Help and pain

I am sensitive to racism, but I must confess that I am not understanding the extreme feelings about it in this country these days.  I don’t disagree that there is a problem, but I don’t resonate with it.  Racism-charged friends (whether black or brown or white), please don’t immediately think I’m intentionally obscuring what you feel.  I’m not.  Nor am I insensitive to the plight of the disenfranchised.  I am one of them, in a different way.

A few weeks ago, I watched the movie The Help in order to learn.  The movie also also led me to ponder and reminisce about “the help” in my great-grandparents’ house in Nashville, during the 1940s and continuing through the 1950s and beyond, to a degree.  There was a single black woman who took care of children and cooked and probably cleaned, at various times.  A black couple lived in a shack at the edge of the property.  I took the opportunity to have my mother describe the scenario to my son.  She, probably for reasons related to character, personality, and the era/generation in which she grew up, sees nothing but goodness in the family/work relationship with Maggie, the main “help.”  She is less clear on the roles of Jeff and Irene.  I know those people’s names and met them, and I remember only good, positive feelings all around. 

I doubt those three had too many negative feelings, but perhaps their children and grandchildren did.  Perhaps they rose above any past injustices and hatred for white supremacy as it might have surfaced in their lives.  Perhaps, as the years rolled along into and out of the 60s, there was pain.  Pain.  Now there’s something with which I deeply identify.

1994.  It was a year in which I determined to take a less public face in a very specific way.  I was still reeling from life pain. I felt something like this woman from the movie.  Ironic, I know, that I should choose a still shot of a white woman.  It just happened that way, because. . . .

2020.  Sporadically, I have been feeling like the woman in that picture for some time now.  The facial expression is all too familiar.  And it’s for similar reasons, but made so much worse by the general craziness in the land.  One night, I talked to my son to sleep and left two tears on his pillow on the sheet beside him.  I was grateful that he heard my calm voice, my heart-voice (whether or not he heard my actual words) as he fell asleep.

To feel like that woman is painful.  Those who feel that way might just need help.  And it is not physical help (read:  Personal Protective Equipment) that is needed the most.  We need emotional and spiritual health—and those are elusive.

 

Scientific method?

One of the long-term casualties of our time is that many of us will lose some of our trust in the ethics, wisdom, and accuracy of science and scientific method.  More precisely said: we will (rightly) suspect human presumption and media-designated science, perhaps not distrusting scientific method per se.

Please understand that I am normally partial to logical, “scientific” lines of thought. I deal in them fairly often. A very good friend of 20+ years is a trained researcher (a scientist in one area of inquiry), and another friend of 30+ years is a scientist/engineer in another. My parents’ lifelong friend is a trusted medical doctor, I know another doc fairly well, and I have numerous friends and acquaintances who hold doctoral degrees in other subjects. While I am also given to ponder things from other angles, I highly value logical thought and “scientific method.” But I am having a problem these days.  I give two examples below.

I read the following a couple days ago.  The excerpt mentions some particular ancient text scrolls that were displayed in the Museum of the Bible, which was founded and bankrolled by Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green.

It’s not the first time I’ve read about the problems associated with the Museum of the Bible. There seems to be no reason to doubt that the MoTB and its founder Steve Green made poor, even unscrupulous decisions–and that the DSS fragments formerly housed in the MoTB were frauds.  (Green is said to have done all he could to make things right after the fact.)  The point here, though is this: L ast year, I would have reacted quite differently when seeing that they appealed to “scientific method.” I would have trusted the phrase almost implicitly until proven otherwise. Now, I immediately recoil and wonder. The problem I’m calling attention to here is not the facts of the matter; the problem I’m having is my negative reaction to the phrase “scientifically proven” in the news report.

I read this guidance the same day, in a COVID-related document published by a professional organization:

I immediately want to yell out, “Whoa! True scientific method would not be able to determine such a thing! Not across the board, anyway.” It’s not as though scientists should agree on ensemble rehearsal duration across the board. They don’t know enough about this scene, and there are multiple variables to be considered . . . yet the world now likes to wait on such “decrees,” trying in vain to appear circumspect, careful, and caring.

We ought to stop looking for guidance on everything from people who are rushing to be heard but have limited or no expertise in an area. Good scientists will often admit that their studies are limited, and perspectives do evolve. Hasn’t past science has shown us most of what we need to know about not getting sick? I know this is a bad virus, and we have a global pandemic on our hands, but I doubt there is any way to “kick this virus’s butt” by one or more human/scientific means. Its ultimate effects on the human race are unknown, but nothing we do is going to matter as much as some seem to think. It’s going to run its course. (I label the foregoing as an opinion that is not based on “science,” really, but I imagine “science” could be found to support it.) This is not to downplay hospital care and suffering of the few. I know those things–along with the fears of those with compromised immune systems–are very real.

Science, though, is imperfect. Science is evolving. Always. And the humble scientists worth their salt know they don’t have all the answers and never will. Moreover, the number of non-scientists who think some marginally scientific, short-term opinion gives them the right to say “scientifically proven” is shocking.

So, could we please we all just stop using “scientifically proven” as a mallet to be wielded against those we think are knuckleheads (so maybe they won’t turn the mallet on you), and simply do things that make sense?

Go outside for exercise and sun, eat vegetables and fruits and proteins. And use good ventilation. Those factors could be underestimated. Notice that I didn’t say they are “scientifically proven,” but I probably could have, with just as much logical weight as some of the non-scientist media folks who think they have the answers.

A clean limerick

There once lived a man in the mountains,
Lacking Big Media’s fountains.
He had little wealth,
But he did have his health.
And I am no poet, so I will use prose.
(I could try a “proem,”  Naw, not one of those.)

This mountain man—Herman the Hermit, we’ll call him—came down for groceries one month and found the world had gone crazy.  There were strange signs near the entrance, and people that appeared to be security guards, but they had no billy clubs; they had cell phones.  And the best he remembered, it wasn’t Halloween, but people were wearing masks over half their faces.  (Herman had no mask, of course, but he looked hairy and imposing enough that no one tried to stop him.  Of course he didn’t have any sickness, anyway, and he had a strong immune system, so no matter.)

Herman owned no electronic devices such as smartphones.  While shopping, he heard something over the loudspeaker about a virus and “social distancing” and wondered how the two might relate.  He shook his head and went on collecting a few meager supplies in his cart before rolling it toward the front.  Not ever having used the self-checkout stations, he waited in line for the clerk.  He was about 4 feet away from the woman in front, who looked a little uncomfortable.  He wondered what the little “6 ft” circle on the ground was for.  (So many stimuli; so little ability to take it all in.)  After paying in cash, and noticing the clerk’s odd interest in his coins, he got into his 1971 pickup and left, still wondering, almost wishing he could figure out what was going on. . . .

Our Herman was oh-so-immune;
He went away whistling a tune.
Happ’ly ascending,
His mountain-way wending,
Away now, he’s over the moon.

Some days, “away” sounds awfully good.  As someone who looks incredulously at the notion of monasticism yet often feels the pull to withdraw, I sort of envy our hermit Herman about now.  He’s blissfully unaware, “over the moon,” in comparison.  And he’ll be just fine, physically speaking, on his mountainside.  Things won’t change much for him.  Could he even be better off mentally than some of us, since he has already been socially distant and doing OK with it?

A pilgrim’s perilous passage

Just last week, a radio announcer spoke of general issues in the land before proposing some kind of mini-solution.  Referring to the U.S.A., he commented, “It’s not that great, but it’s kind of the best we’ve got. 

And here begins my demurrer

First off:  this is a pretty good country, I figure.  I’ve visited briefly in seven others, spending almost a month in one.  All the others seemed reasonably good to me, too, but I know at least two of them have serious, long-term problems.  I’ve come to appreciate that the U.S.A. is good place to live. Still, this country must not be the foundation of anyone’s hope.  That might be true, it seems to me, even for atheists. Certainly, though, for believers, hope must transcend a geopolitical entity.

This nation’s goals and woes and history and future can be understood variously. It can all be seen through religious or Christian glasses, or through the lenses of sociology, exploration, power, or economy.  Human vision will naturally involve superimposed foregrounds and entrenched backgrounds.  We may see the notion of democracy or republic as God-ordained, and that is also to be expected, although it’s incorrect.  he point here is not to analyze political systems or sing “America the Beautiful” (and I do love those purple mountain majesties).

It is perilous for me to propound the following; people might not presently provide me safe passage as they ponder this picture:  This country is pretty good when it’s not sick, but even at its best, it is not the best we’ve got.

Not for the believer.  Not for one minute.  

I don’t presume to know the future.  No one does.  But I trust that it is in the hands of the Almighty, Eternal One.  About Abraham, this was said:

By faith he sojourned in the Promised Land as though it were not his, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  He looked forward to the well-founded city, designed and built by God.

A few verses later, about a list of faithful people, the writer continued this way:

All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them, recognizing that they were only strangers and nomads on earth.  People who use such terms about themselves make it quite plain that they are in search of a homeland.  If they had meant the country they came from, they would have had the opportunity to return to it; but in fact they were longing for a better homeland, their heavenly homeland.  That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he has founded the city for them.

. . .

These all won acknowledgement through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had made provision for us to have something better. . . . (Hebrews 11, NJB)

Brief life is here our portion; brief sorrow, short-lived care;
The life that knows no ending, the tearless life, is there.
O sweet and blessed country, the home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessed country, that eager hearts expect!

"Brief Life Is Here Our Portion" - Bernard of Cluny, 12C
I'm a pilgrim. 
I'm a stranger. 
I must tarry, I must tarry but a night.

"I'm a Pilgrim" - Mary Dana Shindler, 1841
Children of the heavenly King, as ye journey, sweetly sing;
Sing your Savior’s worthy praise, glorious in His works and ways.
. . .
Lift your eyes, ye sons of light!  Zion’s city is in sight.  
There our endless home shall be.  There our Lord we soon shall see.

Fear not, brethren; joyful stand on the borders of your land;
Jesus Christ, your Father’s Son, bids you undismayed go on.

Lord, obedient we would go, gladly leaving all below;
Only Thou our Leader be, and we will still follow Thee.

"Children of the Heav’nly King" - John Cennick, 1742

 

A possibly presumptuous plea

Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye [to God]:

Sometimes I think, when it gets too quiet up there, You say to Yourself, "What kind of mischief can I play on My friend Tevye?"

God, come and help your people live in peace. 

Keep us from the idolatrous thought that fixing a country, were that possible, will fix us.  Keep us from the preposterous supposition that bashing Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump (or any of the millions of minions) ultimately helps anything.

Keep us from hating those we disagree with.  Keep us from helpless frustrations with those we do tend to agree with, but whose perspectives on protests or politics or masks trouble us to no end.

God, is it too quiet “up there”?  Come down, as you did before the “Exodus,” and help your people these days live in peace. 

And while You’re at it, some relief and mercy for the unrest in the world at large would seem to be in order.  I was always amused by, and envious of, the character Tevye’s apparent relationship with you, yet it seemed a little presumptuous.  I don’t meant to be presumptuous.  But a lot of us are at our wits’ end.

Lamentation and hunger

Four or five posts are in near-final stages of preparation, but this one came to me only today.  It seems best to post this now, at the end of an emotionally overwrought day.

Mid-morning, a friend’s brief write-up on Lamentations stirred me, but I didn’t read all of that book today.  The Hebrew prophetic writings do tend to elude me.  I began the book and perhaps will read some aloud tomorrow.

A bit later, I had an odd lunch.  Miscellaneous vegetables, mismatched salad dressing, fruits, bacon, and tuna.  Whatever was available.  I wasn’t really that hungry, yet I was (and still am).  Earlier, I had come upon the sentence below:

Ἐγὼ βρῶσιν ἔχω φαγεῖν ἣν ὑμεῖς οὐκ οἴδατε.

I could pretty much translate that on my own when I saw it.  I am actually a pathetic Greek student—inconsistent at best—yet my interest persists.  The points below may not interest you if have no acquaintance with Greek or interest in grammar.

  • I know the 1st-person singular personal pronoun (Ἐγὼ | ego) well, but I was not very familiar with the 2nd word, a noun.  I could however translate it contextually, knowing the verbal forms that immediately follow.  βρῶσιν | brosin is “food.”  It helped to know this was from John, and to be relatively familiar with things Jesus says in that gospel.  I wondered if the noun “food” could also be placed later in a sentence, and whether its position indicates any particular emphasis.
  • The next two words are “I have” and “to eat,” respectively.  I believe the second would be labeled a “complementary infinitive.”  (I’ve learned more general grammar in Greek study than I ever had to learn in English classes!)
  • The last four words can be translated “that you (pl.) do not know.”

Resultant literal translation:  “I food have to eat that ya’all do not know.”

That sentence, which John has Jesus speaking to the disciples, still speaks to me.  Jesus was sustained, nourished by things other than physical food.  I’ve shared the thoughts with my son.  We dove into a poignantly applicable prayer-song:  Hungry and Faint and Poor, which is not very often seen or heard these days, despite having been penned by the (in)famous author of “Amazing Grace.”  I attempted to move seamlessly to and from the devotional and the purely textual (in the JohnGospel).  I doubt I succeeded very much, but I do know this:  I am “hungry and faint and poor.”  And there is food to eat that is not food in the physical sense.

B. Casey, 7/30/20

Sobriety check

Sobriety, n.
Synonyms:  earnestness, graveness, gravity, intentness, serious-mindedness, seriousness, solemnity, solemnness, staidness

“Sobriety.”  Commonly, the word connotes being clear-headed, not clouded by the influence of alcohol.¹  In a more strict verbal sense, though, the word means more.  The Cambridge English Dictionary proposes that a legal judge might be known for his “sobriety.”  That usage speaks to seriousness of mind and perhaps fair judgment.  And human judgment regarding what is terribly serious is precisely my concern here.

You might have seen police sobriety checkpoints for drivers, and perhaps people outside their cars, not passing the check.  What about a sobriety check of our speech?  Some so frequently speak serious words carelessly that one must question their spiritual sobriety, their judgment about serious matters.  Now, conscious of the notion that, when one points a finger, there are three fingers pointing back at the self, I’ll admit this here:  I am given to extreme verbiage of other sorts, and I check my own word use from time to time, too, increasingly trying to reserve superlatives for the situations that call for them.

Rarely a day goes by that I don’t hear or read a very serious word used lightly, in some quip about a comparatively unimportant matter.  A software blogger might not respect the notion of eternal fear (see right), and that’s not all that unexpected.  On the other hand, professing believers who habitually use the words damn, hell, and God flippantly have some thinking and changing to do.  We who believe in God ought at least to be thoughtful in using these words.  Although we have no right to expect such use from the nonbelievers around us, the standard of behavior for us believers ought to be sober, serious, substantive use of words/concepts directly related to God and eternity.

A 5th-grade teacher once said to me, and I quote it exactly, “D_ _ _ you, Brian, you know, you ever heard that before?”  (I had inadvertently gotten in his pathway.)  I can remember his inflection and how his bearded face looked to this day.  Perhaps he was miffed at something else, or perhaps he was just a shallow person.  Regardless, no one should ever want any person to be damned.  What damnation means existentially, eschatologically, and/or cosmologically is up the the Lord.  All I need to affirm is that I, like God, must never wish damnation for any person.  On the other hand, sin is damnable and will ultimately be damned if not forgiven by God.

Now, the profane use of the word “God.”

As shown above, strictly speaking, profanity is not really about potty-mouth; it’s about God.  The Ten Commandments’ injunction not to take the LORD’s name “in vain” is well-known, but I’ve come to understand that the traditional, surface-level reading of “in vain” is off-base.  Regardless, believers ought not to be drawn in to the common, low use of the word “God” that’s so common in pop culture.  Yes, it’s just a word, and words are just symbols, but I quickly lose respect for the profession of Christians who speak that way.  Careless, irreverent uses of words for the Deity always, always, always jar my consciousness.

This post was much longer, but I’ve deleted good-sized chunks and barely scratched the surface.  No one needs to hear me go on and on about this.  I’ve shared only a few anecdotes and comments.

I expect this essay to be passed over by those who don’t call themselves “Christians.”  That is understandable.  It is sad, though, that these thoughts won’t resonate with many of those who do profess Jesus as Christ.


¹ To a recovering alcoholic, the word might mean “finding peace with yourself, with life and its ups and downs, developing the discipline to remain sober, and abstinence.”  https://blackbearrehab.com/blog/what-is-sobriety/, accessed 6/1/20

Are you a Christian?

Quotation without comment:

“Are you a Christian?”  I used to love it when someone on a plane asked me that question.  “Absolutely,” I’d answer, proud to be on the side of all that’s good and right in the world.  But answering that question has become far more difficult.  Much of what has been done in recent years in the name of Christianity embarrasses me and disfigures the God I love. Some of it even horrifies me.

So now when I’m asked the question today, I hedge a bit.  “It depends on what you mean by “Christian,” I often respond.  If they are asking whether or not I am a faithful adherent of the religion called Christianity, I have to confess that I’m not.  I’m not even trying to be.

– Wayne Jacobsen, “Bait and Switch:  Trading the Vibrant Life of Jesus for a Ritualistic Religion Called Christianity,” May 2009

A piece . . . of heaven?

A little more than two decades ago, I experienced a joyous return to Camp Manatawny.  The roads leading to that special place gave me such anticipation, and nothing disappointed during that week—the first in which I’d served and worked there for quite some time.  I had the privilege of leading faith-strong, congenial groups of teenagers and devoted staff members in hymn sings each afternoon, and I had counselor responsibilities as well.

“A Little Piece of Heaven.”  Like the phrase “God’s country,” which only Texans are arrogant enough to think applies just to them, the phrase “little piece of heaven” is neither new nor unique.  I picked up on its use there at Manatawny and was inspired to write a song using that as a title.  I still have a soft spot in my heart for that camp and the song, despite some mixed feelings and mixed experiences at the hands of some of the powers-that-be.  I feel some pride in having become a Life Member of the Camp Manatawny Association, but at some point I stopped receiving invitations and communications.

Another Time, Another Place, Another “Piece.”  Fast forward about 4 years. I experienced a remarkable healing/rebirth, having moved to northeastern Kansas.  I was again inspired to write songs—this time, in direct honor of God for His creation and the healing that I was newly experiencing.  In a real sense, during that time, I was experiencing Kansas then as “a little piece of heaven.”

No more.  Now, my experience of Kansas is quite the opposite, with few exceptions.  Whatever pieces of heaven we experience during this life, they seem to be mostly absent in Kansas, this go-round.  

Ah-maah-zing, overzealous, and dead wrong

On the hit Canadian sitcom “Kim’s Convenience,” Shannon seems to be a curious mix of hip and nerdy, beautiful, overdone, and weird. She puts her own twist on words with a personal flair. For instance, she calls things “ah-maah-zing!”


A couple decades ago, there was a guy who was hyper-energetic in most things he did. We’ll call him David. David would hug and kiss people a lot, and he used his hoarse, outside voice almost everywhere. Often, he’d head out, carrying a 64-oz. caffeinated drink, aiming to help people, to travel, to preach, to visit, to confer, to un-indoctrinate the spiritually wounded. People might have called him “amazing.” I thought of him as overzealous and cocky, though sincere.

Then this same guy spiritually wounded someone else. We’ll call him Donald, because he ducked (get it?) and winced and smarted … but the water never ran off the duck’s back. David once told Donald he was a “Spirit-controlled melancholy.” This compliment was back-handed: it indicated that a melancholy temperament would have to be moved specially by God to be of much earthly use. Some time later, David wrote Donald a scathing letter, seriously disagreed with something, and proclaimed to Donald that he had no capacity for loving anyone.

David is dead. And Donald is proving David wrong. Donald’s capacity is way short of awesome or amazing. It is, rather, a credit to the One who is awesome.


My graduate advisor’s wife once said to me, in what I took as a kind spirit of affirmation, that I was “amazing.” She was referring to the speed of my progress through my doctoral program. (I’ve always been fast at those kinds of things, but that hasn’t always been the best choice. I wasn’t nearly as deeply good at things as I was fast, in other words.) I have generally considered myself competent and capable with things in front of me, but certainly not amazing. And my capabilities seem to be diminishing with age and stressors. I have some competencies and a fair number of insights, but I am most decidedly not amazing.


These days, people say “amazing” and “awesome” too much. Way too much. God is amazing. He is the One who inspires awe–for instance, in the design seen in creation. But He is also sometimes deafeningly silent in human experience.

Two years ago

Two years ago was a very eventful day, but it is not marked with any sense of positive reminiscence.  Although many days melt together in one loathsome pot of something-or-other, and there have been many other days of suffering, I can legitimately say that June 5, 2018 was one of the five worst days of my life.

It was a horrible day.  One to lament.  One over which to wail.

God, have mercy.  God, have mercy.

A year and a half

This guy and I were becoming friends.  One day, we were working to prepare a meal at a retreat.  I confided in him.  I told him of my deep pain, my pathway, and my struggle for the last while.  Impatiently, he said, “C’mon, Brian.  It’s been a year and a half.”

He didn’t get it.

Fast forward a couple decades.  Another guy and I have become friends.  In a different phase of life, I told this one of new, deep pains and my struggles.  We shared some of his struggles, too, over a period of more than a year and a half (so far).  He has never said, “C’mon, Brian.  It’s been a year and a half.”

Be like the second friend.