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Overusing ‘persecuted for their faith,’ and other thoughts on God’s Not Dead

In Culture, Life on March 26, 2014 at 7:06 pm

 

In the film God’s Not Dead (2014), college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper) accepts a challenge from his teacher, Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), to prove to his classmates there is a chance God exists.

I saw the new movie God’s Not Dead (2014, Pure Flix Entertainment) Monday because my mom wanted to go, and that’s the kind of stuff momma’s boys do (mom 4 life). Afterward, though, I was glad I went.

It was an educational experience, and aside from some of the typical Christian movie cheesiness (if you grew up around the culture, you know exactly what I’m talking about), there were some tremendous, intellectual moments in the classroom scenes.

I’m wiser for having gone, and I encourage you to see it, too. This blog is not meant to discourage you from seeing the movie; it’s meant to fuel conversation.

I could relate with the protagonist’s plight, which is proving to his class that God is real – or, rather, proving that there is reason to even entertain the thought that there is an all-powerful creator. During my first semester of college, I also took an introductory philosophy class at a public university with a dubious-of-Christianity professor similar to the one in God’s Not Dead, and for my final project I chose to defend my belief in God.

In retrospect, it was a poorly developed essay – I read a lot of heavy material in a short amount of time about the second law of thermodynamics, Thomas Aquinas, and the Big Bang, and then I rushed out a paper – and he, being brilliant and well read, easily found the loopholes. (Are you judging me? All freshmen procrastinate, I swear!) I received a mediocre grade. I was proud of having done it, though; it challenged my faith.

So you’ll understand why I respected the protagonist, Josh, and despite the overwhelming obviousness of its appeal to strictly a Christian audience– I cannot picture any of my non-Christian friends attending or enjoying the film – I see immense value in the movie.

My main issue with it came, surprisingly, in the closing credits. At the conclusion of the film, white words scrolled across the screen reading, “This film is dedicated to the following college student groups who were persecuted for their faith,” or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Let’s think about what those words imply: that college students were not free to openly practice their Christianity or praise God at school, or that they received harsh punishment for attempting to do so. It’s a dramatic proposition considering we live in a country that practices freedom of religion (shout-out to Lord Baltimore!), and it’s not one to take lightly.

I perked up and began scrolling the list for my school’s name.

Sure enough, it came right at the end: UB Students for Life vs. SUNY Buffalo.

It made me uneasy. It almost made me mad. It inspired me to write this post.

Christians, it’s time to stop claiming we’ve been “persecuted for our faith” when the phrase does not apply. Persecution is not a light term, and throwing it around flippantly will not benefit us. It’ll make people even more doubtful that this God stuff in which we believe so passionately is credible.

I witnessed the UB Students for Life vs. SUNY Buffalo court case developing. It all started about a year ago, April 2013. Students for Life is an anti-abortion group on my campus, and they are extremely active in promoting their beliefs – which is 100 percent their prerogative.

But many UB students believe they crossed the line last year, when they invited this group called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform to bring their “Genocide Awareness Project” to campus. The Center set up graphic billboards displaying photos of aborted fetuses and dead bodies from genocides like the Holocaust directly in front of the Student Union – essentially forcing every UB student to look at these horrifying images for two days.

I saw the trucks setting up. My response was immediate: Uh-oh.

As you might imagine, with this happening at the biggest public school in one of the most liberal states in the country, this spurred quite a response. Many students protested the display. There was spirited debate between both sides. Most of it, from what I observed from standing around for a couple of hours each day, was respectful (with, of course, a few exceptions). Here is more coverage from the newspaper for which I work: Anti-abortion display invokes student response.

I took a deep breath when it was over. Thank goodness.

Seven weeks later, though, Students for Life sued UB – not for money, but to force the school to admit it had “violated the constitutional rights” of the club’s free speech by not disbanding the protestors.

UB issued a statement in response: “As a public university, it is a fundamental value of UB that all members of the campus community and their invited guests have a right to peacefully express their views and opinions, regardless of whether others may disagree with those expressions.”

I couldn’t agree more. Being a journalist, I care deeply about the First Amendment. And I believe UB handled the situation properly and certainly did not persecute the group members for their faith.

Again, it was Students for Life’s right to set up their display, but it was also the other students’ right to protest the event – the photos were enough to make you sick to your stomach.

Do you realize the irony of Students for Life suing UB? They essentially said, “UB violated our freedom of speech by allowing other students to have freedom of speech!”

Which brings me back to the movie. These UB students were not persecuted for their faith. Not even close. Remember that I’m speaking from a Christian college student’s point of view.

This phrase – persecuted for their faith – has convicted me since I saw the movie’s credits. Using it in this case is nothing less than propaganda. Most students protested the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s event not because they were arguing for abortion rights but because they didn’t want to be forced to stare at horrifying images between classes. Can you really argue with that?

I didn’t want to look at them. I’m guessing you wouldn’t either.

Saying these UB students were “persecuted for their faith” makes Christians look crazy, oversensitive, and hypocritical.

For what it’s worth, the Students for Life didn’t ask to be put in this sequence. I know SFL’s president from the time very well, and he was surprised when I told him about the credits. He knows this blog post is going up. It’s not about his group. That’s a separate debate. I just needed to explain the situation to bring us back to why the credits irked me.

When Christian movies say situations like this one denote students are being “persecuted for their faith,” it becomes all the harder for me to witness to my coworkers, to convince my classmates to come to church with me.

So, this is my plea: Stop throwing around the phrase. Movie companies, this goes out to you. Do your homework before using it. Speak those powerful words only when they apply.

We are in this journey together.

I have planks in my eye, and I know that. I’m working on removing them, and it’s been a long process. But I wouldn’t be speaking the truth in love if I ignored this issue. I wouldn’t do anyone a service by staying quiet. It’s important that we, at the very least, discuss what it means to be persecuted for our faith.

A casual conversation with Malcolm Gladwell

In Culture, Life on November 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm

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Sometimes, the coolest part of journalism is the people you get a chance to meet. I don’t mean just celebrities. I’ve been fortunate to interview some really, truly awesome people, people with attitudes that have sincerely altered my life, before – from well-known figures (Laura Bush, Tiger Woods, David Brooks) to not-as-well-known-but-equally-impressive people (Fred Lee, Louis Long, Mark Bortz).

I was never more excited for an interview than the one I completed this Wednesday. Malcolm Gladwell – the well-known author of books such as The Outliers, The Tipping Point, and Blink, also famous for his writing for The New Yorker and many public speaking engagements (from TED Talks to CNN to speaking at universities) – visited my school, the University at Buffalo.

UB has this thing called the Distinguished Speakers Series that brings popular figures to campus to deliver a speech. Some of them are gracious enough to sit down with a student or two before their speech.

That’s what happened with Gladwell. He was willing to chat with me and my colleague Eric, as we are editors for The Spectrum, UB’s student newspaper. It should have been a nerve-wracking interview, given Gladwell’s clout in our field of study, but it wasn’t – simply because he is so down to earth. That’s one thing I have noticed about him in watching videos of his talks before: He is unbelievably intellectual and yet full of bona fide humility.

But it never came across as clearly as it did in person.

If you want to know some details of our conversation, you can check out my column about the experience here: An intellectually fruitful evening with Malcolm Gladwell.

He made some tremendous points, as could be expected, but I really left the interview just thinking about his down-to-earth nature. His humor is self-deprecating, but not in a sense of disliking himself – in a sense that he realizes he is just another human on earth, just another person who puts his pants on one leg at a time and is going to die eventually. He doesn’t think he has any ideas that can change the world, but he does realize he has a skill for translating ideas to the average person. When we were talking, it was just three guys, not Malcolm Gladwell and two anxious college kids.

Sometimes you are disappointed in well-known people when you meet them in person. I have been surprised to find some beloved figures are in actuality, to put it plainly, jerks. Malcolm Gladwell not only fulfilled my vast expectation of him, he surpassed it.

I encourage you to read his books, the two best-selling of which are listed here: The Tipping Point and Blink. You will be a better person for having done so, and you’ll also be supporting a genuine person.

Emotions flow freely, and so does Sullivan’s quality writing

In Culture, Sports on September 15, 2013 at 10:58 pm
EJ Manuel

Photo by James P. McCoy / Buffalo News

The Buffalo Bills won today, 24-23, in one of the greatest Bills games I have seen in the past decade. There were many things to write about – Fred Jackson’s clutch play, Mario Williams’ emergence (finally), Robert Woods’ impressive day, and more.

But Buffalo News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan picked the two storylines that were most compelling: EJ Manuel’s incredible two-minute-drill piloting and first win as a National Football League quarterback, and Doug Marrone’s first win as an NFL head coach. In addition to the “first NFL win” similarity, Manuel and Marrone also both had emotional moments after the game.

I can imagine it was a very powerful post-game press conference, considering there were tears involved. It takes a great writer to capture a moment – and a moment after a huge game, nonetheless – and put emotions into words. It takes a special kind of writer with loads of experience and perspective. A writer like Jerry Sullivan.

Jerry is one of the most polarizing journalists I can think of. People in Buffalo either love him or hate him, mostly because he is paid to be a cynic and critic.

I have had the pleasure of working with Jerry the past two summers at The News. I am not kidding when I say that when people I find out I have worked at The News, they almost always immediately respond with, “Is Jerry Sullivan an asshole?”

Here’s the answer: He is one of the most helpful, interesting people I have met in journalism. He is a very grounded man full of wisdom. He is a tough marshmallow. I genuinely believe he is as big a celebrity as there is in Buffalo, but he has never been too busy to offer me – an amateur college kid – writing advice or to just talk about life. I have never publicly praised him or his work in more than 140 characters, so I figured this Bills column provided a perfect opportunity to discuss Jerry’s writing in the second edition of The Best Sports Writing I Read This Week.

First, here is a link to Jerry’s column: “Emotions flow freely on a feel-good afternoon

It is also important to understand that the column was published at 8:51 p.m. Sunday. The game ended at about 4:30. The press conference and post-game interviews probably ended around 6. That means this wasn’t some grand work upon which Jerry spent days or weeks contemplating its strategy, wording, and execution; it was a hurried column he drafted in roughly two and a half hours.

And as for the actual writing, well, you’ll have to discover it for yourself. There is perspective, but there is also optimism. It’s tough to be an optimist covering Buffalo sports, and no one has been doing so as thoroughly as Jerry since 1989. The positive tone of his column (there’s even a paragraph that begins and ends – and this is an extreme paraphrasing – with, “This one feels a little different … we might look back on this as the day when the EJ Manuel era began, when he truly began to arrive as an NFL franchise quarterback.”) says something about the promise of the day, but it also says something about Jerry. He is not above simply enjoying the basic goodness of a beautiful day. He does not need to posture or create some crazy storyline.

Why would he? The storylines were right in front of him.

Doug Marrone was mourning the loss of a friend; EJ Manuel was celebrating the birth of his career and his father’s birthday. That’s pure, raw emotion that begs to be told. And the writing is pure, raw goodness.

I suggest giving it a read, maybe even checking out The Bucky & Sully Show on television, and perusing Sullivan’s work whenever you see his trademark photo in The News. You’ll always be wiser for doing so.

***

 Non-sports writing that I have thoroughly enjoyed this week:

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, for Esquire, on “20 Things Boys Can Do To Become Men.” It’s as awesome as it sounds.

2. This life perspective article on “How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps.” It’s not at all like it sounds.

On the awkward moment that happened when President Obama came to Buffalo

In Culture on August 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm

President Barack Obama spoke to a crowd of 7,200 in Buffalo about higher education and the middle class. The University at Buffalo was the first step on his two-day bus tour.

I covered President Barack Obama’s visit to the University at Buffalo yesterday. Here’s a column on what he had to say.

It was a strong speech, overall. But, well, there was one uncomfortable moment. Here’s what happened.

One of Obama’s final sentences drew by far the day’s biggest cheers: “It’s going to take a lot of hard work,” he said of repairing the broken higher-education system. “The good news is, from what I hear, folks in Buffalo know something about hard work.”

He knew the necessity of appealing to Buffalo, and he did it well. Of course, it’s that way with every city he visits – but when it comes to Buffalo, our adoration for our hometown is a bit heightened. We are the constant underdog, but we love our city and we love when it gets national attention. And when people recognize the toughness of this city, we thrive off that.

His three-prong plan for higher education drew some applause, but it was nothing compared to the deafening cheers that followed UB and Buffalo shout-outs. Which is natural, of course.

Obama got off to a blazing start when he exclaimed, “Hello, Buffalo! Go Bulls!”

Then he stumbled. Obama was making the necessary thank-yous. First, to UB sophomore Silvana D’Ettore, who introduced him, then to Secretary of Defense Arne Duncan, then Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Then he said, “Your outstanding mayor, Brian Higgins, is here.”

Wait, what?

Higgins is a congressman. Byron Brown is Buffalo’s mayor. The vibe went from enthusiastic to awkward.

The crowd booed. Obama looked perplexed. He made the ‘Obama Face,’ which has become so popular online with the accompanying ‘Not Bad’ tagline.

People shouted. Obama cupped his hand to his hear and asked, “What?” Then, upon hearing an answer, he said, “Byron Brown, that’s it. I’m sorry, Byron.”

Of course, he recovered from the folly. Whether you like him or not, there is no denying he’s a demi-god at the podium.

Here’s a video of the awkward moment.

You say I’m picky like it’s a bad thing.

In Culture on April 21, 2013 at 2:18 am

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Oh Fraulein Maria, why can’t every movie I watch be nominated for 10 Academy Awards, be one of the highest-grossing film of all-time, and also a classic? An actress I love, a genre I love, and a plot that I…love. Sigh…

I’m a picky movie watcher. I have had others tell me and I have noticed it myself. I am a picky movie watcher. I don’t know if there is an incredibly deep reason behind it but I am a picky movie watcher.

It’s weird being a picky movie watcher. People will rave about movies that I think are ok. On the other hand, there are movies I love that people don’t care for in the slightest. I feel like some species of a hipster.

*Animal Planet voice-over guy*: Look what we have here, folks. It’s the Picky Movie Watcher, Hipster Cinema Disdainious as biologists call him, in its natural habitat: sitting at its laptop on Rotten Tomatoes. The Picky Movie Watcher is easily distracted by films with rave reviews from critics. Careful though, while the Picky Movie Watcher seems unassuming, most people who stay around it enough come away with the stink of condescension.

And here’s the kicker, I actually like movies people have heard of before. Action movies, comedies, romantic comedies, musicals, sports movies, cartoons, etc. Love love love. I also have actors/actresses/directors that I’ll watch almost anything that they make, including but not limited to (and in no particular order mind you): the Dame Julie Andrews, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt, the Dame Judi Dench, Leonardo Dicaprio, Edward Norton, Hugh Laurie, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Connelly, Bryan Cranston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Anna Kendrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, James McAvoy, and Emma Stone. I think that’s as random as that could possibly be. Good.

Moving on…I like stuff that people have heard of. I love the Toy Story franchise, Argo, the Bond franchise, The Artist, The Harry Potter franchise, any movie based on comic books or any book for that matter, any cartoon for the most part, the Star Wars franchise, etc.

I like stuff. And after seeing that list, you might wonder how I am so picky. Well here’s the rub: it has to be right combination of any number of factors such as cast, trailer, writing, characters, setting, etc. If I’m not feeling it, I won’t watch it. And I am typically not feeling a lot of things.

Moreover, I like movies that ask awkward questions. Some can be awkward funny but mostly, they’re awkward serious. Like,

What would happen if you wanted to date someone who is a professional matchmaker?

What would happen if a man who served our country returned home to a family that doesn’t recognize him anymore?

What would happen if you were a guy, with no guy friends, who was trying to make guy friends?

What would happen if we delved into the history of racism in the United States?

What would happen if you were pregnant in high school?

What would happen if you could erase your memory of past relationships?

What would happen if a pilot saved hundreds of lives while he flew a plane drunk and high?

What would happen if two kids decided to run off together because they didn’t like their lives?

What would happen if your life was just a dream and you’ve been refusing to wake up?

What if you could talk to Death and convince him to give you more time?

What if you had been raised by a surrogate father, who turned out to be a psychotic mobster, and you grew up to be a cop?

Those are some awkward questions. And if we’re perfectly honest, no one really knows the answer. Some of these questions are things we have dealt with in our own lives or seen how someone else dealt with them; most are not but some are. We may not know the answers but we know that these questions are real. We agree to sit and view how the director, writers, actors/actresses etc. choose to answer these question.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t watch popular movies that are just fun to watch and enjoy. I am also not saying that popular movies do not ask awkward questions that leave you with something when you leave the theater. I’m just saying that I typically trend towards movies that try to answer awkward questions because my mind asks awkward questions. I really don’t know any other way to be.

How do you solve a picky person like me? I really don’t know.

An easier question might be, how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

Lee’s adoration-inducing balance: an examination of humiliation and religion in Quiet Odyssey

In Culture, Life on February 25, 2013 at 2:23 pm

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I recently studied Mary Paik Lee’s Quiet Odyssey for an undergraduate English class. Essentially my entire class loved the book, and I found it shocking that the novel has created minuscule online discussion. While other tales are discussed on all sorts of different sites, this one remains relatively in the shadows, which is an injustice. In my opinion, there is not readily available information on the novel on the internet for scholars to work with, so I decided to post my thoughts here. I’m no expert, but I figured anything helps. Hope some student, somewhere in the world, finds this helpful!

In boxing, the best fighters are quick, strong, and durable. They don’t get knocked down easily, and in the rare situation in which they do go down, they’re back on their feet and ready to duke it out again shortly thereafter. Above all attributes, though, the exemplary boxers have mastered one technique: the one-two punch.

Right hook, left cross. Left jab, right uppercut. The variety and order of the punches are negligible, but they invariably come rapidly (at just the right time) and powerfully (with just the right amount of oomph), knocking the boxer’s unsuspecting, vulnerable opponent to the mat.

As a boxer must game plan, so too an author must have a strategy for presenting his/her story. In Mary Paik Lee’s biography, Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean Woman in America, Lee displays a propensity for landing haymakers and leaving readers befuddled, thinking “how did her family persevere through that?” Lee’s one-two punches are less noticeable than those of a boxing event, but they are just as devastating. Presumably, many readers respond to the text the same way I did: How could Lee carry on in the midst of such persecution? What remarkable strength, what resiliency, what ambition. English scholars are cynical by nature. It’s inherent in the education, and few characters in literature are universally accepted as amazing figures. The students in my class (myself included), however, were unequivocally blown away by Lee.

Thus, a question begs to be asked: what is it about her delivery that makes this short novel – which most likely is not the best-written piece most students have read in a year or month or maybe even a week – so powerful? It cannot be simply her poverty, for the impact of her tale extends far beyond a “Hard Knock Life” narrative.

It is Lee’s balanced story made up of a one-two punch – humiliation and religion – that makes her such an easily admired and beloved character. It is her family’s constant disgrace countered by its unswerving faith in God. These two facets of Quiet Odyssey lodge Lee’s tale in a reader’s memory, and it does not wiggle free easily.

Lee’s poverty is clear. Her upbringing is pitiable as her family lives in essentially unlivable conditions. They survive by existing like animals. Their lifestyle is downright appalling, and, through the eyes of a young girl, it is demeaning. Before their poor life in America, early in the novel, Lee divulges the reason her family left Korea and, in the process, establishes the theme of humiliation.

After Japan took possession of Korea, Korean people were treated like second-class citizens … They were deprived of all their property and had no rights under the Japanese laws. Names of towns, streets, and persons were changed to Japanese … All Korean books and Korean flags were destroyed. It was the complete humiliation of an entire nation. (Lee 42)

Her family is helpless, experiencing “one crisis after another.” Her home has been abolished. They cannot stay in Korea, as they are being discriminated against and more or less brainwashed. The kids would grow up thinking they were Japanese. Right away in the novel, as Lee is laying the foundation of her story, we notice her amazing tale originated because of humiliation – “the complete humiliation of an entire nation.”

Later in the text, an adolescent Lee tells her father about a job opportunity she is interested in pursuing to help their family and assist in feeding the hungry younger children. Lee goes on to say: “Many years later, he told me he had felt humiliated to hear his eleven-year-old daughter tell him that her one-dollar-a-week wages were needed to feed the family” (24). Despite the family’s horrendous living conditions and the extreme prejudice they experience, Lee’s father still holds onto his pride. When Lee offers to help, he is humiliated.

The complete elimination of pride appears often throughout the text. As the story opens and the family moves to Hawaii, Lee’s mother wants to work to support the family but her husband will not let her. He tells her, “Even if we have to starve, I don’t want you working out in the fields” (9). He protects his wife from work as long as he can. Shortly thereafter, when Lee’s mother absolutely must start working and becomes a cook for hungry working men, she is forced to cut off her long black hair, which reached the floor. Lee says: “It must have caused her much grief to lose her beautiful hair, but she never complained. We had already lost everything else that meant anything to us” (15).

The family’s plight of humiliation only gets worse. As the parents sleep on the floor, Lee sleeps with a block of wood for a pillow. And later, when Lee begins working, she reaches arguably her lowest point: “There were times when I cried from exhaustion while I was working, with the sweat running down my back and stomach” (97).

Lee’s early life evokes unabashed, understandable empathy from readers. Consider the situations established above, though they are just a few of many: Her home has been captured, changed forever, and ruined; many of her loved ones are stuck back in Korea in even worse conditions than she is experiencing in America and her family has no idea how they are doing; her family cannot afford to feed everyone and the youngest children are starving; Lee’s mother must go to work and abandon any sense of physical beauty; and Lee, still a young girl, works herself to the point of tears. In all, that sounds like an extremely rough life – and it is a tremendously small sampling of what she experiences throughout the book.

With the reader off balance and already quite partial toward Lee, she needs just one more positive attribute – the second shot in the one-two punch – to seal the deal and cement her place as adored in the reader’s mind. If Lee had complained through all the hard times (though she does give in, as any young girl would, occasionally) and been an annoying child, she would not be cherished. However, Lee stays composed through reminders to maintain unwavering faith in God and dedication to her Christianity, following the precedent set by her hyper-religious parents. Readers cannot help but applaud the family’s undying faith and belief that God is in control in the midst of extreme toils.

As soon as they leave Korea, Lee says: “Mother said that God must surely have been guiding us in the right direction” (7). Though her father was slated to make just 50 cents a day for working from dawn to dusk and their situation does not look all that bright, they believe leaving their home country is a positive thing because God is guiding their family.

Immediately upon arriving in Hawaii, though they had enough other worries, the Lee family becomes involved in a church, where Lee’s father preaches when he is not busy working on plantations. This dedication to making it to church no matter what and relying on God above all appears on seemingly every page. Perhaps the greatest portrayal of their extreme belief in God, however, comes on page 101: “All during our farming years, we donated what we could to help build and maintain our Korean Presbyterian Church.” The family could barely get by. They struggled to eat at all and never ate well. Nevertheless, they kept tithing because the Bible stated: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7, English Standard Version).

Several parts of the story incorporate both major themes – humiliation and religion – at the same time. When Lee travels to the slaughterhouse with Meung to gather the disposed animal organs for her family to eat (food “considered unfit for human consumption”) and the butchers taunt the children mercilessly, it is clear the family is at a humiliating level. But Lee’s father turns to his religion for an answer: “When I told Father I didn’t want to go there because they were making fun of us, he said we should thank God that they did not know the value of what they threw out; otherwise, we would go hungry” (16). In Hollister, when Lee finds a church she likes, the minister asks her to join the congregation, but she is embarrassed. She feels the regular attendees will not approve of her heritage. In Willows, when the family holds church with seven other families, the young children sneak out to eat any food they can find while Lee’s father prays. They are in a place that exists to praise God, but the children are too hungry to focus.

Lee’s one-two punch of a humiliating upbringing but firm religious belief in the face of utter disarray molds her into a character the reader cannot help but admire. I find it appropriate that Lee begins Chapter 16, “Reflections,” with Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Her family embodies faith. If they were to base their outlook on the things they see on a daily basis, they would be depressed people. But they stay optimistic and thankful and keep on pressing on because of their “assurance of things hoped for,” videlicet, eternity in heaven. One other Bible verse rang through my head as I counted the endless occurrences of demoralizing poverty and heartening religion, II Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Mary Paik Lee and her family do not lose heart. In her recollection of their story of coming to America and struggling to survive, it is Lee’s early-life combination of humiliation and religion that causes readers to venerate her.

2 Chainz: the non-sequitur king of the world

In Culture on December 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm
2 Chainz is tearing up the mainstream hip-hop game right now, but I'm onto his method.

2 Chainz is tearing up the mainstream hip-hop game right now, but I’m onto his method.

I have a confession: while I’m working out, I enjoy “ratchet rap” – the in-your-face, ignorant hip-hop that is in no way intelligent or even moderately thought-provoking. Hip-hop gets me going in the morning and puts me to sleep at night. The genre is a major component of my life, and I consider it a true form of expression and a pivotal outlet for many kids who need the positive distraction. Some of hip-hop’s deepest modern artists – like Lupe Fiasco and Macklemore – send my head spinning and leave it in motion for days.

But some of the stuff just doesn’t make sense, and 2 Chainz is the leader of the tomfoolery. 2 Chainz is one of the hottest mainstream hip-hop artists right now. He even has a new Champs Sports commercial. Lately, as I’ve been running around my neighborhood or lifting weights in the gym, his illogical music has pierced through my headphones and left me thinking, wait … what in the world did he just say?

I may be the color of mayonnaise, but I’m onto you, 2 Chainz, and it’s time to inform the world.

The phrase “non sequitur” is Latin for “it does not follow.” As Wikipedia states: “In a non sequitur, the conclusion could be either true or false, but the argument is fallacious because there is a disconnection between the premise and the conclusion.”

When 2 Chainz is featured in songs – notably hits “Mercy” by Pusha T and “Bands A Make Her Dance” by Juicy J – he sticks to making obscure food references (such as ketchup, cheese, and bread) while discussing women in extreme detail, referring to alcohol and drugs, and displaying extreme affection for his coupe. But his most popular individual songs follow the formula below.

Step One: Come up with a really catchy beat

Step Two: Propose some deep, reflective question

Step Three: Respond to the question with a completely irrelevant, shallow line – videlicet, a non sequitur

For analysis, let’s look at his two biggest songs of late.

1. “I’m Different”

True difference is respectable and, quite frankly, it’s rare among stars in modern society. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” So for acknowledging your difference, 2 Chainz, I salute you.

However, it’s unclear just how you are different. “I’m different, yeah, I’m different,” he raps in the chorus. Good! I’m glad to see that. Now tell us how you’re different.

“Pull up to the scene with my ceiling missing,” ummm, “Pull up to the scene with my ceiling missing.”

Question: what is so different about driving around in a convertible? Plenty of people do that. You just leave me wondering and never answer the question of how, in fact, you are different, 2 Chainz.

2. “Birthday Song”

Once every month at the student publication I run, The Spectrum, a few of the arts editors put together a Mixtape Monthly in which they review the hottest hip-hop set to release. In October, they described 2 Chainz’s “Birthday Song” as follows: “That song alone will have you ready to flip glass tables and throw diamonds into the crowd. If you have subwoofers in your car, we highly recommend playing this song as ride up music for anywhere you go.”

I agree! It’s amazing pump-up music, and it’ll probably get you more hype than anything from Lupe or Macklemore. But it’s from 2 Chainz, so does it make sense? Of course not. Look at the chorus.

“They ask me what I do and who I do it for.” I’m sure a lot of people have wondered this, 2 Chainz. Who do you rap for? Who was your influence, your role model to get caught up in this high-octane rap game?

“And how I come up with this sh** up in the studio.” You do think of some absurd lines. So what’s your answer? Who IS your inspiration? And how DO you come up with “this sh**?”

“All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe.” Come on. You can’t be serious, man. “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe.”

I mean, if that’s what you really want, enjoy your birthday, but you still didn’t answer any of the questions you posed.

If that sequence doesn’t prove it, I don’t know if anything will: 2 Chainz is one of the all-time masters of the non sequitur.

Twitter’s Indelible Impact on Sports

In Culture, Life, Sports on December 14, 2012 at 11:59 am

Since its creation in 2006, Twitter has become nothing less than a societal phenomenon. Everyone, it seems, from famous athletes and celebrities to your corner grocer is tweeting and following others, trying to share their thoughts on the state of the world, stay up-to-date on their particular flavor of news or gossip, or just trying to rub virtual elbows with the rich, famous, and influential. The sheer number of people using Twitter today inherently provides the service with a tremendous amount of power; with a great reach to a vast audience comes immense opportunity. Social media  is a profoundly effective tool when utilized correctly, and what arena could be better-suited to take full advantage of these resources than sports? No entity’s success is more dependent on its engagement of the population than a sports organization, and no entity provokes the same kind of loyalty and passion within its affiliates. Indeed, a sports organization’s very existence is predicated on a mutually gratifying relationship with the fans. As a result, any athletic brand with some semblance of forward thinking is working hard on improving its social media profile today. It is critical to winning over the fans.

Consider Notre Dame Football’s Twitter profile as an example of social media’s evolution. One of the newest practices in college sports is to essentially tweet the play-by-play of an athletic contest.  @NDFootball tweets frequent updates during Irish football games, often maintaining a furious pace. ND Football tweeted 102 times on October 13, 2012, the date of Notre Dame’s overtime victory over Stanford; this was a vital date for Notre Dame because that win catapulted the Irish into true legitimacy on their way to an undefeated regular season, #1 BCS ranking and a berth in the National Championship game. These kinds of play-by-play tweets are such a cool way for fans to connect with the team, because unlike following on GameCast or another reporting service, a team’s official Twitter account has the element of being explicitly connected to the team itself, and the game updates are presented from this perspective. All this is very important to a shared fan experience. ND Football also live tweets from Brian Kelly’s press conferences on Tuesdays and his radio show on Thursdays, sharing information directly from the source with fans who hang on every word but could have never gotten into a private press conference. These kinds of things accentuate the strength of social media by emphasizing the immediate availability of inside information for fans.

If I could define Twitter in one word from a sports fan’s perspective, that word would be “access.” Access to this inside information, access to contact with athletes, access to places that were never navigable before. The thought of interacting with one’s favorite football team is incredibly exciting for any die-hard fan; yet via Twitter, this is a very distinct possibility. In a revolutionary turn of events, anyone has the ability to interact with any other person who has a Twitter account, including famous athletes and celebrities. I just imagine if someone would have told me ten years ago that I could have insight into the day to day thoughts of my favorite NFL players, and that I could tell them exactly how much I admire or revile them, I would have said that was crazy. How wrong I would have been. Twitter has brought fan, team, and player closer together, and this is truly a great thing for both parties.

Twitter has also revolutionized the sports world and its media outlets because of the nature of news. In the journalism business, arriving first to a story is a significant victory, but social media has taken breaking news to the point of near immediacy. As a result, the watchful eye of national/local media outlets can catch what insiders on these Twitter sites are divulging, and must be quick to immediately jump on the story. The staggering impact that social media has had on the reporting of information cannot be overstated. With Twitter, you do not have to wait a day for the local newspaper to digest the game and spit out a form article covering its events; you can follow it in real time, through the lens of an official affiliate of your favorite team. It is now rare to not have access to a blow-by-blow Twitter account of any major sporting event. That is a radically different and awesome opportunity that has not been around for very long, but it is spreading like wildfire.

Indeed, the impact that social media has had on the sporting world as a whole cannot be overstated. For fans, sponsors, and media outlets alike, through its immediacy and intimacy of information, Twitter has revolutionized athletics in an astonishingly short time. Twitter feeds share a common importance to fans; inside information. Sports fans rabidly consume information that they perceive as exclusive or special, and firsthand accounts from a source closely affiliated with an athletic organization definitely qualify. News has become nearly instantaneous. We can have virtual conversations with our favorite athletes. As a fervent sports fan, this is an exquisitely beautiful world to live in. Thank you, Twitter.

Everything in transit.

In Culture on August 1, 2012 at 10:14 pm

 

You matter.

You matter. Your feelings matter. Your opinion matters. People care about you. You matter to someone and something. You matter.

Sometimes it feels like everything moves so fast. There are thousands of voices that seem to drown out whatever was going to escape your lips. And sometimes, it seems like those voices are coming from inside of your own head.

So we try to scream above the noise. We try to show how individual and unique we are. Yet, we seem to do that in the same way everybody else is showing they’re an individual. We get further lost in the shuffle. Like life is a game and we are losing.

Maybe this is because we want to matter. We want to know someone cares. On the basest of levels, we want to know that the things we do have an effect. That we had an impact on something. That in a world that can seem like an arbitrary existence, we controlled something. And other people noticed.

But if that’s all a game, what would happen if we just walked away from the board? We are so blessed. If you are able to read this, you have been blessed with internet access or a means of getting to internet access. You are blessed to have a computer, or any other electronic device, in front of you. There are so many things in your life that you know are truly amazing. They may not be overly significant to the masses but they are important and sufficient in your life. We are blessed. And not just with stuff. We are blessed with people.

Why does the focus have to be on us? How we feel? And why do we feel so bad about almost everything that pertains to us and look at almost everything else with such cynicism and trepidation? Would it be so bad if we told people we appreciate them and thank them for just being themselves? Would it take too long to listen to another point of view before voicing our opinions? Life moves quickly. The greatest human invention was a means of keeping time and somehow we don’t seem to have enough. Why don’t we change that? Does respect take too long?

Because when it’s all a blur of self-centered “individuality”, everything gets lost in whatever we want others to see us as. So please, let’s all take some time out to just look at life. Slow down. Take a step back and survey the life that you are blessed to have. Think of five things you are thankful for and find a way to show some appreciation. Take everything in transit.

Because the people in our lives matter. The things we have matter. The blessings we have matter. And maybe most importantly, you matter.

Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

 

 

The thrill of the eternal chase

In Culture, Life, Women on July 9, 2012 at 10:38 pm


Every guy has a Jordan. She was the girl I just couldn’t get. It was impossible. Guys don’t get her.

I was 18. Broke out all the stops. Made myself look like a fool. She resisted. Thought about her 24/7. Wrote her a short book. (Yup, that happened.) All day, every day, all Jordan.

Then I got her. Didn’t want her anymore.

(“Jordan” is a pseudonym — sorry to the countless now-heartbroken Jordan’s.)

The thrill of the chase. All guys know it. All are prone to it.

I was on my back porch talking with Andrew this weekend when we deciphered that his latest relationship was a fitting example of a guy being consumed with the thrill of the chase. He was upset. “I thought I was above that,” he sighed.

I let out a hearty laugh. “No guy is above it.”

So what is it exactly? Well, the thrill of the chase is all about getting a girl who seems unreachable. Maybe she’s out of your league, or too mature, or she doesn’t date. “Nah, man, you can’t get her.”

Challenge accepted.

Here’s a basic explanation.

When a guy sees how hard it is to get a girl (this could be vice-versa as well, but I’ve never exactly been a girl and I don’t see as many examples of girls chasing guys), he must have her. It’s a proven fact that the harder she is to get, the hotter she is. (That’s not really a proven fact.)

He’ll think about her all day. He’ll do the craziest things to get her — buy flowers, hand-write long letters, sing to her.

And then, suddenly, he gets her. It’s kind of shocking. For a little while, it’s awesome. And then, again suddenly, he’s sick of it. There’s no work left to do.

So he drops her until he finds the next girl to chase. The more she rejects, the more he yearns.

Of course, there are rare exceptions. There are times the guy doesn’t actually get sick of the girl and continually works for her affection long after he’s received it. That’s called love, I guess.

Anyway, let’s debunk this whole thing. There’s no sense pretending it doesn’t exist because, really, it does.

It all begins with the desire to be accepted. When you see somebody who you find appealing, you want that person to find you mutually appealing (be this friendship, romance, what have you). You want him/her to respect you.

You work to be respected — it’s like any competitive career. You’re going to get rejected right away. You just don’t have the experience or credentials. But if you have as much potential as you think you do (note: you have to be somewhere within the vicinity of the correct league), keep chipping away, and keep garnering little victories, eventually you’ll probably land that amazing job you’ve dreamed about.

When you finally land that amazing job, you’ll love it. You’ll be starstruck. It’ll be everything you dreamed of. For a while.

Then you’ll realize there are downfalls to everything in life. The grass will always be greener somewhere.

What if I worked fewer hours? I wouldn’t always be so tired.

What if I worked more hours? I wouldn’t always be so bored.

What if I made more money? It’d be great to have some financial padding.

What if I made a little less money? I wouldn’t have to worry about getting robbed 0r people hating me.

My mom always tells me something, though I don’t need her to remind me because it was permanently engraved in my mind the first time she uttered the words: “Life is a series of trade-offs.” No, she’s not being pessimistic. She’s not that type of person.

She’s right! Life will always, always, be a sequence of What ifs… 

I promise I’m not off the thrill-of-the-chase train of thought. I just needed to relate it to something so my point makes a little more sense.

If right away I’d said, “hey, seeking girls is like God,” you probably would’ve labeled me as ludicrous (which reminds me of a quality tune about seeking women) than you are right now. But on the real, the two chases are similar. Beyond similar. The thrill of the chase can be related perfectly to our walk with God.

We seek other things — careers, money, (ahem) women — and end up empty. We get them and then wonder: Now what? Isn’t there some sort of new satisfaction and contentment with life? Where is it? 

See, those things we chase are the things we aren’t supposed to have. They’re the things we don’t have now, but we’re convinced life would be a million times better if we got them. So we build them up in our minds. We idolize them.

It’s the same way with women. Just like no guy is above the thrill of the chase, no one is above seeking earthly desires. We think about ‘em all the time to the point that they become gods. And every single time, they fall short in some regard. Without fail, they yield disappointment instead of the contentment which we seek.

It’s because we’re chasing the wrong things. If you’re chasing your future wife, then dammit, you won’t be disappointed when she finally agrees to date you.

But if you’re chasing the wrong girl (not even that she’s a bad girl, just that she’s not the right one for you), eventually she won’t feel like the right girl when you get her. She won’t be a god anymore. Hell, she won’t even be appealing.

There is certainly a thrill in chasing women. There’s just no bona fide thrill in gaining something which won’t last forever.

“So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.” — Genesis 29:20

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