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July 20, 2009

Mysterious Ways

Am I losing my mind? I am beginning to think so, because I don't understand an awful lot of things.

How do we determine our standards in life - where that line between right and wrong should be drawn? I am not an enforcer of lines.

And yet, I do think it's important to understand that there is a line. And once we understand that to know where that line is. In some ways, this may be the most important thing we know, if indeed knuckleheads like us can know anything in this uncertain world.

So many of us have abandoned God. We bow to nothing greater than our own egos, stumbling across that line in the dark and never even realizing we've blundered into a place we never meant to be. Oh, we say the words now and then. But I would be the first to admit: I don't live my life in accordance with what I was taught in Sunday School or in church. I was raised to attend church every Sunday. I remember - vividly - the last time I attended Mass:

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies.

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table. But Thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.

Our parish priest was a real hoot. Former Unitarian - a tall drink of water who liked to stroll up and down the nave strumming a vaguely disreputable guitar. This was an act calculated to send our 80 year old very British, very proper, very Anglican deacon (Phillip) into fits of wrinkled apoplexy. We were just a mission parish existing on sufferance from the diocese, and one day our decidedly mission pastor preached a mighty sermon. Called those words "an abomination".

I don't know why, but that really bothered me because I've always considered those phrases among the most beautiful in the English language. Such inexpressible peace. Yes, you're an unmitigated fuck up but somehow God will make it all come right in the end.

He sees what you wanted to be. What was in your heart.

But I have to say that though I haven't gone sour on God, I'm deeply agnostic regarding the trappings of religion. Months ago over at Maggie's Farm I read a Lenten essay that haunts me. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - about one line at the end:

"I do not want to be an animal".

Reading it, I unexpectedly found tears running down my face like a summer storm. They are doing so again. I wanted to write the author. To say 'thanks'. To say ... I don't know what I wanted to say.

But I don't do things like that. It's rare for me to write someone I don't know, out of the blue.

Awkward. And at any rate, there is no reason for me to assume what I read into that line meant the same thing to him.

Posted by Cassandra at July 20, 2009 02:15 PM

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Comments

Yes, you're an unmitigated fuck up...

It's my job. Oh, and f*ckup (the noun) is a single word, unhyphenated. Two words and it becomes an active verb with the preposition used adjectivally.

Now, if you *were* a f*ckup, you'd have known that, and wouldn't have f*cked up by composing your sentence in that manner.

*sigh*

Yeah, yeah, soooooooo dead -- again...

Posted by: BillT at July 20, 2009 03:16 PM

I have never heard of an author who was not glad to receive a letter of praise from someone touched by his work. No, I have -- one only, Anthony Burgess, who apparently grew very tired of hearing about A Clockwork Orange.

The publisher talked him into letting them leave out his final chapter, you see, chapter 21 -- the chapter of redemption. That changed the entire work's complexion. He received many letters of praise for the book, but grew to hate it because it led so many away from what he had really wanted to say.

No doubt this author said what he meant, since if he cared about popularity he wouldn't be writing Lenten essays. I think you should write him. :)

Posted by: Grim at July 20, 2009 03:16 PM

The simple answer for me is to believe in something spiritually larger than yourself. The ability to step outside ourselves and gaze down upon our myriad imperfections sets us apart from the other species. I suspect that the other species are here to watch us and report back but that is another story. In any case, realizing our imperfections yet continuing along the journey trying to live up to our potential is our humble task.

The signs are all around if we take the time to consider our situation. We live in the outhouse area of a run-of-the-mill galaxy in a universe of unfathonable size populated by billions of galaxies like ours. We live about in the middle of infinite bigness and infinite smallness. The only thing that is bigger than our existence is the size of our egos.

Humility bred from a belief in morality, ethics, and virtuous behavior rewards the penitent with a happy disposition punctuated by the occasional lapse in realizing our potential.

"The oxen is slow but the earth is patient."

We are slow but GOD is patient. It helps to believe in a patient and understanding GOD with a sense of humor.

Posted by: vet66 at July 20, 2009 03:24 PM

"...I have to say that though I haven't gone sour on God, I'm deeply agnostic regarding the trappings of religion."

I am inferring here (please feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken) that the church you formerly attended was of the Catholic variety. If so, those "trappings of religion" can get really out of hand. It is my belief that the Catholic Church tends to drive more people away from God than they bring into the "fold". Stripped down to the barest essentials, that controversial historic figure known as Jesus of Nazareth expressed what we should do quite simply, eloquently even:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
(Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version)

As with so many other things, the foregoing things are more easily said than done, especially because "your neighbor" is everyone who isn't you...but those two statements sum things up quite succinctly. The "trappings of religion" are only so much window dressing, as it were.

OK, that's enough out of me. I'm only up at this time o' day because I had to straighten out one of my bills during business hours. I am going back to bed...

Posted by: camojack at July 20, 2009 03:36 PM

Cass, it all depends on the church. We attended a military archdiocese church for mass at our last duty station. The priest, because there is an enormous shortage of military priests (and there was an awesome meeting about that whole issue, too, let me say)was a contract priest who had decided in his retirement that he was needed.

He was wonderful. Simply wonderful. One of those civilians who gets a sudden epiphany about what it is to be in the military or the family of military. He actually spent his days taking communion out to the guys in the field training pre-deployment. His sermons never shied away from what would be considered controversial in most places. He unceasingly reminded us of those who were dying for the same faith many of us neglect here in our comfort (in particular the Chaldeans in Iraq, he gave a sermon on the murder of Father Ragheed Ganni that I remember now when I'm feeling like my cushy American life is too much to handle).

Then we moved here and found only two churches that allowed female altar servers and chose the one closest to our home. I'm not sure how many more sermons I can hear about how "Day workers are especially blessed in The Bible" before I run screaming.

However, and I think this is what is most important - I feel that my children need to be brought up in their faith before they can question it. They must know what it is they are questioning, they whys and hows and the culture that is so rich around it (my husband, who is non-Catholic, pointed out to me that it is more than just a religion, it is definitely a culture).

And even when my children grow and are out of my home I'll probably still attend mass regularly (at a church with less emphasis on the holiness of day laborers, I think) because I view it thus: My Mother-in-Law is my least favorite person on the planet, but still there are things we have to do for her and visits we have to make because she is my husband's mother, and we owe her that respect. Even if it is not the most pleasant way to spend the time.

Do I owe God any less? I don't think so. An hour a week is very little for me to give up when I have been given so very much.

//preaching mode off and apologies tendered for the lengthy homily

Posted by: airforcewife at July 20, 2009 03:52 PM

Well, nothing like a good sermon to get you thinking, you backsliders into moral decay.
(hey, I am along for the ride too, ya know)

However, Missy Cass, you don't draw the line by what you say as much as you do by setting the example and LIVING IT.

For example: My children attend religious instruction one day a week during the Sabbath.
They have been taught at home by precept (massive lectures/sermons) and example (service) of how to treat and talk to people.

So, when the Princess Kitty informed me of the rudeness of one of her classmates, the Snark was the first thing to kick into gear, not the 'love one another' admonition of the Gospel of Christ. I somehow missed those crumbs when He tossed them to the Samaritan woman. However, as I thought about it, I did manage to rein in the impending Crushing Remark and told her 'Just tell him if he wouldn't have the courage to say that to you when Christ was standing near, all the more reason for him not to say it when He isn't there. It is the spirit of the thing, and a soft answer turneth away wrath. You can also ignore it and pity him. But to stoop to his level by returning fire is to show your own weakness. He is worth your pity. He isn't worth the anger.'

I do not mean to imply that my children haven't irritated me by fighting amongst themselves, but I have yet to hear of them saying belittling things or being rude to others.

Further, one has to be a good Christian and understand the Master and His life and example before we can separate into our various groups of Baptist, LDS, Anglican, etc. I think He would want that more than anything. I have a deep and abiding respect for Catholics on so many levels, but the one that I think resonates with me the most is the kindness.

Posted by: Cricket at July 20, 2009 04:30 PM

"A soft answer turneth away wrath".

I used to understand that. I am not sure what happened to me.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 20, 2009 05:01 PM

Wait. Your parish priest thought the prayer beginning "We do not presume to come to this table" was an abomination? If I read that right then I assume from the context that it was because he thought what? That humans are just as good as God? Isn't the whole point of God that someone, some entity is better than we are?

I haven't set foot in a church in years but I was raised Episcopalian. My two favorite parts of the service were the Nicene creed and this fragment:

It is very meet, right and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father

I can just imagine what that parish priest would think of a "bounden duty".

When you wrote in an earlier post about the Erin Andrews video you said:

we're uncomfortable drawing clear lines in the sand and then defending them

I'd express it a little differently: we've decided that since no one can live up to the ideals (standards, principles, morals) we hold, that means we shouldn't have those ideals. A lot of people get divorced; then staying married shouldn't be an ideal. A lot of women get abortions; then abortions should stop being a necessary evil and start being a cross between no big deal and a celebration. A lot of men like looking at naked women even when they know it's inappropriate; then looking at naked women should be redefined as just boys being boys regardless of the circumstances.

Maybe that's what God is for: to make it bearable to have ideals even when we can't live up to them.

Posted by: Elise at July 20, 2009 05:14 PM

I'd express it a little differently: we've decided that since no one can live up to the ideals (standards, principles, morals) we hold, that means we shouldn't have those ideals. A lot of people get divorced; then staying married shouldn't be an ideal. A lot of women get abortions; then abortions should stop being a necessary evil and start being a cross between no big deal and a celebration. A lot of men like looking at naked women even when they know it's inappropriate; then looking at naked women should be redefined as just boys being boys regardless of the circumstances.

I think we're uncomfortable with ideals because they seem like an unflattering mirror and most of us are too vain to like our own reflections.

The failings of others stand out as gross as black and white. Our own, not so much :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 20, 2009 05:25 PM

My two favorite parts of the service were the Nicene creed and this fragment:

It is very meet, right and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father

I loved that line too, Elise.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 20, 2009 05:29 PM

I was raised Catholic. Except for when we lived off base in San Antonio in the mid-70s, we always attended Mass on post. There is something different about military priests. I've (again) stopped attending Mass. I didn't like the priest where my parents attend, and so much of the church community is centered around family - meaning parents and young children. I don't fit into that demographic, no matter how much I might wish I did, and I just don't feel like I'm getting anything worthwhile from going. Now, if I could once again attend Mass with a military priest (whose parish consists of many singles persons, too), I might be willing to go back again. At least my Mom doesn't nag me about it anymore...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at July 20, 2009 07:04 PM

Cass,

There you go again - making us think; causing gears to mesh and produce an output.

Although I am not deeply religious in the conventional sense - in fact my mother more often than not referred to me as the heathen one - I cannot help but believe that there is a greater being/power. One only has to look around and wonder how else all this could be.

Faith is believing when logic tells you not to. Faith is a lot like love. You can't can't give up on it, or you will never find it and it will never find you.

Hang tough. Question it all, but always remember that your God, my God cannot just be the kind you wind up on Sundays. (Do I hear a song?...)

From Aqualung:

When I was young and they packed me off to school
And taught me how not to play the game,
I didnt mind if they groomed me for success,
Or if they said that I was a fool.
So I left there in the morning
With their God tucked underneath my arm --
Their half-assed smiles and the book of rules.
So I asked this God a question
And by way of firm reply,
He said -- Im not the kind you have to wind up on sundays.

So to my old headmaster (and to anyone who cares):
Before Im through Id like to say my prayers --
I dont believe you:
You had the whole damn thing all wrong --
Hes not the kind you have to wind up on sundays.

Well you can excomunicate me on my way to sunday school
And have all the bishops harmonize these lines --
How do you dare tell me that Im my fathers son
When that was just an accident of birth.

Id rather look around me -- compose a better song
`cos thats the honest measure of my worth.
In your pomp and all your glory youre a poorer man than me,
As you lick the boots of death born out of fear.
I dont believe you:
You had the whole damn thing all wrong --
Hes not the kind you have to wind up on sundays.

Posted by: Kbob in Katy at July 20, 2009 07:18 PM

I've always been a huge Ian Anderson fan. Quite possibly my favorite Jethro Tull song:

So as you push off from the shore
Won't you turn your head once more
And make your peace with everyone?
For those who choose to stay,
Will live just one more day ---
To do the things they should have done.

And as you cross the wilderness,
A-spinning in your emptiness:
You feel you have to pray.
Looking for a sign that the Universal Mind
Has written you into the Passion Play.

Skating away
Skating away
On the thin ice of the new day.
:)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 20, 2009 07:44 PM

Oh, and Bill???

/SMACK :)
Seriously, thanks for the laugh.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 20, 2009 07:54 PM

Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come beneath my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.

This line, seldom used, always strikes like an arrow into my heart.

Posted by: Jules Bernard at July 20, 2009 08:35 PM

I really wish I knew you, in person... or that you knew my mom's childhood priest, in person....

Mom went through a similar thing in college. She came home, ended up getting drunk with the priest, and I don't know what he said, but...it helped her. She still isn't big on form-without-substance, but form with substance.... that's mighty powerful.

My husband is similarly skeptical about organized religion. I hope someday to know what to say, how to say, what to do to convey what I feel, sense, know to be....

Posted by: Foxfier at July 20, 2009 09:30 PM

You guys are the best.
Thanks :)

Posted by: Cassandra at July 20, 2009 09:34 PM

A bit off topic, but....Damn forward thinkers!!!

'The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.'

- Cicero, 55 BC

Posted by: kbob in Katy at July 20, 2009 09:43 PM

Was Cicero forced to drink the um, hemlock koolaid?

Posted by: Cricket at July 20, 2009 09:55 PM

Yours is quickly becoming my favorite blog.

Posted by: S.Logan at July 20, 2009 11:39 PM

Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

I myself have been trying to solve the mystery of this legend for a while now. Could not understand much though.

Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

By the way, good writing style. I'd love to read more on similar topics

Posted by: Tina at July 21, 2009 03:43 AM

Quite possibly my favorite Jethro Tull song:

Mine is "Bring Me My Broadsword." Must be the ambiance over here...

Seriously, thanks for the laugh.

Just doin' muh job, Ma'am.

You've gotta admit I'm worth exactly what you pay me...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2009 05:24 AM

Was Cicero forced to drink the um, hemlock koolaid?

Nup. Cicero's tope was Falernian. 63 B.C. was supposedly a dynamite year for it...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2009 05:42 AM

Bill T,

In these parts, we are all paid what we are worth. LOL. So far, my net is about on par with the national debt, but I fear not, for Pbo will annoint me with the funds of others to relieve me of all burdens....

Ain't that how it works? Each according to their needs?

Seriously, thanks for the repartee. You, along with the other "regulars" make this a special place that I check whenever I can.

Posted by: kbob in Katy at July 21, 2009 06:54 AM

Seriously, I can't think of a better place to check on a regular basis, kbob. The Landlady is intelligent, gracious, witty, possessed of astounding tolerance, and has *gorgeous* legs...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2009 08:02 AM

w00t!

Posted by: kbob in Katy at July 21, 2009 11:17 AM

Cass, We are both spirit and flesh and the two parts are at war with each other. The flesh because we are fallen, the spirit because we are made new by the power of the blood of Christ.

I would recommend reading Romans 7 and 8 about that struggle, it may shed some light on what you are feeling.

By the way, God loves you! The whole purpose of Christ coming to die for us was to make a way for us to enter into fellowship with God. Thank about that, God desires to have fellowship with us (you individually).

Posted by: Russ at July 21, 2009 01:03 PM

"I haven't been able to stop thinking about it - about one line at the end:

"I do not want to be an animal"."
Yeah, I know exactly how you feel about that.

Why do you think I've taken some of the postions, unpopularly too, that I have in the last 6 months? I. Am. Not. An. Animal. I don't have to behave as merely reacting or sating my hatred or giving in to my fears. I. Am. Not. An. Animal. Hence, I draw a line, and I draw it bright neon green on certain things.

I hear you, Cass. There's one thing that I always took away crom Cathecism: It is by your acts that you shall be known. God knows his own by what you do. You do good, so I wouldn't worry too much.(Unka Bill on the other hand, is SUCH a naughty boy, what, with the sending of thongs, blue ones at that, to Osama....)

Posted by: ry at July 21, 2009 03:39 PM

The thongs were on a TOW missile.

*Not* my fault he wasn't inside that particular cave...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2009 03:46 PM

I draw a line, and I draw it bright neon green on certain things.

That's my Ry :)

We wouldn't have you any other way. And yes, Bill is really quite naughty. I'd threaten to spank him, but I suspect he'd like that a bit too much.

/and I'm outta here!!!!

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2009 05:05 PM

I'd threaten to spank him

*exercising superhuman restraint in refraining from linking to the Castle Anthrax naughty bit

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2009 05:44 PM

I always like to read the girls night out tale at the castle.

What a great cuckoo clock. Still makes me smile.

Posted by: kbob in Katy at July 21, 2009 07:05 PM

The failings of others stand out as gross as black and white. Our own, not so much


It's the gray areas in life that will bite you in the arse the hardest.

Posted by: Sly's Wardrobe Mistress at July 21, 2009 08:46 PM

"I am not an animal." I think of Kirk Douglas saying that line in "Spartacus."

Posted by: Texan99 at July 21, 2009 10:08 PM

"It's the gray areas in life that will bite you in the arse the hardest."

Note to self: Make sure *gray* is not part of the next grand diorama scene from Mr. DeBille.....
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at July 22, 2009 11:47 AM

I see...

*extending squared fingers as a frame*

...I see...Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia crossing the Alps!

With the original cast!!

Posted by: BillT at July 22, 2009 12:11 PM

Ah, but don't you know there's no gray? Only white that's gone dingy?(Yeah, I pays attention, sometimes.)

Posted by: ry at July 22, 2009 05:13 PM

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