Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saddened at the passing of Paul Harvey

He's on my list of people I'd have liked to coffee klatch with. I listened to him every day for a while in the 1970's so we go back a long way. He was an icon and one of a kind, in a way that in these "in your face" times I don't think most today can appreciate or understand. He was a class act.

Unseemly joy by some for more abortions

Unseemly joy by some for more abortions

What I am about to say should disquiet both “sides” of the abortion “debate.” I am going to start out by criticizing the “pro choice” (favors abortion) side. Regardless of how one feels about two reversals in Bush policy that had limited what some consider abortion rights, there is a breathless joy and euphoria by the “pro choice” side whenever they find a way to spread abortion, which is very unseemly.

There are two policies that are making the news. One was an early executive order by President Bush to curtail federal funding to international family planning organizations that include abortion in their menu of services to women. President Obama rescinded that order this past week. Now, I have to tell you that I was never thrilled with that policy (this is the part that will pain the pro life side) in the first place. Why? Not because I favor abortion and certainly not the spreading of the throw away snot rag approaches that the West has toward babies being spread throughout the world. So I find Western aid organizations that promote abortion in countries other than their own abhorrent. If you believe in abortion being made more available in other countries you should view it as a medical issue and train clinics and send supplies, not promote and push abortion in a country as if you are a Mexican drug lord pushing drugs in the USA. So I have no sympathy for international “family planning groups” who only wish to promote more abortion in other countries, like pushers looking for a new market. (Just as they have done for the Afro-American, Native American and Latino cultures here in the USA, when they had saturated getting white women to abort their babies and started to run out of “market”). They are hypocrites of the first order because if they truly favored abortion they would view it as a medical procedure and work through each country’s own medical ethos and services to improve the safety of what is already offered under the law, not cultivate a new “taste” for abortion among poor women in foreign lands.

However, having said that, humans cannot be stopped from degradation of their own culture and promoting of sin through force or law. This is why I was uneasy with Bush’s prohibition in the first place. Humans have shown that time after time they have to see for themselves how low into the dirt they can fall. Abortion is an example of where, just like in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, humans have to see how far and for how long they can avert their eyes from wrong. So yes, I know the pro life lobby is wringing their hands at this, but you have to be more realistic about the continuing fall of humanity. You cannot stop entropy, the dissolving of morals and decency, when it has momentum, and abortion has had the momentum for decades now. You have to let it fall, watch the women surrender their dignity and their own respect for life, until it has fallen as far as it can and then even the “users” of abortion start to have a bad taste in their mouths. We have seen a small amount of this begin to happen in the USA, where women who have hit rock bottom, both pushing and receiving abortions, have started to question how yummy was that freedom, really?

And so I have always felt that the bottom, the muck, has to be tested, fallen into and found by each culture and each society, each government and each gender and age group. Do the young people of today feel that abortion is a wonderful “sacrament,” with the discarded embryo "blob" (that just happens to have eyes, fingers and toes) a sign of women’s “empowerment” like their parents did and still do? Do the fathers think that a lover is really that hot if she thinks nothing of throwing away your baby? Is that alluring? Is that sexy? Is that emancipating? Somehow I think that slowly the young generation of this country has seen the dirt and the muck of the “rock bottom” vile swamp that their parents have given to them, and are starting to lift their heads up from it. So too, I have always thought, each country will have to face the temptation of the abortion pimps and procuresses when they come knocking on their door. Thus I felt that Bush’s policy about funding, in a way, stalled the “final battle,” if one insists on thinking of it that way. Let the abortion pimps go into each country and try to abort other people’s babies and see which of them say “yes” and take the money.

God has repeatedly shown in the Bible that humans cannot be stopped from finding the lowest part of their fall into the dirt. In fact, they get angry with God when God tries to dissuade them, or even punishes them, on their way down. Humans insist on going to the very bottom and taking as many people along with them as they can. The great temptation is to “go along with it” and look the other way. This is why abortion is indeed comparable to the Holocaust of World War II. I mean, how many Jews did it take, and how many trains did it take, before the Allies would target that foul business? Years and years of deporting of Jews (and others) and their torture and murder took place and the Allies would not accept masses of immigrants nor would they bomb the train lines and target the “plan,” the Holocaust and its infrastructure. Likewise millions of babies must be aborted, it seems, and before humans raise their heads from the slime long enough to see what has happened to themselves and their own society. I oppose delaying people from discovering that for themselves, as that, truly, is the fastest and ultimately only way to stop the fall.

If you read the Bible you will notice a pattern. People are continually tempted by themselves and each other to degenerate. God continually sends prophets to warn them. The prophets are continually ignored, persecuted and even tortured and killed. The society then inevitably falls.

The second rule that abortionists are breathlessly and with tingling on their legs, that frisson of erotic power pleasure was pushed through by Bush as a final days in office measure. It is meant to protect the rights of those who are in healthcare who oppose abortion to refuse to perform abortion related services, including dispensing of pharmaceuticals. I also did not agree with that executive order so, guess what, President Obama and abortionists, go ahead and repeal it. I disagreed with it for the reasons I mention above, and also because it’s ridiculous to push something through in your final days, like some cheap gift that you pick up because you suddenly remember it’s someone’s birthday and you pass a dollar store and grab something. Laws that protect the rights of those who oppose abortion on the workplace should either be thoughtfully considered and appropriate laws crafted, or not at all. I am somewhat lukewarm about such an approach, though. I think that the focus of such protection should be on institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, rather than individual by individual.

Let’s use a “New Age” example so that liberals can have a thrill and better understand what I am saying. Suppose that liberals who are health food fanatics charter a hospital that is entirely based on health food, so only vegetarian menus are supplied to patients, etc. I’d actually have no trouble with that. Assuming they provide standard and good care, so what if they won’t serve you meat, eggs, etc while you are a patient there? And what if their products must be recyclable and so forth? I really would not care. I’d not even care if they made the whole thing a Buddhist hospital (so long as they don’t think my medical chart is of reincarnated Eva Braun). However, I’d have a problem with a grocery store clerk who refuses to ring up my meat purchase at the local store because he or she objects to the eating of meat. I think that such a person should either ring up my meat purchase or get a job with the vegetarian hospital. Likewise I believe that rights to object to abortion, birth control and other moral judgments must be recognized and protected institution by institution and not individual by individual. Thus I was always dubious of the argument to protect individual moral objections and qualms when they are employed by a company or organization that does not have an overarching umbrella of recognition of their stance and requirements for protection such as a Catholic hospital.

So for both the “we have to let people fall as far as they insist on going” reasons, and for also logical, legal and policy practicality reasons, I was never thrilled with either of the Bush initiatives, and go ahead, sweep them away.

However, I have to really ask the “pro choice” side why they have such glee and joy over such a sad topic, whether you believe in abortion or not. Building a new school is something to go “yippee” and skip while you are picking and grinning and clicking your heels about. Forcing someone who does not believe in abortion or birth control to dispense your pills is just cheap and mean spirited, and says more about you than it does about them. Likewise, rubbing your hands in glee and thinking “At last! We can get into Zambia or wherever and push more abortions!” just is not something that I’d feel that tingle of joy about, even if I believed in the “cause.” That would be as if our soldiers were like, “Yippee! Here’s another country to invade so we can kill lots of people!” It’s a job and a patriotic duty; I know as I had many World War II era servicemen in my family (real ones, not imaginary reincarnated ones, by the way). Soldiers are eager to take the fight to the enemy when that is what is called of them to do. Soldiers do not hope for a war so that more people can be killed. Pro abortionists ought to look at their “calling” with a little more sober reflection and a bit more “necessary evil” (and thus work through the society’s existing medical system) rather than glee at “more business.”

Their breathless anticipation of President Obama’s every “pro choice” move is unseemly. If you want him to do it, then fine, he’s going to do it. But like the whole “pro choice” movement of the past several decades, I just don’t think that aborted babies is something to get the funny hats, the gilded invitations, the home video and the confetti out about, singing “We’re having a party, everyone’s aborting!” Try to muster some scraps of your decency and dignity, please.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Understanding God: His all knowing-ness

I just thought of a quick analogy. I've blogged on this subject before, explaining God's all knowing-ness in rather scientific and using imagery from physics terminology. I thought of another analogy that is less "clinical" and probably more comfortable for day to day contemplation.

This modern generation, full of guilty consciences and much to hide, ha, is not comfortable with the thought of an all knowing God. Ancient humans found that reassuring and so Biblical souls had comfort in knowing that God knew all that they did moment by moment, largely because they were more natural and less self conscious than people today. People today ask astronauts (cosmonauts) and God similar things, worrying about going to the bathroom, sex and so forth. In other words, privacy in modern times has been polarized into exhibitionism and its opposite, unfounded shame in natural functions. Thus modern people are uncomfortable at thinking about an all knowing God, differing from previous generations by far.

So here is an analogy that will help with this discomfort. Do not think of God as the "eye in the sky" or using a visionary means, since it's not even theologically or physically accurate anyway. Remember that God created humans, the universe, and is present among people as the Holy Spirit, who moves among all people like the wind, or the water. So it would be accurate and perhaps more comforting to think of God's all knowness as being like the air that is breathed, oxygenates the body, and is expelled, moving in constant cycle through the bodies of the living and also among the landscape's features. It is not so much that the air is "watching" anyone, but the air obviously knows how it is being used. So it's not like God is looking with eyes when someone tells a lie, for example, but God knows about the lie because the lie is spoken with air, and air is present throughout all everywhere.

Or think of God's all knowing as being like invisible water that flows among and through all. When one's heart is hard and one sins or is uncharitable, it is like a rock being put into place (we could make a pun that it is like a dam, ha) and the water must move around the rock, so obviously the water "notices." It's not like the water is "watching" at that moment, but the water is shaped by all that one does and thinks. Later when one is in God's presence and judged, he knows all that you have done because his spirit moved, like air or water among you all, and retains the shape of one's thoughts and deeds, and how one has lived one's life.

It is also more accurate because God is interactive on an individual basis, not just "the observer." Through the Holy Spirit God constantly tries to inspire people to be loving, kind, righteous, strong and hating of sin. So the Holy Spirit is like a warm wind that blows when one is cold, or a cool breeze that blows when one is hot, or water that flows, either impeded or unimpeded, according to one's own actions. It is thus a more accurate way to describe God's all knowingness than to think of him as the constant judging observer of one's every deed.

I hope that is a helpful pointer to a less clinical description of how God knows all.

A must read article, absolutely must

The interview with this father captures what I consider to be the core of family, love and humanity. God bless them, comfort them, and all throughout the world who are in similar situations.

Suffering, both of humanity and of Jesus Christ

Here is more about understanding suffering, particularly, during this time of Lent, more accurately understanding the suffering of Christ. I am, however, focusing on this subject to rectify human understanding of suffering, since that has been terribly warped in modern times, particularly in the extremes (avoidance or glorification and willful infliction) that I described in my first post on this subject. So in this posting bear in mind the analogy I introduced in that post, which is that suffering is, like paper from a tree that is used once or for a short amount of time and then discarded or recycled, a natural occurrence when one is alive and one encounters a boundary of loss. Check that post out again if you didn’t read it before or remember, before proceeding here.

There are two things about modern society that have contributed to the warping of understanding of human suffering. One is that humans have, as I explained in that previous post, isolated and commoditized suffering as a free standing quantity or experience that can and should be “managed.” But that is neither intellectually, spiritually or emotionally correct, nor how humans have biologically evolved to encounter and deal with suffering. Humans have not evolved in a way that views suffering as a standalone quantity or quality of life. One evidence of that evolution is how quickly the human body recovers from an individual experience of physical pain. When one hits one’s self on the thumb with a hammer, for example, it really hurts and going forward, sure, you remember that it hurt. But if you think about it, it is difficult to bring to perfect memory recollection a rerun of the experience of that pain, short of actually doing it again. Natural childbirth is another example where mothers through the generations sure remember the agony that some, but not all, births entail, yet are preserved from having perfect rerun in their minds of that pain.

Furthermore, athletes will tell you that you learn to “play through’ chronic pain from sports, for example. As an athlete who for a while was in a martial art that involved contact (being hit by a sword or a fist) I can attest that the first few times hurt “more” than subsequent times. Part of pain is the surprise and “unfairness” of it (disproportionality) that contribute to its severity of initial “suffering”, and that with training can be managed. So the first time I was really whipped with a fencing foil it sure hurt, but as one develops one “takes the hit” while already thinking about one’s next move, and thus does not focus on the pain like one did as a beginner. Boxers can probably tell you the same thing. So these are just some of the evidences that humans have evolved to have a lasting “lesson” of pain but not a perfect rerun and recollection of pain over and over again. If humans had that they would be immobilized from risking pain in hunting, agriculture, building, giving birth and sheer survival activities (such as when there was no central heating or electricity during very cold weather). Humans are not meant to nor are they evolved to “preserve” pain and thus suffering in perfect replicable images in either their body or their mentality. People can much more easily recall the bliss of a perfect date, for example, in great detail than they can the detail of a strike of physical pain, or the details of heart rending suffering that was once experienced. They recall how awful it felt, but it is difficult, thankfully, to “mediate” one’s self back into perfect recollection of all the aspects of that pain since time and understanding always moves a body and mind forward.

So here is where we can start to understand how isolating and “commoditizing” pain is an error, and how it crept into modern society, to humans’ great disadvantage. When I was young “popular psychology” was just beginning to become part of social discourse. In other words, what had been before that part of the doctor’s or psychiatrist’s office was now a subject that average people talked and read about. One of the first things that was printed in the public media was a “grief scale,” where people were assigned “points” to understand their “level of pain” after various tragic events or during life pressures. Thus “the death of a spouse” would get something like “10 points” assigned to it, meaning that it was viewed as a high pain and stress experience, while things such as job loss, etc had lower numbers of points. When as a teenager I first saw that I thought “Oh, oh, this is wrong and a problem.” While it is “understandable” that humans try to “self understand” and medical technicians try to “quantify,” it is totally bogus and erroneous, and a result of succumbing to one of the scourges of temptation of humans, which is to dehumanize and decouple from their context their own humanity. It is a temptation and a professional and societal laziness and it is wrong. Part of it is a result of the industrial revolution where humans obtained their factory assembly line mentality, where “one part fits all.” Look at computer interface standards and their importance and you see what I mean. Humans started thinking of themselves and each other in terms of standard parts and interfaces that can be counted and quantified.

Here are some examples to help you to understand how to identify this problem and see its fallacy and danger. Compare two widows, where each has had the death of their husband. Can the grieving be compared between them if one was married for a long time and one for a short time? What about if one is left destitute while the other, while unhappy, has more than adequate means to survive? What if one has children and the other does not? What if one has great faith and believes her husband is in heaven, while the other does not believe? While losing a loved spouse is a terrible loss, it is patently false and misleading to assign a “point” level to the totality of experience. In fact, medical people have even been “suspicious” of “denial” if a widow handles a spousal death as a “5” rather than as a “10,” if you know what I mean. Or the reverse happens, and I have seen that in actual clinical context. Medical personnel underestimate the pain of things they can assign numbers to. I have seen grieving widows be totally undertreated in individual and group therapy because medical personal have a mentality that quantifies their experience rather than have a holistic understanding of how totally shattering it can be.

Here is another example taken from sociology and anthropology. There are many studies of cultures where the most severe punishment possible is not death or torture but either exile (being thrust physically outside of the community) or “shunning” (where one stays in the community but is avoided and not interacted with as if one were invisible or did not exist). Studies have shown that people have died from the suffering of both exile but more particularly of shunning. Anthropologists discovered that in such societies the suffering of the shunned is so great that it can and does cause death. Fast forward to modern times and think about the high degree of alienation that many, particularly the youth feel, and also the problem of the “violent ex-“ who kills his ex- and even their children rather than be “without them.” When one relies on numerical and isolating experiences of pain in the medical and social community one is left not only ignorant but pointed in the totally opposite direction of genuine human experience and problems. Moderns have not only forgotten their own human experience (the pain of shunning for example) but they now wield in a very dark way that form of suffering while denying its social or medical existence. Humans used to know very well the suffering of exile or of shunning and used it as a social “last resort” for the most egregious of perceived or real behaviors. Today we have the dual problem of 1) not understanding individuals who are experiencing either externally or internally the suffering of a form of exile or shunning AND 2) actually using the “nerve endings” of such pain to market products and develop destructive social cliques and behaviors that prey on the fear of shunning and, worse, promote a sense of shunning by exaggerating real or perceived social divisions.

Racism is the most obvious example of shunning in widespread practice, in a way, and so I think those who have experienced or studied racism may be the first to understand my point here. Afro-Americans for a long time were the suffering “invisible” people expected to move among the wealthy and enfranchised, doing their work, but through segregation not expected to be “visible” and participatory. That was enormous suffering and has, thankfully, been dramatically alleviated in the last few decades by desegregation, equal rights, and social progress and societal mindset. Still, even racism cannot fully articulate the horror of individual shunning since even during the worst of racism people still had their own families, education, socializing and human-to-human interaction. Individual shunning is far worse because the person is denied all ties with surrounding humanity, including speech. You might think that does not exist in such sophisticated, refined and enlightened culture as today, but think again. Think about two examples already mentioned above: youth who are alienated, feeling out of touch with life itself, both as an individual condition and also a “popularity” and clique or gang way, and violent ex’s, who are bereft and feel invisible and totally alienated from life without their ex. The suffering of such people, whether one believes it is founded, reasonable and “justifiable” is truly “off the scale.” One cannot quantify the suffering of a person who is shunned or in a position that replicates the physical sensation and also the emotional and spiritual consequences of an alienating isolation that is akin to being shunned.

This is one reason that society sees remarkable suffering, self harm and violence that seems “baffling” to people who are part of the “majority,” who do not understand why, for example, a violent ex will kill his ex, their children, their family, friends, strangers, etc before, usually, killing themselves. On comment boards people repeatedly key in, in understandable frustration, “Why doesn’t he just kill himself rather than take everyone along with him?” See, that is the perfect example of how people no longer understand their own humanity based suffering. Anthropologists would tell you that societies that shun would understand fully well why someone who feels shunned might snap and react in exactly that same way. Modern society seems to have invented the nuclear bomb but then juggles with it and puts it in video games and then denies it exists, to use another analogy. Humans viscerally know the suffering of shunning, but then after generations of knowing about it and using it as last resort, now both “forget” that it even exists and the horrible harm that it causes but still for marketing, entertainment and other purposes, including some very dark ones, “pushes those buttons” in other people, among each other, and themselves. Thus people inflict the worst of shunning and alienating experiences on each other yet at the same time it itself is shunned, invisible and denied. As another example of this, society will push the importance of sex yet also push how inadequate a potential partner most people are. And you wonder why child abuse is out of control? Society pushes sexual gratification constantly while at the same time teaching an elite reward and shunning disapproval for those who are not “hot.” As a result, individuals, both men and not even some women, feel alienated from the “total sexual experience” they feel they are entitled to, and fill in the gaps with children.

To wrap up the point about quantifying suffering and its temptation and error, think about the implications of what I have explained here. Not only do people miss the mark in understanding their own legitimate and genuine suffering, but society has “manufactured” new ways of suffering that did not exist before. One suffers the death of a spouse, for example, but is treated in a “standard interface” cookie cutter approach due to it being a “medical pain scale and insurance reimbursed” isolated phenomenon on the one hand. On the other hand society has invented new forms of commoditized suffering, which is to be promised total sexual gratification, while at the same time reducing marriages, increasing the population of single people, yet putting them in a caste system of “hot or not,” “in or out.” Unrealistic expectations of sex, for example, are pushed on society while at the same time the most reliable and dependable forms of gratification, such as within marriage, are shattered, and people have turned into wild dogs operating within a bizarre and cruel self imposed caste system of sexual availability and desirability in intimacy. And you wonder why violent ex’s kill, and why so many now prey on the young, who are both defenseless but also deemed to be open and non-judgmental in that area where the offender is hurting. Society has manufactured of its own freewill forms of suffering that make me tremble for the survivability of humans and this is just a few examples.

The second problem with modern warping of suffering is also, in part, a result of that cookie cutter factory line mentality toward modern industrial and technological life. There is a tendency for many to “sound byte” suffering. We can use the example of the suffering of Jesus Christ to better understand this.

People are impatient with their understanding of each other and themselves and so they always try to “bottom line” their own understanding or in movie jargon “cut to the chase scene.” This is, as I’ve pointed out, not the normal evolved human condition and is, in fact, counter to evolutionary development and also is not an asset in survivability. Thus you see people encapsulate (again, how very modern, like taking a pill) not only their own experiences, and that of others, but that of the divine. You have a slogan understanding of life, including the divine, and that warps the human mindset and specifically understanding real normal life such as suffering. Therefore modern people differ from all of the previous generations by trying to bumper sticker God as “Christ died for your sins” or “Jesus suffered for you” etc. People have reduced, like a sauce on the stove, their own humanity and their understanding of divinity to encapsulated sound byte jargon of “understanding,” which is not actual understanding at all.

Jesus was not born in order to suffer and to be crucified. Jesus was born even though he knew he would suffer and be crucified. There is one hell of a difference.

The suffering of Jesus never was an “objective,” an isolated phenomenon that is a goal. The suffering was the inevitable consequence of being alive and his taking a stand. They did not invent scourging, mocking and crucifixion just for Jesus. That was the common form of punishment for the “lowest of the low” who were judged criminals or treasonous. It was also a punishment used to terrorize and subordinated population into total submission. This makes it doubly ironic that the Jews who persecuted Jesus turned to Rome to inflict the very punishment that was used to keep Roman territories and the conquered people in line.

Thus people in modern times erroneously use the foreknowledge of the prophets that Jesus would be the Messiah, rejected, suffer and be crucified as making the suffering the “meaning,” the sound byte, of his entire life and mission. Some of this is willful, deliberate and somewhat blasphemous misunderstanding, while other of it is a consequence of lazy modern people who try to cookie cutter and sound byte into capsules everything, including the divine.

Jesus did not come to humanity in order to suffer and to die. Jesus came despite knowing that he would suffer and die.

The message of Jesus was not that he was stripped, whipped, spit on, crowned with thorns and crucified. The message of Jesus was that he arose from the dead.

I’m not trying to put bumper sticker makers out of business, or to minimize the redemptive value of suffering, far from it. I’m trying to restore the glory of actually understanding it.

Was St John the Baptist born to be beheaded? Obviously not, and so when one contemplates the one who declared the coming of Christ one can better understand the risk of the suffering sound byte that I am pointing out to you. John the Baptist is rightfully revered, but his entire ministry lives on in baptism, not slogans that “John the Baptist: born to be beheaded for you.”

Likewise the focus on the physical component of the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ, done ONCE for ALL, misses the entire point of the ministry of Jesus. Yes, it is important to have gratitude to Jesus for having suffered and died for all, but one must have a sane and balanced approach to that understanding, one that is modeled after the Gospels and Epistles themselves. None of the Apostles or disciples glorifies the physical suffering of Jesus; they document it but do not focus on it at all. Instead, as St Paul repeatedly explains, it is Christ crucified (the death, not the pain) and resurrected from the dead that is everything, absolutely everything.

John 20: 27-28
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

The Apostle Thomas declared he would not believe the others had seen the resurrected Jesus “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” John 20:25. And so Jesus appeared to him and allowed him to do that very thing, saying “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” John 20:29. Think about this: Thomas would be the last person to think that Jesus was nailed to the cross so that he, Thomas, would have wounds to put his fingers into and believe. Yet that mentality has crept into many in modern times that the objective of Jesus was the suffering he endured rather than belief that his resurrection from the death of crucifixion engendered.

Just as a brief aside to teach you another way to apply logic, think about this. If the actual suffering and crucifixion of Jesus were the “objective,” would not one expect that after Thomas believes only after seeing the wounds that Jesus would order that all Apostles obtain similar wounds and “pass that along” through the generations? Would we have bishops undergo nonfatal crucifixion wounds generation after generation, to pass it “on,” if the suffering and the wounding were the point? Instead we have the breaking of the bread, the consecrated wine, the consecrating oil, the laying on of hands in ordination, and baptism of the faithful. No where is the “suffering” passed on as witness of faith. Use logic, people, and it will never fail you.

John 20:30-31
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

What John did not write: And therefore we each of us drive a nail through our own hands when we become bishops so that we share in the suffering of Christ since that is the sign of faith and the whole point of his coming.

Protestants are sometimes the most contradictory on this point, and I say this with affection, not criticism. They criticize Catholics for having a crucifix (the body of Christ displayed on the cross) rather than a cross (Methodists have the cross with a red fabric draped over it) since they feel that Catholics are stuck in the crucifixion and not the resurrection, which they symbolize by the empty cross. Yet who are the ones who tend to write and verbalize the most rhetoric about the suffering of Jesus “on behalf” of the saved? Yep.

Catholics display the crucifix as a reminder that Jesus actually died, not as a reminder of his tortures. It is the fact that Jesus actually died, one, and resurrected, two, that is the essential foundation of the entire faith and the New Covenant with God, not the suffering. The fact that Jesus performed his ministry knowing of the suffering that he would work through and resurrect from that makes it “redemptive suffering,” not the suffering itself. Whenever you are tempted to be confused about this, repeat the slogan “John the Baptist was not born to be beheaded.” John the Baptist can continue to make straight the way of the Lord by today being a sanity and perspective touchstone to put the death and suffering of Jesus in the proper context. Then one can read what St. Paul wrote with restored perspective and clarity, without the strange posttraumatic intrusive thoughts about suffering that this lost generation is afflicted by.

Hebrews 2:8
Yet at present we do not see “all things subject to him,” but we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death, he who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2:14
Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.

St. Paul could not be clearer that it was not the suffering, but the death and resurrection of Christ that once, for all, showed everyone that they should not fear the devil of bodily death and the sin that fear tempts humans to commit. Instead, St. Paul explains, Jesus demonstrated once for all that one does die, but one then goes to God in eternal life.

Hebrews 2:18
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

In Biblical language “testing” does not mean being quizzed. When St. Paul uses the term “tested” and when one reads about saints being “but to the test,” that is more of a term that comes from refining of ore, for example, where impurities are melted away. Thus Jesus showed that he could suffer bodily and emotional harm the same way that any human would, “be tested,” and come through it all the way, which is to die and the demonstrate through his resurrection and his witness that God is in control and that life everlasting exists in heaven, and does not end in the slavery of the devil of bodily death and sinful behavior.

Hebrews 9:11-14
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.

This, by the way, is one of the Biblical justifications that Catholics use on Ash Wednesday, when the sign of the cross is marked on their foreheads. It is a ritualized reminder of these words of St Paul that no longer, as in the Old Covenant, are the heifer’s ashes needed to sanctify the defiled, but that the blood of Christ, shed once for all, is the cleanser that the ashes once were under the Law.

Hebrews 10:26-29, 31
If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries. Anyone who rejects the Law of Moses is put to death without pity on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not think that a much worse punishment is due the one who has contempt for the Son of God, considers unclean the covenant-blood by which he was consecrated, and insults the spirit of grace?... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

I include this because passage because again I must correct the notion that the physical suffering of Christ somehow “clears the way” for people. St Paul warns FELLOW CHRISTIANS that if they sin deliberately after knowing the truth of what Jesus has proclaimed that “there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire.” A profane and immodest treatment of the sacrifice of Jesus is an insult to “the spirit of grace” and will result in falling into the hands of the living God who will judge and who will cast into hell. St. Paul would be shocked to the core of his being by ghoulish and profane modern perspectives regarding “the covenant-blood by which he [Jesus] was consecrated.”

I could cite much, much more from St. Paul but I have demonstrated my point and it is better that people now read scripture on their own with clear eyes and understanding after this commentary I have provided.

The suffering of Jesus was not an exceptional phenomenon to be encapsulated as glorifying suffering. In fact, the reverse is true where suffering is not glorified and instead Jesus stoops in order to undergo what humans do to each other, and the natural boundary of life which includes death, in order to show the open path to the one true God. I have demonstrated how to read several selections from scripture and observe that the suffering is not a quantity or a quality, but simply a signpost along the way of the totality of the ministry of Jesus Christ. I have also given you a tool to use, showing how the saints remain a welcome friend, wise counsel and aid to today, where one can realign inappropriate thoughts about human suffering and the suffering of Jesus with the yardstick that “St John the Baptist was not born to be beheaded.” Finally I have pointed out that humans are in great peril of encapsulating and making into sound bytes entire perspectives of human and divine reality and that this encapsulating and “sloganizing” of human or divine reality results in dire and destructive perpetuating error that must be corrected in this time of physical, moral and spiritual crisis.

Galatians 3:1-4
O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publically portrayed as crucified? I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain?-if indeed it was in vain.

I include this to remind you that glorifying in things such as the physical suffering of Christ is like thinking one is saved through works and not grace, because merely counting the wounding of Christ is like relying only on works and denying faith.

Romans 6:5-11
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin [my notation: this phrase "he died to sin" means that Jesus died on account of sin being done to him of his unjust condemnation and thus in death moved out of the reach of further harm by sin to him] once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

Just as a dead body cannot be forced to sin, since that person is dead and thus absolved from sin, living people must be like a dead body toward sin. To use a scientific term the living must be like inert matter that does not bond or interact with any sin. This is another, more oblique, way to apply scripture to my admonishment to you all that sinful behavior and suffering cannot be “managed,” accounted for and commoditized, since that is interacting with sin and not being, as Paul warns one must be, “dead to sin” and instead “living for God in Christ Jesus.” Those who commoditize suffering are interacting with sin and are not dead to sin. Insensitivity and worse the promotion of suffering in others is an obvious example, as is the enumeration of occult practices, including self harming in order to do suffering “accounting,” which is not only wrong but blasphemous.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Greatest sympathy for the Camerons

And for all parents who experience this joy, sorrow and loss of a special needs child.

Bible commentary regarding Job and suffering

Because it is so crucial that people correct their errors about how they perceive suffering here is commentary that you need to keep in mind regarding what is taught about suffering in the Book of Job. Job is often cited as the source of Christian understanding of suffering in the Old Testament, to supplement understanding the Passion of Christ related in the Gospels. That is somewhat true, but that is also misleading. Also many, both scholars and laity, have come to think of the Book of Job as “symbolic.” That is also a problem when that is the “first read” position. One must always read the Bible first and foremost as the literal, word for word God given truth, and only on second contemplation apply insight regarding symbolism and potential contemporary meaning and applications. The Bible IS the bible, the sacred scripture, precisely because humans are supposed to read the specific things that God has said, either directly or through the inspiration of the biblical authors, and in the process of reading and believing AS IS, then mine the words and meaning for additional, not substituting, symbolism.

This is an important point. The word of God is never purely symbolic. God understands that he is communicating with limited, material beings (humans). Thus God is literal and factual first and foremost. Symbolism is a tool used by humans to then grasp a larger, more abstract meaning from the facts, dictates, historical events and contemplations placed before him. When Jesus tells a parable, for example, one must believe that the people in the parable truly exist and truly did what Jesus said they did. Why: Because he selected those people and those events, and not others, for a precise reason when communicating with humans. Also Jesus, of course, was perfectly capable of knowing of actual personages and events that took place in history that others could not know of, and using those real events in parables. So one must believe literally what is in the parable first, and then later, upon pondering its “meaning,” use symbolism to transfer the significance of what transpired in the parable to understanding, interpretation, and contemporary application. If one does not first believe literally each and every word, and jumps straight to symbolism, one misses understanding why the specific people and events were selected to be part of scripture and guidance.

For example, assume that something in a parable happens to a man. “Modern” thinkers might try to be politically correct and say, “Well, those were sexist times. This parable could have happened to a woman too.” No, actually, that would not necessarily be true. The parable may have happened to a man because the man was the breadwinner, the wage earner. Thus one has to not be revisionist or symbolic, but hear the parable, note that it happened to a man, and then search for further symbolism, which may be, for example, that the breadwinner, the earner, is the symbolic protagonist. Thus one could apply that parable to modern day understanding not through gender symbolism but by understanding that the means of earning a living is central to the parable protagonist’s identity and thus part of God’s meaning in the interpretations and applications.

The same is true in the overly debated issue about whether God created the universe in seven “days,” whether those are earth solar days of twenty four hours each or symbolic days. One misses the entire point of God revealing creation as unfolding over a period of seven days, with the one day of rest, if one leaps immediately to the symbolic. There is a reason that God created the universe in seven days and thus there is meaning to his explaining it to Moses as such. So one must first believe that God created the universe in seven days, but leave open ended how long a creation “day” is to God. In other words, if one jumps immediately to thinking that the seven days is feeble human mythological lore based, rather than understanding that God means quite explicitly that he used seven equal length cycles of creation (and rest) one is not only mistaken but misses the entire point. God says seven “days” for a reason, not because seven is a “magic number,” and not because it’s something that he pulled out of his hat so that humans can “relate” to it. God is telling the truth, which is that he used seven equal length cycles of activity for the creation of the universe and resting. One way to think about it is that the universe is estimated to be about fourteen billion years old, and thus God could very well view his creation as being seven “days” “in the making” and “of age,” where each “day” is two billion years old. Thus the day of “rest,” the most recent two billion years, fits quite neatly with the arising of single cell life and later more advanced life on earth, all of which occurred in, yes, the past several billion years. God’s day of “rest” is allowing the forces of life he has created to now hum along at their natural pace based on physical and biological natural law. God is telling people the truth, and thus one must be cautious to not jump to imposed “symbolic” understanding before first believing and accepting what God has stated first, whether one understands all of the “how’s or why’s” or not.

In this context we can now properly approach understanding the Book of Job. The Book of Job records events that “really happened.” It does not matter that scholars pick apart scripture and identify, for example, pieces of ancient story or folktale embedded within scripture. That is because God will use what people already speak of and understand since he is talking to people with a cultural history, not new inventions kept sterile in a laboratory. So when someone points out cultural or mythical references embedded in Job, for example, that should only raise the confidence, not lower it, since it demonstrates that God is speaking to people who actually lived in a multi-cultural real world that was already comprised of both historic events and cultural or mythological context. For example, suppose Jesus appeared today at a book club discussion where the latest Harry Potter book was being discussed. Someone writes an article about Jesus’ appearance and what he said. Centuries later someone reads the article and says, “Whoa, that can’t be true. Harry Potter is a work of fiction, and if Jesus really appeared, he would not discuss a work of fiction.” That is upside down thinking of the wrong kind. Instead, the fact that Jesus discussed something hot in the contemporary milieu should increase the confidence, not decrease it. Likewise the observing of portions of scripture referring to pagan, cultural or mythological belief should strengthen the belief and understanding of the actual historical context of the events and the word of God not decrease it.

So yes, when reading Job one must believe that God was conversing with “sons of God” (angels) who “came to present themselves before the Lord” when “Satan also came among them” (Job 1:6). God is telling people something about himself, which is that the angels do present themselves (converse and dialogue) with God as his children, and that also Satan has access to discussion with God. This is HUGE to accurate understanding of how the universe and the heavenly realm are in reality, not in imagination. Therefore when one reads the scripture one must always recognize the factual basis for what is occurring first and foremost, and then secondarily glean for additional applicatory and symbolic meaning. For example, one could read that one passage and have the initial fact based information gathering, which is about God’s relationship to the angels, the fact that they gather and discuss things, and that Satan is able to address God at will. Once you understand those facts one can have some symbolic “How do I better understand and apply this to my current life” “symbolic” thinking. One constructive way to do so is to understand that God demonstrates that one should have an “open door” policy. In other words, just because Satan refused to serve and was cast out of heaven does not mean that he cannot approach God or speak to him. Therefore one could understand that symbolically as a lesson and role modeling that humans should never close off dialogue with their “enemies” or those who will not serve. You would not derive that accurate secondary symbolic lesson and meaning if you did not believe literally the events that God through his sacred scripture authors provides. If you let your mind run ahead of yourself and view it all as “symbolism,” you would view the presentation of the angels and of Satan before God as “window dressing” to “explain” the “story” that you are about to hear, and that is totally false, misleading and limiting. Rather, you need to understand that it occurred exactly as presented, and then contemplate further meaning and symbolism based on the opening facts and context. It is obviously important to understand that Satan can (and does) approach God in dialogue because that is repeated later in the Gospels, when Satan approaches Jesus in order to tempt him, and also the fact that demons all recognize Jesus and his true nature on sight. So it is important to accurate theological and worldly understanding to recognize that God continues to allow Satan to approach him and to address him.

As one who wanders the earth, “patrols it” as he phrases it, Satan can see the hand of God upon people of special blessing. Thus when God brags with a loving and paternal tone about the piety and uprightness of Job, Satan is quick to respond that he knows that God has a special hand of grace upon Job. Satan quickly itemizes the ways that God has favored Job, not through supernatural means, but by blessing the work of his hands: “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land” Job 1:10. Let us look at this one example of blessing. We know that raising livestock is fraught with risk. Animals must be kept fed, watered, treated of disease, protected from predators, sheltered and otherwise cared for. A single drought can wipe out flocks or herds if no water can be obtained, as we even see in modern times when cattle raisers have to slaughter or sell their herds in drought afflicted areas. Satan can see that not only is Job just fortunate to live in fertile areas where the work of his hands on the livestock pays off, but that God also is exerting some special blessing and protection: “Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection?” Job 1:9. Thus this is not some magical kingdom where animal disease and predation does not exist, and where food and water flows freely. Satan observes that other people have problems and suffering, who do not have God’s special protection, and thus posits that if God withholds his protection and lets nature take its course with all its hardships that Job will turn against God.

This is CRUCIAL nuance to understand. Read carefully Satan’s observation and challenge: “But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face” Job 1:11. Modern misinterpretation of how God “works” has actually put a reversal into common thought. People tend to think of those who are blessed as being “touched” by God. But here Satan is observing, correctly, that Job is not “touched” by God but he is protected by God, protected from the ordinary hardships of life. In other words, normal unprotected life is fraught with the potential for loss, risk and therefore suffering. God protects Job from many of those life boundaries where suffering occurs. I explained in my previous post on this subject that suffering is the encounter of boundaries that are the reality of life, boundaries such as death, illness, accident and loss. Some people encounter these boundaries quite often such as, for example, people who live in a war zone. Thus there is in a war zone ample exposure to suffering because one is constantly forced against a boundary in life, such as being killed, wounded, maimed and deprived of freedom or material sustenance. So Satan observes that God has given a special protection, a buffering, to Job and has not allowed much of the reality of the risk of life to touch Job and his family and his livestock. Thus Satan challenges God to allow his touch to fall on Job, which means to withdraw the special protection that he has given Job and allow the natural boundaries of life that can touch him to fall on him.

And so what do we see happen to Job when God agrees to withdraw his protection? Natural forces and suffering are no longer kept at bay away from Job. It’s not like Satan (or God) now torture Job and send supernatural forces against him. Satan does not chase after Job with a pitchfork. Rather, the mundane sufferings that everyone else has now befall Job. Job’s livestock was carried away by raiders and some of his herdsmen were slain. This is hardly a supernatural event or a torture to induce suffering. This is the withholding of especial blessing and protection that God had given Job. Demons didn’t poof into appearance and carry off the livestock and slay the herdsmen, ordinary maraudering “Sabeans” did (a people from southern Arabia). At the same time “lightning has fallen from heaven and struck the sheep and their shepherds and consumed them” Job 1:16. Again, everyone knows that lightning is a natural phenomenon that is a very real danger at all times, it is not a “weapon of Satan” or a means by which God “smites.” The recent fires in Australia are a reminder that fires caused by lightning strikes are a constant danger and certain areas, such as Africa, lose people to lightning quite regularly. Neither God nor Satan “sent” the suffering of lightning to Job; it fell because God had withdraw his especial protection that had shielded Job from it previously.

Even as Job is absorbing those two dreadful events two more befall him. More raiders, this time Chaldeans, raided his camels, seizing them and slaying those who were tending to them, except for the one who survived as a messenger. Again, notice this is not supernatural or smiting; these are well known raiders (the messenger did not have to explain who they were, obviously Chaldean raiders, like the Sabeans, were a well known risk). But Job no longer had God’s especial protection against them, and thus he was now exposed to the same risks, and potential for suffering, as everyone else was already. The worst suffering came when Job hears from the one survivor that “a great wind came across the desert and smote the four corners of the house” of Job’s eldest son, killing all within, which were Job’s sons and daughters Job 1:18-19. Again, this is not some strange and weird phenomenon sent by either Satan or God, but as we see in the news everyday of hurricanes, tornados and straight line winds, a risk of life, and thus loss and suffering, that previously God had protected Job with his especial blessing from. Now Job was exposed to all of the potentials of loss and suffering as everyone else, and it all happened at once.

One must recognize, as I have constantly taught in my blog, that God is far from distant, far from being uninvolved, but experts day to day a comfort and protection that people simply no longer realize, clearly see or appreciate. Without God’s constant presence, inspiration and protection, life would truly be unbearable. I’ve explained the “guardian angel challenge,” which is to understand how miserably alone and alienated, unbearably so, people would feel if the invisible and silent guardian angels disappeared, if God withdrew them from their place alongside humans. Guardian angels are there from conception and attachment in the womb, providing a sense of comfort, reality, and an expectation of love and companionship even from the very beginning of a human life. It is like the oxygen in the air; you do not see it or work to sort it out consciously from the nitrogen and others gases in order to breathe just it, but you would sure notice it, and die, when it is absent.

The Book of Job describes actual people and actual events and is included in the sacred scripture so that people understand how God and the universe actually work. Life is good with potential for much prosperity and joy, but life is by nature full of limitations, of boundaries of time and loss which then are endured and suffered. God protects all people to some extent through the work of the Holy Spirit constantly among them, but God also gives especial protection to some, and those people and nations are called “blessed.” The Book of Job describes two things: 1) A reminder of the reality of life and suffering and that neither God nor Satan “cause” suffering, but instead God can protect people amidst the reality of suffering and 2) That suffering is redemptive in the sense that one can ultimately overcome all the natural suffering of the worldly life if one never turns one’s back to God. Job is NOT a torture textbook. Waterboarders and other torture advocates should not rejoice that the Book of Job shows that suffering is “good” or a useful object lesson. Any idiot can realize that if you simply read what the Book of Job actually is saying, as we have done here in just these few lines of the first chapter.

When Job hears about the four calamities that have befallen him this is what happens:

Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair. He cast himself prostate upon the ground, and said,
“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I go back again.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God
(Job 1:20-22).

You can read the rest of the Book of Job, now, with better understanding of its meaning. In it Satan suggests that Job is faithful to God because his body has not been afflicted, and so God withdraws his especial protection from Job’s body and Satan “smote Job with severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7) yet still Job remained faithful even though his wife urged him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:8). Nice wife, huh? But Job refuses to turn his back on God or to say anything sinful: “We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?” Job 2:10. Chapters 3 through 37 are then speeches whereby Job and his friends explore faith and wisdom and try to discern the meaning of what has befallen and God’s ways. Job and his friends, far from cursing God, more fully understand the both the perils and the grandeur of natural life, of God’s ways, and the blessings that are offered from the hand of God, and how bereft, but still full of faith, humans are when God withholds protection. That is the entire point of the events of Job being included as sacred scripture, not a “suffering is good” torture textbook, as some New Agers and others have ignorantly suggested. For example:

Behold, God rejects the obstinate in heart;
He preserves not the life of the wicked,
He withholds not the just man’s rights,
But grants vindication to the oppressed
(Job 36:5-7).

In Chapter 38-41 God directly addresses Job and much of what God says to Job is not just for him but obviously as a reminder to the subsequent generations of God’s total control. Again that is quite different from causing suffering. In Chapter 42 Job replies to God, repenting the doubt that had crept into his heart, and the Epilogue recounts how God restored all that Job had, including becoming father to ten children. “After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; and he saw his children, his grandchildren, and even his great-grandchildren. Then Job died, old and full of years” (Job Epilogue).

If you read the Epilogue and note all that is restored to Job, once again, be reminded that God is not using supernatural powers. Job regains what he has through the natural way of having a healthy body and life, prosperity with his livestock, and fruitfulness with his wife. God does not raise Job’s previous children from the dead; Job must learn happiness again the way everyone else does, by believing in life and fathering more children with his wife. God restores the especial protection and blessing upon Job so that he is able to prosper and find joy the natural ways, not supernaturally, but with protection restored against much of the woes of life that he endured when he was without God’s protection. Job did not “get his stuff back” because he had “suffered enough.” That is one of the most ignorant and cruel modern “interpretations” I have ever encountered. The Book of Job is crystal clear that people are not meant to suffer, but that suffering is a condition of life that is the response to loss, and that God not only comforts the afflicted but God can and will bless and protect people and nations against the natural suffering of life. The entire point of the Book of Job is what happens when God withdraws his hand of protection, NOT God or Satan “sending suffering” and that “suffering is needed,” like it is separate phenomenon of life to be measured and doled out.

In fact, the Bible clearly warns against humans causing suffering in other humans. The Ten Commandments not only warn against physical harm but also the mental harm of “coveting.” Further, the image that is used in the Law is that the seeing should not put stumbling blocks in front of the blind. Humans are NOT to cause suffering in other humans. The Book of Job describes what happens when God allows nature to take its course, so to speak, by withdrawing his protection and allowing the continual risk of natural loss and suffering to afflict Job, but neither God nor Satan “send suffering.” If they do not do so then certainly humans better wise up and realize that they are strictly forbidden from being suffering “allocators.” Redemptive suffering refers to making the best out of natural suffering and offering it up for some purpose when it is encountered. Before Job is restored God demands that his friends offer up a sacrifice to God (an actual sacrifice of bullocks and rams) to repent for any doubt or lack of support they expressed, particularly because they had not “spoken rightly concerning me” (Job 42:8). After they make the sacrifice God accepts Job’s intercession with him on his friends’ behalf. You see, it’s not like God needed fourteen bullocks and rams in heaven, or that people have to grovel in return for speaking falsely about God. They have to, however, be re-sanctified and returned to the fold, and recognize their responsibility towards each other. The friends of Job had a responsibility to speak accurately and devoutly about God to Job, and Job gained the responsibility of being able to intercede for his friends with God in their shortcomings. The penance sacrifice by the friends and the intercession by Job for the friends are preludes to the restoration of Job because they reinforce first of all the relationship and rulership of God but also the importance of the mitigation of suffering among humans, human to human. The friends should have been more faithful to God and more supportive of Job to ease his suffering. Likewise Job, even in his suffering, intercedes for his friends who were at least there with him in his pain.

Evangelical Christians are often the ones who really understand and “get” the message of the Book of Job. This is true even though what many of them say is often misunderstood and sounds like they believe in a capricious and cruel, smiting form of God. But that is because the listeners do not really understand the Book of Job as I have laid it out and explained it here. When Evangelical and other Christians worry that natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, are punishment from God, people leap to the same erroneous assumptions as they often do about the Book of Job, which is that God or Satan “send” “suffering.” But listen carefully: most Evangelicals and other Christians who say this are referring specifically to the “withholding” of God’s blessing and protection. That is totally accurate and that is what the Book of Job warns against and demonstrates. Life is perilous and fraught with the potential of loss and accompanying suffering. God can and does protect individuals and nations from some of the suffering they would otherwise endure. It is the withholding of God’s blessing and protection that people should fear, and it has happened a great deal in these recent times due to sin, hubris, willful ignorance and wickedness. God can, does and will withhold his blessing and that is what Evangelicals worry and warn about when they see linkages between natural and other disasters and disbelief and turning away from God. So before you jump on the back of someone who worries that Hurricane Katrina is “God’s punishment,” think about what I have explained. God does not send the suffering, but God sure has a vital role in protecting people from the suffering of the natural order, and you do not want to slap that hand of God away when it has been offered.

I hope that you have found this helpful. Repent.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The correct view of suffering

Many people are confused, which is understandable, but worse, have misleading and awful beliefs, about the role of suffering in life. The Catholic Church and others who observe Lent are about to enter into that solemn part of the liturgical year where the suffering of Jesus Christ, before his glorious resurrection is celebrated at Easter, is remembered and contemplated. So to help those who observe Lent and to also help those who do not understand suffering, I have thought of an analogy to help.

The problem with suffering is as usual the problem of bipolar extremes in human thinking. Humans want to avoid suffering and are hurt and angry when they experience it. As a society humans have tried to isolate suffering as a phenomenon, rather than understand that it is a natural outcome of life itself that has limitations. Suffering results from curtailment of something desirable, and life has boundaries, such as death, illness, estrangement and deprivation. Some people encounter those boundaries more often than others, but some suffering is inevitable, even if it is the suffering of a person of good fortune for those who lack and suffer themselves. At some point everyone suffers at the death of a relative, a friend, a mentor or someone you admired for leadership. For example, many people genuinely suffered when Princess Diana was killed, even though most never got to meet and to know her. Yet time heals all wounds and years later it is difficult to summon up a full remembrance of the pang of suffering felt during those days. That is good because that is human survival trait that allows people to not be overwhelmed by despair. So when one encounters suffering one must shun the one extreme which is to think that something was not “properly managed” because “suffering happened,” like it is a phenomenon separate from life itself.

The bipolar mentality opposite extreme of avoiding or isolating suffering is to glorify it as something that has “merit,” and that some sort of “spiritual” game or “point system” is at play. That is as deadly a mistake as the other extreme. Suffering in and of itself has absolutely no value because it is not an “entity” or “quantity,” like the number of times a basketball player practices his or her shots from the line. Some people are confused because the Catholic Church and certain other faiths recognize and honor the redemptive power of suffering. That is an entirely different matter, and it pains me unimaginably that people have warped Catholic doctrine into a depressive and sometimes monstrous view of suffering as an accumulative “benefit.” These people inflict suffering on themselves and worse on other people so they can “earn” some imaginary benefit from suffering. This is wrong and a grave and mortal sin and offense against God himself. Here is my analogy to help to understand that.

We all know that trees are cut down, harvested, and processed to make paper. Some paper becomes permanent, where it is put into books that are kept, for example, or wall paper put into homes, or permanent paper products such as financial files. But much paper is used once and then discarded, such as product packaging, newspapers, junk mail, sanitary and cleansing products, etc. In communities where recycling exists, paper is separated from the garbage and is sent to a recycling plant. When prices are high townships can even make money off of the sale of discarded paper to the recycling plants. When prices are low it is just a matter of avoiding adding more discard to the landfills and junkyards, where it is better to recycle almost by giving it away to the recyclers rather than dump it.

Suffering is like discarded paper.

Like discarded paper, suffering is an inevitable outcome of human living. If people did not eat they would not buy a package of food that comes in a disposable paper box. If people did not read they would not buy a magazine or newspaper that sooner or later is discarded. If people did not communicate or have ideas, they would not need paper on which to print their thoughts, their literature, or their work activities, some papers of which will be discarded even as soon as the end of the day. Suffering is like the discarded food packages, the discarded newspaper or magazines, or the discarded hand written or computer printed paperwork.

If suffering was a “good” thing, a “quantity” to “promote” and to “earn,” say nothing of inflict on others for “their own good,” why not cut down trees and send them straight to the recycling plant, before even making the tree into wood or paper in the first place? That way one can obtain an entire “tree” load of suffering, by cutting down the living tree and sending the whole thing straight to the recycler, rather than make products for good living from it, and then recycling the small percentage of scrap?

People who both “avoid” suffering and those who inflict it on themselves and others are like people who think like that, who chop down a living tree and just send it straight to the recycler.

I hope that this makes it clear, so you can better understand God’s expectations, and how he will judge each person in their error and sin.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Great start in Washington; a suggestion here

I was totally delighted to listen just now to the open press wrap-up of the White House and Congressional meeting. I cannot be overly complimentary when I praise both the taking place of this meeting (which was structured according to working groups on key topics and issues) and the open dialogue and feedback at the conclusion. This was an extraordinary event and a fine role model for what I hope is just the beginning of a new way of doing business in America. The President and the members of the Senate and the House deserve a lot of praise.

Now, I have just one suggestion that I hope will make everyone’s job easier as they wrestle now with the very urgent and complex topics. I address this suggestion to both conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, each with a slight twist but the same message.

Whenever our members of Congress contemplate legislation, it is natural to think first and foremost, “Can we pay for this and if so, how will we do so?” In fact, one of the greatest areas of unease is the feeling by conservatives that America has resorted to “printing money” and “throwing it at the problem,” and I share this unease. However, I am also sympathetic with those who argue that inaction is worse, as the economy continues to spiral further in crisis, than shelling out the money. Also, generations of politicians and bureaucrats, fueled by corporate mindsets, have grown up with the belief that “grown ups” always keep “how do we pay for this” in mind before contemplating any expenditure.

The problem is that if that attitude rules the entire analysis of a particular legislation or problem solving, it codifies a problem into only two possible solutions: spend money or not. As a result multitudes of other possible approaches fall off the table unnoticed. Consideration of “how to pay” has become a show stopper for doing the right thing because the “how to pay” argument overshadows problem solving too early in the process.

Legislators need to start the legislative process following a more classic approach to problem solving, which is open ended at the very beginning. In other words, they need to put all options for progress on the table, evaluate and refine them first and foremost by whether they are the correct, desirable and “right” thing to do. Consideration of “can we pay” and “how do we pay” must come later in the process. Let me give an example.

Suppose that the legislature needs to evaluate a specific health crisis, let’s say some sort of toxic compound poisoning has been discovered and there is an urgent need for new legislation to address this new crisis. (Stick with me on the example, even though I know that literally existing agencies and budgets would cover this scenario in reality). Instead, assume in my example that a totally new potentially dire but not yet proven dire scenario has come up that requires legislation and of course, by implication, funding.

If the legislators and their aides immediately jump into a “how do we pay for it” attitude, they cannot focus on the genuine extent of the need and all possible implications for solution. Those who are alarmed by the threat of the toxic compound will want to throw money at the problem. Those who are tight with the purse strings will be tempted to poo-poo the potential risk, arguing there is no proof that legislation or investment is needed. That is the danger of allowing money to set the stage for determining whether something needs to be done, or not.

In the ideal case committees do research and determine whether or not this problem exists in truth, and whether or not a solution is needed. THEN experts in this problem can put forth alternatives. Many of these alternatives might suggest creative ways to fund the legislation rather than budget busting straight out expenditure. Suppose in my scenario that a university is already doing research in this area. One solution might be to transfer government resources on temporary assignment to that university’s endeavor, rather than allocate new funding. So people in the educational sector already working (in theory) on research in this area now have a dotted line relationship to a program that is already funded, and the staff and their resources are now reassigned, and what they had been working on is demoted in priority. This is one example where a new legislative endeavor can be “funded” without the tradition approaches of allocating new budgetary funds and the problem of raising money or busting budgets.

Here is another example. Suppose that another country is already doing research in this toxic compound problem. Why not consider an alliance, rather than fund a parallel effort? Again, one could allocate some new funds for additional staff, or reassign, or “swap” with the other country for use of their resources.

It is crucial, especially in this financial crisis, that the President, legislators, their aides, educational institutions and corporations start first and foremost with dialogue on what is correct and what needs or must be done, and leave funding as secondary, as counterintuitive as that sounds. If one decides first and foremost that something is a genuine legislative need, with allocated resources of some specific type needed, one can then secondarily consider options that may not involve budget spoilers or new allocated funds at all. It can also force a fresh look at existing budget priorities, where the responsible agencies just have to push something further down the stack as a greater problem arises.

My suggestion is actually the MOST fiscally conservative approach, rather than the worried dollar signs in the head from the very beginning approach. That is because one is open to a host of alternative ways to procure and provide the resources needed for the new legislative initiative. Sometimes one can craft a better law and budget if one MUST do something but there is no NEW money to do it. That is because one can consider governmental partnerships, private initiatives, swaps and alliances with corporations. What if, for example, a private company was given an extraordinary tax break in return for using their existing staff to work on this problem? Some laboratory that was working on pure research gets the assignment to work on the new potential toxic compound problem and they reallocate their staff from pure to targeted research, in return for a tax break or other non-budgetary incentive.

So it’s actually not the most “adult” thing to think “how do we pay” first and foremost. The most adult thing is “what must we do (if anything) about a particular problem, and what is the correct approach with the most hoped for results?” Then one figures out how to procure the resources and staffing. It is extremely difficult to overcome the deliberate and unconscious programming that has taken place in everyone’s mindset, I understand that all too well, seeing it become a disaster of missteps in decision making in government and society for decades now. It is especially hard with entitlements discussions, where hardly anyone discusses what the right thing to do is, and instead, they just dissolve into quarrels and intransigent positions about money, such as in health care and social security. But if you continue to do that you totally miss out on 1) what is right and essential to do and 2) many alternative ways to do it. Both sides harden into an expensive proposal with one side saying yes and the other side saying no.

This happened with Social Security in the Bush administration. President Bush set his heart on a “free market” approach to actually investing some of Social Security in the money markets (heaven forbid). This is an example of where the President and legislators hardened into one proposal rather than starting by looking at comprehensive reform, where needed. This is because both sides assumed that it is the political “third rail” of politics AND that reform can’t be afforded. Therefore the President thought he was peeling off a piece that would be innovative and helpful, but not touch the third rail or “cost” anything. Can you imagine what would be happening now, in the financial meltdown, if Social Security were part of it? But I’m not criticizing President Bush for trying to peel off doing at least “something” that he felt avoided the third rail of budgetary explosion of costs, and political fighting if people feared reduced benefits. It seemed logical to him, but that logic is erroneous. It’s not his fault in this area because he has walked into a hardened environment of thinking that we must think “first” of “how much will it cost” and “how do we pay for it” before even determining if “it” is the right thing to do. So everyone is somewhat bipolar about it. They tiptoe around the need to do the right thing if it is going to be costly or they then swing to the other extreme and just warm up the printing press and manufacture some greenbacks. As a result very poor decisions are made one after the other because they are not based on the facts of the problem and the need to invest in some action.

I hope that you understand what I am explaining here and find it helpful. It is crucial that people try to change this mindset right away. In classic problem solving one does start with an assumption that is totally free of any consideration of funding. In other words, one must spend at least some time in the “problem definition” and “solutions exploration” stages of just assuming “money is no object.” It is only by assuming that in the beginning that one can determine what the “right” thing to do is. It is after the problem is defined and alternatives identified and sketched that one introduces the “resources needed” part of the process, where implications for investment become identified. After that is done then people can start to identify either staged or modified implementations based on budget realities or, as I am suggesting, how to do the “right thing” without classic check writing or money printing approaches, as I demonstrate in the toxic compound example, where several solutions can be reasonably pursued that are not budget busters yet are highly targeted and effective “investment”.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bible reading: Isaiah 44:14-17

How people foolishly make idols.

Isaiah 44:14-17

He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest; he planteth an ash, and rain doth nourish it.

Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:

And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.

Human plant trees like the cypress, the heavens water it, humans receive the goodness of heat, cooking food with it, and then with the leftover wood turns around and makes an idol and worships it, expecting the scraps to have "magic" power, a god, to "deliver" him. As line 20 says "He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside."

Female drunk driver kills father, his little girl

What more can I say. Another family destroyed, a woman without her husband and one of her children due to suspected female drunk driver... the women are as bad as the men, irresponsible and heartless.


Surrounded by family members at her northwest Harris County home, Rhina Ventura on Sunday tightly embraced a Dora the Explorer doll that was among her daughter’s favorite toys.
“She was a good girl. She loved her dad and her brother,” Ventura said after Gabriela, 4, and her father, Jony Ventura, 33, both killed early Saturday in a head-on crash caused by a suspected drunk driver.
“She’s a good girl,” Ventura said a second time, before breaking down in tears.
Ventura was going to work at a doughnut shop about 2 a.m. Saturday when his car was struck by a driver heading the wrong direction along northbound Texas 249 just north of Cypresswood Drive, Harris County sheriff’s deputies said.
Ventura tried to swerve away but was unable to avoid the collision. He was killed on impact while Gabriela was rushed to an area hospital, where she died.
Gabriela, known to everyone in the family as Gabby, was particularly close to her father. She sometimes accompanied him to the doughnut shop where he worked.
“She had to make sure he made (the doughnuts) right. I guess she got the first taste,” said Brett Benson, whose wife is Rhina Ventura’s aunt.
Sheriff’s deputies identified the other driver as Idania Sagastisado, 26. She was taken to the hospital in serious but stable condition, officials said.
After detecting a strong odor of alcohol on her breath at the crash site, deputies ordered a blood sample be taken at the hospital. Sagastisado is now facing intoxication manslaughter charges from the fatal wreck.
If the charge is filed, it won’t be the first time Sagastisado has been accused of drunk driving. According to Harris County criminal records, she received a 10-day jail sentence in March 2005 after pleading guilty from a DWI arrest.
In January 2006, Sagastisado also pleaded guilty to driving with a suspended license. She received a three-day jail sentence on that charge.
Friends and relatives remembered Jony Ventura as a devoted family man. In addition to providing a home for his wife and children in Harris County, Ventura also built a house for his mother in El Salvador.
“He was a very good person. He worked a lot but he was a good father,” said his sister, Blanca Garcia.
Ventura often worked multiple jobs to give his wife and children a stable life.

Count the "green" in this Kentucky story



Man charged with manslaughter after crash kills passenger
By Karla Ward -

A Russell Springs man has been charged with manslaughter following a crash near Greensburg Thursday.

John P. Greene, 46, was driving a 1994 Ford Ranger east on U.S. 68 when he crossed the center line and hit an oncoming 2006 Toyota driven by Seeila Martinez, 55, of Greensburg.

A passenger in Martinez's vehicle, Russell A. Greenway, 51, of Greensburg, died at the scene. He had been wearing a seatbelt.

Greene was arrested Friday and charged with second-degree manslaughter, as well as driving under the influence, reckless driving and failure to give an oncoming vehicle half of the highway, state police said. He was in the Taylor County Jail.


The perp has "green," the victim has "green," it happened near "green" and both the victim and the victim's car driver were from "green."

I think Philadelphia PA just might be cursed

It's been open season on cops for a while, with one killing after the other (and many are Catholic, by the way). Also, it is well known that Philadelphia is a horrendous crime and despair pit. However, it seems to get worse each year and I'm beginning to think that like Sodom it's just been kind of cursed, due to its own corruption, greed, drugs and prejudices. Here is why I wonder, as a new low seems to be found.

By the way, maybe if Hollywood profiled Philadelphia not so much for Rocky or for gay oppression in the movies, but more about reality, they would be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. They pat themselves on the back tonight with their "Oscar" awards as the country, who has consumed their violent decadence for years, descends into self made hell.

Notice this happened at the "Nicetown" section. I'd hate to see the "Meantown" section. Oh wait, I think I have, and it's nationwide.


Son sees pregnant mother shot 10 times
Sunday, February 22, 2009 11:09 AM

TIOGA-NICETOWN - February 22, 2009 (WPVI) -- Gunfire ripped through the night air in the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philadelphia Saturday night.
Police are investigating a fatal shooting in the 1700 block of West Hunting Park Avenue near Clarissa Street.
The homicide happened just before 9:00 p.m. in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant.
Police sources have identified the victim as 29-year-old Larosa Gonzales of the 3400 block of N. 19th Street in Philadelphia.

She was 5-months pregnant.
Gonzales was shot ten times and the shooting was witnessed by her 6-year-old son. She was taken to Temple University Hospital where she was pronounced dead a short time later.
Police are now questioning her boyfriend, 30-year-old Willie Scott, as a person of interest. Scott was picked up a short time after the shooting in the Sunoco gas station at Broad and Hunting Park Avenue.
Scott has not been charged with the shooting.
There is no word on what prompted the violence.


No word on what prompted the violence, huh? She probably "dissed" him, or maybe was too fat for him while being preggers.

OH WAIT! There's "mor" news from the City of Brotherly Love.

Posted on Sun, Feb. 22, 2009
Fighting couple dead in city fire
By Anthony R. Wood
Inquirer Staff Writer

Kenida James heard loud kicking at the front door and a desperate voice calling through the mail slot: "My mom's in there! My mom's in there!"

She opened the door to find two young girls, with a 1-year-old boy in tow, who had just fled a horror scene: a burning house where two adults would be found dead. The girls were a niece and a daughter of the woman.

Outside, James said, she found a fourth child, a badly injured and bleeding 11-year-old girl on the North Philadelphia sidewalk.

Late yesterday, investigators still were trying to piece together precisely what had happened, and had not yet released the identity of the victims.

They did know that shortly after 10 a.m., police responded to a domestic dispute in the 2300 block of North 13th Street at one of four attached low-rise public-housing units.

Inside, they found the bodies of a 30-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman.

It appeared that the man had stabbed his girlfriend, and then stabbed her 11-year-old daughter as she tried to intervene, Fire Capt. James Clark said. The girl was in critical condition at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, Clark said.

The man then spread gasoline about the premises, set a fire, and in the process set himself ablaze, Clark said.

He speculated that the man initially had planned to "cover his tracks" and said it was unclear whether he had taken his own life intentionally.

Three children - including the 1-year-old, believed to be the victims' son - escaped. The boy was rescued by the slain woman's niece and daughter, who were also in the home, said James, who had been visiting her sister, Kimberly Sexton, in an adjoining unit.

Stunned neighbors along the tidy street of two-story, four-unit buildings owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority said they had not detected signs of trouble at the fire-damaged unit.

"She was a good mother," Sexton said. "She was very nice." Dwayne Robinson, a neighbor on the other side, had no inkling of problems during the five years she had lived there, he said.
Asked if any other instances of domestic violence had been reported at the home, Clark said, "Not that I know of."

He said the man had visited the home occasionally. Yesterday, the silver Hyundai with a New Jersey license plate that he had driven was parked in front of the unit, cordoned off by police tape.

The 11-year-old was stabbed as she tried to go to her mother's aid, Clark said. It was unclear how she had gotten out of the house.

"She fought for her mother," James said. "She was lying there, going in and out of consciousness" and bleeding profusely from her side, she added.

Sexton provided a blanket to cover her, and James said that she had tried to get help from passing motorists but that "no one would stop." Eventually, the 11-year-old was transported to the hospital.

"I cried so hard," James said. "I don't know what I'm going to do tonight."

Sad regarding MA Baptist church burning

This looked to be such a beloved church in Massachusetts. Read the article and see a picture. I sincerely hope that the insurance company is generous and that people pull together to help them to rebuild and restore that beautiful location.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saddened so many bishops have died in February

I have not missed the sad numerics of how many Catholic bishops have died in the past twenty days in February: Retired, 77. Retired, 90.

Cipriano Calderón Polo, 81, Spanish Bishop of Thagora (1989–2003).

Sefafín Vásquez Elizalde, 86, Mexican Bishop of Ciudad Guzmán. 86. Retired 83. 87.

Yes, it is true, these were for the most part retired men blessed in their length of life.

But it is a good time to remember that few people work harder than a priest, a bishop. They rarely have "time off," say nothing of a weekend, or a holiday. For all the slagging that the Catholic Church has gotten over the few and the terrible involved in abuse and cover-up, it would be a shame to not remember that many bishops still worked tirelessly to their deathbeds, and even if retired, often celebrated Mass and constantly prayed for everyone, Christian and not, believing and unbelieving. Two of the retired bishops who passed were American.

So in twenty days seven bishops have died.

It is a good time to pray for all who have vocations, pray for more to be called to vocations, and have some thankfulness for the good priests and bishops, especially the elderly, who served with very little in return of a material nature, or of respite from the day to day responsibilities for souls. I'm not even listing here the priests and men and women religious who have died this month, but the news there is sad too, especially as a Spanish priest in Cuba was murdered, and eight nuns died (and a ninth seriously injured) in a bus crash where brakes failed, in Indonesia. Prayers for all who give so much all their lives, even when it is cut short. But today I want to especially point out those who never really had a single "day off," the elderly bishops who have served their entire lives for God and for the flock.