Saturday, December 29, 2007

Eight Songs (from Chris' Blog) 1.0

I am so happy to see my name (alongside the dashing Brian's) at Sandalstraps, I cannot resist the opportunity to respond: what are 8 songs that have been important to me, had meaning or impact?

I have interpreted 'songs' very broadly, and I know Chris will not mind.

1) Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (especially the famous Ode to Joy in the final movement).

If there is a finer melody in western culture besides the Ode, I am not sure I know it. I have known this music for many years, and while my appreciation of classical music is very pedestrian, two times in my life this particular piece of music impacted me come to mind: The first was when I was hospitalized, before this blog even began, for a vicious inner ear infection. I had the spins so bad I could not open my eyes for a week, and I spent three days in the hospital. It was, quite simply, the sickest I have felt physically in my life. Because my wife works in the hospital, I was given the private room, the one used for people with tuberculosis or other communicable diseases, and a huge air filtration unit ran over my head continually. I was behind a closed door, isolated completely except for when my i.v. was changed or my loving wife came to visit. All she could do was talk to me, and I was really too sick to say much back. But she brought my discman (long before I had an ipod) and it held only one cd: the Ninth. I listened to that piece of music over and over for many hours as the sun's light came and went far from where I could see or feel it. What did I decide? That the music was perfect. Now, it probably is not perfect, it cannot be (I am still half a Platonist, you know) but its exquisite, and deeply romantic, construction reminded me then, and now, of Beauty rising from Chaos. For the beginning of the symphony, and the beginning of the fourth movement where the tremendous Ode eventually dominates, are wildy disordered in my view. And then the Great Theme appears fitfully until it takes complete center stage, the Goddess, the Form, of Beauty itself, rising from the emotional holocausts of the earlier bars.

On a happier note: when my wife and I were married in a little Episcopal church in so. cal., chosen merely because it looked so lovely, the priest would not allow secular music at all. That includes Wagner. So, while I have forgotten our entry music (probably Bach) our exit music was tremendous: the theme from the Ode. We snuck that in, of course, because it has been used for the Christmas Carole Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee! As we were pronounced man and wife, the very sweet organist pulled out the stops (if this is the correct term) and blasted, I mean blasted, the Ode out of that giant pipe organ. When we were outside, I heard her playing it on electronic bells. Yes. The Ninth has to go into the list.

2) Here I cheat and name a class of songs: Christmas songs. I love many: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Good King Wencelas...these little hymns hold theology more pure and true, reflect trust and peace more adequately, than most of the theological volumes in my library.

3) Springsteen's The River. I am not particularly a huge Springsteen fan; I have never even owned an album. I was much more into the blues of Zeppelin or the post punk of Nirvana. And I didn't get my girlfriend in high school pregnant or make love with her beside any lake (or really, fully, make love with her at all). But the poignancy of this song, the sense of doom in the young couple, can I use the term literary naturalism...oh, I would listen to this and cry sometimes when she and I were in conflict. The song gave me strength to continue, to go to Heartwell park and pick a bunch of those little white lawn daisies and carry them to her when we spoke there after a fight. That kind of song. Doom and hope. We knew both.

4) Sarah MacLachlin's Angel. You know, I don't even know what this song is really about. But I don't think I have heard a lovelier ballad in the world. And the line...something like...'there's always a reason to feel not good enough, and it's hard at the end of the day' pretty much sums up half my emotional life. The constant fight against the withering inner critic. The fatigue that brings. And the elation, release, the catharsis I feel whenever I hear this song. It brings a physical change.

Part Two, the second four, comes tomorrow :)

Merry Christmas to All

Okay, so I'm a few days late, but as busy as we've been (grading essays in between holiday dinners and family guests) I must note, it really is the thought that counts.

Christmas Eve at the Episcopal Cathedral an hour from here was simply amazing. Great music, great crowd, great sermon...everything. Another reason to consider moving down the hill in the future.

And while this is not my first post on BDM's new book Everything Must Change, I will say I have begun reading it. There will be much to talk about! I cannot wait to truly dig in...after the second of the year, when my grades are in (they are due then, so they will have to be done) and my brother and his wonderful, wonderful, wonderful family head back home to the warmth of so. cal., then, I promise, I will finish the book and begin posting. The issues raised already are profound: on one hand very simple (though often misunderstood), on the other, quite complex (even more often misunderstood). All of it is drawing on my favorite field of study, the NT and its compelling, and deeply complex, portrait of Christ and the first Christians.

But this was supposed to be a happy holiday post! Merry Christmas! There is no season like advent season, at least for me. Love to all.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On San Joaquin

If I ever wished for time to blog on an issue when I had no time, it would be the vote taken recently by the Diocese of San Joaquin to leave the ECUSA. I find it an enormous tragedy, though less a tragedy than the attitudes which have driven the vote. As I may have said, the church in So. Cal. which took my wife and I in when we were unmarried, when I was divorced, and nurtured us spiritually has also left the communion, although as an individual parish.

It is time for my blog to grow up. The Brian McClaren assignment is proof for me (or maybe I'm the one growing up :) ). My brief rant on inerrancy below is utterly inadequate, completely non pastoral, and the kind of solipsistic outburst one finds, oh, in Eliot's The Waste Land. It is true: I cannot believe a reading person who puts sufficient and genuine energy into studying the Bible can affirm it the "Word of God" with the meaning the Bishop of SJ does, or turn to its writings, selectively, for proof-text individual positions on critical moral matters. The fact also remains I know the Bible is the foundation of my own faith, that it is used by God in remarkable and mysterious ways (how many of us, including me, have had the tolle lege), and that it contains the things into which angels dared to peer (figure of speech or actual angels, no idea). The NT remains, in my view, unique in all world literature, though the books it contains remain fraught with the marks of their human authors, authors who were not taking divine dictation, but doing their best, in differing rhetorical situations, to promote the faith which had changed their lives forever. Any other position is untenable to me. That we set aside so much of the Levitical law, allowing children born out of wedlock into church, or the crippled or injured; that we have sex with our wives during menses if so inclined (maybe if the bottle of wine was just that good)...yet grasp like madmen onto verses which support our fears and biases, which thereby ALIENATE human persons from the full experience of Christ in their lives...I find this calamitous beyond description. I find such a reading a gross misunderstanding of the NT epistles and the Gospels.

And in the meantime, I applaud the Presiding Bishop Katherine for her leadership during this time, our own Diocese for taking a different stand on this issue, and frankly, the huge number, I would argue the majority, of Episcopalians who realize proof-texting on an issue as critical as homosexuality is a failure to act in responsible wisdom. That many other genuine Christians in other denominations agree I know. And for those who cling to a simpler understanding of Scripture as a perfect manual for living, a God-dictated book without any human component, an aproach, incidentally, which usually works, which preserves a faith I would agree with on many key points, but which can lead one horrifically astray in matters which involve the love of neighbor as self...for the rest I pray sincerely. We used to debate slavery in this country using the Bible. And women speaking in church or wearing slacks. The time has come for a widespread and honest assessment of what the Bible really is by those who continue to cling to its every single phrase and passing comment, but who are missing its central focus completely.

I will say more when I can on the Bible. When I can. For now, I have to run...essays stacked about me like, oh, the excessive quail. My sincere love to all who follow Christ...there is no faith like our faith, no tradition like our tradition, no love like the love God has expressed in Christ.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Brian on Deck

True to her word, my friend from NY sent me a free copy of Brian McClaren's most recent book: Everything Must Change so that I can review it on my humble blog. Have to say, without opening the book, I like the title :)

This is the busiest time of my semester, and I will have to climb out from under stacks of papers on Emerson (read a very good one today comparing E to punk rock ethics), Hawthorne, Bacon and Plato. But when I do...reading and commenting on EMC (I plan to do more than a simple review, of course) is the next thing on my list. As I told Anne, I am deeply honored, touched and encouraged, and hope to earn the purchase price with the work I put in here (I am not being paid any money, of course, as this is really a very humble blogship).

What is most fascinating is that I have not read a line of BMc. Not a line. I heard about him when this blog was new from Dave T. I was rather shocked, as a Christian newly returning to church of any kind (and faith of any kind) to hear that an emergent church existed, that people were upset and trying to leave the church I was re-entering after such prolonged effort! But in all fairness to those emerging (and is BMc a self-proclaimed emergent or merely scooped up, don't know), I re-entered worship as an Episcopalian and have never doubted that choice, or that accident, as it nearly was. I have written about this before, but I have been a Pentecostal (if childhood counts; I was certainly around Pentecostals), an active Campus Crusader, a Baptist, a Five Point pipe-smoking Calvinist, a Baptist again, a disillusioned critic and skeptic, then nothing. Now I consider myself a liberal Christian. I do not know if I have emerged or not, but I certainly do not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, which has been for me a critical, critical sticking point most of my life; I have no philosophical pre-issues with a perfect Bible existing; indeed, I would love to have a book straight from the Creator. But what we have in the Bible collection, surely, is not that book. For in whatever manner it was inspired (or not) it came from human authors, and their mucky fingerprints are all over it. Surely the NT writers had extraordinary, even unique, religious and spiritual experiences. And then they wrote about them. But to confuse the written word, or reading the written word, with the experience itself is a grave error. A perfect, gleaming God-sent life-manual is a very comforting myth, but it does not exist. Neither, of course, do I deny the Bible's role, really the NT's role, in bringing me into the faith-fold and keeping me there. But it must be understood for what it is, as it is.

I mention this as I have heard, again very second hand, that BMc is controversial for his views on scripture and on soteriology (salvation). We shall see. If so, he is not the first! I actually think it was C.S. Lewis who said every view has been held by some man in every age. Liberation theologians have been issuing passionate calls to social justice since the 1960's...St. Francis did a similar and even more radical thing in the late twelfth century; we can never forget the social force of Luke's gospel or the Thread that requires protection of the poor and marginal going back to the Law and Prophets. Still, I am not a Crossanite, not yet at least; I do not think social justice is the distilled core of Christ's can see I am chomping to dig in to EMC! I am inventing content based on its catchy title!

Within a month, by mid January, I will have something up here, probably a short series of posts, at the very least the first of those. I do hope the book is engaging. I read somewhere (perhaps the back cover) that BMc used to teach English, then became a pastor. Hah! It was the papers, I tell you! Too many bloody papers. They fry the mind.


Other than papers, some of which really are interesting, it is just that there are too many, I am doing pretty well.

Snow coming tonight, our first. I am more and more certain I live in one of the loveliest places on earth; I am also increasingly certain that we want to move when my son finishes high school. Helping my own wife through grad school has been utterly exhausting. She finishes this spring...or so I hear. What will life be like, with her done with school, working full time (for the first time ever) and my son closer to my campus? Let us hope I am still here, writing about it in three years.

Love to all. Must run. BMc on deck.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rant Addendum

It is so, so, so, good to hear from you FK. Yes, I am supposed to call you, and yes, I keep bloody forgetting to do it at a time when you would be home (i.e., the's always daytimes, like now, I'm sitting around working from home). But you are on my list, brother. I miss the few times we had before you moved, and hope your children and wife are all well.

And Doug, you know, thanks. It seemed at first like a little commercial, but your site is useful and interesting. And I would agree with some of those who post there, the Great Christians series is far from my fave...but it introduces me to Christian history I don't know and stimulates further reading. I want to read St. Anthony and the sayings of the desert fathers, and the rule of St. Benedict, two things I would not even be considering if I hadn't heard the course. There is a stress on the development of personal spiritual experience, and I need to hear that very much; the successful Christian life is not about having all the right ideas. As someone else notes at your site, Luke Johnson is a very good lecturer. He writes well, but his lectures on the gospels and Paul were completely first rate. So far, he is my fave.

Anyway, I love the Teaching Company stuff...I am merely glad I get to borrow it from the library and don't have to pay for each one as they are quite expensive.

And as rants go, of course, today I feel better. I had been sick all last week and pretty isolated, even with the holidays. Yesterday, showing up at school, looking at my students faces, being in a room full of human beings...well, it felt good to have company :) I still want to move down the hill when we can, when my son's education and the odd housing market cooperate, but the stars up here, the air up here, they are amazing. I have to enjoy the beauty while I have it. Someday I'll walk out into my front yard and be lucky to find Polaris.

I remain frustrated at work, feeling like I am not contributing enough outside the classroom (and why do I beat myself up over that!), but if I do not have opportunities clicking for me there, I seem to have them coming up other places. I believe I mentioned I met at the diocesan convention the woman who coordinates campus ministries in the town where I teach (there is a University and several community colleges) and now I am having dinner with her and meeting with the Board in a few weeks to see what they are up to. They offer free student housing, semester or year long intentional student communities which stress community service and spiritual development. I think that is fantastic. It would have changed my life completely at that age. I am willing to help them any way I can. Since everyone in my parish is pretty much over 60...being able to work with college students will make a nice balance if anythings comes of it :)

Well, this is all I have time for now. I did read the first third of so of Mark again as I begin moving through the NT. Part of me really wants to take my time, read slowly and reflect (like the monks do...something I wouldn't know apart from the Great Christians course). Without doubt, the Markan document remains the greatest historical puzzle in literature; I really think I can assert that. It is a long list of miraculous events, placed smack into apparently real geographical and historical time, with, as LTJ notes, "uncanny" details from the events themselves (the words Jesus used in Aramaic, the cushion in the boat he was asleep on, the reactions of the religious leaders) which seem to present a first hand origin for at least some of the material. More troubling for me, we get demons! Demons who talk...I have no idea what to make of that, but am certainly willing to withhold judgement on the historicity of any and all of Mark for certain moments on the intellectual level.

On the spiritual level, the level of the inner man...I again hear the Voice. Even though Jesus doesn't say much in Mark! What he does say! What he does do! The utterly real reactions of those around him! If ALL we had from the four gospels, I mean ALL, was the account of the healed paralytic...the man lowered through the roof. Here the Son of Man forgives sin, heals, elevates himself over the religious cultus...that alone would still be studied and read.

But I am getting ahead of myself...jotting notes for something I hope to write in then future to friends who have plenty to do besides read my notes.

Be well, all, my love to each and every. And God's peace to each, as much as we can know it in this difficult and fragile world.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mountain Living Rant

Funkiller has been very transparent on his blog about the difficulties of relocating from so. cal. to the PNW. My heart goes out to him. This is one of those days, one of those times even, when I am sitting here at home alone and thinking "why the HELL did we move to this dinky town an hour from the nearest real city?"

Wife and I know we are going to move down, probably when our son finishes high school and (so the plan goes) trots off to college. He is a sophomore now, and I know those two years will go fast, but I must say, while the mountains are stunningly beautiful, every changingand magic, while we have a lovely older couple around the corner from us, parents of one of my best friends (whom I hardly see, though he too now lives 20 minutes away) it is often very hard to be here. In short: we have to drive, a lot; I'm far from my work and that makes it very hard to feel integrated and even to do the 'extra' kinds of things one is supposed to do (though I think English teachers should give themselves as much of a break on the exra things as we can, especially for those of us teaching all baccalaureate comps); long held plans to move to the college nearer my house collapsed a couple years ago as my blog friends know (for now at least, with the Pres. they have); we are far from culture, art, and wide restaurant selection; and mostly, I am alone more than I'd like as my son expands his social life and my wife is gone so much, especially this last two years as she has hammered through her final years of graduate school. The culture up here is very different also! And it's different a good way down the hill from here. There are some very good things, families who really care about their kids and their time with them (it has been a great place to raise my son) but there is much that has been challenging, and that has been as true at my parish, older and slowly shrinking as it is, as anyplace.

I actually think living up here, being alone so much, has changed me, some, and not all for the better. I should have begun by reading the desert fathers and mothers and tried to make the isolation some kind of spiritual discipline (guess I still could try this) but I notice at work now I shut my door in my office. Mostly, that's to work without interruption; I pour myself out in my classes, I work very hard in the classroom, and the last thing I want is some student who is not my student asking me where room so and so is, or where is so and so's office, etc., and my office is positioned above the English floor and gets lots of traffic along its hallway. And, as I said, my English friends are not near me; they are one floor down. But I do have friends near me! The thing is, working alone, 'with the door closed,' has become natural, an instinct.

I think this is part of the pull for me to (some year) go to seminary. Two (if I were very lucky, three, but probably two) years living in a spiritual community! What a deal! What focus on my self, my spiritual self. For with my wife in graduate school more than ever this last year (and she warned me....this will be the worst semester) I spend all my time giving. Well, being responsible for the housework, the bills, etc. I guess that's normal! But it feels like giving because I can't really insist on any kind of parity, and mostly because I do most of it alone, when I'm home by myself. She works hard around the house when she can and still cooks probably as much as I do, but mostly I feel like I'm in a support role.

Above all, I feel strange at work. I have gone from skyrocketing local campus star six years ago to something very different, I do not even know what. Well, thank God for tenure:) I am still a very good teacher, better each year I think, and I am sure I can work out the details with my dept. over time. And we won't be up here all that much longer.

That's about it. I needed to share some hurt.

On another note, I was at my dear older friends' house around the corner (and they are more my parents than my parents, as I've said before) yesterday for even more Thanksgiving stuffage and A, the husband, had found my blog. He approached it very kindly; he was looking up material for a 'reflection' on the burning bush, googled the phrase, found Sandalstraps, and apparently a comment of mine. He said, 'it was your first name, your age, and it sounded just like your language.' I have no problem with A reading here, but if he can find it...I have to do something; maybe purify my old posts here a bit (there are some I should pull down) or build another blog. Heck, I don't have time to worry about it right now, but it is on my mind.

On another high note, and I think I mentioned this, I met the woman who handles college ministry for my diocese at convention, really quite strange that I did meet her and that she heard what I do for a living, actually. Anyway, they have an outreach across the street from my freaking campus! I have told her I will help anyway I can, for oddly enough, my faith is growing; my belief in Christ, my experience of God's love, is on the upswell again. I have always struggled with doubt, for emotional as well as intellectual reasons I am quite certain, and it is wonderful when that demon steps back and I can feel the clear fresh water of the gospel pouring through me. There were times this week I did feel that.

Reading Johnson is good for me, but so is listening to one of those Teaching Company Great Course lectures on the Great Christians of History (and I apologize I do not remember the professor's name; he is in NY someplace). My church has a bunch of these in their library (thanks to one very kind person who keeps donating them) and they really, really help my drive. I thought I would hate this Great Christians thing, that I would feel guilty and inferior compared to the 'Greats,' but the opposite has been true. Much of it has been very inspiring, though so far I'm only up to Claire of Assissi. The professor, who admits he is Christian and Roman Catholic, has been fairly open minded and academic, but today he mentioned that Francis of Assissi 'received the stigmata.' Now that is something utterly foreign to me. It is something I'd like to know more about, but even more, I'd like to know more about Francis' life and values. What a compelling personality as the prof represents him; such a committment to charity and direct spiritual living, to poverty and eternal values, to Jesus' own life as we can distill it. All I knew about Francis before was all those little stone garden statues with the animals around him I see everywhere. Goofy, but true. I spent so many years as a Protestant, I sort of assumed we had St. Paul, the Apocalypse of John, and then, oh, Luther on Galatians and the Institutes.

Anyway, online classes await. Thanks for letting me spill my insides out here! How I have missed it. And thank you Mrs. Fish for reading. I really am back, here, for good.

Oh, and go Packers!

Those of you who pray, please say a short prayer for me: for my job, for my family, for my life in the middle of the bleeping woods, for guidance for any future career/ministry decisions. Life is surely a struggle, no matter who we are. I am okay, I am not crashing emotionally, but the dark and cold mountain weather is here now, and it can be bloody lonely. Lonely like a presence itself. I may need to work on getting myself some company again, as I have done before with martial arts, etc.

Love to all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Almost Thanksgiving

Dear wife is in bed, I am sitting up with a headcold, looking forward to my second night on the couch. I have not been exiled of course; it's just that I can't sleep normally when I am sick, and I sleep better alone, out here, off and on, blowing my nose and propping my head up. I am looking forward to more reading as soon as I finish this. I am burning through Luke Johnson's Intro to the NT (actually something like, The Writings of the NT, an Interpretation). It is a good introductory text, fluently written, one I wish I had consulted earlier as I awkwardly continue to self-educate.

Some thoughts on blog:

It's good to be back. I was trying to think of a metaphor for my blog, and what I came up with was this: this blog is like being not quite ready for a dinner party, and the guests come early anyway. My t shirt is wet from the navel down, there is flour on my right jean leg, and I haven't shaved. But the food is mostly cooking, and the wine comes out, and everything ends up warm and comfortable regardless. That sounds over optimistic, considering how much I used to stress over my lack of prep time for my posts and the general lack of comments...but I think there is truth to that metaphor. Getting caught in the open as who I am. I have shared much of that here. What a journey. I have said some very meaningful things and some very silly things. Thinking back go my oldest posts, I see growth.

I am drafting yet another post, one I hope actually makes it here, something which mixes the reflective and the theological (or at least, addresses my personal struggles with an issue in the NT). I know that I cannot crack the puzzle of the NT and find the concrete phenomenon beneath. It does not work like that. Some study the texts deeply and lose faith, like Ehrman, or never really find faith at all. Some study the NT closely and their faith grows, morphs into something dynamic; I can name many scholars in this camp. Frankly, it is a difficult and at times stressful journey. And yet I must look. I have to. I am driven to do so, and hope at the end that my own faith survives in some orthodox fashion (and for me, orthodox pretty much requires belief in the resurrection in some form; belief that a Creator God acted dynamically through Jesus of Nazareth in history; that may not be full orthodoxy, but it is enough these days).

For scholars do and say strange things when they look up from reading the NT over years. I have long found some of the arguments for innerrancy remarkably strained (no, there were two demon possessed men really and one acted as spokesperson for the other); likewise (since Professor Ehrman's name has already appeared) Bart Ehrman's comparison of Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the Circle Drawer, and Jesus, I find equally strained. I struggled manfully through Philostratus' account of Apollonius, or most of it, certainly the parts where the 'miraculous' appears. Read it, friends; then go read the first few chapters of Mark. The first two chapters is enough. I see more difference than similarity.

What is it about the NT that affects people with such radical variance? Why does the impact of the gospels on a person change even over some person's lifetimes? These are potent questions that lie outside the realm of critical historical inquiry.

For me, entering the historical critical fray, I know there will be things I must bracket. That will be hard to do though I have done some of this already. Although I am willing to suspend judgement rather than take a position on historicity (and even that term is complex) when there is insufficient information. But even I will have presuppositions working in me. I am quite willing to believe a man was healed who had a withered hand; but demons rushing into pigs! Demons aren't real; they don't inhabit they? Certainly not in my experience. That is certainly embellished. You see, as is true for everyone, I arrive at the door of the gospels with plenty of luggage.

My plan is to read all of Johnson's intro and the respective NT books in the order he covers them. Sure I've read most if not all the NT at some point, but this will be more systematic and guided. The fact is, I love to do it. And the struggle rises in me once again: I am a good English teacher, though my campus activities, or service, could perhaps be more than they are lately (wife in grad school and distance from the campus, mostly). But the amount of free time I spent on my avocation, my NT self-education...well, it is looming large again. I would get much more done if my family didn't like to watch so much tv, but hey, I'm not going to lock myself in a room when they're home. That would be too much like a real scholar :) But how odd, that I finally have the tenured English position, and I spend more time reading NT studies than anything in literature. Well, at least the last couple of years. I suppose that is one of the luxuries of my job...intellectual variety.

Be well all. I am pooping out, sick boy that I am (echoes of the old social d. song). More to come, surely :) God be with all.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving! Wife is working and son is at his dad's....I'll be home on the couch blowing my nose and watching the green bay Favre to death.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Still Peaking...

I must share a few things:

One, note the date below...I am posting twice in two days! Feels like recovery to me. Oh, I laughed out loud at that.

Two, a publisher contacted me in the email here and asked me to review a Brian MacClaren (sp?) book on this site. At first, I was sure it was a bizarre hoax; but no, in fact, she is sending me a free copy. I used to do that as a part timer texts for publishers. But this is something utterly new. I told her I have not read a line of BM but look forward to doing so. I realize he is a popular voice among the emergent. However, I also know I tend to shoot straight, especially when "grading." Luckily, I am not being paid (except for the free book). Still, I feel quite honored to be considered and do not know what led her to this previously nearly defunct and quite humble blog. I promise, I'll edit that post for mistakes.

Three, I am still peaking from the weekend. Convention has had a profound impact on me, and I am seriously considering entering discernment for the priesthood or diaconate again. I've always known I wanted to trot off to Holy Hill to study the NT for a couple years (though I note, at this time, CDSP has no full time NT professor; well, I would not be there for a few years anyway; plenty of time for them to hire one). I have analyzed my experience at convention as I always do. But beyond all the personal psychoanalysis (and who says God does not work through our emotional selves anyway) I still have the insistent sense there was Something More present, moving among us, at the convention. My hair stands up as I write it; I am not referring to the gay issue in specific either. Simply the gathering of that many people all attempting to find God's will, of all worshipping the living and loving God....whatever, I am slammed to the floor. I have run and run (or is ran the past participle?) from any sense of call. If I have not made that clear on this blog, I make it clear now. I do not believe in calls in the traditional sense (well, okay, Paul is a special case). But whatever...I am feeling directed towards a larger sense of Purpose than I have ever known. I can say that. May God not lose sight of this one...may I live long enough to explore that Vision. May I not be a damned enough fool to utterly discount it. At the very least, may it inspire me to more ministry right now.

Finally (I guess this is four) I would like to do a little series on the gospels. Call it Blogspell :) Well, I won't call it that, promise. I would promise to edit my writing, ahem, and plan an outline for the writing. My idea is for an intro to an intro on the four gospels...on the synoptic problem, Mark, Matthew and Luke and John. For those really interested, there are many books on this topic by actual scholars! I note I really haven't read all that much scholarship myself. Still, I thought I might do a series at my church, and this is a place to begin. If I do so, though, I am starting a new blog where I reveal my true self, a public blog I can refer friends from church to, etc. I also don't know if I could begin drafting until summer comes and I am out of school, but who knows. Another long term goal.

I have been lifting again, too, and doing cardio. Shooting for three days a week. There is nothing like the steel, brothers and sisters. I love every set. Sick puppy, I know.

Be well, and love to all.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Peak Moment

I am considering more and more the future of this blog, and am pondering having two of these things; one I still keep anonymous, in fact more anonymous than this blog is now, and one which is public, made available to my church and others. If I do this, if I create another blog besides this one, I will note it here and anyone who reads this (all five of you sweet souls) can email me for a link to the public blog. For the moment this remains as is.

What a weekend.

Each year my church elects delegates to Diocesan Convention at the annual meeting. I have never considered running as it involves a weekend several hours from my home, and because I really didn't know what happens there. Somehow, this year, I suppose because I had been senior warden twice, I was nominated, said sure, and won one of the three delegate spots. It's never that competitive; a bit of good natured cajoling usually occurs. I never have had the sense anyone was that passionate about attending.

The annual meeting is in January, and in truth I forgot all about Convention until my rector handed me the info about a month ago. I put off making my hotel reservation (if you can call where we stayed a hotel) and ended up having a buddy who was gong get the room and sharing it with him. I had very neutral expectations.

I did not know what the resolutions would be until Friday afternoon. But I had a good week spiritually (in my own way) listening to LT Johson's lecture series on Paul, beginning to blog again, attending church. How much Johnson prepared me for what was coming this weekend I did not know until Saturday, but let me say: one of the resolutions involved the blessing of same sex unions. Our Bishop has already said he will not sanction any such blessings unless General Convention approves them when they meet again in 09. All this measure was asking was that we vote to ask General Convention to develop rites for same sex blessings. Meaning, it is a request that we be allowed, under the direction of the National Church, to hold them. It was not a vote to begin holding them. According to hearsay anyway, such a motion had been presented to the motions committee, but as the Bishop reaffirmed his unwillingness to allow same sex rites without consent of the Deputies at General, the motion was rewritten, or removed, in favor of what we voted on Saturday. Even though it was a conservative request in one sense, there was no doubt that it was still very radical and contentious. My diocese is large and there are many mixed feelings on this issue. A few churches have tried to leave the Diocese over this already as our previous bishop voted to affirm Gene Roinson's election by his diocese. Well, one that I know of. I do believe a few churches, and certainly a number of individuals, have requested no money go to the Diocese from their parishes or persons in the wake of that vote. Overall, though, the discussion has been open, honest, and good.

This Saturday was no exception. I was amazed that over 300 people could discuss the issue with passion, from both sides, and treat each other well during and after the debate. But debate we did. It was a remarkable time. The motion was almost tabled until next year; that vote came so close the tellers had to hand count the for and against. But I remember the proposer of the initiative quoting Martin Luther King in the hall: "if not now, when; if not us, who?" It was very moving.

I had decided at lunch I wished to speak myself. There were several microphones, and I got in line early with a few notes on a sheet of paper. But with many, many strong feelings.

I used to condemn homosexuality as a neurotic aberration; I certainly opposed gay marriage and the gay lifestyle. I was a Baptist literalist, after all, and didn't know any gay people. Or the ones I did know in the church were guilt consumed. My views changed very slowly, very slowly. At first from knowing a lesbian couple in southern california....hearing their story of walking down a street at night, unclasping hands as they walked into the streetlight light, then retaking them as they moved into the darkness between. Then I began reflecting on the issue on this blog and reading ohers who were doing likewise. For me, though I have held to an imperfect Bible in theory since my (re)conversion in 00, the deep seated myth of the God-written book has lifted very slowly for me. Not as the result of any abstract theological discussion, but as a result of actually reading the (almost) entire thing. I am well aware of the verses in Romans, Leviticus, and elsewhere in the NT. I am also aware of the verse in Deuteronomy (or time to look it up) where the illegimiate child is excluded form the Sanctuary for several generations. LTJ put things together very nicely for me in his series on Paul and the Gospels; I listened to the latter a couple of years ago. Still, I know the verses, I realize the import of this issue, I understand the pressure on the Anglican Communion. I did not approach my time at the mic lightly.

Yet, with an utterly clear conscience, I argued fully, passionately, and with all I could must (in 120 seconds) in favor of the resolution. I admit I am quite glad we have no comment from Jesus on this issue (any attempt to show we do is painfully forced in my view) and I find it quite easy to see Paul's writings, while deeply valuable, as quite human. Paul never addresses this issue except in asides anyway. Those he describes in Romans 1 are somehow gay, and otherwise deeply messed up, a a result of their idolatry. It strikes me as odd that some see the pressure to perform same sex unions as a symptom of our age, our zeitgheist, but think everything Paul wrote which has survived somehow transcends his own.

I told my own story. Jesus, rather clearly, forbids remarriage in the synpotics, or so it seems, yet when my girlfriend and i walked into an Episcopal church merely because it was cute on the outside we were warmly welcomed. My divorce was discussed, yes, but not in great depth (of course, the story is rather dramatic....but I did have a girlfriend during my separation, even if I was pushed into that). The fact that that church wanted to see us spiritually supported and nurtured, that it was the only one we visited that did want that, rather than just to make a few hundred bucks off the ceremony, was what got S and I attending church after both of us being long away. It led to us joining a parish in Nor Cal, attending Alpha Class, was part of what led to my reconversion, and the rest, well, is personal history. All the ministry I have done since or will do in the future is in part a result of the church's willingness to marry us though I was divorced and we were living together already. The heteros learned a few decades ago to cut themselves some slack....

And then I talked about King's letter from jail, his definition, drawn from Aquinas I believe, that a just law is one which uplifts human personality. I talked about loving gay couples I have known, about how a public blessing allows them to have the same support structure, even accounability, around their families I enjoy around mine. I was very scared, and said so; it was my first convention, I was fifty feet from the Bishop and in a hall with three or four hundred people. No one else from my parish spoke. But I will tell you: the entire blog has been worth it, it all has been worth it, for the little part I played. Many others spoke also, of course. But when the motion to postpone failed, and the motion to affirm the resolution passed, when the gay couples present began hugging those who supported the resolution....I say again, it was all worth it.

We too easily forget what Paul set aside when he insisted that Gentile converts did not need to conform to the law. Had they converted to Judaism, circumcision would have been required as I understand the times. But Paul, that deep student of Torah, set aside Torah in favor of a different law entirely, the law of love. It was very strange that the reading of the day, as part of morning prayer, was the famous (and infamous) passage in Matthew when Jesus says that the entire law must be kept, that the one who does not keep it and teaches others not to keep it is least in the kingdom. That is a very troubling passage for me; I believe it is unique to Matthew, and the church has surely disregarded it, except maybe the Matthean community (and the odds of Matthew being written by an actual eyewitness I feel are slim). Whatever that means, it stands in contrast to things Jesus says elsewhere in that gospel and the others, at least as Matthew has redacted it. And it surely stands in contrast to Paul. I do not mean to get off the main issue, but I feel I did God's work, was a small part of it, this weekend. If we are wrong then we have erred on the side of grace, and over committed sex with a lover, surely one of the least harmful things I can imagine.

After the motion passed, I was very impressed, moved, by the sense of family that remained in that room. Several delegates from another parish were at my table, all voted against passage, yet afterwards acted as if nothing happened; they were very warm towards me, even after my vocal position! It was remarkable.

And this entire thing has me thinking again......Deacon school? Seminary and priesthood? Something, surely. What a feeling to be a part of the work that the the diocese does. Their outreach to the poor, the hungry, the ill and mentally ill is astounding. And the sense of community there was so great! I know I have things to work out for myself and my own faith, but I cannot understate how powerful this weekend was for me. I would go again in a flash.

It is one thing to know I gave a good lecture, on rare days a great lecture, in a writing or literature course. But to use my speech for God's kingdom, to incorporate the outcast...that is truly something. I have so much to sort out (like the passage in Matthew!) but right now I am just basking in the beauty of being a small part of something so lovely. Of seeing so many small pieces fall into place, and such an important, even historic, issue proceed.

Well, I must run. Sincere love to all, and thanks to A for posting below, truly. That kind of honesty is where this blog sustains me still.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Just a Long Catch Up Post to Dear Friends

I wanted all to know I am doing okay, some days better than okay.

My marriage is growing stronger in spite of the current ridiculous pressure my wife's graduate school puts on my wife and I. Though I am the laundry man, the dish man, and in general the housecleaning and take our son everywhere he has to be man...and do that in addition to my career, somehow she and I have managed to grow and not disintegrate into chaos. We have days that simmer or when I sink into exhaustion, but the overall trend, the line graph of our love, is on the upswing and has been for the last few years. Considering the challenges our childhoods present us, as well as her education and my portfolio of emotional/mental issues, I am pretty damned glad to be able to say this. Some days, I admit, it still feels like the house is on fire and we're glaring at each other through the smoke; but less and less. We are beginning a ten session marriage class at our church, and it was so freeing to hear couples share at the first preliminary meeting. Lo and behold, most people have messy houses, isses between them, and strained budgets and take little time for deep communication; S and I fit right in. I can't wait to hear what comes out when the actual class begins! For surely, I do not know what normal is, as the ACA problem said many years ago, and it is always deeply comforting and reassuring to see my struggles are not that different from others'.

I am still in therapy, though my therapist retires in May next year (and I feel like Mr. Monk...I don't just work my way through therapists but through therapists' careers). I am growing there, though very slowly, but without doubt, growing. The huge stones of OCD are moving. I have entire days now where I dwell on normal problems, real world problems. I am so thankful for that my eyes tear. I do get stuck in the shit, yes; but so far, I keep shovelling out, and each time I stand just a bit higher.

While I have not posted my final post or two on Estella, on the dramatic destruction of my first marriage, I am thinking about that dark time quite a bit. Working in therapy on it, sometimes hard. The feelings I have even after all these years are still strong; the work is always painful, as she and I held such a strong dream, or at least I held one; but reality is always good (how often the gut-core feeling-work of therapy reminds me of weight lifting or any hard exercise...I feel like I can't take it, can't do it, am overwhelmed...and then it passes and the glowing glory of growth-sense takes its place; are there many better feelings in life than the afterwards of these two things...) Even writing now, I feel the heat beneath my skin, the anger and hurt that still remain as I sort my head around what happened. The greatest barrier to my moving on remains self blame, and I spend quite a bit of time talking to my therapist and others trying to come to a reasonable cognitive position on what REALLY happened to me (my brother, who knew Estella since she was 18, is better than any with this). That final post is coming, but how freeing to continue to heal that wound. It is a direct part of my growing contentment (ah, that word, in a post from me?) in my marriage now.

Spiritually, my situation remains complex.

The truth is, I spend less and less and even less time in second life, if for no other reason than that I have no time! Housework and schoolwork and family work fill my days (why do I find laundry or cooking stressful?) and I trot off to SL, infrequently, for relaxation the way most people watch tv (and I still think it's better to be in my own story than watch most of what is on television). But second life has detatched me, as I've said more than once here, from some of my first life spiritual reflection, and I am glad to see that changing in myself as I once again begin to wrestle. I find the war continues in my mind between the ponderous zeitgheist of my age, the pressing-stone of skeptical agnostic empiricism whose great weakness and strength is its narrow empirical method, and my faith in the Jesus of the gospels (though he appears a bit different in each). It is an odd place to live, but there it is. I continue to view much of what I believe skeptically at least some, if not most, of the time, and thereby deny myself the nurturance faith is supposed to provide us wish-fulfillers who believe. And yet, there are moments. Events. Times I know I am called to serve in the church in some capacity the way a younger man is the obvious choice to lift the refrigerator at the yard sale (and that analogy is fraught with weakness, as I am also fraught with weakness, I know). Times a theological question I am wrestling with moves forward. Often, I wish I had attended an NT studies program in my twenties, but the fundamentalist colleges I knew then would never do now and would not do then. I wish I had been raised an Episcopalian, returned to it in my twenties, and gone to graduate school for NT studies. But life is often tricky, and I cannot deny I enjoy what I do now.

And as I said, I still get moments. Heck, maybe as many as some NT professors :)

As I noted in a post below, I have a new job at church; I began serving as what the Episcopal Church calls a Eucharistic Minister, the old title being chalice bearer. I bring the wine to those at the communion rail about once a month, following behind the priest who gives the bread. For some, I tip the cup to their lips and say the ancient words....."The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation;" others either dip the wafer themselves or have me dip it, and then I say, "May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in eternal life." This is what I say, by direction, by genuinely ancient tradition.

Let me tell you all, that is something to experience. I am not good at lying; I am not good at hypocrisy, at least when I know I am being a hypocrite, and serving at the altar forces me to dig deep into who I am, who God is, and what my role on this planet should be.

For there are people who are nearly trembling, are trembling, to hear the words and receive the elements. Some are old and know death, that horrible and anxious absence, will come for them soon; some are wrestling with the pains and challenges of mid-life and family as I am, of money, children, housework, monogamy; almost all come forward genuinely desperate to meet God. To be, paraphrasing our liturgy, "restored in Your Image." Walking the rail is like praying with every person who comes forward; it actually is that! What a gift to be able to do so. The power of it has nothing to do with doctrines about the elements, or whether one stands or kneels or dips or sips...the power of it is God meeting people in need. That miracle happens over and over each time. What a vision. May I never take it for granted.


What else? Oh, saw the 25th Hour last night...fantastic film. And have been driving to work listening to Luke Johnson's Great Lecture series on Paul. That has truly moved me. It has been a long, long time since I have read or heard something I wished I had written! His final two lectures on Paul's letters, for me, hit the nail directly. This is a human author writing who has had a resurrection experience, an encounter with the risen Christ, but these letters are surely not divinely written! Of course, LTJ says it better. And he has opened up an appreciation for Paul I did not have before. Grand.

Well, I must run. But sincere hellos to all

Friday, September 28, 2007

What I Want to Write About When I Take/Have Time to Write

Hello all. My dear, dear friends, what a pleasure and honor to write here, even though I have a very short time to write. Soon my wife will be home, and my strange and challenging saga as primary breadwinner primary housekeeper continues...but hey, I can't complain too much. I have lots of flexibility in my time, even though today, with the cold weather coming in and my son staying with his friends after school, was rather lonely. The dark sky, the unending, unending, house work and house projects, the computer screen, my online classes.

But all around, the glory of the Sierra.

So, when I take/have time to write, what do I want to write about?

Spiritual practice (something I am beginning, hesitantly, to crave) and the historical gospel work of N.T. Wright. I know I've written about NTW a little, but what I was really doing up here (with all your indulgences) was scribbling notes to myself. I have begun reading his second volume on Jesus' life again, starting about midway through where I left off months ago. It is a remarkable work. As a writing teacher, I could make some suggestions regarding repetition, clarity, and style...but it is generally well written and the underlying ideas explosive. Not since Marcan priority took center stage has such important work been done on the synoptics.

But I must give a bit more than that teaser.

The truth is, I do not know what NTW thinks on many larger issues. I am familiar with his (still controversial, drawing on Sanders) work on Paul; that is not my area of interest. Believing, at this point in my journey at least, that the bible is a collection of very human books, what Paul really said is interesting to me, but not gripping.

Waht Jesus meant and said is another issue entirely.

No, my area of interest, as I believe I said long ago, is Wright's reading of apocalyptic in the synoptics, his interpretations of the judgement passages. These are some of the most difficult passages in the NT for two reasons: one, Jesus has often been taken to predict the end of the world as immiment (as in Schweitzer) and he was apparently wrong (I remember even CS Lewis wrestling with this); and two, the images of the unrepentant or unprepared being tossed into eternal fire (where the worm does not shrivel) or being thrown out of the wedding banquet to weep and gnash their teeth or tossed into the smolder of Gehenna, etc., these are remarkably disturbing to me as a Christian. Why? Because I have a conscience which uses reason and empathy in a grossly limited human fashion, this leads me to value mercy over all thihngs, and I hope God has these traits to an infinitely higher degree. And lo and behold, though I do not know what NTW thinks about the doctrine of hell, his reading of the judgement passages opens dynamic new ways of understanding. So far, at least.

In short, for NTW the judgment and apocalyptic language in the synoptic traditions exemplifies Jesus living the role of judgement prophet in Israel (as so many before); he is critquing Judaism from within in typically harsh prophetic terms; and in doing so, making significant use of apocalyptic metaphor as he describes the oncoming and predictable descent of Rome. There is more to it than that, but all this second coming on the clouds, the damned being cast aside like straw, NTW argues persuasively that the synoptic apocalyptic passages (like Mark 13, etc.) are not and never were about the end of the space-time world. They are warnings to Israel to repent on Jesus' terms. In short, Wright is undertaking a remarkable, dynamic revision (relying on the work of Caird, I know). Do I still have questions? Do some troubling passages remain? Yes, but NTW plods ahead with me as I read.....

Since this potentially alleviates the two problems I mention above for me as a believe I should be skeptical, surely. And I am. But while I do not have time to go into it now, Wright is making remarkable sense. Though I do not consider myself either emergent or postmodern (I have been told my theology is both a couple of times) I am a genuine believer in Mystery. There is much I do not and can not know about God and his purposes in this life; call my faith Christian existential, if you wish. But Wright's analysis is changing my thinking in remarkable ways. And strengthening my faith, slowly. My always battered and weak faith.

So, yes, I want to write about him in detail, when I can, and apologize for not doing so now. It's hard, because his ideas are built up over long chapters, many digressions, and multiple, multiple outside sources. But in the end, he is moving me, at least in the area of reading the Jesus apocalyptic language. For truthfully, while many critics dismiss that material as later church addition, there are compelling reasons why it is historically strong, in my view. One is its difficulty! That it began to be misunderstood by non-Jews in the diaspora makes good sense. But I am truly out of time.

Sorry for the teaser post. I just wanted to shout out to my few friends who I know will still stop by, and say that it seems God, once again, is finding me out in the dark mazes my mind tangles through. Second life recedes a bit at a time to a normal hobby; the horror of my own faith-questions begin to find answers once again. I still hope, when S is done with school and my son done with college (it will probably take that long, who knows) that I can do graduate work in the NT. You know, take a vacation from grading papers and write a few dozen :) Why not? May I live so long.

Love and peace to all. Sorry for the rough format here.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I am sitting here, at something like 3:30 in the morning, just hours before fall convocation...some, of much, of which I will surely miss. That is okay, as the meetings run all day, and I will sit my butt in hard wood seats plenty. That first day, the Friday before classes begin, is often my least favorite day of the entire year. I do not know how other people hold down normal jobs, where meetings all day long are normal, perhaps good, as they pull one from the cubicle.

But now I sound silly.

So much has changed in my old online community. Hence the title, Shift. So much has changed for me.

Looking at my last couple of posts, I see a certain agony, and a certain something almost priggish. That last is an odd word. What is Second Life that it has derailed a blog habit I had, and shared, for something like two years? What have I done in the cartoon world? That could keep me writing until dawn.

I spent a lot of time using sl weapons systems, bonding over the combat in that potent esprit de corps which holds all fighting communities together, from martial arts schools to online ones where all the fighting is done with fingers on keys. Being good with weapons on sl provides a strange sensation: power, security, competence. One senses wherever one goes in that vast landscape, one can take care of oneself. The reality is not so precise, but there it is. Also, it is fun just to learn, to get better, to acquire new skills in a supportive environment. Usually, that is how it has been. We call that fighting with Honor: keep a good attitude, encourage each other always, lose and win well. Below that, or above it, as I have noted above, is the sense that one could throw down if required at any time in the role play communities I inhabit. I never have....except for one mini battle months ago, but that readiness is frankly an extension of my rl (or real world) personality. It grows exponentially in sl, as most things do.

When I was a boy, I had complex, serial fantasies. I was a spy, with a secret support staff and espionage electronics in my attic....I would stop activities to go into the closet to send and receive special communiques....these fantasies would continue for weeks, even months. Develop plot lines. And always, soothe. I do not know if this is true for the thousands of others who role play in sl, but that cartoon world has become a very creative, and truly interactive, extension of that childhood habit, and of my personality as it is and as I'd like it to become.

For I am genuinely a nice guy, temper in the game notwithstanding. I try to act in a loving way, in a way which uplifts all those I interact with. And in the community where I own land and live, where I actually bear a title now, the people are not college students blowing off exams, they are for the most part adult professionals, sharp, unbelievably creative, and I live and move there wrapped in an aura of principle. I don't know how else to put it. I live there, where decisions are less complex perhaps, in a sea of chivalry and Honor and comedy.

Forgive if this post drifts, those friends who will eventually stumble back here and read this someday, some week, some month even. It is late, and I cannot rewrite. Or early in the diurnal scheme, which for me is much worse.

Sitting here and writing, though, is so refreshing. This is not role play. This is not a projection of my personality, whose positive, even prodigous reputation I sit back and bask through and in. This is the real guy. Stripped of the fantasy, grand as it can be, close as it can be to my real personality and that of those around me. And I have to ask, what negative things has sl brought to my life?

For one, lack of fitness! My back is now for the most part healed (but still now 100) and I had two pretty tough workouts this week, trying to pare the 10 pounds, maybe more, I gained laying around all winter and then discovering sl. I have long needed exercise to mood manage, and have taken pleasure in developing my body, in learning martial arts, in the incredible release of cardio work. I've missed too many workout sitting in front of the cartoon screen, and I miss it and want my body back. Not in appearance, I mean, but just the sense of my body, working as it should, straining and healing. The heart thumping over time, lending me a peace I know almost no other way.

For two, I have quit blogging for months, though I never abandoned this site. I would have posted a note, if I had. Ideas for blog continue to flit through my head. And though I bemoaned the lack of responses, the fact is I know I was regularly heard by at least five very amazing people: Chris, Scott, Sherry, Romy, Amanda. And others, I am sure. What a priviledge that was. One I have taken for granted. For now I see not all are blogging as they once did either. Chris, yes, still going off. Sherry. But what has happened to Romy's site? Scott is not posting much. Funkiller has resigned, tragically, and I have not spoken to him since his move. The Fellowship seems to have broken, or moved on to other fellows. Or, dare I say, to real life.

I have stories I never finished here. Estella's for one. The story of my own suffering and recovery was never really written. I danced around it, but never put it down. I cried out here, and I wrestled here with ideas, striving to understand why I can and should have faith in Christ, in light of issues with scripture, the problem of suffering, the random nature of death and life in human experience. Did I get answers? Some. But then I left, abruptly, and have not considered many of these questions for six months. Do I still have doubt, and question? Oh yes.

For that is another thing sl has taken from me. Though I live there as a Christian, complete with iconography and an attempt to live by Christian values, (oddly complemented by all the weapons play) I have fallen out of faith practice in many ways. In the Episcopal church chalice bearers are called EM's, or Eucharistic Ministers. I can hardly describe the spiritual force of giving communion to the parish a couple months ago, my first time as an EM. I do it again soon. And yet that spiritual reality, for there is no better word, was sandwiched amidst hours of role play online a week....buying land, buying a house, shopping for furniture and art (hey, don't laugh, I have a nice all are invited). I have good friendships in sl, a few of genuine power. And serious topics come up in discussion, including religion at times. But the immersive power of the cartoon world somehow has seperated me from more authentic spiritual sense. It is not true for everyone there. It may not always be true for me. But sitting in an sl chapel cannot, cannot, compare to the real thing (and now my dear wife calls out, at 4, are you coming back to sleep...she probably thinks I'm in sl).

One thing I'll say is that my weekly time there has slowly diminished. The occasional six hour day (yep, I said six....during break between terms, left home all alone for the has happened) has been cut in half. It's not good for my back sitting that long. I have learned to make better use of my time while in there.

There are times I have thought all is vanity, vanity, and what does it matter if I spend hours a week in an avatar. There are times I think my own principles of life, charity and service, are compromised by doing so. Sure I have given of myself in sl, personally, financially, even spiritually....but again, is is the same?

Now I truly begin to tire. A good use of blog. The lullaby of the soft keystroke concerto.

My wife will sleep better if I am beside her, and she is up at 6.

I have enjoyed this, and I have barely begun to cover the ground I need to cover here. In general, I am well. My marriage gets stronger in fits and starts as I learn, slowly, what it means to really love a person. My greatest phobia of all, flying, was faced this summer as I flew seven times on two different vacations. I saw places I never thought I'd see: namely, the midwest and DC. What an accomplishment that was, flying; I cannot even say. My son is very much a teenager, and I grieve the loving little boy he once was, but also see that same boy beneath the surface of his frustration and enormous energy. I am lucky to be alive. Mostly healthy. Still able to think. My birthday comes up soon; I will be 43. Every year I count a gift, now, as I have seen some younger than me go. Where did they go? I admit, right now, I am not sure.

All my NT work, Wright's second book, has been on hold since sl. It has been a nice break, under the pressure of my wife' grad school schedule and the ton of housework I do to supplement. She is doing very well in her program, and is in her final year.

Oh, I am still a pretty good teacher. I look forward to seeing those little buggers next week :)

But now, I must sleep. I'd like to see myself posting once a week, or at most every two weeks...beginning the blog again. How odd it is to find such little material at Romy's site, but maybe I don't understand how it works now. How reassuring, to see Sandalstraps still doing his thing. I used to see blog as a step away from real intimacy, an attempt to have it in spite of where I lived and my busy schedule. Believe me, this is pretty damned real. I miss it. May God give me the grace to pick it up, eve just a little, this semester.

Love to each of you. Miss you all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My So-Called Second Life

Beauty is momentary in the mind--
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.

Again, sorry to all that I have not written. I did write one other thing: I submitted an article to a wine and spirits newsletter...a retail rag, really, and my little piece is going in. It was fun to write what those in the biz call 'shelf talk,' and I hope to become a semi-regular contributor. Fame on the small scale :) Who knows, could lead to wine at wholesale if I help their sales.

The multi-textured fact is that Second Life has come to take the time this blog used to take, and how I feel about that remains uncertain. But why? How has a virtual world full of avatars taken the place of my reflections here?

Fundamentally, the issue is that I stress over everything; I always feel tension...always. Work scares me, I am often scared of my wife, house cleaning, cooking...except for exercise and alcohol, very little doesn't make me nervous. Oh, and sailing, but I haven't been in months...the new season is rolling around. My anxiety/tension is nowhere near where it once was, granted. But it's still there, simmering, clenching, and always fatiguing. And frankly, Second Life gives me something else to do and think about than the things that make me nervous, especially when I'm home alone. It takes the fantasy world of novels, film, and legend and drops me smack in the center. It is difficult to understate its power for those who have not spent time there, or in the right places there. Sure it's thrilling to watch a heart-rending, purgative story like Cameron's Titanic (for Hollywood, a moving film); now imagine if you could go on the ship, speak with the characters, live the experience...the rage and tears. But not the fear. Not the fear because role playing in SL is a lot like method acting...the scene ends whenever you want it to. There are no real threats to the people behind the terminals. And while feelings can linger into the day, even painful or angry ones, overall, I have found it an extraordinary experience that ends when the program closes, provides a generalized soothing effect. I'd also note that I have found myself better at assertion in the real world, because I've had to do it in the virtual.

Have I spent too much time there? Some days, yes. Overall, maybe. But then it's new and I'm finding my balance. I'm still reading The Yellow Admiral, still watching a few good shows on tv (Jon Stewart, Medium, and the Time Goes By reruns are my faves) and still interacting with my family! As I said, I generally only enter the Grid when I'm home alone. The time elapsed since I began hanging out there...maybe three too short to give a definitive assessment.

One thing I will say, since I say it in SL often enough, is that I have honored my wife every time I've logged in. I did not know this when I went there, didn't know it for a while, actually, but avatars can be animated so it appears they're having sex, and though I've never really seen that, I've surely never done it! No av sex, no romantic relationships....though I've seen already that flirting and the feelings that go with it are rampant in SL. Someone might flatter just a bit more than he or she would at a real cocktail party...and while it's mostly harmless fun, I had to set my boundaries some time ago. To this day I've kept them :) It's surprisingly complicated in role play, or can be at moments, but I often talk about my rl wife. Again, the best analogy I have would be theatre, method acting in particular.

Is the magic of this place genuine or counterfeit? Only time will tell me. In the meantime, though, it's nice to fall asleep thinking about my swordfighting and not trying to solve the problem of evil in a theist construct. Breaks are good. And I believe God is still reaching in, teaching and molding. I've had little recreation, certainly almost none on a regular scale, since my back injury (and I had an MRI last week, and get the results tomorroww: after 7 months of dealing) and SL does give me that. It's an adventure, if nothing else...and soothing.....a dynamic combination for me .

Peace and acceptance to all...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday 07

I wrote this on Ash I am at 2 Lent and have not returned to it; as usual, I began with a personal reflection and ended up in the infinitely deep sands of the problem of suffering. I decided to wrap up what I have and post as is :)

A dark day, with our first real winter storm coming in, heavy clouds and cold rain sure to follow. By morning, snow. I went to the little parish near my campus, not my usual haunt, for services at noon. I had to leave before communion, but got the critical piece: remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

An excellent reflection for all, theist or non.

I have not been thinking about my faith as much lately. This is perhaps good. I find, after 10 weeks spending of too much time in the hypnotic interface of Second Life (though this does seem to be balancing out), that I still have faith. Ash Wednesday did what it did for me last year: shook me out of my fat complacency and forced me to look within, to confess, to bow my knees and let the tears come. And that, friends, is pretty fucking First Life.

Yes, it was good. Oddly enough, today in my American Lit. class we discussed Stephen Crane's dark, naturalistic and surreal poems, an incredible accident that these little gems fell on the first day of Lent, and I was surprised how much of me identifies with his vision of nature (or Nature) as a random, non-sympathetic force. My own Christianity has become something close to 'God has acted in history to save my ass,' and what he's saving it from isn't so much his own wrath and judgement in Hell...these are things I cannot see or understand--an anthropormorphic emotive-symbol attached to what may be an eschatological manifestation of our need for retribution (or Not). No, He's saving me from This World, from Nature, from emotional and physical suffering, and above all from the awkward accident which will someday be my death.

And I cannot stress enough how absurd this claim is: that the Creator God entered history to save my ass.

Absurd. I must know this. If I as a Christian cannot face the absurdity of my faith claims, I am not reflecting in depth. For it is a fair rule of inquiry that I, that we, should be suspicious of conclusions we need to be true. I know Lewis' argument from desire, and in rough outline Augustine's; their experience reflects that of billions including my own. But the tenet that God must exist because I need him so much, because human experience is at its heart absurd without God, this must be balanced against the fact that humans sometimes hold as true what they want or need to believe. Apparently not all need to believe in God...there are plenty of happy atheists, but my experience is that the happy atheists have often left a faith that somehow repressed them, or they have simply not thought existence through. Death and suffering are not good things; a God who has acted to intervene on my behalf in the Face of both...surely, if anything, is a Good Thing. I must look carefully at any such claim. And simply using the dark threads in religious experience and doctrine, legalism or everlasting punishment, to argue against any wish-fulfillment in our faith, as Lewis does in his first book The Pilgrim's Regress, is far from a full response.

No, Christians believe the absurd: The Creator of this enormous, random and energetic Universe came down, in some manner, to complete His action in human history and draw or reconcile individuals (some or all?) to himself through the life and death of Jesus, a first century Jew. And not just reconcile or draw them close in this life, but in the next. Although all physical evidence seems to be that my conscious mind simmers in essential symmetry with the meat we call brain, that the death of the brain is the death of the individual; still, somehow, Christians believe through the preservation of a non-material piece of me (soul), or simply the resurrection, or better, re-creation of the essence of me into another form/body (complete, we assume, with memories and feelings from this life!) God will preserve us through even the death-oblivion and elevate us to His Love-Presence as conscious beings.

That, friends, is Absurd. I cannot attempt anything like a full response here, nor do I have answers to all my questions, some of them serious questions.

But I would argue this: Christian belief is absurd primarily in the face of the random suffering we experience in nature and the fact of Death itself. It is easy to use quantum theory, or biological complexity, to argue for a transcendent Creator. Childhood leukemia, cancer, death of the innocent and the beloved...these are another thing. All theists have to address this tension, and as Christians do not (generally) resort to samsara and karma as explanations, the Puzzle remains.

Yet it must be admitted: the relationship between the Creator (assuming there is one)and the Creation, including biological us, must be complex beyond human comprehension. If saying God loves is anthropomorphic, so it is anthropomorphic to imagine what I'd do if I were God...and bloody hell why doesn't he tow the line! We cannot know what the extent of God's power is over human experience, nor what His plans were, if any, when this universe was made, nor why he does some things and doesn't do others. It is quite possible we evolved through a blend of amazing Principles designed to foster life in this Universe and gross Accident into beings with enough moral preoccupation to require a savior, an ambassador, the Son of the Landlord himself. To use a lame analogy (and I hate any sci fi or fantasy analogies in apologetics with a bias) the warp signature went out and the Vulcans came calling. Only instead of Vulcans, it was God himself.

I have not, and do not, find solace in the Fall. It seems a simple human guess, even when articulately laid out as in Lewis' "free will experiment;" the Jewish mythic belief that Adam's fall and original sin are responsible for suffering, for me, remains a guess. If I ever get an Answer...I will have to wait past my own death for it.

And when reflecting on suffering I always end here: Jesus healed. Shitloads. Attempts to compare him to other ancient healers and thereby dismiss the miraculous element in the gospels remain tenuous and weak. There is no record in human history, certainly not ancient history, of an individual like him. If I am wrong, please direct me. And no, Apollonius, for me, doesn't cut the mustard (sorry Penn and Teller). I am not being facetious; at this time, I find Jesus unique in the ancient world. Scores of healings are attributed to him...and not for show, nto as displays of power. The best reading of the evidence seems to be he healed because he felt compelled to alleviate human suffering in his presence.

And there, for now, I park this essay. If I get time, I'll tinker with what I have. In the meantime, this felt pretty good to write.

Peace to all in this season of suffering.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

In the Land of the Lotus Eaters

It is not quite that, O my brothers (just taught Clockwork Orange again). Second Life is not quite like eating the lotus. It has been recreation without purpose or goal, and that has been generally good. Is there a hypnotic component? Yes, as there is to general web surfing and television; while SL generally lacks the rich art of good film, it is certainly more interactive than tv or general web surfing. I'm part of a community there now which has bloody nothing to do with anything intellectual; I spend most of my time sword fighting.

Sl is deeply immersive, in a way I can't describe. For some, it just doesn't work. For others, those of us closer to fantasy moment to moment perhaps, it works very well. The early hypno-immersion is passing, though, and I'm getting more balanced in my use of the Grid as the Wonder dissipates. Frankly, you can do just about anything there...what you can't do yet you will be able to eventually, you just do it through an avatar, a little cartoon you. I've taught Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash before, and I think of that novel often, or did, at least, my first few times in.

I know that I have friends who blog, people I care about whose blogs I have not been reading anymore than I've been writing in my own. This does make me sad, and I hope to 'catch up' someday. The dark side of blog always was, as other bloggers have noted also, that I'd spend an hour or two writing my brains out...digging deep into my life or mind, and get a single comment, or two...for some time now it's felt a little like waiting for a parent to arrive home when I was alone in my room. Waiting. Or like emailing, almost, between myself and Sandalstraps (whose work I miss dearly...I'll trot by and read a bit after this). In short, the effort and return ratio reminded me a bit too much of my childhood. I don't think I'll ever fully quit blog, but it feels good to take a break from a hobby which was more like graduate school than a hobby.

Oh, I still have my questions about the human experience, about my faith in particular, I'm still in EFM (though I miss once a month or so to be with my family) and my mind continues to churn over spiritual questions at a lower chew-rate. Frankly, I'm not going to think my way into closeness with God. At least not solely or primarily. And I want a further spiritual experience than historical inquiry can give me. Taking a blog-break is also about that.

I will say that my son is doing well, my wife also, though school has started for her again and though she is near the end of her graduate program, she and I both feel the pressure. Another reason, incidentally, I've put seminary into the warming drawer, even off the back burner. My job is fine...I underappreciate it all the time. We want to move down the hill a bit, even 15 minutes closer to civilization would help us; we'd be closer to church and the martial arts gym (where I've hardly torn ligament is healing, but slowly...thank God for physical therapy). If so, we won't move until summer. It's a weird market, and I can't predict if or when, but we'd like to. Sure I'd miss the snow...but I also wouldn't miss waking up at 5 to shovel my wife out or driving on steep ice covered roads in the dark. It's been a grand adventure, but it might be time to leave Walden.

You know, it does feel good to write here. I had forgotten.

Peace and love to all. My heart, my heart.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Prodigy

Listening to Their Law, the Prodigy, they rock.

Working from home today; the weather in the mountains is very beautiful.

Love to all.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Blog Skids and the Second Life

I have enjoyed blog, and I'm not quitting for good, but I have taken an unexpected, and extended, break. Why? Partly, I was out of town for a couple weeks; I was getting my grades in; now I'm back at work. School, church, family...all these take time...the most prolific bloggers, in general, don't have both family and career. But I've managed to be fairly regular up here nonetheless, whether the post was crafted or not. I still consider it a valuable place to share. Why am I hesitant to continue working on it at the moment?

Hesitant may not be the right word. The answer is really two words: Second Life.

I'm surprised how many people, how many students, haven't heard of SL. It's a three-dimensional interactive avatar-based world. It is Neal Stephenson's metaverse from Snowcrash. I bipped in before I left town because I have a friend whose college is buying an 'island' there. I had no idea what that meant. And I admit I got a bit hypnotized. When I returned, still on vacation and with lots of extra time, I played some more.

How will this feel long-term? I don't know. Am I giving up on my blog friends, on Chris and Romy and Scott and the Funkiller? No. They have golden hearts all. But for the moment, I'm spending time in the grid. It's a strange and marvelous place. Equal portions of both.

And I've been working my butt off as an NT amateur, digging into the professional scholarship, struggling with fundamental questions of existence. For me, the NT stuff was never just about sorting the details, it was about the Big Picture itself. I was (and am, still) on the track of Something significant. You know, that work was hard, a rigorous hobby even for someone perhaps born for difficult challenges. I still hold those questions in my mind, but it's nice to spend time doing something completely meaningless, silly, fun.

Is there a dark side to my SL adventures? Perhaps. I can be, uh, obesessive. I am easily drawn in and hypnotized by the environment. I've found myself, once or twice, playing well past when I'd normally eat lunch, for example. I'm using my brain in a way that doesn't directly profit me. But I've only been doing it for three weeks or so (not counting vacation) and I may well tire of it.

In the meantime, school is on with force. My job at the church is not quite over (though I'm looking forward to the break) and I continue to make my family my first least I believe I'm doing that.

I was always part geek, part 'white and nerdy.' SL is chock full of people like that. Well, the people behind the avatars. It's living sci-fi.

I know the key is balance, to most everything that is the key. My back injury has not let me work out and SL has filled some of that time void. Again, it's a strange thing that's happened to me. Probably a temporary one. In the meantime, I encourage exploration by those of you with time. It's vast and growing daily. It's what the Web will look like, perhaps, in a dozen or so years. IBM is there. And since it's all built by the inhabitants so is much creativity.

Well, that's all I have time for. I haven't played all weekend; I sailed yesterday, actually, and then spent today with S working around the yard (what in this life is as much fun as chain sawing trees) and watching TV. I'm okay. I think. But time will tell better.

I will still blog here, but perhaps not as often. Sad, really. I haven't made any decision, it's just been happening...

Peace to all.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Well, I'm back," he said.

Or something close to that.

I am back. I graded every paper before Christmas for the first time in 12 years of college teaching. S and I left town early the next day and returned late last night. I've been off-blog for longer than ever before I think and don't even know where to begin.

The long car drive was hard on my back injury and sitting now isn't great. This will likely be short until I can get back into my physical therapy. Something about that electrostim...really numbs the pain.

I will say this: we spent the last two days in San Francisco and I must recommend the Hotel Carlton. The neighborhood is non-remarkable, north of Tenderloin (where I don't want to stay) south of Nob Hill (where I can't afford to stay) and somewhat northwest of Union Square (where I like to stay when I can afford it). The Hotel was renovated two years ago and what we got for the price was unequalled in my experience. Smallish room, yes, but nicely decorated and above all, superb staff-service. Think Nordstrom service, Mervyn's price. With valet parking (highly recommended) it was 105 bucks a day plus tax. Not cheap, true, but there are hotels which charge 44 bucks a day just for a car.

We also had drinks, a crab cake and oysters at Holy Grail, a restaurant just down the street from the Hotel. Very nice. And dinner at Cafe Jacqueline where all the entrees and deserts are souffles. Oui. Made in an open kitchen by a French owner-chef in a restaurant with maybe a dozen tables. Thumbs up, though skip the caviar appetizer (not much actual caviar and the egg and creme drown out the was the only time in my life I've had Beluga, though); instead, save your appetite for a desert souffle. Best of all, Hotel Carlton has a restaurant called Sasha on its first floor; the food is...Moroccan, Turkish, Yemeni? Not sure, but it was absolutely remarkable and also well priced with a Prixe Fixe menu of 35 bucks a person.

I love San Fran. Eat, drink, walk, eat and drink some more.

We also saw the new de Young museum and after my Coit Tower adventure two years ago I had no trouble looking out of the ninth floor observation glass. The art in those buildings is mind-draining good. We also saw the new Asian Art Musuem; I was very moved by their large selection of 1st to 3rd century Buddhas and Buddha-art, as well as by the work of the Fillipino-American painter Zobel. His Icaro is remarkable in person.

We did a lot in two days.

A lot of other things happened on this trip. We New Yeared with our wine buyer friends and drank more champagne in a night than I'll drink in a year. The star was the Billiot, as last year. Much more strange, I saw my father and my entire step family. Most of them I hadn't seen in 15 or more years and that evening deserves an entire post in itself. The executive summary is that I survived (granted, the Patron shooters helped) and it was one kind of pleasant to look at what I have accomplished against enormous odds. You see, I felt compared to my stepbrothers all the time as a teenager, and not favorably. They are both disturbed middle-aged men now, making it in their own way but scraping. And after just a few hours with my stepfamily I can see why my anxiety spiked when they entered my life when I was 16. My stepbrothers pain provdes echoes of my own twenties, except I was in therapy for years seeking any tool, any door, any window in heaven to move forward. And I moved. I don't know if they are moving or not.

I also look younger better than any of them! Small comforts. Time will change that as well.

The highlight of the entire trip, though, was the days we spent with my brother, his wife, and my wonderful niece and nephew. If you had been there, you would know how luck I am, how lucky my brother has been to have the family he has, the one he shares with me now. There was more sanity in that family than in my entire step family (and it's a large one now). My.

A late Merry Christmas to all. I hope to begin blog-reading again, but as I said sitting is hard and I have work to do on my own blog. I've already seen Sandalstraps is going off at full-tilt brilliance as usual. Romy will be my next stop.

Love to all.