I Felt Like I Was Homer, Doh

No, no, not THAT Homer. The other Homer, the one who sailed the Mediterranean.

That is they story the Contrarian is pushing. For what that’s worth.

Okay, so this is the story.

The Contrarian tends to read my blogs in bunches. And so he acccccuuuum-ulates all the MInor little digs I make at him, and makes them a BIG DEAL.

So he insists that I set the record straight. So that is this.

A couple of days ago, I was complaining, as has been my wont for some time now that my tummy was unhappy. I have what are known as “digestive issues” and from time to time they annoy me for a few days. So anyhow, I was grousing about this, and sucking down my fourth cup of coffee, when I mused, “I wonder if in fact the full caffeine coffee is making this worse than it otherwise would be?”

Lights, camera, action.

The next thing I know, said holder of the ring of committment, was getting his wallet and checkbook and inserting same in bibs.

“Where ya goin’?” I inquired.

“To get you some D-caf.” he intoned.

“Oh, dear, I can wait, I’ll just stop drinking coffee for a bit.”

“No, the minute you mentioned it, I knew that was it. I”m going to get my sweetie some D-caf.”

And so it goes.

He left.

He returned. With ice cream drumsticks, but no coffee.

“Didn’t have any at Troy. Didn’t have any at Walker either.” he moaned.

“Well, we can get some next week.”

“No, I just came back to drop off the drumsticks, I’m off to Center Point.”

“Parker, that’s enough. No need for all that.”

“No, I going. If I’m not back in twenty minutes, then I had to go clean into Cedar Rapids.”

He left.

He returned.

He had a green container of Folgers.

“I may have to take  rest,” he shuddered. “It’s awful out there.”

“I think I traveled to hell and back. Bicycles, bicycles, bicycles everywhere. I mean they don’t even know enough to get over yet. They haven’t been hit enough times, the brush back doesn’t work. I was nearly killed on a hill when I had to go AROUND them. On a HILL of all places.”

He walked into the living room and flopped down, still muttering.

“I felt like Homer, I felt like Homer,” I heard him say again and again.

I had not the heart to ask which.

 I have only one dog left in the fight. MSU is in the Sweet Sixteen. All my other teams were defeated. Sometimes in nail-biters, sometimes rather ignominiously. Such is March Madness. Such is the foul-make ‘em-foul shoot, college ball.

I find that reading crap from the Right is a great sanity protector. One has to hold most strongly to one’s own in order to properly witness the evaporation of someone elses.  (by the way, that is an original quote from me. Feel free to quote me–extensively. Sherry M. Peyton, thinker extraordinaire)

What would it take to buy you off? I’m not talking about the average politician who bit by bit sells his vote for enough dough to insure his own re-election. He/she salves his soul by telling himself that he is simply doing what needs to be done to remain there to do the “right” thing by the really big issues.

I’m talking about the man or woman who makes a decision to deny their very self in return for success, however defined. The ones who out-torture their torturers. The ones who will demean gender, orientation, race, ethnicity, and/or beliefs in order to be in “the club” and reap the reward, called the “American Dream.” The ones who cannot look their own in the eye any more, because of what they have done in the name of winning personal reward.

I’m reading about them in Republican Gomorrah, by Max Blumenthal. It absolutely makes your skin crawl. If other life forms have visited us, they must surely have left in disgust. To witness up close the intertwining evil is frightening, but at the most basic, it’s not an ideology so much as it is a series of petulant, damaged little men and women who want people to sit up and take notice that they are alive and prosperous. They recognize each other, and join forces all supporting each other in their personal madness, corrupted and corrupting all they touch, for this barely believed “greater good” they hope to usher in.

I should go pack some more. LOL. I’m obviously in a foul mood.

It’s Monday, I’m retired, and I still hate Mondays.

 

And What of Humans?

We watched a repeat of a PBS show last night entitled Ape Genius. And I got to thinking, as I usually do, about what it is that makes us human.

Those who are against allowing access to abortion to those that choose it, always claim that it is axiomatic that “life begins at conception.” And in a sense I suppose they are right. When sperm enters egg, the process that will potentially result in a human being undoubtedly begins.

But is that human life? The Court has of course decided in Roe v Wade that a different definition should be used: viability outside the womb–when a fetus can exist on its own–breathe basically–then we have a legal human being.

In our early exploration of human origins, paleontologists came to the conclusion that what separated humans from animals was the making and using of tools. One human ancestor was even named as such–Homo Habilis–handy man. Today we know that other animals make and use tools, and so we can no longer define ourselves by that grouping.

Today we know that chimps make tools, they fashion “fishing poles” to gain termites, and they also fashion spears made from long narrow branches which they sharpen at one end and poke into tree hollows where their favorite food, Bush Babies, nest during the day. If the spear comes out bloody, they rip the tree open and get their meal.

One might conclude that humans can learn new skills and this is what makes them special. But most chimps can be shown a process involving several steps, and quickly follow suit. They can also figure out how to enlist the help of others, even humans to help them get a treat. They will co-operate in securing a food which neither can get alone.

Chimps are social beings, they play, they physically interact beyond that required for child rearing and sexual activity. They, like some other mammals grieve the loss of members of their group.

One bonobo chimp has a vocabulary of over three thousand words. You can direct her to locate, within sight or out of sight, various objects and place them in other places. Chimps can learn numbers and can “count”, and even come to learn the sequential aspect of counting.

One of the most fascinating tests I saw was where a box was presented and the “teacher” went through a number of steps, the last of which was to poke a stick into a hole and fish out a treat. Children and chimps did equally well in following the steps. Then the box was replaced by the same kind of box except that it was transparent. The teacher went through the same sequence of steps again.

But now things changed. The chimps realized that most of the steps had zero to do with the getting of the treat. They quickly abandoned all the steps except the last one. The children, however, even though they could clearly see that most of the steps were just “hocus pocus” and had nothing to do with getting to the treat, continued to do as they had been shown.

Were the chimps smarter?

It might seem so, but in fact, it showed the difference between chimp and human. Chimps don’t see themselves as teachers of new skills, nor do they see others as teachers. They merely mimic behaviors that lead to an end they wish. When they can see that parts of that mimicry are unnecessary, the stop wasting the time doing it.

Humans, on the other hand, recognize themselves as students, and they recognize adults as teachers. They do as instructed because they perceive their lesser position and the deference due the adult teacher. They in essence perceive that there may be reasons they don’t yet perceive, for doing what seem unnecessary steps.

Similarly, an ape may “learn” words and be able to identify symbols with words, but it is all a means to very specific ends. They follow instructions (anticipating rewards) or they “ask” for things–usually food. You can teach an ape to correctly identify a cloud or rain, but it will never ask you if you think the clouds look like an oncoming storm.

It, doesn’t, in other words, participate in a conversation. It does not really anticipate what you mean, seek clarification, or respond to your thoughts.

All of this gives us pause as we try to figure out when and why humans become something unique among the animal kingdom. The more we study chimps and other high-functioning mammals, the more winding the road to what separates us from them.

Most assuredly, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that evolution is the driving means by which life changed and adapted. So little, be it genetic or practically, separates us from some members of the mammal world. Yet the outcome of whatever small differences exist, is a mammoth gulf. No chimp has built a car or computer, let alone created knowing art.  

The philosopher calls us to “know ourselves”. And only when we truly do, will we, I fear, be able to see that our likeness as humans so far outstrips our otherness. Carl Sagan once hoped that seeing ourselves as the “little blue dot” would help confirm that idea upon the human psyche. Sadly that didn’t really happen. Perhaps our continued study of our nearest relatives may lead us to that. One can but hope.

 

Me Tarzan, You Jane, Nobody Knows What the Chimp Thought

We are a dualist species. We think of most everything in either or, left or right, up or down, in or out. You get the drift.

We are red state, blue state, we are elites, average joes, we are adventurous or skittish. We define binarily, we do it all the time.

Mostly we define us, them. We’ve always done this, in fact those in the know claim they know of no society or people who doesn’t have some concept of themselves versus others.

So, are we to throw up our hands and just give up and in? Are we doomed to any real concept of unity? Are we perpetually at some level of war with anyone not like us?

No. At least so says Erich S. Gruen, in a new book called, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity. Gruen posits that we make that a choice, it’s not an imperative. Basically, he looks at ancient groups and teases out the nuances of their relationships with others. While superficially, they may appear us-them, in practicality such was not really the case.

While perhaps not totally convincing, Gruen at least points to the fact that we are not in a hopeless adversarial situation,  never to be solved. In a world increasingly divided, this is good news.

***

If you are just dying to engage in some deep philosophical thought, (and who isn’t), then pop on over to read about morality and the good life. Can you achieve happiness without living morally? Is morality a virtue for its own sake? Should it be? Now that you are thoroughly all jiggly with desire to know more, go on, get over to read more! (Whew, now I feel like I’ve done my moral duty in presenting you some uplifting material.)

***

Good grief, the most funny stuff seems to be coming from Iowa these days. You better sit down for this one. It seems Sharron Angle, (remember her?) was in Des Moines, IA, no doubt for some teabaggery thing. She admits she’s thinking of running for President! Hip, hip, Hurray! Now just think. The handlers/caretakers of Bachmann, Palin and Angle gather the ladies together for a good old DEBATE. Can you just imagine the fun? Oh Please God, Oh Please!

***

Foxy Noise should leave well enough alone. Some days ago, that idiot Megan Kelly chastised a guest for claiming that Fox regularly used Nazi references to people they don’t like. Kelly said this was untrue, she watches all the shows and Fox NEVER does such a thing.

Of course this was too much for Jon Stewart, who a couple of days ago ran a montage of Fox “Nazi references, including Beck of course, but also O’Reilly. Well Billo couldn’t resist defending himself. You can read it at Crooks and Liars. Somehow, his calling Huff Po Nazis is not the same as some congressman calling the GOP Nazis. Billo—you are an idiot.

***

It wasn’t that long ago. Just a couple of years. Remember? Our foreign policy was in shambles. Bush’s cowboy diplomacy had angered most of the world. He epitomized the idea of “ugly American” and strutted around like we had no need of allies. Nobody could touch our stuff.

Yes, well it seems that most of the GOP potential presidential candidates continue in the same vein. American Exceptionalism continues to rear its ugly head.

This idea that we are the greatest, the best, the God-ordained perfection in the world is troubling. As we become more and more a global economy, and our political and security needs are necessarily entwined, boasting about our superiority is decidedly a stupid thing to do.

But morons like Palin, DeMint and others seem determined to alienate everyone. What’s worse, it’s being tied to a  religious element that is even more unsavory. A blatantly revisionist history, a call for a spiritual renew all seem aimed at reclaiming our rightful place as God’s favored.

To be so blind and obtuse as to not see how ugly this appears to the rest of the world is tragic. To not realize that every country’s people like to think well of their own homeland is short-sighted in the extreme.

Worse yet, these folks are starting to have a negative and embarrassing influence within other countries as they support groups and leaders who are properly Christian, as they see it, although they may be acting in decidedly unChristian ways.

It’s a long article at AlterNet, but well worth your read. (The Family raises its ugly head again.)

***

I admit to a good deal of ignorance. I’m totally ignorant why Tunisia is up in arms. Ditto for Egypt. I think I’m supposed to be for the Tunisian uprising, but not so about the Egyptian. Anybody want to explain it in a nutshell? I’m not so much a follower of international news. My bad.

***

No one mentioned it. But I saw it. I figured John (Eye’s the SPEAKER!) Boehner was most aware that he was on camera during the SOTU. And it put him in a conundrum of sorts. I mean President Obama kept saying things that were universally good, and it would not look good to not applaud.

So John seemed, a good deal of the time, trapped into half-hearted clapping that he really didn’t want to do, but thought would look bad if he didn’t. Then there were other times that his face looked for all the world like he’d been chewing a lemon. How to keep a calm face when he desperately wanted to yell in the best GOP wacko form: “YOU LIE.”

I thought it was funny at least.

Coping With Being Human

In the wake of the horror in Tucson, introspection forces me to ask the question: why hope?  That, and seeing the question posed in a couple of other places in the last few days. I figure God is nudging me, so I ponder.

I don’t have much new to add I suspect to the mix. I’ve always been shocked and amazed at the lengths the human person will go to survive; well beyond what might seem rational at times.

One can say, well, animals do as much. And indeed they do. Every animal will fight to live until the bitter end. But of course, they don’t have the fine ability to assess their chances, they have no idea of consequences, they cannot reflect on a life lived and conclude that enough is enough.

We humans can do all those things. And the fact that we don’t hurl ourselves off cliffs with regularity suggests that something more is at work. It is something in our DNA undoubtedly, something that drives us, regardless of common sense, to hope, to struggle until we breathe our last.

Some would argue no doubt that it is part of our evolutionary primitive brain. Like animals, the urge to live and procreate overwhelms our senses and we never give in to simple acceptance of our fate. Our atheist friends would argue that our belief in a god is but another attempt to forestall the inevitable death, by promoting a concept of eternal life in the Creator.

That may be true, or not. We each will learn that at the appropriate time. But I find it hard to believe why there is such a strong desire to live at all costs, that is simply evolutionary in nature. Why and how does such a thing come about? One can claim that those with stronger drives to survive, survive in greater numbers and procreate, and thus dominate the landscape. So what? Why need this be so?

No, an equally cogent claim can be that our God has placed within us this urge to live, that it pleases our Creator that we live and grow, hopefully in relationship with each other and with the Godhead.

Yet this doesn’t explain why WE hope, or why I hope. Surely I can point to various times in history, and to places today, where life is mean and harsh. Where life is cheap, short-lived, and brutal. Where life doesn’t seem worth the living frankly.

In contemplating that, I can place my own anger and hopelessness at the state of our country and of some within it, in some perspective.

Still, that is no answer, for we are all, in the end, products of our own time and place. Empathize as I do, as I can, cannot supplant the reality of the only world I know, my own. And so my afflictions are the medical problems, however minor, that I suffer, the political intransigence that I witness, the pigheadedness I engage with regarding all manner of issues, and the carelessness toward Mother Earth that I endure.

And yet I remain hopeful.

Somehow, in the cold and snow of another miserable winter, I arise with some measure of hope, even though the day will proceed nearly the same as yesterday. It will be mundane, with small points of laughter, but as many of anger, and angst, of frustration, with smatterings of relaxation, satiety, and peace.

I can look at the events of Tucson and see bravery amid the blood. I can see selflessness amidst the carnage. I can see messages of hope that spring like spring flowers from the asphalt of a red spattered parking lot.

I read this yesterday:

“Last week we saw a white Catholic male Republican judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean American combat surgeon, and this all was eulogized by our African-American President.” ~ Mark Shields,

I witnessed tributes to  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., yesterday that I would not have witnessed twenty years ago, certainly not thirty. I see the numbers rising in support of the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Women in positions of power and authority are commonplace, hardly remarkable any more.

I can watch television shows and movies that push the envelope, making us see gay families, transgenders, immigrants, and all the “others” in our society as simple people like ourselves, who hope, dream, love, desire, work, play, laugh and cry just as we do. Make no mistake, media has great power to help us along here.

We watched GLEE for the first time, last night. Yeah I know, late to the party. We thought it was a teen show, and we learned something quite different. Gays, physically impaired, emotionally scarred, the dangers of penal institutions to our youth, the realities of so much of life that we sweep under rugs in our minds. They showed it all in frankness, in honesty, but lovingly with hope.

This is why I hope. We have the capacity to each day be a bit better than the day before. And by the grace of God, or by our own genetic  where with all, we seem to do it. I trust we will.

I hope.

It’s Always a Matter of Perspective

As usual, a bunch of junk has rattled around in my head and finally coalesces into something that seems printable, if not entirely coherent.

So, anyway, we saw the movie Avatar on Pay Per View the other night. I know, we didn’t really get the grandeur of it all, because we didn’t see it on a big screen, let alone in 3D. I get that.

That’s number one. Number two, is that some nights, the news is so damned depressing that I can barely stand it. The oil and all that. It just suffocates me with it’s intransigence, and insolubility, and how those to blame (a cast of hundreds no doubt, but certainly BP, the oil industry, Dick Cheney, and well, we could go on but why bother) will never be horse whipped or worse like they deserve.

Number three is that we have been watching the History Channel’s, The History of Us, which is not especially good, but not especially bad either. Last night we saw the beginning of the big up tick of industry, thanks to Carnegie and the Bessemer steel process. And of course, the rich at the very tippy top got obscenely wealthy, and the poor lived in squalor that recalls Dickens’s expose` of the London slums.

And well, like I said, all that mixed together in my mind, and I wonder–have we ever been much better than  we are now, or as we getting any better? Sure, we know that throughout history, life has been cheap, short, and miserable for vast numbers of human beings. Look at every major building adventure in the world, including the US and you will find “industrial accidents” just part of doing business. No muss, no fuss, 136 dead here building this canal or dam, something like one quarter of all those steel walkers who built our skyscrapers, died in the process.

Today, that has improved, and we demand safer practices from our giants of industry who build. But nobody has been outraged at the 13 who died on the oil gulf rig, nor the 11 who died in the last mine explosion. Both BP and the mine owners had received countless citations for unsafe working conditions. But that shuts nothing down. Death is part of doing business still.

The wealthy of the so-called gilded age, played in Manhattan while tens of thousands lived lives of pure misery, holed up in tenements that remain hideous today. A journalist couldn’t get his pictures of the obscenity published in newspapers who considered the photos “too” awful. He finally started having symposiums to show the rich how the other 80% lived. The tenements were overhauled in less than 30 years, but only to a degree.  They grew back with the great migration from south to north in the 30′s and 40′s or so.

Enter Avatar, a simply gorgeous movie with special effects both amazing and beautiful. Such a lovely world Pandora is. And this takes place far in the future and we, meaning earth, has found a way to travel to far places in the galaxy. So far so good. But that’s as far as the good goes.

We seem, for all our technological advances, to have progressed zero when it comes to our respect for other sentient beings. We apparently have no idea that there is an ethical issue at all in raping another land. We find out near the end, that Earth has been pretty much ecologically destroyed, so there is some urgency, but still, we have learned not one thing about doing what is right.

The rambo military leader is such an utter caricature of his calling, just so utterly devoid of rationality that one has to wonder. As Leonard Malkin said at the beginning, the story is rather poor. Poor is not the word I would use, it is bankrupt. One lone scientist and a couple of assistants try to take the path of understanding, but clearly they are superfluous and have no authority.

It’s hard to believe that we could be so barbaric in our behavior, but then again, looking at the world today, and reviewing the world of yesterday, perhaps it’s not so far off really. I’m not sure we have progressed much. We have prettied it up, tied some ribbons about, and we talk about “going green.” Hell, BP talked about green technology, in all those ads it placed before our television eyes. Note to self: when a ecologically suspect company spends money to tell me how wonderfully caring they are of the environment–beware. They are probably raping the hell out if it.

Which all says to me, that the world is still controlled by the rich as it always has been, for their amusement. The vast majority of us are simply the fodder for the war/industrial machine. We are thrown crumbs, sometimes more, or sometimes less, as little as can be gotten away with. The rich are always looking for ways to maximize profits as much for amusement as for any need on their part. Money is simply the way to keep score.

There are always philanthropists aplenty, who from their largess try to work on some “problem” or other. They are never more than marginally successful, because they can never convince the rest that there is anything short term worthwhile in doing so. And since, the fat cats die just like the rest of us, long term is a waste of their time.

I have to hope that things incrementally get better over time, but God must be utterly frustrated at how snail like we move. I contemplate all those who have died in war this day, and struggle to figure out if we have learned one damnable thing from time immemorial. From Cain and Abel, forward I find it hard to see that we are any more our brother’s keeper than when we were on that fatal but metaphoric day.

So, eat, drink, and be merry as the Ecclesiastics writer intoned. All is vanity. For tomorrow, rich, poor, powerful, or powerless, we die. As we traverse this time of life, some of us, hopefully, more of us, will seek to do good on this small blue dot. Believer or atheist, just because it’s the right thing to do.  Amen.

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Wondrously Unique–I Give You Human

I guess many people spend Saturday all busy and such, racing around doing chores and running errands. Not me. Even though I have been retired by choice for nearly fifteen years, I still reserve Saturday as a day of relaxed fun.

I love to read blogs on Saturday morning. I learn so much. I make connections I hope with some who probably figure I don’t spend nearly enough time reading what they have to say. I probably don’t, but twenty-four hours only go so far.

What always delights me most is the incredible range of post and therefore interest. I learn about prayer one place, and patience another. I am gifted with fine political scholarship, and superb satire. I laugh, I am humbled, I sometimes ache with compassion. I get angry, and I feel hopeless. And then I feel hopeful, and joyful, and curious all over again. That’s thanks to all of you.

It puts me to wondering about the utter uniqueness of the human being. No doubt the same can be said of our fine friend above. For no doubt as his handlers (assuming his captivity) would tell us, he or she is unique to the rest of the troop. And every pet owner will testify to the individualized personalities of each and every pet they are privileged to care for.

Yet humans have something special. Perhaps it is the ability to so dramatically manipulate their environment that allows such a spotlight on individuality to show through. I don’t know. I do know that while we are capable of existing in pretty drastically difference circumstances, we tend to favor and gravitate toward a more median life.

Canada is a great example of this. A monumentally huge country, larger by far than the US, but of small population. And so I am told, something like 90% of the population lives within a hundred miles of the US border. Not because, I am convinced, they like America so much but because they want to stay WARM. All but the hardiest slide down to as close to warmer weather as they can get.

That is probably true of Siberian Russia and the Mongolian icy steppes. It is probably true of Finland and Iceland and other notoriously frigid climes. All but the craziest move south. Yet, some do remain, and you end up having to applaud them for their stick-to-it-tiveness if nothing else.

I think that I have identified the biggest dichotomy in sports among humans. Think of the Alpine skier, and the beach volleyball player. One dressed most of the year in parkas and mittens, wool caps and mukluks. The other dressed in bikinis and beach shorts. Two more opposites could not exist. Two such people could never marry I’m convinced.

You perhaps can think of others. The cerebral English lit professor and the ice road trucker. How’s that for calling both human and of the same species? It would be hard to categorize them together in any other format, other than that they might both sleep in beds and eat peanut butter.

Imagine that God is all humanity and much more, and you start to let your mind soar to places that you get lost in.

I think that people who run homeless shelters for a living, and other such services to the poor and needy are just Mother Theresa’s in disguise. It takes a special kind of person to do that kind of work. Or should I say, fulfill that kind of mission in life. They deal with such pain, and failure, and tragic sadness, yet somehow they are upheld and find grace and joy in their work. Perhaps they do indeed see the face of Christ as he so clearly said we would.

Yet, as much as we might bow down to such folks in our hearts, we know somehow that God has a place for the banker and the undertaker, the sheriff and the meter reader. There is something human and redeemable, and worthy in each and every one of us. Yes, I said EACH and EVERY one of us. Not just the legal and sane, and smart and honorable among us, but in each.

I look upon the face of a man accused of murdering a child, and I feel sympathy. Somehow that human has lost his way, has lost all human control mechanisms in order to do the unthinkable. What must go on in his mind? What horror does he live with? Yet, deeply I know that God is there, weeping at the sheer loss of humanity that has driven this being to unspeakable crime. I have, as always, no answer. I know that somehow, crushed and ruined as this life is, it is still God’s life, not mine to dispose of.

The sun has danced on the meadow for days now, and standing water can be found in places. Bare earth is observed, though still stubbornly cold, hard and dead looking. The snow is no longer quite snow. Lots of it still exists, but it is hard scrabbly granular white stuff now. It too, has somehow died, and is just awaiting its dismissal from the land.

I am feeling the first yearnings of spring finally. Knowing that the mind is awakening, makes it clear to me that lingering under the frost, the seed is stirring beneath the earth. The tree is busily sending nutrients to branch tips, shaking awake the dormant leaflets that are molecularly organizing for a grand opening.

Saturday is a thinking day. A wondrous day. A day to salute the dawn, to slip outside for  a moment with jacket on, but face turned upward to warmth and life. The dogs searched the wood pile for a rabbit. He escaped out the back side and scampered away to den. Life lives while we, alas are looking the other way.

I can but smile, the thoughts of traumatic winter fading quickly from my mind. It is a human trait, this ability, to forget. Ask any new mother.

Ramblings of a Saturday in March.

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Are You Idolatrous?

Of late I’ve been reading John MacQuarrie’s tome Principles of Christian Theology. MacQuarrie, a Scotsman, and Anglican was a systematic theologian and taught for some years at the Union Theological Seminary in NYC. As theologians go, he is more readable than some for the lay reader.

I have found his take on sin quite interesting. He points out that much of Christian theology has gone off the road in its assignment of sin as individual for the most part. I’ve mentioned this before, that many of our churches spend an inordinate amount of time on personal salvation, and never get to the institutional sins we face.

MacQuarrie is four square with the idea that sin is both individual and communal. Along with that he claims that the worst sin of all is idolatry. Not in the sense that the average fundamentalist would define idolatry, but in many more senses, some of which we don’t think of.

So we are not talking about “other gods,” the bugaboo of so much of the first 1500 years of identifiable Hebrew/Israelite history. You remember, I’m sure, the constant refrain, “but X worshiped other gods and did what was evil in the sight of God.” Much of the Hebrew scriptures is in fact a constant refrain, of turning away, punishment, repentance, turning back to God, and then repeating the cycle.

We are talking about the “idols” we are more familiar with in the New Testament. Money of course comes to mind a good deal. Jesus uses the incident about the wealthy young man to illustrate that we can love God or we can love the personal world we have created. Not both. We can be wealthy, and love God, that is a very different thing. But our money must be seen as a means to an end, and the end is not our personal comfort and leisure. It is garnered for a higher end, the betterment of those in need.

We of course, can add power, position, fame, and tons of other substitutes for money. We can idolize beauty, or knowledge for itself. The list would be endless, limited only by the uniqueness of the human being.

What was funny, and a bit of a surprise is that MacQuarrie argues that atheists are idolaters. Their idol is humanity. They cannot, through the use of their senses, see God in creation, and so conclude he cannot exist, and that all that has been achieved in human history has been the direct and complete result of man’s actions alone. They have come thus to idolize themselves as the creator. In some haunty arrogance they pat themselves on the back and deny any other superhuman force can be at play.

He is also a firm believer that we should never over extend one of the natures of Jesus over the other. Both are essential and as human, MacQuarrie even suggests that Jesus at least at some points, sinned. Else, he could not be truly human. But, and this is an important but, when Jesus gave everything up on the cross, he gave up the last idol of all–the human ego. He surrendered all to the Father, and thus made perfect the modeling of humanity.

It is because of his utterly true and real humanity, that we have the opportunity to reach for Christ mantle. It is only because of his complete self-giving that we are shown the way to also strip ourselves of that which holds us back. We of course, never succeed completely. Not even the saints, the mystics, the desert fathers and mothers ever attained perfect self-giving. But we known the means of attaining it, and we can try again and again.

So, the answer to the question, “are you idolatrous” is a resounding yes. We all are. We are caught up in our own dramas. Yesterday I was reading the story of Jesus teaching in the temple in John’s gospel. Jesus spoke of the Father, and the Pharisees asked, “where is your father?”

I pondered that, and concluded, that my Father is in the neat box I’ve constructed for him, and which I have placed in the closet for safekeeping. He’s safely out of the way, not interfering with my life much. I and you and all of us construct a God that “works” for us. One that comports with our personal “theology.” We give lip service now and again, by volunteering, giving money, and attending services of worship.

Jesus shows us that we have a very long way to go. In some sense, it is hard, yet, the truth is freedom comes from complete obedience. The reason? Once we abandon our own “needs” and desires from the equation, we almost always know exactly what is the right thing to do. We are freed from the constraints of having to balance our lifestyle against what our heart tells us we should be doing. We are no longer trying to find the balance between self giving to self and self giving to others. We realize finally that the self giving to self comes naturally when we empty ourselves entirely to God’s call of radically open love to all.

It’s an uncomfortable realization to be sure. It’s so much easier we think to keep God boxed, like a toy we take out to admire from time to time. Jesus had a lot to tell us about temptation and sin. But when we take up the cross as our own, we will see more clearly I suspect, not as Paul said, as through a glass darkly. No we will see with eyes unscaled.

I’m not sure I’m up to it today, but tomorrow? Yes, perhaps like Scarlett, I’ll think about it tomorrow.

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