Friday, November 30, 2007

race and funnel cakes

From a class discussion following our viewing of Crash -

Professor: For those of you who have seen this film before, what did you notice this time that you didn't notice before?
Me: This time, I noticed that there were several scenes with American flags in the background. Just kinda like, "This is our America, this is what it's really like."
Professor: Hmm, and what do you think of that?
Me: What do you mean?
Professor: I saw something in your face change when you said that. ***
Me: Well, I think the filmmakers were using this as a symbol, to remind the viewers that all the things they're witnessing really do happen right here, and to connect the actions with what us as viewers are also capable of . . .

I rambled on something like that, but what I wish I'd said, which is perhaps the true reason why my face changed, is simply, "I'm sad that this is our America."

One of my classmates had brought her Dutch roommate to watch Crash with us, to educate him about American race relations. He had showed us this video, and we all laughed, but explained that it would probably offend Black Americans, but he didn't really understand why.
(I tried to embed this, but it wouldn't paste everything)

I asked him after watching Crash what he thought, since he didn't parcipate in the discussion. With a look of shock and disgust he replied, "I sincerely hope that this movie was exaggerated." "I don't know," I responded, "I'm not sure if it was. All of these things happen, but I guess it is kinda overwhelming to see all of those packed into a two hour film." Then I turned to my classmates, "What do you think? Do you think any of this was exaggerated?" They all responded with an emphatic "No!" My dutch friend just shook his head, and all he could say was "Wow."

When he returns to the Netherlands in January, what is he going to think of our country? He loves our food, even though he sees how unhealthy it is and now understands why America is so obese. He buys a gallon of Blue Bell ice cream of different flavors every week. He bikes to his internship, and my classmate drives him to the grocery store once a week. We've taken him to movies like Dan in Real Life, and to the carnival, where we bought him funnel cakes and hot dogs. He came to the our pre-Thanksgiving dinner and we all talked about our different holidays and our countries' ways of celebrating. And then we showed him Crash. So, when he goes home, what will he say about America? That it's full of fat, racist people? He might not be completely off. But surely the good will outweigh the bad. He'll remember Blue Bell and his kind roommate and her grad student friends who were patient and caring enough to spend time with a 19 year old Dutch kid and answer his questions and buy him hot dogs and funnel cake. And that's the America that I hope we can be.

***Side note: It's really something else having psychologists as professors! They pick up on nonverbal cues a little too well. My first class this semester, I had a professor completely call me out, "Zach, you agree, but you, you're completely stoic. I can't read anything one way or another in your expression." Dang!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

“Loved by God, kept by Christ.”

This and other scriptures have been my mantra the past few weeks. I have been having a rough time lately, feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, hurt, insecure, and yearning for the approval of others. I feel like I’m fighting these feelings, and intrusive thoughts, lies that pop into my head based on the things I listed. I’m fighting them with prayers and scripture. It’s like some sort of faith-based-self-induced-cognitive-behavioral therapy – I’m trying to restructure the maladaptive thoughts and belief system with the truth that I know is God’s word. And it helps. For example, when I start to feel guilty and ashamed, I remind myself, “There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ,” “Those who put their hope in Christ will never be put to shame,” and “As far as the east is from the west,” that’s as far as my sins are from God. The Spirit is freedom, and I don’t want to beat myself up about things that are already forgiven, I want to experience freedom and life.

And God’s grace is at work through this time. The scriptures I am reading are becoming so much more real to me. They’re not just things I think; they’re things that I experience. Somehow, for the most part, I feel at peace. I feel hopeful, and I feel that this is right where I should be. Though November has been lonely and sometimes sad, it’s better than the anxiety and confusion that was September and October. I can handle sad and I know that it will go away. Anxiety and doubts, I’m not really sure what to do with those. More tangible, external things are also happening. I have dear close friends and relatives who, while not here physically to take away my loneliness, have been only a phone call or email away, and have supported me, prayed for me, and talked me through my rough nights and mornings. While I’m new at my church and all of these people are new to me, I’ve started to become closer to them. I am starting to connect with them and feel at home. A couple of weeks ago, I shared with my small group the loneliness that I’m feeling, and they’re responding and I’m starting to experience through them this connection with others that I long for. I’m starting to really experience what it means for a church to be a community. It’s not perfect, these aren’t my new best friends just yet, but step by step, I’m experiencing the community that my heart desires.

I’m also trying to let go of my expectations of these new people in my life. I’m trying to not let my self-worth be determined by other’s approval. I do desire close friendship and connectedness, and I need more support here, but I’m trying to not be needy. When I go into situations when I’m around new friends and just release my expectations, and just try to love and enjoy them, well, it usually goes great, connections just flow naturally and I’m thankful for that.

I have been so focused on myself these past few months, but I want to love others more. I want to really, genuinely care about all of those around me. I want to step out from myself, step away from my trying to make myself better and happier and instead focus on giving to others and enriching their lives.

I have no idea how any of this sounds. However this comes across, writing this is more real to me than writing about being white. I have started writing a follow-up to my whiteness post, but today is not the day to finish it. I actually started writing this post Sunday evening, during a time that was probably a low point for the past couple of weeks. I am feeling better, and I know that in spite of the rough times I’m experiencing, I’m becoming more whole and more myself because of it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

homeward bound, home, where my thoughts escaping

I just can’t contain my excitement about going home tomorrow! It’s been two long months since I was last home, two months in which I’ve poured my energy into readings, papers, exams, friendships, romance, church family, counseling sessions, cooking, cleaning, football games, laughter, tears, carnivals, shopping, long discussions, oh, I could go on, but now all of my energy is focused on going home, packing, loading up, and dancing. I can’t contain it, my excitement is leaking out of my body in the way I’m just letting go and moving to the music, swaying my hips, raising my arms above my head, accidently hitting the little chains from my fan not once, but twice, but still moving, not stopping . . . and tomorrow, I will work and hope the hours go by fast, pick up my dear cat, and drive north, listening to my music, talking to my friends, driving through rural farmlands, small towns that barely dot the map, through another college town about halfway through, stopping at the Czech bakery, loading up on carbs, and continuing north, to where the highway splits, until finally, the downtown buildings come into view to my left, it’ll still be light, but perhaps the sun will be setting behind them, perhaps their lights will already be on, and maybe my heart will skip a beat at the sight of them, but then I’ll likely be stuck in rush hour traffic, and wish it were moving faster, and the last hour will stretch out so long, but I’ll play my music louder, and sing, and soon be home, into the arms of my loved ones.

Well, now my car is loaded, sandwiches are made, In Rainbows has moved* into some slower tempo songs, and I think I’ve spent all that energy I just described. Now, I will relax and sleep and awake with great anticipation.

I sincerely hope that someday I will look forward to returning to my new home with as much excitement as I’ve just expressed.

*BTW, sometimes I love passive voice – APA can bite me. Not really, I need to submit a publication sometime soon!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

on whiteness

How do you define whiteness? What are some white American values and customs? If you are white, what does it mean to your identity?

I'm currently working on a paper for Multicultural Counseling class that is forcing me to examine some of these things. It's interesting yet hard because I don't think White Americans think about these things very often. Being a part of the dominant culture, our "whiteness" may seem so universal as to make it invisible. My culture has become the norm by which minority cultures are judged and examined. Sometimes, "deviance" is easier to define than "normalness."

When I finish this paper, I'll give some more thoughts on these things. For now, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Dang, is this how I return to blogger after an almost four month hiatus? A brief paragraph and some questions that I hope are thought-provoking? It's not quite the "I'm back!" kinda post that I had planned on, but it's what's on my mind. Starting several weeks ago, every once in a while I started reading some of your blogs and leaving comments to try to slowly ease back into the blog world. There is a lot going on in my life that I'd love to write about, but I just haven't sat down and done it. I wrote one post last week that was merely describing a new experience that I had, but I never posted it because I wanted to edit it.

But I truly would love to hear your thoughts on whiteness. After that, there are so many things that I want to share with each of you, and I want to share in your lives as well. This may not be dramatic or poetic, but I have returned.