Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
-T. S. Eliot


Post-Graduation: Now What.

I'm out of college.

My semester's project is technically over but I don't think I'm done here. And so, we relocate. That's right, people: for the continuing Step to the Block, please check


This will be a bit of a different critter, but the same idea.


Bible: Revelation

You want ironic? Here's ironic. I am reading Revelation. According to Harold Camping, the rapture is happening tomorrow (May 21). Well. Let's see where he's getting this.

Okay. So the answer looks like numerology and speculation (St. Augustine, we are no longer as irritated with you. Clearly you were not as bad as we thought you were). That's my prognosis partly because I have looked him up, and mostly because after having just read Revelation and Daniel, what I have come away with is that while God gives us insight into the future through prophecy, being made aware of what will happen in no way changes the fact that que sera, sera. I don't feel like it's worth much more of my time to go into detail on why exactly I think what Camping does is wrong, so I'm going to move on to talking about the text itself.

Ending this portion of my studies with Revelation was a good idea. Well-played, curriculum. The best part about this is that ever since I went to Patmos two summers ago (where John saw the vision and wrote Revelation) I have been wanting to go over this book again. I think Revelation was my favorite book of the Bible when I was younger, and I think it was because I thought it was like a puzzle that I would be able to solve when I was a little older and a little smarter. Turns out that getting older and smarter meant my theory on cracking the Revelation code became clearly ridiculous, and I abandoned it for more direct study of other books. But my beginning is my end (more Eliot!), and so now I am back where I started. And truly seeing it for the first time.

The portion of Revelation I'd like to focus on is in chapter 5, when the scroll in the right hand of him who sits on the throne is presented to the host of heaven. I don't normally do this, but here's the text:

1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:
   “You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
   and with your blood you purchased for God
   persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 

This passage strikes me. Why does John weep? He is in heaven. He is looking at God the Father on the throne. In the previous chapters he has described the splendor and profound mystery of all that he is witnessing. What does John think is so important about this scroll that he would weep at the prospect of it remaining sealed? 

The sealed scroll did indicate a contract or some sort of document of importance historically. And sealed scrolls are frequent imagery in other prophetic books, namely in the Old Testament. Perhaps John figured the scroll contained some sort of revelation from God, and was heartbroken to think that he would never hear it. But he's already in heaven receiving revelation. Again, why does he weep? 

It occurred to me upon reflection that perhaps he is not weeping because the scroll can not be opened, but because there is no one in heaven or on earth who is worthy to open it. John is looking around: he sees angels, fantastic beasts, and God himself. But where is the one who is worthy? Where is Christ?

Could he have been expecting Jesus? Was he weeping because when the time came to open the scroll, he thought he knew who would be able to but was shocked when that person did not appear? The moment that Christ appears, an elder tells John to stop weeping because the one who is worthy has arrived. I could not help but think of the angel at the tomb: "He is not here! He is risen!" How often our eyes are redirected, our misery transformed into joy when we behold the truth. 

And that is why the Lamb is worthy, after all. Christ is able to break the seven seals on the scroll because he was slain and his blood was poured out. That sacrifice was required before any would be worthy to reveal the contents of the scroll in the hand of God. 

This passage just fills me with hope. There is one who is worthy. There is one who has covered all with a sacrifice, saving us and making it possible for us to discover what God the Father has written in the scroll.

As I wrap up my study this semester, I am thankful that I can look back on past posts and see a clear progression among the texts I have covered. I don't have to evolve toward perfection as Darwin predicted. Global communism doesn't have to foster world peace. I don't have to cut myself loose from intellect or morals to become my true self. I don't have to follow my id. I don't even have to try my hardest to be a man of faith, or a man of wonder, or even follow the Tao with undivided attention. While each author I've read this semester was trying to find a way for humans to raise themselves above our often sorry state, each of their theories is inadequate when attempted on my own power. Only the Lamb is worthy. Only through Christ's sacrifice can humans experience both redemption and revelation, and only through faith in his worthiness can I ever come to terms with all of my shortcomings and failures. 

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
   be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”


Bible: Daniel

I remember feeling guilty for being good at things when I was younger. That sounds pretty dramatic, and it wasn't really as bad as all that, but I think this part of my life demonstrates an interesting phenomena in the Christian world. When people would tell me I was particularly talented in some way, it would make me uncomfortable. I remember thinking things like, "Well, you're only congratulating me because you're not a Christian." And it's not like they were admiring me for a vice or something; it would be some harmless talent, like athletics or public speaking. But even as an elementary-schooler, it became clear that the non-Christian adults I knew were more impressed by the things I could do than the adults I met at church. 

For some reason Christians get weird when other Christians are well-liked by the secular community. We want Christian recording artists to be successful, but not too successful. We want Christian actors to be admired for their skill, but don't want them to be offered too much money for a film contract. We want our fellow church members to be blessed with healthy families and thriving businesses, but we don't want things to go too well for them-- in case, you know, it starts making them sin or something. And while the concern about the secular world's charms is a valid one, I think Christians are just plain afraid to do well by any standards but their own. 

Why must we feel guilty for being awesome? While reading Daniel this week, I was struck by how God was able to use Daniel and the other noble youths simply because they were the best at everything. The Israelites that Nebuchadnezzar selected were chosen for being "both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans." (1:3-4) 

Obviously, there were only a few among the Israelites who fit this description. But of those who did, Daniel established himself as even a cut above them. Daniel was the awesomest of the awesomest. And for that he was not brought low or prone to falling into pride. Rather, God used him to protect the Israelites while they were under a foreign king, and allowed him to rise in power among the Babylonians. He was only able to achieve these things in a foreign land because his pedigree and qualifications were undebatable even to Babylonian standards. 

In fact, being so darn impressive allowed him to be even more bold in his faith than he may have been able to otherwise. He makes a deal with the eunuch in chapter 1 so that the Israelites don't have to eat the king's meat; he convinces the guard ordered to kill him to give him some time to talk with the king. He even interprets three different dreams of destruction for three different kings, and is only rewarded for his work. Rather than being quickly disposed of, Daniel is the constant while three kings come and go. He is only persecuted once, and it's because other leaders are jealous of his power, not merely because Daniel is an Israelite. 

Daniel's example demonstrates that rather than being hesitant to excel in the secular world, Christians should be striving for excellence. Using our abilities brings glory to God in many more ways than we can imagine, and perhaps we are not demonstrating true faith when we hold ourselves back simply because no other Christians are excelling in our chosen field. If Christians can hold top positions in corporations and sell millions of albums and be the most-sought psychologists, we will be able to impact the world in far greater ways than if we only compare ourselves to other Christians. 

With Daniel as my guide, I will not hide my awesomeness from the world! In whatever ways I am gifted, I will work my hardest to be the best so that my skills and effort are a testament to God's greatness. And if the world can learn to love me for my skills, I will have a better chance of showing the world how to love my God. 


John Henry Newman's The Idea of a University

This is what I am afraid will happen with the advent of online classes:

"Knowledge... never will issue from the most strenuous efforts of a set of teachers, with no mutual sympathies and no intercommunication, of a set of examiners with no opinions which they dare profess, and with no common principles, who are teaching or questioning a set of youths who do not know the, and do not know each other, on a large number of subjects, different in kind, and connected by no wide philosophy, three times a week, or three times a year, or once in three years, in chill lecture rooms or on a pompous anniversary." VI.9

I have already seen this in public schools. I have seen this even in private institutions where this very passage is spoken as a warning. I feel toward this phenomenon as I do toward frostbite or gangrene; I want to believe that there is a way to heal the faulty part, but in moments of despair I feel that all there is to do is sever the infected limb.

This can't happen with the education system. With the rapid development of more and more affordable and streamlined online university classes, students are buying into the idea of remote education requiring little personal effort outside compulsory biweekly posts on the course website. But if this system, built for our comfort and wallets, turns into input-output accreditation with no fostering of intellect, we will have no gentlemen.

I'm not talking about coat-tails and opening doors. Newman presents a very detailed picture of the gentleman, or the man who is "well to have a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life--" (V.9) Still sound stuffy? The gentleman is pretty much the person who loves those around him best. If you need more clarification than that, I highly recommend you pick up the book.

My question for Newman is this: if it is best for every man to be a gentleman for the well-being of his soul, shouldn't all people attend University? And if that were the case, who would be doing all the skilled and unskilled labor to make our world go round? As the granddaughter of a blue-collar man, I believe in the power of the laboring gentleman, but education seems to be an integral part of Newman's equation. That's further complicated by the fact that he was writing in Ireland at a time when work was scarce and families were starving. Why at such a time would Newman push for a return to the university education of the gentleman? I certainly find the arguments within the book compelling now, but the historical context of this book problematizes the message for me.

Newman has me convinced: university education is constantly in danger of falling into pedantry or worse. We must be diligent teachers and students so that intellect is being fostered in the proper environment and to proper ends. But Newman hasn't quite convinced me that at a time when Ireland's people were dying by the thousands, a good university education was what the doctor ordered.


T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Choosing to only write about The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock felt a little bit like choosing which pet to take with me out of a burning building. I feel like a traitor for not talking about The Wasteland, Ash Wednesday, or The Four Quartets (The latter makes me feel particularly guilty, since it is arguably my favorite poem of all time and the namesake for this blog). I will spend the next several hundred words explaining to myself why my decision is okay, mainly by attempting to make everything I've been thinking about this poem sound as cool as possible.

So. Prufrock is like, really cool.

Okay okay okay, I know I don't have to work that hard to make this poem worth talking about. So where do I begin?

Prufrock references two of Western literature's most famous texts in a way that feels neither showy nor unexplained. Yet as someone who has read both Divine Comedy and Hamlet more than once, it took me a little while before the implications of these references took hold. I think that means Eliot did it right.

A quotation from Book XXVII in Dante's Inferno prefaces the poem itself, so thinking about Dante was pretty unavoidable. While this particular Inferno passage dealt with the secrets the dead reveal when they believe no one will be able to return to the world above with information, the connection to Dante as a character that is established has interesting implications. Comparing himself in some way to Dante was not uncommon for Eliot; he dedicated The Wasteland to Ezra Pound by quoting one of Dante's descriptions of Virgil. But this allusion seems a little more involved than that.

Like Dante, Prufrock and his unknown guest are on a journey toward a woman. They both identify themselves as being middle-aged. But the similarities seem to stop there. Dante loves Beatrice. Prufrock does not love the woman or women he is meeting-- though he may long for their acceptance, he actually seems to think their life of parlor-chat and tea is exclusive and petty. Dante feels completely understood by Beatrice, and is led through dangerous situations with her guidance. Prufrock feels completely misunderstood by society women, to the point that he questions whether it is worth it to even attempt to express himself to them. Loving Beatrice saves Dante and allows him to behold Paradise; Prufrock compares the women and their mesmerizing "chamber" to mermaids who lure you underwater to your death.

Though Hamlet is often on my mind, I would not have thought to connect his interesting relationship with women to this discussion unless Eliot had nudged me in that direction. Prufrock seems to bring up the Prince of Denmark only to illustrate that rather than seeing himself as a main character in the scope of things, he perceives himself as more like Polonius; long-winded, easily used, and far less important than Hamlet himself. But a little reflection on Hamlet's own character made me realize that Prufrock is much more like Hamlet than he claims. Hamlet, like Prufrock, has a difficult time trusting women. While Hamlet struggles with hating Gertrude and Ophelia for what he sees as sexual transgressions, Prufrock harbors bitterness toward women because they can so easily and so quickly tear him down. Both men seem paralyzed with indecision, and both are aware of it and unhappy. They are also both acting. Prufrock keeps coming back to little tricks he uses to appear more respectable and hide the signs of his age. Hamlet puts on a front of insanity in order to plot his revenge against Claudius. Both men seem to believe that the facade is necessary; they seem unable to function honestly in society without their outer front.

What am I supposed to think of Prufrock? Why am I given two very different, very famous men to compare him to? I'm inclined to associate him more with Hamlet, but Prufrock rejects that label for a more minor one. Above all else, this poem makes me wonder how hard we should have to work to be understood. It seems like the world of upper-class salons and parlor discussions of fine art do not facilitate real communication or charitable behavior, and Prufrock is exasperated by it. He longs for acceptance to the point that he would rather be a crab at the bottom of the ocean than a human, connecting his desire to move amongst the women in the parlor with the freedom of a crab in the caves of mermaids-- although he may be no more than a beast, at least he won't drown.