Sunday, December 31, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
New York drives me nuts, sometimes literally. And the reasons given for loving New York in this magazine are so vapid and so far removed from anything resembling my life here that it temporarily made me hate New York even more. When I’ve been standing for 20 minutes in a dingy, filthy, smelly, rat-infested subway station waiting for a packed train on which I will uncomfortably stand for the hour-long ride home with 100 or more other similarly irritated people, I am not particularly comforted by the idea that New York has “Four, Yes Four, Presidential Wannabes” (Clinton, Giuliani, Pataki and Bloomberg). And I’m sorry, I can’t look on the bright side and consider my “Daily Commute A Fashion Show.” The A train is more derelicte than Gaultier.
What to make of a magazine that zealously boasts “We Can Be Defiantly Deluded”? Who says, “I love New Yorkers; they’re so…like, defiantly deluded”? What to make of a feature whose longest section, at three pages, is about looking through your neighbors’ windows? And who the hell is Zani Gugelmann?
Yes, I’ve pretty much resolved to leave The Big Apple sometime this year. Living here wears me out. Still, I love New York.
I love Central Park in the snow. I love the path along the south side of The Pond, with its lazy sunbathing turtles.
I love piping hot fresh bagels on Broadway, latkes on 2nd Avenue, samosas on 6th Street, cannoli on Bleecker, and char siu bao on Canal.
I love the Thursday night classic films at the Clearview on 23rd Street.
I love Freudian Sips, Psychotic Episodes and Daddy Complexes on West 52nd.
I love the young Orthodox Jewish man on the A train who offered his seat to a young Muslim woman last week.
I love the view of Manhattan from the Triboro Bridge. I love the view down 59th Street from the balcony at the TimeWarner Building.
I love Long Island accents.
I love the coffee at Samad’s and the espresso at Café Reggio.
I love the Temple of Dendur and Hudson River School collection, and I love this painting.
I love New York.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Ohkay, here we go.
1. Last night before going to bed, I read this book in the tub. (Expect some apocalyptic posts in the new year!) My cats Rocky and Starbuck like to sit on the rim of the tub and let their tails rest in the water while I am bathing. I can't lock them out; they'll scratch on the door and meow loudly until I let them in.
2. In my bathroom I have a clock which is basically a diorama of two squirrels in a pine tree.
3. I have lived in New York City for 13 years, but have never been to Madison Square Garden.
4. There were two seasons in a row at the Metropolitan Opera where I saw every single production, and even went back for significant cast changes, which necessitated about 1 trip to the opera per week every week from October - May. All in all, I have attended well over 200 performances at the Met. (I stopped keeping track a few years ago, unfortunately.)
5. In the spirit of five things, here are the five wackiest playlists on my iPod:
- Early Music: European music from about the 9th century (Gregorian chant) up to about 1600, everything from troubadour songs to early Flemish polyphony to Italian lute songs and renaissance dances.
- God: Standard stuff like Gregorian chant, the Mozart c-minor Mass, and The Messiah, but also Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi chant...and Madonna's "Like a Prayer." Seriously.
- Musical Monday: Named for the theme night at SBNY, all my Broadway music.
- Venice: 170 pieces all composed in Venice.
- Wake-Up: An assortment of all my favorite, up-tempo songs across all genres to get me going on those darker mornings, everything from Ghena Dimitrova singing Abigaille's cabaletta to Kelly Clarkson's "Since u been gone." (And of course, Barbra's "Don't Rain on my Parade.")
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
I think many of us would share her shock. After all, even non-churchy types know the cast of the Nativity, from the dioramas that appear as centerpieces of First Amendment controversies about this time every year: there’s Mary and Joseph and the Holy Infant, of course, plus some shepherds and the three wise men. That’s how the Bible describes it, right?
Not exactly. Rather, the Bible presents us with two versions of the birth of Jesus. The Gospels of Mark and John don’t discuss it at all, but Matthew and Luke present two competing stories that over time have been morphed into a single familiar narrative.
The two versions aren’t just minor variations on details and wording, like so many other discrepancies in the Gospels. They are wholly separate stories. Only Matthew gives us three wise men and a star; only Luke gives us no room at the inn and a manger in a stable.
These stories present problems for Christians who insist the Bible is historically accurate. To make that assertion, one must piece together independent details not corroborated by any other source and make a claim for a textual unity that simply does not exist, and do so by deliberately ignoring elements of the story that are contradictory.
For example, everyone knows that Joseph and the pregnant Mary had to travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth to register for the census, and that because there was no room at the inn, Jesus was born in a manger in a stable. But Matthew doesn’t mention a census, and gives every indication that Jesus was simply born at home, though both agree Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Luke tells us, after Jesus’ circumcision and presentation at the temple, that “they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” But Matthew says they fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s massacre of all children “in and around Bethlehem,” and that they only returned after Herod’s death. Because Joseph was afraid of the new ruler, Archelaus, “he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth.”
So the next time you see a nativity scene that includes the Three Wise Men, you may perhaps want to point out that there is every bit as much scriptural support for their inclusion as there would be for a lobster, or even this particular variation.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
In prior drafts of this post, I made a vain attempt to give background on the history, theology and governance of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, but it ran awfully long despite being oversimplified and was probably of zero interest to anyone who reads this blog. All of that is readily available elsewhere, anyway.
Instead, I want to talk about this word “Communion.” The “Anglican Communion” is the second largest body of Christians in the world, after the Roman Catholic Church. Traditionally it has sought a “middle way” between Catholicism and the more severe Protestant ideas.
“Communion” is a sacrament; it is the ceremonial distribution of wine mixed with water, representing the Blood of Christ, and unleavened bread, representing the Body of Christ. Christians believe that on the night before he died, Jesus celebrated the Passover (which itself commemorates God’s liberation of people from bondage) with his disciples, and he gave them wine and bread and instructed them always to eat and drink “in remembrance of me.”
The Greek term for this sacrament, still in use, is “Eucharist,” which means “thanksgiving.” “Communion” is of Latin origin, the same root as “community,” meaning “to share.” Along with baptism, this idea of a shared community meal in remembrance of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has been a pillar of Christian practice since the earliest days of the faith.
Christians refer to “The Lord’s Table” when they speak of the sacrament of Communion. Unlike Catholics, Anglicans don’t accord themselves authority over who is invited to the meal. In Catholic Churches, only Catholics may partake of the sacrament, and priests have the power to excommunicate – disinvite anyone to God’s meal; in most Protestant churches, any baptized Christian may come. At the church I am attending, anyone, regardless of where they are on their spiritual journey, is welcome. We don’t believe in putting barriers between seekers and the God they are searching for. We believe that everyone is invited.
Throughout the Gospels, there are many references to meals and banquets. Jesus’ first miracle is turning water to wine at a wedding party. Matthew gives us the parable of the king who gave wedding banquet for his son, but the invited guests did not show up; so the king sent his servants out into the streets to invite everyone they saw, “both good and bad.” Luke tells us about the dinner where the Pharisee decided Jesus could not be a prophet, because he allowed a sinner to anoint him. In Matthew, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with sinners?”
The point is, in the Anglican view, it is Jesus’ invitation to a party to which all are welcome. Let Jesus do the healing, if healing needs to be done.
The churches in Truro and Falls Church, Virginia, have gotten up and left the table.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
This series has a few more pictures than I usually include, but the scenery was so spectacular. This photo was taken at the mouth of the Salmon River in Oregon, where it empties into the Pacific Ocean. The summit to the right is Cascade Head, 1200 feet above the ocean. Doesn't look so high from here...
Friday, December 15, 2006
When my alarm clock went off this morning -- well, yesterday, now -- I had this premonition of dread. I was actually half an hour late to work because I lay there thinking, "I really wish I could stay home today...this isn't going to be good."
First, the copier on my floor, which also serves as the network printer for most of our employees there, crashed and wouldn't do anything. (The copier itself is another story I can't get into right now.) The circuit board is fried and has to be replaced, which will take a few days because our machine is so old and obsolete that they have to search for this particular part. (Why don't you just replace the machine? you might be asking. That's the story I can't get into. Apparently, according to the decision makers, the thing works fine. ARGH. But I digress.)
So now we have to go downstairs to copy (to a machine that is actually even older and suckier than ours...but I'm *told* that one works just fine, too!) and we're all sharing a printer way the hell the other side of the floor.
Then the switchboard short-circuited. (Apparently dumping a glass of tea on it isn't good for it. Who knew? No -- it wasn't me.) Anyway, so we had to use a regular office phone which can only handle two lines. This, while the press department was preparing for a major story. Fun!
Then the internet went down for a while. There was some other stuff I can't get into. Let's just say it was a thoroughly aggravating day.
Then we had our staff holiday party. Fortunately I had an excuse for leaving early. I won a gift certificate to Border's, so I guess the day wasn't a total loss.
So I came home and eventually made my way into bed. Had trouble falling asleep.
Woke up at 12:58 a.m. to a loud crash.
The Christmas tree was on the floor.
Now...I was in bed, and there aren't any witnesses. (If there are, they're not talking.) So it would be wrong of me to accuse a certain pair of four-footed feline roommates. But the likelihood that this was a cat-related disaster remains high, I'd say.
I actually had tied the tree to the table this year. (It's fake.) I lashed it down good. Even if the cats did have a paw in the catastrophe, it's still partly the tree's fault: the base broke and it could no longer stand up. Not salvageable.
So, I tossed the cats in the bathroom because I really didn't want their "help" with this particular project. "Meow! Meow! Meaaaaaaooouuuuuuwwwww!" Swell.
Then I spent the next hour undecorating my tree, just a mere 10 days before Christmas. I'd say that's a little earlier than I normally get around to taking it down. Fortunately, I did not lose any ornaments, which I consider a miracle.
Have you ever tried to take the lights off a tree that can't stand up? Fun, fun!
Now that I am wide awake and angry, I'm going to hop in the shower, go back to bed and try not to think about everything I have to do tomorrow on four hours of sleep.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Tomorrow the New Jersey Legislature is expected to vote on a bill establishing civil unions for same-sex couples, which would grant them all the same rights, privileges and protections as opposite-sex marriages. All except one.
In late October, the Supreme Court of New Jesey ruled that “the State must provide to committed same-sex couples, on equal terms, the full rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples” and gave the legislature 180 days in which to comply. Still, the majority left it to lawmakers to determine whether civil recognition for same sex relationships can be called “marriage” or should be set up under a “parallel statutory structure,” citing customary judicial deference, and also arguing that while the New Jersey constitution compels equality, it does not require same-sex “marriage.”
Does it matter? What is the difference between a civil union and a marriage, if the civil union entails “the full rights and benefits” of marriage? The answer lies in the question itself. Calling this package of rights “marriage” for one group and “civil unions” for another group implies that the second group is not entitled to the preferred term; it implies that the term “marriage” is itself a right, which under the court’s own reasoning must therefore be extended to same-sex couples as required by New Jersey’s equal protection laws.
All three same-sex marriage rulings this year in New York, New Jersey and Washington State, as well as Massachusetts in 2003, recognized that “marriage” includes tangible as well as intangible benefits. Indeed, the Massachusetts court concluded, “[M]arriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity and family….Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”
The court added, "The dissimilitude between the terms ‘civil marriage’ and ‘civil union’ is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex couples to second-class status."
As one of the plaintiffs in the New Jersey case wrote to the court, “When I am asked about my relationship, I want my words to match my life, so I want to say I am married and know that my relationship is immediately understood, and after that nothing more needs be explained.”
The New Jersey Legislature should reject the civil union bill tomorrow and hold out for a marriage bill that will fulfill its constitutional obligations to same sex couples.
Monday, December 11, 2006
“Mary Cheney’s pregnancy poses problems not just for her child, but also for all Americans,” argues Crouse. According to her, 37 percent of American children are born to “fatherless families,” and “Mary Cheney is contributing to [the] trend…of women who don’t want a man in the picture, but want to have a baby.”
I am baffled. Either – there’s no charitable way to put this – Crouse is a moron of the first degree, or she thinks her readers are. The statistics are those of heterosexual single parent families, women who have gotten pregnant outside of committed relationships or who have been abandoned by men who didn’t want the responsibility (or, perhaps, are already committed elsewhere).
This is a serious issue, but I am at a loss to understand how two educated, professional women who have been in a committed partnership for 15 years (and, I presume, would be married if only the law allowed) and who have made the conscious decision to raise a child together serve as inspiration for heterosexual women to become single mothers.
Crouse engages in all manner of speculative, amateur psychological quackery, with a heavy dose of sleight-of-hand. “Too often,” she writes, “children in single-mother households end up angry at their absent fathers.” But Cheney’s child won’t be in a “single-mother” household, it will be a “double-mother” household. And children are often angry at their absent father because he made a choice not to be a meaningful part of their lives. Here, there’s simply no father, but there are two loving parents. “Fatherless children tend to have trouble dealing with male authority figures,” she claims. I don’t think Cheney is planning on whisking her child off to be raised by the Amazons; certainly with Grandpa Dick and his friends around, the child will have more than its share of male authority figures with which to contend.
“When fatherless children get to be teens, the girls tend to start looking for love in all the wrong places and the boys tend to find as their role model the bad-boy celebrities.” My, how conventional wisdom changes! I thought when boys had an absent father and a dominant mother, they grew up to worship Judy Garland.
To support her contentions, Crouse is able to cite not one study or professional by name. Instead she vaguely refers to “top experts,” as well as “a Georgia high school principal” -- because, as we all know, Georgia high schools are being overrun by pregnant lesbians -- and “an assistant principal in a junior high.”
The real threat posed by Mary Cheney’s pregnancy is that it will force people like Crouse to acknowledge that many gay people are stable, commitment-oriented family types. (Some of us go to church weekly, and apparently some of us are even Republicans!) Being a devoted, responsible, loving parent has absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
It's been a while since I did a Sunday photopost; my family traditionally spends Thanksgiving with friends who have restored a 129-year old farmhouse near the border of Washington and Yamhill counties in Oregon. This is the view of the neighbor's house through the parlor window.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Strobel pauses only to inform us that his subject, Norman Geisler of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, is “dressed in a multicolored sweater over a blue button-down shirt” before delving into some of the most difficult questions Christians must face about the authority of the book that guides them.
“Isn’t the Bible chock full of contradictions and inconsistencies that undermine its reliability?” Strobel wants to know.
“I’ve made a hobby of collecting alleged discrepancies, inaccuracies, and conflicting statements in the Bible. I have a list of about 800 of them,” says Dr. Geisler. “Of the 800 allegations I’ve studied, I haven’t found one single error in the Bible.”
Referring to the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, Geisler says, “Here you have an impeccable historian, who has been proven right in hundreds of details and never proven wrong, writing the whole history of Jesus and the early church.”
It is true that many of the details contained in Luke-Acts with regard to geography and history are accurate. But on the other hand, if I wrote a novel set in Manhattan, after 13 years of living here I would be unlikely to get the details wrong. (See Left Behind’s vision of post-Rapture New York.) Geisler’s argument is a little bit like historians finding the novel Gone With the Wind 3,000 years from now, doing some research and discovering there actually was a city called Atlanta in a country called America which in fact had a civil war right at the time the book claims it did, and then concluding that Scarlett O’Hara was a historical person.
Luke tells us Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem in order to register for the census which was ordered by the Roman governor of Syria, Quirinius. Now, history shows that there really was a Publius Sulpicius Quirinius who was the Roman proconsul in Damascus and he did, in fact, order a registration for the purpose of taxation. The problem is that both Luke and Matthew insist Herod the Great was king at the time of Christ’s birth, and we know that Quirinius came to Syria a decade after Herod’s death. Does this muddle have major theological implications? Not necessarily. But it’s a lie – in other words, a sin – to claim there are no historical errors in Luke.
Matthew and Luke-Acts agree on a great many things, but one of the places where they significantly disagree is on the fate of Judas. After the arrest of Christ, Matthew says Judas went back to the temple and threw the thirty pieces of silver on the ground before he went and hanged himself. Acts says Judas used the money to buy a field, and falling headlong, he burst asunder and all his entrails spilled out. How does Geisler address these differing accounts?
“Somebody came along later, found his body, cut the rope, and the bloated body fell onto the rocks. What happens? The bowels gush out, just as the Bible says. They’re not contradictory, they’re complementary.”
In response to this act of theological cowardice, Strobel writes, “I had to admit, Geisler was on track.”
The whole chapter is full of outrageous nonsense like this. It’s no wonder skeptics are sure Christianity is an intellectual wasteland, when we address glaring inconsistencies by insisting, under the banner of literal inerrancy, that the Bible doesn’t really say what it plainly says. Questions about the historical accuracy of scripture and the picture it paints of God are serious and deserve serious answers. Evangelicals believe they have a duty to bring people to the faith, but if they’re going to respond to legitimate concerns by asking us not to look behind the curtain, they’re only going to continue to drive people away.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Cheney, 37, lives with her partner, Heather Poe, in Virginia, a state with some of the most radical anti-gay laws. As Family Pride Executive Director Jennifer Chisler put it, "Heather will never be able to have a legal relationship with her child."
"Unconscionable!" exclaims Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America. "It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father."
Never mind the millions of heterosexuals who through irresponsibility unintentionally bring children into single-parent households. Never mind that Mary's father pushed for a war that has created thousands upon thousands of orphans, both in Iraq and here in America. Never mind that nearly half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce.
Speaking on behalf of James Dobson's organization Focus on the Family, Carrie Gordon Earll explains, "Love can't replace a mother and a father."
To Earll, the gender of the parents is more important than love or their desire or ability to care for a child.
We don't need to go very far to find opposite-sex couples, married or not, who are absolutely lousy parents. Just open the newspaper or turn on any afternoon talkshow. Instead, we have a committed couple of 15 years (the average duration of a heterosexual marriage is 11 years) who have gone to presumably extraordinary lengths to have a biological child; they have demonstrated their commitment to each other through the test of time and the conscious decision to have a family, and yet in the eyes of the conservatives, this pair does not deserve the same legal privileges and protections as -- sorry to drag her into this again, but she's a classic example -- Britney Spears, whose second marriage of two years and two children ended in a divorce (by text message) which had only just barely left the headlines before she (and her vagina) was photographed out and about on the late-night party circuit.
In other good gay news today, Conservative Judaism has approved a legal opinion allowing for the ordination of gay rabbis and the celebration of same-sex (but not interfaith) relationships. The new understanding allows synagogues to follow their own collective consciences and understandings of scripture to prayerfully reach correct and meaningful decisions. The implications, however, that members of the top centrist body of Judaism have found that homosexual ordination and relationships can be "justified according to Jewish law" are enormous.
(I tried to find this opinion on line, but I guess it is not publicly available yet. If anyone knows where I can get it, I would really be interested in reading it.)
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
While I was on vacation in Oregon and perusing my favorite store in the world, I came across a book, The Case For Faith, by Lee Strobel. I was intrigued by the cover: “A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity.”
I bought the book because each chapter dealt directly with objections that I hear on a nearly daily basis, either from the blogosphere or from my friends, or even from myself. I was curious to see if the book addressed these questions with intellectual rigor, and whether it might be useful for future debates.
Yes and no.
The questions Strobel asks are:
- If God exists, why does he permit suffering in the world?
- Are there such things as miracles?
- Does evolution disprove God?
- Why does God kill innocent children?
- Is it offensive to say Christianity is the only true religion?
- If he's truly a loving, forgiving God, how can there be a hell?
- What does the oppressive and violent history of religion say about God?
- Can you have faith if you still have doubts?
Admittedly, the book is a Christian apology, and the arguments skew in Christianity’s favor. That’s a perfectly legitimate rhetorical strategy, but it’s not really “journalism.” Pointedly, the experts Strobel interviews are exclusively male, and predominately from the evangelical tradition. A broader diversity of sources would have increased credibility, and, in my opinion, probably the sophistication of the arguments.
Strobel also feels a bizarre compulsion to tell us what each interview subject is wearing. Maybe we are meant to feel more at ease hearing theological arguments from a man “dressed casually in a short-sleeve shirt, shorts and deck shoes without socks” than, say, a man in Prada shoes and a pointy hat.
The strongest and most provocative chapters were on suffering, creation, and doubt.
In the first chapter, I found the following points significant: a) man has free will, therefore even if there is a God, most of the world’s suffering is man’s own fault; b) since we generally believe that adversity builds character, wouldn’t a life without suffering be dull and meaningless? c) God wants to ask how you can permit all the suffering and injustice in the world.
The chapters on creation, evolution and miracles expose the hypocrisy of the secular fundamentalists, as they, just like the proponents of intelligent design, draw non-scientific conclusions from scientific research and automatically discount the possibility of God even as they rely on theories of the origin of the universe that are equally statistically improbable. In a wonderful analogy, Walter Bradley suggests that if we were walking down the street and heard a loud explosion and you said, “Hey, what caused that big bang?” and I said, “Nothing, it just happened,” you would rightly assume I’m crazy. This is the proposition that evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins ask us to accept.
Another example: “If you took all the carbon in the universe and put it on the face of the earth, allowed it to chemically react at the most rapid rate possible, and left it for a billion years, the odds of creating just one functional protein molecule would be one chance in a 10 with 60 zeroes after it.” Bill Craig cites Stephen Hawking: “If the universe’s expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have collapsed into a fireball.” Does this prove that there’s a God? Certainly not. But it reveals that atheists are clinging to a possibility (random chance) no less remote than the possibility of God.
Overall, it’s a thought-provoking read, if not wholly convincing. There was one chapter in particular, on the accuracy and reliability of the Bible, that was so weak and ludicrous it will receive its own subsequent post.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Though I suppose it should long have been obvious, recently I discovered that I have a radically different relationship to God and the Bible than many Christians. I know God exists because of my personal spiritual experiences, and as I read the Bible, I find confirmation that others across the centuries have also similarly experienced God. I do not believe God is there simply because the Bible says so.
The Bible channels my beliefs toward Christian doctrine. I could not, of course, have independent knowledge of the resurrection. What validates the Bible for me is the litany of shared experiences and sentiments that are found throughout scripture.
This approach liberates me to read the Bible critically. I am not concerned that scientific, historical or archaeological discoveries challenge or seem to contradict the literal veracity of ancient texts. If God is ultimate truth -- and the Bible says he is! (wink wink) -- then all truth brings us closer to God. And while I believe that all of scripture was written in good faith and is divinely inspired, I don't believe that's at all the same thing as inerrancy.
That means I can view certain passages as historically significant yet in moral conflict with the Gospel. It means I can find truth in Genesis without needing to believe there was ever actually an Adam and an Eve, and believe that God is responsible for all creation no matter how long it took.
This has also allowed me to find God and truth in other traditions. I'm still a Christian, but I'm not prepared to discard the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the teachings of Buddha and the songs of U2 as categorically wrong or devil-inspired. Like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (though she was referring to studying international law), "I'll take enlightenment wherever I can get it."
Jesus loves me, this I know, because of the countless manifestations of divine grace and mercy present in this world, not because some guy 2000 years ago said so. I just agree with him.
Friday, December 01, 2006
While I was on vacation, I steadfastly refused to watch or read any news. Since I've been back, I haven't had time to. I have no idea what is going on in the world. I assume since Democrats are back in charge of Congress that everything is fine, right?
Aaaaaaaaah, it's December!
By the way, it's going to be 70 degrees in New York today. (We'll discuss global warming another time. Actually, if you want to talk global warming, I can enthusiastically refer you Future Geek.) My point is, no one knows how to dress. It's December. It's also dark and gloomy out. It looks like it should be 30-something, but it's 70. I came to work today in a t-shirt with no jacket. Did I mention it's December in the American northeast? People are walking around outside in coats and scarves, sweating and looking confused.
I'm taking a course on religion and critical thinking at my church. Last night's topic was baptism. I think I ruffled some feathers by saying I'm not convinced baptizing infants is a good idea. I was worried I might be too progressive for even this progressive congregation...and then I realized that, actually, no, my position is way old-school. Pre-Augustine, even. It was explained to me that the church believes in an ontological shift...okay, topic for another blog.
My point -- and I do have one -- is, don't you hate it when people in classes ask questions, not because they have something they want to know but because they want to impress the teacher and the class with the sophistication of their questions? Gag me.
Okay, I need to get on with my extremely busy workday. However, I did want to close by saying I'm about halfway through Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. Awesome.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Originally I was going back to work yesterday, but after that nonsense I said "Uh-uh!" and spent the afternoon unpacking and recuperating.
Now, having been away from work for nearly two weeks, I am swamped.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Well, my flight was so delayed that I would have missed my connection, so they sent me back to my mom's house. Now I have a redeye with a connection in Atlanta. Oh, joy.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
I'm glad I saw that movie in Oregon, so I only paid $6.25 for it.
You know, I like action packed, epic spectaculars as much as the next guy. I may be gay, but I dig the testosterone thing every once in a while. But I have a brain, too, and it remembers things. Things like scenes, plot twists and explosions that I've seen before. Often in other Bond movies.
I don't think there was an original thought in this movie. Let's see, we've got a one-eyed villain on a yacht who has a thing for cardgames. Is this movie an homage to earlier Bond films or to Austin Powers? Didn't they know the latter was successful because it traded in cliches and stereotypes everyone had seen so many times that they were instantly recognizable?
This was more like Frankenbond: a monster stitched together using the best parts of other movies, everything from True Lies to Die Hard to My Fair Lady to Master Frank's Dungeon Sluts Volume 3.
Okay, okay, Daniel Craig looks pretty damn good dripping wet in a bathing suit. And not bad buck naked tied to a seatless chair. (Fine, maybe we haven't seen that in a Bond movie before. But honestly, would you have wanted to?) I get that they were trying to break the Bond tradition a bit: upon arrival in the Bahamas he rents a Ford (shudder) and he doesn't care which way his martinis are made. Oooooh, rebel. But Bond should be slicker and more sophisticated than that. This guy's just a thug who looks good naked. You get the feeling that if he didn't work for the government he'd be one of the crooks, possibly entertaining evangelical ministers in hotel rooms on weekends for extra cash.
Eva Green? I'm sure she's a fine actress, but she's not a Bond girl. Sorry. She's pretty, in a Denny's waitress kind of way. The kind of girl you see behind the counter at Dairy Queen in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and think, "I hope she finds a way out of here someday." Her first appearance at the high-stakes poker game was less ravishing transformation then that kind of awkward sympathy you feel for a girl going to prom whose dress doesn't quite fit and whose make-up isn't quite right. She's pretty, but you wish she had some gay friends to help her with that.
And then I confess because of Craig's accent, I misheard her name. I thought it was Vespa. You know, like a scooter? All I could think was, "This is my confidential Italian secretary Alfa. Alfa Romeo." So I was just at a disadvantage to take her seriously.
Other kvetches: during the endless poker tournament, random eastern European undercover contact Mathis (no one remembers For Your Eyes Only, I guess) leans over and whispers to Vesper and says, "There's $14.5 million on the table." Ummm, she's an accountant for the British treasury. I'm pretty sure she can count. But of course, he's not really whispering to her, he's telling the lunkheads in the audience who are impressed by this figure.
The opening sequence: I guess that was an homage to Donkey Kong.
The Grand Canal in Venice is about twelve feet deep, and it's the color of antifreeze, only it smells worse and is probably more lethal. Vesper wouldn't have drowned in it, she'd have dissolved.
Terrible, terrible movie.
Friday, November 24, 2006
This time I picked Cascade Head, located just west of US 101 a few miles north of Lincoln City on the Oregon coast. The website that referred me said the difficulty was "moderate." Ay.
Now, I'm a very fast walker, but it took me just over an hour and a half to travel the 1.7 mile trail. Why? Because it's a 1200 foot elevation gain along a narrow, muddy path. Basically it was like taking the stairs to the top of the former World Trade Center and going back down again. Except imagine that there are elk on the staircase. (Pictures to come when I get back to New York.)
On the way back down, just as my knees were starting to ache a bit, I passed a woman going up.
She was jogging.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Last night I went down to CC Slaughter's to watch the Madonna concert and to meet up with local celebrity blogger Hot Toddy. I had a great time! Everyone is just so nice. And there were some verrrrry cute boys around.
Oh, and drinks were $4.50. Buh-bye, New York.
PS, the Madonna concert was pretty okay. I liked the staging for "Jump" best of all, but "Forbidden Love" was pretty hot.
Best wishes to everyone today for a warm and meaningful Thanksgiving celebration. Personally, I have so much to be thankful for. And of course, a meow-out to my babies Rocky and Starbuck back in New York -- sorry I can't be there! I miss you! But I instructed JP to give you extra "Turkey & Giblets" tonight.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I got up at 7:30 and took the light rail downtown in the rain during the middle of rush hour.
One of my main problems with New York is my commute. It is exhausting, it is unpleasant, it is a waste of time, and often it is downright infuriating. The delays, the service changes, the all-local weekends, forced transfers, rats the size of Patsy Cline, the garbled announcements, the "shuttles," the smells, the temperature (from freezing to 120 degrees), the strikes, and, let's not forget, the passengers. Underground social Darwinism: survival of the rudest.
Last week I discovered that two and a half hours is not enough time to go home from work, feed the cats, put on a clean shirt and make it back to midtown to meet a friend for a drink. No wonder most of the time when I get home at night, I stay there.
This morning I was eager to be hypercritical; I needed to be sure that I wasn't seeing Portland through rose-colored glasses. Sure enough, as I waited on a bench under a covered area at the Sunset Transit Center in the drizzle, I spied a piece of litter on the platform. "See," I said to myself, "it's no different than New York." No sooner had I thunk that thought when a man in an orange vest came by and picked up the litter. I couldn't find any rats, but there were some squirrels in the nearby trees.
When the train came, there were empty seats. There was no graffiti. No one asked me for money. No one attempted to perform an acrobatic routine in the aisle. There aren't any turnstiles or meat grinders to navigate. No one held the doors. The trip took 15 minutes.
Arriving at Pioneer Courthouse Square, I immediately headed for the busiest, most centralized Starbucks in town. There was one person in line ahead of me.
"Excuse me," I said to the cashier, "I know it's two days before Thanksgiving, and a lot of people are probably off, but how does this compare to your normal morning rush?" She looked around and said, "Well, yeah, there's usually a few more people here, but this is pretty typical." There were empty tables. Clean empty tables, I might add.
Toto, I don't think we're on Wall Street anymore. And I don't think we'll be going back very much longer.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I love the city. After thirteen years there, you don't have to tell me how much fun it can be, how beautiful it can be, and how certain opportunities and experiences exist only there. And of course, I have a lot of friends there.
But living there, well, that's another story. I find it draining and exhausting and stressful and inconvenient. I've been thinking a lot about moving back to the west coast, maybe even to Portland, where I grew up.
KR, frequent contributor to the comments on this blog, warned me to be careful that I wasn't suffering from "grass is greener" nostalgia. I suggested Portland had an unfair advantage, in that it actually has grass.
So, while on vacation, I have been putting Portland to the test. Of course one of the main advantages to being in New York is the huge gay community and the social opportunities. Portland has a few sad little bars along a grungy block downtown (affectionately referred to as "Vaseline Alley"); certainly nothing to compare to Hell's Kitchen or the East Village or Chelsea or the West Village. (I fantasize about opening a Therapy-style bar here.) On the other hand, UCLA recently ranked the five gayest cities in America, and New York ain't one of them. Portland is.
Admittedly, Monday is probably not the best night for evaluating Portland's gay nightlife. I stumbled into Silverado, where it happened to be karaoke night. It was such a friendly place! And there were actually some cute guys there. Some of the singers...oh, well...bless their hearts, they were having fun. Others were actually pretty good. The guys I was talking to (um, no one talks to me in bars in New York, unless they are drunk, creepy and old) were egging me on to throw my hat in the karaoke ring. I did the bashful thing for a while and then thought, what the hell. So, I sang "People." (Of course you did, says JWC.)
I felt bad; I suppose I should have mentioned that I'm not exactly an amateur, but people seemed genuinely impressed. The bar manager comped me a drink and I had several other offers. Since I was driving, I had to decline them, though. (Mark that in the "con" column. Of course, no one gives me free drinks in New York. Pro.) I followed up with Cole Porter's "Night and Day." The people who run the karaoke night told me what bar they'd be at tonight and asked me to come by. I met more people last night -- cute, friendly ones, at that! -- than I have in probably the past year in New York. Pro.
Con: you can smoke in bars in Portland. I forgot how awful that is. I came home stinking. Uch. But, I happened to see an article in a local paper this morning that they are trying to pass a smoking ban. Future pro!
Monday, November 20, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Of course, like a typical Episcopalian, I’m going to say both yes and no to this question. As I pointed out in the comments in a recent post, in a court room, for example, there’s evidence like “Exhibit A.” But there’s also testimony, and testimony is considered evidence even in the absence of tangible items. And so while we may not have an Exhibit A for God, we have the testimony of billions of humans across the eons of our existence.
One of the points that Richard Dawkins, high priest of religious skepticism, makes is that if there is a God, it is highly unlikely that it is the God of any of the literally countless religions and faith traditions; statistically speaking, the chance that “God” is the God of Jesus is no more likely, says Dawkins, than the God of the residents of Alpha Centauri.
But what if they’re really all the same God?
Let’s say there’s a two-car collision in the middle of a four-way intersection. There is one witness standing at each corner. (Already this is a bad metaphor, I know. Not only am I letting a car accident represent God (!!!), I have to ignore that in an actual accident, there would be lots of tangible evidence. But stick with me.)
The witnesses on the northwest and southeast corners both saw the entire incident; however, they had opposite perspectives. They might not agree on who is at fault. In important ways, their testimony might be contradictory. But both of them are still telling the truth.
The witness on the northeast corner is prejudiced about women drivers, and one of the drivers involved was a woman. Might such a prejudice affect what the witness thinks he saw? Would it tend to lead him to make certain assumptions? Might such a witness even be willing to deliberately color his testimony because of his personal views?
Still with me? Okay. Now, let’s say for the sake of argument that the witness on the southwest corner is a Hebrew from 1400 BC. What would his reaction to a car accident be? What language might he use to attempt to explain what he saw? His account is likely to be wildly different than any of the other three witnesses, and would perhaps strike us as fanciful or even crazy.
So here we have four people with a shared experience, but all of them describe it in significantly different ways. None of them are lying, but some of them might let bias color their recollections. One could not understand what he was witnessing. Maybe some made assumptions. Maybe not all of them have perfect memories.
Does this mean there wasn't a car accident?
Well, I couldn't leave without posting a cat picture, now, could I? Here they are sitting on top of a nice warm, clean towel, fresh out of the dryer. Aren't they helpful?
Anyway, I'm off this afternoon to Oregon to be with my family during the Thanksgiving holiday. There's a post in my head waiting to be translated to the internet, but I highly doubt I'll have time before I have to head to the airport. It will be a minor miracle if I even get most of the things done at work I have to do.
I don't have any big road-trip plans this time, so there may not be great pictures like the trip from May. We'll see. Hopefully I'll still be able to blog a bit.
And speaking of helpful, oh, my, the cats really enjoyed "helping" me pack last night.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I guess the Karl Rove strategy of energizing the base really is dead. I can't imagine anything that's more of a kiss-off to the James Dobson types than supporting a divorced Catholic with known fidelity problems who used to appear at public functions in New York City in drag.
I won't vote for him, but I will definitely support his candidacy.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Dawkins, author of the new book The God Delusion, is featured in last week’s Time Magazine cover story, “God vs. Science.” It’s great that Time has been taking on important religious issues, and even better that for this particular article, they avoided the temptation of finding Dawkins’ ideological opposite for a debate, but instead paired him up with Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Still, like Time’s previous exploration of the “Prosperity Gospel” phenomenon of American Evangelicalism, the article fails to be fully illuminating because the author appears not to understand Christian theology well enough to ask the right questions.
There is a difference between faith and science, and here Dr. Collins’ expertise could have been very useful; instead, he is left to repeat variations on a theme of, “Evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of God.”
He does, however, get a chance to cut right to the heart of Dawkins’ misunderstanding of faith – and science.
“The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important questions we have to answer,” says Dawkins. “I think that it is a scientific question. My answer is no.”
I guess Dawkins wasn’t paying attention to last year’s national debate over “intelligent design.” If the existence of God were, in fact, a scientific question, then it should be part of the science curriculum, no? Especially if, as Dawkins argues, it is “one of the most important questions.” But it’s not, because the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved through scientific methods.
Furthermore, as many Christians will tell you, there is no “proof” of God, nor will there ever be, because the freedom to choose belief is the essential component of salvation. We are asked to believe in spite of an absence of hard evidence; that is the core proposition. If we could find God in a laboratory, that would be a fundamental challenge to Christian thinking that would dwarf evolution. What would happen to ideas about free will? Who would willfully choose not to worship a God who’d been scientifically proven to exist?
Dawkins’ hypothesis is that God does not exist. But how is this a scientifically testable assertion? As a tool for evaluating the merits of faith, it’s irrelevant, because faith specifically means belief in the unprovable.
Dawkins would call this response a “cop-out,” as he frequently describes Collins’ answers (one reply is even labeled “the mother and father of all cop-outs”). But the cop-out is Dawkins’ own attempt to define God using methods that simply don’t apply. He has reached a predetermined conclusion, and then selected methods which are guaranteed to be non-responsive to his inquiry. The resulting lack of evidence Dawkins interprets as proof of his non-scientific assumption.
“The difference,” explains Collins, “is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.”
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
One of my very favorite verses in the entire Bible is James 1:19-20: “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”
I like this verse so much that I have it tacked up on the wall of my cubicle at work. And yet, though it’s right there in front of me every day, I fail at its instruction – especially the part about being slow to speak – about once every 30 seconds.
Sometimes things make us angry, and that’s okay. Looking at the world around us, I am reminded of the liberal campaign slogan from 2004: “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” But to act on anger in a moral way requires us first to listen and to speak only later. In between hearing and speaking comes thinking.
There is no healing in anger. Anger doesn’t knock down walls, it’s what the bricks are made of. So I apologize for my incautious words. Calling a stranger a bigot most certainly does not work the righteousness of God.
I am not here to convert people or to lecture people or to warn you to repent or else. That’s not my style, and I don’t believe it’s an effective way to bring people to faith, even if that were my intent. I only want to build bridges; if not of agreement, of understanding. If I can’t open a door for you, maybe I can at least point you to a window. I want modest things, like communicating to more conservative Christians that there are legitimate, alternate ways of understanding Scripture, and demonstrating to atheists – many of whom have been deeply wounded by religious people – that faith can be positive and beautiful.
I take great pains in my writing and in my life to set myself apart from Christians who claim faith means an abdication of God’s own precious gift of critical thought; of Christians who insist that to believe in God means our understanding of the origin of life and the world itself can never progress past the limits established by an ancient people who couldn’t even fathom that the earth revolved around the sun. I set myself apart from Christians who believe in a faith of limitation and exclusion, apart from Christians who seek the destruction of the planet and the destruction of Israel and the destruction of Islam because they believe in a God so puny and weak that he needs our foreign policy and our wars to achieve his aims.
I am not here to deny that unspeakable evil has been done in God’s name, or that religion has been a source of oppression and injustice probably since the earliest humans or human ancestors first developed the capacity to imagine something beyond their immediate existence.
But if atheists are going to structure their beliefs on critical thinking, then they, too, have a moral obligation to be open minded, curious and intellectually honest. Just as they would expect religious fundamentalists to acquaint themselves with the facts of evolutionary biology before they reject it, atheists have a responsibility to investigate faith traditions more fully if they’re going to rail against them.
I’m not very good at making effective arguments for the existence of God. But I’ll happily settle for the opportunity to demonstrate that Christians are diverse, and that even if you don’t necessarily believe in the existence of God, there is common moral ground between us (see James 1:19-20). Won’t you give me that chance?
"Needless to say, the president is correct. Whatever it was he said."
February 28, 2003
"If you're chasing the chicken around the chicken yard and you don't have him yet, and the question is, how close are you? The answer is, it's tough to characterize because there's lots of zigs and zags."
November 14, 2001
"I'm working my way over to figuring out how I won't answer."
December 3, 2002
"Oh my goodness, you can't imagine the number of things you see and hear that are wrong. It's just breathtaking how much misinformation floats around. I guess it's part of our free society."
December 18, 2002
"It's hard enough just to keep track of the things that are really happening without having to worry about all the things that aren't really happening."
May 1, 2002
"I can't remember. I might have. Hope I did. If I didn't, I should have."
September 24, 2002
"When they told me what this was about, I sat down last night and made some notes. I'm not into this detail stuff. I'm more concepty."
January 9, 2002
And then of course, who can forget:
Rumsfeld Makes Surprise Visit to Wife's Vagina