Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Why I'm glad I was home this summer regards to my figuring out my life.

Edit: Geez this turned out long. Sorry all, you don't have to read it all. The first two, the two before and after "AUGH!", and the last two paragraphs are the important parts ;)

So, for the most part, being home is difficult, for reasons all too familiar to anyone who's gone through similar stuffs. There was a "me" back home that I was, and kept up appearances as, and now all of a sudden I don't want to have to be that anymore, because I'm not...anyway, I've covered this before. Basically, I decided that this summer, it wasn't worth the upset, or possibly screwing up my brothers, to make a big deal of it. After an initial discussion with my parents, which was good, I reverted to the me of the past eighteen years. I've had a lot of practice, so it's not difficult.

But that's all why it was bad - recently I've realized that there has been a very positive side to being home this summer. It allowed me to look at what I've been living - what I've been taught, what I've assumed, what I've known - from an entirely new perspective. All of a sudden, what I'm being told, what I've been taught, isn't necessarily right, or isn't necessarily the only thing out there. From that perspective, call it criticism, call it skepticism, call it cynicism, whatever - it's not taking things at face value any more. I've been collecting a few tidbits of things about the religion that I've been raised in that don't make sense, and figuring out what I think of them. So here's a few.

Last Sunday, as I was listening to my Dad's sermon, I noticed a few instances of a phenomenon all too common in my world - glib statements that a good Christian should nod in agreement to, but that in reality hold no water, or don't make sense. Here's the examples I jotted down, and my (mental) response:

"There are two kinds of religions - religions from God, and religions from man." (with the implication, of course, that Christianity is the only religion from God, and therefore is the correct one).
Yeah? So what - we have a religion from God. Well so do the Jews, and the Mormons, and the Muslims (where did Muhammad get his ideas? Yeah.). There are a lot of religions that claim to be directly inspired from some deity.

That's the problem with a lot of these statements - they're circular. They assume that Christianity is correct, and that everything else is false - which is absurd, if I'm trying to figure out whether I'm in the right place or not. "Well of course you're a Christian!" Yeah, but what if I wasn't? What if I was born into a Muslim family, or a Mormon family? I would be hearing the exact same arguments, but as far as my world is concerned, I would be dead wrong. It's ridiculous.

Okay, next statement - here's one that is typical of any kind of statistic - it's pointless, but the speaker is trying to make a point with it.
"There are more Christians being persecuted in this century than in any other century in history (gasp!)" Okay, I don't know the exact statistic, but it sure seems to me that since there are exponentially more people, and therefore exponentially more Christians, in the world in this century than in any other century...of course there are more being persecuted. Not to make light of persecution, by the way. It's just the statistic I heard.

Oh, another classic. The horrid analogies that are supposed to make a point, but don't come close to panning out. VERY often used to defend the "Christians are so closed-minded saying that Jesus is the only way" thing. I'm not saying that that's wrong, I'm just saying that as far as I've heard, the reponses to such an argument are pathetic. Here's the analogy from the sermon last Sunday (paraphrased):
"It's like getting all in a tizzy because Qwest insists that you HAVE to call 555-5555 to talk to your friend. How dare they! It's so closed minded of them!" (laughter - how absurd, those stupid non-Christians, questioning Jesus being the only way. That'll show them)
Augh, I hate these analogies particularly. The situations don't even come close to being comprable. One is a man-made system, built in a way that we fully understand, built by humans, for humans. There are patents, blueprints, documentation on how it works and why it works, and no one claims that it works any other way. The other is a system that, as far as cold hard facts go, we haven't the foggiest how it works. There are no patents, no commonly-agreed-upon documentation on how it works. Sure, there's the Bible, but there's also the Quaran, the Torah, the Book of Mormon, etc. And they all disagree.
Also - imagine if someone were to be ridiculous enough to claim that I was being stuffy, old-fashioned, ignorant, and closed-headed saying that I had to call 202-456-1414 to reach the White house. They may insist that I could just as well call (206) 283-5300 and I'd still end up in the same place. They might even insist that calling the 202 number wouldn't work! This of course, is similar to a Muslim saying that it's ridiculous for me to trust in my Christian God for salvation, and Allah is where it's at. However, the funny thing being, I can just call (206) 283-5300 and get the Pizza Hut down the road, and prove to the aforementioned buffoon that it indeed does _not_ get me to the white house. With the Muslim, however, things aren't so easy. I can't just convert to Islam, blow myself up, end up in Hell, and come back and say "See? Your way doesn't work!" No. It doesn't work that way. And that's the failure of the analogies that various sources keep trying to present. In the real world, I can just prove it. There are defined ways things work. I can try it. That's not how it works in the spiritual world. A better analogy would be Alaska airlines saying that their flight was the only way to get to Tampa. Except that you can check it out, and see that either their flight *is* the only way to Tampa, or it isn't. Can't do that with salvation. Dang.

A similar case is "well if a doctor told you that you would die unless you took this medicine, you would be a fool to say 'what? You are so closed-minded! Insisting that I take _this_ medicine, how ridiculous.' to which the doctor replies, 'But you'll die otherwise'" and so on. Obviously, the medicine is salvation, dying is Hell. I remember hearing this bit on a radio commercial by LifeLine Pro.
It doesn't work because of a similar idea - the Doctor tells you this because others have had the same thing, taken the same medicine, and it worked. He's got documentation and records to prove it. It's well tested - that's what the FDA is for. Also, you'd check with other doctors, get a second opinion, to make sure the first doctor isn't ripping you off. There aren't a host of other doctors telling you that THEIR medication will work, and his will kill you. There's a consensus, based on tested fact.
If it hasn't been tested, you're going to be wary, you're going to ask around, and you're going to go for it only if there are no other less risky options. You can't just go around trying various methods of salvation, seeing if they work or not. It's a riduculous idea.

These little quips may get a chuckle out of most Christians, and they think "geez, what an idiot...rejecting the medicine that will save his life". But they don't think about if it even comes close to making sense IF YOU DON'T ASSUME THAT CHRISTANITY IS CORRECT.

If these arguments are supposed to be to help convince me that Christianity is the right way, they've failed miserably. They make the base assumption that Christianity is correct, and all other religions are bogus, which if I'm trying to decide where I stand, doesn't help me a bit.

Oh, one last quick one from devotions tonight. The last paragraph, after talking about sharing Jesus with your friends, "Keep your mind Jesus" (ellipsis mine). That's such a ridiculous statement. It's like scientists saying "Keep your mind the flat-earth theory" or "Keep your mind the universe roating around the earth". Keeping your mind open to one specific option kind of defeats the point...I suppose it makes sense in my case - as I realize the failings of the system I've grown up in, don't reject Christianity altogether just because I disagree with some of the religion I've grown up with. But in the context it was presented, it doesn't make any sense.

I know I've selected just a sampling of the arguments for Christianity, but they're representative of so much of the arguments I've grown up with. And looking at the environment/religion that I've grown up with from a critical, skeptical perspective, has been good - I've been able to see that there are problems with the way I've been raised, and that no specific denomination or Christian group is "right".

This all may come off as a bit bitter/dismissive. It's not...too much. I'm a little riled up at how weak and pointless the arguments that so many Christians - and Christian organizations - put forward are. But really, I'm just putting things down that I needed to get down somewhere. And it's late, so I may read through this later and write an amendment/clarification or something. But right now I need to sleep.

An Introduction

So, I've kind of decided that notes like these [and now this blog] are a good way to put down where I'm at and what I'm thinking as I figure out my life, especially in relation to the spiritual dimension. This is for a few reasons - firstly, if I have to spell out what I'm thinking, whether by writing it down, typing it up, or talking it out, I end up figuring a lot more out than I have just mulling it over. I suppose it's part of how I process stuff. Also, it'll provide a record for me to look at and, when the time comes, for my parents to look at. In addition, some of you that I've talked to on various occasions may want to know how I'm doing, and this is a good way to do so. goes. This first note (actually, there's a prelude below in case you didn't read it already) will be a brief history of my life as relevant to my spiritual journey, if you want to call it that. Note that "brief" is a relevant term, my summaries never end up being all that short.

So...relevant things...let's see. First and foremost, I'm a PK. That's preacher's kid for the unenlightened. Now, I'm not writing these to whine about how being a PK has been tough, and you should all feel sorry for me. It just has a lot of bearing on how I was raised, and how I see (saw) things. What does PK mean in my case? It means that as far as I can remember (since I was 3) my father has been a pastor at Chehalis First Christian Church, a non-denominational, rather conservative congregation. Basically, Chuck Colson, Focus on the Family, very traditional church. We still sing hymns (which I actually do have a special spot in my heart for), although several years back we got a projector and started singing more contemporary songs in addition to hymns. It's an older congregation of about 100, the median age is probably...ehh, late 50s/early 60s or so. A few years back, we hired our first real youth minister.

So that's my church in a nutshell. My schooling is the second major factor in my views. I attended Centralia Christian School for preschool and kindergarten, and then was homeschooled for grades 1-5 (awesome experience by the way, I owe my mother a lot for the excellent education I got in those years). I went back to CCS when my youngest brother reached schooling age, and went into 6th grade. The Christian education I recieved there was similar in ideology to that of my church - very Bible-based, Christian worldview kind of stuff. Once again, focus on the family, Harry Potter is the devil.

The biggest factor, of course, is my parents. Which is very similar to my school/church, because of course my father was the pastor, so no surprise there. I'm sure I'll get into more specifics in further notes, but basically it's the same kind of thing. A few more tidbits: Bush is the best thing to happen to this country since sliced bread, and Al Gore winning the election would have been a sign of the end times. No kidding. Butt, frick, screw, crap, sucks are all definitely not allowed. Oh, also - devotions every night, prayer at every meal. More on that later, I'm sure.

Oh yeah. SPU. Well, you'll notice a pattern in the first three influences. Yeah, they're all the same. And I don't think I'm exaggerating the similarities too badly, anyway. SPU was different, way different. The professors, the people I talked to late at night and into the wee hours of the morning, the ideas floating about at SPU - were different. But still Christian. Just not my Christian. Or should I say, my parent's Christian. Combine that with not having the careful eye of my parents, and my community at large (being the son of a pastor, two chaplains, and a teacher lead to a lot of people who know you in a small town) to make sure I don't stray from the path of "correct" Christianity, and all of a sudden, I have a lot to think about.

Ergo the notes.
And the thinking.
Bring it on.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Standing on the edge of everything I've never been before

I've been meaning to write this note for a while, but never got around to it. So here goes. As many of you know, I've been kind of figuring out my life recently, being away from my former life for nine months and all. And I was listening to Switchfoot the other day, and I realized that On Fire really seemed to describe where I'm at. So that's how this thing's gonna go down.

They tell you where you need to go

They tell you when you'll need to leave

They tell you what you need to know

They tell you who you need to be

Yeah, this is kind of my life to this point. Not exactly explicitly, but it's always been there - the expectation of what I was supposed to be. As a preacher's kid, as a good Christian kid, as a Bradshaw. My family is very conservative - like, really conservative - and there's a very specific set of things that I am supposed to know, a specific image of who I'm supposed to be. And I am really good at faking it. I've had 18 years of practice, and I can be a good Christian if I want to, on the outside.

But everything inside you knows

There's more than what you've heard

There's so much more than empty conversations

Filled with empty words

This is kind of what I've hit in the past year - as I go on, I've been realizing more and more that my whole life has been empty conversations, empty words - I've thought about it, and it's true. There's nothing behind my act, no sincerity, no real relationship or belief.

And you're on fire

When He's near you

You're on fire

When He speaks

You're on fire

Burning at these mysteries

This being the part that is a bit iffy - I'm not. Not yet. Not on fire, not feeling near at all. Not hearing anything. Because like I said - I haven't had anything for 18 years, it's not just gonna start now.

Give me one more time around

Give me one more chance to see

Give me everything You are

Give me one more chance to be... (near You)

I see this as my second chance. The first time, I screwed it up big time. So now I get a second try, without the expectations, without the pressure, without the disappointment if I don't come out quite like I'm "supposed" to.
This time around, it's looking better. First time, around, I didn't really have anyone to confide in, to talk about my spiritual life. For the first, oh, 14 years or so, we didn't even have a youth minister, and that person sure wasn't going to be my dad. No offense, he's a great guy - and I really respect him, especially after talking to him recently. But I need someone outside the family, someone that's not my father and my pastor, someone to talk to that won't pass judgement, that won't be disappointed in me if I tell them all this. And this time around, I think I've found that place at Bethany Pres, possibly Quest. John Chase is an amazing guy - and I'm very thankful for him. I've talked to him a few times, and I hope to to so more this coming year, because I'll need it. I've also got a few friends that I can confide in, that are great to talk to and talk things out, because that's how I figure things out - if I have to explain it verbally, I'll come out with a lot better understanding of what I'm actually thinking in the end.

Cause everything inside me looks like

Everything I hate

You are the hope I have for change

You are the only chance I'll take

Yeah, I guess I've kind of already covered this...but something I just thought of - I hate it when people are fake. Besides the whole religion thing, I try my best to be who I actually am, and cut the fake crap. Turns out in probably the most significant area of my life, I'm a fake of the worst kind. Dang.

When I'm on fire

When You're near me

I'm on fire

When You speak

And I'm on fire

Burning at these mysteries

These mysteries...

I'm standing on the edge of me [x3]

I'm standing on the edge of everything I've never been before.

And i've been standing on the edge of me

Standing on the edge

Yeah. This is a powerful image that very aptly describes where I am. I imagine myself, on a cliff, with everything I've ever been, the me part, behind me. And down below is everything else - everything I've never been before. Just ready to discover all that stuff down there. I love that line - everything I've never been before - so true. Because down there is sincerity, real belief, real relationship, actually having a faith - everything that I have never had, but appeared to.

And I'm on fire

When You're near me

I'm on fire

When You speak

(Yea) I'm on fire

Burning at these mysteries... these mysteries... these mysteries

Ah you're the mystery

You're the mystery

Yeah. Mystery is right. The other difficulty in this is that I am very type B, and very thinking-oriented, go figure. For the Jung/Myers-Briggs people out there, I'm an ENTP. Basically, I have a very hard time being emotionally connected with much of anything. I'm a cynic, and as horrible as it sounds, I haven't ever really felt for all those kids in Africa, or South America, or whatever exotic destination. Yeah, it's a bummer that they're stuck there, and it sucks, but I don't have any kind of emotional connnection. In addition, I'm logical to a fault. The combination of the two makes figuring out this faith thing kind of difficult. I can't just feel it, that doesn't work for me. I have to know it, I have to understand it.

So yeah...this isn't a call for help. I don't want everyone to try to 'fix' me now. Because that won't help, I promise. I've been 'fixed' for 18 years, and this is how I ended up. It's my turn to figure out how this thing we call faith works, and I'm gonna have to figure it out myself. I'll talk to others, I'll get counsel or whatever you call it - but on my own terms. I have the feeling I'll end up with a rather different view than my parents on a lot of stuff, but that's what college is for - for defining yourself. Right?