Confidence, two ways

I watched the first episode of The Queen’s Gambit over a year ago. The intensity of the show and my lackluster TV watching meant it took me a year to watch the second episode. Last night, I made it through.

The thing I love most about the main character (Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy) is her two-way confidence. Beth is as confident about what she knows as she is about what she doesn’t know. She is confident she will win the first chess tournament she plays, and she is right. Her confidence and skill (and the ways they disrupt gender stereotypes) keep the storyline going.

But what I laid awake thinking about last night was the confidence from which her questions spring. She asked a mentor from the orphanage for the $5 entry fee for the tournament when she didn’t have it. She asked the tournament hosts about how tournaments and rankings work once she got on site. She asked her opponent about the timing clocks and the pad of paper sitting to her right when she sat down for the first match. She asked the woman who just adopted her for help putting on a pad the first time she menstruated. She asked these questions as if she was asking someone’s name when meeting them first time: she didn’t expect herself to already know it.

Beth’s unashamed vulnerability takes my breath away. Her character normalizes not knowing despite being a master chess player. No amount of expertise assuages her need for other people; it might actually pronounce it. Perhaps Beth’s character gets away with this because she is a child, but her unashamed vulnerability and confidence in not knowing tempts my 41 year old self.

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The Way Through Mud

In this season of Lent Lint, today is Maundy Muddy Thursday, which is the celebration of the last supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Allow me to move away from the details of the religious holiday to riff on a more general theme that this day offers to our human experience more broadly: sometimes we have no clue what is actually going on. Things are just…muddy.

In the scripture that describes what happened on Muddy Thursday, it’s clear the disciples are way confused about what is going on. I think a summary of their responses to what was taking place could be, “wait, what?” “who, me?” “what is even going on here?” and “this doesn’t make any sense.” Muddy Thursday.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that aren’t at all what we expected or hoped for. You know the ones: situations that are so complicated and confusing that you can’t identify your next right thing. We humans can get completely disoriented when can’t see a clear way forward: we like to know how the situation will resolve and when. Unless you’re a pig (or a toddler!), mud is not the place most of us hope to end up.

I’ve noticed that when I’m in muddy situations, I like to blame myself or find someone else to blame because I am so uncomfortable. The disciples did this too. Surely not I, Lord? Muddy Thursday is the day we turn against ourselves and each other as a result of the discomfort we feel because we can’t see through the mud.

If you’re someone who blames yourself when you encounter a muddy situation, welcome to the club. I recently came across these words in Kate Bowler’s book Good Enough: “Please, please, please, hear me say to you: You are not ruined or broken or a failure. You are simply in pain.” (p. 70). On Muddy Thursday, we are not ruined or broken or failures. We are simply in the mud.

Today I learned that Maundy Thursday (Muddy Thursday’s namesake) was named based on the Latin phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis” (“a new commandment I give to you;” John 13:34). The day was marked by a commandment to love one another rather than blame, deny, hide, or sell out in times of uncertainty. Muddy Thursday suggests love is the way through. Love, coming out of a hose, washing off our muddy feet, hands, boots, souls. Isn’t that…beautiful?