A while back I was thinking about my grandfathers. I believe I was listening to some radio program in which a man was sharing a memory of his grandfather. Both of my grandfathers are dead, and I remember very little about them. I know a lot more about them than I actually remember, from stories others have told me or pictures I’ve seen. But I think what I remember is more interesting. I remember two things about both of my grandfathers.

My mother’s father was Charles Weaver. The first thing I remember about him is puzzles. We did puzzles together. Big puzzles with small pieces. They took a long time, and being a kid, I did very little of the work. Usually the puzzles were completed by my grandfather late one night as I slept. But he’d always leave out one piece, so when I woke in the morning, I had that satisfaction of completing the puzzle, even though I didn’t do the work. So my grandfather Weaver taught me to be lazy.

The second thing I remember is that he wouldn’t repeat himself. He would say something when I wasn’t listening, and I would say “what?” and he just wouldn’t respond. I think he explained this once as an attempt to encourage listening. Or maybe that was just how I thought of it — I’m not sure. Either way, this taught me not to let my principles turn me into a jerk, a lesson I apply less consistantly than laziness.

My father’s father was Cornelius Reynen. He was a minister, but I don’t remember him ministering in any professional capacity. I think maybe he had retired by the time I was born. I do remember two things about him that revolved around his ministry. The first was the post-dinner Bible readings at his house. My brothers and I were expected to sit around the table after the meal while he read to us from the Bible.

I don’t think it was even the interesting stories either — just whatever happened to come next. Sometimes he would ask us questions at the end to make sure we were paying attention. It was a horrible experience for a child. But from it, I learned how to never be bored, by thinking.

My second memory of this grandfather was Rummikub, which my family would play with him in the evening. If you’re not familiar with Rummikub, it’s almost exactly like Rummy, only with tiles instead of cards. You might ask: why would anyone bother with tiles instead of cards? Well, because playing cards are evil, naturally.

Granted, there are some slight differences between Rummy and Rummikub that make playing with tiles a little easier. But Cornelius, my grandfather, wasn’t interested in those differences, as far as I could tell. He was interested in avoiding cards because he was raised with and maintained the idea that playing cards are evil. So from playing Rummikub I learned to keep faith bounded by reason.

That’s it. That’s all I remember. I wish there were more, but given the small amount of time I spent with my grandfathers, I think these are pretty good lessons to take away. They’ve served me well so far. When I die some day, I hope the lessons I unintentionally pass down will be so useful.

 

That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.

Andrew Sullivan in Time Magazine

I have a problem with trying to redefine what words mean when you don't like the group you've placed yourself in (Sullivan's been unsuccessfully taking back "Republican" for several years now), but it's certainly better than just ignoring the corruption.

 

Dave Rogers wrote:

But here's the thing, I kind of knew all this stuff before, it didn't really matter, did it? I think you could reasonably say I believed it, don't you think? I didn't disbelieve it. But it didn't matter, because even though I knew it and believed it, I still couldn't do the pose. If we say something doesn't matter, that's another way of saying it's meaningless, is it not? Look at a fixed point, focus on your center, that's just information. Believe it, disbelieve it, it's just information. It only mattered when I did it. It only mattered when I lived it.

After reading my Reminder: You Will Die post, my dad asked me something like "so if death helps you remember what's important in life, what's important in life?" I knew what I thought, but had trouble putting it into words. I think I said something like "living is important," which I think probably sounds like a hand-wavy zen statement after talking about the importance of death. I like how Dave phrases it, but even his "bring meaning to life" seems a bit vague.

And maybe a little wrong, too. I think life already has meaning — we just have to recognize it. It's like the difference between hearing to a song, and listening to a song. Anyone can hear whether life has a pleasant melody and go humming along to "You are My Sunshine," but you have to listen to catch the meaning. I'm sure "we have to listen for the meaning of life" sounds really trite, but I think that's because listening sounds so much easier than it is. I'd explain how to listen, but I'm not very good at it myself.

I think listening for meaning is what people are generally doing when they pray or meditate, but I'm hesitant to suggest anyone do those things. I've had too many people ask me if I pray when it's obvious they don't. They're asking if I sit with my hands folded and recite the same meaningless words they do. In that sense, I quit praying several years ago. And I've had the same experience with meditation. Though it does seem to be more difficult, I've encountered enough meditation evangelists — certain that if I only go to their meditation class with them, all my problems will be solved — to believe it's possible to meditate without listening.

And then I've met people who neither pray nor meditate, but are clearly practiced in listening for meaning in life. Some find it in music, some in words, some in photos, some in other people, some in themselves. We're not at all short on places to find meaning in life. We just need to listen for it.

 

I do know that you can't do it if all you get is negative reinforcement telling you the task is cosmically fated to never reach completion. So go, team, go, that's what I have to say.

In the meantime, do me a favor and try to avoid killing each other, okay?

Jeff Dorchen

 

Jessica and (more so) her brother David have been writing a weblog called Rhetoric and Culture of Publics. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it's generally about political issues, and has a somewhat more interesting perspective than the standard "yeah us, boo them" slant.

For example, David recently wrote about the apparent end of the "intelligent design" "debate" with the US district court's recent rejection. He says I fear the fight is not yet over. Creationists are entrenched, they have a plan, and it will not be denied after this singular ruling. But I disagree. I think the fight was over a long time ago.

David mentions Pastafarians saying One strategy is to follow in line with Bobby Henderson and his Flying Spaghetti Monster and escalate the confrontation. But I think he misread the FSM. It didn't escalate the confrontation at all; it ended it.

In What You Can't Say, Paul Graham wrote:

No one gets in trouble for saying that 2 + 2 is 5, or that people in Pittsburgh are ten feet tall. Such obviously false statements might be treated as jokes, or at worst as evidence of insanity, but they are not likely to make anyone mad.

What the FSM does is make it clear that intelligent design is as ridiculous as 2+2=5, so we need not bother discussing it. Now that we recognize this, it's game over. If creationists want to continue their crusade, they will inevitably be touched by His Noodly Appendage and see the foolishness of it all. There is simply no way to win an argument with a devout Pastafarian in full pirate regalia.

 

Why are so many priests pedophiles? The official Roman Catholic Church explanation seems to be that the cause is homosexuals in the clergy. That explanation is awfully convenient as it rests on common prejudices and shifts the blame away from Rome's own policies. But more to the point, it does nothing to explain why priests are raping girls.

We might then turn to abstinence as the problem. After all, humans are wired to reproduce. However, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that [rape] offenses could be categorized as power rape (sexuality used primarily to express power) or anger rape (use of sexuality to express anger), [but] there were no rapes in which sex was the dominant issue; sexuality was always in the service of other, nonsexual needs. So apparently sex crimes have little to do with sex, and more to do with anger and power issues. So why are so many priests pedophiles?

I suspect the answer has a lot to do with the broken hierarchy of the Catholic Church. I haven't spent a lot of time in Catholic churches, but pretty much every one I know anything about is messed up, with people who want to do good being restricted by their position in an amoral or immoral bureaucracy. Case in point on Shelley's weblog. The inability to do good naturally makes people angry. The apparent discrepancy between God's will and the Catholic Church's will naturally creates power issues. And anger and power issues encourage sex crimes.

The attempt to mandate sexual orientation among abstinent priests is an ironic symptom of the problem here. It's not enough for Rome to control, to the point of elimination, the sex lives of priests; they also want to control the sex priests aren't even having. It's an unfortunate irony, a disease masquerading as a cure.

Ultimately, I think, priests are responsible for their own actions. But the Catholic Church is an apparent accomplice.

 

From Wired, What Would Jesus Blog:

Topics included God bloggers' relationship with the traditional church, their growing influence on mainstream politics and how to manage outsiders' perceptions.

Just when I thought the gap between Jesus and Christians couldn't get any bigger.

 

I don't know a lot of Americans into Asian self-improvement practices such as Buddhist meditation or Yoga, but from the few I do know I have developed a theory. My theory is that self-improvement practices from distant lands more often than not act as a particularly effective placebo.

I used to be very interested in Buddhism. I got some books on the subject, even took a course in university, and some of it I found useful, but never life-altering. But one after another, I've listened to friends and acquaintances with major personal problems extoll the virtues of this or that Asian self-improvement technique after a week or a month of practice. The thing is, they're still just as messed up. They just don't realize it anymore because they've convinced themselves that Shiatsu, or transcendental meditation, or whatever has cured what ails them.

So I've developed this theory. Basically, I think some people with big problems start looking for some answer they never thought of before, because nothing they've done previously seems to be working. And they find some teaching from the other side of the world, and it tells them to do everything different, and they do, and their lives seem different. So they go out and tell everyone else about this great new thing.

Which is great, until everyone else realizes that the person hasn't changed at all. They're just as angry, only now they have mantras to recite about anger. They're just as unhealthy, only now they can lecture everyone else about healthy living. Maybe it's just me and the people I know, but the net result of all the eastern evangelism I've heard has been to make me want to stay as far away from a Tai Chi class as possible.

When someone starts telling me how great Asian cure-all X is, I have a game I like to play now. I replace X with "Ronco Food Dehydrator."

"I've been practicing Ronco Food Dehydrator for about a month now, and it's really helped me. I think you should consider trying it. There's a center in California that gives away free Ronco Food Dehydrator lessons. It will really change your life. I know you probably have a lot of bias from American culture about how weird Ronco Food Dehydrator is, but it's really easy to use."

And maybe Ronco Food Dehydrator really does amazing things to improve peoples' lives. But when I hear someone selling it so hard, I start to think they're not trying to convince me - they're trying to convince themselves that something has really changed, trying to make the placebo last. That's my theory, anyway. I wonder if it would translate into actual placebos. I wonder if giving people "herbal medicine" sugar pills would cure them more than traditional sugar pills.

 

Here's something I don't understand. Catholic teaching is that homosexuality is intrinsically wrong and objectively disordered. And now they're instituting a ban on gay clergy, even those who have vowed celibacy, which would seem to indicate a belief that homosexuality is a fixed condition. So some people are just born evil? Am I misunderstanding this, or is the Catholic church position really that God makes people gay and then condemns them for it?

Every time I read what some nut says about divine smiting, I remember what a modest mouse once said: God who'd wanna be such an asshole?