Is God a Heavenly Voyeur?

Helpless-Children

History is strewn with the wreckage of broken lives of those foolish enough to believe God really gives a damn.  There are those who fall to their knees in silent, unheard prayers when suffering threatens to consume them.  In the absence of reasoning, they fall back on a blind faith, a belief that there is some higher meaning behind their loss.  But their faith has never been anything more than the posture of not pulling the alarm when the fires of evil begin to spread. They relinquish their involvement or complicity, their grief, to the dark void of a silent, impassive God.

Waiting for God to intervene is both foolish and tragic. Like many people, I have been struggling to align my faith (or lack thereof) with all the insidious tragedy in the world today.  How is it, we doubters ask, that a compassionate and loving Father (God) allows an endless flow of hate, violence, death, and destruction to inundate our world?  Where is the omnipotence conveyed in the Bible?  The promises and the facts just don’t seem to come together.

How do we accept the “free will” argument of devout Christians who, in lieu of a meaningful discussion, always fall back upon stories in a Holy Book as evidence that God does not interfere in the affairs of man.  The good book is full of examples of Divine intervention.  He saved David from the Philistine Goliath, Daniel from the Lions, and Jonah from the whale. But He simply could not find the time to save 20 young first graders from the wrath of a scrawny, disturbed young killer in Newtown this past December.

Newtown victims

If intervention exists, why did the children of Aleppo, Aurora, Columbine, Iraq, Syria, Chicago, Los Angeles and Joplin, MO, and even the children of the  Holocaust, perish in such horrible deaths?

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Why the continual absence of settling answers? Not having answers certainly does not disprove the existence of God.  However, it certainly begs the conclusion that if there is a God, he is neither merciful or compassionate.  If His sole purpose is merely to sift through the wreckage of mankind and pick up the pieces,  this would seem to suggest that He serves more as a melancholy janitor and not the all-powerful deity we are urged to embrace through prayer and communion.

Faith requires that we enter into a relationship of God as Father and we as children.

God-The-Perfect-Father

I have to reject that offering.  A true Father figure allows his children to grow by painfully sitting back and letting his loved ones learn  through their mistakes, Yet he intervenes when the child is on the verge of mortal consequence. In that moment, I, as a father, would give my life to protect my children from lethal harm.  But God, it appears, sits back and watches, up to and through the bloody end of it all. Sure, He sacrificed his Son, His most precious gift, so that whoever believes in Him might one day know peace and love…just not today!

Christians are quick to point out that it all comes back to the miracle of faith.  They claim that to know is irrelevant and a false journey, and the only thing that matters is that we “believe” there is a sound celestial reasoning for the evils we encounter as we journey through this life. But it just doesn’t add up.  Believers respond that the reason I cannot find an answer to this and similar questions of Divine indifference is because of my lack of faith. I would argue that my lack of faith stems from clear evidence that God, in allowing such horrific events to shape our lives offers a  path toward reconciliation that is too great a burden for any of us to bear.

Ask the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy.  Ask the Mother of the child killed by collateral damage in a drone strike in Pakistan.  Ask the orphan who not only loses his biological parents, but is then placed in an abusive foster home.  The examples of pain are endless.   The examples of God’s alleged compassion can fit in one book.

bible

More importantly, believers argue, while we may openly seek understanding and purpose, it is only through the power of prayer that we can even begin to approximate resolution.  On bended knee, we utter our fealty to our Creator, accepting without question that He knows what’s best.  We should leave off our incessant whys. And so many, including myself,  refuse to accept tragedy through supplication and prayer, and continue to stand up and question.

no-prayer

It is somewhat patronizing to suggest that God is tolerant of our doubt and ultimately forgiving of our lack of faith.  He cannot be both the architect of this grand design of free will and demanding that we surrender it at the same time in order to achieve a more perfect union with Him. 

free will

If in fact we are flawed from the cradle due to the original sin of Adam and Eve; if we are offered salvation through the sacrifice and blood of a crucified Son, why then not completely deliver us from evil today rather than offering a rain check for peace and happiness only once we expire?  How is that compassionate or loving?  Why do we call Him Father and not the great Procrastinator?

Proverbs 21:30 offers, “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.” I don’t enjoy struggling with faith.  I wish I could take the easy path and just turn everything over to His “voyeuristic” style of non-intervention.  But I can’t. More than anything, except truth, I want to believe that this all means something. Yet, I would rather confront the evils of this world from a position of knowledge and sympathetic understanding than to close my eyes in prayer and call that a day.

Our Creator put us in a scientific world but left us with an instruction manual no better than the Ikea assembly sheets that serve only to baffle and confuse.

science vs religion

I do not believe, or want to believe that He is nothing but a heavenly voyeur when it comes to our pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, that does seem to be where the evidence points.

I can already anticipate a Christian response for my questioning the “wisdom” of God.  I will be counseled to seek Him in prayer.  I’ve done that, to no avail, for 40 years.  How about instead of my falling to my knees in prayer, you Believers fall to your knees and help a parent mop up the blood of his/her slain child.  And please, don’t ask why.  Just have faith that somehow He knows why.  Your job is to accept and live with the pain.

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In The Absence of Dreams: Early Morning Writing

sleepy writer

Here I am again. It’s 4:00 am here and I am wide awake. Just cannot sleep! I have no idea why this keeps going on. It’s not as though I awaken flush with inspiration. To be honest, I wake up with the strongest desire to go back to sleep, which never happens. Trust me, the dreams I leave behind are far more vivid and compelling than anything I am likely to write in my semi-somnambulant state. But by the time I make my coffee and fire up the computer, these dreams have evaporated like raindrops on a summer sun-baked highway. Instead, I sit there foggy-headed for an hour, awaiting my muse, who is, no doubt, sound asleep deep beneath a pile of 600-thread count comforters.

I’d like to believe I am caught up in a creative rebirth and nature simply compels me, each morning, to cut the umbilical cord between the bed and my laptop. But it feels more like something went horribly wrong in the third trimester and I am struggling just to come full term in my writing gestation. Continuing this hobbled metaphor, it seems to me as though getting up to write for writing’s sake bleeds my creative juices and more often than not I just end up with a chronic case of literary anemia.

I have to admit, however, that I’ve known worse. In the past, I’d stay up this long drinking with all the intention to write, but end up putting a heavy hurt on a box of cheap red wine and searching for friends I’d once had. In those dark, drunken hours I’d spend all my creative juice on Facebook status updates and bumbling my way through endless offerings of StumbleUpon. I didn’t sleep then, either.

Now, without substances, I find myself chewing on these early-morning words, not swallowing them, not digesting, but getting my mouth wet, feeling their texture, getting their flavor. I hope this new addiction will take me far. If it means losing a little sleep, I’ll just have to learn to catnap throughout the day. As I child I fell in love with words; not just the sound, or meaning, but their shape. It’s taken me years to realize I want to spend my time as I did when I was most happy, when I was 5, sketching letters and making words.

And if that time happens to be 4:00 a.m., so be it.

The Devolution of a Writer: On How I Became a Blogger

blogger

When I decided almost twenty years ago that I wanted to really take a shot at being a writer, I knew the reality of what I was getting into. Or I thought I knew. Sure, I dreamed of hitting it big and becoming the next Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac and being able to walk away from my day job without any fear of literally becoming a starving artist, but I knew that was unlikely. I figured that like the majority of writers, I’d have to keep my job and squeeze in writing on nights, weekends, and vacations. Two jobs, no problem.

Twenty years wiser (and not a penny richer, unfortunately) I am wishing I had been closer to the mark. In addition to trying to be a writer and poet, I’m now also attempting to be a blogger, contract publicist, website administrator, press-release writer, and social networker extraordinaire. Attempting being the key word.

It seems the days of writing a book, finding a publisher, and sitting back watching it sell are over – if they ever existed at all. Now even writers at the bigger publishing companies need to wear many hats to be successful. Those of us wearing the smaller beanies with the propeller attached practically need to clone ourselves or learn to live without sleep. I have friends with babies now, so I’m trying to take lessons from them, but most are too incoherent to be helpful. Not a good sign.

On my pessimistic days, the expression “Jack of all trades” dances through my swarming brain. It doesn’t make sense that in order to be a writer; I’m spending less time on my writing and more time on other jobs. On my optimistic days, though, I look for the benefits of these added duties. Blogging, which is suggested to beginning writers because it is a free and relatively easy way to build a platform and publish our writing for the world to read, has forced me to write in a completely different manner than my “book” writing. Though I haven’t attempted one yet, I also know writing a press release will also stretch my skills; I haven’t written a news-style piece since high school journalism. However, in my opinion, the more genres a writer works in the better. Variety creates growth, which is a good thing. Since both of these tasks are writing oriented the time spent on them seems worthwhile.

Of course having a blog and building a platform requires at least a minimal knowledge of technology. Learning to maintain a website and utilize social media is a must for writers. In addition to keeping us up to date on the tools which have become second nature to most readers, especially young readers (who are our future market base as well as our hungry competition), it allows us to connect with our potential audience in a way authors a generation ago could never imagine. Reading books is no longer a solitary experience. Sure readers read in the privacy of their homes imagining our characters in the worlds of their imaginations, but most are in doing this in reach of portable devices that provide the opportunity for them to interact. If they have a question about us, our characters or settings, our other works, they can find an answer almost instantaneously – if we’ve put it out there for them to find.

The stereotype of writers as recluses lost in their heads may have some merit for a few past and present authors (like the aforementioned, Charles and Jack), but for the most part, if we’re going to be able to capture the essence of people in our writing, we’ve got to be able to interact with a variety of them in our daily lives. In this way, the time spent online can also help us to be better writers. Hopefully, I’ll even learn to interpret what the heck the millennials mean when they start talking in tweets. I’m not skilled in writing essays in 140 characters or less quite yet, but we’ll see; they would be quicker to edit.

To be sure, having to deal with the business end of things, as well as having to help promote my work and myself, has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, which I also view as a positive experience. I’m not saying I won’t appreciate the panic attacks of signing my first contract or that I’ll love the immersive baths of self-doubt whenever I have to pitch my book to someone new, but I’m looking forward to the day when I have enough experience that these side-effects become part of my writing experience. Though these tasks may not have as direct an impact on my writing as the others mentioned, they help me grow as a person, which is good in any career.

There aren’t too many people who don’t have to do some serious multi-tasking these days. Back to those moms and dads I mentioned earlier, they are the kings and queens of this, and I am in awe. They can juggle parenting, jobs, hobbies and everything else life throws at them with sleep in their eyes and spit-up on their shirt, and at the end of most days are happy they had the opportunity. This is the same skill and outlook writers need. The more things we experience, the more accurately we can write about life. The more we have to work to be writers, the more we’ll appreciate the time we get with our own “babies,” our books.

Finally, I’m going to embrace my new tasks in case my next book is about a person with a multiple-personality disorder. Coffee, anyone?

 

A Writer’s Resolutions

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New Year’s Resolutions – we hear about them every year. It’s always a good idea to write out your life goals, but have you put down your writing goals?

Some writer goals may include daily word counts, monthly submission ambitions, markets to tackle or even research to complete. No matter what level you consider yourself (beginner or professional) here are four matters to attend to this year.

1) Talent – the size of your writing gift doesn’t matter. You can always learn or improve. If you’re a beginner, you are probably overwhelmed about where to begin. Whether this is true or you’re a more advanced author, I suggest reading or revisiting both Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. These two books are as much biographical and philosophical as they are lessons for the writer.

2) Agent – Make this the year you get an agent. Research which ones represent your favorite authors – this can usually be found in the acknowledgments sections of the book, but you can also find out on the internet. Use search sites such as http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/ , http://www.writersmarket.com/ , and http://absolutewrite.com/ to read reviews of agents in your genre. PLEASE be sure to examine an agents personal website and submission guidelines before you contact them.

3) Publisher – Whether you have chosen the self-publishing route or not, it’s always a good idea to attempt traditional publishers. More and more authors and agents are suggesting you publish both routes.

4) Platform – An agent or publisher wants to see you can market and sell yourself before they put any of their own work and money into you. It’s about visibility and requires a focus on developing an unobstructed back and forth between authors and their readers, with the authors — not the publishers — controlling the flow. So get on facebook, twitter, pinterest, LinkedIn, get a blog or a website or do a combination.

As with everything else in life, you’ll need to find a balance for your time. And remember, even the best writers have days when their resolutions flounder. Each day is a new beginning – make them count. Happy New Year!

 

The Making of a Delinquent

Sheldon McAllister, the youngest of the three boys huddled beneath the west entrance awning of the church adjoining the schoolyard, was feeling almost dizzy with excitement. This feeling had been intensifying all morning, ever since Chris Sheppard and Matt Pike had approached him just before the start of school and asked him to join them during recess. He was far too excited during classes that morning to even consider the why of the invitation; it was just such a good feeling that they were finally including him in something. Anything!

While all three were altar boys, Chris and Matt had never shown any interest in Sheldon except as the butt of their private jokes. He had known them since they were all preschoolers together here at Mary Star of the Sea, but he had never quite fit in; they were both taller and stronger, while he was thin as a rail. Chris cussed and spit, even in front of girls, yet Sheldon was too shy to even talk, except when answering a nun’s question, which in and of itself was a rare event. Matt, meanwhile, was mean, but funny. Sheldon was polite and dull. But now all of that was finally changing…they had reached out to him. They needed him!

Now, here he was, right in the thick of it, keeping an eye on the nuns patrolling the schoolyard full of kids in their white shirts and blue-plaid uniforms. He was supposed to give a signal when Sister Mary Alice and Sister Jean slipped behind the rectory office to grab their forbidden smoke. But what kind of a signal? Should he whistle or cough? He had once watched a show on T.V. where the lookout for a group of men about to rob a store had whispered loudly, “Hey, morons…the coast is clear!” Yeah, that’s what he would do, minus the crack about the morons. But before he got the chance to practice the line in his head a few times, he heard his name almost shouted out. “Hey Sheldon, you freak, get in here!!”

Chris was already inside of the church door, holding it open for Sheldon and impatiently waving him in. Sheldon looked back at the rectory for any sign of the nuns, and then quickly ducked into the church. They weren’t’ supposed to be in here alone! Father Brendan had been quite clear about that this past summer when he had caught Richard Longworth, another of their altar boy clan, fishing quarters out of the metal offering box beneath the votive candle stand. This brought Sheldon back to his current situation. Exactly what were they doing in the church right now?

“Get over here, you putz!” Matt whispered with urgency. He was standing next to the 3 foot tall offering box at the foot of the stairs leading to the altar. Chris bumped him roughly from behind and Sheldon reluctantly went to join Matt at the front of the church. He’d say something about the “putz” comment later, he swore to himself, knowing full well that that was highly unlikely. He didn’t want to put his newfound “friendship” in jeopardy by making early demands for respect. Chris took up a position on the left side of the box, while Matt stood ominously to the right. “Reach in and grab the money,” whispered Matt, almost as a threat more than a dare. “What?” replied Sheldon as his stomach pitched sideways. “Your skinny ass arms are the only ones that can reach the bottom,” added Chris. “What?” repeated Sheldon, unable to put any other words together that would convey his growing panic. “Reach in NOW!” demanded Matt as he reached out and grabbed Sheldon by the elbow, physically pulling him to the opening on the top of the box.

“That’s stealing,” croaked Sheldon, his voice cracking, almost pleading. “If you don’t put your arm in the box right now, I swear I’ll break it!” warned Matt. And Sheldon believed him. This new friendship was not going as he imagined, but at this point what could he do? Slowly he reached into the top of the box, his eyes never leaving Matt’s glare. The front of the box opening sloped to the back, and there was a row of sharp teeth lining the edge before it sloped again back to the front. Sheldon could feel the metal teeth scratching his forearm, but by now he feared Matt and Chris more than he feared getting scratched up.

Sheldon’s eyes rolled upward, and in that moment he was looking directly into the sorrowful gaze of Christ nailed on a cross hanging over the altar. Ashamedly, he closed his eyes and continued reaching. He twisted his wrist around the teeth and reach down another few inches. He could feel the crisp bills against his fingertips. “There’s money in here!” he croaked. Matt giggled almost girl-like and suddenly Sheldon realized he didn’t really want to be friends with either one of them.

“Grab it!” yelled Chris, no longer whispering, all caution thrown out the window with the anticipation of the impending bounty. Sheldon wrapped his trembling fist around a couple of bills, and in that moment, the end of recess bell rang out loudly. Startled, he jerked his arm upward whereupon the jagged metal teeth dug deeply into the soft flesh of his arm. “Owww!” he yelped, astounded by the echo of his cry ringing through the Church. “Help me…I’m stuck. Ow!” he cried.

But Matt and Chris had bolted for the exit, leaving Sheldon impaled to the collection box at the front of the church. “Hey guys!!,” he yelled, “help me!”, but his newfound “friends” were already out the door and back into the playground. It was in that moment that Sheldon realized with a darkening sense of fear what was about to happen next. School mass followed morning recess and before the first tears could fully fill his eyes, the doors at the front of the church swung open, and his classmates began filing in.

Sister Mary Alice was the first to spot him. “What the hell!” she screamed. Sheldon could feel his knees buckling and the teeth dug in deeper into his arm. He could feel blood trailing down to his wrist. Almost floating in her long black and white habit, the red-faced nun bolted to the front of the church, grabbing Sheldon by the shoulder, and jerking his arm violently upward.

The last thing Sheldon saw before he blacked out from the mix of pain and fear was the gold cross dangling against her white starched collar.

 

Appalachian Woods

Our lives can best be understood in all the things we craft from wood
The dogwood laid our cabin floor, hung knotted pine our shanty door
Six bowls we carved from fallen maple, a burnt mahogany sets our table
A dozen spoons and forks by hand, hewn perfect fit for every man

And woman, too, with sharpened knife carve etchings of our humble life
Soft wicker thatched this rocking chair and spruce the toys sprawled everywhere
In wooden homes that we have built we hang on pegs our history quilts
Each patch a memory lovingly stitched, our purses poor, our lives quite rich

Our beds and wardrobes never falter, we hand-carved those from summer alder
Our coffins, too, of stout mesquite, for when our journey is complete
In wood we find our heart’s desire or pain if come the wayward fire
And even so, most grievous sin: not to build from wood again

So now you better understand how we live upon this land
Within the forest, and it in us, in God we hope, in wood we trust