Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Bible, truth, literature

All these years later, I'm learning that understanding the literal meaning of the Bible is a more nuanced adventure than my college friends and I imagined. We'd been blithely unaware that there is more than one genre in the Bible, or that literary context profoundly matters to meaning. We didn't understand that when we read ancient Hebrew prose poems (like Genesis 1), wisdom literature (like Proverbs), or apocalyptic literature (like Revelation) as if they were science textbooks, we were actually obscuring their meaning.

For me, the most negative consequence of all that well-intentioned literalism was the conviction that Yahweh, having given us his straightforward Word, was completely comprehensible. This paradigm both diminished my perception of God and set up my faith for crisis when I discovered aspects of God that remain stubbornly shrouded in mystery.

If you'd told me back then that the language we have for God—even (especially) much of our biblical language—must be understood analogically, I would have prayed for you and backed away slowly. I wouldn't have understood that there are no words that can be applied to God exactly the same way they are applied to creaturely things, no language that can be used "univocally."

- Carolyn Arends
Yeah, this whole article is kind of amazing.  Please go check it out now.  Then let me know what you think.

Have you ever had a very "literal" mindset toward the Bible?  If so, are you still there, or are you in a different place now?  How did you arrive at your present understanding of the Bible?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Do you read things you don't agree with?

"If the only people that you ever read are people who completely line up with you on every single social/political/technological thing — I mean, I had somebody stop reading me because I snarked on Apple products one time. But if that’s your criteria, the number of people that you’re going to eventually allow yourself to read is very, very small." - John Scalzi

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rape jokes and good comedy

So a few weeks ago, a comedian made a rape joke and incurred the wrath of the Internet.  I find this kind of controversy intriguing because there is disagreement about what actually happened.  I don't find the resulting discussions worthless, though, just because the facts that started the conversation are unconfirmed (similar to another controversy I wrote about.)   Regardless of what actually happened, people were able to discuss something important about the meaning and purpose of something (in this case, comedy), and some excellent points were made.

Roxane Gay sees it this way:
'Rape humor is designed to remind women that they are still not quite equal. Just as their bodies and reproductive freedom are open to legislation and public discourse, so are their other issues. When women respond negatively to misogynistic or rape humor they are “sensitive” and branded as feminist a word that has, as of late, become a catch-all term for, “woman who does not tolerate bullshit.”'
The issues of "censorship" and "freedom of speech" were trotted out.  I liked what Roxane Gay and Guante had to say about that:
"We are free to speak as we choose without fear of prosecution or persecution, but we are not free to speak as we choose without consequence.. . . . Sometimes, saying what others are afraid or unwilling to say is just being an asshole. We are all free to be assholes but we are not free to do so without consequence." - Roxane Gay 
 '“Edgy” comedy or art shouldn’t just be about saying naughty words and pissing people off; it should be about pissing people off in order to make a larger point.. . . Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.' - Guante
 Curtis Luciani had a rather good extended metaphor you should check out (very effective but containing lots of language).  His conclusion:
"[C]ausing pain is quite a different f-ing matter. Your job as a comedian is to take us through pain, transcend pain, transform pain. And if you don't get that, you are a f-ing bully, and I've got zero time for bullies."  
And finally, a reminder of why we need comedy that pushes boundaries for the right reasons:
"Humor that makes us laugh and makes us uncomfortable also makes us think."
- Roxane Gay 

Requiem for a requiem

I'd never been through all of Mozart's Requiem before that night.  (I can still definitely say I've never sung Mozart's Requiem because I personally believe my batting average in terms of hitting notes has to be above .160 to say I've actually sung something.)  Then again, nobody's really sung through Mozart's Requiem because he died before he finished it.  Now I want to listen to Amadeus again . . . 

It didn't matter that I was barely keeping up with the music, let alone the unfamiliar words, or that there's always one violin that's flat.  At certain moments, these things don't matter when you're making music.  The thing is that there were more than enough people who knew what they were doing all around me, so I still had that feeling of being a part of something huge and lovely in those moments when I was carried up and away by the beauty of voices singing music to God. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A little John Scalzi on what aspiring writers should read

"This suggestion is actually more difficult to follow than you might think. People like to read what they like, and don’t like to read what they don’t like. That’s fine if all you want to be is a reader, but if you want to be a writer, you don’t have the luxury of just sticking to the stuff that merely entertains you. Writing that’s not working for you is still working for someone; take a look and see if you can find out why. Alternately, pinpoint why it doesn’t work. Fact is, you can learn as much from writers you don’t like as you can from writers you do — and possibly more, because you’re not cutting them slack, like you would your favorite writers."  - John Scalzi

Monday, July 9, 2012

an excellent explanation of memoir

"And it’s because there is this misconception about memoir: you write because you’ve had some kind of unusual life. You write a memoir because you are Somebody or because Some Big Thing has happened to you, and this is how we end up with tomes by the Kardashians and…Snookie.

"But the truth – the thing I love about the genre – is that in its purest form, it’s exactly the opposite. I tell my story not because it is particularly thrilling, but because if I tell it right, it will tap into your story, into the collective story that we all live in.

"The whole truth is in the details, the landscapes, the parts of myself that hide in the shadows of my memory. To dig for these pieces is an act of faith all its own; to assemble them into art, into story, is an act of healing."

-Addie Zierman
I love the story Addie blogs about, too.  A poem about it figured very prominently in my thesis and still does in my life.  If only I could touch His robe's hem and be rid of this (comparably minor) pain and finally start getting solid sleep again . . .

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Glad not to be a redshirt

John Scalzi cracks me up on his blog Whatever, frequently.  His newest novel Redshirts had the same effect.  I'm not sure if I should call it a satire, but it's more than a parody.  It's definitely a darkly comic work built around what would happen if the poor red-uniformed schmucks who died with idiocy and frequency on the original Star Trek series realized that something was screwy and tried to do something about it.  As someone who has never seen all of the original Star Trek series (or any of it recently), I wondered if it would be something I would be able to enjoy.  I've read quite a bit of science fiction and have liked the other Scalzi novels I've read (and have resonated with his sense of humor), so I figured I was in safe hands.  I was.

One of my favorite things about the Scalziverses is that John Scalzi leaves room for God in his books.  He is not a believer (he has spoken at length and very well about these topics on his blog), but he doesn't think all faith and religion will go away in the super-advanced, all-science worlds of the future, and he doesn't think or write as if all people who believe in God are stupid.  I appreciate this because his politeness on the topic is not universal in speculative fiction these days.  In fact, it seems kind of rare for authors to leave any room for God or faith in their books.  More frequently, I see anti-theism and bitterness or nihilism or science explains it all and no room or time for any higher power's existence even to be speculated about worlds.  I much prefer ones where I can feel un-hated  and not completely marginalized as a person of faith.

Pretty much everything I could say about the story itself would be a spoiler.  This is unfortunate.  If you go to his blog, he has some links to reviews (with cautions about the ones with spoilers).  You'll figure out if you're likely to enjoy his sense of humor based on posts like this one in which he says, "As part of my continuing mission to remind authors and other creative people that there is nothing they will ever create that will be universally loved, here are some choice comments from one-star reviews of Redshirts, my current, fastest-selling and in many ways most enthusiastically received book."

And if he's not your cup of tea, he wants you to know that's okay.  You don't have to read his books if you don't resonate with his sense of humor.  ". . . why would you do that to yourself? Life is often unpleasant enough without choosing to fill your recreational hours pursuing a book from an author with whom ample previous readings have shown you have little rapport."

Anyway, after reading this book, I found myself happy that when our division got matching red polo shirts last year, our secretary short ordered and gave mine to someone else while I was on vacation.  There are many days when someone in the department is wearing theirs.  Since I read this book, whenever I see someone wearing one, it makes me snicker.  Thanks, Mr. Scalzi.  Now I know whey the engineers asked for orange.  Must not have been any geeks on the color-choice selection committee for our division . . .

So when's the TV show going into production?

librarian at heart

I am a librarian at heart.  One of my greatest pleasures is helping people find a book they will like, lending it to them, and hearing that they liked it.  Unfortunately, I am also a collector at heart, and I like being able to read and enjoy my books now and in the future, which requires that I take very good care of them.  Other people do not take such care, and some do not understand why anyone would.  And so my two natures are at constant war within me.  I want to lend, but I am heartbroken when a mass market that is no longer in print comes back to me with a broken spine or full of sand (windy day on the beach during vacation) or bent and creased or scribbled in or chewed on or full of cat hairs.  I want to lend but only to those who understand the sacred duty of the borrower to return the book quite unharmed and in the same shape it was received.  I want to lend, but, but, but . . . 

For some reason, just telling someone about a book and hearing later that they read and liked it is not the same.  It's not nearly as satisfying as going through my own shelves and searching for something that person will enjoy reading.  But that feeling when I get a book back damaged or smelling of cabbage . . .

The end result is that I often feel useless, like a librarian at a library no one ever goes to.  Which is kind of accurate because my home is a library (the whole kitchen and a good chunk of the living room is taken over by bookcases), it is small enough to make people feel claustrophobic, and I am antisocial besides.  At least I'm aware that I'm doing it to myself.

I worked at a library once as a page shelving and alphabetizing books in bliss and happiness.  I wonder if I would have been less blissful and more shocked and appalled to be a regular librarian checking in all the returns and seeing the horrible thing people did to my books.  So maybe I'm not a librarian at heart . . .  Should that make me feel better?