Peace Is Not What We Should Pray For

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

“For peace in our nation.”  I paused.  “We pray to the Lord.”

The congregation, slower in its responses here than in my home parish on the other side of the state, mumbled, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

It’s not my job to improvise the intercessions – lectors just read, we don’t write – but at that moment I wished I could add something to the single, well-meaning, inadequate line of that particular prayer.

Because peace alone is not good enough.

Peace is easy for people like me to find.  Peace is what we get because we are white, and heterosexual, and cisgender, and above the poverty line.  Our peace is not truly disturbed by the reports on TV of violence elsewhere, of fear elsewhere, of hate crimes elsewhere, because, if you noticed, it is always elsewhere, not next door.  And even if it is next door, we can draw the blinds.  We can change the channel.  We can shuffle to and from our cars and listen only to radio stations that agree with us and read only the same old books we have always read and we can do this because we are the ones who are represented in those places.  We have the option of shutting ourselves off from those different from us.  And when we cannot ignore what’s happening outside our comfort zones, we can at least use it to reinforce the mentality that allows us to shake our heads gently and think, “At least We are not Like Them.”

Peace is easy for people like me to find.

But it is a “negative peace which is the absence of tension.”  The things that might bring us true peace, a “positive peace which is the presence of justice,” are more complicated.  And it’s not a terribly peaceful process.

Probably the writer of that intercession was hoping for a deeper peace, not just peace of mind or the bliss we speak of that comes from ignorance, but the peace we are promised in the Gospels, the kind “that surpasses all understanding,” which is good because a lot of other things right now surpass understanding.  But we are creatures who need the process spelled out for us, the true meaning defined and articulated point by point.

So this is what I’m praying for.

For peace and protection of marginalized groups and minorities as they face growing violence and aggression on top of the daily struggle of navigating a culture in which they are not the group in power.

For peace and communication between opposing views, that they may allow themselves to be coaxed toward a middle ground in which they can recognize the humanity of the Other standing before them.

For peace and humility in our leaders, that they may recognize their responsibility to those they represent and to the world as a whole.

For peace and true justice as we continue to work toward equality and a more perfect fulfillment of the American vision.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Review: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

*Note: This is a review of a book I have already finished and therefore contains spoilers.  Proceed with appropriate caution.

When I was younger, I went through a phase where my storytelling strategy largely consisted of taking a set of ridiculous characters, throwing them together in an absurd situation, and seeing what happened.  (This may have been triggered by my first reading of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which I mostly focused on the Improbability Drive and the falling whale it generated.  Also the depressed robot.) Since this was middle school, the dialogue was primarily one-liners and bad puns, and most of these plots ran out of steam after a few pages.  I was a novice writer who hadn’t yet discovered the process or genres that worked for me, so these bits and pieces of stories just sort of haunt my Documents folder and provide occasional hilarity when I rediscover them.  (My personal favorite is ambitiously entitled, “The Story of a Forwarded Letter, a Post Office Worker, and a Mailbox.”  The mailbox decides to break as many laws of physics as it can.  It’s a gem.)

Though my own attempts at this sort of thing have (mercifully) fallen by the wayside, I still have a special place in my heart for books that truly test the limits of fiction with style and absurdity, like the masterful Hitchhiker’s Guide.  In this vein, Jonas Jonasson’s The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is one of the most recent additions to my library, and a phenomenal read.  It’s not quite magical realism or fantasy, because it doesn’t contain anything that couldn’t physically happen in our world, but definitely includes plot points that set it apart from mere contemporary fiction (I mean, how many other books about South Africa’s nuclear arms development include the king of Sweden being kidnapped in the back of a potato truck with a bomb and a twin, neither of which officially exist?).  But I could believe every word of it, because it was the sort of book where I wanted the delightful characters (and even the irritating ones) to be real.

The eponymous girl, Nombeko, is definitely going on my list of Heroines I Want To Be When I Grow Up.  She reads everything she can get her hands on and actively seeks out knowledge about anything and everything.  This intelligence serves her well, whether it’s letting a bumbling engineer think he’s running things or negotiating a nuclear arms exchange with two agents who want to kill her.  In confrontations, she behaves exactly as I always pretended I would: shrugs and pours the bad guy some tea, thoroughly discomfiting him.  Nombeko is also snarky, compassionate, and hardworking.  She’s not perfect, of course, but her distrust of happiness is not only understandable, it made me relate to her more.  She is unwilling to make plans for the future, no matter how much she and her companions want them, until their current problem (the itty bitty matter of the bomb in the potato truck) is solved; Nombeko does not skip ahead.

Though I obviously took its representation of historical events with a grain of salt, I also enjoyed the way the book expanded my cultural horizons.  Nombeko is born in a slum in South Africa, a country I know almost nothing about.  Her adventures bring her (and the reader) into contact with such people as the prime minister, an ambassador from China, and engineers in charge of building nuclear bombs for South Africa.  The book spans some thirty years, touching on events I’ve heard of but never really learned about, and describing international relationships I had never considered before.  Recently I’ve realized how Eurocentric my reading tends to be (especially given my penchant for old English novels and the depths of academic English literature), which has left me with a disproportionate understanding of world cultures, so fiction like this might be a good way to start learning more.

I gasped, laughed, and mumbled, “Nonononono” – causing the Engineer a little concern.  An excellent book, from style to character development to plot.

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Have you read this?  Share your thoughts!  Or go read it and tell me what you think!

A New Year’s Post

I’m trying something new this year.  Well, multiple new things, really.  In looking at my schedule, taking on all 27 or so of my proposed resolutions at once just isn’t going to happen.  For one thing, I have zero free time until the end of February, when I present my undergraduate thesis (further freakouts regarding the state of this ginormous project will be forthcoming, I’m sure).  For another, trying to implement a billion new pieces of a routine simultaneously just doesn’t work.  I’ve tried it.  It’s like carrying an armful of cats.  You want to hold onto all of them, but one or two are bound to wriggle out and go scampering off somewhere.  And you end up with a lot of claw marks from the ones that are left.

So my theory is that gradually adding clusters of new habits every two weeks or so might be easier to manage, particularly since my schedule is already going to drastically change about halfway through the semester.  My loose idea for this organizational tactic is as follows:


The daily changes I want to make right away – drink a full water bottle daily; get outside once a day; journal every evening; read for pleasure; write literally anything, even just a sentence, for my own personal manuscript

New Semester

The stuff that will be easier to start when I get back to school and therefore has been pushed back until then – cut out mindless snacking; don’t skip Zumba classes; set up a real workspace instead of just sitting on the couch with Netflix on in the background; do homework the day it is assigned; incorporate daily Bible readings into my new semester routine; block out specific times to work on my thesis; don’t forget about meals

Post-Thesis Haze

The bigger picture things that will undoubtedly nag at the back of my mind but that I physically cannot spend time on until my thesis is done – start applying for post-grad jobs; devote an hour minimum each day to my own manuscript; get certified as a Zumba instructor; seek out freelance editorial and authorial work, even unpaid internships; focus on online professional development


Honestly, I haven’t really dared to think this far ahead.  But if I’m still not skipping Zumba and I’m eating healthy and staying hydrated and working on my manuscript and feel like I’ve got my job situation sort of under control for the moment, then I’ll probably focus on my general theme for the year: be present.

I’ve fallen down many a stress spiral before, particularly this past semester, and these are frequently brought on by focusing too hard on the future.  I will never be completely happy-go-lucky or loosey-goosey with my schedule (I love my planner too much!) nor do I think that thinking about and planning for the future is a bad thing.  But when it makes me forget about how happy I am in the moment with the Engineer or how much I’m enjoying this particular sentence in my book or how great this writing session is going, it does become a problem.

And, as stressful as it may be at times, I really am looking forward to the year ahead, so I want to hold onto that and appreciate where I am in the life I’m building for myself.

Sexism and Smoothies

“Do I want a smoothie?” I mused aloud.  One of my coworkers looked up from the couches in our hangout area.

“Is that even a question?  Smoothies are always a good idea,” he said.

I laughed.  “You’re right.  I do want a smoothie.  The real question,” I said, waving my wallet at him, “is whether I want to spend the money.  Because that would make my wallet very sad.”

He shrugged.  “Why would you pay for the smoothie?”

For a moment I thought he was suggesting I somehow blend and steal my own fruit drink, but after a moment he added, “Just ask people for the money.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“No, seriously,” he said, leaning forward, “just tell people you forgot your wallet or you don’t have any money and you’re thirsty and can they spare you any change for a drink.  Now, if I tried to do that it would take me all day.  But you – you could probably find someone offering to buy you a coffee within – ” he thought for a moment ” – fifteen minutes.  Tops.”

Incredulous, I just stared at him.

“Oh yes,” he said, seeing my expression, “sexism is alive and well, and you can exploit it!”

I laughed.  We didn’t know each other well yet, this coworker and I, but I knew enough to realize that he was merely commenting on the sorry state of our collegiate society, not being sexist himself.

As I walked to the student union, I half-wanted to try out the experiment, just to see what would happen.  My coworker, however joking his tone, had a point.  I’ve joked with the Engineer before about using such tactics; whenever he worries that I won’t know how to put chains on my tires going over the pass for winter break, I just bat my eyes and say sweetly, “I’m cute and helpless.  Someone will stop.”  In reality, of course, the thought of playing Damsel in Distress makes my eyes want to roll out of my head.

But here, on the same campus where I’ve had male classmates say they don’t hold the door open for girls anymore because “they might get mad,” I could probably have flirted my way to a smoothie.

We females are still thought of as Damsels, just with varying degrees of receptiveness to Manly Heroics swooping in to save the day.  Many boys don’t let girls do things for themselves because they see us as equals, but because they’re afraid of us snapping at them.

Can’t we all just hold doors and lend money for smoothies regardless of gender, because we’re all humans trying to navigate the madness that is college life?


destitute or deprived of sensation; unconscious
lacking mental perception, appreciation, or comprehension
stupid or foolish, as persons or actions
nonsensical or meaningless, as words

We use this word a lot to describe horrific things.  “A senseless tragedy.”  “Senseless violence.”  And usually we take it to mean that there is no sense to this, that is it nonsense, this thing that has happened, we cannot make sense out of it because to any sensical person it is impossible to think this way.  Justifying it is meaningless.  You might as well try to argue that the world is flat.  We cannot make heads or tails of it.  Senseless.

But I think in the immediate aftermath of tragedies, we also mean that we are numb, that we are “destitute or deprived of sensation,” because sometimes the best way to handle such news is to shut down, at least for a moment.  Even worse, the hits just keep on coming.  Syria.  Beirut.  Paris.  After a while, the pain deadens the nerve endings rather than awakening them.  The sensation, the hopeless, helpless sensation, is there, but it is lessened with time and repetition.

Do we mean, perhaps, that our sense of outrage is limited?  That it is senseless to maintain a sense of anger because these things happen so often and the world is so dark?

I hope not.

I hope, instead, that we mean that we need to take a breath to ready ourselves for the feelings that accompany the confusion.

I hope we mean that we cannot make sense of these things because there is no sense behind them.  I hope we mean that it does not make sense to warp faith into violence, and that it does not make sense to blame the whole for the sins of one part.

And because we can recognize that, because we can say that we do not think that way and we will not think that way, we can do something.  We can change something.

It will be slow, and it will be hard, but we can make the world make sense again.

Too Loud to Be Heard

Walking down the mall to work this past week, I had to veer around a medium-sized clump of people ringed around a shouting man.  The man shouted about damnation, Jesus, and sin.  Sometimes he stood on a milk crate.  Sometimes people shouted back.  Mostly they just laughed.

But then I got to work and I heard the conversations inspired by this man and his shouting.

“Christians are so judgmental.”  “They’re all just a bunch of hypocrites.”  “This is why I hate religion.”

“Would you say I’m judgmental?” I wanted to ask.  “Would you assume that I condemn all those who don’t share my beliefs?”

In my fantasy, they answer, “Of course not.  You are tolerant and good.”

“Well,” my imaginary self responds, standing to make a dramatic exit, “I must not be a very good Christian then, since you say they’re all so awful.” The less charitable part of me wants to leave them spluttering, awkward, wishing they hadn’t made assumptions about their audience, ashamed of drawing such broad conclusions about a large group of people the same way they say Christians do.

But instead I bit my lip, because I had a shift in five minutes and not enough time to explain how they shouldn’t judge the whole from the part, viewing all of us in the same way as the yelling fundamentalist.

Catholics, traditionally, shy away from street corner evangelism.  We are not comfortable with tabling in the student union, or even handing out candy in front of our own church door.  But I wear my cross necklace, and if someone notices and wants to have a respectful discussion of belief systems with me, I will gladly sit down with them.  I seek more to understand, and to allow the other person to understand my own beliefs, than to convert them.

And this is the problem I have with people who shout one the mall.  They are not fostering discussion.  They are not leaving their audiences musing to themselves that perhaps there’s something to this whole God thing after all.  There is nothing productive about the conversations stemming from seeing this shouting man because those conversations only reflect the judgment that people feel from him.  His content may be solid, but the method of transmission is off-putting to say the least.

So, if anyone cares, I’m open to discussion.  But please: no shouting.

Things I’m Trying to Be Better About


Calling home.

Making healthy dinners.

Awareness of how much I’m spending on coffee.

Awareness of how much I’m drinking coffee.

Posting on this blog.

Posting on Changeling Scribbles (actually no don’t go read it because I haven’t posted anything in weeks).

Reading for pleasure.

Working on my own writing.

Doing laundry before the basket overflows.

Not overscheduling myself.

Eating a real breakfast, not just a protein bar on the way out the door.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because he gets grumpy when he doesn’t get to bed before 11.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because I cannot actually replace sleep with coffee.

Pulling myself out of stress spirals about what to do with my life post-graduation.

Going out and doing things occasionally.

Loving myself.

Personal Bubble Encroachment

Lacking a parking pass, I have to navigate my college town’s public transport system this year, unless I feel like walking for 20 minutes in the smoke.  Interestingly, I’m finding that the bus is becoming the perfect metaphor for my experience of the first few days of school.

For one thing, the bus is packed.  All the time.  Being short, I get to either dangle from the overhead bars or lean awkwardly over another person to grab the upright handles (there’s pretty much never a seat).  So my personal space shrinks to nothingness first thing every morning.  The first week of school is also the most crowded.  It’s when everyone shows up to class to find out if attendance is mandatory.  It’s when it’s impossible to find a parking spot or a free mat at the gym because everyone is trying out the free classes and telling themselves that this semester they’ll work out every day.  It’s when people who are pretty much never on campus for the rest of the year explore every nook and cranny of the buildings they never visit and steal the regular seats of students who actually hang out in on-campus coffee shops (I may be slightly bitter about this part).

My introverted side is having trouble adjusting to this.  Unpredictable behavior from hundreds of other bodies milling around the same spaces as me is preventing me from slipping back into my School Routine as quickly and easily as I would like.  Other people are variables; I like limiting the uncontrolled variables in my life, but for the first few days of school, I can’t do that.  I can’t prevent others from invading my personal physical or mental space.

Then there’s the fact that the bus tends to be so packed that it cannot take on any more passengers, thereby precluding itself from serving its purpose… by serving its purpose.  It’s a weird cycle.  My schedule is starting to take on a similar tinge of cyclical futility.  I’m only taking 12 credits (the minimum required to be considered a full-time student), and I’m only working 10 hours a week (so far), and I’m only working out about an hour in the evenings at the rec, and I’m only doing 2 part-time internships, and I’m only starting the research on my thesis (the real work comes next semester, I keep telling myself).  But all those “onlys” add up to a lot of stuff going on in my life at once, all of it ostensibly necessary, most of it something I really do want to do.  This leaves very little room for error; procrastinating on one assignment would be like putting another bus out of commission and increasing the demand on all the others.

All my work on self care in the past year has taught me that I am most likely to drop the things that are personal first.  It’s much harder for me to bow out of obligations to others that I have agreed to fulfill than it is to tell myself that I don’t have time to work on my manuscript because I have so much homework.  But the manuscript makes me happy.  So, to drag this metaphor past the point of reason, like the bus systems, there are many demands on my time.  Now I just need to figure out a screening process to decide which passengers to allow to get on.

Which would be a lot easier to do if there weren’t so many other people throwing elbows in line for coffee.

Oh, You Don’t Want To

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “And what are your plans after graduation?” I could probably pay for another year of college.

But that’s just kindly curiosity.  People are just being inquisitive, or concerned for my welfare, or even just making small talk.  I get that.  It’s what we ask as humans, isn’t it?  What are you going to be when you grow up?  What college are you going to?  What outcome are you aiming for after this Big Socially Recognized Transition?

What gets me is the number of opinions offered based on my answer, no matter what that answer is.  It’s usually, “I don’t know,” to which they reply, “Oh, you don’t want to decide anything now, you’re so young!”  If I elaborate, “Maybe grad school,” then the op-eds really start flying.

“Oh, you don’t want to get an MFA in creative writing – all you can do with that is teach.”  “Oh, you don’t want to study literature – all you can do with that is teach.”  “Oh, you don’t want to stay at the same school for your Master’s.”  “Oh, you don’t want to lose any momentum by taking a year off.”  “Oh, you don’t want to stay in school forever – work for a few years, then come back and get that degree.”

If I mention a job?

“Oh, you don’t want to stay here, publishing is much bigger in New York.”  “Oh, you don’t want to go into editing, there’s no money.”  “Oh, you don’t want to go too far from home.”  “Oh, you don’t want to get stuck in some office job, you’re much too smart for that.”  “Oh, you don’t want to waste any time, you should start networking now.”

And forget even hinting that the Engineer might come into it.

“Oh, you don’t want to make decisions based on a boyfriend.”  “Oh, you don’t want to do a long distance relationship, so few couples can handle that.”

And on and on it goes.

I’ve been calling these bits of speech opinions rather than advice.  That’s because of the four- or five-word formula at the beginning of each snippet: (oh) you don’t want to.

Don’t I, though?

Don’t I want, in some moments, to study more creative writing because it’s what I love?  Don’t I want, at times, to elbow my way into publishing regardless of the paycheck?  Don’t I want to take the person I’ve been dating for years into account?

How kind of these opinions, sensing my confusion, to tell me what I want.

I’m used to some of these.  I’ve heard them before.  “Don’t worry, lots of people change their majors,” acquaintances would say, trying to give me a way out after I told them I was majoring in creative writing.  Sounds an awful lot like, “Oh, you don’t want to do that.”  But I did, in fact, want to.  It was like Warner thinking Elle Woods couldn’t get into Harvard even after she, um, did. 

like it's hardMy chosen area of study, like Elle’s sudden decision to pursue law, has raised a few eyebrows.  It seems implausible that writing would maintain such a strong hold on me, especially in a society that places so much emphasis on money making.  I get it.  And, following up on those undergraduate doubts, it makes sense that people would make similar assumptions about my choices post-grad.

I know most of these people mean well.  They want to see me succeed, or at least not starve to death or bankrupt my parents within a year of graduation.  They probably believe that their opinions are, in fact, good advice, and I appreciate that intention.

That’s where I run into trouble.  I was raised to respect adults, to seek advice from those with more life experience than me.  So I don’t really want to just start arguing with everyone – “Oh, you don’t want to [insert action here]” “OH YES I DO COME AT ME BRO.”  But I don’t know how to politely disengage when the opinions are irrelevant to me (such as when the information is outdated or based on hearsay, or just has to do with their own worldviews that I don’t necessarily share).

And even if the advice underneath the opinion is sound, I can’t help chafing at that formula. You don’t want to.  Words carry weight in my world, and that particular phrase is like an anvil dropped from a Looney Tunes cliff.  If you know what I do and do not want – why did you ask in the first place?

To Whom Much is Given

Mom, Bird, and I said grace before our meal in the food court at the mall last night.  No one shouted at us, threatened us, or asked us to leave.

We were at the mall to shop for dresses for a friend’s wedding later this summer.  Bird and I have never had to worry about whether or not our eventual marriages will be legally recognized in our home state.

I’ve been fortunate enough to live most of my life in a relatively tolerant community in one of the country’s most tolerant states.  I’ve been even more fortunate not to need this tolerance for my own sake, because I was born a white, middle-class, heterosexual female who identified as her biological gender.  I fell into pretty much every category of “majority” you can think of.  Admittedly, I didn’t realize just how blessed I was until I started college and the bubble of my existence dramatically widened (with the help of the internet, particularly Tumblr).

When the Supreme Court made its decision on marriage equality, I was overjoyed for my friends who could now plan the weddings of their dreams.  When I heard about the Charleston shooting, I mourned the victims – and got angry about the ignorance displayed by those who tried to dismiss the racist implications of the massacre.  I was still seeing these things from the outside, and I was not directly affected, but that does not excuse me from working to change things for the better.

I’m still learning, still developing my worldview (and I pray it won’t become as rigid and cemented in ignorance or partial knowledge as some of the people giving out their opinions like candy from a stranger’s van), still figuring out what I can do from here to help – or at least not make it worse.  I don’t know.  Sometimes it feels too big.

014b868afc10c6e19990969f956e90f6And I’m realizing that the best thing I can do is listen.  I don’t say this as if I can somehow validate others’ experiences simply because I, a privileged person, take the time to listen to them, people who have been denied something (or several somethings) that I have been blessed enough to have.  Their humanity validates their experiences.  We are all people no matter how many variables we can or cannot check off on a list of too-easy identifiers.  Yes, we are different, but that does not negate the intrinsic personhood or value of those different from me.

And my privilege or luck or whatever you want to call it does nothing if I let it drag me into complicity with the current value system that wrongs so many other people.  I guess what I’m working on is finding not the role that society tells me I should take up by virtue of all these things out of my control (ethnicity, sexuality, etc.), but a role in helping all of us crawl a little bit further out of that society’s reach to where we can start building and changing things.

To do that, I’m going to have to learn.  And to learn, I’m going to have to listen.

It doesn’t feel like enough.  I wish I had more ideas, more answers, more words.  But at least I can demonstrate my respect for my fellow human beings and remain open to educating myself and others.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.

~Bryant McGill