when we can recognize our achievements as something we deserve, and especially when others deserve theirs, we can challenge this negative thought process. It’s not about thinking positive, it’s about doing the work and recognizing ourselves once in a while. It’s equally as important to know that often people who are marginalized deserve recognition and basic human decency that is violently denied.

This week those who worked tirelessly to tell the stories of the elected folx who desperately want to create change and serve their communities, yet hold threatened identities, deserve to celebrate and be celebrated. The new faces of cities, counties, school boards, states, and other public office deserve to be listened to, and their constituents deserve a voice too. The work certainly isn’t over. As I’ve written before, recognizing the small milestones just like in therapy help us imagine what we might deserve down the road- our vision to be realized. What will we do with our victories?

*I wanted to clarify that this sounds misleading. See the article below to find out more about the first trans woman elected to state legislature in Massachusetts.

https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2017/11/8/1713845/-Before-Danica-Roem-Althea-Garrison-was-the-first-trans-woman-elected-to-state-legislature-in-1992

 

#ITFDB

Baseball season is over. My family will enjoy the rest of college football and count down to bowl month. We will also stuff ourselves with lasagna and cheesecake for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s tradition.

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The day Clayton Kershaw pitched a full game in 99 degree weather.

Full vulnerability moment- I was sad yesterday when the Dodgers lost. That is an understatement. I was an absolute wreck. Today I threw myself into reading about medieval saints in Sicily and Augustine. It helped, albeit mildly.

I tried to avoid social media and focus on my own life- what I actually have control over. Then I went on Reddit/Dodgers and watched a video of the highlights from the season. And I sobbed again.

This was a special season. The last time the Dodgers went to the World Series, I was nine months old and Kirk Gibson hit a walk-off homerun to win the first game. This year, on the exact same day, Justin Turner did the same thing to win game 3 of the NLCS. Apart from that, I went to 14 games- 12 regular season, 1 playoff, and the first game of the World Series. Each game was unique. Records were broken. Clayton Kershaw pitched a full game in 99 degree weather as we sweated in the Loge. My sister finally got her UFO ice cream sandwich. My dad and I laughed uncontrollably when Yasiel Puig licked his bat (something that would make several folx a heck of a lot of t-shirt money).

I watched the Dodgers lose twice at home. I got frustrated during the losing streak. I got to know the players, their significant others, their hilarious mannerisms. The players, a group of unlikely rookies and unknowns, all pointed to the press box when Vin Scully called his last game after 67 years. I cried when Dave Roberts talked openly about losing his father, because someone very, very close to me lost his father this year too.

Baseball season marked my move back to California after five years. I spent more time with my best friends and my family than I have since college. The final loss debilitated me- it seemed like the stars had aligned just to be shattered. But I realized after watching that short video that I would have been sad regardless. It meant the end of a really special time, the dog days of summer transitioning into a beautiful fall in Los Angeles. My home.

I remember my first Dodger game. I was seven, and my dad took me to a Sunday day game. Hideo Nomo, one of the first Japanese players in the major leagues, pitched. My dad asked me to translate the fan’s signs in Japanese. We sat in the top deck with barely anyone around, and my dad made sure I could sit in the shade so my skin wouldn’t burn. A father and son sat behind us, and after chatting for a few innings, he gave us his business card and a coupon for a free light bulb at his hardware store. That game marked the beginning of my love for the Dodgers, and baseball as an “intellectual” sport. As a softball player for fourteen years, I live for the statistical analyses and the situations of every play. My dad used to quiz me in the car before my games. “Runners on second and third, one out. Where does the center fielder throw?”

I feel lucky to have a story like that. My dad and I still laugh about the light bulb salesman, and he still quizzes me. It’s interesting to read the theories about sports as a kind of religion. I see some similarities. Community especially.

I do hope one day I’ll get to see the boys in blue win the Series. Regardless, I know I’ll get to the ravine next summer and hopefully every summer after that. Congratulations to both teams, it was a fantastic World Series. I leave you with the words of the great Vin Scully:

May God give you, for every storm, a rainbow; for every tear, a smile; for every care, a promise; and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sees, a faithful friend to share; for every sigh, a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer. You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know, in my heart, I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me, and I’ll miss our time together more than I can say. But, you know what, there will be a new day, and, eventually, a new year, and when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, ooh, rest assured, once again, it will be time for Dodger baseball.

Abundance 

Every time I hang out with a group of college chaplains, I seem to be on a beach and stuffing my face. Not to mention enjoying the company of my favorite people on earth. For the past three days, the Association for College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA) chaplains met at Chapman University for their annual conference. We spent one day on Chapman’s campus and one literally overlooking the white sand stretches of Laguna Beach. This was my first time at the ACURA gathering; though I had been to three previous National Association for College and University Chaplains (NACUC) gatherings (the other college chaplain association) and have experienced the same mixture of joy, understanding, and community at each one. College chaplains are people who think deeply about everything they do, and believe strongly in working together in any way possible. 
I’ve been indulging greatly the past few weeks. USC football games, Dodger Stadium visits, cooking with organic butter, enjoying all of the pumpkin and apple delicacies (yep, I’m all in on the stereotype). Even my mind has been offered abundance: on Stanford’s campus it seems like every day there is an enriching talk or workshop that gets me excited and makes me want to buy 50 more books on Medieval Buddhist Feminism or Jovinian’s ridiculous claim in the early church that everyone should be treated equal. I watched Clayton Kershaw throw a masterpiece game last night only 50 feet from home plate at Dodger Stadium in game one of the World fricking Series. There is so much and there are so many for whom to feel grateful, and I do. 


Sitting with the marvelous Rev. Jim Burklo while the sun set behind Chapman’s impeccably manicured athletic field, he asked me a difficult question. “Where are you in your faith journey?” Even though that question never has a real answer for me, I usually say “I’m thinking about this or that.” But lately I’ve been struggling with losing faith in lots of things. Will women ever feel safe walking alone? Will the victims of hurricanes and fires ever feel truly “relieved?” Is the academy really just a bunch of people arguing for the sake of arguing? 
In my courses I’ve been reading about asceticism among the early Christians. Talk about a contested topic! The desert fathers and mothers I once admired from an interfaith appreciative perspective are now poking holes in my worldview. They lived in the exact opposite way I have been living these past few weeks. Or did they also live abundantly, in their own way?
It seems simple, but the Buddha’s assertion that the “middle path” as the true way to enlightenment has always spoken to me. Moderation. We talk about that all the time these days- eat one cookie, not five. Buy one shirt, not one in every color. Know your limits. We fulfill our desire but don’t deprive ourselves. Could this balance be more difficult than absolute abstinence? 
I flew first class once as a lucky upgrade (I don’t think that happens anymore… maybe?) and after getting those full six inches added to my chair and eating an actual meal, not peanuts, in my seat, it was hard to fly the next time. Actually it was awful. Admittedly, I even thought about upgrading at my own expense. Had I not experienced it, I would probably experience mild envy but forget it every time I snuggled in to my economy seat. 
When we taste abundance, we seek to keep it. But if we strive so hard to live constantly in abundance, eventually it becomes the norm. And then we are seeking again. Moderation is not so much a practice in limitation as it is in recognizing when we are not limited. It sounds like gratitude, in a way. The presence of abundance is recognized and enjoyed. 

Me Too

Me too. Of course.

The patriarchy runs deep. So deep. How many of us hesitated to post the hashtag because a) we felt ashamed, b) we felt triggered, c) we felt invalidated (I “only”…”just”…”not a big deal”…) or d) all of the above? No victim or survivor owes social media any indication that they, too, have suffered. But the problem is a tangled web, not a straight line of perpetrator- victim.

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Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Who is “us”? We can’t just include women, here. Not only does that invalidate the experience of queer, non-binary, non-conforming, and others who have born witness via their own bodies to sexual harassment and/or assault, but by ignoring anyone except women, we take away agency from everyone. Survivors live every single day, and that takes agency. As little as it might feel we have.

Something else that bothers me about the past two days’ worth of posts on this hashtag: it is so easy to sympathize without owning one’s role in the abuse. This doesn’t just go for men. The first time I grappled with the truth that I experienced assault, I was not much younger than I am now. Not only did I have to relearn that what I experienced wasn’t “meant to be flattering” or “because of what I was wearing,” I began to realize that I had said those things about other people. I questioned women who wore short dresses and high heels and layers of makeup. What did they think would happen? By thinking these things, I participated in the patriarchy. Even as a survivor, I can still uphold misogyny.

Dismantling is not a one-and-done experience, either. Even now, I catch myself feeling irritated by a student who speaks too much in class- but would I feel as annoyed if the student were a man? Subconsciously, I felt more comfortable calling a female professor by her first name than a male professor with the same qualifications. Why? I’m disgusted with my subconscious. This is the problem with categorizing “assault” and “harassment” as different from “microaggressions” or “casual sexism.” While one may involve physical violence, and each experience brings a different kind of trauma and need for subsequent processing, the idea that one can’t participate in the hashtag campaign because the only real experience they have was “just” when their boss interrupted them constantly, or they’ve “only” been catcalled by strangers, not raped after drinking at a party, so blatantly hides the existence of misogyny everywhere, among all people. These “small, meaningless” gestures are the most dangerous because they are so hard to call out, and further, to explain to the perpetrator- the burden of course falls on the oppressed. Yet these acts uphold rape culture. As harmful as this has been to me, I cannot help to dismantle unless I examine my own interactions with it.

I am in awe of the friends who have shared their voices and stories these past few days. I couldn’t do it. It is so common to internalize our shame. Me too: I am a survivor. Me too: I am complicit. Me too: I pledge to bring my subconscious participation into the conscious, stomp on it, and work to liberate my fellow survivors.

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Today I rode my bike to church on campus for a special multifaith celebration. During the service, 24 students were officially commissioned as Fellows for Religious Encounter. This year, they will meet every Wednesday over dinner for dialogue and to hear from engaging speakers. They will visit sacred sites and experience rituals and practices they may have never seen before. As they recited the commissioning prayer before the congregation this morning, I couldn’t help noticing two things: time FLIES, and how necessary this kind of intentional learning is as religion either brings us wisdom to seek justice or violent division.

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Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash

I remember stumbling upon a Buddhist Temple in my neighborhood when I was little. It was a temple dedicated to Kwan Yin, a beloved bodhisattva in the Mahayana tradition known for her mercy and compassion for human beings. Inside the temple, there was a wood floor with black square cushions lined along the edges of the walls, and at the end of the long hall there was a statue of Kwan Yin sitting on a lotus flower. My entire understanding of God and faith shattered as I scoured the public library, trying to find books about this way of life called Buddhism. My grandmother told me whatever she knew, and encouraged me to keep looking. I didn’t know any Buddhists, though, so all I could do was take my reading at face value.

Seeing these bright young faces this morning made me want so many things for the fellows. I hope they don’t shy away from noting disagreement, especially when it is harmful. I hope they are forced to wrestle with a misconception dispelled in conversation. I hope they feel a range of emotions: anger, confusion, sadness, and joy when wonder strikes. I hope they listen and learn, and talk openly and teach. I hope they are confronted with not just questions about religion and privilege, but constantly engage in self-reflection.I hope they enjoy each other’s company. Of course if all these wishes are fulfilled, these students will inevitably be transformed.

Meeting someone who practiced Buddhism proved quite different than reading about the life of the Buddha and the Four Noble Truths. My teammate’s grandmother didn’t talk about her beliefs in an organized, bullet-point style lecture (she didn’t draw me a chart), she told me about her father and his father going to temple on New Year’s Day, and contacting monks for funeral services, and living life with compassion at the forefront of her mind. Every Sunday I sat in church and learned about the life of another man who preached compassion, who died so that we could go to heaven. I was confused and upset, scared to talk to my parents about these discoveries but excited about my findings, and bouncing from deep discomfort to honest wonder.

I think about walking in to that temple more and more these days. It seems like if everyone could walk into an unfamiliar place, ask some open questions, and struggle through some necessary discomfort to learn an alternative worldview, we could feel this wonder more often. Of course this is not so simple, but interfaith work is not simple at all. Feeling vulnerable to both share one’s own beliefs and subsequently hear views that thwart them takes courage and patience, and not the least of all trust. It is a worthy exercise for anyone to be faced with doubt. Often, confronting this leads us to an even wiser truth that we don’t take for granted.

I hope they learn. I hope they laugh. !

Helping

It was difficult to read a text from my mom this morning frantically asking if my friends were safe, and not have an immediate answer. It was hard to look at pictures of festival attendees clutching the ground, even as people worked hard as ever to help each other climb fences and hide behind cars and barriers. It has been so excruciating to read the accounts, especially from a family member, who returned safely home today. Trauma will be lasting and deeply impacting of life hereafter.

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Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I will never know the pain of presence, of witnessing the bloodshed, and certainly the absolute horror that is losing a family member whose life was stolen mercilessly while participating in community and enjoying art. I don’t have answers, though I know complacency and “thoughts and prayers” completely fail time and again to prevent toxic masculinity from exploding and reaping toxicity on people who are loved, who love.

As a former full-time college chaplain, I remember trying to hold a container for students when a terrible event, whether nationally recognized or personally felt (or both) fell upon them, unexpected and unwarranted. It is by the far the most challenging piece of this vocation, yet the most important. This is a daily occurrence, not once in a while. Even though the vigils and times of remembrance seem reserved for the “big” tragedies, feeling unsafe is a reality for so many students. Events like this reinforce the false notion that safe spaces exist. So as chaplains, or therapists, or listeners who are in a “helping profession,” what are we to do? We must do, not just think and pray.

For starters, we can be frank that this “problem” is multifaceted and definitely a dire product of racism, white supremacy, masculinity. I cannot advise anyone to “keep living” or “enjoy life” despite the fear, even though many students recognize that doing just that is a form of resistance. Of course, how to live one’s best life can only be defined by the individual. Being honest, uncomfortable and vulnerable, especially in how we uphold a culture of violence, allows students to witness this behavior and model it. Frankly, I often found myself following their lead as some of the most effective leaders and activists not only on campus, but in the country. An excruciating tragedy requires no legitimizing, but demands authentic admission of shortcomings and failure.

One such amazing student leader recently published an honest, raw and informative blog on the Interfaith Youth Core’s writing platform Inter and I firmly believe it deserves a good slow read from those of us “helpers,” whatever our particular title. She names the work young leaders of faith continue to do often without recognition. Martha writes,

Faced with another national tragedy, with more than 50 people dead and 500 people injured, millennials of faith are showing up for values-based policies and standing firm for the truth that we can have movements that don’t discriminate. We can use our solidarity to overcome division and heal after trauma. We can keep our communities safe without the use of fear and bigotry. And we will do so, together.

Read Martha’s blog here. She writes from experience and a deep passion for interfaith activism and movements. Healing, like living, is another act of much needed resistance and examination.