Thursday, September 29, 2011

Balancing R.A. Life

What a smile. Certainly not a placid one – it’s the smile of a ready, willing servant. One sincerely interested in others.

The smile belongs to Grace Ruedi, sophomore Resident Advisor in St. Scholastica Hall. She steps into the R.A. office, ready to face whatever challenges the night brings.

The clock ticks 7:30 p.m. She murmurs a quick prayer to start the night and pulls out her checklist. 

“Begin the night in prayer, asking God to give you the grace to do His will,” the list says. Check.

Doing God’s will –for the residents—is just one of the many duties listed under the job description of an R.A. A solid campus life at a Catholic, liberal arts college thrives on community.

That’s Ruedi’s favorite part.

“I enjoy getting to know the girls and building a better community with them,” she says, and then pauses to answer a resident’s question. Ruedi is ready to drop whatever she’s doing to help.

Helping might not always be fun, however. Her least favorite part about the job is discipline.

“Writing them up. I hate that,” she says.

To Ruedi, being an R.A. isn’t just a full-time job. It’s a vocational investment, and balancing it with social, academic and spiritual life is tricky.

Most R.A.’s don’t have a set plan on how to do it.

“I have a schedule and I stick to it. Like if I have Mass or Adoration scheduled, I make sure I get there,” said Ruedi.

Dain Finney, a junior R.A., adds, “You have to bring it to work – invite people to visit you on call. Get both checked off at once.”

Ruedi nods.

“And I make sure I get my homework done early so I have time for other things,” she says.

To be an R.A. is to strive for a balanced life, while serving others. Service, especially encountering it for the first time, leads to personal growth.

“I’m learning a lot about myself and how I handle things. I’m definitely working on my weaknesses in this job,” she says, with that same willing smile.

“When I look back, I want to remember the friendships I made. And the crazy stories about what people do.”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Cultural Footprint of 9/11

On what started as an ordinary Tuesday morning on Sept. 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Centers. The buildings collapsed, leaving over 2,000 people dead, hundreds injured and a gaping wound America’s heart.  Although the tragedy has unified our country, many Americans feel alienated as targets of racial hatred 10 years later.

Although very young when the event occurred, Maria Heroux, a sophomore at Benedictine College, was old enough to notice the deep impact it left on American society -- particularly racial profiling. Heroux sees it as both a necessity and a problem.

“Our security definitely changed after that,” she said. 

“It’s degrading to say, ‘You look like a terrorist’ – but sometimes, it’s necessary,” Heroux said.

Laurel Aaker, of Apple Valley, Calif., also noticed the nation’s heightened awareness of racial profiling. “It is … necessary, as long as it’s founded on good reasons,” said Aaker. “But we’re not always able to trust the government – there are always mistakes made.” 

Many people, especially from the Middle East, have been held in airports because security has incorrectly assumed a potential terrorist, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) racial profiling report. 

In the same report, ACLU states that over 5,000 Middle Eastern men were interviewed based solely on their ethnicity after 9/11. They were asked personal questions about their political views, faith, and family. None of them were actually connected to terrorism.

Professor Sharma, of India, writes that Jihadists make up very small percentage of all Muslims – a mere 15 percent. Most Muslims are not radical and follow their faith quietly.

Making such assumptions about Muslims may cause them to be defensive, says Mary Ellen Ostrowski, another sophomore at Benedictine College. 

 “The aftermath produced a lot of stereotypes...even on how the Muslims see us," said Ostrowski. "We’re Americans. We’re the ‘melting-pot’, we’re supposed to include other people."

"They probably feel misunderstood. I would,” she said.

In the Department of Justice Racial Profiling Fact Sheet, it states the potentially harmful effects of such discrimination due to racial profiling. “Race-based assumptions in law enforcement perpetuate negative racial stereotypes and are harmful to our diverse democracy,” one line says.

Some, like Laurel Aaker, believe the issues of personal liberties must be weighed against the greater good.

“Radical Muslims probably feel defensive because we constantly question their intentions,” she said. “It might not be fair, or 100 percent accurate, but it’s better than nothing.” 

The impact of the events of Sept. 11 is also depicted in entertainment. Many movies portray Muslims as mere radicals. Aaker doesn’t see it as a problem.

“Most Americans are intelligent enough to decipher that they’re not all terrorists. It’s entertainment. That’s the focus, so of course they’ll highlight the radical ones," she said.

While movies are entertainment, they also present stereotypes to audiences, which could lead to more harm than good. Heroux and Ostrowski see the imbalance of how Muslims are portrayed by the entertainment industry.

“It’s unfortunate,” says Heroux. “Movies portray those ethnicities as bad guys all the time, we’re led to believe that’s what we should expect,” she said.

At the same time, Ostrowski said, “They all have the same rigid customs and beliefs. It’s portrayed as, ‘They’re Muslim’, not as ‘someone who practices Islam’."

Whether Americans see racial profiling as a help or a hindrance, its effects are seen everywhere, from airport security to contemporary entertainment. Aaker said that with racial profiling, there lies a fine line between truth and distortion.

“The nature of our times and the high risk of terrorism make it necessary... but I’m glad it’s not my job to figure out that balance,” Aaker said.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens...Really?!

Okay, I haven’t seen Cowboys and Aliens, so I’m not reviewing it, but I’d like to say something: in terms of coming up with plotlines, I think Hollywood has hit an all time low. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I love cowboys. Aliens, not so much, but there have been some good alien films. But together? I think that just shows that Hollywood isn’t creative enough to come up with simpler, more intriguing stories. Stories that rely on real talent and a good script, instead of special effects and subtle marketing.

It’s as if everyone sat down in a boardroom to come up with an idea that would sell buckets of tickets - by putting everything that’s ever been successful in a movie and rolled into one. Cowboys? Check. Aliens? Check. Pretty women? Duh. Harrison Ford? He’s cool, let’s throw him in. New James Bond guy? That’ll reel in the dudes. Cool gadgets? That usually sells. 

They make me sad. On the other hand, it makes me feel better, because if they can come up with ideas that a five year old could just as easily imagine, then I’m not worried about finding a job in the business.

Still, this kind of low class film making basically profanes its roots. Back in the Golden Age, films weren’t made to rack up dollars. They were seen as an art (for the most part), and stories were inventive and original. Take for example, The Philadelphia Story.
C.K. Dexter Haven marries Tracy Lord. They divorce. He tries to get revenge on Tracy by hiring Macaulay Connor to write a story on her new marriage, which doesn’t work out because she has a fling with Connor. But she has a conversion so to speak, and declines his marriage proposal, only to remarry Haven. It’s a hilarious jumble of characters, all vying for the same woman. 

Nowadays, the only films with interesting storylines are the ones that are remakes of older ones or books turned into movies. Except Eragon. That was terrible.

Get ready, guys. I can see it now - Cowboys vs...POKEMON!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Narnian Lesson: "It Was a Good Pain."

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader came out last Christmastime, and although I wasn’t as pleased with the movie as I would have liked, the book, at least, still holds the truths C. S. Lewis had in his wisdom to impart. 

My favorite scene in the entire series is when Eustace turns into a dragon. Up until that point, he had been immersed in himself and blind to Aslan. But he begins to feel lonely as a dragon and sees that he would rather be a boy. Being a dragon wasn’t who he was created to be. So Aslan offered him to bathe in healing waters. But in order to do that, he would have to remove his skin, to “undress”.

Eustace tries peeling back a layer of scaly, dragon skin, but there was another layer beneath it. He kept going, but there was always another layer underneath. At last, in exhaustion, he cries out, “I can’t do this on my own!” So Aslan digs his strong claws into Eustace’s skin. It feels as though it were piercing through his heart, it hurt so bad. But Aslan was strong enough, and at last Eustace was clean. He was a real boy again, as he was meant to be.

When I read this scene for the first time, it left me in tears. How true this image is, when it comes with the way God works with us! So often God allows pain because it opens us to Him. In our cries, we open our hearts and allow Him to work in us. He finds us in the excruciating mess of our lives and pulls us up out of it. 

But not without our permission. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom and see what a great mess we’re in. Then we try to fix it and upon realizing we can't, we cry out to God in the rubble. And then, finally, He is allowed fix it. It is only in crying out to Him, though, that gives Him permission to touch our hearts.We are never strong enough to fix ourselves on our own.

In order for us to admit God is God, and to transform into the person we were created to be in His eyes, we have to undergo a conversion. We have to see that the way we were doing things wasn't best for us after all, and we have to allow God to fix that damage.

C. S. Lewis says, in “The Problem of Pain”:

But pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call “our own life” remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make “our own life” less agreeable to us?

Lewis makes his case further in Mere Christianity, saying:

It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.  All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.'

Did this monumental experience hurt Eustace? Of course it did. But the pain was worth it. “It was a good pain, as if a thorn was being pulled out,” as he put it. “The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”

God doesn’t expect us to lead perfect lives, or to fix it ourselves. He wants us, all of us. Our problems too. He wants us to realize that He is God, and He can fix the problems if we let Him. All we have to do is hand him the baggage to open our clenched hands, so He can put something better in them – new life in Him.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau and Free Will

Film Grade: C+

The Adjustment Bureau is Matt’s Damon’s latest action film, which gives you everything - a convincing romance, an intriguing plot and bad guys who chase you. What it doesn’t have, however, is moral truth.

 It’s about a Congressman, David Norris, who, when he meets a pretty girl in the men’s bathroom, finds out that their meeting was not part of “The Plan”. Through chance, they meet a few more times and have to fight against “The Plan” for “their plan”.  

Well, at least it’s entertaining. The action and thriller aspect of the film definitely doesn’t leave you bored.  Emily Blunt and Matt Damon have a pretty dynamic chemistry and play their roles convincingly. The special effects aren’t bad. The whole film sparks discussion as to its view on free will and the connection it has to fate.

That’s pretty much all I can say for pros.  While it’s good to spark such a discussion, the view it portrays in the film is certainly faulty. It’s as if the director wanted this movie to portray his imagination of why bad things happen to people. 

Just to list some other cons: God and His “bureau” are painted as the bad guys, who keep us from doing what we want. How dare they. We obviously know better. The “bad guys” discourage marriage and family life, when the opposite is obviously true. The girl is bad for Norris because she “fills the void” – when nothing in this life will ever fill the void but God. 

So what’s the deal with this movie and free will? Well, it’s pretty much heretical in saying we don’t really have it. It’s an allusion, apparently. We are forced to do what we don’t want to do, and They will invade our minds if they have to. Which is completely false. God respects our free will so much that He lets us make our bed and lay in it. He is a gentleman that never forces Himself or His plans on us. As for bad why things happen, that’s a whole other discussion…

Now, I know this is a movie, and movies are make believe. But when it comes to theology, it’s best to just stay away from it if it’s not going to be true. Case and point with The Da Vinci Code. Art is supposed to have truth, beauty and goodness in order for it to get a message across the right way, or at least give realistic expressions of them. Without truth, it’s just bad art. It should direct us out of ourselves, rather than further into ourselves.

The moral of the story I got from the film was that we’re greater than God and we can make our own plans. And in some sense, we do make them, since we can freely choose them. But we do not have ultimate control over our lives. 

And thank God we don’t.

Digital vs. Real

One of my favorite places to be is a bookstore. I love the quiet, kind of eclectic atmosphere where lots of things besides books are sold. It’s a place where you can lose yourself in different ideas and worlds, and marvel at all the cool trinkets and books you find. 

Which is why I was so sad when I heard Borders is closing. For good. All we have left is Barnes & Noble and the little bookstores, which are also sparse. 

I blame digitalization. Part of our social lives (or, so called, anyway) are digital, from cameras, computers, to cell phones, you name it. And those things have their purposes and can be used for good, up to a point. But books – that’s where I draw the line. 

When it comes to reading, there’s nothing better than holding a book in your hand. You can pop it open, stick your nose between the pages and smell the muskiness. I have a reverence for holding another’s creation in my hands, since I know what kind of work and creativity it requires. There’s a certain level of reality that you are able grasp when you hold a book in your hands. It feels more relatable.

Which brings me to another point. While digitalization has its purposes, as I said before, it should be used in moderation, as with anything good. It’s terribly sad that kids as young as eight years old have cell phones and text people around the clock. And even adults consider people they’ve barely met on Facebook real “friends”. In reality, those people would barely be acquaintances.

Fact is, the more we become immersed in a virtual, digital world, the less we are based in reality. Back in the 50’s, people went next door and talked to their neighbors, face to face. People had real relationships with one another, and there was a sense of community. We’ve lost sight of that.

When you’re talking to someone through email, or even the phone, we only glimpse a small part of that person – we don't see their mannerisms, their emotions, etc. On the other hand, you build interpersonal skills when speaking in person, plus, you get the fuller picture of who the person is. 

So it’s good to use the digital technology we have. But we should seriously moderate it, so we develop “friends” based in reality and social skills gained through real life experience. It would help us take a step back to the time where people cared about one another, even if we didn’t know them well. 

Let’s be humans, not humanoids.