Monday, June 30, 2008

Now for something completely different . . .

some thoughts on the differences between what we think we're saying and what other people actually hear. I'm actually posting this for an old college friend I was talking with recently . . . by way of making a point, I referenced a poem I'd written in college . . . she'd read it then, but of course didn't have it now. The poem, in both versions, is titled "After Jeremy's Wedding." Note: I judge the first version to be an utter failure, and the second mostly a failure. Taken together, they were an interesting learning experience for me though . . . the only reason I'm posting the thing is to give context to what I want to say about it afterwards. :P (Note: these had to be scanned in and posted as images because Blogger wouldn't handle the formatting. Click on the image to get a larger, readable, version.)

Version 1:

Version 2:

The story is this. When my brother married, my parents moved his twin bed (black iron) to my room and my double bed (white wood) to his room, which had become, of course, the spare room. My grey cat, Chester, didn't like it. And the white cat we had when I was little, Kitty-kitty, figures in there too.

Now here's the thing. When I wrote that first version of the poem, I thought I was saying something. I thought I was communicating something. Turns out the only thing I was communicating was confusion. I over-reacted against my natural tendency to run on by trying to clean the idea down to the bare bone . . . and ended up with bone powder. Or something. When I expanded on the idea for the second version, I felt like I was explaining the idea in excruciating and over-obvious detail. Frankly, I felt exposed. But in retrospect, the second version isn't all that clear either. It's possible at least to get an idea of what's going on, but I did not succed in loading in the paralells, the emotion and the history that I was shooting for.

But I learned (let's not get too obvious here) that in order to say something, you have to actually say it. What a startling insight! I realized the degree to which I think that I'm saying something, but what actually comes from my mouth or fingers is only decipherable within the massive amount of context that's rattling around in my skull. Often what I end up speaking is some sort of code . . . or something that seems obvious to me . . . and I forget all the internal conversation with myself that made that conclusion meaningful . . .

Taken a step further, I wonder how often we blame each other for not listening or not being interested, when the real problem is that we're not actually communicating what we think we are.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What if?

Among the various theological wranglings that float around Christian circles is this one--why would God create people if he knows that they're not going to choose him? Or more extreme--why would God create people ultimately simply to damn them? These sorts of questions get tossed around in Calvinist/Arminian debates, exclusivist/inclusivist wranglings and other places . . .

It recently occurred to me to wonder if part of the answer is this: what if God just doesn't want to rob all of us of the good that so many of these people bring to our collective existence? There are great works of music written by pagans, writings by agnostics, great works of architecture by atheists. The world would be a poorer place the spiritism driven art of Native American cultures, the slave-built aqueducts and Colosseum of Ancient Rome, Faulkner's "Sound and Fury." God seeks to give us all good things--first of all, himself, of course. But next in line, each other . . .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Swimming lesson

Tonight was the first swim lesson for our four year old. She loved it. She got to practice kicking while holding on to marshmallow sticks (a floating aid). The teacher held her up while she practiced paddling with her arms. She lay on her back and managed to float for a few seconds. It was splashy, fun, a great thirty minute exercise in water confidence.

After the lesson was done, the pool was open for a while for free swim. I slipped in with her. "Is there anything you'd like me to help you practice?"
"Oh, no thanks, Mom. I can do it. They taught me everything."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

There are a lot of people out there a lot smarter than me

This post is in response to Jeff at the Atheocracy, via Jennifer at Et tu?. The question concerns how those of us with an intellectual bent interact with Christianity on an intellectual answer.

I had the advantage of growing up an intellectual (T) kid in an intellectual church. The church I grew up in was a plant to a university community. It was riddled with academics in all fields. We had professors of entomology, engineering, foreign languages, and veterinary medicine. Doctoral candiates in philosophy, business . . . etc. . . . The pastor preached sermons I half understood, during which I occupied myself listing all the words he used that I didn't have a clue about so I could look them up later. And there was my father who seemed to have an answer or a source for any question I could dream up.

What I learned as a child at an intuitive level was that for any question that I tried to engage, I was likely to get more of answer than I could handle. I wasn't the first person to tackle . . . well, pretty much anything. And for all that I was pretty impressed with my own intelligence, there were a lot of people who I loved and respected who were smarter and more educated on all these things than I was. Orthodox Christians who were not trying to hide or ignore anything had found answers that they found to be sufficient. Frankly, I found it a relief to know that it wasn't up to me to come up with all the answers on my own--if ever any of these things bothered me too much, I could catch up on the arguments and join the fray, but in the meantime I didn't need to reinvent the wheel.

As Jennifer noted, of course, knowing God isn't just a matter of thinking about him. It's a matter of loving and being loved. I had that from early on--from before I can remember. And part of the experience of knowing that I'm loved is being able to rest in the comfortable assurance that however deep I want to go . . . God is bigger. He's not afraid of my challenges or questions, and there are answers. Just knowing that the answers are out there is often enough for me.

As an adult, this has really continued to be my experience. I've yet to run across a new concern or question about "life, the universe, and everything."

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said,“See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. (Ecc 1:9 & 10)

So intellectually, you might say that nothing has led me away from Christianity . . . I have found the answers that I have found and been given to be sufficient. And I don't presume that thousands of years of Christian and Hebrew theology and philosophy has done purely by idiots and naifs. After all, I'm not starting this convesation--I'm only continuing it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

And who is my neighbor?

Neil Gaiman, pagan author extraordinaire, has this up on his blog today--

The toilets on many trains in the UK have ridiculously unintuitive ways to open and close doors, with mystery buttons inside the toilet to close and lock the door that are hard to find, even for the sighted. I watched a blind man head into the train toilet. He couldn't find the door to close it, said "excuse me, can some help me?" until a fat man in a suit sitting next to the toilet stopped pretending he wasn't there and pressed the close door button for him. Then I watched the fat man hurry down the aisle and past me and back into the next compartment for all the world as if he was embarrassed by what had just happened. Soon enough there came a frantic knocking on the toilet door as, obviously, the blind man couldn't get out (secret, randomly placed buttons would do it, but you have to find them first). And there was a carriage full of people between me and the toilet, so I waited for someone to get up, press the outside button and let him out. And nobody did. now the knocking started again, louder, and more panicked, and I looked out at a carriage filled with people who were pretending very hard they hadn't heard, and were all now gazing intently at their books or papers. So I got up and walked down to the toilet and let the man out, and showed him back to his seat, because it's the least I'd want if I was blind, and it's how you treat a fellow human being, and for heaven's sake. And then I went back to my seat, and everyone looked up at me and stared and smiled with relieved "thank god someone did that" smiles, and I sat down grumpy and puzzled and remain grumpy and puzzled about it still. I'm still trying to work out what on earth was going on there -- I don't think I did anything good or clever or nice. I just did what I would have thought anyone would do. Except a train filled with people didn't, and in one case actively appeared to be running away in order not to. And I puzzle over, was this a carriage filled with particularly self-centred or embarrassed people, has something fundamental changed in the years I've been away from the UK (unlikely, and I don't believe in lost Golden Ages), did those other people really somehow blindly fail to notice that there was a blind man trapped in the toilet...? I have no idea and I write it down because, as I said, it puzzles and irritates me, and if it ever turns up in a short story you'll know why.

For this post, I'm adding a new label for my list . . . borrowed from my husband. "Orthopraxy" . . . . or in layman's terms, actually living out what you supposedly believe.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I've been meaning to link to this

Rev. Kathy Escobar at the "The Carnival in My Head" has up a post on the six stages of faith, as laid out in the book The Critical Journey.

I think that there's a lot of truth here and that this could be a valuable tool for a lot of people, including me. I may post more on it . . . sometime . . . when the rock tumbler in my brain has battered it around enough that I can get a peek at what I think about it.

HT: Deconstructed Christian

Monday, June 16, 2008

Warning: Seriously half-baked thoughts ahead

What does it do to us to do the right things for the wrong reasons? And what are the right reasons anyway? Is it better to build good habits while reinforcing bad motives and attitudes behind them, or is it okay to not pursue something when doing the "right" thing feels like drudgery? What are your feelings about the complex of words like "discipline" and "perseverance?"

I've lately been thinking about this grey territory . . . thinking about the attitudes that we bring to all the things that we're "supposed" to do. About pursuing God, and the paradoxical insistence of much of the church that we do that on our own strength . . . how stupid is that? It is God who pursues us and catches us and purchases at the unimagineable price of Christ's blood . . . it is God who reveals himself to us--and without that, it would be impossible for us to know him? Why do we so often act as if our relationship with him depends on our diligence?

See, we have many things we're "supposed" to do. We're supposed to eat our vegetables, limit our starches, get plenty of exercise. And I know that I, like many Americans, have very mixed feelings about all these things. I want to be healthy, trim, sexy, energetic. I want to feel good about my body. But I also want the freedom to feel good about my body even when I'm tired, overweight and ill. I don't want to get in shape out of guilt, or in order to be good enough. Fortunately, God tells me that I don't have to play the culture's game. He knows that he didn't me a body that would process a bag of Doritos effortlessly into rippling muscles . . . he tells me that I can enjoy the body that I have, and that if I choose to try to honor God with this body, that he will accept the offering and be honored by it . . . I don't have to be thin enough for the culture in order for my attitude to be transformed . . . indeed, for my attitude to be transformed, I'd best start by chucking cultural expectations altogether and starting with the recognition that this is about me and God.

I wonder how many of the same sorts of expectations and church culture attitudes we import into the exercise and growth of Christian life . . . how much of the sovereign specific of "more Bible, more prayer" for not being a "Better Christian" is like saying, "well, if they'd just exercise more, they'd be healthy."

It the thing--one of the worst things that ever happened to my "devotional" life was the unit I had in high school Bible class on "How to Have a Devotional." I was told just how much scripture to read--between 3 and 10 verses. Definitely not more. I'd miss something. Told how to think and pray and feel earnestly about it. How crucial it was to do this Regularly. We were then assigned a week's worth of devotionals to do as homework. That way. To be turned in and graded. And even though, after that week, I never did a "devotional" in that format again, it took me years to shake free of it enough to feel like it was okay for me to get to know God a slightly different way.

I want to read my Bible. I want to WANT to read my Bible. But I don't want to read it in itty-bitty pieces and then attempt to feel earnestly about it. I want to read it in great carking chunks. And yes, sometimes erratically. I want to listen to good music. To pray in the in between moments of my day, and pray while I'm playing minesweeper, and enjoy the long chunk on Sunday morning when I know that I'm not going to get interrupted with the kids. I want to throw great handfuls of all sorts of stuff into the rock tumbler in my brain--and see what comes out.

I want to build good habits to the glory of God. I want to shake free of expectations. I want to not do anything out of guilt. But I want the virtue of perseverance, whatever that means. I want to understand what it is that's shifted in my heart, so that I can start in on an exercise program and really not much care what anyone else thinks or if I lose a pound, though I would like to gain a little muscle and endurance so that I can hike that canyon. I want to teach and encourage my daughters and give them all the tools and attitudes and habits that they'll need so that they can have the lives that God wants them to have.

I want to live the life to the full, by the grace of God.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sub-creation, responsibility and big noses

One of the on-going discussions in our marriage is our role as sub-creators in the image of God. This discussion actually started quite a while before we were married, in a college seminar that discussed, among many other works of fanatasy, Tolkien's Tree and Leaf, which is a fascinating essay on the nature of story and fairy, coupled with an the illustrative short Leaf by Niggle. I firmly believe that we bear responsibility for and to our creations--to make them the best that they can be . . . that we are to be good gods to the little worlds and character-people that we dream up . . . I also believe that it is possible for our works to transcend us. That the true God will redeem and fulfill all of our little attempts beyond what we could dream of--that anything that is good and true and right and lovely will, in some sense, be carried over into the new heavens and new earth . . . I half expect to meet Reepicheep there. And that even as creators, if we behave irresponsibly that we can forfeit rights over our own creations . . .

Anyway, given the--animated--discussion on the subject that Rob and I were having last night, for this comic to come up via a mis-click in my morning comic crawl seemed apropos. The highly entertaining and theologically dubious Berkely Breathed has also played with this material recently. I think . . . that many of our actions are far more perilous and real than we dare hope or fear . . .

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Will there be roller coasters, or will we just be able to fly?

If you've glanced at my side bar, you've noticed the link for the "Strange Maps" blog. I love maps. No apologies. I'm the kid who spent the family road trip in the back seat with the atlas open on my lap, tracing our route and noting all the oxymoronically named towns in the U.S.

The latest entry on the Strange Maps roll certainly deserves to be there . . . but I want to note in passing that I find this theologically appalling. As far as I can tell, the only thing to recommend this Heaven is that it's better than the other place (and perhaps a step up from the horrible Victorian white-robes-clouds-and-harps version of heaven). The actual scriptural New Heavens and New Earth, New Jeruselum, City of God is an incredibly rich invitation for us to imagine the very best, most fulfilling, us-being-everything-we-were-meant-to-be sort of existence we can come up with . . . and then God promises that it will be even better.

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Cor. 2:9)

(I view this as a challenge from God: "How much can you imagine? Watch me top it.")

Nothing that will fit on a map.

Update (7-3-15)  Find the map image here

Money as a figment of our collective imagination

I went grocery shopping the other day. I bought approximately $120 of fruit, diapers, cheese sticks, bread and the other assorted necessarys of life with three small-ish children. I "paid" for these with a credit card--an intrinsically worthless rectangle of plastic with a little magnetic strip on the back. Somehow the machine took information from that scratched strip and transmitted it to a huge corporate conglomerate where the fact that I owe X is stored on their massive harddrive as a collection of zeros and ones. I will pay off my credit card by transferring, electronically, more zeros and ones from our online bank account . . . where the fact that I have credit for X dollars is stored as more zeros and ones in their harddrive. (Oh, wait--it's the same harddrive. My bank is also the issuer of my credit card). The money was "put" in our account after we mailed in my husband's paycheck--a piece of paper with no value of its own, an essentially extra-spiffy IOU. Payment for services rendered . . . which this week, was, in part, preaching on stewardship and what Jesus has to say about our attitude towards money. Does this all seem more than a little surreal to anyone else? Will trade theology for food . . .

In the giant game of tit-for-tat that is economics, increasingly our money is . . . what? An idea that we've all agreed to pretend together . . . one that starts from the premise that life is a zero-sum game--and then breaks and breaks and breaks again because we human beings, made in the image of the Creator God, create . . .

My girls like to play Webkinz. The currency of choice for the stuffed animal avatars on that site is Kinzcash--site credit that the web masters dole out parsimoniously for showing up, answering trivia, playing arcade games. Collect enough and you can "buy" your virtual furniture, virtual food, virtual clothing. Both the Kinzcash and the items bought with them are nothing--less than nothing. Zeros and ones on a poorly built website. It really doesn't matter to the web masters whether they give out 25 Kinzcash or 25,000 Kinzcash--they're just inventing it as they go along anyway.

What I'm starting to wonder is, is our "real" money really any more real than that? The idea that treasure in heaven is actually more solid and secure than the "wealth" that we amass here is making an increasing amount of sense . . .