Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dirty stories without God - the closer altar isn't always better

Let's create a story. Let's leave out God. I'm walking down the street. Bad people do stuff I don't like. I use my psychic powers to bring a lightning bolt from the sky to destroy them. Or was it the turn-to-stone spell that I used? No matter, that's too easy.

I don't have a super power but maybe I control a powerful and magical computer that I tell I'm in need of help. Like my cell phone. Then people arrive, defeat the bad guys and I win. Now, when you tell that tall tale to others, they will like it because their essential need to believe that they are in control of their world has been validated. But God has been invalidated.

Misguided myths

Science fiction and its mythic precursors tend to seek out a familiar belief such as the ability of man to overcome adversity without God and validate it. These are the hero stories of Luke Skywalker and Peter Parker that then continue on through sequels to fight for justice. The moral or political aspects of this light fiction can then anchor a good plot so we find enjoyment and cultural affirmation from it.

Replacing a collective knowledge of God through the history of the scriptures with an independent set of pop cultural references eases us through the day. We don't live the lives of Moses or Joshua, don't have the visions of Obadiah and wouldn't know what to do with them if we did. We find comfortable lies talking about always closely shaved Luke Skywalker's conquests in the name of The Force, but can't fathom that there will be future destruction and slaughter in Edom on a similar magnitude.

In times past, we would have been spinning the story about the coincidentally youthful and whisker-less Perseus and his almost impossible task set before him by crotchety old King Polydectes to slay the terrible snake-headed female monster, Medusa. And then we would gloat about how he won using his super powered shoes and helmet and brought back the super powered decapitated head to turn the king into stone. The happy ending is always better than judgement and exile.

The dirty story

It just doesn't seem right to take control of a story when you think it should turn out different because you believe that God wouldn't do such a thing. It's better to use the standard story line of how the hero did so many good deeds that he was able to overcome anything. He merits his good ends through his good means. This consequentialism is void of any relationship to each other and to our Lord God. It's a lie of rebelliousness to God and to anybody else. It's not the ends that matters, it's the dirt you don't pick up along the way.
“The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. (2 Samuel 22:21)
Let's try some other lies in the picture. Let's say that the things our hero was overcoming just had to be conquered so that the world became a better place. Or maybe this was so important to our lives, we couldn't let it fail. We've believed that kind of lie before in the US. Talk to Bear Stearns, AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, General Motors, Bank of America, Citigroup, Chrysler, or other bailout recipients of government charity. There's lots of excuses to try. Excuses are dirt.

Let's just take our sacrifice to the closer altar down the road and then we won't have to go to Jerusalem to worship the true almighty Lord God. The results are the same, right? Close is good enough. I don't have to get stressed out by preparing so much. Maybe it's not that important to use my best china for those out of state visitors. They won't know if I serve them the cheap cuts of meat.
So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi. (1 Kings 12:25-33)

Experiences are with God

I'm just not happy having my own experience without God. Leaving out the light that shines in the darkness leaves me in total darkness. I want to see when a child understands that giving their favorite part of their lunch to their friend has so much more power than accumulating toys in a corner. I find life in seeing gratitude for small things that take an awareness of God's presence. And when the bright sun shines in through my window to touch the basic wooden desk I work on, I want to remember that there's an amazing complex star millions of miles away ruled by the same creator that I seek to rule my heart.

Now when we start going off to other places to get experiences, that perturbation from God's course will be a false witness to what we trust in reality. Because God is a God of reality, anything that provides a fake experience is heading down that path and will produce its own idols eventually. Anything that imitates life in a way that is not God's true experience to the artist but is their desire to fulfill their own needs, will cause us to deviate from a path leading to Him.

It can start simply. It could be just a flaw that takes us away from God's protection and just requires Him to treat us as if we were a little superstitious. So what if we believe we have to walk backwards through our front door to leave the house? But what if our action directs us to look away from His direction? It could be a ruinous act of sin that takes our eyes off of God's power pushing us out of the protection that we need.

Lord God, let us find our way under your wings to stay in your shadow of protection. Your righteousness is like no other and your mercy is astounding. We have made little sacrifices in unworthy places when you have been pleased to give us the bounty of an overflowing earth and blessings of life each day. Your rich experience is enough, HaShem, and may you be praised in every creative thought that comes from us.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Knowing God through history and ancestors - turn away at your peril

How do we know God? I mean, how do we have an experience that means something to us about the creator of the universe, the creator of these raw materials that we've fashioned into things we like to take credit for, the creator that directed my brain to grow into the organ that is able to produce thoughts to fashion those raw materials into any usable thing I can think of? And then that same mind is able to ask a question like how do we know God?

I'm absolutely sure that my intricate mind, imagined and brought into existence by our eternal God's hand and created through His perfect ways should have the ability to know God. The mark of the artist through the recognizable strokes of His paintbrush are there for anyone to see. But for those who have seen thousands of sunset portraits and never wondered about His magnificent stage on which we perform, but only look to admire the imperfect work of their will, the mind is yet another mystery explained by an excuse of random atoms forming themselves into inexplicable patterns.

God is experienced in history

The experience of God starts with a telling of experiences of God from the past. It's the history of the way God has come into lives just like mine and changed them, begun them, or ended them. The collected recordings of those events are the most valuable writings in history since they provide value to our lives in order to give us meaning. We hope to see those historic interactions provide a little meaning in our lives.

Writings about or retelling the experience of God are, in my mind, an interpretation of the original and just as valid for the time and place they occur in. Artistic interpretations can take forms in visual as well as performing arts and the vocabulary of each much be a common language to everyone. This piece is just one of a series of short essays where I try to focus on my experience of God's spirit and interpret it for those who find it.
God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (Psalm 53:2)
We find pieces of us in Moses' waiting in Midian for his calling while raising a family, King David's rebellious family problems, or Jonah stealing off on a cheap Costa Del Sol cruise to get away from it all. Each time we read a story reduced down to a verse, it has the capacity to be expanded into our lives and takes on the garments of the reader revealing details about how a past life is in relationship with God as is our lives.

But we must not sterilize the passage. It has to be captured in our minds the way it was captured in the author's mind. It has to be surrounded with all of God's rich elements of life, of emotions, of social conscience, of guilt and desiring to know God. Treating it as an observation to be compared instead of life to be understood is reducing the experience to a commodity and loses valuable meaning.

Other writings

All other writings are
  • vanity, 
  • observations, or 
  • seeking after God hoping to know Him. 
Focusing on ourselves and ignoring God is the easy road to vanity which doesn't mesh well with God's plans. Observations are what we call scientific or technical documents since we labor to eliminate God and look at the natural world as a closed system. God is always at work so that becomes a futile endeavor for a goal of understanding everything. And various schools have tried to know God using only our mind throughout history such as Gnosticism, Kabbalah, or Platonism and its various offshoots.

When we purposely ignore God, the way we talk ends up focusing on ourselves, expressing words of vanity and self-appreciation. And the pleasure of that deceit is addictive. Our words deceive us and create addictive fantasy worlds of people existing in ideal states. As artists create canvas worlds that distort the world into their idealized pieces, we can easily create digital film and interactive games with the same effect. The top-grossing 2016 film from a video game, Warcraft, creates a magical world of demons, human sacrifice, and of course, endless battles. No God exists in that world.

Even if we try to remove our ego from the way we write, the willingness to eliminate God in our observations becomes a barrier to knowing how things work and behave. Things are controlled only by God's will and without that belief, we will spin tales of universe creation theories and the beginning of consciousness confusing all of us with a logical positivistic understanding of reality. There is no problem of sin, only the problem of not knowing. There is no repentance necessary, only the need to think more.

And the fallacy of creating an arrangement of words that capture God by expressing thoughts from our own understanding is like trying to count sand granules on a beach.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand—
   when I awake, I am still with you.  (Psalm 139:17-18)

God is experienced in our life

The Tanakh certainly provides the trusted source of how God wants to interact in our lives, to come down and create an experience that involves people, create a relationship among them, and provide the certainty that we have trusted for thousands of years and even more into the future. We trust that experience because it has been the same and will be the same because God is always the same.

And that experience is defined in our lives. As the creator of all history now in living in our lives, creating an experience of life through joy and suffering with us, we can only stand in awe that this one unimaginably caring God fills us with life every day as much as He allows creation to continue in all the colorful glory it contains. We have the brushstrokes of the artist of the sunrises, painting our daily lives with hope. It's our choice of experience to filter out that wonder through sin and judgment. But if we follow his ways, He will guide us and bless us.
But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Joshua 22:5)
How magnificent you are Lord God of the universe, architect of all that is built and maker of all the materials that is in the earth! The designs of the heavens are your achievements and humble the man that draws lines to mark the constellations and takes pictures to capture what we barely can see. We can not be anything but amazed that you continue to seek us in a relationship that we can only respond to with gratitude. Thank you, HaShem, for the continued grace you show in revealing yourself through history in our lives every day.
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