Thursday, January 27, 2011

Parenting Your Mini-Me

Having children can remind you of the "you" you used to be. This is not always a pleasant experience. While you might have the inside line to understanding you child, you are reminded daily what a huge pain you must have been as a kid.

Oh, my poor teachers. However did they put up with me?!

The Rationalist and The Intuitive both have characteristics from DH and me. The Rationalist truly is a mini-me of his father, so much so that it is hilarious to hear them argue with each other. It's like watching clones battle with each other. However, even though The Rationalist is a mini-me of his father, he has some of my traits also...traits which I share with his father. The poor child got a double-dose of certain personality traits from us, and not only just the good ones either.

The Intuitive isn't exactly my mini-me, but he thinks a lot like I do/did. I knew that I was going to have trouble with this one when at 4 years old I overheard him telling his older brother, who is a conscientious rule-follower, that they wouldn't get in trouble for what they were doing as long as I didn't know about it.

At 4 he had already gained the insight that it wasn't the breaking of the rule that was bad, it was the getting caught part that was trouble.

I still remember that and am keeping it on file for when he hits the teen years.

He got that from me. I was a skilled liar when I was young. I never lied to get things, or to make up outlandish stories about myself. I only ever lied to stay out of trouble.

Who broke the lamp? Oh, the dog was running behind the couch and got caught in the cord and pulled it off the table.

Who ate the strawberries that were going to be used for dessert? Gee. It must have been my little brother.

Why did you get a zero for your homework? I don't know. I turned it in on time.

Who called Japan? Japan, who's Japan? I don't know anyone named Japan!

The Intuitive's propensity for gaming the system with his intuitive grasp of how people work was simply me reaping what I had sown, I suppose.

Before the Christmas Break, both boys had to finish mandatory science projects which were very involved. They had to do multiple trials of their experiment, graph their results, write up their hypotheses, results and conclusions and assemble everything on a large tri-fold poster board. It was a lot of work for them and for me too because I had to supervise the process, showing them how to use the graphing website, how to use Word to type out their reports, how to adjust the font to fit on the paper, how to format the text....etc., etc.

I was very thankful when everything was done and turned in.

During that whole process, when I was talking to The Intuitive about his project and what he had left to work on he said to me,"I don't have to get a good grade....I only have to pass."

A Maternal Brain Aneurysm was only narrowly averted. After catching my breath, I asked, "What do you mean you only have to pass?"

"Well...I don't care if I get an A or not. As long as I pass, I'm OK."

I had to sit down for a moment. Who was this child who was happy with just passing?

Suddenly, I remembered my third grade year. Many C's and D's on my report card....because I didn't turn in a single stitch of homework...because I didn't want to. I remembered my junior year in high school when I got a D in Health class, one of the easiest classes in existence. Even though I had A's on all of the tests and quizzes, I had decided that I didn't feel like keeping a Health Journal through the semester. Too much work. Too annoying. Not big on my list of things to do.

I consciously chose not to do it and took the hit to my grade....which was quite substantial.....but I didn't care. I didn't need an A in Health class. I only needed to pass it.


The more I thought about it, the more I saw myself in The Intuitive's tendency to procrastinate, to become distracted, to get lost in reading, to amuse himself in his room for hours and his tendency to keep his thoughts and emotions to himself.

Many of those traits I have actively suppressed in myself, either out conscious choice, or because of being forced to by the demands of life. The Intuitive is helping me remember myself.

The Intuitive is very smart, but he also thinks differently and more intuitively and he can't always explain how he knows things, or understand what teachers want from him when they word things ambiguously. I used to think it was because he was a lefty and right-brained.

Now, I remember similar moments from my childhood. I remember infuriating my kindergarten teacher, a wrinkled woman as old as Methuselah who would grab children by the ear and pull them towards their mats when they were naughty. We were pretending to deliver Valentines under doorways while we sang some sort of Valentine's Day song. Each child would spot a door in the room and slip the valentine under it and come back to their place on the carpet before the song ended. WHen it was my turn, I went over to a table and chairs and stuck my card under there.

My teacher berated me, asking me what I was doing, why was I shoving the card under the table? I was confused. I thought we were pretending. I was pretending that there was a tiny house under the table and a mouse who lived inside it. I was putting the valentine under the mouse's door.

It made perfect sense to me. My teacher, on the other hand, thought I was incredibly stupid. I don't remember if she grabbed me by the ear, or not.

I remembered fourth grade when I was marked wrong on a comprehension test of a story that we read. The question I missed was--How do we know that the princess and prince lived happily every after? I answered that we knew they lived happily ever after because the story told us that they lived happily ever after.

My teacher probably thought I was quite dim when she marked the answer wrong.

As dumb as my answer seemed, I had actually thought it through very well. In my mind there was no way to know if people were going to live happily ever after simply because they had solved whatever current problem they were facing. There were always more problems right around the corner that they probably hadn't even thought of yet. I had no basis to say that they would live happily ever after. The only way I could say that they would live happily every after was because the narrator said that they would in the story. Anything else was pure speculation in my 10 year-old mind.

Even at 10, I was a slave to what the text actually said, rather than what it didn't. Reading my thoughts into the text seemed like a strange, unnatural thing to do.

As I parent my children I am often left wondering which methods would be most effective at reaching them. Now, realizing that some of the traits that pop up in The Intuitive are actually my traits, I am sympathetic, and also wondering what would have worked for me at that age.

I had very little active parenting when I was a child, so I muddled through on my own, mostly, and just assumed that when teachers and school didn't make sense, that it was because I was weird and there wasn't much I could do about it.

Would I have wanted a parent like me, actively pushing me to do my best? Should I let The Intuitive just pass every now and then in order to learn that it's up to him to set goals and priorities and to motivate himself?

I'm not sure.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Moral Law and Being Human

Every once in while I want to knock C.S. Lewis around. He's quoted everywhere. He is the "go-to" guy in Christian apologetics. He's consistently relied on, too consistently in my opinion, by authors with an evangelical, intellectual bent. They like to pull him off the bookshelf to give themselves some intellectual street cred.

There is even a new C.S. Lewis Bible being sold. I shook my head in wonder when I learned that. Someone is finally publicly acknowledging Lewis as the fourteenth apostle.

I get tired of him after a while.

I guess I shouldn't blame them, because so far evangelicals have not managed to produce anyone like a C.S. Lewis in the last 50-60 years. He's all that they have.

Even though I get tired of hearing Lewis speak from beyond the grave through his fan base, I think I understand the fascination with his work.

Lewis was not a theologian, or a scientist, or a biblical scholar. He was first and foremost a story-teller. His life revolved around literature; teaching it and writing it.

A good story always takes place within a bigger picture. Grand epics are epic because they are about more than the individual; they involve a stream of action in which the individual is only one moving part.

Lewis, especially in his fiction, is always working within that larger view. His science fiction series begins with the idea that there is more beyond Earth and that a general system is incorporated in each planet. Earth's particular details only make sense in the grand scheme of the solar system. In order to understand what happens on Earth, Lewis tells us about what happens elsewhere.

He uses the general to tell us about the specific...and he is exceptional at it.

As with most of us, though, Lewis' strength is also his biggest weakness. Because he is not bound to the details of theology or biblical interpretation, or even evolution, though there were probably fewer details about evolution for him to address in his era, he slides past many objections and problems that might interfere with his big picture.

Perhaps, that is why he so often turns to fiction to express his theology. In fiction, he has the ability to fully convey themes in new worlds without having to account for the sludge and drek of this world, or deal with the annoying details that detract from the grand epic.

In recreating portraits of the Divine, he sidesteps the conflicting pictures we had beforehand. He boils mythological themes into an essence that can infuse his works. When Aslan is creating Narnia, or leading the children in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, we are not tangled up in trying to understand how God can be both a lion and God, or whether he is part of a trinity, or whether the earthly Christ we think of should be assumed to be like Aslan. Instead, we simply feel the force of his portrayal and don't bother ourselves with details.

It is just a story, after all. In reality, it is not Lewis' fault that he doesn't address the complications of interpreting "biblical" doctrine, because that is not his aim. He is trying to evoke a response in his reader, an emotional and psychological recognition of his themes.

Lewis' argument from Moral Law is one such successful emotional and psychological evocation. It succeeds because Lewis doesn't attempt to promote belief in God based on scientific proofs, or technically philosophical arguments. He uses a general philosophical and logical approach to communicate his ideas, but that philosophy and logic is firmly embedded in human nature, in the universal urges that humans have, and in the intellectual/emotional longings that humans express.

We should believe in God because we have an innate sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice. We should believe in God because every desire we have has something which will satiate, every nook in our being has a corresponding piece that will fit into it. We should believe in God because it gives us the best understanding of why humans are the way they are.

Those are my general impressions of Lewis.

In many ways, Lewis' approach is probably the best one that Christians have. In a world in which humans are noticeably more dominant, more intelligent, and more adaptive than most of the species on the planet, looking to ourselves for the answers to our questions is the probably the only thing we can do.

To postulate being human without morality is to postulate being inhuman.

It is one of our defining characteristics. We don't always respect the Moral Law, or always willingly acquiesce to it, but it is undeniably there.

What does it mean in the context of evolution and theology?

It means that we live within a human conceptual world, bound on all sides by our humanity. We can't escape it, or go beyond it. At every point in which we think we have, we have only expanded our own humanness in a particular direction, perhaps widening the dome we live under, but still remaining contained within that conceptual dome. Outside of the dome, things fall apart. There may be all manner of things outside the dome, but they are outside of our realm of comprehension. All that we can do is try to make our dome larger every now and then.

Moral Law, God, and religious experience live within that dome.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Moral Law and Evolution, Part 2

I'm almost done with The Language of God, but wanted to jot a few thoughts down before I forgot them.

As I read further into The Language of God, my impression of Collins gradually improved. He is in his element when he gets down to details in his field and begins to argue against the YEC and Intelligent Design movements through scientific evidence and fact. The funny thing is that the very evidence he uses in his book is the very evidence that made me eventually come to accept evolution. I came across most of the examples he used while watching Intelligent Design on Trial, a NOVA special on PBS about the trial that took place in Dover, PA when the school board clashed over evolution and intelligent design.

The fact that there actually are transitional fossils, that Michael Behe's example of the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum has been proven incorrect, and that the human genome has a fusion of 2 chromosomes that are present, yet separate, in chimpanzees, giving us 23 chromosomes instead of 24 like other primates, showing a direct link and traceable mutation between humans and chimpanzees....well it all made me realize that most of the "scientific" arguments of creationism and Intelligent Design were simply false.

It was a huge turning point in my thoughts. I finally understood why evolutionists were so infuriated by Intelligent Design and Creationism and why even Christian biologists had no qualms about believing in evolution. Evolution wasn't an attack on God by godless atheists, it was simply making sense of the very good evidence that has turned up within multiple fields of science.

I couldn't deny evolution on the basis of counter-evidence....because there wasn't any counter-evidence.

Collins explains all of this quite lucidly.

Unfortunately, when he's done with "science-y" part, he immediately moves back to the argument from Moral Law and more quoting of C.S. Lewis. This is the weakest part of the book because Collins is out of his depth. It isn't that the argument from Moral Law can't be persuasive, but it has no grounding in all of his scientific points. What seems to happen is that Collins is melding two different magisteriums without acknowledging what he is doing, and he has slammed on the brakes and switched gears rather suddenly.

Collins, throughout the book, continues to make assertions about "godless materialists" and "unnecessary ultra-liberal interpretations of Genesis" and believing in the "God of the Bible" and much of Scripture as "eyewitness accounts of historical events".

His motives for retaining his faith are very unscientific. And that is my main criticism of the book; it is a bit of a bait and switch. It doesn't answer the questions that I think that most people who pick up a book subtitled, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, are looking for. There is no "evidence", from a scientific perspective, for his belief. Instead, he provides a description of the personal synthesis of his scientific understanding and his religious beliefs.

Here is the dilemma that Collins misses, maybe because of his background and not coming from a seriously impassioned evangelical faith from youth: the crisis that evolution causes for many people of faith has nothing whatsoever to do with science. It is a crisis of epistemology, a crisis of knowing what information to trust and where to look for the truth.

Collins writes at one point:
I do not believe that God who created all the universe, and who communes with His people through prayer and spiritual insight, would expect us to deny the obvious truths of the natural world that science has reveled to us, in order to prove our love for Him.(pg. 210)

On the one hand, Collins keeps asserting that the "God of the Bible" is not denied by evolution, yet he doesn't define what his picture of the "God of the Bible" looks like. Is it the God of the Bible who commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Is it the God of the Bible who made the sun stop in the sky so that Joshua could win the battle? Is it the God of the Bible who killed a man for accidentally touching the Ark of the Covenant?

These are the questions about God that many fundamentalists and evangelicals struggle with. The Bible is replete with stories in which people have to act in discordance with what they see around them in order to please God. The Bible, the Old Testament in particular, is replete with stories in which God is portrayed as somewhat capricious and mystifying in his actions.

I will assume that when Collins refers to the God of the Bible, he is referring to a milder Christian version of a loving, forgiving, always benevolent God. A God such as that is compatible with reason, and curiosity, and human potential.

Collins gets it backwards. Christians are not in need of a scientist who can affirm theology; they are in need of a theologian who can affirm science. Those are strikingly different things. Collins can't give YEC-ers what they need, because theirs is not a position beholden to science, it is a position beholden to theological imperatives.

Collins simply doesn't have the expertise in the relevant areas to communicate a true synthesis of science and theology and how the two might work together. Even if he did, it would come at the cost of reshaping many of those theological imperatives that he so blithely brushes by without any good alternatives.

In trying to deal with the theological implications of evolution Collins quotes Lewis again:

For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of his fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its material and physical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say "I" and "me", which could look upon itself as an object which knew God which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past...We do not know how many of these creatures God made, not how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become gods...They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God,"This is our business, not yours." But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.(pg. 208) and also(C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, pgs 68-71)

The message comes across as "Genesis 1 and 2 don't have to be taken literally. Adam and Eve don't have to be real people.....but The Fall...that is definitely real."

Ok...maybe that's a simplistic evaluation of what Lewis is saying. After all, he wrote that passage many, many years ago and there is no telling how he would contribute to the current conversation in the context of further evolutionary proof and development. He was already ahead of many other Christians during his own time, we can't expect him to answer questions that weren't even being asked in his own context.

There is a problem with Collins using this quote from Lewis. On the one hand, he is unhooking the Creation story from possessing any scientific expectations or content. On the other hand, he is trying to locate the human condition within a real, historical, literal event labeled The Fall. Lewis, strangely enough, also isn't helping Collins' attempt to remove God as a constant interventionist in the evolutionary process. Collins, in his discussion of evolution, has said that tying God to the evolutionary process, and special creative influence upon it, is a bad idea....yet that is exactly what Lewis is talking about in this passage--God intervening to shape humanity, not only into a particular, mental/spiritual shape, but also in a particular physical/physiological shape.

I don't understand why Collins doesn't see this. In one breath, he is criticizing Paley's watchmaker analogy and ID and creationism as forming their arguments on human intuition, and in the next breath he is quoting Lewis, whose entire driving force in his work is predicated on human intuition about the Universe.

Collins doesn't seem to recognize it in Lewis, or in himself.

I still have a couple of chapters to go, and I think that I have at least one more post that I want to get to.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Moral Law and Evolution

In the midst of going back and reading my comments on AVI's post from a few years ago, I decided that I should read The Language of God, by Francis Collins because it was the focal point of AVI's posts and I never actually read the book.

I'm almost halfway through and I can definitely see what AVI meant when he referred to Collins as having used C.S. Lewis too much. The first couple of chapters are simply Collins rehashing Lewis' most famous apologetic arguments from Mere Christianity. I will assume that Collins does this because he thinks that his prospective audience is made up of those who have no knowledge of Lewis, or Mere Christianity, or the argument from Moral Law.

This is all well-traveled ground for me. Honestly, I'm at the point where when I pick up a Christian book and all it is is a rehashing of Lewis, or heavily dependent on Lewis' fleshed out fictional portrayals of the Divine, or simply dressing up Lewis' ideas and arguments, without even acknowledging that they came from him, that I seriously want to stab myself in the eye with a fork.

And it isn't even that I don't like Lewis. I have tons of his work on my bookshelves. It is simply that I expect more from a book than a reframing of someone else's work. I suppose that reframing is good every once in a while, but there are so many books out there reframing Lewis that I hardly see the point of why they continue to get published. How many do we need?

That's my little rant.

In one of the sections in which Collins interacts with Lewis, in the context of evolution and altrusim, Collins writes this:
Agape, or selfless altruism, presents a major challenge for the evolutionist. It is quite frankly a scandal to reductionist reasoning. It cannot be accounted for by the drive of the individual selfish genes to perpetuate themselves. Quite the contrary: It may lead humans to make sacrifices that lead to great personal suffering, injury, or death, without any evidence of benefit. And yet, if we carefully examine that inner voice we sometimes call conscience, the motivation to practice this kind of love exists within all of us, despite our frequent efforts to ignore it.
He goes on to dismiss evolutionary explanations for the conscience on the basis that sacrificing oneself denies one the privilege of furthering the individual's direct genetic line. It is not advantageous, evolutionarily speaking, for a person to die for an altruistic cause, so therefore the conscience that we have must be inexplicable in biologic terms. He refutes an example of worker ants sacrificing themselves in order to protect the queen because all ants from a colony carry the same exact genetic code, meaning that the worker ant is somehow involved, indirectly, in the propagation of its genes.

This is a weak argument.

Attempts to explain human altrusim in terms of evolutionary behavior that has a single individual's desire to reproduce will definitely seem strained. Many altruistic soldiers lay dead on the field of battle, cut down in the prime of their lives, no children, no contribution to the gene pool. The high death rate among altruists would seem to prevent altruism from developing as a beneficial, evolutionary trait.

On the other hand, many of the traits that humans possess, supposedly as a result of evolutionary selection, would seem to me to be directly related to a sense of altruism. Certain genes have a trickle-down effect and cause changes in the next generation, not only in one area, but in multiple areas at the same time. One example that comes to mind is the experiment done with silver foxes in Russia in which, by selecting for tameness and breeding only the foxes that seemed least fearful of and less aggressive towards humans, the experimenters wound up creating animals that were more like proto-dogs. Not only did the successive generations become more and more tame, but the coloring of their coats changed, they acquired the ability to make dog-like noises, their tails changed. In short, one selective pressure had a domino effect on their physical and social characteristics.

Isn't it possible that any number of evolutionary steps could have given humanity a radically different social and mental orientation?

One of humanity's unique cognitive traits is the ability to imagine: the ability to imagine the future, the ability to imagine what might have happened in the past if things were done differently, the ability to imagine what it would be like to be someone else, or what it would be like to experience what other people experience. It is the human imagination that allows planning and mental leaps of understanding and gives us an evolutionary advantage over other animals.

Because we have this imagination and are more prone to thinking beyond the simple individual urge to procreate, it would only be natural for humans to be altruistic when it came to the survival of their species as a whole. Humans are altruistic because they are socially tied to other humans and have the ability to see beyond themselves as individuals and to imagine the negative consequences for survival of not being altruistic.

We can recognize the value of altruism even as many altruists die. Because we can perceive how the sacrifice of one can save the many, we mentally reinforce the value within ourselves. Not all altruists die, either, and those who do may do so after already reproducing.

Also, we are the only species that has the ability to purposely direct our own evolution. At this point, purely biological/"survival of the fittest" evolution is a thing of the past for us. We influence our own biologic make-up, for good or ill, all the time.

We are more like those worker ants than we care to admit.

Does this do away with Moral Law? If we assume that conscience is the result of highly developed, constantly selected, evolutionary traits does that mean Moral Law has no merit?

I don't think that it does, necessarily. I do, however, think that it changes shape.

That's up next.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

John's Gospel Demonless?

Just jotting a quick note to myself.

After the conversation with James on one of my posts where I mentioned not really believing in "spirits", I said that I should check out how each gospel portrays the activity of the demonic in the ministry of Jesus. I wondered if there was a difference between how the individual gospel writers portrayed demons and what they did and didn't do....and what Jesus claimed they were responsible for.

I haven't thoroughly checked all of the gospels or made any in-depth readings on the subject at this point, but in a quick word search for "demons" or "unclean spirit", and simply "spirit" I couldn't find one verse in the Gospel of John that refers to demons, or spirits....they're completely absent from the Jesus story.

The only time demons are brought up is when the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being possessed.

This strikes me as quite strange. I have read all of the gospels many, many times and never did I notice this before.

Anyone out there know of any resources that address this?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Importance of Being Wrong

In my last post, I emphasized that humanity must be able to objectively look at the world around it and piece together some basic truths about how the world works. We can't live in a veiled universe that refuses to let us access it; which is not to say that it is possible to know everything.

On the other hand, people are wired to see what they want to see. Many people only read books, or listen to speakers, or pundits, or politicians who already agree with their own preconceived ideas. When we do that, it makes us confident that we have a grounding for our particular pet ideas. Consensus, especially within a group of people whom we admire, makes us secure in our own positions.

"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
--Oscar Wilde

I wish that quote wasn't true....but it is. When we find someone who can communicate ideas effectively and is charismatic, who appeals to our own emotions and intellect, who speaks and we simultaneously nod our heads, that person can pass on their ideas in a rapid way throughout a community of similarly oriented people. If one trolls the internet long enough, you'll see this in every quarter of it. There are a few wave-makers who write opinion pieces who are then quoted and linked to by hundreds and thousands of other people. You can go from site to site and read the posts and comments, in whatever niche of the internet which you are exploring, and you will inevitably hear the same ideas, talking points, even identical phrases used over and over again.

If it's the lefty blogs, there will always be someone referencing Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck as troglodytes, or tearing them apart. If it's the right-y blogs, Obama will surely be called a Kenyan Socialist trying to destroy the country with Obamacare. Every. Single. Time.

Perhaps this has been made worse by the sheer ease of transmitting ideas through the internet. Anyone, anywhere has access to almost any site. The opinions of a few can easily be disseminated and easily be repeated. For better or worse, the internet can operate as a Hive Mind, communicating with all the worker bees without even consciously trying to.

Keeping that in mind, and seeing the evidence all around us that people have a difficult time stepping outside of their own subjective, conceptual worlds, then wouldn't it be true to say that people, in general, are not objective, that we truly are blinded to opposing views and reality in some ways? Or that we are easily led and influenced?

Yes. That is true. The difference is that there is hope that we can overcome that subjectivity, that with enough information, and exposure and experimentation, we can learn a few things and maybe even change our minds.

I have personally come to suspect that the only way to begin trying to be more objective is to be completely wrong about something; wrong in an area that you never questioned, wrong in a way that you wouldn't have predicted, wrong in a significant way. Of course, being wrong isn't enough. You have to experience and recognize that wrongness for it to do any good.

"It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."
--GK Chesterton

When you have the experience of realizing that you were flat-out wrong about an issue, or a person, or your own chosen actions you have a transformative moment....or you should have a transformative moment! ;-)

This is what is called repentance--recognizing your own proclivities for sin, or bad choices, or pride, or misunderstanding. People who understand the depths of their own failures and limitations are people who can excuse the same in others. People who never consider how similar they are to their foes are people who will never be objective.

These are two cornerstone concepts in Christianity; repentance and empathy.

Repentance provides a way of orienting yourself in relation to yourself and God and others and empathy is a way of recognizing that everyone else is in the same boat.

Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us....

With the measure you use, it will be measured to you...

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy...

Identifying our own blind spots allows us to try to work around them, and knowing that we have them brings us a step closer to a type of objectivity.

In order to spiritually mature, we have to be willing to admit defeat, admit the possibility that we can be wrong.

If we can do that in our relationships with the help of our religious beliefs, then we should be able to do it politically and scientifically. When the world proves out pet ideas wrong, the correct response is not to fight harder against the possibility but to simply admit that we were wrong and try a different way.

My point is not that we need to repent, repent, repent. My point is that Christianity has an expectation that we should be able to see the world around us and incorporate new information to further our understanding. The criticisms aimed at the Pharisees and Saducees in the gospels frequently revolved around their inability to let go of particular views and be open to what they saw around them.

The principle is still solid. It isn't enough for us to know what we think and why and be able to explain it. It is a necessary aspect of life that we need to to be able to re-evaluate our stances in light of what we see and experience.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Answering AVI on Evolution and Belief

I took the time to go back and re-read the posts and comments that AVI asked me about last week. I was actually surprised because I thought I was going to cringe while I re-read my comments. I assumed that my thoughts were going to be radically different than they currently are.

They weren't...not really. In fact, you can see what I was struggling with even then, almost 3 and 1/2 years ago. I realized the implications of certain propositional beliefs and where they might eventually lead in terms of my evangelical version of Christianity.

So...what has changed?

I think the most fundamental change in me has been an epistemological shift. What I was wrestling with in my comments on those posts was, by and large, directly related to how I viewed Scripture. Even though I was never a complete, credulous literalist, and I understood that many things in Scripture were figurative, I still fundamentally believed that Scripture was divinely inspired and a reflection of God's revelatory interaction with humans. I acknowledged intellectually that the Bible had "errors" but saw those as insignificant in the grand themes of Scripture. I still took Scripture very seriously and was looking for a way to hold on to it and also be honest about what science had to say.

I wish that I could say that after 3 years I have figured out how all of this fits together, but I can't. I still have the same thoughts, although I have moved considerably to the theological left in my attempt to reconcile a semblance faith and belief with an acknowledgement with the facts on the ground...otherwise known as "reality".

Any belief system that requires people to look hard evidence in the eye and deny it for the sake of epistemological certainty is fundamentally lacking integrity. If something is true, then it must be true in more than the realm of personal belief. It must, at least in part, show up in reality occasionally....maybe not every day, maybe not dramatically...but it must be present enough that it doesn't require only faith to exist.

Many conservative Christians would decry that assertion, such as Al Mohler did in his recent essay that wound its way through the religious and evolutionary blogosphere with this quote coming to the forefront:
As I have stated repeatedly, I accept without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old. Armed with naturalistic assumptions, I would almost assuredly come to the same conclusions as BioLogos and the evolutionary establishment, or I would at least find evolutionary arguments credible. But the most basic issue is, and has always been, that of worldview and basic presuppositions. The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions. Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions. There is absolutely no reason that a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumptions of evolution. In fact, given a plain reading of Scripture, there is every reason that Christians should reject a uniformitarian presupposition. The Bible itself offers a very different understanding of natural phenomena, with explanations that should be compelling to believers. In sum, there is every reason for Christians to view the appearance of the cosmos as graphic evidence of the ravages of sin and the catastrophic nature of God’s judgment upon sin. [emphasis mine]

Ultimately, Mohler--a significant voice in conservative, evangelical Christianity--rejects evolution purely on an epistemological commitment to the Bible as the last word on all matters. If observable reality contradicts his interpretation of the Bible, or impinges on a dearly held theological view, then he makes the choice to reject that reality, or come up with scenarios in which "observable" reality isn't "actual" reality.

He safely insulates himself with those prior commitments. Reject observable data because it undermines the Bible and its theology on the basis that the Bible, in Mohler's view, goes against observable data. And we know we can prioritize what the Bible says because the Bible tells us we should.

It's like the telling question asked by the man caught in the act of infidelity, trying to defend himself:

"Who are you going to, or your own lying eyes?!"

The truth is that the worldview that Mohler espouses, by its very definition, must be predicated on the supernatural. Yet, it isn't just run-of-the-mill supernaturalism--the idea that there is something more than the material world that we see and understand--it is a supernaturalism which includes the concepts of supernatural evil and the impossibility of trusting one's own, or any human's, opinion on the matter. In a cosmos populated by Satan and demons, and man's own inability to know the truth, hard-core scientists and naturalists are the devil's pawns, leading the masses away from the true knowledge of God and reality.

There is no amount of arguing that can convince a person who is committed to this particular combination of propositions that they might be wrong. It's a trifecta; supernaturalism, active, unseen forces purposely trying to deceive us, and our own moral and intellectual deficiencies preventing us from being objective. At any point in which you might make some headway, one of these propositions will pop up and undermine any progress towards accepting anything other than what that person believes is Divine revelation.

If any one of those propositions are removed, then there is the possibility of beginning to accept scientific theories on evolution, or any number of things. A world in which supernatural beings aren't trying to mislead us at least gives us the chance to think things through without manipulative interference. A world in which humans can objectively, to the best of their ability, evaluate evidence and think theories through, is a world in which we can trust much of what we learn. We wouldn't second-guess every motivation in this search for truth, wondering if we're simply looking for the easy way out, or the theory that makes us feel more in control of our world. A world in which supernaturalism is absent is a world in which all we have is the attempt to understand the world around us, even if we are bound to viewing things through strictly human eyes which may misunderstand the world. Even if we have humans with prior epistemological commitments who purposely try to manipulate, or deceive others, we have the possibility of overcoming that as an obstacle.

Having enumerated a few of the obstacles to a conservative, evangelical acceptance of evolution, I will admit that the beginning of changing my mind about these things was in the dropping of two of the three propositions of the trifecta. I rejected the idea that Satan, or demons, had any sway at all in the visible world around me. Having been exposed to many instances of people trying to identify the "demonic" it became clear to me that every instance I encountered was simply psychological manipulation and suggestion. And most of the things that my fellow believers listed as the devil's schemes, or demonic activity, were simply instances of bad luck, or misunderstood mental states. I never once saw or heard of anything that was remotely "demonic".

The fodder for "spiritual warfare" ideas were almost always attributed to what can only be called Christian urban legends.....or unbalanced people trying to sell books or get paid to speak at church events. So...I stopped even considering evil, spiritual forces as something I needed to take seriously. At the time, I probably wouldn't have worded that quite so strongly. I would simply not dwell upon it or worry about it. After all, if there really were evil forces trying to manipulate my thinking, then what hope would I have that I could ever accurately identify them anyway. By very definition they were unobservable and more powerful than me.

Next to be eliminated from the trifecta was the idea that it was impossible to objectively know things. I rejected this because if we can't objectively know things, then life is utterly absurd and meaningless. At any point something which we think might be "good", could be displeasing to God, or very "bad". And how would we know the difference? The conservative answer is that God would reveal it to us. Yet, how can we trust what it is that we think God is revealing to us if we are hopelessly unable to know things objectively?

We can't. When Christians put forth this argument they are sowing the seeds of their own epistemological undoing. If you can't trust yourself, or humanity, you can't trust anything. Our own striving to understand is all that we have. Take that away and you have no way forward in faith, or science.

More later....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Redaction and Control

I have changed quite a bit over the years. Maybe I haven't changed, but what I think about things has changed...drastically in some areas. This is something of which I am constantly aware.

Assistant Village Idiot/AVI, while posting some of his older posts from previous years, which I happened to have commented on, realized that they provided a history of my thoughts.
He writes:
I hadn’t realized that one of the functions of my "Best of” series is to trace the development of terri’s thought. Almost four years later, terri, where do you stand on these two related posts now?
Great. The internets are in my head! ;-)

I won't answer AVI's question in this post, because I would rather spend some time thinking about it and how I will reply, but I will address a topic related to the question; self-redaction.

People change. Their opinions change. Their confidence level changes.

As they change, the need to overturn previous ideas and reformulate their identity comes to the forefront. Normally, this is not a public transformation. People familiar with "the changer" may decide that they no longer have anything in common with them. They may slowly pull away, or "the changer" may naturally drift in a different direction. It usually is not an event that is documented, or perhaps even understood by the people around them, except for maybe their closest relationships.

That is not the current case for anyone who blogs, or for anyone who has any sort of public life, or public stance. Now, anything you have written, or spoken out loud is recorded somewhere, whether it's in the basement archive of the internet, or posted as a video on youtube, or distributed through Facebook profiles. The amount of readily available information on any person who has had any online presence, no matter how minuscule, is staggering.

The only comfort is that there is so much information online that only people who are actively trying to find you, and information about you, will come across the outline of your life.

So, try not to attract stalkers! ;-)

What should bloggers do when they change? I have known some who actively go back and delete previous posts, either out of embarrassment, or a desire to present their current persona as unified.

I have purposely resisted that urge. If I started going through my archives, deleting posts that I wrote and no longer agree with 100%, I would see it as a kind of cannibalism and the worst type of self-deceit. I have the luxury of feeling that way because my blog and readership are pretty small, and I don't plan on running for public office any time soon. I can afford to leave my life and thoughts up, warts and all.

On the other hand, I have severely limited the personal topics which I write about. Only when I need to vent my spleen, do I venture into that territory. I have censored myself because I realize that it is only a matter of time before my blog will be found by someone, somewhere who I know and interact with in real life.

As such, I don't want to write things that I would regret. I also am very aware that as my children grow older and more cognizant of "the blog" that at some future point they will probably read through it. I used to pore over my mother's high school year book and read all of the notes that people wrote in it. It was interesting to think of my mother as a separate person and to peer into her high school relationships in such an innocuous way.

Considering that nothing ever truly disappears on the internet, I choose much more cautiously the things which I write about my experience of motherhood and my relationships with my children. I am always aware that my kids may choose to bore themselves to death, at some point in the future, by reading what I write here.

When I first started blogging, I thought that I was going to be a "mommy blogger" writing posts about the battle of parenthood and how my kids were driving me crazy. I definitely have some of those posts, but I soon realized that I didn't want to write about my daily existence as a mom. That was my 24-7 real life.

I much more enjoyed, and do enjoy, writing about things that had/have little to do with what I spend most of my time doing, managing a family. I know that what I do is important, but I need a slice of myself to not be determined by that role.

I am more than a mom and wife, so I write about everything else that interests me.

About once a month, I have a desperate urge to wipe this blog just stop erase as much of my online existence as I can. This usually happens when I have an uptick in traffic.

When someone links to me and actually takes anything I said seriously, it startles me. I want to shrink back and withdraw and ask,"You're listening to me? Really? Are you sure you want to do that?" Because even though I am narcissistic, in the way that all regular bloggers must be in order to think that anyone cares what they have to say in the first place, I am also uncomfortable with being scrutinized. I like to be in control of who knows me and how well they know me. I like to have a sense for who's reading and why and what the likely reaction will be.

The longer I blog, the more open I leave myself to being mentally dissected by anyone who chooses to spend the time dissecting me. My safety lies in the fact that most people are not all that interested in the task. So...Yay for that!

Even though I have the urges to delete and redact and be in control of my online persona, I resist that urge because I think that it's bad for me to give in to it. Keeping the ugly parts, and the not-so-coherent parts, and the parts I would rather forget, and the earnest, innocent parts is important. It causes me, most of the time, to speak/write with some humility...because I am sure that somewhere, someone could find something I wrote and throw it right back at me. At least in keeping all of what I have written, it's possible to trace where I started and how I got there.

When we essentially erase our history and rewrite a better, more pleasing(to ourselves) version of it we lose touch with reality and present a reality that doesn't quite adhere to itself. We put forth a history which isn't true or least in the sense of "history".

Unfortunately, the common impulse is to do just that. History is replete with empires and religions and movements which have, upon coming into power, tried to erase all mention of previous empires, religions, and movements.

I think of the biography I read about Henry the VIII's wives, and how when he moved on to a new wife, he would try to erase any mention of the old one. One, in particular, had been so thoroughly erased that there was only one spot in the royal house which had her initials, an overlooked artifact that had been missed in the "cleansing" of her memory.

Self-redaction is a mild form of self-destruction and denial.

I am trying to look at myself unflinchingly...though I do sometimes flinch at the sight of myself and what the changing appearance means for me. Yet....I won't completely break the mirror and pretend that I don't see myself for who I am and where I came from.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Puppets For the Win!!

My gainful employment consists of performing a Bunraku-style puppet show for 4th graders at a different elementary school each day.

My job is a strange mixture of performance, improv, and public speaking. Most of the time it is a lot of fun, especially during the Q and A session in which the kids get to ask the puppets questions, or offer solutions to them, directly. You never know what a kid is going to say and you have to find funny, entertaining, affirming ways to acknowledge them while also directing the conversation where you want it to go.

To the kids...I am a rock star. To adults, it's slightly embarrassing to list my occupation as Puppeteer. However, the laughter I can elicit from a bunch of fourth-graders is a boost to my self-esteem even though I have a very low-paying, low-prestige kind of job.

While driving through downtown Tampa on my way to a show, I saw this guy walk through the busy traffic in front of me:

I had spotted a fellow puppeteer! In public! Unashamed!

He walked across the intersection and was gone before I could really get a good listen to what he was saying. He held his puppet in front of him, speaking with it, and had a huge sign strapped to his back that seemed to reference God. All I could read from my vantage point was So, intrigued by a street preacher with both a puppet and a website, when I got home later that day, I tried to look up the website. It didn't exist, but I found tons of hits and a few youtube videos about Poor Penny Carson.(that link has a brief video in which Carson explains himself)

From everything I could gather, Poor Penny Carson and his puppet, Sweetpea Johnson, have been doing this for years...preaching about God and the end of the world, throughout Georgia and Florida for the last few years.

Even the "end of the world" is appealing when you talk about it through a puppet, right? ;-)

On the serious side, I wondered how Penny Carson has managed to survive all these years doing this and how he provides for himself and if he has any relatives who wonder where he's at and what he's doing and how he's doing.

It's alternatively funny, sad, and worrisome to think about a guy spending his whole life doing this.

On a happier note...Puppets + Queen = Awesome!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Tower of Babel and Heaven's Staircase

Last week was the first week that I ever told my children that a story in the Bible wasn't true, in the sense of historical, literal fact.

We were actually on the way to church and DH was trying to see if they noticed that one of their Yu-Gi-Oh card references, which was a power called babel, was actually a biblical reference. The power of the particular game card caused confusion for your opponent.
Genesis 11:1-9
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were
building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel--because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Eventually, we had to make the connection to the Tower of Babel for them, at which point they said, "Oh....yeah!" Reminding them of the story led them to speculate about what the first, original language was

This was when I broached the idea that some stories are meant to explain ideas and may not be literally true....that there may never have been one original language, but that the story was a way to explain the world as the writer saw it.

What's funny is that, by complete coincidence, DoOrDoNot has a post up about the Tower of Babel right now poking fun at taking it literally. She quotes a parody of "All True Bible Stories for Children". It's funny but also beware that you may be offended by the parodist's parody, not of the text, but of the simpleton attitude portrayed by the literal interpreters of the text.

As a literal story, the Tower of Babel makes no sense to most of us. Why does God care if we cooperate? Why does he want humanity to be confused and separate? Why does he seem afraid of what they might be able to accomplish?

It doesn't make sense. Isn't God the one who wants to live in peace? Isn't God the one who wants us to cooperate within our communities?

Why would he do such a thing? Why would the author of the story cast God in such a light?

The book I am currently reading, Joseph's Bones, by Jerome M. Segal, proposes that God is fearful about man's accomplishments and development of technology; the ability to make bricks and mortar rather than having to rely on stone. They have learned to create things:
...Mankind has an awareness of danger, senses the importance of being unified, and successfully carries out a breakthrough project of technological and social accomplishment.

God experiences the power it represents. He projects it forward, saying that if this is what mankind can do at this early stage, then ultimately nothing, "will be out of their reach." Such a belief is not unlike the belief that if mankind does not blow itself up first, through science, we will will ultimately be able to conquer every constraint.

In the Babel story God expresses a fear of an ever-expanding human capability, a fear of human reach. He envisions that humans will develop powers that will make them godlike, able to achieve whatever they desire.(pg. 88)
I think Segal is right that the story portrays a God fearful of humanity, but I think he gets the motivation slightly wrong. The goal of humanity, in the story, is to build a tower that reaches up to the heavens.

The "heavens" as we think of them today, are simply what we would call stars, or the space filled with the sun, moon and stars. We know what stars are. We have some sense of distance, and matter and the meaning of their movements.

Now imagine a world in which you knew nothing about space, or stars, or celestial phenomena. You would see these incredible lights in the sky, moving predictably for the most part, except for the occasional eclipse, or comet, or meteorite. You wouldn't know what the movements represented, but your culture may have realized that certain heavenly bodies had cycles, like the phases of the moon, or that the sun shone less in winter than it did in summer. You would think that these celestial movements meant something. You might even ascribe personalities to them, or associate them with gods or powerful beings.

Whatever the case, the imagination could populate the heavens with power and beauty that was out of reach, yet somehow also a part of the Earth.

You would have no conception that there were other planets...or even what the word "planet" meant. You wouldn't imagine that there were other "earths" out there with other "suns". The universe was probably a single connected place in your mind.

And the heavens...well they must be where God, or the gods, lived. Because no one ever saw God, or gods, on earth. And....the night sky instilled such wonder in people. Just looking at it can give modern people chills, how much more wondrous did it seem to ancient peoples?


So, assuming that an ancient people believed that "heaven" was where God lived, and that it was a physical location directly above earth, what would it mean for people to build a tower to the heavens?

Could it be that they imagined that they would be able to enter the place where God dwelt? That if the tower was high enough they could knock on his front door?

This conception of God being "up there" wasn't far-fetched in ancient cosmology. When Jacob has a dream/vision at Bethel, he sees angels ascending and descending a "ladder" that reaches from the earth into heaven.

So, when the people decide to build a Tower to heaven, this is a direct threat to God. They will soon be on his doorstep. They will be powerful. They may war against him.

In that context, one in which Heaven is a physical place that could be reached if humanity had the resources to get there, the story of the Tower of Babel makes sense. It is comprehensible. It holds together.

God is keeping humanity from cooperating together in order to prevent a physical intrusion of his dwelling place. He is preventing that in the same way he prevented Adam and Eve from returning to the Garden of Eden, through a physical guard; cherubim and a flaming sword.

If taken in that context, God's move to confuse humanity with different languages and cultures is not arbitrary. He is guarding his home and pre-empting an unwelcome invasion of his space.

The problem that anyone trying to interpret the story literally will have, is that a story which made sense 3,000 years ago, makes no sense today. We know, now, that no matter how high the Tower of Babel became, they were never going to reach Heaven's doorstep....and because we know that, we also know that God would have no reason to fear a million such towers...and because we know that the motivation imputed to God in the story is based on a conception of the world which was based in ancient, incorrect cosmology....the story has lost any sense for us.

This particular story is so reliant upon ancient, cultural context, that to take it literally in our modern times, is to make God an arbitrary trickster. Wouldn't he have gotten a bigger laugh by letting humanity build their towers and discover couldn't reach Him that way?

What's the old proverb?

Man plans, God laughs.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Games and Word Play

I mentioned in my New Year's post that my mother's side of the family always plays games on Christmas Day...once everyone is hopped up on turkey, mashed potatoes and seven-layer salad.

Their favorite game is Guesstures, which is kind of like charades with a time limit. It moves quickly and is fun with large groups of people. It's hilarious watching people trying to act out words or concepts while everyone on their team is shouting out random guesses. It's a lot of fun.

Another game we played at my aunt's house was Buzzword. It consisted of trying to identify particular phrases or sayings that used a particular word. You would receive clues about the phrase which explained the meaning of the phrase, but in a very different, often unnatural way.

One of the games that we got for Christmas was Catchphrase, which is a lot like Password. You can use any words you want to explain what the catchphrase is without actually using any part of it.

So, other than listing a bunch of games that we have played, where am I going with this?

Well, I began to wonder about games throughout history and what made something an entertaining game. Most of the ancient games I know of are strategy based games like chess, checkers, or mancala. There are games which rely on strategy combined with trickery/bluffing, like certain card games..Poker, for example.

While those games are still very popular, I wondered at how different modern games are from those games. So many of the games that we play and know are directly related to language and words, or communicating concepts, or associating what seem like disparate concepts with one another as in the game Tri-Bond, in which you have to discern what the common theme running between three words/ideas is.

It's all very language-based fun.

You don't actually prove yourself in "battle" as much as you show your superior communication skills.

It reflects some sort of a shift in our human priorities.

While we still have sports games, and strategy games, language-based games seem to have commanded a large market share of what we think is fun. And considering that "fun"can usually be a dress rehearsal for real life, it points to an emphasis on the importance of effective communicators, and the admiration we have for someone who is really good at using and mastering communication.

Those are my random thoughts. If anyone knows of ancient language and communication games, leave a comment. I'd like to know if I have grasped something real or am just making stuff up! ;-)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Pew Sitting

Our family has continued to regularly attend the local ELCA(Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregation in our area, and I must say that I have felt more comfortable at this particular church than I have in years. I say that with some trepidation, afraid that I might "break the spell" and suddenly reverse my opinion on the matter.

I've tried to analyze what it is about this church that makes me feel welcome, or slightly relieved, when I walk through the doors. I'm not sure that I can completely quantify how I feel, but I'll try.

Lack of politics mentioned in the service/sermon: Neither conservative, nor liberal slants have seemed to surface in the actual services. I'm sure that doesn't mean that the congregants don't have opinions, but they remain just that...opinions held by people attending the church, not opinions held forth as truth from the pulpit.

The service is liturgical, but with contemporary music....which is contemporary while also being simultaneously reverential, as opposed to full-on rock band mode that I've been used to in non-denominational, evangelical churches. This has been good for the kids, because they have known several of the worship songs and it has eased them into this different type of a service.

There is also a lot of singing.

Typical evangelical churches have a strict 3-4 song structure to the service: Welcoming song, announcements, worship song, sermon, closing song. There may be a "special" song thrown in there by a vocalist or group. But, the actual singing by the congregation is frequently broken up, or made difficult by churches using music which is not meant to be sung by large groups of people....making half of the congregation unable to participate because the key is too high. Male, tenor, worship leaders are notorious for this. They pick the songs they like, which show off their range but which also exclude everyone who isn't a tenor or soprano from doing a halfway decent job singing along.

The worship leader at this church has done a good job of picking songs that are meaningful and using them in the appropriate key for congregational singing.

So...right off the bat...the church does several things that appeal to me emotionally. That probably seems superficial, but I don't care. ;-)

Most importantly, I think one of the main reasons I like the church is the way that following a liturgy nips certain practices in the bud. Because communion is the climax of each service, the altar is always reserved for the bread and wine. The worship leader and musicians are off to the side, instead of occupying the space as a stage. There are also no "specials". Everything in the service is directly tied to congregational participation. After the Scripture reading, the congregation replies with "Thanks be to God". After the pastor says "Peace be with you" the congregation says "and also with you." If there is a prayer the congregation responds with an "amen".

The creed is sung together and the Lord's Prayer is sung with the congregation holding hands, and with a nice musical arrangement.

Aesthetically speaking, it appeals to me.

The pastor does brief sermons, but he does them well and is generally a good speaker. His points are always relevant to the text and generally encouraging, even while exhorting people to be more faithful in their relationship with God.

Every time I leave the service, I leave feeling more uplifted than when I went in. Every time I leave the service I have some hope that I will be able to maintain my faith matter how bleak my heart might feel before the service.

At this point, I am forcing myself to attend church, hoping against hope that I will find a way forward, while also knowing that there is no returning to certain paths for me. And, at this particular church, "forcing" myself has been easy. I don't feel pressured. I don't feel as if I am surrounded by people waiting to dissect my thoughts and show disapproval.

On the other hand, we haven't made any real effort to dig deeper into the church. I'm not even sure if I am capable of it right now. I can't teach Sunday School as I used to because I can't teach the Bible stories with the credulity that most churches would want. A literary, critical, anthropological approach isn't going to fly with the elementary students...or even most adults.

Being honest that it is easier for me to state the things I don't believe rather than the things I do believe would be another obstacle for me.

Every Sunday in which we attend, we participate in communion, except for our children. Coming from a Baptist background, infant baptism was something we didn't believe in or practice. In this Lutheran church baptism is required to participate in communion, and also a brief class or two is taken by children before their first communion. Our children haven't been baptized and when they walk up with us to receive communion, they instead receive a "blessing", which is a quick prayer said over them. I know the pastor is always perplexed when we show up and tell him to "bless" the children who are much older than the usual first communicants, but we haven't actually spoken with him.

Today, as we approached the altar he reached for the communion wafer and I had to explain that the children weren't baptized. He replied, "Well, we should probably talk about that." He said it with a smile, not in a particularly stern way. I simply answered that it was a long story.

Truthfully DH and I have talked about wanting to speak with the pastor about many things, but we have always been busy or hesitant.

Honestly I am slightly afraid to have the conversation that I need to have. Afraid that revealing all of my doubts will not be met with understanding and compassion, but disapproval and trite answers.

How do I tell a pastor, "I may not believe half of what you do, but I still like coming here."? How do I reveal that I am agnostic about many things of which I used to be so certain, and I am OK with that?

And if this revelation of my inner thoughts is met with rejection...then where do I go?

Most of what I think, I keep to myself. I don't want to disturb the faith of others. I don't desire to cause anyone to go through what I am going through.

I also won't stay at this church, or any other church, under false pretenses. When we have a conversation with the pastor, it will be with brutal honesty from me. If that means that I simply attend and never participate in any leadership position...then that is what it will be. If even that is untenable....then I guess that I will be on my own, though that isn't what I want.

Entitlement and Women's Work

A couple of weeks before Christmas I participated in some troll-baiting at Assistant Village Idiot's blog. One of the links he put up led to an article in which a blogger, towards the end of a post on various topics, declared that 70-80% of entitlement spending programs, like Social Security and Medicare, are simply transfers of wealth from men to women.

Men pay into the system, women reap the benefits.

I made some mild comment about the post needing a warning label that certain people's heads(mine, in particular) might explode upon reading such a post. That was all an anonymous commenter and aforementioned troll needed to begin personally insulting me. And, knowing from the outset the type of person I was dealing with, I engaged in some rhetorical, obnoxious troll-baiting. At times, I tried to comment fairly and seriously....but, as anyone who's been using the internet for more than 20 minutes can tell you, it was all for naught.

It's impossible to talk reasonably with unreasonable people.

I won't go into the entire discussion because I tediously repeated my points ad nauseum already on AVI's post.

However, the discussion did spark some more reflections on the nature of the relationship between men, women and finances.

My troll conversation partner stated that most wealth belonged to men. I asked how those men's wives and daughters would feel about such a statement, and he, in the midst of other things, glancingly referred to the sense of entitlement that my comment implied.

I had to think about that for a minute. Do I feel that women are entitled to the wealth their male partners produce? In today's day and age, many women work and have their own assets. They are not necessarily beholden to men for their financial well-being.

On the other hand, a woman like me, who has stayed home for many years raising children , or worked part-time in order to facilitate the family's needs and provide stability and a constant parental presence in the home, depends greatly on her husband to provide for her and the family.

When DH and I had children we had already decided that I was going to stay home in order to take care of them. This was a mutual decision. At first it was very uncomfortable for me. I was used to paying my own way for things and contributing financially to our marriage/family. I paid my own way through college, bought my own car as a teenager, and had been providing for myself since high school. Learning to be financially dependent upon someone else was disconcerting to me.

And it showed. I felt very constrained about spending money. DH and I are not big spenders anyway, but I still felt self-conscious, at first, about buying a new shirt, or a pair of jeans, or a book at the bookstore. In the beginning it felt as if all the money was DH's money and I was some hanger-on asking, "Please, sir...can I have some more?"

DH never made me feel this was just how I felt because of not feeling as if I had any control over the situation and thinking that I wasn't making a real contribution to the family.

I knew that what I was doing was important, but I hadn't yet realized my worth.

I no longer worry about those types of things. When you have been married for a good length of time and have raised your children together and been through family and health crises realize that marriage and family is all about partnership, working together to build something of value.

In the midst of this partnership you come to the realization that "equality" does not mean that at any particular point in time in a relationship that both parties have completely equal burdens and responsibilities and benefits. There is no such thing as a 50-50 relationship. Life precludes it. Many times it is an 80-20 relationship, or a 0-100 relationship. The hope is that those times of inequality flip-flop and the partner who has formerly contributed "more" will be on the receiving end.

To be comfortable with the inevitable inequalities in relationships, you have to trust the person with whom you are in partnership. They have to be reliable and responsible and aiming for the same goal, one that is larger than one person's particular satisfaction. In the context of such a relationship, "mine" and "yours" fades away. There is only "ours" or "the family's".

In that vein...I do feel "entitled"(though that word has negative connotations for me) to my "husband's" wealth...because I don't see it as his. We are working together. He brings in the most money....I provide our family a maternal glue that holds us together. The loss of either of us would devastate our family.....financially and emotionally.

When my husband gives up "his" wealth and I give up "my" opportunities to get my own wealth, we all benefit.

Dying to self, in the service of something greater than oneself, inevitably brings oneself something even better.

Self-sacrifice is ultimately a good way.

maybe more on this later....

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!!

Trying to expose our children to new, exotic experiences, we drug the family up to Illinois for an extended family Christmas and the children's first sighting of some strange white powder that the natives call "snow".

Our little Florida Corolla Before the Christmas Eve Blizzard:

And After:

The Rationalist desperately worked to make a snowman, but the snow wasn't quite wet enough and Frosty was only about 12 inches high

A good first attempt.

The Intuitive tried catching snowflakes on his tongue.

We all prepared for the snowball battle...except for DH who was being the camera man.

We had great fun and the boys spent hours freezing their fingers off playing in the snow. However, The Intuitive suddenly changed his tune about wanting to move to Canada when he's older. After a week of temperatures in the teens and twenties, he's decided that he might stick around Florida after all.

Besides the first sighting of snow, the boys were able to meet many of their cousins and great-aunts and uncles for the very first time and take part in the giant family gathering that happens every year at Christmas. They pack about 75 people into my aunt's house and fill it with food and general revelry...and serious board and card game competitions.

I spent almost every Christmas in the same way when I was growing up.

Later in the week we traveled up to Chicago and took the boys to the Field Museum of Natural History, where they house Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever excavated.
They weren't as impressed with the Egyptian mummies as I thought they would be. Those always fascinated me when I was their age. They enjoyed the meteorite exhibit and the gold and gem exhibits, but the 3D movie about Sue was probably their favorite part.

After the museum closed, we met my youngest brother near his tiny apartment in Chinatown and took him out for dinner. He's 22 now and noticeably more mature than the last time we saw him a few years ago. He's got a good job, some career goals and surprised us with gift cards for Christmas.

Even former selfish, surly teenagers grow up to be decent people!!

I told him that I was proud of him, and I think it meant a lot to him.

We had a really good visit with my mother, and as we left The Rationalist said that he felt sad that we were leaving Grandma Jan's.

Other than the colds that we were all fighting during our visit, there were nothing but positive experiences. No family drama. No grumpy children. No car problems.

A Norman Rockwell tableau if ever there was one.

It's funny how you never know when those will occur. You can never summon them at will. They just magically emerge for a few moments to be enjoyed and make fond memories to return to again and again.