Giving up…

Someone, someone who clearly knows nothing about me, asked today what I was giving up for Lent. Well, look, while it’s all well and good for others who are moved by the spirit to give up chocolate, or booze, or sex, or social media for the duration, I’m not the type to willingly “give up” on anything really.

I’m the type to hang on to the things I like until my knuckles are white and my fingers shake with exhaustion. I’m the type to embrace my favored lost causes in a bear hug. I’m the type who takes his pleasures where he finds them in the here and now.

While I am those many things and more, what I’m not is the kind of guy who finds much use in fasting, penance, atonement, and self-denial. Hair shirts and self-flagellation just don’t fit into my view of the world and how I want to experience it. I don’t think, if there is an all knowing and all powerful God above, that He cares if we stop eating chocolate for the next 39 days. If I’m going to believe there’s a grand architect to this universe of ours, I have to believe that running it involves a little more focus on the big picture than worrying over what one individual, in one minor species, on a small planet, circling a insignificant star, in the outer spiral arm of a unremarkable galaxy is putting in his belly.

Heroes and villains…

Last week a friend of mine asked if I thought the Devil was a hero or a villain. Now having been raised by a good Methodist mother, my response should have been automatic, immediate, and emphatic. Nothing with me is quite that simple, though, so the question became something of a thought exercise – and one that I’ve spent more time pondering over the last few days than I expected.

First, if we accept the Bible as the literal word of God, the answer is obvious. The devil is the bad guy. He’s the super villain’s super villain. However,I’m all too aware that edition of the Bible I grew up with was one commissioned by England’s King James I and completed by his team of translators, all members of the Church of England, between 1604 and 1611. The fact that it is a translation based on previously translated works based on events first described not closer than several centuries after they would have originally take place has always felt to me a bit problematic. For purposes of this particular argument, though, that’s not my point.

When I look at the Old Testament story of Lucifer’s fall, I’m often tempted to give it some of the context it’s lacking. Context that perhaps paints an image at an Almighty who is unelected and wholly unaccountable in His actions. If we apply a bit of literary license, we can see God, certainly the God of the Old Testament, as the purest incarnation of absolute monarchy – quite literally king by divine right. Within that broader context, Lucifer raising a reported one third of the angelic population in open rebellion against the throne could be construed as an act of defiance against a totalitarian regime. I’m thinking here now about the images of Romanians rising against Ceaușescu and East Germans overtopping the Berlin Wall in 1989.

From the seat of an all knowing and all powerful deity, Lucifer’s actions can only appear ungrateful, immoral, and a blatant violation of the established order. If one were to be devil’s advocate it certainly seems possible to argue that as a leading light among the heavenly host, he had a duty and an obligation to rise up and cast off the shackles of oppression and lead his people towards a more democratic future. At least that’s how I’d make the case if I were devil’s advocate, but maybe I’m flavoring it with a little too much of my own ideas about how oppressed peoples are supposed to respond.

Perspective is everything. Especially when it comes time to label the winners and losers of the story. So, is the Devil a hero or a villain? Yes, I suppose he is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Being robbed by the rich.” Based on what I see popping up from time to time on social media I should be furious because the money I’m supposed to have has apparently been stolen by the uber-wealthy. A quick look at this month’s bank statement will show without a doubt that I’m not one of them. Somehow I don’t feel like I’ve been the victim of theft, though. I started saving when I got my first job, made some good trades, and got lucky on more than one occasion. I’ve managed to stash a little back for the proverbial rainy day and for the far off day when I’m neither willing nor able to work any longer. Because there isn’t as much there as I’d like isn’t an indication that it was stolen from me so much as it’s an indication that I need to do a better job saving. There’s a vocal little group out there who apparently think the “rich” have snuck into my account and walked away with a bag of cash. Truth be told, I’m far more worried about long term inflation and the devaluation of the dollar than I am the “Wall Street Banksters” raiding me for pocket change.

2. Low grade crud. I’ve been suffering from some kind of low grade crud for weeks now. Some days are worse than others, but mostly it presents as a stuffy nose, occasional cough, and sore throat that sort of comes and goes of its own accord. It’s annoying, but not to the level of being worth having anyone check it out. Whatever’s in there coming and going needs to just go because it has more than worn out its welcome.

3. “Islamophobia.” Rest assured when I use the phrase Islamic terrorist I know exactly what I mean. I mean a terrorist who is either motivated by their Islamic faith or one who is using it as a justification for barbaric actions. Despite what some busybody old bat standing near me in line last weekend thinks, it’s not an indication that I am “Islamophobic.” I most assuredly don’t fear Islam or any other religion for that matter. I use Islamic terrorist to denote an asshat or asshats who claim to use one of the world’s great religions as justification for everything from petty crime, to mass murder, to acts of war. Rest assured, just as soon as a Methodist or Catholic shoots up Mad Magazine because Jesus told them to I’ll be among the first in line condemning them for it. I don’t blame a whole faith for the actions of a few, but I damned well do blame that faith when they don’t rise up in one voice to condemn those splinter elements who are pirating the name of their God for a decidedly ungodly purpose.

What Jeff Likes this Week

Bread may be the staff of life, but a good cup of coffee is the foodstuff that makes life worth living. Coffee and I have had an ongoing, hot, steamy affair since I was 13. At one point or another I’ve taken it black, American style with cream and sugar, dripped, pressed, perked, or frothed, from Ethiopia, the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Kona, or South America. I love it in all it’s many forms – except iced – that stuff is pretty off-putting. It’s the beverage that starts and ends my day. It picks me up and puts me to bed. Day in, day out, week on week, and year after year it’s perhaps the most reliable feature in a universe that is otherwise hell-bent on change. Some will argue the point, but as for me, I count the cultivation of the coffee plant as one of the great high water marks of civilization itself.

“But,” you say, “It’s just a caffeine delivery system and you’re nothing but a damned addict, Jeff.” Sure. Maybe so. But it’s one of the last legal vices any of us are allowed to have… and it’s about as close to touching the face of God that we’re likely to find in this life.

Note: This is the 4th entry in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.

A religious experience…

I don’t consider myself a Sunday service kind of guy. I’m willing enough to accept that there are powers in the universe at work well beyond the conception of the mind of man, but I have a hard time with the idea of a supreme being who’s interested enough in the proceedings of the men and women on this little rock of a planet to spend his entire day in judgement of our rights and wrongs. If there is more powerful force in the universe, I hope he has something better to do with his time time than watch our collective tomfoolery.

Assuming for a moment that there is someone with their hand at the helm, I suspect he’s a little too busy to worry about whether or not we all show up in a special building on Sunday mornings. I’m spending this one drinking what to my mind is some of the finest coffee ever roasted and listening to one of the greatest jazzmen of the 20th century. I’m celebrating nature’s magnificent bounty and the genius of the human mind. If that’s not a religious experience, I don’t know what is.

The God of Happy Accidents…

There’s something that’s been bugging me for the last few days. It’s one of those things that most don’t consider a topic for polite company and I’ve swung from one side to the other debating whether this was the right place to even bring it up… or whether I should bring it up at all or just let it be one of those questions that agitates me quietly forever in the back of my head. Since I use this site as a platform for pretty much every other flavor of Buddycontroversy, I don’t suppose religion should be more off limits here than any other topic has been in the past.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m not exactly what you’d call religious. I’m not sure I can even get away with describing myself as “spiritual,” as many people seem to prefer these days. It’s not exactly that I’m anti-religion, but I’ve never quite been able to accept faith as the ultimate evidence of things not seen. I’ve always liked my evidence to be something a little more corporeal. Despite that, I’ve always had a healthy level of curiosity about world religions and have a tendency to pay attention when they are discussed academically.

This past weekend I heard a theologian argue that we can’t really blame God when something bad happens. In the next breath, this same panel member argued that we should praise God for all the good things that we enjoy in the world. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where my train of thought came off the rails. It seems to me that if we’re going to worship an all knowing, all powerful deity that is responsible for every good thing that happens, the very nature of an omnipotent God demands that He also be responsible for bad things when they happen. To think otherwise suggests a divine duality – one god responsible for all good things and another responsible for only bad things. That’s a pretty problematic concept to tinker with when the world’s major religious groups are pretty well established as monotheistic enterprises.

After writing that last paragraph, someone is sure to argue that I just don’t like religion in general or Christianity in particular. Because I know my own mind, I can say that’s not exactly true. I’m fine with religion and with Christianity (as long as they’re not being forced on anyone at the point of a sword)… what chaps my ass is hypocrisy. If someone of faith had the stones to go on national television and simply say “sometimes God just lets bad shit happen” I think I’d be fine with it, but to absolve your particular deity from responsibility because it doesn’t fit with the traditional narrative that God is Good requires a level of mental gymnastics that I’m not comfortable carrying out.

Although I’m not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination, it seems to be that if there is a God and He is, in fact, all powerful and all knowing, then we’re doing Him a disservice by only giving Him accolades for the happy accidents of life. Sorry, but if He wants the credit when things are going well, He’s going to have to share in the blame when it’s gone to hell in a handbag, even if it’s only because free will was His idea in the first place. How’s that for a controversial stance?

Burnt…

I’m not a particularly pious man. I don’t think I can remember the last time I was in a church that didn’t involve a wedding or a funeral. I don’t think that makes me a bad person and I still think of myself, nominally, as a Christian. At least that’s how I was raised. Even if I were a hard core, mainstream Christian I can’t imagine a scenario where someone burning a Bible would result in me and my closest friends taking to the street and demanding execution for the guys who lit the flame. As a matter of principle, I’m opposed to book burning in whatever form it takes. Destroying knowledge is never good for the upward swing of humanity. Still, I think it’s time for our Afghan friends to take a deep breath and think for a minute before they decided this is an issue worth dying and killing for. I’m not a theologian or anything, but I’m pretty sure that God or Allah, or whoever you’re busy praying to doesn’t actually live between the covers of the Bible or Koran. At the end of the day it’s just a book – a collection of highly processed pieces of dead trees. You can no more destroy a system of beliefs contained in a copy of one of these books than you can destroy Kellogs by setting fire to the box of Corn Flakes I have sitting on top of my refrigerator.

Was it a mistake? Maybe. Was it stupid? Absolutely. Is it worth killing over? Yeah, not to much. I guess I just don’t have the mindset to be an extremist. Some things are worth fighting and dying for… To my way of thinking, though, anything I can buy from Amazon and have shipped to my house overnight doesn’t qualify for that level of importance.