Friday, February 27, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 99)

1. I’ve had six snow days out of the past nine. That’s more than all my other college years put together. While some people have been getting antsy, I’ve relished the socially-acceptable hermit-life of being snowed in.

2. But snow days are really difficult to turn into productive days. I want to watch snow, watch Netflix, and read books for pleasure. I’m getting some work done, but not nearly as much as I would if I could go to the library. At least I don’t have classes this semester. Both students and teachers are massively confused by a two-week disruption to the sacred syllabus.

3. This month has gone by so fast (the blur of snow days hasn’t helped). My thesis defense and Easter are only a month away, with graduation and that hurdle into the real world shortly following. Maybe the snow will last longer, and I can hole away until June.

4. Best book review quote this week via the New Yorker: "The global appeal of the novel has led some fans to hallow it as a classic, but, with all due respect, it is not to be confused with 'Madame Bovary.' Rather, 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is the kind of book that Madame Bovary would read.”

5. Best quote online via Reddit, in regards to the above quote: “Someone call Ray Bradbury because this is the biggest literary burn since Fahrenheit 451.”

6. I did not do the milk and bread run for this latest snow. And now I have no milk for snow cream. This is the most valuable lesson I learned this week.

7. I’m glad I remembered a Quick Takes this week. It was the only thing reminding me it was Friday. I haven’t gone to school on two consecutive days since the 12th, so my concept of days and weeks is a little muddled.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mere Christianity isn't So Mere

When I was 14 or 15, I picked up C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I picked up a lot of random books, because my house was always filled with books. It wasn’t a deliberate choice, and I had no preconceptions. I didn’t know Lewis outside of Narnia; I had no idea he was a well-known author or Christian. I wasn’t looking for a Christian-themed book or something to address my faith; I didn’t even have an adult concept of spiritual growth yet. I most likely picked it because it looked like a short read that I could get through in short bursts throughout the day—in-class readability was a main prerequisite for my book choices in middle and high school.

So I discovered Lewis. I discovered the field of theology, how history and culture and logic all belonged in building an understanding of the divine. I got a peak of both the intellectualism and mysticism in Christianity. My faith, something that was quite real but still regulated to surface notions on Sundays and holidays, took root in firmer foundations. A seed of religious identity was planted, and I kept reading. In college, I met a friend who was in the same Lewis fandom. By then, it had been a couple of years since I’d devoured his works, although I revisited The Four Loves and The Great Divorce regularly. We gushed about how brilliant Lewis was and wished we could write so clearly.

During my conversion to Catholicism, I wanted to revisit Mere Christianity. I’ve only ever read it twice, despite my Lewis binge. It was my gateway, but I delved into other works much harder. Still, there was something about Mere Christianity. It meant something to me, because it had awakened this young high-schooler in an unexpected way. I thought, surely, with this big change in my faith, a revisit would be worth it, to see how I view it now. But I didn’t read it. I don’t know if I just didn’t get to it or if there was a fear holding me back.

I’m afraid now, of going back and seeing the flaws in Lewis’ arguments (like the “lair, lunatic, lord” trilemma). I’m afraid of disagreeing with his presumptions. I’m afraid of finding out a book that impacted me just isn’t that good. My two copies of the book sit on my shelf with Chesterton and Francis de Sales, but I don’t know when they were last opened. I suppose it could be said that I simply grew out of it. There are plenty of books I haven’t revisited. And what was good for my journey then does not necessarily need to be part of my journey now. But there is a lingering fear that I abandoned Lewis somewhere along the way, like how I left my Protestant upbringing, a fear that my loves and inspirations are temporary. There comes the real fear. That if what I once clung to now goes untouched, will I also eventually abandon what I hold dear now? It that a sign of growth or capriciousness?

I think this is why I’m so picky about what I read these days. Books can change me. They stay with me and haunt me and make me reorient myself and question my motives. A random pick off the shelf might be more impressionable then I am ready for it to be. That sort of recklessness should be left to a teenager.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Road to Hell is Under Winter Weather Advisory

I never grew up with a fire and brimstone image of hell. Sure, that’s the picture I had from cartoons, but my church never espoused it, and even at seven, I seemed to understand the difference. A lot of people blame Dante for the image of a fiery hell. And sure, with a name like Inferno, you’d think that hell is a hot fire. And there is the mention of a lake of fire in the Bible, so it would be unfair to say the fire and brimstone crowd is totally unfounded. Fire is mentioned often in Christianity. But rarely in a punitive way. The Holy Spirit is a fire. People’s tongues were aflame at Pentecost. Purgatory has a cleansing fire of purification. The light drives away darkness. Fire is alive and warm and powerful.

Hell is dead and cold and defeated. 

There has been a winter blast through the South this week. Ice has covered the roads, leaving many stuck at home, some without power in temperatures dipping below 0. Universities and government offices have been closed. So if I’m going with a literary vision of hell, I’m sticking with Dante. Dante describes the inner-most circle of hell as ice, and I think Southerners stuck in a winter storm can understand why. Ice is harsh and dangerous. Ice is isolating, keeping communities from gathering and society from running. Cold is the absence of energy just as hell is the absence of God. 

And my lips have been chapped for four days straight.

Churches have had to cancel their plans for Mardi Gras/ Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. While I’m not going to drive on the ice anytime soon, I may walk over to an Ash Wednesday service. Braving the cold and ice for Eucharist seems like a good deal and a fair start to Lenten penance.

Friday, February 13, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 98)

1. I’m really enjoying my research, but it’s going far too quickly. I am totally the man from the Twilight Zone classic “Time Enough at Last.”

2. It’s Sex Week on campus this week. There was a big hullabaloo about funding it, but I haven’t actually heard anything about it. There is nothing particularly bad about a series of lectures and panels about sex, especially on a college campus. Although I doubt there were any panels on abstinence and chastity.  

3. Favorite line from TV this week via 30 Rock: “Everyone knows that the weight of a lie makes your soul so heavy you won’t rise up to heaven. And you won’t look good in jeans from behind.”

4. Favorite line from the internet this week via Reddit: “If I know one thing about the folk of East TN, they're real good Christians - unless you tell them they have to be! Delightful and ornery bunch of people y'all.”

5. Valentine’s Day is this weekend. Normally, it’s a commercialized holiday about sappy love. This year, it’s about the release of pornographic-Twilight-fanfiction-turned-movie 50 Shades of Grey. Because nothing says love like fantasizing abusive relationships.
And such good writing. This is an actual quote.
I guess cheeks are the color of nineteenth century printing?
6. Next week starts Lent. So ready for this necessary time. 

7. Update on my dear Pope Emeritus.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Halfway There

I’ve been researching a lot of writings from the late 1970s, some of which come from social activists of the time. They are focused on land ownership, community organization, and questioning systems that allow people to be systematically exploited. Many of these activists are academics as well, and they are trying to understand how to turn ideas into actions. In one example, a writer points out what his colleagues would call a perfect opportunity; a small community, exploited by industry and suffering from poor health, poor education, and generational poverty, ignited. They gathered. They did something. Unfortunately, that thing was burn some books. The writer notes that all was in place for the socialist revolution his colleagues wanted, and yet, some other group (John Birch Society in this case) stepped in and led the people instead. This was the moment the activists had been waiting for, but nothing came of it because they were all watching at a distance, hoping their dream would happen naturally.

There are two steps to activism: education and action. That seems simple enough, however, it gets vastly complex in practice. Who directs the education? How much education is needed before someone is ready for action? Can action precede education? What are the consequences of too little or too much of either? For me, I can get caught in the trap of the education stage. There is always more to learn, more context, changing demographic, new information and theories. I will never feel fully prepared, thus, I will not feel prepared enough for action. On the other hand, there are those who rush into any battle, ready to rage and burn books and upturn the system without a solid foundation of understand or goals to accompany their actions. Neither is going to bring about the best change in the world.

Christianity is activism. It is a movement of the people, rejecting the system of sin and death that enslaves us. In converting others, we are spreading liberation. And like any activist issue, it requires education and action. Without education, there is heresy. Without action, there are lost souls. And again, I’m trapped at stage one, convinced that I’m not quite ready for the action part yet. I’m afraid of foolish errors, of making misinformed change, of winding up burning books. There is always more to know. Cloister me in a library and let me watch the revolution from a distance.

However, I know that is wrong. Unapplied knowledge won’t change anything. Action must be taken. How? I don’t know yet. But I see the importance, the necessity, of actually doing something. I’m ready to throw up barricades when I hear the call.