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A Beautiful Exchange

29/06/2010

I don’t blog here much anymore, but maybe we can change that.

Or maybe not.

I woke up this morning with an immediate desire to pray, which seems rare these days. Trying to push and pull through the emotions that have been swirling all around and within my aura over the past 6 months – okay, let’s be honest – pretty much the past year plus – in order to understand myself and the world better.

I was thinking of the verse which is supposed to give you peace in times of chaos – For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39). I was wondering why that verse doesn’t resound with me as much as I logically think it should.

And while I do believe that nothing can separate me from the love of God (I think), I’m not entirely convinced that the Love of God is the answer. I don’t mean that logically, of course, I can explain that it should with the best theologian that ever walked this earth. But, in reality, it doesn’t still my heart and refocus me on what is important. Since I’m in counseling, I of course tie everything back to my childhood, my parents, my family. In this case, the father – as so many argue – really shapes the way your understanding of God. And if you told me that nothing could separate me from the love of my biological father, I would simply think, “That’s nice.” Because really, it doesn’t mean much to me. He loves me to the best of his ability, I am certain; but it is nothing that will calm the crazy waters when they rage in my soul.

So I began to pray instead for a better understanding of what God’s love is. It is surely a Terrible and Great Existence (I fail in speaking of It because truly, He is It, and I get confused trying to eloquently verbalize all of that); Something which can not be felt within the human soul without some sort of explosion, I imagine, when it really connects. I want to feel that. I want to connect with that. I want to have a soul-emotional-intense understanding of what Love is. And I don’t. So I’m praying for it.

And so I find it beautiful that I downloaded the new Hillsong Live Album, A Beautiful Exchange. I didn’t know it at the time, but the album itself is a series of songs that emphasize how important God’s Love is.

Here is what Joel Houston, who wrote the title track A Beautiful Exchange, stated about the song itself:

The emphasis is on what Christ achieved on the cross… The Great Exchange: ‘Trading His life for our offenses, for our redemption He carried all the blame, breaking the curse of our condition, perfection took our place.’

Initially I thought the song would work as a series of stanzas…and there was another verse that carried the thought of exchange. I knew that the song needed a ‘B’ section and the chorus came to me while surfing…’When only Love could make a way / You gave Your life in a beautiful exchange.’

But was it really a “beautiful” exchange? Is the cross an object of beauty? The cross is a paradoxical symbol – What was a symbol of shame, failure and death is now a symbol of hope, freedom and life. It was messy and ugly in every way – but so were our lives. I love that the title is a paradox of thought.

It seemed necessary to make it clear that what Jesus did on the cross was demonstrate His love and that in response to that demonstration, His desire is for us is to love Him and others in the same way….

I knew the melody was in a strange place for the chorus and though I thought it would work to sing it low (for a boy) it made sense to do it with a girl vocal.

The verses and chorus were now all set and felt like they communicated clearly the “beautiful exchange” that Jesus achieved on the cross; A holy and righteous God stepped down into our shoes to die our death and give us life. The song, however, would not be complete without clearly declaring ‘our’ response. I tried a few different tags, but none seem to really feel right. It wasn’t til’ I was home in Australia and I was driving to sound check that the tag dropped. I wasn’t planning on doing the song, but the entire drive to the church I was singing “Holy are You God, holy is Your Name, with everything I’ve got, my heart will sing “how I love You”.

That is our response and our exchange. To lay down our lives to bring Him glory. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost.

I love it when the theme of prayer is so united with the day before you. When the very thing you need to understand comes rushing at you through the strangest media or avenues.

I don’t understand God’s Love from this. Not even close. It would be ridiculous to think that this album could do so. But it indicated a promise to me that I am on a journey in which I will find an answer. Or many answers. And that the Love of God will explode within the depths of me, even if its not until after death. But the promise exists to let me know that it will happen. I will someday understand. And until I understand, I simply wait. And seek. And fight. And walk away, even.

But I believe.

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Yes, you.

08/05/2010

Girl, you need to define, learn, and become closely acquainted with grace.

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verticals

29/03/2010

the morning light flows in as i lie and think about nothing, nothing at all/the window open causes the blinds to tremble, rock, sway back and forth and i think of you and all your allure/your breathing beside me overcomes my internalizing and i smile/the laughter you steal from me once you wake up reverberates in the redness of your room/the sounds of the real world outside whisper and beckon and sigh and stutter

but we shut the window/we stay inside/we delve deeper in our own fantasy, our own dreamland, the whimsical weekend in which we lost the world for a while, but found more of us.

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Dualism

21/03/2010

I’m re-reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin today. It’s less than 200 pages, and I remember absolutely loving the book when I read it in 12th grade AP English. At the age of 18, I knew little (yet) of having no concept of your own identity, your true self, your soul.

At 28, I know much more.

There are so many amazing lines, thoughts, ideas, and such imagery in this book. Here is one which made me stop my progression in reading because of the emotional connection and my immediate intuitive understanding:

“At a very early period she [Adele] had apprehended instinctively the dual life – the outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.”

The author is attempting to convey the beginning stages of Adele’s awakening into her own person. And while I relate to that significantly both now and at the age of 25, I see it as a different (current) personal struggle as it applies to my life.

My dualism is defined instead by the life that I feel pressured to live (the external conformity) and the life that my soul longs to live (the incessant inward questioning). The life of external conformity is the corporate world, the 9-5, the soul-sucking, life-draining non-challenging work of insurance. The desired life is different, though not as clearly defined. It could be painted in numerous different colours, in varying cityscapes, across different continents. The recurring theme is a simpler lifestyle of cultivation. Cultivating a family, cultivating a vineyard, cultivating a garden, cultivating a lifestyle, cultivating.

But the external world suffocates the internal cries with its comfortability and familiarity; it silences the soul’s passions with its money and ease. The soul is sometimes easily overtaken, the sensitive spirit that it can be.

Yet an awakening comes – a battle for the forward progressing years between external and internal, between expectation and desire, between normalcy and normalcy. For neither is necessarily wrong, but one is simply

True.

The other is merely a sell out.

Maybe in late April you’ll find me stuck in the sands of Puerto Rico, return ticket torn and tossed to the tides, vodka and mixer in hand, serving locals and vacationers alike from the backside of the beachside tiki bar,

Cultivating a clientele and a tan.

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The Surprising Paradigm Shift

06/03/2010

I finished Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer yesterday, while in transit from Boston to Orlando. Le sigh. This book is overwhelming, but in a good way. I’ll digress for a brief moment.

A great number of my friends are vegetarians, and many have been trying to get me on board for as long as I have known them. To their great dismay, I am a very stubborn person who often can sit very well in her ignorance. About a year and a half to two years ago, my brother and his wife also decided to give up meat, after watching the abbatoir videos. They haven’t looked back since, and I’ve always been amazed by their discipline and extreme lack of desire to eat meat. They told me, just a week or two after their initial decision, that they didn’t really miss meat. I found it hard to believe, especially in terms of how I’d personally react to it.

I’ve flirted with a meat-free diet myself a few times: giving up meat for Lent in 2008 (couldn’t wait to get back to it at Chickfila the day after Easter), and fasting from it again for 3 weeks last November. After those 3 weeks of no meat (accompanied with no alcohol or unnatural sugar), my body, spirit and aura (I have no better word to explain it) felt amazing. I certainly recognize that the sugar and alcohol decrease also had a great effect on my spirit, but it gave me new resolve to try vegetarianism for a longer period of time.

In December, I watched the documentary, Food Inc. I heard a great deal of fuss about this movie the past summer when I was in Australia. There are many things that upset me about this movie (See my past blog about Monsanto!), but it was the first experience I had in terms of opening my eyes to the ubiquitous American Factory Farm. I was disgusted, but didn’t resolve to give up meat just yet, no matter how many disgusted looks and comments Mitch threw my way.

I’ve heard before that it takes 21 days to create a habit and 40 days to break it. Following that 3 week fast and my collision with Food, Inc, I determined that in 2010, I’d give up meat for 3 months. This would give me a long enough experience to determine if I was struggling with giving meat up for real, legit, healthy reasons, or if it was merely habit and custom and taste.

I started my trial run on 1/24/2010, with the intention of making a lifestyle choice of meat or no-meat on 4/24/2010. I told Mel about my personal desires, convictions, and questions, and she opted to join me (you can follow her journey on her blog, also!) for the full 3 months.

The first week was horrible. Physically, I had headaches, stomach aches, and many other negative effects. I missed meat. I had frequent cravings. Lunch was/is the toughest for me, because I always want to leave the office to eat, but I have very little in terms of options around me in Lake Mary. The first month continued to frustrate me, even though I started feeling better. One lesson I’ve (almost) learned is that I need to give up unnatural sugars as well. Those sugary food items, plus sweet tea, have taken place of my comfort foods that I once loved which include meat. It’s hard to let that go, on top of all these other sacrifices. Regardless, I had tons of mental and physical cravings for meat. On day 19, I realized it was day 19 and I couldn’t believe I had not eaten meat for just 3 weeks.

Around the 1 month mark, we ventured to Savannah, GA, and stopped in Paula Deen’s restaurant. I’ve been wanting to go there since I found out about it around Labor Day last year, and this happened to be the time. In the middle of my meat fast. I went back and forth for a few days, and particularly a few hours, before we ate there. I really wanted to make a one-time exception for the fried chicken. I texted several of my veg friends and they encouraged me to steer clear of the meat. Even Gary, who is a significant meat supporter, told me that I shouldn’t because it would likely break the actual value, long-term. It was a MASSIVE accomplishment that I stuck to my goals. I felt empowered by this decision and it renewed my desire to continue on this 3 month journey.

I actually bought Eating Animals the week before we went to Savannah, in an attempt to remind myself why I didn’t want to eat Paula Deen’s fried chicken. Walt had been telling me stories from this book for a while, and it had come recommended by Daineal and Kate as well. I’ve been searching for as unbiased a book as possible from an author who struggles with the same issues I did.

I found him.

Jonathan Safran Foer (JSF) had also flirted with giving up meat throughout his adult life, but constantly found himself giving back in to his cravings and learned behaviours and loved foods. However, his wife became pregnant, and so he set out to research the factory farms and once and for all determine the proper lifestyle for himself and his family in terms of meat or no meat.

I read through about half of this book before Boston. I found myself on Mel’s bed last week arguing heatedly with her over vegetarianism. She was telling me that she might continue beyond the 3 month mark for various reasons. I found myself reacting emotionally to her words and her points (One thing I have come to learn is that this whole meat eating issue is a HUGELY personal issue that everyone tends to get defensive about, particularly those of us who really struggle to give up our meat.) My biggest reaction was to Monsanto. In short, this company is evil incarnate. They have genetically modified a soybean to make it resistant to pesticides. Something like 90% of soybeans in the marketplace are these genetically modified soybeans (labelled GMOs). I was arguing that I couldn’t support not eating meat if it meant supporting Monsanto and GMOs. Monsanto & their GMOs are responsible for suicides in India, bankruptcies, and other insanely unfair practices and injustices against small farmers everywhere. The FDA, the Supreme Court, & other government agencies have been infiltrated by different Monsanto executives, thus increasing their significant legal influence. There is so much evil emanating from this corporation that I can’t hope to expand upon it in this blog. As I mentioned, I have written a great deal more in another blog. My argument to Mel was that I couldn’t, in good conscience, stop eating animals if doing so resulted in me eating soy products that contributed to Monsanto’s bottom line and success.

But then she hit me with the statistics that roughly half of the soy grown in America goes to manufacture the feed which supplies these factory farms.

I challenged her information, which she followed up on later with supporting detail. She was correct in her numbers – if my recollection is correct, only about 5-6% of the soy grown goes to vegan/veg products, while something like 47% goes to feed the animals.

By eating meat, not only am I supporting these insane animal cruelty practices, but I am also supporting Monsanto.

You might think that sealed the deal… but it didn’t. I was more fully engaged, but not 100% sold on changing my lifestyle for the long-term.

I suppose my reaction to vegetarianism as a personal choice for a lifestyle is somewhat similar to my initial feelings towards LOST. I had watched part of the first season of LOST when it aired, but got annoyed when they took Walt. So I stopped watching. And LOST fans are freaking annoying. So anytime anyone would bring up LOST, I’d roll my eyes and tell them I tried it. I HATED the trend of it (I’m finding this theme in my life, sadly), and would react against that trend. I’d tell people I tried it and didn’t like it. They never understood. I remember having a 30-45 minute conversation outside of Aroma one night, trying to convince Walter (who I barely knew) that he should watch Dexter. Of course he brought the conversation to LOST and this was the beginning of my conversion. I am now a full blown LOST junkie. And it’s a great show.

I have fought everyone who ever tried to take me down the road of no meat. I have dragged my feet, made excuses, plugged my ears, hated the trendiness of it, etc etc etc. It’s childish, I realize, but I’ve wanted ignorance more than I’ve wanted conviction. Sometimes, I still long for ignorance. I miss Chickfila. I really, really do.

But I can’t go back.

I can’t take the blue pill. I already opted for red.

In his book, JSF accurately and effectively attacks all of my arguments for eating meat. He addresses my fatalistic mindset, which causes me to believe that I can’t make a difference. As I’ve told a few of my friends – I’ve already caused a handful of people to start asking their own questions. That’s important. I can affect my family and friends. One person can change lives. It’s true, even if I don’t believe it sometimes.

I’ve also been trying to convince myself that I could eat only locally grown meat, slaughtered humanely, along with a mostly vegetarian diet. JSF again outlines the fallacy of this mindset, at least as I apply it to myself. First of all, per Tony Adams, it’s impossible to get locally grown chickens in Florida unless I work through loopholes and/or want to slice their throats myself. He does have beautiful options for pork and can refer one to local grass-fed beef. But, I imagine, knowing my own lack of discipline in terms of food, that I will eventually want to eat more and more meat, which will inevitably lead to eating factory farmed animals. Furthermore, the implications of even locally grown meat for the environment and/or humanity are far more significant than I realized. And lastly, I’m even beginning to feel a bit more connected to the animals as something more than a product. I suppose that’s not entirely true – it’s not that I’ve ever felt disconnected from an animal that I’ve seen or met. I grew up with cows and goats, after all. But I’m beginning to feel differently even toward the mindset of treating animals very well during their lives, and killing them “humanely”. When I read about what qualifies as humane (which is the goal, not even the reality), it really doesn’t sit well with my spirit. When I was reading of how cows are slaughtered, I started tearing up. It’s tough to read about – I can’t even imagine being part of the slaughterhouse. I feel such sympathy for those employed in such circumstances. It seems like one form of hell on earth. Ultimately, I’ve been personally swayed to steer clear of even locally grown meat, at least for now. I hope this conviction sticks.

I think my biggest argument is likely the one that has the least logical support. It’s a matter of taste, preference, culture, community, and habit. JSF uses the idea of Thanksgiving and that particular meal to represent this idea, and I was bowled over by his illustration on this matter. First, he details how our modern ideas of Thanksgiving don’t hold very true to the original Thanksgiving. (Thanksgiving was originally a day of fasting.) Secondly, he reminds us of the true meaning of Thanksgiving – being grateful and aware of all that we have in our lives. What is truly important to this second aspect is the sense of community, fellowship, and togetherness that we experience in such a setting. It’s truly spectacular, the emotions and feelings that envelop this great day of feasting. Because it’s not an everyday event, it never seems to lose those incredible feelings. And while we are used to eating turkey on this day, the feelings that we have are not lessened if we do not eat turkey. Thirdly, he briefly examines the idea of eating a tortured animal (and they are fairly tortured, these turkeys, even if ‘free-range’) and how that fact doesn’t seem to align with the overall idea of Thanksgiving.

I suppose that I personally believe if I can get past the mindset of feeling that I need to have turkey on Thanksgiving to feel connected to my family, friends, the holiday, and the Thankfulness, I can get past the mental addiction that I have to meat as a whole. It’s a comfort food, to be certain, and it’s difficult to get past such an attachment. But I’m realizing, as I push through the second month, that both the habit and the attachment are dying.

My suggestion to you is not that you take a look at Food Inc, or read Eating Animals, but more that you examine yourself to see if you are prepared to deal with the learning contained within these mediums. If you are, then I’d highly suggest that you invest your time in determining exactly what you are ingesting. But as someone who decisively fought intimacy with such knowledge for a very long time, I suggest that you don’t do it halfheartedly. Ultimately, you’ll just regret obtaining the knowledge, and feel guilty for not doing (or wanting to do) anything about it. Once you know, it’s difficult to continue down the path that many people are on regarding meat, without feeling overwhelmed by a sense of guilt and regret.

But if you are ready, grab them. And read. Watch. Then email me your own thoughts.

My sincerest thanks to those who have invested their influence into my life on this front of incredible proportions. And my deepest apologies for my stubbornness. Thanks for never giving up on me! I love you all – vegetarians and omnivores alike – very much.

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18/02/2010

i have these friends – these friends who sit with me in my confusion, in my fear, in my doubt, and in my pure depression. these friends are more valuable than any material item that I think I own (for I don’t). Luckily for me, I don’t own my friends, nor do I make their decisions.

And that makes their decisions far more valuable.

I wake up each morning and often take them for granted – and for that I grieve deeply when I recognize it.

But this morning, my hands have grabbed a piece of each one of their souls and held it to my nose, breathing in deeply of their beauty.

There is so much beauty.

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11/02/2010

“Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”

– GK Chesterton