Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Simple Sentence

Dear Toni Morrison,

I am in the middle of love, no, Love, I mean, the book. I'm always in the middle of love. I'm lucky that way.

I wanted to talk to you about sentences. You have a power in your sentence construction. For example, just one, though I could identify so many.

"It might help the new woman convert her own rental in his arms to a longer lease."

Wow, what a sentence. You have, in 17 words, pinned down so many things. Christine's action,* designed to send a message, was intercepted and watered down by the new woman. You have, in a sentence, set up a metaphor, established the complexity of a human dynamic filled with longing and hope, turned the metaphor and then crushed that hope by implication. You are masterful.

I want to talk about another powerful sentence too. And it's from story about love, one as hard your's always are, harder maybe, but with a turn of a phase that establishes hope rather than dashing it.

Girls go to school safely. They are kept girls too. Kept in an insulated community, in a tiny school filled with knowns and expecteds. A man fights insanity and loses the battle. His entrance into the school is unexpected and explosive and tragic. The story is documented on the front pages everywhere. I don't need a footnote.

But I'm taken by the short sentence and wonder at it. "I forgive," he said, the farmer in the dark clothing.

And not just by the words, but by the subsequent acts, recorded quietly because the usual media circus was short-circuited by a quiet community, I, the world, was convinced that this man and these people knew a thing or two about love. And though I am sure I do not, now, hold inside me the depth of spirit exhibited by these plainfolk, I have seen love enough, from mother, father, husband, child, friend, relative, and stranger, that I am certain they have chosen the path of love.

Every time I read your works, I am impressed by your sentences. When I read the short paragraph framed by an ill-spoken farmer, I was in awe.


*Christine was a jilted, "kept woman" whose response was to destroy the jilter's automobile. His "new woman" protected the man from the enormity of the ruin and the power of what a displaced woman could do.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Part III or IV (if you count the frog): Time Past And Time Future Allow But A Little Consciousness

“I am able to make from the springboard the great leap whereby I pass into infinity, my back is like that of a tight-rope dancer,. . . hence I find this easy; with a one-two-three! I can walk about existence on my head.”—S. Kierkegaard—Fear and TremblingProblemata: Preliminary Expectoration

Dear Soren,

Geehaw, this is harder than I thought. I’m just trying to explain in 45 words or less my view of which people get damned to hell and why. How come that is so difficult? Next thing I’ll be talking about angels on the head of a pin, to describe some nuance of the subject.

If only you were here to interpret for us.

But I’ll try to take a pitch at the target, and when I throw, it is always back to you existentialists. Camus says, (The Plague in the voice of Tarrou) “Query: How contrive not to waste one’s time? Answer: By being fully aware of it all the while. Ways in which this can be done: By spending one’s days on an uneasy chair in a dentist’s waiting room; by remaining on one’s balcony all a Sunday afternoon; by listening to lectures in a language one doesn’t know; by traveling by the longest and least convenient train routes, and of course standing all the way; by lining up at the box office of theaters and then not buying a seat; and so forth.”

We really do walk about existence so easily, insentiently, but to springboard to infinity, ah, that is not the same. And Camus’ suggestions, though giving us a little consciousness, don’t quite jettison us out of the temporal.

I want meaning to my time. I want eternity in my time. That is, I believe, not opposable thumbs, what makes me human. That should be in the creeds. “I believe that human moments in time hold eternal significance.”

In Paul Tillich’s cluster of sermons entitled, The Eternal Now, chapter entitled The Good That I Will, I Do Not, he says, “. . . Sin is a picture full of ugliness, suffering and shame, and, at the same time, drama and passion. It is the picture of us as the battleground of powers greater than we. It does not divide men into categories of black and white, or good and evil. It does not appear as the threatening finger of an authority urging us—do not sin! But it is the vision of something infinitely important, that happens on this small planet, in our bodies and minds. It raises [hu]mankind to a level in the universe where decisive things happen in every moment, decisive for the ultimate meaning of all existence. In each of us such decisions occur, in us, and through us. This is our burden. This is our despair. This is our greatness.”

And, could I add, this is our portal to life eternal?

Have you ever used Flash*? Oh, of course not, no computers in the 1800’s. Well, Macromedia Flash is a timeline-driven software. It is harder to learn to use than, say Adobe PhotoShop or Microsoft Word or even AutoCad. It is not just three dimensional, it is four dimensional. It allows for change over time. A circle morphs into a cube. A video plays with music, etc. When constructing a Flash movie, a designer assigns a purpose to each frame, each moment on the timeline. And while working on a project there is a little red slider that can be pulled, now forward, now back, into the Flash future, back to the Flash past, with a flick of the mouse.

Click here

And when we test our projects we watch that red slider glide through the events. If we see a mistake on the stage (that is what the workspace is actually called) we try to catch that slider. STOP. Stop. We want to change that frame. Make it right.

I’ve digressed it seems for a simple point. Would that we all had sliders to catch and draw back our lives to points in time that we regret, that run through our heads over and over. Bad playbacks. Damnable moments. Damned moments. So when I deal with exclusivism, it's not primarily the question, "who is excluded from salvation?" but "am I wholly excluded from damnation?" And my answer is no, I am not.

Is it possible that each of our moments hold the potential for salvation or damnation? We either embrace the grace extended to us or curse it. Am I saved? Is my soul saved? Am I damned? Is my soul damned? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. How can I believe that it is not all so. I know my heart and I know my moments. I believe that God’s grace has saved me, that I have drunk from “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” God has revealed that salvation in eternal moments. But also, "The good that I will, I do not," (Romans 7) And,“Blessed is the [hu]man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, [s]he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) And, “You see that a person is justified by what [s]he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different directions? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (Did Rahab have to sign off on a creed before God declared her righteous?) Eternal life, begins in our every day existence. When we refuse the salvation of the Lord in our todays, we refuse it for the eternity that our todays could have been. When we do not love our neighbor today, we close that portal to eternity. When we do not house that spy today, we have entered into a damnation of that which had potential for the eternal. Grace is extended to us, all of us, not just once, at the beginning of a spiritual journey, not just at the crisis of a testimony, but at every turn. We have but to receive it. Likewise, we have but to reject it.

I am a Christian. And I do believe that it is the grace of Jesus Christ I’m talking about here. And I suspect that this grace is very wide indeed, extending at least the breadth of an EOC statement. And I praise God that mercy eternal has been mysteriously extended to me, and consciously so, in the unity and diversity of my soul.

Soren, your thoughts often leave me in the dusky dust. I do not always understand. I am like a rope on the Goodyear blimp. Sometimes it feels like I’m holding on for dear life, just reading your ideas. Yet your thoughts have helped lead me to these thoughts. And it is my thoughts, not yours, that must, in the end, make sense to me. So I’ll continue to read and think and baby step.

*Click here for a very fun presentation of Flash in Flash.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dissecting the Body* and Soul

Dear God,

If only dissecting the soul were as straightforward as dissecting the body, perhaps we would not have to take so many anti-depressants.

Click Here to Dissect


*I love this Website

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Mystery of the Soul: Symbol and Salvation

Dear Psyche,

I’m having trouble moving my thought processes along in a clearly discernable way. Last night I realized that the best thing to do would be to try to say it and have you and anyone else who wants to try, rip it apart and then I’ll put it back together again.

Let me draw a picture.

God waited around for Moses to die. He didn’t rush the process and I think it is because God likes poetry (hence God would no doubt be entertained by the Paterson Project) and waited around for Moses to speak to the end of his last “Ha’azinu,” his last proclamation of a “Shema Israel.” In a way, it reminds me of John the Baptist’s death question to Jesus. “Are you really the Christ?” But Moses rolls it out more, beginning in his own voice with a proclamation of God’s name, “Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.” But he turns the voice of the poem over to the Rock, seeking confirmation to the earlier “Shema Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And the Rock doesn’t say, “hear”, it says, “See now that I myself am He! There is no God besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.” And then Moses dies.

And then, Joshua begins. And the folks of Israel are ready to enter the land of dreams. And this part of Scripture is where I, too, begin in piecing together my picture of the human soul. The children must cross the River Jordan in order to enter the Promised Land. Of course, I don’t have to talk about the salvation symbolism that has splashed out of that river. The whole party of Israelites went through the dry baptism of the River Jordan led by the covenant of God. And when they had reached the other side, Joshua chose 12 disciples and sent them back out into the riverbed to gather memorial stones. Those they brought to where they lived in the camp. And Joshua made a pile to serve as an eternal reminder.

That pile of rocks, for me, describes the human soul. Our souls are monuments to the salvation of the Lord, the Rock of our salvation. The salvific act of crossing the Jordan is one thing and it is a miracle of God and has to do with the essence of our beings. But the composition of our eternal souls is a rock collection that memorializes for time and eternity the existential affirmations, happening moment by moment, to the salvation that enlivens us.

The other symbols of Scripture that speak of soul are similar in their multiplicity of form. The children of Israel themselves are a picture of the soul. The grapes of the vineyard. The molecules that make up the baby being born. All have unity and diversity, singularity and multiplicity intrinsic to them. The soul is not a singularity.

Believe it or not, this is where I begin my thinking about exclusivism. And I'll continue this line of thinking another day.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Exclusivism and the Holy Catholic* Christian Church

*Another word that needs to be excised and replaced in the creeds. The baggage that term carries is totally unacceptable. Yet we continue to drag it along without a thought.

Dear Theologians, especially Anne GG and Cate, who asked,

This is going to be long. I will have to break it into at least two parts. I want to try and work this through (for myself) carefully. I'm hoping you will help me with this and not rigidly quote me on any of this. I don't want to be heretical for heretical sake.

Eric Hoffer says, "To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but just find his brand of intolerance." (I unfurled this quote yesterday from the code of the local paper's Celebrity Cipher, but it does speak to the subject.) Exclusivism of faith is the up side of intolerance. It comes from, I believe, the depths of our desire to get it right. We, humans (some of us anyway), spend our lives trying to nail down what we believe. We check our beliefs for errors, systematize, categorize, make application, and then stand guard. We, from whatever denominational or religious perch we sit, hawk-eye everyone else, either kindly or viciously, but knowingly.

It's not just Christians who do this, though this is certainly where I come from. I loved the quote I read on the other day when the folks of Turkey were up in arms about the comments of the Pope. "Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said. One would have to smile, if the implications weren't so virulent.

But I'm not worried about others. I'm worried about me and whether my own tendencies to exclusivism actually would brand a true Christ follower or not. I think there are a variety of concerns that we need to think about.

1) Has God assigned us the task of making sure everyone is "thinking straight and the same?"
2) Is faith primarily content based?
3) Is faith a goal or an end in and of itself or is it a means to achieving something, i.e. "Salvation, eternal life, heaven, etc."

Possibly if we answer the third question, the first two will fall away. However, I think this is how we wind our way to the issue of exclusivism, at least I do. I look at life and other people and discern reason in terms of relationship. A really good thinker would be much more sterile in their approach. But for me, I'm brought to thought via example. So here are examples that have brought me to crisis of thought. I have a non-Christian friend, (spell that Muslim). She lives like me. Her moral and spiritual concerns are very close to mine, closer than many of my Christian friends. She even uses a wonderful term to draw us together. She says that we are "people of the book." I love that. On top of that, as stated above, I have Christian friends who are very dissimilar to me. Their moral reflections are quite different from mine, some stretching in one direction, some the polar opposite. Both types of people are equally sincere in their basic spiritual concerns.

(Margaret GG would approach this more simply. She thinks the answer is more obvious, and, perhaps, that one need not intellectualize so. But I do that, so let's continue.)

What does this mean, I say in my shriveled little heart? I feel like I am an employee of the mail office who was given two stamps, years ago, to mark packages. One says, "Forward to St. Peter, signature required," the other says, "Go to Hell." But I've gone postal. The packages in front of me are piling up and all I can do is take turns hitting myself on the forehead, first with one stamp and then the other.

Well, I haven't done anything but present an introduction to this subject. So what! This is my blog. Anyone who criticizes me for going on too long encourages violence! But you, too, can say whatever you want and I will probably not delete, excepting spam.