Thursday, November 14, 2013

7QT - The Greats: Lincoln, God, and Dr. Who

I finally watched Lincoln, in the wee hours of this morning. Loved it. I hate politics and how they are corrupt and so often practically useless. I love justice and the effectively administered law that protects it. Abraham Lincoln is one of my heroes. Equal rights to ALL under the law is one of my ideals. Just as there were likely "good" people and "bad" people on both sides of the Civil War, the end result of the conflict rendered freedom for each person to live accorrding to his or her values, so long as in doing so, no one else's right to do the same was violated. I hope to see a day when all people truly share all the same freedoms under the same law that, when functioning as it should, prevents free people from oppressing others. I am not a fan of politics, but I am a fan of just and unbiased law. It is how human civilization works and prospers.
One of the things I loved about the movie's portrayal of Mr. Lincoln was his tendency to tell a story. It illustrated his ability to remain calm and diffuse tension through humor.
A while back I started reading Lincoln's Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. Like I do often, I read about half of it and didn't finish. So now I'm all inspired to pick it up again. Today I read a little, and since it contained bits about Abe, theology, history, suffering, and psychology (all favorite subjects on this blog), I thought I'd share a particularly interesting excerpt (I hope that's legal).
"In 1840, a group of reformed drunkards in Baltimore began to meet and offer each other support and fellowship. They decided to take their message to other drunkards, and chapters sprang up around the country. They called themselves the Washington Temperance Union. Soon a chapter formed in Springfield [IL]. On the occasion of George Washington's birthday in 1842, the members invited Lincoln to speak to them. He took the opportunity to explain why 'old-school' temperance efforts had failed and why the Washingtonians had so much success. To denounce drunkards 'in the thundering tones of anathema and denunciation,' Lincoln argued, was not only unjust but impolitic. It simply worked better to reason with, coax, and convince people, he said. Quitting drinking was a good thing, he continued, because people could work and support their families better sober than drunk. The Washingtonians got reformed drunkards to speak about these advantages and to encourage others by the force of their example. In contrast, Lincoln said, harsh condemnation could no more pierce a man's heart than a rye straw could penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise.
"His references to 'Old School' Calvinism and 'Hard Shell' Baptism were subtle, but Lincoln was not subtle about his critique of the old theology. Calvinism saw human beings subjected to a harsh and wrathful God [and predestination]; Lincoln proposed that people could shape their own lives by the exercise of will. Of the Washingtonians, he said admiringly, 'They teach hope to all - despair to none. Denying the doctrine of unpardonable sin, they teach, "While the lamp holds out to burn / The vilest sinner may return."' Drunkards, Lincoln said, should be 'pitied and compassionated, just as are the heirs of consumption and other hereditary diseases.' Their failings ought to be treated as a 'misfortune, and not as a crime, or even as a disgrace.' 
"He made the same point about melancholy. ...Suffering was not a punishment from beyond or a malevolent infestation of the soul. Like the earth turning on its axis or energy passing through a conductor, it was a part of the natural world, to be studied, understood, and, when possible, managed."
See why I love this guy?!

And now, to completely change the subject...let's take a little trip inside my head, shall we?
Have you heard of Christian Agnosticism? Here's a brief little argument for it from the Huffington Post.
I have always believed in personal relationship with God. But if we're being real (and we are), there are also times when I debate with myself whether it's all in my head (prayer works because of the placebo effect, etc.). I can, in fact, almost completely rationalize away any belief in God or anything supernatural. But there are a few things that I think give the idea of a divine Creator some credence that is more difficult to rationalize, I think humans are comprised of more than biology - they also have a immaterial aspect known as the soul and/or spirit. Synergy or no, I don't think that comes from chemical reactions. Also, humanity's affinity for beauty, as has been argued by such great thinkers as C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright, and their longing for justice and a sense that things in the world are just not quite right, or are broken...I agree that these things point to something higher than evolutionary human moral ideals. So: I believe in God.
Next - the more I learn, the more I believe that a lot of harmful theology has evolved from cultural, flawed (or limited) perspectives on what is "good" or "right"...and who benefits from these assessments (patriarchy, caste systems, etc.). Basically, there are a lot of interpretation of "truth" out there - even the same truths come out looking different to different people (i.e., people's interpretations of the Bible). Does this mean there is no accessible knowledge about God? I don't think so.... I think less is known about Him than most Christians profess. But I think there are some things we can know about Him because of what we can see - evidential pointers to His nature. For instance, He must be just and loving and good (because of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, and because these things exist within and are the highest ideals for human character; humanity's Creator must be greater than humanity, that is simply a deductible fact). So: I believe some things can be known about God.
Then - if so there is so much that isn't definable about God, and if there is hope for humanity despite the things we don't know, then is there really any need to share the Gospel? I have always believed so, but lately I have wondered. I am slowly coming to a position on it, though. I read a blog today or yesterday by a retired missionary to Rhodesia. At one point she says, "The villagers were so mesmerized by Glyn’s explanation about Jesus who loved them enough to die for them, that they did not stir when the scorpion rushed to its sudden death. These villagers were accustomed to bondage and fear of their heathen Gods and to be told that they could worship a God who forgives and loves them unconditionally was hard to comprehend." This is one of the arguments for sharing the Gospel, even if you believe eventually all people will be redeemed and spiritually "saved". The love of God is restorative to humanity. So: I believe in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Why did I include that here? Well...because it is some things I have been thinking about long and hard, and I felt like I had a little bit of clarity on them this week. So I'm sharing what I came up with in case there's any other person out there in the blogosphere who thinks a little bit like me. :)
I realized this week that I have not yet taken a walk to enjoy the beautiful sights and colors of Fall. So I did that today. Most of the leaves have already fallen, but a few are still clinging half-heartedly to their branches, and I got a few pretty pictures :). As I was walking in the woods I began to think about the concept of "nature," (as in trees and leaves and wildlife, etc.) in relation to what we consider to be "human nature" and "God's nature". Nature is just a nutshell term for the default state of the environment, I think, if we want a simple definition. And that default state changes from season to season and with passing time. The nature of the human individual, too, changes some (though, perhaps less, in ordinary cases...?) with age and experience. But what about God's nature? Does it change through time, or as He interacts emotively with His creation? James 1:17 says (in the version in which I learned it, KJV): "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." The NIV says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." It comes down, again, to how God relates to time, and, in fact, how God relates to nature. He is the "Father of lights" - the Creator of the Sun and moon and stars, the author of time and the changing seasons (see Genesis 1:14, 15).
I asked a question on Facebook a few days ago: "When people say 'God is faithful', what exactly do they mean?" I think it means He is dependable, and His nature doesn't change. When all else is out of our control; when we don't know which way is up; when we don't know what we believe anymore; we can take comfort in the knowledge that God is the same. He is there. He knows all the things we don't know and therefore cause us to fear. He created it all and nothing is getting away from Him. He is faithful. He is our peace.
On a lighter note...unless you take Dr. Who very seriously (and there's nothing wrong with that)...I came across this today: an illustrative timeline of the last millennium of Dr. Who history.

I am starting another job on Monday. I will have two full-time jobs for a little while. Not sure how that's going to go; I'm sure it will be difficult. But, hopefully by next Fall I will be enrolled in a new degree program, somewhere, and this will give me a chance to save up for a move.
Have a good weekend, everyone! Thanks for stopping by. :)
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Thursday, November 7, 2013

7QT - NaNoWriMo, Jesus: CEO, and St. Therese of Lisieux


I'm doing NaNoWriMo!! I had never heard of it until the April A to Z blogging challenge, and came across several mentions of it then. But I heard about it again last week, so I checked it out and thought it sounded like fun! I've always wanted to write a work of fiction, and this is as good a time as ever! Better, actually, since I'm actually not in school this semester. So...I'm going for it. I don't know if I will hold myself to 50,000 words of actual text or not, but I have already begun my research and writing out character descriptions and plot ideas, etc. I plan to use this month to plan the book and get it started. So...I'll let you all know how that goes! I have actually started writing text, and as of this posting my word count is at 2265 (yeah, I'm behind already). I'm pretty excited about it! My title is The Order of the Oak, and I am thinking of it more as part of a series (fantasy genre). Want an excerpt? Here are my first few paragraphs:
He stumbled across the plain of grass in the direction of the trees about half a mile ahead. Occasionally the new moon shone for an instant between dark clouds rolling swiftly, angrily overhead. It would have been very dark if not for the incessant streaks of lightning staking the land as if to mark the boundaries for a coming battle. The thunder roared, a little more loudly this time than last. The rain held back, but clearly the river god, Thyrodo, was going to air some terrible grievances through a pugilistic storm this night.
A great bolt of lightning struck a tree ahead and to the left, the crash of it issuing a threat as real as any of the others Red Runner had heard lately, and that was saying something. He lifted the clay flagon to his lips for another gulp of Rowan berry mead; more ran down his chin and neck than down the inside of his throat, but what he swallowed burned to please. He tripped but didn’t realize it until he hit the ground hard. The cool grass felt soothing against his sweaty face. He could have lain there and slept contentedly for the night, but knowing this storm would likely yield flooding, he knew he should get home if he wanted to wake in the morning, undrowned. Sober he might have decided to stay there and pass silently in his sleep, but drunk as he was, deep thoughts and regrets did not register. He regained his feet and stumbled on, slightly uphill, as the first raindrops began to tease the windblown land.
The Oak leaves gave shelter from the sprinkles when he reached them. He continued to plunge through the light undergrowth until the woods grew thicker. It would be a little while yet before the rain found its way through the thick canopy above, but he could already hear that its cadence had grown steady. Another burst of thunder reassured any listeners that the night’s portents had only just begun. It was nearly pitch black in the cover of the trees, but Red Runner knew the way through them without needing his eyes to guide him. He had traveled this same path nearly every day of his twenty-seven years of life. This was the path from the main village to his own dwelling. There had been a council of warriors tonight. All the men of hunting and fighting age had been present to decide as a group what to do about the recent signs of disease in the trees down by the river…all the men except Red Runner, that is. He had filled his flagon at the community drinkhouse next to the meeting place, thrown the ladies in the far corner a playful wink on the way out, and strutted past a handful of men about to duck into the meeting, probably the last of those coming, on his way to the river below the small plain west of the village. Those men had glared at him disgustedly as he shoved past them, and one had even called after him, “It shouldn’t surprise me anymore that you don’t care enough to do your part to protect the land that keeps us all alive! You know this affects you, too, don’t you?”
Red Runner hadn’t answered. He hadn’t even looked back, but kept the same stride toward his destination. His angry neighbor had shaken his head of long, dark hair angrily and proceeded inside to the meeting.
I have been doing a sort of a daily devotional reading out of Jesus: CEO by Laurie Beth Jones. (Okay...I don't do it every day so much as every day I remember. But that's okay. I'm learning to live with my quirks, and this is something I'm doing for me, not someone else who demands I do it a certain way.) Today's lesson talked about how Jesus expressed Himself, and the author pointed out how our society pays exorbitant amounts to entertainers because, she thinks, we express ourselves vicariously through them. One of the suggested reflection questions asked how much it costs me (financially and emotionally) to allow others to express themselves in my place, including entertainers, writers, etc. That made me think...what exactly is it that I wish to express through writing this work of fiction? ...In answering I'm still trying to decide whether to keep it simple with, "My creativity," or get all deep and use it to decide a few of my plot motifs. If I did that, it would certainly have to include a character's search for understanding.... Personally, I kind-of think that's what the fantasy genre is about anyway.

I read a post by Leah Libresco this week on how she's using Jennifer Fulwiler's Saint Name Generator to study a new saint each month. I went over there for fun and got St. Therese of Lisieux. I have not read much about saints ever..seriously, though:.I have read a little bit about St. Francis of Assisi, and maybe snippets about one or two others. So I clicked over to the provided link and read about St. Therese and found myself quite surprised how much I identified with her!

The source said, "Her pain [from tuberculosis] was so great that she said that if she had not had faith she would have taken her own life without hesitation. But she tried to remain smiling and cheerful - and succeeded so well that some thought she was only pretending to be ill." I have felt that intensity of emotional pain, and struggled, and at times attempted to hide it because I thought it made me weak or less spiritual.... The more I have studied it, however, the more I have come to realize that thoughts of suicide are not terribly enigmatic...they are a consequence of human pain. I have also felt the added strength of faith during times of suicidal contemplation.

She was passionate; experienced early significant grief and personal loss; enjoyed a deeply personal relationship with God; and was an encourager, particularly to missionaries through prayers and letters. And one of the well-known things about her that has sometimes brought her unflattering scrutiny is that she struggled greatly with her emotions. At the occasion when she considered herself to have entered true conversion, she was able to override her automatic desire to vent her own extreme emotions and behave more sensitively to her father's feelings than her own. I have run the gamut with emotions in my lifetime. I experienced early trauma and became an overemotional young child because of it. Then, as I got older, I learned to supress my emotions and never let them show because it was the only thing in my life over which I was permitted to exercise much control. Now I think I fluctuate between healthy expression of emotion and depression, which is in my mind an extreme negative emotionalness...but I am learning to cope with it better. So...I get Therese's struggle there.

One other thing that stuck out to me was this: "By the time she was eleven years old she had developed the habit of mental prayer. She would find a place between her bed and the wall and in that solitude think about God, life, eternity." I was maybe three or four years older than that when I, too, became serious and individual about my faith. I remember a time when I was about 15, and I made a commitment that God would be the first thing I thought about when I awoke in the morning and the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep. In making that conscious decision, Christ moved to the place of priority in my mind; that is when my life became Christ-centered, and I began to relate all the nuances of everyday life to Him. And it wasn't long after that when my prayer life became more personal and relational, too. I remember the moment that happened, too. I had been reading a new devotional called Mature Christians Are Boring People (and Other Myths) by Ron Luce. I had been applying my mental energies to learn more about God. And I think it was that book (along with other sources, I am sure) that mentioned how praying is simply sharing your life with God - talking to Him like you would to a friend. And one evening after my brother had died and my family was moving into another house, my parents left me at the new place with the younger kids while they went to get more cleaning supplies. In one of the rooms was a foldaway cot, and I crawled into it, a peaceful, protective cave of comfort, and it was there that I had my first "conversation" with God, and told Him about my day, and about how I had been feeling about all the things in my life that were out of control.

St. Therese demonstrated the great significance of consecration in the SMALL, everyday things. How beautiful.

Got the email this week that I was not accepted into the physics program at MSU. They said they do not do provisional acceptance, but I am welcome to reapply if/when I catch up on the prerequisite courses. I was a little discouraged at the news...not so much because I believe physics is the calling of my life, but because I feel like I have undergone/am undergoing a bit of a crisis of faith...or at least a huge transition of faith...and it has caused me to question the educational path I have taken thus far. I don't regret my theological education. I do, however, wish it had been a little less expensive. I'm thinking now about taking some time off to decide what exactly I want to do next. No need to rush things, right? Life, after all, is what happens right now, not something I'm working toward and will achieve with some degree in the future. So, as I was wallowing a little in my disappointment today or yesterday, I came across the following tweet:

Guess I'm still learning that "graceful letting go" part.

BUT, speaking of Twitter, there were also a few posts in my feed that made me chuckle this week:
"The Lord shall preserve thy Pinterest..."

" that we may be wholly Pinterest..."

"Amen, Pinterest!"

"...God's beau, Pinterest..."

"I will find rest nowhere but Pinterest."

I often give thanks through Jesus to Pinterest, how about you? ;)
Yep. Gotta love getting cut off by the Twitter.

Made one of my all-too-frequent visits to the DMV this week. Heard a truck driver and apparently a truck driving company owner or administrator having a conversation. Apparently the owner/administrator guy spends one week out of every month on the road with a driver, in his words, " making their life meaningful." He explained how the drivers sacrifice a lot being away from their families so much, and he gives them an occasional companion for conversation, " to be heard and receive affirmation," as he put it. I thought that was pretty cool. (And he really seemed like a nice guy...I don't think he meant truck drivers' lives are meaningless; he just choose his words poorly.) Wouldn't that be a cool job (for an extrovert, of course, as he apparently was)?!

One of the bloggers I follow posted this link to artist Roland Deschane's combinations of Star Wars with Thomas Kinkade artwork. Here's an example:

My Albie-boo is going to be a year old on Sunday!! I love my little sweetie so much. :)

(A picture from 3 or 4 weeks ago after I gave him a haircut.)
Have a great weekend, everyone, and for more Quick Takes, check out Conversion Diary!

Friday, November 1, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday - Monsters, Cryonics, Bitcoin... (and Cabbages and Kings)

Aloha Friday Blog Hop

First, in honor of Halloween, here is the best article I ran across in relation to monsters this week. it still had me thinking the day after I read it. "How Monsters Point Us to God" by Paul Pastor in Christianity Today. It talks about how the creation of monsters reveals our fears, including our fears about God.

I took the GRE today!! I got "unofficial" scores on the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections (I got a 162 and 147 in them, respectively). I was disappointed with my score on the Quantitative (math) portion, because the degree I am applying for is in physics. BUT, in my defense, I haven't had math since I was a sophomore in high school (15 years ago), so I think the fact that I did as well as I did should indicate at least a potentiality that I can do well in the subject. I also finished the rest of the application process, including my letter of interest.

Here is part of that letter of interest, in which I briefly mention one of my research goals:
As an example of my cross-discipline research interests, I am interested in studying the theoretical ethics of humans in extra-Earth temporal dimensions. With the expansion of space exploration and the hope of humanity inhabiting other planets, this will pose a very real concern at some point in the not-so-distant future, and a framework now might provide a useful reference for legal considerations to come. These might touch on all sorts of subjects from cryonics, cloning, and death ethics to the age of adulthood and the sexual ethics inherent therein.

It sounds good in my head, but I'm a little worried it sounds more like I want to write Sci-Fi than academic research. Oh well. I think the best nonfiction does read like an interesting story.

I'm hoping I am not the last person on the planet to have heard of Bitcoin (a type of digital currency). Just learned about it this week when, by chance, I glimpsed an article about a Bitcoin ATM machine being installed in Canada. I find it interesting that, as a medium of currency, it can fluctuate in value just like the stock market. Makes me curious to learn more about how it is supposed to work in an efficient way. Honestly, at first glance, it seems kind-of like a overly complicated form of PayPal to me. But then, what do I know?

So I'm reading through the Harry Potter books for the first time. I am now a little ways into the sixth book. Phenomenal writing. The movies are great, but it's true that the books are even better. And have you ever done an Internet search for Harry Potter fan fiction?! There are so many sites!! Plus there is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (sort of a cross between Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and actual, nonfictional principles of reason...?). And recently a friend introduced me to this "Hogwarts Seminary" Tumblr page with GIFs that illustrate various moments in the life of a seminarian (there are others of these out there, too). Here's one I could identify with:

"The feeling of trying to write a concise book review a month after reading the text."
(...which is why I now make notes in books...something I eschewed as evil in my younger days.)

...Even now I find it hard to keep on track and read books in a brief time span so as to be able to write a coherent review. I was going to try to write a few reviews here on the blog, and the one I'm reading now (Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey) is going to be available for purchase in like 4ish if I don't get to it, ...[sigh]....

But I digress.


J. K. Rowling, consider me a fan; your works are definitely classics. I'm only sorry I'm just now discovering this!!

Did you notice I skipped #6? Yeah...that's all I got this week, folks. Enjoy your weekend! Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to visit Conversion Diary for more great Quick Takes!