Friday, December 28, 2012

'Twas the Week After Christmas

Okay, Christmas is pretty much over for this year. People have cleaned up, some have gone back to work, and we're still making sandwiches out of the leftover ham. Gifts have been given and received. Hopefully, you were given something you needed/wanted. More hopefully, you gifted others similarly. Most hopefully of all, you didn't get a fruitcake for Christmas.

I don't understand the purpose of fruitcake. Why does someone take bits of dried, tasteless fruit and other less identifiable things, suspend them in a dense organic paste and bake it all to the consistency of a cinder block? Seriously, you could build a fall-out shelter out of some of the fruitcakes I've seen. Do people really eat that stuff? Have you noticed that no matter how long a fruitcake sits around, it stays the same? These things have a shelf life to rival the most preservative-infused snack food on the rack of any local convenience store. Even the bugs won't eat it. I really think that there are only a relatively small number of fruitcakes in existence. They just get re-gifted year after year until it seems like they're everywhere. I believe it to be some kind of conspiracy.

Now that Christmas of 2012 has passed, we are staring into the headlight of the oncoming locomotive that is 2013 (insert screams of panic and prophesies of doom here). We've passed the ending dates of the Mayan calendar, so we're heading into uncharted waters. Some people find that frightening. I find it encouraging. We're going off the map into territory where things might not go as predicted. We might not be able to impose our will over everything and make everyone march to the same familiar drum beat. It's a whole new game.

Or at least it can be.

There are so many things that don't have to be the same as they were this year. Certainly there are things we have no real control over. Politicians will still prefer to pound each other into political powder than to actually address the issues that face our country. Americans will still vote for them because the aforementioned politicians have good rhetoric. Nothing else - just good rhetoric. Perhaps worst of all, reality TV will continue to grow as a staple of broadcast entertainment.

Even so, we can still do things to insure that 2013 doesn't become the juggernaut that many of us fear. So, here are a few things - in my opinion - that will help make the next year something special. In a good way.

1. Extend your charity to beyond December. There are all knids of stories about feeding families and taking care of children in December. Christmas makes us think about the people who don't have toys for their children or a Christmas dinner or a home in which to park a Christmas tree. Those who can do something about that should do something about that. Here's the thing: people will still be hungry and homeless in February or March or June. Often it seems as though our "Christmas spirit" is really just a temporary good mood. Not many people are as interested in feeding, clothing or housing those who need help if it's not December. There are people still hungry or sleeping in the streets in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Where are the people who believe in Christmas?

2. Start looking at people as human beings, not as stereotypes of their nationality, religion, race or gender. They have beautiful gifts to share. Let them.

3. Stop watching reality TV. You're not doing Honey Boo Boo any favors.

4. Spend more time with family. I know, sometimes they're irritating. Sometimes it seems like you'll have them forever. You won't.

5. Say "thank you" to someone who has influenced your life for the better. They deserve to hear it and we'll be better people for having said it.

6. Stop watching reality TV. It needed saying again.

7. Slow down. Breathe deeply. Take notice of small, quiet things. It is from the small, quiet things that God speaks most clearly and eloquently.

These are just a few things. I could think of a lot more. So could you. In face, you should. Make your own list of ways the world could be made better in 2013. Then, take your list and live it.

Be the 2013 you want to see.

Friday, December 21, 2012

After the Apocalypse

As I write this, the date is December 21, 2012. The apocalypse has come and gone – again. I look around me and see that everything is pretty much the same as it was yesterday. I can only assume that someone messed up – again.
Today was supposed to be the day that would bring either: (a) the end of civilization, (b) the physical end of the world or (c) peace, love and understanding. None of those things has occurred. This gives me the time to think about things and wonder about all those who have been caught up in the speculation/preparation for the End of Days.
There have always been people who delighted in telling us when and how the world was going to end. They gleefully told us that they would be saved and justified while the rest of us would be doomed to (a) eternal torture, (b) instant annihilation or (c) watch reality TV forever without commercial interruption. Given the choice, I would go with ‘b.’
I’m not sure why so many people are obsessed with determining the exact day and time that the trump of doom will sound. I guess it’s their way of feeling in control of things when they really aren’t. They want so much to be right and to be the ones who are totally in with God’s plan for the world that they bludgeon the rest of us with their statistics, their interpretations of mystical writings and a Mayan calendar. It must be really embarrassing when the day comes and goes and we’re all still here.
Remember Harold Camping? Back in 2011, he and his Family Radio organization told us that the end would come in May of that year. When it didn’t, Harold told us that the May date was a “spiritual apocalypse” and that the actual physical end of the world would come in October 2011. It didn’t. What can you expect from a radio preacher whose middle name is Egbert?
Still, to his credit, Harold Camping has said that he and his organization were wrong – not only in the dates that they set but in setting a date at all. Camping admits to presuming to know the mind of God. He calls it “sin” and apologizes for it. He has no interest in considering another apocalyptic date and only seeks to be more understanding of the sacred writings. Well done, Egbert.
In France, the tiny village of Bugarach is flooded with people. Someone decided that there is a mystical mountain nearby that is regularly visited by UFOs. Today there was to be a vortex to another dimension, provided by our friends from off-world. Police and reporters came to keep order and report on the many believers that wanted to climb the mountain and enter the vast underground area that is, apparently, a cosmic parking lot. “The circus has come to town,” one resident commented. Another resident, a transplant from Glastonbury, spoke of her friend Ian who had left town to buy clean underwear for the occasion (I’m not making this up!). Sadly, upon his return the gendarmes refused to let Ian back into the village. Now he has clean shorts and nowhere to wear them.
The rest of us are left to ponder the fact that the world is still here and to decide what we’re going to do about that. We can, of course, do the same thing that we did yesterday. When you’ve been threatened by the end of the world so many times, there seems to be no reason to panic or make any changes. We’ll just keep on keeping on.
Another option is to look at the meaning of ‘apocalypse.’ The word actually means ‘revelation,’ not the end of the world. I’m wondering if anyone came to any revelation today. Maybe someone realized that there are better things to do than to win a political battle or make another million dollars or look out only for himself. Maybe someone realized that when the world really does end, he or she would want to be found doing something good and worthwhile instead of something self-centered and petty.
Somewhere a child is dying of starvation. Somewhere someone is living on the street, cold and sick. Somewhere else a marriage is falling apart, a parent waits for a child that has forgotten them, and a young person is getting his first handgun.
Perhaps someone somewhere will receive a revelation telling them that it’s possible to change one of these things. Even one change would leave the world better than it started this morning. Maybe it will be revealed that, since the world didn’t end, we can actually do something. Today. There’s no time to waste.
After all, the world might end tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thank You, Ray

Let me say it up front. I love books and I love reading. There are some who would say that is kind of a wimpy statement. If so, let me say also that I love so-called manly things like football (especially if chili or buffalo wings are available), rock and roll, and wearing jeans to church. But before loving those things, I loved books.
I was raised an only child. Very early in life, I learned that books can make wonderful companions and friends. I read all kinds of things, from elementary science to history to fiction. I enjoyed science and history. They allowed me the chance to explore the universe in a way that I never could on my own. Still, it’s the fictional stories and novels that really captured my imagination and thereby set me truly free.
Jack London, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and others showed me what adventure could be. It was wonderful! Whether it was The Call of the Wild or The War of the Worlds or other stories like them, I relished the opportunity to experience the danger, the action and the heroism found in those pages.
As I grew, I found other things to love in my books. I began to see that real storytellers can show us what it is to be human by allowing us to get to know the people in their creations. Even in a work of fiction – or especially in a work of fiction – we can see what it means to be real. When we immerse ourselves in the dramatic interplay of person and life situation, we can understand what it means to be a true and living person.
Piers Anthony helped me to understand that, through his writings and through a number of conversations we had through the mail. Others did as well. Head and shoulders above those others is Ray Bradbury.
Ray Bradbury is known by most as a science fiction writer. The truth is that he was so much more than that.
We lost Ray in June. He had been sojourning here on earth for 91 years and it was far too short a time. Even at the end, Ray was still writing, still thinking and causing us to think. It wasn’t his science fiction content that kept me coming back to his novels and short stories. It was what he knew of being human.
The latest edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading was published recently. Each year a creative artist is invited to write an introduction. This year the invitation went to Ray Bradbury. Editor Dave Eggers and a committee of students working on the volume were surprised and delighted when Ray accepted the invitation and contributed a story. They were completed just before Ray’s death in June 2012.
In the words of his introduction, I found the essence of why I love Ray Bradbury. He writes about visiting the Waukegan library at age 7 and borrowing 10 books a week, astounding the librarians. Here is what he says:
“The books I brought home from the library caused me to think about the origins of life and the universe. How did it start? Where does it end? I recall Midwestern summer nights, standing on my grandparents’ hushed lawn, and looking up at the confetti field of stars. There were millions of suns out there, and millions of planets rotating around those suns. And I knew there was life out there, in the great vastness. We are just too far apart, separated by too great a distance to reach one another.”
Ray Bradbury looked at the stars and was convinced that there is life out there. It is only distance keeping us isolated, unable to join the community of the universe.
Today I look around at a world that Ray understood and, I suspect, grieved over. I look at the great constellation of humanity, brightened by shining examples of what we can be. I also see the dark emptiness between the points of illumination. The darkness tries to separate us and make us believe that we are not great cosmic sources of light, but are only weak candles fluttering against the utter absence of light.
I want so much to believe that it’s a lie – that we are separated only by choice and not by a gulf of darkness that cannot be bridged. If we can believe that the separation between human beings is a separation of choice, then we are free to choose otherwise. We are free to reach out to one another and to share our warmth and illumination.
Ray Bradbury was able to help us see the universe and understand ourselves a little better. We can look at the stars burning in the deep black and see a reflection of the divine fire that burns within us all. True, there is a distance between us that sometimes looks insurmountable.
It isn’t.
We can bridge the distance. We can traverse the gulf of empty darkness. We can, if we choose to make the effort, understand (or at least appreciate) the light within another human being.
Ray was right. There is life out there.
Thank you, Ray.

Monday, November 5, 2012

This Isn't What They Meant by "Suffrage"

By the time anyone reads this we will be either one day away from the election or it will be Election Day in the good old U.S. of A. In case it has escaped your notice (which means that you’ve been living under a rock or in complete denial) there is a major election going on. Those who vote will be deciding things like the Presidency, state and local offices, various amendments and, for some, whether or not they can buy beer on Sunday.
I’m not going to say anything about the beer on Sunday thing. Do whatever you want there. For the rest, I will not (to the relief of many) endorse a candidate here. If I want you to know who I may be supporting with my vote, you already know. If you don’t know, speculate all you want. All you’ll get from me is a knowing smile.
Still, I do have something to say about this whole election hoopla. Are you ready? Here it is:
Just shut up.
Yeah, that’s right. Zip it. Shut your cake hole. Silence is golden, so here’s your chance to get rich.
Pretty much all I hear from any candidate is why their opponent is a moral degenerate with either the IQ of a turnip or the devious mind of Ming the Merciless. It’s the fashion in America to slam the opposition with as much half-truth and innuendo as the airwaves and print media will allow. I’ve been suffering through so many TV and radio blitzes, automated phone calls and mass mailings that I’ve worn out the mute button on the remote, broken the knob off my radio, thrown my phone across the room and put barbed wire around my mailbox. Supporters of various candidates can’t seem to understand why I won’t join them with torch and pitchfork in hand to chase the evil miscreants out of politics and, preferably, out of the country all together. They want to claim America from someone else who wants to re-claim America from them. I just want to re-claim my life from all these people. I don’t think that this is the kind of “suffrage” that people have fought and, in some cases, died for.
I peruse a couple of social media sites because they help me stay in contact with friends and family. Social – get it? These days, there is very little that is “social” about it. Mostly what I see are people who, most of the time, seem to be reasonable and level headed. When there is an election, however, these same reasonable and level headed people become rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, name-calling, mean-spirited individuals who act like they don’t have the good sense that God gave a rock.
When the day after the election arrives, we’ll be inundated with all kinds of reasons and excuses as to why one candidate (or initiative, or referendum) passed muster and another didn’t. We’ll also begin to see people posturing for the next election. As if the one we just had wasn’t painful enough, we’ve got to start the whole thing over again – no time for binding our wounds, no time for finding ways to make things work and no time for treating people with respect. This is America, where the only thing that seems to count is winning. After all, that’s why we have American Idol and Survivor. We want to see winners and we want to mock losers. “Give me your tired, your poor and your huddled masses” has become “Get lost, loser. We don’t have time for you.”
I believe that the most dangerous threat that America faces is not from terrorists or economic crises. The most dangerous threat to America is Americans who have lost respect for one another. When we have lost that, we’ve lost respect for the reason America exists in the first place.
Throughout Election Day and the days after, consider that it may be possible for Americans to take part in the process of government because we love our country and not because we hate someone else whose ideas are different from our own. Consider the possibility that when it’s all done, we might still respect and even care for one another.
Wouldn’t that be a truly great way to honor America?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Story at the Next Table

“You look like a preacher!”

I looked up from my two eggs over medium and coffee to see a big man in his 70s, wearing a button-down sport shirt and holding a Huddle House cup standing over me. I think I had glimpsed him briefly when I came in, sitting with a local Baptist pastor at another table. My time was limited and my attention on my schedule for the day, so I immediately got a seat on the other side of the restaurant. I placed my order and started perusing my so-called “smart phone.”

The waitress brought my breakfast and refilled my coffee. It was as I was digging into my eggs that the accusation of being a preacher boomed out over me like a klaxon alert horn. I gazed up into unwavering blue eyes. I really didn’t look like a preacher. Sure, I was wearing a polo shirt and khakis, but I could have just as well been a clerk at Auto Zone. I gave what I thought was, for me, an appropriate answer: I pointed at him and said, “You take that back!”

He stood there for a few seconds and blinked. Then he proceeded to sit across from me without an invitation and started talking. It was then that I realized that I had been sold out by my Baptist pastor acquaintance. This guy knew what I had done in my previous incarnation as an employee of a Large Religious Organization. I really didn’t want to talk about it, especially to a stranger. I didn’t have to. In his booming voice, Klaxon proceeded to tell me all about how he was a retired pastor.

“Oh great,” I said to myself. I was going to have to speak Christian-ese with this guy when I just wanted a quick breakfast before heading off to work. I explained that I was retired from the Large Religious Organization. With that intense curiosity about other people’s personal lives that is common with preachers, Rev. Klaxon asked me what I was doing now. I explained that I worked as a chaplain with a local hospice organization.

Usually that’s enough to dampen any casual conversation. People just don’t know what to say to a person whose job it is to work with dying people. “Oh,” they say. “That’s good.” Then they wander away to find someone with a more comfortable calling, as if I was the angel of death and they might catch something if they talked with me for too long.

Rev. Klaxon was not deterred, however. He started telling me of his own hospice experience. He spoke of his wife and how they had been married for decades. He told me of the last ten years of their marriage and how he cared for her as Alzheimer’s increasingly claimed her mind. Rev. Klaxon told me stories that were both funny and tragic at the same time of how hard it was taking care of someone struggling with the loss of their basic identity. Finally, he’d had to turn over her primary care to a hospice organization as it just became too much for him.

All the time he was talking he smiled, occasionally chuckled and sometimes looked sad. My eggs got cold as I listened and my heart hurt for him. Rev. Klaxon didn’t need another pastor-type person to talk Christian-ese with him. He didn’t need deep philosophical answers or long quotes from the Bible. He just needed someone to hear his story. He needed to know that it all mattered – his marriage, his wife’s struggles with Alzheimer’s and his realization that he needed help.

I suppose that’s what all of us want, really – to know that someone hears us and that our story is important. That’s part of what we do in hospice and it should be part of what we do as human beings. It’s way past time that we stopped talking and began listening. We need to stop being so engrossed in our own story and realize that there is another story crying to be heard from the person at the next table or the one passing us on the sidewalk.

American society tells us that we should be engrossed in ourselves to the exclusion of all else. Most of reality TV exists for the sole purpose of making us feel superior to those on the screen. You need look no farther than that Honey Boo Boo tripe on The Learning Channel (The Learning Channel?! Really?!) So many of us are living First Person Singular lives. It should be a First Person Plural world. “I” needs to become “We.” We are healed of our own spiritual and emotional pain largely to the extent that we embrace someone else’s.

Rev. Klaxon asked if he could pray. “Of course,” I said. He said a prayer and got up to leave. “Nice talking to you,” he said. “I enjoyed it,” I answered.

“Thanks for reminding me to listen,” I added in my mind. I paid my check, left a tip and left for the Hospice office a half hour later than I had wanted. When I arrived, I told the story to Teresa, who keeps our office running.

“God puts you where he needs you,” she said.

“Thank God,” I thought, and prepared to listen to someone else’s story.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm Younger Than That Now

I tend to relate everything to music. There is a soundtrack playing in my head to events past, events present and events yet to come. Songs come and go, of course. Sometimes there is a song or piece of music that stays with us no matter how old it is or how long ago we heard it. It seems that there always something happening in our lives that make that particular song relevant, even if it is 20, 30, 40 years old or more.

Bob Dylan’s song My Back Pages speaks to me every time I listen to it. It doesn’t have to be the original version, either. I also really like the version recorded by The Byrds – Roger McGuinn’s jangly 12-string Rickenbacker does something wonderful for Dylan’s words. Together, they help me understand what it means to be younger than I used to be.

Crimson flames tied through my ears; Rollin’ high and mighty traps.
Pounced with fire on flaming roads; Using ideas as my maps.
I’ve spent most of my life following a road plotted on someone else’s map. Whether well-meaning or malevolent, there has always been someone who was telling me where I needed to go and when I needed to get there. I wasted a lot of time following their directions. Like an old man, I allowed myself to be led to points of view that were compatible with “the norm,” whatever that is. Because of that, it’s been a struggle for me to discover – and in some cases rediscover – the ideas that will allow me to create my own map. Charting my own course is a risky business, but I’m tired of plodding along a prearranged course for the nodding approval of those who haven’t a clue and don’t care about what’s important to me. It’s time to create a map of my own thoughts and ideas. Where will it lead? If I told you that I knew, I’d be lying. It could be like one of those medieval maps that sort of faded out after a certain distance and said “Here be Dragons!” So be it. Better dragons than “Here be Mediocrity!”

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

I’m younger than I used to be – in my mind. Physically, not so much. Still, it’s what’s inside our heads that counts. For me, it’s time to return to the attitude of questioning authority and to decide for myself what I’ll believe politically, socially, and theologically. There are some in the religious establishment that will take issue with that. They will allow me to believe what I want, as long as it’s what they believe. If I choose to be different, they will not welcome me into their circles. Again, so be it. I don’t want to be part of a circle that demands that kind of conformity.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth; “Rip down all hate,” I screamed.
Lies that life is black and white; Spoke from my skull I dreamed.

You’d think that in this, the Year of Our Lord 2012, we would be free of the repugnant prejudices that have plagued us practically forever. But no – we still decide someone’s worth based solely on things like race, gender, religion, politics or anything else we can find to separate us into “Us” and “Them.” We’ve become like the principal in that rerun I saw of the old Welcome Back, Kotter series. Mr. Woodman looks at Kotter and says, “There are two kinds of people, Kotter: Us and Them and they’re Them. Come to think of it, you’re Them too!”

Life is not simply black and white. It never will be. It never was. If anyone tells you that life is simple or that choices are easy, they are lying to you. We all have to navigate our way through varying shades of gray to find our way to wholeness. The way isn’t the same for everyone, no matter what we’re told. Sometimes I want to tell the world. Sometimes I want to scream it.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect.

So many people are talking about protecting so many abstract concepts that I find it hard to keep track. We have to protect our way of life against faceless, nameless threats from without or within. We have to protect ourselves against people who have different accents or different ideas about worship or a different way of life. What are we really protecting? Is it our own sense of superiority? Perhaps it’s our comfort in being a majority. Whatever it is, the political/religious pundits will make strident calls and appeal to our basest fears until they get what they want. Meantime, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten when those kinds of people wield power: the proverbial shaft.
Good and bad, I define these terms, quite clear, no doubt, somehow.

I have to decide for myself what I should do, what is good and bad in my life. There are plenty of guides out there. Some are trustworthy and many are not. Still, it’s my life and I will be held responsible for the choices I make. I don’t want to be led about and told what is good for me. I don’t want to be told what stand I should take or whom I should love. That was then. This is now.

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Alchemy of Age

In case you haven’t noticed – and judging from the lack of comment I’ve received, you haven’t – it’s been a long time since I’ve added to this blog. Strangely enough, I’ve been busy. Since my “retirement” from a Large Religious Organization, I’ve been on the lookout for something else. I want to re-group and re-purpose myself. I’m looking to find a new reason for starting the day and new things to talk about when I get home. People keep telling me that “it” is out there somewhere. They just don’t have a clear idea where or what “it” is.

Neither do I.

Still, I recently finished something that gives me at least a glimmer of what “it” might be. This spring, I launched on an adventure that brought me no fame and no fortune. It actually cost me a pretty good chunk of change when all was said and done. That’s how my life tends to work.

In lieu of gainful employment, I embarked on a chaplaincy internship. Ron, a good friend and former colleague in the aforementioned Large Religious Organization (hereafter referred to as the LRO), called me and told me about an opportunity that had come up very quickly. If I wanted to be part of it, I needed to decide and get my application done in about 24 hours. Thanks for the lead time, Ron! Anyway, I filled out my application and sent it (along with the non-refundable $50 fee) to the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia. After a few days and an interview, I was officially a Chaplain Intern for Presbyterian Homes of Georgia. I would be working Philips Tower, a senior independent living center in Decatur.

I had no idea what I was getting into, but it was an opportunity to explore not only a possible interest and a new area of service, but to explore who the last 27 years of loyalty to the LRO had made me to be. I should have been nervous. Really, I was more curious than nervous and looked forward to it. Sitting around searching the internet for possible employment will make anyone look forward to just about anything.

I had never worked with senior adults. The minimum age to be a resident of the PHofGA is 62. Most of our residents were well above that. Would I have anything to offer them? After all, I had spent my career dealing with the issues faced by college students. Would they want to accept anything I had to offer? They didn’t know me. Why should they be open to anything I said or did? What about the staff I would be working with? Would they allow me to be a real part of life at Philips Tower? It would take some kind of magic or divine intervention to make it all come together.

It would take some kind of alchemy.

The basic definition of alchemy is creating something of great value – usually gold – out of a common substance believed to be of little worth. I spend three months in an alchemical cauldron of people from different places who led different lives and who now found themselves residents of the same 10-story high rise. Into the cauldron they poured their personalities and quirks, their preferences and their experiences and their faith. To that mix I added my own experience, whatever expertise I had and my hope to be part of something bigger than myself.
I found myself amazed. I now believe in the alchemy of people. Remarkable things happened when we worshipped and celebrated communion together or when we talked together or when we simply encountered one another in the hallway. I had arrived hoping to witness alchemy. I stayed to become part of the gold.

Why? Simply, it was the people. Most of the residents were glad to see us on a daily basis. They supported us as we were trying to support them. I was humbled at the extent of their experience and the lives many had led. Some were sad. Some struggled with physical illness or limitations. A few were dealing with things that happened early in their lives but were so horrific that they were still in pain. Some were happy to still be able to talk or laugh or sing or pray.

I didn’t get the chance to thank everyone like I needed to and should have. I’ve never really been good at that anyway. Still, it’s important to be able to say that these people became part of my life and I’m glad for that. Some I will never forget.

For Ilene, who told people that I was her adopted son and who told great off-color jokes, thank you – I’m still laughing. For Jim, who was a high school classmate of baseball great Joe Torre, thanks for the stories. For Dorothy who never could remember what she had told me so she told me again every 5 minutes, I miss your smile. For Gwen, sharp as a tack at age 105, you inspire me. For Ben, who sometimes struggles for answers, I’m right there with you.

For the staff of Philips Tower, I thank you too. Mary, my supervisor, always wanted me to be more open and more transparent. I’m trying, Mary. Thanks for all you did for me. Bob, the funniest Activities Director around – I miss hearing rock and roll in the office. Rae and Belinda, thank you for your support and acceptance – and thanks, Rae for letting me play the djembe. Connie, empress of the office, we will continue to pray without ceasing. Stacy, thank you for accepting me as a part of the staff. Russ, I appreciate all your encouragement. Shawn and the Blue Men who keep things running – it was a great ride. And Scott, who got there two weeks before I left, I’m glad we reconnected. Who knew a former student would show up and be a fellow staff member?

I don’t know what the future will hold for me. I wish that I did. If I can find a place for myself that mirrors the alchemy of age that I found in that senior living center, I will be more than happy. I will be re-purposed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I Believe...?

I believe in God.

For some people, that sounds like a na├»ve statement. They ask, “How can you believe in God when there so much evil in the world?”

“Where is he?”

“If God is so good, why are things so bad?”

“If God cares, why does it seem that he’s never there?”

I know a number of preacher-type people who have snappy answers to questions like that. They’ll say it’s all about being faithful in trying times or that God is testing us, or that it’s all part of a plan that we are too small to see completely if we can see it at all. There are a lot of quick answers delivered from pulpits and heard on radio and television that sound deep and full of wisdom. They are not. They are shallow, pietistic platitudes. Often these statements are followed by a plea and a passing of the offering plate.

If someone actually has the temerity to point out how shallow and devoid of real truth these platitudes are, they are accused of having weak faith, or of being against God. As if these pious pontificators have a pipeline directly to God that is not available to you and me! They are quick to point how spiritual they are and how in tune they are with God and the Bible while they sell their books and their DVDs. “Come on and sing these deeply meaningful choruses while we tell you what to think, how to think and where to think.”

I’ve had enough.

I’ve had enough of religion that is based solely on feelings. I’ve had enough of religion that is based solely on inductive reasoning or on examining each phrase and word of the Bible under a biased microscope of whatever the popular theological method is today. I’ve had enough of an overemphasis on orthodoxy, orthopraxy and ecclesiastical correctness. I’m tired to death of the theological theme park we’ve made of our faith.

Do I sound bitter? I won’t apologize for that. I’ve seen too many good people who were seeking God be hurt by those who claim to be his messengers. They came with open hearts looking for truth only to find that truth was being jealously guarded by self-appointed spiritual storm troopers. The religious Nazis doled out minute quantities of the bread of life, quickening the hunger for the whole grain of truth. They then slammed the doors because someone didn’t look like them or sound like them or think like them or was not a supporter of the same political party.

Now, back to my opening statement. I believe in God. I just believe less and less in those who claim to have a hammerlock on his truth or his will for this world. It will be very interesting one day, when these very self-important people find that God is so much bigger than they are, bigger than their church is and bigger than their faith is.

I still don’t know the answers to many of the hard questions about suffering and evil. I’m very willing to explore the questions with someone who is a fellow seeker. I’m not as willing to sit still and be told to conform to someone else’s choices of acceptable faith.

Faith should be more than “acceptable.” It should be transforming. The problem is that so many people want to make God’s choices for him as to who should be transformed and what form that transformation should take. That’s a very dangerous game that I’m not willing to play. The costs of that kind of conformity are just too high.