Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Arrogance of the Ignorant... The Ignorance of the Arrogant...

Right around that time my polar opposite sweet, quiet friend Maja, met some American college students and wanted to introduce me to them.  They were spending the summer in Yugoslavia hoping to meet  as many as possible college students from our country who would like to make friends with them, practice their English, and learn about each other’s culture, religion and word view.  I jumped at the opportunity to practice English and make friends.  Americans were well-loved and admired at the time. Meeting them in person was quite a privilege.  Talking about religion, however, was certainly not my view of having fun.  But, I was willing to put up with it, knowing that the subject is so ridiculously irrelevant that it wouldn't take too much of our time. I was wrong.  Our conversation kept going back to the discussions about existence of God, creation and human need for meaning and significance. 

We can create meaning and significance in our own selves.  I protested. We don’t need God to live meaningful and significant lives. Religion is an opiate for the masses, I quoted Karl Marx, the prophet of communism. It’s for old, uneducated people who couldn't explain natural occurrences we now understand through science. In the evolutionary development, we have outgrown the need for religion.  It’s a matter of the past.

The young Americans listened to my anti-religious sermons politely.  They were all intelligent, capable, educated men and women, with the resources and opportunities that certainly at least met if not exceeded those afforded to me in the mid-eighties in the Balkans.   I couldn't understand their insistence on the importance and value of religion, which they explained as ‘personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ’.   Even though every word in that expression was known to me, when strung together in this order, I couldn't make sense of them at all. Finally, I concluded that this religious blabber is just a part of their culture and tradition.  Everyone is a Christian in America.  My friends shook their heads, finding further human reasoning quite hopeless, and assured me of their continued prayers.

Whatever.  I shrugged their words off.  You may believe in God, I never will.  We said our good byes and forever (or so I thought) parted our ways.

I knew who I was.  I knew what I believed. Most importantly, I didn't need God.  I didn't need a crutch.  I didn't need opium. With hard work and determination, I could climb any mountain.  I could do it on my own.  I can be my own god.   

Ah, the arrogance of the ignorant. 

Ah, the ignorance of the arrogant.

How little we know.  

How little we understand. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

You May Believe in God, I Never Will

You may believe in God, I never will.

I announced to a group of American college students who have just finished ‘talking into the air’ which they identified as ‘praying’.  I remember watching them with stunned curiosity as they engaged in this  utterly useless and  absurd activity. They prayed comfortably sprawled on the couches and sofas, about everything, and anything, including the absence of faith in God in my life.  It's weird to be a topic of somebody else's conversation with the Almighty.  Especially when you don't even believe in Him. But, they were chatting with their Dad, whom they also worshiped as the only God, the Creator of the Universe and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even though they spoke English, I knew that this was the language I definitely neither knew nor did I have desire to learn. 

It was early summer of 1986 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. I was an ambitious second year student at the University of Belgrade School of Philology, double-majoring in English Language and Literature and Comparative Literature and Theory of Literature.  With full two decades of life experiences under my belt, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about this world and the best way to fix it.  My opinions were formed, my destiny determined. I was going to change the world through writing by becoming a professional journalist. 

It so happened that the same year, as if my English and Literature studies and my writing assignments were not challenging enough, I applied for  Molecular Biology and Genetics studies at the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.  Genetics was a budding science holding the promise of unlocking the key not only to the origin of life but also its quality and quantity – a sure path to the long, healthy, abundant life humanity longed for.  I was among the top fifteen out of 30 students total who were accepted - enjoying the benefit of full scholarship.  I felt I was on the top of the world - a proud atheist with a firm belief – supported by irrefutable evidence of my personal experience - in the power of knowledge and science to save all those who need saving.  And I was there to show the way and assist the process. Not some invisible, imaginary deity.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


When I saw it with a corner of my eye, trapped in the crack of the pavement, I didn’t think it was worth losing my step, bending over to pick it up.

It’s just a penny, I thought.  Practically worthless.

But, for some inexplicable reason, I slowed down and stopped, bending over to scoop it up between my thumb and forefinger. It was so covered with grime I almost dropped it, frustrated that now I have to find a place to wash my hands.

The helplessness and the powerlessness of the coin, its silent testimony on the witness stand of the palm of my hand, awakened something forgotten, buried inside the cracked pavement of my soul.

Once you were new and shiny, desirable and valuable. But now you are old and beat up.  Probably run over many times.  Discolored from exposure to ruthless elements. If not lost, never to be missed, most likely ignored, not worth bending over to pick up by your previous owner. Or countless other passers-by.  Passed over again and again…. Are you truly as worthless as you look?

And yet, if I focused, if I pored over its bruised shape, I could still discern the face and the inscription on it, nearly but not quite obliterated from its surface.  

And if I decided to take into a bank, it would still carry its full value issued by the authority higher than it knows.

Despite its condition, despite its look, despite the brutality of life it has faced, its intrinsic value, bestowed by the governing authority that made it, remained undiminished.


“Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Matthew 22:20
“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Genesis 1:26

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pain Management

I am in constant pain. Some days it's like dull droning in the background of my mind, others it's excruciating spasm that explodes with sudden intensity. Much of my life has become an exercise in pain management.   I have slowed down to a crawl, watching the rest of the world spin by me.  I find myself calling out for help for the things I used to be able to do by myself. Like, getting out of bed.  Or, taking the next breath. I feel embarrassed that I have descended to such levels of dependence, but the Gardener doesn't seem to mind, always ready to come alongside and help, with never a trace of resentment. I am mostly frustrated with myself, often wondering if life is ever going to return to normal.

What IS normal?  I ask nobody in particular, as we drag the garbage can together to the curb.

I don't necessarily wish to go back to that place of independence and self-sufficiency where I came from, I continue, but needing to rely on somebody for everything is... is a bit too much. 

Too much for whom? He asks as we head to the side of the house where we need to straighten out the garden hose before we water the vegetable patch.

It's just that all my life I have been taught to become more and more independent, to be responsible, to carry my own weight, to be efficient... and now... 

And now you discover that life is quite unmanageable and you need help...

Yes! A lot of help!  All the time! For everything!

Why do you think I am here? 

Well, that's a good question. I take a deep breath. Your help is beyond anything I could ever fully express and a simple thank-you doesn't seem enough...But, I hesitate here not wishing to offend him .

But to be completely honest, I finally muster the necessary courage, having learned that with him anything but complete truthfulness is plain stupid... There are times I don't understand you at all... and it feels like you are more about sabotaging even my best efforts, rather than helping me. Slowing me down, rather than accelerating my progress... I have a hard time wrapping my mind - and even more my heart - around it... It's like swimming uphill, while everyone else is having a grand time just floating along...

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Thorn in the Flesh

I soooo want to stay in that happy place of wonder of this unfolding miracle of life... To permanently soak in the indomitable hope and the beauty that springs out of the common dirt...

I also remember the equally exhilarating feeling of being pulled out of the sink hole and the garden hose shower, the living water that scrubbed from the inside out. ...  Is there a way one can live like that... not experience those eye-opening moments in an unpredictable, seemingly haphazard fashion, but actually live ALIVE to the miracle in and around us, day in day out, breath in breath out...?

We have a work to do, remember? The Gardener's voice interrupts my train of thoughts. The door...?

The Door! Yes, the damn door! And that Code Enforcer idiot who ... I feel my internal temperature rising beyond my ability to manage as I think of  bizarre incident.

I can't believe he did that?!!!  What was he thinking?!!! Some people sure take their jobs waaay too seriously!

Perhaps. But what others do doesn't change the fact that we have a door to take care of on your house.

I really want to vent about the audacity and unfairness of the situation, but he is already taking the plywood off.  He points out at the rust on one of the old hinges, and uses carpenter's glue to repair the splintered pieces.  He suggests we replace the broken glass with some stained-glass windows - he used to make those for fun before he joined his dad in the landscaping business and can have somebody from the shop come and drop them off this afternoon.  I marvel at his composure and creativity and  decide the best thing for me to do is keep my mouth shut and follow him around, handing a tool here and a glass of water there.

He truly is a miracle worker for before the afternoon is over, the door is as good as new - or better, especially with the beautiful stained glass pieces now replacing the broken window panes.  We are ready for installation! As we lift it up, I suddenly feel a piercing pain in my hand. I scream out, almost dropping the door on my foot. Apparently I managed to find a stray splinter that embedded itself so deeply into my flesh. I couldn't even see it.  I feel it's there in all its potency, but it broke off at the point of entry, making it almost impossible to remove.

It's O.K.  The Gardener examines the throbbing palm of my hand gently,  Leave it alone... You'll be alright.

I can't leave it there!  It's excruciating!  It may get infected.  I could lose a limb! Do you realize how debilitating this is... ?!!! Do you know what it is like to walk around with a large thorn deeply embedded in your flesh?!!!

He doesn't say anything for several eternity-long moments... I sense again the time being suspended on those hinges of eternity. Eventually he answers with a barely audible whisper:

I might have an idea or two... I might just have an idea...

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him 
John 19:2

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9