Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Call Me Unto Heaven"--short story in progress

You've had a chance to see some of my musings on the faith...but as my profile mentions, I also do a little writing--mainly science fiction and fantasy. Until now, I've written only for my own enjoyment, but now I am working on a story set in the near future that I hope to share. Its title is "Call Me Unto Heaven."

Imagine that an unstoppable viral juggernaut has ravaged the human race, leading to its imminent extinction in this world. What if there had been a chance to stop it before it made that fatal change in its structure?

And what if, from all the world's previous plagues and disasters, we had learned all the wrong lessons, and instead of caring for the least of these we turned the Great Pandemic into a cruel game of blame-and-shame?

Even the one who watches it all unfold from orbit in isolation...can never truly be isolated after all.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The heart of worship is a very intense place.

Why do we as Christians worship? Why should we?

This is one of those subjects where I've seen misunderstandings from believers and nonbelievers both...and I deeply believe that how and why we approach can color our entire attitude towards our faith. I'm not talking about high-church/low-church divisions...I believe that the form worship takes is a very individual matter. What I refer to here is the reason for expressing our faith to God.

Criticisms from an atheistic perspective tend to take the form of attributing a vain ego or a toddler-like temper to God. God must be incredibly egotistical, they might say, to make worship a qualification of faith, and incredibly nasty to condemn people for failing to kowtow sufficiently. From a Christian perspective, it's not a criticism so much as a misunderstanding...God demands worship as a duty, something to do to show what good believers we are--and here's the checklist of what you MUST do when, or else you must be going to Hell for not doing enough and in the right way.

Both come from a fundamental misunderstanding, I believe, of the character and nature of God. The truth is, He is both incredibly human and incredibly unlike humanity as we currently know it. One thing the Bible makes very clear, both through His words through the person of the Father in the Old Testament and His actions, through the Persons of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, in the New Testament, is that God is deeply, deeply passionate. "Cold" is the last word we could possibly assign to our God.

I believe that emotionality frightens some people. And it's easy to understand why. Perhaps the atheist leveling the criticism that God must be vain or temperamental is thinking of what happens when humans' passions become the strongest: we lose control of ourselves. We make ill-advised decisions, we lash out in anger, and we make unreasonable demands. And we should indeed be concerned about the effects our untempered passions can have on ourselves and others. The idea of living with so, so much more than that is terrifying, considering how poorly we do with the paltry passions we have in comparison.

Yet with that extraordinary passion--emotion so strong it would overrun our defenses in a nanosecond, God is able to be both just and merciful. Sometimes I believe that when He speaks of His feelings...and He does it much more often than you might realize...we react badly because we either do not see the underlying logic, or we experience that fear of what would happen if we had to try and control it. I don't know about anyone else, but I get the distinct feeling sometimes that it was hard for God to reduce living a faithful life to an enumeration of laws, as happens in Leviticus. There was a reason for doing it, of course--because we weren't relating to Him in a mature fashion, for starters, and to get us to see how we were falling short and why we needed salvation--but God's words in the Psalms (paraphrased: I want your hearts, not just a burnt offering!) and Jesus' frustration with the coldness of the Pharisees' legalism, and by extension, Christian legalism, really leads me to believe that the separation imposed by such laws hurt Him, maybe even as much as open denials and betrayals (though I can't truly be sure about that one way or the other).

The way God reacted to that hurt, however, was to keep reaching out to us (even after the imposition of the law, the monarchy, and every other institution) to make the ultimate sacrifice for our benefit, to restore that right relationship and help us to draw closer. What wondrous love is this, indeed!

While I think it's always important to understand that God is so much more than we could possibly understand, we must also remember that He did create us in His image--that our spirits are intended to reflect His. What we feel, He drew from something of Himself. When someone we love turns their backs on us, doesn't it hurt? When someone tells us we are loved--even if we already are certain of their love--doesn't that warm our hearts?

God has far, far more emotional maturity than the two-year-old some people describe Him as. He does not "have" to be worshipped as an egotist "has" to have adulation. Rather, I believe that for Him, worship is part of the constant exchange that is LOVE. I'm sure it DOES feel good to be told that He is loved, and for us to express our thanks and our reliance upon Him, however imperfectly our worship is. But just because it feels good does not mean God will become rash or cruel because of it, as we might. I also believe that sincere worship opens us to be more receptive of His love, and that is what He wants--that He cares and wants to see us benefit from that openness.
Certainly obedience is good; it denotes respect. And respect is a good place to start. But love...that's what God wants for us--to be a part of love.

And why should we not take care to respect God's feelings? Just because He is not prone to our excesses with His emotions doesn't give us an excuse, I believe, to trample all over Him. If we know we are hurting someone, shouldn't we stop doing what hurts that person? Just because a person is resilient, and heals from the wounds we inflict doesn't mean we should keep doing it. The hurt that person experiences, and what that does to our own spirits, is a terrible thing. God's may be the unquenchable flame, but what excuse do we have to hurt Him when we know full well that He does indeed feel that pain? How can we turn ourselves cold towards another Spirit?

And why shouldn't we do what we can to warm His heart as we would want done for us? If you read the Gospels, can you imagine the way Jesus' eyes would light up (figuratively, unless we're talking about the Transfiguration) when people treated Him with kindness and compassion? Yes, He still retained that emotional maturity in His incarnated state, but it's readily evident how much it meant to Him when someone was kind and loving. It feels good--and it opens the door to a relationship, a cycle of giving and receiving love that continually amplifies itself with each iteration. Even when someone gives a gift that is not needed--as we do when we worship, for God's survival does not depend on us as ours does on Him--it's still heartwarming to know that someone cared. It's the same, I believe, for God.

To sum up--for Christians who have gone into the rut of seeing worship as mere duty, something to check off the list, maybe spending some time reading the Bible to observe the depth of God's feeling would prove a comfort. His yoke is indeed light compared to the constant litany of rules we invent for ourselves and to share in His love is a salve to our souls and an exercise in kindness and compassion, not just obedience. For nonbelievers, I think that understanding the combination of emotion beyond our experience and control beyond our ability would be helpful--and the relational rather than unidirectional position of worship in the believer's life. Worship is not some appeasement of is an expression of love and a way of opening ourselves to God's voice. And that voice reminds us that we are loved.