Friends, fasting & breakfasting, in practical terms

Faith is nothing more—but how much this is—than a motion of the soul toward God. Even the motion of faith is mysterious and inexplicable: I say the soul moves “toward” God, but that is only the limitation of language.

Christian Wiman, “My Bright Abyss”

In February, some Christian girlfriends and I realized that we wanted to observe Lent together. We wanted to see what it would be like to remind ourselves, repeatedly, that a person we have come to love—Jesus Christ—gave something up for us. We decided to observe it the old-school way: a Friday evening fast. We’d replace that time with individual prayer, reading Scripture, or some state of quiet and meditation on God. The morning after, we’d get together and break it.

It was a far more important experience than I had expected. My faith in God is like this inner, bright, warm something that almost illuminates life from the inside out, but more often it’s like this inexplicable thing outside of me, like the awe that crashes on me as I look up into starry skies. It’s hard to knit these two realities together. Upon reflection, though, this difficulty may be a major saving grace. Remember when Neo takes the red pill and escapes the Matrix to find something so much bigger, more intense and complicated than he’s ever known? …And then throws up? The human mind is a bit too small of a package for anything approaching eternity.

This is why real-life practices of faith are such gifts. Praying, serving strangers who are neighbors, a habit of reading the Bible on the phone on my commute. These are the means by which practicing Christians express faith with our own hands and feet, use the language of this tangible world to point to something beyond it.

Fasting is one of those practices. It also seems like one of the least practiced. But, my friends and I experienced something very real and accessible, so that’s the part I’m writing about. I only hope that something of the underlying spirit comes through because, as with every practice of faith, that spirit is the actual substance.
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The costs of a man’s deficit of time

Men in their 40s living in New York City who have good careers and fairly attractive looks, but who have never been married and want to get married, need to stop blaming fate or outside circumstances and hightail it to the nearest competent psychotherapist.

– LNL [pseudonym], New Market, Md., commenting on The New York Times article, “Meet the New York Bachelors Who Yearn for Something More

My little brother knows what I hope for him, which is that he will become a man who knows how to treat all people, including women, with the respect they deserve. As time passes and I watch him mature, I am immensely proud to see him becoming that kind of man. With time, I’ve also begun to see how unlikely this is. Almost every part of our culture discourages him from relating to others with integrity and self-awareness, by the norms coded into social media, the prevailing logic of the market and the popular conception of freedom as being a personal good rather than communal. But, for this blog—a blot on the canvas of this topic—I want to cover just one thing, and that is time. More specifically, the time that men, relative to women, do not get to reflect on their way of relating. Continue reading

Biased for honesty, blind to the facts

What do I value? I value honesty. I’ve known this for a long time. Recently, though, I’ve realized how the value has gotten a bit puffy in my head. It’s become a bias, because that’s how a bias operates: it starts as a healthy appreciation for something before inflating like a balloon until it blocks our view of other equally or more important things. It’s so ridiculous! It makes me laugh. But first, I’ll explain.

There was a guy I met in college who I saw pretty regularly for a brief period of time. We met through my advanced Korean class; I was a junior, he was a grad student in East Asian Studies. I don’t know what else to call it other than a semi-regular thingie because we never ventured off the comforts of campus together and there was neither commitment nor risk involved. It did feel vaguely exclusive and intriguing. We would sit and talk for hours at a cafe outside one of the libraries and he was pretty affectionate. And, now that I’m writing this post, I remember how it all started. He had asked for my phone number early in term to get to know me more. He told me all about a paper he was developing—just a personal project, independent of his degree—about his philosophy on relationships: an intricate model involving levels of intimacy and an interesting labeling system. Looking back, that conversation probably solidified my interest in him because at least one efficient way to my heart is through my head, and discussing interpersonal relationships fascinates me anyway.

After a couple of weeks, I recall him holding my hand by that library cafe and telling me, “I want you to know I’m really interested in you, and once I really start liking a girl, I’ll want to have sex pretty soon.” Okay, but what I actually heard was: “I’m not afraid to broach awkward topics, and you can trust me to be honest with you.” All I heard was quality of honesty, and my attraction to him skyrocketed, which inevitably led to major confusion on my part once he stopped calling, things started feeling tense in class and our connection was clearly cut.  Continue reading

20 Qs on 20s: Question 2, on dating in New York

This is a series of interviews with friends between 20 and 29 years of age. The aim of this series is not to capture anyone’s individual identity, but rather to glimpse the bigger beyond of what it’s kinda, generally like to be a “twentysomething” these days. I’m attempting a word-based pointillism.

Question 2: Great. You’re a woman in your 20s in New York City. What is great and/or what do you hate about dating in this city? Continue reading

The literate city

On my way to yoga one morning, I selected five books for free off the stoop of a neighbor’s brownstone, halting my frenetic walk (I was late) to peruse the unsupervised pile. On my way back home an hour later, I picked up another four books from yet another generous house front. This another-man’s-treasure thing goes on all the time around here, so I’m no longer confused or suspicious (This must be a trick?!) by it. At the same time, I can’t forget how special it is. Around these brownstone neighborhoods, people leave out books left and right. There’s even a house with a standing red receptacle labeled “Lending Library.” I’ve checked it repeatedly; it’s definitely in use. This local circulation of books provides a glimpse into our neighbors’ interior, book-filled lives and still it’s only one of the signs. People here are reading so much that the fact spills out everywhere. It’s a bit of a dream.

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The “semantics of love”

“Semantics of love” is not my term. D and I were at our usual downtown coffee shop when she said it. I didn’t understand at first, but she kept talking and it made sense. People say “love” to convey different things and in reference to different histories. For her, in Spanish, in Puebla, Mexico where she’s from, it’s not something she would ever utter to most friends, acquaintances or strangers. She thoughtfully counted on her fingers the number of people to whom she has said it. She explained the physical ache it denotes. Continue reading

Two Type A girls and Brooklyn real estate

At 10:45 p.m. two Wednesdays ago, my roommate and I got confirmation that our landlord was forcibly removing our third roommate because of her dog, reclassifying our 3-BR into strictly 2-BR only, and inviting us two to stay and swallow the costs of that change. By 11 p.m., we had decided that we wouldn’t; we were going to strike it out on our own. By 11:15 p.m. we were scouring the frenetic mess of housing websites and sending brokers polite but hurried messages (“Hi, we are two working female professionals… loved your listing… background checks are no problem… free for a viewing Thursday night?”). By 1 a.m., we were feeling it: the pressure cooker process of finding our new home in New York.

This process has been STRESSFUL, and the following are some of the observations we made along the way. Continue reading

Attempts to escape personalization

About a month ago, I was doing some hesitant online looking at an item from a rather expensive store called Anthropologie. Around that time, I also clicked through a promotional email informing me about Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King & I” on Broadway. Both situations were unusual for me: online shopping is foreign territory for me, which also explains why all my online ads suddenly turned into pictures of Anthropologie pants and “The King & I” logo. It was like that scene where Dumbledore claps his hands and all of the Great Hall banners go from celebrating Slytherin to Gryffindor. Obviously, my situation involved less magic and more browser cookies, search histories and a debate about the merits of consumer privacy. Plus, most people my age are familiar with this minor annoyance. I’m playing catchup on trendy issues, as usual.

Still, I’ve now spent a good month imagining what it must have been like when the Internet was shiny and new and online advertising wasn’t as pervasive. I’ve heard the Internet was hailed as a portal for exploration. I’ve heard it was going to help solve the problem of closed-mindedness. It was a Pandora’s box of surprises!

The Internet I know today is an echo chamber where my interests are repeated back to me. This is partly because I can’t escape myself. I gravitate toward the headlines that tell me what I’m already inclined to believe or support—”When it comes to clean water, some say Silicon Valley is all talk” and “‘No Kardashian Parking’ Signs Crop Up In Hollywood” and “South Korea is both exasperated by its wealthy — and obsessed with them—such that even if I’m learning something, it’s in the bucket of topics I’m already pursuing. But it’s also because the websites I see and the companies they advertise help feed those topics back to me, too. There’s a strong relationship between “customer engagement,” or keeping someone on your website for as long as possible, and “personalization,” or giving you more of what you’ve already picked. It results in the concierge service of the “Recommended for you” sidebar, a beguiling vicious cycle.

A more fitting analogy for the Internet might be a house of mirrors. In these freaky sideshows, one steps through the doors for a chance to look into a seeming infinity at every corner, an endless vision of distance and light and perspective. In reality, the visitor is in a tiny room, surrounded by mirrors, looking at himself, over and over again.

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