Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Spell of Shattered Sight

I am a Once Upon a Time fan - it is one of the handful of television shows I keep up with on Hulu. It often makes me think theologically. In the most recent episode [season 4, episode 9], for instance, Ingrid casts the spell of shattered sight on Anna; the purpose of the spell has always been to distort people's perceptions of what they see. Theologically, it makes me second-guess myself. The literal rendering of the Bible passages that speak of God allowing people to "believe a lie and be damned" or "turning them over to a reprobate mind" has always caused me fear - would God actually allow me to be deceived because I dared think outside the box of legalistic religion?

I don't think so. But I still have a few remnants of that insecurity.

And then on the road searching for Emma, Mary Margaret and Regina have a conversation about whoever wrote the book in which their lives have been chronicled. Regina is convinced that the author decided Mary Margaret was a hero and she, Regina, was a villain, and irredeemably so. "Free will be damned," she says.

I have ruminated on free will know, as far as salvation and predestination and Calvinistic blah blah blah and all that. But I've never considered it in terms of the total outcome of "the story". Does free will have ultimate implications? Has God already decided, or foreseen, or whatever theological term you want to throw out there, how it all ends, and written the end of the book as destruction and punishment and cleansing...or is the book written in a choose-your-own-ending style? Maybe there is hope of redemption and reward and...and healing rather than purging. I don't know. Maybe it's time I delved back into the literature on free will and see if anyone has addressed this and how.

The episode also brings out the meaning of the song, Let It Go. Ingrid freezes Anna and Kristoff in the castle after declaring, "Sooner or later, everyone sees me as a monster. Maybe it's time to embrace it and be one." DUN-Dun-dun. The thing is...Ingrid had some choice all along. She let a few wrong people's wrong perceptions of her form her own expectations of all the people around her. She thought because a few misguided individuals saw her as a monster, so would everyone eventually. Perhaps it was even exacerbated because that is how she viewed herself. Classic case of psychological projection.

Allowing others' views of us to form our own self-perception is harmful. It's not a bad idea to take in feedback from others...but others can be very wrong. Every person is biased by their own worldview. I am in charge of who I want to be. I have to follow what I believe in - what I know in my heart I can live with.

The thrust of this episode is radical self-acceptance...and hope...and waiting patiently for a happy ending. I loved it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

7QT - Thrift Shop Icon Eggs and Solitaire-y Ne'er-Do-Wells.

Over the last few weeks I have been reading the two-book series of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. (I took a break this past week because I needed to focus on midterms.) But the books were inspired by old photographs found in bins at thrift stores and flea've probably seen them. I thought it was a great idea!! So today I went to a thrift store and finally found some here in town (I found some in the town I previously lived in, too, but these are the first I've come across here.) I found a few gems. I'll show you below!

This is the one I found the most striking.
I also found the following two intriguing.

What are they hiding behind their backs...?
And this one here?? Yeah. It looks all normal and everything....

But turn it around, and...
..."sort of a druggist" [druggist?]. Hmm.
The thrift store I went to was a new one to me, and I thought it was kind-of cool. They also had figurines of this Nigerian Santa:

And this obviously Pentecostal angel:
And this. I thought this was really cool and bought it. It is a wooden egg about the size of my hand. Are icons on wooden eggs a thing?

I tend to spend a little some an inordinate amount of time playing two-suit spider solitaire. I noticed the cards the other day...
Little Mister King looks angry. The Queen in turn looks worried.
And that ne'er-do-well Jack is just turning a blind eye, as usual....
Hope everyone has a great weekend!!
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Late Ottoman Discussion Contrasting Science and Religion

Occaaaaasionally (read: often), I stalk my professors online...not so much in a scary way as to see where/what they studied, what they have written, etc. This semester I found some papers by one of my professors via One of the papers caught my attention as being right up my alley. It was an analysis of a debate between two Arabic intellectuals in the late Ottoman period, concerning whether science or religion was more likely to yield truth.

Note: I did not read the debate myself; I only read my professor's analysis. For the more in-depth and knowledgeable analysis of the debate, read his paper (linked above). Here, I will summarize the debate as he presented it and discuss it in my own way.

The debate took place between Celal Nuri and Sehbenderzade Ahmed Hilmi in 1913. Nuri, a prominent public intellectual, posited (through a whole book!) that nothing metaphysical exists, so any philosophy not founded on scientific revelation is basically nothing more than an abstract logical exercise and ultimately meaningless (though perhaps useful as a social construct). Hilmi responded to Nuri's book and reasoned that since science works with hypotheses and theories, perpetually revising them according to new discoveries, it is in fact false to refer to scientific exploration as truth.

I am using my own words here to summarize what my professor summarized (O.o), but it seemed to Hilmi that science is almost equivocal to religion (in a philosophical way) in that both are avenues along which people walk with an intention to find the truth (and in this way, both deal with metaphysical subjects). Neither is truth itself, but more of a direction or path along which to potentially reach the truth. It seems to me that he also indicated, though, that metaphysical religion and materialistic science can neither one be based upon the other, because they by nature are wholly different.

...I don't think I have a whole lot to add to these ideas at the moment, but I found the debate intriguing and wanted to mention it here. As always, interactions are welcome! :)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Judgment With Grace for a Mass Murderer

I'm still reading Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend. It follows Army Chaplains Gerecke and O'Connor as they minister to the major Nazi war criminals on trial at Nuremberg after World War II. I'm about 250 pages in, and so far it has described each chaplain's trek to enstationment at Nuremberg, as well as each criminal's activities to warrant his position in a cell on the first floor of the Palace of Justice. The trials have been examined in brief, as well as the criminals' past and present relations to Hitler, the Nazi Party, and their own families. The verdicts and sentences have been given, with major prison stints and 11 orders of "death by hanging" in the midst. And now Townsend talks a little theology, particularly having to do with the Brand of Cain from Genesis 4.

Photo: Anonymous. A detail from the "Ghent Altarpiece" by Jan van Eyck, 1432.

Following is an excerpt:
            “The [writer in Genesis 4] brings murder into the primeval history pretty quickly, and things go badly for people from there onward. Cain is a farmer who is jealous of God’s preference for his brother Abel [a shepherd] because Abel can afford to offer ‘the fat portions’ of his first-born sheep in sacrifice to God. Cain, on the other hand, can only offer ‘the fruits of the ground’ [vegetables]. Though God warns Cain not to give in to his anger over this slight, Cain can’t help himself, and so he takes Abel into the field and kills him. In return, God banishes Cain from his own land to wander the earth, but he marks Cain to protect him from those who might avenge Abel’s murder. Anyone who takes Cain’s life, God says, ‘will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’
            “…[The writer] wanted to connect the history to the lives of his audience. In [his] eyes, every human being is Cain and Abel, and committing sin is a universal human flaw. Cain was capable of overcoming sin, and yet he didn’t just choose, of his own free will, to sin.
            “‘The logic of sin proves stronger than the injunction to do good,’ writes theologian Miroslav Volf. ‘This is exactly what we should expect, for the logic of sin was originally designed for the very purpose of overcoming the obligation to do good.’ Committing a sin is not just making a wrong choice, but rather it is succumbing ‘to an evil power’. Before he killed Abel, Cain had the ability to conquer sin or be conquered by it. He murdered his brother, according to Volf ‘because he fell prey to what he refused to master’.
            “Volf, one of the world’s preeminent thinkers on the Christian theology of reconciliation and forgiveness, has pointed out that traditional mythology often tells stories from the perspective of the perpetrator so as to legitimize the sinner’s actions and render sympathy toward him. The story of Cain and Abel condemns Cain, and though the [writer] engenders sympathy for Abel, he twists tradition by making the story really about Cain, and by pointing the finger at his audience in doing so.
            “‘The story about a murderous “them” is a story about a murderous “us”,’ Volf writes. ‘Cain is “them” and Cain is “us”.’ The story’s great feat is that it combines ‘a clear judgment against the perpetrator with the commitment to protect him from the rage of the “innocent” victim.’ In the story, God questions Cain again and again, asking him, why are you angry? Why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? Where is your brother Abel? What have you done?
            “God’s constant questioning of Cain suggests a parental presence – God is someone who cares deeply about Cain’s actions and their consequences. God an Cain’s relationship makes God’s decision to banish Cain from His presence all the more poignant. And this is not an unfamiliar trope in the Bible. For instance, Jesus’ suffering on the cross didn’t tear His heart, Volf suggests, but rather it was the abandonment of everyone around Him, including His Father: ‘“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”’
            “From God’s perspective, the story of Cain and Abel could not have gone worse – God loses both brothers to death and banishment. Yet, according to Volf, God’s mark of protection on Cain represents both armor to protect him from victimization as well as God’s grace. ‘The same God who did not regard Cain’s scanty offering, bestowed kindness upon the murderer whose life was in danger,’ Volf writes. God did not abandon Cain. He claimed Cain as His own by marking and protecting him, even as he sent Cain ‘away from the presence of the Lord.’”

Two things.

1) About the theology portrayed here concerning Cain and Abel and God's subsequent dealing with Cain (and, by proxy, all of sinful humanity)....

Cain sinned. And he didn't just tell a little white lie or snag a grape at the grocery store without paying for it. He murdered an innocent person.

Focusing on the emphasis in the excerpt that God banished Cain from His presence while still marking him as His own and promising him protection, I'd like to dwell for a minute on the significance of this act in light of the doctrine of eternal punishment. In fact, instead of offering answers here, let me just throw out a few questions.

          -   Why did God bother to protect Cain after he murdered his own brother in cold blood? Why not let him reap what he had sown - eye for an eye - karma? What obligation did God still feel to Cain in this story?
          -   I've heard many people pinpoint eternal separation from God as the crux of hell's torment. Between God sending Cain from His presence while not completely abandoning him, and the statement that "God loses both brothers to death and banishment," including righteous Abel, there seems to be something in the mix here hinting that separation from God is not irredeemable, even for Cain.
          -   I consider myself a progressive Christian. I like a lot of the progressive Christian thought out there. But I have not yet come to completely reject the idea of substitutionary atonement. Or, at least, I think something happened when Christ died on the cross...something that helped determine our eternal destinies. Is it akin to the Brand of Cain? Though the sinfulness and evil of the world separate humanity from God, does the cross symbolize His promise of protection and grace? If so, is it for all - the Cains and the Abels - or just for the Abels, or those who in some way "accept the gift"?

2) About the practicality of ministering to mass murderers (or others whom most people would say surely have no place in the family or care of God)....

I still think about going into some sort of chaplaincy, like at a hospital or hospice. Pastoral care/counseling has been near and dear to my heart for several years now, and I always mentally apply situations to this role of ministry in my mind. So...if I were ministering to mass murderers, and even holding services for them like Gerecke and O'Connor did for Hitler's right-hand mob, what biblical comfort would I offer them?

          -   Obviously, the above rendition of Cain and Abel seems to fit the bill very nicely.
          -   Perhaps the "cities of refuge" in Exodus 21:12-14. (These were for refuge for unintentional murderers, but it could be, and indeed was, argued that many of the defendants at Nuremberg acted on military orders, believing, however misguidedly, that Jewish extermination was necessary to preserve the posterity of the German people.)
          -   And the most applicable example in Scripture that comes to my mind is that of the Apostle Paul, who in his zeal to honor God relentlessly persecuted and slaughtered Christians until Christ met him on the road and changed his heart. He seems to be a prime example that a murderer can both show remorse and be rehabilitated.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Robin Williams Was a Coward and Is Probably in Hell"

Okay, so I know this is "old news" already, but I need to say something concerning Robin Williams. Most of what I read/heard about his death was nothing short of loving, compassionate, and sorrowful to learn of the deep despair he experienced. But those views that were critical were really grating to me - to use a cliche, like nails on a chalkboard. I'm not going to link to any of those critical viewpoints here, because I don't wish to give them any more publicity; but you know what I'm talking about - Rush Limbaugh, the news anchor dude who referred to Williams as a coward and then apologized because people expressed disapproval of his viewpoint, and Matt Walsh, among others.

First, the reason I even felt the need to address it here is that all this harmful noise reminds us that there is still a rampant disregard and stigmatism out there for the legitimacy of mental illness (including depression), even in the mainstream. Second, I just can't understand sometimes how people can hold so tightly to their own rigid stance against compassion!

When I think about Williams' last moments, I think of the weight he carried, knowing full well what headlines would be made if he ended his own life - he knew the people he cared about would experience enormous ignorant backlash, and still he didn't manage to overcome his despair that evening. He knew what it was to care about others and devote one's energies to bringing multitudes happiness and friendship - yet still he couldn't find the strength to cling to life for one more day.

It's because when a person is suicidal, he or she is not thinking rationally. I say this from experience. In fact, it is almost as if all feeling ceases at this lowest moment of all. No meaning can be found in anything - not in all the blessings one has in this life, not in all the things/people that have brought one joy, and not even in the faith one deeply holds in the Good News of Jesus Christ. The next day a suicidal person may not feel suicidal at all; he or she may go about life as if the previous night's desperation had never occurred...but then it always comes again, and then those "good" moments cannot be grasped. It's like they never were, just like when things are good, it is as if the low moments never were.

It is not a matter of strength of will.

Are there spiritual aspects to depression? Probably. But there are aslo VERY REAL biological, emotional, and physiological aspects as well. Something is broken.

If you can't understand it, that is okay. I'm so glad you have never experienced it before!! But PLEASE stop talking in judgment against those who have, and those who have succumbed. Leave it to God to decide those people's eternal fate. Yes, continue to preach hope and love to those who desperately need it; but please do so without heaping upon them shame and guilt and fear of Divine Retribution for their weakness.

Judgmental Christian, I ask you this: What kind of God do you worship? Are you okay with that?!


Friday, August 8, 2014

Redemption for a Nazi?

I'm reading Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend. In the opening chapter he describes Chaplain Gerecke's moments in prayer with Nazi Keitel in the moments before he was hanged for his war crimes against humanity. Townsend describes Keitel's soldier-like demeanor throughout his trial and emprisonment, but how he broke into uncontrollable sobs while Gerecke prayed with him in his cell. At the hour of his death his mask of pride crumbled. I would assume the illusion fell before the realization that he would imminently face spiritual judgment for his sins.
In the debate over the morality of capital punishment, I know traditionally the Conservatives are for the death penalty, while Liberals are against it. I am unsure where I fall on the spectrum, but I know I am glad I don't have to make the decision for someone to die; that in itself might weigh on my conscience as indirect murder.
But in thinking of this description of Keitel's last moments, and knowing that most religious folk believe in some sort of post-death divine retribution for sins, or at the very least purging before eternal rest, I wondered if some comfort might be found in the idea of paying the ultimate (earthly) price for one's sins. It might cut one's stint in Purgatory shorter than it would be otherwise, for example.
In the DeNiro movie The Mission, the Jesuit missionary who used to persecute the natives climbs a mountain carrying a heavy load of armor(? it's been a while since I watched the movie, and I can't remember the details) in penance and to prove he has since changed. The spiritual leader of the group allows him to do so and refuses to help when he struggles, not because the leader is horrid and judging, as we find out at the top of the mountain, but, as he says to the penitent man (again, I'm not sure if my words are exact, but they are close and convey the gist), "You did not do this so God would forgive you, but so you could forgive yourself." The man had to do something in order for himself to let go of the guilt he held against himself.
I wonder if the death penalty would serve the same purpose to a repentant person who had committed a truly heinous crime(s) (i.e. those convicted at Nuremberg). If there is no one who cannot be redeemed by God, then these, too, could conceivably have felt remorse for the part they played in the Holocaust. But how, in the face of such immense evil, could one ever forgive oneself for such crimes?! I wonder if the knowledge that they would soon give their own lives in payment would do anything at all to alleviate the heavy, mortally unbearable, load of guilt that must weigh on them (actually, I think it must surely have weighed on them whether they admitted to remorse or not).

Thursday, July 17, 2014

7QT - Green Things, Fun Things, and New Things!

Haven't posted in forever, but I've been up to all kinds of stuff! Planted a lot of things, in the front flower beds and in containers on the back deck. I did a fairy garden, too!

I planted a few succelents in it and left them a little room to grow. One or two of them are doing good, but the neighborhood stray cats have dug up one or two of the others....  (I think the fairies are not doing their job very well.)
We planted tomatoes and cucumbers in the back. The cucumbers don't seem to be doing well at all. The tomatoes are doing a little better. We have harvested four and seem to have two or three more growing, as well as a lot of flowering. We'll see...! (The plants are quite a lot taller now; this was when we first planted.)
These were the first two tomatoes.
  One of the front flower beds:
Includes lavender, c...I can't remember this one, but it starts with a c, blue mirror delphinium (which have since died), and ivy in the planter. I've always wanted some ivy! The other bed has a rose bush (which is not blooming right now because it was severely cut back early in the spring), a planter of marigolds, and my fairy garden.
And I did this. Let me tell you about this.

I read somewhere that you could put down newspaper around your plants to keep weeds from growing up, and the newspaper just turns into fertilizer, and yada yada yada. Now, there's a good chance I did it wrong. I am no green thumb. But I don't recommend it. The top soil moves and the now-brown newspaper shows through, and, worst of all, the weeds still come up. Those boogers find their way through the cracks and all around. But I tried. Bless my heart, I tried.
Another tip I picked up along the way was to plant marigolds to keep the bugs at bay. Maybe it works if you plant a lot of them, but I only planted a few, and I think the bugs have not deterred one bit. However, the butterflies like the marigolds, so it was worth it :). 
Speaking of green stuff, this is my new favorite salad recipe:
I chopped up some spinach and bok choy (just the leafy part of the bok choy; the rest I put in the freezer with some stir fry veggies). Added those little cherub tomatoes from the grocery store that are delicious, and some dried cranberries and sliced almonds. These almonds happen to be coconut flavored, but they would be fine unflavored, too, I'm sure. For the dressing I drizzle a little olive oil and a capfull of apple cider vinegar, with salt and pepper to taste. It is so good!!
We also moved, into a house G's brother bought and remodeled for us. It's a small two-bedroom. We're finally getting to the last remnants of the unpacking (basically, the office). We built shelves in both closets over the weekend. Measured and went to Lowes and got the wood cut and proud! We're using those instead of dressers to save room. I think I like it.  
Been keeping up with my 2014 Life List reading goal of at least one book per two weeks. Did a couple other things on the list, too, like attend a play (at Missouri State University's Tent Theatre; Fiddler on the Roof, and it was fantastic!),

and attend a Springfield Cardinals (minor league) baseball game. 


Shared cotton candy with the dogs when we got home.

The following week we let them try roasted marshmallows. :)
Both of these activities took place outside, and I swear they both just so happened to fall on the most beautiful nights of the summer so far! Luck. And next weekend we're going to a monster truck show, which happens to be another item on my list! Soooo excited....!!
 Started a second job this week as a preschool assistant at the local developmental center. I love it!! Aaaand my plans for the future have changed. I am going to go to Missouri State University through the post baccalaureate department and become a high school history teacher. I'm excited about it!! And I'll be starting next month.
Have a great week, everyone!! For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!