Thursday, December 26, 2013

That Rapture Notion...

This isn't a world for staying
if you've got a heart to break.

If you look forward to 'the Rapture'
you simply aren't going.

So brace yourself,
don't worry;
God is kinder and wiser
and so were many people
we've been losing lately.

About the Exam; it isn't one but
you should study the material in
that Sermon on the Mount;
work all the problems you find
and you'll be fit to die if you must.

Monday, December 02, 2013

God's Self-Disclosure Through Rebecca Trotter

My never-met beloved friend Rebecca Trotter keeps writing well about her life, producing a sort of modern, ongoing Book of Job. Poverty, kids, difficult husband, difficult self, friends & relatives eager to explain what she's been doing all wrong... In her latest piece she looks to be on to something.

The gist: It doesn't matter what she prays, does, says, thinks, believes, feels -- in that God will simply give her what she needs, whether that happens to be bliss, peace, agony, mental anguish, or indigestion. Well, yeah. & no.

In one sense, we wouldn't want it any other way. If we could control God by sacrificing one candy bar in the toaster-oven every full moon, we might really get out of hand. It's a relief to have a fuse between our wishes & what we get, because without one we'd be in serious trouble. At best, we'd be wording our prayers as carefully as contracts with the Devil, lying awake all night wondering what should/shouldn't have gone into the fine print.

In another sense, no! We want to count for something, have power to affect the world somehow, to help and please our friends. We want a handle on our fate, even if that handle is fated to fall off at an inconvenient time. We want the world predictable and controllable to some extent; to be a world and not just a chaos -- not even a benevolent, nurturing chaos. God has accommodated that need as well, putting in all sorts of regularities, tricks we can learn, etc.

Dependable machines are good for what they do; but that's not exactly what we want in our friends. 'Undependable'? Uh, not that either. Do we want God to be the sort of Parent we can push around or manipulate? Do we want God to be inflexible, implacable, a rock we can always count on to be painfully resting on our feet?

It's those thinking minds that make this difficult, trying to fix things-as-it-is [Suzuki's term] with a definition through its little thorax like a butterfly in a case. Life becomes livable only because it's stretched between a complete set of paradoxes.

And God? Utterly dependable, as the Bible says. Predictable, controllable, no. Not even controllable by our ideas of God's job description. If you need Him, He will show up in a funny hat and pull your nose. And everything will be all right!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Self-Disclosure of God and Me # II

And now, how to know what to say next? What does God self-disclosing have to do with me self-disclosing?

Well, this is a complex endeavor for one poorsoul, with only one muddled lifetime to sort and display. Any one detail about me, by itself, is as likely to mislead as to clarify. What complexities, then, does God face?

"Hi, I'm God! We need to talk!" Hmmm, that's not it -- But how can God best start Divine Courtship Behavior? Not born anyplace, doesn't have a favorite team, doesn't do anything for a living. "Lord of the Universe"? -- too many contemporary readers are inclined to respond, "Get out of here, you Imaginary Creep! I wouldn't like You even if I believed in You!"

That, as it happens, is basically how I thought about God through much of my childhood, from then into early college.

My mother, whom I didn't respect, had grown up among the Mormons, had left them, believed in "a Supreme Being" but didn't think God wanted anything from people except for us to be painfully self-sacrificing in an annoying sort of way. My father was a flat-out atheist who'd enjoyed singing, as a child, in a Methodist church. Therefore they sent me to the nearest one, every Sunday.

No 'Sunday school' -- This was straight into grownup church, sometime fairly early in my elementary grades. I rather liked it, still fondly remember mumbling along to songs like 'Old Hundred'.

Hearing about "The Flood" was exciting, but that "fire next time" sounded scary as well. At the time I was also reading  my father's set of popular science books, had read that the sun would bloat up to swallow the Earth in about 7 billion years, found that even more worrisome!

But the Bible! My parents kept one in their one small bookshelf; and at some point I got into the book of 'Revelation'! God throwing fiery rocks out of the sky! Dead lambs walking about. Creatures made of eyeballs -- which could symbolize some interesting things, but I just imagined myself living as a sort of mobile tapioca pudding, which sounded downright unpleasant! And that curse at the end, against anybody daring to add or subtract one word from the book! [If only I'd known about the sort of copyists a writer had to deal with in those days, I might have been more sympathetic, not been so upset.] Mostly, it was the bits about people having to stand around praising God forever, without even a bathroom break -- Those were terrifying!

But I liked what I heard in church, about God making us all "in God's image."

What did that mean? We were all different, said the preacher. Male, female, big, little, fat, skinny, dark & light... but all these were "made in God's image." That image, he said, must be "a spiritual image." What we look like 'inside', what it is that lives, thinks, feels and all -- That's what God looks like!

It's clever to reverse this, to imagine that people have created [an illusion of] God in our own image. This image, of course, would be an illusion, not a working model of God.

The truth of it?-- People do have great difficulty disentangling whatever is actually there from whatever they've imagined. If God didn't want to be known, the effort would be futile -- and even so, it's been a persistent struggle with human presuppositions.

We've been given good metaphors. What? A 'metaphor' isn't 'a pretty literary comparison'; it's what a mathematician would call a 'mapping' or a scientist would call 'a model'. It doesn't give direct knowledge; to be useful at all a mapping has to be smaller than a country, can't show every loose pebble, has to be 'less than" but must mirror some significant structure of what we're studying.

One major metaphor -- that "People are made 'in the image of' God." The other one: that we're God's 'children.' This one is really tricky to examine!

"Children." We are "like" our parents, sometimes painfully so. There's supposed to be an affectionate relationship. We're supposed to develop into distinct people, characterized by our varying talents and by whatever things we come to love for their own sakes, not just self-assemble into dutiful robots.  And we have to start out less than complete, relatively helpless and confused. Examples from the animal kingdom even suggest: The more helpless in the beginning, the greater the potential!

People will assert ourselves, will sneak into attics, will find interesting and dangerous new toys and playmates. We will rebel, try more or less consciously to run away from home, will make mistakes and feel guilty.

And above all, whatever mistakes our own parents will have made -- will cast their shadows on our images of God.

That has been occurring for thousands of years, and is very much evident in those works various peoples call "Scripture." And such works also represent how God has self-disclosed -- and been necessarily misunderstood -- in human history through the present.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How To Worship God

I've recognized God at work teaching me for some very long time; and yet I seem to keep needing the same lessons. This one is on the edge of my understanding, stretching me into areas that, like more typical modern Quakers, I've wanted to dismiss safely out-of-hand.

Why, when I discovered his writings, did Anthony Bloom, high in the Russian Orthodox clergy, remind me so thoroughly of early Friends? For one thing, he was clearly one who had encountered the living God, but beyond that, it was as though every word threatened to call up the witness of God against me. "If you look at the relationship in terms of mutual relationship, you will see that God could complain about us a great deal more than we about Him. We complain that He does not make Himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for Him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer, 'I am busy, I am sorry' or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain of the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than He ever is.

"The second very important thing is that a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us... Thanks be to Him that He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because we might not be able to endure such a meeting. Remember the many passages in Scripture in which we are told how bad it is to find oneself face to face with God, because God is power, God is truth, God is purity."

Now as I understand Jesus, God's demands on us are not aligned to rigid human abstractions, but directed to making us human beings, humane beings as God himself is ultimately humane. God is not as judgmental as all that -- but we are; and it is this measure we fear will justly recoil on us, find us innately condemned by our failure to fulfill the obligations we can't help expecting of ourselves. What considerations might we be failing to consider, for reasons not necessarily above suspicion? What might come to light, if we were to truly face the Light?

Sitting in a Saturday 'worship-or-meditation' session with a small group of Friends & acquaintances, I remembered being in teacher training at a continuation school. My supervising teacher had taught math (also ceramics, occasionally sailing) on an individual basis as any particular student showed up (or didn't) and while I'd liked his approach, I didn't have his rapport with the kids. One kid in particular was giving me nothing but contempt, and my teacher's comment was: "You may not care whether or not he respects you, but you can't do a thing for him until he does."

I told the group about that as a Message, because it seems to explain why so many of the Friends I know have not been coming noticeably closer to God. At one time, people were too afraid of God to dare know Him; now they've become too contemptuous to learn better.

But I myself was still immured in a long dry period, feeling I was no longer being much help to anyone else, nor learning anything new myself. This was an obvious time to consider, had I become like that kid in my relation to God -- not with that same conscious disrespect, but still approaching God with a heedless attitude that rendered me unteachable?

Giving this Message, I was knowingly asking God to let me know. I knew it might take some fairly unpleasant sort of experience to straighten me out. I wasn't easy about accepting that, but it seemed like I'd need to take that chance.

The next day I had a moment of heedlessness, at a wrong (right?) time, and took a short flight with a bad landing from my bicycle. I barely made it to Meeting afterwards, needed a ride home, had to borrow a pair of crutches to stumble upstairs to the apartment. "I told you to ride carefully!" said my darling Anne. I would have plenty of time that evening, to think about why I had made that particular mistake, when I did, and what it was telling me...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Self-Disclosure of God and Me -- # I

What could describing God, and describing me, have in common? Actually, the effort to properly disclose either -- presents extremely similar problems.

I think of one very significant difference: God has nothing to be ashamed of, not even the creation of people.

But that feeling of shame, which is suffered-by, or chronically threatening, most all of us -- is also relevant to God's self-disclosure; it's a major obstacle to people clearly seeing themselves, seeing other people, or seeing God either.

Neither God, nor I, nor any human being, can be completely disclosed here, not in one post, not in a whole series. Indeed, with such subjects, even trying to approach them too directly might prove counterproductive. This leaves me free to take my time, not worry about finishing, hope to make a little progress.

Either topic will involve us in secular human psychology.

We know, for example, how human beings develop in infancy; and we know what conditions favor good, well-functioning human development, contrasted with the sort of conditions that impede & impair. The conditions that God provides, for the raising of SHis children in this age, are a screaming disaster. How come?

Gabor Mate, who is a medical doctor and a mensch, uses his own life as an illustration of the kind of childhood misfortunes that can result in ADD and/or in addictive behavior. That is, he was born Jewish in Budapest, shortly before the Nazis took over Hungary; and the situation imposed unimaginable stress on his mother. At one point, she felt that she needed, in order to save his life, to hand her baby over to a complete stranger. When they were reunited a few weeks afterwards, he responded by totally shunning her -- a typical infant response, he says, to a mother absent for any significant length of time.

Years later, Mate -- a brilliant workaholic -- had made it through medical school, was married & raising a family, was serving as a compassionate, dedicated doctor, writing a newspaper medical column on the side -- when one of his colleagues suggested he investigate and do a few columns about ADD. Looking into the literature, he immediately recognized the chaotic lack of discipline in his life, the emotional turmoil, the addictive compulsions at work in his otherwise-harmless hoarding of classical cds -- realized that this was producing ADD symptoms in his children, disrupting emotional relations with his wife... His impairments hadn't rendered him a twitching illiterate, as in the common stereotype, but other doctors soon confirmed his self-diagnosis.

If you intended to produce a smoothly-functioning human being, one who easily 'got along with' others and comfortably enjoyed his life, this isn't how you would treat a baby. But if you'd wanted someone to grow up able to recognize and sympathize with the common humanity of people we typically despise and shun -- drug addicts, for example -- suffering can sometimes, somehow, produce a better person. I don't recommend making people suffer; I just observe that God does it and the results can be remarkable...

Sometimes, bleh, the results are simply mixed... I myself didn't turn out to be a doctor; and my compassion could use a tune-up. What I can do -- is to relate to what Mate says about the flailings and interpersonal disasters all too familiar to anyone whose mind has a mind of its own.

My persistent estrangement from mother and father, despite their obvious efforts to make the best of continual quarrels with a difficult son... I vaguely remember, extremely early, lying in a hospital bed, missing them a great deal. There were several times this might have been; a favorite aunt used to talk about how I'd been when she'd first met me, but then when I'd just come back from the hospital one time, she said, "You just kept wringing your hands." People have suffered more; people have suffered less; the thing about this kind of suffering, with a child of the right age... is that one doesn't grow up with reasonable emotional 'control'; our emotions overwhelm or they hide altogether."Work habits?" One is obsessed about a subject, or one just can't squeeze it into one's mind.

I can sometimes envy other people's more conventional lives... but when I think about it, no, this life I was intended to be has been a marvelous gift, exactly as it is.

Quoting Rabbi Arthur Waskow: " the Talmud—that extraordinary collection of Rabbinic wisdom over five centuries and a few thousand miles of separation — there is an ongoing discussion on the Torah passage in Genesis that says, 'God created humankind in God’s own Image.' B’tselem elohim.

"So one of the rabbis asks, 'What does this mean, "In God’s image?” ' And another rabbi answers, 'When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When that One Who is beyond rulers puts the Divine Image on a coin, all the coins come out unique.' ”

So, today. A little about me, a little about God and how SHe works.