Keeping Faith While In Despair

Hey all! I received the privilege of publishing an article on Self Talk the Gospel, an online writing community that I had been interning with as a Content Curator during the previous six months. I wrote a guest post for their Impressed Series, in which their writers describe an experience with a piece of literature that left a lasting impression.

For my article “Keeping Faith While in Despair,” I chose to write about Soren Kierkegaard’s book Fear and Trembling (even a year since graduation, my humanities classes are still ringing in my ears), along with my experience of faith and spiritual depression. Here’s a snippet:

Finally. I had finally encountered a fellow lover of wisdom and member of the Christian faith who told me that the authenticity of my faith doesn’t depend on how I feel before I go to bed at night, or how I feel during worship at church. That my choosing faith is what matters, as opposed to depending on whether or not I feel like I have faith.

You can read the rest of the article by following the link here. If you’re curious about topics of Kierkegaard, the nuances of spirituality and faith, despair, and/or my writing in general, check it out!

Enjoy,
-Jennifer

Rock Climbing: What’s the Point?

Hey everyone! I just wanted to share the news that a personal experience article I wrote for Summit Adventure just went live on their site today, and I wanted to share the link with those of you who follow this blog (also with those who happen to stumble in here randomly now and then).

In “Rock Climbing: What’s the Point?”, I reflect on how the highs and lows of learning to rock-climb have helped me to better understand some of my own life experiences. Here’s a snippet preview:

…I live an hour away from Yosemite–home to some of the best climbing in the world. And, with the aid and friendship of an experienced coworker, I’m taking advantage of that convenience. I exercise throughout the week to prepare for day-long climbing trips on the weekend, or the half-day excursions that sometimes occur during the work week. My body is often tired, sore, and dotted with bruises, scrapes, and scabs. I started realizing that I fork out a lot of time and energy to yank myself up rocks.

And what’s the point?

Sure, I can value the sense of accomplishment in building up my strength to achieve a goal, specifically that glory-feeling in completion of a difficult route. The community factor of spending time with friends by sharing an adventurous activity is also a positive, less narcissistic value. But the more engaged and skilled one becomes in rock-climbing, the more easily it becomes consuming with the need for more gear, technique, commitment, energy. I could just as easily set my physical goals in something simpler and less consuming like running. And I could just as easily invite friends over for dinner to spend time with them.

So, again: what’s the point? Why go rock-climbing?

You can read the rest of the article by clicking here. I hope you are able to spend some time reading it…maybe even leave a comment? ;) Check it out!

To Venture; Sow Seeds

This might be an uphill battle.
Have you ever tried to build a fire in the wild, wild winter?
But if I don’t venture, I may lose myself.
More importantly —
If they don’t venture, they may never find themselves.

Can’t avoid the chilly hands of winter forever–shall we meet her then?
I’m nervous about the cold–never have slept on the ground before, nope.
Come, let us walk the road that goes ever on and on–so weary already?
I’m afraid of bears, she says.
But your eyes don’t seem to fear anything. What’s the real bear, then?

Fluctuating contours introduce her Are-we-there-yet’s and How-much-farther’s.
And he sure doesn’t give a spit about the type of Jerusalem we’re passing through.
Walking slow to prove it.
Maybe all of it really is just so many boring, boring, burned-out trees.
But I smudge my face with ash and carry on.

Hey, how hard could it be to establish a campsite?
Let me show you.
Traverse down a hill, discover a disappointing and slanted situation, then bear-crawl back up carrying the weight of your world in the pack strapped to your shoulders.
I wanna go back home now, he says.
My bad. I swear it looked decent from up top.
Story of my life, to be honest. (Wonder about yours)
Oh well, she cuts in like a cymbal’s laugh —
The same one who glanced shy at the ground when she told me her name means “beautiful girl.”

Moving slower than a mile an hour
Oh well
Forgot the menu of meal recipes
Oh well
Spilled the store of purified creek water with freezing hands
Oh well
The guys got their own tent toppled just in time for bedtime
Oh well

As for me, laid awake hearing coyotes in the blank night.
Silence too loud to sleep.
Sunrise met with a weak cup of coffee.
Oh well

Time to edge in a couple more miles.
From what I understand, the most nomadic he gets is walking to the 7 Eleven between his house and school.
But now two step with walking sticks to attend to the journey.
Destination: Footbridge.

Sun-warmed granite rocks, level ground above the banks of a rushing creek.
The view looking out towards the Valley.
Can we stay here?
The sunset glows pink and purple. I notice how he sinks into it.
You ever saw a spark ignite?

Speaking of which–
How about a fire tonight?
The smoke and crackle of gathered kindling now warming its crown of hearts.
And the same way a pinecone’s resin cracks open under the melting heat to release its seeds, their hands open.
See what we can do when Together, when Each Other.
You ever watch something grow before your eyes?

And now he’s smudged his face with ash like mine.
Topographic maps spread out with green.
Pointing to the path to El Capitan.
How far?
Nearly 6 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?

Has it been an hour yet?
Keeping a store of potential energy, granola bars unwrapped.
Summit, 5 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?
Tell me your favorite places to go to in San Fran.
My turn to be the leader, she says.
Summit, 4 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?
Retelling difficult stories to make this seem less difficult.
Summit, 3 miles away.
What happens if we don’t make it?
5,000 feet of elevation gain.
Can I borrow some antibacterial for my tattoo?
Of course.
Hey, we need to find water.
Summit, 3 miles away.

What happens if we don’t make it?
The sun started sinking long ago. Cursing the winter solstice.
What happens if we really shouldn’t hike downhill in the dark? Did anyone bring a headlamp?
What happens if we don’t make it?
What happens if —

Back down 5,000 feet of elevation. Maybe next time, kids.

Maybe next time.
Will there be a next time?
Well, will there? And why not?
He shrugs.
But I see him eyeing the cliffs the next day in the gaze of We’ll meet again.

Perhaps nothing quite so inspiring as the road towards home.
A rise at dawn to set out in the sweet air.
Quick enough to the trail to leave a stove pan behind.
But I hear him say, I’m gonna miss the views, though.

Perhaps nothing quite so inspiring as the road towards home.
Not thirst or even the fear of heights can deter.
Climbing over fallen trees and Talus fields.
But I hear him say, I like climbing down these rocks, though, as we race each other down the hill of boulders.

And when I glance back, I see a faint glimmer of Jerusalem in his eyes.

Grasping for clarity about the matter in Ferguson…

This is the moment of truth: no one in the media is going to tell the exact, “true” story regarding Ferguson; there is always a spin or an angle or misinformation crafted toward the target audience that will deviate the story from the “whole” truth. That’s how journalism works.

Everyone needs to feel the right to be frustrated by the media, because it’s an entire bucket of red herrings. I’ve flooded my brain with enough different viewpoints streaming from social media to just want to crawl into a dark hole of frustration.

But the fact of the matter remains: a cop killed a black person.

Law enforcement should not be killing people. Killing another person is NO ONE’S job and should never be anyone’s job. This is my belief as a (developing) Christian pacifist. Law enforcement, across the board, needs a widespread change in their value system.

The fact of the matter also remains that blacks STILL experience systematic discrimination. Yes. Do. Your. Research.

Whether or not the cop acted out of self defense does not negate the fact that racism still allowed the entire event to occur.

And that should break our hearts.

The world is a long, hard day. We’ve got to start loving our neighbors if we want the hope to survive it.

If you’re looking for some more help grasping with this issue, check out this article a friend of mine shared with me: 12 things white people can do now because Ferguson. 

Thou shalt not demonize thy neighbor’s Yoga pants

I would like to begin this argument by posing that it is okay to notice other people’s butts.

There, I said it. Butts. And that won’t be the last time I say that word today.

I have decided that the war against Yoga pants needs to stop. Yoga pants will continue to exist, and no one’s making any friends by fighting over it (I just want everyone to be friends).

I’ve heard the comments. I’ve heard the whole shebang; I’ve heard, “The guys have pleaded us to ask you all to be more careful about wearing yoga pants,” I’ve heard, “I just don’t see how Yoga pants could be comfortable…I would feel so…revealed…”, I’ve heard, “If you don’t want us to look at your butt, don’t wear yoga pants.” I get. Okay? I GET IT. My turn to talk now.

And I’m going to call everyone out on their bullcrap. Yes, everyone, the clad and the unclad. I mean, those bearing Yoga pants and those who…don’t bear them. Yeah.

Part A: The case for the existence of Yoga pants.

First off, I want us all to take a deep breath. And another. Now, we’re going to think about why Yoga pants were born in the first place. Yoga pants–much like cycling shorts, swimsuits, wetsuits, and those spandex bunhuggers made for volleyball players–are an exercise technology. Dear EVERYONE, Yoga is indeed a method of exercise. I wear Yoga pants when I practice Yoga, and, yes, my Yoga pants are in fact essential to the most efficient Yoga experience, and due to the type of Yoga I practice, I am very often sore the next day. Yoga pants are the offspring of Yoga as an exercise. Glad we got that cleared up.

Now, the Yoga pants phenomenon has spread virally throughout workout gyms to all females practicing various types of exercises. Why, you wonder?

One reason: running shorts.

You want to talk about “revealing?” Running is pretty much the only exercise a female can engage in without fearing that those (seemingly) benign running shorts will expose her netherworld. Doing squats in these “regular exercise shorts” is the worst. Using most any exercise contraption in these “regular exercise shorts” is THE WORST. They ride up, they show the jiggle spots, they show panty lines, they give *lowers voice* eternal wedgies, and who knows what other sights the common exercising passerby will unintentionally become party to when he or she happens to glance your way? Good lord, I feel exposed enough just to be a female in (what I like to call) the “meathead” section of my local gym. Back off, a girl needs to do her shoulder presses, too. Geez.

Essentially, these so-called “regular exercise shorts,” or running shorts, are an inferior exercise technology for women, in the face of Yoga pants. Especially for the reason that the female hip and butt regions come in all different curved shapes and sizes. It’s no wonder that those ubiquitously flimsy short shorts are going out of style in the workout world; NO ONE LIKES WHAT THEY DO TO US. Conversely, the wonderfully forgiving technology of Yoga pants not only allows for different shapes of women to fit into them, they’re also versatile (aka comfortable) to wear in different exercise practices as well. Sure, you can see the outline of my figure, but can you see my underwear and the horrifying etc.? Nope. Great, I’ll take the Yoga pants, then.

Are you catching my drift? Thou shalt not demonize Yoga pants as an exercise technology.

Part B: The “male gaze.”

Okay, so I’m not gonna go all TEAR DOWN THE PATRIARCHY ALL HAIL YOGA-PANTS-WEARING MATRIARCHY on you. Seriously. However, I am going to make an effort to logically (and calmly) deconstruct the common whines of the (typically) male voice regarding Yoga pants.

Firsthand, I’d like to begin with the fact that men also have exercise technology quite akin to Yoga pants, especially for sporting activities such as cycling, wrestling, and swimming. My dad is a cyclist. He wears ALL the spandex stuff available for the hardcore cyclists. Why? So he can ride faster and won’t get HIS CLOTHES CAUGHT IN THE BIKE AND FALL OVER. Because it’s efficient exercise technology. It all bears the same spandex-enthralled idea as Yoga pants.

I myself enjoy cycling and have been privy to the sight of many spandex-clad members of the opposite gender. Yeah, men in spandex. And it’s a normal thing; if you don’t wear spandex in the cycling world, everyone will know you’re a noob and you’re not gonna have a good time. You’re a cyclist? Here’s your spandex.

Do Yoga pants act similarly on women to the way that cycling shorts act on men? Yes.

Do I whine about the fact I can see all the “outlines” of the male anatomy? No, because the purpose for cycling shorts is not for the viewer’s comfort, it’s for the cyclist’s comfort (and safety). And they’re just gonna keep cyclin’.

Thine mouth shalt not grumble in view of cycling shorts, lest thy be cast from the presence of thine bike.

So, my first aim, especially in the context of the exercise world, is to gently suggest people to get over it. Get over your discomfort, because in this context, it’s not about you, it’s about the athlete. Spandex will do what spandex will do to anyone’s body–fit the form of how it’s shaped.

“But, but–” you say– “I don’t want to see a woman’s body like that and–” *whispers* “think…you know, thoughts.”

*Cue my groans* Thank you for that segue-way, though; now I can call upon the second part of this discussion regarding the “male gaze.”

My question is, do you mean to say that you can’t control your own thoughts? The whole “It’s because I’m a male and I’m wired this way” AKA “I can’t help myself” is a mindset that society has truly brainwashed you to embrace. To suggest that a person can’t control his/her own thoughts connotes an issue of inferior psychological development. That might sound super offensive, but what I’m trying to say is that you AREN’T stupid, because that is, in fact, ridiculous. However, I’d like to revisit that idea of “brainwashing” that I mentioned a second ago.

American society constantly objectifies women sexually, and in our day of modern technology, this media message is pretty much unavoidable. Therefore, I don’t think it’s impossible for this standard to have incurred a sort of “brain damage” upon men. Let me explain. A Cognitive-Behavioral therapist treating a patient dealing with anxiety/depression will explain that negative and anxious thoughts come easily and seemingly quite naturally because of the pathways formed in the brain by habit. It’s like when you drive to work, you take the road you’ve formed a habit to take, even if other routes exist. In lieu of this, Cognitive-Behavioral therapy will help a patient fight this “damage” by using certain exercises to develop new pathways in the brain that access positive methods of thinking more easily/naturally than negative methods. I pose that, in the same way, if a male has grown up bombarded with the thought process of sexually objectifying the female body, it is easy to understand how that thought process would eventually come quickly and seem natural.

I, as a heterosexual female, am aware of my mental capability to objectify the guy doing pull-ups with half a shirt on (you know, those shirts that have each side entirely cut out). But just because he has nice tone in his back that I am free to view does not mean I am helpless to objectify his body. Nor will I blame his shirt–no matter his intentions toward his viewers–because I’m going to assume it gives him the ventilation he needs to stay cool, and I respect that, as we reside in a city that features triple digits in the summer. Perhaps this mental process is somewhat easier because men are less sexually objectified in society than women. But, for my part, I know with certainty that I have made this mental process possible for myself because I have purposefully and consciously resisted the mindset of objectifying men, which does (in fact) exist.

Dear brother, I see how society has marred your mind. But I believe in you, in your ability to develop your mind and train it to value a humane mindset, one that can see women carrying on their exercise routine in properly efficient exercise attire and yet refrain from objectifying them.

Following this statement, I do want to draw the distinction between appreciating someone’s body and sexually objectifying it. This hearkens back to the opening statement I made: that it is okay to notice other people’s butts.

So, with that same guy I saw doing pull-ups, I clearly noticed that he has a finely shaped back. And after that observation, I continued on with my day, alongside the happy knowledge of the existence of finely-shaped men. If it’s a crime to simply notice and be pleased that the guys curling dumbbells are indeed reaping the rewards of toned shoulders, send me to Hell, then, but I don’t believe this to be the essence of objectification. Human bodies are cool. Muscles are cool. Why not accept the fact that I notice them?

However, to lust for that man’s body to give me something just for the sake of my own sexual desires–that’s sexual objectification. This is different from mere appreciation because of its nature in dehumanizing the person in view. Dehumanizing occurs when someone rejects the inherent value of humanity in another. By sexually objectifying a person, the beholder removes the person in view from his/her actual context (in this case, casually lifting weights in the gym), and divides the person from his/her emotional and mental psyche by viewing the person as a solely physical object that exists for the sake of fulfilling the beholder’s sexual desire. The person in view, decontextualized and separated from parts of his/her human nature, is thereby dehumanized.

So, let’s say there’s this attractive girl attending a kickboxing class in the gym. She is doing great at the whole kickboxing thing. She is clad in Yoga pants. You notice she has a nice butt.

Whoa, isn’t that so cool? She has a butt like EVERYONE else in the world! And you noticed that it’s there, not missing, not in the wrong place, but it’s right where it’s supposed to be. And it’s nice. How wonderful. You know what that might mean? That she works out often. Good for her! Way to be a strong woman. Hey, you know what that also might mean? That she has a decent work ethic, since she seems to be committed to working up a sweat three or so times a week in order to keep her body healthy. What an inspiration.

See how beneficial noticing other people’s butts can be?

All right, I know I’m being sort of facetious…but not really. Thou shalt not demonize thyself for noticing/appreciating/evaluating thy fellow workout enthusiast’s nice butt.

Cut yourself some slack. It’s a butt. It’s round. People have them, you know. And, guess what, a lot of women have nice butts. Ladies, if a guy notices your butt…well, he notices your butt. Yes, you do in fact have a butt! And it’s probably nice, too, *gasp*. Wait, am I giving away a secret of the universe that no one should ever know or something?

Sorry, I think I’m being facetious again. In all seriousness, though, this is my point: we all need to just calm down for a second…and realize the truth of what’s happening here–and that the goal should be to move forward and learn to look at each other as if we’re looking at humans, beautiful humans…not objects.

Part C (finally!): All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.

Yes, you’ve made it past the deconstruction part! High-five.

Okay, so this is the concluding segment where I’m going to introduce the idea of personal responsibility and practicality in this matter, AKA, Yeah there are times and locations when your butt, as nice as it is, is now being a distraction (amongst the other features Yoga pants reveal).

Let’s go back to that first fact that Yoga pants are an exercise technology. Yeah. Just a reminder. You didn’t forget that they’re an exercise technology, right? I mean, you wouldn’t wear Yoga pants to work, right? Well, why not? Oh, because they’re initially designed to wear at the gym. Got it.

“But if I’m not at work, I shall wear my Yoga pants anywhere and wherever I choose, thy be damned if thou keep me from doing so!” This seems to be a recurring mentality…and I want to discuss it in the following.

So in one aspect of this situation, Yoga pants are a parallel to the male use of basketball shorts. In my experience, the athletic sort of guy LOVES his basketball shorts. Why? They’re comfy, perfect loungewear. Same goes for Yoga pants with girls–we like to wear them because they’re comfortable. Perhaps this is why lots of comfort-seeking people are seen all around everywhere wearing basketball shorts or Yoga pants, because our society is less formal on dress nowadays, especially in California.

This is a widespread occurrence: workout attire in general can easily be worn too casually. Come on, everyone. Would it kill us to wear a regular jeans-and-t-shirt combo instead of our sweaty basketball shorts/Yoga pants? In this respect, Yoga pants and basketball shorts can be viewed similarly–as athletic wear that might be crossing socially appropriate boundaries when worn outside the context of an exercise environment.

That’s one aspect of it.

However, Yoga pants have been adapted into the realm of leggings and as such have been incorporated in casual, non-athletic attire as well. And the rising universality of Yoga pants has influenced the more common wear of leggings, I surmise. This trend shouldn’t necessarily pose much of a problem, in view of my previous discussion on clothing efficiency and the development of a gaze that appreciates rather than objectifies. Also, many women have adopted the style of pairing a longer/oversized top or sweater with the slimming Yoga pants/leggings to create a nicely contrasting outfit, that keeps the rear region under decent coverage as most socially appropriate outfits are meant to. Wins all around. And excellent use of design principles, by the way.

But sometimes, that delicate region isn’t covered. I could argue about battling the burden of gaze again. But I’m going to pose something different. I want to point out the fact that (typically) men don’t casually walk about in spandex material.

And I want you to imagine what the world would look like if they did.

What if men wore cycling shorts or just some nice black compression shorts around casually? Okay, maybe it’s kind of a toss-up; it might go over somewhat manageably since society expects women to objectify men’s bodies less. But…let’s be honest. It might be kind of a weird occurrence, in reality.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if my dad wore his bike shorts around the house all day. But it would be weird if he wore them to a family gathering (and, trust me, he’d feel weird too). And I can imagine that if a guy took me out on a date wearing compression shorts, and (for the sake of this comparative argument) didn’t wear a shirt that helped cover his more personal regions, I would probably have a stronger propensity to…not look at his face. Would these hypothetical occurrences necessarily be bad, or result in bad things happening? Ehhh…*shrugs*…not really, in light of the big picture of the world’s overwhelming injustices that happen on a nauseating hourly basis. Would these hypothetical occurrences cause, let us say, not necessarily positive distractions to those viewing the spandex-clad men? Most likely, as the current social use of that garment has been taken out of the appropriate context and highlights a region that–going back to the date situation here–I’d prefer not to be distracted by on a romantic occasion in which I’d rather give preference to personality, emotional, and intellectual subjects? Unless we were on a date at the gym.

All this to say–all things are permissible, yet not all things are beneficial. Maybe wearing yoga pants instead of jeans all the time simply isn’t appropriate sometimes.

But let’s decide to be humane to each other.

There’s no need to stone yourself or others for wearing efficient workout clothes.

There’s no need to stone yourself or others for going to the grocery store after your workout whilst wearing such efficient workout clothes, in your daily life of trying to use time and gas wisely.

There’s no need to stone yourself or others for noticing other people’s butts.

Use your brains and your Yoga pants wisely, people. And have a nice workout.