Monday, December 11, 2006

The Paper Chase

These are the times that try men's souls...


Just a quick note to the friends who read that I haven't given up blogging...I'm just busy earning a living which right now means grading lots of essays, online and in hard copy. It's like being a wine taster, except I have to suggest ways to fix what's wrong and, of course, I'm not drinking. However, I hope to be done before we leave town just before Christmas. I've taken papers with me before, and this year I'm determined not to do that.


What else? Only random notes: I'm beginning to read Wright again after taking a break. One of the great questions in the gospels, and there are many, is what to make of Jesus' proclamations of judgement. I read a passage like Luke 7:36-50, the famous passage when Jesus is annointed by what is probably a prostitute. If you have time, please read that passage, regardless of your belief. You will see what drew me to Christianity and what continues to draw me. Of course, how do we locate that story within Luke's overall composition, within the possible, and different, annointing parallels? Above all, how historical am I to take the words and event? Or better, how in line with Jesus' historical character (for this is the real question; not is this event exact, but did things like this happen, things like this get said?) Those are fair questions and I will soon have something to say about them. But as it stands, the story provides a picture of deity (for surely Jesus is divine in some sense in Luke) unequalled in world literature. Or perhaps equalled only by other stories about Jesus!

And yet Jesus, like other Jewish prophets before him, has lots of judgement-warnings. Who are those for, and what do we make of them? Ultimately, will God send people to hell forever to be tormented? Wright is about to take the judgement sayings on in his book, and I'm curious what he has to say. As always, Wright is not the final word (sorry for the pun on another of his titles). And he emaphasizes one aspect of history while sometimes setting aside others which may have existed alongside. Carson notes this with the New Perspective. Still, he's a breath of fresh air in many ways, a brilliant mind who is trying to walk the middle ground between blind belief in the biblical texts as God's own words and utter skepticism and dismissal. Or so it seems. I haven't read his book on the bible.

Merry Christmas to all. I hope I have time to post something longer before I blow town. It will be nice to be back in so cal.

I really must finish the Estella story. I now know the end.

t

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dialogue and Dark Magic

This is a remarkable blog. Not only for its concept, but for the strength of its content. I've only been reading Soulster for a bit, but I'm impressed with his writing and his personal story which has similarities to my own. And his dialectic partner, drunkentune, shows in this post alone that he's worth the read.

As I focus more and more on the gospels, this kind of debate really isn't my strength (not that it ever was!) It doesn't mean I still don't ask the same questions I see coming from many intelligent atheists/agnostics. When I have tried to write marginally apologtic writing, I've found it woefully inadequate. If I ever get around to What We Are 2.0, I want you to know I begin by pointing out the questions my arguments in 1.0 raise. I'm not a believer in Jesus because of the moral sense in man, or because of the intricacy of the universe, or because of the argument from desire or the reality of beauty. Those are powerful facts, yes. Those things might lead me to some kind of tentative theism/deism, but the reality of suffering, the random nature of life and death...these might in fact balance the equation quite neatly. I believe in Jesus primarily because of the gospels, because I believe God spoke to me through them, and I want to know as much about these documents as I can. I would also note that I find it worth my while to be as skeptical of the skeptical critics as those who accept them as perfect histories.

And there are days I think and feel as if there is no God at all. This can feel neutral, inquisitive, anxious, compelling or tenous. I actually don't know if this is normal, but I am surely not alone in being a convert who considers both sides often.

It is increasingly apparent that God-argument cannot lead to a universally accepted conclusion about his existence. Individuals convert over various issues, many of which appear again and again; it's worth noting that individuals deconvert over various issues, many of which also recur. For most, conversion or deconversion is a complex process which involves the heart and the mind. I'd remark, though, that even in the gospels, after Jesus publically raises Lazarus from the dead, some believe and some plot Jesus' death! Whatever we think about the miracle in the story, the reaction seems quite realistic to me. A man with such power must be worshipped or killed. And yet why did not all worship! For many reasons, I'm convinced that even the overt miraculous would not convert many who don't believe (and trust me, I'd like to see some overt miraculous myself...though I have another story to tell in that vein). I don't mean to insult any skeptic, including myself, who feels otherwise, but this is my view at this time.

How can God hold us reponsible for our spiritual choices at all? I don't know.

***

I'm looking for a Christianity which is both liberal and orthodox. And I admit when I find it, it will have to feel rationally consistent in issues where reason can be applied. And morally superior as well. I do not believe God ordered the death of children (though I admit my reaction, which seems quite sane to me, is knee-jerk and human-limited). Regardless, I've found plenty of other reasons not to read the OT as 'God's word' without the military history of Joshua or Samuel. Neither do I believe, at this time, the empty tomb stories were fabrications, the resurrection appearances lies or wishful thinking or delusion. A quick case in point:

I read the exorcism accounts in the synoptics very critically. I've never seen a demon, thankfully, and I understand the idea of the demonic to have descended from ancient Baylonian and Canaanite deities, etc. I also know many people in Christ's time, not just Jewish people, believed demons causes various physical and mental illness. So when Mark tells me "Jesus healed many who were sick and cast out many demons" I can figure that this perhaps means he healed many who were sick, period. Of course the demons speak to Jesus on two occasions that come to my mind, and there are many possible explanations apart from the existence of a real demon.

Fair enough.

But today, discussing Plato and the non-material in an English class, I had a student from Pakistan tell me a story. He is a magician (by hobby or trade I don't know) but also believes in what he calls 'dark magic.' I asked him what this was, and he told a story of a man he knew who could curse a cow and cause the cow to excrete insects with its milk. I made a Lord of the Flies joke, lamely. He also told me he saw a man produce sweets, candy, in his hand...open hand empty, closed hand, hand opened to reveal candy...by the power of a jinn. Of course I told him this must have been slight of hand, and my student said he was a magician and understands slight of hand and there is no way that was what he saw.

What do I make of this? Right now, nothing. But I admit, even though I don't know if the demonic is anything more than supersitious fantasy, stories like that are real stories. He's an intelligent and articulate man, sensitive, quite sane, pragmatic. He understands slight of hand; he also believes in 'dark magic.' Of course, I asked him to write a detailed paper about this!

The world is a big place, and my 21st century dismissal of the demonic in the gospels may be correct; it may actually be naive error. It may be a blend of both.



This is all I have time for. Since I said I'd start revising my posts and actually crafting drafts, I've posted exactly one drafted post (What We Are). I have nine drafts in my blogbox that I feel still need work. Nine! In two months! My poor blog will die if I don't water it from time to time.

Love to all, Christian and atheist and all between.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Winter White

Though we live far apart, Sherry and I are writing about the same thing: snow is coming. It's in the mid thirties outside now, but a significant system is supposed to move in tomorrow afternoon and turn to snow through Monday. Our first true winter front. Cold. White. Hope my son is up to shovelling because with my back I surely am not. I always wondered what would happen if I couldn't get up at 5:00 on a snowy morning to dig out my wife's Subaru...it looks like I'll see this winter.

My rant below, days old, really did help my mood. It's been so long though I'm almost ready for another one! My back remains injured, probably a ligament or tendon which feeds into my hip is torn or strained, and recovery has been slow, slow. Bloody slow. I bought my Danskin ball, though. It's about all the exercise I'm supposed to do. The hard thing is that I use my back so many ways, for exercise, yes, but also for all kinds of work around here, especially in winter.

Other than that, as a fan of Carol Ballard's Never Cry Wolf I was quite pleased to see The Snow Walker for the first time yesterday. What a magical piece of film. The myth of the North has long been with me; it's part of what got me into the mountains. Some day I'm going to visit the art festival in Inuvik.

This post is not going to be anything significant, just a check in. I continue to read the NT and books about the NT. I continue to be busy at church, home, and lastly but not leastly, at school. I had a wonderful thanksgiving; S and I cooked our brains out for our family of three and my mother. I love holidays. I also love this year's Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Highly recommended. And I've been sipping the Glenfidditch in the evening (I have to find Bowmore for a decent price); life could be hella worse.

Love to all. More later.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rantage

In blogland this is called rant. To me, it's just share. Whatever works.

My physical therapist tells me I tore a tendon in my lower back and the miracle cure is...rest. Meaning I can't use my lower back in any vigorous way. Meaning no boxing, no lifting, no grappling, no nothing. Yeah, that is going to be an issue as well. I injured myself a good 10 weeks ago and should be mostly healed by now, but I've been continuing to work out, albeit on a lighter scale; to me lighter has meant rounds on the heavy bag punching and kicking, light grappling (or "rolling" as these guys keep saying...as in "yeah, he rolls here"). The problem with this is that exercise is a critical mood manager for me. It's possible I might be able to ride a stationary bike with a back support or some such thing, but most activity is out. It's going to be an emotional two months. I'll gain weight almost surely. The cardio shape I have so recently been getting in will fade.

Well, perhaps I can find a lighter way to burn calories; perhaps I'll heal a bit sooner. It's an old injury already, and time is a good thing.

On top of that: driving is killing me. I was never a fan, and though I've politicked hard at work to keep my two day a week schedule, my driving reality is far from that. This week: 30 minutes each way to the gym Monday; an hour each way to work Tuesday; thirty minutes each way to see my therapist this morning followed by a twenty minute trip each way to go to EFM tonight (and miss my family, again). Tomorrow, an hour each way to work again. And for Friday, an hour and twenty minutes each way to take my son to the airport. Saturday I may be going to a friend's party, my first friend, my anthropology friend, someone I haven't seen in two years; an hour each way again. Sunday night, back to the airport (though S may drive that one). I'm sick of it. I love the seasons up here, the fall is extraordinary, snow in Christmas, bulbs thrusting color in spring...all that, but the driving this semester has been outrageous.

And with S taking 13 graduate units this fall I'm hardly seeing her. She took too many, and she knows it, but I'm tired of doing more housework, of seeing her less, of having less time with the three of us. She's leaving early, coming home late many nights, and is always tired.

At least I'm not pissed at my dogs right now.

I had my first 'discernment' meeting with my priest today. It went fine. He told me that it's a long, long track just to get admitted into the M.Div. towards ordination. A meeting with the parish commission on ministry (currently all my friends), a meeting with the vestry (which I currently chair), approval of the parish priest (I'd get this I think); then the hard work begins. A discernment weekend which is essentially a series of interviews, a medical examination, psychological and psychiatric interviews, the interview with the Bishop tossed in someplace amidst all this. Once one is a postulant and admitted to seminary it's not so tough, apparently, though the professors provide quarterly reports on each student's progress and spiritual development to the Bishop.

This sounds like being an astronaut. Without the cool jacket patches and cash.

Overall my priest was very open. He's deeply introverted, and was trying very hard, and was successful, in staying connected. He knows I am considering the diaconate instead of the priesthood, considering academic work as well (though this seems the least likely option because of my age and my current lack of a Ph.D. in anything, though it's a serious interest). None of this process will get rolling for two or three years until my son is a junior or senior in high school.

My entire definition of success in ministry may need to change. Of what is means to 'use my gifts in the church' may need to change. What I wouldn't give for fifteen years of youth.

The involved ordination/education process, including my own discernment, is something I can't predict or even control. It's a long, long road and one I need better light to guide me down. Whether that will be provided or not is open to question. Does God call anyone, or very many, personally? Is he that directly involved in human affairs? I don't know. My own priest felt a distinct call at a retreat, with murmurs long before. I've had murmurs going back into my twenties. We'll see.

And to end my rant: I've been trying to write more developed posts online but have been hamstrung by three things: 1) lack of time--too bad I can't compose on the freeway; 2) trouble with focus--I begin by clarifying a comment I made about Nietszche on another blog and end up over my head in a full blown discussion of the atonement; 3) and this is the most frustrating of all--lack of knowledge. A first year literature student, or more accurately, someone reading through a set of English novels for the first time, could certainly provide a blog with reactions, comments, insights. As a beginning NT autodidact, that should be all I do up here. But my questions run deep, and my need to answer them runs even deeper, and I find myself wanting to discuss complex issues which outpace my education. If I were honest, I'd say I find myself wanting to teach, to write graduate level articles. Now that is humorous; it's also my nature. I've covered a fair amount of ground, if I may say so, in the year or two since I started the path, but so much more remains. I'm back to where I started: I need a graduate level education just to begin writing. As that is years away from reality, if it ever becomes real, here I am.

Ecce, homo.

Look closer.

Pissed and ranting.

Why does Luke provide divergent details regarding the ascension and Paul's conversion within his own document? Because he doesn't care much about historical accuracy? (Ehrman). Because he integrates varied sources without redaction (but then how to explain his seamless integration of Mark)? One thing I do think: the manner in which Luke rewrites and personalizes Mark, at least, seems to argue against his cut and paste of the 'we' travel-passages in Acts. Luke could have redacted the freaking pronoun. But you see, I'm over my head already.

I should provide some positive self-talk here: not that long ago (one year, two?) I was shaken loose by arguments via EddyF at edgeoffaith: Paul was a gnostic, Jesus never existed, the Christians changed their NT texts beyond recognition. Those no longer trouble me, though all deserve more reading and reflection. The first claim, that Paul was a gnostic, strikes me as particularly odd. Paraphrasing Johnson: Paul's writing is deeply exoteric, not esoteric as all gnostic documents extant. But then Johnson recommends Pagel's early work on how later gnostics read Paul and John and that is at the bottom of a very long reading list. Pagel's later, famous work is yet another example of one who has chosen not to believe and constructed the texts accordingly. I believe this paragraph now lacks unity.

The fact is some choose to believe and construct the textual world accordingly. Some choose not to believe, ditto. How hard to attempt scholarship in between! And I believe! God, help my unbelief!

I'm a bit behind at work, to boot.

I feel silly posting this. I know the few friends who read here (and each is cherished) read many blogs and I want to limit my output to thoughtful content. I'm posting it anyway.

Here's to hoping I get to work more on my current posts in draft. Without enough time, focus, or education. This is the internet, after all.

Love to all.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Almost Famous

I haven't had time for blog, but the quick update is:

I had a good weekend. Steph and I had company for the first time since the summer; someone from work Saturday night (ham, my grandmother's candied yams, green beans, homemade pumpkin pies...oh yeah) and then also on Sunday night as my dear older friends around the corner, my surrogate parents, came by (fondue: three cheeses, sherry, kirsch, nutmeg, garlic). Both nights were good. It was great to have S home, to be cleaning house together, cooking and having friends.

Friday night was harder.

I know a Genuine Rockstar through my wife (her friend lived with him for years and had his child); another guy in his band is a Near-Rockstar, or NR, and S went to high school with NR and still cares for him. Whenever I've met Mr. Near-Rockstar, he's been genuine and told me over and over how cool my wife is, how beautiful she is inside and out (hard not to like a guy like this). S and I have been to a handful of shows in different clubs near us over the last couple years. This time they were local again, and I had my Almost Famous moment: 'backstage' for the first time, in a little cubby closet in a small club (the band is not doing any big shows which is amazing to me); while sitting with S, I met my first groupie (sort of met, she was introduced to the room like a delivered pizza); I saw the ice bin full of beers and the gallon of tequila, gratis, for the band.

All this could have been fun. NR is genuinely talented and the band has had a couple of hits he's written; it wouldn't surprise me if they went big. But then, it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't. A couple years ago we saw them in two years ago and NR just got out of rehab. He was rehab name-dropping, if you can believe that. Rick James was in with him. Rick James, the funk genius, was found dead not long after he was discharged with nine drugs in his bloodstream. And now, clearly, though no hard drugs were used in our presence, hard drugs are in this band. I would like to use much more profanity in my non-theology posts in this blog than I do (it would be so much more true to life) but I don't want to alienate other Christians. Let me say, though, that the motherfucking pipe kills all that is normal in life. My wife was very sad about the whole night, the show, all of it, sad and angry. It was very dark. NR came in after we'd been in the cubby a while, bouncing off the floor and ceiling, glazed to the peak (a phrase I believe I just invented). Later, when he said he was on the downhill, I said, "Just be careful you don't go too far down, man;" his intense eyes met mine and he said, "yeah, I hear you brother." I don't know that he did. I told him my wife loved him, and hence I'd help him any way I could. Told him to let me know if he needs anything, any help at all. He made a gesture to show me the offer went both ways, and then kept bouncing.

Rockstar life. Yikes. Free tequila, not to mention constantly proferred sex and unlimited drugs of every variety, these can't be good for the soul. Based on my limited experience, why do so many use so hard? There are probably many reasons, childhood experiences high on the list. But my sense (based on all of two examples) is there are enormous pressures on the band to produce new hit music, and many believe drugs help creativity while also helping to manage the tension that comes from needing to produce; plus, like the groupies, drugs ease the inhuman nature of touring on the road. For a bit.

***

I don't have time to blog anymore. I'm doing pretty well in life, something I wish to savor, though I have several blogs in draft and no time to finish any of them! I'm still married and not a drug addict, and but there for the grace of God go I. I took EFM off this week and stayed home with my family and cooked for them. What a treat that was. Sometimes the cure for having too much on the plate is to shove something off the plate and not look at it.

I see a physical therapist tomorrow about my back injury (going on what, ten weeks or more). I'm hopeful about that, though the last couple of days I've felt better. Probably because I haven't exercised in over two weeks! I'm resting, which is both hard and good.

Love to all. More to come when I have time. Pray for our friend, Near-Rockstar. May he live long and well enough to find God's peace.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Mid-Life News

It's hard to believe I am middle-aged. It seems it was months ago I saw the film American Beauty and thought to myself: that guy is 42, man, must be hell to be that age. I saw that film in 2000 not long after we moved to Sacramento. I was a spry 36. Where did those years go, the years between 36, when I felt about like I did at 30, and 42, when I'm clearly past the hump?

I hope they were good ones.

This comes to mind (and this post is what I call inblog, uncrafted sharing, really) because when I went to my Dean this morning and told him I was considering seminary in four years when my son finishes high school (think how old I'll be then), he noted that he was 43, I was 42, and 'this is the age' when guys start to think about changes. For him, it meant a recent elevation to Deanship and its six figure salary. For me, it means thinking thoughts which could result in resigning tenure, a good salary (finally), and my STRS retirement.

Of course I am just thinking, but what am I thinking?

I am considering seminary, as I said. Probably CDSP in Berkeley; it's the only Episcopal seminary in all of the western U.S. There is one at Yale also, funnily enough called Berkeley Divinity School, and there are a few others scattered throughout the U.S., but I haven't looked into those. CDSP would be a good location for many reasons. Of course, if my son goes off to college somewhere else in the country, parent-stalkers could follow.

I want to go to seminary because I want to study New Testament, but also for the community. And that is how I imagine it: Hogwart's with a different magic. Living on campus for three years and studying, communing, helping others in the surrounding area. It sounds like a wonderful passage in life. Of course such a degree usually leads to ordination, but there's the rub: though I want to attend seminary, I'm not sure I'm called to the vocational priesthood (nor am I sure I know what called means).

I'm sitting here now thinking I may need to make my blog even more anonymous.

So, could I be a priest who keeps his college job and fills in when required, who helps a local parish without charge? Do such people exist? It seems like a deal to me. I can take a leave of absence without pay and come back to my current college after two or maybe even three years, keep my tenure and actually return at a higher salary. There is much wisdom in this idea.

I've also considered trying, at my hoary-headed age, to enter the world of NT scholarship. Now this is a clay pipe and bubbles. Reading the vitas of the faculty at Yale's seminary reminds me how much work that is. I would only do that if I took pleasure in doing the writing, if I had something critical I wanted to publish, not merely as a means to the job. And then I suppose, as in English studies, there is great diversity. Meaning what it takes to teach NT at Yale and what it takes to teach it at CDSP (and we'll see on this one; they're hiring someone this year) are different things. Either way, it would require a Ph.D., and that means years, seven maybe, living as an academic, turnip-squeezing out a living as an adjunct...before I could even try to enter the field. At 53 or so. Jeez. I'd have to be famous already to risk that madness. I want to dialogue in print with Wright, with Johnson, with those I'm reading. I believe I have that capacity, though to do something genuinely original...I don't know about that. I'll keep that goal someplace in my pocket, but it's hard to see making a living at it at this time.

Would that I were 32. What was I doing at 32, anyway? Oh, yes, I remember. Partying, doing hard martial arts, and getting to know a wonderful girl and her little son. Those were pretty good years.

The other way to serve in the Episcopal church, and one my own Dean mentioned, is to become a Deacon. You get to keep your job, then, and work part-time for the church, unpayed but ordained into the helping ministry. That is a provocative idea, yet I still want the seminary experience...Deacon school is not that...so I come to where I began.

Would pastoral work even give me time to write? It could well be as consuming, or more so (year-round) than my current academic job.

All these things are exciting to consider, but I have to admit: I continue to age, and with that I must acknowledge, this is it. Some truths are hard and real as the stars. I've had my first career; I succeeded at it generally (I never imagined myself at a community college in the old days, but I've found it's a very human and decent place). I can kick around more ideas, but every decade I wait all that changes. The only reason I'm considering waiting so long for seminary (well, actually, the idea does scare the pee out of me, so I'm holding my pee in too) is that my son just started ninth grade, and I don't want to move him until high school is over. I don't know if it matters as much for the priesthood, though, whether I'm 50 or 45 when I look for my first job.

As I've said already, my current job would be very tough to leave permanently: security, pay, retirement and freedom. I continue to learn as I move from literature series to literature series. Even lit. theory has begun to interest me as it intersects with philosophy. My mind is alive here.

And yet there is this nagging sense I'm cut out more perfectly for something else...is this persistent sense from me, or God? Does God actually call anyone into ministry? I mean, if I get knocked down walking home and hear the Voice and see the light that's one thing, but my vague sense...is that just me or God working? I am going to talk to my priest about this more; he wants to talk about it (apparently, to go to seminary, I'd have to get the Bishop's approval anyway). One thing he said in an email is that 'discernment is very difficult.' He is given to understatement, and I believe he spoke the truth. Discernment is very difficult. T

Though I haven't wanted to admit it, I am in fact beginning discernment. At least I have an income and time. Every decision is easier with those two things.

Pray for me, those who pray.

Oh, I am working on a longer post for What We Are 2.0, but I haven't had much time with S in grad school and all. I'll get it done, though.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Little More on Zane and Other Sundries

I wrote about Zane here, not long ago. I haven't talked to him again, but I did talk to his ex-wife today, for something like three hours. I called just to get Zane's brother's number again. Zane's brother, I'll call him Bill, called me back as we were out the door for SF, and I lost his number by the time I had a moment to call again. He was a good man, a friend as well, and someone I thought could give me another perspective on Zane.

Not content to just give me the number, Zane's ex, I'll call her Susan, wanted to talk. About Zane, about Estella my first wife, whom she saw at a wedding last summer (with Robert and two children in tow; that took some time for me to process, though I didn't write about it here; it was the first time I heard for sure they were married and had children). There was more of the same sad and dark from Susan's life as well. Her church, my old church, kicks any member out for initiating divorce barring abandonment by a non-Christian spouse or continual adultery. This means that if your spouse had an affair but now wants to get back together, or loses his mind as Zane tragically has, or becomes an addict...you cannot divorce him or her without being, in essence, excommunicated.

What kind of hard-line shit is that?

I'll tell you what kind. The kind that looks into the NT for a new law beyond the law Christ gives us. That looks for proof-texts in the NT, one from Jesus when challenged by legalists and another in a letter Paul writes to a particular church on a particular occasion, to be the complete practical law regarding divorce for an entire congregation in myriad circumstances 2000 years later. Isn't it odd that while Jesus provides no way to remarry after divorce in his remark, unless the other partner is unfaithful (he doesn't say one can't divorce), Paul cuts a bit more slack in the case of the unbelieving partner who leaves. But then, Paul may not have had access to extensive Jesus-tradition, or sought to memorize it. He was consumed by the kerygma itself and not part of the original community. Or he may have felt the right to reinterpret the edict situationally, something Jews had been doing for centuries.

Enough soap box for tonight. No matter what, I cannot see how kicking Susan out of her twenty year church was anything short of religious abuse.

The hardest thing about talking to Susan was not talking about Zane, though but talking about Estella. Susan didn't have any real information, just spoke to her at a wedding last summer and once on the phone some time back. Supposedly, E quoted me as saying long ago that "Zane is wound so tight he's going to snap one day"...though maybe, Susan said, I was quoted by the woman who was getting married. It's hard to imagine Estella using my name in a conversation at all. It sounds a lot more like the bride, a woman I knew years ago. As for saying that particular thing, I have no recollection. Looking back, I can see warning signs that Zane might end up seriously depressed...but psychotically paranoid, I would never have predicted that.

Susan had questions from our last talk; she wanted the whole Robert and Estella story, the story I haven't even told here yet it is so hard to write. And I told it. The emotion hot on my skin as though I was submerged in its fire, while I fought to keep out of clinical obsession and stay in the hot stream of the feeling itself. Pretty much, I was able to do that. That was a victory. Susan wanted me to follow up with the medical board and try, after all these years, to pick up with the complaint I filed more than a decade ago about Robert's unethical conduct. I just don't know. She also talked a lot about narcissistic personalities, something I appreciated. For surely, Robert, a man I called the nefas in my own mind for years, the unspeakable evil...surely he was narcissistic, self-absorbed, and dangerous to his clients. But now, you see, I begin to tell the final chapter.

Talking to Susan both times has been good and I found the pain a fraction of what it was the first time we talked. I don't know how Zane would feel about it, but I have no intention of telling him. Susan tells me they used to go places and he would think the way cars were parked, or the way someone walked past them, a sign of an imminent conspiracy plot. Such tragedy.

Now I sit here and write. And writing like this in blog, while a far, far cry from speaking in a supportive group, is surely something. S is at her mom's all weekend; Mikey is now asleep. I have to take him to school at 8:00 tomorrow, but then I go to old-guy grappling class after I drop him off, a group of older men, mostly prison guards oddly enough, who meet to train moderately without adding to their individual injury lists. I love that time. Since it is only 10:30 at the moment, I sit here and stare at the screen in wonder. How beautiful to write here, now. What a luxury. You are now free to roam about the keyboard.

And so this becomes sundry blog. Littla this, littla that...

Carson and Moo have impressed me with their Introduction to the NT. The conclusions are traditional-conservative, yes, but for an approachable NT intro which describes various schools of thought on critical issues and manages to take a side without being defensive...it's a useful beginning, truly. I've paused in the middle of Wright's VOG; honestly not because I don't understand him, but because his positions are so idiosyncratic, on the synoptic problem or some of the parables for example, that I want to see the larger picture first. C and M do that, as does the L.T. Johnson cd series I'm listening to in my car (almost done with all 18...this has made my commute a pleasure).

I taught myself the greek alphabet and am beginning to read a little biblical Greek. Why not? As soon as I can afford a good primer I'm going for it. If I do go to seminary in four years, I hope to have considerable coursework done in my head. Much less stress that way. If I never go, the questions are so vital for me I can't help myself exploring. May God bless my chaos.

Peace and love to all.

What Christian Am I?

I found this quiz at Sandalstraps' Sanctuary.

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern

71%

Neo orthodox

68%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

64%

Roman Catholic

57%

Modern Liberal

46%

Classical Liberal

43%

Reformed Evangelical

32%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

18%

Fundamentalist

4%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com


I am surprised I came out postmodern emergent. This surprises me since I know almost nothing about emergent. I think I'm a liberal Episcopalian, deeply concerned with historical Jesus research, symbol, and loving social action. One thing I know; what the emergent church seems to mean by postmodern (and I know very little about the emergent church) has almost nothing to do with what literature teachers mean by postmodern. The other thing I'll admit is that the descriptive paragraph describes me pretty well.

The neo-orthodox thing does catch my eye.

Just what do I believe at the moment? (Perhaps this will cinch the pomo label on me unawares).

For one, I believe there are many things we do not and will not know on this earth. Not primarily because we live in a postmodern, language infused world where all knowledge is highly personalized. On the contrary, our true limitation comes from the fact that we live in one tiny corner of a vast material universe and have no direct access to our Creator, let alone His World. We don't know many things because God has not told us many things. Why? I don't know. But judicious use of those last three words, "I don't know," and "I don't know yet," is critical to any reflective process on the cosmos and God.

On the modern/postmodern paradigm, I'd note, for the record, the fact that the human mind unknowingly distorts truth is hardly a 20th century idea. Francis Bacon, the inductive empiricist, in his Novum Organon of 1620, makes a powerful case with his famous "Four Idols" that human inquiry is far from error-free. It's a pre-linguistic document, yes, but even language gets its Idol for Bacon. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that every idea has been held by some person in every age. The more I read, the more I agree.

Pieces of evangelical Christian culture may well be shifting away from simple answers, rigid systematic theology, and quick appeals to authority (including the proof-text). But this is not a new phenomenon in Christianity at large. What is most interesting is how the emergent church is doing this and growing when the mainline denominations, which have been following this path for some time, continue to shrink in many locations.

So, if I'm not sure I'm postmodern, what do I believe?

The Bible is a collection of books which reflects a mysterious combination of the human and the divine. There are many ways this is described, but my faith is based on the canonical gospels, and, it's fair to say, on the spiritual experience of Paul and the other apostles. This is quite apart from whether Adam and Eve were real people, or there was a universal flood, or whether God told the Israelites to butcher cities, or whether there was one feeding of the multitude or two. We may not have a book from the sky, but this does not discount the fact that what we do have is remarkable, and necessary, religious literature. Without the bible, what would we know of God? Perhaps God has told us just what we need to know. But rather than trying to measure all truth on this planet "according to God's Word," our search for truth and meaning must use intuition, rigorous reason, the moral sense, and a critical reading of the scriptural books; all this must be cocooned in a committment to love.

Though the bible books may not be perfect, Christianity is not Christianity unless it is a historic religion; I believe Jesus is unique in recorded history and what he did and said matters. He is who he said he was and he rose from the dead. The gospels may not be innerrant, but that does not mean they are wholesale creative fictions.

Is the trinity real? Quite possibly. I think the earliest Christians had to deal with Jesus' remarkable nature and the Spirit he spoke of in light of their monotheism and this led, perhaps more quickly than is sometimes assumed, to the concept of the trinity. Is this the final word on the godhead? Is it even comprehendable to the human mind? We will never know in this life. It surely is a beautiful, corporate depiction of the deity, one which models service and elevation, power and gentle urging, father and son and awe-full mystery.

What else? Does baptism cause sin to be forgiven? I have no idea. I think response to Christ involves action based on faith in some form, and that Jesus will turn away no one who seeks him. Any shred of an attempt, I must believe, is enough (hopefully even if one never hears of Christ). Do the elements in the Eucharist change at all? I actually tend to think no, but again, a spiritual change in matter (if this can happen) cannot be measured. Does the communion touch me spiritually, heal and build me? Yes. And I had a mystic experience at my first Episcopal communion, or one of them, when I wasn't even attending church. I will never neglect the Eucharist or deride it in any way. This does not mean the elements assume deity themselves or should be venerated. Frankly, I don't care what happens to the elements or when; if anything does happen, it surely happens at every Christian church on the planet, even the most dry-lipped chalk-proper denominations. Do I think a priest is necessary to celebrate the communion as my church teaches? Nope. Where two or three are gathered.

Since the core of my faith is the gospel material, I have many questions about it. In my world, this is the place to work. Did Jesus teach judgement? I have to believe so. Was it temporal, eternal? This is a very big question for me. Was the destruction of the Temple in 70 God's directed act? I can't say. Am I going to heaven when I die? I don't know that either. Is there a resurrection of the dead? Dear God I hope so. The NT teaches it explicitly in multiple tradition and so much Christian hope is pinned on it.

Dialogue does matter more than confrontation. What is postmodern about that?

Perhaps I simply don't understand the emergent church. I'm not sure any of the ideas there are new, though I do think it is providing a necessary challenge to American fundamentalism. That challenge was bound to happen and will continue.

My true concern right now is how to energize my own little parish and Episcopalianism as a whole. I think it is a beautiful and glorious community, democratic, liturgical, rational and love-focused. Of course, that's only my experience. Why the ECUSA, along with the other mainlines, has been shrinking for several decades while the evangelical churches boom is something I'd like to understand. Is this shift a good thing, or is the church growth movement creating larger numbers of church members with shallower Christian experience? Have head-counts and entertaining services substituted in some cases for enhancing personal spiritual committment? To put things darkly, do people simply want to be told what to think (as the ECUSA may have done before pieces of it became 'liberal' thirty or forty years ago)? Perhaps the old style of worship has simply burned out. Are we all tired of centuries old hymns and traditions? There is so much wonder in the old practices, the ecclesiastical calender especially. I hope this at least is never lost even if we all move to overheads and microphone bands.

I know very little about all this, though it looks like I'm going to have to learn as my role changes at the parish. Since I think human nature is fundamentally the same over millenia, my guess is the churches have always been filled with the same kinds of people as now; some want a stronger connection to God, some just show up. The fact is many more (of all kinds) are showing up in the new evangelical churches than they are in the ECUSA. Why? And how much should the mainlines adapt? All good questions.

Well, enough of this. Take the quiz if you'd like and have fun with it. Sandalstraps was surprised by his category; myself as well.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Life in the Community College

Laying on my office floor this morning (a truly comfortable way to read in my eight by six foot cell, though I am sitting up to type), I am trying to make sense of Heidegger's Dasein, which I hardly understand at all; then I suppose I don't need to understand it because I am immersed in its being-stream, and his Geschichte, which I sort of understand from reading biblical criticism if nothing else.

The question is how am I going to, at 1:00 today (and with a composition class in between) tie what little I know of Heidegger into the idea of the hermeneutic circle, then into Gadamer's idea of tradition; above all, how to contrast this with the 'conventional' criticism of the American E.D. Hirsch. (In case I sound like a scholar, all this is in fact taken from Chapter 2 of Terry Eagleton's remarkable little book Literary Theory). That the questions these individuals pose about textual meaning are genuine I have no doubt. And so I'll start here: does the author's intent matter? Could Frost's "Stopping by Woods" be about, say, football?

The good thing is that the foray into the ivory swamp of literary theory is a side project within my Am. Lit. class, and the main topic for discussion, Emerson's "Self-Reliance," I know well enough: "whim."

Funniest of all, after my Am. Lit. I trot over to a basic grammar course where we are learning about fragments. (Let's see, oh yes, the object case of the relative pronoun can begin a dependent clause...)

That is community college English life. In two years I'll probably lose Am. Lit. and be teaching the British seminar, or Shakespeare, or maybe Mythology again. In many ways, I love this. I'm getting the education I was once denied. And Eagleton is making sense in a way he didn't in college (how did I not see, then, what a raving Marxist he is). In another sense, I wish I taught three classes instead of five and had more time to concentrate on one area, to actually play scholar, though if I could pick right now, that area would be NT studies and I'd have to teach in an entirely different environment.

That's all I have time for right now. Shouts out to all. It's been a very tough week emotionally, but it's been as much growth-pain as stuck-pain and I'm feeling over the hump. My EFM group is awesome once again; I told them about my OCD and depressions of the past when I did my spiritual autobiography for this year and they were quite cool. I can't express how good that support feels, or how long it's been since I felt it in a group. OCD, shit life, can't be managed in isolation, without support. In contrast to the great people in the grouop, the readings for the second year in EFM, the NT year, so far suck doorknobs, but since we all feel that way (including the rector) it helps. The OT material was much, much better (and I hear the NT is being revised again). I do find myself disagreeing with my rector over all kinds of things...the level of Hellenization in Palestine, especially in the gospels...but since we are all learning and everyone's attitude is good, I believe this is healthy.

Learning is one of the great pleasures in life; I'm glad to be here.

Have to run. Two minutes to showtime.

t

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Happy Windsday, Eyeore

Fall, and its wonderful wind, are very much with me.

Work has been very busy. Getting ready for winter in the mountains also takes lots of work (which I put off over the summer) and I haven't had time to write at all. I read my post below again, and feel like it will take me some time to get to What We Are 2.0 (though who knows; it was fun to write). One thing I believe is that I need an actual NT education. My conclusion to that essay is lacking without one. N.T. Wright is only one voice, and a very distinctive voice at that. I want to read Meier and L.T. Johnson; also the more skeptical critics like Crossan. Not to mention those with large historical value, like Wrede. I can't yet offer a scholar's assessment of the NT, only a personal one.

But right now I don't have time even for that. Hopefully soon, though. As I said, I enjoy the work. If I were in grad school now I already know the two papers I'd like to write: one would be an examination of Wright's position on apocalyptic language in the synoptics; the other would be an examination of tradition transmission during the NT period. I know work has been done in both of these areas, and I would love to read it and write about it.

So far, second year EFM is slow to get off the ground. I have found two other interesting sources for NT work, however.

Luke Timothy Johnson did a 'Great Teaching Series' recording of his intro to the NT course. I've heard the first six CD's, and he is quite engaging. Non-dogmatic, even secular, but rich in his literary analysis and generally fair. Also, I orderd the Carson and Moo Intro to the NT. This book is a time warp for me. It was recommended by my brother's Christian-academic friend, and while it is deeply traditional (conventional authorship is upheld for every gospel, even Matthew and John) the authors are making fair points, even if their views are in the minority at the present. The book is more conservative than anything I've read, or even thought, for years. But surely every view should be assessed; presuppositional bigotry against conservative scholars is no better than dismissive bigotry against the liberal ones. I am embarrassed, and have embarrassed myself in this way, when a Christian blasts a book or theory because of its author's religious views without evaluating the idea closely, alongside all the other evidence. NT scholarship, like all other forms, embraces and abandons its trends.

On a slightly side note, I'm pleased to note Jesus' own love for dinner parties and his desire to eat with all. Most scholars agree on this, at least. "The Son of Man came eating and drinking"...my kind of environment. I still have to learn how to embed youtube files here, but I am heartened by the Dropkick Murphy's rendition of "Amazing Grace" on the youtube website. They may be off key, but Jesus has been accused of drinking with guys like this before. It is good for me to remember this. One thing that drove me from the church a dozen years ago was white-glove Christianity. I admired the twelve-step model so much ("I'm Dave, I'm an alcoholic"), and wondered why, when my ex and I shook hands with the ushers coming into the sanctuary at my big-box church, I couldn't say, "Morning, I'm Troy; my marriage is falling apart and we haven't had sex for three months, can we pray about this with you?" I could have found that prayer at that church in other ways, and perhaps did, but there was always this no-grit squeak about Sunday services. Church is not about exterior polish, being good or looking good; it's about crawling (or dancing, or skipping, or if need by crying) into the community of God to eat and drink with Christ once again. We do it because we need it. We always have.

The Christian church, to feed its members, must embrace emotional reality and the technology of recovery; it is love in a practical deeply needed language. It must also embrace theological mystery and tolerate diverse points of view. It must also embrace mercy as a paradigm. This must begin with those who provide example in the churches, the teachers and leaders. If I can't be real about my pain and frustrations, about the reality of life's emotional struggles that we all bake and broil in, I do those below me true harm.

In my own parish (for, as they say...point a finger, three point back right atcha) the tone, the culture, is deeply entrenched. And it's old culture. Old building, old people (mostly), old oak-foothills...old culture. Much of this is good. They help each other when they need it, and I still am absorbing that praxis. They are graceful in many ways and more open-minded, by far, than my old big-box community. Though I haven't had a chance to speak or teach in any context, when and if I do, I hope, with careful precision, I am able to be slightly transparent. Even that would shake and shock. Done right, it might also move and heal.

Of course, all we do must be informed by love, or truly, it is the clanging cymbal.

But I am ahead of myself. My autobiography in EFM should be raw enough next week, and I need to focus on that. EFM, of course, is a closed and trusted group of people I've known for some time.

Teachers, I note again, just can't stay off the soapbox.

Love to all.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What We Are 1.0

I dedicate this (overlong) post to my near-brother Michael, his gracious wife and beautiful baby girl.

***

One of my great pleasures in life is eating and drinking with friends. Dinner parties, especially, are warm and memorable times, and something I've only learned to appreciate in the last six or seven years. A good friend, a man who is nearly family (and whose family is a large reason I learned to love dinner parties) invited my wife and me over to his house a little while ago to eat and to hold his tiny baby girl! His parents, whom I love, were coming. How could we not go?

The pork ribs were excellent. My friend Michael makes his own marinades, as his father did and does, and some ingredients were easy to taste: molasses, for one, and fresh rosemary. The spontaneous genius-touch, though, which I give away on the web itself (without asking) was coffee grounds. A few coffee grounds in the marinade added a smoke-pleasure to the meat that's hard to describe.

Ah. And I brought an Australian Shiraz and a very fine Tokay desert wine also from down under; (both from Costco, less than 25 bucks for the pair; this is for for any who read from and pay teacher-taxes in California).

At the end of the evening, after his parents left and his infant girl was dozing in her baby swing-chair, the talk turned to Youtube.com, the free website where anyone can post a video clip. I first heard about youtube on NPR, and I went there just a few times; after the initial novelty (this is all kinds of video, much self-made, and most happily no porn), after I rewatched the classic SNL skit with Christopher Walken..."more cowbell"...I lost interest. I did see a very sweet and funny video with two teenage girls called "Pump It." They sing along, sped-up chipmunk style, to the song of that name (and I assure all, it's quite innocent and sweet; it makes me think of my son's life as it is developing apart from me). I recommended it to Michael, and he recommended another video called "What We Are." Mixed in among some fairly funny Star Wars parodies ("Chad Vader, Day-Shift Manager") we watched "What We Are" together. (Incidentally, I was unable to import any of these into my blog and gave up trying; the videos, however, are easy to find in youtube's search engine).

This post is my meagre response to the world-view of "What We Are."

A little background: my good friend is an English professor at another school, sometimes reads this blog, and left a childhood faith at about 16, probably because, just as I discovered later in my own life, he realized he didn't personally believe. This event was long before I knew him, and I know few details. The fact that, now, he refuses any middle ground lifestyle, will not go through the motions of Christianity (communion, prayer) when he does not believe in Jesus, is actually something I admire. Whether he still considers religious questions or looks for spiritual answers I actually don't know.

I do know, when religion is tossed out, the western material zeitgheist, empirical naturalism, is a common replacement. In my own mind, it remains a powerful dialectic partner with my faith.

Enter (again) the video "What We Are." If you have time, watch it before reading the rest of this. It's witty, funny, cute, though clearly has actual purpose. Since it represents materialism at the powerful popular level, I find it is worth a response. (I note now, in my final edit, someone has posted a decent, warm-hug but very sane response titled "What We Really Are.") Is "What We Are" a straw man of secular materialism? Perhaps. It seems to me materlialism, when it indrafts humanism, may depend on some straw man points of view (chiefly, why must any strong individual subscribe to the social contract?). But I think many people I know would take this video quite seriously; my guess is my friend, who is brilliant, did not recommend it out of hand. Of course, as I've worked on my respone, I have had to admit more and more that my response will be incomplete. An entire counter would involve every apologetic notion in my head, every reason I myself believe, and this post will not be that. A complete counter along those same lines would also involve plenty of thinking I have yet to do. I'm still building the intellectual framework for my faith.

Still, some things can be said.

For one, the video does not distinguish between what can be accounted near-certain truths and assertions which it merely presents as true. It begins with a slide show stressing something humans almost surely know: the discovered Universe is utterly vast compared to human beings, compared to all of Earth. Unimaginably big. This fact should inspire humility in our often arrogant race, a fact the video stresses to its advantage. (In fact, human limitation is a key theme of the video clip, though all limitations it places on human knowledge...'we are all just monkeys'...must of course be applied to its own statements as well). But just because we know the universe is extravagantly gigantic, does this mean humans are not significant? This is the opening salvo-joke of the film. Surely the video is attempting to undermine ancient assumptions, many of them religious or quasi-religious, about the placement of the earth at the (obvious) center of the cosmos, assumptions based partly on weak empirical observation and partly on ethno-pride. My own faith, without its founder recorded as saying anything at all regarding cosmological placement, says the Creator of the universe came to this puny planet in human form. The question should be raised, and is implicitly raised in my view in "What We Are": why would the Creator God ever trouble with something, or someone, of such insignificant size and so remote?

The universe is radically vast, more vast than I can begin to fathom. But there is also something quite radical and vast about a single human mind. What should stagger me more, a preoposterously huge cosmos, or the fact that I have an emotional sensation when I read a single poem? I cannot understress: size matters, but mind matters more. The human moral conscience alone, its existence testified to by theists and non-theists throughout history, is more astounding, even curious, than the largest galaxy without mental life. Man's moral reflectivity, his passion for beauty, his art, his mathematics, his ability to choose between destruction and mercy...these are impressive ethical, phenomonenlogical and empirical realities. And if, just if, spirit exists, some undying individual transcendence, it would matter more than a billion stars on their way to burn-out or implosion. Man surely is a vapor; St. James is right. But by extension, though it takes longer to die, so is my galaxy. A swirl of burning chemical gas a billion light years across is impressive (as long as there is a mind to feel impressed). One human being marvelling at said galaxy, feeling dwarfed in comparison to its material properties, strikes me as much more. Galaxies neither think nor feel. They do not write poetry or cry. They are not self-conscious. They surely cannot pray.

Perhaps such a chain of being, with mind higher than mass, is artificial. The more I reflect, the more I refuse to think so, however. If we are the only self-aware minds in the universe, I believe our ability to consciously reflect on the cosmos is the greatest achievement among all stars.

The video doesn't mention this fact and I may be drifting in this paragraph, but plenty of materialists believe there is likely other life, smart life, even some smarter life, on other congenial planets somewhere in the universe. They could well be correct. Yet when they ponder this, Sagan-like, there is nearly always the accompanying but unspoken (perhaps unthought) assertion that intelligent extraterrestial beings, if they ever show up, will be materialist-Darwinists who will explain evoulution to us in more precise terms from their advanced point along the evolutionary schedule. On the other hand, these beings could, quite frankly, be theists who impress us with their theological development. What a shock it would be if we found another race of beings who were scientifically superior to humanity and yet worshipped a deity, perhaps with greater clarity and committment than our own muddled race. This is of course speculation on my part, but it seems that we should not consider the reality of ET life in any form proof against belief in God or even Christianity until we find meet these beings and swap creation myths.

After the brief slide-show intro on how dorkily tiny Earth is, "What We Are" proceeds to answer the question implied in its title: What Are We? What we are, it turns out, are monkeys, developed primates, who, almost unluckily, got stuck with the complex mental pain of self-awareness. The great irony, for the film, is that most of us are in denial about this fact. We think we're something more, or better, but in reality we're just monkeys.

I have two concerns with this.

For one, there are many things which make us different from monkeys. The video would be just as logically accurate to say we are all just molecules or single-celled organisms or amphibious transitional forms because we evolved from these. My wife and I would be enlightened to admit we are, at essence, iguanas. While the similarities between humans and primates are obvious (and the video points some of these out, humorously) there are fundamental qualitative differences. For me, as I've said, self-conscious moral reflectivity is high on this list. Almost all humans have a personal standard of behavior, more or less. Some of my values may be erroneous, but generally I know if I back into someone's car in the parking lot I should leave a note. Perhaps my culture tells me this, but it seems I can step back and compare two cultures, my own, which tells me to leave a note and cover the costs of my damage, and another deficient culture, which (hypothetically) tells me the whole thing is funny and I should tear out of there before I'm caught. Let the other, unlucky, man or woman pay for the damage. Why do I have such a moral sense?

The other fact, noted by many writers in history, is that we don't live up to our own moral code. The fact we have a regular sense of self-defiency is quite curious. Even those of use who are the best at not self-blaming must say that we are all just human. Generally I will leave a note when I back into a stranger's car, but surely I do and say things, often, which hurt those nearest me, a greater wrong than property damage. And I've done worse things still. Sometimes I feel guilt soon after, sometimes I don't until later reflection. But the fact remains: humans ponder the impact their behavior has on others in a way I do not believe exists in the rest of the animal kingdom. If I'm wrong, I'd like some anthropologist to steer me to the right books. When my dog digs into the trash and then shies away when I come home, this seems a long distance from the complexity of human ethical preoccupations. It may be that our moral sense evolved and that lower forms of conscience are evident in the animal world, but moral concerns exist in humans to a self-reflective and complex, even contradictory degree.

But there is more. We use symbols and no animal (naturally) does. We have entire nuanced languages. And oddly enough, we are capable of evil on a scale no animal could imagine. We don't kill just for food or territory; we sometimes kill for power or hate, even inconvenience. And yet, astoundingly, humans also choose self-sacrifice in remarkable circumstances, at times for individuals outside the family or clan. Some of us have devoted our entire lives to the service of other humans, many prompted by their religion. We are just as capable of mercy as we are of massacre.

It may be that I need to go back and read Jane Goodall, but the reality that human beings are not monkeys at all in their essential and foundational selves seems blindingly obvious. If we are just monkeys in a self-made industrial jungle, what is to stop me, ethically, from taking your car, your money and your mate if I am stronger, bigger, and quicker? Oh, my humanness? Yes. I would agree. But surely not my monkeyness.

My second issue involves evolution itself. I have no abiding religious issue with evolution. I do feel many processes, in fact the most fundamental processes on which evolution depends, have not been fully observed. However, as I understand it (which is not very well, nods to my friends Krav Mom and Herr Schnickelfritz) the evidence for shared ancestry is very strong at the genetic level. Perhaps I did descend from monkeys (and I know this is not actually what biologists say, but the point is taken) without any Divine special creation of man as described in the Jewish scriptures. This opens up genuine (though far from dismissive) theological questions for Christians regarding these Jewish scriptures, even some of Jesus' own comments on those scriptures, but if the evidence points towards evolution, I must go with the evidence at hand. If nothing else, such a concept, if true, provides reason for humans to feel profound (though hardly self-denigrating) epistemic humility.

If there was ever a time I wish I could cite a quote from somewhere in my reading it would be now, but Darwin himself is reputed to have felt epistemological anxiety over the fact that he came to view man as no more than a developed ape. How can we be certain regarding our thoughts about the world around us if our mental processes are merely those of advanced primates? What does advanced mean in this context? This is a complicated question, and there are no easy answers. Still, though I have argued at length we are not "just monkeys," if we descended from something like them, this fact should keep intellectual arrogance in check. It should cause us to all be on guard as we make proclamations regarding the universe and what may lie beyond it. Science might prove some of its premises to wide-scale scientific satisfaction, but then it has only proved them amongst its collective monkey-brains. The same is true with philosophy and theology. Here, I agree with the video: we must be humble before a cosmos we hardly know our own place in; epistemic caution is in order.

If we did 'just' evolve does that mean we are still not special, perhaps even special to God? Does this mean we are, in an almost Platonic sense, at our essential core, just monkeys (and iguanas)? Perhaps our existence is only the product of, to paraphrase S. J. Gould, amazing laws in this amazing universe, extraordinary organizing forces without known origin. Then human beings could be compared to extremely complex, living and self-aware biological snowflakes formed purely as the product of natural mechanisms which work, at least, in our very little corner of space. It is also true, of course, that if there was Divine intervention beyond natural law at some point in the process, if God really did step into his evolving material universe to make Life or to make Humans for his own purpose, this intervention is clearly impossible to prove or disprove with what we know. To argue that he may have intervened directly in the unfolding of natural law is not really 'God of the gaps,' arguing God must have stepped in to complete an evolutionary process we haven't yet observed; I didn't say he did or had to, I said he might have. Why I think he might have comes later. And on the 'God of the Gaps' concept, critiqued everywhere from Paul Davies to Michael Shermer: there are plenty of things evolutionists can't explain yet either, but I've never heard an evolutionist tell me the means by which non-living matter produces living matter is 'evolution of the gaps.' Materialists assume human development occured only by natural processes. Maybe so. But that makes the existence of those processes no less remarkable, nor their human product on earth any less valuable or remarkable (or for that matter, curious).

Which brings me closer (but not quite closer to) my final point, and the spot where will I park this entire essay.

In the video, all religions are human wish-fulfillment invention and, not surprisingly, the source of violent contention. Religion has produced violence, no doubt. So has thirst for technology, comfort, power, sex, dominance, and land. So has political ideology. So has sports fanaticism. (I suppose, in its own way, religion has mixed with most of these). But religion has done so much more for our race, my religion I will say, than merely produce holy warriors, pedophile priests, and inquisitors. Belief in Christ has enhanced the lives of many millions, and I am not willing to say these life enhancing experiences are only the result of telling onself a happy fairy tale, as the life-change often occurs in the absence of classical or obvious wish-fulfillment paradigms. Meaning some of us have felt moved or changed by God, vitally, when we have only the murkiest idea of who God is or what he wants or has to offer. I have seen this and I have read this and I believe I have experienced this. Nor am I willing to say at this time that all religions are essentially and experientially the same, that all religious experience is identical to the Christian one, or that all religious claims, across cultures and times, are identical. This is an enormous issue and one I don't have the time (nor I admit the expertise) to engage here, and I say this only in passing. It is also worth note in passing that God may not only speak to Christians or through Christianity. It is my very dear hope he does not limit his love and grace solely to those who have heard of his son. Frankly, I don't know. The missional nature of the early Christians clearly must be the continuing model; beyond that only God can see.

And now here I arrive where I have been headed all along. I could have marked an asterisk at the top of this essay and said that anyone too busy (or bored) to continue with the whole thing might as well scroll down to this spot. For here it is:

Whatever we are, whatever we come from and however we got here, Jesus lived and died, spoke and acted within our race. The historical fact of Jesus, the literary fact of the gospels, these must be reckoned with. These questions cannot be denied a thorough hearing. They cannot be written off as just another set of erroneous religious questions to be laughed off in the glorious light of empirical science. The gospels, despite repeated and even brilliant attempts, do not appear to have been cleanly dismissed into the same category as Homer and Hesiod.

And here, continued reading of the gospels and N.T. Wright's persistent scholarship are slowly nudging me away from my own skepticism.

I have been willing to consider on the Jesus question, at times at least, along with many before and beside me, that we don't really know if Jesus said much of anything we find in the gospels. The resurrection probably happened, the disciples certainly must have believed it, but the work required to evaluate ancient history, and from biased sources no less, is beyond the tools of historians. I question this more and more. I have also considered, with others before me and beside me, that the disciples fantasized, in some form, the resurrection appearances and then, eventually, by some means or other, produced fictionalized gospel traditions within their communities, including the resurrection and empty tomb stories and the miraculous accounts. I believe this less and less. (Faith, I think, can co-exist along with such hypotheses).

What, in briefest terms, grabs me in the gospels and in Wright's work on the synoptics?

Here I must end part one; I already have much written below this which will become 'part two'. When I have more time, I will throw up what are my honest reactions and assessments. They won't be thorough. I have as many significant questions right now as I do signficant answers. I can only scratch the barest surface of Wright's work. But it will be a start. For no matter what I hear about evolution or the monkey nature of human beings, about the bio-chemical nature of human consciousness, or more difficult, about the problem of human death and disease, the aparently random nature of life and death on this planet, the gospels and their Christ must still be engaged at the literary and historic level, at the human level, and engaged closely.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Comic Relief

Sitting here grading online composition essays. This is 'advanced composition,' the sophomore critical thinking course. I require a minimum number of sources for the paper, and I run across something I haven't seen in 12 years of teaching college. On the Works Cited page, let's say the student's name is Dave Smith...

Smith, David. Self. 24 Sept. 2006.

I see. He cited his own paper in his own paper. Man, that is funny. Or maybe he considered it a personal interview.

Another essay attempts to argue against Freire's banking concept of education using a film called The Island. It would help if I'd seen it, but of course, it is fiction. Real world examples are always better than hypotheticals. And Freire himself hated what he called the banking concept in education; he coined the perjorative term. One poor girl got it entirely backwards: she blasted Freire for promoting the banking concept and not supporting problem-solving education for seven pages. That's like picking on Moses for being an antinomian. Ghandi for backing Texas cattle ranchers.

Some student papers, of course, are brilliant and some better than anything I wrote as an undergraduate. It's always humbling to see that. Anyway, I have to get back. I am still drafting posts (don't expect a ton) for the blog.

On the deeper side, Springsteen's "The River" on napster. All the poetry of seventeen. "Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir." How often physical love is not enough...at times it damned well should have been.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Still Working

I haven't posted in a while. Work is keeping me busy, yes, but I'm currently working on three different posts, all which are actually getting drafted. Yes, for someone who teaches writing process I'm actually trying it on the blog (in part inspired by Romy's writing).

In the short news, I'm slowly working through Wright's second NT book VOG. It takes time because he moves quickly between major theories and their creators; I want to feel centered in the material. Surely, just because Wright is brilliant doesn't mean he's always right; also true is that he is not de facto wrong just because some of his conclusions support orthodoxy, support, in fact, the view of Jesus his followers espoused within a generation or less of his death. All possibilities must remain open. But he takes time.

I sailed to the Farallones Saturday; an entire post is in the works there. And my hip is killing me. My lower back injury, apparently, has spread somehow into the muscles or nerves around my hip. I've been trying to take it easy, but it's been easy to reinjure and the entire thing is very discouraging. I see my doctor in less than an hour; I hope to hear something useful there.

More encouraging is rediscovering the music of the Blasters on napster.

Love and peace to all. Longer posts, one on sailing, one a faint apologetic, the other one I forget...all coming soon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Suffering on the Small Scale

Last week I left my sunglasses in my morning class. I like these glasses; I splurged and spent 35 or so bucks for them, on sale, at a sailing store. To me that's an expensive pair of glasses. I announced today that I had left them on the chalkboard in the morning class and did anyone see them?

This afternoon, after my announcement, I find my sunglasses, in urine, in the men's urinal on the same floor, around the corner from my office.

Beauty, eh.

Both classes that meet in that room (I have it for two classes in a row) have seen me working hard in the class lectures, prepared and passionate. The response seems positive. The discussions good. We haven't even had a graded assignment yet.

Sometimes the problem of evil looks awfully like idiocy.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On My Birthday

Because I am one of those with a high need to be heard, here goes:

I knew when I began grappling class injuries were a concern. Currently a tendon in my knee is tweaked, my neck has been shot for two weeks, and the left side of my lower back is pretty well wounded. I see a massage therapist Wednesday and hope for some help.

The guys try not to hurt you, but my older body is not as resilient. And, oddly, they fear my kickboxing because they've seen me work the bag. So even if I'm boxing very light, my dear 240 pound friend will charge in and yank down on my neck like a small condominum (that is the way to stop a good puncher).

On the plus side, I'm losing weight (a very little I think) and my wind is coming back. And even though I'm hurt, I love the training.

***

9/11 is a tough day for a birthday, but barring loving community in the next life, it's better than no birthday. I keep the tv off and read very little online news. Still, seeing just a few slides on msnbc, I have cried today over that dark panorama. Why the hell not? Whenever and wherever vendetta thrives, or another group becomes the Other group, humans are capable of this kind violence. That an aberrant view of religion was also responsible is sobering as well. Theology, perhaps, matters. Love, the central claim of my own religion, certainly does.

Love to all. Special shouts to Chris and Romy and my brother, if he still reads.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Zane's Story

Sandalstraps and others have been writing about suffering lately. This post, so fresh for me at the moment, is my addition.

When I was about twenty and first came to the Evangelical church where I was to spend almost a decade, I met Zane (of course, not his name). Zane was bright and personable, a leader in the college group, an articulate and friendly young man. His girlfriend was beautiful in the girl-next-door way; I saw a recent picture of her on the church website and she still is. Zane was known, above all, for wisdom. He could give life-advice, and often good life-advice, better than anyone his age in a large church. He was also deeply sensitive. When I attended my first retreat with the college group, fresh from my burn-out at Little Geneva, the Reformed bookstore that drove the TULIP nail through my brain, Zane asked in a small group discussion if anyone had heard of Imitation of Christ. I said yes, he looked at me for the first time, and said, "Troy probably taught on it." I had not taught on it, or even read it, but he read in my face, then, much of what I am and have become. I took to Zane right away.

We hung out from time to time; I don't remember how it started. I recall once lifting weights in my garage together when I was about 23. But the thing Zane did most for me was support me, again and again, through the diurnal youth-nightmare which was Estella and me. As the love of my young life found another guy in the church to love (at least sit with in church, and kiss, and date) it was Zane who took me, wounded and anxious, to Casa Sanchez to eat greasy Mexican food and talk. He could listen, and listen well, for long periods. There were times Estella and I were dating (and non-dating) that Zane was our primary go-between. Always, I was impressed by his communication skills and balanced advice.

When I was around 23 or 24, Zane and I were in the same accountability group. This was a bunch of Christian guys who were dating or engaged and trying to live purely with the girls in our lives. Most of the group didn't do as well as I and Estella (by now, we were dating and rocketing towards engagement). This includes Zane. I don't believe any of the couples were having intercourse, but there is a vast, hot country between kissing and penetration, and most of us tried with varying effort and levels of guilt to navigate our way across, awaiting, always, the promised land of the marital bed. Zane was always a lover, a physical and sexual man, and I think he threw in the towel someplace like leading off third base, but since he was one of the engaged guys and nearly married, it actually didn't bother him much. He'd say, "something happened this week three times" without specifying. I'd say, "is there anything you could do in the future to keep it from happening?" He'd answer without hesitation, "no."

I attended his wedding. I admired that he and his bride, in the haute 80's, had a modest reception in the gym at the church (of all of us, he was the only one not to have an expensive reception off-site). Zane was also a philosophy B.A., and when he entered the business world (he never went to graduate school), his moderate disdain for the material had him wearing a backpack to work instead of carrying a briefcase. He bought his dress clothes at thift stores and garage sales. It wasn't that he was slovenly, he simply wanted to maintain his philosophy cred. while working for the Man. This, I thought, was admirable.

As soon as Estella and I were married we moved into what I later dubbed Club J, an apartment building on a street that began with J. This building was famous in our church for lower than normal rent and, though the owner and manager were not church people, it was half-stocked with couples or roomates from our church. It worked out that Zane and his wife lived just across the pool from Estella and me, on the second floor. The night before my wedding Estella stayed at Zane's. I came to see her at their apartment, Zane bringing her out to spend time alone with me like a father would a special daughter. I remember he said of her, "she's a keeper." Oh yes, well, time has told that tale.

When I came back from my honeymoon it was Zane who helped me unload my car and asked me, "so, how did it go." As I've written elsewhere, I was keeping a stiff lip and being cheerful as I could, but I told him, "well, we did it twice." He was shocked and said, "we did it three times the first night!" Good for Zane. In fact, his marriage always seemed physical. I know he and his wife slept in a full-sized bed and never wanted a bigger mattress. They slept touching, through the night. Listing these details, knowing what I know now, dread is moving into my chest like forest shadows in autumn.

Zane wanted to be a missionary, had already been abroad in short-term projects, and natural spiritual leader that he had always been (how often I thought of him, and his life, as perfect) it seemed likely he'd make it. His wife, I think, shared the same values. They named their first daughter an odd name which they felt would be acceptable in Turkey. Zane had a passion for converting Muslism, knew the religion and Koran thoughtfully well. I don't know what sidetracked the pair of them, but years and two more children later, they never made it to the mission field.

Zane had read Kant. The Critique of Pure Reason. He wrote a strong paper on the problem of suffering (which I took to read, and don't know if I ever did or if I still have it). His thinking was analytic, clear, deep. He was one of the smartest people I knew.

Sensitive, passionate, brilliant.

When my first major depression tore into me like a wolf-pack Zane was one of the first I told. The four of us were watching a movie at his house and my pain became so great, my thoughts of suicide so strong, he saw my face turn color. At the end of the movie he asked if I needed to talk and we went down into the garage below his apartment. I remember I began sobbing, sobbing, telling him I couldn't stop thinking of killing myself or hurting myself and I didn't know why. I felt strange sharing so much and I told him so. He said, "I'll be here for you as long as you need me to be." At that, my emotion poured out like hot water. Such relief. Such blessed relief.

That wasn't the last time Zane supported me. It's also true the four of us just hung out. I remember once, after the birth of his first baby, his wife pumping breast milk in the back seat of our car as Estella and I drove them around the parking lot at the movies. That was an experience for me. When Estella left me, Zane still lived in my building. My punching bag, the physical relief of anger which saved my life, hung from a beam in my carport, just under Zane's living room. He and his wife were so sweet to let me beat on that thing every day while the vibrations thumped through their carpet and kitchen floor.

And a couple years after that, when I wrote Estella and told her maybe we should wait and not divorce, and she wrote back and told me she wanted to get on with her life and have children (which she has done) I took the letter to Zane's house. By now he had moved, we had both moved. I was at home and he and his wife had bought a house not far from Club J. It was the last time I saw him. He now had two children, his first and a baby, and he and his wife talked to me in the quiet of their living room, Zane read the letter where E gave it the final quits and looked at me and said, "this is quite a letter." We talked a little of other things. Thoreau, who I was teaching in college (I now had adjunct work at the University and local J.C.). I could tell Zane liked Thoreau, but he kept bringing up his wife in contrast. I think she would not have liked Thoreau's vision of economy and simple living.

I don't know how Zane ever got pulled into it, but I can remember him working twelve and fifteen hour days at his aerospace job, under pressure, coming home late at night to a dark and empty Club J, his tie loose, his backpack on one shoulder. He would say, "at least she doesn't have to work." She didn't. I'd notice her doing aerobics in the morning in their living room, or taking their child to the park. If there was anything wrong with Zane, it was that I thought he was too passive, too controlled, at times, by his wife and her vision of the American dream. That isn't much, though, considering how well I knew him. And I knew him well. He told me things, I found out later, he had only told his wife.

As I said, the last time I saw Zane I was grieving the last fits of my marriage. This was December of 1994. We may have spoken a few times after that, but soon I moved out of my mom's and to Belmont Shore. I began partying, doing martial arts, trying to enjoy life. I met Steph. Oh, I was wrong: I saw Zane one more time in a Carl's Jr. when I was with Stephanie and Mikey. A few years had gone by. I told him he looked the same, he told me I did also. This must have been just before I moved north. He had a third child now, and he seemed a bit stressed. I knew, in addition to his career, he was very active with the church I had attended and he and his family still attended. He was in leadership in his young families church group. I remember him saying that having children helped him understand God's love for us better. I wasn't sure I believed in God then and surely didn't think I believed in his Love. I said nothing about this.

I have thought of Zane from time to time, once such a close friend; I've hoped he isn't working too hard and have wondered if he ever got around to Thoreau.

Until last week.

I emailed an old friend, someone who also used to live in the building. She had been Estella's friend and became mine. I hadn't written or spoken to her in many years. In her first email response to me she mentioned, quickly considering the gravity of the news, that Zane had 'lost it' after 9/11, that his wife had just divorced him recently. I was shocked, and wondered if in fact my friend, who suffered from deep depressions most of her life, had in fact lost it.

But I spoke to Zane's recent ex-wife a few days ago, and it is all true and more than true. Zane had what we might call a nervous breakdown obsessively watching the constant media coverage of that awful day (it was my birthday, and I called in to work and sat in front of the television and bawled; even now, the anniversaries shake me and I stay as far from media as I can; this year will be no exception). He was unable to sleep for four days. He became delusional. Fair enough. There is one trauma in Zane's life, something he told only his wife, and me, many years ago. I will not relate it here. When I was bawling, pounding, talking, scraping my way out of my own pain Zane would relate his almost casually. He was not working his shit, as we'd say. Like many, he had been wounded but for some reason didn't address his trauma directly. It wasn't light, but it wasn't enormous. I've seen much worse in others.

Regardless, it was enough for Zane. He became paranoid and delusional and was hospitalized a few weeks later. Instead of recovering, he got better and then worse, and was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. At 35. His first psychotic episode. Five years later, he has not fully recovered.

I listened to his wife's story for a long time on the phone last week. She felt she really tried, but his willingness to take medication or seek help was limited. Sometimes he did not believe he as sick at all. Trying to raise their three children and care for Zane eventually became too difficult; they separated, he moved to his parents, a year later she filed for divorce. The conservative Evangelical church she attended for twenty years kicked her out soon after. As in, told her she could no longer attend services. Well fuck me. I was as shocked by that as anything. The group of women she used for support had already told her, when she separated from Zane, that they could no longer associate with her. She talked to the head pastor, the associate pastor, the marriage counselor they keep on staff (once a close friend of Zane's). But what she got from each of them was judgement and anger. Her three children, the youngest only eight, can still attend; she is not allowed.

I seem to remember the church the BTK killer attended said they'd continue to support him spiritually after his arrest.

I know the men who made this decision. One of them, the head elder, though he may have been the bearer of bad news and not the source (yet he is a man, ostensibly, for all that) was once a very good friend. I've known the head pastor, though not personally, since I was 19 and in Crusade. Zane's wife's take: well, you know what, I'm not going to share that. What is astounding is that she has found another church and is attending (first meeting with the pastor and his wife to make sure she was welcome). Mine is that I see almost reason to exclude a person from worship unless the individual is a danger to others in the service or utterly disruptive. Tell a person you disagree with her life decisions? Sure. Offer alternative choices and support? Yes. Exclude from leadership in certain cases? I can see this. But bar from the communion of saints? By what authority? And no, that is not what St. Paul really says. Because a woman divorces a paranoid schizophrenic husband after five years of trying to live with his delusions, explain him to the children...what gain is it to kick her out of fellowship?

And now for the final piece. I began writing as Beethoven's 9th was playing, and meant to finish before it did. Well, the final movement just ended. I'll begin again at the choral and say one last thing about Zane.

I spoke with him this morning.

It took me a few days to get the courage to call his parents' house. I read the DSM on his disorder and a little online (not that this was encouraging). I recall the conversation well enough to write it here near-verbatim, but I can't see how that is going to help someone who is already paranoid schizophrenic. I'm sorry, but as achingly tragic as the situation is, that was a little funny. The words and details of my phone conversation with Zane do not belong on the world wide web only hours after we spoke them.

Suffice to say I too am angry at his wife right now (though I would never kick her out of my church). He told me he was recently divorced, that he didn't want the divorce, that he wanted to stay married. He isn't working. He's reading what he called the classics: Grapes of Wrath, Black Like Me, the kind of books English undergrads read; he gets them from the library. I could tell the medication has slowed him down, but he laughed at a couple of my jokes with his old laugh. He was certainly there though not himself at the same time: it felt sadly like talking to Zane through a window. He did not want to discuss what he had been going through, even when asked. I could sense, above all, that he was fighting enormously to hold his thoughts and words together. That glorious, gorgeous, intricate mind. Reduced to struggling to sound sane, to stay present in a conversation for fifteen minutes. To avoid any content which would trigger his delusions. To hide from me that fact that he is, in fact, not fully sane.

When he first picked up the phone, and said hello Troy, I heard his voice fill with emotion. Once or twice that happened, but mostly, he sounded vigilant, cautious, as if all his energy was going to sound like the old Zane with his old friend. Sad, working through a loss, but not mad.

And now, as the first soloist begins, I am sobbing.

Of all men, why was Zane laid low? I have no answer. Why so late in life? Again, no answer. I knew him very well and he showed absolutely no signs of schizophrenia in his twenties. That he has had it for five years is unbelievable. If I hadn't talked to my old friend from the building and Zane's wife, I would not have been able to tell. I would have thought he was on the edge of heavy tears, depressed, but sane. There were hints in the conversation, but I would not have caught them. One thing I know for sure: today, at some level, he knows he has been ill and is ill still. He wants to do better.

I asked him if I could do anything for him. He said no. I gave him my number and told him to call anytime. He took it. I said I'd like to have lunch next time I'm in So. Cal. At the end, I told him I loved him. I don't know how much of it sunk in, if any. I am most afraid I could end up as part of his delusion, see him become paranoid of me (I didn't tell him I had talked to his wife), distrustful, believe I am part of a conspiracy. This has not happened yet. I pray to God it never does.

I've read paranoid schizophrenia has a better prognosis than other forms. That late-life onsets also may resolve. That meds are getting better. But there is no easy road back for Zane and there may not be any road back at all. I could scream at God, but I've given that up for the time being. I tried to reach out to Zane; I hope it had some impact, enough to lead to another phone call and a face to face meeting. The most I could do is encourage him to get more professional help. His wife said two of his psychiatrists quit suddenly and one therapist died of a heart attack. These were difficult losses. I don't know if he is in therapy at all now.

I've read Nash's biography, A Beautiful Mind. Zane surely had a beautiful mind as well. But now my friend's mind is disturbed and bent, tormented by unreal horrors, driven by genuine past horror but clearly by a brain illness as well. May God find him, today, and help him on his way back. I have no other prayer.