The Taser's Edge


Moving on…
April 12, 2013, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Starting on Livejournal in 2006, and then on WordPress since some other time, I’ve been blogging as The Taser’s Edge, which means this blog has a lot of history on it. If you want to continue to follow my thoughts or life, please do, but I’m now blogging over at nickjjordan.wordpress.com.



If you were wondering, yes, it’s good
March 12, 2010, 1:00 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

The Brothers Bloom by the writer/director of Brick, brilliant in both the British and American senses of the word.  Brick was classic smart high school film + classic sexy film noir (a la Clueless + The Big Sleep).  The new film is Wes Anderson + con man movie + really convoluted plot (in a good way, a la The Big Sleep,).  Adrien Brody will capture your heart with just his voice.  Then he will capture the rest of you with the rest of him.



Foreskin’s Lament by Shalom Auslander

Foreskin’s Lament…with a title like that, how exactly do you review a book?  You try.  I got to know Shalom Auslander through his frequent, frequently hilarious contributions to This American Life.  (Try this one.)  He currently has one published book of short stories, Beware of God, and one memoir, Foreskin’s Lament.

So we’re back to that title.  Auslander grew up in an Orthodox (veering near ultra-Orthodox) community near New York, with an abusive father and a deep-seated belief that a vengeful God was out to get him.  I’m not quite sure why he only briefly connects those two facts of his upbringing, but he certainly seems to still carry the latter.

Auslander knows that he is being neurotic, but he can’t shake it.   Nor can he shake his belief that God is real.  And Auslander (and God) is angry.  Perhaps an excerpt is the best way to communicate the tone throughout the book.

“I felt like the horse on the Polo logo, unsure whether the man on my back with the menacing mallet was God, or family, or community, or all three, but knowing that if I could just throw the son of a bitch, I could run away forever.  My attitude toward the world I had come from and the God that I had come from were the same: I was tired, finally, of trying to find favor in someone or Something else’s eyes, particularly when that someone or Something seemed to be assholes and/or an Asshole.  Our philosophy teacher told us of a man who claimed that God was dead; if only, Friedrich.  He was alive, and He was a Prick.  Maybe I couldn’t run from him–maybe the trip out of the Promised Land was even more treacherous than the one into it–but perhaps, I wondered, I could spoil His sport with simple acquiescence, blithely accepting whatever fate He chose for me–no worrying, no praying, no beseeching, no obsessing.  No more bribes, no more payoffs, no more house of worship backroom deals.  Radio silence.  Not atheism; resignation.  So Whatism.  Whateverism.  Blow Meism.  Maybe the forefathers’ mistake was answering Him?  Maybe they should have just ignored him?” (164)

Angry, profane, somewhat over-the-top, but undeniably well written.  And again to the title.  There is a great metaphor that Auslander returns to several times throughout the book.  He, and those like him, who have been brutally cut off from their communities by their communities, are the foreskins, bloodied, bruised, tossed away.  The major hope is that there is a whole hill of foreskins out there (what does my ability to reference arcane and grotesque Scripture say about how I’ve been religiously formed?); they aren’t alone.  Not a ton of hope to me, but a survivor’s kind of hope.  Auslander is the foreskin lamenting.

For me, as you might guess, it was a depressing read.  It depressed me to read how damaged this author has been by his community, by his family, by his religion, because the things that are most important and most beloved in my life are my community, my family, and my religion.

Auslander and I seem to look at the world in totally opposite ways.  That is, I understand the miraculous to be God opening my eyes; it is an ongoing interpretive work of seeing the grace of God (love specifically and personally aimed at me) in all things.  Auslander instead sees the malice of God (specifically and personally aimed at him) in all things.  And both of us (perhaps he more than I) are aware that sometimes these thoughts veer into pure superstition.

As I read the book, I strongly resisted my tendency to believe that I understand where he stands.  I don’t.  And as I write this, I think that maybe the better take-away from this book would be for me, for the first time, to look at the devastation that religion can cause, to look at it straight in the face.  I admit I haven’t done that before.  The modern set of atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.) haven’t really interested me; if I want robust atheism, I’ll read Nietszche.  The major claim that I hear again and again from the new guys, that religion has done more harm than good in the world, is one that I dismiss out of hand.  Auslander gives me pause in how easy that dismissal comes to me.  He makes me realize the ways in which I already know religion does damage and has does damage–to women, to ethnic minorities, to LGBT people, to me (yes, in some ways, to me too).  I think he would be glad to make me question the goodness of religion, of Christianity.  I think that might be part of his point.  Not to say I should abandon my faith, but that I need to be honest about the damage it does.

Going beyond his point, my question (as always) is what this means for the practices of the Christian churches.  How do we talk about the Gospel as life-giving good news (which it most certainly is), but also choose to grow in our honesty and willingness to open our eyes to the fact that religion, Christian religion, yes, even the cross itself, continue to brutalize people?  Crap.  That’s a hard question.  Thankfully, God’s out to save me, not to kill me.



Ah, the ole secular principle of universal justice

What exactly is Spain’s “principle of universal justice” based upon?  (Aside from political circus-ry, of course.):

Spain Opens Inquiry on Guantánamo (NY Times)



Tired of all those slow, possibly thoughtful Holocaust flicks this past year?

“You haven’t see war until you’ve seen it through the eyes of Quentin Tarantino.”  I had heard rumors, but I hadn’t seen the trailer until today.  Inglourious Basterds will apparently enable you to see war for the first time.  Only Tarantino would think it’s a great idea to make what should have been a terrible Charles Bronson movie into what will most likely be (considering his incredibly consistent track record, at least not counting From Dusk Till Dawn, which Robert Rodriguez, a much less consistent artist, directed) a stylish and darkly humored ultraviolent wonder.  Most of Tarantino’s old fans will love it, and a few teenage boys will fall in love for the first time, choosing Tarantino as the one interesting filmmaker that they will ever watch.

Jewish-American soldiers terrorize the German countryside by killing and scalping Nazis.  Brad Pitt as their commander?  Okay.  But BJ Novak from The Office as one of the soldiers and Mike Myers as some other character?  Apparently working hard to break some typecasting here.

Make sure to give this video the HD treatment:



A(n) Historic Presidency
February 5, 2009, 8:40 am
Filed under: Life, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

“Birds and Bees Fail” from failblog.org



Pee Wee Visits Letterman
January 23, 2009, 6:00 am
Filed under: Film, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I remember watching Pee Wee when I was a kid, but I hadn’t seen him a long time.  When I randomly came across this clip, I had to admit to myself that Paul Reubens is really, really talented.  Hopefully you either agree or don’t hate it too much.



Welcome to WordPress!
January 10, 2009, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Thanks for visiting the new home of The Taser’s Edge!  I don’t think I want to go back and fix all the stupid formatting errors caused by LiveJournal’s export, because they are mostly readable, despite weird things done with apostrophes, for instance.  But perhaps for January 2009 at least.

Update:  Apparently all I have to do to fix the stupid formatting is edit an entry, change nothing, and save it.  You can see the beauty of those January entries.  Again, I’m not going to put in that work.  Assume that a bunch of weird gibberish is an apostrophe if you decide to peruse the archives.



When the Days Get Shorter, the Nights Get Longer
November 21, 2008, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I.

            For the past several weeks, I have had brief glimpses of the darkness. Short but lengthening experiences of the blue-purple-black-red bruise that is depression. A month ago, it would last for perhaps half an hour at a time. Two weeks ago, it would last a couple hours or more. Now, it’s getting closer and closer to a full day’s worth (today might be that day), and soon I don’t think it’s going to be limited by a 24 hour period.

            I recognize it’s a sick thought, but it’s my thought all the same, from W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” My depression seems to be growing in this particular season of the year. I know I experience seasonal affected disorder, if not as a clinical diagnosis then at least in comparing how I felt during those long Wisconsin winters with how I feel when May arrives in North Carolina. I love the family connections of this time of year, but I think that what is most depressing is the combination of sun and cold. I know that I am supposed to understand something about the tilt of the earth’s axis and indirect sunlight, but primordially I do not understand.

            This time round I am trying to practice mindfulness as I have been training. Paying attention and simply observing what is going on inside me in the moment in which it is going on. That might be where the image of the bruise comes from. It’s not easy. It is never comfortable to watch a the wreck of a passenger train happening, let alone one that seems to be piling up inside your mind. How do you understand what’s going on and work to fight it?

 

II.

            In our most recent reading for CPE, Edward Wimberly’s Recalling Our Own Stories: Spiritual Renewal for Religious Caregivers, Wimberly provides practical exercises for anyone (not only ‘religious caregivers’) to do some intense self-discovery. In class we focused on the set of questions regarding exploring our earliest memory. It sounds stereotypically psychoanalytic, and I’m sure I’m overanalyzing things (especially because I wouldn’t claim too strongly that the memory I’m about to share actually happened historically), but it was very helpful.

            In my earliest memory, I must be two years old. I’m in the playroom/sun porch, which I remember being at the front of the house. The sun is streaming in and filling the room. And the door has just been closed. That’s the significant action of this scene. Zack (my older brother) and Mom are on the other side of the door, the door has latched, and I’m too young and small to reach the doorknob to turn it. I desperately want to be on the other side of that door, because my Mom is there, and because I’m alone, and because the room in which I am standing is rapidly filling with dread.

 

III.

            Today I’m depressed. All I want to do is get out of this place in my mind. I want to get out of this room in my mind, but I can’t. I’m not sure if there even is a door, but I know I can’t open it and escape. So I return to that oldest memory, and now I am able to notice how much I am striving—hysterical for the other side of that door—and how much I am not able to see in my struggle that the sun porch is actually full of light. How can I turn around from fighting depression’s grasp, so that I might see the light that is in here with me?:

           

“Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there…

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,

And the light around me become night,

Even the darkness is not dark to you;

For night is as bright as the day,

For darkness is as light to you.” (Ps. 139:7-8, 11-12)

 

            It is not that I try to escape. It is that I notice.  God is in this place of darkness with me. I am in the tomb, but Jesus knows all about tombs, and he is here with me. There will be resurrection, and this will end, but until then, I will try to notice the light.



Remindfulness (or, Mindfulness Revisited)
November 13, 2008, 10:53 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

 
           In a weekly reflection very early in the semester, I wrote about my thinking through mindfulness (in particular, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s version of it) as a Christian practice.  Two weeks ago I began a mindfulness class through CAPS at Duke, and I found myself needing to work through some theological issues again.  At the beginning of the first session, part of each person’s self-introduction was to say what we were hoping to gain from a mindfulness class, and why we had come.  My personal reason was that I deal with anxiety and depression and have found this to be helpful in the past, not only in overcoming mental illness, but in becoming more self-aware emotionally.  A broader reason is that one of my gifts and interests in the church is prayer and prayer ministry.  I believe that there are some parts of mindfulness training that can support and add to healthy prayer lives, both my own and those of future Christians whom I disciple.

            But there is a problem—mindfulness in itself is not prayer, nor does it aim or claim to be.  It is more similar to physical exercise than it is to prayer, a practice used for mental and emotional (and according to several studies, physical) self-care, not for connection, communication, or communion with God.  Most of the people in my mindfulness class have no previous experience with meditation, and no one other than me spoke of any spiritual or religious aspect to their practice of meditation, but I do not know what meditation is unless it is religious.  Or at least, I do not see meditation’s worth for myself when it is only a mental exercise which might help me to be a little more patient, and might lower my blood pressure a tad.

            Perhaps it says as much about my priority-setting as it does about my religious outlook, but I need meditation to be prayer, both so that I can see its worth in my own life, and so that it will fit within the very real time limitations under which I live.  If I want to take God’s call to prayer seriously, spend significant time in prayer each day, for myself, my family, my friends, my community, the Church, all God’s children, and God’s world, but those twenty minutes I spend on two mindfulness sessions do not “count” as prayer, then it’s going to be hard for me to find a place in my schedule for mindfulness.  It will probably be impossible, and I probably won’t do it.

            Skipping over the admittedly major issue of why I would be concerned with what “counts” as prayer, I would like to say that I really do believe that mindfulness can function as prayer, even as I am still working to discover what that looks like.  For me, the most practical difference that made me feel better about this practice was when I began practicing centering prayer as mindfulness.  When I do centering prayer, it is easy for me to choose a word or phrase which is too abstract.  “God is perfect” is true and great, but I don’t really know what it means in any real sense, and all the idea does is make me wish for a perfection in myself that is probably totally unlike God’s perfection.  For this reason, Scriptural phrases are often the best.  This week, what came into my mind was “His banner over me is love” (Cant. 2:4b).

            It’s a nice theme verse for the week, and the other one is “cease striving,” which is known in another translation as “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46.  Both verses point me to God’s overwhelming love for me.  They remind me that all is accomplished in Christ.  When I step back from “striving,” then I also can step back from worry and fear in CPE, at Duke Divinity, and (although still getting there…) life.