Category Archives: Humanties for the Unbound Mind

Exploring the study of people, places and times

…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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Making Salt

Another post-gone-blog. Here’s my thing. I have an issue with racism for reasons which may seem contradictory. First, I prefer to see humans in all their many colors, quirks, cultures, and variety – created as diverse as any part of creation and yet sharing some fundamental biological and neurological traits. I am also a realist and I know that, depending on where you live (to some extent) there is a varying degree of disparity in success, freedom to choose, and freedom to pursue dreams. Even if those dreams seem to be stereo-typical. I dream of the day when adjectives are not required and it is okay for a ______ to be really good at ______, or to love or wish to be _____. I sincerely believe humanity as a species is one and that we need to grow up and understand that from our most inner core. We will survive the challenges of this globe in no other way.

Here comes the second part. In order for me to be part of that change, I try to learn as much as I can about what it is like from the other side of the glass. I spent nearly nine months working for a PNW tribe. I loved the people, the land, the traditions, and the impossibly tight and complex relationships among a population that has lived in this country for thousands (not hundreds) of years. And yet, as much as I felt loved, respected, even occasionally honored in small ways, I was never really part of it. No matter how hard I tried, for many I was an outsider and would never be anything else. That leaves me asking that if two sides who are really trying to understand each other can’t, how are we going to get there?

I wrote a poem not long after Pulse. Part of that pain was that although I have experienced some occasionally life-threatening events in my life, it was still difficult to use my highly developed empathy to walk in some shoes. (Empathy, by the way, is sometimes a fine-tuned radar that sets off klaxon horns at the first sign of possible danger). I used to quip that to walk in another’s shoes for a foot or a mile, you had to first remove your own. That, apparently, is a hard thing to accomplish whichever side of the glass you occupy. I was never homeless, and although there were times when my mother and I scrounged around to find enough change for dinner, I didn’t go hungry. We went without – a lot. I lived through abuse from a number of sources. I was in my forties before I could sleep through the night. My life was openly threatened. And yet when I thought of the people dancing in celebration of freedom that night being shot down in rage – I could find no shoes to fit me well enough to walk with them.

I do not expect to walk up to a member of any race (or any minority for that matter) and say, “I feel your pain,” and expect to be received with open arms. I do wish to have conversations. Some folks say that a white person doesn’t have the right to say, “but such and such happened to me.” But I don’t see how we can communicate unless we start with the small threads of common experience. Sorry may not be nearly enough, but we have to start somewhere. My experience may not be nearly as traumatic as yours, but perhaps you can admit that I at least have a few words of the language you wish to speak. No, I’ve never been homeless or hungry; but I thoroughly understand how one bank fee, or the cost of buying something one thing at a time because you don’t have enough to do any different, can keep you in a prison of financial deprivation. This is an article I read this week about what it means to fight for financial freedom and how fragile a concept that is. Maybe reparations are not the answer in this country, I honestly don’t know. However, we do have to get real about what “fair share” means and how that should be reflected in our policies.

I remember getting wrapped up in an argument with someone of color who has a fiery, legal, mind. She was a friend on Facebook, and although I deleted my portion of the tread and stepped away, I did not block or unfriend. I retreated to a “respectful” distance because it became obvious that in my attempt to describe how I felt about something so that, perhaps, she might understand why someone else was taking a particular view, was not wanted. I felt that this was a case of, I wish to see from this perspective and none other, and she assumed that was where I was as well. So, how do we learn? How do we find common ground? If White Western Culture finally arrives at a place where the members understand the damage done during the long climb to prominence and begin to try to make amends – will that apology be accepted? What does it look like to say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it, communicate it, and receive at least an invitation to sit at the table and work things out?

I yearn to be an effective ally in so many challenges we face today. Yet, I’m not sure how to get there. I find it hard to share what I see with “white folks” because I’m not all that sure what I feel is acceptable to those under attack. Even if I get the message right, is the delivery viewed as posturing, not coming from enough depth of experience, or lacking in the right shade of conviction? Perhaps what we need is a return to Aesop’s Fables. Stories that depict common errors, goals, desires, and hurts so that, at last, we begin to share the pain in a productive way. Superheroes are not always white, nor do they always wear a uniform. Sometimes they just go to the beach and make salt.

Photo Credit to The Gandhian Way. gandhitalk.blogspot.com

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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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When did the Giver of Life become an Object to Own?

Another Facebook post that started to grow beyond reasonable means – now becomes a blog.

Sunday morning: Instead of reading through FB posts and tripping over things that make me sad or disappointed, I am choosing more frequently to spend time with those “other bookmarks” that I save for “when I have time.” Many of these articles are saved from Facebook posts of friends across the globe that share my interests, some are the product of searches to verify, or run from, a post that peaks my interest. A writer’s Google search may be revealing – but what is saved is a whole new ballgame.

One of this morning’s reads was about the history of women in religion and faith. Some of the most revered minds of our ancient past were female. [Hypatia, Aspasia, Diotima…there are dozens more modern and ancient on my Facebook page] The question is, why do we, as a gender, pay such a high price for what we have given to our species – including life itself both in the birthing of a child and in the commitment to nurture that child. This article is an excellent short history of the rise and fall of women in faith and religion.

Of course, as short as it is, there is much worthy of discussion that is missing. For instance, Hebrew tradition symbolizes wisdom with a female – Sophia. And yet rabbinic literature going back centuries warns of the dangers of a woman’s manipulative abilities. There are traditions that record Lilith as Adam’s first wife. Since she was unwilling to submit to Adam as her superior, she left the garden and was demonized for the rest of history. Poor Eve doesn’t fare much better. Deborah, a judge of Israel, appoints Barak to lead the army against Jabin and Sisera. He will not engage without her in the lead. And it is a woman (Jael) that takes down the commander Sisera.

For New Testament figures we have Mary, mother of Jesus who is raised to near-divine nature, while Mary Magdalene finds her contributions buried by the early church. The Magdalene is a mystery within a mystery due in part to the struggle for authority within the early church. Labeled as a repentant prostitute, she was kicked to the curb of history until quite recently.

This editing of history goes on even in the face of New Testament records (however bent a translation may be) that indicate women held leadership roles within the early church. This was not an exception to the rule, but a organic part of the church’s early need for solid leaders in the faith. An interesting bit of history is provided in this article.

My maternal great-grandparents came to the US from what was then Yugoslavia. Their home town sounded something like Poland to the folk at Ellis Island and for a good portion of my life I thought I was one quarter Polish. A cousin deep into genealogy research (not so easy in Eastern Europe) discovered the error and determined that the family originated in Croatia, and was, most likely Roma. The Roma are a people persecuted around the world for centuries. Although nomadic by nature, they were rarely permitted to own land or conduct a business. They were a target of Nazis during the rape of Europe. Forced to find alternative means of survival, they were often accused of theft (sometimes accurately). However, in contradiction to the contempt of “polite” society, deep were the paths worn in the dead of night to the doors of the old wise women who could offer cures, or hope, or spells for success. (Along with the more carnal needs of humanity).

I am truly not sure why the strengths of women are so disparaged in our current society. Why is it we feel that women should not be independent in thought and choice? Why shouldn’t they be leaders when our early history indicates they can do as well and sometimes better than their male counterparts (meaning that sometimes the fellows do better)? Why do we condemn the Muslims when so many of the practices we disparage are mirrored in our own society? Toss the Burka, but make sure that the little lady does nothing without her man’s approval. Why do we have such a propensity to ignore what we detest in others rooted deep within our own souls?

Our current culture (at least here in the US) blatantly supports the pervasive attitude that women are somehow less. Boys will be boys, but girls make choices for eternity – given the assumption they have a choice in a threatening situation other than to survive. Men can impregnate whomever they wish whenever they wish; but the mother must face the roadblocks of an uncaring system to care for that offspring even to the point (in some states) of providing a rapist with access to her child. A man can get a prescription for an “enhancement” drug that is covered, without hesitation, by any insurance company. A woman, however, must fight for coverage of any reproductive related medical prescription or treatment. Sometimes she must also fight for access. Does this make sense in a modern society with access to well-developed medical and scientific practices? Why is it even a question in this century?

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Woman of Tibet, photo by Smokefish, Pixabay.com

Of one thing I am certain, wise women are women of patience. I knew my maternal grandmother well and we were very close. So much of who she was is very much a part of me. It is from that well-spring of strength that I know that one day our species will understand that the whole cannot function well without all of the parts functioning at the highest level of performance. We are a global family with limited resources and great responsibilities. We are way past the time when we should stop fearing each other, whether by perception or deed, and find a way forward to a more stable future.

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On the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial

Today I was reflecting on MLK. I have had a stormy relationship with his memory. There were times when I toyed with the histories that thought less of him, or may have been, in some ways, an attempt to see him more as a human than an icon. Eventually, though, he secured my respect. In the end I could not resist the siren call of “I have a dream.” It was a speech delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Stanford University, among so many, catalogs the speech with this summary:

“In his iconic speech at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, King urged America to “make real the promises of democracy.” King synthesized portions of his earlier speeches to capture both the necessity for change and the potential for hope in American society.”

And the part that will not leave my heart:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification,” one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

He chose to remain faithful to a nonviolent protest, to become a reminder to those who governed the nation that in the process of writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution our founders had written a promissory note to which each American was to fall heir. “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

His legacy is the voice of promise, and the demand that it be fulfilled. It cannot be fulfilled by governments alone, it must spring from the people governed. King left us the legacy that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Indeed.

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In the past week another nationally shared event took place. Although there is still much finger pointing and multiple interpretations of what precisely happened, a few things appear to be settled. A small group of Black Hebrew Israelites began to verbally attack a group of Native Americans. Black Hebrew Israelites have a fringe militant edge that are the mirror image of White Supremacist groups – a vision that would have given King living nightmares. All the identity theology and supremacy ideology packed into the white-people rage fringe is mirrored in this group. They are known for their inherent hatred of Native Peoples as well as whites.

Into this mix appears a group of high school boys attending a Catholic High School and wearing MAGA hats. I was not able to confirm the reason for their visit, although there was mention of their attendance at the anti-abortion event, March for Life. So, now we have the perfect storm. Enraged fringe people, persons accustomed to being assaulted in word if not deed, and a group of young men nearing their testosterone peaks. America of today in a mini-mash.

Then there is the Elder, playing his drum and making eye contact with the one he perceives to be a leader. Willing the young man, will all that is within him, to not escalate the confrontation. Somehow, to some extent, he succeeds. And, yes, this is my interpretation born by the experience of working with First Nation peoples and knowing something of what it takes to receive the honors he bears. In addition to his garnered respect in the Native community, he is a vet, a man who has served the country which still has issues keeping its commitments to his people.

In this explosive incident, one that is being interpreted, reinterpreted, shared, doctored, fought over and blasted through social media, we have shone a light on where we are as a country today. I may not agree and may even be disgusted by the views of these young men and their parents – but never would I suggest death threats. Little is being said about the BHI because, well, there is probably too much guilt over the general treatment of blacks in this country to see with clear and reasoned vision when we should protest. We have wrapped ourselves up in such convoluted visions of what we think America is or should be we have forgotten our first, simple, shining vision.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence).

From the Library of Congress:

The concept that all men are created equal was a key to European Enlightenment philosophy. But the interpretation of “all men” has hovered over the Declaration of Independence since its creation. Although most people have interpreted “all men” to mean humanity, others have argued that Jefferson and the other authors of the Declaration meant to exclude women and children. Within the context of the times it is clear that “all men” was a euphemism for “humanity,” and thus those people, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, who used the Declaration of Independence to demand equality for African Americans and women seized the historical as well as the moral high ground.

I have a dream, that one day we will be the nation we have always aspired to be and that all of our people will know the fruits of the promise of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

 

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Reflections ~ Banned Books and Social Stigmas

While in a cold-haze today, I ran across an article written by a pastor. He was describing one of those moments in life when you dearly want to be happy about something, but the cost is too great. In his district a mother had approached the school board with a impassioned plea to ban Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The book used the word bastard and she didn’t want her 13-year-old exposed to such language.  The pastor’s conflicting emotion arose because she wanted to replace the book with his, When the English Fall (by David Williams). This was an honor he wanted no part of, Bradbury is one of his favorite authors.

I was taken back to my own junior high, high school reading experiences. First, there is the year we were to study Catcher in the Rye. I believe this was during the no man’s land period of junior high when a course of study is but a vision on the horizon. I did, however, love to read. Due to the “adult subject matter” of the book, we were required to take a note home and get parental consent for participation. Now, one must understand that my mother had a Bachelor’s in Literature and my father left school in 8th grade. I am assuming he at least asked her opinion and my guess is that somewhere in that house there was a copy of the book.

My father gathered his religion around him and said no. One should know I had been living “adult subject matter” for the greater part of my life. I might have found something useful in the tale had I been given the opportunity. Perhaps that was the point. I was the only one in the class who was unable to gain permission to read what was already a classic. I do not recall what the response of my classmates was. I wasn’t that connected to what they may feel at that point in my education. What did happen is that instead of reading a 200-page book with the benefit of class discussion, I was assigned another book to read, Where the Redfern Grows. The book is around 300 pages long and, although sweet here and there, was far removed from my experiences at the time. Still, I was expected to keep up a reading schedule and make all the assignments within the same allotted time. I still don’t know if the teacher was attempting to make a point for me, my parents, or just wasn’t that engaged in the farce of “teaching” me anything of value. What I did garner from the class was of little use in helping me meet the requirements related to my assigned book. Isolation was a well-known companion, if not a comfortable one.

Fast forward a few years to a high school class when the book being read is Bradbury’s 451. I don’t recall if permission was required and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have bothered. However, this too was an interesting experiment in education. The books provided to the students were purchased by the school. Our teacher purchased hers at a local bookstore. Then the games began. As we started to read various passages out loud in class, it became quite evident that we were reading somewhat different books. I remember one passage being “sanitized” by scrubbing even the word navel. All four-letter words were banished, and some passages had been re-written changing the intent and the impact. All in a book about censorship.

Young minds are not to be daunted and so, under the guidance of our teacher, we composed a letter to Mr. Bradbury explaining our shock and dismay that someone would tamper with his work in order to “clean it up” for our young impressionable minds. Bless his heart. He responded with a lovely letter and sheets of stickers for each of us, so we could spice up our editions as soldiers in the fight against those who would burn pieces of our books without our knowledge. I read a forward to a later reprint and saw hints of this experience in his commentary. (see also:  this blog for the quote from Bradbury’s CODA).

I believe what I fear is that in a world that constantly screeches “fake news” at us, we will dim our drive to discover, to check, to be aware of all the information available to us, even if it is unpleasant. Even if it exposes something in ourselves that we are not prepared to acknowledge. Not so long ago I saw that an award named after Laura Ingalls Wilder was dropping her name because of some of the attitudes in her books. These are phrases she herself called out in later years surprised at how insensitive they sounded now even though the language was commonplace when she was a child. I have heard the uproar over Huckleberry Finn and the language and attitudes shown in that story. I am here to tell you that if we bury this past, we will never be forced to acknowledge it. Apparently, it is far more appropriate to shoot a black person today than to acknowledge the attitudes of a society that enslaved him; and in some ways still does.

photo credit plymouthherald.co.uk

The current mood in our country is a symptom of the live burial of the past. We choose to ignore the symbols of hatred and division from the past because it is inconvenient, and we may have to face the same thoughts and actions in today’s world. Consequently, some will up the cry and shock us with their naked anger and hatred to preserve a past that never was. I must ask you, though if this is not the path you would choose; what are you doing to turn down the temperature, to educate, to seek the wiser course? It is crucial to protect the joint heritage of humanity with all of its glory and destitution, with all of its great loves and deepest darkest hatreds – and from that muddled soup of human emotions and aspiration – perhaps we can build a future worthy of living. Don’t hide the past but do your best to seek out the truth and defend it from those who would re-write it into a story that never was.

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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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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current times, My Journey with Job