Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Modesty and Mindblindness

A recent blog post by my sister she mentions her natural modesty. It’s made me think of my experience with this. Or rather my non-experience since I don’t really have natural modesty. I’ve got pictures of my wrapping paper clothing stage where I must have been about 6 or 7 and I clearly haven't absorbed which are the critical areas that clothes are supposed to cover. And while some modesty rules got drummed into my head growing up, a few seem to have escaped my attention into adulthood. It was my husband who introduced me to the idea of checking that the neighbors don’t have an unobstructed view through an uncurtained window before changing in front of it.
photo by Marc Falardeau
This is not to say I had a preference for displaying skin. In fact I remember a time as a teenager when I was intrigued by the idea of full face veils and chadors. (In those pre 9/11 days I saw any symbolism as primarily complementarian rather than specifically Islamic.) When I consider things with my reason I definitely don’t have a preference for letting others see my skin and definitely a preference for not using clothing to signal openness, approachableness, or flirtatiousness and the like.
 But you have to be aware of that on going conversation to experience your clothing as communication with another at any particular moment. For me communication is always staticy and intermittent. It’s not something the I expect to happen every time I see someone at a distance or pass someone on the street. Yes, intellectually I’m aware of the possibility of information gathering, but I don’t have that sense of minds in mutual awareness of each other. What other people think does not generally overlap with what my own thoughts and don’t impinge on my feelings outside of my conscious effort for them to do so.
           This mindblindness, as far as automatic perception goes, can be very inconvenient at times when it takes me several extra second at the beginning of conversations to sharpen my attention and sync up to another person’s viewpoint. But it does have its advantages. It may take me awhile to figure out what cloths communicate, but I don’t have involuntary embarrassment about my clothing. If I realize the my shirt has a stain on it or that I’m wearing white sox with an otherwise all black outfit, I can decide to watch out for that the next time I dress and then dismiss the matter from my mind. So for me modesty is not body consciousness but a set of rules that I’ve managed to figure out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

mini-Review Princess of Wands & Queen of Wands

        Princess of Wands and Queen of Wands by John Ringo are the story of an Episcopalian soccer mom who fights demons by the power of her faith. This is a two book (so far) series about the secret Special Circumstance department that keeps modern America safe from and demons that manifest them selves here. It has the smooth writing and good fun of a standard urban fantasy but with more of a sense of realism and with a more original set-up and plot.
        The novels unfold in a way that feels natural but at the same time leads to all sorts of places you couldn’t predict. The premise is presented very convincingly, so it’s to imagine that this could be happening all around us without most people ever noticing. In some ways there were some parts of the fantasy seemed too realistic, and I had a hard time not letting the aspect I didn’t agree with knock me out of the story. The heroin, Barbara Everett, is not very theologically sophisticated but that helps the story move along quickly without getting involved in issues irrelevant to the plot.
        The books certainly go places that something published as Christian Fiction wouldn’t. But the fact that this book is instead sf/fantasy fiction gives it a different writing style, and one that I personally prefer. And while I wouldn’t necessarily endorse many of the answers these books give, they do ask some important questions in an interesting way. I would recommend these book to anyone interested in reading urbane fantasy. 

*this review was based of the final version of Princess of Wands but the e-ARC version of Queen of Wands

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Only Very Superficial People

it is only very superficial people who abject to the superficial. To the man who sees the marvelousness of all things, the surface of life is fully as strange and magical as its interior; clearness and plainness of life is fully as mysterious as its mysteries.

                                 -G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pair of Political Posts

I’ve mildly enjoyed watching the political arguments this election season. Luckily California isn’t a swing state so I haven't had to endure the commercials, which a definitely think are the worst of it. But I see a couple of different levels of conversation going on. The most obvious is The Wrong side Absolutely must not Win. If you click through and read the article and can’t tell whether it is arguing for Republicans or Democrats, that’s the point. At the level of the political operatives trying to win this election the basic strategy and concerns are pretty much the same, just with different quotes or “issues” used as set decoration. And looking at that level could get pretty depressing.
            But Amazon has come up with a clever map that symbolizes, to me, a deeper level of the conversation. I don’t think this map is a good tool for predicting the coming election or even of the general long term trend. (Afterall, one of the books Amazon considers blue, which happens to be my favorite book of the year, I would consider neutral.) But it does give a qualitative look at people engaging with ideas, not being harassed to dislike the “wrong side.” Whether they are looking at viewpoints they might want to endorse or trying to understand how others think, they are voluntarily putting down money to read about ideas at length. While in the short term sound bites and television commercials will influence elections, I think the long terms trends of people really engaging with ideas will affect the conversations and determine what future television commercial and sound bites are about.

Friday, August 24, 2012

mini-Review The Synoptic Problem by Mark Goodacre

The Synoptic Problem: a Way through the Maze is an introduction to the Synoptic problem from a scholarly point of view. (The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, have places where they match word for word, indicating that they were copying from each other or from another document.The question is who was copying from whom.) It is written at an accessible level, patiently laying out the details and going over examples. The evidence is evaluated from a secular viewpoint using the standards common in the academic field of New Testament studies.
Goodacre agrees with the academic consensus on Mark being the first Gospel but disagrees on the existence of Q, thinking instead that Luke knows Matthew. This gives the reader a great opportunity to see how academic argument takes place. When Goodacre argues on academic grounds against the academic consensus the reader gets a fascinating look inside what evidence is weighed and how a theory’s momentum effects it’s evaluation. It’s also fascinating to see how the very slender evidence we have is used to make solid assertions and the difficulties of speculative assertions being used as givens in latter argument.
There are many point where I disagree with Goodacre both in general approach and in specific detail due to my different philosophical positions. However, I very much enjoyed this book and all the things it got me thinking about. I would recommend it to anyone interested in academic disputes about the Bible.

This Review was based on the Kindle edition

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

David’s Now and Not Yet Kingdom

"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
            -Luke 1:32-33 (NASB)

in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
            -Hebrews 1:2-3 (NASB)

When I first encountered the already-but-not-yet establishment of Jesus’s kingdom on earth I had a little trouble getting a sense of what that could mean. Then one day I was thinking about the story of King David. Who better to look at as a type of Christ as King then King David. And David had a period of already but not yet kingship. In 1 Samuel 16:12-13 God has Samuel anoint David as king of Israel. But it is not until many stages of life and many years later that David is actually acknowledged King by all Israel in 2 Samuel 5:3-4
        I’m definitely not saying the Jesus’s actives are in any way constrained or foretold by David’s story, but I do think it’s useful to look at this period of David’s life to help my ability to picture possibilities for how this period of Christ’s ministry might look. In fact there are lots of different possibilities that David models as he goes through different stages: total unknown to society, rising star at court, target for royal paranoia, hunted fugitive, leader of a mercenary band, and king of half a kingdom.
David and Saul
    When David was first anointed king he didn’t announce the fact, he didn’t try to start building a power base. In fact he did his current job, and he took opportunities to make the job of the existing power structure easier, soothing King Saul and driving his evil spirit away. (1 Sam 16:21-23) David volunteers to face the problem that no one else is willing to face, but when he goes out to fight Goliath he takes his own weapons and not Saul’s but sticks to the pattern of showing respect for the existing government as legitimate.
    People begin to praise David as one would a conquering King, (see 1 Sam. 18:17 and the comment on it in 1 Sam. 21:11) and Saul becomes jealous. In impulse and trough plots Saul starts trying to Murder David. David escapes again and again (1Sam 18:11, 1 Sam 18:25, 1 Sam 19:1, 1 Sam 19:10, 1 Sam 19:11,15, and 1 Sam 19:20-21) and keeps returning to Saul as a loyal servant. By my count it is only after the seventh time (1 Sam 19:22-23) that David because reluctant to present himself again. After Sauls show himself ready to make an eighth attempt (1 Sam 20:31-33) David flees Saul’s authority. As long as he could David tried to help Saul’s efforts to protect and govern Israel and when that was no longer possible David chose flight over confrontation.
    Even as Saul hunts David in the wilderness and David does nothing more then cut off a corner of his robe When he has Saul in his power. (1 Sam 24:4) David continues to plead humbly with Saul. (1 Sam 24:8-15) David considers that it would be immoral for him or his followers to kill Saul (1 Sam 26:9-11) Even when Saul is eventually killed in battle David mourns for him and executes his killer. (2 Sam 1:11, 16)
    During this whole time God has removed His blessing from Saul and chosen David to be Israel's king. But David does not try to enforce God’s decision in his own strength. Neither does God seem to be in a hurry to dispose of Saul and bring all Israel under His chosen ruler. This helps me to be comfortable with the fact that though the kingdom of God has been initiated, Jesus is waiting to enforce his rule with power.

A Psalm of David.
The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
-Psalm 110:1 (NKJV)

Triumph of David, Nicolas Poussin

Monday, August 20, 2012

there must be harmony

There must be harmony between God and His worshippers; such as God is, must His worship be. … The man who would truly worship God, Would find and know and possess and enjoy God, must be in harmony with Him, must have a capacity for receiving Him.
                        -Andrew Murray

Friday, August 17, 2012

Do we rule out a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew?

So I’m reading some material about the synoptic problem. One thing I’ve run across is the fragments of patristic commentary on the order and circumstances of the gospels’ composition. particularly I’m thinking about the seeming mention of Mathew being first composed in Hebrew. This seems to be dismissed as obviously wrong in the scholarship I have seen. No one seems to be arguing for it being in Hebrew so the arguments it are not given in detail. The one time it seemed to be address definatly the argument was just that surely if there had been a hebrew Matthew some of it would have survived.
Apostle Matthew
But as far as I know NO Hebrew copy of an Old Testament book has come down to us through christian hands. That is, if it weren’t for jewish copies we would only have today the old testament in Greek, Latin and other gential langueges. You can see in Justin Martyr that the fact that Christians are using a translation is an issue and difference are being debated but Justin defends the translation as legitimate and having the same sort of inspiration and therefore the same authority as the original scriptures.  When Jerome is doing a new Latin translation the question of differences between the greek and hebrew text comes up again. It is debated within the Church and Jerome recommends that concerned Christian leads check with their local Jewish communities to confirm his translations from the Hebrew. I don’t remember him referring to any authority or community within the Church that has a hebrew manuscript or can check Jerome’s translation. Moreover it the story sounds like not only did Jerome have to go to Jews for Hebrew lessons but also for a manuscript to translate from. If already, still within the Roman period, Christians had lost all or most Hebrew copies of the old testament books, whose translation into greek was a live issue , still being debated, that not copies of a single book would have comes down to us?
If Matthew was translated into Greek during the apostolic age, then the translation itself would bear the same authority as the other books being composed originally in Greek during that same time. With no controversy over the translation there would be no motive for non-Hebrew speaking congregations to hold on to a manuscript they couldn’t read. And though we know second hand of Hebrew congregation surviving into the second or third century I’m not aware of us having any documents from them. We know there are a number of significant early Christian documents that have been lost except for quoted fragments or that survive only in translations in other languages than their original composition. Lossing a version in a language that few Christians or no Christin read and for which there was an elegant and complete translation in wide circulation doesn’t seem a stretch to me.
There are other things that might be motives, if not reasons, for dismissing the claim that Matthew was first composed in Hebrew. First of course is that a Hebrew gospel is more likely if it’s fairly early, when the Jesus movement was still centered around Jewish communities. People who would like devalue or discredit its witness would like it to be late and therefore would like it to be originally Greek. Defenders of Christianity would also like it to be Greek because today we are not as comfortable as Christians of the first couple of centuries with the idea that certain translations can be divinely inspired, just as originals were; and if Matthew was originally in Hebrew then we definitely don’t have the original wording. There is also the desire to see the earliest church as primitive. Those who want to snobbishly look down on the disciples or nostalgically romanticize them can want to portray them all as illiterate peasants. The assumption seems to be that classes stick together so that illiteracy is seen as a group phenomenon; also that you can’t really be a peasant without being illiterate. But the Jewish religious tradition valued the reading of the scriptures and reading and studying were already part of the way non priests would participate in religious ritual. After pentecost there would have been hundreds of Jews involved in this new religious movement among whom might have been one who who could compose and write down an account of Jesus’s life.  There is also the modern tendency to assume anything earlier must always be more primitive then something latter and especially that the very beginning of a new thing should be poor quality and unsophisticated. In literature latter writers can build on earlier writers but it isn’t a universal rule. And the early Christians weren’t starting from scratch. there was a rich and varied tradition in the Old Testament to give them inspiration.
There may be arguments against a Hebrew gospel of Matthew that I just haven’t heard. But I’m not convinced that the possibility has really been explored adequately. I’ll be keeping an open mind on this for now.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pair of Posts 8/16

These posts both had quotes I really liked.

3 Reason Why Nobel Prise Winners are Wrong about Stars Earn Stripes Do they not understand that while war requires only one party, peace requires universal assent?

On Gratitude it's often difficult to see this new scenario through any lens other than that of exclusion and unfairness. Until you step back and realize that all of life is not-having, if you make the choice to view it that way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Amateur

A man must lobe a thing very much if he not only practices if without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.
             - G. K. Chesterton

Monday, August 13, 2012

Defining characteristics of God

In response some posts I’ve read lately I’ve been thinking about the definition of God. Not necessarily the personally identity of my God, but what do we mean when we say “The Father is God,” or “Jesus is God,” What are we debating when we ask  “Does God exist?”
One possibility is to include Gods like we see in Greek and Roman Myth. These were beings that were orders of magnitude more powerful than any human of the time. They also seemed mostly unkillable but other than that they were similar in type to humans. But humans today are much more powerful, in certain ways, than the humans of that time. Science fiction has given us the phrase “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” There is science fiction speculation, and even occasional scientific speculation, about how we could acquire some of the powers those Gods had. I don’t think the proof of an alien being with powers that were simply greater than we could figure out would convince an atheist to change positions and it is not what the Abrahamic faiths mean by God.
But power is at the heart of the definition of God: not a large but limited amount of power but all-powerful. A lot of implications go with the idea of an all-powerful being. All-knowing seems to go with it pretty naturally. It’s easy to see how an all-powerful being could use that power to obtain any information desired so most people automatically add all-knowing to all-powerful. An implication that has been historically important to the way monotheism developed is that there can only be one all-powerful being. An all-powerful being must have power greater than all other forces in the universe put together. which makes all other being automatically all powerful.
There is another implication that is often skipped as being irrelevant to a specific argument but that I think is vital in making the intuitive jump to conceptualizing what is being discussed when people argue about God. An All-powerful, all-knowing being can’t experience time as we do, in an inexorably moving present always poised between a past that is knowable but unchangeable and a future that in changeable but never truly knowable. God must be able to change and to know everything and therefore must be unconstrained by time as we experience it.
Salvador Dali's Profile of Time photographed by Julo
We usually don’t think time’s workings when we try to reason something out. It is one of those basic thing that you always presuppose out of reflex. But if you try to visualize the working of an all-powerful being on the presupposition of linear time, you are going to find logical contradictions. our only mode of being is as part of time but God’s fundamental mode of being is eternity. It’s hard to wrap your thoughts around the possibility of not being bound by time. So we downplay or leave out this aspect when trying to convey God or argue about God. But God’s eternal nature is actually vital to grasping who God is. It’s important to remind ourselves and others that the certainties that time imposes on us melt away before God’s power.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Unseen doors

Our oldest dog, Ronin, is blind. It developed gradually so that he learned to get along on sound and his memories of how the house is arranged. Recently we had to replace the door to the outside that was broken, and while we were at it we changed which side the door the door opens on. All three dogs are a little confused by this, waiting by the hinge side to be let in or out. But the younger two dogs, when they see the door open, will go to the opening.
But Ronin will sit there, scratching at the hinges, even as the door pushes him over to trap him behind it. Ronin still need lote on calling and sound cues leading him step by step to get him through the opening. They all have a habit of sitting by one side of the door. (Even I find myself reaching for the handle on the wrong side occasionally.) But Ronin also has a mental picture, or a pattern construct, of how the door works. And without the visual input to override it that will take some time for experience to change.
I think we too are often strangely confident about the workings of things we can’t see, especially if we have caught a glimpse of them once. We mentally picture someone we haven't seen in years as they looked when we used to see them every day. We extend out trends indefinitely, as straight lines or smooth curves. Once an image takes hold in our minds it crowds out the idea that time, or circumstances, or a different viewing point, would reveals something unexpected.
In this age when so much can be know we are uncomfortable leaving something terra incognita. Each ‘I don’t know’ seems to call for a conjecture or a hypothesis or proposed solution. But once we’ve filled up all the blank spaces with our guesses, could we get so confident that we end up trapped behind the door scratching at the hinges?
I think this is one of the reasons I am not a Calvinist. They’ve got everything neatly diagrammed out, all the seeming contradictions seemingly ironed out. Everything meets up so that it feels like a complete picture of how salvation, that most important thing in life, works. There can be an unintended impression that humans can explain it all so much more clearly than God did.
But I suspect that God still has a lot of surprises in store for me. I want to leave blank spaces in my picture of the universe, or fill them with multiple contradictory images, so that I am not tempted to confuse the parts I do have information on with the parts I don’t. I like to consider myself as if a blind man, being lead by a God who sees.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Knowing yourself

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God,
                             - 1 Corinthians 2:11-12 (NASB)

A giddy thought, knowing God the way you know your own thoughts. Even the second hand contact of having received a spirit that knows God that way is exciting. But how well do we really know ourselves? When I looked at this in Greek, trying to puzzle it out with a dictionary and a translation, I noticed that Paul has used two different greek verbs for ‘to know’ in these two verses.
First who but a man’s own spirit can οἶδεν* his thoughts. Here the verb is εἴδω which is a word for knowing the is derived from a word for seeing. Then only God’s Spirit does ἔγνωκεν God’s thoughts. The verb γινώσκω referring more to substantial knowledge.  Then we may εἰδῶμεν what is given us by God. Back to εἴδω.
Of course part of this is that Paul has just been alluding to Isaiah where it talks about whose eye get to see God. So it makes sense to use a word that ties the ideas of seeing and knowing together. But in switching to γινώσκω and then back to εἴδω I think something more might be implied.
Humans don’t really know themselves very well. Even with our own thoughts we may be more aware to the surface appearances and not aware of deeper truths. God isn’t like this. He has true comprehension of truths from foundations to grace notes. The Holy Spirit’s knowledge of God is more intimate than our knowledge of our thoughts and is absent any human self deception. By the Spirit’s power, we can gaze on the incredible gifts God has given us, but we shouldn’t expect to grasp all that they are.

*I don’t know Greek. I’m coping and pasting these from The form/accent/spelling may not be properly adapted to how I am pulling these out of context. 

image by Giardini Cargale-Vittorio

Saturday, August 4, 2012

You can't carry through

You can't carry through any principle without doing violence to somebody, either directly or indirectly. Every time you disturb the balance of nature you let in violence. And if you leave nature alone you get violence in any case.
                                -- Dorothy Sayer

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What’s the harm in asking?

image by Laurel Fan
On a trip I was on recently the phrase “It can’t hurt to ask.” came up several times. The time that stands out particularly in my mind is the possibility of asking if I could have beef and snow peas instead of the beef and broccoli that was on the menu at a restaurant. I often have a hard time asking people for things and this seems to be not uncommon for people with Asperger’s syndrome. I’ve been encourage to overcome this phobia by phrases like, “The worst that can happen is that they say no.” It makes me wonder if they think I’m afraid of being arrested or of tripping a breaking a bone. After all, people saying no can be accompanied by a lot of other things. People getting upset, people feeling uncomfortable. People misunderstanding you and making assumptions about you. No, it’s not the sky falling on you, but there are negative consequences that can accompany some “no”s.

    There are some situations where asking for certain things really is socially inappropriate. I want to start in a roundabout way with an example from fiction. In Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance we get a chance to see the perspective of a supporting character who has seemed to be a bit of a ladies man. He explains his pick-up technic something like this, “go to a place where there are a lot of girls in a partying mood; go up to  girl and try to make her laugh, if you succeed try to get a date, if you get shot down, pick another girl and repeat. The fact you only get one date for every ten attempts is not a problem if the initial pool of usually has more than ten prospects in it. This represents an entirely different attitude from his cousin, who thinks in terms of ‘I might be able to fall in love with this girl’ before he tries to hit on them. But the thing is in all the previous books (from the cousin’s point of view) he never explained the one in ten success ratio His advice was simply: keep trying, be more persistent.
Reading about this recent real world situation at Readercon I was struck by what bad advice “keep trying, be more persistent” could be in a social situation, and how right we, on the autism spectrum are to resist it. I totally agree that the situation at Readercon is not the sort of thing you expect from someone with Asperger’s syndrome. But looking through the comments you can see that sometimes just asking for something can be extremely offensive. I think I  remember the this sentiment also on comments about the open source boob project. Asking for something implies that I think there is or at least ought to be, a possibility that they will grant me the request. In some ways it’s more presumptuous than making a declarative statement about the other person, because it skips over the part where they have an obvious opening to object.
Of course the people who advise me that “there's no harm in asking” would say well, of course you shouldn’t ask things like that. With assumptions that some things obviously too presumptuous to ask. But we some like me, who is used to constantly being wrong about what seem like obvious and straightforward implications of others actions, it makes sense to be extra wary of an action that can have such a negative reaction.
Moreover saying no can impose a cost on the refuser. There are studies showing that if you ask someone to do something outrageous first, to which they say no, it can make them more likely to say yes to another, more reasonable, request afterwards. It seems that people don’t like continually saying no. A refusal has put the assumption of community and mutuality in doubt. It needs something, like a question that can be answered yes to, or the assumed bond of friendliness might break. Actually a single no to a polite request doesn't do that much damage to friendliness. But for someone with for whom the assumption of friendliness might already be strained it can be an unnecessary liability.
So when the question of asking for a substitution at a restaurant came up, I don’t think it was inappropriate that I gave detailed thought to whether this was a reasonable request to make. I know from making my own version that it isn’t a big deal to substitute one vegetable for another, check. They had other items on the menu featuring snow peas, and so would likely have some on hand, check. The were a high service restaurant projecting an air of personalization, so dealing with customer’s special requests shouldn’t be out of their range, check. I decided I did want to ask if the substitution was possible. But I still felt the anxiety of venturing off the standard script into this whole unpredictable area. So I was very glad when another person in the party made the request for me. And yes I got to eat beef with snow peas.
image by stu_spivack