Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shine The Divine

I'm reading a book called Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God by Jim Palmer. In it, he comes across everyday people who "shine the divine". In a chapter Jim comes across a very kind and weathered lady. Having had a hard life, lacking education and perhaps some social grace, the red-haired middle aged Waffle House waitress, when asked if she has tried church, basically says, 'Yes, and believe me, they don't want my kind there. When they see me in my lowly orange waitress uniform and nametag in church, they make it apparent that this is not the place for lowly waitresses.'

She goes into explanation of the Sunday churchgoing crowds who she has waited on. And how unbelievably rude and thoughtless they can be after just coming out of church. She says she once came upon a table amidst prayer and politely waited until they had finished before taking their order. And how, after waiting on these people hand and foot and servicing unreasonable requests (too much ice in the iced tea, etc.), they left her a tract pamphlet as a tip. Nice. Real considerate.

When I attended Catholic church each week, I experienced something similar with the just-out-of-church-crowd. I recall being cut off on the road and in the grocery stores by people who were sitting just a few pews away from me not an hour before; and I remember saying to my dad that just because you go to church does not make you a kind person. It doesn't make you a good person, either.

My younger sister had attended church when she was pregnant (out of wedlock and very young) and she felt more comfortable standing in the back of the church to avoid stares and glares. The church director / administrator lady would give her dirty looks and disdainfully tell her to go in and sit down, that she shouldn't be in the vestibule. No kindness. No smiles. No Christly compassion. Needless to say my sister no longer attends church, and I don't blame her. A person should feel welcome in what is termed "the house of God". Instead it has all the trappings of a theater. People dressed up for show, ready to break out the hypocrisy on the road or in the store after the final hymn. I know not all churchgoers are like this, but the ones who are...well, those are the majority, I think.

Love is patient. Love is kind. God is love. So, God must be kind. To be like God, we should be kind to one another. This is not a trigonometry formula. It is as simple as simple gets.

"Turns out in the end, the main thing God asks of us on the road to wholeness is the truth. The idea we can "clean up our act" through our own willpower is an illusion, and the only hope of ever being whole is to receive the life of God. It's clear from the "hot/cold" Scripture in Revelation that the video nauseating God is not categorically the hip-hop one, but the one where we come to church masking our brokenness, out of touch with the truth about ourselves while pointing our fingers of condemnation at others." -- from Divine Nobodies

Another tidbit I'd like to share was a bit unsettling and rather shocking to me. 11 years ago I had taken a speech class at my local junior college. In the class was a middle aged, heavyset and outspoken lady who talked about her husband and children alot. She was a nice enough lady. She was memorable and funny. Well, I was at my parents' house last week and picked up the local paper and I saw this lady's obituary. She had died of cancer. Her obituary write-up was two colums long and included all her "best friends - the best friends anyone could ask for" - all 25 couples. The write-up went on and on in a conversational manner. It also read "To all those who loved and cared for my family and friends, I will always love you. To all those who hated my family and friends, may God close the door of Heaven to you."

I was stunned. That is not right. You leave the message to love those who love you and hate those who hate you? How spiritually immature. There's always a first impression - but this was her last impression and it spoke volumes. I felt sad for her misunderstanding and imagine the incorrect message her grandchildren will pick up from reading her obituary.

With this week starting the Catholic observance of Lent, I hope that the observers shine the divine more and learn to be kind to the homeless man asking for coffee, or the waitress trying to survive. Ashes on the forehead doesn't mean you are a good person. And I won't get into another digression about the papacy and their political ties within the economy (of the time) that created the "No eating meat on Fridays" clause...

Because as the Bible says: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but rather, what comes out. I'm at peace with not participating in Lent (this will be my 2nd year). But I will continue to make a concerted spiritual effort to show every living creature I come across the kindness and compassion I imagine Jesus Christ would show.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Parental Template

Everyone has parents. It is the one thing in life that universally applies to each and every person. The Parental Template is understood as the one of love, caring and responsibility. It is the example of behavior that is everywhere we turn.

When I visualize the tenderness of a parent, I think of The Pieta by Michelangelo.

Thomas Talbott recognizes this as well:

God could no more choose to create persons without accepting that obligation than human parents can choose to raise children without acquiring a similar obligation for the welfare of their children. And a God who refused to forgive repentant sinners could no more promote the welfare of those for whom he is responsible than a father who refuses to forgive his children can promote the welfare of the children for whom he is responsible. That is why, given the simplicity of God's moral nature, he forgives not only because he is merciful, but because he is faithful and just as well (see I John 1:9).

For if God is necessarily faithful and just and necessarily accepts, having created a world, all the obligations of the Creator, then his forgiveness, which is in no way opposed to punishment, will be unconditional and without limit of any kind.

The idea that divine justice requires forgiveness accords very well with the New Testament analogy between God and a loving parent. It also illuminates in an intriguing way the nature of God's opposition to sin. As the Augustinians (Catholics) see it, God opposes sin enough to punish it, but not enough to destroy it altogether; instead of destroying sin altogether, he merely confines it to a specially prepared region of his creation, known as hell, where he keeps it alive for eternity. So, the opposite of a sinful condition is a state of reconciliation; and if that is so, then God cannot be against sin, cannot oppose it with his entire being, unless he is for reconciliation. And he can hardly be for reconciliation unless he is prepared to forgive others even as he commanded us to forgive them.