Curtis Peter van Gorder is a writer and pantomime artist and facilitator, living in Germany. See Elixir Mime website.
A city where I used to live is dotted with deserted public telephone booths. Obsolete and derelict, they stand silent and empty, eerie reminders of their former usefulness, now simply taking up sidewalk space, useless to all but a few spiders that are ever quick to spin their webs in out-of-the-way corners. Ten or twenty years ago, these booths were a vital means of communication. Long replaced by cell phones that are more convenient and capable, these relics are no longer worth the trouble, either to keep up or to tear down.
Knowing that I am actively involved in several charitable projects here in India,an acquaintance introduced me to some of his friends from the business community at a party we all attended. They happened to be discussing The Giving Pledge, an initiative headed by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Those three had challenged 400 American billionaires to commit to donating at least 50% of their net worth to charity and social causes in their lifetimes.
While visiting my dad for his 85th birthday, we watched some of our old family movies. It was funny to see my brother as a one-year-old, crawling around, playing with the puppies, and eating from the dog’s food dish. To think that this cute little baby would grow up to be a distinguished college professor and international lecturer! It got me thinking about how God makes special people out of nobodies. We come into this world naked and helpless, and God transforms us into the unique people we each are through our experiences and choices.
It’s been said that God delights in making something out of nothing, and I believe it. In fact, I believe that God made everything out of nothing.
Having been born “BI” (Before Internet), I see people frantically texting away and sometimes wonder how they would have survived “back in the day,” when “texting” involved a 30-pound typewriter, messy correction fluid or an eraser, a trip to the post office, standing in line to buy a stamp, waiting a week or two for the letter to get to its destination, and waiting another week or two for a reply.
I once visited a monastery that was built on the ruins of an ancient Roman fortress, set high atop a rocky crag in a Syrian desert.So steep was a series of 300 steps near the summit that supplies had to be hoisted the rest of the way using a cable system. Three stone archways at the top announced to my fellow pilgrims and me that we were nearing a sanctuary.
In my high school literature class we studied the Jean-Paul Sartre play No Exit, in which hell’s occupants are confined to a room and have nothing to do but engage in fruitless, pointless discussions.
In David Brandt Berg’s article“The Green Door,” hell is a polished hospital-like facility with rooms full of people involved in much the same work they did on earth, but without any hope of achieving anything worthwhile: scientists engage in endless experiments that bear no results, soldiers fight battles that never end, trains never reach their destinations, and rockets don’t make it off the ground. Nothing ever gets done. In Inferno, the first part of Dante’s epic poem A Divine Comedy, part of hell is pictured as an endless mountain range that one must keep climbing, one peak after another.
Every so often we read or hear about some happening that so completely defies explanation that the people involved are convinced they have been part of a miracle.
For the rest of us, it takes faith to believe those accounts—faith that miracles are possible, as well as faith in those giving the accounts. But faith has its rewards. If we can believe that “impossible” things have happened to others, then perhaps we can believe that they can happen to us too. The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) called miracles the “lightning strokes of God.” There’s no “perhaps” about a lightning strike, especially to one who is standing on the spot where it hits! Lightning is powerful, and it happens often—about 100 times per second in as many locations around the world. I’m sure that if every miracle were recorded they would far outnumber lightning strikes. What makes me so sure? I’ve yet to be struck by actual lightning, but I’ve experienced many “strokes of God.”
“Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”If there was anyone who knew all about that, it was probably Mother Teresa. After having lived among the poorest of the poor in India for nearly 30 years (and she would continue to do so for nearly 20 more), she was awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She began her acceptance speech with the words, “Life is life.” She went on to explain that all human beings are special and of great worth, no matter who they are, and that only when we have learned to respect that fact can we begin to help them improve their lives.
At a workshop I attended, art and drama therapist Emily Nash shared an experience she had while working with traumatized children and adolescents at a residential treatment center in the U.S. The boys who attended her class were often combative, prone to negative and self-destructive behavior, and unable to trust adults or even one another. Almost all had histories of severe abuse and emotional neglect.
They routinely brought their negative attitudes into the classroom, as reflected in their foul speech and rough mannerisms.
“You have to hear about this book I just read!” My normally laid-back friend was quite worked up. “I tell you, it’s happening soon!”
“What’s happening soon?”
“The end of the world as we know it!” My friend launched into a series of facts and statistics to try to convince me. “Did you know that over the past 20 years, the Arctic Ocean has been warming eight times faster than it did over the previous 100 years?”