Did Adam do All This?

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’ve heard the term “rational theology” a few times lately. I am afraid to ask what it actually means because I don’t want to offend the person who tells me the answer. As you know, I think it is an oxymoron.

But I can’t just throw that out there. I have to base that on something. I feel sometimes that people think I am just mad at someone or someone did me wrong down at the church. Not true. It really does come down to those two words: rational and theology.

I guess I can throw out what I feel is a riddle right from the first chapters of Genesis and move on from there. Any good answers (“no one knows the thoughts of God” and “His ways are higher than our ways” is cheating) will be considered earnestly. I am rarely earnest, but I will be for a wee bit.

In the beginning, God creates Adam and puts two trees in the garden. One is The Tree of Life that will give them immorality, and the other is The Tree of Knowledge (or of Good and Evil). Although these trees predate the Bible in literature, I will take that this is the first use of them.

We are given two facts:

1)      Adam (and soon Eve) is forbidden to eat from the Knowledge Tree (oh, the uncloaked metaphor).

2)      God is omniscient (all-knowing).

So…is the Bible (or God or a scribe or whoever) lying when they said God was omniscient? Because that means he knew that Adam and Eve (given free will) would choose to sin and disobey.

Or…Is the Bible true and God is omniscient and ,therefore, the most horrible, uncaring deity ever for setting up a scenario where all people from then on out – following the sin of only 2 people—would be dying of disease, miserable, overdosed, in chronic pain,  crushed by earthquakes, heartbroken AND going to hell for eternity with no escape?

Which one is it? The lie or the cruelty?

Why did God let Adam wield all this catastrophic power, especially if he knew?



Posted: March 6, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Here I am writing again. It’s because I am ripped up, can’t sleep; I’m mad, heartbroken and very confused. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that I am helpless, which is one of he main things that gnaws at me. When there is something happening in my life or those close to me, I have to do something–even if it makes it worse.

The campus where I teach has been tense over the last three weeks. There have been unrelated acts of violence plus spring weather that has triggered the tornado siren. I’ve been in lockdown with the same class 2 times since the semester started. Fortunately, my classes didn’t mind; they even enjoyed the forced companionship. But that is because the nature of my class is different from many others.

I teach a stretch class. I have the same students for a whole year. The first semester we build a community, really learn to trust each other and find the voice that might have never had a place to come out before. Many of my students are first generation college students. Our essays are personal, our discussions intimate. The students find each other between classes for friendship because they already have that foundation.

The second semester these friendships delve deeper. We lose some students between the two semesters and the ones who are with me in the Spring feel bonded because it hits them that not all of the students from the last semester are as focussed on success as they are. That brings a deeper layer of kinship to the group. This semester I average 16 in each class, centered in a circle discussion style.

I write all this so that you, or maybe I, can understand the anguish I felt Wednesday night.

News hit that a basketball player at our school had been stabbed to death. All the stations did the “Breaking News” tap dance. A young, clean-faced girl’s face came across every channel’s screen. Colin and I were dumbfounded. It seems the violence was building on campus and now a death. And of a popular student.

It happened off campus in one of the apartment buildings that circle the university. We had been through so much and now this.

I did not know the basketball player, but I had taught her teammates in the past. The most disturbing thing was the physical struggle involved in this story. Perhaps a gunshot would have not bothered me as much. The victim, Tina Stewart, was big with defined muscles. She was not someone I would want to come across in a physical fight. So I began to see the struggle in my mind. I was saddened at what she went through, how physical and loud it must have been. The reports kept coming across the screen and I knew we were in for a confused week of mourning.

As I kept an eye on the news and replayed the bloody scene, a new report came up. Shanterrica Madden, the player’s roommate was in custody. I read it. And I read it. And then I felt like throwing up. Then screaming. My kids were asleep. I rushed into the living room shaking,  telling my husband “it was my student. it was my student.”  And for a while I groaned, hunched over like I always imagined was unrealistic when I saw it in movies. I felt a physical poison in my stomach that I wanted to vomit out.

Within a few minutes a text came through from a student. “You know that stabbing, Prof. Ford? It was Shanterrica.” I called the student and we cried. I thought of going down to the police station, but knew I had to keep some distance. I had no details. I had no understanding.

I tried to sleep, but something else was haunting me. There was a report of a girl fleeing the scene.

It wasn’t 2 weeks prior that I found out that a girl in my 3rd class was good friends with Shanterrica. In fact, Shanterrica confused me one day by showing up for that 3rd class with the girl. She came by to say “hi” even though we had just been together a few hours before that. When the report came through that a girl had fled, I just had a feeling it was the student in my 3rd class. I emailed the student and had her call me.

“Were you there?” “Yes, Ma’am.”  “Have you seen a counselor? Are you with anyone?” “No ma’am.” I told her I was coming and to get to my office.

I’m not going to get into the details of what happened then or what the details that she told me were, but this girl was a mess. A mess. I spent the day with her and got her packed and ready to go home. The campus was tense. The girl who was killed was a popular student. She had the athletic leaders and community, as well as the president of the university, giving televised tributes to her. Flowers were all around campus. Students were already wearing blue in respect for her. It would not take a spark to ignite a physical attack on this eye-witness due to the simple fact that everyone felt like I did–we just had to do something. Anything.

Classes had already been canceled for Friday so that I could go to a professional conference on campus. But after talking to my students, I called Shanterrica’s class back to campus. I didn’t know how many would show up since i gave them the day off and Spring Break starts Monday.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend attend the class with me. She happened to be on the committee that supports other professors in times of distress and had been called to contact me. Of all the instructors on campus, I know a very few, and she is the one I know the most–so it was a great help.

Friday morning a majority of the students showed up. There was a lot of crying. There was anger against the community who were so fast to bury Shanterrica and there was a sorrow at not being able to do anything. The emotions weren’t, and aren’t, pure. We are confused at how to feel. The community is calling Shanterrica a “thug” and saying that the university is letting “just anybody in.” This is kicking these students while they are down. They are in shock. This is not the truth of what they know. This is:

Shanterrica Madden was a great student. She had goals and wasn’t messing around. When I told all my students how they could fix their essays that first semester, she didn’t just fix hers; she sought help on campus; she got in touch with me and she asked questions. I wish I didn’t have to say that was rare, but it was. And I told her that. It is a quality that really impresses instructors.

She was kind. We talked sometimes before class when the girls hung out outside the door talking about their weekends. She laughed and has a great smile. Furthermore, because my class is very discussion based and hand-raising isn’t necessary, she never crossed the line of disrespect. That one is a hard line for students to see. If they are engaging with their teacher on a level platform in discussion, some forget to talk with respect. Shanterrica never did. This student was consistently polite in a class that sooner or later reveals the flaws in everyone.

The one thing that continued to come out as a theme in Shanterrica’s life was family. She has a great one, a loving one. She is not a troubled young woman. She was not a troubled student. She did not have rage; she did not exhibit any inappropriate reactions in class. She wanted to be a lawyer and make her family proud.

I cannot reconcile what happened that night with Shanterrica Madden. The facts are for the jury and judge. I won’t make any claims on what I think happened. But, as I told my class, we did not know a killer. We were not close to someone who could do something like this. She was not all these things people say about her.

Regardless of what happens, the majority of this promising girl’s life was not much different from the victim, Tina Stewart. They were both promising young students who were going to make their families and MTSU proud. They both excelled in their own ways. They both have friends who are confused and heartbroken. They both have parents who are destroyed.

I’ll be honest and say that I mourn Shanterrica. It doesn’t sound right. She is the one still alive. She is the one who might have a possibility of living free one day and getting married and doing all the things Tina won’t be able to do. I should be mourning the victim more, right?

I wish it was that clear-cut for me and my students. Perhaps if we had the privilege of knowing Tina, we would understand what we are feeling. Perhaps we would be sleeping, eating right and going 5 minutes without this eating out our skulls.


This is an article I wrote for The Trunk, a literary journal, about 5 years ago. Felt like reposting.
If you have been writing for more than a few months, you know that the picture of a writer’s life—
the parties, the admiration, the inspiration that befalls you when sipping cognac while overlooking the
misty lake from your mahogany paneled office—is not reality. Now the hard work—relentless, lonely, but oddly satisfying—has probably replaced your fantasies and you are integrating this writing life into the one you used to live. Remember that one? Where you did as you pleased? Had hobbies that brought you into the light of day?
There are many changes that occur in our lifestyle when we embark on this vocation with a serious
intent to improve and become published. One that is regularly overlooked is the impact the writing life
has on friendships.
There are two kinds of friends who are detrimental to us now that we are writers. I would love to
write an article on the antithesis of these friends, one about the friends who cherish and support us, let
us be our eccentric selves, and understand deadlines and rejection slips. But, alas, I want to talk about
“the others” (to borrow a phrase from the television show Lost).
“The others” consist of two groups. The first are “the toxins.” These are those who drain our energy
and time. Though we have been brought up to have empathy for others and never break friendships,
there are people who look past what we do, think it is a mere hobby, maybe even call it “cute.” They
make us feel as though we are not contributing to life in a tangible way. They want us to do bake sales,
chair charity clubs, scrapbook our lives away. They also demean that inner part of us that has fought so hard to free up our minds so that we can write without barriers. These “others” are always there to
remind us of those barriers. You’re going to write that? What would the church say, your mother, my
bridge club?
I find that there is an easy test to figure out if a friendship is toxic. Do I find myself arguing with that
person in my own mind, whipping out insults and clever ripostes? There are plenty of great individuals who have nothing to do with the life of letters we pursue, but these toxic few who bring out the ire in us, or the rejection, are the ones eating through our souls like worms. We cannot keep up the strength to have these in-our-head arguments all day nor can we harbor that desperate feeling that we wish they understood us, for they never will.
Unfortunately the second group of “the others” are fellow writers. When we begin this quest, we
wrap ourselves in the comfy enclosure of writing friends. We talk about our obsessions and ambitions
and feel we have found a home with other writers—somewhere to put our feet up and relax. We must
realize that we have surrounded ourselves with the most sensitive people on the face of the earth. They do not all want to hear of our successes nor do they want us to comment on something we have learned. It is the rule of the writers’ playground. Most of those who find success in publishing are usually the lonely ones on the swings humming to themselves.
Finding those who have the same writing sensibilities as ourselves, and who are willing to hear of our
successes and tell us when we are getting big-headed, are the ones to cherish. However, it may take half a lifetime to find them.
As this life brings us into intimate relationship with words, not breathing humans, our time with people becomes that much more important. We should not use our relationships as fodder for future stories nor should we stay inside our minds, comparing a conversation to one we just read in a book. Like athletes who must take days off to rest, we too must step out of our heads and walk with a friend, talk of everything that has nothing to do with books, and fill our lives with tasks that bring us into society.
Though it may seem obvious, I can vouch that as you get more engrossed in this addictive life of writing, you will put more importance and find more solace in those neat, ordered relationships that you write on paper than in having to deal with the messy life of emotional, walking human beings.
Taking up this life forces us to spring clean. Old thoughts, old fears, childhood demons—they all
come to the surface. Friendships are no different. They will change, they will die, they will leave us hurt.
However, though many writers have used solitude as an excuse, the rewards of close friendship, of trusting another person with your dreams and insecurities, is tantamount to figuring out that perfect ending to a story in progress.
  • If you don’t remember someone, introduce yourself. It is common courtesy.
  • Do not hand your actor bio sheet out to everyone and then tell me you only walked in the background of a Burn Notice scene.
  • Don’t do a white party—it makes you look like a cult or the cast-offs of P. Diddy’s party.
  • Tessa’s first name is not Texas.
  • If you look EXACTLY the same, I will assume you are doing EXACTLY the same. A little living is a good thing.
  • If you shave your back, make sure it is freshly shaved before I pat you and almost get my palm stuck.
  • If someone asks you how your life has been, do not respond with the fact that you have zero percent body fat.
  • If you have plastic surgery, note that on your name tag as a courtesy.
  • All moustaches should be pre-screened through a committee before arriving at venue.
  • An open bar leads to proclamations of love.
  • Don’t listen to a guy who used to bring a fake rock to school when he tells you there are turtles on the beach.
  • Not everyone needs to know you got a vasectomy.
  • Knowing we all look like idiots while dancing to Super Freak a bonding.
  • If someone says they don’t remember you, respond by saying you were the thin, rich popular one.
  • If you are a partner/spouse and I ask you for the fifth time if we had classes together, just go with it.
  • Scope out and find the guy who made his jewelry out of nails; he’s far more interesting than a walking T.J. Max mannequin.
  • Don’t be fooled that Dimension 20 made an impact. No one remembered it! The one person who did swears we sang Eye of the Tiger. Shit.
  • Don’t spit out your drink when someone tells you they were married while we were in high school
  • Celebrate the nerds, cause now is definitely their day.
  • And, of course, be prepared to be bewildered by the genuine people you never knew in high school and feeling that time is dear.

Who’s Praying For Me?

Posted: June 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’ve had a few emails from people praying for my salvation. Because I’ve seen prayer work, and not work–at about the same ratio as not praying, it has not been something that makes an impression on me.

However, for many non-religious, there are things that do impress–action and civil responsiveness.

The god Christians pray to is omniscient; he knows the intent of your prayers. So, instead of praying for me, please, please give money to Haiti. Please mobilize your churches with all their money and labor potential and get down to the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida.

The non-Christians have trumped you, posting on fb and writing article about the spill. If you are doing something, it is not getting press.

Show us that you care about others, the land and animals given to you in the book of Genesis.

I really need to see it. I really need to hear about it. I’m losing faith at the same rate we’re losing oil.

In a field of vibrant wildflowers, I was a dandelion. By 10 it was obvious that my Cuban nose and pre-Julia Roberts red hair was leading me to a comfy seat on the bench of life. In a Christian school, the “in” crowd was still pretty much the same as it was in any school—and is now—the ones who can actually make contact with the kickball, the ones who chat with the teacher during study time, the ones who had obedient hair.

I was plagued with allergies and an average academic brain. My hair brought untold torture—it was curly AND red. When I finally learned how to restrain most of it, my brother called me a rabbi.

My personality matched. I had been having adventures with demons in my bedroom since a young age. Most of all, I just did not have the skills that could catapult me into any type of relationship with a boy or an adult. I was years behind the others, and I hung out with two other girls that shared the same social seat. If John Mayer had been around back then, we might have realized that we were “bigger than our bodies “gave us “credit for.” We hadn’t reached our peak.

My powerlessness is what probably attracted me to the Pentecostal church after college. Baptists are focused on salvation and knowing the words of the Bible by heart. Pentecostals were into what was going on in the spiritual universe.

By the time I did my first mission trip to the Caribbean Islands, the fiction book This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti had taken the Christian world by monsoon. It was a story of a town struggling with sinful people. It showed what happened on earth (what we see) as well as what happens in the “spiritual realm” where demons and angels battle it out with shiny swords for the souls of the people on earth—reminiscent of the religion that preceded Christianity where Zeus and Poseidon fight for mortals.

Having already “seen” these demons, I was very taken with learning how I could get rid of them.

Once you catch on to the demon vs. angles philosophy, so much can be done. I heard stories of demons residing in antique furniture, where people in my church had to get rid of it. A girl violently allergic to strawberries bought some and put them on her kitchen floor and stomped on them claiming the victory of God’s power over the allergy demon. I had a favorite bracelet from Hawaii that a woman said might hold Hawaiian god power. It was a sad day when I cut it off.

Although there is constant talk of the violence in the Islamic scriptures, the Bible is filled with motifs of war, and the need for Christians to gird themselves and prepare for battle. Amazon shows 220 titles with “Spiritual Warfare” in them. For a wimp like me, it is easy to see the attraction to this power that could be mine.

Now everybody and everything contained the power of demons and angles—and they were all after me. I had never been so popular! The power that came with this knowledge was heady.

The verse in Matthew that says “Stand Thee behind me Satan” sunk into my vocabulary. Jesus’ disciple Peter, after Jesus foretold his death, said, “No, that can never happen to you!” Then Jesus replied with the Stand Behind Me command.

If you are churched, you know what power this command has. Just go to a potluck and have a friend come up with chocolate cake and ask if you want any. A sarcastically delivered Stand Behind Me gets all laughing.

But in the day to day struggles of things, it can be a powerful tool for a girl who was always powerless. When thoughts of despair came, I could say those words aloud (only God knows what is in your mind; you have to speak aloud for Satan to hear). When things went wrong with money or friends or parents, I could pray those words aloud, harder and harder to cause the angles to have more power over those demons that were fighting in the realm above me.

In Matthew, Peter (who used to be named Simon) had just declared that he gets it—Jesus is God. Jesus was pleased with this and told Peter that he is blessed. Whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. Not to mention that Jesus proclaims his CHURCH will be built on Peter.

Then Jesus tells them of his foretold death. When Peter, who must be pretty thrilled over the complements, new name and power Jesus just bestowed on him says—Noooooooo! Jesus snaps right back “Stand Behind Me, Satan.”

Did Peter momentarily become Satan? Or was Satan talking through Peter? If so, what kind of power does that mean Jesus has if 3 verses ago he said that Peter was blessed and the foundation of his church??

I understand the way my Christian friends see me now. I am the one Jesus was talking to. I do “not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” I’ve joined the side of Satan in their eyes.

The battle scenes of demons and angles that I could see in my mind are gone. Although it was a long, fear-filled, worrisome road–it was, as if,  I turned the channel. Poof. Gone. And with changing channels (or cable providers et al) I have blossomed into a career person, mother and wife with goals and (hopefully) a kind heart.

That is why I am rereading all the things that made so much sense to me when I was younger. I want to read it without the visions of supernatural beings fighting for my soul. I want to read it without fear that God knows my thoughts and Satan is ready to lunge at me.

I want to look at it anew from a confident place where my nightmares are gone, my insecurities have vanished, I look less like a Hassidic Priest…and have no more allergies and see what it can offer me.

My church never followed the pot luck dinner trend of most churches—where you tested Mrs. Ogilvie’s three bean salad and bragged about your Sunday School teacher’s banana bread. I grew up in south Florida—the land of…service. Even from the early 70s, my combo school/church had a cafeteria tucked into its Fellowship Hall. The warm dinner rolls were to die for; the rest was to die of. One dish consisted of round bologna slices melted into the molds of muffin tins with mashed potato plopped inside with an ice cream scooper.

I consumed 6 meals a week there—five lunches during the school week and one dinner on Wednesday nights before the church service. When I turned into a teenager, I graduated to the youth building on Wednesday nights where we pitched in two bucks to eat pizza. Youth Ministers must consist of cheesy muscles and doughy bones as they must have eaten close to a million pieces of pizza in their lifetime.

On Friday (like the Catholics who were heathens) we ate fish sticks. This was before the “baked” reformation, so ours were fried in butter and had that browned greasy coating that made the stick flexible as rubber once you stood it up in your scoop of mashed-potato-bologna-bowl.

church potluck

Perhaps the fish sticks were to remind of us of the fish and loaves story that we were familiar with. The story went—Jesus took 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread and fed 5,000 people. Every time he broke a piece off, more would just keep coming.

When I read this story in Matthew 14, once again, I was struck by all I did not know. Christians, well people at large, are great at isolating pieces of information.  I don’t remember that the feeding of the crowd happened twice—right in a row. Chapter 15 and then in 16. The same formula was followed. Jesus gets off a boat, talks a bit, then–in the first story–there are 5,000 people who need to be fed. So he gets the 2 fish and 5 loaves and does his thing. Then he gets on a boat and departs. In the next chapter-redo. This time he gets off the boat and there are 4,000 people, 7 loaves and a “few” fish. He does the same thing, then gets on a boat and departs.

The odd part is not just that it happens twice back to back (and only the story of the 5,000 gets any airplay in sermons), but that the wording is similar:

Matthew 14: 19-21

Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up the 12 basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate were about 5,000 men, besides women and children.

Matthew 15: 36-39

He broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up 7 basketfuls of the broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was 4,000, besides women and children.

Once your miracles become mundane, it is time to move on to the water into wine maneuver.

A few years ago Perdue University did a study gauging the relationship between Body Mass Index and the church. It found that the church population had a higher ratio of fat people than in the general population—and at the top of that was the Southern Baptists (think deep fried Hershey bars and butter-laden corn).

The new KFC Double Down

I have always had a prejudice against listening to people’s advice if they are worse off than me. Seeing that obesity is a visual thing, then you can see that this gives me problems. We get flyers in our mailbox all the time with pictures of dumpy white men telling us that they would be the best person to be our 1) doctor 2) preacher 3) political representative.

Unless there is a caption under their name that says “And I have a glandular problem,” it is hard for me to trust that they really know what they are talking about.

As I stick my head in this book every week, I try and curb the thought that it really comes down to—who do I want to be like. Who do I respect? I want it to just be about what I read. I want to be influenced by these ancient words and nothing else. But, I’m not.

I look at people and their actions and I can tell you this: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” doesn’t cut it anymore.  At my age, we’ve all been living life long enough to have worked some things out. If you want people to think that Christ in your life has enhanced it, you need to have good friends, have your bank account in order, be successful in work, be in shape, give to charity, be educated, know your Bible, know world and local news, have a good marriage and live responsibly. Minimum. Otherwise, you have nothing to offer those without Christ except an afterlife that they may or may not care much for.

* I just reread my post after a publishing it a few hours ago and think that the ending sounds really harsh. I didn’t mean for it to be that at all, but still–it’s there. I apologize. Perhaps I should state that it is hard to take life-changing advice from anyone who does not embody the precepts laid out in his/her belief system. No one should take marriage advice from Liz Taylor nor parenting advice from that crazy blond lady with 8 kids.

(There is too much in these chapters to leave it at this. I will write again about Jesus’ sassy quips, paying taxes and devilment.)