We Need to Stop Loving Rights More than People

There’s a beautiful and jarring memorial set up a few blocks from my house, in honor of Philadelphians who have lost their lives to gun violence this year. T-shirts with their names and ages line a fence outside of a church. Those shirts hang are empty because the people who once filled them – many of whom were shockingly young – are no longer with us. They were humans, friends, neighbors, parents, and children who have left a tangible void in their households and in this city. Going past it this week has been particularly moving.   Continue reading →

Beyoncé & Great Art

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of watching Lemonade, Beyoncé’s latest visual album. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Since its release on April 23rd, it’s stirred up plenty of gossip, memes, articles, and mild controversy. What fun! I’ll try not to be more of the same here. By the way, if you haven’t already, definitely try to find the time to watch the album and read some of the media’s commentary.

Maybe a few minutes into Lemonade, I got that feeling that you have when you know that you’re about to witness something particularly profound. On one hand, this is an extremely well-executed work: the cinematography, lighting, settings, costumes, hair!, poetry, allusions to myth and folklore, tradition and politics. And of course, Beyoncé’s stellar voice and startling lyrics. It’s all very thoughtful and captivating. Art that entertains us, and that looks nice, and is technically impressive is good. There’s a place for that in our society and our lives. That’s the role that Beyoncé’s previous albums have filled, and that’s totally fine. But Lemonade is great. I suspect that this is a piece that could last, that our grandkids could hear about, see, and be moved by. Continue reading →

Bathrooms & Baptism

The other day, someone asked me if I’d be uncomfortable sharing a public restroom with a trans person.

This was asked sincerely, by a man, who simply has not had the experience of being a woman, especially a woman in a public and vulnerable space, so they genuinely wanted to know. I gave the simple, off-the-cuff response of, “no, of course not.”

But I spoke too soon, so let me revise:

Would I be uncomfortable sharing a public restroom with a trans person? Maybe a little. Continue reading →

The Tricky Rhetoric of Rights

Over 200 years ago, in a stuffy brick building a few blocks north of my apartment, a bunch of white dudes got together and ratified the Constitution of the United States. Western Civilization has been messed up ever since.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the Constitution. It’s provided a nice bit of structure for these past 200+ years, and is full of fun little rules like Article I, Section 9, Clause 8. And those first ten amendments they eventually added – the Bill of Rights – sure do come in handy sometimes. I like it when the government promises that I can say and write what I want, and that I can practice whatever religion I want and even get together in public with people who are like me. All of that is fine and good. What I don’t like is how we’ve established a weird culture around these rights, which has affected how we think about ourselves, others, and our society. Continue reading →

Why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Dead?

This is going to sound ridiculous, but this post is the direct result of a dream that I had several months ago. Back in the spring – in my real, awake-life – I was able to see Philly’s Wilma Theater’s wonderful production of Hamlet. Shortly after that, I dreamt that I was back in high school – one of those typical “omg I’m back in high school how did that happen?” dreams. (I’m not the only one that has those, right?). Anyway, I was in my AP English class, and we were assigned to write an essay answering the title question: why are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern dead? So I’m writing that dream-essay now. (It’s six months late – omg, did I fail??) Continue reading →

The Music Post

Major confession: Lately I’ve been listening to Christian music, pretty regularly. I even made the local Christian station a preset in my car.

For those of you who don’t know me, or don’t know me well, this is unremarkable. But I mentioned this to a friend recently and I think her jaw dropped slightly. Here’s the thing: like many of the people in my bubble, I left the clean acoustic worship music of my youth behind several years ago, in favor of musically complex and theologically sound hymns on Sundays, and “secular” music during the week. People who love things like art, liturgy, and…excellence…don’t do contemporary worship music. We scoff at it, and trade stories of how back in the day we loved Hillsong or whatever (“ugh it’s so embarrassing. I had their CD”). Continue reading →

Work & Identity

I am unemployed on purpose.

To be clear: I left a job that I loved because I was worried that someday I would stop loving it. I knew I wouldn’t stay there forever, and I wanted to be able to look back on that season of my life with fondness and gratitude, not bitterness. The timing was right, so I can do that now: I am immensely grateful.

So now I’m unemployed, and I have been for nearly two months. On purpose though. As of this writing, I haven’t even seriously looked for a new job. Continue reading →

Book Review: Dreamland (Sam Quinones)

At first glance, Dreamland – Sam Quinones’s expose on the opiate epidemic that’s destroying rural America – seems like a terrible beach read. And yet, on more than one occasion this summer, I’ve found myself sitting by the water with a drink in one hand and this book in the other. Despite its tragic and at times infuriating nature, Quinones does what good journalists do: he tells a story, and a captivating and compelling one at that. So as strange as this sounds, reading Dreamland was a surprisingly pleasant experience.

It was also an (unsurprisingly) educational experience. Quinones spent years doing hands-on, in-person research for this book. Facts and statistics stand to support the evidence unearthed through hundreds of conversations, interviews, and anecdotes told by doctors, judges, coroners, activists, dealers, junkies, addiction experts, DEA agents, cops, district attorneys, and onlookers who watched people, families, and communities crumble over the last several decades. Dreamland brings together people who will likely never meet, and who have nothing in common except that they’ve been impacted by the opiate epidemic. Continue reading →

Let’s Talk Bodies

The other day I got one of this summer’s pop hits stuck in my head – Tove Lo’s “Talking Bodies.” Not one to reject pop music outright, I will grant that the melody is catchy. But the lyrics make me feel gross. The bridge is particular frustrating:

Bodies
Our baby making bodies we just use for fun
Bodies
Let’s use them up ’til every little piece is gone

This made the hyper-vigilant anti-gnostic in me cringe. Here we have a song, which has probably been heard, danced to, and sung along with by millions of people, making the claim that bodies should be “used” and even “used up,” as if they are tools or objects. The implication is that the body is separate from the rest of the person, and is just not as important. Continue reading →

On Beauty & Brokenness (and Dementors!)

Once again, I’ve found myself working my way through J.K. Rowling’s world-famous Harry Potter series. As a strong believer of re-reading books, including (especially??) children’s books, I feel no shame here. Strip away the movie franchise, the amusement park, the vast amounts of memorabilia, and the general hubbub of pop culture, and we’re left with a genuinely compelling and thought-provoking story, filled with interesting themes and characters.

This time around, I’m thinking about dementors, a species that we’re introduced to in the series’ third installment. These dark, cloaked creatures feed on human happiness. Their mere presence causes a place to go cold, and people who encounter them instantly recall their worst memories, losing all hope and joy. Dementors were traditionally used to guard the wizard prison, which is fitting, as physical restraints would be useless against magical criminals. Instead, they’re bound by their own despair, thus greatly limiting their physical abilities. Rowling has said that dementors were inspired by her struggle with depression – they are a physical manifestation of the kind of suffering and anguish that can only come from within the human mind. Continue reading →