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Love and Suffering

I wrote a short piece a couple years ago that turned into this clip… 

Fuel For Forgiveness from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

It is an attempt to understand how a “Loving God” can “allow suffering” …

Contemplating Death and Resurrection[1]

copyright 12-Mar-2010

Mark W. Ingalls

Stories We Like, Stories We Don’t

·       Why do we like stories of triumph over adversity?

·       Why don’t we like stories of total mastery– from start to finish?

·       Why don’t we like stories of unmitigated suffering from start to finish?

·       Why don’t we like stories of endless peace and happiness in an innocent and endless Garden of Eden?

·       Why don’t we like stories of perfectly average people to whom nothing overly good or bad happens?

·       At the same time, it is the ‘over’ part of adversity we seem to like more in our personal lives.

·       And at the same time we tend to run from suffering like “we hid our faces from him.”

Is Easter Christianity about ‘Over’ ?

What if Jesus had come to earth, taught, prayed, worked miracles, healed people, suffered, died, and rose from the dead, but did not appear to anybody? The Jesus we ‘know’ – how would he be different?
What if Jesus didn’t die, or even suffer, but had overwhelmed his crucifiers with a bolt of lightning and floored them all with his transfigured glory? The Christianity we ‘know’ – how would it be different?
We believe that he is coming again, but what if he had already come again, and we were born after that? The faith we ‘have’ – how would it be different?
What would it be like if it was all just ‘over’?

Good and Evil

(Looking at my own life…) What if I had always been ‘good’? (There was a time when Tiger Woods had always been ‘good’; when did Good-being Tiger end, exactly?)
What if all (or even most) of us were like:

·       Billy Graham

·       Mother Theresa

·       Albert Einstein

–or–

·       Dylan Klebold

·       Timothy McVeigh

·       Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot…

What if God was like a powerful government: Cross the line far enough and He attacks you? (Incidentally, a religious government is still a government.)
But maybe God doesn’t exist, like some say, and the reason we like the Easter story Christianity is because it gives us relief from all the suffering and doubt.

Three Questions

What if Easter is more than an event in history, more than merely a metaphoric ‘three day story’, but a real glimpse into the unchanging character of God? What if suffering is as much in God’s character as are forgiveness, compassion, love, holiness, righteousness and power?
What if suffering is transcendental, in the same way as “transcendental meditation?”
What if suffering is like fuel that powers forgiveness?
We might boil all this storytelling about God and good down to three questions–

  1. How do we ‘know’ God exists?
  2. To what extent is the Easter story ‘true’?
  3. What is its meaning for us today?

How We ‘Know’

(This line of thinking comes from C.S. Lewis, by way of John Ortberg.)
How we ‘know’ something depends on what we believe ‘know’ means. For example, we might ‘know’ that Billy Graham is good and Timothy McVeigh is evil, while some other person might ‘know’ exactly the opposite.
Still, all of us have concepts of ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’, because we all have concepts of ‘just’ and ‘humane’; we recognize ‘good’ by differentiating it from ‘evil’ and can differentiate ‘beauty’ from ‘tawdriness’. So we ‘know’ what we believe we have experienced or felt.
We can also ‘know’ something even when it is not always ‘true’. For example, we ‘know’ we can trust our close friends and loved ones even though we also ‘know’ they have (or will) let us down.
There is another way to ‘know’ something. If someone we trust tells us ‘the truth’ then we ‘know’ their ‘true’ story even though we have not experienced or felt it ourselves.

Historical ‘Truth’

We all know that our beliefs about past events can change– like our beliefs about ‘Good’ Tiger Woods, for example. Even our beliefs about events in the distant past are subject to scrutiny. One example is that we used to believe Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, but now we believe that Leif Ericson did, and some people even think there is evidence that the Phoenicians came here even before the Vikings did.
So, our picture of history is constantly changing as we discover new artifacts and documents from the past. Some artifacts and documents may be viewed with suspicion by historians because they don’t appear to be ‘legitimate’ or because they tend to promote one particular viewpoint over others. Other times, the obvious falsehood, or ’embarrassment’ of a document is what makes it historically ‘true’. For example, the ancient Egyptian Merneptah Stele is inscribed with the words, “Israel is laid waste; its seed is no more,” sometime between 1213 and 1203 BCE (before the Christian era). Now today, we know that it’s not ‘true’ because we know that Israel existed after that time. But what the ‘untrue’ Merneptah Stele proves is that there was a group of people named “Israel” large enough for the King of Egypt to brag about ‘wasting’ in 1200 BCE!

‘Doubting’ Thomas

You could say that the disciple called Thomas was somewhat embarrassing to the Gospel story, because he was a skeptic: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands…” We don’t hear anything about him is in Acts 1:13, where he is reported to be present with the other disciples. The only other association Western historians make between Thomas and Christianity is that his name was attached to a ‘heretical’ early Christian document, written much later than he would have been alive. Thus does Thomas disappear from the traditions of the Western church.

Mar Thoma Church

On the Southwest coast of India is a tiny, ancient sect of Christians, who call themselves, “Mar Thoma.” They started out as Jewish refugees in India who were converted to Christianity by (they claim) Doubting Thomas, the disciple who needed to see the nail marks, in 52 AD.
There are many independent (though obscure) historical verifications of their claims, such as the report by the philosopher, missionary and church father, Pantaenus (died by 200 AD), who wrote that he had personally found pre-existing Christians in India who used the Gospel of Matthew, written in Hebrew, as their only New Testament scriptures. (This is an important ’embarrassing’ detail, because the only manuscript copies of Matthew’s Gospel ever found have been Greek, and Matthew’s Gospel is supposed to have been originally composed in Greek, according to modern biblical scholars.) Another embarrassing fact of history was the Synod of Diamper by Portuguese Catholics. As one result, all religious texts differing from the Catholic Bible were burned.
The fact that these embarrassing ancient ‘Christians’ who were not like us and didn’t have our Bible still celebrated Easter (and communion) goes a long way toward convincing us that the Easter story is ‘true’– at least we know it was a story that truly existed far away from the Western church very long ago.

Suffering

‘Suffering’ used to be the go-to argument in the philosophical debate about the existence of God. I’ve personally never understood what the big deal is, because clearly God suffers. But what good is suffering and why does it matter to God? Let’s try to take a fresh look at suffering by asking what the world would be like if suffering never was.
How would we know we loved somebody (or some thing, even) if suffering never was? No delayed gratification, no emotion attached to being without our love object, how can ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ and ‘love’ coexist? So we see that a world without suffering might also be a world without love. Similarly, we can make a case for each of the following claims:

·       No suffering, no comfort

·       No suffering, no joy

·       No suffering, no forgiveness

·       No suffering, no grace

·       No suffering, no peacemakers

·       No suffering, no patience…

To Everything a Season

We might now come to the point of view that evil and good, suffering and joy, sin and love, are all necessarily balanced in tension, and that is the way it must be. That appears to be the point of view of the writer of Ecclesiastes, after all. But it is also the writer’s point of view that:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

This is the pre-Easter state of humanity: everything balanced and meaningless… Twentieth century philosophers called this “Existential Dread”…

Balance, Beauty, Big Bang

The idea that the universe must be in balance runs deep. For example, symmetry has been known to be an important component of aesthetic beauty. Attractiveness studies show that composite (balanced, symmetrical) human faces are deemed more beautiful than any of the individuals’ faces used to create the composites. Mathematics seeks to balance equations. Physics theories strive for balance– “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Life is about balance… or is it?
The universe we know exists because of a huge imbalance: “matter” far outweighs “antimatter” in our universe. The reason for this bald fact is one of the unsolved questions of theoretical physics, because “The Big Bang” should have created equal amounts of antimatter and matter. To a physicist, there is no mathematical reason that the universe as it is would even exist. Ultimately, then, life as we know it is about a huge imbalance: that of matter over antimatter.

Unbalance Makes Meaning

So, here we are living in a universe where, if you want to study antimatter you have to create it in the laboratory. If we imagine a theoretical physicist who had never witnessed our universe, he might say that this was an absurd idea– “Matter must be balanced by antimatter; symmetry must be preserved!” But I think we can ‘know’ our experience is ‘true’…
In a similar way, the pre-Easter man would say that a universe without suffering and pain is absurd. But what if someone came to us who had been in that universe, someone we could trust? What if there is a universe where, if you want to study suffering, you have to create it in a laboratory?

Necessity for Suffering Only for Awhile

In this universe, God (who is attested to exist by Jesus, who is attested to have risen by Thomas, who is attested to have converted to Christianity the Mar Thoma, who are attested to have used a Hebrew gospel similar to Matthew and to have existed before 200 A.D. by Pantaenus and attested to have been ‘heretics’ by the Portuguese, …) suffers. We don’t have a proper theory for that, we just know it is true, just like the matter/antimatter imbalance.
In this universe, we have no way to understand the meaning of good without evil, because we are somehow wired to perceive beauty in symmetry. Again, we don’t have a good theory for the beauty of averageness, but it’s true nonetheless. At the same time we find composite faces attractive, we find composite lives of composite people boring.
In this suffering, loving universe a suffering, loving being is said to have appeared talking about peacemaking, humility, forgiveness, and joy. This being claimed to be the inventor of everything. This being, this Christ, claimed to have also created another universe, a parallel universe where suffering was like antimatter. This is the meaning of Easter Christianity for us today.


[1] All ‘fact-checking’ can easily be done using http://en.wikipedia.org

Claimants

Disclaimer: Here I go, discussing religion again…

Remember that German guy who claimed to be related to the Rockefeller family‘Clark Rockefeller’?

Photo: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe

He turns out to have fooled some pretty smart people, especially–

I could go on and on (and it would be fun!) but that is not the wrong I wrant to write here. I aim to defrock claimants of another ilk…

Claimants to God’s estate

Now if our claimant –whose actual first name happened to be Christian– had said he was related to King Arthur instead of an heir with living genetically related progeny, how could we have disputed him? And here’s another thing– How much or little difference would it have made to the bilk-ees?

This is why, in claims of relationship, I like to take people at face value… the values they wear on their faces. Also, I try to resist the urge to do these sorts of things…

Here, instead, is what I do claim…

Ednapendance

My first wife, Edna, succumbed to ovarian cancer on Sunday, July 4th, 2010. I find that the pain is now a memory, but my love and respect for her is still fresh, even though I am very happily remarried.

Edna lived an amazing life. Edna was a great daughter, wife, mother, sister, cousin, aunt, and friend; she was the kind of person that stands by you when you need somebody to be there. Edna had a big, loving and giving heart.  It was the last thing to stop when she finally rested.

Edna’s death was not sudden. I remember when I heard the news about her cancer I did not want to believe it. Edna was too young.  I have slowly realized that Edna indeed lived her life wonderfully. In all her years of battling this terrible disease she never stopped living her life or caring for others.  She was a very spiritual person whose faith in God was unshakable.  She not only read the word and spoke the word of God but she lived it. She never tired of providing food, necessaries, advice, love or guidance to anyone who needed it, even though she was still battling her own illness.

 Through it all Edna continued to educate herself and graduated with honors from college.  She continued to write poetry and music, play the guitar, sing, and paint. Then, a year ago, she decided to plot a once in a lifetime month long trip around the U.S. which she embarked on with her beloved husband and son.  This was to be her last trip.  But thanks to the thousands of photos, her last adventure will never be forgotten.  Those pictures are presently being enjoyed by her family and friends.  But, we all have our snapshots of Edna in our hearts and memories; as long as we remember her, she lives.

 On that trip, they were camping on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania.  She wanted to share with strangers some Christian testimony so she cooked a gourmet meal on a Coleman stove for about 20 people who were also camping there.  Later they watched a beautiful sunset and fireworks.  That week she ended up in the hospital for a few days in Pennsylvania but asked the doctor to release her so she could continue on their trip.  Edna was not the kind of person who wanted to sit and wait for death.  She wanted to live and let death catch up to her.  That is the type of person she was, she loved to gather people around her, enjoy food, music, conversation and have a good time even though it could cost her healthwise later. People were her fuel; she gathered energy from being with a group of people.  She was like a magnet drawing people to her.

Her last wishes were to be able to hear the sounds of a party going on, children laughing, running and all having a good time and she almost accomplished it.  Edna went to heaven on July 4th when the whole country was having a party.  All night long the sight and sounds of fireworks were in the air.  How fitting for someone who loved to celebrate life.  From this year forward, we her friends and loved ones will think of July 4th as Ednapendence Day and celebrate her memory.

 Edna was well-loved; she had done so many things on earth and I’m sure she’ll do much more in heaven. I will forever be grateful to have known Edna. I will forever be grateful that Edna was my friend. All the memories we shared I will forever cherish and remember. Edna will forever live in our hearts… In my heart.

She wrote this poem ten years earlier.

It Could Have Been You

It could have been you that felt the cold, numb death at your lips.

The shock of the unknown, the unsettling tears dripping from your eyes not knowing what to do or how to react after the solemn news; “You have cancer”.

It could have been you that spent countless hours thinking about how you will leave this earth.

The memorial service and whom you should leave responsible to attend to all or nothing you have left behind.

Where should this body lay come that day once and for all?

It could have been you that lost all hope in finding hope again to help carry such a heavy burden.

The struggle to see the good in this wretched disease rather than the scary shadow enveloping so much fear and uncertainty.

It could have been you that lost all desire but the will to want a cure.

Seeking only meditation with God and cleansing of the heart and spirit, come whatever may come, wanting only peace and tranquility.

It could have been you who understood chemo would give you the extended days, weeks, maybe years; no one knows.

That this poison-medicine would take away everything but your will to go on. That it gives you no guarantees, no promises, yet offers no choices.

It could have been you that would take the crash course on cancer only to find out advancement is so far behind.

That the shock when realizing how many people suffer every day only brings you to tears while wishing you could find a cure for all illness.

It could have been you that prayed for many cancer stricken souls sympathizing in emotional pain and understanding their fear and struggle.

That this new union of friends and strangers all share one common ground, supporting each other, hoping that the other fights and succeeds with the uncertain battle.

But, it was me. It was me who learned all these things.

That all that has happened was part of my destiny. That while walking this journey, God has taught me strength, hope, and a deeper love for all mankind, understanding I am but a grain of sand among many of God’s beautiful people.

It was me who pleaded, asking God to give me more love for others rather than myself.

That in learning to intercede for others, God would bless me in His own special way.

It was me who felt blessed with all the special people coming to my side.

That all the notes, phone calls, flowers, hugs, books, and every gesture imaginable was shared.

It was me who felt lucky to be among God’s angels, to be the one honored with so many smiles and tenderness.

That all my bad days filled with pain, frustration, and tiredness were compensated by as many good days surrounded by compassionate and loving moments.

It could have been you, but I accept that it was me.

That I would have never known the magnitude of God’s love and mercy shared through His people.

That experiencing these blessings has been worth more than all the treasures this world could hold.

It could have been you, but in living all these things, I accept it was me.

copyright Edna R. Lopez 4/12/2000

Art·is·an … (p. 2)

So I listed my HP 8753C on Ebay®, hoping for the best and not really expecting the worst, so not ready accept whatever happened. I wrote:

 I am selling my 8753C because I want to get a bench top milling machine to build housings and antenna parts. I have an older 8753A (!)  but I only need one network analyzer, so I have decided to sell this one. Nice to have two frequency sources, but oh well. :sigh:

Everything works AFAIK *except* you cannot store calibrations and retrieve them after the machine has been turned off.  I have not had it calibrated, but it gives good results.

I *am not* selling the test set, because I only have one of those. (Tip: you can use the cheaper 75 Ohm test sets over the full frequency range in 50 Ohm Z0 by purchasing a pair of ‘min loss pads’)

I got my starting bid of $1500 right way, so I was even more hopeful that this would help me afford a way to make prototypes. I had the listing up for ten days and didn’t … get … one … other  … bid.

I lost money on the deal, but worse than that I felt that once again I was caught in the cycle of hostility that is the universe. It was a sick feeling… No matter what I tried to do, I seemed once more destined to suffer debilitating failure– economically, intellectually, emotionally, …as a man. I was this tragically weird chimera of great ideas grafted onto … I don’t know, what is an antonym for successful, fulfilled and happy?…

Call me Ishmael… The illusion of being the ‘antenna guru’ is my version of mental illness… I have been banished by technology, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time… The universe is malevolent and intends to do me harm…

Sadly, silently, I packed the network analyzer for its trip to California. As I carried the box down stairs I heard a sob. It was me. “When will I catch a break?” (I had already forgotten about the touch of the angel, perhaps, or perhaps I thought it was a random act that didn’t count.) I watched the network analyzer slip into the bottomless depths of the UPS store at 1:00 p.m. on Monday and drove home, dejected: What kind of crappy mill could I get for less than fifteen hundred dollars? Is this fun for you, God?

I was exhausted. Debi, my wife, was working. I flopped onto the couch, closed my eyes for a moment and…

_____________________________________

…I woke up about two hours later, my computer on my lap. Out of sheer habit, I searched ‘Bridgeport’ in CL > houston craigslist > tools – all. There I read, “Bridgeport mill, everything works, $900, Conroe… I called. I drove. I saw. I purchased. The thing was filthy, piled high with decades of swarf and broken drill bits. The ways seemed tight, if un-oiled. I read the serial number, 8745, and looked it up on my smart phone. It had been made at the end of 1947, five years after Rudy’s patent was granted. It had a 115 volt motor of about the same vintage grafted onto it with a weird casting that couldn’t have been shop-made. The old man whose shop it was in also threw in a big clunky thing that looked like a lathe part grafted onto an angle plate. He had once used it to make broaches, he said. I could have it. I rigged the mill onto a rented trailer and into the corner of my garage in one piece. I spent a long day cleaning and adjusting it. I spent another $400-some-odd for tooling.

It’s a little old mill with a weird motor that was cast away by its shop owner because he had other, better equipment for his projects. But it also has the original art decco groove cast into it by Rudy, its maker. It seems to fit my heart and soul. I want to go make something…

The Myth of Matter, p. 4

John Wycliffe – Heretic

We know him as the first person to translate the Holy Bible into common English.[1] We may also know that he stood in disagreement with the Catholic Church. Today he is known as “The Morning star of the Reformation” because his religious ideas preceded Martin Luther’s by two centuries.

John Wycliffe, Heretic

In addition, Wycliffe “was an innovative thinker, a prolific writer, and extremely influential in his time.”[2] One of his innovative ideas was very similar to what later became known as the “Law of Conservation of Matter,” an idea he got from reading the Bible. When Wycliffe read in Genesis that God created the heavens and the earth, that He saw that it was good and that He rested, Wycliffe inferred, “God cannot annihilate anything, nor increase or diminish the world.”[3]

Let’s pause now in considering the matter of ‘matter’ to think about how revolutionary Wycliffe’s ideas were and still are…

  • The truth expressed in Holy Scripture superseded the truth declared by men, e.g., the papacy.
  • Transubstantiation[4] didn’t happen.
  • Personal salvation came from faith in God, not from church.
  • God predestined true believers, according to Rom 8:28-30.
  • War was un-Christian.

These ideas, which went largely unpunished during his lifetime (probably because of the Great Schism) earned Wycliffe the distinction of having his grave dug up, his remains burned and scattered, and all his writings suppressed.[5]


[1] Wycliffe is the namesake of Wycliffe Bible Translators, http://www.wycliffe.org/. “God’s Word, accessible to all people in the language of their heart.”

[2] Atomism in Late Medieval Philosophy and Theology, p. 185.

[3] Atomism in Late Medieval Philosophy and Theology, p. 187.

[4] The conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration.

[5] Refer to the Council of Constance.

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 3

Faith or idolatry? Fact or fantasy? Maybe it –everything– depends upon who you ask.

…and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, “Whom do men say that I am?”
And they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.”

And he saith unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?”
And Peter answereth and saith unto him, “Thou art the Christ.”

And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.

Personally, I like the idea of “the master of the universe” being this homely tired little guy with a misshapen face and bad hair. The dude who said, “Consider the lillies…” Looking at the two halves of the painting I see someone who has lived a conflicted life, double-minded, almost…
For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways“, wrote James.

Yeah, a god who doesn’t expect anything from Himself, nobody expects that.

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 2


This is one man’s depiction of his religious beliefs. It is the oldest known version of “Christ Pantocrator”, painted five or six hundred years after its subject had left this earth. This is my favorite Christian icon, surviving as it did some other blind men, those iconoclasts who viewed such depictions of the divine as equivalent to a graven image.
Looking at that conflict between different factions of the same religion from the vantage point of thirteen more centuries of smashing things and name-calling, I try to be as accommodating as can be of other people’s iconography, and as demure as can be with my own.

We might transliterate Pantocrator today as Master of the Universe; quite in contrast with this depiction…

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