Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Stuck in the Middle

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Last night BN and I went to Gutenberg College to see their production of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven: a Walking Tour – a dramatic retelling of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I haven’t read this venerable classic, but I will have to pick it up now that I’ve gotten a taste via this modern “exerpt.” The group did a wonderful job with this production, I was very impressed. Gutenberg is housed in a big, old-fashioned building and the play was “staged” in various rooms and hallways, with the 30 or so audience members walking from scene to scene along with the main actors. (We watched the last of 6 performances.)

We started out in the office of psychologist Dan Taey, who appears to be somewhat losing his grip. Virgil, the renowned ancient Roman poet appears and, struggling with the modern doorknob, summons Dr. Taey to go on a journey.

In Hell, a very dark and scary place, the occupants did not seem at all happy but they insisted they wanted to be there because they were free to do what they wanted. A series of characters, each a bit more mentally unstable than the last, talked about their experiences among the living. Finally the Biochemist convinced Dan Taey to put all his trust in science and logic and then introduced a clone, named Kid A, a sort of Frankenstein’s Monster, who was in need of a few vital components. Bio pulled out a knife and was going to harvest these necessities from Taey but Virgil reappeared and rescued him.

Back on the main floor, we entered the dismal realm of Purgatory. Here each character explained what penance he or she had to do to make up for the sins committed in life. One of these, Envious, was played by our friend, MK. In life she had been a client of Dr. Taey, and he reminded her how much progress they’d made on “her issues.” She didn’t seem to care much for that, now her focus was on gathering alms for the poor and she repeatedly asked “dear Virgil” to pray for her. In spite of her blind eyes she was quick to notice Dr. Taey’s watch and perked up significantly – “ooo – is that a Rolex?” Another of his clients, Corina, is hesitant to tell Dr. Taey that she is doing penance for failing to listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit, dismissing it as a hallucination – as Taey had told her to do. Informed that her penance is complete, we followed her up another flight of stairs to the gates of Heaven.

Someone followed us up there – Kid A from the Inferno. She tried to run into Heaven on the heels of Corina, but Saint Peter gently called her back and explained that only one at a time may enter. But, all will be well for Kid A because the Lord of heaven is her advocate and has identified 3 ways in which she is like him – they were each conceived outside of the normal way; each were created for the pleasure of others, he for those in Heaven, she for those in Hell; each spent time in Hell but were not destined to remain. All that was required of Kid A was answering the question – do you want to come in? She said, her one line in the play, “Yes.”

There is very little, if any, biblical basis for the concept of Purgatory, but apparently it was well-established by Dante’s time in the early 1300’s. That actually doesn’t surprise me, because I believe it’s a human tendency to create our own Purgatory right here on earth. We’re control freaks, all of us, and we want to run our own lives like the inmates of Hell who’d deluded themselves into thinking they’d never been happier – or the penitent souls who were unable to give up their heavy burdens and futile quests because they’d have to give up the only thing they had control over. I need to be aware of this, and not live in my self-created Purgatory. I take my cue from Kid A, acknowledge that I am missing vital components, and just say “Yes, Lord.”

Good or Bad?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

“The problem with sin isn’t that it makes you bad – it’s that it makes you dead.”

I don’t remember the name of the person who said this, but when I heard it a year or so ago it brought a bit of extra clarity to the whole issue of Us and God, our relationship to him.

The whole good person/bad person thing is actually just a side issue. The deeper issue is actually one of life and death.

I want to state first, dear readers, that all this does not make sense according to the logic of the world in general. It takes faith, a willingness to think on a spiritual plane, to even entertain ideas about God. That’s what makes it so difficult to talk amongst ourselves if we have different beliefs about God or the absence of him, the meaning of life, and so on. At this time, I’m just going to discuss what I believe – and I believe it is the truth, the sole truth, and this truth is so important that it matters more to me than maintaining the appearance of politeness or “tolerance.” But please know this: I understand you may not agree or even think this makes sense – I can’t convince you, I can only explain what I am firmly convinced of myself.

I am operating under 3 basic assumptions about God: 1. He is all-powerful. 2. He knows what’s best. 3. He loves me (and everyone else as well.)

God is the source of life (#1, power), and he created us with the ability to choose him or not (#2 his wise plan). Whenever we turn away from God and say, “forget you – I’m going my own way,” that is sin. Whether it takes the form of little white lies or brutal murder, we are separated from God, our source of life, and we exist in spiritual death. But, #3, he loves us. He does not want us to be apart from him and dead. How do we know this? He gave himself, his son, who is fully integrated as a member of the person of God, to bridge the gap. In some spectacularly practical but mystically spiritual way, Jesus’ death, and his rising again, moves us into a new position with God – when he looks at us, he sees Christ, his goodness counts for us and his life takes the place of our spiritual death. Jesus did this for me, and now I am someone God can have a relationship with. I have that God-life now. Great, you might say – what’s the catch?

The catch is all I can do is believe it. I can’t earn it, I can’t work out a slightly customized deal with God where I do some socially helpful work and in return he makes things turn out comfortably for me. And I’m still living in a body, in a world, where circumstances are often difficult. Even though my God-life and my Christ-goodness are “a done deal,” I still have daily choices to make about whether I’m going to listen to God or listen to the lies that whiz around in my head – “I can do this! I know best after all.”

If my sister had died last week, I would have been devastated – I would feel her absence for the rest of my life and I would need God to help me work through lots of baggage related to how I didn’t love her perfectly while she was here. But at the end of the day I would still call God good. Not because of some vague notion that “she’s in a better place” – she is already in that better place, in relationship with Jesus Christ. She has his life within her, even now. Her death here on earth, and my death when that occurs, only means we will move into a complete, perfect version of that relationship/life. I am afraid of pain and loss, death’s accessories, but I am not afraid of the actual event. Death is not to be feared, only separation from God.

As for prayer… it’s kind of a tricky thing… It’s not a numbers game, where if you just get enough people together that have done enough good things all praying hard enough, you “win” and God does what you want. My assumptions #1 and #2 are that God is all-powerful and he knows what’s best, so I can’t really change his mind or even know for sure how his mind works. But, I know he loves me, so I can believe that his works are for my good even if they don’t feel that way. When I pray, I am exercising my faith. I am saying to God that I believe he can do what I am asking for, and I ask for it because God instructs us in the Bible to do so. And when multiple people are united in prayer, all believing and asking together, some kind of wonderful power is released. That power may not result in the exact event that we were asking for – people still die even when many believers are entreating God to save them – but faith is strengthened, new belief is established, God is glorified, and truth is revealed – life goes on. We can recognize this as good, it may not feel best, but we know through faith that God is seeing the big picture and doing what is best.

So what about the whole good/bad thing? The truth is, we are only good and bad in comparison with each other. I’m bad compared to Mother Teresa and good compared to Adolf Hitler. I have positively impacted some people, I have extended God’s love to them, I have revealed him to them in some partial, contributing way. I have negatively impacted some people – I have hindered their development into the person God wants them to be. I have distracted them with pain or anger and acted in a way that gives Jesus a bad reputation in their eyes. All those actions are relatively good or bad in the context of human society. But, apart from Christ’s life, I am a bad person in the context of God’s complete perfection. I can’t exist in his presence. My basic attitude is in rebellion to him. God deals with us partly on an individual level and partly on a collective level – because the first humans sinned, I inherit the sin nature from them and then that causes me to individually disobey God. Even the good things I do aren’t “good” enough to tip that balance with God because the reason I do them is selfish, trying to do things my own way. The only real good I do is when God works through me, when I do something out of obedience to him, out of the motive of gratitude to him for the life and hope he’s given me. Because God loves people, and people respond well to tangible gifts, actions, and feelings, he uses us to show love to each other. That’s the spiritual goodness – not the “being good” in hope of tallying up enough points to impress God. He doesn’t want to be impressed, he wants us to come to him, trust him completely, and trade in our death for his wonderful life.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20