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Off the top

A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Monday, September 27, 2004

On Terri Schiavo

I have been loosely following Terri’s story for some time. Her public saga has dragged on for well over a decade now and the situation is truly gut-wrenching.

There’s lots of opinion being bantered around on talk radio and other places regarding “quality of life,” “right-to-die,” etc. as it relates to Terri’s situation. Most of it unfortunately sounds pretty pathetic, with statements such as: "that sort of living isn't really life," and, "just think of the expense involved!" "Terri Schiavo has no dignity, being kept alive like that."

But I suppose there are two ways to argue Terri's situation: from a legal standpoint, and from a moral standpoint.

Legally, I admit to not understanding all that's involved, but it seems that the decisions are coming down to Michael Schiavo's word about what his wife would wish regarding life suppost. I have a hard time with that, especially given his own questionable testimony. Apparently the one legal way to get your spouse killed in this country is to have them mysteriously slip into a persistent vegetative state and then make sure they leave behind no written statement concerning life support. After that, just convince a judge that your spouse would not have desired life support and, voila, they'll pull the feeding tube.

Morally, though, there can't honestly be any question that Terri is alive, and that the removal of her feeding tube would kill her. She'd slowly starve to death. It'd be quite dignified, don't you think??

When it's in our power to preserve life, surely that preservation shouldn't be taken away. Isn’t protection of life the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath?

It’s dreadfully sobering, not to mention frightening, that so many would devalue the "something" that makes a person or thing animate, i.e., life, to the point of deciding when it’s dispensable. Especially since no one has ever been able to figure out how to put it there to begin with.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Balloon in the backyard

Well, almost :-)

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What a wonderful way to cap off a beautiful Sabbath.

We had a little unexpected excitement this evening. As the sun was beginning to set and the clear view out back intensified with an orange tinge, a hot-air balloon floated up over the hill. It landed nearly in our backyard. We hiked back to meet it. The kids were thrilled to get a chance to hop in the basket and pull on the valve cord. Then before we knew it, the balloon was taken down, rolled up, and packed away in its trailer.

To see a few more pics, click here.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Couric and Hensley

It’s unfortunate that Katie Couric used her interview with Ty Hensley on the Today Show this past Wednesday to ask an opportunistic question. Thankfully, Hensley responded to her inappropriate question with a gracious and thoughtful answer.

Did Couric really mean to ask whether Hensley’s opinion of the war hinged on one horrific event that happened to hit right at home for him? Might this be illustrative of a view that considers rightness and wrongness to be limited to personal opinion - existing only within the mind of the person holding the opinion? Surely there can’t be people who think that a campaign which involves large numbers of people and issues is right or wrong merely because of how one person (themselves) feels about it.

If, heaven forbid, someone I love is killed in a car crash, must I suddenly go on a tirade against cars? No, that would be silly, though I might be a little more cautious thereafter when using one.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

A matter of mind, or heart?

It is generally understood that the laws of a society strive to keep the behavior of its citizens in order. There are, however, no laws governing thought. Thought is rather hard to ascertain from outward observance.

There are a great many people who do not appreciate the "reining in" of their behavior, but they adapt in order to avoid consequences of breaking the law. Few, however, can stomach even the idea of a “thought police;" let's examine why.

No one likes to be told what to think because thoughts are more personal than behaviors. And truly, no person has the right to tell any other person what to think. But are thoughts any less powerful than behavior, even though they are inward? Surely the reasonable person acknowledges the relationship between thought and behavior.

The root of behavior goes even deeper than thought, to motive. Motive trumps even intelligence, as does wisdom or lack thereof -- a “slow” person can be quite wise, and a brilliant person quite foolish. It seems that within the will, or “heart” of a person, lies the root of that person’s thinking.

The term “heart” often refers to emotions, and indeed emotions play a huge role in the shaping of thinking. On their own, however, emotions are not “right” or “wrong;" they merely indicate affectations of the will or of those things the individual holds dear. What a person does with his/her emotions determines whether or not those emotions will lead to damaging consequence. Hence emotions shape the will/heart but influence behavior only insomuch as they are filtered through the will.

It’s pretty obvious that no law imposed by humans can rightfully address matters of emotion or thought, except as they relate to behaviors which either contribute to the good or ill of society. Does this mean that emotion and thought belong under no law at all?

Since it is clear that the root causes of behavior lie within thought and emotion, they must be subject to some sort of law. (Unless all of our behavior is programmed in our genes, as some would have us think, but I’m pretty sure that hasn’t been conclusively demonstrated....)

There is a law which addresses matters of volition; it is God's law. Through this law, found in relationship to Him, persons can find an authentic way to deal with the root causes of their behavior as well as the behavior itself. There is no need to resort to mere behavior modification in order to conform to societal or cultural rules.

Surely this is the most satisfactory way to peaceful coexistence, is it not?

The last rose of summer

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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

True Tolerance: a review

John Holzmann has posted an interesting review of J. Budziszewski's book, "True Tolerance: Liberalism and the Necessity of Judgment," on his blog, John's Corner of the World. The book concerns itself with distinctions between definitions of the term "tolerance." It's worth a read.

Here's an excerpt:

So what does Budziszewski have to say about tolerance?

First, that the leaders in the modern movement of “toleration” or “tolerance” are, in essence, demanding ethical neutrality and/or “indifference about what is lovable or praiseworthy.” And, second, that ultimately it is impossible to avoid making choices—decisions—based upon what one deems lovable or praiseworthy. Put another way, the modern demand for tolerance (in the sense of ethical neutrality) is, by its own definition, intolerant because it is neither ethically neutral nor indifferent. It says that at least one thing (tolerance) must be valued.

It seems to me that moral relativists' interpretation of "tolerance" shares similar characteristics to their definition of morality itself.

Budziszewski closes his book with a series of 39 “Counsels of Tolerance.” The following few particularly caught my eye:

2. Although diversity is not a good in itself, the good is diverse.

5. Part of true tolerance is remembering at all times that one is an object of tolerance to others. One should sometimes even deny oneself things that are innocent in themselves if others cannot bear them.

7. While avoiding connivance at the wrongs or faults of others, one must avoid the even greater monstrosity of moral pride. If you avoid me because of what I do, do it because you are not good enough to be with a man as bad as me; not because you are too good.

18. Contempt travels easily under the mask of tolerance. To accept the unacceptable is to tell a child that nothing about him matters.

22. Teachers should present not only the ideals of their own tradition, but also the ideals of the significant alternatives to it—including the traditions against which their own is in part a reaction.

26. If any person proposes a policy, he shows his tolerance for others by honoring their demand to know on what understanding of the good his proposal rests.

29. Expressive tolerance must be observed not only by individuals, but also by the state. Thus, discursive reasoning and the communication of information that republican citizens might need in order to carry out their constitutional responsibilities should be granted absolute protection.

33. Government should be prohibited from coercive enforcement of belief in an officially approved ultimate concern.

34. Government should be prohibited from coercive enforcement of outward acts of affirmation of such belief.

35. Government should be prohibited from coercive enforcement of outward acts for the support of an organization officially designated for promulgating these beliefs.

39. A sincere petition by the state for the blessing of whatever God may be thought to exist is not a violation of true tolerance. However, the state may not “use” religion as a Noble Lie for its own ends. (pp. 269-276)

In other words, if everyone practiced "gentlemanly" or "gentlewomanly" behavior, this whole tolerance thing would take care of itself!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Discussion with Paul: faith, proof, and truth

I've gotten into a long and interesting discussion with a commenter named Paul at New Covenant. I've moved the discussion here since it didn't seem to be involving anyone besides the two of us.

Paul made the comment,
That's totally fine, Bonnie, but your doubt doesn't mean that it's not true. This is probably my biggest problem with religious faith, in fact; ultimately it's about faith, rather than proof, no matter how deep that faith may be felt. That in itself is fine, but when it requires me to change my behaviour it is unpleasantly intrusive.

Paul, can you explain a little more what you mean by the last sentence of your comment?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Science and art

There was a reference to this in the transcript I referred to in the last post:

In the mid-20th-century, classical music had become difficult to listen to, for a number of reasons, good and bad. One was that composers had felt limited by the confines of 19th-century musical technique, and wanted to explore a much wider range of expressions, even if they led into thorny territory. Another reason was a growing analogy between music and scientific research, especially among the increasing number of composers who were teaching in academia, freed by their secure institutional incomes from having to impress an audience.
(italics added)

This evening I read an article in the local paper about a scientist-turned-photographer*. His photographs of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska are currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The artist, Subhankar Banerjee, is quoted as saying,
“Science definitely helped me immensely to deal with the equipment, the weather, and the conditions, but I feel science creates a very rational mind, and I just wanted my passion to take over. When you look at the work, it’s very much from the soul.”

Well, maybe these two quotes tell us something about the nature of science and its limitations as a philosophical basis for understanding life. Bravo to Mr. Banerjee for pursuing his passion and not denying it. Would that art would also refuse to be scientific or merely intellectual but retain its passion as well. Would that we as people would not deny key elements of our humanity, nor make idols of them.

*The link is to a different newspaper, but the same story.

Life, death, and music

I happened to hear part of a program on NPR this afternoon that caught my attention.

This is what I heard:

George Rochberg used to be one of America's best composers in a not-very-popular style: 12-tone music. Developed by Arnold Schönberg in the 1920s, 12-tone music was an attempt at a new musical language in which all 12 pitches of the scale were used in a complexly rotating order. Though the technique promised theoretical unity and consistency, the style was usually dense and dissonant and difficult for nonmusicians to follow. Rochberg was one of our major composers in that style, but his music had a lightness and lyricism to it that was attractive. Pieces like his Serenata d'estate, or Summer Serenade, of 1955 used the 12-tone idiom with a rare and delightful lightness of being.

However, in 1964 Rochberg's 20-year-old son Paul died of a brain tumor. Devastated, Rochberg did some soul-searching, and found that the highly technical 12-tone style wsn't sufficient for the emotions he now needed to express. As he put it, "With the loss of my son I was overwhelmed by the realization that death... could only be overcome by life itself; and to me this meant through art, by practicing my art as a living thing (in my marrow bone), free of the posturing cant and foolishness abroad these days which want to seal art off from life." (italics added)

Already well known and with a prominent position at the University of Pennsylvania, Rochberg underwent a highly visible and controversial change of mind. To the horror of his colleagues, he abandoned the official atonal style of musical academia and started writing tonal music, romantic music, music with hummable melodies. First he worked quotations from other composers into his music. But by the mid-1970s, he found himself writing in older, obsolete styles, the styles of Handel, Beethoven, Mahler. For instance, the beginning of his String Quartet No. 5, written in 1977, sounds very like a Beethoven scherzo, though written 150 years after the death of the composer it evokes.

Innocent-sounding as it is, within the profession this music was a slap in the face. Rochberg's fellow composers raked him over the coals. Prominent music critics like Andrew Porter of the New Yorker dismissed him as "irrelevant." For all his music's continuing undeniable craftsmanship, Rochberg had abandoned the one most essential core belief of 20th-century music: the idea of progress. Rochberg had turned away from the future, and was looking, through his music, back toward the past.

Nevertheless, after a few years of grumbling, other composers turned on their heels and began to follow: David Del Tredici, William Bolcom, John Adams, John Corigliano. By 1982 the New York Philharmonic gave a festival of what curator Jacob Druckman called "the New Romanticism." Looking backward became not only acceptable, but hip.

This raises an interesting question: is there an inherent reason that certain music affects us in certain ways? Certainly education and exposure factor in, but when you get right down to gut-level, why is some music a lot harder to listen to than others? Is taste merely subjective or is there more to it?

Of course, as a musician, this question is very intriguing to me, although I’ll admit I haven’t explored it much.

But I found Rochberg’s quote above quite telling. There is music that is academically or intellectually interesting, but – does it speak to the total person? Does it speak to the heart? (In asking this, I am not suggesting that music be gratuitously sentimental in order to do this.)

There is a physical reason for musical harmony: the frequencies of pitches in a harmonic series are related mathematically. Some philosophers, from Pythagoras on down through the middle ages, even thought the planets’ orbits were related in such ratios that produced the “music of the spheres.” (I have no idea whatever became of that idea but it’s a lovely one to think about :-)) For a simple illustration: The frequency of a pitch one octave above another will be double that of the lower pitch, or a ratio of 2:1. The pitch one octave below the starting pitch will have a frequency ½ that of the starting pitch. The frequency ratio of a major fifth will be 3:2; of a major fourth, 4:3, of a major third, 5:4, and so on.

On a stringed instrument, the octave is achieved by pressing on the string at its halfway point. The octave above that will be at the 3/4 point. And so on. For those with little musical background, if you have a keyboard handy: an example of an octave is middle C to the C above it. A fifth is from that higher C to G (4 white keys up). For a fourth, go up 3 more white keys to the next C. A third is 2 more white keys up to E.

Non-harmonic tones do not have related frequencies, hence these are often used as “color” tones or “angst” tones in musical expression. However, if you base a piece of music on a 12-tone row, you are basing it not on inherent harmonic qualities of the pitches themselves in relation to one another, but on a system where the pitches are abstracted from these inherent qualities. Hence, the music sounds dissonant. It can be interesting, and even expressive. But there is obviously a missing element, and a pretty big one at that.

In an age where so many things are abstracted from their essential elements (like relationships, sex, and the gift of life itself, for example), though, it’s no surprise that people might want to separate music and other art forms from their essential elements.

I’m not saying all abstraction is bad; I think it can serve a purpose. If certain elements are isolated from others, they can be drawn attention to and people can be led to see things in a different way. But if the abstraction actually fractures something, then that’s more damaging to the actual forms themselves and the thoughts and feelings associated with them. I.e., too much abstraction is more representative of death, or things which lead to deaths of various kinds, than it is of life.

So – should art celebrate death? Or life?

I encourage you to read the rest of the transcript. There’s more interesting material in there; perhaps I will write about it in another post.

Addendum: I'm aware that the mathematical relationships of pitches in a harmonic series are indicative of science themselves; therefore, a distinction needs to be made between "methodological" science and "philosophical" science, LOL. The scientific discoveries related to the interconnectedness of physical phenomena (excuse the alliteration) are profound, but they shouldn't be abstracted from those related phenomena that can't be measured; i.e., the way our unquantifiable selves are affected by quantifiable things.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Fall flowers

One of the things that grieves me the most about the end of summer (besides the fact that summer comes way too late here and ends way too early) is that the flowers go away. I always die a little along with the flowers and leaves each fall.

So I took some pictures to remember them by :-)

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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

On taste, preference, and submission in marriage

Can’t say as I have any great wisdom on this topic, but my girlfriends have said things that have given me pause. Ever have someone tell you something about their life that makes you think, “whoa, am I living in the wrong reality?”

I’ll attempt to illustrate:

1) If a woman has below-shoulder-length hair that she doesn’t like and would rather cut but her husband prefers it long and “won’t let her” cut it, what should she do? Is it right for the husband to have such control over the length of his wife’s hair? Of course he’s entitled to his preference, but how much weight should that preference carry?

2) I watched a friend’s kids once so she could go shopping. She came back excited about her purchases, including a new dress. The dress looked very nice to me but she didn’t think her husband would like it. When I saw her a few days later at the function she’d bought the dress for, she wasn’t wearing it. Upon inquiry she told me she’d returned it because, sure enough, her husband didn’t like it.

Again, my questions are similar to those in example 1).

3) Does a husband have the right to deny his wife painted toenails? OK, so painted toenails are ridiculously insignificant...or are they? If a guy doesn’t like seeing his wife with them but she likes them, what should she do? How should he present his dislike to his wife?

What I’m asking is, how much control should a spouse have over their spouse’s self-expression? How much should a spouse want their spouse to “be like they want them to be?” Shouldn’t a spouse be allowed to “be themselves” and maybe asked why they like to do what they like to do, to better understand and know them?

Conversely, how much should a spouse curtail superficial self-expression for the preference of their spouse? Is it really so important that they paint their toenails after all if their spouse doesn’t like it?

And what of expectations? Shouldn’t a spouse express what they like about their spouse, or what they like them to do, but then let the spouse decide when and how they will do those things? Isn’t anything else manipulation, control, or requirement of subservience? If a spouse sees their spouse capitulating to their wishes, do they think, “Wow, he/she must really love me because he/she’s not doing such-and-such,” or do they think, “Yes, I like him/her that way, that satisfies me,” or do they think, “Gosh, it’s silly of me to not let him/her do such-and-such, why shouldn’t I let him/her do it?”

All this has a connection, I think, with pornography. What, you say in horror, has that got to do with it? Well, there’s selfishness going on when “pleasing” has certain requirements, when a set of hoops must be jumped through in order to float someone’s boat. It’s selfish to require a spouse to do something or be a certain way on a superficial level before they can be approved or accepted. Not that tastes shouldn’t be taken into account, of course, but must they be served?

Anyway, I’m just thankful that my husband lets me do what I want with my hair (which is basically nothing), has never disliked my clothing, and appreciates my painted toenails :-)

My photography

If you like looking at somewhat abstract photography, please visit my new gallery at the link in the sidebar.

I haven't had opportunity to pursue this interest since high school, really. I'm having so much fun! I'm happy that I can still "see" like I used to.

Another Merton poem

Also from Selected Poems...


As though an aged person were to wear
Too gay a dress
And walk about the neighborhood
Announcing the hour of her death,

So now, one summer day's end,
At suppertime, when wheels are still,
The long barn suddenly puts on the traitor, beauty,
And hails us with a dangerous cry,
For: "Look!" she calls to the country,
"Look how fast I dress myself in fire!"

Had we half guessed how long her spacious shadows
Harbored a woman's vanity
We would be less surprised to see her now
So loved, and so attended, and so feared.

She, in whose airless heart
We burst our veins to fill her full of hay,
Now stands apart.
She will not have us near her. Terribly,
Sweet Christ, how terribly her beauty burns us now!

And yet she has another legacy,
More delicate, to leave us, and more rare.

Who knew her solitude?
Who heard the peace downstairs
While flames ran whispering among the rafters?
Who felt the silence, there,
The long, hushed gallery
Clean and resigned and waiting for the fire?

Look! They have all come back to speak their summary:
Fifty invisible cattle, the past years
Assume their solemn places one by one.
This is the little minute of their destiny.
Here is their meaning found. Here is their end.

Laved in the flame as in a Sacrament
The brilliant walls are holy
In their first-last hour of joy.

Fly from within the barn! Fly from the silence
Of this creature sanctified by fire!
Let no man stay inside to look upon the Lord!
Let no man wait within and see the Holy
One sitting in the presence of disaster
Thinking upon this barn His gentle doom!


One of these days I will comment on some of the imagery and symbolism in Merton's poems.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

More Spong Spam

Well, apparently the good Bishop doesn’t buy “atonement theory.” He has determined that a God Who would require payment for sin is “violent, demonic, and even sadistic.” Moreover, in his view, “the ‘substitutionary view of the atonement’ will kill the Church.” He claims, “A new way to look at the meaning of salvation, a way that will transcend the limits of atonement is, I believe, the necessary prerequisite to enable the Christian faith to live in tomorrow's world.”

OK, first of all, this man who makes no effort to curtail his disdain and contempt for evangelical Christianity has the gall to suggest that a God Who says wrongdoing is judgable is nasty...??

Spong asks, “Why would God require a human sacrifice and a blood offering before God would be willing to forgive?” Well, first of all, God doesn't require human sacrifice and blood offering before He can forgive, but He does require it for the sake of justice and righteousness. Golly, this is Christianity 101! Genesis 4:10: “The Lord said (to Cain), ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.’” Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death.” Since when does forgiveness mean consequence and justice are negated?

Why do so many folks have trouble with the fact that God made us for Himself, and, since He’s our Maker and Sustainer, we OWE Him our deference? Whatever is so violent, demonic, and sadistic about that? Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.” Isaiah 55:8-11 “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,...So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieive the purpose for which I sent it.” Amen! Job 21:22 “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?” See also Job chapters 38-41.

Spong also states, “I am a post-Darwinian. I believe life emerged through a long, perhaps four billion year, evolutionary pattern. I see nothing that suggests that we are "fallen sinners," who need to be rescued. I see everything that convinces me that we are still incomplete human beings who need to be empowered to become more fully human. I see the call of Christ not in terms of rescuing the fallen sinner but as giving us the power to become something more than we have ever been before. Atonement is, therefore, not the word that I would use. Empowerment is."

Oh boy. Life “emerged?” From what? Nothing? Inanimate matter? Primordial soup? No one has been able to authoritatively answer this question although they’ve certainly tried to. “Incomplete human beings?” Whatever do we need to be more “complete” (besides God), to be more “fully human?” What does it mean to be “human?” Does Spong really believe that though mankind hasn't managed to begin evolving out of wrongdoing yet, he somehow will in the future if we can all just grab Christ’s “empowerment?” There is certainly no evidence that people have any less evil in their hearts than in past centuries or millenia, despite the fact that “civilized” social structures have enforced laws and brought on pressure to “behave".

Spong has obviously disregarded the book of Ecclesiastes, in which it’s written that “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9) Eccl. 6:12: “For who knows what is good for a man in life, during the few and meaningless day he passes through like a shadow? Who can tell him what will happen under the sun after he is gone?” Chapter 9:3 “This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: the same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.”

There’s more in Spong’s Q&A column "What do you mean when you say that 'Atonement Theology' will kill the Church?" but I’ll save it for another day.

Postscript: Spong just reminds me of a kid who gets really mad at his Dad when Dad grounds him for slugging his brother or something.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Another poem

This one came to me entirely via "serendipity." My college orchestra performed a piece based on this poem.

Whenever the leaves begin to fall, as they are doing here, this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind.

I like it better in the original German so I will include both the original and a translation by M. D. Herter Norton that I have adapted.


The leaves are falling, falling as if from far off,
as if in the heavens distant gardens withered;
they fall with denying gestures.

And in the night the heavy earth falls
from all the stars into aloneness.

We are all falling. This hand falls.
And look at others: it is in them all.

And yet there is One who holds this falling
endlessly gently in His hands.


Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen
unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


Poetry has had great significance in my faith journey. In rereading certain poems after years have passed, I find that the importations which pierced my heart before still move me. I have a sense of being seasoned by both life and these poems together.

I'd like to share some poems in hopes they may also be of significance to others. Starting off with Thomas Merton is like falling off a log; however, choosing just one of his poems is not so easy. Here is one that seems quite significant now, considering what's happening in the world:


Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread,
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.

Where, in what desolate and smokey country,
Lies your poor body, lost and dead?
And in what landscape of disaster
Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?

Come, in my labor find a resting place
And in my sorrows lay your head,
Or rather take my life and blood
And buy yourself a better bed --
Or take my breath and take my death
And buy yourself a better rest.

When all the men of war are shot
And flags have fallen into dust,
Your cross and mine shall tell men still
Christ died on each, for both of us.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring;
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
And buy you back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come: they call you home.

From Selected Poems of Thomas Merton

Saturday, September 04, 2004

On sex and the erotic imagination

I am encouraged that Joe Carter and David Wayne (any others?) have posted on this subject. A solid, thorough Christian apologetic on the topic is certainly needed. (Or maybe there is one and I’ve missed it??) See Redeeming Eros: A Christian View of Sex and the Imagination and The Purpose Driven Sex Life. Gotta love that title.

One concern is the notion that sexuality for the Christian has certain inherent taboos. As Pastor Wayne stated, the context for a Christian’s sexual expression has clearly defined limitations, but the belief that a Christian must somehow lose their sexual being to some dry idea of mere procreative function is, plainly, heresy. Sexuality is much more than mere biological function or pleasant diversion.

How has a proper “erotic imagination” been lost, or, rather, supplanted by lasciviousness? Perhaps in the same way a sense of the mystery and awe of God has been lost. Sex has been reduced to something that can be “mastered;” something that can be grabbed hold of and commanded existentially. But this is just philosophical naturalistism as it interprets sex. The true substance of sex, i.e., that which goes deeper than a naturalistic understanding, has been reduced to token value. The surface value of the symbol has replaced the symbolism itself, i.e., the abstract ideas or truths represented or distilled by and through the symbol -- as per Rush Limbaugh’s “symbolism over substance” quote.

This phenomenon can be seen everywhere and in every area – in the way people dress, talk, and live their lives as well as in the media and art. On the popular level, subtlety and respect for subject matter have all but disappeared. Pop culture is basically one big “wardrobe malfunction.” Even in Christian music, few care any more whether the music itself has integrity, and many are not even able to discern whether or not it does.

In some ways, perhaps folks mistake a powerful longing for God for a sexual longing. I venture to say that the longing for ultimate fulfilment shares similarities with a longing for sexual fulfillment, but this is not to say that human longing for God is sexual. Sexual longing is intended toward flesh and blood, whereas spiritual longing seeks the Maker.

Regarding porn -- why might a Christian choose to, or feel compelled to, view it? Perhaps for some it’s an escape. Perhaps for others it’s an attempt to fulfill what their marriage isn’t providing. Perhaps some feel that a Christian shouldn’t really have an erotic imagination, but their desire to view porn betrays them. They seek to pursue what they are ashamed to admit to themselves and their spouse – the fulness of their sexual selves. Not that all such aspects are necessarily healthy, but neither is it healthy to feel inhibited in expressing and sharing one’s God-given sexual self in a healthy marital relationship .

Another problem with sexuality no doubt relates to a cultural preoccupation with hedonism and instant gratification. But sex ought to be a relationship, not an end in itself, and all ongoing relationships involve growth, change, and adaptation. In any adventure involving intimacy (not necessarily sexual), patience and waiting – deferred gratification – are often required. If one tries to force acquisition of a wanted thing, the result is never honest or worthwhile.

Where can we look for good teaching on healthy sexuality? Do the majority of parents, Christian ones even, teach appropriately? Do pastors expound upon much besides the evils of sexual sin? Does our culture model an appropriate respect for sex? The answers are pretty clear. Thankfully there are Christian groups in existence that meet to study the topic, but many more such groups surely are needed that aren't afraid to examine it. We owe it to ourselves, others, and, ultimately, to God.

(edited 9/19/05)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Grace means...

never having to say you're sorry. No, wait -- grace means always doing what is in another’s best interest. Maybe that’s too simplistic, but really, is the Golden Rule too simplistic? Actually, in terms of grace, the golden rule falls short. We don't always know what’s in our own best interest, that's why we need the grace of God!

Neither is grace always...graceful. Sometimes it takes a good whack upside the head (or worse) to get our attention. Does this mean grace = violence? It may seem violent, but there’s the rub: God (and grace) doesn’t always tiptoe through the tulips. This does not mean we exercise grace by being violent in a damaging sense, of course, but we may need to apply the rub...sort of like the Holy Spirit.

Other times, grace surely means being gentle. It's way too easy to offer, if not an eye for an eye, tit for tat. It’s easy to get caught up in the tone of a discussion and jump in by responding in kind. But obviously this invites trouble. A person may come off sounding combative even when trying not to, depending on the disposition (or personality) of the hearer.

Which brings me to benefit of the doubt...wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone withheld judgement regarding another’s intent before due process could be taken? Many disagreements would no doubt seem way less polar if only the parties involved bothered to try to truly understand one another. OK, now I sound like Rodney King, but I mean really understand one another, not just one another’s position. In such a spirit, disagreements could be more clearly apprehended and evaluated within a larger context.

This is cliche but still worth considering: what do people need? What do they want? People want and need to be appreciated, admired, respected, loved. In a manner appropriate to the relationship, of course. Different people gain their sense of these things in different ways (think Gary Chapman’s love languages). When observing someone’s behavior and speech, it's useful to look past the outward to discern what’s going on inwardly. One can look for clues as to what makes that person tick. With such insight, it's possible to meet a person where they are by adapting the way we relate.

But what about “impossible” people? Do the grace rules apply to them? Of course they do...with the ante upped. Grace gets firm, grace perseveres, grace keeps being a respecter of personhood (my area of weakness). Grace keeps being gracious – I Corinthians 13:4-7. Oh that I would abide in such a state of humility, being ever mindful of the price of my own redemption.