Storytelling Against Mutual Genocide
Stories aren’t just stories. Because we humans tend to act out the ones we know best, we need to hear, understand, and tell a variety of stories that are adequately nuanced and humanizing. Otherwise, we are doomed to perpetuating cycles of violence. We also need shared stories to help hold us together and to provide some common points of reference. On numerous occasions, I’ve witnessed groups of people born before 1990 find sudden solidarity around a mutual commitment to having “more cowbell.”
Several weeks back, I spent the day at Costco. My laptop brimmed with grading and drafts in need of revision, so I camped out in the café while I waited for my tires. By lunchtime, the other tables had filled, so when an older gentleman asked if he could join me, I gladly obliged. I asked him about the aircraft carrier on his hat and he swelled with pride as he spoke of cramped quarters, duty, honor, Custer’s Last Stand (family vacation), and Vietnam (his war). The landscapes of the western U.S. and the vast expanse of the Pacific spread before us.
Then we came to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, suspended over the battleship-turned-tomb in Pearl Harbor. My conversation partner leaned in and whispered, “I saw a group of Orientals chattering away there and I wanted to ask, ‘Does anyone here have a gun?’” (Subtext: he would have gladly used one on them.) He added, “They’re buying up all the land in Hawaii, you know.” At a loss for words, I sat back and wondered what I could possibly say to redeem the conversation and my neighbor. I wonder still.
Why would someone expand “the enemy” of his own war to include civilians from an entire continent? Surely part of the answer lies in the kinds of stories we tell. It has long been standard fare in wartime (viz. pre-war, preemptively aggressive) rhetoric for governments to weaponize the fear of their own populace against the civilian populations of enemy states, not merely their governments, as a tool for justifying and soliciting support for violence.
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One Step Away from Authentic Representation of Mental Illness?
A colleague asked what I thought of the representation of mental illness on Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story (2023). Some people take casual questions casually. Six hours of Netflix, two hours watching interviews, and [however long it took me to write this blog post] later, I can state with utmost certitude: I am not one of those people.
Full confession: period melodrama is not usually my thing. I have seen zero Bridgerton (2020-present), of which Queen Charlotte is the prequel/sequel spin-off. To boot, this is my first venture into in Shondaland. And I am only one person. My own experiences of mental illness and of the mental healthcare system are not universal. I’m a part-time historian, but don’t give two flying flips if writers take liberties with the past when they write fiction. (Black German nobility in the 1700s? Natürlich!) Within those admitted limitations(?), my viewing of Queen Charlotte has left me feeling generally impressed and inspired, but with a profound sense of just how much work remains to be done for authentic and inclusive representation of mental illness.
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Scrounging for Hope
When shadows fall heavy upon the land, I look for signs of hope. Lately, the shadows have weighed so heavy that I’ve been tempted to stop looking. Still, on unhurried days I walk our dog down along the river. It feeds straight to the Bay. I try to forget that it could flood our neighborhood, maybe for good someday if the sea level rises enough. The floodwall wears predictable layers of spray paint script. Much of it inscrutable, though one can decode the predictable bevy of profanities, as specific as they are explicit. But a few weeks back, I saw something new: “you are loved,” “keep going,” and “I am scared I don’t know what to do but I know I will survive and be glad that I did.”
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6 Toxic Elements in Contemporary Storytelling
A many-branching poison spreads through the land, touching many
news outlets, schools, houses of worship, and families. A new presidential
administration represents hope to much of America in the form of concrete,
inclusive policies. Because of this, some might be tempted to forget the
lessons of the recent past, along with the toxins that lingers, still spurring people
to fear, to hate, to trust the untrustworthy, and to doubt the trustworthy.
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Personal Correspondence in Christianity
Christians have always read each other’s mail. Many have written profound letters with every intention of a broader audience reading them. Now that tradition may be at risk, although a few simple steps provide plausible solutions.
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Reading Advice for Extroverts
Have you ever wanted to read someone’s mind? That is the power of books. They invite us into the minds of others, to see the world through their eyes. The bookish among us know this. This essay is not for them. I have a friend who is a well-educated and thoughtful people person. He recently admitted to me that he has little desire to read—but he wants to want to read. This essay is for him and for those like him.
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Hootsuite for Academic Bloggers
If you blog and you are an academic, like I do, you probably go through periods of feast and famine in terms of your time for producing your online writing. If only there were a way for you to store up a wealth of writing and automate its dispersal online!
That is the precise thing that Hootsuite is designed to do. The social media manager allows you to schedule tweets, facebook posts, and just about anything else you might need. When you link your Hootsuite account to your Twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media accounts, Hootsuite can coordinate and schedule all of your posts on those accounts.
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The Shaping of Three Generations of Students’ Expectations Through Fiction
Every fall semester since I began teaching college full-time, I have been struck by how freshmen’s expectations have the potential to set them up for success or failure. In particular, I have seen how students’ understanding of what college can and should be has been defined by the fictional campuses they have encountered in film and television. We children of the 1980s have different expectations than Millenials. Whatever generation comes after them will be equally defined by the presence or absence of engaging fictional places of learning.
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An Uncritical Appraisal of Your Heroes Is Unfair to Them, to You, and to God
It always seems like such a good idea at the time. You have a hero. Maybe it is someone who you know personally. Maybe it is someone whom you have only observed from afar. Hero worship is a natural human inclination. Everyone does it. There is a certain kind of praise that moves beyond healthy celebration of another’s achievements to self-defeating obliviousness.
The following is not a critique of hagiography as a genre of writing per se. If anything, it is a critique of my original manuscript about Mother Basilea Schlink. It was rejected for publication for being “too hagiographical” and “not critical enough.” During the revision process, I agreed, begrudgingly at first but ultimately definitively. Non-critical spiritual biography (which is what I had written) is not good scholarship.
In the words of medievalist and historical theologian Jim Ginther, “hagiography is a literary category, a form of narrative theology, and a heuristic device.” Good hagiography, good recounting of the lives of the saints should serve those functions. However, to the extent that discussions of heroes of the faith become unidimensional — that dimension being praise and praise only — there are distinct pitfalls.
The problem is two-fold. First, only God deserves our worship. When we praise the saints, what we should be doing is praising God’s work in their lives. I accept this as self-evident in the context of monotheistic theological discourse. (If anyone would care to take me take me to task on that count, feel free to do so in the comments below.) To be fair, when most people celebrate their heroes, including their heroes of the faith, they aren’t really praising those people in the same way that they would be praising God, so this aspect of the problem may be less of an issue.
Second, the real problem is that hero worship is a kind of blindness. By elevating another human, we blind ourselves to our own spiritual potential. By remaining oblivious to the weaknesses of the so-called greatest among us, we fail to see our own weaknesses as opportunities for God’s grace. We forget that Pope Francis, Mother Theresa, and whoever you look up to are people with ordinary struggles, just like the rest of us. The writings of the saints about themselves bear this out. I’m especially thinking of the Theresas here (of Avila and of Lisieux). Their sins loomed large in their exaltation of God.
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Cultivating Motivation for Doctoral Students, Small Business Owners, and Other Self-Starters
Few things can be as liberating and terrifying as working for yourself. It is self-evident that this is what small business owners and freelancers working from home do. Less obvious is the fact that psychologically this is what Ph.D. students and most academics must do, almost regardless of what field.
When you work for yourself, you are your own greatest ally and worst enemy. Here I hope to outline some practical recommendations for cultivating the desire to listen to the better angels of your nature.
Those of us in charge of our own schedules all struggle at times with the twin and seemingly opposite dangers of laziness and burnout, of trying to do too little and of trying to do too much. Much laziness is the paralysis of perfectionism or burnout in disguise. Many talented and visionary individuals have faltered because they struggled to stay motivated to get the nitty gritty of the work done.
There are many solutions. I do not assume that these are one-size-fits-all. I present the following steps as things that have worked for me. These include strategies for tackling the Big Picture and tactics for coping with the day-to-day, honed during the process of writing my dissertation and subsequently editing it for publication.
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