Friday, November 28, 2008


I have lived a paradox most of my life. I am, by nature, a "huggy" person. I love hugs. Actually, I love just about all physical contact. During my freshman year of college, I learned the term "love language" to describe this feature - I show and recognize affection best through physical touch (followed by quality time, with low priority toward the other five love languages). I don't just express romantic affection, but friendship this way, too.

This is where my paradox comes in: I hate breaking the touch barrier. Part of it is that I know some people don't like to be touched. I do my best to respect other people's barriers. Unfortunately, there are selfish reasons too. With my insane fear of rejection, I for some reason feel that it is better to be starved of touch than to offer a hug and be shaken off. Because of this, I would hug only family members (primarily my mother, aunts, etc) for years and years of my life. I didn't even have much physical contact with my first girlfriend back in high school (although it was only a week).

As a point of interest, it was also my freshman year of college in which I discovered how important touch was to me. The majority of this was expressed through cuddling, hugging, or holding hands with my second girlfriend, whom I met the first day of freshman orientation. We spent a lot of time together (as young people who think they're in love often do) and I was, in general, much happier than I had been throughout my earlier life. Then we broke up, almost exactly a year from the day we met. I spent another year and some change in relative isolation from physical contact, until I again found myself in a relationship. This one lasted considerably less time, but shortly thereafter I had something of a breakthrough: I don't need a girlfriend to hug people. I could be reaffirmed that people cared about me by hugging friends. And so I did just that. I love it. I don't think I could go back to only having contact with a girlfriend if I tried (and I see no reason to do so).

The worst part of knowing people care mostly through touch is that it's incredibly awkward to explain to anyone (especially a significant other) that you want to be touched. Our culture is so sex-obsessed that people's minds immediate go to eroticism. It bothers me. Sex is certainly a big deal, but realistically cannot occupy that much of our time, and so should not occupy so much of our thoughts.

Anyway, that's my thoughts on hugs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Lighter Post

I'm taking a break from my criticism to repost a short essay I just wrote for a class. I hope you enjoy it:

This morning, I started thinking about the question “where do your ideas come from” when I saw one of the men from my dorm pick up a giant foam sandwich from the curb, where it had presumably been left for trash pickup. This sandwich had been sitting in the hall of our dormitory for some weeks, and I could not imagine why anyone would bring it back inside. Seeing the opportunity to ask a delightfully bizarre question, I addressed him, saying “May I ask why you just took the giant sandwich inside?” He was entertained vowed to quote me on Facebook, and explained that he planned to cut up the foam for use in his room.

What occurred to me is that we probably see dozens of things almost as strange as this every day, but don't consciously process them. While the image of a man in a camouflage jacket carrying a giant sandwich under his arm is unusual enough to have captured my attention, had I seen it only out of the corner of my eye, I may not have been aware of it. However, this could still have prompted me to write a story about giant food or tiny people. Alternatively, I might have written an essay about world hunger or about gluttony. I might have written a poem about food, hunger, or fullness. All of these things come from this single experience of a man with a giant sandwich. It leaves me wondering just how many such experiences we almost have that lead us to write what we do. So, while I cannot call it a universal or eternal answer. if someone were to ask me today where my ideas come from, I would almost certainly respond, “From the corner of my eye.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Truth and Lies - Part I

What should you do when someone you respect makes an obvious mistake? Do you write it off as a fluke, or tell them about it? If they continue to make this same mistake, would you be cowed by the fact that you hadn't said anything before, or would you decide that they've crossed a line the second, third, or fourth time?

I respect the editor of the Aviso, Malone University's newspaper. She is a fine woman with a good sense of journalistic integrity. In this year's first issue, she stated her commitment "to cover Malone news accurately, truthfully, and responsibly."

To a degree, she has accomplished this. The Aviso has accurately reported many stories. But there are some points in which they have stopped short. Particularly, when the administrators say something, the Aviso has not, this year, questioned that statement. Before I go on, I in no way insinuate that any deceit is going on in the case of the individual administrator who was quoted by the Aviso, or in the Aviso staff. I only contend that falsehoods were spoken, and make no accusations as to where the falsehoods began and who was under the impression that they were or were not true.

Even in the same first issue in which the Editor dedicated herself to reporting the truth, a story ran about a campus beautification project. Many students were upset that picnic tables were being taken away for the more "aesthetically pleasing" benches, but my concerns were elsewhere: the Aviso reported that "The gazebo," a structure formally located near one of the dorms, "was structurally unsound and was eliminated over the summer." (Emphasis mine). I will tell you, dear readers, this is a lie. First, the gazebo was not structurally unsound. I have spoken with one of the workers responsible for the demolition. Asked about its structural integrity, the anonymous worker said, "It was fine. It just didn't fit in with the It was torn out for the sake of a proposed road that may be built later." He continued, "In fact, it was quite difficult to take apart." Another reason students believe (but the Aviso did not report) that the gazebo was torn down was that students were fond of using this semi-secluded spot for "make-out sessions." The reason I suspect that the administration claimed the gazebo was unsound is that they could not claim it was unaesthetic, like the picnic tables and could not admit publicly that students used it for romantic rendezvous. Everyone knows it, but no one will own up to the fact. I have heard, though I cannot confirm, that the gazebo had been payed for by a previous graduating class as a class gift. If this is so, it was also necessary to claim the gazebo was unsound for the sake of its demolition because any other reason (like a through-road) to tear down a class's legacy would be met with intense disapproval, to put it lightly.

The problem continued in the third issue of the Aviso, where they reported that class integration of the upperclassmen and freshman dorms was intentional. This is, in fact, what many of the administrators said. It is also a lie. At the end of each school year, returning students may request to keep their room in the freshman dorms. Over the past several years, more and more students have been doing this for the sake of "community" or, in the case of many girls, to avoid being stuck with a room in the dorm furthest from their classes. This increased to the point that the upperclassman residence halls could not be filled with only upperclassmen. Also, Malone continues to admit more students (particularly more men) than they can adequately house. Since Malone has strict rules about who may live off-campus, more upperclassmen were asked to live off campus to make room for all the freshmen now in need of rooms. I was asked to do so the past two years, and flatly declined. Because of upperclassmen refusing to move on from their freshman halls, and Malone's insistence on admitting more students every year, the dorms have become mixed. This was not a plan to break down class barriers, but a simple state of affairs being spun as such.

The issue continues in later issues, but I've already written enough for now. I'll continue at a later date.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Right Message, Wrong Backing

Malone University has mandatory Chapels. That is to say, there are gatherings twice a week in a room that used to be a sanctuary in a building that used to be a church where we go to sing Contemporary Christian Music and/or listen to speakers with varying degrees of spirituality and sports metaphor in their content, and we are expected to go to twenty of these throughout the semester.

Chapel has always requested that we remove our hats, hoods, and other head coverings while in Chapel. I have no issue with this. They also ask that we have our cell phones set to silent. This is no issue, either. Both are signs of respect, and I do my best to give respect where it is due.

Last school year, I noticed that the overhead displays asking us to remove our hats weren't just asking for their removal. They were asking us to remove our hats as Moses removed his shoes before the Lord (a reference to Exodus 3:5). I still removed my hat, but for some time, I would also sarcastically remove my shoes anytime I was in Chapel. I would have kept my hat on to further illustrate this point, but I am personally convicted to have my head uncovered during worship (I'll explain why later). If ever you see my head covered during Chapel, you can tell I feel the message is not only not worshipful, but actually interferes with private worship. I kept up the practice of going barefoot or in stocking feet until I realized that it was even worse for me to do this spitefully than for the school to misuse the verse.

For a time, these messages went away, and Malone went back to just respectfully asking us to remove our hats. However, this semester, it began again... this time with the addendum "but you can keep your shoes on" followed by a smilie face. This flat out disgusted me. I have considered writing to our student newspaper about this, but never have.

Perhaps I should explain myself further for clarification. First of all, the verse in Exodus 3:5 does not say that this is a general practice being established, but a specific case - this was Moses encountering the Burning Bush. Second of all, it was not because of worshipfulness that Moses was told to remove his sandals, but because he was on Holy Ground. Third, if Malone is going to refer to this verse, they ought to have us remove our shoes as well. Fourth, there are verses that speak of the covering or uncovering of one's head in the New Testament, in First Corinthians 11:4-15, especially verses 4-7, 10, and 13. Fifth, if Malone wanted to claim that either of these verses were culturally specific, they should not use them at all, but simply say "as a sign of respect." They could appeal, if they chose, to the practice of removing hats for the Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, or Alma Maters - it is respectful in modern American Culture to remove head coverings in cases of particular reverence.

Why does Malone use Exodus and not First Corinthians? My guess is it went something like this:

"We need the students to be respectful in Chapel and remove their hats."

"Why is that important?"

"Paul says in Corinthians that Men need to have their heads uncovered when they pray."

"Hm... just the Men? We're all about equality. After all, 'in Christ, we are neither Male nor Female'."

"Actually..." [looking it up] "some translations say she would be better to have her head cut off than uncovered."


"Well, he goes back to Creation and the original order of the Cosmos and explains that just as Christ is the head of the Church, Man is the head of Woman."

"That doesn't fit well with our Quaker theology of egalitarianism - it was probably contextual. How else could we motivate the students to take off their hats, and keep a spiritual emphasis?"

"Well, Moses took his sandals off at the Burning Bush - shoes are sort of like hats for your feet..."

"Perfect! Let's use that!"

I make no judgments about Women who do not cover their heads while praying. It could well have been contextual. The references to the created order clearly require some sort of separation or distinction, though. The options are: in the context in which Paul wrote, the specific sign that was necessary was Women covering their heads and Men having their heads uncovered, but those specifics are no longer necessary, OR Paul was writing for all time and Women ought always have their heads covered, men, uncovered. I personally feel convicted by this passage of scripture, and so I always remove my hat to pray, even if I am only praying for a few seconds.

My response to the claim that we are neither Man nor Woman in Christ is simple: this is true. Neither sex nor gender has any bearing on our salvation. However, it is ignorant to think that this means we are no longer distinct. Just as Christ's sacrifice did not physically remove differentiations between Man and Woman, it has not changed the way in which we relate to the world either. Eve was a helper to Adam. A "helper" is not one who does the same exact thing as the one they help. Neither is the helper a slave or even a servant. A helper fulfills a role separate from but not inferior to the one being helped. And there is nothing to suggest the removal of this distinction, especially in light of the many New Testament references to the differing roles of Men and Women.

Malone is right to tell us to remove our hats (at least, the men). I respect their rules. However, to use the example of Moses and not Paul disrespects the passage in Exodus for using it to support what it was not intended to, the passage in First Corinthians for not using it to support the very thing it was explicitly written about, and us as students for not considering us smart enough to notice or respectful enough to follow the rules for their own sake.