Shawn Mendes, Mercy, and Emotional Labor

I keep a shortlist of words that are used only in church: grace, atonement, sanctification, mercy. My conviction is that they won’t make any sense, theologically, to the average Christian until these words find a place in the day-to-day of our secular lives.

Shawn Mendes’ “Mercy” caught my hopeful attention, his soulful repetition of the word becoming almost prayerful. Which would be great, if Mendes was actually having a conversation with God about the girl in question, a la Beyonce on “Sorry“: “I pray to the Lord you reveal what his truth is.” Beyonce (along with Warsan Shire’s poetry) uses the divine, like a close friend, as a dialogue partner to orient her to her next move in her relationship.

Mendes uses distorted-divine language to deify his love and assign her total power over his body, relinquishing his claim to autonomy and responsibility for his own moral compass. We’ve never seen that one before, have we, Hozier?

In about three listens, I moved from hopeful about “Mercy” to skin-crawlingly creeped out. Of course this song comes from the same imagination who sings, “I know I can treat you better than he can/and any girl like you deserves a gentleman.” I think what I deserve is a little less patronizing tone and a little more trust in my own decision-making capacity. The theological importance of mercy comes from its relationship to power. Mercy can only be bestowed by the powerful. Mercy means receiving a moment of breathing room from someone who has the power to crush you entirely. Mercy means benevolence. Continue reading

What’s the Difference between a Safety Pin and a Bonnet?

The safety pins came and went quicker than the ice bucket challenge, and were laughed off the internet stage with vitriol usually reserved for, well… Donald Trump. On Sunday morning, I saw several safety pins at church. On Sunday afternoon, my newsfeed was filled with enthusiastic condemnation of the same.

Most of my queer, trans, nonwhite friends have been vocal and insultingly bitter about safety pins. They’ve also been witty and angry. I know their response was too aggressive for the mainstream moderate (at times, abrasive to me), but I can’t help but admire them. They’re my friends, after all, I feel where their pain comes from. I admire their focused anger, all their anger, how can I fault anyone for their anger at the triumph of sociopathy, racism, et. al, you know the list by now? Let us have our anger, in social networks and in the streets, in safe and democratic and uncomfortable ways. Perhaps the source of their anger, in part, is years of being told to “be less angry” by the same people who voted for Trump. Continue reading

What Changed on Tuesday was my Body

“We have to work harder,” I exhaled, clinging to my friend as I prepared to leave her apartment Tuesday night, the electoral count at 209-238. “Our friends are going to need us.”

“I know,” she said, “I know.”

I have a theological rationalization, a coping strategy, whatever you call it, and at most moments during daylight with friends I can insist we’ll get through four years of Trump with our uteruses in tact. That many people felt this way in 2008, and political reconciliation, and rational optimism. But it’s dishonest to say that’s what occupied my mind. I spent the day home sick (a metaphor of almost Ezekiel proportions), responding and sending a stream of texts to friends in different cities, as if checking their safety after an earthquake or flood. As I moved and tried to move on through Wednesday, I quietly made a list: not policy changes, although there were those, too. The changes my own body would make to compensate for what I know now about the country I live in. The most personal changes. Continue reading

Lady Gaga Might be the Closest We Get to Uniting Rural and Urban America

Among the celebrities with whom I share an irrational sense of intimacy–Russell Wilson, Jonathan Toews, Chance the Rapper, Macklemore (we all have our flaws, okay?)–Lady Gaga comes closest to being a frenemy. She’s like a high school acquaintance who, you find out a decade later, is now dating your high school male BFF (with apologies for the heteronormative analogy). So I was surprised as anyone to find myself fawning over the release of “Joanne” this weekend.

In 2008, my 20-year-old self (always a lyricist at heart) was horrified at Gaga’s single, “Just Dance.” New to the dizziness of alcohol and straight-laced by nature, the thought of losing my phone and keys seemed dire enough to scare me sober from any level of drunkenness. I was astounded by the thought of a woman who could not see straight and still accepted another drink, believing she would get home safe at the end of the night. Continue reading

Cooking Alone

What I like about eggs is making them. A single egg, cracked over a hot skillet, a minute thirty on the first side, a minute on the flip. What I dislike about eggs is eating them. They’re uninspired. Still plain, in spite of my efforts, dressing it with kale, tomatoes, and garlic from my own garden. But simple. And unlike my homey carb-seeking impulse for muffins or zucchini bread for breakfast, I can eat it one setting. I plan my muffin baking around potlucks–or commit to eating four a day in order to finish them. Such suffering is life.

As I approached the one year anniversary of my Simply Seasoned Challenge–to finish the remaining three-quarters of the book’s recipes in three years–I indulged my compulsive perfectionist and counted what percent of the book I’d completed. It should have been roundly 50%. I’ve since deliberately forgotten the exact number, but it was crawling toward 46%. That left me about an extra 14 recipes to fit into the coming year, in addition to this year’s 50 recipes.

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Have you tried to eat a whole recipe of Oven Fries by yourself? I have. (Fail)

Why the failure? Skimming through the unmade summer recipes, I searched for where I’d gone wrong, quickly discovering the obvious: I was single. I’d kept a steady pace through the fall while I dated and dropped off in the spring when my relationship had–telling myself, at the time, that it was because the rhubarb and carrot thinnings came up so slowly (which is equally true). Cooking for and with someone gave me incentive. Cooking alone gave me a strong urge for a second glass of wine. Continue reading

What if the Suburbs aren’t Godforsaken?

A version of this post was first published at Mennonite World Review.

In most circles, theological ones included, the suburbs are spoken of as the illegitimate child of urban and rural life — and with good reason. The suburban ideal emerged in the 1950s and 1960s under the influence of highway construction and white flight. Isolated family units in gated communities became the symbol of the American dream, accomplished. The suburbs promised “security” in the form of distance from one’s (fearsome) neighbor.

Shane Claiborne often says, “Creation began in the garden and ends in a city.” Claiborne has used this metaphor as a call for Christians to be present in urban development and revitalization. A side effect of this image, though, is the implication that God has no room for suburbs. Continue reading

Compassion Fatigue: The Signs, Symptoms, and Incurabilities

Compassion. From the Latin past participle of compati, it means “with, together,” (com) “to suffer” (pati). Compassion fatigue: to suffer with, together. No wonder we developed this phrase–in a hyper-headlined world, it’s difficult not to be fatigued by suffering with, together. Compassion fatigue. Bystander exhaustion. Empathy overextension. Headline sensitivity. Injustice paralysis. There’s many ways to describe the feeling.

Often, when I speak with someone about compassion fatigue, it’s described as a problem. This thing that’s keeping me in bed these days. How can it be fixed? How quickly until it goes away? Should I seek prescriptions or let the virus run its course? Even the language of it, “fatigue,” lends itself to disease-minded thinking.

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Feeling tired yet? Just wait til Day 42.

For several months, the office manager at church asked me about writing an article on what to do when you catch a bad case compassion fatigue. I resisted. Among the balms I carry for the soul, I have no cure for compassion fatigue. I have no urge to write a how-to, self-help manifesto on curing emotional exhaustion.

That’s because I don’t see it as a disease. Compassion fatigue isn’t something to be cured so you can go back to full-force, six-articles-a-day armchair activism. Or a medication to seek so you’ll be kinder in the office (God knows I need it). Or a caffeine jolt to get you back on the streets (read: there are more Keith Scott and Terrence Crutcher protests coming).

Compassion fatigue is something to respond to. It is, after all, a fatigue: a pain-reminder to not drive the reigns of your body and your emotions so hard (because the two are interlinked). But it’s not a disease. You can’t cure compassion fatigue because it’s made up of Feelings with a capital Feel. You can’t cure Feelings. But those Feelings can be a gift, a sign of your aliveness. To a degree, we ought to praise the compassion fatigue: “Amen, I feel. Amen, I am in pain. Amen, the world is so sore right now that I have rented out my bones to give the pain shelter.” It is a gift to feel deeply. It is a sign of good health. Continue reading