One of the classic questions about God's freedom is whether God could have chosen not to create a world dependent upon Godself, yet outside Godself such that God is not dependent upon it. Many Christians would claim that the only possible orthodox answer to that question is "Yes." Insofar as that is the case, however, I can only accept it as a paradox, a divine mystery. Certainly God cannot act against God's own nature, and so I cannot imagine God, in "the free, overflowing rapture" (Moltmann) of perichoretic love which is the Trinity, doing other than creating a world separate from Godself. Perhaps that is due to the finite nature of my own human mind. Perhaps.
A human analogy might be my "ability" to rob a bank. Clearly I am physically capable of attempting to rob a bank in the sense we usually use that term. Yet my unique blend of moral courage (I know robbing banks is wrong) and moral cowardice (I'm afraid of getting caught) is such that it is inconceivable I could ever rob a bank because it is contrary to my nature. We could say perhaps that I have a "hypothetical" ability to rob a bank, and God has a hypothetical ability to not create the world. But there is no possible world in which those hypotheses could take place without first rendering either God or I unrecognizable. (And while my nature is mutable across possible worlds, God's is not.)
The above is something of a preamble to another question I encountered in Roger Olson's Questions to All Your Answers: The Journey from Folk Religion to Examined Faith, which I am currently listening to on audiobook. The question was, "Can God change the past?" and Olson seems to imply he thinks the question ought to be, "No."
But why? Unless we are to become open theists, then God is eternal, and the difference between future and past is as meaningful to God as the difference between left and right is to us. We might as well ask if we are able to make changes to our left as well as to our right. Unless one is a character in a side-scrolling video game from the 1980's, such a question is either absurd or meaningless.
Of course, one might well question the use of "change" at all. From God's perspective, viewing all of time and space as a unity, any intervention God might make would not be a "change" at all but a seamless element of God's creation as executed according to God's divine plan. After all, every element of the world is a consequence of either God's deliberation action or else our own human free will, which is itself a gift from God, being the exceptional sign of the image of God within us. So the very idea of God desiring to "change" anything which exists is revealed to be contradictory, and certainly God cannot act against God's own desires.
Some will argue that this understanding of divine freedom renders prayer meaningless, but such an argument misunderstands the place and purpose of prayer. As I preached to the congregation of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in my 2012 sermon on the prayers of Hannah and Penninah, the revealed purpose of petitionary prayer is not "to flatter a capricious deity into giving us what we want" but to enter into relationship with the Triune God, to put our hopes and fears before the Lord that God's will may be done.
The Republican presidential campaign is getting apocalyptic. The Bloomberg News headline on a story by Ben Brody — "Boehner Uncorks on ‘Lucifer’ Cruz, Says He Wouldn’t Back Him in Fall" — led reader A.R. to wonder whether that "fall" is merely the November election, or rather the fall of
Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th' Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition
as John Milton put it.
Maybe it'll be both kinds of fall — Milton further explained that
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
Looking on the bright side, William Blake told us that
Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Though the stereotypically high-energy candidate in this campaign is someone else entirely.
And David Frum suggests that next year will see a struggle over how to rewrite Paradise Lost ("How to save the Republican Party", The Atlantic 4/28/2016):
The big internal conservative struggle of 2017 will be the fight to write the narrative of how Trump emerged and why he lost. Anti-Trump conservatives will want to say that Trump lost because he wasn’t a “true conservative.” But 2016 to date is proposing that “true conservatives” constitute only a pitiful minority of the Republican Party, never mind the country as a whole. Why should any practical politician care about them ever again? To regain respect after their humiliation by Trump and the pro-Trump talkers on radio and TV, those who regard themselves as “true conservatives” will have to mount a show of force. “Maybe we can’t win on our own … but you can’t win without us.” And that means contributing—and being seen to contribute—to a Trump defeat.
I'll give the last words to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards:
We tend to believe that we are alone in our fear. The feeling can sometimes seem individual, solitary, and horrendous. This playlist is here to assure that you are not alone in your fears, whether they’re of the pizza monster under your bed, or of holding a conversation with your crush. Who says Halloween is the only scary part of the year?
Allyson Roche is a 14-year-old writer from Los Angeles. She enjoys screaming along to Sleater-Kinney, playing guitar, and snuggling with her kittens. You can find her on Instagram.
On Tuesday night, Donald Trump told his supporters and the press: “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.” There’s no basis for that calculation, of course. It assumes that nearly 55 percent of the Democratic primary electorate voted for Clinton based on gender alone. More specifically, it would mean that about 75 percent of Black voters, 45 percent of unmarried voters, and 1 in 5 Democratic voters under 30 chose Clinton on the sole basis of her biology.
In an election where those considering candidate gender among many factors have been ridiculed as “vagina voters,” it’s incredibly unlikely that the majority of Democratic voters have been secretly voting along gender lines. Beyond that, facts and research prove Trump wrong. Although it might be easy to assume, women do not vote for women because they are women (and neither do men, for that matter). Even when candidate gender influences voters’ calculations, it stands among other—often more influential—factors, top among them party affiliation.
Trump’s math was off again in his Tuesday night speech when he added, “The beautiful thing is that women don’t like her. … And look at how well I did with women tonight.” According to exit polls, Clinton has earned about 61 percent of Democratic women’s votes in nominating contests to date. In contrast, Trump has won, on average, just 37 percent of Republican women’s votes in the GOP elections thus far. When women of both parties are polled, Clinton still dominates her male counterparts, including Trump. For example, an April Fox News poll has Clinton winning 55 percent of women’s votes in a hypothetical match-up against Trump, who earns just 33 percent of women’s support. These numbers are consistent with national match-ups between Clinton and Trump over the last few months. Contrary to Trump’s claims, then, Clinton does well with women, and better than Trump fares with women within his own party and nationwide.
Clinton has earned just under 60 percent of votes cast in the Democratic primary to date. In each of the calculations listed, I subtracted 5 percent from the average to indicate the threshold with which Trump argues voters used considerations other than candidate gender.
But do women like Clinton? A USA Today/Suffolk poll released this week shows 42 percent of all women have a favorable opinion of Clinton, and 48 percent have an unfavorable opinion of her. Women have a more favorable opinion of Clinton than men do, among whom only 33 percent rate Clinton favorably. But Clinton’s support among men matches the proportion of men rating Trump favorably, and surpasses Trump’s favorability among women, which is at just 24 percent. Trump’s assertion that women “don’t like” Clinton may be based on the 48 percent of women who view her unfavorably—so by that measure, women really dislike him.
Of course, relying on measures like these reduces women to a singular voting bloc, which they are not. Like Trump, Clinton fares better among some women—and men—than others. Democratic women were an essential part of her firewall against Bernie Sanders in competitive primary states, and there has been an average gender gap of 11 points in Democratic primaries to date, with Clinton faring (even) better among women than men.
Trump’s numerical blunders are only part of his miscalculations of how gender is at play in this race. On Tuesday, he repeated his claim that the “only thing [Clinton’s] got going [for her] is the woman card.” The reaction to, and derision of, Trump’s comments was swift, strong and sarcastic. Journalists and commentators questioned what the “woman card” is, how it could be played, and where evidence existed of gender being an advantage for women in the male-dominated world of presidential politics. Clinton addressed Trump’s claims in her Tuesday night victory speech by defining the gender card in her own terms, insisting that if “playing the woman card” meant addressing policy issues of key importance to women, “deal me in.”
Finally, the hypocrisy of Trump’s claims is not lost on those who recognize that gender cards are being played by all candidates, including the candidate who touted the size of his manhood at a March GOP debate. Trump’s performance of masculinity—whether in touting his own manliness, attempting to emasculate his opponents, or making misogynist comments that both assume and reinforce masculine dominance—adheres to long-held stereotypes of what it means to be a man. Clinton’s campaign, on the contrary, has challenged outdated expectations of how women should behave, while simultaneously disrupting what it looks (and sounds) like to be a presidential contender. If gender cards do exist, then, Trump is playing from an old deck while Clinton’s has altered the game.
How might Trump’s gender strategy affect his electoral prospects? To date, Trump’s machismo or misogyny has appeared to have little negative effect on his primary success. While Trump has fared worse than his primary opponents with GOP women, his supporters seem unoffended—and perhaps even impressed—by his adherence to traditional gender norms. A recent survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic sheds light on why this strategy is working among Trump’s primary electorate. More than two-thirds of Trump supporters report that society has become too “soft and feminine” in the survey, and half of them believe society benefits when men and women stick to the jobs and tasks they are “naturally suited for.”
The traditional views of Trump’s staunchest supporters do not represent the beliefs of a broader general election electorate, however. In the same survey, 60 percent of all Republicans believe society has become too “soft and feminine.” While Trump supporters’ views of gender roles mirror those of Republicans overall, they stand in stark contrast to the views of Democratic voters. In a general election, doubling down on the gender conservatism that Trump espouses seems likely to be an ineffective strategy in the fight for those in the ideological center. And though Trump has proven his capacity for energizing this conservative base, the potential for backlash and mobilization in response to his gendered comments or conduct—as has been evident in the 48 hours following the April 26 primaries—evidences the unlikelihood that his approach will yield a net advantage in moving from a presidential nomination into a general election victory.
In all, Trump’s gender calculations simply don’t add up.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. Find her on Twitter @kdittmar
The poems contained in this series, “Liberating Words,” came out of an interdisciplinary course for high school juniors at The Winsor School, an all-girls school in Boston. The course, “The Personal Is Political: An Interdisciplinary Look at Feminism,” is co-taught by Libby Parsley, a history teacher, and Susanna Ryan, an English teacher. The second unit of the course focuses on the history and literature of second-wave feminism: the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Students read a compilation of poems by women writers from that period and then wrote their own poems; the assignment asked them to represent an issue or problem they see as central to 21st-century women’s experience through the very personal genre of poetry.
I Did Not Ask
By Alexandra Farina
Make NO eye contact
Looking is asking and asking is dangerous because you may get back more than you wanted
Which you didn’t want but looking is asking so
Make NO eye contact and look down and don’t ask but listen.
Listen to the men who tell you how pretty, hot,
“damn those legs, hey lady, i wanna take you home”
Put away your fist it has no power here
Make NO eye contact.
Looking is asking.
Asking is dangerous.
Alexandra Farina lives in Boston and is a junior at the Winsor School. She loves to dance and play squash, and she is head of her school’s GBSTA.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tom Waterhouse licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
When you talk about the big questions in life, physicist Rita Kalra has most of the same ones the rest of us have. For example: Why are we here? But some other things on her mind are a little more unusual. She’d really like to know why there’s more matter in the universe than antimatter, for one. And lately, her day-to-day concerns have to do with making sure space weather is safe for launching spacecraft.
The Queens, New York native researched antimatter as a PhD student at Harvard, and those studies took her to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, where she continued to study antimatter at CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator. Her love of math and physics led her to Los Angeles and a career as an engineer for SpaceX, the space exploration company founded by Elon Musk. (SpaceX made a huge technological breakthrough in December by landing a rocket.)
There was a time when I dreamed of doing scientific research and even going to space, so I called Kalra up to find out what it feels like to help make scientific history happen.
BEVERLY BRYAN: What is your official job title?
RITA KALRA: I’m a radiation effects engineer. That means I predict the ionizing radiation environment for our missions, determine the risk, and mitigate the harmful effects of radiation on spacecraft. The radiation comes from the solar wind and solar storms, the Van Allen belts, and galactic cosmic rays. I track the space weather whenever SpaceX launches a rocket to ensure that it isn’t being launched into a dangerous radiation environment.
Was there a moment when you were younger when you knew that you were totally hooked on science and that this is what you had to do?
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to know how things worked. I constantly asked questions. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know how electricity works. How does it power stuff? Why does thunder make noise? I’ve always been hooked on science.
Have you answered some of your childhood questions about the world or do you feel like there are still a lot of mysteries?
Oh, there are so many mysteries! Some of my burning childhood questions have been answered, but the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. One mystery answered leads to 10 more mysteries and it can go on and on. There’s an infinite amount of things that are unknown. It can drive you crazy. But the reason I enjoy studying science is the feeling of satisfaction I get when I learn about some phenomenon in detail, and that it’s not actually magic. And in physics, you are interested in the detail right down to the atomic or particle level. Sometimes what you end up finding out is mind-blowing.
How do you explain your graduate work with antimatter to your friends and family?
I usually start out by asking if they’ve seen [the movie] Angels & Demons. The story is about the Illuminati. They go to CERN in Switzerland and steal a bottle of antimatter and they try to use it to blow up the Vatican. So, basically, my PhD work was on that bottle of antimatter, but you can’t blow up the Vatican, or anything else, with the amount that we created.
The real purpose of my experiment was to study the properties of antimatter in order to answer questions such as: Why is there more matter than antimatter in the universe? It’s one of our biggest unsolved mysteries in physics. Matter and antimatter can’t coexist because they annihilate each other upon contact. The standard model of physics, which is our most successful particle physics theory to date, predicts that equal amounts were created at the Big Bang, but if that were true everything would have been annihilated and we wouldn’t exist. So there was actually a slight imbalance, and the question is why? One way to help answer the question is to measure the energies of antihydrogen, made up of an antiproton and an antielectron, and compare them to those of regular hydrogen. The first step of creating and trapping the antihydrogen is what I studied.
Do you talk to your mom about your job?
Oh, yeah. She’s really, really interested and keeps up with the news more than I do!
Is she interested in science?
She’s a chemist.
Has she been a role model for you?
Absolutely. She studied chemistry and then she became a forensic scientist. She works for the New York Police Department. I grew up learning about all the cool stuff she does and got to visit the crime lab. She goes to court to testify as an expert witness, and she’s developed statistical methods of analyzing evidence that she has to defend in court.
What has been the most frustrating moment of your career in science so far? Was there ever a moment where you thought about quitting and doing English or something?
I definitely had thoughts like that during my PhD research. They weren’t so dire that I wanted to leave the field altogether. There were times when the experiment would break and it would take forever to fix it and it was unclear whether we’d be able to successfully fix it or not. [Laughs] We had some hurdles and some times when we had to work really long hours. The uncertainty of whether or not we would be successful would get me down sometimes. But, in the end, we made progress and advanced science. It’s the nature of scientific research. You just keep working hard and it will probably work out.
What keeps you going when things are frustrating?
What keeps me going is the thought of the big picture. The big picture right now is awesome. It’s space exploration and going to Mars. Also, every successful rocket launch and mission is immensely gratifying. So, I look forward to moments like that. Same with my PhD—I never forgot that I was doing really cool research on a really important question in physics. I just try to think about the goal.
What’s been the most rewarding moment?
I was lucky enough to be a part of two SpaceX landings. That was one of the greatest moments of my life: The first time we landed. I was really proud to be part of that.
What was that day like?
My heart was pounding. I was nerve-racked the whole time, standing in front of mission control, just watching the Falcon 9 launch in dead silence. Ten minutes later, it came back to Earth and touched down on the site. The crowd erupted into this deafening roar. Everyone just went crazy.
Do you ever think about going to space?
I would love to go to space. There are space tourism industries, and, if I ever have enough money to do that, I’m definitely on board. The closest I’ve ever been to going to space was on a zero-gravity parabolic flight, on which I also experienced lunar and Martian gravity.
How close do you think we are to living on Mars?
We are trying to get people to Mars in the next couple decades.
OK, but why go to Mars?
Because we have not gone there yet. It would be an incredible adventure for humankind. We’ve sent plenty of landers and rovers there; we have a lot of data on Mars. The next step is to go there. We need to live there as backup in case mankind wipes itself out through nuclear war, or bioterrorism, or goes extinct due to natural disasters.
So, how would we do it?
First, we would have to terraform the planet, create an atmosphere—basically by global warming the planet, melting the ice caps to create carbon emissions. There is already water on Mars and oxygen would have to be produced.
What do you think would help more young women to pursue careers in science?
I think exposure and the way you are brought up really helps. For example, I had my mom. She’s a successful scientist. It didn’t even occur to me until later in life that science was a male-dominated field or that there were different societal expectations for boys and girls. That let me develop confidence in my abilities.
I think the realization that women in science is not unusual would help more young women pursue careers in science. Regular outreach activities through schools that have female scientists come in and speak about their work or allow students to visit at their workplace, for example, would be very helpful. Female science teachers at a middle school and high school level are also a fantastic source of inspiration. ♦
It’s been reported that in the wake of all the controversy surrounding North Carolina’s HB2 “bathroom bill,” calls to transgender suicide hotlines have more than doubled. A quick glance at my Facebook timeline would explain why, as the amount of fear and misinformation being spread about transgender people seems to be reaching a dangerous peak.
So for today’s Follow Friday, I wanted to feature some beautiful siblings in Christ who are doing the hard work of telling their stories, engaging the culture, and helping the Church better understand what it means to be a transgender person of faith. Please consider sharing their videos and articles online to counter some of the destructive messages getting airtime these days. (Or, better yet, invite them to speak at your conference or church!)
I had the privilege of getting to know Allyson at the Why Christian? conference in Minneapolis last year, and she is one of the kindest, wisest people I’ve ever met. And with a background as an Army officer and Baptist pastor, with degrees in both physics and theology, she’s also one of the most interesting!
Allyson is believed to be the first openly transgender person ever to be ordained by a Baptist church. She recently served as transitional pastor of Washington, D.C.’s Calvary Baptist Church, a congregation that has served the nation’s capital for over 150 years. Allyson is the founder and principal of Warrior Poet Strategies, a D.C. based consulting firm advising clients in organizational design, diversity and inclusion, and social and civic entrepreneurship. Previously, she led diversity initiatives at the Human Rights Campaign and was the first transgender person to lead a national LGBT organization as exective director of OutServe-SLDN. Allyson has degrees from West Point, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Arizona State, and Oxford University. She’s been married to Danyelle for more than 20 years, and the two have four children.
Also, this lady can preach! Allyson is one of my favorite speakers, not only on topics related to gender and sexuality, but also on topics related to science, faith, doubt, and bridge-building. Be sure to check out these talks…
At TEDx Nightingale:
At The Reformation Project Conference, Washington DC:
At the Progressive Youth Ministry conference, Dallas:
Allyson will be speaking at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City on June 26, and at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C. on July 24. Be sure to check out Allyson’s Web site and follow her on Twitter.
I only recently discovered Austen’s work but he’s since become my go-to for resourcing Christians who are new to the topic of transgender identity and faith because this guy is SUCH a Bible nerd! He is perhaps best known as the creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” which seeks to understand, interpret, and share parts of the Bible that relate to gender identity and the lives of transgender individuals. But he’s also got an excellent blog and active Twitter presence.
Austen is a graduate of Luther Seminary’s Master of Arts program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, and is the winner of the 2010 John Milton Prize in Old Testament Writing from the same institution. As a transgender person of faith, his greatest passion is helping other trans and gender-non-conforming people see themselves in scripture, and to walk with them in their journey towards wholeness.
Some of my favorite, most shareable articles from Austen include: “What does it mean to be transgender?,” “Dysphoria and Dysmorphia: Understanding Identity and Mental Illness,” and “Standing Up for Transgender Neighbors”
Here's a sample from his "Transgender and Christian" series:
Nicole Garcia is a transgender Latina who began her gender transition in 2003 while employed as a law enforcement officer for the state of Colorado. Ten years later, she resigned from her position as a state parole officer to complete her education in counseling. On May 17, 2014, she was awarded a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and opened her own private counseling practice. She is enrolled in a hybrid online/campus Master of Divinity program through Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN, allowing her to pursue her calling to ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
I’m absolutely thrilled that Asher O’Callaghan agreed to speak at Why Christian? 2016! Asher serves as Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in the small mountain town of Idaho Springs, Colorado. He’s bisexual and transgender. So after a fundamentalist upbringing, Asher thought he was done with organized religion. He fancied himself spiritual but not religious. But then he stumbled into a church called House For All Sinners and Saints (HFASS) in Denver and God screwed up all his plans. There he heard an invitation he couldn’t help but go share. From Christ’s open Table he heard: “Behold who you are. Become what you receive.” It changed everything. As a pastor, Asher still finds himself hungering for that same Meal every single week.
Lisa Salazar has been a friend of the blog since she participated in “Ask a Transgender Christian” way back when.
She is a photographer, educator, graphic designer, and the author of Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life.
Note: Some additional trans voices are listed in this RNS piece by Eliel Cruz.
2016, Tin House Books
In Relief Map, Livy Markos is 16 and trying to get used to herself. She’s shot up several inches, is on the verge of something romantic with her best friend Nelson, and has recently participated in a serious crime. Meanwhile, her small town has turned against itself, on the lookout for an international fugitive, Revaz. It’s the summer she discovers that her community might not operate in right and wrong, black and white; but rather, that important choices often come in an ambiguous shade of gray. Refreshingly, author Rosalie Knecht has Livy make some seriously wrong decisions, the consequences of which reverberate throughout her town and her relationship with Nelson.
Relief Map is a novel about people who refuse to play the roles assigned to them by authority figures. Livy is not the carefree teenager her parents and neighbors expect her to be, and Revaz is not the terrorist the FBI suspects him of being. Knecht doesn’t give us a heroine and a bad guy, she gives us complicated characters trying to navigate the moral wilderness. For Livy, that means teetering on the edge of disaster, sometimes calling on Nelson to help see her through. And their sensitive friendship, their intimate knowledge of each others’ family lives and emotional topography, is my favorite part of this novel. Livy and Nelson’s loyalty and faith in one another, even in the face of certain punishment, is what gave me hope that everything just might work out. It’s rare to read something that so perfectly captures the in-between of friendship or something more. You get the feeling that Livy is sticking her toe in the deep end, testing whether sex with Nelson could mean the end of their relationship, or the beginning of one even more delicate, complex, and lovely than they had before. —Monika Zaleska
Laurie Halse Anderson
1999, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Some stories stick in your heart and head forever. Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak is one that stayed with me long after I read the last page. Speak is about voicelessness—physically and psychologically—but more than anything, it drives home messages of resilience, quiet strength, and the reassertion of agency. After being caught apparently tipping off the police about an end-of-summer party, Melinda Sordino is left with no friends, no allies, and no support when she starts her first day of high school. She’s quiet and withdrawn, and nobody understands why. What they don’t know is that Melinda harbors a terrible secret: There was much more to that fateful party and one of its attendees—identified for much of the novel as “IT”—than anybody imagined. The novel wrestles with the issues we unfortunately see so often when it comes to heinous crimes like rape—victim blaming, invalidation of victim confessions, and a slew of others—in ways that capture the complexity and severity of Melinda’s turmoil. Throughout the novel, Anderson is careful to show that even though Melinda has been deeply affected by an horrific event, she is more than her victimhood and stronger than she believes herself to be. —Victoria Chiu
Julia Gfrörer’s minicomic Dark Age is as much an exploration of nature as it is of physical intimacy. Two nude, scruffy-haired characters hold on to each other as they go exploring in the wilderness. Their literal closeness seems to emphasize that being together is just as important as finding something new on their adventure. The characters are drawn in detail that is just as—sometimes more—intricate than their surroundings, which underlines the importance of the relationship. When the two separate, the panels go all black, and I can’t help but think it is a deeper signifier of their codependency. Death and darkness are encroaching, but what reigns in this story is the safe haven that a relationship can provide, and the relentless need to offer relief to the people we love. —Rachel Davies ♦
Mike Miller received the text below via WeChat recently, where it seems to be making the rounds:
Gěi dàjiā jiǎng yīgè gǎnrén de gùshì: Yīgè qiāng kōng hé jī shè jī cǎn chǐ dú ē, túrán, chài yī líng diàn máo bīn qǐ, lí yuè miè chán…ránhòu jiù sǐle. Tài gǎnrénle…! Zhè gùshì jiào “yīgè wénmáng de bēi'āi”. Dàjiā wǎn'ān, míngtiān jiàn!
给大家讲一个感人的故事： 一个戗箜翮齑歙畿黪褫髑屙 ，突然，虿黟囹簟蟊豳綮，蠡瀹蠛躔…然后就死了。 太感人了…！ 这故事叫《一个文盲的悲哀》。大家晚安，明天见！
Let me tell everybody a touching story: A blah blah blah blah. Suddenly, blah blah blah, blah blah…. After that he died. This is so touching. This story is called "The sorrow of an illiterate". Good night, everybody. See you tomorrow.
VHM: Pinyin transcription and translation added by me.
Mike reports that several Chinese friends with whom he shared this passage responded apologetically that they couldn't actually understand the "story."
Random comments from Chinese friends to whom I sent this passage:
This story doesn't make any sense to me. If someone want to "讲/speak/tell" such a story to me, I would think he is crazy, because nobody will understand.
The passage seems to covey a sense of nonsensical and probably there is a touch of humor in pointing out the illiteracy because of the failure to read tones. But I don't really understand "the touching story" in the passage.
It makes no sense at all! Mocking rarely-used Chinese characters?
This story itself does not make any sense. It contains Chinese characters which most people do not know. If one cannot read the story, then he is illiterate, thus comes the title of this story, "The sorrow of one who is illiterate". It is just an irony rather than a real story.
So what really is the point of this story?
[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng, Rebecca Fu, Jing Wen, and Yixue Yang]
Beyoncé knows how to pick her moments (and her platforms). There is something quite poetic (both literally and figuratively) in the premiere of her sixth album, Lemonade, as a music-meets-film experience on the premium cable channel, HBO, on Saturday, April 23.
Just days before her musical event, we had learned that the U.S. Treasury Department plans to feature freedom-fighter Harriet Tubman on our $20 currency and that legendary pop star Prince (né Prince Roger Nelson) had died unexpectedly. Such current developments made Beyoncé’s musical ode to the ancestors and black womanhood, as reflected in Lemonade, even sweeter (pun intended).
I can only imagine what an ancestor like Tubman and an artist like Prince, who recently transitioned into ancestry, would think of Beyoncé’s efforts. Both Tubman and Prince championed black liberation: legally, socially, financially and artistically. Beyoncé’s success is the result of these past struggles, whether in Tubman literally freeing slaves or Prince—who once scrawled the word “slave” on his face—taking on big record companies to fight for artistic control over his music, pushing back against an industry notorious for exploiting black artistic labor. As Jamilah King noted, “Lemonade is what happens when black women control their art.” Lemonade is what happens when a pop star, having learned from the collective past of her people, ambitiously mixes and samples the stories and the art and bravely blurs the lines between art and popular culture, between the personal and the political.
On her previous album, Beyoncé changed the game for new album releases, exclusively dropping what she called her self-titled “visual album” on iTunes at the end of 2013. The surprise element, combined with her sampling of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” TED talk for her track “***Flawless,” prompted black feminist public intellectual Melissa Harris-Perry to label the album a “feminist manifesto.” At the time, I thought this pronouncement was premature, and I was hesitant to agree. I knew then that the pop star could deliver more. Lemonade is evidence of this.
This too is a “visual album” but, unlike BEYONCÉ, the different singles are delivered cohesively as a complete musical and film narrative, held together expertly by both the striking visuals and especially by the poetry of Somalian British poet Warsan Shire, performed as spoken-word voice-overs that Beyoncé delivers in dreamy, elusive pronouncements and whispers. Once again, the pop star broadens the international audience for another black woman writer existing in the wider Black Atlantic world. This added voice expands the global and transnational context for the local texts Beyoncé signifies through her construction of Southern black womanhood, often celebrated in the writings of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker, who are obvious influences in the themes and images presented.
Other literary influences that come to mind include Toni Morrison, especially in the “fully dressed women” wading in the waters, and especially Ntozake Shange, in which Beyoncé literally embodies the “colored girls who have considered suicide,” as she leaps off the roof of a building during the “Intuition” segment of the film featuring the song “Pray You Catch Me.” Shange’s generic stand-in characters—lady in yellow, lady in red, lady in blue—make various appearances throughout, most tellingly in the “choreopoem” recreation of poetry and dance. In the segment “Anger,” featuring the song “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a group of black women dance in the subterranean space of a parking lot, outfitted in overlong sleeves as they struggle to free themselves. The lyrics “Love God herself” echo in Shange’s struggle to “find god in myself” and to “love her fiercely,” while the spoken-word dance is reminiscent of Alvin Ailey’s celebrated Revelations.
Other African and Afro-Caribbean religious iconography abound, especially in the manifestation of the Goddess that Beyoncé channels for each of her segments. There is La Sirene, underwater, in the realm of the other world, asleep before slowly awakening to her resurrection in the here and now, becoming Oshun, fertility goddess bedecked in her trademark yellow with gushing waters accompanying her entrance. Threatening to flood the city streets, like Hurricane Katrina (already referenced in her “Formation” video), she is both lover scorned and a Hebrew-like “jealous God” who rains down the great flood onto her disobedient devotees and/or her unfaithful husband. For the featured song, a reggae-based “Hold Up,” Beyoncé sets about destroying cars and store windows in her path all while gleefully smiling and laughing, thus signifying the work of Pipilotti Risti’s audiovisual work, Ever is Over All, as well as the extended end to Michael Jackson’s Black or White music video. Not only does the pop star unleash the power of the Orishas but, through art, she signals her dismantling of the dominant gaze—best reflected in her destruction of a police surveillance camera and the music video camera itself. This is the visualization of “smashing the patriarchy” writ large.
Once Oshun enters the stage, so too do the other African goddesses: from Oya-Yansa, warrior goddess of the storms, represented by Beyoncé’s multicolored attire set against a stormy sky, to Yemaya, healing goddess summoning her female devotees entering her waters, to the “lady in red,” such as Isis the Egyptian moon goddess, following a scene of women donning Nefertiti-like hairstyles, and Haitian Vodou love goddess and warrior Erzulie Ge-Rouge, invoked during “6 Inch,” which features a sex worker resembling the “Creole Lady Marmalade” soul singer Patti LaBelle once serenaded. Through the power of her sexuality and her rage, this “sacred prostitute” burns down the big house—presented throughout the film as a “master’s house,” at once oppressive with its memories of black women’s roles as house slaves, servants and concubines as well as in its more generalized symbolism for women’s domestic confinement.
In “Sorry,” tennis champion Serena Williams appears alongside Beyoncé in this big house, gliding down elegant staircases all while twerking and grinding and recreating her iconic Sportsperson of the Year cover for Sports Illustrated. It is no mere coincidence that Beyoncé chose to feature cameos by Williams and younger personalities including Quvenzhané Wallis, Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg, all of whom received unfair attacks on their black womanhood or girlhood via social media. Lemonade redeems black womanhood in bold celebration and resistance against the dominant gaze, which includes a reclamation and, later, refutation of the oppressive space of the big house. In the segments “Resurrection” and “Hope,” different groups of black women across generations, color complexions and hair textures gather together and build community away from this space and on the grounds inhabited by slave ancestors, still haunting us like the women in the mossy trees: symbols of longevity and lineage.
The black-and-white cinematography of the Louisiana plantation alludes to the work of artist Carrie Mae Weems’ “Louisiana Project,” while the surrounding landscape evokes the aesthetic treatment of black feminist films like Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust and Kasi Lemons’ Eve’s Bayou. Dash’s film also invokes the Orishas, but Lemonade further bears the stamp of another experimental filmmaker, Maya Deren, a Vodou devotee whose documentary footage of Haitian Vodou, Divine Horsemen, remains a definitive narrative in representations of African religion.
The creative genius of Beyoncé lies in what singer/songwriter Sia describes as her “very Frankenstein” approach to taking bits and pieces of songs and mixing them together. She has assembled and interwoven an eclectic collection: from her country song, “Daddy Lessons,” routing the genre through its black music origins, to R&B tracks such as “Love Drought” to the powerful “Freedom,” which includes beats from work songs collected by Alan Lomax, to the reggae-based songs “Hold Up” and “All Night,” the latter featured in the final segment, “Redemption,” which is quite appropriate considering its echoes of Bob Marley and his prophetic songs (think “Redemption Song,” “One Love” and “No Woman No Cry.”) More than that, Beyoncé has set these songs to film and performance art, and not since Daughters of the Dust have black women looked more glorious, more dreamy, more haunting, more celebrated and more revered.
Sure, the basis for the album is the story of a woman reeling from an unfaithful partner and traveling through the different emotions: denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, forgiveness, hope. But when this most personal narrative is situated in the larger context of other black women, including the mothers of slain sons Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who also make an appearance, as well as our more distant ancestors whose memories we hold dear, Lemonade is the feminist proclamation that “the personal is political” and that “black lives matter.”
In a music environment that has struggled to stay afloat by pushing singles, Beyoncé tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment and turned the paradigms of digital technologies and music distribution on their heads by revitalizing the importance of full albums, as illustrated in one scene showcasing the vinyl of Nina Simone’s Silk & Soul. Prince would be proud. Tubman would rejoice. Here is a woman proclaiming “Freedom,” singing before her collective community of black women—past and present—and choosing the platforms for her music distribution all while announcing her full autonomy. This is the “feminist manifesto” we’ve all been waiting for and that we knew Beyoncé’s “fierce feminism” could deliver.
Janell Hobson is an associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She is the author of Body as Evidence: Mediating Race, Globalizing Gender and Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture, and a frequent contributor to Ms.