Is God Perfect or Not?

Galton's view of social structure in the UK
Galton’s view of social structure in the UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since I was young enough to hear and to understand, I have been told that God is perfect. God can do no wrong. God does not make mistakes. God is …omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. The lessons of God’s perfection have been deeply engrained in my soul.

And yet, the more I listen to study phenomena like racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, and other “isms,” the more I wonder about my theology.  Is God perfect or do we have it all wrong?

I have been squirming with this question for a while, but when an Indian-American, Nina Davuluri, won the Miss America title a couple of weeks ago, the conversation over her being too dark gave me pause. There were some in America who were angry that she, being of Indian descent had won, but there were people who said that in India, she never could have won “because she is too dark.” Apparently, the quest to have light skin to white skin is an obsession in India, with young women participating in pageants taking medications to alter their skin color – i.e., to make it lighter. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/16/miss-america-nina-skin-color_n_3935348.html)

Historically, people have wanted to be white, in this country and in others. People have tried to pray their gayness away.  Being a female has been a hindrance and not a help, too often, in the workplace.  And yet, God made all of these …untouchables, …these undesirables. Could it be that God isn’t so perfect? Could it be that not only is it not true that God doesn’t make mistakes, but that God apparently has made a lot of mistakes?

If all of these groups of people – blacks, browns, women, gays, lesbians, females – are a problem, why in the world did God create them?

There is something extremely sad about any group of people trying to deny and change themselves to fit into image of a group of people who have decided who is worthy and acceptable and who is not. The European standard of beauty has been internalized by people all over the world. Little girls in Africa carry around white baby dolls, many of them.  Studies have been conducted that show that little children in this nation think that black and brown people are not pretty and not as intelligent as are white people. Homosexual people are presumed to be morally inferior to straight people.

What in the world was God thinking when He/She created people who were not white, Protestant  males?

In the eugenics movement, which came into being largely on the efforts of Charles Benedict Davenport in the 1890s, there was a quest to create the “perfect” person. That person was white, but not any old kind of white. To be desirable, one needed to have Nordic features – blonde hair, blue eyes. Dr. Davenport, who was a Harvard-trained biologist, influenced a lot of people, including one Francis Galton. It was Galton who coined the term “eugenics,” and he defined that as “the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally.” (Eyes Right: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash, . 213)

The eugenics movement was fascinating and troubling, all at once; the purpose of this article is not to go into it in-depth – but the point is that a whole cadre of very intelligent men (!!) constructed hypotheses which upheld and justified white supremacy …and their work was so titillating that the Nazis used it to justify and construct their own system of racism which resulted in the extermination of millions of Jews.

What, then? Did God mess up when God didn’t create everyone with Nordic features? Did God commission people to “improve upon” what God had created? If that’s the case, is God perfect? Can the notion of God’s perfection be trusted?

Years ago, I was chastised by a preacher whom I respected deeply because I would not say, and could not say, that only Christians would be saved. It was inconceivable to me that God would create a whole world full of different people who practiced different religions, and condemn them all to hell. That notion of God did not fit with my notion of a loving and inclusive God. Jesus was the Christian way, the Christian mediator, so to speak, between God and humans. Other religions had their mediators, but all of them, I argued, were valid. There was no way that God was that …small, that provincial, that…narrow-minded. The perfection of God did not mean to me that God intended for everyone to be the same. In fact, because of God’s omniscience, had that been what God had wanted, God would surely have done it!

I was eliminated from the ministerial student group after my talk with that pastor.

Stung and stunned, I asked God why He/She hadn’t intervened on my behalf. Like the psalmists demanding an answer, I asked God to speak up and tell me why He/She had let me be skewered as I defended the basic goodness of God and of God’s intentions.

Of course, God was silent.

But every now and then, the question of God’s perfection comes up. When babies are born deformed or sick, does that mean God was not and is not perfect? When people have addictive personalities, does that mean God is not perfect?  When little boys grow up to be serial killers, does that mean something happened in the womb that made that child’s brain program him into being a murderer? When a child gets a debilitating disease, like Michael Murphy Odone (“Lorenzo’s Oil), caused by a malfunctioning of his ability to metabolize fats, does that mean that God put a wrong gene in the wrong place when the child was growing in the womb?

Is God perfect or not? Are people of color, Jews, gays and Lesbians….mistakes?  If we are to listen to the chatter of people who are always putting a group of people down because of who they are, we might begin to question God’s creative genius, mightn’t we?

A candid observation …

 

 

Shy to a Fault

All my life, I have been shy to a fault.

People don’t realize it; when I share it in workshops or in places where I speak, people literally laugh and say they don’t believe me. I am so animated when I speak or present, it’s hard for people to believe that when I am done, I crawl into a shell.

I have always done it.

While there is nothing wrong with being shy, I write this to ask any of you who are shy not to let it compromise your life and your possibilities, as I have.

I have not made friends with people as a rule. I have not fostered and cultivated professional relationships. I have not mingled with people of my profession much, getting to know them, and allowing them to know me.

For the years I was a pastor, I basically went to church, did my “church work,” and go home. Oh…I did raise my children, and did quite well at that, I am pleased to say. But I did not build relationships. I did not diversify the palette of my life.

My therapist ( yes, I see one regularly) said that I made my world too small. Isn’t that a wonderful description of what being shy does?

Where in the world does the shyness come from? Is saying I am shy another way of saying I am insecure, or not confident?

I can remember once I went somewhere to preach. I got there early, with a friend, and was led into a roomful of women I didn’t know. I looked around, and the woman was whisking my friend to another area of the building. I wanted to die! There were all these women whom I did not know. They were well-dressed and articulate …and it felt like their heads were blowing up into huge balloons right in front of me; it felt like the balloons were coming toward me! I could not run out. I told myself that …and so I made myself walk to the balloons and, in talking, was able to stick a pin in them so that the big heads shrunk down to normal. I found that I could talk with these women; I found out that I had much to say and that they listened, but I will never forget the terror of those few moments.

Since then, I have been practicing not being shy. Some people from my former church would see me in a crowd, “working the  room,” and would encourage me. That meant a lot. Someone knew I knew this particular weakness of mine, and saw that I was trying to meet it … and, in effect, beat it.

But the bottom line is that I have hurt my life and my career by being so shy. I told/taught my children not to be like me, and thank God, they have listened. I have gone to the best schools, but didn’t connect with people. They, too, have gone to the best schools and have connected with people, have good friends all over the country, and are nurturing the relationships they have made even as they make new connections.

I told you I raised my children well.

I write this because this morning I wept for a few moments as I dealt with seeing myself “face to face.” Sometimes, I like what I see. This morning, I did not.

But the little weeping spell is over. I decided to write because someone else, a young person with lots of gifts and talent, is hiding under a bushel somewhere.

Please come out. The world needs you.

A candid observation …

Reeva Steenkamp: Another Woman Needlessly Dead

Office on Violence Against Women logo
Office on Violence Against Women logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While everyone is in shock over the murder of Reeva Steenkamp allegedly by “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius, I am more in shock that domestic violence against women is still such a major problem in this world.

It is hard to believe the story that Pistorius offered about what happened at his home on Valentine’s Day, but it is not hard to believe, or to conjecture, that the couple had domestic violence issues before that fateful night.

What many women do not understand is that domestic violence is not just physical; it can be emotional, verbal, or psychological as well.  We women too often take treatment, or endure treatment, that demeans us, thinking that somehow things will get better or, worse, that we are somehow to blame for the violence our mates are heaping upon us.

Lisa Ling did a program about a year ago, with a follow-up last evening, on the OWN network about human trafficking. The whole issue of human trafficking is a subject for another time, but the mindset of the young girls and young women that makes them vulnerable to being used by pimps and johns is not unlike the mindset of women who stay in abusive relationships.

Last night on the program, a young woman who managed to get off the streets and get back into school with plans to go to college was trying to help another young woman, who wanted to get out of the business but was afraid. The young woman who had made it out said to her ( and I am paraphrasing) that when a guy tells you you’re pretty, don’t believe it. You tell yourself that you’re pretty. You believe it yourself. You don’t have to depend on others to define you.

It appears that far too many women, no matter how educated or attractive or capable, have low opinions of themselves and they do in fact depend on their men or partners for their definitions of themselves.  The men or partners can sense the insecurity and, like the predators they are, prey on the weakest part of the women they say they love. Even the act of preying on one’s weaknesses is an act of abuse and bullying.

The result is that far too many women end up being used in the course of being abused. Some men use women as “prize wives,” not respecting them for themselves but instead using them for their professional advancement. Others use women as their security; they do whatever they want but they dare their women to run out on or leave them. There are a host of reasons why men abuse women, and the world is becoming less complacent about it, but the world is doing too little, too late.

The young woman who was gang-raped on a bus in India, and who eventually died, pointed out the arrogance many men feel when it comes to the way they treat women. Whatever made those men feel like they could do that and get away with it? A silent society…

Women are brutalized every day, in front of their children, in public places, anywhere a man or partner feels like he or she wants to do it.  The society has to do more to address the problem, but we, the women, have to address the problems in ourselves that make us stay in abusive relationships.

Being lonely is not an excuse to stay; wanting to maintain a certain lifestyle is also not a reason to stay. It is said that Nicole Simpson, the wife of O.J. Simpson,   had filed charges against her husband for domestic abuse several times, but she, like so many other women, always went back. Was it the lure of fame, of her husband’s fame, that kept her going back?  Tina Turner endured abuse from her husband Ike; Rihanna, it seems, is still enamored with Chris Brown, despite his physical abuse of her.

If Reeva Steenkamp had encounters with Oscar Pistorius that were abusive, verbally, emotionally or otherwise, it is sad that she chose to stay.  A person who abuses another doesn’t love that person; he or she wants to control that person, and is afraid of losing that same person. We, the women, have to make the changes, “do the work,”  as Iyanla Vanzant says, of fixing our spirits and our resolve so that we care too much about ourselves to let any person treat us as objects. The United States Senate passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, with no help from the Republican senators, but its ultimate fate lies in the hands of the GOP

led House of Representatives. (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/02/12/1556601/senate-passes-vawa-again/?mobile=nc) That anyone would think this issue is not worth their time is infuriating. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) thinks the problem is so serious that they are doing important research. (http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/datasources.html) It is way past time to take this issue more seriously.

Perhaps those who think there is no need to have the government step into this issue. According to an article that appeared in The Atlantic, some Republicans think that the act represents government overreach and is a feminist attack on family values. (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/why-would-anyone-oppose-the-violence-against-women-act/273103/).

Seriously?

So, abusing women is an accepted value in American families?

That cannot be the case.

Whatever the House decides to do or not to do, we, the women, have got to take this problem by the horns and deal with it as we have never before. Reeva should be alive. So should thousands of other women who died at the hands of abusive mates. Women in prison who decided to defend themselves ought not be there. At the least, there ought to be a national “stand your ground” law that women who fight back can have to protect them.

This has got to stop…now.

A candid observation…

 

Big Government Be Damned?

OK. So Nancy Pelosi says Republicans are anti-government ideologues. My question: So why do they run for office?

If one does not believe in government, then what do such political candidates believe in? Why spend literally millions of dollars to be elected to office? Why are they there?

What do these anti-government ideologues want? They don’t want the government to do anything for the underdogs of our society.  They prefer for the private sector to do that, some kind of way. But doesn’t the private sector, businesses, want to make money most of all, and are pretty much not concerned with the well-being of those who do the work?

President Calvin Coolidge said that the business of government is business. Some have said that democracy and capitalism, as two belief sets, are not compatible. Democracy as we have come to understand it, or the way many interpret it, is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We who believe in democracy have internalized that to mean ALL people.

But capitalism is different. Capitalism seems to adhere more to the line of thought which promotes the “survival of the fittest.” Capitalists scorn those who cannot “make it,” and do not believe that democracy is supposed to mean that everybody can and should get the same benefits. Capitalists promote the thought that the only reason some people don’t make it is because they do not try, especially in America.

True, there are more opportunities for attaining the so-called “American Dream” in these United States, but some people really try to make it and just cannot. Maybe it’s because of extenuating circumstances or personality flaws, but maybe it’s because of something called discrimination. Surely that cannot be ruled out, no?

If it were not for government, people who have dealt with discrimination wouldn’t have had any protection, it seems. Blacks, browns, women …have all had to call on government for help and fairness when business and/or society would not budge. Government acted …albeit slowly …to insure a more level playing field for those who had been essentially pushed off to the sidelines.

So, there IS a need for government.

So, if there was no “big government,” what would happen to those who are making their way to center field now? Would there be a repeat of post-Reconstruction, when blacks, who had made political and economic gains were essentially pushed back into legalized slavery in the system known as “convict leasing?”

The federal government really stayed out of the Southern states after Reconstruction got underway, and slowly, state governments began to return their society to the way it had been before. The powers that be didn’t want blacks, and certainly not women, to have the opportunities that white men had. They didn’t even think blacks should have been freed from slavery.

Big government, then, has its place, it would seem. When people are trying to make money, they want to make money, not babysit or placate people who are having a hard time making it. They want the most work for the least buck, period. Without a big government that cares about people, many ordinary folks would just be out of luck.

That’s not to take away the fact that some people are extremely skillful at pushing against the resistance that comes with pursuing any dream. Some people just will not quit, and they deserve to move ahead. Vince Lombardi once said “winning isn’t everything but it is the only thing.” That is the mantra for many people and it works.

But some people with a little less chutzpah, or a whole lot more discrimination working against them, need help. Heck, even the most tenacious people need help. So if that help comes from big government, that should be OK.

Of course, this conversation is kind of superfluous. Everybody calls on government once in a while, whether or not one is pro or anti-big government. Everyone has a sense of entitlement when something catastrophic happens; then we want our government to kick into gear, and be BIG.  If the government does not, we get indignant.

But we tend to only understand, as human beings, our own needs, and cast the needs of others aside. We don’t even want to think about the “have-nots” too much; we avoid really getting to know why they are where they are, because to see their suffering makes us uncomfortable. That’s human nature. Nobody wants to see suffering.

So we work hard to make sure we are comfortable, and criticize big government it attempts to do things that will make the lives of some legitimately suffering people a little easier. We shut our eyes to the real barriers which spring up in a capitalistic world and society and instead blame those who struggle for the situations in which they find themselves. We regard those who cannot make it as moochers.

Some of them are, and some of them are not. We just don’t want to take the time to make the distinctions and give help where it is needed. We are content to charge the poor and blame the poor for being poor, thus helping to keep them poor, and we defy the government to try to change that reality. We in America have little regard, it seems, for the burgeoning population of older Americans who barely have enough to live on once they can no longer work. And so, many older Americans are living in deplorable conditions, and we will not look that harsh reality in the face.

What does it take to make people in a democracy do what democracy purports to do – to make a society where all people are created equal? Those who do not like such a notion say that to want that is to be socialist. OK, but really, that’s what our United States Constitution says – all men (people) are created equal.

We have a problem in our formative ideology. It seems that there is an untenable tension between capitalism and democracy, and capitalists are criticizing the very political system which has made their wealth acquisition a reality.

A candid observation …

 

The Power of Language

Future rulers of Florida, from Robert N. Denni...
Future rulers of Florida, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This morning, a woman showed me a picture of her two grandchildren, two little girls. They were adorable, and I said as much, and immediately, she said, smiling, “they’re bad.”

 

I cringed. In the African-American community, I frequently hear parents and relatives refer to their little ones as “bad,” and when I’ve known the person saying it, I’ve asked them not to do it. Language is so important, and the word “bad” is not a feel-good word or a word that encourages empowerment and healthy self-esteem. If children are told they are bad, they will believe it and eventually, it act it out.

 

Saying kids are “bad” when they are, in fact, just kids being kids, is troubling.  I almost never hear white parents say that about their kids, not even when they’re in stores and throwing a tantrum. Too often, I suspect that African-American parents label normal developmental behavior as “bad,” those times of discovery which help a child connect to his or her world, and to him or herself.

 

I interviewed, once, a man who was a brilliant artist.  When he was little, he told me, he used to take markers or crayons, or something, and draw on the white tiles that were in his mother’s kitchen. (the kitchen had black and white tiles). He said his mother never scolded him, but allowed him to draw. Every night she would clean the tiles off, and the next day, he’d be at it again. His art work was phenomenal, and he said that he was so grateful that his mother had not yelled and screamed at him and called him “bad.”

 

I have never forgotten that story, and I firmly believe that we don’t pay enough attention to the language we use in general, but especially the language we use in addressing our children. I have noticed it in the African-American community, but I am sure it is not limited to our community. Whenever an adult, in the midst of a bad or tired moment, says something mean and disparaging to a child, it erodes that child’s sense of self and self-worth.

 

The language that has been used to describe African-Americans has been damaging. African-Americans have been described as “lazy,” and yet, so many African-Americans I know, and knew when I was growing up, worked two and three jobs to support their families. African-American students are called “low functioning,” and “slow,” and if they hear that, especially from teachers they love and respect, it damages their psyches.

 

When my children were in school, I was very careful to monitor how teachers talked to them. When my daughter was in an honor’s math class, the only African-American in her class, and was not doing so well at the beginning, her teacher called me in and expressed concern. From her remarks, I remember this one statement, “She is like a deer in the headlights.”

 

I fumed, and I told her that she might not want to ever say that to my daughter, that in my house, we practiced positive language and through that language, my children were encouraged to believe that they could do anything they put their minds to. I told the teacher that my daughter would be OK, because she had a mind to be OK, and she had the capability to be OK. I would talk with her as she cried through her math homework, and would tell her that she had the advantage over the little numbers on her paper; “after all,” I would say, “you have a brain. Those little numbers do not.” She got it. I mean, she got it that she should always believe in herself and not let anything convince her that she was less than who God had made her. She finished that math class with a B+. The teacher was astounded. I was not.

 

Parents have to understand the power of language. Our children love us; they want to be like us. If we call them stupid, they will believe it, and they will hate themselves. No person who does anything great does it by hating him or herself. African-Americans have grown up under a barrage of negative and damaging language. Our children have not liked their hair, their lips, the color of their skin …So much of what we are as African-Americans has been described as “bad,” and too many of us drank the kool-aid!  We need to understand how toxic language affected us as individuals and as a people… we have got to understand that and do better.

 

We will find that if we use positive and empowering language with our children, we will begin to use it with ourselves as well. Many of us grew up with “old school” parents who called us names and put us down …but we don’t have to continue that cycle. We have a choice. We may not have the level of self-esteem we want, or have even needed thus far in order to squeeze all of life out of the lives we have …but we can certainly improve our lives and what we do while we are alive if we talk to ourselves and affirm ourselves, no matter what we have been told in the past.

We are, all of us, full of capabilities and possibilities. We are all rather like Watty Piper‘s The Little Engine that Could. We really are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for, and so are our children. It is our job as adults to convince to the children that, “yes, they can!”

 

I hope those two little girls, so cute, don’t hear at home that they’re “bad.” I hope they are inquisitive and curious and lively and excited about life, and that they are encouraged to be so. That’s one of the most important things we can do to end cycles of low self-esteem and feelings of quiet desperation.

 

A candid observation…