Grace Ji-Sun Kim ‘Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love’ – A Review

embracing-the-other

Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s book ‘Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love’ is an excellent introduction to the creation of a more just world, she comes from the perspective of the ‘othered’ and builds her theology and philosophy of justice from there, she provides an excellent overview of several topics, ranging from feminism to injustices faced by the black community, she speaks about immigration and the challenges faced by immigrants, a topic that has been in discussions of late, and to the great shame of the United States, those discussions have not been just, but to the furthering of the other for the protection of the priviledged and those in the center who hold the power, this is shameful and clear in my mind while reading this book.

In the past, Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s books have been instrumental in reshaping my views of the world, filling in the gaps I had, answering questions of my own, and challenging notions that need correction. It was Grace Ji-Sun Kim that first presented to me a view of God that I found to be relate-able, in her book ‘The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American’s Christology’. Her book ‘The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology’ was instrumental in bridging my questions with an answer that finally made sense, I had already encountered the concept of Chi through my language studies, and it was this particular concept that began the questioning in my heart of the White Christianity that I had grown up in. That was the first time that my faith had really been shaken to the core of its identity, and the book ‘The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other’ provided answers to the questions I had after that occurrence, as well as reminding me that White Christianity is not God’s ideal. Another book, ‘Contemplations from the Heart: Spiritual Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine’ felt as though I had sat down at a dinner table and listened to someone sharing their heart, as though it were a conversation with a friend. Having read these books and each of them holding a profound impact on me, I approached this book with eager expectations, and was not disappointed.

In the early chapters, she tells her story as an Asian North American growing up in North America, experiencing racism, prejudice, discrimination, and alienation from a white dominate society, she speaks of the experiences of being othered both within her own community, as well as by society as a whole. She speaks of how Christian theology and patriarchal views contribute to or develop systems of oppression. She tells of the plight of foreign women in the Hebrew Bible, bringing a historical perspective to her own story from the scriptures and how parallels are established between them. In regard to the Bible she tells of Ezra and how the foreign wives were expelled from the land. So too today, under the names of things such safety and yes, holiness, prejudice remains a dividing force. How the foreigner, and the foreign woman, is objectified, dehumanized, considered a threat, or ignored, something seen in all corners of white society, from the white feminism’s general disinterest in the plight of women of color to the assumed normality and self-assigned superiority of a white­ male-­centered theology, a theology where the actions of Ezra are held up as a positive example, that men were willing to live holy lives, etc. This book establishes a much more honest perspective, that it isn’t about holiness, but prejudice.

I really liked a paragraph on page 27 (paperback):

“Can we replace xenophobia with the gospel claim of all now being God’s people (1 Pet. 2:10) through the adoption of grace? All ethnic groups are part of the family of God and are equally accepted and loved.”

In regard to today’s world, I find it alarming how the foreigner is treated, for example we have several Presidential candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election promising to oppress and expel the foreigner as key parts of their policies, even more alarming is that much of the white-centered society is not only okay with that, they are actively supportive of it. This is utterly and completely wrong.

The book spoke of the plight of the foreign woman, and other ways in which women, particularly women of color, are treated by a white and patriarchal society.

The book contrast Ezra with Hosea, and while Hosea does contain a great deal of patriarchal imagery, it also presents that expulsion is not the answer.

Other things that the early chapters spoke of that I really liked or found thought provoking:

She speaks of the beginnings of hope that one day the world will find all women to be important.

She speaks in detail of the lives of Asian American immigrant women, and how Asian immigrants are often viewed as being a perpetual foreigner.

She speaks of how women are made to be the other, particularly in the third chapter, a chapter that explores feminism, colonialism, and the limitations of liberation theology among other topics.

She speaks of the subject of western Christianity’s image of God, and how damaging that image really is. I like how she spoke of the need for a more life-giving, and culturally-transcending, image of the Divine. This is the subject of much of the remainder of the book.

She speaks of overcoming the gendered division of humanity, and introduces Spirit God and Shalom justice.

The last chapter, the transformative spirit of Love was excellent, teaching me new things I had not encountered before, as well as teaching me to look at things in an alternative light. I admit, I had been a bit nervous before reading it due to the chapter’s centering around the word Eros, but my nervousness was unfounded, and in the end the chapter was both liberating and illuminating, tying together some of the threads of the mysteries in my heart.

To sum up my thoughts about Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s ‘Embracing the Other’, the book is an excellent book, and I feel it delivers a desperately needed message.

This is one of the books that I’ve read over the past year that has held a profound impact on me, The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other being another one as well as Cindy Brandt’s book ‘Outside In – Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore’. Outside of that personal perspective, the book provides a much needed voice and message, and I recommend it highly.

Like I often do, I read the book slowly, it is the sort of book where one wishes to linger over the pages with eager ears and eyes, trying to take in all the knowledge presented within.

Again, I definitely recommend Embracing the Other.

(This is a slightly longer version of a review written for Amazon.com of this book, mostly the difference is featuring time relevant statements, such as referencing the 2016 Presidential Election.)

You may visit her website at:
https://gracejisunkim.wordpress.com/

Amazon:
Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love

Listening In Silence

There is value in silence, in knowing that your voice isn’t the only voice in the room, crowd, or online world. At first, it is an odd sort of exciting feeling, realizing that you are not the center of the universe, and that that is okay. In fact, there comes a freedom to stepping back, and being silent, and listening to others voices.

Listening, one thing I’ve been seeing a lot lately has been the importance of listening, especially when it comes to listening to the voices of those who are oppressed, and by listening, I mean listening to all that is expressed, not just the nice bits that flatter or are comfortable to hear.

There are many voices which need to be listened to. Not all of the things heard have been pleasant to hear, but they have been extremely valuable in confronting harmful ideas and thoughts I hold. So while they may seem to lack niceness, they do not lack kindness. We are called to be kind, not nice after all. There is a difference between them I should think. Niceness tolerates harm, while kindness tells of it. If you are called out on something, it may not seem nice to you, but it is a kindness.

Listening is important, much more than speaking in many ways, it’s not that my ideas do not have value, they do, but they are not the most important ideas, and for goodness sake, it is good for me to allow others the honor of speaking their minds, especially those whose voices are talked over.

It is good to listen to the thoughts of others, and try to see things from their perspective, to take them seriously and not dismiss them due to tone or other insubstantial reasons that have no bearing on the truth of their words. In my country, though not often acknowledged by the dominate group, the dominate group holds the words of the other with a grain of salt. It is the dominate groups voice which is considered the more truthful or substantial. The dominate group usually means a white male in my country. While not morally wrong to be a member of that demographic, it is morally wrong to insert dominance whether that is personally or corporately, and one of the ways that is done is by the dismissal of other voices as not holding as much weight in the conversation.

Listen. Your opinions are not the only opinions of value, nor do you need to be the loudest voice in all conversations.

Listen, in silence. Sometimes the best thing to be done is to simply not say anything at all.

Influences

January 25th, 2014 is interesting, it has been one year since I started this blog, and ten years since I was introduced to The Lord of the Rings via the Fellowship of the Ring DVD. A movie that would immediately grab my interest not only in Middle-earth, but in the whole Fantasy genre. An important moment, not least because I went on to write my own Fantasy story, though it is not published or anything, I do have this whole Universe of my own that would probably not be there otherwise.

In fact, most of the major things that have taken place in the past decade have stemmed from the watching of the movie. I can even trace my language learning back to it. I would never have met Christopher Hopper if not for a conversation with a friend about fantasy books and Bryan Davis coming up. (Davis and Hopper had gone on a tour together earlier that year and had a video about it.) My own books would not have been written. And while it’s true that I might have gotten into the genre at a later point, who is to say that the circumstances would have followed. Christopher Hopper directly and indirectly through those met through him, has definitely held an influence upon me, not the least have which has been starting to learn other languages. Something I am convinced is going to prove to be as life changing as this movie was ten years ago, perhaps more so.

Ten years is a long time though, yet it seems so short. And as rewarding as it has been if I could go back in time to decide what to watch, would I change it? Probably not, though some of the things I dislike that take place now might be changed if I did. It is hard to remember that not everything is my own decision, or my fault. That people will make decisions even if I may have held some influence, however small, on decisions they make. This absurd for when it comes to other people when I look at how they have influenced me and such, the only thing I’m inclined to do is blame them for the successes that have resulted. Like learning languages. Learning how to read. (Boy, thanks Mom, you taught me to read. Now a whole world of literature is open to me… Honestly…) Learning how to cook, and so forth. I get ridiculously excited when I notice that some good thing has resulted from someone’s influence, and even sometimes really small influences that they themselves are not aware of. I tend to get really excited about that, and furthermore, these people tend to be endured to my heart for it. Even when I get into arguments with people and such, sometimes I can trace back something good out the situation and I have an awful hard time remaining angry with them. I honestly think I value learning, knowledge, and being refined into something better, more than being right or what have you. All in all it’s a good outlook.

Anyways, the point is I should quit blaming myself for other people’s decisions, especially their bad ones, and also try not to overtake credit when I realize it has been a good influence. After all, there is a whole line of influences behind me who shaped me and molded me into the person able to influence them. It isn’t the working of just me but of many people throughout the centuries doing their particular parts and playing their particular roles. I’m just a link in a long chain of links, nothing to be boastful about, but that doesn’t mean I’m not important, without a single link the whole chain breaks.

Well, I’m going to keep it short, unfortunately I have a party to attend to, and have things to do before we leave, it’s getting late. I may come back and try to add more thoughts later, but we shall see.

Experiments, The Universe, People, and Words.

I have been blogging here for about a year. It has been a worthy experiment, though I cannot say whether it has had its intended effect. Not yet at least. Though, I do think I am becoming more inclined to be open than I used to, I do not think a significant part of it has to do with this blog. Still, I have to admit, I like that I’ve written about one hundred thousand words on here, which is roughly the length of most books these days. I suppose writing books isn’t as difficult as it seems when you chip away at the writing part a bit at a time.

The hard part, quite honestly, is thinking of what to say. I had intended and it has proved surprisingly difficult to maintain the notion, without turning from it to speak to another, of using it as a means of essentially talking to myself. Something I have always done ever since I was a little lad at any rate, has been to talk to myself. I think it used to drive people in the vicinity a bit crazy though, I remember saying “I’m just talking to myself.” a lot, growing up. Yes, most of my conversations with myself took place aloud. Still do, in fact, though it tends to be more muttered than a full volumed speech for all to hear. I still regularly talk aloud to myself, especially when I’m excited or upset about something. Half the time I hardly realize I’m doing it.

I do it all the time, honestly, and I tend to refer to myself in third person, as ‘you’. The funny thing is I’m usually the sort to think things through before I talk about them, then I say them after they’ve been well thought through. Not with myself. I ramble on and on. This suggest to me that it’s probably more to do with trust issues than it has anything to do with my personality or anything like that. What is more, if you get me talking about something that I find interesting I have been known to ramble. Even this morning a facebook I did so in response to a post about time:

I believe time to be a physical property of the universe, for me it only makes sense that outside the universe there is no time. Time travel should only be possible within the universe itself, outside of it, which is where God would be, you would find that there is Eternity, a state which I’ve come not to see as lots of time, but no time at all. The implications are interesting indeed. I can’t recall exactly where it is said, but I seem to remember it being mentioned in the scriptures that the heavens can be rolled up like a scroll, which is exactly what I would expect to find in a universe of more than three dimensions with time as a physical property, possibly one of the additional dimensions that we are not immediately aware of. We’re fairly familiar with length, width, and hight. It’s been said that time is a good candidate for the fourth dimension, since it is so intertwined with space to the point that it is spoken of as space-time, not space and time. Some theories suggest there can be many more dimensions, though I believe ten seems to be the most popular thought to exist. A number of them can’t be measured quite as directly as the first four, but can be measured indirectly. It is fairly established that we live in a universe of more than three dimensions.

What I’m trying to say is that time-travel is an in universe idea, it is confined to within the universe itself. So what does it look like outside? Now. Only now, I suppose. There is and there is not. That is all. I ponder a lot of how the heavens can be spoken into existence. If time is a universe bound property then there is and there is not, what if to speak is to speak the ‘instructions’ if you will, to literally speak the actual language of the universe itself. What do I mean by that? Suppose you were to break reality into its most fundamental form, what if you could form that base of all reality into a language, and what is language? A convening of information, and what is it that we can expect to find as the building blocks of what we refer to as reality? Information. It should be possible for a being of infinite knowledge to create information out of nothing, and information, taking the form of the particles that comprise physical reality is still information essentially. In an Eternal state, there would be and there would not be, so to be would be the ‘state’ of the universe.

I see everything as words, so it is hard for me to picture the heavens as anything but the scroll it resembles in its ability to be rolled up. In many ways, I can’t help but wonder if the universe is sort of like a book more than what we might initially consider it to be. But throughout it’s put into very bookish terms. Where can you see the beginning? What is authored out of nothing? What is spoken into being? What is timeless? Words, books, that sort of thing. As a writer and lover of language, I think it makes it difficult for me to think of it any other term.

 

I don’t even know how accurate it all is, most of it is ‘in the moment’ conjecture as I write up the reply. I am aware that chances are I’m getting something or other wrong, but I like that I am communicating something. Communication takes many forms, my favorite is probably written, simply because it is the one I am most comfortable with. However, I’ve been thinking that I have to find ways to practice the spoken word, it is especially important for me to do so now, as I am reading aloud to other people now, and I’ve noticed I’m not used to speaking out loud, even though it’s just reading. Curiously, I’m much more comfortable singing out loud, in the exact same situation. I’ll have to find some sort of thing to read out loud I suppose. I did a little reading on the internet to see what could help you speak more comfortably, one of the suggestions was to read aloud, or even better, they said, was to read for someone else. That makes sense. Like I say above, I am inclined to talk to myself, and I do so relatively easily, but not so much with others, it’s not talking that is the problem, it’s talking to someone else that is the problem. Sometimes I wonder why I like learning languages and so forth, and so much when I have a hard time talking in my own as it is. It’s true that I have a hard time speaking in my own, true, but that’s not entirely true, and I’ve seen myself speaking more and more confidently as time goes one, and there is a noticeable difference after I started learning other languages in how I speak my own. All in all, I think I’m on the right road both with this experiment, and with my language learning endeavors.

I like playing this little game with myself where I try and identify languages when I’m out and about, just to myself, lately however I’ve heard some unusual ones, for a small city, I wonder, what brings people here? I’m pretty sure I heard someone speaking Korean yesterday. Mandarin I expect to hear a little bit, it is the most widely spoken native language in the world after all, Spanish is second to English in the United States, I expect to hear that as well. I really never hear French despite the fact that French speaking Quebec is not too far away from my state, I do see written French everywhere, on signs and products and such. It is also available as an option on a number of movies for the audio and/or subtitle tracks. Hearing Korean was a little unusual, but I like hearing languages like that, almost especially when it isn’t expected to be found in the place where I’m at. I would love to hear even more languages being spoken in the area, myself. Since starting my language learning, I’ve been amazed at just the ones I’ve noticed, and that has mostly been just passing through the stores and such, I am sure in other places in the city there are many other languages being spoken. I know one of my Aunt’s friends, I’m pretty sure, speaks Ukrainian. I may be mistaken, but I think one of the folks that came to our family thanksgiving, though I don’t think he’s actually a part of the family, he’s an old friend of the family, I think I heard him say that he spoke something else at one point, as he was talking about when he learned English, in the context of English as a second language for him. I found it interesting as I appreciate finding much more cultural diversity than a glance might have given me before I learned to appreciate it. In many ways, humanity is better thought of in terms other than race, and perhaps even ethnicity. I’m not sure, perhaps families might be a better term for groups of people. I am certain that the term race is more harmful than good and consider the notion of race itself to be inherently racist, I am uncertain about ethnicity, so I wonder, what would be a term to help people realize we are all one humanity? I do not quite know yet, but I am becoming more and more aware of just how many of the ills that plague us are linguistic ones. Words are important, and they do shape how we see things, and so I seek to find better words to describe the whole of humanity, and the various people who comprise it, and to seek to do so in a way that values diversity while recognizing the unity of humanity as a whole.

Intelligence, Loneliness, and Solitude

There are different kinds of loneliness, of being alone, and loneliness and solitude are not the same sort of thing, I think. There is the loneliness of ideas, and the loneliness of proximity, there is the loneliness of emotions, and the loneliness of the spirit. One can feel alone in the midst of a crowd as easily as one can feel it when one is solitary. One can feel as though one is an outcast, a stranger, or an alien, even when there are other people around you. You can still feel alone, so alone, as though you are the first and the last of your kind, it’s a different kind of loneliness almost.

There is the loneliness of not having people near you who are alike to you, and this is the burden of the genius, you’re an alien amongst your people if you are without peers, genius needs genius, and that may well be its greatest weakness. You need someone who is as mad, creative, and brilliant as you are, but you really do not wish to admit to it. I don’t know if I am genius, but I have felt the solitude of brilliancy, or at least, not having anyone present with which to share my thoughts with. One does not wish to be the teacher all the time, sometimes one desires to be the student, or of equal standing.

I suppose, the genius is found looking for either a close friendship, or at the very least a worthy opponent. If they are going to compete, or even argue, they want it to be someone who is worthy of losing to. Anything less simply will not do.

Part of it is that the genius is inclined to remain alone, simply because they lock the door to their tower, and sit high in the high chambers of it, pondering the secrets of the universe, and wondering why they are alone, when all along, the door has been shut, locked, and unapproachable. Alone, yes, always, yes, and empty. The genius needs friends, I suppose.

For myself, I do have to admit, I do often wonder where is someone I can really open up to, and share with, if I do open up and share with you, it probably means I have a great deal of respect for you and consider you of equal standing with me, especially if I am speaking in a manner like what I write. I have done so on occasion, and have done so more and more, even with people whom I did not imagine I would ever open myself up to, but when the moment came, I did. That is good, I suppose it means I’m either starting to get off my high horse, or that I’m becoming more trusting of people in general. Either way, it is a good thing I think.

It’s not that I’m trying to sound arrogant, and it is hard to read this post without it coming off as such, though it is not meant to be so. Still, the loneliness of brilliancy is real, and does need to be talked of.

On the other hand, there is the value of solitude. In having time alone to be yourself, in taking moments, or hours, or what have you, to reflect quietly on your thoughts. There is a freedom in having a few moments to yourself, where you don’t have to worry about what others are doing or thinking or what have you, because they’re not present. I am a person who likes to be around people, but every so often, I do like to have a few hours to myself if I can. Mostly because I can feel like I can turn my music up without bothering people or using headphones, and while headphones are nice, they can leave you feeling rather isolated in a world of your own. If you’re like me, most of what you hear through them are not even words of your own mother tongue, or native language, or whatever it is that you wish to call it.

Regardless, even the difference between headphone and a set of speakers is nice. I hate driving, but the one thing I like about it is having time to listen to music, that part I like. It is nice on one hand, but on the other, is no substitute for interaction with actual humans. I like having the ability to play music aloud, but I do not mistake as being a valid social interaction. Still, I enjoy having a few hours alone for this purpose every few months or so.

It’s not always the case that perfection is found in the balance, but often times the best place to look for something is in the center. What is the most obvious solution to a given problem. It is also important to take other possibilities into consideration, but generally speaking, considering which among those is the most reasonable is a good place to start. It’s how I can often just jump right in and start using equipment I’ve never seen before in my life. I forget what age I was, but there came a point when I realized that if I guessed how something worked, most of the time, I could at least get it to do something, usually what it was that I wanted it to do. After awhile, experimentation and learning supplement the guesswork and you can quickly master new things. I sometimes joke to myself that “I don’t actually know what I’m doing, I’m just guessing. but don’t let them know that, let these mere mortals bask in the glory of my superior intellect!” Alright, with that last part I am just kidding, I do not actually think of my intellect as being superior or of other people as being mere mortals. However, it is true that a good percent of what I’m doing is just guesswork and intuition, very little of it is related to actually knowing what I’m doing. Now, I did learn how to drive a car properly, I didn’t just get in and start guessing how to drive. It drove me nearly mad to do so, but I did take the time to learn properly. Still, I have been known not to correct people when they say to me that they could never do half this stuff, and tell them “Me either, I actually do not know how to do half this stuff, but I pretend I do and do it anyways. It’s mostly guesswork.”

Truth is, most people are capable of doing the exact same things, but I think we live in a society where from cradle to grave we don’t like to act outside of our preexisting knowledge. The idea of learning without a teacher seems foreign and strange. I believe our education systems, including higher education, often discourages creativity in thinking, and the looming threat of political correctness doesn’t help either. Taught to question everything except itself, most beliefs of the day have a huge, gaping, whole in the center of them, obvious, visible to the outsider but unseen by most inside. Question everything except that which one holds for themselves. One result is we’re always assuming that the experts see what should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense, so we leave the hole watching to the experts, and dare not think for ourselves that what the experts say may not be true, nor take into consideration that the experts do not see the holes either. Sometimes I think ideas such as safety and security are a bit too valued, and the idea of doing something dangerous seems absurd, even if the end result is more valuable than not doing anything at all.

I Love Learning

Learning is interesting, one observation I’ve seen is how I recall people more readily than others in my dreams, some of these people I’ve only met a few times or once, or not at all, but because they have a connection to something I’m learning, they make repeated appearances in my dreams. My guess is that because I’m encountering these people in the context of what I’m learning and am passionate about, my mind files them away as being information worth remembering for the long term.

Curiously, I’m often encountering different languages in my dreams, sometimes it is ones I’ve not learned yet. For example, I have not learned Japanese, but I know a few words, and can usually identify it as Japanese upon hearing it. I’ve had dreams featuring Japanese speakers. I do have dreams where I interact with Chinese Speakers, and it is nice, because I can usually speak back to them. I know some French, but it seems to be strangely absent from my dreams. I have had Spanish in my dreams, but I haven’t studied Spanish. English is still my most used ‘dream-language’.

It all makes me think however, that dreams are kind of like a method our brains use to process information, and I’ve noticed my dreams are much more likely to use my newest bits of information or something that has occurred throughout my day as something I was thinking about or trying to remember. In many ways, this is quite cool. It’s like our minds says to the information we take in. ‘too much, I’ll deal with you later.’ and files it away to be processed in our sleep.

It has been my observation that what we think throughout a day, while we are awake, is more likely to affect our dreams than what we eat, though I have noticed that some foods do tend to interfere with what I dream.

I do not have a lot of bizarre dreams, only dreams where I meet people I’ve not met, or have only met only once or twice, usually while wandering around the grocery store. Funny how task we repeat a lot work their ways into our dreams, though usually in odd ways, in my case, it’s meeting people I may not have met, but have only seen on Facebook or something of that nature.

Apart from dreams, I’ve noticed how my mind categorizes information is rather interesting, I have a bit of a passion for languages, and it has been my observation that I tend to remember things that have some connection to languages much more readily. Before languages, I observed this, but my theory then was that it held for things that I loved, not things I was learning. Learning, makes sense, really, I suppose if you were to think of the mind like a tree or a plant of some sort, and that in learning, it grows new or better roots to process the information, we can expect that after a time anything remotely related to what is being learned would be more readily remembered.

I suppose, it could be that our minds links information that is deemed to be relevant to existing information to each other, so that as one is remembered, so is the other.

I also believe, though I’m not entirely sure as to why, that people have different styles and ways in which they see things, a strength or lens you might say. For me, it’s words. For others it might be numbers. I look at the universe and I see words everywhere, I see it as being a linguistic reality, where someone who thinks through a mathematical lens, they might see it as a numerical reality, though, and perhaps this is because I’m such a linguistic thinker, math itself is a language of sorts. It doesn’t make one way any better or lesser, it just means I have a slightly different way of looking at things than a mathematician might. When I had centered my world around music, music was the foundation of how I saw things. Curious that I could alter something like that, from music, to words, but perhaps it started when I began to write stories, and continued when I found a passion for language itself.

So what happened to music? I suppose we quarreled, we had a disagreement, and music went her way and I went mine. On the other hand it’s not as though words came along and replaced music, it it’s as though music became words. You could almost say, well, I am saying it, that the evolution of a mind is a rather fascinating process, and what you are today, may not be true of you ten years into the future. Though to be honest, I do not expect to see my love of words to go the way of the dinosaur any time in the near future. Of course years ago, I didn’t really think I would ever not be quite as passionate about music, or computers for that matter as I was then. Take computers for example, I used to enjoy these monstrous beast, yet now they’re mostly a means to an end, a way of getting stuff done, but not so exciting in and of themselves. I can write about as well on two decade old computers as I can my newest specimens. (Well, okay, more like fifteen year old computers… Though I have one or two that are about two decades old lingering around about the house. One is just short of three.) The point of the plot is that interest change, and so do we.

These days I think we can expect to see things related to languages as sticking most readily in my mind, the best part is, that I tend to embrace the whole culture of the languages when I learn them. So I’m not really just learning how to say a few new words so I can use poorly translated phrases to ask for American food in the far off corners of the Earth. No, it’s more as if I am being reborn into a whole new culture, altering my very cultural identity and becoming someone completely new. The power of the language in the shaping one’s world is not to be underestimated, with each new language, it as almost as though there is a whole new you, you get to reintroduce yourself to the world all over again as a completely new person, taking in sights and sounds and a cultural identity as if for the first time, yes, you’ve done it before as you learned your mother (or native) tongue, but having both your new and old languages, the learning experience of the new language, tends to have a profound effect upon your view, even through your native (or mother) language.

For me, for years, I wanted to learn French, but it wasn’t until just over a year ago that I decided to give it a go, and I did learn a bit of French, and I still do some practice here and there, reading and such, in French to this day, but I didn’t really expect that about three weeks into starting my French I would discover the Mandarin Chinese language. So despite having the dream of learning French for years, I jumped ship to Chinese, and I do not regret it. I have found it to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. Sometimes, putting what you thought you wanted on the back burner can prove very beneficial. Curiously, even with just my bits and pieces of French that I do study here and there, I have learned enough that I can watch most movies with the French audio and subtitles and have a very good idea what is being said, as well as using French for my computer’s and phone’s interface. Though why I’m noticeably improving every few months beats me, it’s not a very active study, despite using it in the background all the time, I rarely take the time to actually study it. I’m able to understand a lot of what is being said in French though. I suppose one would learn to understand before one can speak something.

I love learning, and I like to learn, and one of the things I enjoy most is finding new ways to learn new things.

Of Life and Escaping Chickens

Cycles are one ways in which you can think of life, I find it odd that most of the time, if I look in a journal entry from roughly the same time a year prior, it could have been written today and still say much the same. On one hand this is a bit discouraging, on the other hand, it is not, but it is unsettling. Of course, half the reason is that I write in my journals, then later reread them, then am inspired to write some more, which tends to follow the footsteps of the first. So, for example, if I had written about escaping chickens a year ago, I read it again, and somehow escaping chickens works its way into the new, and the process starts all over again. It’s not like there is a lot of chickens escaping, in fact the chickens may have only escaped once, it’s that I keep writing about the same escaping chickens, over and over again. Now, it’s not necessarily always about the chickens, it can be about anything, the point is, sometimes life, like journal entries, seems repetitive because when we look back we are inspired to repeat the same things over and over again. In part this is because humans are rather habit forming creatures to begin with, most of the time, we ourselves are not even aware of how many odd little habits we have, many of them are parts of our daily routine. You might say that forming habits, is really quite habit forming.

Ridiculous notions of escaping chickens aside*, I do seek to be, to know, and yes, enjoy, humanity, including my own, and really, if we do not know our own humanity and understand the glorious creature that we are, we will do ourselves a disservice, and those around us. I disapprove of selfishness, but at the same time I disapprove of having such a low value for ones own humanity as can happen when we do not have a respect for the idea of being human. In the outworking of many of the world’s doctrines, I have seen people hurt when humanity is minimized. When we devalue our own humanity, we lose our respect for the humanity of others. Yes, at the same time, I acknowledge it is possible to have such a high view of your own humanity that you seek to eliminate or suppress what you deem to be other ‘lesser’ sorts. There is an opposite evil as well to devaluing humanity, and that is where a lot of ridiculous notions about superiority are from. The proper view then, would be one that respects the humanity of oneself and of the other. Such a view does not leave room for prejudice, we are equals, or hatred, we are the same. In many ways humility is needed. That fine line between pride and false humility is the narrow way, but the proper way. I hate it when I see people degrading themselves, condemning themselves, and all but proclaiming themselves to be monsters. In many ways this as bothersome as someone referring to themselves as supreme or better than you. (In talent, perhaps, in humanity, never.) Despising of ones humanity can take more than one form as well, Lord Voldemort, for example is famous for exhibiting one form, despising his humanity as something to be ashamed of, seeking to dispose of it, and turning himself into the monstrous creature he became. The other is one that is ashamed of being human because of the totality of the depravity of being human, which isn’t so very different from the first, except that it doesn’t lead as much to despising of ones own humanity, so much as ones human, and therefore supposedly degraded, nature, it does not seek to see goodness in oneself or in others, and holds very little compassion or love, the first form seeks superiority to become something more, the second wishes to be dead. Either way, it tends to produce someone who is loveless and prideful, either of their deadness, or their supposed superiority. The dead have nothing to give, and the other holds no wish to do so.

And yet, despite how there is a seemingly endless repetition of yesterdays, changes do in fact occur. Good changes, bad changes, sometimes changes that seem to be one or the other, but only later are revealed for whether they truly are. Some things that seem like blessings of the moment later prove to be a curse, while other things that seem like a curse in the moment, later are revealed to be blessings. Even this blog itself, holds evidence of repetition, and certain themes weave throughout the collective whole. Ideas such as how beautiful the world is, and the inhabitants of the world, how the universe itself is more akin to a poem than a object, the wonders of language, etc. often come up throughout the blog post. I suppose life is like a wheel, it goes around and around, but it’ll get you there eventually. And while day to day, things often seem mundane and repetitive, things do occur that alter us, change us. Every once in awhile, it is true, something occurs that jolts us in a different direction, sometimes these are indeed dark moments, and sometimes we are surprised by something pleasant, either way, however, we are rarely the same person we were beforehand. At times, such changes seemed small things at the time, yet only upon reflection do we realize that something life changing has occurred. More commonly, however, is the little changes that are hardly noticed, changes that can stretch out over months or even years, but at the end of the story, held just as powerfully in altering our journey as the sudden changes.

One of the greatest surprises that life holds is the development of friendships, nothing surprises me so continuously as the development of friendships. I am not sure if I can ever truly say when exactly I began my friendships with my friends, maybe a period of time, but never really a moment. It’s like you knew you were becoming friends, but all of a sudden you find one day that these people are very important to you, and you can’t exactly explain why, or what happened. Unfortunately the opposite holds true as well, you find that people you once were close to have gone off in a different direction, and there is very little between you, you’re strangers again. It wasn’t that there was any ill will, or anything like that, it’s just a drifting apart, and as you’ve walked separate paths, you became different people. Sometimes you meet again and friendship is at times rekindled, other times, you remain walking along separately for the rest of your life. Of course there are always times of betrayal as well, but more often, friendships grow distant simply because of walking separate ways.

Just for the record, we do not have chickens.

* It is a phrase used in the movie Chicken Run.

Of Thinking Styles

For me, I find I tend to think of myself as being alone, or more accurately, I forget that I am a part of other people’s lives. I exhibit genuine surprise when people acknowledge my presence, much like Jack Frost from Rise of the Guardians does when he is seen for the first time. I forget that while I like to observe, I too may be observed. It is as though in my mind, I am an invisible entity, and it is astonishing how often, even in places like ordering coffee and such, I am surprised when I’m asked what I would like. This happens quite often, and I suppose it’s why I do not really exhibit fear about public appearances, on stages and such, because in my own mind I’m invisible, like a ghost. It is of course not true that I am invisible, I assure you I am indeed quite visible to people, all of them. What I am trying to say is that I have always been a bit of a day-dreamer, but sometimes, I wonder, if I exist in my own little world just a little bit too much. I’m not sure whether it is due to retreating away from, or from just not placing myself forwards, but I tend to remain lost in thought, drifting about.

Sometimes I think I’ll never change. I remember in my youth, zoning out while playing soccer (football for most places outside the US.) and all of a sudden I hear “Earth to Shane!” coming from the coach, who thankfully was rather amused about it. But, yes, that is pretty much the story of my life. A bit absent minded I suppose. I say I’ll never change, and perhaps I should never change. It is okay to be absent minded, or lost in thought, it’s not like there is something wrong with me because I have the tendency to be that way.

Yet, I feel discontented with myself at times about it. Where does this tendency to conform come from? And I shouldn’t even say conform to other people, but rather our perceptions of other people, sometimes it can be tempting to think of those who blurt out everything that’s on the tip of their mind without stopping to breath as just a part of the ignorant masses. No, they just have a very different style of thinking things through, rather than discussing several ridiculous notions in the privacy of their own brain, they announce it all to everyone in the vicinity, brilliant and ridiculous notions alike, which does tend to create the perception that they are not thinking things through, but they are, they’re just doing it all aloud. There is nothing wrong with that. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if it is possible for the perceptions both of this type and the silent type of thinker to not be skewed by the thinker’s own thinking style. I tend to be the kind to think about it in my head unless I’m very comfortable around you. Unfortunately, it was mostly the cat who would be on the receiving end of those discussions.

I suppose I am what they call an introvert, though I personally do not really like the term all that much, I suppose it is a superior label to shy, or bashful, and definitely better than terms such as anti-social and the like, I still do not really like the term introvert/extravert, etc. For one thing, I dislike confining myself into categories as it is without inventing more labels for myself than I absolutely need to. Also I have a mix of traits common to both introverts and extraverts, and can not neatly fit into either one or the other. This is fine, there is nothing wrong with me because I am an inextratervert. (I think I just made up that term myself, one of the things I do like about English is how easy it is to make up new words as you go along.)

One of the things about my personality is that I am rather fond of the more, I don’t know, I guess you could call it morbid, or gloomy sort of things, almost like a dark whimsicalness. I’ve kind of always been that way, but at the same time, I rather dislike cruelty and violence. My writings are filled with rather gloomy descriptions of terrifying places. Creepy places, things of that nature, yet there is to me anyways, a sort of dark beauty to them. Yet, when I write battle scenes for example, I hardly go into description at all in regard to the violence of it, though I might have spent a great deal of time describing the environment.

In my writings there is for example: Máiréad’s Labyrinth, a terrifying place, to be sure, yet I keep coming back to it several times throughout my stories. There is also Ian’s Garden, a garden centered around deathly imagery, and is more of a tomb than a garden.

As for myself, I am exceedingly fond of black, something I have been teased about, but I do not mind. I like making people laugh, or at least amuse them, even if it is a ‘I’m mildly annoyed that you wear nothing but black all the time, wear some color for goodness sake! Would it kill you to wear a little color from time to time?’ sense. I’ve gotten better, but I haven’t started wearing bright pink shirts or anything like that yet.

It is interesting how one’s personality and perspective of things can change how the world looks to them.

The Miraculous and the Mundane

It’s okay to love, to be fond of, to enjoy the existence of our fellow human beings, it is okay to delight in those we love. It is okay to hold people in our hearts. It may seem as though it is of no consequence, or importance to realize that, but it is quite an important truth. Let the truth of it set you free, free of the demons of condemnation, fear, and doubt.

For myself, I need not be doubtful, or to live a life either of fear or condemnation, I am a child of God, and my heart and soul are those of a redeemed man. My heart is a heart given by God, a pure, righteous, holy, beautiful, and true heart, a sacred heart.

When I consider others who are counted among the redeemed, I still marvel. It is as though heaven has given them wings, on which they fly, and rise above. I see the supernatural working among the natural world, the miraculous among the mundane.

And yet, in consideration of the mundane, even that I find fascinating, I ask, what are my own limits? What would happen if I pushed myself to the limits of human capacity in the natural realm just to see what it is that the human being is capable of. I cannot deny it, humanity, even its natural state, is a glorious creature indeed, which as an artist myself, is not of any surprise to me, that even though humanity has fallen, there still remains in them a reflection of the one who has made humanity, and did so in his image, it is true of my own creations as well, even when they are not perfect, my handiwork can still be seen upon them. This, in my mind does not lessen the glory of the creator, even if the natural man is a fallen one, he or she is still, though not particularly intending to, glorifying the creator. How much more does the redeemed man bring glory to him. I am rather fond of what might be called the more mythical aspects of the historical narrative, amongst them is the story referred to as the myth that came true. Perhaps it is because I am a writer myself, but I tend to see the world, and history, and everything else through the lens of words and storytelling, my view of the world is a very narrative one, with a beginning, a middle, a end, with a world that is as much a poem as it is a home, and above all, an author, an author who writes, and has written, and knows all aspects of the story, even the parts that I have not read yet, but perhaps most incredibly of all, an author who has himself entered into his own story to redeem humanity.

Yet, there is the matter of my own part of the tale, and it is interesting that in this part I both walk the appointed path, as written, and choose the path upon which I walk. And one of the things I have to face as I face my own story, is the question of overcoming the fears that bind. Take for example, my fear of the physical touch of others, and of doing so to them. While this is perhaps an understandable fear, I cannot think it a good one. It runs so deep that for so long now, I’ve withheld myself and shrank back from the touch of others, and the effect upon me has been a rather peculiar one. There are times when I feel detached, invisible, alone. I don’t like not being able to reach out and comfort the hurting, nor expressing fully my own affection by forcing myself to be distant and cold. It can make one feel at times as though one is so full of love, and joy, and mirth, and yet has nothing to do with it. As though one has taken a universe within, but has not a way to let it out again.

I wish I could take people by the hand and physically express with that gesture the warmness of my heart towards them. Also, just to clarify, I do not mean that I seek the human touch in an inappropriate sense, I speak of the human need for human contact with each other, and how it feels not to have that. Regardless, of that, I am grateful for it, it gives me a measure of compassion for the truly isolated, and alone, where my isolation is my own mental barriers cutting myself off, I am aware that some are cut off without choice.

After all, there are so many people who are precious to me and I have no means to let them know that. What is it to think the world of people if they are not aware of it? Oh, I don’t know, the point is, I do in fact, grow weary of coming across as cold and distant, when that really isn’t what I wish to be, and in my heart, is not what I am.

So, how do I find my place in the greater story? How do I lose the focus upon the little things, the little fears that seem greater than they truly are? That is the challenge, I suppose. I know it is because I do not force myself to go out and do things quite as readily as I ought that I often feel isolated. I have very little initiative. I am keenly aware that most of the trouble I have is indeed my own making, I am aware of that. It is true, that if I were to throw myself out there more, I would slowly, but surely, find myself in the company of other humans. Which is definitely something that I seek. To do so, I need to change my perspective.

So, how to change my perspective? That is indeed a good question, and one that I’m still trying to figure out how to answer. I’ll be honest, I do have a number of ‘struggles’ or ‘problems’ that I quite honestly, haven’t figured out yet. I’m fairly certain that in some form, everyone has these, some of us, myself included, are just pretty good at hiding it. It is certainly true of me that I tend to hide behind some mask or other, I’ve long been aware of it. The problem is when you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be when you’re yourself.

Not that it is all about me, it is just that I do tend to keep myself the most company, so it is easy for me to make observations of my own behavior, regardless, I do wish to know what my part in the tale is. I suppose in the end however, some stories are not meant to be told, they’re meant to be lived.

The Art of Transformation

I suppose what troubles me is that things remain a mystery, you find a work of art for example, and you can examine it, take it apart even, and yet still not understand it. You can find yourself changed, even fundamentally, as in the whole essence of who you are transforming into something new, and still not understand it. Even more complicated is the relationship one holds with the artist, did they or their work transform you? I almost want to say it would be the work far more than the artist. It holds a life of its own really, and every novel contains a universe within, and when we read it, we become part of that universe. The same is true of all stories, no matter what form they take, whether in film, or novel, in poem, or song, in a painting. The magic of stories is that they contain a universe all their own, and when we partake we become a part of it. The artist is a great transformer, truly, but their work is often greater than it was set out to be, and this is a mystery.

I suppose the question is: Do I love the artist because they changed me, or did they change me because I love them? Do I love their work because the work changed me, or did I change because I loved the work? I am uncertain of the answer to that, but I think there is truth in both. A work, no matter how beautiful cannot work upon my soul if I do not pay attention to it or do not heed it.

The fact that I esteem the artist cannot be denied, neither can the fact that I changed as a result of encountering them, but the question remains, do I change because I esteem the artist or because the artist changed me? I think in the creation of the art, we infuse ourselves into the work, and thus we do change those around us, and yet it is most effective to the soul that takes heed, that stops and ponders, and attends to the work. This is the peculiar relationship between the artist and the partaker, a transformative work upon the soul of the partaker, yes, but also upon the artist who has placed themselves within their work.

I do have questions and thoughts, and there is central to all, the heart of the matter. The heart. For years I have heard it said that my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I now think this is wrongly applied, and it has left me unable to enjoy a healthy, normal, relationship with other human beings. The heart is capable of goodness, or there would be no point in even attempting to live righteously. To the heart that believes itself wicked, it refuses to be a heart of love, it is true that I would say unto myself: “I might hurt them.” and it wishes to abstain from other humans. Nothing can be more harmful to the human condition than avoidance of humanity. I have to ask in reply: “Do you want to? No, I would do anything to benefit them.” a response that a heart, not of desperate wickedness, and deceit would answer, but a heart of love. Love says it would help and not hinder, love says it will not hurt or harm. There is no point in loving others if our heart is incapable of it.

So why be afraid. Do I have the courage to look into the mirror of souls? To see the lies, to see the glory, and feel the fire of the truth? To know myself? In the end, I believe I would see would not be an abyss black and without end, but something far more beautiful than even I have the capability to imagine. I believe the redeemed heart is particularly beautiful, but that all hearts are capable of goodness. I do not believe that some hearts are destined to be wholly evil.

The truth sets us free. So what is the truth? It really does come down to the matter of the heart, and the heart of the matter is that the heart is neither here nor there, it’s a living thing, and as such it is capable of turning to either the light or the darkness. Once again I come to the conclusion that we are defined by the choices we make. However, it must be taken into consideration that the heart is incapable of doing arising out of darkness of its own accord, and this is why humanity is in need of saving, despite our ability to make the right choices, we can’t lift ourselves out of the darkness.

I think sometimes that things are torn out of their proper context, and transformed from truth, to lies in themselves, and that it is more lies and fear that is preached than truth. Even by the well meaning, it is hard to be heard above the shouting, the still small voice of gentleness.

If a single lie, built by the twisting of the truth, has all but destroyed the notion of love for humanity, and I cannot accept that. The thing is, those who teach them are bound by the same lies they teach. I’m not sure what to name this thing, and it feels rather complicated.

However, I do believe that this is wrong, because everywhere people are being hurt. People lament that people leave, but we shouldn’t be surprised. If we turn our sanctuaries into places of harm, what can you expect?

I dislike seeing people hurt, especially when it occurs in the name of love. Yet, it is often only the result of lies believed, sometimes years and centuries of mistaken notions outworking themselves into hurting others for the sake of our own righteousness. Bearing that in mind produces a compassion not only for the hurt but often times for the one inflicting it.

Even so, I cannot deny that some have chosen to walk in the darkness, and they do hurt, sometimes without any clear reason, but they do hurt and do so with intention. Not all cruelty is comprised of mistaken notions.

In regard to myself I wish to walk in the way of gentleness, and hope, rather than the path of condemnation. There is enough condemnation already to go around the world a thousand times, I need not add to it. I hate it when I do, and I do at times. It would be wrong for me to claim otherwise. Condemnation is an ever-consuming monster whose appetite is never satisfied. Do not feed the monster.

Instead breathe life and hope into the world, seek to transform, and to build up, seek to love and set free. In many ways I suppose, this is the work of the artist, as much as it is anyone else. Some believe art to be purely a form of self-expression, and I suppose it can be, but it never can reach the hight of its ability unless it gets beyond the expression of the self. Neither can it do so if it is in the form of propaganda, which is to say that the art itself has been highjacked by a pasted on message. Art is at its best when it is neither centered upon the artist or the audience but simply is a work from which both the artist and the audience are transformed. This is not to suggest that great art is that which is accidental or unintended, by no means, the greatest arts are those which are very intentional indeed. Intricacy is one way in which a good work is separated from a great work. A good story may be told once and satisfy, but a great one can be told again and again, each time with something new to offer to all who partake of it. Another aspect is the hidden, a work that does not explain everything outright, but has at least some measure of mystery to it. A good story may be told outright, but a great one holds a mystery to it, something that is impossible to describe, yet we wish to partake of it, even if we do not fully understand it. It is the mystery that lends these works their believability, and their beauty.

Which is, I suppose, why both as an artist and a human, I wish to transform, even as I am transformed.