How to stand tall in the noise of these days

I am reluctant to speak into the din of these days.

An observation: we have reached a point where the two major sides in our debates are both driven by fear. Our president was elected for his projections of strength: for promising to protect us from bad hombre immigrants, from the globalized market, from terrorists, from the pace of social change. And now his policies have stricken terror into the hearts of his opponents—worried for themselves, for minority friends, worried about international relations or about creeping authoritarianism.

Though the cacophony appears to address many issues, in the end we are mostly responding to threats. We all perceive our particular threats to be very real, while dismissing others’ fears and blazing with disbelieving outrage when they dismiss ours. In our anger we cannot see how lonely this has made us. We feel the loneliness, but not consciously; the ache only fuels our outrage.

The Ph.D. in political science whom I keep on retainer who is my dear friend tells me that the biggest protests work, even when they’re not supposed to, even when no one expects it. So I will go to the protests. But I won’t be outraged; it’s not in my nature. With Paul I will proclaim that we all have gifts differing and I will thank God for those who do outrage well and righteously. I’ll be the one giving out water bottles, or crying. You’re probably not supposed to cry at a protest, but I’m mostly sure that’s what I’ll do.

What is in my nature is to passionately declare the extreme urgency of everyone sitting down and thinking some more. This is an unglamorous and unpopular vocation. Thinking sells best when paired with a vice—traditionally pipe tobacco or whiskey. Outrage is brighter, the work of a moment, and pairs well with that comfort food, superiority.

Still, even the most active of activists is already acknowledging that our task won’t be over for a long time, and we’re going to need something that burns a bit slower. I hasten to add that, while we must equip ourselves for a long-haul future, we have a yet lengthier past with which we must also deal. This crisis did not develop overnight, as if caused by some particular genius of Trump’s for villainy. This is the overflow of ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years. If we accomplish political goals without any mention of these things, they will only fester. The colonization of rural places, for instance: extracting resources from a place while systematizing contempt for its people. The abandonment of national politics to lobbyists and of local politics to the dogs. The abandonment of our minds to our screens. The utter lack of restraint on our consumerist desires, so that each side accuses the other of entitlement with great accuracy and total hypocrisy. And an extreme failure, on all sides, to know the oppressed, to sit with them in their pain, to share bread with them.

These things, of course, cost more than five minutes and 1000 words. These things rarely go viral.

But perhaps, I concede, the past is a discussion for another time. Perhaps what is before us, just today, is to excavate and banish our fear. If you are a Christian, you have no excuse for it; if you are not, let me assure you fear remains a hindrance to you. It is not naive to resist fear. You may be aware of a danger without giving that thing power over you. To the contrary, once fear is acknowledged and set aside, you are more agile, more perceptive, less prone to mistakes. Once fear is set aside, it clears the way for that most searing weapon: love.

I read an article several days ago about what to do, the basic actions that would be essential to resisting the extremism we’re witnessing. I found it wise and compelling in its simplicity—things like interacting with your representatives; seeking out reliable news sources; taking care of yourself (in the long term, going to bed on time and eating your vegetables); learning about privilege and oppression; getting to know the people in your community who stand to lose the most. And as the list went on, I realized that these were all things a truly excellent citizen would be doing regardless of who was in power. It was comforting and intimidating, I suppose, to realize that all anyone needs to do to stand up against a bullying President is become a truly excellent citizen.

What was, for me, conspicuously absent from the list was becoming aware of any new development within ten minutes of its occurrence; scrolling through Twitter with increasing indignation and despair; firing one-liners or articles at people on Facebook who would then be compelled to recognize the error of their ways. As the days have gone by, I’ve felt more and more antipathy towards the hot takes and the outrage machines and even the copied-and-pasted Bible verses. So much blame for our situation goes, in my mind, to our penchant for preferring the viral to the true; to our self-righteous armchair activism; to our willing deliverance of our attention to the antics of national figures, at the expense of understanding the goings-on in our own cities and states.

Do you want to drive out fear? It doesn’t happen when you get a good grasp of the situation from twitter or even from the news. It happens with love. Have the courage to love yourself without the safety blanket of self-righteousness. Have the courage to love someone else without assuming you already know who they are. Walk around your neighborhood and talk to the people you meet. Plan an uncomfortable dinner party: invite someone different from you. (Have lots of comfort food.) Call your representatives on behalf of someone else even though it inconveniences or terrifies you. Read about an issue you don’t want to face. Take up that habit you know you’re supposed to do—riding your bike places, donating to charity, praying for your enemies.

Pray. Pray more than you tweet. Pray before your political calls. Pray for the country. Pray for refugees. Pray before you eat. Pray before you buy. Pray with other people.

Read books. Gather with friends. Don’t think about doing good deeds; do them. Be aggressively present to your own life, your place and time.

Be still. The Lord will fight for you. The noise will take care of itself.


future employers STAY OUT

*psst* this is my name if you met me at church and can't remember and we've known each other too long for you to ask again because it's awkward.

*psst* this is my name if you met me at church and can’t remember and we’ve known each other too long for you to ask again because that would be awkward.

In a moment that managed to combine great thoughtlessness with great prescience, my parents gave me a name that sounds like several other names and then they spelled it like they wished we were Welsh. They have apologized for the ensuing confusion.

But really they shouldn’t have. Sure, I have a hard time introducing myself to old people; but my parents had me a little too early to recognize the genius in what they were doing, which was in fact making me extraordinarily Google-able. Once people figure out who I am, that is.

If you Google me, you will quickly find several pages that are actually directly related to me, along with other mentions of less-important Lyndsey Graves-es. It helps that I’m a fairly active participant in the Internet (in fits and bursts, at least).

Having, like most twentysomethings, little else to manage and interface with and delete emails from, I indulged in one such fit; yesterday I joined tumblr (find me so I can follow you!), and today I joined LinkedIn. I only wanted to follow people and save hipstery photographs (tumblr) and use other people for my own professional advancement (LinkedIn).

But that LinkedIn account sent me into a minor identity crisis here at my desk on Tuesday morning. I don’t know how to author one of those! I know how to write a résume – describe my mostly-adequate experience and accomplishments with aggresively grandiose jargon, prioritize experience most relevant to job applied for, and keep it out of the hands of people who actually know me. I also know how to write a blog post – be honest, and always include some run-on sentences (those are especially honest). And my Facebook profile is a hodgepodge of shared social justice articles and all the one-liners I’m going to put in my mockumentary someday.

Inviting my friends and teachers into my fledgling professional life, though – that’s something I’ve hesitated to do, and writing my profile I remembered why. THEY DON’T BELONG THERE, that’s why. Or, to be more accurate, I’d really just rather not have to combine the two. Where my LinkedIn profile says “Young Adult Ministry,” my friends have all heard me say “young adult ministry… whatever that means *snort*”.

The only reason I got an account is because I’m so Google-able. The care and keeping of one’s work life, online-writing-hobby life, and real-world-relationships separately is a quaint but unhelpful notion anymore. A savvy employer will find  me. I won’t get to print my information onto expensive heavy paper and hand in that version of myself. They will see all my snark, earnestness, controversial opinions, and personal celebrations, in descending order by popularity measured in page hits; and that will be the same picture whether they’re at a university, an online writing venue, or whatever coffee shop employs Ph.D.s in theology.

Every little piece of ourselves that we tether onto a corner of the internet becomes a dot that others can connect to form a picture of us – in most cases, an indelible dot. Another quaint but fairy-tale-ish notion from the past? Moving across the country and “starting over”. The activity from your past is recorded; your current whereabouts are in the searchable White Pages; and your online identity is a cloud made of thousands of tiny water droplets – every tweet, every like, every friend and “connection”.

Which makes it all the more difficult, even if you’re doing your best to be intentional about creating that identity. My coworkers are disconcerted that I wore jeans and only jeans in the winter, but have started dressing up in the summer. They need me to stay in one place once they’ve got me figured out. But it’s difficult, impossible even, to project a consistent image across multiple platforms, so they’re going to have to live with the uncertainty of knowing a dynamo like me.

In the end, though, I think I’m hopeful. I may never be able to convince a hiring manager that I’m a straitlaced, whitebread, grown-up individual with absolutely no slightly Communist ideals. But then again maybe all that overblown résume language, when it served to identify me, was actually as bad for my soul as it felt.

Maybe I am glad that where my LinkedIn account says “lead volunteer, Havenplace”, my friends are standing by, perhaps remembering the tears I cried over those kids and the ways I was changed by those kids. Maybe some of my connections will be those kids.

Maybe it is good that my name forces me to stand out a little, and I can choose to rise to that serendipitous, unlooked-for occasion. Maybe, even if I discover that everything I ever posted in my twenties was a gigantic appalling mistake, I’ll not forget that humility is the rarest and most endearing quality an academic – or a human – can ever possess.

Maybe the internet, this weirdly ephemeral medium that once flooded the world with concerns about anonymity, will finally make us better people by exposing us so.

May my own Facebook photos reveal integrity – a life actually lived the way my blog claims I hope for.

And may those two blog posts I tried to hide please dear goodness really stay that way.

blueberry smoothies, your personal theology, and other inconsequential items

“Blueberry smoothies are the most cheerful color.”

I actually considered tweeting that. Not the idea-forms, is-immediately-rejected kind of “considered”. If it hadn’t required me to leave the kitchen, I might have actually tweeted it. [This is one of many reasons I will not own a smartphone until a museum offers me $50,000 for my flip phone.]

Luckily, I realized that this would be an awful tweet because of the reason: NO ONE CARES. But before the alarmists and people-who-think-they’re-too-good-for-the-future take me as one more example of the hyper-narcissistic twentysomething blogger, I’d like to give my own reasons for my almost-tweet. I didn’t think anyone was waiting to hear what I think the most cheerful color is. And I wasn’t trying to draw attention to myself. I was honestly struck by the delicate lavender speckled with earthy indigo, and I wanted to share it with someone. If another person had been in the kitchen with me, I would have remarked upon it and probably never thought of tweeting about it. But there wasn’t, and for a moment I thought that tweeting my smoothie would actually contribute to some kind of conversation.

This carpet cleaner worked REALLY WELL, but using it gave me a headache!

It’s easy to see how that is not the case with the smoothie tweet. Even if I’d had a picture, I couldn’t really share the accidental-everyday beauty of that moment; but without one, it is a boring and stupid thing to make others read. But like I said, I’m not worried about narcissism. I’m worried that the narcissistic and the well-intentioned can end up in the same social media boat, paddling around in a sea of no one cares.

I’ve been a student of the blogosphere this summer. I’ve read a ton of blogs, followed every post of many, and kept up with my twitter feed. I’ve written here,  submitted guest posts, and came this close to making a tumblr. And I’ve noticed a great many people suffering from blueberry smoothie syndrome [myself included, obviously] – people who think they’re making vital contributions to an important conversation, when really they’re not. I’ve learned to be wary of those who say that “blogging is their calling” – many of these people seem to be “called” to put out some pretty average work. And I’ve seen that a post “going viral” is a bit of a crapshoot, while most any not-ugly, not-bad blog can gain a good number of followers with several months of very hard work.

I know I sound like a big rude downer, so let me clarify – I don’t think my own blog is better than average, and I really respect people who put in the work to gain an audience. But I do think the blogosphere in general, and individuals in particular, need to understand: your blog won’t change the world. AT LEAST [I’m shouting over an imaginary clamor of objections] not more than anything else you do. Yes, we all hope that our story will resonate with just one person, or bring a thoughtful moment or a smile to someone’s day. But here’s the real-life facts: probably 80% of the people who read blogs are themselves bloggers. And all people who read blogs tend to follow the sites that agree with their opinions and interests. The blogosphere is really a bunch of tiny baby spheres of ultra-specialized groups. Even if you have a large following, you are not talking to “the world”. You are talking to other organic farmers who have internationally-adopted twins, or something. Even if you have a very large following, you are talking to people with internet access and free time.

Or maybe you’re not that interested in reaching the world; nearly every dedicated blogger you come across is going to say they just want to “start a conversation” or “build a community”. But only the blogs with the very most followers/commenters really come close to doing that on a consistent basis. This is purely a numbers thing; if you’re really really lucky, every tenth person to read your post will comment. So if you’re blogging to “start a conversation”, are you not actually talking to the 90%?

Of course you are. That’s why the social media people don’t talk about how to build a “conversation,” they talk about building a “platform”. You’re speaking from a platform.

Again – I’m not saying any of this is bad. It’s bad when people forget that everyone doesn’t read blogs. That they can state their opinion in elegant prose with a touching story, and not change anyone’s mind because their audience already agrees. That 500 people have already said what they’re saying. That you can’t mix up its and it’s.  [Oops, that is my other blogging peeve].

Here is my point [I’m so bad at getting to these] – I support your blogging/tweeting/tumbling efforts. But. BUT. Don’t imagine that your blog is more important than other things you do with passion and excellence. Don’t talk about it to people who don’t care. Don’t ignore real-life opportunities to write a passionate “manifesto” [seriously, who decided everyone should have a manifesto, thereby cheapening an incredibly cool word?]. Because you’re a whole lot more likely to change someone’s mind on an issue by talking to them one-on-one. And you may be “called to blog” for your own sake, not everyone else’s. And your time and attention is precious to the people you love… not so much to your followers.

As for me, I’ve never claimed to write for more than just to be writing. However, if this post changed your life, let me know so I can tweet about it.

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