You know what i hate? Artificial sweeteners. Hate hate hate them. I hate them. Hate. I would one thousand percent rather have something completely unsweetened than have to choke down aspartame. I've tried Splenda, Stevia, Sweet and Low, all of them. I've tried them at home, stirred into tea or coffee. I've tried store-bought sugar-free desserts. I've tried diet sodas. I am currently drinking a flavored seltzer water sweetened with aspartame, and the taste is indescribably horrible.
Why isn't it possible to find something unsweetened? Why are the only choices sugar or puke? I hate it.
Posting has been light lately. I'm in my penultimate week of work, i don't have a new job yet, and if my MTEL scores don't come in soon i won't be able to student teach until January, meaning i will have to start paying student loans now. So my anxiety has been a little overwhelming.
BUT, i started a new book this week: Misquoting Jesus, by Bart D. Ehrman. This is not a reflective spiritual journey, but a scholarly analysis of the Bible and how it happened. I've taken two classes on this subject already, not to mention reading tons of articles and blog posts and listening to sermons and my dad, so i know a fair deal about the Bible's history. But i'm only one chapter in and i've already placed a dozen sticky notes, so i'm excited about all the learning to come!
"The Bible did have a revered place in our home, especially for my mom, who would occasionally read from the Bible and make sure that we understood its stories and ethical teachings (less so its "doctrines"). Up until my high school years, I suppose I saw the Bible as a mysterious book of some importance for religion; but it certainly was not something to be learned and mastered. It had a feel of antiquity to it and was inextricably bound up somehow with God and church and worship. Still, I saw no reason to read it on my own or study it." (pg 2)
I was actually very serious about my Bible reading until college, at which point i was like, "I've read this thing in its entirety at least half a dozen times, not to mention all the bits and pieces from devotionals, Bible stories, Bible studies, sermons, youth group, and so on. Do i really need to read the descriptions of the temple measurements AGAIN?!" Which is, in part, the reason for this whole blogging and exploration thing: trying to keep myself accountable so that i will have to be intentional about my spiritual health.
"There was an obvious problem, however, with the claim that the Bible was verbally inspired -- down to its very words. As we learned . . . we don't actually have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have are copies of these writings . . . Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places . . . Surely we have to know what those words [of Scripture] were if we want to know how [God] had communicated to us . . . having some other words . . . didn't help us much if we wanted to know His words." (pg 4-5)
I posted something about this a while back, how if God wanted us to take the Bible literally, He probably would have designed language in such a way that translation errors were impossible. Instead, if i write something this very second and hand it immediately to someone who is perfectly bilingual in English and Spanish, there is still room for translation error. Because other languages are not simply codes. You can't just substitute an English word for a Spanish word and have it work perfectly every time. There are nuances and connotations and grammatical structures that complicate things. Even a perfect translation isn't perfect, and the translations of the Bible are based on imperfect copies of languages that no one speaks anymore.
"I kept reverting to my basic question: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don't have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes -- sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don't have the originals!" (pg. 7, bolding mine)
"Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the Church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point." (pg. 10)
". . . I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew)." (pg. 11)
The Disciples actually met and talked with Jesus, but we don't know if they all read one another's Gospels (were they all even literate?), especially the Big Four, and most of them were probably martyred long before some books were even written. So is talking to Jesus more or less important than reading Acts or 2 Timothy or Revelations? Less important? Okay, great. I'm going to go pray now. You can take your King James and go home.
"Among other things, this meant that Mark did not say the same thing that Luke said because he didn't mean the same thing as Luke. John is different from Matthew -- not the same. Paul is different from Acts. And James is different from Paul. Each author is a human author and needs to be read for what he (assuming they were all men) has to say, not assuming that what he says is the same, or conformable to, or consistent with what every other author has to say. The Bible, at the end of the day, is a very human book." (pg. 12)
I once witnessed an argument where one guy was talking about two books in the New Testament whose authors disagreed, and another guy was like, "No, but really they were saying the same thing, because they were all inspired by the Holy Spirit." And the first guy was like, "WTF. These are different words. Can you read?" It's okay to disagree, as long as we keep talking through it and loving Jesus.
"What if the book you take as giving you God's words instead contains human words? What if the Bible doesn't give a foolproof answer to the questions of the modern age -- abortion, women's rights, gay rights, religious supremacy, Western-style democracy, and the like? What if we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own, without setting up the Bible as a false idol -- or an oracle that gives us a direct line of communication with the Almighty?" (pg. 14)
Chapter One: The Beginnings of Christian Scripture
"Four such gospels became most widely used -- those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament -- but many others were written. We still have some of the others: for example, Gospels allegedly written by Jesus' disciple Philip, his brother Judas Thomas, and his female companion Mary Magdalene. Other Gospels, including some of the very earliest, have been lost." (pg. 24)
"Some Christian authors produced prophetic accounts of what would happen at the cataclysmic end of the world as we know it. There were Jewish precedents for this kind of "apocalyptic" literature, for example, in the book of Daniel in the Jewish Bible, or the book of I Enoch in the Jewish Apocrypha. Of the Christian apocalypses, one eventually came to be included in the New Testament: the Apocalypse of John. Others, including the Apocalypse of Peter and The Shepherd of Hermas, were also popular reading in a number of Christian communities in the early centuries of the church." (pg. 25)
So, since the apocalypse hasn't happened yet, how do we know that John's is better than Peter's or the Shepherd's? Did they describe it the same, but John's was better written? Because that didn't prevent us from keeping four Gospel accounts. And none of it prevented Left Behind from happening, so. Maybe there is no God.
There's a long passage on page 35 that i won't quote in full here about a bishop named Irenaeus who argued that we needed exactly four Gospels, no more and no less, because there are four corners of the earth, and four winds, so it's only logical to have four Gospels as the four pillars of the church. And that's how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John got into the canon. True story.
On page 36, we learn that the 27 books of the New Testament were not listed as the books of the New Testament until 367 C. E. Almost 300 years after they had been written. Even the people writing them didn't consider them to be on par with the actual Bible (they were mostly Jews, so we're talking about the Torah here). They were mostly just writing letters to clarify things they'd said before.
There's also an interesting point in the last two sections of the chapter about literacy in the ancient world. If the actual real words of the Bible were so important, why didn't God make sure everyone in the world was literate? And if illiteracy was so widespread (it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that people started taking literacy for granted for all social classes, and even now illiteracy is a real problem in the global community), why didn't God figure out some other way to speak to us? Like, through prayer and personal revelation and community? Oh, wait . . .
There is a passage on pages 187-189 that is almost worth the whole price of the book, all on its own. Miller was a guest speaker on a radio program, and the host asked him about "the homosexuals who were trying to take over the country." Miller asked the host for the name of this ambitious homosexual group. The host couldn't name any actual groups, but remained convinced that such an uprising was imminent. Miller's response is absolutely lovely:
". . . As a Christian, I believe Jesus wants to reach out to people who are lost, and, yes, immoral -- immoral just like you and I are immoral; and declaring war against them and stirring up your listeners to the point of anger and giving them the feeling that their country, their families, and their lifestyles are being threatened is only hurting what Jesus is trying to do. This isn't rocket science. If you declare war on somebody, you have to either handcuff them or kill them. That's the only way to win. But if you want them to be forgiven by Christ, if you want them to live eternally in heaven with Jesus, then you have to love them." (emphasis mine) Miller later reflects that, while we are in a spiritual battle, the battle is not sinners vs. saved. After all, we are all sinners. The battle is Good vs. Evil, and people lost in sin are hostages. "This battle we are in is a battle against the principalities of darkness, not against people who are different from us. In war you shoot the enemy, not the hostage." (pg. 190)
Obviously, Miller is implying that homosexuality is sinful, but he is at least advocating that we treat homosexual people as people, that we reach out to them in love, that we talk to them about love, and that we stop trying to start a war. Personally, i'm not convinced that it is a sin to be gay, but i understand why a person reading the Bible would come away with that interpretation, and if they have honestly wrestled with the issue (including lots of prayer and talking to people who actually are gay, bonus points if they are gay Christians) and still feel that it's a sin, fine. Just treat them as human beings who need love, rather than The Enemy who must be exterminated and repressed.
Overall, i like this book. It certainly has its issues, both of content and style, but for the most part it neither outrages nor inspires me. There are some books that you read once and they change you forever, but because they have moved you, you can never really love them again. You need to read them when you are at a certain place in your life, and once you have moved past that place, they can offer you nothing. Some books (the Bible, much of C. S. Lewis, Harry Potter, etc.) change and grow with you, and you can keep falling in love with them from new angles as you re-read them. For some people, "Searching for God Knows What" is one of the second type, one that they can read again and again every few years. For me, having read it twice now, i know i will never read it again. It was important to me once, and will therefore always be important in some way, but i think we've outgrown each other.
I love peanut butter. I mean, i have a soul, so obviously i love peanut butter. I went through a chunky phase in elementary/middle school, but somewhere around 7th or 8th grade, i switched to creamy and never looked back. Bizarrely, i don't like peanuts. Meaning i no longer enjoy chunky peanut butter at all, or Snickers bars, or a number of other peanutty treats. But peanut butter? Bring it on.
Lately, i've been making my own almond butter. This is weird for several reasons.
First of all, my tiny food processor isn't capable of turning almonds into the perfectly creamy butter that you find in a jar of Jif. It's pretty smooth and spreadable, but it's also sort of grainy. Not exactly like chunky peanut butter, more like grainy mustard. Now, i like almonds, so it's not really an issue per se, but it's definitely less delicious than i'd like it to be, which is why i haven't made peanut butter yet.
Second, i had never in my life tried almond butter until i made it. So it's not like i was buying up huge jars of the stuff and needed to save money. I honestly don't even remember why i decided to make it. I feel like i may have seen a recipe on one of the cooking blogs i read and thought, "I can do that!", but who even knows. Actually, the more i think about it the more certain i am that i just decided to make it. Welcome to my kitchen.
Third, i am now having so much fun making it that i'm trying to find more ways to eat it so i have an excuse to make more. I have eaten more almond butter in the past month than i have peanut butter in the past year. It's full of protein and light on sugar, salt, and preservatives, but it's also kind of fatty, especially since i add a tiny bit of coconut oil to help smooth it out (this also makes it infinitely more delicious). So i'm not sure if this new obsession is a good idea.
Fourth, despite the half jar of coconut honey almond butter and the full jar of cider spiced walnut/sunflower seed/pecan/almond butter currently in my fridge, i keep thinking of new combinations to try. Chocolate coconut walnut! Cinnamon pecan! Pumpkin spiced almond! I've even thought about savory ones, like coconut curry or roasted garlic with tahini. MAKE ALL THE FLAVORS! It's all i can do to rein in my enthusiasm. It helps that i recently got a roku player, so now i can watch Netflix IN MY BED. Suddenly, the idea of standing upright in the kitchen and watching Netflix on my laptop seems terrible. What is this, 2007? Next you're going to tell me i have to Google things on my laptop or tablet instead of my phone. No. If God wanted me to stand up and do things, or watch internet shows on a computer, He would not have invented roku. Which He clearly did, because it is very good. But my almond butter is very good, too. Like, spiritual gift-good. So i'm conflicted.
Who knew snack food could trigger a spiritual crisis? I'm going to have to meditate on this for a while. Excuse me while i eat home made chocolate ice cream and binge-watch The Office. Religiously.
The funny thing about this piece (and food guilt in general) is that one of my old roommates is a nutritionist. And she used to advocate low calorie things, like cheesecake made with low-fat Neufchatel cheese and sugar-free sweeteners, or using skim milk and SmartBalance to make alfredo sauce. And we argued about it once. I said i'd rather make the full-fat version of something and then only eat a little, and she said that she'd rather make a low-fat version and eat more.
This is stupid.
Basically, you're saying that you'd rather eat a fuckton of something mediocre than a normal amount of something delicious. It's alfredo sauce! It's butter and cream and cheese! Just eat a small serving of pasta and a large serving of veggies! And don't eat it every night! Eat one serving of chicken fettuccine alfredo tonight, and tomorrow night eat grilled salmon with steamed broccoli. Eat one giant slice of cheesecake now and don't eat any later. Enjoy your food!
Miller spends much of chapter 5 talking about the Fall and lifeboat theory. Basically, he proposes that a relationship with God is necessary to give human beings a sense of worth, and that ever since the Fall, we've all been scrambling like crazy to prove our value. Because we no longer have that perfect connection, that innate sense of self-worth and of being loved, we feel the need to somehow demonstrate that we are worth loving, worth the air we breathe and the space we occupy. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to prove that we are worth more than someone else.
This is where nearly all human culture comes from. We explore new technologies so we can be smarter than someone else. We buy cosmetics so we can be prettier than someone else. Every year, teams of athletes compete fiercely to find out who is the best, and whole cities stand or fall on the outcome of the (Superbowl, world cup, semifinals, take your pick). And then the next year, everyone gets traded and shuffled around to new teams, and they do it all over again. What's the point?
"Here is how it feels: From the first day of school the conversation is the same as it would be if hundreds of students were told to stand in line ranging from best to worst, coolest to most uncool, each presenting their case for value, each presenting an offense to the cases of others, alliances being formed as caricatures of reality television (or vice versa)." (pg. 97)
He talks about the old "lifeboat" thought exercise, where there are a bunch of people in a lifeboat but they don't have enough supplies for everyone to survive until they reach shore/are rescued. There's an 87 year old man who was a Boy Scout and Marine, there's a nursing mother and her baby, there's a Black female lawyer, there's a rabbi, there's a kid in a wheelchair, etc. And then you debate about who should die for everyone else. No one ever hesitates in ranking people, no one ever says that all are equal and no one should sacrifice him or herself involuntarily. We assume that our value can be quantified.
"If there are ten people in the lifeboat, and three of them are Jews, adhering to the philosophy that Jews are inferior is enticing. If Jews or Americans or Democrats or whoever are inferior, then I am automatically ahead of 30 percent of the population in the lifeboat. Racism and socioeconomic prejudice would be the very first thing [sic] to start happening in a culture absent God. Not simply because people are "bad" but because a certain system of internal mechanisms would immediately ensue." (pg. 117)
There's an interesting anecdote on pages 157-159. I won't repeat it here because it's long, but read it.
I'm one week into my final month of employment, and i have yet to line up another job. Also if i don't get all of my test scores in by October 1, i'll have to put off student teaching yet again. Which will mean that i can work more hours this fall (assuming i get a job), but will also mean that i took this plunge for no real reason.
Well. There is a reason. It's time.
I feel like a baby bird getting nudged out of the nest, and there's going to be that initial elevator-drop-adrenaline-rush-stomach-in-my-throat sensation, and then i'll catch the air and soar away. And i know that i'll look back on this one day as a great adventure. Especially if i have kids, because as hard and scary as it is to contemplate supporting myself for the next however long on my savings account, there's no way i could do something like this if i had to support someone else as well. And what if i have a job in the future that i hate? What if i'm stuck in it, miserable every day, because i can't afford to leave it because of all these whiny gremlins demanding food? I FED YOU YESTERDAY. DON'T YOU KNOW HOW TO USE THE STOVE YET?
Yeah. I probably won't have kids.
Hey, speaking of feeding, i'm anticipating a lot less of that in the coming weeks. No more picking up an exotic vegetable or foreign spice just because i'm curious to find out what it tastes like. In fact, if i don't have a job by the end of August, there's a good chance i'll be living on rice and beans for a while. It's not so bad; i've done it before, and you'd be amazed how long it takes you to get tired of really well prepared rice and beans. And i'll try to supplement with some kinds of fruits and veggies daily, and maybe once a week i'll have eggs or a burger or something.
To be honest, it will be kind of great in some ways. It's a little like a cleanse, right? getting rid of all the preservatives and salt and sugar and artificial flavorings i've consumed lately, focusing on clean, whole foods with natural, simple ingredients with very little fat or carbs. And it will be something of a relief to not have to think about recipes for a while. Don't get me wrong: i love recipes. But sometimes, standing in front of a pile of tofu, endives, sweet potatoes, feta, and baby dill pickles (actual current contents of my fridge) and trying to figure out what to make for dinner is more exhausting than it's worth. I'm all for creativity, but i'm also all for calling the Chinese restaurant and shoveling MSG prepared by someone else into my face.
I won't be ordering take-out for a while, though. I won't be going out, either. I was heading home yesterday and it took all my willpower not to drive four blocks to Wendy's. All i could think about was French fries and a bacon cheeseburger. Instead, i made buffalo chicken macaroni at home. It made enough for leftovers, too, which Wendy's would not have, and the ingredients probably cost about the same as the Wendy's would have.
So. It's gonna be lots of rice and beans. Unless i get that job at Trader Joe's, in which case, HELLO EMPLOYEE DISCOUNT ON DELICIOUS FOOD!
I read this book a few years ago and LOVED it. My friend Emily loaned me her copy of Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller's first book), and it was a revelation to me. I wish i'd written about it back then, because i've forgotten a lot of my specific thoughts and feelings and reactions, but i remember thinking that if that book was a church, i would become a member immediately. I then bought my own copy (i actually bought three or four, because i kept loaning it out and not getting it back), and when i found Searching for God Knows What and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, i devoured them.
About a year ago, i tried to re-read Blue Like Jazz, and i found myself immensely annoyed by Miller's writing style. It's too deliberately whimsical, like an outfit from Anthropologie. I couldn't even finish it, and finally decided to just give it away. I was never going to read it again, and i didn't want it taking up space on my shelf.
But i remembered liking Searching for God Knows What even better than Blue Like Jazz, so i decided to hang on to it for a little while longer and see what happened. I'm still mildly annoyed by his writing style (everything is "quite, actually"), and he's gotten some heat lately for sexist remarks, but i'm trying it anyway.
"I returned home and began poring over the Bible, looking for formulas I could use for my book of daily devotions. And I have to tell you this was much more difficult than you might think. The formulas, in fact, are hidden. It seems when God had the Bible put together, He hid a lot of the ancient wisdom so, basically, you have to read into things and even kind of make up things to get a formula out of it. And the formulas that are obvious are terrible." (pg. 9)
I enjoyed reading that after coming off of Year of Living Biblically and Year of Biblical Womanhood. It's true: there are not that many obvious outlines for behavior in the Bible, except for loving people. But we don't get a bulleted list of how to love them, so. Tricky.
". . . the more you let somebody know who you really are -- the more it feels as though something is at stake . . . I feel it in my chest, this desire to dissociate . . . If I could, I probably would have formula friends because they would be safe." (pg. 17)
Oh, this is me.
"The very scary thing about religion, to me, is that people actually believe God is who they think He is." (pg. 20)
"If you ask me, the way to tell if a person knows God for real, I mean knows the real God, is that they will fear Him. They wouldn't go around making absurd political assertions and drop God's name like an ace card, and they wouldn't be making absurd statements about how God wants you to be rich and know if you send in some money to the ministry God will bless you . . . It seems like, if you really knew the God who understands the physics of the universe, you would operate a little more cautiously, a little more compassionately, a little less like you are the center of the universe." (pg. 38)
I'm just gonna let that sit there on its own.
"If I were a girl today in America, I would be a feminist for sure." (pg. 65) MEN CAN BE FEMINISTS TOO.