God Will Provide

“God will provide…” I heard that a lot growing up. At various times throughout my childhood, my dad was a Christian school teacher, a pastor or both. Any way you look at it, he wasn’t rolling in the dough. Most of the time he was only scraping up enough flour to make a thin paste. I remember going several weeks in a row without my dad receiving any pay check. Though we qualified for government aid many times over, my parents refused to apply. Add to this a liberal dose of fairly serious health problems for my dad, mom and even myself, and you have a very interesting picture. Still, God did provide. I never went hungry, slept on a park bench or wore threadbare clothes. It didn’t make sense. We didn’t have the money, but we always had what we needed and the medical bills always got paid.

When I was little, I just took it for granted. I knew we didn’t have a lot of money, but I never worried about it. The closest I came to stressing out about money matters were those Christmases when Dad warned us there might not be any presents. (I should mention that money always turned up for Christmas, too.) I did not know the details of our financial situation, but Mom and Dad were taking care of it, so I didn’t trouble myself. They said God would provide and I believed it.

But now, I’m an adult and I don’t live with my parents anymore and I have to take care of it. Guess what. God still provides. Though I’ve been told I’m an excellent writer, I’ve as yet been unable to convince any publishers that the population at large will think I’m an excellent writer and buy books. So, I’m not making a whole lot of money at the moment. I have enough to cover the bills, school, gas, daily expenses and gas. (Mostly gas.) But I don’t have any extra. Imagine my annoyance, then, at discovering a rash on my elbow last month which quickly began to spread to my legs and neck and arms. After a month of trying various home remedies to no avail, I finally broke down and went to the nearest walk-in clinic. (By the way, I have no health insurance.) I was a little peeved. It looked like I was going to have to break into the money I’d been saving up for next school semester, and I was not impressed. But something had to be done. My neck was one mess of hives and I itched constantly. One hundred and fifty dollars later, I was back home on a low dose of steroids and some gooey stuff to put on my elbow. I had also been informed that my blood work had not been normal. So I really ought to follow up with a rheumatologist. I remember telling myself, “God will provide.” And then I thought, “Yup, right out of my savings account. Oh well, at least He put money in my savings account.”

About a week later, I found myself at a wedding rehearsal where I was to be the main pianist. I had been practicing for this wedding for several months and I played well. Not perfectly, but well. Afterwards, the father of the bride walked up to me and said, “I just want to thank you for all the work you’ve put into this and here is a little something for your trouble.” He pushed a one hundred dollar bill in my hand. Later that evening, the groom pulled me aside and said, “I saw that my father-in-law gave you something for playing, but I also wanted to give you something too.” I looked down at a fifty dollar bill. I had not planned on being paid for that wedding. Certainly not a hundred and fifty dollars. The groom and his family are long-time friends and I considered my playing as more of a wedding gift to him and his honey. Still, in one evening, God dumped the entire cost of that doctor visit in my lap.

That was pretty neat. But there’s more. I set up an appointment with a doctor my parents have gone to for years. A very no-nonsense, no-frills M.D. (“Don’t go to that rheumatologist,” he said cheerfully, “All he’ll do is pump you full of Prednisone. Trade a month of relief for a lifetime of misery.”) His visits cost a grand total of fifty dollars. That’s ridiculously cheap, but fifty dollars isn’t exactly pocket change for me. Last Friday, I was busily teaching three of my piano students, all siblings, at their home. In the course of conversation, I mentioned I was excited about the busy weekend ahead of me. I was going to be graduating for my Associates Degree in Arts and it was so good to be done with school for the summer. As I was leaving, their mom handed me an envelope and congratulated me on finishing. In the car I opened the envelope. Care to guess what was inside the very purple, very glittery card? That’s right. Fifty dollars. I sparkled all day long for more reasons than the glitter.

My parents have been openly criticized for staying in a line of work that paid very little. My Dad’s been called everything from stupid to lazy for teaching in Christian education and intentionally keeping his family in poverty. But I am thankful for being poor, because I know things that a lot of people don’t. For one thing, I know that God provides. People who have always had good jobs and good insurance, do not truly understand what I mean when I say that. So many times when I was young, God provided money that we could not provide for ourselves through people who had no clue that Dad hadn’t been paid for weeks or that he was staring several thousand dollars- worth of medical bills in the face. I got to see God work on our behalf first hand, and it’s because of our poverty and God’s work that I could face my own financial situation with relative peace. It’s a level of discomfort that I would not trade for anything, because it’s allowed me to see God follow through on His promises. King David said, “I have been young, and now I am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Psalm 37:25) It’s true. I know. God will provide.

America-Nietzsche’s Ideal?

Here’s another essay I wrote about a year ago as a response to an exam question. We were to look at American culture and decide whether it would be something in line with what the philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche would have approved of. Nietzsche used words like the “will to power.” To him power was everything and the truly superior people would act according to their own free will which would protect them from slavish fear and degradation. (Sound familiar? Watch Green Lantern again.) Nietzsche popularized the notion you may recognize when phrased like this, “God is dead, and we have killed him.”  Below is the result of my labors.

From my limited knowledge of his thoughts, I understand Nietsche’s ideal society to be a place of raw individualism, free of society’s constraints.  In such a place, individuals would live for themselves and their own interests.  Freely chosen action without regard to anyone’s opinion but one’s own is the theme of Nietzsche’s writings.  By following this path, humanity would be purified of its weaker elements.  He saw Christianity as one of the greatest hindrances to this cause.  In his own words, “The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its corruption; it has turned every truth into a lie, every integrity into a vileness of the soul.”

Nietzsche was absolutely right to predict a complete turnabout in our society from Christian values to something else, whatever that “else” is.  The writing was on the wall since the Renaissance.  It was particularly noticeable during the eighteenth century when every major European country seemed to brace itself against revolution.  It is interesting to observe how Christian values have been trumped in large part over the last century or so.  Pride has become the ultimate virtue and humility the worst vice, almost at the very top of the seven deadly sins.  Being sexually active outside of marriage is no longer frowned upon as long as one practices safe sex (whatever that is) to avoid contracting a baby or some other nasty disease.  We have replaced old values with even older vices and switched their names.  In fond memory, we have retained some of the old values in shell form.  We like to go to church and poke our Pillsbury dough boy in the sky whenever we feel discouraged or saddened by life.  Few “Christians,” however, know the Christian experience–the anguish that comes from living in the world while continually fighting its pull, wanting to be accepted but finding an invisible wall in the way.  There is no struggle anymore.  You can do your own thing and go to church on the side.  Still, for the most part, the Christian perspective has been overturned.  If Nietzsche could be here now to see this transformation, would he be pleased?  I doubt it.  Certainly, he would be pleased with the dethroning of Christian values.  Free will in society, however, is still a missing ingredient.  Tagging along with the new value system is a new political correctness, and woe to those who violate it.

It seems logical that Nietzsche would recognize the importance of protecting the rights of individuals to follow their own self-interests unhindered.  Rights are an interesting topic.  It seems that everyone in the United States has had them at one time or another except the minority.  It’s been that way from the beginning.  First, we had rights but not the slaves or the women.  Then women got their rights, but not the freed slaves.  Then blacks got rights, but not the homosexuals.  Now gays are getting their rights as more people come around to their persuasion, and people opposed to this had just better shut up and leave off the hate speech.  Freedom of speech is flying out the window for the small minority of people who dislike gay pride.  Depending on where Amercans live and when they live and who they are, they have rights.  But every day, somebody is getting his rights trampled on…by the authorities who are supposed to be protecting them.  This is not Nietzsche’s society.

Our society is sexually free and easy.  Maybe it’s just a little less free and easy than Europe, but not much.  We get condoms in school along with a pat on the head and an admonishment to, “Run along and have a fun time.  Just be responsible.”  Need information on sex?  It’s out there in every conceivable form, from the magazines in the grocery isle to your Yahoo homepage when you log on in the morning.  You don’t even have to look for it.  It is the topic that everyone seems to have a working knowledge of in spite of the woeful lack of sex ed in our schools I’m always hearing about.  We can do practically anything we want as long as we don’t force anyone into it, and as long as we are of a certain government-mandated age.  But even amidst all this freedom, the pressure from society is on, whether it be the pressure to use protection, or the pressure to grow up already and get laid.  I remember talking to a young friend several years back.  She was disturbed and unhappy because she did not want to have sex yet, but she was constantly being picked on and teased because she was still a virgin.  This type of thing may be isolated, but the fact remains that being sexually active in a healthy, baby and disease-free way is the new norm, and anyone who deviates from this standard is considered strange, repressed, a closet homosexual, perverted, you name it.  The person who decides to remain celibate for whatever reason is considered odd at best.  Conversely, the person who does not care if he gets a disease and dies, is considered unbalanced and in need of help.  Nietzsche would say this man was exercising free will.  If the man should die in the process, I could imagine Nietzsche saying, “Good riddance!  One less weak person to clutter the earth.”

Originality, creativity, self-esteem, self-expression, the glorious and almighty self–these are the gods we worship now.  It’s almost monotonous.  I use wedding cake as my example.  (In spite of the sexual revolution, marriage is still a popular activity for whatever reason.)  I work at a bakery, and one of my jobs is to sit down with engaged couples and assist them in the process of ordering a wedding cake.  I can spot and recognize them through the window before they even walk through the door.  She’s carrying a large binder stuffed full of clippings from wedding magazines, color swatches, photos of the beadwork on her dress, and even pictures of the flowers her bridesmaids are carrying.  Behind her she drags him, who is either bored out of his mind or intensely interested and supportive throughout the whole process.  (I’m not sure which kind of groom is most disturbing.)  I sit down with them and ask them what they have in mind.

She says, “Well, we really don’t like the traditional cake, you know with all the heavy decorations?  We just want something more simple, kind of unique, more…us, you know?”

Of course I know.  They want square tiers, preferably offset so that the corners do not match up, a simple scrollwork design or poke-a-dots or a combination of both, a monogram on the front of one tier, and a silver monogram ornament on the top tier.  I know this even before I hear another word because I’ve been doing wedding cake orders for the last six years, and all the unique, original, creative, self-expressive cakes look like that–nearly the same as the last one.  It’s the same story throughout every aspect of life.  In our earnest efforts at self-expression, we end up copying everyone else.  We even rebel the same way.  At some point in time, someone decided to fight against the establishment by getting a nose ring and dying his hair some odd color.  Now, body art is almost yawn-inducing.  “Look, there goes another guy with an ear ring or a nose ring, or an I-shudder-to-think-where-else ring.”  Human beings are not original by nature, with or without Christian ethics.  I don’t think it’s a bad thing in and of itself, but Nietzsche would.

Our post-modern society, nearly stripped of Christian values, is certainly not Nietzsche’s dream.  On some consideration, I wonder if there is such a thing as free will.  If free will is acting without reference to anyone or anything but the self, then I’ve never witnessed it.  Nietzsche would roll over in his grave at the present society just as violently as he would the previous one dominated by Christian values.  The controls have been switched, but that’s all.

All Things Nudist

This semester, I’m taking about three English classes. One of them is Advanced Composition. For that class, I’ve written an annotated bibliography, a literature review, and my most recent assignment was to write a Rogerian letter. (A Rogerian arguement is a way to argue a point while charming your opposition so much that they don’t mind being argued with.) But before we could write our Rogerian letters, we had to write terrible editorials–using biased sources, making fallacious though impassioned statements, etc… (Mine was about evil vaccinations.) Once those were finished, my professor instructed us to choose one of our classmates topics and respond to it in a Rogerian manner. Well, one of my classmates wrote a very clever little editorial promoting nudism. If we all just chucked our clothes, so many societal evils would be remedied–unhealthy body image, social cliques, thievery and the like. So, below is my Rogerian response.

 

Amanda Barber

1000 Some Rd.

Whoville, MI 49001

 

March 3, 2012

 

Rachel Eve

The Nudist Times

2000 Breezy Rd.

Barely There, MI 49021

 

Dear Rachel:

I had the opportunity to read your latest editorial, “Your Right to Bare Arms, Legs, and Other Body Parts” in The Nudist Times last week at the dentist’s office and I spent a considerable amount of time pondering it. I now find myself compelled to reply in what I hope will be an effective manner. Before your editorial, I had never really considered the topic of nudism and its philosophy. Though I disagree with your ultimate conclusions, it is clear that your intentions are admirable. Many of the points you brought up were quite valid. The problems you have observed in society and seek to fight against through social nudity are real and clear and they trouble me as well.

It would seem that you and most nudists in general are troubled by the materialistic attitudes of our society—this constant drive to express our exalted place in the social stratosphere through our clothing. The way humanity tends to divvy up social standing according to appearances is extremely unfortunate, especially when it affects children. As you rightly pointed out, many school children are obsessed with designer clothes so that they can be accepted by their peers. The fact that children worry about these things and face rejection based on appearances is sad and it ought not to be. This inordinate focus on outward appearances leads to cliques and takes attention away from the main purpose of school which is to learn.  Your comments on the idealized body image of our society were appropriate as well. It is tragic that women should feel inadequate as women when they compare their own bodies to the photo-shopped images of supermodels and actresses.

I understand that while all nudists are not religious, a large number of them would classify themselves as Christians (Bullough). I noticed that you (and other nudists I have read since I came into contact with your article) spend some time praising the magnificence of God’s creation that we can see in the human body. Nudists often point to the fact that God sees to it that babies come into the world naked as proof that God certainly cannot disapprove of nudity. As I said before, I do not entirely agree, but I am encouraged that you include God in the equation. I am also a Christian, and I believe that though our conclusions on the matter may be different we ultimately have a common goal. So, I would first like to discuss your Biblical rationale for social nudity and then my Biblical opposition to it.

When I first learned that a large number of nudists were Christians, I began to wonder why they would come to that conclusion. My mind immediately jumped to Genesis and the creation account. The Bible clearly states that when Adam and Eve were first created, they were naked, not ashamed of it, and God called it “very good.” So I thought to myself, “I see. They must believe that since God created us naked, we would be doing ourselves a favor if we shed our clothes. Clothing, after all, is nothing more than a reminder of sin and shame.” It turns out that I was right. In my research online, I came across a Christian nudist organization whose arguments practically mirrored my speculations (Naturist Christians). This viewpoint is particularly interesting and one worth thinking about.

My difficulty is that I have a question about one small detail. Why did God kill animals and make clothing out of their skins for Adam and Eve to wear after the Fall? The passage I am referring to is Genesis 3:1-21. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible says, “…the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” (King James Version) Now right here, I am certain you would point out that the very act of them rushing to cover themselves up was only proof for your argument, but that still does not explain why God helped them cover up only fourteen verses later. God exchanges their rather useless fig leaves with coats of skin. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” (King James Version, Genesis 3:21)

In addition to all this, nakedness is never looked upon favorably in the Scriptures. Nakedness is always portrayed as a very shameful thing and clothing a good thing. In Chapter 9 of Genesis, another account seems to give further evidence of this. After the great flood, God blesses Noah and his family. Noah plants a vineyard, makes some wine and gets himself roaring drunk, so drunk in fact, that he ends up lying in his tent wearing nothing but his birthday suit. His son Ham wanders in about that time and has a good laugh, telling his brothers, Shem and Japheth, all about it. Shem and Japheth take a “garment” and go into the tent backwards to avoid seeing their father naked and cover him up. When Noah, a man very close to God’s heart, came out of his drunken stupor and realized what had happened, he said this, “’Cursed be Canaan [Ham]; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.’ And he said, ‘Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.’” (King James Version, Genesis 9:25-27) In Noah’s opinion, it was not a light matter for his son to have seen him naked.

These are the observations that cause me to pause. Because of them, I feel reluctant to accept the nudist position completely. It would seem to me that God does not entirely approve of nudity. At the same time, I understand your concerns and your desire for a change in the attitudes of our society. Since our goals and concerns are so similar, surely there is a way that we could work to change these problem areas in our culture in a way that would be less offensive to the rest of the population. Perhaps one would be to seek to glorify God and bring attention to Him in the way we dress rather than attention to ourselves through our clothing choices or lack thereof. Whatever the outcome of this debate, I feel that more open dialogue on this issue would be beneficial to both sides.  I look forward to it.

 

Sincerely,

Amanda Barber

 

 

Tell Me About God

   I had two older siblings, growing up. The difference in age was significant. I was born when my brother was ten and my sister was twelve. So, it was a little like having two sets of parents. The majority of the time I loved having two sets, especially when the younger one wasn’t too bossy. My sister went off to college when I was pretty young, but my brother was still finishing up high school and so I got to have him around for a few more years. I ended up spending a lot of time with him, watching him work out with weights in the basement. (Once he was all sweaty and disgusting, he liked chasing me around the basement, threatening me with slimy hugs.) He was also pretty good at imitating our acquaintances’ funny quirks and mannerisms, getting them down to such perfection, that I laughed until my head hurt. Sometimes he’d baby sit me and my younger brother when Mom and Dad went out on a date or something. That was always fun. We ended up goofing around a lot before Jeremy sent us off to get ready for bed.  It was when Justin and I were in our pajamas, a little too wound up and hyper to go to sleep quite yet, that I begged the usual topic.

“Tell me about God!”

It wasn’t that I wanted a story about God. I was looking for specific information. Once before, during one of these bedtime theological discussions, Jeremy dropped the bomb on me. He had said, “God has never had a beginning and He doesn’t have an end. He has always just been.” Well, to a seasoned student of theology, that concept is mind-boggling enough. You can only imagine what a thunderbolt descends upon the mind of a six-year-old at the same piece of information. It floored me. Everything has a beginning! How can you exist if you never began? But my brother assured me that this was the reality of the situation. From then on, I wanted to talk about God’s infinity with Jeremy before bedtime.

I used to sit on the bed after Jeremy had repeated this doctrinal truth to me once again and just grin. What does a person say to that anyway? My mind would go on a historical regression. “God existed before me, before Mom and Dad, before George Washington, before creation, before…well, what happened before creation?” It always stopped there in my mind, but there was something rather thrilling about the fact that lots of things must have happened before creation since God was there. After a while I couldn’t think about it anymore. Whenever I tried to make sense of it, I felt like I was trying to take in the whole universe and my brain was in danger of bursting. And it was such a good feeling, knowing that God was so huge—big enough to bust my brain. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to be afraid of God’s immensity. I can only describe the way I felt about it by describing my first take-off experience on an airplane. I felt the roar and vibrations of the engines underneath me as the plane picked up speed, rushing up into the sky. I sat back in my chair and grinned. In that moment, I knew it was entirely possible that something could malfunction and we’d all get blown to smitherines in the next fifteen seconds, but I was taken away by the power of it and I didn’t care. Only to think that God’s power is worth far more than millions of airplane engines and He doesn’t malfunction.

When I was little there was nothing bigger than God’s immensity, nothing else that could send me into an awe-inspired trance than His infinity. I should mention that I was hardly a model child. I was plenty naughty and got my fair share of spankings and thinking sessions with my nose in the corner. I got mad and cried often enough when things didn’t go my way. Still, and probably because children have much better imaginations than adults, I was always floored by the topic of God. Then I grew up. In some ways, my knowledge of God increased and I grew to know more of His characteristics. In other ways, my knowledge decreased, or maybe the better way to put it was that the knowledge got shoved aside to a more manageable corner of my mind to make room for adult cares, concerns, hopes, worries, ambitions, desires and the all-consuming responsibilities of living. (After all, I couldn’t get much done if I spent the live-long day thinking about how God went on and on and on and on…) I didn’t stop loving God, it’s just that I didn’t find myself as amazed at Him as I used to. I had accepted God’s infinity and His love and His justice as a matter of course and put it to rest. I put His enormity into finite terms and made an end of it.

But then curious things began to happen. The cloud of concerns and bustling activity would suddenly become dry and lifeless all of a sudden. None of them looked appealing or hopeful. Even the best and most useful things. It was as if they all died and fell around me leaving a choking vapor of smoke that closed me in. I was overcome with restlessness for no particular reason, and how unhappy I was when I tried to look up at God. I had accepted and dimly remembered that He was good, but now I couldn’t see Him through the grime.  My mode of operation in times like these was to spend more time reading the Bible and praying, praying to a God who gave very little indication that He was still there. The haze had cut off my line of communication to Him, that clear view of Himself that used to delight me. So, I had to rely on the communications He had already sent through His Word and muddle through the best I could. And then, after a long time of waiting, there He was almost as mind-bogglingly beautiful as He had been when I was a little girl, come to help me when I least expected Him. I say almost as beautiful because just as soon as I saw Him again, I began to think that things were put to rights and the cloud of distractions began to resurrect and bombard me. Already, my mind began filling up with the cares of the world. I’d had my dose of God, and now I was ready for something else.

If you’re at all honest, you must admit that this sounds quite familiar. It is not that we do not genuinely desire to love God, even in the middle of all the distractions and incessant battles to overcome our sin. It isn’t that we don’t cry out to God while we run from pillar to post, in distracted activity. It isn’t even that all those things we’re doing are unnecessary or wrong. So, what is it? Why does our first breathtaking glimpse of God always fade away behind a blinding fog of who knows what? How can we so quickly forget what we hold in our hands–the gift that God has made of Himself for us to keep for all of eternity—that this infinite God has promised to be our God and that we are His people?  

 Quite honestly, I’m not sure. At least in my case, I think it’s because I stopped saying a very simple thing, “Tell me about God!” Lately, meaning in the last few years, I feel like I’ve been wading through just such a fog of forgetfulness. My life has consisted of completing one goal after another—get the book finished, get the next school assignment done, get the book published, get this piece of music learned, figure out your schedule, register for this class, figure out if you have enough money for the aforementioned class. It never ends. Often, my solution to the problems and frustrations is to think about them some more and try to work harder. Sitting down, stopping everything and putting everything else out of my mind to hear about God has become increasingly more difficult as I’ve grown older.

I’ve also noticed another thing. If I do not choose to do put everything aside before things get out of hand, God tends to arrange it for me. Sometimes He makes life flavorless. Sometimes He makes me notice that I’ve gone whole days without giving Him anything more than my peripheral thoughts and attention. Sometimes He makes me so depressed I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes He takes away my sleep at night (as He did just a few nights ago) until I can say like little Samuel in the Old Testament, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” It’s in the middle of crushing loads like these, that I look up once again and notice what I’ve been missing for such a long time. I wish I weren’t so forgetful. I wish I could sit like a little child at His feet all day long, while I’m working or playing, bowled over by His goodness.

Well, I don’t live with Jeremy anymore. I don’t always have someone handy who would respond enthusiastically if I abruptly shouted, “Tell me about God!” So, I must do the next best thing. I have to tell someone else about God which is precisely what I’m doing now. Because, oftentimes, it is in telling someone about God that I’m really talking to myself. I cannot afford to forget.