Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Surprised by Sorrow

The phrase "tug at your heartstrings" is very apt. Every once in a great while, a song elicits a strong twinge of sadness, the feeling that you're holding your breath when you're not. I hope you know what I mean. Anyhow, this doesn't necessarily mean I feel that way each time I hear the song now, and it doesn't make any of these the "best" sad songs. These are just songs that, at some point of my life, for whatever reason, brought out an intense sadness. In fact, if you've read C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy, you know exactly what I mean; it's not something intrinsic to the object, but something greater of which the object reminds you or to which it connects you. In any case...

Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton
The earliest case of this reaction came when I was nine or ten years old, after my great-aunt Gertie had passed away. This was the first time I was really conscious of death. When my mother told me about it, I found the "Clapton Unplugged" CD, started this song, and only then cried. I still love Tears in Heaven; here Clapton sets aside his brilliant guitar-"God" persona and shows us a vulnerable, grieving father.

American Pie, Don Maclean
I was twelve, maybe. I think that I'd heard this at some point before, but never noticed it- it was just my parents' oldies station. But that day it came on the radio just as my family was getting ready to leave. When they tried to break it off mid-song I threw a fit. American Pie simply resonated with me. I had no idea then when or why it was written, or what anything in it meant. Something in it was just so honest that I couldn't turn it off. It was the most intense reaction to music that I can remember.

A Long December, Counting Crows
When I was a freshman in high school, I bought two Counting Crows CDs, mainly because people I hung out with liked them. I hardly listened to the music, I'm ashamed to say, but nonetheless this one stuck with me. Maybe it was on the radio too. Anyway, when 12 AM, January 1, 1998 came, I was sitting at home in front of the TV, alone for another year. I walked to my room and put this song on. Although A Long December talks about a relationship ended, the loneliness and regret applied (less deeply or poignantly by far) to me at the time. Times became happier eventually, and I put away my Counting Crows CDs. Only last year I rediscovered them and realized I liked their music after all. I still think this is their best song, and it still sends shivers up my back.

Stay, Lisa Loeb
Okay, now I'm really embarrassed about this one. Senior year, when my girlfriend was gone for a while, I thought a great deal about the relationship. For whatever reason, I heard this song on the radio and somehow it connected with my thought process. On a logical level, it doesn't match up, but the tone resonated with me. I didn't even admit to her that this was the song (I said at the time it was some country music song). I know it seems I should have my Y chromosome recalled for repairs, but this song just reflected my struggle at the time to maintain a loving relationship when I knew the strain of leaving for college was fast approaching.

Hard to Get, Rich Mullins
It increasingly irritates me when Christian music turns out judgmental or saccharine. Rich Mullins is neither; the songs he wrote were brutally sincere about his doubts, failings, and fears, and yet look to God always. This song, Hard to Get was preserved on a scratchy demo tape, as Rich died before making a studio album with it. The poor quality of the recording and the clumsy guitar only reflect the point too well- the question of suffering and weakness, asking God whether He even remembers what it was like to be a human being. But my description doesn't do it justice; check out this song yourself (album: The Jesus Demos).

The Background, Third Eye Blind
The most recent addition to this list, as Third Eye Blind was another freshman year casualty of my failed buy-CDs-to-be-more-popular scheme. I hardly listened to anything on the album until this summer, and this song hit me hard. I don't know whether the tragedy which The Background claims was a true one, and certainly I've never been through anything comparable. But it works perfectly. The song conveys a total feeling of loss and numbness- even the guitar sounds as if it's crying at the end. Give it a listen.

OK, now what about you? What songs have hit you like a ton of bricks? C'mon, try out my newfangled comments link...

Monday, October 27, 2003

1. Fun With Irreducible Characters
My instructor for "Representations of Finite Groups", Mr. Alperin, is visiting his father for the time being, so we’re being taught by Mike the grad student. Today was probably the most I’ve laughed in any class for a long time. Of course, very few people would have found it so funny.

Example: “Okay, now the first extra-credit problem is to write out the character tables for a few groups you like.”
“I call the trivial group!”

Yeah… maybe the citation leaves a bit to be desired. But if you were there, and if you were me, you’d have laughed too… because you would have been me… and I laughed.

2. De Gustibus Disputandum Est
In general, I have a problem with my own nerdiness. The worst kind of social outcast, mind you, is the one who is ashamed of not fitting in, the one who tries and fails to adapt to the people around himself or herself.

No, I’m not as bad with this as I used to be, but I’m still ridiculously self-conscious in contexts like musical taste. I become extremely flustered whenever someone praises or criticizes my music to my face. It’s particularly evident now that my tastes and my standard computer playlist are changing.

Concrete example (names deleted to protect my ego): I’m deleting song x by artist X because X’s instrumentation isn’t really that good or creative, and because the lyrics to x are written to sound profound rather than out of any honest meaning. But I also can’t shake the knowledge that I’m embarrassed about having liked X as well, seeing as those who know anything about music dismissed X long ago. Similarly, I get a CD by Y because Y is a legend and, on some level, I ought to enjoy Y’s rock and roll. But I just don’t, and I’m $15 poorer for trying.

I really need to stop thinking about commentary and enjoy the music. But I don’t.

3. All Things Must Change
I’m recognizing that the nature of this blog has changed significantly in the last few weeks, from a journal/series of updates to a sort of forum for my opinions, mostly my opinions on matters theological/ecclesiastical/sacramental. And although not everyone who reads this can relate to my beliefs, I think this is just the natural evolution of this blog. That, and my life just doesn’t seem as eventful now as it did during the carefree summer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad to be in the thick of things again. But there simply isn’t enough to report without delving into the life of the mind these days. So this will probably become in general more of a series of reflections and less of a sequence of vignettes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

While I was doing the background reading for my European Civilization class, I came across a mention of the infamous papal bull Unam Sanctum. This was the 1302 document that some of my friends had referred to, (not recalling the name) which seemed to contradict current Catholic teaching on salvation. If this bull truly were irreconcilable with the current doctrine- that those outside of the earthly Roman Catholic Church can find mercy with God as well as those within- I would be forced to alter my ideas on papal authority, at the very least.

The bull's last line states, rather infamously and rather quotably, "We declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Seems direct enough, eh? However, I read the document in light of today's theology and found the development of dogma, not the contradiction of it. The way that Boniface VIII and his contemporaries undoubtedly understood it, belonging to the Church meant being baptized, receiving the Sacraments, assenting to the creeds. The present Catholic teaching affirms that Christ saves humanity through the working of the Church, but adds a better understanding: this is not the Church as we see it, but the eternal Body of Christ made up of all the men and women who come to God.

In other words, God is not arbitrary; the sacraments and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church are full of a special grace, but those outside its communion here on Earth are not barred from God's mercy. I don't think there's any decision procedure we can apply to tell us precisely who submits to the Lord, from only what we can see externally. Thus even Aquinas states that we cannot despair of any person's salvation; we cannot place limits on the grace of God.

What does this mean for our understanding of Unam Sanctam? That those who come to God do indeed submit to the Body of Christ in their sanctification; all those who claim eternal life with Him are then a part of the Catholic (universal) Church, whatever their creed or ideas as we saw them in life. Understand this all? I haven't been explaining to well, but I've traded completeness for conciseness here. If you want me to fully explain what I mean, talk to me or contact me. But long story short, my point is that nothing about the papal bull contradicts current theology, which simply interpreted and explained more fully this pronouncement of the Church. The fact that Boniface VIII and his contemporaries did not understand their own bull as we do today doesn't alarm me any more than the fact that we have an understanding of the events of the Old Testament as the preparation for Christ- an understanding which no prophet had in full (though Isaiah came darn close). So I've avoided heterodoxy for one more week...

P.S. Ironically, one of the highest links on Yahoo! for the search on the papal bull was a website aiming to prove that Vatican II was heresy, John Paul II is an antipope and that the true Roman Catholic Church should support only Latin Mass, only Thomistic philosophy and only monarchy. Sigh...

P.P.S. Now confirmed for the U of C fall concert: Ben Folds and Ben Lee. I'ma get some tickets...

Current music:
Hey Jealousy, The Gin Blossoms
Brandenburg Concerto #3, J.S. Bach
Rain King, Counting Crows
Incident at Neshabur, Santana
Fire and Rain, James Taylor

Saturday, October 18, 2003

My Friday

Down comforter. Cinnamon Life. Warm shower. New jeans. Quiet reading. Walking to campus. Sunlight. CG-modules. Butter cookies. Elliptic curves. Rubik’s Cube. Frisbee. Music playlist. Cheese pizza. Clerks. Mallrats. Chasing Amy. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Down comforter...

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

When I talk about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I could talk about its historical evolution in the Church. I could mention its biblical basis. I could discuss the psychological importance of accountability or the need for an experienced confessor. But the best apologia for Confession I know is the effect it has on my perception and action.

After confessing today, I felt an almost physiological relief from all of the tension I’d built up inside. As I walked across campus, I heard for once the sounds in the silence- feet scraping, wind blowing, a key turning in a lock. I saw as if for the first time the fallen yellow leaves, the Gothic buildings against overcast sky, the light blaring from the windows. The simple experience of that stroll brought such beauty to me.

That relief and wonder freed me for a while of all the petty self-absorption I’m accustomed to. I had conversations I would not have had on another day, listening rather than waiting for a chance to speak. There are two things I learned this evening that I might never have known otherwise, two people I might never have known as well as I do now.

I know that the Sacrament isn’t the only way that God forgives. But the experience of it is so filled with grace that I just couldn’t do without it.


P.S. I’m now the senior math major on my floor, which puts me in the role that Josh took upon himself last year (as an actual senior). After I came home at 10, I helped Casey with limits, Peter with geometry, Russell with Cauchy’s Inequality, Kevin with a max-min problem, Erik with combinatorics, Allie with delta-epsilon proofs, and James with centripetal acceleration (physics). I just live for this...

Monday, October 13, 2003

You may have already noticed this, but I've changed the template for this blog. I like this much better already, and it allows me to add links (got a blog you haven't told me about? E-mail me!) to the page.

Sadly, title fields are no more. This means that some of my prior posts make even less sense than they did before.

Why am I writing an entry about my blog? Because it's been an uneventful weekend. A good weekend (honestly, a good weekend), but not one producing stories of note.

P.S. Go Rams.

P.P.S. I want one of these.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Ready for my Close-Up

Campus life has been disturbed to some degree recently by a movie shooting here. They’re adapting Proof for the big screen, and it happens to be set at this university’s graduate math department.

They set up star trailers and catered lunches on the quads, take over Stuart Hall (putting up signs to say “Eckhart Hall” on the outside; apparently the real Eckhart is too busy or not photogenic enough), film a stairway shot just outside my classroom. PS2 (you know, pirate extraordinare of the math faculty) coached Anthony Hopkins on how to lecture like a real math professor, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal have been spotted, and friends of mine have been used as extras.

All in all, a quite interesting diversion from doing work. I can’t pretend I’m indifferent to the Hollywood presence in Hyde Park, but the filming doesn’t really affect me in any concrete way. I will have to see it when it comes out, though.

Current Highlight of the Day: carrying a chalkboard outside to enjoy the great weather during math class
Current Music: Lean On Me, Al Green

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

I Can Say I Was (Almost) There

Last Saturday, I had a brilliant social idea. I would take my friends up to Wrigleyville on the North Side for dinner while the Cubs played Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves. That way, I would be there when they clinched, and the neighborhood began to party like it was 1908 again (the last time the Cubbies took a postseason series of any kind).

Score was tied 1-1 as the elevated train pulled into the station, giving me my first sight of Wrigley Field. It's right there when you step off the train, open to the side so you can see right onto the field, sidewalk running next to the massive concrete and brick bleachers. You could hear the fans as the Cubs outfield recorded another out.

Then someone homered, and it was 3-1 Braves. I took my friends down Clark Street to a decent Mexican restaurant. A television updated us on the worsening score, till it was 6-2 in the 8th inning. I polished off three enchiladas with a hot pepper sauce (wishing I had tried the also-traditional Mole sauce). A few more of us arrived as Eric Karros sent a pitch deep into the Wrigley stands.

The newcomers got carryout as consecutive doubles brought the Cubs back to 6-4 in the bottom of the ninth. Two outs, Kenny Lofton on second, Sammy Sosa at bat. There was the pitch, the crack of the bat, Sammy's traditional home-run skip, and we all knew the game was tied. I cheered wildly, only to see the ball drop prematurely out of the sky, right to the center fielder. Game over, Cubs lose.

I had a nice time with my buddies in that neighborhood, but I didn't get to witness the "Cubs Win!" party. That was delayed till Sunday, when Kerry Wood shut down the Braves 5-1. Apparently it was wild up in Wrigleyville that night. Oh well.