modern Noah.

The news on Google today was flooded with photos from the 2014 Met Gala Best Dressed.  I humored myself for about eight seconds of perusing posed shots of celebrities in fancy clothing before I couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.  It’s like when you cut sugar out of your diet and you no longer can stand the rush from sugar.  I can no longer even fathom what thrill people get from these kinds of things.

I used to look at outfits and appreciate the creativity, flow, contrasts, etc. of each piece.  If it were a school assignment, sure – I’d whip out all of those elegant words from the bank and I could fool anyone.  But today was completely different and I felt nothing for the outfits.  Nothing positive.  Actually, I felt disgust.

I’ve been applying for several travel scholarships lately in the hopes of scoring an award to either a global sustainability class or a service project in one of the least attractive corners of the world.  I constantly want to push forward and do something.  That something generally involves putting time, effort, and money into working with impoverished people in this world who are the voiceless, working bodies holding every society together.

In other words, when I saw those outfits, I saw the faces of the people who grew the cotton or mixed the dyes.
I saw the anguish, the integrity, the bleeding hands.

I did not see the floozy in the gown or the million-dollar smile.
I did not know the name of the celebrity, but I wished I’d known the names of the servants who created her.
From a million miles away.
With several million dollars less.
And what has that celebrity done?  Relative to her potential?  ZIP.  ZILCH.  NOTHING.

NOTHING, as far as relative goes.  NOTHING when you can buy up an entire fleet and take world problems by storm.  NOTHING when you have the voice and the potential to be heard by so many sheep who blindly follow.

What can the peasant do?  Keep quiet, keep humble, keep working.

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This all happened so perfectly in timing with my spontaneous decision to see the movie Noah.  Going into it, I had no idea what to expect – I just know the imagery looked intense.  Well, quite frankly, I had two impressions: 1) WOW, that was creepy and 2) WOW, that didn’t seem accurate.

And it wasn’t.

I’m no expert on the book of Genesis, but it’s short and I’ve been around it since I was little enough to get the main ideas.  With a little help from reviews, I was able to back up the reasons for my reactions.  First and foremost, Noah was played out as a maniac trying to kill, kill, kill.  It was all supposed to be showing his devotion to the Creator’s will, but you know how Hollywood takes ahold of things and runs with it.  Now, there were also some technical things wrong with the film, like how Jepath was not the youngest son but rather Ham was, or how Lamech didn’t die when Noah was a child.  But there were also some points in the film that were clearly strategic in capturing any kind of audience: the overlaying of Creation with Evolution.  Admittedly, I know enough people who insist both coexist that I actually really liked the implications the directors  made – but I also know a lot of Christians did not like said implications and took offense to Hollywood selling the Bible for profit.

It’s true, though; one could justly say this group’s scriptures have been misrepresented and sold.  It has been work-shopped questionably and beyond the entitlement of “artistic license”.  From the “rock people” to the dramatic, wordless visions from God, Hollywood was really just pitching a highly animated sci-fi movie – and how ironic, right?

But perhaps one benefit that came from this is the message it gave.  Now, people will argue the message of Genesis is that humans left their god and ran astray, so they were all wiped out – save for Noah, his family, and a bunch of animals meant to repopulate the earth.  In other words, disobeying the Creator is the big no-no.  Well, in this version of Noah’s story, it’s about what humans have done to the planet and less about how they’ve forgotten their god (although it does come up time to time).  Noah’s obedience to God is supposed to show why he has been chosen, but he just comes off as crazed until he learns love with discretion.  Meanwhile, the Flood is allegedly occurring to cleanse “evil” and to save the “innocent”, meaning the animals.  It’s like an eco-friendly, modern Noah story.  Save the planet, or you’ll have nothing left.  At least it’s a positive message, although missing the Biblical mark by a substantial bit.

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So Met Gala.  Noah.
These two ideas finally collided in my mind.

The evil-doers in Noah were transfixed on themselves, on their power, on humanity’s greatness, on their ruling over everything below them, on their image in the eyes of others and not in goodness,… They were eating other humans and holding absolutely no values, bloodthirsty to be at the top just as they were when the Flood came and they scrambled over each other to the highest peak to avoid the inevitable.  Because they thought they were great.  Because they had raised themselves up and not appreciated or ever understood the foundation on which they were standing to begin with.

Wow, just like our society today.

Dog eats dog, climbing over each other to the top, striving to save that extra buck so you can get that much farther ahead.  Idolizing things that should not be idolized, like celebrities who bring nothing of good fortune or true inspiration to a wholesome life.  Meanwhile, we take for granted our foundation, the one as simple as who grows our food.  Do you know how few people could survive without that anonymous web of peasants laboring below us?

“Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.” – Proverbs 28:6

The toil, the labor, the strife peasants pour into providing riches to the already rich… that’s just an example of these same themes.  False pedestals hold false idols, and becoming a sheep to the wrong flock drags you down the road of foolishness.  You can no longer hold what is important in your mind.  You become materialistic and take advantage of the downtrodden.  But the world balances itself out and nature/God/whatever will always have the last say.  “…for a piece of bread a man will transgress.  A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him” – but he is often already poor.

Yes, celebrities and those who idol them are poor and sickly.
It’s the impoverished, the righteous, and the downtrodden who live righteously who are the richest, the ones who are safe from the transgressions of the world – the ones closest to being the modern Noah.

the company you keep.

“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men.  Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” -Proverbs 4:14-15 NIV

“For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” -2 Timothy 2:2-5 NASB

I don’t care if you don’t believe in the Torah/Bible/God; scripture can offer some really good advice if you know how to read it.  For example, in this quote from Timothy, take “God” as a symbol for living peacefully and good.  It provides the same meaning and is certainly applicable to any faith or faithlessness.

How did I get these quotes?  Well, I Googled quotes that could demonstrate the idea of “the company you keep”.  And these were my favorites.

Today, I became (yet again) a victim of online bullying.  It was a rash, brash, offhand, unprecedented comment from an uninformed, unimportant individual.  In the past, I would have blown up over it.  I would have sobbed, raged, replied, and probably done a lot of things I would have regretted later.  But that was me before I started paying attention to these kinds of things.  That was me before I began thinking about the company I keep.

It made me realize the company I choose to keep does not behave like this person.
Meaning he meant nothing to me and he couldn’t hurt me.
Meaning he doesn’t know the truth but the people who matter do.
Meaning I don’t keep his company because he is not considerate, respectful, classy, and of good sportsmanship.
But the company I do keep is all of these things.

In thinking of the company I keep and who I want to be, I debated my options.  I could delete the comment and move forward.  But maybe this person was making a point?  Maybe I had overlooked something that had evoked his reaction in the first place.

Aha – indeed, I had.  I realized he was either being completely tactless and cutting me down without reason, or his tactlessness arose from a misunderstanding in what I was saying.  And yes, this was all about hockey.

First, I chose to leave the comment.  I didn’t reply.  I won’t reply.  It’s not worth it, and it exposes his lack of anything human.  And it makes me look better in the meantime.

Second, I e-mailed the captain of the team.  I thanked her for her candor, congratulated her team for their season, then made her aware of the situation in case someone else might have taken what was said in the wrong way.  I know I didn’t have to do it, but I felt like it is good to clean things up and it can’t hurt nipping a potential problem in the bud.  It also gave me a chance to explain why I left the one team for another: sportsmanship.

The comment that was left and a teammate’s supportive, subsequent reaction to that comment were the perfect parallels to the situation.  It showed how my old team lacked the sportsmanship and respect I craved and how I gained so much more in those fields and others by switching teams.

It reminded me of this past Sunday when I spent time with a friend.  I’ve gotten along swimmingly with his whole family and realized there’s a reason for that.  Kind of like there’s a reason why I can throw my closest friends from all over the world in a room together for the first time…and they love each other.

We always tend to migrate towards the same kinds of people.  And I’ve been trying increasingly harder to base my “kind” of person off of his/her character.  His/her goodness.  His/her positivity.  Even though I haven’t always been the most positive person, it’s amazing how letting go of a little negativity and surrounding yourself with good people will really change your outlook on life.

You really can change your life by the company you keep and surrounding yourself with good things.

As the quote above from Proverbs tells us, don’t be tempted by that evil path.  Just because others act one way does not justify your reaction in their footsteps.  You have to own what you do and you are responsible for the consequences.  Every step you make should be towards the kind of person you want to be, no matter how big or small that step is.

And this person’s bullying is exactly what Timothy’s quote is describing: This person may have been reacting from a misunderstanding, but it was still completely uncalled for, demonstrates his lack of good character, and proves that he is insecure about another’s accomplishments.  He had to cut me down for my pride in the wonderful people I have discovered on my new team and by the honors I’ve received for being a part of their society.  Clearly, I have a LOT that he lacks.  And he doesn’t like it.

While I can’t change him and it’s not my responsibility to try, I can just hope to lead by example and to continue supporting my teammates, choosing better, and maintaining a close watch over the company that I keep.

because, god.

Not you, but god.

God does these things.  You don’t.
Don’t ever think you do them.
He does.

Wowwww – how many times have I heard that?

I remember my friend’s 13th birthday party.  All anyone could say was “We are grateful god made you this way, we recognize that god gave you the strength to be the person you are, we are happy that god has chosen this path for you.  God gave you this, god allowed this to happen for you, god opened that door.”
Meanwhile, you have done nothing.  But let god guide you.  While you sat there.  And didn’t make those decisions to be the person you are, to actively choose good over bad, to work hard…

I remember talking to a friend about my “purpose” that I have chosen in life.  I was determined that I had found my “calling”.  “But what if it’s not a ‘calling’ but actually just god telling you to do that?  What if it’s just god’s purpose for you?  Maybe that’s why you’re here and you’re just fulfilling his duty, whether you know it or not.”
Meanwhile, I am just a puppet.  I haven’t been a good person on my own, god has just made me to be that way.  I’ve been seeking out these opportunities because it’s what he wants me to do, not because I myself have chosen that path…

Today, my hometown was shook up over a school stabbing.  One of the kids who was stabbed pulled a fire alarm to evacuate the school.  I was reading the comments and several people said something to the effect of “God used you well.  God will continue to use you well.”  and “god bless, god knows what he’s doing…”
Meanwhile, disregard all credibility to this kid because he had nothing to do with it.  He had no choice.  God used him as a puppet.  No need to remember this kid for his own choices, because god gave him no option and chose for him.

get it.  I swear I do.  I get why people believe god is doing everything and making all of the choices.  But I have a few major problems with the whole concept:
1. Obedience.
2. Omniscience and omnipotence.
3. Credibility.
Let me break it down for you…

 

Obedience
It was made very clear in the Book of Exodus that Moses did not want to listen to god’s direction for him.  He was basically all “Hell no, bro”, so god spoke directly to him and finally compromised by asking Moses to direct while Aaron, Moses’s brother, did all of the talking to the Hebrews.

What’s my point?
Moses had a choice.

Does that mean I have to actively hear god in my head and deny him to know that the choice is mine?  I don’t think that’s the case.  I think if there’s a god directing my life, I would probably know when I was obeying him – or at least feel like something extraordinary guided me.  Something more than adrenaline and pure survivalism.

 

 

Omniscience and Omnipotence
This was actually the first argument a friend of mine made against god.  She’s an atheist or agnostic of some sort who works in a scientific, logic-based field.  She could throw the whole concept out the window on there being a single god guiding all of us merely because, as she said it, “Like there’s really a god paying that much attention to every single person on earth!”

I have to admit, it’s a very compelling argument.

But, god.  God’s omniscience, omnipotent, and we can never expect to understand all of his ways.  (Remember my “catchall” argument from previous entries?)  Yet we were made in his image… but only his image?  I guess Eve didn’t touch the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis, so we weren’t able to understand how god works…  She had tastebuds for the Tree of Life instead.

 

Credibility
This is definitely the part that stings the most.  And the one that is so hard to argue about.  I could say it’s hard to see that a god is making my choices for me, and I could say that it’s hard to wrap my head around the capabilities of god…and any listening Christian or other would sympathize with my incompetence.  But for me to stand up and say “that’s not being fair”, that saying god told that boy to pull the fire alarm or that god is the reason I and my friend have made our good life choices as such is taking away what we have done, well they’d have a real problem with that.

Because god is the reason for everything.

Without the creator, I cannot be, and for me to take advantage of that, to take a stake in the claim, well that’s just absurdly inappropriate.  (Mmmk.  It reminds me of the same attitude that we don’t have to correct the world because god will.  We can just all wait for the second messiah, for god to intervene.  Right…)

 

I’m not saying one way is right over the other, but what I am saying is that I sympathize for anyone who feels like they’re achieving something and then feels crushed because someone else takes the credit away from them.  Maybe the credit does go to a god or gods or aliens or mind-controlling microbes, whatever… but the point of the matter is, we emphasize so much about how we need to make good choices and live our own lives that it seems a little hypocritical to throw into the mix “but, god…he’s why”.

Ya know??

continua and the familiar.

What is it with change that can be so scary? Or how time can so gradually alter our feelings or view of something that it no longer is or affects us like what it used to be?

I feel like our emotions are always so closely related to our survival instincts and that we have to remind ourselves of that occasionally. Fight or flight. Fear of the unknown. Being blindsided or not being able to fully grasp a situation causes our defensive instincts to kick in and startle us. Deep down, we are just animals trying to survive. But our complicated brains, hormones, overwhelming emotion…those can cloud our perception and cripple us.

Yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the universe. About being small again, and about changes and choosing better in my life. Those personal emotions are scary because they make me feel vulnerable yet grounded. That’s instinct. That’s my body fearing danger and susceptibility even when I’m sitting safely in a work tent, surrounded by friends, help, and the necessities.

But what about the universe? I also began thinking about what I am and where I come from. I thought about religion. I thought about how so many people answer my questions about life with “Well, God.”

But I think explaining a question about life with an answer of religion…well that’s answering a question with the same question.

Where does matter come from? What are quarks? Are they made of something? Is this an infinite loop of smaller elements?
Well, God.
But what is God? What is God made of? If he’s the answer to where matter came from, then what is his matter and where did that come from? Who made God?
Well, God. He’s God. He does whatever he wants, and he’s God.

I’m sorry, but that’s not an answer. Maybe God made this that and the other thing – but that’s answering my question with more questions. Celebrating God may keep him from destroying you, but using him as an answer for the origin of life and where the universe comes from… Well he would still be part of that universe, so I’m not buying it.

God is such a catch-all.

As humans, we hate the unknown. We seek solace in the familiar. We want to have answers for everything and, when we can’t find an answer, we turn to a god.

You’re single and sad. Well, embrace God’s choice for you.

The cancer is taking your mom. Well, it’s God’s choice and you have to trust him.

That huge storm that just killed a bunch of innocent, technology-less people? That’s not global warming, God’s just angry at us.

No, no, no. I don’t believe that at all.

I believe we have free choice, that using God as an excuse is turning a blind eye to our character flaws or how we are destroying the planet. Saying, it’s all good, Jesus will return and God will save us.

When we can’t explain something, we turn to God, to a familiar, to a continuum. Like with me trying to explain matter as being made of infinitesimally small pieces, or thinking maybe atoms are small universes and the cycle never ends… Picturing death or the end of the world… WE CANNOT PERCEIVE THOSE THINGS, so we transpose the familiar onto a continuum. Continua keep the answers we want comfortably within our knowledge and potentially within our control.

But they’re lies, making up reasons and putting faith in them. Denying our faults. And we refuse to learn from it.

This reminds me of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. God seriously loves Israel and keeps showing the people grace despite their insubordinate behavior and continuous disobedience of his clear laws. They repeatedly turn to Baal and other gods despite his keeping them safe and alive and guiding them and warning them not to do just what they’re doing. His solution is to send a judge to the people.

Joshua has died and the people of Israel are without their strong leader, so they go astray and risk defeat by the Canaanites. God sends a judge to fill Joshua’s void. The people idolize the judge, win wars, celebrate their lord, and all is well. The judge lives his (or her) life out, dies, and it’s history repeating. This happens about twenty times and God keeps forgiving and trying again.

This story is thousands of years old, but we do the same thing to this day. We are inspired, like when America became patriotic after 9/11, and then we forget. Is it that the Israelites didn’t know danger? That God was always there for them? That they couldn’t see failure and knew, subconsciously, that he would be their catch-all and always save them?

The judges became a familiar and a continuum. God was the continuum of Israel. No one could picture defeat and they took advantage of it.

That’s like our excuses today, our passive concern. Because, without comfort of a familiar, we continuously revert to the next best safety net for our emotions. We can’t stand the vulnerability of change and the heaviness of responsibility.

Well, I think we all need to start owning up, on a personal as well as environmental scale. To start acknowledging our flaws, our faults, and our susceptibility to the uncontrollable unfamiliar. To realize the gravity of not having a safe continuum to rely on. To recognize the signs of history repeating, whether it’s in a personal relationship or on a large, international level of respect.

Out with the old, in with the instincts and the common sense. Let’s pull it together, folks.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; It is not arrogant.”
-1 Corinthians 13:4

My week has been rough, but this day was subtly amazing.

We made ligonberry Swedish crepes for breakfast. It was a communion day at church and I was hugged like family. The pastor quoted the same passage that I had recently shared with Jeff. We cleaned off 20 or 30 snowy cars as the people left. We had good conversations and baked soda bread and made stirfry vegetables. Then we met his brother and brother’s wife to cross-country ski and had a beer after. The weather was perfect and the sun was shining. We made pasta and ate banana pudding. We watched the Olympics and The Help. We talked about people and gossip and respect and how people treat each other.

And when I left, I had sweet goodbye and was thanked for my persistence in convincing Jeff to try something he didn’t think he wanted, to watch that movie. It sounds silly, but it spoke volumes. Gentle persistence. Comfort zones. That came up a lot today.

Taking the time to have fun and be patient to understand, that makes such a difference. Slowing down enough to enjoy the smallest things makes anything feel refreshing. The pastor quoted 1 Corinthians today, and I thought it was a good thing to remember.

And in other news, I’m back writing full swing for the Athenian – and illustrating, too.

Actually Opening One’s Mind to Religion.

The idea of ever calling myself a certain “religion” type always gave me fear.  I too easily pictured “cults”.  I pictured these organized “cults” and then I remembered all of the negative history in the world that occurs under God’s “will”.  I’ve been trying to understand lately what it really is all about though, these pro- and anti-religious peoples vetting against one another.  I’m trying to see for myself what they’re about rather than spitting out words other people feed to me.

I got two books from the library: Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul, a tiny book that discusses what Scripture is really for, how to interpret it, and how people are spoiling it – and also The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  I thought, “Sproul will be so dry… but Dawkins should be pretty interesting, I think.”  That’s because his book was long and confident-looking.

Well, I have completed both books and I was completely wrong.

Reviews on GoodReads have, for the most part, coincided with my sentiments quite exactly.  Whilst Dawkins seems to give a much more modern and forceful view on religion, he does it in such a righteous, arrogant baby fit that I came to hate it more and more and more with each chapter.  It was also mind-numbing repetitious, dispelling numerous tests and experiments (which were highly interesting, but I don’t think possible to put scientific control on).  One such experiment supposedly proved that praying for an individual didn’t help them get better but, if anything, made them worse.  Well, okay, because they’re at a hospital so obviously ill, you ask them to be in an experiment, and it is likely that the more people who pray for them the sicker they are – and they know it.  Regardless, it was the style that got me the most.

Another thing that deeply disturbed me was the way Dawkins seemed to make so many radical claims, all the while demonstrating his lack of understanding religion.  I used to be like that.  When I tried opening my mind, I became less so.  After finishing some of my latest readings, however, I have gained an entirely new perspective for devout Christians and why they preach the things they preach and act the ways they do.  Dawkins clearly either hasn’t reached this point of understanding, or he denies it or just completely shuts it out.  On any conflicting issue, you have to meet in the middle before you can make a solid assessment.  I hate how he comes in from the flank and doesn’t take a moment to understand the people he is bashing, especially after I just finished the other book.

The other book, Knowing Scripture, helped me understand the “literary” and “literal” tidbits of the Bible.  I believe Sproul is the kind of man who would acknowledge that certain words have been mistranslated.  I really like his approach to how to read Scripture and the way he emphasizes the lessons taken from them as being the most important – which I agree.  Too much of the Bible is outdated, especially in the Old Testament.  Furthermore, I really enjoyed his section about people “tailoring” religion.  He calls them “sensual” Christians.  You can’t pick and choose the rules you think apply.  You have to pick a method of interpreting God’s word, and then you have to constantly apply that method regardless of the outcome.  You can’t by wishy-washy – and I’ve always felt that way about religion.  He calls these kinds of people “sensual” because he sees them as looking for that instant satisfaction of this generation.  He argues that this is the kind of difference that exists between love and lust – one desirable, one like a plague.

Comparing these two books just made me realize how many people might feel the same way about something, but they shut each other down if they don’t get to the same conclusions by walking the same paths.  In the end, what does it matter how you get there?  If you arrive at the same place, how you get there is just what personally defines you and makes you as unique as the mind you used to think yourself there.  I like to think that I have managed to open my mind pretty wide to be accepting and to form my own, non-intrusive opinions.  Sure, they might come off as forceful here time to time, but I’m never actually that way in conversation.

Then again, maybe my views are the reason why I’ve identified as UU the past couple of years.