Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 79: Change the World

September 1, 2015

EstherThe Story of Esther, acrylic
permanent collection: Museum of Biblical Art, Dallas, Texas

Tonight [my tonight] there are fanatics in Syria, destroying thousands of years of art and architectural history, in the name of religion. This has happened before, in Western history; we call it iconoclasm. Part of the reason there is so little visual art in Protestant churches is a result of the iconoclasm that took place in the 1500s during the Protestant Reformation. The historical link, in the Abrahamic faiths, is a literal interpretation of the Creator’s command that man shall not make ‘graven images’—the creation of idols that are worshipped in place of the Creator. Israel’s “Golden Calf” being a prime example. People still make idols that sit on dashboards of cars and are enshrined in homes. In the American culture of today, many of our idols are concepts—we even name television shows after them…We make idols all the time. The Creator knew this from the beginning of Eternity. The Creator also gave us free will—the ability to choose how we live our lives. And the Creator gives us the power to get past our idols.

I am a man of faith, and I am an artist. I am grateful to The Sisters of the Holy Names at Marylhurst, and other Catholic friends who helped me to resolve the differences between art that represents faith, and art that creates idols. More of my art is digital these days—my hands and eyes don’t work as well as they did in earlier times. Part of me ponders the idea as to whether or not digital images—patterns of light upon a screen—can even be considered ‘graven images’—the images don’t even really exist until they are printed on some type of medium. At that point, they really aren’t the created image, they are a copy of the image, subject to idiocies of printing equipment.

When my brain hurts because of the actions of extremist fanatics, I find myself retreating to science fiction movies—particularly of the genre inspired by Gene Roddenberry and the creators of the Stargate saga. Roddenberry believed in a future where the ideology that separates people can be overcome; that people of different races, religions, ideologies could live together in harmony rather than always being in endless war. These stories present the idea that we can become better people. Always working at becoming better people. Semper opus fieri meliores for those who believe that a phrase is always more cool in Latin…

This way of thinking seems hard to find, in today’s world. Here, the world runs at the whim of the rich and powerful—today’s American idols. People in masses tend toward violence and hatred; and fear of the unknown.

Individuals, and groups of individuals can actually create positive change. I’ve seen it happen, I see it happening every day, in small ways; small steps that can become giant leaps. Will the 98% overthrow the 2% and the fractions of the 1%? Hard to imagine, given that we keep electing millionaires and aspiring millionaires to the seats of power in government… This is the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and its destruction of the Gulf Coast. Ten years on, there is still a lot of damage to be undone. The promises of government have not been kept. The actions of individuals working together have demonstrated what faith, hope and love can accomplish.

There are ideas and ideals that money and power cannot buy. Most lottery winners end up broke in a few years. From what I understand, most millionaires end up with broken families. I am neither rich nor famous—I have aspired to both in my time—but I am richly blessed in that I have a family that aspires to be better than they are at any given time. It takes a lot of work and commitment. Compared to much of the world, I am rich. My net worth is a positive number.

How do we change the world? One act of random kindness at a time.

A few years ago, without permission, I edited the movie “Evan Almighty” into a-few-minutes-long synopsis video. The file [link below the image] is fairly large so it will take a few minutes to download…

One Act of Random Kindness… can change the world for the better.

evan_almighty

http://mjarts.com/videos/Change_the_World2.mov

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 77: Imagination and Inspiration

August 18, 2015

Martian landscapeImages: http://mars.nasa.gov/mro/multimedia/images/?s=326

 These are aerial photographs of the landscape of Mars.

This statement blows my mind. It ought to blow yours.

Not Hollywood. Not CGI. Photographs made with a camera that sits aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite that’s been orbiting Mars for about 10 years; shooting photos of strangely colored sand dunes, enormous ‘dust devils’ that extend thousands of feet into the air, and create strangely beautiful shadows; avalanches near the snow-covered Poles of Mars.

However, we live in the 21st Century; and the world of the Internet. All sorts of wonders happen all of the time, and we yawn and scroll down to the next item on Facebook…

When I was a kid, back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, I read the John Carter of Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read of Barsoom and its canals and an adventurer from Earth who found himself a stranger in a strange land. The books are better than the movie was.

I was 10 years old when JFK spoke these words at Rice University:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man…”

Full speech below

 We went to the Moon by the end of that decade; and we have gone far beyond that goal. Astronauts have inspired children the world over to “seek out new adventures and to go where no man has gone before…”

I read the works Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov as well as dozens of other science fiction authors. Tom Swift Jr. was one of my literary heroes, and the subject of many of my internal adventures—a young inventor traveling the world and outer space, seeking to make life better. And now I can view photos of Mars, I can watch videos of Mars and its moons…as easily as I can watch Facebook.

Should we be trying to go to Mars? I’d rather see us fix up the planet we have, than to encourage us to continue wrecking this one while we find a new planet to wreck…

The problem isn’t money.

cost of war

The bottom number starts with One Trillion. A number, when applied to money, that none of us can accurately imagine. You can probably find a graphic somewhere on the Internet. These numbers of course are significantly smaller than the numbers are at this moment, as you are reading these words. You can find current numbers here.

There is no lack of money in the US and in the world for solving most of the problems of mankind; what is lacking is the willingness to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of people we don’t know. We can take pictures of Mars!—surely we can provide clean water and electricity to the planet. Can we reverse global warming? Probably not. Maybe we can slow it down.

You can inspire a child to dream; you can inspire a child to do something for good that no one in their history has ever done. You can inspire a child to become a better person than you are. By training your mind you can become a better person than you are now.

 JFK_Rice_University

 

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?

We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

President John F. Kennedy in front of a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962.

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 76: It’s always too soon to quit…

August 10, 2015

peacock window

A dear friend of mine recently posted some quotations from Marcus Aurelius on Facebook; a mutual friend, a woman we don’t know all that well, in reading his post remembered inspiration she received by reading the writings of this this long-dead Roman Emperor; and baby Aurelia was given her name. In the annals of history, being the instrument of the naming of a child is probably a small thing; however, she is only a few weeks old, and has her entire life ahead of her. Who knows what the inspiration from a Roman Emperor of 1900 years ago might have upon her life? The naming of each of our children was a well-thought-out experience, and I imagine it’s the same for many parents. We can never overlook the possibilities that our smallest acts contain.

This dear friend of mine has a lot of reasons for doubting the value of his life; he battles a chemical imbalance in his brain; probably a result of genes—something he cannot control. One of my ‘fears’ is that one day the chemistry will win out over what he knows in his heart-of-hearts to be true. When such ‘fears’ come upon me, I turn them over to the Author of Life, in whose name my dear friend was raised. Whatever events happen in our earthly lives, I know that we will meet again in the Life to Come. This is a promise from the Author of Life.

Sixty-three years of life; forty-two of them walking with the Author of Life. I rather wish I’d kept a list of the ‘small things’ that have happened in my life that ended up being extremely significant. Many of the ‘small things’ were barely noticed; like the song that just happened to start playing as I’m writing this paragraph [statistically, a 1/1340 chance]—The Impossible Dream, which caused to realize that there is more to live for in this life than the stuff we find around us. The story of the ‘Man of La Mancha,’ presented in a Senior AP English class in high school by “Captain Bob” Bonniwell opened the door to faith in my life. The older I get, the larger the pile of ‘stuff’ gets, and the more potent-smelling it becomes. And still I contend that it is better to live life as it could be, to live life as it ought to be lived; rather than to live life as it often presents itself in our circumstances. I never made the opportunity to thank Captain Bob. Should have.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to create a life for myself that allows me a lot of time to think, to ponder, to hope and to dream. The dreams are harder now, partially because the Dreambuilders I once surrounded myself with aren’t around. But I still am able to ponder and hope. I too often fail to realize what a gift my lifestyle has become for me. Most people have little time to think about LARGE concepts, such as faith. I wish I had the ability to download faith into all those who need it; I’d post it in a Dropbox and plaster the URL across the internet. Sadly, I can’t do that. By “faith” I’m not talking about religion; it often starts with religion; however, there is a Faith that transcends religion. I’m not there yet, but I can see it in the distance.

One of our shortcomings as human beings is that we tend to think that we are something special; just by being human. In today’s world, “American Exceptionalism” is probably the most insidious version of this curse—at least within the American culture. I believe that when the Creator said, “let us make man in our own image,” the Creator wasn’t talking about form. I believe that the gift we were given, that gift which is in the Creator’s image, is our ability to Create. There are other creatures that use tools; creatures like the spider that can build a web we can’t even begin to replicate—and these abilities are hard-wired into their tiny brains and neurological systems. Birds make nests; I don’t know if there are birds who have realized that all that plastic garbage we leave lying around can become weather-proof roofs over their heads…

We have the ability to create our own realities; and by this gift we are human, slightly lower than the angels. As animals, humans display a lot of behavior that is far from special. We are more than animals.

I’m in an *interesting* place in life. I don’t have ALS—it’s clear that I don’t have ALS—and yet I can’t help but wonder if what I experience is similar to those with ALS: watching my body ‘dissolve’ around me. I end most evenings [early mornings to much of the world] watching ‘hero stories’ on DVD. I find that drawing-time seems to work best after 10p or 11; and lasts for 3-4 hours; after which it simply hurts too much to keep sitting down. So I move to the couch, and watch a couple hours of ‘hero’ stories; and then I try to figure out how I’m going to get off of the couch, and make my way to bed. I was at a friends’ house yesterday, and sat down on a footstool; I immediately realized that this was a bad choice, because the footstool turned out to be much squishier than I expected it to be. When it was time to leave that room, I waited until I was the last one there, so I could figure out what method I’d use to get myself from footstool to standing up… I honestly can’t tell if it’s a strength issue or a function [lack of] issue. Getting up from the footstool was awkward, and I am innately self-conscious.

There are a couple of old guys in my life, guys who cannot [yet] cope with the idea of ‘new normal’—a new set of conditions in their lives that make their former plans extremely difficult to achieve. Neither of them live with the difficulties that one of my heroes lives with; a woman who has lived most of her life in a wheelchair, with a body that mostly does not respond to her control. She’s endured more operations than she has years in her life. Her physical abilities are far less than those of the two old codgers I’m writing about; and yet they have trouble finding a reason to stay alive. My hero-friend has been making that choice for a long time.

We make choices as to how we will live our lives. Some of us have horrible crap to overcome; some of us merely have inconvenience to overcome; and we think that it’s ‘horrible crap’ because our view of life is too small… Each day above ground is a gift, whether or not we want to see it that way. And we are given tremendous flexibility as to how we will use this gift.

How will you use your gift, today?

How will I use mine?

Summer King

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 75: The Shadow People

July 17, 2015

Human Shadows Imprinted by Nuclear ExplosionHuman Shadows Imprinted by Nuclear Explosion

 I had planned on writing something more upbeat for this installment; I don’t like writing about the physical challenges I deal with—there are so many, with so many more…The hope, in writing the last installment, was that it might prove helpful for someone…

Then I was informed of the date: July 16, 2015, the 70th Anniversary of a horrific event.

On July 16, 1945, scientists in Los Alamos successfully exploded the first atomic bomb at the Trinity test site, located in nearby Alamogordo, New Mexico. The atomic age began; and the words were uttered by Robert Oppenheimer: “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds”. On August 6 and August 9—next month—the 70th Anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will occur. The above images are from these cities; the shadows left on structures after their owners were vaporized by the atomic blast.

 Atomic_bombing_of_JapanAtomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima

 Wednesday afternoon I opened my email to find that people are suggesting that we go to war with Iran; for fear that Iran will become a nuclear power, and will provide terrorists with nuclear capability. The insanity of nuclear war must stop.

This subject is particularly meaningful for me, in that it reminds me of one of my ‘failures’ as an illustrator. I was hired [not sure I ever got paid] to illustrate a “Hiroshima Diary” but could not finish the illustrations in the time I was given. Most of the illustrations have never been finished, nor published in any form. The diary is the story of a teacher who entered Hiroshima after the bombing, looking for two children who had been sent to Hiroshima for schooling. As she walked the streets of Hiroshima she saw hundreds of children wandering through the rubble, looking for their parents. The only survivors she found were children. Her diary tells of her encounters with wandering, damaged children; all of whom die in her arms…

Ashes of HiroshimaWe did this.

I don’t care how much discussion occurs over the justification of our actions; we obliterated thousands of women and children. Non-combatants. Perhaps they would have become combatants if we invaded Japan. We didn’t, and they weren’t. We slaughtered:

20 U.S., Dutch, British prisoners of war
90,000–166,000 killed in Hiroshima
39,000–80,000 killed in Nagasaki
Total: 129,000–246,000+ killed

 Champions of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

It must never happen again.

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 74: Life is filled with surprises…

July 11, 2015

p25From the soon-to-be-published, “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

 Jim is a little dismayed…when he left for work this morning, his wife, Della had knee-length hair. At lunch he went out and bought her a pair of elegant hair-combs as a dearly-purchased present. Life is filled with surprises…

My birthday today. 63 is a surprising number. Not that I didn’t expect to reach this number, it’s just that it seems so soon; or so sudden. My brain is still somewhere in my 40’s. The last six years have tumbled all of my plans; and have made it difficult to make new ones…

In 2008 I worked with Medical Teams International in two different parts of the world. First in New Orleans, working on Katrina Recovery; and a few months later in Oaxaca, Mexico. While in New Orleans I watched an exhausted young couple coordinate the efforts of dozens of volunteers, sent out to various places, repairing damaged houses. Earlier in my life, I was a contractor; followed by 14 years in the Bureau of Buildings in Portland. I realized that I could give that couple a break; I knew how to do what they were doing. I just needed to figure out how I’d deal with the finances. I had a belt custom-made when I returned home, as a reminder of my desire to serve… Standing in my room in Oaxaca, overwhelmed with the foreign-ness of the nighttime activity happening on the street below, I realized that I might have found my purpose for the years ahead—using my experience in construction to help others around the world.

Six months later I started seeing neurologists, concerned about two numb areas, one at the bottom of each foot. Six months after that, I lost most of the sensation in my skin, over most of my body. While working with our church in building some homes in a village on the Baja Peninsula, I discovered that working with sharp things wasn’t very smart. I was able to draw blood without feeling it. A similar trip the following year, after the lack of sensation in my skin had covered the rest of my body; I was convinced that I was done with construction. I still have most of my tools; I haven’t found the self-discipline to get rid of them. Now, standing on my feet and walking around for a couple of hours exhausts me. My hands shake when I draw; I have difficulty with finger movement; so now I draw at large scale, and mostly work with digital versions of my drawings. There was a period in my life when I expected to become a ‘famous illustrator’. Life is filled with surprises…

And yet I still find hope… Not hope that the neuropathy will heal; not hope that I won’t have wheels in my future. Nor hope that I’ll still become a famous illustrator. Hope that things will work out OK.

It’s hard to explain hope; I believe that my hope is a gift of the Creator. I have two old guys in my life at present, 10-20 years older than myself. Neither of them has much in the way of hope; both expect to die soon, their dreams for the future unfulfilled. They are both angry. I’d be angry, too. Some days I am angry.

When I asked the Creator into my life in 1973, I determined not to become Religious. I found Religious people to be annoying; they had opinions about my life that had very little basis in fact. I have come to realize that the opinions weren’t far off the mark, because humans are remarkably similar; but they were rude in their presumption. There is nothing in my life that causes me to deserve Heaven, or to have earned a place in Heaven. We don’t spend Eternity with the Creator because we are good people. We spend Eternity in Heaven [whatever that may be] simply because that is what the Creator intended from the beginning of Creation. This idea messes with the minds of a lot of Religious people, and they have all sorts of verses from the Bible that justify their opinions, ‘proving’ me wrong. I learned a long time ago that there is no point in arguing Scripture with these folk. Scripture can justify nearly everything, if one is good at it.
There were two thieves hanging on a cross, next to Jesus. One of the thieves mocked Jesus.
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

No “Spiritual Laws,” no going to church, no being a good person, no not-doing a list of things that good people aren’t supposed to do. Just, ‘remember me.’ And a promise from the Creator of the Universe, come to earth in the form of Jesus. Most of the people who are most critical of non-Religious people are well-intentioned, although it often doesn’t seem that way. They just never learned to play well with other children…

I see life in America, and life in the Church in an odd way. A dear friend recently described it as a “Specialized Uniqueness.” I have to limit it to America, because I’ve seen very little of the world. I have friends in various places in the world, doing mission-work among people who’ve never really heard of Jesus. The majority of the world has never heard of Jesus, or have heard a very peculiar version of Jesus. To the uninitiated, it seems like missionaries are trying to ‘win points in Heaven’. From my experience, these are people who have found a way to make sense of life, and they truly want to share the experience with others, out of love and compassion. A compassion that isn’t found very often in this world. And yes, it often comes with a ‘yardstick’. To me, that ‘yardstick’ tends to make a lot of sense. But it can’t be forced. Jesus never forced anyone to do anything; and He was fairly intolerant of those who did. Somehow this part tends to get overlooked. He spent most of His time hanging around with the people that the Religious people couldn’t stand. Jesus liked to party.

I’m not big on parties. I don’t like drawing attention to myself [how I ever believed that I could be a ‘famous illustrator’ while not drawing attention to myself I’m not sure I’ll ever understand]. Maybe when I get Home I’ll enjoy parties…

 the universe in his hands_1

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 73: Altruism

June 14, 2015

robot 2

I watched Guardians of the Galaxy this afternoon; amusing, but I’m getting tired of ‘comic book’ movies, aka ‘collateral damage’ movies. Movies whose most prominent feature is the property damage that occurs during the battles between the good guys and the bad guys. The movies rarely, if ever, deal with the fact that lots of people lose most of their stuff, if not their lives; and that the heroes of the movie rarely help the victims recover. That’s one of the places where the difference between life and movies becomes obvious.

C.S. Lewis hoped that mankind would never venture into the solar system and beyond—his fear was that we would spread the infection of our foul natures out to the other life in the universe. Ever notice how the science fiction movies that get made so often assume that other intelligent life chooses evil as a way to live? I can’t help but wonder whether or not other life in the universe may never choose evil as a way to respond to life…

I have a friend who is angry at god because of the evil in the world. I keep telling him that most of the evil in the world comes from the hands of man; and our tendency to use our Free Will to take advantage of others. We want what’s best for ourselves and are unwilling to put ourselves out for the benefit of others. Not all of us, not all of the time; but all it takes is a few of us taking advantage of others to ruin it for the rest of the world. Too many people respond to the bad stuff that happens to them by passing that bad stuff on to others. We feel crappy, or we feel crappy about our circumstances, and we act crappy toward others. The disease gets passed on to others.

Can you imagine a world where people treat each other, treat everyone graciously? I can, sort of, because I’ve met these kind of people. Not a lot of them; and most of them wouldn’t want to consider themselves as being ‘especially good’ people—we all know our failings, and these folks would look first at their failings, and consider them more significant than the good stuff that comes so easily to them. People that decide to live an entirely different life than most of us choose. I know a young couple, with a new baby, who have chosen to live in ‘outer Mongolia’ in order to tell people about Jesus, in a world where nearly everyone has never heard of Jesus. They have a different religious belief. To those who believe that one religious belief is as bad as another, this concept has a negative tone. It used to have a negative tone for me. Life changes one. I know this couple who are giving up most of the stuff that the rest of us strive for—there isn’t anything negative there. The same belief that sends healthcare workers to fight Ebola and MERS in a different country; the same altruism that sends people to Nepal when people are fleeing earthquakes. The altruism that sends First Responders into burning buildings…

It isn’t me; my goals are more mundane and more career-related. I’ve looked at this concept for lots of years.

I like to close with another illustration; none of the people I’m thinking of would like their faces to be used—they wouldn’t want to be seen as an example. So, I’ll end with some who are anonymous, and can express joy:

silhouette tap

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 72: The Hard Questions

May 22, 2015

Black Care

Abraham Lincoln battled it before and while he was President. A lot of the world’s great artists battled it all the time; and sometimes battled to the death.

Theodore Roosevelt called it “Black Care”—I wrote about it before:

https://mjarts.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/chronicles-in-ordinary-time-47-black-care/

Today we call it Clinical Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, Manic-Depression—they aren’t all the same, but they have some similarities. They all lurk in my gene pool [which hasn’t been filtered well enough]. Dealing with Black Care can be awful.

Thanks to the wonder of modern chemistry, I may have passed through another valley. It seems too soon for the increased dosage of Prozac to have worked, but there’s some sunlight in my life today; couldn’t say that yesterday. I still ache all day, I get shooting pains in a variety of places all day long, my feet feel sunburned all the time. My teeth are clenched—I realized I have a habit of pushing on my upper palate with my tongue—it keeps me from grinding my teeth…

Sometimes I get asked how I write these Chronicles [or, I receive spam that looks like someone is asking a question]. Usually they percolate in my brain for a period of time [ruminate might be a better word]; and I get the urge to put the words on digital paper. Frequently the hard part is finding the illustration. I generally don’t draw people in a snarky mood. Too close to home.

People who are very important to me are dealing with a lot of shit right now; and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it besides praying for them, and asking some ‘prayer warriors’ I know to pray as well. Prayer isn’t magic. The Creator is not our magic butler who makes everything work out for us. A lot of the time, I think that when all of the Gears of Life [think of the Lionsgate Movies logo] are turning in such a way that the Creator’s plans work out to our advantage, we sometimes see unexpected, but hoped-for things happen in our lives…Being human, we only consider answered prayer to be “yes”—sometimes the answer is “wait” and we don’t like that answer. We like “no” even less; but by definition, “no” is an answer.

The pain of those close to me is my own pain. This is part of the reason I allow so few people to get close to me. My daughter’s tears at 35-ish set off the same internal alarms that they did when she was 5. Reading about my son’s tears sets off the same alarms. And I don’t want to not hear those tears. Part of the weirdness of being a parent.

I’m currently wading through Augustine; CS Lewis recommended that we should always read from older periods in history, so that we can better understand the present. I haven’t followed that advice too strongly; but my first introduction into ‘theology’ was reading Marcus Aurelius in college. He asked the same questions I was asking. Job, the oldest book in Torah/the Old Testament, something like 4000 years old, asks the same questions.

“How can there be a loving God when this is such an awful place to live?”

“How can a loving God allow all of the hatred and war in the world?”

“How can there be a loving God who allows typhoons and earthquakes to devastate populations?”

“How can there be a loving God who allowed the Holocaust, and who allows the brutality of ISIS and Boko Haram?”

My short answer to these questions is that we have a Creator who has endowed us with Free Will and so values our individuality and respects our right to express ourselves that He allows us to commit all of the stupidity we find necessary to live; in hopes that some day, as individuals, we will come to our senses, and ask the Creator “how should we live?”

Just because people commit crime and blame it on God does not mean that God had anything to do with the crime…God gets blamed for an incredible amount of human misery.

“Torah tells how God caused the Israelites to wipe out nations; God wiped out mankind in the Flood and God sent plagues to the Egyptians. How could a loving God do that?”

I believe that Torah and the New Testament are True, and Inspired by the Creator. I also believe that these books are more like what we term “a journal” than complete histories of those times. These are the journals of the Hebrew people and the early Church. Statements and explanations of what happened; they don’t necessarily explain what the Creator wanted to have happen. I sometimes wonder if the things attributed to the Creator really were the Creator’s wishes…The things happened—David murdered Bathsheba’s husband so that he could get into her pants—it was not the Creator’s will. We are granted an incredible amount of choice, and sometimes we choose to blame God for our own greed and selfishness.

How could God have destroyed innocent men, women and children?

I have no idea what the destroyed nations were like; perhaps these nations were committed to paths of destruction. Human sacrifice [often sacrifice of children] was a very common way to ‘appease the gods’ in ancient times. Animal sacrifice goes on today. For a moment, suppose those nations were like ISIS and Boko Haram? Would our question have a different answer?

Who will the young boys living under ISIS grow up to be? Will they emulate their fathers and uncles? Would it be more merciful if they didn’t grow up at all? This isn’t a question I have been given to answer.

As 21st Century American individuals, we have no real understanding of what it would be like to live under an all-powerful and benevolent Ruler who commands obedience for our own welfare. It’s never happened in recorded history. Even writing the words, “commands obedience” causes warning lights to flash in my head. Growing up with my Dad. The Creator isn’t like my Dad. My Dad, was in some ways, like the Creator.

When the Israelites asked God to give them a king, so they could be like other nations, God’s response was a warning that they really won’t like what happens if they have an earthly King; and yet God gave Israel a King. The Kings of Israel were just as flawed and stupid as the rest of humanity.

We live on a rock floating in space, rotating at 24,000 mph, and traveling around our Sun for a year per revolution. Our distance from the Sun changes over the course of the year; our planet’s tilt, relative to the Sun, and that changing distance cause extreme changes in temperature during that year. At the center of this rock is a molten core of incredibly hot liquid. The surface of our world is a series of rock-plates that float on this molten core—extremely simplified geology. I live on the side of a volcano that is situated in a region that will most likely have a devastating earthquake in the coming decades. I haven’t moved to Iowa; nor to Maui, which would be my preference. There is only so much potential for destruction that my imagination will allow me to deal with.

Given all that we have learned about the non-static nature of the earth, why would we expect it to be static and always nice?

“Because God created the world and called it good.”

The Hebrew word translated as “good” is defined as, “to be (transitively, do or make) good (or well) in the widest sense.” To expect that ‘good’ means ‘perfect’ is projection of what we’d like it to mean. I think ‘good’ probably means something more like ‘sufficient’ than like ‘exceptional.’

I have three of the most terrific adult children that a parent could ask for. They are all flawed, in different ways than I am flawed; they all have traveled paths I wish they wouldn’t have traveled; and yet I have always tried to support their endeavors to the best of my ability at that time.

My children don’t experience the relationship with their Creator that I experience. I have no idea why, because I never asked for my experience…which isn’t entirely true, because I did ask for this experience; I just didn’t know what I was asking for. I knew that I didn’t know enough about life to live it successfully; three years in college had already made that clear to me. I had no spiritual background or experience, growing up. Asking the Creator of Life to lead me seemed to be a really smart choice when I finally understood the question; I really couldn’t understand why my parents weren’t as enthusiastic about this new awareness as I was. I found they had run from the Church; they never talked about the particulars.

The older I get, and the more I see of life, the more I wonder how my children view me. Someone with some odd beliefs about how Life works; perhaps someone who isn’t as enlightened as they are…

I have been blessed with encounters with the Living Creator for the last 40-odd years [or 40 odd years]. I long ago realized that mine is not a universal experience; and when it is experienced, it often is expressed in a manner that I find very peculiar. Probably as peculiar as my children view me; and as peculiar as I viewed ‘religion’ in my first years of college. I admire a gal at our church who says that she doesn’t have a ‘sarcasm’ gene. I can’t relate, but I admire the concept.

I am bothered that as a parent, I didn’t demonstrate the nature of “belief in the Creator” in such a way that my children would want to emulate that belief. Scripture teaches that my belief is a gift of the Creator. Sometimes I feel like it was a gift given to the wrong person. I can’t see my life as my Creator sees my life. That happens when I get Home.

I believe we are created with Eternal Souls; that Earth is a place where we are intended to learn how to live well with our fellow creatures. I believe there is another ‘plane of existence’ that isn’t tied to bodies and disease and suffering; and that we arrive at that plane when we leave these damaged bodies behind. I also believe that we could do a much better job of living with each other than we do. It’s our greed, our stupidity, our selfishness that makes this world a garbage heap…

We can each become the change we want to see in the world. That’s frequently a statement that is much easier to write than it is to do. I wouldn’t have written this statement in recent days. I thank God for Prozac. Those who manage to get through this life without the aid of chemistry are truly blessed.

piggy back draft 5From “A Dimly Burning Wick” a Hiroshima Diary

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 71: Missing the Point

May 3, 2015

DragonFire1Dragon Fire [digital painting]

I did a ‘Hobbit Marathon’ last weekend; the third installment arrived from the library. I decided to revisit the earlier installments to get back up to speed. After watching 6 or so hours of Hobbit, it occurred to me that between the Hobbit trilogy and the Lord of the Rings series of movies, it was very easy to miss the point of the whole story—the destruction of a Ring of Great Power because it was too dangerous to be left in human [or otherwise] hands. Amidst the Hobbits, the Orcs, the Elves, the Dwarves and Trolls; amidst the Wizards and Fell Creatures, it’s easy lose sight of the main character—the One Ring.

We humans are great at missing the point.

People argue over the idea of Bible Stories being true. They bring up the quandary of whether a whale could swallow a man for three days, and miss the point of the story. The whale is actually a very minor character in the story of Jonah. The point of the story is that the Creator wants the people of Nineveh to change their way of life to that of “love justice, show mercy and walk humbly with their God.” Jonah apparently has a real problem with the Ninevites and wants God to blow them off the face of the earth; rather than asking them to change. The people change for the better, and God wins.

We tell Bible Stories to children because most of the concepts in the Bible are adult concepts that can’t be understood by children. We tell them the stories with animals and kids and Jesus’ miracles because these ideas can be understood by children. Sadly, many of those children become adults without every hearing or reading the rest of the Bible, and they never wrestle with the adult difficulties of “love justice, show mercy and walk humbly with your God.” They write off the stories they heard when they were children, because those stories don’t seem to apply with the real difficulties of life; and they write off the Bible.

I read an article online recently, one that talked about the 10 longest-living creatures on the planet. Humans aren’t on that list.

what is man_webWhat if we are missing the point again?

The Bible talks about the great ages of the people before the Flood; and people ponder how those incredible lifespans could be…the age of an Arctica Islandia; an Ocean Quahog clam [500 years].

what is man_his days are like grassWhat if the point of all those great lifespans were simply to allow us to take care of Creation? To have a Galapagos Tortoise or a family of Macaws as friends, and to watch their life cycle?

Genesis 1:26 reads: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

The Hebrew phrase: בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם  can be translated: “in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish…”

The word וְיִרְדּוּ֩ means to ‘rule’/’have dominion’ and is a verb; consequently the word means an action rather than a position. We are to act in the manner of one who rules over Creation; not one who tells Creation what to do, but one who nurtures Creation.

As the story continues, man, having failed to do his job correctly, gets wiped out; and God starts over again with one human family, and all of the other families of Creation. From one perspective, Man’s assignment is still the same. Take care of God’s Creation. And God promises that the world will never again be wiped out by a Flood.

This time we are doing it ourselves.

We missed the point again.

 

 

 

 

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 70: The Battle of Bedford Falls

April 29, 2015

klara_holdenfrom The Book Lover

   The title of this entry is from a movie reference, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey of Bedford Falls opts to take the role of Rescuer instead of the role of Adventurer; and the decision changes the course of his life. He takes on a job he doesn’t want, in order to rescue his family; he marries, ends up living in a drafty old house, takes on the role of father and ends up taking the fall for a mistake supposedly made by a daffy old uncle. On the verge of bankruptcy, he attempts suicide; and is rescued by an unlikely [and non-Biblical] angel. Clarence the angel gives George the gift of seeing what his world of Bedford Falls would have been like had he never been born…

The Battle of Bedford Falls is the battle of making it through another day when everything inside of you wants to opt out of the experience. There are a lot of other options to suicide that accomplish a similar task—‘opting not to play the game’ one more day; and immersing oneself in a variety of activities that postpone the inevitable.

When I started writing for public consumption—this venture into online journaling—I decided that I would only write about things I know about; things in which I have some expertise. I don’t write to gain “followers”—although they are appreciated; and I don’t write to ‘monetize’ my thoughts. I write as a way of exploring my life and myself, and hopefully express in words some thoughts that others may not be able to find the words for. Occasionally using bad grammar…

My only areas of expertise are subjects related to the Building Code; and a very particular style of illustration. These aspects of my life don’t offer a lot of practical wisdom [I wish I’d had more of the former, when I was building the house I’m in]. I’ve built houses, written City policy, raised kids into adulthood and stayed married for nearly 39 years. I’ve rarely left Portland; and at the same time have traveled to the Gulf Coast and to Mexico a few times for construction-related mission work.

I have years of training in how one can change their life for the better, and I’m happier with ‘me’ than I was 30+ years ago; but I only know how to change me—I can’t change other people. The most that I can do is create an environment where people can change, if they desire change. I can offer suggestions [many of which are for me, facts]—but until someone accepts my ideas as their own, they are simply ‘suggestions’. I can provide people with a list of books to study, but I can’t make them read the books or try to implement them into their lives.

There’s rioting in Baltimore; perhaps not tonight, but there has been rioting over the last few days. Rioting in lots of cities, reminding me of the late 60’s—the rioting then had different causes. Throughout the Twentieth Century and overflowing into the Twenty-first, we have become a people who prefer antagonism to mediation. Despite a century of bloodshed, people still pick up weapons in order to feel safe. The proliferation of weapons isn’t making us any safer.

The Battle of Bedford Falls—how do we get through today?

I feel shitty most days, at the start of my day; I start the day, these days, feeling like I did at the end of the day in the past. Due to my neurological issues, my entire body feels wrong; my legs, from the knees down feel wrong, but I’ve been walking for something like 60 years; my muscles know how to walk. I choose to ignore how I feel and walk anyway. The reality is that I know of dozens of people who are in worse shape than I am. So I start my day in prayer, listening to music that turns my mind toward the Creator and my inner self. I ‘lift people up’ in my prayers—I’m not smart enough to tell the Creator what His creation needs. Praying for others takes my mind off of myself. Do my prayers change the world? I have no idea. They change me, over time. Among those changes are a growing list of people—I pray for people I don’t know, I pray for people I’d rather not talk with.

I make sense out of my life by the belief that this life is but an eyeblink in the span of Eternity. I was told long ago, that we are minds with a body, rather than the reverse. Over time I have come to believe that we are Eternal souls that have a mind and a body. That Earth is a place where we are intended to learn how to live well with our fellow creatures. I believe there is another ‘plane of existence’ that isn’t tied to bodies and disease and suffering; and that we arrive at that plane when we leave these damaged bodies behind. I also believe that we could do a much better job of living with each other than we do. It’s our greed, our stupidity, our selfishness that makes this world a garbage heap…We blame God for not stopping us from doing the things we can do by our own choice.

And this is a lousy way to end this entry…probably indicative of my mood—I’ve been repairing a washing machine over the last couple of days, and I dislike the toll it’s taken on my body and mind. It used to be a lot easier.

In spite of a lot of evidence to the contrary, I look forward to seeing what another few years will bring into my life. I’ve met people I would not have met before; there are people I care about now that I didn’t know a couple of years ago. Granted, I’m not seeing a lot of points on the ‘win’ side of the ledger these days, but I lack the ability to see into the future. I have to wait for the future to show up. I see my kids overcoming huge obstacles, and I believe they will continue to move forward. Every day I see indicators of positive change for the future of mankind—if we will stop fighting each other long enough to pay attention. We walk in the shadows of giants; and I believe we will see more giants in the future, if we will simply pay attention.

Chronicles in Ordinary Time 69: Stumbling Around in the Dark

April 4, 2015

 Easter

 One of my relatively few ‘religious’ images.

     Holy Week, 1973 [if my memory is faulty, I apologize]: our church was getting ready for a sunrise Easter service in Eugene, Oregon. There are two prominent Buttes in Eugene; one had a cross on top that for years was a source of controversy—a religious symbol on City property. I haven’t been to Eugene in a long time, and I don’t recall looking at the skyline nearby; I don’t know if the controversial cross remains. Our church was planning to have its sunrise service on the other Butte—the one without a cross. There were at least two of us college students that asked God into our lives around the same time. The other guy, Greg, had the idea of building a cross that we could install for our church service—tall, free-standing and portable. There was a hole in the concrete survey platform on top of the Butte, and with some encouragement, would suffice for a 4X4 upright. So, during Holy Week, Greg and I built a free-standing cross in his garage—the biggest engineering issue being ‘how to keep it from falling over’.

Our other issue was how to get it up to the top of the Butte? Particularly since a religious symbol of this nature would not necessarily be welcomed by the community…

Brad joined us on Saturday night, and under the cover of darkness the three of us carried the three pieces of the cross—vertical, horizontal and the bracket to keep the cross upright—through the dark, to the top of the Butte; not using the road that would have been easier to travel [the symbolism of carrying the cross wasn’t lost on me]. There was a fairly vertical portion of the Butte—probably Columnar Basalt—that we needed to climb. While searching for a good route, we left the pieces of the cross lying on the ground, in the dark. Having found a route to the top, we then had to return to the cross pieces; which we could not find…

So, the title of this mental meandering—we wandered around in the dark, until we could find our way to the cross.

By the time we returned to the dorm, having mounted the cross on the concrete platform in such a way that it would be very difficult to remove, it was nearly time to take off to join the others of the congregation, walking up the road to the top of the Butte; my first Easter.

Easter is the defining point in history; a highly-controversial statement. I’ll use it in the most secular sense—it defines the time before the Creator of the Universe entered time and space as the infant Jesus; and all that has happened since that event. There are a number of calendars still in use that use a different event as a primary reference point; even though modern Western culture uses “Before|After the Common Era” as the division, in fact, it’s still the same calendar, still the same reference point as “Before|After Christ.”

I’m not big on holidays and religious festivals. When our kids were small, I joined in with the celebrations because it was a part of my children’s culture; I struggled with Santa Claus [Saint Nicholas] and the Easter Bunny. How did the concept of the Crucifixion become a chocolate rabbit?

I believe that all of my days should reflect both Christmas and Easter; if they don’t, I’m playing a game. I have no idea how well I’m accomplishing that goal. I’ll find out when I get Home.

There are a multitude of ideas as to the meaning of the Cross, and Jesus’ crucifixion. For a highly theological and very good summary of the thinking of scholars of the Church, I recommend this article by Conrad Hilario:

http://www.xenos.org/essays/christian-doctrine-substitutionary-atonement

I believe that if we are honest with ourselves, we are all broken and stumbling in the dark. Not all the time, perhaps only on our bleakest days. I also believe that there are a lot of well-intentioned, but hard-hearted people who try to shame other people; people that have different beliefs and belief systems. The best and the brightest of the Church have never been able to come up with an explanation that all could agree on; I won’t try. I believe that Jesus is the defining point of history; however, I don’t have a ‘rule’ by which one addresses the subject of Jesus.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself [looking for loopholes], so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

At which point Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. To put it in a more contemporary context to American society, the story today should probably be that of the Good Muslim.

Jesus did not mention anything about spiritual laws in the above statement; nor did He mention Church sacraments or other rules. In the Book of the Prophet Micah is the following passage:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

If we could all manage to do this, we could change the world.

Be the change you long to see. If that change involves harming other people, think on it for a while longer.

Jim_Della


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