Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good and Evil and What to Do

A "conversation" on Facebook has me pondering on the unsolveable problem of evil. Disease, war, famine, natural disaster . . .

It's a concern of comfort for someone who is experiencing these things. There are bits and pieces in the Bible that suggest (okay, say outright) that God creates good and evil, God brings blessing and curse. And there are places that suggest that evil comes from somewhere else.

When someone is hurting, it's almost impossible to have this conversation. Feeling like God is against you is not when you want to hear platitudes about God's love and care. If this is care, who needs curse?

My sole contribution to this conversation was:

"There is the theory that the Hebrew scriptures are the history of Israel's wrestling with God, that the encounter at the Jabbok is paradigmatic for reading all of the Hebrew scriptures. (I believe it was a Jewish scholar's writing where I r...ead this.) I'm not sure I can elucidate further on that. I think it helps to read with an eye towards mythological or analogical or something other than literal storytelling.

"What does your experience tell you? Does God bring you your pain? Does God bring you the disease that takes loved ones, the violence that divides families, the natural disasters that devastate the good and evil alike?

"Luther has us teach our children:
'The Sixth Petition
'And lead us not into temptation.
'What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

'The Seventh Petition
'But deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.'

"In both cases, of scripture and catechism, I'm reminded of a dying's friend's word: "Which God will you believe in? The one you read about in books, or the one who comes knocking at your door?" He said this as he explained the thing God healed most in him as he was dying from his disease was his distrust of God, his suspicion that God hated him and cursed him with the disease. The God that came knocking on his door told him about Love. And compassion. Suffering with. "

Like all answers, it is inadequate. I don't disagree with anything I've said, but in a moment of suffering, I know it's inadequate.

So where does that leave us? I'm not entirely sure. But when I went to bed last night, this conversation was on my mind. As I was turning out lights and thinking about suffering, I was reminded of light shining in darkness. I was thinking about lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. In the face of unanswerable questions of suffering, perhaps the only answer is care, compassion, kindness. Not words spoken, but actions done. Striking a match rather than speaking a curse.

I woke up this morning with this quote on my mind. I'll let Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have the final word here:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. "

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Telling New Stories

Political rhetoric escalates and then when a public official is shot . . . the political rhetoric escalates placing blame. I played my part in that until I realized I was just being another ideologue, defending the indefensible but preferred (and not even fully liked) political party.

We need to learn to tell new stories.

Somebody at at a nonprofit with the word "family" in it (so you know you can't be against them because you can't be against "family") railed about how a purple heart was given to a soldier because he had risked his life to save a comrade, not because he had bravely gone out and killed a bunch of the enemy. The "family" man said giving the medal to the saving soldier "feminized" the medal, that we were "feminizing" the honor because we were afraid of giving a medal for killing a bunch of the enemy. And I wonder what is not brave about being feminine? What is so brave and medal-worthy about killing a bunch of people?

We need to learn to tell new stories.

Last fall, I went with a friend to see Avatar, the crazy long rehash of old stories in (admittedly) pretty 3-D. Really, it's a beautiful film to look at. But the story is old and while it was discussed as some sort of touchy-feely, white-guilt-about-the-Native-Americans parable, I couldn't help but think it advanced the discussion not at all. The good guys and bad guys are distinctly drawn---and they all act reprehensibly. There is the aggressor, there is the revenge moment when we see---and cheer cheer cheer---the moment of comeuppance, when the villain gets his right between the eyes. Boom! Hooray! An old story of violence met with violence. Is this the only way?

We need to learn to tell new stories.

I am a Christian and I cherish the stories of the Bible. I count myself lucky that I grew up in a tradition that does not treat the Bible literally, but does take it seriously. I can read of slaying giants and conquering nations and see the metaphor---or else even have the freedom to read some stories as being more important than others, the "canon within the canon." But it seems that as we, as a species, becomes more technologically advanced, we also become more literal. We are losing (have lost?) the ability to read stories and find a deeper meaning than the simple events presented, and I'm afraid we see---and love!---the violent, the bloody, the destruction that justifies our violent and destructive ways more than we see the call to stand up to evil, to speak truth to power (as has become the cliche), even to the point of self-sacrifice, without become evil ourselves.

In 2008, a dear woman and fine poet, Anne McCrady, published a chapbook of poems called Under a Blameless Moon. In the poem that gives the collection it's name, we see the reflection of a mother, wondering how her grown son learned to believe in a "good kill." She comes to this gut punch of a conclusion:

Maybe I was the one who taught him
this version of a soldier's song...
didn't we sit together
beneath a blameless moon
while I told him the story
of David launching the stone?

We need to learn to tell new stories.

Don't we?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Seasonal Thoughts

It's barely still the 9th day of Christmas as I write this.

Throughout Advent, the season of hope and expectation, I've wondered what I was hoping for, what I was expecting.

Then, on Christmas day (one of them, anyway---it may have been the second day of Christmas) someone wished me a Christmas full of wonder. Now I've been wondering what I wonder at.

The year 2010 sort of bruised me up a bit. I don't think I've let on to people around me just how much. They know some things, not everything, or not the extent of everything if they do know. And I'm cryptic and vague about it even now, so how could anyone know? Well, I whine enough as it is and I'm afraid if I talked about all the ways I've felt bruised this year, I'd just sound whinier. No one likes a whiner. Especially me.

But here's what I hoped for and expected through advent: While I'm in a rough patch, I'll not always be here. I've been in rough patches (some rougher) and they pass. I hope and expect that I'll not be bruised forever, that there will---once again---be healing and restoration and joy. As is the way with our faith, it already is here and not yet. But I hope for it and expect it. We profess a faith in a God who will bind up the brokenhearted.

And here's the wonder of Christmas. Incarnation. We have a meaty faith. There is flesh on the bones of this creed and we are the flesh that carries it forward. It's so hard sometimes, when the flesh is bruised (literally or metaphorically) and there are so many ways that the Body of Christ is bruised and hurting. The wonder of Christmas has been seeing that so often the bruises come from the very people who bring healing. Like me. The wonder of Christmas is that I can find myself as the incarnation of so many parts of the gospel stories. I am Herod wanting to protect my own power and I am the wise men who thwart power's machinations. I am the one who tries to throw Jesus off a cliff and I am the one who washes his feet with tears. I am the one flogging Jesus as well as carrying his cross. I am Mary Magdalene running to tell everyone Jesus is risen and I'm Thomas refusing to believe.

I cry out "Rabouni!" and "My lord and my God!"

The bruised and broken Body of Christ teaches me about bruises and breaks. Sometimes I touch the wounds and recognize the One I've followed all these years.

It's now 2011. It's so arbitrary to have this mark on the calendar for us to resolve to do differently, if not better. It is, after all, just another mark on the calendar. Any other day would do. (If you asked Martin Luther, he would say everyday is made for resolution---although he called it "repentance.") Still, there is something in our human nature that likes these marks on the calendars, these clear demarcations of "that was then, this is now." Bono once told us "Nothing changes on New Year's Day," and to an extent he was right. On the other hand, we have some choice in the matter. Don't we?

I'm rambling, I know, as I am want to do in my blogging. I really didn't have a plan when I sat down to write. I just knew I wanted to write during this season of wonder and incarnation. If you get something out of it---count it a Christmas miracle.

As for me, I'm going to bed, remembering 2010, with all its bruises, was then. 2011 is now.

God still binds up the brokenhearted. And we still cry out Rabouni! and My Lord and my God! We say Merry Christmas! and watch for resurrection.