Archive for February, 2010

Pig Latin: Tension is Relative (ensiontay isway elativeray)


In America, it typically involves self-actualization and understanding our own identities. It falls later in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where we begin to consider the question of meaning.  It’s why I and many others I know end up blogging (or at least why I’d like to think I blog).

For my friends in Egypt, it means enduring regular ongoing questions regarding whether or not their way of life will be allowed without suffering.  Or at least having one of your main sources of food annihilated. Annihilateway ethay inesway!

PBS did a great piece this week on Mokattam – check it out online at their Religion and Ethics Weekly.

One of my acquaintances in Egypt, Dr. Laila Iskandur, is interviewed in this piece and you get a shapshot of what it is like for those who suffer in the margins.


Why Lent? Embodying Longing

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent.  When I started writing this entry, I was sitting next to a station at the campus union where ashes are being offered for everyone who so desires.

I talked about this last year, but as I grow older I realize more and more that I need embodied symbols to help me connect with God in my life.  I’m a “gut” person. I learn best when through an experience.

A few months back, a spiritual director was running a session and said something that I’ve been reflecting on for six months now and am learning how true it really is:

We act on what we believe,

We believe only what is real to us,

What is real to us becomes real through an experience.

-Beth Booram

Case in point: I have told students hundreds of times that God loves them. But it only becomes real when I can point to time when they have experienced unconditional love and pointed it to God’s love that it seems to get through.

Don’t get me wrong – I love good head knowledge and heart knowledge. Before I started my grad program, I would feast on learning in general. The internet gives instant information in whatever I want, whenever I want. It’s a gluttony of information.

(Now, most of my free time comes in trying to figure out a problem set of the probability of some disastrous event.)

But if you think of it, from a spiritual knowledge perspective, the average 25 year old who has grown up in the church and listened to a 30 minute sermon in church every Sunday listens to 25 hours of preaching a year, times 25 years of life…that is 625 hours of teaching. Yikes.

And then we think about music and matters of the heart – I would argue my students listen to more music than they do sermons, and musical worship is the heart language of the young generation. And while I do believe this is essential for our life with God, singing to the glowing screen or pipe organ does only develop us in so many ways.

If you grew up in a church that didn’t include the spiritual disciplines that embodied sacraments, you likely didn’t get a lot of “gut” learning.  And “gut” learning most often happens through experience.  Fasting and abstaining from things – not getting what I want when I want it, and not repressing the need but pressing into why the need exists – is a deeply reflective experiential discipline that can help us understand our ache for a broken world to be put back together again.

An example: I’m single and celibate in ministry – so on one level, I do know what it’s like to abstain from things.  Sometimes it has been by choice, and others it has been by circumstance.  But as I’ve pressed into understanding this, my state of singleness and my varying capacity with which I am content in this state is something that I’ve learned has truly helped me understand people better.  One of the ways I realize is easiest to connect with folks is when our deepest longings are unmet, and we question whether or not God is really good.

So, I’m abstaining from Facebook completely for Lent. (If you are reading this on Facebook, it is because it syndicates automatically with my blog.) I’m abstaining from being nosy, looking at what my friends are up to, and channeling it into reflection and prayer for this season. I don’t want my life to be a series of status updates.

I’m also abstaining from online chatting by stripping my gmail to simple HTML formatting that will not allow for me to be online.

And that whole Google buzz bit? Shut it off as soon as it came on the screen.

And here is the one I’m kind of afraid of: I’m abstaining from meat during lent.  I’ve been reading up a little bit on this – Food Rules, by Michael Pollan, and realize that I’d like to reshape the way I eat over the next year.  I’m abstaining from meat for the time being.  I’ll enjoy the typical fish on Fridays (thank God for my Wisconsin heritage!) and when I’m in someone’s home I won’t impose my discipline on my host and graciously accept what is placed before me.  I’ll also enjoy my feast day on Sunday (or sometimes moved to Monday).  I’m trying to treat meat as a treat (pun intended), not as a staple, in order to be in solidarity with those around the world who don’t have the choice to eat meat regularly.

I’m hoping that Lent places a deeper understanding of my longing for what is right in the world.  It’s something that I believe, in the end, will help me rejoice with all around the world who say, “He is risen!” on Easter Sunday.

Science & Valentine’s Day

Science Valentine

Sad Valentine...glad I'm not a scientist anymore.

Why do we love LOST?

For the better part of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I didn’t really watch much television other than sporting events.  I’ve always been more of a film guy.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but what annoyed me most about the silver screen was how it didn’t really have a direction – most TV isn’t really “going” somewhere. I never really got into the whole reality TV thing because, really, how close is it to reality to have a couple dozen gorgeous women pining over that guy who just says the cliche lines at the cliche times?

After I got back from Cairo in 2007, my spiritual director and I talked and she told me I needed a hobby of sorts.  Saving the world wasn’t exactly a hobby, but watching someone do it is.  So I picked up 24 and learned to see Jack Bauer do it in 24 hours.

After the other series I picked,  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, got cancelled (it was good, but 30 Rock ended up being better) I needed another show. I picked up Arrested Development on hulu and used it to laugh after long, 12-hour days on campus that required laughter instead of drama.

(Yet another great show that got cancelled. Morons.)

After polling several friends, I took the advice of my then supervisor and picked up LOST. She absolutely adored the show and I couldn’t imagine why someone would love a show so much…but I was soon to be disproved.

I kinda wanted to start a conversation among my friends who I know are fellow LOSTies and ask you a real simple question: Why do you love the show? What about it hooked you?

I think it was the season finale of season 5 that made me consider why I enjoy the show so much.  It is the opening dialogue scene between Jacob and the Man-in-Black:

Jacob: I take it you’re here because of the ship.

Man in Black: I am. How did they find the island?

Jacob: You’ll have to ask them when they get here.

Man in Black: I don’t have to ask.  You brought them here.  You’re tring to prove me wrong, aren’t you?

Jacob: You are wrong.

Man in Black: Am I?  They come. They fight.  They destroy. They corrupt.  It always ends the same.

Jacob: It only ends once.  Anything that happens before that, is just progress.

This scene epitomizes why I love LOST.  It’s screams of parallels from Job 1 where God and “ha-satan” (we call him Satan – literally translated, “the accuser”) discuss the reason for which the righteous servant Job is obedient to God.  Ha-satan says Job serves God because He’s a cosmic gumball machine.  Give God what he wants – get what you want.  Ha-satan’s question, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” is an assault on humanity’s capacity to do what God does: give unconditional love.

Jacob goes on throughout the season finale to meet all of our LOST Favorites – Jin and Sun, John Locke, Jack, Hurley, Sayid, Kate, Juliet, and Sawyer – touching each one of them mysteriously for some reason.  It’s as if he’s been watching them, walking alongside them on their journey of encountering the ongoing threats to this one thing that we all seek to receive and give most: unconditional love.  Are they capable of this?

We hear all the buzzwords with LOST – incredible depth of character development, a plot that has a clear trajectory and a definite endpoint to which everything is converging, clear identification with the villains and the heroic flaws, the new connection with the post-postmodern generation.

I think it’s deeper than that.  Those are devices – not the stuff that makes this the best stinkin’ show I’ve ever seen.

It’s the longing that we have as human beings to make wrongs right, and wondering if the innocence that we once had could ever be recaptured again.  Jack wanting to erase the past and start over.  Sun and Kate both leaving their children, biological and adopted, to seek and save their lost loved ones. Sawyer just wanting to have the chance to do one thing right in his life. Sayid, in my opinion the most complex character of all, desiring most deeply the innocence he lost even way back when he killed a chicken to protect his younger brother.  Even Ben going straight and honest, and sharing his deep pain and anger that causes him to kill the one who…who what?

And that’s the beauty of LOST.  The longer we go, the deeper we get, the more questions we ask. It was first about a hatch with a beam of light. Now we are talking about the deeper question, is humanity capable of unconditional love?

What do you love about LOST?

February 2010
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