Tuesday, February 22, 2005

When I Was A Child I Thought As A Child

or something like that.

I'm tired, gang. My application packet for the other campus in my district is due Thursday. It's Tuesday. And I tend to take these things seriously. I haven't updated my vita, my resume, since 99, and it it taking me hours of deeply critical work. I say critical, because that's how the writing feels. Every word, every sentence...though my tone is much more relaxed, I notice, than in the parts of the resume I wrote in 99. Then I was gasping for professional life; now I'm tenured and pink-skinned and that's not going anywhere.

Tooling around the blogspot world I find several professors writing truly anonymous blog (unlike my poor attempt at anonymity here). Maybe there should be a webring; we're an anxious and driven bunch, and chatty as kathy.

I'm still tired. And of course, I don't have much time today. So much of my past I want to articulate, but that will have to come slowly.

One thing I will say is that the vestry retreat last weekend was helpful with my constant doubt. I'm reading Raymond Brown's nt intro, and want to read n.t. wright's book on the resurrection, but Christianity can be approached from the intellectual or the spiritual plane. Meaning I want to wrap my brain around my faith, sure, but the content of the faith is nearly unique, is perhaps unique, in world religion. Bhakti comes close, but without the sacrificial, personal savior. And more than anything, we have the gospel literature. Four books unlike any others, in wonder, in tone, in style.

Oh to be right, to spend eternity with a loving creator. Who else has promised this?

I've tried to do a little theoblogology here, but reading wright and brown...hah, I am a child. I am unread. It is comforting to know that, maybe, to know I'm not alone and that minds more rigorously trained than mine have gone before, laid the groundwork for a modern, rational faith. A faith which can accept what science and reason have to say about the world, and still cling to the glorious promise of the vacant tomb.

Not that this isn't all strange for an ex-evangelical like myself. My priest (whom I grilled on the long drive to the retreat) doesn't believe in a fall, just a god who wants a relationship with the one species on this planet who can know him. Interesting. While many in my church still read the bible as the authoritative word, many don't. Hence the international war, and it is becoming a war, over the bishop of new hampshire. There are clear verses, in the ot and the nt, against homosexual sex. But are those writers' opinions, defective and contemporary world views, or something more? And is the real issue, say, world hunger?

The E church is so tolerant of different ideas, as long as the early creeds are maintained and the bible still used as normative for faith...it's refreshing but staggering.

Oh, I'm still tired. Sitting in my office feeling a hundred years old. Who were those people in Swift's Gulliver that lived forever but aged like the rest of us? Like Tithonus? I feel, oh, two or three hundred. Don't know why. I think I slept enough last night.

It's nice to be sharing here again. I still don't know what my blog is or should be. It doesn't come up if I google my name because I've never used a last name here, but there's enough info that if anyone who knows me found it they'd know right away who I was. When I began, I wanted to write about my faith, then felt I should share my struggles with ocd, then needed to share them here (been doing gradually over this last year incidentally). What I would most like to do is tell my stories, my past; some of them are gripping. How wonderful such expression will feel. Do I have the talent to do them justice? No. Or not yet, as I believe writing is a learned process. I've never written creative prose, so blog is the place to learn. Someday, I will get to that.

Have to run. Be well all. Wish me luck with my letter of app. and vita and all that jazz.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Work and Fear

I know I've mentioned this website before, www.ratemyprofessor.com; I hate it. I don't even want to link it to my blog. I had some extra time at work today waiting for traffic to thin to head up the hill for my second anglican class, and I looked up someone else and ended up looking up myself. Yes, the reviews are generally quite positive. But those couple of students who slammed me...it makes me so hurt and angry, more than I should be. So I'm blowing it out here.

One student even knocked my Am. Lit. class on 2/1. The class began two weeks earlier. Two. So many things come to my mind: my dept. rotates lit classes so it's impossible to truly specialize. You get one three times in a row and then are bumped into something else. True, we all request what we get, but to make sure I get at least one lit. I've signed up for the entire brit. lit. and am. lit. surveys, plus myth and poetry. I actually like the variety of the changes, but it means I go into a new class reading along with my students that first semester. I don't know much of the literary criticism which accompanies the study of that material in graduate school, few of my students know that of course; fact is, I don't want to know the criticism. Maybe I'm embarassed to admit it, but the only critical apparatus I enjoy digging into is new testament stuff (and how highly I recommend Raymond Brown's intro to the nt, but more on him another time). Still, I think I'm a good reader of lit. and a gifted teacher. Maybe not as gifted as I think, though right now I'm fighting the other extreme: feeling like I suck based on two voices out of ten.

I've said I'm applying to another college in my district. And it turns out I'm applying, not as a transfer, but via the slush pile, one of two hundred probable applicants for two positions. Will I do well? Pretty well I'm sure. I interview and write well in that context. But knowing I'm going to be evaluated makes me more sensitive. I won't lose tenure no matter what happens (unless the governator does something drastic one day) but I don't relish the process. I haven't even updated my vita since I got my full-time job almost six years ago; boy is my work cut out for me. All is due in nine days.

I am hopeful I get to transfer, though I love my college and my colleagues. Living as far away as I do is lonely (though I'm feeling much more settled in the mountains than I was when I began this blog). Fear. It's just fear. Like Prufrock in Eliot's poem...wriggling on a pin.

Though I still hate that rating website. In genuine, in-class evals., you get a more complete picture. Those who post on the website seem to feel strongly one way or the other.

Growing up I was criticized so acutely, and had love and affection withheld so abruptly, that any little thing brings up that old pain. I already push myself as a teacher. Sure not every student, in every class, is happy; but I know I communicate well, understand writing process, am flexible with my students. There are probably some teachers who enjoy the depth of their negative score at that site. Like, ah, yes, I tortured a few more ignorants. The paper chase.

Hence, I'm going to stop being hard on myself. Where should I eat in town? Now there's a positive subject.

Whether I manage the move or not I'll be okay. In fact, the directive has just come down: thou shalt increase online or die. My dept., once to reticent, is now adding sections like crazy and looking for teachers and trainers. Ironic. My best friend here, one of my best friends in the world, asked me to team teach a class with him next year before I told him I was applying out. So I know even if my attempt to move fails, things will be challenging living so far from work, yes, but not catastrophic, and there will be some very good things happening at my current campus.

***

And on another note completely, I want to say I had a very nice valentine's evening with my wife. I'm very proud of her work in graduate school, of her growing professionalism and her wonderful mind. And I must say, she looked quite striking last night. Striking. The word fits. Beauty on the inside and the outside. And great tolerance, to love a man with all my flaws.


***

Finally, I enjoyed my first welcome to anglicanism class. When my priest asked us what we wanted out of it, I said I wanted to increase my faith, and he looked a little surprised. It's a historical, not an apologetic class so far. But next thing I know the guy next to me is talking about Raymond Brown, I asked my priest if I could borrow his nt intro, and I'm off. I want to write about his book in more depth, but to me it is a revelation, pun quite intended. An informed and aggressive redactive scholar who still finds the pure wisdom of the faith intact in the gospels. Not a media hugging fringer like Crossan with his quasi-marxist interpretations (and I shouldn't discount him so quickly, it's unfair) but not a every-word-must-fit in this innerrant document evangelical scholar either, a position I long ago abandoned with great anxiety. I used to think C.S. Lewis was the only orthodox non-innerrantist out there. Boy was I mistaken. Brown is brilliant, heavily read, clear-thinking...how many more like him are there for me to discover?

But enough of that. Another time. I have assessment essays to read...then dinner.

Peace to all. Thanks for letting me share.

Monday, February 14, 2005

We Have Heard the Chimes at Midnight

There's so much to say about my trip to San Francisco two weekends ago. I don't know if I have time to it justice...what happens when you mix blog with hurried... blurried I guess.

One thing is that ZAP is just too much wine in one place. It's true I had some of the very best zins in the state (thought the turley was gone by the time I got to their table; I have had the honor of being served that wine twice in my life). I also had lots of marginal, or moderately successful wines. A few very poor ones, but not many. Yet while I tried to pour out everthing but the little I needed to taste (though this didn't happen with those I truly loved) about three hours into it I was completely gone. Over-zinned. Forgive me for I have. Beyond buzzed and into drunk, S and I went outside, watched the light on the gray winter water, and managed to have a pretty good talk about our relationship, one I want to have again, sober. In its most succinct form, more talking, sharing feelings, and ironically, less drinking.

I've actually cut way back on my alcohol since about Christmas. I had a physical, and one liver value, or one enzyme which may be excreted by the liver, was a high. I'm going back for a retest next week; my doctor is not concerned, though of course I am a little. Also, heartburn, more accurately a force which seems to cause spicy food, or too much food, and definitely alcohol and food to simmer into my throat pipe had become almost a daily occurence. I was referred to a belly doctor who is going to do slide some kind of optical scope down my throat. In the meantime, prevacid is very helpful, and when I quit drinking so much in the evenings, say, one or two glasses of wine at most, some nights nothing, I didn't need the meds very often. Whatever I have going on with my belly valve, alcohol plays a huge role.

And I have drank plenty. I have heard the chimes at midnight in many a locale. I've been drunk in San Francisco, and beach drunk at night in Seal, strolled from bar to bar on Pine Ave., and wandered home from Limericks down second street in LB when I lived there probably once a week. God knows how much I drank in the golf-cart town of Avalon. I've done drunk sushi, drunk mexican (oh, the mi casita casuela in Avalon) drunk german, drunk french and drunk italian, and a whole lot of drunk house dinner parties where the booze, beer, wine, are truly endless, flowing more than any restaurant.

Before I go further I must say, please don't misunderstand, when I say drunk I don't mean sloppy slurring stumble drunk. Or throw up drunk. Or black out drunk. I mean heavy-buzz, must wait to drive, pretty darned tight drunk. I don't believe I'm an alcohlic; I have been able to restrict my drinking with only moderate effort. But I've had too much fun, drank at times for the wrong reasons (like reducing anxiety) and I'm through with the pace of it.

Of course, it wasn't just the buzz I was after; I've had wonderful wines from all over the world (wine, more than any substance, truly blends art, food, and drug-use) the best beers and top shelf spirits. You know, in summer... perhaps ice-cold sapphire gin martinis with french vermouth, orange bitters and cherry tomatoes for garnish before dinner, followed by California syrah and microbeers with grilled beef at table, then more wine with cheese if I'm lucky, then scotch single malts on the deck, or maybe tawny port from australia or perhaps grand marnier or benedictine and brandy, served alongside vanilla ice cream under a hard shell of carmelized sugar. If that sounds wonderful, it is. I love to give and attend dinner parties, though the distance between gee I'm happy drunk at a friend's house and gee I feel sickly uneven the next day narrows rapidly.

Alcohol goes wonderfully with food, and it relaxes the mind, but it's so easy to drink more than I should, to come home in the evening and drink, two, three, even four drinks, styled around whatever we're eating but also to take the edge off my own constant anxiety. And that, I'm sure, is not good.

But this post was supposed to be about San Fran.

I ate bhurmese, french, jewish, chinese dim sum...in 24 hours. And had about 50 zins (see above). And forgot my heartburn med.

But the city is very beautiful, and full of adventure. Sat. night I wanted to go the top of the mark, a bar/restaurant on the twentieth or so floor of the mark hopkins on nob hill. Those of you who read know my height/elevator/tall building phobia; SF is a great place to address that problem. And the top of the mark has been famous for deacdes. Only when we got there it was packed. So we tried another hotel, the drake, and I noticed their top floor was one or two higher than the mark's (unless I was imagining this in my panic). We finally ended up at the hyatt, and when I walked into the elevator and saw thirty six freaking buttons I about passed out. Thirty six floors, and we're going to number thirty six? I blew my nose on the way up to distract myself. Then took a window seat.

The view of the city at night from up there was truly stupendous. And I sat right against the window wall, though I kept leaning to my left, as if I was making a slight turn on a motorcycle. I ordered a macallan neat (see above) but had already had too much wine to finish it or care. Still, I'm going back. Thirty six floors baby.

***

As an epilogue to the liver test, I just got my results, taken almost two months later, and they were completely normal. How great that felt. One of my liver enzymes was over twice normal in December. My triglycerides, which were a little high, also came down to normal. How good it felt to know I didn't have heptitis or some awful thing. I really think it was becoming a light drinker, a glass or two in the evenings, some days no alcohol...for me, for now, no hard stuff. And I've been going to the gym more, lifting and doing cardio more because I have more energy.

For years I released tension through exercise; Scooter remembers my gym addiction. Then that got swapped out for social drinking. Bad trade. A little alcohol is good, too much over too long has not been good for me. I have heard those chimes; heck, I've climbed the bell tower and swung on the rope. But when it comes down to it, grey goose affects the body just like night train. Moderation. Aristotle's key. I'm not quitting, just cutting back.

And actually, I've been less anxious since I quit drinking to medicate it. Dig those jacks.

Gotta run.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

An Ecumenical Moment

Tonight, for many Christians, is known as fat Tuesday. Why? As the final night before Lent, at least in the Anglican tradition, this is when people would take all the fat in their house and make pancakes. There were pancake races, lots of eating. This tradition has survived, and tonight at 5 I'll be eating pancakes with the rest of my parish. (Mardi gras, incidentally, means fat tuesday also, and some groups celebrate this with much more than pancakes).

Tomorrow, of course, begins the great, and for many solemn, season of Lent. The forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays) when those awaiting baptism used to be catechized, or instructed, and now a time when some Christians actually fast, eating just one full meal, and two very small meals, and no meat. Others give up something else; for Episcopals, it's not uncommon to hear booze, chocolate, tv, etc., as the thing to be set aside (we really are Catholic-lite). It's also not uncommon for Episcopals to embrace some positive thing instead, begin attending a small bible study, or spend some personal time in prayer or reading scripture.

I probably go too far toward the anti-ascetic; I distrust all denials of the body's needs. Not that I induldge every impulse, far from that, I'd be writing this from San Quentin if that were so. But I admit I've never given anything up for Lent in the few years since I've been attending a liturgical church. This year, I am doing something positive, though. I'm joining a 'welcome to anglicanism' class which will prepare me for confirmation when the bishop visits after Easter. Though I'm on vestry, am now senior warden of my parish, I've never been confirmed.

Besides (and perhaps unwisely) distrusting asceticism, I despise denominationalism. Christians are those who believe Christ is who he said he was. We are those who, besides being jacked-up like the rest of the human race, worship him as some form of creator-judge-savior-deity. Beyond that, the rest of church division is mostly style, taste, and plenty of arrogant self-righteous error. I have no special loyalty to the Episcopal church; I like many things about it and I've chosen to attend one, but truly, Christians are growing in many denominations all over the world. I used to believe one had to 'pray the prayer,' undergo the personal experience of conversion stressed by evangelicals, what we now call 'born again' faith. Maybe so. In my college days we'd say things like, 'oh, this guy is catholic bro but we're praying he comes to christ.'

Yet, as usual, I had no idea what I was saying. Because for millions of Christians, ritual is faith. When someone bows his head as the cross is carried down the center aisle in the liturgical procession, is that not, for many, an expression of genuine reverence? An act which, even once, could denote a saving faith? The gesture could be rote response, but I'm here to say it's not always rote, and also to say that prayer, memorizing scripture, and talking the born-again talk can certainly be rote; theological precision, which a few churches still believe is the center of christian experience, can fall hideously short of genuine love and faith. I know from my own bonehead experience.

The church needed reforming when it was reformed, but some reformers threw out the entire liturgical tradition, replacing it, often, with asceticism, legalism, and three hour sermons twice on Sunday. I'm not kidding. Read about Calvin's Geneva and tell me if you want to live there. (Of course I acknowledge the brilliance and importance of Calvin the person.) My point is that we should all be able to worship how we want. If that means lighting a candle, reading responsively, and taking communion to the ancient words, 'the body of christ, the bread of heaven...the blood of christ, the cup of salvation,' or singing praise songs for thirty minutes off the overhead projector before the 45 minute four point sermon exegesis, great. Both work. Christians distrust, and misunderstand, each other too much; it's very sad.

Oh I know about the doctrinal differences, and not just the silly ones, like do we baptize by full immersion or sprinkle, do we dunk one or three times, forward or backward; which hand goes over the other when communion is received, do we use wine or grape juice, must the entire church take communion at the same time or one at a time? These are small concerns. There are big questions: does baptism save the soul and make one part of the body of christ (as I believe my church teaches, and as the church believed for centuries); is christ re-sacrificed on the altar at communion, does the bread truly become his body, etc.

I've written about baptism, a little, before; that post came from my own very limited perspective and I don't even remember it being all that good. But what about the supper? Aren't those who hold to the Real Presence in the elements idiotic idolatrous heretics?

We should all be careful. For one thing (and I can't remember if I said this on the blog before or if it's sitting in a draft someplace waiting to be posted, apologies) whatever happens to the elements on the catholic or episcopal altar is exactly what happens to them at the baptist church and the church of christ. How could this not be? And we really don't know what, if anything, happens. We do have Paul's tremendous words in I Cor. 11, coming, of course, after his very strange comments about hair and head coverings. These strongly indicate that reverence for the elements, or their action, or their spiritual value, is as ancient as Paul at least. When taken in faith, how can they not nourish us spiritually? And how do the doctrinal differences in each denomination really affect the individual who comes to the table/rail in faith? There are communion things in my own church I don't like; for example, a priest must be present for communion to occur. But that doesn't stop me from worshipping, from being nurtured, at my parish.

What is important is that Christians respect each other's disciplines. Some episcopals have, I've been happy to discover, a much more rational view of scripture than the inerrantists, but of course they, I, could be wrong. Welcome to the vague world of human knowledge. Epistemology for the blind.

As Lent begins, I want to be tolerant of Christians who express their faith in diverse ways, from the rosary to the heart-thumping altar call as the organ music swells. Why not? I am dust, and to dust I will return. It's humbling to think of that; it is a certain truth. Tonight I'll pancake, tomorrow I'll be ashed and begin my class towards confirmation. I am excited, very lucky really, to be taking part in this ancient process. Jesus, hopefully, will heal my scared and angry doubter's heart just a bit more. But I'll be one of millions he touches over the next few weeks, many of whom never will observe lent in any way; some will never have heard of it.

Peace to all



Friday, February 04, 2005

More Bush Love

I haven't been hiding out on purpose, but with my trip last weekend and then school really rolling, I haven't had a chance to write. Or rather, I started a long blog about the trip and it's still sitting in draft form. I haven't resolved the issues I talk about in the post below, but I'm still slogging, or blogging, ahead.

There is an article I enjoyed right here about a phenomenon I missed in the media, lawmakers staining their index fingers. It is possible in five years Iraq will be a democracy the way Bush envisions it; I have grave doubts however. The apparent landslide in the Shiite vote (could that have been a surprise to anyone) the so-far silence on the part of the Sunnis, the daily death toll in American and Iraqui life.

I would like to resort to choice, navy-quality profanity at the moment but I will refrain and instead focus my energy on my ideas: did not Bush and his people really believe the Iraqi's would welcome the americans, would open mcdonald's and begin watching american idol, joyfully consuming in their new freedom? I think he did believe this. And this vision was so myopic, so jingoistic, so baldly ignorant of the stark social, political, and theological realities of that country it spooks me. And if we begin to think 1500 dead american soldiers isn't many (not to mention tens of thousands of other dead people) imagine, say, the entire floor section at an arena concert there one minute, forever gone the next. The silence of those empty seats. With grievers, including children, enough to fill the rest of the hall.

Which brings me to social security. I know very little about this, I admit again. I know I can already put away a fair chunk of change each month on top of social security (which I'm not in anyway being a teacher) into private holdings now if I can afford it. Retirement is already partially privatized via 401s and 403bs and all that stuff I barely comprehend. And even my STRS somehow draws on investements which give it, I believe, a better return than social security. But I've read too many accounts by qualified journalists who tell me social security is not headed for any kind of disaster at all. Why, then, is Bush telling us it is? Could it be he actually is using fear to press his point?

For the truth is what he wants, and he probably believes this is best for all, is all that social security money to shuttle off to wall street. Sure, the stock market has averaged more than social security over the century, well over. I might end up with more dough to retire on if my entire retirement is invested into corporate america. But then again, I might now. I have reservations about doing away with SS and programs like it because they provide a near certain security blanket for millions of people. Of course, if things went truly awfully sour in the market and the retirement accounts of millions went south, those in power in wall street, those with true money, would be mildly affected.

I guess what bothers me most is I think 1)Bush believes what he's told too easily and lacks long-term insight and 2) he's lying, again, to get what he wants accomplished. SS is not headed for disaster, he simply wants those billions channelled into wall street, invested, to perhaps give us all more when we quit work. Of course the boost this would give to corporate america is hard to imagine; suddenly, billions more bucks to work with. And as happens with our mutual funds now, the working person like myself makes a little, builds some wealth, while those with true wealth get much more wealthy.

I suppose privatizing SS would help those too poor to invest. But how would that money be invested and managed, and what security, if any, would there be, what federal insurance, on those deposits? Show me security and I might support SS reform of some kind, though I heard the challenges to making this kind of change are large and expensive ones.

But why tell me that SS is headed for disaster, that it will be bankrupt and must be completely overthrown, or that the war in Iraq was all about wmd, imminent terrorist threat, or democracy either (how can you liberate people who may not all want to be liberated using military force?). Bush doesn't understand either situation in my opinion; they are too complex, too vast, too human. Like Polk, Bush's brashness may lead him to accomplish most of his goals. Manifest destiny. Remember that?

I have to go guys. I know most of you, save Mike, probably don't give a whit about this. It's time for me to shop, begin cooking, and keep working on my online classes so I can have some kind of weekend. But I just had to blog about my government. I oppose so much of what it does these days it makes me dizzy. I may be wrong; maybe in ten years I'll vacation in Falluja itself and feel really a part of things, you know. Then again, maybe not.

I have to make sweeping statements, but so much conservative rhetoric I hear from the likes of O'Reilly and Limbaugh is sophomoric crap. Lies and fear. I'd say more, but I really do have to go.

Love you all, even the Bushies among you, and I mean that sincerely.