No output without input

I was supposed to meet some local church leaders for breakfast this morning, only to discover about 5 minutes after our scheduled start time that they had rescheduled via Facebook last night. And since I had been dreaming of Gailey’s French Toast for several days, I decided to stay and catch up on reading blogs and enjoy the morning before diving into work.

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While sitting in a too-small seat, not paying attention to a class I’m almost failing

In my defense, I’m only almost failing because I missed an assignment while out of town to attend a wedding. Most weeks, we do nothing, but that particular week we had to put on a play with a group. I wasn’t here, couldn’t do the play, and subsequently missed the points.

It wasn’t as big a deal before, but I just checked grades online and the professor magically doubled how much that assignment was worth, which has dropped me by 10%. Hooray.

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Poems About Things I Can’t Fully Understand

One of my classes this semester is about the Holocaust, and as our final project we had the option of doing either a research paper or a creative piece. I had intended to do the paper–I enjoy research, and I can put together a good paper pretty quickly–but when I met with my teacher to discuss the class and my project, he seemed to be pushing for something creative. I mentioned that I (used to) write poetry and could do a dozen poems or so in about the same time it would take to write a paper, but he tweaked that a bit: he wanted six poems, but with explanations of what each one meant.

I think explaining the poem ruins it a bit, but I wanted to share the poems themselves with you, along with the introduction.

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So long, Heartbreak. Hello Dreams!

My frustration about school and the attendance thereof has only become more pointed as this year has progressed. We’re barely a month into the semester and my two classes have been infuriating. One is Children’s Literature and is essentially, “How to teach literature to children between the ages of two and five,” which is definitely not how it was described in the course catalog. The other is The Life and Thought of Martin Luther King Jr. and we have yet to discuss the good doctor, let alone his life and/or thoughts. We have instead been treated to many rambling and often racist stories by our professor, unclear expectations and assignments, and a litany of “extra credit” opportunities that often manage to involve attending his church.

The real issue is that these classes, and most any classes for that matter, prevent me from pursuing my dreams in the here and now. I can’t write when I’m taking two classes a semester. There are two reasons for this:

  1. My work requires a lot of time dealing with people, particularly in management situations. For someone as introverted as me, this is mentally and emotionally exhausting. I already have a regularly scheduled game night on Fridays that takes some of my energy, and when you add in two classes for a total of three days a week, each requiring twelve to fifteen hours of extroversion, I’m wiped out. Deeper thought and the writing that would come out of it aren’t reasonable in those circumstances.
  2. Because of the previous issue, I use class as an excuse to not do work. Part of me recognizes that I’d completely burn out and have a nervous breakdown if I pushed myself much harder than I do and forced myself to do a lot of work and writing during my limited downtime, but I can’t ignore that this an excuse, not a reason. Ideally, I would be able to do everything, but that’s not feasible in real life. If I try to do everything, I’ll fail at everything. Being in class keeps me focused on the problem, not the solution. The solution is simple, but I’ve been too wrapped up in the problem to admit it.

It’s not the classes themselves, or even the six hours a week they take. It’s the poor state the entire schedule leaves me in. Six hours isn’t much, but the long days they lead to makes achieving my dreams impossible.

So I’m done. As of this semester, I was only enrolled for one reason: to be able to attend PAX ’10. I won’t be able to afford to go if I have to start paying on student loans, and if I’m not enrolled in six hours of classes a semester I’ll have to start paying. As much as it sucks to not go, though, I’d rather be happy and fulfilled 362 days of the year than have 3 days of revelry and good times with friends. My year and my life isn’t worth that.

I’ve already got the line item in and our budget balanced to accept this.

I’m not saying I’m dropping out entirely. When I see a night class that’s 300-level or above that looks interesting, I’ll take it. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the 2-3 classes I have left to finish my major and minor. I’ll probably take some graduate-level courses too (since they satisfy the Upper-Division Credit Hour requirement), though never more than one a semester, if they look fascinating and challenging. But I’m done with playing the game, staying enrolled for no good reason.

I realized last night what I want to do with my life in regards to work. It’s going to take a few years to get that set up, but I’m good with long-term plans. I’m tired of not starting, though. I’ve been feeling dissatisfied with college for four years now, and it’s time to do something about it.

Religion Defined

My “final” in this semester’s Religion 580 class was to write a single page defining religion. The first sentence should be our core definition, with the rest of the paper elaborating on that sentence.

I’m not certain I’m comfortable with what I came up with. If nothing else, it put me in mind of the same paper I wrote my freshman year, now six and a half years gone, when we were required to perform the same assignment for Religion 100. As I considered the subject, I felt that my definition had become incredibly pretentious, overly verbose, and had perhaps lost all sight of what religion was. After the years of critical study, commitment to pluralism, and learning about a great many of the world’s religions, I find myself a bit uncertain of what religion is. I look forward to reviewing that old paper someday soon and seeing if my freshman naiveté was in some ways more accurate than what my educated opinions have become.

Religion is both the irrational desire to reconnect with something to which we never felt connected in the first place, and the means by which we seek to transcend our mundane lives and contextualize the world in which we live. Its role in our lives is influenced by our upbringing, psychological moratorium and conclusion, socio-economic situation, political bend, and a number of other mundane factors too complex to chart out. But there seems to be something more to religion, something wholly indefinable that escapes rationality and reason. The very need to reconnect in the first place raises questions that are difficult to answer—from where does this need originate?, what does it signify?, is it common to everyone or limited to certain individuals?—and the existence of religion does not fit comfortably within clearly defined parameters or fields of study. There is an essence to at least some religious belief and action that is simply irrational, defying definition unless one resorts to suggestions of either spiritual influence, mental illness, or duplicity.

To this end, it seems that religion is the very real need to connect with something that escapes classification and definition, and which eludes cogent theorizing. Whether there is a deity or not, and regardless of the numerous mundane factors that might lead to one seeking deity or some other religious ritual, duty, or connection, there is certainly something in humanity that yearns to look outside what we know of our past, the fields of psychology and sociology, the studies of chemistry, biology, and physics, our jobs and the means they provide, and our political party to find something that transcends it all. Despite all we know of this world, the feeling remains with many that there is something greater out there that casts all the rest into question. To find that something, humanity turns to religion.

A Consideration of the Medieval Inquisition and the Insufficiencies of Structuralist and Poststructuralist Religious Theory

It is difficult to separate the word “inquisition” from the connotations given it by decades of misdirection and pop culture references. The word has become strongly tied to images of torture, fiery executions, and unjust legal proceedings. Even the satire of the Monty Python troupe, which highlights the confusion and sometimes chaotic proceedings of the Inquisition, serves to confuse matters further. ((There are instances where the comedy of Monty Python has a decent amount of relevance to scholarship—for instance, its treatment of the mythology of King Arthur in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail contains a great deal of the actual mythos of what surrounds Arthur—but the Spanish Inquisition skit is not one of these.)) For most, the Spanish Inquisition is the only inquisition remembered, but even this period in history misrepresents the dealings of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to the Inquisition; after all, the Spanish Inquisition was enacted and directed by the monarchy of Spain, not the Holy See (Roth, 72)!

Regardless, over a period of more than fifteen hundred years, the Church sought to combat heresy through a variety of methods. In addition, its shift in response over the centuries from leniency to outright war is mirrored in the approximately two hundred years of the Medieval Inquisition. This period of history saw the full gamut of Papal response to heresy, and subsequently can serve as a cross-section for examination of orthodox doctrine and dealings. The stance of the Roman Catholic Church held that its truth was the only truth, mutually exclusive to all other religious beliefs and superior to conflicting philosophical consideration. Beliefs or opinions contrary to orthodox religion, defined as heresies, were a threat to the Church in many ways. Heresies had the potential to divert believers, reduce donations, undermine control over areas and territories, and to the mind of the orthodox Catholic, threatened to destroy the bastion of good and cast the world into darkness and evil. Despite that, most heresies went largely unaddressed by the Church until the eleventh century, owing primarily to their insignificance and lack of threat to Catholicism (Deanesly, 215).

The rise of Catharism in Southern France was too great to ignore, however, prompting the Holy See to appoint inquisitors to discover from whence the heresies came, what it was the heretics believed, and to convince the unorthodox to return to the Catholic Church (Arnold, 21). In spite of the conceptualization of the Inquisition that rests at the forefronts of our mind today, its aim was simple: first, to understand why people would turn from the truth of the Church and what it was that diverted them, and second, to persuade heretics to return to the body of believers. In addition, it also served to decrease the violence of the time and instill justice where mob rule had been substituted (Shannon, 67).

The motivations and stages of the Medieval Inquisition are complex and difficult to unravel, where faith and practicality were often at tension. To gain a clearer understanding of this time, we will first review the history of the Medieval Inquisition, beginning with the rise of Catharism, the initiation of the Inquisition, the Albigensian Crusade, and the restructuring of the Inquisition. Second, by applying structuralist theory we can gain an understanding for the spiritual motivations of the pope and the other actors during the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, both their internal and external stimuli. Third, we will consider the insufficiencies of structuralist theory in understanding the Medieval Inquisition and turn our attention to poststructuralism with a consideration of extra-theological factors and pressures. Last, we will assess the weaknesses of poststructuralist theory and examine the complementary nature of these two methods. Continue reading

Researching the Medieval Inquisition

I’m not exactly maintaining radio silence this week, and I’ll probably be on Twitter very regularly for the next several days while I am in Blackboard 9.0 training (three days of in-depth training in preparation for our upgrade and migration), but I haven’t gotten any writing done. When I was working over the weekend, I was researching the Cathar heresy and the Medieval Inquisition. I have a paper due on this topic this coming Saturday and lots of research yet to complete.

So I’m going through a stack of books, making copious notes in Scrivener and compiling all of my materials before I actually begin writing. Despite the fact that this paper is worth relatively little of my grade and I’m not generally a very diligent student, I’m actually giving this one some effort. It will probably be the last research paper of my college career, so that’s worth something I guess.

No podcast this week, though I’ve got two prepped and ready to be recorded. Each takes about 40 minutes total of recording, a bit of re-recording, upload, posting, etc. I need to spend that 40 minutes elsewhere, unfortunately. I also haven’t made any progress on fiction recently… but its time will come!

Instead, I’ve been putting movies on in the background and scanning through books, copying down the passages and information I need. Hopefully I’ll start actually writing the paper on Thursday night, and finish it on Saturday.

And once it’s all said and done, I think I’ll actually post this one 🙂 I don’t publish most of my school work because I consider it all hopelessly boring and worthless, but I really am enjoying this paper.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Suffering

I’m taking a class this semester on Buddhism and will subsequently be writing a series of posts on the subject. They’re not intended as final critiques or conclusions about the religion/philosophy, but are just thoughts I had during lecture. My opinions might change as I learn more, but I want to have a record of what I was thinking as I go through the semester.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are

  1. Life is Suffering
  2. Suffering is caused by Desire
  3. Suffering can be ended
  4. Suffering is ended by following the Eight-fold Path

As we discussed the life of Gautama Buddha, one of the underlying assumptions that jumped out at me was that suffering is bad. In leaving his palace during his three trips as a youth, he saw a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and a begging ascetic, and it was these three encounters that prompted him to leave home and seek out a better way. How can one enjoy life when death haunts our every step? he asked.

Of course, I come at the subject from an extremely different point of view. The concepts of karma and reincarnation were natural laws in south and east Asia, much like we consider gravity, and went unquestioned. Reincarnation was simply a fact of life, but one I clearly disagree with. As a Christian, I take the idea of heaven and eternity very seriously.

Which is to say, I take the idea of eternity with not only full faith, but expectation and recognition. Eternity isn’t something that starts at death, but something that simply is. My soul is eternal, and when this body dies, I merely pass through a doorway between this world and the next. I will have all of eternity to roam, learn more of God, worship and spend time with my Lord, talk and meet and learn with other Christians…

Therefore, my perspective on suffering is very different from a Buddhist’s, or perhaps a non-Christian’s perspective. I do not necessarily assume suffering is bad, and in the case of the Buddha, I couldn’t help ask the question (to myself, anyways), “If not for suffering, would he have been spurred towards enlightenment?”

In The Cave, the famous argument of Plato for why we seek knowledge, Socrates describes a cave in which people are chained to stare at a wall. They can see nothing but the shadows cast by those outside the cave, and so they assume that these shadows are all there is to life. When one is freed, they are led outside, and are blinded at first by the light. After seeing the wonders of the world, if they were taken back and chained to stare at the wall again, their mates would never believe them. What’s more, their suffering would be great, as would their desire to escape and gain more knowledge of the world.

Humans thrive on suffering, pain, and depravation. It is what motivates us to greater good, to higher goals, and while the pain is frustrating and hurtful, its outcome is not always negative. If we survive it, holding our sanity intact and bending rather than breaking, we learn something new about ourselves, the world, or both.

That isn’t to say that I advocate seeking suffering. Self -flagellation or -mutilation isn’t something to be desired in my book, but I can at least see the value of suffering in our lives. I think the key isn’t to try and stop the occurrence of suffering altogether, but rather to turn it to good. Find a way to take a negative situation and derive a positive from that situation.

If I was always content, there would be no reason for me to question, grow, or learn. It just seems daft to me to ignore the value of suffering. While ending suffering is a very noble goal, the initial assumption, that suffering is altogether bad and completely undesirable, seems naïve at best.

Turns out I’m not screwed

Here’s what I thought my schedule for today was:

6:30 a.m. : Wake up, shower, shave, eat breakfast, dress, go to work.
8:00 a.m. – 5 p.m. : Work, with an obligatory 1 hour lunch break in there around noon.
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. : New telecourse starting, so I need to attend the first session.
7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. : Student Ministries Committee meeting at the church.
8:00 p.m. – 9:30 (or 10) p.m. : Small group meeting at the church.
10:00 p.m. : .oO(crash)

However, it just so turns out that my second block telecourse starts tomorrow rather than today, so I can actually eat dinner before going to the church. What I really want to do is sit down somewhere and read/write for a while, but that’ll have to wait, potentially until this (freaking) summer.

At a party last night, I was having a conversation with Shawn about what it’s like being married, having someone around all the time, etc. I imagine there are times when I have been less eloquent, but none are coming to mind right now. I think I used the phrase, “But we’re doing good,” at least a dozen times, though whether from being brain dead or insecure, I don’t know.

(Last night’s dream was brought to us by watching too many episodes of Gilmore Girls with April and had me fearing she was going to run off with some Korean dude that she wasn’t even dating just so Lane’s mom wouldn’t know that Lane had a boyfriend. I can read philosophy and theology for hours and be fine, but put a couple episodes of Gilmore Girls in my brain and I go crazy. This is only relevant because it ties into the question above about insecurity.)

The point is, April and I are doing well. Like, “Whoa, this is kind of weird how well this is going.” But I am incapable of expressing it with any accuracy. I blame it on not writing anymore; this is what poets are for, isn’t it? To express emotion and the more difficult things in life in a succinct and meaningful manner? I offer that they are, but I’m losing my ability to do so. And the less I write, the less I understand myself and the world around me. The less I understand, the greater my insecurity.

The end of this semester cannot come quickly enough.