Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Delaying Desire: When Tomorrow Never Comes

By Bradley Yam, SY ’21. Bradley is majoring in Ethics, Politics, & Economics and Computer Science.

When John and I sat down under the beautiful beams of Berkeley’s Dining hall to swap stories about our novel and wondrous versions of The Yale Experience™, from talks by celebrity academics on Quantum Computing to otherworldly jazz concerts, we knew we were at the peak of privilege. Our conversation was charged with awe, but also an accompanying anxiety to make the most of our time here. Out of the blue, John asks, “But really, are you satisfied?”

Grateful? Gratified? Bedazzled? Surely all of the above. But satisfaction lies just around the corner. This is the time of our lives, the time to move fast and break things, to make our mistakes. Deans, professors and parents assure us as anxious first-years on the green that we have “made it”, but it seems like the only thing we have made is an opportunity, an opportunity for more. I thought the point of it all was exactly not to be satisfied, but in the fashion of Tennyson’s Ulysses, to seek, to strive, and not to yield to the specter of contentment.

Every year, articles appear in the Yale Daily News critiquing, discussing and reflecting on Yalies’ complicated relationship with work and success. With titles like “The Golden Ticket” and “What’s the Point of a Yale Education?” they strike at the very heart of Yale’s meritocratic ambitions. Working too hard (and often working at a student income contribution too) is often the subject of such critiques. Yale’s workaholism seems to mirror a broader American trend as described in Derek Thompson’s The Atlantic article, “Workism Is Making Americans Miserable”. For Yalies and Americans alike, so much of life’s purpose, meaning, and joy seems to depend on work.

But Yalies also recognize that life is not all about work, that our all-consuming desire for success must be mitigated and tempered by caring for our human needs: we seek friendship, love, leisure, or simply good food and a place to chill. The university has responded with mindfulness activities, the Good Life Center, mental health resources and more, which is a classically Yale-way of trying to solve a problem by resourcing it. Nevertheless, we’ve begun to come out of workaholism by realizing that satisfaction in life must be more holistic.

 

Gratification vs Satisfaction?

We might have gratified our desires, our holistic human needs, but it’s questionable whether we’ve gotten to the heart of satisfying them. On average, we find time to go out with friends, eat healthy meals, and attend yoga classes. We are, for the most part, just fine. These “wellness strategies” have helped to reduce burnout, but that can’t be all we hope for in life: to be just functional enough to manage the crazy high stresses of Yale life. Is this all that it means to take care of ourselves?

To answer that, we have to ask: What’s the difference between gratification and satisfaction? Gratification merely appeases desire: it meets desire just enough that we are able to put it out of our minds. Gratification quenches desire with a substitute object. On the other hand, satisfaction does not quench desire, but actually intensifies it; it allows one to revel in the mere fact of having experienced something so desirable and thereby “completes” the desire. Desire that is completed does not vanish, it is transformed. Gratification is to satisfaction what take-out fast food is to a five-course meal; it’s a one-night stand to a life-long loving relationship; it’s “that’ll do” to “that’s exactly what I wanted!”. Desire that is satisfied transforms into a deep and lasting joy, even if its object has come and gone. Satisfaction asks not for desire’s repetition.

“The experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity – like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.” – Perelandra, C.S. Lewis[1]

The ability to delay gratification has been widely shown to correlate to higher educational attainment and general success in life. It seems predictable that Yalies, an extremely selective student body handpicked by a rigorous admissions process, would take this ability to delay gratification to the nth degree: not simply choosing to delay our immediate wants, we attain the ability to delay satisfaction for our ultimate and deepest desires. In the elaborate balancing act that we perform on a daily basis both work and leisure have been instrumentalized for the sake of someday satisfying our desires, while getting by through gratifying some of them now. Satisfaction lies just around the corner.

Our longing for love, for novelty, for well-being is gratified rather than satisfied. We have accepted that for now, gratification is acceptable, for now, we’ll settle for pleasantries instead of conversation, for now, we’ll have a quick lunch instead of a feast. But delaying satisfaction comes at a cost. Gratification may conceal a compulsivity, a perfectionism, even a workaholism, just by keeping us sane and functional. It may also conceal something more important and more terrifying: the answer to Slavoj Žižek’s question, “How do we know what we desire?”[2]

 

Delaying Satisfaction

Delaying satisfaction is insidious because it allows us to perpetually put off the true quest for the heart’s desire. The way this works is apparent when compared to delayed gratification. Delaying gratification has a clearly defined end, and once that end is fulfilled, our wants can be gratified. For instance, I’m not going to watch The Good Place on Hulu because I need to finish this article in time for print. But once the article is done, I can binge watch all the Hulu and Netflix I want. In contrast, delayed satisfaction has no clearly defined end because the question of satisfaction is itself the question “What are my true ends?” Delaying satisfaction means never confronting our deepest desires.

The combination of delayed satisfaction (always putting off the big questions) with the profound resources of gratification (doing just enough to take care of ourselves) makes for a potent trap. It makes us feel purposeful and functional, but it makes it too easy to never truly interrogate our desires, to go along with the flow, to assume that the objects of our all-consuming desire (however nebulous they may be, don’t worry, we are told, we will “figure it out”) will – must – satisfy us. Eventually.

I am no stranger to this maze. I convinced myself that working 100-hour weeks was feasible and necessary for the sake of getting a meaningful and fulfilling job. I made sure I blocked out meal times with friends, a weekend or two for get-aways and buffets at Sushi Palace, and I tried to adopt daily routines of prayer and a yearly fast during Lent. These were all undoubtedly positive things, but the spirit of delayed satisfaction and optimization ruled me entirely. I was meeting my most important present wants, I was gratifying my desires, but satisfaction was always looming tomorrow. I was always hoping that I would go to bed and wake up and find that I had somehow, magically, arrived. But I never asked myself where I hoped to arrive at. John asked, “But really, are you satisfied?”, then our lunch hour was up. But his question haunted me.

What if tomorrow never comes? What if the act of placing our hope for deepest joy and truest happiness–for satisfaction–in some ambiguous future state is surely to sabotage and condemn that satisfaction?

 

The Christian “Impatience”

It comes as no surprise that the resources that Yale offers to counterbalance workaholism involve practices with spiritual roots, for the issue of satisfaction is traditionally and ultimately a spiritual question. This is an essential quality of true self-care that is lost in the process of secularization.

The Christian spirituality and doctrine regarding satisfaction is strange, but refreshing. It demands that we pursue our highest goods immediately, impudently, almost impatiently, like a child might stamp his feet for his mother or father. It defies the doctrine of delayed satisfaction. The Christian is commanded to ask and then be answered, to knock and for the door to be opened, to seek expecting to find, and she’s asked to do it all right now.

This only makes sense in light of the Christian truth that our highest good cannot be achieved, it can only be received, and it must be received today and every day. Hence we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.”[3] Jesus tells his disciples an amusing story about an impatient friend. A man knocks incessantly at his friend’s door, late in the middle of night, to get some food for his guests. His friend gets up, obviously annoyed, but satisfies his request–not because of their friendship, but because of the urgent and unceasing knocking!

I believe that the demand Christianity makes on all of us is to seek the satisfaction of the heart’s deepest desire, and to seek it now. This is a surprisingly reasonable demand. Only Christianity insists that our satisfactions must be sought now, even if all our desires may not be immediately fulfilled. It asks us to confront the tragedy of desiring deeply and perhaps being disappointed, but being sure of what we truly desire. The proper name for this kind of satisfaction and simultaneous dissatisfaction is joy. Joy persists whether desires are fulfilled or delayed. The call of Christ on the cross is not one of immediate satisfaction, and not one of delayed satisfaction, but a call to bravely, humanely, and sensitively face the tragedy of our lost longings, our inconsolable desires, our most powerful pinings. Only in our present yearnings can we discover what we truly, truly desire.

[1] Lewis, C. S. 1968. Perelandra; a novel. New York: Macmillan.

[2] CHICAGO

[3] Matthew 6:11, New International Version.

Taken from the Fall 2019 issue of Logos, Desire.

Engaging with a Forked Up Society: “The Good Place” vs “Civil Disobedience”

By Ben Colon-Emeric, Timothy Dwight ’22. Ben is majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

NOTE: The following article contains spoilers for Seasons 1-3 of NBC’s The Good Place.

 There’s a lot of talk around the Yale campus about being “complicit.” The idea is that if you put money into a system that is participating in immoral actions, you are engaging in immoral actions. The protests about Yale divesting its endowment from various investment groups, for example, often use this language of being “complicit.” The problem this raises in a deeply interconnected society is where to draw the line: are we complicit in immorality simply by participating in society? One exploration of this question comes in the NBC show “The Good Place,” which examines how to make moral decisions in the interconnected modern world. A much earlier attempt to address the problem of perpetuating a broken system came from Henry David Thoreau in “Civil Disobedience,” who discussed how to deal with a government that supported immoral practices. These two works show the two ways of dealing with a sinful world: engagement, or detachment.

Thoreau published “Civil Disobedience” in 1849 to a morally divided nation. The Mexican American War had ended the year before, with the U.S. claiming large swaths of the West in a somewhat lopsided treaty with Mexico. Of even greater moral significance to Thoreau was slavery, which the federal government still supported. Thoreau had every reason to feel his government did not represent his morality. He asks, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?” His disgust with the government’s support of slavery leads him to swear off government altogether, starting his essay with the provocative statement “’That government is best which governs not at all.’” Clearly, Thoreau believes that when government is unjust, it is best to detach oneself from it entirely rather than attempt to reform it. He decries those who would stay with their broken government while describing a night he spent in jail for refusing to pay poll tax, saying “If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires.” Thoreau believes that if you support a system guilty of immorality, you too are guilty of that immorality.

At first glance, “The Good Place” may seem to concur with Thoreau’s indictment of humanity. In Season 3, the characters discover that no one has made it into the Good Place for hundreds of years. One human on Earth, Doug Forcett, had a vision of the Good Place and spent his entire life earning the maximum number of points he could, but was still far below the minimum. The reason for this barrier of entry is the interconnectedness of society. Buying a tomato earns negative points because the money spent funds farms that use pesticides and put carbon in the atmosphere. This is precisely the viewpoint advocated by Thoreau, where it is a sin to participate in a sinful society even when the sin is beyond your personal control. But this is where Thoreau and “The Good Place” creator Mike Schur diverge. Rather than accept the broken systems of the world as proof that humans themselves are broken, the main characters fight to prove that participating in a society that does bad things does not make you a bad person. The argument of “The Good Place” is that we are so interconnected, being complicit is inescapable, therefore it is not truly sinful.

The Christian is called to see the beauty of God in the world and to denounce the ugliness that is present there. As Christians, how do we engage with a society that is frequently unjust or downright evil? While there is much to admire in Thoreau’s moral consistency, the underlying motivation seems selfish. Thoreau believes that he has no mandate to help others, as he says, “I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society” and, more severely, “If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.” This seems like an inhumane, not to mention un-Christian response to the problem. “The Good Place” seems to have a more compassionate response, promoting participation in society and arguing that we do have a duty to help others. The problem with the approach promoted by “The Good Place” is that it utterly discards the idea of being complicit, deciding that complicitness is not reflective of a person’s actual goodness. This also seems wrong, as I think there is a point at which being complicit is sinful. If I held stock in Monsanto back when they were making Agent Orange, I feel I could be justly reprimanded for being complicit. 

I think that to live as a Christian in an interconnected world, the correct response is somewhere between Thoreau and “The Good Place.” I should recognize the sin in the world, but I should not disconnect myself from the world or ignore the role I am playing in society’s sins. Thoreau was right that we should, whenever possible, take our support away from immoral systems. Like the characters in “The Good Place,” I should work to be a good member of society, improving my community, instead of abandoning it, even when society is a little forking crazy.

Translations of Swahili Hymns

by Vienna Scott, Benjamin Franklin ’21

For the reader’s edification in meditation and appreciation of Swahili culture and language.

Simama Fanya Vita

1. Simama Fanya vita, askari wa Yesu!

Tuinue bendera ya ushindi wake!

Yeye huyaongoza, majeshi yake huku

Adui wote pia, Bwana awashinda.

2. Sikia baragumu, linalotuita!

Tuendelee mbele, lengo ni kushinda!

Tusiogope kamwe, hatari za vitani,

Pigana na adui, kwa nguvu za Mungu!

3. Simama fanya vita, kwa jina la Yesu!

Yafaa sisi sote, kumtegemea.

Na kwanza tuzivae, silaha zake Mungu!

Tukeshe siku zote, tuombe kwa bidi!

4. Shindano letu hapa, hima litakwisha,

Ndipo tutapumzika, baada ya vita.

Na kila mshindaji, atapokea taji,

Na utukufu mwingi, karibu na Mungu.

 

Stand Up and Fight (Make War)

Stand up and make war, soldiers of Christ

Raise the flag of his victory

He leads his forces here

All the enemies also, the Lord overcomes them

Hear the trumpet, calling us!

Let’s move forward, the goal is to win!

We should not be afraid, dangers of war

Fight the enemy, by the power of God!

Stand up and fight, in the name of Jesus!

It is good for us all to depend on him

And first let’s put on the armor of God

Let us always watch, pray earnestly!

Our contest here, it will end quickly

Then we will rest, after the war/battle

And every winner, he will receive a crown,

And much glory, near God

Ninashikwa na Kiu

1. Ninashikwa na kiu, Bwana, unipe maji,

Maji ya uhai ndani ya Maisha yangu.

:/: Bwana, Bwana, Yesu Mfalme wangu!

2. Moyo wangu wakupenda, Bwana

Mungu wangu. Nitakuja lini kwako,

Bwana Mfalme wangu?

3. Mchana na usiku Bwana nakulilia. Watu

Wanasema: “Mungu wako yuko wapi?”

4. Huzuni moyoni mwangu, Bwana Mungu wangu

Watu wengi wadharau, Mungu ‘wasamehe!

5. Twashikamana pamoja kwenda juu mbinguni.

Twashukuru, twafurahi kushirikiana.

6. Mwokozi, nguvu zaishaje moyoni mwangu?

Unisaidie Bwana, nitakushukuru.

I am thirsty

I am caught with thirst (I thirst), Lord, please give me water

Water of life in my life

Lord, Lord, Jesus my King!

My heart loves you, Lord

My God. when will I come to you

Lord my King?

Afternoon and night Lord I will cry for you. People

say: “ Where is your God?”

Sorrow in my heart, Lord my God

Many people full of hatred, God forgive them!

We cling to each other to go up to heaven

We are thankful, we are happy to cooperate

Savior, why am I running short of strength in my heart

Help me Lord, I will thank you.

 

Ni Siku Tukufu

1. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina,

Ya kupum-zika, haleluya, amina.

Tuache shughuli tumwabudu Mungu,

Bwana wa mbinguni, haleluya amina.

2. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina.

Tukufu kabisa, haleluya, amina.

Njoni ndugu zangu, tumwabudu Mungu,

Kwa roho na kweli, haleluya, amina.

3. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina.

Ya furaha mno, haleluya, amina.

Yesu ‘kafufuka, na sasa yu hai,

Anatuombea, haleluya, amina.

4. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina,

Ndiyo maarufu, haleluya, amina.

Tunaye Mwokozi atuokoaye,

Sasa na milele haleluya, amina.

5. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina,

Siku ya neema, haleluya, amina.

Tangazeni Neno la Bwana Mwokozi,

Msifuni daima, haleluya, amina.

 

It is a glorious day

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen

For rest, hallelujah, amen

we stop things to worship God

Lord in heaven, hallelujah amen

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen

Absolutely glorious, hallelujah amen

Come my brothers, we worship God

By spirit and truth, hallelujah, amen.

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen.

Of great joy, hallelujah, amen.

Jesus, risen and now alive

He is praying for us, hallelujah, amen.

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen.

Yes remarkable, hallelujah, amen.

We have a savior who saves us

Now and forever, hallelujah, amen.

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen.

Day of grace, hallelujah, amen

Declare the word of the Lord Savior

Praise him always, hallelujah, amen

 

Two Ways to Get Home

By Bradley Yam, Saybrook ’21. Bradley is majoring in Ethics, Politics and Economics.

The summer crickets are loud in the bush and will be for some time before the cold wipes them out, leaving new eggs to hatch in the spring. This is the sound of a new academic year beginning: things living, things thriving, things dying, things starting again. College is a place filled with worry enough, especially for bright-eyed newcomers to the hallowed halls of the Academy. Those among them who have faith often carry an added burden: the fear of losing it.

The initial excitement and glittering celebration at admission is dampened by the first relative to say with a genuinely concerned expression, “Ah, but you will still go to Church right?” Or perhaps “Be careful and only take classes in Math and Engineering.” They only mean well, but their abashed tone tells you that they might secretly have regrets about encouraging you to apply in the first place. Then might come an awkward conversation with your pastor, perhaps a youth pastor, a young man who found the trial of college terrifying and is now trying his best to gird you properly for doubt inevitable without being the cause of it himself.

The truth is that many such small things foment a fear of the foreign. This is a sign of the more worrying tendency for churches to isolate themselves—from disagreement, from controversy, and often from both traditional and contemporary context. The end result is that Christian communities can become disconnected from the cultures they exist within. We should be salt and light in the world, existing in tension with the culture of the day. Instead, we have become in some respects a navel-gazing in-group, obsessed with an idealized version of the past.

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there, said G.K. Chesterton. I add that the home you keep is quite different from the one you find. One would never be able to point a stranger back to a home they had never left. Chesterton continues: the other way is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place. I am suggesting that this is the necessary walk of faith for the young Christian today. The world is coming to us faster that we can go out to it. We can no longer afford to stay at home, especially if we have already gone off to college!

The walk (or way) may be narrow, but it sure is not straightforward or the same for every person. Here are some universal encouragements.

(1) Practice your faith like you practice an instrument or a sport, even if you don’t entirely understand it. In fact, practice it precisely because you don’t entirely understand it. Faith is less a feeling and more a discipline. You can be open about your uncertainties. Faith is also not a set of propositions, but a lived reality, and you should feel freedom to question the propositions that are merely the descriptors and not the foundation of faith. You may question Newton’s equations, but not the falling apple that strikes you on the head.

(2) Understand your context, even if your faith is in the transcendent. We are (helplessly, as much as I hate to say it), social and temporal beings. Thus, our faith is socialized and cultured according to the times. But this faith is supposed to be in an unchanging, transcendent God—is this a paradox? Perhaps, but I prefer the word mystery. “We have this treasure in jars of clay”(2 Cor. 4-7). Our God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Transcendent himself, deigned to become contextualized, temporal, physical—incarnate. In this,he shows us that the transcendent shines not apart from but through the contextual. Understanding our own context, the traditions that have shaped us, and how we are markedly different from others who have arrived at this same place allow us to discern this truth faithfully.

(3) We ought not shy away from deconstruction. We can do it better. In order to be faithful, Christians have always deconstructed the world around them, seeing past the glitter and the gold through to what lies beneath. What is the world pursuing, what are you most tempted to pursue? Fame? Money? Acclaim? A successful deconstruction is one that allows you to see better, to see what truly matters. C.S. Lewis said that if you see through everything, then everything is transparent. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see. Strive to see what is of ultimate worth and value.

(4) Find a community of faith that practices consistently. Two is better than one, and a cord of three strands is not easily broken, says the Ecclesiaster. This is because the practice of our faith is a communal practice, like a team sport. Of course, the practice of faith as a community is infinitely more complex, difficult, and fraught with risk than any sport, but also infinitely more worthwhile, magical, and life-giving than any individual practice of faith can hope to be.

(5) Engage vigorously with difference. There is no lack of lines to be drawn in our world, and there are many voices insisting that you may not empathize or understand across the boundaries of your specific religion, race, ethnicity, gender, class, what have you. Discourse is embattled. So be all the more brave and courageous in the face of censure, since you are seeking to love and understand. In doing so, your faith will be challenged to be valid in the diversity of experiences you will encounter. This is surely a good thing.

The summer crickets are loud in the bush now. I must go do the dishes and take the laundry out and decide on classes—most of which are not Math or Engineering. I must remember to pray before I go to bed, and next week I will go to church and bible study. For now, the incessant chirping reminds me that I have come to find home.

 

Surrender

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Isabella Zou, Timothy Dwight ’21.

how to believe that He knows best:
– field grass, clothed
– birds, full-bellied
– lilies, well-rested
– upturned heads, softly alight, singing
it is my will that you remove my cup,
my hope that it is your will too—
let knees grind floor in mute unknowing
melting into raw soul flesh pain,
let bloodflow burst through glands and pores
pressure throbbing brain and mind,
let throat cords clang and shrill through ears
gulped by careless atmosphere
let the gut tremble take  it away
take it away
takeitaway
let it hope—
let it grip, let it hiss not my will but yours

yours

Fortress Three

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Aidan Stoddart ’20. Aidan is a sophomore in Eliot House concentrating in the Comparative Study of Religion.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
abides under the shadow of the Almighty
He shall say to the LORD,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.”
(Psalm 91:1-2, nrsv)

Fortress Three
Glory be God! Fortress Three
Being’s Source, Word Incarnate
and Living Breath, our Paraclete
Holy Dwelling! (in-dwelling One)
in dwelling here the Loving Son
opened ever her heaven gates
to encircle us, follow us, cast
light’s golden shadow on
every dark valley and hollow
to hallow the cursed with
stronghold sanctity so
when fearing my bones shake
when sleeping I the sky-routes take
(or the mundane pathways when awake)
always I am in and with You:
my refuge, my strength, Blessed Jesu.