Monday, January 28, 2008

Morality, Men and You

Great bit today on Talk of the Nation about how morality is hard-wired into our brains, and how that, if morality is part of our programming, doesn't mean that morality still isn't moral.

Of course you had a person call in and say, "Well, God decides our morality anyway." The guest, Steven Pinker, tore that argument apart with a great reply that's part of his essay that was published in the New York Times:
Putting God in charge of morality is one way to solve the problem, of course, but Plato made short work of it 2,400 years ago. Does God have a good reason for designating certain acts as moral and others as immoral? If not -- if his dictates are divine whims -- why should we take them seriously? Suppose that
God commanded us to torture a child. Would that make it all right, or would some other standard give us reasons to resist? And if, on the other hand, God was forced by moral reasons to issue some dictates and not others -- if a command to
torture a child was never an option -- then why not appeal to those reasons directly?

He also gets very Lakoff-ian about the moral left-right divide: libs focus on fairness, convervos focus on authority and yadda-yadda.

There's a lot about us human beings that are hard-wired into our brains and our bodies. Love, for example, is completely biological, that doesn't mean it's not romantic or meaningful. I think that we in the West, and we in religion, have let this body-spirit divide go on for far too long. We need to reclaim the body and stop regarding it as secondary or superfluous to spirit, and, in that same vein (literally) stop letting the body run the show of the mind by ignoring all the influences that it does have on how we think.

I've been considering the concept lately that we can't get to the spirit unless we go through the body. Maybe that's a reason for the Incarnation.

Also on Talk of the Nation there was a discussion about the "Child-Man" -- you know, the 26-year-old guy who lives in a ratty house with his buddies and plays X-Box all day who may or may not be employed. You usually see these guys featured prominently on Judd Apatow movies. Neil Conan talked with a woman who wrote an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News called "The Child-Man" where she takes these guys to task for not being "grown-ups." They talked a bit on the radio about how the Child-Man might be a reaction to feminism, which created new roles for women and men are reacting to those roles. They act that way, she says, because we let them. Now it's time for them to start acting like adults -- husbands, fathers, good jobs, mortgage, nice lawn.

Give me a crappin' break.

How is creating such a tightly defined role for men any different that creating tightly defined roles for women that revolved around wife, mother, good helpmeet, nice clean house, etc.? Wouldn't we feminists be all up in arms if someone tried to decide what it is to be an adult woman? What it is to be acceptable? I started leaving those ideas behind me a loooong time ago. My house is a pit, I'm opting out of motherhood, and while I love my husband and will be with him forever, I'm not really happy with the idea of "marriage." I create my own ideas of being a woman. I do this because I let me. And I'm happy about it.

Maybe the whole "Child-Man" thing is young men reacting against the very idea this author is trying to pigeonhole them into, that there is one definition of being a man, that society has a tendency to determine a man's worth by his paycheck and material goods than by his heart, his personality, his inner self. Maybe they're in the process of throwing off the old patriarchal shackles that imprisoned/imprisons and hurt them as much as it did/does us and creating a new definition of manhood. The world has changed, women have changed, but men are still pushed into these old, archaic roles. Maybe it's time for new definitions.

(Also, quite honestly, there really seems like a whole "The guy I want to marry refuses to marry me and only wants to play Wii all the time! How can I make him into what I want?" thing going on. Jeez, life's too short to try to remake a guy into what you want to marry. Here's a hint -- don't go out with that guy. Or, if you do and you love him, love all of him. Encourage him to do what he really wants to do, what will really make him happy. That'll help make him the real man that he is inside. And get real, women who have this kind of contempt for men have always considered them to be nothing more than children anyway: "He can't survive a day without me, look he can't dress himself, he'd be nothing if I weren't behind me." This "Child-Man" thing is just saying it out loud in the worst, snarkiest way.)

I think society is what needs to grow up, and not these guys. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a nice steady job, but if your guy has one and he's a good companion to you, who gives a damn if he PlayStations and drinks beer in his free time? Hell, so would I if I had the game system. Scoot over, guys, give me the Wii-mote. I'll join you.

Faith in things unseen, but not in things staring you in the face

So yesterday at church, the worship-leader gave a little mini-sermon about how if we just went all totalitarian on humanity's ass, we could save ourselves from global warming. I'm sure he didn't mean it this way, I'm sure he meant well, but among the litany of solutions to climate change he recited were requiring that everyone have a hybrid car, no one be allowed to have more than two children, reducing square footage of homes, and ending the practice of attending your favorite sporting events, since HDTV will make it more enjoyable --and realistic -- to watch on TV than attend anyway.

Even though I agree with most of those ideas, I found myself raising an eyebrow at the strident call for enforcement. Heck, I purposefully didn't have kids so that you can. But outside of the fact that there's no money yet to pay for any programs to make changes (establishment of light rail, increasing waterway commercial use, more help on making hybrid cars and renewable-energy affordable for everyone) and that we'd have to start yesterday to even have a prayer of making a dent, I also know that this being Oklahoma, which is probably still a Democratic state because we're all stubborn like donkeys, people round these parts don't cotton to anyone telling them what to do.

But therein lies the fine line, between forcing people and inspiring them. (As one of my seminary pals says, "I like to grab people by the short hairs and tell them that if they'd stop struggling and just follow along, it'll hurt less.") The trick is making people want to do something, or make them they came up with the idea themselves. There's also the problem dealing with perceived vs. real risk, specifically that we under-react to long-term or risks or risks that are slow to threaten us, while we over-react to immediate ones. The trick is to make people view the far-off as a now.

Quite honestly, who better than organized religion, most of which specialize in eschatological anticipation (the Abrahamic ones, anyway), to get the world off its collective butt to face climate change head on? They're pretty good at turning dispair into hope, at getting people to think about intangibles. Also, there (should be) no conflict of interest and they're multinational.

I know many organized religions are already starting to take this issue on, but how do we ramp it up? What do we focus on, how does the message get out there? What else/more/other should religion be doing to deal with climate change?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Peace, be still

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
I actually roused myself to get to church today, and I'm glad I did for SuperPastor gave a very well-crafted sermon from this passage, and being the smart guy that he is, asked the question that I had always asked when I read this: To whom was Jesus speaking? Of course, both religious and secular fundamentalists use this passage to point out the power (or not) that Jesus had (or couldn't possibly have) over the weather. But SuperPastor made a very good point: Even though Jesus was looking at the waves, he was probably talking to the disciples, and because they're Mark's disciples they're pretty clueless. As he was revving up to make his point, I could just see the scene: Guys in a boat, a little rain falls, a little wind picks up, and in their minds it gets rainier and windier and terrible because it's not the weather that's scaring them, but the journey itself. (And the sea, after all, it's a symbol of chaos and the depths of the subconsciousness, don't you know.) What's scaring them is, as they say, all in their heads.

And SuperPastor hit this point and hit it well, that we are afraid of the chaotic seas within and without, and that Jesus isn't talking to the waves but to us. Peace, be still. There is nothing to fear, no hay nada que temer.

I found this sermon rather relevant because it's been a rather fear-filled week for me, mostly in my imagination but also in a few real-world moments. When I realized that our beloved dog, Buster, was not going to ever get better and in fact was probably slipping away from us, I could not concentrate and had to remind myself at several points before we took him to the vet that there was no point in obsessing about Buster until the moment came. I worried about doing well in the worship service I was helping to lead. I worried about doing well when school starts. I worry nearly every day that I may lose my job. I worry about money. It never ends. I worry that if I do well people will (as they have in the past and sometimes do in the present) make me a target of envy or scorn, or if I do poorly they will (as they have in the past and sometimes do in the present) bully or discard my worth. The things that are only ephemeral worries, I do nothing but grow insular, grow cold to the world around me, by letting them plague me. The things that are true threats, I do nothing but make myself incapable of dealing with them.

So Peace, Be Still, is a good thing to keep in mind.

SuperPastor listed several things along these lines that "Peace, Be Still" is good advice for. But it occurred to me that this is one of the things where the personal and the social do not meet. Yes, many of our fears are in our heads. But what about the ones that aren't? Most of us are very lucky, and our fears are not as terrible as we imagine. But the less agency you have over your own life, the more real-world your fears are. An abused wife fears for her life and that of her children. An person oppressed because of race or ethnicity or orientation fears rejection and violence at the hands of those around them. Those who are not U.S. citizens or are children of immigrants have many reasons to be afraid, whether they're here legally or not, in an environment where you're expected to prove your status if you have the wrong name, the wrong look, the wrong language.

I think the message of Peace, Be Still is meant for those of us who have a tenuous control over our lives, so that we might do what we may to have solidarity with our sisters and brothers who need it. And Peace, Be Still, is given to those in peril so that they can find shelter, solace, family in the family that God through Jesus calls us to be.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Things to do ...

... before you make your worship-leader debut.
  1. Make sure you've had enough to drink so you're not all dry-mouthed before it's your turn to lead the congregation in prayer or read from scripture.
  2. But don't drink too much water so you don't really need to make a pit stop in the middle of the service.
  3. Practice your reading and make sure you can pronounce all the weird names Dr. Luke has inserted into his stirring tale of the Adventures of Paul the Evangelizing Tent-Maker.
  4. If wearing a skirt, make sure the elastic in your foundation apparel isn't preparing to snap mid-reading.
  5. If it does, casually shift position to keep them from making their debut in front of the congregation along with you.
  6. Try to pretend like you've sung that hymn before. Be thankful for various "Elvis sings Gospel" K-Tel albums that were advertised on TV on Saturday afternoons, which helped inform your Catholic upbringing.

Don't ask if I've discovered any of this from personal experience. Them that know don't tell and yaddayadda.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Our dog, Buster, died yesterday.

In his 17 years of life -- at least 2 if not 3 years past the usual sell-by date for a dog his size (the chart on the wall at the vet's office said he was 96 in human years) -- Buster achieved the highest honor a dog could: He was a good dog. Most dogs, if they're loved by their people, manage this achievement, and Buster was no exception, earning that honor at least on a daily basis, so much so that it became a second name: Buster's-a-good-dog-yes-he-is! Among his good-dog achievements:
  • He protected the house against would-be intruders, scaring them off with a thundering bark that sounded much more vicious than his actual nature. Which is a good thing, because we're fairly certain that if said would-be intruders had actually entered the house, Buster would have employed another good-dog trait, which was ...
  • He was a cordial host to houseguests. Buster knew that to properly greet welcomed guests demanded a tail-wagging hello, a sniff of the hand or foot, and to hang back and casually wait for pettings and good-boy noises, which usually followed.
  • He would fly off the bed or couch or pillow, wherever he happened to be, to enthusiastically greet us when we came in, no matter how long or short we'd been gone.
  • He loved his cats and exercised them daily by playing rambuctiously with them.
  • He guarded the lawn from squirrels. Among his limited but impressive vocabulary was the phrase, "Buster, get the squirrel!"
  • He was a good companion in happy and sad moments.
  • He walked on the curb instead of the street or the grass whenever he went out for a walk.
  • He cleaned the floors from any food items that happened to be dropped there during preparation.
  • He ensured the washing of bedding by rubbing his nose in blankets and sheets enthusiastically. He had an itchy face, you see, and enjoy scratches and rubbings.
  • He was a rare breed, a Dandie Dinmont Terrier, who always attracted the attention and questions of "What kind of dog is that?" whenever he went into the public.
Buster was found at a 7-11 when he was 3 by a past family member, and lived with various members of the family before coming to live with us. He came into our life in 1999, about the time that we decided to become a family ourselves. In the last couple of years, Buster began to slow down. We chalked it up to age and were more gentle with him, demanding less energy as he seemed to demand less time and attention from us. It worked, because our lives had become busier, and we always tried to eke out time to spend with him.

But in the last year or so, Buster changed. He slept more, stopped playing, shied away from pettings and hugs. He wandered aimlessly around the house. He demanded to go out constantly, yet never seemed to remember what he had gone out for. He forgot his name. He began to have accidents right after we took him out, sometimes right in front of us. And he stopped eating. In the past, if he didn't like his food, we'd bring the cat in and put her next to his bowl, and he'd run over and gobble it up just so she didn't get it, even if he hated it. Not so anymore. He even lost interest in human food. We did some research and found out that he likely was suffering from Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, essentially Doggie Alzheimer's. And even though there are drugs now that might help him, he's 96 in human years and ...

We took Buster to the vet yesterday, on one of his good days, where he actually stood still for us to pet him for a little while before we went. She is a fabulous vet who asked Buster, "Are we going to heaven today?" and explained to us that his brain cells just weren't touching anymore. And so. Buster died yesterday at the age of 17, surrounded by his family and a vet who loved him, too. Because you couldn't know Buster without loving him.

I am taking Buster's death rather hard, even though I know it was a good decision. We've been crying off and on all day yesterday and still today. Buster is no longer in the house. He did not wake me up this morning by walking across the hardwood floor, his toenails clicking like a Keith Moon drum rant as he raced into the kitchen for breakfast. He is not sitting next to me while I type this. He will not greet me when I come home. There's a Dandie-shaped hole in the universe today, in the universe that is my heart.

I find myself wishing that I could look in the Bible or some comforting holy text for something that would help. But aside from some passages about God's good creation or God seeing the sparrow fall, there really isn't anything that speaks specifically to this. After all, dogs get a fairly bum rap in the scriptures. Get as allegorical as you want, but when you get down to it, they're documents trapped in their own time and space, which did not look at dogs as members of the family they way we did. Most religions view that, in fact, all dogs do not go to heaven, though they do recognize how important pets are to us, but I would have to say that that's one of many things organized religion is wrong about, yet another example of how human-centric rather than God-centric we make our religion and our religion makes us. If all of creation is good, and if heaven is the place of ultimate goodness, why wouldn't a pet that is of the good creation be in heaven?

Of course, I also run into the problem that I'm as agnostic about heaven as I am about God; lacking personal experience, I do not, cannot and probably will never know for certain that there is either a God or heaven. However, I highly suspect and hope that they exist, so I return to the more accurate definition of pisteou, and I trust that they're there. In the great roulette table of life, I placed my bet on Probably. Which is magenta, by the way. I hope that there is a heaven, a Matheson-like Summerland where all that makes me happy is laid out like a buffet before me, and Buster is there because I'm part of his happyness buffet, too. And in fact, we're already there, because that's how eternity works, and all that keeps us from knowing eternity is time.

But that's just a hope, and doesn't help me much in daily life here on earth. The only evidence that there is of God outside of personal experience is love. Let's dispense with all the bullshit on whether it's agape or philo or eros (leave it to the damn ancient Greeks to make Love a trinitarian concept, too) and just go with Love. Love's a tricky thing, a nasty continuum you travel along that will take you to blessed heights and crippling suffering, sometimes all at once. Love demands sacrifice and sometimes makes it easy, but more often than not it demands the sacrifice that will lead you to suffer the most for the good of that which you love. I had thought that Buster was just getting old, that he just needed more care, more time, more attention, and I was willing to sacrifice whatever I needed to in order to make him happy and comfortable. But in the end, the sacrifice I had to make to make him happy and comfortable was what hurt me the most.

I'm not a big fan of the crucifixion narratives, as 12 years of Catholic Lenten practices should scare that out of anyone (I was a terribly sensitive child, and Passion Plays will do a number on you when you're sensitive). People (melgibson, cough!) seem to like them, and focus on that bizarrely medieval theology of substitution atonement, that Jesus suffering on the cross was what cleaned our sinful slates and made us right enough to go to heaven. Whatever. Honestly, I don't think that the crucifixion was only about Jesus and what he suffered, and making it so removes the most important part, the love. Not the love God so had for the world that he sent his son to suffer and die stuff, but the love that a peasant quasi-teacher had for the least of those around him. The love that led him to defy the society around him that had become an I-me-mine world, to stand up and say, "It's all of us or none of us," even knowing that such steps surely would lead to his death. The love of a God who sees every sparrow in God's good creation fall who surely was there at that death. And, the part that gets left out, the love in the people who witnessed the death, who suffered because not only did Jesus love them, but they loved Jesus, too. I always feel like they get left out, that they're the co-starring players in this paschal drama. It is not just the love that God had for the world, but also the love that the world had for God and each other and this guy named Yeshua. A mobius strip, going from one end to another, never singular, always in relationship, a continuum that brings you to blessed highs and crippling suffering.

This is very deep for an obituary for my dog, but the old saying is true, If my dog isn't in heaven, then it ain't heaven. Buster was a good dog. We loved our dog, and we know that to the best of his ability, he loved us, too. Love is Love.
And wherever you've gone and wherever we might go
It don't seem fair, you seemed to like it here...
Your light's reflected now, reflected from afar
We were but stones. Your light made us stars

Monday, January 21, 2008

A brief foray into politics ...

Chuck Norris says McCain is too old
NAVASOTA, TEXAS -- Campaigning for Mike Huckabee, actor Chuck Norris said Sunday that Sen. John McCain is too old to handle the pressures of being president. "I didn't pick John to support because I'm just afraid that the vice president
would wind up taking over his job in that four-year presidency," Norris said. At 67, he is four years younger than McCain, who will be 72 in August.

Wow, that's totally not funny. I don't get it ... But then, "Contrary to popular belief, America is not a democracy, it is a Chucktatorship" is not really funny either ... although "There is no theory of evolution, just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live" explains Huckabee's thoughts on intelligent design ...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Recently, NPR's This American Life did a piece on the misunderstandings that arise when ignorant Americans attempt to engage with the Muslim world, especially when that world is in our world. Which it is.
A Muslim woman persuades her husband that their family would be happier if they left the West Bank and moved to America. They do, and things are good...until September 11. After that, the elementary school their daughter goes to begins using a textbook that says Muslims want to kill Christians. This and other stories of what happens when Muslims and non-Muslims try to communicate, and misfire."
Pay special attention to Act I, "One of These Things is Not Like the Other" for a very very clear example of why we keep religion out of school. And, for those keeping score, the gotdang candy cane does NOT symbolize how Jesus' blood saves all believers. It's also a very clear example of what little monsters children are, especially if their parents are big monsters-in-the-closet. Closet monsters are people who hide their monsterness -- bigotry, superiority, self-righteousness that excludes anyone who isn't like them -- behind the thin plywood door of well-meaning, well-bred bullshit. When I was a kid, I got harassed every December 7 because I had the audacity to be Japanese. Which, by the way, sucked because it was my mom's birthday. So imagine, if you will, 12 years of playground bullying and desperate explanations on how I and my family were NOT the enemy in a war that had ended 30 years before but somehow was still being fought in the minds of those around me. And afterward, cake and presents and hugs for my Japanese mom. September 11 is the new Pearl Harbor Day, in which American Muslim kids across the country get to go through what I went through, except there's still a war going on. Which means that 50 years from now, their kids will still be fighting that battle on the playgrounds.

I'm going to go all theological on you and point this out: When the lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan. The point of that story was this: You do not have neighbors until you become a neighbor yourself. The neighbor to the wounded man was the one who treated him with mercy. So. Who are our neighbors? It's not up to those who are different in our communities to prove that they're "harmless" or "worthy" to be our neighbors. God calls us to treat those around us with mercy and love, to build a community, to neighbor to others. It starts with us. If you have kids, teach them this lesson well. Come September 11 and December 7, hope that they'll be be good neighbors.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Follow the link ...

Is God our cosmic bellhop or our king?

I have to admit, I don't care for "king," but this is the first time the word has been made palatable to me, as far as Christian vocabulary goes.

Discuss ...

Dear God ...

I've been tapped to write a prayer for an upcoming special service, and I'm rather freaked out about it.

I'm not a prayer. Rather, I'm not a pray-er. I don't pray. Growing up Catholic under the guidance of a converted-from-Buddhism parent who more enthusiastic than precise, I never got the knack of extemporaneous praying. All our prayers were contained in the handy-dandy little prayerbook Fr. Whatsisname had given to us upon First Communion. I can Hail Mary and Act of Contrition with the best of them, but that's recitation at worst and meditation at best. I personally gave up praying when I realized that I was either asking for shit, or thanking God for shit in ways that had absolutely nothing to do with admiration. As Shug Avery says, "More than anything God love admiration. ... I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it."

Recently, while on an educational trip with some classmates from seminary, I was asked to pray before we set out on our journey one morning. No way, I said. We had a very very wild driver, and the last thing I wanted to do was be the one who said the prayer that didn't bless us properly enough to get us home in one piece. Not that that's how prayer works, but that was in my head. I don't believe in voodoo, either, but I'll be respectful to the voodoo mistress, lest I wake up turned into a bat or something some morning. Probably the closest I've gotten to actually worded prayer was the other day when we came out of the mall to find that one of our tires had gone flat. We got the car all jacked up and the spare was ready, but the tire would not come off the car. I made a small appeal to the tire-changing kami, but you know, there are a million million kami, and it's quite possible I got my divinity wires crossed and sent my appeal to the wrong one, maybe the "I want to walk around in Wal-Mart for four hours" kami. Which is what we ended up doing.

Anyway, I've been asked to take part in this service and to write a prayer based on a passage in Acts. I take the business of prayer very seriously and am trying to create something authentic. I'm grasping the concept that there is a structure to a good prayer, some imagery and careful choice of words, much like poetry or headline writing. Doing a Google search on "how to write a prayer" has been of NO help ("You just talk to God, that's a prayer." Yes, well, I know, but public prayer is equal parts theater and theology. It's the theater part that's got me stymied.). This being my first, I haven't gotten the knack yet, and I'm borrowing, splicing and crafting together pieces of prayers that I like, and hopefully it'll turn out.

By the way, I just read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, the best book I've read in ages. Coming from a Dust Bowl state, I've always been really interested in Dust Bowl history but could never find a good book about it. Most of the books I've ever been able to find are children's books, and why IS that? I'd like to make this assigned reading to anyone who thinks that human-caused climate change is a hoax. Which, ironically, are a lot of people who live in Dust Bowl areas.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Morning at the Homeless ministry: a haiku

Convoy of hybrids
delivers meals, compassion.
Christian love on wheels.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Survey says

From BeliefNet:
Survey: 'Unchurched' Americans say Church is 'Full of Hypocrites'

OK, no great shocker there. Maybe a "Wait, if you're not there, how do you know?" query. Although I was "unchurched" for 15 years for that very reason. That, and a preference for sleeping in after working until 1 a.m. on Saturday nights. Yes, working, not partying.

But then we hit this graf:
Researchers, affiliated with the Southern Baptists' LifeWay Christian Resources, defined "unchurched" as Christians who haven't attended church in six months as well as non-Christians such as Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

... and we go "Huh?" If your religious tradition doesn't actually have a church, can you really be unchurched? Could perhaps they choose a better word for non-Christians so they don't actually fulfill the unchurched view of Christians being 'judgmental and hypocritical'? Un-templed? Non-churched? Simply lapsed? Nonpracticing?

Sometimes I "attend" UCC services in Second Life, but I haven't in about a month, so if I keep that up will my avatar be virtually unchurched in five months?

I'm soaking up some of my Intro to Theology texts before school begins at the end of the month, and they stress that the importance of Christian life is found in community, so being "churched" does seem to be a fairly important deal. However, I think I've accomplished the same deep fellowship at the bar over cheese fries and coin $2.50 pitchers, and I wonder where the "church" part comes in. A modern take, if you will, on the meal in Emmaus, as there's a starchy main course and plenty of realization that the stranger in front of you might be the gal with the answers. So was I in church when I was unchurched?

What, then, is church? Church is never the building, as pretty as we make them, and it cannot be just the 11-to-noon-on-Sundays hour, which is still a fairly segregated hour. Do we take church with us or do we leave it behind to be picked up later? Is it the declaration of your religious affiliation that is church? The friends you make and family you create who share that burning need to orient themselves and the world to a new vision of how things really are or should be? Or is it just the world, as imperfect as it is, and all the lives you touch as you go through, trying to love a lot and harm as little as you can?

Are there walls, or just places where the light leaks in? Is it divided by time, or can the words on a page written millenia ago that let a reader commune with an author be one of the bridges that transcend the clock?

So I guess my original question is, is being "unchurched" a relavant state or just a judgment call?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Highway to Heaven

A friend of mine clued me to this story the other day:

Texas ministry sees I-35 as holy highway

Some believe I-35 might be shorthand that links the interstate to Isaiah 35:8 of the Bible: "And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools shall not err therein."

... So ... basically, the road to heaven is constantly under construction and features the occasional porn shop and casino in border areas. Got it.

This, by the way, is as clear as I can figure to be an example of eisegesis that I've ever been able to find.

If you're a fan of NPR, head on over to the Diane Rehm Show to listen to this morning's discussion about the debate between teaching evolution and creationism. The show was prompted by the statement last week by the National Academy of Sciences that urged the teaching of evolution as a basic bedrock foundation of scientific principle, rather than teaching creationism/intelligent design instead or offering up both evolution and creationism and letting the kiddos decide between the two.

Firstly, kudos for the Academy for calling this what it is, creationism, and not intelligent design. I often joke about how NOT-intelligent the design of the world is (Have you seen that March of the Penguins movie? I used to like penguins until I saw it; now I think those are the creatures most horrifically enslaved to an inefficient genetic compulsion I've ever seen. Granted, it's kept them going for all these thousands of years, but man, yikes. When and if their climate changes, they're all screwed, them and the poor polar bears. Yes, we lament only the cute and cuddly seeming), but a recent viewing of a NOVA documentary on the Dover, Pa., case really gave me a good view of how intelligent design is an evolution (pun intended) of creationism with a shiny new gloss.

What I found most interesting about the creationism supporter on the Diane Rehm show was his insistence that his arguments weren't based in the Bible, but he took issue with how "materialism" (not the Brittney Spears-worshipping kind, but the kind that's based in the material of the world, he says) removes the ultimate purpose from human existence. Which, really, isn't a religious issue at all, but a worldview issue. Actually, that kind of anthrocentric worldview to me sounds vaguely like human-worship; that is, it says that we're so very important that we were created for some special purpose, and any idea that says we're just here through random chance reduces us to nothing more special an aemoeba. Which is impossible because humans are too important to be the same as aemoeba.

I rather find the concept of human existence in the world -- and hell, aemoeba existence, too -- as a product of random mutation rather awesome (not in the same vein as "these earrings are awesome!" but "That f-5 tornado bearing down on my house strikes awe in my heart"), moreso than that of some creator who has designed us for some purpose. Out of all the billions upon billions squared possibilities in the universe, there you are, just you, a unique person. Sit back for a second an appreciate that as a miracle, one that's reduced to the mundane by the fact that there are 6 billion and counting miracles walking the earth.

Admittedly, that sounds a bit like human worshipping, too, but with a different focus, one on being rather than goal, purpose or ultimate accomplishment. Very much like how the concept of God's grace was described to me, that we receive it not because of anything we do or even believe or join, but because we are.

Comic book scribe extraordinaire Alan Moore said it better than I did more than 20 years ago in his Watchmen series, about when the whole creationism mess was first rearing its ugly head:

Doctor Manhattan: Thermo-dynamic miracles... events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless
generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so
specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermo-dynamic miracle.

Laurie Juspeczyk: But...if me, my birth, if that's a thermodynamic miracle... I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!

Dr. Manhattan: Yes. Anybody in the world. ..But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget... I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another's vantage point. As if new, it may still take our breath away. Come...dry your eyes. For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.