28 September 2008

"Refuge" - Terry Tempest Williams

This book inspires me more than most things I read. She (beautifully!) connects her mother's death due to cancer caused by the fallout of atomic bomb tests to the flooding of the Great Salt Lake that displaced all of the creatures from the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. In both cases, refuge seems lost, but is actually found. Her writing is, all at once, powerful and peaceful; advocacy and reflection; lovely and forceful. The first page and a half is so astonishingly beautiful and a great foreshadowing of what is to come in the pages ahead ::

"...In the past seven years, Great Salt Lake has advanced and retreated. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, devastated by the flood, now begins to heal. Volunteers are beginning to reconstruct the marshes just as I am trying to reconstruct my life. I sit on the floor of my study with journals all around me...and I remember the country I come from and how it informs my life. Most of the women in my family are dead. Cancer. At thirty-four, I became the matriarch of my family. The losses I encountered at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge as Great Salt Lake was rising helped me to face the losses within my family....
Perhaps, I am telling this story in an attempt to heal myself, to confront what I do not know, to create a path for myself with the idea that "memory is the only way home."
I have been in retreat. This story is my return."

More than any other author...I want to be able to write like her.

24 September 2008

This Present Moment will Determine our Future...

“We do not have the ability to look more than two weeks into the future.”

As my professor quoted this statement made by a professor at Virginia Tech and we began to discuss the idea of how we should view the future, it began to bother me more and more. Here, I must note that we were not talking about our future as much in terms of what we will personally be doing in ten years (career, family, etc.), but more in terms of how our actions as a world population today will affect the world population ten years from now. For example, on September 23rd, humanity will have used all the resources generated by nature this year. What is now being referred to as “Earth Overshoot Day” marks the day when we begin living beyond our ecological means and utilizing resources faster than the earth can replenish them. In our current state, we require the equivalent of 1.4 planets to support our lifestyles…but we only have one. Continuing at this rate, how much worse will it be in the future? (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/gfn_sub.php?content=overshoot)

Our class seemed to be divided equally between those who thought that to focus too intently on the future is just too daunting, and those who thought that we must focus on the future as a basis for our actions in the present. While I could definitely relate to and in fact, agree with the notion that we must live in the present, appreciating what we have and not miss what is right in front of us. I was somewhat disheartened by a response of many people that sometimes we are just too busy to look more into the future. It bothered me to think that we allow ourselves to become so consumed with our present that we often neglect what effects our actions may have on future generations. I began to wonder – is it that we don’t have the ability to look far into the future, or simply that we just chose not to?

It is also important to think about this in terms of our status as upper-middle class citizens of America. We are the blessed who are able to sit in a classroom and discuss these issues. Shouldn’t that translate into some sort of responsibility to look towards our future more than others? There are millions of people who cannot look into the future more than a few hours, let alone two weeks. These are the people who have a disease that makes living to the next day a miracle. These are the people who do not know where their next meal will be coming from. They are the ones who truly do not have the ability to plan for the years to come…because they are not eve sure if they will come. We are the blessed who (apart from events that only God can know) are somewhat confident in our existence ten years down the road. We plan for our personal future by investing money, going to college and getting married. So how can we say that it is just too hard to look too far into our global future? We not only have the ability…we have the responsibility.

I think of issues like global warming and the over-consumption of natural resources. I think of preventable and treatable disease like HIV/AIDS and malaria. I think of all these things that, while they are such huge issues, truly are preventable and manageable. How can I sit back and contemplate my own future without first contemplating the future of the world I am a part of? Maybe it will become more personal when we realize that our global actions today will have a direct influence on world we give to our children and grandchildren. So I will continue to focus on my life day by day. I will strive to live in a way that is thankful and appreciative of the life God has blessed me with at this present moment. But I will also remember that with this “charmed life” comes responsibility and what I choose to do with this present moment I am blessed to have, will determine the future of our world.

15 September 2008

Washington DC #1: Songs of a Nation (9/9/08)

This morning, I had the opportunity to go to the White House Executive Offices and meet with Bill Wichterman, Special Assistant to President Bush and Deputy Director of Public Liaison (basically, one of Bush's main policy advisers). After we finished checking in and getting our appointment passes (we had to give them our social security numbers a few days ago so they could do background checks!) we went through security and then to his office! As we began talking, his close friend, (who is my boss's close friend, and the reason we were there) mentioned the book on his coffee table. It was the "U2 by U2" book. As we started talking to him about his relationship to U2 (as a fan) and Bono (which it turns out, is as an important influence and someone who actually had the guts to call him out on his "rock star" ego upon meeting him for the first time in the 90's) the conversation turned into how our culture dictates our laws. After all, wasn’t it Plato who once said, “Give me the songs of a nation and I care not who writes its laws”?

The culture which we are a part of is the context that we learn and grow and develop our perspective of the world from. It determines what we love and what we hate. The government is nothing without its people and its people are shaped by what they listen to and watch and read. In attempting to reform an entire system or government, we must reform that which influences us. Furthermore, and especially in the case of America, our biggest export to the rest of the world is the image we put forth through our songs, books, movies and popular culture in general. And most of what we export is, for lack of a better term, shit. When we are producing and distributing pornography, music that is completely degrading to women, and movies that encourage and emphasize our need for violence in order to be entertained, how will the rest of the world see us?

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, even more so now than ever before. (And this is what we were talking about with Bill). But these exceptions only begin when politics and popularity come together. The coupling of great thinkers and law-makers, who have the diplomacy, skills, and strategy...with the “rock-stars,” who have the power to influence others more than anyone else, can create a revolution that is both smart AND socially accepted. It is through meetings of Bono and the United States government that the AIDS and poverty crisis becomes forefront in the world, for example. It is through the combination of a recent college graduate with loans to pay off but a passion for something more and a globally renowned music group like Jars of Clay, that an organization like Blood:Water Mission is created, for example. The greatest feats can be overcome when there is a shared passion from both the political angle and the popular.

The culture we live in defines our laws, not the other way around. So what is our responsibility within this culture? There is this great revolution of change that needs to come about within our culture, and the only way we can do it is through a community of passionate people.

(Executive Offices at the White House)

13 September 2008

Murdock Trust

This summer I worked at the Murdock Charitable Trust, a foundation that provides financial support through grants to non-profit organizations in the Northwest. Throughout this 12-week period, I learned more about myself, my passions, and my calling than I ever had before. I spent time, not only working on actually meaningful projects (seems unheard of in the internship world, doesn’t it?) for the Trust, but being mentored and nurtured towards God’s calling on my life. I was surrounded by amazing mentors and wise teachers, as well as three other interns my own age who, while in somewhat of an ironic way, helped me realize more about myself and how I interact with people. The experience completely caught me off guard as one which shaped my life more than I could have imagined. The internship opened so many doors and made me realize that to do what God wants me to do is vital to my successful survival in a world where we are taught to do whatever we want to.

The entries within this category are simple thoughts I had throughout my days working there, mostly for the purposes of writing about my experience for my senior practicum. However these are also threads of thoughts that truly changed my perspective of myself, my relationship to others, and my responsibility within a broken world.

Everything Is Illimuniated - Jonathan Safran Foer

The movie is amazing...the book is simply indescribable. Everyone talks about how genius it is, and really...it's true! On the surface, it is a story of a young Jewish man searching for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis in Ukraine who consequently finds not only his past but new friends and a better understanding of himself. But really...
It is the story of perfect love in the midst of horrific tragedy. The story of a journey through a devastated past that must be remembered in order to live a more grateful and authentic life. The story of memory and trying to forget. It is just so amazing and life-changing and wonderful! Plus, the writing is so incredibly beautiful...in some parts I actually cry. I can't really explain it...here are some good quotes that will hopefully make you want to read it ::

"He removed several pages of death certificates which were picked up by another breeze and sent into the trees. Some would fall with the leaves that September. Some would fall with the trees generations later."

"You become enlightened of the feeling of feeling hurt, which is worse, I am certain, than the existent hurt. Not-truths hung in front of me like fruit."

"Try to live so you can always tell the truth..."

12 September 2008

I Collect Books...

I collect books. There is this huge bookstore in my town (Portland) that is one entire city block wide and about four stories high. It is probably my favorite place in the whole world. I have had to force myself to stop going there so often because everytime I do, I never fail to walk out with at least four books...and with no less than $50 gone from my bank account. I buy books that I have read before, but feel the insurmountable desire to own so I can write all over the margins. I buy books I have never read but tell myself that, despite all the reading I have to do as an English/History student, I will most definitely have time to read. I buy books for people I love to show them how much I love them. I collect books.

Every six months or so, I am forced by my overflowing bookshelf to goo through all of these books and sell the ones that I can bear to part with. This task is getting harder and harder. Some books I have read dozens of times and will probably read a dozen more. Some I have read once and that was all I could handle (usually those are the ones that go to Powell's). Some I still have yet to read...but I just know I will someday!

Given this strong love (ok...maybe a little obsession) for the books in my life, I think I should start sharing my love with all of you. So here will be my little review section...maybe I can convince to read a magnificent, awe-inspiring, amazing book or two :)