Faith in God

I had an “ah ha” moment recently. For anyone who is actively involved in the life of a church, there is tons to worry about. We worry about the budget for the fiscal year. (Like all not-for-profits, churches have been enormously hit by the collision of rising needs, and dropping contributions from families who have lost jobs. Unlike many not-for-profits, an alarming number of our members have fled the incredibly expensive metropolis to live in less expensive places, or to chase jobs elsewhere.) And then there are the larger problems of a conscientious Christian. The “bright” movement (a movement of atheists) claims by contrast that Christians are either dull or not so smart — or maybe both. And the extremist hateful Christians that seem to get all the press do nothing to dissuade anyone from this view. Our world is secularizing. Across oceans, rabid and destructive types of religions are rising like bread left too near the oven — getting sour and overflowing the bowl, while losing the qualities that make bread sustaining.

We look at our youth group. We lose them at about 16. They fade away… can’t be coerced or coaxed into something as uncool as church.

And as a Christian, I get this sort of desperate energy. I have to do something. I have to be a youth leader. I have to be an apologist (in the very oldest sense of the word) to help my faith make sense to a world that thinks it understands it, and doesn’t. I have to frenetically work to preserve the church.

And here comes my “ah ha”.

Secretly, in a part of my mind, I had the thought that I need to frenetically work to preserve God. What a 20th century, faithless American thought that is. If I really believe what I think I believe, that at least I can stop worrying about. If my faith is in a God who exists seperate of me and my beliefs — of a God so powerful that he created the universe and so loving that he sustains it — then there is no way the current waning of compassionate religiousity is a threat to God. Now, it may be a threat to many other things — the institutions of the church, the country (I do NOT want a theocracy to take root in America, because I sincerely doubt it will have room for me!), civil discourse, the needy… these are all things that I should work for. But if my faith is sincere, I do not need to fret about the possibility of God disappearing from my life, and from this world. And if I really believe what I think I believe, I can also have confidence that God will be present in the world as well — calling people to compassion and kindness, as well as to confidence in him. We humans are not in this alone.

And you know, that’s a tremendous relief to me. It is not a call not to work, but it is a call to work for what I believe in context of working in cooperation with my God, instead of somehow working to preserve him.

Commencing vermiculture endeavors

That’s right, we’re gonna grow worms! We just ordered a Can-o-Worms, which is an innovative setup where the worms always migrate up through various trays, so you can take the lower trays, which are mostly good vermicompost [dirt] without having to manually seperate out the wormies. It also has a spigot for “worm tea” which can replace most liquid fertilizers. We also ordered 2 pounds of Eisenia fetida, also known as red worms. We are very excited.

There are many reasons for pursuing vermiculture (or vermicide, depending on how good we are at it). It is an excellent source of high quality soil for gardens and house plants. It is ecologically beneficial — not only do we remove our food and many paper scraps from landfills, we also do not need to purchase nitrogen fertlizers, which I have learned are a petrochemical product. It can even be economically beneficial, if one paid for garbage by the pound, or frequently had to purchase potting soil and/or fertlizers.

But let’s be honest here. There’s one reason we’re setting up this worm bin.

We really want to. We think it will be fun. It’s one more great hobby!!!! I’m so psyched! It’ll be like having 2500 new little friends! I’ve wanted a worm bin since I saw my uncle’s when I was 14. I used to earn pocket money by helping people “harvest” worms from the football practice field behind our house when I was 8. I *like* worms. So prepared to read a lot about this for a while!

And then there’s the indisputable fact that “vermiculture” is a cool word, as is “vermicide”. Heh heh.

The inevitability of autumn

As I drove in today, I saw probably twice as many colored leaves as I saw on Monday. At one point, the wind was blowing and stripping yellow leaves off a tree one by one, and making them dance across traffic. It was quite cool this morning — in the mid 50s. The air is crisp — it’s humidity banished with the heat. I have the itching of autumn — to be creative and adventurous and travel. To be domestic, and quiet, and make pies on the counter while listening to fiddles.

Autumn is among us, a scent on the wind. It sweeps — as it does every year — some of the cobwebs from our routine-numbed brains. It asks questions that make us look at horizons and wonder what is past them. It trickles long-known and forgotten scents towards us, and makes us search for their pattern in our minds.

The falling leaves make me love them. The colors and pageantry and crisp air. For the first time, having lived through a brutal New England winter last year, I also understand the poignancy and threat behind the scarlet and gold. Autumn, in it’s kindness and grace, foretells winter in all its hard, uncaring violence and seeping drafts.

I wish I could return to the innocence of loving autumn with my whole heart, not knowing how painful and difficult the winds of February are.

September the 5th

This time of year is making me think of poetry. As I drive into work there’s a tree that is apparently calendar conscious. When we left before Labor Day it was green, and now it is tinged with fiery red around the edges. The change this morning is that a few leaves have fallen from it. There can be no denying that autumn is upon us.

Today’s poem is Shakespeare — but I don’t remember it all.

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs rough-shaken by the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where once the sweet bird sang…

I have done a bad thing this summer. By my standards, I have read almost nothing in several months. And what I have read has been entirely fluff. I think that part of my exhaustion comes from the fact I have not escaped into the fantasy world that is available to me through books. I need that, I think. As much as I need exercise, or good food, or vegetation, I need fantasy.

There are three worlds we humans inhabit: the world of the flesh, the world of the mind, and the world of the soul. I am living far too much in the world of the flesh — the impermanent one where satisfaction is fleeting. The other two worlds are what inform, strengthen and bring meaning to the factual, physical world. And I have neglected them. When I move, perhaps, I can reclaim my citizenship to them — or at very least, pay an extended visit.

Requiem for a torch-bearer

Our beloved friend and companion, the valient Knobby Foot, has passed on
to the warrior’s world of Valhalla. We found him last night, carefully
composed on a bier, with a spear in his hand and a determined, noble
look on his face. A note placed beside him read, “Do not stand at my
grave and weep. I am not here. I do not sleep.”

Knobby Foot was a true hero. He bravely faced and vanquished many foes,
including various fruit flies and paper towels. He had the capacity to
carry nearly his bodyweight in dried fruit in his cheek pouches, and was
often seen swaggering across Herot with cheeks wider than he was long.
He had been injured in single combat at an early age, earning his name
as well as a clubbed foot. Although the smallest of his litter, and
despite having the broken limb, he was also the fastest and one of the
most engaging. He proved that diminuative size was no obstacle to a
creature with his heart and courage.

Knobby Foot was predeceased by his mother Mrs. Robinson and his father
Mr. Jingles. His fruit-fly-foes will raise a glass of fermented tomato
in his memory. His many friends and admirers will miss him. His name
shall never pass from story or song.

What I learned from Medieval Studies

In some ways, learning about the middle ages was as much anthropology as history. (I suppose most history has an anthropological aspect.) I mean, there are historical facts and pieces of literature, but in some ways, I found attitudes and beliefs more interesting. My thesis was basically on medieval literary *attitudes* towards music. It wasn’t what they believed was true about music, it wasn’t about what music actually did in that period, it was about how people writing literature were likely to portray music in that literature.

This is a long introduction to one of the things I learned which blew me away when I realized it. With, I’m sure, many exceptions, people living in the Middle Ages did not anticipate that the world was going to change!!! Consider: 1) A medieval painting of King David — dressed in medieval garb with a medieval lyre and medieval-looking courtiers. 2) Rent declared in perpetuity that is not adjusted for inflation. Can you even imagine telling someone they and their children can rent an apartment from you and your heirs forever and ever for $1200? No! We’d never let it go that long, and if for some reason we did, we’d figure out a way to make sure it at very least moved with inflation. Unless we didn’t care about losing money. There are other examples. I’m sure there are counter examples of people who anticipated change. But I think they were also less likely to perceive change as progress. The Vandals sacking Rome was change, but it wasn’t progress. The black death was at some point new, but it wasn’t progress. Rising illiteracy in the beginning of the middle ages was a change, but it wasn’t progress.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a culture where change was not expected? (I’m sure this was true of other cultures — China comes to mind.) For all every generation feels like the one that is following it is going to hell, can you imagine a world where you actually anticipated depopulation, diminishing technology and deflation? What would change about *you* if you were a believing part of a culture who thought that the world was always going to be like it is today?

Of course that brings up eschatology, and the belief that the world wouldn’t change, it would simply end. We’re more likely to believe that if we don’t change, the world will end.

Why I had trouble with literary theory

I was an English major in school. My reasons for picking the major were pretty obvious — I’m good with language. I love to read, I enjoy writing, and I can do both reasonably well. I love various parts about the major were getting to sit down and read a novel, or a romantic epic, or a poem and call it homework. I loved getting to seriously think about and engage with what I read, and view it from multiple perspectives. I enjoyed the challenge of finding a new way to look at a work. (To me, essays are and always have been prisms through which literature can be viewed — and no piece of literature can be viewed without some prism, some perspective from the viewer.)

When I reached my junior year of college, all of a sudden someone started talking about literary theory. Huh? Here was something new. So, I attempted to delve into neo-historisicm, feminism, deconstruction, etc. To me, they seemed to be pre-fabricated prisms useful for looking at literature. A feminist reading focuses on the role and implications of women in literature. A historicist reading focuses on the culture and background of a work of literature. A deconstructionist view can pretend that the work was written in a vaccuum and read it accordingly. I have reached these conclusions after struggling with the concept for, oh, years.

My problem with literary theory? When I was encountering it, absolutely no one told me what I just told you above. They said it was important. They had huge tomes on it. They worried about whether their majors were getting exposed to it. They argued about which ones were valid. (I was on the English advisory board, on a search committee, and spent a lot of time with the professors, so I was privy.) But when I asked, haltingly, why theory was important. What it meant. Why to study it. Well, absolutely no one had an answer for me, and they looked at me like I was crazy for asking.

It was at this point I realized that not everyone asks why they are doing what they are doing. I was shocked. How could you possible study literature without asking why the study of literature was important and valid? How could you teach literary theory without understanding why it is important — and I don’t just mean because they also teach it in graduate school. I was flummoxed. I can’t do something unless I understand for myself why it is worth doing. Completely acceptable answers are because it is enjoyable, or I love it, or it gives a useful perspective on life. Unacceptable answers include because there is a large group of people also studying it. Well, why are THEY studying it? To get tenure? Then why is it worth tenure?

So to all you still in college, my advice. On the first day of class, ask the teacher to tell you: why the topic you will be studying is important in the world and why they chose to dedicate their lives to it. See if you believe their answers. And then answer that question for yourself.