Saturday, December 09, 2017

Thoughts on Memorizing

I am playing a character right now who says a few similar things throughout his scenes.  There is a snow storm brewing outside and he regularly references it… but sometimes he says snow, sometimes storm, sometimes snowstorm.

The interesting thing about memorizing is that those phrases and words, though they can normally be used interchangeably, cannot be substituted when quoting.  If you do not use the right one, there is an alarm that starts going off in the back of your head that will most likely trip you up.  Therefore, you must spend a disproportional amount of time getting those little stumbling blocks sorted out.

This reminds me of my days in bible quizzing.  As a teen, I committed entire books of the New Testament to memory for competitions.  Some authors tended to use interchangeable phrases.  James would wax and wane between his use of brothers, my brothers, dear brothers, and my dear brothers.  Pick the wrong one while steaming down a quoting thought-train, and you would likely go off the rails.

Another memorizing and quoting phenomenon is what I call wormhole-ing.  This is when there is a word-for-word repeat in a later section and you use the phrase to jump sections.  The Apostle Paul has a habit of saying “As it is written” before quoting something in the Old Testament.  So, you could jump from Romans 3 and land in Romans 8 a moment later (or in 1 Corinthians if you had several years of quizzing under your belt).

This happened to me once on stage, about 6 years ago, during A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  I was playing Oberon, who has a number of repeat phrases, and I wormholed to a completely different scene.  I quickly realized what I had done and fixed it without the audience knowing (I think).

However, I can’t remember what that phrase was – and that brings me to a third memorizing observation: something memorized for only a few weeks does not stay in long-term memory.  Oberon had some fantastic quotes and I was using them regularly in my day-to-day conversation while I was playing the character.  I was grateful to have all his rich language and sayings at my disposal.

It did not last though.  When I look at a Midsummer’s script today, it is hard to believe that I once had those monologues memorized.  However, I can quote whole books and chapters of the bible that I memorized as a teen- 30 years ago!  I am not sure at what point material cements in the memory, but it would seem you have to work on it for close to a year at least.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Christians Don't Make Atheists

In the article The Christians Making Atheists, John Pavlovitz makes an argument that the reason people are not coming to Christianity is due to the bad behavior of its adherents.  He closes the article by stating:
... the reason the Church soon will be teetering on the verge of extinction and irrelevance will be because those entrusted to perpetuate the love of Jesus in the world, lost the plot so horribly, and gave the world no other option but to look elsewhere for goodness and purpose and truth.
I can agree with most of his critiques here of American Christianity - there is little Jesus left in the faith. It is often just a bastion of bigots waving tribal flags in the faces of those it calls "other".

However, Christians behaving badly is not the reason most folks become an Atheist. As my friend Brook said, "Christians are not the biggest obstacle to people taking Christianity seriously. That's just a story Christians tell themselves so they don't have to face the fact that their story and entire foundation sounds utterly ridiculous to non-Christians."

Religion will make little sense to most folks not raised in it. And it makes less sense to more and more religious folks as they are being exposed to the thoughts and religions of their neighbor.

Religion continues based on two foundations:
  • Its ability to control the narrative delivered to children
  • Its ability to control the narrative delivered to its members. 
Religion is losing control on both fronts.

When I was growing up, every kid I knew went to church. Maybe not my church, but a church. Nowadays, kids usually have a friend or two that does not attend church or belongs to a completely different faith. When I had questions regarding my faith when I was a young person, there was no one to talk to about it other than those within my faith. Today, people with questions have many resources available. Religious groups are losing the ability to control the narrative.

Mr. Pavlovitz assumes people are leaving his faith because of the bad behavior of its members. I left religion because I realized that the sincere devotion of others to their religion was no different than what was occurring in mine. When my religion ceased to be uniquely true... it ceased to be true. I no longer believed.

The bad behavior of those in my tribe was incidental.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Some Facebook Thoughts on Trump

October 4

I am fascinated by the arc much of American Christianity is taking. No longer is it about the teachings of Jesus, but rather about the acquisition of power. Oh, the name is kept for tribal identity, but - as my believing brother often says - these Christians have chosen Barabbas. When the way of Jesus failed to get them the governmental power they sought, they chose a zealot who could move the ball down the field.

September 30

I have always known Donald Trump was a vulgar man with a decrepit soul. If you had asked me 10 years ago about Donald, I would have described him as a singular embodiment of all that can be worst in human nature. My view has not changed.

Many folks on the Right, 10 years ago, would have described him the same way. They could easily spot him as a huckster, who would step on his own children to advance his ego.

Now though, I watch these same folks defend him at every corner and rail against anyone who would point out his obvious affronts to humanity. 10 years ago, they would have objected to Donald Trump on a plethora of moral grounds; now they are angrily defending all of his misdeeds.

It makes clear to me that their previous "moral" objections to him were nothing of the kind. In fact, they have no sense of morality at all. Morality was simply a useful pawn in their rhetorical repertoire, easily sacrificed in the larger game of dominating others.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Boy Turns 16

My youngest was born 16 years ago today.  I am out of practice with writing blog entries and I find my thoughts are running into one another.  Do I start by talking about how proud I am of him?  How I enjoy our time together?  Should I talk about his many and varied accomplishments?  How do I make this entry fit the love I feel for my son?

I am not sure, so this may be an exercise in Freewriting.

Jake was in a play this year where he played an older gentleman who learned he had a terminal illness.  He ends the play with a heartfelt monologue about living.  Though I knew he was playing a character, I was still affected by watching my son talk about the meaning of life... in the face of death. I also noted that Jake really does "get" life so much better than I did at his age.

I got to hear my son sing for the first time this year.  Last fall, I was in a play with Jake's choir teacher.  She was doing the musical direction for a different play Jake was in and told me that he was doing really well with his solo. Solo? I did not even know Jake could sing.  If he ever takes up poker, he will clean house because he rarely lets people know what cards he is holding. He sung so well in his play that his sister and I kept looking at each other in surprise and awe.

Jake grew dill in the garden this year.  He grew a few other things too, but the dill sticks out to me because he found lots of uses for it and tried his hand at pickling vegetables.

I did not realize Jake and I had started a tradition.  We had binge watched all of the previous Marvel/Netflix series together.  We began each one by picking up a round of Chinese food to gorge ourselves on as we worked through the first three or four episodes.  I was at work when "The Defenders" dropped and I got a text from Jake - "Don't forget to bring home Chinese!"

Jake started High School two weeks ago.  I know from having already been through this with his sister that the years will sweep past us hastily.  I only have two more years with "children" under my roof.

I am not sure where Jake's future will take him.  He has a sharp mind, a contemplative temperament, and a gracious nature.  He tends to do well at anything he sets his mind to, so I suspect the hardest part of his future will be in the choosing.  I have every confidence he will choose well.

Happy Birthday Jake!  Enjoy your high school years, enjoy your friends and family, and just keep enjoying life!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Facebook Faith # 57 - Less of Me...

A friend of mine on Facebook posted, "What Would Actually Make You Happy?" He is a religious man, so many of the responses were of a religious nature.

One of the responses made my heart heavy. A gentleman replied:
"Less of me..."
It was painful to read because I know that is exactly how I would have answered that question throughout most of the time I was a believer. In conservative Evangelical theology, you are seen as bringing nothing to the table, everything is about what God does. The only thing preventing God from doing his best for you and in you is you. With such a view of one's relationship to the divine, self-disparaging comments become the norm.

Growing up, sermons from the pulpit, bible studies, and song lyrics constantly drove home the message that I was, inherently, the problem. These lines were typical of the Christian bands I listened to as a believer:
"I know how I ought to be. Alive to You and dead to me."
" More of Jesus, less of me."
" I am nothing! So I lay down and cry for mercy."
I recently moved my entire music collection over to a USB drive for my car. Even still, most of my music collection is Christian Rock. I tried listening to some old songs as I drove around town. Though I could still enjoy the music, the lyrics tended to be so... depressing, that I just had to turn it off. It was just weird listening to a good tune where the lyrics repeated how awful everyone is.

The above meme was posted by another believing friend of mine. I sigh when I read things like that.

You are not the villain. Happiness will not come from there being less of you.

The answers will not be found in tearing down "you".

What I have discovered since leaving the life of faith a few years back is that happiness and peace develop as I am becoming my best self.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Before You Speak

Before you speak, Persian, know that in Sparta everyone, even a king's messenger, is responsible for the words of their voice. Now...what message do you bring?

King Leonidas said these words to the Persian messenger at the beginning of 300. He was reminding the messenger that if he was bringing threats, he had better choose his words carefully.

When I was a believer, I thought of myself like the Persian - the King's messenger. If someone did not like what I was saying, they had problems with God, not me. I would say things similar to what I read on a believer's blog today:
...they are arguing with the wrong person. They shouldn’t be upset and arguing with me; they should be upset and argue with God. He said it. I’m just repeating what He said. I base my beliefs on the Crucified and Risen Lord.
This is a common sentiment expressed by believers.

I was reminded of another version of this redirecting of responsibility during a Facebook conversation today.  One gentleman argued:
Sorry, I can't agree with Sam Harris. To depend on the "self" to create "conditions of human flourishing" is more dangerous than even his description of religion. What I believe human flourishing is quite different from my neighbor and even light years away from someone in the far east or Africa. Also if it up to the "self" then no one has the right to judge or criticize my renditions.
I run into this argument frequently among believers ... if we don't have a god to declare something right or wrong.... then nothing can really be right or wrong. I responded:
Or everyone does, and we all have to justify, weigh, and examine our renditions. In such a case, everyone becomes responsible and has a voice, and no one gets to disengage from their responsibilities by proclaiming "I didn't say that, god did... if you don't like it, take it up with god!"
It was empowering, and a little scary, when I first left my faith to realize that I was responsible. My opinions, my actions, my choices.... and their consequences... were all on me. Leaving faith caused me to put all my ideas under a microscope... because I could no longer attribute them to anyone but myself. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Evangelical Notions About Women

Recently, it came to light that Vice President Mike Pence would not have dinner alone with a woman who was not his wife.  This sounded odd to many Americans but, having been raised in a conservative Evangelical culture, it was completely familiar to me.

Growing up, our community had a lot of thoughts and opinions about the interactions between men and women.  Unmarried people were to be guarded and circumspect when it came to time spent with members of the opposite sex.  This was talked about and preached about.... a lot. As a young person trying to remain "pure", my goal of following the right path when it came to women bordered on obsessive.  An inordinate amount of my thought life was devoted to "not placing anything before my eyes that would cause me to sin before the Lord".

Looking back, I cringe at how damaging this outlook was.  It hobbled me relationally.  I viewed half the population of our planet as "an occasion to sin".  I considered my own biology and sexuality an enemy.  There were times when I actually resented women for... existing.

We may, as a Western culture, look down on some Middle Eastern societies that drape their women in varied levels of physical covering- but many religious cultures in America entertain similar notions. The values that led Mike Pence to his conclusions about how to relate to the opposite sex, objectify and relegate women to a lower tier status as surely as any burka.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Thanks Google Translate!

I have a new student from China (I teach 2nd grade). He has been with me for 2 weeks. His only English words seem to be - no, yes, what, and I don't know. He is pretty energetic and happy, but today after lunch he was obviously working at holding back tears. I tried to figure out what was wrong, but asking seemed to frustrate him more.

Then I remembered Google Translate. I pulled out my phone and downloaded the app. I set it to Chinese.

I pressed the button. "Are you sad?" I said.

A moment later it spoke back in Chinese. His eyes widened. I showed him the button to press on my phone. He spoke into it, and a moment later it said "Yes, I am sad."

"Why are you sad?" I asked. My phone translated.

"I lost my gloves during lunch," my phone said aloud after he spoke to it.

I asked what color they were. He pressed the button and spoke.


I announced to the class that we were missing his gloves. My lunch monitor said that after everyone left the table, she saw gloves and put them in our lunch basket. She ran over to it and held up the gloves. My Chinese student lit up and smiled.

For the next 10 minutes, my student and I talked through my phone. We found out each other's favorite colors, how to say good morning, and what our opinions were on snow.

Thanks Google!
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