Space

 

Last weekend, I got to go to Leadership Development Days for United Methodist Women in St. Louis. LDD are special events, they speak to the core of who we are as an organization. I haven’t attended one since I was a sophomore in high school and being in that space, I felt like I was home. The people, worship, workshops and conversations felt so familiar, so natural.

It has been a busy few weeks for me, I’ve spent a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. I haven’t  gotten a lot of sleep. Throughout these weeks, I’ve regularly thought “ I just need space”. Meaning space to think, process, breather. Space to slow down and be still. I used to be very intentional about creating space and I’ve missed it. That longing followed me to LDD and it was there that I began to rediscover it.

It’s really easy for life to get overcrowded and making space often takes the backseat when things get hectic. However our conversations at LDD, reminded me again of the importance of making space especially when things pile up. It is grounding and freeing and so important. So as we enter the final stages of the semester, I’m making a commitment to carve out space to be still, to feel, to reflect. Because I think that making that space will ultimately leave me better able to juggle the things life keeps throwing at me.

Pico Iyer said “I always cut into my own clarity and concentration when I’m at home. And it reminds me why sometimes people like me have to take conscious measures to step into the stillness and silence and be reminded of how it washes us clean, really…The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop, but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion, of the world.”

 

I think that is true.

 

Pause and Consider

For a moment I remembered what drew me here to Boston. It was fear. I never imagined myself at BU because I didn’t think I would get in. Earlier today I was hosting some students from the Southside of Chicago and they asked why I came to BU. There was no program or professor that drew me here. Boston is a great city but it wasn’t what I concerned myself with. I came to BU because I was scared as hell. Walking onto campus and seeing this university put fear in my heart of everything that could go wrong and that could go right. I then remember what brought me to Marsh and this internship, and it was the same feeling of fear. Being surrounded with UU’s, Methodist, Episcopalians, and just people that saw Jesus and the religion of Jesus different from how I saw it scared me. So I chose to join the team.

It’s scary to feel so connected to people that see the world in a different way then I do. Who when they pray to God or another divine being see someone/something different than me. I hold my Jesus close to my heart, but this internship has asked me to be willing to see my Jesus and Christianity in many different ways. I never imagined the religious implications of working on a political campaign or the decision there is with picking my next stops post graduation.

Brother Larry and Soren have challenged me this semester more than any to, pause and consider. I think they’ve witnessed my growth, both positive and negative over three years. But what is important is to pause and consider where I am, why am I here, and where does God fit into all of this. These questions consistently stay on my mind and keep me up at night. I want to live a life for God, but I still don’t know what means and what bothers me most is that i am not sure that’s an answer I will ever have.

Identities, Assumptions, and Empathy

“Here I am, my identity in the collection of stories that inspire and drive me. Here I am, another paintbrush in the great canvas of Boston University.

Here I am, my biology telling a story: I am Hispanic and the language in my biology carried by generations of farmers and workers who lived in Colombia. This biological language in me now having traveled thousands of miles into the city of Boston.

Here I am, a calculator with feelings, like Wall-E. A Rodriguez, another one who constantly thinks about how much love matters.

Here I am, an engineering student. A person who loves math and science. A tinkerer.

Here I am, a Christian, an intern at Marsh Chapel. A person who loves reading theology, philosophy, and psychology. A lover of the humanities. A person who takes deep interest in these topics. Someone who came from Mendham Hills, from the youth group of Steve. A questioner. A person who deeply loves pluralism and diversity.

Here I am, telling my story, and inspired by the stories I find those around me telling.

 – A confusing-to-understand-why-did-I-exactly-write-this-? reflection I made in a blog post over a year ago

 

Identities are a wonderful thing. These social constructs help us as human beings add meaning and values to our humanity and perspectives. They come into existence both by choices we make, the nurturing of our societies, and the nature of our beings. I mean, yeah I am a pretty nerdy, sappy, optimistic man. I am a student in ENG. I am a thinker, but also a feeler. I am Hispanic. I am Christian.

I really like that academic-looking, old-school, grey cardigan that I’ve had for many years since high school. I also really like skateboarding. I love fishing.

Identities are wonderful because they give meaning to our places in social contexts. They allow defined expressive existence in the various facets of society.

But, identities also allow often-inappropriate assumptions to be made about individuals, as was brought up at an interfaith discussion at Hillel’s interfaith Shabbat a few weeks ago.

I am pretty nerdy. Does that make me unable to socialize? Not at all. Well, I mean I think I can socialize.

I am in ENG – or in non-BU terms, an Engineering Student, I am in STEM – does that mean I think the arts, humanities, and social sciences are useless? Not at all! The social sciences accurately help us understand human social systems, the humanities help us better compile ideas and themes in the human experience, and the arts, in my honest opinion, most accurately capture human experiences comparatively to all other fields of study. Human experiences are most accurately expressed in art.

Does being an engineering student mean I am in it solely for the money? Not at all as well! I actually came into BU studying electrical engineering – I wanted to save the environment. I really loved math and science. I kind of discovered I really don’t like electromagnetism (although, recently, it has grown on me again), and switched to computer engineering. I was never in it for the money.

I am a Christian – does that mean I hate science, women’s rights, and the rights of LGBT individuals, or share the political views of the president of Liberty University? To many people in my life, both Christian and non-Christian, the assumption is yes, I do.

I do not, though. That would be far from truth. I do not at all. Although many fellow Christians would disagree, that would in fact – in my humble opinion – be as unChristlike as behavior can be. As many people often repeat about individuals who share my faith, Mohandas Gandhi was once quoted, commenting on Christianity, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Assumptions about people can be dangerous. But, in all honesty, the basis for why we as humans make assumptions makes complete evolutionary and cognitive sense: it takes less energy to make assumptions based on preconceived notions arising from experiences, and therefore allows judgements about life decisions or social situations easier. If there was someone in a clown costume standing 10 feet ahead of me wielding a weapon of a sort and just staring at me, it makes sense that, after last year’s social clown panic and many tropes of the creepy dangerous clown, I might assume this is a dangerous individual and I need to take immediate action for my own safety.

That is an extreme example, but it explains why assumptions happen, and their occasional value.

But suppose I come across another individual, be it a person of a certain race, sex, gender expression, sexual orientation, political view, religion, national identity, etc. What assumptions will I be carrying? Will I give this individual the respect they deserve? What keeps me from having negative assumptions?

During the interfaith Shabbat’s discussion, I came upon a few reflections on how to reduce the impact of such negative assumptions and biases. I think these actions will help us as individual reduce our tendency towards making negative assumptions.

One way to do this is to – and I know this is scary and hard to do – have open dialogues, conversations, and interactions with those who do not share similar perspectives and identities. Dialogue helps us see the common humanity we share, and it will help us grasp a better idea of experiences and perspectives that differ from our own. This will help build empathy and mutual understanding.

Another way is to understand our own limitations in our humanity. I really really really do not have answers to every question. I certainly cannot solve every problem that exists. I have not lived every human experience that has ever occurred in human history nor have the people I look up to and draw identity and ideas from. The art I draw meaning from doesn’t capture every experience or emotion in the world, and every school of thought I draw ideas from does not solve every problem – and that’s okay. No perspective can do that – and any perspective that implies they do, or attempts to, will only further detract from solving our world’s current issues we face today. It takes a perspective with a limited, specific lens to face a global issue, and it takes humbleness to know that many different specific perspectives will ultimately solve the issue, and not simply multiple copies of a single, specific, lens.

And finally, celebrate the diversity and differences in our identities and constructs. We really are all like different paintbrushes painting on a massive canvas. If we existed in a world where everyone was exactly like me: a Hispanic, straight, male, progressive Christian, liberal, STEM major, religious, sappy, optimistic human, it would most certainly not be utopian world – and it most certainly would not be heaven.

I think the Kingdom of Heaven would contain much, much more of the diverse human experience.

Homeward Bound

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a film screening of a new documentary entitled “Whose Streets?” followed by an outstanding panel discussion featuring one of the filmmakers, Damon Davis, rapper Tef Poe, and professors from the sociology and history departments and the School of Theology and Social Work. The film is about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Micheal Brown, an unarmed teenager, by a police officer in August 2014.

There are so many reasons why this film is important, but I want to start out by explaining why I felt such a need to see it. Micheal Brown was killed on August 9, 2014, my eighteenth birthday. We were the same age. He was heading off to college the next week, just like I would be at the end of the month. I kept thinking about all of the ways we might be the same, but it was a few critical differences that gave us entirely different fates. I live in a different suburb than he did, about 30 minutes southwest on the highway. I’d driven by Ferguson countless times, but I’ve never spent time on his streets. And then there’s the color of our skin, which, in St. Louis at least, can make a really big difference in how your life shakes out. For Mike and I, it’s why I’m sitting here, about to finish University with a degree and he was shot multiple times in the street with his hands above his head.

That’s hard to swallow. And if it’s hard for me, I can’t imagine what it might feel like to walk in shoes that look a little more like his. I wanted to see this movie so I might catch a glimpse. I sat near the back of the auditorium, and I wanted to cry as images of the National Guard’s tanks rolled across the screen and tear gas canisters exploded on people who just wanted to be heard. I’d seen some of this on the news, but it was framed differently. Whose Streets is not the story they’re telling kids in West County. I’m not going to lie, I was uncomfortable. As a white person who has probably benefitted from the oppression of the individuals I was seeing on the screen in some way. These folks should have been my neighbors, and after years of living just miles apart, I felt closer to them in an auditorium in Boston than ever before. I don’t know if that speaks to the deep divisions in St. Louis or the excellence of the film, perhaps both, but it was jarring to me. I feel like we are so often seeking a “safe space,” and it is wonderful to find forums where we can express ourselves without facing attack, but the danger of entering an echo chamber that only reinforces our beliefs is very real. Sometimes there’s a truth we simply haven’t heard because it isn’t easy to hear. It was in that auditorium that I realized a “safe space” isn’t always going to be a comfortable one.

If the movie had left me feeling discouraged for my hometown, where protests and division continue and solutions seem so far away, the panel discussion gave me some hope. The last panel on race I attended at BU had only one African American on it and one woman. This one was already much improved by the presence of all black voices, three women, one of whom identified as queer.

The first question echoed one of my own feelings, “are we wrong for being here while others are protesting?” Tef Poe responded perfectly: the front line is where you dictate the front line. We can all contribute to change, wherever we are, but only if we are willing to commit.

Dr. Lightsey told us that our scholarship should be motivated by activism and our activism should be informed by scholarship.

Another panelist said we’re in a “Mad King” moment (if you’re familiar with Game of Thrones, you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about). The media is pouring everything into this Mad King. His antics are drowning out the real stories. But we have the power to decide who we pay attention to.

 

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love and support each other.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.

 

Greenbuild

This week I volunteered at Greenbuild, the world’s largest green building conference/expo. I was overwhelmed and inspired by the local and international attendants who cared deeply about sustainability and was present to learn and share best practices. I had the privilege to attend a session called “Envisioning the Future” hosted by Boston Society of Architect’s Women in Design group on Thursday. The panelists from the Newburyport Preservation Trust, Urban Land Institute (ULI), New Urban Mechanics, Perkins + Will, and moderator from CBT Architects discussed the severity of the housing shortage of the future among other topics such as preservation, climate change, and community engagement. Manikka Bowman from the ULI mentioned that Boston will have 800,000 workers by 2030 and thus must add 200,000 housing units by 2030. The problem became more tangibly real when Marcy Ostberg who works for the City of Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab shared in the following panel that some people go directly to the City of Boston to ask for help with their housing woes. It is difficult to conceive of the scale of the problem and the resources that must be dedicated to it to make housing more affordable and to increase the housing stock. Nevertheless, it was also exciting to hear that the Additional Dwelling Units Pilot was approved on 11/8, just the day before the panel discussion.

A common thread throughout the conversation was that we must be able to manage change and be comfortable with being involved in difficult conversations while recognizing our limitations, realizing that ‘consensus is not real’ and that we must care for the most vulnerable populations. I was reminded to be more civically engaged, to be more critical and to assess priorities, experiment, evaluate then expand on ideas that work. Another interesting idea was shared by one of the Women in Design Award of Excellence winners, Katherine Faulkner, principal of NADAAA, an architecture and urban design firm. She talked about considering different histories, putting oneself in the shoes of people of different races, gender, socioeconomic statuses, thinking about what it is like to live in a different time. I think that is extremely important as we look back to learn from past mistakes / successes and try to listen and share with others to plan for the future.

One last thing—something cool I experienced at the Museum of Science this week was Dr. Van de Graff’s lightning show of Tesla coil lightning generators making different pitches through changes in voltage. It was stunning. I never imagined lightning could become musical. Here’s a short video I took: MOS

Piano Lessons

Today I gave a friend a piano lesson. She had talked about wanting to learn for awhile and eventually she asked me to help her out, and I agreed.

As I sat explaining the basics of the instrument and musical notation, I felt a stream of memories rush into my conscience. Surprisingly, most of the memories were negative. I remembered my teacher yelling at me for forgetting to clip my nails when I was six. I remembered my first real piano recital where I had a major memory slip and walked off the stage with tears beginning to fall down my face when I was eleven. I remembered nervously, and unsuccessfully, recording take after take of a Bach prelude for my video pre-screenings at seventeen.

As I recounted these memories, we continued with the lesson and practiced a scale. My friend was able to replicate what I played exactly, and the amazed expression on her face erased all of my negative memories with positive ones. I remembered the feeling I had when I got a perfect score on my first theory exam at six. I remembered playing a Debussy Arabesque for my mom and seeing the joy it brought her at eleven. I remembered walking out of a successful live audition for Boston University feeling as though I might be able to actually play piano in college at seventeen.

This brief experience of returning back to basics has allowed me to reflect upon how far I’ve come. Recently, I’ve gotten caught up in my progress as a musician, instead of enjoying the music for what it is. The short thirty minute lesson also reminded me that there will always be good and bad. Yet, how one overcomes the bad that defines how one will live out the good. I hope to try and focus on music more positively, and remember that sometimes returning back to basics is a good way to consider what’s truly important.

Bitter Cold Psalms

This semester in Sojourn, we have been playing around with various different ideas and practices in community, in contemplation, in service, and in discussion.

This week, we did a contemplation of a kind similar to journaling, and we read a few Psalms. Our current section of Cadres, or Sojourn meetings, have been revolving around themes of anxiety and worrying and other experiences of “negative” emotions. The Psalms are full of sorrows and worries. They are also full of praises. In our journaling, we were advised to either rewrite a Psalm in language to make it more personal or write our own psalm.

I decided to write my own psalm.

As I began writing and reflecting, subtle emotions began to flood my mind. It felt like I was reflecting for the first time in weeks! The last few weeks have been stressful and full of planning, and this week in particular was hard. Buried in assignments, and already existentially drained by stresses of the current political and social landscapes of the world around me, I have just not been myself recently.

The psalm reflected these feelings. Here it is:

___________________________________________________

psalms

___________________________________________________

It was nice to finally sit down and reflect again for the first time in a while. There is so much I want to write about and talk about and explore further, but I am still exhausted.

Enemy

We all face problems that aren’t presented to the world every second of the day, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Sometimes these problems can be external and come from others, but is this true?Recently I found out I will be going to Israel-Palestine with the David Project, an organization that has teamed up with Hillel to present the nation to non-Jewish students. This semester I have been taking a course specifically on the conflict and for the most part I’ve been pro-Palestine before I entered the course. However, as the course progressed, we learned about the Israeli-narrative and the Palestinian-narrative.

Regardless of politics, both narratives paint a very similar picture and ultimately they are used as a tactic to legitimize why they deserve to have a nation more than the “other side”. The biggest issue I have with this is pride. There’s nothing wrong with having it, but if it means trying to reduce a nation of people and generalize them, hoping that their nation comes to an end so that your nation can benefit, then there is an issue with pride. If you look at the size of the planet and compare that to the size of humans, I believe that the planet is large enough to foster these two nations.

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (S. 49:13, Surat l-hujarat)

When Gautama Buddha was close to reaching Nirvana under the Bodhi tree his greatest enemy, Mara, attempted to seduce him with his own desires. It did not work and Siddhartha was able to reach his goal, but it was not by overcoming a simple demon, but the demon of temptation, that the Buddha became the Buddha. Mara was not an external force, but his own internal desire.

The true enemy of an individual is not their neighbor;  the true enemy of an individual is the individual. That is who we need to “fix”; ourselves.

No Title

In light of the mass shooting in Texas, I wanted to educate myself on the matter. I am disappointed in the security system in place to protect us. It was released on Monday that the shooter in Texas was able to acquire a gun legally because the Air Force had neglected to submit Devin P. Kelley’s conviction of domestic violence against his ex-wife and toddler son. 

In my chemistry class we account for human error in all of our lab experiments. It is required to consider human error and reflect on how it affected the data. Seeing human error in real time, part of the cause of 26 deaths, leaves me speechless.

This morning I read an especially poignant article in the New York Times, “Only One Thing Explains Mass Shooting in the United States.” Max Fisher and Josh Keller highlight that the US has 270 million guns and has had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012, when no other country has more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shooters. An especially disheartening graph (50 mass shooters per 100 million people vs. 120 guns per 100 people) in the article reveals the United States and Yemen as outliers compared to other countries. 

Graph

The article leaves the reader with an especially chilling idea. “‘In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,’ Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago…’Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.'”

I find myself conflicted whenever there is a tragedy like this. How does being informed of the details of this incident progress the issue of gun violence when it seems like the majority of the country values the right to bear arms more highly than human life? What can I do to help knowing this information?

I am thankful to be a part of a community on campus that honors the lives lost in this tragedy. Throughout my week’s work at the Chapel, I have heard discussion of the tragedy and talk of having a vigil. It saddens me that in other aspects of my life this issue hasn’t been brought up, unfortunately, probably because the idea of mass shootings has become normalized in our country.

Since, I do not know what else to do, I send prayers to the families of the victims.

Runaway

A few weeks ago I bought a bike and started realizing the joy of having access to all parts of the city at anytime. Lately when I get on my bike one idea comes into mind: runaway. I imagine just riding and never looking back and having no idea where I plan to go. There’s something different about this year, that’s making it harder for me to feel “good.” When I get on my bike, I feel free, not from the stress of school, but from the constant pressure I place upon myself. There were two lessons read at service on Sunday and one of them I felt more than usual.

 

1 John 3: 1-3 says “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” I don’t know why, but now more than ever I have needed God to be my hope. Sure there are fears of the future, am I making the right moves, can I move past the mistakes of the past and  will I be the person I ultimately want to be. However, I know the power of hope, and how it changes things. So, I’m holding on until I feel the tide turn. A gospel song that comes to mind is This Too Shall Pass. I can’t explain what I’m feeling, but I know it can’t be here long. My God is too powerful and too loving to give me something I could not handle.