Reconciling my spirituality with my politics

Coming from a very religious family, I often have a difficult time reconciling my spirituality with my politics. As someone who studies Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies, I am a feminist who believes in equality for all people. I believe everyone, regardless of his or her sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, or social class, deserves to be treated like a human being. I also believe that no one should be denied basic rights due to any of their status characteristics.

I am also a Christian. I love God and I love going to church. My spirituality and my relationship with my church family have been instrumental in my growth and development. However, when I go to church or I am around church folk and I hear homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, sexist (etc. etc.) remarks I am deeply disappointed and offended. I wonder, if God is love, why do Christians spend so much of their time spewing hate? Obviously, I am not speaking about all Christians. Many Christians spend a great deal of time serving those in need and spreading God’s love, but there are still far too many who spread hate, and quite frankly I’m sick of it.

I watched a video blog this past week posted by the founder of For Harriet, Kimberly N. Foster, which almost entirely sums up my feelings about the church right now (in the video, she is referring primarily to the Black church, but her sentiments can be applied to the church in general). I can totally relate to her dilemma of reconciling her spirituality with her politics, as this is something with which I continuously struggle. In fact, it has become quite an internal battle for me. It feels as if two pieces of my identity are clashing and I struggle with how to deal with this clash. The God I know and love is not the same God that is often (mis)represented in the church. I long for a church where ALL people are accepted. We need to stop judging, condemning, and hating, and start listening, learning, helping, healing, and most of all loving.

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Living with intention and purpose

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? Do you believe that we come to a certain place, at a particular time, surrounded by specific people, for a definite purpose? I do. It may not be that God or the universe predetermines our destinies, but it may be that we do have a destiny to fulfill and God leads us to it by placing certain people in our lives and placing us in certain places at a specific time. In my own life, for example, there have been times when I wanted something really badly—a guy, a specific job, to study at a certain school, or whatever…and I didn’t get it, for whatever reason. Initially, I may have felt crushed. In the case where I wanted a specific job and I didn’t get it, for instance, I often wondered why. Was I unqualified? Did I say something stupid in my interview? Did the interviewer not like my resume? In cases where I liked a guy and he did not feel the same way (or he used the ever so common excuse that he didn’t want a relationship), I often wondered if there was something wrong with me. Maybe I’m not pretty enough. Maybe I’m too nerdy. Maybe I’m not popular enough. In those moments, millions of thoughts tormented me. Sometimes, I even went into a brief depressive state. After much time passed, I was able to get over the pain that those disappointments caused. Years later, I can look back on those moments and see why I didn’t get that job or why my relationship with that guy never worked out (or why my encounters with him never commenced into a relationship in the first place). Usually the reason has been that God had something better for me.

When I applied for a job working for a federal government agency right out of college (a job that I wanted really badly) and didn’t get it, I was extremely disappointed. I had even interned with the organization, so I could not understand why I didn’t get this job. I ended up working a year in a call center and applying to graduate school. Working in the call center gave me time to reflect on what I wanted my career to be. I finally embraced my passion for studying Sociology and decided to pursue my dream of becoming a professor. Had I gotten that job working for the federal government I may never have discovered my true passion. On the other hand, maybe I would have, but I may have been afraid to follow it because I would not have wanted to give up a cozy government job with great benefits to be a graduate student drowning in mounds of debt, barely able to pay my rent every month (I hope you can sense the sarcasm here).

I am not trying to come across in this post as self-righteous or preachy. However, in the hustle and bustle of daily life it is easy to get lost and to wonder why we are even here (at least it is for me). So, I hope that if you are reading this post that you can take a brief pause and reflect on your life—all you have been through, the ups and downs, the good and the bad, and realize that through all of it, you are where you are today for a reason. Even if you don’t yet know what that reason is, I believe there is one, and if we live our lives with intention and purpose we can begin to discover what it is.

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Reflections on the holiday break and wishes for 2014…

This holiday break has been unlike any holiday break I’ve had in the past. Since I’m now a broke PhD student, I didn’t have enough money to buy my family the types of gifts I normally like to give. It sounds cliché, but I really do enjoy giving a lot more than receiving, so not being able to buy my family nice gifts was disappointing. Nevertheless, being broke really has a way of making one appreciate the things that really matter in life, like family and friends.

Since I didn’t have a lot of money to go shopping, I have spent most of my time over break cooking, working out (which I had been neglecting all semester), and just hanging out with my family and my boyfriend. While much of the world was out celebrating the New Year in fabulous ways, I attended watch-night service at church with my grandparents, my sister, and my boyfriend. Years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of spending New Year’s Eve in church, but I must say, I enjoyed it more than I probably would have enjoyed any party. After all, what better way to bring in the New Year than by thanking God for bringing you through the previous one?

I feel so incredibly blessed to have such a loving and supportive family, amazing friends, and a wonderful boyfriend that I felt I had to use that time to give praise and honor to God for His blessings. Not to mention, while 2013 was an incredible year for me in many ways (I graduated with my Master’s, celebrated one  year with my awesome boyfriend,  went on a research trip to Trinidad and Tobago,  and started a PhD program—just to name a few things), I also had some traumatizing experiences. I was involved in two major accidents within a three-month span, which heightened my anxiety issues tremendously. Ever since, I have experienced an impending fear of dying or of something bad happening to me. This fear is not something I can simply wish away; it’s always there. Still, God brought me through these accidents without a scratch, which confirms for me that He has a purpose for my life.

The accidents were not the only trying experiences for me in 2013; beginning a PhD program has certainly not been easy. My first few months in the program were extremely difficult—I had trouble sleeping, gained weight, and even questioned whether I am actually cut out for a PhD and my dream of becoming a tenured professor. Academia is not always the most encouraging environment. In fact, it often seems to breed an unhealthy atmosphere of rivalry, resentment, and isolation. However, I am lucky to have been blessed with amazing mentors who have nurtured and supported me and without whom I probably would not be where I am today.

The moral of the story here is (at the risk of, once again, sounding cliché) that while life certainly has its share of adversity, I have found that what gets me through all the tough times is counting my blessings. There are always going to be bad days, but I can honestly say that my good days consistently outnumber my bad days; therefore, as the Christian hymn affirms, “I won’t complain.” While my anxiety issues may never go away, I am entering 2014 with a positive attitude. My goal is to focus on the things I can control, while not worrying about those things that are out of my control. For someone like me, this is extremely difficult, but all I can do is try.

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Hello!

Hello, everyone! My name is Jennifer and I’m a first-year PhD student in Sociology with a concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies at Virginia Tech. I started this blog for two main reasons: 1) I like to write and 2) I need a space to express my thoughts. I spend a lot of time reflecting on my life, social issues, and other things that I care about, so I figured starting a blog would be a great way for me to share my ideas with the world and to reflect on the daily happenings of my life as a graduate student.  I hope you all enjoy reading! Feel free to leave comments and suggestions for topics! 

 

–Jennifer

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