Use What You Love

“Use what you love to fight what you hate.”

Rebecca Bender, human trafficking survivor, author, and founder of a nonprofit called the Rebecca Bender Initiative, spoke these words in our chapel this morning.  They’ve been ringing in my head all day.

So what does she mean?  Use what we love to fight what we hate?  A simple concept, for sure, but it has profound implications.  Let’s say you’ve got your bachelor’s degree in finance from a high-end institution in New York.  You worked a year-long internship that fed into a lucrative job, you’re living in a great apartment and you can finally afford to shop at stores other than Wal-Mart and JC Penny.  Good for you.  Congratulations on your hot water and your new washing machine and your nice bed with the feather pillows.  You’ve made it!  But something has been tugging at your heart.  As you drive to work in your luxury four-door, the homeless woman on the corner catches your eye.  Every morning she stands there, eyes downcast, with a cardboard sign in her hand that says “mother of two, struggling to survive, anything helps.”  You’ve heard the stories countless times about people on street corners being scammers, or wasting the money away – it seems pointless to hand out your hard-earned cash at this point; and yet, every morning when you drive by, you feel the need to help her.

Maybe you wake up one morning and toss off your downy comforter, slide into your house slippers and say to yourself, I’m going to fix things.  You draw up the plans for some big initiative, starting in your city, soon to be going worldwide to places like Mexico and India; now all you need is – everything.  At this point we stop.  We have enough motivation, but we’ve convinced ourselves that we need to be the sole fighter, the knight-errant conquering evil dragons all by our own strength.  Despite the vast number of initiatives already in existence, we are convinced that in order to help, we need to invent our own.

We don’t have to be the hero.  In fact, when we are facing an issue like homelessness, foster care, pornography, or even human trafficking, we need to lean on each other.  Each of us are gifted with our own strengths and passions, which we can use to help fight the things that we hate.  Rebecca made the point that our contribution doesn’t have to be the big finance degree from Prestige University.  Certainly it can be, if you find that you are good at numbers and you enjoy working with them – there are established service groups who need your help.  But maybe, despite your degree in Finance, you’ve always been good at writing, or research, or talking to people.  Maybe you’re a social media whiz, or you’ve always been adept at knitting!  We can use our passions to help battle the evils that we hate in the world.  Instead of creating something new – while new initiatives are important – we can contribute to what already exists and make these groups stronger by doing so.  Put your knitting needles to good use and find a charity to knit for.  Run at a 5k for cancer research.  Be the mastermind behind the social media page of a local nonprofit.  Write about the issues you care for, and give people resources to be heard.

Use what you love to fight what you hate.

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Information taken from Rebecca Binder’s incredible chapel speech, which may be posted later (I will add the link if I can).

Follow her on Instagram: @imrebeccabender or see her website www.rebeccabender.org

While you’re at it, follow Matt Desmond’s pursuits in fighting poverty and homelessness in America.  His chapel speech is unavailable, but you can check out his website at www.justshelter.com.

Revelations from “Spirited Away”

This post contains spoilers, so if you’ve never seen Spirited Away, stop what you’re doing, go watch it, and then come back.  Got that done?  Excellent.

As I type this, my No Face doll is sitting atop my desk, my No Face wallpaper is lighting up on my phone, and my No Face shirt is resting in my laundry basket.  And that’s not to mention my No Face stationary… Clearly, I have an obsession.  I’m not sure if it’s the cute face or the sweet disposition that draws me to that cannibalistic psycho, but I love him.  Upon reflecting for a while, I think I’ve finally figured out why.  I am No Face!

Wait, wait!  Before you run off to call the police and have me detained for threatening to eat people, just listen.  In a way, we are all No Face.  He was a harmless spirit when he arrived at the bathhouse, albeit creepy for standing outside all the time.  He just wanted to be noticed. He’s just trying to repay Sen for her kindness.  When no one else would see him, she did.  That’s why he bides his time and learns what Sen likes so that he can truly repay her for her services (or so I believe).  His time in the bathhouse is long.  As he tries to win Sen’s affection, he loses himself to gluttony in the process.

Long story made short, Sen has a beautiful heart and takes pity on our gluttonous friend, giving him the medicine she desperately needed for her parents.  No Face starts to vomit up all the nasty things he’s eaten, until he’s finally himself again, but he’s still on a rampage.  It’s not until he leaves the bathhouse (remember the scene where he dives into the water?) that he finally loses that crazed monster look.  He follows Sen to Zeneba’s cottage, where he discovers the simple joys of life (and chewing quietly) that allow him to eat food but retain that killer beach bod.

So why does No Face become such a sweetheart when he leaves the bathhouse?  Chihiro tells us that when she says, “the bathhouse was making him crazy.”  At first, that line is just a line.  In fact, it’s very nearly unsatisfactory to explain why No Face, who seems to mean well and just wants to win Sen’s affection, turned into a people-eating monstrosity.  But when I think about it, I realize that we all go a little crazy if we stay in the bathhouse too long.  We get too wrapped up in our own tasks, following rabbit trails and losing bits of ourselves in the process.  Sometimes we forget what our goal even was.  No Face remembered eventually, but he lost a bit of himself in the process.  Don’t I do the same thing?  I get consumed by my work or school and I drive myself crazy just pushing to get everything on my list accomplished.  I grow bitter and stressed and force people out of my life as I draw back into myself.  I just need to dive into the water and swim for a while, or do something simple like spinning thread and then all of the stress will ebb away.  Goodbye, monster me.

nf21

Think about it.  And next time you start snapping at the heels of the people you love, try stepping out of the bathhouse for a while!  You’ll feel so much better.

A Review of “Next to Normal”

I wanted my first post to be about literature or dorm life, but something more important has come across my desk.  63rd Street Productions, a company based in Saugatuck, Michigan, is showing a musical by the name of “Next to Normal,” and it is my personal opinion that you ought to see it.  This post is not sponsored, just true.

“Next to Normal” is  about a family struggling with the pain of a mother who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  As someone who has been a witness to Bipolar Disorder, I can say that their depiction of the disease is raw and accurate.  I found myself being pulled into the struggles of this family as they made every attempt to cure the disease which ails the mother figure, Diana.  Without the grandeur of a 50 person cast or a 20 piece pit, 63rd Street Productions put out a musical which was profoundly moving – yet intimate.

A majority of the dialogue in this production was passed through song, and I could not help but marvel at the vocal abilities of all six actors in this production.  Each was unique, but powerful and fitting to their character.  I recall the first time I heard each one sing – and the chills that ran down my spine as the story progressed.  I can promise that you will not regret seeing this musical.

Although the subject material is heavy, there is humor to be found in the darkness.  The imagery of light and dark is powerful – drawing viewers to the small stage at the Red Barn Theater.  I found myself genuinely shocked by each plot twist.  For those of you who are like me, I recommend bringing a little packet of tissues to the second act.  The emotions of these talented actors are raw and moving to the point of tears.  Through the mere two hours I sat in the barn, I experienced anger, fear, sadness, and most of all – hope.  In my own situation, I found myself relating the the brilliant actors on stage.  For a moment, Diana’s illness was my own.  I sat in the car waiting with the father figure, Dan.  I struggled with family and relationships alongside daughter Natalie and boyfriend Henry.  I even pressed Diana to seek treatment with Dr. Madden.  Although I did not relate as much to the son figure, Gabe, I found myself longing for him as much as I pushed back from him.

I distinctly recall trying to define a protagonist and antagonist in the story, but realizing that there was no direct antagonist.  Depending on your situation, you may fault different characters for the struggles this family faces, but in the end?  There are no “good guys” and “bad guys,” only raw, human emotion, and the reaction of the characters experiencing it.

I can not end this post without acknowledging the other brilliant people who had a hand in this musical.  There was a five-piece pit just beside the stage whose power was mystifying.  From such a small number came such incredible power!  They are at the wheel, leading you through the plot of this musical.  Behind the rows of chairs sat the technicians, who managed to create a mood in a single scene which was beyond my imagination.  I am nothing shy of impressed.

Finally, director Shane Michael Lynn deserves some credit, a lot of credit, actually.  This director’s connection to the work clearly showed through the power of this piece, and was clearly communicated through the dedicated actors.

Over all, a top-notch show I am itching to go see again!  If you have time and a few extra dollars, make your way down to the Red Barn Theater in Saugatuck, Michigan to experience this performance before time runs out.  They are showing until May 22nd.  Visit http://www.redbarn63rdstreet.com for more information, or to purchase your ticket.  I cannot recommend this musical highly enough.