Friday, June 30, 2006

The Wright Stuff 1.0

Listening to Drop Kick Murphy's, thinking how "Captain Kelly's Kitchen" is narrative, is story, and thence my mind goes back to Wright's book.

I have been impressed, yes, and I find his writing style quite engaging. But for what it's worth, I read with all my critical arsenal locked and loaded. I can't help it. I'd like to keep a running commentary up here. These are posts which will interest few readers, but then I have few readers! If you've read Wright, great, if not, cool, enjoy or skip these posts at will. I'm sorting and sorting out.

***

I am not sure how much Wright's epistemology tells me about the world at large and how much it tells me about the world of NT scholarship, and NT scholars! He admits he isn't going to take a long time arguing his theory of knowledge and in fact cites longer works by others. I was disappointed, sorry, to note that a major one was by a NT scholar. The works cited for this book has nothing by Kant, by Plato, though these are mentioned in passing. In short, I'd like to know what professional philosophers are saying about what Wright calls 'critical realism.' (I have to admit, though, it sounds cool: what's your epistemic orientation? oh, I'm a critical realist; two of my favorite words).

My own mind is deeply affected by empiricism, by scientific method and materialism, by what Wright equates here with positivism. I know that the logical positivism of Ayers got into trouble, I even remember years ago reading why, but I forget and Wright doesn't tell me. He merely discounts Ayers and hence positivism and by connection pure empiricism. The thing about empiricism, the reason why so many thinkers have comfortably, and sometimes smugly, parked their behinds on that stool is that, as Wright says any successful philosophical theory should, it explains things, it offers predictions which can be re-enacted ad infinitum. Water, at 1.0 ATM will always boil at the same temperature. Reduce the pressure and the boiling point can be calculated exactly, tested, known.

Is that kind of 'story' the same thing as a cultural creation myth for example? Wright is rewriting (no pun int.) epistemology, pieces of psychology, learning theory, and he does it awfully quickly. For Wright argues that all knowledge is ultimately story knowledge, narrative knowledge, and I can't deny that all researchers, scientists included, operate from within presupposition, expectation, story. Sometimes that story grows too large, incorporates areas that are beyond testability, or more often, it simply denies the discussability of anything beyond it. But I'm taking Wright's narrative idea with a shaker full of salt for now. Sure that works in NT studies (as he notes, all we really have are stories) and as an English major, I like the metaphor. Still, I need time to think about this.

And the one time Wright does mention Plato (33) I'm not sure I agree with his application. I know the passage from Symposium well, have discussed it in many classes. Socrates argues that there is middle ground between true knowledge and ignorance (and how frustrating to work here with a translation only; I have to learn Greek some day). That middle ground is true belief, something like faith, I guess. I've puzzled over that many times. Socrates is simply trying to decenter the arguments (the stories, actually) about Love which have gone before. Socrates likes to make his opponents admit they're wrong about anything he can, and that happens here. Love is also a spirit, a mediator, between Gods and Men. Spirits operate in the realm where true belief is, the in-between.

I'm not even sure how metaphysically serious Plato was here. But Wright quickly says that Plato is saying there are some things we can know for sure and some we can't, a form of positivism. Wright seems to be assuming that Plato is saying we can know the physical world the way scientists do; he doesn't say this, because it's clearly not true. Plato was concerned with his universals, his transcendents. Those we could only access fleetingly in this life. The world around us was transitory, mutable and imperfect.

So I didn't like that passing reference to P, even if Wright may be onto something with that challenging text. I believe Wright is a well-educated NT scholar who knows his field very, very well. But how well he interacts with larger philosophies only time will tell.

Whatever, he writes very clearly considering his content.

Should all knowledge be understood as embedded in story? That is very intriguing, and while Wright doesn't write an entire book on it, he should. I would enjoy it, probably, as much as anything else in this series. And again, how could he write this chapter without engaging Kant's epistemology?

I note the next chapter begins with a poem. How fun. I'm being serious now, not ironic. Why he chose de la Mare is another question.

Love to all. Gotta go.

t

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Wright Stuff 0.5

My time is limited this morning for all the usual reasons. However, I just read the introduction to N.T. Wright's first volume of The Series; you know, The Series. The first book is called The New Testament and the People of God and entering it has been like reading Plato for the first time. Though the two writers have very different styles, agendas, approaches, cultures, everything, I realize I'm going into not just a book but a philosophical landscape, and a new one at that. My initial reaction is that Wright, whether I agree with him or not, is in fact a genius.

The man has an eye for detail, and I love it. Also, he's fairly postmodern (or whatever he will eventually style himself) with his continual attention to interpretive presuppositions, insistence on blending all viable approaches into an original synthesis, and his apparent unwilligness to accept easy answers. It would be nice if I had read Bultmann, Wrede, Tillich, etc., before Wright, for he covers, and quickly critiques or even dismisses, their perspectives very quickly (but then, this is just an introduction).

As far as I can tell, my own fetal theology has been something like the post-war movement's, something like Stendahl's (apparently famous) essay: the NT is authoritative for the faith because it was written by those close to God's major revelatory act in history. Wright has issues with this idea, providing, in his little intro, only one example from ancient history, Seutonius on Domitian, as an example of how proximity to an event does not guarantee even historical accuracy, let alone authority. Fair enough. According to BW3 anyway, there is no hard evidence of gnostic Christianity in the first century, but what if there was, what if gnostic Christianity developed alongside Paul's theology? I wouldn't toss in the orthodox towel. Far from it. I always go back, in my own head, to the Bruce Lee example: some of his followers understood him clearly (Dan Inosanto), others, who should have known what 'use no way as way' means, failed and continue to fail to do so.

One thing I'd toss out here, and it's something Wright doesn't mention (and truly, a 28 page introduction shows considerable restraint for a book, and series, of this magnitude) is that I also tend to feel (how's that for conviction) that the evangelists, and Paul, had some kind of revelatory experience, a direct insight from God, even if that insight got skewed upon reception and certainly was elaborated on in oral and written expansion. I have no doubt, though, an entire school of Biblical scholars has said just this and Wright will get to it soon enough.

All this said, the Intro alone is staggering for its breadth and, while it leaves scores of questions and offers very few answers, promises to introduce a project of dizzying scope. Dizzying. Wright comes at the end of two millennia of NT interpretation, and two centuries packed with new approaches which still hold influence. Into all this mess, into this vineyard, to use his appropriated Markan metaphor, Wright steps confidently, enthusiastically.

I'm looking forward to this book; it begins my true NT education as far as I'm concerned. My hope is that this leads me closer to God. This is not, for me, an academic project, but one which contains all the desperate energy of life. The need to Know and Be Known.

***

Steph and I joined a karate school about thirty minutes down the hill from our house. I so hope we can go regularly. The little school in our town, run by a sensei trained at the school we're now at, was a great addition to our little mountain community until the sensei got into serious trouble, fled the state, and then got into worse. His old teacher, the owner of our new school, is an intense Christian. By intense I mean he began 'witnessing' to us as soon as we walked in and asked him about the gym. He's Calvary Chapel all the way, and while his awareness of other groups may be a bit naive...when we told him we were Episcopalian he asked us, 'okay, is that father, son, and holy spirit, jesus the only way?'...it's hard not to respect his enthusiasm. He has the 'prayer of salvation' written on a white board as soon as you walk into the gym. I have to admit, as he went on and on, he was actually pissing me off, digging up old wounds with his terminology, but when he asked me about my own faith journey I told him the truth. Yes, I am a Christian and am even considering seminary.

So not only do we get karate, we get Jesus-karate, something I didn't know existed. All I want is to lose weight and get my cardio back. Those elliptical trainers at the gym are about as much fun as a hamster wheel. He also has a few rugged free weights (which work just as well as the shiny kind) so the plan is to quit our regular gym and just go here. We'll see. Karate would never be my first choice; I'll always consider myself an moved-away member of the jeet kune do family (who has forgotten most of his curriculum) but martial arts is martial arts. It's great for anger work, stress release, self-confidence, fitness, a sense of community. Here's to hoping the Jesus gym provides all this.

Love to all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Human Suffering and Ecce, Homo

As I wrote yesterday, I have much to do around the house and need to catch up on my online class. But something occured to me during my vacation that I need to write down here. It's a little insight, but it marked a shift in my thinking on a critical issue. The nature of it is so obvious I'm embarrassed that I didn't consider the problem of pain from this perspective before.

Of course, my discussion depends on the reliability of the gospel tradition, at least in the sense that Jesus actually healed; for this discussion, I'll begin with the assumption that he did in fact heal in a unique fashion. Or, if you wish, I'll proceed as if Jesus truly healed.

Even some skeptical readers of the NT, Schweitzer and Sanders come to mind, have been impressed by the strong thread of miraculous content in the gospels. It is not my purpose in this post to examine the miracle stories, but I will say that those who attempt to point out that all religions have miracles, or that there were other ancient miracle workers in Judaism and in Paganism and that the gospel accounts should be viewed in parallel with these, these individuals are plainly mistaken. In ancient paganism and pre-Jesus Judaism there are exactly zero miracle workers who compare to Jesus. In fact, I am unaware of any religious literature, any literature at all, which makes the miraculous claims found in every strand of the gospel strata. Quick refutations of my point are possible, but close examination shows they are erroneous. The fact that an ancient deity descended to the underworld, dropped dead in the presence of the judges of the underworld, was hung on a hook on the wall and then rescued, brought back to life, by her lover after three days sounds impressive, but it has nothing to do with a man crucified by the Romans in Palestine, whose empty tomb (in reality, found less than three days later) and appearances to historical human beings began a new religion founded on not only his death and resurrection but the miraculous deeds of his life...I am getting off my topic, but I continue to be unconvvinced by those who claim the Jesus story is comparable with the pagan 'parallels' of Jesus. I am also unconvinved, at this time, by the mythicists, those who believe Jesus was not a historical person at all.

So, for my purpose here I will assume the numerous miracles attributed to Jesus have at least some veracity. His followers considered him a healer; Jesus considered himself a healer, and stories of Jesus healing even those close to him, in the presence of witnesses who knew those healed (Mark 1, John 11) contain some truthful threads.

If they do, if Jesus did heal, how does this relate to the problem of suffering?

Human, and animal, suffering is one of the most difficult questions Christians have to answer. The ancient Christian/Jewish tradition of a fall from grace which resulted in suffering and pain (and actually, the traditional Christian teaching requries some interpretation of the Genesis story) appears to be in trouble now that multi-million-year evolution is on the scientific scene. We could still have fallen sometime in our evolutionary history, but what if we didn't? What if we just evolved this way and awful suffering, microbes and cancer and kidney disease and natural disaster and death and grief, what if there are just part of the human package?

Perhaps, if we simply evolved this way, God is partially off the hook (sorry for the mytho-pun from earlier) for human suffering. Our suffering is simply a fact of our evolved existence. We compete with other organisms in the evolutionary scale, including bacteria and viruses, and sometimes we lose. Our pain sense, which is essential to avoid damage all over our body just walking through a wood, at times does more than it needs to. The pain of polio or bone cancer certainly is telling us something is wrong, the same as when I lean against a sharp stick in a tree trunk and my pain receptors tell me to ease up before I poke a hole in my back. Only with many diseases, barring recent medical treatments for which I am intently grateful, the pain cannot lead us to positive, alleviating action. We suffer, but we can't always step away from the sharp stick. A tooth rots and the pain receptors tell us the integrity of our system is threatened; they tell us that pretty acutely. If we didn't know how to pull the tooth, the pain would continue, nagging and hellish, until the infection spread to the blood stream itself. Someday, I surely hope, we will have cures for many diseases (and I echo the current enthusiasm of Buffet and Gates here: money and time may eventually fix much physical suffering). Until we do, some deadly sticks will poke us, hurt us more and more, until they kill us.

Which brings me to the other great problem: death. I know some people, my anthro colleague included, who believe that we will soon extend life to very long spans, perhaps indefinitely, live until we ourselves tire of living and wish to die. Will humans really cure death? Will pain and all disease, our fragile state in the evolutionary life-matrix, eventually be made pain-free and permanent?

I can't say and neither can anyone else. But what theist hasn't struggled with the problem of suffering? I think of a scene from "Sonny's Blues" where the young girl, fictional but representative of millions, is discovered by her parents contorted by polio, in so much pain she cannot scream right away; when she does catch her agonized breath and scream, the howl is horrifying. I think of the death of Darwin's own daughter, a piece in his own fall from faith. Of Lewis' loss of Joy and of the death of a the wife of one of the CADRE bloggers. One story which has always been challenging for my faith is the illness of the man who married my brother. He was a pastor, a nice enough seeming guy, met his wife in Bible college ('God brought us together'), had a church in the midwest...not long after my brother's wedding, not long after I met him, sat and watched him eat pancakes with honey and butter in true midwest fashion, he contracted encephalitis from a mosquito bite, here or back in the midwest I don't know. Was he prayed for during the illness? Almost certainly. Did he live? Yes, but the disease altered his brain, damaged it in some way so that his personality changed, his college-sweetheart wife eventually divorced him, he lost his family, his job, part of his mind. Where is he now? Is he better? I have no idea. But why would such an awful thing happen? Is this God's plan?

If God has a plan for individual events like this, I have no idea what it is and cannot guess. But I tend to think he doesn't. I tend to think this kind of suffering is simply part of being a human in the biologic universe. As C.S. Lewis says, the universe if 'no friend of man's.' The story of my brother's pastor-friend brings that into chilling perspective.

Why does God let this happen? Why doesn't he intervene when children suffer, either from disease or human evil, when a little girl gets cancer and dies or a man molests her (and I read just the other day of a nine year old, french kissed by her sixty something teacher). Why?

I don't know. I do not know. But I know two things. One is that God, Jesus, demands that humans do something concrete about the suffering of others. This is the heart of the gospel message; this, truly, is the Law which Jesus says God commands us to hold. It is a waste of time, and a great error, looking for proscriptive sin lists in the Bible. The essemtial Law is Love, but giving, sacrificing, step out of my way love for those who need help. Why doesn't God just take care of human needs himself? Why does he command me to do something about hunger when he is God? I don't know, but Jesus worked that way in the gospels and God works that way throughout the Tanakh as well. From Moses to Ezekial to the Seventy in the synoptics. We see the same thing in the epistles. Human agency. People are poor, hungry, sick, lonely, in prison, oppressed in an unfair economic system; I want you to do something about it. I can blame God for suffering if I want, for poor people starving and depressed people struggling alone, but what am I freaking doing about it? According to Jesus, God will ask. I need much greater action in my own life in this area.

The second piece of this (and surely human effort, at this time at least, cannot alleviate all suffering) is Jesus behavior while on earth. And this has been my shift in thinking this week: I felt the question of human suffering was unanswered. A painful, existential puzzle that I could not reconcile easily with my faith. But what did Jesus do on earth? He healed. He removed sickness, and even death, all the time.

The gospel writers, Mark at least (and Mt and Lk who took from him assuming they did) may have gotten the demonic possession thing wrong, or overstated; this is another issue. Still, Jesus casts out demons, frees minds from suffering, throughout the synoptics. But he also heals physical illnesses which clearly could not be mistaken. Deformed limbs, men known to be crippled or blind from birth, obvious skin diseases, even the dead. The point is that I do not know why we suffer, or why God, or his universe, allowed us to develop so that we do suffer and die, but I do know that the gospel Jesus, consistently and regularly, remedied these very things.

This in itself is a remarkable fact. The gospel writers seem to have missed it, even. In John, the miracles (not all of which are healings, true) are signs so that we may believe. In the synoptics, faith brings about the healing in many cases. But in all cases, unlike any previous figure in Jewish literature, Jesus removes suffering. Why does he do this?

The clues are sparse, but compassion and a desire to have all included in the religious cultus seem evident. Jesus healed, notoriously, on the sabbath; he touched those unclean when he healed them. We have a fixed number of miracles in the gospels (do I recall 17?) but both Mark and John note that Jesus performed many more such acts, healing from village to village those who needed relief from their pain and physical deformities.

In short, I do not know why God allows physical suffering and disease, but I know that Jesus, God's unique historical emissary, spent great energy alleviating it as he travelled. It mattered to him. He told his followers if must matter to them also.

It would be great if healings were as common in the church now as they appear to be in Jesus' time. It would sure make apologetics interesting. I don't know why they aren't, though I've heard some say they believe they are. No one less than Ben Witherington, BW3, has claimed to have seen physical deformities healed in response to prayer. I haven't been so lucky, yet. It seems Jesus came not to end all suffering and death immediately, nor to empower all his followers to do so miraculously in his absence. But the fact that he so consistently and supernaturally remedied human disease and suffering, even death, tells me a lot about the God he claimed to represent.

If the atonement is true, if Christ carried his mission beyond healing physical disease to giving his life to atone for our spiritual death, an infinitely more important deficit, than those who rail against God for allowing human suffering need to think about such a sacrifice, such suffering, given, again according to the earliest Christian documents we have, in place of our own, freely, by a loving God. Why God allows suffering I don't know. But in Jesus life, and perhaps death, I see a clear committment to ending it.

I believe it is Voltaire who says, "If God is God, then he's the Devil." Meaning if we have an omniscient deity who is also all-powerful, in some way he is responsible for the horrendous suffering of innocent people, if only because he does not stop it. But those who rail against God because of human pain, Voltaire and my own self included, need to consider two other things: Jesus' commands regarding suffering and his miraculous, frequent healings while on earth (apparently unnecessary in any direct way for his mission), and Jesus' apparent belief that he was being offered as God's sacrifice in place of others.

And finally, while God's response to Job may seem inadequate for many of us, I do consider it. God, in that text, points out to Job the things he cannot understand, large and powerful specimens of the animal kingdom, Behemoth and Leviathan. Job sees God is greater than him by reflecting on these animals. Primitive but interesting. But Job did not know the size of the cosmos, the unknowable vastness of billion-galaxied space. If God truly made all this universe, he must be something indeed. My own reason, perhaps, becomes dangerous when I try to compare it to his. For me, this might not be a satisfactory final answer. But when we look at human suffering and say there can be no God we are in fact saying something about God. No good God could allow this; we would not allow it, if we were God. Bold, even smug, thinking that. But to be fair we must also look at Jesus' actions and words. When God does break directly into our dim and scattered corner of the cosmos, he heals, and heals, and heals some more. He raises the dead. Then he tells us to get our butts in gear and do what we can to alleviate hunger and suffering with the means we have.

What did Voltaire do to help those individals around him who suffered? What have I done? What are any of us doing? Surely this is the highest of all calls. This is Jesus' ethical command. Before I blast God for not doing enough, why not look at myself, look at Jesus, pray and hope that the day will soon come when Christ will make all things right.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Vacation Thoughts

I'm home from two weeks in So. Cal.; Long Beach, Chino, Disneyland, then back up the coast, Cambria, Santa Cruz, and home. I ate too much rich food, drank a bit more than usual, got one sunburn, and had a truly good time. In fact, coming back to our hot sierra house is something of a shock (even at my elevation, it's probably 90 today and we have no air conditioning).

Our dogs are still here; our friend who dog sat seemed to do a fine job though I can't believe how dirty our house is, much of it from before we left of course. Deep cleaning required.

I'm teaching one summer class online to pay for sailing and other fun and with the house as messy as it is and so many house projects looming, June nearly over already, I have less time to reflect here than I'd like. Perhaps later this week.

I have lots to reflect on.

For on, I am astounded to say this, I had a nearly ocd free vacation. Sure I had some anxiety; I rode that giant sun roller coaster at California Adventure and nearly passed out from terror (something about hanging free like that, moving so slowly, dangling...actually about the hardest exposure work I've ever done). But stuck in the obsessive loop...not really, very little. My wife had the best time we've ever had with family, maybe with each other, kayaking, going to the theme park, and eating and eating and eating. What an accomplishment this is for me. OCD, unlike depression say, is a chronic condition. It's not like I could ever go this long without being stuck in the obsessions, yet this is mostly what happened. And that freedom revitalized my relationship with my wife. What a thing to say, to write; I experienced two whole weeks without suffering from something I've suffered with almost all my life in one way or another, and all I can do is write the sentence. I know the reasons, which is all the better, and will get them up here when I can. Therapy, of course, made the difference.

We also went to a dear friend's wedding, and you know what, we both looked hot, my old self included in that. I write that because of the post below. Looks appear to fade in cycles, I guess.

I do have these wierd red bumps on my hands and feet that showed up yesterday or the day before. If they're still around tomorrow I'll call my doc., but I'm doing my best not to catastrophize into terror...truly, what's the worst it could be? Probably an allergic reaction or some kind of minor infection.

What else?

We visited the little Episcopal parish in Cambria and felt very welcomed. The readings that day were full of sea themes, Jesus' calming of the storm and the almost identical imagery from Psalms (yes, all the questions went through my head). There was something almost Moby Dick-ish (when was the last time I saw that adjective?) about staying in a room right on the sea, on Moonstone beach itself, and then going to church and hearing readings and a sermon full of sea and sailing imagery, in a house-sized church shrouded in sea fog (drawn in from the baking central valley), bowing to a processional cross decorated with stones from the local shore-sand? I would like to write an entire blog on those readings, but it's on my list of things to get to.

Oh that we had a housecleaner.

I even had one of those light-house moments in church, a sense that I would know, when the time came, whether to go deacon or priest. Or neither, I suppose; but at the time I simply felt I'd know which of those two I was called to do. Called. I don't even believe in a 'calling;' I figure I just need to discover my skills and apply them in the church. But there it was. Brief, but bracing and pure. I may still teach English all my life, but it was a nice moment. I simply hope I live a normal lifespan so I can do and enjoy the things I could not enjoy or do my first forty years.

I drove down the street I grew up on in Lakewood. It looked so small, so tiny, tiny small, that it felt surreal. The house I grew up in looks pretty good, though, which I'm glad for. After my mother left my father let it go Pap Finn and I was ashamed to be there. It seems someone has put money into it, probably from its own booming equity since we moved out in 1980.

Oh, 1980. I have a good friend, Funkiller, who took me on a tour of the high school I attended. That alone is worth a blog or more than one. I sat down in the sacred faculty lounge for the first time and told the story of the faculty member, my mentor and friend, who played cards in that lounge every day (and still does, one year to go) who hit on my 18 year old girlfriend and confused her enough that she broke up with me after more than three years together. Funkiller had never heard the story, and it was empowering, mystically so, to share it in that location.

More healing. If there's one great thing about an awful childhood and young adulthood, it's that you get to spend the rest of your time alive breaking through and healing. May God direct it all to some higher service. May my suffering help others in some way.

And may justice thrive on this earth.

On that note, I see that the Episcopal church has selected a female presiding bishop, one who wants complete inclusion for gay church members. I don't know enough about homosexuality to take a position (but note Sandalstraps recent post) but I do know enough about the bible to not scramble there for my chapter and verse. In short, I support her selection and her view on gay clergy and church members. I'm certainly supportive of women in ministry. I remember when that used to cool my blood; women and gays in minstry! Chilled my fundamentalist blood. The idea horrofied me and I had all the right answers.

Fact is, I didn't know a damned thing about the bible as a whole or human nature. I believe I learn slowly.

I don't know what else to write here, throwing up sketches as I am, snippets without development or form. But I wanted to let those who read (hi my loyal four!) that I'm okay, more than okay, and if God and luck and whatever else determines these things allows me continued health and time my intimacy with my wife will only grow, my sense of peace become real, my knowledge of my role in the Body only build.

This is all I have time for, fresh from unloading the car.

Be well all. Peace and grace. More to come when I have time.

t

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Quick Note to Say

Breakfast out with Stephanie, pedicures for both of us, simple conversation...my mood lifts...

Looking forward to seeing my brother and his babies in So. Cal.

Sailing, great as it is, is no substitute for my family.

t

Monday, June 12, 2006

Again from the Sea

Considering I spent just two days on the water and two nights on the boat (both nights tied up at the dock in SC) my title must seem pretentious. Yet each time I sail my experiences are different, I come back to a different world, and this time, instead of feeling relaxed and energized, I'm feeling a bit lost back at home, with just two days to prepare my summer online class, clean house, and hit the road for So Cal.

And while I missed my wife, frankly, it's hard to come back too. The bill I forgot to pay which is ten days late now, the plane flight for our son on our credit card which we forgot to pay off earlier...all this hit me with sudden (dare I say gust-like force) and we weren't home together this morning long before she had to run. In short, I don't feel reconnected to her, and since I struggle with intimacy and feeling comfortable in close situations, tragically, much of the time, my mood is lower than I'd expect after two days sailing, and my time yto blog about it even more limited than usual. Well, I've seen feelings swing from low to high, back and back again, all in one day. Feelings. As complex as our own blend of the rational and animal.

This was my first time sailing as 'skipper' and (while everything eventually worked out) I would make a few recommendations: one, don't sail the first skipperage with people one hasn't sailed with before; know the crew and their abilities and have two or three other competent sailors aboard. And two, always ask closely to see how much experience a person truly has before handing him the helm.

It turned out that one of the two I went with (and they were very pressed to only have the three of us on board; another mistake because it cost me twice as much to sail as it should have) does in fact know how to sail well, and navigate; though his knowledge of terminology is not strong, he learns terms fast and helped me with my docking and undocking under power, a skill-set where I am weak and one of the reasons I tried so hard to sail before my vacation. The other person, his partner, whom he assured me 'is a great, sailor, better than me' cannot sail at all. This is fine if I had known it ahead of time. This person, while performing a simple maneuver, tacking, passing the bow through the wind to head of on another course, kept turning the wheel so that the wind, a fresh 16 knots by then, came directly aft and bloody near tore the freaking rigging from the mainsail. As skipper, everything that happens is my financial responsibility (up to the three thousand dollar deductible) and I was pretty pissed though I tried to handle it well. Had I known this person couldn't sail, I would not have given them the helm even to tack.

Sailing is not rocket science. In fact, it's probably easier, and certainly safer, than driving on the freeway, but bit mistakes can be made and this person nearly made one. Pretty exciting for my first day; then this peson got seasick, and I was fighting it myself probably in part because my nerves were so high strung!

Anyway, the second day was wonderful. The two of use that could sail sailed the boat, and we went west, deeper into Monterey Bay, overcast all day, the water dark and firm, otters, seals, sea birds I don't know, and dolphins appearing here and there. It's such a beautiful place.

The other cool thing was that my bareboat instructor, a man I've befriended, took us into the SC Yacht Club Friday night and we had a drink and a nice dinner (and my friends, to their credit, bought me dinner). It was my first time in a yacht club and that particular one is very low-key, chummy, paper napkins and placemats, but we sat with one couple, my friend and his wife, who had spent six years sailing around the world and another, his friends, who just got back from a three year trip. I don't ever see myself doing that, but it there were fascinating stories about everything from lightning to video rentals in south america (the mold eats the tape, apparently, or something). All in all, it was quite an honor to be there. My ex-instructor and new friend is something of a local legend, has sailed his entire life, won one very high profile and notorious race, and been in SC for 25 years (minus the six abroad). I don't know why I like him so much, but I do, frank and earthy as he can be.

Ah, sailing. The only that that holds me back from ocean sailing is some sea sickness. Not as bad as some people, but enough to be an issue. The SF Bay, of course, doesn't really do that to me, or hasn't yet, even in the big chop. It's those long, big Pacific swells...up, up, down, down, down, down, up, up...it's quite a feeling, even with meclizine. I tried that scopolamine patch and I cannot tolerate it at all. It messed with my vision; I even saw flashes of light when I was laying in bed trying to fall asleep. Yeah, not good. And oddly similar, though still distinct, from the SSRI reaction. Two drug classes which could do me much good, perhaps, are not for me.

Somehow, writing about my experience is helping me feel centered. Even with such a short trip, when I got home last night I couldn't believe how big our house felt, how wide the rooms were, how oddly square the angles. It felt alien. And surely, the sea motion was still with me. I learned a lot about sailing this weekend, and about crew. I grew. That was why I went, but overall I prefer having a skipper to being one, I think. The difference, when chartering a boat where only one credit card is on the line, is enormous.

And still I have to take my wife sailing. She went the first two times I went, two years ago or three, and hasn't gone since.

I tend to pursue interests out of balance, I know. I'm trying to keep other things going here, hiking, gardening, if I have the gumption to haul all our gear south which is iffie) scuba. Sailing is powerful, it effects relationships and individuals in a special way, and apparently there are entire books on this subject. I want it to bring my wife and I closer together, to bring me closer to my true self, the one that lies beneath all the ritual and fear (and it does relax me, a critical feature for anyone with my symptom set). I'm teaching a summer class just to pay for my new gps and vhf radio, and to pay for more sailing trips.

But why, why, why, why, why, why, aren't things easy for me when it comes to relationship? I dreamed about my ex, Estella, night before last and woke with that old strange longing, longing to feel accepted by her, forgiven, loved, redeemed, friends again. We managed to keep such distance between us, she never felt permanently mine if I think deeply, I believe much of my pull towards her was her detached, aloof, cold inacessibility. White rage beneath an opaque blond and enigmatic beauty.

The fact is it takes all of us a long time to get over our psychic wounds. It takes those of us with ocd longer. Which makes those who have abused me as adults all the more damned in my eyes. God speaks for himself; I'm talking about my own feelings. Not very mature, or charitable, but there you go. I also bear responsibility for not processing things more fully, true, but I do try and do more than many people with no mental disorder.

My own marriage has gotten stronger every year. It continues to do so in crucial ways, though other things remain challenges. The times when I feel I love my wife as a person, as a being or soul I know so well over a decade of life together, apart from any obsessive issues on my part of human shortcomings on her part...those are special times and I crave more.

I know I'm dragging on, but another thing: because of my fears, the simplest task is loaded with anxiety and tension. That's why when something relaxes me I go piggy-wild to get more of it. Sailing fits here. But oh the glory of feeling close. Near. Nestled to my wife's calm body, close to the Great Garden, the Landscape which is her varied being; like sailing in Monterey, two miles off Aptos, softly pressed to the lip of the vast out-heart of the Pacfic, whose diminished ripples roll, lift and set me, faint echoes of its far-off chambers.

Yes, I owe Eliot for the chambers diction. Think what he borrowed.

It is hard, frankly, when after a decade all the pixie dust is worn off my lover, off my self for that matter, when at 41 my hair is more gray than brown, age spots have appeared on the back of one hand and near one eye. The radical elation of youth is gone. When I was young, I thought if I had this or that experience, became this or that thing, I would know ecstasy without end. Completion. The infant sleeping at the breast. Now I crave only times of peace beneath the fear. I look for simpler, less dramatic joys. I know that all pleasure comes with complex association, often eventual sorrow or loss, that whatever looks I had are fading, the strapping forever-health of my barbarian youth, when I drank from milk cartons of egg-nog and gasped like a pirate, is gone. Now I have heartburn, worse eyes, too much body hair and fat around my waist.

Many middle-aged men take great joy in their children, and perhaps I should let that come closer to me. I think my son is wonderful, but I rarely call him son out of respect for his father and he never calls me dad or father. Just Troy. That will probably not change, but perhaps I could try and feel more of my appreciation for him. I don't know. I think of Eccliastes. I want to reject, and do reject, the blank emotional nihilism, the biological determinism, of Crane or London, while at the same time seeing it appear in the texture of my skin.

Am I 'stepped back' from my faith? Yes. Not rejecting it, but outside its experience these last few days. It happens.

This has been quite a ramble, and truthfully, I don't even have time to go back and make anything of it. It has been good for me to write. Certainly the days of my greatest physical health were, in my case, lonenly, frustrated, poor, and much more anxious and depresssed than I am now. The forties are supposed to be a good decade. They are, I'm sure, if one lets go of the value-set of the twenties and thirties!

Love to all.

I am hoping for another pleasant sail, soon I hope, with my wife sitting in the cockpit, enjoying herself, finding herself and parts of me and us also in the sea.

Why did John of Patmos say the dead in the sea would rise first? It is an absurd idea. I have long asked myself that question, though. Not in a morbid sense, but wondering what it was about the sea which led him to say that. For surely, the ocean holds a power deeper than even fear itself. I am trying to pull my mind free from Monterey Bay even now without automatically lapsing into the other.

It is like waking from an unaccustomed afternoon nap, hot, in a strange place, or emerging bleary from a long novel. Only more thorough. I believe most people call this recreation.

I truly must go. Again, peace and God's grace to all. May we know it more deeply.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Brief Return

thanks, Romy and Sandalstraps, for the kind comments below. And I will make the post Sandalstraps links my next online read. But in some ways I've enjoyed the break. Various things have come to me:

One, while online communication provides a certain kind of intimacy, it is the weakest of nearly all kinds. If I spend too much time up here, I neglect some of my own needs. Of course, balance is key. I'd be very sad if I knew I could never read any of the blogs I read, or if those people (who I wished lived in my town so we could all have dinner at my house) who read this blog quit reading me altogether. Still, I think almost all who blog know the feeling I mean.

Two, it's too easy to graze up here with my reading. All my friends write thoughtful posts, but learning about my faith or issues with my faith, must at least in part be accomplished through non-online reading. You know, books. I have Wright's first massive Jesus volume on the way and I'm hoping I have the chutzpah to read the entire series. The vast Jesus war online, those writing to defend the faith and those writing to pull people away from it, is intriguing, perhaps too much so. I can't forget my own spiritual practice, weak as it is. The Christian life is not primarily argument, perhaps not even primarily thought. It is faith and love and hope, and for lack of a better term, a distinct attitude towards one's place in the cosmos. I have much to learn here, as I gravitate towards ideas more easily than individuals, but I do know I can't figure out every issue and build an impenetrable superstructure before I begin to trust God's love. Sandalstraps recommended Fear and Trembling and the quote on the cover page alone, something like...the message was understood by the son but not the messenger...I find very powerful, even, dare I say it, empirically powerful, as I review the blogs of those on both sides.

Three, I passed bareboat. I truly did. The written tests were pretty tough, and the on-water time began badly as I left the transmission in reverse and idled back out of the slip, the prop walk insidiously dragging me towards moored boats. We got out of that tight corner, but it was a tricky start. In contrast, the rest of the weekend went very well, except that I missed my family so much I drank more beer (alone, in the local brewery, trying to look like I understood the basketball game on the television) than I needed to Saturday night and was just slightly hung over Sunday. That slight dehydrated hangover becomes, I learned, genuine sea sickness on the ocean swells. Did I puke? No, but the mal de mar, that awful little seizure in the brain, was breaking through in spite of the meclizine and it ruined an otherwise beautiful day. I still managed to demonstrate the skills necessary to pass, but next time I go I'm wearing the scop patch and not drinking.

On that note, I'm going again this weekend, once more without S! I'm tired of going without her, but she works three straight twelves, we're going on vacation for most of June right after, and I want to play skipper and practice the stuff I just learned before we're into July. Two other collegues from my work are going, but I will miss her.

I think I'm done counting after three.

If anyone who reads like sea stories, may I recommend Jan de Hartog? He's a Dutchman who writes in English, and his novels are pretty good; The Call of the Sea, and especially The Distant Shore should be read by all sailors and scuba divers. He's better than London, and I still have to teach JL in my classes at least a little. Along with people in the canon who have even less talent than London. Why? Because we've always done it that way!

On a final note, I'm going through (another) tough time. Intimacy is very hard for me and I have to work for each minute I get with my wife where I feel close, where I can be non-judgemental, non-critical, non-anxious, mentally present. In significant ways our relationship is stronger than ever (ten years together now) in other ways it seems weaker to me. Regardless, I rarely find it easy, and my depression/anger and OCD are critical challenges for me still though I do slowly improve. Slowly. All the old patterns, angers and moods from childhood, plus the baggage from my abuse as an adult...I think I need to write more about that, and perhaps start doing so here again.

On the truly final note, almost an appended aside, while there is much in the Christian religion which I find challenging, it is, at its core, the grandest and most humane of all world faiths. Like Frederick Douglass (and for that matter Jesus) I'm separating the true from the false. Yes viewing the bible as a collection of human books which are imperfect, including the gospels, is very tough. So is the thread of judgement in the NT. I still find human suffering a difficult thing in light of my faith (and that's one place, perhaps, those who believe in karma can take solace: this little girl died of cancer because in her past life she was a self-centered truck driver who cheated on his wife).

Incidentally, I have one friend who believes Jesus died for the sins of all and we're all going to be with him in the next life. Let's hope he's right.

Those of you who pray, please say a quick prayer for me. I'm in a tough-faith state right now, holding everything up for question, and I crave the sense of wholeness and direction my Christianity has, at times, given me.

Now I do indeed need to go. I'll be reading my friends' blogs this week, catching up. For now, back to the non-virtual world.