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.