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 empty, closed hand, hand opened to reveal 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 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


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 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 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 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 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 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.