Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Friday, May 27, 2011

Potpourri: Deep Thoughts on Religion

Okay, I've got to comment on this whole "End of Days" things.

I'm interested to hear Harold Camping's clarification that last Saturday was actually an "invisible judgment day." Also, I'm relieved to hear that the next five months won't be characterized by fire, brimstone and mass human suffering (well, no more than you typically get in Texas in July and August). Excerpt below is from the Washington Post:

[Camping's] former assertion was that a faithful three percent would be physically pulled into heaven by God through the Rapture on May 21, to be followed by a five month period of great suffering known as the Tribulation, ending, finally, on October 21. On Monday’s broadcast, Camping speculated that perhaps a merciful God decided to spare humanity five months of “hell on earth.”

(Emphasis added.) Is this kind of like double-secret probation? Also, Harold, did I just hear you acknowledge that these things are FLEXIBLE? Did I hear you admit that maybe, just maybe, God retains some measure of free will in this administration-of-Earth thing? (Hey, if ANYONE has the ability to chart their own destiny and all, HE does.) So, if God doesn't take every word of the Bible literally, and if we're supposed to be following God's example . . . um . . . I'm just saying that maybe, just maybe, there's a lesson in that for you, Howard.

I also enjoyed the Pew Research Center poll that established that 41 percent of Americans think Jesus will “definitely or probably return to Earth before 2050.”  Who said that Americans are indecisive?  "We totally think it will happen . . . unless, you know, it doesn't."

I love Pew Research Center polls.  Love pseudoscientific polls, generally.  What I also love:  Americans with a sense of humor.  And, if nothing else, the Rapturegate caused them to come out of the woodwork.  (We can call it Rapturegate, right?  Based on our grammatically and contextually inaccurate cultural love for adding "gate" to nouns?) 

Loved the comments to various Internet stories about disillusionment among Camping followers, many of whom came out of pocket BIG TIME to advertise the coming Rapture. "Wow, a guy spent $140,000 to advertise the Rapture in Times Square.  Hope he kept some in reserve to buy himself an a**-kicking machine."  But my favorite Camping-related comment had to be this one:

"So the Rapture didn't happen on Saturday.  That's okay, Howard.  It's not the end of the world."

Also appreciated the various invitations to post-Rapture looting parties - some of them extended by Southern Baptists.

Here's what I got out of Rapturegate:  with the exception of a couple of manicurists at my nail salon who were threatening to call in sick to work because they wanted to spend their final pre-Rapture moments with their families, most folks took this all in stride - and some seized the opportunity to take a searching moral inventory of what makes them a worthy person.  (I won't use the word "Christian" here, because "Christian" and "worthy" in my experience aren't always synonymous, and my personal belief is that worth overlaps denominational boundaries).  I certainly did some thinking, and I reached some conclusions.

I don't live my life a certain way because of the promise of a better life to come.  I live my life a certain way because it is the right thing to do.  I can honestly say that I would live that way no matter what.

I do respect the historical context:  centuries ago, life was tough.  People died young, and brutally.  They lost family members.  The only way to raise their standard of living was to do so collectively.  That took cooperation, and a higher degree of respect for one's fellow man, and the community leaders in those days had a couple of options for trying to sell the benefits of loving one's neighbor:  convince people that their lot in life would improve during their lifetime (a hard sell, given the life experience of those people to date) or convince them that a better life awaited them, after death.  The latter had to resonate, because death, perhaps more than anything else, was a constant - the only sure thing (well, other than taxes).

Fast-forward to the present day.  The promise of a "perfect" life doesn't sound that good to me.  I watch the tabloid shows, and I've seen Lindsay Lohan.  There is something to be said for not having a perfect life - the bad stuff gives you a basis for comparison, and an appreciation for the truly good.   To me, the perfect state of being is a state of perfect perspective:  to know, from moment to moment, that everything around you is happening for a reason; to recognize that there is good and bad in everything; and to have the proper perspective to pick out the good mixed in with the bad.  What's the phrase?  "The devil is in the details?"  Well, God's a big picture guy - and a complete understanding of the big picture is, to me, the end game. 

But I don't plan to wait until Heaven to get my reward.  Okay, fully recognized that I might not achieve perfect perspective in this lifetime, but every day, with every life experience that I process and compartmentalize, I get a little closer to the goal.  And I think that that is what God wants me to do.  I'm not supposed to wait for Him to hand it to me, tied with a neat little bow.  I've always loved the joke about the flood:  the righteous man, marooned on the roof of his home, prays for God to save him from the rising waters.  He waves off the pontoon boat and the helicopter, proudly proclaiming his faith that God will save him.  Then he drowns.  When he gets to Heaven, he is six shades of ticked.  "Why didn't you save me, Lord?"

"Well, I sent you the pontoon boat and the helicopter."

So, every day, I seize on the metaphorical pontoon boats and helicopters that God sends my way.  And, every day, I get a little closer to . . . enlightenment.  Nirvana.  Yes, I realize that that is what I'm describing.  Maybe I'm an Eastern mystic at heart.  But not really.  Buddhist monks don't have a monopoly on these concepts.  They are available to people of all faiths.

And my husband points out that what I am describing, really, is faith.  True faith - the kind that God wants us to have.  Not the faith that God has us on a short list of special people who are guaranteed VIP seating in Heaven, or the faith that a certain number of virgins have been earmarked for us (really, what would I do with all of those virgins - are they up for some light housecleaning?), but, rather, the faith that we are living our lives the way that God would want us to live them.  And, also, a faith in God Himself:  faith that He is not arbitrary, or capricious, or hard-headed.  Faith in a New Testament God, not an Old Testament God.  A God that does not want us to be driven by fear, but a God who wants us to think, and to process, and to pity and pray for old men who delude themselves into thinking that they know God's will. 

So, when Saturday arrived, I thought about all of this, and I discussed my thoughts with some close friends and family members, and I felt better, on a number of levels.  And then I took my kids swimming, and I did some yardwork, and I ran some errands.  In fact, I was out running errands at 6 pm, which, apparently, was the predicted time for the Rapture.  I made a point of not being home at 6 pm - as a show of faith, in God and in my understanding of Him.

I was not disappointed.

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