Things are Becoming Clearer

I think I’ve gotten a clearer image of what’s going on in my marriage.

Here is a man who is wedded to him computer for interaction (being blind) and for his primary contact with the outside world on a daily basis.  He trolls the internet for contact with those he finds interesting and amusing. While married to someone else, he comes across this blog and reads of a housewife, turned student, turned writer who lives a full life. I have a job, three children, a home, cats, and a husband. I get up and go to work every day and I write interesting things during my time off.

Cue eight years later where I give up all that, come live with said man. After things were progressing long distance using Skype and email, we find that being in each other’s presence isn’t quite the same thing as communicating over the internet. Gone are the interesting things for him; my job, my life, my interesting thoughts. Gone are my fantasies that we have anything physical in common due to fetishes I don’t share. We also failed to notice that he is an extrovert entertainer absolutely ADDICTED to being liked and appreciated and to being out in the social scene. I, on the other hand, shun social interaction as much as possible.  I do not like parties. I’m done boozing and bar hopping. Oooo. Bad move on my part.

This man therefore turns to the internet yet again for someone of interest. He finds another woman, university educated AND employed. Her topic? Music of course. Bingo. She also shares some of his fetishes because that’s how they met, on a site catering to that.  Bingo again. They now share morning and evening Skype conversations just as we did. This woman is now filling the role I did all those years ago; interesting life, shared fetish (which I was willing to entertain, but not obsess over), shared interest in music, social butterflies that crave attention.  He fails to see the parallel whereas it’s so obvious to me. I have failed to keep his interest and my one sin; being in the same room with him. Automatically I’m diminished by proximity.

My husband cannot say no to another human being even if it’s to the detriment of his own well-being or his family’s.  I can have no respect for a man who has so little respect for anyone outside his current, immediate circle of interest. I have come to the point of doing my duty without expecting any emotional rewards. That’s what marriage is isn’t it; an exchange of rewards? We exchange emotional rewards and intimacy for doing and sharing the same things? As one author put it, we make deposits in each other’s love bank and hope that enough deposits will overflow into and become the strong marriage we invested in.  What accrues is interest, closeness, shared loyalty, affection, passion, all of which add up to that weird mysterious term we call ‘love’.

By the same metaphor I think that my account is open, but there is very little left in it to draw upon. The smaller and smaller amounts I invest is offering no return (in fact, it’s being diverted) and I’m considering closing it one day. Why keep an account open that works against you? It’s at these times that I need to find a solid figure spiritually to focus on; one I know will always be there for me. I think God provided this in my darkest times before and, whether made up or not, God will once again provide an anchor I need when all human anchors fail.  My Daily Stoic talks about having a ‘mantra’ one can turn to at times like this; to bring one back to the center and stabilize.

Let it be so.

Advertisement

“By Their Fruits” and the Public Political Debate

A female Quaker preaches at a meeting...

Image via Wikipedia

Hereby begins a long rambling post by someone with too much time on her hands. Having no standing in the political or religious arena, I feel free to think aloud about what’s running through my head lately.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve settled down to married life without a spouse in the household, which makes it more difficult than I anticipated. My husband of two weeks had to return to the UK and get to work and before we could spend Christmas together. But the future bodes well with my moving there early next spring and transporting most of my worldly goods as well. In the meantime, I need to keep busy at work and keep my mind off missing him.

As I said before, the wedding ceremony was beautiful. We chose a scripture text because a) we were married in a church and b) it seemed a very practical passage. We used Matthew’s passage about salt and light. Salt should keep its flavor and light should not be hid. It probably seems a strange pick for a wedding scripture but it fit with both of our convictions that actions speak louder than words. For both of us, action is more important than all the talk in the world. Action proves one’s intent more than a thousand declarations. My husband is a newly minted Quaker and The Religious Society of Friends values action more than speech. Even the quiet waiting of the Lord in meeting is an action of surrender, far more powerful than a liturgy or mumbling of words in a ritual. Willingness, reception, humility… far more important than stubbornly proclaiming and correcting. I, on the other hand, take the bible with a huge grain of salt (pun intended). 😀

I was reading many blog posts on the internet this morning. It’s Christmas after all and I was looking for inspiration of some kind. Any kind really. I always tell myself I will go to church or do this or that. And I never do it. I think my IDEA of Christianity is a fond nostalgic moment in my mind, but one which never lives up to that nostalgia in practice. My idea of Christianity is just that; ideal. From my readings I sensed a theme though. Some Christians like to use particular passages to prove  what they consider to be wrong in God’s eyes. This provides the basis for most evangelical sermons heard round the world on most Sundays.  I kept coming to articles quoting another section from Matthew; one that some use as a moral compass:

15″Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.  16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit.  19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit. (Mt. 7:15-20)

It’s a great passage because it describes the predicament of men very well.  It’s a wonderful metaphor for a principle that probably precedes any biblical inclusion. Let’s assume for a moment that the bible contains an absolute set of ethics which is prescriptive of our behavior.  How is this passage prescriptive? Well in the churches in which I was a member, I heard from the pulpit that you could pretty easily recognize the wrongness of a thing by what it produced. Romans 1:24-32 was often used as a companion text to illustrate this point. Never mind the fact that sometimes “fruit” is not instant. Sometimes we cannot see the good or evil of an action until many years down the road.

But some Christians would like us to believe that this can be a test of some kind, right now.  They tell us that certain acts will automatically produce a certain consequence.  It is true that one can generally tell the worth of a thing by the fruits produced. The problem comes when Christians use this passage as a prescription to tell others what is “good” or “bad” in particular, according to their interpretation of the scriptures. They also get to decide which consequences are good or evil.  For them sexuality is the chief illustration of a tree and its fruits. AIDS is a consequence of homosexuality therefore it is bad. Abortion is a consequence of  preventable choices therefore it is bad. Depression is a consequence of abortions therefore it is preventable and bad. Failed third marriages are the consequence of divorce therefore divorce is bad. Laziness and freeloading is a consequence of welfare therefore welfare is bad.  Communism is a consequence of basic health care for all therefore not only is communism bad, basic health care for free is bad. For these kinds of folk, B is always a result of A, no matter what.

But, let’s continue the metaphor and take it further. But what if a tree produces good fruit one year and bad fruit the next? What if part of it’s fruit is bad but the rest is good? What happens if the fruit looks really good and healthy but tastes bitter? What if the fruit that ripens and “rots” the most is the juiciest and the best? Isn’t this parable more a generalization rather than a sure fire way of telling what’s good and bad? You’ll know an action is generally unworthy if it generally and consistently produces bad things. Conversely, and more importantly, you’ll know an action is generally worthy if it generally and consistently produces good things.  Generally then, we can look at the bible as another set of ethics that needs to be scrutinized alongside all systems of ethics, using the same criteria: Does it work? Unfortunately some Christians do not ask that question often enough mainly because they don’t care if it works. God said it, that settles it.

This brings me to philosophy as it relates to the public debate about politics and whose politics are “better,” (as most of what I read always does). Setting aside biblical philosophy, I am always interested in John Stuart Mill and his theory of utilitarianism, which seems important right now in the public debate over whose politics are true, especially in this country. Utilitarianism posits that the “moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome.”  This seems to be exactly what Matthew is saying.  You cannot really judge anything as an idea. Ideas have no worth in and of themselves. An idea of a perfect society has no worth if its not enacted in the culture and proven in the public arena. Politics is merely one group arguing for their idea of a society over another group’s idea. Each tries to prevent the other from enacting the principles behind their idea.

Political utilitarianism in general terms is the idea that the most good to the most number of people is helpful to society as a whole. To work for the good of society is a morally worthy goal. The problem is when groups of individuals disagree about what’s good for society.  But that jumps the gun. Mill wrote that

To do the right thing…we do not need to be constantly motivated by concern for the general happiness. The large majority of actions intend the good of individuals (including ourselves) rather than the good of the world. Yet the world’s good is made up of the good of the individuals that constitute it and unless we are in the position of, say, a legislator, we act properly by looking to private rather than to public good. Our attention to the public well-being usually needs to extend only so far as is required to know that we aren’t violating the rights of others.

How this dovetails with scripture depends on how one views scripture. For me, having once taken it so literally, I can say that the bible exists for me now only as a record of other peoples’ experiences of their ideas about God. There is nothing systematic about it. There is no consistent ethic. It provides no absolute foundation for anything. It is literature of the past that contains myth. Like most myth, it it meant to explain after the fact rather than be a presentation of fact. Myth is written by men for other men to try and explain how the world works for them (see my Master’s thesis introduction). The fact that no woman wrote scripture, or if she did, no woman was allowed a presence in its collection, convinces me that the bible is not meant for a woman’s consumption and indeed probably has nothing of any value to say to modern women. There are some worthy statements in the bible, just as there are in another philosphers’ writings, but to stand the test of time a philosophy has to be workable and representative of most people; women included! If it does not stand that test, then it can be discarded as an idea; a pretty idea perhaps, but not workable in any real sense.

All this is a long treatise on the simple idea of mine that we will never get anywhere in political debate until we are allowed to test the theories posited. This is what makes the United States unique in that there are individual states making legislation amid the larger idea of a cohesive Federal government. The states are little microcosms whereby the people can enact what they believe are good ideas and see if they work. If they do work then legislators and the public should try to convince other states and eventually the Federal government to enact them. But progress is extremely slow and we have to realize that. We cannot assume that something doesn’t work even after many years. But we can assume that something works if it’s proven to have worked. Who will say that Brown vs. the Board of Education didn’t accomplish much? Yet it was vociferously protested at the time. We’ve already seen how theocracy works in part by looking at history (the Crusades, Salem Witch trials, etc.) and by looking at how individual churches run themselves. We know that we trample on individual rights when we keep out all the undesirable people these churches cannot stand. No one wants a government that exhibits such exclusivity and punishment espoused by such doctrines. A society based on such exclusivity does not work. We have seen that slavery doesn’t work by watching our Southern states and realizing the devastating path that racism takes. Our western states have shown us in the past that women’s rights were successful long before the Eastern part of the country got wind of it or realized that women were intelligent beings.

I guess all of this is my way of realizing that action and the consequences of it is the only proof of a good idea. People and mere existence comes first, not institutions or foundations. We aren’t born into rules. Rules are born from us and the good of society as a whole is a direct result of the happiness and freedom of individuals IN COOPERATION with the happiness and freedom of our neighbor. There are some “trees” that deserve to be cut down. Al Qaida is a bad tree. Theocracy is a bad tree. Slavery is a bad tree. The subjugation of women is a bad tree. Unregulated capitalism is a bad tree. War that is not just is a bad tree. People dying because they cannot afford health care is a bad tree. Sexual stereotyping is a bad tree. What else is a bad tree? You get the picture.

“The Habit of Face to Face Encounters”

Virtual reality uses multimedia content. Appli...

Image via Wikipedia

I love Roger Scruton. He always puts his finger precisely on the problems with social media.

In human relations, risk avoidance means the avoidance of account­ability, the refusal to stand judged in another’s eyes, the refusal to come face to face with another person, to give oneself in whatever measure to him or her, and so to run the risk of rejection. Accountability is not something we should avoid; it is something we need to learn. Without it we can never acquire either the capacity to love or the virtue of justice. Other people will remain for us merely complex devices, to be negotiated in the way that animals are negotiated, for our own advantage and without opening the possibility of mutual judgment. Justice is the ability to see the other as having a claim on you, as being a free subject just as you are, and as demanding your accountability. To acquire this virtue you must learn the habit of face-to-face encounters, in which you solicit the other’s consent and cooperation rather than imposing your will. The retreat behind the screen is a way of retaining control over the encounter, while minimizing the need to acknowledge the other’s point of view. It involves setting your will outside yourself, as a feature of virtual reality, while not risking it as it must be risked, if others are truly to be encountered. To encounter another person in his freedom is to acknowledge his sovereignty and his right: it is to recognize that the developing situation is no longer within your exclusive control, but that you are caught up by it, made real and accountable in the other’s eyes by the same considerations that make him real and accountable in yours.

Now, I love this quote precisely because it serves to explain the dynamics of real relationships and not necessarily explanatory of the social media we hide behind through our computers. But since Scruton brings it up, there is a sense where we can say safe in our homes and “engage” virtually and remain safe. I think it’s a result of over-information in every area of our lives. We suffer from a decided lack of innocence and faith in our fellow beings because we are now completely aware of what people can do to each other, all in vivid colorful and gory detail. I think it’s even more prominent after events like 9/11.

We don’t like the vulnerability of face to face encounters because it can always go quickly very wrong. People can very easily hide themselves in virtual space, quite unlike meeting someone at the corner pub. Remember meeting someone in person for the first time and the sense you just get if this person is trustworthy or not or suspicious or not? That can’t happen in the virtual world because we only have what words are emotionless as they are typed from the other end of cyberspace. I find that it is very much easier for me to communicate with someone through a computer screen or through an email than it is in person. And perhaps half of it is the visual prejudices we have for people. On the internet you cannot be seen and judged immediately as stupid because your fat, or ugly because you aren’t symmetrically beautiful according to movie standards. For once, we can be taken on our ideas alone and it’s revolutionary, but like anything, we can take it too far and use it exclusively to withdraw from society. Not a good idea. What think you?

Politics Isn’t Worth the Effort

Amish schoolchildren

Image via Wikipedia

I must say that in all my 50 years, I’ve never been so disgusted with politics as I am now. I’ve always voted, but I’m not going to any longer. I’ve felt guilty for not voting, but no longer. I’ve kept abreast of events that have happened and read all sides of political arguments, but no longer.  The only thing that I can see clearly at this stage of my life is that politics breeds rancor and hatred. All of it is an age-old battle between those who think they are right vs. those who think they are right. There is no such thing as partisanship. There is no consensus and nothing moves forward. The less people knew the better. Now the internet has fueled a giant war of words and hatred ’round the world. The one interesting news story that caught my eye today was this one:

WESTCLIFFE, Colorado (AP) — A new road sign cautions drivers to watch for Amish horse-drawn carriages in the valley beneath Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. Highway pull-offs and dedicated horse-and-buggy paths are in the works.

Amid the serenity and isolation of southern Colorado, hamlets like Westcliffe, La Jara and Monte Vista are welcoming Amish families who are moving West to escape high land prices and community overcrowding back East in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“The reason we moved out West is the farm land is a little bit cheaper and it’s not as heavily populated, a little more open space and a little more opportunity for young people to get started with their own farms,” said Ben Coblentz, a 47-year-old alfalfa farmer from Indiana. “The general public seems to have a little slower pace of life than what it was back east. Everybody here respects us.”

And respect them I do. I respect anyone who stays above the factions of modern life and sticks to principles such as hard work, community building, and respect for one’s neighbor. They’ve been a consistent witness without ever saying a word in public for our consumption and I long for that kind of peace and silence. I started this blog to expose “the mystery of iniquity that doth now work…” and it seems to be working overtime. There’s something in society that’s rotting from the inside and I don’t want to be any part of it. I want to live life rather than observe it.

I see none of the peacefulness of the Amish while reading the news.  I see none of the ethics that religions espouse when I see vicious slander against public figures and groups purposely fomenting riots. I see no one with the wisdom to hold their tongues when it’s unwise to speak (me included!) I see people who cannot abide others who think differently. I see politically correct language police. And I see that none of it has made this country or this world better than it was 20 years ago. If anything it’s worse. Am I a curmudgeonly “old woman?” Perhaps, but the advantages of getting older is being able to speak one’s mind without fear of reprisal. There will always be haters. I don’t want to be one of them. I can no longer read that hateful mishmash called “news.” I can no longer go through an election cycle that drags hatefully on for years here in America. It wears on me and makes me mean, vindictive, and hateful. I can’t stand that about myself and about what makes me that way. One can never write honestly without being labeled. One can’t sympathize with those who are unjustly attacked without being equated with a particular “ism.” It’s like being in grade school again!.

Like other bloggers who I respect greatly, I’m going to stop participating in the political game. It was intriguing for a while. In fact, I thought it would do some good to show up the misleading mischievousness and hatred of both sides. But pointing these things out doesn’t do that. It entrenches the camps. It only makes sides dig in further and flames of hatred burn hotter. And I’m only adding small sticks to the fire. Do people pay attention to what I write? Of course not, but I have to write this somewhere, and a small seed has to be planted somewhere.  I’ve seen some good examples from religious folk who stay above the fray: Amish, Quakers, Episcopalians, nuns, monks, etc. They’ve shown me that a personal ethic is all that is required to live an ethical life. It’s not my place to speak about injustice.  Some people have that role. I’m sure I don’t. My seed will be to refuse to add those sticks to the bonfire already raging. There are too many voices already; so many that it’s impossible to be heard. I think the internet has been a good thing for getting information out there, but I see that because of it, we are more polarized politically than ever. Good information is out there. Unfortunately, there is more bad information than good.

Will anyone notice my lack of posts about politics. Hell no! But I will, and what a relief that will be. I’m not sure what will be the focus of this blog with it’s main mission when I started it. Perhaps a few more reviews of books, movies, television. Perhaps I’ll blog about my family and my new life in another country. Or perhaps it’s really time to shelve it and move on. Not sure. I’ll take it one day at a time, hopefully silent ones.

“Cursed is the One Who Trusts in Man..”

People who’ve read this blog know my struggles. They know the problems I’ve had with faith and with churches and with the bible.  I’ve turned my back on all three and I’ve turned to one or the other at various times since then. At one time, I thought I had the answers. Now I know I don’t. It’s clear to me that I will never have peace about it. When things are at their toughest I know where I choose to turn, but faith has to be more than just a fail-safe method when faced with hard times, illness, or even death.

During my recent struggles with major life changes (moving, divorce, illnesses) I’ve sometimes turned back to those things I swore I wouldn’t and I’m still confronted with the same old platitudes that make no sense to me. The bible is full of them. Church is full of them. Yet no one can explain what they mean or how it should be lived. For example, I am going to attend a series of studies put on by a local non-denominational church for those going through separation and divorce. I’m doing it for the support mainly, but of course there will be bible study and discussion. None of my hard questions are ever really answered there. I’m convinced that no one will be able to answer them, but studying them is still something I’m willing to entertain. Well, to set the tone of the support group, a series of emails are being mailed to me with short devotions about divorce. In yesterday’s devotion I was struck by this:

When you are making decisions regarding a new relationship, do not make any decisions based on your feelings. Feelings are temporal and not always rational, no matter how strongly you may feel them. Be wise and take the time to grow and to build your life on a strong foundation…The Bible says you should not depend on humans—yourself or other people—to be strong for you. You must only depend on God. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD'” (Jeremiah 17:5).

I can’t begin to tell you how many times Christians have said this in worship, in bible study, in prayer meetings, on television, on the internet, everywhere. Yet, no one can tell me what that really means. First, how can any human being NOT rely on feelings when feelings are all we have to communicate danger, anger, fright, love, etc.? What does it mean to shut down all feelings when decision making? I’d like an example. When faced with two decisions of equal weight and import, feelings are always the deciding factor, aren’t they? And what does it mean when someone writes “do not depend on humans–yourself or other people–to be strong for you. You must only depend on God.”??

God is an immaterial entity that does not directly interact with human beings in any discernibly supernatural way. When we need groceries do we pray for them? No, we wait until we have money and we buy them. Or someone takes pity on us and gives them to us. Was God being depended on in this situation or people? I’d say the people. Yet, we are “cursed” if we turn to them for help and not “the Lord.” Harsh. Christians always like to say that other Christians are “God with skin on.” Yet when Christians fail to help other Christians the failure is always on the part of those who “lacked faith.” This is cheap simplistic faith in my opinion.  If faith is true and worth anything, it needs to wrestle with the hard issues and not fall back on plastic platitudes that mean nothing in reality.

I am really struggling still with questions like these and how that’s supposed to play out in reality and I’ve been “converted” since 1983! I can’t settle for the easy answers because they mean nothing. Some Christians say they have numerous answers to “prayer” yet others say theirs are never answered. Would any of us dare to say that those who don’t receive are at fault for “lack of faith” or “depending too much on people for strength?”  I wouldn’t dare say that. Arrogance doesn’t become us in that instance. There are times that I’d really, really like to rely on my faith again, especially when things get tough. But, in the midst of it, I’m reminded of the less than comforting answers like those above. So, I’m still going to that bible study, which starts in September. And I’m going armed with questions like these. Any thoughts before I go?

Interface and Outerface

I like the new Interface WordPress has got on their login page. Much more Twitterish and social site-ish. Makes it far more inviting to click on the top stories and blog posts for the day or week.

Re-reading old posts, I’ve realized that my “outerface” has changed quite a bit as well. I suppose it’s no secret any longer that I also blog over at Gorgon Resurfaces and at first glance this blog and that one seem juxtaposed in a weird way. But, then again, I guess we all have our public and private faces.  I’ve learned much in the last couple of years and while I take issue with over-the-top politics and over-hyped social issues or even issues that I think are touted at alarming levels when there’s not much people can do to alleviate them, I do realize that moderation in all things is the key.  Writing from both sides has curiously allowed me to meet myself in the middle.

Over here I rant. Over there, perhaps I reason and am more introspective. Here is my pop culture, political impatience persona and there is my Goddess-y, be at one with the planet persona. Here, I contemplate Christianity and even entertain it once in a while. There, not so much except in the sense that I want to leave it behind once and for all. However, I don’t give up on the idea of a Divine power in the universe, hence the Goddess emphasis.  I have always felt bifurcated in some way spiritually and politically and I feel that more and more both extremes of my personality are coming together and that perhaps… perhaps I can finally become the integrated spiritual, political, and pop cultural loving kind of person that I want to be. But I’m still working on it. Slowly and surely.