Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not To worry

If anyone who reads this blog has wondered where I went, my absence can be explained by a mixture of "end-of-semester/beginning of intense summer school," going out of town for a family funeral (my "step" father-in-law), and most importantly, that my laptop needs a new powercord and it's on order so I can't work at home very well. I have lots of things to write about but no time and no keyboard! I will return soon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Good link

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/may/11.52.html

As long as we consider marriage primarily a method of self-expression, we are doomed.

Knowledge is Power

A few days ago I wrote about drinking wine. I think it's one of those subjects that evangelicals don't talk about because they all are doing it but would rather no one know. Kind of silly, actually. Most of us need to come out of the wine cellar. I respect those who are teetotalers, though. They probably have more arguments in its favor than those who drink.

But it has come to my attention that many sheltered Christians don't know about the opposite subject. Dealing with alcoholism is not to be taken lightly. Yes, as I am often reminded, alcoholism is a sin but all sin is sin and it's no different from my gossiping or another person's fudging on income taxes. Yes, theologically that is true (I hear the same argument about homosexual incontinence and heterosexual incontinence). Yes, Christ died for all of it, and Christ offers us forgiveness for all of it. And yes, gossiping et al can be harmful. But practically speaking they are not the same, and to put alcoholism, addiction, or homosexual/heterosexual "lack of chastity" in the same boat as gossiping is, excuse me, ignorant.

I will not address the sexual one here, because everyone knows that both kinds of sexual practice have massive numbers of associated problems. My concern here is alcoholism. Anyone who has lived with an alcoholic or drug addict knows that the problem is not just drinking too much. Their problems are denial, lying, deception, and priorities. Everything pales in comparison to getting the booze or the drugs. The alcoholic's relationship with his/her child or spouse or anyone comes second or third or fourth. They will lie to get the drugs; they will lie about having taken the drugs; they will lie about what happens or what they did when they took the drugs. They will leave a path of pain and disappointment and despair with "loved ones" and act like they themselves are the victims, more than anyone whom they have hurt. They will steal or worse to get the drugs.

Do not tell me that "we are all sinners and shouldn't judge the alcoholic." The alcoholic and drug addict doesn't need to be told he/she is the victim of a disease beyond his/her control or about which he/she has no responsibility. That's what stokes the disease. He/She doesn't need to be told that my filching a candy bar when I was six (I don't recall doing that, but might have) is the same as the choices they make to get a drink no matter whom it hurts. They need reality, reality, reality, and hope--and lots of accountability.

I am an adult child of an alcoholic, if there's any doubt there. But my father spent the last five years of his life stone cold sober, thanks to AA, a group I believe deals in reality (although many who come are still in denial and only there because they were ordered to be). I have at least two living alcoholics in my family and have seen others die of it. Perhaps someone who lives with addicts is not as clear-sighted as the experts, but the experts often have a monetary incentive to hold the views they do.

Yes, to put alcoholism in the same league as eating two pieces of pie once in a while is the same kind of denial the alcoholic is practicing.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Discrimination

This has become one of the dirtiest words in the English language. That is unfortunate, because by demonizing the word we have gone a long way towards destroying any semblance of critical thinking and common sense.

There is of course good discrimination and bad discrimination. What differentiates them is the standards by which the discrimination is done. Obviously there are reasonable standards to discriminate and unreasonable. The reasonable ones should be either functionally based or philosophically based. For example, if I am going to hire someone to do a job, the standards of discrimination should be competence and experience--nothing else. If I am going to choose a version of the Bible to read, the standards for discrimination should be how the translation is done, the text, and accuracy. Not all discrimination is based on functionality or pragmatism, and not all is based on ideology or philosophy.

I say this because I was listening to a British journalist, Melanie Phipps, being interviewed on Wall Street Journal on Fox News. She was trying to explain how a free society can effectively deal with religious extremists without drawing the line at persecuting a religious minority. Of course, she was speaking of Muslims; although there are occasional instances of terrorism by other groups, even those calling themselves Christian, 99.9% of it is done by Muslim. What was clear is that she was having difficulty making that distinction because secularists have lost a vocabulary for discrimination. We are supposed to be tolerant even when it makes no sense.

This is why we had Nidal Hassan in the military, for example.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Be Not Drunk with Wine

A few hours ago I came home from a church meeting. I live near a, well, winery. It's really funny to say that because Northwest Georgia is not known for vineyards but someone got the idea to start one here. I am not sure where the vines actually are, or where the bottling goes on, but there is a little store on my exit of I-75 where the products are being sold; it's a stop on the Georgia agritourism route. Today they are having a sales in honor of Mother's Day, and a wine tasting. I stopped in.

I saw a man I know; we used to go to church with him and his family. He said, "Don't tell anybody I drink wine." I don't know if he was serious or not; I'll assume it was a joke. I told him I thought most Christians could use a glass of wine. It surely would be better than living so anxiously, and better than taking antidepressants or other meds.

Ironically, in the church meeting I had attended, the theme verse was Titus 2:3-5 "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.4 .Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5.to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."

I take this to mean one or more of the following:
1. Drunkenness was more prevalent in the early church (and in that culture) than we think. And why not? Alcohol does dull the pain, it does help one feel less anxious, and let's face it, those folks had a whole lot more to feel anxious about than we. I am not saying that is a good thing, just a true thing.
2. The commandment is to "not be addicted to much wine." I am still looking for the verse that expressly forbids drinking any wine at all. I think the assumption is that people drink it, although that some may abstain for health or personal reasons. As I did, for most of my life, until I decided that I was living in unfaithful and unnecessary fear of becoming an alcoholic because my relatives were.
3. The Bible, I think, makes a distinction between wine (natural product) and spirits (manufactured product, and much stronger).
4. All that said, I would never, ever encourage anyone to drink, even if a glass of wine is supposed to be good for the heart. The best way to not have a drinking problem is not to drink, just as the best way not to get pregnant or not to catch an STD is to abstain from sex. (not a perfect analogy, though; I'm not saying sex is otherwise okay outside of marriage). There are other ways to insure a healthy heart and circulatory system (garlic is very good, I've found.) But I also would never guilt a person about wine or beer. As for me, it takes me a couple of months to get through a bottle, so I think I'm ok. And my sweet husband won't touch the stuff.
5. If it came down to drinking vs. service, service has to win. I'm all for Christian liberty. But we've gone too far with it, to where Christian liberty (i.e, doing whatever I want) trumps everything, including the denial of self that is clearly central to the gospel.

Oddly enough, this being the Bible belt, Eph. 5:18 is printed on the labels to the wine bottles at the Georgia winery.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

William Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work -- a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed -- love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

The poet’s, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Year

As it is the end of the semester, I have some time to read. Three books are involving me right now, or recently have. I just finished Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It is a beautiful book. Not many writers have had the nerve or the skill to delve into the real meaning and pain of grief. C.S. Lewis did (and she mentions him), as did Lewis' disciple, Sheldon Vanauken. Both books should be read repeatedly, as should Ms. Didion's.

I am especially amazed by my joy in reading the book because she and her husband were the type of people with whom I would have no "truck" (New York pseudo-intellectual writers) and she is quite honest that, despite her family's involvement with St. John the Divine Episcopal, she has no belief in God or the afterlife.

These two things make the book all the more sad to me.

However, the writing is brilliant. I highly recommend the book. The title comes from her failure to give away her husband's clothes several months after his sudden death. She would say to herself, "If he comes back, he wouldn't have any shoes to wear." That was her "magical thinking,"--that he would come back, that he was just temporarily gone away. That phrase so well describes the aftermath of a loved one's death.

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not becau...