New Adventures: Finding Good Coffee in London

It’s been about a year since the last blog post went up, and hopefully I’m going to switch gears here a bit. College graduation happened in May at which I said teary goodbyes to my remarkable professors and some great friends at USF—it has to be a testament to the impact my English professors have had on me that I’m reading David Foster Wallace’s whopping, thousand-paged Infinite Jest simply for kicks and am loving every minute of it. Now I’m preparing for my next adventure: a year volunteering overseas with an incredible organization called L’Arche International.

 

I discovered L’Arche after reading a book by Henri Nouwen about his experience working with the organization in Canada (the book is called Adam). Basically, L’Arche grows communities with people who have special needs by creating group homes where people with and without special needs can live together in supportive partnership. Many of the group homes have about four people who have special needs and four people who do not. They are grouped in a community environment and asked to help each other live the best lives they can—whatever that means for each individual. Many of the residents of the homes work their own job or go to school, some help in the community garden, and others live a more relaxed pace with support from the assistants. My community will be in a neighborhood called Lambeth in London. I chose this organization because of its philosophies of mutuality (not as much a caretaking situation as it is an actually authentic house of family-like fellowship), its policies on spiritual lives (supportive but not forceful or required), and its ratio of people with special needs to people without special needs (often 1:1, which is basically unheard of). One of my favorite things about L’Arche is that it celebrates excessively. I’m talking about all-day birthday parties, singing and dancing and cake (Do they have cake in England?).

 

I chose this specific community in Lambeth, London (the organization has communities all over the world) for several reasons: One, I speak the language (mostly…), Two, I hope to use the location as a chance to really immerse myself in both a big-city setting and in another culture, and Three, I hope to use the location as a platform for a bit of no-pressure, weekend-trip-or-two, European travel.

 

I chose the field because I feel most myself when I am with people who have special needs. I feel like I am with family. I love the honesty and the pace of life and I feel authentically valued for everything I am, no exceptions. I am excited for the trip and the travel, yes, but I am much more excited to meet the people who I will live with for the next year and for the things I hope to learn from them. Pardon the cliché, but I really mean that, because there are so many things about living in London that I have no idea how to manage. First of all, apparently people don’t drink coffee there. I’m going to need a lot of help navigating that whole fiasco, and I’ll need the people in my house’s help to find a place that will sell/make me coffee. I’m also fairly directionally challenged, and the people living in my house will have experience with the transportation systems and with the city in general. I am truly looking forward to the opportunities to open myself up to learning from them.

 

Here's a side-note, I got to see the pope at the vatican a few weeks ago. :)

Here’s a side-note, I got to see the pope at the vatican a few weeks ago!

I think the best things happen when I let experiences change me, and that’s what I want from this. No-expectation, ready-for-anything, encountering and experiencing openly.

 

A lot of the specifics of what my time will involve are still fuzzy, but I hope to keep everyone informed as much as I can as I get over there, move in, and start training. I’d love feedback from anyone about your experiences in this field or in this country, from what I should pack to what I should do while I’m there. I’d love any contacts you’d like to share with me. I’d even love to complain together about how tough it is to navigate the visa system (seriously…). Thanks for sticking with me, all of you! I leave on July 15th, and until then you’ll find me in Sioux City, Iowa, reading Foster Wallace and watching Travel with Rick Steves until I drop.

The F Word As A Tool of Empowerment

From an early age, I knew “feminist” was a bad word. Flirty boys in middle school youth group would tell me tired old “woman jokes” to get a reaction, but to prove that I was cool and easy-going I told the boys that kind of thing didn’t bother me. And it really didn’t. “I’m like, the opposite of a feminist,” I would tell them proudly, “none of that makes me mad.” It didn’t—I had great, kind men and strong women in my life, and my adolescent heart just didn’t see a need for the likes of the F word.

But nothing will bring out your inner feminist like college. I started to meet guys—for the first time in my life—that didn’t respect who I was as a person. They treated me with indifference (a well-known goodie two-shoes at the time, and already dating someone) as they fixated on the very single “party girls.” I would walk into a fellow freshman’s room to see his conspicuous poster of girls in swimsuits and my sense of worth would immediately shrink. As a theology major, I participated in classroom debates about “The Woman’s Issue” as male classmates reassured me that the Bible was very clear on the concept of women in leadership, but that children’s ministry was there for the taking! I met with a seminary recruiter who told me with sincere kindness that he thought I would be successful in ministry despite my gender. As all this built up, I overheard someone say in a coffee shop that “all feminism means is that you support equal rights for women. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter if you wear makeup or not, whether you are married or single. It doesn’t even matter if you choose to label yourself as such.” I didn’t believe the guy. I looked up the dictionary definition of feminism, dictionary-trusting English major that I am. He was right.

I had never considered myself a feminist before—feminists were mean and angry and boys didn’t like them. I was hurt though. I was hurt by the way I had been treated and the way other women had been treated. My mother had been refused a “breadwinner” bonus in the catholic high school that she taught physics because women aren’t supposed to be breadwinners. I was a little embarrassed to be a woman and I was angry that I was embarrassed. Periods are disgusting, the shape of breasts should be covered up, and just about every insult I heard every day could be unraveled to basically mean “woman.” My eyes were suddenly opened to the secret messages the world had been hurling at me since I was born. Chances are, no woman will make it to the cover of Sports Illustrated unless she’s wearing a bikini. Because what a woman does matters less than what she looks like. I listened to the nation’s endless obsession with the appearances of Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton. “Your worth,” the world said, “is in how much men like you. And men like [insert bikini model’s name]. Try as hard as you can to become her.” Suddenly, all the time I spent shaving my legs, putting on make-up, toning my abs, smiling when I didn’t feel like it, shopping for push-up bras…they were all just ways I could make myself more appealing to men. A male friend tweeted, “Yoga pants should have a weight limit.” The world said, “Work hard to make their worlds more aesthetically pleasing.”

So I guess, instead of explaining the extent of my frustrations when someone asked me, I found it easier to say, “I’m a feminist.” The word packed a punch and I liked that. It made people a little uncomfortable. Those of you on a coast or in a big city that think I’m exaggerating, I dare you to drop by any town in South Dakota, engage in conversation with someone in a public place, and drop the F bomb in regards to your beliefs. Chances are they’ll treat you like you proclaimed your loyalty to the anarchist revolution. In my experience, the conversation will either end or get so condescending that you’ll have to excuse yourself.

A male friend once questioned my use of the word: “It’s so violent. I mean, right or wrong it just has the connotation that women want to overpower men.” I was very cautious in asserting myself in this matter (and most matters, honestly). I didn’t want to seem to aggressive or mean. I wanted him to still like me. “I guess ‘equalist’ does the concept justice,” I said, and I used “equalist” for a while.

I explained my transition from “feminist” to “equalist” to a professor once in a coffee shop. She is a well-known diva, a fighter, and I’ve never seen her apologize. She ruffles feathers here because she simply does what she wants. She’s got opinions and she’s not afraid of her own voice. I explained, “maybe the cause would get farther if we gave up the F word…it rubs so many people the wrong way.” She chuckled a little and told me without hesitation, “Never apologize for the F word.”

And I stopped apologizing. The word makes some people uncomfortable, but if I’ve learned anything about words from writing, it’s that weak ones don’t do anything. No one remembers them and they don’t change anyone’s mind. If the word “feminist” is a little strong, so am I.

How can we heal the disconnect between the Evangelical Church and the Gay Community?

One of the things that keeps the Church and the gay community from reconciling is a lack of listening. Hands down, the question I get asked most often by people who think homosexuality is a sin is, “How can you accuse the church of not loving gay people? Plenty of churches love gay people—they just do not accept their behavior. Wouldn’t it be less loving to allow them to behave however they want, in contradiction to the Bible?” This is a deep black hole of a question, but in my humble opinion it demonstrates a lack of listening to the majority of the gay community. The church is continuing to look at homosexuality as a behavior—and a behavior that goes against several (very debatable) passages in the Bible. The old adage to “love the sinner, hate the sin” comes to mind. It suggests that the Church is fully capable of loving a person completely while we acknowledge and root out the “sin” in her or his life (This is not even getting into the question of whether their sin is the Church’s business to root out in the first place). The problem with all of this is that it lacks the other half of dialogue.

The majority of the gay community insists again and again that their sexual orientation is not simply a behavior—that is a part of their identity in the same way that being straight is a part of someone’s identity. If sin is something that separates a person from God, which is a whole separate black hole of a debate in itself, than isn’t testimony from the gay community valuable? Why is the church dismissing it in their insistence that homosexuality is a behavior and that it is sinful? If the gay Christian community says, “We are gay—it is a part of our identity and not simply a behavior—it is not separating us from God or alienating us from other people, and we could not fight it without lying to ourselves,” what should the Church’s reaction be?

Before I was let go from camp, my friend Jeremy was let go from the same camp for being gay. He had been working at camp for several years in successful leadership, but that fall he had come out, and camp’s reaction was to inform him that he was very welcome to visit but was not welcome to work there. I sat in on a meeting as Jeremy tried to explain to the administration that he is the same person doing the same ministry—that he has actually grown closer to God as he has become more honest about his true identity—and that he felt embraced by God rather than convicted. The administration’s response was to shrug with sympathetic eyes as they quoted Scripture. I’d be willing to bet this sort of interaction happens a lot.

Scripture is a mystery, and a few times every century people come to the consensus that they were interpreting it incorrectly all along, and that the policy of say, not allowing women to be teachers, is actually just some bad theology that could be interpreted in a different way to keep the Church from becoming the oppressor. I dare the Church to throw away your easy answers and take a little risk when you converse with someone who is gay. Open your mind to the possibility that they could be telling the whole, complete truth about their identity and their orientation. Right now, the common interpretation of Scripture does not match the testimonies of thousands of intelligent, spiritual individuals. This is something that’s only going to be solved with both parties listening with real open hearts and empathy. Are we strong enough to listen?

The Least Political Zimmerman Article You’ll Read All Week

I followed the Zimmerman trial half-heartedly (mostly because I do not trust the media to relay legal information to me without holes) and started to engage in the conversation as soon as the verdict was released. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of both Martin and Zimmerman supporters. I have my own opinions on the trial and the verdict, but they’re all being voiced more eloquently than I could voice them. Now, though, the trial is over, and what we’re left with is a public outcry to fix an array of uncovered injustices in our country. In my humble opinion, even if you find yourself whole-heartedly convinced that Zimmerman was in the right, you have one very clear-cut responsibility now that the trial is over: to listen.

No matter how you feel about the outcome of the trial, the wisest thing to do now whatever our race, whatever our religion, whatever our political leaning, is to listen to the specific frustrations and complaints that have been stirred up by this trial. Gun laws, yes; Stand Your Ground laws, yes. But especially race. The past generations have had their racial issues right in front of their faces: undeniable. But we’ve gotten pretty good at thinking we’re past racial bias and past discrimination. Certain well-known radio talk show hosts want you to dismiss the protesters and their outrage as false victims wishing to gain undeserved attention, but I am convinced that, trial aside, outrage about protecting racial minorities and identifying our biases can only contribute positively to our society, should they remain peaceful. Some facets will insist that this trial had nothing to do with race, and we all have opinions regarding that, but I’m saying that we need to move beyond the specifics of the trial and to the issues that the trial has brought to our society’s surface. Even if you are under the impression that race has had nothing to do with this trial, it’s in our focus now, and if you care to be in open dialogue with the thinkers of this nation, you’re going to want to be open to some hard questions about racial identity.

The most prudent critical thinkers will listen to protesters, even casual protesters in arenas like social media, when they tell us that they identify with Martin because they have been profiled or discriminated against. The wisest among us will trust the outraged when they tell us their personal experiences—experiences that are valuable and that indicate a necessary change in our thinking and our behavior. There is a reason why this case has stirred up so much emotional depth: race is complicated, it’s deep in our hearts, and it cross-cuts into our very identities and families. It’s not an easy or simple topic. Right now the hardest thing to do, but something the wise will manage, is to put down offensive rhetoric and be someone who is open to receiving the change this trial will surely bring to our nation, our neighborhoods, and our history books. We have an opportunity to learn from people who have passion for good reasons—we have the opportunity to give the benefit of the doubt and listen.

How James Dobson Convinced me to Keep Prayer Out of Schools

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Somewhere in the turbulence of high school, I found myself at a rally to protect traditional marriage. The rally was led by the (in)famous James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family and well-known advocate of “traditional marriage.” It consisted of Dobson bellowing a very convicted and passionate speech about how we must protect our children from a future America that will throw God away and ignore his commands. The event center full of people cheered with wild but Midwest-polite fury. I was there willingly, having not yet committed myself to the burning questions that destroyed my religious foundations and rebuilt them unconventionally. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I think Dobson and his supporters are pretty straight-up wrong about how they interpret marriage, but I vividly remember something else he said that has had me confused for years. In the midst of Dobson’s pleas to “remember God” during these trying and confusing times, he prompted the crowd—“We want prayer in schools again!!” and the crowd would cheer uncontrollably; “We want the name of God on our nation’s currency!” Again, people clapping and screaming; “we want the religion of our fathers in this country again! We want to be one! Nation! Under! God!” and people are just going insane. But even then, I was confused, and I guess I still am. So here I am to ask a few questions about this agenda.

There is a strong demand by traditional Christians to involve their religion in the politics and government of the United States. It really only starts with legislating morality like bans on gay marriage, but it also includes things like demanding prayer in public schools, erecting religious statues on state grounds (the famous Texas courthouse) and basically protecting the religious rhetoric that seeps into all politics (don’t get me started on presidential speeches) and essentially denies the worth of the other religions and lack of religions that live and thrive in this country. And I truly cannot understand why. How could keeping “In God We Trust” on our currency help anyone to actually know God? Has it ever? Because in my experience, pushy Christianity does exactly that: pushes. A prayer at a public school graduation only makes people that don’t pray uncomfortable and unwelcome. Which church agendas strive to make visitors uncomfortable and unwelcome? It seems to me like we’re letting our sentimentality get the best of us here. Isn’t it kind of like when a high school football team refuses to change its name from the “Fighting Chiefs” because “it’s always been like that?” The team is choosing to hurt a group of people with a violent label rather than take a few steps to change their name. I’m already anticipating the “This is a Christian Nation!” plea, but there is already more than enough great writing disputing that fact that I will not waste keystrokes on it.

Perhaps these people have historical interests in pushing intrusive religion. That’s fine with me, but they should be passionate historians, not passionate Christians.

What if Christians went out of their way to learn about other religions and whole-heartedly respect them—without the intent to evangelize? What if they listened when atheists talked about the reasons they don’t believe? What if we took scientific questions seriously? Could we shed our reputation as pushy truth-deniers? Or will we strive to maintain our very comfortable and politically powerful spot in the supposed majority? 

 Christians should put everyone else’s comfort ahead of their own. They should be willing to duck into a corner to pray with their families; to put themselves out for the sake of the group. That would be a cool reputation to have—I think one that Jesus (and Gandhi) would approve of.

My Pledge to the Anonymous Internet At Large

Well, I’ve learned a few things about blogging in the past year or so (even though everything’s still pretty crazy new and overwhelming), and I’ve come to the decision that I’m going to blog a little more frequently. It makes it easier for people to follow and it’s good for me as a writer. AND, my IT genius of an uncle is helping me upgrade the page so it doesn’t look so amateur. I’ve got friends in high places. So, here is my pledge to you, the anonymous internet at large: I, Dannika Nash do solemnly swear to try my very hardest to post at least three times a week. Because let’s be honest, I, Dannika Nash, am not really busy with anything that important anyway. Like maybe once in a while I get on a kick to organize my sock drawer or something. Also I’ve been attacking some pretty hefty cooking projects (German Chocolate Cake…and I guess worst case I can just blog about that. Like Drunk Kitchen…but sober, and just bad? Bad Kitchen?), but in the long run they are not as important, I think. Amen.

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This is a picture of me looking happy to be writing. So the goal is more of this and less sock drawer organization.

Also, Here is a little life update, in case anyone is interested. Most of you know that since my Open Letter, I was let go from my Christian Summer Camp that was supposed to be my income for the Summer (and the Fall school year) (I’m not whining, I’m just telling,), and so obviously after that I was in a mad scramble to find a place to live for the summer and something remotely close to enough income to pay rent and buy food. I was offered some jobs (mostly by generous readers) at other summer camps, and while they looked amazing, I decided I wanted to take a little break from the intensity of summer camp’s structure on my time and have an opportunity to read and write a lot. After a brief stint in which I sought jobs with several organic farmers in the Sioux Falls area, I settled on a delightful program in which I teach swimming lessons to kids with special needs. That has opened up some unexpected doors in which I am basically in love with all of the kids I teach and I think it may actually be something I keep doing for the rest of my life.

I’m trying to spend a lot of my time writing and reading when I’m not teaching lessons, and that’s also been pretty inspiring. Anne Lamott is making me cry every morning with Bird by Bird. I highly recommend everything she has written if you care about good writing or rebellious religion or women. I’m also reading Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which is…a monster. But I’m plugging.

I took a trip to Texas with a few friends—this involved cramming in the back of my CRV with two linemen. Whatever. 

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So, my summer went in a different direction than I had planned, but I am trying to make the best, or at least decent writing out of it. If anyone in the Sioux Falls area wants to chat, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands these days, or if you want to comment on anything I’ve said in the past, again, I’m always open to that. All my information is in the About Me section, but I’ll give it again just in case:

Dannika.nash@gmail.com   

@dannikanash

And if you want to keep up with my writing, subscribe!

 As always, thanks to everyone who has cared about me in the past few months. I feel very loved and supported. I’ll always be amazed by some people’s selflessness, even to people they don’t know. 

Are We Becoming Slave-Holding Christians?

Today, DOMA was overturned by the Supreme Court. This does not grant equal marriage rights to every couple in the US, but it is a step in the right direction. Even months before all the DOMA hype, though, I have been hearing Christians say this one specific thing in regards to gay rights that I think is a misconception: “Can’t we give up all of these politics and focus on Jesus?” I hear it all the time. They see politics such as discussions about gay rights to be divisive and unnecessary when we should just be “focusing on the Gospel.” To a point, I think there are things we can do in the mean time. I think there are fights we can fight as we process this question (for instance, sex trafficking, local and global poverty, etc.), but no, dropping questions like these in favor of the Gospel is counterproductive.

 

Here’s where we can learn from American slave-holders. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Charles Colcock Jones was a devoted Christian and a notorious proponent of the institution of slavery. He fought tooth and nail to preserve the traditions of the Confederacy, then he came home and evangelized to his slaves.

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At first, this baffled me. How could someone preach the message of Jesus that I understand: peace, overwhelming love, uninhibited freedom, and in the same breath tell a group of people that they are less than deserving of equality. I came to realize that it was not logically possible for Jones to have understood the Gospel as I do. Jesus preached social justice without tiring. Jones was preaching salvation, not the Gospel. And that is, I think, the problem today. The church is so caught up in our evangelizing that we neglect the Gospel—a message that cannot leave out social justice. To “forget politics and focus on Jesus” doesn’t make any sense, because Jesus was inherently political. He made rifts in the social world as he taught about God. If Jesus is any indication, the two go together.

 

We must learn from the slave-holding Christians so we do not become them—we cannot continue to shrug off political questions as “divisive” and “worthless” because they are not. They have to do with people. They have to do with how we treat people and how and whether we love them. This cannot be separated from the Gospel. Perhaps if our gospel does not include any political implications, we have watered it down.