Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New Labels

Here's a gripe I have about sites like this and myspace and things: if I want to include details regarding my date of birth, about which I feel no particular shame, I immediately get pigeon-holed and labeled as being under the auspices of some cosmic crustacean. I don't really think that if I say the name of my supposed astrological sign, I will henceforth become demon-possessed or something like that. But it does bug me to be put in a box like that, no matter how accurate the characteristics that are thereby attributed to me. (You know--since we're supposed to be the gods around here. Cf. immediately previous post.)

And here's the other thing. If I must, according to cultural trends, proclaim myself as being born under an astrological sign, why have the cultural trends of political correctness not caught up? Why do we July-babies have to call ourselves "cancers" or "crabs"? I mean really people. Can't we come up with some terms with better connotations?

Speaking up for crabby people everywhere,
me

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Plagiarism

I’ve been really ticked off at Satan lately.

I’m not someone who usually rebukes him in the name of Jesus, by the way, although I have. I’d personally rather ask Jesus Himself to get Satan out of here. But it doesn’t mean I don’t get directly mad at him.

This is what I’m mad about. I’m mad that he keeps promising the same stuff God promises, when it isn’t his to give, and it isn’t even original (God having thought of it first), and we instant-gratification-crazed humans keep falling for it.

When God created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image. As in, like Him. The first two chapters of the first book of the Bible (not to mention other parts) make a pretty big deal about this. As in, it’s really the focal point of the whole creation narrative.

Then this snake comes along and tells Eve (and presumably Adam, since he was obviously there) that she’ll be like God if she eats some fruit. Here’s what else I’m mad about. She and Adam believe him. It’s so stupid. They already were like God. Only they doubted God and believed some reptile, and suddenly became much less like God. I'm mad that they were duped that easily, and I'm mad that I still am.

Disobedience was key in the ensuing rift between humans and God. Pride was the enticement. But I think the following consequences were more about broken trust than about vindictiveness. God had a relationship with those two, and they chose fruit over that, and so I guess it’s not unreasonable that He was hurt. They hadn’t trusted Him, and now He couldn’t trust them, and that part of the image at the very least (the faithful part) had been shattered. God is perfect and we're told He can't be in relationship with imperfect beings, and I guess that's probably true (though likely in a more mysterious way than we're normally given to understand). But on another, maybe smaller, maybe less mysterious level, is it all that surprising that a separation occurs between God and humans when we try to get something we already have (which He had already given us, because He loved us) from someone else? (As a slight aside, is it really all that surprising that God describes Himself as a jilted lover or a cuckold throughout the Old Testament, or that He's that hacked about it?)

So here, really, is why I’m mad. This planet is full of billions of people, and we’re all trying on some level, more or less consciously, to “find ourselves,” to “be ourselves,” to have our potential realised. And we’ve all got residual glory in us, so some of us might come close to succeeding, whether we acknowledge God or not. But ever since that first decision not to trust Him, we would, by and large, prefer to believe the copy-cat than the Author, so we try to be copy-cats, too. We try to be god by ourselves. On our own. And we can't. And we should be.

I’ve had friends ask me how, if I believe humans were created in God’s image, I can say that we can’t be gods. Well, you know what? Maybe we can. But an image can’t really exist without the original. Mirrors are made by people, and they can reflect anything that happens to be in their vicinity, but a mirror isn't actually realising its potential if a person isn't looking into it. Maybe we’re all just mirrors. And our potential is only fulfilled when we're reflecting the one who made us.

Maybe we’re all supposed to be gods. Psalm 82.5-7 hints at it. Jesus quotes it and essentially says we are (John 10.34-36). Maybe that’s why God gave Adam and Eve that authority of the earth. We, human beings, named the animals. We can procreate. We can create, too (though not out of nothing). Satan can’t do that. But when we chose (and choose) to go with the counterfeit, we abdicated it to the ones who wanted it and managed to dupe us into giving it to them. Jesus doesn’t call Satan the prince of this world for nothing. Satan wasn’t supposed to have any say at all—but we gave it to him, and we keep doing it.

It’s ironic, in a heart-breaking and really annoying sort of way, that when we try to be gods, we become less and less so, and we lose more and more authority. But if we just give ourselves up to trusting the One who made us, we end up reflecting Him, and becoming more who we were supposed to be.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Accountability

This one's for the followers of the lectionary:

Has it ever occurred to anyone else that if the prophet Hosea had had an accountability partner, that guy probably would've told Hosea he was hearing God wrong?

Hosea: So I'm really struggling, because I'm pretty sure God just told me to marry a hooker.

Accountability partner: Uh . . . that ain't God, dude.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Serendipity 2—The Sequel

(Still not a movie. Thank goodness.)

So the question is, why in the universe would God care about whether or not I had a working washing machine? Or whether or not Elaine was able to get rid of one?

These questions lead to other ones, such as: If God cares about the details surrounding household appliances, why didn’t He instead just keep my washing machine from breaking in the first place? Why didn’t He prevent the stuff that’s happened in Elaine’s family which led to (among other things) their needing to get rid of a washing machine? Why did my grandfather, who served God as a pastor for decades, have to get Alzheimer’s, and why does my grandmother, who served God for decades, too, have to spend her waning years more or less alone, caring for a man who lost most of his personhood years ago? Why did a good friend’s brother have to die in a car accident that wasn’t his fault? Why were so many of my friends abused by their fathers? Why do children get abducted? Why are people still getting slaughtered in Darfur? Why is there a war in Iraq?

Does God not care about anything else except washing machines? Is He unable to do anything about bigger stuff?

Sometimes, when I’m feeling cynical and clever and not very respectful, I say that God buys me off with parking spaces. By that I mean I pray for stuff that seems super-colossally monumental—including stuff it seems like would be in His best interest to perform—and nothing happens (unless the circumstances get worse), but if, say, I’m trying to find a place to park and I shoot up a quick request for that, a spot appears in a startlingly strategic location. And I’m not being completely dishonest here. The beginning of this year saw a couple of answers to some of my bigger prayers, and I found this amazing, but by and large, I find myself still praying about most of the same things with little, except parking spaces—oh, and now a washing machine—to show for it.

So if I start talking about how God got me a washing machine or a parking space, it sounds silly. Or insignificant. Or glib. Or smug.

But there’s another angle to all this. I don’t really have answers to the questions above. I have some hints and niggling thoughts and whispers of reasons, but nothing I can really pin down that makes me say, “Oh, well, it’s all okay then.” On the other hand, maybe sometimes those questions are the things that end up being smug.

It’s not smug to be brokenhearted about the brokenness of the world. But it might be a little bit that way to assume God isn’t either. Or that He doesn’t know what He’s doing (or I know better). Or that He doesn’t care. God’s crazy—or I am; anyway, the point is I don’t really know what’s going on. I don’t have the big picture. I don’t have the wisdom that the suffering of the world bestows—yet, or maybe ever.

But I do have a washing machine. Which I wouldn’t have if Sue had been home when I called her first. I didn’t make this happen. I can only assume God did. I can dismiss it as something little and stupid, or I can realize that things like that just don’t happen in the world we have, and the fact that it did must mean that God really is here, after all, and that He really does care—about individuals, even. And woe to me if that doesn’t make me fall down on my knees and be grateful.

(By the way, I am.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Serendipity

(Not the movie, which I thought was a little lame, honestly, in spite of having had a crush on John Cusak when I was in high school, and continuing to have residual fond feelings for him even now.)

On Monday, my washing machine kicked it. Actually, it's my parents' washing machine, but let's not get nit-picky. The point is, I had a full load of sheets and towels in there, and another load of work clothes I was going to need for the week, and I couldn't clean them. I didn't have to work until later that afternoon, so I was privately and blissfully making an idiot of myself by working out to a salsa-based aerobics video in my living room, when this hideous screech, not unlike that of a chainsaw, began issuing from the basement. If I wouldn't have fallen headlong, I would have run down there with my hands over my ears, but instead I settled for gritting my teeth and squinting (which does nothing for volume but makes me think it does) as I galloped down the stairs to turn it off. It smelled like someone had been burning tyres down there.

The situation was not good. I had imminent out of town guests, and the only pair of sheets that fit on the bed they were meant to occupy was now sitting in a nonfunctional drum of water. Never having had to avail myself of such services in this area, I wasn't sure where the nearest laundromat ("launderette," for you British types) was, and I had neither the time nor inclination to locate it, so I phoned a family who lives down the street and also attends my church, to see if I could get some pity-laundry done over there.

No one was home.

There is one other family I know from church who lives a little further down the street. Their lives are in fairly massive upheaval right now, though, and there are numerous people crammed into their not-very-large house, and I really didn't want to add to anyone's stress. On the other hand, I was getting a little stressed myself, and self-preservation kicks in pretty readily with me. So I called.

"Can I come and do two quick loads of laundry over there? My dryer works--it's just the washing machine."

"Hang on a second," said Elaine, turning away from the phone to confer with someone in her general vicinity. When she turned back to me, she said, "Do you want a new washing machine?"

"What?"

"Do you want a washing machine? Kim wants to buy a new one, even though this one is perfectly fine and is only a couple of years old, and we just don't have room to have this one lying around. I was really worried this morning, trying to figure out what we were going to do with it, and I was going to tell her she couldn't get one because I don't know what to do with this. But maybe this is God's way of taking care of that."

I'm pretty sure it is. I'll unpack this some more later. For now, I'll just tell you that the laundry got done, and my friends had clean (and dry, and not-soapy) sheets to sleep on.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Job 28

I still remember when I first clued in to the fact that most artists (writers, visual artists, musicians, what have you) who have ever produced really great art have also suffered in some way, in some depth. This (the light dawning, and not every artist's particular suffering) didn't actually happen until I was halfway through college, which might give you an idea of how quick on the draw I am.

It was kind of a disappointing realisation, because I wanted to become a great writer, but I sure didn't want to have to pay for it. I still don't, really. (Although, speaking of paying, I could, if I had an extra four grand, get a children's novel of mine published. Only I don't, and if I did, I'd probably use it to take a sabbatical in Asia or something instead.)

Some fifteen years after college, I now think you probably have to suffer just for being human, and while natural, God-given talent may sometimes be enhanced by the process, goodness or greatness or genius is not a necessary by-product. It could be, though. Maybe even should be. I'm probably going to explore some of the coulds and shoulds of the universe some other time, but for now I'm just thinking about the book of Job again, chapter 28.

Every so often one year around Advent, I'll decide to read through the readings of the daily lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer. I don't really understand how the Book of Common Prayer is set up, nor how it works, my experience of Episcopalianism being happy but late and brief. But I like the lectionary because you get to read three Bible passages in a day from totally different parts (and literary genres) of the Bible and sometimes they're so related it's uncanny. (It would probably be even more uncanny if I didn't believe in the Holy Spirit--but then I might not see the coincidences either.)

It's the lectionary's fault that I've been reading through Job, Acts, and John all at the same time. So far not too many noteworthy resonances between the three, though all three have served to get the brain ticking a little faster than usual. It's also the lectionary's fault for my having read through the whole book of Job, up to and through God's "comment on the blog" with Job's putting his hand over his mouth and repenting in dust and ashes, only to return to chapter 28 at the end of all of it. I never noticed chapter 28 before, but it's beautiful. Don't ask me how Job would know that much about mining gems and precious metals; maybe he owned a mine or something. It might explain how he got so rich in the first place.

Anyway, in chapter 28 he describes the lengths to which people will go in order to dredge up precious stones and a little about how the ores get there in the first place:

Miners conquer the darkness and dig as far in as they can,
to the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
There where no one lives, they break open a shaft;
the feet passing over are oblivious to them;
far from people, suspended in space, they swing to and fro.
While the earth is [peacefully] yielding bread,
underneath it is being convulsed as if by fire;
its rocks have veins of saffire, and there are flecks of gold . . .
(Job 28.3-6, CJB)

Just a few verses later, Job launches into a monologue about wisdom and where it comes from. Even in the middle of his pain and mental/emotional/psychological anguish, not to mention a bunch of pseudo-friends who are being less than helpful, he just sort of starts wondering aloud about it. And even though he's so (not unreasonably) mad at God, he confesses that if wisdom can be found anywhere, it is only done in some sort of relation to Him.

So where does wisdom come from?
Where is the source of understanding,
inasmuch as it is hidden from the eyes of all living
and kept secret from the birds flying around in the sky?
Destruction and Death say,
"We have heard a rumour about it with our ears"

(Job 28.20-22, CJB).

It's probably safe to say that Job knew a fair amount about death and destruction at this point, in spite of not having completely kicked the bucket himself yet. It kind of makes me feel like he (and whoever put together the lectionary and decided to have all us lectionary-followers read this chapter last) was intimating that wisdom, like saffires, is rare and hard to find, hard and costly to obtain, and caused by fiery convulsions. Kind of like, in spite of the fact he was still mad at God, he was starting to get an idea that wisdom, which can only come from God, can also only really come from suffering. At least--maybe that's not exactly it; I'm still trying to put my finger on it, but there's some kind of correlation.

Even before Luis' email, I have often thought about the fact that giving Job a whole bunch more kids at the end of the story can't really have made up for the ones he lost. (Not to mention I would think it would have taken a lot of forgiveness on his part to restore that much intimacy with his wife who had told him to curse God and die.) I have often felt dissatisfied with God's response. But maybe that's just because I don't have the wisdom Job had. Maybe I can't have it, with the life I have experienced up to this point. Whether or not Job missed his first children, he seems to have been convinced and convicted by, as well as satisfied with, God's answer to him. Maybe, after being "convulsed by fire," he understood things I can't.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Just Super

In spite of having claimed I don't want to spend much time at all writing these posts (cf. my comment to my brother's comment in "Politesse,"), I am currently working on a post that is taking me three days and counting.

In the meantime, Roommate-Sarah and I would just like you to consider this: Superman is supposed to be faster than a speeding bullet. This always seems to imply physical speed. But wouldn't his intellect then need to be equally speedy? If he can zip around from place to place in order to save the world more efficiently, wouldn't his mind need to be able to catch up? What would happen if he got somewhere that fast and wasn't a quick enough thinker to figure out what to do when he got there?

Does anybody know anything about this? We're both a little concerned.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Trendy

I’ll never really be cool, I guess.

It seems like there are two Christian camps. In one, you have to go to church all the time (including all the extra meetings that don’t happen on Sunday—and the extra ones that do), you are “happy all the day” like that song that makes me want to cringe says (and if you’re not, you sure as heck don’t tell anyone), you use terms like “saved” and “transgression” and “sanctification” (hey wait, I use those), and you pray and see miracles because if you don’t, you don’t have enough faith.

In the other one, you struggle. Horrible things have happened to you and you’re honest enough about them that you can’t be happy all the day, so church doesn’t do it for you and you don’t go, and faith is something suspect that you more or less apologise for.

If you’re in one camp, you look at the other ones and scarcely call them Christians, and in the other, you look across the way and see a bunch of repressed liars. But what happens if you’re in both? I gravitate toward the second group. I like to say things like, “I fight with God all the time.” This makes me feel like, even though the worst thing that’s ever happened to me is unrequited love (and maybe it wasn’t really the worst thing, in the end), I have some sort of battle wounds, and maybe I’m more genuine than some of the people I go to church with.

Only the thing is, I actually go to church. And I like it. I go to Bible study, too, and I like that. And even though most of what I fight with God about is the fact that my biggest prayers never “come true” the way I want them to, I still believe that praying is important, and that in some way I can’t comprehend, it matters, and it makes things happen. It drives me nuts when people talk about the Bible as if it’s easy to grasp and as if everyone should be able to see that obviously it’s the true Word of God. On the other hand, I believe it is the true Word of God. I read my Bible, and I believe it, and even though it’s trendy to talk about inconsistencies in it, I really don’t think there are that many, in spite of the fact that it’s hard for me to understand everything in there, and sometimes I fight with God about that, too. (This is probably something like working for the biggest coffee corporation there is, having no intention of quitting any time soon, and yet hating the idea of big corporations taking over the world. Not that God is a big corporation. Although some might say He is. Anyway, that’s another topic, I guess.)

I feel like I would be lying if I said following Jesus was easy for me. But I’d also be lying if I said it was really all that hard. I believe in Jesus, and who He is, and what He’s done for me, and even though it’s hard for me to trust Him all the time, and even though I feel like sometimes I’m just saying words about Him, and His presence with me is about as real as an imaginary friend's(or less), and I’m not really “following” anybody but a set of ideas I grew up with, still, it doesn’t mean He isn’t actually there, leading me anyway. It’s gotta be kind of irritating for Him sometimes, though. It’s sort of nuts to find following trends easier than following Someone who died to save my life.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oh, and one more thing . . .

(We're all about quotes today). The award for the best line of the day goes to my maternal grandmother, who says,

Sleeping is not the way I like to spend my waking hours.

Amen, sister. I mean, Grandma. Good night!
Coming Soon

Luis, a friend of mine whom I've never actually met, claims to have tried to post comments to my blog, and that blogger is being somewhat paranoid and not letting him do so. A few others have made similar complaints. To which I say, "bummer," and "sorry--I can't help you." This website is completely baffling to me, and the fact that I continue to be able to write things and have them appear on it is probably just short of miraculous. Or at least really really surprising.

Anyway, Luis wrote me this email back when I was talking about Job, and back before he knew blogger was only going to let him only ever post one comment and he thought I wouldn't like what he had to say appearing on my blog, so he didn't try to post it. I have no idea how to answer him. But his email did stir the grey matter up a bit, so I feel like making comments more or less related to it. Only not right now.

Right now I simply say,

Coming soon! Words about the following email (which has been abbreviated not for censorship, but for sense):

Here's what I wanted to leave as a comment at your blog but didn't: I wonder if Job missed his children. If he was a good dad (if he existed at all) he must've. What good father wouldn't? Would he have felt any better knowing that they were lost because of a silly bet (if such a bet ever occurred)? Probably not. I don't think that having more children and new wealth would've done much to do away with the grief of having lost his first set of kids.

And...Rallies give pretty instant results. Prayer doesn't. There's little disuputing the effects of a rally. Not so with prayer. Damn near anything attributed to prayer can be satisfactorily explained naturalistically or by chance. I see the use of rallies. I don't see the use of prayer. I don't think I ever have. I've never seen a miracle which is what answered prayer is. Never. Not once. Prayer seems to have been answered but when I think back on it, completely reasonable explanations can be given for what appeared to be answered prayer. I've never seen a miracle and I've never seen God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit or anything like that. I believe they may exist and, in fact, I hope they do. It'd be nice. It'd be great. But I'm afraid that what does exist is nothing like what I read in the Bible. The creator behind this creation is mean; a dark kind of mean. Like a dim witted bully who can read people just enough to know what makes them most afraid. Yes indeedy-doo....That would have made a terrible entry at the blog. What say you?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Politesse

I think I thought blogging was going to be a way to get me actually to write, since I’m continually avoiding writing the novel that I’m supposedly working on. Now I find that it’s just another thing to avoid writing. I have some rather convoluted thoughts in my head right now (more convoluted than the ones I’ve been writing about so far) which I am, apparently, afraid to put down on paper. I mean, on blog. I’m afraid of what actually starting to write about them will unleash in my head, and also I’m afraid that the ensuing posts will be so long no one will read them. I’m not sure how to break them up into bite-sized chunks, which, apart from any other reasons, is sort of necessary due to time constraints. For example, I need to leave for work in half an hour.

As a way of appeasing my readers (who, while not very verbose, are apparently avid) and my conscience, I will therefore describe a strange little thought that skipped into my head before I fell asleep last night.

Last evening, my roommate and I had a little discussion, the hub of which was a miscommunication. What I realized about myself in the course of said discussion was that I am not always as honest as I think I am, and that usually the reason is manners. Or at least what I grew up understanding manners to be. In our family, you don’t just tell someone what you’re going to do, or what you want them to do. You phrase it as a question, or as a hint. For example, my grandfather used to say things like, “Would anyone like the salt?” Meaning, “Hand over the salt.” Or, “Well, we love you,” meaning, “We’ve talked on the phone plenty long enough; now let’s just hang up and talk again some other time.” When I’m at work supervising a shift, I say things like, “Would you mind making some more iced coffee?” when what I mean is, “Make some more iced coffee.” In my immediate family, if we want to let people know our plans, we often say, “I’m going to do blah blah—is that okay with you?” The correct, polite answer is always, “Sure,” even if it isn’t okay with that person.

This method of communication works okay if you understand the intent behind it, but I’m not sure how many people do. In college, a friend of mine once said, “Jenn, you’re so polite, if you weren’t my friend, I would hate you.” I understood this to have been said in the most affectionate way possible, so I wasn’t offended. Now I also maybe understand its meaning, as well. This kind of manners that is my first language is, as my roommate hesitantly pointed out last night, “kind of lying.” After this observation (with which I agreed), I started thinking about manners in general, and I probably most of them are “kind of lying.”

I mean, if you want something, you don’t have to beat around the bush about it and you can still be polite. As in, “Please pass the salt.” It is understood that the salt is desired, but “please” makes the expression of said desire less abrasive. On the other hand, when I’m at work and a customer is getting on my nerves, I still have to say, “Thanks very much—have a nice day!” (preferably sounding like I mean it), even if what I want to say is, “I’m not actually your slave, jerk,” or if I want to kick him or her in the head or something. This is not very honest. But it is polite.

I find this to be quite a conundrum, because I believe that the Bible does not condone deceit. On the other hand, I doubt it condones kicking people in the head just because they forgot to tell you they wanted their drink iced and acted as if it was your fault and you should have been able to read their minds.

I think I still vote for manners, if for no other reason than the fact that most of the time I feel like being rude to customers, it’s because they have ordered their drink while talking on their cell phone or because they have been otherwise rude to me. Manners act like a buffer, and they remind me (sometimes) that other human beings are other human beings, and should be treated with respect even if I, at that moment, don’t actually respect them. Also, although I think this is supposed to happen more than it does, theoretically there’s always the off chance that by treating people as if I care about them, I might actually start to care about them. Then the deceit becomes the truth and so I’m not lying and what’s more, I haven’t kicked anyone.

I’m still not sure what the answer is for telling someone what I intend to do. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes; at the same time, I might get mad if I phrase my plans as a question and the person answering the question objects. This is something I still need to consider. But later. For now I'm just going to go to work, if it's okay with you.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Subculturally Conditioned

I keep thinking that one of these days someone will feel strongly enough for or against something I've said that they will have to exclaim about it, but so far you all have been very self-restrained, and here I am, hoping to pick a fight. (I mean, I guess that's what I'm hoping; it seems the only explanation for my feelings of disappointment every time I come back here and see "0 Comments" at the bottom of my latest post.) That seems the only useful (assuming fights are useful) purpose for the complete and utter nonsense I wrote--twice--yesterday, for example.

So how about this:

Today I was reading in the book of Acts (I'm still reading Job, too, and that will probably come up again another day, but for now I'm thinking about this one.) The church is all in upheaval because Gentiles are starting to believe in the God-formerly-known-as-Jewish and in His definitely Jewish Son, and some of the Jewish Christians are asserting that these Gentiles need to be circumcised in order to actually be saved from their sins, and other people are saying they don't, and it's getting a little heated. So the church leaders get together and have this meeting and talk and most likely pray about it, and consider the Scriptures that they have, and listen to the evidence they have of real Gentile faith. And then Jesus' half-brother James, who's kind of one of the main dudes, says, after a number of other things, including that Gentile salvation is not dependent on circumcision, "Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles in the way of the Goyim who are turning to God. Instead we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled, and from blood" Acts 15.19-20).

So here's my question. Where did these guys get these perameters? Why are these prohibitions more important than circumcision? Is this something God told them, or was it a cultural thing? And if it's just a cultural thing, why does my Christian subculture continue to speak out against fornication? And if it's from God, why does my Christian subculture continue to ignore the other stuff?

I may have some ideas about this, including some pretty thought-out reasons for keeping sex within the commitment of marriage, but I'm curious to know what you think about it. Assuming anyone's reading this anymore.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Crazy, or Actually-a-Disclaimer

The great thing about this medium is that, since I don't ever really know what I think about anything until I write about it (if then), I can write about it. The terrible thing is that usually I have to just write before I actually know what I mean, and sometimes I can say stuff that's going to be inaccurate or hurtful or just plain stupid.

Pretty much immediately after I wrote my last post, I read for the first time the blog of a long-lost friend who, in said blog, claims to feel, or have felt, crazy. (I personally think that anyone who writes as well as she does can't actually be crazy and is probably wiser than most, but maybe that proves my previous point. No offense or anything, Christy!)

The blog was, maybe ironically, a jolt back to reality--the reality that a large proportion, if not all, of my friends, as well as myself, actually do think we've lost it. I think because currently I don't feel that way, I kind of forgot the desperation such an apparent certainty brings on. There have been days, though, or months, or even the better part of years, where I feel like I'm hanging onto my mental and emotional capacities by my fingernails at best, and that maybe they weren't much to hang onto in the first place. There have been times where maybe I would have felt something of a bond between myself and our bearded customer. And maybe the reason I don't now is because I know that, given the change of a very few slight circumstances, I could be just like her. (Dare I admit: including the beard?)

So, I maintain that God is probably insane. But I think what I actually mean is that all of us are. God's ways and thoughts aren't like ours, and so when ours are less like ours than we think they should be, maybe we can get open enough and weak enough and humble enough so that we can actually think some of His thoughts and see some things His way, instead.
The Wise Fool and other Uncomfortable Thoughts

Today I saw a van full of Flannery O'Connor characters. The side of the van read, "N. E. Dream Center." I'm still not sure what to do with this image.

There's this literary archetype of the wise fool, which is a character who seems crazy to everybody else in the story, and sometimes to the reader, too, but who actually has a better idea than anyone about what's going on. The other week when I said God must be crazy, I started thinking about that, and about how uncomfortable it would be if that were true.

I mean, you kind of have to like the fool in King Lear. The construct works really well as a story-telling device. Even O'Connor's eccentrics, who you wouldn't really want to have to deal with in real life, are somewhat manageable due to the distancing effect of the fact that they're fictional. But what if it were really true that "crazy people" know something about the world that the rest of us are missing? Sometimes I say, and other times I actually even believe, I must be crazy, and sometimes I affectionately tell my friends they are, and we laugh hahaha and carry on with whatever we're trying to do at the moment. Probably it's true that we're all a little insane, but most of the time we can find at least one person who's a little worse off in the grasp-on-reality category, to make us feel better. (I should probably confess here that I have, in the course of my life, been on what is commonly referred to as "meds." I may well be one of said people worse off than you in the grasp-on-reality category. I'm just saying, I can probably also find people worse off than myself. Or I can pretend I can.)

There's this lady who comes into our store almost every day. All of us rush to fill her order even before she asks, not because we are filled with such great respect for her, but because we can't stand to look at her full beard, and we keep hoping against hope that if we serve her quickly enough, maybe, just maybe, she won't say, in her completely monotone and unnaturally low voice, "I want a venti coffee; don't fill it all the way." It never works. She always says it. Then she takes her not-quite-full cup of coffee to the chair she has adopted, if it's available, and sits, staring at her hands, picking the skin off of them, and talking almost inaudibly to herself.

I don't really want to think that she might have some insight that I'm missing.

Not that she should have to stay like that or that people like her shouldn't be assisted when and however possible. But I don't know. I don't think God leaves Himself without some sort of handhold in anybody's life, and I guess it's not totally beyond the realm of possibility that He reveals certain things about himself to "people like that" (whatever that really means) that those of us who are more at home here miss. It might explain why certain things in the universe seem so upside-down. I don't think it resolves the problem of pain or evil, but if I can't even fathom what's going on in the mind of our resident bearded-lady, I don't think I can really hope to explain what's going on in God's.

I don't really like thinking, either, that God has anything in common with Flannery O'Connor characters (although apparently she did, which is why she wrote about them). It's scary, especially because He's continually asking me to trust Him and I don't know how to trust someone who is, apparently, nuts. I'd rather think of Him in what seems like more respectful terms--loving Father, Lion of Judah, Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world--stuff like that. And all those things are true. But, as C.S. Lewis hinted in his "He's not a tame Lion" assertions about Aslan, God, though unchanging, can also be unpredictable and frightening, and maybe He really is crazy--at least from the vantage point of us finite "normal" people.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Salt and Light

I think God’s trying to tell me something, but I can’t figure out what it is.

On Sunday, before I went to church, along with reading more from Job, I also read Matthew 5.13-20, which happens to be the “you are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world” bit. Then I read a chapter of a book called Adventures in Missing the Point (Tony Campolo and Brian MacLaren) which happened to focus on the same passage. Then I got to church and the sermon was pretty much about the same thing. It was about not feeling quite at home here—in this world. I mean, who does, really, because we’re kind of not, but the focus was about how, when we’re journeying toward Jesus, we’re just not Home yet. To top it off, we sang this Keith Green song, one of the verses of which goes,

Separate me from this world, Lord.
Sanctify my life for You.
Daily change me to Your image;
Help me bear good fruit.

(“Rushing Wind”)

Given the rest of what I’ve been reading and hearing lately, I really don’t think this “separation” means anything like shutting myself up in a convent. Like MacLaren writes in that book I just mentioned, Christians are supposed to be “like salt in the meat, not just meat; like light in the darkness, not just more darkness.” It probably doesn’t sound very nice or tolerant to imply that everybody else is meat (whatever that means) or darkness, but at least probably most of us can agree that this world is a pretty dark place, when it comes right down to it. And if Jesus told His followers to be light in that darkness, and if I claim to be one of those followers, then I’d better be doing my best to shine.

Fortunately, a major plus to being a Christian is that the Holy Spirit can help me with that. (On days when I’m feeling more like Job, I might say, cynically, “the Holy Spirit is supposed to help me with that, but whether He does or not is a different story.” This is something I may rant about later. Right now I feel that if the Holy Spirit’s influence is not particularly evident in my life, it’s probably my own fault.) Based on previous experience, I’d say that when I hear or read the same Bible passage more than once, by “accident,” from multiple sources, on the same day, said Holy Spirit is probably trying to get a message through.

This is both exciting and terrifying. I mean, it’s pretty astoundingly fantastic that God would want to communicate with any one person on a personal level; I think lifelong contact with Christian doctrine sometimes makes me take that concept for granted, when really it couldn’t be more amazing. And I don’t know; there’s some sort of feeling of relief I get, I guess, when I have an intimation that God’s going to give me another “character-lift.” On the other hand, like all surgeries, such things are often painful. Not to mention that I am (to abruptly shift metaphors) what I like to call a slow learner. And stubborn. And comfortable. And prone to argue. If God’s about to get me to shine a little brighter, that’s cool and everything, but what’s it going to cost me?

Besides which, I still have no idea what it means. Of course I want to shine. But I’ve always wanted to. Sometimes I thought I was doing it. If I’m supposed to do something different, or differently, I don’t yet have an intimation of what that is. So I’m waiting, nervous and with anticipation, to see what’s going to happen next. I just thought you might want to, too.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Rallies, or Not-a-Disclaimer

I just got an email from my friend who invited me to the rally I cited. He made some pretty good arguments for going to rallies, although he could, apparently, see my point, too. So I would just like to say here, for the record, that I actually have attended and participated in marches and rallies in the past. And I do think there's a whole lot to be said for standing up publicly for something in which one believes. It's like saying, "I feel so strongly about this that I'm willing to put my reputation on the line and be misunderstood." Or, "I would rather have people not like me than compromise on this issue." That's a big one for me. I always want everybody to like me.
Maybe that's why I'm currently on a sort of anti-rally jag. Or why I'm now putting across the pro-rally point of view.

But the thing is, I still think there are better options. Sure, there's a lot of character-development that can (not necessarily will, but can) happen if I march for something I feel strongly about. But in that case then, the whole thing is really more about me than about the issue and about the people. And if at all possible, I'd rather stand up for what I believe more subtly but more personally, and pray for change, than join a crowd whose every slogan I would be seen to be embracing, even if I don't.

I think probably the people in Jesus' day would've loved to march with Him. "God hates Romans," or something like that. That's probably why they followed Him into Jerusalem waving palm branches (instead of wearing placards) and praising Him as a deliverer. They were even right--about His being a deliverer (The Deliverer)--although they missed the point about what kind He was. It's easier, and often more exciting, to do something like that than to sit on a hillside and listen to some guy talking about loving your enemies and then actually try to do it. (On the other hand, the rage in the Temple was probably pretty adrenaline-pumping, and eating miraculously-multiplied fish was most likely extremely cool.) But that "Hosanna" rally didn't end up working out the way they'd hoped, and the one that did end up accomplishing anything was the one a week later when they got Jesus crucified.

I really do believe God calls everybody to do different things for Him, and I wouldn't say that rallies and marches are inherently evil or anything. I'm just hard-pressed to think of one (including the ones I've been in) that didn't have better alternatives.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Defending God

I said that thing yesterday about God wanting us to defend Him, but I'm not sure I really think that. Or I'm not really sure what I think about it. Or maybe how I think it. That was the line that jumped out at me the most startlingly when I read that quote the other day--that sort of "does God really need you to defend Him?" speech of Job's. And I was thinking how Christians throughout history have, in various ways, thought it was their job to defend God. It seems like usually, the more strongly convinced we are that that's what we're supposed to do, the less we act like Him. I'm kind of sick of the prevailing worldview that any attempt on the part of Christians to hold definite beliefs and stick to them is wrong and intolerant. It does get old after a while. Plus I don't think it's accurate. On the other hand, I'm having a little trouble thinking of any really defensive stances taken by the Christian community that have been very effective.

Jesus wasn't defensive. He told it like it was, unflinchingly; there wasn't any tiptoeing or euphemising with that guy. The Pharisees, who seemed (with few exceptions) to be always arguing with Him, were the ones trying to defend God, just like Job's friends, blabbing on and on about right and wrong and how holy and majestic God was. Jesus loved people and healed people and told them to stop sinning. I'll bet they did, too, but not because He got nit-picky about it, like the Pharisees seem to have. My guess is they figured out what their sins were without being told, and wanted to stop doing them, because here was God, right with them, not defending Himself, but just being Himself. And since we were made in the image of God, and Jesus showed us what God looks like, it would make sense that we would be most ourselves when we act most like Him. But doing that feels like walking on water, a rather precarious proposition, and it's easier just to talk. Well, for me it is, anyway.

So here's this idea I had the other week. There was supposed to be this rally in July for a rather hot-topic issue here in this state, although the vote that was supposed to happen that day never did, so I don't know what happened to the rally. Anyway, I was invited (along with several others) to go to this rally, but I didn't. And it wasn't because I don't care about the issue. I do, and I have a fairly strong opinion about it. But rallies tend to be so black-and-white, and there are people on other side of the issue. As in, really all this stuff is about people, not issues. And some of these people who think about this differently are specific people whom I know and care about. You may even be reading this blog. (If so, we may need to get together and talk after this so I can assure you I really do care about you and am not making value-judgments about you yourself--I'm having a little trouble writing this, it's just that I need an example to explain my idea.)

I imagined going to this rally (or some other rally about some other issue with people behind it) and somehow, randomly, even though I never end up in crowd-shots at Red Sox games or any other public event, getting on camera and showing up in some newspaper or on TV, and one of my friends seeing it. I'm not afraid of my friends, and I'm not afraid of my views on the subject, but I am afraid of never being able to dialogue with certain of my friends again. If my face showed up as part of that rally, wouldn't somebody lump me in with a bunch of haters who was lumping them in with a bunch of sinners? (And isn't hate one of the worst sins there is?) And then how could I look you in the eye and assure you that God loves you?

So then I started wondering why there are rallies anyway, and why so many Christians get caught up in them. (Let me say here that I believe there are Christians on both sides of this and many other issues. When I say "Christians" here, I actually mean those on both sides. And everybody else, too, for that matter. Let's face it--who ever heard of a rally where people representing either side were particularly loving to those representing the other?) In a rally we can't explain anything. We immediately put up this big huge issue-wall between "us" and "them" and don't get to find out why people think differently than we do, and how we might be mistaken in some ways, and we lose any right we might have had to help show where they might be. Sure, it's easier, but it doesn't really change much. Except that everybody gets a bad taste in their mouth about whomever "the other side" is perceived as being.

And I was thinking that those of us who say we believe in prayer might actually be more effective and have more fun, too, if we all stayed off the streets and went to our churches together and prayed together on those days. I mean, prayed together. Not just quick prayers shot up in the split second that we remembered, "Oh, there's a rally I'm not going to today." (I specialise in that kind. If anyone wanted to pray for me to learn to pray better, it would be an excellent idea.) Real, hard-work, all-together, serious, God-seeking, God's-will-seeking prayers. What if this rally happened and only one "side" showed up, and the "other side" was all in churches somewhere praying for them--for their lives, and their love, and their joy? (Conceivably, Christians on both sides of an issue could meet together then, and talk to God together, as long as they didn't go in with an agenda of convincing the others.)

Or else, what if half the Christians were praying and the other ones were hitting the streets, handing out bagels and coffee or something, to the people that the media and everybody else thought that they hated? Starbucks coffee, of course.
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