Thursday, July 26, 2007

Another Take on the issue..

Well, I was doing more research today about what people think of Philip Pullman's books which I think should be more controversial than they actually are. The link above is to a Talk of the Nation segment on NPR. I found it interesting because the commentator was an adult when she read the books yet claims she read them as someone going back to adolescence. Even more interesting is that she focuses on one of the non-religious aspects of the book. Reading or listening to this segment would tell me nothing about the theological aspects to the story and perhaps it is just a sign I was reading too much into the books. However, daemons (in the books) are fascinating and innovated but are not the focus of the action and motivation of the characters. Many of the characters are motivated more with eradicating the Church or killing God (excuse me - "The Authority"). So yeah, daemons are cool, but does that balance the other problems I found with the books?

Now as much as I have been discussing my dislikes of the books, I want to make it clear that I in no way wish for these books to be banned. First Amendment rights are too important and I feel access to diverse ideas is important to being a fully educated, wise individual. However, I am shocked that these books seem to be accepted so readily by Christians and others, without much discussion about the theological ramifications of what is being suggested by Pullman.

Probably more on this to come... Pullman is apparently very anti-C.S. Lewis for odd and unfounded reasons so I want to investigate that some more...

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I don't get it!

First of all, we'll just pretend that I've been better about keeping up this blogging thing and that there have been invisible posts the last few weeks...

I just finished reading the third book of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, The Amber Spyglass. It was really really good. I don't get it though. It was like watching one of those fascinating artsy movies that ends and you just think "Wow. Something just happened. I wonder what it was." As a religion major, these books were a treasure trove of religious allusion and theology but in the end, I don't quite get it. I don't want to give anything away but the message I took away from the third book especially was "live in the present moment." This is a very Buddhist way of thinking and it is something I have been working on for years, probably my whole life. However, Pullman approached this idea in such a Marxist way that it was hard for me to fully process.

The problem is because of my own religious and spiritual beliefs - I believe in God and happen to be part of the Church that is viciously attacked and negatively portrayed throughout the trilogy. I have no trouble saying that the Catholic Church has been corrupt at times throughout history but I still have very strong theological connections to my religion, no matter what corruption has occured in the past. Pullman focuses on Lyra's world when it comes to the corrupt Church so it may be that I am reading too much into the story. However, focusing on the Church (implied Catholic Church, since it involves the classic hierarchy led by men) in a "different" world allows Pullman to leave out the diversity of religions that affect our present day world. Where were the Protestants in the discussion of the "Authority" and the "Kingdom of Heaven." What would the Buddhist have to say, since their theology doesn't involve an ultimate Creator or all-powerful God? These were things I couldn't help thinking while reading all three books. I have studied the history and theology of the five major world religions in the past four years and it is hard for me to read these books without simultaneously studying Pullman's theology. It is fiction so I'm not saying that Pullman believes in Dust and all of the other things in the book, however, there are theories of religion, spirituality, and theology in these books, undeniably.

Another reason I am having trouble "understanding" or even processing finishing this series is that there are so many loose ends left untied. I like books that leave the future to the imagination but I find it distracting when an author introduces what seems to be a major plot point and then never resolves it. It's hard to explain so I'll try without being so specific to give things away. Even if you've only read the first book, it is clear there are biblical allusions to the Creation story, specifically Adam and Eve. In the third book, there is talk about the "serpent" figure in the world of the story. However, I don't quite know what happened to that very important character! Maybe I was reading too fast because I want to get to reading Harry Potter but I was deeply involved in reading The Amber Spyglass so I don't know how I missed it. There is talk of Original Sin, fallen angels, heaven and hell, and much more but temptation theme seemed to be forgotten by the end. I'll go back and re-read some of it just to make sure but it is certainly my biggest question about the conclusion. If anyone has ideas about what happened, let me know!

All this being said, I highly recommend these books. However, I hope that people do not read them as a metaphor for the truth because it would be too easy to start hating the Church and all devote believers. In addition, don't forget the shadings of Marxism throughout... It is surprising to me that I didn't hear more of an outcry against these books when they came out - maybe I just missed it? I remember Harry Potter being banned from schools because of its ideas of witchcraft but never did I hear about Pullman's books being forces of evil that claim that God is a finite being who has let corruption rule the world(s), not to mention the denial that God or "the Authority" had anything to do with creation... Thinking cynically, I guess it could be because Catholics are the obvious target so the conservative Protestants who fight to ban books would not be as upset as they would about other books. However, that is a mean, prejudiced thought so I do not entertain the idea seriously. I did do some internet research and there is evidence of this book being criticized by conservatives and possibly being banned. However, several book reviews and articles point out that the Harry Potter are more controversial in this aspect because of the claim that they are spreading the practice of sorcery to our children. I'm not even going to touch that one in this post...

In any case, I did come across a FASCINATING review of His Dark Materials that discusses a lot of the same things that concerned me, mainly the all-out attack on Christianity and organized religion. I highly recommend reading what James Bow, the author of this review had to say. I've linked the third part of his review since it mentions book banning but there are links at the top to two previous parts that are also highly fascinating. Clicking on the title of this post will take you to that page (hopefully).

Well, its been a long day and a longer post. I'll come reread the above later and make sure I didn't say anything too horrible but I don't like editing my thoughts on books and art because usually the first thing that comes out is the most honest reaction. I plan on reading some more reviews of Pullman's writing as well as some interviews with him. He apparently is a pretty outspoken aethiest so it shouldn't be hard!

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Monday, July 09, 2007

coffee shop hopping

It has obviously been hard for me to update this blog every day, due to the lack of internet access for me at my apartment. However, it has been kind of fun hopping from one free wireless place to another. So far I've only been to one place twice.

Right now I'm at a rather busy coffee shop on open mic night (not by choice). It is the only place I could think of that would be open after 8pm for awhile in Evanston during the summer. Most places have shortened hours during the summer because of the fact that half the population (students) is gone for vacation.

Right now there is a really cute little red head singing a great gospel song with her father on guitar. She is probably about 8 or 9 years old and was very good!

Now the highschoolers are taking over. They are probably either local kids or, more likely, participants in the NU summer programs. In any case, it is getting a bit crowded...

Well, sorry for the somewhat boring post. Just trying to post something...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Alcoholic Pasta and Fireworks

After such a depressing string of posts, I figure it is time for some accounts of the really fun stuff that has been happening. Things have been getting better since I finished all the graduation stuff and moving but it is easy to just write about the annoying things instead of being entertaining.

So let me tell you about my 4th of July AFTER I wrote the blog post yesterday. After leaving the bookstore where I was using the internet, I went grocery shopping because I had mentioned to my roommate Eva that I going to stay home for the holiday and cook dinner. It had taken me a long time to decide what to cook (because it has been quite awhile since I've had time to do so!) but I finally settled on "You Won't Be Single for Long Vodka-Cream Pasta," a favorite recipe of Frances and Jonathan that I have enjoyed many times at their house. When I called to ask for the recipe, Frances and Jonathan were at a friends BBQ so Frances tried to remember the recipe off the top of her head. Well, it was almost correct but luckily I found the Rachel Ray book with the original recipe at the bookstore and sneakily typed it up on my computer while I was seemingly just using the internet.

Since I had typed the recipe up on my computer, I didn't have it handy to reference at the store. I should have written down the ingredients before hand because inevitably, stuff got forgotten. Two grocery stores later (in addition to the tea shop I started at, the bookstore where I found out about Beth, and several miles of walking between all these places), I got home. By this time it was already late for normal dinner time but Eva had waited so I powered through and started dinner.

The first thing I realized when I started cooking was that I had forgotten to buy the fresh basil that is essential to the recipe. I decided to substitute dry basil this time because I could not face walking anywhere else. The second thing I realized was that it was a really stupid idea to buy a bottle of vodka for this recipe, even though it was on sale, because Eva pointed out later that there are about four different bottles of vodka in the cabinets that I could have used (although I don't think the fruity flavored ones would have worked well). As a result, we now have an inordinate amount of vodka in the house and I don't really drink at the moment. The third thing I realized was that with my plans to make the pasta, corn-on-the-cob, and garlic bread, I was going to have to use all four burners, four pots/pans, and the oven. I tried very hard to not let any of this discourage me.

I started cooking. So far so good - water on its way to boiling, lots of garlic minced up for the bread and sauce, bread cut - not so difficult. I started the corn, prepped the bread, started the pasta water, and nervously began the great vodka-cream pasta sauce. Now it is important to understand that I copied the recipe from the cookbook word for word. However, Rachel Ray has a funny way with words - she doesn't like pressuring the inexperienced cook into measuring things perfectly or staying glued to the timer. I tried very hard to "stick to the recipe" in terms of the order she did things but I had some delays. I had accidently picked up the canned roma tomatoes next to the canned crushed tomatoes at Whole Foods and consequently "crushed" them myself in the blender. Somehow my pasta was already cooked at a point in the sauce recipe BEFORE the direction "simmer until pasta is cooked through." Apparently I was supposed to time them off each other??? So I added the vodka (and tried not to be too particular about the measurement, a la Rachel Ray), and had to guess when it was done simmering. In the meantime, everything else was finished nicely and I got things ready at the table. At an arbitrary time, I tried to taste the sauce to see if it was ready but it was too hot so I just decided it was probably done and I added the pasta.

Eva came out, we served up, and tasted what was supposed to be my masterpiece 4th of July meal, for which I had spent all day planning and shopping. Well. As you may have guessed by the title of this post, the vodka-cream pasta was still a little "strong"... It was very "vodka-y." I went and turned on the stove again to try to cook out some more of the alcohol which probably made the pasta way over cooked but the sauce is probably now less "potent." In addition, Rachel Ray had suggested serving this dish with a good bottle of Chianti so I decided to go all the way and got the wine as well. If you don't understand how much alcohol was probably left in that pasta sauce, let me put it to you this way - Eva remarked that "if you drink a sip of the wine first and then eat the pasta, it doesn't really taste like alcohol anymore....but after a few bites it wears off and you have to drink the wine again..." It was still a tasty meal over all but not quite the same outcome of this recipe when prepared by the fabulous Jonathan and Frances. Maybe the taste was off because of the dried basil. Maybe there weren't enough crushed tomatoes. Or maybe I just put in a little too much vodka. We'll never know but I'm still nicknaming the dish "alcoholic pasta." Eva and I were a little "happy" by the end of the meal but as I pointed out, there was not TOO much vodka in it to begin with - at most we each had half a shot??

After dinner we cleaned up which didn't end up being as horrible as I thought, even though I had to use four pots and pans, multiple bowls, the cutting board, the blender, etc. By the time we finished, it was nearing 9pm and the Evanston fireworks were scheduled to start at 9:15pm. After awhile we started hearing distant booms but when we looked out our third floor window, there were no fireworks in sight. We just figured they were behind the trees and said "oh well, no big deal!" However, half an hour later, I started hearing louder fireworks and looked behind me out the window to see an amazing array of fireworks just above the trees! Apparently the fireworks we heard earlier were from another suburb or something and the Evanston ones started late. The show went on for almost 45 minutes and we could see most of through and over the trees. The best part were these new kind of fireworks (at least we're pretty sure they're new) that do the normal burst but then all the little sparks start moving in seemingly random directions like fireflies or maybe pool balls when you hit them really hard and the bounce all over the place. Eva and I don't remember ever seeing those before so watching them even with an obscured view paid off in the end.

So my day got a lot better, as you can see, even though the shock of Beth's death was with me throughout. However, she was the kind of person who would have gotten a really good laugh out of the alcoholic pasta and other antics. Overall, it turned out to be a good day.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sad news...

I was going to write a long post but I'm no longer in the mood. I don't have internet at my new place for complicated reasons so I'm sitting at Barnes and Noble on the computer, finally downloading my email from the last several days. Although I can check my email on my roommates computer, I somehow missed an important email from Sheil. A recent graduate (class of '05 I think) was killed in a freak accident during a bike race on Saturday. She was the Chair of the Steering Council at Sheil the first year I was a member. I remember her really well because of her friendly, cheerful attitude towards life. We hadn't kept in touch or anything but hearing about her death was still a hard blow, especially the gruesome and unexpected nature. I've included a link to the article about her death. I wish I had been at Sheil last week when she came by to say hello because I always enjoyed talking with her when she came back to visit. It was hard to look at her facebook profile because the last two status reports were as follows (these are little phrases a facebook user updates herself): June 28th - "Beth is alive" and June 29th - "Beth is ready to return on Sunday a STATE CHAMPION." In any case, she is alive in our memories and she will be missed.

Sorry for such a dreary post on July 4th but I can't really concentrate on other things at the moment. I'll be back in a day or two with some more fun updates.

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