Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Thing Molded

Personally, I spend a lot of time justifying God to myself.

Every time something happens, I assign a value to X and Y in a frantic guessing game; an ill-advised exercise, in part because I don't even yet know what the sum of all these unknowns will be, making it pointless to speculate upon the value of the factors.

I am trying to break a long-standing habit, the habit of babbling inanely to fill the awkward silence that follows some inexplicable circumstance.

Well, I'm sure that nothing is meant by it. (By which I mean God didn't really mean it just like it sounded.)

I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. (By which I belie a potential reproach for God, not quite angry at this turn of events, but reserving the right to be.)

Is it a lack of faith, or lack of faith in my own faith?

I was given an assignment in a philosophy class; reconcile the problem of evil with the existence of a loving God.

Ignoring or at least belittling the weight of the problem, I careened frantically and recklessly toward a quick resolution.

Love was the answer. God created this universe and us with this built in self-destruct because of love.

It was an honest conclusion, and, judging from reading after apologists since, not incorrect.

But looking back on it, I've the same feeling I had when I would arrive home after an hours drive following a third shift at the Cincinnati airport. Too often, I would awake only after putting the truck in park and wonder how I got there.

Driven to reconcile God with evidence to the contrary . . .it is an instinct that has the force of corneal reflex in a young Christian, a fitting parallel, since the stimulus of harsh light prompts us to shut our eyes and self-impose blindness.

I am determined to see through the eyes of God, determined to put some positive mortal spin on what I see.

There can be no times When God Doesn't Make Sense. The fragility of my faith will not bear it.

Such a state of denial doesn't lend itself to calm credulity when uncertain times come.

But I am reading Paul's letter to the Roman church, scandalized by the exploitative plan of God to draw all Gentiles unto Him through the disobedience of His chosen people and I come to realize that if I were able to see through the eyes of God, I had as well be a twenty-twenty pair of eyes staring through a pair of coke-bottle glasses or, more to the point, visually impaired without any glasses.

I got hung up on a previously forgettable verse.

"For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all."

What was once figurative leapt off the page with stunning literalism.

I am subjected to an icy shock, the blank surprise of realizing that we are being manipulated to His end!

I experience the same speechless indignance of a pot in the utilitarian hands of the Potter.

So, I manage, It's all about You.

You just have compassion on whoever you will.

You elect, You choose.

Pharoah himself was not but a sacrificial pawn in Your game, being raised up by You so that Your name might proclaimed in all the earth. Likewise the Isrealites he enslaved.

All this is done simply for Your glory?

How is this justifiable?

Mightn't Paul have explained this?

He simply says, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways!"

And I draw closer to the heart of God by relinquishing my "right" to know what He's about.

"For who has known the mind of the Lord?"

God, deliver me from presuming to know Your mind and from lingering distrust that always, always asks why.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Second Look

Are there ever any conflicts between one's conservatism and one's Christianity?
Could there be times when the ideology and the faith are, if not completely incompatible, at least extremely uncomfortable residing in the same heart and mind?
The question popped out at me as I read a news headline stating that cries are growing louder to let the Big 3 automakers die a natural death; no life support bailout, no breathing machine extensions, just a quick pull of the plug.
My knee-jerk reaction, fostered by years of Limbaugh and Hannity, was "Let 'em die."
Not being particularly impressed with the product quality of the Big 3, and being even more disgusted with the extortion practiced by the UAW, my overview was, "Good riddance."
If the UAW had convinced their members that working on an assembly line was worth $50 an hour, then perhaps a bracing jump in the cold water, a quick immersion in reality, was what they needed.
Then, a second thought, perhaps prompted by my recent difficulty, read something more like this, "However, if I worked for Chrysler, I would, no doubt, have a decidedly different take on the subject, regardless of my own personal political and fiscal ideas."
(The sudden burst of compassion may answer part of the question why? in all of this.)
It depends on whose kid has the flu that determines how bad it is.
I suddenly saw a financial disaster looming over thousands of families and was gripped with compassion.
I suppose that makes me a compassionate conservative, and, judging from what I'm hearing from conservative punditry these days, that means I am a hopeless, pretentious neo-con discipled by the likes of, heaven forbid, George W. Bush, and, as such, am out of style by about seven years.
I'm still wearing boot-cut Arizonas and an Izod button-down.
And its tucked in, for the love of Armani!
But maybe I'm being too snide. Maybe, I'll grant, these conservative thinkers are looking at the big picture.
We'll go with their take for a minute.
Distilled, their philosophy reads so: The less government intervention on the behalf of home-owners, lending agencies, banks, and auto manufacturers translates into less government interference. I.E., lower taxes for the general public, thus a more consumer-friendly environment, thus a better economy, thus more jobs for those pulled down in the undertow of the Big 3, and the housing market.
But, a transition of such magnitude can be likened to a massive forest fire. Such occasional holocausts are natural and healthy to the overall balance of the ecosystem, but devastating to individual trees unfortunate enough to be in the path of the fire.
The human element to headlines such as these has become painfully apparent to me lately.
The trees will grow back taller, yes, but only by feeding upon the soil fertilized by the compost of their dead predecessors.
So, are we to take the long view?
It has long been the stereotypical characterization of conservatives that they are cold and unfeeling, and the opposite profile has long been attributed to liberals; compassionate and unthinking.
Which is why Marvin Olasky of World Magazine coined the term "compassionate conservative" to provide an identity and an impetus to Christians frustrated by the dichotomy.
George W. Bush essentially bought the rights to the phrase, and despite some mistakes and many conservative opinions to the contrary, has stuck to his motto.
I believe this principle dictated to him his position on the border. (He certainly didn't earn any political capital from it, and he knew he wouldn't.)
And I think that same question faces him every day.
Do I view everything dispassionately, or do I allow myself to be distracted by the human element?
Unfortunately for him, the question is overwhelmingly complex and nuanced, and fraught with unknowns and lame-duck status.
For my part, I believe my heart has been somewhat softened of late by my own problems, and I can now view these conundrums with something more than rose-colored glasses or a blindfold.
Easy for you to say, Carpenter, the president might say, it's not your problem.
Ah, but it is.
Look, it is perhaps unavoidable in the media culture we live in, but I feel that our attention to political detail often squeezes out our attention to Christ.
Yes, we were thrilled with the advent of Rush Limbaugh, and increasingly so with the rise of FOX News, and a host of up and coming "alternative media" because at last someone was giving voice to our side. But the truth is that most of these people share our politics, not our faith.
They throw in an occasional jab at abortion, or gay marriage, and thus retain their membership in the Christian club. But the other ninety percent of the time, they are discussing issues and taking positions that, while technically pertinent and accurate, should be a three or four on a one to ten scale of a Christian's priorities.
Without retreating back to the cultural cave in which Christians lived for so long, let's not become so focused upon the politics that constantly bombard our minds.
Unfortunately, I know too many Christians, including myself, who get more stirred up over Barack Obama's plan to destroy America than they do Satan's plan to destroy souls.
Barack Obama can't send anybody to hell.
I know a message like this can sound cloying, or saccharine, or overly pious. But remember that I usually write what has only recently been revealed, or re-revealed, to my own mind.
Your view of whether or not the Big 3 should be bailed out is not dictated by your Christianity, but your view of the person who loses his or her job as a result is.
Your view of whether or not $50 an hour is exorbitant or whether or not those people shouldn't have bought a house that they couldn't afford is not dictated by your Christianity, but your compassion for the anguish and uncertainty they face is commanded.
Maybe they are greedy.
Or maybe they just saw an opportunity for a good job, and have spent the last thirty years building what they saw as a secure future for their retirement and their children's college options.
And if that be greed, I'm kneeling at the altar right next to 'em.
Individuals get lost in the headlines, the blogs, the talk radio.
Souls are statistics.
Liberals are them, conservative R US.
But we're all going to one of two places when we die, and that has become my new obsession!

p.s. In regards to our own difficulties I refer to, I would be extremely ungrateful if I did not thank God for the way He has taken care of us and also ungrateful to the channel through which He worked. Thank you so much.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Holy Interpreter

The question I now pose was once academic.

It has now become paramount, and very pertinent.

When you beg petition of God, how specific are you to be?

I propose this: You come to a point in the road where you are able to see nothing but challenging if not inaccessible terrain ahead of you; a long, unbroken series of steep grades with drop-offs on either side.

Do you ask God for assistance to get over that first grade, or do you cover the field and request help for the entire series of grades?

Are you a presumptuous beggar? Might you ask to be carried over the whole stretch?

Or, are you more of a self-made man? May I have a set of chains, and a winch?

Or, do you just white-knuckle the steering wheel, and wish you'd taken out that term policy?

Speaking specifically to my current difficulty, do I pray that such-and-such union request be granted so that such-and-such disability clause be altered, do I pray for a new job, do I pray for healing, do I take a vow of poverty and begin searching for co-ed monasteries . . . .enter a sweepstakes . . . . look around outside a gas station for a dropped lottery ticket?

Oswald Chambers has been remarkably germane in relation to our predicament recently.

On the morning of Nov. 8, I opened his devotional to see the following:

We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Rom. 8:26

Catching my breath, I continued reading.

We know what it is to pray in the Spirit; but we do not so often realize that the Holy Spirit Himself prays in us prayers which we cannot utter. . . .

and further on,

He expresses for us the unutterable. . . .

further still,

. . .God searches your heart not to know what your conscious prayers are, but to find out what is the prayer of the Holy Spirit.

I suppose that could be disconcerting. Looking at it superficially, you might sustain the same shock that the first denizen of Babel experienced when his intended words came out as gibberish.

That's not what I said!

I think it is safe to say, however, that the Spirit will not work at cross purposes with your heart.

If your petitions are subject to the will of the Father, instead of being lost in translation, they will be re-interpreted in a manner that you yourself could never utter.


Chambers- Have we recognized that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost? If so, we must be careful to keep it undefiled for Him. We have to remember that our conscious life, though it is only a tiny bit of our personality, is to be regarded by us as a shrine of the Holy Ghost. He will look after the unconscious part that we know nothing of; but we must see that we guard the conscious part for which we are responsible.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Philippians 4:7

For what am I thankful at the resolving of a crisis?
I am not thankful that crisis will never come again, although the very nature of relief suggests a cessation of all trouble to our consciousness. Realistically, I know that this was but one mountain peak, and I am traversing the Himalayas.
I am thankful for the knowledge that I will reach the next peak and the next one.
The relief we feel is not a denial of the valleys that lie in between the peaks, but a disregard for them. The gain more than offsets the pain. The mountaintop perspective sees more mountaintops, not ignorant of the topography before us, but reckoning that the sufferings of each and every valley is not worthy to be compared with the peaks.
Regarding perspective, which is the proper one? Is it unrealistic to desire an answer to this question?
Is it not a matter of choice? It is true that when one is atop a mountain, he is apt to forget the angle of the grade he has just climbed, and is more apt to underestimate the depth of the valley below him, so can it be said that it is only up to you which perspective is the real one?
If, at the collective apexes of our lives, we tally the results and find ourselves in the black, what does it matter what gloom swaths the peaks while we walk the shadowed valley?
Or, if, at the many low points, we total the experience and see merely perpetuated misery with a few aberrations of delirium, what do the peak experiences profit us?
This is quite an implicational question, a question summed up in the image of a glass containing liquid that occupies half of the container.
As I've said before, in a folksy translation of Schroedinger, the question of whether the glass is half full, or half-empty depends on whether the glass is the one offered a thirsting man in the desert, or the one you turned over on your laptop.
So it is only a matter of perspective!
Are things really that arbitrary, and is the universe that cold?
Do we really hold our own happiness in our own hands?
Is the on/off switch in our own minds?
Or does the answer to the overall question lie in a different idiom?
Can you not see the forest for the trees, or the trees for the forest, if you prefer?
Which do you prefer? We got both. Forest and trees.
(We must be careful not to forget that regardless of our location, we always see through a glass darkly, and must be mindful that all this postulation may, nay, will seem positively ridiculous on the other side of the glass.)
But for the here and now, will we look back on our life's journey as one continual struggle, viewed in the negative, or will we remember the lordly perspective of the peak, as well as the wild blueberries and the flowing streams in the valley?
I know we can't transcend our humanity. We will be down and we will be up. But there is an acceptance that can under gird our entire perspective, whether up or down; an acceptance gained only through experience, and yes, employed only by choice.
And acceptance attains peace. Not resignation.
A peace that does surpass all comprehension.
But I can't escape the notion that I am talking past all this.
Relativity reigns, much as it does in the summer when you prefer winter, and in the winter when you prefer summer.
A nagging little question lies at the bottom of all this: Aren't we closest to reality when we're depressed, when we are fully aware of and focused on all the pain and all the exhaustion we have faced and have yet to face?
Does our spirit seek the lowest level?
Isn't a bright outlook sustained only by a valiant effort?
Aren't we kidding ourselves?
No doubt this is subject to personality, but the nature of depression has to be weighed against the nature of optimism.
Screwtape told Wormwood of the Enemy, "He cannot tempt to virtue as we can to vice."
Because vice is the default position. Gravity pulls us to bad, not to good.
So it is with depression. He cannot tempt to joy as Satan can to depression.
Joy is often a matter of choice, a conscious effort of the will, a struggle to keep drooping eyes open, an uphill climb.
The joy of the Lord is our strength, it is what gives us the will to go on, to stay awake, to keep climbing.
Moods are inevitable, ups and downs are facts of life, depression lies at the bottom of every valley, jubilation awaits at the top of every mountain, but joy takes us through it all.
Don't over-analyze your current emotional state, (as I have just done.) You will not transcend those mortal feelings here. You cannot deny them, you can only come through them.
If you were driving through a fog bank, you would slow down, use your low beams, and keep driving.