Friday, December 21, 2007

More Religious Madness in Memphis...

Just when you thought the buckle of the Bible Bible couldn't get any weirder...

I mean, we've got the Bellevue Baptist's mock calvary, Love In Action, Getwell CofC, more nutty things I could probably think of if I took the time, but the World Overcomers church has surpassed -- ah, I mean, overcome -- all previous expectations for lunacy. I mean, some literally freaky fundies. Read more at Theology and Geometry.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

If I’m Going to Have Monks Coming Out of My Ears...

...I might as well play with them.

I scribbled the beginnings of this a while ago on the bus (the seven, oh, the seven) meditating on my favorite subject – gender and ascetics – and thought I would clean it up a bit and post it. However, the citations are going to be a bit hazy – given my current limited internet connectivity, and being half a world away from my library. (I rarely identify with St. Jerome – but I need to have my library, okay, man. Understand!)

The gut reaction in an encounter with hagiography is a sense that early Christians (or at least those who had time and education for writing) hated the physical body, and while it’s true that the relationship of Christianity with the body is a difficult one, but it is far more complicated than a simple rejection. (Barring a handful of folks here and there, who did flatly reject the physical body.)

So, if one looks at monasticism and asceticism not as a rejection of the body, but as a rejection of social constructions placed upon the body, requirements of sexual renunciation and celibacy take on a new meaning – relating back to the construction of gender and gender roles in Early Christianity.

For example, this offers an alternative reading of the separation of male and female bodied persons into single-sex monasteries. The practice may not necessarily reinforce gender roles and boundaries. By removing the physical differentiation of sex, monasteries could also remove the temptation to attach social meaning to that physical difference. As there aren't men and women in a single sex monastery, so there aren't men's roles and women's roles within the microsociety of the monastery. Further there is evidence in the Lives and Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers that this lesson was intended to extend to the monastic’s interactions with society as a whole. (I’m thinking of the anecdote in which one of the desert mothers upbraids two monks for making her femaleness an issue – which might be in the Sayings or might have been in The Forgotten Desert Mothers, which is by Laura Swan.)

Obviously, it would be a mistake on my part to attempt to argue that everyone in Early Christianity was thinking along these lines. There’s more than enough misogynists running about through early Christianity. (Tertullian, Jerome, Augustine – I blame you three for many, many things.) And lots of ascetic hagiography is heavy on the “woman-hating” as my sister termed it after what, I suspect, will be her first and last Religious Studies class.

But we’re not talking about a monolith here. ;D And I’m fairly convinced that a decent minority of early Christians were out to overthrow gender norms.

And the Recommended Reading

Today's recommended reading is from Russ Adcox's Ramblings, regarding the "war" on Christmas.

Quote of the Day

"Look at this beautiful sunset! It looks like a building is on fire." Bryan

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Computer is Unhappy

Insanely slow. As in, it takes it 15-20 to start up slow.
I suspect this is mostly just the effects of age, but I'm sure that falling on the ice didn't help. Oh, and the last update of Firefox screwed up Google Gears.

But enough of that. Let’s Talk About Fantasy

High fantasy is my bad habit. Okay, well, one of my bad habits. Both the reading and writing thereof. (Poking around old palaces results in scribbling high fantasy, apparently.)

I think I’ve written about Carol Berg once before, back in the beginning, commenting on her sadism toward her characters, and worrying that she was falling into the trap of repeating the same basic plot. Since then, I’ve read the third book in Bridge of D’Arnath trilogy – The Soul Weaver. I’m actually into my second reading. Do pick up this book if you’re looking for something to read.

First off – Berg is a more than capable writer. She doesn’t hit the sublime height of the greats, but she’s better than many, many writers who are currently being published – including a number of the “literary” writers.

I’m impressed with anyone who can write a novel in first person from different points of view and successful change the tone, dictation, and mannerism of each. And, she’s quite successful in pulling that off in the novel. The style changes appropriately for each character and deftly captures character’s the mental state. Berg’s characterization continues to be strong even with characters who do not get to narrate their own sections. She has a hand for dialogue and indicates dialects and education levels without resorting to obnoxious misspellings or offensive uses of dialect.

There’s a tendency in high fantasy for info-dumping – dropping a lot of description in together. Perhaps this is because fantasy is typically set in an imaginary world and authors want to communicate the setting. While Berg has created some of the most fantastic alternative worlds I’ve ever read about, she also manages to avoid this flaw. She picks just the right details and works them into the development of the plot.

Her characters are deliciously complicated. There are villains of pure evil here and there – but she develops them into three dimensional figures of evil – but on the whole her characters are quite human. Virtuous but mistaken. Blinded by their own needs. So on and so forth. A rare thing in fantasy.

Second, and this is why I’m currently raving, Berg develops some of the most interesting philosophical scenarios in fantasy. In some ways, I even prefer her to Phillip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials Trilogy would be a pressing second. Perhaps it’s because her scenarios are more divorced from the real world, which gives her more freedom to work. Her first trilogy: Transformation, Revelation, Restoration – dealt in part with the question of how a good person should respond when he or she discovers that his or her religion is predicated on a tragic misunderstanding. (You can see how this would appeal to me.)

I wasn’t as in love with her second series. Still good, but just not quite as meaty of reading. Surprisingly, however, the third book – which I picked up for airplane reading – is philosophically satisfying. The Soul Weaver features at marvelously created alternative world – or rather a world being called out of chaos. She refers to it as The Bounded, and it is populated by residents who, due to physical deformity would be outcasts in either of the two “formed” worlds of the novel. Names have particular power in this world, and all the residents of the Bounded desperately desire one.

A number of questions are posed. What is the power of names? (Not that uncommon of a theme in fantasy, but this take is well-done.) Who gets to distribute them? Are people allowed to name themselves – that is, determine the “wholeness” of their being?

Further, the boundaries of this world are in constant flux – growing outwards. How should those who have just been brought into the “bounded” be treated by longer term residents? Kindness, suspicion, welcome, fear, envy? Significantly, “the philosophy” of this world, lives closest to the boundary – on the edge of comprehensible reality.

Obviously, this is a novel – not a philosophical text, so while the questions are posed and explored to varying degrees within the novel, no conclusions were really reached. Berg isn’t especially didactic, as is Phillip Pullman or (to be fair and balanced) C. S. Lewis, which overall, I feel makes her books a more enjoyable read.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Homeward Bound- The Playlist

Otherwise known as a way of procrastinating while using other people’s creativity to attempt to express my complicated relationship with that odd concept of “home.” And for anyone who ever wondered what I listened to beyond the endlessly quoted Soundgarden and Depeche Mode.

Yes “American Idiot” would be on here, if it had ripped correctly from my CD. Alas, it did not. Although, perhaps, it would have been redundant.

1. “Homeward Bound” Simon and Garfunkel
(Maybe I should add “Keep the Customer Satisfied” – “I get slandered. Libeled. I hear words I never heard in the Bible.”)
2. “South is Only a Home” The Fiery Furnaces
(This song perfectly expresses my relationship with the South – nonsense, with an odd overlay of perceived meaning.)
3. “Runnin’ Blue” The Doors
(“Back down, turn around slowly, try it again.” I should add this to my mirror I think.)
4. “Honky Cat” Elton John
(I may have quit those redneck ways, but I want some redneck food.)
5. “Be Yourself” Audioslave
6. “Otherside” Red Hot Chilli Peppers
7. “Barrel of a Gun” Depeche Mode
8. “Graceland” Paul Simon
(No, I still refuse to actually go to Graceland until I no longer live in Memphis, or have visiting guests to use as an excuse.)
9. “Soul Man” Sam and Dave
10. “Big Machine” Goo Goo Dolls
11. “A Pain that I’m Used To” Depeche Mode
12. “Dirty Business” The Dresden Dolls
(Yes, if I ever get slings in Paris – they will be from the dumpster.)
13. “An American Prayer” The Doors
(I love the lyric “I touched her thigh and Death smiled.” I don’t exactly know why.)
14. “Vincent” Don McLean
15. “You Could Have It So Much Better” Franz Ferdinand
16. “The Bitch is Back” Elton John
17. “Rush” Depeche Mode
18. “Green Onions” Booker T. and the MGs
19. “Broken City” Audioslave
(So what if it was actually written about Detroit? I can make it about Memphis.)
20. “You May Be Right” Billy Joel
21. “Pretty Noose” Soundgarden
22. “Laughing Out Loud” The Wallflowers
(Cause things are so ridiculous in my life, that laughing is the only correct response. Perhaps followed by crying. People known to be sane agree with me.)
23. “Seven Nation Army” The White Stripes
(Perhaps, when the inevitable crack-up does occur, I will go be a welder in Wichita.)
24. “Rusty Cage” Soundgarden
25. “Carry on Dancing” Savage Garden
26. “Flagpole Sitta” Harvey Danger
(“ see a little bit clearer, the rottenness and evil in me...”)
27. “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” Ray Stevens
(one can only hope)
28. “A Little Less Conversation” Elvis Presley
(yes, the Ocean’s Eleven remix)
29. “All Apologies” Nirvana (Maybe this should follow “Dirty Business.”)
30. “Bright Lights” Matchbox Twenty
31. “California Dreamin’” The Mamas and the Papas
(As much as I love Memphis, I hope to be relocating to California at some point in the near future.)
32. “Smile Like You Mean It” The Killers
(Someone is, in fact, playing a game in the house that I grew up in.)
33. “Mean Town Blues” Johnny Winter
34. “Evil” Interpol
(Cell mate? You mean, I could have a cell mate instead of talking to the wall? Surely you must jest. No seriously.)
35. “The Dead of Night” Depeche Mode
(I will be jet-lagged. This will be fun, fun, fun.)
36. “Manic Depression” Jimi Hendrix
37. “Curbside Prophet” Jason Mraz
38. “What a Scene” Goo Goo Dolls
39. “What You Live By” Harvey Danger

iTunes tells me that this puppy is 2.4 hours worth of music. Should get me through at least part of the flight. Will probably add more as I goes along. It is a ten hour flight from Frankfurt to NYC, I think. Hopefully, no obnoxious little boys this time around.

Navigating Clothing Racks

Inspired mostly by many posts of the fantastic Dw3t-Hthr, but specifically by this one.

I’ll confess to having somewhat more than adequate navigational skills. I’m quite good at finding my way from point A to point B. I get lost, but I usually don’t stay lost for very long. (I’ve gotten lost twice in Memphis, once on the North side and once on the South side. Neither time for very long – well, if I turn south and keep going straight, eventually I’ll hit Sam Cooper or, oh hey, there’s Jackson Avenue, groovy, home we go! Midtown is a beautiful grid that navigates with great clarity.) And apparently, this is impressive enough that one friend went on a 15 minute ramble to another friend about what a good sense of direction I possess – mostly because after we had wandered through the Gostinii Dvor mall in search of mythical non-pay toilets, I knew in which direction Nevsky Prospect lay as soon as we walked out.

Here’s the funny thing. I can’t follow directions. At the beginning of the program our baby-sitter (program manager) kept trying to give me directions, and I just wanted him to point out the location on the map, and don’t worry, I’ll be there on time. I have to be able to visualize things. If I can look at a map, directions are useful – of course – but directions alone don’t help me much. I think in terms of geometry, not go until you see the two silos, and turn right.

According to a Discover article I once read, years and years in the past, this is the way male brains navigate. At the time, I thought it was pretty groovy that my brain did directions like a boy. Guess what, I still think it’s groovy. And – I can navigate without the Boy Scouts teaching me – hah!

I, of course, take this as personal proof that the male/female categories of gender are hardly as discrete, coherent, and eternal as the majority of people would like to think.

All in all, I’m not good at the whole “girl” thing. There’s a photo of me when I was two or three in a flouncy, pink ballet inspired dress. This is probably the last time I was doing good at being a girl. I’ve fought off the term “young lady” for as long as I can remember. It always felt confining and box-like. Role like, if you will.
– Sit up straight, you’re a young lady!
– But, I’m not a young lady!

I’ll ‘fess up to having gone through a couple of periods during my rapidly coming to close undergraduate career of trying to conform to being a “young lady.” I would try to up the standards of wardrobe a bit. Nice blouses. You know, one’s with pretty gathers, and made of lightweight fabric. Tighter fitting jeans. A pair of capri pants. No fashions that were offensive to my aesthetic eye. Every article of clothing I bought, I liked the look of on my friends, on my little sister, etc. Very pretty, very aesthetically pleasing clothing.

What happened? I felt ridiculously self-conscious in the flipping things. I would feel naked in the loose, flowing fabric. I would be acutely aware of every little crack in the facade. *ack! there’s a bit of my leg I forgot to shave! Wait! My posture doesn’t fit this outfit. They’re going to find me out!* So, inevitably, these pretty, feminine clothes would end up unworn in the back of my closet, whilst I run around in tie dyed T-shirts (or plaid shirts, of course), men’s jeans, and rope sandals.

In one such phase, I told my roommate that I wasn’t allowed to buy clothes from the men’s section and she was to enforce this. (She’s my normal shopping partner, or rather I’m her shopping partner and occasionally buy things for myself.) While following C. through various stores in the mall, I kept finding myself drawn to the men’s section. That’s such a pretty plaid! Look at those pearl buttons! Ah, those pants have so many pockets!

And, it isn’t that I absolutely detest dressing up. I normally don’t do so for classes, because I don’t see the point (I’ve only been to class in pajamas once, I promise), but yes, I recognize that there are situations which require looking neat, put together, and formal. I have one outfit that I tend to use when giving presentations or doing interviews. Black dress pants and a nicely detailed, striped, pearl-buttoned shirt (women’s even). Sometimes, I’ll even break out my high heels to go with it, because I want the extra inches. And, I feel perfectly comfortable in this outfit (provided I don’t need to walk far, but those cases I go for flats). It’s formal. It’s not masculine enough to make other people uncomfortable, and it’s not feminine enough to make me uncomfortable. Structure. Details. (Lace can be a good thing.) But not frills. All is well. I’m confident and ready to take on the world.

So here’s the ironic thing. When I’m “cross-dressing” that is wearing clothes which were manufactured with boys or men in mind or in the case of my business-formal wear inspired by traditionally male fashions, I feel perfectly nature and at home. It’s not a skirt versus pants things. A plain black skirt, mid calf or longer, doesn’t make me feel self-conscious. An awesome, funky skirt (such as the brown, black, orange, and red, huge print on polyester number I refuse to throw out) won’t make me self-conscious – it’s in a category all of its own. Put me in "feminine" clothes and I am going to be a nervous wreck, feeling like a house of cards about to fall down – doing drag and failing miserably at it.

And this has very little to do with wanting to look like a boy, or not look like a girl. It’s just that the things that I like on a garment for my own wear – patterns, straight lines, subtle but present detailing, and a certain level of practicality – show up more frequently in men’s clothing than in women’s. And since I can get away with wearing men’s clothes since I have no hips and am not well endowed in the bust area – why bother with making the distinction?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Trainwreck Fascination: It Just Keeps Getting Better

A: This post will be rather inappropriate.
B: I seriously need to find better uses of my time.

Setting: Facebook. Church of Christ Group. Discussion Board. Watching from Sidelines Only. With Malicious Glee.

(linking, but I think having facebook will be necessary) Topic: "Is Masturbation, In and Of Itself, Sinful"

And just in case that weren't potentially amusing enough, we have one fellow obsessed with wet dreams. (Do I hear Augustine calling? Yes, yes, I do.) So this is literally the best quote ever to be found in an online fundie discussion:

I do agree that alot of people stimulate masturbation with lust(male & female) yet you can masturbate without sinning(thinking impure sexual thoughts). Wetdreams(half voluntary half involuntary) are a natural thing God created for us to enjoy. It's just man corrupted it with impure things.

Made even better by the follow-up question of "what's a wet dream?"

Pet Peeve

People commenting that I must not have read a text because they either disagree with my interpretation, or, in some cases, are in fact pointing out a legitimate flaw in my interpretation. Second time this has happened in recent memory. Incidentally, the texts in question were both religious.

I'm far more likely to consider your interpretations and critiques of mine, if you give me the benefit of the doubt on having read the text. Because, while you may think I haven't read something, you don't actually know whether or not I have.

And for the current instance, yes, you do get points for otherwise being polite, which I appreciate. And for having legitimate critique. But still...

Randomly Religious

Are you like me and have trouble with defining your religion? Don't worry. Steven Colbert is looking at for you and has the solution -- The Religion Randomizer!

h/t: Reclaiming the F Word