Monday, April 19, 2010
Damn dat ol' Debble'n his damn lies!
(Keith: Green: "No one Believes in Me Anymore" -- lyrics in first comment)
Payin' bills at the kitchen table this morning, it came to me:
"*THIS* is real. Payin' bills. Keepin' the wolf away from the door. Protectin' your credit. Bein' a respectable and productive member of society. Not all that seminary foolishness."
And it was just about as plain as my call last spring, "Start seminary," and the confirmation I got last fall, "Keep going." But not nearly as plain as the peace-amid-chaos I've had since switching to the M.Div. -- with the intention of seeking ordination.
Was it dat ol' Debble? Or a misfirin' synapse -- a brain fart. Well, I dismissed it and sent the old Unholy Son-a-Bitch packin'. Having recently steeped myself in John Milton's "Paradise Lost," I am all about flashin' back to days of yore before I ever doubted that the Debble was as real as Mr. Jesus H. Christ Hisself.
It was a half-hour or so after I'd read an e-mail from Dr. ER sayin' how, because she was awake in her own pain, she was able to help a hurting friend in the wee hours, on Facebook, and how 30 minutes afterward she had her own sense of communication, which said, "I needed you to be awake tonight" -- and how it made it easier to accept her own always chronic but varying-in-intensity hurting, and how it gave her peace to have been able to be there for her friend.
She asked, and I said, "Yeah, I think that's exactly how God works with his peeps. Maybe you heard God; maybe God allowed you to hear your friend's prayer of thanksgiving: 'I needed you to be awake tonight.' "
I know it's totally uncool to personify dat ol' Debble. Why, pray tell? What happened? Is it just a matter of "sophistication"?
What do y'all think? The devil: real or not?
As time keeps slipping away
I can imitate your brightest light
And make your night look just like day
I put some truth in every lie
To tickle itching ears
You know I'm drawing people just like flies
'Cause they like what they hear
I'm gaining power by the hour
they're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very simple now
'Cause no one believes in me anymore
Oh, heaven's just a state of mind
My books read on your shelf
And have you heard that God is dead
I made that one up myself
They dabble in magic spells
They get their fortunes read
You know they heard the truth
But turned away and followed me instead
I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one's watching for my tricks
Because no one believes in me anymore
Everyone likes a winner
With my help, you're guaranteed to win
And hey man, you ain't no sinner
You've got the truth within
And as your life slips by
You believe the lie that you did it on your own
But don't worry
I'll be there to help you share our dark eternal home
Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As day slips into day
The magazines, the newspapers
Print every word I say
This world is just my spinning top
It's all like childs-play
You know, I dream that it will never stop
But I know it's not that way
Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I'm gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one watches for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well I'm gaining power by the hour
They're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
Yet, every once in a while, I get the feeling there are forces out there, dark forces bent on destruction. I suppose the old saw about the Devil's greatest trick being convincing people he doesn't exist might hold true. Or might not.
I should add that, for the most part, I don't really think about this all that much. I suppose Martin Luther threw his ink bottle at something, right?
Evil I believe exist, just like gravity, energy, and matter. Evil personified ? No.
But then,I also don't believe in "Good" personified either.
If I were being problematic I would remind you that Jesus himself once referred to Peter as Satan and suggest that perhaps then the Devil should be considered to be the Church itself.
I think the individual experience of temptation and surprise at one's own evil-tending behavior are psychological realities erupting from the unconscious and can seem like something "not oneself" came alive. I would put your momentary thought of escaping the pressures down to an unconscious experience of pressure becoming conscious but remaining unchosen, unowned.
I can't agree with LBJ, though, is "naturalizing" Evil by comparing it to gravity or energy. I don't think Evil is natural or eternal or substantive in its ontology. I am helped by Augustine's notion of absence of the good. An absence, a vacuum, a generative force that devours, that negates with aggressivity, that is powerful and violent and horribly greedy.
But it is not "real" in the Western sense of having being, or ontology, though it is generated and generative.
I can only imagine it existing in the social, however, and don't have an imagination for how it effects nature or the cosmos - though I feel like I should be able to describe Evil in the cosmos. The Haitian earthquake is an example and its complexity has me disturbed in my privileged desire to define and my anger at God for my inability to do so. And I feel that Evil is much more than mere "scale" as if it's only a numbers game: a threshold of so many affected people of so much destruction and the scale gets so big, minds are scared at the numbers and "feel" Evil.
And being "not real" it will pass away and is something to fight, to oppose agressively... like injustice, cruelty, violence, oppression, colonization, capitalist rape... with a hopefulness that that day will come.
That and the fact that "among us" is meaningless in our economically determined system of "value."
Which is our corporate nod toward Evil.
I *knew* despite my own nod to comedy with this video -- not the song, which I dig from my youth -- but the imagery in the vid makes it hard to take this subject seriously. But y'all did!
Now, here's the question that popped into my head yesterday -- BTW, DrLobo, I hope you spent the day heavily drugged or otherwise peaceful -- here's the question.
NOT to posit them as opposites in any way other than the Western mind sloppily does, but:
Jesus of Nazareth, man. Jesus, the Christ -- a personification, one depicted in Scripture, and experienced today by individuals and groups, of God's Grace and Love. That's one way to put it, anyway.
Evil. A ... thing, or something. The Devil -- a personification, one depicted in Scripture, and experienced today by individuals and groups: Look yonder, to the Deepest South, i.e., South America and Africa. Or look across the street at the local storefront Pentecostal church.
Is there a concept of Devilology? Like Christology? If not, I'll start one, and I'll declare that I position my own concept of evil personified just left of the third quarter-mark toward: Holy S--t That Sumbitch is Real and Breathin' Down My Neck.
My concept of Christology, I guess, would have to be just right of the three-quarter mark -- the end zone not being "real," but "God."
Or something like that.
I now return to my regularly scheduled program, a second, meticulous viewing of the 2006 German film "The Lives of Others," set in 1984 East Berlin and its arts community -- which I will endeavor in a paper to draw comparisons with the Pax Romana and the fledgling Jesusy community, tying it to the different admonishments against paying any attention to prophets, false or otherwise, in the gospels of Mark, Luke and Thomas, as one waits for the Revealing. Wish me fleetness of note-taking and thought!
to a realm outside of "evil". In that grace and love are our way of following the will that we believe is God's they should be removed from evil but instead often are the worst source of it.
McVeigh somehow twisted bent and mangled love for the innocent so badly that it allowed him to kill innocents in retaliation, or as a lesson, or what ever the hell he thought he was doing.
Haiti? Yes the will of God is expressed in Planet tectonics and geological placements that set up the potential of tragedy. But was it not the will of man that built upon the sand? Was it not the will of man that re-built upon the same place even after being destroyed in an earthquake once before? True that each individual victim did not choose or create the place that killed them. But their forebearers, the aggregate of their community over time, did.
If they rebuild in the same place in the same way then they will kill their own again sooner or later.
The Hatian Government knows this.
What will they do?
And if God's Grace and God's Love aren't outside the real of evil, well, then, um ... eff it.
Now you are at the door of The Issue of the the ages.
The oldest book of the Bible tries to address this and it is still in question today.
Is evil from God?
Why does God allow evil?
"...eff it." isn't quite the answer.
All of the Devil/Satan stories and traditions are attempts at rational but dualistic answers to this question.
How can God let evil things happen to his people?
And "eff it" is a very popular answer, actually.
I think, LBJ, you'll want to rethink this in the light of history.
Chile earthquake death toll: not quite 500.
Haiti earthquake death toll: not quite 250,000.
New Orleans death toll: not quite 1,500.
You mention the will of men. Which men? Whose will?
Augustine rules out dualism by considering Evil to be absence of the good, an emptiness that devours.
Why does God allow evil?"
To quote Paul Rudnick, "Who's your God? Some prissy classroom monitor, nodding at the brown-nosers, and smacking anyone who gets out of line? A God who does what -- sends us Mussolini and brain cancer to test us, for our own good? That's not God -- that's Aunty Betty with an enema!"
Are "natural disasters" evil?
("Disasters" by origin "bad stars" are defined as super-natural I guess)
If evil is personified as a Devil, then is it not God's Devil?
If evil is the absence of good then why is good absent?
Feodor suggest that evil is not "natural" in one post. Is "good" natural?
Is evil an absence really? A baby killed by a terrorist is the absence of good.
ER capitalizes "Grace" and "Love" and thus raise them to qualities only of God. Suggesting that man's "grace" and "love" are not from the same material as God's.
Poor imitations or borrowed terms?
Dat ole Debble are sure difficult to pin down ain't he?
The "devil" in this case is most certainly successive American governments that have exploited Haitian natural resources at the expense of the people, denied them assistance, imposed harsh dictatorships, and prevented development of the various infrastructures that would allow them to deal with all sorts of tragedies - not just earthquakes, but the far more common hurricanes - with more equanimity and skill.
Unless we are willing to rage at the Divine because we have been set upon a geologically active planet, or to make that geological activity a sign of natural fallenness, I think that raging at God because of the suffering of the people of Haiti misplaces our rage. We should be angry at our own government for our stupidity, racism, greed, and oppression in Haiti.
Just my position. No argument here that anyone is right or wrong.
So, this is exactly an altogether different and opposite concern. How do we respond to bad people.
How does this apply to Haiti and God acting?
And how in God's name do we compare an epithet about rain in a sermon to a quarter of a million poverty stricken Haitians who have suffered four hundred years of material and literal rape?
Again, I despair the reluctance to truly plumb the horror. God's sweet rain on the just and the unjust? As an analogy? Jesus God, who are we become as Americans? I surely share the stain, but it's making me sick these many months.
Even a small tremblor in northern Illinois!
If God is still speaking through his, he has developed a moral palsy.
I can't refrain from anger.
I guess I have lost my sense of outrage at a Universe that is quite willing to destroy whole solar systems when their stars explode, and a geologically alive planet whose mysteries we still cannot fathom completely. And, yes, I do think that focusing solely on the Haitian earthquake at the expense of the others - in particular the recent one in western China and also in Chile - would seem to indicate you hold God personally responsible not only for the natural calamity, but also for the previous centuries of exploitation and oppression. Since I acknowledge these last without granting the former, my sense if justice is skewed somehow?
The leap there is one I miss.
But, then again, I read Stephen King.
I could mention the Jews here, I suppose, or perhaps the Armenians, or the Palestinians even. Which human racial/ethnic group would you consider to be most in need of deas ex machina, Feodor? If this is your measure of God's love and graciousness in the face of evil, then perhaps the northern Europeans really are the real chosen people.
Why you are getting mad at me for pointing out that the US has, indeed, been the cause of suffering in Haiti, and that Haiti and the Haitian people are suffering far more than others at the present moment I have no idea. Because I think that earthquakes are earthquakes? Because I refuse to get mad at God for them?
This last seems to be the sole source of your expressed anger. That's fine. You go ahead and be mad at God and show how more righteous than I you happen to be because of it. It's no skin off my dick one way or another.
And it could very well be that we don't care as much as he does. Feodor has already suggested that the care we do have for lesser calamities doesn't match his level of anger. And it's true. For many reasons.
I confess to a bit of tolerance to the capriciousness of nature from having lived my whole life in a place where tornados make God out to be a sniper a lot of the time, and the ocsassional fucktard like T. McVeigh try his damndest to fill in the gaps.
The fact that so many perished in Haiti is overwhelming -- and I mean that word: I can't process it. But I won't call it "murder," because that puts it into the same moral universe from which others draw the conclusion that what happened to Haiti was justice, or punishment, for voodoo! Or whatever.
Well, bullshit. Shit happens. That's the fact, jack. Shit effing happens -- and it itself it is neither good not bad, it just it.
Besides, maybe God WAS absent from Haii when the thing hit -- not having spirited Godself away for some reason, but because God was somewhere else.
The omnipresence of God is overrated. We could learn more about religion/faith tied to place, as opposed to riding the froth of passing time, bu quieting ourselves and listing to American Indian and other aboriginal peeps -- and right there is a comparison to put the quarter-million deaths in Haiti (is that right? a quarter-million?) in perspectice.
Grieve! Be pissed off at God and Nature. But, Feodor, don't insult the anger you clearly toward God by cheapening it to the level of ME, gks or anybody else. Sheesh.
Forget posts of yestermonths.
My issue here is with evidence of calloused pricks that could stand to lose a little skin.
Like the bad use of material from the Sermon on the Mount. "God sends the rain on the just and the unjust" - which Jesus ties to peacemaking, meekness, loving enemies in a sacrificial way.
I find the intensification of the Christian ethic in Matthew 5 and 6 to be far, far from addressing tragedy and theodicy. I find the effort troubling.
And troubling moves to disturbing for me when one writes openly swiftly, glibly through tragedy after tragedy ending with "a tremblor here in northern Illinois."
As if cutting myself shaving this morning is related to the stabbing of Joseph Igbineweka.
Far, far from my issues, how this does not clearly cross common sense lines into the uncouth is disturbing. But I am no longer surprised. I've raised this note before.
And I'll refrain from taking off on the tangent of why those who mourn are blessed. God forbid we stretch ourselves into apophatic faith.
"... was it not the will of man that built upon the sand? Was it not the will of man that re-built upon the same place even after being destroyed in an earthquake once before? True that each individual victim did not choose or create the place that killed them. But their forebearers, the aggregate of their community over time, did."
It seems to me that Haitian with the resources to act on his or her will does one of four things:
1. Leave the country - in which case they are not candidates for blame, I guess. NY has two Haitian radio stations, two Creole newspaper, and one PA channel.
2. Stay and help family and friends leave the country. We can blame them.
3. Stay and serve those who do NOT have the resources to act on their will.
4. Most cases, a combination of one of the above three.
In which case, why not blame all of them just a little. And save ourselves serious, critical discussion. It's just a blog, after all, and shit happens.
Haiti, Toby's bar... reminders of the tenuousness of life, sacrament of "shit happens."
Redneck theology, virtually.
As a geographer I blame the poor and rich alike for building or allowing building on sands that liquefract or slopes over 30% which WILL slump. Or for having building codes or traditions that place the weight of a structure in the roof which makes a fine compression system when it falls.
But blame is looking backwards. Looking forward is to recognize what will work and be the safest and plan to recover in that way.
Knowledge and Planning are what are needed within Haiti in the long term.
Oh yes, and lots and lots of money.
what do I find there, in such a place?
GKS thinks this is privileged luxury of feeling on my part and without real value, i.e. emotionalism. LBJ thinks that it is an unsolvable cerberus of life, which lends his remarks their patina of jaded impassivity (and existentially I am often in the same camp). ER, too, thinks its emotionalism but should be kept private and away from polluting social networks. But to my mind a theological education means shit if, by comparison, I have a ten thousand word address on the Incarnation and am speechless, theologically, on Haiti, except to say the rain falls on the just and the unjust and no man knows his time. And I don't mean an extended rational, thoughtful, systematic treatment in this case. Usually though, I want more. I have made my bed with other paradoxes than the protestant one of praising words but then refusing "too many" words.
This is much more inside the bone, in the marrow of the mystical. Where one despairs at experiencing the absence of God; where one feels God has betrayed God's own call, God's own purposes, the cosmic structure of what is right and good and holy...
What do we find there, in such an agonizing place? Anything more real than biblical verses, epithets? Anything that would speed ER on to a darkly disturbing sermon on the truth of faith?
What is it that Craddock used to say. There are sermons that orient and sermons that disorient the listener. Both have purpose and a role to play.
What do we find in the dark light when God has turned his back?
I, for one, could not care less if Feodor believes with all his heart that I and others don't give a fart in a hurricane for the suffering of the Haitian people. Let him believe that. I am trying to do what he so often does - force him to think through the things he writes. As ER writes, and I have written before, shit happens. Unpleasant, horrible even. Sometimes these unpleasantries occur in places with the wherewithal to deal. Sometimes, they don't. Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005 were devastating, and that devastation was exacerbated by the federal response to the victims, particularly in New Orleans, which was poor, and where the majority of those who suffered the most unrepresented African-Americans.
The catalog of human life lost due to the combination of human oppression and natural disaster is long. This is not callousness, or an excuse to cease to feel. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to consider each case as unique, offering opportunities for faith to push through and actually be faithfulness.
Again, Feodor's rage is something I understand, having raged a time or two at God myself. Rwanda in 1994, to be sure, particularly in light of the Clinton Administration's deliberate refusal to act. In 1984, a volcanic eruption and resulting mudslide in Colombia buried thousands in small villages; the faces of the dead printed in news journals have haunted me, in particular of a young girl whose life was ended because of the place her parents chose to live.
I guess the difference between our positions, Feodor, is simple. Rage may be a sign of real faithfulness, a refusal to buckle under the pressure of tragic events. It can also be an excuse to cease to grow in the faith as well. Adolescents rage at the world for its callousness; adults accept with a certain amount of grim equanimity that shit does indeed happen, and the life and love and joy and some real human connection also happen. I accept the reality of both, and that sometimes the only response to things is love and grief with the grieving, mourning with those who mourn, and reaching out with help to those who need it.
Getting mad at God may serve one's sense of self-righteousness. Beyond that, well, it doesn't help anyone, and it doesn't prevent further shit from happening.
Doing my best here to hear you. But I cannot emphathize with you -- I do not live in the community you do, which, I think, is the vector for your grief. I don't dismiss it. I don't mean to demean it. I just do not, and cannot, for some reason, share it the way you bear it.
On the other hand, mere images of the humanity literally washed up in N.O. after Katrina literally caused me to return to the folds of faith. So, I'm not heartless.
So, forgive me if the only take I've ever heard on the rain "on the just and the unjust" is the one GKS iterated! Heard it a lot, actually, growing up on a real honest-to-goodness, full-time farm-ranch. Never thought of it having some deeper interpretation -- so share it. Don't whack me upside the sang head for not knowing something I don't know I don't know.
Sounds like "works righteousnes"s to me. If I am raging at God, if I blame God for being absent, that's no sin and it's not being unfaithful. It's being in relationship. Your Calvinism is indeed showing.
"Getting mad at God may serve one's sense of self-righteousness."
You've said this before and both times it strikes me as very odd. Why would expressing anger at God bring on a righteous feeling of any kind? My experience is that it brings on anger... a depression, a despair and threatens a loss of meaning. Righteousness? Weird.
To take any passage in the Sermon out of this context and apply it other theological issues is chancy at best and when applying it to innocent suffering, it seems to me the height of callousness: because it infers precisely that God sent the earthquake. GKS turns it upside down and thinks its parallel. If God sends good things indiscriminately, it follows without though that God must also send bad things indiscriminately, This is not a God I recognize in the words of the Gospel, the NT, or the OT aside from the problematical Job.
Jesus says somewhere that the towers of Siloam that fell on a couple of dozen people were not God's punishment for sin, but that death is what is due everyone and so repentance is in order for all. This is somewhat like your quote of Ecclesiastes.
My issue is trying not to make a point, but to let myself "live into" that Ecc. 12 writes about. That the writer writes about it is indicative that it first is an experience to have, that it is a true experience, that it is an experience that deeply troubles faith, apparently ought to deeply trouble faith, that there is no answer, only goading, disorienting, no "working through to faithfulness" as the extra solitary friend of Job advises.
My issue is that theological reflection upon faith ought to have great store rooms of witnesses about living in Mark 15:34 and finding that Jesus was already there in solidarity with us. And it does; but they lie forgotten in the modern age, with its myth of Reason and Progress and Science or the backlash of blind, fundamentalist idolatry.
This is what is needed when New Orleans, Haiti, the Holocaust, slavery is encountered in the living soul.
For better or worse it is what Christianity has to offer, not a challenge to rise above despair or to negate it, but offering someone who was God's own Son who shared our despair, and, in this case, specifically our despair about God. Talk about incarnation.
Despair is Christ. Being forsaken is Christ's experience. Being wrongly abused, blamed, used, misunderstood, denied is Christ. Hatians are Christ. The sixth ward is Christ. Auschwitz is Christ.
Death is Christ. (When I took my canonical exams for the priesthood I said Christ had died. And a priest examiner in the diocese objected. The urge to deny it, to hold on to conquering victory, to hope that my days will be happy ones because God loves me, is very great in the extreme.
Death awaits us all. That this it true does not keep it from being a god forsaken scandal. That is why Ecclesiastes goes on and on. Not because "shit happens" is a truism that must be accepted. But because the truth that "shit happens" is a truth that wears away at the soul's ability to hope in love and God. That is why wisdom must work hard to deal with the truth that "shit happens." Only in the unbelievably privileged West can "shit happens" serve as a cute tattoo.
Life is dog eat dog in most of the world and almost all of history.
But, the living dog is also Christ. And a dog's life - not a mall life with a God store offering coffee and pastries along with the latest Max Lucado book - is the only real salvation at hand.
In the meantime, I guess, as for the rain thing: Maybe I don't think of rain as "sweet" -- because it depends on when it fall as well as where. It just is. When it falls out here, even just a plain old rain, for a week or so at a time, at the wrong time, it can wreak havoc. Ruin farms and set back lives majorly. It can kill a whole damn wheat crop, is what I'm saying.
So, when I hear "it rains on the just and the unjust," I don't just see people getting it who deserve it, and people getting it who don't deserve it. I just see people getting rain. Sometimes neither the just nor the just need it or deserve it.
And sometimes, or, I guess, all times, neither the just nor unjust need or deserve a hurricane or a volcanic eruption or a tornado. It. Just. Is. That is: Shit happens.
It doesn't just happen. God causes good things to happen, and does not withhold good things from the unrighteous. God is acting here.
Quite a bit different from "shit happens."
Here is a translation from Bible Gateway's "The Message" Bible of Job 42:1-6
Job answered God: "I'm convinced: You can do anything and everything.
Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, 'Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?'
I admit it.
I was the one.
I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me,
'Listen, and let me do the talking.' 'Let me ask the questions.' 'Then you give the answers'.
I admit I once lived only by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I'm sorry—forgive me.
I'll never do that again, I promise!
I'll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor."
Well, I wouldn't recommend abjection; Job's point is that that denies God's hand in making creation. Pride is replacing that hand.
I'm not writing to recommend what you should do. I don't care what you do that is constructive and works for you. I criticize what I read when I think that we get to clearer and sharper on things and avoid dead end paths that I think lie ahead or assumed in certain approaches.
But I will list things that make me hum. Asexually speaking. Well, maybe that, too, in a grand connectedness to life way. And I did not want to leave your question hanging and unacknowledged.
1. Pray with mourning. Christ did on several occasions; in fact, a large percentage of what we're given in the gospels.
2. Pray with mourning in identification with Others. If (Phoenix Affirmations concurring) we are to walk the walk of Christ, then we should be mourning the cities and towns and the defenseless, the children, those of hard hearts, etc. We often say we will follow Christ, but we too often have the cushy final victory in mind won by his resurrection. But that part of the way of Christ I cannot follow. What I can follow is Matthew 5. And mourn.
3. Seek out time with the Other not as a victim but as a creature of God.
4. Then pray with joy in identification (not identity) with the Other.
5. Pray in identification with the full story of Christ, the Other who saves me: incarnated glory; an apprenticeship; a giving life lived in mourning and joy; a final purpose that takes my life; leaving it all to God to make the full meaning.
6. I'd humbly suggest you read a systematic presentation of theology that makes an attempt to integrate the major aspects of the story of God and the Christian life. Karl Rahner, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Gustav Aulen. Any of these would be a great starting point to form your own systemic thinking. We no longer fully believe or trust that anyone can capture it all and summarize it. But I find that the more I can connect things in my world, the happier and healthier I am, and these models, while falling short as anything must, provide a great big beginning.
7. Try Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought. Which pretty much destroys any systematic Christian framework.
What can I say? Faith and reason. I can't do without either.
At least give me a nod for offering myself up here.
Everybody needs a little love and no wire monkeys.