A Letter to My Generation to Come

In this, a manifesto of my thoughts and goals for you and to you, will come a thesis of who I am and how I see things; this is scary for me, almost as difficult as the notion of bringing another being into the world, but there’s perhaps no better time to reflect–in the moment where I think I know, but really I’m just about to begin knowing.

To my generation to come, a letter written upon the reversal of what was the decision to try to not bring you into existence, a summation of thoughts that I have about the world which you are about to enter into and some notes about personal preparation for this event.

I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award winning book Between the World and Me, in which the author pens a letter to his teenage son about what it means to be black in the world—you’ll probably recognize his style and blatant copy of the book’s format in this writing. In it he talks a lot about bodies. The black body, he asserts, is under consistent and persistent threat of being taken away, the world has formed in a way to make it thus. And I think of your body being born into the world. It will be born into a mixture of struggles, but also an undeniable privilege. We all wrestle with identities: body shape, size, color, ability, etc… They’re all conflated into this weird way we experience the world, and I cannot deny that being an able-bodied straight white male in this broken world is the apex of privilege. You will benefit a lot from this.

Even so, your mother has struggled a bit with this sense of identity and you will inherit a portion of this. Being bicultural is a unique experience—the ways in which people caused her to de-belong as someone both Indian, Persian, and Swedish tied all sorts of knots in her perception of the world. In addition, while still being of the age where one is immensely shapeable, she left it all to come to the United States, a nation of supposed immigrants. This blood will run through your veins and will make you bicultural, which, depending on how dark your skin is and where we end up living will either be of much importance or of little. I have every intention of drowning you in the pluralism of that identity, but monoculture is aggressive and will preside over us if we’re not careful.

Your identity will nevertheless be shaped, by me, your mother, and the barrage of influences in the world. The world is a good place and you’ll be told of its greatness, with stories of you can do anything swirling throughout your little brain. You’ll also be told of the great evil lurking behind every corner—even within you. As your parents, we’ll guide you along, nudging you left and right, but knowing that you must wrestle with this never ending conflict of inherited good and bad.

If you’re a boy—and it feels important to speak this out before I’ve learned what they’ve discovered your chromosomes to be—you must learn to be good. They’ll mostly throw lessons of toughness at you, expectations to fight, to protect, to lead—and this is fine, there’s nothing wrong with being protective or tough. Just remember that neither your mother nor I care if those qualities are at your forefront, we see no need to conflate masculinity with brutality. We will teach you kindness and confidence and empathy and how to stand up for oneself and how to love others and to pursue justice. These aspects of your character are important to us, the rest is for you to figure out.

If you’re a girl the rest applies just the same, we will teach you all the aspects listed above and let you figure out who you are from there, whether it be tough (like your mother) or fragile (like me). Only I know you will have to work harder to accomplish the same things as a man, it’s the reality of the world you are entering into, one in which the nation of my citizenship has not chosen to elect a female as leader for the 240+ years of its existence. We plan to grant you every opportunity to do whatever you’d like, no matter what that may be, and I will stand there beside you, encouraging you to push through every barrier you ever come up against.

All this being said, I’m nervous for the day we meet. I’m great with long term commitments, that’s no problem, but the love and affection of the day to day grind of being a parent worries me. I’m not the best at being excited, those who’ve given me gifts may have seen the poor acting job I’ve put on. My grandest form of expressing affection is this way-too-long piece that you won’t have the ability or desire to read for like 20 years. Yet here I sit contemplating the decision to move forward with this, knowing that I can never give you everything you’re going to need. I am a mountain of flaws, with the inability to express—nay—feel the way that I’m supposed to, the way that makes one excited instead of bored when videos of babies pop up. They say these things change when you have one of your own, but I’m afraid I’ll be quite bored by you when you first appear (hopefully, if you ever do read this, I will have influenced a sense of humor in you so that you may laugh at this half-joke).

I should mention faith as it is my reflex to do so when one talks about flawed parents, even as I try to figure out faith separate from the cultural context that was presented to me, these reflexes still pop up. Your Heavenly Father is perfect and without flaws, this is the truth they will point you to as you try to understand my failures—and I will teach you this too, as bored as I am of this cliché. The Fatherly relationship of a higher being was never extremely profound to me, but the writers of the Scriptures use it often enough to teach it as a characteristic. Understanding God can be hard, but it will often shift back and forth between easy and tough throughout your life. The portrait of the perfect Father will give you an understanding of a God with intentions of an intimate relationship and Jesus and the Spirit echo this; we’ll pray that this enters into your life as your mother and I have found it to be of the utmost importance.

Never be afraid to ask questions, either to us or to God, as we will never try to trick you, and God has no ego to be bruised. Life is not a game in which we are meant to figure out all the answers, and even if it were, we are right there alongside you trying to discover what’s up and what’s down. We do believe truth exists and will teach you what we know, but never to the sole purpose of wanting you to be just like us.

I’ve found Jesus’ grand statement “love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself” to be a useful sticking point to fall back on. If God is love, then all of this being and doubting and barely getting by is wrapped up in this notion of a force for goodness—this notion of love. With love there must be a sense of the other and this sense of other is elevated—no matter what—to the highest level possible. Within this all kinds of things can occur, but the principle overrides them; we choose that other person despite anything that could have ever occurred. This is how I see God’s interaction with humanity (basically) and our interaction with one another. It is love that is the driving force of daily life, it puts value in each person that exists, and pushes us beyond the ways in which we act in kindness.

I’ve thought of three different “Don’ts” that I believe I shallowly live by. This way of phrasing things goes against my education where I was taught to view the world through the appreciative rather than the negative, the asset-based view is said to be more inspiring and utilizes the human spirit, trusting that within each of us is something already of value. Yet, writing often comes down to what sounds best, so what you get here is more for your aesthetic pleasure, rather than what will actually help you to be a better human–sorry.

Don’t be boring – I’m oft frustrated at the ways we casually slip into monotany and monoculture. The world is a vibrant place, filled with exponentially exciting things and the ever present potential to expand beyond what exists (like why would you create a normal sentence when you can create one with two different uses of alliterations, e.g. this sentence). Every time I think I’ve begun to grasp what is possible, the universe shakes my understanding. Why then must we continue conforming to the world’s most simple patterns? Populism is an inevitable piece of culture, but it doesn’t have to be the path you follow. Be you, but check yourself, your motivations, and what you like. There’s a crowd for everyone, the possibility for personal thesis will always exist, find yours and do your thing.

Don’t be dumb – As stated above, the vastness of the universe is astounding. There are literally theories we rely on to explain how everything works that we know are not true, but we need to put something there, an algebraic X, to build our thought systems around, lest it all collapse. There is a lot to know and knowing it is such a pleasure. Dive deep, get your hands in the thick of it and don’t allow yourself to be swayed. Deciphering things for yourself is exhausting, but how else can we live?
Don’t be mean – A world devoid of empathy will be the death of us all. We’re always teetering on this edge, but despite our evolutionary instincts to survive at all costs, we’ve managed to integrate kindness into our world. It’s quite miraculous when you think about it. I’m not sure there’s any virtue more important than empathy. Love is the outpouring of empathy, the result of seeing the other, recognizing them, and acting in their favor. Love often gets relegated as a few feelings that one feels for those we are evolutionary inclined to enjoy–family, lovers, those similar to ourselves, but when we can experience the life of another in our own brain the potential of the world is grand. This is of course an optimistic outlook, but most world belief systems require the ability to interact with others; the greater the existence of empathy the more likely we are to thrive in this world. Empathy is both at the core of our being and an unnatural piece of who we are–the anti-getting ahead. Live your life like that one dinosaur from The Tree of Life, that’s all I can tell you.

We’ll probably put a lot of pressure on you to live up to some sort of ideals–morally, spiritually, academically, etc… These are to train you in ways that we feel will be beneficial for you. We’ll start off hard, it’ll be rough at times, but one day we’ll loosen the reins, letting you go out your way into this world I’ve described. Just remember there are ideals that are true and good, but when humans try to find ways to force those ideals into something practical and consistent they often get bent out of shape. Just look at the Pharisees in the Bible or any new and exciting movement that grows into something official; they get twisted into competitions of who can claim the moral high ground. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a great virtue, but a corrupt law. It’s the way it goes. But we’ll try to make it fair. We’ll try to lead out of love. Justice and grace can feel like opposites, but they are deeply intertwined. We’ll walk that line for you.

I think I’m most excited to find out who you are. I mean, I know the great sociological debate is how much we will make you who you are, versus how you will naturally end up, but no matter which it is you will end up as your own individual mix of influences. You’re really a great experiment that I can’t wait to observe. As someone who gets really into particular interests, I can’t wait to see what you’re obsessed with. Can I get you to reject Minions, or are they so culturally prevalent that you’ll still love them no matter how many Miyazaki films I force you to watch? But honestly, I cannot think of a thing you could be into that I would not support–of a thing you could do that would tear my love away, I’m excited to see how you play out.

Daughter or son to be, welcome to existence. The future is yours.

Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

I watched more new television this year than any other year. There is just so much of it out there these days, from network shows that surprise, to streaming only originals that get the budget of full on movies. Some of our best creators have moved to TV, because that’s where both the money and acclaim lies, so keeping up with all the latest shows is essential for any pop culture connoisseur. That being said, there are still so many shows that were on last year’s list that didn’t return this year, making this list even more diversified than it would have been. None of Nathan For YouMaster of NoneReview, or Fargo (which were all in my top 10 last year) released a new season this year, which means they will likely come out in 2017, making my year all the more busy.

10. Bajillion Dollar Properties (season 1 and 2)

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The launch of Seeso by NBC this year provided a platform for comedians to do shorter and smaller things with little need to draw in huge audiences. Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, a parody of high end real estate shows, launched with the network and has already come out with two seasons of its ridiculous and improvised satire. Each episode, for the most part, follows a pretty standard routine–each broker has some new client or goal to meet, we are introduced to them (typically played by someone from the UCB/Earwolf crowd) and learn about whatever abhorrent idea they have of what they want in a home. Add in some office hi-jinx and you’ve got the show in a nutshell. It’s not groundbreaking, but if you enjoy funny rhythms and indie comedians then it’s a must watch.

9. The Night Of (Limited Series)

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HBO jumped into the crime story rage this year with The Night Of, a gritty tale about a young Pakistani adult who experiences one awful night and the aftermath of all that happens. Part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, it expertly draws out this tale across six episodes, intensely bringing you into Naz’s life as his experiences slowly change him. I didn’t find the pilot as gripping as some, but I found the conclusion more satisfying than others.

8. The Good Place (Season 1)

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The latest from show runner Michael Schur (Parks and Rec; The Office; Brooklyn 99) takes place in the after-life. Like all of his previous shows, it’s a workplace drama, filled with wacky but sincere characters who work together to get by–only this time it’s all in heaven–or as they call it in the show, “the good place”. It’s a clever show and heartwarming, like Schur is great at doing, but is also highly serialized, featuring very specific rules for the world that has been built. It’s one of those shows that you can only hope they have an idea of where they want it to go (and apparently Schur and co. do), but for now it’s been a great ride.

7. Brain Dead (Season 1)

Wake Up Grassroots: The Nine Virtues Of Participatory Democracy, And How We Can Keep America Great By Encouraging An Informed Electorate

CBS released BrainDead this summer, where it was promptly ignored by both critics and audiences alike. The network, which is the biggest network in the US due to its pervasive knowledge that most of America really just wants to watch Kevin James, cancelled it after this season, and ultimately ignored that it had one of the most unique and strangest shows of the year on its hands. It’s a political satire that tries to explain the partisan state of our union through the premise of bug aliens invading our brains. It stars Marie Elizabeth Winstead (who crushed it this year) and Aaron Tveit (of Broadway fame) as its two impeccably charming and good looking leads who fall in love despite being across the aisle politically and in the middle of an alien invasion. It recaps every episode with a new song from Jonathan Coulton and at one point has a US senator eat someone’s brains. If any of this at all interests you, I recommend watching it, because we need more weird things like this on mainstream television.

6. Crazy Ex Girlfriend (Season 1)

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The comedy auteur is alive and well and the fact that CW gave Rachel Bloom the resources to fund what is a pretty raunchy musical comedy is shocking. It’s about a woman facing a mid-life crisis of sorts, who, upon running into a high school fling decides to upend her successful life in New York to move to West Covina, California. The show turns into a crazy love triangle and while it mocks many of Rebecca’s decisions, is thoroughly feminist and progressive. All of this madness takes place intertwined with big bombastic musical numbers that cover every genre of music. It’s delightful for the comedy and musical theater nerd alike.

5. Veep (Season 5)

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Veep came back in full force this year, creating electoral circumstances that at one point in time (maybe January of 2016) might have seemed crazy. It’s the best straight up comedy on television, satirizing our politics in a way that has never felt more essential than right now at this moment.

4. The Americans (Season 4)

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The Americans continues its run of being the highest stakes drama on television. This year saw Phillip and Elizabeth, two Russian spies living undercover in America, continue to deal with the tensions that come with their job and the very real feelings they’ve developed for the people around them and the place they live. As the stakes rise for the show, each character grapples with the tasks they’ve been given and whether the orders they receive are worth following through. Russia’s interventions in US elections and our leader’s man crush on its autocratic leader should only make this show more interesting and poignant moving forward.

3. Catastrophe (Season 2)

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I put this Amazon original on on a whim this year (accidentally watched the second season before the first) and it became an instant favorite. It’s a shame (and a blessing) that each season is only six episodes, but what results is a raunchy realistic romp about two people forced together by a pregnancy who manage to make it work in brutal, conflict ridden honesty.

2. Lady Dynamite (Season 1)

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I think this is perhaps the best spiritual successor to Arrested Development since the show ended its initial run in 2005 (maybe even more so than the critically mixed fourth season–a season I will admit to enjoying quite a bit). From the same producer as ADLady Dynamite is a fictionalized account of Maria Bamford’s comedy career and time spent in recovery for bipolar disorder. The show is abstract, filled with minute jokes and zany bits as it jumps from time period to time period (each aided by its own color palette). It’s a true pleasure for any comedy nerd, one that is sure to reward those who come back for rewatches, catching every callback and pop culture reference. It’s a weird show, no doubt, but I found it both hilarious and delightful.

  1. Atlanta (Season 1)

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Atlanta was the year’s critical darling, drawing comparisons to everything from Twin Peaks to The Wire, while blending a deadpan comedic tone throughout. It’s Donald Glover’s project, he stars as Earn, a poor 20-something (more like young poor rather than poor poor, though certainly most of the spaces he occupies are not known for their wealth), trying to navigate his life vocationally, while also taking care of his daughter and trying to figure out his relationship with his (ex-?) girlfriend. He becomes the manager of sorts to his cousin, Paper Boi, an up and coming rapper in Atlanta. Despite what may sound like a straightforward premise, the plot is all subtext to whatever Glover and his crew feel like showing on screen. There is little serialization here and each episode takes place entirely in its own context. There are episodes that are all about Paper Boi, there is one that focuses entirely on Van (Earn’s girlfriend) and what is going on in her life, and there are some that parody various things within the rap community (drug deals, the club). It’s a show where anything can happen at any moment and after I finished each episode, I immediately wanted to watch it again.

Shows that just missed the cut: Fresh Off the BoatStranger ThingsGilmore Girls: A Year in the LifeLoveUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The Best Thanksgiving Film

Thanksgiving is the best holiday.

This may be a bit of a non-conformist pick, going against the traditionalist Christmas and the truly edgy Halloween, but its combination of food, football, and chill sentimentality makes for the perfect day.

Christmas may bring about the most overall joy, but with that joy, in addition to the full month of holiday spirit jammed down your throat, comes the pressure of it being the best day of the year and with great expectations often comes great failure.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have any of those expectations placed upon it. Other than travel plans and cooking plans it doesn’t require any preparations at all. It’s the kind of day even the curmudgeonly purveyor of all humbugs Ebenezer Scrooge himself could probably get behind–and if not there’s a football game to go watch before the food is ready.

With Thanksgiving being the holiday that hides in the corner like an introvert while all other holidays loudly express their misconstrued thoughts it doesn’t really have a great piece of pop culture to accompany it. Again, we are drowning in Christmas and Halloween themed movies, Valentine’s Day has the entire concept of love to accompany it, and most other holidays don’t really matter, but that true representative Thanksgiving film doesn’t exist. So, I’ve come up with a pick for you.

To continue the route of non-traditionalism (surprise, surprise) the pick I have for best Thanksgiving film is one that doesn’t take place at Thanksgiving and in fact takes place in Japan, a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday at all.

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My pick is Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2008 film Still Walking. Now if you’ve read this far, congratulations, you’re ahead of most and that still leaves you a 1% chance of watching this film. The barriers to entry are already difficult, a Japanese family drama from 8 years ago is hard for most people to get down with, I get that (it has 100% on RottenTomatoes! Does that help?), to make it worse for you, you’ve got to pay $3 on GooglePlay to be able to watch it in SD, so goodbye to everyone else who was thinking about it. Nonetheless, I will still try to convince you to watch it.

The film centers on a family gathering together for their yearly meeting (see, just like Thanksgiving!). As they prepare to gather, we hear different perspectives from different members of the family, the mom and sister discuss the brother’s new wife, the brother wonders if they can avoid spending the night, and the father ruminates on his purpose as an aging man. All of these little things, expressed and unexpressed, are the focus of the film, as any family gathering it becomes a meditation on history and expectation.

It portrays with grace the times when family gatherings turn into rehashes of all the disappointments each person has faced and the way that these disappointments in the people we love the most can harbor unexpressed bitterness. You often place the highest expectations on the people you love the most, but without grace it’s impossible to maintain a relationship that doesn’t lean toward underlying negativity. Still Walking captures this with subtlety and beauty.

There are other Thanksgiving-like moments as well, featuring many food-centric shots of the family cooking together or finally being forced to come together as they gather around the table (only with sushi rather than turkey). The dual need and pleasure of food forces unity in ways that are achingly beautiful and the film parallels Thanksgiving in this way.

Kore-eda is exploring other things too, particularly death, which has an overarching  presence–the family is gathering to remember the son who died over a decade before–and it wonders about the legacy one leaves behind, both for oneself and for one’s family. It ultimately reflects the regrets one might have of decisions made, things said, and the unwillingness to move past pride and into that core loving relationship that one’s family is supposed to represent.

Every moment, even the arguments and dark sentiments that get expressed, is filled with a tender grace; it’s as if Kore-eda knows it’s impossible to get along all the time, but that there is a beauty in gathering together and that alone is worthy of being thankful for.

 

Why the Brutality of Horror Films is Necessary

Contains spoilers of Alien and The Cabin in the Woods  (literally in the first sentence).

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2011’s The Cabin in the Woods ends with its characters choosing to let loose an ancient god, knowing that by doing so they will be ending the world. The plot of the movie, like any horror film, punishes its characters throughout, putting each through a ringer of terrifying choices and circumstances. In the end, their decision boils down to two opposing spectrums: continue with the state of the world–one that is controlled by outside forces who bend the freewill of their characters, forcing them into the boxes that make up society–or to hit the reset button, effectively ending everything they know. They choose the latter, obviously, and in a bit of nihilistic glory we watch the beast escape from the ground to go and do its damage. It’s a quite depressing ending for a film that so comically undermines horror tropes in tongue and cheek fashion throughout its run time.

Nihilism, on it’s face, is not particularly appealing to most people (as Rust Kohle would say, pessimists are “bad at parties”), but it is a view that is perhaps necessary to have, at least for a season. Halloween embraces this spirit and we celebrate it by watching horror films in which characters are punished, suffer, and die according the rules defined by the film. Most of these end on solemn notes, leaving our characters disparaged, having suffered through our nightmares without solace or hope to turn to in the end.

Traditional audiences seek films that adhere to a declaration of hope. People love to hear that there’s a sense of good in the world, it makes sense—tomorrow becomes easier that way. But the world’s not always like that and we mustn’t pretend it is. There will always be moments of hopelessness.

Even the most heroic characters that come from films like these rarely come away unscathed. As Ripley flies away at the end of Alien, her perspective is agnostic–maybe she’ll make it back to earth–or maybe her survival instincts have lead her to a lonesome death in the middle of space. Her friends and coworkers have all died and she’s barely scraped by, suffering at the hands of forces more powerful than her–both human and not. She has survived, but her survival is all for naught.

As we navigate through life we have come to expect ebbs and flows, we implicitly put hope in a better end–in a future that is greater (whether it be the grass on the other side or an eternal bliss). But in that moment of darkness, that piercing and pervasive hopelessness, it is good to have art that echoes the sentiments of our souls. We need to know that though we’ve tried our best, said the right things and sought the right remedies, life can still be bad.

Halloween and its horror films give us a season to reflect on this, opening our eyes through the almost-surprising way our culture liturgically allows us to reflect on the whole scope of our being. Though it may frighten us, leave us disillusioned, and allow darkness we don’t enjoy, the world it’s mirroring can be far more overwhelming.

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The bar was set at any early age, do your due diligence: read the Bible, pray, follow the commands you find therein.

So I did. I read and I read and I read. I studied further and I learned of God.

I learned that you cannot love both God and money.

I learned to love my neighbor as myself and that my neighbor is actually my enemy.

I learned to turn the other cheek, avoiding violent confrontation and retribution, following the example of the God incarnate who chose to die sacrificially rather than conquering ancient enemies with bloody justice.

I learned of one who blessed the meek and upended laws that kept unjust hierarchy in place; who sympathized with the broken.

These things encapsulated me, guiding me throughout my life.

And I watched as numbers of those who surrounded me, who taught about this faith, did quite the opposite–clinging to worldly power under the guise of caring about God.

They intertwined the worst aspects of political games to that of religious ritual, connecting economic theory and the benefits afforded to them by that theory to the Christian way—which allowed them to become quite comfortable with their situation in life; to the point that they counted it as providence.

I saw discrimination and rejection of those who didn’t fit into their perception of how the world ought to be. I saw people laugh at those who mourned, not taking seriously the aching that this world can cause.

I heard explicit encouragement of violence and experienced the celebration of complex and horrific wars.

I listened as impossible and Pharisaical mandates admonished the young, burying them beneath burdens so that their aptitude for grace disappeared.

And finally I watched as the whole thing burned to the ground under the support of a political power only possible through the most willful of hypocrisies.

I look around and there is little left to see, just the soulless world.

The Cross

The Cross, a short story by Jacob Andrew Wilson

 

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Prologue

It was a normal church gathering: worship, talking, worship, talking, worship. People greeted one another with smiles, they closed their eyes a lot, their spirits were lifted. Yet in that final stretch of worship—as if to emphasize the sermon—amidst sounds of exasperation and exultation, it happened.

The sermon was about repentance that day; grappling with the sin inherent in our hearts. What are we without God? The preacher kept repeating.

What are we without God?

That Sunday a community was left shaken, the scope of that question shattered and stretched into the resulting forms: where is God, or, although illogically worded, why is God?

For the faithful every moment is weighed in relation to the supreme being. At times this can make life quite absurd—oh holy one, what color socks should I wear today? This question is never important but may at any moment be granted the pathos of the eternal.

This makes tragedy at once the simplest and most complex experience to deal with. In a world subservient to a divine being, one is merely a life raft in a raging sea, caught in all the ebbs and flows the divine desires. But why does the divine choose our suffering? And what is our role to play if we are all proverbially without a paddle?

That Sunday when the holiest of Christian symbols crashed down upon Catrina, the 23 year old prodigal daughter, striking a blow that would result in her passing, the effect was far grander than the mourning of friends and family–it sent questions flooding through an entire community. These are the accounts of three members.

 


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Johanna

He gives and He takes away. Johanna had believed that her entire life. She had comforted many with those very words, staying up late nights with those whose wick was about to expire. She had always prided herself as being one who comforts the mourner–it had been her gift.

In this moment, she wondered why no one had told her how this phrase scratched at infested wounds, the words shot at her like one spitting in her face.

Johanna’s relationship with Catrina was strong, she counted herself (and The Lord) among the reasons she had been on the return home. Catrina’s disobedience had been similar to her own, late high school popularity outshone spiritual diligence and college experimentation quickly eclipsed any need for a God.

God had called her back, out of depravity and into His arms. He woke her up by placing her through a torrent of difficulties–an unwanted pregnancy that would become her beloved son, an assault by a stranger, and an overwhelming depression. The church, this church, is where she was lead. The Lord had allowed these things and He had glorified Himself through His body.

All these years later she really had seen herself in Catrina. Johanna was friends with her mother, a praying woman who worried for her daughter daily. Catrina had been to college and come back with that college know-it-all attitude they all dreaded. She hadn’t really heard about Catrina in some time, although her mother had mentioned her in some prayers and there were those Facebook photos that had shown up.

But then Johanna had ran into her one night in a bout of predestined grace just after she had graduated from college. She had a vulnerability about her, one Johanna recognized from her own pre-grace days, like a cocooned caterpillar whose only hope is that breaking free is just around the corner. Again it can only be counted to God’s grace that Catrina was so receptive. Johanna invited her to coffee and she had accepted–the following Tuesday.

That Tuesday Catrina was open with her wounds and Johanna had listened, remembering the state of her heart at that age. She let Catrina speak her mind, but then in one instant, Johanna had felt a tug from the Spirit to challenge her to go to church. Catrina, taken aback, said yes and that very Sunday was there, albeit late and separate from her family.

Three weeks later she had begun attending Johanna’s small group. She was tentative about speaking her mind and some weeks refused to show up at all, but her presence was a welcome one and her arc toward grace was blossoming.

That was just over a year ago and the imminence of clear cut repentance had never been seen.

 

Her redemption story was cut short.

It was all over. “Neither life nor death can separate us from the love of God,” but in this instance that’s exactly what it had done. Death, in fact, had ruined everything. All those moments leading toward the forgiveness required to save her soul were seemingly for naught.

Why would God end the life of one about to be saved? Before, Johanna had seen her entire life as an archetype of the way God moves in the world, creating situations to draw His children toward Him, but what was He making of this? He had literally cut off one of His children from grace!

There was one more creeping question, one nobody wanted to talk about: the question of hell.

What the hell? Really, what the hell? Divine punishment always seemed fair when it was fair, but this was God as tyrant–as Lucy taking away the football as soon as she had regained Charlie Brown’s trust. All this time has God just been messing with us?

Well, Johanna thought, if God wanted to act this way, then God could do it alone.

 


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Trenton

Trenton woke up. His dream had terrified him to the point of waking. He had been swimming in a pool when crocodiles appeared. He swam in fright as their jaws reached for his feet, inches away from shredding him to bits. Then he awoke.

Dreams had always given Trenton insight to his life. When he was young he dreamt of a burning fire encapsulating a forest–this was weeks before his father left in a violent drunken rage; he still had scars to remind him of the moment. The dream had given him a sense of anticipation, partial dread, but partial guardedness to everything that would occur. When he had found The Lord, he recognized it as that same presence that protected him as a boy, the presence that comforted him as he slept.

The meaning of this dream was obvious; after the events that had occurred, how could it not be? Unlike before, these dreams The Lord was giving him were not anticipatory, they instead haunted him, reminded him of that great loss.

The Lord was the great comforter, He had always been. Through his dad’s abandonment, his mom’s inexplicable capability to survive alone, the accidents and failures that had made up his life. God was the only thread of good in the world, the only reason his light still shone.

The Bible had many stories of this deep loss, The Lord Himself had been through the deepest suffering of all, purposefully so, that His followers should live in abundance. Job had revered God though his life had crumbled; it was a test of his faithfulness.

Was their faith being tested now? Trenton had come too far to doubt God’s plan. When he had started attending this church, he knew he immediately wanted to be a part of the youth ministry. His own childhood was difficult, a perpetual set of woundings that only the most immaculate of healers could fix. That’s what Jesus had done, piercing through a calloused soul to mend parts of himself that hadn’t been exposed in years. He wanted to be a part of this for others, a counselor to healing before the pain even began.

He had started in the Junior High group, the same year Catrina began 7th grade. She was an easy one, a potential pillar that every youth leader hoped would appear to stabilize the whole group. As she grew older and those hopes disintegrated the leadership spoke in whispers, wallowing in what went wrong. What did it mean to fail as a youth leader?

But now all Trenton could think is what if they had succeeded, would Catrina be gone today?

“Even so it is well with my soul”

A later Sunday they sang “It is Well” and told the story of its author. A man beaten down by life, who chose providence in the wake of tragedy. He had penned a great hymn, one

that had inspired many. God would move like this in His church, Trenton knew it. He looked at his scars again, forever proof of God’s love toward him, he could never be a doubting Thomas.

God was all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, it was foolish to think anything that happened was outside His will. Even in this, Catrina’s death, he must submit all the glory to God.

Otherwise he would be on his own, and Trenton knew what man would do when left to his own devices. He saw it in himself every single day. God is good and He always would be. When he preached at their next youth meeting, he declared this to all the youth, they stared back, tears in their eyes.

 


4

Andrea

Andrea sat in her room praying. When she did pray she always concluded with The Lord’s Prayer. She felt it best represented how God worked—of course it was fickle to pick and choose parts of the Bible—that was obvious, but the ways those around her had used prayer to justify their own desires always irked her. The Lord’s Prayer covered the simplest of theology: worship, guidance, dependence, forgiveness. Others spent too much time seeking the Lord’s wisdom in the mundane—even the most personal of all gods cannot be blamed for your bad day at work. This version of God was arbitrarily placed into the current emotional state of the individual. She found it amazing that the way God interacted with people was so in line with their hormones.

When Catrina died, Andrea took it hard. She had been close friends with her. They had spent high school nights worshipping side by side at youth group and summer camp. When they each went away to college they had kept in touch through occasional Skype chats and group texts. She saw Catrina abandoning her faith and had mourned it, something that paled to how she now mourned over her.

Their relationship had been rekindled when Catrina returned to the church. Others had called her a prodigal, Andrea saw her as a Samaritan, an outsider bringing life into the community.

Andrea’s own faith had stalled a bit, spending week after week within a religious community can cause one to become indifferent to the words and motions. That’s where she was when she met up with Catrina again. They had surprisingly long discussions, mostly about dating and relationships, but eventually a subtle depth leaked into their discussions.

Catrina was yearning for truth, one that Andrea knew but had lost years ago. Catrina’s search for faith that went beyond what she knew in high school had awakened Andrea. They explored the depths of their souls and even occasionally read the Scriptures.

Catrina was gone now, but this wasn’t God’s fault. God was no monster in the sky causing crosses to fall to teach a community how to mourn. He wasn’t Zeus, throwing lightning down at whatever sinner last caused him to be angry. Reaching for this explanation called attention to the most primitive parts of humanity. Imagine a God who would destroy His creation on the basis of misunderstanding the Bible—a 2,000 year old book that’s been translated multiple times and has layers upon layers of ancient cultural context. God was not teaching a lesson, he hadn’t rigged the system against His own creation.

She truly believed God was love. He was a compassionate redeemer allowing for the freedom of humanity, pursuing and forgiving along the way. Catrina’s death was not God’s choice. The plethora of factors that went into Catrina’s death: light/building manufacturers, building code inspectors, church workers who had set up the cross, and the ultimate un-luck of picking row 7, seat 12 were more to blame than the creator of the universe.

 

She accepted the position that God wanted to bring glory to Himself and would use this tragedy to do so, but did not think God had caused it for His own purposes. As if God was some glory hungry being who set up situations for His own success. He is no man, filled with pride.

She read the words written so long ago:

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

Whatever form life would take after death, she knew it would be better than this one and, ultimately, she knew Catrina would be there.

 


5

Epilogue

The church would end years after Catrina’s death. Its doors were never shut, but a burned out pastor, constantly changing eldership team, and influx of new members saw the church evolve into an entirely new being. The new pastor focused on leadership and a happiness prosperity message and the church grew a lot. For those who had been there before it seemed like a willful ignorance. The pain had been glossed over and all that was left were smiling greeters in the doorway.

The drifting was not an entirely negative experience, some found new life and spiritual health as they landed at varying congregations. For others the load had been too great to bear and agnostic voices crept in, the comfort of sleep became louder than the voice of the Spirit.

Tragedy is the great presser of corporate belief, trampling all epistemological inconsistencies, and plowing through those places where unity once seemed to reside.

It asks what God’s cause is in this world and the answer to this question can lead any individual down numerous paths.

Life is often erratic, avoiding logic whenever it can. When confronted with this reality humanity will do anything to find that place of steadiness in their souls once again.

When Catrina died it shook up foundations once deemed solid, but if any being were equipped to handle this shaken space certainly it would be the author of life. The purpose of the Divine is to remain steady even as we fall.

 

Right?

100 Most Influential Cultural Items in My Life

A list of the 100 most important cultural items in my life to date. It’s focused more on items that are consumed/experienced. I’d like to think that each of these helped to evolve something special in who I am as a person, though I’m sure some are just things I really like a lot.

If you would like an explanation as to why something is listed on here, please ask and I’ll write up the impact.

Presented chronologically:

  1. Barney and Friends
  2. The Holy Bible
  3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 
  4. Disney’s animated renaissance (from The Little Mermaid to The Lion King)
  5. Adventures in Odyssey 
  6. The Giving Tree
  7. Youth sports
  8. Potstickers
  9. Whiffle ball
  10. Old Time Radio (Abbot and CostelloThe Aldrich Family)
  11. Matt Christopher books
  12. Star Wars
  13. Home Alone
  14. Madden video game series
  15. The Hardy Boys book series
  16. The Sandlot
  17. The Sound of Music
  18. The Super Bowl
  19. IMDB
  20. DC Talk
  21. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  22. Peter Pan (and Hook)
  23. The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
  24. Any Robin Hood story
  25. Space Jam
  26. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  27. Backyard Baseball
  28. Recess (and Disney’s “One Saturday Morning”)
  29. The Wayside School series by Louis Sachar
  30. EB White’s Charlotte’s Web
  31. Boy Meets World
  32. Roller Coaster Tycoon
  33. CS Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia and later theological works)
  34. Sportscenter
  35. Google
  36. A Christmas Story
  37. Disney Channel Original Movies
  38. The Sims
  39. Relient K
  40. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? 
  41. Sports Illustrated
  42. KNBR 680 Sports Radio (especially “The Razor and Mr. T” show)
  43. MxPx
  44. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  45. Tooth and Nail Records
  46. Ocean’s 11
  47. Survivor
  48. Wikipedia
  49. Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue”
  50. A Walk to Remember 
  51. Purevolume.com
  52. Snopes.com
  53. Myspace
  54. Underoath
  55. Warped Tour
  56. mewithoutYou
  57. The iPod
  58. Blue Like Jazz and other Donald Miller books
  59. Rob Bell (books, sermons, and more)
  60. Invisible Children
  61. Brand New The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
  62. Derek Webb’s Mockingbird
  63. Little Miss Sunshine
  64. To Write Love on Her Arms
  65. Arrested Development
  66. Keith Green
  67. Johnny Cash
  68. Good Will Hunting
  69. There Will Be Blood
  70. Wall-E
  71. The Dark Knight
  72. David Bazan
  73. Scene It (Xbox 360 edition)
  74. Manchester Orchestra
  75. The Format/fun.
  76. Shane Claiborne (particularly The Irresistible RevolutionJesus For President)
  77. When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
  78. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  79. The works of Greg Boyd (particularly The Myth of a Christian Nation)
  80. NT Wright (particularly After You Believe)
  81. Friday Night Lights
  82. The Social Network
  83. The Tree of Life
  84. Anthony Bourdain’s tv shows
  85. John Steinbeck (particularly East of Eden and Travels with Charley)
  86. The AV Club.com
  87. Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet
  88. Soong Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism
  89. Parks and Recreation
  90. Craft Food/Drink culture
  91. Grantland
  92. The Wire
  93. This American Life
  94. Radiolab
  95. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  96. StuffChristianCultureLikes
  97. Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City
  98. Comedy Bang Bang
  99. FiveThirtyEight
  100. Hamilton

In Memorium

I’ve never had to do this before and typically I’m not the sincerest person, but I felt this needed to be shared.

In honor of my Grandpa Wilson, who passed away last Saturday afternoon.


My Grandpa was an old school gentleman. He worked hard and knew his neighbors well, helping them out and conversing with them daily as he worked on his garden. He loved his wife and his family, providing for them, but instilling in them what it meant to work. He never paid for what he didn’t have to; I know this because I helped him to straighten out his used nails, hammering out each crooked one until it met his satisfaction and could be used again. He served his country in Korea and came back to start a business, raise a family, and live that dream that so many dreamed of during those days.

Even though his life was representative of that classic American male of his time, one thing that stands out to me is how loving and welcoming he was no matter what sort of people we brought his way. I grew up with a globalized world, with dreams of international travel, and an eye on multiculturalism. When cultures and generations come together they often clash, colliding in big fits of misunderstandings, but with Grandpa this was never so.

When we housed a Chinese exchange student for a little over 6 months, not only did he and Grandpa get along marvelously, but they might have had the strongest relationship out of anyone in our family while he was here. He would head over to their house and spend hours chatting away as many of us did. They were kindred spirits even if they were born worlds and decades apart.

When I was getting ready to get married we kindly asked (he might tell you we forced them) Grandma and Grandpa if they would house my wife’s Swedish grandparents for nearly a month before and after the wedding. Though they came from different cultural backgrounds and there was a fairly strong language barrier, they ended up developing a relationship so memorable that every time I visit Sweden they mention how wonderful a time they had and ask about them. Though his worldwide travel was much more limited than mine, his impact on the world stretched wide.


Grandpa, you were a local legend, I was proud to run into people who knew you and felt your influence seemingly everywhere I went.

I am grateful for every single day you lived on this earth, we were certainly all better off for it.

2016 Pop Culture Goals

I think after mostly failing at my goals from last year I am feeling uninspired to create new ones. There are the general broad goals, which I feel inspired to do every year in a fit of New Year’s dream projection: read Infinite Jest, finish Mad Men, listen through the 1001 Albums to Listen to Before You Die list, etc… I would love to do those things, but don’t feel like they are worth guilting myself into doing.

I was able to come up with two goals for this year, one practical and one abstract.

The Goals

When it comes to culture, I do not take direction well. I don’t necessarily think I’m better than you at knowing what’s good, I just don’t think you are that good at recommendations. There are times you gotta read the room; I’m not gonna like your Christian rom-com or traditional sitcom–it’s not my thing. I trust critical consensus more than I trust 95% of the people who recommend things to me.

This is something I will try to change this year; pop culture can be one of the few commonalities between people, so there’s no need to isolate anyone further. This year I will buy into your opinions. You like that movie? I’ll watch it. Think that new twenty one pilots album is rad? I’ll check it out.

A couple of caveats: I’ll check out your item within reason. If it’s a TV show I’ll give it an episode or two, if it’s a movie and I hate it, I don’t have to finish it. I reserve this right!

The second thing: no trolling. These suggestions must be from a sincere place, not from a desire to make me suffer through cultural dredge.

The goal: Listen to people’s pop cultural recommendations. 

It’s hard to find time to read. Inevitably a new book will be lowered down my cultural queue for a new TV show or online article out of mere convenience. This means I must be really picky with what I choose to read and since I only get through 4 or 5 a year I often lean toward classics or niche interests. This means I know absolutely nothing about contemporary writing, especially fiction. My goal this year is to read a new fiction book, likely something chosen from various book awards.

The goal: Read a fiction book released within the last year

 

Top 10 Essays of 2015

I didn’t keep up with as much online reading as I wanted to toward the end of this year, but here is a list of the ten best essays I read online this year. These are obviously biased toward my own opinions and interests–focused on culture (both popular and globally), the absurd, and ways of thinking about things I had never thought about. Most of all, I find these challenging and extremely well-written. Enjoy and feel free to comment with your own.

10. “You’re Killing Us Smalls, The Only Sandlot Character Rankings You’ll Ever Need” by Shea Serrano at Grantland (RIP)

I open this up with a seemingly fun listicle celebrating one of my favorite movies as a kid that turns into an empowering story of the author finding himself in the character of Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez. Shea Serrano (who killed it this year) proves that the top ten list can be a piece of art.

There aren’t a tremendous number of movies where the main or coolest person is Latino, and there were even fewer in 1995. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez — strong, courageous, noble, preordained for brilliance — was the first obviously cool Latino I’d ever seen in a movie. I knew kids named Benny. I knew kids with the last name Rodriguez. This guy could’ve been in my math class, for all I knew. This guy could’ve been me. I mean, to be sure, he wasn’t anything like me — he was tall and handsome and had great eyebrows and was athletic and had good teeth and cool hair and cool clothes and said cuss words — but he was Latino, so he was exactly like me. That’s a powerful thing for a kid to understand and experience.

9.”Notes on 21st-Century Mystic Carly Rae Jepsen” by Jia Tolentino at The Awl 

A sprawling near-academic think piece centered around the music of Carly Rae Jepsen–I don’t think one could create a description of a writing piece that would get me salivating more. Tolentino describes Jepsen’s music as something that is seeking after a special love, while simultaneously already having obtained it and she completely pulls off comparing it to the work of 13th century mystics. It’s something that only a small part of the population would enjoy, and I am firmly planted there.

So, Carly Rae is almost everyone, and in the process she becomes no one—just not in the way that people might think. She’s not derivative but absorptive. E • MO • TIONburns three decades of pop down to a few heartstrings and plays them from a home base of pure need. And in the playing, Carly Rae becomes invisible, the Casper of pop music, this album her Lazarus machine. There’s her resolution to that paradox. If only I could see a landscape as it is when I am not there. One way to do it is to be a ghost.

8. “What Modern Action Films Could Learn From the Original Mad Max” by Kevin Lincoln at The Dissolve (RIP) & “We All Agree that Mad Max: Fury Road is Great. Here’s Why It’s Also Important.” by Leah Schnelbach at TOR.com

A double feature of commentary surrounding the release of (the critically heralded best film of 2015) Mad Max: Fury Road. Kevin Lincoln compares the first Mad Max film to action blockbusters of today, noting how the modern movie lessens each main character’s perspective, thus lessening how much the audience sympathizes or relates to subsequent action.

Perspective has been abandoned. Instead, action films have chaos, with a million cardboard bad guys flying in every direction, the protagonists thrown in the middle so they can claw their way out. It’s nearly impossible to follow action scenes in this style, because there’s nothing to follow. When every element of the scene is in constant motion, irrelative to one another, it feels like nothing’s moving.

Leah Schnelbach does a deep dive on director George Miller’s focus, theorizing the film may be even more feminist than its obvious overtones indicate. It’s a great look at social theory within film criticism.

Miller is showing us a scene that could be sexy in the way these review describe–models in see-through clothes spraying water on each other, with the water a stand-in for a different liquid substance. But Miller subverts every aspect of that cliché. In this case the hose full of water is just a hose full of water–the most precious thing they could have in the Waste. The diaphanous dresses are their prison uniforms. (Given that no one else in the film is dressed like this, I think it’s safe to assume that these are the clothes required by Immortan Joe.) And what is the first thing they do after Furiosa lets them out? The most important thing? Even as they’re drinking water they take turns freeing each other from hideous chastity belts, reclaiming their bodies.

7. “The $100 Million Content Farm That’s Killing the Internet” by Carles Buzz for Vice

You’ll notice two “RIPs” listed above next to articles, this is to mourn the loss of Grantland and The Dissolve (who also had one article each on last year’s list) who both closed down within 2015. Buzz’s article comes in the wake of The Dissolve’s shut down and explains the way varying viral sites monetize. It laments the loss of thought provoking work for fairly un-substantive and acknowledges the complete lack of hope there is for any niche site, at least those who hope to make a living.

Over the past two years, we’ve learned that there isn’t any actual monetizable ‘cultural value’ in building a content farm with an authoritative voice or domination of a niche area. Instead, it is more important to chase quantifiable human metrics by shoving lowbrow content in front of Facebook users. This is exactly what ViralNova has done better than most content farms–it figured out the current system and #growth_hacked the hell out of it. ViralNova out-media-companied The Dissolve.

6. “Left Out” by Andrew McCutchen for The Player’s Tribune

A surprisingly smart and well scribed memoir from the Pirate’s centerfielder. McCutchen lends his thoughts about the Little League World Series scandal in which a team was outed for bringing in players out of the correct zoning area. Mccutchen offers his own experience as one who went through the exact same thing as these boys, critiquing an outrage that fails to count for a variety of racial and socioeconomic factors.

But this wasn’t a Disney movie ending. It wasn’t like Jimmy noticed me and I went straight to the top. That was just the first step. There were so many things that had to happen for me to get to where I got. If you’re a poor kid with raw ability, it’s not enough. You need to be blessed with many mentors to step in and help you. Kim Cherry, Michael Scott — I could list so many names of people who took me in and treated me as if I was their own son. When people talk about the Jackie Robinson West team and blame the adults who took in kids from outside the boundaries that the Little League organization set, remember that those adults may be saviors to those kids. They’re the ones buying them shoes when they need it or an extra protein drink after the game.

5. “The Year We Obsessed Over Identity” by Wesley Morris for The New York Times

Morris (formerly a Grantlander!) looks at how identity was an overarching theme in the year, noting the way we perceive ourselves and the boxes we check (or even the fact that we do check boxes) is quickly becoming more fluid. Morris does a great job explaining how this came to be, but also observes it brilliantly as always.

What started this flux? For more than a decade, we’ve lived with personal technologies — video games and social-media platforms — that have helped us create alternate or auxiliary personae. We’ve also spent a dozen years in the daily grip of makeover shows, in which a team of experts transforms your personal style, your home, your body, your spouse. There are TV competitions for the best fashion design, body painting, drag queen. Some forms of cosmetic alteration have become perfectly normal, and there are shows for that, too. Our reinventions feel gleeful and liberating — and tied to an essentially American optimism. After centuries of women living alongside men, and of the races living adjacent to one another, even if only notionally, our rigidly enforced gender and racial lines are finally breaking down. There’s a sense of fluidity and permissiveness and a smashing of binaries. We’re all becoming one another. Well, we are. And we’re not.

4. “How Minions Destroyed the Internet” by Brian Feldman for The Awl

Feldman’s piece is such a fun read, littered with Minion jokes (laughing at them, not with them), he points out everything about their ridiculous existence before going deep onto why he believes they are destroying the internet. Lest you get offended by such an anti-Minion sentiment, Feldman writes tongue-in-cheek, mocking just about everyone with any sort of opinion about Minions.

Minions have been engineered to be everything and nothing at once. They are not sexual, but they can develop romantic interest. They are androgynous but have distinctly male names. Their language is a hodge-podge of others. Their bodies have both a slender skinniness and the curves of fatness. They all need corrective eyewear.

So, really, we know frustratingly little about Minions, but do note enough signifiers which trick us into believing they are substantial. They are paper-thin archetypes that we cast our own ideas, aspirations, and worries onto.

What I’m trying to say is: Minions are the perfect meme. As one popular Tumblr post refers to them, Minions are “SCREAMING CORNPOPS WHO ARE TEARING APART SOCIETY THROUGH MIDDLE AGED MOM MEMES.”

3. “Who Got the Camera? NWA’s Embrace of Reality” by Eric Harvey from Pitchfork

A long read that is worth the effort, Eric Harvey uses the gangsta rap of NWA and reality television as a lens to discuss perception, violence, race, and pop culture. He compares the way COPS combatted hip-hop in how entire populations of the United States were represented, showing the way art and reality overlap can ultimately combine to create a new reality.

All popular music is, to some degree, a creative refraction of the social realities large and small that birth it and give it shape. What set gangsta rap apart was both the detail with which the artists directly indexed their social reality and the semiotic smokescreen of mythic toughness and violence through which they filtered it. N.W.A exploited rap music’s penchant for outsize characters and strong connections to geographical origin, and mixed in the reality claims of “COPS” to play into conservative fears that they might just not be kidding.

2. “From Afghanistan with Love” by Mujib Mashal for Matter

In Afghanistan in the midst of conservative Muslim mores, a radio show allows for escape and expression beyond the norm. The Night of the Lovers allows young Afghanis to call in and express their feelings anonymously in ways they never could outside that context. Mashal tells the story of this station and the place that it plays in conservative culture–a fascinating look at modern technology, post-modernism, and globalization’s place in the world.

The Night of the Lovers is about every shade of heartache — the predatory and vulnerable, the doomed and forlorn. I met a young university student I will call Shaadkam on a reporting trip in the buzzing city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Shaadkam has sleek dark hair and intense almond eyes, and lives in the northern province of Balkh. His story also starts with a Facebook meeting. The two of them chatted for three months straight. He flirted with her, shared songs, talked movies, but he still didn’t know whether she was an actual girl or an impostor. Then he went offline for a couple weeks while traveling, and he got a call from a voice he’d never heard. It was his beloved, and she was real.

1. “How to be American” by Eric Liu for Democracy Journal

Liu asks the question of the title, what is being American? In a world where minorities will make up a majority of the population in just a few years, what does that mean for that which we see as distinctly American? Liu suggests a creation of a new canon, one that includes contributions from minorities but also makes sure that every classic Founding Father and bit of new world history is included. No other piece this year asked more thought provoking questions, offered more cutting criticism, or excited me more than this one.

In its serious forms, multiculturalism never asserted that every racial group should have its own sealed and separate history or that each group’s history was equally salient to the formation of the American experience. It simply claimed that the omni-American story—of diversity and hybridity—was the legitimate American story.

 

 

 

 

 

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