24 November 2008

Reflections on "Reflections..."

I am reading (or trying to read in the midst of finals chaos) this phenomenal book called "Waiting for God" by Simone Weil right now. Her insight into how we approach God and our relationship to him in the midst of this crazy world is proving to be vital in my search to understand and develop my own perspective and worldview. One essay I read was called "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God.” I have already read it twice. Here are my reflections on "reflections"...
Everything I do is an exercise in paying attention. From the books I read as a student of literature, to the dates I memorize as a student of history, to the theories I thoughtfully consider as a student of critical thought. But it is not only in my studies that I am practicing attentiveness. Every day, in the aspects of my life that I choose to devote my time to, I am learning how to pay attention. It is what I choose to pay attention to in which the question of my heart lies. Do I pay attention to that which will feed my soul or do I simply spend my time with things that are convenient and easy? Then the question arises: will my perspective of the world ultimately by dictated by what I pay attention to as well? Of course it will be! My worldview is created by the countless episodes of Friends that I watch just as much as it is created by the books of Christian apologetics and history and philosophy that I read.

I must learn to understand that every action is part of the greater whole of my understanding of the world.

“When we write, we draw the shape of the letter on paper, not with a view to the shape, but with a view to the idea we want to express.” I do not write letters on a piece of paper in order to express the letter, but to express the idea. The end goal is the idea…but the means to this end must first begin with my knowledge of basic principles like the alphabet and phonetics. In everything that I learn, I must realize that although it may not seem like it directly affects my life, in the end it will all contribute to the whole that creates my worldview. So I must constantly be striving to pay attention. I love that idea, by the way! Such a great analogy (the letter in the word on the page makes the story) for a pretty complex thought!

But what does it mean to truly pay attention? In my desire to learn how to do this, I have to remember two things. Firstly, too often, I do not pay attention as intently as I think I do. I am not paying attention, only “concentrating on nothing.” Simone Weil writes, “We often expend this kind of muscular effort [instead of true attentiveness] on our studies. As it ends by making us tired, we have the impression that we have been working. That is an illusion. Tiredness has nothing to do with work.” Even if I enter into the act of paying attention (to what I am studying, what I am doing, or what I am praying) with good intentions, this act produces no end except my own exhaustion.

Secondly, and probably more difficult, I have to learn how to let go of expectations and assumptions about what I should be thinking or feeling or learning. I always go into thigns expecting to get something out of it; assuming that I will leave with some specific goal accomplished. It kind of relates to Gregory Bateson’s idea of purpose driven thinking. He writes that because we have gotten so used to a formulaic way of thinking (A+B=C), we have missed all the answers and truth that goes into the formula. If I always have an end goal of what I want to learn or know or grow in, it is so easy to miss what God is trying to do. I love it when Weil writes “The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.” So often I miss all the wisdom that can come out of an experience because I have gotten so used to going straight to the solution, while not always paying attention to how I got there. There is wisdom in the journey, not just the answer right?

04 November 2008

Early Thoughts on Election Night

I was glued to the TV today. Well, actually it was the Internet…MSNBC to be exact. I definitely didn’t plan on doing it, but I listened to their live stream from about 10:30 in the morning until 11:00 tonight. (I am even listening to it right now, in fact) It was not until I realized that I could not seem to pull myself away from the news that I also realized how invested I was in this election. I have been studying it for various reasons since this summer, but I never thought I would be this passionate about it. And now that it is over I am just so proud. It is not just because “my candidate” won…even though I will now admit, he did. I will now strongly say that I am confident in my decision for Obama…but I am proud for so many reasons other than that.

I am proud that despite the craziness and, at times, negativity of this election, we are one step closer to being a truly united country. This is in large part to Obama’s campaign method, and I truly hope, what will be his presidency. But it is not about him or McCain or Joe the Plumber or whoever. It is about a nation of individuals coming together as one. I think it is so evident in Obama’s acceptance speech, that he only won because we came together as one country to elect him, and he will not accomplish anything without this same unity. Even more important, it is also evident in McCain’s exit speech that we must continue down this road of acting as one nation instead of based on red or blue states. After so many years of division, I am so proud to think that we are finally on the right path towards unity, no matter our political (or any other, for that mater) orientation.

I am proud that as a country, we elected a black person. I was talking with my roommate about it and she was so wise in saying that while she and I (being white) may not be able to fully understand the complete significance as much as a black person, coming from a place where we have experienced prejudice based on our gender or our faith or whatever the case may be, it is so incredibly meaningful to know that America broke through this barrier. As Obama walked out to give his acceptance speech and his family came out with him, I could not help from crying. How amazing it is to know that we can rise above our differences and become a nation of one instead of a nation based on individual separation. Being a student of history, how magnificent it is to see how far we have come. From the Civil War, to Martin Luther King Jr, to President (elect) Obama, I have no words for how proud I am of our country. Furthermore, I am also proud that until this point, this election was not about race. Obama never played the race card, and McCain never played it either. I believe, and am so proud that Americans (by and large) voted based on issues and candidates more so than skin color. I believe that because of our refusal to let it run the election race, we have now earned the right to celebrate Obama’s win as a monumental step for black people, not just in America, but all over the world. We have earned the right to rejoice in his victory, and I am proud of us.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I am so, so, so incredibly proud of my generation. The millennials, as we are called. There is a photo that I just saw on the MSNBC website (I tried to put it on here, but it wont let me copy the picture) of the reaction of some young Obama supporters as they found out that he had won: most people had looks of utter joy and amazement, some were crying, and right in the middle of the shot, there is a young woman kneeling down on the ground with her hands over her mouth and her eyes shut (most likely filled with tears) because she is just so overwhelmed by emotion. I think this so telling of our generation in this election: we are in awe that our vote actually mattered and we are overwhelmed by our own investment in one man, and in our actions because of it. Just like I did not realize how passionate about the election I was until I started crying when I found out Obama won, I think that we are all sort of surprised by how much we cared about this, given what society has told us we care about. After all, aren’t we supposed to be the generation that only cares about our iPods and Facebook accounts? I know for me, at least, my tears were as much in the relief in knowing after so many months of caring, as much as they were in the joy of seeing Mr. Obama win. I am so proud that we believed in ourselves and in our own power to have an effect on the course of this country and on the global community. Everyone has been saying that we hold so much power, and I am so proud that we believed it and acted upon it. Whether we voted for McCain or Obama, I am just so proud that we voted. We refused to be apathetic. We refused to be ignorant. We studied the issues and the candidates, we thought critically, and we voted. No matter who we voted for, we were truly united. I am proud to say that it is our turn now. It is our turn to change the world. And I have very confidence that we will do so with passion, and intelligence and (I greatly hope), a humility that will affect change without creating arrogance. I truly believe that we will react according to an understanding of the magnitude of our actions not only for this country, but for the world…and not only for our generation, but for the many to come.

I am so glad this whole election is over. I am excited for our new president. But I am not so optimistic that I don’t have doubts. I am worried about issues like abortion and I am worried that Obama’s goals might be just too much to attain. But I am hopeful. And that, I think, is the most important thing. I always go back to one of my very favorite quotes…a statement from Jim Wallis in his essay Faith Works: “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change… Hope is the single most important ingredient for changing the world.” I am hopeful for our unity as a country and I am hopeful for the actions of my generation. I am hopeful that Obama will lead this country with humility and grace, but also with assertion and wisdom. I am hopeful that we are on the right path to becoming a better country, both for ourselves and for our world. I have hope and I am confident that the hope of our nation will be enough to better the future of our world.

Thanks for reading my random (long) and probably completely unreadable thoughts. I hope, but kind of doubt, that they made any sense!

If you want to hear something absolutely amazing, watch Obama’s acceptance speech… I am sure you can find it anywhere right now!