A post of links

Aug 20, 2008
I don't usually cross-post from my Livejournal, but this is driving me crazy.

So. This thing happened recently.All about asking the presidential candidates what they think about, y'know, Jesus and stuff.

(Including questions like "The Bible says that integrity and love are the basis for leadership" and "You've made no doubt about your faith in Jesus Christ; What does that mean to you?" To draw from the first couple pages of the transcript.)

And the liberal blogs think Obama shouldn't have done it, because evangelicals are McCain's base, donchaknow. Or maybe he should have, to prove that Democrats Are Religious Too.

Aren't we all missing something here? Some larger issue beyond Who Loves Baby Jesus Most?

Oh, yeah.

(Thanks, Jason.)

Book Review: The Shark God by Charles Montgomery

Aug 18, 2008
I bought this book – it must have been June, because I'd decided to buy myself a book for my birthday, and after I'd picked something out from the highly unsatisfactory collection of Patrick O'Brian novels, I wandered back into the history and travel section. This is always a bad idea for me. I have a terrible weakness for good history and travel memoirs. So when I saw The Shark God on the shelf – memoir, travelogue, and Melanesian syncretism – what was I supposed to do?

The Shark God is the story of Charles Montgomery's search for adventure, magic and family history in the chaos of culture, religion and politics that is Melanesia. His grandfather had been a Protestant missionary there in the late 19th century, and as a boy Montgomery had invented great stories about his grandfather's exploits, risking life and limb to bring Christianity to the poor, brown natives of these islands. As an adult, Montgomery knows that his childhood imaginings are probably unrealistic and definitely more than a little bit racist – and he's left Christianity in the meantime – but he feels a connection to the place and wants to learn more. So, as a travel writer, he does the only reasonable thing: he gets a contract to write a book.

Montgomery admits that the thing that intrigues him most about Melanesia is the apparent paradox of Christianity and native belief still existing side by side. Although almost all Melanesians are Christians of some stripe, a number of pre-Christian traditions and beliefs still have a great deal of influence on peoples' daily lives. They believe in witches and curses, in magic stones and dances, in ancestor spirits and shark gods.

I think my favorite thing about this book was that Montgomery never really seems to get it. He has a genuine interest in the religious situation, and he does his best to empathize with the people and understand what's going on. He learns that his English Protestantism is far from the only valid form of Christianity, and he really believes in at least some of the magic that he meets. But he never gets syncretism, never seems to be able to move beyond “but that's not how Christianity works” and “but that can't really be real,” even though he obviously really, really wants to. The epilogue tries to come to some kind of conclusion, but it's patently false and too much like a moral.

There are no morals through the rest of the book, just stories that mean something. Like the Anglican Bishop who lives in a house with a constantly shifting population of locals who refuse to let him live alone, because that's no kind of life at all. The priests who use the magic of Christianity to fight the magic of evil sorcerers and exploitative criminals alike. The spectacular moment when, having talked a group of rebellious young men to take him to see the famous thunder stones on an isolated island, Montgomery makes it rain.

Overall, I think what makes The Shark God a success is that (excepting that awful epilogue) it's a book written with compassion, respect, and a genuine attempt at understanding. Montgomery knows that he doesn't know better than the people he's talking to – or the people he's writing to – and while he's looking for answers that makes sense to him, he doesn't discount the answers that seem to make sense to everyone else.


Aug 10, 2008
The sprain is a break after all, and a serious one at that -- so instead of spending Lugnasadh doing nothing, as I'd planned, I spent it unconscious, having foot surgery. I'm no longer in much pain, just frustrated from being unable to move the way I want to. Disability activists refer to the rest of us as "temporarily abled" people, and you never really realize how true that is until you're faced with a flight of stairs to get into your apartment and only one functioning foot. On the plus side, it looks as though I'll be walking again by mid-September, instead of Samhain as they originally predicted. Whew. (That's in time for PPD! Woohoo!)

I went to visit a friend a couple of days ago, once I was able to get around a little bit again, and she hugged me and said, "I'm sorry you're broken." My first reaction was denial -- I'm not broken! it's just my foot! -- but as I turned that idea over in my mind I realized it isn't quite right. The idea that "I" is something different from my body is part of this Cartesian dualism thing that I am actually just not in favor of. I am the person who inhabits my body right now, and my body and my mind are part of the same system, not to be ripped apart and talked about as if they were totally separate things.

Injury can really bring that into focus, actually. I've been working with attention a lot lately (based on some exercises from Evolutionary Witchcraft, which I cannot recommend highly enough), and it's been interesting to see where my attention goes on its own. Except for the part that's writing or watching TV or stitching (most of my activities these days), it's mostly divided between my foot and my back, which is impossible to get straightened out what with the having to sit with my foot propped up all day. It's an improvement, though. Last week I couldn't think about anything but my foot.

So yeah, I'm a little bit broken right now. But it's doing okay, and I'll get better. That's the best part about bodies, they fix themselves remarkably well, all things considered.