Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


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Does God Speak?

There are a number of us who suffer from doubt and downright disbelief in the divine.  Many of us wonder just what it means for people to say God talks to them.  Some people claim God has spoken audibly to them.  Others say they are “impressed” in their soul.  Still others say it’s a feeling, like the wind.  You can’t see it but you know it’s there.  Then there are those of us who never experienced any of those things, who never experienced God speaking to them in any discernible way.

Ahab asked the question recently, “what do you believe is going on with people who claim that God communicates with them when they pray? Overactive imagination? Altered state of consciousness? Something else entirely?”

It is not my desire to belittle those who believe God has “spoken” to them.  But Ahab asked what I believe is going on with those who claim such.  Here is what I believe.  I believe it can be the product of an overactive imagination.  When we fill our minds with certain things our minds begin to play tricks on us.  I’ve known people who lied about something long enough that they actually believed the lie was the truth.  Some people believe they’ve seen angels or demons or the Virgin Mary.  Have they?  Is it all in their mind?

As I was researching some information for The Miraculous I came across a phenomenon called Stigmata.  The religious adherent believes they have received from God the wounds of Christ, though Christianity isn’t the only religion where stigmata is reported.   St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded case of stigmata and Sister Therese Neumann is said to be a confirmed case of such.  Those outside of the Catholic Church and in particular those who are skeptical of this phenomena associate such as markers of a form of hysteria or psychosis.  Each case is remarkably different.  The wounds manifest in the way that the stigmatic believes them to have occurred.  Some wounds appear in palms while others appear in wrists, some in the feet and others in the ankles.  It completely depends on the stigmatic’s idea of the crucifixion.  Simply put, it’s the power of suggestion coupled with severe stress or mental disorder.  There is strong suggestion that the wounds may be self inflicted and in some cases have proven to be such.

What do I believe is going on with people who claim that God communicates with them when they pray?  I believe it’s a combination of things, not the least of which is a strong desire for God to communicate with them along with the firm belief that he will communicate with them.  There are people who believe their deceased loved ones speak to them from the grave.  There are people who honestly believe they’ve been abducted by aliens.  Is it so difficult to believe there are people who honestly believe God speaks to them on a regular basis?  What do you believe is happening in the minds of people who claim that God communicates with them when they pray?


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I Put My Running Shoes On

Thanks to The Agnostics Wife and Alise Write I was motivated to get back out and get running.  It’s been about six months since I last ran.  Well let me be honest about it.  What I do isn’t exactly running; it’s jogging. But hey, at least I’m out there.

I’ve never been much of a fitness buff.  The first time I really attempted to get in shape was October of 2009.  That’s when I started the Couch-to-5K program.  It has you jogging a 5K in 9 weeks.  When I decided to get back out there I thought I’d have to start back over at the beginning, but I didn’t, which I was excited about.  I started at Week 3 and just did Week4/Day 3 a few minutes ago.

I was hot, sweaty, tired, and completely invigorated.  I forgot just how awesome it was to feel like I’d accomplished something when I could say I’d done a week.  I don’t have one of those fancy smartphones or iPod Touch devices so I have to time myself the old fashioned way-with a stopwatch.  In the middle of the first 3 minute run I thought my lungs would collapse, did the 90 second walk, and settled in nicely for the next 5 minute run, 2.5 minute walk.  Then I had to do it all over again.  The second 3 minute run wasn’t bad, but by halfway through the second 5 minute run I wasn’t sure I’d make it.  I wanted to know where the heck the oxygen was!

I almost didn’t get back out there, though. My big, black, clunky sports watch that had a heart rate monitor, and several different ways to time yourself, and a stop watch, and all sorts of other stuff that I never could even be bothered to figure out they did died on me. I’d been telling myself for three months I was going to get started again, yet I procrastinated until it’s hot as blue blazes outside.   Any excuse I could come up with would do.  Until I forced myself.  Then I get out there and it isn’t so bad.  In fact it’s liberating and empowering.  I’m going to run….umm….jog a 5K in September.

What about you?  Do you procrastinate, find excuses not to do things only to remember it’s not so bad once you’ve done it?


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The Miraculous

* Edited to add mike00000000001’s question and my response to him.

I was inspired to write this by a commenter on Got 10 Cents?, mike00000000001.  I’m not sure what I make of “miracles”.  There are some pretty amazing things that happen in this world that seemingly have no explanation.  Or do they?  The fact is if you don’t work in a field that is in the business of explaining them or if you’re not skeptical, but instead want to believe in the miraculous, you’re probably pretty susceptible to such fantastic stories.

mike00000000001:  “What about odd events that don’t fit the norm? …..I mean odd events like those “miracles” you hear about. Or things that just seem to be against the odds….But if it is all chance . . . and the same will happen with or without our prayer . . AND Jesus already prayed for our salvation . . . then why pray at all?”

me: “Beating the odds implies that it does happen. In other words, let’s say you have cancer. Let’s say the doctor gives you a 20% survival rate. That means that on average 20% of the people who have your kind of cancer survive. It’s not unheard of. What about the other 80%? Does that mean “God” loves them less? They are undeserving of a miracle? Throw in the fact that of both the 20% who survive and the 80% who don’t there are both believers and unbelievers. Arbitrary outcomes. Does that sound indicative of miracles?”

My dear friends, “Miracle Man” and his wife, recently went through a year of serious turmoil.  He’s self-employed in a field that required excellent vision.  Without it he’s essentially out of a job.  This is their story:

Miracle Man developed high blood pressure and pre-diabetes.  He was on medication for such and in addition began taking fish oil supplements.  Somewhere in the process of all of that it was determined he needed a stress test.  They found what looked to be a blockage and scheduled a hearth catheterization. During the procedure they did indeed find a blockage and placed a stent.  When he woke up he had extremely double vision and his eyes operated independently of one another.  He had little to no control over his left eye.  The hospital ran an MRI and a CT scan and determined that either during or sometime after the procedure a relatively rare phenomenon known as an ischemic stroke had occurred.  They prescribed him various drugs and sent him home with an eye patch and an appointment to see an Opthamologist.  The Opthamologist didn’t offer much hope of recovery and said that if he hadn’t already seen significant improvement that he would likely remain in that state.  Not satisfied with that answer they scheduled an appointment with a Neurologist, which is what should have been done in the beginning.  He offered them much more hope and told him he was looking at a recovery time of six months to a year.  Much praying happened during this time. He has recovered to 95% vision and, of course, it was nothing short of a miracle.

That isn’t the end of the story, though.  These are his words from his facebook posting:
  

“Well here goes. I have overcome the eyesight problem back to about 85% where I was before the stroke.HOWEVER, I have found a tumor in my left kidney. most likely cancer of the malignant type. Will be seeking treatment at MAYO in JAX. Doing scans and MRI’s now. Probably gonna lose a kidney. Will post more later.”  May 25, 2010

 “WAITING for Blue Cross Blue Shield to approve another MRI. Doctor is suggesting that we skip the biopsy, and just deal with the problem. Plan now to take the entire left kidney out.”  May 26, 2010

“MRI scheduled at MAYO in Jacksonville on Wednesday for a detailed look at the kidney to determine just exactly what I have. Not good odds but I am taking the positive side.” May 31, 2010

Ok, had the detailed MRI done last Wednesday at MAYO. Talked to Dr. Wehle yesterday. He said he and 2 radiologist had been looking at it. They are studying it and wanted to relook at the CT scan as well. I expect to get a phone call from him today to lay out a plan of action. I live in a great place. I have had so much outpouring of love and concern.”  June 9, 2010

“OK Listen up people! Just got a call from Dr. Kahle at MAYO.. He said that comparing the CT scan from Valdosta to the MRI at Mayo, the “tumor” is smaller!. With no treatment at all. He said that he believes that it is NOT cancer. NOt out of the woods just yet, He thinks now it could be a cyst or a swellling of the internal filters of the kidney. We have gone from 95% cancer to 85% chance not. POWER of prayer.”  June 16, 2010
“I am grateful for all the calls and conversations that I have had these last couple of days. I live in a truly great place. I have been covered with care and prayer from all of you. Prayer for healing and faith. Praise the Lord. Not out of the woods yet but we sure turned a big corner.”  June 17, 2010
“I went to MAYO yesterday for the 3 month followup on the tumor in my left kidney. Blood work at 8, CT scan at 12, Doctor visit at 4. The doctor walked in and said” I need a seat at your church. Whatever was in your kidney is now gone, 100%. Your kidneys are normal, you do not even need to come back to see me.”.  September 16, 2010
“Call it what you want, I am calling it a miracle healing from God thanks to prayers and faith. This is the second time this year that I have beaten overwhelming odds. Two miracles. Power of prayer.  I have gone from 95% malignant cancer to 100% cleared up and gone. With no medicine or treatment of any kind. Prayer and a laying on of hands, along with steady doses of peach ice cream.”  September 16, 2010

All of this, mind you, without the aid or benefit of a biopsy – just doctor’s experience and observation.  Does that mean that he definitely had cancer?  Probably not.  He most likely did have an infection of some sort or a cyst.  The body is an amazing machine, capable of healing itself from a myriad of ailments with no treatment whatsoever. Was this a miracle?  Most likely not, but you could never convince him of that.  I wouldn’t dare try.  He’s given testimony at various churches about the power of prayer and the healing power of Jesus.  He’s convinced of that fact.  He doesn’t know how he was healed so it must be a miracle; a direct result of all the prayers and the laying on of hands.

Another friend and her husband have a daughter who was diagnosed with scoliosis.  At first they thought she’d have to have surgery or wear what looked like an ancient torture device for a back brace.  They called the deacons together and had a laying on of hands.  When she went back to the doctor her scoliosis wasn’t nearly as pronounced as they had first thought and she wouldn’t need either of those treatments.  Wow, it’s a miracle!  She still has scoliosis. 

What about you?  Have you received a miracle?  Have you seen a miracle?  If you don’t believe in miracles what do you believe about the seemingly inexplicable? 


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Anarchy in the USA

David Tyree, famous for catching a desperate Eli Manning pass in  the fourth quarter of 2008 Super Bowl XLII, has come out in an interview with NOM – National Organization for Marriage with this to say about same-sex marriage:
 
In the video he says the following:

“If they pass this gay marriage bill … this will be the beginning of our country sliding toward — it’s a strong word — but anarchy. The moment we have, and if you trace back to other cultures, other countries, that will be the moment where our society itself loses its grip with what’s right. … Marriage is the backbone of society, so if you redefine it, it changes the way we educate our children, it changes the perception of what is good, what is right, what is just.”

Anarchy?  Does David Tyree know what anarchy means?  From Merriam Webster I bring you the following definition:


1.

      a : absence of government 
      b : a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority 
       c : a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government 
2.
       a : absence or denial of any authority or established order  
       b : absence of order : disorder <not manicured plots but a wild anarchy of nature — Israel Shenker>
 
As the USA is fond of it’s big government I can’t imagine that he is referring to the first definition.  I’m not sure how he can be.  If same-sex marriage passes it doesn’t negate government.  The marriage of same-sex couples then becomes regulated by the government.  The second definition clearly doesn’t fit either.  It seems to me that with a push to legalize same-sex marriage comes order.  Same-sex couples want to define themselves as such.  They want to be legally recognized as such.  The forced closeting, the denial of such recognition is what is producing and perpetuating disorder for these couples.  Clearly this rules out anarchism.  Asking to be recognized as married is nowhere near a push for a society free of government.  Same-sex partners are merely asking for the same rights and benefits heterosexual partners enjoy.

So what can David Tyree mean when he says we’re slip slidin’ away toward anarchy Direct-democracy maybe;  the people making decisions collectively for themselves in place of a representative.  This sounds nice except that the framers of our constitution were opposed to it and made provisions for a representative democracy.  It’s interesting to see why they did such a thing:  to keep the majority from forcing it’s will on the minority.  Representatives are supposed to protect individual rights.  Most of us were under the impression that in a democracy the majority is supposed to rule.  That’s only true to an extent.  

While we’re busy making laws to ‘protect’ marriage we’re imposing the will of certain individuals onto other individuals.   Marriage is the backbone of society, so if you redefine it, it changes the way we educate our children, it changes the perception of what is good, what is right, what is just.”  First of all, it’s not a redefining of marriage.  Marriage has always been between two people for political reasons, personal reasons or economic reasons.  Marriage will still be between two people for those same reasons.  Is what is good, right and just only a perception?  Maybe the perception that marriage should only be between a man and a woman is wrong.  How does it change the way we teach our children?  By making them less bigoted? By teaching them that it is alright to accept people for who they are? 

As far as anarchy goes, the state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority, I don’t think that can be blamed on same-sex marriage.  If there is anarchy here in the good ole USA it’s due to greed.  Is the government really in authority here or is it the lobbyist with the most money – on any issue? 

He goes on to say:

“It’s not about establishing a theocracy, it’s about what’s right. How can marriage be marriage for thousands of years and now all of a sudden because an influential minority has a push or an agenda and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country, not founded by men, and it’s something that’s holy and sacred. I think there’s nothing more honorable than fighting for, especially if we really care about our future generations.”

It’s not about establishing a theocracy, eh?  Who determines what’s right?  Sounds like David Tyree wants his version of God to determine that.  Wouldn’t that make that a theocracy?  Certainly sounds that way to me.  His follow up statement is telling of that.  Marriage wasn’t founded by men and it’s holy and sacred.  The implication being that it was founded by God.  David Tyree, the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family and a host of other conservative groups would love nothing more than to think this country’s government is being divinely guided by the Christian God; their version of Him.  
I’m not certain what these groups feel so threatened by.  Same-sex marriage does not undermine traditional marriage.  Either you are gay or lesbian or you aren’t.  Being such is not contagious.  There will still be heterosexual marriage.  It seems to me that it would be a comforting thought that may just shatter the preconceptions and assumptions about homosexuality.  Conservative Christians paint this as perverse, deviant and promiscuous.  The idea that gays and lesbians want commitment, to be legally married, to have a life partner kind of blows that out of the water.  It means they want the same things straight people want. To live their lives in peace, with the partner of their choice.
You know what else shatters your assumptions about same-sex couples?  Getting to know them personally.  You find out they’re real people with real dreams and real aspirations.  You find out that deviance isn’t about sexual orientation.  Deviance might just be trying to decide for someone else what their sexual orientation should be; trying to force them to live a life of celibacy or, possibly worse, trying to force them to partner with someone they have no desire for.  Homosexuality isn’t chosen.  It’s as innate as heterosexuality.  Same-sex marriage won’t break the backbone of our society.  
I went to the NOM website and read their ‘talking points’.  It all boils down to: same-sex marriage just isn’t right.  They have no substantial or even logical reasons why same-sex marriage would threaten society. National Organization for Marriage and David Tyree need to take their alarmist bigotry somewhere else. 


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Got Ten Cents?

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.   John 16:23-24 (NIV)



You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.   James 4:2-3  (NIV)


I was driving by this church marquee in my hometown and couldn’t help but wonder, what exactly is a million dollar answer?  What exactly is a ten cent prayer?  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I get the gist of this sign.  Don’t throw up a half-hearted prayer and think you’re going to get a miraculous answer.  But really, who has given a half-hearted prayer and waited in eager anticipation for it’s answer?  Who I ask?  No one.  That’s who.

Allow me to elaborate.  I’ve thrown up some of those half-hearted prayers.  Heck, you might even call them penny prayers.  I didn’t really expect an answer.   You know what?  It was those penny prayers that most often seemed to be answered.  “Lord, I know I’m pushing it to get to work on time.  Please let all the lights be green between here and work.”  “Lord, let there be a parking spot close to the door at Wal-Mart”, on Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.  “Lord, I’m almost out of gas.  Please help me make it to the gas station before I run out.”

It’s the prayers that I really thought long and hard about, the ones I was just certain I was asking with the right motives, the ones I knew from reading the Bible were clearly in God’s will that I waited expectantly for an answer to.  Those million dollar prayers that got ten cent answers.  Then that would get explained away.  God’s answer was no, and I didn’t like it.  I must have some sin in my life.  I must be asking with the wrong motives.  “Lord, we’re having a terrible drought.  All the farmers will lose their crops, wells may run dry.  We really need some rain.”  Of course if you ask for that long enough it’s bound to rain, and thank God for it.  Never mind all the burned up crops, the dead fish and other animals, the wild fires, people suffering from a shortage of water.  Thank God for that three drops of rain we got.

You live and learn.  Sooner or later you might acknowledge that God has no control over the rain or much of anything else for that matter.  “Ask anything in my name and you will receive it.”  Then when we pray expectantly we’re told God doesn’t impinge free will.  We’re told God doesn’t interfere in the laws of nature.  That would just mess things up.  So the deists weren’t that far off then, eh?  God started this whole shindig and then just stepped back to watch it unfold.  He’s impotent.  Bound by his own laws.  So much for sovereignty.  So long omnipotence.  If there is a God he can’t or won’t help us.  We’re on our own.

I’m not sure which is worse; that God can’t help us or that God won’t help us.  On the one hand He’s bound by His own laws and can’t disturb the natural flow of things.  Praying to that kind of God serves no purpose.  But we’re told that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)  What does it effect?  Certainly not anything outwardly.  On the other hand God could possibly be this omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient  entity who has simply chosen whom he will hear and whom he will ignore arbitrarily.  Either way it seems like a waste of time asking for anything of God.  I’m better off keeping my ten cents.

Some have reduced the act of prayer to simply having fellowship with this invisible being who doesn’t speak back except through a book.  It’s only a way to commune with our “creator”.  Is that all he is?  Is that all he’s done?  Ask any child who has been birthed and left on their own how much they think of the one/ones who brought them into the world and see what answer you get.  Better yet, ask that same one how loved they feel by their “parents” and see what answer you get.

Better still is the “prayer isn’t about changing others or the world around us, it’s about changing our own hearts”.  Hmm…any type of meditation will do that.  It’s about getting alone with your thoughts in a quiet and peaceful setting.  It’s not the particular object of the meditation that is important.  It’s the focused energy, the stress reduction, the self-regulation that are important.  •”[M]editation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration”[48]:228-9 
 
I think I’ll meditate for awhile and take two aspirin. It seems about as effective. It appears God has taken an extended leave of absence or he just isn’t there. That’s just my ten cents worth.


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Pure Joy

It’s been a really long time since I purchased real film, and equally as long since I’ve taken pictures with a camera in which I couldn’t immediately see if I liked the picture or wanted to delete it and try again.

The one good thing about a film camera vs. one of the lesser expensive digital cameras is that you can capture the moment.  I didn’t have the bucks to fork out for a digital SLR so I bought an el cheapo used 35mm SLR.  I couldn’t wait to get going with it.  I ran out to Wally World and bought film and batteries.  I read the instruction manual and rapidly snapped up 4 rolls of 24 exposure film.

The film isn’t too expensive, but the processing can be a little pricey.  Walgreen’s has a pretty good deal, though, where you can have a CD made and get the negatives with no prints that isn’t too bad.  That way you can select which ones you want prints of without paying for all the prints on a roll.

Anyway, I had a blast with this thing.  It’s been well worth the money I paid for it.  I was a little nervous. I mean, if it’s such a great camera why is the owner selling it, right?  But I’m pretty impressed.  I took up two of the rolls at my nephew’s third birthday party.

There is nothing like capturing the pure joy on child’s face…..

My Nephew Slip Slidin’ Away!
Woo Hoo!
Hehe…Slip’N’Slide courtesy of The Tour Guide and me.

Or the sweetness of a moment…..

Luke really likes this little fella.
This little fella really likes Luke.
I gizza kiss through the fence. 🙂
I really like my new used camera! :~)


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Am I Delusional?

There are many non-theists who seem downright militant about their non-belief.  Some even tout there militancy as a virtue.  They’re proud of the fact they don’t believe in a deity of any kind and are hostile toward religion and those who do believe.   I can understand that they don’t fancy themselves as delusional and they’re annoyed by anyone they believe to be. I can also understand they don’t want the religious ideals of those who believe forced upon them.  This is supposed to be a free country is it not?  There are those who militantly declare that all religion should be outlawed.  That would be equally forcing a belief on everyone else who doesn’t agree. 

As one who, in the past, has argued that this is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principals I’m readily admitting the delusion under which I fell.  I’m glad I’ve realized that forcing a theocracy on everyone is erroneous and unfounded.  I’m glad I’ve gone through this doubtful stage in my faith and lost that fundamentalist mentality of certainty of salvation and doctrine.  I’m wholly undecided at this point about faith in any God, though I can understand and relate to those on both sides of the issue.  

Surely there is some middle ground to be had; someplace everyone can feel safe regardless of belief.  I wish that people on both sides of the issue were more open to each other’s humanity.  Throughout this process I’ve seen militant, fundamentalist Christians bash atheists, agnostics and those of other faiths.  I’ve seen militant atheists mock Christians, and those of other faiths as well as agnostics.  They frequently call each other delusional, among other things.  Let’s look at the definition of delusion, shall we? 

de·lu·sion  (d-lzhn)

n.

1.

    a. The act or process of deluding.
    b. The state of being deluded.
2. A false belief or opinion: labored under the delusion that success was at hand.
3. Psychiatry A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a symptom of mental illness: delusions of persecution.

Both fundamentalist Christians and militant atheists are under the delusion that the other is horribly misled. There simply is no way to prove that either there is or is not a God.  Various evidences lead one to believe what they believe.  I’ve found through my journey that the very evidence that leads one person to conclude that there is a God is the exact same evidence that leads another to conclude that with little doubt there is no God.  It’s a double edged sword.  And what one deems as evidence for one side of the story another deems as evidence to the contrary.

What I’d like to say in response to that is, “Didn’t your mama ever teach you that you get more flies with honey than with vinegar?”.  Militancy on either side of the issue is an extreme view.  Most of us who struggle with doubt, who were once firm believers in a God, are trying to escape fundamentalism and extremism.  Calling me delusional or stupid for having believed something that seems so ridiculous to you isn’t going to help me become less delusional.  If, as a fundamentalist Christian, you say I must have never been a believer, or that I’m stupid, or that I’ve fallen under a delusion, that won’t attract me back to “the faith”.  It’s offensive. 

We might start with treating each other like human beings; by respecting one another’s beliefs or lack thereof.  Hostility usually just escalates into war.  I think we’ve had enough of that to last an eternity.   We might just find out in the end that we were all delusional.