Thursday, June 26, 2008

back in NJ!


Now that we're gone from the city, it's time to think about Joe's post from a while back. I said to Brent last night that really, this past year we experienced a lot of the things that make city living difficult without experiencing hardly any of the really great things that make city living worth it. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but it's no exaggeration to say that in the time we lived in NYC, we saw two movies and one show. That's it. So I think, well--maybe everyone needs to live in the city once, but the time to do it is when you're single and you've got a little money to spend and the flexibility to be spontaneous. What I know of the city is limited to the immediate neighborhood and consists of grocery store locations and nearby parks. And I will never haul a stroller up and down subway stairs again. Hallelujah!...And yet, there's still a part of me that's sad to go. I have the suspicion that with another year, I might have learned enough about how to navigate the logistics of the city to have enjoyed it a great deal more. It's a big comfort to know that it is, after all, just a 45 minute train ride away.

That sadness is also greatly diminished by the excitement of exploring our new home. Summit is a beautiful town and we live right in the heart of it, three blocks away from downtown. Playground at the school across the street for Clare, plus a beautiful backyard of our own that rivals the Close for relaxation and beauty. Farmer's market on Saturdays across the street. And the house itself...well, Brent had taken pics for me when he toured it earlier but it was still completely overwhelming to walk in and see it for myself. I hope that I managed to be appropriate and gracious in my responses to people but I was just totally overwhelmed by how preposterous it is that we are moving in to this beautiful old house. It makes me want to giggle because it is so absurd. Really? We're living here? Pardon while I rearrange my worldview to accommodate, sorry, it didn't work. I'll keep trying though. In the meantime, I will just attempt to suppress my maniacal urge to giggle at the madness.

Other random bits:

Brent really can put things together without directions. Amazing!

No church bells, but we hear the organ music from the church next door. Clare's reaction: "Music! Jesus!"

Clare thinks riding in the car is a novelty. Hope that lasts for our roadtrip to NC. :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Not too long ago, just a few years ago anyhow (though this might be surprising to some given the discussion over at Scott's blog yesterday) I was cynical, indifferent and entirely apathetic with regard to politics. In fact, I never voted at all until after I got married and then it was because Brent just seemed to expect me to, not because I had any real interest or felt like it was a civic duty or that it would make any kind of difference anyway. I defended my cynical apathy with regard to the political process in this country with an argument based on epistemic unreliability. It went like this: the only information to which I have access comes from sources who have an interest in telling me what they think I want to hear, and the only thing I know for sure is that this is unreliable. Casting a vote based on a bunch of stuff that I know is at best misinformation and at worst outright lies is epistemically irresponsible. Best course of action: take the high road and ignore the crap, and just generally hope for the best (i.e., no real crazies are elected, just garden-variety power-hungry egomaniacs).

[n.b.: I did vote against W twice--what I heard from him, especially given that I figured he was spouting what "I" (Mrs. John Q. Voter--and the archaic form of polite address is deliberate, folks) wanted to hear, was absolutely frightening.]

Of course during all this time, there I was in Abilene, reading Dr. Frederick Aquino's dissertation on Newman and social epistemology, again and again (yes, it's just that good. Oh, and it was my job). Embodied knowledge, collective knowledge, partial perspective, epistemic judgment, epistemic virtues and vices, the necessary role of exemplars of informed judgment, etc., it's all still banging around in my head... So eventually, I realized that of course I was right about all the epistemic unreliability, but that this was no good excuse for pretending like politics didn't matter and that I had no responsibility for shaping political outcomes. What was I waiting for? "Certainty"? Right. I was just taking the lazy way out: I didn't want to do all the hard work of really figuring out, first, what I really thought about a bunch of things I didn't quite properly understand--like health care, and the economy, immigration policies, etc.--and second, how I was going to sort through all the propaganda thrown my way and evaluate the information about candidates. Where would I go, what standards could I use to evaluate, and all that. Because I was already aware of the problem, having used it as an excuse to get out of all this work, I couldn't regress and just start picking someone I liked better and trusting everything he said while distrusting everything the other dude said. Finally I resigned myself to just muddling through the morass of misinformation and praying to God that somehow I would be able to make an informed judgment.

I think most of us have felt this frustration to some extent, though maybe no one else let it paralyze them the way I did. But the constant refrain of lament about the state of American mainstream media, from both sides (and even more vociferously from the marginalized Greens!), says to me that everybody is aware that there's both too much information and too little trust. This may be somewhat unfixable, as I think trust is directly related to the epistemic agent--and this social group (America as a whole) is too large for the kind of direct personal knowledge of the epistemic agents in question to be the route for developing the necessary trust.

When I was in Wuhan, China in '98, the year America "accidentally bombed" the Chinese embassy, my students were so pissed off at me as representative American that the only effective pacificatory thing I could say was, "do you think Bill Clinton knows my name? do you think even if I personally told him to own up and take responsibility for this awful tragedy that he would care what I think?" The point was, I and the average American don't personally know these people we vote for, nor do we personally know the people on TV who report about them. So on what basis do we start investing our epistemic trust? Why trust what they say?

It seems like an unsolvable problem, one that has only been multiplied by the internet's glut of information and the ubiquity of bloggers like me who get on here and spout whatever we damn please, with no regulation whatsoever.

So: In creator Porter Bayne's words:

"I think each of us involved in the project had our own light bulb experience. For me, I originally came up with a similar concept in 2004 when I was frustrated with how so many of my friends/colleagues were repeating misinformation straight from campaigns’ mouths or their favorite radio show, and they didn’t trust information from the “other side.” Then one day my sister, who reads voraciously and has as many degrees as my right hand has digits, said “I just don’t know how you stay up on political information”. That made it real to me: people just don’t have time to keep up."

You can read the rest of the interview here.

What impresses me about the project, given my sense of the enormity of our collective epistemological quandary, is that it offers a way to navigate the problem without promising to hand out a solution on a silver platter (or golden plates inscribed from heaven). It's a way to help you make an informed judgment, rather than making a judgment for you. We're not being offered the Truth (always a false offer anyhow). We're being offered a specific tool in the hope that we can make better judgments of the information we have.

Of course, how political quotes and epistemic agents get rated is a matter of who does the judging. Which means that the more people involved, the better these collective judgments will get. Particularly, the more diversity of perspective included, the better these judgments will get, that is to say, more nuanced.

So I'm bookmarking the site, still in beta testing, and soon I hope to get brave enough to sign up and start sharing my own more-or-less-informed judgments. I hope some others do, too. Even those pesky Anabaptist-leaning types who still think we ought to just not get involved...because despite how much you annoy me, we need to hear from you too. :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

an open letter on the unity of the church

Dear Brother,

It's taken me a few years to write this letter. This isn't the first one I wrote. That one was angry, and hurt, and after a half dozen editing jobs, politely angry and hurt. I never sent that one; it sits on my hard drive still. I never could send to the trash bin, because a part of me really wanted to explain, persuade, defend.

But pretty soon I'm going to delete that file, because I've finally realized that that letter, the one where I explain how wrong you were so very politely, isn't the letter I want to send. It isn't on topic. It's not even close.

But it's taken me years to see this. Years which have been filled with replaying that hurtful scene over and over in my head, trying to figure out what I could have done or said other than what I did (that is, go have a cry in the church bathroom). I've wondered if I should have said something, confronted you in some way. Part of me is ashamed that I didn't, and considers it a failure of moral courage. Part of me is relieved that I could pass you a paper plate and eat a sandwich without making a scene.

And I've wondered if, when I am again in the neighborhood, I will dare to walk through your church doors again, or not. And which would be the right choice?

I've wondered if I really should just give up, and go away. I can't count how many people over these intervening years have asked why I don't--students, friends, family, colleagues. My answer used to be that this church is my home; how do you leave your home? But that Sunday I wondered for the first time if maybe my home might leave me, instead. Later, in defiance, my answer was, why should I? This is my home, too. Then I wondered if it was true that my presence was divisive and harmful to the church, an act of self-gratification and arrogance. I began to be afraid that I really was the kind of person described in your sermon.

For a long time, that was my fear: that my sincere wish to remain a part of the body of Christ into which I was baptized and raised in the faith would be divisive and contentious no matter what I did or didn't do, because of what I do (or don't) believe on this (or that, or that other thing).

But now, I know what I will do next time I'm in the neighborhood. I will be walking through those church doors. I will take a seat in a pew and I will sing, and pray, and listen, and contemplate scripture. I will praise God with you. Because I am certain now that it is not divisive for me to remain. It is a conscious act of unity.

See, I realize that we will probably never agree about a lot of things, and some of these things we both think are really important. And we can argue or debate, and maybe we should. Maybe we can even change each other's minds on some of these things. Maybe not. But the unity of the church has never depended on this. Unity is not conformity of doctrine, and Campbell just plain got that wrong. The unity of the church is a mystery not unlike the mysterious unity of the one-in-three, the mysterious unity of Jesus Christ the Son and God the Father--consider Jesus' prayer in John 17: That they may be one, as we are one.

We could agree to disagree, and walk away from each other. Or we could trust that the mysterious unity of the church will hold, despite all. So I'm not walking away. You can look for me to walk in next time I'm in the neighborhood. Because I believe, despite all, that we are brother and sister, children of God, joint-heirs with the Son, members of the same Body, and I believe that nothing we can say or do can, or should, change that. I choose to claim you, and strive to love you.

That we may be one, as our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father are indeed One.

the tat

I delayed this post out of respect for the much more important events going on in Brent's life--being ordained into the sacred order of deacons in the one holy catholic and apostolic church is really a very big deal.

But now that that's done and properly celebrated...

me at Hand of Glory tattoo parlour in Brooklyn. That's right, just like Harry Potter.

done! and saran-wrapped for freshness.

(now all I need is a pedicure.)

Perhaps at some point I will comment about why a tattoo at this point in my life when I'm obviously way too old for such things, and what this particular tattoo means. But I am kind of worn out from having this conversation over and over with Brent, who really really really dislikes tattoos and was pretty darn unhappy with my decision to get one. (But, as he said after I came home, deed done, "it's permanent so I guess I better start getting over it.")

But for now I just want to say thanks to Casey, who apparently esteems me enough that she was not dismayed that I wanted to share her tattoo--same pic, same place and everything. And so over and above anything the dove symbol means on its own, it is also about communal shared meaning rather than private idiosyncratic self-decoration. And that is beautiful.

I delete all over your censored

Clare's "Obama baby" video is now at over 11,000 hits and I get a new comment every few days. Most of these are the kinds of things you'd hear at a baby shower: she's so adorable, etc. And that's about the level of discourse that video deserves. But occasionally there's a comment that, generally with a great amount of cursing, calls Obama "Satan himself" claiming that he voted for infanticide and throwing babies in the trash. (Wha??? Someone sponsored a bill for this?)

Now, I get that this video is labeled with Obama's name, and that it clearly indicates a voter's preference and is in some sense advocating on behalf of a candidate. But it's also primarily a proud-parent video of my precious little baby. And so I think it's doubly inappropriate for these troll-ish comments to appear...not only ignoring all standards of rational debate, common sense and basic courtesy, but forgetting that this video is about Clare more than it is about politics. Please don't cuss on my baby's video, people. That's just awful.