Sunday, December 27, 2009
MARIA MARIA SANGRIA
Maria Maria Sangria,
dancing through life
in a grass skirt
under an elegant hat
crowned with ganja.
Maria Maria Sangria,
Lover of Jamaica, drums, and purple.
Maria Maria Sangria,
Moon Beam and Sun Splash,
Pagan Saint and Wise Fool,
Merry Mermaid and High Priestess,
Virgin of fierce sexual appetite.
Maria Maria Sangria,
Creator of high magic,
turning dreams into reality,
her heart into a home,
and strangers into friends.
Maria Maria Sangria,
unboxed and untamed,
Well of boundless energy and Source of courage.
Maria Maria Sangria,
the Center of the circle,
the Star of her life,
the Life of her party,
a constant Surprise.
Maria Maria Sangria,
- Timely themes. Baby Jack deals with family, love, service, the military, life, death, sex, God, art, conflict, grief, and other relevant themes.
- Multiple perspectives. We see the events in Baby Jack from multiple perspectives. Each chapter is written in a different "I" voice. We hear from Jack, his father Todd, his mother Sarah, his sister Amanda, and his girlfriend Jessica.
- Multiple genres. Within the novel, we find personal narratives, journal entries, poems, emails, letters, newspaper and magazine articles, and flyers.
- Reading aloud. International students enjoy this, and the multiple voices in the novel make it excellent for judicious use of read-alouds.
- Breathing room. The novel has what I would call breathing room. The text is not crowded onto the page. There is an inviting sense of space. This is important for international students who could be intimidated by a dense-looking text.
- Connection with Frank Schaeffer. I have read all of Frank Schaeffer's books and could set Baby Jack within the context of Frank's life and work for the students. I have also corresponded by email with Frank and know that he likes to interact with his readers.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
However, I do see hope in Frank's description of the intolerable conflict he himself felt when he was working as a fundamentalist--a severe conflict between his stated beliefs and his actual experience of reality. At a time when anyone observing Frank from the outside would have said, "This Frank Schaeffer is a hard-core fundamentalist," the truth is that Frank was extremely conflicted within himself and that it wouldn't be long before he would leave fundamentalism. Since fundamentalism IS so out of sync with reality, might this not be an increasingly intolerable conflict for some fundamentalist leaders, even though they APPEAR hard-core, just as it was for Frank. Could we not speak to that part of those leaders, those who feel (however dimly) this conflict?
Here are some of the things that fundamentalists, even hard-core fundamentalist leaders, must be feeling.
- The inability to have and express their own experience. Fundamentalism dictates what their experience should be, and they dare not contradict the fundamentalist declaration of truth.
- The pain of suppressing so much of their experience. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy to suppress the ever-present mis-match between reality and their beliefs.
- Fear. How can they continue to live if everything they have said they believe turns out to be a lie? And what will they do to earn a living when all they know how to do is to preach fundamentalism?
- Shame. They dread the shame of being shown up as wrong in the core areas of life and of being revealed as incompetent in finding meaningful work.
- Isolation. They must always project an image of being a correct fundamentalist. They can't say what they really think. Thus, they can't have an authentic conversation because they have to support the party line with fellow fundamentalists and to use all conversations with non-believers to find openings to witness to them.
- Loathing. I can imagine that they absolutely hate having to be so certain of totally crazy things about God. They must hate, on some level, having to make excuses for God's tyrannical behavior in the Bible.
I wonder if we might reach out to fundamentalists with compassion and understanding of this conflict, fear, and pain. I wonder if anyone reached out to Frank during those days of inner turmoil when he seemed so entrenched in fundamentalism yet was actually so conflicted about it? Did anyone say anything that helped him to leave? Is there something that helped or would have helped Frank that could also help other fundamentalists to acknowledge the conflict between fundamentalism and reality and to find their way out of fundamentalism and into a more open expression of Christian faith?
- Frank defines fundamentalism.
- Frank illustrates how fundamentalism contradicts reality.
- Frank shows that fundamentalism is not limited to Christianity but exists across belief systems, including Atheism.
- Frank explains that fundamentalism is a very recent phenomenon.
- Frank details the problems of integrity that result for fundamentalists.
- Atheist proselytizing tools, such as the conversation-prompting Scarlet A Lapel Pin offered for sale on Richard Dawkins's website
- Lists of answers to Christians' most frequent objections to Atheism, also on Dawkins's website
- After Atheist lectures, calls by the event organizer for those wishing to proclaim belief in Atheism to declare themselves, reminiscent of church altar calls
- During Atheist lectures, cries of "Yes!" and "Right on!" reminiscent of "Amen!" and "Preach it, Brother!" heard in churches
- A living faith that is open to change versus a faith that is set in stone for all time
- A mystical view that opens to the mystery of God versus a dogmatic view that captures God
- Openness to myth as embodying deep wisdom versus confinement to factual truth
- Openness to questions and doubts as a path to growth versus a view of questions and doubts as sins against faith
- Emphasis on compassionate relationships versus emphasis on correct belief
- Living in love versus obeying rules
- Authority invested in the community of faith versus authority invested in the Bible
- Salvation as a process versus salvation as crossing a line at the moment of praying to accept Jesus as one's personal Savior
- Faith as a journey versus a sharp distinction between the saved and the damned
- Openness to nuance versus a black-and-white view of life and faith
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
In my previous post, I responded to passages in Patience With God where Frank Schaeffer discusses writing and words. Doing so has now inspired me to write this post, where I will explain some of the wonderful things I experience through writing.
KEEPING MEMORIES. This seems fairly obvious: writing is a way of preserving memories by recording them in words that I can return to time and again. But beyond that, writing accesses memories. If I start writing about something I remember vaguely, I often find that the act of writing brings up more and more detail. Writing also brings to mind entire memories that I had forgotten.
LIVING MY LIFE TWICE. This is a wonderful benefit of writing. I can live my life twice. I live it first as lived experience. Then I live it again by writing about it. The writing causes me to delve deeply into my experience, to mine its richness, to live my life more fully. Donald M. Murray, a long-time columnist for the Boston Globe and a writing professor at the University of New Hampshire, wrote a memoir titled My Twice-Lived Life, based on this very idea. Through his writing, Donald Murray has been a great inspiration to me as a writer and a teacher of writing. He died at age 82 in 2006.
CLARIFYING MY THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. If I want to know what I think or feel about something, a sure way to find out is to write about it. The very act of writing freely about a subject pulls up my thoughts and feelings and spills them onto the page. I can gain greater clarity by reading what I have written, perhaps writing further and reading again, doing this a number of times, and then organizing the material into a coherent piece. Taking the time to articulate my thoughts and feelings makes them clear to me. I have placed my thoughts and feelings onto a page, where I can see them outside of myself. They are no longer roiling about vaguely and namelessly inside me. It is important to add that such a piece of writing is a snapshot of my thoughts and feelings at a particular moment in time, so I need to hold them loosely, realizing that my thoughts and feelings may well evolve and that I can then clarify that evolution with additional writing.
MAKING MY EXPERIENCE REAL TO ME. To name and articulate something, to put it into words, makes it real. Unnamed experience is often vague. Here is an example. As a child, I sometimes had a feeling of blackness that sat in my chest. I believed that this was an aberration that marked me as defective and that nobody else had such a deviant feeling. The whole thing was vague and shameful to me. I couldn't "see" it clearly, but I knew it was bad. When I was able, as an adult, to name this blackness as depression and to describe it in words, this made a huge difference. My experience became real to me and I could do something about it. Likewise, Karen Armstrong in The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness describes what a relief it was to name and describe the symptoms of epilepsy, which had caused her anguish for years because these symptoms were so frightening and incomprehensible.
For me, it has also been hugely helpful to name and describe the Adult Children of Alcoholics syndrome, to see some of those characteristics in myself (as I grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent), to make this experience real to me and to do something about it. Janet G. Woititz's book The Self Sabotage Syndrome: Adult Children in the Workplace has been very helpful with this. In addition, Sonia Johnson in From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman's Struggle for Equal Rights and Her Excommunication from the Mormon Church helped me to name and articulate the previously vague experience of breaking a taboo, something I had done in leaving the Catholic Church.
Betty Friedan helped women to name and understand their vague malaise in The Feminine Mystique and then to take action. Patricia Evans helps anyone suffering from verbal abuse to name and understand it in The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond, so that one can "see" this abuse in a concrete way and take action.
PUTTING MY EXPERIENCE OUTSIDE MYSELF. Writing takes my experience outside of myself and puts it onto the page, where I can look at it more objectively. I can "see" my experience more clearly on the page than I can when it remains locked within me. This often has a calming effect on me when I write about something troubling. Just the fact that I can look at the experience in written form, outside myself, makes any inner turmoil far less intense.
ENTERING MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES. Writing opens a kaleidoscope of perspectives. I can explore how a situation appears to someone very different from myself by putting myself into his or her mind, so to speak, and writing from that place. For example, if I have a disagreement with my sister, I can "become" my sister and write about the situation from her point of view, thus giving me greater understanding of where she is coming from. I can also converse with someone on paper, speaking as myself and then as the other person. I can even do this with someone who has died. I can explore what the world looked or looks like to a Neanderthal person, to a Druid in Britain 2000 years ago, to a woman arrested as a witch during the Spanish Inquisition, to a Union soldier during the Civil War, to my grandmother during the Great Depression, to Adolph Hitler, to Mother Teresa, to Bill Clinton, to George W. Bush, to God.
PULLING UP INSIGHTS. Writing is a way to access my unconscious, to know consciously things that I didn't know I knew. As I write, I sometimes find myself pouring insights onto the page, insights that I would not have accessed otherwise.
FINDING SOLUTIONS. Likewise, if I write about a problem, I often find myself writing through to possible solutions. Those solutions come to me through the act of writing.
HEALING. Writing heals. Because writing clarifies my thoughts and feelings, makes my experience real to me, puts my experience outside of myself, allows me to view an experience from multiple perspectives, pulls up insights, and finds solutions--because writing accomplishes all these things--writing heals.
BONDING WITH OTHERS. Naming and articulating one's experience connects one with others. When a writer shares his or her writing, readers connect with the writer's experience and even connect more deeply with their own experience. Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia helps me to understand something of the depths one can reach in meditation, even though I have not had that experience myself. Nancy Venable Raine in After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back helps me to understand what it is like to be and to have been raped, insofar as one can understand this without the actual lived experience. Frank Schaeffer is one of many writers who connect me to my own experience and help me to understand myself more deeply.
CREATING. In writing, I create. I produce a piece of written work. Creating is deeply satisfying and increases my joy.
ENERGIZING. Writing energizes me. Sometimes when I write, I feel actual currents of energy flowing through my body.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD. This is extremely important. The act of writing causes me to study my subject closely. I look deeply into the person, place, object, or idea that I am writing about. This close study opens my subject to me in greater fullness and glory and increases my appreciation for my subject. In fact, writing causes me to fall in love with my subject. I can say that I love my sister Maria more deeply because I have written a poem about her. I love Cafe Luna on the Levee more deeply because I have written a piece about it. I love my Vermont rock more deeply because I have written about finding it and about what it means to me. I dare say that Frank Schaeffer loves his wife, Genie, more deeply because he has written so beautifully about her. The more subjects I write about, the more I fall in love with my world.
My previous post gave an overview of Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism), which came out in October 2009. This is the first of several posts that explore ideas raised for me by Patience With God. This post will examine thoughts about writing, about expressing experience in words--a subject very dear to my heart.
Frank writes about the inadequacy of words in Patience With God, making the point that experience trumps words about experience. I think I understand what Frank means--that experience is key and that we can get so caught up in what others have said about God, for instance, that we fail to honor our own experience of God. Yet, when I read these passages about words in Patience With God, I want to say, "Frank, Frank, Frank--wait, wait, wait--but, but, but--there's a whole missing piece in what you're saying about words."
So--below are some things that Frank says about words in Patience With God, along with my response to Frank.
FRANK: Speaking of God, there are thousands of books hanging around my house worrying me. In those books are tens of millions of words. None of those words (including these) explain why the greatest pleasure that I experience during any given day is when I lose myself in the small yet overwhelming presence of my granddaughter. (Page x)
ME: Frank, your words may not explain to your satisfaction why your greatest pleasure is to lose yourself in your granddaughter Lucy's presence, but your words do capture your experience of Lucy, at least to some degree. Here is what I think your words do.
- Preserve the memory of your experience of Lucy
- Allow you to live your experience of Lucy a second time, to probe its meaning, to dive into its richness and depth, to make it clearer to yourself--to enjoy this experience more fully for having lived it twice, once through the lived experience, and again through the written experience
- Bring up insights about your experience of Lucy that you might not reach if you didn't write about it
- Experience the joy of creation in writing
- Connect you with your readers through the sharing of your experience in words, for words are the only way I can share your experience. Obviously, I don't have your lived experience of Lucy, but your words do allow me to share the beauty of your experience to some degree.
FRANK: In this game--the meaning game--it's all about intuition, hope, and the experience of life, a letting go of all concepts, words, and theologies because they can only be metaphors and hinder our experience of the truth as it is--not as we desire, believe, or hope it might be or should be, but as it is." (Page xii)
ME: I agree that others' words about God can hinder my own experience of God. This can happen if I let others' words determine my experience, if I brush my own experience under the rug or even refuse to have my own experience because I already "know" what the experience of God is like, since others have told me.
However, when I have my own experience of God (or of anything), I do believe that it is well worthwhile to put that experience into words. When I do this, the act of writing about my experience clarifies the experience and makes it more real to me. It is important, though, to hold my experience loosely, always being open to additional and even contradictory experience. I can then go on to make this new experience deeper and more real through words and yet hold it, too, loosely, always open to yet other experience.
FRANK: Are unnamed things meaningless? Do we have to understand something in order to experience it? (Page 56)
ME: I would say that unnamed things are vague. My experience is clearer, fuller, richer--more real, actually--when I can name and articulate my experience.
FRANK: None, be they Dawkins's atheistic sermons or religious tomes by men such as Thomas Aquinas, capture the empathy between Lucy and me, let alone describe one second of the actual reality. (Pager 57)
ME: Frank, I get that Dawkins's and Aquinas's words do not capture your experience of Lucy. But your words, Frank, do capture that experience. Your words even connect me with my own similar experience and help me to understand and deepen my experience. Your words do this for your readers. You are a writer who bonds closely with your readers through your words. That is why you receive so many emails in response to your books.
FRANK: I still bring Genie a cup of coffee in bed. I still say "I love you" to her and believe that those words have a deeper meaning than my genes fooling my brain. I still say "I love you" to Lucy, too, even before she can understand those words. I believe those words represent a choice. I also believe they embody a mystery that I'm not ashamed to enjoy rather than try to explain. (Page 58)
ME: Frank, I can't help but think that describing your experience of Genie in words actually heightens your enjoyment. I'll bet that when you write about your love for Genie, as you do so beautifully in Chapter 12, it causes you to fall in love with her even more deeply. (In fact, Chapter 12 causes me to fall in love with Genie!) This is because writing about a subject necessitates a close study of that subject--be it a person, a place, an object, or an idea--and that close study coupled with putting the result into words can't help but deepen your love. I think that writing about your wife causes you to fall yet more deeply in love with your wife and that writing about other subjects causes you to fall yet more deeply in love with the world.