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Posts Tagged ‘God’

On the way into the Y for swim lessons on Monday, my son and I stopped to let a Y staffer scan my membership card.

While we were standing there, I noticed the big basket of colorful slips of paper that is labeled “Spiritual Vitamins” and suggested that William take one for us to read together. I often take one myself, just to see what random Bible verse I might get and to see how it might apply to my current situation. Often I get a verse that I vaguely recognize, so I end up spending part of my time on the treadmill or elliptical trainer pondering when I might have read that part of the Bible and what it means. (Which is a nice little extra Bible study in an unexpected way, if you think about it. It’s Biblical lagniappe.)

But the lady suggested that we take a slip from a second basket of “Spiritual Vitamins” that are created just for children. “They’re a little easier to explain,” she said, proffering the basket.

The purple slip that William pulled out read, “If you believe you can or you can’t, you are probably right.” I read it aloud to him and said, “Yes, I think that’s true. What do you think, William?”

He scrunched up his face as we walked along the corridor toward the swimming pool and asked me to read it again, which I did. “What does that mean, exactly?” he finally asked.

“Well,” I started. “If you think you can do something, and you believe in yourself that you can do it, then you’ll get it done. But, if you think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that,’ then you probably can’t do it because you don’t think you can.”

William looked unconvinced. For a moment or two, I wished we had gotten a nice easy-to-understand Bible version from some uncontroversial part of the Bible (which, er, is a tall order, now that I think about it). “A little easier to understand, my rear end,” I thought. But this particular bon mot had some real merit, and so I pressed on.

“It means you need to have confidence in yourself,” I said. “The best way to accomplish something is to have faith in yourself and do your best to get something done, not to just give up and say you can’t do it.”

(That wasn’t too bad, was it?)

At that point, we had reached the door to the pool area. Willliam charged inside, and we dropped the conversation. But the more I ruminated over William’s “Spiritual Vitamin,” the more relevant it became to his life–and mine.

William is trying to learn how to swim, and it’s a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. He’s finally gotten comfortable letting go of me in the water if he’s got a firm grip on a pool noodle or something. But he’s still not yet ready to try floating on his back with me standing guard, no matter how many times I tell him that I’m right there and he’s not going to drown. Maybe all he needs to do at this point is to tell himself that he can learn how to swim…and then set about doing it.

And I need to realize that perhaps this process is just his way of doing that. Just because it’s not a completely linear way of learning to swim doesn’t mean it’s not valid, even if it frustrates his mom.

That, I think, is a good lesson for me in another way. Our faith journeys don’t always have to be linear, always-going-forward. But if we tell ourselves that we are learning, that we are making progress, and then do it…then we are. If we believe that we can, we can.

With God’s help, of course.

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No, thanks. I don’t want to see any pictures of Osama bin Laden’s body. I’ll take the President’s word for it that he’s dead and gone. If someone else needs proof, however, that’s fine. They can file a FOIA request for the photographs and study them all they want, but I don’t want to see them.

I’ve been wrestling with how to feel ever since my Twitter feed (shameless plug: I’m @JenniferLarson, if you want to follow me) told me on Sunday night that a special forces unit had managed to find and kill Osama bin Laden this past weekend. My initial reaction was just simple disbelief. “No way,” I thought. “We’ve had people looking for him for 10 years. Surely that’s a mistaken report.”

But the tweets kept on coming. And they started rolling in from reputable news agencies. It started to seem true after all. I called to my husband in another room, “Hey, I’m reading reports that they’ve killed bin Laden.” And he immediately got on his iPad and started reading, too. A half hour or so later, we watched President Obama’s speech to the nation on CNN.

“Wow,” I said. “I…can’t believe it.”

Part of me expected to feel relieved. And I did. No matter how you look at it, Osama bin Laden was the perpetrator of horrible, unspeakable evil. Our country, our people, have suffered great pain because of his actions. He masterminded and inflamed thousands of people to continue to perpetrate evil. He was inspired by hate. He inspired others to hate. He is not around any longer to do those things, and it’s a relief to not have to worry about how a military or civil trial would play out–and whether it could ever truly bring that man to justice.

Part of me expected to feel proud. And I did. As a former Navy wife, I was proud of the Navy SEALS team members who risked their lives to carry out such a dangerous mission. I’m proud of those men for caring so much about others that they would undertake a mission that could have easily resulted in their own deaths.

But part of me expected to feel joy upon hearing the news of his death. And I didn’t. I felt great sorrow that such a man had existed and done the things that he had. I felt sorrow that Osama bin Laden never repented from the evil that suffused his soul and his actions. And I also felt sorrow that even his death could not bring back all the people who died because of him. His death didn’t bring back the people who felt like they had no choice but to jump from the top stories of the World Trade Center buildings, or the firefighters who tried to save them, or the people working in the part of the Pentagon that got destroyed, or the people on any of the four airplanes that crashed on September 11, 2001.

And part of me also felt conflicted by the great, uncomplicated joy that some people seemed to be feeling. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners wrote a post on his God’s Politics blog yesterday titled “How Should We Respond to the Death of Osama bin Laden? Wallis, who referred to bin Laden as “an apostle of hate,” wrote the following:

“[It] is never a Christian response to celebrate the death of any human being, even one so given over to the face of evil. Violence is always an indication of our failure to resolve our conflicts by peaceful means, and is always an occasion for deeper reflection.”

And he quoted the Vatican’s official statement, which read in part:

“In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.”

As a Christian, I cannot bring myself to shout and shriek and dance in the streets, even though I fully admit that I am very glad that bin Laden is gone. And I am glad. I just wish that what happened that brought us to that point hadn’t happened. I can’t rejoice in death.

Here’s another take on the situation by Andrew Zirschky titled “Bonhoeffer and Bin Laden: Why We Can’t Rejoice.”  In referring to theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Hitler’s regime during World War II, he makes the point that we really shouldn’t rejoice in death, even death of a terrible person. Perhaps the killing of bin Laden was a matter of choosing the least evil, and I happen to think that’s the case. No one could possibly argue that it would have been a good idea to have bin Laden still floating around out there, wreaking havoc, and yet as Christians, can we really embrace the killing of another person?

Zirschky wrote:

“It is ethical arrogance that leads us to rejoice in death.  Whether you believe that responsible action should have led us to the murder of bin Laden, or whether you believe responsible action would have kept us from this, Bonhoeffer calls for a Christian response that is sober, even mournful, as it recognizes my guilt, our guilt, and the guilt of others.

Where Bonhoeffer leaves us is with ignorance at to the goodness of our actions, he calls us toward humility in those actions, ownership of both repentance and guilt in the midst of those actions, and utter dependence upon God’s grace to judge our actions. There is no room for rejoicing.”

I am praying for the people who lost loved ones because of Osama bin Laden. I am praying for the people he seduced into committing unspeakable acts. I am praying for all of us as we figure out how to respond, how to move forward, and how to discern what God wants us to do.

And so I don’t want to see any photographs of the body of bin Laden. I don’t need to see them to feel vindication or anything like that. I’ve had enough of him. Now I need to continue figuring out how to make myself right with God. Because it’s too late for bin Laden. But it’s not too late for the rest of us.

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When I was a little girl, my father had a standard before-meal blessing that he always used. I have to say it out loud, with the exact same inflection, to make sure I get it right. It goes like this:

Father, we thank you for this food…and all our many blessings. We pray…in his name, Amen.

Every once in awhile, I use it at my house, too. But usually I defer to my older son, William, when it comes to choosing a blessing to use before dinner.

(Confession: we don’t always say a blessing. There are too many nights when I’m frantically trying to feed the baby and keep him from getting upset while preparing food for the rest of us, and things get hectic, and David calls from work to say he’s coming home, and so on. Before I know it, William is halfway through his plate of food, and I haven’t even sat down at the table yet. I know. No excuses. I am trying to get better about this. I really am.)

William’s favorite blessings are all songs. The list includes the old faithful “Johnny Appleseed,” a ditty called “God Our Father” which is sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques,” and a version of the A-B-C song that ends with “Now I know my ABCs, thank you God for feeding me.” He likes them all more or less the same, and he uses them with a pretty evenly-divided regularity.

I’d love to learn some new ones, though. What blessings does your family use? Will you share with me here so I can expand our repertoire? That is, if I can convince William…

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I serve on the board of directors for a non-profit organization called All About Women.  All About Women was founded about a decade ago with the goal of helping women improve their lives, their health and their well-being. Last year, we launched a really wonderful blog series that focuses on the lives of two very different women, Lily and Z, who are negotiating the journeys of their lives with humor and sincerity. This week, the character of Lily blogged about counting her blessings.

It made me stop and count my own blessings. And I have many, many blessings. For example… Last night, my husband and I had to take our younger son to the emergency room because he developed a wicked-sounding croup. As he breathed in and out, he made a horrible, striderous sound that made both of us very nervous.

Luckily for him (and his parents), he responded very well to a breathing treatment and an oral medication. We walked out there in less than three hours with a healthy, smiling baby. Not everyone is that lucky. But we were. And we were grateful. So grateful. So grateful for our healthy son. Two healthy sons, actually.

In about five minutes, the women of my Disciple class will be taking a few moments out of their busy days to say a prayer.  We meet as a small group each Monday morning, but we are doing a communal prayer on our own each Friday at noon during Lent. Our leaders send out an email each Friday morning to remind us to stop, close our eyes and say a few words to God.

And as we do it, we know that our friends are praying at the same time. It’s still being part of the community of faith even when we’re not in the physical presence of that community.

I thought I’d share my prayer this week with you, my blog readers.

Creating God, Thank you for all the blessings that you have bestowed upon me. Help me to remember those blessings whenever I get down or discouraged. Help  me see and feel the Holy Spirit within me–and within others–this week. Please give comfort to all the people who were affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Please give strength to all the people who are fighting for freedom and justice all over the world. Please be with all the women in my Disciple class–these women who support me, shape my thoughts and faith and give comfort to each other when we need it. And please let me find new ways to respond to the amazing miracle that is your love for us. Amen.

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I have found that one of best places and times to have a really good conversation with my older son is in the car on the way to and from school.

That’s when we find ourselves talking about all sorts of things. William likes to pose questions that he’s been pondering, and we often have really wonderful discussions as a result. In the last few weeks, we’ve talked about a range of topics, including whether the Loch Ness Monster is real or not, how ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was sort of like the Pharaoh in the book of Exodus, and why Godric Gryffindor would have needed a sword if he was a wizard and all the wizards had wands.

A few days ago, he hit me with another good question.

“What’s underneath the Earth?” he wanted to know.

“Underneath the Earth?” I repeated. “Well, there’s space underneath, as far as I know.”

“But what’s underneath that?” he persisted.

Ack. A few months ago, William had asked me what was beyond outer space. (Readers of my family blog might remember that conversation.) I sort of stumbled around for awhile before finally resulted to that tried-and-true resource of all modern parents. Nope, not the Bible.  That’s right. As soon as I could get to a computer, I turned to Google. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much of anything useful. I think I told William something about how the universe is still expanding outward, but we don’t know really what’s out there for sure. I read to him a little bit about how there’s gas, plasma, dust and some other molecules in space, but that didn’t really address the heart of his question.

His question, of course, is really: “What’s out there?”

The funny thing is, I don’t think it really bothers him that no one knows for absolute certain what’s out there. He’s curious, yes, and he wants to learn more, but young children are accustomed to the fact that there is so much they just don’t know. And it doesn’t bother them. As far as he’s concerned, heaven is “up there” above us, although I don’t know how he logistically reconciles that with outer space. But he does somehow, and he’s comfortable with that. I remember when I used to think that heaven was just “up there,” too. I kind of wish I still did. It becomes more of a tricky existential concept as we become adults, though. 

And while we’re on the subject of tricky teleological questions…William also asked me around the same time if we would understand everything about God (that we don’t understand right now) when we get to heaven. I told him, honestly, that I don’t know.  Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. Maybe it will be enough just to be in the presence of God. Maybe our questions will be satisfied just by that. We won’t even know that ’til we get there…wherever “there” is.

As confounding as they can be, I like that he’s asking these questions. I like that he’s asking me, even though I have to tell him that not only do I know, but I have a whole series of my own questions that I’m asking. But I’m trying to raise my son to  know that it’s okay to ask those questions. 

In church, we talk a lot about the mystery of faith, and I think we have to grapple with that. And for me, at least, grappling involves asking a lot of questions and pondering the possible answers. It looks like William may be taking that route, too.

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What’s the trickiest question your child has ever asked you? How did you respond?

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