Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Half of the things that Dorothy Sayers said that I liked.

I was shelving books in the library Friday afternoon during finals week (when everyone returns the stacks of books they’ve hoarded for term papers right before they leave campus) and I saw a little book by Dorothy Sayers entitled, Are Women Human? I started it and finished it, and then I had to have more. A 20th-century British writer, Sayers develops an extended metaphor of the creator and His relation to creation in Mind of the Maker. I found so many valuable passages in it that I wanted to get them all in one place, and this is place I’m doing it in. Here are the sections I noted from the first half of the book:

“When there is a genuine conflict of opinion, it is necessary to go behind the moral code and appeal to the natural law—to prove, that is, at the bar of experience, that St. Francis does in fact enjoy a freer truth to essential human nature than Caligula, and that a society of Caligulas is more likely to end in catastrophe than a society of Franciscans” (p. 10). Natural law is embodied in the dictates of Christianity. These are not arbitrary, but in fact speak to the very essence of humanity, describing the ideal manner of living and prescribing what will be best for the individual and the world. Statements like “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it” seem nonsensical and random at first glance, but through experience with the paradoxes and impossibilities that arise in life, the truth of these sayings becomes evident. “The conditions of salvation . . . purport to be necessary conditions based on the facts of human nature” (p. 15). Said Lord David Cecil: “Christianity has compelled the mind of man not because it is the most cheering view of man’s existence but because it is truest to the facts” (p. 16).
A creed put forward by authority deserves respect in the measure that we respect the authority’s claim to be a judge of truth. If the creed and the authority alike are conceived as being arbitrary, capricious and irrational, we shall continue in a state of terror and bewilderment, since we shall never know from one minute to the next what we are supposed to be doing, or why, or what we have to expect. But a creed that can be shown to have its basis in fact inclines us to trust the judgment of the authority; if in this case and in that it turns out to be correct, we may be disposed to think that it is, on the whole, probable that it is correct about everything. The necessary condition for assessing the value of creeds is that we should fully understand that they claim to be, not idealistic fancies, not arbitrary codes, not abstractions irrelevant to human life and thought, but statements of fact about the universe as we know it (p. 17).

All language about God must, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, necessarily be analogical. We need not be surprised at this, still less suppose that because it is analogical it is therefore valueless or without any relation to the truth. The fact is, that all language about everything is analogical; we think in a series of metaphors. . . . [M]an has made all existence in his own image (p. 23).

Though we cannot create matter, we continually, by rearrangement, create new and unique entities. A million buttons, stamped out by machine, though they may not be exactly alike, are not the same button; with each separate act of making, an entity has appeared in the world that was not there before. Nevertheless, we perceive that this is only a very poor and restricted kind of creation. We acknowledge a richer experience in the making of an individual and original work (p. 28).

Poets have, indeed, often communicated in their own mode of expression truths identical with the theologians’ truths; but just because of the difference in the modes of expression, we often fail to see the identity of the statements (p. 30).

We simply do not know of any creation which goes on creating itself in variety when the creator has withdrawn from it. . . . We will therefore stick to the analogy which we have chosen—that of the imaginative creator—and continue with it, keeping very clearly in view the limitation that it applies to the living artist, engaged in a creative act, of which we cannot yet see the finished results (p. 58-59).

Consequences cannot be separated from their causes without a loss of power; and we may ask ourselves how much power would be left in the story of the crucifixion, as a story, if Christ had come down from the cross. That would have been an irrelevant miracle, whereas the story of the resurrection is relevant, leaving the consequences of action and character still in logical connection with their causes. It is, in fact, an outstanding example of the development we have already considered—the leading of the story back, by the new and more powerful way of grace, to the issue demanded by the way of judgment, so that the law of nature is not destroyed but fulfilled (p. 83).

There is, of course, no reason why an infinite Mind should not reveal itself in an infinite number of forms, each being subject to the nature of that particular form (p. 90).

Only X can give reality to Not-X; that is to say, Not-Being depends for its reality upon Being. In this way we may faintly see how the creation of Time may be said automatically to create a time when Time was not, and how the Being of God can be said to create a Not-Being that is not God. The bung-hole is as real as the barrel, but its reality is contingent upon the reality of the barrel. . . . In this sense, therefore, God, Creator of all things, creates Evil as well as Good, because the creation of a category of Good necessarily creates a category of Not-Good. . . . The creative will, free and active like God, is able to will Not-Being into Being, and thus produce an Evil which is no longer negative but positive. This, according to the ancient myth of the Fall, is what happened to Men. They desired to be ‘as gods, knowing good and evil.’ God, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, knows evil ‘by simple intelligence’—that is, in the category of Not-Being. But men, not being pure intelligences, but created within a space-time framework, could not ‘know’ Evil as Not-Being—they could ‘know’ it only by experience; that is, by associating their wills with it and so calling it into active Being. Thus the Fall has been described as the ‘fall into self-consciousness,’ and also as the ‘fall into self-will’ (p. 101-103).

By materializing his poem—that is, by writing it down and publishing it—he subjects it to the impact of alien wills. These alien wills can, if they like, become actively aware of all the possible wrong words and call them into positive being. They can, for example, misquote, misinterpret, or deliberately alter the poem. This evil is contingent upon the poet’s original good: you cannot misquote a poem that is not there, and the poet is (in that sense) responsible for all subsequent misquotations of his work. But one can scarcely hold him guilty of them (p. 105).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eternal rationality of the eternal mind.

So I've been steadily working through Cotton Mather, which is a lot easier when one doesn't have a full class load and a job and extra-curriculars (who would have thought?). Somewhere in his commentary on the book of John, Mather refers to Athenagorus, a 2nd-century writer from the early church. He briefly notes the phrase "eternally rational," whose implications delighted me. I found the context online, and I don't know if I know exactly what he's trying to get at, but I love how he does it.
The Son of God is the Word of the Father in thought and actuality. By him and through him all things were made, the Father and the Son being one. Since the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son by the unity and power of the Spirit, the Mind and Word of the Father is the Son of God. And if, in your exceedingly great wisdom, it occurs to you to inquire what is meant by ‘the Son,’ I will tell you briefly: He is the first-begotten of the Father, not as having been produced, for from the beginning God had the Word in himself, God being eternal mind and eternally rational, but as coming forth [from the Father] to be the model and energizing force of all material things.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Which presents the presence of presents.

This may have been one of our most aesthetically pleasing Christmases ever. Rachel, Shannon, and Angelica decorated the tree the week before I came home, and they made it completely color-coordinated. I like to think that they were unconsciously integrating Hanukkah, especially because I think you can easily make the case for the superior biblicalness of the latter.

Christmas used to mean being keyed up at seven a.m., ready for a rapid wrapping paper ripfest; now it means a leisurely morning to enjoy the moments with multiple cups of coffee.

To draw out the present-opening, we decided to play rounds of Scrabble and let the highest scorer open one at a time.

Two rounds in, Rachel looked up and said, "I can't concentrate—I keep thinking about the presents."

We ran out of tiles before we ran out of gifts. The winner was a brilliant seven-letter move by Shannon and Mom.

Mom opened the front door at some point and let in the brisk, brisk air that really hasn't warmed up since I've been home. "I like to hear the elements," she said. "The chimes."

I looked at Angelica, who knew what I was thinking. "Oh yeah, the elements, of course—earth, wind, fire, water, and chimes."

Rachel loves buying clothes.

Shannon really, really, really wanted her own cell phone, since she and Rachel have always shared, but Mom and Dad couldn't get one in time. Instead, Mom wrapped up her own cell phone with a note promising her that she'd get one soon. What a joker.

After Scrabble, we switched to Bible trivia to determine present triage. This consisted of Dad flipping through and asking random questions that weren't always readily answerable: "What were the seven churches of Asia?" "Who was the indulgent parent?"

At one point, Shannon turned on "Puttin on the Ritz" for no apparent reason and spontaneous dancing broke out.

Spontaneous picture-taking as well. So many cameras in one room . . .

Angelica opened up a pair of earrings and read excitedly, "Nickel and lead-free!"

After Mom found Dad's excellent werewolf dig hilariously funny, he said, "I can't believe she still laughs at my jokes like we just met."

Shannon tried to find a reason to be in this picture, but it didn't happen.

Rachel outfitted everyone.

Even Sherlock got a little something.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve Eve. Not in that order.

Tuesday Rachel had an MRI in Riverside for her persistently painful knee, and this gave me the perfect excuse to meet my dear friend Emily Blunt there. With her brother's GPS mounted on the windshield, we explored the little city that would seem so much bigger if it weren't squished in between L.A. and San Diego.

After lunch at an odd little place called Papi's, Emily suggested we find the top of the hills that rose at the edge of the city. Like a light switch, the recent rain had turned the brown a lush green, and before we knew it, the greater Riverside area spread below us.

We had dinner with her brother and sister-in-law, and stayed the night at her other brother's empty apartment. We shopped and talked and caught up and had coffee with my parents. I love looking at the world through Emily's eyes.

That night our family attended a Christmas Eve service and then headed home for fondue.

Monday, December 22, 2008

In which I wonder whether "rational emotion" doesn't have to be a contradiction in terms.

We drove out to Cabazon Monday. The temperature hovered in the 40s, so the rain turned into snow at surprisingly low elevations. Angelica and I were freezing, and had already finished our Christmas shopping, so we sat in Starbucks and entertained the customers with our handicrafts (crocheting for me, knitting for her) while everyone else shopped. I also continued reading The Social Construction of Emotions, a book so immediate to what I have been trying to conceptualize lately, that I have compiled some of the more pertinent assertions that it makes into a loosely arranged essay.

The naturalist theory of emotions assumes that “emotions” are “simple, non-cognitive phenomena, among the bodily perturbations” and based on “primitive states of physiological arousal involving innate instinctual drives such as self-preservation and pain-avoidance” (p. 2-3). The constructionist view of emotions, however, “opposes the traditional view . . . that emotions are non-purposive forces which serve to disrupt rationality” (p. 37). Constructionism posits that some, perhaps almost all, emotions are culturally contingent, acquired by the individual from the surrounding societal norms. Should this theory have sufficient legitimacy, this could mean that “such organizations of human experiences not only are socially based, but also can be evaluated as desirable and just” (p. 35).

The functions of emotions, according to constructionism, include acting as a check to behavior within a community, and creating a medium through which individuals can communicate. “Emotions . . . are functional in that they are constituted and prescribed in such a way as to sustain and endorse cultural systems of belief and value” (p. 57). Emotions cement the conception of proper adherence to standards of culture. Emotions “commit agents to particular values with greater success than could be achieved by the mere rational comprehension of such values” (p. 81). Emotional expression is “frequently a communicative act and hence leads to particular consequences. One effect of overt ‘sadness’ is consolation or commiseration from others. Also, in communicating an emotion, we . . . commit ourselves to being a possessor of that emotion. By contrast, undisplayed feeling can remain ambiguous and hence is more amenable to self-deception” (p. 49). The existence of a socially constructed emotion is contingent on one’s ability to articulate it or physically manifest it. “If I can only vaguely describe my ‘regret’ or ‘anger,’ whether mild or moving, then I cannot properly be said to feel these emotions. Hence, if feeling is not easily conveyable via language and behaviour, this is because it is barely a feeling, not because it is a ‘bare feeling’” (p. 50).

Physical reactions can be correlated to emotions, but they are not essential to the existence of such.
[T]he crucial measure of the intensity of, say, ‘envy’ is the extent to which the attitudes involved are vivid, serious and occupy the agent’s attention. Whether or not I feel any twinges or palpitations, if my thoughts are totally consumed by a ‘strong desire for an object which I do not possess . . .’ then I can be said to feel ‘extremely envious’ (p. 51).
Asserting that one merely “feels” an emotion, moreover, allows one to deflect responsibility for such. “[T]he strategic redescription of ‘being angry’ as ‘feeling angry’ enables the agent to entertain this emotion without assuming the responsibility which would subject the emotion to moral censure or rational criticism” (p. 52). That such a distinction can be made shows the individual’s presupposition that there is a culturally normative response to a given situation; one could only “be angry” if the situation warranted it. “[E]motions can be qualitative states while simultaneously fulfilling some cultural expectation. . . . [C]onstructionism has a certain strength in being able to unify various disparate philosophical emotion theories” (p. 53).

The strong view of constructionism contends that there are no inherently biological emotions, but the weak view allows for the existence of some, such as fear. The distinction between the two forms of emotions, biological and sociocultural, can be determined according to whether prior knowledge is required to lay claim to an emotion: “mastery by them of the concept ‘fear’ is not a necessary condition of their experiencing this emotion” (p. 38). Socially constructed emotions have specific, learned causes and responses, and they need to occur within a context.
While we regard some attitudes as natural (e.g., the desire to eat; the evaluation of wild beasts as dangerous), we regard other attitudes as dependent upon training and the introduction to a social custom (e.g., the desire to be polite; the evaluation of a Matisse as delicate; the belief that theft is a crime) (p. 43-44).
Weak constructionism can argue that “the sociofunctional aspect is a significant and predominant feature of some emotion without contravening arguments for the existence of pre- and extra-social emotional responses” (p. 61).

Weak constructionism agrees with naturalism in that “‘fear’ is understood by the naturalist as the archetypal primary emotion” (p. 62). “Fear” is expressed, however, in widely varying contexts, depending on culture. “Such contexts can only warrant ‘fear’ once their significance has been explained, an explanation which involves the description of those cultural rules which . . . specify the reason for ‘fear’ in these societies” (p. 65). If natural reactions in given situations vary depending on the context of the individual’s upbringing, then this would indicate an instance of a socially constructed emotion. “[T]he naturalist, in relying on the presence of natural expression, is not able to offer an explanation of the presence of ‘fear’ in contexts for which it is not naturally warranted” (p. 65).

Constructionism leads to several implications. “If emotions are cognition-based, then this allows that they can be subjected to rational persuasion and criticism” (p. 44). While Kant divorced emotion from moral value and maintained that emotions are blind forces that only cloud judgment, within a constructionist framework emotions can be held to inform and enhance moral deliberation.
[I]t is because the moral sentiments involve moral attitudes such as the evaluation of an act as morally wrong that . . . such sentiments can involve agent responsibility and be subjected to rational appraisal and criticism. . . . [M]oral worth and emotion are not separable, since emotion has a crucial role in conveying the sincerity of moral worth. Here constructionism develops this role of emotion by explaining it as a social function of emotion, and the constitution of the ‘moral sentiments’ as part of moral training (p. 35).
If emotion is largely acquired, then it can be guided and informed.
To the extent that such attitudes are socioculturally determined, this introduces the possibility that there is a range of emotion experience which is not naturally pre-existent but which, like intellectual and practical experience, is made available to agents via their acquaintance with the cultural systems and the language, social rules and practices which such systems involve. This in turn raises an issue concerning the ethics of the sociocultural constitution of emotion. If emotions do have a significantly non-natural dependence upon sociocultural beliefs and values, then this introduces the possibility of providing a revisionary moral analysis of emotions, the results of which would enable us to select and subsequently prescribe emotions which can be justified as of most benefit to social relations and to the welfare of the individuals involved (p. 81-82).
A useful strategy for framing the constructionist conception of emotion accesses metaphors from the humanities. “It requires no great effort for any of us to translate our confrontations with others as episodes in a social drama . . . when an act has the potential for creating strain” (p. 89). In a “dramaturgic” sense, emotions can be seen as constructions of the agents, who act as authors or playwrights. “[T]he actor engages in . . . impression management through . . . masks and other pretences . . . deception . . . withholding information . . . the actors in the social drama monitor their rhetorical communications and make changes in the script as necessary” (p. 89). In a “dramatistic” sense, there is no composer; the stories are like inherited fables or legends. “[T]he plots of these stories are absorbed as part of one’s enculturation. . . . [T]he performances . . . are organized into recognizable patterns or roles . . . compounds . . . that are sometimes identified as emotions” (p. 90).

The plot comparison underscores the importance of context to the development of a plot. “[D]ramatistic roles are not played in vacuo. . . . [R]oles . . . are enacted to further an actor’s self-narrative; and self-narratives, like other stories, follow a plot” (p. 91). This lends the metaphor its crucial implication.
Contrary to the traditional view that emotional acts are irrational, dramatistic roles follow a logic. It is the logic of the self-narrative that dictates the course of action of the participants of a social drama. The logic is the plot of a story. The central actors, individually and collectively, perform according to plot structures. The plots provide a basis for retrospectively criticizing emotional acts as appropriate or stupid, justifiable or unreasonable, foolish or wise. Without such plot structures against which to assess the dramatistic roles, critical reflection would be impossible.

. . .

When actors adopt the perspective that the dramatistic role enactments are the products of their own valuations and intentions, they can offer an account of their conduct through an examination of ‘reasons’. The causality of internal and external forces becomes irrelevant. Instead of asking, ‘What caused me to feel ashamed?’ the actor asks, ‘What were my reasons for being ashamed?’ The scientific observer may be guided by the same perspective. Search strategies and search outcomes are different for those who ask, ‘What caused the person to weep?’ from those who ask, ‘What were the reasons the person wept?’

The implications of adopting a perspective that calls for the scrutiny of reasons rather than causes are manifold. Explanations of the dramatistic encounters would be couched in the vocabulary of intentions, values, beliefs and reciprocal acts. Such explanations would contribute to the identification of any human episode as an historical act, the meaning of which cannot be divorced from its context (p. 91, 92).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm not the only one who's black and white and read all over.

My mom's service learning class got a write-up in the Valley Chronicle last week, our local local newspaper (after the Press-Enterprise, which is just local). I loved the direct quote they used from her; it's something she says constantly. The article features a lead in passive voice and such gems as "'It really shows these kids' character,' Adams adams." Oh Hemet. I love being home.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Literature, literature everywhere.

It rained Monday more than I've ever seen here. By a happy coincidence, it was the first day of finals week, so I stayed inside all morning and enjoyed every moment of it.

I lived in a figurative deluge of words this semester.

The fall semester by the numbers:

200-300 pages of assigned reading every week
129 pages of Cotton Mather edited
25 journalism chapter summary responses
21 British lit essays
14 newspaper articles
13 issues of the paper cover-to-cover edited
12 American lit essays
10 hours indexing a book for the on-campus press
10 philosophy reflection papers
1 philosophy term paper

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kaitlin the unconscious Kantian.

I was reading through some of my old journals this weekend, and I realized that I had identified a prototype of Kant's categorical imperative at age 14. Most of the stuff I blathered about at that age was completely whiny and inane (my sincere and heartfelt prayer at summer camp that year: "I wish I could grow up so badly. 14 is even worse than 13. I know I probably sound really stupid, but I just get so discouraged sometimes, and I experience the paradox of being in the midst of so many people and yet still feeling all alone"), but this was a little more elevated. It's not entirely thought out, and I took it in some odd directions, but I was just so precious.

Kaitlin Barr's Theory of Relativity (That is, relating to people) Revisited

I first conceived this theory in ninth grade (and here I am now in tenth). The gist of it goes as follows:

If your method of doing things or your belief in the way that things should be cannot functionally be applied to, or does not include everyone in the world, then it is not a fair, valid, or applicable way of doing things.

Though I originally used organized sports as my proof (see attached notecard), I think that this theory has more profound implications when applied to religion.

Many religions of the world are exclusive, unfair, or, dare I say it, intolerant. Islam, no matter what the Muslims say, oppresses women and encourages hatred towards Jews and Christians. Also, as most would agree, the goal of religion is to understand humans' reasons for existence and the place that they go when they die. Buddhism and Hinduism paint a depressing, confusing, and unclear picture of both existence and destination, and they leave the casual observer with too many questions and without hope. How or why would anyone believe the claims of these religions, when there is a much more feasible, positive, and inclusive option?

Of course, I mean Christianity. Of all the major religions of the world, Christianity is the most liberating, especially to women and people of all races; tolerant; all-encompassing; and hope-filled. And though I've strayed from the subject a bit, my theory of relativity is further proof, at least for me, of the merits of Christianity.

[Attached notecard]

In organized sports, everyone wants to win. That is the object of every game, after all. Every year, one team always comes out on top. This means that one team has lost all of their games in proportion to the team that won all of them. So, how can everyone succeed? Some say you gain something from it by improving. But if everyone improves, it becomes harder for the individual to succeed. No matter the game, someone has to lose. It is a win/lose situation in which only 50% of those involved can possibly succeed. Now you say, "If you tried your best, you still win." Well, you did not win the game, for the object was to get the highest points and you did not. If you tried your hardest and yet failed to win, what then? Is that not the least bit detrimental? And if this happened every single game, would you still feel you were "winning"? So tell me: what is the point of organized sports if not to triumph over the weaker team and declare yourselves the betters? Exercise perhaps. Well, there are unnumerable [sic] other ways to become physically fit without subjecting oneself to the animalistic, or perhaps humanistic, destructive qualities of sports.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The end. Almost.

So today was the last day of classes, which meant that it was the first day this semester that I could legitimately read something that I wasn't assigned without feeling guilty for neglecting my schoolwork. So of course I grabbed the nearest issue of Harper's, which featured, among other wonderful things, the transcript of a lecture Robert Frost gave in 1944.
I suppose a real idealist is a person who's gifted with the ability to miss what he hasn't seen, what he's never had. That would be the first definition of an idealist. And a poet's never that.

A poet's something else, isn't he? He's a person who dwells on what he has, gloats. Poetry is a kind of gloating, instead of a kind of idealizing. Dwelling on, dwelling in, indwelling.

. . .

Now, that's very great, and wouldn't it be strange if I claimed something greater for poetry? I used to be—I remember when I was—oh, sixteen, seventeen, when I came first into poetry and into the arts, I thought that everybody who could followed one of the arts. One of the arts, would naturally do that, I thought. I came along, and one night on a ship—where I had been, oh, sorta helping load and unload, knocking about, knocking about the world—a man, an older man, took an interest in me and got me to the rail and talked with me in the middle of the night, by the light of the moon, and got it out of me that I was interested in the arts. "Well, how interested?"

"Well," I said, "I write a little."

And he said, "Oh, that's a nice thing to do if you're not very well." And then he said, "I have a daughter, an invalid, and she writes."

And then I realized that he thought that everybody who could made money and everybody who couldn't make money went into the arts. And I saw that it was a beautiful standoff between us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I image-searched "substantive" and came up with this. Now, how did you pronounce that in your head?

I'm not being a language snob, I swear. I'm right there with E.B. White when he describes his professor's attitude toward pronunciation in The Elements of Style:
[H]is original Rule 11 was "Make definite assertions." That was Will all over. He scorned the vague, the tame, the colorless, the irresolute. He felt it was worse to be irresolute than to be wrong. I remember a day in class when he leaned far forward, in his characteristic pose—the pose of a man about to impart a secret—and croaked, "If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud! If you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!" This comical piece of advice struck me as sound at the time, and I still respect it. Why compound ignorance with inaudibility? Why run and hide?
But I want to be as accurate as possible. So when I hear a word that sounds off to me or come across one in my reading that I'd hesitate to use in conversation, I write it in the margin of my planner and look it up later. As a gift to anyone who takes the time to read this, here's a list of this semester's most notable entries:

Substantive (SUB-stan-tive): real or actual; of considerable amount; essential; independent

Wan (wahn): pale, sickly

Proviso (pruh-VIE-soh): stipulation, condition

William Cowper (COO-per): English poet

W.E.B. Du Bois (doo-BOYS): civil rights leader, writer

Boethius (bow-EE-thee-uhs): Roman philosopher

Incongruous (in-KAHNG-groo-us): disharmonious

Afflatus (ah-FLAY-tus): divine creative impulse

Surplice (SUR-pliss): loose white robe worn in churches

Tulle (tool): thin netted fabric

Demur (de-MER): to object

Monday, December 8, 2008

Apparently my professors saved the best for last.

I know I'm repeating myself, but Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1694) was just so good. It's the most marked-up piece of assigned reading that I've notated this semester; I wanted to underline the entire thing.
Whereas she whose reason is suffered to display itself, to inquire into the grounds and motives of religion, to make a disquisition of its graces, and [to] search out its hidden beauties; who is a Christian out of choice, not in conformity to those about her; and cleaves to piety because 'tis her wisdom, her interest, her joy, not because she has been accustomed to it; she who is not only eminently and unmoveably good, but able to give a reason why she is so; is too firm and stable to be moved by the pitiful allurements of sin . . . Doubtless a truly Christian life requires a clear understanding as well as regular affections . . . And what is the reason that we sometimes see persons falling off from their piety, but because 'twas their affections, not their judgment, that inclined them to be religious? Reason and truth are firm and immutable . . . For the affections are various and changeable . . . Such persons are always in extremes . . . there is no order and beauty in their lives . . . Having more heat than light, their zeal outruns their knowledge, and instead of representing piety as it is in itself, the most lovely and inviting thing imaginable, they expose it to the contempt and ridicule of the censorious world.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

If anyone asks, I'm a nineteenth-century proto-feminist.

My mom asked me what I was reading over break, and when I told her that it was "Bell in Campo," a play by seventeenth-century British writer Margaret Cavendish, she told me she didn't know that women even wrote then. I realized that there was a time when I didn't, either. In American Writers this week we discussed "the woman question," and in British Writers we read pieces by Cavendish and Aphra Behn. It gave me lots of time to think about something I've been mulling over for a while now. Angelina Grimke said it startlingly well in 1837:
My doctrine then is, that whatever it is morally right for man to do, it is morally right for woman to do. Our duties originate, not from difference of sex, but from the diversity of our relations in life, the various gifts and talents committed to our care, and the different eras in which we live. . . . I recognize no right but human rights—I know nothing of men's rights and women's rights; for in Christ Jesus, there is neither male nor female. It is my solemn conviction, that, until this principle of equality is recognised and embodied in practice, the church can do nothing effectual for the permanent reformation of the world.
I don't know about the "permanent reformation of the world," but she makes an incisive point. It's funny to read of the prejudices that have been harbored toward females; the charges ring in tinny, silly tones when you're sitting in classrooms full of females and are often being taught by a female professor. But I'm realizing more and more what damaging perceptions I still harbor myself, and how much I need to fully embody Grimke's principle. A woman has "the right to think and speak and act on all great moral questions . . . the right to fulfil the great end of her being, as a moral, intellectual and immortal creature, and of glorifying God in her body and her spirit which are His."

As an interesting codicil, with some connections if you want to make them, there's a fascinating profile of Tina Fey in Vanity Fair.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A brief tribute.

My parents celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary last weekend, and my dad wore his snazzy new peacoat. I took a picture of them, and realized how fortunate I am to have them. The end.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Just one of the many perks of having fifteen-year-old sisters.

We went to a quinceanera Friday night, a fifteenth birthday party for one of Rachel's and Shannon's soccer teammates.

I scored a Black Friday dress that day for the occasion. I also found a super-cheap vacuum cleaner for my dorm room, incidentally—we woke up at five that morning and got a head start on Christmas shopping. The crowds were bearable and the prices were unparalleled, and I felt really patriotic spending money. I'm kind of a fan of economic downturns.

What can I say? We really like lining up.

Grandma and Dad were both snapping pictures, so there's a ton of them. I figured I'd put a lot up so that everyone felt they looked good in at least one of them.

The party was at the Soboba Country Club, and everything was absolutely top-notch.

We danced until the wee hours of the night. Well, okay, 10:30 p.m. It definitely felt later—we were up so early that morning . . .

Monday, December 1, 2008

Still thankful.

After Thanksgiving dinner, we decided to go somewhere. I was driving for the first time since August, so as soon as someone suggested Palm Springs, I jumped at the chance to fly down the 10.

We arrived downtown just as the sun finished setting.

All pictures are courtesy of Rachel. I'd never think to frame the world in sunglass frames.

Strolling down the street, we decided to lavish affection on Sonny Bono.

We walked and window-shopped. The desert is a bit of a Thanksgiving tradition for us; we've often spent the day soaking in the pools in Desert Hot Springs. But this year, I think we were content with each other's company.

Dad wore Rachel's hat, which made him look a little bit foreign, walking through downtown Palm Springs, which amused us all to no end.

We went back home for Grandma's pie, popcorn, and Waking Ned Devine. Irish movies definitely pleasers in this crowd.