a hodge podge of ideas
i’ve been reading lately. a lot. audio books. regular books. books for myself. books for my phd exams. and i’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. so i have ideas churning in my mind. lots of ideas. so today you’re getting a hodgepodge. i do hope that’s okay.
attention: i’m reading a book called rapt: attention and the focused life. it’s a fascinating look at the different ways in which human beings pay attention to their world. it’s main thesis (at least based on its first 70 pages) is that we shape not only our own identity but also our world by way of attention–by choosing where we focus top-down attention (the attention we can control, as opposed to bottom-up attention which is paid when an external stimulus [think siren] demands it). winifred gallagher began her project on attention partially as a response to a bout of cancer, which shook her enough that she attempted to re-shape her life and world by paying attention to the good and beautiful in the here and now, rather than worrying about an uncontrollable future. i like this idea–that when we focus on what is good and beautiful in our world, when we focus on the here and now, we can build a beautiful, happy life. gallagher does acknowledge that darkness also demands attention, but she insists that it can be contextualized in such a way that we successfully minimize darkness.
i find myself struggling with this idea where the church is concerned, in spite of my appreciation for it more generally. i’m currently in the mode of evaluating my membership in the church, trying to figure out my place in mormondom. and i honestly do not know what that place is. if i were to follow gallagher’s advice, i would focus on the positive, beautiful elements of the gospel and the church and allow them to become my mormon reality. and i do this. it’s the only reason there’s even a question of whether i have a place in mormondom in the first place. if i didn’t follow this advice to some extent, i’d simply leave. because there’s a lot of darkness in mormonism and mormondom. at least for me. part of me struggles with the advice to focus on the positive because it seems dishonest or lacking in integrity to not attend to the church’s hypocrisies and problems. wouldn’t it be better to remove oneself from such a society? to eliminate as much as possible hypocrisy, dishonesty, and manipulation from one’s life? rather than to remain in a culture where such things seem prevalent in spite of the goodness that is also prevalent? or perhaps that route is itself the less honest one because there is no such thing as a society without these problems. i simply do not know. thoughts?
likeness: i recently listened to a past episode of speaking of faith about revenge and forgiveness. a truly interesting listen. one of the things krista tippett’s guest said really caught my attention. he said that we’re much more willing to allow for differences with people with whom we identify, while turning those with whom we do not identify into a single (and probably strawman) identity. his point was that, because we recognize the nuances and differences between ourselves and others with whom we share an identity (think political identity, for instance), we are more willing to forgive or live with those people than with those with whom we do not identify.
i, of course, immediately thought about this in a mormon context. my initial thought was that mormons do not allow for differences in their ranks. not very well, anyway. there’s a powerful drive to think and act alike in mormon culture that drives me *batty*. but i also remembered a long ago conversation (argument?) i had with friends on caroline’s personal blog. one of the points that came up had to do with what a suit connotes when a bishop wears it during an interview. at the time, i tried to make the point that we have to get beyond the simple appearance of the suit and its connotation of power and tap into the suit-wearing bishop’s intentions and beliefs (to show respect for his calling; to show respect for the culture of which he is a part; to show respect to god; etc.). it’s so easy to see only a simple sign of power; it’s much more difficult–and important–to recognize that behind the suit there’s a complex human being with weaknesses as well as strengths; someone who is just trying to do their best. it’s so easy to think we understand the reality and then to dismiss someone as “powerful” or “wrong” when the reality is so much more complex than that. and it’s only when we recognize the complexities of reality that we can forgive.
ordinary: the same guy who got me thinking about conformity and likeness in mormondom, also got me thinking about the ordinariness of forgiveness. so often we think of forgiveness as something enormous and complicated and difficult to do. and sometimes it is that. but he pointed out that we forgive on an almost daily basis. because the people we love do things that could possibly hurt us or annoy us or whatever. but somehow we manage to easily overlook those things. forgiveness, for him, is a biological imperative. because human beings are inherently interdependent creatures. i like this idea. and i think that recognizing the ordinariness of forgiveness might even help make the big, complicated, difficult forgiveness a bit easier, too.
wonder: last (but certainly not least) is the idea of wonder. because michael pollan got me thinking about it while reading the omnivore’s dilemma. he argues that it’s a mistake to believe that what we know about something complex, like soil science, is all there is to know and therefore to operate on that premise. the idea immediately set me thinking. i love wonder. i don’t understand what the point of life is if there’s no wonder in it. i think emily dickinson captured the essence of wonder perfectly when she wrote:
Wonder–is not precisely Knowing
And not precisely Knowing not —
A beautiful but bleak condition
He has not lived who has not felt —
i approach the gospel of christ with so much wonder. it’s a beautiful thing. but for me, dickinson’s formula for wonder captures our relationship to the gospel perfectly. neither knowing nor not knowing. i think we do ourselves an enormous disservice when we declare knowledge, especially of god’s will. i would much rather wonder than know.