Saturday, June 18, 2011

Weeping For Jerusalem

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes."Luke 19:41-42

The last two weeks I've been busy, busy, busy preparing for the big peacemaking travel course in Israel/Palestine I'll be auditing (I leave Monday, return July 1). I'm just about packed. I've done most of the reading I was supposed to and some other reading I "assigned" myself. But I don't think I'm really emotionally prepared.

At the end of his ministry, when Jesus came in sight of Jerusalem, he wept. He perceived that the city's destruction was inevitable. The current situation in Israel and Palestine makes me want to cry, also, but the point of this trip is that there is still hope. It's very hard for me to see that.

At the same time, I am terribly, terribly excited for this trip, and open to taking it all in, learning as much as I can, but my heart is so heavy--I don't know what to do with all the grief and outrage that I feel even now--what will it be like, actually being there in the midst of it all?

I've always thought of myself as having a good sense of humor (in terms of recognizing irony and being able to laugh in all kinds of situations). But I really haven't been able to laugh, even about the tragic ironies of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Certainly, there are many such ironies, but I'm just too frustrated and sad about them to laugh.

Well. We will see, we will see what things are like when I am there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Adventures in Graduating

No "Master of Divinity" After All

Every time I refer to my degree by its name, "Master of Divinity," I always feel a twinge of fear that God is going to smite me on the spot, perhaps with leprosy or a giant hailstone, for uttering blasphemy. "Master of Divinity"--egad, what arrogance, what vanity--what an irony that students of theology, who ought to understand more deeply than anyone the fact of divine transcendence, the vast, yea infinite mystery of God's glory, should presume to name themselves "Masters of Divinity."

So to poke a little fun at the absurdity of the title, I got it into my head (years ago) that I would take some pictures of myself in graduation robes making divinity, the confection. Alas, there are two problems with this idea: first, divinity is difficult to make, and not surprisingly, I failed to prove myself a "master of divintiy" on the first try. Second, divinity is not an appealing candy, and I had no interest in making several batches in order to get one right, which I would probably not eat, anyway.

But here, at least, is a goofy little video of the attempt:

More Silliness
Last year, when I worked at Commencement, I thought how great it would feel, being among the ranks of the graduates. But I had mixed feelings about the idea of walking across the stage to shake the president's hand and receive the diploma case. Again, it struck me as such an exercise in vanity--hoity-toity acadmics slapping each other on the back for their supposed accomplishments. I'm just too cynical about the whole "education" process to really congratulate myself on completing the degree.

So I decided to lighten up the moment by wearing an awesome pair of striped flip-flop socks (and a pair of flip-flops my mother bought me when I was eleven!). Even during the long time waiting, before and in the midst of the ceremony, I was sitting there, first feeling bitter, then just sad, about all the wasted opportunities of the past four years. But when at last they called my row to line up, and I saw my family there in the audience--I was happy--in fact, when they called my name, I was so happy, I threw my hands up and ran/skipped across the stage. "Wow!" said President Mouw, shaking my hand, "Congratulations--you won the race!"

Why do I look so short in this picture? (-;

No longer a seminarian, it's time to catch up on some vices--quick, before I become a pastor.

The sweet taste of success--in cigar form!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Movies (Three)

We've gone to see three movies recently! Here is my report.

Going into Thor, I had pretty low expectations. After Iron Man, thus far the pinnacle of superhero movie acheivement, it's hard to get excited about something you know will never compare. But actually, Thor was quite fun.

To be sure, there is nothing original about it; I winced at some of the insipid dialogue; it suffers a bit from predictability and cliches. But for some reason, it was easy to overlook these weaknesses. In the early scenes of Thor's obnoxious war-mongering, it was actually nice to have the assurance that a formulaic change of heart lay in his future.

Perhaps much of what made the film so palatable was that I liked how it looked. New Mexico is so beautiful; Asgard, too.

X-Men: First Class, on the other hand, was marred for me by visual flaws: some of the CGI was, I think, not detailed enough to meet the highest standards of realism--for whatever reason, some of it looked fake. And Beast's make-up was poorly done--especially, his mouth didn't move very well--it looked bad.

Aside from that ... it was a pretty good movie, but surprisingly boring. Perhaps because the old "threat of nuclear war" plot has been done so many, many, many, many, many times over--and as a person who did not live through the Cuban missile crisis, I cannot recall the terror of that time.

Perhaps they could have done more to play up the interpersonal drama--give the characters a little more depth.
X-Men left me feeling something like, "Gee, maybe I'm getting tired of movies--I've just seen too many"--but watching Source Code, my love of films was restored completely: "This is why I watch movies!"

Yes, Source Code was an excellent film: smart, gripping, surprisingly humorous; it handles superbly a clever premise, through simple, yet elegant storytelling. It strongly recalls another great film, 12 Monkeys, using similar themes and images, though to very different effect. Brilliant script. I'll have to keep an eye out for future work by Ben Ripley.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thoughts on Authority

Have I mentioned before that every time someone suggests a Ph.D. could be in my future, I want to scream at them: "NO, NO, NO, NO, NO-O-O-O!!!"?  It has to do with the kind of person I do not want to become, or to be subject to.

During my internships, I've given a lot of thought to the concept of authority--both in a pastoral context, and as an abstraction. And I've come to understand that, ultimately, all genuine authority is God's authority. When someone speaks or gives a command authoritatively, it is because they are speaking God's truth, and commanding God's will.

In this sense, authority cannot be vested in any human being, whether by virtue of appointment, position, or relationship. A person's authority does not depend on their role (pastor, police officer, judge)--their role helps them to exercise authority effectively--but the moment a pastor speaks heresy, or a police officer uses excessive force, or a judge decides a sentence based on a bribe, they cease to speak and act with authority, and should be challenged rather than obeyed.

Even when I am ordained as some kind of pastor at a church (God willing), I will not really possess any authority by virtue of my position. Any real authority I have at that point will not be mine at all--I may by God's grace be able to speak with the authority of divine truth and the divine will, and in such a way exercise God's authority. But I do not want anyone to submit to me; that would be idolatry.

And what does this have to do with my horror of the world of academia? I really hate the way that the educational system puts professors in a superior relationship to students. I think it's bad for professors, who are encouraged to become narcissistic and set themselves up as false gods; and I think it's bad for students, who become intellectually indolent.

The One who is Truth should be the head of the seminary classroom; professors ought to recognize the humbleness of their position, being but fellow servants of our one Lord, and empower students to use all the unique gifts and experiences God has given them--they should see the class not primarily as a personal project through which they can impart their superior wisdom; but as a learning community where all contribute.

Is this really so radical of an idea? In fact, YES! Sadly, I can think of only two professors who seem to have understood that they had as much to learn from students as students had to learn from them. They were good teachers. I wish there were more like them. I guess maybe I should be the change I wish to see and think about getting a Ph.D. someday, after all. Oh, heavens. Only if the good Lord asks it of me ...

(Hey--this is my 200th post! Who knew I had that much to say?)