Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Archive for the ‘Theology / Philosophy’ Category

by Fred Marx

Before I retired, there wasn’t time enough to add something to my life, even if that something was important and I ached to do it. When I retired and moved to Colorado, my activity level did not change as expected and I could not squeeze  anything new into life.

Well, it must be something important — whatever it is — because I received the ultimate notification just recently: ‘You have heart disease and it could kill you. But it won’t, this time. You’ll live a long and healthy life and you’ll get an inarguable second chance to do this thing for once and for all.’

‘Voice-Of-God’ notifications are rare, I think. Too often you and I have seen them used to give legitimacy to a project wanting to be done by the receiver. I don’t know how God uses his voice. So let’s just say that if such a thing were to happen to me, I’d vet it six ways from Sunday and still come out on the doubting side.

My special project is writing a book.

Let the doubting begin.

Who cares!? Everyone I know wants to write a book. I don’t even know yet what the darn thing is about. Yet I cannot stop thinking about it. I must sound like the boy who cried “fire” in a crowded theater so often that no one believed him when one actually occurred. Can’t blame anyone for not believing. Still, the book burns in me.

A confluence of factors brought me here. First, I’ve been telling doctors for decades that there is something wrong with my heart. No one listened until early this year. My new doc heard something I said, ran a test, connected the dots and announced: “Heart Disease.” This was later confirmed by CT scans which impressively showed calcium blockages in three of the major arteries servicing my heart.

Things began to happen fast. A long trip to a major medical center; laparoscopic surgery to determine the adequacy of stents (nope. Gotta be vein grafts; three of them). Two days later, I was on the schedule and on the table. My sternum was zipped open and the surgeon bypassed my clogged arteries with replacements from other parts of my own body. Let the recovery begin.

Of course, any confluence has at least two parts. My ‘part 2’ actually began when I was just 2½ years old; the first time I realized what life on this planet meant to me. I was a gifted communicator. Through the years, I wrote, spoke, broadcast, produced, interviewed, researched, contextualized all manner of material for the good of my fellow man. It was all well accepted by my peers and I couldn’t wait for tomorrow when I’d be able to do it all over again.

Except for that elusive book.

Maybe it’s the enormity of the task. Research, drafts, editors, congruity. Maybe it’s the success rate of books on the shelf. How many books are written only to be ignored at the library or bookstore? So much work. Failure cannot be an option. Success cannot be guaranteed.

Am I even a good writer? Yes. I believe so. Absolutely. But then I am not the reader of my own material, am I? You be the judge. Sunlight Blog and ElderBlog are readily available for inspection. Countless additional materials rest in my own files and in the files of companies for which they were created.

The need to write remains so loudly pronounced that all the if’s are swept off the table. You don’t write because you want to; you write because you have to.

And that brings us back to this moment in time. It’s not a deciding moment; I rather think that the decision has been made for me already. If it’s a book that’s useful to others, I’m good with that. If it’s fiction, well, I’ve always written reality; fiction could be fun and interesting to me.

Whatever it is, it’s time for me to get on with the physical healing of my body. I hear that book tours are murder.

I’ve been wondering how to explain what’s going on inside my head these days. Thank you, Eda LeShan, for figuring me out — two generations ago!

THE RISK OF GROWING

by Eda J. LeShan

(first published in Woman’s Day Magazine, 9/22/81)

I recently celebrated my fifty-ninth birthday.  As usual I was utterly astounded by the passing of the years.  It seems to me that last year I was only twenty-five and the year before that I was about twelve.  But no matter how surprising they are, I find birthdays useful.  They remind me that I must not waste a minute of my life – and that I must keep on growing and changing in order to truly celebrate my birthdays.

Eda J. LeShan   circa 2002

Eda J. LeShan circa 2002

A number of years ago I wrote a book called The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age.  I thought middle age could be called wonderful because it seemed to be a chance for a second adolescence – a time during which I could make new and better decisions about the rest of my life. 

While I was writing the book, I met an oceanographer who asked if I knew how a lobster was able to grow bigger when its shell was so hard.  I had to admit that learning how lobsters grow had never been high on my list of priorities.  But now that he had mentioned it, how in the world could a lobster grow? The only way, he explained, is for the lobster to shed its shell at regular intervals.  When its body begins to feel cramped inside the shell, the lobster instinctively looks for a reasonably safe spot to rest while the hard shell comes off and the pink membrane just inside forms the basis of the next shell.  But no matter where a lobster goes for this shedding process, it is very vulnerable.  It can get tossed against a coral reef or eaten by a fish.  In other words, a lobster has to risk its life in order to grow. I found myself preoccupied with the lobster story for days after hearing it. 

I finally realized that it was a symbol for the book I was writing.  The lobster could teach us that the only way to endure the passage of time and the limits of our mortality is to know that we are growing and changing, that we are becoming more than we have been with each year of our lives. We all know when our shells have gotten too tight.  We feel angry or depressed or frightened because life is no longer exciting or challenging.  We are doing the same old things and beginning to feel bored.  Or we are doing things we hate to do and are feeling stifled in our shells. Some of us continue to smother in old shells that are no longer useful or productive.  That way we can at least feel safe – nothing can happen to us.  Others are [wiser]; even though we know we will be vulnerable – that there are dangers ahead – we realize that we must take risks or suffocate. In honor of my birthday, I invite you to share the party I always go to – the one where I shed this year’s shell, despite the dangers, in order to get ready for new and better adventures.

He pulled the gleaming new Silverado into the gravel parking lot and rolled to a stop near us. Gary said to me, “This guy lost his wife in an accident last month at Four Mile Corner.” He then walked over to the driver’s side and extended his iron-strong hand.

The guy might have been sixty, hadn’t had a haircut in a while, was wearing a plaid shirt and the obligatory ball cap. Maybe a farmer or a rancher, his face had seen its share of weather. His lenses tinted dark in the morning sun. He reached into a shirt pocket and joined Gary in a cigarette. From the other pocket, he drew some photographs.

“This is what hit us,” he said. “He t-boned us so hard, it knocked the fifth-wheel right out of the bed of the pickup. The airbags didn’t inflate. Her shoulder belt held so tight that it broke some ribs. EMS got three calls from the scene, but didn’t send a paramedic until a fireman called; I had to cut her out. They took us to the hospital. She had a punctured lung. She went into cardiac arrest three times. They airlifted us to Minot.”

Upwards of twenty-thousand trucks move through Williston’s Four Mile Corner every day. Add to that the cars and pickups and you have a real mess. They put traffic lights there a couple of months back, and a truck destroyed the intersection’s control box just a week later. It’s been flashing yellows and reds ever since. Testosterone-fueled decision-making yields a harrowing experience for all. I could just hear the truck driver tell the cops, “I thought I could make it.”

I was getting my car fixed at Gary’s shop. It’s a mammoth-sized garage that he’s run by himself for generations. Tools of all kinds and ages are strewn about and Gary knows the location of each one. Johnny Cash plays from the radio, and calendars with drawings of beautiful naked women hang high up on the walls. They date back to 1953.

The garage also serves as a gathering place. When I first came here on Wednesday, I learned that the price of admission was a case of beer for the community fridge. It was too early for beer, today, so I brought a dozen donuts fresh from the bakery. Coffee and donuts and assorted neighbors; the conversation ranged from the Oil Patch to the Vietnam War to rebuilding the church west of here. Somewhere in the middle of that, Gary started working on my car.

And now he handed the pictures back to the Silverado guy. “How are you doing?” Gary asked. “Well, I’m doin’ okay, I guess,” was the brave answer. “Don’t think I’ll buy another fifth-wheel, though. I’m headed for family in Minnesota. Maybe I’ll come back after summer.” And for just a moment, I thought Gary was going to hug him…but that’s not his way.

I may not have much in this life right now. What I do have is the ability to breathe and walk.

And I have a good mechanic.

It’s quality of life issues that I hear people talking about. Natives and newcomers alike: dirt, traffic and noise and the increasing cost of living here. And crime.

Perhaps I’m naïve. I hear about crime in The Oil Patch and wonder, “Who has time for that? We’re all working too hard; making too much money; sending it back home; using our precious free time to rest up for the next day’s work.” My view is likely a product of seeing the good in human nature a few milliseconds before the bad.

Local police report that the crime rate has not increased. What has increased is the number of people in this once-peaceful town. And with that has proportionately grown the number of crimes.

There are a couple of bars near the train station. Until recently, the warning was that all bad things start from there. Now, the bad seems pervasive.

The word is out across the country: ‘The Oil Patch has jobs and money; it doesn’t have the usual number of outlets at which normal hard-working citizens can recreate.’ So those outlets are streaming here along with all of the other opportunity seekers, bringing with them their proclivities for doing good or doing bad. Unfortunately, those who would do good are muted because good news rarely makes headlines. It may also be true that the opportunities to do good are diminished by extended work hours and efforts to maintain relationships back home by various means.

And then there are criminal opportunists: people who come here specifically to do their misdeeds in a land fat with money. No need for a recitation of their activities; it’s just like any other big city now.

Residents who are used to leaving their homes and cars unlocked are unhappy that the hometown peace has been replaced by the boomtown reality.

And this. Somewhere between 9,000 and 20,000 trucks roll through here every day. If you do the unpleasant math, that means that a whole lot of truckers have to “go” as they pass through the city. And as we all know, when you hafta “go”…   The problem is that there are no truck stops along the entire Williston corridor. And you can’t pull your semi into McDonalds.

Here’s what’s happening: truckers are filling their soda bottles and are tossing them out the window onto the roadside at cruising speed. This joins some even more disgusting human waste and other litter: hypodermic needles, for example.

Knowing this, residents — who were previously disposed to keeping their environs clean — have become indisposed to spring cleanup efforts. It’s not just trash pick up anymore…it’s life-threatening.

The situation got some buzz early this week. I’m now hearing of citizens and company groups who will gather this weekend and brave through the hazards in Williams and McKenzie Counties to keep their highways clean.

It’s easy to see the bad in people: they’re in your face all the time. But sometimes you have to celebrate the good in people, too. It makes living here, well, livable.

Most of the back roads around here don’t have speed limit signs. This one did: 45mph. I had to laugh…it’d be pushing if I exceeded 15. Another thing the back roads don’t have is pavement. There’s dirt, gravel and potholes.

One thing we have in abundance here is back roads. And that’s where my current project finds me. I have an armload of contracts needing the signatures of certain landowners – most of whom live on homesteads and farms way off the beaten path.

I’ve found myself feeling sorry for a thing: my car. This is a new experience for me. And it.

I’ve treated my little car well since acquiring it over 75,000 miles ago. But as I rumble over the countryside in pursuit of my mission, I have living nightmares of nuts and bolts vibrating loose and parts falling off the frame. I have visions of vacuuming inches of accumulated dust from the choked-up air filter compartment. I wonder how soon it will be before the windshield will need replacement. I inspect the tires each time I approach the car and wonder how the donut will fare when it is inevitably deployed.

A quick check with the locals offers no reassurance: the worst-case scenario is the reality of life in the wild west. And in a world replete with things to fear, the single most-dreaded thing here is scoria.

A scoria roadbed

Imagine red bricks, partially crushed. It’s in chunks now with jagged, sharp and pointy edges. That’s scoria: a substance that has never met a tire it didn’t destroy. Scoria makes an excellent road bed; it compacts well and can handle heavy trucks. But it’s supposed to be covered by softer, rounder gravel. The fact that it isn’t is a product of our times — the oilfields have drawn away the workers and other resources needed to complete jobs like road building.

And so, the vehicular torture happens whether I minister it in fast- or slow-motion. The best I can hope for is that the doors don’t fall off.

There is an upside to all of this: the people I get to meet. I’ve been thinking for hours how I’d characterize them. All manner of tired cliché came to mind. Instead, I’ll describe them like this:

Image

I saw this picture in three kitchens just today. It describes – better than words – the reward I get at the end of every rough road.

Hollywood has given us thousands of memorable movie quotes. “There’s no crying in baseball!” “Houston, we have a problem.” “Life is like a box of chocolates.” And these are three of just one actor’s (Tom Hanks) famous lines.

Few lines rise to the level of meaningful: Jerry Maguire‘s “You had me at ‘Hello'” comes quickly to mind for its simplicity, memorability and impact. Last year’s The Help gave us a sleeper line: “Nobody ever asked me before what it’s like to be me.” In Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams delivers: “Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.”

Most of us plunk down our $9.50 to be entertained; to be taken away from ourselves for a couple of hours. So it comes as a surprise when something truly important is said; the more surprising when it comes out of the mouth of an innocent child.

Hugo is a movie about fixing things — a subject with which we can relate; who among us hasn’t experienced brokenness? Surely, twelve-year-old orphan ‘Hugo Cabret’ is one of us. He gives one of cinema’s most meaningful lines:

“If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.”

Perhaps moviegoers missed this. I did not. It stuck to me and almost made the remainder of the film a distraction as I considered the wisdom of these words.

—–

It is my belief that each human comes to this earth with a purpose. It’s planted in there somewhere; in our DNA, maybe. Each of us is wired in a special, specific way so as to enable us to accomplish our purpose. It could be the thing you do with the greatest of ease. It might be something you have to practice before being able to perform it. Years of education or apprenticeship may be necessary.

Most of us never realize our purpose. Family and societal influences often obscure it from us. There comes a sense that something’s missing; we are not satisfied. We are not reaching our true potential.

“If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.”

Understanding this may help to explain personal and societal dysfunction. The vast majority of us are missing the peace that comes from operating within our purpose. The world is missing out on the product that is uniquely yours to give.

—–

Get away from the noise. Go inside. Make the effort to touch the core. You can only realize the fulfillment of acting within your purpose if you know your purpose.

Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is not okay.  Saying that the president is a socialist, yellow-bellied foreigner is okay.  In the first instance, the safety of the theater’s occupants is put in jeopardy.  In the second instance, mere bombast — while potentially slanderous — is protected free speech.  I would argue strenuously in favor of anyone who speaks ill of the president because curtailing your right to speak your mind — on this or any subject — would curtail my right to speak my own opinions; even if you’re right and I’m wrong.  It’s a two-way street.

This post is not about the exercise of the right to free speech; it’s about what is being spoken.

The tragic events in Japan seem to be getting worse by the day: earthquake, tsunami, death, injury, displacement, nuclear meltdown, Mount Fuji could blow.  What does tomorrow bring?  It’s almost too much for us to take in.  How much worse must it be for the people who are living it?

All manner of reporting has kept us abreast of events.  All manner of expert analyses have been rendered.  Now it’s apparently time for some opinionists to crawl out of their caves.

Glenn Beck inferred that God is punishing the Japanese.  Perhaps worse, he didn’t say what he said.  Confused?  Try this: on his radio show on Monday, Beck said,  “I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes.  I’m not not saying that either.  Whatever you call God, there’s a message being sent.  And that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing?  Not really working out real well.  Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’  I’m just saying.”

From a free speech point of view, I have no problem with Beck expressing an opinion.  From a bully-pulpit, “Fire!”-in-the-theater point of view, I have a right and (perhaps) an obligation to mitigate his vitriol.  His method of expression is a cowardly way of saying something without saying it, and it fits a profile of his own creation.

At least Beck’s political/religious forebears had the brass to say it outright.  Commenting just after 9/11, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell said, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”  Then Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson responded, “Well, I totally concur.”

I’m just one little ‘David’ taking on three political ‘Goliath’s’.  They have the right to speak with hubris.  I have the right to disagree.

The thesis put forth by Beck, Falwell, Robertson and others is that God is vindictive; hateful.  I say the opposite: God is love.  To prove this, I will explore the creation of the earth, the creation of God’s children, and His parenting practices through the ages.

Theology’s greatest mystery is when and how God, Himself, was created.  While that puzzle remains unsolvable, there is little argument (even among Christians) that the earth was created about 4.6 billion years ago.  You’ll recall from scripture that it was without form and void.  The creation story (Genesis) tells us that some animals were created on the fifth day and the remainder early on the sixth.

If a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as a day to God (2Peter3:8), what was the void and formless earth doing between its creation and the placement of animals upon it?  It was evolving into a form capable of sustaining the lives of animals.  In geological terms, land masses were slowly moving to where they are today.  This movement was manifest with great earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanoes and ice ages.  Mountains weren’t just plunked down upon the face of the planet; they were formed through the compression of land masses over a very long time.  Rivers weren’t placed into the landscape, they were etched into it over millennia.  Continental shelves and fault lines and the locations of the oceans are among the natural products of the process of earth’s growth.  And the big news is that earth continues to shift/contract/grow every single day.  Including last Friday.  Including today.

Earth’s natural law is the way in which the planet fulfills God’s plan for it and for the creations supported by it.  God won’t violate His own law to keep us from thinking that He hates us.  Thus, “catastrophic” events are not and cannot be inflictions from God.  They are, simply, the product of natural law.

So, why would a loving God put his children in an unsafe place?  We might question His parenting skills.

God created humans about 2.2 million years ago.  Scripture tells us that God created us to love Him.  Why would He do otherwise?  Of course, true love must be a decision made of our own free will, so God had to give us the freedom of choice.  If we couldn’t choose to love Him, we’d be robots in service to a master.  The part of us God’s most interested in is the spirit which was crafted to seek and find, fall in love with and eventually live alongside our Creator.  That’s His plan.  But it’s our choice.

We have not only choice, but a self-preservation instinct.  This serves to self-motivate continued good health, gives us defensive and offensive capability, and has kept us alive as individuals and as a species.  But our bodies can’t exist forever; they’re not supposed to.  The planet was intentionally not created with resources sufficient to sustain an accumulating population forever.  And God’s great plan isn’t satisfied by our continued physical existence.  There must be an end to physical life in order for the spirit to wind up where it will go.

Given these traits — choice and self-preservation — and the reality of a finite physical life, humans were problematic by nature from the very start.

Simplistically, there are two kinds of parenting: the “junior’s-going-to-grow-up-to-be-a-fine-young-man-someday” kind, and the tough-love kind.  The first kind lets the child find its own way without restriction.  Some say this is a lazy kind of parenting.  (Confession: I was one of these.)

The second way is motivated by love.  It sets boundaries as a means of protection, and sometimes finds it necessary to remind us when we’ve taken risks beyond the safety of the boundaries.

The latter is the relationship God had with His children at the beginning.  He’d hand down laws (boundaries) so we’d have necessary guidance.  We’d go another way and He’d have to reel us back in.  It is only the scale of God’s discipline that causes us today to think of Him as mean.  Meanness has never been His motivation.

Over time, things got bad enough that God decided to do something new and different.  He sent part of Himself to earth to wipe our slates clean and to be an example of how we should live.  Accomplishing that, God didn’t have any new laws to hand down; He didn’t have to mete out any disciplines.  It began a new era in His relationship with us.  This is the age we now live in.  Today, we have and need only this guidance:

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’  This is the first and most important commandment.  The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’  All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.”

 —  Jesus       Matthew 22:37-40  (CEV)

There is an end to this age: Rapture, Armageddon, Revelation, Eternity.  Only God knows when and how these things will happen, and He counsels us not to speculate (Acts 1:7).  But until then — and after then — God gets to be what He is: pure, absolute love.

This is how I know that God isn’t bringing punishment upon anyone who suffers in any kind of abnormality:

  • His natural laws are working just as they should.
  • The traits of choice and self-preservation, and the reality of a finite life continue as intended.
  • His judgment of those present on earth doesn’t come till the end.

Only God is perfect.  We humans are inherently imperfect.  We have, therefore, no right to condemn anyone (Matt.7:3-5).  If Glenn Beck, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others studied their Bibles without the overlay of their personal agendas, they would know that only God knows when the end is coming.  They would know that God reserves for Himself alone the right to judge.  They would know how very dangerous it is for them to act as if they were God.


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