Unabridged (Dun Dun DUUUN!!!)

So, I don't know if the pink chair is solely responsible or if there are other factors at play, but I have been in writing MODE this past week. Holy cow. It's kind of intense. In addition to those two crazy nights of journalling last Wednesday and Thursday, I have now spent a pretty sizable portion of the weekend on various additional writing projects. Nothing creative in a fictional sense--mostly philosophical / academic / reflective stuff. A lot of things I've been thinking about and wanting to express to a larger audience than just, you know, me, myself, and I (although the three of us are pretty encouragingly responsive and engaged as audiences go, if at times somewhat overly argumentative). And you know me (you kind of can't help it, can you?)--I'll take any opportunity you make the mistake of giving me to share my thoughts about things, in writing or aloud.

And just such an opportunity has recently presented itself. Because, you see, I have recently had reason to acquire a livejournal account. Really just for the sake of having a username, but then of course once I had the thing, I couldn't just leave it hanging, postless, in cyberspace. Plus, I went to see the new Julie Taymor/Beatles music movie Across The Universe, and I wanted to consolidate my thoughts on it in written form. But it wasn't exactly the sort of thing I typically intrude upon this blog with. So I thought, "Well, I'll just stick it up on livejournal. Just for fun."

And I'm like a junkie when it comes to this sort of thing. One hit just wasn't enough. I kept going back for more. I've only been posting on the thing for a day and already I think you can pretty much piece together my life story from the stuff I've put up there. It's insane.

So, now comes the tricky part--what to do with the fact that I now have a blog AND a livejournal? Is this the end of an era? Should I close out my blog and move on to the livejournal? It isn't unprecedented. I switched from one blog to another when I came back from England. But this is not nearly so definitive a shift in circumstances as was that. Plus, I like my little blog. I've become kind of attached to it.

At the same time, there are certain things I am interested in exploring that for some strange reason involving the arbitrary, sourceless internal conception I hold about the purpose and structure of my blog I don't really feel able to do on here. Like, I've always admired blogs like Ciao Samin for their inclusion of random day-to-day observations and details. And I've often resolved to try out that method of blogging. But for some reason I just can't bring myself to do it. Some things just seem too trivial (in other words, too brief) for a blog, unless I save them up and post them all at once in some massive "here's what I've been up to lately" litany.

But (and once again, don't ask me to try to explain why) for some reason I feel totally comfortable posting those things on a livejournal. It's crazy, I know. But that's the way it is.

So, anyway, I've decided I'm going to keep both. But worry not--this doesn't mean you now need to visit two separate sites every time you want an update on my life and thoughts. If I do things properly, then depending on what you are looking for in terms of your desire to keep tabs on my doings, you will be able to select which of the two locations it makes more sense for you to visit.

If you want to know everything, absolutely everything, that I have the time and inclination to explore in some forum more public than my own spiral-bound notebooks, then visit my livejournal. You can find it at http://shethinks-aloud.livejournal.com (or, click on the link to it in the sidebar under "My Other Blogs"). I'm calling it "She Thinks Aloud, Unabridged," and I'm warning you now, that's precisely what it's going to be.

A lot of the things on there will be the (hopefully relatively) brief, random notes and observations of the type I so admire out of Samin. But there will also continue to be the lengthier, more involved, philosophical and expositional types of posts characteristic of this blog (for instance, see my post from a little earlier today directly below this one: "On The Road: A New Section"). But here is what, for your benefit and convenience, I am going to do with those types of posts--not only will I put them up on my livejournal; I will also copy and paste them over here.

So, if you want to keep reading posts at the level and frequency to which you have become accustomed here on the blog, just keep coming here, and your experience should remain unchanged by my adoption of an additional livejournal. If, on the other hand, you have recently been craving exposure to even more of my thoughts, reflections, observations, opinions, and experiences, switch over to visiting my livejournal, and you won't miss out on anything if you never return to this blog again. (Except, I suppose, the lovely layout and color scheme. Which you have my permission to periodically revisit for purely aesthetic reasons, if you so desire.)

So, that's the update. Click here to pop over to my livejournal for a little peek, to see what exactly on earth I am babbling about.

On The Road: A New Section

I just got back from church a couple of hours ago, and I want to gush a little bit about this one particular aspect of the almost countless circumstances that have me so incredibly content with where I am and what I am doing with my life at this moment. I have, throughout my life, been more blessed than it seems possible to have been by a consistent presence of amazing communities of faith which have welcomed me openly into their midst and provided me with a comfortable yet challenging place from which to explore what it means to believe in God. Somehow I have managed to encounter them pretty much everywhere I have lived, and it has made an enormous difference in my spiritual growth and general life experience.

Back in high school it was the B.R.I.D.E.S. (Bible Reading In Da Evening Sistahs)--the covenant group of amazing women (which started out with our two fabulous leaders and four freshmen girls, and by our senior year had grown to a group of thirteen passionate seekers of truth) which met a couple of hours each week in the Brides Room at my childhood church. Then in college I found Tacoma College Ministry, a fellowship group which provided a number of my most meaningful friendships, along with Trinity Presbyterian Church, a place of remarkable and inspiring sincerity, openness, and faith. I studied abroad in England for a semester and was immediately welcomed into the Meeting House group, a circle of deep, thoughtful, and loving askers of questions led by the marvelous chaplain Gavin Ashenden. I moved to Seattle and found Bethany Pres and the College Age Fellowship, and made many more dear friends, lasting connections, and spiritual developments. And now here I am in Princeton, and I think I have found yet another church body of which I am excited to become a member.

It's called Westerly Road, and it's a half-hour walk through some lovely tree-lined streets from my house to the church. I first attended about a month ago, in the company of Jessica Lee, my friend from Bethany back in Seattle who is now also here in Princeton studying at the seminary, and who, like me, was in the process of searching for a new church to call home now that sh'e'll be living out here for a while. During my first visit, I was struck by the friendliness and authenticity of the people leading the service. And I found the sermon engaging and thought-provoking.

At the time I was wrestling (and actually, I still am) with the proper balance between focus on God's saving grace and our acts of faith/obedience/repentance, particularly with respect to the question of salvation. A while back I read Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel, which is a really incredible book, and whose central message, at least as I understood it, totally blew me away. It had to do with the idea that we are truly saved solely by the grace of God, and that nothing we can do--not even failing to "accept" it properly, whatever that means--can prevent us from experiencing that grace. I don't know for sure that that's what he was trying to say, and I know a lot of Christians who will virulently object to that idea. I don't know whether I myself believe it's true or not. But it was such a radical rethinking of the way I had ever approached grace and salvation, and Manning made one specific point with respect to this line of thought, which was: "That would truly be a gospel."

And he's right. I mean, really, what if it were true that we didn't have to worry, not only about making sure never to sin in our lives, which seems to be quite impossible, but also about whether or not we have prayed the right prayer or repented in the right way or believed in God or accepted Jesus as our Saviour at the right level in our psyche? Because, as relatively lenient as these requirements may seem in comparison to the type of total perfection in thought and action Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount when he talks about lusting being adultery and name-calling being murder, they are also disconcertingly subjective and undefined. I mean, what does it mean, precisely, to "accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour"? I have never been entirely certain. And if you don't know what it means or looks like to have done so, but you believe that that is required in order to avoid hell or death or some other terrifying fate, then you will live in a constant state of fear that you have not met the obscure requirements. I think it is this fear and uncertainty that causes so many Christians to behave in ways that are tragically damaging, desperate, and devoid of love for their fellow human beings.So, anyway, I am compelled by an idea that offers peace and comfort and hope rather than terror and desperation and aggression, and interested in exploring it more. And the more I think about it, the more I realize how many sermons in my life I have come away from with all sorts of ideas about new ways I can try to make sure I am doing what I need to be doing in order to be saved, and how few (if any!) I have come away from with the reassuring reminder that God has so loved me that He has already provided for my salvation, and that nothing I do can get in the way of that. So if that really is the gospel of Jesus, well, nobody seems to be talking about it, at least not in my hearing.

I was in a place of being very conscious of this idea when I first attended Westerly Road, and so as the pastor spoke I was actively examining the things he said to determine whether, ultimately, he seemed to believe that salvation comes through God's grace or our response to it. And I felt like there was, at least, an addressing of the tension between the two ideas, which I appreciated.

I've been back two times since then, and each time I have felt that the sermon was thoughtful and meaningful and pertinent, and focused on the aspects of faith I have come to believe are truly important, rather than superficial if not completely counter-productive or even ungodly injunctions towards condemnation and exclusion in response to certain arbitrary moral/behavioral precepts. A couple of weeks ago they started a series on the Ten Commandments, and the perspective the pastor is taking is that these ten commandments are simply an expansion of the two great commandments Jesus discusses in Matthew 22: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Which is a perspective I embrace, and it's been interesting to hear how he makes these links.

Today we looked at the second commandment, which is "You shall not make yourselves an idol in the form of anything on heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them and worship them." The first thing the pastor did was talk about how this commandment differs from the first, which is "You shall have no other gods before me." I always did have trouble seeing the distinction between the two, and wondered why they were considered two separate commandments. But he pointed out that the second commandment doesn't just say not to make idols representing other gods. It also advises us not to make idols of the Lord Himself. We should not try to represent Him or understand Him through some human-made constructions, because inevitably we will distort His nature or leave out some essential aspect of His being.

Then we looked at Colossians 1:15, which says "[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." And the pastor pointed out that the Greek word here translated as "image" (oh, yes, he referred to the original Greek--which earns major points in my theological book) is actually the word from which we get the term "icon." So, basically, we're not supposed to make images of God, but He understands that we have a lot of trouble getting an idea of something we can't look at or hear or touch, and so He made us a representation that fully enfleshed Himself. The sermon went on to discuss ways that we turn Jesus into a manmade icon by failing to take into account all aspects of who he was and what he did, picking and choosing from among them instead. Which was a very interesting and thought-provoking perspective.

I don't agree with everything that is said in the sermons, but that's actually something I appreciate about them. They're not filled with meaningless platitudes that everyone would agree with. They are making definitive claims about what is true and what our response to that truth should be. And I am engaged and able to examine what is being said and determine when I agree and when I don't, and why. What's even more exciting, is that today the pastor actually invited the congregation to a Q&A session after the service! This is something I have always wished to see incorporated into a church service. (I tend to be pretty conscious about what aspects various churches do and don't include in their services, and how they approach them. It often says a lot more than you might suspect about the church's underlying beliefs. This is something I'll probably pontificate on at greater length in a future post...) Anyway, today it was just me, the pastor, and one other member of the congregation at the Q&A session, but I got to ask something that I had been wondering about during the sermon, and the pastor had some really interesting things to say in response and additional background to provide, which was great. And mostly I just find it encouraging that this church is one that believes the opportunity to come together and discuss and ask questions about a sermon is important to offer.

Another fun aspect (although this is a slightly less vital one as far as my opinion about a church is concerned) is that the past two Sundays I have been there, the pastor has thrown a mini vocabulary lesson into the middle of his talk. :-) Last time he explained that the individual segments of aggregate fruits like raspberries and strawberries are called drupelets (he was comparing the Ten Commandments to an aggregate fruit, saying that they are so interconnected to one another that you can't pluck one apart separately from the others like a grape off a bunch, and decide to uphold it while discarding the others. Rather, the individual commandments are like drupelets, and if you try to pluck one you will, as he put it, "end up making a mess of all of them. And yourself.") And then today, he explained that the word "toady" (which means sycophant or flatterer) comes from the days of medicinal charlatans who would have a person eat a toad (which were believed to be poisonous) and then "cure" them in order to prove their legitimacy.

The point is, the sermons I have thus far experienced at Westerly Road have hit me in ways that were intriguing and inspiring and somewhat unprecedented in my church-going experience. They have also held my attention from wandering more reliably than have most sermons in my past. Although I suspect this is largely a result of the ways I have, over the years, grown in understanding and spiritual maturity, and become closer to God and more attuned to hearing Him speak and less distracted by other things that are going on in my life, rather than being in any way a critique of the pastors who delivered those past sermons, many of whom were incredibly wise people I deeply admire.

Bottom line: I am really happy to have found this place, and I am looking forward to the ways God will continue to guide me into a deeper and fuller understanding of Himself and my place in creation through my involvement with the church and its members.


Why Am I Still Awake?

So, I just got home from an evening of bartending the McCarter after-hours party in honor of Stick Fly. It was fun times--great music, friendly people, incredible creme brulee. We kept quite busy all night, and made a pretty penny in tips. And I should probably be going to sleep now, but I wanted to throw up a quick blog post before I do (and everyone who knows me at all just smiled knowingly and rolled their eyes at my use of the word "quick." I saw that...) I'm kind of simultaneously completely braindead and unable to go to bed quite yet, both phenomena resulting from the fact that I have stayed up until 5:30 in the morning the past two nights in a row.

Why on earth have I done such a thing, you might wonder, especially when each time I had to be up by 9:00 the next morning to make it to work? Well, it's actually largely the fault of a chair, believe it or not. See, last weekend I got this new chair to put in the corner of my room by the window. It's this really cozy pod chair that allows you to curl up in all sorts of excellent ways and is just perfect for reading and journalling and such. Which is precisely the problem. Because I've got a bunch of stuff I'm working on processing at the moment, and there's this chair just begging for a nice solid journalling session. So I get settled in and start writing and I just DO. NOT. STOP. In the past two days combined I have written nearly 50 pages worth of thoughts/ reflections/ questions/ ideas/ constructions/ recountings. And I still have more to say. (So if you think this blog is subject to some abusive prolixity, just be glad I have a journal in which to screen through the fifty pages worth of stuff I have actually been thinking about since my last entry, you know?)

Anyway, it's all good stuff, so worry not (Dad). Just trying to do things like record recent experiences that I don't want to lose, and figure out my feelings and expectations about things, and assess what makes me happy and what I want out of life. Last night I went to this lecture on campus by Daniel Gilbert, who's a Harvard psych professor who wrote Stumbling On Happiness, which you should read because it's fascinating and mind-blowing and makes you rethink how you think about things. And it's all about how we try to predict what will make us happy in the future, but we employ all these fallacies in doing so, and actually end up being pretty inaccurate--that is, the things we think will make us happiest frequently don't, and the things we think will make us unhappy often aren't nearly so bad as we predict them to be. And Daniel Gilbert is a big proponent of rational self-examination and awareness of these fallacies in order to circumvent or override them.

It was an interesting lecture, and perhaps an even more interesting post-talk question and answer session. Turns out Gilbert is unconvinced by the claims of books like The Secret and Blink. He is also way more socially/globally concerned than you would expect of someone whose research is focused on how to make yourself personally as happy as possible. He basically ended his lecture by saying, "Our brains were adapted over tens if not hundreds of thousands of years to survive in the Pleistocene. But now circumstances have changed far more quickly than biological development/selection is able to keep pace with. As a result, if we follow the intuitive paths our brains urge on us, we will eventually destroy ourselves through things like hunger, homelessness, obesity, and war." Thinking more rationally about the future, he seems to believe, is the only way to avoid total calamity. Which is fascinating.

Okay, I no longer possess the presence of mind to figure out a way to tie all these random observations together into some sort of mildly cohesive blog post theme or through-line. So I'll leave that to you, and simply bid you goodnight. When I wake up tomorrow, it'll be time to delve into the exciting world of grad school research. Which actually I'm quite looking forward to. I should also probably open a bank account. And now this blog post is becoming a to-do list, which means it really is time for me to take temporary leave of consciousness. More later...