Sunday, January 30, 2005

I wouldn't exactly say that I consider myself an Avalon fan, but when they come out with something good I tend to love it. "You Were There" from their latest album is one such song. I love it when art hits me this way: it's like the shock of a breaking wave, driving me inexorably to my knees. It reaches through me from my crawling skin to my trembling heart. It rips worship from my lips, but it's so gentle - softer than velvet, softer than a girl's touch. It's not a "worship song," but it's a worship song. And it's danceable (two-step). Goes on the list of Songs to Dance with True Love at Wedding Reception.

In other news, I understand it's all over by the time I write this, but God bless Iraq. For those of you who have been hiding from politics, the long-touted (and long-doubted) elections took place in Iraq today. The next step towards setting a nation back on its feet. Now the task of drafting a constitution.

I look forward with some trepidation to the next several days when we will find out what the Sunni turnout was, but for now I dwell on something else. It's hard for me to imagine the courage of a crippled old woman hobbling to vote under the threat of violent men who have promised to turn the polling places into slaughterhouses. I hope that we'd have the courage to do that in our own country. God bless the process of giving their nation back to the children of Iraq (I mean that literally - God help it, because it needs help and will need help) - and God bless the men and women under arms who are willing to die to give that process a fighting chance. To paraphrase the quote from Xenophon's profile, one day men will sleep peacefully in that country, because rough men stood ready to do violence on their behalf. May that day come soon.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Just got back from seeing The Phantom of the Opera with Enika. Still reeling from it. In fact, listening to it as I type this is kind of distracting. I have my critique of it, of course (although overall I actually thought it was good cinema), but all in all I'd say that my sister's recommendation was dead on. I'm going to have to disagree with Twilight ... not necessarily with his critique itself so much as what conclusion to draw from that. Well, I guess I do disagree with him about Christine. I disagree with Kalaraen about Christine too (well, I disagree with the person with whom Kale agrees in that regard, but I haven't come up with a suitable blogname for her yet); I actually liked her performance. And I wholeheartedly agree with Twilight about liking Raoul. The bottom line is that the whole thing made my blood thrill, which is why I loved it.

This goes on my list (along with City of Angels, which I have also been listening to) of shows that I'd really like to do. I discovered on the way home, in the privacy of Meilissa, that this is good singing music. I mean of course it's good music, but it turns out to be music that I can really sing. Music that I can put power behind, that I can perform and pour heart into. In the privacy of my car, of course. Although Blue Rose is quite right that I am a "ham" (ahem ... a performer, if you please), I am a performer because I am shy. Which means I am particularly shy about singing and acting.

I love art. I mean, I don't consider myself artsy. But I love being able to share good cinema with people. Other people are free to be unimpressed by this film; it made my blood thrill and so it goes on the list of special movies I love.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Over the past month or so it seems like I've heard a lot over the past month or so about the sexual backwardness of American Christians (particularly of the small-town and/or Southern variety) and a lot of it struck me as grossly insensitive. Now, mind you, I'm not saying that we can't be grossly insensitive too. We can, and most of the actions I've heard critiqued lately (e.g., decrying a billboard advertising bras in Texas, or objecting to the Olympic Opening Ceremonies) I too think were misguided. Yet however appropriate it may be to critique such complaints and others, I thought that the way they were critiqued betrayed a lack of empathy with where the other side was coming from, so I thought I'd post a general plea for tolerance.

It will be understood I hope that when I say "sex" I mean it in the sense that advertising executives do when they say "sex sells." Somehow over the past several years national rhetoric has shifted to give the impression that Christians are uncomfortable with sex. So, the story goes, we don't like thirty-foot tall women in bras looming over our highways because we're sort of backwards and prudish. I feel a little silly pointing out that this is rhetorical sleight-of-hand, but just so everybody's on the same page let me call it for what it is. To say that we are uncomfortable with sex is not, in my opinion, a very useful way of putting it. As everybody knows, we're fine with sex in certain circumstances (which is true of everybody, in reality). But to say that we're uncomfortable with sex implies that we become progressively more comfortable with it as circumstances slide along some undefined continuum, whereas in reality it's more like a step function. Slot the right circumstances into place and the comfort level jumps rather than slides. So it's really more useful, I think, to say that we're comfortable with some sorts of sex and uncomfortable with others. The question of what we're comfortable with and what we're not has a complicated answer, and that's not what I want to address here. But let me note that we are by no means categorically opposed to pretty people, human beauty, or the human form.

The question is why we're uncomfortable with the things we're uncomfortable with, and here's where I think the secularist cosmopolitist world could afford some sympathy. Listening to what people say, I'm inclined to get the impression that people think we're uncomfortable with the sex we're uncomfortable with because the Bible, or possibly George W. Bush, said we should be - or else we're just perversely bent on imposing our backwater will upon a world which is unable to resist our irresponsibly wielded economic might. All of which is another way of saying people don't have a clue. Let me suggest one reason: we're afraid.

That's right, we're afraid. As a people, we know just as much about sex as any other demographic you care to name, and we don't like what it does to us. We don't like the things it makes us think of, and we don't like the way it makes us think (I am speaking now of those kinds of "sex" which we find uncomfortable, rather than everything which has to do with romantic or erotic attraction) - and we don't think it's good enough for a person to be a perfect gentleman behaviorally, which frankly a lot of people seem willing to settle for as a goal. We want as well gentlemanly (meaning the term as gender-neutral) minds.

Before I go any further let me attempt to anticipate protests to the effect that sex in advertising, sex in broadcast media, sex in pornography, and sex in interpersonal culture are all more or less benign - or at least hardly likely to turn a person into a monster. What precisely are we so afraid of? Answers that reference "sin" or "lust" or one's "Christian walk" tend to obscure the force of the answer. Let me try to be more direct at the risk of sounding crude: Do you know what it's like to want to rape somebody? I know we're not supposed to ask questions like that in these discussions. We're supposed to pretend that because the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing bad could ever come of its contemplation. Well, I don't feel like pretending that, because it is pretending. I agree that the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, but I disagree that it is thereby inherently safe. An honest survey of the prevalence of pornography and the literary/aesthetic theory which underlies pornographics provides valuable insight, I submit, into the dark side of contemplation of the human form. I know we're not supposed to admit that we know about that sort of thing, but I think it's important that everybody understand that we do. So the question stands. If you don't, allow me to humbly suggest to you that you probably don't understand what we're afraid of, and request that you take my word for it that we're afraid of something very bad indeed. If you do, then I trust that the point needs no further elaboration.

Now of course how exactly we go about navigating a world which frequently seems as insensitive to us as a distillery to a recovering alcoholic is a tricky issue. Personally I think that a lot of Christians react to their fears in inappropriate ways, such as this protest of the opening ceremonies. But I think it wouldn't do the public any harm to realize where we're coming from when we protest that something is too sexually explicit for us.

One might protest that to the extent we're afraid that bra advertisements might lead us down the path of the Dark Side of the Force it's because we are approaching the material with a dirty mind. Well, what if we are? I don't mean to suggest that having a dirty mind is okay (indeed, I mean to suggest the exact opposite - that both chivalry and Christianity entail mental as well as behavioral disciplines), but seriously, what do you do with one when you encounter it? Pretend that it isn't there? That seems singularly foolish, and (to us) singularly dangerous. Try to overcome it? Well, we do - but that takes time. What do you do in the meantime? Just blunder ahead like nothing was wrong?

I'm very sorry if I or any of my people seem like we have dirty minds (no more or less than the general mind on average, I wager - though perhaps more likely to admit it, at least amongst ourselves, and to consider it a problem worthy of resisting). We wish we didn't, I assure you. Until we actually don't, however, best let us judge what will and won't be destructive for us to be exposed to. I assure you that we are afraid of something very evil, and not in any lofty eternal sense. What we fear is immediate and terrible in practical life.

Why isn't everybody else afraid of the same thing? First off, let me point out that this is a tangent. Whether or not anybody else is, or whether or not people think we're crazy, we are afraid and what we're afraid of is well worth being afraid of. Tolerance for that fact is all this post is really asking for.

But as for the tangent, I'm sure that's up for debate. My personal experience with chivalry leads me to believe that somewhere out there in the general public the figure of the perfect gentleman in thought and deed still has power. Generally speaking I'd say that girls still like guys who are attracted to them for who they are, regardless of how much they're willing to put out or what they look like. Well, people don't become shallow and obsessed with making out over substantial relationship by accident. This leads me personally to suspect that nobody else is afraid because they gave up a long time ago, probably before most of them even realized there was anything to be afraid of. Like growing up in land that was conquered in your grandparents' generation, or the Matrix.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I just had a thought which I thought was fun enough to post. I'm reading Mr. Clean's Christmas gift to me, The Question of God, which is basically a Harvard course in book form comparing and contrasting the views of C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud. It's quite entertaining. Anyway, I was reading this book and towards the end we get to the problem of pain, so-called. Personally I'm inclined to agree with Lewis that the capacity for evil is intrinsic in free will, and that only free will "makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having."

But of course I am further of the conviction that at some point evil will be a thing of the past. You see the implication from the above conviction: evidently I believe that at some point in human history (although "history" seems like an odd word to use for the Phoenix Earth) my entire race will be constituted such that it is simply not in our nature to choose to be evil. Instead of fumbling around as we do now, driven by some sort of impulse(s) to be good and finding ourselves only poorly successful only part of the time, I imagine a day when goodness (and all that it implies) is as natural as breathing.

And what about this fumbling about? This is actually what I think about most often when I contemplate the "problem of pain." What about that day when the fairy tale comes true and my race chooses always the same? Sometimes I wonder if that might not be ... well, boring. Now of course if you unpack what is meant by "same" you see that that is nonsense. Boring is, at bottom, a form of unhappiness, of discontentedness, of dissatisfaction. To imagine that such a thing will be present on a planet which is by hypothesis absent those very things and full of their opposites is preposterous, and the sort of thing one shouldn't need a university education to see.

Today as I was reading though I was struck by an image that made the same point more viscerally, and in the hopes that it might do the same for some of you I thought I would share it. A world where goodness is natural would be like riding a fighter plane at the edge of its performance envelope, all the time - always one twitch of the stick from disaster, and never quite going over the edge. To say that the true exhileration comes from the mistakes is foolish; the exhileration comes from finally getting the daring maneuver just right. Or to put it another way, it would be like flying in a perfect redowa all the time. We don't find our redowas exhilerating when we're out of synch with our partner or we stumble. It's exhilerating when you finally get it right, when you can power through free-form hungroise variations and pivots and Viennese steps and back all without effort, knowing that you're really riding the razor's edge and riding it.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

I have spent a fair amount of time by now observing and ruminating upon the phenomenon of flirtation. In particular of late it has struck me as intriguing and somewhat amusing the way serious Christians flirt. We do flirt of course, and anybody who imagines that serious Christians are stodgy and unflirtatious has either been scaring them or else doesn't know very many. What intrigues me is the way we flirt. When a boy and a girl meet each other and experience that heady spark of attraction, the conversation can generally be relied upon to turn towards the verbal equivalent of a mating dance. Just as a peacock or a topi will advertising his good genes to a particular mate by showing off his superfluous, calorie-sucking ornamentation, or just as a marmoset will advertise his attractiveness by displaying his ability to gather food or care for small children, so we too try to figure out and display what will impress the object of our attractions.

Generally speaking we all do it, I have observed, though not everybody is conscious of the fact when it happens. It happens like this. One person will ask the other a question: perhaps what they're studying in school, or what they did over the winter break. The other person answers truthfully, but the rhetoric of his or her answer is shaped by an underlying desire to advertise, "I am a kind, caring, or whatever-else-is-important-to-you human being." So we talk about the importance of family to us, or we are sure to bring up the video games we play, or the sports we do, trying to figure out what constitutes "good genes" in the other person's eyes. This is self-interested in two ways. One, it potentially lures a potential mate closer to us. Two, if we are honest about what we advertise, it potentially serves to warn the other person early that "I would not make a good mate for you; don't get too heavily invested."

Christians do this too, and we're generally concerned about the same advertising as everybody else. But we also take care to advertise our Christianity. It's usually not as blatant as just saying it outright, listed among your hobbies say. It might be pointing out that we have to go to church tomorrow (which implies that it's important to us to go to church tomorrow) or remarking upon that as one of the things we did over a weekend or vacation, or it might find its way (if we're feeling really bold) into an explanation of why we are doing what we are doing. If I am merely telling you why I am in law school I will spin you a [true] story about a certain dinner conversation and the things about the practice of law that appeal to me, both intellectual and lifestyle. If I am feeling comfortable with you, or if I feel that it is critical at this stage in our flirtation that you understand that when I say "I'm Christian" I mean it and mean something very serious by it, then I will tell you I am in law school because this is where God called me, which is no less more or less true than the previous answer but more important.

Next time you have a chance to observe a single Jesus person flirting with people of uncertain religious background, watch and see. I personally find it highly amusing, even when I'm the Jesus person I'm observing. But I wanted to make the observation that beyond its obvious amusement value, this practice of ours is a blessing. For when it meets with a like answer it has all at once established a foundation from which flirting may in good conscience proceed. This is one of the ways in which the magnificent and formidable lady Nari has blessed me in our short interactions. For the difficulty is that when this signal is not recognized as a query as to the flirtee's religious convictions, all that follows is in reality wheel-spinning - but only one party will recognize that. And it is very hard in that circumstance to be knightly, which you must be at all costs. So tip to anybody who is interested in seriously flirting with me: find a way to tell me where you stand on religion and why. We'll have much more fun that way, whatever your answer is.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

I'm halfway through my tests, and getting lots of Starsiege 2845 work done since my computer seems to have a fried motherboard (it's been sent into HP already; thankfully it's still under warranty). As a result of this and the fact that the law school's wireless network is shut down during exams, I am reduced to checking the internet in Meyer. As a result of this I will keep this post to two short observations.

Observation the first: I get nervous before exams, but in a sort of weird way. Two or three hours before I go to bed the night before, it hits me that I have a test the following morning. It's quite sudden, like all my nerves are on edge - the same sort of feeling I get immediately before going on stage. It is a good time to pray and confess what is on my heart. The following morning I am not nervous.

Observation the second: my life would be much poorer without my beloved Blue Rose.