Tag Archives: Humanties for the Unbound Mind

My Journey with Job ~ Who then, is my Friend?

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Courtesy Commons. Some rights reserved by pingnews.com

My growing network is quite aware that I am working on a second book.  One that is far closer to the writings my husband encouraged for so many years.  The years, that is, before dementia took him away from me.  He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and a Masters or two in math and science.  He devoted much of his life learning how we think so that he could teach machines how to think.  He is also a half-breed of sorts having been raised by a devout Catholic mother and a committed Jewish father.  Honed by both the Jesuits and the rabbis, his quite brilliant mind led him to a life of wonder at the workings of the universe, both great and small, and in an ongoing debate with a God he loved but constantly challenged.  He was, in many ways, my own private Job.

I don’t say this because he experienced anything like what happens in this passage of scripture.  I say this because he sought answers from the source.  He would look at available information.  He would compare the current wisdom.  When it was all said and done he refused to solidify his own opinion until he had pushed his knowledge as close to the source of the query as he could.  He never stopped looking until the disease robbed him of the ability to think logically.

My own journey with Job started many years ago.  Many of the things that I had become convinced of were discussed way into the night as I came to know my husband and as we shared our mutual wonder.  Debating with such a mind was refreshing, intriguing and challenging.  It meant that simple answers, stock answers, were not going to stand up.  It meant that I had to really explore the whys of my thoughts and construct reasonable arguments to support them.  As time went on he insisted I should write.  Now that he no longer knows I am, I do.

I have begun to introduce some of the thoughts contained in my new book on this blog. There is a glimpse into my thoughts in a blog discussing Dr. Erhman’s book, God’s Problem.  In order to write the book, Why Me? Come Let us Reason with Job, I have returned to research mode.  Do my ideas still stand?  Has life changed my mind, given me different perspectives?  Are the quotes and sources I knew from so many years ago accurate in my memory?  So, I am driven back to basic research.  I am finding that my core beliefs have not changed.  I am spending the time necessary to collect historical, religious and philosophical interpretations.  To learn what I can of the writing of the piece, of what supporting evidence there is for the when or who of the passage.  However, those things that speak to me have not changed.  As I develop the manuscript I will invite my readers to see what those treasured thoughts are and why I think they are so very important.  For the full debate, however, you’ll have to buy the book.  For this week’s contribution I thought I would explore who, then, is my friend?

I believe that this is one of the pillars of the lessons from Job.  We, as the audience, are informed at the very beginning that Job is a blameless man.  He is an upright man that avoids evil and watches over his family faithfully.  It is made clear to us, the observers, that the events that are about to take place are not due to any failure on his part to meet the requirements of a demanding or loving God.  Why then, have we spent millennium trying to sort out the arguments of his friends seeking some answer to his questions?  They want to blame him.  The more he questions his situation, the more adamant they become.  They are certain he is filled with unclean thoughts and intentions because there is no other way for them to find a “cause” for the “effect” they see before them.  This debate takes up a great deal of the poem.  God’s response to this tirade?  “Who is this who darkens counsel, Speaking without knowledge?”  (Job 38:2 from Tanakh, a translation by the Jewish Publication Society).  Job’s friends actually get in a lot of hot water and are commanded to go to him in order to have a sacrifice performed for their forgiveness.

Even after millennium of debate over “the purposes of suffering” the answer still rings in my ears:  “Who darkens my council?”  Obviously, my new book would be rather shallow if it didn’t offer some of the substance of this debate, and it does.  I use writings from Jewish and Christian writers who formed the foundation of our modern thought on the matter as well as more modern interpretations.  I also explore the response to human suffering from other cultures and religious practices.  In what I hope is a conversational tone I lead my reader through the history of what we have thought about the book so that I can better show how I arrived at my conclusions.  Occasionally, I find a glimmer of those thoughts.  Or, something I strongly believe hiding in the midst of things that make me shake my head.  Here is a bit of what I take away from “Job’s friends.”

It doesn’t really matter what Job has done or not done to “deserve” his current circumstances.  That is made abundantly clear in the very first scenes.  But Job’s friends, much like our own, out of fear or even arrogance are certain sure they know the cause.  We live in a world where the vagaries of nature, violence, and general human sorrow keep us asking “Why?”  And, just like Job’s friends, there is always someone (or many) who is absolutely certain that the problem at hand is due to some infraction of some universal law.  While such an individual is so terribly busy coming up with reasons why, they are missing a fundamental point.

Deep in my heart I believe that the lesson of Job’s friends is that the question is not just “Why?”  The questions should also be “what” and “where.”  What is happening and where can I help? In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is asked “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”  His answer?  Love God and love one another, on these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets. This is not a new covenant law.  It is a quote of the law found in Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18.   Job’s friends never got beyond the debate.  They never looked at Job as a friend in need.  That was their gravest error and, to me, one of the most important lessons of the whole book.

It is not a thought to take lightly.  In Matthew 25:31-46 a scene is described in a somewhat familiar passage that discusses the separation of the sheep from the goats.  Take note that the test of who is which is not who prayed more, sinned less, or preached more.  It says nothing about how many souls you tried to save from abortion, misguided life styles or the evils of sin, sex and money (or lack thereof).  The defining qualification is this: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me. …in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (New Jerusalem translation)  It’s not about blame.  It’s about doing what is needed when it is needed.

Some years ago in a previous marriage, my husband, our business partner and I were preparing for a number of guests at our home for the 4th of July weekend.  The three of us were developing a place situated on acreage where people could come away for awhile and rest; a place of reflection.  Our partner was an integral part of our little family, living in his own trailer but spending much of his time with us.  Due to a lifetime of alcohol abuse, his too-young body finally gave out and in the middle of the pre-celebration night he died of a massive coronary arrest.  There was no way to change our plans, in fact they grew more complex because now we had a memorial to plan as well.

The following morning, as I was preparing for the guests that were about to arrive, a very dear friend of mine called.  She communicated her condolences and added the usual, “If there’s anything I can do to help.”   With a sigh I said I felt like we had most things under control, I just had to figure out how to get our house cleaned and his trailer prepared for his daughter’s arrival.  Her response?  “When do you want me there?”

What kind of story would we have if Job’s friends had arrived, stayed with him during the seven days of grieving, and then stood up and said, “Where do we start?”  “Job, can we help your wife bury your children?” “Would you like us to find who is left of your household and secure your property?” “Is there something left in the fields we can have harvested in support of your wife?”  Scripture being what it is we often find a record of what we do, rather than what we should do.  But in the telling of those things we are prone to do, there is a point when we can see what we should do.  Who then is your friend, your neighbor, your brother or sister?  Sometimes it is important how an individual gets into a predicament.  More often than not it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is what we do about it.

I would like to add a few links to organizations that have impressed me.  Reaching out and touching a life can be as simple as a donation online, or a smile on the street.  It doesn’t have to involve money, sometimes it is just a bit of time that’s needed.  Learn to become sensitive to those who are around you and you just might catch that incredible moment when what you have to offer is exactly what a fellow being needs.

WHD2013What is Habitat for Humanity International?

  • A nonprofit, Christian housing ministry that believes that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.
  • We build and repair houses all over the world using volunteer labor and donations.
  • Our partner families purchase these houses through no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans or innovative financing methods.

2010_heifer_logo
Heifer International

Heifer currently provides over 30 types of animals to families in need in more than 40 countries, including the U.S.

footer_logoThe Rose International Fund for Children

The primary mission of The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC.org) is to improve the lives of children in Nepal, particularly those who have a disability.

streetchildren_homeThe Bart D. Ehrman Foundation is a not-for-profit organization whose overarching purpose is to raise money for charities devoted to poverty, hunger, and homelessness. All money collected from membership fees is given over to charities devoted to helping those in need.

And one of my personal favorites:  The Songs of Kiguli project.  This is an effort to publish the works of primary school children in Uganda so that they can fund improvements to the school and build the character necessary to lead their nation into the future.

Vigorous debate is always appreciated; however I will not post flame or outright attacks.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Answering the Ultimate Paradox

Book Review ~ God’s Problem by Bart D. Ehrman, Available for under $15.00

problemAlthough I write because I have read, I also read in order to write better.  Consequently, even with pages and pages of notes collected through the years regarding my own developing interpretation of the Book of Job, I still seek more information.  Some of that is technical.  Meaning I seek out the people who are working on the language of the Old Testament.  People who know something about the structure of the oldest version of the text before us.  People who know something about the archaeology and anthropology of the time periods involved.  This is where I start.

After I have the “setting” of my project I move on to what other people think the lessons might be, or if there is one at all.  This is my method in my current work, Why Me? Come let us Reason with Job.  As I move through my draft I have researched the history of theological and philosophical thought regarding this passage of the Hebrew canon.  Now, I have reached a stage in that research that is leading me through the more modern thinkers, some very well known, some rather obscure.  One of the writers I chose to read is a rather popular author and a James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Caroline, Chapel Hill.   He is Professor Bart Ehrman and this is not my first experience with his writing. I have always found him informative, easy to read and challenging.  He makes me think and I happen to enjoy thinking.

As mentioned, I have read a number of Professor Ehrman’s books and watched several of his lectures.  As a scholar he is passionate about his subject matter.  Whenever I read or listen to his work I feel like he is taking me on an exploratory journey that will challenge the way I think.  I always learn something, even if I disagree.  And, sometimes I do.

I sincerely believe that a book such as God’s Problem should be read, and studied.  I believe that the questions that Ehrman raises should be confronted and addressed.  In fact, some of the questions he raises are the very reasons I am writing my own rendition of just what went on all those centuries ago when in fact or in literature a man stood and demanded an audience with his Maker.  Let’s talk a bit about what Ehrman has to say.

Beginning with the prophets of the Hebrew bible, we are reintroduced to the things that we don’t really pay much attention to when we are preparing Sunday School lessons.  The Old Testament is a violent and bloody book.  The “bad” guys are not always the ones causing murder and mayhem.  There are many passages that, unless you choose to bend things in uncomfortable angles, the God of Israel takes direct responsibility for the devastation of people, creatures of all sorts, ecologies and whole countries, if not the entire globe.  Too often we write this off as justice (since it came from God) without really considering the innocent lives involved.  Many modern day “prophets” use this scenario as an excuse to blame every disaster on someone’s sin – rarely, if ever their own.

Another answer to suffering analyzed in the book is the apocalyptic view.  This is the view that here on earth there is suffering and travail because evil powers are being allowed to rule the earth for now.  Someday, however, God’s judgment will fall and all evil with be done away with, all suffering will end, and a new world will take form where there is no suffering. In the meantime, it will be hell on earth.

A third interpretation brought out in scripture, and discussed by Ehrman, is that there really isn’t any answer to suffering.  In this case we just have to make the best of what is here because there really is no logical, theological or philosophical reason to support why we should suffer.  At least not for all suffering.  It is certainly reasonable to understand that when we do certain things there is a piper to pay.  If we drink and drive, we can injure ourselves and others.  If we smoke, we may get cancer.  If we choose not to care for our bodies, we will get sick.  This is a cause and effect we can understand.  But in the case of much of the suffering in the world, well, we’re still searching.

Last, but certainly not least, Ehrman explores the answer called redemptive suffering.  This teaching looks at suffering as a temporary evil that prepares us for a greater good.  Or that through one person’s suffering another person finds a greater truth.  This point of view could cause nightmares.  I actually find the author’s journey rather compelling.  He tells how he first became challenged by the simple act of thanking God for his food.  Why, he thought, should I be so special that God would feed me and let millions more die of starvation?  What right do I have to such a special dispensation?  What right do I have to be thankful for something that 850 million people in this world do not have?  Especially when I live in a world where that is not necessary?  In case you’re wondering, he actually does try to do something about it.  If you are interested, his support foundation can be found here.  I think, though, you get the point. A sensitive person may look at his or her relative comfort and feel something more deeply than a simple, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Now the thing I find interesting is that the interpretation of these teachings of scripture, and they are indeed, what scripture has to say about the matter, are all predicated on one assumption.  That we understand what it is that God “is.”  We base all of our assumptions on an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving Sovereign of the universe and then attempt to figure out how such a being could know everything, and love each and every one of us – and allow suffering.  Therein we find the paradox.  A paradox which arises from our own reasoning.  A paradox that Job faced and just might have solved.

I recently read a book entitled God and the Philosophers.  In an article by David Shatz, an orthodox Jew, there is a quote that goes something like this, God does not follow us around looking at each and every action in order to pass out spankings and lollipops according to our daily performance.  A kindred spirit.  Although I may see this somewhat out of context, I interpret some of Ehrman’s point of view as casting God in a domestic violence case.  Someone who beats up his children for every infraction and sometimes not bothering to tell them what the infraction was or because someone else needed to learn a lesson.  This, of course, is not how I view a Sovereign deity at all.

I firmly believe that at the heart of the matter is our interpretation, our “assumption,” of what God is or does.  I believe if we spend a little time with Job, if we “gird” ourselves and prepare to answer the questions put to us, we just might find some answers.  They may not be the ones we want.  They may, however, give us a better sense of what our place in this vast universe really is.  I can tell you that I don’t believe it is crushed and groveling in the dirt.

I am always open to feedback and love to see your comments.  I will not approve attacks, rude commentary or baseless profanity.   Other than that, I am on a journey, just like you, and I don’t mind being challenged.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current Era, My Journey with Job

Conveying Important Truths ~ By Telling a Story

As a writer of primarily nonfiction, I am often confronted with the need to explain a conclusion I arrived at without making the reader feel as though I am pushing some ideology or agenda.  I want to provide food for thought; not pronouncements.  Many guides on writing will tell you that the way to engage the reader is to present them with something of humanity, some changing moment, some conquest, or some goal.  So, even in nonfiction, we have what we call a character arc or something similar that moves your concept from idea to conclusion.  In order to accomplish this feat with historical people, the author needs to be able to pick and choose relevant individuals (and facts) from the time period in question, or from persons somehow connected to the events or their interpretation.  Then these personalities can be used to convey the different points of view and how such views might resolve into the conclusion the author wishes to explore.

I am in the midst of such a process in my current work, Why Me ~ Come Let Us Reason With Job.  In order to make sure that I keep my text on point and not overwhelm the reader with an unnecessary gaggle of participants, I thought it would be helpful to discuss the issue with a fiction writer that I respect.  Particularly someone who deals with moral growth in her characters.  How, exactly, does she plot a character arc and can I use some of the same tools in selecting the supporting cast to my central figure?  The author I chose is Dianne Lynn Gardner who is both an author and an artist.  She has two books available in her series:  Deception Peak and The Dragon Shield.  This is how she responded to my questions.

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I believe that character arc is one of the most important elements of story telling.

Being an author of young adult and middle grade fantasy, my stories are coming of age tales about youths confronted with obstacles they need to overcome. When faced with events and hardships that they are unfamiliar with, their character is going to change. It’s inevitable. I see it in real life, and I use that paradigm in my stories.

I want to take a step back though before I discuss character arc because Victoria posed the question: “How do your characters develop deeper morals without being preachy.”

During my most recent period of studying the art of writing I was introduced to John Truby’s instructional The Anatomy of Story. I was deeply impressed with his system because it was the only book I’ve come across (note– I haven’t read them all) that actually talked about theme and moral development as a plumb line in a story.  I highly recommend it. After reading his book, I interpreted his ideas and formed my own blueprint for story writing.

This technique requires planning and is one reason I don’t thoroughly believe in writing by the ‘seat of my pants.’ (I think that’s the term many authors use). Since I really want to say something important in my stories, (writing for me is a form of inner expression) I must design the plot and conflict from the ground up.

1-2012-12-30 15.51.52For visual learners such as me, (I am an artist after all) the process begins by drawing a line in the center of our paper and giving it a name of some moral importance.  This might be Honor, honesty, integrity, or something along those lines. Then we take our characters, protagonists, antagonists and all their sidekicks and decide where each of those individuals stand in relation to that line. Are they indifferent? Do they care deeply?  Which side do they stand on and how close are they to the middle? Indifferent would be far away, close would be passionately for or against, near to the line. One side will be negative (such as being loyal to evil) and the other positive. Immediately you can see how conflict will develop between the characters and how the main character will be tested.

This plumb line isn’t the plot. It isn’t an event and it isn’t defined in any obvious way. It’s simply the moral fiber of the story. It weaves in and out of everything that happens. The author is the only one aware of it. He or she sifts it into the story. In fact, the more subtle that “plumb line” remains, the more effective it is in developing the plot.

09-SparklesNow we can talk about that character arc.  As I said earlier, all of the main characters should have some kind of growth. We all do. These people on paper won’t have a semblance of humanity if the trials and tribulations they go through don’t have some kind of persuasion over their ideas and inner being. They might grow backwards, but they will grow.

When I have a character that’s young and I want the story to be a coming of age story I’ll define what I want him to look like at the end of the story. Then I’ll create his personality so that he has to really work to get from point A to point B. I can do the same by first creating his character and giving him something to work toward, but I find it easier to work backwards, or to work toward the middle. I explained this process in another blog post during the tour for The Dragon Shield.

So in conclusion, if you develop your characters so that they are real, and give them goals, and obstacles along the way, always weaving around that plumb line of your story, you won’t come off preachy, and you’ll have meat your readers can chew on!

If you’d like to learn more about Ian and his dragons, check out Dianne’s blog.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools