Category Archives: Controversial Opinions

This Summer: Love not Hate

Reminder: my blog is moving to elizabethsyson.wordpress.com. All my content will be both here and there for another week, but starting in August, this blog will no longer be active.


This is a summer of heartache.

I find myself grieving afresh almost every day—Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, five police officers in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge, hundreds of people in Baghdad, Istanbul, and Nice, and, I know, more—probably hundreds more that I never see, hundreds that the media never takes notice of.

taken from Wikimedia commons

a memorial for the Nice victims

Around this time last year, I wrote a blog post about love, hate, and opposing beliefs. Today I find myself thinking again of the strange juxtaposition, the way love seems to inevitably give way to hatred, the way the lines between them grow hazy and thin until we can hardly tell one from the other.

This is a summer of blood, and voices cry out from every side. We are angry. We are frightened. Most of us want the same thing: we want the violence to end. We want lives to be valued above hateful ideology. We want equality and safety and hope.

We are angry because we love—because our hearts bleed for the innocent ones caught in the crossfires of conflicting beliefs. We are angry because we feel helpless—because we see no solution in the face of unchecked hatred, blind oppression, and ongoing violence.

But when our pain and outrage turn our love to hatred, how are we better? Suddenly we look back and realise that we’ve been so focused on righting wrongs that we’ve forgotten to love the wronged. We’ve so desperately battled against injustice that we cannot fathom allowing justice for the other side, whether that other side is political, racial, religious, ideological…

This is a summer of people—individual humans trying to live through the horrors. We weep over the tragedies, we rail against the unfairness, and we shop for groceries. We protest injustices, we question motivations, and we balance our budgets. We cannot stop the world spinning no matter how ghastly the news.

I knelt at my granny’s feet this morning because she can no longer put on her compression stockings or shoes by herself. Kneeling there, I thought, This is the kind of love we’ve forgotten. Not the kind that fights, but the kind that serves. This, I realised, is the kind of dedication we have lost—the kind that proves itself not by destroying opposition, but by creating goodness.

My granny is difficult to love well. Despite her years of loving me, I find myself resenting the restrictions her helplessness places on my time and freedom. I find myself wishing she could understand or acknowledge the sacrifices we make to care for her. And this, I finally understand—this is what love truly is. To kneel at the feet of someone who cannot see the gift to appreciate it, giving without expecting return, without bitterness.

With new clarity, I see that the fine line between love and hate is merely this: to stand, unequivocally and unflinchingly, not against something, but for something.

I cannot right every wrong, but I can weep with the grieving, and I can stand with the suffering, and I can kneel with a pair of elderly feet in the early morning.

This is a summer of hatred—but I am learning love.

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What I Am Is White

“God made me white for a reason.”

She said it as I was sipping chai, as we discussed relationships and cultures and the difficulties of listening to people’s stories instead of fixing them. She’s an old friend who works with university students on a mostly-Latino campus, a blue-eyed white girl who grew up on the Mexican border, who looks, perhaps, German, but feels most comfortable around Hispanics.

It would’ve been easier if God had made her brown instead of white, if she hadn’t been a different colour in a town where whites are the marginalised minority. It would be easier if she matched the students she loves, if her affinity for Latinos were visibly explicable at a glance.

It would’ve been easier if God had made me brown, too.

As a child, with no conception of the difficulties minorities face, with the naïve innocence of a sheltered and privileged middle-class white girl, I knew before I was old enough to read that I wished my skin were something darker.

As a white girl growing up in Panama, I desperately wished to look more like everyone else, to stop the old ladies staring on the streets, the teenagers proudly airing their English in the form of catcalls, the girls at camp pointing to my untanned stomach and expounding on how white I was.

Thats me—the conspicuously white girl in the middle.

Thats me—the conspicuously white girl in the middle.

As a university student, discussing racial reconciliation, minority issues, and social justice, I developed yet a deeper awareness of my skin colour. The more I learned about systematic injustice, the more I longed to be free of the incriminating whiteness that put me in the “privileged” category and removed me from the struggles of those around me.

My desire to be a different colour changed from an adolescent’s wish to fit in to a young adult’s guilt over society’s wrongs.

Being white became an incurable flaw. I felt that by being white I somehow lost my right to an opinion, lost my ability to empathise, lost whatever it is that allows people to be grateful for their blessings without apologising for them.

I did not choose to be white, but I chose to regret it.

And now here sat my friend, sure that God had made her white for a reason.

And there I sat, accepting the idea, yet fighting back against the logic that said if she were white for a reason, so must I be. And the idea would not leave me. A reason—what reason?

Maybe I’m white to give a voice to the voiceless—to speak for the underprivileged in a society where my privilege lets me be heard.

Maybe I’m white to teach my soul humility—to learn to be gracious with myself and others when so much of our identity is involuntary and immutable.

Maybe I’m white to instil empathy in my heart—to help me see the perspectives of those around me and share their causes when I have nothing to gain.

Maybe…

…days later, I have a dozen potential reasons and no solid conclusions, and maybe that’s the way it should be.

There could be a hundred reasons or none, and in the end, perhaps it all boils down to this: That each of us should live a life dedicated to loving, supporting, and serving others, no matter our skin colour—that each of us is in some way privileged and in some way lacking—that we should fight injustice, right wrongs, and embrace differences—that as we face ourselves honestly, we must acknowledge what we are, but never apologise for it.

And for whatever reason, what I am is white.

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Her Name Is Ramah

Her name is Ramah. She stands on the edge of our circle too shy to join in, clutching her younger brother’s hand. When I look over, her dark eyes meet mine, and when I smile, she smiles back. I tell her my name and hold out a hand, and she grips my fingers tightly and tells me her name and her brother’s, and then giggles when I try to pronounce them.

In her perhaps seven years of life, she has already seen more suffering than I can imagine.

She lives in a tiny, shoulder-high enclosure, one of many, a crude blanket fort inside a concrete building like an abandoned parking garage. She plays on dirt and cement behind a chain-link fence guarded by Greek police, and if I am cold in a coat, she must be freezing in her thin shirt.

Earlier in the morning, I stood in the ruins of Philippi, and it did not feel real.

I touched the stones where Paul walked, saw the city square where he was beaten, sang in the theatre where Christians were martyred. I wondered, as I ran my fingers along the doorframe of an ancient temple to Caesar, why I was taught to be willing to die like an ancient Christian martyr but not to live like one—why my upbringing included dedication to defending my faith, but not unrelenting dedication to loving the needy.

And now in the evening, I stand in the refugee camp, and it feels too real.

I touch the dirt where they walk, see the shelters where they sleep, sing in the building where they live. I wonder, as I hold Ramah’s tiny fingers in my hand, why my country sends money to insurgent groups, but not to these desperate ones—why we fill other countries with our military, but don’t fill our own country with refugees.

Photo by Flickr user mehmet bilgin

Photo by Flickr user mehmet bilgin

We sang, and they cheered, and even as I laughed with the little girl who threw her ball higher and higher until I couldn’t catch it anymore, and even as I admired the little boys’ soccer skills, and even as I held a mother’s hand and repeated her name—I felt tears behind my eyes.

A man told us, “It’s good you came here. The children needed—” and here he pressed his hands to his heart and then raised them heavenward.

And I felt all the guilt of knowing I can walk in and out of their prison on holiday. I felt the shame of lifting their spirits only to leave without providing any material help. Hope is a powerful thing, but songs are not enough. Laughter will not keep out the darkness.

The children chased our bus out, waving and calling thank you’s, and we left behind people with no certain future. What I saw for ten or twenty minutes, they will see for ten or twenty months, years even.

We argue about economies, politics, immigration laws, while hundreds of thousands of people crowd into already struggling countries. We talk about statistics. We argue about “political issues” as if they were a hot potato in a game we hoped to win, but I have looked into their eyes, held their hands, and learned their names.

They are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They are sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers.

And one of them is a little girl named Ramah.


It’s Not About the Red Cup

redcup

Dear Christians upset about the red cups at Starbucks:

This is why we can’t have nice things. This is why nobody takes us seriously. It’s because we complain about things like snowflake-less cups.

But it’s not about a cup. The whole internet knows this is a ridiculous case of a few irrational people making a fuss over nothing. (Well, not nothing. Coffee is never nothing.) But stop laughing at the stupidity and take another look, because this is a symptom. Usually the deeper problem manifests in less ridiculous ways, but this Starbucks cup uproar is a perfect example of Christian privilege taken to its extreme.

Christians are whiny in this country. We are so eager to be offended that we’re missing the bigger picture.

You ever notice that people don’t make fun of Buddhists for their beliefs? I’ve heard people say, “See how Christianity is the only religion people hate? It’s persecution!” Number one, that’s not true—ask a Muslim or Jew sometime—and number two, maybe it’s because Buddhists don’t run around doing things like playing “pranks” worthy of an eight-year-old on Starbucks baristas and making a hullabaloo about a cup produced by a secular franchise.

It’s not about a cup. It’s about Christians thinking we deserve to have everyone support our holiday. We don’t convince anyone; instead, we cheapen Christmas. If we believe we celebrate something holy, why would we want it diminished to a commercialised doodle?

Christians are so worried about discrimination that we’re blind to our privilege. Whose slogan is on every U.S. coin? Whose Ten Commandments are in courthouses? Whose celebrations are national holidays? I didn’t notice anyone getting days off for Diwali this year, or for Passover, or for Ramadan. This nation was founded on freedom of religion: freedom of every religion—not freedom for Christians to demand acknowledgement.

It’s not about a cup. It’s about people who post pro-life Facebook statuses but judge the lives of unwed mothers—those who demand “Merry Christmas” but ignore the homeless whose Christmas is anything but merry—those who insist God is love while hating the LGBT+ community—those who sue for prayer in schools but neglect the millions of children who don’t have schools.

If this were the only instance of out of proportion pettiness, it might be a good laugh. But it’s not. It’s the natural outcome of a mindset that we’ve all lived in too long.

Instead of getting sucked into argument, consider spending the effort on someone in need. Here are a few good ways:

Make Christmas a little brighter for children with parents incarcerated.

Donate to help the homeless.

Provide food for a needy family.

Help children around the world through the Red Cross.

Support a VA hospital.

Give a Christmas gift to a less fortunate child in your area.

This Christmas, let’s fix what the red cup symbolises.

Christmas


Not A Stumbling Block

I fumed in my pew while women around me cheered for rape culture and victim-blaming.

To be fair, I don’t think the pastor realised he was promoting rape culture. That’s the definition of culture: our foundational attitudes, customs, and beliefs—ways of thinking ingrained so deeply that we only notice them when they’re challenged. Attitudes like, “Cover up. Nobody wants to see that.” Customs like asking what a victim was wearing. Beliefs like, “If women are modest, men won’t lust.”

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The pastor expounded on liberty in Christ. The snag came when he mentioned I Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

To his credit, tight trousers and low-cut blouses weren’t his first example of ways we make each other stumble—they were his second.

Here’s the thing: that verse comes at the end of a passage about whether or not it’s okay to eat meat that was used in a pagan religious ceremony. Paul reminds his readers that since idols have no power, it’s okay to eat the meat. But if your buddy still feels guilty about it, you shouldn’t eat meat in front of him. What Paul does not say is, “If your buddy has a problem with meat, you should hide all the meat in the world so he can’t possibly have to deal with it.”

And I am not a piece of meat.

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Let me turn this into a modern day example for you, because I haven’t had to deal with idol meat ever in my life, and I doubt you have either. I’ll even use the lust example:

Say you have a buddy who has a problem with lust, and you don’t want him to stumble. You’re walking through the mall and you see Victoria Secret coming up; you know you’ll have no problem walking past the display, but your buddy will. So although you’re free to walk by the store, you suggest an alternate route. That is helping your brother not stumble. That’s intentional and considerate, and it does not make you responsible for preventing his problem. And if you walk away from Victoria Secret and happen to pass a girl in a low-cut shirt, it’s still your buddy’s job to look away. It’s not your fault for picking that direction, and it’s not her fault for wearing the shirt.

Because she is a human, not a stumbling block.

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I’ve heard this idea over and over again: dress modestly to “protect our brothers.” It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s wrong. Unless our brothers live ascetic lifestyles on desert islands, a handful of youth group girls in long skirts will not “protect” them from what’s bombarding them anyway. They know what’s under that floor-length skirt. Men are intelligent humans with free will, not drooling animals who can’t control their impulses. Forcing responsibility onto a woman not only undermines attempts at justice after an assault but also creates a situation in which assault is nearly inevitable.

Women are not objects to be covered or uncovered at mens’ whims.

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Let me throw a few new ideas out there at you. “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” That means that no matter what she’s wearing, you don’t have an excuse to rape her. There’s also, “Each will have to bear his own load,” or “…we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” To me, that sounds like, “The perpetrator is guilty.” I don’t see, “…unless the victim wore a miniskirt” in there anywhere.

And this isn’t just a theological debate. This is happening every day. Most rapes are underreported, and fear of victim-blaming is one cause. (If you need victim-blaming explained, check out this video.)

If this were merely a matter of denominational differences or personal opinions, I might have caved to peer pressure and clapped with the rest of the congregation. But this is not about what we say in church or how we interpret obscure ancient Greek. This is about people—people with faces, people with names, people with scars they will carry forever. And it is not their fault. 

It’s time to stop dehumanising women.

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You, whoever you are—no matter what you wear, no matter what has happened, no matter what will happen—you are not a stumbling block.


Third Culture Patriotism

“Happy Confused National Identity Day!”

I received this text message from a TCK (third-culture kid) friend on the 4th of July a few years ago. As TCKs, our emotions about national holidays range from patriotism to ambivalence to loathing—often simultaneously.

I find that anything about patriotism triggers a foundational uneasiness that turns my stomach to knots and makes my fingers tremble.

us flag

I’m an American citizen. Hurray for Independence Day! Bring on the fireworks and barbecue! But I didn’t celebrate American Independence Day until junior high, when we moved back to the States; instead, I spent much of my childhood in Panama, celebrating basically the entire month of November. ¡Feliz Día de la Independencia! Bring on parades, pollera dancers, food, and fireworks!

I tear up when I hear a particularly moving rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. I also tear up for the Panamanian Himno IstmeñoI appreciate all the rights and privileges I have as a U.S. citizen and take pride in the struggles and accomplishments of Americans through the years. Although I don’t have Panamanian citizenship, I also feel a deep sense of sharing in the struggles and accomplishments of the Panamanian people.

panama

And I have it easy; I only have two countries tugging at my heart. I have friends whose identities are a fusion of five or six different countries, and I know there are people out there who claim even more.

Pain rises on this day of patriotism. As I sing the national anthem, I feel that I betray my Panamanian heart. As people around me pledge allegiance to a flag I’ve lived under only half my life, guilt washes over me: I don’t feel national pride. America is nice. So are other countries. Most of the world’s counties celebrate independence; the entire globe is an ever-shifting puzzle of revolutions.

Whereas Americans seem to feel patriotism as a call to support their country, I feel it as a call to disown my identity. Just like the horrifying “Where are you from?”, patriotism asks me to make an impossible choice.

Usually on the 4th of July, I choose to ignore patriotism and focus on the celebration—delicious food and synthetic stars fired into the night sky.

fireworks

This 4th of July, I choose something different: to celebrate. Tonight, as I watch fireworks flare above the Manhattan skyline, I will allow myself to celebrate American freedom.

And in November, though I won’t be in the country to see the parades, I will celebrate Panamanian freedom.

Because freedom is worth celebrating wherever it appears.

To the other TCKs out there: Remember that you’re not alone. There a hundreds, thousands of us feeling this juxtaposition of conflicting emotions, this pressure to choose. Remember that celebrating one home does not mean you’ve renounced the others. You have the incredible opportunity to expand your heart and love so many different cultures, people, and traditions. Celebrate them all. If you feel patriotic, wonderful! But remember, too, that it’s okay to feel neutral, even on Independence Day. You’re unique.

Today, I remind you of this freedom: the freedom to feel as much or as little as you need for as many places as your heart can hold.

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#HateWins: the love war

American flag

This week, the landscape of my social media changed. Videos of toddlers tipping over and puppies meeting mirrors gave way to rainbows, Bibles, and wedding rings. This week, the invisible but apparently insuperable trench between my liberal friends and my conservative friends widened and became a war zone—not because of a Supreme Court decision, but because of our reactions to it.

Angry words fly. New hashtags appear in favour of—or in fury against—recent events.

My friends who believe our country has taken a great stride towards equality this week celebrate. And they have reason to celebrate; to them, this is a victory for an oppressed minority.

But I’ve always hated the kid on the playground who won and then rubbed the loser’s face in it.

Please, my liberal friends, win gracefully. If #lovewins, demonstrate it by showing love to those who fought against you at every step. Remember that they, too, are fighting for convictions—beliefs they hold as deeply as you do yours.

Rainbow

My friends who believe our country has taken a great stride towards destruction this week mourn. And they have reason to mourn; to them, this is a desecration of something holy.

But I’ve always hated the kid on the playground who lost and then pouted.

Please, my conservative friends, lose gracefully. If you claim to follow a loving God, demonstrate it by showing His love to those whose lifestyles counter yours daily. Remember that for them, too, your Saviour died—for sins no blacker than yours.

cross

My liberal friends, remember that if your open-mindedness extends only to those who share your convictions, it masks intolerance.

My conservative friends, remember that you follow the Jesus of prostitutes and thieves, and if your love ends at the church doors, it masks hate.

I beg for grace, from both sides and for both sides.

Because your identity is so much broader than which side of this trench you claim. Your life is far too complex, too rich, too unique to be encapsulated in this one opinion.

And so is every other life around you.

I’m exhausted by the sneers, the jabs, the hate. I see a battlezone strewn with hurting people firing indiscriminate barbs at other hurting people.

I ache for a day when love truly wins.

white flag


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