We can all answer this question a variety of different ways. Our identities are multifaceted things — human, female, Christian, daughter, American, writer, friend, white, Midwestern (to give you some of mine). Some are chosen by us, some are given by God, nature, or other people. The things we identify with, wherever those identities come from, shape who are are.
Sometimes our identities might be in conflict with each other, or with those of other people. We need to be able to handle and resolve those conflicts. On the small scale, it might be something like “student” vs. “friend” (such as finding a balance between needing time to study and finding time to maintain friendships). On a larger scale, it might be something like “national” vs. “religious” (such as wanting to uphold your country’s ideals, but finding some of them at odds with your faith, and needing to choose between them). Or it could be an interpersonal situation where you find yourself interacting with people who have different political affiliations, ethnicities, faiths, and priorities than you do.
How we resolve these inner and outer conflicts says something about who we are and what we value. As Christians, we have an identity that is meant to be first in our priorities and underlie every other part of our lives. But we don’t always live as if this is truly the case. Sometimes we choose to put other beliefs and identities first, and if we do that too often it can damage our relationship with our primary identity as children of God.
The Problem of Conflicting Identities
I recently listened to a podcast episode titled “A First Step Toward Racial Reconciliation,” which was an interview with Mark Vroegop. His book Weep with Me: How Lament Opens A Door For Racial Reconciliation is coming out next month. In this interview, he talks about how the church should be the best place to resolve racial differences because “the gospel creates an identity that gets underneath all other identities.” Read more →
I’m not sure what to write about Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow (1888). It’s a fun story, and it makes me want to either read Shakespeare or re-watch The Hollow Crown: War of the Roses. Or both — both would be good. But I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot to talk about for a Classics Club book post.
Maybe I should write a post about BlacKkKlansman instead, since I just watched that movie yesterday and I have lots of thoughts about it swirling around. (In short, I thought it was a very well-done movie about an important subject, but I felt the director undermined its message by adding news footage on the end that tied this story of the past to a specific incident and president of today. You don’t need to spoon-feed viewers your ideas. Let us make the connection ourselves.)
Anyways, that’s off-topic. The Black Arrow is about political and ideological groups fighting each other, characters who feel torn between two sides of an issue, someone who’s pretending to be something they aren’t, villains who think they’re better than everyone else, and a crusader-type character avenging oppression and injustice.
Actually you could use all those descriptions of BlacKkKlansman, too, even though the two stories are really nothing alike. I guess it just goes to show how themes in story telling can span different cultures and centuries. I’m fascinated by this phenomenon. Take fairy tales, for example. There are over 900 versions of Cinderella and nearly every culture has its own take on the story. Why? Did the story start one place and somehow travel that much? Or is it due to something like Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious?
And we’re off-topic again. Back to Stevenson. The Black Arrow is a loosely historical story set during the War of the Roses. The main character is Richard “Dick” Shelton, who i’m afraid I didn’t care about at all for the first couple chapters. Actually, I didn’t care much about him by the end of the book either even though he does experience some basic character growth. He seems stubbornly determined not to think about what’s going on around him and that irritates me.
Initially, young Shelton picks a side in the political conflict just because that’s the side his guardian is on. Then, after he learns his guardian killed his father, Dick declares for the other side. And he sticks with that decision because it’s dishonorable to flop back and forth even though he hasn’t got a clue what he’s fighting against or in support of. I know lots of people fight for causes they don’t really understand, but should the hero of a book be killing people based on what was for him a mostly arbitrary decision?
In similarly oblivious fashion, Dick Shelton seems to be the only character who doesn’t know John Matcham is actually a disguised woman even though he spends several days traveling alone with her. As soon as he finds out John is actually Joanna Sedley, though, Dick promptly proposes marriage. He doesn’t know much more about her than that she’s female and they have a common enemy in their mutual guardian, but apparently it’s enough to avow undying love. I’m not impressed with him.
My few complaints aside, The Black Arrow is a fun adventure story and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Still, this probably isn’t a book that I’ll re-read again (I’d read it once around high school) nor one of the classics that I’ll think much about. On another side-note, I appreciated the author’s notes about where he changed historical facts to fit his story. I have no problem with writers taking a certain amount of creative liberties with history, but if you’re going to write historical fiction it’s nice to know when and how you’re stepping away from the facts.
Honestly, this is my favorite way to learn history — read it in fictional form, then look-up how close it is to being accurate. Mara: Daughter of the Nile (while not historically accurate) got me interested in ancient Egypt. I really didn’t care much about the founding fathers (though my history-loving mother made sure I read plenty of non-fiction while we were homeschooling) until listening to Hamilton. I guess I’m just more intrigued by stories and characters than by descriptions of events and people, so when someone offers me real events as stories and historical people as characters I’m hooked.
I saw Black Panther yesterday. So naturally today’s post is a new installment in the superhero Myers-Briggs types series. I know I get pretty excited about most of the MCU films, but this one is seriously good. I love the hero characters and the principles they stand for like loyalty and peace. The acting is great, the plot’s tight, I love the music (I’m listening to the score as I type), and while it still has a superhero-movie feel it doesn’t shy away from digging into some really deep and difficult subjects.
Basically, you should go see the movie. And if spoilers bother you, see it before reading any further in this post. We are going to talk about key plot points and character moments. You’ve been warned.
Okay, let’s start typing. T’Challa’s judging functions are pretty easy to pin-point: Fi/Te. But the fact that he uses Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Thinking when making decisions only tells us he’s either a TJ or FP type. We’re going to need a little more to go on than that.
After Captain America: Civil War came out, most people typed T’Challa as an ISFP. A couple of the discussions I found online also pointed out that he’s an ENTJ in the comics (which I haven’t read, so this typing is only going to focus on his film portrayal). I ended up going with ISFP. And here’s why: Read more →
Contrary to popular belief, INTJs have emotions. They also express them, though not always to the person they’re having feelings about (for example, an INTJ might tell his best friend he likes a girl, but not tell the girl. Or an INTJ might tell her husband she hates a coworker, but never give the coworker a hint). INTJs tend to compartmentalize their feelings and process them internally, and they hate expressing deep emotions casually or to people they don’t know well.
If you’re very observant, though, and get to know the INTJs in your life, you’ll start to realize there’s a remarkable depth to their feelings. They’ll even do things, like cry at movies, that are typically associated with Feeling personality types. They might scorn the things that are “supposed” to make you cry (e.g. I’m sniffling at a Pixar film and my INTJ sister laughs out loud in the theater). But then I’ll look over and notice moisture leaking from the corners of her eyes at the end of Hidden Figures (I’ve been informed it was not crying).
Hidden Figures (2016) is a fantastic film about “a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. ” They were among the first African-Americans and the first women to work in such prestigious technical roles. My sister, about to graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering, gave me one explanation for her emotional response to the film: “these women and others like them made it possible for me to be an engineer.”
As the character Mary Jackson tells a judge, someone always has to be first. These women proved it’s possible for women to be taken seriously and make important contributions as mathematicians and engineers. But I suspect my sister’s words go deeper than referring to breaking down gender stereotypes about the kind of work women can do. It also has to do with people’s expectations for what women should be like.
Only 24-35% of women have a personality type that relies on Thinking as their primary or secondary mental process (according to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type). INTJ and INTP women are tied for rarest at 1-3% of the female population. ENTJs come in a close third at 1-4%. ENTPs tie with ESTPs with 2-4%, just slightly more common than ISTPs at 2-3%. The STJ types aren’t nearly as rare, with ESTJs making up 6-8% and ISTJs 7-10% of the female population.
I’m not going to type the women in Hidden Figures, but having seen the film I think it’s safe to say Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson are Thinking types. Their minds are naturally wired to excel at processing facts, figures, and data — a hall-mark of the fact-checking, analytical Thinking functions that use “impersonal criteria to make decisions.” I’d say Katherine at least is probably an Intuitive type as well, pairing pattern-recognition and possibility-seeking with her Thinking side.
That means she wasn’t just a rarity at NASA (an African-American woman working in a highly technical position). She’s also a rarity in society (a woman using both Intuition and Thinking as her most comfortable mental processes). Thinking traits are so strongly stereotyped as masculine that NT women often don’t fit cultural expectations for femininity. One of the many things I loved about Hidden Figures is that these three women seemed to have figured out a way to balance being wives and mothers with working as groundbreakingly successful mathematicians. They’re also portrayed as real people who are admired and respected for who they are instead of as the bitchy, controlling, or cold stereotype we often get when presented with Thinking female characters (take Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal as an example). And the men they’re in relationships with aren’t scared of them or trying to fit them back in boxes.
It was really wonderful to see characters that embraced femininity on their own terms. While I do believe God created the two genders to be different and complementary in the roles we fill, I also think there are stereotypes in our culture that do both genders a disservice. One of those is that women are or “should” be more emotion-driven than analytically-minded. There’s room for both. And, as Hidden Figures reminds us, we would do ourselves a terrible disservice if we tried to keep these women hidden.
I’m sitting here thinking, “What does one write on Independence Day when one is rather disappointed in the direction one’s country is headed?” Thousands of babies are being slaughtered, we just had the largest mass shooting in US history, there’s a systematized rejection of gender and acceptance of child abuse … the list goes on and on, and our presidential candidates aren’t making things look any better. I wonder if this is something like how Hamilton felt facing the election of 1800.
Except I’m not sure which of our current candidates is Burr in this analogy and which is Jefferson. I’m probably just going to not vote at all (side note: for some reason I’ve always felt uncomfortable with/guilty for voting, even though my church doesn’t teach against it. Weird, huh?).
Anyway, this isn’t going to be a depressing post! We’re celebrating Independence Day, and I’m quite certain the best way to do that this year is listening to the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording. It’s on Amazon Prime, Spotify, YouTube — you have no excuse not to listen. Nor any excuse not to think about what you’re listening to.
Hamilton didn’t win 11 out of the record-breaking 16 Tony nominations just because it’s a run-away hit with a unique musical approach. The catchiest music couldn’t have sustained this level of success without a story that resonates deeply with fans. One of the many fantastic things about Hamilton is that it presents the founding father’s as real people. They’re not glorified by rose-eyed historical glasses or torn to shreds by an opposing historical perspective trying to vilify them. They’re just real men with a vision for the future and the necessary skills and commitment to found a country that is now celebrating its 240th birthday. Not too shabby a legacy. So what does that mean for us, real people today who have the chance to influence the course of history?
A More Accurate Picture of America’s Ethnic Landscape
The only reason I would ever advocate casting with race in mind is for the purpose of historical or cultural accuracy. Now I’m re-thinking even that. A racially diverse cast works perfectly for Hamilton — America of today telling the story of America’s founding. And even though the individual characters’ casting doesn’t match the race of their historical counterparts, a racially diverse group working together to found our country is more accurate than most people think. Peter Salem (hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill), Prince Whipple (who fought alongside Washington), James Armistead (the double-spy who may have “won the revolutionary war”), Wentworth Cheswell (who rode to say “the British are coming” at the same time as Paul Revere) — they were all black, along with many other key figures in America’s founding.
Renee Elise Goldsberry, who plays Angelica Schuyler, says that the most beautiful thing about Hamilton is that “it’s told by such a diverse cast with a such diverse styles of music. … We have the opportunity to reclaim a history that some of us don’t necessarily think is our own” (quote from Times article “Why History Has Its Eyes on Hamilton’s Diversity“).
One of the lines in Hamilton is “history has its eyes on me/you.” The founders knew what they were doing was going to make a mark on history, but this phrase can also be true of us today. Every generation has the potential to make its mark on history. Will future Americans look back on us and see a group of people who wouldn’t stand for white-washing of their history any more? or will they see us as complicit in maintaining the accepted historic narrative that all blacks were slaves and all whites were oppressors, even if that means marginalizing blacks who held influential positions at key points in American history?
Redefining The Moral Climate of Our Nation
One of the things Alexander Hamilton is known for is being involved in our country’s first political sex scandal. Perhaps this is one reason he was so often overlooked — he didn’t fit the squeaky-clean mold of a founding father that was popular in history books until very recently (now we seem to be going the other direction, trying to dig up as much dirt as possible on everyone. No one’s ever accused the human race of being balanced, have they?).
In a post-Clinton age it seems strange to us that when Hamilton’s affair came out the immediate reaction was “Well, he’s never gon’ be President now” (though I’m sure in more historically accurate language). The idea of someone who cheated on his wife and openly confessed it becoming president was unimaginable. Hamilton himself down-played the seriousness of the affair, concentrating on proving he was a virtuous man innocent of the financial crimes he was accused of. Or, as he says in the play, “I have not committed treason, and sullied my good name.” He even wrote that he believed his wife “will approve, that even at so great an expence, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name, which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness. The public too will I trust excuse the confession” (read the full text of Hamilton’s Reynold’s Pamphlet here).
Committed treason he did not, but sully his good name Hamilton certainly did. “Hamilton’s reputation was in tatters,” an article from the Smithsonian says, “Talk of further political office effectively ceased.” Now, 219 years later, can you even imagine living in nation that expects moral behavior from its politicians? Or where the politicians themselves take responsibility for their own behavior? Hamilton was so worried about the possibility of a stain on his reputation that he confessed to an affair. And even though he did down-play its severity in light of the other charges, he still said of the affair, “I bow to the just censure which it merits. I have paid pretty severely for the folly and can never recollect it without disgust and self condemnation.”
It is one of my favorite things about the play Hamilton that Hamilton takes responsibility for the affair, acknowledging that he should have said “no to this.” It doesn’t absolve Maria Reynolds of her role in seducing a married man, but there’s “No Slut Shaming in Hamilton” either (<- that blog post is what prompted me to listen to Hamilton for the first time). Today, we don’t expect people in the public eye to even take responsibility, much less to hold themselves to a certain standard of morality. We’re scandal-hungry and ready to offer judgement on celebrity short-comings, but we don’t expect anything better. Perhaps this trend will continue until there’s no longer any such thing as a socially accepted moral standard, but I hope not. And when history turns its eyes back on us, will they see a generation sliding farther into cultural decay, or one that took a stand and said, “We expect better things of our role-models and leaders”?
There are plenty of other moral, social, and political issues we could discuss. If history’s eyes really are on America today, what would you like to see change for the better in our generation? financial disparity between rich and poor? the foster care system? environmental issues? whether or not to forfeit our second amendment rights? Please share your thoughts in the comments (bonus points for using Hamilton quotes)!
I was only planning to read female authors from my Classics Club list this year (since they’re having their Women’s Classic Literature event), but a recent film trailer took me back to Tarzan of the Apes (1912) by Edgar Rice Burroughs. When I first read Tarzan as a young teen, “with the noble poise of his handsome head upon those broad shoulders, and the fire of life and intelligence in those fine, clear eyes” he became one of my (many) literary crushes (Chapter XIII).
While he was “muscled as the best of the ancient Roman gladiators … yet with the soft and sinuous curves of a Greek god,” what impressed me most was that Tarzan taught himself to read from books he found in his human parents’ cabin. He could read and write fluent English by the age of 18, even though the only other language he had any experience with was the limited vocabulary of the fictive “anthropoid apes” who raised him. By the end of the book, he speaks fluent French as well. I consider myself reasonably intelligent, had the advantage of not being raised by apes, and I haven’t even managed to become bi-lingual.
Yet shadowed by these descriptions of a super human Tarzan is a disturbing form of racism. Racism is evident from the moment the first black characters appear in the story, yet it goes far deeper than a matter of antiquated ideas about race popping up in the way a Classics author writes descriptions. Burroughs’ racism in Tarzan represents a mindset heavily influenced by evolutionary ideas about biology and race. Read more →