Modeling God

If there is one thing I hold dear from what I’ve learned in my first year in graduate school, it’s the language of models, whether these are theoretical or statistical models. I have not only found them useful to think about social science-y questions (which is, of course, the reason I learned them), but also for how I think about God. A model is not only a good representation of how we think something works, but thinking about models also gives an understanding of how we think about anything. As a “spiritual and religious” person, I naturally apply this framework to my understanding of God and how we can relate to Him.

The main lesson I draw from thinking in terms of models, is that it gives language to what I think is happening all around me. From the person crossing the street in a hurry (maybe they are late for an appointment?) to why we use our phones so much (is it the overstimulation of saturated color?). A model is a summary of a set of causal statements that help us make sense of something.

It’s what helps us navigate the world.

We need it.

But here’s the important thing: they are incomplete representations of the true phenomena they seek to explain.

We reduce an event or object to a set of characteristics we can work with. If we, for example, were to build a model of a skyscraper, would we include a sewage system and to-scale functional elevator systems? Well, it depends on what we are trying to model. You would include a sewage system if you were tasked with figuring out how that would work on that hypothetical (or real) building. You would definitely not waste your time with elevators since they are irrelevant for the task at hand.

Makes sense, right?

So it goes with any model. What are we trying to get at? … got it? That’s what we’ll include in the model. And this is exactly what we do when we think about God. We build models to explain the experiences we have that transcend the material world, or which include an aspect that is just beyond what we can describe. We find language, we find statements, we find analogies, things that can help us grasp our experiences with God.

We all have models of God. These may be models we inherited from our parents or grandparents that get updated with our own experiences. Sometimes we decide the models we were passed down simply don’t work. Other times, they just need an overhaul.

The other key point this suggests is that models tell you as much about the thing you are trying to explain/understand as they tell you about who build this model. They point to what we care about, the experiences that begged the questions addressed, the contexts, and, mainly, the assumptions (often unquestioned) that we won’t compromise on (our first principles or axioms).

So, our understanding of God talks about God, but it also talks about us. It talks about our  context, our wishes and hopes.

Having multiple, evolving models of God does not necessarily mean the thing we are trying to explain is not there or that God changes on a whim. The fact that multiple models exists and change says more about the ways in which we make sense of the world. Our understanding is finite and evolving, and so are our models.

At best, our models of God are true representations of just one aspect of His infinite character and nature.

What this means is not that we should stop talking about God, quite the opposite. We should engage in conversation of what this ‘thing’ we experience is, and we should do so with the most humble of attitudes.

Lastly, we should engage in these conversations with a deep awareness of what it is we talk about when we talk about God.

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One thousand views! Gracias

My blog just hit 1,000 views!

I created this blog more than a year ago, but only began taking it seriously sometime at the beginning of the year. Just as I was consistent with my clarinet practice, I needed a regular writing schedule even if that meant writing once a week.

In a way, it seems it has taken a long time to get to 1,000 views. On the other hand, it’s taken almost 500 different visitors, and I think that’s quite a lot of people. Although, who knows how many views may be my own.

While Of lovers and fools is primarily a way for me to cultivate discipline through a weekly post and a biweekly podcast, I am happy some readers and listeners can find my content to be worth their time.

I hope to deliver better material each week and perhaps get to another 1,000 views in less than a year.

Thanks for reading, listening, liking and sharing!

¡Gracias!


¡Mi blog acaba de alcanzar mil visitas (o vistas?)!

Creé este blog hace más de un año, pero comencé a tomarlo en serio hasta principios de este año. Así como era consistente para practicar clarinete, necesitaba una rutina para escribir constantemente aunque eso fuera una vez a la semana.

De cierta manera, parece que ha tomado bastante tiempo llegar a mil visitas. Aunque a tomado casi 500 diferentes visitantes y creo que esa es mucha gente. Pero quién sabe cuantas visitas sean mías.

Aunque Of lovers and fools es primeramente una manera de cultivar disciplina mediante un post semanal y un podcast quincenal, estoy muy contento de que algunos lectores y escuchas aprecien el contenido.

Espero compartir mejor material cada semana y poder llegar a otras mil visitas en menos de un año.

¡Gracias por leer, escuchar, dar like, y compartir!

Reviewing film, film reviewing

Film reviewing is an interesting task. It is like recommending a movie to your aunt, except film reviewers do it for many people (thousands depending on the publication). These reviewers must then have knowledge of film to make comparisons, discuss cinematic techniques, and point out homages, among others. What doesn’t change is the subjectivity of the review. Granted, I would trust a film reviewer more than any of my cousins because the professional review would tell me why it was good or bad, trying to be more objective, rather than just a, “that movie sucked.”

Reviewers write in various styles, which I believe are shaped by what type of publication they are writing for, the word limit, and the audience. Some writers can write several longs paragraphs and make as many comparisons as they wished, or it seems like it. Others say little, merely summarizing the plot. The former tend to be enjoyable pieces of writing even if you could care less about the film; the latter tends to be informative and nothing more. I prefer the longer reviews that appear on big publications, whether national or regional.

Film reviews are subjective. One writer sees one thing, another writer sees something else. Two writers see the same thing, but react differently. While a reviewer might despise the deliberate silliness of a movie like Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), another might find himself or herself enjoying every minute of it. Critics are still part of the audience and, as such, their viewing is influenced by many factors such as whether they had a good breakfast or were able to comb their hair (if they have any) the way they wanted, or whether traffic was bad or it was raining, snowing, too much sun, too windy. Perhaps they have bias in favor or against certain filmmakers or actors. They know they can expect either something great or greatly disappointing from Woody Allen or a movie whose pretentiousness rises to astronomical levels (ahem, Interstellar) in the case of Christopher Nolan (I forgive him for his superb Batman).

But if this influences reviewers, we could just listen to our cousin’s “It was just so bad.” Well, no. Reviewers provide an analysis, some a really poor one, of various film elements. If there is anything special in the cinematography or production design, they will mention it. They will talk about whether the acting is mediocre, average, or top-notch. They will analyze the plot with its strengths and weaknesses. All this without ruining the movie for you, hopefully.

Reviewers give their opinion and no one else’s. Take what you can from them, which is an informed analysis that most likely your cousin or friend won’t do (unless of course, they are critics). Despite all that can influence a reviewer, their work is useful, enjoyable, and perhaps most importantly a possible money saver.

Just remember, a review is one perspective. When writing on Birdman, Richard Brody from The New Yorker agreed with Christopher Orr (The Atlantic) and Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair) that it asks old questions regarding ego, fame, art, relevance, and other such traits. They also agree in that Iñárritu offers the same old answers, or no answers. There’s nothing new in this regard that makes Birdman rise to the skies. While Lawson wished, and I did too, that there was something deeper—and I think there should have been something deeper—, Orr states there doesn’t seem to be much below the surface but notes, “As the Birdman voice inside Riggan’s head reminds us, sometimes viewers crave pure entertainment, not just ‘talky, pretentious, philosophical bullshit.’ ”

The Fault in Our Books

Did I read The Hunger Games trilogy? Yes. Did I like it? No, but I am okay with the movies.

Did I read The Fault in Our Starts? Yes. Did I like it? No, but I am okay with the movie.

Many of us have heard people who complain about a movie because “the book is so much better. Like, they leave this whole part out and it just doesn’t make much sense without it.” Some of those people are just trying to sound cool and intellectual for having read a novel (you gotta consider that an accomplishment nowadays). They read a popular novel and then a movie based on it comes out. Many, longing to pronounce the phrase above, read these novels when they find out there’s a movie coming out.

Well, the thing is: this phenomenon doesn’t occur with The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. Yes, it is a matter of perspective, but I will tell you what I think, as worthless as it might be.

There are two areas in which these books fail to provide a good experience: plot and characters. Although these two points sound like really the whole book, I think it is in minor yet vital details of the plot and characters where the authors are not able to deliver.

The biggest reason why I liked the movie version for The Fault in Our Stars better than the novel is that the characters felt more realistic. Of course, with a good cast the task of having interesting characters becomes easier and I think this is where John Green failed. While reading the book, I did not connect with the characters (it was as if they were taken from a library of generic characters). The dialogue was good for the most part, but something just didn’t click. Shailene Woodley does an okay job bringing Hazel Grace to life, but Ansel Elgort was terrific. That smile just clicked and made Augustus Waters (despite the ridiculous name) real and interesting (I even forgave him for the stupid cigarette metaphor). So, good job, Josh Boone. You saved Green’s characters. In regard to The Hunger Games, I just dislike Katniss Everdeen and Jennifer Lawrence (because of the character), and I couldn’t care less about the other characters.

The Hunger Games trilogy, in its novel format, feels ridiculous in every paragraph of every chapter of every book, though it went from meh to struggling with finishing the third book. I imagined any given character in any given situation as a cartoon dwarf in a childish tell where the plot doesn’t really matter because the kids just care about what they see in that moment (at least that was me as a kid). The movie, due to its obvious visual advantages, delivered an interesting story that was well worth the six bucks I paid. If you haven’t read the books, then know that it gets worse. The plot in the first book or movie is fine, the seconds feels a little dumb, but the third . . . just no!

In The Fault in Our Stars, making Peter Van Houten (c’mon, really? That’s the name?) the father of a victim of cancer just seemed too orchestrated. Some parts of the plot felt natural, others didn’t. To not make it long, I appreciated all the cuts in the plot made for the film adaptation, except for the deletion of Augustus’ late girlfriend (it added something to his story).

Am I too critical of these young adult novels? Maybe. It might not be my type. Perhaps it is a good introduction to the vast world of literature.

Take whatever is beneficial from my poor review and ignore whatever seems arrogant.

P.S. If I offended anyone, you must forgive me. It wasn’t my intention.

Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere

From Disney-Pixar’s Ratatouille:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.

The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto:

Anyone can cook.

But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

Everybody is a villain

This entry concludes the first series of “Eveybody is . . .” Maybe, just maybe, it becomes a thing. We’ll see.

What is a villain? In a movie, play, or novel, a villain is the character with evil actions and motives that is relevant to the story. So, the guy nobody cares about could be a pederast, but because he only appears once, he is not a villain. Perhaps I’m taking it too far. Whatever.

The second definition I found in the New Oxford American Dictionary refers to a person who is responsible for a specified harm. Because this is real life, and seldom runs like a novel, we’ll go with this other definition.

Now, I won’t tell you how I am your villain or how you are mine, I’ll just say that just because I am a villain today to my best friend, I can be a hero today to a homeless man. You can be a hero today and a villain tomorrow.

  • Christian villainy has permeated history in a still, for some, unforgivable manner.
  • Many Americans see Muslims as villains.
  • Americans are Mexico’s villain. Mexicans are the U.S.’ villain.
  • Socialists think capitalism is a villain. Capitalists think socialism is a villain.
  • The poor (or middle class) see their villain in the rich. The rich see villains in the poor.
  • Gays are villains, heterosexuals are villains, machistas are villains, feminists are villains.
  • Women are villains (don’t get mad), men are villains (because they are all the same), the in-laws are villains, children are villains.
  • Atheists are villains, Catholics are villains, Seventh-day Adventists are villains (Nazi Germany, Rwanda genocide), Westboro Baptists Church is a villain, Pentecostals are villains.
  • Pharisees are villains, Jesus is a villain (I cringe at the thought, but he was a villain to the aforementioned).
  • . . .  . . .  . . .  . . .
  • .  .  .    .  .  .    .  .  .    .  .  .
  • .   .   .      .   .   .      .   .   .      .   .   .

The list never ends. We’re all villains.

But, I thought I was a hero, and a lover, and a fool. What about that?

I am, and you are as well, a hero, a lover, a fool, a villain. We all are.

We all are heroes, lovers, fools, and villains.