Monday, January 31, 2011

I Am So Moron!

It was the end of a long day. I was tired. I tried to hand the cashier the giftcard, and he was like, "Swipe it in the machine." And I was like, "Oh, yeah ..." They gave me my food--I didn't think to ask for ketchup--I sat down and thought to myself, "I am so moron!" and then was like, "what the heck--I really thought that, didn't I? I really am moron."

But you know what really makes me feel stupid? Trying to learn Spanish. Oh my gosh, I feel utterly imbecilic when people try to talk to me, and I'm just like, "Uh ... uh ... uh ..." Not only is my vocabulary small, not only is the audial processing unit of my brain apparently about as quick as the old Tandy 500, but I just get so ridiculously anxious--my brain freezes up completely--even phrases I ought to recognize turn into terrifyingly meaningless syllables, demanding some sort of a response that I simply do not have the capacity to produce.

I think maybe it's because I keep expecting myself to just learn the entire language instantly, and I'm so ashamed of this terrible deficiency (I mean, I grew up in L.A.! Such ignorance is utterly disgraceful!), especially because it's such an easy language to learn. I mean, I don't feel nearly so bad about my Arabic skills having dropped off.

Anyway, it's very discouraging, but I suppose I need to just keep trying to teach myself. It sure is a heck of an intimidating lot of work, though. When I started my church internship, I was all excited about re-learning some Spanish (I took two courses at LACC a million years ago) but I was not anticipating it would be less of a cognitive than an emotional struggle. I guess that's just what sucks about being me: my stupid overreacting, dramatic, sensitive spirit is just always paralyzing me with its irrational freaking out. I am so moron ...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The Doctrine of Substituted Love"

I believe it was during our engagement that Brandon and I vacationed with his family at Lake Chelan in Washington. One day, we went out in a canoe, and I think we started out rowing together. But pretty soon I insisted that only one of us should row at a time, so that the other could sit back and enjoy the ride. And it gave me such pure joy to be rowing and rowing away--I didn't mind at all that I had to be so focused on rowing, I could not appreciate the peace and beauty of the lake, the gentle movement of the boat across the water--because I knew someone else was doing it--and I was helping to make it possible for him to enjoy.

I've been thinking about egolessness lately. I've mentioned before my previous irritation with the concept (in short, cogito ergo sum cannot logically be denied). Someday soon I will write more extensively on the subject. But for the moment: I think there is a kind of egolessness which makes it possible to share in another's joy as if it were one's own--a kind of self-forgetfulness, a cessation of one's habitual preoccupation with self and personal possessiveness.

I have always been more skeptical about the possibility of sharing another's pain. Particularly, the idea worked out in Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams (from which I got the title for this post). Perhaps it just seems too good to be true that I could really bear some pain on another's behalf, such that their burden would be lessened. But perhaps ... perhaps it is possible.

And I wonder if there is a greater requirement of egolessness not on the part of the person who is taking on the pain, but on the part of the person who gives it up. Perhaps it is even more difficult for the suffering individual to stop saying "my pain, my cross, my suffering," and allow another to bear it for them.

This thought seems unfinished, but I've been kind of stuck here with it for the past few months. I've had time to reflect on the idea during my time as a chaplain intern at Children's Hospital, but my thoughts never seem to have gotten past this point ...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Humankind's Tyrannical Oppression of the Canine Class

My brother was telling me the other day about a place in Siberia where they breed foxes according to their friendliness toward humans, and have thereby domesticated these lovely wild animals (which apparently you can purchase, if you really want). But the interesting thing is that the Siberian researchers were apparently (without knowing it) selecting for a kind of enduring juvenility. The friendlier foxes retained more puppyish behaviors and physical characteristics. So, to grossly oversimplify: domesticated dogs are friendly toward humans because we have bred them to be stuck in a sort of perpetual childhood dependency.

As someone who has thoroughly bought into certain aspects of liberation theology, and as a hyper-rationalist so open-minded I sometimes believe (at least for a brief time) things that others would immediately reject as ridiculous, my initial reaction to this revelation was: Oh my gosh! How horrible! For hundreds of thousands of years, we've been depriving an entire species of its natural right to grow into autonomous adulthood. We've been stunting their emotional and physical growth to keep them beholden to ourselves. How sick and wrong!

But then I got to thinking about an idea from C.S. Lewis (and if I had my copy of The Problem of Pain, I would look it up--I suspect it's in there). I believe Lewis said something like, that domesticated creatures become something more than animals through their relationship with human beings. That animals attain to a higher form of love in relationship with humans than they could have if they had remained in the wild.

The spectre of Peter Singer is still hovering over me, disgusted by such gross "species-ism." But on second thought, I can dismiss that truly ridiculous shade by answering its taunt of "Who says human love is better than canine love?" with a simple, "Everyone but you, Peter."

So anyway, I think this is a helpful lesson for anyone who has struggled with the question of how a truly loving God could want to keep us dependent, as perpetual "children," rather than holding up autonomous adulthood as the ideal. As dogs become more "human" through their childlike dependency on humans, so may we become more "divine" through submission to our Creator.