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Our Purpose and Goals

Hello! Welcome to Over the Invisible Wall. This blog was started because we wanted to create a place where we could share ideas and opinions within a community where respectful discussions and idea sharing can take place.

Why Did We Start The Blog?

In Summer 2017, I (Justine) realized that though I had strong opinions and beliefs, I did not have a viable means to share them with others and engage in discussion about various topics. This thought led me to envision a blog where I and others could have a safe place to voice our thoughts and be heard. In this little corner of the interweb, I wanted to have a place where people could engage in respectful discussions and idea sharing. My original concept was to have a group of girls as regular contributors on a platform to share their ideas. However, as we refined our vision and mission statement, we realized that our vision was bigger than that. We expanded our concept to include both guys and girls. I wanted to bring together talented people of different backgrounds in order for them to share their own unique perspectives. It has been an incredible ride so far and I’m very grateful to all of my wonderful friends who have contributed in some way to this project. We have only just begun and I can’t wait to see where this blog will go.

One last note, I don’t expect everyone to agree on everything but I do want people to be respectful in how they engage with others.

How We Got Our Name:

After we brought a group of writers together for the project, we moved on to brainstorming for a name for the blog. We had a number of different concepts but after a while, we reached a consensus on the name Over the Invisible Wall: An Adventure in Soliloquies. “Over the Invisible Wall” has an implication of breaking barriers that weren’t supposed to be there in the first place and cooperating in spite of them. Interestingly “The Invisible Wall” is the name of a novel by Harry Bernstein. It is about a romance between a Christian and a Jew in a WWI-era English town that had Jews and Gentiles separated by just one cobblestone street right down the middle of the town.

The name of our blog is both a precedent and a reference to our faith.

Topics we will be covering include individual perspectives on sociocultural issues, current events, personal essays, and commentary on popular culture.

Our Mission Statement:

“We are writers and thinkers who aim to glorify God and create an atmosphere of respectful discussion and connection between people of different values and opinions. We welcome you to our blog and invite you to join in our mission to bridge the gap, learn from each other, and understand the issues that divide us.”

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Is Social Media Worth It?

By Courtney Whitaker


Social media. It is something that we are all familiar with and most of us use in our daily life; so much so, that it can often become as natural for us as breathing.
However, are there points when it can be unhealthy?


According to Entrepreneur.com, “The average person spends more than five years of their life on social media.” Furthermore, according to Statista.com, the average consumer spends two hours and fifteen minutes on social media daily. This is a lot of time spent using social media websites and apps, but what is the effect of it all?

From my findings, it seems that there are a mix of positive and negative outcomes attributed to the use of social media. According to one study in Washington Post, social media, overall, makes most teenagers feel better about themselves, not worse. This article states, “Very few teens say that using social media has a negative effect on how they feel about themselves; many more say it has a positive effect. Twenty-five percent say social media makes them feel less lonely (compared with 3 percent who say more); 18 percent say it makes them feel better about themselves (compared with 4 percent who say worse); and 16 percent say it makes them feel less depressed (compared with 3 percent who say more).” On the flip side, according to SmartSocial.com, there are also some downsides. According to this article, “young people who spend more than two hours a day on social media are more likely to report poor mental health, including psychological distress” (symptoms of anxiety and depression). It has also been linked to insomnia and in some cases, poor body image. This brings us to the question; is social media good or bad? Does it produce more positive effects or negative? Does it cause more harm or good?


Personally, I believe it is all about balance. For those of us who are writers or bloggers, social media is almost a must. It is expected that we will use social media to create a platform so that people can find and have easy access to our writing. Furthermore, many businesses use social media as a way of advertising their product, and many individuals use it to keep up with the activities of their family and friends who they may not see all of the time.

I have a friend who lives in South Carolina who just announced her pregnancy through Instagram. If I hadn’t seen that update, it may have taken way longer to find out about it. I have countless friends who have posted about their wedding announcements, relationship statuses, and accomplishments to their social media pages. These things help me to feel connected to them, even though I don’t have the chance to see them often.

On the contrary, I have also had to make a conscious effort about monitoring my social media intake. Too much time on social media can make me feel anxious, and fall into the trap of comparing the everydayness of my life to the highlight reel of the lives of others. It can make me feel discontent and at times, more disconnected from the world around me, defeating the very purpose that social media was created to fulfill. It can also turn into a massive distraction from the tasks that I need to complete throughout the course of my day, such as homework and writing.
To conclude, social media, like most other things, is a matter of moderation; much like Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3;1-8 KJV

Just as with other forms of entertainment, such as television, movies, and recreational activities, social media is something that is best consumed in balance; allowing ourselves the chance to consume social media, but never allowing social media to consume us.


Sources:
https://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/306136
https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/09/13/new-report-most-teens-say-social-media-makes-them-feel-better-not-worse-about-themselves/?utm_term=.89aaf72f10b1
https://smartsocial.com/negative-effects-of-social-media/
The Bible: King James Version

Gender vs. The Culture

Jazz Jennings, Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono, Josie Totah, Chelsea Manning; Do you recognize those names and what they all have in common? They are all well-publicized individuals who identify as transgender and have undergone extensive treatments in order to transition to become the opposite gender. Now a highly controversial topic and political playing piece that is permeating popular culture and society, transgenderism is often used by politicians and activists to further their collective group or political agendas.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary,1 the word “transgender” is defined as “of, relating to, or being a person, whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.” So how do individuals get to the point where they believe their gender differs from that which they were assigned at birth? As noted in Paper Genders2, “gender found in the DNA is established in the womb” and “…how a child acts out their gender role can vary and depends on the parents, siblings and anyone else who spends time with the child.” Basically, gender is biological and gender identity is formed and influenced after birth by the situations and people surrounding the child. Genesis 1:27 (ESV), “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Children are negatively affected by not having positive gender role models and events such as the loss of a parent or abuse; both of which will distort their perception of gender and gender roles.

It is very easy to plant seeds of doubts into the head of an innocent child. When a person has gone through traumatic or difficult situations, it affects them mentally and often has long term effects. Leaving those issues unresolved leads to suppressed emotions which ultimately causes further psychological trauma. A majority of the time, people with gender dysphoria have underlying psychological issues that are not addressed during consultations when they go to receive approval for gender reassignment surgery. For example, take Walt Heyer’s story: Unbeknownst to his parents, his grandma cross dressed him for 2-2 ½ years and she positively affirmed him when he was dressed in feminine clothing thus planting the first seed of doubt into his young mind. Upon finding out what was happening, Walt’s father started disciplining him with a floorboard to toughen him up. Then, Walt’s uncle, Fred, started to molest him and when he tried to tell his mother, she would not believe him. All these majorly traumatic events happened before he turned 10. To try and cope with all that had happened at the hand of his family, Mr. Heyer suppressed his feelings and began to fantasize about being female. When he was a little older, after reading about the case of a transgender woman, Christine Jorgensen, he believed that he too could change genders and began secretly calling himself “Cristal. Years later, he turned to alcohol and then drugs to try and cope with his unresolved trauma. He seemingly had it all – he was married with a family and had a successful career working at NASA and large corporations but despite all of the success in his personal and professional life, he felt deeply unhappy. His alcohol and drug addictions eventually caught up to him and not only did his career crumble but his marriage failed as well. Then, he made the fateful decision to have a surgical gender change. This decision estranged his family. In the years following the surgery, he had success as a woman – beating his drug and alcohol addictions, getting good jobs and being able to pass as female. It wasn’t until he began studying to be a counselor that he realized his transgender persona was a form of disassociation – a way to escape the pain and suffering he had gone through. After coming to that conclusion, he decided that he needed to recover on multiple fronts – getting counselling to help process the trauma and being restored to his birth gender.

Walt Heyer’s story is a prime example of flaws in the medical care system for individuals who suffer from gender dysphoria. Often times, these people are also suffering from other mental health issues which are unaddressed as they go about seeking hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery. In order to be approved for surgery, most doctors require patients to get a note from a psychologist. This is where the trouble begins. Unfortunately, most psychologists don’t perform a thorough evaluation in that they don’t examine all aspects of a patient’s life. Instead, they merely ask questions relating to a person’s transgender identity and often times approve them after only one or a few short sessions. Many might point to the Standards of Care and say that there are adequate regulations and protections in place but if you examine the document itself, you will see that they are numerous loopholes. For one thing, they are suggestions and not actual requirements – there is no enforcement of the standards. There is also no requirement to follow up with patients post-surgery to see how they are doing. The Standards of Care do list various mental health concerns to screen for but they do not say to not perform surgery on people who are suffering from any of those conditions, they merely state “incorporate the concerns into the overall treatment plan” and “No surgery should be performed while a patient is actively psychotic. In his book, Gender, Lies and Suicide3, Walt Heyer describes how his group therapy sessions with a gender therapist who approved people for surgery did not involve addressing the mental health issues of the various individuals. Instead, the therapist spent the time explaining how best to present one’s self as a female through elements such as makeup, dress, walking, and voice. Does that sound like adequate safety measures for someone who is about to undergo life changing surgery? The Standards of Care, originally created by Dr. John Money, is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to disguise the fact that patients are not receiving the objective and all-encompassing care that they need.

Children mimic what they see, wanting to find similarities between themselves and people, particularly adults, around them. For example, a boy might put a towel on his head and say “Look, Mom! I have long hair like you!” or a child might show interest in toys or games not necessarily associated with their gender. Now, even these innocent actions can be misconstrued by parents as signs of transgenderism. Instead of helping a child by providing examples of gender or helping them work through their uncertainty, parents are affirming them in their confusion and further reinforcing those thoughts into their impressionable minds. Take Shiloh Jolie-Pitt for example: her parents state that she has been exploring her gender identity since the tender age of three, wanting to be a boy and believing herself to be one of the brothers.4 From an early age, Shiloh demanded to be addressed by the male name John and has been seen dressing in progressively masculine clothing.5 She has cut her hair very short and reportedly has no female clothing. Her parents have affirmed her thoughts since she began to conceive and express them as a toddler by not only allowing her to believe those ideas but also make decisions for herself regarding her gender identity. Deuteronomy 22:5 (ESV) says, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.”

In an interview, Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry said that the belief that one’s gender is a matter of the mind and not anatomy has led some transgender individuals to push for social affirmation and acceptance of their subjective “personal truth. He also stated that because of this, states such as California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have passed laws preventing psychiatrists “even with parental permission, from striving to restore natural gender feelings to a transgender minor. Dr. McHugh remarked that  “The pro-transgender advocates do not want to know that studies show between 70% and 80% of children who express transgender feelings ‘spontaneously lose those feelings’ over time.”6

At this time in our culture, when a child expresses interest or curiosity about the other gender or activities normally undertaken by the opposite gender, both parents and doctors not only encourage it but are willing to assist a child to do irreconcilable damage to their bodies at drastically younger and younger ages. In a majority of cases, transitioning results in permanent sterilization. According to multiple reports including that of the University of Rochester Medical Center, a young person’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25.7 Why are children and young people being allowed to make life altering decisions about their bodies if they are not mentally mature? It’s partly the fault of society, egging on individuals who are struggling and desperately seeking affirmation and acceptance and also the megalomaniac doctors wanting recognition and wealth. The doctors who advocated for and pioneered transgender surgeries were not as noble as they were made out to be. Dr. Alfred Kinsey, Dr. Harry Benjamin, Dr. John Money, Dr. Paul Walker all were highly lauded individuals who were at the forefront of the movement. However, if one further examines their lives, you will find that they were twisted individuals – some were sex addicts and they all supported forms of pedophilia. Sickeningly, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We are allowing the successors of these doctors to perform experimental treatments on kids, not knowing what the long-term outcome will be and how it will affect them over the course of their lives.

        This all leads back to the larger overarching problem – the system is broken. Despite the glamorized happy endings that are portrayed in the media and the success stories from activists, transgender individuals generally are not happier post surgery. “The attempted suicide rate among transgenders is 41% and the actual rate of death by suicide is estimated by one source to be between 31% and 50%.8 In contrast to the national average of 13.4% suicide deaths per 100,000 people9, this percentage is staggering. If that wasn’t enough of a red flag, following gender reassignment surgery, up to 90% of patients are lost to follow up.10 This means that in the follow up findings, the results being presented only come from about 10% of the total number of patients. The reports that purportedly claim that the surgeries are successful are based on the results compiled from a very small percentage of individuals who could be found and agreed to be interviewed post-surgery.

        In conclusion, something drastic needs to happen. The system needs to be fixed. There needs to be transparency as well as further checks and balances in place to ensure that each individual is getting the mental and physical healthcare they need. The objective facts need to be shared with the general public. Everyone deserves the right to know the truth. No more hiding behind facades built on self-serving agendas, political playing pieces, half-truths, misleading statistics, and false narratives. By pushing aside and silencing individuals who discover that they remained unhappy post-surgery or do not fit the idealized narrative, we are doing a disservice not only to them but to the population as a whole as they do not get to hear the whole story. If we buy into what the culture says is right, we are failing to protect our most valuable assets, children and young people. They have been and will continue to be needlessly sacrificed to the machine that is society and the collective cultural mindset. Our children and young people deserve better. We need people to stand up and say that gender reassignment surgery and hormone treatment will not fix everything. It is not always an effective means to help people who are struggling. We need psychiatrists and doctors who have the integrity to work to the best of their ability regardless of whether or not it earns them fame or fortune to provide the patient with the comprehensive care involving mental health treatments to help them lead a full and healthy life.

 

Citations:

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transgender
  2. Heyer, Walt. “Transgender Children.” Paper Genders: Pulling the Mask Off the Transgender Phenomenon, edited by Kaycee Heyer, Make Waves Publishing, 2011, pg. 36.
  3. Heyer, Walt. “No Protection for the Client.” Gender, Lies and Suicide: A Whistleblower Speaks Out, Make Waves Publishing, 2013, pg. 33-39.
  4. https://www.hindustantimes.com/hollywood/angelina-jolie-s-daughter-shiloh-wants-to-be-a-boy-is-the-spitting-image-of-a-young-brad-pitt-see-pics/story-KWL8MTfQ4sb79i7yYTEHdO.html
  5. https://www.ibtimes.com/shiloh-jolie-pitt-transgender-rumors-2016-what-angelina-brad-said-about-their-2419943
  6. https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/michael-w-chapman/johns-hopkins-psychiatrist-transgender-mental-disorder-sex-change
  7. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051
  8.  Heyer, Walt. “Decades of Suicide” Gender, Lies and Suicide: A Whistleblower Speaks Out, Make Waves Publishing, 2013, pg. 84
  9. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/06/07/u-s-suicide-rates-rise-sharply-across-the-country-new-report-shows/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.51472265db3b
  10. Heyer, Walt. “Decades of Suicide” Gender, Lies and Suicide: A Whistleblower Speaks Out, Make Waves Publishing, 2013, pg. 85

Discovering I’m HSP

For as long as I can remember, I have always considered myself to be somewhat of an ambivert.


When I first took the Myers Briggs back in middle school, I came out as an INFJ. A few years later, when I took it in high school, I came out as an ENFJ, and have consistently come out as an ENFJ ever since. However, I have always possessed traits of both an introvert and an extrovert. I am energized by being in a large crowd, yet need to retreat to solitude soon thereafter. I enjoy both outings with friends and nights alone with a good book. I process my thoughts and feelings internally, and later express them externally. About half of my friends think I’m an extrovert, and the other half think I’m an introvert. However, recently, I’ve discovered a term that might be the answer to my dilemma: Highly Sensitive Person (Or, HSP).


According to various articles that I have read thus far on this topic, a highly sensitive person is a person who feels things more intensely, and is more sensitive to external stimuli (lights, loud noises, smells, etc.). They are also highly intuitive and can be either introverts or extroverts. According to an article in Psychology Today*, 30% of HSPs are extroverts. HSPs who are extroverts, as it turns out, display many of the same traits as introverts, and may need time alone after being around a lot of people for an extended period of time. HSPs are also more likely to have been highly imaginative as children, and tend to avoid extremely graphic or violent movies and TV shows. All of these traits, if I really take the time to think about it, describe me to a T.


After I discovered this term, sort of by accident as I was researching introvert/extrovert/ambivert stuff online, I began thinking back to various points in my life that suddenly made more sense. For years, I have been more affected by the loud noises and thumps of the bass at concerts than those around me, and when placed in a room with a lot of bright lights for an extended period of time, I start to get a mild headache.


Furthermore, I am extremely intuitive and can often pick up on subtleties in people’s expressions and emotions that others might miss. I soak up every ounce of my environment until eventually, I need time to retreat, and process it all. I’m not necessarily more ‘sensitive’ or outwardly emotional than the average person, but I take in life a lot more intensely, which can cause me to display traits slightly different than the average person. Movies, music, and books, for instance, affect me a lot. Way more than most people that I know. I can literally remember a particular scene in a book years later, and just hearing a line in a song that relates to me on a personal level can stir up more emotions than I know what to do with. I experience life fully, in the good, the bad, and the ugly. On one hand, it can be a positive—enriching my writing and my ability to connect with the reader on an emotional level. On the other hand, it can be a little overwhelming, especially when I am faced with a new situation that I don’t know how to handle. Being HSP means that you live life in a full range of emotions—whether or not you chose to vocalize them to those around you.


So, what does all of this mean exactly? How does being HSP make me different than any other human being that walks the face of this planet? The truth is, it doesn’t. Being HSP is simply one way of existing in this world as a human being, and part of the unique way that God created me, when He formed me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). Being a Highly Sensitive Person is no different than being an introvert, or someone who likes cleaning. It is no different than getting a certain number on the Enneagram test or a certain combination of letters on the Myers Briggs. It is simply one strand of my being; a small portion of my existence in my sphere of influence and in the world at large. Though sensitivity is often devalued in the modern world, I am learning to see it as something valuable, and something that connects us to those around us. Without sensitivity, we wouldn’t be able to flourish in community with other human beings, or create the art that is so much a part of the world we live in today. Without sensitivity, we wouldn’t be able to relate to another’s emotions, or understand how another person is feeling. Thus, I am learning to not only accept that I may be HSP, but appreciate it, and appreciate the way that God has created me for His purpose in my life. We are each created artfully, with unique DNA and personality patterns that color the spaces of who we are. We are each like a snowflake, different and the same, each adding something beautiful to the story of our life and the story of humanity at large.


We are each fearfully and wonderfully made.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” – Psalm 139:14-15 (NIV).


*https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-and-sensitivity/201408/how-cope-highly-sensitive-extrovert

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201711/24-signs-highly-sensitive-person

https://introvertdear.com/highly-sensitive-person-elaine-aron-quiz/

An Informal Discussion of the Ethics of Eating Meat

I wrote this piece in two stages. In the first stage, I felt fairly grounded in my position and in the second, I grappled with it more heavily. Throughout this piece I struggle with my own thoughts and perspective on this issue.

The other day, Firefox suggested an article called Are we wrong to assume fish can’t feel pain? Curious, I clicked on it. It was a fantastic article explaining and presenting evidence that fish are smarter, more socially adept, and overall more complicated creatures than we usually assume. Seriously, go read it if you haven’t. It’s long but it’s easy to read and digest while also packed with fascinating information.

It also brought up a question of ethics. Is it ethical to eat fish, given that they obviously feel pain? Do we need to rethink fishing methods?

This leads to other areas of similar thought, namely, is it ethical to eat meat at all?

I want to ask, is this even an ethical issue?

To some extent, yes, it is something to grapple with, a question of whether we should or should not eat animals. There are people on both sides for various reasons.

I can understand bringing ethics and humane treatment into how we obtain meat. The animal shouldn’t needlessly suffer. That, in fact, is often a reason people stop eating meat.

But I don’t think eating meat is itself wrong.

I’m finding that as I work through my reasoning for this that I’m questioning my motives for this belief. Do I think it’s okay to eat meat because I always have? Do I think it’s okay to eat meat because it tastes good? If that is why I think it’s okay, should I change my mind? Is taste and habit a real defense?

I have biases on this issue, and I’m well aware of them. I’ve gone hunting. My family has raised rabbits and ducks for food. In the case of the ducks, we ate the eggs and later the ducks. I helped my dad slaughter the ducks and I’ve helped him skin a deer. He processed rabbits, deer, and fish in our kitchen.

There are ways to avoid eating all animal products, but it is expensive and time consuming. If this became less of a barrier, it might change more people’s minds. Vegans have to put in a lot of extra effort to keep their food entirely plant-based.

Vegetarians, on the other hand, simply don’t eat meat, but may enjoy eggs, dairy, and other animal products which vegans don’t. Not all of them will, but it is possible.

There are ways to be vegan or vegetarian and get enough vitamins and minerals. That sometimes includes taking supplements to keep from having deficiency. Those supplements also increase the cost of the diet. In most cases, though, all the vitamins and minerals necessary can be obtained entirely from plants. That could change for people with allergies or other dietary restrictions.

I freely admit that eating meat or animal products isn’t required to live, at least in the developed world. If it was, this would not be a question of ethics, it would be of survival.

It is not a moral issue among other animals when one animal eats another, from our human perspective. Presumably the animals don’t discuss the ethics of what they eat and how they obtain their food. If they were capable of such discussions, they are still in a state of struggling to survive such that they wouldn’t have the conversation. Additionally, many animals are carnivores by necessity.

Humans are omnivores. Other animals, like some turtles, are omnivores. Gorillas eat insects and plants. Even dogs will enjoy apples, carrots, and other plants, though they are primarily carnivores.

This ethical discussion of eating meat only applies to areas of the world where the standard of living is high enough to suffer little consequence by cutting out meat.

If an animal is being put through massive suffering and poor living conditions to bring it to the table, I would feel that unethical. If, however, it was a free range chicken with plenty of space and good food and was killed quickly, I would have fewer reservations about consuming meat.

Ethics and morality are highly contextual. If you have ever explored the multitude of variations of the trolley problem, for example, you will know this. In the problem, either one person or five will die because of an oncoming train or trolley. In some iterations, you can push someone into the path of the train, in others you pull a lever to change the path. Depending on what is required to sacrifice one to save five can change a person’s answer.

It is the same with the ethics of eating meat. I’m thinking through everything and it’s complicated. It might be a simple thing for some people, but I went into this piece to defend eating meat. Now, I am open to changing my mind and my diet. In fact, that may be how this concludes.

To do more research for this piece, I watched this video from a vegan speaker. He brings up a lot of points and questions that I am grappling with. He used to eat meat and he grappled with it as well. This is very much a discussion with myself to explore what I think and why.

I don’t think I was wrong about what I said already, that if it were a question of survival, it would be different. If it were about maintaining an ecosystem, it would be different. If the animals were not bred specifically to be food and then slaughtered, it would be different. If there wasn’t needless suffering in the meat and dairy industry, it would be different.

There is a difference between the meat industry and hunting. In the latter, the animal was wild and you know how and when it was killed.

In Illinois, there is a problem with overpopulation of deer because humans killed off a lot of wolves in the area. There aren’t any predators for the deer anymore. Deer die because of cars, hunting, and hunger.

Why would it be gross to eat a deer but not a cow? If you eat beef, why not venison? Why the animals we do eat and why is it reprehensible to eat others? Why does eating veal (the flesh of a calf) and eating beef feel different? Why do I feel more disgusted by the former?

As far as survival is concerned, I view meat as acceptable. I’m not against animal products as a whole, either. But should I change my mind about eating meat? Since it isn’t necessary for me, should I stop?

I feel very stuck on this issue. I’m struggling to find valid reasons to excuse it.

The animals are not euthanized, they are slaughtered. Would that make a difference? If they were able to live good, full lives and did not feel pain when they died, would that be better?

I don’t want to give up meat, if I’m being honest. But I also don’t know that I can comfortably continue eating it without considering the animal that had to die. It’s unfortunate that something has to die for us to live, since none of us are plants or photosynthesize. The least we can do is give it the best life possible. I don’t feel that that is happening in most cases based on the information I have.

Due to my research and this complicated and rambling discussion with myself, I’m going to reduce and mostly eliminate meat from my diet at least until there is change. There is potentially a solution in lab grown meat, and if it becomes affordable I would be open to trying it. I have problems with the treatment of animals in the meat industry, so I will not support that for the sake of my taste preferences.

Doing More Than You Think You Can Do: How I Overcame Impostor Syndrome

According to Oxford Dictionaries, impostor syndrome is defined as “The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”

 

As I entered the room, I couldn’t shake the notion of feeling like a fraud, like I didn’t belong there with everyone else and that I’d be found out and be made to leave. The unsettling feeling didn’t leave that night or during the classes that followed.

 

So, I kept going to class and doing the work, still feeling anxious. I sat on the outskirts of the room and kept mostly to myself, saying little and interacting minimally with my classmates. I felt insecure because of my age and lack of experience due to the fact that I was with people who had as many years of work experience as I had been alive. The program was a course that focused on teaching a combination of business and financial principles and providing resources for entrepreneurs sponsored by a local community college and the Rotary International, amongst others. When I started the process of applying to be part of the program, I honestly didn’t think I would be accepted but lo and behold, I made it through two rounds of interviews and was chosen to be a member of the inaugural cohort.

 

The little nagging voice didn’t go away in those initial weeks. Then, I talked to my friend who was in a similar situation where he was the youngest one in his work program. I asked him if it was weird for him but he said no, he just worked hard and people accepted him with a bit of teasing. As simple as that statement was, it was very reassuring to hear and really helped me to put the situation in perspective. So, I kept pressing on and in the weeks that followed I got to know my classmates better and I got more comfortable with the workload. I was also comforted by the realization that they were also struggling with the class assignments. By the end of the course, I no longer felt like an impostor. I learnt so much from the course and the experience and I am proud of myself for doing so. I’m both happy and relieved it’s over but I think I’m going to miss attending the classes every week. The course was great because it really helped me to think through all the nitty gritty details necessary to have a good foundation and me up for success. We had a fantastic teacher who had many years of experience working with large corporations and startups. He told lots of antidotes and relevant real life examples alongside the course material which helped us to see the application of the more complex and abstract concepts. I also had fantastic classmates and there was really great group synergy; lots of mutual support and idea sharing. It was an intense whirlwind and the homework load was quite heavy but I really enjoyed myself, learnt a lot, and met some really cool people who I became friends with.

 

If you are ever in a situation where you feel like you don’t belong or are not qualified, know that you were chosen for the role and placed in the situation for a reason. You are qualified or have shown that you have the ability and willingness to learn the necessary skills, you belong and most importantly, you can do this. God puts you in places for a reason. He wants you to grow, he wants you to have an impact and he also wants to be the salt and light.

 

You got this!

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 NIV

The Narratives that Shape Us

Before I begin, I would like to start off by thanking Alyssa for asking me to contribute to her blog, Over The Invisible Wall. We met a couple of months back through an entry that she posted to her personal website, and have talked about various topics since.

We do not have the same views on everything, but we did find a lot of common ground through our discussions and through choosing to hear what the other person had to say.

Since then, she has asked me to write about one of the subjects that we talked about in a guest post, and I have done my best consolidate my emails into one (hopefully) coherent blog post. Thank you again Alyssa for giving me the chance to write a guest post for your awesome blog!

* * * *

Our narratives are shaped by the lives of those who have gone before us.

Every experience and every piece of information that we take in has a direct impact on how we see ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. We are shaped by stories, and the narratives that we are given by our families, communities, and society at large—for better or for worse. And these stories play directly into how we see each and every person that we come in contact with, every single day.

For instance, if I told you that I’m a twenty-year-old Christian blogger, writer, youth leader, and college student, you’d probably already have some assumptions about me—filling in the blanks for things that I haven’t yet told you.

She probably likes Hillsong, you might assume (in which case, you’d be right).

She was probably a bookworm in high school (this is also true).

She’s probably reads C.S. Lewis (this one is definitely true).

However, if I told you other facts about myself, you might be surprised.

You might be surprised to find that I oppose the death penalty on moral and ethical grounds and cast my first vote to an independent candidate in the 2016 election. You might be surprised to find that I’m a big advocate of gender equality in the home, church, and workplace—and do not subscribe to patriarchy or strict gender roles. You might find it super surprising that I enjoy psychology—and have taken every personality test from the Myers Briggs to the Enneagram (type 2 ENFJ y’all!).

These facts may not coincide with the picture that you have already carefully constructed in your head. Whether you intended to or not, you’ve already prescribed a narrative for me for based on just a few simple facts—without even knowing me at all.

And we do this all the time, right? Name off any number of occupations or descriptors and we can immediately create a picture of that person in our minds: Teacher. Doctor. Librarian. Photographer. Dentist. Lawyer. Fashion Designer.

All of these people are subject to stereotypes and potentially false narratives. All because we’re conditioned from a young age to think of people in an extremely simplified and one-dimensional way. And in some cases, this can be more than problematic. It can be detrimental.

 

Specifically, to those who are LGBTQ in our churches, our schools, and our society.

Growing up in a mostly Christian context, I’ve heard basically every stereotype about gay people that you can think of. They’re promiscuous. They hate God. They live wild “lifestyles.” You name it, I’ve heard it. Multiple times.

However, the older I got, and the more I started trying to construct my own narrative of the world, the more I started to hear other things about gay people as well. You can’t help who you love. It’s not something you can change. It’s not a choice. And slowly I began to question my previous assumptions and the narratives that I’d heard about gay people for so long.

“What if they’re wrong?” I wondered. “What if it’s really not a choice?”

After all, wouldn’t someone who was actually gay know more about this than me—or the countless other voices around me who were speaking so authoritatively on this subject? And if it wasn’t a choice, then where did that leave me, as a Bible-believing Christian?

After all, if it wasn’t a choice, than it had major ramifications for both my assumptions and the lives of real, living, breathing people made in God’s image. It meant that there could even be Christians out there who were gay—Christians who grew up going to church and youth group, just like me. And if there were gay Christians out there, then where on earth did that leave them?

 

Eventually, after a lot of questioning and shifting back and forth between viewpoints, I finally got up the nerve to ask these kinds of questions, and not so much to my surprise, I was right. People didn’t choose to be gay and there were gay Christians out there. But, the picture also wasn’t as bleak as I once thought.

Over the course of my research, my reading, and my questions, I discovered some pretty interesting things—both about God, and about the lives of various, real people.

One, that all of those passages in the Bible that people always use to condemn people who are gay don’t speak about sexual orientation. Nowhere. Not once in the Bible does it ever speak of someone who has a gay orientation. Every verse that describes ‘being gay’ as a sin refers only to lust and sexual acts outside of a Biblically defined marriage ( sleeping around and lust is also considered a sin in Christianity for those of us who are straight).

Second, I learned that there were are a lot more gay Christians out there than one might think—and many of them, though facing struggles at various points in their lives, are genuinely happy. They’re pursuing celibacy and pouring into loving and healthy friendships. They’re in a mixed orientation marriage with the one person of the opposite sex that they’re attracted to. They’re teaching at colleges, leading churches, involved in mission work, and speaking for those who can’t speak. They’re redefining what ‘gay people’ look like to the Christian world and the broader world. And most of them simply want to be understood.

 

Through reading these articles, and listening to these voices, and hearing the stories of real people, I’ve grown to see how vital it is that those of us who are Christian get this right. There’s a very real chance that we already know someone who’s gay—whether it be a co-worker, a friend, a student, or the guy who sits next to us in church. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to add pain to someone who has likely already endured far too many sleepless nights thinking about this. I want to be a light and speak life into the lives of other people and the only way I can do that is by listening—both to those who share my convictions and to those who don’t.

As humans we will someday be remembered for how we chose to live our lives. I don’t know about you, but I want to be known for my love. In 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV), it says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

 

Regardless of who you are or what you believe, I want to challenge you to love boldly. To listen to the stories around you and try to understand people right where they are. We do not have to add to the division that already permeates this world so forcefully. We can choose to listen, rather than shout. We can choose love over hate.

We can choose to create the culture that we want to live in.

 

We can choose to be a voice that impacts a generation.

 

We can choose to be a light—and make this world just a little bit better and more compassionate than it was before.

 

Courtney Whitaker is a writer, a reader, and a lover of all things cats, warm tea, and Hallmark. She is currently a youth leader at her church and pursuing a double major at Liberty University in Education and Theology. In the future, she would like to teach and write books geared towards teens and young adults. You can find more of her writing on 1timothy412girl.com, where she posts weekly about all things faith and life.

Aurora Leigh and “My Last Duchess”: Women’s Rights

Women and men alike in the nineteenth century wanted women to have the same economic and political freedoms as men. Women authors during the Victorian era started to gain positive recognition for their works. For example, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was seriously considered for the poet laureate (“Overview, R. Browning, and E. B. Browning”). Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1856) and “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning (1842) brilliantly showcase the Victorian attitudes toward women as well as the Brownings’ desire for those attitudes to change.

For clarity, when referred to without their first names Browning refers to Robert Browning and Barrett Browning refers to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Additionally, it is worth noting that the sources I had available for the majority of the drafting of this piece did not include the entirety of Aurora Leigh. I have only read what was included in The Norton anthology of English Literature, version 9. This article is adapted from an essay I wrote for a Liberty University English class.

 

During that same period, the Langham Place Circle became the first organized women’s suffrage movement in the UK during the 1850s. According to Esquire, “[In 1940 a]t the World Anti-slavery Convention in London, several male abolitionists stand with women against hypocrisy of segregationist rules barring female participation.” In the late 19th century women were able to secure increased independence and recognition by the state, especially pertaining to parental rights in the event of divorce.

Florence Nightingale is well remembered for her volunteer nursing efforts in the Crimean War. Her work lead to the rise of nurses in the medical field and legitimized the efforts of other women attempting to do medical work.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a “British novelist and social historian. Mrs Gaskell’s novels portray the lives of a cross-section of Victorian society” (Biography Online, Famous Victorians).

Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett, and Annie Besant were activists during this time period. Pankhurst and Fawcett were suffragettes, though they took drastically different approaches to secure freedom: Pankhurt chose to be militant while Fawcett chose non-violence. Besant campaigned for the working poor and defied the Victorian expectations of a passive wife with her radicalism and separation from her husband (Biography Online, Annie Besant).

Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë were notable female poets of the Victorian era. Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights is a literary classic.

 

Robert Browning artfully wove word usage and poetic elements in “My Last Duchess” to emphasize the duke’s monstrous nature, practically forcing the reader’s sympathy to rest with the previous duchess. “My Last Duchess” is based on part of the life of Alfonso II, the Italian Duke of Ferrara, and the duke in the poem is living in the sixteenth century (note from the Anthology, p. 2124). It records an imagined one-sided conversation between the duke and an agent for the count, the father of the woman the duke wishes to marry now. The poem consists of iambic pentameter and rhymed couplets, creating structure despite the duke’s impression of attempting to speak casually. Most of the poem’s rhymed couplets are open, or lacking punctuation, pushing the stress to the middle of the next line where the sentences end. In this way, Browning used enjambment to emphasize the terrible things the duke is telling the agent who will be presenting the duke’s marriage request to the count by whom he is employed (Wright, 2015). As Watson (1973) notes, the man with the duke does not speak once, creating the impression that he is not shocked by what he is being told, that is, that the duke is both acting naturally and his behavior was normal for the time period. Browning created a believable sixteenth century duke and included elements that enhanced the duke’s believability.

The duke in “My Last Duchess” is realistic in the ways he refers to and speaks of the late duchess as well as how he treated his wife. The opening lines of “My Last Duchess” read, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive. I call / That piece a wonder, now.” To today’s reader, it will seem that the duke is speaking of the painting, but that is actually not the case. As Crowder (2012) explained in his short article, the duke is referring to the subject of the portrait as the portrait itself, a common practice in the sixteenth century that later came to be seen as rude. Reading the poem in this light, it is clear that the duke likes his late duchess better now that she is dead. The duke viewed his wife as something he owned; he desired to control her, and chose to kill her when he found he could not (lines 45-47). Now that she is dead, the duke has power over who sees the “earnest glance” and smiles that the duchess was too flippant with (lines 5-15, 20-34). It is possible that Browning chose a time period when women were treated worse than they were in his own to make the reader think of how the duke should have treated the duchess and responded to her actions.

 

Barrett Browning’s epic poem Aurora Leigh communicates Barrett Browning’s attitudes concerning women’s rights through the narrator Aurora. In book two of Aurora Leigh, Aurora rejects Romney’s marriage proposal because he does not respect her poetic aspirations, even though he thinks she would be a wonderful wife (lines 90-96, 110-115, 345-349). Aurora accusingly claims that Romney has long been married to his “social theory” when Romney questions her rejection (book 2, lines 408-410). Barrett Browning is telling the reader that women are not just on earth to be men’s wives, but to live their lives also, and women can choose not to marry a man who will not support them in their aspirations. Barrett Browning, a woman herself, made arguments for women’s rights in Aurora Leigh and helped change the misconception that women cannot write poetry as well as or even better than their male contemporaries.

Barrett Browning employed symbolism regarding her characters, in particular Aurora and Romney, to convey their character qualities to the reader and make a statement about women’s rights. As Stone (2011) mentions, Aurora is frequently associated with air or wind throughout the epic, however, Romney is compared with earth until “purified by fire.” This may be symbolic of the freedom inherent in the high view of women Aurora holds versus the more traditional, binding view of women Romney adheres to for the majority of Aurora Leigh. Later in the epic, though not in the specific selections included in the Anthology, Romney proposes again, and this second time, Aurora accepts. After Romney’s view of Aurora’s poetry changes, and his view of her, somewhat as well, Aurora is willing to marry him. Aurora is unwilling to marry Romney until he adopts a higher view of women and their equal ability to be authors or poets. In the same way, Barrett Browning wanted women to be viewed as men’s equals in society and in the field of literature.

 

Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Browning’s “My Last Duchess” fit into the Victorian period ideologically. The Victorian period, delineated by Queen Victoria’s reign, is defined by change and technological advancement. Bristow (2004) mentions in his essay that “[s]eldom, however, has ‘Victorian’ delivered theoretical concepts either for or about the eclecticism of the poetry it is supposed to characterize.” Bristow (2004) also mentions that the Victorian period, and Victorian poetry, was far more Modern than previously recognized. The poets of the age were concerned with women’s rights, equality despite race, universal suffrage, and other similar goals that carried into the Modern period as well. The age was also one of increasing technology and a growing fascination with and dependence on that technology. Barrett Browning and Browning were both concerned with those things, in particular women’s rights, of which Aurora Leigh and “My Last Duchess” are examples. According to Gbogi (2014), Barrett Browning, despite being commonly compared to her male contemporaries and being viewed as the first subversive woman poet, was no such thing, but rather was part of a feminist literary tradition. Also, as Stone (2011) mentions regarding Barrett Browning’s rejection of Medievalism, “she resembled numerous other women writers.” Browning and Barrett Browning, whether consciously or not, wrote Victorian poems, that, while unique, had elements and messages similar to other Victorian writers’ poems.

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning embedded their views on women’s rights into “My Last Duchess” and Aurora Leigh. Though Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh is far longer and contains much more material than Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” both make important points concerning women and how they are viewed. “My Last Duchess” shows a power-hungry sixteenth century duke sorely mistreating his wife to the point of murdering her for showing some individuality and independence. Aurora Leigh chronicles the life of a women poet who emigrated from Italy to Great Britain who first rejects and later accepts a marriage proposal, the answer dependent upon the man’s attitude toward her and her poetry. Regardless of one’s perspective of Victorian era feminism and gender politics, the Brownings were part of the movement and its ideology affected their works.

 

References

Aronson, A., & Watson, E. “Great Moments in the History of Gender Equality.” Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/news/a9675/gender-equality-history-moments/

Biography Online. “Annie Besant.” https://www.biographyonline.net/women/annie-besant.html

Biography Online. “Famous Victorians.” https://www.biographyonline.net/people/famous/victorians.html

Bristow, Joseph. 2004. “Whether ‘Victorian’ poetry: A genre and its period.” Victorian Poetry, 42(1); 81-109.

Crowder, Ashby Bland. 2012. The piece in “My last duchess.” Notes and Queries, 59(3), 390-391.

Gbogi, Michael Tosin. 2014. Refiguring the subversive in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.” Neohelicon, 42(2), 503-516.

Greenblatt, S., Christ, C. T., David, A., Lewalski, B. K., Lipking, L.,Logan, G. M.,…Stillinger, J. (2013). The Norton anthology of English literature, 9.

“Overview, R. Browning, and E. B Browning.” Liberty University, English 216 presentation.

Stone, Marjorie. 2011. Elizabeth Barret Browning. Victorian, 49(3), 357-376, 434-435.

Watson, J. R. 1973. Robert Browning: “My last duchess.” Critical Survey, 6(1/2), 69-75.

Wright, Alyssa. 2015. The duke’s true character in “My last duchess.” Liberty University, ENGL 102.