Lent as a non-Catholic

With the holiday of Easter last week, the season of Catholic Lent has officially come to an end. Being raised heavily Catholic for my entire life, this Lent was especially important to me. This year was my first year celebrating Lent as a non-Catholic. Starting last fall, I officially cut my ties with the Catholic Church. I spent a long time enveloping myself in the concepts, purpose, and personal meaning that religion has for me and for society as a whole. I spent hours meditating and doing research until I finally decided that I could no longer stand to carry the weight of labeling myself as a Catholic. While the reasons aren't important for this post (perhaps I'll touch on that at another time), there are several traditions that the Catholic church supports that I still find worthwhile. Lent is definitely one of them.

So as a nonbeliever in Jesus Christ, why should one celebrate Lent?
The whole purpose of Lent is to identify with "Jesus' suffering on the cross" and atone for our "sins" which "Jesus has saved us from." (note heavy skeptical use of quotation marks)
So as someone who does not believe that Jesus was/is a Savior to the world, how can Lent still be important?

A long time ago, I asked my parents and my teachers why Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent. While most answers were "just because" or so that we could suffer (the great suffering of not eating meat for a WHOLE day *insert sarcasm*) like Jesus had. I found these answers to be immensely dissatisfying if not offensive. A man was murdered so I'm not going to have bacon with my eggs today. How does that possibly allow one to feel the suffering of a brutal execution? On top of that, Catholics would use the occasion of not eating meat to treat themselves to decadent seafood meals. Would Jesus truly feel your sympathetic pain as you scarf 20 fried shrimp down your gullet?
After doing more research, I found an answer I was more willing to play along with: In the time after Jesus' death, meat was extremely expensive and hard to come by. Seafood, however, was readily available due to the proximity of the first Christians to the bountiful sea. Therefore, they would abstain from meat, and eat the cheaper option. By eating a more modest meal, the early Christians would have more money that they would then donate to the poor.
THERE! Here's an answer that makes sense. You should make a small sacrifice to help others.

With this reason in mind, I feel that even as a nonbeliever, Lent can be a valuable exercise in self-restraint and humanitarian efforts to better the world. This past Lent (40 days or so), I practiced the tradition of abstaining meat for the entirety of the duration of Lent. It actually still much cheaper than purchasing meat if you purchase nuts, tofu, and other great protein alternatives such as small amounts of raw quinoa. Forgoing seafood due to its' current price near where I live, I ate a vegetarian diet for all of Lent and used the money I saved to help support the local homeless. Making them meals whenever they were in walking distance of my house, or just donating more money than usual proved to be an exercise that I found to be valuable.

So even if the season of Lent isn't dedicated to sympathizing with one man's suffering, I would heavily advocate for everyone to practice a season of heightened humanitarianism and self-evaluation.  Because Lent has a start and end date, it makes realizing goals easier to handle, and at the end of Lent, hopefully, you will walk away a slightly better person.


I'm wrong: On why "I love you" can be more than enough in our current culture

OK so let's get things cleared up. First of all: I stand by what I said in the last post. Hearing the words, "I still love you" implies that a coming out calls for a reevaluation of love, and that's not a great reality. However, due to recent conversations in my life, I have come to realize why so many people value a response of "I still love you" so much. Sometimes accepting sexuality and/or gender preferences can be terribly tough on those in an LGBT person's life. In our current society, for many the process of coming out still does initiate a reevaluation of love. While this is unfortunate, it is simply how people are. Hopefully in the future, the idea of being LGBT won't jeopardize a relationship, but right now it does for many with unaccepting relatives. So hearing "I still love you" can mean a lot. It indicates that although someone had to question a relationship, they still decided that they could get past a perceived flaw in their loved one and choose to still love them.


why saying "I still love you" doesn't sound as great as you think (on coming out)

Coming out to a friend or family member is hard enough. When it goes bad, things really go bad. There's always risk of abandonment, harassment, and physical and/or financial consequences. So when coming out sways positively, LGBT people usually take what they can get. From my perspective, the most common positive response to coming out are the words "I still love you". This is great--right? They STILL love me. However, whenever I hear these words, I always cringe internally. In fact, when my sister told me she "still loved me, my immediate response laced with a slight bit of snark was "Thanks, I still love you too." Which was then followed by an awkward moment of confusion in which my sister probably tried to figure out why I would be saying that to her.

Obviously any LGBT person appreciates a loving response, however the words "I still love you" and also things along the lines of "I love you no matter what" reflects on a further problem-- the problem that finding out someone is LGBT calls for a reevaluation of love towards a person. If you found out your best friend had an extra toe, you wouldn't go home and reevaluate whether you still loved them or not. There would be no need to say "don't worry--even though you have a genetic difference from what is considered to be average, I'll do you a solid and continue loving you." Gee thanks so much...

This is why I would really prefer that people start to think about their response carefully. This is a vulnerable moment for an LGBT person, so a little thought would go a long way. We've seen the response "I still love you" popularized in media, so we really can't blame the hetero society for their canned response. So here are some phrases that might convey love and acceptance better than "I STILL love you": (feel free to argue any of them, as I would love to hear your opinions and, if possible, craft better responsive phrases to coming out)

Things I'd rather hear than "I still love you" (and/or "I love you no matter what"):

1. I'm happy for you.
2. I'm glad that you feel open enough with me to tell me.
3. I appreciate your honesty, and I want you to know that I value our friendship.

In addition to any of these phrases, a hug and a listening ear are always welcome.
If anyone thinks of anymore good ones, I'd be eager to hear them!

Also on a related topic, here's more advice on how to be a good friend to someone who is coming out: How to React When Someone Comes Out


Online Dating - An Objective Analysis

           Stemming from the origins of our species, humans have been romancing one another throughout the centuries. From Adam and Eve’s “love at first rib”, to Romeo and Juliet’s infamously tragic mutual infatuation with poison, humans have found ways to transform the biological process of procreation into the complicated science we now call relationships. How people express and develop relationships has evolved over time. No longer do Elizabeth Bennets pen Mr. Darcys by candlelight. Now, millions of people have access to online dating sites with complex algorithms for matching profiles. However, with the addition of this new method of interaction comes a very new onslaught of social and ethical issues to consider.

Due to the global nature of the Internet, the practice of online dating can affect people from across the world. An estimated 2 billion people currently have access to the Internet, and 40 million people in the United States alone have tried online dating (“More than..” and “Online dating..”). With such an expansive reach, it is important to consider the benefits and risks to participating in online dating. Online dating can be excellent. Just read the testimonies advertised on every dating site’s homepage splashed onto a background of a photo of a smiling couple. It can act as a temporary amusement to a bored college kid, or a means to starting a lifelong marriage with a partner. Three of the main benefits that online dating provides its’ users as opposed to traditional dating are “access, communication, and matching” (Finkel).
Online dating provides “access” to matches outside of a users’ normal social circle. In a psychological analysis of online dating, Eli Finkel states, “The ‘field of eligibles’ for an individual was once limited primarily to members of that individual’s social network, the Internet now affords access to a vastly wider network of potential partners who would have been unknown or inaccessible in former eras” (Finkel). Whether you’re a homosexual person in a conservative southern town, or a fresh immigrant in New York City looking for a girl from the homeland, online dating can ease the difficulty in finding unusual connections. Additionally, the aspect of being able to communicate using technology can act as a safe buffer to test compatibility without having to go on the ever-dreaded blind date. Sometimes a simple message from a man demanding that his future companion wear dresses, birth him 9 children, and make him sandwiches at his whimsy is a valid timesaver for an uninterested girl. Finally, one of the most stressed bonuses of subscribing to online dating is the matching algorithm that is used to pair up potential lovers.  Finkel observes, “By referring to millions of users, science, and math, online dating sites suggest that meeting romantic partners online is not only different from, but also better than, searching for partners in conventional ways” (Finkel). As a civilization that has become more tied to technology, the idea of trusting math and science to find a mate has become increasingly attractive.  The algorithms in Google maps seem to do a good job getting you from point A to B. So why wouldn’t a computer do just as good a job at introducing you to your dream companion?
While some people are willing to put their money on the benefits of online dating, there are various negative consequences that can accompany the positives. One of the main negative consequences that is rather concerning is the fostering of high judgment. Too often I have been in the room with one of my friends who utilizes the dating app “Tinder” while he swipes across girls faces, immediately judging them on whether or not their nose looks weird or their forehead is too big. Online dating can eliminate the personal interaction that goes into developing chemistry with a potential partner. It can also leave those who are not particularly attractive feeling demoralized and hopeless. Even if they happen to have an exquisite personality, they no longer have the chance to display anything but their physical sides.  Additionally, because the science of attraction is so complex, using dating sites may close a person off to relationships that the matching algorithms don’t account for even when perhaps a person may have been interested.
Besides for the long-term effects of online dating, there are also short-term effects as well. Many naysayers of online dating voice concern over the safety of meeting a “stranger” from an online dating site in real life. My friend’s father had to deal with a stalker that he met on eHarmony and even had to change his phone number and email address. People have used online dating sites to scam lonely people into giving them money, and many people simply utilize online dating for meaningless sexual hookups. Various things can go wrong without the safety net of a preexisting mutual acquaintance to vouch for a potential partner’s merit. Additionally, there is still a common view of social embarrassment over online dating. I personally have a friend who is dating someone she met online.  She noted, “I do feel awkward about meeting online. Because as common as it has become, I still feel like people judge me when I tell them”(SITE?). In the digital age we currently live in, why is it that people who have used online dating services still get judged?  Perhaps it is because we associate online dating with an inability to interact well in the real world; however, it is interesting to note that people who text, snapchat, tweet, and use instagram as their primary methods of communication do not receive the same negative stigma as those who participate in online dating.
Overall, it is difficult to properly assess the benefits and drawbacks of online dating. Online dating is a relatively new social experiment, and its long-term effects remain to be seen.  Online dating can provide many benefits to users who are serious about finding potential companions; however, the benefits are accompanied by risks such as stalking and social judgment. Before I wrote this paper, I decided to publish a post on Facebook asking for peoples’ personal experiences with online dating. The realization I found most surprising about this exercise was the shear number of people that I know have utilized the services. Even more surprising, was everyone’s acknowledgement of the social stigma behind social dating, which seems contradictory to its popularity.  While online dating currently remains everyone’s “dirty little secret”, its prevalence continues to grow and will continue to influence the relationships of tomorrow.


Ellen Page and Why We Should Care

By now, most people have heard about Ellen Page's Valentine's Day announcement. With a quavering voice and a strangely active right hand, she announced reminiscent of a different Ellen from years past that Yup, she's gay. But the question that seems to be on the tip of everyone's tweet is "Why should we care?"

Indeed, there has been a growing gay presence in the media. From Glee to Ugly Betty to Orange is the New Black, there really has been more homosexual characters cropping up on our screens over the last decade.  Additionally, gay marriage is currently legal in 17 states in the U.S., and it appears that America is heading in the direction of adding more states to that list. So with all this progress, and with so many celebrities already out of the closet, why should Ellen Page's announcement even be noticed? Why does being gay have to be a statement that is made, put in the news, and applauded?

Like it or not, the gay movement has not yet been won. 17 states is a great victory for gay rights, but we have to remember that the U.S. is comprised of 50 states. That's 33 states where people are refused the right to enter marriage with the person they love, and there are still so many states where a person can lose their job, not stand by a hospital bed, or get kicked out of their house just for being who they are. Many college-aged people seem to think that people coming out in the media is no longer a big deal because being gay is no longer a big deal. However, there are many people--many kids, that live in a place where being gay is a big deal. They don't get the privilege of residing in a college town where most people tend towards liberalism and acceptance. It is for these people that Ellen Page's public coming out matters.

Let's take a Page break for a moment. I remember exactly where I was when I first watched Ellen Page's Juno. I was 14, and my parents had gone out that night leaving me all alone to do whatever I want. And what I wanted was to sip stolen peach brandy from the liquor cabinet and watch Juno. After laughing at the eclectic sentences and peculiar items that decorated Juno's life and crying at the heartbreak she experienced, I finished my brandy with the closing credits.... only to press play and watch it a second time, back-to-back with the first. Needless to say, Juno had a big impact on my young mind. I even asked the bewildered hairdresser if she could give me Juno bangs, which were awkwardly short, center parted bangs on either side of my face. When you start to idolize a movie character, you form a connection, not only to the movie, but to the actor whose face carries all the emotions the character did.

When I started questioning my sexuality, I did what most people my age now do with their questions-- scoured the internet for other people's ideas, experiences, and opinions on the matter. I watched Ellen DeGeneres come out on national television. I read about suicides, conversion camps, and even about homosexual treatment in history. I watched documentaries on Netflix and started paying attention to the HRC and the news relating to gay rights. The internet made my terrifying thoughts seem more sane. Through research, I was able to see that other people feel the way I do and are able to live their lives happily and authentically.  Celebrities were and remain an important example of this idea. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, and now Ellen Page, are the definition of success. They are living the American Dream with popularity, fortune, and public careers. So when you see someone who is openly gay maintain celebrity status and continue to be successful while being authentic, it inspires hope.

To kids living in homes where being gay is unacceptable, either to themselves or to others, openly gay celebrities will continue to act as examples that being gay is OK and that they are not alone in their feelings or their struggles. I applaud Ellen Page for adding herself to a growing list of openly gay celebrities and hope that her strength continues to help make it easier for others to live authentically, until the day that coming out actually doesn't have to be a big deal, because no one lives in self-loathing or fear from being who they are.