Sunday, May 23, 2010

Christological Variation -- The Problem of Continuity

In mathematics, there's a distinction to be made between numbers that are discrete which can be /counted/ in indivisible portions (i.e., the number of protons in a nucleus or the number of party hats at a birthday, how many times you've sneezed) with no space between "whole numbers" (essentially true)... and those that are continuous which represent quantities that can take on an infinite number of possibilities between those "whole numbers." (i.e. Your weight, the length of a string, the velocity of a Space Shuttle).

Even areas of life not dictated by numbers can be described by these two classifications. One could say based on common generalizations that men tend to think of color in a very discrete way. The primary rainbow colors + a couple. There's a huge range of things he might call red. On the other hand, one may similarly conjecture that women seem to recognize  some the true continuous nature of color. The shades. All the in-between bits that aren't quite Fuchsia or Lavender.

Even here, though, one can start to see the problem with continuity. It leaves massive room for interpretation and quibbling. At what point in the spectrum is the light definitively Red? Is that shirt red? That stoplight? That sunset? That guy's sunburn (no, that's burnt-pink!). Goodness knows how many times I have ended up arguing (briefly. I'm psychologically stable. I can let go) about the color of some inane object with a girl that's definitely orange not burnt-umber.  *sigh*

This problem propagates itself into all areas of life. Every "grey-area" we encounter is the result of continuous data, particularly when we're attempting the systematic categorization of a continuous series. When making a discrete approximation. 
We do this sort of approximation all the time, because discreteness is generally easier to deal with than infinite possibility (something to do with finite capacity to understand, I'd gander).

However, when doing this and drawing these lines, there's always going to be something left in the middle from which arrises ambiguity and uncertainty. The whole question of  when does a twig become a stick? A stream become a river? Or a hill become a mountain? (along the lines of This Movie) People end up sketching together seemingly arbitrary rules for these classifications, then forgetting at some point down the line that they were the ones drawing the lines.

I've seen examples of this in my Archaeology class and my Human Evolution class this quarter, but it also seems to crop up in many other areas of my life. It frustrates me because it doen't tend to lend itself to answers per se, or theorems/generalizations. It doesn't lend itself to simple answers or a lessening in complexity, in fact, quite the opposite.

What frustrates me the most is when I see it in Christianity. My faith, the foundation upon which I construct my life, has places that cannot be pinned down. For example:

Phillippians 4:8
"8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."

Which thoughts are bad? When do my errant thoughts stray from daydream to...sin. At which point does entertainment become "not-pure." When does something become unworthy of a good-report? Upon this basis, my parents (and even myself for many years) discouraged the play of First-Person-Shooters. Did not watch R-rated movies (another arbitrary scale: movie ratings.
What do you think, Continuous or Discrete?). We however lived upon the right side of a sliding scale of another continuous metric known as: Conservative.

Makes me wonder about a few other things about Christianity:

  • Is salvation itself continuous (happening over a period of time) or discrete (at a particular moment)?
  • When does striving after the ways of Christ and turning entirely away from evil render your incapable of associating with the very people we're to be a witness to? (That is, at which point do we become so concerned with following Christ that we become labeled a Prude? A Monk? Sequestered from society?
    • When does Fearing God and the Rightness of His ways turn into Legalism?
And, most relevant to what's currently on my mind, is a question stemming from a Human Evolution class I'm currently enrolled in. Now, forgive me, but I suppose there's an abundance of "if"s here, so please bear with me.

If I'm to believe that God was responsible for the creation of the universe (though whichever means He decided to choose, which I do believe), and if He so chose evolution as His means of creation (for which there seems to be a certain amount of evidence either way), at which point would He have decided along the sliding scale of genetics that we were.... human. Imbued with a soul, and His existence revealed to us? At which point did H. erectus really become H. sapian ?


Evolution is weird. There seems to be just as much evidence to support as there is to contradict, but the support seems so compelling.

Alright, here's another. A friend brought this to my attention this last spring break, upon a canoe, amid beautiful snow-capped mountains and fresh pine-laden air... the question once more: when is life? Where does it start?

When did I get my soul? (some would argue this never took place for me *cough cough* my roommate)

Is it at inception? If so, my friend said, then he is very very sad, because during the normal course of a woman's cycle, fertilized eggs regularly pass out of her system if she's been with a man. Regularly. Granted, I never double checked on this (has anyone else heard this?) but if it's true, than thousand of babies die all the time...without ever being made known. If false, then all is well... granted we know where life begins. Another continuous scale. Something to think about, at least.

As always... plenty to think about... but not get too intellectual about. God is about relationship and faith, not our trivial ponderings...

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Church is an interesting place. That is, "church" with a lower-case "c." As in, the physical space worshipers generally occupy on Sunday mornings.

It's an intersting space, because it is a space rife with expectations and standards you rarely find elsewere dictating posture (sitting, standing, kneeling, and potientially bowing), etiquette (when to speak, refrain from speaking), and emotional expression (yelling, shouting, crying, dancing, displays of affection). Every church contains it's own subset of these expectations for good or bad. Generally, I prescribe to the notion that it's good for churches to have some latitude because people can't be put in boxes. Room for individuality is key... but I digress.

One expectation I feel is generally affixed to most churches is the idea that all attendees must pay attention to the speaker. (although really, this is merely an extention to what we've all learned about any gathering of people with a leader) To the paster/reverend/priest/what-have-you at the pulpit/dais/music-stand/coffee table/whatever, you may not display anything less than intent listening with maybe the occasional yawn without risking people thinking you don't really care.

This is wrong, In my view. Maybe I'm saying this to assuage my own suppressed guilt from the dozens of sermons that have made that journey between ears while managing only a brief stop to say hello somewhere inbetween. Regardless, I feel the words of whoever's up front are really only optional at best to listen to. 

The physical space, church, is really just a meeting place. A safe place to meditate and to set the lens off our own life for but an hour and half and critically think about the implications of Christ. Sometimes a sermon will help. Sometimes following along with the fill-in-the-blank cut-and-dry sermon-notes will be of use. But I've found that as long as I'm not thinking about what groceries I need to buy or where I'd like to go on a date, church can be most beneficial when I'm thinking and praying my own thoughts and prayers.

That's where I found myself this last Tuesday at a ministry I attend. I could feel that my brain had shut down many hours previous... I needed my journal to keep my mind and heart busy. This is what I fond myself jotting down. [PS, this is actually how many of these posts are born in their earliest of stages]

Christ doesn't simply complete us,
without Him, we would be nothing.
Christ doens't simply complete us, 
Christ is our Sum-total.
We exist in the darkenss and He is the Light.
We are but vapor while He is The Rock, our Fortress
Solid and True.

I think about completeness from time to time, particularly the number 7, which is one of several numbers that is consistently used in the Bible and almost entirely in reference to some kind of completion. 7 days of creation. 7 years of "tribulation," many of the feasts on the Jewish calendar cycle by increments of 7, etc. (comment if you come across any others that I'm sure I'm forgetting) ANYwho, I think about it. It's an important concept, there being a beginning and an end and the fact that God transcends all of that...

I found myself wondering at the idea of God completing my life.... making me whole. How offhand of a thought that is, and how at surface, it seems good and true. And when taken to the full extent, it is. We wouldn't even /exist/ if there had been no God! Our lives, even when not in harmony with the One who made this whole thing, still are fulfilling some important role. We are inseparable from Him, however distant we may lead ourselves to believe we are...    I think I at least can easily forget this, and there are times the idea of Him completing my life has as much weight as knowing that the final check mark on a list of to-dos completes my day. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Looking Ahead

So, I suppose it's been a month since my last post.

Just as it seems to me that there could be no possible way for one's life to be more replete with activity and happenings, I once more stand corrected. Or sit corrected, as I now am doing in resin lawn chairs.... oh, the beauty of Spring

Deputation. It's happening. In only slightly more time than 2 shakes of a stick, I am going to be flung out to Israel -- the place where it all started! -- for 8 entire weeks. 8 weeks of serving and learning about a people who have played almost as significant a role in world politics as Israel itself has: the Palestinians. Being the other side of a thousands+ years long conflict has something to do with that, I imagine.

For a while, I found myself, honestly, a little frustrated about the whole deal. While I'm down there, I'll be working through an organization that has no spiritual objective about it, it's all political. They're objective is to expose peoples from all over the world to their plight as Palestinians; for us to see their side of the conflict which rarely makes it past The Media. I was frustrated that during this once-in-a-(at least)-very-long-time opportunity, I wouldn't have a direct outlet to share my faith. In fact, you're encouraged not to by the organization unless explicit asked to do so. Naturally, I've found myself wondering why a Christian Church would be sending individuals to such a place. To a place that has not particularly missions-oriented for a missions trip. It just seemed weird.

After having talked with a number of people about this, I still don't think I have a concrete answer. From what I've gathered, this trip is one of those that is specifically to grow you and stretch you through challenges and crazy-new experiences, of which I'm sure there'll be plenty. Growing is always meritorious, but I can't help but feel that it just seems like such a cop-out explanation. (see post: Convenient Answers)

More revelations soon to come, I hope.

God's Peace,