Friday, December 11, 2009

Blog Hiatus

Too busy right now.

Christmas, working on my dad's house etc..etc.

To those of you who still drive by...Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I probably won't post until sometime in January

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesday Funnies

This first video is a creative retelling of 2nd Kings 2:23-24, in which Elisha calls down she-bears to attack 42 youths who were making fun of him.

It does have some crude/offensive language....but it had me laughing hysterically. Oh and it's a little gory too!

Sure to offend most normal people.



HT: Exploring Our Matrix

To get you into the Christmas Spirit, a lovely rendition of O' Holy Night. Truly breathtaking. Be sure to listen for the big, show-stopping ending.



Don't gush with gratitude for my pointing this out to you. You're welcome.

HT: Jim West

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sci-Fi Sexism

I just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano. It was his first published novel with a printing date of 1952. The premise of the book revolves around the mechanization of labor with a future that is primarily run by machines and has engineers and managers at the peak of societal influence and importance.

The book itself was an interesting read, not necessarily the best book I'd ever read, but compelling enough for me to finish it.

That being said, sometimes the sexism in early science fiction is so glaring that it makes it hard for me to enjoy it. It's intriguing to notice that men who attempted to envision the future with insights about scientific advancements, and the political consequences, were usually quite dull-witted as far as imagining a future in which women had anything essential to contribute to the world.

The women in Player Piano are merely props for the men of the story. They are flat characters.

Anita, the wife of Paul Proteus, the protagonist of the story, doesn't work and spends all of her time nagging Paul. Paul values her only because she is a "sexual genius".

Paul's secretary, Katharine, does nothing more than mope over her relationship with another engineer. She does nothing productive and only answers the phone.

My bone of contention isn't that Vonnegut doesn't have more female characters, it's that the female characters he has drawn are so stereo-typically caricatured that they might as well not exist. It isn't even that they are stereo-typically feminine as much as they are a particular 50's-style stereotype...of the woman in the apron making pot roast and planning dinner parties, and laying out her husband's clothes for the next day after she's brought him a cocktail.

After just a couple of chapters of this nonsense I recalled reading The Voyage of the Space Beagle, an early space opera written at about the same time as Player Piano. The story followed a spaceship exploring the galaxy as it encountered various alien species which usually were malevolent. The crew fights off each species in different ways, led by Dr. Elliot Grosvenor. At one point in the story, the author explains that there are no women on board because it is a scientific expedition and women would just be a sexual distraction.

Because everybody knows that women couldn't be scientists, or spaceship engineers, or explorers. Women are really only good for one thing--to be sexual partners for men.

Huxley's, Brave New World, has female characters which are a bit more fleshed out, but even the male characters, while discussing one of the female characters, go on about how sexually pneumatic she is.

It occurred to me that Tolstoy was more respectful of women in Anna Karenina, written between 1873-1877, than these men in the twentieth century were. While most of Tolstoy's female characters inhabited the typically feminine spheres of home and children, they were never trivialized. Their thoughts and feelings were as valid and truthful as the the thoughts and feelings of their male counterparts. He respected women as people, capable as any man of true emotion, understanding, and sentiment.

Perhaps the type of men that wrote early sci-fi were the type of men who were so interested in machines and science, that they had little time to ponder the complexity of human relationships and women. Maybe they were the early predecessors of the nerdy sci-fi geeks who spend all their time researching the Klingon language and attending Comic-Con.

Whatever the reason for their lack of insight into social advances, it's always a disappointment to read such unvarnished drivel in a genre I enjoy.

Chatty Men

Fixing up my father's house has required me to hire all kinds of workers.

Plumbers, electricians, contractors, lawn maintenance workers, tree trimmers, flooring installers.....etc.

They have all been men. They have all been ordinary, blue-collar, working class men with calloused hands, manly banter and gruff exteriors.

However..they are a very chatty bunch!

Maybe I give off the air of sister/wife/mother/generic female stand-in...but I am always surprised by the things they talk to me about while they are working and the openness with which they speak. I don't know if there's something about me that draws them out, or if the stereotype of silent, unemotional men is simply untrue.

They tell me about their divorces, about their wallets getting stolen but how it's no big deal because their credit cards are maxed out anyway and they can't make the minimum payments, about their plans for retirement, about their wives, about their health scares, about the towns that they grew up in and what brought them to Florida.

It's quite strange how completely honest and talkative they are.

Maybe it's the nature of their jobs. Not only are they practicing a trade, but they are required to constantly interact with people, going from home to home and trying to please their customers. They're probably used to the forced intimacy of working in their client's private spaces, surrounded by the tokens and photos of family life that fill most homes.

It's also been heart-warming to see how many of these guys work in close partnership with a "buddy" of some sort. Father and son, cousins, brothers, lifelong friends...they seem to come in deeply bonded pairs.

I don't know that I have noticed a correspondence in the women I know. I can't think of any common, similar working partnerships that are as prevalent among women.

I don't know what it means...but it's interesting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm moving slowly this morning.

Thanksgiving week was a major working holiday for us. We managed to prime the exterior of my father's house, which was exciting for DH who had the happy task of climbing 20 feet up an extension ladder to reach the peaks of the house. I stood at the base of the ladder, steadying it and realizing that if DH fell, I would be the one to break his fall. Scenarios in which both of our bodies were laying in a heap on the lawn--with a shiny ladder pinning us down--ran through my mind.

We get to do it all again over the next week or two, except with actual paint instead of boring, white primer.

Things are slowly coming along in this never-ending project. Once the outside is painted, we're moving on to tiling the bathrooms, something which I am both excited and nervous about. I managed to take a few classes at Home Depot, so I feel like I have a basic grasp of the process....but I'm just nervous and not wanting to screw things up.

I'll post pictures of my handiwork when it's done.....either out of self-satisfaction, or as a warning to any would be do-it-yourself-ers

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009

We've been away working on my father's house for the last few days but have managed to make it to the in-law's for today.....ready to morph into never-ending feast mode.

Pumpkin Pie and Peach Crisp will be our contribution to the annual day of over-indulgence.

Hopefully the sugar coma will subside by Monday.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's In A Name?

Many years ago when DH and I were in the early stage of our relationship before we were married, we wandered through a posh bookstore in Palo Alto. It had a second floor, jazz music playing, and the cool, hip kind of people with dreadlocks and hemp chokers embellished with small shells.

We browsed through the store, pointing out things we found interesting, curious if our interests would match up.

We came across a display in the middle of the store, piled high with books on numerous subjects. DH picked up a book on the meaning of names and decided to look mine up. I don't remember all of the meanings ascribed to my name. The usual is "harvester". However, this description's most prominent meaning was "competent".

DH thought this was hilarious. I was "competent", scare quotes inferred from his laughter.

I was happy with that description. In fact, I thought it was downright praise-worthy. I'd much rather be competent than incompetent.

I realized that we had a different sense of what it meant to be competent. DH saw it as a term for someone who just squeaks by; not exceptional, not special, and possessing the bare minimum of abilities required for a task. I saw it as a mark of solid dependability. A competent person is self-reliant, possessing everything needed for the job, knowledgeable about what they're doing, and trustworthy.

As I've continued to deal with my father's house and estate, I'm always surprised at how many incompetent people I come across. From accountants and lawyers, to plumbers and contractors, the lack of professionalism has been astounding. At almost every turn I have had to correct, and straighten out people who have been in business in their respective careers for years. It's quite astonishing to me that many of them have succeeded.

A few examples:

Two out of three plumbers who were supposed to give me estimates on some work to be done never followed through. One actually came by, looked at what I need don and said he would call me with the numbers. I never heard from him again. The other plumber was supposed to come by one day and never showed up or called me back. I eventually hired someone else, and as that plumber was finishing the job, the other, absent plumber showed up....2 days after he was supposed to, without calling.

The amazing part was that I needed quite a bit of work done, so not following through cost the other plumbers at least $1,000.

I set an appointment with an accountant, two weeks in advance. I showed up to his office, and he wasn't there. His secretary apologized and said her boss was picking up bagels and coffee for the meeting. A half an hour later, he's still not there and hasn't called to say whether he was coming, or to apologize for being late. As I left, I told the secretary that I would have preferred an on-time accountant more than a bagel and coffee. What made it even worse was that I had noticed his price schedule at the office....he charged $275 for an hour's worth of work.

I had to hound my lawyer to file paperwork that needed to be filed by a certain date. I signed the papers I needed to and sent them immediately after receiving them. Almost three weeks later I get an e-mail asking me when I'm going to send those papers because the filing date has passed. After putting my exploding head back together, I send an e-mail explicitly stating that "I am not pleased" and pointing out that the head lawyer had already e-mailed me two weeks before that he was handling it.....and now they claim they don't even have the paperwork I sent.

Then, there's the insurance agent who sent me a bill for an extra $220 for a policy that was paid in full and expired 2 months ago, because the insurance company, three months after the policy was paid for, wanted to increase the coverage. So...I was supposed to pay for a coverage period which had already elapsed and which had been paid for at the rate that the insurance company provided. I quickly explained that I didn't think changing a contract for services after the terms were already agreed upon, and in force, could in any way be legal, and that I would rather throw the $220 in the toilet, because I would be getting the same value for that money anyway. The insurance agent said she understood and that she would handle it with the insurance company.

I could recount at least four more examples, some that are even more glaring, but I will spare you.

Competency is a precious thing.

Perhaps because we are so interested in being "exceptional" we fail to see that competency is the mark of a true professional. It's not exciting or sexy to be "competent"......but it's the competent people of the world that hold things together and get things done.

May my tombstone read "At least she was competent".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Palin Power

I only caught the end of Palin's interview on Oprah. Luckily, it was the part in which Oprah asked Palin about her resignation.

Palin's response was just more of the same from her resignation speech: she was resigning because she felt she could do more for "America" outside of her governorship.

This is an illusion. What Palin has done is taken on the job of a pundit, a speech-maker. It might be inspiring to view oneself as a communicator or persuader, giving voice to the people's thoughts, but it is really a rather meaningless role as far as personally bringing about change.

I don't know if it's a particularly American bent, but the idea that talking about change is somehow more powerful than actually being involved in the mechanics of change has run rampant through our society. We have more pundits and opinionators than we can shake a stick at. We don't need any more of them.

Feelings don't change society. Feelings don't run a government.

The average person participates in the government by voting for politicians and policies. The average person's involvement in change begins and ends in water cooler talks and maybe the occasional protest if they are truly active in persuading people. All of it means nothing without actual candidates and elected officials to do the work.

Bills have to be written. Laws have to be passed. Decisions have to be made. Budgets have to be created. The will and feelings of the electorate have to be transformed into something tangible by our mayors, senators, and governors.

That is the role that Sarah Palin gave up. She traded in her real, ordinary power for a superficial counterfeit of power that does nothing more than rile people up for a few moments.

It's ironic that the same demographic who thinks Obama was awarded the peace prize based on a perception of being peaceable, rather than actually doing anything to achieve peace, is the same demographic who can't see that Palin's claim to power and eligibility to run for president in 2012 is just as flimsy.

She hasn't done anything to prove herself to be a qualified candidate for president.

She's not qualified, not because she isn't smart enough, or old enough, or ugly enough. She's not qualified because she gave up. She's not qualified because she has shown that she thinks speeches make good government and effect change. She's not qualified because she wasn't willing to work within the system we have.

She has placed herself outside and above the government.

Why should we let her back in?

Why would we let her back in?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Camp Out

The Rationalist and The Intuitive have been tucked into their air mattress beds inside the tent for their first night of camping out in the back yard by themselves.

DH and I listened as they regaled us with ghost stories, after they were finished reading their books by flashlight.

The gate has been locked with a padlock and the dog is standing by ready to protect them from stray cats and squirrels.

The big question is:

Will the two boys become scared and want back inside or will Mom excessively worry and join them in the tent around 11:00 pm?

I'll let you know in the morning.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Christmas Cards for Bloggers


Caption: "Oh, I am so blogging about this."

So that's how we got the gospel of Luke!

Death

This might get morbid...but I do actually have a point to make.

The worst thing about my father's death was not that he died. Everybody dies. It's like the old movie line: Nobody's getting out of here alive!

No. The worst part of his death was that it went unnoticed for a week and a half. He was supposed to be out of town, so no one missed him until he didn't show up for work a week and a half later. He didn't have a cell phone, so when I tried to call him at home and he didn't answer, I figured I was just going to have wait until his vacation was over to speak to him.

A human body left unattended after death begins to deteriorate quite rapidly. Not only does it begin to deteriorate, but it begins to become food for other living things; insects, or animals if it is out in the open.

It is a morbid, unpleasant thing to dwell upon, and we hardly ever think about it because death and its effects are removed from our Western consciousness. When someone dies they are immediately taken to a morgue or a funeral parlor. They are embalmed with preservatives to keep them from rotting. They have their bodies emptied of fecal matter, and bodily fluids. They are dressed in attractive clothing and have their hair and makeup done. They are placed in satin-lined, oak or steel boxes with a polished sheen.

This is all done by other people. We don't see the deceased until all the dirty work is done and what we are left with is something resembling a wax figure. We gaze upon this figure and hold conversations at its side with other mourners, discussing how good he/she looks. We deceive ourselves with the luxurious funeral trappings, concealing from our consciousness the realities of what death means for a physical body. We provide ourselves with a sense of pseudo-immortality for the deceased person who is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

It isn't real.

Not only is it not real, but the entire process creates an impediment to our understanding of life and death.

I have become convinced that the Scriptural descriptions of Life and Death that we find in the Bible are based on simple observation and meditation. When Genesis describes man as being formed form the dust of the earth, it is a true description, because when people die, that is exactly what happens to them. An ancient observer had only to come across the remains of the dead to see that very quickly man transforms from a living being to inert, dusty matter.

When Genesis describes God breathing into the formed figure of man, bringing it to life, it is describing what must have seemed obvious to anyone:
Genesis 2:7

the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Only living people breathe. A baby's life starts with its first breath, an adult's life ends with its last. Once breath permanently leaves your body, you're dead. And yet, what is breath? What is the impetus that makes a body breathe and continue breathing? To an ancient observer it would be a mystery, with no sense of lungs, or involuntary brain impulses that signal the body to continue breathing, how could one explain why death always comes with that last exhalation?

Another common and naturalistic description of life tied up with death appears in the command not to consume an animal's blood because "the life of a creature is in the blood". So life is found in breath and in blood. And just as when breath disappears, or returns to God, one dies, so too when one's blood pours out, life ends.

This is obvious when we think about it.

We keep people alive now by supplementing their breathing or blood supply. Thousands of years later we are still dealing in the same realms of life and death, breath and blood, as the Israelites did. Their words are no less profound or true, though we may think of them in a different light.

We are simultaneously more familiar with the physical, observable, biological processes of life, while being hopelessly disconnected from the physical, observable, biological processes of death. Because of this, we have an impoverished view of a large portion of Scripture as it pertains to life and death.

We don't understand that Death was/is an uncontrollable, unpredictable enemy readying itself to swallow up everybody. The lack of a belief in an after-life in early Judaism lays bare the fact that life was tied to a physical body, and death destroyed life in every sense. To hope for new life was to hope for a new physical existence, to hope for an escape from the decay.

We think that we have outwitted the nastiness of death, the disgust of decay, and the hopelessness of deterioration; but we haven't. We have only turned our gaze away from it.

This is what death looks like:


This is the home of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland, Ohio man whose home had at least 11 murdered, decaying bodies in it.

What we feel when we think about the 11 bodies left in Anthony Sowell's house is probably quite similar to what an ancient culture might have felt about the despair of death and the mistreatment of human bodies. It's a visceral, raw, gut-wrenching emotion.

Because we have sanitized and trivialized death in its physical sense we have affected how we also see life. We live in our heads. We live in the abstract. We live through our thoughts and not through our actions.

It isn't how we were meant to live. It isn't reflective of the world view that much of Scripture was written in.

Because we misunderstand death, we misunderstand life.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Painting....Again

The title speaks for itself.

See you all later!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Changing Insults

School age children can be childish, cruel, and thoughtless. It's a universal trait. So, it came as no surprise to me when The Rationalist related some of the "jokes" his friends at school were using. Typical 4th grade boy humor. Bathroom humor. Making fun of each other humor. Usually it's distasteful to me, but I don't really make a big deal about it. Kids will be kids.

Yesterday, as we were talking about school, he said that one of his friends was asking people if they were happy. If they said "Yes," his friend would laugh and say,"Haha! You must be gay! Happy means gay!" Another friend would tell someone to watch his upraised index finger, which he would slowly move from near his face to his crotch and then say the person was gay because they were looking there.

I asked The Rationalist what he thought his friends meant by their jokes. He said he wasn't sure; saying that maybe "gay" meant "dumb".

We haven't really covered heterosexuality with him, let alone homosexuality. I was pretty sure that he had no idea what "gay" meant....and he didn't. Needless to say he wanted to know what it did mean. He looked it up in the dictionary and asked what homosexual meant, giggling at the fact that sex was in the word, a word he knows usually provokes his parents into changing the channel when they hear it on TV and the kids are in the room.

I gave a simple response about boys "liking" boys instead of girls, but knew it wasn't a complete explanation.

I was disturbed by the whole thing, not just because of having to discuss it with The Rationalist, but because of the use of "You're gay!" as a bandied about insult.

A few weeks before I had heard one of the school's patrols bickering with another child and shouting "You're gay!" at him.

1. How did a term about a person's sexuality becomes a common insult for elementary school students? I know kids tease and say stupid things to each other....but how have things gone from "You're dumb!".....to "You're gay!"....not that calling someone dumb is acceptable.

2. It reminded me of this story about Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old child who killed himself after constantly being subjected to these kinds of taunts.

I wonder whether the very prominent conflict between gay rights activists and cultural conservatives is somehow trickling down into our children's lives. It seems as if the rhetoric is creeping into their consciousness and becoming a weapon, an insult, and an epithet.

If elementary students, 9 and 10 year olds, are using these words then I can only imagine what middle school and high school students are saying.

How did we get here?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Bad Moods Rule!

Jim West posts on the importance of being in a bad mood. Apparently, there are all sorts of mental benefits to being curmudgeonly, cynical, or generally melancholic.

I feel better already.

Working Out My Theology

I've had several months to let my thoughts about annihilation and conditional immortality sink in. (posts about it here, here, here and here.) I've had to spend some time mulling this over, and seeing how it comes into play in my life and how it affects what I think, say and do.

It's been an interesting thought experiment.

One of the first things that happened was that I realized that old habits die hard. A friend of our family lost her elderly mother to age and sickness. In the wake of her death, while we were talking about how sick her mother had been before her death, I instinctively said,"Well, at least she's in a better place now. She's not struggling with sickness anymore." Immediately, I realized that I was saying something that I wasn't sure of any longer. Without a doubt I believed she was no longer suffering, but I wasn't so sure that she was conscious somewhere enjoying restored health and the perfection of life.

It gave me pause.

I continued to feel the impact of my new theology while at church. I share responsibility for teaching Sunday School at our church, and it soon became obvious that all of the children, between 2nd and 5th grade, had already formed strong ideas about hell and who was going there. During one of our lessons, which didn't mention hell at all, while we were talking about good and bad choices, the kids started discussing how they didn't want to go "down there". They animatedly began describing the people who were going "down there" and what it was going to be like....with sound effects and silly voices and pantomime. I reminded them that Jesus promises us eternal life and forgiveness for our bad choices and sins, and slowly pulled them back in the direction of the lesson, but my heart sank as I realized what we as parents, myself included, had already put in the minds of our children.

Because I am part of a community which doesn't necessarily believe what I currently do, I won't teach the children what my specific beliefs are out of respect for that community. However, I have changed the language I use, never referring to salvation as "going to Heaven", or "living in Heaven forever with God". I simply use the term Jesus used--eternal life. I talk about resurrection, having new bodies, and a new heaven and a new earth.....all completely Scriptural descriptions of salvation.

I wonder if that's enough, or if there will come a time when I need to speak openly about what I'm thinking. I don't think that I am quite there yet.

I got involved in the blog comments at dangerous idea, on a post about whether Catholics worship Mary and the saints, a subject which is probably the single biggest stumbling block I would have to converting to Catholicism, and halfway through the conversation I realized that I was arguing about whether Mary and saints could see, hear and respond to people's requests for help on earth.....and it was completely moot to me. Because I was pretty sure that humans weren't residing in a conscious spiritual state in between death and resurrection, arguing about what powers they did or didn't have was quite silly for me. I should have excused myself from commenting at that point.

Another consequence of this theological stance is that death has taken on a completely new meaning for me. It has paradoxically become both more tragic and less tragic in my mind. More tragic, because life seems so much more transitory and valuable. Without the comfort of thinking that those who have passed on are somehow "up there" looking out for us, or having a good time waiting for us to join them, life and death somehow suddenly seem more lonely, and more real, than before.

Death becomes less tragic once the traditional picture of hell is gone. While people may disappear into nothingness, never to exist again, at least the torturous image of eons of punishment dissipates. There is mercy to even the wicked in true death.

I'm not sure where this will continue to take me. Every now and then the implications of this view will pop up in unexpected, unpredictable ways, catching me off guard.

I'm not done figuring this all out, yet.

Just for Fun

In honor of Talon's comment on Future Predictions from the Past:



Storm Troopers have to fill their time somehow when they're not deployed:



Go visit the link...you need a laugh on Monday mornings.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween

Luckily, our pediatrician has evening hours. The Intuitive was able to get in and get tested for the flu and strep. He did not have the flu, which is good and means we can get him vaccinated for H1N1 once he's better, but tested positive for strep.

After dosing him up on antibiotics, we let him Trick or Treat for a block or two before taking him back home and letting The Rationalist continue raking in the candy. The Rationalist offered to Trick or Treat long enough to make up for his brother's inability to go with him. There is some brotherly love there....even in the face of their normal sibling rivalry.

Because money is tight this year, they were originally going to reuse their costumes from last year. At the last minute they decided they wanted to make their own.

The Rationalist was a "Jailbird":


He made his leg shackles himself.

The Intuitive was a robot:


He decided he didn't want to wear the head and arm portions of his costume.

Before they headed out to amass their sugary collection:


Friday, October 30, 2009

Future Predictions from the Past



My favorite comment on the video:

Flying cars, online transactions and communications, none of these notions seemed to be so far-fetched back then. But the notion that many women will someday handle the bills and business of the family?! Utterly inconceivable!

Swine Flu or Paranoid Mom?

The Intuitive is currently lying on the couch with a sore throat, high fever and a tired, achy body.

Ironically, we just got an automated phone call yesterday from the school district that the swine flu vaccine was ready for our county.

We may wind up getting our immunity the old-fashioned way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mass Murderers 'R Us

When you need one-stop shopping for your psychotic Halloween bloodbath.

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Monster Mash

From my mother-in-law, the werewolf:

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!



You never know who will take your photos and do something nefarious and funny with them.

And yes...that's my real hair.
I haven't decided if making my son cry makes me a good parent or a terrible one.

Judge for yourself:

"J--, I forgot to sign your school notebook last night. Bring it here along with your homework so I can sign them before we leave for school."

The Intuitive plops down his backpack. I leaf through his papers, sign everything and take a moment to check his homework.

"Honey....you've made a couple of mistakes on this math worksheet. I don't think you understood what you were supposed to do. Your math answers are right, but you were supposed to be looking for a specific answer."

"Don't tell me!"

"Don't tell you what?"

"Don't tell me the answers!"

"I'm not telling you the answers....I'm telling you that you made a few mistakes."

"That's cheating! You're making me a cheater!"

"What?"

"Everybody else will get them wrong and I'll have them all right...all because you made me cheat!"

"I'm not making you cheat."

"Yes you are! I'm not going to change them!"

"......um....YES...you are!"

The Intuitive proceeds to crying and wailing.

"Look....hon...I"m not trying to make you cheat. I'm not giving you the ans--"

"YES, YOU ARE!" he says with intensity.

"I'm going to go get ready to take you guys to school. You'd better be done with this and have it put it away before I come out of my room."

more wailing and crying.

So....have I raised a child who is so honest and independent that he refuses to accept any help?

Or...have I raised a child who is just as stubborn as his parents?

Or.....Am I just a terrible mother in general, causing her child to melt down over something completely insignificant.

I swear I can't tell the difference between those choices some days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Link Love

It's been a while since I've linked to people I'm reading.

So here are a few posts I have enjoyed the last few days.


James has a good post with some great quotes from Thomas Paine.

Interesting Comment

I followed a link from Boar's Head Tavern to a blog post from First Things/Evangel about inerrancy. The post itself was standard fare and not particularly insightful, but one of the comments was interesting to me:
R. Hampton

We have two “works” authored by God – the Universe and the Bible. One is the result of many generations of Man collecting, editing, and translating several religious traditions into one official whole. The other has had no contribution from Man in its creation. So which one might be erroneous?

It’s important to remember that scientists did not invent atoms or gravity or geometric relationships – those things existed long before Man arrived. All that Science can does is study what God has made as honestly and objectively as humanly possible.

So when you dispute God’s Universe, you are being blasphemous. In effect you are rejecting God — it’s as if you judged his creation objectionable to your personal sensibilities. So disgusted are you by his method of construction (evolution being just one tool) that you have substituted his reality for a simpler, self-gratifying story.

I don’t know why God used evolution or friction or any other property found in this universe, nor do I presume to answer for him. But I do know that his Universe doesn’t lie. Evolution (science) is our best understanding of God’s physical reality.

I think it goes a bit too far, as far as the level of certainty expressed. However, I agree with the general sentiment I have highlighted.....with the caveat that the universe doesn't lie, but that doesn't mean we don't frequently misunderstand it.

As Christians, we don't get to quit trying to reconcile physical reality with our beliefs about God. If everything we believe has no correspondence to reality, no confirmation in the material world, no points of contact between the transcendent and the mundane, then we have created a collection of trite abstractions, well-meaning but empty.

This doesn't mean that we need "proof" for everything we believe. Belief certainly has its mysteries and puzzles, which is what makes it belief and not certainty.

What do you think?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Painting

I'll be away from the computer for a while.....which is probably a good thing because I have been too OCD about blogging and reading blogs this past week.

If I don't respond to comments, it's because I'm not here.

Have a great weekend!

What's Theology?

My last post was trying to get at something that I've been thinking about for a long time, but never written about here. I realized that yesterday's post might not have made as much sense as it could have because I hadn't expressed where I was coming from.

Why am I so interested in theology as a hobby? I mean, there's no end of interesting subjects to obsess about and ponder. Why theology?

Theology is often defined as the study of God, or God's nature. That isn't quite an accurate definition. Theology is better defined as the study of what people believe about God and God's nature.

Because God isn't checking our papers, correcting us, marking certain answers wrong, we are left to rely on each other, as members of humanity, to self-correct our own papers. Theology is like one of those painfully annoying group projects you get assigned in high school or college; you have to work with people you don't necessarily like, who have different methodologies, and who you're unsure if you actually trust to get the work done. It's a collaborative process to create one unified project, one which nobody is ever 100% happy with, but which manages to meet the professor's requirements.

This is why theology becomes so complicated. The more time that passes, the more complex circumstances which call for explanations, and the more people who make contributions to theological thought, it all becomes integrated into an ever-expanding field of knowledge.

Modern Christians often think that theology is something which has its basis in Scripture; theology becomes the revealed nature of God given to select people in visions and dreams and spectacular miracles.

I think it's better to say that theology is the reconciliation of reality with what we believe about God.

On another blog, a post dealing with Job elicited a comment from a new Christian bemoaning the idea that the prologue of Job--which sets the stage for Job's story by relating a wager between God and Satan about whether Job could be made to curse God--wasn't a true and literal representation of what transpired in Heaven. The idea that the prologue was simply a metaphor was troubling to him.

In truth, it's probably better to think of the prologue as a satirical attempt to explain the suffering of innocent people. Because there is often no obvious reason why good people are made to suffer through heart-breaking events, the writer of Job has theorized a reason to explain the grim realities. We might not like his proposed theory that God likes to get into pissing matches with Satan, but it's a valid attempt to explain the nature and realities of life here on earth.....sometimes we suffer through no fault of our own and are given no good explanation from God.

That's theology, taking what is and trying to make sense of it in the context of a universe with God.

One commenter here, quite some time ago, mentioned that the early Old Testament Jewish opinion of God was that he was capricious. You couldn't quite trust him. He was one wily deity.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to see that reflected in some of the biblical stories. From a human point of view, God may very well seem capricious because life seems capricious. Things happen that don't make sense, or that seem unfair. Good does not always triumph over evil. Innocent people suffer at the hands of the wicked. The faithful aren't always rewarded.

Attributing confusing events to God's character, or trying to create an explanation that establishes part of God's personality, or "his ways" is a natural, human response....and everybody does it....all the time. However, much of what passes for doctrine is based on the exponential power of the "If, Then" caused by a single theological idea that seemed better than the other ideas offered as explanations.

The problem is that our theological explanations begin to take on a life of their own and paint very specific pictures of God which may, or may not, be truly reflective of Him.

So....when we get into a struggle between evolution and creationism, we are somewhat burdened with a greater task than our predecessors. We have a much more massive amount of information and theological thought to process than believers did 1,000 2,000, 3,000, or 4,000 years ago.

The task of reformulation is not easy at any stage of theological progression. Jesus and the apostles struggled greatly to deliver a message that was very different than what the religious leaders of their day believed. The transition from a religion based on Law and Sacrifice to one based on Redemption and Indwelling was a seismic one. Overturning the weight of accumulated ideas about who God was and what He wanted didn't come easily.

That's where we are now in all of this.

We have built up a large tower of theological presuppositions which are causing us trouble as we try to assimilate what we believe about God and what we see in the observable universe.

It is not wrong to examine reality and attempt to reconcile it to our concepts of God. To stay stagnant, refusing to engage with the material universe is not staying faithful to theology or God. It is refusing to continue trying. It is refusing to participate in the tradition or our theological ancestors. It is giving up any attempt to know more about God and us.

Without living, ongoing theology, religion and relationship with God is dead.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Salvaging Genesis

So, what to make of Genesis? If one wants to accept evolution, what does it mean for a coherent view of Genesis? How do we teach it? What theology do we form from it? What do we tell our kids about it?

Those are the nuts and bolts that the average Christian is struggling with in the middle of the evolution/creationism debate.

What does it all mean?

If we view Genesis as the best explanation offered to us by people who sought to explain God, Humanity, and their relationship to each other...there is still much value to be found in Genesis.

If we view Genesis as historical fact given to Moses in a vision, or in a direct, fireside chat with God....then it's hard not to be a YEC-er.

The outcome is determined by what we believe Scripture is and what its purpose is. I won't trot out the whole inerrancy argument, because I've already given my opinion pretty extensively on that subject in the past.

In the past, I used to read Genesis 1 and think,"Wow...that's really close to the concepts of the Big Bang and evolution." God creates the earth and heavens out of a primordial mess. He commands the water, earth and sky to be formed. He commands the land to produce vegetation...and it does. He commands the waters and land to produce living creatures....and they do. The last thing created and made is man....the most advanced creature produced by the evolutionary process.

It's not hard to draw parallels between the creation story and evolution. In fact, compared to other creation stories, Genesis 1 seems downright scientific; that is until you realize that Day 3 has the land being covered with vegetation before the sun is formed on Day 4. That throws a wrench into any idea that Genesis 1 is an inspired revelation of evolution taking place.

No sun=no plants.

If we place ourselves in the sandals of the ancients thousands of years ago, observing the world, nature, and life...we just might be able to understand Genesis a little better.

Think about the descriptions offered in Genesis 1. Distinctions are made between water, earth and sky. Those are pretty basic, observable categories. Most animals fall into one of those categories...except for maybe amphibians which could be water or earth creatures. Distinctions are made about plants and animals reproducing according to their own kind. What person has ever planted a peach pit and grown a pine tree? What cow has ever given birth to a sheep?

These are observable demarcations, even to the ancients, that are being put into use to explain the order of the cosmos. I would go so far as to say that the descriptions are "scientific" in their attempt to take what was observable and form a theory of creation from it. It's no coincidence that livestock aren't created until the land is covered with vegetation. What would they have eaten? Wild animals aren't created until there are birds and fish to munch on.

And then...at the end of the creation narrative...we have man's creation. Man is made to rule over the other animals. He is said to be made in the image of God. He is created male and female.

This is more general observation. Humans sense that they have something which other animals don't. They see that they have the power to shape and control nature and animals. They see that they are wholly "other" throughout the earth; somehow better, somehow more powerful.

This is what being made in the "image of God" is about.

Genesis 1 is "true"...without necessarily being "factual".

more later.

Today's Quote

"All God's children are not beautiful. Most of God's children are, in fact, barely presentable."

--Fran Lebowitz
Some stories hit closer to home than others.

Somer Thompson's disappearance and killing has terrified me. She was the same age as my youngest son. She lived in Florida. Every day I see groups of children walking to and from school. Every day I see siblings arguing and running ahead when they get angry with one another.

My children have repeatedly asked to be able to walk home or to school on their own.....and I have given it serious thought, thinking that maybe by the end of this year, or the beginning of next year I would let them.

Now, I don't know if I ever could.

The scariest part of this whole thing is contemplating how quickly someone acted in taking her. Assuming she ran ahead of her brother, sister and friend.....how much time would it have taken to catch up to her? 15 minutes until they got home to find she wasn't there? Maybe less?

What are the odds that a predator just happened to see Somer in those few minutes and spontaneously, without any previous plans, chose to snatch her and kill her?

It seems more likely that someone was watching and waiting for a chance that a child--any child--walking home from school alone might be taken.

That's what is so terrifying about sexual predators...the planning....the purposeful watching and waiting....the patience to case out a neighborhood and strike just when the right circumstances come about.

It's horrifying to think about as a parent.

Sometimes I hate living in Florida. Maybe it's just the media....but it seems like we have a disproportionate amount of sexual offenders and predators.

I can name incident after incident, child after child, making the national news....all from here in the lovely Sunshine State.

It makes me want to move to a ranch in Montana and learn how to shoot a shotgun or rifle.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Evolution and Our Theology, Part 2

One of the most frustrating things for evolutionists who talk extensively with YEC advocates is the seeming refusal of YEC-ers to accept any evidence provided to "prove" that evolution is "true". How can they ignore so much evidence from diverse sources and fields of study? Why do they create pseudo-scientific explanations to explain away the data?

Usually, the conclusion is reached that YEC believers are anti-science.

I would say that might be true, but not in the way that it comes across.

The true root of this conflict has nothing to do with science, in and of itself. Instead the dispute arises from a mindset that knowledge has no neutrality.

Oh you mean they believe that the results are biased!

Yes and no. They believe the scientific results for evolution are biased, not because they think scientists simply are wishing evolution to be true and therefore massaging the data, though there is an undercurrent of that in YEC arguments. They believe the results are biased based on their theological beliefs about humanity and its ability to "know" things.

In a cosmology filled with angels and demons there is no middle ground.

Theistic evolutionists who are fighting to win over YEC believers are doomed to fail, not because of a lack of evidence, but because of the tenets of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. In a worldview that views humans as desperately wicked and blind to truth without an intervention from God, there is no motivation to trust what scientists say, especially scientists who don't believe in any sort of God, or any form of Christianity.

It simply isn't possible, with this mindset, to think that any person could objectively discover the truth about the universe, creation, and humanity without special revelation from God.

Certain Scriptures don't really help us out here, either.


2 Corinthians 11:14
14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

1 Corinthians 1:20-21
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

1 Corinthians 1:25-27
25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. 26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 3:18-20 18
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; 20and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."

There are certainly times when evil might appear good. There are times when a wise choice looks foolish on the surface. It is true that knowledge does not necessarily lead to good choices.

These Scriptures are not "untrue" in what they communicate, but they certainly help feed the YEC conviction that believing something that makes no sense is further proof that they are on the right track. Any argument about a scientific theory which would remake the foundations of this version of Christianity will fall on deaf ears, because those ears have been conditioned to hear,"Just because smart people say it's true doesn't mean it is."

Those smart people might have been taken in by what appears to be an "angel of light" but is really just a harbinger of evil and destruction.

There is no way to overcome this view of humanity without completely reformulating opinions on whether man is a neutral being, and whether knowledge can be objectively obtained.

That may seem like a trivial thing, but it isn't. It permeates layer upon layer of thousands of years of theology.

Theology is like a giant game of Jenga; some pieces can be removed with little consequence to the overall structure, other pieces cause inescapable collapses of the entire tower when they are even slightly shifted.

This is what YEC advocates sense and what fuels their protection of their particular tower.

They see the wobbliness and are desperately holding their breath waiting for the tower to stop swaying and be still once more.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Evolution's Impact on Theology

AVI is doing a series of posts about Evolution and Young Earth Creationism that's really good. It grew out of a post about Creationism, Evolution and Politics.

While I enjoy his postulations about how the creation story in Genesis might reflect certain aspects of the development of humanity, I can't help but feel as if it's missing the point when it comes to the interplay between Evolution and Creationism and the theological implications of the two.

What we make of Genesis might be a good window into how we see the relationship between God and man, the Divine and the earthly.

Creationism is rooted in the idea that the story in Genesis is revelation from God. Some people take the story as literally as possible, believing in six, 24-hour days of creative work by God. Some see it as a general sketch of the creation of the universe by God and the explanation of humanity's spiritual state, drawn in broad strokes. These two camps of Creationism really only differ in their sense of time. Both generally believe in a literal, historic Adam and Eve.

Many Christians have made peace with the idea of evolution, seeing it as an explanation of how God created humanity without feeling that it intrudes on the why of God's creation. That's a reasonable approach and one to which I would be willing to grant approval and assent. However, if we truly go down the path of accepting evolution as the "true" explanation of life on this planet, even if we are simply accepting it as a God-driven mechanism, there are widespread implications for our Christian theology.

One simple and relatively minor example....God's directive to keep the Sabbath holy is directly tied the Genesis 1 view of creation:

Exodus 20:8-11

8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

What would the Jewish religion look like without the concept of Sabbath, a concept which was not only a weekly cycle, but which also appeared in the agricultural system and the idea of having a Sabbath year in which no one planted crops, leaving the ground fallow, resting until the next cycle of 6 years of productive work. The Sabbath dominated many of the ceremonies and rituals of Judaism, with special offerings made on Sabbaths. Even the story of the Israelites receiving manna from heaven has a reference to the Sabbath, with twice as much manna appearing on the day before the Sabbath because none would appear on the day of the Sabbath.

Here lies the heart of the conflict between christian evolution and creationism: What does evolution mean for the ideas which have served as the foundations of our religion? If the idea of a literal, six day creation is cast aside, large sections of the Old Testament become almost meaningless. Perhaps, that's overstating it...but, to be sure, it uproots any sense that the idea of a "Sabbath" as a reflection of creation is based on reality.

There are ways around this, theologically speaking. One could propose that the Sabbath-oriented Scriptures are God's concessions to working with beliefs which were already established within the Jewish community. An explanation in that form is only partially satisfying because it leaves us with communications from God which aren't based in reality, but which are based in God's willingness to use whatever means available to communicate "truth" to humans.

So....he didn't exactly create the world in six days....but the Israelites thought He did...so what's the harm? That's not a very comforting picture of God, as far as believing in a God who always speaks the "truth".

Another explanation can only be reached from a modern, Christian perspective; that of the progressive revelation of Scripture. The newer, Christ-inspired Scriptures of the New Testament outweigh and supersede the Old Testament directives.

Conservative, evangelical Christians are wishy-washy with this approach, usually using it when it suits them and they don't want to address the violence in the Old Testament, but also wanting to desperately cling to the parts of the Old Testament they like. Inspirational stories of biblical characters beating the odds with God on their side...."YES, we'll take those!" Violent stories of genocide and commands to stone adulterers, homosexuals, non-parent-honoring children and Sabbath-breakers..."NO, not so much!"

Honestly, I don't have a problem with that approach, except for the fact that most evangelicals won't own up to what they're doing. Instead of saying,"We don't believe X is truly representative of God's nature and his will for humanity, so we reject it as an imperfect, wrong approach to God," they will inevitably find a way to co-opt the violent texts and make them mean something that they really don't, or simply avoid them.

Anyone been to a great Bible study on Leviticus, lately?

My first example I mistakenly labeled as a minor problem. As a Christian in the 21st century it does seem minor to me because my worship of God is not tied to the rituals established in the Old Testament. To a Jewish person worshipping at the Temple 3,000 years ago, it would have been a major problem.

Christianity does not get off scot-free from evolution's impact. While the Sabbath directives have generally been loosened up to the point of non-existence, most of what we call "Christian" theology has Genesistic (I know that's not a word) themes running through it.

The theory of original sin is tied to Genesis. The division of roles for men and women as described in the New Testament have their roots in Genesis. Even the Christology of Jesus and his resurrection is tied into Genesis, with comparisons to Adam being made to explain Jesus' significance.

Adam of Genesis is the first Adam, Jesus is the last Adam. Luke's genealogy lists Adam as a son of God, presumably uniquely created, right after establishing Jesus' virgin birth and unique creation and the story of the voice from heaven declaring Jesus as God's son, after Jesus' baptism.

Paul, especially, goes into great lengths describing how sin and death came through the first Adam, and life is coming from the last Adam:

1 Corinthians 15:21-22

21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Essentially, our understanding of Jesus' coming and his resurrection are based on the Genesis stories.

I sound like a YEC advocate, which I'm not.

Yet...I understand the YEC movement and their fear and protestations to evolution. It isn't science which they are protesting; it's the loss of an entire paradigm of understanding God, Humanity, how those two relate, and what it means to be a Christian.

I'll offer more opinions on that later. This post is already quite long.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

DIY realization

Painting an entire house takes much more time than you'd think.

"Sure, we can do the painting," I said.

"No problem," I said.

"I've painted lots of times before,"I said.

All true......but never every single room in a house all at the same time. Oh, and painting also means doing the trim, the doors, the closets, and the disgustingly dirty garage.

And then there's the outside of the house too. I forgot about that.

Goodbye every single weekend for the next couple of months!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

DIY fixes

I spent an hour at this site laughing and thinking that some of the "fixes" were ingenious.

One of my favorites:

Seems like a good idea to me!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Madoff Gets Mad

There was much speculation about what would happen to poor old Bernie Madoff once he went to prison. At 71, some people thought he might be too frail to withstand prison life or that he might get knocked around by the other prisoners.

This story from Foxnews.com proves otherwise:
Bernie "The Bruiser" Madoff got into a prison-yard tussle with a fellow inmate over — of all things — the stock market, eyewitnesses told The New York Post.

And, by inmates' accounts, the 71-year-old
Ponzi schemer came out the winner.

Madoff, serving 150 years at the Butner, N.C., federal prison, was heard last week getting into a heated debate over the state of the market with another senior-citizen jailbird.

The shouting match got so heated that the inmate pushed
Madoff, who shoved back harder with both hands, causing his attacker to stumble.As the attacker tried to stand up straight, Madoff hovered over him red-faced and glaring, eyewitnesses said.

The stunned attacker went chicken and took off — allowing
Madoff to collect some "cred" among his fellow prisoners.

"I didn't think Bernie had it in him. He got the best of him; he was really aggressive, and the other guy was in shock that he fought back," an inmate said.

The shoving match occurred near a ball field at the lockup in front of about 20 inmates during a rare time

Prisoners interviewed by The Post said this was the first known physical altercation at the slammer for
Madoff — who paid a consultant for a crash course in prison culture and survival tips before he was locked up.
People should never worry about successful career criminals like Bernie Madoff. They don't get to where they were/are by not being able to read the writing on the wall and find a way to make it work for them. Madoff will probably be running the illegal crap games and organizing the clandestine activities of the prisoners for a fee.

He'll be at the top of prison life before we know it.

Always be Prepared

Just checked my e-mail and found a message from my in-laws telling us where the key to the safe deposit box is, the contact information of their financial advisor and the details of their pre-paid funeral plans.

They're heading out of the country for a couple of weeks.

They're good at covering all the bases....even the possibility of their untimely deaths.

I laughed when I read it because it's so out of character compared to the normal e-mails I get from them.

It made me think that we always laugh at death when its imminent presence isn't felt.

It's only when it's staring us in the face that we take it seriously.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Good Music, Weird Video

yet somehow interesting...

Happy Anniversary!

Twelve years ago DH and I stood up and promised ourselves to each other.


We merged our lives into one life.



This made us very happy.


So we expanded our lives by two.

.

You can still see the love in his eyes...no?

Happy anniversary DH!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Neighbors

I'm still trying to figure out why my next-door neighbors have a rooster in their backyard.

no alarm clock?

they enjoy the cuddliness of clawed and beaked animals?

they're planning a rite of Santa Ria and are waiting for the full moon to come back around ?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Reconciliation with Paul

The Apostle Paul.

There has existed within me a love-hate relationship with Paul. As a fairly intelligent woman, reading his restrictions on women is vexing to me:

1 Corinthians 14:34-35
As in all the congregations of the saints, 34. women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

and

1 Timothy 2:11-15
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

It's a puzzling thing to read after Paul's freeing declarations in other Epistles--

27. for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Even considering that the contexts are different--the first two statements relating to an order of worship and practical roles, the third being a refutation of being bound by the Mosaic Law--it still seems a contradictory attitude. If there is no male or female in Christ, in Paul's mind, why does he still lay Eve's sin at the feet of women and restrict their roles and participation in Christian life?

The picture becomes more confusing when one considers the fact that Paul often worked with women and seemed to appreciate their contributions in contending for the faith. He takes the time to acknowledge them in various writings and owes much to the support of women like Lydia and Priscilla working with her husband Aquilla.

However, this is not Paul's only idiosyncrasy. Depending on Paul's mood, he can be abrasive and harsh, referencing castration as a wish towards Judaizers of Christianity, or weepy and emotional as he describes his desire for the Jewish people to come to salvation. He can urge the church in Corinth to cast out an unrepentant member without mercy, and then implore them to have mercy and let him back into the fold. An iron fist in a velvet glove.

Perhaps more than any other writer of Scripture, we get a clear picture of his personality which seems inseparable from his epistles and teachings. He is emotive and self-reflective in a way other New Testament authors are not. He speaks of his own experiences and feelings, using them to further his arguments and convince his audience of the trustworthiness of his beliefs.

We have a picture of a whole, complete person in what he has left behind.

It is only through thinking of Paul and his writings in this particular way that I can reconcile myself to him, making sense of his varied attitudes which seem contradictory or complicated. He reminds me of the uncle at Thanksgiving who everybody loves and respects, but who can also be slightly obnoxious and overbearing. People put up with the bad traits because they are heavily outweighed by the good traits.

I actually have a warm spot in my heart for Paul, now.

Reading through the many debates about the Historical Jesus, the possibly late dating of the gospels and the contention that most of what Christianity is today was somehow invented/accumulated much later than the events the gospels record, I am always struck by the stalwart arguments we have in Paul. The gospels can be debated and re-dated. Compelling arguments can be made about the development of Christology coming much later, placing the Gospel of John in a category of highly developed treatise instead of a simple retelling of Jesus' life. Points can be made about dubious insertions into the other, non-Pauline epistles.

In many ways Paul stands at the crux of Christianity and its self-understanding. He answers the questions with which we are left about Jesus. He makes the interpretive leaps that give Christianity forward momentum and direction. Without his work we would be left with little guidance about the meaning and purpose of Jesus' story.

It is precisely this point which some people use as a contrast to the Jesus of the gospels, making distinctions between how Paul engages Jesus and how the synoptic gospels engage him.

Yet....no matter how sketchy and perilous the academic study of an Historical Jesus becomes, teetering on the edge of obliterating any spiritual frame of reference for Christianity, there is always Paul standing in the way.

This powerful figure, this indefatigable creature, warts and all, has left a record not only of what he believed, but clues as to what those around him believed. It is a priceless snapshot of the conversation and movement surrounding Jesus and how it was playing out in the first century.

I can forgive Paul for his wavering on women. I can forgive Paul for his sometimes harsh way. I can look past that and see a man trying his utmost to spread a message that he truly believed, letting nothing stand in his way.

This is the way that I am beginning to rebuild with the lumber of the tree which I have hacked down. I reconcile myself to Scripture, not because it is inerrant, or scientific, or unchangeable, but because I am reconciling myself to a community, to people, and to the figures who have, through their own lives, attempted to birth God's kingdom into this world.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

How I Changed My Mind, Part 2

I wrote this some time ago and never quite completed it, but there are a few posts coming up that will be related to it...so here it is.

When I last wrote about inerrancy, I outlined how a belief in it could only be supported by two ideas, one of which consisted of believing that everything that happens, happens because of God's will, thereby making the case that the Scriptures we have were preserved perfectly throughout history because God so willed it to be. They exist as they are because God willed them to exist just as they are.

I dealt with that.

Now, I want to move on to an idea which has gained strength in me for some time; questioning the infallibility of Biblical authors.

As a Protestant, I have always been taught--in almost every church/denomination--that Scripture takes precedence over any particular person or church. If someone preaches something that is "non-biblical" then a good Protestant is supposed to defer to Scripture and ignore that particular pastor, teacher, or church. There is no allegiance extended to any person or organization that isn't contingent upon a "right" understanding of the Scriptures.

Protestants--the original "show me" people.

I am not opposed to such a bent in people. I think that anyone and anything should be up for questioning if people are uncertain about what something means. However, this very trait which is so intrinsic to Protestantism is at the root of the problem I began to have with inerrancy.

The typical narrative for Protestants goes something like this--Once upon a time there was this really great church that was following Jesus in exactly the way they were supposed to. Eventually the church grew in number and political leaders became Christians and began to use their authority to influence the government to be favorable to Christianity. When enough Christians were in power, they began to meddle in church life, causing all kinds of political and worldly entanglements, corrupting the purity of the church. Eventually, the church itself became powerful and proscribed all sorts of unbiblical and false doctrines. It also became overly wealthy and involved in politics. All of that changed when Martin Luther pounded his 95 theses on the door at Wittenburg. Sola Scriptura brought Christianity back to its roots, back to its "true" form. We no longer needed to fear "The Church" or its leaders. WE could each know what God had said through the Scriptures. When tradition was not found to be based on the Bible....we could comfortably toss it away.

In concept, this was an equalizing, democratic, revolutionary idea. Really, all it boils down to is trust no one.

The problem with trusting no one, is that there is an infinite regress of ones not to trust. We eventually wind up all the way back with the Church fathers whose faith and beliefs are very different from those of modern Protestants, even those Protestants who fervently believe in inerrancy.

As an example, belief in transubstantiation--the idea that the communion elements become the actual, literal Body and Blood of Jesus--was developed very early in the church. By the 2nd century, it was being taught as the accepted doctrine of communion.

This becomes a problem for Protestants, most of whom see communion as simply a remembrance meal, some who see it as intrinsically holy and spiritual, and others who are slightly closer to transubstantiation but don't believe that the actual elements are transformed. In general, Protestants don't fret over the fact that they reject a doctrine which has been in force since the very early church fathers. We are comfortable in assuming that in our modern context, we can assert that even though the church fathers believe that's what happened to the bread and wine, they were mistaken in how far they extended the doctrine and belief.

This intersects with inerrancy only in the method by which Protestants believe things. Protestants may say that they don't believe in transubstantiation because it isn't "biblical". They find no evidence for such a detailed doctrine in the Scriptures. They concede that there is to be communion, by the Lord's own institution of it, but they disagree about its purpose.

At first, it may seem reasonable for Protestants to rely scientifically on the Scriptures for their doctrine, rejecting what seems out of place to them. However, the implications of such an approach are far-reaching. When we reject the conclusions of early Christian leaders who were much closer to the original events and people recorded in Scripture, we are removing the foundations of the religion which we think we are defending. It's like standing in the top of a very tall tree while commanding someone on the ground to chop it down. Once the cut severs the trunk, it will take a while for the highest tip of the tree to fall to the ground, but there can be no doubt that gravity will eventually pull it from its lofty height.

In order for Christianity to sustain itself, there must be a quantifiable level of trust in its beginnings and in its early teachers.

A confidence in inerrancy undermines trust in the church fathers insomuch as simply taking their word about things. Protestants tend to be willing to revise any and all held beliefs until we get to the original apostles, the gospel writers and Paul; we place them and their writings in a special case, declaring them to be inspired and holy.

This creates a dilemma....if we are willing to discard doctrines developed by the early church fathers, going all the way back until we reach the apostles, what's to keep us from going that last step and questioning the doctrines and writings developed by them? There is nothing to logically stop us from doing that. Protestants don't go that far because they recognize that the destruction of the Christian faith would soon follow in the wake of that last step. So, it is not that their particular brand of reasoning and argumentation changes, but that they purposely and consciously suspend it upon arriving at the end point of the apostles.

Catholics are not quite in the same predicament. While they have a high view of Scripture, the ultimate authority of what Scripture means, or what doctrines are in force, comes from their confidence in the infallibility of their popes in all spiritual matters. Catholic Christianity is much more malleable over time. Believing that whatever the current spiritual leader "binds or loosens" has God's stamp of approval, removes some of the issues created by changing doctrines and teachings.

So what's a Protestant to do? The choices seem to be a) convert to Catholicism, or perhaps Orthodoxy, b) believe in inerrancy as a way to sweep away beliefs we currently find uncomfortable or false, c) begin to question the very starting points of Christianity.

None of those choices are remotely appealing to me.

1. I have too many fundamentally anti-Catholic beliefs to sweep aside. Whatever I am, it remains thoroughly Protestant.

2. I can't believe in inerrancy as a way to make myself feel more confident, ignoring the things I've learned in order to ease the struggle of my soul.

3. If I begin to question the very beginnings of Christianity, what will I be left with?

I have chopped down the tree I scaled so eagerly in my life. I have watched it tumble to the ground.

Will I be able to make something useful of the lumber?