God’s Plan

 

Just one of many books similarly titled

Recently, I saw a book for sale in the local library. The title was God’s Plan for Church Leadership. I don’t recall the author’s name, nor did I think any more about it until the title came back to me while driving home. I haven’t read the book, but apparently the author was sharing this information about God’s Plan in a book.

All I needed to do was buy the book and read it. Then, I too would have the wisdom and insight of this plan, whatever benefit that would have. I suppose part of the plan was for the book’s author to get the messages telepathically, or however that works, so that the book could be written, published, and sold. It must follow that I would see the book, not buy it, and write about it. It’s all part of the big plan.

It strikes me as special when people say things like “God’s Plan” because it stakes the claim that they have factual inside-information from a deity. In this case, it’s specifically Christian, but that concept is by no means unique to the 75% of Americans who claim membership in that group.

The other two groups of the Abrahamic tradition (Jewish and Muslim) have similar claimants. But this author was Christian. I have always been baffled by folks who can tell me precisely what the plan is, other than what may be specifically spelled-out in scripture. I don’t agree with much scripture, but at least I know it to be the source.

If there is a plan for us, it is coded in our blood, bones, and brain – our DNA – what capabilities and limitations we have are pretty much set from day one. We are all the same in many aspects, yet very different in many observable ways. I’m not saying there is any plan, but the blueprint for my life was of my own making, given certain realities, realizations, limitations, and abilities. There are also coincidences.

I’ve seen no other evidence of planning. We are quite on our own. We can make the best of it. Conversely, we may under-perform to phenomenally low, yet undiscovered, levels. Failure in life is an option, even when disguised as success.

I find it frighteningly bizarre that since Armageddon is apparently a religious end times prophesy (I’m not looking it up, but I think it’s in Revelation) of God’s plan, many Christian people work hard to rush that event to fruition, thus ending human life on earth. And in their mind, sending people like me straight to Hell to their everlasting joy. An eternity of “I told you so.” For Muslims, it’s Al-Malhama Al-Kubra – but it’s all the same to me.

You can buy these and give them to your heathen friends.

Now, for the person who claims personal and privileged information regarding the specifics of a deific plan for church leadership. I would cheerfully bet a six-pack of any brewery’s finest amber ale that the same preacher/follower-man or woman (it was guy, but I’m feeling inclusive) would call down fire and brimstone into the after-death fortunes of anyone who would aspire to fortune-telling – as either practitioner or consumer. Yet, that is exactly what this self-proclaimed, religiously acceptable prophet is claiming to do.

It seems that in this case, and in so many others, God apparently needs this human’s help to pull-off the Big Plan. God is omnipotent but likes to entice His or Her enslaved underlings to do this bidding, just because.

I can say from experience that God’s plan is very clear to some of us, until others of us start asking questions. The brand of answer for the prior ilk is too often a version of God works in mysterious ways. The honest answer might sound like I don’t know.

I am not picking on all believers (at least not here). I know many religiously devout people who do not claim to know the plan (thus, so many books for them to buy), and do not believe this mumbo-jumbo any more than I do. They may even proffer that making such a claim would be heresy.

Waiving my bullshit flag has brought trouble into my life. It would be fair to wonder why I don’t stop. I can assure you that I will continue objecting to such ludicrous nonsense until the day the king puts on his clothes.

My plan and wish for us both is to have a wonderful day. Allahu akbar (not to me).

Always look both ways.
You don’t know what Allah’s plan is, or if she will protect you.
So, mind the gaps like you mean it.

Postscript: I returned to the library but could not find the book again anywhere, nor could I locate anything like it in the catalogue system (likewise in cyberspace). During my search, I did notice several similar titles. There are many people who seem to know God’s plan. As I searched graphics for this post, I noticed more literature about God’s Plan.

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Essay: My FWB Neighbors (3 of 4)

 

I have always liked the Diamond Rio song, Norma Jean Riley, so it follows this dribble for no other reason than I like it.

Part 3 of 4: Norma Jean (not Riley) and Mac

I met Norma Jean and her hubby, but I recall little about either of them. He was quiet; she was not. I had no judgmental opinion, but my wife seemed to like them. That means they are “fine.” They were longtime residents of the neighborhood and had raised their kids there and all of that. But, we all have our foibles, right? So, I will set this up for you.

We rented the house on the cul-de-sac we lived in for three years. When we announced we planned to move, the owner put it on the market and sold it. The couple who bought the house had children, were of some middle eastern ethnicity or nationality, and of the Islamic faith. I never met them, but I may have seen them when they looked at the house, since it was being shown while we lived in it.

As I understand, after we moved (bless her heart) sweet ol’ Norma Jean, who is of the Southern Baptist tradition, went to meet and welcome her new neighbors. It’s what we do. Being neighborly, right? In classic, southern, Bible Belt fashion, she invited her new neighbors to attend church and especially invited the children to Vacation Bible School.

The father of the children explained to sweet Norma Jean that he and his family were Muslims. He added that while his family would be following their own religious tradition, Norma Jean and her hubby were invited to a sit-down discussion of religion so that they might understand Islam better.

I don’t know what Islamic sect or part of that tradition the family followed. The conversation ended there. I’m sure Norma Jean sweetly declined the invitation. But then, bless her heart, Norma Jean shared the experience and her take on it all with my wife.

Apparently, Norma Jean was quite upset (shocked?) by the invitation for a chit-chat on the topics of Jesus and Mohammed. In righteous indignation she contacted my wife and shared her venomous opinion of such a request. “I have never been so insulted,” is how she felt about it.

I asked my wife how Norma Jean could in good conscience invite a Muslim family to a Southern Baptist church and to Vacation Bible School, but be offended by an offer to compare notes, quid pro quo, especially about two of the three Abrahamic religions of the world.

Some things I will never understand. Most people I will never understand. Southern Baptists and Muslims are two groups that fit both categories. But, that is fine since it is unlikely that they understand me either.

Look both ways in comparing notes with others. Turnabout is fair play but mind the gaps.

Poetry — NaNoWriMo: Of God’s Little Pests

The day nine poem prompt of the 2018 National Poetry Writing Month challenge was for me to write a poem in which something big and something small come together.

If you’ve experienced fire ants, you know. If you have not, you may want to read this.

I wrote this as a single sentence poem without line breaks so that it can be a fast, angry read. All the king’s power will not eradicate the fecking, misery-causing tiny fire ant.

Henry David Thoreau wrote a famous essay about ants and humans and combat. You can read it here.

Fire ants survived well Hurricane Harvey

Of God’s Little Pests

Thoreau did not know, nor did his essay thus show, the vicious pertinacity of your many tribes to attack and destroy, to sting and cause pain, to kill and devour, to disrupt with the evil of nature’s horror where the fittest survive, but not your power and numbers, that even all Texas resources with added more state and nation agriculture war departments, we burn and we poison, we kill and we murder, we hire mercenary flies to eat away your brain; yet you invade and continue your fight to survive costing billions each year with panic and pain, so that even attacks from Zeus Urei and the rains of Harvey allow you to still survive and produce from one queen astronomical numbers to replace workers each day and the best of science still calls you an exotic invasive species, still you’re a stinging nasty fire ant to me and you always will be, and you win, but I hate you.

(Bill Reynolds, 4/9/2018)

Standing or walking the land in the south USA,
look down and both ways for fire ant mounds.
If you don’t, you’ll soon learn. Mind the gaps.

Click link to National Poetry Writing Month

Poetry – Imagine This Dream

Is this life a mere dream,
a trance of yours, of mine, a life of ours?
Is my dream just a story,
well designed by mankind?

Must we just die, then and only
to taste the fine wine of the gods?

From some deep sleep must my mind to awake?
Is my dream a divine test, another deal to fake?
Is it only my dream; or ours, this life we make?

Right or wrong, this dream’s much too real,
there is no mistake, and there is no such deal.

What are the answers?
Is truth standing naked?

Nightmares I’ve had, it’s the same for you.
Be there no gods; many, or few;
life is still true. I can feel just how real
I love this dream, in good times and sad.

Yet my time to dream has mostly gone past,
a good life I’ve had with my role in our cast.

Imagine our mysteries and mystical rants,
not like some koan or in magical chants,
Be slave to no master, to no god’s self-will.
Seek no hereafter, no heaven nor hell.

Love life right now, and be fully aware,
soon it will happen, you’re no longer there.

If only the end is all that you seek,
one you’ve not seen, but do certainly dream,
please don’t follow the alluring mystique;
as it has been, my death’s my last scene.

So now in this life, be totally free.
The best of our dream’s what we honestly see.
Imagine all life surrounded with love,
something we feel, not from above.

When life seems too dark
and the future’s too bleak,
Let’s try to imagine this dream we all seek.

I long for our times,
entwined with each other,
seeking my true-love from a Mother who cures,
where light still finds its shining way in
and there’s good in all of creatures,
as Nature herself cares for all things.

From the beginning, now near to the end,
as close as we are, with you my dear friend,
imagine us living this dream we call this life.

Now and forever, true sisters and brothers,
it’s all that we have; right here and right now,
so let’s be so kind and love all that’s nature,
and push toward each other—
All the love we can find.

By Bill Reynolds 10/23/2017

 

Inspired by Lennon’s, Imagine.
Supported by my afflatuses.

 

Learn from the past, plan for the future, live in the present.
That’s looking both ways as you mind the gaps.

 

This Paradox of Love – A book

I’m reading The Paradox of Love by Pascal Bruckner (translated by Steven Rendall). I’m not finished, but I want to post a few quotes from the book. It is interesting, well written, and the translation is solid. I’m reading it as research for writing more about the paradox of love as a topic.

Bruckner’s take on how we got from where our ancestors were to where we are with male-female relationships is informative. I should have known. His commentary on, and experience with, the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s is interesting (Bruckner is French), but not one I shared.

“Sexual liberation became the most common way of getting in contact with the extraordinary; every morning we reinvented our lives….”

For those of us who may recall some of that time, he asks, “What put an end to this euphoria?” He explains, “We knew only one season in life: eternal youth. Life played a terrible trick on us: we got old.”

He has much more to say; quotes from the book follow.

Regarding the concept of free love, he asks, “How can love, which attaches, be compatible with freedom, which separates?”

Here’s more. These are taken from the introduction:

“Our freedom in love was won in battle at a price that remains to be determined. (Someday the “black book” of the 1960s will have to be written.) Freedom does not release us from responsibilities but instead increases them…It resolves problems less than it multiplies paradoxes…This burden explains in part why contemporary romances are so hard.”

“A paradoxical result: we now ask everything from love; we ask too much of it; we ask that it ravish, ravage, and redeem us…Christianity’s invention of the God of love has made the virtue of love the cardinal value of life…By liberating itself, it reveals itself for what it is, in its flashes of brilliance and in its pettiness: noble and base at the same time.”

Bruckner quotes from Les aventures de Télémaque, by Fénelon, an early 18th Century French novel, “love alone is more to be feared than all shipwrecks.” I like the quote. However, in the world today, it’s blatantly false.

The paradox I promote is that today we would rather suffer the potential pains of love, than to not experience love. And, we seem to keep going back for more. This may seem crazy, but it’s the eventual norm.

I like the chapter title: “Salvation through Orgasm.” I am quoting way out of context here, but along with equating the Aurora Borealis as nothing other than a cosmic orgasm, he says this “…like grace for the Calvinists, the orgasm is the narrow gate to redemption.” You always knew that, right?

Try this: “Depending on whether or not you have an orgasm, the Earth will slip into harmony or into discord: Fourier had already drawn an analogy between human copulation and that of the planets, and saw in the Milky Way an immense deposit of luminous semen. If humans made love more enthusiastically, they would give birth to a multitude of galaxies that would illuminate the planet a giorno [roughly, everywhere] and would solve the lighting problem at small expense.”

I shall never see the night sky in quite the same way again.

A few more like that before moving on: “An erection is an insurrection, the body in emotional turmoil…desire is profoundly moral…Coitus is simultaneously a rebellion against society and the culmination of human nature.”

Ok, enough blushing stuff. Bruckner is right in that it would be an obvious dodge to discuss love between men and woman with no reference to sex. Blame Pascal or the translator, I am only quoting. And cherry-picking.

Here is something that I consider more useful: “…but there comes a time when we have to take the risk of a relationship to the other that will upset our expectations and free us from the dreary conversation with ourselves. Independence is not the last word for people—that is what we are told by the love that has a blind faith in the other: that is why the worst misfortune on earth is the death of the few people who are dear to us and without whom life no longer has meaning or savor.”

And this, “If there is a modern dream (old as the hills but widely shared today), it consists entirely in the twofold aspiration: to enjoy symbiosis with the other while at the same time remaining master of one’s own life.” A dream indeed. Don’t we give up something of ourselves in every relationship?

I agree with, “Love is an experience we don’t want to forego, on the condition that it not deprive us of any other experience.” People in relationships with extremely controlling others might have something to say about this. I would argue that some of us are often willing to be deprived to a degree, perhaps even to submit to a more dominant and demanding love – even a forbidden love.

Regarding the conflict of the old ways of love with new: “Whether we like it or not, to fall in love is to slip back into an ancient, magical humus, to revive childhood fears, excessive hopes, and a mixture of servitude and cruelty. Without this permanence, how could we still read The Princess of Cleves, Liaisons of dangereuses, The Sufferings of Young Werther, Wuthering Heights, Cousin Bette, Madame Bovary, or In Search of Lost Time?

And I like, “Moderns are stupefied to find that love is not always lovable, that it does not coincide with justice or equality, that it is a feudal, antidemocratic passion.”

That much is from only the Introduction and Chapter One. There is much more. I’m over my personal word limit. So, I’ll close with a quote from the beginning of Chapter 4, “The Noble Challenge of Marriage for Love.”

This Bruckner quoted from the website Viedemer-de.fr, 2008:

Today, I received two text messages from my girlfriend. The first to tell me that it was all over, the second to tell me that she had sent the message to the wrong address.

As you look both ways in life, mind the gaps.
But love! Crash and burn.
Then get up and love again. Feel the paradox.

The Summer of ’59

Facing the Dark Side

When I was in the sixth grade at my Catholic school, I dreaded being promoted to seventh grade. Sister Mary Scary taught seventh grade. That nasty creature who floated around Saint John’s wearing Rome’s version of a burqa, but used a white frame to emphasize a face that was perpetually angry, who posed as a Catholic nun but was really the Wicked Witch of the West. That daughter of Satan himself, would have complete control of my life from eight to three every weekday, plus an extra hour at church every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, when I would be forced to sit, kneel, or stand to watch men and boys dressed in feminine garb prance, kneel, sing, pray, and read in a dead language of which I understood nary ten words.

Saint John's Church and School

Saint John’s Church and School

Mom and Dad were delighted in June of 1958, when I handed them my report card with that depressing word emblazoned on the back cover: “Promoted!” To me, it said, “sentenced to nine months of suffering in Purgatory at the hands of evil.”

I worried all summer. My friend, Jimmy, who was a grade ahead of me reported the horrible carnage that he and others had endured at the hands of Lucifer’s daughter. Whatever the version of depression a 12-year-old boy could encounter, I’m sure I had it. Never, have I wanted a summer to pass more slowly.

My parents always supported authority over me. The nun, teacher, priest, cop, drunk adult, irate neighbor, or neighborhood tattle tale was always right. Ok, occasionally, they really were right. But from my point of view, my parents should have supported me – their son who they claimed to love. I could not discuss my fears about the nun with my parents.

My siblings had the “we survived, but you probably won’t” attitude and said as much. However, my older brother, Danny, did have some advice for me. “Be an altar boy. They like altar boys,” he said. That made sense to me. I would play their game to survive.

Survival

I worried enough about Sister Scary that I managed to get through seventh grade with minimal physical damage and mental distress. I passed academically, and I was home free. This time I was even more pleased than Mom and Dad that I was not held back. I had not shed one tear. I was doing well. My eighth-grade teacher was to be Sister Mary Wonderful, who was also the school Principal. Life was good again.

Toward the end of seventh grade, I was finally approached to join the exalted and glorious ranks of the chosen ones. I was asked if I wanted to be an Altar Boy. All my friends were becoming Altar Boys, and I wanted to be one, too. My brother, Danny, had been one, and it was what good Catholic boys did.

Altar Boys

Altar Boys

I accepted the offer from the Father O’Burts, logically assuming my parents would approve. I started learning the Latin prayers and talking to other boys about the process and the job. I was happy about it. My plan for eighth grade was to be one of the chosen. I even signed up for the school basketball team. I didn’t play well, but I was the tallest boy in my school. I began to look forward to my final year at Saint John’s.

Not So Fast

Then, as the skies darkened again, I had the familiar bad feeling. As September and the start of school approached, there was a shockingly frightful rumor. Sister Wonderful was being transferred, and Sister Mary Scary, the evil antagonist of my short life, was being promoted to school principal and would be moving up to teach eighth grade.

Oh, dear God, No! I was supposed to be done with her. But as every dependable source, including the church bulletin, soon validated, ‘twas da troot. The second coming of the Inquisition had been promoted to Principal of Saint John’s elementary school, and would teach 8th grade to my class. I knew that I could not survive another year. My only solace was knowing that, except for a few favored girls, the rest of my classmates were as upset as I was. The Altar Boy gig became critical.

Say What?

So then, still expecting them to be pleased with the news, I decided to tell my parents that I was to be an Altar Boy. I expected them to be proud, if not overjoyed.

I was happy when I walked into the kitchen and sat down for dinner. She was at the sink behind me. “Mom, guess what? Fadder O’Burts as’t me ta be an altar boy. And I’ma gunna do it, too.”

I turned to look at Mom, smiling and all full-of-myself, at first. Then, severe shock set in when she turned and said, “No yer not!”

Dad looked up and added, “Like Hell, y’are! Yeh kin get dat idea outa yer thick skull right now.”

Dazed, I needed something quick – a prayer, to get sick, perhaps a deadly disease, anything. Desperation was overcoming me.

I was unaware that when Danny had been an Altar Boy, it was not a good experience. The logical consequence, of course, was that I was not permitted to follow, and my parents did not give one inch. Nor did they tell me why I was being denied my only hope to survive nine more months of the Black-veiled Horror. Today, I am glad that I was not part of that Altar Boy thing, but at the time, it was the worst possible news.

Option Two

Quickly, I changed the subject. “Mom, Coughlin is 7th through 12th grade. Can I go there for 8th grade? I’ll be starting there fer 9th grade and high school the next year, anyway.”

She didn’t even look at me. “Now, Billy-boy. Why’d ya do dat? Jist graduate St. John’s then go to high school like your brother and sister did. After I see ya graduate Saint John’s, the Lord can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I will graduate from Coughlin High, Mom. And probably college too. So, the Lord can wait.”

With that, the food in Dad’s mouth came spewing out. He was choking and coughing and wheezing and trying not to die while laughing at my confidence. My wonderful summer was ending in embarrassment and darkness. I became angry and depressed again.

Blues Brothers

Blues Brothers

As It Happened

I was right. Eighth grade was worse than seventh for exactly the reasons that I had predicted. Even our basketball team suffered from the curse of the cruel Head Demon. Sister Mary Scary controlled every aspect of student lives – thus influencing their spiritual growth or decline. She and I were in constant struggle to have all of Hell on our side. That nun and I never had one good day. Eventually, we developed a healthy fear of each other as my size and strength worked to discourage many of her thoughts. Sister Scary promoted me to high school and out of Saint John’s. To this day, I’m certain that neither of us wished to deal with the other any longer than necessary. I was neither the first, nor that last, to be moved along to become someone else’s problem.

Age and experience change how we see our world.
Look both ways and mind the gaps.

Morality, Sin, and I over E (I/E)

Disclosure: I’m of the there are no gods variety of atheist. Consequently, there’s no sin. Since we can’t have one without the other, sin is a word I use only because the majority use the word, even if they’re agnostic. But, there is some general agreement about what is or isn’t moral behavior.

 

morality-1

The past few weeks, I’ve posted about the seven deadly, and predominantly Christian, sins of greed, pride, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. I also provided a brief contrast with an opposite word. My approach was based on the source of our behavior, our human mind and emotions. Each of the seven begins with an emotion that may later be manifest in behavior – we act based on how we feel.

Writers have a phrase: show me, don’t tell me. In movies, the words and actions of the actors are used to portray thoughts and feelings. In my opinion, we cannot choose each emotion. Happiness is a little different. We can be happy people and still experience dark-side emotions. Furthermore, we can usually choose our behavior. Some comments have implied that we’re in total control over emotions, and then control our actions, as well. While I don’t share that opinion, my behavior is based upon my emotional state has led to more apologies from me than I care to admit – slow learner.

As a society, a nation, or arguably, within a religion, we subjectively decide what’s moral. It changes over time, and we routinely disagree about what’s unacceptable (political-type disagreements). While we don’t always agree, often we do.

In the title equation, I = intellect, and E = emotion. When we experience emotions, we follow that feeling with behavior. To the degree that we can, ideally, we choose the behavior we morally and intellectually we want to display. For example, if someone elicits our anger, jealousy, or some other feeling from our complex emotional spectrum, we then pick our next move. I over E implies that we select our words or actions based on our intellect (good judgment, wisdom), rather than the emotion we feel. It’s not easy to behave contrary to how we feel. Nor is it always necessary. Going with our emotions (following our heart) is very often our best and most sincere option. We love with not only our personal emotions, but often those of others. How others tug at our emotions makes life magical. Life is wondrous, but not simple.

The common thread that I’ve stitched through each of the seven is that emotions are not sins. Feelings are legitimate. Be they good or bad feelings, it’s our behavior that determines anything about moral standards. And it doesn’t make a tinker’s-dam if one believes in a god, gods, or none. Each of the seven have opposite virtues. Every good person has a dark side. Every saint has a past; every sinner a future.

Humans are very much part of nature. We are where we belong. Our greatest need is for each other. Our greatest challenge is in dealing with each other.

Our lives are full of stepping stones to make life better and with stumbling blocks that bring us incredible amounts of pain and suffering – and valuable lessons.

morality-2

Let’s be accepting and understanding of ourselves and others to the degree that we’re able. We are not static beings. We’re who and what we are, but we have opportunities and futures. We come into this world as we are – a combination of physical and mental paradoxes and mysteries. A lot happens between the average birth and death. This includes running the bases of virtuous and bad behavior, and the personal experience of staring into the abyss that is us.

Look both ways, and mind the gap.