Monday, February 09, 2015

Maybe There Is Hope For Us All

Something this week has kind of given me a renewed hope that there is still good in humanity.  I have to thank my friend Emily Suess for this.  Emily and I have been friends forever.  We were catching up on our lives when I told her about my sister, Cheryl.  She was touched.

A couple of days before Christmas, my sister had a stroke. It was her second one.  It was a perfect cap of one lousy year - a year that included the passing of our mother. This stroke has really been something else.  It took most of her eye sight and caused a great deal of confusion.  I won't get into too much of the details, but you will have access to get some more later in this post.  Just know that she has been placed away from the family.  If her condition wasn't scary enough, she has to do it without as much family presence.  She is alone, probably scared, confused and undoubtedly depressed.

Emily was so touched that it motivated her to action.  As fate would have it, this week happens to be Random Acts of Kindness Week. She started a campaign to get people to participate in sending her cards, little gifts, and words of encouragement.  She wanted Cheryl to know that despite her current situation, she has worth and she has a lot of friends supporting her - even if she has never met a lot of them.

I am dedicating this post to my sister, but also to Emily who has shown me that people still care about each other in the age of smart phones and selfies.  Please read Emily's post and do what you can to help out, if this story touches you, too.  Even if it is just to pass on the story to your friends and followers, every little bit helps to put a smile on my sister's face.

Read all about it:  THIS YEAR SEND A VALENTINE TO A STRANGER


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Unlikely Meeting

The coffee shop was mainly empty when the stranger entered. Most patrons had gone home to be with their families now that the holiday was winding down. As the new visitor looked around, he recognized Tom Trindle paying his check. On a stool three feet away from him, Harry Lemke was speaking too loudly in the business end of his phone for the atmosphere of the small diner, but everyone acted as if they didn't mind.

Trindle walked passed Lemke and the new arrival without even a glance up and made his way out the door. The stranger made his way to a booth in the back. There he sat across the table from another man still in a Santa suit sipping hot chocolate and eating a blueberry muffin.

Harry, still on the phone was oblivious to the two characters seated at the booth, but Stella the waitress was not. She had already waited on Santa and found him friendly enough to earn the bells on his hat. She didn’t know what to make of the strange man now seated with him dressed in a robe and sandals – odd enough in principle but particularly so this time of year. She took him a glass of water. The stranger smiled at her and offered his thanks as he called her by name. Stella slightly taken back by the fact that this visitor knew her name inquired, “Who are you supposed to be, Jesus?”

The stranger replied, “I am.”

Stella mustered an uncomfortable smile as she made her way back to the counter for she knew that the stranger required nothing more than the water and he didn’t look like he could pay for more than the price of "free" anyway.

“I always wanted to meet you,” Santa said. “You are the reason I’m here.”

“Some say it is so for godly reasons; others say ungodly,” replied Jesus.

Santa spoke up, “I assure you sir, I have only the most honorable of intentions. I make all the boys and girls know that the night before Christmas is the most special time of the year. I picked your day to show generosity and love to all people.”

“Do you not think that you have replaced me in many ways in the lives of the children and their parents?” asked the bearded man.

Santa looked down sheepishly and said,“I cannot control the minds of the people. I can only be what it is that I am.”

Jesus smiled, “You are my seed that is planted in the children’s hearts. The crops that grow from you will only be realized when the children are older – IF they are watered and nurtured.”

Santa exhaled in great relief. “I am glad that you see me that way. I do not want any glory for myself. I only want to devote my being to loving and giving. We are a lot alike in that way, do you not think, Teacher?”

Jesus replied, “As there are attributes we have in common, there is one major difference between us that can never be bridged no matter how much faith the people have.”

Santa smiled sweetly, “I know, Master. You do not need to say any more.”

At that instant, Stella looked up to see an empty booth. She rushed over to see if on this Christmas evening, she would actually get stiffed for the $2.25 owed to her. She discovered on the table a five-dollar bill and a profound sense of peace.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Love, The Concept (CFTA)

In the observance of Psychosomatic Wit Month of Love, I give you the first Love Post
CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES
        
The word "love" is thrown around a lot without much consideration. Wise are those who profess that they have never been in love.They aren't wise because they chose not to be in love - for it is not of their choosing. They are wise because love is such a powerful and enigmatic thing that they don't want to throw the word around if they are unsure.

Infatuations and crushes are not even in the same caliber with true love. However, they are often mistaken for love by the naive. People get a funny feeling in their heart (or more accurately, stomach) and BOOM they pronounce it love. Hardly.

Love is permanent and it is painful. Love attaches itself to you as though you have discovered another part of your body that was previously hidden from your perception. It operates in every system of your body and you soon discover that it is necessary for survival - even when it is injured.

Love is eternal. You cannot fall OUT of love with anyone. That is like saying, "I use to have a heart, but now I do not." If you think you used to be in love but now you are not, you probably are mistaken. Perhaps. it was never love but something else. 

How do you know if you are in love? The feeling (and I use that term way to loosely for it is much more that), when examined, is patient. It will wait forever for the fruition of the relationship for it sees no other choice. There are no ultimatums in real love. It also keeps no record of offenses and never holds the offender permanently accountable. It is a ONE-WAY street. It only flows away from you. If love flows to you it is only because it comes from another's one-way street.

Love motivates toward a relationship. A relationship is steadfast work. Therefore, love motivates work. If you are lazy at your relationship, you probably aren't in love with anyone. Love is inconvenient but is worth all the problems.

Finally, love separates us from the world in which we are confined. It is the only thing that can remove us from this awful place we live and allows us to dwell in a higher plane of existence.

These things are components of real love and they ALL must be present for it to be considered love. One or two of these attributes are not enough.  

Love is only fashioned by the divine.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Something Wrong With Facebook



It has to be talked about. It is taking over our lives!  

What's wrong with Facebook?  How much time do you have?  There are a lot of things that I could talk about.  A lot of people gripe about its internet security issues. I, myself, refuse to download the Facebook message app to my phone because of all the crazy access it wants.

Then there is the whole changing culture thing that it shares with Twitter.  We are so ADD as a species now that if we can't say something in 140 characters  most people won't even mess with us.  I have discussed with friends how that mentality has put a damper on the whole blogging culture.

HEY!!  I am not done yet!!  Bear with me!! I will try to be brief!

No, today I will talk about the whole insipid commands for us to "like something or share something or else" nonsense that we are inundated with.  What is that all about?  " 'Like' this if you are against animal cruelty."  " 'Share' this if you love your mom."  Really?  I can't love my mom or detest animal cruelty if I don't play your game?  I am halfway scared to find someone picketing my house!

It is like being caught up in a Seinfeld episode.  Remember when Kramer didn't want to wear the ribbon on the AIDS walk?

WALKER #1: Hey, where's your ribbon?
KRAMER: Oh, I don't wear the ribbon.
WALKER #2: Oh, you don't wear the ribbon? Aren't you against AIDS?
KRAMER: Yeah, I'm against AIDS. I mean, I'm walking, aren't I? I just don't wear the ribbon.
WALKER #3: Who do you think you are?
WALKER #1: Put the ribbon on!
WALKER #2: Hey, Cedric! Bob! This guy won't wear a ribbon!
BOB: Who? Who does not want to wear the ribbon?

It's madness, I tell ya!  But that isn't all of it?  You also have to throw in the personal element.  Your friends lose their minds if you don't "like" or comment on something they put up. "What's wrong, you don't like my cat?" 

I would be tempted to reply, "Yeah, a helluva lot more that I like you right now.  Your cat doesn't have inane expectations of me and define our relationship
with them."

Facebook behavior is so predictable, too.  I can guess about 40% of you are thinking, "If you don't like Facebook, then you don't have to be on it!"  No, I don't  have to, but then how would I know how many people will end up liking this blog post?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

God's Will vs Free Will: Epilogue


Part IV and Final Chapter of the Process of Prayer

I must say that I am a little relieved that this is the last in the series about God and Prayer.  I have learned that this has been more for me than anyone reading it.  It has gotten pretty personal and like the song from Anna Nalik called Breathe puts it:

 And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you'll use them, however you want to


I wouldn't write it for everyone to see if I didn't have some kind of hope that at least one person can get something out of it.  I may never know.



At the end of my last post, I was kind of at a spiritual crossroads.  To refresh your memory, or catch up, you can find it here:  Part III of the Series

No one wanted to walk away from God more than I did.  My position was that I put God and His existence to the test and He failed miserably.  If I can take that and write Him off in "Ostrich Paradigm" fashion, I can still make the best of this life.



No more would I have to yield my life to a myth's idea of morality.  There was a freedom there that I could sniff out even through the heavy stench of grief.  I was on my last legs before; now the God-myth just took my legs out from me.  Well, this was going to be the last time!



However, something funny happened on the way to the Evolution lecture. God was still there. I can't really explain it.  It wasn't this cool, "I'm with you even in your sorrow" kind of presence.  It was just this ubiquity that I couldn't escape but wanted to quite badly. So now, not only could I not break away from the God myth, I had to face the reasons why God, Himself, didn't care enough to honor my prayers. I wasn't angry with Him, just hurt and confused. The account of that struggle is for another time, if ever. 


It took me weeks to allow myself to think about it very much.  Sure, I vented to a few people I thought might understand . . . I think I was wrong about that, by the way.  I finally just had to concede that I don't know why things happened the way they did, I just have to accept that it did and that either way, God isn't going anywhere.



In the light of all this, what is prayer all about, then?  It is how we commune with God.  I think it is that simple. 

It isn't about petition or a list for Santa, although there isn't anything necessarily wrong with that.  It isn't about flowery speech.  It isn't about showing others that you are well versed in God-speak. It IS about connecting, venting, having fellowship, and even having conversations with the ONE that created the Universe but still has time enough for you.  If you ask God for specific things, it may not turn out the way you want. Things have to satisfy His overall will.  Yes, I recognize that this looks like a cop out, but it is what it is no matter the appearance.



I do now believe that God answered my prayer. No, He didn't answer it the way I wanted Him to, of course. If I am to be honest, in a practical sense I was praying for immortality for my mother.  That wasn't going to happen no matter how much favor I might have had with Him. What He did do was give me more time with her than perhaps I would have had under normal circumstances.  He gave me additional weeks of stroking her hair, kissing her cheeks and telling her how much I loved her.  He even gave me a few "I love you's" from her to me. It still hurts too much to be grateful, however.



It is tough to make sense of this "God's will" thing and the intersection of His love for us and His desire to give us what we pray for. To understand God's will, it might be easier to first look at the story of us backwards.



". . . and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." Revelation 21:4



At this point, we must allow ourselves to redefine the word "almighty".  God is not almighty in the sense most of us think He should be.  Blasphemy, yes?  That is okay; I also voted for Obama so I am used to being on the outs with my Christian brothers and sisters.  But to clarify, His essence is almighty but not necessarily His practice.  He is bound by His nature. God IS His nature (see: forms, Plato).  He is truth.  He is just.  He is righteous. He is love. In other words, to visit an old, well known logic puzzle: Can God make a stone so heavy that even He cannot lift it?  The answer is, of course, yes.  If God says that He can't lift it, then He can't.  He would be bound by His own word that he can't lift it.



One thing that God is bound by is his gift of free will to man.  You don't have to be a believer to see that the will of man has really messed things up on this planet.  So, you have man's free will vs God's will in our day to day lives but we know it all has to end up like the passage from Revelation that I listed above.



The best way I have ever been able to understand this concept is an example I heard from a teacher years ago.  He used the example of a chess master.  I can remember when Bobby Fisher or Boris Spassky would put on these chess exhibitions by playing hundreds of people at the same time.  Each contender would make a move and the master would make a counter move and then step to the next table, make that move, and then to then next one, the next one, etc., until he made it all the way around and was ready to make his second move against player number one and so on.  At the end of the day, the master always won every game.  Each player had the free will to move wherever he wanted each time.  However, at the end of it all the master satisfied his own will by incorporating the wills of all he played in the process.



God allows us to exercise our free will, but in the end, Revelation 21:4 will be satisfied. Like any good father, he does what he can to please us, but not to the point where He defeats what must be.  This process can be very painful for us as it has been for me and that has to be okay.

And after all that I've been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God



--Mac Powell, Third Day - Mountain of God


Of course, this is how I understand this concept right now.  I can't pretend to understand God's true nature and how He really operates as a matter of undisputed fact.  I am just a frail human being that longs to understand things that are always going to be above my pay level.  For any definite wisdom that I have in understanding these things, I must borrow from another Greek philosopher, Socrates.  My wisdom rests on knowing that I really don't know anything.  However, most never make it that far.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Faulty Lighter: Trying to Use Prayer to Light the the Dark Path Between Faith and Atheism

Part III in the Series of the Process of Prayer

I never knew what interest or effect this little blog series may have on anyone that reads it. Truthfully, I still don't know.  I suspect that it is considered slightly amusing and . . . "what's on TV?"  I knew there was an element out there that wouldn't appreciate my last submission about Atheism.  I received a few arguments against it, but they were mostly arguments of semantics which really didn't change the overall theme.  I actually relate to people that do not believe or no longer believe in God.  Their doubts and reasons do not escape me.  That is what this particular post is about.

I have always believed in God.  I wouldn't say "indoctrinated" because most of the time, I was the only one in my family that went to church. As I think back on the beginnings of my spiritual life, I return to age two or three. My oldest sister would load us into her car and take us to a modest Baptist church in my hometown. We went every week until she got a job at a burger joint and wrecked church for the rest of us. My mother and father never went to church for their own reasons, but they both believed in God and encouraged the kids to go.

All I can remember from my early church experience is that Jesus loved me. Somehow, as a small child, I grasped that. I even had a grasp of who Jesus was. Thinking back, it seems kind of supernatural because a ton of adult church-goers still do not really understand who He is. But I guess that is why Jesus told us all to come to Him as little children.  Little children don't have to understand every grain and fiber; they just believe.

Later as a boy, I remember going to church alone on a big orange church bus.  Oftentimes, my dad would pick me up after the service.  Throughout my childhood, I developed this sense of morality that has stayed with me throughout my life - even in times of doubt. Trust me; there was plenty of times of doubt.

As I got older, my curiosity grew.  I wanted to know more about God, but I also wondered if He was really real.  Many times if I got fearful about something, I thought about whether or not there was nothing there or nothing after death.  It is funny what fear and other emotions do to our thoughts and beliefs.

There were times in my life - college, grad school, and a time of independent study thereafter (i.e. unemployment) that I developed my  propensity for being analytical.  During that time of independent study, I just poured over books, the Bible, anything that I could find that attempted to shed light on God or lack thereof. I was as objective as I could be because I was more interested in truth than validation.  At some point, I felt more and more that I could "prove" the existence of a Christian God - at least from a "legal" standpoint.  When I say "legal," I am saying that if you gathered a group of people, neutral on spirituality, I believed that I could convince them that the Judeo/Christian God did indeed exist.

Despite that conclusion, I still had times of doubt.  After all, legal proof isn't the same as scientific (observable and testable) proof.  We have all seen in our legal system innocent people being convicted, so there is always room for doubt - rightly or wrongly.

In my adult life, I have had experiences of strong communion with God - to the point where it has been conversational.  During those times, there was not any room for doubt.  Other times, the power of the communal memories were chased away with skepticism- sometimes explainable but other times, not so much.

My marriage and divorce was one phase of trying times for my faith.  I felt betrayed by God - not only because I felt I was obedient in the concept of even marrying her when I did (I didn't feel like the timing was prudent), but also seeing the chance of having children of my own come and go.  You can read about that here: Open Letter to God and here: Endings . . .,  if you are so inclined.  Doubt increased but never took me over.  I came out on the other side with my faith legs intact but with unsteady knees.  I didn't know how much more my spirit could take, however. Plus, during that time, the world and the people around me were pushing more and more the concepts found in Atheism.  Still, I stood and walked.

Then, came to the spiritual struggle of my life with the health and passing of my mother.  My mother was also my best friend, and in a sense, my child.  She was dependent on me and I was honored to take care of her. It was her affection that got me through the whole marriage/divorce debacle. Back in February, my mother had an incident that changed her health and ultimately caused her to depart this world - an incident that should not have happened.  I am not going to go into all the details, but she was healthier than I had seen her in years right before this incident happened.

Over the next several weeks and months, I went through a spiritual transformation.  My prayer life changed.  I spent every morning in the shower praying - and I am talking LONG showers.  Sure, my mother got plenty of time in this new prayer life, but I noticed me praying a lot more for other people.  Some were prayer requests, but many were just people that were on my heart.  Not only that but I spent a lot of time on my knees or prone in my prayers.

But more than that, my whole life changed.  I have always been somewhat of a prude, but little things like exaggerations and resentments over others' bad driving gave me conviction.  I was as "holy" as I could picture any human could be.  I did this, not as part of some bargain I believed I was striking up with God, but as a person that was being convicted of falling short.  There was a driving, internal force that just didn't want anything separating me from God who was hearing prayers for my mom and others.  I remember having the fleeting thoughts from time to time that I am not sure if my faith could survive something happening to my mom - especially when my heavenly father, Abba (which translates to something like "daddy") sees my heart and my desire to please Him and save her.

Over that time, my mom slowly made progress.  She was able to be weaned off the respirator, was able to have a few mini-conversations with me, and was supposedly ready for rehab.  In rehab she struggled with alertness but her vitals were strong and all her levels were healthy.  Then, out of the blue, one June morning she was gone.  We were shocked.  Can you guess what happened to my faith?

The final installment of this series will deal with conclusions about God and prayer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Atheism and God: The Ostrich Paradigm


Part II in the Series of the Process of Prayer

I stated in my first post, "God will answer your prayer if it is the best thing for His purposes, or He won't if it isn't.  In that case, it stands to reason that if you don't pray, God will just do what is best for His purposes - just without your input.  This begs the question:  Why pray?"  If you didn't catch that post you should. You can read it here.  The atheists of the world may look at that, smile, and then say, "So if that is the case then you don't even NEED a god in that scenario.  I mean, que sera, sera, right?"  It's like our relationship with Santa Claus.  Well, I want this widget for Christmas.  If I ask Santa, I might get it... but I might not.  Perhaps there is no real Santa. 

Atheists say they want proof of everything to believe it - which isn't true.  They are perfectly happy with believing in the best guesses of those they respect. Many like to think that science has all the answers to the questions that believers assign to God. There is power in evidence, proof and the cherished peer review. However, if they were intellectually honest, they would be agnostics rather than atheistic.  The agnostic states that he finds no evidence that a god exists so he leans towards not believing in a deity.  However, he concedes that there is no test that can prove without any doubt that a deity or deities do not exist.

So what would cause an intellectual who admires the vastness of science and the cosmos to make such a definite conclusion about something that doesn't really have a conclusion at the physical level? What, indeed.

You show me an atheist that wasn't indoctrinated by a family, culture, or subculture and I will show you a former believer that got burned (in his estimation) by God, or those that claim to be representing Him. It is difficult for people to believe in a god that operates in a manner that offends them. So they vanquish God in their minds and place their faith in science or some philosophy. This, I call "The Ostrich Paradigm."  Everyone has heard the myth that if an ostrich is confronted with something that it doesn't it want to face, it will hide it's head in the sand with the thought that since it no longer sees the threat, it isn't there to fear. This is the same principle. How many times have you heard someone say, "I just can't believe in a god that would allow . . . [insert some random tragedy here]"?  They don't believe in that offensive god, so that god is no longer there.

I understand that, so it doesn't offend me. Everyone has a path that they must follow. I understand the hurt. I never try to convince someone to think like me.  I only explain why I believe as I do.

You may be thinking, okay maybe I can buy your theory about atheism, but what about prayer?  Despite their irrational concrete conclusions, why are atheists wrong about prayer?  If God does exists, how does this seemingly cavalier attitude that He has about prayer aid Him in His purpose?  I think there are answers to these questions but I think they are difficult to understand at the human level.  But, I will continue to try.

My next post will talk about that effort in the light of my own version of divine betrayal.  Stay tuned.

Related post in my archives: Atheist vs Believers: The Giving Wars


Friday, August 08, 2014

The Mystery of Prayer

This is the first in a series of blog posts that asks the hard questions about the process of prayer.




"Pray BIG prayers. God can do anything. If what you request is best - that's exactly what He'll do." 


A local pastor, whom I respect and admire, posted that on Facebook the other day. I can understand what he is saying and I can agree with it to a certain point.  However, it does open a few cans of worms, doesn't it? If you look at through the lens of a flow chart, it becomes problematic.
So, what we have here is a situation where God will answer your prayer if it is the best thing for His purposes, or He won't if it isn't.  In that case, it stands to reason that if you don't pray, God will just do what is best for His purposes - just without your input.  This begs the question:  Why pray?

You hear a lot of pastors say that prayer isn't to get God on board to giving you your desires and requests.  No, they say, prayer is to get you on board with God's.  I surely believed that. "God, align my will with yours," I would say. That is a dandy approach when you are wondering about that promotion or if you are pondering that new car.  If you don't get that promotion, then God has something better for you - even if that "better" isn't tangible in your life.  I could accept that.  However, when your 4-year old is hit by a car and dies after three days of prayer in the ICU, that is a little harder to reconcile.

Think about it; "God align my will with yours. Thank you for not answering my prayer about the promotion.  I have excited expectancy for what you have in store for me instead!"  Yes, that is palatable.  However, can you honestly pray, "God, thank you for allowing my child to get hit by a car and die.  I know that is "the best" thing that could have happened to fulfill your purpose."  Of course not.  The best we can muster is, "God, I don't know why my child had to die, but I trust you in this heart-wrenching time to lead me through it and I have the hope that I will reunite with my baby again someday."  If we are to be honest, that position is hardly asking God to align our wills with His, is it? 

That brings us back to the central question: If God is just going to do what He is going to do anyway, why pray?  Sure, we have the chance to see God answer our prayer.  That is rewarding.  However, we also have a chance to see God stand back and watch us suffer and hurt while knowing full well He could have prevented it. At best, to pray or not to pray is a push at this level.

There is another possibility that I haven't mentioned.  It could be that God ordains you achieving that goal IF you humble yourself and pray. Yes, it is a possibility.  However, what kind of person considers flow charts and probabilities to determine whether or not to pray to God for help - especially when God is synonymous with love, grace and mercy?   The answer is the kind of person that is hurting, confused, or having a crisis of faith.  That would qualify almost all of us at one time or another.  There must be a better way to get a handle on the process of prayer.

NEXT POST, PART TWO OF THE MYSTERY OF PRAYER

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Test of Faith

What a tough year! I don't want to get into a lot of details about it, but the main thing is my mother's health.  She is in a specialty hospital trying to be weaned off the ventilator.

One thing about all these trials is that it really tests one's faith.  We human beings are faced with our limits all the time.  We research, make informed decisions and then wait.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Those of us that believe in God find ourselves begging the only being that can actually make the healing stick. Somehow it shouldn't be that way.  I mean, a loving God would surely want his children to be healthy and thrive and have fulfilling lives without being broken-hearted by someone taken too soon. Right?

We don't know.  We are just puny humans with limited understanding. God gives us only the promise of eternal life. Somehow, that is not enough.  Yet, it has to be.  We must surrender it all to Him.  When it comes down to it, what choice do we have?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quit Pulling My Leg - and for God's Sake, Let Go of my Ankle!

I try to be as truthful as I can when posting here.  It is hard because I get my information where  you do - the dreaded TV. Then I research.

In the never-ending search for truth amongst all the TV heads, I stumbled upon this little web site that helps out a little bit.  PoitiFact has come up with PunditFact.  It gauges the accuracy of what you hear on TV and radio.

It seems to be an equal opportunity site - slamming both Republicans and Democrats.  It wasn't a surprise to me to see that "fake news" type personalities (like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher seem to do the best.  You can check it out here: http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/.