Monday, April 15, 2013

Why Does God Allow Injustice: Modern, Biblical Plea and Response

So many things in this world make us all wonder why.


Why are innocent children slaughtered and why are people dying and having limbs ripped apart by strategically placed bombs? "Why does God allow this?!"is the cry that I think we all have at moments like the bombing today in Boston and the elementary school mass shooting several months ago."WHY?! Why God?!" It's hard and painful in ways that can't be expressed.

But then, I look at the Bible. I see that I and other 21st century people are not alone in this plea.

The Old Testament prophets cried out to The Lord,"Why do you allow this injustice!!!?? Why do you allow the murder of my people!? Why do you allow seige and famine to get to to the point that mothers are eating their own children to survive??!!!"

And in Revelation I see the souls of saints under the altar crying out, "When will you avenge us?! OH GOD! When will justice be done?!" And I hear Christ telling them to wait a little longer until the number of slain martyrs has been fulfilled.

And most poignant and painful of all, Jesus himself crying out to the Father, "Let this cup pass from me! I don't want to die...WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!!?" And if anything, seeing the same plea that goes out in the face of modern injustice and evil be shared by those in scripture, and even God himself is even more difficult. But at the same time, it is strangely reassuring. And it gives me a glimmer of hope.

God recognizes the injustice of the prophets' time by saying that judgement and restoration will come to pass.

To the murdered saints he gives the reassurance that even though many more horrors will take place, they WILL be vindicated.

And to Christ, afraid and anguished in the garden of Gethsemane, he sends angels to encourage him, the strength to carry on, and most of all the knowledge that yes he will face torture and brutal death, but that in the end this will make his triumph and victory all the more glorious.

All of this gives me hope.
Justice WILL be done.
We WILL be vindicated.

And though we and the rest of humanity will suffer, in the end that will make our victory even more amazing and powerful.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comforting Others in Times of Pain

Usually when someone we know is going through pain or experiencing crisis, we try to point out the positive and encourage them that things will somehow get better.

But I have realized that this natural approach is very deeply flawed.

Often, trying to make a painful situation better or more simple than it seems to be just causes an incredible amount of harm. Saying things like "it's all going to be ok" or "look on the bright side..." or "it could be worse" to someone who has experienced loss, is facing huge trials in life, is struggling with emotional issues, etc, is actually very detrimental and even unkind. We mean well when we say things like this, but all it usually does is delegitimize the problem, dismiss the emotions of who we are attempting to comfort, and ultimately eliminate the possibility of effectively helping that person through whatever it is they are dealing with.

Sometimes it's best to know that nothing can be said to make things better and just validate and support that person, let them experience deep emotions, as upsetting as they may be and just show them through your presence and willingness to listen that even if it doesn't get better right away or even at all that you care and are in it with them for the long haul. Sometimes all you can do is just listen but actually that often is all you need to in order to give what they need from you at that moment.

In life, it's not always going to get better, things may never be easier, and deep wounds usually really can't be mended by time. But we can always become stronger people, better friends, and develop a deeper capacity to love. And in the end love and compassion, NOT making things better or easier, is what really ends up accomplishing that.

Meme: Annoying Evangelism

I just made this meme to express my general annoyance with street evangelism, or any method of attempting to share one's faith that is otherwise irritating or socially awkward. Typical models of evangelism often do not resonate with society and cause more harm than good. At least in my very humble opinion.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Lord and the Leper: Healing of the Whole Person

On impulse, I just started rereading the gospel of Mark, and I realized something. I think my favorite stories of Christ's earthly ministry is when he heals lepers. This happens multiple times throughout the accounts of all the gospel writers, and are always incredibly moving. But there is more going on than the sheer awe of miraculous healing.

Lepers were not only physically diseased and utterly cast out of general society as a result, but were also cut off from worship at the temple due to ritual uncleanliness. In first century Palestine, the temple was the heart of the people; that was how they knew God. So having leprosy meant being completely cut off from both human society and, in the mind of the first century Jew, God himself. By healing a leper, Jesus allowed them not only to become healthy again, but also to enter back into fellowship with God and man. That's why Jesus always quickly tells a leper he has healed to immediately go to the temple priest
When Jesus healed a leper he not only restored them to physical health and wholeness, but also healed and redeemed them spiritually, emotional, relationally and socially.
This is just one example (among many many others) of the fact that when Jesus heals someone, it is always holistic. He cares about and changes the entirety of a person. This all moves me with incredible awe and deeper appreciation of Christ and how he interacted and continues to interact with his people.
Ok, now I'm going to go back to reading.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Delegitimization of Female Emotion: a Response

As usual, Facebook has the peculiar effect on my life of enabling deep and profound discourse with other people. I just read a note written by a close friend of mine, and was so struck by how well it expresses thoughts I share and feel important that with her permission I am sharing if here. I hope it makes you think, and if you are interested you can go to her blog, From The Papers of One Still Living

I have been seeing this picture floating around facebook in various forms recently. I've seen it at least three times in the past two months. I've seen a man my age post it, an older man with a handful of sons post it, and even a woman in her twenties post it. All told, it's quite widespread, and many people find the picture and its caption funny. Truth be told, however, I very much dislike this image.

Let me explain why. I have to do a lot of explaining for quite an interesting reason, in fact. Let's put my textual analysis training to the test. I'll analyze the picture in three steps---mostly because I like numbering things.

This first observation is the most obvious one: the message of this picture is offensive to women. According to this picture, women are emotional, histrionic morons who are just as reactive with all the matter in the universe as the element Flourine (F). Flourine has seven electrons, but it really wants eight---something to do with completing the electron shell or some chemistry-babble like that. Basically, if you've got some pure Flourine gas floating around, something is likely to combust. Watch this video if you want to know a bit about the element or just see some cool experiments: ( ). Just for fun, whenever either of the lovable chemists (they really are quite lovable---if you have a YouTube account, you should subscribe) says the word "Flourine," replace it with the word "woman" or "women." I did it when I watched the video for a second time, and it was quite amusing. In any case, yes, the image is accusing women of being emotional, histrionic morons. I'll argue that this accusation is preposterous.
Why is this accusation preposterous you ask? First, women are not universally histrionic. Some women are in fact histrionic, but so are some men. Being emotional and histrionic is certainly not gender-specific. Second, from experience, I know that men are just as "emotional" as women are. About 60-70% of my friends are male, so I feel I can say this and have sufficient evidence. Third, I know from my own life that such stereotypes break down. Ask any of my friends or family members---I don't even understand feelings let alone have an exaggerated amount/experience of them. Culture may tell us that women are more emotional, and people may reinforce and immitate those stereotypes just because of their ubiquity, but by no means can someone claim that it is, one, universally true, or two, hardwired into being male or female.
This point here is the zinger---the reason I hate this image most. The caption itself makes it almost impossible for any woman to object to it. Whenever a woman does object to it, like I'm doing here, the people who post or agree with this picture can cite the caption, telling the woman she is overreacting. "Oh, she doesn't like it? That just proves us right! What an emotional little b!7#% getting offended at a harmless, funny-and-true picture!" The picture itself deligitimizes and denigrates women's opinions, no matter how logical, insightful, or true. This picture illustrates a way people constantly write off women's thoughts and feelings, accusing women of an inherent irrationality and lack of personal control. This practice of devaluing another person's thoughts and actions by accusing them of less-than-sanity is called, in some psychological circles, gaslighting. There is a wonderful article on gaslighting and feminism by Yashar Ali. You should read it here:
( ). In this article he defines gaslighting as as a term "to describe manipulative behavior to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they're crazy." In my opinion, this is exactly what this picture both does and encourages people to do should any woman object to it.
So, that's that. That's why I dislike this picture. I'll leave you with a quote from the article I referenced: "As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways." If this post struck you at all, I encourage you to speak up against things like this that appear in your Facebook feed. More importantly, I encourage you to listen to others rather than dismiss them, whether male or female. Admittedly, this is something I struggle with, so it's been healthy for me to write this, I think. If you agree or disagree with anything I've said above, feel free to discuss in the comments, as discussing things with friends is almost always fun! I just pray that no one will accuse me of "overreacting," because that would probably make me so angry that I would overreact! (badum-tss) Have a good evening, everybody!

Art and Life Made Beautiful Through Pain

If you have read any of my earlier posts, you know that I am an artist, and this is central to my identity and passion in life. I have been painting pretty much all my life, and this passion is now leading me to art school starting this fall. Anyhow, it is in this context that the following has occurred to me.

When I make art, it just happens. When I start a painting or drawing I pretty much never know how it will actually look when I finish. Stuff just evolves and works itself out as I go. Sometimes I feel just as much like a spectator as a creator as I see things fluidly develop on paper or canvas. I often find myself looking at a finished work thinking, "wow, I made this". Really, I don't know how to describe it, but I pick up a brush, pen, or chalk pastel and somehow my passions and emotions become visual.
This is also how it is with my life in general. Things just happen and work out. It's not always easy, but it's always beautiful in its own way. In my art, the media I work with are often challenging and take a good bit of experience to be good at. I have been developing and training my artistic skills since childhood. I've come to the point where technique become natural and fluid.

In life in general it's been the same way for me. I have been through some very emotionally traumatic situations, and that is when I have most developed artistically and as a person.
When I was in high school, my mother (who I am incredibly close to) struggled with serious mental illness. She saw and heard things that were not real, and lived very dark and painful false realities. This was the hardest time of my life up to that point, despite the fact that she had already dealt with severe health issues and other trying things had happened. I was isolated, afraid, and completely powerless. I couldn't do anything about the accusations, the chaos, and the heartbreak going on around me. But it was at this point in my life that I grew most as an artist and a person. I began to pour pain, intense emotion and deep passion into my art like never before, and I gained a greater capacity to feel and love deeply. I learned a lot about pain and life In general. Through my suffering I gained a much greater understanding of life and other people. I learned to be sensitive and kind like I couldn't have been before, and as a result be able to help others experiencing pain and crisis. All these things are invaluable as an artist and as a person in general. My mother came out of this time of darkness due to medical intervention and emotional support, and I (along with my family) came out of this time far stronger and as a much more loving person despite my utter brokenness and trauma.

I wasn't expecting to go that route with this post, but I guess the point is that despite, through and even because of the pain I have experienced, things have been made beautiful and somehow better. The moments of darkness have led and contributed to the kind of experiences I mentioned at the very beginning of this post. Through the pain I have been through, I have experienced things naturally fall into place in my life. Doors open and opportunities arise in the most unexpected ways, and life changing decisions are easy and natural. Life just happens.
I often look at my art and am amazed at the fact that something inspiring somehow happened, and that who I am in some way has made it on to paper or canvas. In the same way, I look at my life and am awestruck by how things work themselves out beautifully even in times where things rationally don't make sense. Trial and pain have played and still do play a significant role in the development of my life and my artistic expression. And in a lot of ways it is due to the rough patches of my life that things go so smoothly and naturally now.

All of this brings me to the awareness and amazement that there is creativity and power beyond me that weaves my life together. As a Christian I believe that this is God, my creator, the source of beauty and meaning in the world. I see him as the ultimate, truest and most original artist-- the very reason that I am able to create anything beautiful. And because of him, my times of pain have resulted in deep artistic and emotional beauty that I value beyond words. And now, things just happen.
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

On the Job: Lessons in Human Worth

I recently got a job working at a group home with severely disabled individuals. I absolutely love my work despite, even because of, the demands it has and patience it requires. I give constantly-physically, mentally and emotionally. Most of the people I work with are either paraplegic or quadraplegic and need pretty much everything done for them, and many are bedridden. The clients I work with also all have mental and psychological issues, often quite severe.

Working with such severely disabled people is teaching me some things that I didn't really expect. I am learning a tremendous amount about the intrinsic value of human life. These people cannot contribute to the world in the ways that society generally considers "valuable", yet due to the single fact that they are human, they are worth the world and their lives have deep meaning. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, they have unquestionable value based on the fact that they are made in the image of and based on the nature of their divine creator and hold meaning in his eyes that cannot be fully grasped by humanity. And even apart from any specifically religious conception they still hold innate value; they feel, conceptualize life and it's complexities, dream, hope, grieve, feel pain, and in my personal experience thus far are fully and deeply aware of when someone genuinely cares about them. I do not feel successful in my attempt to describe this concept that I have come to realize. However, it just comes down to the fact that regardless of who or how somebody is, the fact that they are a human being gives them innate and inseparable value that can never be underestimated or fully grasped.

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Creation, Love and Foresight of Sacrifice

I deeply, passionately believe that the specific reason that God created humanity was so that he could love us, not the other way around. Yes, the full understanding of God, his love, and the purpose he has given humanity will naturally result in mutual love and respect, but I think that the conception many Christians have of God wanting to be loved being the purpose for our creation is absolutely wrong. He did not create us so that we would give to him, but rather that he could give of himself to us and that this nature of love would be reflected and reciprocated by his creation.
In light of this, something else I have recently come to realize, to my utter astonishment and even confusion, is that when God created humanity, he knew we would hurt him. He knew that loving us would cost him dearly. He knew that humanity would bring sin into the world, and he knew that it would ultimately cost him his life to mend and restore the connection that sin severed between himself and us. He knew that even still many of us would not love him in return and that even those of us who have made that choice do not always fully love him because in truth, we do not always fully believe in him. By all rational standards, there is no way it would possibly be worth of to make such a sacrifice, and yet the Creator of the universe deemed it so.
This leaves me utterly dumbfounded. I cannot possibly understand such love, and even more so I cannot understand how such love could be so central to the nature of God. Honestly, I understand why people do not believe as I do. Heck, I understand why people don't believe in God at all. I understand the validity and agony of the question of evil, pain, and injustice in this world. If anything, these realizations I have made make this even harder and more confusing to come to terms with. But somehow, my God deemed it the greatest good that love would triumph in the midst of such a world, that power would be displayed through great pain, and that rather than stepping down in all his glory that the miraculous would be most meaningful and powerful when displayed through the lives of imperfect and weak human beings. And somehow, it is worth it to my Creator to suffer for and with those he had created. Of all the mysteries I have encountered, this is the deepest and hardest. But it is also what is most beautiful and makes life worth living.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Love and The Purpose of Human Life

The other day I realized something. I got into a conversation about something deep (although clearly not important enough for me to remember the subject matter), and as usual during such conversations I said super profound stuff that I had never thought of in my life but just came out. Anyway, I was discussing something about love, the human capacity and calling for it, and the inherent and central nature of God as one who loves beyond understanding. And I came to the conclusion that God did not merely create us to love him. In fact I would say this is not even the primary reason. Christians tend to say stuff about the necessity of a being having free will in order to be loved, and angels don't have free will or the choice wether or not to love (also wrong, whole other story), and thus The Lord of Heaven made human beings to love him. I came to the conclusion that this is totally wrong. Rather, I would say that God created us so that HE could love US. The whole life journey of the human being is, I believe, centered around this love. God did not, I think, create us to so that we would serve or lavish ritual praise to him as many Christians seem to think. Naturally, grasping the true creative intent and nature of God leads to many acts of love on our part. But really, I truly believe God created us specifically so that he could love us, in a similar way that a human couple bears a child: they bring a baby into the world so they can love them and give a great deal of themselves in doing so, and walk through life with them. We do talk of God as being our father, after all. And i think it goes even further: this sort of love is tied into the very fabric of what it means to live. As humans, I think it is central to our life, and our ultimate purpose, to learn to love each other and cultivate compassion, empathy and community with our fellow man and Creator. If I had to narrow the meaning of life down to one thing, it would without a doubt be this.

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Reflections on Puddleglum, Pessimism, and Dealing Effectively With Crisis

I just had a thought: I'm currently reading The Silver Chair from the Chronicles of Narnia, and very much enjoying the remarks and personality of the character Puddleglum, who for those of you who do not know the story is the pretty much ultimate archetypal pessimist. He serves as the guide for the other two main characters in an extremely dangerous and seemingly hopeless journey. He is very kind, loyal, and unexpectedly wise. However, he is often disregarded by the other characters as a wet blanket as a result of his persistent over the top negativity. However, once they end up in the midst of their worst danger and trial, he is very insightful, quick on his feet, clear thinking, incredibly helpful and to the surprise of the other characters, actually uplifting and encouraging in the midst of utter hopelessness and despair. And I realized that just like in the book, in reality it seems that it is often the pessimistic and harshly realistic people who actually do especially well coping with crisis and trying situations. I'm not saying this is neccesarily because of their pessimism, but I have seen this often in my own life, the lives of others, and the lives of people in well written fiction. I think it may have to do with the fact that pessimism tends to go along with an understanding of crisis, or disappointment or disaster. Sadly this all to often breeds a counterproductive and self defeating hyper awareness which leads to cynicism. However, I find it no coincidence that sometimes people who are put down for being "a wet blanket" often seen to have the capacity to think clearly and cope effectively in times of crisis, disaster and pain. Like any weakness, there is strength that goes along with it, and like any strength there is a burden to bear that goes along with blessing.

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