Caryn’s 23 things – and then some

Racing into Library 2.0 with LOL and others

What is Lent for?

Well, it’s the 2nd Sunday in Lent, and so far, so good.  I came to the idea of Lent comparatively late – after I joined the Episcopal church when I was 21.  I’d heard of “I gave it up for Lent,” and on Ash Wednesday, the Catholic kids all showed up with grey foreheads, but that was pretty much my knowledge of it.

It doesn’t seem to work for me as a penetential season.  I’m not really miserably sorry for the mess I’m making of my life (partly because I don’t think I am) – if I do something I shouldn’t, I apologize to God (and to anyone else who deserves it), and try to remember not to do it again, and that’s it.  I don’t think that just by living and breathing, I commit grave errors and must humble myself down into the dust about it.  This is partly from my dad – he feels that guilt is the most useless emotion (action?) on the planet.  He probably got it from his mother, who used guilt a lot (once my youngest brother, asked how things had gone when she babysat us, said indignantly, “She cried at me!”).  But it’s partly from Jesus, too, who basically said that if you apologize and make any necessary amends, and try not to do the same thing again, it’s not an issue.

However, I do like the cyclical nature of the Christian year, and feel that Lent is an important part of the cycle, if I could just put my finger on how.  I haven’t generally observed it by “giving up” things.  I usually read only theology books during Lent (which, last year, included The Elegant Universe), and wear one of my many cross pendants every day.  I guess I could say that I’m giving up my mysteries and SF, and my other necklaces, but that’s not really how it strikes me.

Since I usually eat a lot, sometimes I try to use Lent to help me bring it under a little bit of control.  In the past, I’ve usually given up sweets on Wednesdays, or some such, but this year, I’ve been eating everything that wasn’t nailed down since early October (weirdness at work), so I thought I really need to make a change in my habits.  I’m having one sweet at work during the week (it’s a rare week that passes with no one having brought in poundcake, doughnuts, etc. at least one day), and normal amounts (for me) on the weekends.  So far, so good.

But this still doesn’t answer for me the question of what Lent is actually for.  That’s how I’m using it, but are people supposed to *use* Lent?  Jesus said, “The Law was made for [people], not [people] for the law.”  So I guess maybe we are supposed to do with it what we need done.  Accompanied by prayer, of course, to try to make sure we don’t try to make it do something inappropriate.  My mother once mentioned some people she knew who gave up chocolate-chip cookies for Lent.  She saw them, shortly after they told her about it, eating cookies, and made some comment about thinking they’d given them up.  They told her that they’d only given up chocolate chip cookies – these were peanut butter cookies!  I wonder who they think they’re fooling – God, or just themselves?  I wouldn’t mind giving up chocolate, if I could then, in clear conscience, pig out on all the poundcake and apple pie and toffee I wanted, but I wouldn’t be able to fool myself into that.  I’m pretty good at self-justification, but not *that* good.

I wrote the following in a letter to my brother in 2004.  He’s a Baptist, and really feels that Lent is a snare and a deception.  I need to go back and read our entire discussion over again, but I don’t have time now.

Reading through the rest of your article, most of the points that I find myself wanting to make continue to go back to the idea of reminding.  Humans can have very short attention spans, and anything that reminds us of what we’re supposed to be doing can be very helpful. Just like the communion table at Immanuel that said “In Remembrance of Me” (and which still expresses my opinion on communion), Lent is something I observe to remind myself that I’m a Christian, and I’m supposed to be kind, patient,
and not a pig.”

I may say more now, especially if I read the rest of the e-mails we sent each other in ’04, but not now.

March 4, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Musing

I realized this evening that I was the person who accompanied Dad on his exploration of religion.  I don’t know if Mom didn’t want to, or if it was just that it was a lot less trouble to get one parent and one kid to a different church than it would have been to take all four kids, of assorted ages, even with both parents.  For whatever reason, though, it was me who went with him.

That had a decisive effect on my decision not to join the church, which I still remember as one of the important points of my life, and as one of the highest parenting points Mom and Dad reached!  I was the first kid in the church’s 40-year history not to join up at the end of Communicants’ Class in the 8th grade.  We had been given 2 years (I think) of church history, beliefs of the Presbyterian Church, ethical and moral instruction, and so on, which was to be capped by reciting the Apostles’ Creed in question-and-answer format and joining the church.  (BTW, I didn’t realize until much later how grossly the Dear Ladies who taught the classes misrepresented the Presbyterian Church.  I’m not really sure what the dogma of that church is, but it’s not what these lovely people, volunteering out of kindness and a desire to shape young lives, thought it was!)  We were taken around to other churches (I remember Greek Orthodox and Catholic, at least) and places of worship (including the synagogue), and told about world religions in general.  Looking back on it, if it had been taught by competent teachers (having ministers do it would have been a start!), it would have been a very valuable experience, which I would recommend to other organized religions.

Anyway, I think Dad first suggested we visit another church after I’d started visiting them with my CC group.  I remember for sure that we went to the Unitarian church, because I was outraged that they required communicants to be at least 17 years old!  Didn’t they think we 13-year-olds were capable of making good decisions?

I always discussed religion with both Mom and Dad (actually, I think I remember more specific discussions with Mom).  With Mom, I think it was more likely to grow out of something neat – a flock of birds, or a sunset, or something like that.  On the other hand, with Dad it would more often come out of a discussion of literature, or sometimes TV.  We read poetry and plays together (that’s one of the few things I really miss about childhood – that, and singing in choirs, and going to church camp), and talked about the motivations of characters, or why they were written.

So, since I was having these discussions about religion, and reading about it on my own (the very few books on witchcraft, historical and nature religions, and other world religions which junior-high kids could get hold of in the early 70s), of course I tried to engage other Communicants in dialogue.  Sometimes it went great – I still remember a wonderful twilight discussion about what we thought Heaven would be like.  But they didn’t really seem to think it had to do with anything.  As the time approached to repeat, “I believe in God the Father Almighty… and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…,” I asked them if they were going to be able to do that.  They looked at me in different shades of quizzical – of course they could.  How could they not?  Well, so they did believe all that?  Answers differed, from “Not really,” through “I guess so,” to “Yes!  Of course!”  But every last one of them was planning to get up in front of the Elders (and God and everybody!) at the Communicants’ Dinner at the end of the school year and swear that they believed the Apostles’ Creed, and join the church.

I asked the ones who weren’t really convinced how they could do that, stand up and swear to something they might or might not actually believe.  None of them could see any kind of connection there – they’d been going to class for 2 years so they could join the church.  Period.  If they didn’t join, their parents would kill them, or they wouldn’t get a present.  And there was really no reason not to.

I couldn’t, though!  And I still don’t understand how they could.  I sometimes wonder how many of them are divorced – did they get that this was a promise and a vow, and that they shouldn’t do it if they weren’t sure?

Mom and Dad were fantastic, though.  They completely stood behind me, whether it was the poor Dear Ladies who were our teachers, or the ministers, or the parents of the other communicants asking anxiously if they’d heard that I was considering this rash act.  They both, always, said that it was my decision and that if the church members had any questions, they could ask me.  I discussed it with both of them, several times.  They both answered any questions I asked, but didn’t editorialize unless I asked for an opinion.  I’ve been so proud of them ever since!  I’ve boasted on them to lots of people – I know that at least one person who reads this has already heard the story.  Their own beliefs have diverged, but they both still talk to me about religion, which is neat.

February 9, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Thanksgiving

Giving thanks is a universal human activity.  It’s bred into us by our mothers, reminding us gently when we accept a birthday present.  We learn to use diplomatic thanks to grease the wheels of social and business interaction, and a smiling “thank you” is often enough to make us feel that we’ve done a good job.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US, and although giving thanks is something all humans do, Thanksgiving is almost uniquely American.  You don’t have to believe in God to be thankful today, but giving thanks to the person or people who provided the feast is just good manners.  Americans observe Thanksgiving Day no matter where they are, and invite their neighbors in Paris or Sidney to sit down with them to turkey with all the trimmings.  But you don’t actually have to be American to celebrate.  Everyone, whether citizen or visitor, or even illegal alien, is invited to take part, at least for one day, in the unbridled eating that traditionally characterizes the day.

It doesn’t even have to be turkey, although some people consider that idea blasphemous (my family’s tradition is a seafood casserole!).  Once I wished a foreign-born library patron a happy Thanksgiving, and asked her what she and her family were going to do.  She said that they didn’t usually do anything in particular, because her husband and kids didn’t care for turkey.  I told her that Thanksgiving was her holiday as much as it was mine, and that the menu didn’t matter as much as the attitude.  We all take a day to appreciate our family, friends, jobs, homes, pets, and everything else we usually tend to take for granted.

I give thanks to God for my husband, cats, family, job, and home, and to my husband for fixing much of our Thanksgiving dinner and taking care of me every day, and to my family for their constant love and support, and to my cats (who don’t notice) for being adorable and amusing.  I hope everyone has been able to find at least one thing they’re really grateful for, and at least one recipient of their thanks.

November 23, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Patriotism and Christianity

Five years ago tomorrow was 9/11/01.  Today, I was reading an article about it, and about people’s memories and memorials of it.  One thing I remember about the time just after the attack is actually thinking about some of the patriotic hymns I grew up singing.  My favorite has always been “America the Beautiful,” but I never liked the verse about “heroes proved in liberating strife.”  After all, I grew up during the Vietnam war, and there was nothing liberating about that, that I’ve ever heard of.  But that verse and the last one took hold in my mind after 9/11, and the heroes in the song are now the ones who went up the buildings while everyone else was going down, to find people who couldn’t get out by themselves and help them escape.

Oh, beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life.
America, America,
May God thy gold refine,
‘Til all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.

Oh, beautiful, for patriots’ dream
That sees beyond the years;
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears.
America, America,
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

For several months after the attack, those verses could bring tears to my eyes.

This juxtaposes oddly in my mind with something I’ve been thinking of writing about all week.  Last weekend, while channel surfing, I ended up on the SciFi Channel.  I paused there, because they often have something I want to watch.  But the first thing I saw was a minister/priest blessing a line of people in uniforms with American flags sewn to the shoulders, and my immediate response was “uh-oh, this’ll probably get bad.”  It didn’t – it turned out to be the last scene of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but the fact that that was my first impression has stayed with me all week.  I consider myself a Christian, and a patriotic American (don’t even get me started on flag etiquette!), but the public combination of these two good things has been very negative lately.  Once again, both religious and national leaders have been weaving fear and hatred into the definitions of “Christian” and “patriotic,” so that if one wants to follow Christian teachings of love, acceptance, and peace, one is seen as unpatriotic.  We’re being pumped up into a religious, nationalistic, and separatist fervor similar to the climate following World War I.  But it’s not Christian – God created and loves everyone, and Christ preached peace.  And it’s not patriotic – one of the main tenets of the foundation of America is the separation of church and state.  (And I’m not going to get into the ridiculous extremes to which this has been taken on one side, while conservatives taking it the other way frequently equate their religious point of view with “true” patriotism.)

America has always had a split personality, with generosity toward individuals (like after 9/11 and Katrina) on one hand, and demagoguery toward groups (like Muslims) on the other.  Is there any way we can keep up the generosity on the grand scale, without using hate and fear to color the way we look at other people?  I don’t guess we’ve ever managed it for long.

September 10, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

So What?

One of the standbys of SF is that if one discovers incontrovertible evidence of intelligent life on other planets, one must not reveal it – the people of Earth are not ready.  I’m not really convinced of that.  Would there be widespread panic, suicide, and atheism if it turned out we really aren’t alone?  Why?  Given the overall topic of my blog, I’m most interested in the idea that people would lose their faith in God if it turned out we weren’t all of intelligent creation.  I guess the people who literally believe every word of the Genesis story might have a problem, although it doesn’t actually say that God didn’t create anything other than the items listed specifically.  And if that’s going to bother them, why isn’t their faith already ruined by the platypus, the bison, or any of the other animals mentioned nowhere in the Bible?  Come to think of it, cats aren’t even in there, as far as I know – does their existence mean God doesn’t exist?

Of course not.  This is just silly!  People would almost certainly get upset for a while, since they do over everything else, but people can adjust to anything.  I must be missing something, but I really don’t see any reason not to let the world know if an indisputable spaceship or group of aliens turns up.  (If just one alien turns up, that’s another matter – the scenarios of public display and subsequent autopsy are, unfortunately, very believable.)  Within a few generations, we’d be intermarrying (assuming mutual fertility, of course) and eating each other’s foods.  Hmm, maybe that’s the source of panic, right there.

People tend to get very “us against them,” so maybe definite proof of non-human intelligence would unite the planet.  Something needs to, anyway!

July 15, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Are there other gods?

Stargate SG1 has dealt
with the idea of beings with godlike powers since the beginning of the
series.  First there were the Goa’uld,
who liked to turn up with a bunch of heavily armed warriors, declare to
the populace, “I am your God!  Worship me!” and zap anyone who
disagreed.  This worked great, until they ran into the people of
Earth, who just knew that whatever these creatures were, they weren’t
gods.  They were vanquished a couple of seasons ago, which left a
power vacuum among the people who had previously upheld their
rule.  So, of course, the vacuum has been filled by a new batch of
creatures with a new and different MO: they turn up by themselves,
declare to the populace, “Worship the Orii!  They are your Gods!”
and zap anyone who disagrees.

These critters are a little harder to deal with, theologically. 
They don’t need any heavily armed warriors, but can zap people by
waving their hands at them.  They can start fires the same way,
and when challenged, say, “Don’t these powers convince you?  Only
gods can do these things!”  Unlike the Goa’uld,
they don’t need an army, nor do they need any fancy jewelry without
which their zapping powers disappear.  Also unlike the Goa’uld,
they promise good things to their followers – they claim that following
the Orii is the path to Enlightenment.

We’ve also covered Enlightenment in the course of the program. 
It’s the show’s name for satori, or a higher or transcendental state of
consciousness.  In previous seasons, it’s been established that
only good people can get there, but apparently some evil people have
been helped to attain it
as
well.  The Orii can raise people to that state because they’ve
declared that worship of them is the true good, so anyone who worships
them is good and can go.  Kind of shaky, but oh well.

This has sent my thought in several directions, but I’ll try to confine
myself to just the one, right now.  How about these godlike
powers?  If there’s a being who can grab you completely off the
planet to oblivion if you don’t agree with it, or raise you to
transcendental happiness if you do, isn’t that a god?  What’s the
definition of a god, anyway?

Colossians 1:16 has always fascinated me; it mentions “things
visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or
principalities or powers” as part of God’s creation. And Exodus 1:3
(part of the Ten Commandments) says “Thou shalt have no other gods
before Me,” which seems to imply a choice.  So how can you tell, if
faced with a throne, dominion, power, or other bafflingly potent being,
whether it’s a god or not?  And if it is a god, how can you tell
whether it’s God?

I’m not sure how other traditions define God, as opposed to other
gods.  Jesus said “God is love,” which is, to me, a useful
definition.  If the being offers love, without demanding worship,
that’s a good sign.  But doesn’t God demand worship?  I don’t
think so.  I looked up the phrase “worship me” at Bible.com, and
found that it doesn’t seem to appear as a command.  God talks
about the people of Israel, saying that the Egyptians (for example)
should let them go “so thay may worship me,” but doesn’t seem to be
demanding it himself.  The people of God worship God because te is
worth it, not because te forces them to do so, or else.  God tells
them not to worship anyone else, but doesn’t seem to require worship,
as such, from them.

But what about the punishment that God is said to mete out to those who
won’t obey?  Isn’t that just God zapping anyone who won’t worship
him?  That’s a little fuzzier – certainly most people who’ve been
to church more than a few times have heard the fire-and-brimstone
line.  But I turned to my trusty Bible.com and searched the phrase
“burn in hell” in five different translations (including King James),
and it didn’t come up at all.

I put in “punish,” and it came up a fair number of times.  Leviticus 24:15-16 says “Those
who blaspheme God will suffer the consequences of their guilt and be
punished. Anyone who blasphemes the LORD’s name must be stoned to death
by the whole community of Israel.”  Ok, that looks more like
it.  And Numbers has several places where people must be punished
for not observing Passover, the Sabbath, etc.  Hmm.




Let’s try the New Testament. 
Mark 16:16 quotes Jesus as saying, “Anyone who believes and is baptized
will be saved. But anyone who does not believe will be punished.” 
How is this different from the Orii?  Good question!  I don’t
want to be with God as some people are with art, in that I don’t know
what it is, but I know it when I see it.  That’s true, but I need
to find stuff to back it up!  More on this later, for sure, and if
anyone has comments, I’d appreciate seeing/hearing them.


June 18, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Does God need anything? – part 3

I just took it back to the library, so I can’t cite precisely, but in
the Dorothy Sayers book I was reading (see previous entry), she
explained that Jesus/the Word is the expression of God as love,
providing means and object.  The relationship between them/Tir is
expressed as the Spirit.

I hadn’t known Dorothy Sayers was as good a popularizer of theology as CS Lewis.  More people ought to know that!

April 27, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Visualizing God as a hypersphere (continued)

One thing in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
that it took me a while to get was toward the end, when Jubal assures
each of his goddaughters, completely honestly and sincerely, that she
is the best girl in the world.  But how can more than one be
“best?”  Now when I’m cuddling my cats, I tell each of them that
it is the best cat.  And it’s true – each of them, including the
ones I used to have who have died, is the best.  And I realized
that this is how God regards each of us.

That’s one reason for visualizing God as a hypersphere.  Just as
each point on the surface of a sphere can be designated as the center
of the surface, each member of God’s creation occupies the center of
God’s love and regard.  The fact that this can apply to all
members at once brings in the “hyper” part, and requires
infinity/eternity to work.  In i/e (easier to type!), things don’t
have to add up exactly.  Three persons can be one God, and
infinite created beings can each, uniquely, be the most dearly loved.

April 8, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I just read the big news about the discovery of a “new” Gospel, the
Gospel of Judas.  I hope this is a permanent link:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-060406judas,1,6681324.story?coll=chi-news-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true
When my husband mentioned the story to me on the way home, I thought vaguely
that I’d heard of such a Gospel before.  It turns out that it
surfaced for a while in the 1970s, then disappeared again.

The main reason I’m so interested in it is that it was preserved, and
possibly written, by the Gnostics (or at least some more mystical
Coptic tradition).  I’ve been getting more mystical in my approach
to religion since I was in library school, feeling kind of furtive
about it because it’s so different from the Methodist and Presbyterian
background I grew up in.  The Episcopal church allows for a
mystical understanding, which is probably one of the reasons I was
attracted to it in the first place.  This discovery should spark a
lot of talk and writing on mystic aspects of Christianity, and I can
hardly wait!

I’ll almost certainly write more on this later, but this is long enough for a work night.  Good night!

Here’s another link, from Beliefnet:
http://www.beliefnet.com/story/189/story_18903_1.html

April 6, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Does God need anything? (continued)

On the other hand, the Bible starts out “In the beginning, God
created….”  So if creativity is as much a part of God as love
is, needing to create and needing to love aren’t really needs that God
has, so much as attributes that God is.  Does that make
sense?  I still don’t think it’s that God isn’t God until Te
creates something, so much as that God, being God, creates.

More on string theory feeling Hegelian to me, as far as panentheism –
it turns out that string theory supports ideas of infinity and
eternity.  When I read that, it’s like when a Biblical literalist
reads that they’ve discovered some actual place mentioned in the Bible
– “Yes!!  I knew it was true!  And now they have to believe
me!”

A lot of the things undergrads talk about late, late at night (I still
miss that!), like “what if every time we make a decision one way that
we could have made another way, 2 universes spin off from that and
continue both ways (like in the movie Sliding Doors)?” “what if our
solar system, and galaxy, and all the other galaxies, are really atoms
and molecules in a larger universe?  Or if our atoms and molecules
are galaxies for smaller universes?” – that sort of thing is being
seriously investigated by string theorists!  Makes me wish I were
a physicist.

March 29, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment