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.