Theodicy and me.

It shouldn’t bother anyone when people put words in God’s mouth; as Anne Lamott quips, you know you’ve created God in your image when he hates all the same people you do. I’m not much of a God-botherer myself, but the recent events in Colorado make me…well, they make me wonder.

The woman who shot the killer in Colorado says God guided her hand and steadied her aim. “Shoot that guy,” God said, in effect. “That one, over there.”

We can find images of an angry, bloodthirsty God in culture for as long as we’ve known Him, but I was raised with the Christian version, and for the longest time believed that He loved me, no matter what I did. Lesson No. 2 was that he also loved my enemy, a harder concept to grasp. I suspect a lot of people stop there. Once, just to needle someone who was very, very pleased with the prison beating death of Jeffrey Dahmer, I mentioned that I’d heard the Wisconsin cannibal had recently become a Christian, and so he’d be up in Heaven by now, “and the two of you can get acquainted after you arrive.” He didn’t like to hear this, but isn’t this the point of Christianity? Of having a savior? That no one is so damaged that he can’t be redeemed, even in the final days of a cursed life? It’s supposed to keep us humble, to know that no matter how much we follow the rules and polish our own halos, God loves the more wretched sinner down the hall just as much, no more and no less.

Mental illness complicates things. Everything complicates things, really, but voices in your head — there’s a complication. As for Matthew Murray, the church murderer, it’s the same old sad story:

ARVADA — Matthew Murray was asked to leave Youth With A Mission five years ago, although the reasons are murky.

The group’s Colorado leader said Monday that unspecified health problems prevented Murray from advancing beyond a training program into field work overseas.

But Murray’s roommate from that time told CNN Monday night that Murray was booted for bizarre behavior. He also said that Murray told him he heard voices.

…Werner, who now lives in Balneario Camborius, Brazil, said he occupied a bunk near Murray’s and that Murray would roll around in bed and make noises.

He asked his roommate about it, Werner said.

“He would say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m just talking to the voices.’ He’d say, ‘Don’t worry, Richard. You’re a nice guy. The voices like you.'”

Werner told CNN he instantly suspected Murray when he heard the news of Sunday’s shootings.

“I turned to my wife and I said, ‘I know who did it. It’s Matthew.’ It was so obvious.”

Here’s another thing we have to consider: That God put Matthew Murray in the world, and then put voices in his head and made him crazy and homicidal. And then he put a gun in a security guard’s hand and said, “It’s time for Matthew to die. That’s your job.” It makes you see why people believe in the devil. It’s also why people say the lord works in mysterious ways.

Well, so does the mental health support system, or lack of same. Isn’t it interesting, how often you hear that quote? “As soon as I heard, I knew exactly who did it.” Or, “Police say the suspect had told numerous acquaintances of his plan, but few believed him.”

Stories like this frequently lead to a rethinking of policy at places where it can be easily rethought and quickly changed — school systems, for example. So let it be written, so let it be done: From this day forward, all threats or implied threats of violence will be met with zero tolerance, and law enforcement will be notified. Cue the stories about little boys who held their lunchtime chicken finger as though it were a pistol and yelled bang-bang across the cafeteria table, subsequently expelled and bound over for psychiatric testing. Cut to outraged pundits rolling their eyes, pounding desks and wondering, Where is sanity? Where is common sense? Do we want to turn all our little boys into pussies? Let them play their war games — it’s genetic!

And then another one comes to school or church or work with a gun.

Am I feeling a bit cynical today? I am. I am Gregor Samsa: I have turned into a bug. The apples flung by this rotten world have embedded themselves in my exoskeleton, and are rotting there. More evidence:

Every well-informed person knows, or should know, about the toll boxing takes on the body. Images of Muhammed Ali, once one of the most graceful athletes on the world’s stage, reduced to a quaking, shuffling Parkinsonian, tend to sear themselves into the brain. Fewer know about what happens to old football players.

In my health-care news clipping, I ran across a story a few months ago, about a couple of former pro linemen now reduced, in their 50s and 60s, to sitting around in a fog, thanks to head injuries that were either ignored, misdiagnosed or improperly treated. Coaches hate head injuries, because a bruised brain doesn’t always have an outward manifestation. And so the player sitting out a concussion may look and feel just fine — may even be chomping at the bit to play. Coach figures, what’s the harm? Player may soon find out. Or find out in 20 more years.

Ashley Morris tips us off to another of these little tragedies, more high-profile than most: Earl Campbell. Remember him? Heisman trophy, 34-inch thighs (11 inches bigger than Posh Spice’s waistline, for those seeking a comparison), one of the greatest runners ever to play the game. Now 52, can’t get around without a walker, has to sleep in a recliner because of constant pain, and perhaps the cruelest blow of all: (He) has yet to see his son Tyler play a college football game at San Diego State because it’s too difficult for him to negotiate the stairs at stadiums.

Woe! Oh, woe! Let us all weep for the sake of this sad, sad world.

Someday I’m going to track a year’s worth of blog entries against the length of daylight and my menstrual cycle. I’ll bet there’s a correlation.

Which you shouldn’t draw conclusions from, incidentally. I’m just saying, we gals — we’re connected.

OK, let’s see if we can’t cheer up a bit as the day’s work commences. Let’s take a bloggage tour guaranteed to lift the spirits:

One of my favorite people in the world is of Armenian heritage. His father is a man of towering intellect and accomplishment. Other Armenians have made similar contributions to my new hometown of Detroit. Knowing all this, I’ve come to expect great things from people whose last names end in -ian.

And then there are the Kardashians. As they say in Armenia: One rotten pomegranate doesn’t spoil the whole barrel.

Taxi drivers have some cool stories to tell. This one might be the coolest ever.

And finally, a story to bring joy to every newspaperman’s black heart: Conrad Black, OFF TO JAIL, and even better, his wife, the hideous Barbara Amiel, may be next.

Readers, I’m skipping. Enjoy your day.

Posted at 9:39 am in Current events |

30 responses to “Theodicy and me.”

  1. Jeff said on December 12, 2007 at 10:02 am

    “Lesson No. 2 was that he also loved my enemy, a harder concept to grasp. I suspect a lot of people stop there.”

    Or at least pause there, and begin wrestling with what that means in their life. I’m still working on it.

    And a cheery note of grim perspective from the juvenile justice system — our problem is that, roughly speaking, in our county of 145,000, we have about 280 Matthew Murrays we’re keeping track of at any given moment. They have major mental health/impulse control/tendency to angry acting out issues, and we have three major systems (Child Protective Services under the JFS (former Welfare) office, Community Mental Health Board groups, and Juvenile Court, all working separately and together to manage these kids. At any given time, 60 some are “in lock up” of some form or another, and thirty drop off the system due to aging out or stabilizing under care, and another 60 or so get added. (Recent years have seen more like 50 off, 60+ on for long stretches.)

    So most of ’em will actually get better, go on to community college or university, or be seen sliding under your car at the garage or coming into your home to fix the furnace, and you tell your spouse later, “He was so polite; insisted on taking his shoes off at the door!” Because he is polite, and he’s OK now.

    Five of that, oh, 400 plus that go through our system in the year will do something ghastly, usually to a family member or close friend/neighbor. One every five years or so will go *spuuuunnnnggg* and do real damage to a random individual and make headlines, at which point there will be a flurry of headlines and op-eds asking why we don’t lock ’em all up.

    Fortunately, no one really means that, and the discussion turns back to Britney fairly soon, but the residue means we lock up a few more for odd little things we used to turn around and get folks back into the community to end up checking your prescription at the optician’s office. Now we give ’em a record, jail time, and send them back, that’s right, into your community, with less skills and social adeptness, and they’re 28 or 32.

    But that’s why folks always “know” it would be so-and-so, because the reality is that every community has that .3% of troubled youth/young adults who are rattling through the ramshackle system of care and treatment and punishment that we have right now.

    Which means security at churches, i guess. I have no better thoughts other than reducing our love of incarceration for treatment and rehab, because (attn: GOP) it’s cheaper. Lots cheaper.

    And loving your enemy, in a way.

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  2. brian stouder said on December 12, 2007 at 10:04 am

    nance – that taxi story IS the coolest ever!!

    NN.c – my new bestest and most favorite F1 site!

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  3. alex said on December 12, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Nance, you’re in fab form today, cycle or no. Sister testify!

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  4. nancy said on December 12, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Excellent, excellent remarks, Jeff. Thank you.

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  5. 4dbirds said on December 12, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Wasn’t this ‘kid’ (if 24 still qualifies as kid) the son of a physician? He’s hearing voices, acting strange for quite some time and no one is getting him the help he needs? Maybe I’m being harsh since I know firsthand that even the most proactive parent must slog through a lot of crap to get adequate mental health care. I also know that many mentally ill people are extremely resistant to taking medication and going to therapy. I just hope his family wasn’t just praying for it all to go away.

    As for the security at these churches. I think a lot of cash flows through them each service and since they’re a business afterall, they have to protect their income.

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  6. Jason T. said on December 12, 2007 at 11:19 am

    “The hideous Barbara Amiel” should become a catch-phrase, like “The Abominable Dr. Phibes.”

    I had a longtime subscription to Maclean’s until the magazine took a disturbing, abrupt hard-right turn a few years ago. The breaking point was when Barbara Amiel was re-hired as a columnist.

    You could have replaced any of her columns with a letter from Marie Antoinette, and few people would have been able to tell the difference.

    So I canceled. (Some how the magazine survived.)

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  7. John C said on December 12, 2007 at 11:46 am

    I worked at the Sun Times at the height of Lord Black’s reign. When I think of all the wasted talent pissed away down some gold-plated toilet on one of his or Radler’s jets … grrrr.It’s too close to Christmas to think such mean thoughts.

    Speaking of the Sun-Times, my old friend Neil Steinberg has an interesting take on the church killings, along the same lines as Nancy. He wonders, if God really did guide that security guard’s trigger finger, couldn’t he have done it a few minutes sooner, saving a few lives.

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  8. alex said on December 12, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    God and Satan were wrestling for the gun in the security guard’s hand. I’m sure that must be it.

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  9. Jeff said on December 12, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Welllll . . . even a Christian humanist like me can also believe in apophenia.

    (What, you ask, is apophenia? Wikipedia awaits you: )

    She never says, and it’s her business, why she was on a three day fast. That would usually indicate she was working out a problem/decision in her life. Was being in the right place at the right time her answer? Or could she have been there sooner? — or was someone else given a chance to intervene earlier who decided to step back? — we just don’t know…

    She saw the moment as an answer, and that may be, depending on what she does with the aftermath, which may be even harder than facing an armed killer. (Yes, i’m serious; see Nancy’s detailing of a media clusterfrak earlier this week, and imagine being the sudden, unwitting focus of one — hard on the soul, among other things.)

    My theology doesn’t hold with God sending evil to teach us or toughen us, but that God is present through and in what we do with what is happening in a broken, awkwardly healing world. The degree to which God will or wants to tinker with physics or causality is, I also believe, greatly exaggerated. Think more “Lead, Kindly Light” than “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”

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  10. LAMary said on December 12, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    She fasted for three days and was directed by God to shoot someone, and Murray was hearing voices which possibly told him to shoot people. What’s wrong with this picture?

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  11. nancy said on December 12, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    After 9/11, when George Bush said he felt chosen by God to fight this great battle, a friend said, “Any God who would crash four airplanes full of people, into buildings full of people. so that George Bush could find his purpose in life, isn’t worth worshiping.”

    Again, I like Anne Lamott’s kinder form of Christianity — she talks about a giant tapestry being woven in heaven, and we on earth are on the wrong side. All we can see is the bottom, the knots and loose strings; the true pattern won’t be revealed until we’re in heaven, too, and can look at it from the other side. A little childish as an explanation, but it beats the ones you hear at children’s funerals and other ghastly events — God needed a little angel up in heaven, etc.

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  12. brian stouder said on December 12, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Oh, for Heaven’s sake! (so to speak)

    If the good guy shooter said ‘I was thinking of Tony Soprano, and trying to be as calm as him’ – what commentary would that draw? Or if she relied on Merciful Allah? Or Mother Earth/Gaia?

    While we’re on double standards, how many here watched Mississippi Burning? Did you accept that federal agents trampled on the civil rights of KKK leaders in Ol’ Miss? – including mock lynchings and physical beatings? (it certainly didn’t bother me)

    Of that group, how many also object to waterboarding/torture for captured top al Qaeda operatives? (I’ve read that waterboarding was used on three of those people – including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the planner they dragged out of bed in Karachi)

    By way of saying – I don’t care what the good gal shooter used to steady her aim; I’m glad she averted more carnage

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  13. del said on December 12, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    That apophenia wikipedia entry was interesting. An interesting book that ties together LA Mary’s query: what’s wrong with this picture? and Anne Lamott’s views, I think, is called “What God Wants” by Neale Donald Walsch. Nutshell answer: nothing.

    As for Muhammed Ali, Earl Campbell and all sufferers of repeated head bashing a neurologist told me on Monday that concussions are “cumulative.”

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  14. nancy said on December 12, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Now that my mood has improved, I’m ready to change the subject to Posh Spice’s fun outfit in the link above:


    Don’t know about the shorts and T-shirt, but the bag is six grand if it’s a penny and the boots are probably Balenciaga or something. I’d like to see Elizabeth Hasselbeck do a “the look for less” segment on that one: “And now, you’re ready to go out to your corner and make a lot of money!”

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  15. John C said on December 12, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    To Brian I say this: I don’t particularly have a problem with torturing “top al quada operatives” if the people doing do have a very, very strong belief that said torture will lead them to say something like: “Okay, okay. The bomb is scheduled to go off day after tomorrow, at the Mall of America.” Most people don’t have a problem with that. The problem is torturing people who may or may not be terrorists, because we think they might have something to tell us. To agree with this you must accept this premise: If, God forbid, you are someday kidnapped by a twobit dictator in some butthole country, and we Americans rise up to push for your rescue, and said dictator announces that you are a terrorist enemy of Buttholistan, then the entire world will say: “Oh, why didn’t you say so. Go right ahead.”

    In my world, torture would be forbidden as a matter of US government policy. But there would be a “black book” just like there is a black budget for super secret things. That book would say that if an agent feels the need to torture someone as a matter of life and death, he or she will eventually have to explain himself in some super secret forum. Does that make sense?

    And I, too, am glad something steadied that woman’s arm so she could bring that guy down. The gun control laws I favor have plenty of room for armed security guards – armed citizens, for that matter, with reasonable regulation.

    Oh yeah, and there were no beatings of KKK folks in Mississippi Burning. Nor were their mock lynchings. It is a movie. Those were actors.

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  16. brian stouder said on December 12, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Oh yeah, and there were no beatings of KKK folks in Mississippi Burning. Nor were their mock lynchings. It is a movie. Those were actors

    True enough; just as “24” is just a tv show (with a drunken convict for a star, but we digress!) which I have never seen, but which I have nonetheless heard about – since it glorifies torture (or so we are told); and Red Dawn was just a stupid b-movie (20+ years ago!!), but which was (apparently) so politically offensive that we STILL occasionally hear about it!

    etc etc

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  17. del said on December 12, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    A variant on John C’s point; I think torture should be illegal as a matter of U.S. policy. (Though upwards of 75% of Americans disagree with me — especially so after an act of terrorism). If you’re in the government with an important suspect and you’re really, really, really sure imparting a little physical/psychological torment is needed to avert carnage (or Armageddon as every neocon will posit) you’ll do it. It’s common to the worldview of law enforcement types . . . they’re protectors who don’t easily rest (see yesterday’s post). There should be consequences under the law for abusing your power, however.

    Have not seen Mississippi Burning so no opinions on that, yet.
    But would you ever be prosecuted for doing so? No. And if you were prosecuted, would any jury ever convict you? Hell no.
    We’re Americans. And that means we’re supposed to at least pretend there’s some kind of “rule of law.”
    Making something against the law and actually convicting someone of violating the law who was only seeking to “protect America” are two very different things. Look at Oliver North — American hero.

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  18. brian stouder said on December 12, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Del – agreed.

    edit – Nance’s Posh link now works – and my question is: what bag?

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  19. LAMary said on December 12, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    That looks like an Hermes Birkin Bag, a little item that starts at around 8k, but is much more likely to be 14 or 15k.

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  20. Dorothy said on December 12, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    Imagine how much someone in New Orleans could do with 14 or 15K, if only the tartlets in showbiz would donate that money, and get by with a $50 bag from Kohls?? A bag is a bag, I don’t care what the price difference. It’s just there to carry around all your shit.

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  21. brian stouder said on December 12, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Dorothy – agreed! But still, all I can see is red shirt/white shorts/well-turned thighs/red shirt/white shorts/well-turned thighs/hair/shades/red shirt

    etc etc

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  22. Jeff said on December 12, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    She looks like she needs a hot roast beef sandwich, mashed potato double order, cover all with gravy. (Side of carrots if she insists, cooked in butter and some brown sugar.) This must not be the one married to the soccer star; athletes gotta et.

    But i’d hate to set a white cloth bag on the floor any of the best places to get said hot roast beef sandwich. Leather bottomed L.L. Bean tote (to go with your duck shoes from same), and plenty left over for a generous donation to Salvation Army for NOLA relief and a new duck hunting shotgun.

    Wait, she doesn’t live in the Midwest, does she? Erase preceeding. Sorry. She would consider a diner and duck hunting to be torture, which it sounds like we’re all against hereabouts.

    (Observation from currently serving Marine Corps officer friend — make torture illegal, and understand that if you ever think it really is the only way to save many civilians, you do what you have to do and face the consequences. Don’t protect me from the law, and let me protect you without detailed legal second guessing. McCain’s right, and he’d be my character witness to ask for a minimal sentence, but we’d both understand i have to be court-martialed. Period, end of report.)

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  23. LAMary said on December 12, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Oprah has a selection of Hermes bags, I understand, and remember when she was so outraged about Hermes not opening their store for her in Paris? There she was in all her Oprahood at the door and she was told they were closed. Her BFF Gail said it was the worst thing that had ever happened in her life.

    Brian, you’re not seeing Posh’s hair in that photo. You’re seeing Posh’s wig. She’s got short hair these days, like Katie Holmes or Kate Cruise or whatever her preferred name is. Same cute little robot haircut.

    And while I’m being bitchy, I heard that Jamie Oliver, the naked chef guy, accidentally spoonerized the name of the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie spawn. Her name is Shiloh Pitt. You work it out.

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  24. brian stouder said on December 12, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    You know – I’ve liked Angelina since I first noticed her in the anthology movie Cat’s Eye…a great unpretentious little b-movie.

    But her dissing her baby (as a “blob” and an “outcast”) puts me seriously off.

    Breaking news: RIP Ike Turner

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  25. alex said on December 12, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Did Angelina get a lip reduction or something? Or just stop taking injections? She looks kind of normal lately.

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  26. 4dbirds said on December 12, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I loved Red Dawn. Lea Thompson was so cute.

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  27. basset said on December 12, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    how can you mention great Armenian-Americans and leave out Sarkes Tarzian?

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  28. brian stouder said on December 13, 2007 at 10:34 am

    Basset – you took the words right outta my mouth!

    Aside from that, I was wrong about Cat’s Eye above; the first movie wherein I noticed Angeline Jolie was Playing by Heart (1998)

    which I would instantly pick up off the dollar rack at the rental place, if I see it.

    (don’t know about you, but I’m glad we got that matter cleared up!)

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  29. basset said on December 14, 2007 at 10:35 pm

    when I worked master control at WTIU in Bloomington in the late Seventies we had a Sarkes Tarzian switcher… to go with the film chain and cart machine.

    (translation: we had a bunch of stuff in the tv station control room that was standard for the time but way obsolete now, and the central device in the whole setup was obscure and hard to find even then.)

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  30. brian stouder said on December 16, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Honestly, I had never heard of Sarkes Tarzian before your reference to him, and then googling him. Very interesting stuff. Fort Wayne Observed had a piece on a Broadway play about Fort Wayne’s Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff.

    Anyway – one supposes that any electronic equipment older than about 5 years is probably obsolete, nowadays!

    Not far from where we live is the carcass of a TV station (the old WKJG building). It has a 450 foot (give or take) tower, and of course the studio/equipment building. A “For Sale” sign was on the property for a few months, and then a “SOLD” sign on that….and now there is a bunch of earth-moving equipment over there. This may or may not be related to the building sale, as there seems to be storm sewer work going on….but the business next door to the ex-TV station is a boat manufacturing facility, and they bought the property.

    One wonders if they will keep the tower…presumeably there is intrinsic value in IT (at least) – above and beyond maintenance costs!

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