God-Stuff

Carl Sagan, in his Cosmos television series about the universe said, “We are star-stuff.” He meant that the atoms that make up our bodies were generated in the nuclear furnaces of stars and that, over billions of years, those stars exploded, cast their products out, and those parts were captured into new stellar systems. In our case, those atoms coalesced into our Sun and planets and, on at least one of those, life arose and through a long series of evolutionary steps, you came into existence.

That’s quite a story!

And if your belief in God is like mine, you believe that this was all part of His plan, that He made the universe and the physical laws that determine how matter, energy and time interact with just this eventuality in mind.

That’s His plan.

Wow!

When I contemplate just how awesome He must be to conceive of such an intricate creation, I feel infinitesimal. I am such an incredibly tiny fraction of things — in the “I am this much of the universe” number, how many zeroes are there between the decimal point and my first significant digit do you think — and the details of my life are such minutae compared to the interactions of all the atoms in all the space and time of the universe, that I wonder how God is even aware of my existence, much less the details of my life, my day-to-day struggles, or the specifics of what I pray for.

But, in spite of my almost unimaginable insignificance in all this, He does.

He knows, He cares, He listens, He takes the time to consider and plan, and He answers our prayers.

Wow!

That got me to wondering: How might this work?

I don’t mean the mechanics of prayer and how God interacts with the universe. I know that’s beyond my ability to comprehend. One atom can’t understand the workings of the universe.

But perhaps a collection of atoms can develop an understanding of some of it, of one small area of the universe.

What I’m wondering has to do with God and the size of the universe and, assuming we aren’t the only living creatures in all this vast expanse, how is it that He hear everyone regardless of how far apart we all are in the universe? How does He keep track of all the issues to say nothing of their interactions, sort it all out and decide what to do? How does He figure out which prayers to answer, which need to be deferred, and which get a simple, “No.”

Well, I’ve had an idea in my head for a while. Perhaps it’s similar to one you’ve had, or maybe it’s totally “off the wall.” You can decide what you think but I like it because it puts an amazing number of pieces together. Ideas that seem disjoint all suddenly come together.

Here’s the core of it: We are God-Stuff.

You and me, the Earth on which we walk, the planets, the suns, the constellations and galaxies, the whole universe for all its dimensions of space and time, even the big bang itself are all parts of God.

Let me ask you something.

Do you listen to your body? Do you know when something is wrong with it? Do you take care of a cut finger, a hurt toe, feed a hungry stomach and scratch the itch?

Of course you do, and so does God.

Do you exercise to strengthen your body, to improve your health?

Does God?

Does God do deep knee bends, jumping jacks, push-ups and lift weights?

Does He work to strengthen His body?

You can bet your life He does!

And do you sometimes do less exercise because something hurts?

Are you an advocate of “No pain, no gain?”

Just how much pain will you tolerate before you stop?

And what about God?

And after you rest and your sore muscles heal, do you try again?

I itch, he scratches.

I hurt, sometimes He stops, sometimes He goes on for a while.

… because sometimes we choose to go hungry for a while, to say “No” to that urge to eat.

… because sometimes God says “No” to our requests; He has a higher goal in mind and knows that, “No pain, no gain.”

Here’s a phrase from the Bible: “Children of God.”

“Child” has several meanings, of course, and in this one we’re not saying God is our biological male or female parent. Instead, we’re saying we are related to, we are connected to, Him. The parent-child relationship is present, is what we mean.

Well, I take care of my physical self just as I assume you do.

We are God-stuff. We are as much a part of Him, if not more so, than your hand, your leg, your stomach, your heart or even your brain that reads and considers these words.

Here’s a statement: “God is infinite.”

Scientists may argue about whether or not the universe is infinite. Indeed, it seems to be pretty much agreed that the universe we know all started with a bang, a Big Bang. All matter, all dimension, all time started then. And scientist’s theorize that if there’s enough dark matter out there to make the expansion stop and a collapse to begin, eventually there will be an end as well. There will ultimately be a anti-Bang.

If that’s true, then the universe as we know it is finite. It has a beginning and an end.

But what caused the Big Bang in the first place? What was before? We can’t know. There’s no way we can find out. But that doesn’t mean there was nothing. It just means the universe as we know it started with the Big Bang and what came before wasn’t our universe and there’s no way for us to know.

And what will happen as a result of the anti-Bang? Again, we can’t know and, whatever it might be, it won’t be our universe.

Do this: breathe in — that’s the expansion.

Now breathe out — that’s the collapse.

The universe, like the filling of your lungs, expands and grows, and then you exhale and it goes back down.

Of course your lungs don’t suddenly appear and disappear in the process, and neither does God. Instead, your body, your lungs contain the space, they house the atoms and molecules and, in time, they don’t.

In, out, Expand, contract.

I know that analogy is a bit weak compared to the Big Bang but hopefully you get the idea. It’s cyclic. It happens again and again. Each mix of molecules inside the lungs is unique, but it is also similar to the mix that was there the last time. Each breath has a beginning and an end, each breath is finite, but God keeps on breathing. He is infinite.

We are God-stuff. The universe is made up of God-stuff.

Every atom, every nano-meter of space, every femto-second of time, is God-Stuff. You, me, the driver of the car that just went past my window, the passengers on the bus headed west on Thunderbird Rd in north Phoenix Arizona in the United States of America in North America on Earth in this solar system, this galaxy, this round of Bang and anti-Bang, all that is God.

God hears my prayers because I am part of God. I am one with Him.

Of course, I am an indescribably small part of Him, that is true. But from the smallest atoms of the universe, from the smallest possible measurement of a tiny unit of space, from the most infinitessimal instant of time to the awesome span of all atoms, all space and all time, we’re all part of God.

And if we’ll all parts of God then it should come as no surprise that each of us can conceive of God, at least to the extent of our local neighborhood and how it seems to work.

Can my finger understand me? No, of course not. But if my finger had a brain, it could recognize that if it sends a “that’s hot” signal, my body will snatch it back from the stove. And in like manner, I cannot understand all of God but because I do have a brain — my wife would say half-a-brain — I do have some understanding of how He is manifest in the reality in which I find myself.

God hears my prayers, I’m sure. He’s answered many of them.

And He has done awesome things in my life for which I never asked, of which I may not even be aware, and which are sometimes for my own good even though they hurt like hell.

When you pray for a miracle, God may cause it to happen.

But you can also do things to cause that same miracle to happen because, after all, you are God. Your hands are God’s. You can make things happen.

He’s big, He’s complicated beyond our ability to understand, but He’s also right here. I can pat Him on the arm. I can shout to Him because He’s all around me. And in ways I cannot hope to understand, He can change the world around me.

And sometimes He does that simply because I ask.

I itch, He scratches.

And sometimes He does that because I try, I push, I pull, I fiddle with it, I work at it.

I itch, and if I scratch that itch, isn’t that really just some of that God-stuff scratching back?

What will you do with your God-stuff today?

Would you like His help in figuring that out?

All you have to do is ask.

He’s right here!

Fate of the Universe versus Our Fate

Scientists are undecided.

Some say the universe is open-ended, that it will expand forever, and that entropy will ultimately win. Others say it is cyclic, that it started, and will end, with a bang.

Definitions vary a little but, basically, entropy means that the universe will eventually run down, like a toy car exhausting its battery. The far distant future of the universe will be like that, the first group says, dark, still and unmoving. All the stars will have burnt out, all the energy will have dissipated and the temperature of everything will be at absolute zero.

For those that say the universe is cyclic, they say that the universe is expanding right now but, due to the continuing effects of gravity, that expansion is slowing. Eventually, this theory says, the combined effect of the matter we can see and the supposed “dark matter” that we cannot will cause that expansion to reverse and that the stars will then begin moving back toward each other. Ultimately, billions of years from now, the universe will collapse into itself and … well, no one knows what happens after that. Maybe everything just disappears, or maybe it just pops back out again in another Big Bang and the whole thing starts over again.

I must confess, I find the first theory incredibly depressing; everything runs down, everything dies, no life, dark, dead.

My theological feelings have always inclined me to the second theory, the cyclic universe. And in that I also find a kindred thought for those who believe in reincarnation. Both theories, the reincarnation of life and the cyclic nature of the universe, share the same life, death and rebirth theme. It seems that on both a personal level and also in the cosmos, if we don’t get it right, we come back and do it again, and again, until we get it right.

But this too nags at me. That is, if the universe truly is infinite and the cycles of Big Bang, expansion, contraction and Big Bang really do go on forever, then it’s possible we never will “get it”. It’s possible that after uncountable eons and cycles of the universe itself, we won’t have learned what we are here to learn.

And that depresses me.

No, depress is too mild. … It causes me extreme despair.

If the universe is to exist, cycle after cycle, while we keep trying but failing to get it right, and the whole thing is just to go on forever, well, I have the same problem with that as I do with the theory of the universe that says everything is just going to run out of gas and freeze. It really bothers me.

The only way out of this dilemna, it seems to me, is to simply remove sentient life from the universe. Once we’re out of the picture, the universe has served its purpose. It is no longer needed and whether it turns black and cold or cycles on and on, it won’t matter because, well, because it’s not needed anymore. The universe might as well just go away — God can, well, turn off the lights. The universe can simply blink out of existence. We’re done with it. It was the “ground” on which we learned the lessons we needed to learn but, yeah, thanks, you can turn it off now.

The fate of the universe is, in this sense, a non-issue. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not we, each of us, each of the souls that have lived, are living now, and will live in the future, whether they are the same souls repeating over and over or whether we just get one crack at this, what matters is, Will we get it?

So, to move from questioning the fate of the universe, to the fate of humanity, and thence to the fate of this one soul with a keyboard beneath his fingers, I have to tell you I don’t know what “it” is.

But I do know that whatever “it” is, I’m absolutely convinced it has to do with you, and with me, with the driver of the car that just went past my window, with the passengers onboard the airliner that just flew overhead, with a child in China, a kid in Argentina, a teen in Iceland, an angry young man with an assault rifle, two lovers locked in each other’s embrace and oblivious to the world, hurt people, angry people, two individuals married for a lifetime with decades and decades of shared experiences who still argue about what’s happening in the world outside their door, it is about forlorn people, hopeless people, happy people, laughing people, people watching children play, people patiently sitting with someone who is leaving this life — have you ever seen someone with a deep and profound faith who, in their final days, know they will soon be with the Lord they’ve loved for so long? The effect they have on those around them is indescribable but oh so … … ecstacy is the only word that fits.

“It” has to do with how we relate to each other, with the effects we have on each other, with the ways in which our lives not only touch but more so in how we choose to impart something of our life to another life, one soul giving to another.

The universe is the notepad on which we do our lessons. The universe is the forum in which we express our lives, but the fate of the universe has nothing to do with ours.

The “it” that matters is something else. “It” has to do with you and me. Never one, always at least two, sometimes many many more.

As we often do, we had take-out Chinese last night: house special chicken, Kung Pao shrimp and Mu Shu pork with extra crepes. After ordering by phone, I put the discount coupon — they always have a coupon — in my pocket and drove to the restaurant early so I could sit at the bar and have a drink before the order was ready.

It was chilly last night so I ordered hot sake instead of my usual cold beer. Sitting next to me was a man with a round glass of red wine. Sipping our drinks, we had, at most, ten minutes and we did nothing special except, you might say, explore the mutual wonder of our separate paths in life. I’d been here, he’d been there. I did this, he did that. No religeon, no politics, no right or wrong, no good or bad. Just “is”.

And then my order was ready. We shook hands, I paid and left.

“It” was wonderful.

Thank you, Lord.

It’s About People

In a friend’s blog and in response to an on-going exchange about living in the USA versus elsewhere (see the replies to his Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007 entry), I made the following comment:

Dude, you’re right. You *NEED* to travel. No question about it. After I wrote code for 20+ years I got really, really tired of “relating” to a CRT for 9-10 hours a day. So I “jumped ship” and started teaching software instead of writing it. Now I program programmers and, yeah, it’s a lot more rewarding.

And one of the big advantages is that I’ve been able to travel, mostly in the US but, over the 15 years after the first 20, I’ve been “off-shore” many times. (And about as much as I care to — airplanes and hotels get rather old after that much travel.)

But the off-shore experience, the living life elsewhere effect is something that will change you, and it affects the core of your being in ways impossible to express.
If I had my choices, here’s where I would go and what I would do.

Sit by the side of Loch Ness for a month and watch for Nessie. The weather is awful. Good. It cleanses the soul. I like the Scots a whole lot. I found them Earthy, human and in a oddly stodgy manner, not afraid of their juices: at one moment they’d seem very British but at the next, a single malt would be sitting before you from an unknown source and everyone would be looking to see what real self the alcohol would liberate.

And there be a bonnie lass or two in the Highlands, I’m sure.

Then I’d go to Fortaleza, Brazil to warm up. I haven’t been there but an air traffic controller friend came “this close” to moving after spending many, many months. (ATCs are control freaks just like us computer hackers, you know?) John wasn’t a surfer. Instead, he went for the sun and sex and my gut tells me it may have been a consequence of the latter that changed his mind. He’s back here now but not talking too much. Something about the wife of someone of position down there. Sounds like poor judgement but the brain isn’t located in that part of the anatomy so, … … Maybe the surf is good, too?

Back across the pond to Stockholm. Get a place in Gamla Stan, the old city at the core. Shoot for the summer and make a friend of someone with a sailboat. On a nice day you can sail out to one of the unpopulated islands in the Baltic and spend the day watching the clouds. If you’re lucky, you might even see a Russian periscope as they run a practice drill on your little Eden. And yes, there are blue-eyed blondes in Sweden. And there are some stunning reds with skin like cream, and brunettes who, with a simple smile, will make you sigh. Never mind that the food is either beef and potatoes or fifty variants of Herring you’d rather not eat. Bring your own lunch.

One of the towns in Cinque Terra, Italy but watch your pocket in the cities you’ll pass thorugh to get there. We’re talking some serious pickpockets in Italy but, once you’ve run the gauntlet, stop and watch them “hit” the other foreigners. It’s quite entertaining. Once in Cinque Terra, ignore the dirt and trash. Instead, watch the people live. It’s slow. Each person has a lifetime to live and they savor each moment. I could die there but they’d ship my carcass away and defeat my whole purpose of spending forever there. But until I keel over in the dusty street, yeah, I could spend a lifetime there. Change your last name to Corleone, Mike, and maybe you’ll find a doe-eyed brunette walking some lane one day.

Prague. Old. Ancient. But they have a strong sense of self and even in the Communist era, weren’t afraid to push someone else’s buttons. Yeah, I like their sense of Don’t Try To F*** With Me!

Spend some time in Israel, not because it’s right or wrong, but because its land is and has been contested for millenia, its religeon has divided the world over and over, and because seeing and experiencing all that will knock off all the sharp edges you never knew you had. Israel and the whole middle east is, unquestionably, an unsolvable problem. You’ll learn to accept, and you’ll want to know how to shoot a gun. Israel will do interesting things to your head.

Bangkok Thailand (child porn capitol of the world) — eat, eat and eat. If you can swallow it, get it. If you can’t, marvel at those who can and then order something else.

There must be another dozen places to go in southeast asia. Just pick a couple — I don’t think you can go wrong.

Xian China. Go see the terra cotta soldiers — I can’t, for the life of me, fathom just how really long that culture has been around. But spend most of your time in the city watching the people. They have lives, children and struggles. Watch the life. Pick one individual, see the minutae of their movements and try to imagine what they think, feel and want. You may then understand why the PRC causes me so much concern and simultaneously, gets so much of my respect. China is awesome. Beware. It’s not bad — it’s just big beyond belief.

Then, it’s time for a break. Head for Japan. Stay in Tokyo. Find the intersection that’s in all the movies with the bronze statue of the little dog. Forget the statue and, instead, watch the teenage meat market that takes place there on a Saturday night. Talk about juice, Wow! Go to the Ramen Museum in Yokohama for a couple of meals. Better, go there for just about every meal. No wait, you need to walk down the street and pick a place at random every day. No, you should go to Kyoto and check-in to one of the monasteries that accept foreigners. Stay a couple of days without speaking a word. Instead, sit, eat vegan, and sit some more. Then go back to Tokyo to frizz up your brain. Go where the punk teenagers go and watch from afar. They don’t like foreigners and they really don’t like Americans so keep your distance but there’s just something about a teenage girl with Gothic makeup wearing a white tutu that has to be seen to be believed.

Then come back to the US and spend a month in Mobile Alabama. God help you but you need to do it. It’s part of the education.

And then, after all that, you’ll know why some people pray to God every day for help.

That was written in a nearly in a stream-of-consciousness manner; the words just came spilling out with very little editing.

What matters in this are not the words but rather what drives the words. And what drove this was feeling, a gut feeling about the sanctity of life, about our nature and the reason for our being.

Some might say I’ve been lucky to have travelled to many places in the world. Others would say it’s a blessing. But I believe it has been a God-sent education.

In one of the rooms of our house is a small frame hanging on the wall. Therein is a neatly calligraphied statement:

Life is not a rehearsal.

Whenever I see it I say to myself, “That’s right. It’s not a rehearsal, it’s a tryout.”

Fortunately, this “tryout” (for what comes after) comes, at least for me, with an education and the travels I have made, whether overseas or to the corner supermarket, are part of that.

Many of the important lessons were learned by walking foreign streets and alleys and watching people where they live.

I’ve seen individuals and families around the world, good people and bad, good parents and bad and, through their similarities and their differences, I’ve learned things about myself, about others. And after a lot of chewing on the ideas, talking with others and lots and lots of reading about God and about life, about why we are here, animate and with the ability to think, choose and do, I’m convinced of a couple of things.

  1. Life is Holy.
  2. It is a gift.
  3. We are granted Free Will.

Some take that Free Will and go in one direction. We are, indeed, permitted to waste our lives, to destroy ourselves and to poison future generations, even to exterminate all life on our planet. It is permitted.

But that is not what is hoped.

Instead, I am utterly convinced that God hopes we will cherish life, encourage it, embellish it.

Life is to be lived, and enjoyed, and in ways that promote it.

But we do have to choose to make it that way.

When I learn of what is happening in the world, I am sometimes terrified of this gift of Free Will. But I know that the destruction of life, while enabled by Free Will, is not the Lord’s hope nor wish.

We can choose to act, or not act, to the promotion or to the diminuation of life. The Lord, if asked, may also choose to act and, perhaps, answer those prayers.

But it is our Free Will, acted upon from moment to moment, that shapes the world of humanity. It is His Will that we be free to choose.

In my travels, I have discovered that I live in the world of humanity where we make choices, perform actions and directly and indirectly, in large and small parts, affect each other.

To an extent that sometimes seems very, very small to me, the current state of the world, at least one small corner of it, is my doing. And to an extent I cannot possibly fathom, the future state of the world is also, to some extent, the product of my doing through my actions, through my contacts with others, through my actions or lack of actions, with total strangers walking past me in the old or the new airport in Shanghai, across the counter at MacDonalds, or within my loving arms.

God help us, please. It’s hard and confusing. The simple, straight-forward answers you have provided us through your Son are so often drowned out by the complex din of the world. Please let me hear your words again, show me the opportunities that arise before me, help me discover the ways in which I can further your hopes, wishes, dreams and desires this day, this hour and this minute.

Amen.