Thursday, September 30, 2004

FINALLY

Someone else has given voice to my own inner thoughts regarding the enormous, encroaching menace that is...comic sans.

Via Jenny

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

ATTENTION FELLOW CHRISTIANS!

I have a question for you: what is 'worship'? Why do we do it? How is it different (if it is) from other stuff we do in church? What is its significance, and what has worship meant for you in your life of faith?

Here's why I ask: I don't think I have a very good handle on the answer myself. I 'worship' every Sunday, but I think I do it more a) for a sense of spiritual community, b) to remind myself of my obligations as a believer, c) to hear Scripture read and to take communion, and to hear the truths of Christianity lifted up in a corporate setting. I'm not sure I do it because I wake up and think, "Well, today's the day I get to praise God." But I have the sense that certain people do it less for the kind of reasons I just listed above, and more because they feel a strong need/call to go to a space where they can worship God. I also ask because good friends of mine have had very powerful spiritual experiences in worship, and I'm curious about it.

Thanks for the 411, friends.

(EDITED TO ADD: Both Jason and Brian have weighed in on this topic, with some interesting thoughts on both sides. Thanks for the continuing feedback.)

(CREATING VOODOO DOLL OF LATROY HAWKINS)

Cubs lose, again. Sigh.

I'm holding my breath, but...don't hold your breath. I would be totally depressed, except for the fact that Goat Boy finally shaved his beard. Representative quote: "My wife's pregnant, and you never know when the child's gonna come, and I didn't want them coming into the world seeing that thing on my face." Right on, Mattie.

Monday, September 27, 2004

NAMES REDUX

As you all know, I'm a name afficianado. I just think names--particularly funny names--rule. (See, for example, this, and this.) (EDITED TO ADD: links should now work. Sorry.) And with that knowledge, I'd just like to announce the winners for "Coolest Names, Princeton Theological Seminary":

Best Name (First Prize) goes to the insuperable Kellen Plaxco. Kellen only narrowly won first place, beating out Garrett Bugg ("G-bug" or "bug") in a narrow contest. Best Name (Alumni Category) goes to the not-substantiated-but-gosh-i-hope-he's-real Reverend John Vigilante, the very thought of whose name provokes paroxysms of laughter.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

FEEL FREE TO SHOUT OUT

For those of you have who have mentioned wanting to leave a comment but not wanting to get a Blogger ID (i.e., my sister, others)--feel free. Up, lummox! should now accept anonymous comments.

Much more to say--including, yes, more thoughts on sex, and my trip to the Jersey Shore this weekend with the gang--but it'll have to wait until after my Greek quiz tomorrow. Oh, first and second declension, your endless complexity!...

Friday, September 24, 2004

IN WHICH I AM CALLED "EMOTIONALLY BLOCKED"

So.

Today I had this interview with a woman, a nice woman, a clinical psychologist. Meeting with her was part of the candidacy process I'm going through to (possibly) become ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This meeting was not very fun.

Admittedly, I came to this meeting with some baggage. I'd been trying to pin down this woman for a meeting since mid-June. I'd gone back to Chicago for two months this summer, so July and August were out. I called in July to try to schedule a meeting the first week in September, and after several days of phone tag, she told me that she was taking the whole month of August off (as all New York City shrinks are required by law to do), and that she couldn't schedule me for an interview until then. Sigh. So, off to PTS we go, and there's another round of phone tag, and several frustrating missed connections. Finally, we make time during our first full week of classes to haul it into NYC and meet with her. Great. Fine.

I arrive at the meeting, and immediately, there is a misunderstanding. It results in my sitting in her waiting room for 15 minutes going, "Where the hell is she?", while she is sitting in her office for 15 minutes thinking "Where the hell is he?". Her time is as tightly scheduled as mine is, and I assume this was irksome for her. Nevertheless, we don't start the meeting off on the right foot; I'm miffed, irritated, thinking "You stupid lady, if only I didn't have to jump through this crummy hoop for my candicacy, I wouldn't even be here."

I'd already taken some tests: Myers-Briggs, MMPI. I take some more: the Rorschach. I talk about my earliest memory. At her request, I draw: a house, a tree, a boy, and a girl. She looks at them. Perhaps my tight/angry state, trying not to express my frustration ('2 months of trying to get an appointment with you and you can't even stick your head out of your waiting room for 15 minutes?'), made me more inhibited than I might have been.

After about 90 minutes, she gives me what I consider a pretty personal and even invasive summary of some ways in which I might be more effective in ministry, if in fact I do choose to go into it. Some of the key points included: that I am extremely introverted, that I have a metaphorical separation between my head and the rest of my body, that I'm very critical, that I'm sensetive, that I sometimes allow for too much ironic detachment in my relationships with people, etc., etc. She calls me "emotionally blocked." She says I'm very fond of boundaries in my life, and says that I'm not a risk taker. (She later changes this to "you only take calculated risks.") We also have the following, in retrospect rather hilarious, exchange:

Her: What happens when you don't take time to process your emotions?
Me: Well, the emotions start to build up if I don't process them. And after a couple of days, I start to feel really, really full, almost like the emotions are overflowing....
Her: You feel constipated.
Me (thrown): I wouldn't use that word.
Her: I would!

(facepalms)

I'm really frustrated and embarassed. I have no problem with therapy or baring my soul; I've been in therapy, and it's great. It was helpful. I do have a problem with therapeutic encounters in which I am not an equal partner, and I wasn't one today. I didn't have liberty to tell this woman, "take your shitty Freudian theories and stick them up your ass," because I needed her rubber-stamp ("this guy is not crazy") to continue with candidacy, and because I don't want to be 'the candidate who complains.' I also didn't feel at liberty to express my disagreement in a more moderate way (and probably a way more reflective of how I actually feel)--"Well, I'm not sure I agree, and here's why"--for the same reasons.

And yet, and yet. I have to admit there was some substance to what she said. I've been told, for instance, by other friends close to me, that I'm sometimes very reserved, that I can do a not-great job of disclosing my interior life to other people, that I can be a teensy bit too risk-averse, that I'm critical of others and yet sensetive to criticism, etc., etc. She was not completely off-base. I have--or strive to have--enough self-awareness to sense these traits in myself and strive to improve them or overcome them. So why am I so mad? Am I mad at this lady because she called me out, had my number, told me the truth about myself? Or am I mad at her because she was just wrong?

I'm still impressionable enough that I worry about taking this woman's thoughts/insights too seriously. Sometimes someone will say something to me and I'll take it to heart and carry it with me for a long time, until someone says to me--"Hey. What that person said? That was stupid. You shouldn't believe them."

Comments from the peanut gallery?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

DO YOU LIKE...STUFF?

Sorry for the blogging hiatus. I now am the proud owner of a beautiful Macintosh iBook and should be back to blogging soon...as soon as I can download the stupid browser I need to use Blogger. (Not that I'm bitter! Not at all!) As Uncle Grambo would say: "As Matt Drudge would say, "Developing...""

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT

I figure a week is time enough to offer some preliminary thoughts and stories on my education at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Some random notes:

* The people here are really nice. I haven't met anyone yet who wasn't at the very least kind and polite. Not everyone is a saint or a future best-friend-for-life, but it's not business school, either.

* I arrived last Friday. The highlight of orientation weekend was Saturday night, when a bunch of seminary mischief-makers rigged a makeshift Slip-'n'-Slide behind my dormitory, greased it with baby oil, and turned on the hose. I was at a coffee shop when I heard the news: "Yeah, Will and a bunch of other guys set up a slip'n'slide behind Hodge." Needless to say, I and everyone else made a beeline home.

It was quite a spectacle.

As I said to someone there, there are two kinds of people in this world: (1) people who, after knowing a large group of people for only a day or two, are willing to strip down to their bathing suits and throw themselves down a (makeshift) slip'n'slide; (2) people who are not. (I fell into an even smaller sub-group of people--those who would never have gone slipping/sliding under any circumstances, but admire those who did.)

* The next day, I had this conversation:

me: so, didja hear about those slip'n'slide guys last night?
Adam Cleaveland: Yeah.
me: It was quite a spectacle.
Adam Cleaveland: Are you going to blog about this?
me: Yes. Yes, I might.

* So, as should be obvious from the above, there are some other bloggers here, which is exciting. Hopefully, Adam, Jenny, Nick (who just started blogging today, so don't make fun of his completely empty blog), and others will inspire me to continue posting random notes about dried fruit, heavy metal bands, and Christian theology well into next year. Giddyap!

* New favorite phrase? "Giddyap!" I blame Brian, who said that all the time when I was up at his place two weekends ago.

* Let me just second what Jenny had to say (permalinks don't seem to work, so scroll down to 9/14): mandatory...8 AM classes....going...to..die.

Actually, not really. Only a little. But who sets a mandatory class for 8 AM anyway? I can see someone like my Uncle Bob, the tough-as-nails econ professor, setting class at the crack of dawn to weed out the lazy in b-school--but assuming that's not their motivation, who wants to TEACH that early? The poor Old Testament prof is crawling out of bed at 6.30 or whenever and driving into Princeton with a cup of coffee in their hand. Sigh.

I'm hoping to get myself into some kind of groove--an 'in bed at 11, up at 7' kind of gig. Of course, I wasn't able to swing that when I was living by myself, much less living with 400 other interesting, fascinating, young, exciting people who also share my Christian faith. Lord help me.

* So, yeah: the most common age for students in the M.Div program at PTS is 22. 22! Whoa! Almost the exact opposite of most seminaries, which are getting older and older. I drove upstate with some guys from my floor this weekend for a retreat, and I was the old man in the car at 25. Veeeery interesting.

And we all live together, pretty much. Everyone who gets financial aid from PTS (which is pretty much everybody) is required to live on campus, which means in one of the three dorms surrounding the quad. Moving in, it was almost like moving back into college again: OK! Here we are! We know--no one! Lots of smiley faces, handshakes, hi, how are yas! Lots of people giving their 30-second pitch about themselves in rooms ("I went to X university for undergrad, I am of Y denomination, and I plan to do Z with my degree..."). It was hilariously awkward (especially for a serious introvert like me), but also strangely freeing. If you saw someone you don't know, you just walked up to them and were like, "Hey!" Now, even just a week later, that freedom is starting to go away a little bit.

Dorm life right now is a sort of combination of Christian summer camp and college. We're all young, friendly, intelligent, and Christian--and at night we go out for margaritas. At least that's how it feels right now--with classes only barely started, no papers breathing down our neck, and none of us actively serving in churches yet. We'll see how it feels this time next year, when all of us are starting field placements and some of us have done CPE.

* I am very humbled by the accomplishments of some of my classmates. People here have done absolutely incredible stuff--worked in orphanages in Guatemala, overnight retreats in monasteries, worked with homeless kids, run youth ministries at churches, etc., etc. Amazing.

* I ordered a new computer this week--a Macintosh. Boo-yah, baby! It's this one. (Edited to add: Link should now work.) Very excited. It ought to get here Friday/Monday...until then, I'm using the computer clusters, so blogging will be intermittent. Further thoughts on sex (uh, at least the ones that aren't running through my head) will have to wait until then, too.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

I WILL NOT ARGUE ABOUT THIS

Least exciting vegetable? Fennel.

I'm just like Barry Goldwater: in your heart, you know I'm right.

GOING-TO-SEMINARY MIX

AKA "the New New Thing" AKA "Theological what?"
End of Summer, 2004

1. "I Feel Alright," Steve Earle
2. "Miracle Man," Elvis Costello
3. "Shot Down in Flames," Best! Band! Ever!
4. "Foregone Conclusions," Pedro the Lion
5. "Mississippi," Bob Dylan
6. "Jesus, etc.," Wilco
7. "Until the End of the World," U2
8. "Armageddon It," Def Leppard
9. "Let Down," Radiohead
10. "Jesus Gonna Be Here," Tom Waits
11. "Side of the Road," Beck
12. "For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti," Sufjan Stevens


PRAYER REQUEST

For those out there who pray: please pray for me these coming weeks as I begin my seminary education. And to my many friends who already are, thank you. Your support means a ton. And to my wonderful wonderful secular humanist/agnostic/atheist friends, well, hold your breath.

FLANNERY O'CONNOR HAS A BLOG!

Well, not really, since she's dead. But it's worth checking out, in part for snippets like this one: "I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both."

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I AM SUCH A GODDAMN IDIOT

Packing last week, I wrote up address slips for some of my boxes. We stuck them on there and shipped them off to Princeton, to the tune of about $60.

Tonight, I discovered that I omitted a crucial part of the mailing address--i.e., the actual fucking address. Now I have no idea if the stuff is going to wind up at Princeton at all. It could, by some miracle, get where it needs to go. It could get sent back home and we'll have to pay to send it out again. Or it could wind up in some random building at the Seminary or college being used as a doorstop.

I will now light myself on fire.


SEX (pt. 2): worth talking about

OK. So I want to share some thoughts about sex, marriage, Scripture, and sex ethics in the light of my Christian faith. And yet I think the place I might start is by discussing whether or not sex is important enough to talk about in the first place.

Christianity, unfortunately, does not come to the table in the 21st century without a history. The church doesn’t exactly have what I would consider a stellar history when it comes to affirming sex and sexuality as good gifts from a loving God. For much of its history, the church seemed to view sex as an obstacle to holiness, something that got in the way of our following God. Celibacy was viewed as a higher, more holy state than married life. St. Augustine—a brilliant theologian and thinker--famously said that sexual desire within marriage was a sin that could be forgiven only if its end was procreation. If one had sex, even within marriage, for any other reason, it was sinful—to say nothing of pre-marital sex. Only over many centuries did the church (and the churches) modify their teaching. Today, while many churches retain traditional views on when sexual intimacy is appropriate, even the most conservative churches (the Roman Catholic church and others) have a more affirmative attitude towards sexuality in general.)

Yet in my experience—which is limited, and which is confined mostly to mainline Protestant churches—the church today seems to have something of a theological hangover regarding sex. That is to say, the church today carries the burden of what the church taught yesterday. That sexual desires and drives are sinful; that celibacy is morally superior to marriage; that sex for purposes other than procreation is sinful; for many people, the fact that the church taught (or allowed to be taught) these things is a continuing scandal.

Contemporary Christians are well aware that the church has something of a reputation for being prudish or narrow-minded regarding sex, and some of them have responded to this checkered history with a fierce determination to show that the church is not that way anymore. In so doing, it seems to me that they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. I wonder if, in trying to avoid one extreme—a very negative attitude towards sexuality, perhaps a prying or judgemental attitude in practice—they haven’t wound up moving towards another (no discussion or pastoral guidance on sex at all). The net impact of this state of affairs—both in the pulpit and in the pew—is to create a church where issues of sexuality are not discussed at all. In many churches I have attended, I felt like there was a de facto ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. It’s not that the parishioners at these churches were necessarily promiscuous or sexually wild—most of them were pretty boring, actually—but there was a sense of a lack of a clear standard, that there was no goal being lifted up.

I started worshipping with mainline Protestant congregations when I was a junior in high school. I’m now 25. During that time, I don’t recall hearing a single sermon whose subject was sex. Nothing about marriage, adultery, nothing. Obviously, my memory might be failing me, but I think my recollection is accurate.

Once, in a moment of frustration, I went to my pastor, and asked him point-blank, “When is it morally licit for a person to have sex?” He thought for a moment, and took a deep breath, and said “I don’t know how to answer that question.” Later, he came back with some very general guidelines for the topic (“sex is a good gift from God; it’s meant for meaningful, committed relationships”), but I think his initial response is much more telling. It wasn’t that he didn’t have any advice to offer; rather, he simply wasn’t used to being approached by someone asking what proper sexual boundaries were. His working assumption, I think, was that most of his congregants were going to do what they were going to do—have sex or not have sex—and that his ministry would take its cues from where they were, rather than the other way around. Being asked, “What ought I to do? What is best?” threw him for a little bit of a loop.

The church—again, at least my part of the church, the liberal mainline—seems determined to show that we’re not rubes: we believe in evolution, we ordain women, and we sure as heck don’t believe that sex is a big deal! Look at us! We’re sophisticated! We’re not going to create a fundamentalist atmosphere where sex is bad and forbidden and everyone is ashamed! We’re liberated!

For some time, I should point out, I was quite happy to not be part of a church that didn’t preach or teach much about sexuality. I would have perceived it as being too intrusive or conservative. Now, however, I have begun to question whether a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude really serves the church, or Christians. Don’t get me wrong—I want to show that I’m sophisticated, too. I am just as worried as the next Christian with aspirations of urbanity and hipness about being perceived as ‘having issues’ or ‘being hung-up’ on sex. But I’ve come to the conclusion that sex is just too important not to talk about, especially in our Christian communities.

(At this point, some readers may be scratching their heads and saying, ‘well, duh!’ But bear with me here.)

I think there is strong evidence that, whatever our views about sex and religion may be, that sex is a topic worthy of our (and society’s) continued rigorous scrutiny and discussion. Not the particulars of sex, of course (there’s plenty of that in locker rooms and hair salons across the country), but everything else—especially moral and spiritual questions related to sex. The sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s made a lot people feel emancipated—they were liberated, free to have good sex with people, free to not feel guilty about sex, etc., etc. Sex was not a big deal. But now, one generation later, I think both baby boomers and their children are starting to scratch their heads, and wonder if its consequences are as uniformly positive as they thought.

For one thing, acting as though sex is ‘not important’ or ‘not a big deal’ (i.e., morally trivial or at least morally neutral) has definitely NOT made us any less obsessed with sex as a society. At the risk of stating the obvious—again—we live in an incredibly sex-o-centric society. (I'm assuming that claim is relatively non-controversial; for evidence, feel free to check out Maxim, Stuff, Cosmo (in this issue: "Babe Watch: former lifeguards share share stories of lusty on-the-job encounters,"), Jenna Jamison's new book, or Extreme Dating sometime.) Besides scanning the headlines of the day’s news, also take a look at our society’s ever-increasing obsession with physical attractiveness. Women—and, increasingly, men—are holding themselves to a more and more stringent physical standard, with damaging results. Compare the physiques of Marilyn Monroe and Julia Roberts.

Now, I don’t mean to say that putting more moral restrictions on sex would necessarily make us less obsessed with it, either! But obviously lowering the bar hasn’t done it.

And for another thing, pretending that sex is ‘not a big deal’ does not in any way alter or undo the consequences of sex, which are (or frequently are) serious as a heart attack. There’s a marvelous line from an article ("Sex in Public: How Adventurous Christians are Doing It,") by my man Stanley Hauerwas about sex:

Many people are particularly disturbed when they are told that contemporary Christian ethics has little coherent to say about sexual ethics…[yet] even more disturbing is what appears to be the sheer sexual anarchy characteristic of much of our culture. For example, Paul Ramsey in a recent article cites Dr. Robert Johnson, director of adolescent medicine at the New Jersey College of Medicine, that two of every ten girls in junior and senior high school in New Jersey will get pregnant this year. No matter what one thinks about premarital sexuality, that is a shocking statistic, and we feel we need some ethical guidance on how to deal with such problems.

(Did you HEAR that? TWO OUT OF TEN GIRLS. Ladies and gentlemen, New Jersey! My future home!)

Stanley, as usual, cuts right to the heart of the matter. Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, sex has consequences, powerful ones. There are obvious ones, of course: pregnancy, STDs, waking up in bed next to an ugly stranger. And while these are quite (melo)dramatic—they have a ‘Saturday-afternoon-special’ quality to them—they’re really, really real.

Heidi Neumark’s great book, Breathing Space, is a result of her 20 years of experience as a pastor in the South Bronx. And one the things that came out to me most strongly while reading that book is the incredibly devastating consequences of sex run amok—especially for women. Woman after woman after woman after woman passes through Pastor Heidi’s office, each one of them repeating a different verse of the same song: “I’m pregnant,” “I’m pregnant, again,” “I have AIDS,” “He fathered the baby, but he’s not supporting him—at all.” Individually, any one of those things represents an enormous challenge; collectively, they are very destructive indeed. (See also "Raising Kevion," which talks about a lot of the same issues.)

Even more striking is the sense of helplessness these women have—how impotent they feel to make better choices, how nigh-unto-impossible it is for them to imagine saying, “No, I will not sleep with you,” or “Yes, you must use a condom, or I won’t sleep with you.” Obviously, I think the church has a responsibility to say something to these women besides “better luck next time!”, to authoritatively point to an alternative. (The church also has an equal responsibility to say a great deal to the men in these women’s lives, but that’s a different paragraph.)

Most people, I think, would agree that those kinds of consequences of sexual intimacy can be quite damaging. They are happening to a large (and, from everything I've read, increasing) number of people. Obviously, however, those sorts of very severe consequences don’t happen to everyone. That’s why I mention the Saturday-Afternoon-Special aspect of all of this. It can seem--or it least it seems to me, sometimes--a little over-the-top to point to crisis pregnancy or an STD as a consequence of sexual intimacy when many people don’t experience those consequences. I have many friends who've been fooling around with their boyfriends and girlfriends since they were teenagers, and nobody's had a crisis pregnancy that I know of. (Some of them have come close, but...) Cindy may have sex with Bobby and get pregnant on the ABC Special, but the real-life version could just as well be titled Nothing Happened to the Girl Who Fooled Around with Her Boyfriend.

I would argue, however, that the more subtle consequences of sex are just as important to our long-term health and happiness as the obvious ones. Sexual intimacy is just that, intimacy. What comes out of it may not result in a crisis pregnancy or an STD, but the stuff of intimacy—broken hearts, good relationships, bad relationships, the sexual encounter that wasn’t what we wanted but we settled for anyway, fantastic or neutral or terrible or boring or messy sexual experiences—all of these things contribute to who we are and the formation of our character as sexual beings. In the end, these experiences shape what we expect, what we opt for and, in the end, what we insist upon. And that's plenty important as well.

OK. That’s the end of Part I, which was mostly prologue. More to come, hopefully next week.

SEX (pt. 1): a short dedication

I’ve decided to post some ramblings about sex and sexuality as they relate to the Christian faith.

I’d like to dedicate this blog series to Peter Nixon, late of the sorely-missed blog Sursum Corda. Peter was extremely intelligent and perceptive, and did not shy from weighing in on hot-button issues. Despite this, he was always, always charitable, kind, saw both sides of issues, and was willing to both listen and give the benefit of the doubt to those with whom he disagreed, both on the left and the right. I hope this brief discussion of some issues related to sex and sex ethics in the light of Christianity lives up to his virtues.

Obviously, I don’t have nearly as many answers on these questions as I would like. I have a ton of opinions and thoughts about sex and my faith, but I’m not quite sure how they all fit together. None of this, needless to say, is intended to be any kind of an authoritative pronouncement from on high. Mostly I just wanted to say my piece about it, because—as should be obvious—I’ve been thinking way, way too much about sex ethics in the Christian context. Hopefully, putting this all up on the web will free my mind to think about decent, normal things, like dried mango, and AC/DC.

Please feel free to agree, disagree, and offer feedback and criticism (gently, please). Thanks.

PRESBYTERIAN BIBLE CONTENT EXAM

AKA 'the Humbler,' is online here. After 20 hapless minutes of huffing and puffing, I scored a 72%. Vote for 'Most Impressive Score on First Try" goes to Hannah, who got an astounding 96%. Must...learn...more...about...Scripture...

Saturday, September 04, 2004

IDYLLICA

In the midst of a heavenly weekend in Oswego, New Y ork, with Brian and Lauren. Last night: gorgeous drive up through the Hudson Valley with Matt and Hannah. This morning: incredibly beautiful breakfast: coffee, bacon, waffles, a fruit salad straight out of heaven, Johnny Cash on the stereo. Fun-time with Eve (age: 6 mos.), and Elijah (age: 2 yrs, 3 mos.). Tonight: grilled chicken, orzo with olives and feta, red wine, and later, for those of us who have been good--Spinal Tap on DVD.

Thanks be to God.

Not much until Tuesday--but I do have substantial stuff to post, promise. In the meantime: I don't even have a joke here.