God’s Ways…are NOT Our Ways

A few days ago I was reading the story of John the Baptist, holed up in prison for having irritated Herod because “The Baptist” disapproved of  Antipas’ marriage to his own brother’s former wife, and Herod feared an uprising, according to the historian Josephus. John the Baptist had apparently said, out loud, that he disapproved of Herod’s marriage “to your brother’s former wife.” That woman, then, named Herodias, hated “The Baptist,” and when her daughter Salome danced for her and Herod, Herod was so inspired that he said to Salome, “whatever you want, ask, and I will get it for you.” Herodias saw her chance, conspired with Salome, and with her mother’s prodding, asked for the head of John the Baptist’ head, delivered to her mother on a platter.

As I read that story, and talked about it with a few students, I asked them what they thought about what this story tells us about “God‘s ways.” Here sat John in prison, for doing what his loyalty to God and belief in God’s command to him to “speak truth to power,” and he apparently was not feeling the presence of God. His situation so bothered him that he sent some of his friends to Jesus, who was nearby, to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for someone else?” That meant, to me at least, that John was feeling the absence of God when he needed to feel the presence of God most. His unasked question seemed to be, “would God really let this happen to me? Would God not send his son Jesus, who has done so much good for people he hasn’t even known, to rescue me or save me, at least, from death?”

Jesus answered, telling John’s “people” to remind “The Baptist” of how he healed the sick, made the blind see, helped the deaf to hear …basically giving a review of all he had done and was doing, which was not news to John. He knew that. His immediate unasked but internalized question, though, went unanswered. “Aren’t you going to save me?”

The answer was no. “The Baptist” was beheaded later that month, according to historian Josephus. God’s ways are NOT our ways.

There is value in studying God’s ways, even when or especially when, we do not understand something that is going on in our own lives. I would imagine that some of the parents of the children who were shot and killed in Newtown in December 2012 asked God something like, “Would God really have allowed this to happen?” I would imagine that the tragedy that left former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords to be shot and severely injured left someone asking, “Would God have allowed this to happen?” So many times, in so many situations, personal and public, things happen that make people who believe in God scratch their divine-leaning hearts and ask, “Where was God? Why didn’t God stop this?”

Richard Rohr wrote that we cannot think our way into doing something different; we must do some things to get ourselves into another way of thinking. I am still pondering that thought. How would doing that make us more ably handle the things that happen to us that we do not understand, and that either are unfair or certainly feel unfair? And if we were able to do that, when we would find ourselves in a prison of pain or confusion or grief so deep that we cannot reach the bottom, would there be a peace about us, making us know that our ways truly are not God’s ways?

The truth is, sometimes, perhaps many times, God DOES allow bad things to happen to us or in our lives. God allowed Joseph to be terrorized by his brothers, left for dead. God allowed Job to lose everything except his own miserable life. God allowed the children to die in Newtown, God has allowed racism and sexism and homophobia to exist, alongside white supremacy. God allowed the storm in Joplin, Missouri, that killed so many and caused so much destruction; God allowed Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, storms which absolute wreaked havoc on innocent people, many of them too poor to be able to even jump in a car and get out of harm’s way.  God allowed the Holocaust and the Inquisition and Crusades. God allows rampant gun violence in urban areas, responsible for the deaths of way too many children and young adults, but we don’t dare talk about ways to get handguns off the streets and out of the markets! God is allowing scores of children in our United States to suffer from hunger, even though it is said this country grows enough food so that nobody has to go hungry. God has allowed and does allow bad things to happen to really good people, and as we can see from the John the Baptist story, this tendency of God is not a new thing.

In a strange way, knowing that can give comfort. At least we know that this is really the same God that has always existed. Jesus’ answer to John, and God’s answer to Job, were not particularly comforting, in that neither God nor Jesus gave the hard, quick, direct answers that those men and we who have read their stories wanted. No, both deities recited all the divine work they were doing and had done…and apparently, freeing and saving John or giving Job an answer for his dilemma, was not in the Divine Planner.

And yet, these two men believed, as have countless people who have been in a fire of some sort and either come out burned or not come out at all. God blessed Job once his wager with The Adversary was done; John didn’t fare so well. But it is apparent that John, once he received Jesus’ answer about what he was going and had done, calmed down and rested in his faith.

So, since we will never understand God’s ways, we have an assignment to learn all we can about how to live in faith, regardless of what is going on in our lives. We still fight for what is right and just, because injustice is and always has been, a major problem in this world…but we fight for it because it IS the right thing to do, not because we think we are going to get a nice, succinct answer from God on why things are as they are, why they are so slow to change, or why God allows suffering to exist. We do it because by doing it it shows we are “righteous,” that is, in right relationship with God, and that has its own rewards.

A candid observation …


Sweating Joy in Spite of Suffering

Photograph of the building used by 16th Street...
Photograph of the building used by 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama from 1884 to 1908. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I heard today that some people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy are still without power, without electricity, without heat.

I heard that as I shivered in my car which was warming up. It was 11 degrees outside in Columbus, Ohio, and at least that cold in the Rockaway section of Queens. Some businesses in lower Manhattan are still without heat and power as well; some businesses are boarded up.  A museum which housed American history artifacts is struggling to survive. A wine store in Lower Manhattan lost many of their precious wines.

I feel for the businesses; their not operating means that some families’ income is suffering. Many businesses are still closed.  But is the families without heat and power that I an stuck on, that I can’t stop thinking about. One family was reported to be sleeping on the floor in the kitchen of their damaged home, and living in that kitchen all day long,  because that was the only room in the house where they could get some heat – from the stove. Those crammed in the kitchen included a woman, her children and grandchildren, and three dogs. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/24/170198110/thousands-still-cold-and-struggling-months-after-superstorm-sandy)

But it’s winter. How will the people survive?

We don’t think much about the victims of horrendous storms or events once the cameras go away.  Bad events tend to be like the labor endured during childbirth; we see the pain portrayed on television and then, like the release of even the memory of labor after a baby is born, we forget. Some might say that we needn’t worry because federal dollars are either there or are coming; the people will be all right.

Maybe. But there’s a good chance many people who are suffering will not be all right, not any time soon. Chances are some of them are angry at the government for not doing more for them, quicker. Some are probably struggling with anger towards God. wondering why God let this bad thing happen to them, good people. Some are probably wondering why, in general, help is so slow in coming. Some probably feel like they are being ignored.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Collins, one of the four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, is suffering, and feels ignored.  She survived the bombing incident which killed her sister, but was left scarred, emotionally as well as physically. Even though her life as she knew it was blown to bits that fateful day, she had to go on…but she suffers, still. (http://www.npr.org/2013/01/25/170279226/long-forgotten-16th-street-baptist-church-bombing-survivor-speaks-out) To feel ignored is to suffer…

The families of those who were killed in the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings are still suffering, as are the families of the young people who have been gunned down on the streets of big cities all over this nation. But if we are not near suffering, or have not been touched by it, we tend to minimize its impact, power and resistance to be pushed away. In fact, we forget about it, or worse, refuse to believe it is as deep as it really is.

But back to the families on the East Coast who are enduring this frigid cold spell without heat, I wonder what we who have heat can and should be doing. Something, surely. Do we need to be sending tons of blankets and, what, hats, gloves, coats…? What? The report on National Public Radio (NPR) said that some who are without electricity are waiting for a permit of some kind to restore or repair the electric systems in their houses. ( http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=170267851&m=170267838) We can’t do anything about the permit, but isn’t there something we  can do?

The suffering has so many tentacles. Many homes on the East Coast that are still standing are being devoured by mold. Some houses had standing water for weeks, some for months…and mold started growing like mad, eating the insides of the already damaged homes. Many of their homes will have to be destroyed. Then what?

I have heard and have been taught that when one is suffering the best way to feel better is to serve others. I would bet that some reading this are suffering for one reason or another; suffering is a part of living. The suffering we all go through is bad sometimes, but it can be a catalyst for us to feel better. Some who have endured horrible loss on the East Coast are busy helping to minimize the suffering of others. That is moving.

It is also inspiring. It made me think about ways to serve. There are so many people who need help, who need to benefit from the gifts and blessings that we all have. Perhaps in one’s dark night of the soul, a way to feel better, to see some light, it so help someone else. If we ask what is needed by those suffering, an answer will come.

I thought about President Kennedy‘s famous words this week as I listened to President Obama’s inaugural address. President Obama was stressing the need for us as human beings to make the right and gift of freedom accessible to all. Prior to the festivities of the inauguration, the Obama White House sponsored and pushed a National Day of Service. We, as citizens with certain freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution, were urged to help someone else.  President Kennedy gave a formula for us all to use, in suffering and out of suffering  which gave the same message: serve, when he said,  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  If we ask what we can do for those worse off than we are, we will get an answer.

In his sermon at the National Cathedral Prayer Service this week, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, talked about the vision his congregation has to focus and guide their service. They wanted to deal with the root causes of poverty, and decided to concentrate on early childhood education.  They got involved and studied what was going on in those schools. They saw what the children needed. They got involved, as a congregation, donating books, clothing, meals(bagged meals)  for children who seemingly had no food at home.

With our country as polarized as it is, it’s a sure thing and more and more people are feeling marginalized and left out. There are people all over the place who need helping hands and helping hearts. We who have more …just need to give more. If we extend ourselves, our own suffering will recede and will be replaced by deep joy.  It’s a big surprise, what happens when we serve and give. It is as surprising as I was surprised when I began training for a marathon and found out that when one works one’s body, even in the frigid cold, one’s body will react …and will sweat in spite of the temperature.

We can sweat joy even when we are surrounded by our own pain and suffering.

A candid observation …


When We Lose Our Power

Several years ago, there was an ice storm in Columbus, Ohio.  The storm itself was horrible …but what was worse was the loss of power.

It was so cold that even now I shudder, thinking about it. I wanted to stay in my house, though. I thought I’d be able to make it work. I had a fireplace…and thought it would help.

It didn’t, not nearly enough. My son, daughter and myself huddled in my king-sized bed,  dressed in layers and with hats, coats and gloves on …but it just kept getting colder and colder.  Finally, I knew we couldn’t stay there. I couldn’t afford to get us into a hotel, which many people were doing. Thank goodness I had a friend who took us …and our two cats …into their home over the Christmas holidays. My two Huskies I left in the house, and went to the house repeatedly to make sure the fireplace stayed active.

I was grateful for my friends, but I hated not having power in my house. Every day I would drive to my neighborhood as dusk settled…to see if there were signs of power, and every day – for seven days, to be exact, I would leave my neighborhood, after tending to my dogs, crying. It was depressing. When my power was restored, my whole attitude changed.

I keep thinking of my own experience as I think of the people on the Eastern seaboard who do not have power. It is getting cold. Some people are staying in houses that are uninhabitable, because they have nowhere to go. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, estimates that 70-80,000 people may need housing, and there really aren’t enough places to put people who have been displaced by the storm.

I can feel the depression of the people who not only are looking at stark destruction before them, and who do not have the comfort of having their power. It is getting colder, and blankets are not enough to keep people warm. I can literally feel their depression.

Whenever there is a horrible weather  tragedy, there are mental health issues that we really do not think about, but one thing that exacerbates mental strain is not having power. We take it so much for granted, having power. When we have no power, we have no light, no warmth and we feel like we have no hope.  It makes us susceptible of plunging into deep, deep depression.

I wonder how the people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and Cuba are faring, post-Sandy? It doesn’t matter your race or ethnicity; a storm wreaks havoc on people equally. Some get more attention in the aftermath, but the mental scarring is universal, not discriminatory.

We take having power for granted. Since my ice storm experience, I find myself literally thanking God every day that I have power. I think of people who do not have power because they cannot afford to pay their bills. How do they do it, mentally?  How does that affect the way they live and interact?

As horrible as the destruction is in Staten Island and on the Jersey shore, I am sure that people will feel better once their power is restored. My niece, who lives in New York, lost her power, and once it was restored, wrote, “I turned on every light in the house, just because I could.” I understand. I am thanking God for my power this morning, because it’s cold outside, and my power enables me and my family to stay warm and to have light to see.

People who were hit by Hurricane Sandy have a lot to deal with, with boats sitting atop houses, cars on top of each other, houses completely destroyed and lying on the ground like discarded toys.

But I would bet that they would be able to handle that better if they just had their power.

Funny, the things we take for granted, the things we do not miss or realize how important they are to our very psyches…until they are gone.

A candid observation …



The Disease Called Fear

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933. Lietuvių: Fra...
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933. Lietuvių: Franklinas Delanas Ruzveltas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address, that “the only thing we have to fear …is fear itself.”


The year was 1932. The country was in bad shape economically, and by 1933, the depth of the depression had hit head on.  People were deathly afraid, and Roosevelt not only knew it, but he knew times would get worse before they got better. The things they worried about most, he said, were “only material things.”  Said he, in that inaugural speech: “In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.”


He said that “happiness (didn’t lie) in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, the thrill of creative effort.”


Those were powerful words, a balm to the anguished citizens of the United States who were facing a horrible reality. A new normal. It was scary because all that Americans had come to know and love as “American” was being challenged and changed before their eyes…and they could not see where the changes would lead. Would they have their homes? Would they have a job? What would they eat? How would they eat? When was the nightmare going to end? FDR’s words were powerfully comforting, words I’m sure some people came back to again and again.


There is a lot of fear swirling around now. Hurricane Sandy has thrown people into pits of despair. The economy has had people carrying fear around like a heavy suitcase. Some people are afraid for the country if President Barack Obama wins, and others are terrified for the country if Gov. Romney wins. There is no peace in the land right now.


Why? Because the disease of fear is stalking. It is stalking our country, it is stalking individuals, and it is stalking with a sense of arrogance. Fear relies on control, and it manipulates people to much that they acquiesce and give in to being controlled. Joan Chittister‘s book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope talks in depth about fear. She says that “fear paralyzes a person,” and keeps people from doing things they know they should do. It makes them afraid to even try, and in so doing, lose their peace of mind. Chittister says we as humans must ask ourselves, “What am I willing to lose in order to have peace of mind and integrity of soul?” She says that it’s “not the grappling with a thing that defeats us; it is the unknown answers to hidden questions that wear us down.”


Fear, she says, “cripples us more than any disease ever could. It takes eminent good sense and turns it to gelatin.” Finally, she says “oppressors do not get to be oppressors in a single sweep. They manage it, because little by little, we make them that. We overlook too much in the beginning and wonder why we lose control in the end.”


I wonder what the world would be like if people were not so susceptible to fear. I remember a friend of mine in seminary, who said that his father hated racism but was afraid to speak out about it because he was afraid his church would fire him. I think how people have been intimidated into not speaking up when they’ve known they should, because they were afraid of the consequences. I am sure that, in light of Hurricane Sandy, there are some people who know that there are some predatory companies out, ready to suck the life blood out of vulnerable people, but will not say anything because they are afraid. I think much of the police brutality we hear about comes about because white officers are afraid of African-American males, not because the police officers are bad people. Young women who get caught up in life on the streets stay there far longer than they want because they are afraid of the pimps who initially lured them into “the life” with material things and the young girls translated “gift-giving” with love. Some people honestly think that the Palestinians are getting a raw deal in Israel, but they are afraid to say anything for fear of being called anti-Semitic.We have all heard stories about neighbors who suspected that a wife or children were being abused, but didn’t say anything because they were afraid. We have probably all seen something that we knew was wrong but have been afraid to say something because we don’t know what our “courage” will mean for our lives   Fear is like a mean overseer, stalking lives and countries and situations with a huge whip.


We are afraid of bettering ourselves, stepping out of comfort zones into an “unknown” and so we stay in situations that stunt our growth. We are afraid to move and afraid to stand still. It is no wonder that Thoreau said that many of us live “lives of quiet desperation.”


Chittister says that “moral maturity requires us to choose truth over self-preservation, whatever the cost.”  If we do not do that, as individuals or as communities, oppression and injustice gets to run its course, unopposed.


That’s what fear expects us to do: cower so that injustice can have its way. Sadly, fear is way too often the driver of the car, and it spreads its toxicity everywhere. Fear moves faith and hope out of the way. Fear will account for a lot of people making bad decisions in difficult times; it will add misery to people who are miserable enough.


At the end of the day, we have to decide whether we want to fuel fear and watch it metastasize throughout our spirits, robbing us of opportunities to be free, or if we finally want to face our Goliaths…whatever the cost.


Too often we leave Goliath standing upright, laughing at us.


But as long as Goliath stands, we cannot be free. And …we were made to be free.


A candid observation…











When The Earth Falls From Beneath Your Feet

When I was a child, I remember my mother encouraging me to get on a certain ride when we visited an amusement park. I don’t remember the name of the ride, but I remember what it looked it; people would stand in these little slots and hold onto bars on either side of them, at shoulder length. There was no strap that went across them, just these bars. The ride would begin, and, going in a circle, would go faster and faster until the floor would fall from beneath their feet.

I was horrified.  There was this …thing…going around and around at such a high rate of speed, and there was no floor for the riders to stand on! My mother explained that there was nothing to worry about; something called centrifugal force was keeping the people safe. They wouldn’t fall. “The force” had them.

I never did get on that ride, and still shudder when I see it…but it made me think about the forces which are in place in our lives which keep us from falling even when the earth falls from beneath our feet.

I have been watching the people who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. I ached, literally, as I listened to a woman who lives in Staten Island talk last night on CNN about how her life had been changed in the course of an hour. “I want to go home,” she cried, “but I can’t! There is no home. I don’t have a home!”

The earth…has fallen from beneath her feet and from beneath the feet of so many others, but there is a force which will keep her and others upright, in spite of their huge loss.

I read something by Richard Rohr that explained what it is to experience “the holy.” He talked about the “communion of saints,” and said that we are always in the company of others who have gone before us. Their spirits never leave us; our DNA came from them. They have a presence with us that keeps us. It’s the same spirit that helped keep them as they went through their “floorless” moments.

It would probably be really good if some of the survivors of Hurricane Katrina could meet with, sit and touch, the survivors of Hurricane Sandy. They are truly the only ones who know how THIS particular experience feels. They have been there. The floor fell from beneath their feet…and they were held up by a spiritual centrifugal force. They didn’t stand on their own; they were too devastated and too crushed to do that. They held onto survival bars, though, and a force kept them on their feet, though their worlds were spinning and had spun out of control.

In moments of despair and great pain, all of us need something greater than us to hold us up. It’s the same “force” that kept the Jews up during the Holocaust, the same “force” that kept African-Americans up during slavery and afterward, when angry whites undid all of the gains made during Reconstruction. It’s the same force that keeps the Haitian people up, in spite of abject poverty and ruination…with really no visible light at the end of their tunnel.

I call this force “God,” but I realize that might not be what everyone calls it. Regardless of what you call it, however, there is a spiritual centrifugal force that keeps you upright …even when the earth falls from beneath your feet.

If I might go back to that ride that my mother unsuccessfully tried to get me to try: the stupid thing finally stopped spinning so fast, and as the speed of the spin slowed, the floor came back into place.  The people were safe. All they had to do was hold on and be still while the ride spun faster and faster. I suspect that because of the power of the centrifugal force, they probably didn’t even need the bars, but they helped make the riders feel secure.

Hold on, good people, to those bars. Your world is spinning out of control. The destruction around you is mammoth and scary…the earth has fallen from beneath your feet…but there is a force that will keep you up and make you able to accept and walk in your new normal.

A candid observation.

®Candid Observation, 2012