A (former) Christian’s Argument for Atheism

This was so important to me I decided to blog it. It’s about something the Pope, my most favorite person in the Universe, said.

pope-frank
The quote and the article have nothing to do with each other, except being said by the same wonderful man. Okay, maybe there’s a tiny connection.

“How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”
~ Pope Francis

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/pope-suggests-better-to-be-atheist-than-hypocritical-catholic/ar-AAngu7y

 

I’ve been running this blog for about five or six years. About a year or so ago, I stopped posting. I’ve considered sending out an explanation, but my readership is pretty small, no one was clamoring for an explanation, so I let it be.

When I read the article about what the Pope said, I decided to write a post because his comments touched on something I felt very deeply. It was as if I finally had permission to speak about something I was ashamed to know.

Separation of the Church and the State of Being:

I’m not the same person I was three years ago. I came across a recent blog post the other day and I was reminded that my faith and love for God were so profound …

“Faith that can not withstand the light of reason, is not Belief, but mere Supersition.” ~ John Donne (I think).

                                                  … and so utterly out of touch with reality.

For new readers, or readers who haven’t read this, my family experienced and lost a brutal and abusive adoption battle, complete with corruption, harassment, one assault (albeit not an injurious one) against me by a social worker, and even abusive and neglectful treatment of the children by the system. I’d relied on my faith in family, people, the justice system, my understanding of God throughout the whole process.

That turned out to be a huge mistake.

In the ruins of what used to be my life, some of the little gems of non-wisdom I’d held on to couldn’t stand up to any rational examination.

So many things I’d been taught about God and told about God and encouraged to believe turned out to be just – in my world anyway – well, bullshit. All those pleasing, palliative platitudes were as useless as the pledge of allegiance during a frontal tank assault: “God has a plan,” the frustratingly misleading “Prayer Works” and “Things always happen for a reason.” Then there’s its fraternal twin “Things always work out for the best,” and my personal favorite “God never gives you anything you can’t handle.”

There was a reason for an entire loving, healthy, safe, law-abiding family, including innocent and vulnerable children, to be traumatized and destroyed by corruption on the possible scale of Pennsylvania’s Kids for Cash scandal? God had a purpose in me feeling like my whole gut was ripped from my body with bare hands and have the people who were supposed to be helping me treat me with complete contempt? God had a plan to traumatize and scar innocent little children?

Really?

If there was a purpose, maybe I could’ve been told about it. It might have helped me all those dark days and nights for God to let me in on His Little Secret. Knowing the Grand Plan might have helped me put my body soul back together a bit sooner and a bit better, but apparently He didn’t think it was important enough to tell me about it.

God’s supposed to be loving, and I’d always heard God loved me, but none of that sounded very loving to me. In fact, it sounded pretty manipulative, if we were all permanently traumatized in the service of a whole cosmic plan that benefited someone else but left us hanging.

And if prayer worked, and people were praying for us, why wasn’t it working in our lives? Does prayer work for others but just not for us? Where does that put us in the cosmic scheme of things?

payer-works
So does this mean I just didn’t pray hard enough?

It wasn’t long before my brain took all these questions and went global. It seems none of that stuff works out for a shitload of other people, either.

Taken to their logical conclusion, these soothing little bromides must mean: there is a reason that millions of women are raped and terrorized every year, God has a plan for children who die from childhood abuse or neglect, people who suffer indignities, abuse and/or illness to the point of suicide are simply chosing not to handle it, because God wouldn’t allow it if they couldn’t really handle it. Then there were the implications over centuries of genocides (including one itsy bitsy little Holocaust) that some people might argue God, in His infinite wisdom and omnipotence, might have let go on a wee bit too long.

In this light, some of those platitudes people say every day, and I’ve heard for forty some odd years, sounded downright cruel.

I’d gone from seeing God everywhere to not seeing God anywhere.

In fact, I came to believe, maybe if I hadn’t had such profound faith in Divine Intervention, that “prayer works,” that “there is always a reason;” if I’d trusted God a little less and my instincts a little more, I’d had kept my family, those children would have kept their safe and loving home. Hell, I might not be blogging right now – I’d be outside playing with my children.

divinity
The only Divinity I can be sure about anymore

My faith in God, Divine Inspiration, Divine Intervention fell apart. The only Divinity I believed in anymore was an old Southern recipe that overpopulated 1970’s church bake sales.

Even so, far be it from me to rain on anyone else’s theological parade. I can’t lie and pretend to believe this anymore, but each person has to come to their understanding of their world in their own time, and it’s not up to me to drive the faith and belief out of anyone. Even I’m not that bitter, yet. So I kept my mouth shut. It kept the bitching and moaning about my blog in my personal life down to a minimum, so that was an added perk.

All of that said, I have always loved Pope Francis, and still do. I admire the shit out of that man. I think he’s probably more Godly than our constructs about God. So when I saw the article, I was inspired to write again. Maybe it was validation, maybe it felt like  permission, but I was inspired all the same.

The Pope spoke to what I believed.

The Pope had spoken to my heart. He put the Papal Seal of Understanding on the second reason I left religion and belief behind: the failure of so many of Christianity’s self-avowed devotees to even faintly resemble what Christ taught in the New Testament.

In my old days, I walked around in a rosy cloud of thinking everyone had to be so wonderful and I was so … not wonderful, lacking somehow in some way each and every person I met was superior. Nagging, pesky little questions and doubts popped up in my brain, but I took care of them because whatever they were, they were mine, and ergo, wrong.

I knew (and tried to please) people so toxic they should’ve come with their own warning label. “Devoted” religious people who could be the meanest, most spiteful, most selfish people I’ve ever encountered. In my low self-esteem fugue state, I could be convinced by them and myself that the problem was me – not them.

So, when I started to wonder, what the fuck is up with this? Why were some of these people just so friggin’ mean? I pushed all those clearly rational thoughts back down again with a “Shush, these are Nice Anglo-Middle Class People because they dress in nice Anglo-Middle Class clothes, they have nice Anglo-Middle Class jobs and go to nice Anglo-Middle Class Church. These are the Right Kind of People.”

Eventually, riding that train of thought down the track led me straight to a derailment disaster complete with metaphorical and psychological toxic waste spill requiring the complete evacuation of everything I once believed.

The new me is a thankfully bit more skeptical.

Once I separated my unicorns-and-rainbows myth of Church People from my life experiences, I saw that the reality was less Carol Ingalls and Olivia Walton and more Bravo Real Housewives. Now, I knew some wonderful, loving, selfless, truly Godly women in the Church World. Ironically, though, these weren’t the women who sought prominence, and they didn’t wear their religion on their sleeve like a badge. Some of the most visible, prominent women showed themselves to also be the shallowest and meanest, once I got to know them. It wasn’t how it was supposed to be, it probably isn’t that way everywhere (I hope), but it was that way in the world I lived in. Given that I don’t have enough time or money to travel the globe, get a representative sample and do a full statistical analysis, I figure I have to base my new understanding on the data I have at hand.

Soooo ….  I looked around with a willingness to be brutally honest, and I saw:

561639e64cfa04814a58fbe186f3dae8People who’s actions bordered on theft, who exploited the poor for financial gain (then bitched about them), touted bigotry and misogyny. There was the one who never missed a service then tried to undermine a loving marriage with lies and manipulation out of jealousy. The one who taught Sunday School then harassed and bullied family members anytime a fit of pique struck. The ones who leveraged their positions in the church to promote themselves, their personal causes, and practice nepotism. Public advocates of Christ’s teachings while turning their backs on injustice or exploitation unless it impacted their own identity group. And I was supposed to be the spiritually inferior being here?

I seemed to remember reading something discouraging all that in the Old and/or New Testaments. But what the hell did I know, right?

We’re not just talking Catholicism here. It’s no one religion’s fault. There are mean little assholes in every religion. While I know there are mean little assholes everywhere (I worked in the banking/finance industry, after all), church is supposed to be the one place working to eradicate that kind of thing, not enabling it.

If someone keeps telling you they’ve got the cure, but it sure as hell looks like they’re still sick, who in their right mind is going to think that cure works? That might be what the Pope’s talking about.

And, as before, my brain’s newfound superpowers decided to take on bigger challenges and look around in my world. I didn’t have to go too far.

The Power of Prayer to do absolutely nothing.

prayer-is-useless
More and more, every day, this was pretty much my sentiment. Except I would have preferred a petition to a sandwich. A call to a representative, a written letter of protest. Those would have been good sandwich-alternatives, too. Prayers – eh – not so much.

It was the spiritual cowardice I saw and completely resented. People  wept crocodile tears and made public prayers about the poor, downtrodden, suffering people “over there” somewhere, always thousands or millions of miles away, but their response to our exploited children and destroyed family in their own community was a pat on the head, a prayer, and any combination of the aforementioned platitudes. I didn’t necessarily need a hug, although it felt nice, it didn’t put my family back together again or clear my name. I needed activism and advocacy.

I guess all the prayer and beatitudes gave people some sense of agency (and it was supposed to make me feel loved) in an overwhelming situation, but that wasn’t supposed to be the goal. It also serviced a sense of compliance and complacency that perpetuated the problem, honestly. Because, and let’s face it here, when the rubber hit the road and it was time to be counted, like Peter, they didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire of the controversy with authority.

The worst part was and still is to see almost everyone’s revulsion when faced, not with the horrible crap my family had to face and withstand, but faced just with the reality that we had to. Not everyone, but almost everyone I’d expected better from, and some people who owed us better. It was surprising to see the very few people who tried to actually help in a meaningful way. Only one would could be described as religious.

Everyone quickly become more pre-occupied with other problems. Short attention spans notwithstanding, the change in focus was, from my point of view, to causes more appealing because they were either immediately solvable (a few hours), or quite frankly, trendy, in-the-news social ills that played well to a the liberal identity, but many of which didn’t really solve anyone’s problems.

I’m not saying some individuals didn’t benefit, but these were drop-in-the-bucket feel-good gestures, some of which only had a fleeting Look-At-Wonderful-Us quality. When it came time for real action in a real situation of injustice, something that meant involvement and engagement for the long haul, in our situation … it wasn’t there.

In that light, I was disappointed.  I didn’t see much of what Christ taught. I didn’t see much of what the Old Testament taught. What I saw was the same old thing I’d seen in office politics and secular community groups dressed up in a cross. The Bible might have been the platform, but it wasn’t the foundation.

ghandi
I don’t know if Ghandi really said this or not. Like all my pics, I got it off of Google. But it does sum up my theological sweet spot right now, in fewer words than I ever could.

Why I stopped blogging:

Truth, sometimes, is not pretty. Oh hell, often it’s downright ugly, thanks to the dank, toilet-like nature of humanity most of the time. Deep down, I’ve always known this. I knew this before I knew how to sign my name in cursive. As a young girl, I was privy to the darker side of people, and fought hard to believe it wasn’t people’s only side. In ways I won’t get into, that need ironically led me to find mostly people with mostly dark souls, if they had any souls at all.

I’ve always felt strongly about writing the truth. I don’t always mean the factual truth, although accurate representation of the facts is important – no one knows that better than I do. The rest of our culture seems to be learning that Life Lesson about six months too late. I mean the truth about life, what we know, what we should know.

In the past few years, I’ve gotten to see a side of humanity, government, existence and even religion that most people are lucky enough never to see. Every day I wish I was one of those lucky, sheltered bastards. My truth is, well, a truth that sometimes requires alternating dosages of Nexium and Red Wine. Alternating, remember I said that because that is the key component there.

There is also the real backlash to my blog in my personal life from real people in my real life. These aren’t strangers or trolls, but people I know. I’d like to think I’m ballsy and badass enough to take it, and if I had hundreds of readers out there hanging on my every word, I would. But I don’t. Some days, putting up with the obnoxious and abusive bullshit I have to confront for writing something autobiographical, all because of someone else’s imagination just isn’t worth it. (This time, however, it is.)

I can’t blame it all on them. I’d like to, but I’d by lying to myself and you.

For a while, a brief while, my life was lightness and joy and love. There were patches of unpleasantness, but I could handle them because of the abundance I’d been lucky enough to enjoy. Then the luck ran out.

It pretty much beat the life out of me for a long time. And while I’ve done a badass job of putting myself together again, it has been a DIY project, with DIY results.

Quite frankly, I’ve soured on the most of human race. It makes me wish for life on another planet with aliens. By that I mean THE Ridley Scott Aliens.

alien
I should’ve lined up this Lovely to help with one of the “home visits” and seen how she reacted to a social worker cussing her out in front of her little babies.

The point is, I haven’t written because I don’t believe that anyone wants to hear what I have to say. This isn’t self-pity or self-deprecation; it’s an honest assessment of our culture. Hell, half of what I need to say I don’t want to hear and wish to God I didn’t know. I’ve waged my own distraction campaign with Nordstrom (God Love Nordstrom’s!!!!) online shopping and cake decorating to choke a horse, so I’m not all that superior here.

And if I find the truth so unappealing, how can I expect anyone to want to read a blog about all of that?

 

Happy Easter: Crumbs of Hope from Reality TV

Warning: irreverent pics ahead. Purpose: to offset serious subject matter.

easter candy
These little dandies bypass cute and go right into menacing, don’t you think? Ergo, I love them.

Today is Easter.

Last week also saw the Purim: Ta’anit Esther – March 23, 2016 and Shushan Purim – March 25, 2016, about which I know embarrassingly little. So other than commemorating the event, albeit late, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and my pen still when it comes to details about that. If anyone wants to comment, and offer some additional insight or information, please do. I would love to know more.

The common thread between these two, however, seems to be one of victory. I beg for correction here, but the way I understand Purim is that it celebrates victory over the Persians as told in the Book of Esther.

humor

For Christians, Easter is about Christ’s victory over death, over enemies, over oppression of his message, even over the friends who abandoned him when he revealed himself to them, affirmed his presence, and entrusted them with the legacy of his message.

This is based, for those not “in the know,” on the story of the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension as told in the four Gospels of the New Testament.

And thus, I have many complicated feelings this Sunday morning, as I wonder if my family, my loved ones, the innocent, helpless people I know will ever see victory.

Like Christ, we found and lost the first round. People betrayed us, abandoned us. Like Mary of Magdalene, we stood by helplessly with love and despair and watched everything go terribly wrong.

Thus, I’ve become a very narrow-bandwidth person, a one-issue activist. I could even be said to be a selfish little bugger, because I want restoration for myself and my family. I don’t mean money (though that helps), I mean reunion.

I mean resurrecting the state of family we once enjoyed from a cruel and sadistic destruction and restoring us once again.

I mean overcoming the lies and political agendas that overshadowed right and wrong and love and compassion.

You know, like at the tomb.

funny-pictures-history-so-i-was-like-mom-chill-out - Copy
I give snarky little frig magnets like this to my pastor. She loves it. What a trooper.

I am still waiting for the “Sunday” when everything will be renewed, knowing that outside the four Gospels of the New Testament, and Hollywood movies produced by Sony et al., people don’t always get that. There are stories every day about families losing children to absurd legal technicalities, sickness, criminals. Stories every day of people rotting in prison until they die, over something they didn’t do.

I have doubts rooted in an abundance of documented and highly publicized reality.
Then I watched TV last night.

This wasn’t some televangelist or movie with a proselytizing agenda that threw me a crumb of optimism and hope.

It was reality TV. Secular (gasp!) reality TV.

A reality show had filmed in a penal institution where some friends work (not live), so my husband and I watched just to see if any of them made it onto the show.  As we watched, there was a storyline of one kid who shouldn’t have been there in the first bloody place. As a middle-class, middle-aged suburban white woman even I knew within five minutes that this kid was only guilty of being black, young and in the city.

When the crew filmed him, did he protest, rage, object, as he had every right to do?
I mean, Jeez Louise even Christ had his moments of doubt and protest with God. C’mon.

This is what this kid did on camera: he was always polite, most of the time smiling, always calm. According to one of the institution’s personnel, he finished his high school diploma (not GED) for gifted kids with commitment and hard work. Then, we learn, he had decided to be baptized by a pastor he’d known before he went to jail

And so, the pastor was interviewed on camera.
He spoke about hope.
I was undone.

Hope, if I paraphrase correctly, was the last thread of life. In fact, it is life. Without it, we are dead. We must hope. Period.

What do I do with that? What in the hell do I do with that? When the one thing that breathed beauty and joy into my life – love, motherhood, family – is gone? When everyone says or acts out everything from “they weren’t really yours” to “you don’t have to be a mother to be around kids” to “you can’t fight city hall” to “well, I know somebody who had it much worse than you” to “this is too depressing, I can’t be around you when you’re like this”?

Oh, and let’s not forget the looks of “well, you must have done something wrong,” despite statements from half-a-dozen people and witnesses that no, in fact, I didn’t.

When friends and supporters abandon me, authorities ignore justice for their own political agendas, and my spouse and I are left to fend for ourselves?

Oh, yeah, like Mary M. and her guy. Like that.

How do I hope? How do I pray? I’m not a religious figure or the least bit holy. I’m a frustrated, indignant middle-aged woman cursed with a fatty liver, a potty mouth and an overblown sense of right versus wrong. One small, anonymous peon who’s tired of looking this particular situation from the underside of the bus I was thrown under just as it parked. Right here. On me.

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This is credited to Pope John Paul II in other images and sites. He’s the guy who fought Communism in Poland. Then became Pope. Talk about fighting City Hall and winning.

Then I turn on the TV and there’s this teenaged black kid sitting in jail for something he didn’t do and he’s holding on, being positive, not giving up.

So, there and then I’m reminded that I can keep the faith a little longer. I can keep up the good fight, which I realize I’ve been doing all along — as my own form of prayer. I pinch pennies to pay my lawyer. I learn about boring-ass legal minutiae to work off some legal fees. I pour over bureaucratic policies and proceeding transcripts for any iota of helpfulness. Is that prayer?

Former monk and author Thomas Moore says as a monk he was taught that everything we do is prayer. So, yes, maybe it is.
Will my prayer be effective?
There are no guarantees.

But sometimes, the good guys do win.

The show closed by adding an epilogue: the kid was released later for lack of evidence.

070408-david-the-abandoned-grave-psalm-16-dale-wells-51-728

So, even documented and highly publicized reality even says that sometimes, we do win victory over our enemies. Maybe someone in power, like Esther, who has some connection to our suffering, intervenes and instead of slaughter and persecution we get advocacy and victory. Maybe we make it out of the tomb after all.

I certainly do hope so. I’m guessing that’s what Easter’s supposed to be about.


In hoping that even writing is a form of prayer, I send a Happy Easter and hope for victory to Tarzan Boy, Nugget and the Abinator. 
And yes, Tarzan Boy, I do still love you after all this time.
More than ever, even in your absence, and will forever.
You don’t have to know it for it to be true.

Easter Message: Hoping for Hope in the moment of Darkness

He QiLenten-cross

Both of these are hard to credit. The left is cited as only ‘HE QI,’ I assume the artist’s name. The right is cited only as “Lenten Cross” associated with a church’s promotion of services.

These are my thoughts this Easter, as everyone around me celebrates the holiday. My post is grounded in the Christian faith, and cites biblical passages. My aim is not to convert or preach. In fact, I express more than a little doubt.

My goal is to reach out across the cyber divide to others, like myself, who may need to join hearts and minds with others who are struggling this holiday. We may seem alone, but we are not alone.


Today is Good Friday. This weekend in Easter.

Of course, there’s some redundancy in that last sentence, but bear with me as I try to leverage a rhetorical device or two.

Last Christmas I wrote about Easter, promising those of us who were in pain that this was our moment:

If Christmas is the Red Carpet Opening Night for that life’s work of compassion, then Easter is the Grand Finale launched by Good Friday.

And now Easter is here.

For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins.

I think a lot of people are out there who are still in crisis, still traumatized, still facing crippling uncertainty about their lives, their existences, their own survival, who really can’t be easily convinced that this is true. Admittedly, this is a truth more easily accepted by those whose enjoy the blessing of complacency, or who can see life’s adversities clearly in their rear view mirror.

If you don’t fall into one of those two camps, the promise of Easter is just that: a promise. Not fulfilled, not kept, and some days about as useful as the paper it’s printed on.

The good news that it will take me approximately a thousand words to get to, in spite of my own present doubt as to God’s divine assistance and intervention, my skepticism about the usefulness of God’s love for me in building a meaningful life here below, is that Easter does hold one bit of good news. We’re in good company.

Good Friday
Credited as medieval Abingdon Missal manuscript,Bodleain Library, Oxford, U.K.

 

Christ went through this shit too. To be even more blunt: Christ, whom many see as God’s own Son on Earth, the Word made Flesh, got royally screwed down here too. He got turned in to the authorities by one of his students, his friends acted like assholes, and he got killed. Killed in one of the most slow, painful, humiliating, public ways imaginable.

No matter how sweet and compliant the mainstream makes Christ out to be, according to the book of Matthew, he wasn’t entirely happy about it either.

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And so we come to last night, Holy Thursday.

Last night I went to Maundy Thursday service. It was sad; it’s supposed to be.

Maundy thursday

For Maundy Thursday, our service’s theme could be summarized as this: Christ knows the trouble is headed his way,  his closest friends are starting to crumble and he sees it.

And he’s completely helpless.

 

This is the scene: Christ and his followers are in Gethsemane. He now knows the shit is about to hit the fan: he takes two friends off a few yards or so and asks them to stay awake while he prays.

“Praying” here means begging God not to let this happen. I suspect it also means trying to wrap his head around this, all the while knowing that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and there ain’t a whole lot he can do about it.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ( Matthew 26:39)

When I was younger, I was confused – and awed – by Christ’s compliance with such a dire fate: Yet not as I will, but as you will.

Now older, wiser, sadder, more beaten by life, I imagine maybe Christ was not being compliant, but recognizing his own powerlessness in the situation: what was going to happen was going to happen whether he liked it or not. The Gospel According to Matthew makes it sound like perhaps he didn’t.

I can’t blame him. Everything was going to be very ugly from there on out. He begged God to make it stop. The God he loved. The God he served. The God he praised with every cell in His body.

God didn’t do a thing about it.

Then of course, people do what people do in a crisis: they run, they hide, they deny. They let you down.

His friends fell asleep while he prayed:

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

They pulled this crap three times.

Of course, we know about all the betrayals that follow: Judas, Peter’s denial.

I tend to be a little lenient on Judas; he’s just a guy. I know how wrong he was, but I also know how commonplace that kind of wrong is. I’ve known many people who succumb to Larger Than Life authorities who threaten people with the power to squash them like a bug. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. If Judas was any worse than most people, then it was only by a hair.

Honestly, this is how people act when faced with standing up for what’s right or complying with authority. How many people are willing to throw an innocent coworker under the bus, or hide evidence of wrongdoing if a boss demands it, just to keep a job? How many school administrators, daycare workers, etc., face regular threats from social services to support false accusations to maintain their licenses? How many people have felt coerced into cooperation or silence by corrupt police or lawmakers?

I’m not here to argue the historical accuracy, or factual basis of these accounts. That said, I don’t doubt for a nanosecond that this part of the story aligns with human nature. Ask anyone who’s watched half  of their friends shrink away during a long, drawn-out bit of ugly crisis. It’s what a friend of mine calls “empathy fatigue.” When the adversary is a big, huge entity (government, commerce), I call it abject fear.

Slander, false accusations (and people do run during that one), victimization. Why would anyone expect a rallying, working, devoted team of supporters and activists if Christ’s own disciples crumbled at the one moment of crisis?

The Erstwhile Easter Message:

For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins. Christ rises from the tomb, faces his disciples, gives them their message (which, if you asked me, we totally messed up).

It was a sign of hope: hope for victory, hope for survival, hope for transformation. So Easter for me always overshadowed Christmas in terms of spiritual significance.

Once upon a time.

I was accused of things I didn’t do when I was trying with every cell of my being to do the right thing, to bring love and hope into the dark world for a few people. Friends crumbled and ran and hid once it looked like the people in power had won and I had lost.

Some people might compare the one person with the power to truly help me to Pontius Pilate, a weak figure who, caught in the middle a formidable force and a lone, innocent figure, chose the path of power. I’m okay with that comparison. Truly okay with it.

I begged God not to let the worst happen, not to let evil destroy my life that was my family. I begged God to spare little helpless people the suffering they would go through at the hands of corruption and blind hatred. Deep down I knew how helpless I was.

Resurrected_Jesus_two_Maries
from Wikipedia. Listed as Stained glass from S.C., USA, Lutheran Church

I’d love to offer you some conviction that I, like Christ, rose out of the darkness triumphant and unrecognizable, renewed to be reunited with God.

If I did, I’d be a liar.

Maybe I’m still in the tomb, in the darkness, waiting for my transformation to be complete. Maybe it’s a metaphor of hope, of the miracle that happens to some people, but not all of us.

I don’t know. I wish I did.

I wish this Easter could mean victory and hope this year. But it doesn’t.

But it means something.

It means that in all the millennia of mankind’s existence, there is at least some frame of reference for my experiences – some narrative the truth of which aims straight at my struggles: they aren’t my imagination. And if some two-thousand-year old scripture can point its narrative finger at this experience, then it’s a struggle that’s inherent to mankind, maybe even to Christ himself.

And when friends and acquaintances run, deny, fall asleep on the watch, even rat my little innocent ass out, I’m still not alone. Somebody knows. Somebody went through it. He got out okay. Maybe I will too.

Maybe.

It doesn’t offer me much comfort, but it does offer me some.

 

Where He Lurks With Truth

This is a work in progress. It’s my take on a meditation I had at Christmas. 


Is it beauty you seek
Shiny and sleek,
Fine and meek
Light floods
The Alabaster jars in ivory halls
Bejeweling perfect, plastered walls.

Slight, light, white chimes fly away in the ethereal air.
Too light for me see. Too soft for me to hear.

I cannot find Him there.

Do you look away
From fire and brash
Desire unabashed
Darkness births
Stealthy joy and silenced rage
Exploding in darkened alleys and underways

Crashing, gnashing, bashing chords that breaks the ground.
Too much for you to take. I can breathe the truth in their sound.

I am told He will find me here.

Lips find my crazy
Hands caress my rage
Tears wash away my dirty
Blood unlocks my cage

Here we all are
screaming and bleeding
ragged and raging
crying and lying
biding our time until an easier day.

We wait to find Him here.

Truth cannot fit in Alabaster Jars.
Truth does not fly on ethereal air.

What need you of Him, if you are there?

Once We Were

I originally posted this poem three years ago. There has been some interest in my verse this year, so I thought I would re-publish it with some minor edits. 

As always, comments are welcome. 


Orbs once we were …

Suspended in glistening space
Brightly afire and white ablaze
Held only by primordial grace

Then drawn we were
By a pulsing explosive phase
And slowly together we came
Held by love’s orbiting embrace

Until we discovered the world beneath
And heard its call of mortal needs

Too quick by gravity pulled and thrust
We hurled to earth’s brittle crust

We fell from heaven we’d only known
Helplessly down we were thrown

Now ensnared by inescapable mass
Into this world we finally crashed

Darkening, hardening, we fall to embers
Under the glittering sky of what we once were.

 

The House that Rick built: “Four Walls and a Roof”

This is this week’s post on the most recent episode of The Walking Dead.

One thing I want to say about my reviews, present, past a future:
I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil or social problems. Any interpretation along that lines is absurd, and a complete falsification of my essays.

I see TWD as a fable, an allegory, and the essays I write about it are in that vein. For me Scott Gimple is a modern-day, albeit somewhat tortured, Aesop.


Am I psychic? Or a master of stating the obvious?

As I had hoped for in my last TWD posting, so it became and Bob had a little surprise for Gareth and his group. The ironies here abound.

Before diving in, the topic of cannibalism took on an interesting dimension for me in watching last Sunday’s episode that I wanted to explore.

The last two episodes, actually two parts of one story arc, take place in and around a church. Religion, confession, forgiveness, damnation, redemption, justice and even communion are explored.

There’s a lot of confession at the altar: Gabriel confesses to Rick, Gabriel later confesses to Rick. Rick here is the confessor, the priest. He dispenses forgiveness (earlier with Tara), cautious mercy (Rick’s warning to Gabriel about protecting his “family”), or excommunication for Gareth.

Then there’s communion.

Communion. At one point Rick thanks Father Gabriel for sharing the “communion wine” with the group. Gabriel reminds Rick “it ain’t holy until it’s blessed.”

Communion. According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, communion is:

the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.[i]

Father Gabriel’s church is an Episcopal church. A literal look at the episode leads to the question: does the Episcopal church follow this doctrine? Well, as a former Episcopalian, I’ll tell it to you straight: I don’t know. I looked it up, and I still don’t know.  What I did find, interesting enough, is the idea that:

for those who receive the form or sign without faith, or for those who are wicked, Christ is not present spiritually, and they consume only the physical signs of this holy presence, which further adds to their wickedness[ii]

This is where we find Gareth.  Just as Father Gabriel’s church is a perversion of the idea of Christianity where people are to be saved from an eternal death, Gareth’s practice is a depraved perversion of communion.

Because Gareth can’t engage in holy communion, so what he consumes only adds to his wickedness. When he hears a baby crying in a church, he is so committed to evil that the sound doesn’t call to his humanity, it’s a siren call to his brutality.

In “Four Walls and a Roof,” we find Bob filling an almost Christ-like position. He is tied to a stake, persecuted. On his deathbed, he reiterates his optimistic faith to Rick who holds Judith. It is in the baby’s existence Bob urges Rick to believe in change for the world. He lays dying, saying his good-byes to his friends, under a carving of The Last Supper, when Christ says good-bye to his.

I could write from now until The Walking Dead is something we tell our grandkids about and still not get to the bottom of all the theology and religion that gets presented, examined and turned inside out – as does the idea of communion – and still not get to the bottom of it.

In the sanctuary of the church, five bible verses are listed. For non-church goers, this is unusual. The board is usually used to display maybe a reading or two, then the hymn numbers from the hymnal. So, seeing this unusual use, I found the following passages based on the board:

Romans 6:4
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

Luke 24:5
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

(This is interesting. In the previous episode, Abraham says in his invitation to DC that “the dead shall die and the world shall return to the living.”)

Ezekial 37:7
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.

Matthew 27:52
and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

Revelations 9:6
During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

So, this is where it becomes tricky as to whether the writer was simply having a bit of Biblical fun for readers with too much time on a Sunday night, or if he was pointing to a deeper theme or meaning. A good debate could take decades. I will say that I when I read the Ezekiel and Matthew passages, I imagined Gabriel huddled behind his desk, reading those very texts as he couldn’t help but hear outside:

“the dead came for them. … entire families calling my name as they were torn apart begging me for mercy.” Well, dude, you could have done something about that.

I try to look for a nice, neat moral at the end of the fable when watching TWD, but in this episode I don’t think there is one. I think there is just a lot of exploration and smaller messages of hope, be it Glenn’s peace-making, Tyrese’s urging Sasha to always chose the path of love over anger, our realization that his prevailing characteristic is not an aversion to violence, but a commitment to compassion, as he violently saves Bob from “turning,” and sends Bob to a final peace.

A lot has been said about the slaughter of Gareth’s crumbs of a gang in the sanctuary of the church. Without a doubt it’s a bloodbath. However, both The Talking Dead panel and reviewer Hughes omit one important moral point Rick briefly makes.  If he lets Gareth go, it’s mercy on Gareth, but what innocent stranger is Rick dooming? There are no police, no laws, no prisons, no jails. How is one to balance the need to protect the world from Gareth and the desire to provide mercy? The safety and welfare of anyone unfortunate enough to “cross paths” with Gareth in the future rests squarely in Rick’s hands.

Rick listened to the group’s call to mercy in the previous episode: he just walked away and Bob paid a brutal, however ironic, price. Clearly, Gareth doesn’t know what to do with mercy when he gets it. Suggestions: walk away and do good to your fellow man. Pay it forward. Stay out of trouble. But sweetie, don’t hunt down and piss off your enemy with the red-handled machete who promised to kill you. He’s probably a big believer in “fool me once, shame on me,” etc.

Rick, however, learns and adapts:  sometimes, evil just needs to be eradicated or else it will come back to get you or someone else. Remember, he tried to reason with the Governor. That destroyed their very community and sent them back wandering through the wilderness again. Michonne, who spoke of her time before Andrea earlier, is reminding of this recurring theme in her life when she finds the children’s drawings at the church of a baby Moses with the caption “40 years of wandering.” Ultimately, though, they all are wandering through the wilderness.

When Rick’s gory solution to his moral dilemma is all over, Rick isn’t angry or triumphant or arrogant or despondent. He’s humbled: “Coulda been us.” There but for the grace of God go I.

Gabriel’s learned nothing on the other hand. “This is the Lord’s House,” he says facing the carnage with a sanctimonious sense of indignation. Really? So carnage of innocents outside the church is merely regrettable when the execution of depraved villains inside is blasphemous? Gabriel pretends to be guilt-ridden, but it’s a masochistic pretense, like Monks who flog themselves in the Abbey while ignoring the starving multitude outside.

“It’s just four walls and a roof,” Maggie explains.

After all, it’s what we do there and how we use that makes it God’s house or not.

A lot could be said about the savagery Rick resorts to. Would a good old-fashioned, Lonesome Dove style hanging with a sign that said “Cannibals” be more human? As the reviewer Jason Hughes of The Wrap[iii] points out, Maggie and Glenn are pretty awestruck at the violence – but are they appalled at the brutal killing, or the fact it was even necessary?

This is all fable: posing the question of what to do with evil in the world. Where is the line between mercy and the greater social good? I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil. Dear G-d I can’t even squash a bug.

Unlike Rick and his group, we have a justice system, attorneys, jails, judges, police and an entire infrastructure, albeit a corroded one, to address evil. One small moral to the fable may be that we just don’t use it. And by use it, I mean become a part of it, a working component of that infrastructure of justice and protection. Gareth and Gabriel failed. Rick was once an ineffective system: indecisive, then a bit irrational, then a lot of things. That said, he’s learned and adapted; he’s pretty effective at addressing evil in the midst of goodness now.  It ain’t always pretty, but it’s a safer world because Rick is in it. Abraham acknowledges this with his note to Rick as they leave.

One last unrelated thought: why do Maggie and Glenn go with Abraham? Let’s face it, this is about story development. It’s the only way to keep us invested in the journey for Abraham and the group, since we (the audience) haven’t built a real relationship with those characters yet, nor have they been given a great deal of screen time for character development. Thematically, I think the best bet is that after witnessing the ugly truth of the world they live in, where Rick’s newfound brutality is necessary, they decide to join the search for a solution, for the hope of a better world.

I’m still predicting Eugene knows squat about a cure. Is the needlepoint he say a hint? “Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.”

 


 

[i] http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_eucharistic_theology

[iii] http://www.thewrap.com/the-walking-dead-gets-back-to-the-business-of-killing-and-dying/

 

 

 

 

The Walking Dead: The Disciples Convene

So, of course “Strangers” was about religion. Given the trailers features a preacher and a church, I could hardly run for psychic of the year.

But.

Where “No Sanctuary” demonstrated the power of one group’s faith in comparison with another group’s absolute lack of any grace, forgiveness or decency, this week we see the uselessness of an empty religion: a religion that values only the words but not the humanity. It is a religion as empty as Father Gabriel’s church.

When thinking about what I was going to write, I was reminded of something I read several years ago in John Donne’s sermons. I paraphrase loosely.

“Belief that cannot withstand the light of reason is not faith, but mere superstition.”

Father Gabriel is so terrified by the world that Rick has to order him to accompany his group on the supply run, from which Gabriel will benefit.

Gabriel’s spiritual journey begins, as he must confront the “turned” woman we later learn he knew quite well. As one of The Talking Dead panelists noted, Gabriel prepares himself in a crucifixion pose, ready to be taken by the walker woman. However, this isn’t Christ-like, and if my reading of the New Testament is remotely accurate, a few of the disciples — if not the Holy J.C. Himself — might draw some distinctions between Father Gabriel and the Son of Man.

The distinction being a presence among the troubled, the afflicted, the at-risk – that might be the first objection.  As Carl finds out, Gabriel closed up shop and left his congregation to a gruesome fate when the fit hit the shan.  I will now out myself theologically to say this: we’re not supposed to do that. Really. There’s whole parts of the N.T. telling us that ignoring suffering and pain is the path not to take. So, Father Gabriel can transcribe the Good Book all he wants, but it’s beside the point.

One sad part to watch is how Gabriel’s faux sanctity reverberates onto Carol’s state of mind. He proclaims himself non-violent as a position of conviction, but as far as we can see, she never learns it’s a position of cowardice. At the “feast,” she’s alienated, estranged and troubled. Earlier she’s been in Gabriel’s study viewing the world “Thou Shalt Not Kill” in his transcription of the Bible. I wondered how much screaming, terror and death he listened to while jotting that down. Passivity kills, too. But Carol doesn’t know the full truth of Gabriel and his church, so all she can see in herself is guilt for the lives she’s taken, not grace for the lives she’s saved.

There’s no place for her in that church, if she’s to believe Father Gabriel. The irony is, she is the Great Protector. Last week I wrote that I saw Carol as an Old Testament figure.  I think “Strangers” highlights that point. Gabriel has forgotten the Old Testament theological heritage of protecting and defending the innocent, the helpless and even civilized decency in a brutal world. After all, when Christ taught, he taught as a spiritual heir to that religious history. Carol’s bravery that needs to be celebrated, and the brokenness that needs to healed is sent adrift because there is no place for it in Gabriel’s church.

What Carol misses is that apparently, though there was no room for killing in Gabriel’s world, there was no place for anyone else to live, either.

Carol’s so demoralized she runs. In a great deus ex machina moment, Daryl finds Carol, and they both see the car that took Beth. Off they go. As if in being lost, they were given a mission. There’s a lot of Zen in that, a lot of mysticism.

There is one odd thing that I noticed last week, but the biblical symbolism didn’t strike me at the time: leaving Terminus, there were twelve. As in disciples.  (Yes, I’m not counting Judith). In tonight’s episode, as they all follow Rick into the church, they tell Abraham that they will follow Rick, they will do as he says.

I don’t want to write about Bob. I’m deeply disturbed by Bob. I’m troubled by the storytelling itself, as well as the theme. It would be an easy reach for me to say that in leaving the church, he lost his faith and that precipitated his downfall, but I just have too many questions. Why so many throw-away lines during the episode? They only served to give the character attention, but didn’t serve the story. Why did he suddenly get upset? Why did he leave? Why didn’t he take a weapon and keep a good watch? Really, Bob, how long have you been hanging with the badass crowd now? Why wouldn’t he wake up if someone was sawing his leg off? I don’t think Gareth takes an anesthesiologist with him. I mean, it seemed he was happy with the Baseball Bat approach.

Myself, I thought Bob was hiding a bite. He’d been acting strangely after the basement scene, so I was all ready to have Bob look Gareth in the eye after that speech and go “really? Well, gotcha!” Then open his jacket to reveal an ever so lovely, crimson-soaked, crescent-shaped bite. In Season One, Jim pulled that off after the attack on the camp.

Or, while passed out, die quietly unbeknownst to the Terminus survivors, then awaken to have a few servings of Gareth sashimi himself. That would have been nice.

I mean let’s face it, Gareth has no arc. The Governor had an arc – he fell off of it, but he had an arc.

Next prediction (and this is long-term): Eugene is full of poop. I just don’t buy it. I’ve lost all respect for Abraham for buying it. I’ve known scientists, I’ve gone drinking with them.  And anyway, if the answer is in DC, don’t they have a bunker or something where someone would already be putting it into motion?

 

The Walking Dead: “No Sanctuary” – Religion at its Gorey Best

So, here’s my prediction: this season will be all about Religion in all its forms: faith, superstition, institutionalization, belief, protest, survival.

Trailers and teasers for the next episode already reveal several religious trappings: a church, a pastor (or priest). That, however, is just the tip of the ideological iceberg my friends. Even without those sure-fire religious images strewn across the screen, episode 1 – “No Sanctuary” – laid the groundwork for the exploration of religion, spirituality and its opposite (whatever that is) in a desolate, brutal world.

The episode opens in dark cattle car, almost devoid of any light. The camera pans across the black darkness before anyone can realize there are the faint grey outlines of a man’s shirt. Then the outline-like figures appear, almost silhouettes save the faint light on their arms, their cheeks, their feet.  The first sounds are screams. Each figure, sits, barely moving, waiting … just waiting. One man finally chokes out the words “we never should have put up the signs.”

Then, from a scene of total blackness, Gareth’s face emerges, unapologetic for the act that brought evil into their midst. “We were trying to do something good. We were being human beings.”  We find out that referring to that group as human beings, even if by its leader, in the past tense, is entirely accurate.[i]

As the scene ends, Gareth’s face is half-enclosed in darkness, half-revealed in light. He is, as we know, a man whose soul has been split. It’s not an ambiguity, or a conflict, it’s a rupture that turns him into something worse that the villains he faces in that moment. We learn later he’s not crazed and he’s worse than enraged. He’s just split apart.

The next scene takes us to our group’s cattle car and the stark difference between the groups. We see a hand grinding something against the floor of the car, snippets of conversations as the group communicates, shares information. Then, Daryl and Maggie discuss Beth’s situation. “A black car with a white cross” is what took her.[ii]  This is not a group of victims waiting. Even later, Eugene, in his pessimism, makes the choice of action and resistance over passive victimization: he believes he can “compromise this door” should Rick fail to return.

The group, however, showing remarkable faith and belief, quash his pessimism before it can be contagious. Carl and Maggie come forward in their belief and urge preparation for Rick’s Coming. It is almost biblical when Maggie echoes Carl’s assurances that everyone will return:

“They are. And we need to get ready to fight our way out with them when they do.”

They last saw Rick basically hog-tied and prone on the ground guarded by bad people with guns. Her faith is biblical. And, as it turns out, very accurate.

The scene at the trough echoes back to previous episodes. In “The Talking Dead,” Chris Hardwick noted that the blond kid on the end was “Hippie Sam,” from the episode where Rick banished Carol. Rick and the young man exchange looks of recognition. There’s a message here about the interconnectedness of us all, how the world is always smaller than you believe. I think there is.

What struck me however, was the echo to the season four’s Governor. Bob pleads for his life saying they can return the world to some prior state. Sorry Bob, but I don’t believe it either, much as I hate to agree with Gareth. When Gareth almost glibly replies that “We can’t go back, Bob,” I immediately remembered the scene on the trailer, where the Governor clubs his former chief minion with a golf club. While I might not believe you can recapture Eden, I’m not in for Gareth’s and the Governor’s psychopathic response at that realization either.

Sometimes, no matter how bad it is, and it can get bad, the only way forward is through. I hate it too, folks, but there it is.

{About the killers}

And then, just as a baseball bat is about to hit Glenn’s head … gunshots, a rocking explosion.

What the?

It’s what we folks from creative writing classes know as deus ex machina. (Gosh-darn-it that’s hard to work into conversations at holidays, so I gotta use it when I can.) But remember that, because when I say “God out of the machine,” I’m not exactly being a glib show-off here. I actually want to tell you something.

We don’t have to wait long to know the What or Who … our next scene (act really) reveals Tyrese and Carol with little baby Judith trekking along the train tracks, Carol notably skeptical.[iii]   She’s going to make sure they’re safe, then go. Yeah. Okay.

I’m going to skip the part with Martin and Tyrese right now and save it for my book I hope to sell you all later to finance my failed education and my love of kitchen appliances.

I love Carol. There is the whole issue about a depiction of a woman in my age group who is actually living a life and a protagonist, not a foil figure as a mother or mother-in-law or aunt. Yes, you can be middle aged and a badass, thank you very much.

Carol’s core ethic is simple but elegant: first: survive, second: protect your loved ones and community, third: do whatever’s required to serve the first two. In keeping with my thesis here, though, Carol reminds me of Old Testament heroines such as Deborah and my personal favorite Judith. Her story, for me anyway, resonates with the story of Judith: a widow, dismissed by the passive male leader of her besieged community who takes matters into her own hands to protect her community. She acts dispassionately, deceptively and brutally. So, when she emerges from the wilderness to approach Terminus, for me she is a blood-drenched angel ready to act.

There’s a lot of emerging in this episode: Gareth’s face emerging from the blackness in “Then,” Carol emerging from the wilderness several times. Toward the end of the episode, at the reunion, Tyrese emerges from the hut a changed man, almost a disciple of Carol’s saying: “I had to. So I did. I could.” This is his response to her urging to kill at the beginning of the episode: “You’re gonna have to be able to.”

Once Carol’s explosion breaches the fences, she camouflages herself among the walkers. In a separate shot, we see the walkers emerge from the flames, like demons of retribution from the fires of hell to feast on the very people who feasted on others. She seems to move effortlessly as she progresses through the compound until she comes upon Mary.

The room is part sanctuary, part memorial. Painted in huge letters across the walls are the group’s new ideaology, formed as they emerged from their own suffering:

“Never Again” –that’s a fairly legitimate idea for someone terrorized, victimized and otherwise exploited.

However, it’s the foundations they build on that notion, their own personal ethic that is a bit troublesome. Hint: it’s not “Love Thy Neighbor.”

“We First Always”
“Never Trust”

And then there’s the one tenant of the Terminus belief system that Mary explains, the one that must have been too long to write on the wall: “You’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle.”

Throughout her time with Carol, Mary uses religious, metaphysical language to describe her group:
“The signs were real …”
“This place was a sanctuary …”
“We heard the message …”

But it’s not a message of faith, not a message from any source more profound that the brutal existence everyone finds themselves fighting. It is “what the world is telling you.” That same world with the zombie virus that’s infected all of humanity and toppled modern global civilization. I don’t think I want to be taking that world’s advice. As Mary finds out, it wasn’t a very helpful message.

In the end, in Terminus, Mary finds herself the victim of her own fallacies: being the butcher causes her to be the cattle.

Throughout the rest of the episode, we see the outcomes of the differences between the two groups: one, an autonomic, institutionalized group that Martin describes as “a bunch of assholes I stay alive with,” versus a community of “friends,” as Carol and Tyrese try to convey to the very nihilistic Martin.

As The Talking Dead post-show panel noted, Gareth’s community is very soulless and regimented, which we see when Gareth comes in for “shot counts.” Rick’s community acts out of the soul. Glenn urges Rick to release people held in a cattle car “We gotta let those people out. …. That’s still who we are. It’s gotta be.” And Rick listens – this is the evolution from the Ricktatorship of seasons past.

As they make their way across the compound, we see the “turned” butcher from the slaugher room, the same guy who didn’t heed the gunshots or the bomb blast because “it’s not our job.” He’s now a walker. It wasn’t much of a career change.

As Rick unearths[iv] the hidden guns in the woods, Maggie and others urge Rick to consider a form of forgiveness – just letting it go and moving on. No retribution, no violent recrimination. Just move on. Again, Rick listens. This is a core difference between the soul of our group versus Gareth’s.

Moments later, Carol once again emerges from the wilderness. This begins the series of rewards for the group. Carol and Daryl are reunited (that scene took my breath away); Sasha and Tyrese are later reunited as are Carl and Rick with Judith.

That Carol is the means by which families are reunited reinforces her role in this episode as a rescuer, a means of salvation. After all, we’re saved by our relationship with others, by the relationship we choose to have with the rest of humanity and the world.

Throughout “No Sanctuary,” we see the Termites’ brutal, nihilistic, relationship with the world born out of their own passivity and sense of helplessness, and our group chooses and forms its relationship of belief, hope, humanity, action and resistance.  For that, they are rewarded.

And with Morgan hot on their heels, I can’t wait!!


 

[i] I’m as gullible and innocent as they come, and I have to admit that putting up a bunch of idealistic signs saying “come on in” is inviting trouble. What was their security? How did they screen? What culpability did Gareth share?

[ii] Okay guys, here comes the religious foreshadowing. Normally, I’m about as astute with foreshadowing as I am with lunar module landings, but this one I got.

[iii] I can’t take credit for this observation. It came out in The Talking Dead. Doggone that Chris Hardwick. Of course, he gets preview episodes I bet.

[iv] I really want this to be a hint of a foreshadowing about a theme of resurrection, or birth of good things. I do.

What if? Musings from a restless mind.

What if?

Lately the one thing I want – even need – to write about, I can’t write about. Thus, I have writer’s block.

I’ve been reading a lot of faith-based material lately: both Jewish and Christian. I’ve posted a few of the most moving I’ve come across.

If any readers have something you’d like to offer, please send it to the blog.

In the stillness I’ve come to observe periodically – partly out of necessity, partly out of circumstance, I’ve meditated on some interesting questions that grew out of my readings and ponderings, and prayers. I am not posing these as ideas or theology.  They are just interesting questions that came to me as I pondered what if?

What if we are far more accountable for bringing God’s presence to humanity than we ever imagined?

What if the Christian Kingdom of Heaven is not a remote place to which we gain entry, or even a level of achievement we earn, but rather a state of affairs that we are supposed to create here? What if the Kingdom of Heaven is not a place we’re supposed to go, but supposed to build?

What if, for Christians, the “Second Coming” isn’t an arrival of an embodied Christ, but the revelation through discovered texts and historical fact that brings us to a new awareness of Jesus and His message and mission? What if the “Second Coming” is our coming closer to Him, and not the other way around?

Between 2005 and 2007, new Christian writings were discovered in Jordan.[i] The Nag Hammadi texts, writings about the Christian Gnosticism, were discovered in 1945. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish texts were discovered in the middle of the twentieth century. What if the “Second Coming” isn’t an arrival, but a revelation of information?

What if the New Testament miracles are as much about the miracle of spiritual awakening as about a healing of the body?

Restoration of sight, understanding; resurrection from death, spiritual awakening from nihilism; healing of paralysis, the ability to move forward through life and understanding?

The following index gives citations for Jesus’s miracles detailed in the New Testament:
http://christianity.about.com/od/biblefactsandlists/a/Miracles-Of-Jesus.htm

I have yet to verify all citations, but as I went through, I was struck by the multiple occurrences of the same type of healing: six healings of blindness, two incidents of resurrection.  Any debate on the historical accuracy of these become – for me anyway – moot. What’s important to me, because it was clearly important to the writers of these texts, is what they mean – a possible healing of what ails us, not only medically, but spiritually.

What if Old Testament stories are as much about our individual spiritual journey and relationship with God as they are about events?

What if Noah’s story isn’t only about a flood, but about the futility of seeking a world without evil, because we all are fallible?

What if Jonah and the whale is about the inevitability – sometimes – of performing a necessary mission? And acceptance of a fate that cannot be controlled? Jonah tries to be the author of his own destiny, but fails. He succeeds only when he surrenders.

What if the exodus is also a blueprint for our own personal journey, the time it takes to “wander in the wilderness” after escaping an enslaved mentality (to whatever self-destructive or narcissistic values a society may offer) but before being able to enter spiritual freedom?

This is not an instant process – the spiritual journey is as unchartered as the biblical wilderness, and we as modern individuals are as prone to as many mistakes as the Bible describes then.

What if science is also God’s way of speaking to us?

What if a timely fulfillment of God’s Will is somewhat dependent on us?[ii] What if, like a system described by thermodynamics, there is stored energy for God’s Will all around us, but we are the catalyst that initiates the release of that energy, like a spark turns wood to flame and releases the heat and the light?  What if we are God’s catalysts?

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalysis:
reactions go faster and with less energy. Because catalysts are not consumed, they are recycled. Often only tiny amounts are required.

What if our limited physical senses are still not attuned to everything that goes on around us? We know dogs hear sounds we can’t hear, smell scents we can’t detect. What if we are as unaware now of latent energies and powers that fill our world as we were of electricity five hundred years ago? What if all sorts of undetectable, unknowable forces fill our world, and we are as incapable of knowing through our limited understanding as the ant is incapable of speaking with us?[iii]

What if for all the answers we think we have, we have the wrong questions?


[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12888421

 [ii] My pastor and I discussed a similar idea; her position is that God’s will is not dependent on us. I don’t disagree entirely, but I think she’d agree that as a race, human beings could work harder at being facilitators (catalysts) rather than obstacles (inhibitors).

 [iii] A friend brought up an interesting point: what if the ant is speaking with us, but we are incapable of hearing? Having such thoughts makes her a good friend.

Title in search of poem

The answers have flown their cages

In search of finer questions

The window spurns the sun

I alone remain

I am no slave to daylight

Nor a fool for the moon

I turn my face from the portal

And open to the world.

And so my truth begins.

Letter to Noah

The flood is futile
It cannot clean
The truest soil
That lives within

We are born to fly
And born to fall
Born to sin
From grace to fall

But soar we can
And try we must
Briefly behind
Leave earthly dust

In far greater deep
Our souls do dwell
We often choose
To allow this hell

Sin breathes the air
We allow by day
It walks the earth
Only by our say

Come the night
We pray for more
We hide in dark
And shut the door

Honor, justice
We must seek
Then bring them life
And our children teach

The world is ours
It is what we make
God gave us choice
God we cannot blame

 

 

 

 

 

Stealthy Love

Joy slips in
Like a spy
Through the halls
Of their disbelief
My prison walls
For now.

Love soars over
Like a wind
Above the decay
Of their blasphemy
My prison cells
For now.

Your smile encodes the possible
Your kiss ensures tomorrow
Remind me of God and Heavens
Victory of the future
Over now.

Hope is our secret.
The secret of God
Written into the wonders
including you.

God’s promise in your face.
Look upon me always
That I may remember
And I shall carry on
With joy
With love
You have brought through
Against their knowing.

 

Apprentices of Alchemy

This is still a work in progress. My last poem took me six months, and I’ve got another under construction for a year. This one said something I needed to say, though.  Feedback welcome. 


Apprentices to alchemy
of the soul

Send poison from their lips
to our bones

Once wiser wizards healed hearts
stone to gold

And crushed minds and hearts
they let unfold.

Now see tender spirits
bent to mould

Spirits taken as their own
then sold

For lesser massive missions
of the bold

One marching, silent, aching,
muted moan

Living the Steampunk Life

Poster
photo credit unavailable

“No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.” ~  Friedrich NietzscheThus Spoke Zarathustra

I normally don’t like to post links to other sites, unless they are informational: secondary sources that support what I’m writing. I’m an aspiring writer, my blog is supposed to be for that.

Those of you who follow me, should know by now that the above kind of caveat means something is coming, probably a link to another site.

I came across a site about a Steampunk house and fell in love with the aesthetic. the link is at end of the post, The inventor is both the homeowner and home renovator. I’m more into Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement, but I do love this man’s Steampunk aesthetic all the same. The item I fell most in love with was the stove. I actually found the picture when looking at antique stoves — just for ha-ha’s. I’ve always wanted one, but prefer induction cooking, so figured I could never enjoy one.

This man figured out how to use a halogen cooktop on an antique stove.

credit_FrankSiciliano_2_ORIG
photo credit FrankSiciliano

In other words, he found a way to create something he desired, something that was of his own vision, though it seemed impossible to me, for whom everything must come out of a box. If it didn’t come that way, I assume I can’t refigure it. He didn’t limit himself that way: he wanted a Victorian stove but a modern cooktop. It didn’t come in a pre-packaged, pre-built box, so he made it happen out of the materials and tools he had on hand.

How many opportunities did I pass up in the past because they didn’t come in a box, they weren’t manufactured and fabricated in masse to accommodate a pre-existing paradigm? How many times did I indulge in self-criticism because I struggled against the walls of a pre-fab, pre-boxed stereotype for my own identity? My life’s goal has been to get outside the box spiritually and professionally; I struggle with that every day. This man got outside the box, and created something beautiful.

This is a lesson I want to share with my children about so many things: about problem-solving, about healing, about self-discovery. A million people with a million ideas will present them with their own ideas about what they should do, whom they should be, how they should heal. All those ideas will be fabricated and packaged with detailed instructions from some ideology. I don’t think even the people who invented these theories meant for them to be applied so rigidly and so universally sometimes, but we are a people of McDonald’s everything: one taste worldwide, produced by machine on an assembly line.

Steampunk diagram
photo credit unavailable

But sometimes, God, the Creator, the Benevolent Universe, sends us a “sign,” a short little Twitter that reminds us how much we can create according to our own vision. It may be the example of someone who authored their own life in some unimaginable way – completely off-script, and found beauty or success. It could be the opportunity that evolves into a life.

It could be a picture of a guy with a wicked cool stove I’ve always wanted.

And so, I’ve come to the notion of a steampunked life: where the old is taken and not just dusted off and painted (and presented as something new), but integrated with something new to become something entirely unique, and fitting the one individual who needed it. Taking what has existed before, integrating something that seems incompatible, and creating a vision that fulfills what is wanted, that realizes the vision of what is needed.

I’m posting the link to his site out of admiration not just for the stove (which is, indeed, Mighty Cool), but for his creativity, and what his stove taught me. Thank you.

http://steampunkworkshop.com/visit-steampunked-home


The designer/inventor has generously given me permission to discuss his work and use photos of his inventions. If you would like to see more of his work, please go  to: http://modvic.com/photos/, the source for all photos used in this post.

Redemption as Reset?

Last week, I chanced upon a televangelist and decided to listen. There are a couple I really like, one who has been quite an inspiration to me, many I disregard and a few I hold highly suspect. This is all to say, it’s a mixed bag and this guy may have had something to say I could appreciate.

His message was something I’d heard before: that no matter what we have done, no matter what has happened to us, God can make it as if it never happened. I had an immediate reaction to this.  

I’ve heard this message before, and it’s something to which I grasped earlier in my life, just after a time of turmoil, doubt and quite honestly, darkness. My life had spiraled to a place I didn’t like in a way I couldn’t quite understand. I felt like Job with boobs. Even after the downfall had stopped, and I was well into an upswing, I prayed with all my heart and worked with all my might so that my life could be as if all the things that brought me to that unfortunate place had never happened. I wanted everything around me to look to the world, and myself, as if I’d jumped straight from nineteen to thirty-five without a single hiccup or mishap. In other words, I did everything I could to make sure I would be normal. And eventually, I thought came very close.

The boredom nearly killed me.  

Thing was, all that stuff from childhood, adulthood and in between had happened. I could have the “normal” job, live in the “normal” type of place, buy everything everyone else bought, try to look like everyone else did, and fake my way through the whole Clonecticut way of life. But none of that could erase from my memory, my soul what I’d known, what I’d seen, what I’d been. And when I had to pass for someone who didn’t know what I’d known, who didn’t understand what I understood, well, it was a little irksome. More than a little.

And that’s when someone helped me realize: is being what I am – someone to whom all those things happened, someone who did all those things I did — is that such a bad thing? Is that what I need rescuing from?  Does redemption mean erasing it all, making me like everyone else, and moving forward? Is Redemption a Reset button? Or is it something else entirely? 

I can’t quote this directly right now, but when I was reading about the Kabbalah once, there is apparently a passage that spiritual seekers must understand “the underside of evil.”[1]  Well, check. I also read that people under forty were not allowed to study the Kabbalah in the middle ages. You had to have some life and experience under your belt. Check and check.  Boy, was I qualified for this. And it involved God. And the bad stuff might actually be valuable? Whoa.

So, apparently, all that stuff and all those years weren’t a waste after all. You hear middle-aged people talk about “life experience,” and young people act as if that’s just how we reassure ourselves about beer guts and wrinkles. Well, after spending two years with the young, beautiful people, I can tell you, it’s worth every bit of sag and flab. But that’s a whole ‘nother post. Point is, apparently, that bad stuff can actually be useful.

Case in point:  
Self-aborbed as I love to be, I don’t actually write about myself with the expectation that everyone out there is fascinated to pieces with little ole me. It’s my life’s dream maybe, but I know it ain’t likely to happen. Thing is, I am now in a pretty good place. With the unemployment, the challenges, the blah blah blah, I still feel better, am better than when I didn’t have any of these problems, but felt the world was bleak and dark. And what I remember was how utterly frustrating it was to hear the bland platitudes and well-meaning aphorisms from well-meaning but utterly unknowing people around me. Sure, some wanted to help, but some had less altruistic motives. And however must some of those people may have wanted to help, they couldn’t help me with a problem they didn’t really understand. It’s like I told someone recently, when you’re lost in the woods, you really don’t want directions from someone who’s seen it only from the outside. In short, those of us who look to the world and, to quote Leonard Cohen must say “I am one of those,” meaning the hurt, dejected, sinful, wounded, strange, weird and whatever else, we can help each other, and maybe even help others avoid some of the pain we’ve faced either at our own hands, or the hands of others. If not, at the very least we can keep each other company. At the very most, we can offer up our experiences to those among us who don’t know they’re not alone and those who will come after us.            

So I’ve changed my mind about redemption and salvation. I don’t need a reset. What I need is to bring something good from the bad. Over time, I’ve come to believe that there is nothing so bad that God can’t make something good of it. I think of that every time I think of how I met my husband. And when you realize that, when you think of redemption that way, it matters less what happened before, and even though it may still hurt from time to time, it begins to matter more what you do with it. To me, that’s redemption.  


[1] I will update this as soon as I am back with my books.