Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Some people dont right pretty good?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am reading (scratch “am,” replace with “was”) a book by James R. Brayshaw called Satan: Christianity’s Other God. It may be a somewhat-anal observation, but should a reader really trust the scholarship of a writer who tends to constantly split his infinitives? Or who scatters punctuation as if it came from a saltshaker, placing commas, where they, don’t belong and omitting them where they do like here? Who allows the following sentence to go to print with his name attached? “Even the writer of the book, in their admission that they believe Satan has superhuman powers like God; agree that their “Satan” cannot create? (p.57) (Errors: non-agreement in number of the pronoun their with the subject writer; misuse of the semicolon, question mark after what is obviously a declarative sentence, missing comma.)

I’ve given up on the exercise, particularly since the case of Satan being an allegorical construct can be made in a few paragraphs and this book runs to 500 pages and has the depressing affix on the cover indicating that it is still only “Volume I”. (I was unable to find any record of a “Volume II.”) Even more, the sloppy writing and the lack of skilled editing simply made me think that this was an author whose credentials were suspect, like a person who expounds on his knowledge of hockey while referring to the scoring of a goal as a “slam dunk.”

I put down the book for good when I read Brayshaw’s declaration that the days in the Genesis creation story are literal, 24-hour days, supporting this contention with the dubious evidence that each day had an evening and a morning, so how could it be anything but a literal day?!? Brayshaw’s understanding of allegory and metaphor seems to be very selective, at best.

What I didn’t read anywhere was an admission that many of the same arguments used for the denial of the existence of a literal Satan can be used to argue for an allegorical God. The whole world of Scripture interpretation seems often to hang on the distinction between historical and allegorical “truth,” and Brayshaw (like pretty much every Sunday School teacher in the land) hasn’t mastered a consistent control of this fundamental religious conundrum.

He is right when he says that escaping the myth of a literal Satan is a freeing experience; what he fails to do is take the next logical step, namely to recognize that an allegorical approach to scriptures (or to Shakespeare, for that matter) is foundational to making peace with our spiritual doubts, fears and misunderstandings. Scripture as story, not as history—in a manner of speaking.

Story has an extraordinary power to illuminate, open doors for people alluded to by Jesus when he said, “he that has ears to hear, let him hear:” a clear call to human intellect to see the parables, for instance, as springboards to an expanding world of spiritual insight.

I know. I have spent far too much unnecessary time in the whale’s belly.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Cosmic Sunday Morning


It’s Sunday morning; my town is still asleep. The yellow leaves that blew into the front yard yesterday are wet with overnight rain; I briefly considered—then rejected—the option of starting up the furnace. Too much like admitting that summer is over.

I’ve got a book on my desk that I chanced upon in the library yesterday. It’s Satan: Christianity’s Other God by James R. Brayshaw. It purports to show that “scholars have imposed their belief in a cosmic Satan onto passages that have nothing to say about such an entity” and that “A journey through the Scriptures and history reveals that God did not create the Satan of Christianity and that Satan didn’t exist in the theology of the people of God until they spent time among cultures steeped in mythology.” (This latter refers—I take it—to the sojourn in Egypt and more importantly, to the exile and the subsequent influence of Babylonian and Persian culture and religion.) So much I’ve gleaned from the Preface, Introduction and the book jacket. I’d better read it before I say more about its contents.

I expect that even the most adamant evangelical preachers must have had some intuition that the image of a powerful, supernatural “Satan” with his evil angels/demons is antithetical to that other important Judeo/Christian imperative, namely that there is but one God, not two, not ten. Just one.

This is heavy stuff for a Sunday morning. In Eigenheim Mennonite Church, a group of us will gather at 10:00 to discuss the motives and methods behind Nehemiah’s determination to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. (I don’t expect the possibility that Ezra and Nehemiah had been influenced by the Persians to see good and evil as the work of two opposing gods will come up.) More important is the observation that we are all beholden to courageous people with the energy and the foresight to lead us in REBUILDING that which is crumbling and broken down, burnt like the gates of Jerusalem in 500 BC. Courageous leadership is not easy to find, especially leadership with the fortitude to tackle rebuilding, whether it be of physical structures, lives, or religious concepts that may have led us astray. Rebuilding takes guts.

But in questions of understandings that reach back into antiquity—like the Satan imagery—it’s a bit like refusing to turn on the furnace because it would be admitting that one has given up on summer.

May the light of the one, single God shine on you this day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's Art? What's craft? Does it matter?

The Station Arts did its annual Harvest Days last weekend. Typically, craft/art people display their work, work at their projects on-site and answer questions; a few people will sell honey, garden stepping stones, etc. and the day will be capped off by a concert, this time by the Saskatunes, three men and one woman in harmony, accompanying themselves on a variety of instruments. They're very good. They're real artists. Or is singing others people's songs a craft. I'm so confused.

This morning, I did the final touch up on a tile table top that Agnes and I created (photos above). We've almost mastered a craft, I think, although I used the wrong grout and it doesn't look as polished as it should. I excused it by pretending that it was part of a planned "rustic look." If there's such a thing as "accidental art," I don't suppose it's such a big stretch to "accidental craft," something like spilling paint on a floor, liking the effect and letting your visitors believe it was a result of artistic talent.

Red Green claims to be an expert on art. His methods are simple. "If I like it, it's not art!" he says. It's a bit like this expressed wisdom on diet, health and weight control: "If it tastes good, spit it out!"

I can't claim to recognize true art when I see it. But I do recognize Art when I see him. My usual greeting is, "Hi, Art," which always sounds to me like, "High art." When I greet my sister with, "Hi, Jean," I'm aware that it might sound like a reminder to clean her fingernails and wash up. I think we need to do away with the "Hi" greeting altogether. (Are you out there, Art and Jean?)

Quite a few people are apologizing to me for missing my book launch in Rosthern, and some for having to miss the reading at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon on Thursday, September 24 at 7:30 p.m. A friend at coffee missed that first "happening" completely, and said to me in some amazement, "I didn't know you'd been authorized?!?" A good crowd did come out and were gracious in their evaluations of the evening. I was warmed and very grateful. It was a good turnout considering that it's harvest time, half the crop is still in the field, the wheat's not ready and it rained all day yesterday. Farmers are anxious.

Have a great day. Do some art . . . or craft. It's good for the soul.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

42 Minutes that (did, did not) change the world

Grand Canyon Denizens; The telescope array in New Mexico (where part of the movie, Contact was filmed. Click to enlarge.)

Today, Prime Minister Harper will meet with President Obama for a scheduled 42 minutes. 42 Minutes!?! Considering that Canadians buy more products from the US and sell more energy, wood, grain, meat, iron, nickel, etc., etc. to the US than any other country, 42 minutes strikes me as a bit chintzy. What does the Prime Minister of Luxembourg get when he calls? 1 Minute, 27 seconds? Frank McKenna said on TV last night that the meetings with Congress members are more important than the few minutes with the president. They could hardly be less important if the 42 minutes is a measure to go by.

Which brings up the question of US-Canadian relationships generally, doesn’t it? Our tourist industry is suffering (I’m not sure they know what true suffering is) because Americans now need to be carrying a valid passport TO GET BACK INTO THEIR OWN COUNTRY. I sincerely doubt that Obama can reverse this madness; the signs of a more liberal approach to policy are there, but the bones still have no meat. In the health care insurance debate, we see again the degree to which the fierce insistence on minimal government involvement in the marketplace has been engrained in the population. One would have thought that the current recession would have provided some insight into the consequences of a greed/deregulation regime.

The right wing, conservative thinkers (I use this word advisedly) in the world today are powerful, and it’s understandable why this would be so. Their thinking is simplistic; they need only hold one or two pieces of conventional wisdom in their heads to feel righteous. In the US, the two bits of “truth” need only be “it’s a free country so get the hell out of my face,” and “foreigners are trying to get me, so don’t mess with my guns,” to frame a disastrous public policy like we see around security matters today.

Since the turn of the century, about 360,000 people have been killed on US highways, 4,500,000 have died of cancer and 2,993 died as a result of terrorist acts. For the fiscal year 2008-2009, the Bush administration requested 145.2 billion dollars for the Global War on Terror, but only 70.4 Billion for the entire budget of the Department of Health and Human Services. These comparisons shouldn’t be taken as the complete picture, but they do give an indication of the preponderance of security consciousness in the US, out of all proportion to the reality.

I wonder if Harper will point this out to Obama and to Congress. I actually doubt it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Take Action

Grasslands National Park: top-bottom - rabbit, lichen, Frenchman River, 70-Mile Butte.

We spent the better part of the long weekend exploring the Grasslands National Park near Val Marie, Saskatchewan. You should go there. It’s a phenomenal glimpse into the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the prairies after the ice age and before mankind. Enough said; discover it for yourself, preferably on a hot day in summer when the desert positively hums with crickets and the clicking of grasshopper wings.

We stayed in the Convent Country Inn (http://convent1.sasktelwebsite.net/), an old brick building in which the Sisters of the Assumption of Mary lived and taught school until the end of that era. The food was great, the hosts gracious and the room was a tad warm, but it was a great place to spend the nights. From our room (8; the best room in the Inn we were assured) we could see the Catholic Church and a billboard: “Abortion stops a beating heart; take action.” We wondered as we read the faded words on the weathered billboard what action we were being urged to take. Should we join in the pro-life movement and demonstrate? Should we write to our MP and tell him we’d like to see abortion re-criminalized? Should we refrain from aborting our unexpected pregnancies and urge our family and community to do likewise? What action were we being urged to take?

Everything about abortion is tragic, from the first awareness of an inappropriate, possibly shameful, pregnancy to the contemplation of the probing of instruments and the expulsion of human tissue and finally, to the guilt of knowing that but for this decision, a person would exist who now doesn’t. No one—I’m guessing—is pro-abortion. Pro-choice is a question of who decides what is to be done when unexpected pregnancy presents itself. Should it be the state? Should it be the individuals involved? Should it be the church?

I can only think of one action I can appropriately take in this regard, and that is to support efforts to prevent inappropriate pregnancy. And what form might that take? Education is good, properly done. People need to know how to prevent pregnancy safely. Availability of the apparatuses of prevention is good; I would rather see easily-obtained birth-control pills than abortions, than children being raised by children, or unwanted and resented children growing up in an environment that lacks nurturance. Abstinence is good if it doesn’t become a religion; doing without coitus doesn’t actually cause acne.

What does all this have to do with Grasslands? You’d have to ask the people who put up the billboard, I guess. But the quiet, “natural” unfolding of life in this wilderness said something to me about the tranquility of creation . . . as opposed to the anxieties we humans create, even about as natural a thing as reproduction.