Wednesday, January 31, 2007

God in our image

We humans create God in our image because our image is all we know. Others have created gods in the forms of bulls and snakes and herons and suns. Today we Christians and Jews (maybe the Muslims, too, I’m not sure) consider ourselves to be created in the image of God…because the scriptures tell us so. Yeah, right. And, who wrote the scriptures? Humans.

Long ago, humans worshipped creatures that had mystery or power or good stories. Today, humans worship themselves. We take the scriptures with all their mystery and myth and create God in an anthropomorphic form with emotions like love and anger, with faculties like judgment and constancy, and abilities like power and might or even by elevating those things which we consider lowly – servants (not kings). The truth is that we don’t know much about God at all, if, in fact, God does exist as “other” than human or “other” than created. There you’ve said it, “other”. We can’t even know one another; so how do we think we’re going to know God, who is “other”?

The Hebrew Scriptures portray God with many of the powers common to other pantheons of the ancient ages. King, Soldier, Creator, Warrior, Winner, Strong, Commanding, All-powerful. These scriptures even tell stories about “my God is better than your God” and “Let’s have a contest to see whose god is greatest. Winner take all.” Of course, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the one God wins against the pantheon of other gods…and they have faded from most memories. A few stray druids and probably some other pagans may believe in the “old” gods, but Mars and Zeus and Hera are gods of the past.

Their time was passing when Abraham heard the call to move along, and Abraham obeyed that voice. If we did that now, we’d be treated for schizophrenia. And the great “I AM” supplanted the Roman and Greek pantheons, the bulls and the calves and the goddesses. Human domination of nature and male domination of the world shaped the form of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). People thought in terms of groups, clans, nations – corporate thinking. Us against them.

By the time, this strange human called Jesus lived and taught, ways of thinking had changed. Although war was still frequent and common, the Roman Empire had brought some stability to the world and people could concentrate on relationships with each other. They could also concentrate on POWER and money and position and careers. So, the radical viewpoint promulgated by this itinerant preacher was that humans should love one another. Individual position and power and abilities superseded ordinary thoughts about corporate power – after all, the HRE (Holy Roman Empire) was taking care of all that.

While Jesus probably was a real person, the writings about his life and teachings were not put into substantial form until a number of years after his death…and the earliest ones were written by a man who never met Jesus. Jesus talked about individual responsibility and individual love. People living in those times could relate to a God that talked about real events in real lives. They created God in their image – an individual image…a male image. But, strange things and ideas crept into the myth – talking with women, women apostles, women leading churches, healing, fairness, and the possibility of individual salvation from sin.

Jesus as the Messiah had become the current anthropomorphic God – an incarnation of a God that was very much like us and less like “other”. In the 2000 years since the rising of the Christian religion, the interpretation of the New Testament has changed tremendously. From a set of rules such as Paul wrote to the churches, the message has changed to one of personal relationship with God – particularly God through Jesus Christ, with maybe a little bit of the Holy Spirit thrown in. Now we have a God that walks and talks like us, thinks like us on good days, and spreads love like flower children did in the 70s.

A relationship with God. Yeah, just talk to God like you would a dear friend. Sure, be silent and God will speak to you. In your prayers, hold people to the light.

In closing, let me say that I don’t think this development of God is wrong, bad or misinterpreted. God is so much the “other” that we will not know what God is or isn’t until/unless we are present to God. Can we do that on earth? Is there an afterlife? I don’t have those answers.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Noise that isolates

This entry really should be in my private diary, but I’m posting it, hoping that it may help others as they struggle with memories, dreams, “old tapes”, long past situations that trigger responses in the now.

Several nights ago, we watched “Little Miss Sunshine”. When the mother and father began sniping at one another and their voices got louder and more chaotic, I had to leave the room and close the door so that I couldn’t hear. The grating noise of the arguing – senseless accusations that did nothing to solve the problems – was too much like my own home in Mississippi. My mother jabbed and my father pushed verbally – all their anger buttons exploded almost every night. The noise was bitter cacophony in my heart. When I could stand to listen no longer, I would flee to the outhouse and stay there or in the back yard as long as I thought I could without attracting too much attention to myself. Then I would ease back into the house, wash my hands, and slip back into my seat at the table to resume my homework. My Dad would get another drink from the bottle behind the water bucket, and Mom would continue whatever she was doing.

Our house was too small and the walls too thin to escape the arguing. In winter, the only room that was really heated was the kitchen. Sometimes, when Mom was working in the kitchen, she would make me sit and listen to him so that she could get things done. No answer I gave was ever right, even when I agreed with him. The alcohol made him insane. His voice rose in commanding and strident tones to overwhelm me. My insides were such a jumble that I seldom went to sleep until he had passed out. And, then, almost any noise would awaken me, and I would lie in my bed, still and silent. When Dad passed through the room where my brother and I slept, I could hear the change in my brother’s breathing and know that he, too, was frozen lest Dad realize either of us was awake.

This chaotic and insane noise is embedded in my soul; it plays in my heart and my head when we go to loud restaurants where many people try to talk over the music. I become a silent dinner companion, unable to speak over the noise in the restaurant and the noise in my head.

Today, I listened to a CD that Lisa’s son gave me for Christmas, “Radiohead”, and the some of the songs produced the same sort of paralysis. My mind was stuck in the kitchen of that farmhouse.

More and more memories of those years emerge as I dream and as the movie gnaws at my being. As I got older, Dad began attacking me and telling me all the juke joints he’d seen me in (and he’d been passed out at home at the time) and all the things he knew I was doing in graphic detail. So, at age 13, Mom gave me the keys to the car and gas money, and I drove the back roads of Quitman County until I was certain that Dad had passed out. Some nights I met up with other kids whose families weren’t too different or whose families didn’t care, and we rode together. Many nights I was alone on a gravel road going nowhere with no one knowing where I was. I can see the trees lining the road and the sky lightened by the moon and the gravel road stretching out in front of me, flat and empty. I was not lonely, but I felt and still feel a yawning emptiness of being alone.

I know that God must have been with me. I was never harmed, never had car trouble, never encountered a problem (like not having a driver’s license), and Dad was always asleep when I came home. And, I am alive until that drunken, senseless, arguing noise takes over my mind and my body until I can remember that was more than 40 years ago.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A little time

Just need a little time. What a great saying that is! And, think of all the others that are similar. Time cures everything. Time is on your side. Time will change everything.

Everything we do takes time: grieving, settling into a new town and a different home, making new friends. However, some things seem to take more time than others. For instance, learning how to cope with changes in weather and humidity, learning what factors affect sleeping in a different zip code, adjusting to changes in medicine, figuring out that what your body used to do isn’t what your body does now.

So, I just need a little time, sometimes. My days begin slower than once they did. My energy level is higher in the afternoons and middle evenings than at others – unless, of course, we’re going out to eat; in which case, my energy level peaks about 5:30 – sometimes earlier. I don’t think quite as clearly in the mornings unless it’s an emergency or I get some sort of adrenaline rush. The caffeine in real Coke helps some; tea is good to help get me started.

But, even with all that, some mornings are just slower than others. I need a little time…and maybe a little nap and definitely some good food. So, please excuse me today, I think I need a little time.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Details or Meaning?

Sometimes I wonder about the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures; the people are old before they begin their adventures, which seem to go on and on for many years. I mean Sarai was an old woman past menopause when she laughed at the angels and got pregnant. Now, if laughing at the angels in your older years will cause pregnancy, I’m surely not going to laugh at anything I suspect might be an angel.

But, she bravely goes on and raises a son, which Abraham tries to offer as a sacrifice to God. Amazing what things Abraham heard! Take your son and kill him and burn him as a sacrifice to me. Yeah, right. I’m not sure who was talking to Abraham, but it probably wasn’t God. I mean, Abraham had already done everything God (or the voice) had asked. Why would God demand another proof of his faithfulness? Although, I grant you, the Voice stopped Abraham before he killed his son. Thank you, God.

Jonah apparently was a fairly young person, but he required no recovery time at all after being spit out by the whale. Nope, he was up and off to Tarshish in nothing flat. He’s pretty human, though. He keeps resisting the Voice. And, the Voice just keeps after him until he’s thoroughly sunburned and miserable. That’s right, God, give ‘em pain and they’ll do what you want. Punish them first. I mean, a little positive reinforcement would be nice. And, once again, Jonah forgot about his sunburn and misery and went off to save the world.

Now Moses got a little better deal! He was raised in the money! Then, one day, he forgets the protocol of court (and he doesn’t know about the Ten Commandments yet; so they don’t count) and kills someone. Instead of asserting the authority that is rightfully his as a grandson of the Pharaoh, he runs away. Dumb, but this accomplishes the Voice’s purpose. He’s peacefully raising sheep far away from Egypt when the Voice calls out again. I wonder how many times Moses passed that bush before his curiosity got the best of him. “Hmmm, there’s that strange bush again; maybe I’ll go take a closer look this time.” Yea, the Voice asks an impossible task for this dude that has a speech impediment. But, this time, the Voice helps out; Aaron, Moses’ brother, is appointed spokesman. Now, I don’t know how Moses and Aaron communicated; maybe Moses spoke in tongues and Aaron interpreted, but they surely did play havoc with the Pharaoh’s plans.

However, just showing that no one is perfect, Moses gets tired of hearing the people he’s leading in the desert complain and complain. So he strikes his rod against the rock, and out flows the water they need. Of course, that’s not what the Voice told Moses to do to provide water. Moses has disobeyed the Voice; so Moses is not allowed into the promised land. He gets to see it from the top of the hill, but he can’t go there. Seems like a whimsical God if you ask me.

At this point, I have to stop and tell you that I don’t believe any of these details are what the stories are meant to teach, but they are tough teachings when you do examine the details. Here’s a God who commands impossible things of ordinary humans – and they do it! So, I guess this God is giving strength to the doers. In this age, they are strange stories in which we have to look for the “moral” behind the details. What is the universal truth that each story is conveying?

I tend to be caught up in the details of the stories just as I am caught up in the details of life. But, maybe one purpose of the stories is to teach us to look at the truth, the real meaning, the broader picture.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Allergic to milk

Well, it's confirmed. Middle of the night hungries. Bowl of cereal. Difficulty breathing almost immediately. Lots of mucus now produced. I'm allergic to milk. I guess I will try Lactaid, but I am pessimistic about that being different. Perhaps this is God's punishment for all those times on the farm when I complained about the rich and thick cream that formed on the top of the milk and which I hated.

Darn it. I really like milk.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Eternal Life?

The sign at the Presbyterian Church (of America) down the street claims that, if I believe in Jesus Christ, I will have eternal life. My question is, “Who wants eternal life?”

When I was young, I thought that living forever would be a nifty thing. In middle age I began to think that eternal life might give me long enough to accomplish all the things I’d planned to do in my youth. Now, I’m a senior citizen; I’m having a great life; but I don’t want to live forever.

All those things I wanted to do in my youth are professions that no longer exist or are on their way out or have changed so much that I don’t want to do them any longer. I get tired easily, and I can’t do everything I want to do now. Why would I want this to continue?

I recognize the Biblical implications of eternal life – life after death – Jesus conquered death. I’ve heard about reincarnation, but why would I want to do this over again – even as a cow or a mouse or a leaf? The concept of eternal life is beyond my understanding now. I don’t want another life, thank you. This one was ample.

Whatever happens after death is not my business right now. I’m certain that my creator will take care of that, and I’m not foolish enough to presume to know. Never mind what is written in various scriptures; scriptures are ultimately written by humans, not God.

My business right now is to live, to enjoy life, to recognize the goodness and evil in the world and work toward/for the goodness. On a different level, I think God would like a relationship with me. Maybe that’s a human flaw: to think that there is a being greater than myself and to think that being would want a relationship with me. But, I feel a benign-ness when I try to communicate with God. Of course, it could be the squirrels outside trying to tell me the bird feeders are empty and they are hungry.

But, I choose to believe that goodness is an “other” being. The only models I have for relationships are the earthly ones; so I try to be friends with this “other”. I talk, I listen, I ask for advice, I give advice. And, yes, I do pray; I do ask for miracles and for interventions in the events and situations of my here and now. I give thanks for the goodness that I see. However, I’m not sure that’s within the power of this “other” – although some of those askings for miracles have been answered positively. So, I don’t know what I think or believe about prayer, miracles and strange happenings.

Perhaps I’m just communicating with my inner self – an essential goodness that lies within each of us. I trust that goodness to guide me, to be with me, and to help me.

What I don’t really expect that “other”, that goodness to do is provide me with eternal life. Not my problem. I can’t control this even though many people in all manner of belief systems seem to think that I can control what happens after I die. I don’t want to control what happens after I die.

What I want to do is to keep a relationship with this “other/goodness”, to have a good time, and to promote goodness in the world. That’s all I can do in the here and now. I leave eternal life to be a desire or concern for someone else.

Monday, January 15, 2007

More thoughts on praise

After morning prayer, I realized that The General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 101) says, “And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days...” That’s a way that I can praise God.

And, I like the “Song of Moses” (BCP 85), where Deborah (even though it is attributed to Moses, he didn’t sing it – he probably couldn’t sing any better than he could talk – remember God gave him Aaron to speak for him) sings, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted, the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.” She was talking about the people of God passing through the Red (Reed) Sea and the pursuing Egyptians being caught in the muck and mire as the water returned to its place. There. That’s a good thing to praise. A deed worth talking about.

I confess that I don’t get much out of “A Song of Creation” (BCP 88). It lists a lot of characteristics and things present in the world and repeats over and over “praise him and highly exalt him forever.” And, what’s this “Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name...” (BCP 90). I haven’t noticed a halo around God’s name, and the Jewish people think that even saying what we presume to be God’s name is bad.

However, Mother Margaret Neill at the Christmas Eve service at St. Francis By the Sea, Salter Path, NC, talking about “Hallowed be your name” from the Lord’s Prayer – she said she held a hallowed place in her heart, her being for God – giving radiance to her life from within. I can groove on that. If one’s name is the essence of one’s being (and for many of us we only have the names our parents chose), then having a special place to hold God’s name, God’s essence inside our own being would be a truly special thing.

So, is that praise? Is that adoration? I don’t think so. Honor and respect seem like better words for what I feel and what I need to offer to God. And, I offer those mostly through his creation – humans and otherwise.

Perhaps those ancient and not-so-ancient writers pushed the idea of constant praise and adoration. It’s an ancient way of having a relationship with the gods. We don’t sacrifice animals to God any longer; the 20th century way is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In the 21st century we all seem to arguing over what the basis for a relationship with God really should be – the inerrant Bible, the interpreted Bible, the mountain top experience, the day to day doing of good in the world, the constant prayer, the honor and respect of all God’s creation, the casting out of those who are evil (and this definition varies greatly from person to person). Right now, I’m into a mixture of personal relationship, corporate relationship, doing good in the world and respecting all of creation.

But, while I may talk with God off and on all day long, I wouldn’t consider it all praise and adoration, nor is it lamentation – it’s just conversation. Like: God, I’m perplexed about our money situation. God, that feels good. This scone is heavenly. Ah, God, what do you think that fellow in front of me is going to do next; his driving scares me. Oh, what a beautiful sunset! And sometimes, just “HELP!”

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Praise and Adoration

What kind of ego trip is God on that demands constant praise and adoration? A little praise for me goes a long way and adoration makes me nervous. Now, I know that God is not human, but God has been human (and probably will be again). So God knows what happens when you get too much praise or adoration...crucifixion. The world that once loved you turns against you and reviles you. Oh, a few people may think you’re still pretty special, but they are prejudiced.

I’ve read recently about someone who wants to ensure that God is praised 24 hours a day for all of 2007. Natter, natter, natter. Saying the same things over and over again. And, God probably inspired the ancient writer who put those things on parchment or skin back before the King James Version. So, God already knows all those things. God told us so we would know. Now, why are we parroting it back?

Many people who praise God don’t really think about what praise means. Your boss praises you with kind words about the success of your project or about particular traits that make you a good employee – even a good person sometimes. Your mother praises you for taking out the garbage, thereby ensuring a better smelling house and no wild screams when she finds the dog in the can scattering yucky stuff in the kitchen. Your teacher praises you for remembering specific lessons. You offer praise to a friend who has lost weight. In this human world, praise is linked to action, usually specific action.

Adoration is reserved for movie/tv/stage stars and athletes. Occasionally a church figure thinks he deserves to be adored. But, ordinary people don’t indulge much in adoration. Like power, adoration corrupts.

So, do we praise God for creating this world? If our work projects had as many problems as the earth, we would probably be fired. I grant you that this earth is a wonderful place for many of its inhabitants, and I can easily praise God for the goodness I see. But, I have great difficulty making blanket assumptions about how good the world is. I haven’t seen God taking out the garbage lately; what I see are mongrels grabbing all they can grab in politics, churches, businesses, sexual relationships. They’re like the dog turning over the kitchen garbage can; only the dog may not know this is wrong. We can’t say that natural disasters are God’s cleaning tool either. Too much good is thrown away then.

I do believe that God learns lessons from how the earth and its inhabitants act. Unfortunately, most of those lessons – at least the ones from the media – are of greed, lying, betrayal. I hope God does not act on those lessons but notices the goods that are done each day that never make it to the news.

Has God accomplished a great deed lately? We may never know. What science has made known and what problems science has solved may have been the work of God, but can we be sure? After all, humans are made in the image of God and given the ability to create – so was it human intervention or God intervention? How can we know the miracles from the happenstance or from the planned action of humans? Or is everything a miracle?

I think God is so much more than I can understand that mostly I say, “Yea, God!” That’s praise and encouragement enough for me.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Now I have questions

Life in seminary was awful much of the time. I knew I wasn’t working my best, and I felt I was missing out on so much. What I didn’t know then was that I was clinically depressed. So, all those exciting theological discussions, challenging questions by professors, and blazing analyses didn’t happen. The cost for that seminary education was high, and I finally finished paying for it last year.

But, the cost of what I missed is much steeper. Now, I have the questions that don’t have answers but need much discussion. Now, I can read theological statements and question the validity of the arguments. Now, I want to read books that I dragged on and on then.

So, in the next few posts I’ll just throw out some questions and discussions and hope that someone will join me.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Why I haven't been home

If anyone is reading my blog other my friends who are in touch by phone and email, I haven’t been posting lately because of illness. I have chronic bronchitis, and this time it just didn’t go away after several rounds of antibiotics; I still have that nagging cough, tiredness (said to be due to anemia). So, I have been on a round of specialists – rheumatologist (no, I don’t have fibromyalgia, but possibly myofasciasitis ), chest specialist (lungs operating at 90 percent of expected capacity and recovery ability), gastroenterologist (did endoscopy, dilated a Schatsky’s ring and did a biopsy of small spot in stomach – much easier to eat now), neurologist (restless leg syndrome, no sleep apnea – treatment changed and making me sleepy), and will see an ENT doctor next week about allergies and possible sinus infection. I have appointments about asthma therapy, with a psychiatrist to manage my depression and anxiety (we have only two or three psychiatrists in this town, so I need to get on as a patient before I actually need one), with a therapist to deal with my anxieties and for the same reason I need a psychiatrist. I suspect a cardiologist is in my future and an opthalmologist. Since both my aunt and grandmother had alzheimers, I am investigating study programs (like at Duke) to be monitored for early diagnosis.

Now that I’ve said that mouthful, you will understand why I haven’t had much time for thinking least thinking about things that would be interesting in a blog. Of course, that’s presuming that anything I’ve written earlier was interesting.

I am doing well. My legs are not hurting much at all; therefore, my cookie-eating binges have stopped. I can eat a meal with ease, but I’m eating smaller meals, taking small bites, chewing well, and eating slower (when did I ever listen to my mother?). My tiredness has abated some, and I’ve finally gotten all the Christmas stuff packed up (now that it’s Epiphany). A friend is coming tomorrow to help me put the storage bins back in the garage; then we will be able to use our sunroom again.

The weather here has been so warm that we had all the windows open today with a lovely breeze blowing through the house and clearing out that stale winter non-odor. I am grateful for both the sunshine and the rain. I’ve been reading some “juvenile fantasy” – that means that it doesn’t have a lot of violence, has a plot and is easy reading – now that I can sit still long enough to read. These books usually involve young heroes who are aided and abetted by older people, to whom they actually listen and from whom they actually take advice. I suspect that’s why they are called fantasy. Certainly no one listens to me or asks my advice, and I’ve lived enough different lives to have an opinion on almost everything.

I’ve been making fiber necklaces, before the pain got worse, and I have a lot of beautiful yarns. So, I got some crochet hooks at the thrift shop, and tonight I actually crocheted four rounds of a six inch wide piece. Mom would be proud of me for trying again. She made it seem so easy, but I could never keep the tension right, and I still have trouble with that, but this is going well for a beginner. I’m amazed that I remember anything about it. I confess that I downloaded an illustrated stitch manual to help my memory, but my hands and fingers seem to remember some of it naturally. Aren’t our bodies wonderfully made?