A few weeks ago, I heard a curious conversation on my morning commute. The ladies behind me on the bus were having a serious discussion about their Christian beliefs. I’m not sure which denomination they were, but it was clear that one woman was getting fed up with God. From her point of view she was devout, prayerful etc – but God wasn’t keeping up with his end of the bargain. The more she talked about it, the more agitated and upset she became. Let’s call her Maddy.
Maddy was in her mid to late 50’s, I think. She was on her way to work and I got the sense that her life hadn’t been easy. Her aches and ailments were numerous. She wasn’t a new Christian either. Hadn’t she loved the Lord for years and kept Christ first and center in her life? How could he disappoint her like this?
The problem? The evildoers around her were prospering.
Here Maddy was – praying and following Jesus – and God had the nerve to shower blessings on the evil people around her. Note, she wasn’t upset with her lack of blessings. She didn’t say, “Why isn’t God doing ___” for me. She was upset that evil people around her were not suffering.
The friend reminded Maddy that she didn’t really know what was happening in the lives of others. People who look like they have everything could be suffering behind closed doors. As Christians, they were to stay focused on their own prayerful worship. The Lord will deal with the wicked in his own time.
Maddy disagreed. She just couldn’t get over that God was blessing evil people. It was starting to shake her faith. She never mentioned that any of these people had done anything to her or any specific evil deeds–except had the indecency to prosper.
This went on for about 35 minutes–Maddy complaining about evil being blessed and her friend repeating that they needed to keep their focus on the faith.
I have to admit, I was amused at first. It stuck with me that Maddy didn’t want more blessings/favor for herself (money, health, etc)-except the privilege of watching the suffering of others. It was not enough to believe that she was going to be rewarded in Heaven or that evil people would be punished in Hell.
Everybody loves watching the bad guy get what’s coming to them. Whether it’s the villain in a movie who is finally found out or a reality show where not-to-nice characters can’t figure out why things always go wrong for them, we like seeing the drama unfold. That’s fiction.
I imagine Maddy giving glares of disapproval to bad people and waiting for God to co-sign by sending plagues.
Then, I began to wonder–could Maddy really believe she had a divine right to see hardship in the lives of the “evil” people around her? If a person feels they have the divine right to know another’s pain, is there a point where they feel divinely justified in causing pain? Would this mean that being in authority (job, etc) over an evil person was a reward from God–giving you the chance, the responsibility, to enact justice on his behalf?
The Asian Art Museum in SF is free on the first Sunday of the month–so I had to go. Taking pictures here convinced me that I need to bite the bullet and buy a new camera–this old iPhone can only do so much. So, I only took a few pics. Here are some of the highlights.
The museum is huge. They recommend that you start on the third floor and work your way back down to the main level. As the escalator reaches the third floor, you are met by a statue of the Hindu deity Ganesha. This gives visitors the chance to acknowledge/pay tribute before beginning your tour of the exhibits. There is a slot where you can leave an offering/donation — and a sign asking that people not put candles or other offerings on the statue itself.
The challenge of going to a museum–or exploring any kind of history, really–is remembering that you are not getting the point of view of the people from that time period. The information you are getting has been filtered through the education and biases of many others before it finds it’s way to your little gray cells. It would be nice if tidbits that were displayed nonchalantly as facts had an * to let you know a particular point has other interpretations.
This piece depicts the Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati (sometimes called Shakti) combined as the androgynous deity Ardhanarishvara. There are several different stories of how Ardhanarishvara came to be (many can be found here) which allows for many interpretations. As far as religion is concerned, I think seeing the masculine and feminine displayed together in a divine image underscores the importance of both of them within humans.
This is the Buddhist deity Simhavaktra Dakini, an enlightened goddess of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism who clears obstacles from the paths of those who seek enlightenment and provides inspiration and knowledge. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much information outside of the museum’s own website.)
The placard in the museum describes the deity this way:
Her hair blazes upward with the fire of wisdom.
Her lion head indicates fearlessness in confronting all obstacles to liberation.
Her cape is made of freshly flayed human skin, signifying her transcendence of the limitations of the human condition.
The bone ornaments on her chest indicate that she has passed beyond the cycles of birth and death.
The tiger skin around her waist symbolizes victory over all harmful passions and deeds.
However, in the text on the museum’s website, the cape around her shoulders is said to be the skin from a demon. (If you listen to the audio on that page, the narrator sticks to the description in the museum.) I should mention that the museum provides (for free) and audio/video player that contains additional information about several exhibits.
Yesterday’s every day items is today’s art. This case contains a collection of snuff bottles. Below are some pieces close up.
Centuries from now, will the beings who interpret our culture think of mobile phones (and their various incarnations) as art to be displayed in fancy cases protected by flesh burning lasers? We have all of this digital documentation but what if all of our currently languages pass away–or get translated through the biases of entities without human experience? Oh well, nothing we can do about it if that does happen.