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Archive for February, 2009

Crooked timber

As I keep thinking about evil, and our flawed-ness, I end up reflecting on something that I tend to say alot: “We are a broken race.”  Or: “Being human is hard; we are a broken people.”

Personally, I do not believe this life is all there is– I believe we can sometimes sense, see, or feel glimmers of what yet is to come, but that this isn’t all there is.

(Aside on the “glimmers of what yet is to come”: Celts call this “the close place” or “the thin place” and mean times when the fabric between this world and the next is particularly thin.  Being with someone when she is dying would be a classic example of being at the close place.)

I also take much from CS Lewis, and from Augustine, and from other Christian philosophers– that we will eventually be re-made in better versions of ourselves.  “Better” being forms or means that we cannot imagine; we will somehow be ourselves, but more than we ever have been.

Even with all of that, I recognize that we are so capable of inflicting pain ourselves and one another.  A writer I can’t remember called these, “A thousand daily crucifixions and betrayals.”  It’s true.  At least, I know it’s true for me.  And I look around, and from my perspective, evil can always be seen at the most human level.  I hear “Holocaust,” and I don’t think faceless marching Nazi crowds, I picture one woman like me, turning her head and ignoring the truth of her neighbors being taken in the night.  Latch the door, check on the sleeping children, say her prayers, and go to sleep.

But… if we set aside the problem of evil, and just take into consideration our brokenness, there might be something beautiful there.  Remember in _A Wrinkle in Time_, when the children land on that planet where everyone must be the same?  The evil sensation of the bouncing balls, in senseless, form-fitting rhythm?  Those people were not “broken” on the surface… and yet that was a terrible, terrible world.

I was thinking of all of this, and then saw the following quote. It rang absolutely true:

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

–Immanuel Kant

I don’t know what he meant, but I take him to be referring to the beauty of crooked things.  One more story.

There is an ancient Jewish creation story (or so the story goes) that says that once, God created a beautiful pot.  It was amazingly beautiful, and strong, and lovely in all ways.  It broke apart, and broke into millions of pieces.  It was totally shattered.

We are each one piece of sherd, a piece of the pot.  When we make relationship, one to another, the small pieces of pottery are coming together, one by one, two by two.  It is only through our continued building of relationships that the original pot–or the restoration of creation–can ever be achieved.  Perhaps that original pot was more beautiful and amazing than I can imagine, but I do think there is something strong-making and gorgeous about our individual comings together.

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Theodicy

Theodicy = the problem of evil.  

That is, it’s a problem that has existed for theologians, faithful, and philosophers for nearly ever.  Like, why is there evil in the world if God is good, OR, why can’t/won’t God stop evil if God is all-powerful.

Various theologians try to solve it in different ways– one example: God is like a clockmaker– God created the world, and the conditions around the world, and then set it into motion.  But God doesn’t thereafter interfere with the workings of the world.

Another attempted solution: Our free will is more important (for some as yet unknown reason) than our living lives without the problem of evil.  So for reasons we can’t understand, God allows our free will to create evil, pain and suffering in the world.

If you start to think about these, objections will arise in your mind.  Like, “What about earthquakes and tsunamis that kill thousands of innocent people?  What does that have to do with free will?”  Or, “What about infants killed in the Holocaust, or lives ruined by schizophrenia, or car accidents?  If God can keep that from happening, why wouldn’t God?”  Or even, “What kind of God would set pain into motion and then watch it happen from afar?”   

Let alone questions about why, in history, God does seem to intercede for some people at some times, and not at others.

If you want to isolate the pieces of the equation, they end up being:  God can have three possible aspects, but not _all_ three.  They include:

 

1.  God is all-powerful.

2.  God is good.

3.  God is all-knowing.

 

When you get right  down to the problem of evil, you are eventually forced to give up one aspect of the three, to explain why God would allow for such evil in this world.  For example, perhaps God is completely good, and wants nothing but goodness and love for us.  And perhaps it is also true that God is all-powerful, and capable of eradicating evil. Only, God is not all-knowing, and there are aspects of our condition that God doesn’t see— so, God doesn’t intervene.

Most people don’t want to give up on God being all good.  The alternative is too frightening.  So many times, explanations of evil describe various degrees of God’s powerless (so a giving up of God’s all-powerful nature.)  For example, God is good and doesn’t want us to hurt, but God prefers for us to have free will, and will not use God’s power to stop ourselves from inflicting pain.  In this example, God loses some of the all-powerful aspect of God’s nature.  “Natural evil” compounds this problem, though– I can personally get my head around the idea that our free will might be very important, too important for God to tinker with, for a reason unknown in this life, but natural evil can’t be explained this way.  Natural evils are things like earthquakes and disease– the things we don’t do to ourselves that still wreak much pain in our lives.

Like I said, it’s a problem.  Theologians eventually admit that it’s a problem with no solution.  In philosophy and theology classes here, we frequently run into an aspect of this, and try to postulate conditions or possibilities that might explain our question.  Eventually, though, someone will have to sigh and say, “Theodicy.”  As in, the constant problem, the one we can’t solve.

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Try, hope, receive

I haven’t been getting the Internet on my darling little laptop, so although nearly every day for the last week, I’ve thought, “I should blog,” I have not.  But I never liked the kinds of letters from friends that began with a paragraph of “I feel awful for not having written…” so I’ll dispense with any more apologies.

First, importantly, the student loan came through.  Last Monday, I went through the day like a tingling robot.  I was constantly aware of all of my skin, and especially my spine, and was so distracted at work that sometimes it was all I could do to click open and closed various spreadsheets and windows.  I called in the afternoon, and they said it was pending.  On the way home, I was just so plain exhausted.  But my new engagement ring had arrived in the mail (turn of the last century, aquamarine and diamond, tiny old-fashioned filagreed flowers on either side) and the ring made me excited, and gave me a bit of heart.  So even though it was nearly six o’clock in the evening, I called the student loan group back.  A very warm and friendly woman said that it had, and had been approved, and would be disbursed to my school later.  I thanked her and thanked her and thanked her.  She laughed, and said “Bless you,” and that she was happy I could start school this week, and I blessed her back.

Monday night I couldn’t sleep– my body had been tensed for something all day long, and it was like the little tubes of adrenaline that had been flaring for weeks couldn’t exactly shut down yet.  I’ve noticed that over the course of last week, I’ve still been waking up briefly each night, but it’s more like a brief startle, a “Oh!  Am I– will I—” and then a realization, “It’s okay.  It’s okay.”   I wonder what kind of chemical memory my brain has, that it’s still working this way, releasing spurts of fear at the same time every night.

Another kind of physical-mental memory has been my ability to pray.  I noticed that in the final week before I heard that I would get the loan and be able to finish this degree, I was asking for prayer in every community with which I’m connected.  I would have thought that the worry would make me duck my head and be unable to reach out to others, but I found the opposite– because I was reaching out, asking for prayer, I was able to remain open somehow.  And when the prayer requests of others found their way to me, it was easier to access my ability to pray, and to pray for others.  

I think this has something to do with a posture of trust, or of mercy…  a way of leaning with trust into the universe (or leaning in the direction of chi, or into the arms of God) instead of balling up and refusing human access.  If I think of a portal– maybe it was like because I was open in asking, I could also be open to pray for others.  I’m thinking somehow of my spine, or picturing my spine, but I can’t exactly describe how I think my personal body relates to prayer.  Other words that go along with that inexplicable concept: vulnerable, open, portal, breath, try, hope, receive, receptive, flow.

Finally, Matt found this video earlier this week.  It is so joyful, and so beautiful, and so hopeful.  It’s a video montage of families, but it’s so much more than that.  If we were having our wedding right now, this would definitely play at the reception, and the petition would be our guestbook.  Watch it here, and prepare to feel good and hopeful about humanity.

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Really, really brilliant.  An artist named Lena Gieseke came up with the idea of doing– how to describe it? — some sort of 3D exploration of a painting.  A description of the concept on the site explains how the idea came from doing puzzles of famous paintings, and looking so closely at details of the work.

I have to say, I was always able to tell from the title and from the didactic “museum label” that this was a painting about war… but I probably passed it by without looking many times. This time, in the “movie,” the first thing I noticed was the human figure, head bent back in pain, holding another figure, dead.  I really, really saw the posture of the figure’s pain, and the wrenching expression on his/her face–the mouth, the profile– I can almost hear the person wailing.  Note to self: look more carefully, even when things are “only” 1D.

(The site apologizes for a potentially long loading time.  It goes fine here on my home laptop; at work it went slowly– I would suggest muting it and letting it load while you do something else on your computer, so that when you turn it on, it’s all ready to go.)

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