Monday, September 26, 2005


this post could serve as a postscript for 'blaming God' (posted 09/12/05)
sorry that there's not more here... i've been busy typing out my journals from sri lanka and posting them on poitu varam (jollybeggar abroad.)

it's just that i've been thinking and praying a fair bit lately about the hand of God. you see, i really want people to see it move. i really want people's eyes to open spiritually.

so, when the news reports of hurricane rita's progress and the ongoing evacuations started pouring out of my newspapers and television, i started praying for two things:

1) that the gulf coast of the united states of america would be spared a repeat of the katrina disaster, by the mercy and grace of God. that he would see fit to intervene and cause the storm to cave in on itself or wipe out some UNinhabited island or something. in short, that a miracle would take place and that people would acknowledge it as such.

2) if, rather than intervene, God chose to just allow this storm to hit according to the worst case scenarios that were being spun for us by meterologists, then he would pour his grace and mercy into the american people affected, that they would draw together immediately and allow peace and good will, rather than anarchy to reign.

well, it appears that God IS a miracle-working God, alive and well and at work on planet earth. however, i suppose that people can continue to deny him their worship and thanksgiving, defaulting to

"whew! that was lucky! that storm didn't even come close to the widespread damage and destruction that we feared. still, better safe than sorry..."
ascribe to the Lord, o mighty ones
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength
ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name
worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness
(psalm 29.1-2)

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Friday, September 16, 2005

by the way

rather than clog up jollybeggar e-pistles with sri lanka journals and reflections, jollybeggar has decided to set up another blog for just this purpose... poitu varam

if you're interested, there is a link to your right called 'jollybeggar abroad' which will take you there...

'poitu varam' is the tamil equivalent of apu's "thank you, come again!"


Monday, September 12, 2005

blaming God

somewhat like the apostle thomas, my friend Icarus often plays 'devil's advocate' in speaking out loud the questions that riccochet around inside the hearts of people so socialized and well-behaved that they remain silent in spite of the war within. as i'm sure i've said once or twice before, i find these exchanges invigorating, as they challenge me to try to articulate what i believe and, at least to some degree, why i believe it- i think that that is why i call him my friend... 'as iron sharpens iron'

anyway, recently he tapped into the consciousness of the community once again with this one concerning katrina:
I marvel at the people most affected by this utter destruction who turn and pray to God or praise him for sparing their lives. Couldn't he just have spared everyone's life?! If there is any clear demonstration that a benevolent God does not exist and is not in control of world events it is the random destruction wrought by natural disasters. So I ask you people of faith, how do you reconcile events such as Katrina with your belief in God?


i just returned from sri lanka, where i walked along a beach that, just eight months ago, was littered with the bodies of people who did or didn't deserve to die more or less than anyone else.

a man named xavier kindly shared his story with me of how his home was taken from him by a natural disaster, the Tsunami of december 26, 2004 and how his family was saved because he had taken them miraculously from the soon-to-be-affected area just half an hour earlier. that he had taken them to church is, i think, just a nice coincidence, for the church just down the street from his house did not have some big God-bubble around it and the lives of those who worshipped there were lost that day. in any event, he returned to his home just in time to see a 100 foot wall of water rise up from behind the small village across the strait from him, mercilessly engulf the village and then head for him. he jumped on his motorcycle and headed for the hills.

although not a 'believer' per se, he counts it a miracle of God that he is alive to rebuild the house that his family has been in for three generations. he counts it a miracle of God that his wife and kids are with him in this time when so many families have suffered greater heartache.

where he has become cynical is not in the face of God but in the lying faces and empty promises of the many photographers from the west who have, for the last eight months, been taking his picture and promising aid. so far, the bricks he lays to rebuild his home are his own, paid for by the many hours of community service into which he and all the other residents of the town of Batticaloa have found themselves all but conscripted since december's disaster.

(btw: i made no promises, explaining that my photos were to be used to report back to a newly awakened western world of the rebuilding of this area, and of the need that still exists here. one of the tasks undertaken by the team on this trip was the procurement of land by our denomination in order to undertake a largescale redevelopment project with funding already received. with no underlying agenda evident on my part, he was very comfortable, even eager, to share his story... see, everyone left living here has one, and each story is a testimony to the strength and the hope that is to be found within people all over the world.)

it's with this experience freshly imprinted upon my heart and mind, i find the whole 'let's blame God' mentality a bit frustrating, in that we feel this need to point at God when lives are lost, but count it all as luck or coincidence when lives are spared. somehow, i think that, if anything, we have the whole picture bass-ackwards.

i wonder if many of our theological problems have to do with our basic reasons for believing or disbelieving in God in the first place. bad theology usually comes from bad faith (as opposed to good faith, which is well-placed trust.) on one hand, a belief in a cosmic badguy God who swings an almighty hand purely out of self-interest maintains our personal comfort in a strange way, somewhat like the whole lee harvey oswald story: we have given the killer a face and can now rest assured that his behaviours are being monitored for our protection... on the other hand, it also enables many to point at this ridiculously (in our trippy western perspective with its logic and causality fixations) unjust and dareisay somewhat needy deity who is so incapable of simply 'being still and knowing that he is God' for being the obvious source of everything we fail to be able to understand or control.

it's been about control for us since the garden. we've been struggling with our desire to be 'like God' through the use or misuse of the knowledge of good and evil. where this all turns to rubbish for me is that it leaves us alone in the cosmos with no one to look up to and although i don't particularly care for being alone in this way, i would rather be alone than accept a slanted, humanized, one dimensional picture of God- i think i'll try atheism if it comes down to that.

however, there is one important phenomenon that exists in our world, the origin of which is also very difficult to calculate using any scientific method: where does good come from?

humankind? not likely, we've recently seen again what people can and will do to each other when given the chance. there is a good that seems to be both originating outside of us and inherent in us, although buried beneath generations of spiritual rebellion and willingly consumed soul poison.

satan and the staff of hell? again, not likely. seems to me that everything attributable to this fallen angel is largely about selfishness and ambition at the expense of all else... it is arguable that any good that can even survive in this moral vaccuum, much less be created within it, is not really worth calling good anyway.

advanced extra-terrestrials? oh come on. that's what the last blog was about.

nope- i choose to blame God for the good and chalk the bad up to coincidence.

that's probably where the whole scriptural idea of faith being 'the essence of things unseen and the source of all things hoped for' comes from. i think that that is for me the only answer to the question posed by the psalmist who asks 'where does my hope come from?'

now as to why God doesn't step in in every case i have no idea. the weight of that burden has been kept from me. i would just really welcome people who are trying to either make points about the existence and sovereignty of God or the non-existence and consequent irrelevence of God to quit blaming him for bad things in order to make their point as they play to the crowd.

Icarus continues the dialogue in his comment responses: I certainly don't advocate putting "blame" on God for Katrina, that's ridiculous, but you can't just say that all the good things (miraculous events and such) are because of God's intervention but none of the bad things are. If God interferes then he has to answer for the miracles and the times when he does not perform miracles.

i would probably disagree with Icarus here if he had worded it differently. the 'if God intervenes then...' is the place where much of this pivots back and forth. God's decision to intervene or not has more to do with his perspective than our projection. we read the 'wager' between God and satan (cited earlier in Icarus' responses is a summary of the biblical story of Job) according to our own perspective- projecting all of our fallen human stuff on a person who is actually incapable of any of these attitudes or behaviours. being God and being holy, God cannot also act out of emotionally disconnected selfishness, the essence of 'sin.' it is the only thing that God can't do or be. however, because our eyes are clouded by our own propensity to be this way and our frustration with others who are as well, we default to this notion that everyone has it in them to act in a manner that puts themselves first. it just stands to reason, then, that one who is ultimate in all things is probably also the ultimate in being selfish.

so God becomes, as aptly put by dotbar, the whipping boy. buried in our psyche, because God put it there, we have this notion that God probably shouldn't do anything bad, but we have a terrible time not attributing bad things to him because we get all hung up on this 'why didn't you stop it from happening' thing, taking it as evidence that God is in fact malevolent or at the very best aloof. this not only goes against the very nature of God, but against our nature as his crowned of creation (his 'workmanship, created for good works in Christ') and calls into question the essence of who we are as created beings. then it becomes of great comfort to say 'if this is God then i don't want him- i was not created by something like this...'

in my view, this reflects a lot more about us and the limited ways we think and the logical leaps we make in order to remain comfortably the same, than it does about God.

example? we, in our limited capacity to help have opportunity to give to redcross america and many others in order to engage in the current drama in the wake of hurricane katrina. how many of us have actually done this? have we done anything to intervene in a small way the way that we would hope that God would intervene in a big one?or are we just as aloof as we claim God is, seeing something and doing nothing?

we have created a picture of God's face which looks strangely like our own.


gotta thank you again, Icarus, for getting me going enough to process this stuff in this way.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

hallo spaceboy

my friend bigbro fired an interesting email my way...

Jollybeggar, old buddy, you got to tell me something about theology here, and all I have to do is ask. Right?

Okay, why is it that you avid readers of the New Testament in the Gideon's Bible left in the nightstand at the Motel 6 have this image of God as riding on a camel or a donkey, but you just can't visualize God riding in a space ship?

It's almost like you envision God having wrapped up the universe in six days about six thousand BC, and then God never celebrates a New Year's Eve after, oh, about the time Jesus dies.

Nothing has changed for God since Jesus died? God doesn't even know how to drive an automobile? And you'd think that with God's pull he could cut through the bureaucratic red tape of waiting in line at the DMV to get his driver license and a license would miraculously appear in God's wallet (oh, okay. God doesn't have a wallet. He has a goat skin pouch...whatever)

aaah bigbro, sometimes you do a pretty flashy job of missing the point. i can't help but smirk at the way you turn your head while turning a clever phrase. you're always fun to read (except maybe when you start getting all cynically flippant and condescending about what people have and have not to learn about this and that- life is about living the adventure, not just reading things and then quoting them... that kinda gets old.)

anyway, since you asked, here i go quoting things that i've read. the new testament of the gideon bible stashed in the drawer of the night table at the motel 6 has some pretty great stuff that many have likened to space travel- just read it closer. i mean, matthew 24.30 speaks of Christ coming 'on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory' and luke 24.51 speaks of Christ being 'parted from them and carried up into heaven.' acts 1.9-10 relates the same scene in greater detail (although still pretty vague, leaving much to the imagination) describing Christ being 'taken up and a cloud received him out of their sight.'

with all this clouds opening and shutting stuff and people (not just Jesus- remember enoch and elijah and their chariots of fire?) being taken up, or transformed/ transfigured into glowing faces with eyes like fire and robes of white and all that, it would appear that, for anyone awaiting the 'return of the king' from the mothership there is plenty to feed a starving imagination looking for imagery that begs for literalist interpretation.

however, be warned: there is nothing new under the sun- von daniken and hal lindsay have already taken the images in apocalyptic scriptural literature to extremes. really, if you're longing for Gods that drive spaceships, just go rent 'the fifth element' and oggle leeloo for awhile. the new rereleased edition has a whole bunch of extras that you probably haven't seen yet anyway, so have a great time.

the problem with this whole 'alien/God' thing for me is that it still stalls on the idea that 'the supreme being' (re: terry gilliam's time bandits) is a physical being who has evolved to a greater degree than we and is therefore fallible simply by virtue of the fact that perfection cannot spring from imperfection- perfection is necessarily flawless in every way including history.

an alien God is just not big enough for me to either care about or feel cared about by.

we can choose to believe our imaginings and our own little explanations as to whether prayer is simply telepathic contact with aliens who no longer need to bother with radio waves, and whether mystically spiritual experiences are simply attempts to share some form of cosmic endowment with benevolent extraterrestrials, but in the end it feels like reaching out to touch the face of a god who is too close and too small to be of any real use anyway.

a god that waits in line at the dmv? really- donkey or pinto... who cares?

the only way that the image of God driving anything is useful to me is in metaphor, but even metaphors are culturally biased and therefore fall short.

i was reminded of this as i was preparing a talk for a church service that i was invited to be part of in colombo. having never been through the streets there in a three-wheel 'auto, ' i was amazed at how the drivers were able to navigate these hopped up golf carts through the traffic anarchy of the sri lankan capital city in the throes of a civil war assassination-induced state of emergency on a saturday afternoon. i did not, however, need to even think twice about the calamity that surrounded me because my driver knew the road and his helmsmanship would ensure my safe arrival at my destination... although we were travelling the road that I needed to travel in order to see the purposes of my journey realized, HE was the one who was ultimately in charge of getting me where i needed to be.

well, i thought- nice little analogy about faith. however, when i shared the idea with my friend who would be interpreting into tamil, he stared at me blankly and made it very clear that this comparison would only be meaningful to westerners because the sri lankans weren't aware that there was anything 'unusual' about the way they drive. this analogy would only underscore the cultural differences between me and the people that i was intending to encourage. good to know- idea scrapped.

so my point here is that if we draw great personal delight from the notion that God is somehow incapable of doing this or driving that or revealing himself another way, the delight will be as temporal as we are- it will not survive us. we can enjoy the laugh; we just mustn't kid ourselves about who laughs or cries last at our faithlessness.

sorta like the old email signature that reads:

"God is dead." (Nietzsche)
"Nietzsche is dead." (God)

remember, when you are abducted by aliens, don't confuse them with God... although they probably enjoy all of the notoriety in the greek and roman mythologies, you're fooling yourself if you think that worshipping them will somehow save you from the anal probe!

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