Myth

As the quarter closes this week, the writing process continues at full speed, with half-finished thoughts and some consolation. There is never enough time, but perfectionism impedes creativity and progress. I’m realizing that my three classes all revolve around narrative this quarter, so making sense of how stories dictate values is on my mind.

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Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

One of the projects I am working to finish is an essay about myth and interfaith dialogue. In my circles, I don’t need to stress the importance of dialogue (preaching to the choir) but I do think it’s important to complicate what actually happens when people are vulnerable and share how their own experiences lead them to convictions. More wisdom is better than less, but what if that wisdom promotes conflicting values? This seems a necessary question as not a day goes by without someone noting “how divided our country is.” We are living by irreconcilable myths, and we cannot deny that a selection of these myths intentionally ignores or legitimizes pain and dehumanization.

Northrop Frye, a literary critic, and Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago, both deal with myth in their work. Both stress myth as narratives that deal with human crises, especially finitude. Comparing myth across cultures and traditions is dangerous if we are not careful to acknowledge context and particularity. What I find compelling about myth, especially as a process for dialogue, is how we pull meaning from stories that have no historical or logical basis. I think our ability to do this speaks to creative expression as one of the highest forms of spirituality. I also think this process of meaning making is the closest we can get to a universal human experience, which is living with inevitable change. We are constantly attempting to make sense of “why things happen.”

This quarter has been tough, not just because of the rigor and caliber of work required, but because moving to a new place heightens the knowledge that meaning is obscured. I always enjoy learning through a variety of channels- reading interesting texts, lively discussions, and especially making connections to my own work in the field of interfaith studies. But as a person who enjoys nerding out about baseball statistics and marveling at bright, obnoxious fashion trends as much as writing papers and discussing medieval saints’ lives, finding wholeness has been a real challenge. I think the process of living by a new story takes time and struggle before the narrative truly emerges. Communities are struggling to incorporate old stories into new problems. When the stories generate no meaning, it’s time to start telling new ones.

One thing all the stories have taught me this quarter is that crisis never leaves the human experience. It’s false to believe we will ever live without the apprehension of some kind of challenge, and there is plenty of wisdom from various times and places to aid us in remaining present and to let go of attachment to a particular outcome. Still, there is something comforting in the fact that a benchmark of the human experience is grappling with narrative and meaning-making. I think this is important to remember, especially when we need to reflect on how we participate in narratives that cause harm.

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Forgiveness is Futile

I’m slogging through assignment after assignment this week as the end of the quarter creeps (RACES) closer and the news and its subsequent commentary causes some blood-boiling. Some people are surprised by the slew of allegations going public around sexual harassment and assault committed by men in power. And some people will continue to defend these men, even when multiple women come forward and have been coming forward for decades.

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Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

I have been noticing some argument around backing some of these men because they apologized, or because they stand for good values, despite their actions. Louis CK wrote a whole apology, so he is redeemed, right? No *expletive* way. I’ll continue to be enraged. And I’m struggling with two things. The first is, the men on the news are men already in the public eye. They’re scum, but there’s plenty of scum to go around in any old circle. I’m not trying to say I think all men are scum. I am saying that the way our society treats women teaches men that harassment and assault are ok, and worse, it doesn’t teach them what is terribly wrong. My mom was shaking her head the other day while we were walking because she felt confused as to why men would reveal their privates to young women in their offices- “didn’t they think eventually this would get out?” Here’s the horror- I would guess that most of these men had no conscious thoughts that what they were doing was wrong. Thus, they wouldn’t worry about their behavior “getting out.”

The second thing I have been questioning is forgiveness. Now, it is not my place to forgive the men who committed harassment and assault to other women. I can only choose to forgive those who hurt me. I will say that the “apology” letter is meaningless to me, because it doesn’t change what happened and demonstrates no attempt to change in the future. But what does it mean that the majority of men in our culture have committed some form of harassment or assault? Does this mean we feel disgusted by everyone? I’m not going to lie, I feel very privileged when I get to be in women-only spaces, and much less exhausted than during a typical day. I live with the incredible privilege to actually be able to call men out when they contribute to rape culture (commenting on my body is never ok. Don’t do it.), and to have resources to help me do this. So I believe I should ask where we go from here.

It is not the responsibility of women and non-male folx to educate men on any of this. If they choose to, it is their gift. I think we should forget the apologies for now. You’re not sorry unless you do something to change not only your behavior, but the behavior of the men around you. And you keep at it. Talk to other men. Tell them when they’re contributing to rape culture. Ask others to do that to you. Non-men cannot change this no matter how much outrage we preach.

I am in awe of the women who have come forward, and in further awe of the millions of women who can’t. As the allegations continue to come out (they should), I firmly hope we believe them.

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.

 

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.