The Myth of the Super-Person

Have you seen the news? There is a new breed of Homo Sapiens out there saving the world, climbing mountains, reading Rimbaud and solving physics problems at the same time, and mastering obscure foreign tongues, all in a day’s work. Do you believe it? Neither do I.

I read an op-ed today in the NYTimes called Super People. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend you do. While there is plenty of truth to the article, I find the idea of the so-called “super-person” grossly exaggerated. While students may be learning more broadly and going on more service-oriented cross-cultural trips, I think nowadays we give credit to people far too easily. Yes, it is more difficult to gain admission to elite schools, and yes, there is a resume-building game to play for those eager to get to the top, but we are kidding ourselves if we think someone is a “super-human” just because they have a knack for filling up a resumé.

My questions are, do these people have deep friendships or a coterie of awed admirers? Have they ever forsaken romance for achievements? When they help people, what motivates them at a deep level? Would they go on “service-learning” trips if there were a no-resumé listing rule? How often do they really go mountain climbing anyways? I personally think we have a tendency to incorporate things into our identity a bit too quickly, and that helping build a school in another country one summer means something totally different from devoting one’s entire career to the building of schools in needy places. I suppose I’d prefer to wait, oh, until the end of a super-person’s life, and then see if they did anything meaningful or lasting in the world, or if they are merely more motivated versions of the rest of us. Looking at the success of their marriages and family lives wouldn’t hurt either.

 

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Shakespearean Sonnets

Whether or not Shakespeare intended to have these two sonnets read together, I cannot say for sure, but as I was writing a short paper on the former poem a few days ago, I noticed a note that suggested it was linked to the latter. Each begins with an expression of sorrow and ends with the exclamation that thinking on a certain “dear friend” dramatically lifts the speaker’s spirits. I’m taking a class called “Shakespeare, Donne and Milton,” and before I start posting raving reviews of Donne’s poetry, I wanted to be sure to include Shakespeare, since we just finished discussing his sonnets and longer poetic pieces. Plus, I thought it might be fun to post the poem that inspired the name of this blog. (Notice the first line of Sonnet 30).

Happy reading 🙂

Sonnets 29 & 30

by William Shakespeare –

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising)
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

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Why I Oppose Planned Parenthood

As I walked into the mailroom today, two Brown students sat behind a table emblazoned with the request, “Stand With Planned Parenthood!” As I was picking up my latest Bon Appétit (along with Girl Scout cookies from my wonderful mother!), I made a resolution to talk to the students, and find out why precisely Planned Parenthood is crying out for our help.

If you, unlike myself, have been keeping up with the news over the past week instead of studying far too much chemistry you may already know that conservatives in the House have proposed to cut Planned Parenthood’s entire $317 million budget (I found out today). Here’s a link to a pretty comprehensive article about what’s been going on: Planned Parenthood Funding is Caught in Budget Feud

Basically, $75 million is really at stake (the Senate would likely not vote to cut all funding), but our government still supports about a third of Planned Parenthood’s 1.1 billion dollar budget. My new friends made it clear to me that not a dime of this money is legally allowed to pay for abortions, but opponents say this money frees up funds for abortions. (I don’t know how they allocate funds, so I take no stance.)

They additionally reassured me that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions. 3%? Such a small number you say, whatever is the problem? Well friends, 3% represents 332,278 children who were not born in America in the year 2009 (about 1/3 of all abortions nationwide). By the way,  a “service” ranges anywhere from getting tested for HIV to receiving contraception to being referred to an adoption agency (which happened a mere 977 times compared to >300,000 abortions in 2009). Now to be clear, I strongly support the medical services provided, which are generally to low-income women. What I abhor is the equation of taking a human life to a medical procedure or the ambiguous term “service.”

Why do I feel so strongly? Well, what I told my fellow Brown students this afternoon was that had my birthmother gone to Planned Parenthood 21 years ago desirous of an abortion, I would not be standing here today.

You can say all you want about “women’s rights” but quite frankly, I think we should call the pro-life movement “infant’s rights.” A fetus shares 50% percent of a mother’s genetic code, therefore it is a cop-out to call a fetus a mere extension of the woman’s body – it is a unique being. We don’t tell mothers they can kill their newborns if raising a child is too difficult, why is it any different before the child is born? People shrink in horror at the thought of killing an infant because the mere sight or cry of a baby induces a protective response in most humans. It is the invisibility of the act of abortion that allows people to sweep it under the rug of “freedom.” Imagine the response to a movement to legalize infanticide.

To conclude, I oppose Planned Parenthood because they allow abortions to occur on their premises, but do not oppose the majority of their other services. Even still, 3% is no small number if it translates to 332,278 babies who were not born in 2009.  I could have been a part of that statistic in 1989, but by the grace of God am alive today.

 

*Here is the link to an opinions column I wrote for the Brown Daily Herald, that was birthed out of this post: http://www.browndailyherald.com/gassel-12-the-case-for-infant-rights-1.2516287

 

What is Jesus Worth to You?

One night in the middle of last summer, I drove to the Barnes and Noble in Asheville, North Carolina. Going to Barnes and Noble is my fallback activity whenever I need an escape from normal life. There’s something about the smell of thousands of books, the aisles that wend their way back to the CD section, the sweet-smelling Starbucks off to the right (I could go on and on) but on this particular night, I remember I was there, searching. Sometimes I go just to look at books, sometimes I go for a particular book or project, but this night, I had no objective, just an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. I browsed for an hour – nothing. The store was about to close and I stopped by the Christian inspiration table near the front. A small orange book caught my eye. It was written by David Platt, the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Alabama. I glanced at the back, decided to buy it on impulse, and rushed out of the store to be back by curfew.

Little did I know the wake-up call I was about to receive. In the front of the book, reviewer Russell Moore says,

“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit.”

A book you want to put down… sounds like a real treat, right? But like many difficult spiritual teachings, though they are painful to hear, once you realize their purpose of bringing you closer to Christ, life any other way is meaningless. As I made my way through the pages Dr. Platt’s book, I began to re-learn what I had been desperately questioning – my purpose on this earth. It is easy to remember the fundamental commandment to love God and to love our neighbors, but to understand this in practical terms, the Holy Spirit must awaken our souls and propel us into action.

“This is love for God: to obey his commands.” – I John 5:3

For a long time, I thought that doing the things that “good Christians” do (or don’t do) would be “enough.” I went to church, stayed away from parties, read my Bible, etc. But, there was a growing despair within me – surely there was more than this? The message of Radical blew my conception of “enough” out of the water. Jesus is worthy of all our devotion, not just going to church on Sunday and staying out of trouble. There are billions of people who need to hear the gospel and there are billions living in poverty. American Christians are among those who have the voices and resources to alleviate the world’s spiritual and physical pain. They are also among those who turn a blind eye to the world’s suffering.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I went to Barnes and Noble to escape my tiny world – but the Holy Spirit awakened me to the reality of a world much larger than the one in front of my eyes, and imbued me with what I craved – purpose.

This is a link to Dr. Platt’s Radical sermon series, a total of eight messages.

This is a link to Dr. Platt’s book Radical on Amazon.

I will end with the words of Jesus, one of my favorite verses:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Matthew 16: 24-26

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Bon Appétit’s Ribbon Cake

In the midst of a typically depressing fall finals season in Providence, I escaped from my academic woes to the gym, December Bon Appétit in hand. Though someday I hope to change my ways, my motivation for exercise is generally procrastination. I tell you this, because otherwise I might look like a health-nut, and then it would simply not make sense why I decided, while huffing and puffing on the elliptical, to make a cake estimated at 1,235.9 calories a serving! Yes ladies and gentleman, you read that number right. (But keep reading, it was worth every future trip to the gym, albeit they are now necessary!

Anyways, back to the elliptical. Flipping through the pages, I finally turned to the gleaming, mouth-watering picture of this cake. My heart leaped, my eyebrows rose in excitement, and from that moment on, I was fixated. This cake became a beacon of hope to me, so tantalizingly close, to be made just after a looming physics final. My life could have been falling apart (and who knows, maybe it was!) but I had my cake to make, and it would succeed, if all else failed!

Baking the Cake

Fast forward to Christmas Eve. As my mother was shaking her head in skepticism (and perhaps pity) at the picture on Bon Appétit’s cover, I set to work on the cake layers. After several hours of blending batter, chopping pecans, melting chocolate in the microwave and folding in egg whites, I slid the 9-inch round cake pans into the oven. A little over half an hour later, they were done and cooling on the counter. I recommend checking the doneness of the cakes with a toothpick from 25 minutes on – my cake was not dry, but a lot of people commented on Bon Appétit’s recipe that theirs was, so it probably depends on the oven. Keep in mind that this is officially called a “torte,” with a consistency somewhere between your typical fluffy birthday-cake-out-of-a-box and a flourless chocolate cake.

The Buttercream Filling – Christmas Day

What a disaster!

I used a hand-held mixer in a glass bowl, but the result was nothing like butter cream!
(Does anyone know how to produce buttercream that is thicker and lighter than what is featured in the horrifying picture to the right?)

The Chocolate Glaze

Getting close to the end! For the glaze, I had to make a double boiler with a glass bowl on top of a saucepan. Sadly, the glaze was very thin, hardly the creamy looking coating I had salivated over on the elliptical. If anyone has recommendations for making a thicker glaze, please comment.

Last but not Least… The Ribbons!

Oh Bon Appétit. Why do you tell us to use fancy pasta makers when rolling out the chocolate with a plain old roller works just fine? I bought my mother a pasta maker for Christmas before I noticed the magazine’s recommendation to use one to flatten the chocolate dough, but this hardly turned out to be a fortuitous coincidence. All I can say is, don’t bother. Roll out the dough on a surface with plenty of powdered sugar to prevent sticking.

Then (and here you must summon every last ounce of your OCD-over-achieving inner spirit), use a ruler to carefully cut out strips of chocolate according to the recipe’s measurements. I cut the white chocolate strips thinner than was suggested, but this is your choice. To attach the strips of white and dark chocolate, I used corn syrup like it was Elmer’s glue – put it straight on your fingers and don’t use too much!

Next, I used vegetable oil to absorb the powdered sugar and make the ribbons shine. Then came the fun part – arranging the ribbons on the cake! Seven loops worked better than eight for my bow.

Note: When making the chocolate dough, do NOT melt the chocolate in the microwave. I thought I was being clever, but I had to redo the whole batch!

The final product wowed everyone present for Christmas dinner. If you are into impressive cakes that an amateur can make, this one is for you! But, the same visual effect could be achieved from three boxes of Duncan-Hines chocolate cake mix with chocolate frosting straight from the can, as long as the ribbons are as close to perfect as you can get them. I will say though, the cake had a memorable flavor, dominated by the powdered cloves in the batter, and the buttercream-rum-filling tasted heavenly, despite the mess it made!

The final product - after two days of hard work!

Here are some useful links:

The Recipe from Bon Appétit

The Chocolate Ribbon tutorial

And here are links to other bloggers who tried the ribbons:

Three Meals a Day

The Mom Chef

Thyme in Our Kitchen

And some who created their own version of Bon Appétit’s beloved cake:

Pink Little Cake

What’s for Dinner Across State Lines

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Welcome to SST!

Hello friends!

Welcome to my new blog, Sweet Silent Thoughts! In case you are reading this and don’t already know me, I am a student at Brown University and currently in the midst of a five-week winter break, with far too much time on my hands. So, I created this blog, with much tech-help from a beloved friend. I have been lovingly working on the site for the past week, and I do believe it is finally ready to share.

The first official post will be up shortly. Enjoy!

Sincerely,

Sarah Lee