Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Feel the Pain

There are parts, facets, tasks in life that a person must do to keep alive, which applies to the saying that some people die at the age of twenty five and are buried at seventy five. I think it was Ben Franklin. I ask myself, why do I avoid those things over and over?

During my senior year of college, I came to the conclusion that I needed three things to happen in order to have a good day: prayer, reading, and exercise. If I had those three, then all was well. That list has changed since then because I'd add something like writing onto that reading line, but for the most part it's who I am, which lately has come with a happy acceptance of that reality. I am who I am. Sure, there are sins that keep me from those higher, truer parts of myself, but it's all there waiting to be redeemed. A nice thought for sure.

This brings me back to the five day absence of writing on this blog. What's the trouble, just post something and be done with it. The trouble, the horrible horrible, troubling trouble is that those important things, those things that make me feel alive- because that's what I was really saying when I said they are required for a good day- are the individual and unique things I do. They are the special gifts- without the modern obsession with contribution, efficiency, and all that other garbage that kills pure, budding talent- in all of us that many never realize. It's all simple and pure when looked at from the outside, someone else that is, someone else's life. There they are, you said it, just follow through with what you said.

But where does the apprehension come from?

The quick answer is sin. The long answer is fear of that being abused or hurt, or feeling some kind of pain due to my exposure to reality, which all of those activities do. Yes, believe or not, we are creatures who do not like pain, even if it's good for us, and by good for us I mean actually there, true, whatever you want to call that. It is.

I run from prayer, I run from writing and reading, I run from exercise (though this one is the hardest to fit into that category of causing pain, though it is pain in a strictly physical sense), but they all are life giving. Insane. How do I ingrain these practices in my life?

Cardinal Newman said one difference between the true Christian and the false one is the first keeps God's law when it is simply that, God's law. There is no other benefit to obeying other than God said it.

The truth is some things in life are good and not easy to attain in the least.

What's the thing you're avoiding?

Btw, sorry for the pause in entries, whoever it is out there in cyberland that reads these things.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Insightful with a laugh.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review of "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

I heard of this book from a famous homosexual, celibate, elderly, Catholic blogger, a woman, and thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of it before, so I ran with no previous thoughts on the book, which can have its advantages.

The story is of a small, elite group of undergraduates studying ancient Greek at a private university in Vermont with a professor who takes no salary because he’s independently wealthy. The book, though promising to be about ancient Greek philosophy and all its mysteries, did not live up to my initial expectations, as small as they were. What could’ve been a nice undercurrent through the novel ends up being a group of touch points that serve as catchphrases between the characters and gives them a false sense of superiority over everyone else, which in reality they are a group of immoral, cold, drunken, kids who think they have a lot of the world figured out when in fact they know very little. There is a sense of wisdom to the group that does distinguish them from most undergraduates, yet for most of the novel they seem nearly indistinguishable from the generic brand, highly intelligent private college student. However, they do try to understand and live out the principles they see in the works they study, which does deserve notice. Nonetheless, the layout of the story makes for an oil and water mixture between ancient cultures and the modern world, which doesn’t make sense to them, much less to everyone else.

Also, it’s unfortunate that so many novels rely on murder and suicide to create drama in a plot. However, I could use the same criticism on Shakespeare- because we all know there’s plenty of murder and suicide in his plays- which makes the case for using it well. Sure, we’ll have a murder here or there and we’ll make it exciting as the characters lie or plot to find the killer, but when so much is centered around it, I don’t know what to say. This novel made it clear to me how much death we see in stories human’s tell, and how hard it is to work around that base to create something memorable. It doesn’t work here.

The strong points of the novel are the characters Henry, Julian, and the twins Charles and Camilla. Tartt does a good job creating the icy disposition of Julian, and Henry’s ignorant, falsely secured, and blind admiration for the man. He is presented as a desirable man with a fresh perspective on the world, rooted in ancient literature, but like pagan philosophy, there is a dark side, an emptiness and hopelessness that hides behind an overly cerebral view of the self and others. It’s his type that gives the West such a bad name, along with individualism. Nearly all characters are tragic and doomed from the start, which gives the story a nice Greek tragedy feel to it, but it also never lightens up. As a result, the read was exhausting.

Overall, the promises to be revealed, that seem telegraphed when written, don’t pay off to a satisfactory reading experience. The Vermont setting and the dreary, drunken college life of the central characters gets tiresome and the numbness of being drunk makes the story lukewarm.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What the Hell?

After my former blogpost on preaching about hell, I’ve been thinking I might start a whole series on the subject. I mean, why not, huh? There’s no reason we should let fundamentalist Protestants and pop culture take the podium on the issue. Besides, it’d be a refreshing turn after spending so much time at Perkins hearing the arguments for universalism and those whole hold that view burn the straw men that hold the opposing view.

It’s unfortunate and disturbing to find how many Christians get their ideas of hell and heaven from pop culture. More specifically, how Looney Tunes has influenced this. Think of how many times we’ve seen characters die and turn into angels with wings and a harp, or how many times, as comical as it is, Satan is depicted as a red guy with horns, a goatee, a pitchfork, and a tail with the spade at the end. The only accurate part of that would be the goatee since it’s true that not every person with a goatee is evil, but every evil person (females excluded) has a goatee. This seems obvious when heavy thought is given to the subject.

For my second foray into hell I’d like to point out three things:

“Hell” is a Northern European word. Yep, the Vikings aka the Norsemen, are the ones who coined the term, which might be a bit different than the way Christians talk about it today. Jesus refers to hell as Gehenna or flames or eternal fire, not hell. “Hell” in fact comes from Nordic mythology, which shows our English language roots influenced by the Vikings. English is a Germanic language even if it’s loaded down with Norman influence. Personally I think our best words come from the Anglo Saxon side of things. Words like: fire, water, cup, cow, dog, television, and entrepreneur.

Depictions of hell are usually heavily based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” which I think is quite a compliment to ol’ Dante in his use of imagery in an epic poem. Needless to say, I highly recommend reading it. The typical image we have when we imagine Satan, usually in a comical sense, comes from this work. I’ll go out on a limb and say this is not what Dante intended when he wrote Inferno, that is it’s not a work to laugh at or take lightly. However I do admit he called it the Divine Comedy. I’ll leave that one alone. And why does everyone talk about the Inferno, the first third of the book, and not the other two. It’s like watching Episode IV of Star Wars and never seeing Luke train and become a jedi. I’ll grant that vice and sin can be more interesting at times, but isn’t that just a call for better marketing on the part of virtue?

Lastly, why do we need to discriminate in our depictions of Satan? I mean, if a person agrees that there is a Satan, why make him out to be male? If Satan is an angel- a fallen one at that- and angels have no sex, then making him a “him” is unfair and discriminatory toward men. I guess you’ll never hear feminist theologians, if they accept the existence of Satan as a independent being and not some archetype in the human psyche- make an uproar over that longheld church tradition. Besides, I think the Great Tempter would be much different if he were depicted as a female, wouldn’t you? For example, compare the movie “Bedazzled” (Liz Hurley) to “Devil’s Advocate” (Al Pacino). And I wouldn’t look too much into the acting abilities of either candidate.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


For my job this summer we use twitter to report what’s happening at the two desks on campus, which I thought gave me a nice opportunity to impart wisdom to my coworkers. The thought first came when I noticed how “on the ball” everyone was the first weekend we had to work, which reminded me of a proverb my grandmother taught me over spring break, “A new broom sweeps clean.” I’d never heard this, and when I did I thought, “How brilliant.”

I went to Catholic school from the second grade all the way to the tenth, and in my exposure to church life, particularly the Bible, I came to have certain things I liked more than others. One was Reconciliation. I love going to Confession, and still do. Is it weird to say that? Am I suppose to loathe it?

Another aspect I came to love was the book of Proverbs. I remember sitting in Religion class and reading each of the proverbs and thinking, “These are absolutely wonderful. I can apply them anywhere.” There is something powerful about this kind of wisdom.

Later in seminary when I took Introduction to the Old Testament, we had a lecture devoted to this book, and I remembered all of a sudden how much I loved this. I think there’s a legitimacy and deep truth in what we’re drawn to as children. I loved wisdom as a kid. Not bad, if I may say so. I still do and not until recently have I thought about what’s going on when someone recites a proverb. Our Old Testament professor said a proverb is simply letting nature teach us. It’s an observation. Notice the one I used earlier.

“A new broom sweeps clean.” Taken literally it’s just a fact. Sure, new brooms sweep clean, but something in our brain connects with our soul and says, “Aha. That’s wise. So true.” Robots would have a tough time picking up on this. Unless those robots have souls, which is something I don’t want to think about.

“A single ant can destroy the whole dam.”

“One bad apple spoils the bunch.”

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

“Even a sheet of paper has two sides.”

And so on.

Aren’t these great? “Even a sheet of paper has two sides.” I love that one.

Well, I decided I’d gather proverbs from cultures all over the world and put one on each report I give on twiiter for work. So a tweet might look like this, “Will at VS desk. All keys present. ‘A fall into a ditch makes you wiser.’” Not only are my coworkers being informed, they’re souls are enriched by the wisdom I’m spreading like fertilizer in a flower garden.

Here are my favorites so far:

From little acorns mighty oaks do grow.

Good fences make good neighbors.

All men are fools, but all fools are not men.

Dream different dreams while on the same bed.

Flies never visit an egg that has no crack.

If you do not study hard when young you'll end up bewailing your failures as you grow up.

An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can't buy that inch of time with an inch of gold.

Like ants eating a bone.

A sly rabbit will have three openings to its den.

No wind, no waves.

Vicious as a tigeress can be, she never eats her own cubs.

You can't catch a cub without going into the tiger's den.

One who chases after two hares won't catch even one.

A merry companion on the road is as good as a nag.

Adversity is the foundation of virtue.

Those who have one foot in the canoe, and one foot in the boat, are going to fall into the river.

Those that lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

There is nothing as eloquent as a rattlesnakes tail.

Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.

Of course, not all of them are observations of nature, they might seem more like statements that place value on certain actions of virtues. Either way, we’d all be a little better off to remember these sayings.

One last point, though, I have to make. These proverbs sometimes seemingly contradict each other, yet both remain true. “Birds of a feather flock together” seems to contradict “Opposites attract,” but something must be said about their application. It’s not as if a person merely makes a comment affirming what they see, it really is true that each might apply in that case. They are still incredibly valuable, and serve as guideposts in making decisions and living. I won’t go as far as to say that when it comes to wisdom it’s all relative and situation specific, which would be false. Hard work and patience are virtues, so are rest and decisiveness. These virtues all imply a kind of moderation, which is at the center of all such wisdom. This kind of morality exists. Love, hope and faith, however, should never be moderate.

Has this kind of wisdom and proverb-sharing fallen to the wayside in our time? Is it needed?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Preaching Hell

For those who aren’t Catholic I’ll let you in on something you may not have thought of, something not well represented in movie versions of this part of Catholicism. It’s that during Confession, if a person goes at least once a month or more, you get to know your priest fairly well, and obviously vice versa. It’s a unique relationship because it’s completely one-sided, similar to psychotherapy. Although I think there are fewer restrictions on how much the priest can divulge to the confessor because I’ve learned quite a bit about the priest I visit. Because of our time together, he’s come to learn my reading habits as well as my theological interests, which inspired him to give me one of the books he just finished reading.

Walter Hilton’s “The Scale of Perfection” is exactly what I needed in where I am spiritually. The short chapters and the focus on holiness and working through my salvation in prayer and other spiritual practices has brought nothing but renewal. The introduction to the book had some interesting points about the style in which the book was written, which emphasized damnation and hell to spur people to take their baptismal vows seriously. This struck me as immediately distasteful due to this approach to preaching and spiritual growth coming under heavy fire in the past fifty years or so, which I suppose has its value. The question is what have we lost in fearing damnation and does it have a place in preaching the Good News?

Here are a few points I’d like to make:

There must be a theology that allows for a person to sin away their baptism in order for this work. Walter Hilton was a 14th century British Augustinian monk preaching renewal to people who were baptized and languishing in spiritual apathy. Languishing would be a compliment, they were numb to it. It worked well for that. But would once saved, always saved (perseverance of the saints) work with this? It could if they assume some people in the church are in fact not saved at all. It’s the old argument that if someone fell away from the church and denounced God and all that business, then they were never in fact saved. It works as a justification for preaching hell to them. Personally, I never understood the purpose of that rhetoric inside a theology that accepts once saved, always saved.

To inspire people to take their spiritual lives seriously, he talked about the consequences and deprivation of what it’s like to be separated from God, which most Christians would agree with at the fundamental level. Sure, God is the source of life, we need Him for salvation. Check. But would Christians today jive with his idea of talking about hell and scaring people into embracing God? I’d imagine many wouldn’t. This is where we get the hippy-style worship of the seventies, the Jesus movement stuff, Buddy Jesus, etc. Also, we have the reactionary approach to evangelism found in the emerging church movement where people may never even mention Jesus when they evangelize. Although St. Francis may have said preach without words, he didn’t rule out the value of words themselves; the guy was a talkative fellow and couldn’t contain expressing his love for God. He preached the Gospel with words.

It implies there’s a hell and damnation. Well, this could be controversial for some- our universalist friends across the river (figuratively speaking)- but it’s worth noting. I preach hell and damnation and separation from God because I believe there is such a place. It could work where a person doesn’t believe in hell and preach this kind of message, but it’d seem weak at best. “Things are not that great, people. Repent and come back to God, but if you don’t it’ll be ok because you’ll be with God whether or not you like it in the end.” For one thing, I believe God will let us be eternally separated from Him if that’s what we want. Regardless, I think there’s value in showing the deprivation (not total deprivation mind you) of separation from God. It’s grim without God, and making that clear has a nice rhetorical and theological effect on people. If it’s true, even better.

I’ll finish this by saying I think great harm has come from preaching this approach and God’s love for us can easily fall to the wayside when this kind of message is preached. When this happens, though, the Gospel isn’t preached, the Good News isn’t given in its fullness. I don’t care what a person is preaching, if they don’t preach God’s love for us as the motive for any action on His part then they’ve missed it.

Also, I’ll say that the objection of bringing people to unnecessary guilt is not valid here. Guilt isn’t inherently a bad thing. Jesus made people feel guilty all the time- the Pharisees are a good example of this, and interestingly the guilt quickly moved to anger- and he used the guilt to bring people to God. Guilt that goes nowhere and immobilizes a person is no good to anyone, that’s not what I’m talking about. Let the healthy guilt that drives a person to become better be the ticket. It’d be nice to have some of that to counter this is self-esteem/self-help.self-actualization obsession we have today that seems to bleed into the Christian spirituality.

I need to wash my hands now. I’ve got all this controversial goo on my fingers after typing this post.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


My gateway into learning of and studying the Eastern Orthodox Church was through reading “Franny and Zooey,” particularly Franny’s encounter with the Jesus Prayer through the classic Russian Orthodox work “Way of a Pilgrim.” A diary left on the doorstep of a monastery in the 19th century, the book is the telling of a lame (he couldn’t use one of his arms and was nearly useless in the peasant culture of 19th century Russia) Russian peasant who learns about the Jesus Prayer from a monk and decides to roam the country reciting the prayer and teaching it to others. He was a pilgrim.

Ever read the Canterbury Tales? The story behind the stories is the gathering of a group of pilgrims on their way to St. Thomas Beckett’s shrine in Southwark. Pilgrims.

Wait, and don’t we have a holiday in the US with Pilgrims traveling from England to the New World? I believe we do. There it is again.

I haven’t studied much on why they were called pilgrims, but the idea makes me wonder why there aren’t any pilgrims around today. It’d be easy to blame Protestantism on this, particularly in the US, but I don’t know many US Catholics that go on pilgrimages except for trips to the Holy Land, which are not called pilgrimages. There are a few things I’d like to note concerning pilgrimages:

They are not vacations. Somehow traveling in our day and age is for reasons of work- moving for a new job or traveling somewhere to temporarily work in a different city- or they’re for recreation- vacations, road trips, etc. Why not travel for spiritual reasons? I’m sure there is an aspect related to a retreat: getting away from home, seeing new places, meeting new people, relaxing at times. But the fundamental difference is that relaxing and getting time off from work is not the point, the point is holiness. It’s time devoted to God for a particular trip to visit a holy place. Which brings me to the next point.

It implies some places are holier than others. I’ve talked to three people who have visited the town of Assisi in Italy, and seen the burial place of St. Francis and all have said the same thing, “It was a holy place.” I believe some places are holier than others. The idea is heavy in Catholicism and runs all through many of the church’s practices.

I can hear that voice in my head, the comment I’ve heard from numerous people, “But God is everywhere.” True, God is omnipresent, but is He present in the same way in all places? The Holy Spirit is certainly present in some places and in some people and not others, you would agree? I can’t talk about this without getting into demonology a bit. Have you noticed how obsessed demons were with location? They asked Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs (a sign of uncleanness in Jewish culture). Demons know some places are holier than others. Or what about the holy of holies in the Jewish temple where a person who was not atoned for in their sin that entered the place would be struck dead because God was uniquely present there? Or what about Jacob’s comment, “God was here and I didn’t know it.” Many of us have had this feeling, “This place is holy. I feel safe when I’m here,” or “I am not comfortable being in that house. I just get a bad feeling about it.” Knowing where the holy places are to travel to- the Catholic Church has a nice system to map this out for a person- is crucial.

For Protestants who don’t have this kind of tradition, what about going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? How about visiting John Wesley’s home or places he preached (there are a ton)? John Knox’s home?

This brings me to another point.

It’s a journey, not a destination. Why don’t we just serve communion at mass, then leave immediately afterward? Why all the stuff beforehand if the Eucharist is the most important part? Because we are people on a journey, we all have spiritual work to do in obtaining holiness. A pilgrimage is a fine example of this process in journeying to God. Let it be a time of openness to God as you travel, pray along the way, learn the discipline of praying at fixed hours throughout the day. In a sense the person has arrived, yet they are traveling a destination. A nice analogy for our spiritual life with God.

It’s not a mission trip. Although evangelization can happen on a pilgrimage, the point is devotion to God first, then growing in holiness as a side effect or secondary goal. The gospel can certainly be spread on a pilgrimage, yet the telos is altogether different. The goal on a mission trip is to reach a certain group of people, the purpose of a pilgrimage is to travel to a holy site and encounter God along the way.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a church trip, similar to the way mission trips have become so common and nearly industrialized, where a group goes on a pilgrimage together? I’d love to see it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I think I have that written down somewhere

Since my graduation, new facets of my life have opened to interesting tasks I feel compelled to do. One is fight crime, but that post is for another day.

The other is memorizing important writings. This seems insane in a world where we have immediate access to just about anything we could think of to say that we need to remember anything. I certainly don’t remember phone numbers anymore because they’re all stored in my phone. Why would a person carry around a heavy sack of obsolete items, when there’s a perfectly good eighteen-wheeler following them around to carry whatever they wish?

This may be true for phone numbers, but what about words?

The biggest is that it shapes the way we think and speak. If you were to memorize the whole canon of Scripture, it would become a part of your language so much so that you would hardly notice it. Conversations would arise and proverbs or the sayings of Christ would roll off your tongue unconsciously. Read the works of saints like Bernard of Clairvaux or Augustine of Hippo and see how Scripture is woven throughout their work as if it were the underpinnings or foundational pillars of their thought, only peeking to show themselves every so often. So it goes with anything.

Winston Churchill copied the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by hand for the reason of developing a style as sophisticated as the one in that work. Immersion in the work of respectable author offers such a close association that it can be recited by memory is a lost art, and one that could benefit all of us.

Jews in biblical times would memorize the whole Old Testament. St. John Chrysostom memorized the whole New Testament.

Wouldn’t this dampen a person’s sense of style, their own voice? No, it would do the opposite, in fact. A person develops their own style through imitation of the great artists, then gives their own take on the subject. Influence coupled with honesty will do the job.

The genre I’ve been interested in memorizing is poetry, a form I believe was meant to be remembered and scrutinized (not necessarily analyzed, but scrutinized. Just take a phrase and ruminate on it, etc.) The first I took was “Bright Star” by John Keats, and once I learned it I would recite it to myself as I did ordinary, daily tasks. What I found is that the poem came to life and spoke to me in ways I never thought possible. What I also saw was that I couldn’t see those things after a superficial reading of the work. It would’ve been impossible. It’s like meeting a person and saying you know all there is to know about them. It can’t be done. And so it is with great art.

A few nights ago I had someone teach me twenty seconds of choreography for a performance. After repeating the moves for a while, my body memorized the motions and I could do the routine without thinking. It was nice, because at that point I could focus on other things like my facial expressions or adding feeling to my movement. This closely applies to words as well.

What I’ve come to realize in myself is that I not only skim most of what I read, but I usually only read things once and never return to it; even with books I love. It’s tragic.

I’ll venture a guess and say there are two things still memorized in our culture (besides things like words in order to speak. Come on). The first is song lyrics. I can sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” on cue without the music and have been able to do this since my childhood. I can do this because I’ve heard it so much. Other people, I’m sure, have a similar experience with music. Such is the nature of the beast.

The other is in some church denominations there’s the Sunday school tradition of memorizing Scripture and doing Bible drills. From what I can tell, this only happens in strongly conservative Protestant denominations. But I’ll expand this and say religion itself promotes memorization, especially the more liturgical traditions. I recite the Nicene Creed, the Our Father, the Act of Contrition, and several snippet responses throughout Mass. I’ve known these prayers since I was a child.

Of course, the criticism is that memorization doesn’t necessarily lead to any connection as anyone who has been a part of a liturgical tradition can attest. They’ve gone to church for a while, known the prayers most of their life, but never felt any significance in it. In this case the problem is not with memorization, but it lies elsewhere, particularly with awareness and critical thinking. I would encourage someone in this situation to read the prayers on their own, and study their history and meaning.

The beauty of memorizing prayers is that they continue to speak to a person once they’ve entered and found permanent residence in a person’s psyche. The prayer stays the same, but the life circumstance has changed. Anyone who has read a great work of fiction twice with a sufficient gap between the readings can probably say the same, and the same applies to the constancy of poetry, speeches, or quotes when they’re held close. We bring our ever-changing selves to the words of those that came before use, and we let them condescend to bring understanding, comfort, or needed wisdom wherever we are in life.

I’ll ask the question that is the title of this post: does memorization have a place in our culture or will it increasingly become obsolete?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dogs and Poker

Do you recognize this painting? Yes, a famous one.

Ever had that situation where you're given a task requiring 10% of your cognitive ability, and once your into it for a while and break into stride there's this thought, profound and massive that blinks like that lightbulb above people's heads in cartoons, and the excitement from your brilliance threatens to do away with the original idea? I think Doctor Emmett Brown in "Back to the Future" had this happen to him when he fell and hit his head on a toilet. Take that, turn the toilet thing into a mundane task, and that was me today.

The original thought started with me walking from one dorm to another, and one the grass next to a sidewalk was a crippled, wounded baby blue jay clutching to a broken limb on its back as it squeaked to me in fear whether or not we were predators. Well, we were, and we ate it right then and there. I'm kidding. Really, though, the mother was in the tree above us watching with futility as me and two coworkers huddled around the bird and tried to brainstorm, lightly I may add, as to how to save the bird. We concluded that it'd be best to leave it for it was doomed from the moment it fell from the tree, so we all kept trucking on. How death is taken so lightly in our world today.

Anyway, I pondered what kind of predator would come to eat this baby bird, and dogs and cats flooded my mind with their particular hunting styles. Somehow that went to this particular painting above- dogs playing poker- and one key observation became that mental lightbulb.

First, I intentionally did no research on the painting before posting this, to keep my observation pure and untainted, delivered to you the reader, soI know nothing about this painting, absolutely nothing. If you feel the need to tell me what it's really about, then by all means do it, but I in no way try to give the proper interpretation. Is that even a term in art? "Proper interpretation." I don't like it if it is. I don't know. I feel less sophisticated the more I write about this. Regardless, now that the art snobs are put in their place, we can move forward.

Here is the observation:

Dogs would make horrible poker players.

First, dogs are social creatures. Man's best friend, in fact. They're like humans in that regard. They cannot talk and are not very much like us, but only in one way that shapes their behavior to make it seem like they're reading our minds or they can understand our words. They cannot. They only read our behavior, and are excellent at it.

Think about it. How well does your dog hide his excitement or interest? Not very well I'm sure. This is what I see as ironic. Dogs, as opposed to cats, tend to express themselves in louder ways, thus are easy to read. If a person owns a dog and a cat and they come home, who will be waiting at the door, jumping around, licking, barking, running, and knocking things over? The dog. Cats are happy to see you, and they'll show it, but they won't go really out of their way to get your attention. "Patient" could be a word for this. I like to turn cat traits into virtues. They deserve it.

I'm sure that's not all there is to this painting, but it's something. Something. Food for thought at least.

I mean, if you're ever in some alternate dimension or travel in space to where dogs and cats rule a distant planet, and you're given the choice to play poker against either species, choose the dogs. They may be better at reading you, but you'll read them much easier.

You'll thank me later.

Friday, June 4, 2010

ad hominem

Ever had a discussion with someone and their response was a clear attack on you rather than what you said? There’s a name for that: an ad hominem argument. Take this example.

“That’s interesting what you’re reading there, Philmore. What is that, the new issue of News report?”

“Why yes it is Gerald. That’s exactly right. There’s a great article on the new immigration law just passed in Arizona.”

“Oh it’s an atrocity, isn’t it? I mean, all those people escaping the horrible conditions of their country only to meet even more injustice and oppression in our own. I can’t stand to hear about it.”

“I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there, Gerald. Those people have illegally come into our country and broken the law. The process of naturalization that is required for any immigrant is overlooked and shows an overall disregard for the laws of this country.”

“But you can’t really say anything can you? You’re not Mexican. My family immigrated in the 70s and I was the first generation to live in the US. We had to go through the process of becoming citizens and you never did. You can’t say anything about this issue.”

And cut.

See what happened there?

An argument was given and the response was an attack on the person, somehow giving reason to dismantle the argument of the other. That’s called an ad hominem argument.

Ad hominem means “to the man” in Latin, and denotes a style of arguing where the person’s argument- or even her credibility and reliability- are brought under question, and some characteristic disqualifies her argument.

Another example,

“You can’t say Canadians are violent because you’re not Canadian.”

See how the argument is deflected and not even addressed by simply attacking the person? See how irrelevant it is?

Where can someone find this type of argument? It happens in politics all the time.

A black Ivy League professor criticized black churches in the American South for being too theologically conservative among other things. He had a list of criticisms. The response? Something along these lines: “Well, you can’t talk about us because you’re all the way up there in the Ivy League world, so you don’t know what it’s like in our part of the country and in our communities.” Ad hominem. His criticism was overlooked and the counter-argument was directed at the individual.

Unfortunately, like many debates and discussions in our country, to disagree or to offer criticism is seen as a personal attack on the person. I even find myself getting angry when someone opposes me, when in fact- like I do so often with people I may agree with- they could only be inquiring into my specific position rather than responding out of offense at what I’m saying.

Does this happen often? Have you ever had a discussion where the response was an ad hominem argument? Have you ever fallen into disregarding someone, not because of credibility or reliability, but for another characteristic of the person?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Encouragement?! Ha!

I’ve never been a huge fan of wanting to do exercises where the person is forced to say or do things out of what I would consider comfortable, these tasks, otherwise a horrible thing, can serve a good purpose, and they have a name: icebreakers. They help people get together and shed whatever social boundaries they may have put up with people they don’t know. You’re put in a room where you don’t know anyone and the guard goes up, at least most people will do this to some degree, even the most extraverted will hold back a little around people they don’t know well, at least out of courtesy for them in breaching some existing line.

Ice breakers are what they’re called, exercises where people are forced to certain rules to act in a specific way that somehow reveals to everyone else something about themselves while at the same time they shed that politeness and reservation we all seem to carry into these situations. They’re great for training or orientations, and they actually work, even with ninety percent of the people participating roll their eyes when the phrase is thrown out. I’ve done quite a few of these in the past few weeks, and at the beginning I vowed to change my approach to it all. “Will,” I said to myself as the leaders were explaining the rules of the ice breaker, “you’re going to enjoy this. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.” The words formed their thought-bubble goodness above my head, shortly followed by thoughts of lunch approaching, and as a result I had no idea what the ice breaker was or what to do during it. One victory at a time is a decent approach, I suppose.

That’s a long introduction to what I have to say. Here it is: we need positive feedback and we need it regularly. This may be an incredibly unpopular view in a culture that pushes for independence and needing anyone else for anything is taboo. Well, it’s not true. Sometimes we do need to be encouraged. This may seem simple and obvious, but if you stop and think about it, when was the last time you thanked the people in your life that sustain you. Stop and think about it. This blog isn’t timed.

It can be from anyone. If you’re a theist and believe in a God that loves humanity, even you, then I’d say a great place to find encouragement is through the many ways God has manifested His love to us, and you specifically. Go on, there’s nothing selfish about that. Doing a regular inventory of where God speaks and works in you is crucial to a healthy spiritual life.

I don’t want to overly spiritualize this practice or give it this great theological significance, so I won’t. I’ll only say it’s ok to ask for encouragement when you need it. Damn the bastard that ever shuns another person needing help, such a person has far worse problems than the one asking.

What I’m getting to is that this morning we did an exercise for our staff meeting where we put a sign on our back with our names on it and everyone else wrote a positive trait they saw in that person. Personally, I tend to focus on where people need to grow or where faults are, not because I have this thing in my craw that I need to work out, and if I don’t I remain this judgmental crab to everyone else. It’s legitimate to look at a situation and see where it needs improvement in order to help. Would you want to visit a doctor that only pointed out what was right with your health and never talked about what needed healing?

Wisdom lies in knowing when to play the doctor and when to play the encourager. If someone thinks they can fix any problem in life by a little positive thinking, they’re delusional and headed on the road to chronic denial.

I also want to avoid any “balance” or “middle of the road” focus on this sort of thing. “Will, I think you’re full of it. It needs to not be one or the other. It’s a balance. Don’t use one all the time. Life is painted in shades of gray.” Well, I never thought gray was a great color. Give me checkerboard over solid gray if I had the choice. The extreme center is not a good position for this sort of thing. It’s the wisdom to know which is proper, or even to mix the two. I don’t want friends who tell me what’s right about me all the time. Such a life will lead to a passive-aggressive sand pit I can’t escape where everyone eventually becomes so paranoid they interpret every little action as meaning something else. Blah. I’d like to trust the other person to tell me when something’s up. Ah, the sweet third way.

(I feel like this relates to a former post. Yes, I believe it does.)

What’s your style? Where do you find encouragement? Where do you find healthy criticism from someone you trust?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Theological Epiphany at Wal-Mart

I normally don’t go to Wal-Mart, but today I found myself walking through the cold, concrete floors filled with hurried people pushing me around to get at those low prices. I’ll give Wal-Mart this much, they do have some low prices. While I was there I realized something I believe changes my whole view of God, theology and Christianity. It was in my search for the best laundry detergent that suits my lifestyle- that of a mildly productive, highly-critical, sometimes lazy, single guy in his twenties that is not the kind to shop at Wal-Mart but once a month- that I received a vision of the real, true Christianity beaming down on me like one of the many fluorescent shop lights hanging from the metal-frame skeleton ceiling a hundred feet above me.

It started with one question: who was at the council of Nicaea (the council in the 4th century where they decided on the doctrine of the Trinity which abolished arianism)? A bunch of men. Who wrote the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament (to our knowledge)? Males. Who has more books of the Bible named after them than any other gender? Men. Who controlled the church for centuries up until the faint glimmers of light we have in the past few decades? Men.

“My God,” I thought to myself, “we’ve had control of this whole enterprise since the beginning.” These thoughts had completely crowded out whether or not I would buy Tide with Downy mixed into it or regular Tide. I do like soft clothes, but do I want to pay the extra two dollars?

Go back to the early church. Who were the great theologians of that time? The Church Fathers. I’ve never noticed this before. And the Gospels: Matthew (a man), Mark, (as masculine as they come), Luke (a dude), and John (a hombre if I’ve ever heard of one).

What a travesty! This probably means at that council in 325 they got together to see what the best way to keep themselves in power as long as possible was. I bet it went something like this:

“Guys. I’m glad you all could make it to the council. Notice the gender distribution of the meeting (snickers and laughter among the bishops). Any women? Exactly. I’ll say no more. (probably a few chuckles ripple through the crowd). I know it’s a long trip for some of you, and many of you are probably tired, but we all see the importance of why we’re called together. As you know, we’ve recently made a large step in securing our power in the world with ol’ Constantine over there making Christianity legal in the Roman empire. Finally we men can use our power and dominance to keep men on top and those inferior women below us. So, let’s get things started shall we? What’s first?”

From the way things ended up, I bet that’s how they were talking, and not a woman in sight. And I bet that’s how the other six councils went.

I’m not going to let men write herstory (see what I did there?) and dominate theology any longer. Let’s tackle the big issues, shall we?

(As some of you know, I grew up Catholic, and a year ago went back into the fold. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll propose these changes to the Catholic Church specifically, but you can try them out on your own denomination if you like. I see nothing wrong with that. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach.)

The Trinity.

This is a big one used to oppress womyn (see what I did there?). How? It’s obvious. What is the Trinity? God. Sure, but Who is the Trinity? Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Do you see the patriarchy reeking like some nasty, green, cheesy stench smelling of nothing other than the worst scourge of our time? How do these men think they can get away with this? Of course we need to change that to Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit. You may be thinking, “Wait, Will. I understand the change to Mother, but Daughter? Jesus was a man.” Of course you think that. That’s what men have been saying all this time. I have one question for you: who wrote the Gospels? Men. Exactly.

Besides, I think two millenia of a male Savior is about enough. Let’s let the women get a chance to identify with an Only-Begotten Daughter of God. I like the sound of that. We’ll write some new material where there was in fact a Daughter of God doing the same sort of things as Jesus. I’m sure we can make that work. She’ll be Jesus’ sister, no wait, older sister and she pretty much taught Jesus everything he knows. Even better.

Mary can still be the Theotokos because our new savior- also of the same substance as God- can be born of a woman as well. Nothing should change in that area.

And for all those people out there that squirm when they hear father used to refer to the Godhead, well you can have a Mother. I like the sound of that too. This just keeps getting better.

The Bible.

Hmm. This is a tricky one. There are women in the Bible but not enough of them for sure. How about just taking out any passage dealing with men and keep all the parts with womyn? It’d be like the Jefferson/Deist Bible where he took out all the miraculous stuff, but this one would be all stuff involving men and their patriarchal ways. The Womyn’s Bible Commentary wasn’t enough, we need a Womyn’s Bible, revised and updated regularly.

And we can change that stuff in Genesis where Eve listens to the serpent and gets Adam on board. We all know that’s probably not how it really happened. Eve was most likely against the whole thing and never ate of the fruit. This could be why womyn are clearly superior to men. That’s an interesting idea now that I think about it. The sinlessness of womyn. I guess I’d be ok with saying God is the one who saves mankind. The men were the only ones needing salvation.

In our version, the story of Samson and Delilah wouldn’t depict her as a bad figure, we’ll polish that story up too. Also, the work in Samuel and Kings is chock full of men doing manly things we could do without. We’ve had enough of that. But we could keep the story about God not wanting a king. The material about Deborah, the womun Judge was good, but we all know what was really going on when the people of Israel asked for a king and God objected. God knew what Israel needed. It wasn’t a king, but a queen. It would’ve turned out much differently if they’d have asked for a queen. Womyn in power. I like the sound of that.

All those parables with womyn we can keep, and especially keep the material on Mary and all the other womyn. In fact, we can rearrange the whole Bible in order of importance rather than chronologically (what I mean by importance is how womyn are superior to men in all ways except incompetency). First would, in fact, not be the material on Mary, but the story of the Syrophonecian womun telling Jesus what to do (Matt. 15: 21-28). Then we’d have that story in John at the wedding where Mary tells Jesus to perform the miracle. This would be followed by the material in Revelation that talks about the Queen of Heaven. And so on. I feel like I would enjoy that Bible much more than the patriarchal mess we’ve inherited in this so called Christianity.


This is a controversial one. Although some may not like the idea of hell, I think they’ll sing a different tune after hearing this proposal. In the new church we would have a doctrine of hell and it would be like ol’ Dante’s vision of hell, but only with a few minor revisions. There’d be a three tiered system:

The first tier would have the womyn who accepted patriarchy and fed the lie of subservience to men for so long. These would be people like Sarah Palin, Monica Crowley, and any womun who was ever in the Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, or Bible church denominations and remained there.

The second tier would have the men who were against patriarchy, but they didn’t do anything about their oppressive ways and eventually stopped trying to change society.

The third tier- in the bowels of hell at its deepest and darkest abyss- holds those men who kept womyn held down for so long. Many of them, I would venture to say almost all of them, would be here. If you listen closely you can probably hear their screaming right now. Do you know what it would sound like? Justice. Sweet Justice.

Womyn’s Ordination

Men were the only ministers for nearly two thousand years, it’s womun’s turn to rule things. It will be a womyn’s-only priestesshood. The discussion to ordain men will open again in another 2000 years.

It’s Womyn’s Turn

This was the epiphany I received. I spent four years at Perkins hearing the arguments for the end of oppression toward womyn and how anything men do is disastrous, and now after I graduate I understand what they were saying. The revision of herstory (not history. See what I did there?) has begun. It doesn’t matter if I never bought laundry detergent. Womyn have been doing the laundry of men for centuries. I need to get a grip on herstory.