“You know,” he said, as he sat in the old wooden rocker, watching the fire. “People talk about the perseverance of the Saints as if it’s a good thing. I’m not so sure it is.” The old man stared at the flames as they danced around the logs. “I mean, sure. ‘Once saved always saved,’ and all that jazz, but wouldn’t it be better if we could lose our salvation?”
“How are we even certain of our salvation in the first place, Jim? We’re told that good fruit comes from good trees, but then at other times we’re told that all the trees are rotten, and only one thing can rid the rot. Where’s that magical tipping point?” Jim didn’t answer.
“‘Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart,’ Jim! That’s what they used to say. They also told me that I couldn’t do anything. ‘Not by works, old boy.’ ‘God is love, son;’ that’s why He burns the rotten trees that couldn’t grow anew. I mean, you can’t allow the infection to fester. What about when God plants the trees, Jim? What then? What if the infection is sown by the Doctor? The Doctor sure doesn’t like to see His patients suffer. That much is clear. What Doctor would? At what point do the sick become the condemned, though? I just don’t know, Jim.” Jim just sat there.
A fiery avalanche in miniature tumbled into the ashes. Sparks cartwheeled and floated, seemingly of their own volition. The air expanded and exploded, and Jim just sat there.
“I really want to believe in a loving God, you know? I can’t believe that there is no God. Sure, perhaps our idea of God is wrong. I could be a deist, but then there’s all those stories. God is love. Jesus loves the little children. He healed that woman who bled; He deigned to touch the lepers. Love your enemies and, bless those who curse you. The peace that would result from such an attitude, Jim! But I suppose that forgiveness requires wrongs, and wrongs require a Right. Malice needs an object, Jim. How do we get around that?” Jim looked over for a minute, but he didn’t say.
“An all-powerful God is a terrible idea, Jim. A loving, all-powerful God is a thing of beauty. A just, loving, all-powerful God is what they posit, Jim. The justice supersedes our idea of love! God’s justice requires Him to destroy evil, and we are evil! I didn’t want to be evil, though, Jim. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I want to be saved; who doesn’t? I want to do good; only the truly sick don’t want that. Only those in need of a Doctor, Jim, not a Binary Judge. Why would the Doctor-Judge make His patients his defendants, and then try them before treating them? Jim, I don’t mean to be blasphemous, but the idea of a loving Father does not mesh with the idea of a fickle King who casts his subjects into a fire. The judgement is always the same. ‘You are sick. You shall die.’ How do we know when we’ve won the cosmic lottery, Jim? Do we want to?” Jim stood up and began to pace.
“Come on Jim. Let’s go for a walk.”
Jim wagged his tail.
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A problem? There’s a problem with our world, you say? I cannot help but to agree less. Our world has no single problem. Our world is full of problems. Everyone who does something vile causes a new problem, and that problem in turn can initiate its own set of problems. Problems are the source of thousands of businesses. Plumbers, technicians, firemen, and police all exist because of problems. Problems make the world go ’round.
Problem is the name applied to millions of items: animals, devices, weather, and yes, even people. “He’s such a problem.” “Why is that a problem?” “Do you have to cause so many problems?”
Problems are the sources of our engagement in conversation. “What’s your problem?” “Can I help you (with your problem)?” “You too?”
Problems exist because problems are needed. Problems cannot be gotten rid of; problems are inherent to our society. A world without problems is a world with nothing. In our universe, nothing is perfect, and perfection is sham.
Without problems, we would have nothing to which we could aspire. Without problems, success would be meaningless. Without problems, we could not chase perfection. Until we are are in a perfect place, our problems bring us the motivation to be try, to chase, to excel.
Problems are a fact. You don’t have a problem, you are surrounded by them. They exist to make us better. Problems are given to us so that we can find our limits, hone our strengths, and sharpen our skills.
Sometimes our problems turn out to be helps. Sometimes the things we trust turn out to hurt us, but until we cannot be hurt, our hurts serve to help us grow. Until we reach a final state, we have choices–endless choices. One choice stands out above all.
How do we treat our problems?
This is the question that will guide your life. This is the question that will incalculably influence your character. Do you acknowledge your problems? Do you ignore them? Do you shrink from them or try to tackle them on your own? This is the basis upon which you must build your life. Decide to deal with problems with an attitude of grace, and the graciousness in your troubles will be amplified in your joy.
You don’t have a problem; you have many. You can’t run from your problems; they are everywhere. You can learn to accept them; you can grow from them, and eventually, they will kill you, but in your death, will others learn from you? Will the solutions you formed in your life serve to aid others? Will the problems others face be made easier by the problems you overcame in your own life?
Learn to accept your problems; learn to embrace them, and in the end, learn to defeat them or die trying.
Remember, you don’t have a problem–everyone does.
Have you ever wanted to just curl up in a ball and forget everyone else in the world? Maybe move to Wyoming and live in the middle of 10,000 acres with nobody but your favorite dog or mountain lion to keep you company? Perhaps you’ve seriously contemplated becoming a hermit in a cave in the middle of the woods of Arkansas (I’ve heard they have nice woods)? Perhaps that’s not the best idea, but sometimes, I can totally relate. I’m often amazed at how many times I hear people say that they “hate other people” or that (more commonly) “I’m just not a ‘people person.'” I worked in retail for the past year and a half at a firearms and outdoors store, and I saw all sorts of people, and I saw them in all sorts of interesting states.
Selling firearms in North Carolina is a fairly painless process. There’s a decent amount of paperwork to be done, but nothing that a high school graduate should struggle with. The basic requirements and process consist of a driver’s license, background check, and the filling of a federal form known as the 4473; pistols require a permit or license that substitutes for the background check.
Many people come in to the store knowing exactly what they want and how to go about the purchase process. Those people are easy. I generally didn’t mind dealing with them. These sorts of people usually own several firearms and are immensely familiar with shooting sports, defense, or hunting and the related things that are needed. The worst experiences that I had with these shoppers are the ones who were cocky or curt, and they were not a huge problem. I know how to ignore negativity.
Some people come in not knowing anything about firearms. These are the people who have to be talked through various aspects of owning a firearm, the legal intricacies, and how the firearm works. These are the people to whom I usually recommend a class or two. If the person is open to listening, then the process is usually fairly easy. If the person has been ill-informed or thinks that he (yes, it was almost always a guy) knows something when he doesn’t, then we had problems.
- The “(I don’t really) Know-It-All”
This guy just can’t wait to tell you all that he knows, and he’s never wrong, even when he plainly is. I’ve had customers argue with me even after I’ve shown them the contradicting text on a package, website, or whatever else. They simply cannot stand the thought of being incorrect. This is especially scary when dealing with an item like a firearm. One of the most cliché but but also most prevalent examples of this was the “oh, well it’s not loaded.” Yes, but if you develop a habit of treating loaded and unloaded firearms differently, then you might one day slip up.
- The “Just-Tell-Me-What-I-Need-To-Know”
Some people are simply impatient. I typically have little respect for (rude) impatient people, and I openly dislike impatient people with guns. One of the purposes of a firearms salesman (ew, nasty term, huh?) is to filter through the people who are attempting to purchase a firearm illegally or for illicit purposes. When people were overtly impatient or curt, I then had to probe more and attempt to find out why they were being that way, and my actions often, in turn, made them less happy with me, which made me less happy, and then no one was happy.
- The “Whoah Buddy You Really Don’t Need A Gun”
Several different types of people qualified for this category–the most obvious were the people who had no mechanical inclinations and knew nothing about firearms. If someone picked up a pistol, put their finger on the trigger, and then proceeded to point it at me or someone else, I would politely work with them on proper handling and etiquette. I would often dissuade these people from purchasing a firearm until they had the proper training.
The list could go on, but I think you get the general idea; many people were a pain to work with. That’s not the point, though. Many people were a pleasure to deal with. Many people were gracious, considerate, and easy-going. People have the capability to be a positive influence in others’ lives, and I think that most people want to be.
I no longer sell firearms; I quit that job not too long ago. It was an interesting experience, though. I learned a lot about people, retail business, and (of course) guns. So, to the people who want to curl up in a ball, move to Wyoming, and live with several cats or a large-breed dog, I say, give others a chance. People out there do care, and how you approach them often sets the tone for how your interactions will go.
That’s my semi-encouraging ramble for the year.