an open letter to my students who live in a scary world

Hello there Cortina-folk.

THANK YOU for the rich discussion tonight. I think that these are issues near and dear to each one of us in different ways and I think it is important to acknowledge the frustration and fear that we might feel when we talk about them.

Mostly I want to acknowledge these feelings because there are very legitimate things to fear in our world. It is not productive to have these conversations pretending that this is not the case.

In our short lives, many of us have already felt the pain of violence & stereotyping. I think that the question we have to ask coming out of tonight is:

How do I love a scary world? Or, as Jesus put it, “love my enemies”?
(These could be physical enemies or people who pose a threat to my way of seeing the world).

The difficulty that Alex so aptly and practically brought up tonight is that there is a reality to danger. But the difficulty of always feeling this danger is that if we live in fear, we always feel the need to protect ourselves. If we always need to protect ourselves, there is no openness to anyone who is a stranger or who doesn’t live within the space of our daily interaction. If there is no openness to the stranger, there is no openness to the truth of anyone’s life that is not our own or those close to us. And often this proliferates what Jordan named for us: Confirmation bias. It is nice to have our biases confirmed; it makes us feel ideologically safer and in turn, physically safer.

Though this might be discouraging, do not lose heart! I don’t have to throw caution to the wind to love my enemy (or neighbor who I don’t know). I don’t have to leave my door unlocked at all times or run at 2am or wander aimlessly about an area I know nothing about and pretend like there is nothing dangerous about that. In fact, loving my enemies should be much more intentional than that.

Sometimes we have to start small and recognize our own biases and decide to not look everywhere to confirm them. Even that small act is an act of love. It is an act of hospitality to make room for the fact that someone may not be just who you think they are. This doesn’t mean you will get to know every person you have preconceived ideas about  or that you will invite every person you are scared of into your home, but it does allow you to engage your mind in a way that allows you to not be paralyzed by fear. Fear doesn’t allow your mind to expand, it makes it contract, shut down. FIGHT OR FLIGHT! We can’t fight or flee our whole lives. That is not conducive to living, but neither is only finding comfortable spaces where our ideas about what is good, normal, safe, or acceptable are consistently re-affirmed.

A brilliant man named Parker Palmer runs something called The Center for Courage and Renewal. In his book, To Know as We Are Known, he wrote these words that will challenge me until the day I die (and you’ll see him quoted elsewhere in my writing for this blog):

Hospitality is a central virtue of the biblical tradition itself, where God is always using the stranger to introduce us to strangeness of truth. To be inhospitable to strangers or strange ideas, however unsettling they may be, is to be hostile to the possibility of truth; hospitality is not only an ethical virtue but an epistemological one as well. Hospitality is not an end in itself. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield. A learning space needs to be hospitable not to make learning painless, but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur—things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypotheses, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought. Each of these is essential to obedience to truth. But none of them can happen in an atmosphere where people feel threatened and judged. 

How is our lack of hospitality a judgment that disallows real learning about each other and about the world? AHH. It is scary for me to think about how I do this to people all the time. Read Palmer’s passage again. You’ll see something new every time.

Yet again though, this is hard a hard truth because fear is deeply ingrained in us. For many of us it might take years of counseling to trust anyone again, to be “hospitable to the stranger” (even in our minds!). Here is my admonition:

do that work.

It is worth it. Do any work that you can to open yourself up. In opening up, we are able to not only give, but also receive love in a more full, abundant way.

It takes practice to make that space, and I am still learning to do so as well. It is equally important that we don’t assume everyone wants to get to know us or be our friends or have our “hospitality” forced on them. There is a balance. And it is hard. Have grace with yourselves, and others. That is loving ourselves and loving our enemies. And both of those seem important. If we can’t love ourselves through the scary things we see inside of our own hearts and minds, how will we do that for and with anyone whose heart and mind we don’t have direct access to?

Anyway, I just felt overwhelmed by your good questions and engagement today and I wanted to say “Thank you.” I would love to talk to any of you that would like to dig further into this & I would welcome any ideas you have about continuing one of many of the rich conversations that were begun tonight.

With gratitude,
Annie

“I’m a Vege-a-vegan-a-healthy-a-confused-a-tarian”: On Ethics, Love, and Legalism

This has been a really strange summer for me, I’ve been taking two semesters of a really time-consuming class (general physics), and so I’ve had to put more effort into staying on a schedule in the summer than ever before. This leads me to constantly have to plan meals, when I will make them, and when I will shop for them. It’s a good thing; I feel like a real grown-up because I’m getting way better at cooking for myself and doing it efficiently.

But it’s also been really, really, really, really confusing. I’ve had little time to spend with my friends and family in comparison to previous summers, and I’ve been increasingly noticing an alarming thing in myself. I have a really strong conviction, that was cultivated and honed even more during my year in Cortina, that if I am aware of something bad in the world, it is my obligation and duty to do what is in my power to change that. This led to my becoming a hardcore vegetarian for most of 2013, and since I began that, I still haven’t had a bite of meat. It also led to the strengthening of an already existing disgust with the consumerism that dictates our country and others. Towards the end of this past spring semester, I became increasingly convinced that I should actually just live in this purist monk, raw local vegan, never-buy-another-material-object-I-don’t-absolutely-need-to-survive type of existence, where I spend all of my extra time building friendships with people no one else notices. And to tell you the truth, that is the ultimate destination that I would really like to reach, because I’m gonna make money in the job that I want to do, and I would love to be able to give a high percentage of it to people who need it more than I do, and use my time and abilities to change the world :P. But somehow, in my fervor to become this person, I realized that it was not only causing me to feel insanely guilty about things none of my friends felt the same for doing, but it was also causing me to insanely judge everyone around me. I was unconsciously holding everyone else in the world to the same impossibly high standard I had set for myself. (If you’re a Christian too, this just honestly might sound like the familiar “No one is righteous, not even one” refrain).

After some brutal external processing with one of my close friends who went through Cortina with me, plenty of Bible and book reading, and prayer, I realized that I was acting exactly like the Pharisees that Jesus rebukes, like, every time he sees them. The Pharisees were known for following the law to the tiniest letter and being very “upright” in terms of their to-do lists. They were also known for turning up their noses at everyone else. My THL 100 teacher didn’t spend too much time on the Pharisees, but if you ever read the gospels, they are very hard to ignore. It’s blatantly obvious that they have gotten their priorities completely wrong. Everyone (all the normal sinners Jesus hangs out with) dislikes them. They don’t actually love anyone, and they seem like they do everything out of a despairing sense of guilt. It’s a terrible and immature religion to dedicate one’s life to.

My current confusion stems from needing to know where I should draw the lines in my own life. What guideline should I stick to, at my current level of maturity, so that I am encouraging myself to act lovingly, and not judgmentally out of my own guilt? Does it mean continuing to attempt and fail at being a vegan, or maybe taking a chill pill, eating some butter with my family and friends, and being cool with just not eating meat/fish/poultry for now? Does it mean wearing the same three shirts all week, all month, or does it mean maybe being ok with buying a couple new things to fit the new body that I have from eating veggies instead of chicken fingers? I’m still not sure about these things, but I am certain that it means wholeheartedly loving the people I am already surrounded with before going out and finding new people to “love”. I am certain that it means having a humble heart about the issues that I have been informed on, and not being so caught up in what everyone else is doing, when I have enough to work on in my own life.

Oh Cortina. I’m so excited to have a whole ‘nuther year to be a part of you and become the person I’m designed to be.

What Cortina Was To Me: Galvanizing

The Cortina experience gave me a very real and human perspective on some of the most pressing social justice issues facing our world today. Most notably, my experience focused heavily on immigration. Through a half-week service trip and weekly volunteering at Pixan Ixim in south Omaha, I was presented with a salient example of the plights of modern immigrants in my own backyard. Relaxing around a dinner table and swapping stories in quasi-Spanglish was the best context for learning about individual immigrants’ decisions for coming to the U.S.,  their unique struggles within our own city, and their hopes and dreams for their lives. Nowhere in textbooks or newspaper articles could I find stories like I heard through immigrants firsthand. Combined with the information I was presented from the Cortina ethics class and conversations with fellow students, the valuable experiences in Cortina gave me a balanced view of the multi-faceted nature of immigration, as well as many other topics such as gay marriage, human trafficking, sustainability, the death penalty, etc.

Though my Cortina experienced has long since ended, the critical lens through which I view social justice issues continues to hone itself within the context of my education, my career decisions, and my political views. As a future dentist, I am cognizant of healthcare difficulties facing immigrants. My aim is to one day provide low-cost dental services to various under-treated populations. As a citizen, I try to be aware of current events affecting unjust practices in our world by listening to NPR, voting, and engaging with people of different worldviews than mine. Truly, the Cortina experience has shaped the way I approach my life. I live with greater gratitude for the opportunities afforded me. However, the concept of social justice mandates more than mere reflection. Social justice demands action, just as love demands action.  And it is through my actions that I hope to continually live out the values I acquired through my time at Creighton and in Cortina.

One word to describe my Cortina experience: galvanizing
-Theresa Greving, A Cortinian from 2009-2010

Theresa G