Wednesday, July 30, 2014

God is not in control

Step into my disorderly mind for a minute.  In which you bounce back and forth between all sorts of problems.   

Israel and Palestine.  Landslide in India.  Kidnapped Nigerian girls.  North Korean generational prisons.  Systematic racial discrimination in the US.  Latin American children fleeing gang violence.  Ebola in West Africa.

My reality - the one I SEE on a daily basis - is nothing like any of this.  I see mainly orderly automobile traffic with the occasional jerk.  I see people peacefully walking the streets, going about their daily lives.  I see friendly smiles, and small kind gestures.

This creates a constant tension inside of me - the reality I experience is so different from the reality other people experience.  Things that must seem like the End of the World to people where and when they live, but that the rest of us are just basically ignoring. What then is common or fundamental to humanity?

We all still think and talk quite a fair amount about WWII.  People like to exaggerate by comparing things to the Holocaust and Hitler.  It seems like this particular conflict, the lessons learned from it, the ongoing questions it raises for everyone to consider, will just always remain a part of the human memory now.  But there were things that were that major to other people, in various places, hundreds and even thousands of years ago, that we have forgotten all about.  So maybe the things we think so much about will rather vanish from the collective consciousness also.

If I were a doctor treating the Ebola virus, I would feel pretty helpless.  Frustrated over my lack of ability to cure the disease.  Wishing I had more CONTROL.

I am me, and I still wish I had more control.  I wish I could stop my migraines.  I wish I could be certain of eliminating all ringworm spores from the house.

God... could.  He COULD have created a world in which none of these things existed, but in which we were not the free beings that we are.  As a risk-averse person, who is extremely bothered by all forms of suffering, it's hard for me to see how he found that trade-off worth it.

But what struck me today was that when we are faced with problems too big for us, and we have that frustration, it's because we JUST CAN'T control things.  Well, God COULD have controlled EVERYTHING, but he doesn't.  He chose not to.  He chose to put limits on what he would do with his power, just in order to give us that freedom.  But like, don't you think if we feel frustrated with our powerlessness, he must feel something sort of like that in the face of his own choice?  Imagine how much self-restraint it would take to see all of this and NOT INTERVENE, even though you COULD.  It must be awful.  Not only do people suffer because of the fact that we are free beings who chose badly, but, so does He.  I mean, besides the other ways we knew about already, like the cross.  I'm pretty sure I don't know any human being who would have that much SELF-CONTROL, to NOT control what else they could. 

I still don't get it, why he thinks this is worth all that.  But apparently he does.  He's willing to not be in control so that we can freely choose love.  This is something I can't quite get my mind around.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Down with racism

Lately we've had some incredibly bad, blatant examples of racism.  Cliven Bundy giving us the lame old idea that black people were better off as slaves.  Donald Sterling, LA Clippers owner, on tape berating his (black and Mexican) girlfriend for publicizing herself with black people (MAGIC JOHNSON being the case in question).  This comes not so far off the heels of the Supreme Court telling us we don't need the Voting Rights Act anymore, because things are different now.  Want to reconsider that whole "racism-is-over" thing, John Roberts?

In the murder mysteries I enjoy, some of the great fictional detectives such as Lord Peter Wimsey suggest that the murders we hear about are only the failures.  The really successful murderers not only don't get caught, but they murder people cleverly enough that we don't even know a murder has been committed in the first place.  These successful murders, he argues, may represent a far larger portion of all murders than the "failures".  Whether or not this is really true about murder, I think it's highly likely that it is true about racism.  For every Cliven Bundy or Donald Sterling, how many more racists are hiding in the shadows, concealing what they know are politically incorrect thoughts and feelings, not getting caught?

The majority of white people, I hope and believe, are not racist and are horrified by these recent statements.  Sometimes, in some circles - like the highly educated ones that John Roberts must move in - the majority can seem so much like unanimity that we forget how far we still have to go.  But the racists who get caught may not just be the only few out there. Not a majority, but enough to be a real problem that needs to be addressed.  But when race does come up for discussion, most non-racist white people feel vaguely guilty and self-conscious, unsure what to say... so we say nothing, even though we know that when we don't stand up against racism, we basically help it along.  Well, it's just not good enough to let African-Americans fight this fight by themselves.  White racists EXPECT them to react negatively.  But they may believe that most other white people secretly agree with them.  They may think that those hidden racists are actually a majority. So let's not let them believe that.  Let's stand up and say how unacceptable and untrue these racist statements are. "I'm white, and I'm not afraid of becoming a minority.  I'm white, and I oppose what you're saying, Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling. I'm white, and I am NOT OK WITH RACISM."

Monday, April 7, 2014

CS Lewis had it wrong

I recently re-read "A Grief Observed" (because Marty, the greatest cat ever to live, the pinnacle of all creation, died on March 16).  If you don't know, CS Lewis wrote these musings in notebooks after the death of his wife, just to vent basically, and later decided they might be helpful to people, so published them.

Well, one of the things he talked about was loved ones meeting up again in heaven.  He referred to people having this idea of a "happy reunion on the other shore" and how it can't be right, because, it makes heaven about our loved ones instead of about God.  He made the point that if it were best for his wife - for himself - for all of us - that we not even know each other again - never see each other again - we should willingly assent to that.  And talked about how God should be our one desire.  I guess, you know, so we're not idolatrous - wanting to see our loved ones and not really caring about seeing God. (!)  Which is alright as far as it goes.  Ok, so he didn't maybe have it WRONG so much as maybe he wasn't seeing as much as he could at the time, and I wish I could have suggested the following to him then.

I think he had the wrong picture, and I sort of think he must have forgotten some of his own other writings (hello, The Last Battle) - which I'm wondering if God had him write because it was hard for him to remember sometimes and so it was good for him to have written them to look back on.  I think the picture of the "happy reunion" he had in mind when he was grieving and which he felt was wrong was like, lovers having been apart for a long time and seeing each other again.  So the focus is on what's over, kind of, and how hard it was, and themselves and their love.  But I've got a different picture.  Imagine instead a wedding of an old college friend.  You come into a town and you see so many of your old friends, people you haven't been absolutely aching for, maybe, but whom it's always pleasant to see again, and you're there for the wedding, and the pleasure of seeing your old friends and the joy of one of them getting married just enhance each other.  Or again, suppose my sister's family and I were to plan a trip to Disney together or something.  We see each other with reasonable frequency, but if we were to meet up at the airport, don't you think the pleasures of seeing each other and looking forward to the fun of the trip would make for a sum more than the parts?  I think it's like that - a reunion not for reunion's sake - but for a larger purpose.  I think we will be excited about this larger purpose, this big new thing that's starting - but that that joy will be enhanced by the reunions with those we haven't seen in awhile, by getting to embark on the new journey with those we love.  Hopefully, including the pets.  I think, yeah we shouldn't be grasping too hard at any one thing besides God, and that's not unimportant, but, after you get past that, I think... I think WE GET TO HAVE IT ALL, in the end.  I think He's That Good.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Completely Unimportant Post

Do you ever take surveys with multiple choice answers, and feel like it's way too limiting? You want to explain, qualify, etc. Well, that is what I'm about to do regarding that undeniable television phenomenon, "jumping the shark".

For some shows, it's clear. There really is that one defining moment, where it's all downhill from there. Coach's move to Florida, for example. Ironically, the show that originated the phrase (Happy Days) really seems to have several jump the shark moments. Can a show repeatedly jump the shark? I think so. As Rachel might say, "there's rock bottom, fifty feet of crap, then me". A show can definitely go from good to bad, bad to worse, worse to even worse... but you may or may not be watching by then. On Family Matters, it was odd early on when characters just disappeared with no explanation, sure. But that's a jump that pales in comparison to the introduction of "Stephan Urquelle". Sometimes a minor jump precedes a major one; sometimes the show survives the most major one and lives to produce more minor ones.

One problem I have is that if you go on the "Jump the Shark" website, some of the moments people have pinpointed may make you say, "NO WAY! That was one of the BEST moments!" I mean, I can understand that some people may see a moment as a turning point and others might see the same series as having always remained good. But I am truly bewildered as to how certain moments can seem like the *best* moments to one person and really bad to another person. Madeleine Albright's appearance on the Gilmore Girls, for instance. Or Cameron & Chase doing it on House (or Chase's "I love you" every Tuesday - come on, that's soooo sweet!). We should have the "no way!" option on to vote down non-jump-the-shark suggested moments!

And isn't there a difference between a moment that's so stupid that it signals the beginning of the end (ie the actual jumping of the shark) and a moment that's terrific, but after that, they don't know where to go with the show? Dwayne busting up Whitley's wedding: fabulous. The new dorm, new cast, Freddie going clean cut lawyer and dating Ron... um, no. Not that Jada Pinkett-Smith didn't have some good moments.

I also think there ought to be a distinction between episodes or decisions that were not good calls, but that didn't fundamentally sink the show. Hair sunk Felicity, yes. But the bad hair and crazy 70's outfits on the Brady Bunch didn't (Oliver did!). Lowell leaving Wings was a detriment, but not a deal breaker. Alex Trebek is too smug, but you still occasionally watch Jeopardy, you just try to tune him out. Sure, it's not believable that everyone Jessica Fletcher knows gets suspected of murder, but you still love the show (until she leaves Cabot Cove).

It seems a little paradoxical that "gradual decline" is sometimes one of the options, doesn't it? Also, some shows don't even decline, but somehow they just get... boring after awhile, not because something changed, but maybe because it didn't... or maybe certain concepts just have a short shelf life. And that's an option! But decline or short-shelf-life are really not the same thing as jumping the shark. I had a temporary addiction to Mythbusters, which I still think is a good show, but I don't watch it as much as I used to.

Same character, different actor JTSes haven't been made distinct enough. There is a major difference between same character, different actor and same basic role slot, different actor. Pam Anderson left, Tim got a new tool girl - but nobody pretended she was the same person! Natalie is not supposed to be Sharona on Monk, and that's ok. That is not remotely on par with the Bewitched problem, or even Becky on Roseanne (which at least they sort of acknowledged and dealt with humorously). And when the character switch is minor and/or for the better (Carol on Friends), well, we're happy to pretend we didn't notice anything odd - especially in a case like Carol where the switch happened soooo early.

Then you have ER. I still watch it, and find it enjoyable, but you do have to block out of your mind the sheer volume of tragedies - not of the patients (it is an ER, after all, so that's not unbelievable), but of the main characters. Once you start to think about the number of addictions, diseases, stabbings, shootings, rapes, bereavements, accidents that happen to this group of people, you're done for. But if you suspend disbelief on that, you can keep enjoying the show. Is Desperate Housewives a case of this? My mind isn't totally made up on that one. It's unbelievable, but that is part of the fun of it. But is all the excitement starting to get boring? Or is it a problem that the characters are not retaining any consistency whatsoever, and certain things that you would think are important are being dropped and ignored. What happened to Carlos's return to Catholicism, for instance? It's one thing for something to change and be explained, it's another for it to simply be forgotten. There may or may not be identifiable jump the shark moments on shows like these (Mark Greene dying of brain cancer...), but that seems like less of an issue than the fact that any one event might be believable, but taken as a group, it's not remotely so.

The last episode as a jump the shark moment is a tricky concept, too. Sometimes (eg Seinfeld) the last episode seems fine as an episode but isn't quite satisfying enough as the last episode, but does that really qualify as jumping the shark? (I'm not even counting shows that get canceled without getting a chance to write a final episode, like original Star Trek, or shows that rush it because they find out about the cancellation very late, like Ed - what was with that circus wedding idea???). Some shows don't jump the shark because they get canceled despite being good. Original Trek, arguably, but certainly Freaks and Geeks, Sports Night, and My So Called Life. That's different than having a full run and never jumping the shark. We just can't know whether those shows would or would not have done that. Is it sometimes better, then, for a show to die young, so that we only have pleasant memories of it? What about shows that have a last episode, but then run another season (Charmed)? Or last episodes that don't necessarily jump the shark, but they make you feel like it completely ruins the memory of the show for you (Roseanne - Dan died awhile ago; Newhart - it was all just a dream)?

I'd also like to see the emergence of a reverse-jump-the-shark concept. For instance, the first season of Saved by the Bell is not that memorable. Zack was too much of a kid and not yet enough of a hunk, Hayley Mills was too real of an actress for the show, we didn't have Kelly or Jessie yet (who was that girl that was on there?). The addition of Kelly and Jessie, I would think, is a reverse JTS. 'Course, that doesn't change the fact that it later had multiple regular JTS issues (college, the new class). Speaking of SbtB - Tory was ok, but I missed Kelly and Jessie, and it was hard for her to kind of fill TWO great female lead slots - see, that's another example of something that's unfortunate but isn't really a JTS. Jessie's addiction-to-stimulants episode was also stupid, but it was a blip on the screen. I think Law and Order had somewhat of a reverse jump the shark when Chris Noth left. The Cosby Show had to create some awkward moments in order to reverse JTS, by changing the house and adding a fifth child (the oldest!). And the graceful exit of the "interview" segments on Sex and the City - definitely a reverse JTS.

The shows that run a long time and truly stay good are much fewer in number than the list on would suggest. FULL HOUSE is on that list! Are ya kiddin' me? This is the show that turned jumping the shark into an art form. If sharks died when they got jumped, this show alone would have made sharks extinct. But even here, there are important distinctions: Jesse's last name changing - mildly awkward; the moms being played by different actresses - mildly awkward; Jesse not mentioning "topless ballerinas" more than once - very good call for the target audience; DJ and Steve breaking up - that's when it really started to lose it. But there were countless more jump the shark moments after that in addition to a general gradual decline.

Last but not show that I don't think ever jumped the shark: Quantum Leap. Now that's irony for you.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My fellow Americans...

When I was a young girl, I thought America was great. We had those classic history books that make it sound that way, emphasizing our best ideals and values and glossing over as much as possible of our mistakes and weaknesses. As I grew older and learned of the ways we've fallen so short of those ideals, I became disenchanted and cynical. I still loved the ideals, but a false note had been sounded.

George W. Bush embodied the worst of that to me, even before the war. But as his attitudes and policies unfolded, my disbelief and sadness grew. On a practical level, I could not but feel that his actions undermined our interests. Trying to understand other points of view is far more likely to be helpful than bombing first and asking questions later. Giving credence to terrorist claims by providing them ample evidence that we were as they imagined us to be, and failing to recognize how his actions could be perceived if one was not starting with the assumption that "America = the good guys" has been immeasurably harmful.

But there were deeper objections as well. Preemptive strikes? Torture? Erosion of civil liberties? Security at all costs? By undermining the ideals America ought to stand for, Bush has been defeating America more than any terrorist could. He has made us no better than those who would destroy us from the outside. We should rather be killed by terrorists than know that our safety has been purchased at the price of America's soul.

I therefore cannot help but admire Barack's stated desire not just to end the war but to end the mindset that led to the war. To me, practical questions about what to do now that we are embroiled in Iraq are up for debate. But American ideals are not, and changing that mindset is, in the long run, the far more important task. Along with that task comes that of regaining the world's respect. With his multicultural background, Barack is perhaps ideally suited for the great work of communicating with other nations, understanding their values and goals, and thus better equipping us to promote peace, prosperity, and freedom throughout the world (while at the same time, I believe, maintaining a humble recognition that America is neither the world's police force nor its salvation).

His stance on foreign policy is only one example of how Barack represents what is best about this country, and how he presents as stark a contrast to our current President as one can imagine. Tax cuts - the environment - these are issues on which Bush has demonstrated incredible short-sightedness, selfishness, and lack of judgment. I have confidence that as President, Obama would remain faithful to his job of serving the public, and not only today's public, but the public of the future, who will be so tremendously affected by the environmental policies of today.

Furthermore, it is clear that the job of the President has become extremely difficult due to partisan conflict. I believe that Barack has the ability to perhaps overcome this and do some real good, though even at its best, the office cannot and should not fully dictate all the laws and policies of the nation, nor can it be the only means by which positive change happens. But I also feel that, should it be the case that the American political system is so mired in bureaucracy that great progress is an impossible task for any President, we must then ask ourselves, what's left? What can a President offer us?

The best kind of leadership motivates and inspires people to do their part and to be more than they thought they could be. That takes clarity of mind and eloquence; therein, perhaps, lies the greatest gift Obama can offer us. Who can doubt the powerful effect of Churchill's words to his countrymen during the Second World War? And who among us does not get chills when we listen to Dr. King tell us of his dream that his children "will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character," and calls us to "let freedom ring!" all across America? Who can fail to be moved by so many of Lincoln's words, or by the founding fathers' bold statement, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal..."? I cannot help but think that if America's ideals are to live on in the future, we must continue to have leaders who will give us powerful words to live by.

In one sense, as pundits have noted, Barack's campaign is about him, his character, and this great eloquence. This is fitting, as the President represents America, both at home and abroad; to a certain extent, we are what he or she is. Barack Obama does, I think, as much as anyone can, stand for and embody the best of America.

But in another sense, what he is telling us is that as President, he would not be "special". He wants us all to recapture those lost childhood ideals. He wants to encourage the cynical and pessimistic among us (including me) to believe that there may be hope after all - that we might not have to choose between our security and our ideals - that we might yet be able to change our country for the better - and that that hope lies in us, not just in our government. He is telling us that we, the people of the United States, do in fact have the power to establish justice, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. Is that what is being called an empty hope by his opponents? If this is empty, what is left to us?

Saturday, December 8, 2007


There is a slight chance I may have lost sight of the fact that I had a blog.

Since I last posted...

My nephew was born.

I got in a car accident, in which my car was totalled, but I was not much injured and I got a new car just like my old one. I installed the front license plate bracket myself. As I was doing so, I saw the first snowflakes I'd seen this winter. One landed on the cuff of my jacket and I think it was very dry snow because it did not melt, and you could actually see the six-pointed snowflake shape. One of those moments where you can hardly breathe.

I think my landlady also got in a car accident after which her car was not worth fixing, as a little while ago I saw her car with the hood bent, and now that car is gone and there is a different car here. It is red. Her old one was green. She must have learned that red cars are the best from seeing mine.

I have become a Tim Tang Test victim.

I have eaten a lot of soup (all of which I made from scratch - soup from a can is not soup).

I have learned that a little tilt can have a big impact.

I have learned that American Gladiators is coming back! Yay!

I have learned that my cats now like catnip after all, and I have got them a Kitty Cube and some springs.

Now, here is a helpful hint for everyone. How do you know if your house/apartment is too big? You take the residents and a (red) Dirt Devil canister vac. You each take a turn with the vacuum, and in each person's turn the plug must remain in the same socket. If you can't vacuum the whole house this way, your house is too big. Parents are allowed to take the kid turns if the kids are little - the point is, the number of places the plug is plugged should not exceed the number of residents.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Call It Like It Is

Mother Teresa was not happy, we now learn.

Lot of times people split hairs over happiness and joy. I'm not so sure there is a difference of kind, only of degree. At any rate, it doesn't sound like she had either. However you want to put it, she did not feel good. Spiritual darkness, I guess she said. That doesn't sound good no matter how you slice it.

But nobody is going to disagree, I think, that Mother Teresa did a heck of a lot of good for people and led the kind of life God would approve of.

Therefore, I am going to call it like I see it, as it struck me from her words, as it has struck me in my life, as it has struck me in others' lives.

I would like to suggest that there is not, after all, a correlation between pleasing God and feeling good. I would like to suggest that one can please God and feel good, or please God and not feel good, or not please God and feel good, or not please God and not feel good (that option pretty much sucks).

Happiness, joy, whatever you want to call it - a sense of well-being, a sense that you feel being alive is a worthwhile thing, a thing which you wish to continue doing - this depends on many many factors. Genetics, circumstance, diet, exercise, habit, health, brain chemistry, who knows all the things, probably pleasing God comes into it somewhere for some of us. But there are a lot of factors that affect it.

Therefore, I would further like to suggest that pleasing God is something we do simply because we want to please God, if and when we do it. We can expect no other results. But I would also like to suggest that "the pursuit of happiness", understood properly, is also a worthwhile endeavor. I think it is not only not wrong, but in fact Good, to be happy if one can possibly manage it. Thoreau thought so too, I discover as I am reading Walden. He thought that health - not physical health but the health of the whole person - and Living could add more benefit to the lives of those around us than sympathy with suffering. I don't know that I'd go so far as to throw in the word "more" there, but other than that, I think he may have a point.

I am going to dare to say it, then. I am happy.