Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Wonderful Realization

So, to give you some idea of what my life is like during this week of finals: here I am sitting in the library, reading through dozens of journal articles, thinking to myself I ought to stand up soon so I don't get a blood clot, although maybe a blood clot would be welcome, so I could have a legitimate excuse not to have everything done on time. And then I look at my watch and see that it says it's December 8, and I'm like, "Wait a minute, isn't Friday (when everything is due at 5pm) the 11th? That means tomorrow must be the 10th, and so today must be the 9th. Is my watch wrong? My watch must be wrong. How did my watch go wrong? No! Today is Tuesday, not Wednesday! Wait, is it really? Yeah! It's only Tuesday! OH MY GOSH THAT IS THE BEST NEWS ALL DAY!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

the voices in my head

I dreamed I was in my house getting ready to leave for class, and I started getting anxious with worriesome self doubts. In the kitchen there was this funny looking, ugly, sullen little man in a tweed suit curled uncomfortably in the corner, making mean, disparaging, whiny remarks to me as I walked by. In the other room there was a tall blond-haired man, wearing a light grey suit. I went up to him and told him all about how I was feeling anxious and he listened patiently and I put my arms around his waist like a little kid, since he was, apparently, really tall, and after a little bit I felt comforted and then left for class.

Reflecting on the dream afterward, I thought: the two men in the house are kind of like the little angel and devil that sit on people's shoulders in cartoons, whispering good or bad things in their ear.

In the same way that I've internalized some people's criticisms so that they become a harsh, nit-picking inner commentator, contrastingly, I have also internalized some other people's caring encouragement. Certain people come to mind, but of course, the first is Brandon. The nice, tall guy in the dream looked kind of like Brandon--but older, taller, and with lighter hair.

It's not uncommon for people to talk about having hyper-critical voices in their head--whether they identify it as one of their parents, or their spouse, or even their boss--and it does seem like it's always negative, always a judging voice. But apparently it's just as possible to have a kind, loving voice in one's head.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Various

We watched Julie and Julia last weekend and highly enjoyed it. It's not a great work of art, but we loved the characters--Streep's Julia Child most of all, of course.

Someone finally put the lyrics to Dan Crow's album Oops! on the internet: here it is! It's even better than I remembered. I'm now going to go around singing "American Gum" all day(!!!).

Thanksgiving was great! Hooray! But for the first time in my remembered life, I did not wake up the day after Thanksgiving super excited to put on some Christmas music. I've been too busy thinking about school stuff to get all anticipatorily excited about Christmas.

Also, not enough time has passed since last Christmas for it to be Christmas again. Did I mention that the rate at which time passes for me increased suddenly this spring? I noticed it as we were taking the train and subway to church. All of a sudden it seemed like a short trip (about an hour) instead of a long trip. And of course, at the same time I noticed the weeks were flying by as if they were only three instead of seven days. Odd that the process of time speeding up, which is normally gradual, made a sudden leap forward ...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mosque Visit

Today I went with a group from my "Current Trends in Islam" class to the Islamic Center of Southern California. For some reason, I've always been more impressed by the similarities between Christianity and Islam than the differences. Not so today! I must say, I was rather shocked by the sermon, which was exactly opposite in ethos from what is "normal" for me, as a Christian in the Reformed tradition.

The speaker talked about the Day of Judgement, and how there are seven things you can do to ensure that you will be saved. These included things like giving charitably such that the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, or having a friendship which is based solely in the love of God, or (for men only) refusing to be seduced into committing adultery with a rich, beautiful woman. According to the speaker, if you just do one of these seven things at some point during your life, God will remember it in the Day of Judgement and you'll be saved.

And then there was another point in his sermon where he talked about how you should be proud of being a righteous person, you should be proud of not gossiping, not stealing, not doing drugs, etc. In fact, in the Day of Judgement, some people will be walking, some "riding" (we don't know upon what) and some will be dragged with their faces on the ground. And so when your friend says that if you don't do drugs, you sure are missing a lot, then remember that on the Day of Judgement you will be on your ride, and your friend will be missing a lot, with their face dragging on the ground.

If you suspect I am misrepresenting the speaker, you can listen to the sermon on the mosque's website.

Anyway, I've just never been so impressed as I was today by how very, very different the ethos of Islam is from the ethos of Reformed Christian faith. I still think it's a plausible notion that all religions are essentially similar in that they are all about placing absolute trust in God/Ultimate Reality/Truth (with a capital "T") or whatever. But it's an idea that needs some hefty qualifications ...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

clearing clouds

I’ve had twenty four professors at Fuller, only two of them women. 2 out of 24. This is bad, well, for a number of reasons, one of them being that it’s important for women to have female mentors and role models. Which is obvious. So I’ve been frustrated here in that regard.

But it only just occurred to me that I miss having role models or mentors of my own racial background. I hadn’t really thought of it because I’m so unused to the idea of anyone having the same racial background as me (other than my siblings). I know only one person outside my family who is of half European, half Asian descent (and he’s half Filipino, not half Chinese).

But now at Fuller I’ve had two biracial professors: one Caucasian and Salvadorean; another Swiss and Lebanese.

I was surprised to realize how much this matters to me. For some reason, it doesn't matter what mixture of races they are--just meeting someone else who is biracial is a happy occasion. And taking a class from someone admirable in Christian faith and scholarship who happens to be biracial also--that’s inspiring, that’s encouraging. Heck, they even kind of look like me in being--how to put it--whitish? Off white? Sort of Caucasian looking but not exactly.

I guess I'm one of those glass-half-empty people. Unlike one of my brothers who has said he thinks of himself as "both/and," I see myself as "neither/nor." And my perception that I don’t fit the normative categories leaves me with a loneliness so pervasive I don’t even notice it most of the time.

but the clouds begin to clear
I see two stars
the ground feels firmer

Saturday, November 7, 2009

looking like a fool

I’ve always liked the saying, “better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”--but it's not really true for me. I keep quiet and people think I’m really smart.

I should live more by a saying something like, “Better to be loved for the fool you are than to remain respected and aloof.” Too bad that’s not very catchy or humorous. Still, it's something important to me. Even though I’m afraid of looking stupid, I know it’s better to take a risk and be engaged than to retain my dignity. It's better to take a humble part in some kind of communal entity than to stay "above it all."

I realize this is all highly abstract, but I'm too embarrassed about the situation where it came up recently to tell you about it. And it's not very interesting, anyway.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

ARABIC TONGUE TWISTERS!!!!!!!

So, I had this incredible thought last night: what if I could learn some Arabic tongue twisters?!?!!!? Oh, my gosh. That would be so awesome, I would keel over and die. So I looked on the internet and found this website. It's hard to learn the correct pronounciation from the transliteration, or from the ones in Arabic letters since they don't have vowels, but look at the translations at the bottom of the page! Don't you want to learn how to say "Put the sour vegetables in the policeman's pocket"? Or "A cardboard in a cardboard, can you, the master of the cardboards be a cardboard?"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just Like in the Movies!

We had a little excitement on the train this Sunday. As the train approaches the Chinatown station, it crosses over the L.A. "River." The train came to a stop on the bridge and we heard the conductor talking to people outside (the intercom broadcasts both inside and outside the train). She said something about the police chasing a guy down the tracks. A few people started glancing around, out the windows, but we couldn't see anything.

"Don't do it," came the conductor's voice. "That's a suicide jump, you moron!"

Now heads were really turning. There was a pause. Then, "He's down, guys. He made it to the ground."

Then silence. The train was still stopped. Out the window, we could see a freight train passing by below. I thought, "Maybe he'll make his daring escape on the train!" So I watched. At first I didn't see anything. But then, there he was. Some guy wearing a white t-shirt and black shorts standing all cool and non-chalant between two of the cars. Off he went. We waited another little while.

"I'm gonna go by you guys really slowly, okay?" said the conductor. The train slowly passed by about five police officers. The conductor informed us, "The police were chasing a suspect down the tracks and it looks like he jumped onto the freight train."

And that was it. Crazy, eh?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

relativity

the human heart is fickle
mine especially
that woman
so irritating six months ago
today in a sea of unknown faces
my heart leaped at sight of her
blazing light of history shared
no matter contents half forgotten
there among strangers
my cherished best friend

[Some at best mediocre poetry. But I wanted y'all to know I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I am enjoying the exquisite torture that is learning Arabic. Woot woot!]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Doctors Can't Be Trusted

There are some things on which Brandon and I fundamentally disagree due to differences in our upbringing. One of them is our attitudes toward medical professionals. Brandon, whose father is a veterinarian and whose mother works for an orthodontist, is willing to place implicit trust in doctors. My mother, on the other hand, is a former childbirth educator and birth doula who, in the course of her former career, was often frustrated by doctors and their pig-headed notions.

And so when I go to the doctor and they take my blood pressure and they say "60 over 102. Very good!" I say to them in my mind, "You people are so unhelpful. All you think about is whether someone's blood pressure is too high. It never occurs to you that someone's blood pressure might be unhealthily low. I'll just have to go home and find out what the actual ideal blood pressure is, because I know it's not 'as low as possible,' contrary to what you cotton-headed ninny muggins think."

So I looked up ideal ranges for blood pressure on the internet. Based on numerous attestations, it seems 60 over 90 and below is unhealthily low blood pressure. So actually, I'm pretty close and I probably wouldn't feel so lightheaded and weak just before dinner if I drank more water and ate more salt.

And the moral of the story is, doctors can't be trusted implicitly, so look things up for yourself on the internet (which can be trusted implicitly). (-;

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eine Kleine Nacht Fishen (A Little Night Fish)

Here is the painting I mentioned. It's the first real painting I've done and actually been excited to hang on the wall.




And yes, that's a little guy with a fishing pole. He seems to have been out for a little night fishing. I don't think he caught anything. Probably because all the fish are in the sky.

Perhaps another reason I loved Ponyo so much: I've always thought of slightly anthropomorphized fish as being all happy and exuberant, just like in the movie.

I also like this painting because it's kind of in the style of children's books illustrations. I remember seeing an exhibit of illustrations from some award winning children's book in a museum in Washington D.C. and realizing that illustrations in children's books are often fine art with as much merit as the stuff hanging in museums. And in fact, I often find illustrations in children's books more compelling and accessible than stuff in you find in museums or art galleries.

Oh, and for those who are curious, the stars are indeed meant to imply the constellation Pisces.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

making art; writing stories; Up

When I was young/in college/13-19, I would get an idea for a poem, or a painting, or a story, and I would sit myself down to create it. Poems and paintings I would finish in a single sitting. Stories I virtually never finished at all. I was full of ideas, excitement, and energy.

Now as I get older, my brain processes are slowing down. I don't have so many ideas, or so much energy. I used to feel grieved by that. But now it seems to be turning out for the best.

I used to be so impatient, wanting the satisfaction of a finished project immediately, and losing interest if something was taking too long. If I got stuck writing a sonnet, I would jump on the first solution that presented itself, even if it sounded awkward. But now I care about making every line smooth, and I'm willing to wait for just the right words, even if it means completing a project over several days rather than in a few hours.

Anyway, likewise with writing stories--I've actually finished a few. And with painting. I've been working on this painting and--well, when I'm finished, I'll take a picture and post it on here.

But anyway, about writing stories and my feelings about Up: I enjoyed Up, but I was kind of thrown by the wacky story. I've thought up some wacky stories like that, and I feel such wackiness needs to be reworked and refined until it becomes smooth, and inoffensive. It seemed like they did their preliminary rough story sketching, and then instead of working it into a seamless, compelling narrative, they left it jarring and weird.

But I am glad that other people enjoyed Up more than I did.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

CRAP.

So, I was looking into what new movies are coming to the (two) dollar theater this weekend, and I saw that there's a film playing today called NoBody's Perfect. It's about a German filmmaker's project of creating a calendar of nude photos of people (including himself) with congenital deformities resulting from their mothers' use of the drug Thalidomide. I was intrigued and checked out the film's website. Now I really want to see the movie, but unfortunately, its last showing in the L.A. area, as far as I can tell, is going on right now. No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Aha! Moment

Yargh! Too many things to blog about today: I want to write about being "an aging artist" (yes, yes, I know, I'm only 23, not very aged, but still, aging), and about why I loved Ponyo, but was not so impressed with Up, and also about how in Christian Apologetics class last night, I finally felt like I understood what the Buddhist nirvana is about.

But I'll start by letting you know: I did eventually figure out where that cut on my face came from: it was a papercut! A papercut on my face! Oh, the hazards of being a student.

Okay, now about the Buddhist nirvana. When I took World Religions at Whitworth, I felt that of all the major world religions, each one held a peculiar appeal for me, except Buddhism. Our text book explained that the Buddhist idea of nirvana should not be understood truly as nothingness, and that Buddhism is not really so pessimistic as Westerners think. But the author did not explain what exactly the Buddhist nirvana was. Which makes sense, since it cannot really be described. But then, how are you suppsed to know what is meant by the term?

So in Apologetics class last night, Dr. John Carstensen was giving his argument for belief in a supernatural God, as opposed to a pantheistic God. His argument was something like this: For the pantheist, all of Nature is the infinite God. Because God is infinite, God cannot be described, except by way of negation (not finite, not divisible, not possessable, etc.). And because all is God, and God is one (not divided), all plurality (things being separate from each other) is an illusion.

Carstensen's critique here is that this is not a reasonable belief because it contradicts the whole of personal experience. We do not experience the oneness of the infinite, we only experience a plurality of things in the world. But I doubt this would be at all persuasive for a Buddhist, since they presumably just take it on faith, by intuition, and by some mystical experience of oneness, that in fact, contrary to experience, plurality (the separateness of things) is an illusion.

Anyway, Carstensen then introduced into the pantheist's world Descartes's one supposedly unquestionable fact: I exist. For the pantheist, this statement does not work. Because the only thing that really exists is the oneness of God, not the separateness of the self. It is not quite right, even for the pantheist to say, "I am God," because it is the whole of the universe, not the finite self, that is God. And to a Westerner, it is also nonsensical to say "I do not exist." But that is what Buddhists say.

Also, the problem of evil becomes more acute for the pantheist even than for the supernatural monotheist. If God is identified with a world that contains evil, then either God contains evil, or evil is an illusion. It would seem Hindus go with the option of God containing evil. Buddhists go with evil as an illusion. And I must say, I much prefer the Hindu approach to the Buddhist. And the Christian approach to the Hindu.

In fact, I think it's an outrage to declare evil an illusion.

But anyway, now I think I actually have some idea of what Buddhism is all about. It's like a pantheist religion that refuses to say "all is God" because they don't want to name the infinite oneness in any way, even by calling it God.

If you have made it to the end of this post, congratulations! I will write about those other things some other time.

Sermon: The Prayer of the Destitute

For anyone interested, here is the text of a sermon I delivered last Sunday, August 16, 2009 at Wilshire Presbyterian Church.

Psalm 102

John 6:52-58

"The Prayer of the Destitute"

I'm going to start by asking you a question, although I don't expect you to answer me, just to consider. Now, the first part of Psalm 102 is a vivid description of individual suffering: grief and depression--"My heart is stricken and withered like grass … I like awake … I eat ashes like bread, and mingle tears with my drink"; and physical distress: "my bones burn like a furnace … I am too wasted to eat my bread."

Okay, so here's the question: are you there with the psalmist right now? Are you suffering like that? If that's where you are, this psalm is for you. For anyone silently enduring, in terrible pain, know that this psalm and several others, was written to give voice to that unspoken anguish.

But what if you're not there with the psalmist right now? Maybe you knew suffering at some point in your life, but things are going well now and thankfully that all seems distant and pale. Or maybe you're extremely lucky and you've never suffered that much. Is this a psalm for you?

Let's take a look at verse 13. This surprised me as I was reading it. The psalmist affirms of God, "You will rise up and have compassion on"--Zion? Wait a minute. I was expecting it to say "You will rise up and have compassion on me." It's the "I" who is suffering, the "I" who needs compassion, not Zion. Right?

Suffering is a very individual experience, not least of all because it can tend to isolate people--and yet, it most often has some causes coming from outside the suffering individual. And as this psalm demonstrates, grief and depression are not just an individual problem, but a societal problem.

This has perhaps become more obvious to us as a result of the rising unemployment rates, especially in California. Job loss, and chronic unemployment can be a source of profound grief and anxiety. And as our drastic state budget cuts begin to take effect, it seems likely there will be a great deal more society wide suffering, as our state tries to deal with this financial disaster we've brought upon ourselves.

Psalm 102 is a prayer for all of us, because, like all the psalms, it is a prayer for public, corporate worship. It is the cry of the destitute, and it is a call for the rest of us to join with those who are afflicted, to notice them, and in any way we can, to care for them, and to pray that God's grace will break into our corrupt society--our neighborhoods, our city, our state, our nation, and our world.

This is a time for us to pray with the psalmist that God will again "regard the prayer of the destitute," "hear the groans of the prisoners," and "set free those who are doomed to die." This is a time to intercede before the throne of God for people have lost their jobs, or their homes, and especially for people living in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities, who are most at risk for being victims of violent crimes.

This is a time for us to pray that we will recognize any ways in which God may be calling us either as individuals, but especially as a church, to respond to this financial crisis in our state. This is time to remember that we are called to be God's hands of help and healing in a broken world. But we can start by praying.

Now, maybe your thinking, "Oh, I don't have much of a gift for intercessory prayer." If that's what you're thinking, YOU'RE WRONG. God hears every prayer, whether you were feeling especially holy when you prayed it or not, whether your mind was wandering, whether your heart was really in it or not, God listens to every prayer. And the effect of our prayers does not depend on us, and how well we prayed, but on God's will and power and grace. So, you have no excuses; we are all called to practice this ministry in some form, because it's something we all can do, and because the need is so great.

But I do have a suggestion for you, because I myself do have a hard time following a regular discipline of intercessory prayer. One habit I have found very helpful is that whenever I hear a siren--whether it's a police car, ambulance or firetruck passing by--I just briefly pray for the emergency personnel and for whatever situation they are trying to help with. Okay, that's something I do. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of that.

But anyway, I have a modified version to suggest to you all. Uh, firstly, how many of you watch the news on t.v.? How many of you read the news--either a hard copy or on the internet? Well, my invitation to you is that whenever you see something in the news about the economic crisis here in California--about government programs being cut, or prisoners being released early, or rising unemployment rates, whatever it is, I invite you just to lift it up before God, just right then, and pray that God will have mercy on our state, upon those who are already suffering, and those who are the most vulnerable. Okay, so just take a moment, whenever you see it in the news, just to lift up the people of California, and ask for God's mercy, grace and healing in this crisis.

Okay, so you may have noticed the title of this sermon is "The Prayer of the Destitute" which is a phrase taken from the psalm. But I also wanted to use that phrase to talk about our passage from John. Because so far, we've talked about being destitute or afflicted in societal terms. But now I want to talk about it in terms of personal spirituality.

Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." The verses we read today do not go up to the point where some of Jesus' disciples were horrified by this apparently cannibalistic teaching and deserted. And indeed, this is a wacky sounding passage.

Some people will point out that no doubt it's some kind of reference to the sacrament of communion. But in the context, what is more important, and what explains it better is that eating Jesus is a spiritual metaphor. Like when Jesus says, in the Gospel of John, "I am the true vine," or "I am the gate"--these are also spiritual metaphors.

But even as a spiritual metaphor, what does it mean, "eating Jesus"? Well, Jesus himself says, if you don't eat him, you'll die. He might have said, you'll starve to death. Our souls need Jesus Christ as much as our bodies need food and drink.

Now, just imagine: what would happen if we tried to live as if we didn't need to eat or drink? We would turn into emaciated scarecrows, like Brandon over there. We would have no energy, feel awful all the time, and eventually we would either have to eat and drink something, or else die.

And in the same way, I know I frequently will try to live as if I don't need God. Like, I can just go along on my own power, my own initiative and will, without thinking about God at all. But then I start feeling tired. And all the joy, just starts seeping out of me. And I feel anxious about things I've done--Oh, maybe I shouldn't have said that, or done that, or left that other thing undone … And really oftentimes, I only remember how much I need God when I'm already spiritually dehydrated and faint with hunger.

So I want to end with another invitation for you. Two invitations! Oh my gosh, this is already way too much to remember, right? Okay, well, you don't have to do either one, they're just invitations. But how many of you pray before eating a meal? My family has always said grace before meals, and I've always thought of it as a time to thank God for providing food, and to remember God's provision in all aspects of life. But this week, I invite you, as you say grace over your meal, to remember that your soul needs Jesus as much as your body needs food and drink.

I'll give you an example of something like what you might add the next time you pray over a meal. And we'll just close this way. Will you pray with me? Lord Jesus Christ, teach my soul to feed daily on the abundance of your grace and truth, that I might learn to ask whenever I am in need, and receive from your hand this spiritual food and drink without which I am lost. In the name of Christ Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Religulous

The other night we watched Bill Maher's film Religulous with some other Fuller folk from our apartment complex. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I was expecting the kind of deception-driven agenda pushing and blatant disregard for truth that I've come to expect, and utterly despise from Michael Moore films.

But that's not Bill Maher at all. He is actually quite honest about the fact that he's not really trying find out what religious people believe--he's just going around, fishing for opportunities to get in as many cheap shots against religious people as possible. So it's hard to take him seriously, which is good.

I didn't find the film to be consistently funny throughout, but it certainly had its moments.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

now, how did that happen ... ?

This is hardly blog-worthy, but it's been so long since I last posted anything, I feel like offering up just any old tidbit ...

I somehow cut my face today and I have no idea how. Obviously, as a woman, I do not shave my face, so that couldn't be it. And I don't recall waving a knife around my face, either. It's a very fine, clean cut, almost an inch long, just below and to the right of my nose. Odd.

On a related topic ...

The other day, I was walking along and I saw this woodpecker flying around in a strange way. It was fascinating. Then I walked right into a pole. OUCH! Man, that hurt.

I should stop being so oblivious to my surroundings. It seems to be resulting in minor injuries.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Don't Be Fooled

The most recently updated blog on my list is actually not the uppermost one. The most recently updated blog is Brandon's (Turophilia). But Blogger is stupid and when you save a draft and publish it later, it publishes it retroactively, as if it had been published on the date it was started.

As you can see, I did fix the problem I was having before--Brandon's blog is now updated on my blog list. The problem was that under his blog's settings, in the "Site Feed" box, which is supposed to be empty, it had the former URL of his blog. So that just had to be deleted.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Michael Finnegan

Brandon apparently did not learn many children's songs when he was young, so I have had the privilege of introducing him to some. For example, Michael Finnegan.

"There was an old man named Michael Finnegan.
He had whiskers on his chinnegan.
They fell out and then grew in again.
Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again.

"There was an old man named Michael Finnegan.
He grew fat and then grew thin again.
Then he died and had to begin again.
Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again."

Brandon's observation: "Michael Finnegan had a wasting disease."

He said that a long time ago, but even thinking of it now makes me laugh and laugh.

But what I wonder about the song is, what is meant by "then he died and had to begin again"? The song was written before the video game era, when dying came to mean that you start over at the beginning of the level, or the last save point. And reincarnation has never been considered a normative American belief, so far as I am aware ... It is a mystery.

I was thinking about this song because the other day Brandon had to weigh some boxes, so he got out our scale and we discovered he has dwindled to a mere 109.6 lbs. He's not even eligible to give blood (which he exclaimed happily). I've also lately found myself trying to tighten my belt to the point where there aren't holes anymore. We seem to be wasting away, probably because we haven't been eating much meat.

Like most people, we get fat over the holidays (well, fat for us--which for Brandon is not fat at all--it just means he looks a little less skeletal than usual). But then, like Michael Finnegan, we get thin again. Unlike Michael Finnegan, we then get fat again at the next holiday season! I guess this is normal. But I just felt like commenting on it anyway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: The Hurt Locker

After seeing the preview and reading reviews of The Hurt Locker, Brandon was pretty much obsessed with seeing it at the first possible opportunity. So instead of waiting for it to come to the cheap second run theater, we actually paid full (matinee) price to see it last weekend.

It certainly deserves the accolades it's received and entirely fulfilled the preview's promise. Exactly as advertised, the film is intensely suspenseful, a work of absorbing realism, taking you on a relentless tour from extremes of terror to moments of relief or of horrified grief and shock. It's a good war movie, a good action movie.

The main theme--the conflicts, triumphs, and failures of a hotshot, reckless loose cannon--is perhaps overfamiliar, and the film is sprinkled with predictable turns and cliches, but somehow, I didn't mind. The story is unoriginal, but it was told well, and acted superbly and humanly.

Be warned, though: we left the theater drained and dazed--a feeling which persisted quite a while afterward. The Hurt Locker is no light summer flick.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Are Germans Actually Super Quiet?

So, the other night we watched a movie called Shultze Gets the Blues. German film, about a retired miner (Shutlze) who gets into playing Zydeco music on his accordion. Kind of transcendental, I think, though I'm not sure what all that term implies. Lots of long shots of slow, everyday stuff happening. Anyway, the German people in the movie were all very, very quiet. Like in the one shot, where several pairs and trios of old men walk into a large room to play chess, and they're all perfectly silent.

I wondered whether people are actually like that in Germany, or if it was just a strange thing the filmmaker was doing to create a mood. Eventually Shultze comes to America and the contrast between the highly verbal and spontaneous Americans and the extreme social restraint seen in the scenes in Germany is very obvious. I guess I just find it hard to believe things are really like that over there.

Anyone who's been to Germany want to comment?

[Incidentally, if you want to watch the film, I do recommend it. But don't be fooled by the description on the back cover; it's a very sad, heart-wrenching movie.]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rant about Anti-Feminist Christians

Sometimes people say very ignorant sexist things about God and the Bible. It is only the second week of the class on the Pentateuch I am taking this summer and already I have heard numerous such ignorant sexist statements.

Perhaps the worst was that one woman said something along the lines of, feminists have had some good insights, but they've gone too far, because after all the Bible refers to humanity as "man."

Good grief. This is about on the level of people who say we know God is male because Jesus is male. That's like saying, "We know God has brown eyes, because Jesus has brown eyes." Sloppy, uncritical thinking!

It is not generally believed that every accident of the way of the Hebrew or Greek language works was specifically designed that way for the purpose of biblical revelation. The fact that Hebrew used the same word adam, to mean "a person," "a man," "Adam," or "humanity" is not an indication that humanity as an entity is essentially male. If we believed that, we would also believe that the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was female, but then became genderless in New Testament times. The gender of a word--whether it is used of God or humanity--is in most cases only accidental, and is certainly not a revelation of the true gender of things.

Someone else objected when Dr. Goldingay pointed out that in the creation story of Genesis 2-3, the woman's subordination to the man is one of the curses, a regrettable result of sin having entered the world, not part of the way God originally ordered creation. The student was genuinely puzzled, "But aren't God's pronouncements meant for our benefit?"

Dr. Goldingay: "I don't see how the ground yielding thorns and thistles, and the breakdown of relationships between parents and children is for our benefit." The student had no reply, but remained unconvinced.

When you look at the texts of Genesis 1-3 without assuming they have to teach women are supposed to be suboridinated to men, it is more than obvious that they clearly support an egalitarian view of relationships between men and women. I don't know how people can think they've somehow gotten around that.

Well, anyway, that's all I wanted to say for now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Our Dinosaur Friends(!!!)

Someone posted on the internet files of songs from the first side of the album Our Dinosaur Friends: For the Early Years by Pat Johnson, Wayne Parker and Eric Miller. Here it is! :-D

Unfortunately, it does not have the two tracks I really want to get a hold of: "Woolly Mammoth" and "Quetzalcoatlus." I think those are actually on a different album--Our Dinosaur Friends: For the Intermediate Years. Oh well. The search continues.

*****
I found (at least some of) the lyrics to "Quetzalcoatlus" here. That's almost as good as a recording of it.

Quetzalcoatlus
from Our Dinosaur Friends: For the Intermediate Years.

Verse 1:
Are you a bird?
Take one more guess.
A reptile, perhaps?
Yes, I confess.
But can you fly?
Yes, glide and fly
But no feathered friend,
no feathered friend am I

Chorus:
Greatest of all flying reptiles
Quetzalcoatlus
We used to be kings of the air
now there are no more of us
Now, alas, we are gone.

Verse 2:
Do you have wings?
Of course I do.
How many wings?
Well, only two.
And are they big?
15 meters wide
and they have claws on them,
yes they have claws on them besides.

[Chorus, then intstrumental interlude, then ... ?]

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Dawkins Disappointment

Perhaps I ought to have known better, but for some reason I was expecting that The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins would present a clear, well thought out argument in favor of atheism. It does no such thing. It's pretty much just a long anti-religious rant which briefly alludes to some of the basic ideas atheist apologists have used in the past, but without fleshing them out and without seeming to realize religious people have heard it all before and come up with responses already.

I was going to refer to the book's "attempt at scholarship" but it's really not even an attempt. It's a pretense of scholarship. Examples: Dawkins quotes some things Martin Luther said on faith and reason completely out of context (p. 190)--and it's no wonder he didn't put the statements in context, he didn't actually read the essays from which the quotations are taken, he just found a list of quotations, taken out of context, on the internet (footnote 85)!

On page 239 Dawkins states that Pat Robertson "was reported as blaming [Hurricane Katrina] on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans." Wow, thinks the reader. That's pretty wacky. But if one looks at the footnote, one discovers Dawkins is not sure if Robertson actually said that, since it is just an unverified story from datelinehollywood.com and its accuracy has been denied elsewhere. But Dawkins defends himself for putting it in because it is "entirely typical of utterances by evangelical clergy." Hm. If utterances of that type are so abundant, why didn't he choose one that can actually be verified?

Anyway, you get the idea. It's not a serious work of atheist apology. It's just an excuse to make vicious, petty comments about religious people. And I'm not just saying that because I'm religious--his statements about Christianity, Judaism and Islam go beyond mere disagreement, well into ridicule and unabashed contempt. I suppose he is rather a novelty for his hatred of all religions, not just Christianity.

So, after The God Delusion, I read The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath. He does a nice job of exposing The God Delusion for the unscholarly jumble of half-arguments that it is. McGrath's clarity of thought and calm, even tone provide a soothing contrast after one has endured Dawkins' venomous ramblings. But other than that, McGrath's response seems superfluous to anyone familiar with the history of serious debate between Christians and atheists. But I suppose his effortless refutation of Dawkins' accusations would be helpful to someone who has only been introduced to the atheist/theist debate through Dawkins.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Recent Reads, Reality of Hell

I just finished re-reading The Ball and the Cross by G.K. Chesterton. It's not a very good novel (as Chesterton himself admitted), but I enjoyed it--it's a good story, with some fun, interesting ideas, just executed poorly.

Although Chesterton would surely blanche at the suggestion that he was a universalist, he seemed to think so well of everyone he met, I doubt he could imagine any person being worthy of eternal damnation. And that's played out in the ending of the book, which makes it rather a curious statement for someone so concerned with "orthdoxy."

I went from finishing The Ball and the Cross to beginning Hostage to the Devil: the Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin. It was a pretty shocking contrast. It was quite a thing to go from G.K.C.'s romanticized and relatively harmless figure of Prof. Lucifer to descriptions of the kind of raw, unmasked evil present in exorcisms.

If you are not familiar with what goes on at actual exorcisms (and I'm not talking about the kind performed by televangelists, but the ones performed by Catholic priests who have done extensive research to eliminate the possiblity of other diagnoses), I don't suppose you'll have any idea what I mean.

Even having read Hostage to the Devil before, I'd forgotten the intensity of the descriptions of people's experience of the possessing demons. There is actually nothing romantic about it. It's just pure evil, inspiring a depth of revulsion most of us will, thankfully, never experience.

Thinking back on that televised debate on the existence of Satan I mentioned a while back, I wonder how the discussion would have been different if they had had present a Catholic exorcist. Belief in the existence of demonic powers is not just a matter of what kind of worldview one holds, or what kind of faith one puts in the Bible--it also happens to be the simplest, most reasonable interpretation of the plain facts in cases of demonic possession. Even a theological "liberal," trained in recognizing various psychological disturbances, like M. Scott Peck was thoroughly convinced of Satan's existence after having met it in person during an exorcism.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"A New Sport"

Okay, okay, so I know I already blogged about a dream recently, and I know dreams are usually not very interesting to the people who didn't have them, but I was saying to myself as I was waking up this morning that I just had to blog about the amazingly fun and exciting new sport I invented in my dream.

It takes place at a busy seaside boardwalk that slants downhill. You sit on a rolling desk chair, using the back of the chair as a steering wheel. You give yourself a push to get started, then zoom along, faster and faster, trying to avoid hitting the many obstacles that are in your way (mostly pedestrians). Oh my gosh, it was super fun! Even better than the dream about speeding around on shopping carts at an enormous Target, and more exciting than dreams about flying.

It's such a pity that probably couldn't ever happen in real life. But I wonder if maybe it's the kind of thing we'll be doing in the resurrected life. Zooming around on rolling desk chairs. 'Cause why the heck not? (-:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

New Blogroll

So, I finally changed the blogroll at the side of this page to be all fancy and show how recently the people on there have posted, and the title of their last post. I resisted doing so for a long time, and for a most irrational reason. You see, I have this anti-technological streak. It makes me want to do things the difficult, inefficient old-fashioned way.

I revolt against advances in technology for a couple reasons. First, it makes everything so complicated. And I just want everything to be simple.

And second, I don't like being dependent on technology. Technology does not seem especially trustworthy to me. And this is where the irrationality comes in. Because of course, technology is usually highly trustworthy. Just not every once in a while. Every once in a while, computers disobey my commands, networks go out of order, machines break down. And it makes me crazy, because as machines, they're supposed to be perfect! Not like the fallible humans who created them.

Anyway, I also added a link to the blog of the president of Fuller Seminary, Dr. Richard Mouw. It is pronounced "Mao," and President Mouw is pretty much a totalitarian dictator over the seminary. Okay, not really. But I like to pretend he is.

[Fifteen mintues later]

GOOD GRIEF! You see?! I knew this would happen. AUGH! So, for some bizarre reason, the new blog list thing doesn't work for Brandon's blog. WHAT IN THE HECK IN THE WORLD?! It works fine for all the other blogs. But for some inscrutable reason ... Argh. You see? This is why we know beyond a shadow of doubt that computers are of the devil. And Google, Inc., as the ruler of computer world, is therefore none other than Satan himself.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

(Happy!) Fevered Dreams

I've been a bit ill lately. I don't think I've actually had a fever during the course of this illness, but at times I've felt a little feverish, if you know what I mean.

One night I had a fevered sort of light sleep--the kind where you're aware the whole time that you're lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, but you're engaged in some kind of intense mental task that just goes on and on. In the past I've had that kind of dream about moving enormous objects, or sorting information, or writing a paper. You know what kind of dream I'm talking about?

Usually such dreams are horrible. They're just awful, filled with anxiety and dread, and compulsion--because of course, something terrible will happen if I don't finish in time, but I don't have enough time, and it's not coming out right, and I'll never be finished, etc.

Well, this time the dream was actually quite pleasant. I had just finished reading Charles' Williams' novel, Descent Into Hell, that day. And so the dream was kind of about something from that book, and I don't remember now what it was, but it was wonderful--I had some kind of sorting and organizing task, but it was a labor of joy to me. When I woke up, a few hours before time to get up, I wanted to go back to the dream, it was so lovely.

Anyway, I thought that was really weird and surprising. I wish I remembered the dream better, but it was probably rather incoherent to begin with.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sorry to keep you in suspense ...

video

Here he is, finally. Cardinal Mahony. For your personal enjoyment and edification. (Assuming this works.) Someday I'll post the video where he responds to questions afterward. He's more animated and humorous in that one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Instructions to Watch Cardinal Mahony

Okay, so it's more trouble than I anticipated to get the link to Cardinal Mahony's address as a link on here. It's available for free, but you have to go to Fuller's iTunesU page, click on "Take me to FULLER on iTunesU" and then find it under May 2009 chapel sermons. But I can't even go there on this library computer because it doesn't have the iTunes software downloaded on it. Stupid Fuller-brand-new-library computers.

Maybe I can put the video itself on the blog when I am working from my laptop. We'll see.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Utopian Expectations

I just turned in a (really crappy) paper on a short-term cognitive approach to pastoral counseling for marital conflict. As I did my research, the concept of "utopian expectations" really struck me--it's pretty much the idea that some people mistakenly think they need therapy when really, they just have unrealistic expectations about how good their life is supposed to be. Such people are already coping well with the inevitable troubles that come their way--but they think something is going wrong because their utopian expectation is that they will have a trouble-free life.

I wonder if an insight-oriented therapist would be horrified at such a diagnosis--"Oh, you crazy cognitive-behavioralist," they'd say. "You're just not looking deep enough into the person's problems--if you kept digging deeper, you would find they aren't coping as well as you think."

But then, wouldn't the cognitive behavioralist respond with something like, "You're the crazy one! Stop forcing your own utopian expectations on the client! All you do is dangle a carrot in front of them forever, implying that someday they will be free from all the scarring and trauma they've suffered when actually, they won't. They need to accept that they'll just be struggling to deal with this pile of s**t world the rest of their lives."

In that sense, I've been feeling like more of a cognitive behavioralist lately. I used to be more of the psychoanalytic, humanistic, existential mindset. Probably because about five, six years ago, the quality of my inner experience of life went up very dramatically over the course of a few years. And so I guess I kind of expected that trend to continue. But instead, things have plateaued.

So just the other day, I was articulating to myself the bleak reality that things will never be "all right." Life is like a jigsaw puzzle missing half the pieces. I'm never going to have it all together. It's small comfort to think that things will be all right at the real end--because that seems like a long way off, and I expect the most difficult years of my life are still ahead of me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cardinal Mahony on Immigration Reform. WOW.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, spoke on immigration reform in chapel this morning. I'd seen his picture all over the L. A. Times back when the child abuse scandal broke, and I'd seen him once at the L. A. Cathedral, also. He looked ridiculously tall then, going around the Cathedral courtyard in a tube shaped bright orange garment, throngs of short Latino families surrounding him, as he had to bend over to put his hand on each person's head, saying "And bless you, and bless you, and bless you ..."

Anyway, so he spoke at Fuller. He stood there, one arm hanging motionless at his side, and with the other hand holding several sheets of paper from which he read his address verbatim. He looked up only briefly, occasionally. He did employ vocal variety, but in a highly repetitive way, which made the sound of his voice kind of droning and monotonous, anyway. So when he started speaking I thought, "Gee, I had expected he'd be a more skilled orator."

But as the address went on, I was pretty much blown away by the relentless logic of his argument. Before this morning, every person whom I've heard speak on immigration issues has been impassioned--and in some cases virtually carried away with emotion. It's a fact I take very seriously, but I do not find it to be especially persuasive. I tend rather to be wary of people's reasoning when they seem on the verge of shouting or tears.

So I found it not just refreshing, but deeply affecting to have someone speak plainly, calmly and clearly about how our immigration system is broken and what we need to lobby for to help fix it. The Catholic Church has got some serious problems, but man! I can't help but admire the rational way they do theology.

I'm hoping a video of the address will be put up on Fuller's website. If it is, I'll put a link on here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Very Punny

In choir practice Sunday, someone shared a joke. It reminded me how much I love puns (and how much other people don't). The opening made me worried it wouldn't be appropriate for politically mixed company, but it was. Here it is:

Back when Obama was first running for president, a lot of people thought there was no way a black man could be elected in this country. It's just not possible, they said. Yeah, that'll happen--when pigs fly!

And so it came about on Obama's 100th day in office: swine flu.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Isn't that great?!?!? I love it. Especially because it sounds like it's going to be some political thing, but then, no! It's just silly.

So the moral of this story is, if you know any really bad puns, send them my way!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Kind of Miss That Sore Throat ...

Earlier this month I had a most wretched sore throat which lasted about a week. It made my voice sound all "scratchy" and hoarse. I realized toward the end of my illness what a pleasant surprise it had been when I opened my mouth and out came, not my regular voice, which I dislike, but the distorted version, which I did like(!).

Most people don't like hearing themselves on tape recorder--and I don't either--it makes me want to run, screaming, from the room. But I also don't like the sound of my voice in my own head. This is at least part of why I speak so softly, and so seldom.

Do other people actually, as the saying goes, enjoy the sound of their own voice? How fortunate that must be!

If only I could somehow make myself sound hoarse all the time ... hmmmm ...

Contradictions

I've been meaning to write this since the last post but have been very busy. It's some more thoughts inspired by the debate on the existence of Satan previously mentioned.

In the Q&A session after the debate, one woman who questioned Mark Driscoll was particularly angry. Her question was something like, "Why don't you recognize that your claim to possess ultimate truth is inherently arrogant?(!!!?!!!)" I'm not sure what kind of response she was expecting. I suppose she wasn't really hoping for an answer so much as a way to express her outrage.

Driscoll's rational response was something like, "It's not arrogant if you actually do possess ultimate truth. It's only arrogant if you don't really possess ultimate truth."

I found this response dissatisfying. There is a deeper problem with the woman's question: it is almost impossible for humans to avoid the claim that they have ultimate truth. The only way to avoid such a claim is not to engage in discourse about ultimate truth in any way. It seemed clear that the woman herself clung fast to her own claim to ultimate truth, namely, "all points of view are equally valid," with the implicit qualifier, "except for points of view which explictly state that certain other points of view are not valid."

This is a very popular truth claim, and people who make it are often under the mistaken impression that they have opted for a way of thinking which does away with notions of absolute truth.

Now, that's all been said before. I've heard it many times. The real question is, why do people resort to such a self-contradictory way of thinking? There is a reason, just as Christians didn't invent the seemingly nonsensical doctrine of the trinity in order to confuse people. People resort to paradox when two or more indispensable truths seem irreconcilable.

A modernist like Driscoll sees the challenge in such a situation as "How can we reconcile the two truths and restore the seamless rationality of our thought system?" A (maybe/sort of) post-modernist like me sees the challenge as, "What paradoxical understanding will best protect and honor the two truths, and not deny either of them in an essential way?"

To my way of thinking, the paradoxical understanding represented by the questioner mentioned above is not a good way of doing paradox because it pretends there is no paradox. It tries to keep secret the value it places on absolute truth claims. It pretends there is only one value: open-mindedness. But in reality, it is implicitly balancing "open-mindedness" with the need for certainty.

Personally, I think the best way to balance the need for open-mindedness and the unavoidable fact of making absolute truth claims is to:

1) Clearly define one's own beliefs while
2) remaining open to changing one's mind and
3) being humbly respectful of people who disagree.

And I think that Driscoll kind of got at this with his further response to the woman's persistent questioning when he said that he does "consider other people's opinions" by "reading broadly" and engaging in dialogue with people he disagrees with, such as in the debate on Satan's existence.

I suppose the real difference between my own and an out and out modernist's position is that I want to say there's a tension and a paradox where the modernist sees everything as fitting into a visibly rational system ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Deepak Chopra

Brandon's friend Joshua sent us a video recording of a four-way debate on the reality of Satan. The participants were Deepak Chopra, Mark Driscoll (pastor of an ultra-conservative mega-church in Seattle), and two other people I never heard of, Bishop Carlton Pearson (a former fundamentalist, now a liberal Christian) and Annie Lobert (founder of Hookers For Jesus). This was on ABC's Nightline.

The debate was mildly interesting, but, as with most debates, there was very little (if any) true dialogue--mostly just people talking past each other.

One of the most frustrating elements for me was Chopra's schtick about "there is no good and evil" and "God is higher than good and evil." Of course I've heard it before, and it's not a self consistent idea. Implicit in the use of the terms "higher" or "beyond" is a notion of good vs. bad or at least good vs. less good. If there is such a thing as enlightenment, and if enlightenment is to be sought after, then it must be better than ignorance. Thus enlightenment is good, ignorance is bad.

But I think I may have figured out what Chopra really meant. I think he just wants to take the shame and guilt out of our notion of bad. For him, evil is a reality, but it is not something that anyone can be blamed for. People do bad things, but they shouldn't feel bad about it.

Chopra clearly does want to continue making value judgements (as do all people who say they don't), but he just wants to subtract any feelings of remorse or anger from the equation. We should admit that we do evil things, have evil impulses, etc., and we should change, but we should not have any negative emotions toward evil.

And that's a position I can respect, even though I disagree with it. I just wish he would express himself more clearly.

As for why I disagree: I don't think feelings of remorse and anger are inherently bad or unhealthy. They are unhealthy when they are disproportionate to their cause, or if a person has no way of moving through and past them. But when they are proportional to the actual, intentional evil acts committed, and when they are accepted and worked through, they are a normal, healthy, and appropriate response to the reality of evil. Anyway, that's what I think.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Trees Are Like People

One of the first things that has struck me as I've begun learning about trees is that they're an alien lifeform with many bizarre characteristics. But they're also like people.

The first way in which I noticed trees are like people is that they are difficult to classify. The leaves of oak trees look a certain way--but not always. Most have lobes, but a few do not. Most birch trees have peeling bark. But some are smooth. There are some trees on campus here (I suspect they're Coast Live Oak, though I may be completely wrong) which are clearly the same type of tree--except for one, on which the leaves are a bit different. Is that just because of its age? Is it a different sub-species? Or does it have just a small genetic difference within the realm of expected variation for its species?

Which brings me to the second observation about how trees are like people. It takes a long time to really get to know them. You may have to observe a tree over a long period of time even just to be able to identify it. For example, I'm not sure whether those trees on campus really are live oak because I don't know what kind of seed/fruit they produce. If they're truly oak, it will be an acorn. If they produce some other kind of thing, I'll have to make another guess.

It's odd--the fact that trees are difficult to classify, and that they take a long time to get to know makes them seem more worthy of respect and admiration. They aren't just a "thing," they shouldn't be treated like mere objects. I guess they're not really a "thou" but they're more than an "it"--wondrous, strange living beings.

And to think I've gone so long without really noticing them very much!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Randy "The Ram" Robinson

We watched The Wrestler last weekend. I keep thinking about it, remembering various scenes, and wanting to cry; the film is so very, very sad. I can't seem to convince myself that Randy "The Ram" Robinson is only a fictional character. Mickey Rourke made him seem so real--so pathetic and dear--the heart can't not believe in him.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Preaching

I got to preach in church yesterday. It went well, I suppose. People seem to have liked my sermon, whatever that means. Of course, there are standards for measuring how "good" a sermon is--is it focused on the text? Is it well organized? Is it well delivered? Is it interesting? etc. But there is only one thing about the sermon that really matters, and it is not in the preacher's control. It is whether the people in the congregation heard God's word addressing them. It's whether the Holy Spirit spoke to open, listening hearts.

Presumably, that's more likely to happen if a sermon is "good" according to more or less measurable standards. But having people come up to me and say "nice sermon," "I enjoyed it," "good job," etc. is kind of a let down. I don't really care if people liked the sermon--I care about whether they just heard me speaking (which would be a waste of their time) or if they heard God speaking to them. Perhaps it's a good thing that I will never know "how well I did" by the only true measure of success in this regard ...

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Prophecy Fulfilled?

Back in my teenage years, my family went on a roadtrip to Bryce Canyon in Utah. I believe it was on this trip that we actually went horseback riding (something that still amazes me, considering how little money my family had in those days). One of the guides struck up a conversation with me over the course of which I mentioned I wanted to study theology.

"Oh," he said. "That sounds like a difficult subject. I mean, wouldn't you have to learn about all kinds of different diseases?"

"Um, what?" I was confused.

"You know, like all the different diseases, that trees can get."

Ah. He thought I'd said "treeology." That I wanted to study "treeology."

Well. A few weeks ago, Brandon and I were discussing trees--Giant Redwoods and Giant Sequoias, to be precise--and I got out a little handbook on trees that I'd picked up who knows where and started reading it. And I discovered something: trees are fascinating. So now in my spare time I am studying "treeology."

I have to go now, but more on trees later! I promise! They're so interesting!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fast Food Fish Sandwiches, part 2

We had a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for the Carl's Jr. fish sandwich--the "Carl's Catch." I was so traumatized by the previously mentioned fish sandwich episode (and being rather a coward), I asked Brandon to take a bite of his sandwich first and tell me if it was safe. In fact, it was quite good! Strangely, as I bit into the Carl's Catch sandwich, I remembered what the Famous Star tastes like--exactly the same, except, well, except that it has mayo and pickles instead of tartar sauce, and a burger patty instead of battered, deep fried fish morsels. But there's something about that Carl's Jr. bun, and perhaps the oil they use, that's really distinct, apparently.

The "Natural Cut" fries are delicious, also!

Why I'm Fasting for Lent

Boring Preamble:
It's the 28th day out of the 46 in Lent. (Wait a minute, you say, I thought Lent was 40 days. Actually, it's 40 days not counting Sundays. And thus, whether one keeps the fast on Sundays or not is controversial.)

Lent is a little more than halfway through, and even though Brandon and I have not been taking our fast all that seriously (we decided in advance to break it for a few special occasions), it is beginning to get tiresome. So I thought it would be good for me to reflect on why I'm doing this.

A few years ago, we found out that the Eastern Orthodox give up eating meat, dairy, eggs, fish and oil during Lent (pretty much--their rules are actually more complicated, but there's no need to go into that now). We were so impressed by their show of self-discipline, we decided to try giving up just meat, dairy and sweets. We found it was miserable, but possible. And then for some reason we decided to do it again the next year. And again this year.

Actual Reflections:
Anyway, I think the fast is a good idea because, although in theory I value moderation, I don't actually practice it. I greedily put more food on my plate than I need. I eat too many sweets, and if the food is really good, I eat past the point of fulness.

I tend to forget that fasting in Lent does not warrant gorging myself all the rest of the year. The need for self-discipline does not end on Easter Sunday. I am disciplining myself more austerely now so that I can continue to discipline myself, but more leniently, after Lent is over.

I must say, now that I've written it out, the idea of eating moderately all the time sounds very bleak and awful to me, and in fact, that's not what I value at all. My true ideal is eating moderately most of the time, and then totally pigging out on a few special occasions (e.g. Easter, Thanksgiving, or an unspecified day on which I may be able to eat fried clams at Woodman's of Essex again).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

DO NOT EAT THE BURGER KING "BIG FISH" SANDWICH!

Last Friday, as my last hurrah of eating solid food before the oral surgery, we went to Burger King and McDonald's to sample and compare their fish sandwiches (both on sale on Fridays in Lent*). The McDonald's fish sandwich was delicious! The "lightly steamed" bun was tender and sweet, the proportions of cheese and tartar sauce were just right, and even though the sandwich had been sitting under the heat lamp, the fish actually tasted pretty fresh and flavorful--and it was clearly a nice thick filet, not reconstituted fish product.

Then we moseyed over to the Burger King next door for course two. Oh, if only some merciful angel would have appeared at the door, flaming sword in hand, to turn us back! Alas, we entered, to our doom. I cannot describe the horror that awaited us. Or I would rather not describe it, as even the memory is almost enough to make one gag and retch.

As Brandon said in its defense, the sandwich was a good idea--unlike the McDonald's Filet-O-Fish, the BK Big Fish is quite large, with shredded lettuce and a generous amount of tartar sauce on both top and bottom. The breading on the large "fish" patty was also crisp and delicious. but the "fish" product inside! It was the most disgusting thing I can remember ever eating. It was maybe slightly less gross than eating someone else's snot. The gooey, translucent sight of it made me think of wallpaper paste. I think it might have had a slight fish-like flavor, but I may have just charitably imagined it.

Anyway, the sandwiches were only $1.50 each, but I'd say in reality they're worth about -$1.50. Meaning, if someone were to come up to me with a BK Big Fish and say "Give me $1.50 or I'll make you eat this sandwich," I would hand over the cash without hesitation. And if you have any idea how miserly I am, you would understand just what a disgusting sandwich the "Big Fish" must be.

*Only in select locations.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why Are Holes So Creepy?

I just had my wisdom teeth (all four) removed on Saturday. It hasn't been too painful so far--and as long as I don't get an infection, it should only get better from here.

I noticed last night that the stitch that was holding the gums shut on the lower right side of my mouth has come out. I can now peer into the (kind of) empty socket. There are some creepy looking bones in there. In fact, I was so disturbed by peeking into that little hole just before bed, I had trouble sleeping.

What exactly is so terrifying about emptiness--and particularly about gaping holes in one's mouth, or any other part of the body? Being a Calvinist, I'm inclined to think it has to do with the essential bankruptcy of our souls, the gnawing emptiness inside that we're too afraid to face.

But I wonder what a Jungian analyst might say about the creepiness of holes ...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On the Acquisition of Knowledge

I'm finally getting around to responding to the question posed by a comment on a previous post: can the accumulation of knowledge become as poisonous as the accumulation of material objects? Some thoughtful comments have already been made on the question--check them out here.

My own take is this: as a grad student, I am quite tired of accumulating knowledge, particularly over a short period of time for the purposes of passing an exam. What I really want to get out of reading a book is not so much knowledge, as it is an experience. For me, the wonder of books is that they can allow you to take up second-hand the kind of experiences that change people.

And since I do believe there is such a thing as the self, and I do want my self to become something more beautiful, loving and good than it is, I don't see how I can go wrong reading books that will help that process along by giving the kind of soul-expanding experiences I value.

But perhaps for someone who does not believe in the ultimate reality of the self, and who desires the extinction of the self, even that kind of thing might be dangerous(?).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Real Reason People Are Anti-Semitic?

People think it's okay to badmouth one's own ethnic tradition, but is it, conversely, acceptable to extravagantly laud an ethnic tradition of which one is not a part?

I have always thought that the real reason people are anti-Semitic is plain jealousy because the Jews are just better than other people. As a person without a single drop of Jewish blood, is it socially acceptable for me to say that?

Seriously, I was wondering yesterday whether the reason it seems to me so much more all-around awesome to be Jewish than to have any other American ethnicity is perhaps that the Jewish people (well, at least those who have retained their religious traditions) have such a clear, rich, and healthy ethnic identity.

I mean, non-Jewish white people don't seem to have anything like that--many don't even think of themselves as having "an ethnicity." To others, being white means being demonized as "the oppressor."

I'm not sure how to write this next paragraph, because I think no matter how I do it, it will be offensive to some people. So please keep in mind, this is just a tentative suggestion, not a deeply held belief of mine. But it seems like the ethnicities that I've had even limited exposure to, here in the U.S., are not altogether healthy in their self-definitions. That is, I think there are aspects of what it means to be Chinese American, or what it means to be Hispanic American, or Caucasian American, or African American that are self-destructive for both the subcultures themselves and for society in general ...

And I suppose you could say the same thing about Jewish Americans (certain expressions of Zionism come to mind ...), but Jewish Americans have a history and traditions which have been refined and shaped over many hundreds of years. The history, traditions, customs, attitudes, and beliefs which hold them (or at least, some of them) together, as a "race," are not so arbitrary as ethnic identities that came to exist only recently, here in America.

But I suppose I am biased here, because, as a Christian I do think that the Jewish religion is based on God's more-or-less direct revelation, and God's active shaping of the Jewish people--one would expect a "holy" people to be in some way superior to others ...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Affirmative Action

It seems for many people, the phrase "affirmative action" is synonymous with programs implemented in universities. And such programs are understandably controversial. The issues surrounding such programs are complex, and even trying to unravel the "logic" of the legislation on the issue can be confusing.

But the real question is, why aren't we doing more in the way of affirmative action for K-12 graders? Why do we expend so much thought and energy arguing over whether the middle class black student should have priority over the middle class white student when there are tens of thousands of black and latino students attending (or not attending) the grossly under-funded, under-staffed, falling apart elementary, middle or high school in their low-income neighborhood--kids who will probably never apply to any kind of college at all?

These kids are likely to be the ones hit hardest by the economic recession. After all, children can't vote. Parents can, but they may not. This is all very frustrating, but I don't know what we can actually do about it. Does anyone have ideas?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Racism

Okay, so for one of my classes, I'm supposed to have been engaging in dialogue over the internet about a "justice issue." I picked racism. And I've been following some facebook page on the topic, though I've only contributed a couple comments.

I've been finding that facebook is a bit superficial for my taste, so I'm hoping maybe I can get some dialogue going here on the blogosphere. That means, I will be most grateful to people who comment on anything I write about racism. And I will be even more grateful for "pingbacks" in any blog entry which may be inspired by things that I've written ...

Anyway, who knows if this will work at all, but here goes.

I picked racism as a topic because I have such strong, and in some ways mixed feelings about the subject. As a person of "mixed race" I have a tendency to (over-)emphasize the idea that race is an illusive and not very useful concept--a category of thought which I sometimes wish could be gotten rid of or ignored entirely.

But of course, that's not a reasonable hope. I suppose even in a perfect world, people would still think in terms of race; they just wouldn't value any races above or below others. Perhaps in a perfect world, we would see races more like large extended families, insofar as they may have certain prevalent traits, customs, histories, etc.--and yet their identity and definition are always changing, and evolving into something new, particularly as their members marry persons from outside the family, bringing new traits, customs, histories, etc. into the picture.

Perhaps that way of thinking would help us to get away from the notion that races need to be kept "pure," and the fear that if most people married outside their "race," we would soon be a homogeneous population without any diversity.

Racial diversity is important, and the ability to have some kind of pride in one's racial identity is also important. But I do think that our racial categories need to be less rigid, and that all of our identities (whether we are white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American, or anything else) need to be less rooted in our perceived "race," and more firmly rooted in our shared humanity.

This last comment is probably particularly influenced by my experience as a person who looks Latino, but is not. Latino persons often mistake me for one of their own, and greet me warmly in Spanish. Most cannot hide their disappointment when they realize their mistake. Many become instantly frigid, some almost rude.

This is understandable, but it hurts, nonetheless. I do think it's right and natural for people of shared racial background to have a certain solidarity or sense of kinship, but it ought not to eclipse a sense of solidarity or kinship with the whole of humanity.

Anyway, that's just some of my initial thoughts on racism. Please comment! Let me know if you agree, disagree, why, etc.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Did I Make It Clear ...

That I have glasses now? I do.




Reviving Old Brown Sugar

Growing up in L.A. we never had a problem with our brown sugar drying up. But here in Pasadena, I guess the climate is just so dry, brown sugar doesn't last very long, inside or outside the 'frige.

But I experimented the other day and found out you can indeed remoisturize hardened brown sugar by steaming it. I lined my steamer with a cotton bandana so none of the sugar would fall through the holes, but I'm sure there are other methods. I suppose one could place a bowl of hardend brown sugar in a pot, pour some water around the sides, cover it, turn on the heat, and steam it that way.

Or you could buy a new package of brown sugar for 89 cents. But that's no fun.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Nominated for Best Picture and widely acclaimed by critics, Slumdog Millionaire is one of few recent releases I wanted to make a point of seeing. As the film is set in India, I expected a cinematographic treat, and was not disappointed; the movie is beautifully filmed.

Going into the theater, I knew Millionaire was about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who has almost won 500 million rupees on India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Accordingly, I expected a story about a bright young man overcoming adversity and proving himself in spite of society’s contempt for the poor--a film with a sentiment something along the lines of Good Will Hunting or Finding Forrester.

I realized I was mistaken during the first few minutes of the film. The young man on the game show, Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) is not particularly intelligent or knowledgeable. He has no special virtues at all, and, in fact, hardly any personality. The reason he has been able to answer so many questions correctly is (as the filmmaker lets the viewer know at the very beginning of the film) that it was fated to be so. This is an intriguing set up, but ultimately fails to deliver.

During the first hour or so, the film’s tension is generated by individual incidents of difficulty or danger, resolving into isolated tragedies or triumphs. In my opinion, it would have been better if the entire film followed this episodic pattern. By trying to tie the incidents together into a larger narrative arc, the film ends up creating a whole which is less than the sum of its parts.

In the second hour of the film, the tension is generated by two questions: “will the boy win the game show?”; and “will the boy get the girl?” The question of whether the boy will win the game show is no more compelling than any given episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. And as for the girl, she hardly seems worth getting, being even flatter in characterization than the boy.

I will not spoil the ending for those who have not seen the film--although nothing creative has been done with the dénouement, as nothing creative (except the cinematography) has been done with the film as a whole--but I will say that in the end, it seems at best odd that Fate would have expended so much energy for so banal an end.

Though I have focused on what I consider Slumdog Millionaire’s faults, in truth, I found the movie fun and entertaining. It may be worth watching (once), but I probably would have been less disappointed with it had I not been led to believe it was one of the best pictures of the year.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Burdensome Things

As a child, I certainly had a lot of stuff--toys of various kinds, and most of all, stuffed animals. Graduating from such things in adolescence, I accumulated a very large number of books--so many, in fact, that since moving out, I've made at least three trips taking books from my father's house--and after the last two trips I mistakenly thought I had finished, only to be told by my younger sister (who still lives there) that, no, I still have another box of books (and would I please take it so it won't keep cluttering up the house even more than it is already).

Anyway, perhaps it's because of that experience that I have such a keen appreciation for not having things. During my college years, I used to wander through the aisles of Shopko (it's like Target), looking at all the nice things they had, and leaving satisfied and happy, having purchased nothing. It was good to be reminded that I already had everything I needed.

It's very nice being able to love beautiful things--lovely plates and bowls, towels and tablecloths, and especially the kind of art seen on a certain artist's blog,--and have no desire to possess them. To have rather an averse gut reaction to the idea of owning such things--because, though I am delighted that such things exist, it seems like having them would weigh me down, somehow.

But the problem is, sometimes I love things that almost everyone would consider garbage. And in that case, I would rather possess such an object than see it destroyed. And that, unfortunately, is a very bad principle to actually put into practice.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The "Tyranny of Space"

It is often pointed out that we Americans are much too concerned with things. Buying things, consuming things, coveting things. And the usual insight people come up with is that we ought to be more concerned with people. Hence the contrast between I-It and I-Thou relations. Hence the interpretation of heaven and hell, not as "places" per se, but as "relationships"--not a "place of eternal torment," or "place of eternal delight," but a "being in the presence of God," or "being painfully cut off from God."

But! I have been reading a book called The Sabbath by Jewish author Abraham Joshua Heschel, for one of my classes. Heschel also speaks of an inordinate attachment to things--the "tyranny of space"--which he contrasts, instead of with relationships, rather, with time. He describes, then, the Sabbath, as the day on which all the objects which give humankind power over the spatial realm (various tools, appliances, money), are to be set aside, left utterly untouched, that humans might declare their independence from such objects.

This high valuation of time is a difficult concept for me to get hold of. It helps when I consider that in Hebrew, the verb is more important than the noun. The verb usually comes before the subject in the sentence. Even Hebrew nouns typically come from verbal roots. And in the Hebrew Scriptures, the name of God is in the form of a verb, not a noun (I am who I am/I will be who I will be).

It also helps noting that some passages in the New Testament we translate as contrasting "this world" with "the world to come." But the Greek word we translate as "world"--a spatial term--is actually better translated "age"--a chronological term.

So perhaps rather than saying, heaven is not so much a place as a relationship, we should say, it is not so much a place as a time--and not just any time, but eternity.

Anyway, I have no idea whether any of this is at all coherent to someone who has not read Heschel's book--but if you want to know what the heck I'm babbling about, by all means, read the book; it's great!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Alive But Boring

Just a note to confirm that my long silence is not due to a fatal traffic accident or the like. My life is just boring. School, housework, hanging out with Brandon, thinking about a frustratingly difficult story I'm trying to write, and doodling sketches of a frustratingly difficult painting I want to create just don't seem to be providing blog fodder ...

So, don't be perturbed if I write nothing--you're not missing out on anything ...