modern Noah.

The news on Google today was flooded with photos from the 2014 Met Gala Best Dressed.  I humored myself for about eight seconds of perusing posed shots of celebrities in fancy clothing before I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.  It’s like when you cut sugar out of your diet and you no longer can stand the rush from sugar.  I can no longer even fathom what thrill people get from these kinds of things.

I used to look at outfits and appreciate the creativity, flow, contrasts, etc. of each piece.  If it were a school assignment, sure – I’d whip out all of those elegant words from the bank and I could fool anyone.  But today was completely different and I felt nothing for the outfits.  Nothing positive.  Actually, I felt disgust.

I’ve been applying for several travel scholarships lately in the hopes of scoring an award to either a global sustainability class or a service project in one of the least attractive corners of the world.  I constantly want to push forward and do something.  That something generally involves putting time, effort, and money into working with impoverished people in this world who are the voiceless, working bodies holding every society together.

In other words, when I saw those outfits, I saw the faces of the people who grew the cotton or mixed the dyes.
I saw the anguish, the integrity, the bleeding hands.

I did not see the floozy in the gown or the million-dollar smile.
I did not know the name of the celebrity, but I wished I’d known the names of the servants who created her.
From a million miles away.
With several million dollars less.
And what has that celebrity done?  Relative to her potential?  ZIP.  ZILCH.  NOTHING.

NOTHING, as far as relative goes.  NOTHING when you can buy up an entire fleet and take world problems by storm.  NOTHING when you have the voice and the potential to be heard by so many sheep who blindly follow.

What can the peasant do?  Keep quiet, keep humble, keep working.

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This all happened so perfectly in timing with my spontaneous decision to see the movie Noah.  Going into it, I had no idea what to expect – I just know the imagery looked intense.  Well, quite frankly, I had two impressions: 1) WOW, that was creepy and 2) WOW, that didn’t seem accurate.

And it wasn’t.

I’m no expert on the book of Genesis, but it’s short and I’ve been around it since I was little enough to get the main ideas.  With a little help from reviews, I was able to back up the reasons for my reactions.  First and foremost, Noah was played out as a maniac trying to kill, kill, kill.  It was all supposed to be showing his devotion to the Creator’s will, but you know how Hollywood takes ahold of things and runs with it.  Now, there were also some technical things wrong with the film, like how Jepath was not the youngest son but rather Ham was, or how Lamech didn’t die when Noah was a child.  But there were also some points in the film that were clearly strategic in capturing any kind of audience: the overlaying of Creation with Evolution.  Admittedly, I know enough people who insist both coexist that I actually really liked the implications the directors  made – but I also know a lot of Christians did not like said implications and took offense to Hollywood selling the Bible for profit.

It’s true, though; one could justly say this group’s scriptures have been misrepresented and sold.  It has been work-shopped questionably and beyond the entitlement of “artistic license”.  From the “rock people” to the dramatic, wordless visions from God, Hollywood was really just pitching a highly animated sci-fi movie – and how ironic, right?

But perhaps one benefit that came from this is the message it gave.  Now, people will argue the message of Genesis is that humans left their god and ran astray, so they were all wiped out – save for Noah, his family, and a bunch of animals meant to repopulate the earth.  In other words, disobeying the Creator is the big no-no.  Well, in this version of Noah’s story, it’s about what humans have done to the planet and less about how they’ve forgotten their god (although it does come up time to time).  Noah’s obedience to God is supposed to show why he has been chosen, but he just comes off as crazed until he learns love with discretion.  Meanwhile, the Flood is allegedly occurring to cleanse “evil” and to save the “innocent”, meaning the animals.  It’s like an eco-friendly, modern Noah story.  Save the planet, or you’ll have nothing left.  At least it’s a positive message, although missing the Biblical mark by a substantial bit.

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So Met Gala.  Noah.
These two ideas finally collided in my mind.

The evil-doers in Noah were transfixed on themselves, on their power, on humanity’s greatness, on their ruling over everything below them, on their image in the eyes of others and not in goodness,… They were eating other humans and holding absolutely no values, bloodthirsty to be at the top just as they were when the Flood came and they scrambled over each other to the highest peak to avoid the inevitable.  Because they thought they were great.  Because they had raised themselves up and not appreciated or ever understood the foundation on which they were standing to begin with.

Wow, just like our society today.

Dog eats dog, climbing over each other to the top, striving to save that extra buck so you can get that much farther ahead.  Idolizing things that should not be idolized, like celebrities who bring nothing of good fortune or true inspiration to a wholesome life.  Meanwhile, we take for granted our foundation, the one as simple as who grows our food.  Do you know how few people could survive without that anonymous web of peasants laboring below us?

“Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.” – Proverbs 28:6

The toil, the labor, the strife peasants pour into providing riches to the already rich… that’s just an example of these same themes.  False pedestals hold false idols, and becoming a sheep to the wrong flock drags you down the road of foolishness.  You can no longer hold what is important in your mind.  You become materialistic and take advantage of the downtrodden.  But the world balances itself out and nature/God/whatever will always have the last say.  “…for a piece of bread a man will transgress.  A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him” – but he is often already poor.

Yes, celebrities and those who idol them are poor and sickly.
It’s the impoverished, the righteous, and the downtrodden who live righteously who are the richest, the ones who are safe from the transgressions of the world – the ones closest to being the modern Noah.

feeling so small.

I’ve shut out some friends lately who have become damaging. I noticed their absence more than ever today when I sat alone in a frozen cow pasture.

I just got back from two weeks overseas, but I filled my weekend with travel and distraction from what’s been eating me alive. Well, last night I had four hours of sleep before finding myself driving towards Wheeling, WV, Frankie Ballard blasting, then the stillness of a hilltop field as I waited for my subcontractors.

No one. Anywhere. Just the birds and the frost and some lonely cows. I could have been home again.

That freeness reminded me also of the vastness of the world, the humbling sensation of feeling pathetic which travel often instills in me. Like when I hiked the Calanques solo last July, emptied my canteen, and realized how easily I could die in that desert and no one would know. Or this month when I stood on the Bettmer alp and beheld the frozen cruelty of Swiss altitudes and how small I am.

So small, in fact, that what are my woes? What are my complaints? Who are the tiny people who hurt me and bring me down?

All those people I left behind when I drove to the cow pasture, they could stand before me and still be as distant and small. I am small and so are they. And there are so many more of them because this world is full of people who could treat me better or worse in the snap of a finger.

I am small, and not just because my construction clothes in XS short are still too baggy and long on me. I am small because I represent so little of the matter on this planet, so little of matter to a stranger. But I can control how much I matter to someone just as much as I can control how much someone matters to me.

And now I’m in Columbus traveling towards the Indiana state line and I’m still as small, but my accomplishments are big. My strength is bigger. And those mean, selfish pains in my side I left in Cleveland are diminishing with my distance and my apathy.

It is so humbling being small.

Embarrassment.

What a funny word. Did you know we haven’t had the word “embarrassment” in the English language for more than 300 years? It’s a relatively young word that actually comes from French meaning “to block” and which can be applied as “feeling awkward” of sorts…which is why the Spanish word for “pregnant” is quite the same. Yes, not only that but embarrassment can be a thing as well as a state with three different implications: confusion or disturbance of the mind, difficulty from wanting money to pay debts, and difficulty from a cardiac disease. Embarrassment encompasses a heck of a lot of spectra, much like my face when I’m red from an embarrassing situation.

I’m a firm believer that the greatest flaw in humanity is emotion. I think emotion too often overrules our natural responses and instincts. It causes us rage that goes beyond adrenaline and necessity and assists evil doings. It causes us to make hasty and improper decisions, then saddles us with regret shortly thereafter. Regret. That’s a pretty bad one, too. But regret lets us feel like we have room for improvement. Embarrassment on the other hand… sometimes I wonder if that’s the worst emotion ever. Grief and regret are things that hopeful pass or inspire, but embarrassment is like a memory branded in your mind and you can replay those moments so vividly that you inadvertently relive them.

But why do we get embarrassed? What causes people to feel embarrassment?

For me, it can be a slow process. It could be an article I spent a long time writing and poured my heart into only to have it torn apart grammatically and ridiculed for its silly content. That’s embarrassing; I was proud of that now mangled mess.

For me, it can also be a split second of failure. The first thought that comes to mind is when I try to run in lovely Shaker Heights and catch my toe on its splendidly uneven slate sidewalks. In front of traffic. Country bumpkin over here running, sorry. Don’t mind me. I don’t often wear shoes and sidewalks are kind of a new thing for me…

Yet why do I care? Who cares if I make a lot of mistakes in my work if no one gets hurt by it? Who cares if I think differently than other people or they just don’t get something I’m trying to say? Who. Cares. If. I. Trip. But really? So what? I’m running, I fall, I get back up, whoop-de-doo. Oh, you were driving your car when I fell? You were NOT exercising and I was? Who should be embarrassed? Alas, it’s still me. I’m embarrassed. But I don’t want to be embarrassed. And I can remember my moments of embarrassment better than any moments of success – or a dynamics equation.

Since embarrassment is such a personal and intrinsic feeling, I try to think about what spiritual leaders would be telling their followers. They always seem to have good advice on handling others and keeping your cool, so what would they tell me about embarrassment? If I had to guess, it’d be something like this: None of us are flawless. God/Allah/some other spiritual being has made us the way we are, all unique, and has provided us with these moments to remember our imperfections. It’s grounding, it’s humiliating. Humiliation is how you learn to be humble.

In fact, thinking of humility, shame, and moments that cause us to reflect as such reminds me of a sermon I visited this fall when my friend invited me to his church. To confirm my speculation that a spiritualist would tell me that my embarrassment is a humbling eye-opener, I have rediscovered this passage from that sermon:

“When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners?’ And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
-Mark 2:16-17

It doesn’t matter what religion you are or aren’t, I think all holy scriptures are like additional Aesop’s Fables to life and I love to use them to reflect. This quote from the book of Mark, one of the many brought up in the sermon, makes me realize that I feel embarrassment because I am able to be humbled. I am not so righteous that I am perfect or in my own Nirvana; I have flaws that I need reminding of. And what’s better yet is those moments when I fall – whether figuratively or literally – are always those moments when I am overconfident. I am embarrassed because I realize maybe my writing isn’t as fantastic as I thought it was. I am embarrassed because, for a moment, I was caught up in thinking about myself too much that I tripped and realized how feeble I am.

In conclusion, I have decided that embarrassment is really just a blessing. Without it, we would be blinded by overconfidence and not realize how foolish we are being at times. Embarrassment does give us a chance for redemption, but only if we actively seek it.