Sunday, October 31, 2010

Large Medium Art

The building slowly retreated into the background as I walked into the woods. There’s a mysticism about nature, of which I am sceptical. Many choose to unreservedly champion the grandeur of nature, but I’ve spent too many hours working outdoors to hold such a position. Natural beauty is manifold and immense, but rather like the stripes of a tiger, sublimely beautiful but deadly if admired too closely. The beauty of nature is exquisite, but not unconditionally so.

It was not surprising then, that as I looked around me the thought crept into my head, “it’s not so beautiful here right now, it’s almost ugly.” Undoubtedly a few weeks ago the forest would have been alive with colour and majesty. The colours of autumn can alight the landscape in an unmatched visual cornucopia. The leaves now however, lay underfoot, already decomposing and creating a soft, brown carpet. The landscape was almost entirely brown, with only the early morning frost to add a touch of colour to the monochrome.

The sound of a creek drew me in. I stepped down the sides of the bank, feet almost touching the iced over water. An empty bucket in the centre of the creek, trapped by a rock dam, blighted the scene. I stood there for a moment considering whether it was worth attempting to retrieve it but my mind wandered and the thought was forgotten rather than rejected.

I looked down and noticed that there was a layer of ice at the bottom of the creek and then water flowing over top. The white of the ice contrasted with the brown creek bottom, perfectly visible in through the silt free water. I watched as some air bubbles flowed with the current, trapped beneath the glassy layer of surface ice. The bubbles would flow together, lazily meet and disperse. It crossed my mind that although stunning natural beauty was absent, there was still a poetry to the area. A small fish lazily flapped his fins in order to maintain his position in the stream. A second later he disappeared. The water was perfectly clear but the camouflage was too clever for my eyes. Only due to his movement as the current pulled him downstream was I able to make him out again.

Turning, I faced the bank. The sides of the bank rose several feet above where I was standing so I was able to view the sparsely treed forest at almost eye-level. The light of the morning sun lit up countless shimmering spider webs. The underbrush, now devoid of leaves, were tinselled in these threads of light, constantly moving and changing. The light would climb up and down the web, illuminating it and then leaving, and the strands would disappear. Many strands glowed white, one, a vivid indigo, leapt out from the rest. Then I caught sight of two rose hips still clinging to a bush. These splashes of red against the varied hues of brown offered a consummate counterpoint. A fallen tree blocked the sun, but its light gleamed on the underside of the log, a flash of brilliance captured by a thick cobweb.

I considered the scene. The sound of the creek rippled in the background, the chill air cleansed my pores and awakened me to miracle being alive. My breath was a cloud of glistening, tiny diamonds that swirled before dissipating into the frosty air. Deer tracks underfoot and blue sky above; I turned my head half a degree and the scene adjusted anew, revealing another perspective of majesty. In each half a second the details altered, offering up a new treasure, like an artist unable to finish a painting because with each passing second new inspiration would compel the brush to canvas. The forest which had first appeared dead to me, now was alive, brought to life by the light of the sun. I could not escape the resplendent beauty; it stretched out near and far in all directions.

As I left the sanctified setting my eyes involuntarily swept upwards. The sky, empty of clouds, was rich blue. The moon, distant and beautiful, half peeked out from the shadow of the Earth. Doubtless the beauty of the Earth remained even as my eyes now fixed themselves on the moon’s glory. My mind was unable to cope with the splendour and I was obliged to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the artist capable of creating on such a scale, and with perfect harmonization from all the senses. I beheld but a portion of a cosmic masterpiece that changes through time, not dying, but being reborn.

As I walked back to the lodge the world reverted to its mundane normalcy. The divine sparks so evident before now retreated. My eyes, minutes earlier alert to every consecrated detail, were blinded once again. I mentally began composing these words to describe the experience, knowing that with time the emotions would fade into a two dimensional memory, like a snapshot of a mountain rather than the mountain itself. My mind, at work crafting sentences, was distracted by a squirrel running through the trees like an invitation; the divine may always be seen, if I but allow my eyes to be opened.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thoughts Important Enough to Keep Me Until 3:25 am.

I often read Dan Savage's sex column Savage Love but as often as not I find myself disagreeing with his advice. That's probably not too surprising considering our respective worldviews. However, I recently read his column and was quite impacted by his response. The response can be found here, in reply to the first letter.

If there's one thing I believe with all my heart about Christianity, it's that God desperately loves all people, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. However, there are some unfortunate verses that condemn these practices. Previously, I mentally filed these prohibitions with others such as premarital sex, drunkenness and abortion; not really condemnable if someone is not a practicing Christian. (and I would be very frugal with any sort of judgment) A parallel would be the fact that I'm not a Muslim so I don't feel that I should be chastised for not fasting during Ramadan. I then congratulated myself on my forward thinking liberalism. I could love the sinner and hate the sin. (Although I never understood why I even had to hate this particular sin.)

I read L.R's letter and thought it to be fairly well written with a balanced perspective. Rather naive perhaps to try and win Dan's sympathy, but certainly not the sort of thing that I would be ashamed to write. Then I read Dan's reply, by the grace of God I managed to do so without getting defensive. Here was someone who seemed to have a similar, almost equally accepting viewpoint as mine and for this Dan flew into a spitting rage. In that reply I managed to see clearly how Christianity looks from the outside and it certainly isn't pretty. It was definitely not the sort of group that I would choose to associate with. I saw Dan's hatred for Christians and I also saw why.

Of course this wasn't the first time that I've seen the church in an unflattering light. (To employ the grossest of understatements.) I know about the Crusades, I know about the history of racism, oppression of women and I know of the Catholic church's cover up of pedophilia. In that single sentence I've already mentioned an unthinkable amount of pain and suffering caused by Christians but I haven't even scratched the surface of the terrors done in God's name.

Yet I still name myself among this group, often times regretfully. I stay though, because of grace. Though ironically all too invisible in the church, the grace that I so desperately need can only be found here. When I see the horrors of this world, the gospel of grace seems more important than ever. There are people who are guilty of the most abominable crimes and someone must be held to account. Yet these same people are often victims of the most abominable crimes; I can't say that I would act any different having grown up in their situation. How can I blame them when I honestly feel that the difference between their crimes and mine is that mine are less severe because my life has been less severe. I want to forgive them because I myself want forgiveness.

But then how can the women being repeatedly gang raped in the Congo forgive their assailants? How can the starving in India forgive the those who economically enslave them while living comfortable lives of affluence? How can children who are forced into prostitution forgive those who abuse them? To offer a blank check of forgiveness to the guilty is an outrageous insult to those who have been wronged.

Gandhi said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Every antagonist has also been a victim. Everyone is guilty. Justice isn't a matter of deciding which crimes are damnable and which aren't. The women in the Congo didn't give those men permission to sexual exploit them. Neither did the women whom I've lust after give permission to me to entertain my selfish thoughts. Is one crime forgivable and the other not?

Only Christianity offers complete justice. As Chesterton writes,

"Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all."

Every crime has been answered for. Every criminal can go free. Grace is what the world needs, and grace is what I need; I found it in the Church and now I'm stuck there, in the same group who persecutes those who are stuck in a different group, the LGBT group.

Christians have screwed up big time, spewing hateful messages devoid of love or grace. By failing to offer grace, it's now us who are in need of it. Grace and forgiveness for the horrible things said in done in the name of Jesus, a man who came to freely offer grace to everyone. I think that the world already knows what the Bible says about homosexuality. I think that it's time that they learn what it says about grace and love. No, I think it's time that the world sees what the Bible says about grace and love. We've sunk too far. Words aren't going to cut it anymore. I think it's time to show that Christian everywhere care desperately about people, people who are so ostracized that they're taking their own lives. It doesn't help if we grieve these deaths in silence. If we don't care then we've missed entirely the message of God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That's What He Said.

Writing a paper the other day I came across the dilemma of whether to write a gender neutral, though cumbersome sentence, or if I should write in the traditional, more elegant, though sexist manner. I made a quick note of the dilemma as a facebook status update and then went back to procrastinating from my paper. I thought nothing more of the subject until I went back the next day only to discover that over thirty comments had been written on the topic. On the one hand there were a few guys saying gender neutral language is stupid, on the other there was a host of women saying it isn't, with the support of a few guys.

Of course the debate hinged on the notion of equality. It is doubtful that any society in history has ever treated women with full equality, though the Western world has made huge steps in this area. However, as many point out, there's still a long way to go, as reflected in the firmly embedded language biases. Feminists see these biases as an insulting inheritance of a patriarchal society, something that needs to be relegated to the history bin like other injustices before.

I am in favour of equality of course. I think that most everybody thinks that equality is a good thing, a fair thing. The only reason one might conceivably argue against equality, is because things are unfair in his favour. (I thought that might be one sentence where I could get away with using an uspecified masculine pronoun.) Of the guys who protested the change to the use of gender neutral language, not one argued that women don't deserve equality or that equality is a bad thing. That's because the position is completely untenable. If the language is obviously biased, which it is, and inequality is obviously unjust, which it is, then there's really no good argument against gender neutral language.

Except perhaps, there's the fact that if the pursuit of equality at some point becomes infantile. There is no demographic more perceptive to inequality than children. Their ubiquitous appeals to the standard of equality are often correct though as often as not, the authority figure meets the appeal not with sympathy but rather the comment, "life's not fair." It's true. Life is not fair and the sooner that is learned the better. Of course one could argue then that the pursuit of equality is futile and should not be attempted but of course that argument is spurious. However, at some point a line needs to be drawn between unacceptable inequality and acceptable inequality. That of course is a task that defies unanimity.

It is an oft noted fact that women are proportionally underrepresented in high corporate and political positions. It is a telling litmus test that demonstrates the necessity of rectifying the sexism that prevents equal representation. This is mere speculation, but I imagine that bald men are also an underrepresented demographic. If not bald men, then perhaps short men, or obese men. It could then be argued that the discrimination that keeps short, bald men from being elected to public office is a great problem that needs rectifying but I certainly would not donate money to the cause.

The challenge of equality includes so many variables that even if it were possible to put every person on an even playing field, it would be impossible to discern what disadvantages cancel out what advantages. In the case of a hypothetical election for example: one candidate is a women, though she had access to the right schools, another is a man but he grew up in an abusive household, another man had a great family life but he likes to grow a handlebar moustache. Which candidate has the advantage?

Assessing inequalities is a useful practice to determine where discrimination occurs but the irony is that knowledge and subsequent attempts to rectify discrimination can lead to more discrimination. I am sure that many Caucasian men have been rejected in favour of a less qualified candidate because the less qualified person was from either a minority or discriminated group. The quest for inequality often begets new inequality. However, it is probably acceptable collateral damage.

Concisely put, my point is that life is not fair and it is wrong to try and fix every inequality. When some people have plenty and others starve to death, that is a problem that demands attention. When some have access to education and others do not, that demands attention. When some people live in mansions and others sleep on the streets, that is a problem that demands attention. When I write an essay and use the word "man" to refer to all humans... my gut feeling is that it is not that big a deal, especially when one considers that the alternative "humankind" is almost equally patriarchal.

My gut reaction carries little value however, in the presence of countless women who think it does matter. I have to accept the fact that my male perspective is not optimal for making these judgment calls. I think that it is important for myself, and other men to put greater value on the opinion of women on this question. If the majority of women say gender neutral language is important then I ought to change, even though I hate most of the gender neutral options available.