Thursday, November 29, 2007


This morning, as I was doing my usual fecal sample analysis at work, there was a fly hovering over the waste bin. Every time I threw another sample in the trash, the fly buzzed around and came back to rest on the lid to the biological hazard bag. I was trying not to think about the fly sitting on the trash can because it was making me sick.

My thoughts, though, kept buzzing around and coming back to rest on another image that made me feel even more ill.

This is the face of Riley Ann Sawyers, thought to be "Baby Grace", whose body was found in a plastic box in Galveston Bay.

In a statement to Galveston authorities, her mother, Kimberley Dawn Trenor, said that the child was beaten with leather belts, had her head forced under water, and then was thrown across the room and landed on a tile floor. I read somewhere that there were three skull fractures found in the autospy report.

In a way, I wished I had never read this article this morning, because it upset me so very much. All I could think about this morning is how terrified that little girl must have been. I thought about the details that have come out so far, about how the mom moved in with this guy she met online in June, how the "stepfather" wanted her to use corporal discipline to teach the child manners. In July, the little girl died because she didn't know to say "please" and "yessir" and "nossir" to her new "stepfather".

On the Roula and Ryan show in the morning, they were talking about this story, and Ryan Chase, who admitted that he is "as liberal as they come" and generally opposed to the death penalty, thinks it is warranted in this case. He said "there's a special place in hell for people like that."

I am ambivalent about the death penalty, and I am not sure which is worse: serving a life sentence for being a "baby killer" or being put to death. I do think that Royce Clyde Zeigler II is a monster for doing this to a sweet baby girl, to any human. I don't think he should be allowed to breed and I am really upset about the news that supposedly Kimberley is pregnant with his child.

It makes me think about Andrea Yates, and about this show I saw on WE about "Women on Death Row" in which they featured a woman on death row for very similiar circumstances to the one that Kimberely Dawn Trenor is facing. In both situations, there was a child being beaten over a prolonged period of time by a man who was not blood related and who was punishing the child through brute force for something that was not age-appropriate for them to be able to understand. Both of those children died from head trauma from being slammed up against something.

In the end, both the woman who was on death row and Trenor failed to protect the child. I don't understand these women. There are options! Like taking the child and getting out of there, like calling someone to come save them, like going "momma bear" on his ass. Our primary job as mothers is to protect the children. Even if they are not yours, like in the case of the woman on tv, your duty is to protect.

It makes me so scared to think of my children coming to harm. Like the fly on the proverbial crap, that fear keeps coming back. Sometimes when my husband is disciplining them, I worry it might break their little spirits and hover over them waiting to offer comfort. His punishment is not corporal, but he does set boundaries, and sometimes I worry it is too harsh; for instance, thinking the ten minute time out should really just be five. If I felt he was really crossing the line, I would intervene and stand between him and my child. I would rather feel pain than have them experience it.

Not that there is danger of that with the man I live with. I worry about the mental damage, never the physical, and I would never allow it. I would keep my cub between my legs and show my teeth. Where was that instinct with these women?

More on this to come.....?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Check Your Premises

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”
Ayn Rand

At our bible study lesson, we are watching a video to our Song of Solomon. The minister who is doing the video series makes a comment denouncing existentialism, stating it caused the sexual immorality that we see in our culture. His claim is that existentialism would have us believe that truth is subjective, and without absolutes, we lose self control.

I wonder if this is true. The problem is, to determine if it is true, you have to take it apart. You have to define the parameters.

Let's start by defining existenialism. The problem with that is that there is no clear definition. There have many interpretations and representations of this school of thought, and even among the more famous representatives, there is wide deviation in explanations. Here is what the dictionary has to say about it:

Existentialism: A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Another source1 states, "Existentialism cannot be precisely defined. In fact, an exact definition is usually avoided by existential philosophers, since to define it would be to lose it in the bondage of too restricted confinement...Existentialism, as the name suggests, relates the destiny of the individual thinker to the ideas that engage and can be understood by his own mind."

In order to disprove the preacher's point, I set out to answer the following questions:

Does believe in existentialism negate belief in God?
Does it take away the absolute of moral authority?

Does existentialism represent a threat to Christianity?

In doing some research on existentialism to prove my hypothesis, my clarity begins to bend and finally disappears altogether in face of the different metaphysical viewpoints presented by various "existenialists". I try re-reading Nietzsche's "Beyond God and Evil", including commentary by philosophical researchers, for clues about how existenialism juxtaposed with Christianity, but I end up just getting a headache. Learning more about Nietzche, I come to see that he believed that, "even though Christian morality is nihilistic, without God humanity is left with no epistemological or moral base from which we can derive absolute beliefs."1

In that sense, then, perhaps the preacher and Nietchze would have been of the same mind.

What is bothering me is the idea that because one believes in existentialism, one has no absolute believe in a moral framework, AND that having no moral framework leads one to sexual immorality.It just seems like flawed logic to me.

So I did a little deeper....


Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Beautiful Mystery

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher.
"Everything is meaningless!"
Ecclesiastes 12:8

This is both the opening sentence and the closing sentence of the book of Ecclesiastes. In it, the narrator, "The Teacher", also believed to be King Solomon, expands on the wisdom he has gained through experience in his life.

King Solomon was an ancient king who ruled a united Israel, perhaps the last one to do so. He is credited with writing a few books of the Bible, or perhaps inspiring them. One of the books credited to him is the Song of Songs, which is a story of erotic love. There is much debate over the meaning of this song, over whether it is an allergory of God's love, or a literal story of married love. Some teach that the ideas presented in the Song of Songs represents what God wants from us in terms of courtship and intimate love, his guidelines for us. There is also an interpretation that it was a story to be acted out, with three main characters; the woman, who is perhaps the Shulammite woman, The Sheperd, and King Solomon. However you attribute it to, the book is a story of love.

As I sat in Bible Study to begin the lesson on what the Songs of Solomon can teach us about how to find and keep lasting love, I was reading my preface to the chapter in my Life Application Study Bible. I was struck by a sentence describing King Solomon.

"King Solomon probably wrote this 'song'in his youth, before being overtaken by his own obsession with women, sex, and pleasure."

I wonder, then, how we can use this book to explain the way God wants us to love, when obviously this is a story of a love that comes to an end. How can one love so intensely another, as the pages describe, and drop it for such selfish pursuits? What does that say about lasting love?

These are the question I ask myself, as I look on my best friend. How can something seem so perfect and turn out not to be? And I wonder if it makes me question the foundation of faith in love. We've known the relationships that were built to last come crumbling down. Does it make us stop believing? How does it affect our faith?

In the book Misquoting Jesus, the Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart Ehrman, the author explains the history of the New Testament and how it was changed over the ages. This is from the perspective of a biblical scholar who has devoted his life to the study of this issue. At one point in the book, the author details information about various scholars who have spoken up about the variations of the Bible over the years. During the sixteenth and seventeeth century, there were those who would like to discourage this kind of textual criticism, because of the fear that this might cause people to lose their faith in the Bible.

As I was reading this book, I questioned if it changed by own faith, much as I questioned my faith in love in light of the dissolution I see around me. I find my heart filled with questions, and I turn to scripture to examine what else has been "divinely inspired" along these lines.

I want to know what happened to King Solomon and his lady. In Song of Songs, 2:15, he speaks so sweetly to her, "How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves." How is it that this same Solomon was the one who also was reported to have 700 wives and 300 concubines? If he could love this true, why was it not a faithful one?

When I search for the traces of Solomon's affair, I find countless explanations for the different theories on what is happening in this book, and what it means, but never any vestages of a failed relationship with the jewish maiden he loved. Where did his love go, how does love like this just end?It seems like everyone has an interpretation, and which one of those is the true meaning?

What I do find, though, is the hint of experience, the hint of wisdom, the hint of repentance. It came from one of the other chapters accredited to Solomon, the book of Ecclesiastes. It is said that Solomon wrote Ecclesiates at the end of his reign, when he was sixty years old. The legend has it that Solomon was allowed to ask God for whatever he wanted, and what he asked for was wisdom, although he was already considered to be very wise.

I want Ecclesiastes to tell me the meaning, to answer the questions that have been raised in my heart from the fragility of the human bond; the incogruency that lies somewhere between the love story of a king and a maiden, and his subsequent descent into indulgence, between the perfectly matched personalities and the eternal seperation, between the sheets of desire and the fabric of the human soul.

So what can be concluded by of all this wisdom? In Ecclesiastes, that is what Solomon is thought to be relating; however, the overriding theme seems to be a lack of a defined conclusion.

All this I tested by wisdom and I said,

"I was determined to be wise -

but this was beyond me.

Whatever wisdom may be,

it is far off and most profound-

Who can discover it?

So I turned my mind to understand,

to investigate and to search out wisom and the scheme of things

and to understand the stupidity of wickedness

and the madness of folly"

Ecc 7:23-25

This only I have found:

God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes."

Ecc 7:29

The work emphatically proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently "vain", "futile", "empty", or "meaningless," depending on translation, as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. While "the teacher"clearly promotes wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is unable to ascribe eternal meaning to it. In light of this perceived senselessness, the preacher suggests that one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one's wife and work, which are gifts from the hand of God.

According to some religious traditions, the point of Ecclesiates is to state that all is futile under the sun. One should therefore ignore physical pleasures and put all one's efforts towards that which is above the Sun, i.e. "God".

I think about John Mill, and his edition of the Greek New Testament with its notation of thirty thousand variants, and how now scholars believe there may be upwards of three hundred thousand variants. I think about how the latest research points to the fact that the book of Ecclesiastes was thought to be written between the second and third century BCE and not in fact the seven hundred years or so prior when King Solomon was still alive. It is commonly believed, in fact, among religious scholars that this book was not written by Solomon at all, but acredited to him to give it more credibility, and it was really written during a time when the Greek Epicurean viewpoint was prevalent.

So what kind of truth can we really obtain from this, really? When truth is only relative to experience and perspective, how do you define it? If the answers cannot be found or the source can not be trusted, how can we determine the answers, and have any faith in them?

My friend Lorraine sits next to me at a baby shower. I remember her husband is a Lutheran minister, and I ask her her interpretation of Song of Songs, of Ecclesiastes, of what the Bible is telling us of love when all we can see are things that were not the answers. This is what she tells me,
"You're looking for a perfect thing in an imperfect world."

I wonder how many of us that could apply to. She goes on to explain that there was only one perfect person, and he was not even really a person, but a divine one. Humans are flawed, every one of us, she tells me. We are all, at best, only human. Searching for perfection in dating relationships, in marriage partners, in even the best of spouses is a futile enterprise, and in the end we are only disillusioned if we expect to see that perfection there.

She also reminds me of the school of thought that the Bible, although "divinely inspired," is not considered to be the "unerring Word of God", which I agree with as well. That is my answer for why reading Ehrman's book does not shake my faith in God. My belief in God has nothing to do with my belief in the teachings of scripture. I accept that the Bible is not a perfect or accurate representation of the knowledge God wants to impart to the world.

My belief in lasting love, likewise, should not be solely based on the experience of the disillusionment I see around me, in the foolishness of one who refuses to see what love really is. Like the New Testament, it is based on interpretation. With all these various interpretations, the only truth becomes the one inside of you.

I am still not satisfied with that answer, though, because how can that be absolute?

I go to worship to seek the answers, only to be disappointed that the scripture reading was about something totally different. I put it out of my mind, then, these questions, and concentrated on the lessons of the day. After Communion, I sat in my pew, concentrating on the cross in front of me until it becomes the only thing I see, a reminder of the Christ who gave up his body to us so that we, sinners, with all our many schemes, can be absolved of sin. The more I open my heart, the more I feel it filled by the Holy Spirit, and that is when it comes to me.

Faith is not something you know or decide from reading a book; faith is something you feel. My questions surrounding my faith dissolve as I feel the warmth of the love of Jesus in my heart. My faith in love need not change based on the foolishness of a man. Truth is individual, based on perception, experience, emotion. The answers of which we seek lie within ourselves, if we simply open our hearts. If we search our hearts, will we find that our faith is amiss because of the imperfection of men, or intact because there are those who have shown us what it is to truly love another, to truly believe?
So I am not sure, in the end, if I have some great meaning to give to you, my friend, that is based out of my faith and can answer all the questions you have. All I have is the line from John 14:27 that settled my own heart in church today.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you."

I hope you are able to find the same peace that I was, and be able to look past the imperfections, the incongruencies, the inconsistencies, and find only faith and love left in your heart.