Thursday, November 18, 2004

take/make a decision

In British English, you "take a decision." In American English, you make one. The British expression is similar to the French construction, prendre une décision.

And it's time for me to decide how I'm to proceed with this blog of mine.

I didn't anticipate being this goddamn tired all the time. Part of this is my fault: bad eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, and The Will to Blog conflicting with The Need to Sleep. Part of this isn't my fault: my crazy split-shift schedule has completely destroyed my internal rhythms, and I'm a creature who functions best on at least six hours of sleep in a row (eight would be ideal).

I've thought about this a good bit today... and I'm not ready to abandon the blog. I will, however, be scaling way back on posting: the Hairy Chasms is about to become a Weekend-Only Blog. This is only temporary; I start a block shift at the beginning of December, so I'll have time to blog regularly for three or four months (as I once again adjust to a different sleep pattern). Weekend blogging is only for two weekends.

This will be awful for site traffic, but since my stats have never been impressive, I'm not saddled with the guilt that comes with letting down throngs of people. My regular readers number no more than a couple dozen-- probably fewer. I'm glad that, of my regulars, some have become correspondents. That's far more valuable to me than piles of commentators with whom I develop no real e-friendships. It's nice, for example, to have running discussions with Scott, and I'm always happy to slap up something witty from Justin, HK, Charlie, the Nomad, etc. Dr. Vallicella and I have exchanged quite a few cordial emails, despite our disagreements. Dr. Vallicella's friend, Dr. Horace Jeffrey Hodges, has also sent me some very insightful emails.

So it's time for a bit of rest and moderation.

And since this decision marks something of a blogological turning point, I'll reveal somethng about myself that might surprise you, enrage you, or make you shrug. It's time to come clean about my religious loyalties, and to explain why I've had an abiding interest in religious issues.

I'm an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church, USA.

This doesn't mean my palms glow with Jesus-light. I can't touch a woman's chest and enlarge her breasts just because she's asked the Lord for bigger titties. Being a Presbyterian elder isn't the same as being an ordained member of the Catholic hierarchy; there's no real spiritual authority implied in PCUSA elderhood (some elders might argue otherwise; they're full of shit). An elder's most important role is as a voting member of the Session, the governing body of each individual church. I've served on my church's Session twice; in both cases, my tenure was cut short because I left the country (once to Switzerland in 1989; once to Korea in 2002). I'm currently an "inactive" elder, but once you're ordained, you're an elder for life.

Presbyterians are nothing if not orderly. This is probably why we've earned the title of God's Frozen Chosen. We also love food, which is fine by me. Very few church meetings occur without someone bringing something to eat.

But I've never felt totally comfortable inside the Presbyterian nomos. I'm more into cross-traditional connections, interrelationships, commonalities, grand themes. I chafe during monthly meetings of the Session; to be honest, I'm not a very churchy guy. As readers of this blog know well, I'm perfectly comfortable being nasty and foul in thought and language. Boundaries were meant to be violated; they don't mean as much to me as they do to other people.

Through it all, despite whatever irreverence you think you see, I'm an elder because I take the religious dimension of life very seriously. It might not look it, but there have been moments on this blog where I took it upon myself to try and provide something akin to ministry. It's part of my calling to, every once in a while, shake a finger at people and tell them to be good. It may be hard for some readers to see where I do this, but if my readings in Zen and sporadic meditational practice have taught me anything, it's that explicit, crystal-clear lessons are the easiest to dole out, but the least likely to be of long-term value. Value comes from wrestling with religious truth, whether this is Jacob wrestling with an angel, Jesus suffering on the cross, or the Buddha weathering the Mara's temptations under the bo tree. Truth often arrives in a mask or in a fog; it's hard to discern its shape. You have to squint and guess and conjecture; you have to step into the fog, pry off the mask. Sift through my blog and you'll find obvious instances of preachiness, but look again at some of the more shit-caked passages and you might see hidden corn kernels of elder-ish wisdom (wisdom? heh) winking out at you.

I didn't want to reveal that I was an elder for a couple reasons. First, I wanted my privacy. Second, I was concerned about whether people could handle the fact that an elder might be so enamored of his own asshole. This second reason, though, began to seem more and more like cowardice to me (as some friends already pointed out in private). If nothing else, I should, for the sake of honesty, let my readers know where I'm coming from.

Obviously, I've been engaged in a long and fruitful internal dialogue with Buddhism. I'm not a practicing Buddhist, but there's much I like about Buddhist ethics and metaphysics. I've learned a lot from reading, limited practice, and continued interaction with both lay and monastic Buddhist practitioners. It's a cliche to say that "crossing over and coming back" allows one to see one's home tradition more clearly, but it's nonetheless true: I've discovered close cousins to Buddhist truths right in the backyard of my own Christianity.

At the same time, I'm a scientific skeptic and I frown on superstition. As a result, I'm no theist (which will seem odd to people who can't understand how a church elder can be a nontheist). Traditional Christians will peg me as a flaming religious liberal, which I am. I don't believe in scriptural literalism, and I can't stand fundamentalist attitudes in any religious tradition. I believe in the power and efficacy of dialogue, am willing to grant that other religious ways are as legitimate as my own, and have little patience for displays of religious self-righteousness. At the same time, I don't believe that institutional religion is inherently bad. As the great Buddhist William Shakespeare said in Hamlet, "There is no good or bad but thinking makes it so."

My studies in Eastern philo and religion have led me away from a dualistic worldview. I don't see the necessity for absolute boundaries between certain types of thought and behavior, which is one reason why I'm comfortable moving back and forth between the scatological and the religious. These things are, as the Zennist would say, not-two.

So you'd have every right to ask me why, if I'm so comfortable with my own nondualism, I felt I couldn't reveal the fact that I'm an ordained officer of the church. Since there's no good answer to that question, I've decided it's better simply to drop the pretense that I'm merely interested in religious issues. Now you know: I'm not just a curious seeker. I have a vested personal interest in these questions.

As I said above, this might not mean much to many of you. But I hope this clears matters up for those of you who've wondered why I've spent so much time blogging on religious matters, and why I'm simultaneously able to rhapsodize about my ass-babies and women's nipples.

So-- that's it for now. More filthy material will come your way this weekend, and the following weekend. I start that block shift (2PM to 10PM) in December; we'll see where the blog goes from there, yes?


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