Thursday, 31 May 2007

Yoga Spirituality

My yoga teacher read the following prayer by the Catholic St. Therese of Lisieux at the end of our session tonight, and it really spoke to me. Whether you are of a faith or no faith, perhaps it will give you serenity you as well.

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

Pan Blog #1: Religious Experience

I am borrowing the following from thecrazydreamer and whatyoudream, who picked up this pan-blog from their friend Sweet Jane. I am blessed to have others on my blogroll who are interested in a good, clean existential fun about questions of faith and religion and the like.

Describe your most formative religious experience. I am assuming that most of us are, or have been, some form of a Christian (probably born-again), so what I have in mind is that sort of testimonial-type of event in your past that led you to, or closer to, God. If you are no longer a Christian, describe how you feel about that experience now.

My first religious experience occurred when I was four (at least, this is the first I remember). I later explained it to my parents at the age of five and six and even later as when I became 'born again'. I think my parents were a bit sceptical of how a four-year-old could experience Christ's presence and claim to be 'born again', but even at a young age I seemed to have an early connexion with the divine or the spiritual or whatever you want to call it. Anyway, what I remember is playing with toys alone in my room, and feeling God's presence. That's even how I described it to my family years later when asked about my conversion experience. I felt Christ telling me to pray and talk to him and ask him 'into my heart'. I don't know how accurate this memory is, but I remember being very sure of it at one point. A year later, during our very first day of homeschool, my mother led us in a Bible lesson that described heaven and hell. My mother told me that she would be in heaven with my father, and I needed to accept Christ to be with them, or else I'd burn in hell. I don't remember being terribly scarred by how she said it, so she probably was nice about it, but thinking about that now makes me cringe. It was definitely a fire insurance conversion, and I'm not sure if later I projected back into my past that first experience with Christ to compensate for the second less-authentic conversion. The first one seemed very real, so I guess it all depends on your definition of reality.

Another important religious experience in my life (and these all occurred when I still described myself as Evangelical) happened at the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) denomination's youth conference in Salt Lake City, UT. I was newly sixteen years old, and at the time pretty much obsessed with whether or not I was following God's will for my life. I had a very defined idea of what *I* wanted, but I was also convinced that it couldn't be that God and I wanted the same things. I had been wrestling with this for years, since as a young girl I felt God 'calling me' to full-time ministry in the Evangelical church as a missionary. My plans included being a neurosurgeon and 'helping people'. At any rate, it was during a service at the conference when I started to doubt my fire insurance conversion and my committment to the Christian life. I figured I mustn't be very committed, since I was constantly wrestling with giving over to God my dreams of being a doctor. During one service, I was overcome with what I saw as my own selfishness and told God that I would follow Him (I characterized God as a male entity, which isn't surprising) and not be a doctor if He wanted. That moment drastically changed my future plans and led me to study music, to be perfectly honest. I went home from that conference and re-vamped my academic plans for junior year, adding music study and telling my piano teacher that I planned to be a piano major. There was something about the speaker and what I felt was God's presence that caused me to change my life. To be honest, I'm extremely glad I never became a doctor. I would have been awful at it; all that memorizing of facts and details without original thought -- it would have bored me to tears. It would have been a lot of heavy science and math, too, and these are subjects thatt were not in my comfort zone. I guess you could say that a Christian fundamentalist religious experience eventually led me to academia, musicology, and postmodern Christianity! For that, I am glad to have had the experience.

Since slowly giving up Evangelicalism since ca. 2002, I can't remember having any more similar religious experiences or what many Evangelicals call 'mountain top experiences with God'. I can think of times when I attempted to create them. However, that doesn't mean that I don't feel God speaking to me. It's just that now she has become more rational, as I have become more rational. She does not overcome me and force me to listen, but quietly whispers suggestions and ideas and convictions into my ear. My conscience has become a more important vehicle for my newfound culturally-sensitive brand of Christianity, rather than a strict, blind adherence to a literal Truth outlined by the Bible or a religious zealot. In a way, I feel closer to God. Rather than needing an excessive emotional experience, I can experience her quietly and in my everyday life. I don't need a shouting Evangelical preacher or even a beautiful Anglican choir to experience God. She's right here, with me right now, and I can feel her love.

Latin for Mental Health and Punk Rock Clothing for Sammee's Soul

I think we all have these times in graduate school when we feel pushed to our limit and like we're not sure how to cope with it all. Last week, I kind of had one of those moments. Strangely enough, I think it was brought on by the lack of requirements at the end of the semester. I worked so hard to finish everything, and after it was all turned in, I had no idea what to do with myself, which was complicated by the fact that I new I did have things to do for more long-term goals and requirements.This year was so emotionally and physically draining; all the physical difficulties really sucked the life out of me, and I think it did a bit of damage to my mental well-being, too. At any rate, I felt much better today. I think the fact that my intensive Latin transliterature course began simultaneously is not a coincidence. Now, I can put energy into studying Latin and I don't have to sit around and twiddle my thumbs and wonder what on earth to do with myself.

Today, I feel better. I went to Latin class, which is filled with an interesting bunch of language geeks and medievalists, but also modernists who are stuck in it because they couldn't get into the other transliterature courses. There seem to be quite a few Trekkies or at least people who love Captain Picard, and I've generated more interest for my yet-to-happen Star Trek party I've been planning. We did a TREMENDOUS amount of Latin grammar, and I had a disagreement with the instructor over the differences between pronunciation of ecclesiastical vs. classical Latin. I much prefer to pronounce words like 'amavi' (first person singular of the present perfect active for 'to walk'; and I write that out to constantly remind myself of the order our teacher wants us to give the verb forms, not because I don't realise that much of my flist already reads Latin to some extent) with the '-v' sound, rather than the '-w' sound used in classical Latin. I also prefer to pronounce the '-g' more like the modern Italian pronunciation. These preferences are partially because of my study of ecclesiastical Latin (William Byrd's Latin-texted motets!), and partially because these pronunciations are better for singing and listening during long melismas.

The work for the Latin class is appropriate to its 'intensive' description. In 2 days, we have reviewed the 3 simple tenses for the first two verb conjugations, the three perfect tenses (1st 2 conjugations), and two subjunctive tenses (1st 2 conjugations). We also reviewed the cases for first declension nouns. I am writing this partially to bore you, partially because I am a GRAMMAR WHORE (I just love learning the grammar of new languages. I find writing out lists of verb conjugations to be RIDICULOUSLY EXCITING), and partially because I want to get straight in my head what's been flung at it. It's all very satisfying. Now I just have to resuscitate my old high school Latin from 1997 and 1998 and put myself back into classroom mode so I don't continue to stumble over my words when called upon for drills. So perhaps I should go do that now.

Oh wait, there's more I wanted to say. I also made myself feel better by stopping by my favourite boutique in New Brunswick and most favourite clothing store ever ... POP TRASH! I feel like this boutique was CREATED FOR ME! I bought a new mini jean skirt in honour of losing seven pounds by pure accident, even though I was eating copious amounts of ice cream and chocolates. I think it's the whole gluten-free thing -- no longer able to eat 2 bowls of Reeses Peanut Butter Puffs for breakfast. Somehow, eggs with veggies is not an equal substitute. Anyway, I also bought a pink sweater with a skull logo, which I'd been pining for since Christmas -- and I got it for half price (YES!) -- a new studded punk belt, and a pink, black and white argyle tube top with a skull on it. Yeah, okay, so when I'm feeling really expressive and really myself, I wear a lot of black and pink punk rock grrl clothing with skulls on it, topped off with fishnets. That's me to a T. :)

When I first stumbled upon Pop Trash in December 2006, the boutique had recently opened and hadn't even yet put up their web site. Since then, you can read about the boutique and their punk rock style on their web site (see link above), on MySpace, and in an article by Pulse Online. The article touches on two important reasons why true punks need a place like Pop Trash to provide their clothing. First of all, clothing and personal style is an important expression of the punk rock ethos. It is an obvious outward symbol of rebellion from social norms or from the established order. Secondly, purchasing clothing from mainstream clothing chains like Hot Topic is horrifically establishment and a contradiction to the punk rock ethos. As the writer of the article states, chain stores like Hot Topic "exis[t] to turn a profit, and [are] merely ... capitalizing on a growing trend among today's youth. In my opinion, that is not punk rock." YES. Supporting small businesses enable one to support people and benefit society, rather than merely turning over a profit. (I understand that turning over a profit also benefits society, but not in the immediate way that shopping at a small business does. Plus, you can avoid the nasty ethical complications, like with Wal-Mart.) Pop Trash is a store that perfectly satisfies the woman looking to express her devotion to rock-n-roll and esp. punk ideals, and also enables her to give back to the community by dumping her $$ in quality clothing that supports a grass roots business. And that makes me happy. :)

x-posted to Livejournal

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Barack Obama: Religion and Mental Health

I did a search on for 'political blogs', as I am using my small amount of extra summer free time to become more politically savvy and to think about Important Issues like What I Really Think about politics, religion, culture, etc., especially since already there has been a frenzy of campaign activity for the 2008 presidental election. I found a political web site called American Polity, which gave a link to an article on Barack Obama's advocation of improved mental health care for U.S. troops. When Obama first came on the presidental scene, I was very supportive of him. I liked the excerpts from his book reproduced in Time magazine, where he talked about his liberal Christianity and respect for people of different faiths. I respect his stand on abortion, which is similar to Hillary Rodham Clinton's, that they should be safe and rare. I respected how he interacted with Evangelical America, and thought he would have a better chance of beating a Republican candidate than Rodham Clinton, since so many Republicans dislike her so much. I like the idea of having a non-White male person as president. Generally, I just felt that he seemed to have the best chance of beating a Republican (even if he is less experienced), and I really think America could stand to have a non-Republican running it for a change. However, I became concerned when I read the reports about his pastor's strong liberation theology tendencies (there is a New York Times article), including his motto as 'Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian'. As the New York Times author writes,

'Mr. Wright's assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February. Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wright's work for the poor and his fight against injustice. ... It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at Trinity has infused not only his life, but also his campaign. He began his presidential announcement with the phrase "Giving all praise and honor to God", a salutation common in the black church. He titled his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," after one of Mr. Wright's sermons, and often talks about biblical underdogs, the mutual interests of religious and secular America, and the centrality of faith in public life.'

This paragraph made me cringe. The last thing I want for my country is to have another person blinded by religious convinction as the president. G.W. Bush has had various Evangelical leaders whispering into his ear for the last eight years, and the thought of a close-minded, anti-white, reactionist liberation theologian whispering in the new president's ear is almost enough to make me want to change my vote. What American needs is someone who can remain as objective and uninfluenced by any one religious ideology as possible.

And yet ... there are so many things I like about Barack Obama (even moreso than Rodham Clinton, and let me tell you, I would love a female president in the White House!). I like his progressive stances on abortion, gay marriage, global warming and universal health care. Where Rodham Clinton seems more resistant (she has not been as progressive as Obama about health care or environmental concerns), Obama is not afraid to push it to the next progressive level. I really like that he seems very progressive about mental health care and advocates making mental health care more available for U.S. troops. My father served in Vietnam and I know he would have very much benefited from free therapy (that is, if he would have agreed to it). But is all of this enough if he is going to be so intimiately tied to a reactionary form of Christianity? I'm unsure.

x-posted to Livejournal

Friday, 25 May 2007

Cultural Sensitivist

After an online conversation with another liberal friend from Oxford, I've decided that my worldview can best be described as 'culturally sensitive', or, I am a Cultural Sensitivist. I recognize the dangers of too much moral relativism and too much moral absolutism, and I maintain that being culturally and morally sensitive is the best way to navigate between the two extremes. I'll post more about this later, after a good think.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Christian Philosophizing and Conservatives for Gay Marriage

As I was perusing through my blogroll today, I came across the following thought-provoking post by my friend Lauren, a former evangelical and self-avowed agnostic, who also has a terrific writing style and a very interesting blog. In her most recent entry, Lauren wonders whether or not it is possible for a Christian to properly philosophize, because of her or his assurance of having all the answers to life's questions. We began an interesting debate on her blog, during which she mentioned some arguments postulated by Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. Lauren sent me a link to a blog debate by Harris and Andrew Sullivan, which fleshes out many of Harris's key arguments against religiosity and faith in America. I was intrigued by Sullivan's responses, and did some research to figure out more about this character and his book, The Conservative Soul. I found some very interesting articles, including one that presents a conservative (I guess it would be Sullivan's brand of 'neo-Conservativism) argument for gay marriage: Here Comes the Groom: A Conservative Case for Gay Marriage. Anyone who is at my university, I claim this book first and am checking it out ASAP! Sullivan is a writer for the Alantic Monthly, and maintains a blog that I'll be adding to my blogroll. He also wrote a very insightful article for the Times, entitled 'When Seeing is Not Believing'. Has anyone else come across Sullivan that could offer some ideas or responses about or to his work?

Addendum to my previous post

You might still be wondering why I called my previous post 'musicological fiction'. Well, this is because I have always wanted to write a novel, and recently I've been thinking that the only way I'll be able to write one is if it is about one of my musicological interests. I was thinking William Byrd's life would be very fascinating as a novel -- so much political and religious intrigue!!

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Musicological Fiction

I have always wanted to write a novel, or at least a collection of short stories. This is because I am pretty much a HUGE reader; have always loved reading novels and pretty much anything else, as long as it was of good enough quality to keep me entertained and to captivate my intellect. I always make huge summer reading lists each May, and since beginning grad school, have never managed to finish any of them. Last summer I got through The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and that was it. I read most of Baudolino by Umberto Eco, but still haven't finished it. I spent most of the summer busy with academic pursuits and cramming in as much of a social and exercise life as I could muster.

I am making this post to ask for suggestions for my summer reading list. I think I will aim to read one 'fun' book a month, which shouldn't distract too much from my studies and still provide the necessary leisure time I require for my sanity. Here is my current list for May, June, July, August and September. If I am successful, perhaps this can continue through the academic year.

May: The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies (almost finished); The Robber Bride (Margaret Atwood -- I am reading this book because another musicologist recommended it and I bought it from the music library for 10 cents).

June: The History of Love: A Novel (Nicole Krauss)

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (Donald Miller)

August: The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova)

Orlando: A Biography (Virginia Woolf)

Comments? Suggestions?

Saturday, 19 May 2007

End of the Academic Year Blues

I never know what to do with myself at the end of the academic year, especially since beginning graduate school. When I was an undergraduate, I would always be excited and look forward to the summer, which was spent reading novels and taking trips to visit friends and generally recovering from the stress of being an over-achieving honours student. Of course, the summers that occur in-between being a PhD student are completely different.

The summer between my master's degree and the beginning of my PhD was pretty much non-existent, because my master's degree didn't end until July 19 and moving takes so much work and energy. The summer between the first and second years of the PhD was also pretty stressful, because I took an Italian language class and had a lot of comprehensive examination revision to commence. This summer will be spent doing a Latin language class and more revision, as well as fleshing out my dissertation topic. I am feeling depressed because it was a very stressful, tumultuous year for me health-wise and I can feel that my body, mind, spirit and brain really need a break. Oh well, c'est la vie.

So how do I recuperate so I can face the challenges?

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Contemplating... Anti-Christian Readers?

I just realised that I may eventually pick up a few readers who might perhaps be turned off by my Christian-themed posted. As it turns out, I decided to use this journal to muse about thoughts unrelated to my specific academic career, although it will probably turn up now and again and because it's impossible to get out of my head completely.

As I think is common for people who study medieval and early modern music and culture, I am a liberal Christian (am currently dabbling in a mixture of Quakerism and Anglicanism) and have an affinity for religiosity (even though I am a punk rocker and like Jay Bakker's 'religion kills' movement at times, too). However, this does not mean that I don't respect other people's opinions, so pleased don't be scared away!!

Friday, 4 May 2007

Devotional Post; To Be Digested

Romans 8:28-39 (NRSV)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

"For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.
- Psalm 116:15 (NRSV)

Currently Listening...

  • Pearl and the Beard
  • The Dodos
  • Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha
  • Anna Ternheim
  • NOFX
  • Fairiborz Lachini
  • The Clash
  • Rufus Wainwright: Rufus Does Judy
  • Radiohead: In Rainbows

Currently Watching...

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Big Bang Theory
  • Mad Men
  • South Park
  • Zach Galifinakis

Currently Reading...

  • Bill Bryson: A History of Nearly Everything
  • Gabriel Garcia-Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • The House of Leaves
  • Robertson Davies: The Rebel Angels

Favourite Videos