Saturday, December 20, 2008

Heartless (a prayer)

I wonder if perhaps you let me slide,
o thou my God, to such a boring, dull,
and wasteful Hell to get through my thick skull
what blind destructive movement seeks inside
me not just death, but vi’lent suicide.
The vision, clear and inescapable
disturbs, as glancing trepidation full
one cannon-blasted sees a gaping, wide
an emptiness where heart and breath should be.
“Our hearts are restless,” missing, torn to bits
and still, we think we have no need of thee.
Your cruelest mercy lovingly permits
my eyes myopic fearfully to view
the monstrous sight: my self apart from you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Brandon's Conversion

The Christmas Carol movie with Patrick Stewart has filled Brandon (once a near-Scrooge himself, a lover only of melancholy, morbid and minor-keyed Christmas music, and a vocal advocate of "Bah-Humbug Day"), yes has filled Brandon with Christmas cheer! It's a great movie--definitely worth adding to your Christmas movie collection if you have not done so already.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Commercializing the Holidays

So, here it is Thursday of the week before finals, and instead of studying or writing papers, I am goofing off online--always a good idea. Now time for some inane musing, inspired by another blog:

Thanksgiving is kind of a lame holiday. Part of what makes holidays so great is that on them, you do the same special things, eat the same special foods, put up the same special decorations. But with Thanksgiving, sometimes you're with one side of the family, sometimes with another side, sometimes with just your nuclear family, or sometimes with friends, or with a family you're not related to at all, or with a bunch of homeless people in a church gymnasium. There aren't even standard Thanksgiving decorations to put up, or Thanksgiving activities to engage in (Brandon and I have worked on writing some Thanksgiving carols, but it's rough going). The only thing that stays the same is the food. Only the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams/sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce are absolutely inviolable Thanksgiving traditions.

The relative lameness of Thanksgiving is accentuated by its position between the two most fun holidays of the year--the most fun, and the the most commercialized: Halloween and Christmas.

People often talk about how horrible it is that Christmas has become so commercialized. (For a hilarious Onion News video on the over-commercialization of Halloween, click here.) But maybe there's an upside to the commercialization of the holidays, too. I mean, as long as you don't go overboard, keep your spending in check, look for "green" gifts, and all that jazz, it can be really nice that there are so many beautiful things, so many festive products to enjoy--and you don't even have to own all of them in order to enjoy them! (E.g. other people's Christmas light displays.)

The Christmas music, candles, colored lights, cookies and candy, gingerbread houses, holiday mugs, Christmas shopping, peppermint lattes (I've never had one, but the idea sounds wonderfully Christmasy!), wrapping paper, ribbon and bows don't distract from the "true meaning of Christmas,"--they just add to it! To quote from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's apostrophe to Christmas, "you are all this and more now."

That's one reason I love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas albums (in spite of the strange fact that they often address or speak of the Christmas holiday as if it were some sort of demi-goddess or archangel); they are a fascinating melding of religious sentimentality and the magic of a commercialized Christmas.

Oh my, look at the time! I'd better hurry home and get my Trans-Siberian Orchestra fix before Brandon (a.k.a. "The Grinch") gets home ...

Friday, November 21, 2008


I haven't written anything in a while and I probably won't write anything for a little while yet because my vision seems to have been rapidly deteriorating over the past month, so that I feel I am straining my eyes all the time. I finally figured out for sure that I do not have vision insurance, so ... darn. I'll have to pay for the exam and glasses out of pocket. Until that happens, I'm doing as little reading and typing as a graduate student can manage. And that's a lot of reading and typing ...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Are Our Founding Fathers Chuckling or Spinning In Their Graves?

I still haven't decided for whom to vote for president. I've been looking into third party candidates and decided that the party I like best is the Reform Party. Unfortunately, due to infighting within the party, they failed to get their presidential candidate registered as a write-in candidate in any state except Mississippi.

So, I found out which candidates I can write in, here in California. They are: Chuck Baldwin, a conservative radio talk show host; James Harris, a socialist, from what I can tell; Ron Paul, who tried for the Republican nomination; and Frank Moore, who appears to be the official "crazy joke" candidate.

I'm not sure whether to imagine that our founding fathers are laughing out loud, or moaning and rolling over in their graves.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Tiny Smidgen Of Regret

When we first arrived in our apartment (a little over a year ago now), I saw (and killed) a few mini roaches in the kitchen--very small, about the size of a bee or wasp, but flat, not round, of course. Brandon thought I was crazy to say so, but I did think they were kind of cute. They disappeared after a few days.

But Monday afternoon I came into the kitchen and there was a slightly larger roach, about the size of a cricket, munching on a crumb. And oh, my goodness, it was beautiful! It stood tall and moved about so gracefully on its long, delicate legs--and it was a gorgeous amber color. And so it was with a tiny bit of sadness that I crushed it utterly beneath the sole of my flip flop.

I sympathize with the principle of non-violence toward all living creatures (well, unless you count microorganisms--or plants, really). I think it's appropriate to have a tiny amount of sadness when killing insects--an amount of sadness tiny as the insects themselves, and short as their brief lifespans.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Does This Ever Happen To You?

So, I was about to send a quick little email to Brandon with an inside joke in it, and I thought, as I always do before sending an email "I'd better make sure I'm sending it to the right person." So I looked at the name, and it was correct, but I was doubtful for a moment. "Wait a minute--is that really my husband's name? Is there really such a person? And even if that person really exists, am I really related to him in the way I think I am?" What if my life turns into an episode of the Twilight Zone and all of a sudden the people who mean most to me become mere acquaintances and are all confused that I'm speaking so familiarly to them?

When I was a kid I used to wonder whether perhaps everyone I had ever met was a robot, or a hologram, and I was just the subject of an experiment to see whether a human raised by robots would grow up normally. Or maybe I was a robot myself, the subject of an experiment to see if a robot raised as a human would be the same as a human. If that were the case, how would I ever find out?

Does anyone else occasionally wonder if perhaps the basic fabric of life is about to be torn apart?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Age of Stupidity and a Terrible Nightmare

I've been wanting to write this post for a long time, even though I'm not sure whether anyone will be interested in reading it. Oh well!

When the quarter started I was less excited to start a new school year than I have ever been. I realized it's probably because I'm now at a stage in life where I'd rather be out doing things than sitting in a classroom, or at a desk, thinking and writing. I have entered the life stage which as an adolescent I thought of as "the Age of Stupidity."

Don't ask me why exactly I thought people between the ages of 20 and 50 were so much more foolish than those younger and older. It just seemed like the people who run the world, who really have power to move and change things, are too close to the action, and too wrapped up in what they are doing to stop and gain perspective.

I had a dream last month--don't worry, I'll spare you the details. It started out as your typical nightmare--dark and stormy night, I open the front door, and there's this huge, crazy looking caucasian man with a rusty, three foot long machete. He clearly intends to murder me and my family (this is at my father's house), so I struggle with the guy and eventually get the knife blade up against his neck. I offer to let him go before the police arrive, but he refuses, continues to struggle, I cut his throat, and he drops dead, oozing blood all over the place.

As I'm trying to clean up the blood and everything, I think to myself "I guess I'll feel bad that I killed him now," but I don't feel bad about it at all
--it was in self defense, after all. As I'm wondering what the police will say and do when they show up, the alarm goes off and I wake up.

It was a very disturbing dream. Thinking about it afterward, I understood it in contrast to a couple nightmares I had as a teenager--where there was a murderous intruder in the house, and I tried calling the police but they weren't going to come, and I felt completely powerless. In this dream, I was very much in control of the situation. But that didn't make it less disturbing, because I ended up being the one who killed someone.

So anyway, feeling powerful can be just as terrible as feeling powerless. And perhaps that explains why this is the Age of Stupidity--because you have to make weighty decisions, and some of them will turn out badly, and you'll end up looking like a fool, or worse. But there's no avoiding it--or rather, avoiding it is a foolish choice, also.

Friday, October 10, 2008

For The Record

Brandon complains that my family was under the mistaken impression that our car was a hunk of junk that probably would have just fallen apart or spontaneously died of its own accord had we not crashed it. So for the record, let it be known that our little red Toyota Celica's only problems were as follows:

1. The front left fender was all smashed up, and the turn signal was broken, so Brandon had to stick his hand out the window to signal a left turn. It always made me a little nervous, since he was sticking his hand out into the oncoming traffic. Also, a couple drivers took the opportunity to slap him a high five!

2. A few months after having been fixed, the engine fan broke again. So we just left it broken and had the heater running full blast all the time (including when we drove across New Mexico and Arizona in late August ...)

3. There was an oil leak that would have cost more to fix than the car was worth. Now, our landlady in Massachussetts told us it's actually illegal to drive a car that has both an oil leak and an overheating problem because, as her husband found out through experience, it can lead to the engine catching fire. So we used to joke about how the engine was about to burst into flame--and wouldn't it be funny if we had just been joking about the engine catching on fire, and then it actually did? Ho ho ho hilarious!

The oil leak was probably also responsible for the destruction of the alternator, which may, in turn, have have been related to the death of the battery.

But aside from those things, the car was in perfectly good shape, reliable, with a long life ahead of it. Oh, and the radio antenna was broken, too. And there was a broken off piece of a key stuck in the passenger side door's keyhole. And the trunk couldn't be unlocked with a key, it had to be popped from the front of the car. And the windshield wiper fluid didn't squirt. But that's it. Otherwise, the car was virtually in mint condition.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Oh No! Not Again!

This past Sunday, we were driving home from Solvang, CA (which is a couple hours northwest of L.A.) and had reached Ventura (still at least an hour from home). We were cruising along on the 101, in the fast lane, and Brandon stepped on the brakes. I looked up and saw that traffic had slowed way down up ahead--wow! Traffic was really, really slow--no, actually, just the cars in our lane. Brandon slammed on the brakes, but (it seemed) the car in front of us was stopped, and we weren't decelerating rapidly enough. There was plenty of time to realize that (and, of course, to exclaim "OH MY GOD!") before we crashed into the silver SUV in front of us.

No one was injured, but both our cars were totalled. Why did the guy in front of us stop so fast? Because the guy in front of him had done the same thing. Why? We will never know, because his car was not hit and he drove away without telling us.

For me, the worst thing about the incident was that it took so very long to get home. It took over an hour just to get the cars off the freeway. Once they'd been towed to a yard, the towing guys called a cab to take us to the Amtrak station--said it would be 15-20 mins. The cab finally showed up about an hour later. And then, of course, the Amtrak train was 45 mins. late, and when we arrived in L.A., we had to take the light rail to Pasadena, and walk the remaining five blocks carrying a lot of heavy stuff. The accident happened about 4:15pm, and we didn't get home until about 11:30pm. It was an utterly miserable end to an otherwise wonderful three-day weekend.

Goodbye, old friend.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Martha Stewart, Richard Simmons

Speaking of Halloween (note: I am slightly disgusted with myself for giving in to my obsessional thoughts about Halloween celebrations and decorations before October 1, but, well, it's a relatively harmless obsession) ...

I was just remembering this video of Halloween crafts and recipes made by Martha Stewart that I watched last year. Of course I knew who Martha Stewart was, but it was the first time I'd seen her on video. I was surprised. The hosts of "how-to" shows--cooking shows, I'm thinking of--are usually positive sounding. And I expect a woman who is supposedly the ultimate homemaker, in a video on making crafts and recipes, to be perhaps a little over the top with positive affect, smiling fakely and so on. But Martha Stewart's affect sounded flat and dead most of the time--like she wasn't even trying to make it look like she was happy. In fact, I thought she looked very sad. Strange and interesting.

And speaking of cultural icons whom I recently saw on video ...

Brandon insisted that we purchase from the Salvation Army volumes one and two of Sweatin' To The Oldies. They're hosted by (the one and only) Richard Simmons. Of course I had some idea of who Richard Simmons was--a most memorable mockery of him being the Simpsons outtake in which, instead of telling Smithers to "release the hounds," Mr. Burns orders, "Smithers, release the talking Richard Simmons robot."

The amazing thing about Richard Simmons is he's way more over-the-top than the people who make fun of him. Perhaps its simply that his impersonators lack sincerity--they don't actually feel the apparent body-seizing joy which Mr. Simmons experiences every few seconds.

The only conclusion I have to draw from my meandering observations is that cultural icon status seems to wildly distort people's personalities. The caricatured lines we draw around and on top of the famous people we love to make fun of are often deceptive. But the real person underneath is so much more interesting ...

Halloween Hanging Creature

I found this little guy (a "Halloween Hanging Creature," according to the tag) at the dollar store the other day. It just makes me so happy--every time I look at it, I can't help but laugh.
So, I thought I'd give Brandon a fun surprise by letting him find it hanging from the shower head one morning. But alas! He said it was creepy. And he gave the most outlandish reason for saying so: it looks like the monsters from Mercer Mayer's There's a Nightmare in My Closet. Ironically, Brandon as a child was deeply disturbed by the monsters in that book. Go figure!
If I can get the "poll" feature working on this blog (I had trouble with it before) perhaps I'll find out how many of my blog readers think the thing is horrible or hilarious. Or I suppose you can just leave a comment saying what you think.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Making Jokes

Apart from the inside humor Brandon and I share all the time, it seems I rarely say anything funny. And of the infrequent times that I say something I think is funny, perhaps half the time no one else laughs.

I think this happens because I get the joke with only a minimum of setup, but other people expect more--more ... build up? More carefully constructed phrasing?--in order to see the irony, the ridiculousness, the funny side of something. And so I laugh at jokes before the punchline has been reached, and I tell the beginning of a joke, which sometimes Brandon or my brother Ben, if either of them happens to be present, may finish for me. And then people laugh.

But it seems my most effective jokes are the ones that I'm not even sure if they're jokes or not, and I don't know how other people will take them. I often get a good laugh by making ambiguous, or even cryptic statements. And apparently other people find some kind of amusing significance to it.

The only example I can think of right now is when I commented on the prices at the gas station, "Wow! Gas prices are still going down. Thank you, George W. Bush!" in a silly tone of voice. Brandon thought that was very funny. And I wondered why, exactly ...

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Infant Sartre?

For me at least, one reason infants are so fascinating is that no one really remembers what it was like to be an infant. What does preverbal thought look like? Is it the same as the kind of nonverbal thought that we do after having mastered a language? Or does learning a language so shape our brains that we can no longer think in the same manner as we did before language?

I wonder, do infants experience existential angst? Do they wonder, with some kind of preverbal, innate human impulse, "Why am I here? Who am I? What is it all about?" Perhaps that question goes on only at the completely subconscious level, driving the newly born person to search for patterns and connections, for meaning in the strange and mysterious phenomena he or she is constantly observing.

But when babies cry seemingly without reason--when neither nursing, nor burping, nor distraction, nor changing their diaper does any good--could it be that they are simply frustrated by their limitations? Do babies at times feel a primitive longing for transcendence, for "more," for that nameless something which drives all human individuals and societies forward?

Am I perfectly ridiculous for even asking? But even infants are human, after all. Isn't existential angst an innate property of human beings?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Unto Us A Child Is Born

I am currently in a suburb of Dallas, visiting my aunt (Jenny), her husband (Patrick), and their four daughters. Their fourth was born this past Monday at 10:21pm. I had the awesome privilege of being present for her nativity, which took place at home, in a birthing pool. As I consider the culturally normative images of birth--woman reclining on hospital bed, wearing one of those horrible gowns, legs apart, red face contorted, screaming with pain, doctors in scrubs, medical face masks, the husband in scrubs, face mask hanging by one string, saying "push, honey, push"--contrasted with the calm, the candlelight, quiet music, soft voices--the naturalness of Jenny's labor--as the midwife said, she makes it look so easy!--it's hard to believe that the contrasting images describe the same type of event.

Of course, having delivered a baby three times before, Jenny was apparently already a skilled and veteran birthing-mother. So I won't be so enthusiastic as to hope that when, God-willing, I have my first child, the birth will be as smooth and natural as the one I witnessed Monday. But I hope it will be closer to that than to the sterilized hospital births of popular imagination.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Adventures in Housesitting, part 1b

Sorry, but the latest finds were just too incredible not to share. In the refrigerator: a sundried tomato and pesto "torta" (dip? spread?) from Trader Joe's, unopened, expired five years ago. In the cupboard: baking powder with the expiration date "JUN73." The baking powder expired--it wasn't just purchased, it expired--twelve years before I was born.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Adventures in Housesitting, part 2: Breaking Things

During the eleven months that we lived in Massachussetts I think the only thing we broke was a large plate. I don't recall our having broken anything at our current apartment--Brandon chipped a bowl pretty badly, but it's still usable. And we've been there about eleven months, also.

My point is, we're not especially clumsy people. And yet, in the two and a half weeks we've been housesitting, we've broken the plastic handle on the fish pond filter, a wooden spoon, a glass, and a decorative ceramic unicorn. Last week, Brandon was watering the plants when a little switch on the hose attachment, apparently weakened from many years' usage, suddenly flew off, leaving the attachment useless and unfixable.

Finally! A more or less valid application of Murphy's Law ("If anything can go wrong, it will")! I've always thought there should be a Murphy's Second Law--something along the lines of "It will always be the worst case scenario." The difference is subtle, and the laws are related--like the first and second laws of thermodynamics--but I think a lot of people think they see the application of Murphy's Law where truly Murphy's Second Law is more appropriate ...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Adventures in Housesitting

For the past week we've been housesitting for someone, whom we'll call "M." (he'll be gone through the end of August). Our primary responsibilities are watering the garden, taking care of the fish and their pond, and maintaining the swimming pool. It's a pretty sweet gig.

Also, M. told us to feel free to eat anything from the refrigerator--"Nothing is spoiled," he said on July 27, 2008. Those were his exact words. When we arrived at the house on July 28, 2008, we found in the refrigerator several rotting vegetables (and when I say "rotting" I don't mean "wilted"--we're talking covered in mold and liquifying), moldy hot dog buns, funny smelling leftovers, two bricks of unopened cream cheese--one of which expired in March, the other in 2007--and about a half a dozen cheeses in various stages of decay. Strangely enough, there were a couple blocks of cheese completely covered in mold which were still unopened, in the original packaging.

Anyway, I guess that's just what happens when people who used to live with someone else now live alone: lots of food gets wasted.

The other interesting thing that's happened so far is that one day, I was going to fetch the large bucket which M. uses for collecting yard waste, and found that it contained four or five baby 'possums. They were pretty big--about six inches long--and at first glance, cute. Not so cute when they bared their horrible little 'possum teeth. And when we decided to tip the bucket over by the side of the yard to let them out, it was inexplicably creepy to watch them crawl out of the bucket and disappear into the bushes.

Could 'possums be the most hideous animal there is? How do they compare on the ugliometer with, say, Amazon river dolphins, or naked mole rats? Yeah, yeah, I understand that ugliness is in the eye of the beholder--my lovely pet spider of five(? six?) years ago taught me that. But I think it says something about the 'possum that even it's young only make it to "almost cute" status.

In fact, a couple days after we let them loose, one of the baby 'possums managed to climb back into the old bucket, and then couldn't get out again. In just two days' time, its coat had gone from looking soft and furry, to scraggly and hairy. Another of the baby 'possums we found dead in the fish pond, its teeth clenched around the electric wire (which is meant to keep out raccoons). It apparently didn't harm any of the fish. My guess is that it thought the fish would be good to eat, ignored the shocking pain as it crawled over or under the electric wire, found it couldn't swim, and electrocuted itself on the wire trying to get out. 'Possums are so stupid!

And that's about the closest I'm gonna get to a meaningful conclusion. Nonetheless, I take this little writing exercise to be a sign that my brain is recovering from the three two-week intensives I just finished (kind of--there are still papers due. Speaking of which, I should start working on one of them ...).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Watch Iron Man

Quick, while it's still in theaters! If you like superhero movies, or if, like me, you like the idea of the superhero movie, but in the past have found actual superhero movies to be at least a little disappointing, and if you have not done so already, GO FORTH AND WATCH IRON MAN!

Iron Man avoids pretty much all of the superhero movie pitfalls I'm aware of. The story is neither overly elaborate nor overly simplistic. It doesn't take itself too seriously (as I suspect is the case with The Incredible Hulk, though I haven't seen it), but neither does it degenerate into tasteless camp (a vice which Transformers narrowly avoided).

The acting is good and the characters are fun--the only exception being the Afghani terrorists, who come off flat and one-dimensional. The special effects are well utilized. The humor is witty. The platonic romance is refreshingly atypical. The hero's character defects and weaknesses make his attempts at "do gooding" both sympathetic and amusing.

Very few of my favorite movies can be found in the "Action/Adventure" section of the video store. In fact, this may be the first one. Iron Man for Best Picture!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Importance of Being Ruthless/Lewis vs. Pullman

Over the last three days I've spent a lot of time on a work of "young adult fiction" that I started writing about eight years ago. The process has been rather like dumping out a huge pile of pebbles, among which are scattered a few precious stones. Most of what I have written is dross, and needs to be discarded.

My main problem with The Amber Spyglass (the final volume of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which begins with The Golden Compass) and with the third Harry Potter book (which I started but never finished) is that it seems like Pullman and Rowling just dumped and didn't bother with the much more difficult work of sorting, culling and paring down.

Of course it's been said many, many times, but I just want to join my voice to the choir: good writing is not so much good writing as it is good editing! A really good author is willing to drop extraneous details, avoids harping on pet philosophical ideas, and deletes unnecessary scenes or characters in spite of personal emotional attachments to them.

It's been a long time since I read the Chronicles of Narnia, but as I recall, C. S. Lewis did an excellent job in this regard. So while I may admire Philip Pullman's vivid imagination and narrative powers, I do cringe when I hear his trilogy compared with the (well edited!) Chronicles of Narnia.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I had this idea, and I'm quite certain it's true, even though reality has not yet borne it out. My idea is that, instead of paying out the nose for a good pair of new shoes, one can frequent thrift stores and find a high quality used pair which will last much longer than Target or Payless shoes.
My last pair of Target shoes only lasted about a year, if that. So we went to the Salvation Army last month and I found a pair of shoes I thought fit me. I was wrong!

The soles were all uneven--they sloped down toward the toe, and the right sole was thicker than the left. I figured that if I just wore them long enough, the soles would get smashed down and evened out. And I think that actually has happened.

But the shoes are also easily half a size too big. I kept wondering why my feet and legs were sore and tired all the time. Then I realized: it's the horrible shoes! I thought those shoes were a bargain, but really, they were just a waste of three dollars!

Three dollars! We could have bought a carton of ice cream with that money!

So now I'm just wearing the flip flops I've had since I was eleven. I've had them for half my lifetime! Amazing!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

the brain is smarter than the self(?)!

Back when I was applying to colleges, I took the ACT as well as the SAT. The last section is on, like, "Science and Technology" or something, and has you interpret graphs and tables of statistics and things like that. By the time I reached that section, I was so tired, my conscious mind just sort of shut down. I looked at the questions, and without engaging in rational thought, intuitively picked answers. When I got the test results back, I was surprised to find I'd only missed, I think, two of the questions and had scored in, like, the 90th percentile for that section, or something.

M. Scott Peck talked about the mysterious workings of the unconscious mind as divine grace. I think perhaps that's what's been happening over the past few days.

I'm not great at planning ahead, and I forget how quickly deadlines approach. Over the last few days I've had the most wretched time trying to get to sleep. I've been very tired, but still filled with nervous energy. It's as if my brain realized before I did that it would be fatal (from an academic standpoint) if I wasted 8 hrs. sleeping every night. So it brought out the hidden reserves and bade me burn the midnight oil.

If this had not happened, I would be so very, very far behind right now! We're leaving for Brandon's sister's wedding on Thursday and by that time I have to ... well, I have to do a lot. Not as much as my friend Miranda in her final days of seminary, but, a lot.

Anyway, I should go and work on one of those two 10-15 page research papers ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Damned if you do ...

In Systematic Theology 1 class with (the amazing, the incredible, the terrifically old-fashioned) Dr. Shuster, we were discussing the nature of sin. Dr. Shuster was saying that sins of omission are just as bad as sins of commission.

Someone asked: "Does institutionalized evil fall under the category of sins of omission?"

Shuster replied "No." According to her, systemic evil (as it is normally construed) refers to corruption on a scale so wide that the individual is left with no choice but to sin. So, for example, one may go to Trader Joe's and buy the organic bell peppers, but still be participating in a system which expends large amounts of fuel transporting produce from South America.

Since the individual cannot change the system, he or she can only do his or her best to choose the least harmful option, and try to at least remain aware of and grieve over the evil that he or she is compelled to commit.

This concept does not translate directly, but it is similar to some ideas presented in the class I took on family systems. My loose construal of Carl Whitaker and Augustus Napier's insights from The Family Crucible is that sometimes the interactional patterns of families become so rigid, self-defeating and self-perpetuating that the family members feel compelled to break the cycle with an act of psychological violence--such as starting an adulterous affair.

While such an act is clearly destructive, it may seem like the only way out of an increasingly unbearable situation.

I have become more sympathetic toward this idea in the past two days. I have found myself in a situation where it seemed necessary to say something destructive to a person I love, and yet I do not quite regret it. I find myself caught somewhere between knowing it was something that needed to be said, and mourning over the active role I have taken in the sin and perversity of my interactions with this beloved person.

I know I don't usually write such personal stuff on the internet for (literally) all to see, but I thought this was sufficiently vague to be said in public, and something in me wants to announce to the world (who might not otherwise realize that I am aware of it) I am a sinful woman, and part of a sinful people. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Movie Review: The Hours

Brandon and I watched The Hours last month. He liked it better, and I liked it a little less than the first time he and I watched it (which was before we met each other).

The film is still, of course, a visual and musical delight. The soundtrack, scene-work, make-up, costumes and cinematography come together beautifully, and to powerful effect. The performances are still convincing and sympathetic. I still cried when the boy was in the street yelling desperately for his mother to come back. The well-scripted dialogue contributes nicely to characterization--particularly those lines which say more than the character speaking them intends.

But there are a couple things I found dissatisfying. Of the three leads, "Mrs. Dalloway" is the most sane and emotionally healthy--but she is still depressed and frustrated, living in the past, leeching her life's meaning off a dying man, and neglecting her lover. It is unrealistic that she would have a happy, carefree teenage daughter. Generally speaking, unhappy parents have unhappy children, and typically, relations between unhappy parents and their adolescent children are strained.

Also, some of the film's tension stems from miscommunication, or complete lack of communication--as when "Mrs. Dalloway" refuses to open up to her lover about her clearly overwhelming emotions, or when the housewife sits, weeping in the bathroom, straining to carry on a normal conversation with her husband, in the other room. "Mrs. Dalloway" opens up to her daughter and a friend, but the conversations are not transformative, leaving the issues at stake unresolved.

Resolution comes to Woolf through the decision to move back to London (which eventually leads to her suicide), to the housewife in running away, and to "Mrs. Dalloway" in the death of "the poet." In each case, a change in external life-situation brings resolution. I am philosophically biased toward movies which represent inner and inter-personal transformation as the mode of deliverance. I am highly skeptical of the idea that someone who is miserable (for reasons other than not having their basic physical needs met) can find lasting peace solely by means of a change in outward circumstances.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright

I just finished reading Jeremiah Wright's speeches to the NAACP and to the National Press Club. I found nothing at all in either of those statements (nor in any quotation from his sermons) which ought to be a source of controversy.

Rev. Wright is simply preaching the sometimes-harsh truth of the gospel. He made one statement which sounds pretty off the wall--regarding the theory that the AIDS virus was created by the U.S. government to control or exterminate the black population. While I (as a middle-class, white and Chinese American) doubt there is anywhere near sufficient evidence to support this conspiracy theory, one must remember that the black community has been given more than ample reason to completely mistrust the U.S. government.

Anyway, I was surprised to find the Rev. so eminently reasonable and gospel-focused, considering the controversy he's stirred up. I am now interested to read and try to analyze some articles which bash him. What the heck kind of presuppositions and attitudes--apart from simple racism--could have gotten people so riled up about this preacher of Christ? Or is it really just racism?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

More on the Virginity of Mary

At one presbytery meeting I attended, a (seemingly fairly conservative) ordination Candidate was being questioned about his personal statement of faith. Someone asked why he didn't include "the virgin birth" (by which most people mean what is technically called "the virgin conception"). He had simply forgotten to include it.

But I have asked myself whether, when I read my personal statement of faith before presbytery, I will include the virgin conception of Christ. If I do not, and if I am asked why, I will explain that whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin is not essential to the Christian faith, and does not change the message of the gospel. Jesus could have been fully human and fully divine even if he had been born in the natural way. If God had wanted to do it that way, he could have. And it would have been no less a miracle.

But affirming the virgin conception of Christ is important for a couple reasons--not as a litmus test for orthodoxy, but as an indication of some underlying attitudes. It may indicate whether one believes that miracles are possible. It is a mistake to reject the virgin conception because of an underlying belief that miracles simply do not happen. In that case, one would also have to reject belief in Christ's resurrection, which is essential to Christian faith.

Also, one's belief in or rejection of the virgin conception is an indication of whether one accepts the canonical Gospels as being generally historically reliable. If one believes that the writers of the Gospels were just making stuff up with no basis in reality, one is no longer within the bounds of traditional Christian faith. Now, I believe there is a lot of room for orthodox attitudes between the view mentioned above and biblical inerrancy (which I will someday make a case against on this blog). But my personal feeling is that, if you're going to say something in the Gospels is not true, you'd better have a darned good reason for it.

And also, it is appropriate for Christians to have a humble attitude of deference to church tradition. Obviously, church tradition has not been infallible. Mistakes have been made. But I probably will affirm the virgin conception in my statement of faith, because I don't disagree with it, and it is in the Apostle's Creed--and who the heck am I to mess with ancient church tradition? I feel it would be arrogant of me to do such a thing.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


A Hymn of Greeting
To the newest member of the ivory brigade

Who knew at twenty two
it should assail my weathered jaws
that draws the infant’s wail

Insufficient funds could not procure
the aid of surgeon’s blade
to halt the rightful course of things
beneath a blissful ignorance, fast fading into pain.
Uncomprehending shall not be, like for the babe, my bane.

Tongue tests, tastes, traverses
Sore, soft, weakened spot
where flesh is torn apart, revealing
The unyielding ivory peak:
The birth of wisdom.

With age come crowded digits
Skewing youthful tooth perfection.
Mourn not beauty; patience.
Wait for transformation.


I liked this poem when I first wrote it, but now I think it's pretty awkward. Oh well. It is the first poem that's come to me in a very long time.

"The Virgin Shall Conceive"

Some people seem to think that the virgin conception of Jesus is discounted by the fact that the verse in Isaiah, which says that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isa. 7:14) meant, to its author, simply “the young woman will conceive and bear a son,” and the child is not, apparently, supposed to be an important personage at all--his significance seems to lie in marking the amount of time which will pass between his birth and the imminent times of plenty (“he shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good” Isa. 7:15).

People “argue” that because the supposed fulfillment of the prophecy was “based on a simple linguistic mistake,” the virgin conception did not happen at all. This “argument” is not very well thought out.

It is not as though the authors of Matthew and Luke first read the verse in Isaiah, then inexplicably decided it must refer to the expected messiah, and then invented fanciful, completely fictitious, but fairly detailed accounts of the miraculous conception and birth Jesus “must have had” because of the passage in Isaiah.

Given the length and degree of detail of the conception and birth narratives, it is clear that they are not “based on” or “inspired by” Isaiah 7:14. Whether or not you accept them as historical accounts, they are clearly based on stories that were being told about Jesus. Luke doesn’t even explicitly reference Isa. 7:14.

And secondly, Matthew and Luke were not necessarily ignorant of the fact that the author of Isaiah did not mean a “virgin” but rather, a “young woman” and they did not necessarily think that the author of Isaiah knew he was referring to Jesus. And if someone had explained to them that Isaiah was not referring to Jesus’ virgin conception, but to some other person’s non-miraculous conception, they probably would have said “You’re wrong. The old interpretation of scripture is ‘outdated.’ Jesus, by his life, death and resurrection, has opened our eyes to the true meaning and fulfillment of the scriptures.”

I don’t think they would have cared what the human author of Isaiah thought he was predicting. To the Christian (at the very least, to Christians in the early church), the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures goes beyond the intentions of the original authors.

Now, there is debate over this point in Christian circles nowadays--and even among the evangelical Fuller faculty. But I don’t know how evangelical Christians who do not advocate reading the Old Testament in light of the New can explain away the fact that within the New Testament itself it is assumed that Jesus is, in a real sense, the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, and they are incomplete without an understanding of who he is.

My personal opinion, though, is that exegetical courses on the Hebrew Scriptures ought to focus strictly on the authors’ intentions and the historical-social context in which the books were written. Theology and New Testament courses are the place to discuss how the Hebrew Scriptures find their fulfillment in Christ.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rape Counselor of Hippo, 413 C.E.

I've been reading Saint Augustine of Hippo's City of God. It is a rip-roarin' good time. Augustine has been very much maligned by some contemporary scholars, and I'm beginning to see how very wrong they are about him. For example: Augustine is said to have hated the body, sex, and women.

In City of God, I have noticed a remarkable sensitivity to the experiences of women, particularly the suffering of women due to Rome's war-mongering. Augustine devotes a significant portion of Book I to consoling Christian women who were raped during the sack of Rome, reassuring them that they have nothing to be ashamed of and that their chastity has not been compromised. He also tells them not to commit suicide, but is sympathetic toward women who have taken their own lives in grief.


Book III, chapter 21: Augustine is describing the depths of moral deterioration to which Rome sank in the period between the Second and Third Punic Wars. "In that very period," he writes, "the law called the Lex Voconia was passed, forbidding the appointment of a woman, even an only daughter, as heir. I cannot quote, or even imagine, a more inequitable law."

By his words may he be aquitted.

The quotation is from the Penguin Classics 1984 edition, translated by John O'Meara.

Monday, March 24, 2008

It begins ...

I am very happy to be living in a place with warm weather. But it also means parasitic bugs are out and about. I woke up this morning with several itchy bites. And just now, as I sat typing here at the Fuller library computer, I spotted and subsequently tore apart with my fingernails a blood-filled flea. AUGH! How could our apartment have become infested? There are no pets allowed in the apartment complex. 'Tis an ugly mystery.

Post-Lent Reflections

I had a lousy attitude about our Lenten fast this year. Brandon and I fasted from meat and dairy (an idea we adapted from Eastern Orthodox practice). And basically I just felt miserable and resentful about it the whole time and complained a lot.

Two Fridays ago (which was the Friday before finals week), my computer's fan broke and I had a very stressful, exhausting day. By the time Brandon came home, I was just about ready to blow the fast and go out and eat cheeseburgers to console myself. I felt Life owed me something for all that I'd suffered.

But even as I felt that I was owed something, I knew I wasn't. God does not want his children to become whiney and demanding in the face of discomfort. God wants us to learn to patiently endure unpleasantness, knowing that He will wring good out of it yet.

I could benefit a lot from having this attitude toward my classes at Fuller. I have often been disappointed and frustrated with the courses I've taken (two in particular come to mind ... ), but if I allow it, God will bring forth good fruit from seemingly wasted time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Adolescent Obsession Revives ...

During a study break yesterday I reacquainted myself with site that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Disneyland (and Disney World and Disney Tokyo) attraction, The Haunted Mansion. I'm hooked again ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Finals ... ugh ... week ...

My brain feels like a water logged sponge that I keep pouring water over, but it's just not absorbing anything new ... Oh well. I am happy thinking "I will be all done by Friday afternoon."

Sorry, but I have no mental energy with which to write anything edifying or entertaining now.

Monday, February 18, 2008


A quick rebuttal to the idea (mentioned in the previous post) that people who are concerned about caring for the poor should shop at Walmart in order to save money and then donate such savings to charity:

Shopping at a thrift store, such as The Salvation Army, Out of the Closet, Overcomer Outreach, etc. is in every way a better idea. First of all, it's typically cheaper. Secondly, the wares will probably last longer and be of higher quality. And third, the money goes toward supporting a *good* company, instead of a wicked one.

Case closed. And if you're buying groceries, support a local produce market. Or just buy things that are on sale. And if you really want to save money on food, switch to a diet high in beans and rice, and low in processed and/or luxury foods.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

When does human life begin?

I have often wondered whether trees, flowers and grass, or even bacteria and the like may have some form of consciousness so primitive we cannot even concieve of it. It seems like a basic property of life--and one would imagine varying degrees of conciousness, decending in order from humans and perhaps dolphins to say, monkeys, dogs, then lizards, insects, etc. Might not even a lowly amoeba have some vague, undeveloped form of consciousness?

So, perhaps "life" starting at conception--or before--is a real possiblity, though it would be impossible to understand or define. Such a weak and primitive "consciousness" would only gradually begin to resemble something we could recognize--as the brain and spinal cord developed--and there would be no clear defining moment at which a developing embryo or fetus became "a human life"--it would be something more like that paradox about the ship that was replaced plank by plank, which never at a single moment could be said to have changed from "the old ship" to "the new ship."

Anyway, just some thoughts.