About Me

Phoenix, AZ, United States

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Xmas...

It's been an interesting year.

We embarked on an interstate move. I started a new program, and she started a new job. Everything went from being too familiar to too foreign. We went from being known by many to anonymity. And I suspect we have changed the trajectory of our lives in ways that we can't begin to understand today.

We haven't been very successful in finding a community here yet. I guess we haven't really tried. We've met new people on occasion, but don't feel like a part of anything. Truth be told, I don't think I've felt a part of anything in a very long time. Don't get me wrong, I have really great friends, but as we grew into adulthood, careers, and lifestyles placed distances (in some cases geographic in others ideological) between us. For the most part, the nearness, the shared experiences, the growing up together has faded. And the lengthy, sometimes, meandering conversations that seemed so instrumental at one time in our mutual growth and development have been replaced with queries about work promotions, parenting, and gasoline prices. We used to talk about dreams, hopes and even grave disappointments. This seems to be the natural course of things. The kind of change that no one seems particularly happy about, but that we all (or at least most) give way to. But it strikes me as something particularly regrettable at the moment.

It's been a really difficult year.

The program has been incredibly challenging. I thought about quitting, daily. I've felt like an impostor, often---like they made a mistake in accepting me and that I'm somehow not properly suited for the gig. I've also gone to a lot of dark places this year. I've struggled with my inner demons and have come out losing more often than not.

But I've learned a lot. Not only about philosophy, but about myself...

This year has also brought with it a great deal of turmoil at large. We've had a lot going on in the world and in our country. Professors, students, and at least one well known celebrity have been accused of rape. Some police officers and the justice system have (to put it mildly) found themselves in questionable situations. Other government officials have been tied to the heinous treatment of prisoners. Conflicts persist in the middle east. School shootings continue. Sadly, I'm only scratching the surface. Countless lives have been violated or lost. It's hard to know what to be thankful for when one considers such tragedies.

It's taken as a platitude that one should count one's blessings, particularly during the holidays. That one should sit and reflect on all the good that has occurred in one's life. I suppose that's alright so far as it goes, but I worry that in some cases, this may incline us to think too narrowly. When we think about all the good in our lives, we may miss out on all the suffering around us (of course, there is likely to be suffering in our lives too).

The message of the gospel seems to be that there is hope for the world in a savior. But a savior comes because the world is in need of one. Not just you and me. I've heard people thank God for their salvation, but on rarer occasion, that he died for the sins of the world. Biblical tradition has it that the good news went out (or would go out) to the four corners of the world. That the blessing promised to Israel would not stay with Israel alone, but that gentiles would be ingrafted. So this Xmas, I'm trying to be mindful of all the suffering, and injustice in the world from my comfy middle class vantage point as it were. Maybe at moments, I can muster enough selflessness to think about what I can do to change things. But I'm also trying to think about a promise that seems to have very wide scope which would really be something to be thankful for.

For in Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. -Colossians 1:19-20

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. -1 Corinthians 15:22

For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. -Romans 11:32

Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. -Romans 5:18

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Just an update for AA.

Sunday evening is winding down and it's a soothing, quasi-fall night in Ann Arbor.  It's hard to believe that we have been here over a month already. It's interesting for me to think that if we were still in Arizona, we would be in the thick of what feels like an interminable summer-- and from what I gather from people there, a muggy summer at that from the recent downpours. I don't miss that weather in the least, but I know that I'll miss the desert soon, as everyone here is already talking about the imminent cold winter. But for now, Michigan is straddling the line between summer and a short fall and it's just really something.

I am starting to feel a bit more settled here as one might expect. After spending over 20 years in Arizona, there was undoubtedly an adjustment period to a cross-country move. As I had anticipated upon our initial arrival, it was hard to distinguish our move from being on vacation. The newness of everything is exciting. Every corner provides a new discovery and there is something about pursuing the unknown that I think is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. For better or worse, history is full of explorers --persons that were not satisfied with the all too familiar, the status quo. People have always sought out a new world, the foreign, the unusual. In a small way, I suppose this desire to explore in me, has been fulfilled for the time being.

It's quite beautiful here-- incredibly verdant. There are massive trees everywhere and it has rained every few days. The air quality is also something I have noticed.  it reminds us of being up in northern Arizona---in the evenings and early mornings, there is a briskness and the occasional whiff of a fireplace burning in the distance that I've come to associate with being in the mountains. Some nights when I look out of our balcony into the deep darkness (there are very few street lights in town), it feels like we are away at camp. At the same time, Ann Arbor, as a college town, is bustling with the sort of activity that only young persons, many of whom have discovered independence for the first time, can provide. I've also noticed that there are far more interracial couples than I am used to coming from Arizona. It's actually quite common here. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that there seems to be a diverse population in and around the town (which also means a lot of good restaurants featuring different cuisines). All in all, I guess you can say that I am really starting to like it here.

It is a strange feeling having relocated for school. I stayed close to home during my undergraduate and masters programs and didn't really think I'd ever move, particularly so late in the game. The majority of my time is dedicated to reading and thinking and it still strikes me as strange that I am getting paid to do this.

As for the program, it's incredible. It ranks among the top handful of Philosophy programs in the world, and I'm reminded of this every time that I interact with the other students that all seem far smarter than me. They are incredibly sharp, well read in philosophy, and have enviable academic backgrounds to boot. So while I feel fortunate to be here, I also find it very challenging at times. Truth be told, I've had a hard time adjusting to the caliber of this department and started questioning whether I really belong here shortly after the semester started. I just haven't had to work this hard to keep my head above water before. But I am told that this is a rather standard experience so hopefully it gets better in time. But I love being able to sit and read for hours on end about really interesting things--for it to be my sole job to research, discuss and write about philosophy.

The professors in the department that I have worked with are all extremely accomplished--many of them world-renowned in their subfields and yet manage to be very accessible and easy to talk to--the sorts of teachers that I hope to be like someday. They also treat the graduate students more like colleagues rather than subordinates and even use graduate seminars as opportunities to receive feedback on books and papers they are in the process of writing.  There are also a number of reading groups set up by students and attended by faculty members, and weekly talks, and also a big conference coming in October. So all in all, there's a lot going on here and a lot that I'm grateful for despite the challenges.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Time Travel

Last night, I watched a movie entitled, "Before Midnight." It's the third installment of a series that I have  liked (the other two being, "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset").

It was a profoundly sad film, but not in any obvious manner. Nothing too egregious occurs. The plot isn't that complicated (well, it is, but not in a traditional way). It isn't the end of the world, no one has cancer, no one tragically dies in a car accident. Still, it left me feeling profoundly sad.

The first of the series was filmed in the 90's. On the surface, the story is simple. A couple meet on a train somewhere in Europe (he is an American 20 something and she is a French 20 something). They spend one full day together but don't exchange any contact information (because they think it is tragic when a relationship just sort of fizzles out over time). The movie is nothing but the two walking around in the streets of Vienna and having very realistic conversations about life, upbringing, relationships and (psuedo) philosophy, etc. It is about connecting with a complete stranger.

The second movie picks up 9 years later (both in the plot and in real time). They are now in their early thirties. He has written a book about their encounter and she seeks him out at a reading in Paris. They are both older, a touch more cynical about life. He is unhappily married to another woman but the film ends with the strong suggestion that the two main characters will end up together. Again the movie just follows them in (this time in Paris), talking.

This last installment that I just watched has them now in their 40's (again both in real life and in the plot). It's an incredible idea to have a trilogy that spans nearly 3 decades in this way. As the writers have it, they are now married with two little girls. They seem to get along fine, but both have resided into that middle aged couple role--it's about the kids, and mostly about negotiating logistics of everyday responsibilities, now. I think the writer could have easily made it about some super couple that is just as madly in love with each other in their 40's as they were in their 20's and in some sense, that may have been truer to the first two films (while in another, perhaps more important sense, it would have violated the spirit of the first two). But I guess, the writer knew better.

They are middle-aged now. Their faces and bodies are weathered from years of wear and tear. There is little trace left of the romantic idealism (and other sorts of idealisms)  once so prevalent in the previous two movies. They look upon another young couple (that are probably in their 20's) with a look that expresses, "I remember when..." It's as if their love story is no longer the stuff of stories--their time has passed. And the entire, what might be considered as the third act, (if there are separate acts in this film) centers around an incredibly realistic argument that occurs between the couple. Yes, it's like nearly an hour of arguing in a very realistic fashion. She feels like she has always had to sacrifice her life for his happiness; she says she isn't happy. She leaves their room repeatedly, before returning to make a further point. He feels like he's dedicated his life to her, (though he does not deny an occurrence of infidelity). In the end, nothing is really resolved, but they fight late into the night until they are both too tired to go on. If the story were to continue, the conflict would arise again inevitably and there would be no easy solution---at least that is the sense I get from the end of the film. But the movie concludes with the two of them sitting at a coffee table--her eyes are wrapped in tears from a recent cry, but they are trying their best to flirt as if to paint over the ongoing conflict for a time, to face it another day. The conflict is deep and unlikely to be resolved within the span of a film.

It is common to wince when say, a scene in a horror film is too realistic. When the blood and gore looks all too recognizable--to some extent we experience what we might expect someone actually in the portrayed scenario to experience. Even though we may not have ever experienced the scenarios depicted on film, we relate to them because it seems and feels real to us. Our mirror neurons fire, pupils dilate, muscles tense up, we go into fight or flight mode and somehow it all bounces around in our souls. I suppose I experienced something similar with this film. Of course, there wasn't any blood or guts, but it seemed so sincere and painful.

The arguments, the evolution of a relationship, the disappointment and impermanence.... it all seemed so real.

This morning, I was thinking about all of this on my drive to work. Mixed in among these thoughts were flashes of my goals and aspirations over the last decade or two. When I was very young, I wanted to be a lawyer (really because my mom said it would be good for me). But then I wanted to be a pro athlete (I think every boy goes through this sort of phase), then a rockstar, and now a professional philosopher. I've chased some of these dreams with more effort than others, and the last 5 years have been dedicated to my last endeavor (as will the next 5-6+). What hit me this morning though was the fact that pursuing a goal means making a sort of complicated transaction. The currency passed between hands isn't merely the effort and the financial investment it is also an exchange of time (and all that that entails). Years of our lives devoted to learning a skill or trade, climbing the corporate ladder, or what have you. And our bodies, our minds, our relationships will feel the strains of our time travel, they will flip the bill.  We will rush ahead through our lives and can never have that time back. I wonder if all that I would like to achieve or obtain in my life is really worth the cost....is it really worth my life?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter and Evidence

This morning Katie and I read John 20 together. It is the story of Jesus's empty tomb and his postmortem appearances to Mary and the disciples (including doubting Thomas). One thing I found interesting about the story is that while Mary recognized him when he called her name in the tomb (although she did not recognize him at first), when he appeared to the rest of his followers, the gospel records him as showing them his hands and feet. Of course, it is later noted in the same chapter that Thomas refused to believe it is the Christ (who has indeed returned from the grave) until he has touched his scars. But notice, Thomas wasn't the only one to see his markings (although, perhaps he got a closer encounter since he put his fingers through the holes). What this tells me is that, according to John, Jesus provides evidence of his resurrection to his followers. Note Jesus did not return in some unrecognizable fashion. He didn't return looking like an Eastern Asian lady, or the poster child Caucasian Jesus with long hair as depicted in the West or, God forbid, Judas Iscariot. Though, presumably he could have been embodied in any number of different ways (unless of course, he lacks an immaterial soul). I mean, he could have come in a different body and then talked just like the Jesus they knew and loved. So the question is, why did he show up in the form that his followers were familiar with? Plausibly because people wouldn't have recognized him otherwise and would have found it too incredible to accept that it was really him that had returned from the dead. No, he shows up as himself-- as they knew him. In other words he provides some empirical evidence that he is one and the same Jesus that they saw crucified, hence the revealing of his hands and feet. I find this interesting.

But then in the 29th verse John records these words of Christ: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Of course, the latter group represents the vast majority of believers. But we are not graced with the first-hand evidence afforded to the earliest followers. I must wonder then why the evidence was apparently important for those that knew Christ first-hand (during his worldly existence), but why it is withheld from the vast majority of humanity. What is the point? Is the faith that we are to exemplify in some tension with the having of evidence? Or is it simply evidence of a particular type? That is, empirical evidence? Or at least, first hand, empirical evidence? If so, why? What is to be gained? Can our belief in Christ's resurrection be as confident as those that saw the holes in his hands and feet? Can we believe as wholeheartedly as Thomas who not only walked with Jesus, spoke with him and saw him perform miracles, but also after having seen him crucified and killed, saw him alive again and even stuck his fingers through the holes in Christ's flesh?  

Are we, modern day believers, relegated to a shaky belief in the resurrected Christ? We have heard that Christ was risen from the dead (an otherwise outrageous claim) from the gospels. But can we trust what they tell us? Or is there some means, evidence of a different sort, to believe with sufficient confidence in the radical claim that Jesus rose from the dead?