This is the official blog of Victoria Adams, a published author. It has been established as the contact point between the readers and the author and as a “window seat” where we can talk about the books and subjects that we find of interest. The primary interests here are Caregiving Backstage (because I am one), Humanities for the Unbound Mind (because I love all related subjects), and Natural Science from the Observation Deck (because I am an amateur Natural Scientist whose heroes spend a lot of time thinking). It is the type of place where you can imagine grabbing a cup of tea, a comfy thing to sit or sprawl on and a warm place in the sun (or a quiet place to listen to the rain). It is a place where we will explore the world of the word together.
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, currently published by Anchor Books. available for less than $10.00
One of the things that one must do when preparing a book proposal to market your masterpiece to the publishing world is find comparables in the market. What’s out there, what does it say, and why is your work different. In that process, I read Rabbi Kushner’s best seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The title has sold millions, and although I don’t aspire to such heights, I do feel there is much in his work I would agree with, and a few things I don’t.
I can understand why the Rabbi’s book has reached so many people. He builds on the interpretation that there are random events in the world, events that are caused by other people’s freedom of action, and events that we are unprepared for. He strongly believes that we should not be Job’s visitors and try to comfort those who are suffering with some unfounded bit of wisdom about how this will make the victim stronger, or God has a message, or some other bit that rarely helps. Sometimes, such ministrations make the whole matter much worse. In this I agree, at least in part.
Kushner also devotes much of his book to the idea that we must step away from the blame game. Everything that happens in our lives is not punishment by some super-spy deity that wants to ensure we pay for every infraction we have ever committed, whether the reasons are known or not. If I had to decide, one of the most critical ideas he presents in this book is to stop the blame. The universe does not turn on your every decision and sometimes you are not guilty of initiating some horrible outcome. Sometimes you are. Those instances should, however, be clear and correctable. Don’t blame God for lung cancer if you insist on smoking.
Although this thought is not discussed in his book, I believe it gave me some insight to some of the issues we are facing in society now. We are told, in scripture, to love one another as we love ourselves. On the flip side, if we are always blaming ourselves, if we believe that every bad thing that happens is punishment for something we, or someone else, did – then we must assume that folks that are in deep poverty, sick, or otherwise challenged did something to deserve it. And that’s what we do. If she had dressed differently, if he had not let people know he was gay, if he had prayed harder, if she had given more, if they had better control over their children, and a thousand other reasons why “that thing” happened to them and not us. If we do manage to escape the consequences of a catastrophe, we are somehow especially blessed and protected by God. I must ask – does that make you better than me? If I die in a plane crash and you don’t, are you somehow more holy?
This was the problem with Job’s visitors (I can’t come to a place I can call them comforters), they could not allow the world to be a random place where God’s justice and power did not reach into every detail of every life. To avoid the thought of calamity in their own lives, they had to find reason to blame Job for his.
To return to Kushner’s book, from a pastoral perspective, he does a masterful job of teaching people to let go of the anger. Anger at themselves, at others, at God, and to find some way to move forward. His position is that God is not in the event, He is the one that helps us find a way to deal with the consequences. He is there to help us convert the bad into something we can take forward. The Rabbi is not a stranger to calamity. He wrote the book to help others understand the journey he and his wife experienced as they watched their first born suffer from an incurable disease that killed him at age fourteen. He knows what it means to ask why.
Here are some excerpts I considered very much to the point:
“If we want to be able to pick up the pieces of our lives and go on living, we have to get over the irrational feeling that every misfortune is our fault, the direct result of our mistakes or misbehavior. We are really not that powerful. Not everything that happens in the world is our doing.”
One of the hardest lessons of children who have been abused in any way is, “It’s not my fault.” I would add, we need to learn the same of others. We can assess responsibility and still avoid being judgmental of other people’s choices. Learn the difference.
“If we believe in God, but we do not hold God responsible for life’s tragedies, if we believe that God wants justice and fairness but cannot always arrange for them, what are we doing when we pray to God for a favorable outcome to a crisis in our life?”
The Rabbi is very much against the “grocery list” prayer and chooses to teach an approach where we seek the strength to move through the disaster, where we find ways to accept the good or the bad outcome, without blaming persons or forces that are not responsible. If they are responsible, is it a situation that must be dealt with, was it an accident, can you move from the hurt, and even hatred? How do you release the anger so that you do not destroy yourself in the process? That is the space where Kushner feels God lives. The sum of his work teaches that suffering finds its meaning not in the why it happened, but in the what we do with it.
“God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part. Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.”
As noted, there is much here that is a part of my view. However, Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering takes the reader in a slightly different direction. Rather than surrender to a belief that all is random and there is no cause, I prefer to see the universe with a sense of the quantum. Quantum physics works because predictable results occur. We do have a universe of laws. We do have probabilities that are within our purview to discover, to understand, to mitigate. To me the author of Job is trying to tell us that we are given the gifts to change the world. We do not live in a vacuum of circumstance, and we are not pursued daily by a vengeful god. Bad things happen, and they will continue to do so. The question is, what do we in response?
I like this bit that Kushner includes in his book. It is a Likrat Shabbat prayer by Rabbi Jack Riemer.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war;
for we know that You have made the world in a way
That man must find his own path to peace
Within himself and with his neighbor.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation;
For you have already given us the resources
With which to feed the entire world.
If we could only use them wisely.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to root out prejudice,
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all men
If we would only use them rightly.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair,
For you have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.
We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end disease,
For you have already given us great minds with which
To search for cures and healing.
If we would only use them constructively.
Therefore, we pray to You instead, O God,
For strength, determination, and willpower,
To do instead of just to pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.
Plan a visit with me and my hero, Job. We’ll be ready very soon.
Tuesday morning, 9/11/2001. I was preparing for an auction of everything but my personal effects in order to clear the debt of an organization that was coming apart almost as fast as my marriage. The auction was already advertised and scheduled for Saturday of that week – and then a friend called and told me to turn on the TV. Alone, that day, I went through the motions of preparing for a sale that was supposed to free me from debt while dealing with a world turned inside out. As the day progressed and the nation struggled with capturing air traffic and getting planes on the ground – anywhere in the world – and fighters in the air, I grew numb. We had grown so certain of ourselves – of our world leadership and control. Of who we were and what we were made of.
For all of the name calling, vitriol, anger, and hatred that I see today – on THAT day we came together as a nation. Two things happened that showed me that the heart of what I dream of in America was still beating strong.
One was the boat lift; an event not equaled in history. As the towers burned, people were desperate to get off the island. Even as the Coast Guard began to organize some help, every vessel that could float was independently heading for the Manhattan harbor. No one knew what was coming next or from where – but people needed to get off that island. Some 150 different vessels, crewed by 800 plus mariners, evacuated half a million people out of Manhattan in nine hours. Private citizens and public employees went into action without thought of personal risk or reward – they just got it done.
The second was the passengers of Flight 93. I’ve flown several times and as I think of my fellow travelers – most of whom I never spoke with – I wonder what latent heroes flew with me. Leadership rose to the top on that plane, confirmed what was happening and gathered some sense of what their destiny might be. Then, working together, they came up with a plan to disable an attack with no real experience in defense or flying. Knowing they had become a weapon, they drove their plane into the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We know from recordings that, however frightened they may have been, the passengers on that flight appeared to be in agreement that there was no other way.
I honestly believe we will never really know the total human cost of that day. And, although we focus on the American lives lost, the World Trade Center complex was and is an international center. Many were lost, many will never be found. What I take away from that day is that we can come together.
I am a strong supporter of the men and women who serve in the military. I grew up in towns and cities with a strong military presence. I have known veterans of every war since WWII and have been a shoulder and a listener more times than I can remember. What we sometimes forget is that as hard as the military life is – we do train our people. Now, better than ever. Now we know you cannot pull someone from their home and drop them in a combat zone and expect them to survive physically, mentally, or emotionally. Nor can we yank them out of the constant high-alert atmosphere and drop them back in front of the fireplace and expect them to re-adjust to civilian life without so much as a sneeze. We are learning.
We also have an army of first responders in this country. Men and women who automatically run into the fray to save, mitigate, and contain.
What I like to keep in mind, is that the civilians that defend our freedom and our very lives, that rush in to help the wounded, and confront the perpetrators, are usually called on at the most critical moment, and often (not always) have no specific training to meet the challenge. And yet, something beats deep within their hearts, their very beings that says, “Not today. Whoever or whatever you are, you will not have total victory today.”
I would like to think, on this day of remembrance, every bit as solemn as December 7, 1941, that maintaining a society where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness becomes a way of life takes the participation of each and every one of us. Somewhere, deep in our sense of fairness, even survival, we need to find the goals that make us one again. We cannot survive as a nation if the only unifying factor we have is an attack from the outside. We must find it here, in ourselves. We have to stop looking at each other as though we are jabbering in some foreign language and learn to listen. Even if we don’t agree, we have to find better ways of explaining why we think as we do. Are there people who cannot or will not listen? Oh, my yes. There are some mountains that just won’t move. That’s no excuse to walk away from those that will.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…We need not wait to see what others do.”
Ahh, yes. My keyboard and me; working out the hurt, the loss, the discouragement of life, and sometimes the celebrations. Today I look closely at a treasured friendship which ended in tragedy Friday, July 19, 2018. It was the kind of friendship that had seen rather intense events in our lives, and yet had drifted a bit in the last year. I fully acknowledge that drifting was caused by my need for space from something we shared; at least until I could find my way forward. I wish, as we all do, that I could have one more chat, one more I love you, one more cyber hug. This is my tale, my take on friendship.
Stacey Haggard Brewer and I met in the early days of a small publishing company I was involved with. To be quite honest, I don’t recall the specific link that brought us together, but we were instantly comfortable with each other. Stacey contributed to PDMI as an editor as early as the fall of 2013, not long after we had formed the LLC.
As I grew to know her, we began to share the more personal bits of our lives. She was searching at the time, trying to understand several emotions she was experiencing. Within a year or two she lost her father to cancer. The experience unsettled her at levels she was not accustomed to and the two of us grew very close as she talked through her feelings. She was finding it difficult to complete projects, to be motivated, to make decisions. Her search for a satisfying spiritual experience seemed to grow deeper and broadened in its focus. We spent hours in chat talking about our faith, what windows we wished we could open, what it would take to return to the origins of the faith where concern for our fellow man was paramount, rather than how many rules were kept or broken.
Stacey and I also shared writing projects, thoughts, dreams, troubled moments, and bits of joy. We worked together on several projects, one of which was an article I wrote which was published in the Eastern Iowa Review. The piece was accepted without change or edit – a testament to Stacey’s skill and kind advice.
Through the years I listened as she dithered over life changing decisions. I was sometimes impatient, but still willing to listen. She was traveling paths I had already journeyed; and I was prepared to share my experience – however deeply I had buried those years in my mind and heart. She was one of a very small circle of friends who walked with me through the final months of my husband’s dementia. She surrounded me with love as I watched him deteriorate more rapidly each day.
As our publishing venture began to unwind, some of the hard business decisions made me feel isolated from those that I had worked with. Somehow, Stacey understood, and she gave me space. It was one of the hardest decisions I have faced, but it was also obvious that I needed to withdraw myself and my support. Again, Stacey understood my pain and had only recently begun to reach out and reignite the more frequent exchanges that we had so often depended on.
I received the news when I returned home from work on Friday. A private message written by a mutual friend who did not want me slammed with some announcement blasted through Facebook without warning. Just as she did, I checked for the story – it was just too unbelievable to accept without question. Once I knew for sure I contacted a few individuals and then created a chat group so I could grab those who I knew would suffer from the loss. Then a bit of Stacey-magic was recreated. People that don’t often share these days came together to express their pain, their love, their community. To express how tight the bond between us was, even if we had never physically met. Whatever our joint adventure into the publishing world created, the most critical piece is mutual respect and a choice to care. That was Stacey, an unrelenting optimist and believer in the humanity of mankind. She held firm to the belief that if we could just learn how much alike we were, we could and would learn to thrive together.
This blog of hers pretty much says it all. https://staceyhaggardbrewer.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/iamlove/
There are many in our author group that worked with her on so many projects, or that beta read her pieces. We will be gathering all those pieces together and see if we can compile some of the magic that was Stacey. It will take a while, but I think we could all use the process, a way to remember a very special lady. Stacey Haggard Brewer: a writer, a photographer, an artist, an editor, an explorer… a friend.
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“He thought about this for a second. “True. But if you never really make friends, you probably don’t have anyone to be your 2 a.m. Which would kind of suck.”
I just looked at him as he stirred his soup, carrots spinning in the liquid. “Your what?”
“Two a.m.” He swallowed, then said, “You know. The person you can call at two a.m. and, no matter what, you can count on them. Even if they’re asleep or it’s cold or you need to be bailed out of jail…they’ll come for you. It’s, like, the highest level of friendship.” — Sarah Dessen (What Happened to Goodbye)
“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question “Do you see the same truth?” would be “I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,” no Friendship can arise – though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.” — C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves)
We love you, Stacey. You were an incredible fellow traveler with much to share.
As I scroll through my newsfeed in social media, I am often struck by this pervasive attitude that people that are poor, hungry, unemployed, homeless, or running for their lives from some violent situation here or abroad, somehow deserve what is happening to them. Headlines that imply a woman should have expected her boyfriend and her children to be murdered; because she left “him.” (A quick Google search results in a sickening number of domestic violence cases in the US). People seeking safety criminalized without consideration for what they felt was horrible enough they had to leave. (Immigration and asylum is easily one of the hottest topics in the country just now). People who don’t have jobs, or homes, are somehow beyond help. (Several posts I’ve made about work programs and tiny housing projects have received feedback that these folks can’t be helped). People who are sick, well, we just can’t afford it. People fighting for health coverage for their sick children. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, it seems that the heat in our country over protecting the unborn cools rather quickly once that embryo breeches the womb. After that, mum and child are apparently on their own. Why do we act this way toward fellow human beings? What side of whatever fence we are own, why do we continue to kick the wounded?
In John 9:1-3 there is a short story. It goes like this: “Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him.’”
One of the things that drew me to the Book of Job is the battle of wits between Job and his visitors. With increasing volume and verbosity, his visitors try to get him to admit that all the destruction that had been piled upon him was due to some sin he had committed, or some important task he had left undone. At one point, his visitors try to get him to admit that all his do-gooding was merely an effort to glean the favor of El Shaddai, and he was being punished for his insincerity. “What sin have you committed?”
I began to realize, as I studied this unique book, that part of the fervor expressed by Job’s visitors was very egocentric in nature and not due to a deep concern for Job’s soul. They knew Job to be an upright and devote man. If such horrible things could happen to him, what fate might await them. As the censure escalates you can almost envision the mental tally each man is building regarding his own actions and how each might be interpreted. Should they expect judgement from heaven suddenly and without warning?
Humanity does not fare well in arbitrary circumstances. Many of us demand form of the universe, predictability, reliance on things learned and experienced; we expect to be safe if we follow the rules. As long as we are safe and secure, we can hold fast to the delusion that the problems of others are a direct result of some breach of conduct – and not of our concern. Or worse, whatever calamity we face must be due to someone else’s failure – certainly not our own.
This is the attitude that causes me the most pain. This unrelenting push to blame the troubles of life on someone or something else. Everything from refusing food, shelter, and healthcare to poor, working poor, and homeless, to decrying from a pulpit that we are all going to die in a hurricane because we allow people of the same sex to love and commit to one another. Are we really that insecure? It certainly appears that way. We even apply it to woman who, after years of keeping abuse to themselves are finally stepping forward and telling the world that they will no longer act like property. How difficult can it be to understand that we need to reach a point in evolution where a man does not see it as his right to perpetrate his blood line with any likely female within reach. Especially when he has no intention of hanging out to help care for that offspring.
My beloved country has exploded into a feeding frenzy of finger-pointing and blame letting. We expend vast oceans of energy trying to prove which side is the less informed, which side is the most violent, which side is responsible for problems in our country, perceived or otherwise. Most of all, we have become quite adept and the ancient skill of victim blaming. In Luke 6:41, Jesus responds to questioning with this, “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own?” (NET) Why indeed. Job would feel very much at home.
The good thing about Job is that he does not remain on his ash heap, pushing back and arguing with folk that are proving with every stanza they have no intention of listening to him. Job turns to God and demands to be taught, to understand, to learn what it is he must do to move forward. I believe he gets his answer and that answer is every bit as actionable today as it was centuries ago. Within that answer is an expression of God’s displeasure with Job’s visitors. Apparently, He is not into blame gaming or into folks who believe they must defend the actions of the universe by finding nonexistent sins.
Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is now in its final editorial stages. The book was written with the understanding that the message within the passage is useful to anyone, whether a believer, a non-believer, the curious, or the academic. I hope you will join me in my exploration of the tale of Job and the message the author shared.
I often think about the economic mechanics of international trade – yes, I know that sounds, well, boring. For me, however, economics is one of my mental exercises. I love econ because it involves both math and the uncertain impact of human emotions. Some of the best economists have acknowledged this ever-changing relationship. They use that interaction to create tools to measure markets and human trends – let’s call them the Hari Sheldon’s of the finance world. Case in point. The reason you cannot find a taxi on a rainy night is not because they are all in use – it is because they met their quota early in the evening and went home. The “save for a rainy day” thing doesn’t seem to enter the picture as a motivation.
All that said, trade wars can be more devastating than shooting wars on a number of fronts. For one thing, the effects strike at home, not in some foreign field. Secondly, who are the heroes? The folks who save the interest rate? The folks who save the jobs? How do you gear up factories or build stuff to blow up if the war is in ones and zeros? The effects can also be further reaching. Case in point. When the US economy imploded over the really stupid mortgage market policies, we nearly took the whole world with us. As it happened, we did take down several economies more than a notch or two. The measures put in place to prevent that from happening again have now been reversed.
The point is, I find this interplay – this pool of currencies, products, emotions, and economies, as a fascinating study. I have long been concerned about the amount of treasury debt held by foreign countries. (I’m not the only one). We currently have $6.26 trillion (that’s a T) in Treasury bills, notes and bonds held by foreign countries. The rest of our $21 trillion (yes, t) is owned by either American people or the US government. US government meaning Social Security IOUs and the Fed Reserve, among others. One of the ways the Fed controls the money supply (inflation) is to buy and sell government instruments such as TBills.
Now, China holds about $1.2 trillion with Japan a close second. Would they (the Chinese) sell off a lot of TBills to retaliate in a trade war? Well, they probably would not dump a huge chunk on the market – mostly because that usually does ugly things to prices, even if there is an eager market. One of the reasons they buy so much of our debt is to stabilize their own currency, so they can continue to sell cheap products. But, tariffs change that dynamic. So, maybe a slower, more sedate change in currency bets would be a plan – except that for now a lot of markets are tied to the US dollar (something I’ve never been comfortable with). Sounds cool – being the standard; but if confidence in what we are doing and why goes to pot – well, the “game rules” get rather murky.
That, you see, is the human factor in economics. We can place bets on “confidence” in a trading sector- but we cannot nail the trends without a margin of error that can change with the wind. A few days ago, I posted a note about playing poker with someone who did not “get” the game —
We have worked for decades to develop reliable international markets while doing our best to secure national economic health (meaning the international community). It is not a perfect system, and there does need to be more work. Especially in the areas of human rights. Chinese factory workers do not need to earn what Americans do – their cost of living is quite different. But we do not need to be using child labor at below subsistence levels, nor should people live in squalor, whatever that standard may be in their home country. We need to support our own industries, which usually means purchasing supplies from other countries who can be more efficient or economical about producing them. Case in point. The US solar market lost, by some estimates, 25,000 jobs and a financial loss estimated in billions due to recently imposed tariffs.
Several of our past administrations have had talks with the Chinese about controlling their currency on our backs, but it was an ongoing dance. If they do choose to sell off some of their holdings, that will change our money supply, and it can cause inflation – unless the instruments are bought up quickly. (See above).
So, you see, although international trade and economics can be and intriguing game, the results impact billions of people, some of which live in our country. It takes a deft hand and a strong level of confidence in agreements to keep the engine working well. It’s why you don’t tinker with the confidence thing, or arbitrarily throw away treaties developed with decades of debate – that is only betting wild. Eventually the other players will leave the table. At that point it no longer matters who is holding the winning hand.
I am rather fond of the Facebook page, Celtic Christian Tradition. They usually have some bit or other that reminds me of how to be a kinder influence in the world. Today they posted something I have seen before, a quote by Henri Nouwen. It is a quote I appreciate and one I try to live by; this morning it struck me with a different thought, and I chose to share.
One of the most difficult things to sort out in today’s atmosphere is when to take on an issue like a hurricane and when to be the gentle breeze. Some would argue we have no more time for gentleness; too many people are being impacted by the public display of what can only be described as hatred, distrust, and intransigence against discussion of any kind that may lead to resolutions outside of a perceived world view. The voices may be many, or few, it is difficult to be certain, but they are certainly loud. One thing I am sure of, screaming into the hurricane does little to change its course.
I also find myself setting filter standards for almost anything I read or watch. Through the past many months, I have developed a kind of radar that tells me when it is not productive to engage someone on a topic, and when they may, possibly, at least listen to what I say. I’ve managed to keep several friends in social media that way, while in some cases I am forced to disengage for my own sense of peace. Sometimes, I type what I believe to be a perfect response – then delete it before it’s even posted. I like to pick what bonfires I start.
That brings me to this morning when this quote popped up in my newsfeed. The quandary of when to say what and how forcibly it should be made became clearer. The hard work to is stop talking past each other, to stop screaming in the wind when no one can hear or understand. The important part is the moment by moment effort to be a presence for the better. To forever seek the moment when you can be part of turning the tide of hatred, of division, of prejudice.
While writing this piece I ran across this clip by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is a pastor in the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. She felt called to be a shepherd to those who had none; to be a voice for those who didn’t fit anywhere else. Her approach to defining how we handle the evil in our life is something that I have experienced. Sometimes we have to step away or we become that which we detest the most. In that process, however, we dare not leave a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. So, when we refuse to feed the fire, we must add something else to the mix – we must be what we want others to be. If we want a kinder, more inclusive, more socially conscious, society – then that is what we must be on a personal level, in all our interactions and in every way possible.
Push back against the tide, one deed, one thought, one word at a time.