Monday, December 31, 2012

spiritual homelessness 3

Some of you may have read the following portion.  It's appeared, in slightly different form, here.
Part II:  What is my vocational calling?

Another story.  This past August I was coming home from seeing my counselor when I drove past an older woman on the opposite side of the road, taking a photograph of the geese who hang out at one of the local restaurants.  She had several knapsacks, so I figured her to be traveling.  I swung around at a gas station and pulled up and rolled down my passenger window. "Sister," I said, "Can I offer you a ride somewhere?"

She was about my age, maybe a little older. She wore glasses that looked small on her big face, braided her long hair streaked with grey in a ponytail down her back.  She wore an ankle-length denim skirt, high-top sneakers, and a flannel shirt rolled up to her elbows.  She giggled when she answered.  She said, "I was just taking pictures of the geese.  You never know when you'll see something like this again."

She asked where I was going.  I said, "Well, I'm heading home, but where are you going?"  She said, “Minneapolis,” and asked how far it was and I told her it was about an hour.  "Oh," she said.  "I guess I'd have a long walk."  She asked again how far I was going and in that moment I could have told the truth and said I was heading about 20 miles further (I did need some dog food there) and then dropped her off at the Minnesota border without an ounce of guilt.  Instead, I said, "Sister, I'll take you to Minneapolis." 

She tossed her things in the back seat and got in and we exchanged names.  Hers was Cora or it might have been "Coral.”  It’s not unusual, when on the road, to name yourself something that reflects how you think of yourself.   I was facing north when I picked her up and she was surprised when I turned around and headed back to the interstate:  "Isn't Minneapolis that direction?" she said, pointing back the way she'd been walking.

"No," I said. "It's west of where we are."  

"Oh, I would have had a very long walk and gotten nowhere!" she said. 

Almost immediately she told me she was a street preacher who ministered to the homeless, and that God had told her to leave her home a year and a half ago and take to the road.  I said I was also a preacher.  We asked what each other was.  She was "just Christian," she said, "Just Jesus out of the book."  She had heard of Unitarian Universalists and had met a few and been impressed by them.  She filled up nearly every second of our drive with talk and questions and confessions. 

She left her abusive husband, she said, about 5 years ago back outside Denver.   She had begun this trip 3 days before at a truck stop in South Dakota.  She was resting between rides and had been approached by a Jamaican woman whose husband was a trucker and who asked if she'd come home with them to help the Jamaican woman get herself together.  But then this woman had stopped taking her meds, Cora told me, and progressively got more and more aggressive, yelling and berating her, finally literally throwing her bags out of the truck when they'd stopped for gas at the station where I turned around.  Cora camped for two nights in the woods nearby, to pray and settle herself, before heading back out.  The night before she attended midweek services at a Lutheran church not far out of town—I know the place, it's a few miles from my house—and she'd heard from people there that there are a lot of homeless people in Minneapolis.  So Cora decided to head there next but apparently hadn't a very good idea of where it was in relation to that part of Wisconsin.  I told her she'd likely traveled through Minneapolis riding with the trucker and his wife. 

She had been born in Alsace-Lorraine, she said, but couldn't speak more than rudimentary French and German, and her mother was long dead.  Her father was ungodly, she said, and dead to her.  She'd grown up somewhere out west, she was very vague about where, and mentioned a daughter who was married.  I tried on occasion to ask about her family but it was like trying to blow into a whirlwind.  She was a talking machine, sometimes punctuating sentences with "Praise God!" and "Lord, that's your way!" and sometimes girlish giggles.  

She was attending an online bible college out of Australia run by an evangelical couple that delivered two types of courses, free and paid for.  She was taking the courses for free so she wouldn't get a degree but she didn't think that was important for the ministry she was doing.  She had no idea where she was going or what she would do when she got there except to preach the word to people as she could and if they'd listen and rely on their goodness.  She said that God and Jesus had kept her safe and healthy all her time on the road.  She didn't care much, she said, of what anyone else's opinion of her was, she would just be as crazy as Jesus wanted her in order to do his work.  I told her she was a fool for Christ.  She allowed she'd never heard that phrase but she thought it suited her perfectly, and she repeated the phrase several times during our ride.

She asked me about Unitarian Universalism and I gave her a short answer about no one knowing about an afterlife but we know we have this one and it's important how we treat each other here.  She thought that was wonderful and wanted to experience a UU service so I told her where the nearest congregation was in the area where I would drop her off.  She mentioned her reliance on libraries several times so I told her the perfect spot I could think of was at one end of Nicollet Mall by the county library.  She said that sounded perfect.  When we got there I pulled off to the side of the street and helped her unload and then shoulder everything, We exchanged hugs and "God bless you”s, and I watched her waddle around the corner before driving off and heading back home.

Later, my wife would ask me "Do you think she was crazy?" and I'd answer, "Yes."  Cora mentioned having refused to take mental health exams in order to receive social services, claiming that Second Timothy says you can't be both crazy and a Christian, and since she was Christian she wasn't crazy.  I failed to find this suggestion in Second Timothy or anywhere else in the Bible. 

But on a larger, communal scale, did I think she was a danger to herself or other people?  Not for a second.  She seemed to have a solid understanding of her life on the road and what it entailed, and if she didn't have it when she started, by this time she had.  She seemed to know how to stay safe—she told me she'd never been physically harmed by anyone and I believe her—and when to recharge her energies.  After all, she'd spent a couple nights alone in order to pray and "get herself together."  She didn't seem too concerned about getting anywhere in particular or about getting something done.  She wasn't upset when she found she'd been heading in the wrong direction.  She seemed content to drift along, going where her God sent her and doing what she thought her God wanted her to do.

From what she told me what her God wanted from her isn't very different from what my God wants from me:  Serve people andhelp them be as human as possible.  She didn't want anyone to stop doing anything he or she wasn't interested in stopping, just maybe to think about doing something else and offering to be with them while they went about their lives.  She seemed extraordinarily happy and she said she wasn't on any medications—since she was not crazy—and didn't do drugs or alcohol or smoke.  She just liked people, she said. 

I have known many preachers in my life, and many of them I would model myself after, but Cora’s way of being with people seems the most satisfying for me.  It was on meeting her I began to have first thoughts about shifting what I have always assumed is my calling—that of a parish minister who spends much time on the streets and opens the church to local homeless and troubled—to a minister whose parish is the streets among the homeless and addicted.  It’s a subtle but informed shift as it moves my perspective from bringing others inside with me to being outside with them. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

spiritual homelessness 2

Part I:  What is my understanding of the church and its mission?
I tell stories in order to make sense of life.  That’s also the impetus behind all scripture.  I’d like to believe in a personal God, a God who cares about me as an individual or even as a member of humanity.  I envy evangelicals and Pentacostals their experience of a relationship with an outside force interested in their well-being.  My experience has been what Keith Russell[1] describes as the Peterine, a home for the homeless.  It often seems there’s no one home but there’s the need for a home. The God I’ve experienced displays little sympathy for the poor and oppressed and helpless, doling out greater and harsher conditions on them, while offering people like me better and warmer conditions than we deserve.  Such a God shruggingly kills and disappears nearly a thousand people in the aftermath of a typhoon inthe Philippines while caring enough to shift the course of a tropical storm to avoid a political gatheringin Tampa.
            What’s the purpose of worship for such a God?  Is it to placate, to ameliorate God’s anger?  It might seem so if the only reason people got together was to celebrate such a God.  But it’s obvious this God doesn’t take comfort from the worship of people in one of the most religious regions, southeast Asia, or the power of prayer would have had a greater effect on Typhoon Bopha.  “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering,” the Psalmist tells us.  “’The multitude of your sacrifices--what are they to me?…I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats,’” exclaims the Isaiah writer.
The purpose of church, in my experience, is to provide an indwelling for comfort and succor to people by people.  “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing... [Who] will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?  But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed,” the writer of 1st Peter tells us. While I may not recognize a personal God, one that’s got anyone’s interests at heart, I see plenty to indicate a force that binds us together.  It is a connective spiritual tissue that, like a holy game of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” provides a conduit for nurturing the spark that brings me in greater relation with you. 
            When I came to United Seminary, and for most of the time I’ve been here, it’s been with the intention that I would serve a congregation that practiced that ideal, one where the Peterine work of being a home to the homeless was the reason to get together each week.  After all, I had already served as pastor to several congregations where, while everyone knew it was hard work to bring about what Unitarian Universalists call the Beloved Community, they also knew it would be ultimately rewarding and where, while most refused making the difficult changes that we knew could result in what we wanted, they nonetheless paid lip service at least to the need for those changes.  My intent was that if I kept at them, they would make the changes. Incrementally. 
            But as I’ve been here and as I’ve studied and watched the changes in congregationallife, not only in my own faith but in other faiths, I’ve come to realize this:  It is too late for those changes to make a difference.  Of course, congregations aren’t going away in the immediate future—and in the long run, something like what we’ve come in the past couple centuries to see as the common experience of communal gathering will remain in some form—but they are dying as swiftly as their eldest members.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Like Spanish becoming the most-spoken language in the US or the surge of minorities eventually overtaking white people as the dominant Americans, it is simply how things are. 
            But a question I asked several weeks into this class and based on our study of DianaButler Bass’ Christianity After Religion has stuck with me:  As churches are changing, as congregations become less “religious” and more “spiritual,” require fewer experts and authorities to imbue what rituals remain with holiness, what reason will they have to hire ministers?  After all, if it’s true, as Butler Bass articulates, that “Everyone is in the same situation:  a religious bear market.  Indeed, the first decade of the twenty-first century could rightly be called the Great Religious Recession,”[2] then is it any wonder seminaries find themselves in terrible fiscal straits and mainline, otherwise well-to-do denominations must ask their executives toresign if the money just isn’t coming in? My faith has retained a lot of its Christian roots, including its predilection for ministers, but many Unitarian Universalist congregations are proudly independent of regular ministerial oversight, and while there remains the assumption that a congregation that chooses to call a full-time minister has made it, many staunchly refuse to or at best look for someone part-time.
            I’ve had two previous professional horses shot out from under me—first as a bookseller and then as a professor—and don’t look forward, in my early 50s, to having it done a third time.  There’s the money aspect, of course, but there’s also the sense of being a part of something larger and greater than myself, which is why I choose to serve in the first place.  I’ve studied this situation a lot—I’ve even written sermons about it—and none of the answers I can come up with suggest the long-term fiscal viability of parish work.  It’s for this reason I’ve chosen to seek another option.

[1] Russell, Keith.  In Search of the Church:  New Testament Images for Tomorrow’s Congregations.  Alban Institute.  1994.
[2] Butler Bass, Diana.  Christianity After Religion:  The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.  New York; Harper Collins.  2012:  20.

Friday, December 28, 2012

spiritual homelessness 1

I've been busy writing this past semester, although little of it has ended up here.  But as a final requirement I've taken a course called final integrative seminar which is meant to pull together many of the threads of my years at seminary.  The exam for this course is what's called a "statement of ministry," and while it may be precocious to call it that--I don't have much of a statement to make about something unless I've been directly involved in it for a long time--it's somewhat accurate.  I'll publish it in 4 sections starting today.

Spiritual Homelessness

My Statement of Ministry

Introduction:  What is my understanding of God?

Like all stories about God, this is a story about loss.  I knew an artist named John Wolfe back east in the 80s.  He was one-legged, had had the other blown off in Vietnam, had a family, a wife, a little girl, and an awfully big talent.  One of the few New Paltz artists to have his own studio, separate from where he lived and not on campus.  He worked in oils primarily.  He didn’t want an artificial leg but hobbled around on two metal canes that ended in cuffs on his forearms, his good right leg, and his stump. 

            He told me a story that took place in the 70s.  He’d just gotten out of the service a few years before, after losing the leg, and was down and out New York.  He couldn’t take it anymore, he said, drinking all the time, angry as hell, in pain when he wasn’t high.  He was sick of people, sick of life, and sick of people in his life, so he decided one night to just get out. 

            “I wanted,” he said between puffs from his Marlboro, “I wanted to be away from people, but not away from people.  You know what I mean?  I was tired of civilization or tired of the people in it.”  He took another drag and stared off into the distance, even though all he could see across the street was the library and the bar.  “People shot at me, they took my leg.  I didn’t blame people, I blamed civilization, or what civilization done to them.  I hated that.” 

            He stubbed out the Marlboro and shook another from the pack into his mouth.  He was fair-haired, wispy bangs blown across a boyish face that was too trusting to live for long on the streets.  His eyes pincered up.  “I got together a lot of money, I don’t know, couple hundred.  Be honest, I don’t remember where I got it from.  Saved it, borrowed it.  Might have stolen some, who remembers back then?”

            He lit the Marlboro, took a long drag, and handed it to me.  I took a single toke—that’s all I did with cigarettes—and gave it back.  He stubbed it back in his mouth and talked around it.

            “I’d heard about this place, down on the Yucatan Peninsula.  Tiny town, no one goes there.  I took a flight to Mexico City, took another flight east to another town.  Had to rent a burro take me up to another town where I caught another flight.  Caught a helicopter from there, one of those passenger things, got a fat belly and room for thirty.  Picked me up from one mountain top and took me across to another mountain top.” 

            He was off in another world by then, watching people come in and out of the library and either head for their cars or the bar next door.  We were sitting in front of the bank, the nicer one in town, but the people inside had never seemed to mind anyone leaning against their wall so we leaned.

            “Whole other air up there.  I could feel like, like my lungs were filling up with something else, something I’d never breathed before.  Something people were really supposed to breathe.  I couldn’t wait for them to open the door.”

            A guy we knew came out of the bar and waved at us.  We shrugged back.  “I was standing on the ledge when the dude opens the door.  What do I see directly across the tarmac?”

            I grinned.  I knew it wouldn’t be good.

            “McDonald’s arches.”  John took a final drag like he’d sucked all the bitterness out of the Marlboro and flicked it in the street. 

            “Did you stay anyway?”

            “Course I did.  I’d put a lot into this place or what I thought it was going to be.  But it ended up it wasn’t nothing.”  He grabbed his cuffs and we headed up the street.  “I came back, started doing some reading, some meditating.  That’s when I started reading Buddhism.  Started painting.  That was the only way I could find that place.”

            John’s canvases were landscapes or cityscapes, sometimes abstractions.  He took life drawing classes on occasion to keep his hand in, but his real work was depopulated, places where people had been and gone.

            I said, “No people?” 

            “No civilization.  People I can handle.  It’s what being around other people does to them I don’t like.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

johnny thunders died for your sins!

I don't remember where or when it was that I first heard this song--I suspect it was when I heard about the death of Kristy MacColl--but "Fairytale of New York" is now one of those songs I need to rehear every Xmas season.  It's a reminder, as some of us need it, that there is always another Christmas others experience.

Monday, December 24, 2012

god is nancy lanza

this is a short essay that appeared a few days ago on one of the websites I visit daily--in fact, since I've started cutting much of the stress out of my life, the only political website I visit daily--and I thought it was very good.  What fascinated me, however, is the number of vicious comments posted responding to it.

I suppose I'm wrong in conceiving that, whatever guilt might ultimately be hers, we could join together in wishing Nancy Lanza a peaceful afterlife (whatever that might be), but the comments suggest I am not only wrong about that assumption, but I damn the children and adults killed by wishing it.  Maybe it's only religious people--and by that I mean people who study religion and not people who call themselves religious, although the 2 groups are often joined--who can conceive of people who do evil things but are nonetheless forgiveable, especially on their deaths.  I don't want to seem glib about that; I am myself unforgiving toward Ronald Reagan for the evil he perpetrated while president, so I'm not making myself a whitehat in this situation. 

But as I said a week ago, God is Adam Lanza.  God is also his mother Nancy.  We still know painfully little about why Lanza committed the act he did and we haven't any further clue why his first victim was his mother.  Equally, we don't know what she hoped to accomplish by teaching him how to fire automatic weapons or how avidly she followed the "prepper" subculture she joined.  All we have are fantasies of her involvement and her guilt and those can't be substituted for unknowns.  We do not only Lanza's victims, but Adam and Nancy Lanza themselves, and ultimately God and reality itself, a disservice by parceling out blame like porridge.  All we know is that Adam Lanza killed his mother with her own guns and then killed other people and children and finally himself.  We may never know anything more than that and to speculate about his mother's invovlement in his act is wrong.  It's to try to tie a vivesected animal back together with a pretty bow and so pretend this is how the original product looked.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

santa in the rain

There are things you encounter out here on the rim you might expect only to see elsewhere.  One of them is a fellow silently standing along one of the overpasses to the interstate in a Santa costume with an American flag beside him.  That seems only the sort of thing you'd see, say, in the midst of the hub.

But he's been there a couple years at least, and when I passed him--twice--on Sunday--the first time at 9 and then again as I returned at 1:30--I recognized him for the first time as a local example of a mashup of memes we'd grown accustomed to here.  It was raining at that point, a mist steadily pouring out of the fog that surrounded us, and then it gradually tapered off to a dry patchy fog that seemed to coat everything with that odd texture of the chemical we used to spray on Xmas decorations to simulate snow.

Where I was going to and coming home from was the UU church I serve sometimes in the hub.  I'd had a conversation with my wife, who is interning with a UCC church north of there, and we'd agreed that after the shooting on Friday, I ought to be with the people who look to me for spiritual help.  It's one of the most important, non-aligned, quiet thing I think I do as a minister:  simply to be present with people when something difficult happens.

They had scheduled a talk by a local organic farmer, Atina Diffley, whose book, Turn Here Sweet Corn, chronicles the 30 years she's been a part of a farm that began a century ago with the family of her partner.  Her speech, and I don't think she'd planned it this way but how can you avoid drawing a connection with it, turned out to be a good example of the sort of hope and work for change we can take part in to make a difference in the face of overwhelming resistance.

Other people have noted the nearly irresistible force which the National Rifle Association has been--and when I was growing up, it was still only becoming that--and most of us take it as a given that attempts on the order of the Brady Center.  I admit to bias:  I want guns removed as much from our public places as possible.  There are too many opportunities for wrongful use and accident to convince me otherwise.  I don't want them completely removed from society--there's a place for weapons whose only purpose is to kill in our culture--but that place is neither in schools nor bars nor malls.

I'll be the 1st to admit I am scared shitless by guns.  Pistols, shotguns, semiautomatic rifles:  they all have the same effect on me.  They make my skin itch.  I understand they don't do that for others--my wife grew up in a gun-friendly culture and she's expressed her wish to inherit her dad's hunting rifle, the one he taught her to shoot with, when he dies and maybe display it.  I eat venison supplied to me by the brothers-in-law and nephews and nieces whose joy is their annual hunt together.  When I was a kid I had multiple BB guns and loved shooting targets (I won't say I got very good at it) and in high school I remember a gun-repair course that was one of the options in shop.  You signed up, got your parents' permission, and brought your malfunctioning weapon to school to learn to fix it.  That's probably led to a pretty good hobby or calling for some of those guys.

Neither do I begrudge the neighbor who collects guns or the cop who has to carry one to keep the peace.  But I'll admit I don't feel safe around them.  I don't think they'll turn them on me but they might.  It's been known to happen.  And unlike a lot of people who aren't in the military or involved in crime I've been shot at.  I know already what my response is when faced with a person shooting at me.  It is to piss my pants.  I don't think 30 years have changed much about that reaction.

That digression aside, Atina's talk was mainly about engaged optimism, a term coming from British eco-philosopher Rob Hopkins, a transitional culture idea which is  "a bottom-up approach to the creation of community resilience; the ability to withstand shocks at the local level. It [is] a solutions-focused and positive response.." to the problems communities face. It is, she suggested, this "sitting with" the problem and with the people who are involved in finding the solutions to it that mark the engagement as likelier to be positive rather than harmful to anyone concerned.  There will be inconvenience--that can almost never be avoided or there wouldn't be a conflict about the solution in the first place--but there should not be harm.

I don't know how this might work in relation to the shootings in Newtown.  We are only now learning that things we understood initially might not be quite right.  That rather than being involved with the school, Lanza and his mother had cut their ties to it when he was younger.  That his mother may have been involved in fringe "prepper" culture that many of us are only now learning about.  What is most disturbing to us, in this culture of near-instant communication and information, is that we simply don't know, and may never really know, why he did what he did.  This explains why so many crazy ideas about his motivation or why it "really happened" are floating around.  Ignore them or, if you must, read them and pass on.  

Stick to what is important.  Noticing things--like Santa Claus in the rain, like what is happening in your community--and pay attention because you love one another.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

God isn't only the rose and not the thorn

I may read too many political and news blogs.  The past 30 hours have been a blur to me of information, speculation, frustration, anger and righteousness.  There is an appalling amount of what we don't know about the killing of children and adults in Newtown, CT.

Here is what little we do know:  Around 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, a young man eventually identified as Adam Lanza of Newtown and "forced his way"--as yet police haven't explained what that means--into the elementary school.  Apparently, he began immediately shooting indiscriminately with a high-powered rifle.  According to the BBC, the shooting only took a few minutes and then stopped abruptly.  Adam Lanza apparently took his own life after killing 27 people, more than 2/3 of them children, most of them girls, between the ages of 6 and 7.  All the adults killed were women.

The most frustrating word in the above is "apparently," but it's a very apt word because we don't really know, in this age of 24/7, microdetailed news, exactly what has happened.  We are more certain about what we don't know.  Why did Adam Lanza carry his older brother's identification card, which is why he was originally misidentified?  Why did he kill his mother, who may or may not have been a substitute teacher at the school, at their home before going to the school, which act, maddeningly, we are assuming?  Why did he target the local elementary school and, once there, target small children?  Why was he armed with both the rifle and 2 handguns, which he did not fire?

This is a particularly disturbing fact:  Dr. Wayne Carver, the medical examiner who reported his findings to news organizations and who did autopsies on several of the children, said that at least 2 of them were shot at close range, and that many of them had been hit between 3 and 11 times.

At least among my Facebook friends, the primary emotion, after shock, has been despair.  Why has something like this happened, they ask, and why is someone so obviously unhinged been allowed to have access to such murderous weapons?  We also don't know the answers to either of these questions, although it's very possible, in relation to the second question, that Lanza may have never shown any sign of being mentally ill.  The guns were his mother's.

Many of my friends are also insisting that this is the time to enact major gun control legislation, a perspective with which I'm in sympathy, but another friend who's a gunowner's rights advocate has pointed out that, short of making any gun purchase illegal, no control would have had an impact on this incident.  So far as we know, Lanza's mother bought the weapons legally and may have had them locked away safely.  I think he's right about that, too.  We don't know how Lanza got access to them.

However, I am convinced now is the time to have the argument, fierce and angry and costly as it will be, we keep putting off about gun control.  As someone else has pointed out, the perfect time for this conversation was before this incident happened; now is the second most perfect time.  But we also need to have a theological conversation.

Many of my Facebook friends are seminarians and rabbis and ministers and chaplains.  We link one another to articles and advice lists about how to talk about this with children and with each other.  The despair we feel is a consequence of a very real sense we have that god is somehow absent from the events, although how that can be, while god is also somehow involved in all situations, fucks with our heads.  Ecological theologian Sallie McFague has argued that religion has two primary criteria:  "It has to make sense and it has to make a difference."  It also has to take into account the painful, unnecessary deaths of children.  This isn't that religion.  

Theodicy has a long, storied history among monotheisms.  But it isn't only Christians and Jews and Muslims who are asking "Where was God?" in Newtown.  For an agnostic Unitarian like myself who sees everything related, there is no comfort to be had in the recognition that, whatever god is, god was there and involved.   In my cosmology, god is the teachers who shielded their students with their bodies, and god is the children whose bodies were defiled.  God is the school that Lanza forced himself into and god is the person who made the 911 call and the police and EMTs who responded to it.  God is Dr. Wayne Carver and other M.E.s who have to examine the broken bodies of children.

But god is also the bullets that flew, 6 per second, from that powerful rifle.  God is also the .223 Bushmaster assault weapon, a gun developed specifically for combat and has no other use, that Lanza used.  God is also Adam Lanza.

This isn't very comforting, I'll admit.  It's not a theology that says, "It's all for the best, they're with Jesus now," or "If only we'd done something different it would have never happened," both of which are a false comfort at best.  But I don't think god is about comfort, at least not for most people.  God is about living and dying, sometimes painfully.  God is about reality and the real experiences people have which can involve having a gun pointed at them and being the one pointing the gun. If we accept that god is real in the world then we have to accept that god is everything real in the world.  God isn't only the rose and not the thorn.