Welcome to the Reading Alcove ~ A Place on the Window Seat

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.

Courtesy WANA Commons, Rebecca Burray

Courtesy WANA Commons, Rebecca Burray

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Job comes to market

Hi everyone!!!!

The moment has arrived. Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering was released on June 11, 2020. It is available in hardback, paperback, and Kindle. Current outlets include the following:

Wipf & Stock, the publisher, always provides a 20% discount.

https://wipfandstock.com/redefining-job-and-the-conundrum-of-suffering.html

Amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/Redefining-Conundrum-Suffering-Victoria-Adams/dp/1725262444

Barnes and Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/redefining-job-and-the-conundrum-of-suffering-victoria-adams/1137187182?ean=9781725262447

I will also be carrying my own inventory (hard covers) within the next 30 days.

Here is a link to an interview with Kyle Pauly at KXRO in Aberdeen:

Here is what people are saying:

“I have been teaching the biblical book of Job for many years and Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is the most comprehensive treatment of the book I have seen. Adams takes up the problem of suffering and evil with preliterate cultures and moves methodically through the history of religious and philosophical approaches to the problem. She situates Job within its historical and cultural context, and also brings forward the book’s handling of questions that are no less relevant today than they were centuries ago. Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is an essential reference for professors, students, and ministers dealing with the book of Job. It is also a valuable resource for all of us who struggle to make sense of unearned suffering in the world. In Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering, Adams has baited her hook for Leviathan.”

—VIC SIZEMORE Author of Goodbye My Tribe: An Evangelical Exodus

 

“Steeped in traditional interpretations, philosophically attuned, psychologically sensitive, scientifically informed, Adams—in her modern Christian perspective on Job— seeks a theological understanding of suffering that is considerate of and perhaps even comforting to people who suffer. A special feature is Adams’ attention to outlooks and sources behind and beyond the Abrahamic religions.”

—EDWARD L. GREENSTEIN Author of Job: A New Translation

 

“Victoria Adams has taken on the issue of suffering in the world by centering her topic around the classic tale of Job and the scholarship surrounding this beloved, ancient story. She demonstrates a mastery of the published material, provides many topics for class study and discussion; however, her most accomplished task in this book is centering the story of Job and the topic of suffering within the person who suffers. In doing so, Victoria accomplishes two things: she challenges all who suffer to give voice to their experience and, through honest communication with the creative forces religion calls God, to seek restoration and new life from the experience of loss and injustice.”

—CHRISTINE KESTERSON Prison chaplain and founder of Immaculata Home, Inc.

 

“Remember as a kid how delighted you were to occasionally receive that special sixtyfour-crayon box of Crayola crayons, the one with the built-in sharpener? That’s what Victoria Adams’ book on Job is to anyone fascinated with theology, history, literature, or drama. She offers more nuances and shades of color to understand this timeless tale than you can imagine. This palette of  interpretation will serve scholars and lay readers alike.”

—MARK WINGFIELD Executive Director and Publisher of Baptist News Global

 

“This scholarly yet readable work illuminates the rich social context and profound interpretive legacy of this paradigmatic tale of suffering, faith, resilience, perseverance, and ultimately, joy in the human condition. Adams invites us to rethink what it means to lay our trust in God in the midst of our brokenness. She calls us to develop tenets to live by, through which our own and Job’s suffering opens up spaces of compassion, love, and caring as we call ourselves to account for harm, blame, and complacency in crafting a meaningful life.”

—ZAYN KASSAM John Knox McLean Professor of Religious Studies, Pomona College

 

“This is a masterfully careful and deeply thoughtful look at one of the most important texts on suffering in all of human literature, and one of the most challenging stories in the Bible. I can’t imagine a more complete or illuminating treatment of how we can best understand the famous and powerful book of Job. A wonderful book and highly recommended!”

—TOM MORRIS Author of Our Idea of God

 

In other news, the Reading Alcove will be moving. The new site is already under construction. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of information here to lead you to the new site. I’ve made the step to be ensure I can offer secure links for purchases and to broaden my options. Moving will be a task (technical stuff makes it difficult to just transfer things in bulk).

The journey has only just begun.

 

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I know you now…

I knew you at 14
When I seemed so much older,
Distanced from those around me.

I knew you at 19
When I fled in a blizzard
Scared, hurt, aching for answers.

I knew you at 21
When I walked out
No longer fearing a letter of red.

I knew you at 28
When you threatened
My life if I left.

Oh, yes, I knew you
Whatever face you wore.
And I learned that face, that voice.

Now it matters not
Whose face you use,
Or how that voice can make me shutter.

I know you now
And you’ve lost the key
To cause me fear or pain.

Now you must know this:
My fury lives, deep within the weariness.
And silence is not an option.

Victoria Adams, © 2020

The person(s) described here have certain common traits.

  1. They are never, ever wrong.
  2. It is never ever their fault.
  3. Whatever it is, theirs is bigger, better, worse, more amazing than yours.
  4. They are vampires of the soul and suck every bit of admiration and affirmation they can find.
  5. If you challenge them, you will be cut off – sometimes violently – usually without a great deal of thought or concern.
  6. They live in their own world and there is not a force on the face of the earth that will deter them from their perceptions of that world. If you do succeed in providing alternatives; you will only do so by making it their idea.
  7. There is no one in the known universe more important than them and that means they can do what they wish to whom they wish and sincerely believe there should be no consequences. In fact, consequences for what, exactly?

I have stories to tell, hard earned wisdom to share. I choose to share these stories, make these judgments, with the full knowledge that there will be those who will not see or understand; but there are others. Others who need to know when to push back, and when to move on. In a world gone mad with so many willing to listen to things that tickle their ears, I choose to speak.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Personal Journeys

Urushalon: Getting Along in Spite of Differences

A friend of mine writes scifi/fantasy. I always enjoy her stories and have contributed, in some small ways, to getting some of her titles to market. I love this duology because it focuses on a theme very near to my heart: Can’t we just find a way to get along? Stop by her Amazon page and see what else she is up to.

After I got the setting for the Urushalon duology nailed down to 1965 in Las Palomas, Texas, I started building the rest of the world and the backstory. The Eshuvani were on their way across the galaxy in a colony ship when something went wildly wrong, and they had to make an almost controlled crash landing on Earth in the 17th century.

They didn’t need long to figure out that Earth didn’t have the resources to repair the ship and that the humans weren’t ready for an alien first contact, so they scattered around the globe and holed up in enclaves to avoid interfering too much with human development.

Fast-forward to 1965 and that policy has bred some mistrust and mutual misunderstandings. The Urushalon duology deals with overcoming those hurdles. When I designed the world, I made the two races similar enough to have common ground but different enough to create sources of tension and conflict.

Physical.

Eshuvani are generally taller and thinner than humans. They came from a lower gravity world, and while adapting to Earth, they’ve developed stronger musculature, but their strength is short-lived. Like an ambush predator, they’re capable of greater speed and strength than a human but only for a short time. In a contest of endurance, humans will win every time.

Emotional.

Eshuvani get waylaid by heavy emotions much more than humans. Humans find them too emotional, but Eshuvani think humans are aloof.

Technological.

Although the Eshuvani colony ship couldn’t be repaired with the resources available on Earth, Eshuvani tech is still way beyond anything the humans have. Medicines that can heal quickly, communication devices that install on the edge of their collars, windows that darken on command, doors that open and close on command, and energy systems that don’t pollute the environment.

Cultural.

After seeing so many conflicts among humans over religion, the Eshuvani converted to the religions most like their own, but their approach is different, which led to a different set of values. They’ve maintained a functional monarchy and a social structure that requires lifetime commitment in many facets of life.

The Urushalon Arrangement

For the Eshuvani, this isn’t exactly their first rodeo. They’ve had first contacts with other races less advanced than they are, but they usually aren’t stuck living on the same planet. Although they don’t want to interfere too much with humanity, isolating themselves entirely will just create more problems in the long run.

To prevent total isolation, individual Eshuvani form a single urushalon relationship with a human. Sometimes they adopt the human, and sometimes the human adopts them. An urushalon is a particularly close friendship. The human gains some privileges in Eshuvani society, as if they’re blood relations of the urushalon. The relationship encourages better understanding between the races.

Hurdles to Getting Along

First Impressions and Other Snap Judgments

When we meet people for the first time, we observe how they dress, how they act, how they move, what they look like, what they sound like, and even the environment we meet them in. All that info collected in mere seconds goes into conclusions about the new people. Those first impressions can stick with us, coloring our opinions even when better information is available.

Those quick judgments can be handy. They can be part of our internal radar that alerts us to potential dangers. Sometimes, though, they’re overzealous and lead us in false directions.

To combat that, realize where the assumptions came from, and when better information is available, be willing to update those assumptions to fit reality.

In Urushalon 2: Into the Open, upon hearing that they’ll have to host a group of humans for a summit meeting, Pavwin, an Eshuvani captain, realizes that the people manning his station have a lot of misconceptions about humans. He asks Amaya, who’s more knowledgeable about humans, to provide better information.

Variations Are Infinite

Stereotyping is one of the major sources of misconceptions and false assumptions. Even within a racial or cultural group, there isn’t just one set of beliefs.

This even occurs in the bird world. I’ve had four cockatiels. Cute little critters, really, but none of them were even close in personality. Sijon was the grumpy old man. Lockheed was a shy sweetheart. Freebie was the social butterfly. Spot was the adrenalin junkie. Sure, they had some similar body language in response to emotions, but the personalities were totally different.

Then I had an African Grey named Masika. Anyone who knows about the red-tailed, gray-feathered parrots has heard about their reputation as expert talkers. They do sound effects and carry on miniature conversations with their humans. Some are even ordering themselves snacks and requesting music from the voice-activated personal assistants. Masika? Not a talker. Sure, she did sound effects and whistled a couple tunes, but only when no one was in the room to watch. Totally atypical African Grey.

In Urushalon 1: Like Herding the Wind, one of the human cops who works for Ed doesn’t like Eshuvani. At all. He has absolutely no use for them, but after meeting Amaya and watching the efforts of her staff to equip, train, and protect the humans, he has a change of heart. Not all Eshuvani are what he assumed them to be.

Do What You Can

No one can do everything but everyone can do something. We each have a part to play in the events we’re involved in. Giving room to someone who’s better at a skill is just as important as being ready to step forward and take the lead in matters we have more skill in. If we all play the part meant for us, we’ll all advance.

In Urushalon 2: Into the Open, Amaya has no experience and very little knowledge of how to interact with the Eshuvani nobility meeting with the human governors at her station, so she relies on Vadin, who grew up within that social level, to provide her with the information she needs. Later, when confronting the source of all their troubles turns into a shoot-out, she uses her superior marksmanship training to protect the others with her. This shows that the situation of her birth does not limit her skill or contribution.

Moving on from Here

We all use information we can quickly gather to make quick decisions about other people. That can be handy in many situations, but it can also get us in trouble because people are unique. Understanding the source of our assumptions can help us avoid Olympic-level conclusion jumping, particularly if we’re prepared to revise our assumptions when better information is available. This will lead to a better understanding of people.

By understanding others, we begin to know what strengths and weaknesses each of us has. We can offer our strengths to support another’s weakness and accept their strengths to support our own weaknesses.

Getting along with others who are very different from us is a skill like any other. Mastery only comes from knowledge and experience.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Fiction, Stuff about Writing

Where we are now.

Could not find a direct source – this is the 24 mile bridge crossing Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana We have a long way to go..

Late last year, a nasty bundle of RNA began to invade the people of Hubei province. It was a swift and deadly invasion and the authorities responded with a resolute desire to contain the outbreak as quickly as possible. This is the lesson of history as each time we are faced with a virulent host we find time and control is of the essence; regardless of where or why the invasion began. The 1918 influenza, Ebola, Swine flu, SARS, MERS, all had different places of origin on our globe, different paths to becoming transmittable between humans. Yet the answer was the same–buy time until researchers can get solid science to deal with the invader. Or, you could just let a lot of people die.

If we are to beat this newest tiny monster, there are some actions we need to take. Actions that are working elsewhere and which we, in all our individualistic, me-me society, need to get a grasp on. First, a few facts. No, the media is not inflating the numbers, if anything the numbers are under reported. We do not have the materials, lab capacity, and healthcare professionals to do the testing required to truly know the scope of the pandemic in the United States. And that was our first mistake. As of now we are aware of seven strains of COVID-19. Four are relatively mild, three are deadly. Effective testing means we must be able to differentiate between the strains, especially when there is reinfection, or reemergence.

Yes, isolation has “flattened the curve” and although there are places in the country (such as New York) where the cases are still rising and health care workers and first responders are at their limits, there is also evidence that we are beginning to bring the infection rate down. That does not mean we can all rush out and do a group hug. If, however, we are to be successful in an attempt to restart life with some amount of success (news flash, things will not be “normal” for a very long time), then we need to find effective ways to accomplish three things: test (as noted above), track, and treat.

Some of the states are already forming coalitions and coops to accomplish goal number one: getting enough supplies, materials, and equipped labs to test every single person and to do so more than once using reliable protocols. Say, on a periodic basis, or after or before a possible vector encounter. Testing is how other countries were able to hop onto outbreaks quickly and effectively. Our country never really bothered to get started, and as of this date the United States is reporting 29% of confirmed cases worldwide, and 22% of the fatalities. COVID-19 hides. Even if you don’t have so much as a sniffle or a slightly elevated fever, you could be carrying the virus and be fully contagious. This is one of the reasons this beast is so difficult to control. You don’t know you are risking others (hoping, here, that you care).

Tracking means that when we know someone is infected, we find out where they’ve been and who may have been exposed. This is a critical step for the same reasons given for testing. You don’t always KNOW you have this virus. Depending on which strain you have and the health profile of the persons you interact with, any number of levels of severity can result from your casual need to, say, visit the beach.

Treatment is an issue that labs around the world are working on. Even if we can’t kill this thing (yet) we may be able to find palliative ways to reduce the impacts of the virus. The earlier such treatments can be started, the better the chance of survival. Such treatments could also reduce residual complications. Survivors are showing evidence of damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver. These problems can mean a lifetime of health care which may or may not be covered by insurance. Another financial bomb on families already stressed from loss of income and a possible drain on any economic recovery.

These three things can buy us time to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Something that will protect us from this family of viruses. I won’t go into any arguments about vaccines on this blog. I can tell you I grew up in a time when measles could be deadly, when polio could kill on infection or years later, when scarlet fever could damage a heart for life. If we do the right things to give the researchers the time they need, any vaccine developed will be tested for safety, side effects, effectiveness, and dosage. The published target is 18 months. The fastest we have ever developed a vaccine was for the mumps and it took four years. The good thing is that the best labs in the world are collaborating on this effort. Such an effort is historical in scope. No, we can’t all stay on lock down for four years, people would starve, and things would get really ugly. That is why the three points mentioned above are so crucial: test, track, treat.

This means that you should support your local governments in the formation of plans that make sense and protect lives. Some industries (such as folks that work outside and have little contact with others) could restart, offices could further develop remote work models, healthcare can rely more on telehealth and telemedicine. Rather than trying to cram as many bodies in one space as possible, we can learn to spread out, wear masks, wash hands, be aware of fevers and coughs. We need to look seriously at payrates, sick leave, and employee protections. People need the option to go home when they are ill. Things will not “return to normal” in a month. We must find a new way to grow and sustain our economy. For that we need leadership.

This is part one of my COVID-19 outreach. Both are long winded but weeks of watching this catastrophe build has driven me to state, and stand by, a position. Maybe this virus started in a lab, maybe not. The only thing origin gives us now is more knowledge which may speed up a response. Beating up on a Chinese neighbor is not going to stop the pandemic. Wishing the disease on the people you feel responsible (or irresponsible) will not stop the pandemic. What will conquer this tiny foe is cooperation, compassion, mutual support. We can build a new society, one that is healthy and economically sound. But it will take us all. Every one of us.

 

 

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck, Personal Journeys

Lock-down.

Here in Washington State I woke up this morning to lock-down. All nonessential businesses are ordered to close. If necessary, they have 48-hours to get things in order. That means I have a non-producing client for the duration. Doesn’t mean I won’t get the work done, but, well, we all have some sacrifices to make.

Photo by Luke Insoll on Unsplash

Update on worldwide numbers this morning is showing the US in a solid third place just now with 46,158 confirmed cases and 583 fatalities. At this point only 35 are confirmed recovered. I know China said they were good, but the reports are showing an increase of 1.78 percent in the last 24 hours. We are far from done with this — and yet we still don’t get it.

I am one of the lucky ones. My day job is connected to an essential service and I can work from home. We have spent the last two weeks planning so that everyone that can be remote is and those who have contact with our clients can do so through phone connections. I am proud to be part of such a team. And I am greatly blessed.

I hear, though, that there are those who think that our economy is more important than our lives. That, perhaps, we can sacrifice those in our population who are old, have underlying conditions, or too poor to keep the engines of industry running without risking their health. That the 40% of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck just don’t count enough to protect or support. After all, there’s always more where they came from, right? A fresh supply sits crammed in camps and detention centers on either side of our southern border.

There are several problems with that plan. You can’t control a virus by age group, socio-economic status, color of skin, or (obviously) nationality. The numbers coming out of California show a bubble in the 18-65 age group. No matter how good our models are, we can’t always predict the direction of a disease; especially one that can mutate in order to do what it does best – infect. Even those who flit about in the stratosphere of our society are testing positive.

Also, the United States, against any internal delusions to the contrary, is not an island. A search for photos for this blog ended in a barrage of photos of major cities around the world that were filled with deserted streets. There is no “business as usual” just now, so wake up from that dream and deal with reality as we find it.

I have grown weary of the mantra that flu kills tens of thousands of people a year, why are we so upset over this? First, those tens of thousands are people, not statistics. People who mean something to someone. In 2015 one of those statistics was my husband, those numbers represent real losses. Nor does anyone understand the full extent of the economic impact of flu season as workers show up to work because they have no choice if they want to pay their bills, eat, and have shelter. When they show up at work, several other folks get sick, and the cost in productivity, health, and financial stress on the economy continues. The fatality rate of the common flu is .01%. So far COVID-19 is scoring higher than 4%. You don’t have to know math to figure out that is a big difference.

Let’s take an example. During the 2018-2019 season the CDC classified the impact as high severity. From the CDC:

CDC estimates that the burden of illness during the 2018–2019 season included an estimated 35.5 million people getting sick with influenza, 16.5 million people going to a health care provider for their illness, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths from influenza [Table 1]. The number of influenza-associated illnesses that occurred last season was similar to the estimated number of influenza-associated illnesses during the 2012–2013 influenza season when an estimated 34 million people had symptomatic influenza illness.

So, high severity season and there was a fatality rate of .0963% (34,200/34,500,000). These numbers are for the US only. Let’s convert that to COVID-19 math. 34,500,000 people infected X 4% fatality rate is 1, 380, 000 people. That is a lot of living, breathing souls, most of whom will never see a medical professional or receive care of any kind either because there is none available to them or because our health care system is in triage mode; Italy has been there for days. An article published by the AMA on March 19th makes it clear that protocols are already being developed in expectation of limited resources. Protocols that might mean someone you care about does not get a ventilator or even a hospital bed.

Granted, these are broad, back of the envelope, numbers which are impacted by a myriad of influences depending on local or regional health care systems, access to basic needs, underlying health conditions, and duration. Even yet-to-be-quantified elements such as how fast this particular brand of bug can mutate to protect its survival and continue to infect. They are, however, an illustration of how incomprehensibly naive our society is about containing this under “business as usual” scenarios.

Have we become so brazen, so uncaring that we really don’t care about the repercussions of our actions? What changes in your life style are you willing to make once the people who serve you at the drive through, pick up your garbage, help you at the store, the bank, the wherever there are folks stumbling along on a minimum wage with no benefits, are no longer there? Was your trip to the beach worth infecting the next person you met at the grocery store who may be taking care of an elderly relative at home? Really? By the way, have you thanked the people who are still out there delivering, cashiering, making life tolerable for you at the risk of their own health?

I have written a book about my hero, Job. It is currently in the process of being published, although I’m not sure how the current situation will impact the release date. I’m not sure even my publisher can know. Then, of course, having a book out is nice only if folks can get one. As of now even Amazon is focused on essential supplies and book delivery dates can be as much as two months out. I’m now looking for other ways to get those ideas out into the world. My firm conviction is that we are called, whatever our faith or ethics, to help each other. To become informed and to act in responsible, compassionate ways.

You do not need an advanced degree in biochemistry to understand pandemics. You do need to kick conspiracy theories and “hunches” out the door. You do not need an advanced degree in economics to understand there are people hurting and you – yes you – may be one of those that can help. You may feel protected in your faith. You may feel like the end is near and you have a front row seat. You may be one of those who think a lock-down is a great excuse to do the spring break gig you never had in college (or had too much of). I am here to tell you that whatever your vision of yourself, you are not being brave. You are not being smart. I suppose if the only people affected would be those who chose hubris, willful ignorance, or selfishness I might be willing to shrug and walk away. Might. But, I can’t. I still must try to get people to think through their actions and how those actions impact themselves and others.

Please, find the sources that know what they are doing. If you have a medical question, seek out the medical profession. There are any number of places that have solid, actionable information regarding this current crisis. Check out the CDC, NIH, and WHO. Your state or local health organizations have information on what to do and where to go (or not) if you think you have a problem. Many states are already gearing up to support small businesses and hourly employees. Be informed and act accordingly.

And above all, see what you can do to help. If you are one of the privileged that still has cash flow and a reasonable assurance it will continue, then find ways to help your community. Pay your barber, hairdresser, or any personal service provider what you normally budget for that service. Support local restaurants that are providing take out or delivery. Add a bit to your utility bill or donate to the charity pool so that others can keep the lights on. Keep after your representatives to make sure they make the right decisions to protect us as a people and a nation. If they lose a sense of priorities (as so many have) – then they need to move on.

Most of all, keep your heart safe. Do not allow the urgency of the situation drive you to distraction and cause you to hoard or jump on every rumor. Be safe.

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Filed under Giving Back, Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

Prayer in Motion

While I was looking for an image to tag this post, I wandered down several paths. Things that showed solidarity, things that showed people helping people, images that showed unity in faith, things that captured the truth that humanity is one species and from those ancient roots sprang a myriad of cultures, faith, ideas—and yet we remain, at the core, one. In the end it dawned on me that I already had the image, the Kalaloch Tree of Life. A tree that holds on to life in the most precarious of situations.

(c) by the author/ photographer 2019

I’ve been wanting to write about this current global event for a few weeks. In part because I have been disappointed at the reaction of those I thought I knew who disregard the threat because they are not in a high risk group, or who were concerned that our hospitals were going to become centers for the spread of infection (I’m not sure when that was not the case), those who thought it was a hoax, or those who were over-reacting to the point of endangering others.

Then there were my heroes and heroines. People who were reaching out to neighbors, volunteering to deliver food and supplies, rearranging their schedules to protect themselves and others. I’ve seen missteps and masterful strokes of leadership. I’ve seen stalled responses and the broadcasting of irresponsible, irrelevant, and (consequently) dangerous information. I’ve looked on the challenges to go against all common sense and trust God to protect them at the communion table, in their gatherings, and in their lives. I grew tired, I cried, and just as often took heart. So much to write about, and unsure of where to start. If nothing else, a National Day of Prayer gave me that start. Prayer, you see, is a verb.

Those of you who know me well know that I have an issue with folks that look to God as a cosmic Santa Claus. “Dear Lord, we’ve made a terrible mess of things (for those who are willing to admit it) could you please just fix it all?” Or even the arrogance of the practice noted above, “God loves me and won’t let anything happen to me so I can do what I please and I’ll be fine (too bad for anyone else that suffers due to my actions).” For those who wish to test the creator of our universe, however you perceive that entity to be, allow me to point out the passage of Luke 4:9-12:

Then the devil brought him to Jerusalem, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” (NET)

If you are a Christian and you believe Jesus is the Christ, then I am here to tell you that not even the Son of God was willing to test the Creator. Tell me why you should. Tell me how you can dare to risk the suffering of others through your own ignorance and lack of compassion?

After studying and writing about the Book of Job for several years I can tell you I see the same lesson. Just because you think you’ve done all the right things; you are not magically protected from the vagaries of a universe that operates on rules you may not have bothered to learn. The lesson of Job that I see is that the universe operates on understandable rules. Sometimes we suffer because we made bad choices, sometimes it is because the universe operates on knowable rules and we didn’t take the time to learn. Sometimes it is because other people make bad choices. In any case, I believe we are here to do our best to reduce the subsequent damage to our global home, our loved ones, and our neighbors. I believe we are obligated to make the best choices to reduce the suffering of others.

That brings me to the title of this little rant, “Prayer in Motion.” I have no issue with taking a day to set aside time to breath, to get our bearings, to focus, and to reassess priorities. This is true regardless of your faith or ethics. What I do wish to see in the world is an active response, a prayer in motion, if you will. Seriously think about ways you can reduce your contact so that we can get on top of this. Italy has the 2nd highest ranking health care system in the world, yet they are currently (as of this writing) being forced to triage patients for the use of ventilators and life sustaining treatment. Currently, the United States ranks 37th in health care services and has a population more than five times that of Italy. We are coming out of the gate seriously unprepared to handle a large outbreak of anything, let alone something that can kill.

Problem number two: “if you’re sick, stay home” doesn’t work if having a home of any kind depends on you working and your job isn’t portable. This article published by the Pew Research Center breaks down the numbers of people who cannot afford to take off a day or a week with no pay and no benefits. Next time you stop at the local drive through to pick up dinner, you might want to keep this in mind.

That leads us to the next problem, when people stop showing up at places to eat and buy the things we took for granted, businesses suffer, especially the small business trying to keep things propped up. In the Seattle metro area, there are already serious impacts to people who make their living serving the huge population that commutes to commercial centers daily. Many of the professionals in our communities can and do opt to work from home; hotel maids, taxi drivers, food service workers, cleaning personnel, and oh so many others don’t have that option. And when the people are not there to serve, there is no job to do.

But there are things that I see that give me hope. Neighborhoods that pull together to keep an eye on each other. People coming together to find alternative ways to deliver food and supplies to those who no longer should be relying on public transit. People who work on getting medical services where they are needed while containing risk. This is the heart of “prayer in motion.” This is where you step up to finding ways to reduce impact, and to help those who face challenges in surviving this crisis. This is what people of faith, and people with an ethical standard, are called to do.

Take this day to pray, or meditate, or simply practice deep breathing. But use that time to focus on what you as an individual, or as a member of a “social distancing” group, can accomplish that will alleviate the situation. Be informed, make wise choices, and learn to rebuild a society that sees us as one global community facing many global threats. Be the answer.

 

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Define the problem, find the solution.

A couple of years ago I was the director of a housing agency serving a Native American nation. It was a learning experience I shall always cherish. During my stay I often found that we were so busy putting out fires that we often had no time to find the ignition point. So, I created a mantra to give us a different focus, and a hope of solving things – define the problem, find the solution.

From Facebook post by REALfarmacy.com

This meme snagged from Facebook is an excellent example of what can happen when we focus on the immediate problem and lose sight of the contributing factors. Just now my beloved country is in turmoil. I understand that there are many nations facing the same type of issues. Growing trends toward violence, misogyny, homophobia, racism, intolerance of all shapes and sizes against anything or anyone that is not “us.” But I am here to tell you that whatever our leaders do, or whatever their motivations may be, they are only the symptoms, not the disease. Many of them live in a different universe, perceiving the world around them as a tool to achieve their goals, not as people to lead, support, protect and defend. They are a substantial number of us writ large. After all, by desire or by apathy, we put them there. But they are not the problem. They are the distraction.

I will grant you that we have some very serious problems in the governing chambers of our world. We have leaders that utterly refuse to accept the evidence in front of them that something not very good is happening to our global climate. That we are very nearly, if not past, the point of doing something effective in the short term to maintain a climate that will support us in any way recognizable. We have those who acknowledge wrong doing but somehow believe that it’s okay because, after all, it protects my team, gets what I want (but may not need), gives me a sense of getting back at the world for untold and unknown sins. How’s that working out?

There are so many other issues that are bubbling and boiling and agitated by people who have no understanding of the situation, the causes, or the results. We are like married folk, screaming at the top of our lungs because someone didn’t do the laundry right when the real issue is that there isn’t enough money to fill the tank and get to work. We have optical illusion of the mind and it is time, very much past time, that we stop and find a way to see the picture differently. To define the problem.

I know there are people that are going to respond that they, surely they, have their head on straight and understand the dire situation we are in. That’s nice. Really it is. I would ask you, how well are you doing at conveying those convictions to others? Do you and your hoped-for convert communicate, or do you talk past each other? Facts are not always useful in a conversation requiring reason. Yes, that is what I meant. Sometimes facts must be wrapped up in something more powerful. Sometimes the facts need to be converted into a language the other person understands. While you are showing how smart you are, they are hearing that you don’t understand their life, their needs, their fears. Sometimes direct communication doesn’t go anywhere. Sometimes you need to look somewhere other than the door in front of you.

As I approach the publication of my project on Job, I hope to convey something of the message I believe that book holds in smaller bits, and in ways that are pertinent to today’s issues. That was, after all, the point of writing the thing. I believe that the Book of Job is a call to learn. To seek out the creation in order to understand the Creator, if only a bit better. So, lets walk together and consider…and maybe learn something along the way that will help us out of this spiraling path to mutual destruction.

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Coddiwomple – the choice to move toward the unknown.

So, here we are on the first day of the year 2020. An arbitrary point in time defined in a thousand ways since recorded history began and measured with a metric we know to be flexible. Yet, we are drawn to a place we can say, “going forward I shall.” Last year about this time I published a blog about ditching the concept of New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I took my inspiration from Melinda Gates and chose a word to carry me through the coming months. That word was Season. It served me well.

I believe I found that when I wanted things to move faster, I remembered to slow down. As hard as it was there were times when frustration would set in, then the peace of timing would settle in. I sincerely believe that attitude of waiting “to the fullness of time” is what supported me to the moment I received an offer to publish my work. The timing was exquisite. That sense of waiting-with-hurried-anticipation has prepared me for the work required to execute a substantial change coming in my day job.

I think I also worked harder to be the seasoning, the influence that took away a bitter sting, or made the ordinary more interesting. Although not always successful, I worked at remembering the things I learned while working on the reservation about waiting until others were finished before I hopped in. Still working on that. I get very passionate about things at times.

With all the lessons I learned, and hope to continue learning, this year needs a different focus. Life is not all about waiting, about being the seasoned influence. At some point we need to find the way to move forward, even if we are uncertain of where the journey will take us. For this year I have chosen a wonderful old English slang word: coddiwomple. It is defined as travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination. What a wonderful word; a call into the unknown with confident strides and willing wonder.

Shi Shi Beach – 2019 Personal Collection

I see this word as a natural match to the process of becoming seasoned. A way to take the lessons learned from all the bits and pieces of what it means to flavor, to wait, to grow mature, to feel the perfect moment—and move forward.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that our goals, our hopes, our dreams, are shapes of the things we wish to accomplish. Sometimes how we get there may surprise us. Sometimes the best laid plans are changed, for better or worse, and we plot a new course. I firmly believe that if we invest ourselves in one and only one outcome, we destroy our ability to deal with life’s unexpected events. If we become seasoned as the old pine with no flexibility left in its limbs winter storms can have a devastating effect while the sapling survives.

I like this concept of moving forward with confidence in a direction that could change, to a destination that might not exist. We cannot be open to opportunities if we are not attentive, flexible, ready to see something that can be rewarding if we take a slightly different path. In some cases, we may need to change everything about the journey, with purpose.

There’s a song that always touches me when I think about life’s choices. It’s about keeping your mind open, keeping your spirit free, taking chances, and in the end—choosing to dance. May 2020 bring you blessings with the challenges and a sense of purpose. Hold tight to your most treasured thoughts and hopes and venture with purpose into the unknown. Last but not least, I Hope you Dance.

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In the season of gratitude, is “thank you” enough?

This is the season for gratitude. From Veteran’s Day through the many faith-based celebrations clustered around the turning of the year, it is a time when we at least try to look beyond the glitter and find a reason to be grateful, a reason to have hope. In that spirit, now and through the year, we find ourselves wanting to thank those we feel helped to make this life possible. I often hear a brief conversation, a sentence or two at an event, that acknowledges the service of a veteran. Each time such brief moments make my heart hurt. I’m sorry, but “thank you” is not enough.

Photo by Mike Hashisaki, Plains, MT

My teen years were spent in the Vietnam era. I lived in a city that was surrounded by military bases and the cost of that commitment contributed much to how I perceive the world. There are those that will tell you it is mere urban legend that if our troops wore their uniforms when returning from active duty, they risked ridicule and abuse. No, no legend. I was there. Whatever my thoughts were on why we were there and how the “military action” was executed, I wept when I saw those who had suffered so much, who came home broken in ways not always obvious, abused in their own country. This is the root of my issue with “thank you for your service.” Even for today’s vets, it is not enough.

I like to find ways to actively pursue solutions, ways to help. I am a fixer, but I also like to be effective. Growing up with veterans, I learned a great deal of what went on in their heads, and I wanted to help. That sometimes requires finding out from the source of your compassion just what it is that is needed. Sometimes we get it right.

Veterans in this country face horrific statistics. According to the NIH in a report published on the Department of Veteran Affairs website, 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in fiscal 2018. Programs included treatment for PTSS, substance use disorders, behavioral problems and a host of other issues. This number includes only those that accessed VA resources.

The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the Department of Veteran Affairs notes that 6,000 vets commit suicide each year. This crosses gender and age boundaries. That is an average of 16 men and women each and every day.

While you are saying “thank you” to the spiffy looking fellow in a uniform at the local restaurant, are you thinking of the scruffy fellow on the sidewalk that hasn’t had a bath in who knows when? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 9% of the homeless population in this country is made up of vets. Some 37,878 broken spirits; men and women who just don’t see a way to cope in society. Some, of course, choose to separate themselves from a society and a culture that cannot comprehend the places they’ve been and the things they have seen.

Doing what I do, even after years of accumulated stories and nights sitting up with friends dealing with things that would not leave their heads, I still felt it necessary to do the research. I asked a friend of mine if I could visit one evening and grill her husband on what he saw as the greatest need for vets today. His answer might surprise you; education and job placement support.

The GI Bill, established to provide help for education in trades or professions is an elusive benefit that changes with when you served, how long, and where. Vietnam was a battle ground between the president and congress and the legal status of Vets in the conflict was ambiguous at best. This impacted many of the benefits which may have been available to men and women who served in that theater.

The other issue he noted was job placement assistance. He felt that the least the military branches could do was to help veterans transition into civilian life. Knowing how to blow things up is not always a useful civilian skill. Leadership skills, logistics, technology, mechanics, construction, and a myriad of other skills most certainly are. During my interview he expressed his frustration when he returned home after his first term of service. He thought he was only suited for jobs in the security sector. Never really finding the right fit, he finally elected to re-enlist in a different branch. His second time home he was lucky. His mother-in-law pointed out that all of his time as a leader in the military had trained him as a manager. He applied to a position and found a new career. Even if a veteran had a solid career before serving, that job may no longer be a fit.

I don’t think it is important to find the perfect job. However, it is important to find a place that reconnects a person to society and gives them some sense of being of use, some sense of belonging. Part of transitioning to civilian life is adjusting to a less intense more loosely associated culture than the intense life or death relationships of foreign service. Success occurs in degrees; failure can be deadly.

Above all, we spend millions training our military personnel to do damage to others. That is what war is. Although we deploy to a few “nation building” exercises, such deployment often occurs in hostile environments. Even when stationed with allies, our military people are usually not culturally assimilated by the host nation. Military service is an intense training course on how NOT to deal with the society in which you find yourself. Then you come home, and there is no one there that can begin to understand that separation from the wider world while becoming ever more dependent on highly disciplined, insular core group.

Where does one go to help with such things? Not everyone has time (but some do), not everyone has money to donate (but some do). Sometimes it is a matter of letting someone know that there is a resource out there, they just need to reach out. Such as we have, we give – that’s why “thank you” is never quite enough.

With a little research, I found several organizations that specialize in job assessment and placement. Remember, the local VFW and American Legion posts are always willing to help sort things out. Both the VFW and American Legion often have counselors and staff to help a vet find the help needed. Local posts can be found on the websites (https://www.vfw.org/ and https://www.legion.org/).

Also, check out these links for information on how to get careers shifted back to a civilian focus.

http://www.veterans2work.org/veterans.html
https://www.militaryonesource.mil/military-life-cycle/separation-transition/employment-education/programs-that-hire-veterans
https://www.dav.org/veterans/employment-resources/

There are other ways to be proactive. There are many organizations that do amazing things such as providing companion dogs, offering financial assistance and counseling, and providing mental health services. There is also support such as Music Corp, Wounded Warrior Project, and Honor Flight. Final Salute is an organization that focuses on homeless women vets and their children. This season make it a point to find a better thank you.

https://www.finalsaluteinc.org/Home.html
https://www.honorflight.org/
https://www.operationhomefront.org/
https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt/services/mental-health-and-veterans-court/
http://nchv.org/index.php/getinvolved/getinvolved/how_you_can_help/
https://www.vetdogs.org/Default.aspx
https://veteransfamiliesunited.org/financial-assistance/
https://warriors1st.org/
http://www.musicorps.net/Home.html
https://www.workingdogsforvets.org/
https://tcvs.us/

 

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…to the least of these

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

This morning I posted a link to a blog I follow and mentioned that I believed being a decent human being was our number one goal. Oh, I also mentioned something that validated other beliefs and faiths. That earned a punch back. I was breaking the first commandment and following Jesus should be my number one goal. I responded that, in my opinion, doing what Jesus said to do was an act of following him. I also referenced Matthew 25:31-46. Then I thought for a bit and decided cherry picking may not be the best approach and I should widen my response. You know me, FB posts often grow into blog posts so here we go.

I have recently completed a manuscript that studies the Book of Job. This was a years’ long project. I have been told that the book is “thoroughly researched,” that the research is “dissertation level,” and that “it is the most comprehensive treatment of the Book of Job that I have come across.” Some of the concerns expressed were whether I could connect with a general market, or if I was going to be limited to those who study these things. I hope not. You see, I still believe there are those who are not scholars of sacred texts who hear the voice of our ancestors while they try to piece together what it means to live in a world that often passes understanding, that is often beyond our reason.

My studies took me all over the world and sent me to the words of many ancient civilizations and spiritual/ethical leaders. I found a drumbeat, one that spoke deeply to who I wanted to be, and I chose to share it.

For this bit, let’s focus on the Judeo-Christian scriptures (hopefully my Jewish friends will bear with me in this usage). Scripture wars where one side says, “what about?” and the other side says, “well here’s one for you,” get us nowhere. As noted above, I responded with the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, a favorite of mine, which talks about how we treat fellow beings as being the metric by which our soul is measured. Can I back that up with any other passage? Well, yes, several. Here are a few.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 is quoted often these days since it admonishes Israel on the doorstep of Canaan to love the resident foreigner, at least in part because once you were one.

Isaiah 10:1-4 is a declaration that those who enact unjust policies are as good as dead. That when you deprive the oppressed and steal from those who are widowed or orphaned, destruction is assured.

Matthew 5:1-12. The Sermon on the Mount would do us all good in this day and age. The common name of the Beatitudes says much about how we should view fellow beings.

Matthew 19:16-22, often interpreted as a mandate against wealth, it is really a well-defined lesson on how to apply wealth. It also has something to say about rules. The “rich man” who approached Jesus swore up and down that he was following the commandments and yet he felt something was lacking. He was told he needed to sell everything and give it to the poor.  I don’t think Jesus was trying to tell rich people to be poor, I think he was making a comparison between following all the rules and having compassion. I know a few rich folks that use great mountains of their wealth to make this world a better place. Non-believing rich people. Can a person of faith do any less?

I’ve always loved 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I’m afraid I know a lot of clanging cymbals.

There are so many more passages that address how we treat others. Scripture also addresses the treatment of animals, and the earth that provides us with sustenance. There is a sense of responsibility when you are instructed not eat meat that was killed in a manner that poisons the flesh with the adrenaline of fear. Or, to eat those creatures which are scavengers and predators. Letting the land rest every seven years helps protect the fertility of the ground, gleaning allows those who have no other resources to find food and nourishment. Beyond the wars and smitting and flooding, there is much about how to be a decent human being; even when things are not going our way.

That’s where my hero steps in. Job tests the boundaries of what it means to live a righteous life, a life according to the rules. The rules so many treasure so dearly that humanity itself is left behind. Job demands answers, and (in my opinion) he gets answers. If the chapters referred to as the science lessons are to mean anything, it is crucial to put them in context. Once you can speak from a time and a place relevant to the author’s thoughts, wide vistas open and a light shines on an ever-creating universe. A universe where not every nanosecond or picosecond is focused on our personal wellbeing. Once we learn to see the world from a perspective Terry Pratchett called the universal view, then doing what is right in the world becomes a natural goal. You follow a Creator by becoming a positive and compassionate part of that creation.

Whether you are an academic, a curious layperson, or a member of the general public that just wants to see a different point of view on why there is suffering in the world, and what you can do in the face of it, come join me in the author’s study while we explore the riddle of Job.

Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering – projected publication early 2020.

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