Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Betrayal by Belief

Every so often I will read something that gets me to thinking.  The August 4, 2014 issue of Time magazine had an article that caught my attention and created a rumbling in the ol’ rock garden I call my mind.  It was an article about atheist churches and their growth in popularity . . . even in the Bible Belt!  Basically it stated that atheists are gathering into church-like organizations where they gather once a week for something that resembles—minus the dogma and ritual—church.  They just drop the religion and God out of the gathering.  From what the article stated there is not much difference between what the atheists are doing and what a lot of people experience in their church . . . just none of the religious propaganda. Everything but God.

And, the atheists are loving it . . . they are eating it up . . . and, apparently, the movement is growing.

So, what is it about the “church” that they are embracing while refusing the rhetoric, theological dogma, and ritual of the church.  From what I gathered a typical atheistic gathering would start out a lot like the “church”.  There would be music (but no congregational singing as that is too churchy), greeting of one another, listening to a message, some more music, and then lots of fellowship.  Though they will not call it “church”, it sure sounds a lot like “church”.

The author of the article, Josh Sanburn, seems to think that the purpose behind the birth of these non-churchy gatherings serves to make connections between people who believe in a similar manner . . . to create a support system for one another . . . to discuss issues and topics relevant to what believe.  It is to find a place where one belongs . . . to have relationships . . . to connect.  One individual who leads such a non-church gathering stated: “. . . if we don’t offer regular human community and support for nonbelievers, it would be detrimental to the movement.”  As the author wrote in the article, there is strength in numbers. 

Sounds like the atheists have finally caught up to the “church”.

The article got me to thinking . . . and, that my friends, is a scary proposition.  Made me wonder about what it was that atheists found in the “church” that was of importance . . . enough importance to imitate it in their own way.  What did they find that was relevant and necessary for its own purpose and survival that was equivalent to those who claim to be “religious” . . . who claim to be among the faithful?  What were the commonalities?

Having read the article several times the number one thing that I found was that both the “church” and the atheist version of the non-church was . . . relationships.  The atheists came to the realization that it needed relationships to survive . . . to exist.  It needed to find people of the same mind set . . . no beliefs, mind you, because that smacks of religion . . . to get together with to relate to.  It needed to find community.  Community being a word that I usually define as being a group who gathers under a “common unity”.  It thrives, just like the “church”, on relationships between people . . . between connecting with another. 

Now, that is the foundation of what I believe as a believer . . . as a follower of Jesus . . . as, heaven forbid, a Christian.  Relationships.  As a follower of Jesus the first and most important relationship is between me and God.  The second, and actually just as important, is my relationship with others.  Jesus told us followers, us believers, that these were the two most important commandments . . . loving God and others.  Under these two fell all the laws and other commandments.  Because of that I think that relationships are the most important . . . the actual foundation . . . of what it means to be the “church”.  Relationships are important.  Plus, as the author stated in the article, there is strength in numbers.

Everything else that the atheists embrace from the “church” are actually secondary methods of creating relationship.  So, it comes down to relationships.  The atheist non-church church comes together in order to relate . . . to relate to one another and the common good of all.  The only thing missing is God . . . or is God missing?

It seems to me that what the atheists are embracing is the same thing that the religious folk are embracing . . . relationships.  Through relationships people learn how to care for others, how to listen to others, how to love others, and now to be community.  Through relationships people grow . . . they grow to discover a bigger and broader world around themselves . . . they grow to learn more about who they are and how they fit into the bigger scheme of the world around them.  Through relationships they learn to love themselves and others.  Through relationships they find purpose and meaning.  Through relationships . . . well, they have a reason to live.  As it is with the atheists, so it is with the religious . . . with the faithful.

The author states that this weekly ritual of gathering that the atheists are beginning to embrace is simply a part of human nature . . . but, he writes, it is something more.  He writes: It is something they can all believe in.

That got me to thinking more.  M. Scott Peck once wrote that there are no atheists in the world because all people believe in something.  According to Peck whatever a person believes in becomes his or her religion . . . his or her faith . . . his or her purpose.  He goes on to write that to be a true atheist a person could not believe in anything, including him or herself . . . there would be no reason for living . . . no purpose.  Thus, he argued, there are no atheists.

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul speaks to a crowd in a secular city.  He speaks to them in a sort of community gathering place with lots of statues dedicated to the gods of many religions . . . including one to the “unknown god”.  It is to that “unknown god” that the apostle directs his statements proclaiming to the people that they are not that far from believing.  So it is that atheists have been betrayed by their own beliefs as they embrace that which resembles the church.  In pursuing relationships they are ever so close to being religious.  I would argue that they are religious since they actually do believe in something that calls them to be a community.

I think there is a lesson for the “church” to learn from this movement within the atheist ranks.  I think they highlight what it is that is the foundation of the faith . . . relationships.  At least that is what I think.  This is not a deep analysis of the issue.  These are just ponderings of a wayward mind whose curiosity was piqued by an article in Time magazine.  I am sure that it could be ripped to shreds by the academics . . . also by the conservative fundamental believers; yet, at the same time I think that the religious . . . the faithful . . . the “church” needs to take this movement serious as it considers what we have in common that actually brings us closer together.  It seems we are all working our way back home, though some of us are not really sure there is a “home” to get back to.  But, the one thing that we can agree on is that relationships are the foundation of whatever it is we are attempting to live up to.

As usual, we aren’t all going to get there the same way.  Sometimes what we believe in betrays what we feel within our hearts.  Sometimes we just need to live and let live as we help one another in whatever journey we are on.  The journey is always easier when we walk together.  Maybe the time has come to trash the word “church” and focus on community . . . that which we have in common.  In such relationship we will discover what it means to relate and love one another.  Well, at least that was what I was thinking after I read the article . . . on well!  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chasing Methuselah

Methuselah was an old fart in the Bible . . . in fact, he was the oldest fart in the Bible . . . approximately 969 years.  Now, that is old!  I guess I shouldn’t complain about being a sprite 56 years old!  I only know one person even close to that age who lives in Michigan, and I doubt if he would even admit to being anywhere close to that age.

It seems that we are all chasing Methuselah . . . chasing that mythical age of never aging.  In the most recent issue of Health—a magazine I would never subscribe to if it weren’t for the free points to purchase it for nothing—there was a quiz about determining one’s real age to figure out one’s life span . . . and, basically how much longer one had before kicking the bucket.  There were fourteen questions about habits and tendencies that gave a number of points . . . you answered the questions, received a score that was divided by ten, and whether it was a plus or minus score you added it to your actual age.  Now, if it was a positive it added years to your actual age to let you know how many years your gluttonous living had shorten your life span.  If it was a negative number it subtracted years off of your age to tell you how many years you had added to your life span.  Pretty depressing stuff . . . I broke even . . . in fact, I probably cost myself ten minutes of life taking the stupid quiz.

The first question dealt with the body mass index . . . basically wanting to know how much of a person’s body was made up of fat.  First of all, I doubt if the majority of the human race even knows what their body mass index number is . . . I had to look mine up from my recent health screening . . . and, it was not pretty.  Second, I doubt if most people are going to be honest about their body mass index number . . . as humans we have a tendency to lie . . . we knock it down to a smaller number.  I really scored poorly in this area . . . added about ten years to my age.  Suddenly I was sixty-five and had the urge to retire.

The second question had to do with drinking habits . . . yep, I drink.  That should have been good enough, but no . . . they wanted to know the frequency . . . how many drinks a day.  That added a couple of years to my age . . . now I was thinking about moving into assisted living . . . as long as they let me bring a few six-packs of Montana microbrews.

The third question had to deal with how people handled stress . . . did folks have people they could share their stress with.  Heck!  I’m an introvert . . . add another couple of years to the death toll.  At this point I felt the urge to knock at the door of the local nursing home.  The quiz was stacking up the points of my longevity quicker than I could add them up.  I wasn’t sure at this point I wanted to continue the quiz . . . better to admit defeat and live under the illusion of ignorance about the longevity of my life.

Question four dealt with the amount of red meat that people eat . . . how often was the main emphasis.  Thanks to my wife . . . who seems to want to make me healthy with lots of chicken and salmon . . . who only allows me red meat about two times a week . . . I was able to keep the damage down.  I was slowly climbing out of the pit . . . there was hope as I ate my steak.

Education level was the fifth question.  Apparently the higher one climbs up the educational ladder the longer his or her life will be.  Shoot!  With this one I knocked off five years to the death notice I was working on . . . I wanted to cheat as I had a couple of graduate degrees, but the quiz wouldn’t let me. 

Question six dealt with support in times of crisis . . . again, I am an introvert.  What the heck is support.  Luckily I could answer that yes, despite my protests, there would be a small group of people who would come to my aid.  Of course I would curse them, but being a nice guy I would accept whatever they offered . . . and, I would secretly wish that they hit the road and leave me alone. I scored a big zero in this category . . . nothing gained, nothing lost.

Community involvement was the basis of question seven.  I am not as involved in the community as I should be, but I do the best that I can.  The minor involvement I put into the community actually knocked another year off of the death sentence . . . or at least the prelude to death.

The next question killed me . . . knocked me on my butt.  It had to do with moderate to vigorous exercise . . . like in how often does one do moderate to vigorous exercise.  None of the choices in the quiz really reflect what I actually do . . . I am not of the exercise fanatics, but nor am I one of the great couch potatoes.  They suggested adding five years to my life . . . this really killed the momentum I had been building . . . as Bob Marley and Bob Dylan both elegantly sang, I was “knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.”

Number nine dealt with smoking . . . I have never smoked.  Now this was a category I thought I could make up for lost ground.  Having never smoked I thought I would gain at least a decade . . . but, no!  For having never smoked I did not get to subtract any points at all.  What a bummer!  I could have smoked and only lost a few points . . . and, for all of my good behavior I get a great big zero!  Hand me a cigar!

Ten reflected a normal menu . . . what does one typically eat?  First of all, the choices they offered were of foods  I would not regularly eat . . . heavy on the chicken.  Unless chicken is deep fat fried with the skin on . . . well, I will have to choke it down.  The closest they came to my ideal meal was a burger and dessert . . . I will take the burger, but skip the dessert.  This one threw a couple of years to my death sentence . . . Ol’ Methuselah was well beyond my reach.  I think I had slipped on climbing out of the burial tomb. 

I had no problem with the next question as I do not drink coffee.  Of course, this did not add or subtract anything to the tally.  It was a moot point . . . I think it was the bottle water industry that lobbied hard to get that question added to the quiz.

Sleep was the next question . . . yes, I do sleep.  No, I do not sleep enough to make a major difference, but I did knock off a couple of years.  Which was good because the next question dealt with sex.  First of all, it is really none of anyone else’s business . . . second of all, a gentleman does not kiss and tell.  Needless to say, this did not add or subtract to the death toll.  Rumor has it that Methuselah had a whole bunch of concubines and that it really added up the years . . . I think it killed the ol’ fart.  It is hard enough to please one woman, how in the world did he please a harem full of women!  I guess, at the age of 969 years old, it finally killed him . . . it wore him out!

The final question dealt with the longevity of relatives . . . did any relatives live to a long life?  Well, I really do not know.  Both of my parents died around the age of seventy . . . but, outside of that, I really do not know.  Always being younger than most of my relatives I always figured them to be old . . . as in ancient.  Now, whether or not that was the truth . . . I do not know.  So, all I could answer was nope . . . nope was good for nothing.  Nada.

Tallying up the score from the quiz, divided it by ten, and then adding or subtracting it from my actual age . . . well, I came out as to being my actual age.  Imagine that!  I was pretty much the age I actually was . . . OLD!  Old, but alive!

I do not imagine that Methuselah has to worry about this individual catching up . . . I doubt if I live anywhere close to the age of 969 years of age.  Long ago I predicted that I would only live to the age of fifty-five . . . I am now a year beyond that.  I guess I am not a very good prognosticator when it comes to things such as predicting one’s life span.  Yet, at the same time, I must be pretty lucky . . . I have already beat my prediction by one year!  I am still alive and well . . . there is something positive about not seeing one’s name in the obituaries.

It seems fruitless to pursue Methuselah . . . ain’t ever going to catch him.  Yet, at the same time, I rejoice in beating my youthful prediction . . . of already being a year older than I thought I would ever be.  Life has been, for the most part . . . great.  I have witnessed a whole lot of blessings . . . I have related to a whole lot of people . . . and, I have been able to grow thorough it all.  I have been blessed . . .

The question now is . . . how much longer?  I do not know.  All I know is that I must reach out each and every day to count my blessings . . . there has never been a day that I could not rejoice in the graciousness and love of God.  There has not been a day that I have not been blessed.  I may not be the oldest fart . . . but, I am an old fart . . . just call me Methuselah, Jr.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Looking for #100

I like to read a weekly blog—Mike at Night—by Mike Hendricks.  Mike is a professor at a small community college in southwestern Nebraska.  I do not always agree with Mike, but he makes his readers think . . . and, I think that is a good chunk of what writing is supposed to be about . . . making the readers think.  His most recent blog came out the day after some pretty horrific things took place and were reported in the news.  In particular he mentioned the downing of the commercial jet over the border of Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board . . . the land invasion of Israel into Gaza . . . and, the bank robbery in California that ended with two of the three robbers and one hostage being killed.  This news and other news like this over time seemed to have made him cynical . . . he does not think that humanity will ever change . . . that this pattern of inhumanity, hatred, and violence will never end.  As he put it: “All of this happened within a few hours on July 17th, 2014. Even though most of the people in the world are trying to be good and live within the rules that society has created for them, many people aren't. Violent acts such as the ones committed yesterday have been committed since the birth of civilization and will continue to be as long as the world exists.”  

In his blog he writes that we humans go through different stages in life and that one of those stages is an unrealistic one of optimism . . . especially when it comes to the state of humanity and the world.  During this stage we think the best of humanity . . . we think that we can change the world and that the world can be changed . . . we think that peace has a chance.  In this stage of optimism he mentioned John Lennon’s song, Give Peace a Chance, as the ideal . . . that if everyone just tried it, it would happened.  Unfortunately, according to Mike, nothing has ever changed . . . and, he believes that it never will.  People shoot down airplanes filled with innocent people . . . wars are waged . . . and, people kill other people doing stupid things like robbing banks.  In his estimation, nothing changes . . . and, sadly, lots of people feel just like he feels.  Nothing seems to change, so let us just hang on until our tour of duty is completed.

His blog sadden me . . . I guess I must be an eternal optimist.

I took a class in journalism while I was in high school and learned a lot.  One of the things that I learned is that if you misspell a word in an article, you either correct it or keep doing it until people begin to think that maybe they are the ones who do not know how to the spell the word.  Keep doing it until people believe you . . . that has been my approach to writing ever since!  Later in life I learned about the 99th monkey or 100th monkey theory (which it is depends on who is telling the story).  It is a simple theory . . . a phenomenon in which a new behavior or idea is claimed to spread rapidly by unexplained means from one group to all related groups once a critical number of members of one group exhibit the new behavior or acknowledge the new idea.  In other words, it is done over and over again until it catches on . . . the only problem is no one knows for certain what the magical number is.

I believe.  I believe that one has to keep plugging away . . . plugging away until that magical number is found . . . plugging away until people believe . . . plugging away until it happens.  I believe that the world can be a better place . . . a safer place . . . a place of peace and justice and love.  I believe it can be the Kingdom of God as described by Jesus.  I believe that we can do it . . . we can do it if we never give up, never quit.  As I said, I am an optimist . . . eternally.

I believe, but it sure is getting lonely.  Like Mike, think that a lot of people have thrown in the towel when it comes to realizing the perfect world in which there is peace, justice, and no violence . . . a lot of people have given up and hope that maybe, just maybe, the next generation will get it fixed.  I also think that a lot of people give lip service to this idea of an ideal world in which humanity lives in harmony . . . it is easier said than done . . . and, it is the doing that is hard work.  Thus I think that people just jump over to the place where everyone else is . . . joins the crowd.  And, so, it gets lonely.  Someone once said, “It’s easy to stand with the crowd . . . it takes courage to stand alone.”

I cannot buy that the world . . . that humanity . . . that society in general, cannot change and be this ideal that so many of us embraced in our younger years.  I cannot buy that the world cannot change.  Because I cannot buy this cynical world view, I continue to search for that 100th monkey . . . that 100th person who is going to be the switch that turns the world, turns humanity onto that which could be.  I know that it can happen . . . I just don’t know when.

That is part of the problem . . . mass media and technology have made the human race impatient.  We want everything and we want it now.  We are not patient when it is not instantaneous . . . we get frustrated . . . we get grumpy . . . and, we quit.  We quit if there are not instant results.  As my mother used to tell me, “Patience, Prudence, patience.”  But ours is the call of the vulture who got tired of waiting for something to die so it could eat, “Patience my butt, I want to kill something!”  Realizing the Kingdom takes patience . . . lots of patience.

Because it takes patience all one can do is to go about the business of Kingdom building . . . of living peacefully . . . of seeking and doing justice . . . of loving one’s neighbors (who happen to be everyone).  It takes one person at a time . . . one person who just might be that 100th monkey. 

I hope that there are others out there who have not given up . . . those who continue to live life in such a way that it is working towards the realization of the Kingdom.  I know that I will continue to strive towards finding that ideal world . . . one person at a time.  Are you the one?  Pass it on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Getting Religion

God gets the blame . . . insurance companies pocket the money . . . homeowners are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  So goes the so-called “acts of God” the exclude insurance companies from having to pay when a natural disaster occurs.  According to the dictionary an act of God is “an event that directly and exclusively results from the occurrence of natural causes that could not have been prevented by the exercise of foresight or caution; an inevitable accident.”  Most insurance companies pretty much keep religion out of their business . . . if you have ever had to deal with one you understand what is being said . . . that is, until there is an actual natural disaster that wreaks havoc.  Then insurance companies suddenly find their religion and cry out, “Acts of God!”

Acts of God . . . which keep them from quickly making payment or even revoking payment on all the claims that come pouring in.  Acts of God . . . as they jack up the price of insurance policies after a natural disaster.  Acts of God . . . as they cancel a policy or refuse to renew it when policy holders actual attempt to collect on what they have paid for.  Acts of God . . .

I think God gets tired of being blamed.

Our area of Montana got nailed with quite a storm in mid-May with hail as big as golf balls beating the hell out of just about everything.  Made a mess out of a lot of homes and property . . . millions of dollars worth of damage.  The big town’s newspaper states that there have been over 40,000 claims made on the damage that was done in that one storm.  Last year there was a similar storm with similar damage.  The year before that was a big flood and even more claims.  Seems that not only was this part of Montana getting beat up, so were the insurance companies . . . all that hail was beating the hail out of their triple digit profits.  So, they got religion . . . invoked the acts of God on everyone by either severely raising the policies or canceling them by refusing to reissue the insurance when the policy expired.  After all, these were acts of God . . . acts of God allow insurance companies not to have to take responsibility . . . gets them off the hook and cuts the losses.

In our area . . . and across the state . . . the religious motives of the insurance companies has been to be slow in responding to the claims . . . in paying the bare minimum in coverage . . . in canceling policies . . . and, in jacking up the cost of insurance for everyone.  This did not sit well with a lot of the people it effected . . . many were shocked at having their policies canceled after many years of paying in for insurance that they never used.  Of course, insurance companies do not see this as a way of recouping losses . . . no, they see this as good business practice.  As one insurance executive stated: “There’s been some storms come through the area.  You have had some adverse exposure.  We look at past claims experience to determine future risk.  This is not intended as a way to recoup past losses.  It’s rather a reflection of the increased risk.”  In other words, insurance companies want to cut their losses and make sure they don’t lose any more profit on down the road.  Besides . . . it’s an act of God.  Religion sure feels good.

One exasperated individual argued that his insurance policy could not be canceled because of an act of God.  The insurance companies argued that it had nothing to do with it being an act of God . . . but that the companies have the right to not renew policies over issues like claims.  Don’t make a claim and you won’t lose your insurance . . . kind of defeats the purpose of paying all that extra money for insurance doesn’t it?  Besides, what the policy states it won’t cover as acts of God, the company will sell an exclusive policy just for that specific act . . . flood insurance is a separate and extra bit of insurance one gets to pay for if he or she wants coverage from floods.  Having religion the insurance companies did what any religious entity would do . . . it turned it back on those in need and started canceling and raising rates. 

I don’t think that God appreciates carrying the blame for these so-called acts.  In fact, I really do not think that God has anything to do with these so-called acts . . . they just happen.  As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Poop happens.”  Natural disasters just happen.  I do not think that God looks down from the heavens and declares that a certain place needs to be shook up a little by sending down a tornado.  I don’t think that God does that.  There have been places a lot more deserving of the havoc of a natural disaster than the little communities that have been hit so far this summer . . . for example, an act of God would be cleaning up Washington, D.C.  But God doesn’t do that . . . at least I do not believe that God does that.  I don’t think that would be an act of God.

But . . . always the big but statement . . . if all of these natural disasters are truly an act of God, why do we lament so much over them.  If these are truly an act of God shouldn’t we the faithful buckle up and deal with it . . . accept it as God’s will . . . try to figure what we did to deserve it and then work really hard to avoid doing it again?  I mean, if these natural disasters were an act of God, wouldn’t it be unfaithful to not just accept the consequences and move on?  If it is God’s will . . . so be it.  Have a little faith, surely there was some reason God dropped that golf ball size hail all over our cars . . . probably because we bought foreign.  I do not think that God is such a vindictive sort of a deity . . . God would not do this on purpose.  These are not acts of God . . . so, let’s quit blaming God.

In our society we have a problem with religion . . . we seem to think that it a sort of pick and choose sort of deal . . . we pick and choose when it is to our advantage whether we are individuals or some big time company.  As I stated earlier, it is amazing that there is nothing too religious about dealing with an insurance company when it comes to purchasing a policy . . . it is all legalese.  There is nothing too religious about an insurance company, but it is amazing how quickly insurance companies find religion when it comes to moral obligations involving big payouts.  Religion is found when the wallet gets squeezed . . . acts of God are invoke, and responsibility is thrown out the window.  It is amazing how often companies and individuals hide behind religion to avoid moral obligations.

Insurance companies no more found religion than one can squeeze blood out of a turnip . . . they found an excuse to protect themselves and their profits.  They did not respond with empathy . . . they did not respond with acts of kindness . . . they did not take care of those who were in need . . . they walked on by the other side of the road.  If insurance companies had truly found religion there would not be increases in the policy rates, not would any policy be canceled.  As the song goes, “They will know we are Christian by our love, by our love”.  In other words people will know we are religious by how we respond in these times of natural disaster . . . did we respond in love.

God doesn’t deserve the blame, but is handling it quite well.  God is also watching . . . watching to see how the children of God respond.  Through acts of caring and love, God is revealed as a living presence.  Maybe someday insurance companies and others will actually get it . . . maybe they will find religion.