God of Partial Credit

Determine the validity of the argument. NO PARTIAL CREDIT

Determine the validity of the argument. NO PARTIAL CREDIT

I knew I was screwed the night my professor drew five symbols on the board and said, “Don’t worry. This is easy. It’s like algebra but with arguments instead of numbers. And we get rid of all those useless things like words.”

  1. I barely passed algebra.
  2. Words are the air I breathe.
  3. How in the hell do you determine the validity of arguments without the words?

I might not have been quite so freaked out if I only needed to pass this class. But passing isn’t good enough. I need to ace this class so that I can respectfully (translation: with gritted teeth) ask that my first semester grades from 1991 be waived so that I can be taken off academic probation now in 2015. Had I known that my dean’s list level performance last semester wasn’t going to be good enough, I never would have taken The Art of Thinking this semester. All I’d heard were horror stories about how difficult this class is, both from students and from my advisor.

My first two tests grades were decent but not stellar. I had one writing assignment which bolstered my grade but there is no wiggle room. So when the third test rolled around, I was more than a little anxious. I studied as best I could for a test that consisted of letters, squiggles, dots, sideways horseshoes, wedges, and horizontal lines laid out in braces, brackets, and parentheses and called an “argument”.  Honestly, I know what an argument looks like.  I have them all the time. Follow me on Twitter and you’ll see. None of them look like this!

I did the best I could. I was confident on some of the basics but towards the end of the test, my brain was fried. My professor had drilled into our heads that it only takes one error to render an entire truth table incorrect. The words NO PARTIAL CREDIT glared back at me from the page. I laid out the lines one by one, adding true or false under each letter in every possible combination and working through the symbols to determine what was true, what was false, and finally, whether the entire mess was valid or invalid. Then I handed it over and waited for three long weeks to find out how erroneous my tables would turn out to be.

Three weeks can be a really long time. I saw truth tables in my dreams. I woke up mumbling, “If this is true, then this is true and this is false, so this is true but this is false…NO PARTIAL CREDIT!”

Meanwhile, off campus, life went on. After Easter, my dating church adventures included scoping out a new Catholic parish. After thirty years in a parish that was about close to Protestant as one could get and still be Roman Catholic, I spent a few Sundays in a church that took me back to traditional Catholic practices from my childhood. There was something deeply nostalgic and comforting there. Nostalgia isn’t going to bring me back to the Catholic Church, but it might be enough to anchor one side of the bridge I find myself on. One of the hardest things of dating churches is not judging one against another. Each space I enter has something to teach me, and just maybe something for me to teach them. It would be so easy right now to give up dating churches and let myself completely relax into the Lutheran community I’ve found. But that would be like accepting a marriage proposal from someone I’ve known for only a few months. I remember all too well that I did that once and it didn’t turn out so well.

I’ve realized now more than ever that, when it comes to religion, for most of my life I’d accepted only a single line of what is actually an entire table of truth. I accepted that A was true and B was false without bothering to figure out what that meant for the unknowns of G and F.  Add to that, I’d gone through life with a God of NO PARTIAL CREDIT. Get one thing wrong and EVERYTHING YOU’VE DONE IS INVALID. That’s an awful way to go through life, especially when I know I’ve gotten more than one thing wrong along the way. The last couple of years have been a matter of figuring not only what is true and what is false but what is unknown and even unknowable, what is of God and what is of man. I reached a point where the single line I had based my faith on no longer served as a solid foundation. I need an entire truth table, letter for letter, symbol for symbol, with every combination of true and falsity. That simply is not possible. There are too many unknowns to ever have that level of certainty. All I can do is work with what I know is true and build from there. Two things I know for certain: God loves me. God is infinitely, mercifully patient with me. Which logically leads me to believe that God is indeed a God of Partial Credit.

After three long weeks, I finally got my test grade. I cringed as I unfolded it. My grade? 100. NO PARTIAL CREDIT. Fully earned, in spite of my doubts. When I shared my news on Facebook, my friend congratulated me and then told me, “Next time, don’t doubt yourself.”

Unsettled Waters

Unsettled Waters

After the way Lent has gone this year, I was more than happy to get away last week. I had five days alone on Cape Cod, days which included my birthday and Palm Sunday. I had completely reached my capacity for dealing with other human beings so I was not at all disappointed with there was fog, mist, rain, sleet and snow in the forecast. Cold and damp means empty beaches. Empty beaches make me very happy.

My first day up there, I went out to Head of the Meadows just before low tide. As I’d hoped the fog had kept everyone away.

Wreck of the Frances - sunk in December 1872

Wreck of the Frances – sunk in December 1872

There in the shallows, was the wreck of the Frances, easily visible from the shore. The sand bars went almost right up to it and I seriously considered wading through the shallows to get out there but then I remembered that I had promised my mother that I wouldn’t do anything stupid. So instead I opted for a long walk down the beach. I love the fog. It was impossible not to feel it wrapped around me and equally impossible not to breath it in. The smell of salt water and fresh mist felt so good and so clean. I kept my eyes on the fog, watching it roll down from the high ground to the beach and to the edge of waves. It might have been wiser to watch the sky behind the high ground because after I had meandered a couple of miles down the beach, the sky opened up with cold, steady rain. I meandered my way back towards my car and just before I got there, the sun came out. Gotta love God’s sense of humor. I headed back to the resort to dry clothes, a long hot shower and to curl up with my Kindle by the windows.

My second day started out rainy and I knew I was going to get wet. I have a thing for water so I don’t mind the rain. For the last couple of years, the only thing I wanted was to see a seal on the beaches. I hadn’t bothered with looking at a map. I pointed the car East and drove until I hit water, then turned South. I wound up at Chatham Lighthouse. I parked the car and looked out across the water to one of the many islands. There in front me were seals. Hundreds of seals. An entire colony of seals. There were cars parked, with people taking in the view from the warmth and dryness of their cars. Not me. I was down the stairs on to the beach in a heartbeat.

Chatham Coyote

Chatham Coyote

The rain switched over to sleet and walking North on the beach would’ve meant walking into the wind and sleet. I’m a little crazy but not that crazy. I started to walk South but hadn’t gone very far when I saw something move on the bluffs about a fifty feet away. I was being watched by a very large coyote. It decided to run up and down the beach between me and the only way to back to the car. It wasn’t afraid of me in the slightest. I, on the other hand, have enough sense to know I didn’t want tangle with it and was suddenly very much aware of the fact that I was the only one on the beach. I made my way back to the car, timing a dash for the stairs as the coyote was a little further up the beach. Gotta love God’s idea of surprises. I headed back soaking wet, half-frozen and giddy after my close encounter with the wild kingdom. Another long hot shower and a lazy afternoon with my Kindle. But as night fell, I caught myself doing dishes, restless and just rattling around the townhouse, staying up far later than I normally do. I realized I was keeping vigil for my Dad the way I had when I was younger. When my Dad died, it was shortly after midnight, a Friday night into Saturday, not very long into my birthday. I hadn’t stayed up to watch the minutes tick by like that in years.

Saturday morning started with rain but quickly changed to wet snow. I decided spending a quiet day curled up in front of the windows, reading and watching the snow come down sounded like a perfect way to spend a birthday. I ordered in delicious veal parmigiana dinner, completely enjoying the silence. I read. I wrote in my journal. I read some more. I wrote some more.

Palm Sunday was the lone day of sun and gorgeous blue skies. I stopped in Wellfleet on my way up to Race Point. Wellfleet had huge chunks of ice washing ashore a few weeks back.  Alas, I had missed them so I continued on my way up to Race Point.

The folly of man

The folly of man

My usual parking lot was closed, buried under a foot or more of sand. Seeing the arrow for the parking area pointing directly into an impassable pile of sand amused me to no end – the folly of man and the power of nature. I wanted so badly to go in the water but with a windchill of 24 and a water temperature of 38 and rough surf, I thought the better of it. I stood at the edge of the breakers and argued with myself. My more sensible side won out. That’s a rarity.

I spent a lot of time reading during those days. Deacon Ron recommended a book to me before I left titled If You Want to Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat. I made it through six of the ten chapters before driving home and I’m still reading. It made me think how much my life has changed in the past year, far more than I’ve taken time to appreciate. Taking that five days to stop and rest and reflect made me realize that it’s no wonder I drove up there feeling overwhelmed. In the space of one year, my RA went into remission, I lost my beloved furry companion, I went back to school, my younger son started middle school, my older son explored his passion for engines, and I’m still figuring out this whole dating church thing. Trying to balance my life’s changes with the changes in my kids’ lives has been almost too much at times. I needed a quiet, calm, reflective Lent. I guess God thought otherwise because instead I was reminded how passionate I can be about the ordination of women, how deeply my past has affected me, and just how unsettled I feel right now and that’s just for starters. Deacon Ron asked me before I left for the Cape if I felt like I was on a bridge between two places. That’s pretty accurate and what became clearer during that time away was the image of that bridge: a scary high rope bridge with space between the planks and neither side being very securely anchored.

I love Triduum and I wait all year for those three days. And yet this year, I dreaded them. After Ash Wednesday and another incident in mid-March, walking back into the Catholic parish that had been my home for so long was an unpleasant prospect. But the idea of stepping into something entirely unfamiliar wasn’t any better. Holy Thursday, I couldn’t bring myself to get my feet washed like I had in years past. I couldn’t let my guard down that much. Good Friday wasn’t much better. The kids refer to the Passion as “that service where Mom cries the whole time” but aside from the uncontrollable flinching as the spikes were pounded into the cross, there would be no tears. I was edgy and uneasy until the end. As I came up to venerate the huge wooden cross, I rested my head against it and most of the junk I’d been carrying rolled off. Yes, I said most, not all, only as much as I would let go of. Easter Vigil was amazing and by the time it was over, I had let my guard down as much as I possibly could. I walked away feeling like I could make a clean break now. There was nothing left open and raw now.

So am I walking on water? I jumped out of the boat almost a year ago. Now, I’ve panicked and started to sink. I’m not looking for the boat yet. I’m still reaching for His hand to pull me up.