Category: Christianity & Catholicism & philosophy

Other people’s children and cheesecake

Other people’s children can be a joy. Sometimes I see a child doing something I used to enjoy doing. Other times (in the classroom), their curiosity and excitement restores my mood, which is often so negatively affected by the jaded adults around me. This Christmas I have noticed yet another joy I find in my friends’ children. That is parents view Christmas differently than the childless. They also have financial worries, and stress related to socializing with relatives. I’m sure some feel anxious hoping their kids will like their presents. But they experience the magic of Christmas because they are always watching and thinking of their children, to whom Christmas has not yet lost an iota of magic, to whom Christmas music is not yet annoying (I love it, but not everyone does!), who are perhaps only beginning to guess the truth about Santa Claus.

Recently at church one of the deacons had everyone partner with a stranger for an exercise. I might add how strange this sort of thing is during Roman Catholic Mass, but I suspect this deacon must have grown up a Baptist or something–I digress. One person was instructed to smile with real affection and love, looking into the other person’s eyes. The second person was to maintain eye contact, but to keep from smiling. It is possible, but not common for a person to be able to do this. “Monkey see, monkey do,” perhaps? The deacon explained that he had done this exercise during a workshop many years ago under the direction of a psychologist who did indeed have some professional term for this phenomenon.

I don’t know about psychology, but I do know that it is hard to look at someone who is experiencing wonder, and not to feel it or be reminded of having felt it before oneself. It is hard to look at someone in tears, suffering grief, without feeling some pain as well. Sometimes it is rather superficial (crying during The Notebook perhaps). Other times it is a great thing that touches the soul of the person who is looking (deciding to give to the homeless, having seen their suffering). There is potential for something even sacred, when both persons involved are touched (this happens, for example, when one has crossed from trying to offer comfort to actually comforting another).

So it appears with parents and children in particular. When I was a child, my mother would say, “When you cry, I cry.” Only many years later did I realize the profundity of her statement. It was not, “You cry, therefore I cry,” implying a cold cause and effect. It was an expression of connection. I experience what you experience because we are connected.

I suppose to be a true and enlightened Christian, that is, when we’re in the new world, in heaven, whathaveyou, we will feel this connection easily and with all of Creation, maybe with God himself. As it is or as we are, it is easier to feel as one with those close to us, and it is easy to wall off others and to refuse to feel with them.

But I am getting far away from what I had wished to write. What I have noted this Christmas is how much people love their children. This is not surprising, and no one questions it, but it is like this: you may have heard a friend talking about how delicious cheesecake is, and believed it, but it is different to watch your friend eating cheesecake–to see the goofy grin that a person gets when they eat something so luscious. You went from knowing they enjoy cheesecake to seeing they enjoy cheesecake. So in some sense, you feel their enjoyment too.

Finally, other people’s children are a joy when they are merciful. Kids are infamous for being too honest. “Mom, why is that lady so fat?” and things like that. For me, it is always a relief joy when I lose control of my skateboard or something in front of a kid–and, of course, it always seems to happen in front of a kid–and they don’t ridicule my old, not-as-coordinated-as-I-should-be arse. In my mind I say, “Thanks, kid! I know you saw that!”

To sublime

The short story of how I came to Christ:

Today I awoke late, around seven thirty, and I read a few pages of Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, the book which played such a great part in my Christianity.

When I was about fifteen, the title, The Sickness Unto Death, by the same author, attracted me when I happened to see it at Barnes & Noble. I asked my mother to buy me the book, as well as another which had something to do with Hinduism, an interest of mine at that time. Mother made me choose only one, and I can still remember how surprised she seemed that I chose the Kierkegaard title. The cover described the book as a “psychological exposition from a Christian perspective,” or something close to that, and my mother must have realized how (unfairly) biased against Christianity I was. She bought me the book.

One book led to another, and I found myself reading Works of Love. Around that time I was also taking a humanities class which required me to read several passages from the Bible in order to learn about the ancient Hebrew culture. Together, Kierkegaard and my teacher, Mr. Stewart (I use his real name because I think it is sufficiently common to maintain his anonymity), pried my mind open to just read about Jesus of Nazareth. Just read. Find out about the man. I began to read the Gospels.

I went to school one day after having been absent for a few days, and had to be excused from a biology exam. The teacher let me study on an old couch in the back room. I guess it was typically me not to study biology, but instead to casually read whatever I wanted, in this case, Works of Love. By that time, I had read enough of the Gospels to begin to understand. I remember the ratty couch, and that it was in a little corner, with a window behind it. There were all sorts of animal specimens in jars on the shelves nearby. It was quiet. I don’t remember the particular section of the book I was reading–though perhaps I will rediscover it soon, since I have begun to read the book for a second time–but I believed Jesus was the Son of God. In a moment, I believed it. It was perhaps the least complicated event of my life, profound.

St. Augustine wrote something about believing being like a man finally deciding to get out of bed, but I would rather describe my experience almost in a chemical sense of spontaneity. A flame suddenly burned. I was conscious of it being my individual choice to believe or not to, but it seemed inevitable almost, as if now I knew the truth–and Jesus Christ was the truth. Whether I believed or not, whether I worshiped or not, I felt that what I had learned about Jesus was the truth, and one day this would become impossible to deny; so although it was still possible for me to choose to deny the truth for the time being, it seemed like a foolish and futile thing to do. So I was given the gift of faith, but it was a separate action for me to receive it.

To sublime:

As I said, I read a bit of Kierkegaard this morning. Oh, what wonderful things were stirred in me! Have you ever read or heard something that you knew was true? Something you needed to hear from someone’s voice besides your own? Something that made you say aloud, “Yes! Yes. Yes, that’s right!”

Have you ever loved an unpopular book or an obscure movie or band, and met someone who loved it too? There is a certain joy in finding out that the object of your love is also the object of someone else’s love! Of course there is, for if you love something, of course you believe it is worthy of everyone’s love! This is a basis for friendship, as C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves. (He also writes in the same book about the type of “love,” I am talking about in this paragraph, which is really, “intense like.”)

There are sublime thoughts and feelings. Ideas or sights or smells or sounds, etc., that seem to elevate one into a greater sphere of existence. The transcendentalist writers wrote about the beauty of nature, of various social and economic ideals. The Romantic painters crafted great images, full of symbols and ideas and ideals. In America particularly were painted epic landscapes, scenes of nature–of storms on the sea or sunrise over a mountaintop–which still drop jaws today, and remove the viewer for a few moments from his or her existence. The viewer forgets he is standing in a gallery and he might’ve worn more comfortable shoes. Perhaps she even forgets to look at the work critically, for she is just rapt by what she sees: How can it be so beautiful? she thinks.

Similar things happen for some of us when we spend time alone in nature. For others it happens listening to certain music, or looking at an infant’s tiny hands, or inhaling the gentle scent of roses in the morning.

In chemistry, to sublime is to change directly from a solid to a gaseous phase, without ever being a liquid. Dry ice is perhaps the best known example. I learned the term at school with some solid iodine. The substance gains energy, breaks bonds, and becomes a gas, which generally have greater entropy than solids. Now it isn’t my point to rewrite all of my general chemistry notes, but it is interesting to me to compare the two definitions of ‘sublime’ that I know of. The universe tends toward greater entropy just as water tends downhill, and here we can simply think of entropy as a measure of how much freedom something has to move.

How much freedom. The greater the entropy, the greater the freedom–might as well just say freedom generally, since it isn’t like atoms and molecules have much use for any freedom besides ‘freedom of movement.’

To me it seems that a sublime experience is no different than this. Isn’t it just a little gift of freedom? When I listen to blues, it frees me to forget that I am even sitting in traffic. When I read Kierkegaard or study physics or mathematics, it frees me from the box my thinking has been confined to–it does not force me to think in new ways, it helps me to do so. When I love God or other people, it frees me from self-centered anxiety.

I think of the Biblical phrase, “hearing, they do not hear,” or “seeing, they do not see.” It may be that a certain openness is needed in a person before she is able to experience something so wonderful. There are people who are perfectly indifferent about baby’s hands or the smell of roses. They could walk right by a sunset still thinking about what an ass Mike from HR was this morning. They see the sunset, but they do not see it; and they miss out on something valuable.

And so there are two sides:

There is you, and there is the rest of all that is (what is I’ll let the philosophers argue about). There is you relating to God. You relating to your own idea of yourself. You relating to you mom. You relating to a stray animal, a meteor, a chilly gust, a disturbing new idea, a familiar scent, a man outside the convenience store.

Is it a choice to hear and yet not hear? To see and yet not see? Certainly it is sometimes. The story of The Good Samaritan is evidence that it is no new phenomenon for men to find excuses to look away when they see someone else in need. We all have a friend who refuses to read or watch the news because it is all house fires and wars–and a part of us does not blame our friend’s refusal because we understand it!

But while there is little mystery in humans avoiding what is unpleasant, what can we say when people seem to be avoiding beautiful things? What can we say about the man who misses out on sunset while thinking about Mike from HR? What can we say about the woman who has a hundred surgeries because she couldn’t see she was lovely to begin with? How am I to understand my brothers and sisters who are not only indifferent to, but who actually abhor being outside?

I can’t answer these questions completely. I suppose they can be accounted for in some cases by differences in taste. There are people who take joy in studying bugs after all, while for most of us the presence of a bug would only add disgust or heebie jeebies to an otherwise sublime scene. There is more to it though. There is the interaction, the relation, the decision.

Beauty is everywhere, like the gift of faith. But it does not force its way into your heart or mind. Rather it says, “Here I am,” and waits patiently for you to take ownership of it. You do not have to take it, but if you do, you’re glad. If you do, you think it would’ve been terrible if you hadn’t. When you take ownership of faith, you become a new person; to your bodily existence is added a new, spiritual dimension (and this is higher freedom). When you take ownership of beauty, you feel something similar because via your physical senses, you spirit is awed or inspired; to the spiritual life you already had, more is added, though nothing is taken away from the physical in doing this.

I don’t know why some see it and some don’t. I don’t know why some grab hold of faith or beauty when they do see it, and why others don’t. But here I have written about seeing and embracing both. It feels right.

Qualifications to talk

I. My rights, not your rights

It is strange to me how holy the Constitution seems to many of my fellow Americans. A month or two ago, my mother said she considers it second only to the Bible. Second in what, I’m not sure, but I think she must’ve meant second in authority over her life. Oh, but what kind of authority: moral or legal? Another type? Multiple types?

To me the Constitution is a legal document. It is the paper basis for our legal system here in the States. I find much of it to be beautifully written, and who could argue that the framers had a great idea? But the Constitution is not flawless, and it is not a religious scripture.

Yet I know a lot of people, and encounter many more via news and social media, who treat it as such. Funny enough, too, they act like many Christians do when it comes to the Bible: they talk about how important it is to them, but then they generously dispense with the double standards, ignoring many explicit tenets of ‘the faith’, while expecting non-believers to adhere to even the most obscure and debatable laws. For example, many Christians have been divorced multiple times, yet still believe that marriage equality will ruin family values, while the former is described as a sin in the Bible and the latter wasn’t even an idea in the times of Christ.

Yes, people do this with the Constitution as well. They do it when they complain (often erroneously) that their nth amendment rights are being violated, and next day donate money to some group lobbying to limit another group’s rights. I don’t wish to be perceived as ragging on my Christian brothers and sisters, but I can think of no better example than this:

The friends and relatives I have who think their freedom of speech has been taken away simply because someone finds their words offensive. First of all, the first amendment guarantees free speech; it does not guarantee that no one will think you’re a bigot, idiot, or asshole after you exercise free speech. Secondly, supposing these people were correct in thinking their rights had been violated, what do they do? They go and donate money to organizations that actually really do seek to restrict the rights of other people, usually people with different religious beliefs than them. They don’t think their children ought to be taught about sex or evolution in school, but they don’t think it matters that other parents don’t want their children parroting the Pledge of Allegiance or… heck, not getting educated about sex and evolution.

One really ought to question how much freedom means to her if she is not willing to give it in equal measure to someone else.

I have been thinking of this more for a couple of days. Thursday I spent some time with an old shipmate and friend, saying all sorts of thoughtful and controversial things right out in public. I am a white woman and my friend is a black man (let’s call him Aaron), and we did indeed get to talking about both racism and sexism. Well, Aaron explained that studying history has led him to believe that W.A.S.P.’s or their ancestors have pretty much always been culturally dominant, and remain so today. I think I was expected to be offended by this hypothesis, but I wasn’t.

II. Whose speech matters

After a while, Aaron confessed: “I do not think white people are qualified to talk about race.”

Well, did you just dismiss everything I just said during this conversation then? I thought.

We continued to chat for a while, and I complimented my friend’s consistency at least, when he said he also considered men unqualified to talk about sexism. Still, I was disappointed that he found anyone automatically disqualified to talk about anything. I understand his opinion, but I do not agree with it. If someone is demonstrably prejudiced, then disqualify him from a debate–but do not disqualify him because you don’t believe he could have ever experienced discrimination like you have.

I partly find this disqualifying attitude troubling because I know that I do not look like I have faced much discrimination in my life. I have faced some though, even recently. I don’t like to talk about it. Do I have to talk about it to prove my opinion is worth something? To some people, of course. To some, it will never be worth anything.

I questioned myself though. Do I think that men have a place talking about gender? Actually, the rational part of me does think so. Not every man can talk intelligently about it, but neither can every woman. Sometimes I do not want to listen to what a man has to say. Sometimes I think, “Of course you think that!” but it is not right to dismiss someone’s opinion this way. People in positions of power (the male, the white, or the wealthy) are not all incapable of rational thought, open investigation, and sympathy for those whom they often totally unwittingly offend or oppress.

This is why white people get uncomfortable about race conversations–they–we–are really not trying to be racist, and it’s hard to accept that you can perpetuate racism without meaning to.

But white people can accept that. Some do. I do. I get it. So why can’t I talk about it? Why is it bad for white people to try to speak in support of racial equality? Why are we diagnosed with “the white savior complex,” when one of the symptoms of racism in our society is that white voices are heard more than black ones? Will the day spontaneously come when black people are heard out just like white people?

My feeling is that no, that day will not spontaneously come. Will the day spontaneously come when women are heard out just like men? No, I doubt that too, which is one reason I appreciate it when men speak up about equality with women. Should anybody need a white male to speak for them? No. But do we? I don’t know, but it seems that way.

Wait, this is so serious… Watch a video, and maybe laugh at the messed up truth: The Daily Show – Helper Whitey

Next time I talk to Aaron, I’ll have to ask him some questions, beginning with, “Are you still comfortable even talking about race with me?” because I realize that I am not comfortable talking about it with all of my friends, and I shouldn’t assume all of my friends are comfortable talking about it with me. I’ll also ask:

  • What can/should white people do to understand privilege and racism in their own lives?
  • With whom can they discuss and work out concepts they find difficult, if they are disqualified from conversing on the topic?
  • How can/should white people address systemic/cultural racism?
  • When we observe a black person being talked over, for example, should we be “Helper Whitey,” as in the video? Or is it better not to? Why do you think so?
  • Is this an us v. them battle? Can/should white people try to help black people?
  • Is the term “white savior” necessary? Is it possible for white people to fight altruistically for racial equality?

III. I don’t mean to minimize sexism, but I’m minimizing sexism

When someone says they don’t mean to minimize something, they probably already think rather little of it in their heads. When someone says they don’t mean to be offensive, they probably just don’t care that they’re about to offend somebody. It’s the same when my mother says, “Not to be judgmental, but…” or when I say, “Not to be a bitch, but…”

So this was actually something my friend Aaron also said, that he didn’t mean to minimize sexism. We were speaking in relation to race still, so I understood, and admitted myself that I think black people suffer more discrimination in this country than women do, and that black women suffer the worst.

But still, not meaning to minimize something is not the same thing is not minimizing it.

Shortly after this, my friend said something like, “I mean, if you lived in New York or something…” indicating to me that he probably doesn’t understand that sexism is more than disgusting cat calls, and that women  e v e r y w h e r e  deal with it. I wonder how he’d have felt if when we were talking about racism I had said, “Oh, I can understand it’d be bad if you lived in Mississippi or something…” as though black men in his city didn’t deal with racism.

Did he mean to minimize my experience of sexism? No. Did he minimize my experience of sexism? Yes.

There’s no need to launch into “(n-1) reasons I’m a feminist” here. The observation I want to make is that even members of less powerful groups often have the attitude I tried to describe at the beginning of this post. There are no universal rights or freedoms in anybody’s mind. There are my group’s rights, and your group’s rights–and guess whose are my number one priority! And so feminists, LGBT activists, NAACP leaders, green freaks, religious zealots, anti-religious zealots, gun zealots, and everybody else just shouts. Too often we believe the interests of others are at odds with our own. Too often we are willing to sacrifice truth and justice if it gets our group ahead.

Nobody asked me, but I know what black people need. I know what women need. I know what men need. I even know what unborn children need. All of us need each other. Each needs to fight for the others’ rights and freedom and happiness; for each needs the others to fight for him or her.

And sometimes when we perceive the other as an enemy? Perhaps if the perception is true? Then, if we believe in either the Bible or the Constitution or both, we must defend the enemy’s rights just the same as our own. There are no rights unless everyone has them; there is no justice unless there is justice for all; and there can be no ‘first among equals.’

How we spend our time

Several years ago, my mother was laid off. She had been expecting it for months, and the prospect had been very stressful. So when it happened, she told me via the telephone. I remember it well. I was an airman, I think, and I was driving to my barracks from the mini-Nex on Coronado. Mother was relieved and happy enough. Of course the apprehension was worse than the reality, but it wasn’t just that. She was also happy because my brother was only a baby then, and she knew that on her death bed someday she would be happier to look back on years spent caring for him, rather than on years spent hustling to keep a job that it turns out she didn’t really need or enjoy. I’ve never forgotten that.

I’ve also never forgotten the final years of my uncle’s life. Uncle Pete was intelligent, often astringent, deeply feeling, proud, and… well, what can I say? Can I sum up a man with a few words? I haven’t even got a photograph of him, though I can remember his face and his clothes and the smell of his house. He was the most skilled musician I’ve ever known, as well as the most passionate about music–and he had the best taste in music. Over the years, I have listened to some things I know he would have scoffed at. After a while the novelty wears away, and I scoff at them too; then I return to the blues and rock ‘n’ roll my uncle taught me.

The entire time I knew Uncle Pete, he wasn’t in the best of health. He was older than my parents. He was a Vietnam veteran (a fact I believe he hated). He had ingested and inhaled plenty of drugs and alcohol. He had had plenty of recreational injuries, too, from motorcycling and things like that. Whatever happened in those last few months, I don’t know precisely, but I won’t even write what details I do know because I must still respect his pride, dignity, and privacy. What I do know is that I had wanted to spend more time with him, had said I would, and had wanted to tell him without prompting that I loved him. He was my uncle, and I do still love him like I love my parents; indeed I could not be who I am if it hadn’t been for him and his damn near incessant criticism! No, he didn’t denigrate anybody (though he did sometimes accuse people of committing, “assholisms”). He criticized poor logic and hypocrisy. He pointed out where my manners needed improvement. He explained things about my parents that were puzzling and troubling to me, and he showed me sympathy. Perhaps most of all, he treated me like he had high expectations for me.

And I truly hope he did. And one of my greatest hopes still is that if he were alive he would be pleased with my progress. Of course if he were alive, probably he would have stopped speaking to me when I joined the military. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he’d have understood better than I did why it was an extremely pragmatic decision.

Regardless, circumstances were such that I did not get to see him as often as I wished to in his final days. I never spontaneously told him I loved him either. This requires explanation. Though I did fear my uncle at times (he was the tallest member of my family and went nowhere without his German Shepherd, which is frightening for a small child), I always loved him. I felt that he doubted this, however. The only time I had ever said, “I love you,” was in response to him saying it to me; and he hinted at least once that he thought I was saying it because I felt obligated to. That was not the case, however, and I don’t recall ever telling someone I loved them without having felt it genuinely, to this day. So when he became gravely ill, I intended to make sure he knew that I really did love him. But I never did! When he died, I felt regret for the first time. I still feel it, of course. But I learned from this, I hope, and anyway, I have never forgotten about it.

So how do we spend our time? What is worth while? Shall I one day look back on how well I asserted myself? Will I be glad that I found a political party I really fit in with? Will identity matter? Will labels, categories, denominations, or titles matter then? I suspect not. I suspect what matters in the end of our lives is what matters at the beginning. Before we are taught to love acclaim and wealth, to be proud and serious and ambitious, we are silly, honest, and innocent little children. We say what we think, and ask for what we want. What matters the very most is Mom and Dad, or perhaps Grandma or someone else; what matters is the human relationships we are part of. Why should the middle of our lives be different? Why should we spend our vigorous and independent days looking for answers to questions that ultimately do not matter? Intellectual and emotional exercise is great, but like physical exercise, must not be taken too far.

We must not define ourselves too narrowly, for three reasons. Firstly, if we define ourselves too narrowly, we limit ourselves on an individual basis. Secondly, if we define ourselves too narrowly, we limit ourselves socially; that is, we miss out on relationships with people who do not define themselves the same way (or whom we misread). Finally, when we spend too much time defining ‘who we really are,’–whether that has to do with sexual preference, movie preference, profession, religion, ethnicity, or favorite sport–we are really wasting time. By all means, seek to know yourself. Seek to understand yourself. Your likes, your dislikes, and the reasons behind them, if there are any. Look humbly at your own best points, and soberly at your worst. But do not be excessive in all of this. You have a son who needs you, or an uncle: spend more of your time with them.

On Evidence

Frequently I am skeptical of what people tell me about anything physical. Organic food, genetically engineered crops, natural remedies, the means of construction of ancient monuments–the list goes on and on.

I intend to be a scientist one day, and though I prize the scientific method, it is not for love of science only that I employ the method so often.

In the Navy there are those we call “sea lawyers,” and really, when I realized how many of these existed is when I decided I had better always check my primary sources. Sea lawyers are, by the way, sailors of any rank or rating who are apt to give uninformed advice and commentary. I liked to cite actual regulations to these people when I was in the Navy because they were so annoying, always trying to correct someone when they were the ones in need of correction.

Anyway, I never like to hear from a sea lawyer, or generally anybody who talks much about matters they know little of. But what I really never like is to think of being one of those people myself. So I endeavor to tell only the truth, as well as to believe only the truth.

It isn’t easy, necessarily, and here is where I come to my point:

We use quantitative information that is gathered in a controlled and repeatable way to say something is evidently true. To me, that is a fine way of saying how old Earth is or how Ebola is transmitted.

But physical evidence does not account for what is not physical, and there are things evident to me that can be neither confirmed nor denied by the tools of science.

My soul is evident to me. I am aware of it, and it is like breath which we all have, but are not all mindful of. There are innumerable physical realities, aspects of our bodies and environments, of which nearly all of us are ignorant. What about the spirit? What about existence, consciousness, ethics, and God?

I have experienced two miracles, but these are not even what convince me about the metaphysical. What convinces me is feeling the presence of Spirit, just like I feel my heart beat and would guess we all had a heart even if the world were totally void of the physical evidence for this.

I know I am comparing physical and spiritual things a little, but to what else can the spiritual be compared? In truth, is it really the physical truths that mean the most in our lives anyway? Is it not love and curiosity and joy and even greed and pride that move us (or paralyze us)? Is it strange that we all conceive of beauty, yet we cannot define it?

All I mean to say is that I perceive something beyond all I can ‘prove’ and it doesn’t seem like bad science to admit that I cannot test everything. Is it intuition? No, I don’t think so. There is a burning that I experienced before I was even convinced God exists, for instance. It’s something more. Something more. I know it like I know I love the ocean. I will use science to seek out the mysteries of the universe, but though it is almost taboo for a student to say, I will not limit my exploration to the places science can take me. I know I am more than matter.

One of the things I’m trying to repent of

Friday night I didn’t sleep that well. I had slept late in the day (it was the last day of my cold, so that’s why I did it), so I think I just wasn’t ready to get to sleep again when night fell.

Saturday night was different. I was up up up! But it was because I had been doing a whole lot of thinking worrying about school. “If I transfer here and major in….” or “If I transfer there and major in…” and “If I take this over summer,” but “… then I won’t have time for…”

One of the things I’m trying very seriously to repent of–and this is really an ongoing effort, like quitting smoking, for example– is not worrying. It’s easy to ignore when Jesus said not to do it, but hey! He did! He freaking did, and I know it, and even if I can’t eloquently quote the verses, the idea is written on my heart. But the evil of worrying actually goes beyond disregarding Jesus’ words (which I’m sure some people probably just think of as “pretty good advice” more than as commands). For one thing, it’s self-destructive, and it can hurt relationships and productivity as well. It goes something like this:

I’m worried. I’m anxious. Now I can’t sleep. Next day I can’t concentrate. I’m not doing things as well as I should! More anxious! Stressed out! Maybe this extra latte will help! Oh no, I just blew $4 on a stupid latte, and I’m definitely not getting a better night of sleep tonight now! Just got home, cranky… Husband is happy! Why is he so happy? Oh, nothing to worry about, that’s why!

And so on. It’s ugly and terrible, and I can understand why people with legitimate anxiety disorders seek professional help. As for me, I’m not ill. I have the ability to wind myself up, like above, for example, or–by the help of God–to obey him and just chill and trust in him and depend on him and realize that I can’t control everything, and I’m glad I can’t anyway!

The other thing about worrying is that, at least for me, it’s breaking the first commandment. My priest talked about this last week. He was saying how really whenever you sin, you break the first commandment because you put something else before God–whether it’s money, your own will for something, or anything. You prioritize something above God’s commands, so really, that is idolatrous in a way. So in the case of worrying, I think what underlies it all is a desire to control life’s circumstances, the desire to secure certain things, and the fear of both the unknown and particular scenarios we imagine (one of the scenarios I fear is my husband dying, for example). When I worry, I’m trying to intellectualize and in some small way control–or make myself believe for a little while that I am controlling–and really, to make myself God. Maybe I am only trying to be the god of my own career! Or the god of my own physique! But there is only one God. I can’t be god of anything in my life. God is the only god, and he is god of everything–career, physique, salvation, character–everything, whether something I tend to overanalyze and stress over or not.

It’s a continuing thing. I have to consciously tell myself not to worry about certain things. Sometimes when I say I am “researching” certain pet topics, I have to be honest with myself and realize, No! You are trying to amass data so you can analyze it and determine a bunch of contingency plans! And you’re crazy! And you know you must stop! And increasingly, I can just stop. I can pray, and God helps me move on.

So Saturday night, I was in bed obsessing about some school things. As usual, I was planning contingencies. “If I get into SDSU, I will take X in Summer and Y, Z, and W in Fall,” and “If I get into UCSD, I will take A in Summer and–”

I cut myself off because I realized what I was doing. I said, Hey, you’re not even going to find out if you’re into SDSU or UCSD or both or neither until April! If you can’t stop from worrying, at least wait to worry until then!

And I chilled myself out. Then I had a fine night of sleep.

The next day, two weeks early, totally by surprise, I got the news that I was accepted into UCSD! I slept quite well last night, and surely part of it was knowing where I’m going to study next fall. Part of it was being classified as a resident student (huge financial relief there). But part of it was a most blessed time at Mass. Part of it was the mindfulness of Lent. Part of it was knowing I had let it go the night before!

The wonderful thing about repentance is when you think you can’t do it, yet you continually ask for help–or when you realize you can’t do it, and you really relinquish your idea of control and both ask and allow God to do it…. and he does! I know God could do so much more awesome stuff for and through me if I would just relax a bit more and willingly depend on him. I learned that when I learned to swim–but I’ll save that story for another post! May God bless you! Praise Him!

Why Christians should take climate change seriously, and all use public transit

Okay, we can’t all use public transit. Even I can’t, and I really want to! It’s not always practical — but I’ll get back to this.

Today I read an article on NPR about Tony McMichael, an expert in climate change, and also a physician and epidemiologist. He died in September — here’s the article, by the way — but I’m strongly interested in his legacy. Admittedly, I haven’t read any of the man’s papers, but I think I’ll look some up on my school’s research database later. Anyway, according to NPR, one of the significant things McMichael did was predict and observe some of the effects of climate change on public health.

This struck me because I’m interested in climate change precisely because I’m worried about the effect on public health. Don’t get me wrong, it’s also the polar bears. It breaks my heart a little to think about them all starving to death. It’s incredibly sad how many of the world’s coral reefs have died because of ocean acidification. And honestly, I think it’s a sin too.

What I’m getting at is that if there’s one reason to care about and quit harming the environment, it’s that harming Mother Earth is also harming all of her inhabitants. I wrote 18 pages to persuade my last English professor of this, so I’ll be honest about not wanting to write too much right now. But the data is out there, easy to access for free, and not only does it suggest that humans are causing significant climate change, it also suggests that very real human beings are suffering in terms of economics and disease. What’s particularly disturbing is that often the people suffering the most are not the ones really driving carbon emissions; and the people consuming the most electricity, wasting the most food, watering their lawns, etc., either don’t care or don’t believe there is a problem because it hasn’t started to affect them yet.

So if there’s one reason to care about our planet, the only place there is for our race to live… unless somebody creates an artificial wormhole for us, and so on, a la my favorite movie, Interstellar, it’s that people are suffering. It surprises me that more people and organizations don’t try to talk about climate change in this light. “Save the whales” can’t possibly mean more than “save other people,” can it? And let’s face it, few of us have much concept or concern regarding what Earth will be like 100 years from now, which is probably why the price of gas affects our consumption far more than the fell boding of a whole lot of scientific research.

Now to my Christian brothers and sisters. We have dominion the creatures of the earth, so are we masters or stewards? I think to be masters in a Christian way, we must be stewards, taking care of what has been entrusted to us and putting the needs of others above our own.

Here’s some support from the Bible (because I don’t think I’m just making this up myself):

I guess I should take more time to persuade and also to include research just in case anyone does read this, but… it is a blog post. My point is that humankind wasn’t given the earth to destroy. We weren’t given dominion over the other creatures just so that we might enjoy ourselves better. We were made in the image of God, so why don’t we try to be creative like he is? To be kind and merciful like he is? The Bible also tells us that God is not above caring even for the sparrow, insignificant little bird as it may seem to us to be. I also believe in what we Catholics sometimes call ‘preference for the poor,’ and so I assert that working to improve the environment, or at least to slow its destruction, is actually working to help the poor… and not only are we morally obligated to help the poor, I think that if the Holy Spirit dwells in us, that is, the love of God, then it should be quite natural that we should want to help the poor.

I know that there are Christians who do indeed help the poor, although they do no help them by driving Priuses or abstaining from meat or trying to ‘go green’ in whatsoever way. But it disturbs me that there are so many Christians who deny the really, really evident claims of climate scientists who, after all, are trying to help the world by bringing it to our attention that we’re hurting it. I urge anyone who reads this and has a heart for those who are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven to truly make an effort to care for the poor by caring for the earth; and for those who do not believe the hype, I urge that you begin some serious research with an open heart and mind (and with prayers) into whether what I have written and alluded to is true.

Please consider the question, as well, “What happens if it is true, but I didn’t believe it?” Indeed, one is hard pressed to come up with a reason not go live a more environmentally conscientious lifestyle — even without believing in ‘global warming.’

Since I said I’d get back to it, back to public transit. All I want to note is that there are things we can each do, even if all of us can’t do all things. I can’t use public transport, but I can unplug things I’m not using. You may not be able to live without air conditioning, but maybe you can bike to work. With a little discipline, lots and lots of us could surely commit to Meatless Monday, right? Reusable bags and bottles. Efficient cars and appliances. Solar panels. Native ground cover instead of grass, in some places. Eating only ethically sourced palm oil, coffee, etc.

There is so much we can do, and I am only trying to point out that the question of whether humans are driving devastating climate change (which honestly isn’t even a question to me anymore) is very important because, as Dr. McMichael knew, it is a matter of global health. Real moms and dads and babies.

++ If anyone needs help with research, or wants me to cite specific papers, etc. to support statements I made in this entry, feel free to comment and ask. I just don’t want to spent tons of time documenting on this post when I’m not sure many people will really read it or check my references anyway. The primary reason I write is to get these things off my chest for a bit. Thanks.

Christian Solidarity

Bishop Tutu and Dalai Lama

This little post isn’t really about religious tolerance per se, but now and then, images are fun.

Yesterday’s post was about the solidarity that is noticeably lacking among some minority groups and women. But what actually motivated me to begin writing was this so-called insight article. Several months ago, I moved to a new neighborhood. Ever since, whenever I drive somewhere to the south (which is 98% of my trips), I can see from the highway a sign for the Creation & Earth History Museum in Santee.

To be perfectly honest, I believe the theory of evolution, the Big Bang, and an earth age of at least 4.5 billion years jibes just fine with Creation. The more complex and elegantly functional the world seems, the more I believe in my glorious God. But my purpose isn’t to write about why I rather believe in evolution+Genesis instead of either/or.

All this time since I moved, I have been vaguely curious about the Creation Museum. It has a dinosaur statue on the outside, so apparently the people at least acknowledge that dinosaurs were probably real creatures. My first feeling toward the place was, “Oh great, more science denying Christians making us all look bad.” Maybe my curiosity simply stemmed from my effort to overcome my initial, unfair judgment. For a few reasons, I wanted to go alone, not with my husband, and since the semester finally ended this week, I decided yesterday was the day.

I was naturally up way before the museum opened, so I decided to read up a bit on their website. I was intrigued by a list of 800 scientists (I don’t think they’re all scientists, but mostly) whose names were attached to a somewhat vaguely titled declaration that “more investigation needs to be done into the theory of evolution,” or something like that. But as Law & Order taught me early on, you can always find some scientist or doctor to go along with your side of the story. I kept looking. That’s when I found the article I linked above. That’s when I got upset and decided to write.

Do you know why I’m Catholic? Of course there are many reasons, but one of them is that perhaps despite what people who have never even met a priest will say, the church is so welcoming to reason. To keep on topic, I’ll just stick with evolution. As a Catholic, you can believe God created the earth in precisely six 24-hour days, measured and defined just as we measure and define them today. No problem. Or you can believe God created the universe in six impossible-to-define days, and set in motion a wonderful, long (to us) natural history of neutron stars and asteroids and planets and amoebae and you and me. Also no problem. You’re not accused of not being a true Christian for having one belief or the other.

That’s the main problem I have with many Creationists and fundamentalist Christians. You’re not a “true Christian,” or “really” a Christian unless you agree with every little thing they believe. The moniker “fundamentalist” is quite funny in this way because these people rarely argue about fundamental beliefs—the Trinity, Resurrection, Incarnation, Virgin Birth, grace, etc.—but have this aggravating tendency to argue that every belief is fundamental…

But it’s really not. Honestly! Look up the word “fundamental.”

Anyway, let me take a deep breath and refrain from detailing my aggravation with my more Pharisaic brethren. What matters?

If I had to guess, which I do, because God has not been talking to me clearly from a burning bush, I’d say that what matters is faith and love and holding onto these as motivation for everything else. But what motivates arguments? Is it faith or is it pride? Is it love or is it the will to impose your own way upon others? Has anyone been saved because they were persuaded to believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis? Perhaps. But I would venture a guess that far more have been saved because they have heard the Good News that Jesus gave himself up to save us, and that brought them new life.

We Christians have enough reddit atheists to defend against. We have enough temptations on a daily basis, or at least I know I do. We have enough people around us who genuinely need help: people who need food and shelter and someone to look into their eyes with respect—not who just need us to change their minds about whether God created the universe in a literal or a figurative six days! What is wrong with us? How can we busy ourselves writing articles and arguing both in person and on the Internet, amongst ourselves, about every little thing? I do not think that’s the will of God. I think we have mixed up our priorities, and it is to the detriment of the whole church.

To stand in solidarity with the poor and suffering, mustn’t we also stand in solidarity with one another? I’m not even saying the entire church needs to unify under the Nicene creed. I’m saying we must unite in purpose, intention, and charity. I don’t see any room in that for accusing fellow Christians of “not really” being Christians.

I am saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, not by my best guess on how God made everything.

Some little joys

I miss living in a place with seasons. I suppose it’s because I like novelty. I love experiencing the newness of each season, and honestly, I enjoy the little changes in habit that accompany the seasons. Summer means I get to meet my sandals and tank tops again! Winter means layering cozy, dark colored scarves and shirts and sweaters and things. Spring means drinking light bodied wine, and eating lots of food from the grill. Fall means it’s time to start keeping soups and stews in the house. Living in San Diego again, I haven’t been able to enjoy these changes in season as much, but today I had the little joy of wearing my winter boots because it was finally cool enough.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate commuting. Actually, I hate driving in San Diego in general, because it’s just the norm here not to use turn signals, side mirrors, you know, courtesy and caution in general. But yesterday, driving to school, I had the little joy of letting someone squeeze in front of me—after he almost hit my car—but then him giving me the wave! I can forget about all the world’s a-hole drivers for one blissful moment whenever some good soul gives me the wave*!

Even though I am about to receive the lowest grade of my college career in physics, when I think of things like the curvature of spacetime, I have the little joy of a feeling… a feeling that this is what I really want to do: study the magnificence of God’s creation. I don’t expect that we have very much really figured out as humans. I’m not convinced there is even such thing as knowledge, except in the soul. But it is still a pleasure to ponder everything, to try to describe it, to see if you can understand something at least well enough to predict a thing or two about what it will do next. It’s wonderful to think about a benevolent God who created all that is, yet loves us in all our simpleness.

I have the little joy of coming home, knowing there are leftovers in the refrigerator**. It’s so awesome when you’re hungry, on the way home, and man, could you go for some Burger King! But there’s no need for greasy fast food that you’ll regret—not when you know that there’s something healthy and delicious right at home, and all you have to do is nuke it. No one thinks, “I can’t wait to go home and start dicing and chopping and preparing my meal!” That is why I love leftovers, and don’t understand anyone who doesn’t eat them.

That’s it for now. I should go do responsible stuff, right?

*If you don’t know what “the wave” is, you’re part of the problem! The wave is like saying, “Thank you,” and/or “Excuse me.” It’s the polite thing to do sometimes!
**One of my best friends, God knows why, cannot stand the word “fridge.” Since she and I were once roommates, and often the subject of the “fridge” would come up, since we shared one, I got into the habit of not using that word. Who am I, the queen of England, saying fancy words like “refrigerator?” Nope, not fancy. Just a habit leftover from appeasing my friend’s little neurosis. 🙂

Oh, wait! I also have the little joy of Christmas music! Yessss!