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The Grain of Sand in My Brain

February 27, 2008

Some people might call it post-modernism, others contrarianism, and still others liberalism. I’ve always been a person who asks irritating little questions. There’s the Law of Large Numbers where majority rules, the utilitarian realm where where almost everyone is happy, and then there’s me– asking about the remainders, the leftovers, the minorities. Ever looking at the other side of the coin.

When I was a kid growing up in church, folks would tell these stories about how they were running late for church and fighting with the spouse and kids and how traffic was bad and how they were driving on the highway and traffic got worse and then even worse until they saw a big steaming bloody wreck and wow that could’ve been our family on their roof if they’d been on time and wow wasn’t God great to protect them from such calamity and bring them safely to church to be among faithful friends.

Such a story was intended to evoke a handy conclusion, but my mind always kept working: Why do we drive cars, and why do we constantly engage in such inherently dangerous activity and expect that we’ll always be safe? What’s so unimpeachably noble about meeting our friends in a church building? And most of all, what about that family who was maimed, and what about their destination and their destiny? Where was God for them?

These questions come all of the time: reading books (especially books for my daughter), having conversations, and thumbing through magazines at the dentist. Watching TV is a particular problem, what with all of the good folks getting their record or medal or award and thanking God and family and offering those earnest and ubiquitous words to their audience: “follow your dreams!”. But that’s a pretty bad idea, in my mind. Because these fortunate souls are one in a million who have overcome odds and competition and adversaries, who’ve collected blessings and lucky breaks. Most of us shouldn’t necessarily follow our dreams, because most of us don’t have the opportunity or bandwidth to pull them off.

And the other day, these questions came up while watching a perfectly nice man wearing Birkenstocks and playing a guitar and singing. His is an amazing story, and I would never, ever want to take anything away from it: a sudden discovery of a major brain tumor, surgery, and death sentence. Hearing the crushing news that his odds of beating the cancer were 1 in 500. Now, a dozen years later, he’s still here, waving a flag of hope and working the heavy-handed leitmotif of his deep admiration for coffee into every song.

Part of me says, God bless him for doing so, for transforming his pain and anger into healing and encouragement (and I certainly took great note of the man with the obvious surgical and radiation scars on his scalp who drove from New Jersey to hear the concert). But a bigger part of me cringes for the 499 who didn’t make it. Does death = defeat? What about the millions in history who just got a headache, keeled over, and died? What about those who got better without faith and hope, who just get more angry and bitter, and live out their lonely days still shaking their fist at the sky? What about those who have the same faith and hope and healing, but who don’t get the chance to go around singing about it?

Of course, I could be trying hard to justify my ornery, questioning, cynical nature. I’m sure I’m guilty of that. But at the same time, this seems good to me, asking how policies and theologies and personal beliefs affect the least, the lost, and the left out.

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3 Responses to “The Grain of Sand in My Brain”

  1. kate says:

    Are you saying that coffee cures cancer? Awesome!

    I would call what you’re describing ‘critical thinking.’ And I would dare say that it’s a good thing. As long as (my opinion) you can occasionally tune it out when it seems best to do so, which you seem to be able to do. (or do a good job pretending to do.) :)

  2. MeesheMama says:

    Hmm. I completely hear you.

  3. Kelsey says:

    I think about this a lot. The town I live in used to have 80,000 people in it. 35,000 of them were killed in the tsunami. 35,000. You don’t meet one person who didn’t have their children, fathers, mothers, siblings die – poof – just like that. In one hours time. Or working with street kids who have one horrible thing after another happen to them and you think, ‘geez, God! Could you cut these kids a break? Just for a month? Is it too much to ask?’. Or in IDP camp where people have traveled for days and days with little or nothing that they own any longer just, as Bono says, ‘on a voyage to meet mercy’. And then when they are almost there they cannot cross a border and are turned back to certain death. When I first got to Indonesia I heard people say, ‘well the tsunami opened up the area for Christians to come in.’ And I would think, ‘really? God needed to kill 200,000 people so that Christians could go somewhere?’ Or, ‘well the tsunami helped end the war’ and again I think, ‘shame about those 200,000, eh?’ Anyway, it still sits uneasily with me but while I was in Sudan I read a book by Sheila Cassidy called, Good Friday People, and one thing she said has stuck with me. She said (forgive the length here) “I believe it is this: suffering is, in the same way that life is. It is a fact and denying or ignoring it will not make it go away. I do not know if it has a meaning. Deep in my heart I believe it has but I don’t really know. But this I do know: more important than asking why, we should get in there, be alongside those who suffer. We must plunge in up to our necks in the icy water, the mud and the slurry to hold up the drowning child until he is rescued or dies in our arms. If he dies, so be it, and if we die with him, so be it also.” And somehow, something about that ended my wrestling about why things turn out as they do and demanding that God answer me. I was reading in Ecclesiastes last week this verse 11:4-5: Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. I haven’t become one of these ‘oh it’s a great tapestry and we see the underside of the weaving’ sort of people. I think God’s got a lot to answer for…but I think he probably also has a lot of answers and I’m not sure that I should be the one doing the asking. So, in the meantime my asking ‘why’ – me, who considers it suffering to not have coffee everyday – is a little disingenuous. I think it is good to be the sort of person that says, ‘yeah, but what about…’ as long as that righteous sense of injustice and railing against the way the world is arranged is directed toward something other than returning to the question, ‘why’? (Sorry, didn’t mean to leave you a sermon.)

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