Hypatia's Library
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Lenten Disciplines & Prayer
I especially enjoy reading What Now? because she blogs about spiritual and church related issus in a way that makes sense to me. Her faith seems to have struggles in many of the same ways that mine does. This post started as a comment to her entry on lenten disciplines and turned into a longer entry than seemed polite for a comments section.

It's interesting to me that Lent is just about the right amount of time (for me) to form a habit. Generally I resolve to read/pray and at the end of lent manage to keep it up semi-regularly for quite some time (like 6-9 months). Something about the fall/Christmas holiday season always messes me up, causes me to lose the routine, and I restart again with Lent... I don't usually do physicial disciplines (those come with the new year resolutions rather than Lent for some reason to me). And although Presbyterians take the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, I don't try to give up something and contribute the money I would have spent to that. I just write a check. I am not 'routine' enough in anything I would give up for that to form a realistic way of contributing.

When I think about the spiritual things though, I have to admit that prayer is a very hard one for me. Reading scripture and thinking about it is fun in an intellectual sort of way. I like knowing things. This is just one more way of learning stuff. Learning stuff about God, but in many ways it is no different than learning stuff for a class or learning stuff to present at a conference. Read, think, synthesize... It has even extended to reading the church confessions and studying some heavyduty theology. Because learning stuff is fun.

Prayer is very much like going to a party and making small talk. That's not quite right, but it's right in the sense that I know prayer is supposed to build a relationship but often I just end up feeling awkward and uncomfortable and wishing I were somewhere else. Or my mind wanders from the topic at hand to the grocery list, or my writing, or an encounter I had with other people. Then I feel guilty and pray about not praying which seems dumb. I've tried different ways to focus (pray for the length of a morning walk, write prayers down etc) and I rarely feel like that helps.

At one point I was so desparate for prayer and so unable to stick with it that I bought a book called A diary of private prayer that gives you a month's worth of morning and evening prayers. I did stick with praying them for a while and they were really effective at getting me through a very dark time in my relationship with God. And I found that praying them out loud (actually reading each word out loud) helped me feel more in conversation than anything else. But it was still not the personal relationship in the sense that I didn't formulate my own words. And it was/is difficult for me to feel good about 'praying' the same set thing over and over.

This sounds like I view God as quite distant, and I don't actually. I feel especially close at certain times. One of those times is during the liturgy on Sunday's (common prayer as opposed to personal prayer). So maybe that's just how I am. And yet, I know people who talk about praying about which house to buy or which job to take or what to say to someone and I rarely do that. (I find God is involved in those decisions but more by providing opportunties than because I asked for guidance). I envy other Christians that personalness about the way they talk to God. Of course I also envy others their ease at interacting with people in social situations, so maybe these are similar problems.

At church, they have been talking about celtic spirtuality and how one of the positive contributions this way of thinking makes is the idea of continuous prayer. Not continuous begging, but looking for God in each activity that we do. And thanking him for the flowers you see on a walk or the fact that you are healthy enough to clean your own house or that you have sufficient food choices that grocery shopping is available to you. Some of these seem like REALLY stretching to put a silver lining on unpleasant activities, but they do highlight this idea of bringing God into everything. I have to admit I'm intimidated by this approach because I think I'll end up praying about not praying again.

I'm not sure where I am going with this or how to wrap this entry up. It started because I wanted to validate What Now's sence that a rich and rewarding prayer life is difficult to maintain. I feel like I'm talking myself into trying prayer again as a Lenten discipline, but maybe also in a lower stress way than I have in the past. Lent starts today so I guess I need to get started if I'm going to try it. We'll see how it goes.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
The reason why no one makes tenure....
...So they tell you that the reason why people don't make tenure is because they fail to publish enough or they are miserable teachers or their ideas don't fit with the mission of the dept. What they fail to mention is that another reason why people don't make tenure is because they starve to death!

None of the professors I'm working with seem to eat (ever). My advisor at my previous institution was notorious for not eating lunch at all. And now I am joining the ranks of those that do not eat. But I'm not sure I'm happy about it. My body doesn't care much for 12+ hours with no food.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
The passing of a terrorist, I mean, a leader
Yassar Arafat is dead. Finally.

I can't say that I have strong feelings about this event aside from the fact that it sounds like he was in a gradually deepening coma for a few days, which sounds much like the way my Granny died. In that sense I feel for his wife and family.

But I am struck by the way that the media keeps refering to him as "a terrorist that has died". They keep stating things like "aside from the Palestinians, few will mourn his passing." One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Calling Arafat a terrorist strikes me ass fundamentally different than calling the people who crashed into the trade centers terrorists or calling the gunmen in Beslan terrorists or the Oklahoma city bombers for that matter. The differences seem to me to be in:

1)the magnitude of the attacks (single and double digits, not hundreds and thousands)
2)the types of targets chosen (not a school; not thousands of civilians; limited and targeted)
3)the attempts to build a peace (real participation in negotiations, a clear declaration of desires)

Yes the attacks were unconventional and did not strictly target military targets. But when the little guy goes up against the big guy, it's hard to adhere to commonly accepted rules of war.

I wonder if King George thought of George Washington or Paul Revere as terrorists?
Thursday, November 04, 2004
A Christian Democrat
I've been trying to articulate my response to the election results. In one sense I am gratified. The results are clear. The turn out was high. The Republicans have won not just the White House, but also the Senate and House and Gubanatorial races across the nation. Clearly, there was a sentiment for the issues and values and ideals that the Republicans claim to stand for.

At the same time I am deeply disappointed and troubled by the results. Obviously I am not anywhere near what the majority of the people believe (even if I am a part of a substantial minority). The Religious Right apparently carried the election for the Republicans. Christian Conservatives have spoken.

The thing is, I am a pretty strong Christian myself. I go to church every Sunday. I pray. I believe in a fair number of the "values" that Bush stands for, at least as they apply to myself (personally Pro-Life, personally not sure about gay marriage in the Church, etc). BUT I am capable of making the distinction between Church and State. And I think that what the state does is different from what I as an individual do and what my church does. Politically I'm very socially liberal.

But even beyond that I put a higher priority on social justice issues than I do on social life issues (I'm not sure how to distinguish things like 'religious values' from things like raising the minimum wage, adequate child care, universal health coverage, improved educational system, equal rights for all people, etc - Maybe they aren't different). I also put a higher priority on the value of tolerance than I do on a strict social structure.

I want the Democrats to reach out to Christians in a way that they aren't currently doing. But I don't think I want to give up the things that I value in order to do that. How do we grow as a group without sacrificing the values that are the reason why I am a part of the Deomcratic Party?

Am I so different from other Christians? Why do I have such a distinct view of what I am called to do? I don't understand how people read the Bible and believe that intolerance and hatred and anger and enforced morality trump love, mercy, peace, forgiveness.... I can't get there from here.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Research & Freedom of Speech
I was particularly struck by this article that equates freedom to do research with freedom of speech.

The article says:
Why legal scholars would defend the right to research is hardly mysterious. The founding fathers passionately defended scientific and academic freedom, and the Supreme Court has traditionally had a high regard for it. In Griswold v. Connecticut, for example, the decision that struck down state prohibitions on the sale of contraceptives, the court stated that the First Amendment protected ''freedom of inquiry.'' But why would the right to read, write and speak as you please extend to the right to experiment in the lab? ....As with journalism, actions that are not strictly speech (research) are so necessary to speech (publishing) that to ban them is to ban the speech.

This idea appeals to me in general. I think that being told that you can't think about and examine or question something really restricts many of the freedoms that I associate with freedom of speech. This especially holds true for me in the soft sciences - Political Science, English, History, Linguistics, Economics. In these areas to be banned from thinking about something is the same or highly similar in my mind as being banned from engaging in public speech.

But the article goes on to argue: R. Alta Charo, legal scholar and bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin, says that some experiments are constitutionally protected ''expressive conduct'' in their own right. ''If the questions you ask and the science you do really challenges or explores cultural or religious or political norms . . . that in itself is an act of rebellion, and this is exactly the sort of thing that fits comfortably in the spirit of the First Amendment.''

So while I believe in protecting freedom of inquiry, I wonder where does my act of rebellion in conducting research start to become something that should legitimately be subjected to governmental oversight. Cloning is on area of research that the article brings up. Another frowned upon area of research is looking for genetic links to differences in intelligence or examining racial profiles for medical/behavioral differences. These could be banned areas of research (California actually came close to interfering in these lines of research not too long ago)

But more critically, I really respect the role of governmental oversight in certain areas of research such as the protection of human subjects . I don't think we can trust scientists in general to act ethically in this area. I think that the scientist's own self interest in terms of career advancement or even interest in the general good without regard to individual rights may overwhelm what would be percieved as ethical by an unbiased uninvolved observer. So should certain questions or certain methods of research be illegal? Or should all research regardless of how it is done or who does it be protected speech?

The government can restrict speech if it can prove a ''compelling interest,'' like public safety or national security. But courts have set that bar very high. Unlike, say, an experiment that releases smallpox into the wind to study how it spreads, which could be banned, embryo research presents no readily apparent danger to public health or security.

And if that's the case, scientists who wish to create stem cells by cloning might have a new source of succor: the U.S. Constitution.

One of the ways the government controls what and how things are studied is through grants. And through restrictions placed upon institutions that accept federal funding (i.e. all large research institutions). So, my understanding of current scientific practice is that you can study pretty much anything you darn well please. Including human cloning (the article's final example of what might be protected speech). BUT the government can also choose not to pay for it . So following the freedom of speech argument, I can advocate for anything I want, but the government doesn't have to help me do so. Does saying the freedom of inquiry is protected speech mean that the government should pay for all valid lines of inquiry?

Often government funding is the only way for certain projects to be accomplished. Denying government funding is tantamount to banning the research entirely. Think of the superconducting supercolliders used in theoretical physics research. Or the admittedly risky basic science required to create new drugs or invent new therapies. It's not that you just get to poor while doing the research and maybe it takes a bit longer than it otherwise might because you haven't got a research assistant or can't pay subjects. In many cases, without the dollars, there is NO research program. It's just you and the ideas and nothing. In this case, maybe the government does have to help protect your freedom of speech by providing you with support.

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