Testing … testing

We are tested many times everyday. 24/7/365 (366 in certain years).

Likely not in the manner of Job, Abraham or Donald Trump’s many wives but every test is indeed a challenge.

It arrives early: Do we rise from bed or succumb to the beckoning siren of more supine time?

If I say chose the latter and later detailed to my wife and later my boss that I simply selected the more spiritual option of the moment and didn’t make it to work, would that be honest but doubling down on malformed decisions? Politically incorrect in a proletariat/bourgeoisie paradigm or blasted stupid in lieu of having 20 years remaining on the mortgage?

Plus that later I ascended to a celestial establishment and rubbed elbows with various heavenly beings, partook of religious libations, heard angels crooning — quite the holistic religious experience — and then — my, my — it was 5:00 p.m.

Consider my options: dragging myself from horizontal slumbering, getting semi-presentable utilizing the never fail no smell-no foul clothing test, contributing to global warming by plying along the roadway for seemingly forever in our 10-year-old mini-van, cutting off a white-haired, older lady in order to nab the last parking spot (receiving a gnarled middle finger in response), plopping myself down at my desk and attaching the ball and chain for yet another uninspired eight hours.

This versus brushing up against the divine?

It is often said God works in mysterious ways. Who am I to argue?

— inspired by a poetry writing class prompt about tests

Book review: “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America” by Chris Arnade

In Chris Arnade’s prose and photo book “DIGNITY Seeking Respect in Back Row America,” he explores those surviving in the back row, the lower and lowest economic echelons of America.

A former Wall Street trader of 20 years, with a comfortable house in Brooklyn, Arande was a resident of society’s front row. He left behind stifling life in a small Southern town by attending a series of colleges, culminating with a physics degree from John Hopkins. However, his financial work brought yawning emptiness. Any degree of fulfillment was absent.

So he began traipsing though Hunt’s Point in the Bronx, talking with residents and taking photograph of his subjects even after being warned by so many ‘outsiders’ that it was not a safe area to enter.

Upon a mutual parting of the ways from his lucrative banking job, he enlarged his travel itinerary to the entire country, seeking down-and-out areas of towns and their residents. Among his many stopovers: Gary, IN, Portsmouth, OH, Youngstown, OH, Selma, AL, El Paso, TX, Amarillo, TX, Bakersfield, CA, Cairo, IL, Milwaukee, WI, and Lewiston, MI.

One of unusual discoveries: McDonald’s serves as a community center for so many, homeless and housed, in economically depressed zip codes. Some customers, primarily seniors, spent an entire day at Mickey D’s, getting out of the house while catching up and chatting with friends. Arnade noted the proximity of a McDonald’s as a critical component for such residents who don’t have the luxury of senior centers.

Although he provides no answers (are there any that are currently politically feasible?) for poverty reduction/elimination, Arnade explores many factors involved in producing lower income lives. He doesn’t cite studies or statistics but rather asks his subjects for their takes.

The responses included:

  • Racism being alive today as well as when blacks migrated from the south
  • Being forced to live only in certain ‘designated’ areas and then redlined when attempting to purchase houses and build equity
  • The reduction of the middle class via the disappearance of stable and decent-paying factory, ‘high school education’ jobs
  • Hearing “this is my home” over-and-over again when residents are asked why they don’t move to towns/cities/states offering better economic opportunities
  • The corollary to the above being the lack of capability (money) for most to just pick up and move
  • Another corollary being the unfeasibility of abandoning support systems (family and friends)
  • The power of religious belief with such being all that some have, providing hope, if not now, then for the future. Arnade notes he developed “intellectual humility” through finally understanding this spiritual element.

This is a moving book especially because the photographs of the subjects makes what is said and written within it human, and therefore, real.

Book review: “God’s Problem How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer?” by Bart D. Ehrman

The following is a look at Bart D. Ehrman’s book “God’s Problem How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer?”

University of North Carolina Professor of Religious Studies Bart D. Ehrman, among many other things, is a former fundamentalist and currently a fallen Christian. Agnostic would be a more accurate term.

Despite an early-on devotion to fundamentalist Christianity, he began experiencing doubts about his faith during graduate school. As he writes here:

“…If there is an all powerful and loving God in this world, why is their so much excruciating pain and unspeakable suffering?…”

“…for many…life is a cesspool of misery and suffering…”

“…the darkness is too deep, the suffering too intense, the divine absence too powerful…”

“…Ultimately, it was the reason I lost my faith…”

“…I realized I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life…”

Ehrman then explores the often contradictory and multiple reasons/justifications detailed throughout the Bible for such horrible afflictions in life. Among those:

  • suffering is a consequence of sin
  • suffering is a test, a down-the-line reward for passing
  • it eventually bolsters the recipient
  • it is the just the nature of things so accept it and God will bring hope and justice and eventually correct wrong
  • that the why of such is simply beyond knowing

Ehrman also points out conundrums in such misery: God’s flood killing countless animals as well as the actions of Adam and Eve not injuring others.

He states that if God can see into the future and is all powerful and loving, then his actions/inactions are not worthy of worship, but fear.

Simply put, he cannot understand or explain the prospering of the wicked while innocents suffer, believers among them.  Why  aren’t genocides prevented? Birth defects eliminated? Cancers stricken? Natural calamities deterred?

For Ehrmann, there is no fully satisfactory answer.

Not necessarily as a side note, he also writes about the element of Christian and Jewish apocalypticism and provides a pair of instances where Jesus offers that the end time would come very soon:

“Truly I tell you, some of those standing here will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God having come to power” (Mark 9:1)

“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place” (Mark 13:30)

Yet we’re still here. More grist for the proverbial mill besides the suffering conundrum.

Mark W. Bartusch offers in-depth insight in his 2011 God’s Problem How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer?” review. Do take a read.