Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Murphy's Law

I sold my car, and I am heading to Kosovo to live and finish writing the book I began in 2003. The woman who bought Oscar agreed that I could drive him for the next week to finish my time house-sitting and working, and we would complete the sale after Thanksgiving. Provided, of course, there was no further damage to the car.

Perfect timing for Murphy’s Law. The next day, a man opened his car door into traffic, where I happened to be driving. My mirror busted, my car scratched, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I did both - somewhat simultaneously. My car is now in the shop, I am out $500 for my deductible, which I hope will be returned quickly, as the witness and everyone I’ve talked to says the other driver was at fault. Except, of course, for the other driver.

Many people asked whether I thought this might be a form of spiritual warfare. I have never been one to jump to that explanation for bad things in life – my understanding of the world tends towards the view that horrible things happen all the time, because we live in a broken, dark world. Considering the collision, I think that spiritual warfare is something that is constant in our lives. The battle within – how I respond to this, or any frustration or trial, is the true war.

Perspective: As many people pointed out – no one was injured. I will most likely get my deductible back. And I am still on my way to Kosovo! It’s a monetary set back, and I am losing all my last moments with Oscar, who has seen me through a lot, but in the end, most of the situation is out of my control, except for my response to it. And, if this gets me down, how can I expect to find peace and joy and perseverance in Kosovo, when I am dealing with people wounded by war crimes, constant power outages, and squatty potties?

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Tikkun Olam" the Healing or Repairing of the World

I learned something new today, while reading Kenneth Turan's review of the film "Bee Season" in the L.A. Times. First off, I can't wait to see the film - it sounds like an excellent adaptation of the book.

Turan references the strong Jewish influence in the story when he closes his review with the following statement,
" 'Bee Season' can't fully be understood apart from its particularly Jewish central concept of tikkun olam, the healing or repairing of the world. The notion that it is a universal responsibility to fix what has been shattered, to attempt to restore what has been damaged, drives this story in tandem with the need all of its characters have, each in his or her own way, to seek transcendence by searching for a personal vision of God."

I understand so little of Jewish culture, and want to know more, as it is so important to understanding the history of faith and Christ's life. My first response to tikkun olam was that in the new covenant, we don't have the weight or guilt I associate with the responsibilty fixing what has been shattered. However, I think Christians sometimes give up too much personal responsibility in our understanding (or lack thereof) of God's sovereignty.

It's difficult for me to find that balance, not to take on the weight of the world's problems on my very shaky shoulders, yet accept my own responsibility to live as Christ would.

Another good quote, from his essay "The Body and the Earth," Wendell Berry writes that "No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one’s partiality."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Desert Music

In the shade of the big trees, whose leaves tinkle musically, like gold foil, above our heads, we eat lunch and fill our bellies with the cool sweet water, and lie on our backs and sleep and dream. A few flies, the fluttering leaves, the trickle of water give a fine edge and scoring to the deep background of - silence? No - of stillness, peace.

I think of music, and of a musical analogy to what seems to me the unique spirit of desert places. Suppose for example that we can find a certain resemblance between the music of Bach and the sea; the music of Debussy and a forest glade; the music of Beethoven and (of course) great mountains; then who has written of the desert?

In the desert I am reminded of something quite different - the bleak, thin-textured work of men like Berg, Schoenberg, Ernst Krenek, Webern and the American, Elliot Carter. Quite by accident, no doubt, although both Schoenberg and Krenek lived part of their lives in the Southwest, their music comes closer than any other I know to representing the apartness, the otherness, the strangeness of the desert. Like certain aspects of this music, the desert is also a-tonal, cruel, clear, inhuman, neither romantic nor classical, motionless and emotionless, at one and the same time - another paradox - both agonized and deeply still.

Like death? Perhaps. And perhaps that is why life nowhere appears so brave, so bright, so full of oracle and miracle as in the desert.

-Edward Abbey Desert Solitaire

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Acts of God vs. Sins of Humanity

Si Johnston (sijohnston.blogs.com) just posted his thoughts on the common Christian response to recent natural disasters. He asks great questions - check it out. It reminded me of this article - published in the New York Times shortly after Katrina.

So I do not anger the copyright gods - it is not reprinted in its entirety - if you want a copy let me know and I can email it to you.

Beliefs; The scarcely heard question is how God could have allowed the catastrophe to occur. By PETER STEINFELS (NYT) September 10, 2005

How could God have allowed this to happen? Four years ago, after 9/11, many people were asking that question. They were asking it again after the Indian Ocean tsunami last December. They are not asking it after Hurricane Katrina.
No, take that back. Many individuals, driven from homes, separated from family members and bereft of means of support, are surely anguishing over that question, as Job did on his dung heap. But as a question tormenting the public conscience rather than private individuals, it is scarcely heard. ...

That reflex did show itself, of course, in the cases of the Twin Towers attack and the tsunami. Could the attack have been foreseen, the terrorists stopped, the buildings made more heat resistant and the rescuers warned?
Could the shore dwellers imperiled by the tsunami from Indonesia to Sri Lanka have been alerted?
Such questions were thrashed through, some at great length and in great detail. But they never eclipsed the question of God's presence or absence in these events, as has occurred after Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans.
As Adam B. Kushner, who hails from New Orleans, writes in the latest issue of The New Republic, his hometown ''met its demise by an act of man, not an act of God.'' The man-made dimensions of this catastrophe have wholly overshadowed the natural ones.
Those dimensions have been thoroughly catalogued, from the very building and expansion of a water-girdled city well below sea level to the longstanding complacency about the consequent potential for disaster; from the sluggish and clumsy response of government authorities to the immediate crisis to the stark economic disparities and want of material resources, so largely aligned with racial differences, that have deepened the suffering incumbent on widespread dislocations. ...

All the rescue and relief efforts have been immensely complicated by the breakdown of manmade networks -- of electricity, transportation, drinkable water, sewage disposal, food and medicine distribution, telephone service and gasoline supplies.
How can God be implicated when these elaborately contrived human systems prove fragile? ...

For believers, humanity, with all its faults and contrivances, is no less God's creation than hurricanes and ocean surges and the law that water seeks its own level.
So one might logically step back from asking how God could allow the brimming, turbulent Lake Pontchartrain to break the levees to asking how God could allow self-interested or shortsighted politicians to put off reinforcing the levees or allow enterprising engineers and developers to decrease the capacity of the environment to buffer storms.
How could God allow the negligence, racism, indifference or hard-heartedness that long gnawed at the social fabric of New Orleans -- or the blindness or incompetence of officials who should have understood the brewing human storm, as well the meteorological one?
That such questions about divine providence have been so little pressed in this way testifies to a tremendous modern -- and American -- belief in human freedom and responsibility. On the Gulf Coast, humans fell short, not God; humans and human institutions should be called to account, not God. ...

Outstanding American religious thinkers have seen a strong link between this chipper avoidance of the tragic and what they consider an overweening confidence in the power of American technology, energy and organization to solve every sort of problem. Would they find it a stretch to suggest a further link between what has worried them and the national impulse to skate quickly over all the wrenching questions that natural and human evils raise about God and the universe?
There may be no final, fully satisfactory answers to questions like how God could allow 9/11 or the tsunami to happen or, in Katrina's case, allow officialdom and decades of neglect to allow it to happen. Is asking these questions a waste of time, therefore, and diversion of intellect?
For Congressional committees, yes. But for others, delving into such mysteries might at least lead to a more profound understanding of the human condition and the untidiness of reality generally.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Halloween - The Freaks Come Out at Night

Amazing Grace

"When we sing the song in church," says Reverend Groover, "I look at the eyes of the women in my congregation. The first three verses are well known and they belong to everyone, even to the wealthy. But when we come to the fourth verse I have always said, 'This verse belongs to us,' because it speaks to our unique experience."

When I say that I don't know that verse, he reaches behind him for a song book and shows me the words.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

"When we come to those words, the deepest feelings stir. Then I see tears in the eyes of the youngest and the oldest, the eyes of the 16-year-old prostitute and of the 60-year-old great-grandmother." He cautions me, "Be careful of those prophecies of 'the last days' that you may hear. Remember where they come from. Some of the blood-and--thunder churches overdo this emphasis. Although I believe that there will be a 'last day,' the church should not be preaching this. We should not be speaking of apocalypse but of the words of Jesus: 'I came that you might have life and,' " he says with deepest emphasis, " 'that you might have it abundantly.' "

(from Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Peace of Wild Things -- by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.