Sunday, September 30, 2007

Children of the I-God

The church I attend is a typical, large, evangelical church. It's contemporary, technically savvy, and relatively young; demographically speaking. I have a love/hate relationship with it. I appreciate its openness. It does its best to be accessible to modern culture...and therein lies my criticism.

The heavy reliance on modern media concerns me. We have incredible lighting. We have slick bulletins that tie into a huge graphic displayed behind the worship musicians. It changes every six weeks as the pastor develops new preaching series. We have specially produced video bits that are comical, entertaining, and convey the point of the message about to be preached. We have occasional dramatic skits. We use every piece of technology known to man.

I worry that as people come through the doors, our church will seem like merely one more performance or show, a thing to be observed, not partaken of. I know that is the furthest thing from what the leadership wants, and by which they are motivated, but it still floats in the back of my mind.

But, what can you say? Hey, maybe the lighting should be a little more crappy. Or, maybe the worship leader should sing off-key every once in a while. Perhaps, the pastor could trip and fall on stage. You know, just to remind everybody that they're humble people and following Jesus has nothing to do with looking good, being "perfect", or producing "a really good show"--as Ed Sullivan would say.

The church has made some strides in trying to incorporate a more worshipful attitude. They have recently set up areas throughout the sanctuary where people can pray, take communion, write down prayer requests, etc. The concept is to allow people time to participate during the last part of the service as the congregation is singing. People can stay where they are and sing, or move to one of the other areas if they desire to worship in a different way. The idea is to offer opportunities for people to worship in a way that is meaningful to them.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I have always missed communion when it is only offered sporadically in evangelical churches. Having it available every week should have been an improvement.

I haven't taken it since it has been offered in this manner. For some reason, I kept avoiding it. Each Sunday would come and go and still I wasn't using the opportunity that I had, and I wasn't sure why. I couldn't come up with a reason other than thinking that it "didn't feel right".

Today, when we reached that part of the service, I realized why.

Our large church, in an effort to make things easy and convenient in a church of a couple thousand people, had turned communion into a Self-Serve station. Instead of it being given purposely and deliberately to the entire congregation, eaten at the same time, unifying the whole congregation in a simple action, it had become something to take or leave like an ala carte menu item. We had transformed communion from a communal act to an individual act.

As I thought about this, it reminded me of the choir rehearsal I had attended a couple of weeks beforehand. The worship leader had set up a computer specifically for the purpose of collecting prayer requests from the choir members. The requests would be sent to everyone on the choir e-mail list in order for them to prayed over. I am sure it seemed like a convenient way to deal with the possibility of dozens of prayer requests without having to use up half an hour of choir rehearsal time--an already brief span of 90 minutes.

Are these technical and stylistic innovations sinful? I would say, not necessarily.

Are they wise? I would say, emphatically, no.

The more we infuse our techno-savvy tendencies into our churches, the more we lose the sense of a cohesive community. In a culture which already lacks a sense of wider community, and carries a strong sense of individuality, these innovations take us one step further from each other. A single sentence prayer request, prayed for anonymously, does nothing to establish a relationship between the person praying and the person being prayed for. There is no chance to hug that person, look them in the eye, speak to them clearly, and encourage them with your presence.

Providing chances for individuals to partake of different worship opportunities all at the same time, appeals to our uniqueness, but it focuses our worship clearly on ourselves and what we are feeling in that particular moment. We lose the rapport of being of one accord if we're all doing different things. We lose the ability to forget about ourselves and meditate on Christ and His Body, the church.

We have become children of the I-God, shuffling through the various tunes that we want to hear, oblivious to those around us as we move to our own beat, separated and withdrawn into our own minds and preferences.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Road Trip Meanderings

My trip up North, well actually...up South, went well. You see, even though Florida is geographically South, it isn't Southern. Culturally, its a huge mix of nationalities and transplants from all over the U.S. So, leaving here, I had to travel North to get to the South. I know, I know--it sounds backwards.

Arkansas was my final destination.

Driving along the vast highways, I was instantly 18 again, guiding a 1984 Dodge 600 --packed to the gills with every material possession I owned--to my liberal arts University in Tennessee. I was free, unencumbered, invigorated. The world was an open book.

This time my life was much more determined and settled, but I couldn't escape the primal satisfaction of being alone on a long journey with time to think, listen to music and lose myself in the process.

I traveled through Georgia's countryside, passing pecan trees and peanut fields, long grasses with silver tufts swaying in the wind and yellow sunlight that tinged everything with a warm hue. Alabama with its steep, rocky hills covered with scrub pines and kudzu was a revelation of wild beauty. Each curve uncovered verdant forests with pockets of white mists dotting them, a ghostly mystery filling the valleys between the peaks. Mississippi was gentle and calm; its hills less death-defying, its forests less wild.

I watched the country unfold itself before me as I wondered about who lived there, and what they did with their lives. I remembered my time in Tennessee--a beautiful state. It made me long for a move to somewhere else; locations with texture and surprise, like those rolling hills in Alabama, places with seasons and earthly change instead of the monotonous heat and humidity of Florida. I missed it all.

I was brought up short in my romanticism when I stopped at a McDonald's restaurant in Georgia. I immediately noticed the contrast of people inside. All the workers, every last one of them, was black. Most of the patrons were white. I had forgotten how binary the South was. Black and White. Occasionally, there might be Mexican migrant workers around.

I don't normally pay much attention to who's behind the counter of a fast food restaurant. I just want my food, thank you very much. In Florida, there are usually a wide variety of people and skin colors represented--black, white, Hispanic, middle eastern, but this stark relief struck me as I waited in line.

A group of men, seeming to be on their lunch break, stood in front of me. I could already sense a tension about them, but didn't know why. They hadn't ordered yet. Nonetheless, I thought to myself, "There's trouble brewing here." Sure enough, one of them soon began berating the young girl who took their order and was assembling it. She knew the story. She looked at him with guarded suspicion as he complained and gave her a hard time. The manager intervened, asking the man what he needed, getting it for him, and sending him on his way. He kept his cool, even though he knew the customer was being a complete jerk.

It made me remember why I didn't stay in the South, despite my love for it. I just wasn't Southern. I couldn't culturally relate to its binary nature.

As I pondered the negatives of some things Southern, a girl of about 9 stood in line with her grandfather. He was so gentle with her, asking her what she would like, placing his arm around her shoulder, speaking to her kindly. She would answer his questions with a "Yes, sir," or "No, sir,"--another Southern nicety that traditional Southerners teach their children. Her grandmother was also sweet as she assured them that she would get things ready for them, grabbing napkins and straws, finding a place for them in the restaurant, and letting her husband know what she would like. Family. Tradition. A place of belonging. The South has us beat there.

I got my drink and left.

As I continued the drive I remembered all the good and bad things I had learned in Tennessee. The food--yummy. The ingrained stereotypes--boo! The friends--great. The disillusionment--bad. I wondered how a culture could have so much good and bad mixed together. It reminded me of myself. It reminded me of life.
Today is my first performance for the non-profit I work for.

We did a dress rehearsal yesterday and things went relatively OK. I have missed at least four days of rehearsals over the last two weeks as a result of the kids being sick and going to my grandfather's funeral, which makes me feel nervous that I haven't had as much time to prepare as I would like. Yikes.

I think it will go well; it's just a little nerve-racking to have had to rush through everything.

*UPDATE*

Everything did go well. I made a few minor mistakes, none of which were noticeable to the audience, thanks to my partner who knows this performance backwards and forwards. She always managed to bring me back to where I needed to be in the script, allowing me to get on track and flow seamlessly to the next part. My boss was there observing everything and she seemed to be happy, so that's a big sigh of relief for me!....Whew!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Road Trip Recap

1.--Mapquest LIES!! 15 hours is really 18.5

2.--When devising your own detour through Birmingham, it helps to have the map right-side up; thereby avoiding an hour of wasted time before you realize that the left you made was really supposed to be a right!

3.--A Mazda Miata looks like a tiny bug to a semi driving 80 miles an hour.

4.--Never drink two cups of coffee and one bottle of water right before you drive through deserted highways with no gas stations in sight!

5.--You know you've hit the South when the continental breakfast served at the hotel has biscuits and gravy. yummy! I haven't had that in almost ten years.

6.--Memphis really needs some road improvements!

7.--Home never looked as good as it does after driving until midnight!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Blog Break

Ugh.

I've been up since 4:45 am.

I'm really tired.

I have a fifteen-hour car trip ahead of me as I drive to my grandfather's home town for his funeral. I really don't want to go. It's a financial strain. I just started my new job and already had to miss some days while the kids were sick and here I am disappearing for a few days again. I have to drive alone in the Miata. Ugh.

The only reason I am really going is to be a support to my mother and grandmother. I know it means a lot to them that I am coming. It will be good to see everyone that I haven't seen in a while. I'll be able to finally meet one niece that I haven't met yet. She'll be two soon. There are positives to the trip; I'm just whining and being selfish.

Anyway, See you on the flip side!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

My grandfather just passed away. He'd been sick for the last few months and had been assigned to hospice.

I don't have any strong emotions about it; maybe because he wasn't the type of grandfather who inspired those types of emotions, or maybe because I can be coldly rational. Thinking back on my memories of him, I can't really ever recall much interaction with him, which is strange when I consider the amount of time I spent in my youth running around boundless acres of countryside on my grandparents' property. They raised and raced horses, not always successfully. We would run in and out of the stables, climb up into the hay loft and swing out over it on a rope, letting go to land in a pile of dusty hay. We would climb trees, brush horses, and race across the fields endlessly.

Those are the memories I have when I think of my mother's parents. The memories are of the places, not of the people. To him we were just kids running around on his property, not specific people for him to take an interest in.

I don't feel sorrow for him, but I do for my mother, her siblings, and his wife. They put up with a lot from him. He could be cruel, in particular to my mother. He was abusive to my grandmother, and yet she still claimed to love him as did his children...even my mother.

I have talked with my mom about his impending death many times over the last few months, trying to comfort her and reassure her. For the most part she has handled it well. It's been hard for her to watch him waste away and suffer. She says things like,"I hope that doesn't happen to me." I cheer her up by making wildly inappropriate comments like, "Oh, don't worry. As kooky as you are, you'll probably fall off a ladder trying to paint the ceiling or fix the roof when you're eighty. You'll fall, break your neck, and it'll all be over before you know it!" We laugh and move on. Secretly, I worry that she will go through much worse as a result of a heavy smoking habit, but I never share it with her.

Perhaps the worst part of his death is the unfinished business he left behind. He wounded a lot of people in his lifetime. Even as he was in hospice, he was often bad-tempered and mean towards those helping him. He made one last dig at my mother during a visit from extended relatives. It hurt her badly. She'll never get an apology from him now. Although, she probably wouldn't have gotten it even if he were alive. Unfinished business, loose ends that will forever remain untied.

Worst Children's Book....EVER!!!

Yesterday, Intuitive Monkey's kindergarten class went to the school library, got their library cards and were allowed to check out a book. He came home with a colorful book entitled, Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People and War.

Supposed message of the book: Elephants are honored for their needless, noble deaths during wartime in Japan....oh yeah, and war is bad.

Actual message of the book: Japanese zookeepers are stupid and cruel.

The book opens in a zoo with a man maintaining a memorial for three elephants that died at the zoo during wartime. The guard of the memorial expounds on their deaths, explaining that during a war the zookeepers of the zoo were worried about bombs that might break open the cages of the wild animals, letting them loose on the streets of Tokyo.

Their solution? Why to kill all the animals, of course! Because, if you kill all the animals before they get loose, then that will save you from having to needlessly shoot them later if the zoo is hypothetically bombed, hypothetically breaking open the cages without killing the animals inside them.

Now you get where the stupid part comes in. I guess transporting them somewhere else or just taking your chances was too inconceivable to these zookeepers. But wait, it gets better.

Once they have killed most of the animals by poisoning their food, they have three elephants left to dispose of. They try feeding the first one some poisoned potatoes, but he picks out all the poison ones and only eats the good ones. They try to inject the poison into him, but his skin is too thick and breaks the needles. What's an idiot zookeeper to do? Why starve the animal to death. Yes! That's the solution to this entire mess!!

And so, they starve the elephant.

Well that seemed to have done the trick, so they take the same route with the remaining two elephants, pausing only for a day or two when one of the zookeepers suffers from a guilty conscience and actually feeds and waters the animals. He recovers from that soon enough and the starvation is on again. The pesky elephants finally die after a couple of weeks.

The last part of the story talks about the zookeepers doing an autopsy and declares that not even a drop of water was found in the elephants stomachs. We're back to the stupid part again. After all, why else would you need to do an autopsy to figure out that the animals you just starved to death have no water or food in their stomachs? It's also lovely to try and explain what the word "autopsy" means to a child!

Finally, the book ends with the guard polishing this memorial to these elephants who made such a huge sacrifice for the war.

That's funny. I thought a sacrifice was something you did willingly for the greater good, not something that someone forced you to do out of idiocy and cruelty.

I guess there weren't any rifles around in wartime Japan to shoot these elephants. Wouldn't a bullet to the head have been so much more merciful than torturing live animals with an excruciating death of wasting away? Oh that's right, I forgot, the zookeepers were stupid and cruel.

This is the most disturbing "children's" book I have ever read. Recounting the story as a parable about the insanity of war is bad enough, but trying to portray what happened as somehow noble and worthy of a memorial pushes the bounds of any sane person's interpretation. Yuck.

I can't believe that the school library wasted money on such a despicable tale.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Aria"--Book Review

I love epistolary novels. Reading through letters, articles, diary entries--albeit fictional ones--lets me easily be drawn into the story. Perhaps they feed my intense desire to read other people's thoughts like some sort of mental peeping tom. Either way, it makes me want to read more.

This month's random library pick brought Aria, by Nassim Assefi, into my home and mind. Jasmine Azizam travels the world desperately trying to find release from the devastating grief caused by the death of her five-year-old daughter, her only child and the daughter of her deceased fiance. Jasmine's travels and letters slowly weave together her past and present in a rich, meaningful way. Assefi crafts each character with skill, giving each a unique voice that helps the story unfold. Every character is ultimately tied to little Aria and the void left behind by the loss of her life.

I loved it.

From a Christian perspective, I could have done without the subtle abortion push, but it was only one small part of a well-written and beautiful book.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Buyer's Remorse

Intuitive Monkey loves Hot Wheels cars.

He and his brother must have at least a hundred of them in varying shapes and designs. They litter the floor of our house when playtime merges into "race mode". This game involves sitting at the end of the front hallway and shoving the cars through a gauntlet of their shoes which they have lined up as a barrier that only the toughest racers can get through. Once on the other side of the Shoe Mountains, the minuscule vehicles slam into the front door, making all kinds of racket and probably leaving hundreds of scratches that I turn a blind eye to because the kids are actually playing nicely and I wouldn't disturb that any more than I would disturb a lion munching on a dead zebra. Some have accrued major body damage, or lost the tiny plastic wheels held on by the cheap wire that threads through the body of the car. It's a dangerous game and the body count can be high.

Monkey decided that the twenty dollars in his piggy bank just had to be spent and begged us to take him to Target so he could add to his voluminous car collection. We agreed. Upon arrival, he spent thirty minutes inspecting each one closely, picking out five that he thought were super-cool and had the right stuff for his shoe-mountain-jumping, front-door-smashing game.

The Rationalist, ever the joiner, decided he would get five new cars too. We drove home and they immediately liberated the bright, shiny cars from their cardboard and plastic cages--the race was ON!

They played with them off and on throughout the night.

As I was putting Intuitive Monkey to bed, I had to scooch all the cars out of the middle of the floor so he wouldn't step on them during a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip. I tucked him into bed while he chatted about his cars. We said prayers, I tickled him and kissed him about a thousand quick pecks while he laughed and squirmed and eventually hid under the blankets, daring me to try and kiss him again. I said good night and closed the door.

Ambling to the computer, I sat down and started my incredibly well-written, insightful post about how to achieve World Peace. In mid-sentence of the peak of my post, Monkey came walking into the kitchen, all mournful looks and pouty lips.

"What's wrong, honey?"

"I want to take them back."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"The purple one and the gold one....I want to take them back. I don't like them!" He burst into tears and a low wail.

I picked him up and sat him on my lap, his legs dangling over the side of the chair.

"Why?"

"I just don't like them anymore. Can I please take them back?" sniffing.

"Well, sweetie....you can't take them back now. We threw all the packaging away, but we could go back and you could pick out another one."

More crying and sobbing.

I tried my best to comfort him and tell him not to worry about it right now. He had to get some rest for school tomorrow. He eventually calmed down and dutifully marched back to his bed.

Only five and already regretting small choices. If only I could guarantee that picking the wrong Hot Wheels car would be the last heart-breaking regret that he would have.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Capitalist Christians--Part Two

Yesterday's post, although dealing with two specific examples and bloggers, was not meant to single them out individually as somehow being more capitalistic than other Christians.

The intertwining of Christianity, power, and money has long been an issue. Anyone remember papal indulgences? Purchasing forgiveness by contributing to the building of a Cathedral, or the local monastery definitely muddied the spiritual waters.

American Christianity, in particular, seems to have such a capitalistic nature that I wonder if it's possible to completely exorcise it from the the flavor of Christianity we Americans know. The dissemination of popular Christian ideas through TV, magazines, books and music lends itself to marketing spiritual truths. No one will buy books unless they are told about how great the book is and how life-changing it will be. Nobody will buy music unless they are convinced that the musicians are super-cool, edgy, and can convey a worshipful experience for the listener. Suddenly proclamation leads to promotion in order to attract buyers.

I don't think most Christian writers and musicians start down this path consciously. It starts with a very real desire to be "relevant". Add that tendency to the fact that there is no sure way to inform Christians about an upcoming concert or conference without paying for advertising and a "nice" venue and the slope gets progressively slippery. Every perk must be paid for. Soon what started as a ministry quickly transforms into a business with employees that must be paid and budgets that must be met.

Is it possible to minister in America without being lured into monetizing your message or music once it becomes "popular"? I'm not sure. The only example I can think of is the late Rich Mullins who reportedly lived on a set, normal salary for a "working man" and donated all the rest of the money his albums made.

Radical? Yes, but perhaps more in line with keeping our priorities straight.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Capitalist Christians

A few blogs that I have visited lately gave me pause. One I read rather regularly, the other I have only visited a few times, the most recent visit consisting of stirring up a hornet's nest.

Both bloggers are Christians, although they are from very different perspectives and would probably strongly refute the other's theology and cultural experience. Yet they both have something in common; they have been trying to make a buck off of their blogs.

Theoretically, there's nothing wrong with that. Hey, I could use a buck or two to help fix our plumbing issues, so I totally get trying to do whatever possible to maximize financial possibilities. However, should there be a difference when a blog is 90% about Christianity/Religion/God?

I think so.

The first blog on which I noticed this trend has Google Ads and also uses Pay Per Post ads. The Google Ads are off to the side and are somewhat unobtrusive. When this blogger first began posting his pay per post ads, there was a disclaimer at the end declaring the nature of the post. Very above-board.

Not so anymore. On my last visit, I noticed a post about debt reduction--one of the regular topics of the blog. Hovering my arrow over the links in the post, I quickly discovered that all the links led to a mortgage company's refinance site. They were not informational links, but commercial links. It was a pay per post ad--one without a disclaimer and much more skillful at blending into the blog. The deceptive nature of the post left a bad taste in my mouth.

Bloggers should never use their readership to unwittingly line their pockets, especially if they are claiming to run a Christian blog. I fail to see how such practices are ethical. If you're going to have advertising, don't try to hide it. Don't mislead readers, who tune into your debt reduction posts, to follow links to some company which wants to loan them money. Could things be more hypocritical?

The second blogger has lots of advertising. He has ads, donation buttons, sells his own products. It's very upfront. That being said, lately he has added a huge rotating banner ad. Every time it has been up it has displayed a link to a Christian singles site--no big deal, right? I guess not, unless "Christian singles" is code for somewhat slutty-looking blonds, with large breasts, in small tank tops, posed at the perfect angle to display their attributes. Seriously. All the Christian, single women I know look like that! (please note sarcasm) I have seen much more tasteful, secular dating sites. I would be less offended with a Match.com link then a purported "christian" site that seems to be selling a sexually-objectified fantasy to what must be a hormonal male audience that wants to make sure that the hot, available babe that seems ready for action is at least "christian".

It's disturbing on so many levels.

Once you open the ad-box too far, you lose control of the atmosphere of your blog, a certain amount of integrity, and the purity of your message. If money becomes a guiding force in your Christian blogging, how can you combine the message of Christ with all the counterfeits for sale in your side bar? Accept Jesus and while you're at it, be sure to swing by the Starbucks site and pick up a CD, bag of coffee, and maybe some gift cards...this is a limited time offer, people!

This isn't new to Christianity. It operates in every Christian speaker's circuit when they sell trinkets, books and CD's when the show's over. It happens in churches with bookstores. It happens when you pay $150.00 to attend a conference to teach you how to be more godly.

People want to know about God. People want to discuss Him and congregate with others who feel the same way. It creates a ready-made market for those savvy enough to seize the financial opportunity before them--not unlike some money changers that used to do business in the Temple in Israel.

God is not a marketing ploy to make a buck.

If your blog is truly borne of a desire to guide people to Jesus, trash most of the advertising on it. Anything less and you're trying to serve two Masters, and we all know how well that works out.



UPDATE...I wrote this post at night....which usually means I am more frank and less genteel in my language choice! :-) I apologize to any blonds who might have been offended by the term "slutty-looking". Obviously, one does not lead to the other.

I still feel the same way about the issues I brought up, but maybe my language could have been chosen better.

Aaaaargghhh!

New job = enough money to comfortably meet our monthly budget and begin saving/paying down debt.

Copper pipes with crappy mineralized water = a $300 repair that also left a gaping hole in our masonry block and stucco house.

My first paycheck on 9/21 = money we'll never see.

Plumbing problems = completely frustrated me!

:-P

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How Do I Know That?

So, sometimes I forget how incredibly stuffed with useless information and trivia smart and well-read I am. I mean, could you expect any less from a liberal arts education with a major in English and French?(most of which I have forgotten....comprenez-vous?)

When I listed the title of my last post--Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here--I couldn't quite place where that famous quote came from. There were too many options.

Shakespeare...No.

Moliere....No.

Cervantes......No.

Pirates of the Carribean?....hey...it has the word Ye in it. Sounds like pirate talk to me.

I went to the Google altar and put forth my query.

Ah yes, Dante's, Divine Comedy,--it was the plaque above the entrance to hell. Very appropriate.

Anyway, I came across the site www.phrases.org.uk in my quest to place the phrase I knew.

Neat site; useful for many things.

Like the origins of coin a phrase.....curiosity killed the cat.....flash in the pan..and lots of other obscure references that you should know when you are preparing for Jeopardy, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, or a life of know-it-allness the likes of which has never before been seen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here


That's our new family motto.


Plagues and diseases of various sorts have lurked within our home, striking our bodies at inopportune moments. It started with DH's cold that put him out of commission for a few days. Then I ate potluck at choir rehearsal.
Bad Move. Really. Bad. Move.
I spent Thursday night and Friday morning in extreme abdominal pain. 'nuff said about that.
Saturday night brought a 1 am visit from The Rationalist complaining about a sore throat. 8 hours later, the sore throat turned into 102.5 fever. One doctor visit and 1 rapid strep test later and we have confirmed infectious disease....causing panic.
Intuitive Monkey is allergic to two groups of antibiotics. Trying to keep him from getting sick causes major bathroom disinfection and new toothbrushes and toothpaste being purchased....all to no avail.
4:20 am today--"Mom, my throat is really sore!"
Another doctor visit to check on The Rationalist, who has broken out in a major rash, and to get Intuitive Monkey tested. The Rationalist has Scarlet Fever--a form of Strep...y'know, because strep all by itself, without a dramatic rash, is too boring and humdrum.
Intuitive Monkey tests positive. Another trip to a pharmacy and back to the doctor's to take the antibiotic there in case he reacts to this form of antibiotic.....just to make sure he doesn't do anything like stop breathing and die from anaphylactic shock.
Two sick kids, in a 10 x 10 room, waiting for an hour and a half with hardly anything to do--except drive their mother completely crazy with the constant arguing, whining, and teasing.
Now I need some pills.....Valium, please....Extra Large Dosage.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Blaming Victims

The Tampa Bay area had a big news weekend that started on Friday. The city council chairman of St. Petersburg, John Bryan, resigned amid charges of sexual abuse with his two adopted daughters, and a former nanny. Within hours, he had committed suicide at a second, unoccupied home.

It's a horrible story on multiple levels. Horrible for the daughters and their mother. Horrible for everyone who knows them to discover that something so tragic was happening right under their noses. Horrible for the people who were friends to Mr. Bryan, who now have to reconcile the man they knew publicly with the man who existed privately.

It was horrible for John Bryan, too. However, the pity I feel for him is tempered by the knowledge of what he probably did. I say probably, because the investigation is not complete and very little has been made known to the public. Yet, I have to assume that the truth of those allegations is a likely motivation for Bryan's suicide.

In the midst of all this, I was dismayed to read the headline of the Tampa Tribune's Metro section article about it.

It reads: Child Abuse Tip Had Fatal Effect.

I find it offensive. The tip is not the cause of Mr. Bryan's suicide. It had no fatal effect. The fatal effect was, likely, a consequence of Mr. Bryan's own actions and crimes. It is ridiculous to lay blame or guilt at the feet of a tip that probably saved two girls from ongoing abuse.

I take no satisfaction in Bryan's death, but he is not the victim in all of this. Children who are abused are often caught between the hate they feel for the abuser and the paradoxical love they have for them. It is confusing for them. They must deal with the feelings of wanting to escape and at the same time not wanting to see their parents suffer. Abuse can form strange and illogical bonds when the abusers are parents.

These girls must not be made to feel that their salvation came at the cost of their father's life. They are only 13 and 15, a more than confusing time for kids who have suffered no trauma, let alone kids that have such baggage to carry. Implying that the tip that exposed Bryan's activities was the cause for his death does a disservice to abuse victims and reporters of abuse.

I hope the Tribune hears a backlash about their choice of words.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Reading "The Dawkins Delusion" Introduction

In July, I read through Richard Dawkins The God Delusion. I did an initial post after the first three chapters and meant to continue to do more posts about it, but as usual, life had its own ideas.

There was actually quite a bit I had to say about the book, but it was hard to know where to start. There was just so much wrong with it that I couldn't find the right jumping off point. At the time that I received the book from the library, I put myself on the waiting list for The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicut McGrath. I knew it was a refutation of Dawkins' book, but the library wouldn't have it for months. I was curious to see what it would have to say.

I must say that when I read Dawkins, he quoted McGrath and a few other theologians in his book and I wasn't impressed. "Wow, if this is the response from the religious community, they are really daft, " I thought. I should have realized at the time that Dawkins would have portrayed them in the same way he portrayed many of his arguments; out of context, with great liberty of interpretation and not much scholarship.

So much of his writing seems so logical, but if you peel back even the tiniest layer, the cracks begin to appear. For instance, in part of the book Dawkins goes into a lengthy explanation of memes, the ideas or groups of ideas or information that are culturally passed from one generation to the next. He examines this theory in great detail, postulating that memes reproduce in the same way that genes in natural selection work. It sounds very intriguing and plausible in some ways. To back up his arguments about this he quotes several people who have advanced this theory of memes and written books about it.

I found it all a little confusing because he deals with this theory of memes with such certainty. Here was an entire field that I had hardly heard of and all of these people who spent a great deal of time analyzing it. Where had I been, scientifically speaking?

It wasn't until I decided to learn more about what memes were and the "science" behind this theory that I discovered the very concept of memes had been originated by Dawkins himself many years before; a fact that he conveniently does not mention in The God Delusion.

Why does it matter?

It matters because if you are going to quote people who happen to be favorable to a view that you, yourself, have created, it is hardly objective opinion and evidence. It's one thing to say, "I have this idea and here are others who agree with me," and quite another to imply that there is a strong theory that happens to confirm your conclusions and is independent of yourself. I think it's all a little hinky.


I received The Dawkins Delusion today. It is a slim book. I wasn't sure what I would find in its pages because of the unfavorable view I had of McGrath from the few references to him in Dawkins' work. I haven't read anything other than the introduction so far, but I already have found myself saying "Yes!...Exactly!...that is SO true!"

My favorite quote as of this moment:

"...Dawkins simply offers the atheist equivalent of slick hellfire preaching, substituting turbocharged rhetoric and highly selective manipulation of facts for careful, evidence based thinking. Curiously there is surprisingly little scientific analysis in The God Delusion. There's a lot of pseudoscientific speculation, linked with wider cultural criticisms of religion, mostly borrowed from older atheist writings." (page 11--The Dawkins Delusion)

I hope the rest of the book follows suit in laying out the ways in which Dawkins' work falls short.
I obviously misjudged McGrath.

More Later.

One Year of Blogging!

I knew that it had almost been a complete year since I had started this particular blog, but I didn't realize that I had actually passed the anniversary a couple of days ago.

My first post was published on 9/3/06. It wasn't much in the way of posts, but was mainly a brief statement about why I had the blog in the first place.

It took me over two months before I got my first comment, which came out of the blue. It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise to know that someone actually read my blog and took the time to comment--this was before I had installed sitemeter, so I had no clue and was still a blog newbie.

A year later and my blog is still somewhat random and lacking a particular theme, though if hard-pressed I would simply say that it represents my thought life--which happens also to be very random and lacking a particular theme.

I did several posts about atheism which led to some great comments and interaction, one post in particular being featured by Aust!n Cline on the atheism section of about.com. That was surreal especially because he didn't bother to comment on my site and never informed me that he was doing a post about it. Very lame. Of course, my post was met with the typical theists-are-such-idiotic-bigots comments on his site, but whatever.

I have encountered some semi-regular commenters and readers here and there though many of them lurk. That's OK because I lurk sometimes too.

I have chronicled the cute sayings of my kids.

I have poured out some of the angst I deal with in relation to motherhood and my extended family.

I have learned a thing or two about blogging.

I make just as many typos as a year ago.

I have learned that it takes great effort to be a consistently good blogger...thus my excuse for not always being one.

I am a year older.

It's been a good year. I hope this next one will be even better.



Tuesday, September 04, 2007

It's Hip To Be Square

I haven't blogged about anything serious for a while. After my little post about the Wh!tes, I had about 2,000 hits to my blog within a few days. I figured boring people with my mundane life for a few days would drive away the hits from people looking for something sensational or controversial.

It worked nicely. One day I had 300 hits, the next day 30. Mission accomplished. Although it is telling that others think my life is so boring that they probably had to shock themselves out of my blog-induced coma. Oh well. Boring isn't always bad. At least it means there's no drama going on.

On a similar note, while at the grocery store checkout I couldn't escape the 63 tabloids plastered with Ow*n Wilson's picture, decrying his suicide attempt. The one that caught my eye had a headline that read, "Man, who has it all, attempts suicide." Man Who Has It All. I doubt Mr. Wilson would categorize himself that way.

Unfortunately, "having it all" means fame, money, and an active party life. I guess by that definition a person could "have it all", but time will only prove that there isn't much to have in that kind of life. People always seem shocked when celebrities hit bottom and seem truly miserable. What's bothersome by that is not the inevitable rehab stories of the stars, but that the popular culture still believes that money and fame are a sure path to happiness.

Despite disaster after disaster in celebrities' lives, the culture still seems to have an ever-growing desire to emulate the lifestyles they see on TV. They don't seem to see the brokenness and misery that so many celebrities must battle. If anything, it seems to romanticize the tortured artist archetype.

That kind of excitement I don't need. Like I said, boring isn't always bad.

Monday, September 03, 2007

There are times when you wish you could open up your skull, pluck out a few thoughts and directly fuse them to another person's mind. It seems the only way to really convey the feeling and thoughts that words only weakly express. Such was my desire tonight as I read a blog that I frequently visit; the blog of a Christian young woman who has been strugggling with her faith for some time.

I want to tell her it's OK.

I want to tell her that God has not abandoned and will not abandon her.

I want to express that emotions do not convey God's presence, and often mislead us in the dark night, as we lay awake pondering the desolate moments of our souls.

I want to tell her to run from any church that is more about pointing out all the ways we don't measure up and find a place where the people understand God's love in a real way, not while thinking "I say God loves everybody, but I don't really believe it, because all I ever hear about are the ways that I am a disappointment to Him."

My heart hurts for her.

I want to express God's truth to her without resorting to dusty cliches that seem to have lost any power and effectiveness as a result of their thoughtless and constant use.

I want to giver her hope and encouragement.

I am a stranger to her...a commenter who pops in from time to time, but I feel for her. She is my sister in Christ, though she may not feel it. I pray for her as if I knew her. May God grant her peace, rest and revelation

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Vanity

Lately, when talking with women of a certain age, I have fallen into a peculiar habit. While nodding, smiling and generally being pleasant in the midst of conversation, I inevitably gaze at their foreheads. Furtive looks, periodically spaced between the appropriate "mmmhmmm" 's and "you're kidding!" 's, quickly scrutinize the three inch space from their hairline to their brows.

When I watch TV, instead of looking into the character's eyes, I am watching their expressions looking for the telltale sign--the forehead line; the horizontal markers of age seen on the faces of expressive people. I notice even the slightest impression beneath the layers of thick make-up. "Aha!" I shout inwardly. "They have it!"

It makes me feel better about myself.

It's a surprising thing to make it all the way to your thirties before realizing there is a sense of vanity buried in there somewhere. I have always enjoyed being able to dress nicely when possible. I enjoy wearing makeup and having my hair done, but those things have never been a hindrance to my plans. Unlike one of my college roommates, I would actually go out without makeup if I needed too. I would go to the store in paint splattered clothes to get that extra paintbrush I forgot. I was flexible. My vanity was a take-it or leave-it sort of thing, like the second movie in a double feature. If I have time, sure I'll stay. If I'm tired, who cares?

Maybe it's the lack of control over that deepening line. If you're overweight, you can lose it. If you go gray, you can dye it. Ah... but there is no cure for the wrinkle. Well, there is, but it involves shooting botulism into your tissue or having some overpaid doctor from Beverly Hills slice into your skin and peel your face like a banana before stapling it back into place. Um...no thanks.

It's not only the existence of the line that has spurred my forensic forehead curiosity, but the desire to know how old I look to other people, and how "normal" I am. Is everyone my age getting the lines? How many do they have? How deep are they? When I am forty, is someone going to tell me, "No way....you barely look like you're thirty!", or are they secretly going to wonder if I am five years older and lying about my age.

It's stupid, I know. And yet, if I meet you somewhere and I seem lost in the conversation, like I might have slipped into a daydream for a moment, you'll probably notice me staring at your forehead, mapping out the terrain on your noggin and guessing if you are the same age as me.

I can't help it people. During one late-night period of insomnia, I almost fell victim to Susan Lucci's seductive claim that her special microdermabrasion wand could make me look youthful and rejuvenated forever. $39.95 is a small price to pay for eternal youth, isn't it? I have never bought anything from TV before, and I was seriously contemplating making that call so I could sandpaper that line and a half off of my forehead.

Really.

I was going to buy a device from a soap opera star.

Maybe it's not the external aging I need to worry about, but the apparent age and deterioration of my brain cells causing me to look for meaning in a forehead's imprint, like some quack phrenologist.