Category Archives: My Journey with Job

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.

Opened_Red_Gift_Box_PNG_Clipart_Image

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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The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

Gift 2

The saga continues. While living in southern California, I was introduced into another evangelical congregation. I name this church organization because I still admire much about it. After cautiously investigating the core beliefs, I determined to learn more. Eventually, I became a functioning member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They should not be confused with Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their fundamental beliefs are very similar to mainstream Pentecostal beliefs, though there are differences. They do believe that the rules still apply, and that when God says keep the Sabbath, He means keep it. You know, just like you aren’t supposed to steal and covet and murder and such.

Adventists love to study. They have the second largest educational system in the world, and their students consistently score higher than the average population. They are also religiously zealous about health, both in the area of medical research, and in strict adherence to dietary laws. Some members are vegetarian, some not, but all follow some form of Biblically supported diet. Anywhere in the world they go, they first build a clinic, and a school. They have one of the largest disaster relief organizations in the world. First, they meet the basic needs of the people, then they build the church. This was an approach that resonated with me.

I grew comfortable enough that I became a speaker in the organization, and was sought after as a teacher in adult classes. I enjoyed my relationship with a group of honest, still-seeking individuals. Even those who were absolutely sold on one aspect of their faith or another. I still find it amusing that many pages of thought-provoking text were written on such topics as whether or not fermented wine was used in, say, the Song of Solomon. As much as I loved these people, I could not imagine the poet expressing a thought like, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than [grape juice].”

This organization also has a wide base of scientifically-astute people. Research in the medical field is something that a number of people are aware of (such as Loma Linda University), but there are those in other scientific areas, as well. It was through an Adventist minister that I met my late husband, who was a brilliant research scientist. These people take learning and exploration seriously. There was only this one little problem: there was still an element of control.

Some members buried themselves in church-affiliated reading material. They had little time for anything else. As in all organizations, there was an underlying “them and us” attitude. It never affected the hand outreached to teach or to heal, but there was still this need to belong to something with homogeneity.

I was, again, baptized. (By now I was beginning to feel like an Easter egg). In this instance, the pastor was very clear to the witnesses that this was a reaffirmation, a sign of commitment, and support for my then spouse. He was being baptized for the first time that day. I thought the pastor did a lovely job of clarifying the issue. Before we left the building one of our friends approached me and welcomed me “into the family.” But I thought I was a member of the family. I was speaking from the pulpit, teaching adult classes in biblical studies and aspects of theology and philosophy. Why did I need a bath to join “the family?”

Trapped in another box. A nice box with quite a bit of room, but a box nonetheless. I was still constricted by what others felt was, or was not, good and right. It was respectable to explore the universe, but one had boundaries. Predefined roles, if you will. We were still a group of bungling Homo sapiens writing a script for a sovereign deity that could create universes.

It was a cushy box, but it had to go.

One more installment, folks!

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 Sixth

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It is time – past time.

I can’t feel your pain.
I’ve tried, I even thought I knew
How you felt.
Scared
Alone
With nowhere to go,
No safe place to know,
It would all be fine.

I can’t feel your pain.
I’ve tried, by reaching back,
All those years,
When I was abused,
Bullied,
Stalked,
Manipulated,
Frightened, and alone.

I can’t feel your pain.
I’ve been tired,
I’ve been hungry,
Depressed,
Trapped;
Even, yes, even
Had my life threatened.
But I always found a way,
A way to live another day.

Perhaps I understand,
In some small way,
How deep the ache,
How sore
Your soul.
But now I see,
It never goes away.
For you it’s every day.

The air you breathe,
The ground you walk,
Is filled with hate,
And fear,
And terror.
Barely in the shadows,
But growing ever stronger,
Reaching for us all.

As hard as I try,
It seems no more
Than Insult,
to your
Torn,
and battered
Heart,
to say,
I feel your pain.

Perhaps, as small
As it may be,
My voice can help,
My life can show,
That hate
is never,
ever,
ever,
the answer.
For the love of all
Creation has provided,
It is time.

It is time to end the pain.
It is time to be there
For the black,
For the Muslim,
For the gay,
For the PEOPLE,
Of our earth.
One person at a time.

I will do my best.
I will share.
I will talk.
I will try to reach
Minds,
And hearts.
And I will hope.
I will not say,
I feel your pain.
But I will be here.
I will hold you.
And one day, together,
We will find the dawn.

Sunrise 3

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The God Box ~ Part the Fourth

I was getting far more serious in my search for a shape to my faith. As part of my degree, I attended a few introductory classes in Old and New Testament studies. These classes were designed, and taught, within the evangelical theological structure. I found the material interesting, but much of it was no deeper than many Sunday School lesson plans. What I did find was an aroused interest in digging further. Was learning my true faith?

Gift 2

Initially, my quest for a congregation of seekers led me to a small, non-affiliated church in the upper desert of California. The study groups were attended by serious explorers, and questions were not viewed as doubt. The pastor was a man who taught rather than preached. It was a refreshing experience.

It was the kind of church that knew it did not have all the answers, and the members felt seeking was an act of worship. When I approached the pastor with a conflict between my own convictions and the lesson assigned to my 6th grade Sunday School class, he was understanding. He gave me the freedom to arrive at a focus point that expressed the desired theme, but did not force me into a personal conflict. The instance that started this arrangement occurred one spring when I realized I was teaching the story of Easter a full month before Passover.

Most Christian churches never visit the disconnect between Easter and Passover, partly because there is shamefully little attention paid to the underlying history of our celebrations. Once a holiday becomes Christian, it always has been from the beginning of time. Easter is a good example. I go into detail here because it is symptomatic of the attitudes that drove me from institutional religion.

The “delivered word” is that Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But it’s not. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is a holiday derived from ancient, spring fertility rites. The symbolism is still there. Easter bunnies, because they go forth and multiply, eggs as the symbol of birth, and feasts with all kinds of spring bounty. Even ham. Have you ever wondered how ham came to be served on a holiday celebrating the resurrection of the Lamb of God? A man who considered pigs unclean animals?

In contrast, we have the celebration of Passover. An observance that celebrates the release from captivity, and a reminder of the mighty power of God. If we are, indeed, celebrating the resurrection of the ultimate sacrifice—God’s Passover Lamb—well, shouldn’t that occur on the third day after the crucifixion? Shouldn’t the two observances at least superficially relate to each other?

I was not prepared to teach a fertility rite of spring. I wished to focus on the celebration of the central theme of Christianity: the risen Lamb of God. My understanding pastor told me to teach it as I saw it. Even with all the Easter festivities going on throughout the church, he freed me to find a path to the message I wanted to give.

I was again lulled into a comfortable box that allowed me some latitude for my need to study and learn. It gave me a forum to share my faith as a teacher. There were Bible studies where I could express my thoughts and not feel out of place. But as the church grew, things changed, and the nature of the communion I enjoyed with that church changed with it. By that time, though, I had already begun to make the connections that led me to my next spiritual encounter.

This series began a bit ago, so here are links to the other articles.

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

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Reflecting on Pulse ~ By One Pissed-off Christian Lady

Pulse

It took a few days to do this. It took a few days because deep within my sadness the responses I saw flying across my newsfeed sickened me; physically took the steam out of me. Weeping in my own wine does not accomplish much. Much of what I have learned on my journey with Job demands that I do more – far more. So, here we go.

The events of June, 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida are not the product of Reason A, or Reason B, or some other simplistic, easy fix, “if only” cause. It was an event that was a culmination of many factors; all of which we share in to one degree or another. Humans do not like to think beyond the binary; it is hard work. To actually accept responsibility for tragedy is a whole different kettle of fish. There were many factors that left 50 cell phones ringing, unanswered, on a bloodied dance floor.

It is not productive to choose among the many in order to gain admittance to the wake. It is not acceptable to exclude a facet of the blood-covered stone to create a better setting for your own agenda. First, and foremost, it is about the arrogant turpitude that allows us to pick and choose those causes that best fit our own agenda. These are my picks, and there is nothing simple about them.

It’s about LBGT

No, you don’t get off the hook. You are not allowed to push this down (actually up, if you know your Native American lore) the totem. Whatever his future plans may have been, the perp saw a few guys kissing, and went ballistic. He targeted a gay club on a busy night and during a time of celebration. Word has it that it was a club that he, himself, had visited.

Did he think Americans would not care? That they might even thank him? Part of what sickened me this week is the number of pastors, and professed Christians, that stepped up to say that it was God’s judgment on the gays. Or that it was a good thing all those pedophiles were gone. (There is a vast difference, and I ought to know). Men who professed a belief in God who stood in front of congregations, and, while insisting that they did not advocate murder, suggested we should not grieve. Were there many? I have no clue. It is horrible enough that even one blasphemed his or her pulpit with this venom. They are no better than Mateem’s father who said his son should have left the murders to God.

It’s about religious fanaticism

The true believer, according to Eric Hoffer, needs the movement more than the movement needs him or her. Sometimes we cannot be driven to our worst (or our best) unless we perceive something greater than ourselves that demands it. Not always a superior being, sometimes just the mob, the organization, the belonging. But we, we of western civilized culture, do not come to the bar with clean hands. Not only is human history soaked in the blood of “others,” we light the fire brighter every time we choose to hate. Defend, yes. Hate, no thank you. Hatred changes you and takes away all that is human. Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu: it really does not matter. The founders of these faiths all spoke of something beyond the faith. Something intrinsically human. We are all selling our sacred heritage short if we choose to use it as a sword, rather than a way to support.

It’s about terrorism, domestic, foreign, and familial

If only. If only he had been dealt with when the charges of domestic violence floated around. If only the FBI had kept closer tabs, if only. If only McVey had not allowed himself to be egged on; if only there had been better communication before 9-11. When are we going to learn that we are part of the problem? If you believe the current administration is soft on terror you are sorely mistaken. Over the past 7.5 years Bin Laden is not the only target taken down. But these people don’t brag. They don’t occupy us with cheerleaders. They don’t stir up the hornets’ nest by blasting every victory across the headlines. They quietly, and efficiently, dismantle the knots of venom. The truly evil are being sought out. The war is with them, not your Muslim neighbor.

Sometimes we do win. Neighbors saw suspicious activity and reported it to police and police responded. A man from Indiana, a mid-western, white boy, was on his way to create mayhem at a Pride parade. But he was stopped. Countless other “almost events” have been stopped over the past several years. So, sometimes – whatever the threat – everything works as it should.

It’s about guns

I’m not against guns. I’m really not. I have, actually, used them and I’m not a bad shot. But, here’s the thing. We need a conversation about what is appropriate. I did some research (that’s what I do) and the AR-15 is not, I repeat not, a military-grade assault weapon. It is a modified, semi-automatic rifle that can be altered to accept a magazine of up to 100 bullets. As a semi-auto, it can be fired as quickly as the shooter can compress the trigger. One clip from Sunday morning records 20 shots within a 9 second interval. If you are going to talk about gun responsibility, and still preserve rights, then it is a good idea to know what the hell you are talking about.

Should citizens be armed with this capacity? I saw a meme float across my feed that froze my soul. “The problem was not the one bad guy with a gun, but the 103 without one.” Really? Please for the sake of all that is holy can someone tell me they don’t really believe this? Think about filling a room of over a hundred people, dancing to loud music, some of whom are at varying degrees of intoxication, and arm them. Then flip the panic button. What are the odds that the right guy gets shot, and that anyone walks out alive?

There are several timelines of the events available on line. I have relied on police reports to sort out the order. Just after 2 AM Mateen entered the club and started shooting. An off duty officer in the employ of the club immediately engaged the shooter and called for backup. Not long after backup arrives, Mateen barricades himself in one of the bathrooms and calls 911. Then he starts talking about bombs and ISIS. Swat, having already been onsite, breaches the building, and takes him down. Regaining control took a team of trained, prepared police officers, with all of the equipment available to them (including Kevlar helmets). The “good guy with a gun” was not able to control the situation; even though he was right on top of it. Some people I know might have been able to drop the perp in his tracks before he got very far. I’m not sure they are the type of folks that would have been in a gay bar at 2 in the morning.

If you are trying to protect yourself from the government I have a secret to tell you – they have drones, and black helicopters, and bigger bombs than you. If you are trying to protect your family in an event such as Sunday morning suggests? Then be trained, be smart and don’t complain when folks with appropriate credentials want to know where those weapons are and who had them last.

 

And here is the punch line. If you really, sincerely, want to be part of the solution. If you want to make sure that nutcases are not able to use hatred and turmoil to achieve their goals, if you want to be the humanitarian, the Christian, the believer you profess to be, then do something with value.

Stop “loving the person and hating the sin” and just love the person. Educate yourself about the LBGT community, and the issues they face. It is not a choice, people. All of the colors of the rainbow involve a complex combination of hormones, brain patterns, physiology, and plain old fashioned self-image.

If you want to be intolerant, be intolerant of violence, be it domestic, work place, any place. Do not let monsters grow in our midst. Get them help, or get them somewhere safer for us all.

Support those in desperate need. Please check before you give. I know of one GoFundMe that raised some $3,509,556 as of noon PT Tuesday. Find a way to put motion into your rhetoric; motion that says you really do care. Not just for gays, for every human soul that crosses your path. Be the change you want to see.

#onepulse
#BreakTheBox

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The God Box ~ Part the Third

The next stop along my journey was a similar denomination but one with a slightly different point of view. You did not fall from grace with every odd transgression. Oh, no! You were safe and secure for all eternity regardless of the choices you made. Of course, you had to be a member. A baptized member.

“That’s very nice that you were baptized by immersion, but that church doesn’t believe the same things we do.”

Isn’t that interesting?

Gift 3

Here was another box. As long as you were a member of this club, you were safe for eternity. There was protocol to follow to become a member, of course. It required an obligatory walk down the aisle during the church service and an agreement to undergo the ceremonial baptism into the church. Yes, that was my interpretation, and I openly shared that thought with the kind lady who was supposed to lead me into my “new life.” The poor soul became perplexed and worried about the requirements of man versus the requirements of God. Not a good start for a supposedly new convert. I tried to put her at ease, and silently vowed to watch my tongue in order to avoid unwanted controversy. Who wants to be kicked out before you’re even a member?

A weary sense of apathy crept in. This was an extremely trying time in my life, for a number of reasons. Not only was my personal and business life in a major tangle, I suffered the church’s opinion of divorced women. A professional woman in Texas working in commercial real estate. Living alone. Could I possibly be any more immodest?

How I could be safe in the arms of Jesus forever and yet, well, be a yet-to-be-defined fallen woman, was a bit of a quandary for me. Who I was and what my needs might be appeared to be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.

As long as I presented myself as a modest professional woman, one who was not on the prowl for eligible, upstanding bachelors in the church, then my contributions to choir, school buses, and refinancing of the church property, where accepted gracefully. I was tolerated as a business person of some influence, but not as a woman who might be interested in friendship or companionship. It was a church attended by a number of influential business people, and eventually I viewed the organization as little more than a service club with a cross on the door.

Resisting the tide was beyond my strength at that time. It was easier to “go through the motions” of being a good Christian. I attended church, sang in the choir, offered professional services at huge discounts, or for free when appropriate. The only place anyone wanted my opinion was in the Sunday School class. I sought some blend of honesty, and non-confrontation. Now and then, I run across notes from that teacher in my old files and realize that someone was listening, and that I did have some small bit to contribute. All without realizing the influence I did have.

I managed to tolerate this state of affairs for several years. The church demanded little of me at a time in my life when I had little to give. Eventually, I looked inside this new box, and I found no God. In fact, I had a hard time finding me. I needed more. A great deal more.

That box had to go.

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

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