what i’m reading online

Things I’ve been reading: October 2016

Racism, Asylum Seekers, Australia

As one of the many Australians who want to see our country’s treatment of asylum seekers be more reflective of humane, human rights-affirming, healing action, it can be a source of constant despair to read about our nation’s treatment of people who are fleeing wars. It seems that the vocal majority are opposed to assisting asylum seekers.

(more…)

Advertisements

What I’ve Been Reading Online

THEOLOGY & CHURCH

SCIENCE

Electromagnetic spectrum: image from Wikipedia

Electromagnetic spectrum: image from Wikipedia – I found it great to learn more about it in the course I’ve been taking on Astronomy.

  • This month I’m taking a course in Astronomy through Open Universities Australia’s free Open2Study short courses. The course is a four-week introductory overview of the science of astronomy, major breakthroughs (including, refreshingly, frequent acknowledgement of women’s contributions to science) and some mind-blowing, awe-inspiring discussions about our wonderful universe. The course is presented by a radio astronomy researcher and lecturer from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

As I’ve mentioned previously, though I have a lifelong love of science, for many years my particular social circumstances meant that my only exposure to scientific progress was heavily mediated by the selected reporting and interpreting of the creationist community. There were lots of reasons for this and as I’m completely disinterested in engaging in any debate (it’s just too dualistic and feels unnecessarily divisive and other people are far better at it than I), taking courses like this one has helped bring me up-to-date with current scientific understandings of the origin, expansion and development of the universe. One thing I’ve found particularly helpful in the Astronomy course is the clear explanation of what, exactly, are scientific theories (they’re not just vague hypotheses) and I have formed a far more accurate understanding of the process of the scientific method as it pertains to astronomy.

The course makes me think of Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr’s comment (which from memory I think was in this particular lecture) that scientists are far better than most religious folks at being humble before their incomplete understanding of the universe – where fundamentalism wants the black-and-white truth and wants it right now, science is able to take its time and explore the possibilities.

What I’ve Been Reading Online

RELIGION & MENTAL HEALTH

  • I came across “Registered Runaway” a couple of years ago when I was looking for resources to help me sympathetically dialogue with the growing number of gay and lesbian Christians in my life. A recent mental health series on the blog has proven fascinating and relatable. I particularly liked this article, “Why you’re getting worse at reading,” which I connected with. I too know the agony of a dwindling concentration span directly connected to how much screen time and online interaction I have. He mentions the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr which was a life-changing book for me. It came along when I was struggling with the demands of university and got me to step away from the computer and pick up books again.

ORIGINS & SCIENCE

I was raised liberal-progressive Roman Catholic, in a family with a mix of Atheists, Agnostics, Neo-Pagans and, obviously, at least a few other Catholics at varying degrees of commitment. In that context, I never in my life had reason to question the conventional wisdom of evolutionary biology, astronomy and geology. Then I got married.

Interestingly, even though my husband’s immediate family and friends tended to be variants on what I later found out are called Young Earth Creationists (YECs), one day I realised that the church he’s from and that we attended for most of our married life thus far actually holds the view that it’s up to the individual to decide what they believe. They actively present a multiple array of views and say quite explicitly that it’s not up to the church pastors to decide which view is correct (which may come as a shock to outsiders but no, it’s not always about brainwashing the masses). It’s a lot more laid-back as far as Pentecostal communities go.

At the time I was led to believe that if I wanted to be a real Christian I had to take Genesis literally or I was a compromiser. Here I am 14 years later and my husband has increasingly embraced the rational and the scientific to the extent that his views have changed a lot. We met when we were 19 years old, and you’d kind of hope we’d progressed in our faith journey between the ages of 19 and 30-something. In the meantime we’ve also both finished two university degrees each. I’m qualified as a sociologist with a focus on the environment and human societies. He’s got a Master of Engineering degree and is quite the scientist.  We have learned a lot over the years and that includes learning a whole lot more about how science works, what scientists believe, what Christians think scientists believe and so on. After much careful consideration and reflection we reached a point of no longer accepting the YEC viewpoint. It’s not a decision made lightly, knowing full well the kinds of vitriolic criticism, shunning and accusations of backsliding we would possibly face from some church members.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against my creationist friends whatsoever, and if any of them are reading this I hope that my change in opinion will not dismay you and that one day, even if you never change your mind, you’ll understand that I am simply following the information as I best understand it. And aren’t we all?

For a decade my only exposure to science was through the heavily mediated and pre-approved Creationist texts that compiled snippets of journal materials and framed them with Christian apologetics. You have to understand – I was raised in a family of science geeks. We love science. To stop reading it was to throw out who I am. And then, one day about a year ago, I decided I wanted to learn more about feathered dinosaurs. However, for a number of years I only read about dinosaurs in Creationist texts and so I know just about every apologetic imaginable about how to interpret dinosaurs and fit them on Noah’s Ark (take babies, or eggs, and only two of each kind, which might represent family or order level biology and not species-level). I know all of the claimed dinosaurs in the Bible passages (how dare the study notes claim that Leviathan is a mere crocodile when clearly it’s a Kronosaurus!). I know the “real” reasons dinosaurs died out (a post-Flood Ice Age killed off their sluggish cold-blooded selves… even though evidence suggests that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, and that some of these were furry or feathered). And feathered dinosaurs are either a hoax or their own created kind.

But for many myriad reasons, I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with Creationist apologetics. Now, I’m not going to go on about it. I really have no reason to stop Creationists believing what they believe because I have identified as that myself for about a decade and I shared their materials out when I was leading Bible study groups and have read all the best writers in the field and still find useful some of their questions about the origin of life and death, the way the evidence is interpreted and the way it applies to our identity as humans.

I have found some interesting sites for those who want to explore critical assessments of YEC viewpoints. I’ll list them here but I can’t emphasise enough the fact that I’m not interested in a debate. I am so thoroughly burnt out on Christian apologetics. It feels to me these days like a noise, a clanging gong, rather than a path to knowing Christ.

So, for those who are interested, here are some sites I found that explore issues of Creationism and science. And as always, links are shown here for interest’s sake, and inclusion in my blog is not necessarily indicative of my complete acceptance of the materials presented on the linked site. *deletes half of my original post*

CULTS & RELIGIOUS ABUSE

While I have not experienced any of the extreme forms of religious abuse and violence sadly faced by many people, I found myself reading up on these issues partly because I studied Sociology of Cults as part of my uni degree and found it compelling; and secondly because I have experienced or encountered the low-level forms of cultic control that go on; including psychological manipulation, control, disempowerment, financial abuse, forced “volunteering,” a loss of control over one’s schedule, shunning, fundamentalist ideology fuelled by fear, complementarian perspectives on women, punitive and harsh disciplinarian systems of child rearing (for examples of these see here and here), dysfunctional and unhealthy social dynamics, gossip as a means of keeping people under control, a fear of science and psychology, etc. I read about it to try to understand it sociologically, and to share what I learn with those who might need to hear that what they’re experiencing in God’s name is a very human phenomenon and not in any way representative of that which is good and pure and lovely and perfect in the Universe.

Here are some materials that I’ve read recently on the topic. Proceed with caution if you are likely to be triggered by articles referring to abuse, control and religion.

What I’ve Been Reading Online

It’s October which means the happiest time of the year (in my humble opinion) is coming up: Hallowe’en and NaNoWriMo. I just love having that month to revel in fun and joyful and creative things. It’s a time where I allow myself to pursue my interests – something that as a stay at home mum isn’t always easy.

Hallowe’en in Australia is nowhere near the proportions of significance that it reaches in, say, North America, but for as long as I can recall it’s been one of those optional occasions on the calendar where those of us with a Gothic leaning can celebrate all things spooky. However, cue marrying a then-strict Pentecostal Christian and it was goodbye Hallowe’en for several years. As I have shifted away from the extremely strict, black-and-white religiosity that tries to control every aspect of worshippers’ lives, I’ve found myself able to relax and just enjoy Hallowe’en, the way I enjoy the old The Addams Family tv series and atmospheric black metal music like Aquilus.

Another angle on Hallowe’en in Australia is that here it actually lines up with the Pagan celebrations of Beltane, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with Samhain. And the imagery and concepts surrounding Samhain are more like what Hallowe’en is about. Not to mention that pumpkins are not a seasonal vegetable here at this time of year. But all hand wringing over dates and propriety and spiritual warfare aside, I think it’s a bit of fun and quite frankly am far beyond quibbling over church debates as to the One True and Correct Way to Respond to Hallowe’en. Which, of course, my old church friends will likely see as evidence of my slide into heresy but, hey, that’s their problem.

Nanowrimo is, as I have repeatedly mentioned, an annual writing event that takes place in November. For all thirty days of November, the challenge is to write an original first draft of a 50,000+ words story before the clock strikes midnight, local time. I entered (and “won,” that is, submitted a 50,000+ word manuscript to Nano’s word counter) in 2013 and 2014. In late October and early November, every bit of brain space, energy, creativity and writing ability is poured into Nano. As a result, if I share any blog posts during that time they’ll probably be Nano-related. In the last two years I wrote regular updates on the Nano process. I had positive feedback about these and so I will attempt to do that again this year. Look out for them (and hit the follow or subscribe button so you can watch my progress!).

I’ll add that I’m fully cognizant of the solemn critiques and negative views on Nano. It’s a predictable sociological phenomenon that any “movement” will usually spur a counter-movement (take any political movement and you won’t need to look far before finding a group of people indignant and certain that the movement is wrong). There is a whole lot of despair that Nano doesn’t produce high level literary authors, though there are the occasional notable success stories like Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants, the first draft of which was written for Nano. Now, quite frankly I don’t feel the need to explain or defend why I love Nano to those who disagree with it or lament that it only gives hyped-up and over-caffeinated wannabes the sense that we are writers. I literally do not care if other people don’t enjoy Nano – simple, don’t do it. I thought it was an insane concept when I first heard of it too, especially as I’d just come out of a two-year honours research stint that resulted in a measly 18,000 words. How could I, who scraped together 18,000 words in two years, possibly think that I could write 50,000 in one month? But I will say that for some of us, that fast pace is thoroughly enjoyable as a one-off, a challenging and messy bit of creative writing fun with tangible goals and the support of a lovely online community and a way to link up with other local writers through Nano-organised regional events. The reality is that after years of university, having set deadlines fires up my writing powers in a way that my hectic and clinically depressed day-to-day existence doesn’t. Many of us Nano participants are people who live and breathe writing, or we would if we could, but sometimes real life steals from that. We can’t all have the luxury of a home office and blissful hours of pre-dawn writing, as wonderful as that would be. Nope, my pre-dawn routine is hauling myself out of bed and chauffeuring reluctant kids to school and then spending hours on all that housework stuff that comes with being a stay at home parent and not to mention trying to eke out an income as a struggling artist. In November I get to say to the family, “Hey, don’t bug me, I’m writing,” and yet for them there’s a light at the end of the tunnel that this madness only lasts a few weeks before normalcy resumes. And as for the rest of the year, other writers who take themselves very seriously and perhaps deserve to, still don’t get to decide whether or not my daily routine meets their expectations of literary adequacy. Whether I return to my Nano manuscripts or not (and personally I always do) is not their concern. Just sayin’. As for me, I would rather be a voice of encouragement, spurring on my friends and complete strangers that read my blog to attempt to explore their creativity – whether they one-off write a Nano novel and get the t-shirt and the inherent gloating rights that come with it, or if they “only” wrote 500 words, that was 500 more than they had written before, or they suddenly decide to paint despite not having touched a brush since it was a required subject at school, or they do one of those complex adult colouring books and make a pretty mandala, I don’t care what it is. I just love seeing people pursuing the life affirming, the creative and the opportunity to challenge themselves. Even if they never go anywhere with it. Surely the world would be a kinder place if we poured our energy into life affirming creativity rather than, I don’t know, never trying anything lest the worthier gatekeepers of literary success get all offended that mere commoners dared to put pen to paper.

The arts should not be the privileged domain of the highly educated and highly organised. As an Arts / Humanities graduate, I am a firm believer that Arts is intrinsic to expressing our humanness. Why should the unprofessional hobby writer be scorned for their efforts? Further to that, Nanowrimo doubles as a charity, supporting literacy programmes for underprivileged schools. Those of us who compete are able to buy the merchandise and donate to the charity and do so knowing that some of that goes towards teaching kids to read.

Phew. Anyway, while I’m busy being a Wrimo in November, I won’t be writing as frequently on wordpress. To keep my readers occupied, here are some interesting links to online articles I’ve been reading.

ASTRONOMY

VEGETARIANISM & VEGANISM

  • Skool of Vegan on Instagram – a webcomic exploring the reasoning behind veganism.

HISTORY

MINDFULNESS

  • A BBC article called, “The slow death of purposeless walking.” I wholeheartedly agree with the movements for slowing down and unplugging and letting the natural world catch our attention.
  • On the topic of the social movements for slowness, if you haven’t heard of it, check out the work of Slow Food who seek to counteract the high intensity pace of modern life and call us back to eating thoughtfully prepared, culturally relevant and holistic foods as part of a lifestyle of mindfulness.

What I’ve Been Reading Online

Rather than flood my facebook friends and acquaintances with links to every interesting thought that I’ve read on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, I thought it might be good to compile them here. As mentioned on my blog’s Links page, please exercise all usual precautions online; if you want to interact with the author or content of a particular article, please do so at the original post; and while links are given here in good faith and believed to be accurate at the time of sharing, they might change at any time; and, in case it weren’t obvious, that’s outside of my control.

BLOGS (Nepotism at work!)

There are four blogs I’d like to highlight, all from in-real-life friends and family – in no particular order.

  1. Middle England Earth Art – this is my mum’s blog – “mom” for the American readers, “mam” for any Irish. 😉  She paints fan art inspired by films like Lord of the Rings.
  2. Sunday Everyday – a blog by Lisa, who I met through my current church, when she was one of the pastors there. A couple of months ago she was kind enough to interview me for the blog on how my spirituality and environmentalism interact. You can read it here.
  3. Reflections of a Mugwump – a blog by Nicole, another former pastor from my current church, talking (so far) history and politics.
  4. Closer to the World I Can’t Quite Reach – a blog by Sara, who I also met through church. Her blog is very new and I look forward to seeing her future posts.

SPIRITUALITY

A friend of mine put me onto this interesting three-part series of posts from a pair of Witches who attended meetings at a major and influential Pentecostal church. I found their insight really fascinating, and at times troubling and confronting (but for me it was in a good way). In many ways I could relate to their descriptions. After being Catholic born-and-raised in a somewhat Agnostic extended family (go figure!) I self-identified as Wiccan for a few years before marrying a Pentecostal and converting to his religion. It’s probably a bit too specific to call myself Wiccan, but that was the label I had for myself at the time, as a heavily Celtic and Norse-influenced NeoPagan.

Thirteen years later, I find myself again on a kind of spiritual threshold where I am seriously questioning a lot of Pentecostal and Christian practices, while still seeking to honour Jesus the Christ and the Gospels that bear his teachings. It occurred to me a long time ago that there are some elements of Pentecostalism that seem eerily similar to my earlier experiences of Paganism. This is something that a hard-and-fast Pentecostal would deny, and I respect that, but I am basing this on my observations, not on some high-level theological discourse. I know that the worldview as embodied in a book like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness (which was, incidentally, the book that terrified me out of Paganism – given to me as a wedding present back in 2002 by my then very strictly Pentecostal husband), espouses the view that to be Pagan is to operate under daemonic influence, but to be Christian is a Holy Spirit “possession.”

I also need to clarify that I do not use words like Pagan, Witch, Heathen or Occultist as inherently negative, as some of my Christian friends do – rather, I use them as descriptive labels referring to specific sets of spiritual beliefs.

Anyway, I felt that in reading these articles the Witches’ observations of Pentecostal activities rang true. Especially the remarks about emptying oneself and about the corporate business-style nature of services. In my opinion, it was a very interesting and thought-provoking read. I know that many of my friends who are heavily influenced by the theology of the church in the stories would likely be aghast at the thought of Pagans receiving a prophetic word of affirmation and so I must add that I do not share these articles to distress those particular friends. As always, if you want to dialogue with the content or author, please do so at the original post.

Here are links to the series:

  1. Part 1 – “Born Again Witch: Why I took Witches to a Pentecostal church
  2. Part 2 – “Witches at a Pentecostal Church: Sensing the Energy
  3. Part 3 – “Witches at a Pentecostal Church: Healings and Prophecies

FEMINISM

Similarities between anti-suffragette posters and anti-feminist memes.

CHRISTIANITY

I’ve been reading a lot of John Pavlovitz’s blog recently, and more often than not, I find that his writings speak to where I’m at. Though it was hard to narrow down, here are three of his recent posts that connected with me.

  1. What church people really need to know about once-churched people. Quote: “They are still people of great depth and character and substance and yes, even faith. They are still wonderfully attentive parents, devoted friends, loving spouses, amazing co-workers, helpful neighbors. They are still responsible and compassionate and loving, and so much of what you treasured and knew to be true about them then, is still true today. They are simply not comfortable in the space you find yourself. They are not misfits, but they most surely no longer fit.”
  2. How to navigate a loved one’s changing faith (or help them navigate yours). Quote: “There is quite often a palatable sense of betrayal; the feeling that someone has changed the rules in the middle of the game, leaving the other to play catch-up and to try and find their new place in a relationship with someone they no longer feel they know quite as well as they did before. An invisible, yet very real barrier often goes up between people and their cherished bond becomes presently strained.”

AUSTRALIAN POLITICS

It’s hard to read the current news coming out of the current Australian social climate without feeling equal measures rage and despair. Along comes the satirical site, “The Shovel,” which manages to convey the perpetual disappointment that is Australian politics and turn it into something that can make you laugh while you cry at the thought that our bizarre and sometimes-convoluted voting system rendered power unto an unexpectedly strong right-wing government whose opposition are suspiciously similar in political views. But as the facebook page says, “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for Tony Abbott.” (Tony Abbott being the current Australian Prime Minister.)