Saturday, September 15, 2012

South Beach Teachings

My roommates and I went to see a friend’s band play in a hotel lobby down on South Beach this weekend. I’ve never quite been anywhere like South Beach. It brought on an onslaught of thoughts and feelings for me. As I sat outside with my housemates, waiting for another friend who had the car to take us home, I witnessed a handful of moments that simultaneously turned my stomach and put me into a very specific “Sarah mode”.

Last night, in such a new way, I was witnessing women being approached and exploited because of physical and sexual intentions, with men feeling confident in their position to do so, and with the women in a mindset to accept it. It was a very confusing place for me to be. The emotions that I can associate with last night are of simply of utmost concern and sadness. Last night I was reminded in a new and scary way of something that instantly makes my heart race, and one in which I believe I will be living the rest of my life trying to counter. What a sick and infuriating view of masculinity and femininity we hold onto in our society. What a manipulative power struggle and perception of worth that exists.

It becomes alarming and honestly terrifying when we start to deconstruct and manipulate an understanding of one another into what is “right”, “normal”, “expected”, or “natural”. When a decision is made that women need to be this and men need to be that. That women are frail, needing to be led, are na├»ve or lack wisdom and ability, are approached first and foremost for their physical nature, that they can be seen as lesser, as well as greater in varying circumstances. That men must be defined by strength and power, that they are less loving and compassionate, that they are seen as domineering, that they must lead, that they also can be seen as lesser, as well as greater in varying circumstances. That there can be no overlap, interconnections, or spilling over into allowing people to be people…into allow them the opportunity to live out and bless the world with who they are and what they have to offer, without being limited to how they may have been gendered.

All of these limiting, and many times incorrect, understandings are hurtful and restricting. These understandings of power and worth that exist between men and women have serious, dangerous, harmful flaws. Men and women are not the same…because people are not the same. It isn’t about your gender. It isn’t about your sex. It isn’t about the genitals you were born with. Each person on this earth is capable of buckets more than what fits into what it “acceptable” and “understood” by gendered norms. Each person comes to be themselves in so many ways…by who they are, which of course includes their gender, but who they are and who they are capable of being is not confined to an understanding of gender.

Men and women. People. Individuals who are equally capable of having a capacity for wisdom, compassion, insight, kindness, strength, humor, empathy, power, love, initiative. Individuals who all carry a story. Individuals who are all seeking love and goodness in some way. Individuals who love and are loved.

Last night I sat, dumbstruck and hurting, as I watched the interactions between the women servicing themselves on the street and the men who were seeking to be serviced. What is the perception these people have for themselves? What is their perception of one another? I saw a man screaming at a woman as he was trying to drag her down the street, threats spilling all over, false understandings of power being used to scare and dominate as well as oppress and belittle. As they were walking by, I lost it. This human being speaking to another human being as though they were nothing…as though they were so deserving of the way they were being treated. Without even thinking I began to stand up and go towards them, wanting with all that I was to stop what I was seeing. It was panic mode. It was an automatic response. It was me not being able to stomach this treatment, the sick and terrifying understandings that people can hold for one another.

I don’t know what I was planning to do, really. It didn’t matter to me. It just couldn’t be left there as if it were nothing…or worse, as if it were normal or acceptable. As I shot up out of my seat to walk towards them, my roommate grabbed my arm and didn’t let go. She firmly said over and over to sit down, that it was dangerous, that the police were walking over at that moment to deal with it, that I couldn’t do anything about it. What a terrifying realization. I couldn’t do anything about it? But what can be done about it? Because it is not okay. Because it cannot be seen as normal. This isn’t something that can be defined or understood simply. It is big. It is the perception we hold for one another. It is the way we assume what we are each capable of, unfortunately and infuriatingly, simply on the recognition of something such as gender, which easily becomes definitive.

This issue, along with so many others, is big. They’re big & they cause us to feel as though we can’t do a darn thing. But we can try, can we not? We can make changes in our lives that affect our thoughts, interactions, perceptions of those around us. We can recognize the inherent worth that we all hold, especially, for the love of goodness, regardless of our gender. To believe in that for ourselves and for others. We can be responsible for ourselves to vow to try to change these things that exploit, demean, oppress, or lessen people, in whatever way we are able. There is worth in that. I am going to keep trying…and I want us to try together. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Good Feelings

Some good things to share in bullet form:

-The other week I mentioned that I was going to venture out, brush up on some Spanish, and go meet some of my neighbors. It went so well! People are so patient and understanding with my Spanish and it was such a great feeling to be so accepted when I was putting myself out there, unsure of how it was going to go. We have a lovely older couple that lives behind out house named Teresita and Juan who invited me into their house and we chatted for a good while. Teresita speaks no English & Juan speaks only a little, so he was able to help me with some words when I wasn't sure if I was remembering them correctly. I just loved it. I really did. I am so eager to continue building my friendships with them and hopefully being able to get better through practice at my Spanish so we can speak more deeply.

-Small groups at Wesley are starting this week & I am so thrilled for this to begin. Part of what I am so excited about with my position through US-2 & through Wesley is the act of simply helping to bring about a greater awareness of social justice issues & striving to learn alongside the students as we become more knowledgeable about them together. This excitement also stems from the response we got last year at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation from the start of 'Service Through Awareness'. There was a wonderful support of that effort, recognizing that these things are important to discuss and that it is important to try and figure out our place in how to respond, particularly as people seeking out God. I will never forget having a freshman coming up to me last year and saying, "What you are trying to do through 'Service Through Awareness' is one of the main reasons I want to be a part of this campus ministry. So many churches and people seeking after God don't see the importance of caring about injustice and how it affects people's lives, but I just don't understand how that is possible. We need to care about these things." Gah. It just keeps me excited & continues to remind me that it is good.

-My car is back, fixed, & taking some time to calm down and realize we're not going to let it be stolen any time soon. I mean, it is flattered really that it is among the other Honda Accords that are number 1 on the 'car stealing Christmas wish list' here in Miami. However, it likes just being safe in the garage for now. The celebrity life really just is too much for this car. It has also been given a new gift...Chad sent a club in the mail last week. Lookin' right, Honda. Lookin' right. 

-FIU's Wesley puts on this incredibly brilliant event called The Exchange. It happens every other week and international students (and anyone else, really!) are invited to come enjoy lunch and get to know other students. IT IS AWESOME! I went on Thursday and had the chance to sit and talk with a number students from all over the world. I can't wait for more of these. I just wanted to sit and listen for hours!

-That same day I was walking on campus & had someone call out my name to stop me and say hi. I was called by name! On a campus of 60,000 students! By someone I had only met once! You have to try and sympathize with this excitement because this has not happened yet in Miami. FIU is huge. I am still new and feel like my head is in the clouds sometimes. And I got to say hello to a new friend :) This was a concrete feeling of belonging...a reminder that I am slowly making my place here and building relationships with others outside of my co-workers, housemates, and Wesley leadership. What a fantastic feeling it was.

-I excitedly posted on Facebook about Critical Mass, but goodness, what fun! I went along with some friends, borrowed a bike, and proceeded to experience downtown Miami alongside about twenty five hundred other people biking through the streets. We had families and children coming outside to wave and holler hellos at us, cars honking and smiling, etc. I just pedaled along, smiling and taking it all in. What a fun event. I can't wait to be a part of more. If you live in a big city, you need to check it out! If you don't, (or even if you do!) come to Miami and we'll go together :)

-The beach happened this weekend! Wee! First experience at the beach in Miami was quite pleasant. It is so cool that I live so close. I can't wait to continue going back & hopefully trying some new things...snorkeling? Water sports? Surfing? That thing where you stand up on a board and paddle? PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING?! I just want to try it all.

-Two of my great friends, Garrett & Caitlin, are getting married this weekend & I am just jumping around with excitement to celebrate with them as we all come together to celebrate this beautiful marriage that is about to begin. I am thrown on the ground sometimes just thinking about what great friendships are present in my life--about what incredibly passionate, caring, beautiful people I can call friends, who are constantly showing me love and support and care. I am just so excited for this. We get to celebrate two of our wonderful friends and the beautiful, good, inspirational lives I know they are going to live together!

It is just good stuff. I just love good stuff.