September 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
Social media feels like a social experiment to me sometimes. I’m just waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to pop out at any moment and say “Gotcha!” and then present us with a bunch of revealing information and statistics about our behavior over social media for the last ten years. Sneaky bastard.
I always wonder if social media has changed the way we behave or just exposed what was there all along. Probably both. Nature and nurture.
Many things can be said about social media and the way we can create a world that is not real. We can create a profile that doesn’t actually reflect us but what we want others to think of us.
And yet, I usually hear this spoken of in a negative, judgmental sense. If we recognize that a person’s profile is not an actual reflection of how they are feeling or who they are, should it not draw us to compassion? Why is our natural reaction to shame people? Especially those with low self-esteem issues. Our response to low self esteem tends to be pointing it out, exposing it, ironically to make ourselves feel better.
Oh, she just posts those pictures to get likes.
He feels the need to brag about it because he needs the confidence boost.
She wears a lot of makeup because she’s obviously not confident in her own skin.
He posts those kind of status updates because there’s this deep seeded need to be liked.
And I’m so above all this. This is what is assumed right? But here’s a reality check. Everyone has self-esteem issues.
Everyone has a deep rooted need to be loved, affirmed, validated, treated with respect. Every. Single. Person. The way this manifests may be different and to varying degrees depending on the person. But we can all empathize. Or we should all empathize.
How do you think shaming helps any of this, heals any of this? I’m going to take a wild guess here, just throwing it out there, that maybe, just maybe, shaming does more harm than it does good. Instead of calling people out on their low self esteem, we could empower and encourage those around us who are discouraged, hurting, depressed, feeling unloved and unwanted.
Maybe the girl who just posts pictures to get likes is the same girl who every day struggles to survive the abuse and neglect she endures at home. She needs an escape from feeling unwanted, undesired, unworthy all the time.
Maybe the guy who talks about his gym workouts too much may be the same guy who used to struggle with an eating disorder and working out is the healthiest he has ever felt. He gets excited about it because he finally feels like he’s in control.
Maybe your friends who are strategic about what they post and who sees it because they want to present a certain image are living in fear. Scared of judgment, scared of vulnerability, scared to truly be themselves because the rejection is too painful to bear.
Or maybe, they are posting certain pictures, wearing certain clothes, acting a certain way because they love the attention.
And maybe, you’ve done the same things.
I’m going to go all Black Eyed Peas on us and ask where is the love? Shame is one of the worst motivators and manipulators in the world. And the more we can eliminate it, rid it from our lives and stop imposing it on others, the more free we will become.
So he’s posting selfies because he’s depressed. Send him a note of encouragement. Reach out, share love. Social media gives us this rare peek into people’s lives that we normally would not get. There are people I’m not close to anymore that struggle with really difficult issues that I would have never known about outside of social media. There are opportunities every day for me to encourage someone I haven’t spoken to in a while because they’re just an instant message away. And there are opportunities for me to be encouraged as well, through being open and vulnerable in every area of my life. And, the reality is that for many, this now includes social media.
It is easy to get annoyed with those who post sad statuses or status updates all the time. I am guilty of judging these people and saying that they need to talk about those things with people close to them and not spread it all over social media. But what if they don’t have anyone? What if posting it is a cry for help? Their way of reaching out? What if Facebook is the only community they have right now? At least they have an outlet right?
If I were upset and opened up to someone about it in person and they expressed sympathy, no one would think that was weird. No one would judge me for seeking out affirmation from someone in a moment of sadness. But when this is displayed on social media, for some reason we jump to conclusions and judgments quicker.
Back to the original question of nature vs. nurture, I would venture to say that social media more exposes human behavior than it shapes it. Humans are humans and have always been so. It’s just more on display now. And we shouldn’t be shocked at the amount of pain and dysfunction we see. We shouldn’t be ashamed to allow ourselves to feel the same way. Humans tend to bond more through shared suffering, knowing we’re not alone in our pain. And social media offers us an opportunity to encourage each other through it.
The internet isn’t going away you guys and the power to connect or disconnect with each other in whatever way, whether in person or on the internet, is still in our hands.
May 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
I am tired.
I’m only 25 years old and I am tired.
A mental exhaustion that wonders how long we will fight petty culture wars because we are afraid of thinking outside of our box. Wars that stem from personal offense by things we are not allowed to be offended by. Not because they are not perhaps offensive or close minded in their own right, but because we are not offended by what really matters. For example, while we are arguing over whether or not we should bake a cake for a gay wedding, LGBTQ youth are committing suicide at alarming rates.
The religious leaders were always trying to catch Jesus in a cultural or theological war. They were always trying to get him to engage and state his stance. Essentially, when they asked the questions they did to trap him they were basically saying, “Whose side are you going to take?” And Jesus never took the bait. Never. Never did he allow what mattered to them to change the way he treated people. Never did he allow the petty arguments, and even some legitimate ones, to stop him from healing and serving. And never did he grab an opportunity to show his moral or intellectual superiority.
We’ve become too attached to our own personal morality that we have let our pride consume how we treat others.
Let me say something that probably won’t be very popular. Love does not mean telling a person that you think they are in the wrong, whatever it may be. You are not saving someone by telling them they are going to hell. We have latched on to this popular idea that sometimes love means saying the hard things, but those hard things are rarely truths to help someone, they are opinions held on to too tightly that we fear if we do not share, we are then responsible for that person’s soul. You are never responsible for another person’s soul. Praise God and hallelujah. It is not your job to get someone into heaven. Christ did that on the cross, never to be done again and if we think that getting a person to repent is somehow saving them from hell, our pride has a reached a level that I’m afraid will take longer than my lifetime to come down from.
We also have fallen prey to the idea that we know what a person needs outside of relationship with them. We have Facebook arguments about people we don’t even know. We pin every Christian idea against every “worldly” idea that we can get our hands on, never thinking that potentially not everything is at war with each other. That maybe God made the world we live in and therefore many ideas and concepts about the earth and humanity may not be in contrast to God.
But over all of this, I think the real problem is that we don’t think about each other enough. We don’t think about how the person we are talking to might perceive what we are saying. We don’t think about what they have gone through in life or how the church has potentially hurt them in the past. We don’t think about how their doubts that were covered over by cliché answers and not properly embraced may cause them to be on edge. And we think of how to defend ourselves more than we think about denying ourselves.
We have let the freedom to have our own personal set of beliefs or morality stop us from thinking outside of ourselves.
I watched the documentary Blackfish recently and it was talking about how a killer whale’s sense of self is composed of their community or family of eight other whales. So they do not think individually, “self” means 8 or so whales together. So when one is taken away it is truly traumatizing because they do not operate independently. Therefore when they are taken away and kept in captivating, such is done at places like Sea World, they become depressed and tend to lash out.
I am amazed that killer whales know more about how to live in a community than we do. We would say it’s a good thing to be able to operate independently and to some extinct, this is true. However, we have become so independent that we have become separated from each other and hostile in our interactions because we can keep people at a distance. We can write comments on any social media without having to see the person’s face, their reaction, the way it may hurt them. We can hold them at a distance in our minds, making all kinds of assumptions about where they are at in life, what “agenda” they are trying to push, what they believe, what is in their heart. All the while excusing ourselves from being affected by each other, all the while staying “true to what we believe”. Staying true to what you believe has come to mean protecting your beliefs from anything that might sound controversial, that might cause you to loosen your grasp a little more, anything that might be rational. Many times the people I hear so strongly claim they want to stay true to what they believe only mean they want to have freedom of speech. They want to be able to say whatever they want to say whenever they want to. This sounds a bit selfish. Yes, as American Christians we have the freedom to say what we want. Doesn’t mean we have to exercise that freedom. You see, that’s what I think is the biggest problem with being a Christian in America. We have freedom and therefore think we must exercise all of it. We back things up by saying it’s our right instead of asking if it looks like Christ.
I personally do not want to get to heaven bragging about how I kept myself untainted from the world. I want to walk up to Jesus with scars, pain, wounds, failure, covered in my own dirt and the dirt of all the people I walked along the road with, fall on my knees and say “I gave it everything I had”.
This may not be you, you may not wish this for yourself and I don’t expect that. All I ask is that we stop creating wars in the name of personal holiness. For while we think we may be fighting against the forces of evil, by “speaking boldly” through Facebook statuses and preaching from the pulpit to a people we are disconnected from, when we allow differences to separate us rather than grow us, when what we believe holds us back or makes us fearful of the people we’re supposed to be loving, we may be unknowingly fighting for the darkness.
March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
I am so done with easy answers.
Not only do I dislike hearing “one size fits all” answers because they seem very impersonal and more comforting to the other person, therefore making me feel like they are not listening to what I am saying, but also because these answers tend to invalidate or not give the appropriate weight to the pain people feel.
Everyone knows those cliché Christian phrases we say to people who are hurting that actually provide more eye rolls than they do comfort.
God just needed another angel in heaven.
You know, God won’t give you more than you can bear.
Everything happens for a reason.
Just because God didn’t answer doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.
We are usually quick to whip out a cheesy Christian answer or our favorite Bible verse whenever someone comes to us in pain and suffering. These cover all, blanket answers that do not fit every person’s life usually do not take into consideration the pains that people go through because of injustice in the world.
Someone said to me recently, “What is spiritual comfort for others may not be for you…and that’s ok”
That was really freeing for me. Too often we say what we think is comforting without thinking through how it can potentially be damaging for someone else. What we usually do not take into account is the ways in which Scripture has been misinterpreted and skewed to manipulate or harm others. We may know that this happens, but if it has not happened to you or if it is not your intention, it can be easy to forget to apply this knowledge and act as if it is a rare occasion and therefore should not change how we say things. If we have rarely experienced the hurt and mistreatment that many of the people around us have, we may not be able to see how certain Christian phrases or ideas may be translated through the lens of someone who has been abused, neglected, mistreated, or oppressed. This inability to see through their lens may cause us to become too defensive when encountering people who are angry with God or frustrated with the Bible.
An example of this would be the idea of God as a protector. Someone may be able to back that up with Scripture. But how do you think that comes across to someone who was abused their whole life and stripped of any ability to protect themselves, and no one, not even the person they were supposed to trust most, protected them? How do you think that messes with someone’s head who cried out to God to protect them and nothing happened?
And don’t even get me started on all the cliche phrases of Christian purity culture…..Ok, here I go.
How do you think it sounds to a girl, who was repeatedly raped, that “good Christian guys only want virgins?” I was in a service one time where I was listening to a lady go on about how you decrease your value every time you give a piece of yourself to a guy. Not only was I fuming inside because this message of guilt and shame and control is exactly the opposite of the freedom and redemption that Christ offers, not to mention it teaches unhealthy interpersonal relationships (can you tell I have a lot to say about this?), but I was also looking over at a girl who I knew was repeatedly raped as a child and wondering how in hell she was supposed to feel hope and empowerment from this “sermon”.
Obviously, if someone is preaching a gospel other than the grace of Jesus, and if someone is using the Scriptures to manipulate and harm, they should stop.But I think the harder challenge is in situations when we believe in something and are not intentionally trying to be harmful with what we’re saying. In those cases, are we still willing to lay down what we personally believe or find comfort in so that others pain can be dealt with? Are we willing to take the time to listen to people’s stories so we can have some sort of an understanding of how they need us to respond? Are we willing to lay down our knee jerk reactions, our magic wands, our innate desire for black and white answers and everything to be easy, our justifications of why we preach what we preach, in order to honestly deal with our own messes and the messes around us?
Let what is a comfort to you be a comfort to you. Be encouraged by people who find them comforting as well. But don’t exclude those who do not. Don’t jump to conclusions because someone does not respond the way that you do to aspects of God. Don’t assume someone does not enjoy worship just because they do not worship the way that you do. And don’t assume that someone is not passionate about sharing Jesus just because they are uncomfortable with typical evangelism tactics.
I have found that those who were raised in the church typically struggle with and find comfort in the same things as others who grew up around Christianity. For those who became Christians later in life, they sometimes do not understand as well what it is like to grow up in Christian culture. For them, Christianity saved them. For Christian culture people, they felt they had no other choice. As someone who grew up in the church, I find that people who did not may not be able to speak into or understand certain doubts, questions or experiences I have had. But many times these same people remind me of the joy of being a Christian. Their passion and excitement remind me why I continue to choose to be a follower of Jesus.
No story or person is better than the other and when we step back from judgment and exclusion, we can get to know the person. And we may find that the fact that they even showed up to church that day, with the brokenness, pain, doubts and baggage they carry, is a miracle in and of itself. That is how I have been recently viewing the church. A miracle of people in the midst of all their hurts and struggles, still standing and following Christ.
But sadly we tend to think that it is weakness to let other people affect what we think or believe. I can write out a whole email or Facebook comment of what I think, of frustrations that I have and I could send it to someone without a thought of how it may affect them. But typically when I am face to face with that person, my words and my tone are so much nicer and I am more pleased with how I handled the situation rather than calling them out from behind a computer screen. That is why I struggle with the idea of a blog. It is almost as if I have to picture people the whole time I am writing rather than use the distance to say things I would not say to a person’s face. Because being face to face forces me to remember that I am dealing with a human being who has hurts and emotions just like I do.
I find that people always want preachers to be stricter in their teaching, more “bold”, more firm and definitive. But most preachers try to be really careful with what they are firm on, not because they are weak or cowards, but because most preachers are also pastors.
The gospel brings hope and life and peace and freedom. Oh yes it does. And some have had the glorious opportunity to hear that message untainted, as clear and beautiful as it was meant to be said. They heard it in their darkest place and it called them out. But for some, this ideal is not always a reality. For some, this same message was used to keep people in bondage, in submission, in oppression and others have controlled this message to get what they want. And the people affected by this are sitting in our churches, in our communities, just crying out to hear that Jesus is not who their oppressors said he was. There are people in our churches who cannot bear to hear another cliche Christian phrase and it is our responsibility to each other to validate each other’s pain and doubts without taking it personally or trying to find an answer to all of their problems. I find that listening and walking with people in their pain is usually the response most people are looking for.
March 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
Confession. I like Kanye West.
I guess I should say I like his music. I don’t know the guy so I don’t know if I like him but I like what he has to say at times. I know this isn’t a popular opinion but screw popular opinion. Because with all his antics and celebrity narcissism, sometimes, if you listen closely, something pretty brilliant can come out of his mouth.
One of those times is in his song “Power” off his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album. As with pretty much every song, people have some crazy interpretations of what message he’s trying to convey, you know, since every singer is a secret member of the Illuminati. I like to imagine the Illuminati is really just what Jay-Z and Beyoncé call their weekly hang out times with other celebs that if I attend enough Nets games I will eventually get invited to. Fingers crossed.
My simple interpretation of “Power” is a mix of messages, where he struggles with the power thrust upon him and the power he takes for himself and how both have entangled him.
At the end of the song, he alludes to committing suicide just to free himself from the power play. As the song is fading, he presents the question “you got the power to let power go?”
Now I’m going to make a maybe not so big leap from Kanye to Christian culture.
I believe we are so consumed by power that it starts a war every time we are challenged to even slightly let it go. We have abused our freedom. We have let the freedom to have our own personal set of beliefs and morality stop us from thinking outside of ourselves.
This is why we have culture wars. Because we have the “luxury” of being offended by issues we do not have the right to be offended by. Not because they are not in and of themselves offensive (but they’re probably not) but because we are so often not offended by what is actually offensive. We have the luxury of not baking a cake for a gay couple, while LGBTQ youth are committing suicide at alarming rates and we remain silent. It is easier and more comfortable for us to abstain rather than to engage. Because engaging would mean stepping outside of the suburbia of Christian culture that we have created and lived in for so long.
This attitude has not only seeped out of us as American Christians, it has seeped into our churches. We cater our churches to attract the people we want to instead of growing with the people who are placed in our communities. We have the freedom to pick and choose. And as Kanye says, no one man should have all that power.
I was in a chapel service once where a couple from Africa came and spoke about their work there. Typically when people came and spoke at my school’s chapel services, the guy would get up and talk about their ministry and the women would stand off to the side, holding the kids and maybe, if we were lucky, pray at the end. This couple, a breath of fresh air, was not like that. The woman spoke about how she saw a need for an orphanage and so she started one in their village. Both spoke at equal lengths about how God was using them. As they were talking, I leaned over to my friend and said “If we asked them what role they believe women are allowed to play in ministry they would probably laugh in our faces.” But this was a huge debate at my school, with many believing women should not have the same amount of leadership as men.
You see, other countries (and continents, I know Africa is a continent) do not always have the “luxury” to pick and choose who gets to participate in ministry. No, if there’s a need, someone just steps up and does it. No questions asked, no illegitimate fears raised, no antiquated debates, just simply a community of believers doing what they can to bring the kingdom to earth through any means necessary. There’s no selectiveness, just people, people wanting to do right by Jesus. Man, I wish we had that kind of freedom.
No, what we have is the selfishness to be selective, to create church in our own image, to pick what kind of music we like, what style of preaching, what kind of people, what set of beliefs, if we like the vision, mission, pastor, leadership, etc. after annoying etc. all under the guise that it is our right. We treat church like a Starbucks and expect to have everything changed to what we need. Sure we have the “freedom” to do so. But is that freedom actually freeing or has it reached the point of bondage? Have we used our freedom to make us slaves to ourselves? I think too often we have used our freedom and overabundance of resources as an opportunity to nit-pick, to hold beliefs about ideas that have nothing to do with Christ and his church but rather our own desire for legalism and we are in bondage to our own personal set of beliefs rather than being in bondage to God’s desire for the church, which has always been unity in diversity.
Another song about power that I love is Handlebars by Flobots. The song starts off with him realizing that he can ride his bike without holding on to the handlebars. And gradually he becomes more aware of his abilities and of his power. He at first realizes his power can do good saying, “I can make new antibiotics, I can make computers survive aquatic conditions, I know how to run a business”. And as he realizes more and more of the extent of his power, the music builds and it all climaxes with “I can make anybody go to prison just because I don’t like them, I can do anything with no permission, I have it all under my command because I can guide a missile by satellite….and I can end the planet in a holocaust.” This song builds up to this point and after it is over it goes back to slow music and “I can ride my bike with no handlebars”, showing how cyclical power is and how easily we can get drawn into its enticement.
We need a Kanye slap to the face every day to ask ourselves, do we have the power to let that power go. Do we have the power to take this so called freedom and actually free ourselves through the love of Christ and actually free each other through the love of Christ. To take the voice that we have been given, the power and influence and use it for good, use it to help others, use it to speak up against injustice and not get up in arms about small “injustices” we think have been done against us because the entertainment world would not let comments not spoken in love be spread on television. Will I take this power that can be so ensnaring and break the chains by going against my “rights” in order to serve another person, caring more about their rights as children of God and to give mercy in every situation.
Jesus went against the cultural norms of his day, but not in an abrasive, starting cultural wars kind of way. He many times refused to participate in petty cultural debates and he used his power to extend love to those society would not. I would like to say in all of this, we need to be counter-cultural. But it seems to me that the culture 21st century Christians need to go against is our own.
Note: This image is taken from the blog Hyperbole and A Half by Allie Brosh. You can read her hilarious and profound thoughts on power (and many other things as well) as told through the story of a 4 year old and her dinosaur costume at her blog hyperboleandahalf.com
February 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
There is this interesting phenomenon called disgust psychology, which examines why we consider certain things disgusting and why it causes different reactions in different people. For instance, I have heard it explained before using the illustration of how we create spit in our mouths and yet if we were to spit it out and someone had us drink it again, we would be totally disgusted by that, not thinking twice about how that was just in our mouths.
That’s a great way to start out a blog post right?
Many researchers have come to a conclusion that disgust is in fact learned. Not entirely, there is obviously a combination of nature and nurture as with most things. But disgust is perpetuated and exaggerated through learning. Just as many would agree that racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are learned behaviors. We don’t know why sometimes we react the way that we do, but something inside of us feels uncomfortable.
A couple weeks ago in church we read a story from Luke 7:
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say amongthemselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
I was struck by the beginning of this story. How the Pharisee said “If he knew what kind of women she was…” To me, this is disgust psychology in action. Being disgusted by something in another person that is also in you. If his sin was all on the outside, if it was glaringly obvious, if it was paraded around in society, he might be disgusted by it too. Or maybe, just maybe, he would want others to respond in compassion.
But he doesn’t seem to be concerned that he is a sinner. He doesn’t seem to notice that Jesus is dining in the house of a sinner. He doesn’t think there is a sinner in the house until she enters.
I couldn’t help but think of all the ways we do this to other people. We act as if the people that walk through our church doors are somehow unknown by God. We watch as they worship in the same way that we do and we act as if they are somehow tainting our perfect and holy God with all their sin and all their problems. If only God knew their sin, well then surely he would strike them down. Surely he would not receive their worship.
My friend Katie recently talked about how we sometimes don’t bring things to God because we don’t want to taint him, we think that the horrors of the world are too messy and so we keep them to ourselves, forgetting that God not only stepped foot into this world, but he lived and breathed it for 33 years.
And not only do we not bring him our messiness, but we judge other people for doing so. We keep talking about repentance as if it is what will “get us right with God” so we don’t taint him when we walk into his presence. And yet, we have a God who isn’t afraid of messy people.
I am amazed at how Jesus doesn’t care about being touched by “this sort of woman”. He’s not afraid of people’s messiness, he’s not afraid of the baggage they bring. I would say he only sees their worship, but that’s not true. He sees their sin too. He sees their heartaches and their hurts and their deepest thoughts. This is what makes it more beautiful for him to watch their worship. He’s not disgusted. He wasn’t disgusted by this woman worshipping with everything she was. To say that he only saw her worship and her love takes away from the fact that he saw everything and yet loved her and treated her the same. We often even want to act as if Jesus only sees the good parts about us. He only sees when we do good and turns a blind eye to the other, more complicated parts. This is why I don’t think we can separate aspects of people. Because God doesn’t operate under “love the sinner, hate the sin”. No, God just operates under love. He doesn’t compartmentalize, he sees all of it, and he loves in the face of all of it.
I want to be a person that is not afraid of messiness, my own or anyone else’s. That is not offended by people’s sin because the only person it is allowed to offend, died on a cross for it and he tells us to forgive. I find it amazing that in the end of this story Jesus equates the ability to love with the ability to forgive. I want to be a person who pushes through the baggage, who doesn’t run away, who doesn’t give up on people, and whose sins are forgiven, even if they are many, because I loved much.
I want to be like this woman, coming to Jesus with all my shit and saying “here I am to worship”.
February 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this if you have not finished or even started Breaking Bad. There are small spoilers but still, do not rob yourself of watching the show fully and coming up with your own thoughts after you’re done. I am a firm believer that the process of Breaking Bad is more important than getting to the end and I don’t want to take that away from you. You probably think I’m crazy but you won’t understand my intensity until you watch it. That is all.
I was two or three months too late on watching Breaking Bad. And I’m probably about six months late on writing anything about it. But that’s what happens when you take too long to work up the guts to start a blog and actually consistently post.
In spite of that, I unashamedly still talk about Breaking Bad. Why? Because it is everything I have ever wanted in a TV show. It is my television soulmate. Cue the eHarmony theme song.
There are a plethora of reasons I love Breaking Bad that I could spend an entire series of blog posts writing on: the character development, how everyone has a different point when they stop rooting for Walt (if you don’t ever stop rooting for him, I don’t know what to say to you), how they will spend two minutes on a conversation that has nothing to do with the plot just to make it seem more real, how patient the producers were, how they connected everything but not in a perfectly wrapped sense and ended the show with perfect timing, how not every episode ends with shock, sometimes the episodes shock you in the middle or beginning, how the show reveals the problems within ourselves, how the protagonist was actually the antagonist you just don’t realize it until you stop rooting for him, etc, etc, etc.
The show is incredible, something I could probably analyze for the next ten years but will spare you the agony of listening to that. Unless you’re a close friend. Then you’re just screwed.
But after much thought, I have found that my favorite thing about the whole show is the way the characters and the producers deal with the painful things that happen to them. Their reactions are human and realistic and despite the amount of violence in the show, the producers never glorify violence.
Too many TV shows make invincible characters; people who never respond normally to any given situation. People who can bounce back from heartache and suddenly be in a new relationship and then the next week in another one. People who lose a family member and next episode it doesn’t seem to affect them. Who witness horrible tragedies and can get up the next day and continue their job without an ounce of counseling. Who commit terrible crimes and do not feel remorse. I know the people who write these characters want them to come across as really badass. But to me they are boring, because they are un-relatable and lack depth.
I watched the episode of Glee where they had to explain how Cory Monteith’s character, Finn, died in the show following Monteith’s passing. I bawled the entire episode. And I never cry in movies or TV shows. It was heartbreaking knowing that all the characters were actually going through that pain. There was no acting, the pain was real. It was amazing and heart wrenching to watch and I found myself wanting TV to be that real, that honest all the time. But by the next episode, everyone was back to singing, dancing and being ironic outcasts. Sure Rachel, Finn’s girlfriend and Monteith’s real life girlfriend, has occasional moments in the next couple episodes where she expresses that she misses Finn, but her pain is nowhere near the level it was in that episode. It all was so unrealistic and frankly, felt forced and fake. Now I know with a show named Glee you can’t really have all your characters be depressed for an entire season, but that’s the amazing thing about Breaking Bad. They pulled it off.
I am probably a little biased since he is my favorite character, but no character on the show reacted more humanly, more normally, more healthily to the craziness going on around him than Jesse Pinkman. The writers spend almost the entire second half of the show with Jesse in deep depression. And it never gets boring. It never gets old. Jesse develops into one of the most intriguing characters.
Many say he becomes the moral compass for the show. Because while Walt is increasingly becoming used to the idea of killing in order to get what he wants, Jesse is becoming increasingly more uncomfortable with it. Jesse was mostly in it for the high of the drugs. Walt is in it for high of the power trip, which proves to be more deadly in the end.
Although Jesse responds the way I would hope I would respond, all the characters respond in normal, very natural ways. They don’t ignore the pain, they don’t dismiss the traumatic things they witness, they all just have a different way of handling it. And each person on the show is relatable. You can see yourself in them.
Many sad, gruesome events happen throughout the show. But each time, I found myself reacting to them the way that I should, with disgust and sadness. For instance, there is a scene in the last eight episodes where Walt sets it up for 9 guys to be killed in prison. They show the killing of each guy with clips of Walt standing in his house, just checking the time. I was beyond angry at Walt during this scene that I could hardly stand to watch it. I thought about how easily a scene like that could be glamorized. How easily similar scenes in movies and television shows make the main character seem like such a badass, so crafty in their killings.
And yet I was seething with anger at Walt. Maybe you weren’t, but for many who followed him throughout all the seasons, who watched him turn into the person he was at the end and maybe always was from the beginning, we were yelling at our TV screens.
And for once, I was grateful. I was grateful that a TV show could provoke such emotion from me. Because violence should. For too long, movies and TV shows have included violence in their plot usually only to their advantage. They glamourize it making it some kind of normal act for the heroes in their stories. The character is rarely ever held accountable for what they do and the audience rarely ever sees the ramifications of their actions. For once, I would love to see a “romance” movie that actually deals with the pain and heartache that happens when people cheat on each other. Maybe people wouldn’t desire a movie fairy tale story when they realize that most of the time these stories include hurting other people. An audience normally doesn’t respond to a movie or TV show the way they do to a traumatic real life event because they can write it off as being a movie, it’s not real.
Not so with Breaking Bad. You see how every person is affected by their choices and by Walt’s choices. You watch Jesse be turned into a numb and psychologically messed up human being. All I could think at the end of the series was how long Jesse would have to be in therapy to become functioning again, or if he ever would. You watch as Skylar is manipulated and mentally abused, left with very little room to come out of this cleanly even though the decisions or choices were rarely ever hers to make. Sure at one point she decides to go along with it, but not for the same reasons Walt does. She feels like she has no other choice.
Every person around Walt pays for his choices, and sometimes their own, in one way or another. Hank dies and Marie loses her husband, Flynn will have daddy issues for the majority of his life, Holly will grow up without a father, Jesse will never be the same spending most of his life in therapy or going back to drugs, Skylar is left to raise her children on her own and left to deal with the aftermath of everything that happens, probably never being able to trust someone again.
There is no separation from the characters and their pain or even just their humanity. In fact there is an emotional attachment that happens without you even realizing. It is not “just a TV show”, it becomes real life stories that actually happen. And you realize how numb you have become to violence because of TV. TV allows you to be disconnected from the people, allows you to forget that families are affected by these actions and that there are real consequences to the actions presented in entertainment. Breaking Bad brought life back to television.
I love that the writers were able to create an entire series built around the making and distributing of methamphetamine and yet completely dodge the drugs conversation because of the other, seemingly deeper issues that it brings to the surface. No one is debating and discussing the drug industry. In fact, you could probably replace that part of the story with something else. Because what is really happening is Walt’s willingness to sacrifice his conscience and the value of human life, for power and control.
And if I’m not disgusted by that, either I have become too numbed by TV and invincible characters, or I have some real soul searching to do.
February 11, 2014 § 2 Comments
A couple months ago I was riding the subway back home and was pretty exhausted. I had my purse on my arm with my arms folded against my chest so my purse was secured to my body. I leaned my head against the rail to rest my eyes for a bit when I was suddenly awakened by a man who was passing in between subway cars. He tapped me on my leg and shouted loudly,
“Hey wake up! You’re a girl! Someone could steal your purse”
Maybe I should have been grateful for the passerby stranger looking out for my well- being. Oh thank you kind sir for taking the time to yell at me while passing in between subway cars. If you can’t tell, annoyance was my choice of response. What I couldn’t get out of my head was the middle sentence.
You’re a girl.
As I thought about it, I became increasingly upset about the fact that no matter how strong or capable I am or become, being a girl puts me more at risk for someone to do harm to me. You could take this statement and insert it with so many other things “Hey wake up! You’re a girl! Someone could….”
Rape you? Take advantage of you? Make it nearly impossible to gain education or make a life for yourself? Snatch you up as their sex slave?
Because the reality is that being a girl may cost something whether we want it to or not.
I enjoy being independent, in an empowered, I know how to take care of myself and sometimes pay my bills kind of way. I live in a big city, I have a job, I live in an apartment with two other people, I have a college degree and hope to get further education, I feel many times I can hold my own with the “bigwigs”. I don’t really know what that means or if I’ve ever met one, but I’m sure if I ran into a “bigwig” we would become fast friends.
And yet, I have moments like I did on the subway that day, moments like I do when I am walking down the street and am unable to stop men from objectifying me no matter what I do or how many layers I wear. And it makes me feel powerless, as if I do not have control over my own life or destiny. That at any moment, someone could strip that away from me and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I know that what other people do or say does not have to affect me. But it does. Not because I choose for it to, but because that is the reality of the state of society almost everywhere you go. I hate that I cannot walk home without a pissed off look on my face because if I show a hint of kindness to most of the men on the side of the street that I pass, they will take that as freedom to harass me. Moreover, I hate that many girls are set up to fail and have to fight even harder for many of the luxuries I have. That the education rate for girls in many countries is so low but the sex industry is booming. I hate that a healthy, capable woman could in an instant be stripped of her sense of dignity and security because someone selfishly decided to rape her. On top of that, she is told to keep silent, that it was her fault, that she could have prevented it.
I am in no way saying that all men do this or that it doesn’t happen to men by women. But the select group of men who do respond this way, who make women feel powerless so easily and flippantly, have caused many of us to have our guards up. Because not only do we know what it is like to feel preyed on, many women have been taken advantage of or been suppressed by a broken system, not given equal opportunity, and feel powerless to control their own destiny no matter how hard they try. And any situation that feels similar causes us to flinch.
So our frustration and sense of powerlessness may sometimes come out in the form of anger. It may come out in the form of stereotyping. It may come out in the form of projection onto someone who is just trying to help. It may come out in a knee jerk reaction to try to balance the scales through dominance. We just feel sometimes that we have lost our sense of control and are trying to do anything to gain it back. We need grace. We need understanding. We need people to listen to how we feel rather than write us off as crazy and continue to make us feel the same way. We need to stop being told that how men respond to us is our fault. We need support from each other to start changing the way society puts women in a subordinate role. And we need men and women to speak up and be a voice for equality. Any time another human being uses their position to make someone else feel powerless, we need to step up and say something. In any country, in any situation, we need to spread the message of “Hey wake up! You’re a girl and you have so much to give.”
A man telling me someone could steal my purse because I am a girl is not oppression. But in his statement, whether he meant to or not, he pointed out a system that is oppressive. And a lie of silence and oppression is that if it is not happening to you at the extreme level, you have no right to say anything. Or that if you are not dealing with it at the extreme level, then you shouldn’t deal with it at all. It’s just another way to keep people silent and feel shame. So here I am, using one avenue, to share my voice of what I have seen and felt that will hopefully resonate with someone. If it inspires another person to do so as well, then I guess we are one person closer to building an army of believers who will fight for justice and peace in any way they can.