Dropping Out – Part 3 – Conclusion

I believe in taking responsibility for myself, so I recognize that this situation is no one’s fault but my own. I failed to read the degree audit correctly, and I failed to ask for help sooner. That being said, I don’t think there were many options for helping me–the classes I needed weren’t offered at night, and if I had realized three or four years ago that I needed so many upper-level classes and that they would only be available during the day, I’d have quit college as soon as I got a full time job.

I met with my advisor earlier, which was really helpful. As frustrated as I am with all this, it is difficult to see anything other than black or white. Either I can drop out, or I can put my nose to the grindstone and push through two more years of classes in which I am not interested, wasting my time. Lora proposed a middle-way.

Suggesting I apply some Buddhist philosophy to my studies, she suggested I let go of the concept of a deadline, let go of both the desire for finishing as well as my concern for writing time. By looking at the situation a bit more calmly, there are many more options than either bull-dozing through or quitting altogether.

The frustration I have experienced with my college education over the last several years has been due primarily to taking classes I needed but in which I was not interested. These were classes that were required by my degree program, and while the originating principle was a fine ideal, in practice it turned out pretty meaningless. I have a transcript full of classes that made no impact on me and in which I learned next to nothing.

After next semester, however, I will be done with the classes that I need, and I am in a position (having finished all my requirements in addition to being able to take courses for free since I work here) that offers me the luxury of having options. Rather than viewing this as an either-or (put life on hold for two more years so I can finish by taking classes I detest VS. dropping out), I can slow down and learn to enjoy college again. There are certainly classes I want to take, and next semester is a good example of that; I am excited to study the Talmud under Dr. Watts-Belser, and I have missed poetry workshop. After that, Lora advised I keep an eye on the schedules (English and Religious Studies) and watch for upper-division classes I will enjoy. If I see one or two offered at night that I want to take, I take them. If I don’t, I don’t. Maybe I’ll have a semester or two off, and maybe I’ll have a busy semester, but I’ll be assured of only taking classes in which I have an interest.

And in a few years, they’ll hand me a piece of paper.

The bright spots of my college career are few, but I value them. I learned how to read and study Hebrew. I competed nationally at Model United Nations and did very well, and in so doing I learned how to politic and debate better than I did in high school. I learned lots and lots about the New Testament and the parables of Jesus, and I learned the value of good translations and critical thinking. I learned how to research and write. I helped an Israeli student learn about the United States government, and I helped a lot of students learn about the Bible through a college ministry I co-founded. I learned a lot about Buddhism in perhaps my favourite class of my college career. And yet, all-told that’s only about 6-10 classes, less than two semester’s worth (as a full time student), in 6.5 years.

Now is my opportunity, Lora said, to find more bright spots. There’s nothing stopping me from only taking classes I enjoy at this point. No more gen eds, no more requirements (other than course level). There is a 500-level class offered in the evening this summer on the book of Jeremiah. There are a couple of other upper-level classes next year I might enjoy.

What’s more, she said that it should be feasible now to do this through night classes. Last night and this morning, as I considered all this, part of why I was overwhelmed was that I would have to take all those upper-division classes during the day. I’ve been taking night classes for years, and there just aren’t that many upper-division courses offered at night. The few that are simply aren’t applicable to my interests or education (things like Real Estate and other professionally focused classes).

Lora shared that this is changing, and the Religious Studies department in particular met recently to discuss the matter. For years, Continuing Education has taken departments at their word that degree programs could be completed through night classes. Now Continuing Ed is actually looking at programming to make sure it can happen, and for a lot of departments, it couldn’t. They’re going to enforce this requirement or revoke Continuing Ed status (the degree program would no longer be listed as an option for Continuing Education, which hurts the chance that people will enroll in that program), so departments are going to start offering more night classes.

The head of the Religious Studies department told me this was going to happen three years ago (that they would start offering more night classes… he retired soon afterwards and it never really happened), but maybe this time it’s true. We have a different president now, and the University is a different place. Maybe it’s possible.

Either way, it is a compromise with which I am comfortable. I stop worrying about it all and, more than likely, drop down to one class a semester (except for next semester when I will finish the last two classes actually required for my degree). I’ll focus on night classes only, because truth be told I really prefer night classes. After years of them, I don’t feel you can accomplish enough in a single hour for it to be worthwhile. I’ll take only classes I enjoy and that I feel are worthwhile.

As Lora put it, I should focus on my writing, and I should focus on taking classes that enrich my writing. Studying the Talmud next semester will affect how I write and approach writing, so that’s a good educational opportunity. Studying Jeremiah and digging into Hebrew again can do the same. I should approach classes that will further my priorities, and if they don’t further my priorities, I don’t need to worry about it.

And if I keep taking classes in which I am interested, there’s a good chance that I’ll get a degree in a few years. I only need 5 more classes after next semester, after all, and if I’m only taking one class every 1-2 semesters (as they become available), I’ll have plenty of time to write while still learning things in which I am interested.

She also talked with the head of the Religious Studies department who said I could probably take a one credit hour reading course with someone to finish a bit sooner. I actually need 13 hours of upper-division classes after next semester, so instead of taking five 3-hour courses, I could take four 3-hour and one 1-hour to make it a bit quicker. That’s a nice option.

Bottom line, I’m still frustrated, but this middle way is attractive and reasonable. I’m glad I’ve got an advisor like Lora Hobbs.

PS The Religious Studies department now has an option for a Bachelor of Science as opposed to a Bachelor of Arts. If the BS didn’t require the 40 hours, I’d maybe do that, but my passion surprised me while meeting with Lora. I told her that I was frustrated that courses like Hebrew 202 didn’t count towards the upper-level requirement despite their difficulty, and mentioned the BS (12 hours of a foreign language are required for BA, but not for BS). Softly pounding my first on the table, I said,

“But I want my BA. I’ve earned it!”

I guess, if given a choice between the two, I want the extra work recognized. At this point, there’s only one difference for me between the BS and the BA: History 104 – History since 1600. I’m going to take a 90 minute test to get that taken care of.

In God There Is No Darkness

[podcast]https://mstublefield.com/podcasts/ingodisnodarkness.mp3[/podcast]

1 John 1:5-7

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

In Buddhist philosophy, everything in this world is conditioned. It is more than Newton’s third law, and far more complex than recognizing that our actions have consequences. Put simply, everything is dependent on something else. I exist because my parents begat, and they because of theirs, and so on. You have money because you have a job because you have an education because the tax system provided it because… We breathe because we have oxygen, and the trees create oxygen from our carbon dioxide.

As Christians, we believe in an all powerful, all knowing, all good creator God, but such a statement raises questions about the things we see in creation that we detest. If there is pollution, murder, thievery, backbiting, adultery, and what have you, did God create those as well? If God created everything, that must mean that God created evil.

Some people attempt to rationalize this conclusion as Confucius or a Taoist would, by stating that good is found in balance and it is in God’s perfect balance that harmony is most fully realized. That we should strive for balance rather than “complete good,” for in striving for the latter we will upset our natures and cause evil. This concept of balance is one I used to believe quite fervently, even until long after I became Christian. There is clearly evil in humanity, so we should accept it and just try to reign it in. Nothing more can be accomplished.

Plato’s Republic repudiates this idea, however, as he seeks to define Good. True, pure, complete Good would have no evil in it, for then it would defy the definition of Good. Just as the perfect ruler would be just, generous, kind, and gracious, a being of perfect Good would have no evil in it. As I mulled over this idea, it was like a bowstring snapped into place for me. To put it another way, it was like I had finally found the square hole for the square peg, which clicked home with quiet satisfaction.

No, God did not create evil, nor is evil found in God, as John writes in verse five. We have followed a logical progression of 1) God Created Everything, 2) There is Evil, 3) God Created Evil, but our logic is flawed. We have a very limited view of “everything” and a rather stilted definition of “created.”

In truth, there is no darkness in God, so what is darkness? I read an anecdote ((Yes, the original rumour of this being by Einstein is false, but that makes the anecdote no less helpful.)) recently that I think best makes this point. Though I first read this in a note on Facebook, I will link to it on another page by way of accreditation and paste the text here.

Malice of Absence

Does evil exist?

The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied, “Yes, he did!”

“God created everything? The professor asked.

“Yes sir”, the student replied.

The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil.” The student became quiet before such an answer. The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.

Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question professor?”

“Of course,” replied the professor.

The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”

“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question.

The young man replied, “In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”

The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?”

The professor responded, “Of course it does.”

The student replied, “Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn’t this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present.”

Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?”

Now uncertain, the professor responded, “Of course, as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”

To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”

The problem is that so many of us are walking in darkness, and because of that same darkness, we can see nothing. It is a simplistic, almost laughable statement, but it is likewise important to note that those who are in darkness can not find their way. This is one of the justifications for missions work and evangelism, where we must take the light of Jesus into the world to help people find God.

Gifted by the Holy Spirit with God’s laws and a conscience, we can have a relatively good idea of whether we are currently walking in darkness or not. Before I was Christian, I was very sure of myself, confident in all my ways. I knew that I was right and my chosen path was correct… and yet, “knew” is perhaps too strong a word. There was always this nagging doubt, and I would hear myself whisper, “But if I am wrong, I am surely going to hell.” I rationalized and justified my actions, feeling that though they might condemn me to hell, I knew I had helped at least one person and so my life, or my self-styled sacrifice, was worthwhile. I comforted myself in the darkness by trying to be my own light.

But I wasn’t helping people on God’s terms or in His way; if I had been things would have been far better. Moreover, I have not the capability to be the light in the darkness, or the lamp on the path, as Jesus is. None of us do. We might pretend, but we’re just flailing around in the dark, lying to ourselves and everyone else.

The wonderful promise of these verses is what we find in the light. I have written elsewhere that our generation (as I imagine all generations have, to a greater or lesser extent) is seeking community and fellowship with one another. When we walk in the light, we find that community and are joined in fellowship with the Church. What’s more, we are forgiven and come under the sanctification of the blood of Christ. Adopted into God’s family, we are assured of an eternity with Him.

I was once given the image that humans are walking in darkness because we all live with sin, but what’s important is the direction we are walking. If we are walking towards God, towards the light, it does not matter where we are on the path. We are forgiven and with him, no matter our circumstances, because we are heading the right direction. However, if we are ever standing still, that is just as bad as walking away from God. We’re either going towards him or we’re falling away.

As I reflect on 1 John 1:5-7, I feel that this image does God’s forgiveness an injustice. If we are truly in the light, having been chosen by God and duly accepted his grace, and if we are in fellowship with each other and God, we are no longer walking in darkness towards a distant light. No, God’s light is all around us, inundating and filling us, and we can be sure in the blood of Jesus and the purification of sin. The Word of God was but a simple ray of light, but it broke into a world of darkness and illuminated it. We have been found.

The Teachings of Ignorance

For my Buddhism class, we had the option of either writing a 15 page research paper or doing a creative project; I suspect this was largely to encourage people to do a creative piece instead. I opted to work on an epic poem, but unfortunately did not have the idea for it until late in the semester, at which time I scrapped all my previous work and began writing The Teachings of Ignorance. As such, what I have completed in time for the due date is only a first, rough draft, because this story deserves a lot more work and expansion than I had time for.

You can read the poem below, but if you’re really interested in seeing the final product, be sure to either subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this page, or subscribe to the site in general. You can also, down at the bottom of the page, check a box and put in your email address to receive updates that way. I will continue work on this as quickly as I’m able, but don’t expect it to be complete until February 2009, and potentially as late as July 2009 if next semester goes as poorly (read: is as busy) as I expect.

The Teachings of Ignorance

Marahasvu declares the jewels:
the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha,
the Guru, capstone of strength and wisdom-
without him the structure falls,
built ignorantly and without thought.

Think on this:

Continue reading

Improving spontaneity

I get in this bad cycle now and again where I’ll have work I need to do, not want to do it, and yet can’t bring myself to do anything else because I know that I should be working on whatever it is that needs doing. For example, right now I need to work on my creative project for my Buddhism class (I intend to write an epic poem), but I really don’t want to. And though I’d like to do some writing on other topics, I don’t want to do that either because I know that I should be working on Buddhism stuff. In the end, I get nothing done and waste a lot of time. It’s stupid.

In addition to that, I’ve found that my blogging habits have become more and more structured, and I don’t really like that. The structure is killing all of my writing because it gets me wrapped into a logical loop where I feel I can only write so much at once, only post every so often, only write on certain topics at certain times… and that if I blog, it has to be of a certain length, depth, and consideration before it’s worth putting up here.

The result is that very little work is getting done, and that’s worthless. I have the potential to have a great deal of productivity and output, but I’m sabotaging myself to try and meet some warped expectation, imposed either by myself or some nebulous “other.”

Writing is work, and it’s not easy, but I need to apply myself. Just like going to the gym early in the morning, it kind of sucks at first, but once you get into the routine, it’s not so bad, and the end results are definitely positive.

In other news, I’m considering a new writing implement. It would be nice to be mobile again, but buying a new laptop will have to wait until sometime next year. We’ll see how our tax return turns out, and how my raise looks; I also need some time to change my mind another dozen times before settling on such a big purchase. I think it would be all kinds of helpful to have something I could carry around easily (the laptop I’m looking at weighs a total of about 3 pounds less than my current one when you include the power adapter), but I want to make sure I’m making the right decision since I’m going to have to stick with it for 3-5 years.

The Inherent Existence of God

I published an article on October 20th indicating that I was finally beginning to understand Nagarjuna, and if my test results from my Buddhism class aren’t completely based on nepotism, I apparently have a firm grasp on the other concepts of this religion as well. Therefore, I feel confident moving forward with this discussion, at least as confident as I’ll ever be, and turn towards why I disagree with Nagarjuna regarding inherent existence.

To recap, Nagarjuna states that nothing inherently exists because such a concept is absurd. To inherently exist means to be eternal, to never change, and Nagarjuna states that something which never changes can never change anything else either. If something inherently existed, it could not move, could not feel, could not be moved, and could not move anything else. It would also have to be unconditional, which is to say that nothing would cause that which inherently exists. Likewise, that which inherently exists cannot cause anything else.

The logical conclusion of this line of argument is that if something does not possess inherent existence–that is to say, it is capable of change–it will die. Likewise, everything that is temporary and going to die is also conditional; everything is caused by something else. Nothing exists on its own.

That which is temporary and conditional is “empty,” Nagarjuna would say. It has no inherent existence; it is conditional on something else, and is itself a condition for other states. It only exists, is only defined, by its conditions. It is empty.

You may have already surmised my response, which is that Nagarjuna’s perception was limited. He observed the world around himself with the same assumptions everyone in Asia made at the time and came to these logical conclusions, but they’re only logical based on that limited perception.

It should be stated here that, within Buddhist theology, there are gods. I had previously always believed it an atheistic religion, or philosophy, but there are certainly gods within Buddhism. And these gods are the same as everything else: susceptible to change, death, and rebirth.

I believe strongly that I serve a God who is both the beginning and the end, however; who has always existed and always will. Despite that, I do not believe that God inherently exists as Nagarjuna would define it.

The Christian God “inherently exists” in that His existence is not conditional. God does not depend on anything else for His existence. However, inherent existence, to my mind, does not preclude the inability to change or to affect change. Nagarjuna took a step from “not caused” to “unable to cause” that I cannot quite comprehend. The only arguments he offers is that if something is not caused, it cannot exist, and therefore cannot cause anything else. But what if something existed without being caused? Could it not then affect change?

Our God exists without being caused, and this fact alone leads to the unraveling of Nagarjuna’s chain of logic. Beyond this, we know that God can change, else He would have wiped out the Israelites during the time of Moses, left them in exile in Babylon, or left humanity dwelling in sin. The story of Jesus is a story of changing times, and it was our God who changed them.

God doesn’t need us for His existence. God just is. But He presses into us as we press into Him, He shapes and teaches us, and we must therefore recognize that God affects change. God claims to be the beginning and the end, and I cannot dispute His claim. I have met God, and know His face. It smiled, and in this, I saw God move.

I Need to NaNo

I should just commit myself to not writing anymore blog posts for the next week or so. Not just because it’d be great to make some progress on this project (for which I haven’t even published the first chapter yet), but because I’m swamped at work, and the time sensitivity of these projects in collusion with an increase of class work, reading assignments, and being all-around fairly busy translates itself into needing some time off. Time to relax my mind and put it into subjects other than computers, portals, technical writing, religion, or philosophy.

April is quick to point out that I spent most of last weekend playing World of Warcraft rather than writing, which is entirely true. Now that this week is upon me, I recognize in retrospect that life would be an order of magnitude more sucky if I had not taken that time to relax and recharge. I didn’t know that at the time–I was just procrastinating–so it’s not like, “Kudos to me for foresight!” But it has worked out well, and I’m glad I got some time to chill and play games.

I’ve got a ton of writing and documentation to do at work, a server to build for software license tracking, some training to attend next week (for which I’m writing the documentation), a few projects (consultations, scripting, increasing wiki security and stability, etc.) that really need my attention, and these are all things that need to be done ASAP but cannot be. On top of that, I have a book to read for Buddhism, a creative project to do for the same class (I’m thinking 10-15 poems based on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā), philosophy lectures to keep up with, and a college ministry that I feel some sort of obligation to attend despite the fact that late evenings in the middle of the week are a really poor time for me to be out socializing and whatnot.

Can we add, I don’t know, maybe 1-3 days to the week? I don’t know if moving to a ten day week (7 days of work, 3 days off) would actually help anything, but I know that when I got home last night (after about 9 hours of work and 3 hours of class), I still had a solid 8 hours worth of work I could have done.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Logic – Part 2 – Understanding Nagarjuna

I need to recant yesterday’s blog entry because, after a long lecture in my Buddhism class tonight, I understand what Nagarjuna was saying now.

The statement that plagued me over the weekend was “A non-moving thing is not stationary,” so let us begin with that.

First, Nagarjuna doesn’t necessarily redefine words, but he was certainly using them in a manner I did not understand. The key phrase is “inherent existence,” and the important thing to understand is that nothing possesses inherent existence. Inherent Existence means, essentially, that something exists without condition, without cause or effect, and this thing is permanent. It cannot change, and as such, it can be neither interacted with nor can it interact with anything else.

Let us therefore use the example of a ball. There are two things we might say about a ball. First, that it is made of various components; its existence is conditional upon being put together of different pieces, chemicals, what-have-you by various people in various places. It does not purely exist without cause; something and someone had to make it. Second, balls roll. They can bounce and go places.

If a ball is not moving, it is stationary, but when Nagarjuna states that a non-moving thing is not stationary, he’s not really talking about something so simple as “not moving.” Rather, he is referring to its conditional existence. In referring last time to potential motion, I wasn’t far from the mark of understanding a ball’s conditional existence. Because the ball does not inherently exist, it is capable of change. It is not permanent. And because it is capable of change, it is capable of rolling. It can be affected, and it can affect other things.

To be stationary would be to inherently exist, or to be incapable of change. A non-moving thing is simply not-moving, but it is capable of being moved, conventionally speaking.

About an hour and a half into tonight’s lecture, it all clicked for me, and I find Nagarjuna far more intriguing now. I really look forward to finishing this book and digging into the commentary. The problem was that I had come at this text from a very Western perspective, with a preconceived definition of the word “emptiness.” Nagarjuna states that everything is empty and that nothing inherently exists; I interpreted that as a very negative statement, and if you walked up to a person and told them that they are empty, they probably would too.

But Nagarjuna didn’t mean it as an insult, just as an observation. Inherent existence means permanence; it means that the thing in question had no cause and subsequently is incapable of acting on anything else. Inherent existence means that the thing in question cannot change. To be capable of change, to be impermanent, to not have inherent existence… that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me now. And certainly, within Buddhism, it was not; inherent existence, permanence, would mean that one is incapable of nirvana.

Later I will have to write, however, about my disagreement with the view that nothing inherently exists. But for now, it is enough that this text makes a bit of sense to me, and I’m excited to read more.