Author Archives: Barbara Anderson

About Barbara Anderson

At age 48, I changed my lifestyle (food, exercise, rest, spirituality, balance) after a heart diagnosis. I write about living well and doing good, no matter what life brings.

Is God a Narcissist?

It was gorgeous. The highway through northeastern Oregon crossed rolling hills of range land covered in still-green grass and scrubby sagebrush. Bluffs of creased rock rose beside the road. Tall trees surrounded solitary ranch houses in scattered valleys. It was the type of landscape that makes a person seem small in the universe. Psalm 8 came to mind.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established,
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God…
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands…

Psalm 8, New Revised Standard Version

My in-laws have lived for almost 90 years on farmland in south-central Idaho and are grudgingly considering a move to a retirement community in the other end of the state. We had just visited them to hear about their decision and help them prepare for the move. Their minds tell them to move but their hearts want to stay. Their lives had meaning in Twin Falls where they were rooted and their friends lived. Could they find new meaning and purpose in Spokane?

Divine Narcissism

As I drove home to Seattle, I thought about the fragility of life, the passage of years and the meaning of life. In eighth grade I had to learn the first question of the Westminster Catechism in order to join the church and the words of the Catechism returned to mind now: “What is the chief and highest end of man [sic]? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Hearing that voice of the Catechism in my head put me over the edge. Such beauty and such sorrow just to glorify God? Really? What kind of divine being would create a world like that? It sounds like the ultimate in narcissism and selfishness.

If some human dude told me my main purpose in life is to glorify him; the healthiest, wisest thing I could do would be to laugh in his face and run the other direction. If self-denigration is a prescription for a stifling, abusive human-human relationship, why would it be different for a human-divine relationship and worldview? If it’s unhealthy between human beings, it seems an equally unhealthy way to think about God.

Another View

However, because human beings are meaning-makers, myth-makers, I needed an alternative way to think about the meaning of human life and my place in the world that would give my in-laws and me something purposeful and worth living for.  I threw my anger, questions, despair and hope at the universe as I drove on in silence and beauty, wrestling with the Divine while my husband and dogs slept. 

Just the day before, I had held a blue and white plate painted in 1765 and wondered whose table it had originally graced, for what was it used, and what stories were told at that table. I considered that in fifty years, someone may hold items I now treasure and wonder about the people owned them, as well.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8 , New Revised Standard Version

I had done my best all that weekend to be patient and kind as my beloved mother-in-law sorted through one-half of one closest. I do my best to be a good daughter as my mother progresses into severe dementia. I try to find meaning and purpose in my own life while dealing with one health issue after another. I have tried to find God and purpose for life in all of these situations. Here’s where I’ve ended up:

Plants and animals evolve. Rocks wear away in the elements. Rivers carve new paths. So, too, our understanding of that which is beyond our comprehension needs to be open to new path, new crevices, evolving into new ways of thinking and believing about eternal matters. Here’s what I believe, what I reaffirmed as I drove through the beauty of western Oregon with a heart full of love and grief:

Partnership with God

I believe that each of us in this world is a partner with that which created the universe. We are therefore to cherish the world and all its life forms. I believe that each of us and all of us together exist as partners with the Creator of the universe to bring health, wholeness, and fullness of life to everyone. To do so, we must live justly, practice kindness, and walk humbly, as the prophet Micah says. In the words of Jesus, we are called to be servants of all and to give our life for others.

I don’t know where life leads, but as surely as birds sing and flowers bloom and the sun rises each morning, humans are created to bring goodness into the world; and beauty, and joy, and love. I believe the world is still being created and that we are part of the process of creation unfolding. I believe not in obliteration of self to God, but partnership with God.

Some would say God is near. I’d like to believe that. I don’t know. In the meantime, I feel as one who has stepped off a cliff and holds on by her fingernails. “I believe. Help my unbelief.” If there is a God, he/she/it is different from anything we can conceive, so our descriptions need always to be conditional.

I continue to act my way into being. Do good. Affirm beauty. Live. Love.

So, what do you think? What would you say is the purpose of human life? Are you searching? Let me know. Let’s talk.

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Cracked Pots, Mended

I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for days to perfect this post on imperfection. Yes, I see the irony in that statement. I need to let go of the struggle for perfection and get on with it. Certainly, I don’t want grammatical errors in my writing, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about life and all that comprises it. I need to remember that perfection in life is more fungible than many of us realize.

Kintsugi Pottery Honors Imperfection

Hand built and hand-painted ceramic bowl broken during the firing process was repaired by Kintsugi. Created by Ruthann Hurwitz, The Village Potter

Ruthann Hurwitz [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

One of my favorite reminders to hold an expansive view of perfection is Kintsugi, a style of Japanese ceramic repair dating from the 15th century. In Kintsuge, a ceramist repairs broken or cracked pottery with silver or gold, and sometimes other materials. The repairs make the ceramic unique, bringing undeniable beauty from what had been broken. It becomes more beautiful for having been broken. It is tedious, but ultimately exquisite.

This style of ceramic repair is influenced by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect; and mottainai, a feeling of regret when something is wasted; as well as mushin, the acceptance of change. Kintsugi reminds us that our broken places can be sources of goodness and beauty.

The boy and The Water Jugs

According to folklore, a boy had to carry water a long distance every day in two jugs that hung from a pole across his shoulders. One jug was whole, the other cracked. The cracked jug was only half full each day when he reached home, while the other jug was still filled to the brim.

As the boy trudged along one day, the jugs begin to speak (as they can in folktales).  The uncracked jug boasted about its perfection, saying,

“I am such a good and perfect jug. I do my work just right.  You, on the other hand, are lousy and worthless.  Your purpose in life is to carry water from the well back to the village but day after day, year after year, only half of your water makes it home.  You’re always going to be like this.  I think that somebody should get a new jug and replace you.” 

The cracked jug was devastated.  It called out to God , “Why have you done this to me? Why is my jug cracked?  I am no good.”  The boy heard the conversation and the jug’s anguished plea to God.  He responded to the jug, saying,

“Yes, you are cracked.  I’ve known that for a long, long time.  But your crack doesn’t make you worthless.  Look at the side of the road below your partner jug. It is dry and barren, and nothing grows there.  Now, look at the side of the road below you.  Do you see the line of wildflowers all along the road?  They flourish because the water that drips slowly from your cracked jug gives life to what would not otherwise exist all along the road we travel.  Through the crack in your otherwise perfect jug, you have brought life and beauty to an otherwise desolate and barren stretch of road.  I will not exchange you for another pot, nor will I let anyone discount the good that your crack has done

The Wisdom of IMperfection

Life keeps reminding me that I need not follow the stern internal voices calling for a particular type of perfection. That striving too hard for perfection kills the joy of life and relationships. That taking a deep breath and experiencing the goodness of “imperfection” elicits gratitude. That what I consider an imperfection or broken place in my life may be a way for me to bring beauty, healing, and wholeness to others.

After all, as Leonard Cohen says, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Anthem, by Leonard Cohen).

On Being Barbara Anderson


The 18th century rabbi, Zusha, lay crying on his deathbed and no one could comfort him. One of his students asked the rabbi, “Why do you cry? You were almost as wise as Moses and as kind as Abraham.”  Rabbi Zusha answered, “When I pass from this world and appear before the Heavenly Tribunal, they won’t ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you as wise as Moses or as kind as Abraham,’ rather, they will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’ Why didn’t I fulfill my potential, why didn’t I follow the path that could have been mine.”

Each of us has an original giftedness, from which we need to live and a calling to which we need to be faithful. Like Jean Valjean in Les Miserable, we need to ask the question, “Who am I?” and then live the answer faithfully and passionately.

Weird Happens

In all honesty, I haven’t found this to be easy. A critical part of my struggle with it happened in 2005. One Sunday morning three months into medical leave because of severe congestive heart failure, I tried to worship at the church where I was a Senior Pastor. It was the first time since my diagnosis that I’d been back. I quickly got so exhausted that I left the service early, drove home, and went straight to bed.

Curling up in a fetal position, devastated that I might never be able to be a pastor again, I cried out to God, “How will you use my gifts if I can’t be a pastor? What will I do?” My spiritual anguish made my body hurt all over. I pleaded for an answer.

The heavy, dark storm clouds outside my window split apart and a beam of sunlight shone through the hole. When I felt its warmth, I opened my eyes in surprise. Then, as clearly as if someone else was in the room, I heard a voice say, “You will be a writer.” The clouds immediately moved back in front of the sun, and its warmth faded. The pain in my body melted away. Finally, I felt peace and purpose.

I know it’s weird, but that’s what happened.

Being Barbara Anderson

So, here I am, all these years later, beginning the book I’ve thought about since that day. I could give lots of excuses as to why it hasn’t happened sooner, but no matter. If I am to be the Barbara Anderson I’m meant to be, my life and writing will be my pulpit. The time has come. I have finally begun a book to be published in the summer of 2020.

With this step, I am changing my blog–a new name with a new purpose. I’ll still write about the humor, wisdom, and struggle of ordinary life, but reference my faith more often. I’ll adapt some of my sermons as blog posts. And, I expect to have a few guest blogs.

Here’s where you come in.

Through my blog, I’d like your input for what to include in my book. If something I write inspires, comforts or challenges you, please let me know. If you remember particular sermons or blog posts that you want me to revisit, let me know that, too. Give me feedback on what you struggle with in life, what you question, what you believe. What would you like me to address in my blog and book?

Barbara Anderson wasn’t created to be a hermit–I think and write best when I’m in conversation with others. So, join me in a conversation that bridges time zones and continents. Help me speak to you and those you love. Please comment on what I write and comment on other readers’ comments. Let’s be partners with God, together. I”m eager to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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