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Personal Note
How To Make God Laugh

After an unexpected fall, a tentative return to regular blogging.

Published on: February 12, 2014
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  • qet

    Sorry to hear about your fall and I hope you enjoy a full recovery with no lingering pain or loss of mobility. Your fall may have been intended by the Trinity as a warning to all those who stray from the true path to live in condos. And the Filioque’s got nothing on the Homoiousian!

  • Gary Novak

    Welcome back– even if only part-time for a while. My mother broke her hip at age ninety and made a full recovery– but was warned by the doctors not to do it again! I don’t know what God thought of your plans, but your readers are pleased to know that He still has plans for you.

  • johngbarker

    May your recovery be as rapid as you wish it to be. Welcome back!

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    In Peter Berger’s classic book A Rumor of Angels he points to five signals of embedded transcendence in life: order, humor, play, hope and a sense of damnation.

    It is with great pleasure that I see Berger has, at least for the moment, transcended his physical setback with a sense of humor about God laughing at one’s plans! Berger has written many works about modernization and development of so-called banana republics. But I never thought he would slip on the peel of a banana republic!

    In any event, it is with a sense of damnation that we condemn the rumor of the smiling devil that inflicted this injury on Berger.

    We hope he can get back to regular contributions to his blog.

    In the interim, I challenge Gary Novak to keep posting regular comments here to lead the discussion until Peter can get back to playing on his blog.

    • Gary Novak

      I will if you will. This might be a good time to consider the validity of the belief that “everything happens for a reason.” People often say such things after experiencing good or bad fortune. From the point of view of natural science, the question “Why me?” is idiotic. “It’s not about YOU, you little narcissist! It’s about randomness, statistics, and impersonal, meaningless, ubiquitous cause and effect. To think that the universe is ADDRESSING you just because your puny subjectivity cares about the outcome of a natural sequence of events is to be guilty of the rankest superstition and imbecility.” But even the highly educated, in the closet, “take it personally.” (Incidentally, I did read the “meditation” of Christian Wiman you recommended, the meditation of that “modern believer” on the meaning of his rare terminal illness. What struck me, in the midst of his many insights, was that he never seemed to ask “Why me?” To use Berger’s distinction between inward meditation and prayer addressed to God, Wiman was correct to call his work a meditation.)

      Even before he summoned the voice out of the whirlwind, Job did not doubt the hand of God in events. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. But he did not feel a “need to know” the meaning of his misfortune. It was only after his “comforters” got under his skin by insisting that he must have deserved his misfortune that Job began to feel a need to know what it was all about. God made him see that he was right the first time– he didn’t have a need to know.

      Did Berger deserve a broken hip? One reader assures him that we enlightened readers are not Job’s comforters. We do not really believe that “the Trinity” (or anything else) was punishing Berger for living in a condo (or anything else). He was unfortunate to slip and fortunate to live in a city with so many good doctors. Beyond that, no sensible person would venture. Except that . . . God knows when every sparrow falls.

      Berger’s concept of “signals of transcendence” is, as you know, well-suited to modern believers because it does not require the suspension of natural law to be religiously efficacious. There are no “objective indicators” of such signals. Anything that strikes us as signaling transcendence IS such a signal. An external criterion of falsification would be beside the point. It would not surprise me if Berger used his fall as an occasion to ask “Why me?” It would not surprise me if he did not. What would surprise me is if the man who gave us the lovely expression of “signals of transcendence” did not feel himself personally addressed by some “curiosities” in his life. And, speaking very broadly, his responses to those addresses seem to fall under two categories: (1) moral efforts to reduce human suffering according to the calculus of pain and in the light of inviolable human dignity, and (2) efforts to lighten the burden of moderns who wish to make religious affirmations but lack the plausibility structures to do so. (If that’s “missionary work,” it’s missionary-lite!)

      But this conclusion requires me to amend my earlier statement that I do not know what God thinks of Berger’s plans. Should I not have said that Berger’s plans and God’s plans seem remarkably congruent? And the broken hip? God only knows.

      • Wayne Lusvardi

        Gary
        Midnight of Christmas eve 2003 I returned to my home and walked out front after parking my car to close the gate. A “Christmas Star” appeared of glowing neon green color floating down from the heavens right in front of me, precisely at midnight. It was obviously the burning ember of an asteroid. I asked “was this the sign or portent of something good?” I had just lost my mother. After that I forced my girl friend to go to the hospital with me against he wishes and we found she had terminal cancer and two days to live. I took her out of that hospital against the demands of the hospital staff to another doctor I knew who was an older ex U.S. Army-Viet Nam War physician. He removed the cancer in a 12-hour surgery and gave my girlfriend almost 3 more years of life. Was the Christmas Star all about me? No! It was not a sign of something good was about to happen. In fact, it was the opposite. But those three years of going to cancer wards, chemotherapy injections, joining hands in a circle and praying with cancer victims in the waiting room of doctors offices, staying with my girlfriend at her mother’s home, running my girlfriend to the hospital in my car on many occasions because of abdominal pain, and bringing her home so she could spend the last days at her home were the most memorable and meaningful in my life. My girlfriend was a happy person who transcended it all despite bouts of anger at her life cut short so early. Unbelievably, she went to heaven with a smile on her face. Was God ADDRESSING me in the Christmas Star? Maybe. But not in the way my meager mind could fathom.
        More later,

        • Gary Novak

          Your latest post highlights the difference between a “sign” of the kind sought by the Pharisees and a “signal” of the kind recognized by Berger. “Master, we would see a sign from thee.” “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh
          after a sign.” Translation: “We would like to be blown away by unambiguous cosmic fireworks so we won’t need to make an existential decision to have faith.” “You
          won’t get that kind of sign from me.”

          But for those with ears to hear, our lives are filled with signals of transcendence. As Berger said in Questions of Faith, if there is a God, He did not make it easy for us to believe in him. “Signs” would make it so easy as to be pointless. Signals of transcendence present us with the possibility of religious affirmation—but no knockdown proofs. It is only through our uncoerced faith, hope, and charity that we realize our potential as children of God. What I particularly value in Berger’s work is the way he makes faith plausible by “relativizing the relativizers.” Modern secularism is not inherently more plausible than
          religion; it has simply taken over elite plausibility structures. By resetting the baseline assumptions to a more pristine level, Berger makes it easier to see that atheism is merely an option, not the default option.

          I do not see your decision to trust your girlfriend’s life to your Army physician buddy as based on a superstitious reliance on a falling asteroid fragment but on a rational assessment of the staff at what sounds like an
          Obamacare “death panel” hospital. But I do see a signal of transcendence in your narrative: your girlfriend’s theodicy, whether implicit or explicit. Like Job,
          she did not take the advice to curse God and die but lived on and gave her boyfriend the three most meaningful years of his life.

          • Wayne Lusvardi

            See above new post on Peter Berger and Walker Percy

      • Jim__L

        Random bits:

        I’ve often wondered if God who marks the fall of every sparrow isn’t also God who guides the collapse of every wave-function.

        Seen from the vantage point of eternity, just about every bump or jolt in this world — even the biggest — becomes vanishingly small.

        I once read on the web someone trying to diminish Christ’s suffering on the cross by declaring, “I could have done the same if I’d known that it was only going to be three days’ trouble.” I spent some time thinking of how to come up with a suitably withering rebuke.

        But, the more I thought about the literal content of the post, the only thing I could come up with was, “That’s the spirit!” The temporary suffering and evil of this world is infinitesimally small compared to eternity in paradise, and holding on to the faith of that gift is a great comfort.

  • TommyTwo

    My reaction to the headline “How To Make God Laugh” was: “Make some plans!” href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Bourgeois_gentilhomme#Synopsis>Who knew I was a Yiddish comedian? 🙂

    For more Yiddish humor, here’s Tevye [Fiddler on the Roof] riffing off the Jewish daily prayers: “‘Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed.’ In other words, send us the cure. We’ve got the sickness already.”

    I altruistically wish you a full recovery and selfishly hope for a speedy resumption of regular blogging.

  • Joe in ATL

    I thought this was going to be a climate change article

  • bluesdoc70

    God bless you for loving Him. That makes the world a better place. My sense of “how to make God laugh”..has always been considering something He says about the world..and then saying to yourself well I can’t see that ever happening.

  • ltlee1

    Will God laugh? Any serious drawing of a laughing God?

  • Dave Cobb

    I loved it when my kids would tell me of their future plans. Some were good, and some showed a total innocence. Some were very funny. In my love for my children I cherished them all. I am an evil man, and God is good. I am sure he loves his children more than I love mine. I an happy God allows me to feel some of the the love he has for my kids.

  • Anthony

    Peter Berger, “every man is as lazy as he dares to be.” So, recover well; we know you’ll be back!

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    An Appreciation of Peter Berger and Walker Percy

    Following the line of conversation started above by Peter Berger, and carried further by Gary Novak, reminds me of a quote by the Catholic novelist and physician Walker Percy:

    “Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?”

    Which leads me to offer a comparison and appreciation of the works of both Berger and Percy.

    PETER BERGER TRIVIA TEST: Who wrote the following, Peter Berger or Walker Percy?

    (Gary Novak has to disqualify himself from taking this test because he will already know the answers)

    1. Following surgery, I have spent the last three weeks in intense interaction with physical therapists, pondering such issues as how best to put on my trousers in the morning without falling out of bed, rather than the intriguing question of what it means that (as has been claimed) more people attend Lutheran services every week in Ethiopia than in Sweden.
    2. “Do you know what he told me after lying under a cliff for thirty six hours with two inches of his femur sticking out? He said: ‘Queenie, I think I’m going to pass out and before I do, I’m going to give you a piece of advice’ – God, I thought he was going to die and knew and was telling me what to do with his book – and he said quite solemnly: ‘Queenie, always stick to Bach and the early Italians’ – and passed out cold as a mackerel. And by God, it’s not bad advice.”
    3. “The cultural situation in America today (and indeed in all Western societies) is determined by the cultural earthquake of the nineteen-sixties, the consequences of which are very much in evidence. What began as a counter-culture only some thirty years ago has achieved dominance in elite culture and, from the bastions of the latter (in the educational system, the media, the higher reaches of the law, and key positions within government bureaucracy), has penetrated both popular culture and the corporate world. It is characterized by an amalgam of both sentiments and beliefs that cannot be easily catalogued, though terms like ‘progressive,’ ’emancipators or ‘liberationist’ serve to describe it. Intellectually, this new culture is legitimated by a number of loosely connected ideologies— leftover Marxism, feminism and other sexual identity doctrines, racial and ethnic separatism, various brands of therapeutic gospels and of environmentalism. An underlying theme is antagonism toward Western culture in general and American culture in particular. A prevailing spirit is one of intolerance and a grim orthodoxy, precisely caught in the phrase “political correctness.”
    4. I have devoted my life to the exploration of ‘the dislocation of man in the modern age.’
    5. What do you seek–God? you ask with a smile.

    I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached–and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics–which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. For myself, I enjoy answering polls as much as anyone and take pleasure in giving intelligent replies to all questions.

    Truthfully, it is the fear of exposing my own ignorance which constrains me from mentioning the object of my search. For, to begin with, I cannot even answer this, the simplest and most basic of all questions: Am I, in my search, a hundred miles ahead of my fellow Americans or a hundred miles behind them? That is to say: Have 98% of Americans already found what I seek or are they so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them?

    On my honor, I do not know the answer.”

    6. “The traditional mind is one that cannot even imagine how one could be anything different than exactly what he is. The modern mind, by contrast, is mobile, participates vicariously in the lives of others differently located from oneself, and easily imagines itself changing occupation or residence.”
    7. “Have you noticed that the narrower the view the more you can see? For the first time I understand how old ladies can sit on their porches for years.”
    8. “…as Ralph Ellison pointed out in an interview with three young Negro writers, is the temptation ot understand the issues of the times in terms of sociology, in termos of abstractions….Young writers, even Negro writers, tend too often to understand themselves in terms of what sociologists say: that they are victims of slavery, of broken homes, or a matriarchal society, and of various other things. They begin to feel themselves as exemplars of this or that sociological theory, forgetting t the riches of their own lives….And God help you if you ever start writing sociology because it might be good sociology, but it’s going to be a bad novel.”
    9. “…the post-Christian piety of the sociology major.”
    10. “I have sometimes asked myself how a gynecologist could manage to have sexual intercourse; by the same token, one could ask how a New Testament scholar could be a Christian?”
    11. “In science, as in love, concentration on technique is likely to lead to impotence”
    12. “At the time, the only treatment of angelism, that is, excessive abstraction of the self from itself, was the recovery of self through ordeal.”
    13. “Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected.”
    14. “Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?”

    ANSWERS:
    1. Berger
    2. Percy
    3. Berger
    4. Percy
    5. Percy
    6. Berger
    7. Percy
    8. Percy
    9. Percy
    10. Berger
    11. Berger
    12. Percy
    13. Percy
    14. Percy

    Did you know that there is a song title inspired by the works of Peter Berger and Walker Percy? It is titled: Homeless in the Cosmos by Charlie Peacock on his album Lemondade. It is inspired by Peter Berger’s book The Homeless Mind and Walker Percy’s book Lost In The Cosmos. It can be found at itunes DOT apple DOT com FORWARD SLASH us FORWARD SLASH album FORWARD SLASH homeless DASH in DASH the DASH cosmos FORWARD SLASH id792250912i=792250929

    • Gary Novak

      Since I can’t go through life getting the Percy quotes right because they’re not Berger’s, I’ve ordered “Lost in the Cosmos” from Amazon.

  • amoose1959

    Ironically i think what makes God laugh are people like Berger. See Ps. 2:4, Ps. 37:13 and Ps. 59:8.

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