Ben + Phoenix

These two are some of the smartest and hardworking people I’ve met in my time at Ohio University. Phoenix just graduated with her Bachelors of Science in Psychology, and Ben got his second degree from OU, a Masters of Education. They also worked together with me this year on the Vagina Monologues, and  were so much fun to shoot. The love and support they have for each other has me SHOOK. Congratulations, B + P!

An Open Letter to the Christian Alt-Right

YOU DID IT, ALT-RIGHT! Congratulations.

You assembled your tea party, you preyed on the economic insecurity of America’s rural poor, you revived an old trick – pitting Black and White against one another when the 1% needed to reconcile with the working class. You did it. You found a man who could be considered a Populist – a man who “tells it like it is.” You allowed your “Grand Old Party” representatives to stay silent as his fear mongering and hateful speech grew louder. You stayed silent in the polls – not wanting to admit your fears of people that are shades of brown and Black, who wear hijabs and niqabs, who don’t speak the same first language. Then you elected a man, a man who has no regard for American democracy – let alone human rights. You elected a career businessman to serve We the People. You did all this – you even disregarded the message of the Gospel in your fear.

I don’t hate you. I don’t blame you – you’re human, just like me. It’s easy to get scared, to make mistakes. It’s what we do from birth until death. And accepting Christ is not a signal of the end of our mistakes in this life. Every day we fail, every day we are forgiven. Besides, living like Christ in the day-to-day is an impossible task – yet it is one we are charged to keep striving for each and every day. That’s the beauty of faith in Jesus – he loves and forgives. However, we are charged with getting up each day, no matter our doubts and fears and beliefs we were brought up with, and loving anyway.

America was founded on many things: freedom of speech, of religion, and separation of Church and State, to name a few. I’m not one to get nostalgic about the Founding of our country – I find it misleading, and nationalism is not something I find useful. It is a bit difficult to navigate the world of American politics (separating government and religion), and standing true to one’s Christian values. But saying you love Jesus, and quoting the Beatitudes at bible study or laying in your Eno is easy – recognizing and fighting for the freedoms of your fellow humans is not.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” -James 2:14-17

I’m pretty fond of this excerpt from James. It’s a really good reality check, for me. Am I going to Church? Check. Am I having my quiet time to read my Bible? Check. Am I talking with the Lord regularly? Check! Except God doesn’t care about checking the boxes of Christianity for appearances, or even so we can just feel good about ourselves (don’t believe me? check out the book of Acts!). God cares about actions in faith. The example James uses above is really similar to GOP Congresspeople publicly stating their emphatic remorse of history on Holocaust Remembrance Day, yet staying silent as Donald Trump signed an executive order banning entry to the country for citizens (save permanent U.S. residents) from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen on the same day. This keeps students from returning to school in the U.S., keeps parents from their children, and dwindles the already deplorable number of refugees we allowed into the nation from those places to zero.

“All Lives Matter.” This phrase rang in cacophony when people of color spoke out against the relentless killing of unarmed Black citizens by the police. “Black lives matter!” we cried, fearing for the safety of our fathers, brothers, sons, and cousins. “Black lives matter!” we cried when Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Philando Castille were murdered. Clearly, Black lives do not matter. Black (and Brown) lives have never truly mattered in America, unless the struggle of the oppressed pressured the government to change its legislation. If “all lives matter,” why are the people who yelled this phrase the loudest – meaning the conservative, often Christian right – not enraged by the barring of families in war torn areas from safety? America is the largest democracy in the world – a democracy envisioned from those fleeing oppression – and yet we turn our backs on those oppressed? Not only is this un-Christianlike, it is un-American.

There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world – 23% of Earth’s population. Islam is not scary, or bad. Jihad is not scary or bad. Jihad, in it’s truest translation, means struggle – struggle within oneself against sin, struggle to inform others about their religion – sound familiar? It does not mean violent war in which innocent lives are taken. Jihad is given boundaries in the Quran – and extremist groups such as Al Queda, ISIS, and Boko Haram have diverged from the meaning of Jihad and of Islam itself. And they prey on those who feel shunned by the Western world in times like these, American disdain further catalyzes extremism. These groups are admonished by the overwhelming majority of Muslims across the globe – and yet in America, Islam as a whole is seen as a threat. Attacks against Muslim groups have been on the rise since Donald Trump won the Republican primaries, with the latest attack occurring in Texas mere days ago.

The “alt-right” sees the Middle East – its people, culture, its dominant religion – as a threat. We characterize the 1.6 billion by the actions of few. And yet, most American mass shootings, serial killers and drug crimes are committed by White men – and we do not fear them, or consider these actions “terrorist” even if that is exactly what they are. We see White violence in America as individualized, yet we see immigration as a group threat.

“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” -Leviticus 19:33-34

This is important, too – and I’m not the biggest fan of Leviticus. We are charged with loving those who come to our lands, those who become our neighbors. God’s followers have long gone through phases of persecution, rejection, and violence – who are we to cast the same fate on others?

Trump’s attorney general choice, Jefferson Sessions, opposed the Violence Against Women Act – a federal law that established protections for victims of sexual violence and abuse. As attorney general, Sessions would be the main legal advisor for the federal government, counsel Congress, and assist in enforcing laws passed. Think of the women you know: your mother, sister, daughter, niece, friends being victims of sexual abuse in a nation where the legal reprieve and support systems for these crimes are stripped away. I shouldn’t have to make this personal, I shouldn’t have to make you think “What if it happened to me?” – you should just care. That is what we are supposed to do, as Christians – care for, and look out for, and protect one another.

Mike Pence, our freshly minted Vice President, is a violent opponent of LGBTQIA rights, and in one of previous campaigns, conversion therapy was a platform. He quickly met with anti-choice organizations, but has yet to consider the importance of the right to choose. I shouldn’t have to spell out the immorality in manipulation and physical torture imparted on someone due to their sexuality, or the injustice that an adult woman’s bodily autonomy is less important that the fetus inside her. Clearly, LGBTQIA and reproductive rights issues are a touchy point for many Christians (though I consider myself an ally and am unabashedly pro-choice – all while being Christian). Notwithstanding, to that disdain for those issues, I give you another gem of a verse from James:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  -James 2:8-10

Your sins are equal to the sins of every other person – and in no way should someone else’s sins cause you to wish them harm, instability, or fewer freedoms. We are guilty of breaking all of God’s charges to us by not loving one another. That means it is possible to be both a good Christian, and a good American (shocking). That means not questioning the women in your life when they say they are marching for equal rights, that means not saying “I understand both sides” when we ban scores of people in need from our country, that means not picking your political party over your neighbor when the Trump administration targets people of color, and the LGBT+ population, that means opposing construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipeline when it threatens the health and safety of Native Americans, that means demanding that Flint, Michigan receives clean water before we spend billions of dollars on a wall.

White America elected Trump – it is hurtful, it has been harmful. You did it, alt-right. You did it, GOP. That does not make me hate you. That makes me inquire on the true faithfulness much of White America claims in supporting this new administration. That makes me look closer when I look to see if you have come to your senses, if you are standing up for your fellow American, your fellow human, when injustice comes their way. 4 years of Donald Trump in office does not have to mean four years of regression, four years of escalated hate, four years that will be spent in heartache. It can mean four years of demanding human rights be applied to all humans, it can mean four years of being the Good Samaritan, it can be four years of proving that Christ’s love is something that cannot be diminished by state violence, neglect, and disdain.

You did it. But what are you going to do now? Upholding the values of Christianity does not mean you have to change parties, but it involves how you carry yourself in times like these, and how you lift others when they are knocked down. Each of us has a choice, and each of us has been given a charge: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

-till next time! Niara


Growth, comfort, and vision for the New Year

2016 is over, and let’s be honest. It was a really rough year. Heartbreak, loss, sadness, shock. The future scared me, my heart broke, I lost a place I had long called home, we lost so many amazing people, and the antithesis of American democracy became president-elect. But I also saw family and friends get married, traveled more than I ever have in a year, felt confident in my career goals, saw one of my favorite bands live for the first time, and explored new national parks and forests with people I love deeply. It was the year, as Kylie Jenner so eloquently prophesied, of “realizing things.” One of the most important things I discovered for my own personal development is this: Growth and comfort are often mutually exclusive.

In the year that so frequently attempted to pull me down (and succeeded a few times!), I grew a surprising amount. This growing was often accompanied by a sense of loss. I felt like the things and people I’d always counted on being constant were vanishing into thin air, and the longer I groped in the open space for these things (and people, and places) to come back into my life, the more heartache I felt. In my rock bottom moments of dejection, self-pity and deprecation, and confusion, I was (and frequently still) allowed myself to turn a blind eye to all the things I gained from these losses in the process. In heartbreak, I’d learned the value of putting my needs first, and trusting my gut. In the loss of a house, I was reminded incessantly that home isn’t a plotted location, but where you can be best understood and loved by another soul (which means home is a couch in a friend’s apartment, the back seat of a car, a dance floor, or a hike in the woods). In the disappointed shock in the wake our our nation’s election, I became reassured in my future career in law.

So, as I’m learning (sometimes painfully), each day, if I’m willing to shirk comfort when it attempts to keep me focused on short-term realities, I can discover a lot more purpose for myself. To me, purpose comes from vision. Vision comes from not narrow- mindedness, but the intentional breakaway from all the things that  detract from our focus on what drives us. I sat in my church’s New Year’s Day sermon, pondering the question our pastor had just asked us, “What do you want this year?” What do I desire, what will be my purpose? And I’m still chewing on that. There are a million things I want: adventure, opportunity, contentment, creativity – the list goes on forever, that’s just who I am. But I think he was asking something a little bit deeper, and I think he meant this: what do I need this year, to keep hold of vision for myself and the world I live in? I think that answer is simple, and it’s love. And not judgmental, selective, exclusive love. I’m talking about the kind of  love that given immediately, wholly, and with reckless abandon. Love for myself (how I treat my body, and nourish my spirit), love for my friends (how I can work to serve and care for them better), and love for my not-so-friendly-humans (how I can educate in the least judgmental way about issues that impact the world’s most marginalized).

That kind of love is hard to come by, and even harder to hold oneself accountable to uphold. I’m not even making that a resolution, because I know I will fail miserably on a daily basis. However,  in filling myself with love and reminding myself after each daily failure that love promotes growth, I think I will better recognize my purpose. And if that is not in the cards for me this year, the worst case scenario is that I taught myself to love better. This means a million things: it means loving my sense of adventure and saving up accordingly, it means loving when you don’t always feel loved back, it means loving my future enough to push through the trials of thesis writing and LSAT prep. I hope you, in your New Year reader, are filled up with and surrounded by love – and most of all, I hope that love inspires you to grow. It will not be comfortable, but I can feel it deeply that the discomfort will be well worth it.

let’s overcome writer’s block

If you didn’t know this about me, I’m a writer. Not just blogging, but fiction and some poetry as well. Growing up, I had a lot more time on my hands, and saw creative writing as my only career path. Of course, we grow up – life gets busy, passions expand, and there seems to be a lot less time for the outlet and skill I’ve always admired most about myself: my ability to evoke emotion in words.

Since I began college three years ago, my writing has shifted from my creative imagination in prose to a utilitarian mind catered to writing essays on politics and history. I’m trying to be truer to myself this semester – that includes setting goals to myself to read “for fun,” and also pushing myself to write – even if I’m tired or think I can’t put pen to paper.

Writer’s block is the hardest thing I’ve encountered in trying to make the switch back from the left to right side of the brain in writing. Often times, it feels defeating – like I’ve just lost a knack for narration, or that all my ideas are silly. The worst thought that pops into my mind is this: maybe I’ve just ignored writing too long. But I’m realizing you don’t just “lose” talent, or something you were disciplined in or passionate about. The key is to simply reinvest yourself. While my dreams of being a best-selling author working for Random House publishing at the age of 25 seems a little more distant than I once believed, I can’t stop believing that I’ll be an author someday, when the time is right. It’s really hard to overcome the overwhelmingly defeating thoughts, or simply a blank canvas mind, but I’ve come up with (and am still working on) a constructive list of exercises that have helped to overcome writer’s block (usually!):

1. Use what you know. Are you learning about a particular moment in history, or a historical thinker/activist/leader? Think about what they went through, think about the social climate during their time period, and write a short personal narrative based on it

2. Binge write first, edit down the bad stuff laterThis tip is a classic – and for good reason. Sometimes, after a weird dream, or negative interaction, I push out all the words, feelings, and thoughts that I can. More often than not, 90% of it is absolute crap, but there are hidden phrases or ideas that aren’t crap – and just may be a jumping off point for further writing.

3. If you’re hurting, write at what is causing you pain. TMI, but my heart has been through a lot of brokenness this semester. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, let alone set aside time to write about things that won’t fix my problems. And projecting may be bad to do in relationships, but it can be a huge outlet in developing a tone, plot, or character in writing. Vent, say what you wanted to say, what you couldn’t say, what you feel entitled to say. Sometimes, this exercise makes me feel empty afterwards, but it’s like the numb you feel after a good cry: an equilibrium is reached.

4. Read the last chapter of a favorite work. I have a bookshelf of the works I just couldn’t bear to part with for the school year, and it’s because they are the most inspiring to me. I can feel Ernest Hemingway’s passion and angst in A Moveable Feast, my heart breaks with Levin’s in Anna Karenina, and I feel recklessly romantic with Oscar in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Reconnect with the things that made you feel inspired, and capable as a writer. Rekindle the relationship you had with your favorite protagonists and supporting characters. Let them break your heart, and sweep you up again. A love for a book is one that never goes away, and the potential one can stir is always there.

I would love to know what my fellow writer’s do when they have writer’s block – this is by no means an exhaustive list, even for myself. I so easily become pessimistic or nonchalant about my writing – but I’m trying to remember more consistently that I love it for a good reason, and the methods above have been so good for me in helping to overcome the obstacles I face when developing my craft.

-till next time! Niara

the importance of community in personal trials

I was really set on doing a post about my September favorites – but I think this is a lot more important than products I’m encouraging you to buy. This is better encouragement! You know, for the gritty, hard times of life. I’m going to start by telling you a little about myself.

I fear change. I used to say that I hated it, but that’s not really the case – I fear change, and it’s a crippling fear. There is so much comfort in having the people in your life, your goals, and your desires categorized and filed and in place. It is so nice to be able to know where your home is, who your people are, and what your “plan” is. But then, luck (or as us religious folk would say, God) comes and shakes things up. We are routine creatures. And life, in its most poetic form, is anything but that.

I haven’t written here since the beginning of the month, because I didn’t know what I thought or felt about so many things in my life. So many changes were happening all at once – on the personal, academic, and social fronts. I felt like a different Niara. Who was this girl? The one numb and pessimistic and broken? I’m a Dean’s list student! I thought. I’m a catch! I told myself – so why was everything simultaneously up in the air and falling apart? And why did I try to to file away and store my emotions instead of looking my problems in the eye, and dealing with the feelings I had about them?

The conclusion I’ve thus drawn, is this: we hold ourselves to a standard we don’t force others to reach. I am so quick to commend someone else for letting themselves feel, and acknowledging their need – their right – to break down. I was afraid to be honest with myself about how confused I felt about things that had always been so constant – and that kept me from sleeping, from writing, from being my whole self and living life the way I knew I wanted to.

Humans, at their core, are not only routine, but social creatures. I’d lost my routine, and in my sadness I allowed myself to be anti-social. But I quickly learned that wasn’t the way to pull myself back together. Here’s something else about me: I’m fiercely independent. If I think I can do it by myself, I usually will. But luck/God has humbled me greatly in this mentality. Because if you want to know what solo-Niara looks like, I can show you my face after some really rough nights. But community and communion-centered Niara looks a lot like a woman who is honest with herself, who allows herself to feel, and recognizes the bravery in perhaps not having it all together.

You, Dear Reader, don’t have to have it all together. Don’t feel bad for needing your friends, your family, your peers. Self-soothing and self-love are invaluable, but so is the knowledge that you weren’t meant to do all the hard parts of life by yourself. We so glorify those who don’t need anyone else – but ask any successful (and truthful) person how they got to where they are now, and thankfulness for other people will flow from their lips effortlessly. It’s scary – I know – trusting people with knowing and hearing about your insecurities is scary. But the ability to be vulnerable is sheer bravery. The ability to be straight up with yourself and say, “I need comfort, I need love,” is nothing to be ashamed of. Because while you may be able to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders in pain and baggage, encouragement and support from your loved ones makes that burden so much lighter. And it’s more fun with them, too.

I’m learning that bravery comes in the form of communicating vulnerability. Strength lies in the ability to say, “I can’t do this all by myself.” Even getting those words out, stating the fact that we are not all-capable and all-powerful in our trials of life, is arduous. Remember what I was saying earlier, about comfort and routine? While they help us lay the foundations of our character – they also allow us to stagnate. Growth often leads to growing pains. Let me explain it like this: teething as infants is some of the worst pain we ever experienced. And we don’t even remember it! But guess what – now we can chew. I feel like that was a silly metaphor – but do you see how something so beneficial (like chewing, or maybe letting things go) is caused by pain (like baby teeth, or maybe moving to a new place or grieving over a relationship), and it’s a pain that in the long run, won’t be remembered – or at least, won’t still hurt. What will be remembered, though, are the gains we made in relationships with the people that selflessly loved us through those growing pains. We’ll remember, too, the advice they gave, or even the physical reassurance they provided without words.

One of the best ways to get to that? Simply asking. I’m flawed, and so are you, and the other 7 billion people on this globe. The people that care for you won’t always know that you’re hurting unless you say: “Hey, I’m hurting. I really need you right now.” I wholly understand the desire to seclude yourself, to not ask for help, to go through it alone. But you don’t have to. You don’t have to fear change, or loss, or whatever it is you fear, alone. Do it with someone by your side. It won’t be easy, but so often people will shine joy into you through your despair and tough seasons of life. And if you don’t have those people, or that person, I would love to be! It’s okay to be strong and brave and kick-ass (I pride myself on those qualities) – but it’s also okay to be the complete opposite of that, too.

-till next time! Niara

PS: my anon box and email are always open for encouragement, friendship, and love! get that info here