Wednesday, November 25, 2009

complicating thankfulness (as if the whole pilgirms-and-indians thing hadn't already)

1. blessed are the pie eaters, for they have endured my experimental baking

The sweet potato pie is in the oven, and if the licking of the mixing bowl is any indication, it's awesome.

But I know a lot can happen between mixing bowl and oven. That's the sneaky thing about baking.

AK has just settled down for a long winter's nap, having been temporarily felled by the cold that I probably gave her, which someone on a plane to Sacramento probably gave me. It's a season of giving.

At dinner, when AK was only mildly glassy-eyed, I mused on the bible passage my group was given in Sunday's how-to-hang-with-evangelicals class. The assignment was SAT/reading comprehension-ish: to decide what the mission of a church that used such a passage as its core philosophy might be. But I got hung up on the passage itself:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled....
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Etc. You know the one.

Arguably (as people in my group argued), this is the perfect passage to inspire a church of activists, which ours at least tries to be. But I kept getting hung up on the idea of blessedness, which, according to one scholarly guy in our group, means "God looks favorably upon." It turned into a little logic puzzle for me:

If God likes people who are persecuted, does (s)he not like people who aren't persecuted? Matthew doesn't say that, and God, of all non-people, should be able to refrain from breaking the world into binaries. But, okay, say we're all called to action by this passage. Say we help the persecuted and create equality. Heaven on earth! Utopia! Then nobody is persecuted. So nobody is blessed?

This is really about my aforementioned complicated relationship with my own privilege. I'm pretty sure I haven't been persecuted for righteousness' sake, though in sixth grade I was mildly persecuted for poor fashion choices. So does God not like me?

2. commas and other holy copy edits

I haven't figured out the answer, and I'm not overly stressed about it because A) I like a literary mystery, and B) I'm not invested in bending over backward to make the bible make sense. While I'm fond of God, the bible is not especially holy to me. I would be happy to declare large portions of it utter bullshit if I read them and found them bullshitty.

But I'm still thinking about this idea of blessedness, and I have at least concluded that people use the word all wrong. Like when they say, "I have so much love [or such healthy children or such a kick-ass job so many shiny objects] in my life. I'm so blessed!"

According to the scholar in my group, they're saying, "I have so much great stuff because God likes me so much!" And according to Matthew, God would actually like them better if they were poorer in spirit and perhaps in shiny objects as well.

I kind of think neither is true. I think a lot of so-called blessings are luck, not a divine stamp of approval. But I also think--because I have to for my own sanity--that God loves the privileged as well as the under-privileged. To love someone only because of his or her oppression is to give that oppression weight it doesn't deserve.

But you know how you're more likely to pray when a plane is taking off? I think God's presence is sometimes the most palpable when there's the least interference between you and her/him. When someone you love is in trouble, or someone's fucking up your country with a war or you're trying to climb out of a depression. God is just as present in the lives of happy people, but they're too busy with their functional families and peaceful countries and healthy mental states to notice. Hopefully they're channeling a little bit of that surplus happiness and luck toward the folks who are struggling, which is one form God's attention can take.

In that way, I can reconcile the idea of blessedness, even if it feels a little bit like writing an English paper where I force the evidence to support my thesis. Or like the ending of a first draft of a novel (the writing stage I'm at right now), where I wrap up a bunch of loose ends in the cheapest, most nonsensical way. But I guess that's what the United Church of Christ people mean with their whole "God is still speaking" campaign. This is still an early draft for all of us.


Tracy Lynn said...

Blessed are those who overthink everything, for they are dear to the Lord. And also to the therapist.

Cheryl said...

My therapist has much to be thankful for.

Peter Varvel said...

Thank you for this.
I, too, struggle with a bit of guilt over my own privilege, especially when trying to make sense of it through the lens of a Protestant Christian upbringing.
We still hear that 'Life is not fair.' I personally believe that, at times, Life is not fair in your favor, and I have had more than my fair share.
What preserves my sanity is to focus on not taking it for granted, and to remember to be grateful.
Most days, my prayer request is as simple as wanting to remember to pay some of that "fairness" forward, whether you call it 'light,' 'positive energy,' or 'random acts of kindness.'
Thank you for contributing to this necessary circle/cycle, CK!

Cheryl said...

Sounds like we think alike. Here's to paying it forward. :-)