Thursday, January 29, 2009

Back Again

I am again up later than my wife; we have fallen into the cycle on the days I work from home (3 a week). I work on the computer, do laundry, clean the kitchen...maybe run errands or shop. She comes home and dinner is usually ready (often from things she has already cooked, especially lately) she has a cocktail/glass of wine or two, we watch tv for too long, she goes to be early reading. I read with her, sometimes fall asleep sometimes come out here. I am the househusband with the full time job, the primary bread winner, but working from home can be rather lonely as I used to say up here a lot (before I was in second life I guess).

I took most of last semester off from sl, mostly so my back could heal (it suddenly flared up in the fall and it seemed very connected to sitting at that computer for two or three hours at a stretch). The old injury which had never healed completely, what I am sure is a soft tissue/tendon injury (not my spine, which has been mri's and xrayed and even had an injection) suddenly became very irritated from all the sitting and very painful. Lying down helped, of course, not sitting, and so I pretty much left second life. Overall, much for the better for me as fun as that place can be.

This winter break comes around; most of it, or at least half, was spent out of town, but then the last week I was back I peeked back into the grid. I had great fun running around shooting arrows at people, know, the old combat sims. And I tried to limit my sitting to 3 hours at most per day; maybe I did that five days over a week or so? Not sure. Anyway, my back got sore again, after some improvement from walking and stretching and limiting my sitting (I do most of my schoolwork on my wife's laptop now, stretched out and back-supported, as I am now). I decided yoga would help, it seemed to help a little long ago, so I went back to a class last week.

And my back did feel better, a lot, for two or three days after. Of course, second life was again history for me, even more than before. Then it seemed my back started hurting again so I went to yoga Wednesday morning. It's great, but I had to drive a lot that day and that may have aggravated things. It felt more sore today. And then I did one of those elliptical cross trainers at my house; my cardio is sadly neglected. After that, it really hurt.

So here I am. I well know a soft tissue injury should have been better two years ago. I have waited, and waited, as I was told to do; seen an idiot specialist twice. Finally, I called my HMO last week about getting a second opinion with an orth doc in the valley who has a good reputation. They said they'd get back to me, nothing yet. I have to call tomorrow. My doc said he'd send me to physical therapy again, but I was waiting to meet with an orth.

Fact is, the orth may not be able to tell me anything except what they all keep, this should be better by now. I can't say. And yoga seems like physical therapy on steroids...such deep stretching and strength work in the core. But PT may be where I end up; don't know.

I know that tonight my back hurts. I'm long out of mobic, need to get the refill. Did take a valium as that seemed to help lately. I try to think positive: maybe this pain is something idea.

So, there you go. The loneliness of the long days in the mountains alone is hard once again. My wife and I are trying to reach out to our friends more. We have something Sat. night and for the superbowl. I love that. Dinner with friends at their place or here. Love it. Sunday I am the EM, or chalice bearer, and what an honor that is. It should be a good weekend I remind myself. The papers have not begun to slam in yet; I am working on my online class but it doesn't take all day. Reading Boadt still on the OT; reading a fascinating book about Barth. His view on scripture interests me. Also reading NTW's Simply Christian. I could write about that for an hour, but the simple answer is there is much to like and much I don't like. His section on the bible I especially don't like. The little I read from Barth on scripture was encouraging. I have simply come to believe the Torah is not "God breathed" in the particular sense; meaning, the larger themes, quite possible; but the individual rituals and laws. Sorry. Parts of it, maybe; the experiences which produced it, possibly, sure. But so much of it is just ancient practice, so brutal I don't know how fundamentalists deal with it; well, I do know: the holy and judging God. the God of stoning. Save that for another time.

And as I ramble: the back thing is hard because it's not defined. If they said, oh, you have a nerve root inflamed, or a messed up disc or something...there are therapies for that. But this unknown, undiagnosed injury....the primary doc just sends me to the specialist who is only interested in my spine MRI. Detecting a soft tissue injury, no dice. And he says nothing can be done for those anyway....they just get better with time. Yeah, we'll see. Not as long as the time I've waited.

oh, I am ranting and so tired now. good. sleep is good.

I miss vigorous exercise. I miss weights. I miss all that because I'm hurt. martial arts most of all. I know this thing could resolve in a year; maybe sooner with help. maybe it will always be like this. I surely can't say. but while it's usually not too bad, tonight it really hurts. could take some ibuprofen I guess, but ready to sleep now that it's midnight.

no news on discernment. same. I keep looking at the good parts of the job I already have. and the bad parts. but I am trying to talk to at least one other priest, and I visit the seminary in three weeks. that, I think, will be great. I imagine it to be the very opposite of lonely.

love to all and peace.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Late, not Sleepy

Hey all. I've been working on a longish post on the Torah, and I am finding it difficult. Parts of that collection of books moves me with an ominous fear of a moral of that collection strike me as nothing more than very ancient, and painfully human, moral and ritual codes. I ordered two (cheapish) Intros to the OT and am reading Boadt. I like his approach so far. He notes what could only be expected: cultural similarities in the Torah what little we know of that region and time. I read much of the famous Code of Hammurabi, and do not find the regulations in the Torah any more humane; in fact, in at least one place, cursing a parent, the COH is more lenient. It also concludes expressing concern
"that the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans." Sure there are things in the COH that I find morally deficient; likewise the Torah. I really am trying to consider the fundamentalist viewpoint, the position the text itself takes in many places: that what we have in the Torah is close interaction with an utterly ominous and judging moral God; that may in fact be true, but I still can't believe all the ritual/moral/purity instruction is God-given even if the books themselves claim to be.

I know the Divine nature is whatever it is, and I do not want to bleed too much into the longer post I'm working on, but frankly I find all of this very frustrating. Personally discouraging.

Getting into the Episcopal war blogs again today a bit: they are almost all about homosexuality, though some deal with salvation questions. I have been reading the "conservative" side. For them, it all gets back to the book, the collection of texts we call the bible. It doesn't really matter, or doesn't seem to, if homosexuality turns out to be the deep seated orientation it seems to be, that gay relationships can be loving and committed...what matters to the conservatives are those verses in that book. And they are very creative, arguing that dietary laws were clearly set aside by the NT but not the moral laws of the Torah. Okay. So when do we start stoning people? Maybe the famous story of Jesus saying, "he who is without sin, cast the first stone" is apocryphal, showing up in some odd spots in the old manuscripts and missing in most that we have from John. But I just cannot believe that ALL biblical books are not culturally bound. That God is breaking through uniquely in Jesus, but that the composition of the books, whatever God was trying to say through them, was shunted through a very human author who made sense of his revelation and religious experience in light of his cultural norms.

Look, we didn't put women on juries or let them vote or hold public office for MILLENIA. Does that mean the civil rights movement for women and minority groups, newfangled as it is, should be discarded in favor of the "traditional faith." Oh, I know what the conservs would say; I don't even want to get into it here. But right now, the Torah is challenging my faith. The best solution really seems to be that God was expressing himself through various religions in the region, and that somehow the Jews got involved with him in a more direct way. But even the stele with the COH on it shows the King bowing to a god, maybe the god of justice, and it declares the King to be delivering the law at the behest of the gods. This, of course, is centuries before the Mosaic code. The Torah does not strike me as markedly more enlightened. Enlightened in passages, yes, concern for the alien and the poor and the oppressed figures largely in many places. But so much of it is culture dependent: death as punishment for crimes large and small, ritual sacrifice as atonement for sin, an extensive purity cultus, food restrictions which cannot be fully explained for health reasons and of course, the blatant marginalization of women...even if the social classes are compressed in at times remarkable fashion (the years of jubilee, lending without interest, etc). At least, if one was living among the Hebrews, there were some noble protections. But it seems to me law-writing, much of the ritual practice of ancient Israel, was drawn from surrounding phenomenon.

Now that in itself proves nothing. God could use any kind of ritual program for his work. Providing a written moral code must have been revolutionary for these societies (depending on the code, I guess). But again, reading these laws and histories as the Word of the Divine God...I just can't see it that way. Certainly, Jesus acted differently. But now I am well into my still in draft form entry here.

A long, long day at work. S is asleep and I'm couching it because I'm up so late and will be snoring likely...wonderful time to read and write, coveted time, but no clear focus tonight.

And on discernment: I'm 44 with a great job; my denomination is struggling within itself...a low point in the journey for me tonight. I visit the local seminary in Feb.; still looking forward to that. Would LOVE to talk over some of these questions with a professor of OT. Anyway, before I get incoherent with sleep, love to all.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Onto Dangerous Ground

I don't know much about politics; I know even less about the modern middle east. But one strange phenomenon I see, a result of reading the Bible, specifically the HB, as the literal words of God, is that events in modern day Palestine are interpreted through the lens of the Torah.

And it is quite clear: according to the first six books anyway, Palestine was given to Israel, to Abraham, forever; when they re entered the land after the Egyptian captivity they were to butcher entire cities because of Canaanite religious practices (offering children to Molech and other much less heinous things like tattoos). In the OT story, the Israelites are the intended heroes. Obedience to the Torah their ticket to being a global witness for their God. If a few small civilizations get wiped out, including in some cases the children and animals, so be it. The Holy God has spoken.

Now this is a very, very interesting perspective. And Christians have to concede, for whatever reason, the Savior was born into a Jewish family, in Israel, though centuries after the alleged events of the conquest of Canaan.

I have a number of problems with this story line. For one, I am not sure the ancient Jews were the only people God was speaking to and through. Did they have a special covenant or agreement with God? This is possible. The stories in Exodus and Leviticus about God's Glory settling on the tent of meeting, participating with and among the people...these are powerful stories indeed. But there is much content in here I would be surprised to find unique: extensive animal sacrifice, the altar, perhaps even the general structure of the tent itself, the graduating levels of holy regions, the garments and sacred lots the priests wore. Did all these rise out of nothing among Israel? Direct commandments of God? Here my skeptical self kicks in again.

But this is what this short (and largely uninformed) post is about: I think that even if the special covenant with Israel is accepted, it's pretty clear they blew it as a nation. Their own texts admit it via the Babylonian captivity and one could argue the Roman occupation. If Jesus was in fact the Messiah, only a portion of the nation responded, and, whether by accident or Divine purpose, the Temple was laid flat in 70 by Titus and diaspora became the norm until a few decades ago, when Israel was restored and, unfortunately, Palestinians were thrown out of their homes with a tone rather reminiscent of the original conquest literature in the HB.

Now, I find many Christians supporting Israel as if they are still God's chosen vehicle to reveal Himself to the world. With all respect to my Jewish friends and to Israel itself, Christians have to see the Church as having been handed this role. Paul says (oh, where) that a true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly. The new religion (our religion) opened its boundaries to include Jew and gentile. From that moment on, any special status Israel may or may not have held must have shifted.

All that said, I still don't think God told the migrating Jews to butcher entire cities. I know they believed that He did, and my well-arguing fundamentalists friends will tell me that a Holy God was using Israel to exact judgement on nations He considered immoral, and to keep Israel from falling intermingling with such people they had to die (they intermingled anyway).

It is easy to forget that Jesus, in any fair reading, began to work outside the temple cultus completely. He forgave sins personally; he rewrote portions of the Torah in his speeches; he re interpreted the ancient codes. He distilled them, as some of the other prophets had done before him, into loving action. We do not see Jesus arguing for enhanced Temple ritual; his action in the Temple (and scholars debate what to call this) seems, if anything, a prophetic gesture directed towards the predicted end of the Temple cult and quite clearly the Temple itself. If nothing else, Jesus was right about that. The Temple was destroyed and within the lifetime of some of those who heard his prediction.

It is typical for ancient peoples, nearly all I know, to see divine action in historical events. A natural or military disaster must be the action of God or gods, and hence a reflection on the religious purity of the clan or nation. What did we do to bring this on ourselves? Ancient Israel clearly believed they held a special status with God and other nations were to be either eliminated or drawn to God through their example, depending where one reads. I really do not know if I believe this, but I very much think it is dangerous to apply this reasoning today. I have seen this idea transferred to my own country: America is viewed by so many Christians as the chosen nation, the new Israel, and to me that is simply absurd. It has been used to justify aggression against innocent persons. I know of one massacre of native Americans (including women and children) during colonial times that was later defended using those same examples of wholesale slaughter from the Torah.

From what little I know, I do not think Israel is innocent in their treatment of Palestinians from the 1940's on. Nor do I support, of course, terrorism or missile attacks or suicide bombings, especially of civilian persons. I am a believer in non-violence whenever such is possible. But what little of the mess I know over there tells me both sides need to make concessions, need to seek peaceful resolution; find an end to the hatred. I cannot believe Israel continues in some special status with God over and above any other people, including the Palestinians. Anti-semitism I find repugnant; what thinking person would not. But the fundamentalist view that Israel is still God's chosen people, that they have a right to that land at any cost...that they are innocent or justified in all that they do in Palestine as they are still God's holy warriors...this view I find very troubling.


I want to write a series of posts; heck, I'd like to write an article or two if I had any idea where to send it and how to do the necessary research considering where I live, on Jesus' comments on the Hebrew Scriptures. His positions are not unified or always clear; some redaction must be accounted for. But I have always found it interesting, when the divorce question comes up (and as in so many cases, Jesus is answering in a manner to confound his would-be confounders) Jesus says that Moses wrote this because of the hardness of your heart. Now, the passage from the Torah his interlocutors quote is supposed to God-given law, the Divine instruction, without error; Jesus does not read it that way in this context, as he goes deeper than the old commandment and stresses, as my brother notes, the nature of the heart. That all hearts are adulterous, all lust, all fall short of the loving ideal of the lifetime companion. Some in reality, some in thought, it does not matter to God. But, in this passage, Jesus seems to toss out a small portion of the Torah. He says equally puzzling things in other places, and there are hints he does not keep all the ritual practice. Whether, as I have heard argued, he only sets aside the oral tradition (and what makes that less important; the Jews saw it as equally important and many still do) and keeps the written Torah is an interesting question. In short, it is a complex subject and if anyone knows of any books on the topic (Jesus' statements regarding the HB and especially the Torah) I'd dig reading them. As with anything else in NT studies, my guess is the answer is going to be complex. Even the historical use of the HB during Jesus life was complex, I know.

Well, enough for now. I am going to go and darken the door of my gym for the first time in about a year. My back injury is not healed (and I need to plod to another specialist) even though I am told soft tissue injuries always heal in time; mine should have been fully healed a year ago. Anyway, it seems to be doing well enough that I can work out some. I miss the gym very much. Exercise has been important to me since my late 20's, and I could write an entire post on the ruined cathedral of what used to be my personal fitness. There is nothing like it for stress; and I find weights, and sometimes cardio, lots of fun. Oh, do wish I had not lost my ipod. It blows working out without an ipod.

Well, love to all. Being on vacation I have no excuse not to make the 30 minute drive to the gym. Wish me luck. I will be careful, take it easy, lift lightly (so my arms don't snap out of socket) and try to get in the all critical cardio. Sighs. Been a tough year without any serious working out.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Christmas Rappings

S and I spent two weeks away, Christmas and New Year's, most of it with family in so. cal., three wonderful days in San Fran including New Year's Eve itself. The odd thing is that I got food poisoning my first day back with family (ate out twice, can't say which place) and was sick with that for two or three days. Then a cold set in just a couple of days later so I was sick the entire time in San Fran. Not real sick, a cold only, but not that has (as always) settled into my chest. I beat bronchitis this time, remarkably; I get the wicked bronch. But I took a dose of narcotic cough syrup last night and tonight to help me sleep without hacking still, and my snoring is so bad my poor wife ended up on the couch last night and I volunteered tonight. She goes back to work tomorrow; I'm off for another week or so though I have some work to do to get ready for the semester, not much for at least a week. Heck, I don't even know the exact day school starts. Nice job.

I have a ton of things to talk about. I want to babble here; I love that I can. So, babble on.

For one, I went to a great Episcopal church in Long Beach, St. Luke's. The rector there manages to have traditional worship and music (and a stunning choir); all the formality I have become familiar with. But more importantly, the parish is very diverse, highly welcoming. A gay men's spirituality group, gay couples, straight couples, all ages and colors. A very nice thing to see in any church but especially my own denomination. We visited twice; my hat off to him. I hope I can speak with him some day in more depth to see how he did and does it.

For two, I had a couple of great phone conversations with Sandalstraps. What a remarkable man he is. I am glad we spoke, and I at least hope to make that semi-regular.

For three, I spent some great time with family and friends; S and I had to dig pretty deep in and through our own stuff (and how much farther I have to grow is continually apparent). As always, I love time in San Francisco. What can I say about that town? Eat, drink, walk, eat and drink some more; MOMA, architecture...authentic Italian for a two hour lunch and French for a three hour dinner. As I always say, it is a great place to bleed money. If we had more, I'd go more often than I do. And it was great to spend New Year's Eve in a little hotel room with good friend, eating great munchies (if fresh bread, camembert cheese and truffle salt count as munchies). Even sick, I love the City.

But now for the rest. As I said, a lot of my vacation was hard emotional work. Within my relationship, yes. We came out stronger, but two weeks vacation with so many family of origin moments is challenging. I feel good about my love right now; it feels much stronger, or I do anyway within it, than when I started this blog. I thank God and lots of therapy and a loving wife for the outcome.

Oh, the cough medicine is making me a bit sleepy.

Discernment was very hard over the last month or so. It did not feel like a relaxed and organic God-supported journey; it felt like shit. Fear mostly. Lots of fear. My mom tried everything to talk me out of it when I told her; she means well in her frantic terror way, but she told me stories about how congregations turn on pastors, etc. If I have time, I'll rewrite the conversation up here. What I just said does not do it justice. It seems every part of me is getting squeezed in a garlic press. My own doubt/faith issues; more so the last few days, as I relax on my long Christmas vacation and watch my paycheck roll in, the amazing nature of my own job. I do not have a shitty job. I have a great job. There are things about it which grind, yes; too many papers! And it keeps me so busy I feel intellectually limited. I mean I need something more: more education, a real attempt at a writing career, something. But let me say, teaching community college pays well enough and gives me a real life most of the year. Much of it is interesting and fun. Why chuck that for so much uncertainty? And at my age, now mid 40's? Those continue to strike me as very good questions.

What is wrong with financial security, with lack of drama? I am one of those people who never stops re inventing my self; someone who never wants to stop growing and learning and changing. I would do more of this if I did not live to far from colleges (including my own) where I could take French, philosophy, things I missed as an undergrad. Is the priest thing just another curious journey? If so, why toss my livelihood for it? I could surely travel as the years go by and S begins to make a full salary and my own salary goes up. Yes, these are good questions even if I have raised them before.

So right now, I feel awfully cautious about entering ministry. Is that the word? Maybe exhausted from the emotional stress of seriously considering it and taking a break. That might be the best description.

Oh, I've read Genesis and Exodus and am almost done with Lev. Very interesting. I read them before, in EFM, but my mental background was pretty fundamentalist and I was overwhelmed, shocked even, by the human content of the OT. Now, coming back and reading from the other side, with a "low" view of scripture, I find much of interest. I also had some very good discussions with my brother who is an evangelical, fundamentalist I guess. No, I'm not going back, but I have put all my energy into NT studies and find the Torah exponentially more complex than the gospels.

And finally, my own little parish continues to struggle. It needs help, every body that can contribute must, and I have contributed a lot already. Enough said there. I want to visit a parish or two not that much farther than mine. If I left my parish I'd feel like a complete ass. But I know my son has suffered from not having a genuine youth community; my wife has felt the lack of community; so have I. There are some very sweet people there, people we like, and maybe they are enough. I can't imagine the original house churches were much different in size than what we have (30 or so) in our later service. Well, I don't really want to go into details here, even on this blog.

Oh, enjoying Made Men on DVD. We saw season two before season one, and working through one now; recommended fiction, that.

And this is really all I have. It's late; I haven't been able to blog while away, even when I really needed to, so this is my sort of catch up. More focused posts to come later.

Love to all.