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Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Remember when people on Craigslist got busted for using the website to sell sex?

My writing teacher/mentor sent me this OP-ED by Nicholas Kristof from the NY Times (because it relates to the novel I’m writing for my thesis/breakout into the novel-writing-world).   In summary, Kristof gives a morbid and disturbing account of a teenage girl who has been sold several times on Backpage.com, a classified ads website monitored by Village Voice Media (the same people who put out the paper).  He says that the website,

accounts for about 70 percent of prostitution advertising among five Web sites that carry such ads in the United States, earning more than $22 million annually from prostitution ads…

Here’s an online petition that he gives from Change.com to help put an end to this.   The petition writers say this about the cause:

Sex trafficking of girls and boys on Backpage.com, owned by Village Voice Media, is becoming a disturbing trend.

A Georgia man was arrested for pimping two 17-year-old girls around the Nashville area. Detectives responded to a suspicious ad on Backpage.com and drove to a motel. There, they found the teens and their 37-year-old pimp, as well as a laptop computer, likely used for the online advertising. Just four days prior to that, four people in Denver were arrested for forcing a teen girl into prostitution. They also advertised her sexual services, including semi-nude pictures, on Backpage. And last year, a South Dakota couple was arrested for selling underage girls for sex on …. wait for it … Backpage.com yet again.

Village Voice Media has a moral responsibility to ensure that young girls and boys aren’t being abused in the commercial sex industry with help from their website.

Now, a rising movement of people of many faiths and backgrounds, motivated by their shared moral convictions, are taking action to end this practice.

Please join us in demanding that Village Voice Media – Backpage.com’s parent company – stop selling ads that others use to sell minors on Backpage.com by shutting down the Adult section of the website.

Maybe I am naive, but my mind is shot at the thought that this company/website hasn’t been severely punished yet for this.

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The first time I heard this analogy was in Tennessee.  I’m going to blame the Bible belt for it.  Nearly a decade ago now (sheesh time flies), my best friend who I sometimes call my wife and I were on a road trip and Knoxville was our first stop.  The friend we stayed with spent a lot of our visit debunking various religions, reiterating the analogy that the ingredients in rat poisoning are mostly harmless except for a very small dose of poison–was it arsenic?  I don’t know.  A small of something that kills rats.  This was to demonstrate that we can’t pick and choose what we want from other religions and throw away the bad stuff, because a small amount of lies spoils the whole religion and makes it poisonous.  Something like that.

I’d nearly forgotten about this illustration until a couple Sundays ago, when the pastor at my church told a story with the same sort of analogy as a punchline:  A young girl asks her father if they can watch a movie that’s rated R, and the father says, “Why is it rated R?” She explains that there’s a little bit of sex and violence but it’s supposed to be a really good movie.  He says, “Okay, I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll watch that movie if, after it’s done, you’ll eat some brownies we’ll make together.”

The girl is like, “Awesome!”

So before they put the movie in, the father starts making brownies and he tells the daughter to go get some dog shit out from the yard.  She does.  He puts it in the brownie batter.  The punchline: a little dollop of dog shit ruins the whole batch. (See below for my pastor’s context of this story, which is different than the guy in Knoxville’s…)

I’m willing to say that sometimes, life does work this way–if a hair gets in my restaurant meal I am going to be grossed out and ask the server for a re-do on my dish.  I’m not convinced, however, that God works this way with sin in our lives.  Here’s why:  The harvest analogy.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a wheat field where the farmer lets the weeds grow with the crop, knowing that come harvest time, he’ll separate the weeds from the good stuff. He’ll toss the weeds into a fire. He’ll use the wheat for some bread.   Lots of people like to say this is about hell, and sure, maybe it is, I have no idea, but I see it also in my own life here on earth.  For me, walking with God means that every six or seven years or so, I go through a harvest period.  In this case, something drastic has occurred which has made me have to rethink my faith, my relationships, my family.  And I ask God–how did it get this way?  And then I reflect, through various conversations with folks, about how I ended up where I am.   I understand that there have been wonderful things happening to me and my faith (I love God more and I love people more and I’m less depressed) because of the events that led me here since the last time I had to go to God in a crisis.  Meanwhile, I see lots of lies about God and how he goes about his God-business have also accumulated.  I ask, “Why did you let that junk go on?” as many of us do when we are wondering why God allows suffering.  This time, I asked the question right before I read the harvest analogy, which just happened to come up in Matthew, which I’ve been reading again since the New Year.

This is what the Kingdom of God is like, for me at least.  My relationship with God is one where I hit the wall, where shit hits the fan, and instead of turning away from God, I go to him and ask me to sort out what’s left.  What’s left is a lot of weeds and a lot of wheat.  He helps me to see what is what, I pick out the good, productive ideas from the bad, destructive ones, and I grow in my knowledge and insight.

This is a life-long process, I think, for myself as a believer.  Eventually, we are to believe, God will give the destructive stuff a good destroying and that will be the end of it. But until then, this is how it’s been and probably will be again.

I’m hesitant towards the rat poison analogy because it sets us up for some real exclusion of people.  Because what if the field analogy works on an individual level, and what if we are rejecting someone because we have spotted a weed in their thinking?  Sure, we should try to pull it out, but also trust that if the person is trusting God, a time will come, likely in this life, when he will harvest them into better people.  If the rat poison analogy holds, we must reject those in whom we we detect the tiniest bit of poison.  And who among us is completely poison-free?

I will end this by saying that though I think sex and violence can be in a really good movie (what is better than The Wire? and what has more sex and violence?) I actually liked the sermon a lot that I heard at my church.  It wasn’t about people, but our words.  It was a reminder that a poorly constructed thought can do a huge amount of damage–in other words, watch your words.  Words count.  As a writer, I do need to hear this as much as possible.

Meanwhile, as a believer, I think it’s important that I trust God with the weeds in other people’s lives and be careful about how I use the rat poison analogy.

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Wintery : Wintry

Over break, when I was home in Detroit, I noticed a few times that the newscasters (particularly CNN and TWC) wrote “Wintry” weather on the screen and it was the first time I realized that’s how we spell wintery: wintry.  It just struck me as so un-Midwestern–so British.  That certainly isn’t a bad thing, it just struck me, that’s all.  And so here I am, back in the cornfield-surrounded college town, which, when I got here was just rainy, gray, and green, but is now covered with a thin layer of snow.  Wintry seems more fitting to describe the frosty fields and forests than it does to describe the big chunks of ice causing spin-outs on Detroit’s highways.

I think of Mark at NWF when I start this next paragraph, “There is something about …”  because, it’s true, there is something about most things and in this case, there is something about the fact that the year starts and ends in Winter.  Maybe it would be more fitting to have winter start in spring, but I like the fact that we begin in silence.  In Thailand, a place without winter, I never had that sensation of looking out at the dead, white world and experiencing its silence. Though starting the year in winter is something particular to the northern hemisphere,  I don’t think any of those in the Northern Hemisphere quite gets the sensation like we do in the American Mid-West.  I’ve come to appreciate the extremity of our season-changing, though I’ve also come to appreciate living without seasons (by that I mean, appreciate living with clear sinuses).

There’s something about starting the year in winter because most things begin in dead silence and it’s hard to remember that we have to wait a little before any signs of growth.  Also, like the growth that comes with seasons, most things don’t come out of nothing, but  from roots that were planted in previous seasons, if you follow my explosion of seasonal allegory.  Because I’m in between semesters,  and in my first winter in two years, I’m really feeling this renewal thing.  The New Year seems more like a new beginning than any I can remember.  I can’t really put my finger on why, but I am stepping up to this New Year without much for expectations.  I try to look to the future and I see a lot of ideas about what might happen but I can’t pin them down.  It all just looks blank to me.  I suppose this is the best way to start off.

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I just listened to the story of a woman named Roxy Kahn on the Mars Hill website. You can listen to it too, here:

http://marshill.org/teaching/index.php

I’ve been listening to sermons on there every week, and after I listen, I feel so full of the love of God—refreshed and at peace. Roxy, a woman from England, came to Mars Hill (a church near Grand Rapids, Michigan) to share her story of how she came out of an abusive household and found Jesus shortly after she ran away from home. She emphasized the importance of sharing what Jesus has done in our lives, the freedom we have in Him.

Hearing this message, I confessed to God that I have real trouble sharing my experiences with him to other people. I earnestly want to make God a bigger part of my daily conversation. I thought I would take the first step in sharing my testimony with my 400 Facebook friends. Well, maybe 389 of them, because I think Facebook is a popular thing to give up for lent. Anyway, in starting to write my testimony down, I found that the thing runs on for several pages. So consider this the first installment. I hope I will be motivated to continue this story, but for now, here’s some significant points to my story of knowing God up until I started college:

My mother and father are both Christians and came to know Jesus in the 1970’s. My father found Jesus in the Navy. My mother committed her life to Christ when she was a teenager, living in a broken household in Detroit. They met soon after my father returned to Detroit, at a Bible study led by a Messianic Jew named Haskell Stone. His Bible Study was so popular that it morphed into the church I grew up in, NorthWest Fellowship.

I attended that church nearly my whole life. In Sunday school, I was captivated by the Bible stories and never doubted anything my teachers taught me there. Even when I was really young, I asked them questions and I think our Sunday school meetings were often dominated by conversations I had with the teachers in front of my peers. When I was four, I think, I asked Jesus into my life at the kitchen table but I don’t remember it that much. From then, I understood that God was present with me and I talked to him a lot. I noticed that he was heavily involved with my life. In third grade, I had made an enemy in my class and I took pleasure in tormenting her as often as I could, but I realized, somehow, that my actions didn’t please God and I repented. From there, I saw that I started to have compassion on her because she had a hard life—an absent father—and I asked her to be my friend. That put an end to our battles and I knew that God had something to do with my desire to be her friend.

There was a period, when my brother was old enough to watch me at home without my parents around, that I was given the option of whether or not I wanted to attend church. I opted to stay home most of the time. I’m not sure how old I was, but I’m thinking I was around nine or ten. It was at this time when I started to get involved in and passionate about theater I found it hard to relate to the other kids my age at church because they weren’t into theater or musicals so I was more comfortable at home. I still went to church sometimes but not very regularly.

When I was eleven, I went to the annual campout my dad and some others organize each August. It was the first year I remember really taking to heart the testimonies I heard each night around the campfire. By the end of the week, I felt God was calling me so I sort of made a deal with him—I’d “follow” him, as the people had shared they were doing, if he helped me become an actress. So really, it wasn’t a decision to follow him at all, though it was significant. From there, I started to identify as someone who “knew Jesus,” and began to attend church more regularly and read the Bible more. But I wouldn’t say that my relationship with him was that strong at this point. When I was thirteen, I decided to get baptized. I think it was because it just seemed like the natural thing to do. From then, I attended Haskell Stone’s Bible study on Weds. nights and praying regularly. My faith grew stronger. It seems that the story should end there, but it doesn’t—I still had a lot to learn about God. I’m still learning, of course.

I attended a performing arts high school in Detroit where I was one of 15 or so white kids among 600 black. At first this was a huge adjustment for me—my elementary and middle schools were about 50/50 white and black and emphasized diversity. In my freshman year I found that being white was not something to be proud of and initially, I struggled with standing out. I had entered high school with a very negative view of the suburbs because I had witnessed quite a bit of racial segregation/negative views of Detroit and black people from some of my suburban theater experiences. Mostly conversations I overheard of people bashing Detroit and black people. So I already was pretty ashamed of my heritage, which was exacerbated by an experience I had my freshman year when a girl got angry because I was allowed to use an office phone and she wasn’t and she told me it was because I was white.

But it wasn’t long before I started to see that if I spoke about God, negative feelings towards me seemed to dissipate, in some situations, and it was through being a Christian that I found my common ground with my peers. By the time I graduated, I felt I had lots of freedom at school to be a Christian. Most of my schoolmates encouraged me in my faith and I had no trouble talking to them about God. At the same time, I started to have a lot of compassion about the injustices that many of my peers faced, from stories I heard about encounters they had with racism. Also, I grew increasingly frustrated with the poor quality of education I was receiving in the Detroit Public schools; it was then that I started to feel quite strongly that the inner city was being shunned by the rest of the state.

At the end of my eleventh grade year, I had suffered some disappointments
that put me in my first bout of depression. I had suffered a break up with someone I was quite in love with, which was probably the springboard for my overall sense of emptiness. I also lost a lot of confidence in my abilities to perform. I wanted very badly to study musical theater at Michigan, but for two years in a row, I failed to get into a summer program at Interlochen with the chair of the department and I started to understand that I probably wouldn’t get to live out that dream (I already had a scholarship to study at UofM, so I was pretty much settled on going there—didn’t see any other options). I once had a lot of confidence in my ability to sing but those rejections left me feeling pretty deflated and I started to just focus on acting because I might have a chance to study in the theater department instead. From then, I went a few years without singing much at all. I spent a few months on the waiting list for the theater department, so, at this time, I was feeling pretty directionless. The biggest disappointment I faced, though, was that I wasn’t winning first second or third in my forensics competitions (speech/dramatic interpretation) like I had in the previous years, and I had my heart set on being a captain of our school’s team, but didn’t believe I would get granted that because I failed to bring home trophies. By June, I was what Thom Yorke would call “a walking disaster,” and my forensics coach told me that I had hit rock bottom. I had. I didn’t know it yet, but I was depressed—something that I continued to struggle with for the next decade or so…

The day before my seventeenth birthday, I felt like zombie. I tell people that was the one day of my life I was an atheist—I felt so empty that I didn’t think that God could possibly live in me, as I was often taught he did. This feeling, of course, was heightened by the fact that I was a teenager, but oh well. That night, I remember staring into a mirror and looking for life in my eyes, and when I couldn’t find it, I just slumped down on the bathroom floor and cried. My mother passed the bathroom door and asked me why I was crying but I couldn’t tell her so she just told me to stop and walked away. I felt abandoned. And if that wasn’t dramatic enough, the next thing I knew, I was in the kitchen at about one a.m., staring at my parent’s collection of prescription and over the counter medicine. It wasn’t until I held a giant bottle of pain killers in my hand and started to open it, that I came to my senses and put the bottle away. I went to sleep that night, finally, feeling like I had already died.

The next day it was my birthday and things started to get a bit sunnier when I received a birthday card from a friend of mine who I figured had forgotten me—someone who was also a Christian. I was still feeling pretty heavy because I had to go to a forensics banquet that night and I didn’t know how I was going to face the disappointment of not being named a captain. The team only had two seniors named captain per year and the kids in my class (hurray for the 2G’s) were all pretty phenomenal and the vast majority had competed better than I had. When my coach gave the speech of who she had appointed for the next year (an annual tradition), she started to describe me as a person who had continued to urge the team members on, even when I didn’t do that well in competition. She named a few instances—things I vaguely remember saying or doing but didn’t think about much—and then I realized that she was appointing me as a captain. But I made a bigger realization there—that even when I’m at “rock bottom,” there is a force in me that continues to do good things. It was my first experience with the grace of God and with the idea that he was working in my life.

From this point, I found my life was just flooded with Christian fellowship. My friend’s father was diagnosed with cancer and so there was a sort of support group that rallied around her family. This group, and the Friday night Bible Study that was established for the teenagers in this new “community,” became the center of my social life. In my senior year, I had Jesus coming out of my ears from this bible study and fellowship, along with other Bible Studies around the area. By the time I went to college the next fall, I was pretty confident in my faith.

(Note: My understanding of God at this point was someone who called me out of a dying world to follow him… my focus was very much on the future and the opportunity to be with him in heaven. My focus isn’t so much on that now… I hope I’ll be able to explain that in the further installments.)

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The Good Times

I read a short story called “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” by Wells Tower today.  This part of a paragraph, near the end of the story, astounded me:

“Where had the good times gone?  I didn’t know, but when Pila and me had our little twins and we put a family together, I got an understanding of how terrible love can be.  You wish you hated those people, your wife and children, because you know what awful things the world will do to them, because you have done some of those things yourself.”

The reality that we are a part of why the world is dark, why our presence is an inevitable contribution, is quite interesting.  It’s dark, yes, but sometimes truth is dark.

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Grief

I just don’t want to live in a world without my grandmother.

(But I guess this is where ancestor worship comes from–a way to cope with losing the people who helped form us. Our thoughts go to them and turn into prayers for all the information we forgot to ask when they were around.)

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