Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Merciful Deliberations

Sometimes I think it is easy to overlook the work it takes to make oneself a better human being. It is so much easier to place one’s own needs above another’s, and it is easier to spew hateful or reactionary words than those that build up or facilitate forgiveness or reconciliation. Showing mercy is not easy; it is a sacrifice.

I have a handful of younger siblings. One is eight years younger than me, two are ten years younger than me, and another is a whole whopping twenty years younger than me! The older one has some developmental disabilities, and the youngest one is only 13, so their infractions on my nerves are more easily overlooked. The twins, though…well, that is another story. Growing up, I never would have thought we would have a “regular” sibling relationship with ten whole years between us! When you are young, that is a huge difference. But lo and behold, we grew up, and ten years is no longer all that great of a time span.


But then there are sometimes when it is. I mean, it really is.

In these moments when our maturity levels differ (and I’ll admit, there are probably times when I am the immature one) I am quick to react in anger. Most people do not know me as an angry person because I have tried very hard to NOT be one, in general. But when in the company of close family members, it is easier to let one’s base nature out to play every once in a while. In my lower moments, I am not above yelling, accusing, swearing off future engagements, and just plain “illuminating” for others what their problems are and how they can (and had better!) fix them. [I know. You’re shocked. But it’s true.]

All this, and yet I still consider myself a careful person with my words, because I am very well acquainted with the irrevocable damage those invisible little swords can cause. Very careful…except when I’m not so much.

And of course after I’ve let my words fly I always spend the next day or so worrying. Because I really do care. I really do want to be a person who builds up and doesn’t tear others down.

What is mercy? It is huge, that’s what it is! And it involves things like overlooking faults, being patient with shortcomings/weaknesses, forgiving wrongs, giving what is needed whether it is asked for or deserved or not, and a whole lot of other really hard things!! Exercising one’s mercifulness is just that – a sometimes exhausting workout (but really good for you, blah, blah, blah lol)!

Mercy is something I am paying attention to and focusing on improving in my own life and demeanor this year. Because as difficult as it is to grow in, and as sore as those muscles sometimes are afterward, reminding me how out of shape this part of me can get, mercy is a magnificently beautiful thing. It is like a clean, plush robe placed around the shoulders of a raggedy beggar. It is luxurious and soft and comforting. It is something that only those who “belong” someplace get to wear.

And I want to be radically inclusive. I want the people I engage with to feel like they belong. I think that is part of showing mercy, too. It is a mercy I have needed, and one I wish to give.

I believe Pope Francis was truly inspired by God in his timely proclamation of this year as a Holy Year of Mercy. If there is anything this world and its people need, this is it. May I grow in this virtue in my own life. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ethics: Is religion a reliable source for ethics?

For 2016 I have decided to do a study on ethics - from both theistic and non-theistic points of view. I reached out on Facebook for recommendations on where to find sound sources for the non-theistic side. One of the first things I am reading, from the non-theistic recommendations I obtained, is Eliezer Yudkowsky's Rationality: From AI to Zombies.

I am on chapter 17, and so far I really like the book (based on a series of blog posts he did between 2006 and 2009 on two blogs: Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong). However, I took exception with some of his claims about the Bible in chapter 16, not because I wish to argue, but because I desire to find the truth for myself, and I find a hiccup with this part of his thesis. I admit that as I read further, perhaps my questions along the way will resolve themselves. But for the time being, I will post them here. Yudkowsky says,

“Not only did religion used to make claims about factual and scientific matters, religion used to make claims about everything. Religion laid down a code of law—before legislative bodies; religion laid down history—before historians and archaeologists; religion laid down the sexual morals—before Women’s Lib; religion described the forms of government—before constitutions; and religion answered scientific questions from biological taxonomy to the formation of stars. The Old Testament doesn’t talk about a sense of wonder at the complexity of the universe—it was busy laying down the death penalty for women who wore men’s clothing, which was solid and satisfying religious content of that era. The modern concept of religion as purely ethical derives from every other area’s having been taken over by better institutions. Ethics is what’s left.
“Or rather, people think ethics is what’s left....
            “...Intrinsically, there’s nothing small about the ethical problem with slaughtering thousands of innocent first-born male children to convince an unelected Pharaoh to release slaves who logically could have been teleported out of the country. It should be more glaring than the comparatively trivial scientific error of saying that grasshoppers have four legs. And yet, if you say the Earth is flat, people will look at you like you’re crazy. But if you say the Bible is your source of ethics, women will not slap you. Most people’s concept of rationality is determined by what they think they can get away with; they think they can get away with endorsing Bible ethics; and so it only requires a manageable effort of self-deception for them to overlook the Bible’s moral problems. Everyone has agreed not to notice the elephant in the living room, and this state of affairs can sustain itself for a time.”
First, I can think of two places off the top of my head where the Old Testament does in fact wonder about the complexities of the universe: Job 38-41 and Psalm 139:13-18. The Old Testament also celebrates/wonders at the beauty of human love in all its forms (take Song of Solomon, for example, or Hosea, or 1 Kings 3:16-27, where King Solomon counts on the extremity of a mother's love to rule on which woman is the real parent of a baby in question).

Second, religion exists not so much apart from, but within culture. This is because the people who practice religion do so not apart from, but within culture. And this is exactly what Yudkowsky seems to be stating: Religion is part of, not ABOVE/transcendent to, culture; therefore, it is not a blueprint for metaethics.

But, as Scripture (and culture!) develops, certain changes come about...especially with the teachings of Jesus (New Testament). God is no longer just a brooding entity throwing lightning bolts from the top of Sinai, or demanding that women who wear men's clothes be stoned. GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:8, 16). People ask Jesus which of the Sinai commandments is the best, and He says, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:36-40).

This ethic IS transcendent to culture. Cultural norms can be ugly and selfish and are certainly unjust. But Jesus put the ethic of love in place - love of other above oneself, in fact (which is also unjust, but in a different way!). This is contrary to natural selection and survival of the fittest (which are just, but in a cold way. ...But I digress...).

As a follow-up thought, the Bible in the New Testament says for itself that the Old Testament served as a metaphorical tutor, to show the need for the New Testament and Christ (see Galatians 3:24).

But I guess one could argue that love is the transcendent value here, and not religious morality. ...But what about when God IS love?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

You Just Had To Be There

I'm borrowing my mom's car temporarily, and it has a luxury I've never known before: I can hook my iPod up and play my music in it! I knew this technology existed for others, but it never has for me until now. I'm in love. And I've been hearing a lot of songs I forgot I had (because I haven't listened to my iPod in quite a while). Today on my way home from work, I heard this one:

Today I also had an old friend call one of my Facebook posts blasphemous. This was the post:

I shared the meme because I believe what it says. It's that simple. This is a theologically-inclined blog, but the last couple of years I haven't written much that has been theologically inclined, and what I have written probably didn't sound much like me to those who knew me previously. That's because what I believe has undergone a HUGE, slow change. I believe differently than I used to. Before I was ultra-conservative. Now I am pretty progressive. Before I was Pentecostal, now I consider myself a progressive Christian (who occasionally doubts the existence of God, if we're being honest). (But most of the time I believe.)

I'm not there yet. I am still on my journey. And just as I respect you and your journey, I would love it if my friends would allow me the freedom to come into the truth on my own terms and not theirs. I could (and no doubt will, to some extent) share my experiences and understanding as I feel like doing so, but my words are just black and white and inadequate to explain to those who knew me before how I got to where I am now. Like the song above says so much more eloquently than I, some of the things I have experienced, you just had to see it in color to really get it.

However, I will say this: I do not take my spiritual beliefs lightly, and I do not ever mean to treat others' beliefs lightly or disrespectfully. It is not my intention to blaspheme, I promise. I have come to believe what I do through living not-in-a-bubble, and through a TREMENDOUS amount of searching and studying. And, since I am not there yet, I believe my understanding of the truth will continue to evolve.

If my beliefs differ from yours, I hope you do not take that personally or feel attacked. They just do. I can't help it. It is where life has taken me. I wish you peace on your journey, and I will endeavor to not let naysayers ruin my own peace as I continue on my own.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

7QT - Ohio, Saints, and Cemeteries

Since August of 2002, when I moved to Joplin for college, I have lived in Missouri. Since this August or September, I have been considering moving back to Ohio...it just seems that besides jobs, I really have nothing holding me in Missouri anymore, except a handful of friends I never see anyway. I got some employment opportunities in order and decided to move on December 12 - pretty much finish out the school semester subbing, but still have time to get paperwork through for jobs in Ohio to start after the first of the year. But things worked out so I got to move a month early! My bosses were very understanding - I had great jobs in Springfield.

My brother Sam came to Missouri to visit, and so I moved back with him. On the way we stopped at Cahokia Mounds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, near Collinsville, IL. We decided we should do YouTube videos of "tours" of popular tourist sites. For instance, as we approached the north end of the temple mound where I think the chief's home would have stood, we looked over the side and reminisced how this was where the chief peed every morning...and learned the hard way which direction the wind was blowing.... And on the "platform" (flat space of land) between the two large staircases leading to the top of that mound, a bench had been built. We commented how this was where the chief probably took his afternoon nap every day, before having his squaw make him a sammich.... 

We would, of course, have a group of friends act the part of believing tourists in these videos. It could be a lot of fun. Next time I'm bringing a video recorder, cuz you probably just had to be there to get the humor of it.

Really, though, the place was very interesting. I love learning about past cultures, and the fact that a thousand years ago this was the largest city north of Mexico flabbergasted me when I first discovered it a couple months ago. Right here in 'Merica, guys! So cool.

Here is a picture viewing westward from the top of the temple mound. You can see St. Louis in the background. 

Since arriving in Ohio, I have been catching up with family and interviewing for jobs. Friday night I got to go watch my niece cheer at Mount Vernon Nazarene University's homecoming basketball game. She's very good. While the girls (and a couple of guys) do their thing in the background (which my niece is part of half the time) the coach usually has her in the foreground tumbling. Pretty nice privilege for a freshman, methinks. 

Today (Thursday) I had a little down time, so I took my dog and went to the shrine park in Carey. The shrine is Our Lady of Consolation. Before hitting the park (which I haven't been to in years, but used to walk there sometimes with a friend and it was beautiful!), I decided to check out the gift shop. So I walked in and a lady asked if she could help me find anything. I said, "Well, I've never been in here before...I was wondering if you had any rosaries." 

She laughed.

And so today I bought my first rosary. (My camera phone doesn't do it justice - it was not expensive, but it is quite pretty.)

I also let her know how brilliant I am by asking, "Who is the saint on there?" She said, "Well, I think it is the Sacred Heart...." 

"Oh. Cool!" 


Here are a few pictures from the shrine park. There are stations of the cross that encircle the whole thing. (There is fresh candle wax all over them - probably from All Saints' Day celebrations, I am guessing...? Cool, anyway; a witness to devotion.) 

Other statues can be found, too - like one of St. Andrew (not pictured), one of Jesus sitting on the Cross (also not pictured), and one of the Holy Family (again, not pictured). Pictured are one of Rachel mourning for her children ("Memorial to the Unborn"), St. Francis of Assisi (one of my favoritest saints), and one of St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin (made me realize something: Jesus had grandparents!). 

This was the only picture the whole day for which the sun came out!
It was cold, and Albie was with me, and I had a flat tire...so I decided to come back and visit the Basilica another day (the lady at the gift shop told me it has a lot worth seeing, including a statue of Mother Teresa - my MOST favoritest likely-going-to-be-a saint). 

I am enjoying the rural scenery here in Ohio. I've missed it! (I would post a picture or two, but they are on my brother's phone - it takes better pictures - and he is not cooperating with sending them to me in a timely manner, so you'll just have to take my word for it!!) I have noticed that EVERYWHERE is surrounded by fields. You can seriously just walk right into one at any time. Arrowhead hunting available at a moment's notice. (That's another thing on my soon-to-do list.) 

So one other thing I've done a little of since being back is visiting old cemeteries. I just find them interesting - the old Civil War (and other wars) medallions beside some of them, the worn-down poems on the really old ones, and the mysteries.... Like a small family vault in a small rural (Smithville) cemetery I passed probably every day of my childhood. It features three Smith graves. One was from Connecticut, one from Virginia, and one from "Negro Town." I tried to look it up on the Internet to find out the history there, but that is all it said, too. Just a record. I still have no idea who Henry Harrison Smith was, or where Negro Town was, or why he had come to Wyandot County, Ohio. I will have to check out local museums and see if there is any other information on that. I also found it interesting that, in the same cemetery, most (probably at least 90%) of the gravestones with deaths between the years of WWI and WWII bore German names. There must have been a large German immigrant community in this area then, and it made me wonder what their lives were like here in such an era.

I stopped by a couple other cemeteries, too. And I am staying in my brother's basement for the time being - kind-of my own little apartment, but a basement nonetheless. And when I turned out the lights last night to go to sleep my dog decided to start barking at something I couldn't see because it was pitch black. And then I started thinking about all the things I'd ever wondered or heard or read about animal possession and avoided eye contact with poor little Albie for a while.... The only way forward for me was clear: I had a little talk with Jesus! lol

Oh, the things we fear in the dark. (Again, smh.)

For more Quick Takes, check in with Kelly at This Ain't The Lyceum!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kicked Out for No Reason

The other night one of the children at the residential facility I work at got up in the middle of the night and tried everything under the...moon...to keep from going back to bed. At one point she was reading to my work partner from a children's story Bible. My coworker said to the child, "You're really good at reading. What is your favorite part of that story?" The child replied, "The part where Adam and Eve get kicked out for no reason."

We laughed at this (not in front of the child). My first thought was, "Someone didn't listen very well when this passage was explained...she missed the whole point!" My second was more along the lines of...it probably does seem to her that they were kicked out (of the Garden of Eden) for no reason.

All they did was eat an apple.

They disobeyed God in eating the forbidden fruit, yes; but from this child's perspective, disobedience is part of everyday life - especially this child, one who is in residential care for behavioral issues. It made me wonder how she perceived the idea of "getting kicked out" by God for something as little as eating a piece of fruit He left on the counter but then said was off-limits. I mean, it's fruit! If someone doesn't eat it, it will soon go bad anyway. Isn't that a waste...? And there's always an abundance of it lying around, it's not like eating this fruit will be putting anyone else out of a meal or snack.

I wonder how this story makes this child perceive God (and, in fact, everyone else in authority over her). Is she unwanted because she chooses to disobey? Is she going to be banished forever from the presence of those who brought her into being and are supposed to be there to care for her and love her?

Are we...?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Worldbuilding Wednesday #1: Creation Myth

I am excited to join with the link-up this week, but I don't think I'm far enough in my worldbuilding to think about transportation yet. So I'm beginning here by submitting the work-in-progress creation story for my world. One of the larger difficulties I've run into is coming up with good names (for people AND places). Where do you get your inspiration for names? Are the names I've chosen here too complicated? (Other thoughts on the following submission are welcome, too.) 

Here, too, is a rough, incomplete, and likely-to-be-changed map of my world:

[Beginning still needs fleshed out, but: gods overcome with plague – last to survive are the Sebestri siblings. Dying grandfather gives them each a handful of seeds to plant so another race will grow and take over where the gods left off. Sebestris put the seeds in their pockets and run as fast as they can, thinking they can escape the plague and continue living as they always had. Maybe they could even plant the seeds and raise a crop of slaves to care for them since they no longer had parents and didn’t really know how to do any work for themselves. But they ran so far and so fast that before they knew it they fell off the edge of their habitation.] 

They fell a very long way, through darkness and wind and chaos, to land with a fatal crash in the water below all that was. Their bodies lay there, partly submerged and partly above sea level, tangled and heaped over and around each other, until they eventually transformed[decomposed?] into land of a (mostly) fertile nature.

The seeds of humanity never left the pockets of the Sebestris, but took root where the carriers fell. The roots drew sustenance both from the lifeforce no longer claimed by the slain siblings, and from the ground where each now lay. Thus the tribes of the seven lands were born.

One of the siblings, Monsighe, fell on his side, so that one of his pockets lay submerged in the sea, while the other remained high in the air and became a mountain known as Mt. Grimeni. The mountain soon had a twin from the elevated backside of Frosketta who fell behind her brother, face-down in the water. The twin mountain is called Mt. Mostracea. Other, lesser, peaks eventually grew around these, but the two remain the most prevalent in the             range to this day. The mountains proved a rougher area for the seeds to grow, so the fruit they brought forth had a harder shell; this race of RACE 1 grew strong and solid, but short. Possible to mistake as part of the rocky landscape from a distance, their skin was a color between grey and brown, rough to the touch and difficult to pierce. Isolated by their geology, the RACE 1 kept to themselves and, because they were little-known to outsiders, they have long been feared and readily left alone.

Monsighe’s submerged pocket brought forth an altogether different set of circumstances. The abundance of moisture caused the humans’ roots to develop a fungal coating that sealed in the necessary nutrients to produce life, but also provided some of its own. The Nelsmarsh at the foot of Mt. Grimeni thus birthed the race of magic-wielding RACE 2/WIZARDS. They alone possessed magic, so they, too, were somewhat feared by the other races, but they were also sought out when extraordinary help was needed. With the aid of their special abilities, the RACE 2 had the means to become the most broadly traveled and well-learned of all the humans. And so they did. 

[This is still far from finished, but I am strapped for time! Still to come in my creation myth: Five more races (one for each Sebestri sibling); beliefs regarding what happens when humans die.]

Monday, September 14, 2015

Looking Forward to Worldbuilding Wednesdays

This is not a writing/fiction blog. However, it is my personal blog, and one thing I am doing right now is attempting to write a fantasy novel. One blogger I follow is beginning a biweekly hop:

There will be a prompt for each submission, but it is not necessary to follow it; more
information for those interested here.

I'm not sure I will participate every Wednesday, but I do plan to participate some. For example, the first week's theme is Transportation. I don't think I'm far enough in my planning to consider that just yet, but I may enter with another subject. (However, I may not participate at all this first week because there is a submission deadline and I just found out about the hop.) 

Thought I'd let anyone interested know about the hop, and let any of my readers know that it's possible they'll be reading some fiction here biweekly. But no, my blog as a whole has not switched genres. 

Hope some of you participate! I'm really looking forward to this. My goal is to get enough worldbuilding done that I can realistically participate in NaNoWriMo this November. I am going to use this bloghop to try to accomplish that.