First Day

2014-09-04 20.37.54

2014-09-04 20.37.48

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Hell Depths

danteinfernoI had never read Inferno until several days ago. Since reading it, I have been thinking about it quite a bit. I have been comparing some of Dante’s writings to some of the beliefs about hell that I grew up with in my faith community. I find it interesting to think and wonder about just how much Inferno has likely and further influenced (for better or worse) my ideas, beliefs, and mental images of hell beyond that of what I might have only drawn from Scripture.

Obviously, Dante vividly sees, feels, and smells – with his own senses – the result of sin after it has separated man from God. In Canto 1, Virgil tells Dante that Dante will see “ancient suffering spirits” (Alighieri 33). In Canto 33, Dante feels the cool from the frozen ice and wind (519). At the end of Canto 10, Dante speaks of a smell and “stench that was displeasing” as the travelers descended (161). Dante is physically and outwardly repulsed by some of what he sees, feels, and smells.

But Dante changes inside, too. When Dante begins his descent, he seems to slightly judge the people that he sees. He does so vocally with fair regularity, it appears. It’s almost as if he, while concerned and interested, seems almost smug in his standing versus the standing of those he is seeing. The deeper the travelers go, however, Dante seems to talk less. Seeing Satan tear away and devour liars, traitors, and cheaters in the depths of hell and as described in the last Cantos, maybe Dante senses that sins of intentional deceit are even worse than sins of killing. Perhaps Dante begins to understand the enormity of sin’s result and, too, maybe Dante is truly beginning to fully empathize with the sinners who are stranded in eternal torment.

After this journey and what Dante sees, he is led to the changes that come along inside of him – maybe this is how faith and belief works sometimes. Whereas Dante begins his descent as a confused and desperately selfish man, he finally climbs out of the cavern into sunlight as a man of selfless potential and understanding.

Alighieri, Dante. Inferno – The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Ed. Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez. Trans. Robert M. Durling. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.

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For It

logo-23I’m starting to go for it a bit more now. There doesn’t seem as much to lose and why not push and find out what happens? I’m not sure if it’s just me and my situation or if it’s my age or if it is something else but – more and more – I’m thinking that if I don’t push and find out if or if not then I will never know and what is the point of wondering if I have never tried?

I will say that, so far, there have been a few more ups and downs in moods and feelings but that comes with the territory, right? I’ve almost always been the safe, trusted, enduring, patient planner who is usually organized, in control, and ready for anything. Well, it seems a bit boring now, I think. And other than collecting up a bunch of personal equity, I’m not real sure what the point has been.

Don’t panic. I’m not planning to row a boat to Brazil with six women for two years or anything. But seriously. I have more time now to consider activities and relationships and, frankly, I don’t want to waste as much time as I did before on activities and relationships that seem more a sinkhole and less an investment. It isn’t as much about selfishness as it is about availing myself to opportunities and experiences that – for one reason or another – I’ve never experienced.

I’m going to press the accelerator slightly harder, nudge the horse a bit more, and attempt swimming upstream further. Let’s see what happens.

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Power Parable

pertpwrIn engineering, one of the most fiendish challenges is to be able to create an inexhaustible power source. Of course, it is physically impossible to create an infinite power source – an eternal battery! – but to create a reliable, small, and cheap power source that can last for not hours or days but for weeks or even years is the holy grail for people who build power sources. To have, for example, a battery of some kind that can run a cellphone for months without charging would change the world. Creating a power source that can run lights and appliances for weeks and weeks would be a venture capitalist’s pot of gold. Everything runs on something – and to find a way to create semi-perpetual power boarders on the fantastical.

But interestingly, it really isn’t whether we can build a storage mechanism to hold power. That is doable. Batteries can hold charges for years. What really is the question is how the power will be used, for how long, and at what rate. It’s not a question of storing power – it a matter of how it will be used and how fast.

This all sounds goofy to most of you – to me, it is fascinating. Anyway, the point is that it’s not about having power as much as it is about how we plan to use the power. And likely, there will never be enough power for our needs regardless of inventions and investments. With our insatiable appetite for more more more, there will never be enough for what we want.

A short parable.

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Being Ungood

boukeWe sure spend lots of time trying to be good, don’t we? Of course, to stop and think about what “being good” means creates all kinds of faith and existential issues, but we do it anyway. We always seem to be in pursuit of being “gooder” and even “more gooder.” We set an incredibly and impossibly high bar when we tell someone, “You need to work at being good.” I think it’s a hopeless goal and I think we are chasing fool’s gold.

As I get on down this road of life, I have pretty much figured out that the best I can do is my best and leave the rest up to God. And the gap between the end of my best and where God stands is huge! It is a gaping, enormous, Grand Canyon-sized gap between my goodness and God’s goodness. How silly to think that I can work hard at being good and somehow that is what is going to count. (Thank goodness for God’s grace, yes?)

Look, this isn’t about not trying to live as Jesus lived – and lives! But it is about learning that God can’t work through excellent, wonderful, inspirational, perfect people. Why? It’s because in people who think all of these things of themselves, there simply isn’t any room for God! After all, why would a wonderfully balanced, incredibly mature, amazingly stalwart, and profoundly passionate person need God? Sheesh – they have themselves!

God works in broken people and in their weaknesses. That’s where God shines. I prefer to be ungood and let God do his stuff in me, okay?

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Cruel Intent

jgingA friend recently told me that someone she is close with fairly regularly approaches her and says, “I’m praying that you will find God again.” When she told me this, I didn’t know what to think. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few days.

On one hand, and if I didn’t know the relationship between my friend and this other person, I might think that this was mostly innocent and well meaning. After all, isn’t it okay to think that someone is praying for me? And if someone tells me that they are praying for me, isn’t that sort of okay, too? It might not be a normal conversation that you hear every day but I suppose it works. I think – in some circumstances – it would be something that I wouldn’t mind hearing. It suggests that someone is thinking of me and is thinking of me enough to include me in their prayers? That’s alright, isn’t it?

On the other hand, though, and knowing the relationship that does exist between these two, I have really, really been thinking that this is one of the harshest and meanest things that could ever be said between two people who, otherwise, should be close to each other. The statement smacks of judgement and condemnation somehow, doesn’t it? Instead of trying to lovingly walk in the other person’s shoes, it kind of says “I’m looking down on you and I feel real sorry for you and your state and, boy, if only you could be like me and my god!”

I’m not sure but this seems a cruel way to tell someone to get their act together.

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Bus Stop

scpscallsBeth is going to stop the phone calls. It has been a long time now. The calls I’m talking about are the calls from Stafford County School Board. For a long time, I didn’t really want to stop the calls – automated, recorded calls about school openings, closings, events, teacher conferences, and so forth. I have been getting them for two years since… Anyway, they were a grim reminder but, somehow, I wanted to hang on to something. I’m not sure what it was.

Of course, the calls don’t come through during the summer so I wasn’t thinking much about them. But with school now starting up this Tues, the calls have been coming through these past few weeks pretty regularly. And I decided I didn’t want them anymore. They – and what they mean – is getting dimmer and dimmer to me. They hurt a bit more than help somehow. Anyway, Beth, as a teacher in the local school system, agreed to call and get them stopped. This part is over now. I’m letting it go.

It used to be incredibly important around this house to know if the hurricane or winter storm was going to cancel school. Also, the phone often rang from teacher friends, parents, and school administrators. It was pretty much what would come through – week in and week out. It is, of course, silent now. I see the school buses out now and I visited Beth’s special classroom a few days ago – life goes on. At least, that life.

Somewhere along the way, I was let off the bus.

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Surviving Snakes

Happy PartyIt was a nice birthday party. People I care for and love were all around me – they put up with me. Lots of laughs and silliness. Isn’t it interesting how important stories are to a good gathering? In fact, it seems that most of our interaction and conversation has to do with stories – real or embellished – and the memories behind the stories. I was thinking as I was watching and listening how much a party can be like an oldies concert or a radio flashback. Of course, the stories are usually about shared experiences, too, or, at least, stories that somehow will interest everyone because of who they might know or because of common experiences. Anyway, all the stories are about memories and times – the good and the not so good. It’s important, I suppose, to have some good stories for a party to be any good.

I was with some memory patients yesterday. Sitting down and talking with them is never difficult – they only have a few memories and stories. They, of course, tell them like they are new stories but they are stories I have heard many times in the past few months. The patients tell their stories with smiles, grins, and as if they were sharing something new and exciting. It’s like a small mini-party. I, of course, laugh and carry-on about their stories. It’s the right thing to do.

For me, opening up memories is like opening an unmarked brown paper bag. Will there be some goodies in it – or a snake? I tend to stay away from memories quite a bit now. It’s my way of surviving.

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Finding God

JesusI believe scholars must deal with two main issues regarding the understanding of the historical Jesus. First, there is little extrabiblical information that describes a physical Jesus (Gundry, 2012, p. 130). And second, it seems that scholars continue to struggle with being able to validate (in their research and minds) the authenticity of Jesus’ direct quotes in the Gospels (p. 129).

With regard to the first issue, Gundry tells that a complete biography of Jesus is impossible to obtain simply because the Gospels – as the primary source for information about Jesus – share very little about Jesus as a living, breathing man (p. 127). Though a number of biographies were written about Jesus in the 19th and 20th centuries by noted scholars and organizations, the biographers seem to have focused and postulated more on who Jesus became and less on the actual, historical Jesus (p. 127-130). This, perhaps, isn’t surprising simply because there is not any hard and extensive information on Jesus that can be drawn upon to write biographies other than the paucity of information about Jesus from the Gospels.

And second, it seems odd but interesting that even the exact words of Jesus are a matter of disagreement and contention. I can’t help but think that it’s been God’s intent to not reveal the literal words and physical descriptions of Jesus in order that we might spend more time considering the broader implications of a redemptive God and less time on the physical appearance of Jesus and on the parsing of literal words supposedly said by Jesus. Regardless, the fact is that, once again, scholars can barely agree on the literal and verbatim words that are recorded to have been said by Jesus in the Gospels and, rarely, in extrabiblical sources (p. 129).

Overall, there simply is not much to go on to describe a physical and historical Jesus other than being able to say that he existed 2000 years ago in what we know of as present-day Israel.

With regard to discussions on the writing of the Synpotic Gospels, it’s fascinating to consider the theories behind how Matthew, Mark, and Luke were possibly authored. Perhaps I rationalize, but, to me, God is not revealed so much in the words as in the essence of the words of Scripture. Which translation, which language, which interpretation, which paraphrase shall I use? I wonder if a seeker of God will find God regardless of where the seeker is looking – God will find the seeker instead of the other way round. The cynic, on the other hand, won’t find God anywhere even if God slaps him up the side of the head! With due respect to scholars of lower and higher criticism of Scripture, God will reveal himself to those who are looking one way or another regardless of the nuances found in today’s rendering of Scripture.

Gundry, R. (2012). A survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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Professor:

Good thoughts.  I had to laugh at your description of the cynic and tend to agree with you. Getting into a debate with a cynic can make you feel like you are “beating your head against a wall.”  Most cynics have this stubborn attitude that they MUST defend what they believe. And they feel that they must also get everyone else to believe what they believe.   The idea of Faith is difficult for a cynic to comprehend. It requires that they set aside what they think they know about God and be open to learning something new. Faith doesn’t make sense. It requires that they take a step into the unknown. A debate with a cynic can not be won. But a challenge for them to act in faith, to take a step into the unknown and ask God to “show up” in their lives is something they cannot debate.

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Been Awhile

Catoctin-Mountain-Orchard-24It has been awhile since I’ve posted. A nice break albeit a busy one while I was away. I’ve been up to a few things – some enjoyable and challenging and some less so. It is how things go, right?

– Started another session of school two weeks ago. New Testament Interpretation and Western Literature.
– Took a trip to the beautiful northwest in Washington to see Zak, Kathy, and the kids. Very special. Especially the air mattress when the kids hadn’t pounded out the air! They’ll be leaving for Korea in several weeks – hard to believe!
– Attended a few movies with some special friends. Our whispering during the movies actually is more interesting and entertaining than the movies themselves.
– Went fruit shopping for peaches, berries, and some comb honey at Catoctin Mountain near Thurmont, MD.
– Some Mongolian rice bowls with a friend – always tasty.
– Reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Very interesting and entertaining.
– Reread The Giver (on the flight back from Seattle) and then went to see the movie. I recommend both in that they are different. They won’t take your breath away but they are interesting and entertaining.
– Lost a kind patient – she isn’t suffering anymore. I’m glad about that. Picked up a new patient, though. I will meet him this week. He has just been put on the hospice list.
– I literally whacked my left toe on a ferry in Washington while up there. I’ve been limping ever since. My toe was as purple as a plum! Anyway, it’s much better now but I thought I had really messed it up. Wow, it hurt!
– I attempted to schedule another silent retreat at Holy Cross Abbey for a few of us but they are booked through the rest of the year. I was really wanting to get up there and cleanse a bit. Maybe in the spring.
– Here’s one – I have a nice acoustic guitar now and have been playing for a week or so. Lots is coming back from many years ago but I think I will sign up for some lessons, too. My fingers really hurt, though.
– God and I still spend a lot of time discussing – stuff! Not sure what he is up to with me. Kind of confused, frankly.

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