Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

Archive for the tag “scripture”

Wrath of a Merciful God

For years various Christians, some claiming to be prophets, have warned of God’s wrath falling on America because of our immorality. We have been very, very naughty and we need to be spanked. You know, in a righteous, not sexy way. No fetish indulgence here.

But is immorality truly the America’s worst sin? If God were to punish us, would that be the reason?

By my reading of scripture, it seems the two things that seem to piss of God more than anything else, and I mean, really piss him off to the degree to bring famine or economic collapse or invasion by enemy armies, that top two does not include immorality.

The things that made God lash out at his chosen people, seem to be idolatry – placing other gods ahead of him, and injustice – not caring for the poor, the needy, the outcast, the destitute. The stories in scripture where God lashes out stem from these.

Scripture teems with calls to care for those with less. Typically this comes as providing food to the hungry, but this has far more manifestations. Those with are expected to share with those without. If you have food and someone doesn’t, share. If you have power and someone else does not, protect them. If you have strength and they are weak, use that strength to help. Freely dispense your wisdom, knowledge and justice.

The real struggle of this roots itself in personal wealth. Conceptually we may agree with this but to actually take my money and give it to someone else is hard. It seems like it’s hard to give away my food. Yet I throw food away. As a nation, we throw out an obscene amount of wasted food. But I feel like I don’t have abundance to share, that my margin is too slim for real generosity.

Fatherhood taught me a lot about justice. It is not making sure that both have the same number of cookies, although that can be part of it. It is holding and comforting the one that has been hurt. It is redirecting the one who has hurt the other. It is teaching them to share and take turns. It is teaching them to help each other.

And, from the place of power and abundance, it is me lifting them to places they can’t get. It is me preparing meals, or providing food. From my excess, I meet their needs.

According to Christian and Jewish scriptures, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. This only second to loving God. Basically these two commandments sum up the triggers to God’s ire. When asked, Jesus defined neighbors, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan; his response stood religion and cultural convention on its head.

Jesus wants us to love those we chose to reject, those we despise and deride the most. He expects us to love and serve those we would reject if they tried to help us. As a society, we do not do this. In the wake of the election, it appears that much of our nation is running the opposite direction from this.

If there is any reason for God to kick America’s ass, it is the lack of justice. Racism runs rampant. Poverty continues to grow. LGBTQ people still suffer abuse, hate and violence. My friends of Mexican descent now fear being deported, even if they are citizens. We stand on the brink of repeating the sins of the Nazis by registering Muslims. Collectively we fear helping refugees from war torn countries more than we fear the repercussions of rejecting them.

America used to be the land of opportunity. For everyone. Just like the words on the statue of liberty proclaim, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Now, America is only the land of opportunity for the privileged.

This is a land of abundance. A land of wealth. A land of power.

And a land of injustice.

We should be terrified that God might call us into account for that imbalance. Many want to call the United States a Christian nation but we are not. A land that so blatantly and arrogantly dismisses those in need and Christ’s teachings about that cannot call themselves his people. That would be taking his name in vain. For those of you who aren’t aware, that’s early on in the list of big bad things not to do. Jesus said we can experience forgiveness to the degree we are ready to dispense it. What if the same is true of mercy?

If it is, we are in a world of hurt.

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Imagine That

Scripture tells us that God is able to do more than we ask or imagine. Every time I read that passage, I wonder how much our imagination, or lack of it, defines our world. Not just how we perceive the world but how it actually functions.

What if many of the age old problems in the world remain age old problems because we accept them to always be true, to be part of reality. What if we could imagine a better world, one without those problems, we could actually bring it about.

One if the more perplexing aspects of the Bible is the concept that God answers our prayers and that he intervenes because we ask and sometimes doesn’t because we don’t. I cannot explain the theology of that.  I can try to accept it and pray with faith an hope that it actually works that way. Some of the time. If it is true, and my prayers and yours sway God in some way, then why not seek his help with more? With everything. Even the small stuff. Or, even the really big stuff.

What if poverty exists because we can’t imagine a world without it so we don’t pray for that. Or war. Or disease. Or pollution. Or… You can fill in the next 50 “ors”.

In the movie Searching for Debra Winger, several actresses are interviews, including Whoopi Goldberg. she discusses being a child and watching Star Trek. The impact of Lt. Uhura affected Whoopi. She remembers telling her mom “There’s a black lady on television and she’s nobody’s maid.” That was an astounding item when Star Trek first aired on TV. Racism and sexism still drove what roles people played. Gene Roddenberry dared imagine a world, albeit a far distant future world, where a black woman could be an officer. Not the maid.

Would we have gotten to a black president without Star Trek showing us something different than the expected in the mid sixties? Probably, but it may still be coming. One man’s imagination changes how other expected and accepted things to be.

Granted other people played other roles, other imaginations added to the momentum of this movement. But someone, several someones maybe, imagining something different helped other imagine something different. And change followed.

Someone imagined a world without slavery and started acting on that. Others joined in. It was a nasty mess to get to an America without slavery, but it has happened. There is a long way to go. Slavery still exists in the world. Racism still causes problems in the U.S. but things are better and they will continue to get better as we imagine such a world and act on making it so.

But what does any of this have to do with prayer as I started out? This is about art. This is about activism. It’s not about prayer.

Or is it.

The book of Jeremiah includes a letter he wrote to a bunch of people in exile. He tells them that God wants them to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city where they live. As they do so, God will bring it about.

What if praying for the peace and prosperity of the city we live in, or state, or nation, or world, is the first step toward them becoming better places to be? What if imagining it could be different enough to want to pray for it is the first step to God motivating someone to take action about it?

Whenever I pray this, I feel that if I am asking God to bring peace and prosperity to the place I leave, that I need to ask him to make me an agent of that peace, that prosperity. I am told that faith without action is not really faith. So I try to find how to take some action about what I ask God to do.

I think we could have a drastically better world if we dare to pray for it, dare to take action to make it, have the guts to make paintings and songs and stories that show us what it would look like.

Take a minute. Imagine what such a world would be like. Then ask God how you can do something about making it happen.

I dare you.

The Disease of Self

Last week’s post brought up a lot of thoughts for me and a couple interesting conversations with friends, so I will continue the exploration of how we retain our self in a world that demands conformity.

An interesting moment arose when a friend mentioned a  Christian song he had just listened to that used the line “the disease of self”. The concept seems to grow around the idea that to be part of something bigger than ourselves is a good thing but to do so means that we must be entirely absorbed into that to the point that our own identity disappears.

I am in agreement that it is a powerful thing to be part of something bigger than myself. I have and have had the opportunity to do this several times in my life. I am part of the family I grew up in. I am part of my family now. I am part of a church as I have been a member of other churches. I have been on teams in spots and work. I am parts of creative groups, project groups and service groups. I am a part of the Kingdom of God. Connecting in that way, contributing to make something happen that can only come from a group effort is a wonderful thing.

But part of what makes this kind of participation work is that is made up of individuals. That different people with different skills and different ways of looking at things come together to make something more is truly powerful. If they didn’t maintain their uniqueness it couldn’t be powerful. It would be like trying to build a car engine out of nothing but spark plugs.

I don’t know how this idea that God wants us to be absolutely nothing or ourselves came to be. I think that passages of scripture that warn us against selfishness or that steer us toward being connected to community mean that we empty ourselves

To put it in terms that Tori Amos used – You’re just an empty cage if you kill the bird.

As disturbing as this concept seems to me, somehow it has traction. People buy into it. Is that because they want so badly to be part of something bigger than themselves that they are willing to make huge sacrifices for that? Is it because they want to be right, to do right and someone they empower with authority tells them this so they buy in? Are they onto something that I am just too dense to see?

Or maybe, the rhetoric has been around so long that no one questions it.

In the book of Revelation, the Bible tells about those that overcome will be given a stone with their name on it, their true name only known to them. That implies uniqueness and individuality of a deep variety. If mine is only known me and yours to you, that most certainly means that it is not the same name for both of us. God seems to be celebrating individuals, honoring the self of each person.

Then there is the point that God seems to really like individuals in the stories of the Bible. He seems to get angry at groups pretty quickly, but Abraham, Moses, and David all seems to connect with God in individual ways. God seems to like them for being who they uniquely are.

And what is the value of me being part of something bigger than myself if it is not me that is involved? To be part of a football team requires that I contribute to team goals and work with others to achieve them. But the strength of the team comes form the fact that I contribute differently than others on the team. Our differences working together is what makes us stronger. Otherwise it’s not a very good team.

St. Paul makes this point when he talks about different parts of the body having value by being different parts of the same body.

Selfishness is something to overcome. Being yourself is something to strive for. Find your identity and then blend that into something bigger than you. You will be part of something fantastic. Possibly even miraculous.

Does Your Hand Offend You?

The Bible provides rather disturbing instruction to cut off your own hand if it causes you too much trouble. I prefer to interpret that through hyperbole and use it to mean that sometimes you need to do hard things to get better. Sometimes a good thing needs to go in order to get to a better thing. This is a metaphor that surfaces in many stories.

Many years ago, a movie called “Fresh” came out. The story focuses on a poor kid growing up in a terrible inner city neighborhood. With a gift for chess, he played in the local park. He protected his queen more than his king which often brought about his defeat. His love for his queen prevented him from excelling at chess. Eventually he saw that this metaphor in his life. He protected his older sister, the one who “taking care” of him, endangering himself in the process. When he decided to take control of his own life, to create the change needed to escape the tragic life he knew, he found that he needed to put the queen at risk. Could he sacrifice his queen to win the game?

Fewer years ago, but still a little ways back, the season two finale for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” presented a similar conundrum.  Angel, Buffy’s great love, had turned evil during the course of the season. While evil, he had opened a portal to hell using his own blood. For Buffy to close the gate to hell, she needed to use his blood to do so, sending him into damnation. Even though he was evil, she struggled to overcome her love for who he had been in order to do so. Buffy had to kill and damn her lover in order to save the world.

In a more recent movie, “The Beaver”, Mel Gibson plays a man in deep depression who fails at killing himself after ruining his business and his family. As he wakes up from the botched suicide, he develops another personality to help him deal with his situation. He wore a puppet of a beaver on his hand and used that personality to interact with the world. He decided that his life as it was was a complete wreck. Repairing it wasn’t an option. It needed complete demolition and rebuild. Thus, the beaver. Just getting to that point is pretty close to my initial thought. Could I completely redo my life?

But then, the new life created had its own problems, becoming a new wreck. Gibson’s character realizes that he needs to eliminate the new personality. He abandons the person who can interact with the world. Again, a tough choice to sacrifice a big thing for a better thing. But the puppet has become the embodiment of that persona. The only way to divorce himself from the beaver is to cut it off.  He uses a table saw to chop off his hand and the puppet. He lived out that scripture.

How far am I willing to go to create change in my life? Can I give up my addiction to cola to be healthier? To lose weight, will I change my lifestyle? Can I cut out cable to save some money? I know, none of these seem as extreme as the stories listed above, but they are the challenges that I most immediately face. On all three of these points, my hand offends me. But I am unwilling to cut anything off. I trust that I can find the courage to eventually make these changes.

My hope is that I can learn to identify these situations and resolve them when they are a matter of just clipping my nails rather than losing a hand. But that requires attentiveness, awareness and focus. That alone is a significant change, something of a rebuild.

But, to have a better life…

Christ Figures

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my discovery of the Incarnation Figure as an archetype in storytelling. There are obvious connections between this and the Christ Figure that w are so familiar with given that the Christ that the figures tend to emulate began being Christ through incarnation, the embodiment of something greater in than our world in our world. But the difference that I pointed out is that Christ Figures tend to have death and resurrection or sacrificial element to them and Incarnation Figures don’t always express that.
As intriguing and powerful as Christ Figures can be, I find them troublesome at times. I have seen too many Christians try to grade a story’s value on the presence or lack of Christ Figure. If it has one, it’s a good story, if not it fails. And this is whether the story is told well or the characters are believable or if there is any suspense to make us care what happens.
The other problem I frequently see is when a Christ figure is imposed in attempts to co-opt a story and make it a Christian tale. Take “The Matrix” for example. Certainly there is the element of sacrifice on Neo’s part as he stays behind to let the others escape. And there is something of death and resurrection. But did he really die? OR did he simply, finally understand the Matrix well enough to know that he didn’t have to die there? To me this story is more about faith and finding out what can happen when you truly believe more than it is about a Christ figure and the redemption that follows.
People often describe Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings as a Christ figure. Again there is a certain validity to that in terms of his death and resurrection. But as much as he is a Christ Figure, he is also an Odin Figure, at least up until the resurrection point. It’s almost as if Gandalf starts as Odin and finishes as Christ. And that’s not much a of a stretch given that Odin is a bit of Christ Figure himself, sacrificing himself unto himself.
But my favorite example of the failings of the overstressed Christ Figure is Hell Boy. In the second Hell Boy movie, the story follows the typical Christ Figure arch, as he sacrifices himself to save another, descends into the pits to eradicate the forces of evil and save all the Earth. Powerful stuff. But how many Christians stumble on this because he is a demon – and not just any demon, Satan’s son who’s true destiny is to bring ultimate destruction on the Earth? Is such a character an acceptable Christ Figure?
I think this is one of those examples that parallels the story of the Bronze Snake from scripture. God commanded Moses to make a bonze statue of a snake. This statue heals anyone that looks at it. The odd part is that most times that snakes appear in scripture, they are symbols of evil, demons or Satan himself. Jesus later tells us that the snake was an image of him. The image of evil expresses the ultimate good. Perhaps Hell Boy falls in this same category.

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