Thursday, January 29, 2015

When the Mountains Don't Move.

When people talk religion online, I tend to stay out of it.  I have good friends on both sides of the pew, people I wouldn't hurt or humiliate for the world. A few people know where I stand on my own faith, and I have not always been one of them.  Suffice it to say that I don't believe anybody has it right, and if a person has never questioned their own moral judgement then they're probably doing it wrong.

My faith is like a sore tooth, I frequently find myself testing it, poking at it with my mental tongue trying to find out what feels right and what stings.  At times this has led to doubt and consternation, but through internal Socratic method, I find my way back into a spiritual comfort zone.

I have been thinking lately of my journey of faith during my adolescent years.  Social media has allowed me to reconnect with a handful of the people who shared that path with me, and as a result I find myself considering the various spiritual homes in which we now reside considering we walked the same road for awhile.

The church youth group that I attended during and just after my confirmation years was, in a word, intense.  I witnessed impassioned prayer, protracted worship, laying of hands, speaking in tongues, and visions of God calling some of us to a life of prophecy. I was told by the youth minister that I would lead a ministry.  Several of the people that I was involved with during that time have gone on to become spiritual leaders in their communities, but I wouldn't define myself as such.

I remember one intense session of worship when I was about fifteen years old.  One of the other teens in our group, a young man about a year older than me, was legally blind.  He wore those chunky glasses that people still sometimes call Coke-bottle-bottoms, but even with these his vision was profoundly damaged.  During the meeting, another member felt that the Holy Spirit had called our group to heal this young man's blindness.  We went about our task with a verve only achievable by hormonal teens in a frenzy of religious faith.  We prayed, we sang, we performed a laying of hands, we reenacted the events of John 9:6 and made mud to put on his eyes.

When it was finished, his vision remained unchanged.  We were still hopeful that he would be cured in God's time, but as the days passed our attention shifted to other religious experiences.  Shortly after that evening, I went through the biggest crisis of my young life and ended up moving to a different city.  I kept up a little contact with my friends from the old youth group, but I never knew what became of our own Bartimaeus.

Today, I find my thoughts returning to that evening like the sore tooth I referenced earlier.  Why didn't God immediately heal that boy?  If it wasn't in His plan to heal him, why were the others in our group so certain that it was?  Doesn't this disprove the very idea of God speaking to us during prayer?

I don't believe so.

I believe that on that night twenty years ago, God did speak to our group, but our understanding of that message was skewed by our human desire to see first-hand an unambiguous miracle.  Unfortunately for us, miracles are never so concrete.  Rather, life has shown me that the miracles we experience are performed by a more artful hand, and require an open mindset for observation.

God did not call us to cure his blindness.  God called us to BE the cure for his blindness.

God called a small group of His faithful to support and carry him through the darkness.  He called us to be as dependable and trustworthy as a healthy pair of eyes.  In our zeal, we attempted to perform an overt miracle, without considering the deftness of His hand.

It took me over twenty years to figure out what happened that night, and why.  I hope that along the way somebody heard God's call to service for what it was, and that young man finally found his cure.

God doesn't want me to do stuff.
God wants me to be something.

P.S.  I found my ministry. I shepherd a flock of three little sheep, but I believe they will change the world for the better.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Novel Review: On A Pale Horse

On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality, #1)On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book was during high school. At the time I really enjoyed it and went on the read the rest of Anthony's "Incarnations of Immortality" series and I have been a fan of that series ever since.

That was half a lifetime ago, and as the oldest of my children is rapidly approaching her own adolescence I find myself revisiting the literary highlights of my youth in order to provide her with suggestions for her own library.

On a Pale Horse explores some interesting viewpoints on life, death, and the nature of progresstion from one the former to the latter. It does so with a fun adventure, full of vibrant characters and a few moments of tongue-in-cheek satire. It does all this in a rather adolescent, heavy-handed sense of humor and a decidedly "naughty teenage boy" approach to romance and sexuality.

I liked the idea that good and evil are completely separate from wrong and right. And that much of the burden on the soul is put their because of the guilt a person takes on after doing what is right.

The mechanics of the world are interesting, and even though the author presents the ethical dilemma's of the characters a bit ham-fistedly, the overall product is enjoyable, and mostly appropriate for teenage readers, while being naughty enough to remain interesting in a "forbidden fruit" sort of way. His metaphor for cognition using the matchsticks seems a bit jarring throughout the book, and feels like it was forced in there after the fact to explain actions that really didn't need it.

I remember an interview with R. A. Salvatore in which he states (and I'm paraphrasing here) that he wasn't writing books to address all the subtle questions of right and wrong that we face in adulthood, but that his books are to address the bigger ideas that we try to grasp in our youth, and in such a way as to be understandable and interesting to someone of that age group. Anthony accomplishes this here, and my 14-year-old self would probably give On a Pale Horse a full five stars. My married, child-raising, adult self looks at the interactions and says, "Nobody acts like that".

I assign personalities based on the books of theirs I have read. I think Neal Stephenson would probably be condescending but also cool enough about it to be fun to hang out with. Patrick Rothfuss would be great to hang out with, but he's probably too busy today. Piers Anthony comes off as kind of pompous in a way that follows the artiste stereotype. Not that I've ever met the guy, but when his author's note is fully a tenth the size of the book, it comes off as a little full of one's self.

Overall, a good book for the right reader. And a fun series to revisit. Looking forward to joining up with Father Time in book 2.

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