Friday, July 23, 2010

Remembrance and Significance

This article, from Science Daily, about the difference between adults and children and the accuracy of their memories of negative events, prompted a few thoughts in light of my post on the Gospel of John and Hurtado's essay on reflective remembrance.

From the article:
The researchers previously demonstrated that adults attach far more meaning to events than children do. But leading memory theories embraced by the legal system claim that adults remember negative events better than children and have fewer false memories about them. Brainerd and Reyna's data show these theories are not accurate.
I wonder if the inaccuracy in adults is a result of the more complicated and sophisticated understanding that adults have of negative events and their consequences. A child has a much smaller emotional matrix in which to process all the bad things that happen to them. Often, young children in abusive or negligent homes aren't even aware of how abusive and negligent their homes are. It isn't until a child begins to mature and have enough experiences with other people, and the world at large, that they can begin to understand the scope of what's happening to them.

I can think of several things in my life, bad experiences, or even lurking danger that I was too unsophisticated to truly understand. It's only now that I am older that I apprehend the significance of what happened, or could have happened.

One particular episode comes to mind. I remember being about 10 and playing by myself with my Barbies in the yard when the teenage boy across the street came over and started to play with me. He began engaging my Barbies in flirtatious, naughty behavior and I sort of played along. He stayed for a long time, and I remember him asking me some questions that I didn't quite understand. My brother eventually came out of the house and the teenager said he had to go and went back home. Obviously, there was a sense of discomfort that I must have felt, otherwise I wouldn't even remember this. Yet, it isn't until I was older that I had the ability to look back and understand what was going on and process that I might have missed a bullet that day.

The emotional significance of what could have happened, and what the emotional outcome could have been for me is something that I would never have guessed at in my 10-year-old mind. If asked what happened, I would have said that the neighbor boy came over to play Barbies with me. I wouldn't have said that the neighbor boy was a pervert who had bad designs on me. I could see how bringing in the emotion of that assessment, even if true, might color my memories and make them less accurate.

Religion is not simply a recitation of facts and rules for good living. Religion is an emotional response to what we see as the true nature of things.

I don't like the idea that the Gospel of John might not record history as history. It makes me uncomfortable because I want to be certain. I want to be confident. I want to be able to tell people that my beliefs are true. I, personally, want to know the truth.

So, I don't like the idea that John, or whoever wrote John, superimposed memories onto Jesus and presented them as His words. However, I do find myself doing that sort of thing all the time, looking back on an event and appreciating some aspect of it that I hadn't previously understood. This happens in both negative and positive ways for me.

I had this happen when dealing with my deceased father's house and finding out that he knew about the termite infestation before he ever bought the house. Finding that out shed light on several things that I couldn't have known while he was alive, and that he never actually told me.

I understand, now, why he was thinking about renting out his house in Florida once he retired and moved to Alabama. I'm convinced that was a concession to the fact that he knew he couldn't sell his house the way that it was. A termite inspection would have revealed the infestation almost immediately.

The danger in reconstructing motives for people and events in the past is that we are prone to being wrong sometimes, or stating our case too confidently.

As such, I can still love the Gospel of John, but my method of reading it has changed....and that's what I really want to get to in a future post.

The Eighties, When Chuck Norris Ruled

I never knew Chuck had his own cartoon until my kids were watching a DVD from the library with all the old Saturday Morning Cartoons from our childhood.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Starting From Square One

continuing from yesterday's post....

It became very clear to me that most of what I thought I knew about the gospels was very different from what most scholars thought they knew about the gospels.

I had encountered scholarly ideas about the Historical Jesus before, but only in passing. My immediate reaction to these ideas was to reject them as corruptions of the faith. When I first heard of the Jesus Seminar and its quest to figure out what Jesus really said, I scoffed at what seemed like a foolish and heretical undertaking. How could one use the gospels as a source to discredit large parts of the gospels? How could a group of people imagine that they could scan through Jesus' words and pick out what they liked, or approved of, and reject the rest?

It didn't make sense to me. It couldn't make sense to me. I didn't know enough of the whys and hows that drove such an enterprise.

The tables have turned for me. I do understand, now, why scholars would even attempt such a thing. I don't necessarily endorse all of the conclusions, but I have learned enough to realize that the issue of pinning down the gospels is much more complex than I had previously thought.

When I, a simple, amateur, 21st century person with no ability to read Greek/Aramaic, can piece together that the gospel writers are tinkering with things in order to encourage the early Christian community, then we have a serious issue that needs to be addressed. At least, it needs to be addressed if you are coming from an evangelical, inerrancy-based faith, because all of a sudden the texts are not foolproof and the basis for your faith has disappeared from right under your feet.

Because we are taught to trust the texts implicitly, discovering that the texts contradict themselves, not in insignificant ways, but in ways that change the spiritual message of the text, is quite disorienting. The fundamental difference between earthly rewards in the present age versus future rewards in a completely new age is vast. The general theme is the same; sacrificial acts for God will bring future rewards. However, the mode of operation and expectation for a particular believer is extremely different.

It isn't hard to see the dilemma. A believer reads the passage in Mark and places their faith in seeing a tangible reward from God in this current life. We have prosperity teachers, or even faith healers, who have no difficulty finding passages to back them up. Conservative Christians are quick to label them heretics and point out how wrong a theology of wealth and prosperity, or procuring healing by simply believing for it is, but all prosperity teachers are doing is taking real passages from the actual texts that we have and trying to work up a path that gets them through life.

That grates against an evangelical sense of certainty and the concept that we can figure out God, Life and the Meaning of the Universe if we just study the texts a little harder. The feeling is that it's all in there if we just look hard enough.

Back to the Gospel of John and my love for it.

I realize, now, why I have always liked it so much. It addresses all the things that the other gospels don't deal with, or leave hanging. It brings together all of the theological developments and thrusts of the early Christians and formulates them into a grand story line with theological explanations of key issues for the early church. It fleshes out the nature of Christ's human and divine natures, the Eucharist, and salvation by faith. It is a polished narrative instead of a collection of miscellaneous teachings and parables.

However, I've been left with a thorn in my side. How to take the Gospel of John? Because most of it is original material unto itself, it presents a problem. Because it is attempting to address theological questions that have arisen after Jesus is no longer around, how much of it is historical?

I propose that the author consciously used what he regarded as the greater insight into Jesus’ significance that he ascribed to the Holy Spirit (or in GJohn’s terms “Paraclete”) after Jesus’ death/departure. I also propose that the author tells readers that he’s doing this, that he expected his readers to see it and appreciate it.

For simple historical-Jesus inquiry (a sort of, “just the facts, Jack” assumption), this will be judged anachronism, of course. If we were to explain to the author of GJohn modern historical-Jesus interests, he’d probably be puzzled or maybe amused, and might quickly agree that this isn’t his agenda. Instead, he wants to say that the historical figure was all along the embodiment of divine glory, but it wasn’t really till after Jesus’ death and resurrection that this became fully apparent.

John knows he's not writing "history" in the sense that we think of it. He, instead, is writing what he feels the Holy Spirit has revealed to Christians after the resurrection, mainly through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, Jesus didn't say X, Y, Z in a literal sense, but once he was resurrected and believers practiced their faith through the Holy Spirit, things fell into place. Teachings took on new meanings, meanings that John believes were always there but were not cognitively accessible and understandable to the disciples at the immediate moment they were taught.

I'll continue more of what I think this means for me, personally, later on.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rewards and Faith, Part 2

I have always loved the Gospel of John. For some reason, whenever I read it and compared it to the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it simply outshone them. I understood the Jesus in John's gospel in a way that I often didn't understand the the Jesus of the synoptics.

Form the very first chapter, I was hooked. Who couldn't be? I mean, read it:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The story doesn't start with a relationship intrigue, or a census, or a long, boring genealogy . It starts at the beginning of the cosmos. The poetry of In him was life, and that life was the light of simply speaks to me in a way that the synoptics don't.

While reading and learning about the formation of the New Testament, I learned something that began to bother me, The Gospel of John was written much later than the synoptics. In and of itself, being written decades later doesn't mean that a work is untrustworthy, but when the unique nature of the Gospel of John is compared to the synoptics, it becomes apparent that most of the material in John is nowhere to be found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Added to this new-to-me realization, was another idea, one that explained the synoptics in terms of their relation to each other, with Mark being written first and Matthew and Luke primarily consisting of appropriations of Mark, sometimes word for word. Matthew and Luke both used Mark and also added more to it, sometimes sharing material, and at other times containing material unique to themselves. That is the hypothesis shared by most biblical scholars at this point.

A handy chart:

None of this is groundbreaking information. I simply had never examined it before, or thought about what it meant. Although I had read all of the gospels more times than I could count, I had always done it through the lens of biblical inerrancy and the supposition that the gospels were all independently developed, eyewitness accounts of Jesus. When there were conflicts or contradictions, I assumed it was because they were written by different people, from different perspectives, which would naturally lead to slightly different perspectives.

One thing that never occurred to me is that early Christians would purposely tailor, or alter, the gospels to slant them in a particular way, or give support to developing theology. These were supposed to be historic, accurate documents inspired by God, so if something seemed unclear, or didn't quite fit, it was because the things Jesus said weren't applicable to that time but were somehow broader and meant for a future age.

I'd like to clarify at this point that I don't think that the gospels are pure fiction, or that the gospel writers intentionally attempted to mislead as much as they were trying to encourage the community of which they were a part, and shore up the faith of believers.

For numerous reasons I abandoned the idea of biblical inerrancy and that started a domino effect for me and for my faith, because I could no longer come to a position on anything by declaring a certain idea "biblical". Neither could I settle any questions I had with "because The Bible says so."

Once I started thinking of the process used to write the gospels and how each came to be , and what sort of audience they might have been written to, I began to see these differences everywhere, and every time I did....I would feel a deep pang in my heart.

I came across another one of those examples when I was looking for that passage about rewards in the here and now that I mentioned in my last post.

All three synoptic gospels contain the story of the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life. After some conversation between the two of them, with the young man declaring how perfectly he has followed Mosaic Law, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. The rich young man goes away saddened at the prospect. After listening to the exchange between the rich young man and Jesus, Peter points out that the disciples have left everything behind to follow Jesus. Here's the passage in Mark:
Mark 10:28-31

28Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
29"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
This passage has always troubled me because it doesn't seem hard to falsify. Did all of the disciples receive a hundred times as much in this present age? The rewards listed are tangible things, not merely abstract blessings such as peace, or joy. Jesus is promising that they are going to be repaid for their faithfulness to him now and in the age to come.

We don't really know what happened to all of the apostles, but most of the legends about their deaths end badly. They all wind up murdered/martyred by one group or another. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of physical reward in the here and now for them.

Tradition holds that Mark was written by Peter's interpreter, so maybe when this particular teaching was recorded, Peter's life--one which was filled with persecution--served as a caution that persecution was part of the deal.

When we get to this exchange in Luke we find the rewards are not specifically listed, though there is still the assurance that there will be rewards in the current age for those who have sacrificed relationships for the sake of the Kingdom. Material things seemed to have dropped out of the story.

Perhaps as time passed there was a need to revisit the passage and de-emphasize the idea of financial or material rewards:
Luke 18:28-30
28Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"

29"I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life."

When we get to Matthew, the passage takes a sharp turn. Earthly rewards have completely disappeared. Instead, rewards have become subject to a condition, that of the renewal of all things, when Jesus sits on his glorious throne:
Matthew 19:27-30

27Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"

28Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth,
at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
The "current age" aspect has been supplanted and replaced with a future age in which all will be rewarded. This makes even more sense in Matthew when we consider that most scholars consider that Matthew was written between 70-100 AD. By then the temple had been destroyed and the Jewish Revolt had been put down. It isn't unlikely to think that the author of Matthew was having to re-examine what Jesus might have meant by this saying, because everything going on in the material world certainly didn't seem very promising.

I'll stop here, and continue later.....

Rewards and Faith

When I was over at Sabio's blog, the discussion on violence and non-violence eventually brought in the elements of morality and why we take the stances we do, whether for radical non-violence, or justified violence. One commenter said that radical non-violence is the only way because Jesus instructed us to turn the other cheek, so even if your violence might save a family member being attacked by an intruder, you must still react non-violently. Another commenter said that the correct response in a situation is to call 911 and inform the attacker that you have done so, hoping that will scare them and make them leave.

I won't pick apart these approaches because in some of the more earnest and enthusiastic phases of my spiritual life, I would have said the same thing.

The contention of the first commenter I mentioned is that things are morally wrong just because God, or Jesus, says that they are, whether or not the outcome of a particular "good" action has a good result. In this view, if your spouse is attacked and killed by an intruder and you could have stopped it, but didn't because of your pacifist convictions, then you did a good and moral thing.

I argued that morality, in general, is tied to utility and reality. While some things that we do are good and bad in and of themselves, most of our moral choices are based on outcomes, both for ourselves and for our communities. Immoral choices are choices that generally have negative consequences for an individual and those around them. Those negative consequences might be immediate, or they might be long term in nature, such as causing the destabilization of the community, or creating an atmosphere that contributes to encouraging more bad choices by other people.

Even though I argued from this angle, I only partially believe that morality is tied to utility. I do believe that many choices are intrinsically moral, though it gets hard to pin those intrinsically moral choices down. From a Christian perspective, good choices are meant to reward us either with a peaceful heart in this life, or heavenly blessings in the next life. It's hard to classify Christian morality as a cause without an effect.

Behind the commenter's assertion that radical pacifism was the highest good was the contention that this life was relatively meaningless. What mattered was the next life, the destination of the person who was killed. It's a breathtaking statement that comforts some one who has so loosened their bonds with this life that nothing else is important.

While thinking about this, I recalled a passage in the gospels about the rewards of those who would follow Jesus, because I could have sworn that passage referred to rewards in the here and now, instead of being rewarded in the next life.

I found the passage in Mark and then looked up the parallel passages in the other gospels.

What I found will be the basis of my next post.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CDs are Dead

CNN has an article asking, "Is the death of the CD looming?" there some uncertainty about that? Do you know how many CDs I've bought since we got the iPod?

Zero. Zilch. None.

Why would we want to buy physically bulky, easily scratched CDs when we can have 1,000 songs on a portable device?

It isn't a question of whether or not the CD will die, it's simply a matter of when.

Soon they will be as rare as vinyl, 8 tracks, and those annoying cassette tapes that I used to have so many of.

Hasta La Vista, CDs.

The next music media revolution will be an implant that allows us to directly download music into our brain.

That'll be freakin' awesome!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cancer Survival

I don't constantly think about the fact that I had cancer. Well, that's not exactly true. I think about it everyday in tangential ways. I have physical reminders that I see everyday. I have to take a pill everyday. I frequent a particular breast cancer bulletin board fairly regularly, at this point to offer support or answer questions more than seeking support for myself.

However, thinking of myself as an active cancer patient is not something I do. I pretty much feel like I am over the crisis of cancer and its treatment. It doesn't have any immediate, urgent hold over me.

I do sometimes wonder about what will happen 20 years down the road because the type of cancer I had was one that likes to recur many years later and, in fact, the more years that pass by the higher my individual risk of recurrence becomes. That is mainly a result of my age and the fact that my cancer was hormone positive. If I had been 55 at diagnosis, 20 years later would put me at 75 and chances are that I would be dealing with other health issues, and even if I wasn't, I might only have another 10 years or so of life expectancy.

Being diagnosed at 34 skews the picture somewhat. 20 years from my diagnosis I'll only be 54. 30 years later, only spring chicken by any means, but by today's standards, still a relatively vital age and young time to die. Of course, recurring doesn't mean that I would die from cancer. There are people who successfully fight cancer multiple times and beat it.

So what's got me thinking about all this?

One of the posters on the bulletin board I frequent died this past week. This happens on a regular basis because although many people will deal with breast cancer only once, there will always be some who will develop metastasis and eventually pass away. Even with good odds, someone represents the bad odds. If 90%-95% of women with my type of cancer never develop metastasis, there is always someone who is in the 5%-10% of those who will.

Being a part of a breast cancer community bears this out.

Communicating with many other women about breast cancer turns one into a mini-expert, supplemented with the PhD. in medicine that most of us earn from Google University. You start to learn the differences between triple negative cancer, hormone positive cancer, Her2+ cancer, and all the different treatments that people get and why they get them.

You also learn statistics; how particular statistics impact you or don't. It's easy to start to feel as if you have a talisman of knowledge that soothes and comforts you. You hear of someone who develops mets and then see that their cancer had worse characteristics than yours, or that they were diagnosed at a later stage, or with a larger tumor.....all things which are extremely relevant to the stats game.

It's easy, as an early-stage survivor with good stats, to gain a sense of, "Well....that's scary, but it probably won't happen to me." Maybe that's even necessary for healthily overcoming fear or worry.

However, every once in a while your little good stats bubble will burst.

Like this week when the woman who passed away had almost identical stats as me....same stage, same grade, almost identical hormone responsiveness...and actually her stats were slightly better, being completely node-negative while I had those stupid Isolated Tumor Cells in 2 of my nodes. She had no lymphovascular invasion and I did.

She was diagnosed with cancer at 33. I found my lump while I was 33.

She developed bone mets within a year or two of her diagnosis, and then it eventually progressed.

It kind of took the wind out of my sails and downgraded the power of my talisman.....because there is no known reason why things should have played out that way for her....which in turn means there is no known reason why they shouldn't play out that way for me.

One of the wise things a now deceased member of the bulletin board reminded us, right after another hard-to-understand, defiance-of-the-good-stats passing of a member, was that we shouldn't write ourselves into other people's stories. Each person had their own story and it was theirs no matter how similar we might seem to others, it didn't mean we had the same story or outcome.

It was true then, and it is still true now.

Money and Value

I wanted to put out some of my thoughts about The Money Fix. I enjoyed the program immensely and learned a few things I hadn't known before, but one of the most interesting parts was the realization that our money has gone post-modern on us.

This thought has occurred to me before, usually while I am trying to explain to my kids what a debit card is and how we pay for things. I am one of those people who very rarely carries cash. I have been known to use my debit card to buy a soda at a gas station, or buy a couple stamps at the post office. In fact, the only time I carry cash is when I am driving long distances and need money for tolls. For everything else, I use my debit card.

Money, for me, has become a ledger of credits and debits. Our paychecks are electronically deposited. Our bills are paid electronically online.

It's a little dizzying to think about. I go to the store and they move some numbers from my bank account to theirs. They use those same numbers to pay their bills and their employees. Those employees leave work and swap some of those numbers for a hamburger and fries, and then switch some more electronic numbers for a tank of gas.

All this can happen in a single day, and yet what has really happened in this scenario? When we cash a paycheck, actual, hard copy cash is not moved from the large bank in Fort Lauderdale that backs up the paycheck. When I buy groceries no physical cash is moved from the bank to the store. And when the store pays its employees, there is no physical movement of money from their bank to the employee. Those numbers can be turned into cash, if the employee opts to cash their check instead of depositing it, but the cash they receive is just a physical representation of a line of transactions that threaded their way through the state, zig-zagging from place to place electronically until someone decided to turn their electronic number into a physical reality.

It's uncomfortable to realize that if everyone decided to turn their electronic numbers into cash, there wouldn't be enough cash to take the place of the electronic numbers. So then, what do all of those electronic numbers represent if they don't represent actual physical objects?

I mean what is money, anyway? Just some paper with pictures and numbers on it. The only reason it has any value is because we all agree to follow the rules of the monetary system and attribute the individual worth of a particular piece of paper as determined by its markings.

Someone will say,"But the paper is just a stand-in for actual money, like gold." However, that's not true because our money hasn't been on a gold standard since the seventies. Many conservatives want the US to go back to a gold standard, and many people still see gold as a reliable form of wealth, but the dye has been cast and it will never be possible to go back to a gold standard, because there simply is not enough gold to back up the monetary system, not only of our country, but also the monetary systems of other countries.

People who worry about the devaluation of money have been buying gold, and even silver, and stockpiling it as form of true wealth, which is why gold prices have sky-rocketed over the past year and why we have to endure all those Cash 4 Gold commercials on TV. Here's something to think about, though: What makes gold a form of true wealth? Do we value it because it's pretty? Because it makes some nice jewelry?

There are some industrial uses for gold in electronics, but for the most part, gold is a vanity or luxury product. It isn't especially useful.

What would happen if gold lost its luster in the eyes of most people? It would lose its value.

Any form of wealth is only as valuable as the value that people agree to assign to it, and it isn't inconceivable to imagine a time when the utility of a resource, in its relation to people, becomes a measure of its value.

Humans decide what is valuable, sometimes based on supply and demand and sometimes because of the psychology or perception of the market.

We see the direct effects of this principle everywhere, especially here in Florida where our real estate market has plummeted to the bottom of the barrel. Houses have lost enormous amounts of their value, not because they are any different than they were three years ago, but because how valuable a house is has less to do with how the house is constructed and more to do with uncontrollable, abstract ideas.

Is the house in a desirable location? Are there good schools nearby? Are there jobs in the area for people? Do people want to live there?

The answers to those questions have little to do with the actual house and more with the usefulness of what living in that house will provide people; convenience, a pleasant living experience, and proximity to other things that people value.

Value is a property that is in the complete control of human wishes and desires, ranging from the completely necessary to the bizarrely superfluous.

I'll continue more of this later.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Panhandling has become a commonplace practice in the neighborhood where we live; not the neighborhood exactly, but the busy intersections nearby. The subdivision we live in is relatively close to a mall, shopping centers, hardware stores, etc. and these businesses attract high numbers of people and make easy pickings for panhandlers. Over the last four or five years the occasional, lone panhandler has blossomed into pairs of panhandlers. The every-once-in-a-while panhandler has turned into the-almost-constant-fixture panhandler.

This phenomenon doesn't seem to be focused in our particular location. As part of the job I have, I drive throughout our county on a daily basis during the school year and almost every busy streetlight is manned by one person or another with a sign describing their predicament, asking for money and invariably ending with "God Bless". I've seen one woman in a business skirt and heels darting between stopped traffic with a sign plastered with pictures of her younger brothers who she needed help caring for. I've seen signs advertising the panhandler's status as a veteran. I've seen signs saying that the panhandler really needed a drink.

Today, while leaving Wal-Mart, a young couple was panhandling with this sign:

College Graduates
Rent Past Due
Almost Homeless
God Bless

For whatever reason, their sign did not inspire my pity. The sight of young, able-bodied people turning to panhandling as a way to pay the rent didn't incline me to be sympathetic. DH joked that maybe it was an experiment for their sociology class to see what sort of response they would get.

Panhandling usually invokes the twin powers of suspicion and guilt within me; suspicion because I have a sense that most panhandlers are simply manipulating people for money and guilt because I feel as if I should be more kind and generous in my appraisal of them and my response to them. These two feeling usually see-saw back and forth within me, causing me sometimes to avoid the panhandlers and sometimes to give money to them.

While sitting at a red light at one of the frequent panhandling intersections near our home, I watched a man walking up the sidewalk. He was muscular and somewhat fit. His clothes were slightly bedraggled and his face was covered with rough stubble. He eventually reached the intersection, plopped down an army green duffel bag and pulled out a cardboard sign. It said he was an injured, homeless veteran from Iraq.

He proceeded to work the lanes of stopped traffic with a limping, hobbling gait, one that was nowhere to be seen a minute earlier when I had watched him approaching on the sidewalk. I shook my head in frustration and made a point to remember him so that I wouldn't get suckered if he happened to become a frequent fixture.

DH is much more zen about the whole thing. His feeling is that we have no way of picking out the "deserving" panhandlers from the non-deserving panhandlers so he'll just give them a small amount of money, maybe a few dollars, and not worry about it. I tend to wonder if giving money to panhandlers encourages the wrong type of people to continue panhandling.

The panhandlers sometimes become more bold and instead of passively standing at an intersection, they'll directly approach and ask for money, like the lady who struck up a conversation in the cereal aisle while I was shopping one day. A brief question about whether a particular brand of cereal was any good became long litany of the troubles she was facing; legal troubles, the water being shut off, feeding her fourteen-year-old, her unemployed spouse. I offered her some information, directing her to food pantries that I knew of and free clinics for medical help which also offer social services, taking advantage of the water and electric company's charity care. Every piece of information I gave her was met with an excuse about why she "couldn't" go here or there.

Financially I wasn't in a position to help her. I didn't have $80 free to pay her water bill, or $100 to buy her groceries. I didn't even have cash in my purse at the time, because I almost always use my debit card and hardly ever have actual paper money on me. Sensing that I couldn't give her what she wanted or needed, she moved on. I finished my shopping and then spotted her, this time with her husband/boyfriend(?) near the checkout line. I paid for my things, and got $10 in cash from the cashier and caught her on my way out of the store. She seemed genuinely grateful and I left not knowing whether I had been gullible or kind....or both.

Having my kids with me when these things happen tends to make me be more generous and more cautious. Not wanting to make my children cynics, like myself, I try to go out of my way to be more generous. On the other hand, having them with me when someone approaches me directly also makes me very uncomfortable because I have no idea how erratic a panhandler might be, and what their response will be if I don't have money to give to them.

How do you handle panhandlers? Do you respond differently if you have children with you?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thunderclan Roll!!

The Rationalist and The Intuitive are both avid readers. Going to the library usually ends in bringing home stacks of books and a few anime DVDs, like Yu-Gi-Oh....or the very bizarre Dragon Ball...which I still can't believe they watched and enjoyed. It was right on the cusp of being a little too bizarre for them to have my permission to watch it, but I think most of the bizarreness went over their heads.

They enjoy the grand, epic style of cartoons like Yu-Gi-Oh which pit the forces of good against evil and which have a continuous story-line that builds throughout the series. Japanese series have a knack for that type of story-building and mythology-making that most Western cartoons don't develop nearly as well. Most Western-style cartoons tend to have more stand-alone episodes and tend to keep only a thin thread of mythology running through the series.

Currently, I am being pestered by my children to read the Warriors books, a series of books about warring cat clans. It sounds a little weird...but they love it. They read each book and discuss it afterwards. They run around outside pretending to be from warring cat clans. They talk about the special terminology used in the books. They whisper about the parts I haven't read yet, so as not to spoil the surprise. They talk about the twist and turns in the books.

In short....they love these books.

These books do the same thing that a good anime series does; they develop a consistent, ongoing, mythical story-line while incorporating adventurous battles and intrigue.

So...if you have a child in the upper elementary grades, or lower if they're advanced readers, give the books a try.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Link Love

I've read several posts from all corners of the like from the narrow list of blogs in my Google Reader....and I found several worth highlighting.

James ponders whether his spiritual life is one of Journey or Rest. His last paragraph really resonated with me.

Doug Chapin, aka clayboy, continues a conversation spurred by his skeptical maxim:
The rationality of a sceptic’s argument is inversely proportional to the strength of their attack on faith.
An interesting exchange took place, leading him to ponder whether Reason was God's practical joke.

Assistant Village Idiot compares multi-site churches and the mega church tendency to have song lyrics superimposed over pictures of doves, oceans, mountains, Orthodox iconography providing a Window Into Heaven.

Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution, interacts with the article in The New York Times about cryonics, otherwise known as freezing your body, or head, in the hopes that technological advances made in the future will allow you to be thawed out and brought back to life.

While writing that out I just had a terrible image of 27th century, highly advanced people thawing out all these old, frozen heads and reanimating them only to give them to their children as pets. There's got to be a bad sci-fi movie in that idea...or maybe an episode of The Twilight Zone!

Sabio, from Triangulations, takes a poll on people's personal policies of violence. Some interesting conversation takes place between atheists and Christians. I didn't vote....but maybe I will after I've thought about it more.

Summing It Up

Arlo & Janis

Thursday, July 08, 2010

What is Money?

I caught the last half of a show on PBS, The Money Fix. Before I write anything about it, I will give the upfront warning that there is a lot of very liberal woo involved in the documentary, but eschewing that, it was fascinating.

Here's a clip from the movie:

Another explanation:

So...the entire monetary system is almost like a pyramid scheme of debtors.

I'm going to think about this for a while before I post my thoghts

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Blogger Problems

Hmmm...I'm having problems with comments appearing on the blog. I added one as a test and it is also not showing up.

If you left a comment and it isn't "there"'s not because I deleted it! ;-)

I'll wait and see if they eventually show up. Blogger has been very buggy with its comment feature lately.

In Search of a Tribe

I started this post at the beginning of June and never finished it. Now, my longing for a tribe has only been made more intense.

I have been in a pattern of complete avoidance regarding the church we've been attending for the last couple of years. In the past six months I have probably only been to church about four, or five, times. Working on my father's house almost every weekend kept me out of town and gave me an excuse not to think about it too much.

You see, our family never quite recovered from leaving the church we attended for many years on the heels of some crazy goings on. We hid out in a mega-church for a couple of years, never quite connecting because of the sheer size of the congregation and the fact that our lives and schedules didn't mesh with the opportunities provided; DH worked late and we didn't have extra money to spare for a regular babysitter in order to attend evening small groups.

We settled where we are now simply because we had been looking for a new, smaller church when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There were a few things we liked about the church, but mainly we realized that we needed to settle down somewhere because we weren't up for the emotional ups and downs of church shopping while I was going to have to go through surgeries and chemo.

We managed to get through that year and were just starting to try and get involved when the pastor was changed, apparently at the congregation's request. There were issues that we didn't know much about because we were relatively new and didn't have any idea about the inner workings of the church.

A new pastor was eventually appointed.

The new pastor actually was quite nice. He was older, had better organized and meaningful sermons, and I could tell that he was educated at a high theological/biblical studies level. It turned out he had been a professor at a Methodist University for some time.

I liked him, but then my life got busy and those 6 months of absenteeism took over. I had been planning on trying to talk with him about some things when the announcement came down that he was retiring and a new pastor would be taking his place in a couple of weeks.

This has just thrown me back into a mental limbo with regard to the church. We have no idea what this next guy will be like, and it stinks that this church will be on its third pastor in two years.

Almost five years have passed since things disintegrated at the church we used to love, and we are still just as disconnected and uncertain as ever.

Well...I guess I know what the new guy's like now.

Sunday was the new, new pastor's first day on the job. I'm thinking staying at this church just might be untenable for me. We were already putting up with sub-optimal feelings about staying here, and now I just don't see it working.

The newly appointed pastor has much more enthusiasm than we have seen in the last two pastors, but it seems to be focused in a culture war direction. Besides the God and Country sermon we were treated to on Sunday, we had to hear the typical "America turning away from God" points...because apparently the fact that West Point no longer requires its students to attend chapel is a sign of the coming destruction of the United States.

Actually, mandatory chapel attendance was dropped from West Point in 1973, over 37 years ago. Here I am, in 2010, listening to a preacher quote this fact, minus the date, as if it just happened recently. This is a sign of the culture wars. It doesn't matter that the battle was lost almost 40 years ago. Somehow, it still is relevant to the state of the world and our Christian piety in 2010.

I can't do this. I can't go Sunday after Sunday listening to someone who wants to stir everybody up about irrelevant, outdated facts and use it as a goad to make people "live better" or "transform our country". The worst part about the service wasn't even that the new pastor went this route, but that many of the members were amen-ing him.

The church we attend has two services. An early morning, contemporary service and a traditional service. We attend the early service because we like it better and because we are mostly morning people.

Having two services has stratified the congregation. The contemporary service has lower attendance but is more diverse; young families, older couples, middle-aged couples. The traditional service is twice as large and completely unbalanced demographically. There are no children in the traditional service, mainly because everyone who attends that service is about 60 or older. They are very traditional in every sense of the word.

We've known about this stratification for some time, but we were happy to hang out in the early service .

I realized on Sunday, because the services were combined into one single service, why the first pastor had likely been dismissed. The larger part of the congregation wanted someone like this new pastor. They wanted a culture warrior, a shouter, a guilt-user in leadership over them. I had seen glimpses of this in the church newsletters, which were occasionally filled with the same type of intonation, but I had brushed it aside because there are always people in any given church who you might find disagreeable, or whose opinions you really don't like, but you choose to ignore for the sake of peace, or simply because one person's opinion is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Now, I am seeing that this runs deeper than a few older people who are set in their ways.

DH and I have talked about this endlessly, unsure about what to do. We have stuck around at this church because some of the people are nice and our kids feel very welcome and enjoy attending there. Also, we haven't wanted to jerk the kids around from church to church trying to find something that may not even exist; the perfect church for us.

I, personally, am really struggling with this, partly through my own "fault", though I think the term "fault" is a misnomer. I have spent too much time studying, thinking, and rethinking my faith to be comfortable in a church like this. I can't listen to some yahoo who just makes things up, or slants things in particular ways to suit his own agenda.

What is the point of me going to a church like that?

I shouldn't consistently leave a church stewing and feeling beleaguered.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Unwitting Dissemination of Error

Today the new pastor of our church quoted Benjamin Franklin amid a mixed bag of Fourth of July, God and Country, overused tropes, complete with towering flag behind a tiny metal cross.

I was not amused.

Whenever Christians quote the Founding Fathers, especially in support of a sermon or idea, I remain highly skeptical of their use of that quote. So often these particularly prescient quotes about God and Country are taken out of context, or portrayed in ways that aren't true to the particular person who spoke them. Considering that many of the founding fathers were Deists, their points about God, while often eloquent and full of beauty, are meant in entirely different ways than they are appropriated by Christians.

In the midst of trying to verify this particular quote, I came across something that I found more interesting; Benjamin Franklin's letter to Thomas Paine, author of the rebuttal of Christianity and promotion of Deism, The Age of Reason:
I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For, without the belief of a Providence that takes cognisance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that, though your reasons are subtle, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face.

But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantage of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.

I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a great deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?

There are loads of things in this letter that I wanted to blog about, and probably will at some point, but before I could get to that things became quite curious. While still searching for a primary source for the quote from church, I came across this same letter on several different sites. One of them mentioned that it was falsely attributed as being written to Thomas Paine when, in reality, it had been written in 1757 to an unknown recipient...years before Franklin and Paine had known one another and years before The Age of Reason had been written.

Moments like these reveal how utterly uncertain we can be when researching things online, or even in books for that matter, when we don't have access to the primary sources that are quoted or attributed to people.

How could I know which sites were correct about this letter? How could I discern which sites might be more credible and trustworthy than others?

Those two questions are frequently underutilized online...if utilized at all.

I spent about an hour typing in variations of search terms about Franklin, Paine, and the online availability of Franklin's works. Surely in this day and age I should be able to find an answer about this. Franklin was one of the most prolific writers/inventors/thinkers of his time. There should be reams of documentation about him and multiple levels of redundancy online with regard to his writings.

I was surprised that it took an hour instead of 5 minutes.

Time and again, I found this letter described as being written to Paine. I found it on quasi-religious, patriotic sites accompanied by self-satisfied commentary that Paine was buried in a field because no American cemetery would take his blasphemous body. I found it on sites declaring that they were supplying primary source documents. I found it on Wikipedia's article on Benjamin Franklin. I found it on an atheist forum.

Over and over it showed up, in various contexts, and with various agendas.

Eventually, I found another, with Franklin's collected works, which also supplied the now dubiously dated and addressed letter. It was listed under the earlier date of 1757 with the anonymous addressee. Considering this site was sponsored by The American Philosophical Society, a society founded by Benjamin Franklin, and also sponsored by Yale University.....I finally felt as if I had found a reputable, trustworthy source.

The letter was not written to Thomas Paine. Despite the popular-level, frequent attestation that it was written to wasn't. Despite the fact that it wouldn't be hard to imagine it as a response to The Age of Reason, it wasn't. Despite the fact that many used this as proof that Franklin was on their side of religious belief, against Paine's Deism and rejection of The Bible, it wasn't.

Discovering examples of the unwitting dissemination of error is disconcerting and the two-edged sword of the Internet age. It's easy to read something, post an article quoting it, which in turn gets quoted by another site, which eventually serves as a reference for a blog post which ignites a spirited discussion, which takes the quoted material for granted and spins off innumerable comments and blog responses.

All without anyone realizing that the quoted attribution and context are completely false.

And...epistemological certainty takes another blow.

Conversations I Can't Win

After whiny, complaining, outraged speeches directed at yours truly from The Rationalist concerning the unfairness of letting The Intuitive play Wii first.....I sent him to his room.

Me: "I told you that was enough. If you don't quit fussing about it you'll have to go to your room and complain about it there."

The Rationalist: "But I asked before we even went to church this morning. I-"

Me: "That's it!...Go to your room!"

After a few minutes in his room spent caterwauling, complaining and pouring out his grievances to himself and God, I guess...he came out.

The Rationalist, finally calm and composed: "Can I come out of my room, now?"

Me: "Only if you're done complaining, fussing and yelling about how life is so awful and unfair to you."

The Rationalist, in a deadpan voice with a sigh as he plopped himself down on the couch: "OK. But, you is actually unfair sometimes."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Knowing and Believing


It doesn't make any sense but we all know what Earl is talking about.