Friday, May 9, 2008

The Great Disconnect In The Sky

(sponsored by Yeungling)

Post #3: The Great Disconnect In The Sky

The Reivers--"He Will Settle It" (mp3)
Warren Zevon--"The Indifference of Heaven" (mp3)

One day a week or so ago, my wife and I were driving downtown to a restaurant when I said, kind of out of the blue, "Do you think that everyone is just practicing various levels of self-deception about God?"

It was a slow day on the radio, I guess.

She agreed with me. We kept driving, both trying to figure out in our own minds what I'd just said. Don't worry; this is not going to be an argument in favor of atheism or agnosticism or nihilism or the Yellow Deli. It's just a public wondering about how we interpret a higher power.

Here's what I think: there is a great disconnect about what happens up there in the sky or at least in that place where it's most convenient to look when we want to ponder things greater than ourselves. It all depends on whether you are inside of a situation looking out or outside of it looking in. F. Scott Fitzgerald first talked about "the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function," and it is this schism that we daily struggle with. Because, let's face it, our two basic views of God, or at least mine, do not reconcile, even in the slightest way.

FIRST VIEW: If you have a loved one in grave circumstances, say, in the hospital, then you are likely to see, or at least to wish for, God's presence and oversight in every yawn, every blink, every shift of a muscle. You talk to God, at least in your head. More likely, you beg and plead for anything, even the slightest improvement. You believe that God can and may or even will act. Even something as obvious and predictable as a rally after a powerful dose of antibiotics is ignored in favor of the power of prayer.

SECOND VIEW: If, however, you are not emotionally engaged, then on some level, you know that this is a silly, even dangerous, kind of understanding of God. You start with why a single swing, a lucky punch, puts a young man in a life-threatening situation. From there, you reject the oft-heard notion that this is somehow part of a divine plan that we mortals are not blessed to understand. Then you intuit that the God you think you know would never do any such thing, would not allow the random to rule more powerfully than his will. Furthermore, you know that He would not tease or dabble in a family's pain and upheaval. And then you conclude that God is not involved or even that whatever higher power there is doesn't have that role or ability.

I have certainly been on both sides of this one. When Robin was near death after a misdiagnosed appendectomy, you can bet I was talking in my head and praying, and even the note from Moms in Touch, a group I might have made fun of, was one of the most comforting messages I received. At the same time, I agree with Robin when she talks about her social work years with child sexual abuse cases and how no god could ever have a glorious plan that involved the kinds of things that were done to those children.

Musically, I suffer from the same dichotomy. Ever since John Lambert first introduced me to the Reivers' song "He Will Settle It," it has remained for me one of the most spiritual pieces of music I've ever heard. And, I've continued to make the assumption that the "He" in the title was a reference to God or Jesus, but there's no concrete evidence, just three verses of various kinds of despair and struggle and getting by, then the resolution of the refrain: "But I know, [H]e will settle it."

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Zevon's "Indifference of Heaven" seems equally appropriate to our condition most of the time:

Gentle rain
Falls on me
All life folds back
Into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of heaven

When things go badly, as they always do eventually (though in the song, Zevon ramps up the pathos even more to create some grim humor), it's hard not to think that whatever force is there that guides us is benign at best. At best.

And so, yes, I conclude, that we typically add our conceptions of God to our many other daily self-deceptions and that this is what we need to do, have to do, want to do, suffer from, take comfort in, and otherwise juggle with all of the other balls we have in the air. Which conception is the more deceiving? I haven't made that choice yet. I expect I'll try to keep both up there at the same time.

The Reiver's "He Will Settle It" comes from a mix cd known only in our family as "John's Greatest Mix." Perhaps he can tell you which CD it originally came from, but it is now out-of-print. Warren Zevon's "The Indifference of Heaven" comes from his concert of 1/12/96.


Billy said...

Powerful stuff, this. Is it possible to sincerely believe that God will not bail me out of the pickles I put myself in, nor will He pull me out of the ones I fall in from mere happenstance, nor can I expect him to do anything for me... yet I somehow find comfort in believing He's there anyway.

I take existential comfort in the story of Shadrach et al in the fiery furnace. He didn't pull them out. He just had an angel hang out with 'em and knock back a few beers until the fire died.

Perhaps to my own detriment, I get very uneasy asking God for things that I can't pull from within myself. I mostly just try to be grateful. Try. Key word.

Bob said...

Great job coming up with this theme for the week, Beery. I think I have one more post in me on related topics. You may want to wait for it and get in the last word, as, metaphorically, I have Contemporary Christian Music sitting on a T-Ball stand and I have gone to get my Fred Flintstone bat.

Anonymous said...

That song comes from a great and underrated late 80s cd called End of the Day. Their other record, Saturday, also had some amazing pop hooks. Don't know why that Austin band never made it. It guess it's like the Bill Mallonee/Vigilantes of Love issue. Sometimes the musical universe throws out hard justice.

Another great song of them was "in your eyes"; here's the link to its music video. You have to love the 80s:

Daytimerush said...

I feel God as a Father/Mother presence. A creator of beauty. A provider of unconditional love. Someone to guide our behavior, but not control it. Someone to lean on in hard times and thank in good. Someone who will welcome ALL of us in the end.

Bob said...

Daytimerush, I like your vision, too. Without a doubt, there are places and experiences where God feels present--the birth of a child, overwhelming natural beauty, even the death of a parent.

Anonymous said...

Anne Lamott writes that the only two prayers she knows to pray are "Help, help, help, help" and "thank you, thank you, thank you." Kinda resonates with me. Went to Ikea today to get some bookcases and played three of Bob's cd mixes that had gotten lost in the Lambert debris. The Sheds have now risen to the top of my musical faves. I listened to Mtn Cat about 20 times and have internalized the melody and lyrics. Played it for the girls upon picking them up from school and they asked me to hit replay. We sang the chorus together across on MKL Blvd. Now THAT'S spiritual music!