Month: September 2014

I miss Japan

This morning is cool and pleasant, not too dry, and the sun is finally taking its time to rise. It’s fall. Summer here didn’t remind me much of Japan, probably mostly because I have spent far more time in Japan during winter than summer. Partly perhaps because there are no lively cultural festivals around here. Partly I am sure because no matter how hot it gets in Southern California, the humidity never approaches that of old seaside Yokosuka.

But now it is feeling like fall, when I am out in the early morning, I remember Japan. I remember putting on leggings under my uniform to combat the chilliness. I remember how empty the streets were for the most part, as I rode my bike through the dim light toward where my ship was moored. Sometimes there would be drunk Japanese people just leaving the bars in my neighborhood around six in the morning. There would be crows as big as some people’s lap dogs tearing open discarded bento boxes. There might be an alley cat or a tanuki sneaking around the corner as you approached.

But it’s almost silly to describe the peacefulness of a morning in Japan. It is always peaceful in Japan, after all. Of course there are commuting hours, crowded trains, and long lines to deal with at times. Of course there are hungry people and others who struggle with mental illness, homelessness, and more. There is no Utopia. But all I know is how any fights and assaults and insults and hostile expressions I see all the time in America — and I do not even venture out as much here as I did in Japan. In Japan though — I know I am beating the dead horse of my memories — I was amazed by the strangers who went out of their way to be considerate of me, a foreigner, let alone their own countrymen. My Japanese professor here said that in a country so densely populated, only a polite society could survive. This makes sense, but I am living in quite a crowded American city, and… Here we do not seek harmony as a means of survival; we see it all as dog eat dog. If I don’t cut you off on the freeway, I’m not working hard enough to get to work on time. Your children are trying to fall asleep? Too bad for them that it is my right to drive down your street with music so loud it vibrates the kids’ beds.

I don’t mean to write again about how much more peaceful I found living in Japan to be than living here, but it is hrs not to. It is hard to be reminded of a place where I was so happy, then go about my day in a place where… Where surely I have my fond memories, but where I am daily facing conflict and rudeness and dirtiness and frustration. I have often thought that America’s greatness really owes to its vast landscapes of mountains, seaside cliffs, canyons, and more. Truly there are awe-inspiring natural vistas here — and not far from where I currently live either. But even this saddens me because by and large, we Americans love to litter and destroy our beautiful continent. Why? Fuji-Yama is not dirty! When I walked, biked, hiked, and rode trains all around Japan, I rarely saw candy wrappers and fast food cups strewn about…

Again, Japan is not Utopia, but I wish America would learn some Japanese virtues… And really I wish to go back to Japan.

But for now, I will just be going to my physics lecture.

Little kids

Even though I’m a rebellious Catholic in that I do not have kids, and I do not plan to have kids at least until I graduate college, I actually generally like them. That makes sense when you consider I generally like adults. And that’s the thing, kids and adults aren’t really different entities!

I’m always thoughtful about how I talk to or treat little kids because I remember being one. I remember adults who talked to me like I was just another human being versus those who did talk to me like I was an outer space alien. I remember very early in my life having feelings that I could not articulate, because although I could feel, I could not yet communicate with words (or even think in words). I vividly remember this.

Even as an adult, I experience something similar. I don’t mean feeling things I can’t express, but I mean being talked to like I’m a puppy by someone who is older than I am. I generally respect people older than me, try to learn from them, and want to hear their stories and advice (unless it marriage advice from an old person who’s had three failed marriages already, or something like that). But even though I am happy to give that respect simply based on a person’s age, I am not as willing to accept disrespect, dismissiveness, or plain ole rudeness from a person just because he or she is older than I am. This is part of the reason I left the last volunteer gig I had going; the two elderly people in charge wouldn’t even hear me out on how to spin an egg — and that may sound strange, and it was, but it doesn’t matter.

Anyway, kids will surprise you. The expressions they pick up, the tones of voice, the young age by which they’ve already mastered sarcasm! I grant that I do not take much joy in my neighbors’ children randomly, loudly screaming, squealing, and/or screeching outside my window when I am practicing physics or watching TV, but it doesn’t make me mad. I sometimes wonder why they’re so loud. I sometimes wonder why their parents let them be SO LOUD. I sometimes think in a general way about the whole idea of “outside voices” and “inside voices.” But at the end of it all, even when a kid is being kind of annoying, I usually feel for them, and appreciate where they’re coming from. It’s not any easier being a kid than an adult; only the nature of the challenges themselves changes. Mostly, kids make me happy, because they have a way of finding happiness in a situation. I just find it kind of contagious.

I don’t have kids, but I do interact with them now and then. Everyone I’m close to pretty much has kids, and sometimes one will come talk to me when I’m shooting hoops. Just a little while ago, a little girl came to my door hustling cookies for a school fundraiser (and yes, I shelled out $17 for a giant box of cookies I’m going to have to take to school to get rid of). It was funny. Little kids aren’t usually the most organized of humans…

But what I found most joyful was the little girl’s sales tactic–because she didn’t have one. She came up to the door and asked if I’d like some cookies.

“Are they Girl Scout cookies?”
“No, they’re for a fundraiser.”
“Well, do you have a picture or something to show me what kind of cookies you have?”

The girl hands me her brochure, which has notes on the front of it, “Please ignore my notes.”

“Three pounds is a ton of cookies! Do you have smaller ones?” I asked, and she hesitated.
“Well, if you’re not sure. Could you come back tomorrow?” I then asked, and she hesitated again.
“… It’s due October 1st,” she looked at the notes on her little brochure, pointing out, “and these are the addresses I need to visit still.”

“Okay, I guess I’ll get just one box. I’ll have to share with other people.”

I asked the little girl some other questions as I wrote my check and all. I asked her the best cookies (since I really don’t intend to eat many of them), what the fundraiser was for, and so on.

“So when will my cookies get here?” I asked.
“Well, the order is due October first, so it’ll be in October. It takes a long time because that’s a LOT of cookies.”
“No kidding! I’m going to have to take just this one box I’m getting to school with me!”

She looked surprised, and asked, “You go to school?”
“Yeah, I go to college.”
She looked surprised still, so I added, “Why? Do I look too old?”
“No, you look too young.”
“Well, thanks.”

She dropped my check, and I told her she should be careful with it, to which she replied, “I have to wait ’til the people go in to put the money away.”

That made me laugh a little, so I told her I’d leave her to it then, and to have a good day.

I just found the whole thing funny in a happy sort of way, because kids aren’t sleazy about selling stuff, you know? They don’t have tactics (at least until some adult teaches them some). They just know they have something to “sell,” and they have to ask people to buy it. I’m sure some kids find it awkward, but it seems like a lot of them just take the whole task pretty matter-of-factly. I wish I could remember how I felt about it when I was a little kid selling Girl Scout cookies… although I never did do it door-to-door.

Anyway, the other day I was at the dentist’s office, and overheard another little kid with a fundraiser. He was talking to his mom, and he said, “I don’t know how to do it.”
“Do what?”
“Sell stuff.”
“Oh. I’ll show you later.”

I won’t write out the whole conversation, but the best part was when the mom was looking at the fundraiser catalog of things for sale (because the boy had another catalog of rewards for selling lots of stuff). The boy asked with a decidedly adult tone of voice, “You’re actually going to buy something from in there?” The mom noticed the tone of voice just like I did, and said, “Yeah, why not?” The boy said he didn’t think she’d like the stuff, and Mom said, “Sure I like some of it. Don’t you?”

It’s so interesting to see things like fundraisers from the perspective of an adult/buyer, not a kid/seller. It’s so weird and interesting.

I don’t know that I have a real point, but I guess I just derive joy from these sorts of things. I take Jesus pretty seriously when he says that we should have faith like children. I know they can be little bastards just like anyone else, and they have their bad moods, temper tantrums, etc. Sometimes they’re messy. Parents are always cleaning vomit or poop or snot, and most of the ones I know are always catching colds too. I know, I’m not trying to idealize the whole thing. But I do think children tend to have much less guile than adults, and we tall people have much to learn from them.

Be honest. Laugh heartily. Tell cheesy jokes. Eat animal crackers. Take naps. Let your jaw drop when you see that awesome exotic animal at the zoo. Ask why the sky is blue. Be curious. Try to make things fun. Make games out of whatever you’re doing. Race your friends up the stairs or across the parking lot. Say simple prayers. Watch G-rated movies. Wear tennis shoes with all your outfits — jeans, dresses, and everything! Embrace glitter. Get dirty. Trust the people who love you. Do somersaults.

The list goes on and on! I think there is so much wisdom in all of those things. How do we forget some of the simplest wonders and joys of life? How do you quit looking for ways to make things fun? Where do we learn to become so damned serious and worried? Maybe the purpose of having children isn’t so much to perpetuate the human race, as some say, as to stay human oneself.

I’ll ponder it for the next few years though!

EDIT: Eventually the cookies were delivered. They weren’t cookies. It was a big tub of cookie dough. It made delicious cookies, but K. and I had to toss is because the richness just destroyed our stomachs. I’ll have to say no next time.

Why can’t more of us “love our bodies” without putting others’ down?

I’ve been thinking about “fat shaming” and “thin shaming” lately because of the two hit songs lately, “All About That Bass,” by Meghan Trainor, and “Anaconda,” by Nicki Minaj. Both of the songs talk talk about “skinny bitches,” so I don’t see how these are feel good songs. I like the idea that at least the former ostensibly promotes, but not what it’s really saying.

One of the things that it seems everyone agrees on teaching children is that you shouldn’t ridicule others for their physical appearance. You don’t treat people differently because their skin is brown or red or pale. You don’t call them names for being fat or for being thin. You don’t judge someone else because they have a scar on their face.

But in reality, what do our hit songs teach? What do SO MANY memes that I see on Facebook teach? When I was a kid, you weren’t supposed to make fun of fat kids, but still, it happened. And it happened because there weren’t that many fat kids. What would they do? Now that skinny kids (and adults) are the minority, is it then okay to call them names and say we think their features are disgusting? With phrases like “stick figure Barbie doll,” and “skinny bitches,” and “only dogs like bones,” so common, I guess that it is okay after all.

Another thing we try to teach girls is not to judge their bodies by comparing them to others’ bodies. I agree with that. Of course we all know that it’s illogical to compare yourself with a millionaire celebrity who has personal trainers and dieticians, and whose job is largely to look good. We seem to be coming to terms with the fact that it’s illogical to compare our ordinary bodies with other ordinary people’s bodies, too, because we’re learning more and more about genetics all the time.

But even though it seems like some women and girls may not be looking at Kate Moss’s body and saying, “I wish I were thin like her,” now they just say, “I think it’s gross to be that thin anyway.” Either way a stupid comparison is being made, and either way a harsh judgment is being made as well. Is it really something to celebrate that a girl puts down someone else instead of putting down herself? For people who think so, I argue that this attitude values [supposed] self-esteem above kindness.

The reason I doubt the true self-esteem of people who have that attitude — the ones whose only praise of themselves consists of insults toward others, or statements of superiority — is because when you really love something, you talk about it. It’s true. I love mathematics, and my husband can vouch for the fact that I talk about it even when there is no one else around who knows what the hell I’m saying. If I didn’t talk about the beautiful aspects of mathematics to express my love, but instead made a lot of statements about how much better mathematics was than psychology, likely I’d come off as not loving math quite as much as I hate psychology… That is what I’ve seen all over the Internet.

When someone seems satisfied with their body, that’s believable. But when someone is really in-your-face about how much they love their body, sometimes I wonder if they’re trying to convince me or themselves. If you love your body, then you love it. If you love your body, then you love it whether or not you think it’s better than Kate Moss’s — why put her down?

I also don’t believe that it is in the nature of love to… well, hate. This could get theological really quickly, but what I’m saying is that if you’re really talking about something you love, that loves shines brightly in your mind so that you’re not thinking about the things you hate! You’re not making comparisons. You love! When my sister or my friends talk about their daughters, they’re not saying, “Oh, I’m glad she’s not good at violin anyway, because it’s better to be a gymnast.” Or “she’s so much prettier than the girl across the street.” They say, “I’m so proud of how quickly she learned to write!” or they say, “you should see her in her Easter dress.” Their love is foremost in their minds, and they can find enough positive things to say about their little girls without ever having to start making useless or mean comparisons.

I’m not sure what the general teaching is on this one, I do know how I was raised, and what I believe: that is, partly, that a girl has worth regardless of what boys think. That means a girl isn’t any better if every boy in the school wants to date her, or only a couple do, or none do. That means that a girl isn’t any better if she’s voted some magazine’s “Most Beautiful Woman Alive,” or if she’s a certifiable plain Jane. This brings up a serious issue I have with pop music, both the songs I mentioned above, and a lot of what I’ve seen being written or said by fat women. A popular thing to say is, more or less, that men actually prefer fatter // thicker // curvier // whatever-the-adjective women to thin ones. I DO NOT CARE WHETHER THIS IS GENERALLY TRUE OR NOT. Western women with their self-righteous but mistaken belief that we are so liberated! Still we are judging ourselves according to what we think is pleasing to men? I’m supposed to love my body because “men like a little more booty to hold at night?”

I’d really like to write more about this, sort out my thoughts more, but I have homework to do. I have to say that I never thought a lot about gender or sexism when I was a kid or a teenager. My mom was always a self-styled feminist, and I do remember her asserting things like, “You can do any job a man can do,” or “You could be the first woman to win the Kentucky Derby!” or “Blue isn’t for boys. Pink isn’t for girls. If you want blue, you get blue!” I always took this for granted, I guess…

After a few years in the Navy, I started to think about sexism. I ran into a couple of men who I’m pretty sure really hated women. I ran into men (and women, too) who treated male and female Sailors differently. I worked on the legal proceedings of a pretty insane sexual harassment case once. I heard lots of stories about rapes that were found not to have rapes — as well as rapes that did happen. I knew men in power who took advantage of lower-ranking women. The list goes on, but what I really noted was that for all that men sometimes to do undermine women… we women do a whole helluva lot to undermine each other. I don’t have time to describe all that right here, right now, but it’s part of what I’m seeing with this whole fat-shaming/thin-shaming. Apparently more women have body issues than don’t, so how come we’re all mad at each other instead of supporting each other? Why are we dividing ourselves into these cliques even online?

I think about sexism now that I’m a married woman of childbearing age, majoring in a male-dominant field. Can I compete? Even if women are just as good at math and science… what about the fact that our bodies grow babies, while our male colleagues (competition) can have multiple children without missing a day of work? There’s always that familiar double standard about a man being “assertive,” but a woman being “a bitch.”

I just wish all these blogs and songs and advertising campaigns that are ostensibly building women up were actually doing that. I wish women were building each other up, not tearing each other down — on the basis or weight or anything else. I wish we weren’t still deciding whether we love ourselves based on whether men seemed interested. I wish we could just say, “This is my body. If I couldn’t compare it to anything else, here’s what I’d like, and here’s what I’d try to improve.”

Finely shredded cabbage

In Japan, salads are so different (except for Caesar salads, which seem to be available all over the world). The dressings are different. There might be tuna; there might be cold, soft tofu; there might be pieces of corn; there might be seaweed. And there’s a good chance there will be some finely shredded cabbage.

When I was in Japan, I got to really liking the shredded cabbage salads, and I’d regularly buy bags of the plain, shredded cabbage that was available in all the grocery stores and most of the convenience stores. Now that just reminds me of one thing–the food you can get in a Japanese convenience store. Sure the 7-11’s here always have coffee and cigarettes and various deep-fried weird snacks, hot dogs, and maybe nachos. But sometimes when you get off work in the middle of the night, even though you want something cheap and quick and pre-made to eat, sometimes you’d really like it to contain vegetables… maybe even be fresh. That’s a fantasy in America, but in Japan, those things are available. I can’t count the number of times I’ve purchased fresh salads and hard boiled eggs at 7-11 in Japan. Sometimes I was cooking at home and I’d realize I needed some cucumbers or lemons or mushrooms, and I could actually go down to the convenience store and get those things! A dozen eggs, milk, juice, coffee, tea, no problem. A reasonably fresh bento meal, no problem. I shake my head thinking about it.

Anyway, this isn’t about how easy and convenient it is to get decently healthy food in Japan. It’s about the cabbage. See, I got to loving that cabbage in my salads, and eating it almost daily while the ship was in port. Then when I got back to America, I couldn’t even find it in the Japanese markets. I tried to shred my own cabbage, but failed. Then I just got back to eating boring, lettuce based salads like everybody else here… which is nothing to complain about, I guess. But the finely shredded cabbage was something I really did miss, until today I found some in my local Albertson’s. Granted it’s for “Angel Hair Cole Slaw” or something like that, but to me it’s just salad cabbage.

It’s nice to be able to recreate some of the foods I used to enjoy so much in Japan. I’ve learned to make several Japanese dishes at home because I’ve yet to find a very authentic Japanese restaurant in the US. I can get the spices, and I can even find the produce I want (things like lotus root or mitsuba or certain mushrooms). I can make katsu, though I can’t do tempura. I can do some types of ramen and soba. Now I can do salad.

But the feeling of wanting to go back has not subsided, like people said it would. My desire to travel in general has decreased, and the older I get, the more appealing it is to actually settle down and buy a comfortable sedan or something. I don’t think I’m as romantic as I used to be by a long shot… but Japan… I just want to go back there. I can remember so many things, so many little details. I know I didn’t like everything. I know the wind is a killer there, and the humidity goes sky-high in summer. I know that it’s an expensive place to live, and that it’s difficult to get a queen sized bed into an apartment there. I know that even if my Japanese improved drastically, I’d always be an outsider. I know Japanese society and government is not perfect, and I have seen homeless people suffering there as they do here. They have typhoons and earthquakes and tsunami. I know, I know.

But always when I was in Japan, I was happy to be there. I never thought I wished I could go back to America. I never thought I didn’t like the Japanese culture. I never thought anything but that I’d like to stay. Everywhere I’ve gone, whether I was stationed there, lived there for a while, or just went for vacation, I was ready to go by the time I was scheduled to depart. I mean, I was mentally and emotionally at least somewhat enthusiastic to leave that place. I was happy to say good-bye. But with Japan it was not this way. I didn’t want to leave, and ever since I did, I have insisted within myself that I will go back. But for how long? Can I? When? I don’t want to go back on vacation. I want to go back go back. Stay. Live there again. Run my daily errands there. Work there. Run there. Get soaked in the torrential rain there. Look like an idiot American there, if need be.

It’s difficult. I know I must seem stupid. I know there are people, Christian Iraqis, for example, who are displaced by violence from their homes– their own native homes. Realistically, will they get to go back? I’m sure I can’t even imagine how some of them must wish they could. And here I am wishing I could go back to a place that feels like home even though by birth, by law, by anything except my own feelings, it isn’t home. Who am I?

I don’t know, but I’m going to try to get back there. It will take years, I know, but I can’t forget how much I love it; so I have got to get back there. But at least for now I have my cabbage salads.

Is violence ever right?

As I was driving home from school today, I was listening to “Kill ‘Em All,” the star single of which is, of course, “Seek and Destroy.” As often, it got me thinking about the nature of war, which is something I haven’t been able to stop pondering since I became a Christian.

The only new thought I had today was actually that I can somewhat understand “the terrorists” in, let’s just say Iraq, for now. I don’t mean that I support them, agree with their ideologies, or even find them entirely rational. What I mean is that I can empathize. Years ago, when the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started, I believe it was my mother who said something like, “One man’s terrorists are another man’s freedom fighters.” This has always stuck with me. Were not the founders of the United States considered by the British to be something less illustrious than “freedom fighters,” or patriots or heroes? No, to the British, our founding fathers were committing treason and killing their own countrymen. The same idea applies to many groups, especially revolutionary groups, through history. I’m sure I am not the only one who has observed that American news often seems biased in favor of Israel, while most of us really know very little about the Palestinian people (or their politics, history, leaders, sufferings, etc.). So we say Hamas is a terrorist group — and they can certainly be perceived that way. But in this particular case, I don’t think it is that difficult to also see them as freedom fighters or something like that, considering the violence and cruelty Israel is responsible for. I even personally perceive a little of “the little guy,” when I think of Palestine, and yes, maybe even Hamas. Again, I do not say I support their violence, but I think I can understand why they have support. My point, I suppose, is that we call Israel an ally, a legitimate state, a world power, a professional military (even though they kill tons of civilians — but I digress), etc.; while we call their much less powerful neighbor a terrorist force, a territory, rebels — or we simply don’t talk about Palestine except to say there is violence there.

So what’s this get at? This gets at human beings “othering” each other, a social process that seems to me — and I admit I’m studying physics, not history or sociology — only to have been exacerbated by the concept of nationalism. Nationalism is a whole different beast. But anyway, othering is, it seems to me, one of the things we do as human beings that allows us to kill each other. Ask anyone on the street in America, and they will oppose murder. In fact, many of them will oppose it so much that they will consider the death penalty a suitable punishment … which is extremely illogical and ironic and ridiculous, in my opinion… But if you ask the same people who disdain murder (whether or not they support capital punishment, own a gun, etc.), they probably will say that war is generally okay. The same church folks who think a Christian shall not commit murder see no problem with a Christian becoming a soldier. I in no way mean to put down soldiers, but is there business not, in fact, by definition, murder? Their motivation is different for killing, sure. They just take orders, sure (although that is no defense when “war crimes” are committed). But isn’t the difference in our views of killing based mostly on who is getting killed? I assert that it is.

While I would like to explore more ideas further on othering, the concept of war crimes, etc., I will instead turn my attention to the heart of the matter, to me. That is: even though we differentiate murder in ordinary circumstances from the killing that goes on in war, does God? Is violence ever allowable in his eyes? Is pre-meditated violence, especially on a large scale, actually justifiable? To be perfectly honest, if I had never learned much about World War II, my first answer would be no. But the Nazis…

Isn’t there such a thing as fighting the good fight? Furthermore, the Bible itself is full of violence — full, in fact, in the old days, of God telling his people to go, pillage, plunder, and not leave anyone alive. God told his people to go do things that the international community (what is that anyway, the G8, I guess?) would abhor today. Encroaching on territory? Hello, Russia. Killing civilians, including women and children? And really it could be interpreted as either ethnic or religious “cleansing,” if you look at it that way.

I don’t pretend to understand. I don’t pretend to know the will of God. And I don’t accept that “the Bible just contradicts itself,” as so many anti-religious people say. I don’t believe there is any contradiction within God, but I do believe that his ways, thoughts, commands, and ethics are such that we humans do sometimes have a hard time, having the tendency as we do to try painting everything in black and white.

So while the words and life of Jesus teach me to hate violence, still I am not inclined to always hate it. May he forgive me if I am mistaken.

When I first joined the military, I totally believed in the justice of violence. To be perfectly honest, my blood rushed when I thought about the civilians and journalists who were killed simply engaging in non-violence work in the Middle East. I remember waking up to the news the day that bombs were going off in trains in London. I remember 9/11 of course, and other terrorist attacks in the West. I remember learning that the Taliban actually stoned people to death. I remember learning that girls couldn’t go to school in Afghanistan. I felt so angry and affronted that people I considered to be innocent were being murdered; and the reports and videos of torture, dismemberment, etc. that went along only increased my feelings. But it wasn’t totally emotional. I had a certain rationale in my head for why it was acceptable for me, a Christian, to be part of an organization that kills people — because it was killing those people, the people responsible for so much injustice and barbarism. Animals!

Now I am older, and I can only deny those old thoughts and feelings to an extent. Recently, some of my countrymen have been beheaded, and this horrifies me and angers me. But I also realize that my country has been responsible for no small amount of injustice and barbarism as well, both internationally and domestically, and both hundreds of years ago and today. I’m not saying we deserve to be murdered. Also, I realize that the desire for revenge makes me an animal. I realize that our constant quest for security, and all the billions and trillions of dollars spent on “defense” are, essentially, vanity; we cannot simply put other nations into submission.

We especially can’t put them into submission without becoming authoritarian international-law-breakers ourselves. I hate to say it, but could we have defeated Japan had we not used the atom bomb? (I think some historians would say yes, while others would say no, from what I have read.) But we did use it. It ended the war. Imperial Japan ceased to be imperial, and ceased to commit atrocities in its neighbors’ borders. So were we right to drop the bomb?

I’m not trying to answer specific questions like that. I am simply beginning to work through some of the justifications we make. The question is whether they are valid. I have always heard that pacifism is stupid. That’s how it is regarded in America (and elsewhere, I don’t know). The idea is why guns are so popular here. Being a pacifist does not promote peace, it just promotes your side dying and losing. But here’s where I think of Jesus, and even men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. In the case of the latter two, they did manage to change societies and promote peace and justice — with non-violence. In the case of our Lord, it is true that his non-violence led to his death… but that was necessary so that he could conquer death. He showed his true power by submitting to military “power.”

So why do we all see power in guns and missiles and nuclear capabilities? On a smaller scale, why do people riot? Great things have been and can be accomplished non-violently…

Oh, but it gets hairy. What about World War II? What about any war, perhaps? Can these things be solved non-violently? (Could they have been prevented by the promotion of peace?)

I think, and I pray, and it has been many years. I don’t want to hurt or kill anyone, and I don’t even want to contribute to it, which is something I think about regarding military service; as a Sailor, I never shot anyone, but I helped keep aircraft and ships functioning which carry and deliver all sorts of deadly missiles and bombs and things. I have been complicit in violence I don’t even know about.

So what? So I think, is it ever okay? Is it okay when the enemy is just bad enough? Or what if you really believe in your cause, but maybe you’re the bad guy? My husband’s great grandfathers, or perhaps great-great, I can’t remember, fought in World War I — the one for the French, and the other for the Germans. What was the difference between them? Did most of the Germans and Japanese in WWII even know about some of the atrocities their organizations were committing? Did simply being ignorant and believing that they were right justify them? This is why I hesitate to do violence, or support it, even when I feel it is supportable. I don’t know the answers to these questions, and of course I don’t know God’s views. I just know what I believe, and that is that really, we have the potential to all be brothers and sisters. Don’t we? There is no fundamental difference between a Jew and a Christian; a man and a woman; a black man and a white man. Without categorizing other people into convenient groups, some of which are supposedly good and some of which are supposedly bad, we can no more justify war than we can justify murder sprees in banks.

I know I am not really addressing the question of self-defense either, but if I did, it could be applied not only to individuals, but also to war. It’s the thinking behind preemptive strikes… where is the line? I strive to find one, but probably there isn’t one. Probably there are so many shades of gray I should see.

That’s enough. I have spent enough time blurting my thoughts into type. Hopefully I am not called upon any time soon to make an actual decision about violence.

Jesus Christ Superstar

About eight years ago, my uncle died, but he still influences my life. Still I recall moments with him, and I recall the kinship I felt then. Even though as I have grown I have become aware of some of our differences, most notably that I am still a terrible and hopeless musician, while he was a genius, still I feel that we understood each other in a unique way.

Nothing can recall my memories of him like certain songs. Of course that is because he spent so many hours trying to instruct me in music. One instruction I received was to watch his VHS of Jesus Christ Superstar, and to write a critique of it. I never wrote the critique, and it took me a long time to even watch the VHS — which I remember I lent to someone else later on, who never returned it to me. I don’t think I was a Christian yet, or if I was, I was very new. Still, the movie’s story awed me, and so did the soundtrack. My favorite song was and is, “The Last Supper.”

I remember one evening in my uncle’s living room, him telling me to put a CD on. I think he told me to choose whatever I liked. I chose the second disc of the JCS soundtrack, the first song of which is, of course, “The Last Supper.” It is so sweet and so dark at the same time. It seems ironic, but I don’t think there is anything evil or even really irreverent in it. I cannot remember my uncle’s exact words, but I think he held my hand for a moment, and was deeply moved by the song. As a musician, I am sure he could name all the little aspects of the music that make it so wonderful — syncopation or counterpoint or what I don’t know. But music was so incredibly important and moving to him, and anyway, we both loved that song, and it was as though he thanked me for choosing it, almost thanked me for loving it too.

I am sad that I cannot remember everything, sad that things did not go as I would have had them go right before he died. Sad that he never really seemed happy as long as I knew him. But even all of this taught me about love. Love can be as simple as sharing a little music that stirs your soul — because maybe it will stir someone else’s. Love is learning to say, “I love you,” which is exactly what I learned when my uncle died. I had resolved to say this to him before he died (he was like my third parent), but I did not have the chance. Ever since, I have regretted it, and ever since, I have tried to be more affectionate to my friends and family; cliche as it may be, you never know when your last chance will be to let them know how you feel.

So there is a little sweetness to this song, and a little darkness. But it does talk about Christ, and… ultimately, Christ makes everything alright again. He cried in agony, did he not? But now sits at the right hand of the Father. He descended to hell, did he not? But rose again, and is Lord of the living and the dead. And he is light, “and in him is no darkness at all.”

(stuff)

This morning, I did not wake as early as I like to, and when I did wake, I was somewhat upset with my husband, and therefore not highly motivated to actually get out of bed. Wonderful and under-appreciated man that he is, K. showered and made a very good breakfast. By the time I finished showering, he was telling me to get downstairs before the food got cold. He’d forgotten to bring out some turkey bacon (when we have bacon, we cook a whole pack on one day, then have it in the refrigerator for the next however many days). I thought he did it on purpose because I’d said yesterday that we’d been eating too much meat lately. No, he just forgot, the plus side of that being, perhaps, that his ridiculous infatuation with bacon may be waning. I never realized until Facebook how intensely people feel about bacon, but that’s a different subject.

Anyway, we had made a plan to go to the Poway Farmers Market. There are farmers markets all around San Diego, but they can be more trouble than they’re worth. The one in La Mesa was small, with vendors selling a lot of packaged junk. The one in Hillcrest is pretty good, but always extremely crowded — plus we don’t live that close to Hillcrest anymore, so I wouldn’t want to drive all the way there unless I had plans to do something else in the area. So we tried out Poway. It was good to get out. I had been sure to try to do extra studying on Friday so that I would feel freer to spend at least half of Saturday with K. Much of the produce was overpriced, but we bought some primo tomatoes at least. The drive was also sort of fun, although I as the time goes by, I am growing more and more annoyed with GM. I drive a Chevy Cobalt, and it has taken a very long time to get my replacement ignition switch. Actually, it’s supposed to finally be installed next Saturday… but I find the whole situation a little unbelievable. My ignition switch has yet to ‘turn off’ while I’m driving, and I pray that it never does that; but more than a few times it has become stuck when I try to turn the car off myself. It will get to the point that the engine is off, of course, but not to the point that allows you to take the key out. Obviously it is faulty, but there is nothing I can do about it besides pray. Only seven more days (then I’ll await the next recall).

I didn’t spend as much time studying as perhaps I should have, but I am not stressing. My mind has been on other things. Largely it has been on my marriage. Sometimes I am unsatisfied with certain things my husband does or doesn’t do, and other times I am wondering what he feels about what I do or don’t do. I think it is in 1 Corinthians that St. Paul talked about marriage a little, saying that married people think of worldly things, how to please their spouses. This is truer than I could’ve known back when I was single (and assumed I would be for life). Strangely, I find marriage to bring about a lot more introspection than I’d have guessed as well. Doubly strangely, I do mean that marriage does this — not just ‘living together.’ I did not expect any difference when K. and I got married, and indeed, there hasn’t been any drastic change at all. But it does affect one’s mindset. No matter how permanent a relationship may seem, no matter how permanent people may assert that it will be, it really does become more so in marriage.

Anyway, the introspection. The guessing. The asking. The always-considering-someone-else-as-much-as-you-consider-yourself-because-really-you-are-one-now. It is just interesting because I didn’t think it would be this way.

Also today, I have thought a little bit about giving. Since registering with a new parish, I received the little welcome packet today. One of the items enclosed was a little pamphlet on giving. I haven’t read it yet, but there was a large heading called, “Giving of your talents,” or something along those lines. In the parish ministries booklet, there was also something called “St. Joseph the Worker,” a group described (rather vaguely, I might add) as connecting people in the parish who have a temporary need, with other people in the parish who could provide for that need. It seemed to allude to skills, but it just left me wondering. I have discussed this with Christian friends before, in terms of calling. Not everyone receives some sort of clear calling to become a priest or a doctor or a lawyer or a missionary or a fashion designer or a gourmet burger master… or anything. We are called to follow Christ, to serve others, to love, but we are not necessarily all told the best way how. Or maybe we are, I don’t know. I know there are many Christians who believe in these very individualistic things, like God having made one specific man who is meant for one specific woman. To me, it is all a Christian version of destiny, and I’m not sure I believe in it. It seems to me there are many contingencies in life, regarding relationships, careers, and everything. I don’t doubt God does some directing, but… it is hard for me to believe that God has a specific occupation for me. I suppose he probably has specific things in mind that he wants me to do in this life. Probably he has put me in the right place at the right time for someone. He is a miracle worker. But I don’t know why — based on what I have observed and also based on Scripture — I should think he has already figured out that I should be a teacher or an accountant or a Naval officer. If there are some Scriptures to suggest that, hopefully they will be pointed out to me by someone. But based on my own silly, human logic, it also seems that if he wanted me to be a teacher, accountant, etc., perhaps he would make that clearer? Perhaps he would indeed provide me with alternative choices… but maybe not quite so infinitely many as I have?

Of course, for all I know, I am walking exactly the career path that God has planned for me, but I just don’t know it; and if I were attempting something else, I don’t know, anthropology, maybe he would be surer to tell me I’m on the wrong road than he seems to be to tell me I’m on the right one. This is all hypothetical, of course, and I hope none of this seems irreverent to God.

A calling. A talent. So many people are so convinced that we all have some calling, and we all have some talent. But me? If I have a specific calling, I have not heard it quite yet — although I thought several years ago I had a calling, and I think it would be worth while to think more about it now. As for a talent, I do have an unsurpassed ability to get wicked pissed about nothing at all. Fortunately, it is like a flare, and usually goes quickly. Anyway, it isn’t a virtue! It’s terrible. A talent! I have no talents. I have some basic skills, but that is all. Maybe a natural proclivity toward learning some things… a larger vocabulary than most people I know… but that is no talent. I am more inclined to believe in luck than in talent, sometimes. But I don’t know. Only some things I have been pondering a little.

I like this letter by Sal Khan though. I am growing to think of intelligence less as something innate, and more the way he encourages us to. Maybe I will grow a talent someday — and then I can offer it to the parish.