Musing on Prayer and Other Things

The other day I shared on Facebook this post from Samantha Field about her reflections on how prayer operates in her life.  It’s a good read that opens up some significant questions about the topic at hand.  She starts off by listing out the three most commonly cited aspects of prayer’s function in Christian practice:

I was taught that prayer is a combination of a) something we’re supposed to do for God just because, b) a conversation where two people get to know one another, and c) the means we have for asking our deity for things.

This is stuff that totally resonates with me from my evangelical days.  After I converted, a massive part of my spiritual education was built around developing good “quiet time” habits which were split between reading the Bible and praying to God.  I was supposed to do this stuff because it was how I got to know God better; the fact that prayer always felt like a one-sided conversation where I had to be the person keeping it up (I am very poorly practiced in sustaining conversations that don’t revolve around a topic in which I take an interest) didn’t especially help my enthusiasm for the activity.  Of course, this sort of reluctance was expected from a baby Christian, and my pastor at the time had a saying about it that went something like, “It starts as a duty, turns into a devotion, and eventually becomes a delight.”

He was really thrilled with the whole alliteration thing.

In the whole six years that I was really serious about the evangelical thing, I don’t think I ever got past the “duty” phase with prayer.  There was this expectation that when you prayed to God you had to follow a particular format: acknowledgement and glorification of God, thanksgiving, intercession (that’s a fancy word for praying on behalf of other people), and only at the end putting forth any of your own requests.  Somehow I internalized from this that prayer as a method of asking God to do things for you was something of a last resort; God’s will was always meant to be the top priority, and since the aim of Christianity as I understood it at the time was to better submit oneself to God’s will, that meant that asking for things was kind of a frivolous exercise at the best of times and downright ungrateful at the worst.

As a side note, I recall this need to constantly express gratitude as a major source of emotional turmoil, because sometimes things just weren’t that great.  The constant reinforcement of the idea that people are worthy of eternal punishment just for existing didn’t help matters much either.

So in my experience with prayer I was hesitant make requests, and I didn’t really get the whole “get to know God better” thing because that seemed like a task that was better served through just reading the Bible (keep in mind that this was during a time with my Biblical hermeneutic was still, “what it says on the page is what it means; don’t think too hard about translation and transmission of the text”).  I latched on to the idea that prayer was something you could do reflexively while you were reading; God knew all your thoughts anyway, so why not just approach time reading Scripture and reflecting on it as your prayer and be done with the mess?

In my transition out of evangelicalism one of the first casualties (if you want to call it that) was my quiet time habit.  Shifting hermeneutics made reading the Bible on a daily basis a challenging prospect (and after my recent attempt at reviving the practice for Lent, I realize it’s just not something that I prioritize), and the discarding of inerrancy only sealed the deal.  I lost the one thing that I had been able to hold on to as a way of performing prayer, and I’ve been sort of adrift with the practice ever since.

Field talks extensively about her own practice of prayer in her post-fundamentalist life, and what I find so resonant about it is her emphasis that prayer is most effective in a communal setting.  Here’s how she describes what her small group does:

For 15-30 minutes every week, everyone gets to share what’s on their mind and heart with a group of people whose only job is to listen. It’s not a problem solving session, and while common experiences and advice might get shared that’s often absent or not the point. The entire point is that a person gets to share what they care about, or what troubles them without interruption– and they’re doing it in the context of the belief that this moment of vulnerability is sacred. Each week, I’m asking them to care about what care about, and the response is always unanimous: yes, we care. Yes, we will listen for as long as you need. Yes, we will bring this to God. You’re important, you matter, and not just in a metaphorical sense. We will purposely set aside time and space to listen to your heart.

It’s an expression of prayer as relationship not just between the person and God, but among the community of believers.  I find it most remarkable that Field has found a group of people where group prayer doesn’t operate as a way of spreading church gossip (if you’ve ever been in a group that did prayer requests, you’ve probably observed this sort of behavior).  She acknowledges that that’s a rare quality to find, and it only works in this setting because everyone trusts one another enough to not talk about personal things outside the group without express permission and to not use sensitive information against people later (I’ve seen both of those violations happen to people I care about, and it’s a huge thing to establish that kind of trust with your group).

For myself, I don’t know that I’ll ever find a place for prayer in any form within the rhythm of my life.  I find that faith is something best practiced in community, and absent a faith community that I trust it will probably continue to be a less prominent part of my life.  That’s not a suggestion that my identity as a Christian is gone; it’s just not something that receives the same metacognitive attention it did when I was in evangelicalism.

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Platonism, Mental Health, Bodies, and Souls

I was out on a run the other day, and I had a stray thought about the soul, and it kind of whirled out into an extended rumination on a couple of trends that I’ve been wondering about for a while.

There are two Christian bloggers that I read regularly these days: Samantha Field and Fred Clark.  Field’s expertise is in deconstructing the harmful assumptions that are endemic to fundamentalist Christianity from the perspective of a survivor of that culture, while Clark’s interest is more broadly focused on issues of social justice and calling out hypocrisy among conservative Christian leaders.  Recently, they’ve been discussing slightly separate topics in some depth, and the stray thought I had on my run led me to realize that they’re pretty closely connected.

One of Field’s hallmarks is her ongoing reviews and critiques of seminal evangelical advice books, particularly advice books related to marriage.  Not too long ago, she wrapped up her series on Tim LaHaye’s How to Win Over Depression (first entry can be found here), which is a notable book in evangelicalism for its central premise that depression is a condition which can be overcome through prayer and sufficiently disciplined practice of Christian faith.  Field, who’s very open on her blog about the challenges she faces dealing with clinical depression and several other chronic illnesses, takes LaHaye to task repeatedly over his sexist, dismissive characterization of depression as a moral failing rather than a legitimate illness that requires treatment and understanding.

In another vein, Clark wrote a recent post about the challenges of discussing the concept of the soul.  In that post he refers to the fact that the idea of the soul, the eternal, spiritual aspect of a person’s being has pervaded our cultural consciousness since the days of Plato, with his philosophy of the Ideals from which all material things emanate as pale imitations.  Clark’s point is that the talk of the soul as a separate thing which temporarily inhabits a material body is an unfortunate linguistic pattern that subtly reinforces the idea that bodies don’t matter in relation to the eternal aspects of a person, which in turn contributes to the dominant narrative of American evangelicalism that focuses on the eternal afterlife at the ever expanding expense of the temporal present.

Clark’s point about the way we tend to think about the soul is a significant one because it points towards how contemporary evangelicalism has allowed elements of gnosticism to creep into its theology (it’s arguable that gnosticism has been exerting influence on Christianity since the beginning; Paul did write several letters to early churches addressing the issue) through a decoupling of the importance of both body and soul to a person’s spiritual well being.

Bringing that back to Field, I realized that part of the evangelical distrust of mental illness that LaHaye’s book typifies stems from this Platonist/gnostic line of thought.  Bodies are less important than souls, and the influence of the body on the soul is something to be minimized as much as possible.  Framing depression as a spiritual malady limits one’s capacity to seriously consider how bodily factors contribute to mental illness, primarily because we don’t want to think of our minds as being subject to the whims of our meatbags.  In evangelical thought, the preference is to imagine a system akin to the ancient concept of the homunculus, a little person sitting inside us who manipulates our bodies, rather than admitting that there are material factors that influence our minds.  Mental illness, we’ve continuously learned, is a result of both environmental and biological factors, which threatens the homunculus theory.  God forbid something about our bodies could directly influence the operations of our minds.

So in one sense, yes, of course LaHaye treats depression as a moral failing.  His theological schema, influenced by Platonism to the degree that we all are, precludes him from seriously considering that a quirk in the body might be the source of something like depression, and that treating depression is therefore a task best approached from a material perspective (the great exception to this of course is whether a person has a vagina, since, as Field points out, LaHaye almost invariably characterizes depression as a woman’s problem; even then, he’d couch the distinction in complementarian terms like the intrinsically different natures of the male and female souls; don’t try to examine that too closely, because the contradictions inherent in describing multiple categories of a metaphysical concept using biological, and therefore physical, characteristics will make your head explode).

So where does all that stuff leave us?  Speaking from my own experience, I recall a time when the idea of material influence on my soul was a pretty scary idea.  Considering that possibility can very quickly lead to the conclusion that we might simply be organic automata, devoid of any eternal component.  That’s not a position with which I’m comfortable, because for all my criticism of the idea of the soul as a separate, eternal thing, I still want to believe in a system in which something about us lasts past the destruction of our bodies.  Whether that’s possible to do consistently, I’m not sure, but it does lead me to believe that within the closed system that we call ourselves, our bodies do matter.  They are on equal footing with our souls, and that means that we have a responsibility to care for them here, now, today.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (5/18/14)

Sorry for no link round up last week; we had friends in town and I didn’t spend my usual lazy Saturday morning poring over the internet for cool stuff.  No fear though!  That just means I have two weeks’ worth of links to share today.

Comics

1. Life in Aggro is a regularly featured webcomic on Kotaku‘s weekly webcomic, and for the past month it’s been running a story recounting what I’m assuming is one of the authors’ experiences playing through the game.  It’s a beautifully drawn comic, and this series has been particularly good.  The final part of the four part story just went up yesterday, so you can see the whole thing on their website.  Here’s the link to the first part of the story.

These Watercolors Distill Superheroes to Their Very Essence

Black Widow in Watercolor. By Blule. (Image credit: i09)

2. I don’t use ComiXology to buy comics.  When I do buy comics, I prefer to purchase physical copies (the one area where I feel like a luddite is digital purchasing; I just struggle to get over the hump of not having a copy of the content that I can store and maintain how I like).  Even so, this article is a fascinating look at ComiXology’s business model and how their recent decision to remove in-app purchasing from their iOS app impacts both their business and the consumers who use their service.

3. Because it needs to be said again (it always needs to be said again), there needs to be more to female superhero design than sex appeal.  Here’s a wonderful article from Lauren Davis explaining why (if for no other reason, read it for the plug that the new Ms. Marvel series gets; that book is fantastic and I want to read more of it like now).

4. Though I have a passing interest in comics history, I’m not really into comics from the Golden and Silver Ages.  Apparently that’s a mistake, at least for Golden Age stuff, because it was a diversity wonderland before the Comics Code came along and whitewashed everything.

5. I generally think of myself as more of a Marvel fan when it comes to superheroes, but I have to admit that I do agree with pretty much everyone on this list of in-universe jerks.  And yeah, Professor X just keeps getting worse and worse.  Cyclops, on the other hand, has always seemed like a justified jerk, and I love him for it.  Namor’s debatable, because I’m not sure you can classify the level of egotism he displays as necessarily jerkish so much as “I’m the King of the Ocean.”

Faith

1. Candida Moss explains what professions were not recommended for Christians in the third century by St. Hippolytus of Rome.  The list is, unsurprisingly, filled with jobs that Christians nowadays not only do, but often aspire towards.

2. Fred Clark is a straight white male.  I am also a straight white male.  If you want to read something not written by straight white males, then check out Fred Clark’s recent list of blogs that are written by people other than straight white males.

3. Richard Beck answers reader questions about his book The Slavery of Death.  There’s some really interesting thoughts going on here.

4. Zach Hoag: “The Christian faith, rightly understood and practiced, is both syncretist and separatist all at once, and in different ways. In fact, syncretism is at the core of Christian identity, as the very definition of the faith is the expansion of first century Judaism to include Gentiles without requiring total change to their religious practice! It was an honest to goodness combining of Greco-Roman religious practice with Israelite religious practice, seen through the lens of a new Messianic identity. Christianity IS syncretism!”

5. A breakup letter to John Calvin (I’m not sure I was ever in a relationship with him, but I think it still sums up my feelings about his theology rather nicely).

6. I don’t typically post articles from i09 in my faith section (mostly because their articles that touch on religious subjects tend to have a bit of an anti-faith bent), but this article from Mark Strauss is thoughtful and nuanced in how it approaches the problem of creationism.

7. More from Fred Clark (remember, I have two weeks of material to sift through), this time about the phenomenon of mondegreens and their relationship to interpretive differences between Christians who disagree about the Bible.  Don’t know what a mondegreen is?  Then go find out.

8. Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Matthew Vines, and Jay Bakker had a talk this week discussing Vines’s new book God and the Gay Christian.  It’s an hour and fifteen minutes of good dialogue about the issue (complete with lots of technical difficulties!), and I’d definitely recommend watching the video of it.  Fortunately, Tony Jones has posted the talk on his blog.

9. Samantha Field at Defeating the Dragons wrote a post this week coming out as bisexual.  I’m really happy for her.

Fiction

1. I’m not the most educated person when it comes to speculative fiction.  Most of my knowledge has been acquired by proxy of Rachael, so this essay, which seems pretty impressive and persuasive to me, may be a bunch of hot air.  Nonetheless, I think it does raise some interesting questions about the relation between contemporary speculative fiction and literary fiction.

2. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is dead.  Nonetheless, it did give some good stories.  Here’s a list of 10 particularly notable ones (as an aside, I’ve begun watching the Clone Wars cartoon now that the whole thing is on Netflix, and being only halfway into season 1, I think it’s great; it’s a wonder what can be done with the prequel-era setting when George Lucas isn’t pulling all the strings).

Film

1. For all my criticisms of various movies that I see, I like to think that generally I’m a pretty easy to please viewer.  I have an overly developed fondness for superhero movies (even the ones that don’t deserve it), so I’m really a poor judge of which big movies are not so great (case in point: I really liked Man of Steel except for the ending, but everyone else I talk to thinks it was the worst Superman adaptation ever conceived).  This article and subsequent conversation in the comments does a pretty good job of elaborating on why certain superhero movies get really positive reactions from viewers while others don’t.  It’s all speculation and opining, but it’s interesting speculation and opining if you like to think about superheroes and the movies we make about them.

2. For your enjoyment, a comic explaining why DC hasn’t started production on a Wonder Woman movie yet (as an aside, I first came across this comic through Kotaku where a conversation in the comments erupted where one very obtuse fellow began complaining about how everyone’s constantly calling for movies featuring female and minority superheroes just irritates him, and we should all shut up because it’s going to happen anyway; except, y’know, it’s not going to happen if no one says that’s what they want to see).

3. I like animation.  I also like live-action.  I get a little wary when animated franchises get live-action adaptations.  Apparently so does Jason Krell.

Fun

If Disney Characters Were College Students

Of course Quasimodo would go to art school to be a sculptor. By Hyung86. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. I wish I had space to display a four-foot wide drawing of an imaginary megacity that features iconic buildings from all the most famous cities in the world (and throughout history).

2. Did you know that the number of Nicolas Cage movies in a given year correlates with the number of people who drown in swimming pools?  Neither did I, but here you go.  Have fun.

3. What about Zoidberg?

4. And just in case you prefer real cephalopods to imaginary ones, here’s an octopus unscrewing a jar from the inside.

5. Someone invented retractable metal claws.  It’s pretty adorable to see how excited he is to be able to tear stuff up with them.

6. It’s not often that I see discussion of Breaking Bad where someone reads Walter White as so adamantly sympathetic.  For my part, I gravitated more towards Jesse as the emotional center of the show after the end of Season 3, but to each her own.  Here’s a post from Scribalishess where Susan Pigott discusses her experience of watching Breaking Bad for the first time.

Gaming

1. For what it’s worth, I’m still not tired of jumping and punching in video games.  I spent the last week of school this year playing Street Fighter II and Super Mario Bros. 3 with my students as a way of passing the time after we turned in our final grades.  Nevertheless, this is a good article wondering about the seemingly interminable popularity of first person shooters and whether gaming is due for a new golden genre like the platformers and fighters of the ’90s.

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past 3D Papercraft Map

The overworld map of Legend of Zeld: A Link to the Past as papercraft. By Wuppes. (Image credit: Kotaku)

2. Gilbert Gottfried is famous as the voice of Iago from Disney’s Aladdin and as the guy who did that video for the internet where he reads excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey.  We can now add to his impressive resume the fact that he made a video where he reads some of the most famous lines from video gaming.  “Holy hell is it erotic!” indeed.

3. Nobody likes trolls.  I’m not sure anyone really understands why they do what they do either; not even the trolls themselves.

4. Minecraft‘s pretty much the best thing ever when it comes to creating interactive online learning experiences.  The world’s fully customizable, and it’s a lot of fun to build stuff with friends.  So using the game as a lab for teaching Japanese sounds like a wonderful idea.

5. Jason Schreier has crowdsourced from the Kotaku commenters a compilation of good entry-level games in the JRPG genre.  I agree with much of the list (I’ve played a lot of them myself), so if you have any interest in that most quirky of story-driven game genres but don’t know where to start, this is a good thing to look at for ideas.

6. People like to play as characters who are not themselves when they’re gaming.  This article talks about what it’s like to play a character who also happens to not be the same sex as the player.

Science

1. Cartwheeling spider.  That is all.

2. Kidney disease runs in my family.  Just last year my mom received a transplant that she had been waiting on for three years, and the donor was, unfortunately, someone who had died.  We don’t know who the donor was, but it’s weird to think that my mom had to wait for someone else’s misfortune just so that she could get the kidney she needed.  It’s an objective fact that a live donor would have been better all around; kidneys from live donors last much longer than kidneys from deceased donors, and the donor’s still alive when the procedure’s over.  Of course, it’s a scary thing to donate a kidney; you’re voluntarily giving up one of your organs.  This article explores this topic more in-depth and considers some potential solutions to help incentivize the donation of kidneys, since there’s a constant need.

3. Scientists have engineered a strain of e.coli that contains six base pairs instead of four in its DNA.  This is kind of a big deal.

4. I donate blood on a regular basis because I think it’s an important thing to do if you meet the guidelines for eligibility.  One weird quirk of the experience that I’ve always wondered about was the fact that I’m always asked multiple questions about whether I’ve ever had sex with a man.  Seeing as I’ve not had that particular experience, I always answer no and move on with life.  It never occurred to me before that answering yes would prevent me from being able to donate.  What the heck, FDA?

5. So how would people react if we were to discover extraterrestrial life?  For my part, I’m pretty psyched about the possibility, but this article from i09 suggests that in general, people of faith tend to be poorly psychologically equipped to deal with aliens.  I’d like to counter that if you have religious beliefs, especially of a Christian variety (I’m not going to speak to any other traditions because I just don’t know well enough to say), and you’re still engaging in anthropocentrism as part of your faith practice, then you’ve probably missed the point Jesus was making about dying to the self; that’s not just a personal exhortation, but a fact of communal living that you have to accept things are bigger than what you see around you.

6. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that philosophy was a useless field to study.  Many people on the internet disagreed.

7. Hurray for advancements in prosthetics!

Miscellaneous

1. “How Misunderstanding Disability Leads to Police Violence”

2. I think this one’s already been all over the internet, but here, for anyone who hasn’t read that awesome Slate article about Phineas Gage.

3. We interred over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II.  That’s an important thing to remember.  Fortunately, Ansel Adams helps us out with that through these photos (here’s a link to the full online collection at the Library of Congress) that he took of the internment camps during the war.

4. I find it doubtful that China’s actually collaborating with Russia, Canada, and America to build an intercontinental rail line.  Still, it would be really cool if this does happen for reals in a few decades.

5. My students have an unhealthy fascination with Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.  You can imagine my childlike glee when I read this, because it means that I’m now justified in telling them that their taste in headgear is not only ridiculous, but also appallingly bad from an audiophile’s perspective.

6. H.R. Giger passed away this week, and i09 saw fit to post a collection of some of his assorted works in commemoration.  Giger’s work is extremely fascinating, and highly creepy (he did design the look of the original xenomorph in Alien).  Go check the gallery out if you’re interested, though keep in mind that one of Giger’s favorite subjects was the interplay between humanity and technology, and he tended to use lots of sexually evocative imagery.

7. Deaf culture is a complicated thing.  The introduction of cochlear implants into the deaf community a little over a decade ago was pretty big news; not everyone received the new technology with enthusiasm, because it was seen as a threat to Deaf identity (for a really good documentary exploring this issue, look up Sound and Fury; it’s available to stream on Netflix, or if that’s not your style, you can find the whole thing freely available on Youtube, along with its follow-up from 2006).  This article from The Atlantic discusses some of the issues surrounding a new type of cochlear implant that has no external component.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (4/27/14)

We have fifteen days of school left at work, and everyone’s starting to get kind of antsy.  This next week’s going to be the most stressful because the high school’s doing our End of Course testing (two days, four 2.5 hour testing blocks, a mess of very tired and frustrated students).  On the bright side, after that’s over we’re going to do fun educational things like watch the Baz Luhrman version of Romeo & Juliet (the kids expressed interest when I mentioned that it features gang warfare, though they were disappointed that there are no fully automatic weapons).

Faith

1. This article involves a pretty good breakdown of the instances where Jesus discusses hell in the Gospels.  It’s a small number.  Then it goes on to breakdown where Jesus discusses heaven.  In Matthew alone, the number of instances where heaven is mentioned is nearly quadruple the total mentions of hell in all the Gospels.  I think that’s a pretty strong sign that Jesus had more interest in a justice of reconciliation rather than a justice of retribution.

2. Zack Hunt reposted a video from Time about a couple in California who believe God instructed them to open up a marijuana dispensary.  It’s a charming story, and does raise some interesting questions about how Americans in the Church are going to deal with the eventual legalization of pot in our country.  Check it out, if for no other reason than to see the guy in the story offer a Girl Scout cookie to the camera operator in the middle of the interview.

3. Dan Haseltine (of Jars of Clay) asked what the big deal was about gay marriage on Twitter this week.  As in, “Is there a non-speculative or non “slippery slope” reason why gays shouldn’t marry?”  It turned into a huge conversation that spans tons of tweets from Dan where things really blew up, and there were many harsh words.  I’m not adept with Twitter at all, so it’s kind of difficult for me to follow everything that was said, but the responses were generally infuriating, particularly from people who claimed that Dan was no longer a Christian because he was asking questions about gay marriage.  I think my regulars know how I feel about that kind of talk.  Anyhow, Dan eventually posted a more complete explanation of what sparked the conversation in the first place on his blog, so that will be shared as well.  For what it’s worth, I’m glad that he’s asking these sorts of questions.  It’s a good place to start in examining our assumptions about issues of faith.

4. Richard Beck’s been writing recently about the influence participating in a charismatic church community has had on his meditations about faith.  It’s very interesting and serves as a helpful dose of fairness for someone like me who’s grown into a more subdued and intellectual form of spiritual practice.  But instead of linking to that, I’m going to link you to his post about how Scooby-Doo is an allegory for the transformation of our understanding of evil from literal demonic powers to an expression of the worst impulses in human nature like greed and deception.

Feminism

0. This is a late addition to the roundup because I just saw this story last night, but it seems that a large group of students were kidnapped in Nigeria by an extremist group who did not want the girls receiving an education.  According to the article, the Nigerian government hasn’t done anything to assist in searching for the missing students, leaving the families to pay for vehicles and searchers out of their own pockets.  There’s a link to a petition in the article where you can sign to try to put pressure on the Nigerian government to do something about this situation.  Personally, I don’t know how effective that petition will be, but as someone who’s living halfway around the world, passing on the information feels like the best thing I can do to help.

1. Gender wage gaps exist in children’s allowances.  The image this article conjured for me was of a household with multiple children, a mix of boys and girls, where the parents give their sons more money than their daughters and don’t think about the disparity or dismiss it with odd rationales.  That’s probably extreme, and I doubt there are actually families who operate in such a way, but it’s a strange image nonetheless.  Remind me, if I have children, to give them all the same allowance: one crisp dollar a week.  That way they can learn about income inequality instead.

2. Samantha Field does a nice job of taking apart a recent diatribe from a blogger I really wish I weren’t familiar with.  Also, she points out that Do Not Links are the best thing ever for pointing people to things you want to criticize without contributing to their internet traffic.

Fun

1. An old video clip from The Daily Show featuring a mock debate between Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.  The topic: Islam vs. Christianity.

2. Everyone on the internet does a cover of the Super Mario Bros. theme.  This guy did it with his fingers.

3. This bug is not having an existential crisis.  We’re just anthropomorphizing a glitch in the creature’s biology that prevents it from realizing that it’s not actually mobile.  Doesn’t change the fact that I watched this video to the end, fascinated by the anthropomorphic navel-gazing.

4. When I was a teenager, I loved Dragon Ball Z.  It’s a fun show with a simple concept: burly guys who train really hard can fly, destroy planets, and instantly grow and highlight their hair through sheer willpower.  Also, it’s an excellent illustration of time dilation as events depicted in the show tend to happen at relativistic speeds, but somehow in real time they take years to play out.  Anyway, the best thing about this show is that it has a mob of internet fans who like to argue about who is the best character.  So when someone posts a character ranking list without any kind of context, it’s like putting blood in a pool of sharks.  Enjoy the comments on this thread, which range from good-humored snark to angry rants about why the list is wrong on every level.  Warning: as with any fandom discussion, this could be a little esoteric.

Gaming

1. Though I’m not really versed in any programming languages, I do think that programming logic is really interesting.  This is a collection of simple game mechanic simulators that show the code involved in each example so that you can see the moving parts of various aspects of a cohesive video game.

Science

1. I remember doing this experiment in high school physics, but we used small model cars and glass bubbles with a little bit of water in them.  The video’s a good illustration of a fluid dynamics problem, and the guy who made the video is pretty engaging to watch.  He has a whole channel where he produces science-related videos.  There was some interesting debate on the original article where I found this video about the fact that the host, Destin, has trained his children to refer to him as “Sir.”  Anyone who’s from the American South would just shrug and note that many Southerners teach their children that using honorifics like Sir and Ma’am is just part of good manners.  For people who weren’t familiar with the practice, there was a lot of bristling.

For my part, I was more concerned with the fact that Destin appears to be an evangelical Christian.  It’s fantastic that he’s so interested in science education, and his videos really are very engaging, but I’m left with questions about his mindset.  There are a few moments in the balloon video where Destin takes a patronizing tone with his kids, or he dismisses their genuine curiosity about a scientific phenomenon (like the helium trick at the end of the video) with a flip non-explanation.  Also, and this is a concern that may be irrelevant since we’re talking about pretty basic educational videos, what is Destin’s attitude towards evolutionary explanations for biological phenomena?  From what I’ve gathered looking at a few of his videos, he seems to have a background in aeronautics, which may explain why he focuses on topics related primarily to physics.

2. Vaccines are good.  Get them.

Writing

1. I’m not going to link you to TV Tropes, because that’s a despicable thing to do to readers who may have a lot they need to get done.  Instead, I’m going to link you to the Periodic Table of Storytelling.  Just don’t click on anything.

Miscellaneous

1. There’s an interesting article at the Atlantic this week arguing that Disney has been offering ongoing support to the LGBTQ community for decades as an explanation for the apparently pro-gay reading that many people have had of FrozenI only saw the film once, and I honestly didn’t even make a connection between the plot and the struggles of an LGBTQ person (although in hindsight I suppose it should have been more obvious; I made some jokes about superheroes, and that genre is rife with allegory and metaphor about oppressed minorities).  It’s a good article, and I can see the case that the writer’s making.  On the flip side of that though, there was also a post at the io9 sub-blog (is that a thing?  I’m declaring it a thing) Animation questioning whether Disney is really pro-gay, or if, being a corporate entity with the goal of making as much money as possible, it’s simply casting a very wide net in terms of its messaging in order to appeal to the largest demographic.  Given the history of the company and Walt Disney’s own vision of creating a culture that was so pristinely inoffensive that everyone would aspire to join it, I’m inclined to go with the latter reading (although being pro-acceptance is still a laudable message).

2. As a public educator, I don’t want any more firearms inside school buildings (or in most public places for that matter).  My ultimate boss in the Georgia state government, Nathan Deal, disagrees.  I think my boss is a moron.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (4/6/14)

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so forgive me if I’m rusty.

What Would The Muppets Look Like As Humans?

If the Muppets were human. By Nick Hoffman (Image credit: http://mr-book-faced.deviantart.com/art/The-Muppets-443630982)

Blogs

1. My friend James maintains his own blog which he updates infrequently.  The reason he updates infrequently is because he tends to write posts that exceed two thousand words and require a good bit of research.  This does not mean that he is not worth reading.  He frequently makes jokes about the absurdity of white middle class American culture while explaining complicated issues related to education and the economy, and those jokes alone make him worth your time.  I always enjoy reading his stuff, anyway.  This week he posted this wonderful explanation of why all millennials are pretty much screwed in regard to their retirement prospects.  It vacillates between funny and depressing, but I think the takeaway (that Social Security is not a broken system and should not be treated like one if we hope to keep it intact into the future) is worth considering.

2. John Scalzi posted a twitter conversation he had this week discussing how people own up to their own bigoted (racist, sexist, xenophobic, etc.) actions.  He used an example of his own sexist actions, which struck me as a fair assessment of problems he sees in his own behavior that need to be addressed and corrected where possible.  It’s also pretty self deprecating to own up to the fact that you more easily remember people you find attractive.  It’s worth a quick perusal if you’re interested in this topic.

3. Samantha Field wrote a two part post this week about why purity culture doesn’t seem to have any real conception of sexual consent.  It’s a good post, and I think it’s useful for elucidating why folks in the evangelical community may have difficulty in addressing problems of sexual assault and rape.

Fun

1. There’s a new X-Men movie coming out this summer.  I am mildly excited about it.  This excitement has virtually nothing to do with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but I do get tickled at the disparity between Jackman’s work as an angry killer mutant with an unbreakable skeleton, and his career as a stage actor who does musicals (I’m not knocking musical theater; I’m rather fond of it).  So, y’know, video of him singing a parody of a song from Les Miserables that talks about what it’s like being Wolverine is all kinds of fun.  Not quite as good as Wolverine–The Musical!, but at least this time it’s really Hugh Jackman singing.

2. I don’t watch a whole lot of TV these days, but when I do, I like to watch stuff that’s good.  Enter this set of charts that plot general audience opinion about individual episodes of multiple sci-fi series.  These are great!  They can help you gauge when a series went downhill and whether it’s worth sticking it out (also, where a series got way better and it’s worth jumping onboard).

3. Recently I’ve been digging back into Minecraft a little bit, which has been great fun because I’m doing that most dangerous of Minecraft activities: playing on a publicly accessible server.  Of course, I’ve not built anything this impressive, but that’s okay.  I can see stuff like a giant steampunk turtle and think to myself, “I could build that someday.”

4. I don’t know why I even care about this, because it’s a movie that’s produced by Michael Bay, which means it will be unquestionably awful.  But here, because the internet loves to complain about things that we all expect to hate anyway, here’s some screenshots of the turtles in the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.  The official screenshots are the ones where they have lips.  Yes, lips.

5. It is a complete and total myth that people only use 10% of our brainpower.  That’s bad science, and it should be taken out and shot as an excuse for sci-fi stuff to happen in stories.  There is absolutely no reason to use something so broadly understood to have no basis in reality.  On the other hand, this trailer for Lucy looks like a lot of fun (directed by Luc Besson, who made The Fifth Element).

Maybe I’ll go back to doing the link round ups regularly, maybe not.  For now, enjoy these things.  They are nifty.  Some of them might even be, objectively, the best things.

Walk Humbly: Final Thoughts

All posts in this series refer back to the conversation found here.

I’m wrapping things up and putting a lid on the episode with Damon.  It’s been a lot of things going back over the exchange these past couple weeks: funny, depressing, infuriating, informative.

I started this project with the intention to examine the assumptions that Damon brought to our conversation as a fundamentalist.  As angry as he made me, I really wanted to treat him fairly, because I believe in the importance of meeting offense with gentleness.  In some ways I feel like I’ve failed in that aspiration, especially as I’ve been working to conclude the series this week.  Much of the anger I’ve expressed in my last few posts has been tied very closely to the fiasco surrounding World Vision’s announcement that they were expanding their hiring practices to include married gay people and the backlash from that announcement that left them not only reversing their decision within 48 hours but also apologizing to the evangelicals who bullied them into changing their position in the first place (here are several links to the coverage of the event from various bloggers for anyone not already familiar with what’s been going on).  Damon and I didn’t argue about the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Church, but his repeated attempts to declare me an apostate and a heretic over other theological disagreements left a bad taste in my mouth that’s highly reminiscent of the way gay Christians have been treated by evangelicals.  Through my interactions with Damon I got a very small taste of what I imagine gay Christians face on a regular basis in their interactions with evangelicals at large.  My experience really stung, and I honestly don’t think I can fully appreciate how they are treated on a regular basis, but it has to be horrendous.  So that’s where a lot of my anger was coming from recently.

Despite all that, I think I did accomplish some good things with this series.  Damon is obviously only one person, and it’s not fair to make him stand in as the representative of all fundamentalists, but he did confirm that he adheres to the doctrines that Samantha Field listed in her post from a few weeks ago “fundamentalists, evangelicals, and certainty.” I think my interactions with him, though he’s probably on the extreme end of the spectrum, can provide some instructive insights into how the fundamentalist mindset operates.  The Bible must be trusted above all else, and the justification for that is the fact that the Bible says so.  If you don’t make an argument using Bible verses, you must not take the Bible seriously.  Jesus saved us from hell, and if hell’s not a possibility, then why be a Christian at all?  Evangelism is about being right in your propositions, not about being hospitable or loving.  Anyone who doesn’t agree with them about their assumptions must not really be a Christian, no matter what they say or how much they profess love of Christ.

That’s a difficult set of assumptions to deal with.  They strike me as very closed off and hostile to outside opinions, which I suppose is what makes the dominant narrative of persecution among fundamentalists so potent.  Unfortunately, I think it’s also a toxic mindset.  I don’t know how to try to reach people who are caught up in this kind of thinking, and it’s difficult to watch, because they’re not only lashing out at outsiders, but also exerting immense internal pressure on themselves.  When I cautioned Damon that his way of thinking was likely to result in him either becoming disillusioned and completely losing his faith or regressing into a type of paranoia that can’t love or trust anyone except those just like him, I was being sincere in my concern.  People who leave fundamentalism are almost universally damaged by the experience, and that’s the mark of a bad ideology.  True expressions of Christ’s love shouldn’t leave people wary of dealing with Christians.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Walk Humbly: Defining Terms

All posts in this series refer back to the conversation found here.

“[T]he Christian faith is not about feeling or convincing. It’s about God, through His spirit, revealing and convicting people of the truth.”

This is Damon’s response to the article from Defeating the Dragons that I mentioned last time.  He’s disagreeing with Samantha Field’s statement that “the typical evangelical teachings about faith usually involve this nebulous idea that “faith” equals “certainty”– that you feel sure.”

As far as I can tell, Damon’s model of faith is built around the concept of divine revelation.  You can’t believe in God without God first telling you that he’s there.  At that point, according to Damon, you don’t get a say in whether you have faith or not.  He uses as his proof text the famous passage from Ephesians 2:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Damon’s interpreting that first verse where Paul calls faith “the gift of God” to mean that faith literally must be received from God.  I think from there he might be using verse 9 to support the argument that we can’t do anything to obtain faith, though I’m not entirely sure if that’s the case.  For what it’s worth, my interpretation of this passage goes something like this: we receive salvation as a freely given gift from God, and our reception of it is predicated on faith in Christ.  The “not by works” bit refers to the fact that salvation is not something earned.  The last verse (which doesn’t usually figure in to discussions of this passage’s meaning about salvation) points out that an expression of that salvation is the good work that we do.

I don’t see anything in this passage that expressly denies the possibility that people may choose faith.  Yes, it comes from God, but as a gift.  Gifts can be accepted or rejected.

From there, Damon affirms this list of beliefs as foundational for his faith:

Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture
Deity of Christ
Virgin birth
Substitutionary atonement
Physical resurrection and physical Second Coming

Field puts together a pretty succinct explanation of why, from a historical view of the Church, most of these doctrines are suspect as the essentials of Christian faith.  Belief in biblical inerrancy is hard, if not impossible, to put into practice with a view towards the entirety of the Bible.  As Ned Flanders so famously put it, “I’ve done everything the Bible says!  Even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!”  Substitutionary atonement is only one of a multitude of theories of how the Crucifixion operated in relation to salvation (pretty much all of which require a good bit of inference from what’s said in the Bible about it).  Heck, even the concept of Virgin birth, which I have no problem affirming, isn’t really provable, and is only significant if you subscribe to the additional doctrine of original sin, which theorizes that the sinful nature of humanity was passed down from Adam’s fallen seed (essentially Jesus had to be born of a virgin so he wouldn’t be infected with the sin virus that we all get from our fathers) and which first entered Christian thought in the fourth century by way of Augustine, a huge hedonist prior to his conversion who likely was working through some of his own hangups when he was theologizing.  As for belief in a physical Second Coming, well, I guess you can believe in that if you like, but it doesn’t mesh with Church tradition, and it additionally tends to foster an attitude that this current life doesn’t matter.

In my response to Damon following his affirmation of those same beliefs listed above, I try to lay out my understanding of a couple of terms that Damon says he’s not familiar with.  I was surprised that he expressed unfamiliarity with ‘evangelical’ and ‘fundamentalist,’ especially since they’re rather commonly used terms.  This whole conversation seemed to me to be framed around the question of whether there was a legitimate alternative to practicing Christianity in the manner common to evangelicals, but the terms hadn’t been laid out.

Now, I should say at this point that I’ve been trying to remain fair to Damon.  The conversation started because we had a disagreement, and he approached me for further discussion.  And up to this point things were pretty civil between us.  But look at what I said about fundamentalism:

Fundamentalism is not a specific ideology so much as a methodology. It can be applied to any subculture as those people within the subset who hold to their beliefs so strongly that they are unwilling to consider differing opinions as potentially valid. This doesn’t mean that non-fundamentalists don’t hold their positions strongly, only that they are willing to listen to people they disagree with in an effort to find common ground.

I think that’s a pretty good definition of the term (also as a sidenote, I pulled much of my discussion of fundamentalism in that response from this post by Fred Clark at Slacktivist).  Fundamentalists of any kind of ideology are the ones that people generally recognize as the extremists, the ones who are certain that no one else but them may be right about the way the world works.  They almost always fail to uphold Micah’s exhortation “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” (if their ideology even gives any credence to that passage).

So yes, I’m trying to be fair to Damon.

But from here it becomes more and more apparent that even though he’s not familiar with the term, Damon knows a lot about fundamentalism.