Sunday, December 09, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
“Hi, I’m here to see Mike Anderson. I’m sorry I’m late. I got a little turned around trying to find this place.” The receptionist was kind, and I was relieved. I’m used to being late and used to being lectured for it. She was so nice that I noticed her name, Shirley, and made a point to use it when I spoke to her. It’s a business technique that I’ve always thought sounded stupid, but it seems to matter in that world. Seems fake to me. I felt like a big fat hypocrite but I was hoping she would take my name calling for what it was worth, a friendly gesture and not a sign that I really care that much. Shirley ushered me into a perfect conference room. “Mike will be right with you.” I actually waited for about the same amount of time that I had been late, which was 15 or 20 minutes; fair enough. I sat there in the high-backed leather chair and tried to soak in the air around me. I keyed in on some conversations I could hear through the doors, people giving each other tips about how to keep the static cling from magnetizing your trousers and socks in an inseparable bond, and things like that. I was indiscreetly, or so it seemed by the observing gazes of the office people who walked by, waiting at a rectangular wooden table with eight matching black leather adjustable chairs behind glass walls facing the lobby on one side and the city on the other. I wondered what it would be like to spend my days in this place. There was a picture on the wall, a print of a vague scene, but not vague enough to make you think of Van Gogh. It had reds and yellows and greens moving horizontally in a way to describe a landscape without really being one. It was pretty enough to catch my eye, but offered nothing when it did. It was meant to be caught at a glance.
I’ve been that painting. It could be an icon for my human existence as a girl. “Just find a husband to ‘hang’ on to and keep the landscape pretty so you won’t lose him.” That was it: the whole of my existence. Pretty as a picture.
When Mike came into the room, he didn’t shake my hand or make eye contact with me, just started shuffling around papers and talking about my investments without even knowing why I had requested this meeting. I finally stopped him and demanded an acknowledgement of my personhood by asking a direct question that prompted him to look me in the eye and at last it seemed like interaction between kindred species and not like I was gathering information from an ATM with a voice box. I am terrible at business for the simple reason that I cannot bear leaving my soul at the door. As it turned out, he, too, was not completely detached. As we ended our meeting and I finally got my respectable handshake, I learned that he has a great passion. Ducks. “I collect them”, he said. “I have over a hundred ducks from all over the world that I’ve hunted and mounted on my wall at home.” All at once I was glad that he had not been the decorative consultant for this perfectly dispassionate corporate office.
In Lost Icons, Rowan Williams reflects on certain imaginative crises and deprivations, pointing out that what is common to them is the ‘loss of the language of the soul’. He calls it ‘an essay about the erosions of selfhood in North Atlantic modernity’. (8) His point plays out in the everyday story of my life, like one I’ve just told. The conglomerate of systems and conveniences of an efficient culture hypnotizes this segment of the human race to sleep. Feelings are messy. Keep the blood and guts on the screen and our hands will be as clean as Pilot’s. Children are hardly fazed by big bad wolves and witches when they can see humans, albeit animated, ripping each other apart without much need of imagination. Williams is concerned about the way children are made into young adults and consumers without the chance to learn about choices. They are rushed into pre-mature adulthood and taught to fit into the system before they have had time to be nurtured or to make ‘mistakes’. It seems that the glass and steel of the economic machinery has decided the heart of humanity more so than the reality of what it is actually means to be human.
My visit to the financial services firm illustrated Williams’ points on several levels, one being that I felt caught between two worlds. By virtue of being there I was not among the dispossessed. My money is measly compared to the clients ‘we normally deal with’, to quote ‘my friend’ Mike, but I’m in the game. On the other hand, I sat in that black larger than life chair remembering how it felt to be a ‘dispossessed’ little girl, dispossessed of my language if not my very soul. I didn’t mean to at that moment, but I did remember how it felt to try so hard to be my father’s son, because daughters simply didn’t matter as much. I remembered how it felt in my twenties to be treated as a sex object in the work place, or how it felt trying to buy things with money I had earned without a husband and how often I was put down, turned down, or taken advantage of, though they always thought I was pretty. I am not trying to make a feminist point here, but only to observe Williams’ insights through my own experience. I can see already that my son will have his own version of these battles to face. I think alleged efficiency and technological feelings of superiority have led to the culture Williams describes as tolerating the loss of a sense of damage to the moral identity and the loss of shame or remorse. We think we’re God, or at the very least we have twisted ‘created in His image’ to mean empowered.
There is no way for ‘business is business’ to happen without self-deception, because no one can really check their soul at the door. You can lock your feelings up airtight and they’ll show up in disguise at every inopportune time. Hypochondriacs and rapists are possibly looking for the same vindication. When the icons that reflect our image to us are designed by the empty words and bottom lines of incorporated consumerism, our hearts go numb.
Williams could write a sequel based on this week’s news of the death of Anna Nicole Smith. It is not so different from the Marilyn Monroe story, I’m sure. I heard a newscaster advertising the upcoming story by joking to his co-broadcaster, laughing as he said snidely, “So, is Anna Nicole still dead?” There is no shame or remorse when those icons are used up or destroyed. There seems to be no awareness that she was ‘created’ by this culture and destroyed by it. She succeeded in being ‘everything everyone wants’, rich and beautiful. None of the rest of her life seems to matter. In countless newscasts, they have been glad she is dead, yet she represents a perfect human construction in this culture, and the danger to her is obvious. But it is dangerous to us all. It’s strange how there was more sympathy in this country for Saddam Hussein prior to his execution when an angry and hurt crowd, still reeling from the heinous murders of their loved ones at the dictator’s hand, hurled jeers and curses at him.
We are dispossessed a thousand times a day, every last one of us, by this loss of remorse. The corrosion of our collective conscience does not begin with the obvious, which, if I understand correctly, is Williams’ point. As the ancient poet wrote, “It is the little foxes that spoil the vine.” It is with every little decision not to care or not to recognize another that we don our hard hats, grab our chisels and hammer away at the perfectly carved stone of our happy-sad lives. As Williams puts it, “I cannot separate out my biography as a thing in itself.” (104) And so, he says, I cannot absolve myself. I need the love, investment and involvement of others. Without it, I am ordering life according to my will, or trying to anyway. We are not so empowered that we can construct ourselves by our own will through the sheer determination to deny the myriad ways we fail love. So, it is not the mistake of failing love that creates the problem of evil, it is the denial of our failure.
Ultimately, grace is a hard pill to swallow. What is it that makes it seem more delicious to BE God, than to be GOD’S? I am not satisfied with the simple and familiar answer, pride, and that is not the answer I understand Williams to be offering. Ultimately, he brings us back to the image of the Church’s icons, the Byzantine legacy, and I am literally gazing at Saints in blue and angels everywhere. THEY are not lost, he says. The problem of evil is not bigger than the hope of all ages, and that cannot be lost. In the words of Rowan Williams, “We can choose death, but we don’t have to.” (187) This is because, and only another quote will do, “What we are present to is neither created nor extinguished by our will. The iconic eye remains wakeful.” Mother Mary, sing us a peaceful lullaby.
Theodicy – “the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.” - origin late 18th cent. –French – title of a work by Leibniz – from Greek god+justice.
Theodicy is man’s attempt to vindicate God for the existence of evil. This assumes that God may have created evil, or could prevent evil and does not so choose. It assumes God’s guilt, or at the very least is suspicious enough to think that God could and should be justified. How generous of the human race to forgive God. The whole concept lays claim to a power greater than God, without acknowledging that it is doing so, but it is reasonable to trust that the motivation behind it is not so much pride as it is fear. If God is not pure love, then we will all be destroyed, and Tim LaHaye will have been right after all. We have to make God love.
Leibniz coined the term “theodicy” in the 1690’s but never defined it, although it seems clear from his writings that he meant to say “the justice of God”, as opposed to “justifying God in the eyes of man”, which is the better known definition made popular by Milton, according to our Larrimore textbook. These are quite different meanings and it is, of course, Milton’s ideas that make the most daring assumptions.
In his essay Theodicy, Leibniz submits that God does not co-operate in evil actions, but by virtue of his omniscience he foresees them, and because he is omnipotent, he permits them. Leibniz is not satisfied to say that God is unaware, and believes that this leads to a Manichean principle where man’s good intentions to imitate God gives people credit where credit is not due, while reducing God to being only the ‘good principle’. He believes that a world without sin and suffering would not be necessarily better, but that God has ordered all things to be as they are. We need the changing tides of life. It is like a big ocean, in motion as it is by God’s design, and to change a single drop would change everything. Besides, he says, the nothingness of evil cannot compare with the good things in the universe. Leibniz’s theodicy says that God allows evil as a means to an end.
Theodicy, therefore, explains evil as an inherent part of good. Both man and God are off the hook.
Theodicy naturally gives way to complacency, which is the inappropriateness Hauerwas must challenge. He observes that the message of Jesus was radical and that Christians, for the most part, have never been fully faithful. I have noticed the flippant use of the phrase, “Oh well, guess it was meant to be” among Christians and non-Christians and 2% Christians. Theodicy thrives. It is, after all, a great coping device. Superstition is easily made the god of that world. It creates lifetimes full of ‘big bangs’ and the haphazard mentality of the masses gives way to the monsters who know how to gain the upper hand when people do not understand their own rights. I think of rich and powerful preachers and politicians, with regret that the most effective example I can think of is a judgmental cliché. But, perhaps the point is made. And another problem with the ‘meant to be’ mantra is that the pain caused by suffering is not allowed. It short circuits the heart and makes us sick. In many Christian circles, the same problem is created by the misuse of Paul’s letter to the Romans when they quote him in a false context as saying that all things work together for the good. Ultimately, theodicy fosters unfaithfulness by absolving humanity of its responsibility for the suffering and evil in this world.
A theological construction for addressing evil and suffering acknowledges the sovereignty of God while making man responsible for his own actions by his God given choice. This opens several more cans of worms, of course. For example, suppose that we are biased toward sin, or evil, but we do not have to give in to it. There is no answer to the question of why we are so biased. Why are we not biased toward good? Choice does not presuppose a particular bias. The Bible gives the explanation that one man’s sin influenced us all, and one man’s righteousness can too, but there is still a big pink elephant in the middle of that discussion. The unavoidable obviousness answers the question of why it is important to recognize the difference between ‘theodicy’ and the ‘theological construction for addressing evil and suffering’, and that is that one ‘explains away’ and the other ‘explains how’. It is ‘what will be will be’ versus man being a co-creator with God. One has the answer and the other is searching for understanding. Our constructions both conjure up and help us live within the tension of not knowing.
Suffering and evil should be considered a problem. As Hauerwas said, “Christians should be known as ‘those peculiar people who don’t kill their babies [through abortion] or their old people [through euthanasia].” (from an article in Time.com, by Jean Elshtain) He argues that the human future will be bleak and that the Church, the body of Christ on Earth, must respond. I agree.
“God is meticulously connected to every aspect of our lives…This is the crux of Western Theodicy…problem: if God causes good, he must cause suffering. In Eastern Theodicy the emphasis is on personal responsibility…..born innocent but not complete…creation with potential to grow in communion with God."
I am not searching for something that works; I am searching for what IS. My searching is not solely motivated by how I can make the world better, because I am not convinced that I can. My worth to the world may only be the consolation that my personhood and actions may bring, for there is nothing that anyone can want of me other than what answers a problem of suffering or evil. If I am a friend, I have answered loneliness; if I am an entertainer I have answered boredom, and so on. In such, I have not made the world better, but have only participated in what is, by being who I am. Life is a perfect act of grace, and to think differently is to play God.
If I cannot make the world better, then does it go without saying that I cannot make it worse? No, I cannot, but I’m talking about the inherent nature of the world. I can, on the other hand, participate in destroying it, in the same way that one might rip a flower to shreds. The flower has not been made worse by its nature, but something beautiful has died.
These, I think, are the ramblings of the Theodicy blend. Trying to make sense of my world has brought me naturally to the convergence of Western and Eastern Theodicy, though admittedly I think such a lens is natural for me because of where and to whom I was born; in other words, a Confucianist, a third world dictator, or a prostitute may not discover the same absolutes. I mean to say that the search is not exclusive to theologians and philosophers. Neither is the discussion. That is not to say that absolute Theodicy, if I may foreshadow the Kant discussion, is merely regional or a chalk drawing on the ‘ol tabla rasa. But this is not an essay on absolutes, unfortunately.
“Western” and “Latin” are interchangeable words for that side of the discussion. In this view, humankind was created complete and perfect and had the potential to stay that way, because we were created in God’s image. With the fall, that potential was lost and guilt was gained. Now humanity is powerless over its guilt. It seems that mankind was created with the power not to fall, but when he did fall, his power was forfeited. He evolved backwards from man to monkey see - monkey do; walked right into a steel trap that locked behind him. That’s the story.
Among the voices of Western Theodicy are Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, who helped spread the bad news of man’s dismal condition. The answer is found in legalities, especially for Calvin, that is, in the rules of God and the laws of nature, which are technically the same thing. As I turn my attention to Augustine, I see that his is an aesthetic view of evil. Is this to say that he finds the beauty in it? There is no past or future for God. He is present; he is now, but now is all ages. He can see the future and all is well. Augustine may have pointed out the flaws of Maniceanism, attributing his earlier allegiance to that philosophy to his foolish youth, but the influence remained. When evil is encountered, get over it. Don’t let it get you down. He was also influenced by Plotinus, who said that God has no contact with creation because he is above time. Plotinus also believed in ‘accepting life on life’s terms’ and expressed it in this way:
“We are like people ignorant of painting who complain that the colours are not beautiful everywhere in the picture: but the Artist has laid on the appropriate tint to every spot. Or we are censuring a drama because the persons are not all heroes but include a servant and a rustic and some scurrilous clown; yet take away the low characters and the power of the drama is gone; these are part and parcel of it…” (Larrimore, 42).
This is of course easier said if you’re NOT a scurrilous clown, but the pre-Augustinian mindset is obvious.
For Augustine, the devil exists by not being. So, the devil is a negative, the vacuum left when you suck out all that is good, or maybe even more nothing than that. Evil is deprivation. This type of logic exists on the flip side in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, where Heaven is portrayed as being so dense, so full of glory that a blade of grass feels like a nail to ‘unshod’ feet, (shod with the gospel). For Augustine, and Western Theodicy, suffering does not matter in light of future rewards. This attitude discounts suffering and to do so tends to turn hearts to stone and tears to fiery darts. Denial is not always bliss.
I am reminded of a movie called Merlin, where evil is ultimately conquered by ignoring it, because since evil is nothing, it only exists by being noticed. When the spirit behind the evil is unacknowledged, then men stop killing each other and the world becomes peaceful. The evil personality exists, but it can only have being in the imaginations of people, who then make it real and give it power by their actions. Wouldn’t it be nice if ignoring evil could bring world peace? It can, I suppose, protect peace of mind at the checkout line at Kroger where I sometimes forget that I am free not to read the gossip headlines and or to have my personal norms set by airbrushed photographs. The important difference between Merlin’s philosophy and Augustine’s is that for Augustine evil has no ‘ontos’, no being. Evil is a deficiency. There is no devil personality running the show.
For Augustine, all creation is good. Evil is a malfunction, and one which will be a happy accident after all, because it drives the broken to God. In this case evil is God’s will. Here it is important to this discussion that I remember our working definition of evil, because I slip into a frame of reference that is sensationalized by force of habit. Evil is a loaded word that conjures up images of Stephen King characters, possessed cars and evil dogs and The Stand, his novel about the battle between good and evil. To define evil as “that persistent reality which flies in the face of our best efforts for ease, happiness, and fulfillment” seems quite tame in light of my wildest dreams. It is difficult not to qualify evil, and in so doing to give it great power. I grew up with devils. I would be more inclined to call ‘that which flies in the face of my best efforts for ease’ something like a nuisance, but not evil. The discrepancy happens in the definitions of ‘ease, happiness, and fulfillment’. Perhaps these terms are not relative to individualized preferences in this theological context. The idea must be that God knows what fulfills me more than I do. Thank God.
The crux of Western Theodicy is this: that God is meticulously connected to every aspect of our lives. The problem this raises is that if God causes good things to happen to us, he must cause the bad, or permit it. Human suffering is a punishment for sin, which puts God in charge of suffering, too. Everything is according to God’s will. Everything exists for a purpose because God predetermines all events. Leibniz ventured slightly off the Augustinian path to say that God has foreknowledge of man’s choices, but he does not predetermine them for man. An important idea behind Western Theodicy is that there is no such thing as a wasted life, or as one of my Wesleyan-Holiness friends wrote on a napkin for me one day over coffee, “in God’s economy there are no wasted experiences.” This world we live in is the best possible world there can be, because God made it.
Eastern Theodicy emphasizes personal responsibility. It is associated with Greek anthropology as Western is to Latin. In Eastern thought, relationship with God counts. We are created for it. We are created to walk in communion with God in the cool of the day, and we are only free when we seek this. Irenaeus’ theology is important to the Eastern understanding, beginning with the difference between ‘image’ and ‘likeness’. The first is the human form while the second is the supernatural endowment that allows us to be rightly related to God. Our likeness to God materializes over a process in time as we learn to value what is good and shun what is evil. Understanding the difference between good and evil is vital to the process, and I think the difference can be surprising sometimes. God, they say, has given us the perfect environment in which to learn. “God made man a free [agent] from the beginning,” he says, “possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God.” (Larrimore, 29)
The Eastern view cites the fall in every human childhood. It’s a phenomenon, because it doesn’t have to happen, but given the environment and opportunity, it does, in astounding numbers- 100 to none. They say, in this view, that God ordains sin, and whether it is caused or permitted doesn’t matter. What matters more is that God is sovereign. Irenaeus says that God had the power in the beginning to make man perfect but man would not have been able to contain God’s perfection yet. I guess the weight of glory is a heavy load. But Jesus, being God and therefore having always been, passed through an infantile state so that man could receive God, by example and by proxy. The stark raving point of Eastern Theodicy is that man can attain God’s likeness now. Wesley is an Eastern thinker, and for him, we can be holy now, actually, literally holy. This contrasts Western thought, to which all righteousness is alien and to which human nature and divine nature are as impossible to homogenize as oil and vinegar.
Western thinkers like Luther and Calvin believe that holiness cannot be obtained by humans in this life. For Luther the answer is grace and for Calvin it is structure or law to help us keep it in the middle of the road until Jesus comes. For one, sin is forgiven and for the other it is controlled. For Wesley, our lives in this life can mirror Christ, and not sinning can become as natural as living.
It is beginning to occur to me why I find the Wesleyan-Holiness theology so appealing. It gives me a way see, understand and talk about some things I had already discovered for myself, through life experience combined with unfettered Bible reading. I just read the pages, like a good book, and took it for what it said, and it led me here. I had few preconceived notions left and it took about fifteen years of living proof to realize that I was grasping the golden edges of a reality that doesn’t just work, but that IS. I came to this Wesleyan-Holiness theology quite ‘by accident’ and learned that I had many, many theologies floating around in my head, mostly Christian, mostly Western, and all conceived in the sound bites of a culture that loves a religion that it knows little about. I saw no need to toss the baby out with the holy water, but I found and do find the Western tradition to be heavy laden and hopeless without the balance of the Eastern tradition. Eastern thought rings more true to me with the idea of communion with God. I simply never have felt like a despicable worm, and the idea of getting back to Eden appeals to my romantic side. I cannot deny God’s sovereignty, but I cannot explain the world he created being so depraved. I think it could be like that flower I mentioned before. It is a beautiful creation, and we’ve crushed it. I cannot believe that all things are meant to be but along with my Western witnesses, I know that our choices and moral actions count. The Eastern influence makes me realize that I make ‘obedient’ choices out of the desire to love and commune with God, and not because I am otherwise doomed. I want to live up to the way God sees me. Something about the balance that happens between East and West with Wesleyan-Holiness thought shows me how beautiful the world is again. It’s like seeing the glass half full, instead of half empty. Both realities exist, even if one exists by not existing. There is good and there is evil, but the world is good. If it were a glass half full of water, I guess you could say the water needs to be purified, and maybe there is a battle worth fighting that will help fill the glass up the rest of the way. Maybe the world is as it should be and not what it can be, all at the same time.
I don’t know if the world is getting worse or better. It seems to hold a steady course of ups and downs. I do know that the hardest thing in the world for people to do is to be loved. There is something humbling about the possibility of being holy. There is something terrifying about agreeing to be God’s treasure. (Deut. 26) Try shining just to shine and let the goodness of who you are answer suffering and need. It will surely bring on the opposition. Joy for the sake of joy. I never would have seen joy without the pain. I know this, and explaining it is where the theology comes into play.
Job 23:13 “He has decided. He does as He wills.”
In his 1791 essay, “On the miscarriage of all philosophical trials in theodicy”, Immanuel Kant comes to the immediate conclusion that to attempt to defend God’s cause is ‘our presumptuous reason failing to recognize its limitations’, a thought which reflects my earlier sarcasm in question 2. Our intentions are good, even though it is for our own sakes that we reason, not God’s. There is no need to prove God’s wisdom within this world’s teaching, says Kant, and this would be futile anyway, since it would require omniscience to recognize absolute perfection that is like no other in all of creation or beyond.
Kant uses the word ‘counterpurposive’, which I understand to mean ‘in opposition to what exists or is done with a purpose’. In short, it is a way of describing evil, when the purpose is God’s. What is counterpurposive in this world is that which is opposed to the wisdom of its creator, and Kant describes it as having three aspects: sin, ill, and inequity. These three things are counterpurposive to God’s holiness, goodness, and justice.
Kant goes through the attempted vindication of God’s three attributes, considering how one might explain how a holy, good and just God could allow such opposite characteristics of himself to thrive in this world.
Regarding holiness, one might argue that a seeming violation of holiness is only that from a human perspective, but since God’s ways are higher than ours, his holiness is guarded and flawless in a way incomprehensible to our understanding and unperceivable to our vision. It could also be argued that God cannot prevent evil because it is created by finite humans, but this idea would also vindicate humans by virtue of their finiteness. Moral evil, he argues, is a choice and humans are not blameless; therefore the vindication does not work. Again, to say that God allows evil in order to achieve some good goes against the very definition of holiness; in other words, the means defies the end.
Regarding goodness, it is impossible to vindicate God, for the ill in the world, as some try to do, by saying that humans prefer illness to enjoyment of life. We love a good pity party. Kant points out that, no matter what anyone may say, everyone would rather be living than dead. He argues that no person of sound mind would pass on the chance to live life again. Life begs to go on. Life has value. Why would God call us into a life, pain and all, if life, such as it is, were undesirable to us? Finally, an argument vindicating God of illness and pain is that it is all for sake of future joy. To claim this requires pretense, although it is certainly a tempting vindication. Many modern hymns testify to its appeal. Kant believes such a view to lack insight, but what his insight is remains a mystery to me. I can only take him to mean that pain and suffering are not meant to be.
Spite and fury make it irresistible not to consider the idea that all bad people suffer natural consequences for their behavior, but there are many people who have learned that crime often goes unpunished. For the depraved or ignorant, the joy of life becomes a mission to get what they want any way they can without getting caught, and if they are not caught, they are not guilty. More simply put, ‘only the good die young’. Another common argument is that the virtuous are made more virtuous when they have suffered persecution while the morally corrupt win. Kant’s insight is that the fact that the end of THIS life may not be the end of life does not count as vindication of providence. I do not suffer or endure in response to injustice; I endure for the sake of my own life and the love of it and within it. God’s wisdom working through his attributes needs no vindication. There is no reasonable argument. There is no answer to the question. We cannot attain God’s wisdom and we can only discover what we know intuitively of the real sensible world, the one which cannot be proved but which this temporal world reflects.
Theodicy does not need to search for answers beyond what is given by God for humans to understand. Theodicy should truly interpret, and God should do the interpretation through human reason. This is the only authentic interpretation, and Kant finds an example of in the book of Job. Job speaks as he thinks, expressing thoughts that God has revealed to him, as opposed to Job’s friends, who have no insight but only want to lecture God. They talk to Job as though God is overhearing them and catching the point. The ultimate answer to Job and his friends answers theodicy: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” (Job 38:4)
The role of the counterpurposive is to lead to insight, which leads us closer to the heart of God, which leads to what I think Kant means by sincerity. The counterpurposive is against purpose, that which tries to prevent the purpose of God, which is holiness, goodness, and justice. It is when we rightly interpret the will of God announced in creation by using our reason and intuition that we achieve authentic theodicy. The answer then is in knowing that God demonstrates order and purpose in the world. There is beauty and there is depravity and God is wise and his ways are hidden. Maintain integrity through it all, says Job, says Kant. It is not morality by faith, but faith by morality. Religion is a life of good conduct, not supplication. No whining!
I think, and it is more from my own experience and observation rather than something assumed from Kant’s essay, that he ends with a reflection on sincerity because none of the good conduct is possible without it. Without sincerity, any good attribute can be used manipulatively, though good is always better than evil. I think of the wealthy who gather to support a charity and for tax write-offs, drinking and dancing and celebrating all night for the cause of the poor and starving or the deathly ill. Strange irony, but the beneficiaries come out better if a good time is had by all at the buffet bar. I can only assume that the definition in my dictionary is the same as Kant’s when it defines sincerity as that which is ‘free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings’. He also names truth and truthfulness and I understand him to mean that there are absolutes and definite standards by which to live. Philosopher turned theologian might also mention relationship, as in with the Creator. It’s a love thing, and it only happens when we recognize our own hearts and are not self-deceived about our unexplainable drive to darkness, but are not deceived about our ability to choose life.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Can a Native American be true to their heritage and at the same time, a devout Christian? How do the worlds of Christianity and Native Religion connect? Do the sacred writings of Christianity cross the lines of understanding with Native American thought?
In a recent interview with Dove Award winning songwriter, Kim McLean we brought up her lineage of Native American blood. As a hit Gospel/Christian songwriter pursuing graduate studies in religion and part Native American, how does one live in both worlds? First, where do your Native American roots begin?
KM: Two of my grandmothers were half Cherokee, from the mountains of Virginia.
Do the two worlds of Native American beliefs and Christianity ever walk the same road?
KM: A deep spirituality was passed down from my Native American heritage. All the stories that I hear, I find no tension between the spirituality of the Cherokee and my personal Christian faith. If anything their faith is even stronger, seeing with a stronger vision. I get the feeling that when they feel the wind blowing in those Smokey Mountains; they know it’s the spirit. And when they have a dream, they know when God’s voice is in it. I love the way they learn from all of creation, not just humanity. That’s the way I’ve always felt, even as a small child. (Not that I’m pantheistic or anything!). There is a difference between making all of creation God, and knowing who the God of all creation is.
Do you believe there are things that modern Christianity can learn from Native American teachings?
KM: Though I have a great love for my Christian beliefs, sometimes they can be very limiting. It can sometimes box God in. From what I have read from my Cherokee roots, there is no limitation on God. He is why the sun is warm and the fire, hot. There is no doubt from my Cherokee relatives that God heals. There are so many stories of healings and miracles in my family. Broken bones were healed. Illnesses were healed. These were stories passed down through my family and I believed them. One particular story was of my great-grandmother who was said to ‘wash her hands’ in the flames of the wood stove and then perform healings on ailing people who came to her. A little boy was brought to her after falling off his bicycle and breaking his arm. The arm was visibly broken, dangling. My great grandmother laid hands on the little boy’s arm, prayed, and it was healed right then and there. He ran off and played, and you could never even tell there had ever been a problem.
You are a Christian, no doubt about it. You also have medicine cards that you draw. Is this part of devotion or are they ‘for amusement purposes only’? Do you find any validity in animal medicine and find connection in the Scriptures? Do you blend the two worlds in your devotion time?
KM: I would never say there is any blending of animal medicine, medicine cards, and my Bible and prayer time. The medicine cards are just part of an inspiration I use every day. They are cards with pictures of animals like dolphin, dog, mountain lion, and eagle among others. I don’t try to find any Scriptural correlation in them. I shuffle them and get wonderful positive thoughts for the day, based on the animal card I draw. They aren’t superstitious at all. They encourage me. For instance, I love drawing the eagle which reminds me that the Great Spirit is guiding us all. He is providing the wind for us to open our wings to. He is in charge of everything. This doesn’t substitute for my Scripture reading, however. I open my Bible first thing…every day. I pray and journal. The medicine cards are an interesting way to finish everything up.
Your most recent project is called, “God’s Lyrics”, a Scripture set-to-music collection that you did with your ten year old son, Will McLean Johnston. He reads the Scripture and plays the drums/percussion for the project. You created and perform the songs. Why this project?
KM: God’s Lyrics is a project that I felt a need for because I believe in the power of the Words contained in the Scriptures and the Spirit that’s in them. It’s the power to heal, to bring peace, forgiveness, and life.
Why did you choose the Scriptures you did?
KM: I chose an array of Scriptures beginning with verses that would introduce a person to the Bible that may have never read it, and hopefully the songs will compel them by the love contained in these words…to want to read more. I chose verses for those who already love the Bible and just want to be blessed by the beauty of hearing the words again. I chose verses that help paint a complete theological picture, that is, the love of God and Jesus Christ. There are many theologies in the Bible. I wanted to emphasize THAT one. I prayed over every verse, and believe that God guided me by His spirit, which verses to write music to. There will be many more of these projects.
Why did you choose to do this album with your ten year old son?
KM: I want to instill a love for God’s Word in his heart. And I want to teach him to use the gift that God gave him for God’s glory. And…he’s good. And…he’s cute.
How do you handle teaching your son about his heritage?
KM: His understanding of Native American heritage has been taught to him as it was to me, that we are all related. That’s said to be a Native American touchstone. But Jesus taught that. God is sad when people don’t run to His loving arms. We are all His children, and in that sense, all related.
“God’s Lyric’s” is a CD project by Kim McLean and is available on www.CDBaby.com, www.Amazon.com , www.iTunes.com , and www.KimMcLean.com