Sunday, October 25, 2015

Babies and time

A peek inside the mind of an anxious mother: I have trouble deleting photos of my kids.  It can be out of focus, blurred from motion, dark, but I'm still going to keep it.  I'm afraid that child will die and all I will have will be my pictures of them.  What if that blurry picture is all I have left of Michael's "crazy face"?

When I was thinking this, though, I realized Michael doesn't even do his crazy face anymore.  I still have Michael, but I don't have that Michael.  So I'm stuck with the blurry pictures anyway.






Above is baby Marko.  I don't have baby Marko in my life anymore.  I have five-year-old Marko, but that's not very similar.  He isn't that size, shape, ability level, or appearance.  He doesn't remember being that baby.  The things I loved about him -- his smell, his tiny little hands, his milk-drunk face -- are gone.

Anyone that we love may change.  We reassure ourselves by reminding ourselves of the things that didn't change.  They changed their hair, but they're the same personality.  They changed their opinions, but they kept the moral anchor that helps them choose their opinions.  And of course, they remember our history together and all our in-jokes.

But babies?  They change completely.  There is pretty much nothing about them that stays the same over time.

That's why the love of a mother is so special.  With anyone else who loves us, we can say, truthfully or not, "They only love X about me.  They only love Y.  They might stop loving me if I changed."  We fear that.  But our mother, we know is going to love us no matter how we change, because we've already changed drastically and they still love us.  That's why we talk of a "face only a mother could love."  Everyone deserves this kind of love, and there's nothing worse than growing up without it, as some do.

A mother strings together the disparate points in time, the different selves the child is, and chooses to love the substance of the child -- the whole changing thing they are.  I love Marko because he was once that tiny baby, and because he is such a joy at five, and because someday he will be a grown man who doesn't remember as much about his own story as I do.  And because each day has led into the next day, so that while he changes, I also change, and each of us strings together these days into our lives -- the love remaining constant.  But most of all, because he is him, and he is a person I made up my mind to love.

I miss his baby-self, and Michael's crazy face, and Miriam's tiny little feet.  But it doesn't really matter, because my love has grown with them to find new things about them to love, every day.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Life is complicated

The human mind is good at making sense of all kinds of things.  Clouds, random statistics, inkblots.  It's always a bit of a struggle, trying to sort out the things that make sense to me from the things that actually make sense.

Conspiracy theories are a good example of this.  It feels really good to take a dozen random facts and fit them into a connecting pattern.  Nothing sticks out, nothing is meaningless or random.  We like things that make sense.

Other ideologies do this too. When I was reading up on agrarianism, everything seemed connected to agriculture.  Unemployment?  It's because their ancestors sold the family farm.  Epidemic of depression?  Too little exposure to nature!  Health problems in this country could all be traced to overconsumption of processed corn products.

And it's not like these things are totally unconnected.  There is a real relationship I was seeing.  But it was always tempting to paper over the things that didn't fit -- the Facebook friend whose husband profitably manages a commodity corn farm, the joy a friend has working in technology and rarely going outdoors, the way I really do love the taste of Taco Bell burritos.  They made the pattern less beautiful and so I didn't want to acknowledge those things.

Libertarianism was another, for awhile.  Libertarianism can connect to agrarianism, as I spent a lot of time working out, but there were moments they did clash, and it made me feel uncomfortable sometimes.  For instance, when reading Fast Food Nation, I could see that the sustainable food movement had nothing at all to do with a right-left dichotomy.  Sometimes the big food lobby got Democrats to vote for increased regulation to drive out their smaller competitors, and other times they got Republicans to vote for decreased regulation so they could get away with some shady business practices.  It felt like they were using people's interest in the question of "more vs. less government" to manipulate them to back certain things.

I realized that more vs. less government is a line, but the right policies are a picture, a picture which sometimes calls for government action and sometimes not.  In general I still feel that people neglect the possibility of solving problems without government, and underestimate the negative side effects which always crop up when you use a blunt instrument like government to solve problems, but that doesn't mean that you can answer all questions with a simple "just legalize/deregulate it!"  There are some problems that won't be solved without government.  All but the most radical libertarians acknowledge this, but it is a good deal harder to keep this in mind than I would have thought.

It's occurred to me that habits of mind like this -- of seeing everything along a single axis, "more or less government," or "conventional or alternative medicine," or "conservative or liberal" -- are very tempting and very problematic.  It leads us to team up with others who see things on the same axis, which makes it even more tempting to focus only on the things that match the pattern and ignore all the ones that don't.  That's why libertarians are always so sure that food stamps aren't really necessary (because if they are, then federal involvement in them is justified) and alternative medicine proponents don't want to hear about scarlet fever and atheists think all Christians believe the earth is 6,000 years old.  It's simple, it's easy, it allows you to keep seeing the pattern you think the world is.

I wish I knew the cure.  For now, I just remind myself often: any time I notice that everything seems to be fitting into one unified pattern, I should look around for the pokey bits that aren't popping into place.  They're there, my mind just has trouble seeing them.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Freedom vs. friends

In college I had a cranky theology professor with white hair and a white beard who occasionally did an impression of a three-year-old.  He called it the Ego Shriek.  He sat on his desk and kicked his legs whining, "I want playmates!  But I want everything to go my way!  But I want playmates!"

He explained that this is how we all are.  We desire relationship with others, but we don't like the perpetual downside -- other people are free agents who aren't going to always do what we like.

Certainly my three-year-old does it all the time.  "I want to play with Marko!  But I want to go outside!  But Marko won't come outside with me!"  Sorry, bucko, looks like you've got some tough choices to make.

When I was a kid I dreamed of a soul mate, a bosom friend, perhaps a sister.  The Diana to my Anne Shirley, the Tacy to my Betsy Ray.  She was going to like all the things I liked and want to play with me all the time, except when I wanted to be alone.  Because I didn't get out much, I believed in this ideal for a long time.

Eventually, though, I discovered that no one is ever everything you want them to be.  If you select your friends based on having a maximum number of things in common with you, that's great -- till they inevitably change.  If you respect their freedom to change, your freedom is now constrained -- you no longer have the choice you had before, to be friends with this person while also sharing a certain number of things in common with your friend.  You sacrifice your desire to share those things with your best friend, or you go find a new best friend.  Each of these is a sacrifice; they both hurt.

It's the same with groups.  My alma mater was a lovely place when it came to community spirit.  There were all these people who agreed with me on everything really important.  We had a solid ground to build stuff on!  But there wasn't a lot of freedom, because there were many things you couldn't really question.  When I question those things, as I do these days, those same people don't like it.  Why?  Well, obviously I'm threatening the great thing they have -- a community that shares the same ideas.  They're then faced with a choice -- to keep their friendbase uniform (which is great, it means you can talk about all those commonalities) or to remain faithful to me as a person.  I'm forcing that choice by exercising my freedom.

Organizations that have strict rules -- that are more culty, in a sense -- are often more stable. People invest in them more.  Loose clubs have people always coming and going; cults have dedicated members because it's hard to leave.  You can't get all the benefits of a cult without giving up some of your freedom -- the "bad parts" of cults are features, not bugs.

Our whole society has mostly chosen freedom over community.  Many people I knew wish they lived near family that would help with their kids.  But they don't want to live near family, really -- they want to work in a certain field, or live in a certain place, and that's why they don't live near family.  They chose freedom over living near family.  We also choose freedom in career choice over family businesses most of the time, which is why you don't hear of many family businesses that last more than a generation or two.  Family farms don't last, because the father wanted to farm but the son doesn't.  Then when the grandson comes along, he wants to farm, but the farm isn't there for him, because his father exercised his freedom and sold it.

But I wonder sometimes if we don't overemphasize freedom, to the detriment of community.  People don't want to hang out with their neighbors because they are used to choosing friends based on shared interests or values -- but then you can't be friends with your neighbors, because they're selected more or less randomly and might not have anything in common with you.  Every playgroup I try to start or join ends up falling prey to the old problem of, "I didn't feel like going this week."  Every single member would like to have the choice to not show up one week, so they don't commit to going.  And then no one wants to go because they're afraid no one else will show up.  In order for a group to be successful, at least some of the members, some of the time, have to show up when they don't feel like it.

I have been told I should never hang out with a friend unless I want to, I should bail on a social event if I don't feel up to it.  But if everyone did that, when would anyone hang out with each other?  I have read articles explaining that introverts are tough nuts to crack and therefore the extrovert in the relationship should do all of the effort to make the relationship happen.  But why would they want to do that?  I'm sure we'd all love it if we had a friend who planned everything for us, called to invite us, and then (when we said no fifty percent of the time) just kept asking and asking because they like us so very much.  But I, for one, would feel like a terrible friend if I treated someone that way.  They'd think I didn't like them.

Marriage is the ultimate in friendship, and also comes with the least freedom.  You want the freedom to change after getting married, but your spouse is going to exercise the same freedom.  They might not be exactly the person you married, ten years down the road.  You agree to love them anyway, which is a sacrifice of your freedom to go find someone more suited to the ways you've changed.  (And mind you, I'm not saying no one ever has a good reason to get a divorce, but I'm talking about the ideal of marriage.)  But in return for that tradeoff, you get that magical thing everyone wants -- a bosom friend, someone who likes you for you and not for specific attributes that might change later, someone who isn't going to ditch you when you change.

For better or worse, friendship requires some sacrifice of freedom.  It's unfortunate in some ways, because we do have a strong desire for those special friendships where we can do what we like and still have someone to do it with.  And certainly there are times and people and places where very little sacrifice is required -- that friend who really is as obsessed with Firefly as you, the spouse who changes to become more like you rather than less, the online forum where people come and go but you are guaranteed to get to talk about your pet topic all the time.

But in another way, I think it's almost a perk, because you show love to others when you sacrifice a little of your freedom for them.  You go play outside with your brother because he wants to, and that tells your brother that you care more about being with him than about doing what you want.  You keep up with a friend even though they aren't into Lord of the Rings anymore, because after all these years you love them, not your shared interests.  And you always get that primary choice -- how far do you want to go for your friends?  You can set the balance where you want.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fall poem

Why so spendthrift with your beauty, leaves?
Why are you so lovely in your dying?
You fling your gold on the wind like coins;
The reddest leaves lie soonest in the gutter.

The stars might ask us in their turn:
Why do you bother, sons of men?
Why are you so lovely in your dying?
Your life slips by like a leaf's fall.
The first thrill of a first love
The sweet smell of a newborn's head--
Why try to gather up these things?
Even your memories are soon leafmold.

Why waste love on a grandfather, soon to die,
Or on any son of man, so short your season.
Kingdoms rise and fall and are forgotten,
A century gone, and no one knows you ever were.

The leaves whisper their answer on the wind:
We were green for months, and you never spared a glance.
You call those colors fairest that are glowing for the least time.
Red against gold, clear yellow in an russet wood,
It is the change that sends the shiver to your bones.

Now is beauty's eternity:
Don't turn away from a falling star.
Some things are broad in time, others deep.
It matters to be lovely in your dying.

Friday, October 9, 2015

How can I know anything?

When I say that I want to believe only those things I have evidence for, people invariably ask, "But then how do you know anything?  How do you know you're not a brain in a jar?"

The answer, I suppose, is "I don't, not with certainty."    What frustrated me about pre-modern philosophy, when I studied it in college, was the desire to know things with certainty, as if you could solve for existence like a math problem.  To achieve that, most of the reasoning was a priori -- starting from basic axioms and trying to reason from there.  What I couldn't see was how you could know your axioms were correct.  For instance, "Everything has a cause."  Certainly I've never seen anything that doesn't.  But how can you prove that there is nothing that doesn't?  You don't, you assume it at the outset, and if you happen to be wrong, everything you conclude in your argument is now doubtful.

But, of course, if you assume nothing, if you say that everything is doubtful, well, maybe you're a brain in a jar.  Descartes, so far as I know, did not set out to prove "a priori reasoning is a joke," but that was kind of what I got out of him.

The way out, to me, is the scientific method.  I'm sure this methodology would have been more exciting to me, way back in fifth grade when I learned about it, if I had studied Descartes first.  At the time it was like, "Of course you do experiments to find out stuff, how else would you do it?  Doy!"  (Hey, it was the 90's.)

But I missed the real point of it, which was that instead of starting with an axiom -- something that is assumed and never questioned later on -- you start with a hypothesis.  A guess.  You assume it conditionally, you make predictions of what will happen if it's true, and then you see if your predictions are true.  If your predictions always come true, you start to believe more and more that the hypothesis is accurate.  But if even one is false, you have to abandon or at least revise your hypothesis.

So when I make the hypothesis, "my senses are generally reliable," I can then make some predictions.  For instance, I predict that my senses won't contradict one another; that I won't randomly jump around like in a dream, but will have to go step by step from one place to another; that other people will affirm that their sense-experience is similar to mine.  So far, so good -- my experience is entirely compatible with my hypothesis.  I haven't disproven the idea that I'm a brain in a jar, but given that it seems a lot more complicated and less likely, I don't spend much worry on it. 

This is how science develops.  The theory of evolution started as a guess, but as new finds confirm its predictions -- that newer fossils are more complex than old ones, that fossils will be found in the geological layers corresponding to the period when we think they lived, and so forth.  When some minor deviation is found -- say, a T. rex in the Jurassic layer -- the theory has to be adjusted to contain it, and we get new dinosaur books that list T. rex in the Jurassic instead of the Cretaceous.  When predictions fail in a big way, with no way to explain how the theory could be reconciled with them, the theory is abandoned.  If they find a rabbit fossil in a Precambrian layer, that would pretty much disprove evolution, but it's never happened.  That is a good reason to believe in evolution -- but no one claims to be certain, in the philosophical sense, about it.  Certainty is really not something that happens outside of math.

Here are some theories I believe, with a high but not total level of certainty:

1.  My senses are generally accurate.
2.  Other people are mostly to be trusted
a. unless they have a motive to lie, or a reason why they would be mistaken
b.  or they have a history of lying
c.  or if they are asking me to believe something that seems contradictory or highly unlikely
[This theory allows me to believe in stuff like "Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth" without believing every salesman who knocks on the door.]
3.  My moral intuitions should be followed
a.  though I should use reason to doublecheck them
b.  and not act if I am doubtful

This last is perhaps more of a choice than a proper theory because it contains should, but I do think that the fact that humans have roughly similar moral intuitions, and that they match a rational idea of "what actions are good for humanity," it's reasonable if not fully scientific.

Why trust the scientific method?  Well, in the few centuries since it was adopted, it's given us the steam engine, the gasoline engine, the airplane, electricity, penicillin, the eradication of smallpox, the internet, sanitation, a man on the Moon, global positioning systems, and the air conditioner.  Not that these things are indispensable (well, not all of them) but that they are good examples of how the scientific method is a good way of navigating the world we live in.  Rather than either assuming things and not going back to check, or failing to make any assumptions and living in total uncertainty, it's about moving forward with your best guess and seeing if it holds up.  It's about not privileging any belief you hold so dearly that you won't allow future evidence to amend it.  It's humble in what it promises, but impressive in what it delivers.

It can't prove I'm not a brain in a jar, though.  Oh well. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Would I disappoint myself?

I pulled out an old journal of mine this past weekend and flipped through it.  It's from when I was seventeen years old -- a pretty good year, actually, because I'd mostly gotten over the depression after getting kicked out of boarding school.  I was homeschooling and had tons of spare time, so I did a lot of writing, reading poetry, sewing medieval dresses ... all the sorts of things I love to do, if I haven't got anything else going on.

Around that time, my spiritual director had told me my vocation was marriage, and I, having more or less accepted it, spent a lot of time wondering on how that jived with the sorts of things I wanted and liked.  I had big dreams!  I wanted to write poetry!  I wanted to be a published novelist!  But an older woman I knew, who had told me that she too had had big dreams, never fulfilled any of them, because she got married and had kids instead.  I worried that that would be me.

I wrote this about it:

Why is it that no one ever gets what they dreamed about?  Sure, they like what they get, but isn't that worse?  To slowly sink down, and not even want to fly anymore. 

Reading that was something of a shock.  I thought -- would I disappoint myself?  Not just because I haven't gotten published yet (which I was so sure I would have) but because I'm pretty happy about my life so far despite not doing much writing?

Well, maybe.  I'm a little disappointed myself that I don't write more.  Writing fiction is challenging, you really need to dedicate a lot of attention to it, and I'm almost never not distracted.  And as for poetry -- yikes.  Though I didn't write great poetry then, either.  Poetry is hard and I've kind of accepted that while I can be poetic, I don't write the level of poetry that I like to read, and that's okay.  I can write it for fun, or I can use the poetic way of thinking to write better prose.

But on the other hand, kids are awesome and I don't really have any regrets on that count.  A person is always better than a poem.  And my kids are extra special and wonderful, so I can't say at all that it was a bad tradeoff.  I didn't know how happy they'd make me, so I couldn't see that side of the tradeoff when I was seventeen.

Maybe part of the reason I was so obsessed with poetry at seventeen was because I was so horribly lonely.  I didn't have a lot in my life that I had control over, so I would retreat into my fantasy world and build castles in the air.  I liked to write romance stories, because I was romantic but didn't yet have any real-life romance.

And the worst of it is, what I was writing was kind of awful.  It was naive and lacked any ring of reality.  I clearly didn't know what I was talking about.  If I hadn't spent the past decade-plus living life, I think my writing might well have stayed like that.  You can't write good fiction if you haven't experienced the ecstasy of love, the pain of loss, the burden of duty or the fear of death.  You have to have something you understand that you can write about, and I had very little.

My kids taught me so much.  They made me a libertarian, just by showing me how deep-seated the human desire for freedom is, so that any system which fails to account for it is doomed to failure.  They taught me about non-violence and how the only way to make hate and anger stop was to choose not to participate.  And along the way I grew gardens, read agrarian manifestos while nursing, learned to spin, and discovered a sense of strength and power in myself that I didn't know I had -- realizing that I can do a great deal more than I ever would have thought.

That wasn't something I think I could have learned if I had kept my heart in a box in the hopes of writing down all my Big Thoughts right away.

I still hope I get published someday.  I hope I have time to write all the novels sloshing around in my head.  I hope I reach a part of my life where I have more freedom than I have now.

But for now, at twenty-nine years old, I'd like to reassure seventeen-year-old me:  Don't worry, life is bigger than you think.  There's more to it and bigger dreams than you've yet dreamed.  You will never be able to fit in every single thing you've wished for in one lifetime, but that's all right -- you can fit in quite a bit, and some of it will surprise you with how special it is.

When you grow up and have kids, no, you won't have the free time you have now, where you can spend all morning learning Elvish and all afternoon writing.  But you won't be lonely, either.  You will be in charge of your own life, then, and you will be loved and respected.  Your kids will pile into your lap sometimes and you'll wish for a little space -- but at the same time, you'll know that your love is all they need, and that will make you feel like you matter now, not in some future day when you've done something big. 

Don't be disappointed staring into the future, kid.  I haven't done everything you dreamed, but I've done things you wouldn't have ever dreamed, and it's all been good so far.  Keep believing in me, and maybe I'll get to some of your dreams in the end.

Friday, October 2, 2015

I don't want this

Lately I've heard the same comment a few times: "I won't argue with you because you obviously don't want to believe."

This can be read a couple of ways.  They could mean, "I don't mind that you think differently from me, and I have no desire to interfere with your opinion since it makes you happy."  I'm fine with that, though I don't think the Catholic Church is, exactly.  But, hey, we can't all be proselytizing at all times, and if they don't have the time, energy, or knowledge to argue with me, they don't have to.

Or they might mean, "You aren't really open-minded, so I'd be wasting my time if I tried talking with you."

I tend to hear more of this second one, though it might be just my own oversensitivity.  The implication is that I am bad and wrong for thinking the wrong things, and they are giving up on me.  And so I predictably feel hurt and defensive.

But I suppose there is truth to it in some respect -- I am not in the state I was six months ago, where I wanted so desperately to believe that I would cling to any argument, however tenuous, and try to make it make sense.  Even that wasn't really working for me -- some things don't make sense no matter how hard you try -- but I will admit, I've changed my ground a bit.  I don't want to believe the Catholic faith, per se, I want to believe whatever is true.  I would like that to be the Catholic faith, but if it's not, I still want to believe it.  This is a shift from what I said a few months back.

The thing is, the most important thing in the world to me is to do what is right.  I said before that I would rather do what is right than believe what is true (i.e. I prefer goodness to truth) but it occurred to me that it is not possible to do what is right if you don't know what is true.  Facts have a bearing on morals; you can't reach ought without is.  And hiding yourself in ignorance can be dangerous, because, well, you're ignorant -- you don't know what things you would be doing if you thought differently, until you think differently.

So I asked myself, if I want to know the truth, what is the best way to find it out?  There are different ways of discovering the truth, but the ideal way would be able to discern between truth and falsehood.  That is, "believe what you are told" does not work, because I know that many people who follow this rule believe falsehood and don't have any way to find that out.  (Being in a cult taught me this, but I don't think of it as "trauma" because it is something worth knowing: the mere fact that someone believes something, and is told that it is morally good to believe it, doesn't make it true.)

So the ideal way to find out if something is true, is by a method that would prove it false if it were not true.  Of course there is no infallible method, because people are often wrong about all kinds of things.  But I think the best tools are emotions and reason.  If you feel in your heart that something is true, or have facts in your head supporting its veracity, then you've got something that is, at the very least, something to go on.

Emotions are out, since I haven't had a single positive emotion associated with Catholicism since I got kicked out of boarding school.  I think it's perfectly okay to believe in God because you feel his presence, but as I don't, I turned to reason.

Now if you want to use reason to test something, you have to be willing to prove it either true or false.  If the reasoning you use would only prove it true and can't possibly prove it false, then it can't give you any new information.  If you can't see that, try playing this game and it should explain what I mean.  So lining up proofs for the existence of God is a fun exercise, but until you ask, "Are there counterarguments to these proofs, and how good are they?" you're not really using reason to test a claim.  You're trying to comfort yourself, and sadly, it doesn't work ... because I was doing that and gaining more doubts by the day.

Some loved ones reassured me: "The truth is like a lion," they said.  "It can stand up for itself.  You don't have to be afraid of accidentally disproving it.  Investigate honestly, and you'll walk away feeling really sure instead of doubtful."  I didn't have their level of trust, but I thought -- well, if it's true it can stand up to questioning, and if not, it shouldn't stand up to questioning, should it?

That was a surprisingly difficult question, and I agonized about it for a long time.  Being a "doubting Catholic" is one thing -- struggling with doubts, but never for a minute honestly asking if it might not be true.  You say instead, "I have these doubts, but I know there must be an answer to all of them that I just haven't discovered yet."  It's an entirely different thing to say, "It might be false, and I want to know."  That's not okay to say, it's not even okay to think.

But I thought -- what if it is true?  What if I'm undergoing all these agonies of doubt, and it's all for nothing because there's clear evidence in favor of faith?  I know I'll never truly believe until I take each piece of evidence and thoroughly examine its credibility, because I'll suspect it won't hold up.  But if I've looked, and I know it holds up, then I can believe for real and not be troubled by doubt anymore!

So, for the first time, I tried to critically examine all the apologetical stuff I'd been reading for years.  I'd already abandoned the philosophical arguments for God, finding them reliant on schools of philosophy which I have studied and found wanting.  But I felt the historical arguments were pretty good, so I looked into those.  I had already read Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, so I went through it and fact-checked it.  The very strongest argument in favor of Christianity, in my opinion, is that the witnesses of the resurrection died rather than deny it .... however, fact-checking this (in the Catholic Encyclopedia, no less!) proved it false; we don't know how the apostles died with any sort of historical accuracy.  And I went right on down the line, hoping so hard for some kind of solid evidence -- something that I could honestly say, "If I am to be objective and use good historical methodology, I have to accept that Christianity is true."  But I did not.

I backed up and tried other lines of argument, looked at miracle claims and asked myself, "Is it possible that this miracle could have happened without divine intervention?"  I went back to the philosophical arguments and had no luck.  Everywhere I looked, I found the rational proofs I was always promised did not hold up to testing.

I am still looking.

What gets me in all this is what in the world God can have been thinking, leaving his existence so plausibly deniable!  Wouldn't it have been so easy to provide a little more proof?  A pillar of fire in the sky would be easy for him, obviously, but even something much simpler would be great:
-He could have a disinterested account of the martyrdom of St. Peter, written by an eyewitness.  The Roman magistrate offers him his life if he'll only admit he was lying about the resurrection, but he refuses and dies for it.
-The Shroud of Turin could date from the time of Christ rather than the Middle Ages, so that we could believe it was real.
-He could have made the Church be the one to first invent feminism, ban torture, and end the death penalty, proving its moral rectitude surpassed what the best minds outside of it could figure out.
-Or he could simply give me a feeling of his presence, so that I could experience him directly and not have to guess if he was out there.  If doubts returned afterward, I could return to my memory of that experience to comfort me.

Any of those would have helped a lot.  And it just confused me that God would leave me, and so many other well-meaning people who struggle like I do, hanging like that.  If God is real and cares, I can't account for it.  But if he isn't, it (like so many other things) makes a lot more sense.

So here I am: disbelieving because I honestly don't think it's true.  I don't try to believe because I don't know if it is right to try to believe.  I want to believe, because everything in my life would be better if I did, but I don't want to believe more than I want the truth, because to do right one must know the truth, to the best of one's ability.

And if you want to respect my disbelief, you know what would help more than anything?  Arguing with me.  I'm serious.  Because when you argue with me, you are accepting my account of myself, that I am an honest seeker.  And you are putting yourself forward as a witness, that you believe your faith stands up to questioning, because here you are putting it out there.  Most of all, you offer me a little hope that it's true after all and that I can come to believe it, because as long as you're still talking to me, there's something more left I haven't heard.

You don't have to do it.  Not everyone's an apologist, and not everyone has the time.  But please, just say so.  Say that you think the answers are out there and I should keep looking, or that you hope I'll find something that helps me believe.  But don't tell me I just don't want to believe.  My preference all along has been to believe!  And if what you're saying is, the truth looks like falsehood unless you are trying to believe it (and sometimes even when you are) -- then I would simply ask, how are you sure that trying to believe is the right choice?  How are you sure you aren't supposed to be trying to believe something else?

If you can't answer that question, I think you'd better stop telling me I should be trying harder.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Poem for Miriam

My child, I have little for your inheritance--
Only the ground strewn with emerald grass
A sky carved of lapis,
And when you are lucky, a shower of diamond raindrops.

My child, I have little for your inheritance--
The knowledge man has learned since past remembering
Libraries full of poems
And the dreams that the sleeping world is dreaming.

My child, I have little for your inheritance--
Diamond tears shed upon the rail of your crib
My heart's depths
And one person who loved you before your deserving.
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