Some replies to Ask Me Anything! 2008 queries. Here we go:
Roger, who asked a ton of questions this time out, kicked things off thusly: How has the events of the past year figured into your faith journey, however you define that?
Tough question, this; very tough question. My "faith journey", if it can be termed as such, is pretty much directionless. I'm not sure this is a bad thing, really, unless we take the concept of a "faith journey" to have a predetermined destination, and I'm not sure that I do, in the usual sense. Put it this way: if we define the destination of a faith journey as a specific physical location – say, Niagara Square in Downtown Buffalo – and we further define my personal journey as starting out from some other physical location – say, John O'Groats in Scotland, then what I'm doing isn't so much trying to get from John O'Groats to Niagara Square as roaming the world starting with John O'Groats and seeing where I end up. If I get to Niagara Square, fine, but if I don't but I see lots of the world and I make lots of friends and I learn a whole lot about the world, is it such a bad thing if I don't make it to Niagara Square? Especially if, and here's the rub, I either am not sure or simply don't know if Niagara Square is where I should be heading at all?
This is why I have such a hard time, as I noted last week, with the sentiment expressed in John 4:6. Who am I to say that the faith journey undertaken by a person in Tibet, a person who lives his whole life in that country and lives his whole life under the precepts of Buddhism, is any less valid than that undertaken by me? And given my strong belief that religions are at least in part, if not in their entireties, formalized expressions based on the experiences of a certain group of people in a certain time or place, how can it be wise for me to assume that they are wrong, that in their time on this world they have learned nothing and that they therefore have nothing at all to offer a searching soul like me? So I can't assume that.
This, I well know, renders my own spirituality something of a smorgasbord, and for now I'm fine with that approach. There are so many things in Christianity that draw me, and there is so much power in its narrative. Believer or no, I think it's impossible to look at the life of Jesus, with his message and his act of self-sacrifice, and not stand a little bit in awe of it all. But I also see so many things in every other faith to draw me, and so much power in their narratives as well.
So, back to the original question: the events of the last year. The honest answer, even though it won't satisfy, is that I don't know. For one thing, the things that have happened in my life (and in those of my family) are still so recent that I can't imagine to have any answers worked out right now, and even though out own personal circumstances are what they are, the question that rises at all times is not a new one at all. In fact, from my perspective, it may be this very question that gives rise to religious and spiritual thought in the first place. In our case, it's "Hey, God, you let people who are complete jerks, boobs, ne'er-do-wells, and incompetents have beautiful healthy babies, and you visit beautiful, healthy babies upon people who don't deserve them and who in some cases may actually contribute to the lives of these babies being nasty, brutish and short. So how come we, who play by the rules and do everything as well as we can, have a single living child who is outnumbered by her deceased younger siblings?"
This type of question, though, can be asked by anyone at all, can't it? And with varying degrees of what we might call "seriousness", but in the end, it's the same type of question. "God, all we needed to do was get this space shuttle back onto the ground, so why did you let the heat-shielding tiles rip away and destroy us?" "God, couldn't you have just nudged that stupid football over three feet, instead of letting it go wide-right?" "God, why did you make it so that the one day my husband doesn't stop for coffee on the way to work so he could be in his office twenty minutes earlier was the day you let those guys highjack those planes so one of them could crash into my husband's office!"
The questions come in reverse form, too, and we'd do well to never forget it. I was watching an interview the other day with David Crosby, and he pointed out, "I lived the same way that Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix did, and yet I'm still here and I don't know why." A coin gets tossed, and it's Richie Valens on the plane instead of Hank Williams Jr. This house gets destroyed by the tornado; the one next door just gets all its windows broken. That editor's looking to buy one manuscript today, and he reads this writer's submission early in the morning when he's still on his first cup of coffee, but he reads that writer's work in the late afternoon, after he's supposed to have gone home, sat through a bunch of useless meetings, and had a bad call from his ex. Does that matter? Maybe, maybe not.
So where am I going with this? Ultimately I don't know if I'll ever be able to say with a strong feeling of conviction, "I am a [insert religion here]". It seems that any time one says I am this, there is an implied galaxy of I am not thats. I don't know where my journey is leading me. All that I know (apologies to Messrs. Lerner and Loewe) is that I'm on my way.
:: Roger also asks: Have you forgiven me for rooting for the Giants against the Bills? If the Giants don't beat Buffalo, they don't get into the playoffs to knock off New England.
Heh. Nice logic, that: by losing that game, the Bills actually set in motion the series of events that later resulted in the Patriots falling short of Their Glorious Season of Conquest. OK, fine, you're off the hook. I suppose I should also forgive Eli Manning for that tantrum he and his family threw back at the time of the 2004 Draft; if he doesn't scream bloody murder and get himself traded to New York, Philip Rivers would have been the starter in that game. Not that would necessarily have been a bad thing, as the 2004 Class may go down as the best quarterbacking class in draft history. Four years into the careers of those guys, and the three quarterbacks taken in Round One of that year have sixteen playoff games, four Conference Championship Game appearances, and two Super Bowl championships among them. Wow.
(What's that? You say there was a fourth quarterback taken in the first round in 2004? Nah, you surely must be mistaken.)
Interestingly, of the three teams that beat the Bills in the Super Bowl, the Giants are the one that I didn't dislike at the time or decide to dislike after their win. Maybe I should have, since that Giants team gave the world Bill Belichick, but at the time, I didn't hate the Giants for winning against the Bills. Also of questionable historical interest is to look at the coaching careers of the three head coaches who beat the Bills after those games. It turns out that beating the Bills in the Super Bowl would be, in each case, the last great thing those guys would ever do as head coaches. What does that mean? Nothing, really. It's just mildly intriguing to me that within a year of beating the Bills in the Super Bowl, Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, and Jimmy Johnson were all out of coaching, at least temporarily, and when each one returned, none of them could win the Super Bowl with their new teams. (OK, it's not that interesting. I just like to demonstrate my command of useless NFL trivia.)
Belladonna asks: My question should come as no surprise...how did the pie thing start for you?
Heh! What she's referring to is a mutual interest of ours – well, one of several mutual interests, but definitely the oddest: we both take delight in that staple of slapstick comedy, the pie in the face. (She's even made a birthday tradition out of it, and our mutual appreciation thereof has led her to put me on her own "bucket list". I'm well and truly honored!)
Anyway, I remember seeing this funniest of fates befall people on many teevee shows I used to watch as a kid: Sesame Street and The Electric Company (example -- yes, that's Morgan Freeman on the receiving end), You Can't Do That on Television (example), game shows like an incredibly goofy one called The New Treasure Hunt (example -- hey, I was five when I was watching this stuff, and it was the 1970s anyway), and variety shows like The Mike Douglas Show (example featuring, appropriately enough, Moe Howard). I don't know why, but a face full of whipped cream (or not -- ouch!) really hits my funnybone on the sweet spot. Go figure. (Which is why I hated that "Ginger versus Mary Ann" ad from a few years back -- not because it was gross or sexist, but because it wasn't funny.)
Well, that was quite the range in topics in a single post, huh? From matters of faith and God to pie throwing. Wow.
(And yes, I've been pied in the face myself.)