Monday, August 31, 2009

Image of God or Violence? Part 2

Writing on the border between yes and no, between love and violence, between life and death. This is the second part.
Continued from the last post Part 3

The yes of my birth tells the beginning.

In the middle of a July desert day in 1964, I made my way into life through the messiness of human birth. I glimpsed out into a violent world still reeling from the assassination of a young US president. Born in Mexico under a dusty sun, I can only picture my birthplace in my imagination. The town has been lost from my memory. I first saw light within its limits, and its shapes and colors are missing from my memories. Although, I know the town’s name, Parrel. Parrel’s medical clinic provided the time and space to the first yes. The place of my last no is still unknown to me. Death remains a mystery.

Between first yes in Parrel and the last unknown no comes a multitude of both yeses and nos, and the quality of our life nails itself to our creative responses to the yeses and nos of life. I am no different; I perceive the pull of peace (yes) and drive of violence(no). I live in tension of love and sin. Yet, I am convinced in the triumphant of love. The life provides the final yes called love. I am convinced that love forms the structure of life, that God became man. A man among other humans, I strung up on life’s crossbar of Yes and No, waiting for Easter morning. How do I respond to my birth? How do I respond to the reality of my death? These questions weave the strands of my life into a story with a known and unknown destination.
My heart aches for a home, and a nation where I can belong. I grew up on the border of two cultures. The country of my birth, Mexico fell into my reminiscences. I long to remember her and her old women slapping corn meal into tortillas with a rhythmic slap, slap, slap. I recognize her words as they pass me on the city streets. I speak her words but not her fables. I live in the United States. There I found love. The Tinajero name found recognition in Tucson after my father moved there; a town I have only been a tourist. America’s dreams inspire me, although they remain an untouchable mystery. Pulling-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps idea eludes me, hiding as violation of nature.I see both as I look across to the different riverbanks. I move along the river only touching down each bank for a short stay. I look for words to build a home.

We travel through the lost worlds in each phase: baby becomes a child, who becomes an adult, then old age and death. Each become a disappearing world. The movement of time keeps me from belonging. I can’t inhabit either national story.

The world at my infancy was busy confronting its own possible demise in a field of atom-splitting clouds. I tasted, in the desert’s heat, the flavor of life within my mother’s milk. She held me tight as I cried in my first bits of air. A world that I could barely make out in its various shapes was pretending innocent for a generation of postwar kids. My birth was last gasp of those hopeful idealists. The early sixties hopefulness played against violence present in all ages. Those times bathed in fresh blood: murder, genocide, and war. Just a few decades before my birth, the Nazis made factories dedicated to murder. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a movement to free the US from a generations old blind stupidity. As my mother caressed my small head American’s were just learning to pronounce, “Vietnam.” I cried with my first breath, while a generation of intellectuals shouted at each other in numerous conversations about death: the death of the novel, the death of Art, the death of poetry, the death of God, the death of love, and the death of man.

Uncle Sam and the Red Bear did battle on a global scale for domination over ideology. Even as my mother showed me off to the rest of our family, the Peace Corp sent out it first young idealists committed to changing the world. Bomb-shelters, and youthful idealism created the era’s adaptation of human paradox. Yes and no continues to play with the destiny of humans. I was unaware of the human condition with my first burping; I knew only strange sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes I could yet name. This world passed on, and we moved to different problems. I had to learn my first and second language s. The time of navy blue suits, thin ties, beehive hairdos did not last, but the context of violence still remains. The poison of nostalgia lays in forgetting the river of blood flows through each period and culture.

Yet, love moves beyond nostalgia.

(To be continue in part 3) Part 1

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Image of God or Violence?

The town of my birth knew my father’s last name. I knew my last name only as a word mispronounced by my grade school teachers. The town of my birth knew the scandals and riches of the family "Tinajero." I knew none of this. I still have trouble picturing my father. My last name, even if it was simply the word that followed my first name for me, made folklore and rumors for the people of Parrel. One side of my family history was lost with my father’s abandonment. Like a tombstone, my last name was for me without a history or story.

“Tinajero” could conjure up myths, tales and gossip for an entire Mexican region. An adult sister, who I had to introduce myself to, told me about how my grandfather caught his wife cheating on him. She had to leave the town disgraced by her acts of violence and love. Like some mysterious force, her story helped to define me. Part of the reason my father cut off his first family was do to the scars coming from this adultery. He never could fully trust my mother. I only heard this story after I turned forty. Strange how much power stories of love and violence have in shaping us.


Birth and death define us, and yet they remain beyond us. To have faith means belief in an ultimate
Yes, which brings love to the present. I, as a believer, eagerly await the final Yes for my existence. I have to trust the ultimate Yes. I also have to acknowledge that it may all end with a no. Knowledge of the last no makes us human. Fear of the last no can makes us neurotic. Birth and death, Yes and No, love and violence thread our stories from end to end. The yes of my birth tells the beginning.

Love and violence have their own intimacies and stories. I gnaw on both as part of being alive. Both give birth to the context of the human condition. They form the Yes and No of life. The human narrative turns on this simply dichotomy. Birth becomes the first yes. Death converts our energy into the last no. Love affirms. Violence negates. What is hate but the desire for the other’s negation? How we negate? We can negate by blaming like Adam and Eve, or dirty the ground with blood like Cain and Abel. Either way, hate aims at destroying or dominating the other. Violence then chooses us, destroying our illusion of control. All that remains is the telling of the story, a sort of remembrance for the those who come after us.

The yes of my birth tells the beginning. (To be continued in Part 2)
Part 3

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A parable of faith

"Why did the Lord tell parables?"
"Some truths are like a hot bath. You need water to transmit the heat of the fire. Without this living water, you would be burned."
"I don't understand?"
"Once their was a boy full of life and spirit. He would go out into the woods behind his house to play with his friends. They would play hide and go seek, hiding behind great oaks older than even their grandparents' grandfathers and grandmothers. These old trees played the same games with generations of children. The boy seldom thought of the trees, as they were always there.

"That is what we do when life is always there, ignore.

"Then new houses popped up and pushed out most of the trees. There would be no more hiding. There would be no more seeking. Except, they kept one tree, and built a park around it. Kids would not play hide and seek as there was only one place to hide and to seek. They could still hear the wind traveling through the tree. As the boy grew to be a man, he would think of the one remaining tree. It would give him hope. Later, they tore down the houses and built even newer bigger house, but the Oak tree of the park remained, reminding people that one day the forest would return."

"I don't understand. Why the tree?"
"Remember the truth of prayer. Prayer will return to you, if you seek it."
"Again, I don't understand."
"I must leave now and water the garden. Drink the story."

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Cold War Relic Rears its Head and Bears its Fangs

I had a post published on Sojo.net and below is the post with the original title. They changed my titled, which I think their title works better, but I like my title as well.

Being a writer is learning to dance with your own ego, even as your ego steps all over your feet.

A Cold War Relic Rears its Head and Bears its Fangs


I remember playing WWII as a boy. We would pick sides of American and Nazis. Of course, everyone wanted be the Americans, the good guys. The solution became to pretend the team you were on was the Americans and the opponents were the Nazis. We did the same when playing war of Americans vs. Russians. For my team, we were the good guys Americans and they were the bad guys Russians, and for the other team they saw us as bad guy Russians to their good guy Americans. We were children and our play reflected our world.

I am part of the second generation that grew up shaped by the Cold War. When asked in English class to write a poem or story, a good percentage of us would take the theme of nuclear war, fear of radiation, or fear of USSR. The Cold War taught my generation to view the world through good guy/bad guy eyes, seeing the world as Manichean. I have blogged (http://www.life-and-faith.org/2008/11/christian-thought-cold-war-and.html) about this Manichean worldview in our current world. The one of lasting effects of the Cold War is this Manicheanism within our politics, and we are witnessing this in the middle of the health care debate. Recently, Chris Baker, guest hosting on the Glenn Beck show, called President Obama a commie, a secrete commie wanting to control our lives. Mr. Baker was playing out his Manicheanism like an irresponsible child playing a game seeing nothing but evil in President Obama. Good guy/bad guy motif made him blind to the point of a fearful child’s incoherence.

I know that Manicheanism is unchristian and the early Church was right to be distrustful of it. St Augustine, a one time Manichean, became one of its biggest critics. Christian anthropology starts with premise of all humans falling short and being sinners needing God grace. All are offered grace and can be transformed by grace. Our check a balance system was built on this premise. Don’t trust people, as we all are sinners. Best to divide power and go through the messiness of consciences and democracy. Manicheanism does the opposite. It demands trusting right people and mistrusting others. The key is to have the good guys in power and oppose the bad guys when they have power.

The calls to a civil debate about health care have met this good/bad guy motif, and dividing the world into opposing camps. The danger becomes apparent when the question is asked what to do with the opposing side. For the Manichean Democrats, what to do with the evil Republicans? For the Manichean Republicans, what to do with the evil Democrats? Christians are called to be peacemakers, and the beginning with rejecting Manicheanism, rejecting the other, and enter untidiness of loving friend and enemy. President Obama is under pressure to stopping working with Republicans in reforming health care. No matter how hard it may become the road to reform must include working with as many people as possible. There is no other way to live with each other. We must heed St. Paul and become adults and put away childish ways.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Harris om Collins

I posted today about Sam Harris opposition to Dr Francis Collins's appointment to head the National Insititute of Health on Sojourners. What I find interesting is how Science no longer the issue with those who oppose Dr Collins, but it was his beliefs. There is few that are pointing to evidence of Dr Collins doing bad science, but many pointing to his beliefs. Steven Pinker, in his letter to a journalist about Dr Collins states:

Also, the human mind and brain constitute one of the frontiers of biomedical science. Cutting-edge research treats intelligence, morality, and religious belief as products of evolution and neuroscience. The idea that there is divine design and teleology behind these functions, on the basis of Iron Age and medieval dogma, is antithetical to this vibrant research area. How will Collins preside over the allocation of research priorities if he believes in ““the certainty that the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted”?


Pinker seem to connect the atheistic materialism with Science. Is it? Neuroscience has validated Religious experience in the work of Andrew Newberg and others. While Neuroscience has not proved religion, it has disproved the old Enlightenment bias of "God as explanation theory." People have and continue to have religious experiences. God is more than what material atheists assertions of God being an explanation for unknown phenomena or simply the God of the gaps. Again Pinker from the same letter:

Collins has said that he came to accept the Trinity, and the truth that Jesus is the son of God, when he was hiking and came upon a beautiful triple waterfall. Now, the idea that nature contains private coded messages from a supernatural being to an individual person is the antithesis of the scientific (indeed, rational) mindset.


Dr Collins did not offer his experience as proof or evidence of God, rather he was sharing his Religious experience. Pinker reaction is not with a scientist's curiosity about a real phenomena, but with dogmatic righteousness of a true believer. For Pinker, such experience should be rejected despite the current work of neuroscience. It seems that his material atheism has gotten in the way of his science. Quoting for my post on Sojourners:

What bothers Mr. Harris is that Dr. Collins is a Christian, and a vocal Christian to boot. Further, Dr. Collins apparently commits the sin of claiming to be both a scientist and a Christian. That Dr. Collins sees no conflict between science and faith clearly offends Sam Harris’ belief that faith and science do not belong together. For those who believe faith and science are at war, there are just four logical conclusions to Dr. Collins’ work as a scientist: A) Dr. Collins is not a true scientist; B) He can compartmentalize his work from his beliefs; C) His faith will sooner or later pollute his science; D) The premise of science in conflict with religion is mistaken.

Dr. Collins’ work already eliminates option A. Few are questioning his previous work. Mr. Harris chooses option C, and yet Mr. Harris fails to give any evidence of polluted science in Dr. Collins’ work, only the possibility of it. If there were such evidence, it would have emerged in Dr. Collins’ already long career. It seems logic would dictate that only B or D are compatible with the facts, and with either conclusion, Mr. Harris has nothing to worry about with Dr. Collins’ appointment.