Reverence and awe for creation

"The White Horse." Paul Gauguin.

This is something I have been feeling quite strongly lately:

“All animals, all beings, deserve respectful consideration simply for the fact that they exist. Whether animals think and feel, and what they know, is irrelevant. Reverence and awe for creation should guide human actions, along with a humble acknowledgment that humans have limited knowledge about the mysteries of our own existence.”

— Marc Bekoff, The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint

More specifically, it disturbs me how many Christians write off environmentalism and animal rights as spheres belonging only to atheistic liberals. We barely care enough about humans, it’s true, but we also have a divine calling to care about animals and the earth. It is an easy thing to forget, I suppose; animals and the earth are so easily subjugated, so often voiceless. We have so far to go until we can say that we treat all animals with gentleness, respect, and grace.

Family love: Sam

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the final installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the incomparable Meredith Perdue.

Sam, Sammy, Samantha, Lil Bro Peep

When Samuel Chase was born, it was, collectively, the best thing that had ever happened to us three girls. He was our living doll, our breathing plaything. And he was a BOY! We had never seen one of those before. He was also the most adorable baby ever created. I wish I had photos of him as an infant to share here; these pictures would make you weep, overwhelmed by the unbelievable CUTENESS of this child. It was unreal.

We fed him, stuffed him in doll strollers, changed his diapers, bathed him, spoke for him. Mom likes to say that he didn’t learn to walk until he was three because Kelsey carried him everywhere and that he’s still a reticent talker because he’s used to the family women, his four mothers, speaking for him. Poor boy.

329/366By the misfortune of his birth order, he was forced to play with us girls. He was always a good sport, though, and tolerated our dressing him up in Grace‘s endless treasure trunk of costumes. One memorable evening, when he was about four, we put him in Grace’s beloved Queen of Hearts satin dress, outfitted him with a blonde Dolly Parton-esque wig, and called him Samantha. This proved to be immensely entertaining… until Father came home and saw his only son prancing around in a dress. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON??” he bellowed at us when he walked in the door. We all burst into tears–Sam most of all, because he didn’t understand what he’d done wrong. Again, the poor child. How he suffered for us.

He got shafted a lot, as the youngest. The family travel rule was that whoever was lowest to the ground had to check under all the beds before we left a hotel. This thankless task consistently fell to Sam, although he has now surpassed all of us women in height. (Grace would now be the Lowest to the Ground.) He’s always been Mom’s favorite, which was natural and unsurprising to us all, but he was never given any special privileges. He was an occasionally dramatic child (often having “the worst day of [his] life,” multiple times, before the age of eight), but probably for good reason. Dad was always intent on cultivating manliness in him, and soon Sam took over all of the yardwork and mechanical maintenance tasks that we girls once had to perform. He was expected to be good, strong, and capable. Luckily for all of us, Sam is all of those things.

Over the past few years, however, Sam has developed a wickedly good sense of humor, a softened blend of my father’s cutting sarcasm and Sam’s own gentle wittiness. I think it surprised us, to learn that Sam was funny. He spoke so rarely that we often had no idea what was going on in there. He is delightful company at any moment. And he will almost always make you laugh.

the ones that got away: maySam is known as having the best heart in our family. We tease Mom about saying this so often, but she only does because it is true: The man has a tender heart. I don’t know how it happened. By all accounts, he should have wound up bitter and confused at life, at his unfortunate birth order. Instead, he is deeply compassionate to all people, understanding beyond his years, and emotionally profound.

The story Mom tells about Sam’s exposure to Jesus always gets me, even though I’ve heard it a hundred times. Sam was about three and Mom told him the basic outline of the Gospel: God sent Jesus to earth for you; he loved lots of people while he was here; he extends love to us even though we don’t deserve it; and then he died on a cross for us. At this last point–the crucifixion–little Sam burst into tears. Mom was surprised. “Sam,” she asked, concerned, “why are you crying?” “Mommy,” Sam said, “why would Jesus die for ME?” It is a simple question, and the truest expression of humility that I know.

I can’t even tell you about Sam’s speech to me and Guion at our rehearsal dinner without wanting to break down and sob. I didn’t cry during our entire wedding weekend–except for Sam’s toast. It was simple and pure and unrehearsed. At its most basic element, Sam just wanted to make sure that I knew how much he loved me. I certainly did, and I always have. He is a good brother–the best, in fact–and my life would be profoundly empty without him. I need to do a better job of telling him that, in the manner that he told me: Simple, pure, unrehearsed.

Family love: Kelsey

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the fifth installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the wonderful Meredith Perdue.

Kels, Kelseyka

She was my first playmate, even though I did not welcome her to the world with kindness. Shortly after she was born, my mother would hear Kelsey crying and come in to find me standing on her little baby hands with an innocent face — or trying to ride on her back as if she were a rocking horse. I was not the best of big sisters, clearly. Yet Kelsey never showed me anything except abundant love.

It is common knowledge in our family that Kelsey is the sweetest among us four kids, followed closely by Sam. (I rank last on the sweetness totem pole, in case you are wondering.) She was born with a pure, golden heart. She loves everyone. Where I am quick to see the negative and the bad, Kelsey immediately finds the good and the positive. I think her only fault is that she wants everyone to be happy. If you could call that a fault.

20/366

Kelsey answered my father’s lifelong prayer of an athletic child. After he had three girls, I think Dad had more or less given up on having a son, and so Kelsey was designated as his surrogate boy child. (It was determined early on that I would not be able to fulfill this role. I did not display any considerable athletic prowess; I wanted to stay inside and wear dresses and read books.) Kelsey was always climbing on things, throwing balls, twisting her body into bizarre shapes. I took ballet classes and loved the delicacy, the inherent femininity of it all; but Kelsey took gymnastics classes — the tough, intense side of little girl sports. She excelled at the gym and was a rising star until my mother pulled her out, concerned about what a gymnastics career would do to her body and self-esteem (and this was probably a good idea).

To my mother’s chagrin, however, Kelsey took up an even less feminine sport than gymnastics: She became a hockey star. What started as a nightly series of cul-de-sac games with the neighborhood kids became a prodigious career as one of the nation’s best women inline hockey players.

I have always been so proud of watching her on the rink. She plays with grace and strength. When she started out, there were no girls’ teams in our region, so she had to play with the boys. This was no problem for her, as she often outmaneuvered them all. I distinctly remember sitting on the bleachers during a game when a guy beside me said, “Whoa! Look at that dude! He’s awesome!” I followed his pointing finger and then politely informed him, “That’s not a dude. That’s my SISTER.” He didn’t believe me until the game was over and she took off her helmet. It was like a scene from one of those girl-power-kind-of-based-on-a-true-story-made-for-TV Disney movies.

Sister time

Kelsey is nicer than almost all humans. I have only rarely seen her angry (despite what the knife-wielding picture below may suggest). She always apologizes first, a quality that infuriated me when I was little because it meant that I couldn’t stay angry at her for very long.

So excited to be 21

She’d be the last person to tell you so, but Kelsey is also incredibly smart. With all due respect to Sam and Grace, Kelsey wins the title of Smartest Sibling in our family. She taught herself calculus when she was 14. She was the only one among us who displayed any talent for the more advanced topics of learning, such as statistics and science. Kelsey was accepted into numerous Ivy League universities, but she decided to come to UNC-Chapel Hill after being awarded the coveted and prestigious Morehead-Cain scholarship (which is, essentially, a golden ticket to the most charmed life ever). She was the first homeschooled student to be given this award in the program’s history. This summer, she worked as a research intern for Madeleine Albright’s consulting firm in D.C. We all expect Kels to become the Secretary of State in a short matter of time.

In short, Kelsey is the consummate woman. She is beautiful, loving, and smarter than everyone else. She can do anything and that’s something I will always believe.

I knew I was not magnificent

Source: Flickr user lovebrowne

Part I. On Not Writing about Jesus

When I was a young blogger, I wrote more freely about my faith. At that time, I assumed that all of my readers were also like-minded Christians. This was a fair assumption, since I think my mom, my grandparents, and my sisters were my only readers. But over the past two years or so, I’ve more or less stopped writing about my faith and I regret that. The gospel is important to me, but you’d never get that impression by reading this blog. I write about all of the other things that are important to me–Guion, friends, family, books, dogs–but not about Jesus.

Why not?

Here’s my best guess as to why I stopped doing this. I have followed the tendency of many bloggers to whitewash my life. The one thing you learn about blogging for a few years is that you can’t express an opinion about anything without offending someone. Because of this, I have tried to avoid topics that are inherently personal and offensive, like religion and politics. While most casual readers could probably divine my political leanings (it is evident that I am not a Sarah Palin or FOX news fan), it would be trickier to actually figure out what I believe about God.

Lately, I’ve tended to keep my thoughts about God closer to my chest. I have many friends who are not Christians. I am hesitant to write about my many religiously oriented thoughts and concerns for fear of alienating people. Even I don’t like to read long-winded and highly emotional posts about religion. It’s not often enjoyable and it is often hard to relate to; faith is, by definition, such an intensely personal thing. Even more than puppies and books. It’s generally more enjoyable to read a post about someone’s kitchen makeover than it is to read a post about their internal turmoil over transubstantiation. Intensely personal things are not always blog (aka, The Entire Internet Can Read This) material.

However. All of this to say: I think there are appropriate and considerate ways to write about one’s faith on the Interwebs. I am going to try to do this with more frequency, but I think I’ll also spend some time studying good examples. Mrs. Pinckney and Betsey come to mind as people I know who blog gracefully and fluidly about the intersection between Jesus and life. I hold them up as valuable examples.

So, here’s a short attempt:

Part II. I Knew I Was Not Magnificent

No one enjoys receiving criticism. But when you don’t hear it for a while, you start to think that you’re pretty awesome. Boy, there’s nothing wrong with me! I am the best.

If we’re lucky, however, we have people in our lives who are able and willing to tell us that this is not the case. After a few months of believing that I was super, I’ve received a lot of criticism from important people in my life over the past few weeks. As these people pointed out, I am grumpy, judgmental, and anxious. I am an energetic young curmudgeon most of the time. I am fundamentally cynical about most things. I am an obsessive planner because I tend to expect worst possible outcomes and because I thrive on a high degree of responsibility.

As these people kindly pointed out, these aren’t the best personality traits. I had more or less forgotten about these unfortunate aspects of myself until I heard these reminders. To be pushed back to God, to a place of humility–it is a necessary chore. I think God speaks to us through other people sometimes. Often, through our closest friends and loved family–and sometimes, through a much-lauded hipster musician.

We were listening to Bon Iver’s new album on our drive to North Carolina this weekend. The gorgeous song “Holocene” came on and we talked briefly about the chorus.

we smoked the screen to make it what it was to be
now to know it in my memory:

… and at once I knew I was not magnificent
high above the highway aisle
(jagged vacancy, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles…

“I knew I was not magnificent.” What a simple and perfect expression. It’s that place of humility that we all have to reach with ourselves at some point or another. Acknowledging that I am not magnificent was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Difficult, but essential.

謙虚さを身につける。

How I found myself speaking Japanese at a table in Qdoba:

Two weekends ago, we took Caleb to the farmers’ market. I quickly noticed a man and a woman, dressed in yukata (Japanese cotton robes, worn in the summer) and selling Japanese bread (“pan”). Of course we tried some, and of course it was delicious, and of course I had to say so in Japanese. They were excited, and John, the man, handed me a flyer for a Japanese language table that met every Monday night at Qdoba.

Initially, I was very excited. I had been praying for some kind of opportunity to continue my study of Japanese, which had severely lapsed since I stopped taking classes at the end of my junior year. But as the days drew closer to Monday, my stomach started to fall. I knew my ability to speak had declined dramatically. I was embarrassed. I told Guion that I didn’t want to go anymore, but being the good husband that he is, he told me, “You are not allowed to back out just because you’re scared. If that’s the only reason you don’t want to go, then too bad.”

So we went. I was terrified. Even after we walked in, I wanted to step right back out and go home. But we sat down with Chase and the other guy (whose name I forget) and I started fumbling out what little Japanese I could remember. Then John, his wife, Kumiko (from the farmers’ market), and Suzuko (a professor of African American studies at Chicago State University) showed up. They were all pros, and I did look like a stupid child, but I can’t tell you how my heart jumped to hear Japanese spoken again. It was like learning how to swim all over again. I started to remember certain forms. Even though my tongue felt like it was made of brick, I was so happy. I am planning on going back next week. I hope that if I stick with it, I may even be able to obtain the level I had reached in Tokyo two years ago. Maybe. Thanks for making me go, Guion. 心の底から感謝します。(I thank you from the bottom of my heart.)

Also, coworkers: I am really sorry for eating those lovely little Fuji apples every day. I know I sound like a beaver during lunch hour. But I can’t help myself. They are just that GOOD.

(Title translation: Learn humility.)