Friday, June 13, 2014

Thoughts On Higher Education

Would you care to guess how many different schools I have attended since high school? Twelve. This includes both two and four-year programs, accredited and not, as well as vocational and specialized training programs. I have an associate's degree from a community college, an unaccredited bachelor's degree in Contemporary Spirituality, an accredited bachelor's degree in Humanities (the most specific major I could come up with when I put together all my earned credits from 5 other colleges/universities), a certificate in Nutrition, Bodycare, and Herbalism, and certification as a Life-Cycle Celebrant. I am currently a student at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary and I will be ordained as an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister in June 2015.

You may be wondering why I'm telling you this, and I've probably already lost half of the four people who started reading this post to begin with. (Kudos to the two of you still reading.) I've been thinking a lot about the value of higher education. I only just received my accredited bachelor's degree a year and a half ago at the age of 36. I have friends in their late 30s and early 40s struggling with whether or not to go back to school for a degree. I watch brilliant, successful women struggle with their worth because of their lack of a piece of paper that society tells us is so important. I also watch friends with teenagers struggle with helping their kids make decisions about their futures that I don't believe most teenagers are even close to being able to make. I've watched the cost of attending college increase by 2 and a half times the rate of inflation in this country. I have friends whose every major decision in life seems to be influenced by the fact that they are strapped with student loan payments of multiple hundreds of dollars every month. And recently, my husband who has no more than a technologically outdated associate's degree and a couple of years of liberal arts courses got a promotion at work, where he is happy and thriving and making more per hour than I ever have.

I come from a family where there is a huge emphasis on higher education. Almost all of the cousins I grew up with have a minimum of a master's degree, and many are now teachers. My sister also has a master's degree and works in a specialized field within public and private schools. Simply by association, I have felt the pressure to conform, to get the pieces of paper that say I'm good enough. And although I consider myself to be pretty intelligent and I love learning, even in the context of traditional academia, I don't jump through hoops well, nor am I good at conforming to the expectations of others or what I perceive to be artificially constructed hierarchical systems of accreditation and approval. In recent years, my struggle to try to fit into somebody else's box has been excruciating.

The whole point of officially getting my accredited bachelor's degree was because after many years of fighting it or ignoring it, I decided to say "yes" to the call to ministry that I have heard my entire life. I believed the only way to do that was to affiliate with a particular denomination (pick a box) and get a Master of Divinity (M.Div). This degree is the equivalent of about two to three masters of arts degrees combined, costs $60,000 to $100,000, and from the tales I've heard from people who have gone through it (and experiences I've had with ministers who have earned their "proper" credentials), doesn't do a whole hell of a lot to prepare people for actual ministry. When I look back at my time as a young adult attending retreats and conferences with other Unitarian Universalist young adults back in the day, I realize that the most lackluster worship experiences were those led by seminarians. When I finally allowed myself to think outside the box, my life opened up in ways I never would have dreamed. I am now mid-way through a ministerial training program that is taking me on a growth journey I never could have anticipated, and is preparing me better or as well for true ministry as I can imagine anything possibly could. And I will finish this program having accumulated no debt, and paying only a tiny fraction of what that golden M.Div would have cost me.

Now, I am not opposed to higher education. In fact, all of my college experiences were important in their own ways--some because of what I learned in the classroom, some because of the relationships I formed, others because of all the learning that happened outside the classroom. I do believe that a liberal arts education is incredibly valuable. It opens people's minds and exposes them to new ways of thinking and learning and seeing the world. This is not the kind of value that has a dollar sign attached to it. Higher education is also important for people who have very specific career aspirations. My sister is a Speech and Language Pathologist, a profession which requires a master's for certification and licensure. She knew what she wanted to be, she did what she had to do, and I'm super proud of her. My brother, on the other hand, struggled through a BA in philosophy from an expensive private liberal arts college. Believe me, I think everyone should study philosophy. But I'll never forget the little cartoon hanging on the wall of one of my favorite professors. The cartoon read, "Careers in philosophy:" with a picture of a stick figure in a graduation cap pushing a janitor's broom. My brother went on to learn to fly airplanes and is now a pilot. I'm also super proud of him. The most professionally valuable educational experience and credential I have earned to date is my certification as a Life-Cycle Celebrant. A Specialized 6 month program that cost about $2,200 total.

So here's what I have to say about higher education for anyone who cares what my opinion is on the subject. College degrees in this day and age are over priced and overrated. Not everyone needs a college degree, and a college degree does not guarantee you a better life or more income in your lifetime. Community colleges are under valued and under utilized. I'm all for kids spending a few years after high school exploring their interests, taking some classes in a variety of subjects, and getting a little life experience under their belts before saddling themselves or their parents with crippling student loan debt for a degree that may or may not amount to much financial value. Non-traditional forms of education are also seriously under utilized and underrated. We need more creative thinkers and people who are finding that sweet spot between what the world needs and what makes their heart sing. We also need people to do the jobs that don't require degrees, jobs that require intelligence and talent and a good personality, but are jobs that people with degrees think themselves to be above doing. We even need people to do the jobs that require little intelligence or training, but they require time and effort, and we should pay people well for their time and effort. To receive specialized training for something you love and are good at is an awesome thing. Think outside the box. Listen to what your heart is telling you, if you can, over the roar of what society tells you you need to do to have worth. Do some research, think for yourself, and challenge systems of authority.

If education were free in this country (as it is in, for example, the Scandinavian countries), I'd say everyone should get a college education. But just like healthcare in this country, it's turned into quite the racket, keeping Americans bogged down in debt, nose to the grindstone. Because God forbid we weren't strapped with debt, had time to think about what matters most to us and the world, and had time and energy to do something about it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Doing Forgiveness

The following is an essay I very recently wrote for a project that one of my classmates and dear friends put together as a sort of yearbook for our 1st year class of seminarians at One Spirit...

Forgiveness is a fucking bitch, man. It’s also the Holy-Mother-Fucking-Grail. I had always thought of myself as a compassionate person because I’m vegan, I’m passionate about a number of social and environmental justice causes, and I have that super-hero, Leo personality that makes me think I’m destined to do great things in the world. I must be compassionate! Doesn’t having the desire to do the good or right thing and to make the world a better place constitute compassion?

When I really spent some time reflecting on forgiveness and what it takes to be a forgiving person, I realized that compassion and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. And man, was I one wretched, unforgiving son-of-a-bitch. Matthew Fox (one of my favorite theologians ever) says this of compassion: “Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy. Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.” I got the first part about making justice. I’m not sure I really got the mercy part. And I was certainly living my life according to moral commandments. What I have recently come to understand is something about the “flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.”

A Course in Miracles defines forgiveness as the healing of the belief in separation. I’m not sure I would define compassion much differently. When I truly opened myself to forgiveness, to understanding others as no different from myself, to accept the profound capacity we ALL have for fucking shit up, some profound shifts began taking place in my life. Some of it has involved some pretty intense Cosmic ass-whoopings, which I’m pretty sure were, if not well-deserved, at least necessary for beating the lessons through my thick skull (trust me, it’s thick). Some of it has been mind-blowingly wonderful. It has been healing and gratifying. I’ve seen myself break some pretty unhealthy patterns of behavior--rooted in separation, aka unforgiveness, aka a lack of compassion--that I had been repeating for years.

I’ve taken some scary steps to have some brave conversations that I never would have had before. I would have taken my damn ball and gone home and fuck-you-very-much. This, I’ve done in the past, and I now live with the regret of letting go of some deeply meaningful relationships because, how dare you mistreat me? How dare you not live up to my expectations?? How dare you be a flawed human being… like ME??? I’m learning that this forgiveness thing is not a one-time thing. It’s an attitude, an awareness, a way of being in the world and a way of DOING in the world. It is the way of compassion, and the only way to love. As I’ve started doing the hard work of accepting others in their flawed and beautiful humanity, it has enabled me to begin accepting my own broken, beautiful self. And WOW.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Razor Reboot

This blog is about to get a reboot. It's time to start blogging again and for real. I could have started a new blog, but I like this one. Anything written before 2014 was from Consciousness Razor 1.0 and the blog was described as follows:

Political, social and spiritual commentary from a passionate thirty-something feminist, vegan, angry, peace-loving, magickal, rational, hetero-partnered queer woman. Enter at your own risk.

"Feminism is not simply about achieving the power and status typically held by men. It's about protecting and supporting the rights of women of all classes, races, cultures, and beliefs."

"Veganism is compassion in action. It is a philosophy, diet, and lifestyle."


I'm proud of the little bit I've written before now, but I have been stepping more fully into who I am, and it's time for that to be reflected in my writing. Don't worry, it'll still be brash and full of profanity and unapologetically opinionated, because that's me. But as my first year of seminary nears completion, it is time for me to start exercising my ministerial writing chops. There will still be lots of feminism, veganism, some politics and other juicy stuff... it's just that the lens will be a little different, or perhaps simply more refined.

And so it begins...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Feminism and Oscar





I love the Oscars. LOVE. I laugh, I cry, I swoon. I start watching the red carpet hoopla at 7pm, the ceremony that runs until midnight, and Jimmy Kimmel's Oscar special after. Not to mention whatever I can find about it the next day. LOVE. I love hearing all the acceptance speeches, from Actor in a Leading Role to Costume Design to Documentary Short... I love it all. I love movies, and I love seeing them honored as an art form. Having spent some time myself working on a couple of films, I know how much work and how many people's time, energy, hearts and souls go into making even a short film. When I go to the movies, I sit through all the credits, long after the rest of the audience has left, out of respect for all the people who contributed to the work of art I just experienced.

Now you know my love of film and all things Oscar related. And if you've ever read this blog before, or if you've read the description, you already know about my feminism and that I filter pretty much everything through a feminist lens. I've been reading lots of the articles flying around this past week about what a misogynist Seth MacFarlane showed himself to be, or how sexist the Oscars are, etc., and so of course I am weighing in.

My take? I'm sick to death of all the MacFarlane bashing. I'm tired of reading diatribes by people who don't seem to understand nuance or satire or sarcasm, who take everything literally, and at times distort what actually happened to fit their need for everything to be oppressive and wrong. Here's an example: MacFarlane made a dig at George Clooney and his increasingly inappropriate (in some people's opinions) propensity for younger women by saying in reference to 9 year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, "To give you an idea of how young she is, it'll be 16 years until she's too old for Clooney." Some very twisted and fatigued minds out there turned this into MacFarlane sexualizing a child. A writer for Vulture twisted it into being a joke about how "someday Quvenzhan√© Wallis will be old enough to date George Clooney — because that's what's important about her." Seriously? They're looking so hard for what they think they should see that they're missing what's right in front of their faces. Perspective--George Clooney is only 5 years younger than my father and he's dating a woman the same age as my little sister. So, whether you have an opinion or not about Clooney dating younger women, I get the ick-factor, and I get the fucking joke.

The boob song. Oh.My.GOD. The entire feminist blog-o-sphere seems to be up in arms about 'I Saw Your Boobs.' Did they watch it in context? It was part of a whole shtick with Captain Kirk coming back from the future to warn MacFarlane not to be an ass and ruin the Oscars, showing him a video of what he does in poor taste that makes everyone hate him. I saw it as MacFarlane openly acknowledging the kind of crass humor people expect from him. More importantly, it seemed to me that he was making fun of himself, which I think is always a good thing. And for fuck sake--it was funny!

BostonClem commented on the Jezebel post and said it much better and less offensively than I have:

"Here's the problem with Seth Macfarlane: he's critiquing society in a highly ironic, sarcastic way, but most people don't get it-- and those people who don't get it range from misogynists who find his jokes affirming, and feminists who find his jokes infuriating. I genuinely believe he is a man trying to critique sexism (among many other of society's ills) through humor. I don't think every joke he's ever done is acceptable... but you know what? As a feminist and someone who puts a lot of time and effort into analyzing/fighting racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and classism in Am. culture, I also don't think every comment I've ever made is acceptable. He's critiquing society through jokes, pushing boundaries, and probing sore spots in the American (historical) psyche. And good for him for being willing to take that risk, even if it sometimes backfires. I'm glad there are feminists who will hold him accountable, but I don't think he should be silenced just because many feminists don't appreciate his deeply sarcastic humor. He ain't perfect, but he's a million percent better than most of the guys I know (especially comedians), and I'll take it-- especially if he's willing to listen to feminist (and other) critiques of his work and take a close look to make sure they're mocking the right thing."

Now, in my opinion, a much bigger problem with the Oscars--and the movie industry, and American culture, and British culture, etc. etc.--is the fact that there was a whole segment of the Oscars dedicated to 50 years of James Bond movies, movies which continue to blatantly perpetuate objectification and hyper-sexualization of women and overt misogyny. (Did you see Skyfall? Bond helps himself to a shower and a fuck with/to a woman he acknowledges has been living as a sex slave for years. WTF?) I haven't seen this mentioned in any of the blogs proclaiming the awfulness of the sexist Seth MacFarlane as Oscar host. Oh, but you like James Bond? Daniel Craig is sexy? James Bond is based on a character written a long time ago, so it's okay? Whatever.

I get that a lot of shit is seriously wrong in the world. I do. I get that there's a lot to seriously be pissed off about. But I also get that people--even good and well intentioned ones--are flawed. I get (although some may disagree whether I do) that not everyone sees the world the same way I do, and that doesn't make them bad. And I get that laughter is good, art is important, and that we have to learn not to always take ourselves so seriously. Choose your battles wisely, people.

You probably either love me or hate me right about now, and that's okay. I really don't have anything else to say except... Argo fuck yourself. ;)

Friday, March 9, 2012

"When they quit killing babies they can have every chicken I've got."

Recently, a Republican in the Georgia House of Representatives made a speech outlining his support for a state-wide abortion ban at 20 weeks (despite the high-risk status of most of these pregnancies). He proceeded to explain how he has helped deliver farm animals, and that it 'broke his heart' to see the ones that didn't make it. He goes on to tell his audience of fellow legislators that a man who opposed a law against cock-fighting once told him, "You tell those folks down there, when they quit killing babies they can have every chicken I've got." Rep. England referred to this man who fights roosters for sport as "salt of the earth people."

There is SO much wrong in this minute-and-a-half little verbal diarrhea episode that I hardly know where to begin. How someone with this little brain power and ability to think with any semblance of clarity or rationality could be elected to public office is astounding. Here are the problems with what this man said, as I see them...

The business of animal 'agriculture' is rooted in the same kind of mentality of domination and objectification that has allowed men to dominate and oppress women for thousands of years. I guarantee you that this man whose 'heart breaks' when a newborn calf doesn't make it has no problem eating the flesh of cows, pigs, or other animals on a daily basis. He may feel something in that moment of connection through participating in the birth of the animal, but ultimately is more driven by his desire for certain tastes and his belief that he is superior to and justified in using and killing other species for his purposes. He marvels at the birth of a calf--likely the product of his or her mother's forced pregnancy at the hands of humans--only to send it later to a life of servitude as a dairy cow, or slaughter for beef/veal. This doesn't sound a whole lot different from the way Republican politicians want to force women into pregnancy by limiting access to birth control and comprehensive sex education, restricting or banning safe, legal abortion, all while preaching about the sanctity of life... and then eliminating programs and assistance to these children once they're born. It's all connected. It makes sense that Rep. England thinks he has the right to determine what women can and cannot do with their bodies, since he thinks he has that same right over the females of every other species.

What saddens me most is that feminists without an understanding of interconnected oppressions, who themselves participate in the oppression of other species, rather than connecting the dots for themselves, more often than not will be driven to separate themselves even more from non-human animals. "I'm not a barnyard animal!" they yell. "Women are not cattle!" And in their attempts to elevate their own status, these women participate in belittling the status of their fellow creatures, creatures who are also sisters, daughters, mothers whose bodies are used and abused and seen as property, who experience physical and emotional pain, desire to live their lives peacefully and to seek pleasure.

But I digress. In what universe does helping a cow give birth in a barn qualify you to make decisions about what a woman can do with her own body? How does it make you more qualified than a personal medical physician to determine whether a high-risk pregnancy should be carried to term?

Let's move on to this "salt of the earth" man who told Rep. England that, "when they quit killing babies they can have every chicken I've got." First of all, anyone who abuses animals for sport is in no way "salt of the earth." Enough said. But this kind of twisted thinking in no way resembles logic. He forces animals to fight each other for sport and profit. This has nothing to do with his personal freedom and liberty. He is a profiteering sadist. It takes some sick and twisted thinking to equate a man like this with a woman making her personal decision about her own body and what's best for her and her family.

When I am challenged on my pro-choice position by those who find it inconsistent with my veganism (as one woman put it, "How come you think it's not okay to kill pigs, but you think it's okay to kill babies?!") My answer is simple: Nobody said anything about killing babies. Pigs, when they are slaughtered, have the intelligence and understanding of a human toddler. Nobody's talking about killing toddlers either. An unborn human fetus does not have its own independent life, or a developed brain capable of understanding its own life or experiences. A pig does. A cow does. Even a chicken does. I don't believe humans have a right to imprison female cows, impregnate them, take away their babies, and steal their milk anymore than I think men have a right to force human women to be pregnant against their will--or against sound medical advice. This seems consistent to me. When the debate is about whether or not we kill human 3-year-olds, if I say that's okay, then you can call my bullshit.

"No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother." ~Margaret Sanger, 1920

Friday, December 2, 2011

To Eat, Or Not To Eat... Horses

NPR recently reported that President Obama signed a bill in November re-opening American slaughterhouses for horses. Many people - meat-eaters and vegetarians alike- are up in arms over this decision. When we think of horses, we think of beautiful, majestic creatures running through open fields, we think of pony rides we took as young children, and of books like Black Beauty that instilled in us a love for horses. How can we possibly kill and EAT them?? Well, if you're a meat-eater, the answer to that question should be simple: "Easy!"

The only meaningful difference between cows and horses--where eating them is concerned--is that we've been culturally conditioned to see cows as food and horses as pets (and at times tools and vehicles). If you open your heart and let the scales fall from your eyes, it's easy to see that cows are every bit as beautiful and majestic as horses. Cows have emotional lives, they feel pain and pleasure, and they are able to form meaningful relationships with each other, with other animals, AND with humans! Not so different from horses. Cows confined in factory farms SUFFER every single day of their existence. Even cows raised on so-called "humane" farms are met with a terrifying demise, kicking and fighting for their lives until the very end.

Of course I don't want horses to be slaughtered for food. I don't want any animal to be slaughtered for food. But as I see it, there are only two logically consistent positions to take. If you eat cows and other sentient beings, there's no logical reason for you to have a problem with people killing horses for food. If you do have a problem with people killing horses for food, you must realize that they are not at all meaningfully different from the other animals you consume on a regular basis, and vegetarianism is the only option.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Religious vs. Ethical Food Choices

It occurs to me that there is something very backward about the way our society views individual choices around food. Do you know that in most prisons, if your abstention from certain kinds of foods is based on an established religious practice, it may be honored? But if it is not religious in nature, and simply "moral," your request will not be honored. This mentality seems to merely be a reflection of the way our society at large thinks about food choices. Most people won't show anything but respect for their co-worker's request for a kosher meal at a lunch or conference, but do you think the same courtesy is afforded the ethical vegan who requests a plant-based meal? Experience tells me--not bloody likely. The same may be said of other religiously based food choices.

Think about this for just a moment. Choosing not to eat pork because an ancient book tells you that the supernatural being you worship forbids it: respectable and accepted. Choosing not to eat pork because you have come to the rational and compassionate decision that, because pigs are beings who experience pain and pleasure just like us (and our beloved dogs and cats), and possibly for other reasons, like the fact that the production of pigs as a food commodity is extremely damaging to the environment, etc., you believe it to be unethical and immoral to eat them: lunatic fringe of society.

In what world does this make sense?! Oh, yeah...this one.

Perhaps it is a product of my years as a Unitarian Universalist, with principles that affirm and promote "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning," "the right of conscience," and "respect for the interdependent web of all existence." There is nothing more sacred to me than a person doing the hard work of searching and learning and coming to a difficult and unpopular decision because your conscience tells you it is the right thing to do. And perhaps it is a product of my years of searching and learning (including academic study in areas of religion and spirituality) that leave me with little more than painful toleration of arbitrary and archaic religious beliefs and practices.

I certainly respect an individual's right to choose what goes in and out of their own body, whatever their reasoning. But I simply cannot understand the mentality that finds only such decisions acceptable when they are attached to a religious belief. Perhaps it is because people do not feel threatened by a choice based on religious belief the way they do about a choice made for ethical and moral reasons. If the choice is based on religious beliefs, it is easy to say, "That's your religion, and I respect that, but it's not mine, so it doesn't apply to me." But when a person makes a decision based on evidence, reason, a desire to do no harm, a sense of justice, compassion, etc... these are universally applicable ideas. It's harder to blow off. It challenges us to take a good look at our own behavior, whether we want to or not. Because we know they think it's wrong to eat what we're eating, we feel judged, threatened, defensive--even though that is usually the last thing on that person's mind. They're just trying to eat their damn lunch.

Other theories or comments on this phenomenon? I welcome your thoughts!