Monday, March 30, 2009

Twitter: I type, therefore I am

I took a hand count in my homeschool sessions (APACHE conference over the weekend) to see who had heard of Twitter. Many homeschoolers still (how to put this delicately) tend to be Luddites. Still, the techno-ones who were Twitter fans jiggled their hands in the air with the enthusiasm of anyone who has joined a craze. I felt a kinship with them. I get the same way... that is, happy to be in the know when the know is in! We bonded. We knew we weren't wasting time, doing nothing, all day, for no good reason.

The next morning, I ate my stale English muffin in front of the hotel TV and listened to a commentator condescend to the "crazed" as she raised her eyebrows mouthing the word "tweet" like it was a juvenile playground term six floors beneath her, that had somehow wormed its way onto her teleprompter, forcing her to say it Against. Her. Will. She derided the "updating" process, making the tweet all about stale English muffins at breakfast.

Yet just the day before, one of my homeschool moms had told me about a Twitter identity that tweets a different opening hook from a novel every day. I had just taught the "opening hook" in that session and she was positively gleeful to tell me about this resource that would add such value to the ideas I was suggesting. Of course! That's the point right there. Someone else is compiling opening hooks from children's novels, publishing them every day, and all any of us has to do is read them. Genius!

I got to talking to a man later in the day who had heard of Twitter but had yet to succumb. He wanted to understand how on earth I had time for all this social media (blogging, facebook, twitter, forums). Of course, I spend more time on the computer than should be humanly permissible so that makes it easy for me. But I went on, in my Brave Writerly way.

We're living in an epoch when more writing is being created and disseminated than in the history of the world. Really. I'm not overstating it. Kids especially (our reluctant writers, our kids who say they hate writing) are writing constantly (won't even use the phone as it's impolite so they text instead). Yes, much of what is written may as well be speech (they're not writing for pay, after all). Still, the craving to be known, to record what and who I am through the written word is taking over; putting myself in print or pixels has become one of the ways I know I exist. Writing is competing with speech for the first time in history.

And I'm one of those people who thinks that's incredibly good! For one, we take more responsibility for what we think when we commit it to writing (ask anyone who has made the mistake of pontificating on a forum without nuance). We express a point of view (even in 140 characters) and are accountable to those who read it (was it good to read? did it inform? did it inspire? did we connect?). Writers online share a passion, looking for that corresponding "yes" and experience the community creating happiness that comes from knowing that what I love, others love too.

Twitter, FB status updates, blogs: they let us play with words. God! Why is word play so undervalued? The heart of a vibrant community is its vocabulary. Truly. The more ways you can express your devotion to your passion, the more trivia you accumulate, the more insider-lingo you master, the greater your pleasure. It doesn't matter if you're a NASCAR fan or are all about container gardening. Pleasure multiplies when you talk about it in depth, using all your words (technical, slang, jokes and trivia), with other people equally zany for your chosen enthusiasm.

Twitter is genius since our attention spans have been shortened by the media saturation we live with every day. So now, in 140 characters, we must become good writers. Can you get it done and hold the reader's attention? For people like me, that's the game. It's the sudoku of language (and let's just ask: why does sudoku get to be famous and people admire those who do the silly puzzles daily, but twitter is seen as a waste of time?) We wordy people must rise up in protest. No more "math" beats "language arts" - the injustice!

So yeah, I love Twitter and Facebook and blogs and forums and texting on the phone. Finally - we can all be published. And read.

I write, therefore I am. Or... I type, therefore I am.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Virtual Lives

In cleaning out some old files on my computer, I ran across this journal entry from five years ago (Feb. 2004). It stunned me. I remember very clearly what prompted the insights and thoughts at the time. Yet it spoke to me on another level now. See what you think:
Dr. Dewey [professor of New Testament] commented: “God is not in any book but in the Reality of our lives. Trouble is we tend to lead virtual lives. Wouldn't know Reality if it knocked... yet when it does, well, it does. When the baby decides to come, when the water breaks, when the contractions start, you have to face Reality and go with the waves... The stories [in the Bible] are told to help people identify the waves in their lives... the beauty and the horror...”

Last night I had such an "Aha" about what it means to lead a virtual life. I kept playing over and over again in my head: what does he mean we wouldn’t know Reality if it knocked? And then the realizations of my own virtual existence poured in.

How many times have I felt someone else’s feelings instead of my own when relating to that person? I find myself out of touch with what I want, need or think and totally adjust who I am to what that person says, does or is. How often have I pretended that a viewpoint made sense when underneath was a horror or shock that I knew wouldn’t be acceptable?

I’ve lived in a world of faith that put more emphasis on the invisible that I can’t know or touch or see than on what I can know, touch and see. I’ve invalidated what I know to fit with what I’m told I ought to think.

I’ve not trusted my experiences – I’ve allowed other people to tell me what is right or wrong. I let people tell me what was right in my sex life. I let people tell me that my reasons for a move [to Ohio from CA] wouldn’t be good enough – I must let God have his way. I was told that my ideas about a career were inferior to God’s ideas of a career for me. And ironically, those who play the virtual reality game well figure out ways to get both – getting what they want in the guise of God’s giving it to them. This is my particular world of the virtual. There must be others that aren’t bound in religion. [And yes, those are the ones I'm getting know now.]

Am I saying that I am the final word on my life, my authority comes from within? Scary thought! A hundred voices immediately jump in front of me to warn me of the danger of being autonomous.

Yet I might be. And it is such a deeply ingrained wrong way to think (being responsible for self) that I'm almost nervous to write it out. But the truth is that we all submit to authority – only most of the time we pick an illusion – as though we can submit to something outside of self – something we deem bigger and more real than our own authority, even though our personal sense of right and wrong guides even that choice. To own our responsibility, as Bonhoeffer suggests, is too big for most of us. We have been trained not to trust self and we willingly turn over our consciences, our guilt, our aspirations to the stewardship of others pretending that we are not choosing, are not in control, are not risking being bad or making bad decisions.

Who gets control?

Pop stars
Fear of Rejection

Reality: what is it? It’s the bottom rung on the ladder of experience and thought. What is the stuff that gets in the way? What do we heap up on top of it (like drugs to dull the pain of the contractions) to avoid living it and being responsible to it?

I love the idea of birth: the water breaking, the baby coming and going with the waves. Oh my God! I know that feeling totally. The baby is coming – I can’t stop it. I’ve lived this experience five times without drugs, without intervention. It was the most miraculous experience I’ve ever had. To let go of control and to completely yield to the process, to recognize that I could only cooperate or inhibit but that it would happen no matter what. My births were the most “in the moment” experiences of my life and the result was sheer exhilaration, power and joy!

What baby is on its way in my life right now? The profound disillusionment with literal faith is what is at work in me [Feb. 2004]. It’s shattering the old attachments and interpretations and ways of thinking… about everything.

Biblical literalism is such a scary place. The worldview that literalism represents has invaded every aspect of how I live and think. It has a strong hold on my thinking. I have a fog settle in any time I move out of it too far. And it is subtle. I thought I had let it go by letting the Bible be fallible and errant. But no! I then want to literally affirm the metaphorical truths in the same way I held to the literal history or geography.

I work hard to do things “right” so that I can control the outcomes. If I parent correctly, if I homeschool conscientiously, my children will not do drugs, they will love me, they will have friends and go on to college. I expect my obedience to the demands of these “promises” to pay off literally. No mystery. No chance to fail.

But what if Reality woke me up? What if there is more there than what I do? How will I respond? Will I suddenly wake up from my virtual existence and realize that there is something else more real?

And isn’t that what happens so often? My parents are “happily married” for 17 years and then Wham! Reality intrudes and my mom discovers my father in bed with another woman. What illusion were they living before? What virtual life had they tricked themselves into believing?

We pile up debt and believe we own things. We promise ourselves that next year will be better and then miss what’s happening today. What is today teaching me?

I find myself consulting experts and trusting someone else’s word over my own. I don’t want to follow my thoughts - I want someone to tell me how it is. But the baby is coming. I will be born. The “I” I’m supposed to fear, call sinful, distrust… that me is the baby this time. Can I trust that Reality is my greatest teacher, that I can find my way through life with as much honesty as I can muster? Direct access to reality! What a concept.

Dorothy Sayers says:

“And to every man and woman to whom integrity of mind meant more than material gain, defenders in the central keep of man’s soul, personal differences forgotten in the face of a common foe, to be true to one’s calling whatever follies one might commit in one’s emotional life, that was the way to spiritual peace.”

“There are a number of people who are disconnnected between what you do feel and what you ought to feel. It is fatal to pay the smallest attention to them.

“Yes, said Harriet. “And I am one of them. I disconcert myself very much. I never know what I do feel.”

“Oh I don’t think that matters, providing one doesn’t try to persuade oneself into appropriate feelings.”

Virtual living: persuading oneself into appropriate feelings.

And isn’t that the nature of not knowing Reality?

We have to learn the language game of the group we join and then reinterpret our experience of life in light of the new “proffered” reality. We aren’t free, we can’t speak, we don’t share. We conform, adhere, play by the new rules and find safety and protection from a direct experience of Reality.

This must be what E. M. Forster is about. He constantly challenges people to have their own opinions, to face their hypocrisy in the face of truth and beauty. Is it better to love a painting because someone famous paints it or because it speaks to you – you, the one for whom it was painted – the viewer, not the student or priest or tourist.

Oh my! It’s coming to me now. I know I may have a piece of it.

The truly free thinker, or free mind is the one that can stay open to self and not give in to the pressures of the group. On the other hand, we need each other to help us see reality. We need others to help us not be bound by our group think tendencies. But what are friends for? They aren’t supposed to exclaim loudly “How can you think that?” They are supposed to be the midwives of a birth. They don’t know ahead of time what the baby will be. If they do, they aren’t midwives any more. They are the ones who will rob you of the truth once it’s born. They will tell you what baby you should have had.

But real friends will marvel with you and help you see Reality as it unfolds in your life.

That’s it.
Hmmm. So many thoughts. I'll leave those for another day. What is your version of virtual living? How has Reality awakened you?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is it ironic....

that during the Bush years, the Republicans oversaw the multiple fronts of the so-called "War on Terror" (the one thing I would never want to trust a Republican to oversee given their myopia, inability to see "the other" and their "bomb first, ask later" style of international diplomacy), while we are now in the Obama years, and suddenly the Democrats are in charge of the largest money crisis since the Great Depression (honestly, my conservative roots still make me a bit queasy turning over that power to the gov't, despite wanting to trust the president on this one)?


It's like a big cosmic joke.

Emotional Safety

I read this quote yesterday and thought it perfectly described the heart of a good relationship:
Oh, the comfort - the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person - having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
~Dinah Craik, A Life for a Life, 1859

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quiet and silence

So the kids survived their media fast. In fact, they happily reported that it wasn't "so bad" and that, in fact, they might do it again some time. I wondered what they liked about it. They read, the house was quiet, they didn't feel pressure to check up on friends, they were proud of themselves for sticking to it. All good stuff. At the meeting where they gathered with their other media fasting friends, the pastor asked if the kids had spent more time in prayer or reading the Bible. My kids told me, "I wished he'd have mentioned that we could be doing THAT while fasting. He never told us that BEFOREhand." Ah well. I majored on what they did experience and told them their pastor is still growing in his leading skills too.

This morning, a friend sent me a couple of quotes that I had supposedly sent her years ago. I mean, I'm sure I did. It's just that I don't remember either of them and clearly didn't learn a thing from them on the first pass. Let me post them first:
Unfortunately, in seeing ourselves as we truly are, not all that we see is beautiful and attractive. This is undoubtedly part of the reason we flee silence. We do not want to be confronted with our hypocrisy, our phoniness. We see how false and fragile is the false self we project. We have to go through this painful experience to come to our true self. It is a harrowing journey, a death to self—the false self—and no one wants to die. But it is the only path to life, to freedom, to peace, to true love. And it begins with silence. We cannot give ourselves in love if we do not know and possess ourselves. This is the great value of silence. It is the pathway to all we truly want.

--M. Basil Pennington

Silence is the measure of the power to act; that is, a person never has more power to act than he has silence. Anyone can understand that to do something is far greater than to talk about doing it. If, therefore, a person has a plan or idea and is fully resolved to carry it out, he does not need to talk about it. What he talks about in connection with the proposed action is what he is most unsure of and most unwilling to do.

--Soren Kierkegaard
I've spent time being quiet. My kids were quiet last week. I know how to turn down the sound. In fact, for years I called my Bible reading and prayer hour, a "quiet time."

I remember naps with little kids. My whole "ragged, on-the-edge" goal by 2 p.m. - get kids into beds and knocked out. I'd be unraveling so fast by that hour, that all I could do was hurl myself onto the floor of the bedroom that had three, four, and finally five kids stuffed into it, letting the current baby nurse while a soft lullaby tape played, hoping the bouncing, questions, tossing and turning would finally collapse into gentle little one snores. I'd extricate myself from the suctioned baby, careful not to disturb a single muscle, and walk into the other room, sighing deeply. Quiet had descended on the apartment. I could draw breath. For a moment.

Silence, though, seems to be another whole level. Silence is not just being quiet, but being with self, alone. Being confronted with hypocrisy? Oh sign me up! Really much easier to be busy and noisy than that. I love that nearly last line of the Basil quote though: "We cannot give ourselves in love if we do not know and possess ourselves." That seems to be the key to living a rich life, doesn't it?

I'm realizing quiet is not silence. Silence is shutting down communication that distracts me from being with mySelf. I want to cultivate a little silence in my life (probably have to start in small doses - I'm pretty addicted to "noise"). What do you do? Anyone practice silence as a discipline?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish rambles

I don't wear green on St. Patrick's day. I figure being Irish is enough. I remember clearly in 5th grade that I very much wanted to wear a little pin my mother kept in her jewelry box. The pin was a circle of white with the word "Sweeney's" stamped across it. The apostrophe, naturally, was a shamrock; Sweeney, my last name. This little pin had been a gift from my dad to my mom when they were dating, picked up at an Irish pub and brought home as a gift to let her know "she was his."

So I loved the idea of wearing the token on St. Patrick's Day and begged my mother to let me wear it to school. Being one of those moms who likes to make her kids happy, she acquiesced but not without a little pressure: "Please don't lose it. It means a lot to me." I assured her that I would not and pinned it to my blouse.

During the day, I'd check my lapel to see that the pin was still there. It was. It drew attention and I got to repeat the little romance story of my parents' love to anyone who asked. By the afternoon, I felt so good. I'd kept it securely fastened in spite of morning recess and lunch. Now it was time for kickball and then a run around the field at Round Meadow (the name of my elementary school - I've always loved it). I'm competitive when I play so I never paid a single bit of attention to my blouse and instead, dove at the ball with all the power a 4' body could muster. Sweaty and happy, we finished the game.

As I walked back to class, I glanced down at my lapel. You already know what's coming. The pin had vanished: somewhere in that round meadow called the back field, my little pin lay lonely under a sea of green grass. Panic swept over me. I got permission to comb the field. I scoured it the way a 5th grader does - not really seeing, not really knowing where to look. Mostly I cried.

Eventually, I got on the bus to head home, scared that my mother would be heart-broken. When I walked into the kichen, she had little green shamrock cookies at our table (she's like that, so thoughtful). I couldn't hold back the tears. And she knew, right then, the whole story. Yet she hardly said a word about it. Not a bit of scolding. She was glad I had gotten the chance to wear the pin to school. She reminded me that she hadn't looked at it in years and at least on its last day, it got some happy use.

I hadn't thought about that story until today when Jon and I were talking about the fact that I never wear green on St. Patrick's day. Made me think of the pin that I did wear. Then I gently chuckled realizing that my parents are divorced and the pin would mean next to nothing now, anyway. I really did enjoy it at the height of its meaningfulness to me. In a strange way it reminded me of how temporary everything is: declarations of love, souvenirs, tokens, seasons of life, irresponsibility, childishness, celebrations, even parents who love each other. Enjoy them while you can, when you have them, then... let them go.


P.S. We used to always say to my little sister, named Erin, "Erin-go-braless" on St. Paddy's. ;-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

TED Talk: Unveiling the Sixth Sense

Coolest, crazy thing ever. Clearly this is the future (as radical as the Internet for the next generation... or sooner!).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You mean God hates happiness?

So my kids came bounding out of "Reset," their Wednesday night "small group wrapped in a big group wrapped in an enigma" at their church. They hurled themselves into my car, which literally rocked sideways by the force of their exuberance, oh wait, scratch that, their energetic gleeful annoyance. They relished their anger, diffidence, outrage.

"Mom, Mom. You can't believe what Carl (youth pastor) is making us do! He's soooo mean!"

Laughter, lurching bodies, locking doors, punching radio buttons, zwipped seatbelting ensued.

They were ooc. "Carl is making us love God this week."

Oh the horror.

"He says we can't do ANYTHING that we like. We can't go on Facebook, can't watch TV (even American Idol!), can't play Halo or the Wii, can't use the computer for any entertainment. We have to turn off our cell phones, can't text or IM, or even listen to our iPods (unless it's [here they did the mocking voice of preteens] 'Christian music' which totally sucks because we hate Christian music). This week, we have to give up anything that makes us happy so we can learn to be happy with God only. It SUCKS!"

Not to be stopped (because believe me, by now I was ready to kneecap Carl and give him a supreme noogie on his head for wrecking God by inferring he(sic) hated happy kids), my two wild-haired middlers went on, "We HAVE to do it. If we don't, Carl won't let us come back next week. EVERYONE has to. We don't have a CHOICE!"

My brain worked itself into a tizzy - two contradictory threads of thought:

1) What an idiotic idea - that God is somehow squeezed out of life because you are happily engaged in activities that bring you joy and connect you to other people.

2) My kids LOVE this. They can't wait to suffer!

A delicate balance had to follow. How do I subvert heresy (yes, I get the irony of calling it heresy since I don't subscribe to orthodoxy) while joining in on the fun of exuberant self-flaggellation? Basically I did a lousy job of both, but saved it by singing really loud to Flo Rida's "Right Round" as we got near home.

Kids flopped on the couch once inside to indulge in their last moments of electronic saturation (they had until midnight), literally clicking the remote, setting up the DVR, writing elaborate FB status updates to reflect their newly adopted ascetic zeal.

I asked at one point: "How will you know you're loving God better than you were when you were happy?"

Blink, blink.

Carl forgot to mention that. They had no idea. I asked if they were supposed to pray more, read the Bible, use their time to serve the needy... They couldn't remember, even between the two of them. Liam said, "I'm pretty sure he does want us to read the Bible, but he never said so." Caitrin rejoined, "I don't pray to their idea of God anyway. I pray to the Universe, to karma, to Buddha." The next thing you know, we were talking about God (what God is, how to define God). I shared about this translation project I'm watching unfold on a e-list where all the God references are being changed to Godde to reflect the divine feminine, not just masculine.

Liam mentioned that God is neither male nor female and we all know that. Caitrin countered, "Yes, but if you say 'God,' your imagination goes straight to the beard." Which is why, currently, she prays to the universe. :)

I found the whole thing a crazy study in how too many people miss the point. If God, if Godde, if Goddess, (invisible, not audible - except perhaps for a few lucky people in history who report otherwise), how else would you experience happiness in the divine than happiness in the fullness of life? Wouldn't joy at singing the lyrics from Rent at the top of your lungs count as connection? Wouldn't chatting eagerly with friends online represent a reaching out to community in love and fondness? Wouldn't time with family in front of a TV count as a happy expression of bondedness? Why do we assume the divine isn't already being loved, felt, honored and known when we are happy?

I don't get how teaching children, especially, to distrust their happiness (to see it as competing with love of God!! What a charge!) is productive spiritually, emotionally or mentally? In fact, I'd say the opposite. It creates that strange split where any time you feel good, you have to call it sin... And that leads to all the stuff we deal with in mid-life. But Carl is too young to know it!

And well, there is a certain happiness to be found in abstaining... we love that at that age.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why Rush is Wrong (by David Frum, Newsweek)

Why Rush is Wrong

I confess: I listened to Rush for ten years. I saw the light and haven't listened for the last ten (except when it seems to be a moment to remember). This is an astute argument for how Rush Limbaugh represents his own interests more than those of conservatives (and the true ones still garner my respect).
On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of "responsibility," and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise—and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tweet a theological term and wind up on a website

On Sunday, my pastor mentioned "preterism" in his sermon. After the sermon was over, Adam Clark (black theo prof) and I talked about it. I was vaguely familiar with the ideas and the term but not fluent by any means in what that theological stream meant to evangelical Christians. I had a sense that this term might be connected with N. T. Wright. I suppose I could have Googled the term and Wright's name, but I didn't even think of that. I knew I had recently become connected to the emergent world through twitter and knew they'd know.

So I sent out a little tweet and back came a 100 character message from the owner of a website that my FB friend linked to me at the same moment in a response to the same question. Virgil not only owns the site, but runs an emergent cohort in Dayton... like, up the freaking road from me! He and I got to emailing and the next thing you know, my paper on Genesis 3:16 from the Society for Biblical Literature is now posted to the site. I always wanted to share it here but it's too long for that. Now you can read the whole thing here:

All About Eve and Me: Genesis 3:16

I'll be attending that cohort on Saturday. If you're local and want to come, call me! (Hint: Margaret, Ed, Adam...)