Comforting Words: Tell The People To Move Forward

Monday, September 05, 2005

Tell The People To Move Forward


The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been so disturbing that the idea of continuing to share with you My Life, My Story, My Gifts seems inappropriate.
Most certainly, the story will continue but not this week. It behoves each and every one of us to spend some time reflecting on the tragedy which unfolded before the world in the great United States of America.

In wanting to live peacefully and without conflict, many of us shy away from politics and even religion. While I admit that this is a tempting prospect, I know it is impossible to totally avoid both subjects.

Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, in one of his books - the name of which excapes me now - suggests that we cannot separate our religious, spiritual and political lives. Everything we do and all that we are impact the community, whether our action is in the spiritual, political, business or cultural realm. We are integrated.

One of the objectives of this, the Comforting Words, community is to highlight that integration, to show that each of us, including gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people, is part of the whole. In fact, the concern of this community is not focused only on LGBT people but extends to women, children and young adults who experience challenges in life and are living in difficult circumstances due to race, gender, ethnic background or economic status.

You can therefore understand the pain, shock and even anger that I felt watching the tragedy unfold in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana - more so in New Orleans.

While it is not my intention to delve in the United States politics, history or culture, this week along with Sacred Words and the Words from the Heart, I invite you to explore a few of the issues that one could hear expressed among the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the displaced and now homeless, the bureaucrats, the 'celebrities' and the religious.

As I sat in church this past Sunday, one of the biblical passages read and the sermon, though in a different context, of the guest minister rung so true for me that I decided to borrow the title for this week's Comforting Words - "Tell The People To Move Forward."

I also invite you to become a member of the Comforting Words community by simply clicking on the “Join Our Mailing List” feature at the right of your screen and follow the prompts. Your ‘membership’ gives you a chance to receive one of the monthly surprises! We had our first “surprise” draw August 31, 2005 from the Mailing List and the winner was a citizen of Jamaica! She received a copy of Iyanla Vanzant's "Living Through the Meantime."

The obligations for being a member of this community are few. In fact, there is only one – a desire to live authentically. As the host of this Blog and the Comforting Words Community, I willingly open myself to you. I am here to support you as I am able to, whenever and however needed.

You may contact me via email or you can join the continuing conversation at the InComfort Discussion Forum. If needs be, I will call you, if you provide a telephone number or you can call me - members have access to a number to me.

Sacred Words
(By using Sacred Words to describe the quotations that I chose to use in this section, my intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources that are dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings.)

From Christian Scripture - Exodus 14:15
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.'"

From Mary Bigg’s Women’s Words: The Columbia Book of Quotations by Women, 305, 422, 318
"The arrogance of race prejudice is an arrogance which defines what is scientifically known of human races." Ruth Benedict (1887 - 1948, U.S Anthropologist.)

". . . the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God's will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed."
Maya Angelou (b. 1928, African-American poet, autobiographer and performer)
Words of Comfort
Quite frankly, I have always had serious challenges believing that a loving God, who created this universe with such detail and precision would deliberately cause disasters such as the tsunami which occurred last year and the recent Hurricane Katrina as punishment for human sin.

Once I personally accepted the legitimacy of my question about the kindess of a deity who would 'behave' in such a revengeful and downright mean-spirited fashion, my quest for answers began in earnest.

Living as I did in the 'hurricane belt', on the island of Jamaica, for twenty-eight of my forty years on this earth, I have heard first hand accounts of Hurricane Charley and witnessed the devastation that even a tropical storm can cause.

Though I have fond memories of missing school and being home feasting on a meal of codfish and fried dumplings (johnny cakes), with steaming hot chocolate tea, my recollection of the damage and destruction to homes and properties, the loss of life and income and the total dismantling of any semblance of order is as vivid.

Why would God do this? If God is loving, gentle, merciful and kind, how could He allow people to suffer and even die - especially the poor - in storms, earthquakes, hurricane, floodings?

Mary McCarthy, the author of "Memories of a Catholic Girlhood," expressed sentiments about this kind of God that I shared and continue to share:

". . . I do not mind if I lose my soul for eternity. If the kind of God exists who would damn me for not working out a deal with Him, then that is unfortunate. I should care not to spend eternity in the company of such a person."

Think about it. If God would destroy what He/She created, kill thousands of people because they are not Christians, Caucasian, Muslims, rich or any other factor such as these, then that God must be evil.

As I watched the images of death, destruction and the mayhem in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricane and as I listened to some of the people ask after God, I knew that platitudes of any kind will not heal the spritual and emotional wounds that natural disasters cause.

Continuing to watch the news reports of the aftermath of the hurricance, images started to emerge of the animals caught in the midst of this natural disaster, displaced from their natural homes, separated from families who for years provided them with shelter, food and loving care. Human beings and animal (beings) alike were joined in this grim scenario, however, it was the pain of the former that was highlighted.

One of the first courses I took at theological college was Theological Anthropology and it could have been either the first or second lecture when the professor made a comment which had me reeling. My reaction to his comment that man is the pinnacle of the universe, of God's creation, set the tone of our future relationship as I politely, I think, asked him where does he get off with such a notion.

"That is pure arrogance and intellectual ignorance," I remarked. Fortunately, he was to some extent open-minded enough not to kick me out of the class, in which I was one of very few women and the only person of African descent.

The religious types and the theological scholars would probably describe my brand of theology as syncretism, which the Chambers' Twentieth Century dictionary defines as "an attempt to reconcile different systems of beliefs, especially of different forms of Christianity; fusion or blending of religions."

However one wishes to describe it, understanding that we all have our paths to God and that no one is the one true way to a relationship with the Divine therefore I must not only respect, but honour each person's journey has been a freeing experience for me. It has also made my faith life, my walk along the Jesus way and my relationship with the Sacred that more rich and meaningful.

An important aspect of my syncretistic approach to religion and spirituality is the belief that human beings share this universe equally with the animal and plant kingdoms. Granted, my habits in relation to how I use and exploit the plant kingdom, as an example, could be greatly improved and I am working on it.

The point, however, is that due to my growing respect and deepening reverence for the Sacred in all life - human, animal and plant - it is hard for me to sit still when comments such as the one made by the professor are uttered.

The thought that human beings are the pinnacle of creation and the behaviour that goes along with it, the indiscriminate use and exploitation of natural resources, plant and animal, has led us to this place. Not for a moment would I claim any scientific or environmental expertise, but one's head would have to be buried very deep in the sand to not realise the connections between how mankind have made use of nature, our rape of the environment and the increasing numbers of natural disasters and climate changes.

It is my belief that we live in an ordered and ordering Universe. What do I mean by this?

Among the many theorists, some people believe that God created the intracacies of the Universe, including placing man at its pinnacle, and left it. The clockmaker theory. There are others who believe in the Big Bang theory - that the world as we know it developed and will continue to develop out of physical constants or energies which arise for the Big Bang. The Universe, some of these thinkers posit, will evolve mechanically in accordance with these initial energies.

Then there are the process thinkers, who reject this latter theory. Although they seemingly agree with the notion of a Big Bang, they see a Deity that lures or persuades the Universe into being long before this event. This "Force" will continue to do so, encouraging more complex living beings into existence, however the forms of these beings are not pre-determined but will be affected/shaped according to free will, chance and prevailing situations.

My personal line of thinking falls somewhere within process philosophy and theology. I 'see' the hands of a God, a Force, Something Bigger Than Myself in Creation. Deep in my heart, I feel that we all, animals, plants and humans alike, are being urged "to life, to live well and to live better," to borrow a phrase from process theoology. Bishop Spong says it best - "to be all that we can be and to love wastefully."

Is there evil in the world? Is there death and destruction from natural disasters? Indeed there are. Is God responsible for this?

I have had to look deep within to come to what for me is a 'reasonable' response to this question. There is a saying, "No pain, no gain," one which has been used to urge athletes in particular to peak performance and is relevant to this conversation.

I remember when my baby girl was getting her first tooth. Try as I might, there was nothing that I could do to totally eliminate the pain of that wonderful 'tool', the one that would help her to process the nutrition that she would need for further growth.

Since that time and after much reflection, I have come to certain 'truths,' namely that life it seems is very much like that - a constant process of tooth bursting the gum. There is no way we can avoid or eliminate the physical pain. If we are to grow, if we are to move on to the next level, if we are to become all that we can be and make a way for the next generation, there will be pain and, because we are humans - thinking beings - there will be suffering.

It therefore means that, in a sense, God has something to do with that process. Some would say that God is part of the process right along with Creation - feeling our pain and maybe experiencing our suffering.

Recently, I heard someone make a distinction between pain and suffering -- he said that pain is what we experience on the physical level. Suffering is an emotional and spiritual experience.

Whether you agree with that is up to you. When I examine my own life challenges, I can understand where he is coming from. For example, when I fell and broke my leg at age 33, there was serious physical pain, but it was more bearable than the suffering that I underwent, just prior to the incident, of being underpaid, feeling exploited by a chauvinistic employer and unable to pay my bills.

Breaking my leg was a blessing in disguise, in fact it was a turning point. Ordered to rest and after four weeks of lying in bed, prayerfully I came to some decisions and the windows of opportunity opened. Within a couple weeks of having the cast taken off, I was offered a job that would pay me three times what I was earning and had me travelling across the Caribbean.

God was not being unkind or evil to the Hebrews when he asked Moses, "Why do you cry out to me?" God was doing what God does in any situation, whether your leg has been broken, you lost your job or a hurricane sweep over your town and totally changes your life. "Tell the Israelites to go forward," is a command to do what we were 'designed' to do - keep moving, keep growing.

Does the fact that God is always luring us to growth and to love eliminate life's pain and the suffering we experience? This is where my syncretism kicks in. I honestly do not belive that God punishes us for wrong doings (or being members of the 'wrong' or no church) by causing death and destruction. Neither do I believe that God is distant and that the Universe is completely mechanical.

Indeed there is an order to life and that order includes, for example, the fact that rivers rise when there are heavy rains, wherever is the world you may live. When I heard people complaining about the destruction caused by the hurricanes in Florida last year (2004). It was hard for me not to scream at the television, "Hello people, you live in the 'hurricane belt' and they come along every year, so either you permanently move if you cannot withstand the physical and emotional stress or evacuate until the winds pass!"

We are going to feel pain - it is simply part of this physical life, it is part of growing. If you fall, there will be pain. Coming into your womanhood, there will be the pain of menstruation. If you drink and drive and have an accident, you will be in serious pain. We cannot completely drug ourselves from feeling pain.

Pain is simply a fact of life that no amount of Tylenol or Prozac will eliminate. If hurricane winds blow down your house with you in it, you will be in pain. You will feel pain if you are hungry and thirsty.

Suffering, on the other hand, I honestly believe can be reduced and in some instances just does not have to be part of the experience. What some of the people in New Orleans experienced this past week is what I would describe as avoidable suffering.

The suffering that New Orleanans endured, particularly those of colour, was not only avoidable but inexcusable and intolerable anywhere in the world. It is a state of suffering that, unfortunately, people of colour, the poor and women across the world have been undergoing on a daily basis.

This suffering is not because of God or even natural disasters. This suffering is the result of evil, perpetuated not by God but by humans against each other and humans against the rest of creation.

A related question was posed to Dr. John B. Cobb of the Centre for Process Studies about evil and suffering and God's role in this and his response succintly summs up what I have been discussing and even to a large extent what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

"Turning away from the call of the divine to live, to live well and to live better in community. My point in all this is that although at the human level there are willful acts of disobedience to what we believe is right, these are not the main source of human evil. The increase of evil at the human level in comparison with other creatures is partly a matter of our heightened capacity for suffering and partly our increased capacity -- and disposition -- to inflict it. We [process thinkers] believe that God lures us away from unnecessary violence toward one another, and that as we grow more sensitive to that lure, we will contribute more to one another's happiness and less to one another's suffering. But there is no way that complex creatures such as ourselves could come into being and exist without an increase of suffering in the world."

As America seeks to 'learn the lessons' from this experience, let us join that nation in prayers and in growing and becoming more sensitive to each other, as we obey the Divine call to "move forward," in community and in love.

Words from the Heart

When Things Go Wrong
"Your Needs Met" by Jack & Cornelia Addington


"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:5

Things may seem to go wrong. Our plans may change but nothing has changed with God; nothing has gone wrong with the Spirit within us, nothing can happen to the Power of God that is right where we are. It makes no difference what may seem to happen, what may be man's opinion, there is only one Power, the Power of God and It is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Nothing can interfere with the prefect right action of God Almighty within us. Weh we stand firm in this knowing, conditions right themselves and the very thing that seemed to go wrong it is only in disguise. When things seem to go wrong it is only the challenge, the challenge to trust in the Power of God within us, around us, everywhere present.

Trust in the divine Law of Life with all your heart, your whole feeling nature; trust in the Law of infinite Goodness and know that it will direct your path as you move through life from glory to glory, from one good experience to another. As we accept nothing but good, all things work together for good to them that love good.
And so it is.

Blessings, until the next audiopost.

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