Toward Understanding and Harmony: One Way Forward

While looking back on previously published poetry for inclusion in (possibly) another printed collection, I ran across this one that seems appropriate, not only at the beginning of this New Year, but also for the current political climate here in the U. S.! (Who knows? Perhaps POTUS will read it and be transformed into something of a real human being! LOL) Ah, but here it is, from back in August of 2015:

So often it’s so easy to misunderstand and reprimand
When there’s really no reason for words out of season;
We assume and fume and leave no room for the benefit
Of doubt; never consider we may be wrong, agony prolong
So unnecessarily because we’ve failed to give charity
And beckon clarity for sake of peace instead of caprice
In broken harmony as we release anger and animosity
From paucity of heart; we can be so small when we should
Stand tall in character and integrity with better dignity;
And so much strife would fade in play of fife and flute
Of happier days and higher ways, in serenity and amenity;
Would not this be better than bitter rancor and soul canker?
Perhaps we begin with open ears to hear and eyes to see
In the other our true sister, brother, father, and mother
Rather than unsuspecting foe ready to deal death blow…
Oh, how suspicious we can be when we’re not free
To live and love without attrition of suspicion of ill-will!

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Civil War or Christmas Cheer?

Did you know there is a coming Civil War in the United States? Well, I didn’t either until someone posted about it on Facebook. Well … not to be too incredulous, I decided to at least Google “coming civil war in America,” and sure enough, I got some results! From the League of the South. Never heard of the League of the South? That’s okay. They explain themselves very forthrightly on their website:

The League of the South is a Southern nationalist organization, headquartered in Killen, Alabama, whose ultimate goal is “a free and independent Southern republic.” The League defines the Southern United States as the states that make up the Confederate States of America.

Okay, now that you have an idea of what this organization is all about, what do they have to say about the coming civil war? Again they mince no words:

The coming civil war in America. With each passing day, we move closer to open conflict in America – civil war, if you will – between the forces of Western Civilization (which is founded on a biblical understanding of nationalism) and the forces of Judeo-Marxism or godless international leftism in general.

Gotta’ hand it to them on one count: They’re very clear and straightforward in their statements! If you’re like me, though, you might want a second opinion. So … I got one. This time from an article, penned back in January 2017, in The Trumpet, an ostensibly Christian webzine focusing on current events and Bible prophecy, particularly “the end times,” or eschatology. The writer of the article, “America’s Coming Civil War,” Gerald Flurry, had this to say:

Protests occurred in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Miami and several other cities (following Trump’s election.) Dozens of people were arrested. Many journalists reported these as if they were spontaneous, but everything indicated that they were all organized and planned. Many of these protesters are professionals who are paid to stir up demonstrations! Many of them don’t even live in the cities where they march and riot… Bill O’Reilly asked, “Is a civil war brewing in the U.S.A.?” 

That is an important question! Clearly there are many people who want a fight — a revolution — a race war! And they are going to get it — and a whole lot more…! Average Americans just want everything to calm down so they can get back to their lives and their pleasures and so forth. But the shocks for America aren’t going to go away. You can see that if you are watching what is happening with open eyes. But beyond that, you can be sure of it because of the prophecies in the Bible.

Alrighty, then … maybe a third opinion? Well, just for kicks, I looked at a number of other websites touting the idea (or prophecy) of Civil War, but I won’t bother to share any more of what I found because, quite frankly, it all began to sound like the same person(s) wrote basically the same article with just a few tweaks here and there. More importantly, though, I was reminded just today that not only should I not focus too intently on all the negatives, I should also be careful not to spread despondency, doom and gloom. So I choose to look on the brighter side of life ~ not through rose-colored glasses, mind you, but just, you might say, realistically with a definite bent toward the optimistic.

Besides, the same person who posted on Facebook about an impending Civil War, and his friends and compatriots, also talks frequently about an evil “New World Order,” the wicked United Nations, Communists, the unholy Freemasons, illegal immigrants infiltrating our country for the purpose of overthrowing the government, and of course Muslims, etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseum. I could add a few to their list, such as: the Illuminati, the world banking system, the Federal Reserve, and China. In one sense, it might be kind of fun, but then, why add fuel to the fire?

All in all, it’s better to live life in peace with joy, as much as reasonably possible. Besides, it goes against almost every belief I hold dear, including that really most people living on this globe, while certainly not perfect, are nevertheless good folk. I am also a dreamer, who, with Christian moorings, looks toward an ever-brighter future for our world, and I believe that, despite all of the wars and hunger and poverty, overall progress has been made down through the centuries, and I hold fast to the hope-filled belief that we can and will still progress now and in the future.

Life is filled with obstacles, yet it is also filled with opportunities, and something tells me that we really couldn’t have all the opportunities we do without at least some of the obstacles. After all, obstacles present us with opportunities to overcome, do they not? And with all the advancements in technology, literally linking the peoples of the world together in (possible) daily communication, we might just find (as I believe we are) that we have more of a unified voice than ever we before allowed ourselves to imagine.

At least I know I have friends on both Facebook and in the Blogosphere from every corner of the earth, and you know what? We not only get along … we actually like each other, and encourage each other. And when one weeps, we all weep; when one rejoices, we all rejoice. And while this may sound to some overly simplistic and, perhaps, too starry-eyed, I would rather live this way than constantly looking over my shoulder, finding in every different face another prospective boogeyman, waiting on pins and needles for the next Civil War or Revolution, and cringing at the daily news.

No, I won’t blind myself to the harsher realities of life, but in looking around me with eyes wide open I will say with the early 20th century minister, William L. Watkinson, that “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” And this, my friends, is all one important reason I can (and will) have a very merry Christmas, indeed … and, yes, I trust a happy New Year, too!

 

By the Book: Assessing Trump by Evangelical Standards

Since recently writing (for the second time) about evangelical Protestant support of Donald Trump and their unflinching defense of (seemingly, at least) everything he does and says  ~ or, at least, their very noticeable silence ~ I wondered just how well Trump lines up with biblical doctrine, especially since evangelicals consider the Bible the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

Mulling this over a good bit, I’m wondering just how much conservative Protestant Christians (and, I suppose, some Roman Catholics, too) are left with of Donald Trump to defend. Of course, I have to say I’ve been prompted to this by some vitriolic reactions on Facebook, and one reactionary pointedly said, “I’m willing to bet you’re not perfect either!”

Well, no I’m not perfect … but neither is the whole evangelical world defending me as both an awesome President and respectable Christian (with, perhaps, some “rough edges.”) Besides, there are some important comparisons to be made, as I did in my recent blog, for example: G. H. W. Bush professed to be a Christian; however, he did not shamelessly use his religion to gain the support of an entire block of voters.

Also, and importantly, Bush simply lived a life of upstanding character and integrity, and he was a truly patriotic (not nationalistic) public servant, who was an excellent husband, father, grandfather, war hero, statesman and gentleman. I also think of “the buck stops here” President, Harry Truman. He was an outstanding statesman and family man, honest, patriotic, and unwavering in his commitment to God and country.

Naturally, our 39th President, James Earl Carter, comes to mind, as well as his 1976 opponent, then-President Gerald Ford. Many great women come to mind, too, of course, such as: Elenore Roosevelt, first lady for a little over 12 years and, later, an ambassador to the United nations, who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dixie Bibb Graves, the first female senator from Alabama, and the first married woman to serve in the Senate. Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush also quickly come to mind.

But I digress… Back to my original question: How does Trump line up with the biblical standards evangelical Protestants claim to hold so dear (as the inspired, infallible Word of God)? Well, let’s take a quick look. What do the holy Scriptures of Judeo-Christianity say about:

Strangers, Sojourners and Immigrants?

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22. 21, RSV)

You must never do wrong things to a foreigner. Remember, you know what it is like to be a foreigner because at one time you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23. 9, ERV)

Do not mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself. Remember, you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19. 33 – 34, CEV)

Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me… (The Gospel of Matthew 25. 34 – 35, CEV)

The Poor?

You shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19.10, ESV)

And this next passage is particularly poignant:

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be… Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  (Deuteronomy 15. 7 – 8, 10, NRSV) 

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was very plain spoken when it came to riches on one hand and poverty and the poor on the other:

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ (The Gospel of Matthew 19. 21, NRSV)

And also, of course, this famous statement:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (The Gospel of Mark 10. 25, NRSV)

If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? (Epistle of James 2. 15 – 16, RSV)

Care for the Environment?

The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to work the soil and take care of the garden. (Genesis 2. 15, ERV) In other words, to be the steward of creation. 

And God shows just how much he cares for creation by condemning those who “defile” it, and turn it into an obscenity:

I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. (Jeremiah 2. 7, RSV)

This next passage is particularly appropriate for our day and age, and one must justly wonder what bearing (if any) it has on the horrible practice of fracking, on damaging oil spills, on air pollution and global warming, deforestation, and so much more … and also the fact that Trump has not only denied the scientifically proven fact of global warming, but also refused to sign the G 7 Agreement on Climate Control:

The earth dries up and withers; the world languishes and fades away; heaven fades away, along with the earth. The earth lies defiled beneath its inhabitants; because they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse keeps on consuming, and its inhabitants are declared guilty. Furthermore, the inhabitants of earth are ablaze, and few people are left. (Isaiah 24. 4 – 6, ISV)

Scripture makes it quite clear that one day God will take vengeance on behalf of this tortured earth. Has Trump considered this? Is he even familiar with the verse of Scripture?

‘We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth.’ (Revelation 11. 17 – 18, NRSV)

On Speech and/or Conversation?

Donald Trump said, “You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” And he also said, “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well been documented, are various other parts of my body.” But what do the scriptures say?

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Epistle to the Ephesians 5. 4, ESV)

But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. (Epistle to the Colossians 3. 8, NRSV)

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. (Second Epistle of Peter 2. 17 – 19)

Donald Trump falsely claimed, “There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down.” In so doing, he slandered an entire segment of our population. What does the Bible have to say about this?

Beware then of useless grumbling, and keep your tongue from slander; because no secret word is without result, and a lying mouth destroys the soul. (Book of Wisdom 1. 11, NRSV)

Promiscuity/Adultery

Did he really say this? Yes, indeed he did: “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything.” On top of this, and paying off at least two women with whom he fraternized, he is on his third marriage… Wonder why? But what do we read in Scripture?

You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20.14, NRSV)

But he who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself. (Proverbs 6. 32, NRSV)

Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. (Epistle to the Romans 13. 13, RSV)

Lying and/or Bearing False Witness

“From a moral standpoint, I believe in it. But you also have to get elected,” Trump said. “And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.” And he said this privately to explain to Paul Ryan why he supported cutting Social Security even though he was saying the opposite in his public campaign. This is but one of many examples of outright lying, but what does the Bible say about deceit? 

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Proverbs 12. 22, RSV)

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. (Exodus 20. 16, NRSV)

For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (Second Epistle to the Corinthians 11. 13 – 15, NRSV)

For perverse thoughts separate people from God, and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin. (Book of Wisdom 1. 3 – 5, NRSV)

Well, perhaps this is more than enough. I will only finish by noting that it was the evangelical Protestant community that berated Barak Obama so fiercely and unrelentingly, falsely accusing him of being Muslim, and even referring to him as the anti-Christ. Funny, though, he conducted himself in a far more presidential way, has always been a family man, still married to his first wife, and during the funeral for G. H. W. Bush, he could be seen and heard, along with Michelle, reciting the Apostles’ Creed ~ so much for his being Muslim ~ and singing the hymns! But has the evangelical community cut him any slack yet? No, of course not … but, thank God, they now have an authentic, evangelical Christian as POTUS, right???

Trump and the Irremissible Blindness of Evangelicals

Except for, perhaps, the funeral of Sen. John McCain, there has been no greater, more poignant contrast between gentleman and statesman on one hand, and the putrid demagoguery of Trump on the other than our national farewell to George H. W. Bush. Our 41st President was a war hero, lifelong public servant, exemplary husband, father, friend and family man, who led this nation as Commander in Chief for four very crucial years. The current occupant of the White House is an unthinking, irresponsible, and promiscuous man on his third marriage, who has done nothing in his life apart from serving himself, often to the detriment of those around him.

Hardly anything could be more appalling than having such an individual seated in the Oval Office, except for, perhaps, the unwavering support he enjoys from the vast majority of evangelical Protestant “Christians.” It does not seem to matter that the Trump campaign quite possibly colluded with Russia in its attempts to meddle in the 2016 elections. It does not seem to matter that, during this same period, Trump was planning on building another Trump Tower, this time in Moscow. It does not seem to matter that Trump forced the resignation of Jeff Sessions, whom many consider to be a truly Christian statesman, as Attorney General simply because Sessions refused to compromise the integrity of his office to serve the President’s personal interests.

No, and it does not seem to matter that, as is now being revealed, Trump may very well have violated the Constitution’s restrictions on receiving payments from foreign governments due to his continuing involvement in his businesses during and after the Saudi government spent an estimated $270,000 to pay for a total of 500 nights in the Trump International Hotel following the 2016 elections. It does not seem to matter to evangelicals that the President has done nothing to advance their anti-abortion, pro-life cause. It does not seem to matter that Trump continues to engage in vulgar and offensive “tweets,” and race-baiting. In fact, it does not seem to matter that, while standing on the front row with other past Presidents at Bush’s funeral, he did not recite the Apostles’ Creed ~ the most basic statement of Christian doctrine with which evangelicals certainly agree … along with most of the rest of the Christian world ~ and did not even participate in the hymns.

At this properly reverent fare-thee-well to an outstanding statesman and true gentleman, there stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, Barak and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Bush family including, of course, George W. and Jeb Bush. Many other names could be named, but all were somber and reverent. All participated fully in the service … except Donald Trump. And this is the great evangelical President, who can do no wrong??? Excuse me for lecturing the evangelical Protestant community, to which I no longer belong, but it is high time ~ far past time ~ for those who are sincerely sincere about their life and faith to come to their senses! Message to the evangelical Protestant churches: You are making a damn laughing stock of yourselves, but even worse, you are bringing nothing but shame to the name of the Lord and Savior you purport to serve, in aiding and abetting an unethical, villainous miscreant! And especially to the evangelical leadership: Hold your President accountable! You say he really is Christian, then charge him and expect him to act like one!

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Democrat and Republican, both respected the Office of the President, and they respected themselves and the American people, whom they served. George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, Republican and Democrat, both set appropriately high standards for occupancy of the White House, and they made it their sacred duty to serve the people of this country to the best of their God-given abilities. Above all, this was also George Herbert Walker Bush, who remained unwavering in his commitment to God, family, country, and the world in which he lived. And there are so many others, too, who never made it into the Oval Office, at least not as Commander-in-Chief: Walter Mondale, Robert Dole, George McGovern, Alan Keyes, Bill Richardson, Ben Carson, and, of course, John McCain and on and on… (And the point here is character and integrity, not political perspectives or stand on particular issues.)

We can all hope and pray ~ as we should ~ that the overwhelming majority of American voters will save the executive branch of our government from further ignominy by placing it into the hands of someone of upstanding character and integrity who, like George H. W. Bush, is intent on serving our country rather than her/himself … an individual with hands unsullied and spirit undefiled … someone who has and still leads an exemplary life, who genuinely has the ability to preside over this great nation. And if evangelical “Christians” cannot see through the Trumpian fog and commit themselves to this most worthy, fundamentally important goal, then perhaps it is time for their ship to sink, even as it is now taking on the dingy water of bad repute. This would be a somewhat sad ending to the community of faith, which included the likes of Billy Graham and (the lesser known) D. James Kennedy, but … come to this end if it must.

 

Good God, Wicked World

How can God be good, and loving, yet allow so much evil, pain, and suffering in the world? This is an acutely agonizing question that has been asked for centuries with no really satisfactory answer. Yet, of course, there have been plenty of explanations put forth by philosophers, theologians, religious scholars, priests, rabbis, and so many more. Whether one seems more acceptable — or shall we say digestible — than the others is, perhaps, up to the individual considering the subject.

Alvin Plantinga, for example, says that if God is good then it logically follows that God would create the best of possible worlds, so that if we grant that God is, indeed, good, then we must conclude that this world, as it is, is the best of all possible worlds. Two questions come to mind, though: 1) why is it so many of us humans can conceive of a much better world than the one in which we reside if this really is the best possible world? 2) And even if it is, does this really “excuse” God for all of the pain, suffering, wickedness, natural disasters, etc.?

Surely an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, and good God could do something, and would do something, to dislodge the evil. But, then, was it David Hume who said that either God is omnipotent and omniscient, but not good and loving, or that God is good and loving, but not omnipotent and omniscient? It’s easy to see his reasoning on this point, (if indeed it was Hume who made this observation), because it seems utterly senseless that an all-loving and good God, who is also all-knowing and all-powerful, would allow so much pain and suffering.

It may be, then, that God is not quite “GOD,” but rather “god,” and so s/he is quite loving and beneficent, yet simply unable to exercise sovereign control over all of life and the entire world.  Or it is very possible that God is all-powerful and all-knowing (and everywhere present, for that matter), yet is also malevolent. Or it may be that there are two equally powerful gods, one being completely good, while the other is completely bad. Although some would say evil in the world is not God’s fault at all; it is humanity that is culpable.

This is a particularly frustrating argument from free will, though, as several questions come to mind: 1) who gave humans free will in the first place? 2) Who instilled within humanity the capacity to commit evil, atrocities, acts of violence, and so forth? 3) Who “set the stage” in which these evils could be committed? 3) How are victims of atrocities, violence, and so forth at all responsible for their suffering? 4) Does free will cover every human being anyway, such as: infants, invalids, the mentally handicapped, sufferers of dementia, etc.?

Then again, maybe God counter-balances all of the evil with good … maybe more than counter-balances it. Perhaps s/he outweighs the evil with an overabundance of good. Within this we could/should very well include eternal life in the bliss of an heavenly realm, of course. Certainly an eternity spent in heaven — perfected with love, joy, peace, happiness, health, and so much more — would make up for all of the pain and suffering, for all of the wickedness and atrocities, right? Many human individuals would say unequivocally, “no.”

Naturally, the atheist takes care of this nasty conundrum very neatly by merely pointing out that, of course, there is no God. The atheist is, nevertheless, left with the problem of evil in the world, but s/he can always foist that off on the brutal, impersonal, and naturalistic/materialistic world in which we live. In other words, we are no more than biological machines fighting, not only for survival, but for our own perceived greatest good, or fortune, thus humans oftentimes act worse than fierce animals all to satisfy themselves.

There is another explanation laid on the table, however, and it is that of an aloof, cold and detached God…. perhaps the God of deism. In this case, God created the cosmos and at least kicked off life within it, but then just “sat back” to watch it all unfold, maybe like some grand soap opera on a divine scale. Who knows? But this is definitely not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament of Christianity. What precisely is the God of Judeo-Christianity is an open question and has been for, perhaps, just as many centuries.

Is there still another answer? Surely we have not exhausted all of the explanations for evil, pain, and suffering in the world. There are, in all likelihood, many more to consider, but at present they escape the author’s knowledge … except for possibly one more. It seems in one sense the least satisfying of all answers, but could it be that God simply has an altogether different “measure” of, or perspective upon, pain and suffering and evil? Could it be that all of this looks quite differently from his/her vantage point? Doubtless, this is the case.

Does this satisfactorily explain the presence of so much evil, though? Well, as humans we would not charge the dog with an act of wickedness in catching and killing a rabbit; rather, we would say that this is just a dog being a dog, instinct and all. And again, we would not claim the cat is acting wickedly in prancing on a mouse, for that is what cats do as part and parcel of being cats. Perhaps, then, humans are also living out very fundamentally human lives — both good and bad, righteous and evil — and this is what God sees.

And maybe this leaves God rather undaunted by war and pestilence, disease and starvation, violence and gross neglect, and all sorts of pain and sufferings endured by countless millions upon millions of individuals, families and communities. In other words, it may be that God views all of this from an entirely divine perspective without being able to relate to the uniquely human viewpoint. Which is almost (if not entirely) to say that God cannot, perchance, “lower” him/herself to the crude level of humanity.

This won’t fly with Judeo-Christianity, though, because this is exactly where the Incarnation of Christ Jesus comes into crucial play. According to this central doctrine, God the only-and-eternally-begotten Son was conceived in the human womb of the Virgin Mary, from whom he assumed an authentically and completely human nature. And it was in this capacity that he suffered torture and death on the cross, being completely innocent of any wrongdoing, enabling him to literally understand pain, suffering, and victimization, (and so much more.)

Moreover, through his resurrection he is said to have somehow sanctified pain and suffering. At least, believer-followers of Christ are somehow able to mystically participate in the sufferings of Christ Jesus in and through their own pain and suffering. Does this satisfy the question/problem of the good God and wicked world? Well, it does seem to move closer to an important resolution, that is: God did not (and does not) stand idly by, watching all of the evil and wickedness in the world… No, s/he has actually, fully participated in suffering.

This still does not quite answer why an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, completely good God would allow so much evil, pain and suffering when it (seems) well within his/her ability to mitigate it all. Yet this may well be where some kind of free will argument, coupled with some best-of-all-worlds claim, enters into the equation … both carefully refined and nuanced, then astutely tied in with the argument from the Incarnation. Even still, this probably cannot be sufficient. So long as horrendous evil exists, nothing will likely entirely satisfy.

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

“It is easier to gaze into the sun, than into the face of the mystery of God. Such is its beauty and its radiance.” ~ Hildegard of Bingen

“The brilliance of contemplated beauty opens the spirit to the mystery of God.” ~ Angelo Sodano

I cannot recall exactly when it happened, but I remember I was going to sleep one night and it just suddenly hit me, that is, the awesome mystery of God. An image of an endless, dark and inscrutable ocean welled up in my mind. I instinctively knew it was a representation of the Divine, and it frightened me. The great swells of water seemed to threaten me, and I actually found it hard to breath.

HEY7221This image, with all the attendant feelings, came back many more times, (and has recurred since I left the Samson Group Home.) Along with this I realized something rather simple, something that should have been obvious all along, and that is: I really do not even begin to comprehend God in his essence. I also realized that God truly is completely overwhelming.

It struck me ~ this simple yet profound truth ~ that I could quite literally drown in the Divine. The more I thought about all of this, the more I felt like I was suffocating. I reached the point of terror, the a terrore Dei. And I could not escape…

You cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Jonah 2.3 (NRSVCE)

Yet at about the same time the beauty of the world around me struck me with nearly overpowering force, even, or especially, the simplest things: fish jumping up out of the pond behind the house, birds pecking around the yard, and squirrels scampering about; the fox and racoon at night, along with the opossum family, and the dogs barking in the distance. All of creation seemed to radiate intense beauty that in turn pointed to ultimate Beauty, which I identified with God.

During this time is when I began throwing out the leftover bread from lunch. For some reason, I’d suddenly began to feel it my duty to share our food with our kindred creatures. In fact, tossing out the bits and pieces of bread brought with it a deep feeling of peace. I felt as if I were somehow embracing life in the raw, if only a little. It was deeply satisfying and ultimately healthy… It was like a prayer in action.

This is when I began passing over from the more traditional religiosity of Christianity to a certain degree of mystical spirituality, and one without many words. More and more often I would bow my head in prayer, focusing upon God, speaking nothing, just centering on the Divine. And this was enough… It still is enough. In fact, for some reason, prayer with words began to feel strangely inadequate. I felt like I was falling terribly short when praying verbally … so I prayed while praying nothing and everything.

All in all, this was an exceptionally calming experience, even with the overwhelmingness of God. Really, I eventually began to crave the “ocean of the Divine.” I began to fall into an eerie kind of love ~ but true love, nonetheless ~ with this God of Mystery. No, I never really sacrificed the core of what I’d believed most of my life. I still counted myself Christian, (and still do today), but this was a new and powerful, ongoing experience for me, taking me to another, deeper level of life.

But in a strange sense, I also felt like this was, perhaps, the first time in my life that I’d begun to genuinely believe, having now had an authentic confrontation with God… And my whole life became for a time like a cocoon, within which I would be transformed into someone (or something) totally other than I had ever been before.


For previous instalments, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

A few months after arriving at the Samson (Alabama) Group Home, I asked for a private one-on-one session with the director of the day treatment program, who also happened to be my therapist … thankfully. Her name was Joy, and it certainly fit her very well. She was, indeed, a joy to be around and, consequently, an extremely comfortable counsellor with whom to talk. I needed this, because I desperately needed to open up about something I’d only shared with two, maybe three, individuals in my entire life.

As always before, Joy welcomed me into her office with open arms and a smile. She listened quite attentively as I “spilled my guts,” shared with her one of my deepest, darkest secrets, (nothing at all criminal or unethical, mind you … but extremely difficult, nonetheless.) Point in fact, I was unloading ~ or trying to, anyway ~ an awfully heavy burden I’d carried since adolescence. It was not as if she could help me shoulder this burden ~ not exactly ~ but what she did do was enough.

I mean to say, I received from Joy all that I could expect from an upstanding, conscientious counsellor: Focused attention, non-judgmental reception, calm and sober-minded evaluation, and compassionate understanding. No, she could not solve my conundrum, one with which I have lived for decades now, but she did offer an altruistic, tender-hearted consideration and sensitivity. I was very thankful, of course, and naturally I felt somewhat better for having “unloaded.”

We visited about this issue two or three more times, but I also went to the pastor of the church I was then-currently attending. We met one time and never again. We were supposed to meet again, but it never happened. I suppose, that was as much my fault as hers, but it did hurt somewhat that she seemingly just forgot about it all. And it was not as if she had a large congregation to attend to ~ about forty to fifty members ~ and the very personal issue I’d raised was, indeed, quite important. Not to complain, though… 

After my experience with Joy, however, I decided I wanted to help people like she helps people. I decided I want to be a counsellor in whatever capacity. This is also when I came to the conclusion that the age of pastors (ministers, priests, rabbis, etc.) may very well be coming to an end … at least the traditional role(s) clergy play. I believe members of the clergy are increasingly being squeezed out of usefulness in society, so that to continue to minister they will need to “retool” in order to expand their resumes, so to speak.

By no means am I saying all clergy are bad; no, not at all! And I am not suggesting that members of the clergy are, in and of themselves, somehow worthless. God forbid! And if I am coming across this way, please forgive me! I am only suggesting that the typical pastoral minister will need to add to his/her repertoire of skills and abilities in order to effectively continue on into the 21st century. But this is, perhaps, a subject best left for another day.

the_psychological_corporation_72891So far as the field of counselling is concerned, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…”¹ And I deeply desire to be one of those laborers, eventually. Along with this desire comes somewhat of a radical conviction, that is: Here is the new face of the Church. Here is the new spiritual hospital for holistic care, including mind and soul care. Here is where ministry now effectively takes place. Yes, there are still the typical, local churches, and they will be for the foreseeable future, but the action is elsewhere.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this, as I believe, but I think it is practically undeniable that the landscape is changing … shifting. If you don’t believe me, believe the numbers as presented by Kelley Shattuck on April 10th of this year:

(Olson’s) findings reveal that the actual rate of church attendance from head counts is less than half of the 40 percent the pollsters report. Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7 percent of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend… 

Another study published in 2005 in The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler—known for their scholarly research on the church—backs up his findings. Their report reveals that the actual number of people worshiping each week is closer to Olson’s 17.7 percent figure—52 million people instead of the pollster-reported 132 million (40 percent)

This contrasts to “nearly half of American households,” who “have had someone seek mental health treatment” in 2004. More than this, fully nine out of ten people polled “said they would likely consult or recommend a mental health professional if they or a family member were experiencing a problem.”³ Indeed, this field is “ripe unto harvest,” and the harvest is the very lives of flesh-and-blood human beings … many of those lives quite literally hanging in the balance. I know when I sat down with Joy on that very important day to open my heart and share my decades-old burden, I sure felt like my life was hanging in the balance!


¹ The Gospel of St. Matthew 9.37 (NRSVCE); also on prospective job growth, see the Bureau of Labor (BLS) stats on psychology, for example, or rehabilitation counselling
or especially marriage and family therapists, which shows an extremely high prospective growth rate over the next eight to 10 years, all of which far outpace the expected growth of eight percent in the area of clergy.  Note from BLS: “Clergy conduct religious worship and perform other spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faith or denomination. Provide spiritual and moral guidance and assistance to members … 2016 employment: 243,900… Projected employment change, 2016–26: Number of new jobs: 19,900 Growth rate: 8 percent (as fast as average)”

² Kelley Shattuck, “7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America,” as accessed on 09/29/2018 at www.churchleaders.com

³ As reported by the American Psychological Association, “Survey Says More Americans are Seeking Mental Health Treatment,” as accessed online on 09/29/2018 at www.apa.org


For previous articles in this series, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’