Nature is speaking

Have you seen the videos for Conservation International’s newest campaign? They have these gorgeous videos, with famous actors giving voice to different aspects of nature. Harrison Ford is the voice of the ocean. Robert Redford is the voice of the Redwood Forest. Kevin Spacey is the rainforest, and Julia Roberts is Mother Nature.

I think they’re really beautiful, and their campaign is really well done. And, for every time you use the hashtag #NatureIsSpeaking, $1 is donated to Conservation International. Here’s a few of the videos, and more can be found at their website. Watch, share, and be sure to use the hashtag! For more information on Conservation International and the work they are doing, visit www.conservation.org.

 

 

 

The Power of a Perceived Lifestyle

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Either I have just not noticed it happening, or advertising and marketing has taken a new approach in the past few years. I, for one, am the advertiser’s dream target. I cry at commercials, I feel the euphoric surge of pride for the underdog in sports movies, and when I get those sale on the sale emails in my inbox, it requires quick deleting or I will give in. But recently it seems that what I have become so sucked into isn’t so much a product or a brand anymore, but a lifestyle.

With the popularity of blogs and Pinterest, it is so much easier to get a wide variety of view points and opinions, and the longer one spends on these types of websites, the clearer it becomes that a theme is being drawn. But I- the reader, the participant- I am the one drawing this theme. I see a blogger I like, so I follow her on Pinterest. Then, I search for the people she pins from, and who that person pins from, etc. A theme emerges. Inspirations abound. I am repinning everything that fits into this new theme, creating mood boards, an ideal wardrobe, or my future home. I was not even aware I wanted, or liked these things until I saw them unfolding everywhere I turned. I am intensely involved in the perceived lifestyle these people have, and I want it for myself. Everything they do or write about or pin becomes a representation of their “brand”- their lifestyle. They take a well-lit photo of something simple, like their Aesop hand lotion, romantically rumpled, and suddenly it is art. It is a representation of a product that I can afford, can hold in my own hands to achieve their lifestyle. A piece of their life is now a part of mine. I never even knew how much I missed that hand lotion in my life until I noticed I didn’t have it.

I first realized this inclination toward lifestyle marketing in J.Crew catalogs. Every month when that catalog came in my mailbox, I would turn each page, soaking up the images of their casual, yet chic weekend outfits. The women had hardly any makeup on, their hair was always messy but cute, and they were able to wear New Balance shoes with sweatpants and a silk shirt while in Italy and make it seem like the coolest thing ever. (But think- have you ever seen anyone actually dress like that? Anywhere? That should have been my first hint.) It wasn’t until this year, after going into the actual store and leaving completely uninspired for the tenth time, that I realized their clothes were actually not even my style. I don’t like wearing pastels, and I will probably never wear silk jaquard pants with a jeweled-collared sweatshirt. But the catalogs make it seem so easy, so inspired, so me! I thought that I loved their clothes because  I could imagine myself wearing one of their super-cool outfits. But what I really loved was the lifestyle I saw being portrayed in the glossy pages of their magazine.

This same thing happens with things that I really do love. Kinfolk is one of my favorite publications; the thoughtful essays, delicious recipes, and beautiful photography of a simple, yet fulfilling life, is something that really makes me feel good inside. I connect with it on a deeper level, as a representation of the things I love being reflected back at me through the thick, weighted paper. But at the same time, they are still advocating a lifestyle. It may not look like advertisements or products placement, but nonetheless, the photos of a simple breakfast, a wood-paneled station wagon on a road trip, or the thoughtful reflections on the beauty of living alone all serve to pull together images of a kind of life that one could easily imagine oneself a part of.

Take all of this, and my number one strength of adaptability (so says my Strengths Finder test), and I have a hard time figuring out who I am, and what I like. I hate how easily persuaded I am to like something, be interested in something, to wear something, etc. I tend to just fall in step with the people around me, and I lose myself amidst the opinions and photos of others. My personality type deems me the “dreamy idealist” sort, and that is true; I have a strong pull towards aesthetics, and the ways I imagine I- or life- could be. It all seems very clear to me.

It’s taken me until my late twenties to even begin to come into my own. The ways in which I spend my money, the activities to which I give my time, the people to whom I give my love and attention, have all begun emerging from the woodwork. I am slowly beginning to take inspiration from places as solely that- inspiration. I am slowly beginning to take pause and reflect on who I am, and how what I do is a better reflection of myself than what I buy or the lifestyle I live. It is a very slow process. Most days I am still falling over myself to achieve that never-attainable lifestyle that is laid out in photos and imagination. But what I want for myself is to know myself. And that probably requires stepping back a bit from the influx of impressions I give myself to on a daily basis. I know where I need to go, but doing it is a much harder step forward. I think in order to know myself, I will need to sit with myself and see what brings me joy, and where my own creativity brings me. I need to take stock of my own life instead of dreaming of a lifestyle that belongs to someone else.

Do you feel any of these things? Have you fallen victim to a certain lifestyle?

 

(photo, and product, via Anthropologie)

World Vision and Love for Others

This whole World Vision debacle is so heartbreaking to me. I feel embarrassed, angry, frustrated, and sad.

 

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, let me quickly recap. A few days ago, World Vision released a statement to Christianity Today saying that they were going to open employment to gay Christians in a same-sex marriage while explicitly stating, “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.” Evangelicals around the country exploded, canceling their monthly donations that go to support children and families around the globe, and calling others to do the same. World Vision lost sponsorship for over 2,000 children, and its estimated revenue loss is $840,000. My former denomination of the Assemblies of God asked their church members to reconsider their support of World Vision, and clearly, many responded. Following all this backlash, World Vision reversed their decision, and seemingly their convictions, when they said, “We failed to be consistent with…our own statement of faith.”

 

Here are my thoughts. As Christians, our job is to emulate Christ. That is the very definition of Christianity. So, I look to Christ for my example of how to live. Christ dined with “sinners,” comforted the poor, healed the sick. He defined himself through his actions of love and sacrifice. So why is it that nowadays, Christians are known far more for the things they are against, and the things they don’t do, rather than their acts of love? People literally pulled their financial support from starving children because of a change in policy they did not agree with at a corporation. Christians have become known for their legalism, their “personal convictions,” and their politicized fights over biblical interpretation, and we have lost our ability to love people. Jesus said, “You hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin [sic]. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24, NIV). This is a harsh wake up call from the very one we claim to be following. Jesus is not asking us to leave our personal convictions, but he IS asking us to continue to do good works and not get caught up in legalism.

Besides all of my disappointment with Christians pulling support, I am also disappointed with World Vision for backing down on their decision. They made it very clear from the beginning that they were not trying to make a statement about same-sex marriage, and that in fact, their views on same-sex marriage had not changed. But under the weight of enormous backlash, they caved, and reversed their decision. I was taught growing up to never compromise. Never back down on what you believe, remain firm to your convictions and decisions. This applied not only to spirituality and faith, but to everyday life. People will not always agree with what you do, but if you hold to your decisions with convictions regardless of what people will say, you will earn respect. You may lose support from some, but you will gain it from others. It’s not easy, I know. But where two days ago I applauded World Vision for making such a difficult decision, I have now lost respect in their convictions.

Hear me on this. Regardless of your personal convictions on same-sex marriage, I want Christians everywhere to come together in acts of love. Let’s not get lost in the legalism of doctrine and dogma and forget about the poor and the starving and the orphans. The Bible calls us to care for these FAR MORE OFTEN than it makes statements about homosexuality, and it is this oversight that Christ was calling the Pharisees out on. We have become so caught up in the minutia that we have forgotten to love and serve.

So, if you have sponsored a child, please- do not stop sponsoring them. They need you. If you are not sponsoring a child, please- do not let the drama of the past few days affect your decision to help one. If anything, let it fuel you to do something positive in the life of one who needs help. Let’s learn to come together as a people of love and service, REGARDLESS of personal conviction and differences. For if we only serve those who are like us, what good is that?

Let there be love, let there be light, and may it start with me.

Conceal, Don’t Feel: the Gender Roles of Men

male ballerina

In the last several years, there has been an enormous influx of public conversations about gender roles, primarily those of women. Women are finding their voices and asking to be heard, and changes are starting to happen. A post went around about newly designed stock photos of women that show them as strong, independent, beautiful, and loving people. There is a satirical commercial that pokes fun at the ways advertisers pander to what they think women are interested in, and there is a real commercial advertising young girls as future engineers.  We are making strides, slowly but surely, to tell the world that women are much more complex than the roles we have been placed in for decades- even centuries. I think this is absolutely wonderful.

But, what about men? I am not denying the fact that our culture is still overwhelmingly patriarchal, but I wonder if that will change by only focusing on making women stronger. I think men also need to be encouraged to step outside of their prescribed gender roles, and I think the way women view and treat the men in their lives can drastically change that.

I am constantly seeing commercials portraying men as the big buffoons in the relationship, where the woman just rolls her eyes at her silly husband who would never survive without her. Men in the media are either the strong, silent, Robert Redford/Don Draper type, or the guy who sits in front of the TV watching sports, calling to his wife for another beer. Where are the images of men drawing with their kids, or boys stopping someone from bullying their friend? Where are the images of men and women enjoying being in a relationship? Why are we always shown couples who nitpick at each other, ignore each other, or plain make fun of each other? There needs to be a mutual respect between men and women under ALL circumstances. Relationships and friendships are for honesty, love, respect, and that feeling of being safe and known by another person. If one person makes another feel like they cannot share all of themselves with them, or that they are inferior in any way, something needs to be fixed.

Why is it that the very qualities people desire most in a relationship- vulnerability, honesty, respect, and kindness- are the ones that are looked down on or ignored by culture? If a man gets too angry, that’s ok because men just are more hot-tempered than women (supposedly), but if he tells you that his feelings are hurt, or he-God forbid!- actually cries about something (no matter how truly upsetting), he gets labeled as “weak,” a “sissy,” a “faggot,” or any other number of derogatory, belittling terms. Maybe without even knowing it, we put so much pressure on men to be in control, be the provider, be successful, be the leader that it leaves no room for any kind of failure, emotion, or anything else that can be perceived as weakness. And, if a man does speak up against the people who are harassing or deriding him (like Dolphin’s player Jonathan Martin), he is told that the behavior is just part of the culture he needs to learn to accept. We expect men to be tough, and to be able to take any kind of normally intolerable behavior, because that’s what men do. “Man up” is what every little boy (or grown man) is told when they start to feel too much. “Conceal, don’t feel” applies to men, too. Stuff it down, “be a man,” and get back in the game.  If something is going wrong, it’s their job to fix it and not complain about it; just figure it out. As one man said to Brené Brown after a talk, “My wife and daughters would rather see me die on top of my white horse than see me fall off it.” (Daring Greatly). That statement should shock us. No person should ever be put in that position, especially in a loving relationship. Women ask to be treated as equals, but they don’t treat the men in their life in that same way.

We have become pretty good at identifying when women are being stereotyped or kept in a prescribed role. Now, I want to be the one to encourage men to fight against their gender roles, as well as be the kind of woman who makes a man feel safe enough to feel weak, or sad, or scared, who encourages a man to express those things without fear of rejection. I’m tired of seeing men being verbally knocked down by their male peers, and the women in their lives.  I want to see a man who follows his passions- whether it’s poetry, basketball, teaching drama class, or fatherhood. I want to see a man who tells me when I’ve upset them, because he wants to be heard, too. I want to see a man who is respectful of women, and verbally encourages both his male and female friends. I want to see a man who owns up to his weaknesses, and draws on his strengths. I want to see a man who nurtures his kids’ passions, even if he doesn’t understand them. I want to see a man who is 100% himself, unapologetically. And I am looking forward to the day that the media shows us men like that. But I don’t think they will, until people start changing their ideas of what a man should be, and we start treating each other like the complicated, loving, sensitive people we all are.

What are your thoughts on male gender roles? How do you think we can change this?

 

(photo via Tumblr)