Category Archives: Authored Works

The things I write

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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Filed under My Journey with Job

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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…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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When things align…

Suffering

A reflective weekend wrapped up in the emotions of my agency’s annual fund-raising dinner and the process of formatting Job for advanced reader copies. This is all such an emotional roller coaster so I will do what I always do when I need to sort through things – share.

Let’s start with Friday night. I’ve been working for Behavioral Health Resources  for over a year now. I love the people, I love the work, and I feel I have sincerely found that spot I always wanted. Friday night was our annual dinner event. Since I work in the administrative offices, I was privy to some of the hard work that went into putting this event together. Our focus this year was our school-based programs.

We always have a silent auction. Baskets are contributed by staff, board members, sponsors, and other interested parties to put up for auction. Some truly creative ideas made their way to the table. There were so many interesting combinations that created festive themes including several which focused on our kids. We also have an auctioneer who comes with all sorts of fun ways to raise money, silly games to get folks involved, competitive games to draw out the best in us; and then there were raffles. This was all sprinkled throughout the evening that included live music, a catered dinner, and stuff about kids. Let me tell you a bit about that.

Folks at our agency put together a video to explain something of what we do. No real clients were involved, but through the narration/interview of one of our Program Managers, our guests were introduced to just how much BHR does for children in the three counties where we have offices. He told us that we were now represented in 29 schools within our service region. We are not just “on call.” We are there, addressing problems that include depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, and early diagnosis of mental disorders. Our clinicians work in high-intensity situations every day to help kids learn to cope and develop the skills to be successful, all while negotiating goals with teachers and administrators.

The video (using actors) described a case regarding a young man who was banned from school due to aggressive behavior. By working closely with him, our team was able to get him re-integrated with his classmates and to help him accomplish his school requirements. He is looking forward to college. During a talk given afterward, our Program Manager described several cases where being there mattered. One involved a young woman who had gotten out of bed that morning prepared to commit suicide. She made herself one promise. If anyone reached out to her that day, anyone that indicated they cared how she felt, she wouldn’t follow through. One of our clinicians had the privilege of being that one person. Our agency serves approximately 500 children throughout three counties. Although not always as dramatic, every single day our clinicians are working on giving the next generation tools to be mentally healthy, successful adults.

We were also entertained by the folks from Olympia Family Theater. This non-profit organization uses the tools of theater to teach, to encourage creativity, and to touch lives with joy. I can tell you they had a room full of adults roaring like lions, voting for the prettiest feather, and encouraging good choices as we watched Aesop’s Fables played out in adorable skits. It was an emotional and rewarding evening. So many people gathering together to have fun and support good things in their community. And I get to work there.

As much as we love our children, our focus is on mental health in many forms throughout our service region. We have programs that support Pregnant and Parenting Women. These programs do amazing things to help moms shake the stigma of mental health issues, break the chain of substance abuse, and learn to be good parents. We offer outpatient services and have recently opened our more intensive in-house program where mom’s come and stay – with baby – to get help to find productive solutions for their lives and the care of their children. And there is sooo, much more we do. We are involved in assertive community treatment programs, integrated programs, residential support, and community information programs designed to chip away at the stigma attached to mental health challenges. And I get to work there.

This brings me to the meme. I’ve seen the unclaimed quote before, and it is one that I have chosen as a guidepost in so many things I do. I no longer subscribe to some philosophical debate about why a God we have defined as X allows Y to occur. There are reasons for that, and I have worked through those reasons thoroughly in a manuscript soon to be on its way out into the world to see if it can find a home. Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is very much about what our responsibility is when it comes to dealing with those who face challenges of whatever nature.

I find it all a bit scary at times as the things that are so important to me find alignment between my “day job” and my love of writing. It is an amazing journey, and I hope you will join me.

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A book review ~ sort of.

When Bad things

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.

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Lessons from Job

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 ever side of the fence we are on, why do we continue to kick the wounded?

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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 women 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 book 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.

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Reflections ~ Thoughts on a Holiday in Transition

This has been a rough year on a several levels for myself, and the world around me. Icons that we looked up to have left us. Emotional and heart-rending votes were taking place in a number of countries, and violence continues to take so many in circumstances few of us really understand, or stop to figure out. When the world is jumbled up around us, we sometimes seek peace in the smaller things, the smaller world, that we know. All the hubbub of this year drove me back to basic ideas, places where I knew compromise was not an option. It also walked me through the morning after. These are my vaguely connected thoughts on a Christmas in transition.

This blog started with a desire to explain something of why Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah means so much to me; what it says to me that touches me so. Leonard Cohen, a Canadian musician, song writer, and novelist, acquired several prestigious awards. He is one of those we lost this past year. One of the magical things about this piece is the flexibility it provides. Cohen provided a framework with references to King Saul, King David, and Sampson, and led us through one of life’s mysteries: how can love be so precious and yet, sometimes, so painful. There have been dozens of lyrics added to the framework and the melody, some by Cohen himself, some by others. It is a melody and a theme that touches many, perhaps even with some understanding. My favorite line (if a favorite is possible): “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.”

Why? I don’t see it as a bleak condemnation of genuine relationships, I see it as an honest admission that however passionate we may be, however perfect our union may be, life can and does interfere, and yet we find the joy of a hallelujah, and when things are not as hoped, we find a way to move on.

The final scene in the play J. B. by Archibald MacLeish has the characters picking up the tossed stage props and beginning to restore order. The play is a free-verse modernized interpretation of the Biblical book of Job. After all the devastation J. B. and his family face, the near loss of his wife, and the heart-rending self-examination of “where did I go wrong,” J. B. and his wife pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild. That’s who we are as human beings, when everything is taken from us, we begin again. It is only when we are honest with ourselves that we can admit, whatever praise we offer is a broken hallelujah.

That leads me to my Christmas, which I spent alone, in my own cocoon. Due to the fortunate convergence of a Christmas bonus and a radically priced clearance desk, I decided to restructure my office. First of all, I am not very good with change, especially in my workplace. This was a major deal for me. Second, the desk that was going away had been a birthday present from my husband. It is old, it was battered, it needed to move on – however difficult that might be. As I assembled the new desk, I found that a few screws for knobs and handles were missing. That means a few pieces of the old desk are with me still. I also made the choice to begin using my husband’s office chair. It took me three days to complete the transition and it was a journey of fond, and painful memories, of moving forward, of broken hallelujahs.

before

To me, the thought I wish most to hold on to from this brief reflective time is that we can learn from where we are, and then move forward. We cannot surrender simply because things didn’t work out as we hoped, we re-visit who we are and stay true to that image, picking up the pieces, and moving forward.

after

I have no idea why the picture is tilted – perfectly square on the wall. 🙂

Fair journey, my friends. Know that the universe does not revolve around our own special views, wishes, or even needs, and that is okay. Because we are human, with reason, logic, and passion, we can pick up the pieces and begin again.

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The God Box ~ Part the Sixth (and Last)

So, now we have reached the turning point. The end of one journey, and the beginning of the forever journey. The day I threw all the boxes away.

It was while I was active in the Adventist Church that I began to further widen my reading base. I have to admit, there were some authors I avoided because they were caustic, and adversarial, without clear, and logical arguments supporting their assertions. Calling me an idiot for my beliefs will get you nowhere. Telling me why you don’t believe might get my attention. I explored those who believed differently, or not at all. I read their bibliographies, and thought about the reasons they chose the paths they did. I had developed, at least in my opinion, the spiritual maturity to determine if the steam held any substance for my own journey.

I also discovered that the writings of other faiths, and devotional paths, had much to say about the same topics with which Christians wrestled. Some arrived at similar conclusions, even if the source of focus, or worship, was different. The similarities were eye-opening. So much argument, even hatred in the world, when there were so many fundamental points that we all agreed on.

How humans define something they call God has a great deal to do with culture. In the West, where individuality is the purported standard, we tend to find comfort in a God (or Goddess) that is much like ourselves. In the East, deity is represented with interpretive natural forces, animals with specific powers, creatures molded from the attributes of animals, and symbols familiar to the culture. But I still saw a box: a box of human perception. Allegory may be well and good, and it does help us build on what knowledge we possess, but it is still allegory. It is only representative of the real thing.

If I wanted to ever have a sense of the real thing, then maybe all the boxes had to go. How else could I find a way to separate the metaphor from the object defined?

Then something magical happened. I met a man who took my amateur interest in science to a new level. With a background in philosophy, mathematics, medical sciences, and physics, he gave me the key to my own, special space. With his mentorship, I was able to understand, at least at a layman’s level, some of the magic of the universe. I learned how stars were formed, how galaxies worked, how the smallest bits of carbon-based life worked. I found quantum physics, and I grew in wonder.

I have always held that it is not necessary for a Creator to hang around to guide every atom of the universe through its life cycle. A really great Creator would set the whole thing in motion and, with a few simple rules, let it all find its highest, and best purpose. This was a God that needed no box, could not be contained in any one universe, and did not pursue His/Her/Its creation with a petty and unrelenting vengeance.

This was a God I could worship.

I have continued on this journey, this quest to find my place in a beautiful, sometimes violent, sometimes gentle, but always passionate universe. I never cease to find wonder. Wherever there is destruction, new life emerges. Wherever there is an end, a new beginning springs forth. It is a universe that is forever redefining and re-applying the most simple, most basic rules.

I had no wish to walk away from my faith because so much simply made no sense. Nor was I willing to bend scripture into some complex origami project to make it all work. I don’t want a God stuffed into a box. A being that thinks, and acts like the humans around me. What sort of God would that be?

I spent my whole life looking for a bigger box. Then, I realized, I could throw them all away.

Did I give up on prayer? No. What I found was that prayer became a conversation between myself, and something much greater than me. Prayer isn’t a Christmas list, or a gripe session. I do not mean that prayer is cosmic chitchat. There were times when I felt that everything in me would break if I could not find an answer. But when prayer becomes an ongoing conversation, it’s like walking through the day-to-day with an old, and familiar friend. You tend to be a bit more honest, even with yourself. And sometimes, once you are at peace enough to see all of the pieces, and not just the ones you want to see, the answer does become clear. It may not be what you wanted, but you come to understand why a certain path is the right way to go. Is that guidance? I believe it is.

Such a path has also taught me more patience. It’s not always evident, I’m sure, but more than once, when I was unduly held up, took a wrong turn, or couldn’t find what I was looking for, some instance presented itself that told me I needed to be where I was, when I was there. It might be meeting someone I would have missed. It might be avoiding some catastrophe, such as a major accident. It isn’t because I’m special, or particularly blessed. It’s because I have learned to listen to the still, small voice, at least most of the time—especially when it nags. It means I have learned to be open to possibilities. We find the most fulfillment when we work within the rules of the universe that is our home.

The point is that the creation we call the universe does have a course. I don’t think it wants a plan. I think the simple rules on which this creation is built provide it with all the variety it needs or requires. I feel we can find our space within it if we choose to.

Want to solve world hunger? Get up off your knees, and feed the hungry. Want to solve the problems of the incarcerated? Find out why, or what happened, and actively pursue preventative, and restorative plans. Want to end hatred? Start in yourself. Put aside the fear, and learn to know, and respect others. Will we eliminate hatred, wars, abuse? Probably not. That, however, is not an excuse. We are each responsible for what we contribute to the world, not what someone else takes from it.

It’s a very big universe out there, and Whoever, or Whatever, started it all is neither small nor petty. Sometimes boxes are comfortable and they help us grow in relative safety. There comes a time, for some, when the boxes must be thrown away.

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The rest of the story:

The God Box ~Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

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