Monday, March 10, 2014

Malaysian Flight 370 & The Providence Of God?

I just watched a piece on NBC Nightly News this evening about a man who had booked a seat on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that vanished approximately 3 days ago. But the man canceled his ticket, afterwards saying, "I consider it the absolute providence of God that I wasn't on that plane."
Really? Really?
Think about that for a moment. If you carry on with that line of thinking, then the question must be asked, "What did the 239 passengers and crew on that plane do to not deserve "the providence of God?"
Of course, this man's sentiments have been echoed throughout history; we hear it all the time. "My daughter was in a car wreck with 2 of her friends, but she survived. God must have a special plan for her life. Did God not have a plan for her 2 friends who died instantly? Or 2 people that you know have been diagnosed with cancer and you pray for both of them, yet one of them lives and the other doesn't. What did he do wrong? Did he not have enough faith? Did he not hold the "right" beliefs about God? Of course there's always the terrible condolence "Well, God must have needed another angel." Please. Hand me a trash can quickly to be sick in. Or there's always the time-tested statement "God is mysterious; we can't understand His ways, we just have to trust him."
All that these statements or responses to tragedy do is to continue to poke holes in a balloon that should have been deflated a long long time ago. The notion that God is a Controller-In-The-Sky who plans every moment of our lives (The Marionette God), or at least knows everything that is going to happen but does nothing (The Impotent or Malicious God), is offensive to me and, no wonder, to millions of other people - even to some Christians (particularly the progressive ones).
The truth as I see it is that we would do better to simply shake our heads and admit "I don't know" when tragedy strikes, and leave the pithy attempts at answers on the scrapheap of past religious lingo.
I am a person whose faith is important to him, but let us not for a second entertain the notion that God had a hand in either destroying or saving the lives of those associated with Malaysian Airlines flight 370. May we instead turn our thoughts and resources to those who mourn.
Mark Andrew Nouwen
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Letting Fear Pass Through You

This early afternoon, on a sunny and by comparison balmy winter's day, I am thinking about fear.

Living in fear and holding onto it is something that I was very good at until recently. I was often crippled by fear when I was a boy growing up with an abusive father. I was also a hypochondriac, convinced that every headache was a tumour or that I was in imminent danger of having a heart attack.

In some ways, I still do hold onto fear sometimes, but increasingly I am learning that as a grown-up, I have a choice when it comes to how I deal with fear (for more on my thoughts about the power of choice, see my previous blogpost.)

There is an episode of Star Trek: TNG where the enemy Romulans are trying to get their hands on an ancient weapon which uses its victims fear against them. The normal response to having a weapon pointed at you is to be quite afraid; this particular weapon amplifies a person's fear to the point where it cripples and then kills them. However, Captain Picard, in all his defty-ness, reads the ancient script on the weapon, which essentially tells the reader that the way to neutralize the weapon is to empty your thoughts and emotions of all fear. Sure enough, when the Romulan commander tries to use it on Jean-Luc and his away team, they successfully empty themselves of fear, and the energy from the weapon simply passes through them harmlessly.

I have been a person of extremes most of my life; a good example of this is how I've dealt with fear. For most of my life I simply let myself be ruled by fear. As a child I didn't really know of any other choice, and then it continued to be an awful habit. Without knowing it, I was "choosing" to live in fear. Fear of sickness, fear of ending up alone, fear of never making much of myself. Then a few years ago I tried out a whole lotta positive thinking. Basically, I tried to deny that fear (or anything negative for that matter) really existed, and as long as I tried to remain sunny, it would go away. This was an especially hard tactic, as someone who wrestles with sometimes major depression.

But as there often is with most things, there is another way, or a middle way. How about admitting "what is"? How about admitting that in this moment I am afraid? I think this is key. You can't tackle a problem if you refuse to look at it. You just lost your job and don't know how you'll support your family. You've been given an awful diagnosis. You haven't been able to maintain a healthy relationship in your lifetime and you can't see how that will change. But then we have a choice with what to do with all of this, with all this fear.

My personal solution that I am coming to is to:

1) Get mad and have a pity party for awhile, preferably with ice cream involved.


2) Decide that I am not going to let fear rule me 24 hours a day. Yes, this is easier said than done, but IT CAN be done. Jill Bolte Taylor, in her book "My Stroke Of Insight," suggests that an emotion can run its full course through us in just 90 seconds, if we do as Captain Picard did and simply let fear pass through us, without letting our minds take charge and ruminating about it. When we do the latter, we can easily find that whole hours have passed living in fear, or we can wind up having terrifying panic attacks.

Doing this, facing fear and letting it pass through us, is not easy. But with practise, it can be done. By doing so, we do not pretend that fear doesn't exist or that shit doesn't happen, but we don't let it cripple us either.


Mark Andrew