Archive for August, 2009

Muddy Waters

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I gained a certain new respect for the Disney Imagineers on my recent trip to London. It was a simple thing and one that I probably would have gotten a lot sooner if I had grown up someplace else. See, I’m from Los Angeles, which is itself in a semi-arid zone and which has a lot of desert around it. The only other place I’ve lived for any appreciable amount of time is Phoenix, and Phoenix, of course, is very much in the desert. So while L.A. has a river (the Los Angeles river), it’s not one with a lot of water. London on the other hand, has the Thames, and the Thames is very much a river.

And the Thames, at least where and when I saw it, is exactly the color of “The Rivers of America” in Disneyland. And the water in “The Jungle Cruise” and a number of other “imagineered” bodies of water. In California we don’t have a lot of real rivers, we do have at least one, the Sacramento River, but I’ve not spent any real time looking at it. I’ve seen a lot of creeks up close but those don’t have any color. They’re clear. And of course swimming pools, and tap water and most of the lakes I’ve seen are all clear too. So I always thought that the waters of Disneyland were colored the way they were just to hide the fact that they’re only as deep as they need to be and no deeper; it just never occurred to me that they were the color they are because rivers actually are that color.

I pointed this out to God, pointed out how good a job of color matching the Imagineers had done and she gave me the same sort of look that you give anyone that points out the obvious. It’s probably the same sort of look you’re giving me right now, so I’ll just go away.

Take Two

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds opens today. At the risk of spoiling it, at least to some extent, I’ll mention that it’s somewhat of an “alternate history” film. That is, that while it is based on events that actually, historically, happened, it does deviate from pure history in at least one rather notable way.

It’s an interesting genre, alternate history. One built around trying to imagine how the world of today would have developed differently if some facet of history had not happened just as we know it did. By that definition Inglorious Basterds really isn’t Alternate History, but that’s kind of quibbling, so I won’t push the distinction too far.

I asked God if she’d ever played the alternate history game, ever imagined our universe but as it would have played out if she had made the rules a little different or changed something that we consider important. She told me that she’d once worked on creating our universe where she didn’t exist. She ended up dropping the project though, because it turns out that if God doesn’t exist, our world isn’t any different than it already is.


Friday, August 14th, 2009

Larry Niven likes to say that people talk in first draft. It’s a way of pointing out that we make mistakes, we stop and start, we change our minds mid-sentence, and ultimately don’t express ourselves as eloquently as we could. It’s a good point, suggesting that live communication is a work in progress and that it shouldn’t be held to the same standards as published work.

When I’m not writing on a computer, my scribblings tend to get marked up with all manner of corrections and changes. There’s crossed out words, inserted phrases and even the occasional passage that gets circled and tagged with an arrow to show that it needs to move. I was doing some reading about so-called “junk DNA” and realized that evolution works kind of the same way. There’s stuff in our DNA that’s been marked with the metaphorical equivalent of being crossed out; genes that are no longer expressed. There’s stuff that’s new (on an evolutionary timescale) and stuff that’s been around since, again metaphorically speaking, the first draft. There’s even one of our chromosomes that is a fusing of what were two different chromosomes in our ancient ancestors.

And, I guess, you can consider DNA to be one of God’s notepads, a place where he jots down ideas and then comes back and revises them. So looking over the mess that is our DNA is a chance to realize that even God essentially talks in first draft, that he does go back and change things, does revise things, does make things better. It isn’t too much of a leap then to realize that God must also change his mind from time to time.

So when we say that we are made in God’s image, perhaps our fallibility is not just that we are imperfect copies, but that the God himself is imperfect and we copy that aspect as well. Perhaps those that say the Bible should be a living document, updated with time and with our new understandings of philosophy and science are really on to something. If God himself is constantly revising things, who are we to say that anything should be static and unchanging.

That’s something worth keeping in mind.

Routine Notice

Friday, August 7th, 2009

We all fall into routines. We can’t help it, we’re wired for it. The big thing that starts it all going is the need to eat. If we push it we can get by with eating only once a day; I’m not saying that it’s good for us but just pointing it out as a fact. We need to eat pretty much every day and usually more than once a day. So we get into a routine. We split the day up by breakfast, lunch and dinner. We do it almost without thinking.

And that’s both what’s right about it and what’s wrong about it. It’s right because, well, why should we waste much time thinking about something that we do all the time and that doesn’t vary all that much. So then we begin to extend this to everything we do in life and, if we’re not careful, pretty soon our whole life is just a series of interconnected routines.

I went on vacation recently. Vacation is a great concept. Once a year we do something to completely break our routines. We go off somewhere and look fresh at everything. Of course, the fact that we do this (generally) once a year is a routine in and of itself, but we can let that slide, that routine nature of breaking our routines.

God tells me that he likes to break out of his routines too, but when God slips out of the routine it can be a little dramatic. Supernovas? Consider that God deciding to skip instead of walk for a few steps. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Maybe God was just feeling a little bored. So, now that I think about it, maybe the right advice is to go ahead and break out of your routines every once in a while, but it might be a good idea to take the time to make sure that anybody that depends on your routines gets a little advance notice.