Thursday, December 27, 2007


I'm sad that this apparently decent woman has been killed. I'm worried that this bodes very badly indeed for the people of Pakistan in the near future, and perhaps for the people of the United States more indirectly. I heard George Stephanopoulos (sbbing for Charles Gibson) intimate that the US had a lot to do with her semi-triumphant return to Pakistan recently. Apparently the point of backing her was that she was both pro-Western, moderate, and popular, and that we were trying to hedge the Musharef bets we've been placing for the past several years. He is clearly on his last political legs, and we wanted to put someone civilized in play because we can't afford to have Pakistan (like Iraq but with nukes) go the way of Iraq.

I think the coverage of this story that most appalled me was the Today show replaying footage of Ann Curry laying into Bhutto for risking her own and other people's lives in her return. I have no idea what gave Ann Curry the idea that it was her job to tell Bhutto how to live, but she didn't just "ask tough questions," she literally attacked her for her decision. And I have no idea at all why NBC/Today thought it would be cool to replay this wholly inappropriate line of questioning in response to her death. It looked like, "I told you so!" Really weird.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Long theology post

Joseph Campbell, who wrote extensively about the power of myth, said that both atheists and fundamentalists make the same mistake about the things they read in sacred books. Atheists read something like the book of Jonah, for example, and say, it couldn't have happened like that, and therefore it's a lie. Fundamentalists read it and say it's true, so it actually happened exactly like that. Both misunderstand what sort of literature they are reading. It's not history and it's not science. It's symbolism, metaphor, myth. And so it is neither factual nor a lie, neither literally true nor literally mistaken. It's meant to speak to the spirit and not the intellect.

The Bible is a record of how the spirit spoke to men (and perhaps women) in ages past, written down as best they understood it. There is change and development and contradiction in it because people's experience of God changed and developed and improved (and at times, no doubt, regressed.)

God moved people of old and spoke to them in ways they were ready for. In the end of the Bible, we are clearly shown that in times past, God spoke through the prophets, but now His spirit dwells within us, and not in a chosen people or a tent or a sacred building or a collection of old writings. Jesus didn't leave a manuscript, he left a bunch of people who had experienced God in Him. Emmanuel means God with us. Not God up in the sky or God in a book or God in only one person. God with us.

Paul stumbled upon an incredible idea for an ancient Jew: that God cares just as much about Gentiles as he does about Jews. That was a complete overthrow of the entire Old Testament. Paul read the OT in a radically new way, turning the meaning of stories on their head. The story of Sarah and Hagar (mothers of Isaac and Ishmael) is presented in such a way as to make Hagar (mother of the enemies of Israel) stand for Israel, and Sarah (mother of Israel) represent Gentiles (Gentile believers in Christ.) It was, I believe, an authentic spiritual insight, it was God's word to Paul and to us through him. But that doesn't make his opinions about women speaking in church or covering their heads equally significant to us today. It's not. It doesn't make his request for his cloak and his scrolls the word of God. It doesn't make his own admittedly subjective opinion about divorce and remarriage binding on everyone in the world.

The Bible is a record of how people were moved and inspired by God. But the Word of God is living--it's not a book. It can best be seen in a person, Jesus Christ. But even He was limited by the time and culture in which He lived. In fact, He doesn't seem to have even seen beyond the nation of Israel in what He said and taught. So in that sense, Paul went beyond Him.

That process should continue. God didn't stop moving people to new depth of insight in 66 AD. That's one excellent point that Catholicism makes. God continues to move people to see the gospel in new and more mature ways. There's no reason to think that the oldest form of Christianity is the best--living things grow and develop.

Yet in many ways Catholicism has also missed what the spirit is saying to people today. The idea that because having as many children as possible was once the moral and unselfish thing to do, it still is today, is simply wrong, in my opinion. The belief that individual human babies were in sperm led to condemning condoms and masturbation (condemnation that all Protestants accepted as well until maybe 1940 or so)--but now that we know otherwise, it's just silly to try to pretend otherwise. The belief that loving homosexual relationships are evil is no longer tenable. (And if the Catholic church isn't living proof of what happens when you try to suppress people's sexuality, I don't know what is.)

Catholicism teaches me that my ultimate responsibility is to follow my own conscience. Commonsense and some attempt at spiritual maturity teach me that I can't believe things that I don't believe. So I'm stuck with what my own spirit suggests to me is in accord with the spirit of God. Some of it is derived from things in the Bible, and some of it is not. It's Catholic, but not necessarily what the Pope teaches. Confusing and even chaotic, but it's the best I can do.

I would say that God is being revealed progressively through human history. God is able to be revealed more and more in and through us.

This is an experience I had several years ago. I was starting to lose my faith in God as I had imagined Him, and I was starting to suspect that what we call "God" is not exactly a free-standing entity. And this alarmed and disturbed me. So as I struggled with the idea that God didn't really exist in the way I had supposed, I (somewhat contradictorily) addressed this question to God: "God, are you separate from me?" The answer I thought was the "right" (orthodox) answer was, "Of course!" But that's not how it went. As I asked that question, I clearly and immediately "heard" this response: "Do you want Me to be?"

That's quite a question. Do I want to be separated from God? Gee, that can't be good. Then why do I want God to be separate from me? Why do I want God to be separate from humanity? Suppose God's one and only dwelling place is human beings, humanity, us? Jesus certainly hinted as much, with all that talk about what you do to the least, you do to Him, and how you keep the law is to love your neighbor.

If I think about most of the things that God is credited for, such as providing food, saving people from death, bringing people back to life, forgiving sins, etc. turn out, on closer inspection to nearly always come by way of human hands. Even in the Bible! God hardly ever smites people himself--he gets some people to do all the smiting. He doesn't mete out his own justice--he sends people to do it. Even the most supernatural of events, such as water from a stone or children raised from death, require a human intermediary. In the NT, every single "divine" thing that Jesus did, he also told his disciples to do, including forgiving sins and laying down his life for others.

The project that I think humanity is at work on is becoming One, by which I mean feeling and acting for each person as we feel for those nearest and dearest to us. In tribal societies, this is a reality--what is good for the tribe actually compellingly feels to be what's good. In organized religion and nationalism, we see this sense of identification and willingness to live and die for others expanded to a much larger group. But this enlargement comes at the cost of a strong sense of Us vs. Them, and often involves a stronger sense of alienation and disregard for all those on the outside of the circle.

Hence, while it's noble for a man to die for his comrades or for the abstraction of his country (more noble than for him to refuse to serve), his nobility is played out on the field of engaging in large-scale murder of "the enemy." Further enlargement of one's identification and loyalty beyond family and tribe has turned into a greater evil, in that much more hatred and destruction can now be guiltlessly done in the name of God and country. But that sense of the nobility of stepping beyond self to unity with a greater whole is real. It's just that until, in really practical terms, this identification is with all humans, or even, as the Tibetans believe, all sentient creatures, there is always an Us vs. Them that poisons the Oneness.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

That they all may be One, as thou Father in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.

Non-believers are often much better at sensing this and responding to it than believers, who are taught to divide humanity into "saved" and "unsaved," perhaps the most pernicious division of all. Believers are incapable of sincere, single-minded response to the needs of others, because they always have a sense of "ought" and a sense of their own goodness and a sense that their kindness is somehow a bribe or a message that might bring this lost soul to God--and unbelievers feel the hidden message behind all the things that Christians might do for them. On the other hand, a complete reprobate might stop and help his neighbor change a tire without any hidden subliminal message. They feel a connectedness, a sense of mutual responsibility and interdependence, rather than a "moral obligation." These are the folks who will say, Lord when did we see thee hungry and feed thee? And Jesus will say, Whatever you did for the least person, you did for me. Because the dwelling place of God is with mankind. Emmanuel, God with us.

(copied and saved from 2 discussion board posts I made.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Good movie week

This week I've watched two movies on DVD and one at the theatre, and all 3 of them were great. On DVD I watched Wag the Dog, an oldie but goodie. Of course I had heard the plot--and the similarities with the Clinton administration--but I had never seen it. It holds up well, although surprisingly, fashions actually have changed in the past 10 years. Dustin Hoffman is a riot.

Then I watched Little Miss Sunshine for the second time. The first time I saw it in Maine with my nieces last January, and this time I watched it with Kristen. It is such a wonderful movie. It's a strange combination of rather raunchy humor and very moral and uplifting message. It leaves you feeling so hopeful about humanity.

Then today, Kristen and I went to see Juno, about a 16 year old girl who gets pregnant and decides to have the baby. It's so snarky and quirky, and yet again, despite some raunchy language and a few naughty bits, very moral, and very uplifting. It would be easy to make the adoptive mom just a stereotype, and in a way she is--the yuppie woman who is so perfect and who seems to want a child almost as an accessory. But she has depth, and in the end, when her husband (who is well developed throughout the movie) turns out to be kind of a loser, she shows herself to be worthy of the trust that Juno placed in her. The relationship between Juno and her Dad is sweet, as is the stepmother, who really sticks up for her.

So after 3 hits in a row, I am taking a chance on one more: Arctic Tale, which I rented. I was really looking forward to this when it came out, since it was advertised all over the place. But to my surprise, it never even played at any of the local multiplexes. So I plan to watch that this weekend and hope I can keep the string going.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I love shopping at New Balance shoe store. A few years ago, I bought a pair of shoes and after several months of wearing them daily, I started having pain in the bottom of my heels. I went back to buy a new pair of insole supports, and explained why I needed them. The salesman noted that actually, I probably needed a new pair of shoes in a more supportive style. Ah, I thought, another hundred dollar pair of shoes! But the guy said, we can take these old ones back and you can just pay the difference. I was stunned. I'd worn them for months!

As a result of that one good transaction, I, my husband, and my daughter have bought all our shoes there ever since. They are instantly comfortable, and today, when I bought new insoles again, the pair they sold me didn't fit quite right. I went back an hour later, and they cheerfully let me exchange them for a better pair.

Their customer service is excellent, and their product is the best.

"Buying" a Cellphone

Almost everyone in America has a cellphone. Certainly every college-age person. So when Kristen's cellphone stopped working, I knew we needed to buy her a new one as soon as possible. Since we've been on our current plan for more than 2 years, and since we've received various notices that we're eligible for a free new phone, I thought it should be relatively simple to go to an AT &T store and just buy a phone.

I thought wrong.

It turns out that you basically can't just buy a cellphone, at least not at any sane price. We went to the nearest AT&T store and explained our situation. We don't want to change our contract in any way, just buy a new phone to use. The guy talked in code for a few minutes, ending by suggesting that we open a new line in order to get a discounted phone. How much would a new line cost? Oh, only $10. $10 per what? Uh, per month. For how long? Well for 2 years. And how much of a discount would that buy us? Like $150 cheaper. And what would we do with that line, since we already have 3 lines and 3 people? Oh, it would be a ghost line. Just to get the discount. Wait, you're suggesting that I spend $240 over the next 2 years in order to get a $150 discount? His response: I'm not saying you should do it, but that's what some people do.

Translation: I confuse some people so much that I trick them into paying $240 to save $150, but since you can multiply, never mind.

We gave up and waited till the next day, during which we did a bit of research to find out if there are sane and simple ways to just buy a phone at a reasonable price. Turns out that the answer is essentially no.

You can get phones in one of three ways: get a phone below cost in exchange for signing a 2 year contract, pay what the sales persons sneeringly refer to as "retail" (ie over $300 for a piece of equipment that you know isn't worth that much), or buy a pay as you go phone for somewhere around $50~$75 and then pay 10 cents per minute to use it.

This last option would be fine for people like Sam and me, who use cellphones mainly for quick calls to check on things. (And even these have hidden tricks built into them, it appears, like $1.00 per day charges that apply only on days when you use the phone. wth?) But Kristen often calls just to chat, and talks for as much as an hour at a time. And I don't want her to worry about the cost every time she makes a call.

So we went to 4 different AT&T stores and Circuit City, in a feeble attempt to find out if there was a way to avoid signing up for an additional 2 years of service and still get a phone for under $100.

As a last resort, we went to Radio Shack, which had two advantages: it has multiple phone services available, so that you can directly compare costs, if you don't already have a provider. (We wanted to continue with AT&T not because it's necessarily good, but because Kristen's phone line is a $10 a month add-on to my basic service.) The other advantage of Radio Shack is that the guy who waited on us was really knowledgeable and also low-key and didn't seem like a scam-artist.

What we ended up doing was adding 2 years to Kristen's line (but not to the contract as a whole) and getting a phone for only $16, which was actually the sales tax only. Even if we take into account the $10 per month, the most we paid for this phone was $216. And of course, she can use it freely. We hesitated about the 24 month thing because she hopes to spend several months in Italy next Fall. But we figure she'll just have to get a pay as you go phone that works in Europe or something. It's only 10 weeks.

But my question remains: why do they have to make it so damn hard to simply buy a phone? Why the long-term contracts? As Kristen pointed out, cellphones may be obsolete within 2 years. And if it's such a good deal, why do they have to basically trick you into staying with them for 2 years up front? And once you've fulfilled that obligation, why do they make it impossible to avoid a second 2-year commitment? They don't seem to trust that their service would be good enough that you would willingly buy it. If they sold their phones for a realistic price, instead of the vastly inflated "retail" price which they then "discount" to give you a sensible price for your phone, maybe people would buy more phones! Is the whole aura of shell-game really necessary?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Election Anxiety

Suppose that Huckabee gets the Republican nomination and Hillary gets the Democratic nomination. What a mess that would be. All the Christians will feel compelled to vote for Reverend Huckabee, and all the liberals will have to vote for Hillary, and it will be presented as a choice between Jezebel and Saint Michael or something. Fearfully, Huckabee would probably beat Hillary, especially after the hate-Hillary machine gets cranked up. The funny part of it all is that Hillary is actually too *moderate* for most real liberal/progressives.

I really don't want to contemplate the idea of President Huckabee.

From a distance it would seem like there's no possible way the Republicans can win in 2008, after the mess Bush has made of the last 8 years. But if it were Huckabee vs. Hillary, I can see it happening. In my worst dreams.