Praising God in the Storm

Due to the massive influx of tornadoes in the south over the past day, the above image keeps popping into my feed on facebook and it just makes me shake my head in disbelief (no pun intended).

I’ve heard the free will defense more times than I can count in regards to the evils of people, but what about natural disasters? Or famine? Is the free will of inanimate objects held in higher regard than victims of such tragedies? Is god unable to control the weather?

To send thanks to your god because it didn’t kill you that time, but killed dozens of others, is not only morally repugnant, but also narcissistic and completely fails to recognize the reality of the world we live in.

I’m reminded of the analogy of a small boy that gets beat up by his father and then asks this same man to take him to the hospital to treat a rather severe head wound. “Thanks for not killing me this time, dad!” Am I the only one that sees a problem with thinking like this? It’s Stockholm Syndrome, but with a captor that’s impossible to perceive.

With everyone claiming that god is good and his ways and plans are perfect is there anything that would convince a believer as god just not caring? Think on that for a bit. What terrible scenario in your life couldn’t be wiped away by saying that god’s ways are perfect? God’s plans are higher than mine! God has it in control! God is with me! God works in mysterious ways!

You can’t quantify such statements and there’s nothing that would invalidate them. Lose your entire family in a fire? God is there with you in the fire. Lose a spouse in a car accident? God has a plan to use her testimony for the good of his glory. There’s no platitude that can’t be invented to make it look like god cares. Shockingly, this exists even when we have all of life and history to show he doesn’t.

Not too far back I read a funny tweet by a fictional comedy character named Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian. The tweet really hit the nail on the head as it read, “Thanking God for sparing you in a natural disaster is like sending a thank-you note to a serial killer for stabbing the family next door.”

I get it. I do. It’s very comforting thinking that there’s something bigger than all of us out there that’s got it in control. It cares and does look out for us. We’re special!

Even if I believed that there were a god, which I don’t, there’s nothing that could make me believe it cared about any of us. It’s just weather patterns beyond it’s control and tectonic plates that it can’t keep from moving around.

So, can god make a burrito so hot he can’t eat it? Yes, the burrito’s free will to burn his lip can’t be taken away from the burrito.

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Be You

I received a call from an old friend today that was noticeably under immense stress. This stress, I soon realized, is the by product of living a double life: one half a believing and practicing Christian and the other as a closeted atheist.

It’s something he and I have talked about numerous times over drinks in the past, but I’ve never heard such exhaustion in his voice in all our years of friendship.

He’s absolutely torn, just as I once was, between keeping his current facade of belief and Christianity going or being true to himself. He’s done a very good job of keeping up appearances, but the cracks are showing and he’s feeling the stress of living a double life.

Regrettably, he confided in me that he’s most terrified of losing his relationship with his parents.

As someone who mutually finds identity and solace in my close relationships with my family, my heart breaks for the guy. Admittedly, the hardest two people to admit I was an atheist to were my parents. The talk, the explanation, the reassurance that it’s not a phase. That no, I’m not mad and no, I don’t think I’ll see Phil again and no, I won’t be going to heaven or hell.

To take the lights out of someone’s eyes like that is not an experience I wish to ever have again, but it’s one I’m glad I had.

Having tried to fake belief for a while myself, I told my friend about when I decided I wasn’t going to live a double life anymore. A non-believing friend of mine told me about an acquaintance of his that was, at that time, 66 years old. Turns out this man had been an atheist for over 30 years and nobody in his family knew. He’d lied his way through every prayer and conversation all in the name of not rocking the boat. Of not letting people down.

I knew immediately after that story that I’d not only be honest with everyone I loved, but also with myself. I didn’t want to live in a prison in my head. Afraid and ashamed to be me.

Most people I told took it in stride and a good many tried to convince me to just love Jesus! That I can choose to follow him! It took a good while for them to understand that you can’t force yourself to believe something your mind doesn’t. It literally gets to a point where it’s not a choice that can be made. You can’t shut off your brain.

So, for my old and dear friend that was patient, kind and loving to me as I poured out my heart, and a few tears, about my deceased sibling, I say, be yourself, brother. Be true to you and be honest with those you love and hope they have the sense to love you for the amazing man you’ve become and not for what god you associate with.

There’s far more peace and happiness to be found when we don’t reject who we are for the sake of those that are supposed to love us unconditionally. Rejoice in being you and be the man that others aspire to be.

Manhood and Growing Up

I saw a dead Cardinal at the gas station this morning. It seems that it flew into the gas station window and died on impact. Normally dead birds don’t cause much reflection to me, but seeing a beautiful Cardinal, not a daily thing in a state with precious few pretty birds, really caught me off guard. As insignificant as the death of one random bird may be to most, it did cause me to reflect more than normal and hash out some feelings I’ve had for some time.

As I’m growing up I keep running into things that I feel shouldn’t be happening in and around me yet. A shocking amount of friends of mine are either already divorced or stuck in a marriage headed for one. People around me keep getting sick or dying. Every time a new occurrence of death or divorce happens in my life I keep unintentionally thinking, aren’t I too young for this to keep happening?

I recently turned 31 years old and still don’t think of myself as a man. Sure I’ve got many of the responsibilities of what most would classify as an adult: house, wife, kids, job and a cat, but I still feel, in my head, like I haven’t reached the title of man yet and I don’t know if I ever will.

As a small boy I have a very strong memory of holding my father’s left hand in church and studying it intently. How his veins looked. The callouses. The wrinkles. The age. This, I thought, was what a man’s hand looks like. His hands tell a story of the life he’s lived.

Do my hands looks like my father’s did then? I don’t know. Maybe, but probably not.

To me, the title of man has an almost reverential quality to it. Sure I’m older now and would surely be classified as a man by many, but to me, I still feel like a boy. I’m more tired than I used to be and a little less crazy, but I’m still a kid looking for the approval of friends and family and the people in my life I’ve always looked to as men.

Maybe after all those people pass away I’ll feel I’ve reached it and that a torch has been passed? Maybe when I’ve stopped chasing down ice cream trucks on foot? Or maybe when the weight of the world and life finally causes me to reach a threshold that breaks something in me that can’t be repaired?

I don’t mean to sound like the title of man is synonymous with pain, misery or not having fun, but it does have a quality to it that is something I aspire to be. I suppose it’s different for all. Semantics and all that.

I guess with the older I get physically, mentally I still feel like I’m 18 years old. When will I feel like I’ve grown up? When will I finally feel like I’ve earned the title of man?

So far I’ve learned that growing up isn’t nearly as fun as I’d hoped as a kid. The ongoing deaths and disappointments of life with friends and family brings truth to the statement that ignorance is bliss.

I guess I just want to be someone to my son that he feels is deserving of the title man. That he will reflect on me as an adult himself and see that his father, a grown boy, will have always fought for what is right and just and was never afraid of anything or anyone.

Maybe I’ll never reach the title of man in my own mind, but so long as I can make it count in the mind of the boy most important to me, I’ll have achieved my goal. To be a superhero with no powers. To be a man. That’s a legacy worth fighting for.

“Noah” – My Review and Thoughts

Let me start by saying that I love the director, Darren Aronofsky. In 2002 a friend that helped forge my love of cinema walked into my dorm room with a movie and said, “We’re watching this right now.” The movie, one of two that truly changed the way I look at film, was “Requiem for a Dream.”

Ever since that day I’ve loved and been in awe of Darren. His movie “The Fountain” stands as my favorite movie of all time.

I was not a big fan of “Black Swan,” but thought “The Wrestler” was spectacular.

So, when I tell you I’m a fan of the director I have a history of his movies and have been following him for over a decade. If you want a good head trip, check out his student film project, “Pi.”

When I found out that he was making a movie about Noah I was more than intrigued and for more than one reason. Darren was raised Orthodox Jew and the story of Noah falls directly in the wheelhouse of the Jews. That’s from their holy book. Not the Old and New Testaments. Just their holy book.

Another reason I was intrigued about his take on Noah is because he has a very gritty style and he’s an atheist.

Never once did I think he would go out of his way to talk down about or slander the name of Noah, but I fully expected a gritty and human retelling of the events from Genesis.

Last night, while in Hawaii of all places, my wife and I went and saw the movie and I loved it and I really think there’s something for everyone, even the most fundamental of believers, in it. I don’t think the vitriol it’s received is fair. You can hate the movie because you thought it sucked or was boring, but to hate it over biblical interpretation is foolish and closed minded in my opinion. Especially considering how well it sticks up for the message of the Bible.

My wife and I both walked away truly stunned at how much the central story was hammered home. God, only referred to in the movie as The Creator, gave humans a shot and we ruined it. We brought this on ourselves. The only true justice is to wipe us off the map and leave the beasts. The only part of creation unchanged from the Garden of Eden.

Noah accepts and supports this conclusion. I can absolutely feel for the poor guy. He’s very, very torn, but sees it as the right thing to do. Is he happy about it? Hell no, but he does find it to be just.

I also love that God was only called The Creator. I really did. Mainly because it showed a more hands off approach to creation in my mind. A less literal form of deism. He created and then stepped away and only steps in when things get really bad. It’s a far less personal God to be sure, but I think it works well if you’re sticking with the free will aspect of apologetics. It’s not the interpretation I was raised with, that God is always around and listening and helping us out, but it actually makes a lot of sense in this movie. I suspect that’s a much more Jewish aspect of belief in the God of Abraham.

A lot of people seem upset that Noah isn’t the guy we all grew up with in the coloring books in this movie. He’s not smiling and flanked by his animals. He’s a gritty and bad ass guy that is torn and human. He’s constantly plagued with uncertainty and doubt. At one point in the movie he seems absolutely overwhelmed with what he has to do, but he continues on!!! How could any believer find fault with this? Have you ever felt overwhelmed with a task you felt called to do? Didn’t Jonah literally run away from going to where God called him? Lot’s wife, I always felt, got a bad name because she looked back against God’s command, but what a human thing to do.

Even to me, an atheist, it took about 15 minutes into the movie to adjust to some of the more fantasy parts of it. Particularly, The Watchers, which are angels that left heaven to help man and God punished them and ruined their heavenly forms by strapping them down with rocks from the Earth. Honestly, they became one of my favorite aspects of the film as they too had human characteristics and sought to return to the glory God had in mind for them…just like Noah. The battle with The Watchers and the humans was one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in years. Both visually, redemptively and just plain out action.

Bottom line is that Noah is a very good movie with aspects for all to enjoy. It really does hammer home the traditional Christian message that God made this and man was the one that royally screwed it up. That it is just for him to wipe it all out. I particularly loved the part where a major choice was left in Noah’s hands.

So, go see the movie, but do so with an open mind for some of the more fantastical elements, but rest assured that even though it’s not the Noah we were raised hearing about and coloring on in our Sunday school work books, it’s a very human tale about an ordinary man tasked with an extraordinary undertaking by his God.

And the underlying Christian message is fully intact.