Monday, November 29, 2010

A lazy blog post...

"I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen–I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones who look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline of good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we'll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of The Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind's destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it's aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there's a cat in a box somewhere who's alive and dead at the same time (although if they don't ever open the box to feed it it'll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn't even know that I'm alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn't done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies too. I believe in a woman's right to choose, a baby's right to live, that while all human life is sacred there's nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it."
-from 'American Gods' by Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God says, "Don't be a Dick"

This all comes out of a facebook conversation having to do with prostitution. It lead into a conversation about morality. There is a moral relativism in the secular world, and part of me understands why. We are living in a post-modern society in which absolutes are not taken lightly. While I don't like absolutes, I am not a moral relativist. I think there are good reasons we draw lines in the sand and say, 'this point is too far'. This should not be unexpected seeing as I am a Christian, but I don't think God assigned moral rules to us just to prevent us from having fun. If you look at the 10 commandments, 7 of them have to do with how we treat each other. They are there to keep peace and harmony between neighbors, and breaking them causes trouble, not just for one person, but for the whole society. We are not islands out here, we still have to live with each other, and the crappy ways in which we treat each other have dramatic affects on how people value themselves, and then in turn how they value others.
We have responsibilities to each other, and we fail, we fail those responsibilities all the time. I understand being sceptical about people who use morality as a way to feel superior to others, but that is not what it is supposed to be about. It is about saying to yourself, 'gee I would hate to be treated in this way, I don't think I will do that to someone else.' It's about trying really hard to see where someone else is coming from and then saying, 'well I am not going to add to your pain today.' No, morality is not relative, not when it is done right.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Lord Raises and the Lord Razes...

Of Course, I don't really think that is true. God does not play with our lives like that. What God would be so cruel?

I had so much to write about today. Today was the last day of the quarter; I was going to write about that. Today I went to a forum about the emergent church; I have a lot to write about that. Today for the first time ever at VTS we had an Anglo-Catholic High Mass; I could have written about that. I had a lot of things to write on today, but no, those things will have to wait.

Today the Virginia Theological Seminary Chapel burned to the ground. This was an historic chapel, over 100 years old. And we watched helplessly as smoke billowed out of the church, as the roof caved in, as the windows cracked and crumbled. We don't know what caused it, and it doesn't matter.

As we all sat together in Scott Lounge praying and singing, for the first time ever I truly felt like I was living in communion. So the question is not, why did this happen? But why does it take something like this to truly bring us together?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seek not water...

So it has been a while since I have written anything; I am sorry for that. And to be honest I am really tired right now, but I will try to give an account of my life here so far.

This quarter has been going on for 3 weeks now. I am settling into a routine. One of the things they tell us is that there needs to be balance in our lives, so while I would be most comfortable sitting in my room all night, I have been going out. This adventure in being social has turned out to be rather interesting. I hang out pretty regularly and I have joined some small groups. I have joined a photography group and I go out on the lawn and juggle with some people on Tuesday. I have also joined the Rosary Society. In addition to doing those things I join people for drinks in the evening or I join people watching Glee, even though I have a lot of problems with that show, and I go out. All of this and I still don't feel any more a part of the society of the place than I did when I first got here in August. This is something I have never experienced before, except maybe in High School. I hate the process of getting to know new people, but I have never a) given this level of effort into being social, and b) had so little to show for my efforts.

I don't mean this as some sort of 'pity me' thing, so please do not take it that way. If I spend the next three years only feeling marginally connected, then so be it. I will be in this world, but not of it, I guess.

As far as school goes, I am keeping up. I have more to do each week than I seem to be able to manage. I always feel like I am so close to being ahead of the game, but I never seem to get there. I'll let you know when I do though.

Again I am really tired; I have had a full week. Of course, every week here is a full week. There are lots of things to do in addition to school and work. Monday I went to a forum with Keith Ward. He's a British theologian who reminds me of Denholm Elliott. After that I joined some other students in a small birthday celebration for one of the Middlers. Yesterday I was up at 5:30am to work at the gym until 8:00am. After that I went to Morning Prayer, which takes place on Tuesdays at my worship advisor's house. I went to class, mass, Rosary Society and then evening prayer. I made a point of joining people to watch Glee and then I tried to get some studying in before I went to bed. This morning I was up again at 5:30 to work till 9am at the gym. After that I went to class, mass, work at the Dean's office, I skipped evening prayer because I just spent three hours cold calling people on behalf of the Annual Fund. This is the fund that helps pay for my education so I volunteered to be part of the every member canvas.

Just in case my self-esteem needed a little deflating...
I don't know what it is; I have no luck with these things. It is like gambling or anything else that requires a little luck, I suck at it. I always pick the pile of people that don't answer their phones. It was pathetic. I had one man yell at me, because he said he had already given lots of money very recently. He went on and on, and he kept asking me about things that I knew nothing about. Eventually he said to me in a truly appalled voice "Don't you know anything about the Methodist Church?" He wasn't listening when I said 'Virginia Theological Seminary' and thought I was calling from 'Wesley Theological Seminary'. He will probably pledge something.

Tomorrow is a 'Quiet Day'. It is a day when there is silence on the campus for most of the day. There will be a Eucharist and meditation in the morning and the rest of the day is for private reflection. That will be nice. I can't wait to eat lunch in complete silence; it is usually so noisy in the refectory during lunch.

Anyway, if this post seems a little down, it's because I am a little sleep deprived. I am happy here, if perhaps a little lonely.

I am reminded of a Rumi saying, "Seek not water, seek thirst."
There is a beauty in longing; a longing for love, a longing for knowledge, a longing for God. This is a place of thirst.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

So Jesus and the Holy Spirit are walking down the street...

Today we had 'Intercultural Competency Training'. That is the P.C. way of saying anti-racism training. It started at 2 and went till 9pm; this wouldn't be so bad, but there are two more days of it to go.

Let me first say that I totally get the need for anti-racism training. But some of the stuff was so gooey and feel good that it sapped the life out of many of us. For instance, when the leader needed to bring us to order he would start singing, and we were meant to join in. And it wasn't good music, it was cheesy praise music. Some of you are thinking, 'oh Shireen, you are just too particular' but it wasn't just me. Most of the people there looked like they were being tortured.

My table was especially irreverent, I'm afraid. During one exercise we had to make a list of powerless people Jesus came in contact with, and describe how that encounter changed the person. Well, my table was especially proud of coming up with Lazarus, because what was more powerless than being dead? And to demonstrate how Jesus changed him, the girl next to me started playing like she was Dr. Frankenstein saying,"He's Alive! He's Alive!"
After that we had to do the same thing with powerful people Jesus came in contact with. Our main contribution was Saul/Paul. First it started with an argument about whether or not we could use Paul, since Jesus had already ascended by then. Also one girl was sceptical about Paul's account, thinking he had actually encountered the Holy Spirit. We all convinced her to take Paul's word for it, that it was in fact Christ, but decided that the Holy Spirit must have been there too because Jesus was far too gentle to blind someone like that. This quickly devolved into retelling the story with the Holy Spirit stepping in saying "I'll take care of this guy for you Jesus" and Jesus trying to hold the Holy Spirit back. And for some reason, amidst fits of laughter, we decided to share this with the rest of the people in the room by telling them that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were playing 'good cop, bad cop' in order to convert Paul. They looked at us like we were crazy.

I know you probably had to be there, but it was those moments of being absolutely silly that made the evening tolerable.

One and a half more days to go, and this is how I feel about that:

Friday, August 20, 2010

What a week, huh? I joined the twitterverse. Which says so much about how I feel when I am on it, but there you go.
Greek! Another big thing this week. I really do like Greek, ya know, not the usable kind, but the kind that can makes you seem supercilious. Kinda like the word supercilious does.
What else have I done this week...Oh yeah, I took my Sexual Misconduct prevention course. The kids one was seriously creepy. The adult one was, well, they showed a bad movie from the early 90s. Also some of the comments from the students were pretty alarming, and those comments came mostly from women. The question is how bad does a choice have to get before it is no longer a choice? For instance, we looked at instances in the bible where sexual misconduct happened. I know, take your pick, right? We looked at David and Bathsheba, and Joseph and Potiphars wife.
Here is my take on the David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba is taken from her house by David's servants for one reason and one reason only. He had all the power, she had no power at all. The observation is often made, "well, we don't really know if she was a willing participant or not" and it is often assumed that she was totally into David, and practically seduced him. But lets look at the facts: she was in her own home bathing. David sees her, and instead of sending a messenger to tell her to close her drapes, he gets all hot and bothered and sends two messengers to get her so he can have sex with her.
Now before I go on, I would like to make a point. Let's say a woman is about to be raped and she knows that if she fights back she will be hurt or killed, so she doesn't fight her attacker. We would still call that rape. Well this is exactly what Bathsheba does. She is faced with the choice of saying no to the king and suffering the consequences, or going along with it and hoping for the best. David raped Bathsheba, there I said it. Nobody wants to hear that because on the whole we like David, we don't want him to do something so atrocious. But remember, Nathan doesn't accuse Bathsheba along with David. Bathsheba is the lamb who the rich man slaughtered. An unwilling sacrifice to David's lust, as it were.
Anyway, the point is, many people in the class did not seem to understand that. Furthermore it is really easy to excuse the bad behavior of someone you love and look up to, like a priest. The instinct is to put the blame elsewhere, on the other person. But it is the person with the power who should bear the blame, because with that power comes so much responsibility, and I find it a little disconcerting that people who are about to step into those roles don't really understand that.
I'm not saying that everyone in the classroom was living in the 60's. Most people were reasonable. But the few that weren't were pretty shocking.
Our double standards are pretty amazing. The behavior we allow in people we admire, celebrities, priests; these behaviors would never be tolerated in Joe Shmo.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Not Loku, but...

"Oral Interpretation of Scripture", this is the class where we learn to read out loud. Good idea, right? If we're going to be priests interpreting scripture orally is a good skill to have. So I totally get the need for, and purpose of, the class. Here's the thing, I got a lot of this stuff in acting school. Picture your first year acting classes; do you remember all of those exercises and games they made you do to help your breathing and technique? Well, imagine doing those exercises but with bible verses as your text. Sounds cheesy, right? Anyway, next week we start reading in small groups so we can get some legitimate criticism.

So I get the point of the exercises and the reading we have to do, but what I don't understand is the poetry assignment. This weekend we have to write two poems; one haiku, one cinquain. These poems each had to be based on a different bible story, and we have to memorize them. I guess I kind of get the point. We will probably have to perform the poems, and if we can write a poem and perform it then we can perform anything, right?

Well, I actually wrote two of each. Surprisingly it was kind of fun. I think the bible stories are pretty straight forward, but if you can't figure it out let me know.

The Haikus

I. Girl dancing with veils
is all fun and games till some-
one loses his head.

II. God bets with Satan
making good man wish he was
a little less good.

The Cinquains

I. Mary
Sorrowful, weeping,
tomb is empty
he calls her name

II. Daughter
Rejoicing, dancing,
greets her father.
she mourns her virginity.

I preferred writing the Haikus because the form lends itself to humor in a way that the Cinquain doesn't.

Now I have to choose which ones to memorize and practice performing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quick update

School has begun, hurray! Aside from that there isn't much to say. Yesterday and today have been filled with orientation stuff mostly. I already have a bunch of work to do though. They have given us so much paperwork to read, and forms to fill out, it's exhausting.

There will be orientation throughout the August term, but the two classes being taught are: Oral Interpretation of Scripture, and a language class (Greek or Hebrew). I have a bunch of reading to do before Monday and some Greek homework.

They went over registering for Fall courses with us today. 1st year students don't have many choices because there are several classes that you have to get out of the way before doing anything else.

I am getting used to the place. Everyone is very nice, but I haven't connected with anyone in particular yet. I'm getting used to sitting down with a bunch of strangers at meal time and having a little small talk, but nothing more. At least I am resisting the urge to sit alone at an empty table, so that is something.

I am excited about diving into the work. Hopefully my year of Greek at UCLA will start coming back to me, that will make it so much easier.

I'll let you know if anything exciting happens.

Monday, August 9, 2010

First night at VTS

Here at VTS students occasionally gather in the evenings for beer and conversation behind Moore Hall (one of the dorms). It was mostly returning students, but new students are invited as well. Now, anyone who knows me, knows I am not comfortable in large groups of people I don't know. So when I was invited I could have stayed in my room and been completely happy. But I went, and it went pretty much the way I anticipated. Everyone was very nice, but I had almost nothing to contribute to the conversation. So I did what I always do in these types of situations, I listened. I listened to people talk about their summers, I listened to them reminisce about last year. I listened to one conversation for a while, then to another, and then back to the first conversation again, and so on. Part of the problem with doing this is everyone kind of forgets you are there, so it is almost like you are eavesdropping on them. And when suddenly you get up and say goodnight it can be a little awkward. Well, I did my part, I nursed my beer for an hour and then I left. And now I have a sour stomach. I can't wait until classes start. It will help to have a specific task; a context in which to interact with other people.

Anyway, I love my room. It is tiny, like a little monks cell. I am completely unpacked and I already feel comfortable. Classes don't start until Wednesday, so I will spend tomorrow trying to find my way around.

I am sitting here desperately trying to recall all their names. Dawn, Joel, Ramel, Audrey, Charles and his fiance Kona, Chad, Missy, Whitney and Grant. I don't know how many of these I got wrong. I am terrible with names, so probably a few.

Monday, August 2, 2010

As many of you know, I did not have a television when I lived in Los Angeles. Thanks to the internet this did not mean that I couldn't watch my favorite TV shows, but my commercial exposure was fairly limited. I have to say, I am totally weirded out by what I am now seeing. The enormous gangsta hamsters selling Kia cars creep me out. Combine that with the kittens in Georgian costumes (you know, the ones selling Quiznos sandwiches) and it is truly the stuff of nightmares. Furthermore, why is there a Scottish genie in a tuxedo selling fiber cereal? I can just hear Don Draper now, "I like the genie idea, but women might find an Arab man too threatening." Then Paul Kinsey says, "I know, who better to sell our cereal than James Bond circa 1962!?" At this point Peggy says something sensible, but nobody listens.

Yeah, I might have watched a lot of Mad Men recently.

You know what commercials I really like? Those Clydesdale commercials for Budweiser. Unfortunately it will never convince me to buy the beer.

Anyway...that's it I think.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shireen goes to church...

I have a confession to make. I have not been to church since I left Los Angeles, Until today that is. I know, I know, bad postulant! Anyway, I went to my mother's church this morning. Obviously there were things that are not really my preference, liturgically that is. But there were things that I rather liked. The prayers of the people were read in a way that included the entire congregation. Anyone who felt moved to read the names was allowed to. You would think that this would cause long pauses or make the prayers of the people seem disorganized, but it was not like that at all. It went smoothly and quickly and really seemed like the prayers of the people. That being said, I have been rather spoiled at St. Thomas. Ya know it has been 5 years since I have gone this long without participating in some kind of liturgy, I got truly homesick during the service.

The sermon was good. All the readings had to do with idolatry in some form or another. I think we do make idols of too many things. It is such an easy thing to do; to get so wrapped up in a desire or a feeling of being wronged, that you give it more importance than it deserves. Money is the most obvious idol, but there are plenty of other things that can be just as distracting. A desire for personal justice, a need for something to be perfect, politics...the list could really be endless. Idols, idols everywhere and what are we to do?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making the most of my time...

I've been in Virginia for about a week now. The new rectory my parents live in is really great. I'm sort of in a holding pattern right now while I wait to begin school. August 11th is coming quickly and I am getting more nervous every day.

So to distract myself I will watch Craig Ferguson. I have learned great things from him. Did you know, the difference between budgies and parakeets is that budgies believe in transubstantiation and parakeets don't? Who knew. He is the only late night talk show host who makes history and religion jokes, but also has a robot skeleton with a mohawk for a sidekick.

But I shouldn't be up this late. I need to get in the habit of waking up early in the morning, because that is what I will be doing while I am in school. Getting up early is really the hardest habit for me. I am always tired in the early morning, even if I do get a full night of sleep...

It is now 4am. Only an hour and I should be getting up, ideally. But I am afraid approaching the 5 o'clock hour from this side is not the best way of going about this whole morning issue. I guess I will have to try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aliens Need Jesus Too...

Well, this has been a long week. I am currently in Deadwood, SD, but on July 4th I was in Roswell, NM. It was a normal 4th of July weekend, full of fireworks and snow cones and aliens. I love fireworks, but I am not a fan of 'patriotic' country music. I say this because that is what they blasted during the fireworks display. Still, it was a pleasant evening. After the fireworks a band called Ufoetry played.

They were strange but fun. All their songs were themed around the Alien lore that surrounds Roswell. We were not able to make it in time for the big costume contest, so it was nice to see some weird alien related stuff. I suppose the lesson of the trip is 'Do your research', because not only did we miss the big costume day, which was only on Friday, but we also missed Saint Thomas' very own Julian Sands! Apparently he was one of the guest celebrities for the UFO Festival. Unfortunately he left 2 hours before we got to Roswell, oh well. Someone at church will have to ask him what I missed.

Anyway, we left Roswell on Monday (after touring the UFO Museum, of course) and headed up to Las Vegas, NM; another example of why you should always do research before going somewhere. Doc Holliday was said to have been in a noted gunfight there before following Wyatt Earp to Tombstone. The problem is, while Las Vegas, NM tries to promote its historical points in brochures, it does very little to actually preserve its historical sections of town.

So we moved on. We went to Chimayo which is a place that is known for its sacred dirt. There is a shrine run by Roman Catholic friars. The picture to the left is outside the church; no picture taking is allowed inside the chapel. In it is a room filled with children's shoes, crutches and walkers; all left there by people who were cured by the earth found in that region. Next to the chapel there is a well, of sorts, filled with the earth. From there we went to see the Anasazi cliff dwellings,
which were pretty amazing. Then, in conjunction with our Wild West theme, we stopped by the St. James Hotel. Now we are in Deadwood and had dinner at the #10 Saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed. It is not the original #10, that one burned down a couple of years after Hickok was killed, but they had this cheesy reenenactment of Bill's murder and it was all Saloon themed, it was fun.

This morning we leave to go to Devil's Tower, Mt. Rushmore and other monuments.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

My trip so far...

So I am finally out of Los Angeles. Right now I am in a Lutheran retreat center called Spirit in the Desert, in Carefree, AZ. It's a nice retreat center, it has a pool and the room is huge, very comfy.

So far we have been to see the sequoias, and we have been to Las Vegas. We drove to the sequoias in a Prius, which was fine but I am not used to driving that far. I will probably not be doing much of the driving on this trip. The sequoias were amazing. They are big of course, but what I found most fascinating was the fire scars that they all possessed. I didn't know that fire was so necessary in order for sequoias to grow and thrive. Fires clear out other trees so baby sequoias can get enough sunlight, and the ash is good for seedling growth. Even the smoke from a forest fire helps spread sequoia seeds. They are phoenix trees. I am amazed by the interconnectedness of things. And human beings, thinking we are doing the right thing for the forest, struggle to keep the fires from burning. Fire suppression really inhibited sequoia growth. After all, allowing forest fires to burn seems counter intuitive.

We are not all that different from sequoias, ya know. Danger and pain, we try to protect ourselves from them, but they are the very things that allow us to grow.

Anyway, we finally left L.A. for good on Wednesday, and we headed for Vegas. We originally were booked for two nights at a Days Inn, but when my mom saw just how pathetic and off the main strip it was, she cancelled our second night and moved us to The Luxor. The Luxor was pretty cool. The elevators go up and down on a diagonal which is really the oddest feeling in an elevator. In the evening we walked down the strip and were able to see the Bellagio fountain. My mother was so impressed that we stood there and watched three consecutive water displays.

We left late the next day with the intention of going to the Grand Canyon but we decided to skip it and head straight to the retreat house. We also decided to skip Tombstone. The long hours of driving is already getting to us.

Tomorrow we leave really early to go over to Roswell. I am excited, it looks like it will be a lot of silly fun. We will be there for two nights.