Thursday, December 22, 2005

Three Things Thursday (again with bonus)

1) I discovered M.I.A. and her album Aural listening to Napster's top 99 of the year; besides one song I hate, I think this thumps. I'm pumping it through my computer sound system (including the Boston subwoofer) while I grade. It's techno-ish and not for everybody, but every little bit helps as I slog through the stacks of blue and white papers.

2) A very good friend of mine, the great Mike D., is coming to town tomorrow and this is very cool. For several years now we've talked for an hour on the phone every week, shared really, and any f2f time is greatly appreciated. Plus, he's bringing wine from my favorite shop.

3) Sorry to get serious, but my break with fundamentalism is becoming much more defined. It has taken me a long time. When I hear some people talk about 'biblical' principles for things like parenting I get queasy. I'm most upset about corporal punishment of children right now, James Dobson and Solomon's tragic legacy to well-meaning evangelicals. The research is completely against spanking, as is every child therapist I've spoken with. Some kids survive with minimal emotional damage; many have larger problems later in life. Often it increases aggression and defiance. Forget Solomon. In fact, look at his children and his kingship over Israel; what a terrible legacy! Maybe that's the lesson: we're supposed to read his advice according to what else we know about him.

Plus, while the evidence for evolution is still short of conclusive, it is very possible we did evolve through natural selection in God's universe. On this note, I even have to consider that Jesus' own world-view was limited by the kenotic emptying; he says himself he does not know the moment of the end of time, only the Father knows. What else he may or may not have known or chose to know or not know while on earth is unknowable. He never discusses origins in the gospels except to confirm the Hebrew mythology (though not when discussing creation per se). Of course, we only have fractions of what he said. I'll have time to think about this later.

***Bonus Section***

My priest, a man whose faith I respect, says preaching (which I do not do on any scale) is a pastoral office. That's the most important thing I've said in this entry.

I'm beginning to wonder if blog shouldn't also assume some of that, meaning that instead of just spouting opinion up here I shouldn't try a different approach. My goal is not to distance inerrantists who are my friends (and may have stopped reading by now because I'm repeating myself once again) nor is it simply to make happy the very few (or one, or none) who read who agree. My goal is to convince others so that the faith is both humane to those who feel and credible to those who think. How did I come to this perspective? Where am I almost sure I'm right and where might I be wrong? Above all, where does Jesus fit into it?

My personal faith is growing. Perhaps I'm finding my room in the house. C.S. Lewis notes in a clever analogy at the beginning of Mere Christianity that many believers spend time 'in the hall' of the home which is the church at large until they decide on their respective room/denomination. I certainly don't expect everyone to be in the Episcopal room, which itself is diverse enough to require a wing at least. But there are certain doctrines, even very important ones, which harm the Body. I believe that. For me, believing that God wrote every line of the 66 books in our canon, or even that he protected them from error, leads to vigorous, even destructive, confusion. I'll have much more to say on this as time goes on.

For an easy example: how many articles have I read beating the point that yom in Hebrew means day, a 24 hour period, and 'surely that's what Genesis means; read the text it's plain as day; God's Word is Truth, and all we perceive must be interpreted accordingly; the earth was made in six 24 hour periods.' Well, I don't know the Hebrew word for nostril or smoke, but plenty of sacrifices smell pleasing to Yahweh in the Torah; the smoke rises in his nostrils, and the words used there are quite plain. How many fundamentalists or evangelicals believe God has a nose and likes to smell burnt offering smoke? Ah, that is metaphor! I agree metaphor is a form of figurative language in Hebrew (Song of Songs at least), but I see no real indication that the text describing sacrificial smoke reads that way. But surely, I agree it is figurative. Likewise, Gen. 1 and 2 is creation myth-narrative, and that is its own genre worldwide just as figurative language is used, and understood, in many cultures.

All this matters, of course, because of what science is telling us about biological nature. The evidence for evolution is very strong, even if not perfect and not without the possibility of divine intervention to supercede natural law at one or more points. Even if we evolved 'accidentally,' a la Stephen Jay Gould (who, as a dead person, may now have some different insights) our need for a saviour, a reconciler, a bridge, is blatantly clear, and Jesus' mission was no accident, but instead evidence of a Love beyond what we very tiny beings can imagine. Total depravity? Maybe. How about total minisculity in the universal scale? We're little and abuse each other. Yet, Emmanuel.


While I was typing this my priest called and asked me if I'd like to re-up as senior warden. This is not common, and I said I'd have to think about it; I was very surprised. I'm extremely hard on myself, a recovering perfectionist (mother's voice shouts on in my head, iincredibly powerful but almost always below conscious radar); I thought I did a mediocre job. He felt otherwise. I've been wanting to do more in the church lately. Administrative work is not my favorite thing, but wardenship isn't all that (just mostly that). Regardless, it's a very high honor from a man I've come to respect, and every little thing I do for the church, even taking out trash, somehow feels right.

On that note, my son volunteered me to play a wise man (wise guy?) in the children's Christmas Eve play. Oh boy, as Samuel Beckett used to say. My only line: 'we've come to see the King of the Jews!' Wish me luck. Besides the wise men, everyone else in the play is about six. Some much younger.

Peace, genuine love, and Merry Christmas; I will probably not be able to post again until early January as we're out of town.

He is coming indeed.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Eucastrophe 1.0

after the last post my mood dropped, hard and fast. Talking about Robert, even after all these years. I know I haven't told that story up here yet in full, but I will. It's not an easy one to tell.

Being home alone all day (I drove to S's work to bring her dinner just now) and the semester ending...often tough for me emotionally. I started getting anxious, a little obsessive, some depression. I knew why, especially when I talked to S about it just a little at her work.

Why do I mention it here? It helps me to do so for one thing. But also there is the bright news. Just a few minutes ago an older couple in our EFM called to ask us to dinner at one of the best, if not the best, French restaurant in my county. I've been there three times, once for my fortieth birthday (which was my last time there). The wife asked if we could go and I hesitated...'but it's our treat!' 'What did you say?' 'It's our treat.' Wow. S and I are completely blown away. They're taking us two and our rector. Why? I don't know, but it feels wonderful since S and I knew we couldn't afford it; a true Christmas miracle, as S said.

And from there I turn to Christianity as a whole. Jesus unequivocally promises comfort in his kingdom for those who suffer. The rich, the comfortable (I would think comfort takes other forms besides the material) cannot easily access Jesus and he said so explicitly. But the broken, the wounded, the orphan, the pariah and the berieved and even the tormented...to these Jesus offers the promise of peace in this life and total peace in the next.

You see how those of us who have known so little love are moved by the merest tremble? Is not the kingdom meant to reach those who despair? Does not such need move the very heart of God himself?

Is this mere wish fulfillment? That is a viable theory. But why not take that up with Jesus; he made the claims, not me. I affirm this besides mountains of speculative gospel criticism in my head. Do I trust my own skepticism or the Voice itself?

Once, many years ago when my brother and I were not in regular contact of any kind, I heard he had gotten sick and gone to the hospital. I was concerned and called to see how he was doing. A friend of his was listening to our phone call in the background. This was a guy I had known since he was in junior high (jh). The friend said, "I love you" so I could hear him. He was speaking to me, and I don't think, or didn't think at the time, that he was kidding. He was moved by my interest in my brother and out of nowhere said that. Would not Jesus have seen an illustration of his kindgom in that moment?

There are pasages in literature which illustrate something like this. I've thought of putting them here one at a time. This first one I have to type total but it's so wonderful...it won't mean much unless you've read O'Brian's The Reverse of the Medal but I hope it still means something:

Jack was led out of the dark room in the strong light, and as they guided him up the steps he could see nothing for glare. 'Your head here, sir, if you please,' said the sheriff's man in a low, nervous conciliating voice, 'and your hands just here.'

The man was slowly fumbling with the bolt, hinge and staple, and as Jack stood there with his hands in the lower half-rounds, his sight cleared: he saw that the broad street was filled with silent, attentive men, some in long togs, some in shore-going rig, some in plain frocks, but all perfectly recongizable as seamen. And officers, by the dozen, by the score: midshipmen and officers. Babbington was there, immediately in front of the pillory, facing him with his hat off, and Pullings, Stephen of course, Mowett, Dundas...He nodded to them, with almost no change in his iron expression, and his eye moved on: Parker, Rowan, Williamson, Hervey...and men from long, long ago, men he could scarcely name, lieutenants and commanders putting their promotion at risk, midshipmen and masters's mates their commissions, warrant-officers their adavancement.

'The head a trifle forward, if you please, sir,' murmured the sheriff's man, and the upper half of the wooden frame came down, imprisoning his defenceless face. He heard the click of the bolt and then in the dead silence a strong voice cry, 'Off hats'. With one movement hundreds of broad-brimmed tarpauling-covered hats flew off and the cheering began, the fierce full-throated cheering he had so often heard in battle.


Off hats indeed. This is an emblem, from a non-Christian writer, of the victory promised the Christian. Death will die. Suffering will be swallowed in joy. Darkness fade to eternal light. Love walk, alive, out of stygian despair with His hands outstretched, looking for His children and those he calls friends.

Maranatha. The creation does indeed groan. It will not groan always.


Snowboarding

Plodding through final essays before Christmas...reminds me of 'slouching towards Bethlehem.' I hope to be done by Friday! Maybe sooner. The last week I've done nothing but vacate, and it was sorely needed. Yesterday, in fact, I snowboarded. In keeping with a typical post for me, my story is as much about the animal Fear as it is about the sport itself, but it's a tale I'd like to tell.

I never skiied. (Is that the past tense of ski?). Well, once. Growing up my parents didn't have money and neither of them ever imagining skiing as far as I know. I was never on snow at all until college when I went with Ironsulfide and Scooter. You know the stuff people tell you when you don't ski or have any gear: yeah, just scotch guard some jeans, wear my old gloves, you can rent in town for cheaper, you don't need a lesson.

You don't need a lesson.

It was actually later than college when I went because I was seeing Robert and I'm sure I wasn't living with Estella; hence, I must have been separated. I'm guessing this was 1993 then, before I was prodded (yes, prodded) into a relationship with my rebound girl, mi loca chica. I guess I wanted to take new risks, try something else (skiing was much safer than loca). How I came up with any money to ski at all is a good question, but I found enough. We went at night, the snow was frozen, and I didn't take a lesson. I guess that did cut my costs. Plus we went to ski hole hell, the lowest resort in the San Gabriels.

You know, as an aside, those mountains aren't these mountains.

The thing that caught me off guard about skiing that night was the ski lifts. I found myself terrified riding the bunny lift, sitting there, afraid of heights as I was, forty or fifty feet in the air, humming over the pullies on the support poles. I couldn't believe people did this calmly. The skiing itself wasn't much better. I tried. I'd get on the lift, often alone, pray it wouldn't get stuck with me dangling, then try to tear, scrape, and fall my way down. I remember calling Robert (I called his voice mail all the time and left messages, probably in part because I couldn't really get close to him in session) and leaving a message about my terror on the lift right from the ski resort. When I saw him later he harped on the same trick pony he always did: 'get angry, I'd be angry if I was experiencing that, really angry.' Nice. Not effective in phobia treatment as far as I know, but then I think by this time he'd lost interest, or that ability, to help me though he himself didn't know it. Dating a man's estranged wife, also your client, tends to impede therapy.

That wasn't a good first ski experience. Eight years later (feels like eighty) I moved to the Sierra. Now I live, friends, thirty minutes from a Tahoe resort. About three years ago I went up with Mikey's school and took a snowboard lesson; the next year I took a ski lesson. These lessons only got me on the lift a few times, and I was terrified each time. I did pretty well skiing, I guess, but trying to snowboard is like, oh, learning to box by getting in the ring with a boxer. I was hammered. Dehydrated. Starved. Probably delirious before I straggled down for water and food. Snowboarding is so different from learning to snowboard I don't know what compares.

Because of the lift height and the difficulty and cost of learning I've never been back. I took up sailing this year, of all things. But yesterday a good friend was going and S encouraged me so I went. It is expensive, still, unless I own my own gear and bought the season pass. The thing I learned is that no lesson is bad, but group lessons aren't much better for snowboarding. My buddy stayed with me and actually taught me to ride the heel edge down the bunny slope. Again and again. I ran into two teenage girls S and I know from our karate days and they went with us on a couple of runs.

How was it?

Well, I almost titled this post Brokenback Mountain. I'm okay, sure, but sore as heck and in places I didn't know I had muscles. No wonder so many snowboarders are in their teens and twenties. Still, I'm proud of how well I did, falling often, but actually doing some boarding. Not bad for my second day. Private lessons made the difference.

At one point the three of them asked if I wanted to take the lift to the top of the mountain and take easy runs down. I was doing okay on the bunny lift, maybe forty feet off the ground. I asked my friend what the lift was like that goes to the top and he said, 'oh, just like this, but in some parts twice as high; there is a bar though.' I didn't do it. Damn. Partly because of the lift, mostly because of that, but also because I was leg-burn tired by then and didn't know how I'd feel when I made it all the way down the mountain (one way or another). As soon as they took off and I went back to my beginner lift the self-critique started, the feeling of being a bad person, of failing and not being strong...I tried then and am trying now, with some success, to focus on the positive: I rode the bunny lift probably twenty times! I even quit putting the bar down! I persisted learning to snowboard at the age of 41 while being slammed into the snow like a puppet.

These are impressive things. The entire day I was facing fear.

I wanted to go to the top bad because I thought I should be able to. I didn't know these girls well enough to start really panicking in front of them, though, and Fear, phobic Fear, is a fucking animal in the heart. It has the force of a living being in the body itself. I cannot describe it to those who do not know it. I'd like to make it to the top of the mountain (getting down will be a different matter!) before summer; I'd like to fly, much more, before summer also, or at least before summer is over. But even now I can feel the terror, the overwhelming sweat-terror, moving in me.

The good news is that exposure, done right, works. I've seen it a little in myself and fully in others. I know guys who have taken up flying or rock climbing because they were afraid of heights and they're now avid about the sport. I think about the bunny lift sitting here now and I don't have any more fear, maybe, than a normal person would. Maybe there is some kind of intermediate lift I can take before I go to the top. Maybe I'll just breathe deep and close my eyes! I know now I can go into tall buildings when before I wouldn't even do that. I'm growing, but it's hard. There are so many things I'm not afraid of...many that I am. But the true phobia...it's a river that pulls me into its stream apart from any rational argument.

I've had fear all my life.

So I guess I'm proud of 'boarding' yesterday. It's fun. It didn't grab me the way sailing did but then my first sails involved me sitting around doing almost nothing, cruising on SF Bay in sunny weather. Who wounldn't love that? I haven't had the true snowboarder's experience.

I will say the cardio workout involved in learning to snowboard is incredible. I must have lost a pound.

Special thanks to my friend M who took me up, and who probably would have been more patient with my fear than I imagined. This may not be 'the' year for me and the snowboard, partly because I spent so much dough learning to sail, but that year may well come. Or maybe I'll decide skiing is better. Either way I'll experience personal growth: sure, this sport is cool, sit on this dangling, rocking bench which hauls you 80 feet off the ground to the top of a mountain and then rocket down on this slippery thing at high speeds...geez.

To part of me, I admit it does sound like fun. But there's so much fear between me and that place. May God lead me through it.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Three Things Thursday (Bonus Edition)

Thanks to Sherry as I steal her idea for today. Also for Funkiller's pasta story, which inspired me too.

1) S and I had a wonderful talk last night; nothing momentous, just sharing feelings and thoughts from the day even though it was late (we had EFM) and we should have fallen asleep; the kind of talk we don't get often enough. She told me a day or two before that her definition of a healthy relationship was one that is restorative. Ours has always been that at one level or another, and it is becoming more intimate with every season that passes. We're growing up, funny to say, slowly getting close despite the fear and anger, learning to identify and gradually change learned unhealthy patterns...restoring each other. Her work with children (she's interning as part of her hours to be a therapist) is changing our life at home. Thanks be to God, who never ever abandons his children in life or death. Selah.

2) I've decided I don't have to worry about Ehrman's thesis below now; it lies outside the mainstream of gospel criticism from both sides of the debate, and I'm aware of only the scantest manuscript proof. Studying the Exodus from a revisionist perspective in EFM is challenging enough.

3) Today I'm determined to get a hair cut, lift weights at home, work on my online classes, clean a little, see my doctor, go to vestry tonight. I've run across women's blogs where the blog functions as relief from the isolation of housewife living. I relate to those feelings my days home alone. The solution is positive action.

Bonus Story:

When I met my wife in 96 she didn't like Christmas. I, on the other hand, was a It's A Wonderful Life junkie who didn't have many great Christmas memories but was darned committed to making some. That first year I didn't have much money, but back then that didn't stop me from spending all the teeny bit I had. We were dating; I had just met Mikey who was the most darling four year old on the planet (see the novel Princess Bride for a discussion of such superlatives). Mikey had bunk beds in his room and Christmas Eve I slept on the bottom bunk to make the next morning more special for him. He woke me up Christmas morning sticking his little head over the top bunk and telling me to get up so we could open presents.

He was very Toy Story at the time, so I got him a Woody doll. But what to get for Stephanie our first Christmas as a couple? We hadn't been dating very long, si months maybe, but I wanted to get her things that would make her feel cared for. A single mom, working as hard as she did, deserved something nice. I had already discovered the wonder of down comforters, shearling slipper boots, and flannel. These luxuries don't need to cost much if one knows where to shop, and then, oh yes baby, I knew where to shop. I also bought her a good kitchen knife because the way she had managed to get close to me despite all my barriers and terrors that summer was cooking. She knew how to cook, and I loved what she made so much she learned more. I was lost from the first meal. Or found. But she made everything using this very old, dull, low-quality knife, so I trotted to the mall and got her a decent chef's knife. Still wooden handled, but much better steel. We still have it, and we use it all the time. It's been so long I had forgotten its sentimental history.

The fur boots she had seen on someone else and wanted, so those weren't totally my idea. But the down comforter...there's nothing quite like these things. We both lived in Long Beach at the time and I had one at my house, a thin one just right for So. Cal. weather (the comforter we have in the mountains now is very, very thick). I found her a similar model. Since Mikey was dying to know what I got his mom I showed him all three of her presents. At the time Mikey thought I came over to play with him, he called me 'his best, big friend.' Once I remember him telling his dad about me on the phone. His father hadn't met me and didn't know I was around yet, but I could hear Mikey talking about me and then saying 'he's bigger than my mom,' explaining, I'm sure, that I was his best friend but not smaller than his mom, no, bigger.

As I said, Mikey was only four and I cautioned him,'you can't tell mom about any of the things I got her; these are surprises.' He understood, solemnly, but he would get so excited then. We'd play hide and seek and before I even got into the room he was in he'd be squealing so loud I knew where he was, or we'd try to hide behind a bush in the Nature Center to jump out at his mom who was walking behind us and he'd giggle to much she knew when she was twenty feet away. Christmas morning was no exception that year. I wrapped the comforter in wrapping paper and when Steph picked it up, all bulky and soft, she wondered aloud what it was. Mikey, trying so hard not to give it away, shouted, 'It's not a big blanket!' Ah, reverse psychology. I laughed so hard I wanted to pee.

I have pictures from that first Chrismas, prints actually. I wish I knew how to get them up here. Since I have no electronic versions I have no idea. But little Mikey, now a gruff but sweet 13, was a wonder at four. A true wonder. He still is, just distant from us in his teenaged way. That family, that girl and her cooking and her loyalty and the wonder of Mikey pulled me out of more than two years of single life in the wake of my divorce and its rebound relationship. I always managed to find women who either couldn't or didn't love me, who left me. With Steph and Mikey, I found home. True Christmas, even if I share him with another father and Steph and I never had any biological children together.

It is possible to be in Canaan and believe one is in Egypt still. I've done a lot of that over the last almost ten years in my own head, even when I knew how much the love of my family was changing me. For marriage is harder than dating; Mikey is growing up and we have to find ourselves as a couple without that sweet little soul running around; we struggle in places yet. But, in some ways against the odds, we're doing it. We fight the patterns inherited from our parents. In my view, God has brought together two of his wounded to let them both heal if they choose life. May this be so. May Steph and I have the years together, and the faith, to make the journey long and sweet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wednesday's Child

I wanted to respond more fully to Victor's well-written comment below, but it will have to wait. Briefly, the idea that mid-life spirituality derives from disillusionment with media is very interesting. My own story is that I've had a lifelong obsession/interest/fascination with religion and I wonder how many other factors enter at mid-lie: awareness of mortality; diminishment of physical beauty and to some degree, appetite; in the West, financial leisure to ponder...the list is long. Victor deserves better treatment than I can give now; I may be able to come back at some point. I have ordered the recommended film.

And on suffering:

Driving to work today listening to "Fresh Air" I heard Bart Ehrman discuss his new book Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman is a "happy agnostic" who began as an Episcopalean, became a fundamentalist/literalist, and then, after studying ancient languages and NT manuscripts, gradually lost his faith. He now teaches at Chapel Hill Ehrman also mentioned the significance of a class he taught on human suffering and the Bible's attitudes towards it. As much as he couched his falling away in terms of intellectual process, facing the problem of suffering was also significant.

Here's the thing: it is possible that Christianity will one day be disproved. What would it take? Discovery of older, and radically different, gospel manuscripts. Some other contemporary account which undermines the resurrection or the bulk of miraculous events in the NT; more fantastically, how about Peter's authentic diary where he details the fraud he pulled off with Mary and James, even Paul was fooled when he visited them!

Something along these lines would change my spiritual path and the path of many others. Granted, it wouldn't change everyone's. The historical criticism of Joseph Smith is searing, yet his church keeps growing.

Has that kind of information been found? Should a rational person, someone who is open to not ruling out the miraculous a priori, examine the evidence we have and write off the Christian faith? Books keep coming out, like Ehrman's, which say yes. I admit I haven't read his yet, but it amazes me how many intelligent people line up on both sides of that question. Since there is so little information, almost none, outside the gospels, and since we don't even know exactly when they were written or how, there's plenty of room for scholars to beat the text silly, pounding out whatever they already want to find (as Schweitzer noted a century ago).

Right now I'm working on the OT. I've ordered Bruggeman. I'm beginning the story of the Exodus. The stakes are much lower for me of course. All I expect to find is Jewish religious literature which contains some Christophic themes. When I get to the NT next year, much more will be on the line. But, barring some new and dramatic discovery which either enhances or detracts from the gospel historicity, I doubt I will ever find intellectual certainty. It's very difficult to have that for any history, especially when the fine tooth comb becomes very fine. I simply want to know I'm not a Mormon (no personal offense intended). Ehrman's thesis that he can prove radical textual changes over time as the texts were copied wasn't very convincing (on the radio at least): yes, we have different versions of the Lord's prayer; he shows some later copyists apparently trying to make them agree. If so, why are the resurrection accounts and infancy narratives, the story of Peter's betrayal also, so divergent?

Why he wasted air time pointing out weaknesses in the manuscripts which went into the KJV is beyond me. This isn't the seventeenth century.

But like I said, I haven't read his book.

He is one of those "happy agnostics" who have lost faith and feel fine about it. This seems to argue against what so many of us feel, what Augustine and Lewis and Pascal and St. Paul and millions of others have felt: the God-need. Perhaps not everyone has this need. Perhaps this is part of God's plan. Perhaps it is neurosis. I tend to think it's both. I know it makes for poor blog to critque a radio appearance without reading a book, but the issue for me really is time. I wonder how agnostic Ehrman will feel on his deathbed, or when he needs help and no one is there but God, real or imagined?

***

It's been a hard 24 hours gang. Faith issues, yes; I am very sensitive, emotionally over-reactive, to doubt even though I seek it out. I heard a story once of a self-proclaimed Christian in Europe who when told that almost all matter is really empty space (according to quantum; what's empty space though, could be more 'real' than matter) had a nervous breakdown. Began drinking. Became an alcoholic. I'm not going off that deep end, but there is a relation between that story and my own. Real questions are one thing. Pounding thrashing terror something else.

But what really set me off was a book I'm reading for Sci Fi next term: Ender's Game. Ender. The story begins with him at 6, and even though it's not Flaubert, it's not poorly written fiction. In only 50 or so pages, I found myself very triggered. The violence in Ender's childhood, the expectations placed on him, his 'special' nature, his anger, his isolation, his detached relationship with his parents. It shook me up fast and good. I'm still shaken. I felt an awful lot like Ender at 6.

So now every little thing in the (real) world hits me like a baseball: some small report at work I did wrong...black feelings; self-loathing; some light yet dark obsessions; my self-care is slipping; I feel like smashing my desk (this last really would be okay). I see my therapist today and I also don't believe I'm going into a major depression (been there, done that) but I was and am amazed how hard the opening chapters of that novel hit me. Plus, emotions cycle, old feelings come in and out like the tide and right now the tide is rising. Also, I spent time with S yesterday; I fear closeness with my wife yet crave it. We were together all day with unstructured time. Much of it was good, but I came away from reading the novel and still trying to be present for her exhausted. I'm mostly over bronchitis but not fully. It's 1:30 and I need water and food. That last is so true I'm bailing on blog and walking to the caf.

Four entire class sets of papers to grade, including both online classes. I hope to be done by next Monday night. I want a Christmas and New Year's free of grading and I'll be out of town anyway.

Thanks for letting me share, truly.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Tuesday Recuperations

I think of all the huhu made over Million Dollar Baby, all the money and awards, and I can't understand how 21 Grams made so little money. It's the best film I've seen all year.

Further kudos to the older film The Ice Storm, which we rented a few months ago. We've been working our way through Hitchcock also, and he's good, but good for his time. His technique has been surpassed and worked into later, greater films.

Still love Finding Nemo. Fish does phobia exposure work and rescues son.

I saw my doctor yesterday. Great idea. Antibiotics and some really good cough syrup. I feel much better already! And my lungs sound good, nothing but bronchitis.

Back to Billy Budd, the reading for tomorrow's Am. Lit. class. Reading all that Patrick O'Brian has helped me understand much of the naval background I missed when I read Melville's novel in college.

My copy of the book is so old it has a mail in cigarette offer in the back.

Love to all

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hack and Spit

How's that for a blog title? Before I begin, many thanks funkiller for noting him it took two years to build an arbor in the backyard. My kind of pace when it comes to construction projects.

Bronchitis, I'm told, runs in my family, at least for my father's mother. Both my father's parents were dead before I was born so I can't verify this firsthand. I've always been prone to chest colds, dry hacking coughs, especially in dry air, and after I had pneumonia at 30 (which I got over quickly, reading Margaret George and floating in the codeine), I had bad bronchitis the year after that, an even worse case my first year up north...coughing so hard I passed out on the living room carpet of our valley townhouse. Since I moved to the mountains I've had only mild to moderate chest congestion, nothing like a real bronchitis, until now.

Two weeks of slow cold virus seemed to drop into my chest like smog and stones last night and I was up at 4 hacking. Yes, I need to see a doctor just in case. Hopefully tomorrow after work or at latest Tuesday morning.

Today I laid around, alone, and read more Madame Bovary.

Something about being sick makes me more susceptible to literature. I remember trying to read The Vampire La something or other, one of Anne Rice's novels, last time I had a bad bronchitis. But then I was taking the tylenol 3's, also. I couldn't finish it. All those vampire guts dropping out in body-deaths seemed somehow too real. Plus I thought the book blew. MB though, isn't grotesque it's just so, so, sad. Determinism, a priest who is an idiot and a God who directly seems to refuse to answer prayer, adultery, vanity, lover's deception; its psychological realism is exquisite, but it's like breathing inside the head of one of Dante's damned.

A good friend of my wife called for her, and I thought it was S, so I answered, 'hi, honey.' She played along for a minute, 'did you just wake up?' But there was something off about the voice and I realized, between coughs, it was our friend. I felt sick to my stomach emerging from Bovary's world into that harmless tete a tete.

Even my faith feels a billion miles away. You mean you actually believe this one Jewish guy was God and died for your sins? Like that. I'm too tired to respond. Why am I not too tired to find the question, the feeling of incredulity?

On that: reading Genesis and then reading summaries of criticism by Bruggeman and von Rad, what might be called Christian higher criticism, was illuminating, even liberating; I can take what I find has spiritual value in the text and leave the rest, understanding G to be written sincerely under the pressure of multiple goals, some cultural-sociological, and millenia or centuries after the alleged events. But laying around this weekend and reading from Raymond Brown's Intro to the NT without actually reading the NT books is much more frustrating. Brown, a now-deceased believer, digs deep, deep, deep in his skeptical inquiry. His contribution in the Intro, almost his unstated purpose, seems to be to take textual skepticism as rigorously far as he can and still retain the gospel kernel. Cool, but reading the commentary without the accompanying scripture feels very de-centering. I know I should be waiting until next year's EFM to dig into the gospel criticism, but I borrowed the book from my priest and it's overdue and I want to blaze through it.

Some of his commentary is wonderful; he throws out gems in spots. Most of it, when possible, takes the rigorous skeptic's side. Jesus' wonderful comments about uncleanness...I don't know the chapter and verse, but he says that what comes out of a man makes him unclean, not what goes into the man. Brown writes these comments off as implausible because of the battles we see in the 50's over kosher foods. In Acts and Paul's letters, we see the church struggling over whether to keep the Jewish purity laws and circumcision. True. Paul makes his case clear on that, and certainly the church dropped those requirements early on (a choice which must have helped it grow, but which also reveals an illuminating new vision for understanding purity). So some later redactor added these statements in the strong, direct speech typica of Jesus and said they were his own words.

I can feel Funkiller wincing somehow.

I don't have an answer for that idea. Would the gospel writers have been so free as to create firsthand a pericope or a saying and attribute it to Jesus? Would they believe themselves to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit and free to invent? Might they not actually be? If not the evangelists, would the apostles have done so? I understand our gospels to be pastiched, drawn from various sources, not always well-organized and hence different in places, but to view them as possible that creative-interpretive is a step. He takes a lot of those.

I'm told in NT times it was common for writers to write in the name of some famous figure, in his mood and legacy, and that some of the NT epistles, lots actually according to Brown, were not really written by their stated authors. Unlike all four gospels, almost all the epistles have a stated author. This is something I need to know more about. James isn't James, Paul only wrote seven or so of his attributed letters, etc.

For Brown, the 'beloved disciple' of John's gospel, its stated eyewitness authority, is a minor figure in Jesus' lifetime who shows up at the foot of the cross when the 12 have run away and whom Jesus actually hands Mary over to for care. Brown believes, 'with most scholars,' that none of the gospels are the product of eyewitness accounts. If we accept Marcan priority, that does seem to weigh against Matthew and leaves only John. I admit John's gospel shows sings of reorginization, redaction, perhaps ammendation, and it's very different from the synpotics. Not many short pithy sayings or pericopes here; we get long near-sermons and some amazing and original miracles. How historic are these?

I don't know and though Brown is a world-famous Johannine scholar (and I haven't read his big work on John) he doesn't really know either; this he admits, but he guesses. Once again, I can see why inerrancy is held so tightly by so many in spite of numerous textual issues. It's much simpler and much more comforting.

Home, alone and sick, this is probably getting blown way out of proportion for me. I understand Genesis in a new way; I'm sure when I get to the gospels and their criticism I'll likewise understand. But today, at least, I'm just down.

***

And one other news flash before I sign off (I'm driving to the airport to get Mikey tonight; about 80 minutes each way).

S just called me and told me my skipper, James, the one who got me into sailing, is planning a trip to the Sea of Cortez next summer. Two weeks sailing in what are supposed to be very beautiful waters. She already told him we were in and I about died; of course we can get 'out' but here's the deal:

one, it will be more than three grand and I don't know how we'd spring that kind of dough; if I could, I think I might want to go to England or France or someplace over the sea.

two, and worse, I'm scared to utter death of flying. I've said it up here before, but I've never been on a commercial jet flight and that only quadruples my terror, quintuples it probably. Something about moving that fast, being that high in the air in such a fragile shell. Sure I commute to work on a major highway, sometimes in wicked weather. I'll scuba dive, sail in some rain and wind, or enter karate tournaments as a white belt. But flying. Oh man. It takes my height fear and cranks it up fiftyfreakingfold. Freaking isn't the word I wanted there.

So what do I do?

I remember thinking James was planning a sailing trip from Berkeley to Monterey. Skipper just said he wanted to take a Monterey trip, and swab that I am, I thought that meant sailing up and down the north coast. It can, but he actually meant chartering a boat out of Santa Cruz and going from there to Monterey; a little skip across the bay, not the rigorous sail I was imagining and actually reading about. I actually started taking classes in Santa Cruz before I knew his actual plan, so I'd have some experience with ocean conditions, with swell. In short, I was petrified.

Once I got out on the water in SC, my last class was in eight foot swell with two to three foot wind waves, and on the Bay in 25 gusty knots with chop and lightning in the distance and rain, I realized I wasn't so afraid. Not that I'm up for sailing in truly bad weather, but much of my terror was the uncertainty of not knowing. Yeah I get a little queasy in eight foot seas, but it wasn't so bad, like rolling up and down gentle hills. The boat still sails. Of course, on a boat, you wear a life jacket all the time and there's a pretty good chance if you sank or fell off somebody would come and get you if someone got on the radio. Flying, to me, feels much more black and white. Your crash, you die. I just can't believe the planes go as incredibly high as they do. I know altitude is safety, but really, I'd rather go a hundred feet off the ground at six hundred miles an hour.

Certainly if I decide to go to La Paz I need to try a shorter flight first. Say, from Sac to LAX, the same flight my stepson has made more than a hundred times.

Lots of people I know fly and come back alive. Actually, probably everybody I know.

Oh boy. For me, flying (of all things) to an unknown country and then living on a sailboat (not a cruise ship, you know, with waiters and things) for two weeks sounds like jumping off the Golden Gate and trying to grab the moon to keep from falling. Yeah, that's about it.

I also know that fears, like the smoking habit, never feel like going away. There are no easy moments. I never feel like, oh, cool, let's go up in that big building now or in that glass elevator or worse, up into that plane! It's hard, almost paralyzing, every step. But my fear has kept me from going lots of places. Visiting scooter more than once, for one; seeing Europe. I'm not rich, but I'm sure I'd have a trip or two to Europe under my belt now. Diving in tropical water: but I'd have to fly! You see. I could drop dead of a stroke right now and what good would all this caution do for me? And I'm not afraid to fly like some people who are afraid but still fly. There's a million of those people. I'm too scared to ever have gotten on the plane.

So there you go. Blog creation out of situation arising mid-blog.

As an old roomate said once of me, 'Troy, you think too much.' I know. So I come here to sort it out and it helps, truly.

Love to all that read. Blog helps.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Morning Note

A full, beautiful morning to just hang out. I need these. M is in so cal with his dad; S is working. Tonight is her company Christmas party and since she also works a 12 tomorrow we're going in for the quick appearance tonight; eat and run.

It rained so hard this week for several days. Now the sky is blue and the ground clean, some frost overnight but it's warming into the thirties outside as the sun rises.

Here I am with more time to blog than I've had in weeks and nothing to say! It's unbelievable, but healthy. I'll eat breakfast, do some online grading, read more Madame Bovary (the most artistically perfect of all novels perhaps) for the Honors class, and, maybe, work on my bookcases which have been neglected for weeks and consist of nothing but 2x4 framing, the oak plywood waiting to be cut for plates and risers. I got enough finished for the new carpet to go in, and now our spare room is inhabitable, minus that filthy blue dog-ruined decade-old carpet. How wonderful it was to watch the installers tear it out, roll it up, and haul it off. It felt like...Christmas. Like getting a really desperately needed haircut and shave at Lolo's. Just good.

Be well all.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The In-Between

Home today reading, rain non-stop for the last 30 hours, the long headcold still clotting my head. A good session splitting wood day before yesterday, craving any kind of exercise today but too sick and the weather too wet to come up with anything. Catching up for school: Madame Bovary; and EFM, more than two weeks behind, Abraham and Isaac.

Sick headache. After nap mouth taste. Mikey home from school, walk from the bus wet, watching ESPN and asking me silly questions more beautiful than my home or career:
'Troy, why are mini-bibles orange.' Talking about his 'real' father; amazing to me everyone gets along after nearly a decade.

***

EFM is awesome. For each section of the bible we read there is accompanying text, easy to read but touching on scholarly issues, not just regurgitating the story; critical, rational, also faithful. I love it.

I know the modern focus on innerrancy is a reaction to the higher criticism, skepticism, some of it Christian much of it not, of the last century. Innerrancy was one of the famous Torey Fundamentals published early in the 20th century. Did modern fundamentalism invent innerrancy? Not fully, though I admit I don't know the full history of church attitudes on scripture. I believe scriptural literalism was elevated in varying degrees during different church periods, but clearly the canon achieved high status early in the church's history as the oral tradition was lost and a permanent basis for faith became necessary. I have to wait for year three in EFM, church history, for the full story.

The short, obvious point I'm trying to make is that there is a very good middle-ground between verbal plenary historical inerrancy, which the text we have does not present, and faith-undermining skepticism. Many Christians now hold to this middle ground, the in-between, and I'm one of them. I know the Episcopal church declares the entire Bible to be God's Word though that is not defined; many of its scholars have adopted a rational approach to reading the library of books which are the bible. I do not believe God wrote the thing; people wrote it, moved by God. The OT is one group's religious history 'taken up' as Lewis said. This perspective is very liberating for me; I don't think I could believe freely without such a position; there are passages in the OT which tell us more about the writer than the Creator; others which stand out as the finest religious literature I've read.

For example, I was stunnned as I read the story of Isaac's near-sacrifice in Genesis. Having heard the story as a child, I thought I knew it, but I didn't know it. Its religious power is overwhelming; its foreshadowing of Christ's sacrifice awe-full. It's cold, unwavering command of obedience and subsequent deliverance powerful eucastrophe, to use another Lewis term. The only thing I know that comes close to Genesis is Sophocles' Oedipus and Oedipus at Colonnus, and yet those plays, wildly superior to anything in Homer or Hesiod, stand outside the Redeemer tradition. Oedipus is laid low by Apollo, and only after long years of blind despair is he allowed to enter the God's presence. He is his own sacrifice; there is no substitute.

But I'm drifting.

I simply want to mention a middle ground altnerative to fundamentalist literalism. Why? Because such rigid adherence to every line of scripture enhances bigotry, hate, exclusion. Oh yes it does. We don't keep the Mosaic law anymore, us carnitas eating Christians, but we dredge one or two up when necessary. Women are kept out of public ministry because of explicit commands St. Paul makes to specific churches, but then he also orders women's heads to be covered in prayer, their hair to be uncut, and marriage to be avoided, if possible, since the escahton was imminent. We ignore some of his particular directions, but not all. Why do we insist on keeping some of the OT and epistolary commands? Why has James' letter been remembered for its strong language about doubt and the tongue (and the tongue really does wound) and not for its heavy-handed warnings against favoring the wealthy, even against having wealth?

I wrote a paragraph trying to answer that, but I deleted it; I need to think about these things in my own heart.

Rejecting literal scriptural inerrancy does not mean rejecting inspiration nor does it mean rejecting the supernatural; it certainly doesn't have to mean rejecting faith in Jesus. I know when I come to the gospels I may find it daunting, trying to understand each evangelist' point of view and wading through the swamp of gospel criticsm. I'll get there when I get there; hopefully my faith survives and is strengthened as it has been from reading Genesis and the EFM content. But just because Paul's letters become just Paul's letters doesn't mean they don't contain revelation from God. Faith, hope, and love. What higher religion do we need when these are placed in Paul's Christian context?

I've probably said all this before, but it's a position which is solidifying in me as I find there are alternatives, rational and faithful alternatives, between innerrancy and disbelief. Rejecting innerrancy does not have to lead to the radical revisions of Crossan or Spong (and they get press here only because they write for a popular audience).

Allright, off the soap-box. Thanks for letting me share.

Be well all. Love to each.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Three Things Sunday

As usual, I like the three thing format but feel moved to express myself on another day. Consider me to hold a liberal blogology

1) sorry for the typos in the post below; it was written in two pieces and I need to clean it up; since I've apologized I'll probably leave it with all its typos and lay weaknesses; lay apologists get their butt kicked sooner or later and my time will probably come; doesn't mean I won't get up and learn from the experience

2) I found an interesting article here on Intelligent Design; the way ID is described in the media I considered it a waste of time and insisted on the term teleological argument, bettter, teleological question (though I'd read Paul Davies years ago) but this link HERE reminds me the jury isn't in yet, if it ever will be

3) I am experiencing something which could be described two ways: the skeptic in me would say that I have innate abilities/characteristics which will only feel fulfilled with increased church ministry in some form; the believer in me thinks God is calling me into some greater ministry. I figure if the latter is true, he'll keep calling. Yes, I have tenure, a wife in grad school, a son, and I've never ever considered dumping my tenure for any thing. I don't know what form increased work in the church would take; I could stay a professor or not. But I know that something has been knocking for a while and is still knocking. My gifts as I see them: teaching the essentials, writing (sorry if my blog falls short), leading, empathy. Don't know what all that stacks up to mean. Appreciate prayers from those who pray. Life is short and death is long, eternity longer still.

Love to all


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Thanksgiving

An atheist colleague of mine discovered my blog by walking into my office while I was working on it; as a fellow blogger it took him two seconds to read my url. He's a good guy, a friend, and he's welcome here. We've been doing some emailing back and forth about theism in the few minutes either of us calls spare time right now. He's well read, it seems, in anthro and I assume the modern skeptical lectionary. Fair enough. But this blog is also about my feelings, and those are coming up right now in one of those hard days.

I've been open about how hard this semester has been. I have all new courses, the only possible exception being my composition classes online. I've taught comp. a hundred times, but never online. Trying to build those classes and teach them at the same time has, frankly, been impossible to do well, not while staying caught up in Am. Lit. and honors. It's been a sucky term and I want it to end; soon, it will.

One of those online comps has self-destructed, or nearly. I'm very sad and even pissed. I've had attrition like I've never had f2f or online. I suppose, considering my workload, this is a good thing! But why do I get papers for a research essay with no works cited page, no in-text citations, no research at all! What the hell do these students think is going on? So few of them took the last paper seriously, at least the research component; it's disheartening.

Let the D's fly. Bite me.

I hope the other class does better.

***

Today is one of those long days home alone, still getting over my cold and with a solid headache (I never get headaches) to top it all. I feel stranded. The collegue I mentioned above, what will I call him? How about Richard, as in Dawkins? Richard and I have been talking about how too much time online, including teaching online, can foster depression. If I was in a cubicle doing this, getting ready to go to lunch with the people from across the carpeted aisle, it would be different. But time alone, online and alone, it's a tough combo. I notice I only have a two day a week schedule next semester and the semester after. I tried for 3 days down but couldn't get it. Of course, I could always drive the hour to work just to work from my office. Hopefully I'll find other creative solutions.

All I know is right now my feelings are very intense. Intense and not positive.

***

On belief: I'm convinced that two people can look at the same intellectual evidence and one choose theism, the other atheism. This is in part because the evidence is incomplete; there must also be other, deeper influences. I know modern skeptics generally believe reason is on their side and this is superior to faith; oddly enough, many theists beleive their position is based on evidence and will point to the faith involved in skepticism. But truthfully, we are talking about either non-quantifiable, often unobservable, very personal phenomena; or the 'outside' evidence for God, the classical arguments, which involve data as complex as the universe itself and rely on the reasoning capacity of mankind, who remains very much locked in the material as he reaches toward the transcenent.

Two things I will say: one, is that just because aliens aren't real, or out of body meditation, or the fact that walking under a ladder has nothing to do with my car wreck later in the day...humans can be credulous beings...this does not preclude religious truth. Maybe, credulous and desperate as we are, we are still somehow found by God. Just because some things humans believe about the non-material are false doesn't mean everything humans believe about the non-material is false. Naturally, since we're talking about a mortal, material beings postulating on the transcendent world, there will be lots of error.

Without that Transcendent somehow reaching out to us it's hard to imagine we could find anything concrete. Christians believe Jesus was just that portal; reading the Gospels (the most apologetic, as in persuasive, of all documents) it's hard to believe the 'historical' Jesus didn't believe himself to be unique in just this way.

Two (yes, one was way back there) Christians can't write off rational reflection of the facts we can see: our world appears materially perfect, biologically imperfect. By this I mean natural laws seem to proceed without much error, chemical and physical reactions are predicable. But in biological Nature, even though the complexity of Life is astounding, to say nothing of Mind, things die, sometimes without chance. It would be nice, as one columnnist noted in this month's Scientific American if penguin egg shells were thicker so that some penguins didn't fall off the parent's feet and crack and freeze (I didn't see the movie, so excuse any error). Perhaps then we'd have too many penguins? Okay, how about a process which allows them to reproduce less effectively but have better viability in the shell? Things suffer and die. Animals eat each other. We eat animals. Humans suffer and die.

It is quite possible we evolved via natural selection without any overt divine intervention. Our existence remains an astounding, shocking fact. In one real sense, the laws of our universe are no less miraculous when they aren't circumvented by conventional miracle. But terrestial biology is not what we'd build if we were divine minds, is it? We'd allow for no suffering, or minor suffering, every creature gettings its fair chance.

God isn't human. If a Creator made the universe as we currently perceive it he is quite a Being indeed, for the universe from a human point of view is very large, very energetic, very complex. Yet atheists as well as theists make a similar error if we assume the cosmos is made just for humans. The size of the universe used to cause me to doubt God. Why make millions of galaxies just so that human beings could evolve on one pitiful planet? But I was assuming that the universe was made just for us. We can't know God's mind regarding his creation. According to Jesus, though, we can know God's mind regarding us.

We're fucked up. Whether apparently accidental suffering in the human and animal world is a product of some primeval human transgression or just the way the world has developed...pain does have some self-preservative results after all...the empirical fact is humans hurt one another unecessarily with expert regularity. Some of those hurts are little, some big. Some unconscious, some quite intentional. Many of us also long for something bigger than ourselves to tell us how to stop wounding, how to live and act correctly. And, for some of us anyway, we long for forgiveness, catharsis in the true sense. Jesus promises both and eternal life as well.

Is my faith in this mere wish fulfillment? Only if it's false. Simply wanting something, even a very big or improbable thing, doesn't mean that thing doesn't exist. And for me, it comes back to the gospel record. My scholarship isn't what it needs to be on the gospels though I'm trying. When I read any of the four now I hear the Voice. A Voice which promises some of what I really need and some of what I don't want at all; a Voice which self-exults on every page; a Voice which claims supernatural authority to heal the blind, the lame, raise the dead; a Voice which claims it came back from the grave, driven by Love and obedience to the Father, for me.

Do I always believe that? No. Do I ever utterly not believe it? No; it has not been disproven to me since my (re)conversion in 2000. But while actually beginning with Jesus is one approach to Christianity, it seems the right one. Skeptics often attack theists with such impact because we aren't willing or able to really let go of our faith for anxious days to look at things from their point of view. I do that against my will, or so it seems to me. The result is that I believe it is possible to be both Christian and skeptic. To accept what science can tell me about the universe (and what it tells me keeps changing as it explores) and to evaluate the Voice in my inner person can happen concurrently. I agree no set of rational arguments will convert someone to Christianity; our faith touches a deeper part of the mind, but our faith is also born, many times, alongside reason. They are not mutually exclusive. If I ever come to believe they are, I'll have a very large problem.

***

Stupid to say it, but this is all I have time for now. That's the great thing about blog: Everything's a Draft! That would make a nice title for this blog, actually, better than the one I have and don't much like.

Love to all and Happy Thanksgiving

Friday, November 18, 2005

Three Things Thursday

Okay, I admit, it's Friday morning and I'm too honest to roll back my blog calender and date this Thursday; in my heart it's Three Things Thursday.

***

I found the originator of Three Things blipping through blogs. Then I lost her! I can't remember the name of the actual blog, but in honor of the tradition I blog on.

1) I think I'm getting sick. My wife has been sick for almost two weeks and the stress in my life, plus the proximity, may be leading me down the sickie path. My throat is sore and I'm calling in to work. In some ways this actually feels good; a day to catch up, read, REST!

2) I have been building built-in bookcases. I have books that have been in boxes since, well, truthfully, at least since 99, some maybe since 92, but I'm not sure. The new unit is taking up a whole wall, eight feet by twelve. This is very new to me. I'm not a handy kind of guy and it takes me lots of thinking to do something like this for the first time. We found plans online, of course. The 2x4 framing is almost done and next we just have to pick the shelf wood and nail it in. If these turn out, if they actually hold books, I'll be quite proud.

3) My brother and his beautiful family are coming up for Thanksgiving! This is cause for huge celebration. The Last Homely House has been missing them for some time. Especially the babies! A four and one year old. How cool is that. My four year old nephew asked me if we have any bears up here. I figured he was scared. What he told me was 'you know you can walk right up into the hills, take your gun, point it at the bear and shoot him down.' I don't have any guns, but what a cool kid.

Love to all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In the beginning...

Another busy week. I'm taking out a few minutes to write only because a friend left a voice message telling me how much he appreciates reading the blog. Considering how infrequently, and quickly, I post I was moved to hear he takes something from this in his own spiritual search. Enough to take out a few minutes to talk about what I'm learning in EFM.

I would love it if the OT were an inerrant, god-rich ethical masterpiece. The text doesn't support this. What it seems to be, at least what Jesus thought it was, is a collection of books which outlines, which prepares for, his personal salvation. It's a record of various individuals' experiences with God, and sometimes tells us as much about the person writing as the God the author is reaching toward. Many religious conservatives believe in both the sinful mind of man, even his utter spiritual depravity, and yet hold to an inerrant Bible. How could this be? God would have to dictate apart from the mind of the author. Or at best, somehow fill the author's mind with perfect word and images, keep him from any error whatsover. That would be great. It didn't happen.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis are ancient mythic history, with obvious Babylonian influences, adapted to the One God of Israel. That's it. It's high religious literature, no doubt, with a creation story more powerful, perhaps in its own way more true, than most, but also a God who gets angry, regrets, fails to see the future...the point is I'm begining to believe I can look through the human component towards the divine as revealed in Christ. There was no world wide flood; snakes don't speak; the earth was not made in six days; languages did not spread from the Tower of Babel (probably a narrative about an abandoned Babylonian settlement). Yet, the Creator moves behind and through these ancient myths, and as someone who has read a fair share of creation and pre-historic myth (the tiny portion which has survived into the literate era) I'm impressed with the J view of human nature (J being one of four posited sources in the Pentateuch). Did human nature fall from a state of perfection or evolve into the obviously imperfect state we currently observe?

I don't know; I wish I did. But even if we are evolved animals we are very different from the animals, more different than some seem to know. We have conscience, and we violate it; we know guilt. In an odd way the fall from eden could be about the birth of the human mind, the shift from animal to spiritual/reflective consciousness. I really can't answer any of these questions.

But so far, EFM has been helpful, blasting through 11 chapters of the bible which are widely misread as actual history (if the earth wasn't made in six days, why would God write it that way: God didn't write it that way, humans wrote it based on human sources and God invested/integrated himself into the narrative). Well, a few thousand more chapters to go.

I told my friend on the voicemail that sometimes my spiritual journey feels as though I'm swimming in a large body of water at night; I know I'm exerting myself, I half fear drowning. But as I gasp and flail, am I actually moving or am I only caught in a current or is there in fact no shore I press to?

I want to use my gifts for God. I read about Andy/Sherry's sense of guidance into Young Life (at Portrait of the Artist, link to your right) and I'm envious. My life feels so much more complex and difficult. But is that the only reason I want to use my gifts, for personal comfort? A better answer would be design. I want to do what I'm designed to do, what feels most right to my inner man; not dharma in the true Hindu sense but in the new age american sense. Purpose.

"When I run, I feel his pleasure."

Like that.

And while if I were at a Baptist church I might already be teaching (and would that be so bad?) the one thing good about my current sitch is that I get lots of time to work through these things before I might even someyear get the chance to use any public gifts. It is my hope and prayer I find the internal, mental change I need to serve God with all I have.

The person I helped move eight or so months ago is out of prison and I actually met him. He seemed like a nice person, and he sent me a winnie the pooh card expressing sincere thanks. That means more to me than a hundred pleasing literature lectures where I look bitchen cool swank smart. I hope and pray this man remains well. Perhaps I will never do anything greater for God? I hope I have the years left to discover the answer.

***

And now for something very different. Take off your shoes, friends, I have removed mine. I didn't know if I should write about this, but I alluded to it in another post. Why not? Once I share this, my possible glimpse of the palace through the fog as in Till We Have Faces, I'll have to remember it happened. Remember, I am a bitter and relentless skeptic.

I hate the Iraq war; you who read know this. Several families in my parish have been impacted. I've seen a woman, a mother, coming to church with a picture of her son in uniform on the pew beside her, in anguish for his safety. I've talked with another woman whose son has been in both persian gulf wars and has been changed.

About a year ago a family came to church with a boy (boy, really) in uniform. I didn't know any of them and I've never seen any of them since. He was going to Iraq and they were asking for prayer. The boy stood at the front of the church and the family gathered around. Then the deacon invited any others who wanted to come and pray for him to do so. S and I got up right away, not because we knew the boy but because we hate the war. I went up with others and placed my hand on someone's shoulder.

As we began praying for him I felt a warmth settle onto my shoulders. It felt like a blanket, a warm blanket, and I thought someone must be behind me, laying right over me, less than an inch from my skin, about to put his arm on me. I almost shrugged to gain personal space. But no arm landed. I kept my eyes closed, praying as normal, while I felt the warmth and weight. When I opened my eyes I realized there was no one behind me. I was at the outside of the circle. I am almost certain there was no person there at the time, though I admit I didn't whip around and stare.

I have never expected any such thing and have no reason to know why it would happen that day. I've had other, much more spiritual experiences, my own confirmation for example, or witnessing baptisms, or taking communion, or the service at advent. This was unexpected, unexplained, and unrepeated.

I don't even know who the boy was.

I would like to find out, though, if he went to Iraq, if he made it back or not, if he feels our prayer made a difference for him that day. I've never told anyone of the experience. It was quite physical.

***

Well, there. I really must go now. I don't have any explanations for the sensation. But it was quite real.

May God show me greater realities yet.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Morning Thoughts

Genuine thanks for the wonderful comments on my post below. All cause me to think, more importantly, to feel, to reflect perhaps, on my spiritual life. I will hang on to what the three of you said.

E: for what it's worth, I did read James, a couple times. I don't have the benefit of any scholarship, but three things stuck out: one, it's a collection of sayings strung together, almost epigrams; two, its constant defense of the poor is comforting. The author was very concerned with social class and the spiritual elevation of the 'brother in humble circumstances.' Three, he uses hyperbole. The passage I quoted below does seem to be about Christians asking for help in times of suffering; ask in faith, James says. Then he dismisses those who don't have the faith. But he says other things, just as strong and directed at believers, other places in the letter, examples which would include us all at one time or another. This softens his comments for me a bit. Could this rhetorical intensity, class consciousness, be leftovers from a person who was actually raised with Jesus? Maybe so.

Allison: yes, Romy rang my bell also. I emailed her with personal thanks when I read her comment. Lots and lots for me to digest there. The example of the saint struggling with doubt, sitting at the atheists' table, of Jesus' own agony in the garden...very potent and much appreciated.

***

The mountains are chilly this morning. I'm trying to save propane and sitting here in the great room with the woodstove going. Once it gets cranking it will heat this entire area to over 70 degrees. That, though, can take hours. I think I'm up to 62 so far. Not bad. Mostly heat left over from last night's burn.

The semester is slowing down for me, or I feel confident enough in my classes, know my students enough, not to berate myself so for being behind. It's all getting easier, and the end is in sight, even if a couple hundred essays still wait between me and that end. Christmas is coming. The great Advent. My favorite holiday and one which hits just after my grades are submitted and I throw on a sweater and begin looking around me for the life I left behind in August.

The spare time I have today (it's a holiday and I'm not driving to campus) I'll spend working around the house. A full blog morning, a longer post, would be nice, but I have to get ready for the carpet installers. One last little piece of hardwood floor to finish. And my muses are silent. Maybe because my fingers are still warming up.

Heartfelt love to all

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Evening Thoughts

Sincere thanks to all the kind comments on my previous post. Today I did take out a few minutes, maybe five beautiful ones, to watch the sun set from a hill on the way home; the sky in the foothills is so gorgeous a few hours after a front moves through. Sunday I cut and split much wood, an 80 foot fir tree that dropped behind my neighbor's house. These were both good suggestions.

As far as obedience as in Chambers, I'm a bit stumped. I don't feel like I'm engaged in anything I shouldn't be, except the usual candidates: fear, worry, self-pity, obsessive criticism of others...those things are so part of me that slowing them down actually takes positive input, looking at a sunset or chopping wood.

Could it be that God simply wants faith from me? I don't know. I think of Bertrand Russell, the brilliant 20th century mathematician/philosopher. His autobiography, incidentally, makes compelling reading. He felt God didn't give him enough evidence to prove He existed, yet Russell admits in the first volume of his bio that he shut all feeling from his life to pursue his academic work; he left his first wife and moved through many women, four wives included, and by the end of his life still had not found peace. He was stymied by his relationship failures. Looking from the outside, it's easy to see where he closed himself off to affectionate feeling, to love and closeness and the acceptance of the imperfect, a being who could hurt him, and pursued sex as recreation (not that loving, committed sex isn't fun). Perhaps his spiritual strife can be seen the same way.

I know that when Russell wrote his famous "Why I am not a Christian" essay, it was a deep disappointment compared to his other work. It's personal bigotry, almost, a long way from any thorough, terminal argument. A mind of that caliber. Choosing doubt. I've seen it other places. I can respect the atheist who has really tried, who has closely studied the gospels and other world religions and sincerely searched to find the historic core, more than one who writes off faith out of pride or lust or arrogance or greed or out of a weak understanding of the scope of science. The latter category is legion. It's true many reject or abandon faith as a result of sufffering, personal and corporate; that is a position I can respect more, but then again, many have suffered intensely and clung to their faith as they were flayed to piecesm, literally or figuratively, and not just Christians.

Then again, those who believe without much intellectual search are also numerous. Perhaps here is the puzzle: the mind is at best part of the solution, if it is any significant part at all. I'm not ready to toss analysis of my faith, and I have to trust that my two year study of the bible in my EFM class will yield something different, God help me, than what Julia Sweeney got when she took a bible class at her church.

Julia Sweeney used to play the androgynous Pat on Saturday Night Live and is now known for a play she wrote and stars in on her own "beatiful" loss of faith. A few years back, after going through a personal loss she prayed to God, a God she knew from a Catholic childhood, and felt emotionally healed from her prayer. She felt she ought to get serious about the church after this. That sentiment led her back to the Catholic church where she attended a bible class of some kind. After reading the old and new testaments she decided, according to her by using reason, that God did not exist, and the bible was clearly not divine. Now she describes herself as an atheist, and one who believes she has investigated her lack of belief with scientific methods.

Perhaps she has.

I admit I haven’t seen her play though I have read at least two interviews. One, with sfgate.com, is posted at her website. I do cringe when she says, “You know, like Jesus was angry a lot. When he turned all those people into pigs and made them run off a mountain, it was so hateful, not just to people but to pigs. I felt upset for the pigs!” Okay. Even the interviewer doesn’t question that original pericope. Jesus didn’t turn anyone into pigs. And if, in fact, he cast a bunch of demons into a herd and they ran off a cliff the least of my concerns is the welfare of the pigs; I’d be much more interested in the reality of the demonic and his power over it, even if it resulted in dead animals. I'd note the incredibly positive change in the demon possessed man. I have heard this famous story explained in natural terms: the crazed person(s) ran wild into the herd and the pigs booked off the cliff in fear. That may be what she believes but it's not what she says. To blast Jesus for killing swine or supernaturally cursing the fig tree so that it withers (as she complains about elsewhere)...is his anger alone evidence of narrative fabrication or embellishment or his own non-deity? If we take part of either of these stories, namely Jesus' anger, as genuine history we must look seriously at the rest, the supernatural, or it makes more sense to toss the narratives out as complete fiction. And on anger, who said God, as man, wouldn’t be pissed walking around this planet? Finally, what about the many, many pericopes where Jesus heals suddenly, dramatically, leaving a jubilant, grateful, supernaturally whole person, without anything dying. She takes two stories out of all the rest and focuses only on these. This is scary. It shows a blind side in an otherwise intelligent person. But then, I haven't read her play. Perhaps she has more to say.

I don’t bring Julia up because I think she’s an unassailable voice for atheism (though she does raise some fair questions and I respect that she has tried to think about her beliefs at all). There are stronger voices for doubt out there. I bring her up because I fear ending up like her, taking a bible class and losing my faith. Because even if Julia seems to have her facts off, there are some weird things in the bible. How to read it is something I will have to learn. If I let go of the inerrant proof text word-of-god model, this should not lead to textual nihilism; it hasn't for Lewis and many others I have yet to read. My priest says we have to have discernment, but what this is exactly I don't know. I admit I'm hoping for answers from scholars. I pray the Holy Spirit works also, because if in fact Jesus did send Him to us only He can open my wounded mind.

On another note, the author of James is strong in his letter: he condemns me as a double-minded man, unstable as the sea, because I ask in doubt. But he claims to have seen the risen Christ. Hopefully God will provide grace to someone who not only hasn't seen a miracle (though one or two things remain puzzles and I have yet to share them here) but who has searing issues with trust and intimacy and the singular problem of thinking too blasted much about very small things.

Ah, the end.

I'm always grateful for those who read. Many thanks again.

current mood: not bad, slight anxiety but generally content
current music: Mozart's 25, the little g (napster rocks)
current wish: to be done with grading and to have a good night's sleep
constant wish: to experience God and be closer to my wife and son

Friday, November 04, 2005

Four Things Friday

Okay, I think I'm supposed to do this on Thursday but I needed some reason to post four things:

Thing one: I'm hitting burn out. Too much work, not enough play, projects backing up around the house and school of course and truthfully I feel like not even logging into my online classes or coming to my job. Since I'm not drinking to 'unwind' every night I'm really feeling it. I need to rent about twelve episodes of old star treks or ab fabs or kung-fus and lay on the couch for two days. The sucky thing is I can't do this, at least not yet.

Thing two: My OCD plays a role in my faith/doubt distress. I don't know how faith works in the mind, but it's a different part of the mind, one OCD likes to shove into the dirt. OCD is a response to awful emotion, yes, but often fear: if God's not real, my faith is fake and I have no heavenly father or eternal life; the abandonment and cold betrayal inherent in this shift in world-view invokes my freaking core issues. So, I often can't think calmly about apologetics or the nature of scripture or any other real questions I have. Instead, I obsess about these things, which is a guaranteed hamster loop and scary and painful. Same disease, new branch.

Thing three: Our carpet is now at the installers but the freaking glass closet door that is supposed to go in first and that we ordered two months ago is still not at Home Despot. This really pisses me off. We paid for it and were told 2 to 4 business days. I want that room finished! But then, the book cases we were supposed to build in are not even begun because I have to go into the attic and peel back the insulation and screw in blocking and I have zero time for any of this. See item one.

Thing four: After a great morning yesterday my emotions just tanked being at Mikey's basketball game (why? and yes, right now he's playing both sports) and then I felt more tense as the day went on and even after working out in the evening I was unable to sleep. Took unisom or some other antihistamine. Now I'm wasting time online and wondering: would it be better for me to actually work during this time or take an hour off and do this and then work when I get home, maybe after starting dinner? Ooh, I like that idea. Also, hopefully, Mikey's football team will lose in the first round of the playoffs tomorrow and his season will finally be finished. But this may be a fifth thing. Five things Friday.

current mood: exhausted and tense
current music: the Jupiter
current wish: to kick the crap out of some inanimate object and then go to sleep

Thursday, November 03, 2005

True Fall

It's in the low forties outiside, rainy and dark; yes, fall has finally come to the Sierra. We won't get snow at my elevation, but it will be cold. I'm huddled home with the laptop, wearing a turtleneck sweatshirt with the name of my college on it, the wood stove humming hot...life is good right now. I even worked on a long blog post this morning. It's coming soon, it's theology heavy, but good for me to write.

I have to take our car in for an oil change at 11:30. Better bundle up. Days like this I don't ever want to leave the mountains, even with my drive.

It feels so good to feel warm and relaxed. Steph took Mikey to school this morning and let me sleep in a little and it was such a beautiful gesture as I've been taking him most days this semester. I have school work I should be doing and will have to get to, but I've decided I'm not paid enough to work as hard as I've been working. I'll do what I can.

Be well all. More soon.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

I went back and fixed the spelling errors (I hope) in my post below. I think it's good for me to produce such imperfect blogs, but the English teacher in me reels and when I spot errors I spruce up!

I won best costume at the party Saturday night. I did not have the best costume. In fact, I wore Mikey's costume, a giant afro, funny gold sparkle glasses and a big money sign around my neck; huge adidas shirt, baggy blue sweats with a white stripe and his air jordans. Yeah, I was funk guy, or something like that; we didn't know we could go until two days before and I had to hurry. Steph was a goth. If I find pictures on the web I'll post a link.

I think I won because of the way my wig bounced back and forth when I was shaking Manhattans. Or maybe it was the Manhattan's themselves. Whatever, I got a bottle of Clicquot as a prize. And I stopped drinking early, before food and dancing. I appreciate both my caution and concern for my health.

Our friends have a large two story home built around 1900 and it makes a cool place to party on Halloween. Tonight I'll probably stay home, worry about Mikey (making sure he's with somebody's parent tonight) and eat candy and maybe watch a spooky movie with my honey.

gotta run.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

My First Episcopal Funeral

I attended my first Episcopal funeral yesterday. It was for a woman who attended the service at church I attend. She was 70 though she looked younger. I didn't know her well but still found the time very sad. We recently installed a columbarium so her ashes were inurned (I think that's the term) right in front of me. To see a little gold box, it looked almost like a gift box, six by eight inches perhaps, and know that all that used to be an entire, smartly dressed every Sunday, red-headed woman with a lovely british accent is now inside that tiny container...it was chilling, frankly.

The service was so beautiful though. At the end, after the priest put that little gold box into the columbarium and tightened the screws on the face plate with a screwdriver we read the final piece of the liturgy, something like 'even at the graveside, we shout alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.' So many times I think of Christianity, church, my faith, as something which helps me now, in this life, to be a more loving person or receive desperately needed help in my relationships and my healing. Attending a liturgical funeral reminds me what my faith is finally about: 'I am resurrection and I am life.'

My EFM class is still waddling through Genesis so I haven't had a chance to read the gospels from a scholarly perspective, at least without much needed outside guidance. I can't say if the doctrine of eternal life in Christ is soundly rooted in the gospel history, but I believe it to be. It was in Paul in the 50's. It's heavy in John and I'm sure in other places in the gospel record. When looking at a little gold box too small for a single shoe, it becomes the only important tenet of my faith.

And on that faith, or my questions regarding what is surely the greatest promise which can be made to the fragile frame of mankind--you will live forever if you trust Me--EFM is helping. I'm being exposed to what most Christians would call higher criticism only from a Christian perspective. Simply put, I can read how Genesis has roots in ancient middle-eastern and Babylonian mythos, how it probably derived from multiple sources and was written by committee and these ideas make sense at least in light of what we know about history and literature. The text still retains, so far at least, its religious force; in fact that is growing for me. I simply understand it the way it is meant to be read. Initially this has been very liberating. Such a perspective leaves some very big questions unanswered, true, but it helps me more than it hurts.

Might these scholars be proved wrong, was written language actually advanced enough during Moses' lifetime that he may have written these books? On that last question, it seems unlikely, but on the larger question, yes, the textual scholars my curriculum derives from could be wrong. However, the fundamentalist method for reading scripture is surely incorrect. It is impossible not to be a cafeteria reader. These verses fit my world view, these don't, I'll stick to the former. Sure we can quote Paul in Romans about homosexuality, or in Ephesians on marriage, but what about his comments regarding head coverings for women? Women not being able to teach men because of Eve's sin? These become rabbinic, cultural, local precepts. This is only a beginning. The mental energy spent trying to support inerrancy in the face of the evidence would be better spend on acts of love; I could certainly say the same about many of my own intellectual pursuits, I know. The NT is not a new law! Unless it is read as the Great Law: isn't it in Matthew that Jesus says the law and prophets, all of scripture at his time in history, hang on two points: love of others and love of God.

I know many who read this blog, most, will disagree with my view of scripture even though my own view is still developing (and I didn't state it very clearly here). I also know I intended to write about the resurrection in this post and have drifted in my usual didactic way. Worse, I know I don't have time to go back and change it! But, for me at least, uncovering what I feel to be a rational approach to the Torah makes true religious sense. I need it. I can't spend my life defending an imperfect book and believing my faith rests on my ability to do so; plenty of inerrantists wouldn't feel that need; I would. Jesus lives outside any text. It's him I must continue to find, may God help me, find me, over and over.

***

Things are feeling better at home the last couple days, thank God. If there is one thing I must learn it's relaxation. This may sound silly, but for someone with OCD relaxation is a critical key and even when I'm not actively obsessing or am obsessing only a little it's still critical. With so much on my plate this semester between work, home, and church, relaxation is more important than ever. Without it I cannot feel my life. This is a great loss. Oddly, and sadly, I notice I get as wiggly nervous in the face of strong positive feeling as strong negative feeling; both emotio sets get shut down, masked by ritual or some other bullshit rapidity.

Well friends, I have to go. Be well and Happy Halloween to all. S and I are going to a friend's party tonight and dressing up. How fun, or I hope for fun. I'm getting older. Give me a good fire, a great book, and family all home and I'm happy.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What Friends Are For

Just a quick note to say thanks to all my blog friends; their names are mostly in the margin at right and my handful of loyal readers know who they are! Great minds and hearts, all.

I'm in blog limbo again. I haven't had time to work on my posts much or even to post much, and I'm afraid I'm getting too English teacher specific. It seems that all I've been doing the last couple of months is read for my Am. Lit. class (and yeah, it's kinda gross that I'm teaching the course and am reading some of the content for the first time, but hey, I do my best and it's only 27 bucks a unit). Since all I'm doing is reading and grading papers, up here I talk about books, mostly.

I haven't been in many of my friend's blogs but I'm trying to catch up.

Thanks, Scott for telling me to turn on that funky letter looking verification thing; suddenly I see that everywhere and I was wondering where to get the code. It was just a radio button; thanks Scooter, and rock on while you're at it.

Things are not easy right now in my life. Coming out of ocd, in some ways, is like stopping drinking. I hate to use that analogy, but I believe, sadly, there is some truth to it. My obsessions are down, oh, 90 plus percent from doing exposure therapy, but now my marriage and family are adjusting, or trying, to the new me; the me I hid, in some ways, from all of us. Plus my truly wonderful son is 13. Thirteen. Parents, you will remember that age if you don't already. Then work BS. And the recent deaths I mentioned in my last post.

One death I didn't tell you about: once a year or so I look up my ex in-laws; Estella, my ex-wife, is not on the web, period, but you know how that is...looking up exes, hoping above all hope to find a really hideous picture. What I did find is that my ex father-in-law, a man I knew fairly well for nearly a decade, is dead. He died this spring. He would have been mid 60's I'm sure. I don't know how, but the picture of him looked exactly as when I knew him. It's sad, really, that he's gone even though I haven't seen him in, oh, 13 years or so.

Regarding blog: I want to keep telling my story up here, do a good while while I'm at it, but the time has not presented itself. Even now, my fingers are flying over the keys. Yuch. The writing feels so good I'd like to savor it.

***

I have gotten away three weekends for sailing classes in Santa Cruz this fall, and each weekend has been wonderful. I also got one blustery day on the Bay with my skipper and his regular crew. There was lightning in the distance, some solid wind and rainbursts...it was great for me to face my fears, actually.

Plus, skippers are just a necessary parts of the cosmos. I show up to sail with him, now with four days of official instruction under my belt, thinking I'm pretty hip; new sneaker-topsiders, sailing gloves and even bright yellow raingear I got from westmarine with my mom's birthday money check.

I meet him in the office of the sailing club and give him the firm, confident handshake of someone with four days of training...

'Hey, skipper.'

'Swab.'

He smiled when he said it, but there it was. At the end of the day he suggested I wipe out the rusty sink in the Catalina 36 with my new raingear so I'd look like a real sailor.

Still, he was very helpful that day, letting me sail in some fairly heavy wind and teaching me moment to moment. James is more than alright. He's Tibetan Buddhist, a recovered alcoholic, and hilarious. Without him I would never have taken up sailing, probably.

It's great to speak with you all, even briefly. Every soul in the margin is in my heart.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I think I should read the rest of the novels

Apparently my Harry Potter alter ego is Harry himself; I always did like his disregard for convention and innate sense of destiny. According to the quiz, "You can be a little reckless and hot-headed at times, but a more brave and courageous friend would be hard to find."

I find this a little uplifing today.

Last night after my very happy post I ran out of time rushing to EFM and had Del freaking Taco for dinner; S and I got in a pretty big conflict, again, and have only partly patched it, and then I couldn't find my truck keys this morning so even though I telecommute today I'm stuck here as far as errands and taking Mikey place goes. That last may not be a horrible thing as I have tons of work to do (and am taking just a little break here).

Fighting with S I freaking hate, though.

And on an even darker note. I found out last night at EFM that a woman I knew in our church, someone very vibrant and healthy and about 60 or so, died of an aneurysm in her aorta this week. Bip. Dead, dead. We weren't close, but since my little parish has an older population, I can think of three deaths of people I passed the peace to every week just in the last year. My father called me this week and told me an old family friend whose children I hung out with in high school died. She was 63. My dad actually dated her for about a year before his current wife (her best friend). Her son introduced me to my first girlfriend. I hadn't seen her in twenty years and I got to visit with her last time I was at my dad's house; I'm glad I got that at least. She, too, is gone.

Death hurts.

I don't have St. Paul's level of confidence, yet anyway. I surely can't explain the mind/soul issue or the nature of the afterlife (he couldn't explain it either). But I hate to see people, even believers, go. I suppose having those I love die is part of getting older; the awareness of my own mortality grows stronger with each. My grandfather, grandmother, aunt, an uncle, a first cousin...all in the ground less than three hours' drive from here. People, when I was a child, who seemed like fixtures in the universe. Death really is the final question. If these minds continue to exist, they surely can't contact me about it.

But this is all I have time for. Reading Scarlet Letter for school and a coule sci-fi books since I'm teaching that next semester and refuse to get slammed on prep. next spring the way I'm getting slammed now. Be well all. Sorry to see Theology Mom go offline (another loss) and happy to see Twyla going on vacation though I'll miss her whymsical mysticism. I'm behind on everyone's blog, I know. But I've forgotten none of you; I'm a loyal Harry Potter kind of guy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Badger's House

I found a very good article HERE on the American side of the Lewis mythos. It's worth the time to read.

The one thing the author doesn't address explicitly, but would probably agree with, is that Lewis' work often holds great appeal because he, somehow, baptized his child-imagination, baptized it into the world of Christianity but also the world of adult reason. His children's books, like his adult books, are about ideas as much as they are about children. And frankly, most of us would rather read theology in narrative form, even child-narrative form, its breathe is so much warmer, than dry rhetoric.

I admit in my arrogant soul it used to be bother me how many adult Christians loved the Narnia books. I loved them too...when I was a ten. But there's no reason why adults shouldn't be nourished and nurtured there (and no reason why, when I have a little time, I shouldn't go back and read them myself). Yes they are books for gradeschool kids, but then Lewis was openly influenced by Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, a book I read, and loved, as an adult though it is a child's novel about home, brotherhood, the fireside conversation and the comfort of the garden gazing ball. Incidentally, this same domestic-mythos is what makes Tolkien's LOTR so irresistable: who doesn't want to live in the Shire: walks in the wood, beer from the cellar, parties and presentes, fresh food and fire, hospitality, bright waistcoats and open friendships? Who wouldn't fight, even die, for that kind of life?

(I know I 'assign' reading up here too often, but if you haven't read WITW, by all means, do. It's very lovely).

This all reminds me of something a little different. I was in college during the 80's preppie movement; I was, sadly, a sworn devotee of the upturned polo collar, friends. When the Lands' End catalogues arrived each month (free no less) I pored over them like another young man might hold pictures from home. I could feel how warm I'd be in that sweater, imagine how well-dressed, cultured and pedigreed, I'd look in that shirt. I felt secure pretending I had a past, pastoral status, money and clothes that would bring me positive attention and actual physical warmth. LE catered to the American love of the imagined country British life: they called suspenders 'braces' in the catalogue, offered sweaters from the U.K. and 'authentic' waxed cotton field coats. In short, in the 80's LE provided a homespun version of Ralph Lauren's over-priced opus. You might not be from the landed gentry, but if you wear these eight-wale moss-green trousers and this amber-heather shetland lambswool sweater vest you can pretend pretty damn well, well enough for America.

(Once in a while I still wake up at night and pray I don't end up like that catalogue-obsessed couple in the film Best of Show; for the most part my obsession is past.)

I think this anglo-love fueled the rash of 'irish' pubs in the nineties. I wanted to walk into a bar and order a pint of bitter like Ransom. But perhaps that fad has passed while I've been in the mountains. Whatever, I'll drink Guiness or Boddington's over Miller Lite any day of this life. On a darker and Lewis-connected note, it did some very strange things to Walter Hooper.

I drift.

The essential, and it's sad how I confused this, thing that Lewis (and Tolkien and Grahame) were getting at was something much more substantial than herringbone sportcoats. They were talking about domestic warmth and comfort, love of family and friends, and even God. My life has been mostly hard, but the times those things have come together I have known ecstasy.

When the cold autumn is hard in the air outside our mountain house, but inside the woodstove is thrumming light and heat off the wood floor and peaked pine ceiling, the oil lamps and candles burn throughout the room, and the warm smell of stew or bread fills the kitchen, and I come home to two loving people, or welcome them home myself...then I can know deepest satisfaction. A good I.P.A. or red wine, autumn, fresh food, warmth and light and moments of silly family closeness...there is no other. If I also allow the smallest touch of God...it is too much pleasure to feel.

That's what these authors remind us exists in the world. It's one underlying force in all these books, especially in LOTR and WITW. Simple, but acutely real, pleasures Americans are leaving behind ("yes I'd like fries with that it's okay we'll eat in the parking lot in the car Tommy turn off that game boy when you have greasy fingers hurry up drew carey is on in twenty minutes we have to get home.") In addition to domestic beauty, these authors give us wonder. The wardrobe which really does lead to another world, a world of clear good and evil no less, as in Tolkien, where I can hack orcs for a living with a clear conscience, a feat for which I feel genetically suited. These books take the fantasy we all lived in as children, part of our normal childhood development, and bring that make-believe into our adult lives. Along with it, they bring echoes of a life most of us have lost or at best have to fight for, and also, especially in Lewis and Tolkien, the God who walks with us, who eats with us, who is present in the warm slowness.

Do I have this all of the time in my own life? No. But domesticity, even hospitality, is one thing Steph and I do well. At our best, we eat and drink well and stay stovewood warm up there among the oil lamps and candles. At our very best, we bring others with us. Last Christmas we had an open house and more than twenty people came; two spiral hams, a huge pot of mulling wine, fresh rolls coming every thirty minutes out of the oven. If you are ever lost in the snow like Mole and Rat, look for a friendly door to knock on; you might find Badger's house. If I'm very lucky, you might find mine.


Drink with me now friends, the bottle stands by you: 'here's to the great things: wood that splits on the first whack, fresh rosemary, cool windy weather, stew from scratch, winter beers, wine of every color, Bowmore whiskey and Bailey's; and most of all, to my family, my wife and son, their loyalty surpasses knowledge. Also, to the Creator, who has made us a little place in the universe, here in this moment, to love without violence or fear. Cheers.'