Posts Tagged ‘pain’

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 175: Xmas in America

December 3, 2018

Thanksgiving was two weeks ago, and the ‘Christmas Movie’ season began on networks; and it appears that we are in that time when the season of Christmas lasts for a solid month.
One thing I find interesting is that in the Catholic Church [I’m not], the Season of Advent begins December 2nd, and the Season of Christmas begins on Christmas Day. No Christmas carols before Christmas. Advent music, yes; Christmas, no. When I worked for the City of Portland, I took my lunch to an atrium on the 5th floor of a nearby office building, and often listened to KBVM, the local Catholic radio station. On KVBM I could listen to peace-restoring music that WASN’T Christmas songs. Advent, the time of waiting for the Savior to appear, precedes Christmas. For me, Advent is largely all year.
Those who know me well [a relatively small number], know that I really dislike this time of year. The celebration of Christmas is ostensibly about the Creator entering Time and Space in the form of a single cell embedded into the womb of a teen-aged girl, the first In Vitro Fertilization in history; in America, the celebration instead glorifies the Having of Stuff, more stuff, and stuff you don’t want, but it was on sale…
Consequently, I find this image incredibly appropriate to this Season in America:

I’ve never watched the movie, The Shining, my understanding is that if I had, the image would have more meaning for me… Melania and the Blood Red Christmas Trees…

Mary, Joseph and the young child Jesus, left Bethlehem and traveled to Egypt [without papers] in order to protect Jesus from Death by Roman Soldier, in what artists have called The Slaughter of the Innocents. King Herod, fearing his being supplanted by the foretold ‘King of the Jews’, prophesied by the Magi who visited him, ordered the murder of every child in the land that was under the age of two years. Our own Autocrat wants the children stolen from their parents at the border and placed in Foster Care for the rest of their childhood. Our Autocrat readily admits that the idea is to make emigrating to America completely undesirable. “America is closed” for immigration business…
My take on a not-original idea that floated around Fb last week:

The Holy Family at the Border

My forebears arrived by boat, from Scandinavia. My Mom became an American citizen when she married my Dad.

Too few Americans are aware that the notions held by our current President regarding immigration do not match the provisions of our Constitution. It is not illegal to enter our country at someplace other than an Immigration station. It is not illegal to enter our country without a Visa or even a Passport. Our Constitution guarantees the right of refugees to enter our country from anywhere on our borders, in order to seek asylum. It is merely inconvenient for thousands of immigrants to seek asylum en masse.
Without an immigrant work force to do the work that Americans refuse to do, we would have less produce in our stores; and they would be far less tidy. Immigrants comprise a large portion of our service industries.

In the weeks before our most recent election, in regard to our historically-low voter turnout for midterm elections Richard Rohr, wrote the following for Sojourners Magazine:
Low voter turnout is generally a sign of a demoralized society, and people of power feed on that demoralization, knowing that they can then easily gerrymander, suppress and limit voting rights, and give elections to the rule of money and lobbyists—and there will be little outcry, because there is so little trust or even interest in the whole system anyway.
Yet, this is largely where the U.S. is today.
The powers that control society are quite happy that it is always minorities of all stripes that first feel this powerlessness and this demoralization. Since the early days of representative government, it has been believed that democracy would only work if there was a truly free and informed citizenry. We presently seem to lack both in the U.S. This is why voting is a deeply moral act for me—in rebuilding confidence and encouraging an intelligent and hope-filled society. It is also a decisive act of Christian faith that I matter, society matters, justice matters, and others matter.
Not to vote is to hand our power and our dignity over to people who fear actual freedom, honest intelligence, and faith in the very goodness of humanity.

Half of the electorate failed to vote in the last Presidential election, and now chaos reigns. Voter turnout was much better in the recent midterm election—it set a new record for the last century; but it was still less than the number who turned out to vote in 2016. People still don’t make voting a priority.

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 174: a new way of seeing

November 22, 2018

Our troops will be coming home from our Southern Border; they have finished their task; we are now safe from the pestilence-ridden, terrorist-infiltrated, rock-throwing Caravan Horde that arrived at our border and required a force of nearly 6,000 soldiers to protect us.

The Caravan Horde has not yet reached our border; they are still walking
The deployment was a political stunt; intended to raise fear in the electorate
Estimated cost to the Taxpayers: $210,000,000
I don’t find any outrage in the national press
apparently, we have run out of outrage

Have we, as a nation, simply run out of Outrage? The current President’s political party seems to have run out of Outrage; and consequently, has refused to perform their duty of “defending the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Refugee Thanksgiving | The American Way
Norman Rockwell

We are all familiar with Norman Rockwell’s most famous Thanksgiving painting—the one with the family surrounding a table; the Grandparents serving a large Turkey. However, this isn’t the only Thanksgiving painting that Rockwell painted; the two above depict what the world grew to expect from America, back when ‘dinosaurs ruled the earth’. In those few years between the Korean Police Action, and the Vietnam Police Action; before we started becoming ‘the country of endless war,’ we reached out to the refugee, fleeing their country of birth to find sanctuary in the United States of America. My grandparents were fleeing famine and unemployment in Scandinavia. My mother became an American citizen when she married my father. His father’s family had come from England, by the way of a few generations crossing the country. His mother’s family also came from Scandinavia. Dan Fogelberg’s “Forefathers” could have been written about my family.

We enter our country’s ‘holiday’ season—that time when families gather, and, in this era, families decide who will be invited, based on political opinions and ethical/religious choices. In this era, when the most diverse population of new members of Congress that the country has ever seen has been elected, we are still constrained by widespread voter suppression and the ‘Jim Crow’ South.
I’m writing this early in the morning of November 22; the 326th day of 2018. As of today, there have been 317 mass shootings in the United States. There have been 50,822 gun-related incidents and 13,040 deaths due to gun violence.

https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ 
the Human Propensity to F*ck things Up

Concluding the series I’ve been writing…
If we ever encounter a sentient species from another world [I’m of the opinion that there are “WARNING: PLAGUE” signs floating in the space around our Solar System], I believe we will find that they, too, will have a totally improbable story about how the Creator of the Universe entered their time and space in the form of a single cell…

My experience with faith is not the ordinary pattern. I never attended Sunday School, never went to a church service, never even talked about faith issues until late in my second year of college, when the stoner across the hall smoked something he ‘shouldn’t have’ one night and became a clean and sober evangelist/street preacher. He began to understand what he had learned in past Sunday School and Catechism classes; he adopted a new way of seeing. He agreed, however, to quit preaching to me and I continued to be his audience as he quietly performed Neil Young songs on his guitar in the hallway at night. The music probably changed after his revelation.
During my third year, I lived in a Graduate student dorm [down the hall from now-Senator Ron Wyden]; and I was once again living across the hall from Christians; but they did not attempt to proselytize. We became friends; I explored this ‘Christianity thing’, and it eventually made sense. I experienced that phenomenon called ‘being born again’. No lights and whistles, no fanfare; one day I experienced ‘a new way of seeing’.
The late, great, Rich Mullins describes his ‘born again’ experience [many in the Gospel Music business doubted his profession of faith because of his bare feet, t-shirt and torn blue jeans]. He became ‘born again’ as a child, and again as a teenager, and again as an adult, and again as an adult alcoholic, and found that he needed to become born again just about every week. In this world, it’s easy to stop seeing in a new way.

Luke Skywalker must come to a place where he could ‘see in a new way’ so that he could utilize the Force in his adventures. The Spirit of the Creator is much like the Force, in terms of analogy…

…there is a Dark Side to the Force, and there is a dark side in the world that contends with metanoia—the word so often and misleadingly translated in the Bible as “repent”. The Greek word simply means, ‘to see the world with new eyes,’ without all the moralizing attachments that come from religion. I’ve experienced the Dark Side as well; and the overnight street preacher mentioned above was my Yoda, that day.

The Spirit of the Creator intervenes in human life, though not as often as we imagine. The Spirit intervenes when it suits Her Purposes. Sometimes those Purposes include me. The Spirit is not some genie in a bottle that grants wishes. The Spirit has no interest in sports matches, in spite of claims to the contrary. In every ‘I-can’t-explain-it-any-other-way’ intervention in my life, the intervention did not include any other person, and could not provide to someone else, ‘evidence’ of the Spirit’s Presence. I have been ‘healed’ in the past, as in “Jesus healed the blind man”. It did not include mud and spit in my eyes [John 9:6].

I connect with the Spirit of the Creator in my mind, by the thoughts I think, the books I read, the words that flow into my head by way of electronic media; by Prayer. Prayer is talking to the Creator; frequently recapping that which is already Known, because we constantly mess things up. Prayer is not instructing the Creator; the Creator does not need our help to make the Universe work. The Creator is not a genie that will grant our wishes. Can the Spirit change one’s thinking? Absolutely. I would not have written what I’m writing today, twenty years ago.

Does God have a Plan for my life?
Not in the sense that religious people use the phrase. Humans experience life on a minute-to-minute basis; and while I would love to have a time machine, I don’t expect one will ever get made [unless one includes the Hubble Space Telescope—it looks into the past all the time].
The Creator exists outside of time. ‘Eternity’ does not exist as ‘a really long time.’ For the Creator, Creation did not happen millennia ago; it’s happening right now, even as I type. The Creator knows when I will die, and how; the Creator knows exactly what I will do shortly, when I have to stand up and move around because sitting hurts too much. The Creator knows exactly how I developed an “ALS”-like disorder of my sensory nerves [ALS is a disease of the motor neurons; Lou Gehrig eventually stopped breathing because his autonomic motor nerves stopped working—his muscles stopped acting like a bellows; or because the muscle that is our heart, stopped beating]. My deteriorating sensory neurons have adventure ahead for me; and because I Trust my Creator, I need not FEAR that ending. Nonetheless it’s crap, going through it. Though I need not FEAR, I still do.

How can God allow terrible things to happen?
I believe in Difficult Grace.
There are people who believe in ‘the Victorious Christian Life’. I’ve never seen it. I’m going on 40 years of chronic pain in a variety of forms. My first migraine was in 1979; they almost-daily continued into this century. There is nothing in Scripture, read in context, that promises that our lives will be without struggle. I get pain, I get a connection with the Spirit of the Creator. That’s the deal; the two are not two sides of the same coin. Two coins; both known by the Creator of the Universe, ever since the beginning of creation.
To my way of thinking, our HPtFtU as a race, is so excremental as to be outside of the Creator’s ‘concern’, if these words make any real sense. However, our excremental race is made of up of billions of individuals who suffer; and are already invited to spend Eternity with the Creator, whether or not we realize it—we win in the end—so from an individual standpoint we each matter. Adversity will End. All that is broken will be remade.

Does God send non-Christians to Hell?
Again, not in the sense that most religious people use the phrase.
Jesus saved** the world on the Cross.
The sentence above stands on its own; without conditions. Many religious people add conditions.
** “saved” [4982 (sṓzō) is the root of: 4990 /sōtḗr (“Savior”), 4991 /sōtēría (“salvation”) and the adjectival form, 4992 /sōtḗrion (what is “saved/rescued from destruction and brought into divine safety”).]

What about Greedy Politicians Who Allow Injustice To Continue, or Who Create Injustice?
Connection with the Creator requires submission. This is the real meaning of ‘born again’—submitting my will to the One. We have to stop voluntarily exercising our HPtFtU [by definition, we will still continue to so do, whether or not we will it] and seek the good of others. I have trouble imagining the man who sits behind the Resolute Desk ever submitting to another Will; and voluntarily setting aside his nature. If one will not submit to the One who wants the best for us, it would be cruel to imprison someone to Eternity in the Presence of the Creator. The logical alternative is being out of the Presence of the Creator for Eternity.

“hell” cannot be found in Scripture. The Hebrew/Aramaic word Gehenna is usually translated as ‘hell’. Gehenna actually refers to the Valley of Hinnom, outside of Jerusalem, which used to be where all the trash was burned. ‘Trash’ of all sorts. It’s probably covered over by buildings or soccer fields now. The Book of The Revelation, which contains lots of weird descriptions, uses the words, “the Lake of Fire” several times, as being part of the Death/Judgement process. This is the only ‘book’ in the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures to use this phrase.

I would consider being out of the Presence of the Creator for Eternity, as being in some sort of hell. Flames are not required. Picture the astronaut forever floating through the blackness of space, but never dying. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the Gates of Hell are locked from the inside. We will be able to leave, when we are willing to submit. Contrary to many religious people who seem to have lists as to what ‘submission’ means, I find that ‘submit’ merely means letting go, as much as possible, of my own HPtFtU.

I know an old guy who appears to have been raised in a religious environment, but never seems to have been introduced to Faith. In spite of my continual refutations about his ‘not being good enough’ to enter Eternity in the Presence of the Creator, he persists in his guilt feelings. No one is ever good enough—the human condition. The Creator knows this old guy far better than he knows himself. His future, in the Presence of the Creator [I’m not fond of the typical concept of ‘Heaven’] is not about him. It’s all about the Creator, and the totally inconceivable Love for humans who continually demonstrate HPtFtU.

The images for me, which come closest to describing the Creator, are the vastness of the galaxies and nebulae.

lagoon nebula

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 173: HPtFtU vs. Theology

November 12, 2018

I’ve been on a ‘theology’ theme for a while; it really hasn’t been planned, not in the sense of, “I’m going to do a series on theology’. It’s been a response to this Time in our country, and because of the ever-growing flight from the Church that I’ve been seeing in Social Media. The reality is that when the Church stops following the teaching of Jesus, then leaving is appropriate. But where does one go…

Christ_Pantocrator_Deesis_mosaic_Hagia_Sophia

Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me
“Son, stop fighting a fight that’s already been won”

Redeemed
Big Daddy Weave

I’ve known a lot of people who have felt trapped in the darkness of their soul. A lot of them doubted that they even have a soul. Trapped by the memories of all the crap they’ve lived through.
I too have felt trapped in the darkness of my soul, and this was before I knew I had a soul. “Having a soul” had been left out of my training as a human being. Having been raised by an authoritarian father I didn’t want to be angry with me, I hadn’t acquired a very large pile of crap that I regretted—he was paying for my college education, in a ‘world’ he did not control. I had experienced freedom for the first time. I wasn’t about to mess that up for some minutes of pleasure.

Nonetheless, I felt trapped in a world I did not like; and I could see no way to fix it. I had evaded the Draft by something like 6 hours; being a 10-month baby born on a day that was assigned a very high draft number. The day before those 6 hours had a very low Draft number. Some would call this chance; I now call it Grace.

Today is Veteran’s Day; while I value the choice that soldiers in all branches of the Armed Forces made to serve their country, I’m angry that our government threw away the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers for reasons that had nothing to do with national defense.
When I started college, and had to address the subject of the Draft, I began to look at the ‘god and country’ patriotic environment of the American Legion, which was my parents’ ‘church’. I never had any sense that there was a God—‘God’ was a word in a sentence, and I had no idea how God might be involved in war and patriotism. God, as a subject, was never raised in my hearing. The subject was not unlike my being White in a largely-White environment, without ever realizing I was White in a largely White environment. I knew very few brown-skinned people. That was my ‘normal’.

“Having a soul” became something to consider when I entered college; the subject had been raised in my high school studies of Existentialist writers; in college I began reading the writings of earlier philosophers. Over time, as a result of a lot of research and thought, I discovered that I do have a soul; that we all have souls; that the soul is a gift from the Creator.
The soul speaks to us all the time; sometimes we hear, when the soul isn’t drowned out by modern life. Sometimes we listen. In some people the soul seems to flourish; in others, the soul seems stunted and damaged by Life. I believe that the soul remains undamaged; but our ability to ‘hear’ is damaged. Not unlike my tinnitus—there’s a background ‘noise’ in my head that is ever-present—this ‘white noise’ often interferes with my ability to understand what people are saying. I hear everything, non-discriminately, in a crowded room. I hear a person on the other side of the room; but I can’t understand the person in front of me. People with tinnitus also have a challenge with vowel sounds.

Sometimes, when we perform what I consider an ‘act of Grace’, we reach out to someone we would normally ignore; and for a moment we bring Light to someone in darkness. This is our soul speaking to us. The soul is that ‘best’ part of you; the joy you once felt as a child. But the soul is not intended to be only for children. We are intended to carry that ‘child-likeness’ into adulthood.

I’ve also discovered that, in general, religious people are just plain weird.

My goal, with these writings, is explaining this bizarre world, as I see it. I don’t claim great wisdom; however, I am a ‘control freak’ and therefore require Explanations so that I can make some sort of sense of my world. I believe the Creator of the entire Universe entered time and space on Earth in the form of a single cell implanted in the womb of a teenaged girl; that cell divided and subdivided and in about 9 months’ time became the infant who grew to be a 30-something guy that changed all of human history. All of the HPtFtU that preceded and followed this event was humans being humans…
I’ve visited a lot of churches in my adult life—the process of learning how this strange life I’ve entered functions. There’s a huge disparity between the various denominations [including the ‘non-denominated’ denomination] and what they practice. Black churches can go on for hours, as the Spirit moves; Presbyterian worship seems to be run by a clock. My experience is that people in one denomination don’t realize that people in other denominations do ‘church’ differently. And I’m not going to begin to discuss Doctrine.

A lot of religious people will tell you that the above song lyrics only apply to “those who have confessed Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior”. I believe this interpretation is not what Jesus taught.

John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save** the world through him.” emphasis added

** “saved” (sṓzō) is the root of: sōtḗr (“Savior”), sōtēría (“salvation”) “(what is “saved/rescued from destruction and brought into divine safety“)” emphasis added

God either accomplished the task for which Jesus came to Earth; or God failed, and only partially-saved the world [an Impossibility]; and all of the rest is religious claptrap. God saved the world through Jesus. Period.

Disclaimer: My opinion, plus $5, will probably buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  

One of the most famous verses in the Bible precedes the above verse; one sees the reference in the grandstands of every televised sporting event. This verse, and others, taken out of their context—sometimes called ‘proof-texting’—imply that only Christians will find themselves with the Creator in Eternity; and that something over 75% of all the humans that have ever lived will find themselves in a very hot place… I think it’s probably a very cold place. Read the disclaimer above.
Somehow, these people believe that only Christians will spend Eternity in the Presence of an Omniscient [all-knowing], Omnipotent [all-powerful] Loving God; who burns up all that don’t believe the way this god believes; but he still loves those who believe properly.
Man, I thought my Dad was tough…

The Human Propensity to F*ck things Up.

The Prophet Isaiah_3

There seem to be Christians who miss a few things:
* The New Testament only recounts some of the things Jesus taught and did over His three-year ministry, written from memory, decades after the events. No computers, no scratch pads. Writing took a lot of preparation and work. In no instance was there someone taking dictation from the verbal utterances of God. There were no journalists at hand to take notes about what happened.
* Jesus practiced the Jewish faith, and when He used words like, ‘Scripture,” and ‘it is written’, He was referring to the Jewish Scriptures, not the New Testament. Some will argue that Jesus was speaking the future into existence.
* Jesus never commanded his followers to begin a new religion; He never told anyone to convert to Judaism. He told people to follow Him. There is no mention of the [hated by Jews] Samaritan woman going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Scripture says the people in her village believed in Jesus. There is no description of what they believed. In theory, the Samaritans in that village, and all ‘who believed’ in Jesus, believed He was the foretold Messiah—but many had no idea what that name meant. The same applies to all of the people Jesus healed, and sent on their way, usually with orders not to tell anyone what had happened. Because of HPtFtU, they didn’t follow Jesus’ orders, and Jesus was followed by crowds. Jesus had trouble getting away from the crowds.
* When Gentiles started to follow the teachings of Jesus in large numbers, the Jewish leaders of what became called “The Way” [of Jesus], had to figure out what to do with these uncircumcised [the identifier of the Jewish male] people who had never followed the Mosaic eating restrictions. Through visions given to these Jewish leaders, by the Spirit of the Creator, Gentiles were given ‘a pass’. They were directed to not eat food that had been dedicated to idols. We aren’t told what mental gymnastics these Jewish leaders went through to ground their belief without two of its mainstays.
* Christianity, as a religion, got its formal birth about 300 years after Jesus was crucified [compare today, to Revolutionary America]. Prior to the pagan Emperor Constantine’s deathbed conversion, “The Way” was what we today would call a Movement. It wasn’t a new religion.

The first chapter of John makes it clear that all things were created by/through Jesus—a statement about Incarnation on Earth; but also, a statement about the entire Universe. I believe that everywhere in the Universe where sentient life forms exist, they will either have their own ‘improbable’ Incarnation and ‘crucifixion’ stories; or they would be so ‘naïve’ [unfallen] that we couldn’t adapt to/understand their way of life.

John 14:6, Berean Literal Bible
Jesus says to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, if not by Me.

I believe that everyone who spends Eternity in the presence of the Creator does so by the Creator’s adoption of humanity in Jesus. The above statement does not present Christianity as the means of coming to the Father/Creator. That idea is an interpretation.

Crucifixion was the common method the Roman government used to get rid of opponents of Roman rule—people were nailed to a wooden beam suspended in the air. Crucified people died by asphyxiation. The crucified Jesus died; Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb and started appearing to people three days later. He could walk through walls and could eat fish without the fish falling to the ground. He apparently could control His solidity [see my earlier writings]. The important part of the story is not how Jesus died; the important part is how Jesus lived, and lived again.

There are people who really get hung up on sin and repentance; people come into adulthood damaged; and demand punishment for that which they call sin. Sin has many definitions.
From And Now I See by Robert Barron:

Jesus’ opening speech in Mark’s Gospel: “repent and believe the Good News.” The word so often and misleadingly translated as “repent” is metanoia. This Greek word is based on two words, meta [beyond] and nous [mind or spirit], and thus, in its most basic form, it means something like, “go beyond the mind that you have.” The English word, “repent” has a moralizing overtone, suggesting a change in behavior or action, whereas Jesus’ term seems to be hinting at a change at a far more fundamental level of one’s being. Jesus urges his listeners to change their way of knowing, their way of perceiving and grasping reality, their perspective, their mode of seeing…

 There will be people of every faith and none, in Eternity; these souls will be there because of the Creator’s becoming human in Christ. There are Believers who will have to change their ideas about Forgiveness.
The idea that someone’s belief system is the dependent factor in their spending Eternity with the Creator, is what is known as Salvation by Works. I’m not a Lutheran, but I believe in Salvation by Grace; not by Works.

As to determining who is with- and without the Creator for Eternity—that’s not my job.

condon-1930s

The Human Race is at a crisis point.

If we in the U.S. continue as we are going [the desires of the President], in a few decades, we will have helped bring the world to a point where the world is unsafe for human life.
I know a lot of people who say, ‘just relax, God is in control; God will take care of things. “Let not an angry word proceed from your mouth…”
Well, I am angry. Look at American history—not in a school textbook—and see what we Americans have been guilty of. You will find a history of total annihilation of those we consider enemies; regime change of democratically-elected governments by invasion, and forty years of war, in my 66-year lifetime. There are service men and women still serving in the Middle East whose children are getting close to enlistment age. This is wrong.

Some people believe that our destruction of this world will usher in the New Earth the Creator will bring into existence; based on interpretations of the Book of Revelation.
Some people don’t open their eyes—because they refuse to watch/listen to news reports [‘they are all full of lies’] and consequently have no idea of just how much the world ISN’T FINE. Some people ‘put their trust in God’ and are blind to the injustice that surrounds us. Some foolish people believe that because such prophecies exist, we bear no responsibility for being the stewards those writings command us to be. To truly be stewards we need to coexist with each other; which requires an acceptance of The Other’s beliefs that sometimes we simply can’t accept. Human history is the history of greed and non-acceptance. We were not made to live this way, we choose to live this way.

Human beings throughout the history that is recorded on walls, on clay, on shards of stone, in carved rocks—human beings throughout history have known that there is more to us than ourselves. We don’t have the vocabulary to properly describe that which we [collectively] know; but we know that it is More than us. Newton’s Laws are an attempt to describe The More. Quantum physics is an attempt to describe The More. Scientists who are wise know that we have only begun to scratch the surface of an understanding; and that nearly everything we now know will be replaced with new knowledge, if we manage to not destroy ourselves by our negligence.
Earth scientists have given us until 2030 to get our act together and reduce the damage we have done in the last century. Otherwise, this world is toast, and the world we know will become extinct. I know Believers who think this is a good thing. Those same Believers believe that we will all be Judged at the end of time.
How do they think they will fare, when asked what they did to be a steward of Creation? Stopped using plastic bags at the supermarket?

globular cluster NGC 1898, which lies toward the center of the Large Magellanic Cloud
globular cluster NGC 1898, which lies toward the center of the Large Magellanic Cloud

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 172: Apparent failure does not have to be final

November 5, 2018

Feeling a tremendous sense of despair last week, as I tried to find something hopeful in the media, without much success; I turned to a film I ‘happened’ to bring home from the library [I don’t believe in coincidence]. The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015) starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons, is the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a poorly educated, Indian, mathematical savant; who, in the years before 1920 constructed completely original mathematical formulae that are being used today to study Black Holes. Sadly, he died at the age of 32, as a result of what was probably amoebic dysentery.

A deeply religious Hindu, Ramanujan credited his substantial mathematical capacities to divinity, and stated that the mathematical knowledge he displayed was revealed to him by his family goddess. “An equation for me has no meaning,” he once said, “unless it expresses a thought of God.”

His mentor, R.G. Hardy, was a self-avowed atheist:
G.H. Hardy:  You see, I am what you call an atheist.
Ramanujan: No, sir. You believe in God. You just don’t think He likes you.

I often find ‘the footprints’ of the Creator in science.
The Cambridge scholars, for the most part, did not believe that Ramanujan’s calculations were flawed—only a few could even understand them—they did not believe anything worthy of being at Cambridge could spring from an uneducated Indian.
When I read the Facebook posts from people who claim to have a knowledge of God, I can fully understand why people who have been trained in Critical Thinking would never consider ‘God’ as something worth thinking about.

Been there. Done that. Here’s what I found [if you are an Evangelical Christian, you probably won’t agree with most of what comes next. Save yourself some grief]:
I prefer science to the American Civil Religion; commonly called “Evangelical” in the media, but that term is so far away from what the Christian term actually stands for, it really shouldn’t be used.
From Gerald Schroeder: Genesis and the Big Bang:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005KB0V62/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Nahmanides’s account of the first seconds of the universe [written in about 1200 AD, 200 years before Galileo] reads like this:
“At the briefest instant following creation, all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard. The matter at this time was so thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance. It did have, however, a potential to gain substance and form and to become tangible matter. From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so. As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred. This initially thin noncorporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of matter as we know it. From this initial act of creation, from this ethereally thin pseudo-substance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was, is, and will be formed.”

Back to Schroeder:
“Nahmanides’s reference to a grain of mustard is the traditional way of saying, “in the language of man,” the tiniest imaginable speck of space. Nahmanides taught that at the beginning, all that is on and within the Earth and all the heavens, in fact all the universe, was somehow packed, compressed, squeezed into this speck of space, the size of a mustard grain…”

We know this description as the Big Bang. The expanding Universe. About 200 years before Galileo, Nahmanides described the Expanding Universe. Nahmanides learned this description by his extensive study of the Jewish Scriptures, where the shape of every character in Hebrew can add to the meaning of a word. The Church in America rarely studies the Hebrew Scriptures in Hebrew.

Imagine, if you will, the hydrogen atom:
hydrogen-atom

The hydrogen atom consists of a single proton, and a single electron which continually orbits around the proton. Atomic hydrogen constitutes about 75% of the baryonic mass of the universe.
If the proton/nucleus in the diagram above was the size of a basketball, the diameter of the electron’s orbit would be about two miles. To put the idea in a more understandable context, imagine a water molecule—two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom:

stadium

If the nucleus of the molecule was the size of a baseball, the orbits of the electrons would create a ‘boundary’ something on the size of a baseball stadium. A space the size of a baseball stadium with a nucleus at the pitcher’s mound and nothing inside the stadium space, beyond a few electrons bouncing around. Each hydrogen atom, each oxygen atom, being comprised of atomically large, empty, spaces filled only with electromagnetic energy.
The ‘atomic model’ is the basis of nearly everything that exists; electrons almost endlessly orbiting protons and neutrons and subatomic particles that are still being discovered. Duplicated at enormous scale by the orbit of planets around a sun. The Universe is comprised mostly of empty space.

Like the Universe, at the atomic level, we are comprised mostly of empty space, filled with electromagnetic forces. It is this electromagnetic force that creates the illusion of our solidity.
Hence, my preference to thinking of the Creator and the movement of the Creator’s Spirit within us as being something like The Force in Star Wars.

the-force-1

Yoda: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you, hmm? And well you should not, for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. [looks around him] Life creates it. Makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Everywhere. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.

the-little-known-nebula-iras-054372502-an-enigmatic-cloud1
The little-known nebula IRAS 05437+2502 billows out among the bright stars and dark dust clouds that surround it in this striking image from the Hubble Space Telescope. It is located in the constellation of Taurus (the Bull), close to the central plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Unlike many of Hubble’s targets, this object has not been studied in detail and its exact nature is unclear… This image was taken with the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys on Hubble. It was part of a “snapshot” survey. These are observations that are fitted into Hubble’s busy schedule when possible, without any guarantee that the observation will take place — so it was fortunate that the observation was made at all.
https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2018/hubbles-lucky-observation-of-an-enigmatic-cloud

My understanding of the Creator is that of a ‘being’ comprised mostly/entirely of Energy; a ‘being’ so unlike human beings that we cannot begin to understand the Creator’s nature. Everything that ‘religious people’ [those that believe in Creation] say about ‘God’ is an abstraction [there are so many, sometimes-strange beliefs about ‘God’ that I prefer Creator]. A large percentage of these people do not even understand the concept of ‘abstraction’.
My greatest understanding of the Creator, and the subject of Faith, takes place in a Christian environment. I believe that ‘serious devotion’ [more abstraction] to the Creator, in whatever form this devotion takes place, is equivalent to ‘serious devotion’ to the Creator in any religious form [Evangelical Christians are aghast]. This equivalency occurs, because there is only one Creator; the name by which one ‘speaks’ to the Creator is irrelevant—because devotion is about the Creator; not about us. If one is devoted, in a spiritual way, to Nature, one is devoted to the Creator, who created all of Nature.

The Abrahamic Faiths [Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in chronological order] refer to the ‘Children of Abraham’ as the Chosen People. In terms of world history, my view of having been ‘Chosen’ is mostly bad news. The portions of the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians largely ignore, are about the Creator, through Prophets, telling the Chosen people that they act like ungrateful whores. HPtFtU—the Human Tendency to F*ck things Up.
Because the Creator already knew, when the Creator created human beings, that we would have Free Will and the resulting HPtFtU; we were given a Grace Gift. The Creator of the entire Universe entered time and space in the form of one cell, implanted into the womb of a teenaged girl. From there you have the Jesus story. The story that ends with Jesus walking through walls and eating fish [think about it. How does that work? Jesus apparently was able to turn His solidity off and on].

Every sports broadcast shown has someone in the bleachers holding up a sign with the most famous Bible verse in history: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The verse has a context; and according to some translations, John 3:16 and following are written by the writer of John but aren’t necessarily Jesus’ words [designated by not using the traditional red font for Jesus’ words]. The writer of the Book of John apparently was present when Jesus had His conversation with Nicodemus. However, it’s the next verse that explains the most famous verse:
John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

This is how you know that Apparent Failure does not have to be final: you win in the end. You already are ‘saved’ if you want to be—it has nothing to do with you. This is what Luther understood as ‘salvation by Grace’. However, even the Creator will not force one to spend eternity in the presence of the Creator if it isn’t desired.

Because of HPtFtU there are Christians all over the planet that have all sorts of explanations as to why this promise does, or does not, apply to you. Their opinion does not matter, because the Creator of the entire Universe entered time and space on Earth, to compensate for our HPtFtU.

If we ever encounter a sentient species from another world [I’m of the opinion that the are “WARNING: PLAGUE” signs floating in the space around our Solar System], I believe we will find that they, too, will have a totally improbable story about how the Creator of the Universe entered their time and space in the form of a single cell…

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time: The Post [2017]

October 22, 2018

RMN

“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”
Justice Hugo Black, Concurring in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

“Humiliation” was much on the minds of those involved in the making of American policy for Vietnam during the spring and summer of 1965. The word, or phrases meaning the same thing, appears in countless memoranda. No one put it as starkly as Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, who in late March assigned relative weights to various American objectives in Vietnam. In McNaughton’s view the principal U.S. aim was “to avoid a humiliating US defeat (to our reputation as a guarantor).” To this he assigned the weight of 70%. Second, but far less important at only 20% was “to keep SVN (and then adjacent) territory from Chinese hands.” And a minor third, at but 10%, was “to permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life.”
[From The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, Chapter 1, “The Air War in Vietnam, 1965-1968”]

Daniel Ellsberg, in The Post:
“Someone said this at some point about why we stayed when we knew we were losing. Ten percent was to help the South Vietnamese. Twenty percent was to hold back the Commies. Seventy percent was to avoid the humiliation of an American defeat. Seventy percent of those boys just to avoid being humiliated? That stuck with me.”

“The Hanoi bombing was one of the worst acts in the history of civilization. And I don’t say that rhetorically. I wouldn’t bother to argue whether it was precisely worse than one or another act of mass murder in our history. It’s not a matter of body counts or scale. In terms of the exact political and cultural context, above all in terms of a war that had been essentially settled in October, by a country whose public not only accepted such a settlement but had just given the man who had announced that settlement the largest election landslide in our history – that B-52 bombing in highly populated areas was one of the coldest, most murderous acts that any ruler has ever undertaken.”
― Daniel Ellsberg, The Rolling Stone interview

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 170: What would you do, if you knew you could not fail?

October 9, 2018

My wife mentioned to a friend of ours that ‘even after 45 years together, I still can’t read Marty’s mind’. Our friend’s response was, ‘read his blog’. Thanks, Eunice; it’s true.
I write because my digital self is far more sociable than my physical self. I think this means that part of me wants to be a different person than I am. The hope is to mix my ideas about the Universe with my life as a commercial artist.
This particular chapter was ‘inspired’ by a general request for a column; this will no doubt be far too long…

unfinished sketch River PilotIncomplete sketch, Norman Rockwell’s River Pilot

Mine isn’t a story about how to succeed as a commercial artist. At this point in history, I’m not even sure what ‘succeed’ even means. As a country, ‘we’ [the American Republic] have just confirmed to the Supreme Court the least popular jurist in the history of the Court, by the closest margin in history:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/10/06/senators-representing-less-than-half-us-are-about-confirm-nominee-opposed-by-most-americans/?utm_term=.d5c4393fa61e&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

This confirmation process made the Clarence Thomas confirmation seem like a ‘cakewalk’ and displayed one of the most partisan processes ever witnessed; and the possible coverup of criminal actions. Ironically, last Friday morning when the Senate had their first vote of Confirmation of the new Justice, the Nobel Committee issued the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to two figures who have worked to bring attention to ending sexual violence in armed conflicts: Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege.
I am reminded of the quotation by Thomas Jefferson:

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.

Our President has managed to twist reality by comments made at campaign rallies that have caused the Victim in these last uncivil weeks to become a punch line; and the Accused to become some kind of hero. Trevor Noah has some very astute comments that probably derive from his living in South Africa during Apartheid:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LZ3P1sv9jE

The political trials of this week were simply a backdrop and a distraction from my office trials. I have been my own Tech Support for most of this century; mostly because I’m unwilling to pay for services I can learn. Up until last week, I’ve had 5 computers: two desktops and 3 laptops. I recently upgraded one of my desktops; it had become annoyingly slow. It now hibernates in a closet. Last weekend, my oldest laptop, a Sony VAIO, died peacefully of old age. One of the laptops was inherited, and as a backup, it went into service. In various ways unknown to me, I managed to kill the Operating Systems in 3 of my computers. I have spent the entire week doing 18-hour days, wrestling with Operating Systems and reloading computers. I owe a debt of gratitude to a Dell Tech Support person in The Philippines. One week later, I’m back up and running, and am trying to remember what I was doing a week ago. ‘Fortunately’, this has been one of those ‘0 billable hours’ weeks—no client work needed. Due to overlapping backups, I didn’t lose any data beyond a few days’ worth of email. Just lost a lot of sleep; and there is a residue of snarkiness.

I have worked as a full-time commercial artist [a term that only dinosaurs remember] and Building Code consultant since 1998. Something like twenty years.
Disclaimer #1: ‘full-time’, to an independent contractor working in the image-creating world does not mean the same thing it means in the normal business world; and the meaning is centered in the term ‘billable hours’. When I use the term ‘full-time’, it means I don’t have another job. ‘Billable hours’ per week vary from 0 to 30-something, most of the time. Time in my office? Basically, from 2p to 3a, six days a week, with breaks for eating, and for spending time with my wife before she goes to bed. She works permanent part-time for a local School District and lives on ‘day shift’. My circadian rhythm has been off-kilter for decades. I don’t do mornings. Working for the Bureau of Buildings was a pain. I kept moving my arrival time as far back as I could, preferring to work after the office had officially closed.
Disclaimer #2: I am a dinosaur. I began my commercial art career in the 1970s while in college, when computers did not exist, and the only means of communication beyond the telephone [attached by a wire to a wall] were pieces of paper upon which one wrote words, or possibly typed words. These pieces of paper were tucked into something called an envelope; and a small sticky rectangle was applied to the outside, before dropping the envelopes into a blue box. The world was very large and distant, back then.

I nearly died in 1988 at age 36, from a ruptured appendix. It changed my life.
For a number of years prior, I was continually confronted by mentors with a question:
What would you do with your life, if you knew you could not fail?
The reality is that I fail, all the time—I don’t meet my expectations, which, by my nature, tend to be unreasonably high. I’ve learned that apparent failure does not have to be final.

I’ve been a freelance commercial artist and designer for over 40 years; primarily working on commission for individuals as sort of a “professional hobby” while working at college and construction jobs, until 1998, when I took a Medical Layoff from my fourteen-year career with the Bureau of Buildings in Portland. There I worked as a Commercial Building Plans Examiner. During my college years, I exhibited my artwork in non-juried shows but found little time for “serious” illustration until my brush with death caused me to re-evaluate my goals and priorities. I realized that my future wasn’t as predictable as it appeared; and that the Creator has given me a talent intended to be used for the benefit of others. In 1990 I decided it was time to get “serious” about my career as an illustrator. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators [SCBWI] and began learning about the career of Illustration.

River pilot
Norman Rockwell’s River Pilot

My goal was to emulate the illustration style of the Golden Age of Illustration; Norman Rockwell’s paintings became my mentors, as well as the work of Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I spent about eight years focusing on my illustration skills; when I left my work with the City, I discovered that the world of Illustration had changed. Children’s Book illustrators had become cartoonists and photographers had become illustrators. There’s nothing wrong with cartoonists; I just don’t have the talent to be one. I’d spent something like twenty years studying drafting and Technical Illustration.

I’ve illustrated five children’s books that few have read; illustrated books for adult audiences that few have read, created book jackets, illustrations for cable television; worked as a web designer; created videos; have my own website [mjarts.com], and have portfolios on a bunch of retail sales sites [Society 6, Redbubble, for example]. I’ve designed houses across America and one in England. I’ve designed schools. I am a digital publisher, with books on Amazon US and UK.

From the perspective of fame and income—the primary measurements of ‘success’ in America today—my experiment with self-employment has largely been a ‘failure’. I’ve had one-man art shows that few remember; I have illustrations in a museum in Dallas, Texas I’ve never visited [I don’t even know if they are on display]; I’ve created thousands of images as a commercial artist. I’ve spent so much on advertising over the years—money I borrowed from creditors—that I can’t afford to ‘retire’, now that I am at that age. My dependence on pain medication to enable me to meet my own overly-high expectations may have caused permanent damage to my body. I thought I would become famous, in spite of the fact that I am ‘asocial’ to the point of being antisocial. I have a hard time imagining how I would respond to actually being famous. I’m not comfortable around strangers; unless I am able to put my ‘public’ mask on…the mask I learned to wear while working for the City of Portland. I’ve often said that writers and illustrators are people who are comfortable in, and accustomed to, working alone in a room for days at a time. This isn’t a career for those who thrive on social interaction.

I can’t imagine doing anything else.

My wife and I survive because I worked for the City of Portland. My Medical Layoff was ‘supposed’ to become a partial disability retirement. Six months after I was ‘kicked out’ [I did not fully understand the nature of setting a ‘retirement’ date], during which time I could not work [it’s hard to justify a disability retirement while working], I finally learned that my partial retirement, and its Appeals, were denied. I had, upon my doctor’s orders, given up a very-well-paying job, at age 46, with no other job options at hand. Once again. Never leave a job without knowing where you are going.
In 1999 became a consultant. Architects who called me every day at the City, for [free] Building Code advice, weren’t interested in paying for my advice. Over the years, it worked.

I sold my first book jacket that year. My first b/w children’s book was published in 2000; my first color children’s book was in 2002 for a major publishing house; the book was sold only as part of an elementary school curriculum. I was the third choice for the book, because the first choice had to back out. I don’t know what happened to #2; I learned about the existence of #1 & #2 because an agent tactlessly sent the ‘score sheet’ along with the manuscript. Two names crossed off ahead of mine, and the list wasn’t in alphabetical order. My favorite project was the illustration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia for a Korean publisher. The book had a Korean manuscript, but the publisher wanted a Western illustrator. The Korean book design was better than I imagined…and the company went out of business. My contract gave me ownership of the original art; I am in the process of remaking the book, now in Public Domain. My plan is to republish the book on Kindle by next summer, using Doyle’s original manuscript.

When I turned 62, I finally started collecting that ‘partial disability retirement’. When I turned 65, I started collecting Social Security, and experimented with not doing Code work. Another failed experiment. I have a collection of failed experiments. Now, at 66, I have more time for illustration.
I have a degenerative neurological condition that is affecting my ability to draw. I can still hold onto a computer mouse. More of my work has become digital. I draw faces; I rely heavily on a collection of hands, eyes and faces created over the decades.

I enjoy creating illustrations with female heroes. I grow tired of old white men running the world. They suck at it. I am an old, white man; an immigrant son. Second Generation on my Mom’s side of the family; Third Generation on my Dad’s side. My family emigrated here from Norway and Sweden.
I recently created a Wonder Woman illustration protecting a woman from Cancer, a tall ugly looking creature. A gift for a very brave woman, I know; one of many in this world and in my family.

My fascination with BBC’s Doctor Who is part of the reason I’ve been so engrossed in creating “The Unwritten Adventures of the 13th Doctor”—illustrations I began creating during the summer of last year. One of my latest illustrations has become a favorite of mine—Jenny Flint of the Paternoster Detective Agency, located in Victorian London:

Jenny Flint

In this unwritten story [you can find illustrations from other Unwritten Stories at my Redbubble store [https://www.redbubble.com/people/mjartscom/collections/971115-the-13th-doctor]. The Doctor returns again to Victorian London, shortly after regenerating; as The Doctor did once before. Having overcome their confusion, The Doctor begins an adventure with The Great Detective and her Paternoster Detective Agency: Madame Vastra, the lizard lady from Earth’s ancient past; her companion Jenny Flint, martial arts expert and swordswoman; and their Sontaran servant, Strax. He looks rather like a baked potato in a suit. Sontarans are cloned; Strax has difficulty understanding genders. Once again, The Doctor has managed to bring prehistoric creatures forward in time.

I’m not often pleased with my work. I managed to get this one right. The original is something like 2ft wide.

The 13th Doctor and the Paternoster Detective Agency

The reality is that I fail, all the time—I don’t meet my expectations, which, by my nature, tend to be unreasonably high. I’ve learned that apparent failure does not have to be final.

Failure is only final when you allow it to be.

More about that next time.

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 169: HPtFtU [part 6]

September 30, 2018

Francis Spufford, in his wonderful book, Unapologetic, uses the term HPtFtU for the Human Tendency to F**k things Up. If you watch any legitimate news outlet today, you will see countless examples of HPtFtU on display; especially in Washington DC in the last week.
The Confirmation Hearing appeared to be about politics; the composition of the Supreme Court is intended to be above politics. The Human Propensity of F**k things Up.

Ford Kavanaugh GrahamWe once again know that one person can change the world.

I don’t know which one is telling the truth— Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or Judge Brett Kavanaugh; one is, one isn’t. Hopefully an unbiased FBI investigation will provide the answer. It’s already rumored that an unbiased investigation won’t occur. Rumors say that the President is limiting the scope of the FBI investigation. Sadly, the rumors seem credible, based on the President’s past behavior.
Lindsey Graham is a mystery to me. The impassioned Congressman who waxed eloquent about ‘restoring the honor of the Office of Presidency’ during President Clinton’s impeachment hearing, does not seem to see the Office of the Presidency in the same light, now that he is a Senator. But he was right in his pre-election opinion of above; the Republican party won’t be the same again.

The selection of a new Justice to fill the 9th seat in the the Supreme Court does not appear to be about bringing impartiality to the Court; perhaps it hasn’t been about impartiality for a long time. If I ever had to appear before the Supreme Court—and I can’t think how that might happen—I won’t care about conservative vs. liberal; I will want impartiality.
To confirm as a Supreme Court Justice, a sexual predator with an anger and alcohol problem would be a crime, in my opinion. If the Judge proves to be innocent of all the allegations made against him, he will be owed a large apology by the American people. The American people may never be able to forget the allegations, true or not. Based upon his most recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I would never want to appear before him on a bad day.

It is possible that the Judge has grown beyond past failings but fears the exposure of the man he used to be. People can change, people can receive Forgiveness; but real Forgiveness is a Gift from the Creator. Humans are generally rubbish at offering Forgiveness without some form of retribution—especially when it comes to politics—Forgiveness doesn’t often happen in public life. The true nature of Forgiveness is not about retribution. Retribution is a human failing; one of the prime examples of HPtFtU. The Creator provides Redemption.
If the allegations are true, the family of the Judge may not know about the man he used to be. A ‘panic mode’ reaction may have been the cause of his angry display last week; he may not believe he can be forgiven for his past. In human terms, and in the terms of those who have been damaged, forgiveness might not be given. The important part of Forgiveness is not its effect on a job opportunity. Forgiveness is a pathway toward wholeness.

If the allegations are true, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s life will never be the same again. I imagine that this last week has been a second assault on her psyche—another memory lodged in her hippocampus, one that will also not be forgotten. If the allegations are true, her attacker cannot remove the fear, the guilt, the shame of that incident. Only the Creator can help her to make new connections in her neural pathways.

However, nothing can happen without Confession. Not necessarily Confession to a public audience; the important Confession is that between person and their Creator. The other Confessions are window dressing.

We tell our children that in America, one can be whatever one wants to be, if they put enough effort into making that goal happen. A large part of the ‘doing’ is Character. There is a myth that says people of bad character will always be found out. It’s a myth.
History shows that one person can change the course of ‘the world’—be it a nation, or a people or a time—by their actions in the world. Despots, tyrants, heroes of both genders, leaders of nations…or one woman who faced death threats against herself and her family, in order to fight for justice. One woman in many parts of the world facing unforgiving male dominance, young girls who have been assaulted and blamed for their being attacked. My hope, especially for my daughter and granddaughter, and for all women, is that finally the world will realize that the time for Equality has come. Treating all people in the same manner without regard to race, religion, political affiliation, or wealth. A time when the Tribalism will end. The planet Earth needs for Tribalism to end. We need to work together to effect global change.

We all share the same Earth; and it is severely damaged. There is no Planet B.

Earth Scientists warn that natural disasters will increase, as the planet warms, as greenhouse gases become trapped in our atmosphere. Polar ice caps are losing their volume far faster than predicted. The level of the sea is rising, and coastal communities are losing ground.

Religious people of the Christian persuasion have a tendency to consider the state of the Earth as being somewhat unimportant; because Scripture says that when the End of Days comes, the Earth will be remade. If we ruin the Earth we have, we will simply make the End come sooner…
Scripture teaches that we were created to be Stewards of this world that the Creator gave to us. If the Creator remakes the world, that’s the Creator’s decision; remaking does not give permission for destruction.

We now know again that one person can change the world.

We know that a President can, by strokes of a pen, destroy all of the progress made in the previous eight years toward slowing the damage to the Earth. Protection for the environment granted by Presidential Executive Order can just as easily be torn up by his successor.
Somehow, the super-rich don’t seem to realize that all their wealth won’t buy them environmental security. The United States is the only country in the world that has rejected the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and has promised to withdraw from it. That withdrawal, unless it is stopped by Presidential order, will occur next year.

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/11/syria-is-joining-the-paris-agreement-now-what/545261/

In the last few days I’ve spent several hours reading and responding to the concerns of victims of sexual assault; women who are reliving their assault because one woman has the ‘audacity’/bravery to stand up to a room-full of old white men determined to confirm a new Supreme Court justice, whatever it takes. The bravery to relive an attack that happened thirty-ish years ago. When I write comments to other people on Facebook, I always hope that my comments will be ‘messages in a bottle’—messages I send out with hopes that no one will comment back. I don’t enjoy conversations with strangers. At the same time, I have decided, in my personal life, to reach out to those who are damaged in order to help them to heal.

Fearless Girl

The only way that I know to help is prayer.
Not ‘magical thinking’, not waiting for some supernatural genie to grant my wish.
Prayer helps us align our thinking with the Creator of the Universe. We do not ask the Creator of the Universe to align with us.
People ask the question, ‘how could a loving God allow the awful things in this world to happen?’
I think the better question is, ‘how could a loving Creator even bother with human beings? As a mass, we are cruel, we are divisive. We are tribal. But, as individual human beings, I believe, with Dr. King, that we can do better…

“I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice… With this faith we will be able to hue out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood…”

The Creator of the Universe entered time and space in the form of a single cell embedded into the womb of a teenaged girl. The Creator of the Universe experienced the life of woodworker, an itinerant preacher and His undeserved death in the Roman Empire’s harshest form of execution. Just to show us that death isn’t final. We can be renewed.

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 169: HPtFtU [part 5]

September 24, 2018

Francis Spufford, in his wonderful book, Unapologetic, uses the term HPtFtU for the Human Tendency to F**k things Up. If you watch any legitimate news outlet today, you will see countless examples of HPtFtU on display; especially in Washington DC.

There, but for the Grace of God, go I…

I knew a guy in college, I was a Freshman, he was a Sophomore [it means ‘wise idiot’]. His brain, which was very well-functioning—he was a Pre-Med student—his brain was located slightly behind his bladder. His plan was to become a gynecologist; so that he could grope women all day long. I never saw him again after that term. I don’t know if his brain ever made its ascent to where it belonged…

A man in his eighties, a venerated man in Federal government; who has spent nearly his entire adult life wandering the halls of Congress, the halls of the Senate. A man who can’t remember the last time he ever broke a sweat, other than being horizontal or on some sort of recreational activity. Living most of his life being deferred to. A man who stands in judgement of his fellow human beings, nearly every day of his life. Or not. He may just live for the giving of opinions, based on his credibility of having wandered the halls of Federal government every day, being called by his title… And he judges his fellow human beings, who actually have to work for a living.

When old white men talk about not ruining a career of another man, because of what happened in college, decades ago, they seem to ignore the damaged life of the woman; the damage that was created by ‘boys will be boys’… And these are the men who are determining the course of our National honor. Do we still have National honor?

Angel of Grief 3

The image above, for me, is a metaphor. Scripture tells me Angels exist; Scripture also tells me that they probably have little in common with the angels found on television and movies… Humans have a need to view theological matters as if they are human in scale.

Perhaps it is true that we are living in an era of anger. An article I read says that most people dislike the anger of today’s America; but don’t really want to stop being angry… Anger is a choice.

A life of Faith did not come easily to me. The study of Architecture and Illustration actually leave the mind with a great deal of time to think about larger issues—so much of drawing is hand/eye coordination—it either looks like it’s supposed to, or it doesn’t; if it doesn’t, you erase. A lot of mental time during my 5 years of college was involved in the ‘meditation’ over things I had been reading. Being a total stranger to the concept of Faith, I read a lot. I still read theology every day.

I am a follower of Yeshua [Latinized as Jesus]; for me, the life of following Yeshua leads me to a life of progressive, democratic socialism [no caps]. The capitalist society our government affirms is diametrically opposed to the life of Yeshua. I believe that Government has the responsibility to deal with the societal ills that society—usually in the form of local government—refuses to deal with: affordable health care, affordable housing, affordable education, the mending of damaged Veterans, homelessness. Areas of responsibility that most of the developed world manages to deal with, because these things are considered ‘human rights.’ In America, “the Land of the Free,” ‘human rights’ need to be the result of legislation; and the argument always arises that we don’t have enough money to care for those who need help from others. In spite of the fact that other developed nations seem to operate well, taking care of their nation’s population. Of course, most of the developed world has military expenditures far less than ours. The United States spends more on its military than the next seven highest spenders combined:

US military budgets

In America, failure is often ‘final’. If you screw up, ‘you’re done for.’ If your own personal HPtFtU is bad enough, you wear an orange jumpsuit for much of your life [under Florida law, Grand Theft is “any intentional and unlawful taking of property valued at $300.00 or more. Grand theft is a felony offense, with penalties that may include prison, probation, fines, restitution, and a permanent criminal record” [ www.husseinandwebber.com/crimes/theft-fraud/grand-theft ]. In this day and age, how easy is it for something to cost $300? Theft is wrong; but is stealing an Xbox or a laptop or a smartphone something that deserves a prison term and a lifetime criminal record? Especially when stealing innocence—something that occurs every day in this country; on a huge scale—the stealing of innocence is considered as ‘boys will be boys.’

Our current President was allegedly told by his attorney “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/fear-trump-in-the-white-house-bob-woodward-sessions-mattis-assad-cohn-kelly-us-president-a8523396.html

This is something new in our country. A clueless President, when it comes to matters of Fact and Truth. ‘Fact’ and Truth’ become flexible terms that mean what one wants them to. Nixon knew that sanctioning the break-in at the Democratic Headquarters was wrong; he simply felt he was above the law. I don’t get the sense that anything our current President says or does is seen by him as being wrong.
The President, in a recent campaign speech, told the people in the hall that if he gets impeached, it will be their fault—for not voting. He seems to overlook the part where his behavior is involved. Only two other Presidents have been impeached; neither of them was an unnamed co-conspirator in multiple felony investigations. In the weeks ahead, it will worsen. The President’s financial secrets are becoming far less secret; lifelong allies are making plea bargains. They didn’t sign-on for life in an orange jumpsuit.
https://mic.com/articles/191163/trump-impeachment-will-be-midterm-election-issue#.PdG115fzr

My recollection of the Watergate scandal [I was around 18 at the time] was that what bothered my parents’ friends the most wasn’t the break-in; what truly bothered the average citizen when the Nixon tapes were released, was the extreme amount of profanity used by President Nixon, in the White House [the ‘sanctuary’ of our Civil Religion]. Nixon’s language, offensive at the time, was less offensive than the dialog of many R-rated movies today.
It was a matter of National honor. Do we still have National honor?

Do you ever wonder why your own HPtFtU happens?

Most of my errors are from not adequately thinking about alternatives; a feeling that my impulse is correct. Then there’s always the issue of hiding shame when my choice turns out to be wrong. One of the problems of a life of Faith is that it seems as though one who seeks to follow a life of honoring the Creator encounters something like Divine Intervention. My own experiences of ‘Divine Intervention’ have been something that affected me alone, and that I could never show or prove Divine Intervention to someone else. As if some event in my life, that really had no impact on anyone else, was a result of something that has no explanation. As a follower of Yeshua, I don’t believe in ‘accidents’ or coincidence. Everything that happens in my life is known by the Creator. Miracles continue to happen.

I have often made a choice that seemed like a good one, one that in some way could honor the Creator even if it stretched conventional wisdom; and it blows up in my face. A bad choice that often leaves me with long-lasting consequences. Money I never should have spent on ‘good ideas.’ For all I know, my debilitating neurological disorder could be a result of my overuse of chemicals—mostly pain medications. In recent years I have again learned how willing I am to depend upon chemicals to enable me to overcome pain and consequently sacrifice my health in order to meet commitments I never should have made in the first place. I have a tendency to be an enabler and a rescuer.
My foolishness does not reflect on the Creator.

‘How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?’

To begin with, I’ve never met a good person. I’ve met lots of people; they have all had the HPtFtU. A lot of them haven’t had to deal with the consequences of their HPtFtU; or they didn’t bother to tell me about it.

For decades, scientists have been warning us about global warming and the problem of too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. We’ve ignored them. It was better to build some new industrial facility—one that would bring jobs to some part of the country. I have a hard time believing that framers of the Constitution envisioned school- and other shootings as a positive consequence of the ‘right to bear arms;’ or a necessary reality of American life. The Constitution grants the right for Americans to be stupid; it does not mean that we can’t have a Constitutional alternative that is wiser. But people would then need to sacrifice their own concerns for the benefit of others.

I have a friend who was a child during World War II; one of his frequent complaints is that when people talk about ‘the greatest generation’ they are usually talking about the soldiers who fought in the War. In his opinion, ‘the greatest generation’ refers to the citizens who sacrificed their own pleasures in order to make sure that the soldiers had the tools they needed to do the fighting. Rationing at a level that most of us would find offensive. We Americans today are not in the practice of sacrificing our wants for the needs of others...

blue dot

Carl Sagan labeled the Earth as a ‘pale blue dot’ in an image taken in 1990 by Voyager I, as it was leaving the Solar System. The planet Earth is the barely visible dot within the circle above. Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, orders of magnitude larger than the Earth, is also shown. The Sun dwarfs them both.

Lagoon Nebula (Infrared-light View)

The Lagoon Nebula is a giant interstellar cloud within the constellation Sagittarius, about 4100 light years from Earth. A ‘cloud’ within one constellation in the night sky.

Our Sun is the size of one of the orange dots above. Earth is invisible. Does this make you feel small and insignificant? Good. We are small and insignificant. However, the Creator of the Universe is Infinite; the concepts of ‘large’ and ‘small’ are virtually non-existent.

The Creator of the entire Universe entered time and space [where size is significant] in the form of Yeshua—a single cell implanted in the womb of a teenage girl. He grew to become a carpenter in a tiny town in a tiny country ruled by the Roman government. Yeshua did not come to save us from Hell; in spite of all the words spoken by preachers across the world. Yeshua came to make us whole. Whole, in spite of our HPtFtU. Yeshua came to save us from ourselves. Yeshua lacked the HPtFtU; but was treated as if He had it. He was killed because He made the ‘religious right’ uncomfortable. But He didn’t stay dead. You don’t need to, either.

What would you do with your life, if you knew you could not fail?

There is a wonderful legal term most often used by coroners: ‘misadventure: an accidental mishap or misfortune.’ Apparent failure does not have to be final.

What would you do with your life, if you knew you could not fail?

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 168: HPtFtU [part 4]

September 17, 2018

Francis Spufford, in his wonderful book, Unapologetic, uses the term HPtFtU for the Human Tendency to F**k things Up. If you watch any legitimate news outlet today, you will see countless examples of HPtFtU on display; especially in Washington DC.

Picture to yourself a man who has risen to wealth

Picture to yourself a man who has risen to wealth or power by a continued course of treachery and cruelty, by exploiting for purely selfish ends the noble motions of his victims, laughing the while at their simplicity; who, having thus attained success, uses it for the gratification of lust and hatred and finally parts with the last rag of honour among thieves by betraying his own accomplices and jeering at their last moments of bewildered disillusionment. Suppose, further, that he does all this, not (as we like to imagine) tormented by remorse or even misgiving, but eating like a schoolboy and sleeping like a healthy infant-a jolly, ruddy-cheeked man, without a care in the world, unshakably confident to the very end that he alone has found the answer to the riddle of life, that God and man are fools whom he has got the better of, that his way of life is utterly successful, satisfactory, unassailable …. Supposing he will not be converted, what destiny in the eternal world can you regard as proper for him? … Even mercy can hardly wish to such a man his eternal, contented continuance in such ghastly illusion.
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain [1940]

Elsewhere, Lewis suggests that the ‘gates of Hell’ are locked from the inside—to keep the Creator out.
Quoting again from Unapologetic:

I’m a very this-worldly Christian. I am averagely afraid of dying, but I don’t believe because I expect, or want, to have an unlimited future, tweedling about with a harp while the stars of the Western Spiral Arm burn out one by one. I believe because I know I’ve got a past and a present in which the HPtFtU did and does its usual work, and I want a way of living which opens out more widely and honestly and lovingly than I can manage for myself, which widens rather than narrowing with each destructive decision. Like the Christian Aid slogan says, I believe in life before death. For me and for everyone else. I don’t care about heaven. I want, I need, the promise of mending.

Mended is not the same thing as never broken. We are not being promised that it will be as if the bad stuff never happened. It’s amnesty that’s being offered, not amnesia; hope, not pretense. The story of your life will still be the story of your life, permanently. It will still have the kinks and twists and corners you gave it. The consequences of your actions, for you and for other people, will roll inexorably on. God can’t take these away, or your life would not be your life, you would not be you, the world would not be the world. He can only take from us—take over for us—the guilt and the fear, so that we can start again free, in hope. So that we are freed to try again and fail again, better. He can only overwhelm the HPtFtU with Grace.

Which we can now define. Grace is forgiveness we can’t earn. Grace is the weeping father on the road. Grace is tragedy accepted with open arms, and somehow turned to good. Grace is what the wasteful death on Skull Hill did.

When I want to explain the concept of Faith to someone who does not believe in such things, I understand completely. I remember my days of adulthood without Faith—mostly clinical depression that I never would have thought of having diagnosed—granted, this was 45 years ago. The recollection isn’t as clear as I’d like—but I don’t want to forget the nights of lying on my bed, under a red ‘night light’ listening to the folk music of the late 60s and the early 70s—trying to understand how the world in the Vietnam era was ever going to improve; how could we recover from the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Dr. King? I saw no hope of improvement; many of my generation felt the same way.
This current era of Feckless Politicians, Unending War and Climate Change feels much the same. Post-apocalyptic movies and gaming—the concept of War being a game that children play is beyond my understanding—a sense of hopelessness in the media. Evangelistic Preachers who for decades preach to their congregations about the Moral Code they should instill in the children; only to find out that these Preachers are racist, misogynistic and supportive of politicians that break every aspect of the Moral Code they’ve been preaching about—simply because they want conservative judges on the Supreme Court. I keep coming to this quotation from Thomas Jefferson:
“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

I am a heretic.
I’m a Presbyterian Elder serving in a Lutheran Church with a large number of politically-conservative people in its membership. The words of the Magnificent Nadia Bolz-Weber come to mind:

There’s a refrain I hear from the lips of many Christians these days, whenever the subject turns to the growing dumpster fire in DC and the resulting unrest in our nation:
“Relax, God is in control.”
The words are designed as a conversation stopper; an iron-clad, sanctified mic drop, exempting them from further discussion on the matters at hand and supposedly assuaging all my fears in four simple words.
The only problem is—it’s not true, at least not in the way they might like it to be right now.
In these days, with so much that is untenable and threatening and worrisome, tossing off a quick “God’s got it” is a subtle bit of heresy:
It imagines that God engineers election outcomes the same way as football scores.
It exonerates people from any culpability for a vote they perhaps now feel was regrettable.
It nullifies any concept of personal free will, by giving God ultimate veto power over us.
It excuses inaction in the face of other people’s present suffering.
In matters of injustice and suffering and evil—it essentially passes the buck to God.
But the story of the Scriptures is one of this same God, granting Humanity the power over their choices; giving them the ability to be co-creators in this world by the decisions they make. Though God is all-powerful, God does not exercise that power to coerce us. We are not mindless robots simply performing the tasks we are pre-programmed to—we are fully responsible for the stuff we do and say and think.
What this means, is that saying God is in control, while doing little or nothing to alter the planet in any meaningful way is spiritual rebellion. It is a willing abdication of our calling to be makers of peace here. It expects that God will clean up whatever horrible mess we make—and that our prayers alone will serve as the sole request form.
I don’t believe this is true and it isn’t Biblical. I don’t believe Jesus spent three years imploring people to love their neighbors as themselves, to feed the poor, to protect the vulnerable, to love our enemies, and to bind up wounds of strangers—if God had already written the script and we’re all just playing the whole thing out in flesh and blood without getting to improvise and change lines.

The image below is not a picture of God; this is a portion of a painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted from the imagination of Michelangelo; and altered by me.

God-Sistine

There are many who apparently can only imagine ‘things of God’ in the context of our human lives. Because they can’t find some guy who looks the image above, floating somewhere in Space, ‘God cannot exist’. The problem is that this view of the Creator is far too small.
The Creator has taught me many valuable lessons during the *interesting* journey of raising children into adulthood; the Creator uses my children to teach me many things I could never learn in a church. One day, when my two small sons were ‘helping me’ repair the short ‘bridge’ my children used to cross the drainage ditch alongside the road in front of our house, I told the Spirit of the Creator that I could have made the repairs much faster, and possibly ‘better’ without my sons’ help. I distinctly heard the still, small voice of the Creator’s Spirit in reply: “I know exactly how you feel.”
One of the boys picked up a rock from somewhere in the yard and was looking at all of the wiggly critters running for cover. I realized, at that moment, that the Creator’s entry into time and space in the form of Jesus would be like me choosing to become one of those multipedes in order to show them how to live…
We imagine, somehow, that being created ‘in the image of God’ implies some sort of equal footing between us and the Creator of the entire Universe.

This is possibly a more accurate image of the Creator; since the Creator was here about 12 billion years ago, creating galaxies:

COSMOS-AzTEC-1 12 bilLightYears
The galaxy designated COSMOS-AzTEC-1

The image below is a graphic representation of Human Understanding about the nature of the Universe. You have to look carefully to see the tiny, tiny dots representing Earth, Mercury and Pluto [it’s now a planet again].

Solar System_mj_2

The church has been playing ‘catch-up’ with science since Copernicus, in the 16th Century, or thereabouts. Copernicus upset the Church by theorizing that the Earth orbits the Sun, rather than the other way around…he was considered a heretic. An uncomfortable place to be, at that point in time.
Metaphorically, in the image above, the Church’s understanding of the Universe, compared to the diameter of the Earth, puts the Church around the size of Mars; always a little behind. Science on the other hand, has been more like the diameter of Uranus [pun intended] compared to Earth. However, the Sun is ENORMOUS compared to the almost invisible Earth, labeled as “the blue dot” in a famous photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe, as it was leaving the Solar System. We simply aren’t even in the same order of magnitude as the Creator.

‘If the Creator of the Universe is that ENORMOUS, how could we possibly be of any significance?’ The problem is that our concept of time and space is sequential. If Time [Kairos] isn’t merely sequential, and the Creator is Infinite, then size is irrelevant. What could possibly be large to an Infinite Creator?
People get hung up on the concept of ‘being created in the image of God’ as having something to do with physical appearance. When society opens its eyes to see, we find that our physical appearance is about the least important part of our being. People spend millions of dollars attempting to stop the advancement of time; the fact is that Time batters the heck out of all of us—often at a ‘too early’ age. I can pretty well guarantee that given an ordinary human that has gainful employment and other activities in life to use up Time, that human will fare poorly when the sixties and seventies roll around. If you haven’t been able to devote large amounts of your energy holding back time, you will look old. Even Jackie Chan, a professional athlete if there ever was one, is visibly bearing the ravages of time, and the abusing of his body [Jackie is two years younger than I].

I believe that ‘being created in the image of the Creator’ refers to our ability to create; our ability to make choices about our behavior. Our decisions about how we will live. One of my never-met mentors, Tim Hansel, once wrote:

I’m still convinced that if you have to move even ten inches from where you are now in order to be happy, you never will be.

Tim was a mountaineering instructor who fell one day from an ice bridge. He dropped 30 feet vertically, landing heavily on his upper back and neck. Although he got up and hiked the 20 miles to the car, the damage was done. Cracked vertebrae. Crushed discs. Fragments of bone lodged in his neck. The result was chronic, debilitating pain that would be with him for the next 35 years. His vertebrae having fused arthritically, he was advised by a neurosurgeon to quit worrying about hurting himself, and do whatever the pain would allow him to do—all the damage that could happen had already happened—and to ‘live to be a hundred’. He died at the age of 68, probably a fulfilled human being.
To a large degree, happiness is a decision.
This ability to decide is a gift from the Creator.

What would you do with your life, if you knew you could not fail?

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 165: HPtFtU [part 2]

September 6, 2018

Francis Spufford, in his wonderful book, Unapologetic, uses the term HPtFtU for the Human Tendency to F**k things Up. If you watch any legitimate news outlet today, you will see countless examples of HPtFtU on display; especially in Washington DC.
I’m going to quote, frequently, from Spufford in the coming weeks…but not quite yet.

A Facebook page I’m a member of had the question, “how can God and evolution both be true?’ I was tempted to write an answer, but I get tired of people commenting on my comment, who really haven’t given it much thought. So, I’ll do it here.
How can God and evolution both be true? Because a large portion of Scripture is metaphor:

A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another for rhetorical effect. It may provide clarity or identify hidden similarities between two ideas. One of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor in English literature is the “All the world’s a stage” monologue from As You Like It:
    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances …
    —William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2/7
This quotation expresses a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage. By asserting that the world is a stage, Shakespeare uses points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding about the mechanics of the world and the behavior of the people within it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphor

Yeshua [Latinized as Jesus] said that He was the living water, and those who drink from this water will never thirst. This is a metaphor. Water is not alive, unless one considers microbes—and the people of Yeshua’s time did not know about microbes. Followers of Yeshua get thirsty, particularly in the summer. The operative concept is “thirst.” Yeshua was addressing the ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ we feel when we try to understand ourselves; when we try to fill the emptiness we sometimes feel.

Creatio_of_Adam2
Creation of Adam [modified] by Michelangelo; stained glass by Michael Greer

This painting is a metaphor; Michelangelo did not travel back in time, to the “sixth day of Creation” and snap a photo. However, many Christians seem to accept the concept that God is somehow like us [more, next time]. Many/most Christians’ theology is a mixture of Bible verses, songs they like, sermons they’ve heard and Bible Study texts they’ve read.
Some Christians apparently have very thin Bibles—those who manage to completely ignore Isaiah 58, and all of the similar passages which clearly spell out the Creator’s expectations for ‘the followers of God’—the way we are supposed to treat people who are not like us. At present, America is rubbish at meeting this expectation. There are other readers of Scripture who manage to not comprehend the nature of the if/then, Conditional nature of Scripture—“if you do this, then you will be blessed’. They prefer to quote the ‘then’ portions of texts while ignoring the if. “If you do your homework, then you get dessert.”
Getting back to Michelangelo, he was not intending to teach for centuries, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, that God looks like a buff older man with a beard; surrounded by naked beings. If one looks at this portrayal of the Creator for too long, one can get all sorts of ideas about the Creator that are probably wrong. Michelangelo’s painting is a metaphor for Genesis 1:27; and Genesis 1:27 is a metaphor for the creation of human beings. One of the reasons that Genesis 2:7 differs from 1:27 [both are descriptions of the creation of humans on the sixth day of Creation] is that this is all metaphor: figures of speech, “providing clarity or identifying hidden similarities between two ideas”.

Does this mean that the words of Genesis aren’t true? No. It does mean that the words of Genesis should not be taken literally, as if it was a science text; nor as a history text. Scripture is the story of the Creator’s actions with human beings; and it tells the story of the beginning of the nation of Israel, and its downfall; and most importantly, Scripture tells how the Creator of the entire Universe entered human time and space in the form of a single cell implanted in the womb of a teenaged girl—basically the first “In vitro fertilization” (IVF).  

Scripture [meaning the Scripture of the Jewish, Christian and Islam faiths] does not teach about the Creator’s interactions with the human beings of the Western Hemisphere/ the Americas. These people ‘did not exist’ to those in the Mediterranean world. Scripture also leaves out Asia and most of Africa [except by inference]. Why? Because Scripture isn’t a World History text. There are ~400 years between the end of the Book of Micah and Yeshua’s entry into the world, where the Creator sent no prophets to guide Israel. The Creator was silent. Four centuries–most of American history, as a reference. The Temple, the seat of the Jewish faith, was destroyed in about 70 A.D. Consequently, the Hebrew Scriptures have very little to say about the modern state of Israel, and its creation after World War II. There are prophecies: again, metaphors. People who want Israel to be considered an act of the Creator, read the prophecies in the manner they want to read them.

It’s our HPtFtU that causes war, and violent death, and poverty, and shame. These four words create a circle of death.
It is my HPtFtU that causes me sleepless nights, and my FEARs [False Evidence Appearing Real—I am not omniscient]; it is very possibly the cause of the constant pain I deal with. None of my Neurologists have come up with better answers.
It is our HPtFtU that causes us to have broken relationships with other people who have their own version of HPtFtU; we are all broken, we are all in need of mending.

Finally, the quotation from Francis Spufford, from his wonderful book, Unapologetic. I could have written these words, but I lack the talent:

I’m a very this-worldly Christian. I am averagely afraid of dying, but I don’t believe because I expect, or want, to have an unlimited future, tweedling about with a harp while the stars of the Western Spiral Arm burn out one by one. I believe because I know I’ve got a past and a present in which the HPtFtU did and does its usual work, and I want a way of living which opens out more widely and honestly and lovingly than I can manage for myself, which widens rather than narrowing with each destructive decision. Like the Christian Aid slogan says, I believe in life before death. For me and for everyone else. I don’t care about heaven. I want, I need, the promise of mending.
Mended is not the same thing as never broken. We are not being promised that it will be as if the bad stuff never happened. It’s amnesty that’s being offered, not amnesia; hope, not pretense. The story of your life will still be the story of your life, permanently. It will still have the kinks and twists and corners you gave it. The consequences of your actions, for you and for other people, will roll inexorably on. God can’t take these away, or your life would not be your life, you would not be you, the world would not be the world. He can only take from us—take over for us—the guilt and the fear, so that we can start again free, in hope. So that we are freed to try again and fail again, better. He can only overwhelm the HPtFtU with Grace.
Which we can now define. Grace is forgiveness we can’t earn. Grace is the weeping father on the road. Grace is tragedy accepted with open arms, and somehow turned to good. Grace is what the wasteful death on Skull Hill did.

The one thing that I would add is that my encounters with the Spirit of the Creator, over 40+ years simply can’t be considered anything else. I’ve tried. Do I mistake ‘chance’ [something I don’t believe in] for the Spirit of the Creator? Probably; sometimes. I too have to address my own HPtFtU. I can’t convince you of what I’ve experienced; it’s something that one needs to experience themselves.

garden gethsemane rev2
Peter’s HPtFtU in The Garden of Gethsemane

 

 

 


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