Saturday, February 8, 2014

Start Afresh

I. Pluripotent: All Kinds of Able

I took a break from paisleys to watercolor these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)—grown-up cells that can turn into any tissue in the body.

iPSCs come directly from adults––our mature cells can be made to revert back to their immature state, where they can become anything. They can then replace damaged or diseased cells in, say, the liver, or the eyes. And so you don't need to use cells from embryos (controversial), and they can be tailor-made to match the patient.
Nifty, eh?  

What if our emotional and intellectual states could go back to being pluripotent too, capable of taking fresh new directions? 

Scientists John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka who discovered iPSCs won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology

II.  . . . but to Become What?

My career has definitely reverted to a resting state. It's at a halt, waiting for a jolt, like Frankenstein's creature. 

Actually, I've not exactly had a "career." I never sought out one professional paid field of work. I've been a fry cook, nursing assistant, janitor, library worker, and sacristan. I ended up writing nonfiction children's books this past decade because, frankly, of nepotism: I was invited to by my sib who is a managing editor. It suited me, but I really want to do something else, something face-to-face with people.

So, I rest in a state of potential pluripotency: what shape will she take?

III. Belief in the Bathtub

Not sure how I'd translate this into paid work, but I feel I have a special talent  for reading theology in the bathtub. I got my B.A. in it. (Technically, it was in Religions in Antiquity or some such title--a miniscule subset of Classics. Mostly, I read Augustine in the tub.)

Here I'm reading the transcript of a discussion on BBC television in 1970, "The Atheist and the Archbishop" [links to the whole essay], between British writer Marghanita Laski and Russian Orthodox bishop Anthony Bloom
An Orthodox blogfriend sent it to me, which makes me very happy.

It was a balm to my sometimes weary heart to read two smart people who approach each other with curiosity about their sometimes contrary beliefs, like scientists poking at stem cells: what does your belief consist of? can it do this? can it do that? 

I really liked Anthony, the bishop who started as a physician. He says,
"I was trained to be a scientist and I treat things as experimental science... I started with something which was an experience which seemed to be convincing, that God does exist. 
. . . It was a meeting with something different, profoundly other than myself, and which I cannot trace back even with decenet knowledge of sociology, or psychology, or biology, to anything which is me, and within me. . . .
Doubt comes into it not as questioning this fundamental experience but as questioning my intellectual working out of it. And in that respect the doubt of the believer should be as creative, as daring, as joyful, almost as systematic as the doubt of a scientist..."

 I have to stand with Laski though: 
I have not had any convincing "other-induced" encounter. In fact, my strongest feeling of certainty came during a religious retreat when I realized that, for me, God definitely does not exist.

I actually shed some tears over that. I'd wanted an all-loving God to be real, and I had made a good try to believe.

I also like stand with Laski when she says to the bishop,
"Nothing that you put forward seems to me to be alien or strange but rather to be poetry in its deepest sense."

I wouldn't call myself an atheist though, because, these days anyway, American atheists seem to be agressively anti-God and anti-religion, which I am not. I see God and religion as poetry, and while poetry can be put to the service of stupid or even bad things (Coke ads, patriotic jingoism), I wouldn't want to wipe it out.

Um, yes... and what does this have to do with getting a job?
Well, that's part of my challenge, to get out of the bathtub and into the hunt!


Emma J said...

As a believer, I too find this civil interchange refreshing. May there be more of it!

Reading your post makes me wonder what is faith/religion without an "other-induced encounter"?

For those of us who've felt this kind of encounter as a real experiential event it IS a poetry. A making, a re-making. And thus irreducible to quick political platforms or slogans. But without the encounter with the Other, I wonder if those who still want to believe are left only with dogma, authoritanism, habit, and tribal patriotism? And is hollow-centered dogma and the desperation it inspires part of what fuels the culture wars? But then where does the virulence of some of today's atheism come from?

Emma J said...

Also - your paisleys!!!

Fresca said...

EMMA J! How nice to see you! Here and on your blog too!

Thanks for your good comment (and also your praise of paisleys).

I agree that religion without the "Other-induced encounter" may be mere indoctrination, brainwashing, everything from mild and harmless to North Korea.

But I was in the Catholic Church for five years as an adult without such an Other encounter, and I encountered a lot of wonderful small "o" other-encounters:
encounters with other people who were trying to be good, trying to be something other than materialistic, and that was enormously helpful and grace-ful to me (and to them, to be around one another).

Once I realized I did not believe in God, though, I could not stay. That was part of why I felt so sad to realize God was not a real Other to me.
Not because I wasn't welcome--and there are surely lots of decent people in any Church who are mostly there for good and helpful social reasons--but the whole structure crumbled for me--and the social politics especially became unbearable, if not backed by belief in God.

So, I'm on my own again, which is a bit lonely, sometimes, but not a bad thing---still trying to be good and still learning a lot from religions and people of faith about what that looks like, and how to practice it.

The virulence of athesism... Not sure about that---it seems a kind of fundamentalism in itself.
Perhaps it's what Laski calls a matter of temperament--some people seem to have a lot of bile.
Not to say religions aren't guilty of all sorts of atrocitites, but find me a human organization that isn't...
I am a HUGE believer in the necessity and the wisdom of checks and balances in all human organizations.

Zhoen said...

Church on Time makes me party
Church on Time puts my trust in God and Man
God and Man no confessions
God and Man no religion
God and Man don't believe
in Modern Love…

This is how my brain works.

Emma J said...

I was too quick to discount those "other" encounters which are certainly a powerful good. Thanks for this thoughtful, thought-provoking post.

Fresca said...

ZHOEN: "Modern Love," David Bowie.
(I googled the lyrics you posted.)

EMMA: Oh, but I knew what you meant, I think, and I agree:
without the big-O, religion can just be a hypocrisy, and a dangerous one too.