Friday, August 26, 2011


[Apologies for the unpolished style--I'm tired, but wanted to post this.]
Sometimes I have an intense feeling of failure, even after doing things no one else perceives as failures. I think probably I did well on each of the three-hour ordination exams I took today, in terms of whether I'll pass, that is.

But I was so disappointed in myself because ... I wanted all six essays to be beautifully written, egaging, powerful, edifying and a pleasure to read. And instead, much of what I wrote was just so humdrum and rote, bland and boring, boring, boring. I was proud of just a few lines, here and there--but even the best bits could have been better, if only I'd had more time. In particular, one of those essays was so terrible. I mean, I answered the prompt, but I wish I could apologize to the people who have to actually read what I wrote, it's so insipid and lifeless. Oh, damn my miserable inadequacies!

Anyway, this is a good illustration of how so often I fail in my own mind, even though ... well, probably no one else expects so much of me.

Ah ... maybe I'll do better on the next two exams. Maybe if I really punish myself thoroughly for doing so bad this time, and mentally berate myself constantly ... Hah ha ha. Just kidding. (-: I'm too wiped out for that, anyway.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Psychological Profiles in Film

In his book, People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck describes something like a personality disorder he observed in certain clients (or clients' family members) in practice as a psychotherapist. He identifies such people as being given over to evil, noting that their condition resembles a severe variation of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Although otherwise apparently normal, these persons were apparently whole-heartedly selfish in all their decision-making, unconflicted and unashamed about lying constantly in order to advance their own purposes.

The classic movie Bringing Up Baby is about just such an individual. The horrible, horrible female protagonist just lies and lies, without giving it a second thought, not caring at all how her deception is creating confusion and frustration and causing damage all over the place. I found it so distressing, I couldn't stand to watch any more after the first twenty minutes or so. God, I don't know what I'll do if (when?) I have to deal with someone like that as a pastor. Anyway, if you want to know what M. Scott Peck calls "an evil person," just watch that movie.

Now, much more fun ... last night we watched another classic film, Kind Hearts and Coronets. It's one of the best films we've ever seen--and we'd never heard of it before! Crazy. It's a very British dark comedy about a young man's plan to kill off eight relatives (all played brilliantly by Alec Guiness) in order to inherit a dukedom. It was so funny, even after the movie ended, I was still laughing and laughing. They really don't write comedies like that anymore. Today's "smart" comedy is actually pretty dumb by comparison.

And if you want to see how Enneagram Type Three ("The Achiever") becomes a homicidal sociopath, it's a stunning, spot on portrayal.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Devastating Loss of Self"

While working on a new painting, I've been listening to The Myth of Alzheimer's by Peter J. Whitehouse (with Daniel George) on CD. Whitehouse, a physician, researcher, and authority on the condition, argues that there is no scientific basis for treating Alzheimer's as a disease, and that care for patients would be improved by acknowledging the symptoms of "cognitive brain aging," as he calls it, as a normal part of growing older. Rather than labeling a more rapid decline as pathologically abnormal, we can recognize that every person's progress into older years is unique, and that the challenges of aging, which we all must face, can hold opportunities, as well.

Whitehouse in large part blames the pharmacuetical industry for creating "the myth of Alzheimer's" by talking about waging war on the disease, and the (according to Whitehouse, completely unfounded) hope of a cure. But most of all, the myth of Alzheimer's creates an intense fear and dread (the reason I picked this book up off the shelf). Alzheimer's is said to result in a "devastating loss of self," robbing victims of their very personhood.

According to Whitehouse, this is simply not true. We are constantly changing throughout our lives; loss of cognitive ability does not destroy the self. Perhaps the most important component of treatment for a person in cognitive decline is to focus on the ways they are still able to contribute to society, do the things they have always enjoyed, and accept the loving care of their family members--that is, to continue to see themselves as human persons in the midst of real losses.

 * * * * * * *

The painting is coming along nicely. It's not completed yet, but when I was finished working on it for today, I stepped back to have a look and was disappointed: it was all out of focus--I had to put on my glasses to appreciate it. It was upsetting to me not being able to appreciate my own painting without the aid of corrective lenses.

There are so many things we think we own, or consider to be part of who we are, and it's scary to lose them. Who would I be without my vision, my memories, my intelligence, without the dexterity of my hands, without strength to walk and run?

Some might say we're born into this life with the very purpose of growing old--to learn by divesting ourselves of every external prop that, after all, I am not the clothes I wear or the things I own; I am not even the thoughts I think. Who I really am ...

... is beyond words and comprehension. Because after all, the soul does not exist in and of itself, but exists only by the creative act of God's love. But of such things ... it is extremely difficult to write, especially as a scrupulous Christian theologian ... if only I could commission Charles Williams to write this into a novel! Alas, he has been dead several decades. And, dying at age 58, I suppose he must have missed out on much of the experience of growing old. Well, he was surely an old soul from birth.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Hm. I miswrote the common name of this tree on my opening card. And I accidentally said "branches" when I meant "limbs." How embarrassing.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reflections on the Road from Jerusalem to Jericho

A man went up
Jesus said
from Jerusalem to Jericho

Now fifty
seminarians, professors
following the way

This land perhaps
has not changed
much, still a
terrifying place to be left for dead

Zipping along
in our air conditioned
whirlwind tour
it takes about an hour

Can you imagine?
turning from window to seat partner
They must have experienced
time so
and space

What would it be like
walking this waste

or with someone to talk to
you might really get to know them

Approaching Jericho
a moment of déjà vu
billboards in the desert
just like the 10 freeway approaching Palm Springs

A camel at a gas station!
Someone snap a photo!

We're here!
Quickly, everyone off the bus!
We're late
We're running out of time

Running out of
the endless expanse?
Didn't you see it there
or were you in too much of a hurry
on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Violence and the Fantasy Genre

Last week we watched the final Harry Potter film. It was a good ending to the series. Not so pretty as the previous one; and no big surprises ... but a good ending.

Without spoiling any details, I will say that there is a large-scale battle, during which one of the goodguys kills one of the badguys and smiles. It could be interpreted as a smile of relief, but could also be seen as a smile of satisfaction at having killed someone who caused many deaths.

I was bothered by that. Violence and killing are such a difficult issue for the author of young adult fantasy. It's something I've really struggled with in writing my own series.

I have great respect for the thoroughly non-violent approach of Madeleine L'Engle's books. Her protagonists are never called to use violent means in combating evil. They always overcome hatred with love.

I'm not sure how I feel about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein's fantasy wars between good and evil. It seems wrong to glorify the concept of war. War may at times be necessary, but it's always tragic and ugly. And given the universality of human wickedness and corruption, it's extremely dangerous ever to identify one nation as good and another evil. (I don't care if it's Nazi Germany versus Allied England; it's still dangerous.)

Lewis argues that killing in war is not murder because it's nothing personal. He imagines that two Christian soldiers on opposite sides, bent on killing each other, might wake up, moments later, side by side in heaven, and find no difficulty whatsoever in laughing it off and embracing in joy.

In Lewis and Tolkein's fantasies, the killing is very impersonal. Perhaps what bothered me most about the confrontation in Deathly Hallows Part II is that, even though it could be seen as technically soldier-to-soldier combat, it nonetheless feels deeply personal, perhaps even an act of revenge.

Well ... that's "Hollywood" for ya: tapping into people's pent up aggressive instincts, satisfying the repressed bloodlust of our animal nature.

I suppose soldiers risking their lives to protect a nation under attack is a valid way of sublimating the aggressive instinct. (For non-Freudians: sublimation=channeling the energy of one's socially unacceptable sexual and aggressive instincts into higher, nobler [and in that sense, "sublime"] socially acceptable pursuits.)

Unless we think we can do away with war altogether, then as a society we must in some way glorify the role of the soldier--we must believe and tell our children that it is a noble thing to risk one's life in the attempt to kill our nation's enemies.

In some ways, I believe it truly is. To the extent that it requires courage and self-sacrifice, and that its purpose is to protect ordinary people from harm, it is a very noble thing. But unfortunately ... it also means "impersonal killing" ... it means doing something that is absolutely obscene and somehow setting aside the remorse, horror and disgust that a healthy soul would feel.

So ... as I said, I've been struggling with this issue in writing my own series. I started writing the fourth book last year, and stopped because it was just not shaping up at all--needs to be scrapped and restarted. But it's going to deal with this question about the use of violence ... Unfortunately, my thoughts and feelings on the subject are still so messy ...

Ugh. I hate violence because it's so evil and ugly and disturbing. But I'm also aware of my own deep-seated aggressive instincts. I am violent and I hate violence. Well ... it's something to brood about and maybe start writing again ...