Archive for the Miscellaneous Category

Last Year, This Year, and New Beginnings

Posted in Academia and Research, Dreams for the Future, Family, Friends, Graduate School, Internships and Work, Love, Miscellaneous on December 22, 2010 by aprilpalo

Wow – it’s been one hell of a year!

I haven’t posted on this blog in a long time. I’m not sure why; a combination of restlessness and busy-ness, maybe. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come back, but here I am! As Sam Seaborn said to CJ Craig, “Let’s move past the fact that you’re a little late to the party and just embrace the fact that you showed up at all.” 😛

2010: Ireland, summer, and fall

At the beginning of 2010, I left for the city of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. What followed was one of the most extraordinary, challenging, amazing, inspiring, and fun experiences of my life. It’s hard to pin down the best part…

  • Going shopping for books at Dubray’s Bookstore on Grafton Street?
  • Hitting up the weekly farmer’s outdoor market in Temple Bar?
  • Seeing a play at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin’s Chinatown district?
  • Touring the Guinness Factory – two Americans and an Australian, no less?
  • Speaking of Australians, making awesome dinner parties every week with half the Commonwealth?
  • Classes on Irish history, folklore, and religion?
  • Working in the National Archives in the department of Irish Folklore?
  • Exploring the seaside town of Howth, climbing around a centuries-old abbey, and bringing home a fresh salmon?
  • Checking out the cute, funky, fun town of Malahide, in which the local castle was less fun than the awesome town?
  • Hiking around the ancient monastic site in Glendalough and taking pictures in front of a pristine mountain lake?
  • Kayaking and mountain biking in Killarney National Park?
  • Staying in a hostel/bar in Cork, including drinking with the local Irish kids?
  • Biking around Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland?
  • Hanging around Galway, sampling the local Italian fare and fish-n-chips?
  • Wading in the Mediterranean off the coast of Barcelona while eating an ice cream cone?
  • Climbing to the tops of Barcelona cathedrals?
  • Sharing a huge frying pan of paella in Spain?
  • Seeing the Sistine Chapel?
  • Seeing La Pieta?
  • Wandering around the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica?
  • The best spinach and tomato pizza we’ve ever had, from a street vendor in a backstreet in Rome?
  • The Coliseum?
  • That time we found that amazing little restaurant just off the Piazza Navona on a glittery, rainy night?
  • That amazing hostel room with the insane blue bathroom and huge linen curtains?
  • Napping in front of the Notre Dame with the pigeons?
  • French Onion soup in an amazing little cafe not far from the Notre Dame?
  • Exploring Montmartre and checking out the hippies?
  • Pigalle subway station?
  • The Champs Elyseees and that awesome McDonalds? (Yeah, we went to a McDonalds in Paris…)
  • The view from the Sacre Couer?

Well, looking at all that, it’s really impossible to say! But after a whirlwind adventure around Ireland and Europe, we were happy to be back and settled into familiar territory in the Midwest.

In Summer 2010 I started working for the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition, doing youth programming and funding/development work. Chris started working full-time as a tech support and networks intern for Wells Fargo in downtown Minneapolis. We couldn’t have been luckier!

Our luck only continued.

Fall 2010 was an amazing semester for me. I completed a full courseload with some of the most challenging classes I’ve ever had, including classical Greek; I kept my research afloat and applied to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research; I had an AMAZING start to my interfaith social justice campaign; I enjoyed a great semester facilitating weekly Multifaith Alliance sessions; and I got to participate in some great reading and reflection with the Mahle program. Meanwhile, Chris made an excellent professional choice and stayed on fulltime with Wells Fargo. He is currently building transfer applications to computer science continuing education programs, where he will be finishing up his degree with WAY better credentials and industry standards.

2011: New beginnings…

In January I’m going to be taking a J-Term course, then I’m going to be completing a full courseload and my degree in one fell swoop. With any luck, I’ll be completing my senior honors thesis, presenting in Ithaca, New York, and defending my thesis before a defense committee. Plus, I’ll be wrapping up the Better Together campaign by holding monthly interfaith meals and volunteering/donations for free-case refugee resettlement in Minnesota. I’ll be finishing up my fourth year as a student leader with Multifaith Alliance [:(] And I’ll participate in the Mahle lecturer programming with Sara Miles!

By May, I’m going to graduate from Hamline, and just a month later, we’ll be getting married at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival grounds in Shakopee, Minnesota. Our wedding is going to be a beautiful little afternoon affair, full of blues and yellows, whimsy, and fun! We’re going to have some great clothes, yummy food, and the best friends and family anyone could ask for!

We’re planning a honeymoon road trip around the country (Australia and New Zealand just wasn’t in the budget, I’m afraid). Afterwards, we’ll be closing up shop, packing all of our belongings into a U-Haul, and moving to one of three cities: New York, Boston, or Chicago. In September I’ll be starting a master’s program at a theological seminary or divinity school, and Chris will be starting the last two years of his computer science degree. We’ll share a cute apartment, our cat, and — God willing — a family.

New beginnings…

I am unbelievably fortunate. By birth, circumstance, choice, and hard work, I have a whole host of assets that I can barely even comprehend. I’m a young, able-bodied woman, successful in my career, with a great home, a wonderful family, and a close-knit circle of friends. I’ve got the best partner in the world — who else gets to spend every day with their best friend, and always find something new to enjoy? I’ve had a goddamn amazing year and look forward to only more and better!

But like everyone, I’ve had some struggles. Balance and mindfulness are particular concerns for me. I’m a natural workaholic and often get so wrapped up in what I’m doing that I do not focus on my home, family, and friends.

I’ve worked hard to change that over the past year, and in the process, I have identified some core values/nourishments I want to shore up. In particular, I feel most dedicated to and most nourished by my relationship with God/religion, my relationship with my mind and body, and my relationship with my partner/family/friends.

So, this next year, I’m going to be embarking on a 12-month long “happiness project”! My happiness project will formalize these three values through 6 months’ worth of fun projects to enjoy every month, then spend 6 months developing these projects to fulfillment! Deep cleaning the apartment, scrapbooking, knitting, perfecting my bread recipe, getting back into yoga again — all of these are examples of some small projects I’ll be developing over the year. I can’t wait! I can post more on this later, I think.

Anyway, 2010 and 2011 have been amazing, and I can’t wait for the journey. Happy holidays to all!

Phillip Pullman, “His Dark Materials”

Posted in Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism on April 29, 2010 by aprilpalo

“Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
OF neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and looked awhile,
Pondering his voyage…”

– John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II

So begins Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The books of the trilogy – Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass – compose some one thousand pages. The epic fantasy narrative takes the reader through many different worlds and characters. Textures, colors, shapes, and moments that make up HDM provide a highly sensual experience as one reads. At the same time, the intellectually and philosophically challenging material requires you to engage fully and spiritually with the text.

What’s it about?

[Spoilers ahead. Also, please read the comments to follow the evolution of this post.]

Rather than laying out the tale as it progresses, I want to reflect on the story as a whole.

Simply put, the overarching theme of the tale is “Dust”. In every parallel universe, Dust is the perfect confluence of matter and spirit; it is beautiful and anonymous, emotive and omnipresent. Dust exists in every world, and came into being when the first creatures became cognizant of themselves. Thus, Dust is most attracted to the moment when “innocence becomes experience”; it avoids children whose souls have not yet become fully formed, and is instead drawn most to adults.

Underneath the scope of Dust, the whole trilogy is concerned with a deep, deep conflict. On one hand, the Authority (God) has long boasted that he is the creator of all things. Subservient to his will, authoritarian and dogmatic churches control the world. In an Oxford parallel to ours, one such example is the Papacy; in the tale, it has now become a complex web of church-driven governmental agencies and offices (“the Magisterium”).

Underneath the Magisterium, a secret and covert agency (“the General Oblation Board”) seeks to control the mystery of Dust. Because Dust does not settle on children, the GOB severs children from their souls, and therefore prohibits Dust from being involved in their lives. This creates soulless, mindless, empty, obedient slaves. Directly responsible and keenly interested in this process, Mrs Coulter is the nemesis of the tale.

On the other hand, Lord Asriel is a rebellious, imaginative, innovative explorer. As a rebel and experimental theologian, he works for no one. As the tale begins, his mission becomes clear: he wants to break out of his own world, destabilize the Authority and the churches below it, and establish a new “republic of heaven” freed from dogmatic slavery. His relationship with Dust is mysterious, but it seems that he wants to simultaneously protect Dust and use it to his own advantage.

Caught in between these two opposing forces, Lyra (of the parallel Oxford) is the daughter of Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel. Through complex circumstances, she becomes the possessor of a magical golden compass, a mysterious dial that tells her the truth through intense meditative engagement. As her ally, she becomes friends with Will, a troubled and passionate young man from our own world. Through equally complex circumstances, he comes into possession of the Subtle Knife, a knife that can cut a window into any of the millions of parallel universes.

Using these two tools, Lyra and Will must race to stop the Authority, end the dogmatic rule of the Magisterium, eliminate the GOB and save children’s souls. Above all, they must protect the Dust and restore the worlds it enriches. With the help of polar bears, witches, a Texan zeppelin operator, ghosts, harpies, gay angels, and Lilliputian spies, the pair zip through multiple universes and survive countless harrowing adventures.

In the end, Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel both fail in their respective missions, but the Dust and all the worlds are able to be restored to a safe, vibrant, protected future.

That’s the set-up for the book. I laid it all out up front because I wanted to lay some solid groundwork for discussing themes of the text.

What did I think of it?

As far as a fantasy narrative is concerned, HDM is incredible. It’s fast, dramatic, beautiful, vibrant, and colorful. The characters and emotional themes are engaging and well-developed. Love, courage, life, sex, death, environmentalism, post-colonialism… all of these themes and more race across the pages and into the heart as one reads. I could barely turn the pages fast enough to keep up with my desire to continue the tale, and when it was finished, I was very sad to see it completed.

No, it is not as a literary piece that I’d like to discuss HDM. Instead, I am interested in the philosophical and theological picture that emerges.

On the one hand, there are definite things I love about the tale:

1. Dust. Dust is a beautiful, mythical, ingenious concept. It fits beautifully with how I feel about the way the universe works. I have always believed in some kind of universal undercurrent that eddies and flows about our lives, connecting and withdrawing from everyone and everything at once. Pullman’s depiction and emphasis on Dust is a masterstroke.

2. Pullman’s anti-dogmatic vision. The crusade to save Dust and restore the natural order of the world requires the rejection of corrupt, abusive power structures in church and government. I totally agree with Pullman’s views in this regard. I am especially in favor of his views on a “republic of heaven”. Ultimately, there can’t be one, because goodness and light is inside all of us! Spiritual truth is, simply, wherever we are!

3. Pullman’s vision of hell and heaven. Now, he never comes right out and states his vision. (It is a fantasy story after all, not a metaphysical treatise.) However, a certain vision of hell and heaven does emerge in the tale, and this is my interpretation of it. Simply put, hell is what happens when you did not love life enough. If you cannot provide a personal story full of love and passion and joy, you will not be able to pay your way to heaven. But if you can, you can travel and climb your way up to the light – and when you reach it, your soul becomes selfless and one with every atom in the universe. With a transcendent joy, you come out into the light of a beautiful pasture of trees and clouds, and immediately you become one with every dewdrop, sunbeam, leaf, sigh, tree, kiss, and moment in this universe. I think that’s beautiful.

So, there’s this deep metaphysical groove. Dust, freedom and spiritual truth for all, hell and heaven as the natural consequences of love and connectedness… it is an incredibly touching, valuable, beautiful thing.

But there are certain things I don’t like, and certain cultural and theological views that remove a lot of the joy from it for me.

1. Pullman is anti-Catholic at best and anti-Christian at worst. I know that’s a pretty strong thing to say. But Pullman’s key focus is essentially that “the Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake” (as one of the characters puts it.) He places God in the exact same blame as the authoritarian and dogmatic churches of this world. He actually depicts the death and uselessness of God in conjunction with the collapse of the Christian churches of the tale. He uses the medieval doctrine of original sin – a late Christian concept and arguably irrelevant to many Christians today – as the weapon of the Authority, the Magisterium, and the GOB. If priests and nuns are shown, they are either abusive or outright murderers. It is a vehemently anti-Catholic and possibly anti-Christian tale, without question.

2. Simplistic view. Even the anti-Catholic sentiment I wouldn’t mind so much, as long as he held an equally zero-tolerance policy towards all other religious traditions as well. (If he did, then HDM would become a unique metaphysical and spiritual approach to a non-theist worldview, a la What Dreams May Come, which would actually be pretty cool.)

But he doesn’t do that. On the contrary, other religious traditions and cultures are only brought in as direct support for his anti-Christian message. Vaguely Inuit shamans, vaguely Tibetan Buddhist tulkus, vaguely Jewish Biblical characters, and vaguely Romany nomadic communities are all brought in as support for “the good guys” in the tale. None of these religious and cultural traditions are explored in any depth; they are simply marshalled as exotic and otherworldly alternatives to authoritarian dogma. It is a very one-sided, very stereotypical view of indigenous, Buddhist, Jewish, or Romany communities. And those are just the few I can remember off the top of my head!

Concluding thoughts?

I obviously don’t know this for sure, and I’m clearly only speculating here. But ultimately, Pullman seems like the sort of person that came to hate Christianity and therefore became an atheist. In that context, anything non-Christian may be marshalled as support for a non-theist message.

It especially sucks because his whole metaphysical worldview is so cool, and so inspiring, and so beautiful – but he doesn’t let Christianity come to the table to enjoy it. I feel like if he’d done any reading or research into the early Christian community and the original message of Christ, he would recognize that God and Christ would support him!

But of course, this would require separating God and Christ from the contemporary Catholic church, which seems to be something Pullman is incapable of doing. I guess that’s the biggest shame of all. Authoritarian and dogmatic churches have robbed the Christian tradition of its ability to be seen as loving, progressive, and open-minded.

As far as an epic fantasy narrative, it’s a fantastic read and an incredibly enjoyable thrill ride. Hell, even the symbolism and mythology is highly compelling and addictive. Even as a non-theist philosophical worldview, it’s raw and beautiful and inspiring. But if you’re looking for respect or appreciation for different religious traditions, especially Christianity, please leave His Dark Materials on the shelf.

Love Stories

Posted in Academia and Research, Dreams for the Future, Love, Miscellaneous on December 11, 2009 by aprilpalo

Today has been less than enjoyable. I’ve recently come down with a dry cough, but over the last day or two, it’s developed into a full-blown sinus cold. Headache, sinus pressure, congestion, the whole works. Being smart, cautious, and unmotivated to do anything more than slip into a stupor, I went straight home after work. I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head, and promptly slept for over four hours.

Once I dragged myself out of bed and had some food, I felt a little better, but I still felt raw and had no desire to work on any homework whatsoever. Rearranging my calendar to accommodate my newfound lack of energy, I sought something I could do to enjoy myself and feel a little better.

“Oh, hey, I can watch a movie!” I thought to myself. What a great idea! So I opened my laptop, propped myself up with a bunch of blankets and a water bottle, and settled into watch 2005’s Pride and Prejudice.

I have seen Pride and Prejudice probably six or seven times since it came out. I do enjoy the acting, screenplay, scenery, soundtrack, and composition of the film, but there are deeper reasons why I enjoy it.

As a feminist, I am particularly drawn to Elizabeth Bennet’s willful spirit, courageous heart, and powerful sense of self. She is unafraid to make her own choices, unafraid to say “no” to men in positions of power, and unafraid to love with her mind as well as her heart and body.

First, she allows her own spirit to become part of her cognitive process, which speaks to feminist epistemology’s esteem of one’s personal experience in the intellectual realm. Second, while women around her succumb to societal or physical pressure, she maintains her right to say “NO”, even in the face of overwhelming pressure to give in; she therefore presents a great example to young women today. Third, she does not allow traditional perceptions of womanhood – nervous hysteria, submissive love, or physical desire – to influence her ability to think and love creatively, sensitively, and passionately.

On a more complex level, I am also drawn to the social commentary inherent in the film. It strongly exhibits the cramped prison of a typical woman’s life in the era. As victims of societal systems of oppression, women belonged to their fathers until they were suitably married off, in which case they became possessions of their husbands. It was not love but money that mattered, and women were bought and sold like cattle between privileged families. Because gender oppression works both ways, men in such a society – while undoubtedly privileged – are presented as having become largely emotionally crippled, and desired only for their funds.

While it is of course critical to mention the privilege of the Bennet family in relationship to other families – even worse victims of racial, gender, and class oppression – overall, I think Pride and Prejudice can be valued by feminists, even as a love story.

Here’s the question I have, though: What other romances can feminists be proud of?

I got to thinking about the love stories available to women in contemporary literature. Four examples came to mind, and really only these four.

1. Trashy sex novels
2. Time-Traveler’s Wife (and other romances)
3. Twilight
4. Chick/bitch lit

Virtually all of these are sexist, pining, poorly-done, or all three.

Trashy sex novels propagate virtually every female and male stereotype there is, while also presenting women as secretly pining always for male attention. Women are always presented as weak, helpless, and typically a damsel in distress. Men are nearly always rippling with muscle, strong, silent, hard, and domineering. Such books are terribly written and usually go straight in the recycling when I’m done with them.

Time-Traveler’s Wife – while not explicitly sexist or badly written – presents a woman pining forever and always for an unattainable man. TTW is actually a very enjoyable book, but the idea of a woman constructing her entire life around a man’s tumultuous reality does not sit well with me.

Twilight, of course, is all of these and worse. I needn’t go into it too much here, but we should all know by now the potential ramifications of an entire demographic adopting such a sexist, codependent, addictive, and poorly-constructed relationship as a model. I have no issue with the fact that Twilight books and movies exist, I just dislike their effects.

Chick/bitch lit is frequently represented as feminism’s answer to typical gender roles, but I tend to disagree. Women, even if they’re in positions of power – Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, whatever – are usually only in positions of power through the sexualization of their bodies. Their “feminine wiles” get them the job, the man, the car, the success, the friendship, the power. I’m not really okay with that either.

So, the obvious question is, where can I find a love story or romance that speaks to me? Where can I – especially as a straight woman – find some kind of romance that delivers on these critiques?

I guess I don’t really know. I’m half-tempted to write one.

That Dark Stretch of Time, the Light at the End of the Tunnel, and the Social Justice Mega-Post

Posted in Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism, Oracle and Opinion on November 23, 2009 by aprilpalo

It’s been a rather long few weeks. I’m hitting that stretch between Thanksgiving and Finals when things get pretty tough.

Once-distant projects stack up and become urgent, and one’s weekend task list rapidly becomes daunting. Classes pick up speed as professors try to cram more into the last few weeks of the semester, and finals seem to approach faster than ever. In my case, most of my classes are also incorporating a lengthy research project, which makes sinking my teeth into my workload even more complex and difficult. My unmotivated wish to just cuddle up and watch a movie is getting fierce.

What’s more, the nights grow longer, the mornings grow colder, and the days grow darker. More frequently than ever, I catch myself wishing to go home, steal a nap under a warm blanket, and maybe make some soup and toast. The gloomier the days, the more pronounced this urge becomes. I find myself demanding more and more of Chris’ attention, because his hugs just feel so damn good when I’m unmotivated and cold!

Fortunately, I think I’ll be able to make it through these next few weeks just fine. Having a quick break for Thanksgiving will feel absolutely delightful and will hopefully recharge my energy. Plus, cooking warm seasonal meals and getting plenty of sleep will help connect me to what my body wants – to curl up with the ancient home and hearth.

(Speaking of Thanksgiving and seasonal meals, we’ve decided on our Thanksgiving menu!

Pork and Sage Meatballs with Lemon-Thyme Sauce

Pumpkin, Peanut, and Ginger Creamy Soup

Both recipes are from The Kitchn (featured in my links to the right). I’m really excited to spend some time with the people I love, sharing warm bowls of soup around the table. Going to sleep cuddled up with my future husband, watching the flickering firelight of the woodstove, the scent of dry pine sparking in the embers, will be exactly what this freezing little student needs!)

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As much as I’d love to end this blog post on such a delicious high note, I’ve got to be honest. Besides the crunch of November/December and the worsening cold/darkness of the season, another thing has got me running for a hug or an escape. Simply put, I’ve been dealing with a lot of social justice questions.

A lot of my peers have been involved with social justice for quite some time, and have developed strong coping methods for the moral questions that plague the activist. But given my relatively recent calling, I’ve been thrown into it headfirst, and so I’m still struggling with how to answer some of the nagging problems on my shoulders. I haven’t got any answers and I’m not sure how to write for my audience on this one, so I think I’ll just throw them out there:

1. How do we balance the crucial need for equal access to social services/rights/freedoms, with an equally important need for respecting and valuing racial/ethnic/religious/gender/sexual/etc identity?

This question is more complex than it sounds. On a superficial level, there should be no problem with everyone being able to pursue equal social assets while simultaneously enjoying a strong personal identity. But when you get into the actual mechanics of how this works, it becomes very hard.

All people should be able to attain high-paying jobs, even if they’re people of color, right? Obviously. But how do you go about making this work? Housing, education, employment practices, parenting, financial ability, location – all of these work against the average person of color, which sets up a system of disadvantage, which in turn inhibits people of color from obtaining jobs at the same level as whites. So, what do you do? Do you advocate ignoring their race, in order to guarantee them jobs? Sounds good, but then you’re eliminating their right to their own cultural or ethnic identity. Or do you utilize their race as leverage to help them? Sounds good, too, but then you’re playing favorites of a different kind; how do you turn this sort of policy into an organic respect for identity?

The problem gets worse when we think about the question of ignoring or valuing difference. To oversimplify the problem, I can use feminism as an example. Many feminists advocate ignoring the socially-constructed female gender, working to prove that women can do anything and everything that men can. While gender is indeed socially constructed, this approach neglects to consider the actual experiences of women as they differ from men’s – care, bodily comportment, discrimination, et cetera. In response, many other feminists advocate evaluating and exploring women’s experience, calling attention to the ways women live differently than men. While this approach is important because it values women as distinct from men and acknowledges their often-painful experiences, it also serves to differentiate women and potentially set them apart from other capabilities.

To get into this even deeper, we can go off on a whole conversation about “other capabilities” in the first place. What is normative? Culturally, we’ve got this unconscious idea that the white, male, Western, middle/upper class perspective is the normal one, from which all else flows. This sets in motion phrases like, “Get over it”, “I don’t see race”, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, et cetera. It also sets in motion ideas like, “Knowledge is the same for everyone”, “We all live in the same world”, and so forth.

I could go on and on about this, but the questions just keep getting deeper and harder and harder to solve. Let’s go on to my next issue.

2. How do we deal with one’s authentic identity versus one’s perceived identity?

Technically, everyone should be able to self-identify. Race, ethnicity, religious tradition, gender, sexual orientation, ability – they’re all socially constructed. Therefore, every individual should have the right to practice/identify whatever they wish.

But here’s the problem: What happens when one’s authentic (i.e., self-determined) identity come into conflict with one’s perceived (i.e., culturally-determined) identity?

In some cases – transgender people, for example – I would advocate very strongly for one’s authentic and self-determined identity. I would support a person claiming their own right to their own gender and sexual identity, even to my dying day. But in other cases – such as U.S. Army Maj. Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood several weeks ago – I would advocate very strongly for a culturally-determined identity. I would reject his (allegedly) Muslim identification and publicly renounce his affiliation with an otherwise beautiful, peace-loving faith.

Is this fair? Can I call the shots both ways? What if the roles are reversed? What if one’s gender identity is mixed up with psychological illness and a sexually exploited childhood (like in “Stage Beauty”)? What if one’s religious identity is strong and peaceful, but runs counter to traditional expectations (like in CNN’s “Emerging Jews” article)?

I don’t even know how to sink myself into this one.

3. Diversity/pluralism versus political correctness: How far is too far?

Given all the issues expressed in #1 and #2, it becomes obvious that we’re dealing with an ongoing public conversation. It never ends and happens every single day. How do I balance social equality, cultural difference, authentic identity, perceived identity (and all the related questions therein) with political correctness?

In other words, how do I participate in life? I’m having a hard time digging stuff I used to enjoy, because I’m constantly thinking about the systems of advantage that went into it. I’m having a hard time laughing with old friends, because I never think their insensitive jokes are funny anymore. How do I keep finding pleasure in things? How do I keep finding humor in life?

But on the flipside, I don’t want to be like Racialicious – they seem to write only about things that make them angry, and thanks to them, steampunk isn’t even fun anymore. I don’t want to be like the Hamline liberal elite, shoving words like “diversity”, “white privilege”, “social capital”, and “offensive” down people’s throats.

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This is a glimpse of what I’m struggling with. This blog is getting pretty long, so I think I should wrap it up. On the whole, I guess I’m just ready for a break, ready to relax and recharge and approach my life anew.

Thanks for listening 🙂

To end on a high note, the cutest video ever:

Hello, world!

Posted in Academia and Research, Dreams for the Future, Family, Friends, Graduate School, Internships and Work, Love, Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism, Notes from a Small Apartment, Oracle and Opinion, Study Abroad: The Great Adventure, Wedding on November 17, 2009 by aprilpalo

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I suppose it’s about time I crack my knuckles and fill you in!

There are a lot of things I’m preparing for. First and foremost: studying abroad. We’re moving out of our apartment sometime around December 17, and our flight leaves January 10. We should be in Dublin by 8:30 am the morning of January 11, and won’t be back until mid-May 2010.

I can’t believe I’m going to be living, working, and studying in a new home for nearly six months! The University College Dublin campus is the largest in Ireland and teaches nearly twenty-two thousand students per year. Dublin is one of the oldest cities in Ireland – it’s been been a capital city and port since well before Christianity, Vikings, or the Roman Empire. Ireland itself is an island unlike any place I will ever live, a bizarre mix of old and new, ancient and modern. Everything is going to be different there – even some parts of the language! I am absolutely thrilled to go, and I’m only one $3000 loan away from making it happen.

Other parts of my life revolve around what I’m going to do when I get back:

  • I’ve got my academics all planned out for my senior year; it’s hard to believe that I’m only two Hamline semesters away from graduating!
  • On top of that, I’m applying for a Mahle Scholarship. The Scholarship is actually a paid stipend position dedicated to progressive religious education, reflection, and service. It would be a really great way to dedicate myself to interfaith justice on campus, and I’m already buzzing with ideas!
  • I’m also coordinating the next leg of my research project. After the incredible success of last summer, it’s back to the drawing board to see what I can hone, expand, or focus more deeply. I’m going to take advantage of some Ireland resources, and when I return I fully intend on spending Summer 2010 working through additional research. Then I can spend my senior year dedicating myself to my Religion senior honors’ thesis.
  • In terms of interfaith/social justice initiatives, I’m also dedicating myself to Multifaith Alliance’s future. We’ve finally lined up an amazing new student leader for Multifaith while I am gone, and when I get back, I’m really excited to tackle some new projects as a team. I’m in touch with Hamline administration regarding a potential interfaith living community on campus, as well as introducing some interfaith dialogue into freshman orientation programming!
  • But academics, research, and extracurriculars aren’t everything; I’m also focusing on my employable future. I am currently applying for an internship position with Saint Paul Area Council of Churches, ideally working with the Saint Paul Interfaith Network and the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition. I am so excited at the possibility of working with these teams, and I can’t wait to find out what’s next! What’s more, my dream goal is to attain a position in the Interfaith Youth Core’s Fellows Alliance program – it’s a year-long paid position and the ultimate in youth interfaith leadership. It’s a dream goal for me and I’m really working hard to make it happen!

Of course, all of this stuff is happening on top of writing for The Oracle and working three jobs in IT, so I’m busting my ass on a regular basis. It’s worth it, though. Now that I know what I want to do and how to work towards it, I feel unstoppable. I feel like my calling is definitely leading me somewhere – I just have to keep up!

I’m really working on making my projects my own priority, instead of comparing myself to other students and friends. I’ve got some friends who are attaining serious career success right now, but the thing I have to remember is that I am, too. And I will continue to do so! I’ve just got to buckle down and follow my vocation wherever it takes me!

Let’s see, what else? Well, I’m also preparing for what comes after graduation. I’m obviously planning for graduate school, and here is my current list:

  1. University of Chicago
  2. Northwestern
  3. Chicago Theological Seminary (Can you tell that Chicago is a running theme?)
  4. Columbia
  5. NYU
  6. Harvard
  7. Yale
  8. Duke

Yeah, so I’ll admit I’m not setting my sights particularly low. But what’s the worst that can happen? They say no? Big deal – I find somewhere else, and I turn it into the best decision I ever made. 🙂

I’m also flirting with the idea of pursuing a Fulbright. I hadn’t considered it very much before, primarily because I was also thinking about the Peace Corps, the potential language barrier, and whether or not it would work for our plans as a couple. But I got to talking and thinking about it, and I realized: There is no realistic reason why I couldn’t pursue a research future in the United Kingdom. Why not apply? I can always defer grad school until I get back, and Chris can always pursue employment abroad if the Fulbright grant doesn’t support him.

Mentally/Emotionally/Physically, I guess I’m in this really powerful transition mode. My mind, my heart, my body – every part of me is moving forward. I’ve written before that I’m in a really peaceful, motivated place in my life; I am both deeply tranquil and brimming with passion, and I think that’s a really good place to be. My happiness must always be balanced with a reflective gratitude, and I try never to let a moment go by that I don’t thank God* for what I have been given.

* This might also be a good time to touch on my spirituality. You’ll notice that I put an asterisk by the word “God”. Usually I write “the universe” or “life”. I definitely still believe in those things; I certainly don’t believe in a personified, reified God. But I am starting to identify with a Jewish/Christian tradition, and part of living a Jewish life and living by Christ’s example is recognizing the depth of my faith and the value of community. In terms of faith, it’s important for me to stop running away from the concept of God and instead approach it thoughtfully, flexibly, and with utmost love and gratitude. Rather than obfuscating the words “universe” and “life”, I can take a page from Soren Kierkegaard and engage in a subjective, faithful relationship with “God”. Do I believe in God the same way others do? No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t engage in a relationship with It. In terms of community, it’s important for me to stop talking and begin living. I can’t just keep speaking and hoping I find something; I’ve got to jump in and practice my identity fully and passionately. I’ve never pulled punches in any other part of my life. Why should I start now?

So, that’s a process and I’m very excited to see where it goes in the future.

All told, I think we’ve touched on a lot of the important things in my life right now! It’s a pretty hectic way to live, but it’s a powerful, thrilling, and enjoyable way. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s a lot I didn’t discuss – there’s been a lot of social justice issues I’ve been tackling, and wedding plans I’ve been considering – but I’ll leave those for another time!

Stay tuned. Thanks for listening. 🙂

Monologues, Apples, Drummers, and Chicago

Posted in Dreams for the Future, Love, Miscellaneous, Multifaith Alliance and Interfaith Activism on October 18, 2009 by aprilpalo

I know this post is a little belated, but you’ve gotta forgive me. Between last weekend and this one, I’m ecstatic, but also a little swamped. Let me tell you why:

Chris and I kicked off last weekend with an awesome windfall! In the Wesley Center, my coworker Jane Krentz (director of the McVay Youth Partnership) is also a volunteer at The Guthrie. As a volunteer she gets various ticket packages and performance offers. Well, on Friday morning, she found out that I am studying abroad in Ireland with my fiancee, and offered both of us tickets to The Guthrie’s The Faith Healer! Read more about it here.

So, we jumped at the chance. We got all dressed up in posh clothes, drove downtown, parked, and went on a date to The Guthrie! Neither of us had ever been before. I mean, I’ve been to other theatres in the Twin Cities (The Jungle, Mixed Blood, et cetera), but The Guthrie had always been the elusive white stag. And let me tell you, it was worth the wait. The entire building is a gorgeous work of art – miles of blue, illuminated, glass architecture, surrounded by modern art and a beautiful glimpse of the Minneapolis skyline at every window.

The play itself was great. Four monologues explored three different people’s recollection of the same memories, and as the different versions unraveled, the complex and tragic truth revealed itself. I was fascinated, and it was a great time!

On Saturday, we got up early, bundled up in warm clothes and scratchy scarves, and drove up north of Anoka. Berry Hill Farm is an absolutely adorable little farm in the Minnesota countryside, and we had a blast there! We picked pumpkins, drank apple cider, wandered around the farm, tried homemade apple sundaes with caramel, petted the petting zoo animals (I was a big fan of the sheep), and enjoyed the beautiful, warm fall day.

 

 

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After we left, we drove to Afton Apple Orchard, out by Woodbury. It was a little too expensive to get in and we were a little short on time, so we just wandered around the gift shop and sampled free apples. We bought a homemade caramel apple wrapped in white paper, and munched tons of slices of fresh, crisp, juicy apples! We even tried apple and pumpkin butters, which I thought were delicious – especially on crackers. Someday we’ll have to come back with a little money and spend some time picking apples – apples are definitely my favorite part of fall!

With our pumpkins bundled safely in the car and our stomachs growling for real food, we made a quick pit stop for dinner before driving to Minneapolis. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where I pulled off the best surprise ever!

A few weeks ago, I was planning our fall date weekend. While I was coordinating it, I saw online that one of Chris and I’s favorite bands of all time were playing at First Ave! So, without even thinking about it, I picked up two tickets. And then…

… I kept it a secret. For two straight weeks. Seriously. TWO WEEKS, I kept the secret! I didn’t. say. a. word.

Chris spent the whole day trying to figure out what we were doing that evening. When we finally pulled up into the parking ramp near First Ave, he still had absolutely no idea what we were doing there. “First Ave?” he asked. “Yep!” I grinned, but didn’t give away the secret. We got in line, and after weeks of anticipation, I finally showed Chris the tickets.

“MUTEMATH?!” he shouted – and he literally jumped up and down, stoked beyond belief. And so was I! And so we both jumped up and down like maniacs. And it was awesome.

Mutemath’s performance was absolutely incredible. The music was album-quality, their energy was ridiculously high and unbelievably addictive, and the spectacle was electrifying. Paul was literally doing flips up into handstands atop his keyboard while singing, and at one point, Darren stood and played his drumsticks… while standing on his bass drum… which was being crowdsurfed above the audience!

It was off the hook and totally wild. I haven’t screamed or laughed or danced that much in a long time – not since Rusted Root, for sure. Mutemath’s art/techno rock was insane, and it was one of the best nights I’ve had recently!

So, that was our weekend! I want to put pics up soon, but in the meantime these will have to do. 🙂

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This week is going smoothly and swiftly, which is awesome. My next few days are going to be hectic, but totally worth it – on Saturday, I am flying to O’Hare and spending four days at an international conference in Chicago.

I won a scholarship to attend IFYC’s 2009 “Interfaith Leadership for a Religiously Diverse World” Conference. IFYC is the premiere international nonprofits dedicated to religious pluralism. This is an amazing leadership and networking opportunity for me (and all of us at Multifaith Alliance)! I’m thrilled to have this chance and can’t wait to spend time exploring it.

So, I’ll be running around crazily for a bit, making up for lost time and catching up on homework. See you soon! Thanks for reading!

Spirituality: Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism

Posted in Miscellaneous on October 14, 2009 by aprilpalo

For a long while, I’ve avoided writing about my spirituality. There are a number of reasons for this, I think:

  1. It’s complicated. There are a number of highly specific theological concepts at work, and honestly, it’s a lot to explain.
  2. It’s personal. My spirituality rests in the center of who I am. Sharing it with the world also opens it up to exposure, so that’s a pretty intimidating leap.
  3. It’s uncertain. I have always been a seeker, and so there’s no telling where the future of my spirituality may take me.

And yet… Because my spirituality is such a huge part of my life, this blog isn’t quite complete without exploring it. (As Cady says, “If I don’t cover [Aristotle]/[Kant]/[Nietzsche] in this course, you should sue Hamline for malpractice!”) And I can’t let such a conspicuous absence go untouched.

So let’s begin, as they say, in the beginning. This is a long post – bring a tent!

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I was born into a pretty liberal family. My mom and dad always challenged me to think for myself and to develop my own education on certain topics. Because my dad had rejected religion at a young age and my mom enjoyed religion only occasionally, ours was also a very non-practicing family. I attended Sunday School briefly when I was a kid, but I was never confirmed and was Lutheran in name only.

By the time I hit high school, the hypocrisy of my small town’s religious landscape had become excruciating and isolating. Everywhere I looked, men and women who claimed to follow Christ committed such gross acts of ignorance and prejudice that I became utterly disappointed. Everyone was either Lutheran or Catholic, and in my homogenous rural farm town, the two were barely distinguishable from each other and the denominational label was irrelevant. On the whole, religion seemed to be a hypocritical power structure that contributed virtually nothing to people’s daily lives. Before I ever voiced it, I rejected Christianity and rejected “organized religion” in fairly short order.

So, then I came to college. If asked about my spiritual views, I would have said something like: “Oh, I’m spiritual… but not religious.” This was my way of sustaining my inner soul, all while continuing to distance myself from the Christianity of my hometown and organized religion in general.

But these mental acrobatics didn’t last. In a matter of months, two life-changing things happened:

First, I became a regular participant in Religion courses at Hamline, and it wasn’t long before it began to influence my academic decisions. I’d been dead-set on a Criminal Justice and Psychology double-major, but I soon dropped Criminal Justice in favor of Religion. Religion courses and faculty became one of my favorite parts about Hamline, and now I am a Religion major only.

Second, I began attending Multifaith Alliance. I came to my first meeting on a whim I barely remember, but then began attending every week. The discussions, the food, the community – I loved it, and it became my sacred space throughout the week. I began to develop a certain amount of leadership in the group, and when the incumbent leader asked me to take over while she studied in Ghana, I readily agreed. We split leadership after she got back, and today I am enjoying my fourth consecutive semester of leading Multifaith Alliance.

Besides these two factors, I also fell in love with research opportunities. Last summer I explored a Biblical Studies project revolving around the Northern Irish conflict, and now I’m working on improving my project while studying in Dublin. Next summer I hope to research again in preparation for my senior honors thesis. Academia and research are undying loves for me, and I intend to dedicate my career to them.

Finally, interfaith activism has also become a profound passion of mine. I am capitalizing on a number of organizations, initiatives, and networking opportunities to improve religious pluralism in my community, and I am rapidly becoming an activist for that cause. Multifaith Alliance has definitely influenced and motivated this drive for me, and I plan to apply it as much as possible in the future – including applying for faith-based and progressive internships.

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But academia, research, extracurricular involvements, and interfaith activism engagements are not the whole story. All of these things are simply what I do; they are not who I am.

Over the last couple of years, I have explored the Baha’i Faith, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and most recently, Buddhism. Some of these have been purely academic explorations: studying Hinduism was for a book club, and Islam was a January term course. But a few of these have been highly personal and informative spiritual explorations, namely Judaism, Christianity, and perhaps Buddhism.

Throughout this complex and multifaceted journey, I have come to a place of… discernmentI think I have finally come to be able to define what I want, and what I want to believe.

Probably the easiest explanation may be through a letter I wrote my parents some months ago. In an attempt to clarify my beliefs and intentions, I wrote the following:

“As both of you know at this point, I have been attending synagogue pretty regularly on Friday nights. It’s pretty much the geekiest thing ever and is usually followed by playing Harry Potter Clue at Adam and Mikayla’s… but to my surprise, it has proven to be something I really treasure.

My attendance and experience of these services speaks to me in ways I am only beginning to understand. Jewish culture, traditions, holidays, and services seem to fit me like a second skin, and I can relate to them on a lot of emotional and spiritual levels. In addition to that, the experience has dovetailed amazingly well with the progress I’ve made on my Biblical studies project. I’ve been studying ancient Israelite history stretching from Creation and Abraham all the way through the Maccabbean revolt and the Hasmonaean dynasty, and the possibility of being able to identify with that family lineage seems astonishingly beautiful. Altogether, such a personal relationship with God throughout history and today seems like something I’d really like to get involved in.

That being said, it’s not simply Judaism and the Old Testament that has struck me; I have also been doing more than a little soul-searching on the subject of Christianity and the New Testament. (Now, stick with me on this, and hear me out.)

Obviously, Jesus Christ was a Jew. He was born into a Jewish tradition stretching back over four thousand years, and was the Jewish son of a Jewish family. He grew up in the Jewish faith and read Jewish scriptures and taught Jewish laws to a Jewish audience about a Jewish God. He died and was given a Jewish burial, and for many hundreds of years afterwards, there was virtually no difference whatsoever between Jews and Christians. Even during the time of Paul (a Pharisee until his conversion on the road to Damascus, and later Christianity’s first missionary), there was no distinction. Christ, his apostles, and the later Paul all considered Jews to be perfectly good Christians. This is because Christ’s message was primarily two-fold:

1. Wisdom and moral teachings (again, always coming down the pipe from an extremely long line of Jewish tradition/mysticism)
2. Radicalizing and re-emphasizing Jewish law.

#1 is pretty self-explanatory; Jesus’ Jewish-ness is obvious, and it’s well known that Jesus was a great moral teacher.

But #2 is the particularly interesting part. Jesus and his followers essentially said to everyone, “Right now, you [Jews of the era] are following Jewish law in an attempt to get into heaven, where you think you’ll be saved. That’s wrong – the truth is, guys, you’re already saved. Heaven isn’t a mythical place you’ve got to gain entry to; it’s right here on this earth. Now you’ve got to live like it. Live like the people of God that you are, live with inner truth and wisdom and beauty and faith. The laws will help you commune with that.”

Do you see what I mean? Ultimately, Jesus and his followers were advocating, through wisdom and moral teachings, the way to live life as heaven on earth, and live as saved peoples – they were not advocating the people to kill themselves over trying to get into a mythical afterlife, and they were not focusing on rules or doctrines as salvation.

It wasn’t until much later, several hundred years after Christ, that the budding Christian community began to assign such things to Jesus as him being the literal “Messiah”, him being the “Son of God”, him having been conceived by a virgin Mary and the Star of the Bethlehem and the wise men and everything. And it wasn’t until much later that “kingdom of heaven” and “salvation” became such loaded, guilt-ridden terms.

Does that mean that Jesus wasn’t divine? Absolutely not – I happen to believe Jesus may very well have been a divinely sent messenger of “the way” of God. Furthermore, I also believe he could very well have been the physical manifestation of “the way” – the same “way” advocated by other world religions. (An author named Marcus Borg expounds on this pretty well.)

So, what am I saying?

I want to be a Jewish Christian. I want to be both at once, as Jewish Christians once existed in history. I want a Jewish life with Jewish culture, traditions, history, and theology. In addition, I also want to strive to imitate Christ’s teachings and his life. I want to do the best I can to follow his wisdom and moral teachings, live like heaven is here on earth, and live like the saved person I am. I want to recognize him as possibly having been a divinely-sent messenger of the way we should live. I do not, however, want to recognize him as later traditions do, as the Messiah or the biological Son of God.

For that reason, I am also going to start attending worship services at a congregational church on Sundays. Who the hell knows if I’ll like it or feel welcomed? But I’m going to try it. There’s gotta be people who can get with me on this, and I’m going to find them.”

July 30, 2009

Since I wrote that letter, I have not yet made good on my determination to attend a non-denominational Christian service.

As much as I am beginning to identify myself as a Jewish person, I have not yet been able to determine my relationship to Christianity. I definitely know what my views are, and I know how I feel about Christ; I do not know, however, how those views will be interpreted in either the Jewish or Christian faith traditions.

As I continue to develop my Jewish identity (at what point do I become a Jew?), I will have to determine how I interact and relate to Christianity as a tradition. It may well be that my viewpoints are perfectly at home in a fairly progressive Jewish community; in that case, I will explore them there. But it may also happen that Judaism does not provide the appropriate venue for me to do that, in which case I will have to seek additional opportunities.

This issue is a surprisingly important one for me, and one I am continuing to work out on my own.

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You’ll notice that the title of this blog post is “Spirituality: Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism”. In this epic, we’ve explored each of these in turn… except for the last. Just what the hell does Buddhism have to do with it?

Well, to be honest, I don’t really know. I’ve just begun taking a Buddhism course, and I’ve noticed a startlingly wonderful event emerging.

In previous chapters of my life, I’ve always wanted to convert to every religion I set eyes upon. A running joke in my chemically dependent family is, “Run it past me, and I’m addicted!” I don’t smoke or drink or use drugs, and so I think I’m like that with religion instead. But when I began to investigate Buddhism, I realized that I actually didn’t agree with it. Not right away.

But as I began to explore the fundamental concepts of Buddhism and began to interpret them in a metaphorical, progressive way, I began to see the value of Buddhist thought. In particular, I came to understand that Buddhism builds a belief structure around that simple addage, “This too shall pass.”

Through interpreted ideologies, sutras, and meditative/devotional practices, Buddhism teaches you to let go, to live above grasping and aversion, to live above temporal confinement, to live attentively and serenely. Most accurately put, Buddhism teaches you to live authentically. In keeping with these themes, Buddhism is surprisingly existentialist, which speaks to me in a big way. (Kierkegaard’s around the corner somewhere, I know he is!)

So, I’m beginning to consider the possibility of incorporating sitting meditation into my religious practice. I don’t want to convert to Buddhism – I’m on a perfectly good spiritual path on my own! – but I do feel that Buddhist meditation may add a certain peace and wisdom to my life. That’s something I look forward to exploring, and I’m excited to see if it works for me. It’s particularly compelling, I think, because I’m terrible at it! I’m an awful sitter, and so I’m curious to see how I develop and improve over time.

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In a long and roundabout way, we’ve explored my spirituality, Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism. My spiritual and religious practice is constantly growing and evolving, and it’s such a complex and multifaceted journey that it does, in fact, take miles of blog to write about it! It really helps me to get my thoughts out, and I think it makes this blog a fuller and more honest space.

Thanks for sticking with me on this little novel. I really appreciate it. And thanks for listening!