Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Best Analogy For Your Relationship with God

Analogies are powerful mental tools to understand the world and have a strong influence on our thoughts and beliefs.  We should be careful to understand that an analogy is necessarily limited and cannot provide a complete understanding, but at the same time they are unavoidable for approaching otherwise mysterious topics such as our relationship with God.

A common analogy for God's relationship with us throughout the parables of Jesus is that of a father to child.  For example, see the well-known parable of the prodigal son.  Other common analogies include God as master or as property-owner.

An unfortunate effect of the father and master analogies is that they suggest a view of God as a powerful patriarch figure.  Why did Jesus choose these analogies instead of using a mother analogy?  Perhaps Jesus did and these were not recorded in the Bible, or perhaps he thought such analogies would be rejected by his audience.

As science and philosophy have advanced, so too have our range of experience and ideas.  Religion also ought to advance as we understand more about the world and can use this understanding to inform our views of God and our place in the world.  In particular, new theories and ideas can provide the means for better analogies with respect to God.

One such analogy was provided by biology over the past several centuries and gives what I believe is a far superior analogy than any available in the time of Jesus.  This is the body-cell analogy, where the relationship of God to each of us is said to be like the relationship between each of us and our bodily cells.  In other words, we are all like cells in the body of God.

A cell lives within a body but responds to its environment as an individual, giving the appearance of some degree of creativity and self-determination.  I would suggest that this is not just appearance but actual creativity and that the cell has some aspect of mentality.  Furthermore, the many cells in your body combine to exert the central influence on your own experience, and you in turn influence the experience of the cells.  This mind-body relationship is one-to-many and is one of intimacy (often mistaken as identity).  Charles Hartshorne remarks, "What is pain, some of us wonder, if not our participation in cellular damage or discomfort?" (Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, p. 55)

The body-cell analogy suggests a relationship of mutual influence with God.  Hartshorne describes it further: "God's cosmic body is a society of individuals, not a single individual.  The world as an integrated individual is not a 'world' as this term is normally and properly used, but 'God'.  God, the World Soul, is the individual integrity of 'the world', which otherwise is just the myriad creatures.  As each of us is the super-cellular individual of the cellular society called a human body, so God is the super-creaturely individual of the inclusive creaturely society.  Simply outside of this super-society and super-individual, there is nothing."

I believe the largest shortcoming of this analogy is that it does not emphasize the degree to which God may experience what we as individuals experience.  That is, you cannot isolate individual cells in you body but rather experience the cumulative effects of many cells.  However, I do like the analogy in that it points us in the direction of viewing God as a sympathetic participant in our lives, one who experiences what we experience; suffers what we suffer.  In addition, we each influence God in a meaningful (though almost trivial) way through our feelings and actions, and in some way we each receive influence from God. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Making Self-Watering Containers

A Google search turned up these instructions on how to convert plastic storage bins into self-watering containers.  With ten or so bins stacked in the basement, I gave it a try.  For one self-watering container, you start off with two bins:

You need the bottom of one bin to overturn and place in the other bin.  Trace the bin at the same height as a small basket.  I used a hack saw to cut off the bottom of my first container, but it was difficult to complete the cut, keep it straight, and the cut produced a bunch of fine blue plastic dust to clean up.  For the rest of the bins, I did all of my cutting with tin snips.

The rest of the first bin can be thrown away once the bottom is cut off.  Now flip that bottom piece and cut a hole in the middle for the basket and drill lots of other drainage holes.  In the corner, a larger hole for a tube.  The idea is that the planting mix will be placed on top of this piece, and underneath will be a reservoir of water.  The planting mix in the basket will act as a wick for the water to keep the rest of the mix properly hydrated.

The bottom piece fits fairly nicely in the other bin, though my bins were angled so that it could not be pushed to the very bottom.  A drainage hole is cut in the side of the bin (and through the inner bottom piece).  Lastly, the top piece is cut to divide two halves, and a tube is cut and inserted.

I was hoping to get two square feet of area on the top (to be as pure as possible with Square Foot Gardening), but each "square" is closer to 13 by 10 inches.  Next up will be making the planting mix.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Who Killed Phoebe Prince?

A couple of days ago I became aware of the tragic case of Phoebe Prince, an Irish immigrant who was a freshman in South Hadley, MA. She committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied.
One knee-jerk public response is to bully the bulliers, as various spurious charges are being filed against nine students involved in the bullying. Politicians, smelling blood, are speechifying and passing laws saying not to bully. Theatre.
People are also angry at the school administration and teachers for not stepping in, even though it was open knowledge that Phoebe was being harassed.

Everyone at that school must bear some responsibility for Phoebe's death. How many students participated in the harassment in order to gain social status with their peers? How many watched in silence, for fear of becoming the next victim? How many teachers looked the other way, not wanting to get involved? Many of these individuals will be wrestling with their consciences for a long time.

But the responsibility for Phoebe's death goes well beyond the particular individuals involved at South Hadley High School. While it may be rare for such harassment to drive one to commit suicide, bullying and harassment in government schools is commonplace.

This is what I fear that few people understand, that it was not just those particular bullies and onlookers who drove Phoebe Prince to an early death; it was the backward socialization scheme of government schools. Those looking for a root cause ought to look there.

One irony for parents of home-schoolers is that the primary question raised about the desirability of home-schooling is the "socialization". As if natural socialization is for a child to interact only with other children of the exact same age, and then grouping thirty of these children together for one adult supervisor. As if natural socialization is a highly regimented, command and control environment where children cannot use a restroom without an authority's permission, and yet that authority figure is often absent or ineffective.

South Hadley High School is not unique. Turning over a few teachers, administrators, and bureaucrats will solve nothing. The root problem is the system where the center of a child's existence lay not with the family or larger community but with the social pressure of other children. Here, a child learns warped priorities and pecking order survival techniques. This environment will always produce the Mean Girls and other social elements that made Phoebe's life unbearable. All of us who contribute to and create that environment killed Phoebe Prince.

Parents, it is within our power to pull support from the toxic government school environment. It does not require politicking or letter-writing, or any other mass campaign. It requires only direct action: pull your kids out of the government school system now!