Thursday, March 24, 2011

Weird Passages of the Bible: Ezekiel

As part of my Lenten discipline, I am reading Ezekiel.  I picked it because I wanted to read a part of the Bible I hadn’t read before.

First I have to mention that a verse I read yesterday uncannily predicted our actual weather of yesterday:

There will be a deluge of rain, great hailstones will fall, and a stormy wind will break out. – Ezekiel 13:11

Enough weather report.  Here are my impressions of Ezekiel so far, through Chapter 16. 

This is not a section of the Bible you are going to hear a sermon preached from very often.  It’s just too weird and scary.  The book begins with a vision of fire, humanoid winged creatures, and wheels with eyes on the rim.  ‘Ezekiel saw the wheel,’ but the song doesn’t tell you how bizarre the wheels were. There are other visions, and the Lord commands Ezekiel to symbolically act out the coming destruction.  Chapter 5 features a symbolic haircut.  I am glad I discovered this for my research on Hair in the Bible.

How does this book portray God?  First off, God appears as fire and radiance.  Holy and supernatural, which would be appropriate for God.

And God is angry.  Throwing the furniture around and setting things on fire and cutting up stuff with swords kind of angry. Why?  Because of the people’s rebellion against God’s laws, their ingratitude, their vile rituals, their idol worship, murder, and injustice.  Chapter 16 is a looong chapter portraying Jerusalem as God’s unfaithful bride who has become a [5-letter word beginning with ‘w’ that will not appear on this blog].  The text says that Jerusalem is more sinful than Sodom, heretofore known as the poster-city for iniquity.

Thankfully, Chapter 11 has a brief word of mercy.  After God scatters the people, and they have had their punishment, God will gather them together again. 

I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20

So that’s the first third of Ezekiel.  Only 32 more chapters to go.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mind Pinball

Last Monday I attended my first class at the seminary.  It’s a lecture given by a father and son team.  The father is a retired seminary professor, and the son is a physicist.  The topic was: Science and Theology – does there have to be conflict between the two?

The main things I carried away from this class are:
- Scientists are easier to understand than theologians.
- Theologians like to disagree.

Maybe it’s because I hang out with scientists, but I could readily understand these statements that the physicist made:

1.  Before class started, the bell outside chimed the hour at 9:55 AM.  It had chimed an hour ago, at exactly 8:55 AM. The physicist remarked, “The bell is precise, but not accurate.”  Ha!  I was familiar with this terminology because my son brought this concept home from his chemistry class during the first week of school. 

2.  A scientist expects experimental results to be reproducible.  This is more true in the hard sciences, and less true in the softer sciences.  I know this to be true, because I practice the Dismal Science (economics), a soft science if there ever was one.  Economists are always wrong because they can’t go in a lab and do double-blind, controlled experiments.  Predictive economics is just glorified guessing.

3. God created the world in such a way that God’s existence cannot be deduced through the scientific method.   That is either beautiful or sneaky, depending on your point of view.

The theologian, on the other hand, was very hard to follow.  He seemed to assume that all of us in the class had been intensely studying theology for the past 10 years.  He would veer off topic, charging through lists of philosophers and theologians like a bee in a flower shop.  You all know what Schlegelbinger would say...  (WHO is Schlegelbinger?) “You can’t read Barth without reading Kant....”  (I have read neither.)  Hegel said the world is rational.”  My conclusion there is that all theologians have German surnames.

Both speakers agreed that the Greeks – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander the Great – are responsible, more than anyone else, for the way our culture views the world.  It’s so pervasive we don’t even notice it.  For starters, these Extremely Dead Guys brought us deductive and inductive reasoning.  The physicist gave us a crash course in logic:

Deductive reasoning goes from the general to the specific:
(a) All men are mortal.
(b) Socrates is a man.
(c)Therefore Socrates is mortal.

Inductive reasoning goes from the specific to the general:
(a) Every piece of ice I touch is cold. 
(b) Therefore, all ice is cold. 
See how I expertly used inductive reasoning above, to conclude that all theologians have German names?    

After this brief course in logic, it was again the theologian’s turn.  I think his main point was that Aristotle promoted the idea that the human being is rational. But he dropped theologians’ names ever faster, making my mind ping around like a pinball.  “Bullinger was right, Calvin was wrong.”  I have no idea who Bullinger is, or what he was right about.  Dr. Theologian was severely dismissive of “process theologians,” thereby proving my hypothesis that theologians disagree with most everybody except themselves.  He gave his lecture with a twinkle in his eye the whole time, so I don’t think he would advocate violence.  But in History, Christian leaders seem to have invented the practice of burning each other at the stake, so it makes me squirm.

The theologian ended by saying something about The Ineffable Experience.  My brain was ineffably fried by this point.  Is it any wonder that, when I was given the opportunity to skip class today, I took it?   I’ll try again next week, when my brain is rested up.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Glory Be and Hallelujah!

Since my Youngest Daughter was small, she and I have gone outside sometime in March for the purpose of looking for Signs of Spring.  We’re a little later than usual this year.  Our last snow was a week ago. It was a heavy wet snow that melted quickly.  My bus-stop neighbor and I prognosticate that we will have one more snow before spring starts in earnest.  But today it was a glorious, sunny 72 degrees.  Aaaah.   

We saw these signs of spring today.  Oh, joy!  Oh, rapture!  My daughter is now 11 years old, but she seemed as excited as ever to find them with me.  I hope I never tire of looking for such signs of hope.  The world sure does need some signs of hope.

What signs of spring or hope have you seen lately?

Crocuses by the corner rock. 

Time to pump up the tires.

Forsythia buds 

The tree huggers come out in spring, too.

Lilac buds

Crocuses on the hillside

Spring-time physics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Just can't stop the flow of dinner conversation

My husband has the opportunity to attend scientific lectures at work.  And we have the opportunity to hear about them at the dinner table.  I must preface this account of our Actual Dinner Conversation by saying that I am not trying to make light of this condition.  In fact, it is likely to be a medical condition I experience myself sometime in the future.

Common Household Husband (eagerly):  I went to a really interesting lecture today!

Other members of the household:  Pass the food, please.

Common Household Husband (even more eagerly):  Does anyone want to talk about incontinence tonight?!

Oldest Daughter:  What’s that?

Youngest Daughter:  Incompetence?

Husband:  Incontinence.

Me, trying to head him off at the pass:  No, we do NOT want to talk about that.

Oldest Daughter:  What is it?

Husband:  It’s the loss of bladder control.

Oldest Daughter:  No, we DON’T want to talk about that.

Husband:  But I went to a really interesting talk today about incontinence.

We managed to steer the conversation to a different topic for a while.  But once Oldest Daughter had asked her usual, “Can I be excused to take my shower?” and left the table, my dear husband launched into the topic of incontinence.  He was pretty excited about what the speaker had to say.  To whit:

It used to be assumed that incontinence was a normal part of aging, and that nothing could be done about it.  More recent research shows that isn’t true. 

There are many different conditions associated with incontinence, and a lot of them have nothing to do with the bladder itself.

It’s hard to get people to tell their doctor about incontinence, because it’s embarrassing, and people assume that nothing can be done about it.  But if people would only tell the doctor, then something could be done about it.*

He went on and on, until Youngest Daughter said, “Daddy, I think you should stop talking and go play the Wii.”

He said, “Go take a wee?”

*See your doctor.  She might recommend Kegel exercises, while sitting in the car waiting to pick up teenagers.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Trying to slow down for Penitence Season

You are dust and to dust you shall return.  (Genesis 3:19)

The Ash Wednesday worship service was a haven of calm in the middle of a busy week.  It seems the Common Household does not slow down much for celebrations of penitence.  Most of my activity was good, but not particularly penitent:

            aerobics class two days in a row (oof!);
            cooking a casserole for the local men’s shelter;
            taking the car for state inspection (it passed!);
            meeting friends from out of town for lunch;  
            taking the kids to music lessons and other activities.

And yet in the midst of these good things, and the outrageously wonderful blessing of being able to have the time and energy to contemplate penitence at all, I felt angry and unsettled this week.             

Angry at our state’s governor, who announced his budget proposal this week.  He proposes to cut state funding for K-12 education by 10%.  This just makes me sick in my soul.  With a change like that, even if state taxes don’t go up, local taxes will.  Poorer school districts will be less able to raise funds.  Teachers and other staff will lose their jobs. 

Unsettled about the future.  The governor proposes to cut funding for state universities and colleges in half.  Not a gradual decline over several years but a precipitous drop in one year.  This hits the Common Household where it lives, since one of us works for one of those universities, and we have a student getting ready to depart for college in the fall.  I can live with being unsettled, but what about the students who have to drop out of college after the universities are forced to raise tuition? Where is the hope for their future?

Angry that the governor proposes cutting funds for the state Department of Environmental Protection. And yet he can’t see past the hefty campaign contributions he received from industry, not enough to impose a tax on that industry, so that money will be available for oversight and for the inevitable environmental cleanups resulting from that industry.

[New state slogan:  We don’t give a damn about public education or the environment!]

Unsettled about earthquakes, tsunamis, uprisings, wars, and this heavy snow, which is making ominous rumbling noises on the roof right above me.

Feeling the need to be penitent, not for my angry or unsettled feelings, but for the general state of the world, I have decided to try to pay more attention to Lent this year.  For me, this began with a Presbyterian fast (salad for lunch, skip dinner, eat sumptuous breakfast the following morning) on Ash Wednesday.  Daily scripture reading and prayer is part of the package.  I made a vow to clean out some closets, but I’ve made that vow in the past, so we’ll see if it happens.  That’s pretty minimal compared to how other people celebrate Lent, but I think it’s the best I can do right now.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and steadfast spirit within me; ...sustain in me a generous spirit. Psalm 51

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
- Isaiah 58: 6

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Interfaithiness Panel

A minister, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk, a Muslim, and a nun walk into a library.  It was not a joke, but it ended with a comment that poignantly told all.  Last week my Jewish husband and I attended an “Interfaith Panel” at a local library.  These sorts of things are always attended by people who already espouse the idea of interfaithiness.  The people who can’t stand the idea of learning something about other religions simply aren’t going to show up.  Also, I think it is rare for people of the majority religion to show up, because those people just don’t need this bumper sticker:

The event was a bit too freeform for my liking.  I would have preferred a Large Question Relevant to All Life, and then have the representatives of the different religions answer that question.  Instead, the moderator said to the panel something like, “Tell us about yourselves.”  The Presbyterian minister began by asking and answering the question:
Why would Presbyterians be interested in an interfaith panel? 

And his answer was this.
            - Because all creatures (not just Presbyterians) are
              loved by God: in Genesis, God’s
              wind-breath-spirit animates all life. 
            - All truth is God’s truth, however it is expressed. 
            - We have a calling to listen to other traditions.

One of these thoughts echoes my pastor’s sermon from this week:  God loves whom God will love, not whom we tell God to love.  Still and all, many people of many faiths (probably including my pastor) will have a problem with one or more of the above statements.  We get stuck in saying, “God’s truth is only expressed in my faith.”  “It is dangerous to listen to people from other traditions.”  “God does not love those people over there.” 

After many kind and sweet words were exchanged about how all the represented faith traditions wanted to get along, my husband asked:  “I have heard you say tonight that there is no barrier to us all getting along, and yet there is a lot of contention in the world due to religion.  Why is there all that contention?”

The moderator balked and then responded, “The Contention Panel is next week.  This is the Loving Dialogue panel.” 

He really was going to end it there, but some panel members wanted to respond.  The rabbi said that spiritual leaders have a particular point of view which allows them to get along with other religions, but those views are not shared by the “rank and file” practitioners of each faith.  The Buddhist monk contended that it is human nature to have conflict.  Even within our own families we have conflict, so how can we expect larger groups of people and society in general to not have conflict?

How about you – would you have any interest in an Interfaith Panel?  How about a Contention Panel?