Sunday, September 24, 2006

Finding The Funny

Rating: SL

Brevity is the soul of wit. This is the hands-down wittiest blog I've come across.
Really. Go right now. See for yourself What Fresh Hell Is This?
Beverage-out-the-nose, piss-your-pants funny.

yours in the struggle,

Saturday, September 23, 2006

And Speaking of Dogs and Vomit...

Rating: GT

Anyone who has spent a certain amount of time around dogs understands at least the first half of the Proverb that lives just under the title of this blog. It's a pretty convincing argument for the accuracy of the observational powers of the writers. There's a lot of this sort of thing in that text: a statement of an easily observable phenomenon followed by a perhaps less observable, but somehow convincing, simile or conclusion or directive.

The Book of Proverbs is grounded in an ontology that says that a + b = c. If someone is a and does b then c will always result. Take away b and you only have a which will never amount to c. Take away a and you only have b which, again, will never amount to c. For example: 20:1 “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Also 20:4 “The lazy person does not plow in season; harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found.” Even more plain, 20:20-22: “If you curse father or mother, your lamp will go out in utter darkness. / An estate quickly acquired in the beginning will not be blessed in the end. / Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will help you.”1

These passages, and many others, are simple arithmetic.2 They may be as true as 1 + 1 = 2; but the attempt to subject the living universe to arithmetic rule is magic. There is very little difference between the principle that says that speaking certain words in a certain order will produce a specific phenomenal effect and the principle that says taking certain actions and refraining from others will produce predictable circumstance. The Book of Proverbs as a whole, including those passages which go beyond the simple form cited above, “slowly sorts out who is entitled to what. The wise and righteous are entitled to security and happiness; the wicked and the foolish are entitled to poverty and misery.”3 It says to the reader/hearer, Do this and not that; be that and not this; then you will have a good life. As concluded in A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, “The community works so long as this calculus of what each may expect and each must bear is generally accepted by all.”4

If the community is to continue to function, then when it observes poverty and misery, it may not come to any conclusion other than that the sufferer is or has been wicked and foolish. To do otherwise would be to reject the “calculus” that forms the framework of their communal life. The arithmetic, or, at best, geometrical principles of the Book of Proverbs offer no choice in the matter; I disagree with the analysis that the friends of Job, as they give voice to these principles, “go one step further [and] invert the calculus.”5 They do not invert the calculus; they, in fact, apply the calculus meticulously.

The Book of Job stands as a rejection of this calculus. It is grounded in an ontology that says humans are not in control of circumstance. The universe is so vast and the unknown factors so outnumber the known (“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?” [Job 38:19-20]) that it is never possible to predict with certitude what will result from our actions. This model of the world is in direct opposition to the “safe, settled world”6 that is constructed in the Book of Proverbs.

The Book of Job is chaos theory. It is not by accident, I suggest, that the “playwright”7 depicts God as a whirlwind (38:1). Chaos theory says we cannot predict outcomes; we cannot control external circumstance; and we will certainly never know all the permutations of the ramifications of our actions. Only God knows these things; we are not around long enough nor do we have the omniscience to see the fractal patterns undulating and unfolding. So God says to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?...Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and cause the dawn to know its place?” (38:4, 12).

When we arrive at the end of Job’s story, what we are left with is the fundamental truth that the only thing, the only thing, over which we have any control at all is our own choices. We are free to choose. Our choices are important, they matter, not because we have any ability to affect external circumstances, but because it is by our choices that we define who we are. What we discover along with Job is that we are not defined by our circumstances, be they good or ill. We are defined by the choices we make within those circumstances.

Job, in the end, is defined by the choice he makes, over and over again, to seek God (19:23-27, 28:20-28, 30:20, 31:35-37). Job seeks God relentlessly, with tenacity and defiance and fury and pain. He seeks God with everything that he is. In the end, no persecutor, no circumstance, no calamity, no friend, no satan, nothing and no one is able to make Job do anything, or refrain from anything. He is free.

What this freedom demands of Job and of us is brutal honesty. Because we define ourselves by our choices, our abdication of the responsibility for who we are in attempting to blame someone or something outside ourselves is always a lie. What freedom offers us, if we choose it, is the possibility of redemption.

yours in the struggle,

Click here for the notes

1All scriptural citations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
2Arithmetic, not mathematics. The relation between higher mathematics, theoretical physics, chaos theory, the universe, and the Divine is another subject altogether...and needs addressing by someone smarter--not to mention better at math--than I.
3Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, Terence E. Fretheim, and David L. Petersen, eds., A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 383.
5Birch, et al, 397.
6Birch, et al, 382.
7Birch, et al, 394.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Never On Friday Five

Rating: SL

Brought to you, as always, by RevGalBlogPals.

1. Tell us about a time you met someone famous.
My first job out of undergrad and I'm waiting tables in a low-priced Mexican restaurant in Austin, working lunches because I have rehearsals at night. It's a weekday, post-lunch-rush, maybe 2:00, pretty slow, and a couple comes in requesting seating in the smoking section. They look like they just got up. The young woman orders margaritas for them both. The man keeps his head down, studying the menu like there's going to be a quiz. I put in their drink order, and the bartender looks over at them and says, "That's Bruce Springsteen." "Oh, bullshit," I laugh. I take them their drinks, the young woman orders double fajitas, I put in the order, and the bartender says again, "That's Bruce Springsteen." "Oh stop it, I'm not falling for it," I say, grinning. "No, that's Bruce Springsteen. Look," he says. So I look. The man's head is up for the first time since they came in. Holy shit. It's Bruce Springsteen. Wearing shorts and a Christopher Cross t-shirt. And the young woman with her hair in a scrunchie, wearing faded capris and an enormous knotted t-shirt and running shoes is Julianne Phillips.
Just so you know, we were all very, very cool about it. No one squealed until after they left.

2. Tell us about a celebrity you'd like to meet.
Ursula K. Le Guin. The woman has a direct line to the cosmos. Every time I reread something of hers it teaches me something completely new to me.

3. Tell us about someone great who's *not* famous that you think everyone oughta have a chance to meet.
Steve Darden, Navajo medicine man, former judge, teacher, speaker, and truly amazing person. Someone who is making a difference in the world.

4. Do you have any autographs of famous people?
I have an autographed Michelle Shocked CD. Also copies of War and Remembrance and The Will To Live On inscribed by the author, Herman Wouk.

5. If you were to become famous, what would you want to become famous for?
Curing AIDS. Or cancer. See The Final Frontier for why that's never going to happen--I believe some competency in organic chemistry, as well as the ability to, you know, do math beyond the eighth-grade level, is probably required.

Bonus: Whose 15 minutes of fame was up long, long ago?
Skeevy E-Harmony Guy. Just too revolting for color TV.

yours in the struggle,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"Put Your Finger Here" Part 1 (Repost)

Rating: QGT

Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. ...
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
(John 20:17-18, 27)1

Resurrection—the reversal of death—may be the ultimate act of queering. Belief in physical resurrection is so extreme that it borders on the truly mad. As one Episcopal priest put it, “Resurrection? In this body? That doesn’t sound like Good News to me!”

How can resurrection be “good news”? Why would a physically resurrected Christ say “do not hold on to me”? What kind of Messiah tells a disciple “Put your finger here”?

In his work treating the book of Jonah, Elie Wiesel observes, “The Zohar says explicitly that Jonah died of fear—but came back to life. It was Jonah’s most painful experience; he says so himself.”2 The idea that redemption is frightening and resurrection painful may be foreign to many Christians, but it is part of the Jewish understanding of resurrection in which Christian faith is rooted. Whatever our modern beliefs about resurrection, the Jesus of the Gospel accounts is a Jew. His human experience of resurrection is that of a Jew experiencing resurrection. It is reasonable—if anything connected to the serious discussion of resurrection can be so termed—to at least entertain the notion that Jesus’ human experience of resurrection was both frightening and painful.

Mainstream Christianity is accustomed to perceiving the crucifixion as the locus of any pain and/or fear that Jesus may have experienced, while assuming that the resurrection was unrelentingly joyous. Challenging these perceptions may well prove to be likewise full of both pain and fear; but let us not be deterred. Let us gird up our loins and venture forth into the Queer Minefield, utilizing some of the current theories about bodies, including theories of gender and sexuality, as a map to the resurrection story as told in John 20:17-27.

This paper has been accepted for publication in Theology and Sexuality and the final (edited, revised and typeset) version of this paper will be published in Theology and Sexuality, Volume 13 Issue 2, January 2007 by Sage Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Sage Publications Ltd, 2007.”

Read whole post

John 18:38: ‘What is truth?’
In 1969—the year I turned five years old, long before Judith Butler was causing male-identified persons throughout academia to clutch their penises in sudden terror—Ursula K. LeGuin published a strange and dark and beautiful novel entitled The Left Hand of Darkness that starts out like this:
I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.
The story is not all mine, nor told by me alone. Indeed I am not sure whose story it is; you can judge better. But it is all one, and if at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best; yet none of them is false, and it is all one story.

LeGuin—a self-avowed atheist4—provides, in these initial paragraphs of a fictitious narrative, the most useful perspective on reading the Bible that I have come across in three years of seminary. If we can begin to apprehend that “imagination” and “faith” are twins, that “making believe” and “believing” represent a single zygote divided so that each takes on its own life, then we can begin to grasp the implications for us of LeGuin’s apparently outrageous claim. Most of us have been taught that “truth” and “imagination” are mutually exclusive categories. Yet in order to place a fact or a story or a scientific principle in the “truth” category, we first have to believe it.

Belief starts by being made. “Make believe” is something we all know how to do, even if it has been decades since we engaged in its practice. Scientists do this all the time; they just do not call it “make believe.” Instead, they call “postulation,” which sounds much more impressive. Much of what we know about the physical universe started out as postulation, as imagining—making believe—and seeing where it led.

In similar fashion, we tend to construct an oppositional binary of the “corporeal” and the “mystical”; yet the most sensual reports we have of individuals’ encounters with Christ come from Christians whom our own tradition defines as mystics. If truth is a matter of the imagination, perhaps the corporeal is a manifestation of the mystical.

In her Preface to the 1999 edition of Gender Trouble, Judith Butler writes, “The anticipation of an authoritative disclosure of meaning is the means by which that authority is attributed and installed: the anticipation conjures its object.” Butler goes on to speak of “a similar expectation concerning gender, that it operates as an interior essence that might be disclosed, an expectation that ends up producing the very phenomenon that it anticipates.”5

The idea that a belief can produce a reality, that some prophecies really are self-fulfilling, that the human psyche can actually create the preconditions that support its own perceptions, is a notion with a long and rich history in both Judaism and Christianity. Theurgy plays a significant role in Jewish mysticism tradition. In his Introduction to The Essential Kabbalah, Daniel Matt writes that to Moses, “God reveals the divine name, ‘I am that I am,’ intimating what eventually becomes a mystical refrain: God cannot be defined.”6 Furthermore, the divine name “I am that I am” intimates that God cannot be other than God is. Because God cannot be other than God is, theurgy—“forcing God’s hand”—is possible. Moshe Idel addresses the question this way, in his explication of an anonymous medieval Kabbalist: “Just as man will cleave to God in an intellectual manner, so will he cleave to man….[T]he reciprocity is regarded as automatic—no longer the response of a higher personality to the deeds of man, as in the Midrash, but a spiritual mechanism…”7

Working from the bottom up: B can only result from A; only God can emanate A; but by practicing B, Idel’s “spiritual mechanism” is activated, theurgically compelling A to have happened—meaning, by definition, that God has emanated A. The reciprocity to which Idel refers is explored by Michel Foucault when he writes that power, rather than being held, actually flows: power is a dynamic and a discourse.8 This turning around, upside down, inside out, reversal and reciprocity of power runs throughout the Gospel accounts, leading to the crucifixion and culminating in the resurrection.

yours in the struggle,

1. All scriptural quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised
Standard Version.
2. Elie Wiesel, Five Biblical Portraits. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1981,142.
3. Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books (trade
paperback edition), 2000, 1.
4. LeGuin, Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, xv. “I talk about the gods; I
am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say.
I am telling the truth.”
5. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New
York: Routledge, 1999, xiv.
6. Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998, 3.
7. Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives. New Haven: Yale University Press,
1988, 174.
8. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction. New York:
Vintage Books (Random House, Inc.), 1990, 92-95.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday Five, on Saturday Morning

Rating: SL, QT, GRG

Brought to you by the letter Q and RevGalBlogPals:
Name five things you enjoyed this week.

OK, here goes.

  1. Rosie O'Donnell on The View.
    Ms. O'Donnell is infusing that show with a level of energy that is pure joy to watch. And it's not just her--Barbara, Joy, and Elizabeth are showing more vim and vigor than I've seen from them in a long time. Rosie is moderating the discussion beautifully, making sure everyone is heard, and keeping things moving at a brisk clip. And as you know, I'm an enormous fan of the Queer Stirring of the Stew.

  2. TiVo.
    Oh yes. Never do I watch shitty TV in which I have no interest just because I'm exhausted and need to veg for a bit. Now I veg in front of stuff I actually want to watch. Like the item mentioned above. Plus, I get to fast-forward through those hateful E-Harmony commercials. Is that guy beyond skeevy, or what? Yechhhhh. Heebie-jeebie time. (But I freely admit that I stop and go back for the Citibank identity theft commercials. They crack me up.)

  3. Coffee. It's what's for breakfast.

  4. The animals (3 cats and a dog) who reside in my home. They make me laugh every day. Our small girl cat, Greta Garbo, has completely made the dog her bitch. He freezes anytime she so much as looks in his direction. Yes, it's true: the dog is pussy-whipped.

  5. And the greatest of these is love... My partner, who after ten years is still sexy, brilliant, surprising, challenging, beverage-out-the-nose funny, and the One True Love Of My Life. I'm the luckiest queer in the world.

yours in the struggle,

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