Thursday, April 9, 2009

Religious Cliche -- Writer's Poke #222

I suppose it's inevitable. When you go over the same ideas again and again, they become rather cliched. Their meaning and value, assumed, never questioned.

In the forward to The Best American Spiritual Writing 2008, editor Philip Zaleski claims, "Everyone recognizes the figure of the religious hypocrite, mouthing prayers or offering devotions with no attention to inner meaning." Is it fair to call such people hypocrites? I would prefer to call them victims. When you've been told your whole life that the Son of God (who is actually God -- or a part of God -- himself) gave up his human life to forgive the sins of humanity, is it hypocritical to act as though you possibly can understand what this means?

A few lines later, Zaleski seems to acknowledge that even the "average schlep in the pews, ignorant of theology and innocent of mysticism, praying with half his mind on his girlfriend or his gold game, has nevertheless amassed, week by week and year by year, a bank of [religious] wisdom." In other words, you might not be able to explain what you know, but you've absorbed the knowledge nonetheless, and that's what counts.

But beyond the cliche, what do you really "know"?

Is it possible to go beyond the cliche? If so, how?

"I think my whole generation's mission is to kill the cliche." -- Beck

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Voodoo Attraction -- Writer's Poke #221

We walked into the shop and were overcome by the intense smell of incense. Dragon statues, pentagrams, herbs, and other stereotypically-wiccan paraphernalia were visible wherever the eye landed. But visible only in dim shadows as the outer windows of the store were covered with thick black drapes, and there weren't any florescent bulbs being used inside. The light seemed somehow organic, as though not coming from any discernible source.

My friends quickly tired of this store, but I found it compulsively fascinating. When they left to explore the next shop down the street, I stayed to talk to the shop mistress working behind the counter. She looked 16, but I'm sure she was in her mid-twenties. Her hair was jet black, her skin was pale, and the the inverted star necklace she wore around her neck was not an accessory common seen in central Illinois.

Around the corner and mostly out of sight was a man much older than her. I could sense that he was keeping watch over his "property," which included this girl. Noting the ring on her finger, I guessed that she was his wife, and speculated that he didn't like anyone chatting, no matter how innocently, about her background, her religion, or how she liked living in New Orleans.

What are you attracted to?

"We do not attract what we want, but what we are." -- James Lane Allen

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Opening Day -- Writer's Poke #220

Hard to believe, but it's been 25 years since I made my one and only pilgrimage to the Mecca for Chicago Cubs fans, Wrigley Field. To this day, I can still name more Cubbies from that season's squad than I can for all subsequent squads combined. The Cubs have had good teams since 1984, but perhaps this team stands out in my memory because it was the first good Cubs team in my lifetime.

As yet another baseball season begins, I doubt that I'll much care after opening day. Something about the first game of the season seems so vitally important, for about a second. Then, the realization soon kicks in that these guys will be playing another 160 games over the next six months. How much importance can any one game have in such a long season?

Some time in July, right around All-Star Break, I'll probably check in to see how the Cubs are doing. As long as they are ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals, I won't much care if they're in first- or next-to-last place.

If they somehow manage to make it to the playoffs, my excitement level won't be too high. How many times have they made it to the playoffs in the last 25 years, only to make a quick exit in the first series? Unfortunately, it's what all Cubs fans expect. We maintain hope, but as our president might say, we do so with a certain amount of audacity.

What is the value of watching sports, of having a favorite sports team? Do you find yourself cheering more for the winners or for the losers?

"I live and die with the Chicago Cubs." -- Sara Paretsky

Monday, April 6, 2009

Faith in Doubt -- Writer's Poke #219

The speaker (white, male, and past the prime of his life) moved from the shadows to the podium and began his talk. He wanted to impress upon his audience how important faith is.

Faith, he told those still awake, is what keeps us going. It is the belief that there is an ultimate answer. Doubt, on the other hand, is the opposite of faith. Doubt causes us to needlessly question what those with faith believe to be true. How dare they.

According to the speaker, faith and doubt cannot inhabit the mind simultaneously. You can have faith, or you can have doubt, but you simply cannot have both. One ends up consuming the other.

Oh really?

Can the mind only sustain faith or doubt, or is this a classic "either/or fallacy"? Assuming you can only have faith or doubt, which would you choose and why?

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald