Thursday, January 24, 2008

fame and fortune are mine

I am a finalist in the Canadian Blog Awards. Considering, as PJ pointed out, only about 15 people read my blog, I was quite surprised to make it past the first round of voting – maybe all 15 people voted for me! Anyway, there I am, in the top 5 “religious blogs” in Canada – which is a bit funny considering that I actually wrote a post this past summer on the fact that I get nervous putting my thoughts about God and my faith down in such a public forum as the blog.

In this funny little experience, I can also feel the tugging of my contrasting feelings about my blog – I started it imagining that it would only be read by people who I know – it was basically a more formalized version of the group e-mails I would send out with links to interesting news stories. I was a bit weirded out by strangers reading my thoughts and commenting on them. As I’ve been writing, though, I have to admit that I am excited when new people find my blog, and that people actually find what I am writing to be worth reading. My sporadic attempts to publish have led to naught, and this keeps me thinking that maybe at some point I will actually reach that goal.

So, I guess despite my conflicted feelings about my blog becoming public, I am pleased I am a finalist – as Napoleon Dynamite would say, Vote for el Maggie.

Monday, January 21, 2008

deep dark materials

PJ and I saw The Golden Compass the other night. It was a pretty good movie, though it suffered from the common ailment of movies made from long books, i.e. it kinda zoomed through the highlights of the story without much development in between.

The movie got us talking about the Dark Materials trilogy in general, and particularly Philip Pullman's opinion of God. There’s been a fair amount in the media about this – various Catholic school boards have been banning the books for their anti-God stance. It’s been interesting talking to people about this. Non-Christians generally assume that the hysteria is akin to the “Harry Potter is satanic” excitement. Some of our friends, who had seen the movie, thought that it was anti-church, but not necessarily anti-God. Spoiler alert: the series may seem only anti-church in the first installment, but God is clearly the villain by the third book.

I have a Christian friend who refuses to see the movie, as she doesn’t want to support the work of someone who is anti-God. Since she’s a reasonable and intelligent person, this statement challenged me. I knew that I was comfortable with reading these books and seeing the movies, but why? How do I reconcile this with my faith? After seeing the movie, PJ and I were talking about this the other night. It was one those conversations that spanned from the initial topic to issues as diverse as the general inability in fantasy and science-fiction literature to create realistic religions (a topic I plan to blog on soon) and the Dresden fire-bombing controversy at the Canadian war museum (a topic I have previously blogged on, and I have no idea how we got to from the Golden Compass).

To get back to the topic at hand, though: why am I ok with reading books and watching movies by a guy who apparently views God as an impotent and power-hungry old man, and ultimately the enemy of humanity? I guess the first response to that is that I think Pullman is entitled to his views of God, but I don’t think he’s right. And, in some ways, broad exposure to his harsh impression of God may facilitate opportunities for me to talk to people about how I understand the divine. Next, I like having my faith challenged. I would not be following this God if I thought he was an impotent and power-hungry old man – and if one book makes me waver on this point, what kind of faith is that? Finally, though – I appreciate a good story and I think that the Dark Materials trilogy is just that – Pullman creates a compelling fantasy world framework and fills it with interesting characters doing interesting things. In many ways, it follows the basic hero-myth story-arc, with a bratty little girl who grows up into a brave and loyal young woman as our hero. As a longtime female fan of fantasy and fairytales, how can I resist?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

practical theory

I began my academic career as a student of literature. I went into English because I like reading and I like writing – and it also dove-tailed with my interest in theatre, in which I obtained a minor. In the end, though, English was maybe not the best subject for me. When I look back over the essays I wrote during my undergrad, almost every single one is about situating the work in its social or historical context. I never got into heavy theoretical analysis and, in fact, it drove me insane. It has always seemed to me like nothing more than games that we play in our heads, looking for meaning that isn’t there and laying our after-the-fact interpretations on the text as if it’s something definitive. I recently had a conversation with a friend who studied art history, and found the same thing.

When I was almost done law school, someone finally explained the point of theory to me – that we use it not because it gives a full and real picture of the subject we are analysing, but because it gives the researcher a structure framework in which to conduct the analysis. While I still maintain that psycho-analysing Hamlet (a fictional character with no sub-conscious) is of limited value, that explanation made sense to me. I wish that someone had told me that when I first started university – I think it would have made the whole game make at least a bit more sense.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

what it's about

So, I run a church in my spare time. Ecclesiax has been pastor-less for a few months now, and the Board has been keeping things together. It's been exhausting. Two out of the five of us have resigned from the board because it was adding too much stress to their lives. The rest of us really aren't sure what's going to happen next. We have bills to pay, rental contracts to sort out, snow to shovel, relationships to manage, and a budget to write. To be honest, I've found myself wondering a bit too frequently why I bother. And then today, we had a service focused on prayer. I didn't deliver a message, but just led the congregation through a variety of prayer exercises focused on the idea that prayer is basically us saying two things to God: thank you and help. We wrote our confessions on paper and burnt them. We sang a Psalm of thanksgiving. We lit candles as we sent prayers for our community up to God (hmm . . . not sure what the emphasis on fire says about me . . .). Our band played a couple of wonderful songs, but we also had times of silence. It was good, it was like the early days when Ecclesiax was a place of experimentation and vulnerability. We told the congregation how badly things were going, and received a lot of offers of help. One guy who was with us for the first time went right out and bought us salt for the walkway. Leading the service was still exhausting, and I didn't manage to get out of there before 2pm after the offering was counted, but at least I've been reminded that church is a group of people on a spiritual journey together - and that's what it's all about.

becoming one of those people

I haven't been doing too well with my usual attempt to go to the gym three times a week - busy times at work followed by Christmas holidays, followed by more busy times at work and travel with work (not to mention this whole "I run a church in my spare time" thing) have got me down to about once a week for the last month. Yesterday, I actually went at 4pm on a Saturday to at least get that much in - and it felt great. I thought that the cardio would kill me, since I've been so sporadic, but I was feeling wonderful while I did it, and after a walk home with my earphones still plugged into my workout playlist, I felt so healthy and invigorated that I ate a grapefruit. I don't know how it happened, because I never was before, but I have become one of those people who just feels so good when they exercise. Eek - if I'm not careful, I'll be taking up running next . . . .

Thursday, January 3, 2008

new year

For a long time now, I’ve kind of disliked New Year’s Eve. There’s always this feeling of expectations on this one night, and it seldom lives up. We’ve had New Years’ where we’ve tried to see everyone, and therefore ended up spending more of the evening in the car than actually seeing anyone. We’ve also had New Years’ where we waited so long to try to figure out what to do that we really didn’t end up doing much of anything.

The answer, you may be thinking, is obvious – put the expectations behind you and just treat it as an extra Friday night. I’ve realized, though, that I believe in New Year’s. I believe in the significance of the new beginning – when you can officially say that whatever needs to be put behind you will be, and start into a fresh new year awash with fresh new possibilities. It was odd when I realized that I had these deep expectations riding on the day, because I’ve never particularly been one for New Years’ resolutions, and I’ve never really done any great gala New Year’s event (this year, I finally realized my lifelong dream of hosting a New Year’s dinner party – yup, I’m quite the dreamer . . .).

I guess I made this realization because I was hoping for a new start this year. 2007 was a big year, and the fall was pretty tiring for both PJ and I. It was with a sense of dismay that I realized that things were not going to be any calmer in January, and it then dawned on me that I had been counting on the New Year to be a new beginning.

So, now I am trying to figure out what to do with this longing for change on January 1. I don’t believe in ritual for the sake of ritual (which is why, I think, I’ve never been huge on resolutions – I don’t make one unless I think I will stick to it), so I am not going to do something unless it would actually resonate with me – yet I need to in some way acknowledge the potential for a new beginning, even when it feels like I am back to the same old grind.