Life and Times Chapter 33

My birthday was on the 4th, so I am a few days late with my annual reflection post. But today marks the end of Spring Break, and I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last week that I was not able to do on my birthday.

The biggest change I have to report is that school is taking up more and more of my time. For my first two semesters I only took six credit hours each. I’m now halfway through my third semester back at school, and I am taking nine credit hours. This has kept me incredibly busy. And in the fall semester, I’m thinking about biting the bullet and becoming a full time student.

What strikes me as odd for this semester is that in some ways I feel it has been a waste of time and in others, it has opened up a new, exciting path. Starting with the negative, I was really excited about taking Introduction to Graphic Novels. And while I have learned some pretty neat things in the class, I feel like taking it wasn’t the best use of my time and money. This is the first semester the class has been offered as a semester-long class (previously it had been an intercession course). The teacher admitted that she is still in the process of designing the class. I think it shows. I think the problem is that the class could easily be a writing class or a literature class (in that it explores the history and influences of graphic narrative). But right now, it tries to be both. I’m not sure that a single class can handle both. One major problem with the class, a problem that is beyond the teacher’s power to resolve, is that there is no good anthology on the history of comics. (At least, not the way literature classes have them. The Norton Anthologies are fairly comprehensive, but no such anthology exists for comics.) It’s an odd thought that comic scholarship is still fairly new and, as a result, there are no comprehensive texts available for the teaching of comics as literature or comic history. Most of the texts seem to focus on how to write comics. I’m more interested in the former than the latter.

Now to the more positive part of the semester: I have decided to double major. I went back to school to get a degree in Professional Writing. Now I’m adding a Religious Studies degree to this. On a whim I decided to take Introduction to the History and Literature of the New Testament, and I have loved it. Historical and literary criticism is a lot of fun, and my teacher says I have a knack for it. (All those literature classes have paid off!) While some Christian students tend to struggle with historical criticism, I have actually found it to be quite freeing to my faith. The more I have learned about church history, the more I have seen that the American evangelical lens is just one way of interpreting scripture, and it is a way of interpretation that I have occasionally questioned. Historical criticism has helped me to identify cultural biases and re-evaluate some texts, which has actually given me a greater appreciation for what the Bible is and what the writers were trying to say.

Pursuing two degrees is going to be difficult. The Professional Writing program is a well-run, comprehensive, work-intensive program. The program was designed to focus not just on theory, but on practical aspects. Last semester I took Scientific and Technical Editing. We used Carolyn Rude’s Technical Editing book. The class was not designed to just read the book, discuss the theories, and do a few exercises. Instead, we read the book, discussed the theories, did the exercises, and went out into the community to find a client who would let us edit a fifteen page document. We learned about the Levels of Edit approach to editing and took our document through a total of six different edits. It was a busy class. It was often stressful. But at the end of the course, I had a professional portfolio that it would take some people months of on-the-job experience to develop. I had it after a few weeks after taking a class. More than any other class I have taken in college (and I have taken quite a few writing classes for my Creative Writing minor), Scientific and Technical Editing increased my ability to write and communicate ideas. When I graduate, it may be the one of the most important classes I have taken.

The Religious Studies classes will be difficult as well. I was talking with the graduate assistant in my New Testament class, and he said that the Religious Studies department has a reputation of being writing-intensive and occasionally difficult. But this is because they take the concept of creating scholars very seriously. Prior to this class, I had never taken an essay test that required me to cite sources from memory. It was difficult, but I did quite well. More to the point, I enjoyed the challenge and the subject sustained my interest throughout.

So, again, life looks to be busy in the future. This is a good thing because busy-ness keeps me from becoming discontent. But it is a sad thing because it means I must refocus my attention a bit. In writing essays, one of the best pieces of advice is to narrow your focus. If you try to say too much, if you pick a topic that is too broad, the subject becomes unmanageable. If you try to put too many ideas into a sentence, you end up with an incomprehensible run-on. Instead, it is better to break things up. It is better to refine your focus, that way you can do one or two things really well. I’ve learned to appreciate this advice in my writing. I had never really applied this idea to my life. We live in a media-saturated age. There are so many things we can do, so much potential in every moment. Often I feel paralyzed by all the options at my disposal. I have great swaths of procrastination and boredom because there are so many things that I want to do, but my brain cannot focus on all of them at once. I overload. I shut down.

For Lent I gave up Facebook. I shut down the account and walked away. I thought that having a Facebook-free life would give me more time. It didn’t. Either I didn’t use Facebook as much as I thought I did, or I found something to replace the habit. The point is that I must further reduce the demands on my attention. Already I have made the decision to put off doing a comprehensive review of The X-Files until after I finish my Doctor Who blog. Similarly, I am letting go of my hopes of watching all the episodes of Doctor Who before the 50th anniversary special (which is sometime in November). I’m going to take my time on this project and try to do good work. But it also means, much to the disappointment of a couple of friends, that I will be giving up my King Reads King blog. The goal had been to read through and review all of Stephen King’s novels. This is too big a project to accomplish in the midst of going back to school. It conflicts directly with my Doctor Who blog, and the Doctor Who blog has seniority. And frankly, I’m not sure my heart is still in King Reads King. I’m about 100 pages into The Stand, and I think it is well-written, compelling, and interesting. But I never want to pick it up and read it. I am going to commit myself to finishing it, but King Reads King is ending. And if I feel tempted to start another blog before I have finished with Doctor Who, I’m going to take the advice of McGruff and “Just say no.” (Okay, technically McGruff said, “Take a bite out of crime.” But he was part of drug resistance education and “Just say no” was a slogan of the war on drugs, so I’m throwing them into the same anti-drug pot for convenience. It’s artistic license.)

So these are the big things. As for smaller things that have happened this year:

  • I’m growing more apathetic toward DC’s New 52. At first I was so excited, but as time has progressed I have felt only Dial H and Batman, Incorporated are consistently good. Scott Snyder’s Batman has had moments of brilliance, but the whole “Death of the Family” arc seemed overdone and pointless. The Owls story was great, however. I’m hoping “Death of the Family” was just a low point.
  • I have become obsessed with tabletop role playing games. I’ve been ravenously consuming Role Playing Public Radio’s podcast and actual plays. Gaming is something that I would like to do on a semi-regular basis, but I have had difficulty putting together a gaming group. I would like some guarantee of this being a practical hobby before I start dropping the amount of cash that gaming requires. I am starting to wonder if I will have to hang out at game stores and meet new people if I want to have a regular game group. The introvert in me shudders.
  • I am still working through the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m over two-thirds through his non-collaborative work. I have become a total fan of Lovecraft, but his writings touch on something I have only recently realized I have loved all my life: supernatural investigation. Accordingly, I have also started to re-watch The X-Files, but for fun, not for writing purposes (as per what I said earlier in this post).
  • This year I conquered my fear of climbing up the ladder and getting on the roof. It sounds silly, I know. The thing is, I have an eight-foot ladder and the lowest part of the roof is about nine or nine-and-a-half feet. I take written instructions very seriously, and the stickers on the ladder clearly say to not stand on the top rung. Also, I weigh more than I should, which makes the distribution of weight on the ladder a bit dangerous. But I’ve been on the roof twice now, once to clean the chimney and once to unsuccessfully fix a leak. Climbing down from the roof to the ladder is the scary part.

To wrap up, it has been a busy year. It looks to be busy still. But the bottom line is that I’m narrowing my focus this year. Hopefully this will enable me to better cope with the commitments in my life and decrease the amount of stress, overload, and procrastination I have struggled with recently.


Adventures in Leaving Facebook

Last night I closed my Facebook account. I had only been a user for five or so years, but Facebook had become such a part of my life that closing it caused me an irritating amount of sorrow. And make no mistake, Facebook wants you to feel this way. The site is designed in such a way as to make you feel guilty for leaving. After clicking on Deactive Account, Facebook brings up random pictures of your friends and informs you that “___ will miss you, ___ will miss you.” This is a cheap psychological trick, and it reinforced my decision. I was leaving Facebook because it was taking up too much of my life, both in time and in emotion. The joys of occasionally talking to a friend were far outweighed by the constant disappointment I experienced from political memes and casual discouraging words. I stayed on Facebook, I told myself, because it allowed me to keep in touch with friends who lived in other parts of the country. But many of those friends I actually see in person more than I talk to on Facebook.

So I disconnected. I’m still on the internet. I have this blog. And this one. I am on Twitter (occasionally) and on Good Reads. But I am making more of an effort to update this blog, so it will serve as a more complete view of my life rather than the occasional witty status update. This site will, in theory, be a better indication of who I am.

The Narrative of Gun Control

“. . . an idea can still change the world.”

—Evey, V for Vendetta

The United States was formed as a shining beacon of the Enlightenment. It was formed on the principle that reason could be used to run a nation. Each group would have its voice and no one group would have total dominion over another. The only flaw with this goal is that reason is influenced by perception. Sure, during the Enlightenment it was believed that people would come to their beliefs by using logic and reason, setting aside perception for higher thinking. But we no longer live in the Enlightenment. We live in a post-modern world (or by some accounts, a post-post-modern world). And while we still prize reason and logic, we are swayed far more often by narrative.

Narrative tells us who we are. It tells us what to value and who to trust. It will sometimes offer statistics or studies, but we often come to the narrative first then find evidence to support it. And why not, since it is easier to know what to look for once we have decided on how to perceive.

After grieving over the divisiveness in our nation, a divisiveness that seems to prevent people from talking to one another about politics, after watching a horrible election and living through a year with multiple mass shootings, I have come to the conclusion that we do not argue facts; we argue narratives. The Right has a narrative of individual freedom and fiscal conservatism, of protecting the interests of the wealthy so that jobs will trickle down to the middle and lower class, of self-empowerment through drive, ambition, and motivation. The Left has a narrative of social justice, of looking out for the interests of the downtrodden, of ensuring equality for all groups. That is, ultimately, what political issues are: narratives expressing group ideals.

And after watching arguments on Facebook and reading articles online in the wake of the election and the Newtown shooting, it seems that we use narratives to rally our personal beliefs and reason to try to convince others. But the problem is that reason, in the face of narrative, will often lose. It doesn’t matter how many statistics are cited about mass shootings, the narrative of fear and protection is stronger. The narrative of gun control is that we need guns to protect ourselves from rampant crime. We need guns to protect ourselves in case the government attempts to oppress us. We need guns because the Founding Fathers say we can have them. We need guns because armed citizens can stop mass shootings. It doesn’t matter that serious doubt can be thrown on each and every one of these beliefs. As long as people believe the narrative, statistics and studies probably will not work. The narrative is more powerful because it humanizes the issue. It frames the argument in terms of our family, our friends, our children, not in the terms of numbers or percentages. In my editing classes, we were taught to always talk about people, not about things. Readers like reading about people, and narratives specialize in people.

As tragic as it is, a school shooting makes a compelling narrative. Our media will cover the event for days. But what our media does is attempt to portray the event in as objective way as possible. Then pundits come in to weave a narrative around the event. Faces of victims become what we could protect with a gun. Faces of victims become who we could save by stronger gun control. The same event is interpreted in two different ways depending on the narrative of the pundit, depending on the narrative of the viewer. And after a few days of vicious, heated arguments, we end up back where we started: two sides mad at each other, convinced the other side is wrong, and no change.

Stricter gun control would probably make a difference. (What real purpose does an assault rifle play in civilian hands?) But it is an incomplete solution. In order to institute real change, we have to create a better narrative. If we believe everyone is only one bullet away from being a victim; if we believe we are only one gun away from the government oppressing us; if we believe that an armed citizenry will stamp out crime; if we believe that the only way to feel control over our lives is to have a gun; then nothing will change.

Ultimately, we need to decide what narrative we really want to tell: one of fear or one of hope. Are mass shootings just the consequence of the status quo, or are we willing to ask the truly hard questions about guns, violence, and the American culture? What kind of narrative do we want to tell?

Blast! Fundraising Appeal

Blast logoMy in-laws run a wilderness camp called Discovery Ministries. It is a ministry that helps people overcome personal challenges and conflict. Being a ministry, it obviously focuses on placing trust in God while pushing people out of their comfort zones. They lead challenge trips, which involve hiking in the wilderness for day to a couple of weeks; facilitate group discussions and interpersonal conflict sessions; and offer retreat and camping facilities. At the core of their philosophy is the use of experiential education to bring about personal growth—mentally, physically, and spiritually.

I value their work. The United States is a country that has begun to lose its connection to the natural world. We are lost without our televisions or smartphones. We have difficulty relating with one another despite greater technological connectivity. And I feel that the church in the United States desperately needs growth—mentally, physically, and spiritually. I worked in a Christian book store and encountered many people who couldn’t deal with conflict. Many of the Christians I have encountered are passive aggressive—we kill with insincere kindness. We have also made our faith into one of head knowledge, often bypassing the heart (except when singing worship songs or reading Christian literature or feeling good about how much God loves us), especially when it comes to relating to people who do not share our beliefs. We like to box ourselves in a safe Christian bubble that constantly reaffirms our beliefs and (more importantly) our feelings. We have often ignored the practical aspects of Christ’s teaching: forgiving others, loving others, caring for others, and having mercy on others. We tend to proclaim what we think is best for the world, always within the safety our Christian bubble.

This is why I value the work of Discovery Ministries: they encourage Christians (and those who are not Christians) to deal with the difficulties of life by taking them out of their comfort zone. They provide an environment that fosters encouragement, growth, challenge, and forces people to actually relate to one another.

Next month I will be participating in a 24 hour hike-a-thon for Discovery Ministries. They rely on donations to pay salaries and maintain the facilities around the camp. They recently built a new office area. It is usable, but they do not have the money to finish it.

I’ve set up a fundraising page on Indiegogo. I’m hoping to raise $500 for the ministry. My hiking goal is 20 miles. I have a few incentives that I am offering, specifically writings that I have done. I would appreciate it if you check out the campaign and consider donating as much as you feel you can.


Dusting off the digital cobwebs

The semester has been over for about a month now. I have no ideas what I’m supposed to be doing.

It is odd that bouncing from work to school to family and trying to find times to clean house or relax became a regular state of being. Sure, I broke down a few times, but I kept moving because I could see some type of progress. I felt more alive than I had in years. I want to find better ways of balancing all these demands on my attention and time. But as of this summer, I’m lost.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t have things to do. I just find my heart isn’t in many of them. I feel much of my time is spent in meaningless or mundane activities, whether blogging, reading, or going to work. I’m trying to find something that engages my heart, that makes me excited. These things are few and far between right now.

An Account of What The Future May Hold (For Me, Anyway)

In the Autumn of 1998 I began my freshman year at Southwest Missouri State University (now and henceforth known as Missouri State).  I attended with the intention to pursue a degree in creative writing.  And yet, it never occurred to me that I didn’t need to go to college, at least not directly after high school.

I used to do this more.

I continued my college career until 2002, where I just stopped going, a few credit hours short of graduation.  In truth, I never had a great heart for college, and what interest I had was diminished by the end of my junior year.  Sure, I enjoyed some of the experiences and made some good friends but I never put much effort into my education.  I was perceptive and intelligent enough to be able to retain enough information from lectures to get by with a C average.  But I hardly cracked a book and almost never studied past my freshman year.  I was in love with the romantic notion of learning but not the concept of hard work.  Thus, when all reserves were burned out, I quit.  I never made the active decision to quit, I just stopped registering for class.  I regretted not finishing what I started, but I never regretted not getting a degree.

It has been nine and a half years since attending classes, and I am re-applying for Missouri State.  In these nine years, I have received something I desperately needed.  I experience life unsheltered by parents and the artifice of college.  I needed to see how difficult life could be.  In my post-college years I went from one food service job to another, even being unemployed for various periods.

These years have given me something else I needed, which was time to think.  I have come to a conclusion about my life up to this point.  It has been marked by reaction rather than action.  Stephen Covey, in his wildly popular Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, pays tribute to the concept of being proactive.  By this, he means we must recognize the ability we have to choose our actions.  We must choose to act, not to react.  My entire life has been somewhat passive.  I respond as things occur.  I have rarely pursued anything.  So, when I graduated from high school, I merely did what my parents and society expected of me.  I went to college.  I pursued the degree I figured I would always pursue: creative writing.  I never chose these things, and I never had any passion for either.

After spending my time in various dead-ends, spiritually, emotionally, and even career-wise, I have decided to really put some thought and effort into living.  Reacting isn’t living.  My circumstances probably won’t change if I just react.  I may have a wife that I love and I may have a job in a time when many people find themselves unemployed, but on a deeper level, I haven’t been happy for a long time.  Life will never change if I continue to react to my circumstances.  No, I don’t have any guarantee of success.  I may continue to be at the same income level for the next decade.  I may even be rejected in my application.  But if I don’t try, I guarantee the status quo.

Saturday night I submitted my application for re-admission to Missouri State University.  I will be changing my major from a bachelor of arts in Creative Writing to a bachelor of science in Professional Writing.  I have become more interested in the technical aspects of writing, particularly communicating ideas.  Professional and Technical Writing are more marketable than Creative Writing.  And truth be told, I don’t need a degree in Creative Writing to write a novel.  I just need talent, which I have.  It is discipline that I need, and I have been slowly learning that over the past year by consistently writing both here and on The Edwardian Adventurer.  In addition to marketability, technical writing classes will help me with a book collaboration that I am currently in.

I hope to find out how the application goes in the next few weeks.  I’m eyeing courses and plotting a tentative schedule to balance school, work, and writing.  The future looks busy.

But it also looks bright.

The Search for A New Favorite Band Part 1 – Radiohead

Pablo Honey

In many ways, “You” is a good opening track.  Good, not necessarily great.  However, amid the distorted chords, feedback, and driving beat, there is something compelling.  Radiohead starts at the same point most bands of the mid 1990s start, but they tweaked late-Grunge with their own perspective.  From the early notes played high on the guitar neck (something that will be revisited to great effect on “Paranoid Android” much later), this band signals that they want to be different, even if they haven’t quite figured out how.

Following “You” is the insanely popular “Creep”, the song that nearly killed the band, the song that made Radiohead popular, made them stand out, but nearly relegated them to the status of one-hit wonder.  And while it still works as an angst-ridden anthem, it is hard to believe that the same band that recently released the song “Lotus Flower” wrote this song that embodies insecurity.  This is what is so intriguing about Pablo Honey now that made it so mundane back then.  In the 90s, it was just another throwaway album, sure, there was potential, but there were few indications on the album that this potential would be met.  (“How Do You”?  “Ripcord”?  “Prove Yourself”?  Hardly impressive.)  Pablo Honey stands out from the Radiohead discography as the lyrics betray a humanity and emotional introspection that is markedly different from later albums.  This is a band that hasn’t yet begun crafting songs about losing identity in a dark urban landscape.  Thom Yorke hasn’t yet felt the isolation of modern technology or the disillusionment of corporate climates.  At this point in his career, he was a young man who wanted to know how to tell a woman he loved her.  He was a man who still wore sunglasses in public because he was uncomfortable with his eyes.

But also of note, this isn’t a band that has any sort of creative control over their records.  They have yet to prove themselves.

Not yet the hipster icons they were destined to become.

This album reminds me of college.  I first discovered Radiohead during my freshman year with Ok Computer and began acquiring their back catalogue.  The euphoria of “You” and “Creep” soon turned to apathy as I made my way through one forgettable song after another.  “Thinking About You” and “Anyone Can Play Guitar” help keep the tapestry from completely falling to the floor, but it isn’t cohesive and it is almost inevitable that the skip button will be pressed time and again.  With a bit of trimming, perhaps Pablo Honey would make a decent EP.  Listening to the album reminds me of sitting in the dark and feeling sorry for myself, which is probably how some of the songs were written.  The album makes me think of friends and acquaintances, relationships that were once stronger than they are now.  It reminds me of a time when the most difficult thing I faced was going to class and getting up the nerve to ask girls out.  And looking back on my younger self, I think I project my irritation at youthful folly onto the album.  Insecurity and melodramatic angst seemed to be a big part of who I once was, and while I still have much to learn about life, I don’t really like who I was when I overplayed this album.  I almost suspect the emotional lyrics exacerbated unwarranted self-pity.  Perhaps this isn’t fair to Pablo Honey, but music is tied to emotion, and that connection is hard to break. So while I may smirk from time to time when I hear Thom belt out “if the world does turns/and if London burns/I’ll be standing on the beach with my guitar”, I don’t think I’ll ever miss this album or care to listen to it again.

In the search for a new favorite band, Pablo Honey isn’t doing Radiohead any favors.

Okay, “Blow Out” is still pretty good.

The Search for a New Band

February of this year marked the official break-up of The White Stripes.  For nearly a decade, The White Stripes could be considered my favorite band that was still together and producing new music.  What drew me to them?  First of all, they were quirky.  From the contradictory stories about their relationship (Are they brother and sister?  Husband and wife?  Ex-spouses?) to Jack White’s enigmatic personality, there was a quirkiness behind the band that didn’t betray a hint of insincerity.  Jack White doesn’t, to my analysis, presume to be someone else for the sake of image.  He is who he is, and that is refreshing in the world of music where so much of image is fake and insincere to market to a specific demographic.  But obviously the music is more important than the image.  The music of The White Stripes didn’t stay in one particular style, morphing between blues, country, hard rock, punk, folk, and occasionally Celtic.  There was never any doubt about the identity of the band, they made each song, regardless of style, their own, but there was a range that never became mundane.  The band was never static.  And it was quite obvious that they were always having fun.

It is somewhat tragic to me that The White Stripes went out on a live album.  The announcement was quite sudden and it felt as if there wasn’t the opportunity to give a proper send-off.  Or perhaps I am just irritated that I will never be able to see them live.  Regardless, they are a band that will probably not be doing many more releases (beyond, perhaps, live shows, unreleased demos, singles and b-sides compilations, etc).  Since they are no longer touring or recording, this means I no longer get to look forward to a new album.  Which means, quite simply, I need a new favorite, current band.

What are my qualifications for a new band?  First of all, they must still be recording and releasing music.  Sure, I’m as excited about the upcoming Pink Floyd Immersion albums as the next guy, but these would hardly count as new material.  I want a band that is still looking and moving forward rather than looking to release the ultimate experience of their back catalogue (which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily).  Second, their material must be fairly accessible and affordable, preference being on bands currently on Spotify.  I don’t have a lot of disposable income at the moment, so I’m not that interested in importing music from other countries.  Spotify is great because I can sample a large amount of music for free before making my final decision.  Sure, I’d love to be able to just pick out a bunch of CDs from my local music store or mp3s from Amazon, but money is tight and I have other projects that rank somewhat higher on the list of priorities.  Other than these two qualifications, I’m open to just about anything.  Make some suggestions and I’ll check things out.  I’m in no particular hurry to find a new band, so hopefully I’ll be able to give a lot of bands and albums a fair shake.

Now, I won’t be going in to this cold.  I have a few bands that I’m going to give serious consideration to.  Here are the groups that are currently under consideration (in no particular order):

The Decemberists
Mumford & Sons

Over the next few weeks, I hope to go a bit more in-depth over why I’ve chosen these four as contenders, some of which (Radiohead in particular) I have more history with than others.  Ultimately, the goal of this project is to have fun and find some new music.  Again, feel free to make recommendations and share opinions along the way.


A Reminder of My Own Insignificance

While driving through the Kroger parking lot in Mansfield, OH, I couldn’t help but be amazed that there are elderly people here as well.

Yes, this seems a silly thought, but let me completely unpack what I mean by this. To me, when I see the elderly people in Mansfield, it makes me realize that there are more people than I will ever come into contact with. This couple, walking to the car with their groceries, have lived a long life, the details of which I may never know. They fell in love and were married. They lived lives of joy or sorrow. They could be happy or they could be bitter. They may have many grandchildren or they may be the end of a family line. They will climb into their car and we will drive our separate ways and our knowledge of each other will fade into the distant memory of people passing in a parking lot. It doesn’t matter how many people you interact with on a day to day basis. It doesn’t matter who brightens your day or who ruins it. There are more people in this world than you will ever know. And in that moment, sitting in my car, I found this overwhelming, amazing, and beautiful.

Flirting with Eastern Orthodoxy Part 2: Ah, Mary

Or “Becoming Orthodox” by Peter Gillquist Part 2

I grew up in the Independent Christian Church, which means that I’m pretty far out on the rapidly spreading branches of Protestantism.  I couldn’t really tell you what the Independent Christian Church believes, however, as the church I attended as a youngster was a small, country church, and I didn’t pay much attention until high school.  Church or denominational history didn’t really enter in to it, although we did claim to be non-denominational.  We answered to no central council or authority, in other words.  All this to say, being of a Protestant bent, I have some very strong reactions to thoughts of Mary beyond what is generally shared in The Nativity Story.  Praying to Mary seems rather odd and uncomfortable to me.

Well, I’ve reached the chapter on Mary in Gillquist’s book and I’m a bit surprised by some of my reactions.  First, I either agree with him or at least take his point on a few issues.  I understand the reasoning behind the phrase “Mother of God”.  It actually makes sense to me.  The gist of the phrase is that Mary isn’t so much the mother of the Trinity (as the Trinity has no mother), but that she is the mother of Jesus, who was divine.  “Mother of God”, therefore, asserts that Jesus is God, not merely mortal and human as some heresies throughout church history have claimed.  Okay, this makes sense to me.

I take the point that Mary is the greatest woman who ever lived due to the fact that God chose her, and he chose her due to her purity.  She is also a role model of obedience, purity and faithfulness.

But what truly surprised me was when I started to see the reasoning behind the believe that Mary was Ever-Virgin.  Sure, Protestants will agree that she was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, but I think very few would say she and Joseph never consummated their marriage.  However, the Orthodox do believe this, thus Mary is Ever-Virgin.  Now, it seemed to me that it was quite absurd to think Joseph would be okay with never having marital relations with Mary.  It seemed ridiculous to think Mary was Ever-Virgin because, well, didn’t Jesus have brothers and sisters?   Church tradition asserts that James was the brother of Jesus.  There are actually two things that have made me begin to waver on this idea.  First, Ezekiel 44:1-2, a verse from a prophetic book, so take that for what it is worth, states, “ Then he brought me back to the outer gate to the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut.  And the Lord said to me, ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut. (NASB)’” The implication here is that the gate is Mary’s womb and that Jesus entered the world by her womb and “no man shall enter”.  The prophetic language here is rather compelling.  But it is one verse, right?  Well, the second thing that began to sway me was the account in John’s Gospel when Jesus, while on the cross, saw his mother and John.  He told Mary, “Woman, here is your son,” then told John, “here is your mother.”  Essentially, he is providing for the care of His mother, trusting her to John’s care and provision.  This seems to be quite reasonable until I realized that if Jesus had brothers, why would He give Mary to the care of a disciple.  It would be the responsibility of the His brothers to look after Mary.  Thus, this is a bit of an oddity.  It is true that sometimes the Bible uses the term “brother” to designate a close relation (cousin, nephew, etc.), so there is room for Jesus to be an only child.  There is room for her to be Ever-Virgin.  The question I have now becomes, is it truly essential to believe this?  Does it really change anything I believe?  At this point, I’m not sure that it does, but who would have thought the whole filioque issue would mean much without the tapestry of church history to observe?

These are the things that I’m coming around on, although the Ever-Virgin idea is still new and uncomfortable because it is in contrast to my Protestant heritage.  But I mentioned things that I am still unconvinced by.  These have to deal with Mary as intercessor and Mary saving us, both ideas are present in prayer by The Orthodox Church.  I will grant Gillquist that Christians have a part in the salvation process.  Paul says we are ambassadors of Christ.  While Christ does the actual saving, we can help point people to Him, we can witness to His work and kingdom.  We can turn others from destructive ways.  In doing this we save them, but we do not actually give them salvation.  That is Christ’s alone to give.  But while I agree with Gillquist on this point, why ask Mary to save us when it is Christ doing the saving?  Many of the examples of Christians saving people involve the living helping the living, not someone in Heaven helping someone on Earth.  Likewise with intercession, if I ask someone to pray for me, I don’t do it by praying to them.  And the examples Gillquist uses on both intercession and saving could be used, it seems to me, with any saint that has gone before.  Why not pray to Paul or Peter or Mother Theresa?  Granted, praying to the saints does play out, but prayers in the Psalms and The Lord’s Prayer (or Our Father) show believers praying to God in Heaven.  Why the middleman?  And isn’t Christ our intercessor before God?  I’m not sure Gillquist has convinced me on this part.