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Monday, September 19, 2011

A few bedtime thoughts...

The essential question is this: What will man let the world be, and how will this affect man?

We do not realize the power of our own "letting be." We often feel victimized by pain, troubles, hardships, loss, sorrows, cruelty, injustice, selfishness, lust, jealousy, etc... We feel powerless before evil, and perhaps even more so before "cosmic fate."

But what do we mean by all of this? Who taught us such blatant passivity? Where did we learn to be swayed in the wind?

I think we stopped letting the world be the world, and in turn, we stopped knowing how to be in the world.

Little boys spend significantly less time learning about the growth of plants by getting their hands in the dirt these days than all of their predecessors.

Man is supposedly the crown of creation, and one could call him a microcosm of the universe. All of the intricate operations and processes, systems and communications that build together in some amazing symphonic relationship to be the walking, talking, acting and feeling man are not so very different from the processes and communications that hold the earth in orbit or cause the oak to grow.
I am not saying that man is not the unique and ultimate creature he is, but that man has always learned of himself from his encounter with the rest of creation.

In our day and age, this encounter is becoming more and more limited. I see many who still exercise, who still venture out-of-doors after the long hours in the cube. What I speak of is the medium of this encounter between man and the world. He does not go outside to see what outside is. This is a simple child's mentality, like the two-year-old who first discovers what sand is, and is perplexed. Yet, man is not supposed to set aside all childish things, and this loss of vision is a serious blindness for modernity.

Man still goes outside, but why? Because he must exercise. A bike, shoes, a kayak, roller blades, a bathing suit, a boat, a skateboard, a snowboard, skis, etc... there is always something to accomplish. Man has an hour, and must burn 500 calories. So, he will bike X miles at X pace, and go home to dinner feeling pacified. Or perhaps he exercises for competition, in which case he must cover X miles in X time to beat the other man.

These are not bad things, of course, nor bad reasons to do things. But they are also not enough, at least not always. If man is not going out to exercise, perhaps it is to learn a skill, or sport, or to be part of a group or club. Again, worthy causes. But does man join a group or play a sport for or of discovery? Oh, so sadly, I fear he does not.

No sitting still and observing for us! Too much to do, too much to do.

There is no time for the sitting and even if man so disciplined himself to sit and observe, what would he glean? There are trees. There is grass. There is a house. There are some cars. There is a deer. The observe-and-identify game is not the same as an encounter.

The Greek word paedeia means "to educate," but more literally means to "draw forth," or to "call forth," or to "unveil" what is already present. To go to the world, specifically to nature, to learn from it, rather than of it, may be a novel idea; though it is just as old as history, which is also becoming a novel idea to modern culture.

"What on earth could nature teach us? We've exhausted it already! We've been to the moon, we've de-planatized Pluto. We know why the leaves change color and what makes the rainbow. This isn't a mystery anymore." Bah! There you have it; modernity's definitive attitude about life itself. Life is not mysterious and it is exhausted.

Does this not terrify you, oh reader? Oughtenit?

There should most certainly be little alarm bells going off when the "living world," when "living creatures," when "life" is assumed to be already and thoroughly known! Could we be more naive?

Living. It implies growing. Breathing. Moving. Changing. Becoming. Going from certain potential into actualizing those potentials. Seed... tree. Seed has potential to be tree-producing-more-seeds, but as it is, it is a seed. Do we dare see it as it is?

Oh modern man! You have built up false walls around you! You have willingly donned black glasses to keep your eyes from the light of the sun! You have sought protection from what a living, breathing world might mean to all of your power and domination! Too risky is the truth for the confines of your little false kingdom.

You simply cannot let the world be!

But what on earth, really, on earth, does that mean for you? You, who are this microcosm, this crown, this epitome? If you willingly strip the real down to a "safe" non-real, what are you to do with yourself? You, man, are real. You cannot un-real yourself, even if you are determined to un-real the world.

It is a joke, and a very sad one. The Lord's words to the pharisees of being "blind guides" because they would not see reality is the truth of our entire modern culture. Nihilism, solipsism, you pick a name. Disenchanted confusion. Jaded disillusionment. Contented distractedness. Extreme fear.

Whatever the cause, the end is without a doubt the collapse of human society. Nietzsche gets some credit for noting that once man closes himself to God, he closes himself to life. There can only be one throne in the heart of man, and only one King can reign there.

The challenge begins with each of us, stepping out into the grass with our bare feet. Literally and figuratively, it will take us stripping down the techno-modern-walls of culture to get to the literal world that awaits us. What we shall learn cannot be predicted. Certainly, others will have learned it before us, to some extent. But never as we have learned it. Never as we see it. Not with our eyes, and not with our hearts. The encounter will be entirely new, and we could do the exact same thing tomorrow, and that encounter would be entirely new. Ah! The living world will not sit still. We must. We must greet it, and contemplate it. We need to understand that mystery is not dead, and neither is man.

Protecting Conscience

I don't really have time right now to cover what I want to cover, but this is what is going through my head. 
1. We have some issues with our legislation in this great Nation.
2. Conscience protection is weak if not completely lacking in the new health care Act.
3. The amendment to the Affordable Care Act, "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act," has been undergoing criticism.
4. I don't know much about politics so my thoughts are meager, but this is what struck me.

I emailed my representatives via NCHLA's call for action email system. (You should too!)
I received correspondence from one of my Congressmen. 
I had to respond because I could not agree with his argument. 
Please see below: 

His reply to the auto-email was as follows:
Thank you for contacting me to express your support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011 (H.R. 1179). I appreciate learning of your interest in this legislation, but regret that we must disagree.

This bill would allow virtually any health care provider to deny coverage for specific services without penalty. Although this would generally apply to abortion services, it could cover any medical service or procedure. H.R. 1179 would allow insurers to refuse to comply with existing federal, state, and local laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services, including referral for abortion services. Laws requiring the provision of abortion services tend to apply only in extreme circumstances, such as when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or when a woman's life or health is threatened by a pregnancy. But H.R. 1179 would allow health insurance companies and health plans to ignore these laws with impunity. This broad federal refusal clause therefore endangers women's lives and undermines women's ability to make their own health care decisions during pregnancy.
My reply to that response went as follows: 
Respectfully sir, when a bill does not accomplish the end in which it is meant for, it ought to be revised and reconsidered. If Respect for Rights of Conscience is in fact too vague or does not include proper restrictions, than I would ask why it is not being amended before being voted on. If it cannot be successful because its language is not acceptable, there seems little point in arguing over the bill itself. The issue is that the Affordable Care Act does not protect the American people's rights, especially when it comes to religiously or conscientiously objecting to certain medical procedures or functions (ie, abortion, contraception, sterilization, etc..). I believe the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is attempting to solve that problem that came with the Affordable Care Act.

I am not someone who would pretend to tell you how to do your job, sir. I am someone who feels obligated as a citizen of a country I love to speak up for the defense of myself and many others who would be otherwise forced to support things which deeply offend my religious beliefs. I cannot support the damage done to women by contraceptives, especially the increasing infertility rates. I cannot stand by while mothers are continually hurt by the effects of abortions. I cannot support the killing of little children before they have even had a change to know this world. These are things I am confident that our founding fathers would have found inhumane and barbaric, and I also find them offensive to the beauty of human life.

I don't know, sir, if you have ever visited Auschwitz, but I have. I have seen with my own eyes what a holocaust leaves behind. I have felt the sadness and pain that surrounds a place where so many innocent lives were taken. I cannot apologize for saying that Americans are walking around, pretending as if we are not doing the exact same thing all over our nation's soil. But we are doing the same thing. There is no other way to express adequately that abortion is a way to dispel of a child who is unwanted. Sometimes it is for convenience; sometimes because they have been prenatally diagnosed with a deformity or disease, or the potential to have a genetic disease; sometimes it is because the mother has conceived too many children through IVF and the doctor recommends they reduce the number of children, etc...It is what it is, and calling it anything else is a lie. 

I respectfully ask you to do what is necessary to help protect the innocent, and the rights of American citizens across the country who do not support these things that are included under the umbrella of the Affordable Care Act. We are taxpaying citizens who deserve to have our voices heard just as much as the activists who are shouting that "free contraception" (which will not be free) is so wonderful. Please consider what I have said. If you feel you cannot support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, than please work so that it would be amended properly and would then be able to be supported. That is what law is supposed to be for, to assist in forming and supporting the common good.
Though it may have been a bit over-dramatic, I wanted to emphasize a point. Too often LAW is not considered in light of a) legal rights, b) the common good, c) the people. What, exactly, is the point if these are being overlooked or ignored? Law is meant to support the common good of the people, according to the will of the people who have elected representatives to work to formulate laws which will uphold and protect their rights and serve the greater good of the nation. I know that is not easy and often not how the world plays out, but I think that is the general idea. 
Anyway, I am one who studies theology and not law, so there may be many flaws in my argument. Yet, I needed to think about it, and I think others should too.

Sometimes what is needed...

Sometimes, what is needed is more than what we have.

I know you know the feeling.

Just another moment of holding your tongue so that the instance of anger or frustration passes and you can continue on in peace. Just another second of holding up the weight of the world on your shoulders so that the bills, the job, the family, and all of the demands on your time that come with living do not come falling down around you.

How did we get here? What on earth did we do to end up with so much responsibility, with so many expectations? What happens when we know we will fall short?

Many times in my life I have prayed the Litany of Humility hoping to turn back the tides of my pride and become a kind and gentle person. What I have found is that, in response to those prayers, I have ended up embarrassed, broken, lonely, hurt, scared, or some concoction of those. Perhaps I am not at my wits end, or at the bottom of a dark pit. Yet, broken is probably the only adequate word.

I know we all reach these points, because I see it happen to those I love. No matter how wise, how careful, how adapting, how patient we are, there comes a time (or many times) when life just gets the better of us. Rather, it takes the "better" and heads for the hills. And we get left with the "worse" and have to make the best we can. But trying to plug "worse" into a system where "better" was the necessary function just doesn't cut it. And the system falls apart.

I have to admit that there are times when I actually enjoy these stripped-down moments. Of course, all of the breaking and smashing is painful or at least uncomfortable. Yet, there is something so gloriously truthful about being broken down. I cannot help but love when the truth is known in a greater fullness. The truth is that we came from nothing. We were formed out of the dust, and we shall return to dust. Think about when you have walked through a cemetery. There are plenty of headstones there that you will never read, and that have no visitors. One man who has been lying there for one hundred years may be well out of living memory. Yet, when he lived, he too had a world built up around him. He had his family, his job, his social groups, his activities, his thoughts and his dreams. Consider how often we hold ideas and hopes that "one day" we might make a difference in this crazy world. Who is to say that he, too, did not have these hopes and work for them in his life? Yet, he has gone on.

We too, will join him. We will pass away, and some fifty or one hundred years later someone may walk past our headstone in a cemetery. All of the world around us that seems so big and strong and important, and perhaps the work that we do that also seems strong and important, will fade away like all of history does into memory.

That is in no way to say that what we do in life is not important - please do not mistake me. In fact, I think that history desperately needs to be rekindled in modern mind and heart, if we are to ever learn from the mistakes of the past and have hope to grow in healthy ways for the future. No, history is vital, and must ever be in mind for the living to truly understand where they have come from and where they are going.

For the sake of the reflection though, I mean to point out that we are simply not as significant as we often feel, or often would prefer to think we are. In light of this, it is rather honest when we end up broken down or feeling inadequate or weak. It is honest because we should realize just how much of "us being us" depends on "others being others" and above all, on "God being God." 

What if we couldn't pray? What if we couldn't call a friend? What if we didn't have the arms of our loved ones to fall into?

Sometimes what is needed is being the one who is weak. Sometimes what is needed is accepting our limitations, and accepting with gratitude the ways we are given to cope with those limitations. Sometimes what is needed is the joy that can be found when we surrender our strength and pride and allow God to be God, and our friends and family to love us in our need.

It is hard to know where we still have to go, how much room we have for growth, without first seeing the reality of where we are. It is a gift when we are put in our place, no matter how much it shames us. It is a gift to know in all truth how great the love and power of God is, which is all the more evident when we realize how little we accomplish without him. It is a gift to see the depth of love our friends and family have for us when we don't have anything to offer in return.

Sometimes what is needed is thankfulness for just how weak we really are.