>I’m Too Dang Sarcastic

>It’s easy to fall into a rhythm or a rut in day-to-day life, to find a groove and to continue along it without reflection. And it rarely occurs to us, I think, that our troubles, our depression, our emptiness, may all stem from the Way We Go About Life. A realization about myself and my friends has slowly dawned on me over the last few years. It’s been so slow that I normally don’t even notice the realization at all, but every so often I see through my social interactions, my past day, and don’t like what I see. And a pattern has emerged. At least that should mean I can change things.

Simply put, a sardonic sarcasm has come to dominate my friendships. I find it difficult to interact with anyone without relying on a wry sense of humor. I feel a need to always be funny while showing no vulnerability. I could probe into why this might be the case–I was a quiet kid who got picked on a lot on middle school, etc. etc.–but really it doesn’t matter, because 1) regardless of what might have shaped this approach to life, what matters now is changing course, and 2) it’s not just me. This sardonic sarcasm seems to have absorbed deeply into American culture, or at least the culture of my peers. And it needs to change.

The trouble is, how do you go about changing something so fundamental to how you act with your friends? How do you learn to be genuine with people? How do you learn to be comfortable with vulnerability? I had hoped that I’d explore these questions more deeply in this post, but nothing is coming to me. Nonetheless, I’m glad to have at least state the problem. Hopefully I’ll get some ideas about the solution soon.

>The Semantics of Theism

>What do people when they say they believe in God? Are they making an intellectual statement, asserting the correctness of a certain body of Scripture? Are they describing a personal relationship with a spiritual being? Are they making a teleological claim about the meaningfulness of existence? Are they just reciting the beliefs of their parents? Modern society is decidedly secular; in many quarters admitting to belief in God is a serious faux pas, an admission of ignorance and superstition.

At the same time, the foundations of Enlightenment agnosticism and atheism are beginning to show signs of wear and stress. Advances in philosophy and physics in particular have led many to a sort of nihilistic skepticism, not only about God but about all knowledge. While the debate between theists and atheists is generally cast as a polarized battle between two diametrically opposed metaphysical, cultural, and ethical systems, even a cursory glance at the writings from both sides reveals that the terms and ideas used are often muddily vague. How much of the debate is really confusion and miscommunication? Can we really even argue about an idea as abstract and ineffable as God in the first place? What does the word “God” even mean?

At the center of this debate is the separation of a word or concept from what it describes. The word “chair” is not itself a chair. My name is not the same thing as my actual body and my history as a person. So the focus of our attempts to talk about and understand God is an issue of semantics: what do these words mean? And what, perhaps more importantly, do these words not mean? If our debates and discussions about God are going to be fruitful, we have to be clear with our semantics.

Getting back to the “chair” example, if someone asked me to define a chair, I think the most accurate and succinct definition would be “a human-made object with a horizontal surface designed for a single person to sit on and a vertical surface to support the person’s back, and that is movable.” Other similar objects, like stools and booths, would be excluded–stools have no back, and booths seat more than one person and are normally bolted to the floor or wall.

When we talk about God, though, are we talking about an object like a chair that can be perceived with the senses and then described? I’m not going to give my own answer(s) here, in part because I don’t know that I have any good answers to give. But there’s no question that considering these questions must be central to any person of faith. Is God a being we can perceive like other beings? Or is God Being itself, the very essence of all existence? Is God a prime mover, a first cause alone? Or is God cause and constant sustainer–transcendent and yet immanent? Can we communicate with God like a sort of super-human? Or does communing with God take radically different forms than we are used to as humans?

Ultimately, what do we mean when we talk about God? I don’t think any of us will have any immediate answers. One might say that the practice of a religion is, at least ideally, itself the answer.

>Prayers of the People

>My parish recently asked its newest members and members-to-be to write our own forms of the Prayers of the people, which is communal prayer offered in Episcopal (and other) liturgies. The Prayers of the People seeks to express the needs, concerns, fears, and questions of all the members of a church an to connect them to the broader Church and world abroad. So here’s my crack at it.

With all our heart and soul, let us pray to the Lord for mercy in the ancient Greek in which many of our earliest brothers and sisters spoke:

(The kyrie response could be chanted or sung, and the prayer could be concluded with an extended traditional kyrie chant.)

For Your Church, in all its denominations and divisions, and for all who love Truth within or without the Body of Christ.
Kyrie Eleison.

For this and all nations, for our leaders, for the citizens, for all who find themselves in positions of authority and power.
Kyrie Eleison.

For all who volunteer and work for others and for their communities, who struggle to improve the world as well as themselves.
Kyrie Eleison.

For the whole earth, from which we arose and on which we will always depend, for all of the life with which we share this planet.
Kyrie Eleison.

For all the communities of Richmond, Northside and Southside, Westend and Eastend, downtown and suburban, for that broader community which we often forget or ignore but to which we are intimately tied.
Kyrie Eleison.

For the poor, for the sick, for the oppressed, for the enslaved, for the dying, for all who are powerless in the face of power, who are not only our brothers and sisters, but infact Christ, who is always before us in the least of us.
Kyrie Eleison.

For all who live with the hope of Christ’s kingdom and for [St. Andrew and] all who have died in that same hope, who together have and are striving to obediently serve as builders of that kingdom.
Kyrie Eleison.

For each of us here and now, whoever we are, certainly creatures of God and certainly called to the work of redemption.
Kyrie Eleison.