Sunday, July 29, 2007

I could post for days about all the things I observed and thought about and learned while at the music festival last week, but after driving more than 8 hours today on 4 hours of sleep, all I want to do is go to bed. And tomorrow we're headed off again for at least a few days of family time.

In brief, it was a great trip. My spouse and daughter have been going for years now, and every year they've tried to talk me into going. It sounded like the Aunt BeaN version of hell, to be honest-- lots of conservative Christians hanging out in one place (like 20,000 of them), temperatures in the upper-90s, and nary an air conditioner, sink or flush toilet in sight. And all of that turned out to be true. But the thing that outweighed all of that was how good the music was, and how much fun the kids were having. Toby Mac, Relient K, Switchfoot, and David Crowder were just wonderful. I even would say I enjoyed Kutless and the Newsboys, although Kutless leans toward what my spouse calls "pile driver" music and Newsboys is a bit conservative for my taste. They also had a featured speaker each night, which I didn't care for-- more about this another time, I hope-- there was even an altar call every night with hundreds of people streaming down the aisles, just like the revival meetings I went to as a child. But you know, I've become very good at re-writing conservative speakers and sermons on the fly. Often what they're saying contains some sort of universal spiritual truth that I can learn from, I just have to re-word it in my head so that the ideas that piss me off are less prominent. I've learned some great stuff doing that, and this week was no exception. So all in all it went pretty well, and I was very proud of myself for keeping the chip on my shoulder down to a reasonable size.

Stay cool. It gets hotter and hotter around here-- after our hot, dry summer, the forests are starting to burst into flames all around us.

Aunt BeaN

Friday, July 27, 2007

I'm at Creation West 2007, a Christian music festival, at the Gorge Ampitheater in George, WA. I'm a quasi-chaperone for my daughter's youth group-- "quasi" because the group is camping in a field and I'm staying at a hotel. :-) I had planned to write about this whole thing before we left, but we've been so busy lately that I feel like I've hardly been home in over a week. But I did bring our laptop that has wireless internet, and the hotel has wireless internet, so here I am. Once again it is too late to post much, but I just wanted to say that I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying the music. The speakers I could do without, but the music-- especially Relient K last night and Switchfoot tonight-- has been really, really good. I'm wondering if age has something to do with it-- the speakers are all my age, and they are preaching Old News, if you ask me. But the musicians are in their twenties, maybe even early twenties, and they are smart and interesting and alive. It reinforces my belief-- having spent several years now with lots of teenagers around -- that these kids are going to be the ones to change the world, after our generation failed miserably to do it.

I need sleep. No moshing tonight, but I hope I'll be down there again for Toby Mac on Saturday. If I don't have time to post more while I'm here, I'm sure there will be plenty to say after we get back home again. I do feel slightly guilty that I'm about to turn in to a cushy bed in a nice hotel while my kids and the rest of the crew are sleeping in little better than a field of grass outside the ampitheater, but I don't plan on losing sleep over it-- I did offer to let any of them stay with me but they were all excited about camping.

We were meant to live for so much more (Switchfoot)

aunt BeaN

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I would just like to record for posterity: I moshed on my 46th birthday. More later, it's way too late for a full report.

Aunt BeaN
reporting live from the Gorge ampitheater in George, WA

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter again (updated)

Well, it's probably no surprise to my readers, all six of you, that we are still obsessed with Harry Potter around here. It's been such a topic of conversation both here at our house, among friends, and in the press, that I've been tempted to post more about it, but since-- as far as I know-- none of you are similarly obsessed, I've resisted. But I'm posting this one, which I'll update after I've read the seventh book, and it's easy enough to skip if you're not interested.

All four of us (plus some of my 17-year-old daughter's friends) went to our local Borders for the release party last night. It was a hoot. A little weird, yes, but also a lot of fun. I was expecting about a hundred people, but I'd guess there were easily 500 there. It's not a huge Borders like I've seen in some cities, but it's a big book store, and it was packed. all ages, all levels of costume-- some very creative ones, too. We left at midnight, preferring to actually purchase somewhere where we wouldn't have to stand in line for an hour, but it was definitely worth going just for the experience.

I haven't read it yet, but here are a few reactions to things that I've read or heard.

It never ceases to amaze me the attraction Americans feel to being the persecuted minority. I've heard both sides-- people who don't like HP who feel that they are looked down on or ridiculed by the faithful, and those of us who are fans who have been roundly criticized for supporting such a silly cultural phenomenon. I've even experienced this one-- I had a woman I'd never even seen before lecture me about the dangers of poorly written children's books a couple of years ago while I was standing in line at a bookstore with a copy of the 6th book in my hand. I've already stated my opinion about Rowling's writing skills-- that she started out as a thorougly mediocre writer and has turned herself into a better-than-average one-- but even if they aren't the most elegantly written books ever, they still are an interesting story well told, and I'm glad my children enjoy them. I guess my definition of good writing for an adventure story is that you don't notice the writing. I don't care about elegance when there's a suspenseful plot involved, I care about finding out what happens and not being distracted by the writing. And I would say in the fifth and sixth book she definitely made that happen. (I never did re-post my review of the fourth book but maybe I will, since I think I made an interesting point, not that I'm biased or anything. ) She has a somewhat irritating tendency to use ellipses or dashes when Harry is in mortal danger and she is recording his thoughts-- I think she is trying to get across the idea that he is thinking on the fly and they aren't fully formed thoughts, but it is distracting. but that would be my only remaining complaint about her writing.

Of course there are all kinds of people that dislike these books, many of whom have excellent taste. Neither of my siblings likes them, and both of them have tried hard to. I know a number of kids that don't like them. In fact, as I'm tallying up here, I think more of our kids' close friends dislike them than like them. Or maybe not dislike, but just aren't interested enough to read 700+ pages worth. So they definitely don't appeal to everyone.

But then there's the people who seem to dislike HP purely because the series is so popular. As if anything that is that widely popular must by definition be derivative and superficial. I just flat out disagree that that is true, so nuff said there. her depiction of good and evil is (to me) surprisingly complex for a children's book. There are definitely two camps in these books-- the bad guys, followers of Lord Voldemort, and the good guys, the ones that oppose him. But on both sides there are a surprising number of people of all types. There are some very disturbing, nasty people who are good guys (Dolores Umbridge, Mr. Crouch, Scrimgoeur). And of course, Snape, who is so difficult to read that declaring whether you think Snape will end up as a good guy or a bad guy has been one of the most fun debates of the last couple of years. And among the bad guys, there are some who are there purely because they fear the consequences of not following the Dark Lord, and many who display otherwise-good qualities of loyalty, devotion and commitment. I think the confusion comes in because Rowling always, even in the midst of the most dire scenes, throws in some humor, which perhaps makes her approach seem more lightweight than it really is. I happen to appreciate this, because as you have probably noticed, I also tend to be a bit flippant when discussing even the most serious of issues.

The other thing that I've seen a lot over the past few days is various different experts recommending other books that make HP look like sawdust, according to them. Since I'm probably one of the few adults that's read most of these other books, I can tell you that there are indeed a lot of good children's books out there that haven't received nearly the interest or exposure that they deserve, probably in part because of the success of the Potter books. But for me, few of them have the magnetic, mesmerizing interest of Rowling's books. Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials books are indeed excellent, and probably the best example of books that didn't get the exposure they deserved. They're interesting, and complex, and very absorbing. but I thought they went downhill as the series progressed-- the first book is definitely the best. I'm planning on re-reading those now that they're making them into movies, so maybe I will revise my opinion about that. I also read last week a woman recommending "Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell," which floored me-- I thought that was the most boring book I'd read in years. I tried, I really did. I love fantasy, and it seemed like a book I would really like. I read at least 350 pages of it. But I kept putting it down and not caring whether or not I picked it back up again. I finally gave it up and put it in the Friends of the Library sale pile.

I can't believe I let this get this long. I'm not obsessed, really I'm not. I can quit any time. More later when I've finished the book.

Update: Finished the book last week. As the end of the series, I'd give it an A-. It is a great read, very absorbing, and very emotionally involving. Given all the expectations she had on her shoulders, it is amazingly good. Definite thumbs up. As a standalone book, though, I'd give it a B-. I can't really say why without giving spoilers, so I'll just leave it as that. I enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Telling people about your blog is a funny thing. Almost invariably, the people that I am most sure will be interested aren't. I told one dear friend about it not long after I started; for some reason I was sure she above all people would be interested and encouraging. but she was critical of the idea, and as far as I know, she's never even looked at it. It's the people that I've told practically on a whim who are the ones that end up being interested and encouraging. (which doesn't necessarily mean they read it all the time, I know nobody has any time these days.) I've become very wary about who I tell, because the lack of interest from people that you are sure will be interested is pretty discouraging. Sometimes it takes awhile to recover-- and since I'm writing this, you can probably tell it happened recently. but I keep doing it so I suppose that says something. I'm not sure what.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is how grateful I am for my six loyal readers. Well, honestly, I don't really know how many of you there are but six is a nice number.

Aunt BeaN

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A couple of months ago I posted a pretty negative review of the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had a couple of gripes about it, but the main thing was that she wanted the reader to accept the experience of falling in love as a serious part of a spiritual search. As someone who has been married for 23 years, that is so far from my experience that it just seemed ludicrous. Falling in love, it often seems to me, is about self-indulgence. It's amazing, it's one of the most positive parts of being a human being, but it seems practically the antithesis of a spiritual discipline. I've lived through it with friends where it seemed almost teeth-grindingly fatuous. And in each of those cases, the couple is no longer together-- which just reinforced my opinion, of course. It almost seems that the more someone spouts off about how fabulously wonderful and perfect their new love is, the more likely it is that they will split up within a year. That sounds cynical, I know. It is cynical. But call me up and let me know if you disagree after you've been in a relationship twenty years. If you're in it for the long haul, the serious work of the relationship-- the part that (to me) could be considered part of your spiritual path-- begins after the romance has worn off. How do you learn to value who the other person is, even when the way they are requires accepting things that are unacceptable to you? How do you learn to support someone else in their path when it means compromising on some of your own goals and dreams? and my own personal hornet's nest: how do you know when you're striking a healthy compromise and when you're giving away too much? (and of course all of those are only OK if they are being practiced mutually by both partners).

But I read an article recently that is making me re-think my cycnicism a bit, and I'm feeling that a bit of an apology is due to Ms. Gilbert (not that she'll ever know, but I'll feel better) (and for the record, for the purposes of this post I went and checked her website and she and her partner are still together). The article is by Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry, and it appeared in The American Scholar click here. The part of it that is relevant to the above is said in the midst of an elegant and thoughtful essay about the search for God. It's the kind of article that makes me both sigh with envy (for how beautifully written it is) and sigh with relief, because someone with far better writing skills than mine is talking intelligently about this stuff in a public forum.

Anyway. Here is the relevant passage, but you really should read the whole thing. He is talking about three events that happened to him in the previous year that opened him to the possibility of God again, after many years of nonbelief. The second event is falling in love: "it felt, for the first time in my life, like I was being fully possessed by being itself. [falling in love filled him with] a joy that was at once so overflowing that it enlarged existence, and yet so rooted in actual things that, again for the first time, that's what I began to feel: rootedness." There's more, but that's the only bit I can excerpt easily. He convinced me that the resurgence of joy and hopefulness that go along with falling in love can be a legitimate springboard for the search for meaning and transcendence.

So Ms. Gilbert, you have my blessings. (just kidding.)

(expiring in the heat out here, hope everyone else is nice and cool)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Having recently returned from a week at a family reunion (as far as I know, all of whom are still conservative Christian), the topic of recovering from fundamentalism seems more relevant than ever. The problem, though, is that I can't think of anything to say that won't sound ridiculously obvious to anyone who wasn't raised that way. Which brings up the question: are these posts even worth writing? You can tell by the sparse number of posts over the last few weeks that I've been asking that one a lot. Hmmm. Well, they are for me. The process of writing the previous posts about inerrancy made me much more confident about my opinion. Even though I ended up editing out most of the arguments, a lot of thought went into that. Usually when I go to family events it takes weeks for me to recover-- they really throw me off center. But this time I didn't feel that much at all.

The main thing I noticed is that none of them believe strictly in inerrancy, either. At least some of them would protest vociferously about that if they were to read this. But in practice, I really think it's true. Though there were a number of prayers, none of the women covered their heads (I Cor 11:5). None of the men raised their hands (I Tim 2:8). And those are just the obvious examples. Others would be much more subtle.

For me, once I started thinking about inerrancy, it just didn't hold water. Fundamentalists are fond of phrases like: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it!" As if everything were perfectly clear. But the reality is that scripture is always interpreted. You read I Tim 2, the most problematic chapter in the New Testament if you ask me, and there are parts of it that just can't be right. Women will be saved through the bearing of children? (v. 15) How in the world does that fit in with grace? (Ephesians 2:8, among many others) So everyone tends to ignore that verse. but then the one that is most often quoted to justify banning women from positions of authority in the church is just three verses earlier: "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." (v. 12) That one gets quoted all the time.

I don't think you can have it both ways, so to me inerrancy is an untenable position. But you know, there are plenty of people, millions of them, that don't see that as a contradiction. They work it out in their own minds somehow (or maybe they just ignore it) and they're fine with it. Does that mean that belief in a particular theological point is more a matter of personality than anything else? You believe what you can live with? With the way my brain works, I can't accept the contradictions raised by I Timothy 2 (and others, that's just the most obvious), so I can't buy inerrancy. Ha. I've always thought of fundamentalists as people who like to have things black & white, no gray areas. But apparently they're just fine with gray areas when it comes to inerrancy, and I'm the one that can't tolerate them. How can you say that all scripture is the literal Word of God, but then pounce on one verse while ignoring the one that occurs three verses later?

But that works just fine for many. Maybe it just comes down to your comfort level with the way you were raised. If you had a happy childhood and you respect your parents and the leaders of your church, you're not likely to want to question their opinions and want to leave.

I'm not sure. I'm starting to believe that religion is more about choices, choosing the way you want to interact with your experience, than it is about ultimate truth. If the way you were raised works for you, you stay with it, even if it has some rough edges. If it throws up too many barriers, if it just refuses to match up with the way you experience life, you start looking for something else. Some other way of thinking about, interacting with your experience.

hmmm. more thought required.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

immersed in Harry Potter

Time for a break from all the seriousness.

Like everyone it seems, we are anxiously awaiting the 7th and last Harry Potter Book. My daughter has been an addict (almost literally) since we read the first one out loud when she was about seven years old. The first three we read out loud to her, but starting with the fourth, she has read them all herself. And read them and read them. I think she was twelve when the fourth one was published, and she plowed through all 700+ pages in two days.

But it's not just her. My spouse and I are almost as hooked as she is, and our nine-year-old has read them all, too. They're great stories-- lots of adventure and funny, lovable characters, plus some really really bad guys-- some of the "love to hate them" category and some of the truly evil category. We're so involved that we argue about them over dinner. (We mostly agree that Snape will turn out to be a good guy, although there is some dissension about this.)

I would encourage you to read them yourself, but there's a problem with that if you've never read any of them. I'm so loyal to J.K. Rowling that I kind of hate to say it, but the first one is really not well written (it was her first novel). The story is good, but the writing is so marginal it is hard to read if you're not used to reading children's books. The second is better, and by the third she had turned herself into a decent writer. I thought the most recent one was really beautifully written, given that she isn't even trying to write in the "literary" style. So if you can manage to get through the first one (which won't take long, it's also the shortest one), you're in for a lot of fun. You can also skip reading the first one and just get the idea by renting the movie, but unfortunately the child actors in it are so bad (it was their first movie) that it is also difficult to get through-- though they did a great job of creating the visuals of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley.

That's my plug for the day. I decided not to re-read all six in preparation for the 7th (as my daughter is doing)-- I just started with the fourth. I think I posted a pretty long review of the 4th book when the 4th movie came out, if I can find it, I'll post it, too.

18 days and counting.

Aunt BeaN
(who really wishes she could use Alohamora in real life)