Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Up there and down here
I've been trying to post for a while now, not quite sure how to get back into the saddle.
There are few pieces I've been working on that are about 3/4 done, about some of my fellow Homespun bloggers. I just can't seem to focus on that right now, mostly because of the last 36 hours.
Monday night, my niece was in a serious car accident.
Her mom and dad are divorced and as luck would have it, they were each away and I was next down the list of 'next of kin.'
Her mom was gone only for the one day, and my niece, at 17, is a pretty responsible kid. Her mom never leaves for more than one night and my niece has never had a problem being alone-- till now.
The how's and why's of the accident aren't clear yet. There is a possiblity that the driver was an uninsured illegal alien, and hit her after crossing a median. At this point, I don't care-- my primary consideration is my niece.
The call came in on Monday night. I was informed of the accident, but I was led to believe it wasn't too serious. I spent the rest of the evening trying to corral my relatives and finally managed to track down my brother. I could not reach my sister in law, but did manage to leave a message with someone whom I knew would be in touch with her.
The following morning, the hospital called and informed me that my niece was not doing well at all and that it would be best if I came to Atlanta. I was surprised, as I thought her injuries weren't severe.
I was told they were.
I flew down to Atlanta immediately and went directly to the hospital.
My brother was due in early in the afternoon. He was flying back from San Francisco, where he was on business. My sister in law would also be coming in at that time, but I didn't know it at the time. Nor did I know there was going to be a long night ahead of me.
I'll fill you in on the end of the story after I post a few thoughts.
All this has been a preamble to what I really wanted to talk about-- and that was inspired by a few posts I read today, two at Bittersweet, here and here, and one over at LittleRedBlog.
The accident brought my faith front and center, no doubt about it, and I've come to a singular conclusion.
I love God.
I also hated God, for a while.
I wanted to use the word 'resent' but I knew I was only sugar coating what it was I felt.
I love God for the bounty and fortune he has brought into my life and the life of many in this country and elsewhere.
I hated God for the unfairness and cruelty that exists in the world today, that allowed for my niece to be so hurt, and for so many others to live lives of hoplessness, despair and in the constant shadow of death.
It was a secret struggle-- I never told anyone or discussed it with anyone. It was one of those things I internalized and wrestled with.
I wanted so much for my relationship with God to be serene, sure and perfect. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't that.
My relationship with God was a struggle-- always has been. I've always questioned, defied and even rebelled. People laugh and are genuinely surprised when I tell them that. I don't come across as the 'bad boy' but I have had my moments-- long moments-- in the past. With the passage of time and the reality of real responsibility, they are fewer, farther between and less 'bad.' What possessed me to bungee jump (twice) two years ago still eludes me. It was something I had to try. Fathers don't do that kind of thing. There are still some mea culpa's on my account that need to be reconciled.
When I got to the hospital, I hated God with a fury.
When I saw my niece, bandaged up, tubes running in and out her and machines beeping and humming, I hated God with an even colder passion.
It was a simple, stupid and unthinking reaction. It was a cheap shot and offered me no insight and understanding. Nor did it alleviate the fear and anguish.
Belief, and even moreso, acceptance is like work. It isn't meant to be easy. It is meant to be a constant and ever more difficult struggle. As we get older and hopefully wiser, the burden becomes heavier as we deal with issues that aren't so black and white.
I remember once reading and being struck by the notion that 'the greater the belief, the greater the doubt.'
It's not about God, it's about me and every believer out there. God will tend to His affairs and we must tend to ours. That is the compact we have with Him.
We are meant to carry a burden. It is the kind of burden and how we carry it that counts.
The way I see it, there are really two burdens-- one is our own and the other is our communal burden. We are responsible for both, in equal measure. By shouldering both, we halve the load of each, in many way. Making moral choices helps not only ourseves, but our comminity as well. By supporting a community's right choices and fighting against those things that may be harmful, we help ourselves lead the lives we need to.
Sadly, too many of us lose the sense of balance. For some, the personal struggle is the center of attention. For others, they fight for commnunity and neglect the personal choices. In both cases there is the rationale that 'because what I'm doing is good, I can afford to pay less attention to my other obligations.'
There has to be a balance or we sacrifice an important part of our lives.
Too often, we make religion and belief a zero sum game-- an all or nothing proposition. Whatever it's faults- and religion has many, that is one thing it is not supposed to be.
And yet, of all things, that is the one dominant similarity religions have come to share. In the process, different religions and different beliefs within religion have become no more than marketing companies, trying to appeal to as many people as they can by 'dumbing down' the struggle and appealing to the 'feel good' needs without the struggle.
It's as if religion has gone 'TV'-- we sit in front of the television for an hour and think we know understand the real issues and problems. We don't need to study, struggle and wrestle with ideas and concepts that we have no clue about. That others have spent years doing just that is of no importance. We look at Dan Rather or PBS and think we 'know' what's going on.
Just attend the House of Worship of your choice and all will be revealed and understood. If you aren't happy, there is always another channel down the road, with another script, requiring even less effort and even more tolerant of requiring no comittment to ideals and even beliefs.
Is it any wonder people are tuned out?
It is true that for a long time, organized religion didn't 'speak to us.' Religion responded not by elevating us, but rather by requiring less of us.
It has been asked, how did we reach the point that the Sabbath Day highlight is a football game?
The answer is easy, I think. We can be passionate about our teams and our sports because for a few hours, we can be as involved as we want, without real comittment.
When the game is over, we get on with our lives. No more attention required, till the next game.
Organized religion imitated that, to compete. Show up, sing, dance and pray and you're done with it till next week.
I always wondered how on earth clergy people could be good marriage counselors. They don't require any comittment to God from their parishoners. How on earth could they advise anyone about comittment?
Sometimes I wonder if our society has abandoned religion, or if religion has abandoned us.
Albert Einstein said 'God doesn't play dice with the Universe'- meaning there was a purpose to creation.
I don't know the meaning of it all. I don't know my purpose on this earth or anyone else's. I'm not even sure I want to know.
The only thing I do know is that God is here and has expectations from us. We are required not to be perfect, but rather to do the best we can.
We know God in two ways. We know what we are asked to do, in how we treat our fellow man.
We also know that we are expected to have a personal relationship with Him in matters of the heart and soul-- a relationship that is deeply private and intimate.
I don't know what my niece had to go through what she did. I don't know why she has to be the one to go through a few more surgeries. I don't know her parents will suffer, as only parents can, for a child. I will be there for my niece as best I can, in any way I can.
God will do and tend to the things he needs to, and I will do and attend to things I need to.
I will not worry about other people's private relationship with God, or the what's and why's of what he has in store for them, or what the 'Grand Plan' may be.
There are far too many other things down here I need to concern myself with.
I thank God and love Him for giving me the opportunity to extend myself, to my niece and her family. I have been blessed. I will continue to pray to be so blessed-- and that I have the further opportunity to be a meaningful influence on others, those close and not so close to me.