The Ruins

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By Michael W. Raley

Life of late has been contentious,

As the weight upon my soul has been strenuous.

I search for peace of mind

Across my own lot of space and time.

However, the ocean of memory has washed away

The promise of a renewed, hopeful day.

The ocean’s salt has eroded

And the bitter acid rain has corroded

The temple’s once impenetrable foundation,

That now stands as a relic from a past civilization.

This monument long past its glory is ready to crumble

With the slightest pressure or rumble.

What once symbolized the bliss and joy of salvation

Is now littered among the ruins and dilapidation.

 

 

 

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The Long Road through Hell

“Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” 

-John Milton, Paradise Lost

The search for relief and answers often leaves us with more frustration and questions, as we can come up to another dead end in the maze.

The suffering, whether physical or mental changes you in ways more profound than you ever anticipated. In the beginning, you may “Let go and let God,” or you may offer up incessant prayers, hoping God will hear and move on your behalf. However, the pain continues or worsens and you begin to doubt. You begin to take your “spiritual inventory” to see if you are hindering God’s work- confessing sins, speaking scripture, and doing everything you can do be a good believer. All of these things- confession, reading scripture, and good deeds- are perfectly good things to do, but there should be a balanced approach to our life’s problems.

I have spent the last fifteen years seeking the balance between reason and faith. I have learned through my own experience that sometimes you have to be the one in control. You must realize that you have the tools and resources at your disposal to face your problem. Like most life lessons, I learned the importance of balance the hard way through trial and error.

On my blog, I have shared stories about my health struggles with Celiac disease and other issues, but it was my Ulcerative Colitis that served as the catalyst for this balance. Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease,  is inflammation in the colon, which can cause frequent diarrhea, stomach cramps, bleeding, anemia, weight loss, and other things that disrupt a perfectly normal life.

I was diagnosed with UC in 2000, and it went into remission until 2002, when it came back with a vengeance. I was young and naive in my faith, thus I underestimated my opponent. I believed that this would pass like it did the first time, but it didn’t. I prayed everyday, asking God for healing, claiming healing, standing on the word, confessing sins, every cliche you can think of, I did. No results.

Accepting the fact that maybe divine healing  wasn’t “God’s will,” I sought medical treatment in 2004- after I lost thirty-four pounds and became anemic. After blood transfusions, a colonoscopy, new medications, and a lifestyle change, I was on the road to recovery and things were fine, as long as I continued the medication and watched my diet.

From time to time, however, the UC escapes and reeks havoc like the Joker breaking out of Arkham Asylum and tormenting Batman. I became anemic again in 2015 with mild inflammation of UC, though I had no outward symptoms. I started with a new doctor and a new medication that worked fine until late 2017. The newest medication has stopped working and I have been on four rounds of steroids since December. Of course, like all medications, steroids have side effects, which include weight gain, mood changes, and in some cases, cause long-term bone damage.

I have now started another medication-a biologic injection to get my UC under control. As of this writing, I am in the beginning process, waiting for the medication to build-up into my system. I am hopeful the new treatment will work and I can get back to living life. I do my best to live a full life, despite the UC and other health issues.

My battle with UC has been my own long and hard way out of hell. Living with this disease for almost twenty years has changed the way I look at my faith. I’ve accepted the reality and gravity of my health and it’s not something to take lightly. Just because a book written thousands of years ago says that Jesus or God healed this person or that person, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen for every one. We read, teach, and preach about the healed and delivered, but what about the people who did not have their prayers answered? Why are their stories not in the Bible? If I were a gambling man, I would wager that for many of us, our stories would mirror those not found in the Bible more often than those that are in the Bible.

If you are battling a chronic disease and struggling with your faith, I understand. If you’re searching for a spiritual reason for the sickness, you probably won’t find it. I would encourage you to be discerning of everything you hear and read.  You must use good judgment and seek out medical treatment. I would encourage you to take care of all aspects of your life- the physical, mental, and the spiritual. You have to do what is best for you and your loved ones. If you have to change your diet or take medication, you can still enjoy life to the fullest and get the most out of every day.

The Wall

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By Michael W. Raley

I stare at the wall and wonder,

“What does it all mean?”

Have I spent my time on the right causes

Or have I just blindly followed the crowd?

I moved forward to only get knocked back down;

I wonder how many more times I can get back up.

What I’ve known no longer works

And my journey begins anew.

I’m older, wiser, and more discerning;

Armed with equal amounts of skepticism and reason.

At this point, there is no turning back,

There will be no retreat, no surrender.

I will get around this wall,

Whether it be over, under, around, or through,

I’m coming, on my way to a breakthrough.

 

 

I Never Knew My Own Strength

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By Michael W. Raley

I never knew my own strength

Until I came across my greatest foe.

Not a person or cosmic entity,

But my own body.

I live with the chronic sickness and pain

While I strive to live a full life.

I do my best not to complain

And I don’t want to be a burden,

But there are times when it’s too much,

Yet I persevere.

The prayers have stopped

And God remains silent.

I guess it up to me

To gear up and face this enemy,

Which I will, no matter the obstacle,

No matter how I feel.

“Vivere est militare.”

To live is to fight

And fight on I will.

 

Don’t Feed the Trolls

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*https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/heres-happens-confront-internet-troll-face-face/*

First impressions are critical in life and in business.

A good or bad first impression can decide whether or not that date will turn into a relationship, you get the job, join a particular church, or vote for a certain political candidate.

All of us are guilty from time to time of making snap judgments about people and situations. We judge someone’s character just by looking at them. We tune out a song or speech after the first verses or sentences. We don’t like something new because it’s not as good as the original. We overuse such phrases as “It’s the best/worst ever.” After making the determination about someone or something’s value, we look for confirmation bias:

“I got stuck in traffic this morning. I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

After the news is announced that a particular actor was cast in a movie yet to go into production and be released, “That’s going to be terrible. Worst casting choice ever!”

“This country is going to hell in a hand basket. I miss the good ol’ days.”

What if I told you that you can manage your impressions and starve your inner troll at the same time? You can. Everyone of us has the ability to control our responses to any situation. As individuals, we have the right to think for ourselves, thus we can move away from doctrine, party, and the same talking points which are never convert your opponent anyway.

I am a firm believer that life is fraught with difficulties and we should anticipate problems, but we should not live in fear of them. What if we were to take a few moments to step aside and assess the situation? You received a bad diagnosis from the doctor? You can always seek a second opinion. You can examine your life and make changes concerning your health. In the case of a terminal issue, you can even make the most of the time you have left.

In Epictetus’ The Art of Living, the Stoic philosopher discusses how our view of situations, including death, can be more damaging than the situation itself:

“Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. Therefore even death is no big deal in and of itself. It is our notion of death, our idea that it is terrible, that terrifies us. There are so many different ways to think about death. Scrutinize your notions about death- and everything else. Are they really true? Are they doing you any good? Don’t dread death or pain; dread the fear of death or pain. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” (italics mine).*

When the alarm goes off to signal a new day, don’t sigh or allow yourself to be filled with dread, because you’ve been given a second chance. Take the time to talk to the person you dismissed and maybe you’ll find some common ground or become friends. In order to manage our impressions, we must be fluid and adaptable to whatever comes our way. Don’t expect to have the same beliefs at forty that you did at twenty. As we experience more of life, the more knowledge and wisdom we attain in order to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We must also realize that life is not all bad and it’s not all good, as there will be difficulty. Change your perception of the situation and you will chance your response to said situation. And please, stop feeding the trolls. God bless.

*Epictetus, The Art of Living, interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (1995): 10.

The Worlds Beyond Ours

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It is estimated that there are 100 billion, possibly 200 billion galaxies in our universe.1

Let that literal astronomical number sink in for a moment. I could not imagine have 100 billion dollars, let alone 200 billion. After taking care of my family and friends, giving towards numerous charitable causes, buying everything I could want and paying taxes, I would still have more than enough money to spare. Yet, beyond our world, our galaxy, are boundless worlds that we cannot begin to imagine.

In this 14.5 billion year-old, ever expanding universe, how can we rule out the possibility of other life out there? I’m not speculating about galactic empires, Klingons, little green or gray beings, or any of the standard science fiction tropes, but just think about it for a moment. I am inclined to think that there is life beyond what we know, even beyond where our current science takes us. What effect would such thinking have on our theology?

Up until the pioneering work of Copernicus, later confirmed by Galileo, Church doctrine taught what is known as the geocentric theory of the universe, which states that the universe revolves around the earth. Copernicus’ heliocentric theory- which states the earth and galaxy revolve around the sun, which modern science has confirmed. We know with certainty that the literal universe does not revolve around us, but what if we are not even the apex of God’s creation? What if it is the epitome of humanity’s arrogance to assume our place while the vastness of this infinite universe?

What if beyond us is a world where its inhabitants have not spilled innocent blood in the names of war, religion, or greed? What if these beings did not destroy their environment through pollution, harming the air, water, and food supply? What if these beings listened to the voices of the philosophers and poet? What if they put into action the words of their own Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and aspired to live out those ideals without feelings of superiority or hypocrisy?

I find the universe to be a humbling place. If we were to consider our place in the grand scheme of things, could we once and for all put aside our tribalism and live in peace? Can we recognize for a moment that according to the Big Bang, our planet was created by giant collisions with other celestial bodies and we are still susceptible to threats from asteroids and meteors that could end life as we know it?

I would encourage to take a trip to a planetarium or an observatory and view a show. I would also encourage you to listen to Carl Sagan’s poem, “The Pale Blue Dot,” which puts a beautiful perspective on our place in the universe. Stop waiting for the apocalypse or heaven to come to earth, this is all we have and all we know for sure. Look up at night and view the stars, the constellations, admire the beauty and majesty of our universe and dream of the possibilities.

Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.