Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Meaning of Jesus..some thoughts

I finished reading The Meaning of Jesus; Two Visions, by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright.

Readers will remember that this was one of four books that I added to an impressive reading list. I have yet to finish, or even start, the other three, though I did renew them. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions is a point/counterpoint book compiled of essays from Borg and Wright addressing Jesus' view of himself, his birth, his death and resurrection, the Second Coming and what it means to live a Christian life.

They mostly disagree, except when they don't. ;-)

I should end the review thusly.

Except, I won't because although the point/counterpoint did get a little tedious and bogged down sometimes, the book provoked several reactions in me.

I will admit that I am generally sympathetic to Borg's views and I anticipated that I would read his thoughts and find what I was looking for, a way to keep Jesus even as more and more of what I used to think of as literal truth seems to be slipping through my fingers. For the most part, I liked what he had to say, though there were times when even I couldn't take the vague, wishy-washy stances that would pop up. Even as I drift toward Progressive(?) or Liberal(?) Christianity, I still get irritated at the lack of conviction and certainty that I encounter. It's part of my make-up. I want to know what THE TRUTH is and plant my flag there. However, everyone has a different map and idea about where that location is, so I just wander around hoping that I am at least in the general vicinity.

It bugs me to no end.

I had previously tried to read N.T Wright's Surprised by Hope, but could never get past the first few chapters. He simply couldn't hold my interest in that book. I think that was partly due to the fact that I was very busy during the time that I was trying to read it. One other reason was that I couldn't read Wright without hearing C.S. Lewis. I've already read much of Lewis' work, so the unmistakeable voice echoing in Wright was quite familiar. The points about "chronological snobbery", the criticism of Enlightenment thinking, the reliance on Lewis' apologetic moves, they all seemed to be Lewis simply refitted and fine-tuned. I guess that's fine, but if I wanted to hear Lewis' point of view, I would read Lewis.

Curious if I was spot-on in my estimation of Wright, I decided to see if I could find out more about whether Wright credits Lewis as an influence and came across this article in which Wright both praises and criticizes Lewis. (I'm always surprised when I am right about something that I guessed intuitively.)

After finishing the book, I pondered an idea that has occurred to me before but I have had difficulty formulating into words.

Wright works mightily to put Jesus in a historical, literal, very Jewish context. He attempts to situate Jesus as a faithful Jew going against a corrupted form of Israel and Jewish religion. His interpretation is that Israel's desire for a national redemption, not unlike previous ones they had experienced through exile and return, was the wrong desire. Then, he claims that Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of God were meant to portray a new way for Israel to "be Israel".

As Wright goes through his argument, I feel this version of Jesus who is concerned about "Israel" and who is trying to get Israel to become the light of the world by supplanting the current Temple and its administration with subversive truths, to be lacking appeal and cohesion for me, personally.

Why?

A Jesus who is trying to get Israel to "be Israel" in a new way, or what I think Wright implies, in the real way it was always intended to "be Israel", is a Jesus who ultimately failed. After the first wave of Jewish conversions, Judaism and Christianity split apart and Israel, as a historical, physical people, does not decide to take Jesus up on his offer.

Wright's literal, historical, mostly orthodox view of Jesus completely undermines any sense that Jesus accomplished what he wanted to accomplish.

In addressing the divinity of Jesus, Wright writes:
I do not think Jesus "knew he was God" in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself,"Well, I never! I'm the second person of the Trinity!" Rather, as part of his human vocation, grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.
This ties in with my previous thought. Does presenting a Jesus who doesn't "know" that he is God help or hurt Wright's orthodoxy? I mean, he's presenting a Jesus who seems to be interested in getting Israel to behave and act in a certain "true" way, one which is quite different than the way Israel had seen itself throughout Scripture and history, and yet he seems to not "know" that he is God in the trinitarian sense with which many orthodox Christians are familiar.

It's unsettling.

Borg, on the other hand, presents Jesus as a Jewish mystic who was more connected with God than the average person, while simultaneously denying the literal resurrection, as it is normally understood and presented. Borg's Jesus seems bigger than Wright's Jesus even though Wright represents traditional Christian doctrine far more closely than Borg.

It has a strange effect upon me, this idea that tying Jesus into a very specific, historical mode, complete with a representative, 1st century mindset, somehow makes him less "real" to me than Borg's ethereal, metaphorical understanding of Jesus.

I'll post more on this later because I'm not quite done thinking it through.

Leaked Cables

Perhaps this is premature, because there is no telling what else is going to come out on Wikileaks, but I am completely underwhelmed by the leaked cables. Some of them are nothing more than pointed snark and gossip and the type of "inside" comments and politics that most of us suspect goes on, but never see publicly proclaimed.

Surely we don't believe that diplomats around the world play "nice" in everything they say and do.


Ahmadinejad — who was referred to as Adolf Hitler in one of the cables, just one of many slights made against him by other leaders in the region — called the documents “worthless” and an act of “mischief” by Iran’s enemies, an attempt to undermine Iran’s relationship with its Arab neighbors.

“They’re so worthless I don’t even want to waste time talking about them,” Ahmadinejad told an audience of journalists at previously scheduled press conference in Tehran on Monday.
Interesting response from a usually over-the-top personality. Maybe the realization that it's not just the US who has been against him, his regime, and the possibility of a nuclear Iran has shaken him up a bit.

It's never pleasant to find out what your "friends" and "neighbors" really think of you.

I think some of these revelations might actually help US foreign policy move forward. When the US is dealing with countries like Saudi Arabia who don't want to make their stances known publicly, it makes it seem as if the US is acting out of its own limited zeitgeist, rather than moving forward at the prompting of other nations.

The flip side of all of this is realizing how other countries can influence the US without the general citizenry knowing about it. When the Middle Eastern countries acknowledge that they lie to each other, what does it mean about the things that they say to us? And....if Saudi Arabia is so concerned about a nuclear Iran...why does it try to make the US do its bidding? They get to keep their hands clean and their money secure in a set-up like that, while the US continues to go bankrupt trying to police the world.

We have put ourselves in the position of "holding a wolf by the ears" in the Middle East. We can't let it go, and we can't keep holding it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

TSA Promotional Bumper Stickers

So bad...so funny!


Blogging Advice

James F. McGrath has pointers on how to know if you have a blogging problem, and how to know if you are a responsible blog owner.

Prescient points for all of us bloggers.

Your readers know that you blog in your underwear...right?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving 2010!

So much to be grateful for...Family, Friends, Good Health, Being Employed, Not Suffering Any Imminent Disasters....it's all good for right now.

Our family is celebrating small this year, having already had an early Thanksgiving Day this weekend with the rest of our family.

For our small, family dinner we are breaking tradition and having ham instead of turkey...though we're still making orange/cranberry relish...because we like it!

The kids have already helped make a pumpkin pie, discovering along the way that putting undiluted ground ginger powder in your mouth is not a great idea. ;-)

I hope you all have a wonderful day of good times, fellowship and eating....maybe a few board games after everyone recovers from stuffing themselves.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Having cancer at a relatively young age changed me in several ways. One of the things that it did was that it revamped the seriousness with which I viewed my health choices and the power I had, and didn't have, to control my body.

In many ways, I had no control over what happened to me. There were probably thousands, hundreds of thousands, of 33 year old women who were about the same height, weight, and had the same health status(no known health issues) as I did when I developed cancer...and yet they didn't develop it and I did.

Why?

Genetics, maybe? Environmental circumstances or exposure to unknown factors, perhaps? A failure of my immune system to kill developing cancer cells, possibly? Bad luck?

Who knows?

However, having been through treatment and researched the disease extensively, I came to realize that even though I may not have ever been able to completely prevent myself from having cancer, I could have an effect on my chances of recurrence, or at the very least, in delaying a recurrence.

You fight the type of cancer I had by fighting it one day at a time over a very long period of time. Chemo is not highly effective against this particular type of cancer, because it is slower-growing and relies on the natural hormones that a normal woman's body produces.

The most effective strategy is to starve any unidentified cancer cells that might exist by taking an anti-hormonal treatment in pill form, once a day, for five years. That's 1,825 pills.

Another effective strategy is to engage in physical exercise for at least 3-4 hours every week consistently, for the long term. Studies have shown that this can reduce recurrence rates by another 30%-50%.

This is why I run, and also why I have lost about 25 pounds over the last 2 years...with unfortunately much more to go.

It has been a long, slow process to get into well enough shape in order to be able to run 3-3.5 miles several times a week. My weight loss has also been painstakingly slow. I will go through weeks and months sometimes without losing a single ounce, but because the exercise is useful in fighting off recurrence, even without losing weight, I persevere through the discouragement of working so hard and not seeing the scale move.

Inevitably, what happens is that after a couple months of no real progress, I will lose several pounds in a week, or my running time will dramatically get better even though I am simply doing the same things I have been doing for the last two years.

The progress comes in fits and starts after long periods of never-ending plateaus.

It has taught me something that I always knew, but never fully appreciated; great things are done in small, consistent steps over long stretches of time.

There are no shortcuts to anything worthwhile in life.

Want to be a good parent? Show up every day for 18 years.

Want to become a great musician? Practice every day and make a point to learn more every day.

Want to have a good relationship? Continue to consistently try to care for and support the other person/friend/spouse.

One or two impressive incidents don't take the place the of consistently trying, or faithfully working at something.

The same holds true for finances. After my dad passed away, we had hoped that we would be able to sell his house and use that money to become debt-free and save the rest. That dream was quickly dashed. Now, as we rent out he house, even that has turned into a long-term investment, not a huge money-maker, especially after taxes, insurance and normal repair costs. Yet, over the course of 5-10-15 years, the house has the potential to provide a huge cumulative profit.

Slow and steady. Bit by bit.

That is how a life is built. That is how hard tasks get done. That is how health is reclaimed.

Endless toil without many immediate results.

Very exciting, no?!

No, not exciting, but true. And, it has never been more true to me.

If there is something that you want to change in your life, or a goal you want to accomplish, you must simply take a step toward it, even if it is a small step.

Live your life. Enjoy it along the way.

Just be sure to take the one, little, daily step in the middle of everything else.

Eventually, it adds up.

Even DH has become proof of this. He started his Master's degree at the end of my cancer treatment, and right before my father died. It was chaos for him those first few semesters while I was still recovering and we were dealing with my father's death and lawyers and fixing a termite destroyed house on the weekends in our "spare time".

And yet, he still took classes and did the work and two years have passed.....leaving only this last one before he will have completed it.

Day in, day out, and before you know it...he'll be done.

That's my self-help advice for today. Don't use it all up at once.

False Security

If I hear one more person say, "Well, as long as it makes us safer.." in regard to full-body scanners and invasive security pat-downs, I think my head will explode.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Wrong, because there is no proof that these methods are making us safer. Wrong, because people with medical conditions or prostheses or ostomy bags shouldn't have to go through further humiliation and extreme screening, something I posted about ages ago. Wrong, because children, elderly people, those trying to avoid extra radiation, and the religiously modest should not have to be subjected to these tactics.

These latest security developments are an illusion. They make us feel as if the government is proactively protecting us. Unfortunately, the government can't protect us from crazy people; people who would plot and scheme and attempt to kill themselves and others at the command of a leader who is no doubt safely hiding in a cave somewhere. There is no protection against the highly motivated killer.

That is why we are so terrified by serial killers, and random acts of violence from lone gunmen, and school shootings...because we know that we have almost no control over them. Death can come for us unexpectedly and without cause.

America...you have temporarily lost your senses!!

Freedom has a cost....and the cost is not invasive governmental intrusion...the cost is the risk that someone, somewhere, might do something bad that harms you, might make a choice that is not beneficial to you.

If you are not willing to assume that risk, then you are not willing to live free.

When we were discussing this, DH said to me, "Just imagine how much worse it would be if a terrorist incident actually occurred."

"How could it be worse?" I replied.

Seriously, what would be the next step? Cavity searches?

When the next level involves actual nudity, instead of virtual nudity, it's a sign that the train has gone off the rails.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Brand New Key--The Original Song

Stream of Consciousness Post...because I'm too lazy to organize a real post.

JS Allen has a post up about Moral Intuitions with some interesting studies, which he refers to in the context of a discussion about PST.

The post made me wonder if one of the defining characteristics of human nature is the ability to make choices, to live beyond mere instinct. In many ways, that reflects a very Genesis-like thought. The Human story doesn't quite take shape until the humans make a choice. And that choice leads them to the ability to know more than they did beforehand and to make more choices, good and evil choices. And that is then broadened to humanity, in general.

For some reason, when I was asking myself this, the story from Jubilees that portrays the animals in the Garden of Eden as possessing speech, before The Fall, popped into my head. Maybe because I was thinking about what it was that made humans more than merely animals. Speech came to mind.

Something else that occurred to me....that humans care, emotionally speaking, for animals. Do other animals care for animals outside of their species? Animals that seem to express caring for other species are usually animals that have been habituated by humans, dogs especially.

Although KoKo, the gorilla, comes to mind because she was allowed to have cats as pets, which, as far as I know, she never harmed. She also was being taught how to communicate with humans....so maybe language acquisition and inter-species emotional bonds are connected?

Or maybe I am grasping at straws.

Still, the point is that Genesis, even for someone like myself who no longer thinks that Adam was a literal person but was a metaphor for humankind, is full of the very same questions and theories that we pose to ourselves, or at least that I pose to myself, today.
Just posting this because The Rationalist thinks it's hilarious....and I can't stop singing the song.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More Blogroll Additions

Like a Child--A mom of two writing about her doubts and beliefs and science background and how they're interacting in her life.

Lower Wisdom--JS Allen's blog about mainly religious ideas and epistemology.

Think and Wonder. Wonder and Think...--Another mom, and also a psychologist, working through her religious and scientific thoughts

He's a Good Blog--jackscrow's blog on mostly political themes

Dr. X--Dr. X's blog on Psychology and other interesting topics

I'm always open to blog linking. Sometimes I just get too lazy or forgetful to update my list of blogs that I frequent, or interact with. If I missed anyone who wants a link...leave a comment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grammar, Shmammar

"From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put."

-Sir Winston Churchill

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Paul and Adam Redux

While responding to a comment on my Adam post a few weeks ago, I was reminded that I wanted to say something more about Paul and his use of Adam theologically.

Most of what I have to say is pretty obvious....but I never let that keep me from talking! ;-)

In trying to understand why Adam seems to be absent from the Old Testament, outside of Genesis, I realized a very obvious thing....Israel didn't care about theological issues that encompassed the entire world. They weren't trying to find a way to make everything fit together, to understand what God was going to do with everyone else on earth.

That wasn't their concern.

Their primary goal was to uphold their particular chosen tribe in what they saw as the ways of God. Because their religious narrative involved God choosing Abraham and blessing his physical descendants, or at least those descended from Isaac, they had no reason to worry themselves about pagans, Gentiles, or outsiders.

This shows up in their slavery laws and in their wars with surrounding nations.

God had made his choice. The other nations were only receiving whatever judgement they deserved. Israel was God's path to blessing or cursing the nations according to many of their Scriptures.

As a result, tracing all of humanity back to a literal Adam would have been relatively meaningless for their theological perspective.

What Paul does with Adam is actually quite ingenious. By bringing Adam into the picture and making his comparison to Jesus, Paul declares a new creation that resets humanity back at an equal starting place. Suddenly, being Jewish holds no special privileges. Anyone can be accepted by God and equally receive his favor.

In Romans, Paul equivocates, speculating that God's promises to Israel which have been extended to all, might be even greater if Israel, as a whole, accepted Jesus as their Messiah. Even Paul is not willing to completely close the door on Israelites. So, while developing a theology that is wide open to pagans and Gentiles, he still hopes that Israel will have a special place with God.

However, the point is that Paul uses the figure of Adam in a way that permits everyone to participate in the Kingdom of God.

This is always Paul's mission--to bring the Gentiles in, to declare that all are welcome.

Paul uses the same technique in Galatians when he turns the idea of Abraham's seed completely on its head and gives it a novel interpretation:
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.
He's doing the same thing he did with Adam, taking a figure from the Scriptures and using it to persuade others that God really did want everyone on board.

I'm left with the feeling that I usually have for Paul, annoyance that he so boldly moves forward in new directions, with what I would think are less than pure exegetical moves, and admiration that he could find a way to make it work and admiration for the general thrust of trying to open the doors as wide as possible for everyone.

The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Sarah Palin.

Why are you so obnoxious? I mean, in a country where almost 20% of children ages 6-11 suffer from obesity, not from being overweight, but from being so overweight as to be classified as obese, what will it take for people to realize that we need institutional change?

Oh. It's so much more fun to be a smartass, and dismiss the serious problems our children are facing by making snide comments and using a proactive solution as a platform for you to amuse yourself and get a few laughs.

Absolutely Hilarious.

Or, at least, you think you are.

I would just like to say that school board members and state representatives are elected by the people to represent us. And that it isn't nanny-state officials trying to control every aspect of our children's lives that would love to see schools outlaw the excess sweets.

Supposedly, parents should decide what their kids eat. And that is completely correct.

And yet, most parents send their kids off to school and have no way to interrupt the constant stream of cookies, cakes and candy fed to our children while they are at school.
Having had a child come home frequently having been given candy as a reward for academic achievement, having eaten a giant sugar cookie from his classmate's birthday celebration, and also having had a piece of cake served to him at lunch, because every time a teacher has a birthday the whole lunchroom gets a piece of cake made by the lunch ladies, I can say that limiting sweets given to our kids at school would not limit my control as a parent but would strengthen it.

Not to mention the school selling lollipops to kids as a way to raise money.

One more thing. Parents do decide these issues....by voting for people who they think represent their opinions.

That is what representative government is all about. We elect who we want. We give them the power to enact our wishes. We have the opportunity to speak out. We have the opportunity to elect someone else.

Actually, taking a local, state issue and trying to use for your "national" platform just shows that you don't really believe that local parents and communities should have the power to set their own standards.

/rant over

Good-Bye Imagined Coolness

I now officially qualify for the term "soccer mom".



Well, I was never very cool to begin with.

Both the boys had a lot of fun. The Intuitive's coach was laid back and said he was more interested in the kids having fun. He was good with the kids and has his own son on the team. Many of them are like The Intuitive, and this is their first soccer experience, so he was appropriately gentle with them.

The Rationalist's coach was tough. It's an under 12 team, an older group than The Intuitive's, and they were all business. The coach wasn't mean, but he worked them really hard.

The Rationalist is going to be sore today!

Once I learn how to take better pictures at night, I'll post something that isn't incredibly blurry.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Overreaching

Everyone knows that you don't go grocery shopping when you're starving. You wind up with a cartload of cookies, chips, and the trimmings for a five course meal followed by dessert.

It's a bad idea.

I realized the other day that I hadn't actually read a book in a few months. I still do quite a bit of reading online, blogs, news, and online magazines, but those are temporary bites and not a full cohesive meal.

During our weekly trip to the library, this is what I picked out:

Doubt, by Jennifer Michael Hecht (Michael as a woman's middle name?)

Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant

Jung, A Biography by Gerhard Wehr

The Meanings of Jesus; Two Visions by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright.

I'm not sure what I was thinking. I must have imagined that I was some dusty, old Englishman holed up in a study overflowing with books, and dominated by a mahogany desk full of important papers with a strategically placed desk light illuminating all that I cared to read.

I am not an Englishman, and I have neither desk, nor desk light.

Never go to the library looking for a good book to read that will stretch your mind.

Or else you'll wind up like me, preparing to run a mental marathon when I'm only in 5K shape.

Plus, it makes you realize what a complete and utter affecting person your are. I mean, who does this? Who so overestimates their mental capacity and commitment to learning that they actually take several minutes to consider what they are picking out to read and thinks to themselves,"Yeah...I can totally do this!"

I do get some sort of credit just for checking them out, right? Like, there must be some sort of mental osmosis of knowledge that come from merely handling books like these and reading the dust jacket, right?

Right?

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Haul

Agents Ninja Storm and Boba Fett suited up and headed out to expedite the assigned mission of accumulating the proper nutritional and energy sources for the next six months. In order to be independent of the influence of the sugar-producing conglomerates planning to take over the world, it was essential that the agents secure supplies for the foreseeable future.


Our agents were highly successful.


They will continue to be used in the field once they have recovered from Sugar Intoxication Syndrome.