Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the first book I've "read" by audiobook. It was tough at times, not because of the book itself, but because the book was so very interesting that it was difficult to wait for it to be read to me. Once I figured out how to incorporate it into other activities of my day, however, it became a real joy.

The book is told from the story of Enzo the dog, and he relays the ups and downs over a period of time of his master, Denny, along with Denny's wife, daughter, and extended family. Anyone who has a dog will find themselves laughing at certain comments made by Enzo, as he seems to speak for all of our furry friends. His perspective on things are certainly unique, but create an engaging story.

I think one will also find themselves touched by the novel; and reminded of how loyal and faithful our dogs (pets) are to us, and how they truly are part of our joy, and often carry us through our despair. I know it has made me feel even more appreciative of my dog, Ellie, and her pure joy as she careens across the kitchen floor to greet me each night I come home from work. And reading this story just makes we strive more to be a person worthy of such adoration from my dog.

It will make you laugh, may make you cry, and will definitely make you appreciate a pet's friendship. A worthy read.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

some thoughts on sin

Another Bible Study last night, although I missed the first half due to a church finance committee meeting (still have yet to figure out how to be in two places at once, but I'm working on it). The overall theme this week was Sin, and in particular, the origin of sin and human nature as our readings are limited to the Old Testament at this juncture. Quick hit ideas:

  • I've always struggled with the story of “the Fall” in Genesis. In part, because I've seen it used to justify not seeking it was, allegedly, the act of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that leads to the banishment from Eden. It frustrates me, as, if we are called to seek to be like God, and God is all-knowing, we should seek to obtain more knowledge (with the understanding of our inherent limitations - which may be the sin, in this instance). In any event, I tend to focus on the part of the story where Adam and Eve do not take responsibility for their actions – Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent, neither takes responsibility for their own choices. If the “first” sin was disobeying the instructions not to eat from that tree, then it would have to be compounded by the denial of its acceptance.

  • As a spin off of the above discussion, there was some thoughts and questions regarding the devil, as it seems popular interpretation is the serpent is the devil (although my reading of Genesis leaves that open to some interpretation, but that's a digression for another day). As I struggle even on my good days with the idea of God, the idea of a devil seems even more doubtful to me. Obviously, one hears the statement that “the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he doesn't exist.” Its a statement I strongly dislike for two reasons; first, its impossible to argue (in the philosophical, respectful sense) with someone who says this, because if you put forth argumentation against such existence, they simply quip this line, with no thinking or reasoning, and thus believe it must be true and you have obviously been duped. Its arrogant, and gives no credence to other ideas, and to the other arguments that could put forth in favor of that position. Second, I don't think its true. From religiously inclined folk, the devil is mentioned a lot. And, personally, if there is a devil, I would think the greatest trick is not convincing us of non-existence, but rather to blame him for everything wrong and evil instead of ourselves.

  • The rest of the discussion from the night (while I was there) dealt with more personal thoughts, trending towards the ideas of confession and repentance. I find there are always semantical/definitional issues that will never get addressed in this type of setting, at least to my liking; but that the openness of the group is a real strength, and hopefully that is representative of the church as a whole, both in sharing ideas, and accepting the ideas of others. Its all a journey.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Liberty of Conscience: The Attack on America's Tradition of Religious Equality

Liberty of Conscience: The Attack on America's Tradition of Religious EqualityLiberty of Conscience: The Attack on America's Tradition of Religious Equality by Martha C. Nussbaum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A nice read, particularly for anyone interested in some of the more legal history surrounding the First Amendment's religious clauses and the dual protection of free exercise of one's religion and freedom from the government imposing a particular religion. I tend to do a fair amount of constitutional law work, particularly with the First Amendment, so there wasn't much in the book that surprised me, but its a definite read for anyone wanting to understand the legal history of the issues that are more often coming to the forefront of our modern political debates.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Week 2 Bible Study

Last night was my second night with the Disciple Bible Study program at church....the majority of our reading dealt with creation, beginning obviously with Genesis and then various readings from Psalms and Job that relate back to the Genesis creation story.  Quick(ish) thoughts...

  • Our materials sought to stress the important of not taking the story literally.  I have to admit, I was relieved by this.  Lately I have encountered much of this, and have been amazed as I become increasingly aware of the hostility our country in general has as it regards not just evolutionary theory of species, but scientific theories and explanations for the origin and processes of the universe.  It was interesting to hear people talk about how many of them weren't even exposed to the scientific ideas until high school, and how difficult it has been for them to move forward.  I have never had a problem looking at the story figuratively (might be my Catholic background, among other reasons), and thus have no issue reconciling it with scientific theories on the universe and the evolution of species.  Because of how much tension I have seen this cause in other circles of our society, it was nice to have an open, respectful discussion.
  • The theme for our week of reading was titled "Wonder."  Similar to my reading I have discussed previously of Heschel's "God in Search of Man," the gist is having wonder at creation.  What I find particularly interesting, both in Heschel's work and in many of the notes in the study bibles I have looked at, there seems to be an underlying suggestion that scientific discovery removes wonder from our world.  I assume the thinking goes that having a scientific explanation for the setting sun, and how the hues of colors are reflected in the atmosphere somehow makes the beauty of the sunset less wondrous.  I've never really understood this...for me, the more I learn about the natural world, and the complexity and intricacies and the expansiveness of it all, the more in awe of it I am.  An interesting point in our discussion last night dealt with sharing a moment where one felt complete joy or peace or wonder at creation. Everybody's story dealt with a moment in nature.  Mine, which I remember vividly as being a moment where I was just "WOW," was when I learned that 2 or 3 earths could fit inside Jupiter's large red spot storm.  I have to be wired differently.
  • Our discussions on the concept of rest and the Sabbath were very interesting, particularly as we all have somewhat busy lives, with either work or kids (or both) making the idea of a strict, literal rest for an entire day seem impossible.  I think the idea of taking time away from everything, to recenter and refresh with our spiritual selves is excellent, and is in no way limited to a day (this parlays back into the discussion of a literal translation of Genesis - was the earth created in six days?).  Anyway, what I take is that we often get bogged down in details and the minutia of a "law" or "rule," or forget to live by the purpose.
  • We had a great discussion on our role as stewards of creation. I often feel that this is an overlooked part of the Genesis story, our responsibility to care for the world.  We talked about being more conscientious about what we consume, to explore more recycling, the "doing" stuff that I really like in these conversations.  I also think there is a relationship between how we interpret the creation story in Genesis and our ability to meet this charge.  In order to better take care of this world, of creation, we must educate ourselves and become more knowledgeable about it, and our role and impact on it.  For me, this requires us to explore science earnestly.  Viewing the earth as 6,000 years old, based on a literal interpretation, in my opinion, does nothing to help us meet our charge.
Apart from the ideas we discuss, its been a good group.  Its somewhat apparent to me that I have to be wired differently...others talk about "God" moments they've had in the past week or in their lives, and its not something I have ever had, and its not something I instinctively accept.  But I don't doubt their genuineness and authenticity, so its very thought-provoking for me to observe.  But I imagine it will be easier and easier for me to share my complete thoughts (always with an appropriate filter - I have my reasons) as the class progresses.  As it is, with the nightly reading and notetaking, and a 2-hour-plus discussion setting reminds me how much I enjoy being a "student."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Unique Reactions

I've been doing a lot of thinking today about the differing way people read, interpret, or react to things. I read a story that a friend shared and had what I would described as a somewhat disagreeable reaction to it; meaning, I significantly disagreed with what I interpreted to be the message of the article, on various levels, but was also uncertain as to my interpretation because the story was shared by a good friend, and one I considered eminently reasonable. So after my small reaction and some back and forth discussion, it was obvious that his interpretation of the article was substantially different than mine, and thus his purpose for sharing the article. While I could see his interpretation, I became more convinced, so to speak, of my own interpretation. Not necessarily of its rightness and the wrongness of all others (I try to avoid thinking in such a dichotomy), but just that I felt that my interpretation was reasonable (which is what I strive for).

All this gets me to thinking about how difficult it has to be to discuss weighty topics, when people's genuinely reasonable reactions are different. For the example with my friend, our interpretation weren't necessarily completely opposite of one another, but they were very, very, very different. I believe my reaction and interpretation to be genuine and reasonable; and I have no doubt that my friend's reaction was also genuine and reasonable.

Its a gentle reminder (at least to me) that everybody truly is unique, right down to the genuine reactions and interpretations from little things like sports and music to heavy things like politics and religion. Remembering that, and avoiding negative assumptions, is part of the key to having respectful discussions of such topics, whatever their seriousness, and overcoming one of the challenges or obstacles our uniqueness can provide to community.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

This is Surprising

I never imagined that I would join a Bible Study, but I have. I have signed up, and already attended the first session, of the Disciple Bible Study program offered through my church. And not only is a Bible Study, but its one that last 34 weeks, and has reading assignments each and every day. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better to take it slow to see if its something I could handle, but its all in now I guess.

To explain, I have no issue with studying the Bible. Through high school and college (both Catholic schools), I had the opportunity to essentially read the Bible in its entirety twice, with one time focusing on the history surrounding the time period of its writing, and the other surrounding the philosophical/theological ideas proposed through the course of the text. But my anxiety stems from the fact that at the moment, and for the past couple of months ago, my naturally doubting personality has tended to take more control than usual over my thoughts and my analysis when it comes to matters of belief and faith. At times, this can result in more cynicism than I would like. So, when it comes to this study, I was interested in giving it a go – for a variety of reasons – but always had the nagging voice in my head that my mind wasn't in the best place to approach this study; that my reactions would be too cynical, too harsh, too destructive, for others in the study, and for me, and for Jackie.

Despite this, I signed up. I wanted to do something of a studying nature – the part of me that never tires of being a student, or reading, writing notes, reflecting was just jumping at the opportunity. In addition, the church was offering something different. For lack of better wording, it was offering a “ministry” that was more academic or grounded (never sure of the right word to use) than the usual stuff of singing, etc. I was drawn to the level of commitment – nightly reading and 34 weeks of weekly classes, for 2 to 2 ½ hours. It's the type of thing I have talked about with Jackie often, about the need for churches to expand their offerings to reach different types of people. I couldn't very well say no to this and continue my thinking along those lines – it was something I needed to support.

And thus, this past Monday night, I was at our first class. I've done reading for the past week and a half, on the schedule provided for in the program. Despite the simple joy I get from being in a “class” setting again, and the process of reading and note taking that I often miss, I still have that nagging voice about tempering my approach. Its a delicate balance - I am who I am (?) so to speak, meaning that I am a doubtful person, it helps in various tasks of my profession, and the scrutiny that personality tick causes me to use has served me well in my past educational studies. But I find it often difficult to achieve a balance with that doubt, or a filter to temper the cynical nature that it can manifest itself as. Thus, trying to achieve between fully being myself, and fully participating in this study, yet doing so in nature that controls some of my more destructive and, in my own personal truth, useless statements.

Cynicism, I find, it sometimes warranted. In this situation, I do genuinely hope that I can convey the doubt without the cynicism. Its important to me to do that, so I can better be that person I want to be, and assess how that person fits into my “church” world. Also, it helps me to better assess that church, and my doubtful, crazy self fits in, if at all. So I approach it with excited trepidation, nervous hope, etc. I may even feel compelled to write out some of my notes here, perhaps to share, perhaps to get it out of my system before the next Monday. But either way, I imagine the process will be interesting for me internally, and will hopefully yield great opportunity for increased knowledge and awareness, and maybe even understanding and some faith along the way.