Archive for February, 2011

When prayer becomes an obstacle to faith


I have my fair share of physical troubles, almost all the result of entering middle age after a lifetime of unhealthy living. Not that my living was particularly hedonistic or any worse than most Americans, but when you are dealt a certain genetic hand you need to be a bit more careful than I’ve been.

Anyway, it’s not that I am ill or remotely disabled.  Just the poster boy for metabolic syndrome. I’m never in any real pain and suffer no problems with mobility, but for some time now my doctors have called me a “high risk” for….some bad stuff, I guess.  Just like over half of the Americans out there who are over 50.   So I  keep popping my pills, watch what I eat (kind of ) and tend not to worry. Too much.

But last week was somewhat trying.  Persistent head aches, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness. And my BP was going crazy, higher than it ever had been before.  Being the alarmist hypochondriac that I am, I prepared myself for inevitable admission to the O.R. for major chest surgery…or worse.  As it turned out, my doctor only had to play her voodoo shell-game with my prescriptions and things are looking a lot better.  For now.

My point here is not to whine about my health or my ailments.  I just wanted to set the stage for my thoughts of last week, particularly some of those about God.  Because I really, really had to work hard to keep myself from praying.

I was disturbingly aware of a desire to ask God to protect me from whatever might be coming my way physically.  I really wanted to revisit my old penchant for asking God to extricate me from whatever predicament I found myself in and I desperately wanted to recapture the opportunity of asking God to cure me.

But I hadn’t believed in those types of prayer for some time now and I knew that it would be wrong to allow myself a little relapse into what I now believe is religious superstition.  Why would God deign to reach down inside of me and fix the relatively minor physical problems that I am troubled with? When there are so many millions who are really suffering, from hungry children to the mentally institutionalized to severe burn victims to the paraplegics whose prayers for healing have apparently not been heard?  I don’t think God would fix my problems.  I am not sure that God even could.

I did pray, though not in that way.  Instead I prayed prayers of thanks, that I  made it this far, with the wonderful people I have known and loved.  My wife, my children, my friends, family and students.  I was still  tempted to ask for another 50 years (or 30 or 20 or 10 or even 5).  But  I didn’t.  Instead  I prayed for peace and for courage, for acceptance of whatever might come.  Surprisingly, my prayers were answered, almost immediately.

If I had prayed for physical healing or a change in my material circumstances,  I would still be waiting for the that big shoe to drop.  Playing the long odds against the house, yet holding out hope for something ‘miraculous’ to take place. Anticipation. Unneeded anxiety.  And if the cards looked good this time, if it seemed as if God had answered my prayers, this too would pass. Until I met the next low hanging branch on the path.  A relentless cycle of beseeching, worry, thanksgiving and then more worry.  This was my old pattern.

Over the years I’ve seen some friends die.  A few were young, tragically young. Most were pretty “old” I guess.  A lot of them were in their eighties.  My Dad is in his eighties and he’s been struggling a bit.  The thing is, if we are lucky, we will get old and die.  Sometimes it looks easy, more often it can be painful. But I’ve seen that  it can also be peaceful.  Should we be wasting what time we do have by asking to live longer? “ Please, just a little bit more of this good stuff “ (even if it looks as if there isn’t enough “good stuff” to go around for everybody). Where’s the peace in that?

I like it better this way.  I’m not asking too much from God and God’s not asking too much from me. I just have to resist asking for the deck to be loaded in my favor. Instead, maybe God could provide me a with just a little help playing the hand I’ve already been dealt.

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Glenn Beck warns of the coming Muslim Anti-Christ.


Whew, boy. Just when you think he can’t get any wackier, Glenn Beck surprises us again. Recently he has been courting an ‘expert’ on Islam, Joel Richardson. He has even gone so far as to buy into Richardson’s idea that the pending anti-Christ will be a One World Muslim leader, head of the upcoming Caliphate that will be headquartered in Turkey, brought about by the Muslim Brotherhood, who were pulling all the levers behind the peaceful revolution in Egypt.

Now, Beck is not saying that this fellow, the much anticipated 12th Imam is the anti-Christ. But he could be.  He doesn’t know for sure – he can’t see the future. Well, not all the time. But as his blackboard will show, all the signs are there.  So, grab your Bibles (or your Books of Mormon) and your shotgun ’cause things will be heating up soon. And don’t forget to buy your “Survival Seed Bank” and put what money you have left in the safe and secure hands of the good people at Gold Line.  Just in case you make it through the coming global collapse. (You can definitely trust Glenn’s sponsors. He wouldn’t take their money if he didn’t believe in them.)

Gosh. I wonder if Glenn could call upon the archangel Moroni to come to our defense. Perhaps it is not too late.  Thank All…uh, um….God, that at least deep and spiritual thinkers like Glenn and Joel Richardson are here to sound the alarm.

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Once upon a time conservatives had a good sense of humor. Not anymore. That’s why they’re so damned funny.


Jeesh. Jon Stewart tears up the Tightie Righties of this year’s CPAC.  In spite of the courageous attempts, the only funny thing about the  conservative convention was Donald Trump’s hair. But then Sarah couldn’t make it and se’s always good for a few laughs.

Once upon a time conservatives could be funny. They could turn a phrase in a  Mark Twainish sort of way that caused one to think, even as they smiled.   Reagan was good at it, as was William F. Buckley and George Will (who’s still around but doesn’t get much media attention these days). Even Pat Buchanan could get Michael Kinsley to laugh now and then (and vice versa)

But in order to get their kind of humor you had to think about what they were saying. You had to understand political nuance. You needed to be up on the issues, go beyond page one, listen to more than just one talking head and get your news from more than just one ‘trusted’ source.

Utra-Conservatives today aren’t funny because their audience (if not they themselves) can only think on one plane and in one dimension.  They are scared of their own shadows, which can be good for a chuckle, but they have such big blinders on that  irony is lost on them.  Everything and everyone pisses them off  and you have to be a real comic to turn anger into humor. It’s no wonder that the celebrity roast format is their favorite since there is nothing self-deprecating about their sense of humor. And hence, it’s not funny.

The funny conservatives of the past were, for the most part, good natured.  I don’ think they ever took themselves too seriously. Self-inflation will always kill a comic.  Why Joe Piscopo faded away when he discovered the gym and Arnold got funnier when he stopped going. And why Dennis Miller broke his funny bone when he decided to team up with O’Reilly and rant for the right. Both  Miller and O’Reilly are entertainment professionals, though. They can, on occasion, pull it off.  But someone’s gotta tell those amateur tight-asses at CPAC to zip it.  It’s gonna have to be a Republican, though.  The rest of us, we don’t want it to stop.  Too damn funny.

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Palin is to Reagan as Liberace is to Rachmaninoff


Nauseating, ain’t it? Whether you liked Reagan or not (and I did) comparing him to Palin is like comparing Rachmaninoff or Vladimir Horowitz to Liberace.  No, on second thought that’s not fair. Liberace, although just as tacky, cheesy and exploitative as Palin,  could still play the piano very well.  Anyway, someone who was pretty close to the Gipper summed up the differences pretty well:

” Sarah Palin is a soap opera, basically. She’s doing mostly what she does to make money and keep her name in the news. She is not a serious candidate for president and never has been.”

“Sarah Palin has nothing in common with my father, a two-term governor of the largest state in the union, a man who had been in public life for decades, someone who had written, thought and spoke for decades about foreign-policy issues, domestic policy issues, and on and on and on.”

(I’ll bet he’s not the only Reagan that might be annoyed with Sarah.)

 

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The 2012 Monster Ticket


Yikes! I hope Van Helsing  is a Democrat. Gotta admit – it could be fun.

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The Bible is not The Good Book or a bad book. It is just a….book.


The Bible is a collection of diverse ancient Hebrew writings by many authors who never intended their works to be collected between the bindings of a book.  It is full of spiritual stories, poems, myths, biographies and various historical accounts. It may or may not include recorded attempts at predicting the future. Wisdom and beauty abound within its pages and the reading of this book has helped millions of people, in many spiritual ways,  to encounter God.  By this definition alone, it is a sacred book.  But as St. Paul  once said, the scriptures are useful for instructing a person in the ways of God, implying that they are only some of the tools at our disposal and not the sole repository of spiritual wisdom.

The common thread that runs through this assortment of writings is how a particular group of people interacted with their God over a very long time, in ways that were both moral and immoral.  Inspired by a sense of wonder, the authors attempted to understand God’s nature, God’s will and how, why and if God works in their lives, often depicting God as speaking and acting within the natural world.

The second, smaller part of the Bible concerns Jesus of Nazareth, his life, crucifixion and resurrection. It also includes his teachings and the teachings of some of his disciples.  These teachings have undoubtedly inspired generations of people to live lives of peace, mercy and love while at the same time championing justice.  At the same time,  different interpretations have helped others to rationalize behavior not so commendable.

The Bible had no release date, there was no publishing date. At some point, around 1700-1800 years ago, powerful religious men decided what Jewish scriptures would be included in what we call the Canon and the Apocrypha.  Everything else  (probably more than what was included) was discarded or destroyed, though some of these manuscripts survive today. Throughout its history the Bible has been translated in different ways and there have been a few cases where it has been altered to serve a religious agenda, but these were rare occurrences.  There has always been a very active, and often heated,  debate over what many portions of the Bible actually mean.

The Bible may, or may not, be relevant to us today.  The stories and poems and letters within have been used as a guide for morality, compassion and self sacrifice.  They have also been  used to justify genocide, torture, slavery, misogyny, bigotry and war.  If God has spoken through the Bible then some have certainly heard the voice of Satan as well.

Although a great work of historical literature and sacred to millions,  it has no magical qualities or powers. It needs to be interpreted contextually, framed within the time and circumstances of the people who populate it, lest whatever lessons it might contain remain hidden.   It is undeniably a very, very important book.  It is certainly a great book, one of the world’s greatest.  But it is not the GOOD book any more than it is a bad book.  In the end, with all that it has to offer, it is still…just…a…book.

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