Friday, July 10, 2009

Rituals of my people

Last Sunday I went to the christening of my cousin's second son. It was a full church service, and was rather well attended by various family members and friends of the proud parents. The kid is very sweet. All told, a nice day out.

So what's bugging me?

Well, like I say, this was a proper church service. It's actually quite a while since I've been to a church except as a tourist, so this took some getting used to. And, after spending years discussing religion in blogs and forums, I found myself with a very strong urge to hit the "reply" button...

I was amused by the Bible reading that included Matthew 13:47-49a and carefully airbrushed out the less family-friendly Matt 13:49b-50. I was mildly irritated by the liturgical question-and-answer format - what if you don't agree with the prescribed answer*?

And I was actually rather bothered by the content of the liturgy. There are several parts that to a non-Christian like myself are a bit disturbing. For example:

Faith is the gift of God to his people.
In baptism the Lord is adding to our number those whom he is calling.
People of God, will you welcome these children and uphold them in their new life in Christ?
All: With the help of God we will.

I'm sorry, but this child is not old enough to be considered one of "our number". He's part of your community, sure, but at his age you can't meaningfully say he subscribes to your beliefs. Beliefs come later. And he might not share your views even when he grows up. Talk about counting your chickens before they hatch...

The entire liturgy is founded on the assumption that, if you're born into a particular family or community, you're going to grow up as a Christian. I reject that assumption. The kid will follow his own path and, as a responsible relative, I'll support him whatever that path might be.

If he becomes an atheist then that's cool. If he becomes a Christian then fair enough. If he becomes a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or goat-sacrificing Satanist then I'll still be on his side. Any other attitude is reprehensible.

If atheism's popularity increases, I foresee a day when we'll start to develop rituals and liturgies of our own. When that day comes, there will be a lot we can learn from the Christian versions.

In the case of child baptisms, I hope we learn what not to say...

* I handled this situation by just not saying anything while everyone around me muttered their responses. Who says I'm not tactful? Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I saw some other folks doing the same thing.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Walk on by

There's a topic I've been meaning to cover for about two years now. And every time I decide to write about it, something comes up, goes down, or otherwise gets in the way. I'm jinxed.

It's a simple little thing: how we walk.

Now mostly this isn't something we think about much. If strolling down the street required cogitation at every step, there would be even more couch potatoes in the world. But there's a lot to find interesting...

An example. Next time you walk down a street, try to imagine that you're encased in a big solid sphere, like those Zorb balls. Convince yourself that the ball is rock solid - no-one can get through it to bump into you. Visualise the people around you rebounding from the ball if they try to push too close.

What you'll find is that you can walk straight at someone and they will always get out of your way. This is really kinda cool. And it doesn't seem to be anything to do with physical size or intimidation - I've seen tiny women pull this trick on burly blokes.

On close examination, it turns out that the "simple" act of walking past someone is actually quite complicated. As you approach a person, you use a range of subtle cues to plan a route round them, based on the direction you think they're going to head in.

The most important of these is probably foot position - your feet tend to point in the direction you're planning to go, and other people will pick up on this. If you really want to confuse someone, try walking past them on their left while keeping your feet pointed towards their right. Chances are good that they'll walk into you.

That's why the Zorb ball trick works. When you visualise being surrounded by an impenetrable force field, your feet point straight forward regardless of who is in your way. Everyone else unconsciously notices this and walks around you.

There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009


Just passed another actuarial exam. That makes three so far (out of eleventyumpteen...).

For bonus points, this is the one I didn't think I was going to pass first sitting. I am very happy right now.

Downside: by long-standing tradition, I have to buy cakes for the entire office come Monday.
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