Knee-Jerk: A Few Wonderings

“Whether the photograph is understood as a naïve object or the work of an experienced artificer, its meaning–and the viewer’s response–depends on how the picture is identified or misidentified; that is, on words….But one day captions will be needed, of course. And the misreadings and the misrememberings, and the new ideological uses for the pictures, will make their difference.

“Central to modern expectations, and modern ethical feelings, is the conviction that war is an aberration, if an unstoppable one. That peace is the norm, if an unattainable one. This, of course, is not the way war has been regarded throughout history. War has been the norm and peace the exception.”

–Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

I have been working my way through this essay for the past year. I’ll pick it up at random and catch a paragraph or two, and if I’m lucky, these moments will coincide with the phases in my life when I’m angry at particular aspects of the world. War photography and photojournalism that captures human suffering: How do viewers react to/experience it? (How) Do their feelings change as this form of expression evolves? What effects does the photographer intend? In what ways do s/he and the audience share a conscience?

“God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.

“Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

–Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk

I wonder about God as a photographer, if what I see in the world requires anything of my conscience. I wonder whether captions are necessary, or if the experience itself provides sufficient commentary. I wonder how much of the experience I am in control of.

My Apologies to Dr. Hawking if My Doubts Were His Tipping Point

Open-mindedness. Tolerance. Acceptance. These are very important to me, and I’ve made a concerted effort in my life to exercise these concepts. Such assertions of late have caused doubts and questions to emerge that I haven’t considered about religion and church and God and spirituality. And my relationship to people who don’t believe the same things I was brought up to believe.

Life is a process. It’s learning and progressing and striving for happiness. And I’ve always taken this seriously.

I deeply appreciate and admire the great minds of our time and throughout history. I’ve lauded the reverence they seemed to have for higher powers or whatever they couldn’t understand. To me, they’ve always allowed room for God. Something. Something that encompasses infinity and eternity, speaking the language of numbers and natural laws, languages they’ve only taken the span of a lifetime to comprehend. Intrinsically, it has to take longer to grasp what infinity and eternity mean.

And then one of the great geniuses of our time up and says stuff in his upcoming book.

Now, he doesn’t deny God’s existence; he just says that the Creator didn’t create the universe.

And if anything should rub me the wrong way, it’s something like this.

Now, my mental capacity is nowhere near Dr. Hawking’s. I haven’t devoted my life to trying to calculate and compute and empiricize and theorize in order to understand.

But, I have prayed.

And God has told me.

So, I know.

Dr. Hawking’s claims were my tipping point. Spending the summer questioning and struggling and researching and trying to reason wasn’t making me happy.

Faith isn’t a rational device: There are no existing extrapolations for it.

I have to thank him, though, one of the greatest minds in history.

Instead of being an apologist for everyone else, he helped me turn into a defender of myself and my personal beliefs.

Things aren’t perfect yet, they’re not quite balanced, and it might take a while – even forever – but they’ll get there.

The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever

“It is a weakening and discoloring idea, that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time – or even knew selflessness or courage or literature – but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less.

“There is no less holiness at this time – as you are reading this – than there was the day the Red Sea departed, or that day in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as Ezekiel was a captive by the river Chebar, when the heavens opened and he saw visions of God. There is no whit less enlightenment under the tree by your street than there was under the Buddha’s bo tree. There is no whit less might in heaven or on earth than there was the day Jesus said “Maid, arise” to the centurion’s daughter, or the day Peter walked on water, or the night Mohammed flew to heaven on a horse. In any instant the sacred may wipe you with its finger. In any instant the bush may flare, your feet may arise, or you may see a bunch of souls in a tree. In any instant you may avail yourself of the power to love your enemies; to accept failure, slander, or the grief of loss; or to endure torture.

“Purity’s time is always now. Purity is no social phenomenon, a cultural thing whose time we have missed, whose generations are dead, so we can only buy Shaker furniture. ‘Each and every day the Divine Voice issues from Sinai,’ says the Talmud. Of eternal fulfillment, Tillich said, ‘If it is not seen in the present, it cannot be seen at all.’

“[Joel Goldsmith] says that God has nothing to give you that he is not giving you right now. That all people at all times may avail themselves of this God, and those who are aware of it know no fear, not even fear of death. ‘God’ is the awareness of the infinite in each of us.”

– Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

I cannot get over the way this woman writes and thinks.

The Week in General Review

This isn’t comprehensive, but rather a skeleton of what usually goes on during a typical week of my life.

Wake up, go to church
Have a mostly positive experience at church
Think about lunch during Sunday School
Catch up with people about the past week
Watch the children bounce around in the foyer while their parents and their parents’ friends are catching up
Come home, eat lunch
Take a nap
Write for a little bit
Talk with family
Chat with roommates
Prepare for Monday

Wake up
Coast on the spiritual high obtained from Sunday
Whistle and hum happy tunes at desk
Find focus
Write for a little bit
Prepare lessons
Stay up too late

Press snooze at least four times before waking up
Plan the workload for the day
Read something uplifting and/or inspiring
Run low on fuel from Sunday’s church meetings
Write for a little bit
Stay up too late anyway

Press snooze until 10 minutes before you’re supposed to leave before waking up
Plan the workload for the day
Fight to stay awake during the day
Let every little thing get on your nerves
Plan lessons
Think everything everyone says to you is a personal attack
Write for a little bit
Get yourself worked up so you stay up too late

Sleep through the alarm and rush out the door
Plan the workload for the day
Wonder why you’re the only one with any work around the office
Run on fumes from Sunday which was practically eons ago
Fight falling asleep (for more than a few minutes)
Swear once or twice, just whispering
Resist urge to punch people
Write for a little bit
Stay up too late

Be late for class and/or work
Plan workload for the day
Catch second wind because it’s Friday!
Wish everyone in the office “Happy Friday!”
Get blurry or blank out completely on what happened the past week
Whistle and hum happy tunes at desk
Skip out the door and nearly burst into tears leaving work building for being so happy for the weekend
Hang out with friends
Write for a little bit
Stay up too late

Sleep in
Take a long time getting out of bed
Be lazy
Write for a little bit
Run errands
Prepare for Sunday
Hang out with friends/Go to party
Stay up too late

Sometimes I’ll hang out with friends in the middle of the week, so it’s not always during the weekend, and some days I read and study non-seminary and churchy or academic and secular things, but as you can see, I eat every day. And I wake up every day. And so far, I write every day. But I also stay up late every day. So sometimes, that catches up with me and I have to take a day off. But I always get back on schedule. It’s been a pretty steady schedule. Reliable. There are so many things to do and learn about and people to believe in and be friends with.  And sometimes it all just doesn’t get done, and sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes. But when my charge doesn’t neatly fall into place like I imagine, I appreciate more how efficient and careful and lovingly thoughtful God was with his time when he created the earth. And us. Check out the first few chapters in Genesis to see how that particular week for him went. Seeing the word good so many times in that context brings much joy to my heart. Every time.